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Lord Mackay of Drumadoon: My Lords, the notes that I have in front of me begin with the words, "I am grateful to the noble Lord, the Minister for having explained these various orders in his usual helpful manner". But as I was listening to him it suddenly struck me that he went through them in a different order from that on the Order Paper. Therefore, the first question is whether that procedure is competent where each order he has spoken to is incorrectly entered on the Order Paper. That gives him plenty of time to find an answer to that very searching question.
Lord Mackay of Drumadoon: My Lords, I have to take up the Minister on another point. It was not in September 1997 that we started talking about the referendum Bill. That was the month, as I recall, when we voted in the referendum. It was some months previously that we set out on this long and, by and large, happy and interesting path.
I am grateful not only to the Minister but to his officials for having sent me copies of these orders in advance of the draft orders having been tabled in this House. That courtesy is typical of the courtesy shown by Scottish Office officials to Peers on all sides of the House throughout the devolution project. It was of great assistance to us when the Bill was going through Parliament and to me recently in setting aside the necessary time to read through the considerable volume of paper-work which the orders constitute.
It is also appropriate to pay tribute to those who were involved in the drafting of these orders. I take it that the Minister does not intend to take personal credit for that. Some of these orders are lengthy and highly technical. There can be little doubt that many hours of research and drafting must have been involved in their preparation. They may be being nodded through your Lordships' House this evening in a comparatively short period of time, but it is right to place on record our
There is only one order about which I wish to say anything in detail. I refer to the order which appears first on the Order Paper; namely, the order relating to the provision of financial assistance for registered political parties. That is an order which would normally require the approval not only of both Houses of Parliament but also of the Scottish Parliament. I appreciate that in terms of an order previously made, it is not necessary to take the approval of the Scottish Parliament at this stage. However, if the order comes to be amended in due course, that may be required.
There are a number of grounds for regretting both the manner and the terms in which the draft order has been brought forward for approval, which may explain why its approval was put to a Division when debated in another place. Contrary to the practice which applies in this Parliament when decisions are being made as to what financial assistance Opposition parties should receive, there was not, as I understand it, any consultation between the Scottish Executive and opposition parties before the amounts set out in the order were determined. Quite why that happened is unclear to me. I believe that it has never been fully explained in public. I should be most grateful if the Minister could do so now, in particular in view of the fact that since in the terms of the order the Liberal Democrats are to receive some payments it is reasonable to assume that there was at least a measure of consultation with them, if only through the Deputy First Minister, Mr Jim Wallace. If he were consulted, why were the leaders of the other parties not consulted also?
Viscount Thurso: My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord for allowing me to intervene. So far as I am aware there is no evidence that any such consultations took place. I am unaware of their having taken place. No one has ever said that they took place. Therefore I do not see what ground the noble and learned Lord has for putting forward the case that such consultations did take place.
Lord Mackay of Drumadoon: My Lords, I think it is a matter of reasonable inference. As I understand it, the Liberal Democrats are in coalition with the Labour Party in the Scottish Executive. I suppose it is technically possible that even the First Minister was not consulted about the terms of this order in that it did not require to be approved by the Scottish Parliament itself. No doubt the noble Lord the Minister can enlighten us about that in due course. I would have thought that as it is now getting on for two months since the election was held and this order has only been brought forward in the month of June, it is reasonable to assume that at the numerous meetings of the Scottish Executive, or the Scottish Cabinet as they call themselves, this matter was touched on. Of course I may be entirely wrong in which case the Minister will correct me.
The concern which I feel, and I am not alone, is that neither the Scottish Conservative Party nor the Scottish National Party, as far as I know, was consulted. It seems to me that if one is seeking to embark on a form of new consensus politics this is one area in which full and co-operative discussions might profitably have taken place. That is particularly so in view of what was commended in the Neill Committee's report on the funding of political parties. Your Lordships will be aware that it was primarily concerned with the funding of those political parties who operate in the Westminster Parliament and who receive what is colloquially known in the other place as "Short money" and sometimes, in your Lordships' House, as "Cranborne money".
The Neill Committee took the view that it was necessary that all the political parties involved in the work of this Parliament should review the matter to ensure that the Opposition parties received sufficient resources to enable them to perform their functions adequately. The committee went on to recommend that both Short and Cranborne money should be increased substantially. It is my understanding that after discussion, not only through the usual channels but with all the parties, agreement was reached and the payment of such funds has been increased.
The Neill Committee also recommended that the political parties who would be functioning in the new Scottish Parliament should consider making provision for financial support for the purpose of the better performance of their parliamentary functions: in other words, the committee put forward its views as to what should happen at Westminster and suggested that a similar approach should be taken not only in the Scottish Parliament but also in the Welsh Assembly, as I recall.
It is therefore most regrettable that the Government have not followed the practice currently adopted at Westminster nor taken the advice of the Neill Committee in seeking to achieve agreement with all the political parties involved in the Scottish Parliament as to what funds the Opposition parties should appropriately require to ensure that they can properly discharge their duties. Parliamentary democracy depends not only on the government in power but on opposition parties who can test legislation and policies as the months and years go by.
I ask the Minister to explain how the figure of £5,000 was decided upon as the relevant amount for the purposes of Article 2 of the draft order. What criteria were taken into account when the Government decided that £5,000 was the appropriate figure? On what factual basis are the Government satisfied that £5,000 per MSP will meet the test recommended by the Neill Committee that Opposition parties should be in a position adequately to discharge their parliamentary functions?
As far as that figure is concerned, why should we do anything other than believe that it was plucked out of the air as a number which the Government felt was the minimum they could get away with, particularly as it is a figure substantially less than the figure per MP in another place which is used, I understand, in the calculation of Short money?
The concern that I express is even more acute when one considers the army of special advisers that the 22 Scottish Ministers are employing. As I understand it, their salary and support will cost the taxpayer somewhat in excess of £0.5 million per annum. Under this draft order, the sums which the Scottish Conservative Party and the Scottish National Party--and many believe that those are the only parties truly in opposition--will receive will be less than half the figure I mentioned.
I am fully aware that the terms of Section 97(3) of the Act permit payments to be made to a party which is in coalition. Therefore, I do not challenge the competency of the terms in which the order is framed. Nevertheless, I cannot refrain from expressing the view that the fact that the Liberal Democrats are to receive money may make it difficult to dispel the increasing concern felt in many quarters about the coalition deal which has been entered into and about how long that will last.
While I do not expect the Minister to answer for the very difficult, if not impossible, position in which the Liberal Democrats now find themselves in Scotland, it would be helpful for your Lordships to hear the Minister's view on why that whole topic was not the subject of proper consultation prior to the draft order being tabled.
Before I pass from the order, perhaps I may take the opportunity to mention one practical difficulty that I have encountered in preparing for the debate this evening, of which I have given notice to the Minister; that is, the difficulty of obtaining in this House hard copies of the Official Report of the Scottish Parliament--the Scottish Hansard, if I may describe it in such terms.
The Minister may recall that I tabled a Written Question in regard to that some months ago. I asked about the arrangements to be made for Members of both Houses of Parliament to have access to the parliamentary papers of the Scottish Parliament. By that I had in mind the daily Hansard, draft Bills, reports and so on. The written reply that I received was that copies of the papers would be placed in the Library and that the full proceedings of the Scottish Parliament would also be on the Internet.
In the event, since the Parliament started to hold debates, delay has been experienced in the arrival of the Official Report in the Library, although we have not yet reached the stage when draft Bills, notices of amendments, reports and other documents have started to be produced.
I fully accept that searching the Internet may be one way of locating the parliamentary material which one is interested to consider. But it is not the only way and, for my part, it is not necessarily the quickest way. In my experience, skimming through the report in Hansard may be a far quicker way of finding what one is looking for rather than searching page after page on the Internet. When one is using documents as hard copy, as one must, particularly when one is in opposition, it is essential to look at more than one document at the same time. That is not at all easy.
Therefore, I hope that the Government will look further at that issue and will see whether arrangements can be made to ensure that Members of your Lordships' House can have speedy access to hard copies of all the parliamentary papers of the Scottish Parliament. In view of the fact that the Parliament will be enacting primary legislation which will amend legislation which has passed through this Parliament, it is essential that that should happen.
I am happy to say that I have very few detailed comments to make about the other orders. I recognise that some are very important indeed; in particular, the third order on the Order Paper relating to the transfer of executive functions to Scottish Ministers. I have read through that order in detail. It seemed to me that if I started to ask questions about individual paragraphs, we might be here all night and, therefore, I do not propose to do so.
I appreciate that in deciding what additional executive powers had to be devolved difficult choices had to be made. Time will tell whether the correct decisions have been made. However, I recognise that there are procedures under which the order can be amended should that prove to be necessary in the light of experience.
Finally, I turn to the order dealing with the modification of Schedules 4 and 5 to the Act. Will the terms of paragraph 5 allow the United Kingdom Government to veto the release of information held under the Scottish executive if that information had been supplied to the appropriate body on a confidential basis by a Minister of the Crown? If the answer to that question is yes, as I suspect it will be, does that not mean that the Scottish Parliament's power to legislate on freedom of information will be significantly restricted by the new provision entering a new reserve matter into Schedule 5? Does it not mean that the Scottish executive and the Scottish Parliament will be prevented from releasing information which they consider should be released? Does that not mean that they may be required to act contrary to the public interest as they perceive it? If the Scottish executive or the Scottish Parliament wished to take a more liberal attitude to freedom of information than the Home Office currently wishes to do, why should they not be able to do so?
In conclusion, I again thank the Minister and his colleague the noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay of Cartvale, for their assistance throughout the long process. After the conclusion of the Bill the Minister held a party in Dover House which will go down in the annals of Dover House as one of the better and longer parties. I do not look forward in anticipation to a similar event tonight, but I hope that once the orders are approved, as no doubt they will be, it may be possible to raise a glass to the end of a long and interesting parliamentary experience.
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