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Lord Monson moved Amendment No. 38:

Page 40, line 38, at end insert--
("(6) The Boundary Commission for Scotland shall submit a report under section 3(1) of the Parliamentary Constituencies Act 1986 no later than twelve months after the first ordinary general election of the Parliament.

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(7) The Secretary of State shall make an order giving effect to the report mentioned in subsection (6) within three months of its submission.
(8) An order under subsection (7) shall not be made unless a draft of it has been laid before Parliament and approved by resolution of each House.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, it is 20 years since Mr. Tam Dalyell commendably drew the attention of Parliament and the public to what is termed the West Lothian question. During all this time the West Lothian question has remained unanswered. Now, with devolution finally become a reality in a few months' time, the unanswered West Lothian question is set to become the West Lothian outrage. I use the word "outrage" because, while English MPs will no longer be able to exert power over Scotland's internal affairs, Scottish MPs will remain able to exert power--possibly critical power, if there is a hung Parliament--over England's internal affairs.

This amendment is identical in every respect to that tabled on Report by the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, and his colleagues on the Conservative Front Bench which was not moved owing to the extreme lateness of the hour. I have no doubt that the Conservatives are as enthusiastic about this amendment today as they were a week ago. It is a milder amendment, a compromise version, of one which I moved in Committee, when it was supported by the noble Lord, Lord Ellenborough, and the noble Earl, Lord Onslow. In fact it received widespread support from various quarters of the Committee, in particular from the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood. I expect this amendment to attract even greater support since it represents a compromise and meets the Government half-way, or more than half-way. It extends the period that the Boundary Commission will have to produce its report from three months to 12 months after the election of the first Scottish parliament.

Of course the amendment would not in itself obliterate the West Lothian outrage. However, it would make it somewhat less outrageous, in that the disproportionate power of Scottish MPs over England's internal affairs would be reduced before the next general election rather than being prolonged until the subsequent general election, which might not take place until the year 2007.

I recognise that the noble Lord, Lord Steel, is facing more stimulating challenges on the continent of Africa today than those presented by the final stages of the Bill before us. As the noble Lord said on 6th October, a change such as the one suggested is not an answer to the West Lothian question, but it would be an alleviation of the problem. The noble Lord went on to say:

    "I do not know where the idea came from that it"--
that is, the proposal to reduce Scottish representation to English levels--

    "should be delayed until after the next election. I believe that that would provoke a lot of reaction among English, Welsh and Northern Irish Members, and with some justification. I believe that that reduction should take place within the life of this Parliament so that at the next election the boundaries are based on the revised and reduced numbers".--[Official Report, 6/10/98; col. 356.]

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The noble Lord was speaking officially for the Liberal Democrats, but also unofficially, I suspect, for noble Lords of all parties and none. I beg to move.

Lord Ellenborough: My Lords, I strongly support the amendment. The whole question of the number of Scots MPs, in respect of both the Edinburgh parliament and that at Westminster, is beginning to resemble a game of musical chairs. It is an absolute shambles and is all too typical of the incoherent approach of this Government, which is to legislate now and contemplate later. The Government just will not face up to the English dimension and accept that devolution will not work unless it is seen to be fair to the English. The noble Lord, Lord Sewel, has conducted the proceedings on this Bill in a very friendly and pleasant manner. However, it seems extraordinary that he cannot bring himself to mention the words the dreaded "E" words, "England" and "the English". Perhaps his spin-doctors have included a stipulation in his brief that such words are never to be mentioned. I have been present for most of the proceedings on the Bill, and never once have I heard England or the English mentioned by the noble Lord.

This amendment is a most important one. It should have the support of all unionists of any shade of opinion in Scotland--not merely of Conservatives, who are presently rather thin on the ground in Scotland, but of Labour and Liberal Democrat unionists. The noble Lord, Lord Monson, reminded us of the comments made on this matter in Committee by the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood.

The Government do not seem to recognise that setting up a new, full-blown parliament with tax-raising powers in a large part of the United Kingdom--that is to say, Scotland, consisting of nearly 10 per cent. of the population and not far short of 40 per cent. of the land area--is of such monumental importance that it necessitates immediate and urgent action to address the gross over-representation of Scots MPs.

As was pointed out, the Government's intention is to allow that situation to continue for some eight years after the Scots parliament is established, which would take us to around 2007. Even that timetable could easily be kicked into the long grass if, as a result of a referendum some time in the next Parliament, there were to be far-reaching changes to the voting system for another place.

This is all quite unacceptable. The Government may get away with it until the end of this Parliament, but after the next general election the representation of English constituencies could be very different from what it is now. It does not need a very large swing for there to be a Conservative majority in the English constituencies after the next general election. Stranger things have happened. Then we are in the potential nightmare scenario whereby decisions could be imposed on the English by way of Scots MPs.

At present, the Westminster parliament is fully sovereign and responsibilities are spread equally throughout the UK. But after devolution English MPs will have substantially fewer powers and England will be diminished while the sovereignty of Scotland will be

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enhanced. Scotland will have her own parliament, substantial over-representation at Westminster and a higher proportion of spending and privileges at the expense of England. That will have huge implications for the rest of the UK; and once vast amounts and areas of legislation and administration are removed from the direct responsibility of Westminster, we are in a totally different situation and in reality no longer a unitary state.

As a result, the Government cannot continue sheltering behind the usual alleged administrative difficulties and sleepy timetable of the Boundary Commission, which is unacceptable. In Committee we heard much about a redoubtable lady, Lady Cosgrove, who is chairman of the Boundary Commission for Scotland and who, we were assured by my noble and learned friend Lord Fraser of Carmyllie, could accomplish the task within a very short space of time. It is utterly ridiculous that this far-reaching Bill can be put through in one Session of Parliament, yet the boundaries of some 72 constituencies cannot be altered for many years. Resolute and urgent action is needed so that we all know where we are before the next Westminster election. As I have said, a speedy and relatively small reduction in Scots MPs will not solve the West Lothian problem in itself, but it will at least alleviate it and, most important, the Government will be seen by the English not to be totally unaware of the problem.

7.15 p.m.

Lord Thomas of Gresford: My Lords, when I hear expressions such as "the West Lothian outrage" being used by Members of this House, it strikes me that the speaker has forgotten what has fuelled the call for devolution in both Wales and Scotland. It is the Westminster question--that is to say that, over the centuries, English Members of Parliament have run the internal affairs of both Scotland and Wales. One example that comes to mind is the imposition of the poll tax in Scotland by a government who were barely represented there.

There is talk of over-representation in Scotland and in Wales. If there had been an enormous economic advantage that one could see from the over-representation; if Glasgow, the most prosperous city in the whole of the United Kingdom, or if the Highlands and Islands were the most prosperous part of Scotland, in those circumstances--

The Earl of Dartmouth: My Lords, if the noble Lord will permit me, there is an economic advantage. Under the Barnett formula, each Scottish resident receives an extra £871 per year or 23.5 per cent. in expenditure.

Lord Thomas of Gresford: My Lords, the statistics for Scotland are not in my head, but I can say that in Wales Wrexham and Flintshire are the most prosperous areas with the highest per capita income; that is, 10 per cent. below the average per capita income for England as a whole. I am sure that the same applies in Scotland and therefore the over- representation that is talked about has not resulted in economic prosperity.

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I approve of the way in which the Government have approached the matter, and I speak as one whose wife was born in and who comes from West Lothian. The West Lothian question is mentioned far too often. The true causes that have fuelled the devolution debate in this country are not understood by the people who use that expression.

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