Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: My Lords, I was about to deal with that point. I was talking about the fact that the title Deputy First Minister has recently been used consistently in the media.

The noble Lord asked why we were not providing the Scottish parliament with the same flexibility as the Northern Ireland Assembly. I am sorry to disappoint the noble Lord, but the story is not quite the same as he told it--and it is still unfolding. Clause 31 of the Northern Ireland Bill provides for the election of a presiding officer and the initial standing orders prepared by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland refer to a presiding officer. Therefore, the Government are completely consistent.

It is the case perhaps that the Members of the Assembly who are involved in preparing its standing orders are considering using a different title for the presiding officer. That may be a result of electing Members before they have the power. The Bill has not been passed and we will have to wait and see what happens.

Lord Steel of Aikwood: My Lords, with respect, we do not have to wait and see what happens. We know what has happened. The fact is that the committee on standing orders has stated that the presiding officer shall be called Mr. Speaker. He is being called Mr. Speaker in the Assembly, which is already meeting. I have in my hand a piece of notepaper which refers to the Speaker.

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: My Lords, with respect, the Assembly is not up and running: it is as a result of having Members elected to the Assembly

22 Oct 1998 : Column 1672

before the legislation is in place. I am saying only that we will have to wait and see what happens. The initial standing orders prepared by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland use the title presiding officer. That is for another day and for other people to sort out. We will then see the result.

I am saying to the noble Lord that it is not an established fact that the presiding officer is being called the Speaker in the Northern Ireland Assembly; it really is not.

Lord Steel of Aikwood: My Lords, the Welsh Bill, which we passed in this House, provides that the assembly shall be known by such titles as the standing orders may provide. It is left to the Welsh assembly so why cannot it be left to the Scottish parliament?

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: My Lords, we have switched from the Northern Ireland Bill to the Government of Wales Act and I will deal with that. The Government of Wales Act has a different approach. That Act also prescribes titles for the first secretary and assembly secretaries. It also prescribes the names of some of the assembly's committees. It allows the standing orders to prescribe a different title for the presiding officer and the deputy presiding officer, but I understand that the national assembly advisory group has recommended that the titles should be presiding officer and deputy presiding officers. This will be specified in the standing orders of the assembly, although it can amend them with a two-thirds majority. I do not know why this is so puzzling. We have never said that the Scotland Bill was an exact parallel with the Welsh Act. There are many places where there a great number of differences.

It is my clear impression, unlike that given by some noble Lords opposite, that the media have been very quick to take up the new titles in Scotland. They were certainly picked up very quickly in Northern Ireland, where there is already a First Minister and a Deputy First Minister. The titles are in use. They are being quickly accepted by the public and the media. I am sure that we can expect exactly the same degree of familiarity in Scotland once these offices are occupied.

I believe that those are the main points raised by noble Lords. We have tried to make clear that we are concerned with the certainty that prescription brings, not only in terms of legal clarity and public recognition in Scotland, but also in the rest of the United Kingdom. That outweighs the benefits of the parliament being able to change them. We have tried to strike a balance throughout the Bill between prescription and flexibility. Our general approach has been to try to prescribe the absolute minimum. It is not always easy to agree where that line should be drawn. This is one area where we consider it very important that there should be no vagueness or confusion. Therefore, I ask noble Lords to withdraw their amendments.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I suppose that the length of the speaking note was in inverse proportion to the content of the argument. I believe that it must have been written by an official who

22 Oct 1998 : Column 1673

left the employ of the Scottish Office at five o'clock today and wants his or her own back on the Minister for something. I cannot believe that for the past few minutes I have been listening to such a vigorous defence of such a small point. One would have thought that I was asking the Minister to untangle the whole of this Bill, such was the rigorousness of the defence. I must be missing something about the significance of my amendments. There must be something really deep seated behind them that I and the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, have failed to see. I thought that the noble Lord had game, set and match when he read out the letter from Northern Ireland, but it appears that his eyes deceive him and he is unable to match the words that he sees to the words he speaks.

I shall be blunt with the Minister. I thought it was the poorest of poor replies. It is not her fault. She was put up to it by people who, for reasons that I know not, are determined that the Scottish parliament shall not have the same kind of status as regards names as every other parliament has in the English-speaking world. It seems to me that the Labour Party, having decided on a Scottish parliament, is now trying to devalue it. That is what the Government's argument is about.

I shall study the Northern Ireland Bill. I shall talk to my noble friend Lord Cope. I shall look at the Welsh legislation and the letter which the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, has. I think that he and I may get together at Third Reading. If we do that, I shall be inviting my noble friends, if the Government do not change their mind on this matter, to vote against them and for an amendment at the very least to give the Scottish parliament the power to make its own decisions about its names. What staggers me is that the Government will not even allow it to do that. I believe that we shall return to this at Third Reading after discussions with the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood.

Lord Steel of Aikwood: My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, may I say that I cannot believe that we are going to occupy time at Third Reading on this issue again. I put a simple question: what happens if the Scottish parliament, in its standing orders, does what the others have done and rules that the person presiding over it shall be called The Speaker? What are the Government going to do about it?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, unfortunately, it is Report stage and it is quite difficult. The Minister may wish to intervene. What will happen if the Scottish parliament decides to set up standing orders that run counter to the Act? Can someone answer? No one is going to do so. This issue is of great importance for the status of the parliament. I am amazed at the argument and I will leave it at that. I suspect that we shall return to it, if only to see whether we shall hear the same arguments again, whether better arguments will be brought forward or whether the Government will allow the parliament to do its own thing. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

22 Oct 1998 : Column 1674

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish moved Amendment No. 71.

Page 9, line 12, at end insert--
("( ) No two of the Presiding Officer and his two deputies may be members of the same political party.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 71. I am not going to say anything because the Government have tabled Amendment No. 90, which is a linked amendment. I think I am going to achieve my third little victory of the evening.

Lord Sewel: My Lords, it is almost a hat-trick--but not quite. There is a slight difference between us. The amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, would require the three posts to be held by nominees of different parties; the government amendment requires at least two parties represented in the three posts.

That is for a purely practical reason. We took the view that the possibility could arise in a situation where you had, for instance, two large parties and two small parties; the small parties may not want to tie up one of their members in a virtually non-active role. My amendment is tabled to cope with that situation. It does not preclude all three posts being held by nominees of different parties; it just does not require it because of that slight possibility. I hope that at this stage the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, will feel able to withdraw his amendment. We shall concentrate on Amendment No. 90 later.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his explanation of the difference between our amendments. His amendment goes most of the way. My only slight concern is that if we have a coalition the two parties in the coalition could mop up all three posts. I think that would be a breach of at least the intent and the spirit behind the amendment. I think the Minister, if I may put these words into his mouth, is agreeing from a sedentary position that that would be against the spirit of his amendment.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page