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House of Lords Bill

8.25 p.m.

House again in Committee (on Recommitment) on Clause 2.

The Earl of Dundee moved Amendment No. 13:

Page 1, line 9, leave out ("90") and insert ("16 people domiciled in Scotland and no more than 90 other")

The noble Earl said: In moving Amendment No. 13, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 24 which is consequential upon it. After the description of what they entail is an explanation of what they achieve: first, consistency with the 1701 Act of Union provision; secondly, consistency with current proposals for Lords reform; and, thirdly, the value which they add to those proposals with which they are consistent.

The option offered by Amendment No. 13 is for consideration by the Royal Commission and for adjudication at stage two. What, then, is the justification for its discussion at all at stage one and within this Bill? The amendment as proposed does not seek incorporation within the present Bill; nor is it intended that its terms should form part of the transition House. Instead, what is envisaged is that its option should be freely evaluated by my noble friend Lord Wakeham and his colleagues and by the architects of stage two.

However, that can happen only if the option within the amendment has not been precluded by the present Bill in the first place. Therefore, the sole purpose in discussing the matter now is to obtain the guidance and reassurance of the noble and learned Lord that the

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option within the amendment, as about to be explained, will not have been precluded by the present Bill by the time it becomes an Act.

The option within the amendment is based on one of my submissions to my noble friend Lord Wakeham and his colleagues. It recommends that a small group of Scottish independent Peers be formed of no fewer than 16 people. That group would not be aligned to any political party and would be separate from the Cross Benches. It would be elected by a cross-party electoral college of Peers resident in Scotland. That electoral college would reflect the view of all sides of the second Chamber and would be constituted accordingly.

While the electoral college would include life Peers resident in Scotland, it might also include members of the Scottish hereditary peerage resident in Scotland. Equally, while candidates for election as Scottish independent Peers would include life Peers resident in Scotland, they might also include members of the Scottish hereditary peerage resident in Scotland.

The first advantage of that option is consistency with the 1707 Act of Union provision. The 1963 Act ended the system for selection of Scottish representative Peers. However, it did not alter the relevant provision within the Act of Union; nor would it have attempted to do so. This provision gave Scotland the right to send a number of Peers to the House of Lords. Whichever method of election may obtain need not infringe the Act of Union provision. Nor, of course, in 1963 did discontinuation of Scottish elections remove the obligation. Conversely, a new form of election would also not contravene the Act of Union. Therefore, a cross-party electoral college of Scottish Peers resident in Scotland would be consistent with the 1707 provision.

Then there is the consistency of this option with the current proposals for House of Lords reform. These aims may be agreed as follows: first, approximate voting parity between the main political parties; secondly, restriction of the automatic right to sit and vote in the second Chamber on succession to a hereditary peerage; and, thirdly, preservation of the present quality of the deliberative function of the second Chamber. The proposal for Scottish independent Peers is consistent with those three aims.

As to numbers, it does not undermine parity. There are two reasons for this: first, the present quota of numbers arising from the Weatherill amendment applies to the transition House but not to the post-transition House; and, secondly, since the proposed electoral college will be a cross-party one, parity obtains by definition and in any event.

As to the expedients to redress the imbalance of party politics, clearly it would not be helpful to reinstate elections of Scottish Peers by the Scottish hereditary peerage. That is because the majority of hereditary Peers may well take the Conservative Whip. Equally, in relation to Scottish representation, it is unconvincing to assert that as things already are there is enough redress of party politics through existing Scottish Peers. Certainly, in this House there is quite a large number of Scottish Peers resident in Scotland. That is always to be welcomed. Yet these are different groupings of party

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politicians who happen to be good Scotsmen. That is not the same thing as an elected group of Scottish independent Peers who are also good Scotsmen.

A further benefit is the value which this option adds to the aims of House of Lords reform, with which it is consistent. In particular, it assists the third aim; that is, within a reformed second Chamber, the preservation of the present quality of the deliberative function and the further emphasis of the ascendancy of this function over party politics and voting.

As I indicated, these are matters for stage two. They need not detain us now. The important question today is that stage one and the current Bill should not preclude their evaluation. The purpose of the amendment is to obtain reassurance and guidance on this aspect from the noble and learned Lord. I beg to move.

8.30 p.m.

Lord Gray: As someone who has to take off his shoes and socks before he can do complicated sums, I am glad that the maths in this amendment are not as complicated as in the group of amendments we discussed before dinner.

In introducing the amendment, my noble friend said that he was seeking only discussion of the principle and that the amendment was tabled at this stage to ensure Scottish representation for the future. I have made clear in earlier debates that I hold strongly to the views that we should never--particularly at this time of devolution--repudiate, or appear to repudiate, the fundamental provision of the Acts of Union. The guarantee of specific Scottish representation in this Parliament, in this House, was basic to the Union treaty.

The amendment is not a re-run of the amendments I proposed in earlier debates, although, were the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, here, I would tell him that I did not intend to disappoint him by perhaps not returning to those amendments later. This amendment introduces the idea of an independent body of Scots representatives and takes account of the presence of Scottish life Peers, as did the amendment of the noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie, debated earlier in Committee.

The amendment has two aspects which should recommend it to the House and to the Government. The suggestion that 16 should be the number for the independent group replicates the original Acts of Union position and is therefore a reasonable suggestion. However, it is also probably about right numerically to secure a Scottish representation of 40 or so, which has previously been suggested as a reasonable level. At present there are 110 Peers with a Scottish address. Subject to whoever secures exception from Clause 1, more than three-quarters of that number will disappear with the stage one reform. There are currently 40 life Peers with an address in Scotland, including Members appointed under the Appellate Jurisdiction Act 1876. I do not know how many of the remaining life Peers have their main residence in Scotland as opposed to merely an address there. I do not know how many of those 30 plus life Peers are active here and will continue

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to be active here. It is interesting that stage one will remove 22 Cross-Bench or otherwise unaffiliated hereditary Peers.

It would seem that the suggestion of 16 for an independent group is very reasonable. We should try to build a bridge between 1706 and the future by ensuring that the matter is considered by the Royal Commission and by ensuring that, whatever happens, Scotland's special position as a co-founder of the Union continues to be a feature of this House. Surely we can agree on that.

It is important that the Union position is kept alive and not allowed to go by default, as did the Irish representation here. I hope that the Government's response will reflect the importance which they have said they attach to the continuance of the United Kingdom. I am pleased to join with my noble friend in proposing the amendment.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe: I have a great deal of sympathy with the sentiments expressed to ensure the continuance of Scottish representation in the House, but, frankly, those of us who sit in the House are part of the United Kingdom Parliament and I cannot justify the special provisions for Scottish representation sought by the amendment.

I should say to my Scottish colleagues in the House that if we are not careful there will be a substantial English backlash against Scotland. In a Cabinet of 22 people, there are no fewer than six Scottish Ministers--I do not know whether the Prime Minister might be regarded as a semi-detached Scot; in which case he would be another one--and the representation of Scotland in the United Kingdom Parliament and the centres of power within Parliament is well outside the Scottish 10 per cent of the United Kingdom population.

Like my colleagues, I realise that a good many of the matters with which we have been involved in this Parliament have now been devolved. During the referendum debate I tried to speak in various parts of Scotland and to warn people that the creation of the new Scottish Parliament meant the abolition of the House of Lords so far as it concerned domestic legislation. Any Bill passed by the Scottish Parliament has no provision for a revision Chamber and passes directly to the Queen for acceptance.

I can understand the frustration of my noble friends at now having no voice in Scottish domestic affairs, but I am hopeful that those of us who will remain in the House as life Peers will be able to exercise our influence, albeit indirectly, when Scottish affairs and certainly British affairs are discussed in the House. When during the devolution debate I said to meetings throughout Scotland, "You know, of course, that you are abolishing the House of Lords as far as concerns Scottish legislation affecting housing, health, education, the law and so on", I found that my audiences were somewhat unmoved by the fact that that was taking place. The people of Scotland voted for that. It would be most unfortunate if, the people of Scotland having voted "yes, yes", which I did not support, and having

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supported that degree of devolution, somehow or other we were to introduce in this Bill a special provision for Scottish Members in the new Chamber.

I realise that my noble friends are, in a sense, simply testing the temperature of the water, but I suggest that they do not proceed with this provision. I can tell them that the backlash is already evident. I see many references in the press to the inequalities of the Barnett formula and to the privileged position which Scotland enjoys in the British Parliament now that responsibilities have been devolved to Edinburgh. Therefore, I would not support the idea that a special position for the Scots in the transitional House should be sustained.

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