I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
The Bill is short and to the point. It will keep the composition of the Scottish Parliament at 129 Members by removing the link in the Scotland Act 1998 that makes the constituencies of the Scottish Parliament the same as those for Westminster. The Bill will also provide for the separate review of the Scottish Parliament constituencies and regions by the Electoral Commission, which takes over the responsibilities of the boundary commission after the completion of the current review cycle. Without these provisions, there would be no mechanism for reviewing the boundaries for the Scottish Parliament constituencies.
I also want to set out my proposals for dealing with the difficulties that many people believe will arise from having four different voting systems in Scotland, and other associated matters. I shall return to that in a moment, but first let me set out why this Bill is necessary.
I hope that at some point the Secretary of State will touch on the relationship between Members of the Scottish Parliament and Scottish MPs. If we are to have a large number of MSPs doing all the—no doubt excellent—work that they do at local and constituency level, will he have something to say about the reduction in the responsibilities of Scottish MPs—to say nothing of their allowances—in this House? With all these additional politicians in the Scottish Parliament, how can we justify the continued activity of Scottish MPs, apparently on the same basis as their English and Welsh counterparts?
I shall have something to say about MPs and MSPs. The other matter that the right hon. Gentleman raises is for this House, not for the Government.
The Government accepted from the outset that devolution removed the need for special consideration for Scotland in terms of representation in this House, and that there should be the same electoral quotas for Scotland as for England. That was an integral part of the devolution agreement. Section 86 of the Scotland Act 1998 provided for that reduction in MP numbers, but the Act also made the constituencies of the Scottish Parliament the same as those for Westminster, with the exception of Orkney and Shetland.
My right hon. Friend was in the House during the passage of the Scotland Act. Did he envisage—I certainly did not—that there would be an increase of some 250 per cent. in Scottish representation as a consequence of devolution? That is what one gets if one adds together 59 and 129 and compares it with what we had before.
As my hon. Friend knows, when these matters were originally debated it was envisaged that the number of Members of the Scottish Parliament would reduce as and when the number of MPs being sent to Westminster reduced. As I was about to say, however, the Government said at the time that they would consider how the Scottish Parliament was working and keep the matter under review. Indeed, the Government were not the only people who said that. I note that although the Conservatives tabled an amendment—which, sadly, Mr. Speaker was unable to select—Mr. Ancram, who still speaks for the Conservative party, at least on foreign affairs, said on
"it cannot be good for Scotland to find that, within a year or two of the Scottish Parliament getting going, its numbers are cut to reflect the changes in the number of Scottish Members at Westminster. It makes little sense to set up a Parliament, ask it to bed down and then make fundamental changes to its size and composition."—[Hansard, 12 January 1998; Vol. 304, c. 43.]
So it was not only members of the Government who took the view that these matters would have to be kept under review; it was the view of Conservative Members, too. That may explain why the right hon. and learned Member for Devizes does not have his name on the Conservative amendment.
The answer to my hon. Friend Mr. O'Neill is that when the Scotland Bill was going through the House, it was anticipated that there would be a reduction in the number of MSPs to match the reduction in the number of MPs being sent to Westminster—but my noble Friend Lord Sewel made it clear that the Government would keep the matter under review. They did so, and subsequently consulted. The conclusion, which was announced by the former Secretary of State for Scotland, my right hon. Friend
Rather than relying on who said what to whom, surely the most convincing illustration of the situation is the question that if it was envisaged—or at least, if it was a strong probability—that the Parliament would keep 129 Members, would not the late Donald Dewar have accepted a design for a Parliament with 129 rooms for MSPs?
I should have thought that most Members of this House would be more than happy to leave the accommodation arrangements at Holyrood to those at the Scottish Parliament charged with the responsibility of overseeing the project.
The right hon. Gentleman referred to remarks by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Devizes. He may recognise this comment, too:
"we also believe that the Parliament could operate efficiently with fewer Members, and that there are good arguments for maintaining the linkage in constituencies."—[Hansard, 12 May 1998; Vol. 312, c. 224.]
I recognise the words of the former First Minister. However, may I remind my hon. Friend the Member for Ochil that when the Scotland Bill was considered, it was envisaged that the number of Members of the Scottish Parliament would reduce as the number of Members of Parliament went down. Indeed, the legislation provided for that. However, we said at the time that we would keep the matter under review. We have done that, and the consensus of opinion—I know that the feeling is not universal—is that the number of Members of the Scottish Parliament should remain at 129.
I should like to make some progress, or we shall never reach the exciting bit, but I shall give way to my hon. Friend.
I have no idea about the accommodation arrangements at Holyrood. Although it is currently in my constituency—the boundary commission has made sure that that will not remain the case for much longer—I have not yet had the pleasure of a guided tour of the building. Perhaps I shall one day.
I must make some progress. If the hon. Gentleman wants to ask about the accommodation arrangements in Holyrood, he would do better to direct his inquiries to the Scottish Parliament.
As hon. Members know, the boundary commission recently finished reviewing Scottish Westminster constituencies and it recommends reducing the number to 59. The next stage would be for the commission to consider the boundaries of the regions that return additional Members to the Scottish Parliament. That work must be either concluded or made unnecessary by the Bill before the commission can report to me. The commission is considering the best way to proceed in the light of the Bill's progress.
The commission is required by statute to report by December 2006. When it does so is a matter solely for the commission itself, but in the light of its progress so far, the review is likely to be finished long before the deadline.
If there were a general election tomorrow morning, we would probably fight it on the existing boundaries. However, as I have said on many occasions, the boundary commission has finished all its work on the Westminster constituencies. It would logically consider the consequential effect on the regions that provide the additional MSPs. The commission is well aware of the Bill and it is currently deciding how best to proceed. The Prime Minister and I have often said that as soon as we get the report—the timing is a matter for the boundary commission—we shall implement it. I cannot make that any clearer.
Will my right hon. Friend clarify the position—[Laughter.] Will he clarify it so that I can understand it? Will the commission start its deliberations on the Scottish Parliament boundaries immediately? Will that mean that its recommendations will be implemented by 2007?
Perhaps I have misunderstood my hon. Friend, but I believe that he is confusing two separate matters. As all hon. Members know, the boundary commission, which considers the boundaries for Westminster constituencies, has finished its work on that. Under current legislation, which the Bill would change, the boundary commission would consider the boundaries that govern the return of the additional MSPs. The Bill specifically stops that work because first, we want to maintain the 129 MSPs, and secondly, as I am about to say if I get that far—I propose that we should consider the consequences of having four different systems in Scotland. The commission that I propose to establish to examine that, is different from the boundary commission.
No. That is hard on the hon. Gentleman, and I promise that I shall let him in before I finish, but not yet.
As I said, following the consultation, the former Secretary of State for Scotland, my right hon. Friend the Member for Airdrie and Shotts, told the House on
Hon. Members will recall that my right hon. Friend announced in December 2002 her intention regarding a commission to look at issues arising from the idea of different Holyrood and Westminster boundaries. At that time, she proposed an independent commission to be set up after the Scottish Parliament elections in 2007 to consider the impact of having non-coterminous boundaries for Holyrood and Westminster constituencies. It was also indicated that the commission would not be precluded from looking at questions of electoral systems, including proportional representation.
I have come to the view that we need to consider such questions not in 2007 but this year. I shall inform the House how I intend to take this matter forward, taking account of some significant changes that have occurred following the Scottish Parliament election last May. As the House will know, the Scottish Parliament is currently considering legislation that, if enacted, would lead to councils in Scotland being elected by the single transferable vote from 2007. Therefore, Scotland now faces the prospect of four different voting systems for an electorate of just over 3.8 million: for UK general elections, the first-past-the-post system; for European elections, a PR list system; for Holyrood, the additional member system; and, if the legislation goes through, STV for local government. In addition, the further complication exists that local government elections in Scotland are expected to take place on the same day as the Holyrood election.
I very much welcome the fact that the Secretary of State is bringing forward the independent commission. He makes an important point about the multiplicity of electoral systems that might exist in Scotland. We should all have learned from the May election the lesson that it is important to engage the electorate. Would my right hon. Friend therefore be prepared to raise with the First Minister the possibility that the new independent commission might also consider the electoral system for local government? If we have 129 Members of the Scottish Parliament and 59 Members of the Westminster Parliament, the boundaries should be coterminous. We need to look at how the electoral system operates to make sure that we have a coherent whole.
First, I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for her welcome for the announcement that I am in the process of making. Secondly, I shall explain when I set out the terms of reference and the areas to be covered by the commission how local government would be included. In my view, however, the commission needs to be able to look at all the matters that are giving rise to the difficulties that I have set out. Of course, it is for the Scottish Parliament to legislate for local government, just as it is for this Parliament to legislate in relation to the elections to the Scottish Parliament.
As many of my right hon. and hon. Friends have said, the potential for significant confusion among voters is high as a result of us having four different systems. As the low turnout of voters at the May elections last year suggests, we ought to try to do all that we can to make voting more straightforward and understandable for the electorate, not more complicated. Indeed, since the Scottish Parliament elections last year, debate has been growing in Scotland on the subject of the electoral arrangements for the Scottish Parliament.
I have also considered the concerns raised about the divergence of boundaries for Westminster and Scottish Parliament constituencies, which will arise from the passage of the Bill before the House and the reduction in the number of Scottish MPs. There may also be scope for further confusion among the public as to their representation in such a circumstance—which, of course, was the conclusion of the Scottish Affairs Committee. That Committee further commented on the difficulties in relations between elected Members, the electorate and other bodies, such as local authorities, because of the sometimes overlapping responsibilities of constituency and list Members of the Scottish Parliament.
I think that, so that we can deal with all those aspects of possible confusion in our systems of election and representation, the establishment of the commission should be brought forward, and it should start work as soon as possible. It will examine the consequences of having four different voting systems in Scotland, and different boundaries between Westminster and Holyrood. It will consider the implications for voter participation, the relationship between public bodies and authorities in Scotland and MPs and MSPs, and the representation of constituents by different tiers of elected members. It will be asked to make representations on whether the consequences require action to be taken in respect of arrangements between elected representatives, to ensure that constituents and organisations receive the best possible service; the pattern of electoral boundaries in Scotland; the relationship with other public bodies and authorities in Scotland; and the method of voting in Scottish parliamentary elections.
The commission will be independent. It will consider the case for change, and make recommendations to me and to the First Minister. I intend to discuss the chairmanship and membership of the commission with the other political parties in the House, and I will announce its membership in due course.
I welcome the establishment of an independent commission, but will it come up with recommendations or with what I am sure many Members would favour—various options?
I expect it to make recommendations, but it might recommend the adoption of one of two possible courses. I do not want to fetter its discretion before it even gets going. It may produce a firm recommendation, having reached a conclusive view, or it may say "You could do such and such, or something else." I do not want to say at the very beginning that it must come up with a definite conclusion.
There is an important point here. As I have said before, if we are to change the way in which the Scottish Parliament is elected, a degree of consensus is needed. Unanimity will never be possible, but this is not something that a single political party can do.
The commission may produce a recommendation, or a series of recommendations, but it should be remembered that it is for us in this Parliament to decide which—if any—to accept, just as it is for the Scottish Parliament to make decisions relating to local government.
I will give way to everyone in due course, but I want to be as fair as possible. I give way to the spokesman for the Liberal Democrats.
I welcome what the Secretary of State has said about consensus, and I recognise the value of the commission, but will the right hon. Gentleman acknowledge, without binding it in any way, that the settlement that created the Scottish Parliament was endorsed in a referendum on the basis of the principle that the Parliament would be elected under a system of proportional representation? That was a done deal with the Scottish people. Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that the recommendations of the Scottish Affairs Committee, for instance, are totally inconsistent with that principle endorsed by the Scottish electorate?
It is open to the commission to consider the Select Committee's recommendations—along with, I dare say, many other representations. As for the hon. Gentleman's general point, it is true that the broad devolution settlement was agreed after a referendum. As I have always said, and as I said a moment ago, there must be a degree of consensus throughout Scotland. This is not just the province of political parties in Scotland; it is a matter for the public—the electorate—in Scotland. I repeat that I do not want to fetter the commission's discretion before it even gets going. It would be best for it to reach its own conclusions.
I agree. My view is that if we are to look at these issues, it should be done quickly. We should come to a conclusion as quickly as possible, consistent of course with having a proper examination of the views—
I will give way to the hon. Gentleman in due course.
Although devolution is of importance in Scotland and electoral systems are of great importance to some and, I suppose, of general importance to us all, I come from the school of thought that believes that no purpose is being served by keeping the process going year after year after year. I thus have a lot of sympathy with the point made by my hon. Friend Mr. Donohoe. An inquiry should be set up, with time to consider the options open to it; it should report and then we should decide what to do.
The Secretary of State has referred twice to consensus, but on the second occasion he qualified his remarks by saying that it had to be consensus across Scotland. However, we are discussing United Kingdom legislation and it is certainly the consensus in my constituency that one Member of Parliament can serve 100,000 people. Why have my constituents not been asked for their view on this consensus, and why is it necessary for Scots to be served at the rate of one Member of Parliament per 20,000 people?
With respect, the hon. Gentleman's question seems to flow from a misunderstanding of the constitutional arrangements in this country. We determine what the consensus is through Parliament—through the House of Commons. We all have a vote on these matters. When proposals eventually come before the House, we all have to decide whether to vote. On the general point about the size of the hon. Gentleman's constituency, I have already said that, as a result of the Scotland Act 1998, the same electoral quota as currently applies in England is now being applied in Scotland through the work of the Scottish Parliament. That point is already being dealt with.
When the last review took place I was a member of the public and voted on the establishment of a Scottish Parliament, not on the detail of how the election would be held. May I bring my right hon. Friend back to the question put by my hon. Friend Mr. Donohoe? When the recommendations are made, which will, I hope, be sooner rather than later—they should be made quickly—we should talk not about recommendations but about the alternatives available to us. It is for us to make the decisions, not the professionals who make recommendations to us. That is extremely important; there should be alternatives, not recommendations.
It will always be a matter for the House of Commons to decide which recommendations, or parts of recommendations, it wants to pursue. That is well understood. The point that I was making to my hon. Friend the Member for Cunninghame, South is that it would be wrong for me to say at the very start of the process, "Here's an independent commission, but by the way this is what I want you to conclude", or to say that the commission should offer only us alternatives. A commission might set out a range of options—either because it could not come to a unanimous view or because it felt that some things should be considered further by the House or the Scottish Parliament. I do not know what the commission will decide, but I must tell my hon. Friend David Hamilton and other Members that I think it is the best way for us to look at the present electoral arrangements in Scotland, as well as those planned for 2007, so that we can then consider the best option in the future.
In the interests of consensus, I welcome the consultation process. However, a few seconds ago, the Secretary of State said that the commission would report to him and the First Minister. Is not there a strong argument that such a commission should be established by the Scottish Parliament and, given the fact that the current electoral system, which so many Labour MPs find so distasteful, was actually voted for in the House, would not it be far better to let the Scottish Parliament have a go to see whether it can find a better electoral system, as its politicians are the ones most immediately concerned?
No, I disagree. The way in which Members of the Scottish Parliament are elected is reserved to Westminster; it is an integral part of the devolution settlement. The hon. Gentleman is a nationalist—he is a separatist, so of course he does not agree with that. However, the Labour party is not separatist—we are a party of the Union. We believe in the devolution settlement, and that is not up for grabs.
I understand the Secretary of State's argument, but my point is that he does not know that the commission will not come back with just one recommendation. I would like my right hon. Friend to ask the commission expressly to come back with various alternatives. As I said, there is nothing to stop the commission providing just a single recommendation. Frankly, that is not enough.
I understand my hon. Friend's point, but if we are to set up an independent commission, it is important that we do not end up with a position where, right from the start, we steer it in a direction in which it might not want to go. For all I know, the commission might provide a range of options—
It might come up, as my hon. Friend says, with one option, but we must remember that the Government of the day, the House and Parliament as a whole have a perfect right to accept all, none or only parts of the recommendations.
In setting out this course of action, I have consulted the First Minister, who shares my concerns and welcomes taking the debate forward. I want to make it clear that I have an open mind on these matters and that we should not pre-judge the conclusions, although, as I said earlier, the outcome must respect the basic principles of the devolution settlement.
I reiterate that the interests of the electorate and the ease and effectiveness with which they exercise their democratic rights are paramount in all those matters. I have also made it clear that any future decision to change the present electoral arrangements should try to reflect a consensus within Scotland. The commission will therefore be expected to carry out its remit through wide-ranging consultation designed to achieve general support for any change. There will never be unanimity, but the system of election to the Scottish Parliament does need broad agreement. It is our responsibility to provide the basis for a debate on electoral arrangements for that Parliament because the matter is reserved to Westminster.
I am listening carefully to right hon. Friend, but will he confirm my interpretation that he is proposing to set up a commission in order to sort out a confusion that we are still in the process of creating today?
No, I would not agree with my hon. Friend. We are trying to resolve the difficulties arising from the fact that, by 2007—assuming that the legislation to set up local government elections is passed—we will have four different systems for electing various people in Scotland, which has an electorate of 3.8 million. That needs to be resolved and that is why I am setting up a commission. It would have been possible for the Government to propose a particular solution, but I believe that we need a consensus—inasmuch as it is possible to secure one—to ensure that the system is generally acceptable in Scotland.
Can my right hon. Friend tell us more about the sequence? The Bill is going through Parliament and will deal with the number of seats. Is the commission not in any way related to the functions or purposes of the Bill, or will it feed into some part of the parliamentary procedures? Will it result in legislation that is wholly separate from the legislation before us today? Frankly, I do not understand the timetable of what my right hon. Friend is talking about. Would it not be more sensible to withdraw the legislation and let the commission deal with the problem, so that we could then come back and deal with its recommendations?
I shall have to disappoint my hon. Friend on that. We said two years ago that we intended to introduce legislation to retain 129 Members of the Scottish Parliament. We promised to do that and the Bill to achieve it is now before the House. It is being dealt with separately from the issues considered by the commission.
I set up the commission because I am well aware that both within and outside political parties in Scotland there is concern about the number of different voting systems and the problems thrown up by the lack of coterminosity between Westminster and Holyrood. That is why a commission is being established, but its timetable is different from the timetable for the Bill. The intention is that the Bill, providing it gains the support of the House and the other place, will be on the statute book by the summer. We promised that we would do that, and going back on that promise would be to invite allegations of bad faith. The commission, as I explained, is operating on a different time scale.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the four different voting systems in Scotland for councils and Scottish, Westminster and European Parliaments will cause confusion among the electorate and encourage voter apathy in all elections? I understand that the commission may consider whether it is impossible for the Scottish and Westminster Parliaments to have the same system, but we should at least have the same system for local government in Scotland and for the Scottish Parliament.
My hon. Friend is right to suggest that the commission will consider the arrangements for elections in Scotland—those for the Scottish Parliament and those in relation to local government—and I agree that there is some confusion. All of us who voted last May will recall seeing people who were confused about how the list system worked. Indeed, at the polling station that I was in, an old lady asked for advice from the polling clerk, who looked at me and said, "Not while he's here." [Laughter.]
We also need to consider the clarity of outcome. It is curious that everyone who stood in some elections got elected one way or another under the present system, and some voters find that difficult to understand—although many hon. Members might quite like such a system if we got elected regardless of what we did. My hon. Friend is right. Indeed, the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs, of which he is a member, considered those matters and believed that such confusion needed to be looked at.
I return to the Select Committee's excellent report, which states:
"The Committee expects the Electoral Commission to produce its detailed proposals in time for the election to the Scottish Parliament in 2007 to be conducted under the new arrangements. It is, therefore, imperative that the Commission starts its work without delay"— as my right hon. Friend is saying—
"and that it presents its findings to the Secretary of State for Scotland who should take the final decision based on all available information."
Does my right hon. Friend think it is possible for the new arrangements to be implemented at the next Scottish Parliament election in 2007?
As I said in relation to an earlier question, I want the commission to be set up as quickly as possible and then to report as soon as it can, subject to having adequate time to consider such things. Thereafter, assuming that it recommends some form of change, primary legislation will be necessary. For obvious reasons, I cannot say when the Government might introduce such legislation, especially as we have not even got any recommendation to do so, but many people will take the view that, having set up the commission, it is best to ask it to get on with its work as quickly as it reasonably can because keeping such matters going for year after year would be unnecessary and not widely acceptable.
Much has been made of the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs report. I am a member of that Committee. Does the Secretary of State not accept that the defect in the report is that, after calling for a commission, it makes a specific recommendation for a system that many Labour Back Benchers are pushing for? Does he accept that that is wrong and that the commission should be completely independent?
The hon. Gentleman is relatively new to the House, but I can assure him that it is not unknown for Select Committees to make recommendations.
I am trying my best to be sympathetic to the difficulties in which the Secretary of State finds himself, but is it not the truth that he is experiencing difficulties because we agreed—he says two years ago, but it may be more—to change the legislation without understanding the consequences of the change? We are now being asked to change the legislation and to rely on a commission of the great and the good to make decisions for us or to make recommendations. That does not point to good governance at all.
I do not agree with my hon. Friend. Anyone who considered the matter two years ago when the former Secretary of State made the announcement would have understood full well the import of what was being considered.
There is a simple point to make about the commission. Although, in theory, it would be open to the Government of the day to say, "Right, this is the voting system. Take it or leave it", I do not think that it would be possible to make a change on something as fundamental as the way in which we elect representatives without there being a degree of consensus. My hon. Friend and I might disagree on that point, but it is important.
I am not suggesting that a commission is the only way to proceed, but I propose to establish a commission and I have said that I shall talk to party representatives in the House to get it set up as quickly as possible. However, as I have said many times before, there needs to be a debate in Scotland the best way of electing MSPs about and so on. That is the best way to proceed.
At this stage, I shall briefly go through what is in the Bill.
By convention, Secretaries of State do that, but I sense that the mood of the House is for me to do it quite quickly.
I think that I have understood everything that my right hon. Friend has said to the House, but one issue is not clear in my mind because it is one for the Scottish Executive. On the proposals for electing councillors to local government, do the Scottish Executive take a firm view or are they prepared to submit proposals on that to the same commission or to arbitration in the way that my right hon. Friend will in respect of matters that are relevant to him?
As I said a while ago, the decision about the system for electing councillors in Scotland is entirely a matter for the Scottish Executive. We have no control at all over that. It will be for the Scottish Executive and the Scottish Parliament to decide what course of action they wish to follow. My right hon. Friend will be aware of the agreement between the governing parties in the Scottish Executive in relation to this and it is no part of my statement today to interfere in the working of it. The commission will be set up after discussions with the First Minister and it will consider not just how we elect MSPs, but the implications of the changes proposed for councils. Whether that has implications for what the Scottish Executive are doing is a matter for them and not for me. It would probably be against the spirit of the whole devolution settlement if I were to go any further than that.
As I have said, the Bill is short and to the point so I can deal with what it does fairly quickly. [Interruption.] Most of my speech has not been about the Bill. Clause 1 will replace the first schedule to the Scotland Act 1998, which makes provision for constituencies. It will keep the size of the Parliament at 129 Members.
Clause 2 will give effect to the provisions in schedule 3 on the review of Westminster constituencies and the Scottish Parliament regions that is being carried out for the boundary commission for Scotland. Schedule 1 will provide a mechanism for reviewing these boundaries whatever they may be once the Bill is on the statute book.
Schedule 2 will make transitional provisions to deal with the position before the Electoral Commission takes over, and schedule 3 is important because it ensures that the boundary commission's recommendations in relation to the Scottish regions will no longer be relevant.
The scope of the Bill is narrow and deliberately so, because its sole aim is to give effect to the Government's promise to retain the current size and structure of the Scottish Parliament. I believe that the commission that I have announced today will deal with a number of concerns that have been raised not just in the House but throughout Scotland, and it will make recommendations on how we elect Members to the Scottish Parliament in future. However, as I have said, the purpose of this Bill is to make provision for retaining 129 MSPs. I commend it to the House.
The Secretary of State made it clear—perhaps I should say that he eventually made it clear—that the principal purpose of this short, four-clause Bill is to amend the Scotland Act 1998 to remove the link between constituencies for the Scottish Parliament at Holyrood and constituencies here at Westminster.
The current position is straightforward and widely understood. Schedule 1 to the 1998 Act contains provisions to reduce MSPs at Holyrood in proportion to any reduction in Scottish seats at Westminster. Under the current legislation, once Westminster constituencies are cut from 72 to 59, MSPs at Holyrood would automatically reduce from 129 to 108.
Clause 1 fundamentally changes that. It amends schedule 1 to the 1998 Act so that the existing constituencies for the Scottish Parliament remain the same, irrespective of any changes made to parliamentary constituencies for this House. That is set out in paragraphs 1 and 2 of schedule 1, which preserves 73 MSPs within the existing constituencies and 56 list MSPs in eight regions, with seven members per region.
In addition, the Bill provides that the Electoral Commission will review constituencies and regions for the Scottish Parliament separately from any review of Westminster constituencies. It represents a U-turn by the Labour Government on their previous commitments—put simply, it is undeniable that they have buckled under pressure from their own MSPs. That is why in December 2001 the then Secretary of State for Scotland, Mrs. Liddell launched her consultation on whether Westminster and Holyrood constituencies should continue to be linked. That is why, to little surprise on the Conservative Benches, on
The hon. Gentleman mentions U-turns, but the Bill seeks to undo the U-turn in the 1998 Act from the commitment made by the Labour party in the convention on Scotland that the size of the Scottish Parliament would be appropriate to its functions and not coupled to the reduction in MPs at Westminster. The Bill also helps in that it speeds up the delivery of the reduction in MPs at Westminster by allowing the boundary commission to report on that half of the Government's proposals once it is enacted.
There is considerable doubt about whether the number of MSPs is appropriate to the Scottish Parliament's functions.
To pacify Labour and Liberal MSPs in Edinburgh, the Labour Government say that the 1998 Act must be amended. Having set out the constitutional settlement in detail, they have taken only six years to start tinkering with it. Let me be clear: Conservative Members believe that the Bill is wrong. The Government should uphold the terms of the 1998 Act and, as they originally intended, proportionately reduce MSPs and MPs. In our view—this is the answer to the intervention by Sir Robert Smith—Scotland is already over-governed. It needs fewer politicians, not more. And there is no doubt that the Scottish Parliament could function as well, if not better, with a membership of 108.
That is one way of doing it. The argument is whether the constituency boundaries should be coterminous. I am aware of the logical point that the hon. Gentleman is about to make, which I shall address in a moment.
I am struck by what the hon. Gentleman just said. The vast majority of MSPs, across a range of political parties—not the Conservatives, but everyone else—agree that 129 Members are necessary for the proper functioning of the Parliament. What exact specialty or knowledge does the hon. Gentleman have to gainsay that argument, given that it is the decided majority view of the majority of MSPs?
It is the knowledge that I can spot a self-serving consensus when I see it.
Let me quote another authoritative source on this issue, who said:
"We understand the arguments in favour of maintaining the Parliament's size, but we also believe that the Parliament could operate effectively with fewer Members, and that there are good arguments for maintaining the linkage in constituencies."—[Hansard, 12 May 1998; Vol. 312, c. 224.]
Those are not my words, nor those of any Conservative: they are the considered judgment of none other than the former First Minister for Scotland, Henry McLeish, during the passage of the Scotland Act 1998.
Conservatives support smaller government and a smaller Parliament, while being firmly committed to making devolution work. As the Scottish Conservative manifesto for the Scottish parliamentary elections in May said:
"The Scottish Parliament should not be immune from this drive for leaner, fitter government. We will cut the number of MSPs, in line with the reduction in Scottish MPs at Westminster, by implementing the provisions of the Scotland Act."
But it is not just on those grounds that we oppose the Bill. Nor do we oppose it just on grounds that it is yet another reversal of policy by the Government. It is for many other reasons besides.
As a consequence of the Bill, if passed, future elections to Holyrood and Westminster would be fought on different constituency boundaries. It has been said that that
"will cause chaos and confusion".—[Hansard, 18 December 2002; Vol. 396, c. 864.]
Again, those are not my words, but those of Mr. Foulkes. [Hon. Members: "Where is he?"] He is absent from his place today. There may be good reasons for that, as there often are when someone who attends as diligently as he does is not here. In the same debate, Mr. Connarty called the proposals "an absolute shambles".
The Bill runs counter to the arguments put by the Government in 1998 when the Scotland Bill was going through this House. As the then Scottish Office Minister and later First Minister, Henry McLeish, said, in rejecting a Liberal Democrat amendment to the Bill:
"We believe that the integrity of the Union will be strengthened by having common constituencies for the Scottish and United Kingdom Parliaments". —[Hansard, 28 January 1998; Vol. 305, c. 456.]
We can infer only that the purpose of the Government in introducing a Bill that breaks the link is to weaken the integrity of the Union.
In the hon. Gentleman's many travels to Scotland, has he ever come across any members of the Scottish public who have expressed their concerns about coterminosity?
I know that there are some great intellectuals in Scotland, because I visit it regularly, as the origins of my name suggest.
Mr. McLeish also said:
"Having constituencies that cover the same geographical area will help to encourage liaison between MPs and MSPs in ensuring that the interests of their common electorate are served properly in whichever Parliament is responsible for an issue. Good working relationships between Members of the Scottish Parliament and Westminster will be essential if devolution is to be a success." —[Hansard, 12 May 1998; Vol. 312, c. 224.]
Last Tuesday, the Scottish Affairs Committee published its report, "Coincidence of Parliamentary Constituency Boundaries in Scotland and the Consequences of Change". Like all Select Committees, the Scottish Affairs Committee has a Labour majority, but even that did not prevent it from highlighting the tremendous tensions that would be created for the electorate by having different constituencies for Holyrood and Westminster. As the Committee concluded, in paragraph 11:
"The Committee considers the convenience of the electorate to be paramount. Based on the evidence we have received, we recommend that, in order to avoid possible confusion, the constituency boundaries in Scotland for elections to the United Kingdom and to the Scottish Parliament should remain coterminous".
The reality is that different boundaries for elections to Holyrood and Westminster will create a complete mess. As my hon. Friend Mr. Duncan has pointed out, keeping 129 MSPs will simply add to the instability created by such issues as the West Lothian question. We believe that there should be coterminous boundaries, as did the Government in the 1998 Act. We also believe that Holyrood constituencies should be reduced in line with Westminster constituencies. The simple way to achieve that is by upholding the terms of the original legislation.
There is of course another aspect to this debate, which is the question of Scottish representation in this House.
Let me just move on. The Government have given several commitments that the reduction in the number of Scottish seats at Westminster from 72 to 59 will take place in time for the next UK general election. The Scotsman reported in July 2003 that the Secretary of State
"told a private meeting of the Scottish group of Labour MPs there were no plans to postpone the boundary changes which will see the number of Scottish constituencies cut from 72 to 59."
That followed a commitment given by the Prime Minister—who is struggling to ensure that everything that he says is fully trusted—in response to a question from my hon. Friend Mr. Swire, who voiced the suspicion shared by many that the Government plan to renege on their commitment to reduce the number of Scottish Members of Parliament at Westminster. The Prime Minister replied that
"we made that commitment clear and we will of course carry it through."—[Hansard, 16 July 2003; Vol. 409, c. 278.]
Well, will he do that? Perhaps the Secretary of State can repeat that assurance today.
The Prime Minister made that comment the day before the Leader of the House said that the only commitment was to publish the report by 2006. The Secretary of State said in September that he expected to lay the order implementing the cut "early next year". Where is the order? Will he unequivocally commit to implementing this change according to that timetable, and before the next Westminster election if possible?
It is becoming pretty clear that the hon. Gentleman has scant knowledge of Scottish affairs in general. I think that he was in the Chamber when I made my speech, although he was chattering all the time. I said that the boundary commission had completed its work on the Westminster constituencies but not yet submitted its report to me as Secretary of State. As I have made clear on many occasions, and as the Prime Minister has also said, when it submits its report, that report will be implemented; but when it comes to me it is entirely in the hands of the independent boundary commission.
If that is known to be the case, it seems very strange that such clear commitments were given in the first place. The Government should know better.
The Bill will reinforce the balances already created by the problem raised by the West Lothian question, and lead to a cut in the number of Scottish MPs here while maintaining the current number in Scotland. We consider that the Bill is bad for Scotland and bad for the United Kingdom. It reverses the commitments given by the Government in 1998, breaks yet another link between Westminster and Edinburgh and will lead to chaos and confusion across Scotland. I therefore urge the House to vote no today, and to resile from supporting this illogical and unprincipled Bill.
Several hon. Members rose—
This issue seems to excite hon. Members greatly. As has been pointed out, it is not first on the list of complaints at constituency surgeries, but it seems to have exercised us all for the past two years, since it was suggested that 129 Members should remain at Edinburgh.
We must ask ourselves how we arrived at this point in the first place. We did not come up with the figure of 129 overnight. The subject was debated in Scotland for at least 20 years, and that culminated in our setting up the Scottish Constitutional Convention, in which the Labour party, the Liberal Democrats, the unions and the churches all took part. Unfortunately, the Scottish National party did not, which is understandable given that it supports independence for Scotland, not devolution. The Conservatives, too, refused to take part, but that was not surprising at the time because 10 Scotland Members on the Conservative Front Bench—the Conservative party was then in government—decided everything that happened in Scotland, while 62 Scotland Members sat on the Opposition Benches.
That is how we reached the current position. The convention came up with 129, but it was not the original number; I think that that was 140 or 144. We made the decision to have 129 Members on an additional list system—so that there would be some proportionality—only after much discussion with the unions, the Liberal Democrats and the churches.
Does the hon. Lady accept that the consensus reached was on the balance between proportionally elected top-up Members and constituency Members? Therefore, if the number of constituency Members of the Scottish Parliament were reduced, it would be logical to maintain that proportion and reduce the number of list Members.
Perhaps if the hon. Gentleman's party had taken part in those discussions, he could have said something on that at the time, but it refused to do so.
Another subject that raised its head in the search for consensus was gender balance. Some of us thought that the convention had also found agreement on that, but only the Labour party addressed that issue, and it still seems to be the only party that does so. I hope that other hon. Members will tell us why their parties never got to that point.
The 129 Members were to be made up by the direct election to Edinburgh of one Member per Westminster constituency, with a top-up—[Interruption.]
There was then a top-up Member from a list system. Anyone who thinks that that system is working now is living in cloud cuckoo land. One directly elected Member operates surgeries in a given Westminster constituency, followed by, in my constituency, any one of eight list Members. My hon. Friend John Robertson pointed out to the Select Committee that in Glasgow some 77,000 votes were cast for the Labour party in the second ballot, but that not one person was elected with them. I do not know where the fairness in that system lies, given that a member of a minority party could be elected with 10,000 votes. The system clearly is not working.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the more than 77,000 members of the electorate who went to the bother of filling in their ballot papers would have done as well to throw them in a bucket as to take part in the election?
Many people at the polling stations found it hard to understand how the system worked. The most common question that they asked was what the second vote was for, and what its outcome would be, and they were being told by minority parties, "Don't vote for the majority party or the main opposition party because your vote won't count." There is something wrong with a system in which democrats stand at a polling station and say that to people coming through the doors.
I very much agree with the point that the hon. Lady is developing, in that, in my experience, the vast majority of people regard the second vote as a second preference. However, does she concede that there are other list systems and other forms of proportionality that do not depend on having two votes and two ballot papers?
I am sorry; I was not seeking to intervene, but I shall take the opportunity to do so. The hon. Lady must accept that that was her system, decided on under the consensus that came out of the convention. She is seeking to deny the consensus on the one hand and uphold it on the other.
Indeed I am not denying the consensus. This often happens when there is consensus: everyone gets what no one wants. That is part of the problem with consensus, but it is democratic. It does not always lead to the perfect system, but it gives everyone a little of what they want, although it does not give them all that they want.
Taking evidence in the Select Committee, we did not find anyone who supported the existing system. Everyone thought that it was not the best way of doing things and that we should look for other ways. The Committee agreed that 129 MSPs should remain at Edinburgh, primarily because most of the Scottish Parliament's committee structures are built around that figure. I am quite happy to accept that. That committee system seems to be working well, even though it has not had a lot of time to bed in, and that is a good enough reason to leave that number as it is.
The problem that then arises is that we do not have coterminous boundaries. That is not a problem for political parties. It might be a pain in the neck for them, but we can all find ways of managing the situation. I would suggest, however, that it is a great problem for the electors.
I understand that the present system for electing MSPs is not perfect, but what is my hon. Friend's preferred option? Would she go for a first-past-the-post system, such as that supported by the Conservatives, and which gave them zero per cent. representation in the 1997 elections? Or would she support the single transferable vote system for local government and the Scottish Parliament?
There are many ways of doing this, and the Secretary of State is right to put this matter to a commission. The Select Committee said that we should ask a commission to give various options. We also said that there should be two Members in Edinburgh per Westminster constituency, but I do not think that that necessarily has to be done by a first-past-the-post system.
My hon. Friend has raised an interesting point. She said that the Select Committee hoped that the commission would come back with various options. However, if it comes back with only one recommendation to which the House has to say yes or no, does she see a danger of our having to go back to the very beginning? If we are presented with a number of alternatives, it will broaden the debate and there will be a far better chance of reaching consensus.
I hope that a commission will take account of what is being said here today when it considers these issues. My main concern about its bringing forward only one recommendation is that it would become a fait accompli, and there would be grave dangers in that. We should be presented with options for achieving two Members per Westminster constituency. It could be achieved through a first-past-the-post system, through an alternative vote system, or by linking two or three Members within each Westminster constituency to give a single transferable vote system. There are many and varied ways of achieving that goal.
May I put one alternative to my hon. Friend? MSPs also share a frustration in relation to list Members. They have to do all the work, yet at the end of the day these other people parachute in to take the work away from them. The alternative vote system is worthy of consideration because a majority of the electorate in a constituency has to vote for certain candidates. The commission should consider such a system.
That is why it is important that the commission lays down all the options and tells us what they will achieve. That would give Parliament a real decision to make, and I believe that Governments should make those decisions. That is what Governments are elected to do. They should carry the can if the decision goes wrong, but they are here to do that job.
I am following the gist of my hon. Friend's argument. My only anxiety relates to the fankle that we got ourselves into over the reform of the House of Lords, when a raft of different alternatives was put before the House. How would my hon. Friend envisage such a problem being dealt with?
The Secretary of State would have to deal with the recommendations made by the commission and make some sense of them when presenting them to the House. [Laughter.] I know that he will be delighted by that thought, but that is the way the cookie crumbles. I take the point made by my hon. Friend David Hamilton that concern has been expressed about list Members muscling in—I believe that that is the phrase that has been used—on directly elected Members' constituencies. This applies to all parties; it is not a party political point. Directly elected Members felt that specific issues were being cherry-picked, and that it was not necessarily the topic of the day that was being picked out but the one that was the most politically favourable. Campaigns were being set up.
Given the present boundary of my constituency, if we do not have coterminous boundaries, the new constituency will have three directly elected MSPs and eight list MSPs. That means that 11 people will have an interest in that one constituency. The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities told the Committee that it had great difficulty in answering questions coming from the directly elected MSP and also from the list MSPs. It said that it was sometimes asked as many as 600 questions on the same subject. That was causing a great deal of difficulty, and the bureaucracy involved was enormous.
I am happy to go on record as saying that I support the principle of coterminous boundaries for all elections in constituencies and wards, particularly in Scotland. Does my hon. Friend share my concern that although the Scottish Parliament has the right to introduce any electoral system that it likes for local government, if it does not participate in the work of the commission and listen to what it says, rather than going its own way, there could be a danger of the whole thing falling apart?
The Scottish Parliament has indicated that it is prepared to participate, and we all welcome that.
Coterminous boundaries are necessary, mainly for the electorate. They should not matter to us—we should find ways round the issue—but the electorate need the easiest system that we can come up with to enable them to vote. Until now, people have been used to building blocks from one part of the system to the other, in relation to each tier of government. In local government in my constituency, for example, there are 15 council seats and one MSP.
In the numerous surgeries that the hon. Lady conducts in her constituency, how many members of the public have come to her and expressed their concern about coterminosity?
None of them would put it in quite those terms, but they might express the difficulty with having different systems. In fact, the Electoral Commission told us that, after the last Scottish parliamentary elections, it carried out a survey that found that 13 per cent. of those who did not vote did not do so because the system confused them. They honestly did not understand it. If the hon. Gentleman cares to read the Select Committee report, he will find that evidence in it.
People have been used to building blocks from one tier of democracy to the other. The old regional councils were probably the best example of that. There were five district council seats, three regional council seats and one MP. People understood that; they understood who their directly elected Member was and which tier of government was represented by whom. It is important that we retain that. That is why we considered that there should be two directly elected Members to Edinburgh per Westminster seat. The commission should come up with a way for that to be achieved.
The hon. Lady mentioned list Members parachuting into constituencies. I understand that the code of conduct for MSPs requires that they
"should not misrepresent the basis on which they are elected or the area that they serve".
Does that mean that list MSPs are not allowed to describe themselves as "the MSP for Paisley, North", in the way that Liberal MEPs in my patch describe themselves as "the MEP for the Isle of Wight"?
There is a code of conduct, but, unfortunately, it is often broken. I do not know what the Liberals do in the hon. Gentleman's constituency, but some concern has been expressed over such issues.
I am also concerned that people see MSPs differently under that system. They see directly elected MSPs as having a different role from list MSPs, and I do not like the idea of a two-tier system of MSPs—or MPs, for that matter. That would not be a good way to go. I welcome the commission that has been announced today, but I am a wee bit concerned about commissions taking decisions such as these. As I have said, I believe that it is the job of Governments to take such decisions. I worry that when the commissioners report their findings they will not suit everybody, so people will say they are a whitewash and that they knew that that was what they would say. However, I hope that everyone accepts that a commission is the best way of proceeding. I hope that it will produce a list of options for the Secretary of State, rather than a single proposal that becomes a fait accompli before it ever reaches the House.
There has been considerable debate this afternoon about various electoral systems, which I shall address later in my remarks—but as for the electorate's ability to understand the electoral system, in my constituency of Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross the good electors have no trouble whatsoever understanding the electoral system. In fact, I was extremely taken aback to discover when canvassing for my MSP colleague, Jamie Stone, just how well they understood the system and the tactical voting lengths to which they went to make good use of their second vote.
I cannot remember the exact turnout, but it was approximately 50 per cent.
I welcome the Bill, which is short and, I hope, sweet. However, I have some reservations. I welcome the Bill for one reason alone.
I accept that the hon. Gentleman advocates proportional representation, because it benefits the Liberal Democrats and the nationalists. However, I am at a loss to explain why he supports having four different voting systems for elections for councils, the Scottish Parliament, Westminster and the European Parliament. I believed that the Liberal Democrats were concerned about different voting systems.
If the hon. Gentleman would be kind enough to let me get past my opening remarks, he would discover that I do not support our having four voting systems. I hope that he will permit me to develop that argument in a moment.
The current proportional system does not favour the Liberal Democrats. If we do the maths, we can see that other systems are slightly better. However, the critical point is that proportionality benefits the electors, and that is what we should be thinking most about. It was apparent to most of us who were involved in the passage of the Scotland Act 1998 that a drop of almost 20 per cent. in the number of MSPs would almost certainly be unworkable. There were widespread reports at the time that the then Scottish Office and the then Secretary of State for Scotland, Donald Dewar, wished to amend section 86 and other relevant provisions to decouple the Scottish parliamentary constituencies from Westminster constituencies. Indeed, I can confirm that in a private conversation that I had with Donald Dewar after the passage of the Act, he admitted as much.
The hon. Gentleman's recollection is exactly the same as mine, because I had exactly the same private conversations. However, the key point that people made was that imposing a number on an unwilling Scottish Parliament would be inconceivable. Does that not demonstrate that this discussion should be repatriated to the Scottish Parliament?
I shall not get into an argument about repatriation, but the hon. Gentleman makes a good point. Whether the matter is dealt with here or in the Scottish Parliament, it is inconceivable that it should be done without consultation and a consensus in Scotland.
As someone who took over Donald Dewar's constituency, and as a friend, I find that people rewrite history only after someone is dead. The rewriting of history never took place when that person was alive. Can the hon. Gentleman explain why those private conversations have suddenly come out, because they did not when the man was alive?
Other people were present when that conversation took place, and after our debate I would be happy to tell the hon. Gentleman to whom he could speak.
He gave me the impression that he would prefer the matter to be decoupled and the numbers maintained, but had lost the argument in Cabinet.
That was my understanding of a conversation that took place in 1998—they are not the exact words.
I should like to make some progress. It comes as no surprise that this matter has required attention, and it is to the Government's credit that they have sought to remedy an obvious error. The Bill has certain merits, and I shall deal with two that strike me. First, it is commendably short—I always like short legislation—and secondly, without question, it does the job that it is intended to do, which is to maintain the status quo at Holyrood. My right hon. and hon. Friends and I therefore welcome it. However, the Government may have missed an opportunity to take a longer look at the way in which the electoral system in Scotland operates, and they could have introduced proposals to address the problem. However, the announcement by the Secretary of State today is extremely helpful, and I welcome his comments. I look forward to reading them in Hansard to make sure that I have understood his announcement.
It makes sense, however, for an independent commission to look at coterminosity and methods of election as soon as is practicable. I welcome the fact that, as I hope, the commission will begin work this year, and that its membership will be independent. I very much hope that it will stick with two key principles in the work of the Scottish Constitutional Convention—that a broad consensus will be sought, and that the commission will adhere to proportionality in representation. The Secretary of State made it clear in response to an intervention by my hon. Friend Malcolm Bruce that those two principles would be included in the commission's brief, or guiding principles.
My hon. Friends and I have long argued for the merits of the single transferable vote, and shall continue to do so. In addition to the obvious merit of being the most proportionate and fair system, it would, if adopted, have the added attraction of mirroring the proposed system for local government in Scotland, and dealing with the issue of coterminosity. However, I shall leave that for today, and look forward to submitting our evidence to the commission.
The report on the subject by the Scottish Affairs Committee is both timely and germane, and I am glad that we have had an opportunity to see it before the debate. First, it makes it abundantly clear that there is widespread support for maintaining the numbers. The proposal was backed by my party, the Scottish Labour party, the Scottish National party, the Scottish Parliament and the Executive, which is as broad a consensus as is possible in politics. The reason for that broad consensus is simple—it is the experience of the Scottish Parliament in action, particularly the Committee system, which everyone agrees has worked extremely well, and simply could not function satisfactorily with many fewer Members.
Will the hon. Gentleman explain, for the benefit of my constituents, why 100,000 Scots electors need five Members of Parliaments—and I mean Parliaments, in the plural—to represent them, whereas the constituents of the Isle of Wight need only one? [Interruption.] I know that that question has been asked before, but we did not get an answer.
I will leave the explanation to the hon. Gentleman's constituents to him. If I were in his seat, I would be looking to have proper representation for England. He should be asking why should the people of England have less representation than the people of Scotland, not saying that English Members are disadvantaged compared with those in Scotland. That is the answer to the West Lothian question, as we said in the debate on that question in the Chamber not long ago.
As the hon. Gentleman and others have observed, there was only one exception to the broad consensus that existed in Scotland, and that was the Scottish Conservative party, which wished the relevant provision in the current Act to remain in force. The Conservatives have made an amazing U-turn. They argued throughout the passage of the Scotland Bill in this House and the other place that the proposed reduction in numbers was wrong. One of my abiding memories from having been in another place is of watching Lord Sewel as he gamely attempted to fend off the penetrating arguments of Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, who, sadly, is no longer with us. Lord Sewel may have rebutted Lord Mackay's arguments in that way because he was not particularly convinced of the arguments that he was trying to advance at the time.
Out of interest, I referred to the House of Lords Hansard for
"Therefore, I cannot think of anything dafter for the Government to do than to say to this parliament, 'You can start off with 129 members, but when the House of Commons inevitably reduces that number to about 58 Scottish members . . . your numbers will be reduced in a similar manner—'".
"I hope that the Government are going to listen and amend the Bill accordingly because nothing short of that will do."—[Hansard, House of Lords, 22 October 1998; Vol. 593, c. 1600.]
What has changed?
Perhaps the rationale behind the Conservative position now—and then—is that whenever it sees change proposed, and whatever that change is to be, it is against it.
I think that my hon. Friend is trying to say that the Conservatives are a tad opportunistic.
Lord Mackay and I disagreed on many things in politics, but on the occasion to which I have referred we were in accord. Later, when I moved an amendment to deal with the anomaly, I was delighted to see that all the Conservative Members of the other place followed me into the Lobby to support it. It was duly passed in another place. I regret that we were unable to achieve the same feat in this place, and it was duly removed by this House.
As I have said, I often disagreed with Lord Mackay, but I respected him both as a man and a parliamentarian. I believe that he was right in October 1998, and that nothing has changed except the current Scottish Conservative party, which seems hellbent on swapping obscurity for lunacy.
On a couple of occasions the hon. Gentleman has mentioned friends and colleagues who are no longer with us. In the wake of the private conversations that he had with them, did either of them ever mention the hokey-cokey politicians who cannot make up their minds whether they will stay in this Parliament or in the Scottish Parliament?
Everything that I have quoted from Lord Mackay is in Hansard. As for the hokey-cokey, I remember that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, said that as long as you were in the Chair there would be no hokey-cokey in this Chamber. I think we will leave it at that.
There clearly is nothing dafter than maintaining the reduction, and the Government are right to have addressed that point.
The hon. Gentleman has been having a little bit of fun about the Conservative party's position now compared with its stance during the passage of the Scotland Bill. He should acknowledge that Lord Mackay in the House of Lords and my hon. Friend Dr. Fox in the House of Commons both made the point that the numbers should be reduced in the Scotland Bill—that is, that the Bill, as it went through Parliament, was wrong.
The hon. Lady is right, inasmuch as the noble Lord argued that whatever numbers we started off with, we should continue with them. I think that if Lord Mackay were here today he would maintain that position. Undoubtedly he would have preferred to start with 108. However, given the choice of 129 reducing to 108 or 129 continuing, he made it clear that he wanted to stay with the 129.
The Scottish Affairs Committee's report deals with coterminosity. All the evidence clearly shows that coterminosity is highly desirable, particularly for political organisers. It is also extremely convenient for the electors. In the short term, the status quo envisaged in the Bill is therefore the lesser of two evils, but in the longer term it must be right and desirable to achieve conterminous boundaries.
There is clearly far less consensus on voting systems, as has been evidenced this afternoon. The recommendation of the Committee, while clearly interesting and deserving of serious consideration, does not, in my opinion, maintain the concept of proportionality. However, I can see how that might be varied. As the proposal is currently written, four voting systems would still be involved. I suspect—perhaps the remarks made this afternoon confirm this—that the Committee's attention was more focused on reducing the interference that it perceives from this place than on what might be the best voting system.
I have already welcomed the Secretary of State's announcement bringing forward the review. I will leave it at that on electoral systems, because, like my right hon. and hon. Friends, I look forward to advancing the argument for the single transferable vote when the commission starts its work.
The Conservatives have tabled an amendment that a short while ago their colleagues would, as I have recounted to the House, have described as daft. Of all the opportunistic mumbo jumbo that has emanated from the Opposition Dispatch Box, this one takes the biscuit. We are invited to oppose the Bill, despite the support for it in all other quarters, because it is said not to address the proliferation of politicians in Scotland. What proliferation? What are we talking about? We are talking about either maintaining the status quo—that can hardly be described as a proliferation—or reducing the number by about 21 persons. How many politicians are there in Scotland, even with us, local councillors and MSPs? There must be 1,000 or more. If a reduction of 21 in 1,000 is a proliferation, I fail to see the logic.
I know that the hon. Gentleman has a vigorous campaign of surgeries in his constituency. If he were to ask people attending those surgeries whether there were too many politicians in Scotland or too few, what does he think most of them would say?
Most of my constituents would simply like to get something done by the politician to whom they are speaking—and I have never concerned myself about the Conservative list MSPs who parachute in from time to time.
The proliferation that the Conservatives choose to talk about is inexplicable, unless they are seeking to sabotage the devolution settlement and go back to the days before there was a Scottish Parliament. The amendment that they tabled makes no sense. Either the Conservative party still does not accept devolution or the amendment is illogical.
The Bill is short. It is, I hope, an interim measure before moving on to sunnier pastures, and I hope that that period will be short and sweet. It does not go quite as far as my right hon. and hon. Friends and I would like, but it does the job and starts the process, and for that reason we welcome it and will vote for it.
John Thurso started his speech by telling us about the wonderful plaudits for proportional representation. He said that PR benefits the public. I will tell the House who PR benefited at the last Scottish Parliament elections. The party that 86 per cent of the people voted against decided who would be the First Minister. That is what PR did for the people of Scotland. Those who argue the case for PR should remember that very simple fact.
It certainly did not, but I did not agree with some of the arguments that were put forward in support of that decision. I certainly did not support the move for PR for local government. I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving me the opportunity to put that on the record.
I, too, should like to put on record a bit of history. We have had some history from the Secretary of State tonight and from others. I was fortunate to be present for a lot of the discussions on the various electoral systems, and, as most Labour Members will know, the Labour party was dragged into supporting PR at the Scottish convention. Let me tell the House how the votes stacked up in the Scottish Executive when the decision was made. It was an equal vote and the chairman's casting vote decided it. The chairman at the time was a Member of Parliament from one of the Edinburgh constituencies. He is not with us, so I shall not name him. The Member of Parliament who was supposed to represent the Westminster Members of Parliament on the Scottish Executive, the overwhelming majority of whom were against PR, voted for PR against the wishes of his Westminster colleagues. Those Labour Members who, to put it politely, may wish to reconsider history, should remember that the Labour party is strongly against PR.
I accept that many in the Labour party are strongly against PR, but if the hon. Gentleman looks back at the history, was it not that those who believed that a Scottish parliament was essential to good governance in Scotland realised that the only way in which that could be delivered was by agreeing to PR to reassure the electorate in Scotland, particularly outside of Glasgow and Edinburgh, that they could vote for a Scottish parliament in the referendum? It was only by delivering PR that Labour, and people such as Donald Dewar, realised that we could finally get a Scottish parliament to look at legislation in Scotland.
In 1997, the Labour Government could have legislated for a Scottish Parliament with a first-past-the-post system and we would have had better governance in Scotland now than perhaps we have with the wishy-washy Liberals as part of the Executive.
To return to my trip down memory lane, the Labour party accepted—
The Labour party accepted the consensus of the convention and went into the election promising to legislate, but with a caveat that we would put it to the people through a referendum, and it would be, to use the words of the much maligned Donald Dewar—unfairly so—the settled will of the Scottish people. It was the Scottish people who decided by an overwhelming vote in the referendum what the electoral system should be, and it was partly first past the post and partly PR.
What we are debating today does not honour the settled will of the Scottish people or the consensus on keeping PR. I get the distinct feeling that Labour Members have been sleepwalked, and I say to my friends and colleagues in the Scottish Parliament that the MSPs have been sleepwalked, into PR, which the Labour party would never have supported in the convention. That was never part of the negotiations in that settlement. I do not share the point of view of those who say that it was always the intention to keep the size of the Parliament at 129 Members and to change the electoral system.
There was a huge row when the Prime Minister and Lord Robertson, then the shadow Secretary of State for Scotland, argued the case for the referendum. There were to be two votes, and I supported the argument for the referendum. I can remember telling the then Leader of the Opposition, now the Prime Minister, that I was supporting the call for the referendum to entrench the will of the Scottish people in the settlement. We argued for entrenchment because we were worried about a future Tory party coming in and undoing the Scottish Parliament, which we supported. Yet here we are debating a narrow change in the Scotland Act 1998, which those of us who strongly believe in first past the post—there are a number of us in Scotland, especially within the Scottish Labour party—think means that what we agreed to, which we supported in good faith, will be taken away from us, and I do not feel at all comfortable with that.
The reduction in the number of MSPs was part of that agreement. No one said to me at any time that they wanted to keep the same number of MSPs. Sacrosanct to me was the coterminosity of the constituency boundaries of the MSPs and the Westminster MPs, and that is so important today. For example, under the new boundaries there are two seats in Lanarkshire. One is Lanark and Hamilton, East and the other East Kilbride.
It is fair to draw that distinction, and I will too.
I shall speak slowly for emphasis. There has been talk of over-governance, but 19 MSPs will have a claim to the Lanark and Hamilton, East seat, and 19 MSPs will have a claim to the East Kilbride seat. How can we justify that so-called governance? We are not talking about over-governance. In moving away from what we originally agreed, we could be bringing ourselves into disrepute.
We had two consultations, because the first had to be extended for six months because no one was very interested. I have heard that there were 17 representations in support of the case for reducing the number of 129 Members. During the six-month extension, there was a considerable increase in the number of contributions.
Then we had the statement from my right hon. Friend Mrs. Liddell as Secretary of State for Scotland. One of the things in that statement that alarmed me, which I remember pointing out, was the setting up of the commission after 2007. I am pleased that the Secretary of State returned to that issue and spoke about setting up a commission straight away.
I share some of the views of my hon. Friends about this commission of the wonderful and good. I am sure that it will include experts and independent people, but I have yet to meet people who are independent but do not have a view on a range of issues. I do not want us to start hiring out—I borrow a phrase that I have heard in the House—the decisions of Parliament to commissions and committees. Decisions on legislation should be taken by the legislators. It is for us to take such decisions. There has obviously been an agreement with the Government to keep the 129 Members, and I have no difficulty with that, but the consequential changes in the electoral system must be looked at, and I do not think that they should be dealt with by independent commissions. I have no objections to such bodies having a look at those matters, but I must be firm in saying that it is a must that the decisions on whatever electoral system flows from the decision to keep the 129 Members should be for this Parliament and this Parliament alone. Such decisions should not be influenced by people who are outside Parliament, and even outside the Scottish Parliament. I hold that view very firmly indeed.
Does my hon. Friend agree that, for many people, proportional representation is something that is spoken about by the chattering classes and not the ordinary men and women of Scotland? Does he think that, when the independent commission is formed, it will include miners, steelworkers, shipbuilders, doctors, nurses and housewives?
I would be pleasantly surprised if such people were included on the commission. Of course, I am sure that there will be no lawyers and so on!
I shall not support the Conservatives in their opportunistic approach. A fortnight ago tomorrow, Mr. Duncan said that he would not vote in principle on an English issue. I wonder how many English MPs will traipse through the Lobby this evening.
Does the hon. Gentleman not understand the simple truth that the matter under discussion is not devolved to the Scottish Parliament? Higher education in Scotland is devolved to the Scottish Parliament.
Having listened to the Secretary of State and read the Bill, I take the view that the decision will affect only the Scottish Parliament. That is my reading of the Bill, and I suspect that the hon. Gentleman entirely understands that.
If the decision is that the 129 figure is sacrosanct, I want common boundaries. I congratulate my hon. Friend Mrs. Adams, the Chairman of the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs, on an excellent report and on raising all the issues. It is important that we have a first-past-the-post element and an element of proportionality, to keep faith with what was decided in the convention that was agreed before the Scotland Act took effect. Along with some colleagues, I hope to table amendments on that issue for consideration in Committee.
I wish to end my speech with a message for my colleagues in the Scottish Parliament. When they get the opportunity to make representations to the august commission that is going to be set up, they should remember that the best way of preserving the rights of their representation and of keeping their job in that Parliament will be to support the system that still includes first past the post. Without that, they will be sleepwalking into a 100 per cent. PR system that will give the Liberals total power over their Parliament and which will not give that power to the people, where it should be vested.
It is a pleasure to take part in this debate, which has been somewhat hijacked by the announcement of the inquiry into the number of voting systems. I have a certain sympathy with the need for the commission, but I think that we will be doing down Scotland's education system if we suggest that the Scottish people cannot cope with four different voting systems. Perhaps it would be neater if the systems were the same, but I do not think that it is beyond the wit of Scots men and women to be able to cope with different voting systems, even in the same election.
The Secretary of State referred to this Bill as a small Bill. In my view, it will be the first of many such small Bills. While most of us in the Chamber would agree that the devolution settlement is here to stay, the Scotland Act 1998 is not perfect legislation, as the Bill before us indicates. Not very long ago, we saw the report from Lord Norton, which pointed out the difficulties in respect of any seriously robust mechanism for dispute resolution. We may well find, for instance, that the publication of the NHS tariff in England and Wales has a knock-on effect on the Scottish health service, which could lead to disputes with the Scottish Parliament and Executive. Section 28(7) of the 1998 Act states:
That could cause difficulties in due course. That is why I think that this will be the first in a series of small Bills that will detain the House. We should not be complacent about the finality of the settlement.
I am anxious to explore why the hon. Lady thinks that the power of this place to legislate on Scottish matters should be a source of difficulty. Does she anticipate that, perhaps under some future Government, this place will seek to legislate on an otherwise devolved matter in defiance of the Scottish Parliament?
I am happy to deal with that point. Indeed, that is why I cited the NHS tariff, which could have a knock-on effect on the Scottish health service. Under the 1998 Act, the Scottish Parliament controls the delivery of the Scottish health service, so it may have a difficulty with the way in which the tariff interacts with the Scottish health system. As time passes and different policies are introduced, perhaps under different parties, there will be no reason why such difficulties should not emerge, and they will have to be dealt with one way or another.
I take great pleasure in supporting my Front-Bench colleagues in opposing the Bill. I am not doing that entirely because of the arguments made during the passage of the Scotland Act. I thought it was a mistake that the Government were not prepared to decide that the number of MSPs should be a responsibility of the Scottish Parliament. That showed that the Government were not quite prepared to treat the Scottish Parliament as a grown-up Parliament.
The hon. Lady says that she will vote against the Bill but feels that it should be up to the Scottish Parliament to decide what size that Parliament should be. The Scottish Parliament has asked for this Bill to be passed. If she believes that the Scottish Parliament should be listened to, should she not listen to it and vote for the Bill?
In my view, the Scottish Parliament has not had a true opportunity to examine the reduction in numbers. That is not the principal reason why I am against the Bill; the key reason is that I believe in smaller government.
If the hon. Gentleman took part in the Scottish Parliament elections, he will remember that we made it clear how we believed the Scottish Parliament should be structured. We believed that the number of first-past-the-post Members should be reduced to the same number as the Westminster constituencies. There should then be a top-up of 49 from the list system, making 108. We also said that we could not understand why 22 Ministers were required in Scotland. I used to work in the Scottish Office in the good old days when four Ministers managed to run all the legislation. [Hon. Members: "The poll tax?"] I should point out that I worked there when the Labour Government were in power between 1974 and 1979. [Hon. Members: "Is that why they lost?"] I would love to think that one civil servant could have that impact on a Labour Government; they imploded in the same way as this one is imploding.
In terms of the way in which legislation is dealt with in the Scottish Parliament, there is an argument for more Ministers; we argued for eight. We argued also for a reduction in the number of Committees in the Scottish Parliament. We believe that Scotland is over-governed and there are too many politicians. Approximately 10 per cent. of the population of the United Kingdom live in Scotland, but there are 129 MSPs compared with 659 Members here; that proportion is equivalent to about 20 per cent. Scotland would benefit from a reduction in the number of politicians, which is why we oppose the Bill.
The hon. Lady says that it is her party's policy to make the number of Members here the same as the number of constituency MSPs in the Scottish Parliament. Is she telling my constituents that she will end the separate representation of Orkney and Shetland? My constituents would be interested to hear that.
I apologise; that was a small slip. I thank the hon. Gentleman for correcting me. However, the principle remains the same.
The support expressed for the retention of 129 MSPs brings to mind a phrase that no one has yet quoted, concerning trotters and troughs. Over the past two years, there has been huge criticism in Scotland of the number of MSPs and people believe that the Parliament would benefit from a reduction in numbers.
Many people have talked about the difficulty of coterminosity. I sympathise with those who are dealing with, potentially, 19 Members of both Parliaments. That must be difficult, but it is not beyond the wit of man or woman to work with those numbers. To a much lesser extent, all of us are dealing with coterminosity problems because, as a result of proportional representation, we have to deal with a multiplicity of Members of the European Parliament.
I was sympathising with the difficulty of dealing with a multiplicity of Members of the Scottish Parliament and of this Parliament; I talked about "Parliaments". In my constituency of Beckenham, I have to deal with eight MEPs; not as many as 19, or the 15 that that might be reduced to. However, there is a problem of coterminosity throughout the system, largely because—here I agree with Mr. Hood—of proportional representation. If we got rid of PR, we would not have coterminosity problems. With first past the post, all these problems iron themselves out. I do not have a problem with the first-past-the-post system; neither do the Conservatives. The foreign importation of PR is causing a lot of problems.
Slightly. If the hon. Lady is saying that the first-past-the-post system is not a problem and that she agrees with it, why does she not say that the whole of the Scottish Parliament should be elected according to that arrangement?
If I were a purist, I could be tempted down that route. I am tempted also to compare the opinion polls now with those before the last parliamentary elections, but I will resist. I support the first-past-the-post system for all elections and I have sympathy with hon. Members who talk about coterminosity. I cannot see how the proposed election system will sort out that issue. However, it is much more important to give better governance to the Scottish people, and that will come about by reducing the number of MSPs. That is why I will be voting against the Government.
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I would suggest that the issue before us today is that of the number of Members of the Scottish Parliament. On that basis, I shall vote against the Bill, because it maintains that number.
No hon. Member—other than the Secretary of State, for which I give him credit—talked about the second part of the Bill, which deals with boundaries and the demise of the boundary commissions. That is covered by the legislation on the Electoral Commission. Nevertheless, it is a great shame that the boundary commissions are disappearing, given their very high reputation for impartiality. I hope that the breadth of responsibilities assumed by the Electoral Commission will not in any way, shape or form impinge on the boundary commissions, which have done such a good job for us throughout the country over many years.
On those grounds, I will vote with the Opposition tonight to oppose the maintenance of the number of Members of the Scottish Parliament.
I apologise to the hon. Lady—I have clearly been here too long. She has refreshed my memory; I now remember that she was first burned in effigy, then voted out in Hastings.
I am afraid that this is the last point at which I can bring much comfort to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. I sympathise with my right hon. Friend, whom I do not hold responsible in any way for what we face, and who is doing his best to bring some sort of reason and order to a very bad job. However, questions must be asked and fundamental criticisms made regarding how we got here.
Usually, when a Bill comes before the House it can be argued for, however misguidedly, on the ground that it advances the public interest in some way. However, this Bill is the exception: I cannot find any conceivable public interest that will be served by it. On the contrary, it is, as we all know, simply the legislative follow-up to a political fix. The problem that initially confronted us was quite straightforward. Our Government had made two relevant commitments, both of which I accepted and subscribed to: first, to cut the number of Scottish MPs being returned to Westminster; and, secondly, to amend the number of MSPs sitting in the Scottish Parliament in the same proportion.
So far, so good. If proceeded with in conjunction, those measures would have enjoyed general public support, apart from a few bleatings from the political fringes in Scotland. The problem is that the second commitment was reneged on to appease those political fringes and their vociferous supporters among the Scottish chattering classes. However, going ahead with the first commitment and abandoning the second is not a victimless solution. Without doubt, our two commitments were interdependent in their logic and symmetry: if one is abandoned, the other makes no sense, or, at the very least, will have to be paid for in another way.
I feel sufficiently exercised to speak in this way on a Government measure because I believe that the confusion that will be created by abandoning the second part of the Government's commitment will be paid for by the people whom we are all supposed to be here to represent. That is the nature of the fix that has been entered into. In order to avoid reducing the number of MSPs, further confusion will be heaped gratuitously on to the old, the frail and the vulnerable, who from time to time need to consult their elected representatives. In arriving at that fix, no member of the political classes gave a single thought to those people—our constituents. That, I regret to say, has been the spirit of the debate. With the exception of one brief reference by the Secretary of State, no mention has been made of the Bill's effects on the people who do not necessarily always want us, but sometimes need us.
There is already a great deal of confusion in Scottish politics about the delineation between reserved and devolved matters, although most of us can help to overcome that problem simply by sharing offices and providing what amounts to a joint service—admittedly, not in every part of Scotland, but in most parts. Further confusion is created by that curious breed of humanity, list MSPs, who, to all intents and purposes, have no constituencies and no constituents. Some of them find that extremely satisfactory, for obvious reasons, and do not trouble anyone; others are Walter Mitty characters who set themselves up as alternative MSPs in specific constituencies and tout for business from the unwary. However, as long as there are recognisable constituencies, the vast majority of people in Scotland at least know which constituency they live in and who their elected constituency representatives are—where to go and to whom to go. Now, gratuitously and for no good reason, even that safeguard of the public interest is casually to be dispensed with. Hundreds of thousands of people throughout Scotland will find themselves in one constituency for Westminster purposes and another constituency for Holyrood purposes. Constituencies where MPs and MSPs work well together to give an integrated service will be split two, three or even four different ways. As we have heard, some Westminster constituencies will be shadowed, for devolved purposes, by up to 20 MSPs. The whole thing is ludicrous—and entirely unnecessary, because all we had to do was stick to the two original commitments.
What I find really offensive about this episode is not some abstract political aspect, nor any of the stuff that has been bandied about this evening, but the complete lack of regard for the consumer interest. It has been all about politicians looking for a way out of a minor political dilemma that will cause the least inconvenience to other politicians: never mind the punters who have to track down the person who can be of use to them at a particular time; never mind the view that the public will take of a new system that might have been designed for the sole purpose of confusing them and bringing political representation into further disrepute; and never mind the highly relevant fact cited by my hon. Friend Mrs. Adams, that 15 per cent. of voters have been driven away from the polls by the confusions already created in Scottish politics.
The horse must be put back in front of the cart—the anomalies must be addressed in advance of the changes being made, not at some dim and distant point in the future. That is where I disagree with John Thurso. He spent half his speech talking about the virtues of coterminousity—or coterminality, or whatever term happens to be in fashion tonight—but we are introducing legislation that will abolish that virtue. This is not a done deed—we are setting up a commission to revise what has not yet been legislated for. Would it not be better to do things in chronological order by addressing the problems before they have been created?
All along, the starting point for this exercise should have been that the boundaries remain the same for Westminster and Holyrood: non-negotiable, full stop. That was the way in which to concentrate minds, and that is what we should still do.
Surely, as the Secretary of State said, there are already problems in relation to different electoral systems. Any of us might share the hon. Gentleman's thoughts about the list system—which, after all, was introduced by the Government in whom he served—but are we not being offered the prospect of some of those difficulties being attended to?
I respectfully suggest that acceptance of that proposition displays some naiveté on the hon. Gentleman's part; and I suspect that if there is one thing that he does not like being accused of, it is that. To me, the commission sounds like a classic Sir Humphrey mechanism. One can imagine the discussion that took place: "We are creating a shambles—what are we to do? We'll set up a commission. When will the commission report? After the shambles has been created." I revert to my original point—why not get the chronology right and sort everything out before the shambles is created?
I have no quarrel with the remit or the outcome of the boundary commission review of Scottish seats, but it is not too late to say that it will be implemented only when a compatible formula, based on coterminal constituency boundaries, has been agreed for the Scottish Parliament.
I do not believe that the figure of 108 is any more sacrosanct than 129. If people want 130, 150 or 170 seats, I do not care very much. Electoral systems can be devised to satisfy any of those numbers. However, the system must be created on the basis of the same boundaries for both elections. I am not, therefore, devising a way of getting rid of 21 MSPs, although I doubt whether maintaining, under all circumstances, 129 MSPs is a great popular cause in Scotland. If that is the stumbling block, there are other methods of dealing with it. However, the way is not to destroy one of the few things that provide political and representational comprehension in Scotland: the fact that we have the same boundaries, the same offices and the same representation.
I repeat that I do not blame my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, but I ask him to consider the course that I have outlined if it is the only way to force progress on the wider issue, and not to implement the Bill until coterminality has been sorted out. Surely there can be unanimity in the parties in Scotland: whatever the perceptions of marginal short-term political advantage or disadvantage, we do not want to legislate to establish an electoral system that we all know will work to the practical, and in some cases serious disadvantage, of our constituents.
If, even at this late stage, we do not stop to contemplate the essential stupidity of what is being done, people in Scotland who are adversely affected by the measure will have a long time to wonder how politicians could create a total mess out of something that should be as straightforward and comprehensible as possible.
It is a pleasure and a privilege to take part in the first debate on the Scotland Act since it was passed in 1998. We follow many illustrious speakers in the debates on that measure, including my hon. Friend Mr. Salmond, and many Labour Members. It is unfortunate that the way in which the Bill is framed means that we have no opportunity to discuss the many pertinent issues that affect the Scottish Parliament. An opportunity has been lost.
With due respect to the Secretary of State, the debate is a little hypothetical. We are working on the assumption that the number of Scottish Members of Parliament will be reduced at the next general election. However, no one has said definitively that that will happen. Let us imagine that a general election takes place in two months—that was entirely possible a few weeks ago. We would fight with the existing boundaries. What would happen in 2007? On what sort of membership would we fight an election for the Scottish Parliament? There are many questions to ask. Our debate is based on an assumption that the number of Members of Parliament will be reduced. I appeal to the Under-Secretary to tell us when she replies to the debate whether we shall fight the next general election under existing boundaries.
This first debate on the Scotland Act since it was passed is timely. The Scottish Parliament is at a crossroads and faces severe challenges. It has lost the confidence of the Scottish people, and we should be considering many other subjects, instead of wasting time on coterminosity and voting arrangements. We wanted to introduce a series of amendments that would give the Scottish Parliament new powers. It is unfortunate that we will not have an opportunity to do that.
I examined the Scottish social attitudes survey, which has appeared in several newspapers, and the Scottish people appear to be two or three steps ahead of the Government and the Scottish Executive, because their solution to some of the Scottish Parliament's difficulties is to increase its powers. The overwhelming majority of the Scottish people who took part in the survey suggested giving the Scottish Parliament more powers as a method of tackling its difficulties. Every survey that has been conducted appears to yield the same results: people believe that the Scottish Parliament needs more powers to meet the genuine expectations that the Scottish public had when it was established.
I was impressed with the debate that we held in the Scottish Grand Committee a couple of months ago on a Liberal Democrat motion about the evolution of the devolution settlement. Much good came out of that. We did not agree on many things, but we all signed up to one overriding statement: devolution is a process, not an event. We might have difficulty in defining where the process ends—that is a legitimate debate, which it is right to hold—but I listened carefully and eagerly to Labour Members, and they too said that devolution was not an event but a process. We might be different from hon. Members of other parties because we are impatient for the process to continue. We want some progress to show that devolution is a process. I hope that we shall get there.
I am sure that the Secretary of State has been impressed by some of the debates in the Scottish Parliament. Even some notable and eminent Labour MSPs now believe, along with so much of Scottish civic society and the business community, that the Scottish Parliament needs greater fiscal and economic powers. We have a notable new recruit to that campaign in the shape of Robert Crawford, the former chief executive of Scottish Enterprise.
I am not sure about that, but we cannot ignore the views of someone who ran Scottish Enterprise and knows much about what the Scottish economy requires and what makes it tick.
We will support Second Reading. We believe that a minimum of 129 MSPs is required to ensure that the Scottish Parliament runs efficiently and effectively. All the political parties—apart from the Conservative party—are signed up to that figure. I was impressed by some of the evidence that was given to the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs when the question was put. Many people said that 129 MSPs were required to make the effective Committee system work. It was identified as one of the Scottish Parliament's strengths. Its pre-legislative scrutiny is one of the most valuable aspects of work in the Scottish Parliament. The Select Committee report clearly concluded that 129 MSPs were required.
There are honourable exceptions in the Labour ranks who do not support the figure of 129, and we have heard some contributions from them this evening. I am thankful that they, in conjunction with the Conservatives, are lonely and isolated voices. I shall be interested to note how many Labour Members vote with Conservative Members, in alliance against the Scottish Parliament. As I said, they are isolated, forlorn voices.
It will surprise the Scottish public to find that the House of Commons determines the membership of the Scottish Parliament and that distant Westminster decides on its voting arrangements. Surely our national Parliament should have that task, and be able to determine its voting arrangements and membership.
The hon. Lady might be surprised to learn that no one has asked me about such matters. However, MSPs are exercised by the question because the Scottish Parliament should be wary if the House legislates on its behalf about membership and voting arrangements. Surely a national Parliament should legislate on those matters. The Scottish Parliament is unique among national Parliaments in having to cede power on those matters to another national Parliament. That is not right.
We noted with interest the establishment of the Secretary of State's new commission to examine the arrangements. Like the Liberal Democrats, we are waiting for an invitation to serve on it. I read about the matter in The Herald today. I do not know why the Secretary of State did not tell the House before going to the newspaper. The commission appears to be a political fix. I sympathise with the Secretary of State because I know that he has a little local difficulty. On the one hand, hon. Members from the Scottish Labour ranks are determining the agenda about voting arrangements and the membership of the Scottish Parliament, and on the other, there is great anxiety among Labour MSPs who are worried about the activities of the crowd who sit behind the right hon. Gentleman. Labour MSPs should be worried about what Labour Members of Parliament are up to.
The list system may be the biggest problem in Scottish politics for the hon. Gentleman, but it certainly is not for me. There are much more important issues to address, and I wish that he would sometimes recognise that.
List Members have two key functions. One is to provide the proportionality required by the Scotland Act 1998. The second function, however, at which they seem to be effective, is to wind up Labour Members. They perform that task spectacularly, and Labour Members fall for it every time. I have a list Conservative Member in my constituency, who has set up an office in my constituency and sniffs around for any scrap of attention, but we deal with him effectively. He has stood previously against me and my SNP colleague, John Swinney, and we have beaten him in successive elections. That is no problem, but I can understand why it is a problem for Labour Members, because most of them have run their constituencies like personal fiefdoms. When an energetic, enthusiastic list Member appears and tries to do things, it is a real challenge to them. If we cannot rise above the challenge of energetic and enthusiastic list Members, perhaps we do not deserve a place in this House at all.
Does the hon. Gentleman think it right that a Conservative Member, or a member of any political party who has not been elected in his constituency by the will of the people, is allowed to spend taxpayers' money on funding offices to work against an elected person?
That is the very system for which the hon. Gentleman voted in the Scotland Act. It is a consequence of the decision that you took, and you must accept it. He may not have voted for it personally—[Interruption.] I am told from a sedentary position that he did. You voted for it, and you must accept the consequences.
I have looked at the amendments suggested by the Scottish Affairs Committee, which effectively propose the death knell of proportionality for the Scottish Parliament. [Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."] I hear hon. Members say, "Hear, hear." I know that that is their intention and their agenda. What I do not understand about the Scottish Affairs Committee report, which I have examined carefully, is that the great and the good came down to give evidence—all the political parties, all the local authorities, the whole of civil society in Scotland—but it is as if the Committee made up a conclusion different from the evidence that it took. Most of its conclusions fly in the face of the evidence that it was given. I suggest respectfully to members of the Scottish Affairs Committee that instead of getting the great and the good down from Scotland to give them evidence for an agenda on which they had already made up their mind, they should have just had Mr. Foulkes as the sole witness. Their conclusions would then probably have been much more credible.
I have studied the evidence given to the Committee, and nowhere does any witness come forward and say, "I think that the solution to Scotland's electoral problems is to have two-Member constituencies." None of them said that, and some of them would probably laugh in the face of anyone who suggested it to them. I am intrigued as to whether any of the later contributors to this debate will explain how it will work. We have heard Labour Members' hostility to PR. They loathe it and think that it is an absurd system—that is their point of view. I presume that in two-Member constituencies the winner and the runner-up will be elected to the Scottish Parliament. What a ridiculous way to elect a Parliament—regardless of the fact that my party would do quite well under such a system.
Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that it would be better if the winner and the candidate who came last were elected, as is the case under the list system at present?
I find the arrangement suggested by the Scottish Affairs Committee bizarre. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and explain how it works. It is like turning up to play the Scottish cup final, picking up the ball and deciding not to have a competition—both teams share the cup. It is a bizarre sort of first-past-the-post-plus.
Most of the witnesses to the Scottish Affairs Committee have little to say about coterminosity. Yes, most of them would like to see it happen, but it did not seem to be the defining issue for most of them, although the Scottish Affairs Committee concluded that it was the defining issue in Scottish politics. The public do not care a whit about coterminosity. It is not on their agenda at all. When I am out and about in Blairgowrie, members of the public do not come up to me to tell me how concerned they are about coterminosity. I have had a series of surgeries in the past few weeks throughout my North Tayside constituency, and I have not had anxious constituents coming to my surgery saying that they cannot sleep at night because the constituency boundaries of their MP and their MSP may be different.
I am sorry, but I have no more time. I have a big speech to make.
Yes, this is an issue for political parities, and it will present challenges for them. There are solutions, however. The Scottish National party has already framed solutions, and I am sure that with its resources and organisational ability, the Scottish Labour party can arrive at a solution, too, and I suspect that it will do so. People just do not care about this issue, however. For example, people in Pitlochry know that I am their MP—some of them might think that I am quite effective. People in Brechin, which is 50 miles away, also know that I am their Member of Parliament. It comes as a great surprise and shock to people in Brechin, however, to discover that I am the MP for Pitlochry, and people in Pitlochry are equally surprised to find that I am the MP for distant and remote Brechin. They could not care less, however, as long as they know who their MP is, know that their MP is effective, and know how he can be contacted. That is what concerns them most.
I was impressed by the Secretary of State's evidence to the Scottish Affairs Committee, because he concluded that that was also true in city centres. People in city centres do not know where one boundary ends and the other begins—those were his words, and he is right. He gave a very good example: somebody could move through his Edinburgh, Central constituency and arrive at George square believing that they were in his constituency, but they would be in the constituency of Mr. Lazarowicz. Nobody knows where constituency boundaries are. They are boundaries that exist in the heads of politicians. The public could not care less.
No, I am sorry. I have only a few minutes.
What the Scottish Affairs Committee should have been doing was looking at the powers of the Scottish Parliament. As I said earlier, the Scottish Parliament is facing many severe challenges. It should be considering the sluggish economic growth in Scotland and the massive issues with which we must wrestle. What does it spend time doing? It has looked at the issue of co-terminosity, taken all the evidence, rejected the evidence that it received, and come to its own conclusions. I suggest respectfully that it should have been doing something more important. We look forward to the Secretary of State's commission, but let us hope that it will not just be a political fix to settle the difficulties in the Labour party between Westminster Members and Edinburgh Members.
I intend to be brief to allow more of my colleagues to speak in the debate.
My first regret is that in the euphoria of the election campaign and afterwards in 1997, when the Bill that became the Scotland Act 1998 came to the House, I and some of my colleagues did not pay more attention to some of its content. If we had understood that we were going to sleepwalk into a situation in which we would be crawled all over by list Members, we would have looked at the Bill in a very different way. Tonight, we have the first stage of the opportunity to try to address that. On the basis of what the Secretary of State said in his statement, that process will be allowed to start.
I commend to the House the Select Committee's report, as I believe, and have done for some considerable time, that the main problem in Scotland—
The hon. Gentleman may recall that I am very much in favour of proportional representation, and I have never thought that a regional list was a particularly good system. In relation to his solution, however, if he is concerned about list Members crawling all over this constituency, how much more would the person who came second want to crawl all over his constituency?
That person would be entitled to do so, but the responsiblities of the list Member were never defined as they should and probably could have been in that Act. That was a fundamental flaw. To a great extent, if that had been addressed, we would not be here tonight facing this quandary.
I suspect that few people in my constituency and probably throughout Scotland, apart from the chattering classes, are unduly concerned about the number of MSPs, or indeed the number of MPs. What concerns people, and what is more important, is the delivery of a service. They care about education, the NHS, the economy and employment levels, and to that extent the Labour party has indeed delivered, both down here and in Edinburgh. What they will not recognise is the existence of some magic in the requirement for 129 MSPs to be retained, or in the method adopted for their election. Not one ordinary constituent has complained to me about the way in which the present system affects him or her—because it does not affect my constituents at all. What it does is create confusion in the minds of the public. As has been said, the big problem relates to who represents the public in the Scottish Parliament and in this Parliament.
Why have we found ourselves in this position? While the Scotland Act 1998 was being debated, it was made clear that coterminous boundaries would be maintained. Only now do we find that what has happened since then is leading us towards a problem. I foresee a major problem, and have for some time. For some time I have argued forcefully, in any forum that has allowed me to do so, about the whole question of coterminosity, because I cannot accept any other arrangement.
All today's speeches so far, apart from those of SNP Members, have suggested that there is much to be said for coterminous boundaries. Both Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have expressed that view; the SNP is out on a limb, but we know that its sole aim is to separate Scotland from the rest of the United Kingdom.
Aspects of the independent commission also worry me. Although it has been said that the time scale will be as limited as possible, we have been told nothing more about it; nor has the Secretary of State told us how many members the commission will have, and where they will come from. He must clarify both those points before he receives the support that would otherwise be forthcoming.
As I have said, we have heard many arguments today about possible systems, such as proportional representation and the single transferable vote, but I do not think that the Bill's narrow drafting even allows for such arguments. It allows only for simple clauses dealing with coterminosity, and I want to concentrate on that rather than those other questions, or the question of reduction. I must point out, however, that the arithmetic of Mr. Duncan, or that of the Tory party, is not very good. The hon. Gentleman says that, under his preferred system, there would be about 108 MSPs. According to a simple calculator, the figure is 104.26. I would not like to say who the 0.26 would be, but maintaining proportionality would require some 45 additional Members. I do not know where the hon. Gentleman got the figure that he gave.
That does not add up. There are still four Members coming from somewhere in the system who are unaccounted for.
I want to simplify the position. I have heard many arguments about what is possible, but I want to concentrate on what is feasible. Something must be put together that will be accepted not just by my colleagues and me, but by the mainstream in the Chamber and outside. I believe that allowing two MSPs per Westminster constituency would simplify everything, although Orkney and Shetland would remain separate. According to my arithmetic there would then be some 118 Members with a first-past-the-post system, if the commission adopted it. I do not want to close any doors in that regard. Then there are the additional Members. If there were 11, with six in one region and five in the other, we could maintain the total of 129, which seems to have been accepted by everyone.
I am beginning to feel a little sorry for the Secretary of State, who has had to sit there and be subjected to a barrage from his Back Benchers. Some of my comments may prove to be more supportive of his position than those of many members of the Scottish Labour party—although I hasten to add that I will be joining my colleagues in the Lobby to vote against the Bill.
In deciding whether to reduce the size of the Scottish Parliament from 129 Members to 108, we must establish whether it would still be able to scrutinise the Executive properly, whether the reduction would increase the value of Ministers to the detriment of both Government and Opposition Back Benchers, and whether—given that the Scottish Parliament is unicameral—it would be able to fulfil its roles adequately. No one has made a case for that so far today. I suspect that whether the Bill proves to be good or bad will depend on the Parliament's output. No doubt, during the Bill's progress, we shall hear more arguments of that kind rather than arguments about electoral systems in general.
Much of today's debate seems to have been concerned with the additional member system and the list. Many Members representing Scottish constituencies clearly find that system frustrating. That does not surprise me: during the passage of the Scotland Bill I made a number of speeches opposing it. I am a thorough believer in first past the post, for many fundamental reasons. I think that, partly owing to its simplicity but also because of the accountability it involves, it is the best system for the electorate.
I do not think that a lack of coterminosity matters greatly if there are no list Members. Many other countries manage without coterminous districts, although they use first past the post. Indeed, for more than 70 years Northern Ireland elected Members to this Parliament—the imperial Parliament, as it was then—and Members representing much smaller constituencies to Stormont, both under first past the post. Canadians elect a federal Parliament and state Parliaments. The ridings and the state parliamentary areas are very different, except in the case of Ontario.
When the Scotland Bill was being put together, coterminosity, in terms of constituencies, was one of the building blocks for the country. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that taking away those building blocks would leave the way open for the disintegration of the Union as we know it?
An argument made by many people when the Scotland Act 1998 was passed was that embedding Scottish representation in the Westminster constituencies would give rather more unity than the alternative system, but my point is that we do not necessarily have to have that system. The confusion is caused by having a list system, where several Members have an interest in lots of constituencies. It is perfectly possible to have different-sized constituencies, under first past the post, and proper parliamentary representation. In English constituencies, it is normal for county councillors to cover more than one parliamentary constituency; it does not make them bad county councillors, nor does it affect representation to this place.
In federal Parliaments, such as those in Canada and the United States, there are districts of different sizes, with the exception of Ontario. In Australia, Tasmania is the only state where districts are the same size—most others have different systems. In Germany, the Lander have different sized districts and there is AMS at both federal and state level. In the United States of America, which uses a first-past-the-post system, there are some bizarrely designed districts—there are all sorts of different sizes for all sorts of different offices—yet the system works pretty effectively.
I do not think that we need to have a fetish about coterminosity, but the electoral system is key. That is why AMS is causing problems north of the border, although, apart from first past the post, no other system would be preferable. However, there is no doubt about the problem and the Secretary of State is correct to look into the systems. There is a first-past-the-post system for Westminster, AMS for the Scottish Parliament and a list system for Europe and we may be moving towards a single transferable vote system for local government, which will cause confusion. The line taken by the Government has helped that confusion; for example, there was no need for them to bring in a list system for the European Parliament. I voted against that, as I preferred a first-past-the-post system.
The confusion will inevitably give rise to concern, which could lead to lower turnouts, because people will not understand the system. There is a big misconception in the AMS system. The second vote is more important than the first one, as the second vote determines the relative relationship of all the other parties. I was talking to the German ambassador about that point and even he had not realised it, yet under the German system the second vote is important.
Overall, it seems sensible to hold an independent inquiry into the relative systems, as, if possible, we do not want a proliferation of systems. It would have been better to go back to first past the post, which is a simpler and more accountable system. I do not necessarily believe that everything has to be coterminous; providing that the system is simple, we do not need the same districts for representation—I have given several examples of that.
On balance, I shall vote with my colleagues for 108 rather than 129, because I do not believe that the arguments have yet been made on scrutiny and on balance between the Executive and Back Benchers or about whether the Scottish Parliament would do a better job. Perhaps those arguments will be made in Committee.
Some aspects will add a political cost. If there are separate boundaries, we shall have to have separate reviews and separate electoral registers. A dual system will mean costs for local government north of the border and they will fall on the Scottish taxpayer. When Members vote, they should take account of the fact that duplication may have certain costs.
As many Members want to speak, I shall conclude my remarks.
The Scottish Affairs Committee took extensive evidence before it published its report. At the outset, may I refute the claim that the reports of the evidence did not match what we had heard? That was not the case. For example, on the 129-Member question, almost everyone who appeared before the Committee—whether from political parties or independent groups—came down in favour of retaining that number.
The report stated:
"During its evidence sessions, the Committee was not made aware of any good case for the current number of MSPs to be either reduced or increased. We are satisfied, therefore, that the number of MSPs should remain, for the time being, at 129."
That exactly reflects the evidence that was given to the Select Committee.
What was important for the Committee was not the mechanics of the 129 figure, or the mechanics of coterminosity but whether any changes would hinder or assist the greater involvement of the electorate. Would the changes be voter friendly? Would they clarify issues for the electorate or would they confuse the electorate even further?
Pete Wishart has made a consistent point throughout the debate. He has asked whether our constituents tell us that they are worried about coterminosity and the answer is that they do not. However, in Strathkelvin and Bearsden, they ask me, "John, why should the town of Kirkintilloch be split in two for the new Westminster constituency, but remain as one for the Scottish Parliament constituency?" That is how they ask questions about coterminosity. They ask, "Why should the villages of Lennoxtown, Milton of Campsie or Twechar be taken away from the Westminster constituency but remain in the Scottish constituency?".
Technically, those are arguments about coterminosity. That actual question is never asked, but people—quite properly—are interested in their local community and its past. For example, Kirkintilloch has never been split in its parliamentary history, but now it is being split for the Westminster constituency, while remaining whole for the Scottish Parliament. I agree that people do not say, "What about coterminosity?", but they ask pertinent and important questions about how their local communities are represented.
In its evidence to the Select Committee, the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities said:
"The creation of 59 Westminster Constituencies which do not have coterminous boundaries with 73 Scottish Parliament constituencies is likely to cause confusion among constituents who will be in different constituencies."
No one will argue with that. There seems to be broad support for the view that that would be a major difficulty and a major problem.
Even non-political groups agreed. The Association of Electoral Administrators said:
"The lack of coincidence between Parliamentary Boundaries in Scotland is more likely to cause bewilderment for electors, especially those who reside in cross-boundary areas."
That is not a political viewpoint; the association is independent and the administrators are politically objective. They know how to run elections and they clearly say that the lack of coterminosity could cause major problems.
In its recommendations, the Committee stated:
"Based on the evidence we have received, we recommend that, in order to avoid possible confusion, the constituency boundaries in Scotland for elections to the United Kingdom and to the Scottish Parliament should remain coterminous."
The Committee did not reach that conclusion on its own; it was based firmly on the evidence that we heard.
Another issue that has been raised in the debate was the possibility of two Members from the Scotland Parliament being balanced in a Westminster constituency. The Committee said that
"our favoured option is to have 2 constituency MSPs for each new Westminster constituency, totalling 118 MSPs, with the remaining 11 MSPs being elected from a national list".
As my hon. Friend Mrs. Adams said, the Committee did not recommend how that should be done.
Is that not a difficulty with the report? I was a member of the Committee, and that recommendation did not seem to me to be backed up by the evidence. The report could have made a good point, but it chose to recommend the establishment of a commission and to suggest what it wanted the commission to find—the very thing that the Secretary of State was arguing against.
I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's point, but the evidence before the Committee was overwhelmingly about the list. People were reasonably satisfied about the possibility that there would be two MSPs in each Westminster constituency; the big and continual criticism was about the list system—for good reason. Questions about the list system have been repeated in the debate today. We have a system for which there is no public support: a candidate can stand for direct election to the Scottish Parliament, come last out of four or five candidates, yet walk into the Scottish Parliament by the back door and take their seat.
That is clearly unacceptable to the Scottish people; they regard it as a fraud. It does not matter which political party gains by that system, or what it says about it; all of us should be embarrassed about it.
The agriculture Minister of the Scottish Parliament—Captain Mainwaring himself—little Ross Finney, stands for election in Greenock year after year and always gets trounced; indeed, he was trounced in the last two Scottish parliamentary elections. Does my hon. Friend share my amazement at the fact that every morning, the people of Greenock wake up, having trounced Ross Finney, only to find out that he is not only in the Scottish Parliament, but in the Scottish Executive?
Just to be clear that the hon. Gentleman is not making a cheap partisan point, does he include in his criticism the third place candidate in the Scottish parliamentary elections in Moray, Mr. Peter Peacock? He is now serving as a Scottish Executive Minister, having been defeated as a Labour candidate in Moray by the Scottish National party; indeed, he even came behind the Tories.
The point that I am making is an apolitical one: the system is not one that the Scottish people agree with. Those who come last in a direct election should not then be able to transfer to the list. If we are to have a list at all, there should be clear separation between those who want to stand in constituencies, and those who want stand in respect of the list.
I shall give a few facts and figures, which have been provided by the Library. In the 1999 election, 56 list MSPs were elected, 12 of whom were not fighting constituency seats. The remaining 44 had been defeated and then entered Parliament via the list system. We might think that a big enough affront to us all, but let us consider what happened in 2003. Of the 56 list MSPs elected in that year, 44 were losing candidates in constituency seats.
The hon. Gentleman is being very generous in giving way. I understand and appreciate his hostility towards list MSPs, but we have heard it all before, so it is not really new. Can he explain why he wants to have two-Member constituencies? We do not know how they will be elected, except for some vague reference to the Electoral Commission's deciding on such matters. Is it being suggested that the winner and runner-up will be selected for those constituencies? If so, that is a far more ridiculous idea, because whoever is directly defeated—be it by a majority of 800 or 8,000—will get to serve. Such a solution is 10 times worse than that of list Members.
The hon. Gentleman misunderstands where I am coming from. I want to encourage more people to participate in elections for the Scottish Parliament, for Westminster and for the councils, but the fact is that the list system turns people off. According to Mrs. Adams, the Electoral Commission said the following of the question of the percentage:
"Opinion polling following the 2003 elections in Scotland . . . suggested that 13 per cent. of non-voters claimed that confusion over the voting systems being used led them not to vote".
We cannot afford to allow 13 per cent. of that populace to turn away from elections. We need to encourage them, and to try to ensure that they participate in elections in the way that we would like.
I remember what was said well, because I questioned Mr. Younger at the time. The figure of 13 per cent. has gone into legend, but the hon. Gentleman should read on a little further in the report to discover what Mr. Younger said. He said that we should treat that figure with caution, and that
"there is quite a lot of experience of earlier polling that suggests that some of these reasons are those that people think are the ones which make it look more respectable for their not having voted".
In other words, he was casting doubt on the robustness of the 13 per cent. figure. On the face of it, that figure is very bad, but perhaps it is not quite as bad as it looks.
I am happy for any Member to say that they disagree, or that the figure is not robust enough; I am simply quoting the report and the polling organisation. I have no reason to think that the organisation has a jaundiced view of people participating in voting for the Scottish Parliament. I think it objective and fair, and I am prepared to accept its view. One might well argue that 13 per cent. is an underestimate of the number of people who do not vote because of confusion in the system. But as I said, the list system and its lack of accountability undermine the political and democratic process. It helps no politician if people have no trust or faith in it.
I am old-fashioned enough to think that you should elect the person whom you want to represent you in the Scottish Parliament. It is as simple as—
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. People should have the opportunity to make that decision, which they make on their own. They do not rely on the list system to allow someone to get into the Scottish Parliament through the back door.
If we were to explain to students of higher modern studies or to first-year politics students that this is the system in the Scottish Parliament—
Does my hon. Friend agree that those who condemn and deride a system through which those who come first and second in a constituency election are elected to the Scottish Parliament have to examine why it should be that someone who comes fourth in a list system, for example, can be successful?
I am grateful for that intervention. There is no logic to the case made by those who argue that there is a major problem with the election of those who come first and second, or even with the creation of two separate seats. I am quite happy to go along with the list and all that that means, but the fact that we should have the system in question offends us all as democrats, irrespective of whether Labour, the Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats or any given party gains.
The report points one way forward. It is not the solution, but if nothing else it lays a foundation for discussing proposals and recommendations that we can consider in future. That, if nothing else, is a worthy conclusion.
It is extremely important that constituents understand who their Member is. First and second past the post is a very important issue. Through such a system, people can say to their Member, "You're to blame for not doing this", or "Thank you for doing that." Under a list system, that does not happen. The former system would provide clarification.
It is a pleasure to participate in this debate, which, as Pete Wishart reminded us, is our first opportunity to revisit the Scotland Act 1998 on the Floor of the House. Indeed, it has been a good debate. I am sorry that Mr. Wilson is not in his place, because his was one of the best contributions so far. I did not agree with a lot of it, but he made a powerfully argued and cogent case that demonstrated a certain and welcome independence of mind. I heard him speak on Friday's "Today" programme about the remit of the gas and electricity markets regulator in a similarly independent manner. I never heard him speak in that way when he was Minister with responsibility for energy, but we will leave that to one side for the moment.
As I said, however, I do not agree with the hon. Member for Cunninghame, North because he seems to be unduly concerned with starting points. He says that we are in a muddled situation. I have no difficulty in agreeing that we are not necessarily in the best starting place, but where we finish is more important than where we start. Once we have been through the Bill, and through the commission process that the Secretary of State said will be introduced soon, we will end up, I hope, where we need to be. Frankly, that is what is important.
I welcome the retention of the 129 Members of the Scottish Parliament. That is important, not least because it demonstrates to those Members that their views will be listened to here. Had we sought to proceed in open defiance of the clear majority of MSPs, we would have been introducing a constitutional tension into the debate.
It does not surprise me that the Conservatives are not part of the consensus. They have never been part of any consensus for the development of the constitutional position in Scotland. Mr. Duncan took the best approach that he could have done in the circumstances when he ditched what looked like the last three or four pages of his speech, said that this was a bad Bill, and sat down.
Mrs. Lait made a more telling contribution when she outlined all the things that the Conservatives want for the Scottish Parliament: to reduce the number of Members; to reduce the number of Committees; and to reduce the number of Ministers. Everything that the Conservatives propose in the debate, it seems to me, is designed to reduce the effectiveness of the Scottish Parliament. That is no accident: they do not want the Scottish Parliament to succeed and they do not want it to be effective, because they never wanted it in the first place.
The number of members of the Scottish Executive or the Cabinet is for the Scottish Parliament to decide, and it will be judged on that basis at the end of the day. I would remind the hon. Gentleman that the Conservatives stood for election in May last year on exactly the same set of proposals—to reduce this and reduce that—and were roundly trounced for their pains, so a little more humility from Conservative Front Benchers would not go amiss.
The question of the coincidence, coterminosity or coterminality—call it what one will—of boundaries is important. Several hon. Members came out with the old saw of asking how often people come to constituency surgeries to talk about coterminosity. Unless one is exceptionally unfortunate in one's constituents, they do not—and long may that continue to be the case. People may not talk about that in surgeries, but they often talk about how the Scottish Parliament operates, and there is a feeling that it does not operate as well, as clearly or as effectively as it might. I believe that the coincidence of boundaries is part of that. As Mr. Lyons mentioned, the operation of the list system is also part of that, so we are right to deal with those points in the Bill. The Scottish Affairs Committee was right to identify it as a problem, and we need to find the solution to it.
I explored with the Leader of the House at last Thursday's business questions whether the long title of the Bill could be altered in order to entertain amendments in Committee that would examine those issues, because the Bill is narrowly and tightly drawn. I have to say that the Secretary of State's announcement about the commission today would make that unnecessary—indeed, even unhelpful. The commission is important and I certainly hope that my party will play an active and full part in it.
My other concern is the movement that I detect among some Labour Members—overtly among Conservative Members—away from proportionality. I believe that proportionality was crucial in selling the Scottish Parliament to the Scottish people. I say that because it was long held in many parts of the country—particularly in the highlands and islands and the borders—that, as my predecessor but one, the late Lord Grimond of Firth once put it, we do not want to be ruled by Glasgow trade unionists and Edinburgh lawyers. He said that, unfortunately, in 1983 when he was speaking in support of my colleague, Jim Wallace, who was then seeking to take over the seat. He was an Edinburgh lawyer, so it was not perhaps the most helpful intervention in the debate, but it does not seem to have done any lasting damage.
I say in all seriousness that proportionality in the Scottish Parliament means that we must not end up being, to use another expression, the Strathclyde region writ large. That is of supreme importance and any move away from proportionality must be deprecated. It is certainly something that my constituents and I would not countenance supporting. That is why I could not go along with the suggestion in the Scottish Affairs Committee report of having two Members in the Scottish Parliament for each Westminster constituency. Inevitably, in my view, that would have led to the end of proportionality.
The hon. Gentleman is deluding himself. I believe that the Scottish electorate is more interested in the delivery of the Scottish Parliament and what it can provide in the way of better governance for the people of Scotland. It is not merely a question of proportional representation.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention, but his view does not concur with what I find in my constituency. My constituents would feel that a Scottish Executive and Parliament dominated by the central belt—and by the party of the central belt that would inevitably follow from first past the post—would, almost by definition, be deficient in its representation of their interests.
I can tell the hon. Gentleman that I believe that AV is preferable to a first-past-the-post system. My concerns remain, however, that in the end it does not produce a Parliament that is truly proportional. As with first past the post, there is a bigger element of accident and happenstance. It could be more proportional, but it almost certainly would not be. In order to secure a more proportional system, one needs larger constituency sizes. That is the fundamental difficulty with the hon. Gentleman's point.
I agree that the element of proportional representation was an important part of persuading people, particularly in the periphery of Scotland, to vote in favour of having a Scottish Parliament. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that removing proportionality now would be viewed as a very cynical exercise?
Cynical is putting it mildly. It would perhaps be kind to say that about it. I believe that with the passage of time and after learning from experience, we sometimes forget the importance of proportionality as part of the overall constitutional convention programme. What I am trying to achieve tonight is firmly to put that element back into the debate because it is so important. We should remember why we took certain decisions in the first place.
I do not seek to upset either way the proportional element in the current arrangements, but could the hon. Gentleman explain how having four regions using proportional representaiton for members of Parliament across the central belt reduces the dominance of the central belt on the proceedings of the Scottish Parliament?
No, I cannot because I have no idea what the hon. Gentleman is talking about. I just do not understand his logic at all. If this does not help him, he can try to intervene again of course, but I am trying to explain that the majority of people in Scotland—or certainly the largest element of people in Scotland—live in the central belt, which is why the majority of first-past-the-post seats are there, and that that tends to deliver a dominance under the first-past-the-post system.
Perhaps I can help the hon. Gentleman. I think that Mr. Turner makes a perfectly valid point because proportional representation as expressed through the Scottish Parliament does not reduce the dominance of the central belt—what it does is make political representation in the central belt more diffuse—but I, for one, having some interest in highlands and islands affairs, would seriously question whether the net effect is beneficial to the highlands and islands.
Ah, well, I can understand the point when the hon. Gentleman puts it like that—I think that we speak the same language. The danger is that we think of the central belt as a unified lump. Of course it is not; there is a diversity of opinion in the central belt, as there is throughout the highlands and islands as well. The fact that, under the first-past-the-post system, the central belt tends to return a preponderance of Labour MPs lies at the heart of the suspicion that exists in other more peripheral parts. It can be argued that things can be done differently or better, but that suspicion will not be overcome by diverting from the proportionality of the Parliament.
I broadly welcome the commission that the Secretary of State has proposed today. It is a worthy successor to the constitutional convention. It will advance the debate in the spirit and manner in which the constitutional convention was conducted. First, I hope that we will be able to keep the Conservatives and the Scottish nationalists on board because they are an important part of the process. Secondly, I should be interested to hear from the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland what role she envisages for the wider civic Scotland, because the remarkable success of the Scottish Constitutional Convention was shown in the manner in which it managed to include the Churches, the trade unions and other civic bodies. I hope that some of that spirit can be recaptured in the right hon. Gentleman's commission.
I wish to try to swim against the tide of the debate by briefly saying something about the Bill itself. I felt originally that the manner in which the Bill was drafted was tight and restrictive. I am very pleased that the commission will allow a wider debate to take place, perhaps outwith the Chamber, because politics does not begin and end at the doors at either end of the Chamber; there is a wider political debate to be had outwith. For that reason and with the assurances provided by the commission, I shall be pleased, along with my Liberal Democrat colleagues, to join the Government in the Lobby to support the Bill tonight.
I align myself with the remarks about the Bill made by Mr. Carmichael. The Bill, allied to the Secretary of State's statement on the commission, is exactly the outcome that I had hoped for, and it is exactly what the people of Scotland will welcome. I welcome the announcement on the commission's remit, particularly the reference to the four different types of voting systems that will be possible in Scotland under local government legislation. People will want to look at that very carefully, and there will be an opportunity to do so, given the commission's remit. I look forward to hearing the announcement about the commission's membership and about when it will start and when it will report.
The Secretary of State also indicated that the remit would include looking at voter participation. That is also important. I am not absolutely certain that the reduction in turnout is caused by the different types of electoral system. Unfortunately, the reduction in turnout is happening all over the world, and we as politicians have to address ourselves to finding out why that is so. Perhaps part of the reason is related to confusion about the voting systems. I am not absolutely convinced about that, but we must find out why that is happening.
The Secretary of State also announced that the relationship between public bodies, MPs and MSPs would be considered. Some people appear to think that that will create confusion. I cannot say from my experience that it has caused confusion in my local authority, where the relationship between the local authority, the MP, the MSP, the various public bodies—the health boards and so on—seems to involve a good dialogue. However, those relationships should be looked at if they are an issue in some areas.
On the representation by different tiers of elected Members, perhaps the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs report on multi-layered democracies could be borne in mind. I shall not quote the report, but I am certain that the Committee was convinced that there was absolutely no problem in working multi-layered democracies and that different levels of representation were perfectly acceptable in those countries in the world where it happens. For example, Germany, France and Spain have different tiers of government and various types of devolution in different areas. I hope that that report will also inform the commission.
I should like to tell hon. Members about one of my constituents when I was a lowly district councillor and we had several tiers of representation. She came to me to complain about an issue. When I was unable to respond favourably to the complaint, she went to the regional councillor. The regional councillor was unable to solve the problem, so she went to the Member of Parliament. The Member of Parliament was unable to respond to the problem, so she went to the Member of the European Parliament. Ultimately, she insisted that the only way to resolve the problem was to go to Rome, so she promptly took herself off to Rome to find a higher authority. I do not quite know what response she got, but constituents are well able to find out where to get the right answer to their problems.
No one thinks that the voting method for the Scottish Parliament is wonderful, but we must remind ourselves why we are where we are. The Scotland Act 1998 was taken almost entirely from the constitutional convention. While some did not expect the similarity to be so close, it turned out to be very close because it was created by consensus. That consensus was important because it ensured the inclusion in the Labour party general election manifesto of the proposal to legislate for a Scottish Parliament, after a referendum, in two years. The consensus was also important in ensuring a massive majority in favour of the Parliament in the referendum. I agree completely with the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland, who said that that was an important part of achieving that consensus not only in the central belt, but around the periphery in Scotland.
"address the proliferation of politicians in Scotland."
May I remind them that in 1996 there were more politicians in Scotland than there are at the moment? In 1996, the Conservative local government reform removed more politicians than the Conservatives suggest in their amendment. I am not exactly sure of the numbers, but about 400 councillors were lost to the Scottish electorate.
Their proposal is now to take away 20 or so MPs, but they take us nowhere near the reduction that took place then. However, they are consistent. The proposal has nothing to do with the Scottish Parliament; it is just about reducing people's ability to be represented by whom they want under a system that allows for far greater representation.
Our beliefs are consistent, and the hon. Lady will accept that they are consistent with our view that small government is better for the Scottish people. That is why we believe that we need a smaller Scottish Parliament and that the same agenda can be delivered by 108 rather than 129 Members.
The Conservatives certainly had small government when they had four Ministers running the then Scottish Office in the run-up to the 1997 general election and in the preceding 18 years. They performed no great service to the people of Scotland and that is why the Conservatives lost so resoundingly in 1997 and ended up without a single Member of Parliament. Unfortunately, small government did not work then.
We have to consider the boundaries, but I do not think that they matter all that much—certainly not in the short term. People quickly get to know their parliamentarian or councillor; they can certainly find out who they are by visiting the local library. I would like to think that everybody knows who is their Member of Parliament, who is their local councillor or who is their MSP. However, that is not the case. Not as many people as we think know who we are.
Apart from in Midlothian, where my hon. Friend insists that every member of the electorate knows him. However, as long as the proposals are based on local government boundaries—which they are—we do not have anything to worry about.
The fact that a commission is being set up is important. I hope that it will allow for representations from all civic Scotland. People feel that they played a part in setting up the Scottish Parliament and it is important that they feel a part of amending it. I hope that the trade unions, the churches and local government will all be included in the consultation process and have an opportunity to express their views.
Let us never forget that the Scottish Labour party gave Scotland the Parliament that the people wanted and had asked for. The Scottish Labour party created it. One of the most important elements of proportional representation is that it allowed us to have a better gender-balanced Parliament than almost any Parliament in the world. The Liberal Democrats could have made the position even better if they had kept to their original agreement when they said that they would have a gender-balanced list. Unfortunately, they did not have such a list and the Labour party was the only party to present one. However, the pressure and impetus that that created meant that there were more women in the Scottish Parliament than in any other legislature. I know that some of my colleagues may not agree with that, but that was a great step forward even though the nationalists and the Tories did not take part.
Not only do I agree with my hon. Friend, but I want to help to get more women into the Scottish Parliament. Perhaps she will consider supporting an amendment in Committee to have two Members for each constituency. We could have one woman and one man and that would improve the gender balance throughout Scotland. As she says, the other political parties have not responded, but the Labour party has. Such an amendment would be an excellent idea in achieving a better gender balance.
I cannot support two Members for each constituency simply because that removes any element of proportionality. There is not a Parliament or a legislature in the world that would be created today in which one would have a first-past-the-post system. We live in a democracy, and we understand that democracy is not delivered by a first-past-the-post system. I am not talking about changing existing systems; I am talking about the system that we created for the Parliament in Scotland.
Like everyone else, I and my Member of the Scottish Parliament were followed about by a list MSP—
As I said to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, I had to leave earlier to attend another meeting, but I am sure that people have expressed grave concerns throughout the debate about list Members who seem to float around the system. Some land on a specific patch and concentrate on that. However, an even greater issue is now beginning to surface. List Members of the Scottish Parliament are being selected for the next election and they go around the patch in some form of legitimate fashion saying that they are still Members of the Scottish Parliament, which they are. However, they are doing nothing more than campaigning for the next general election with the taxpayers picking up the cost.
My hon. Friend has just demonstrated that the issue is about politicians. The subject is not discussed in the pubs and clubs in Cumbernauld and Kilsyth. Constituents have yet to come to me and say that they wish to make a complaint. However, if we try to impose change without proper consultation, the issue will be quickly raised. I worked with the convention through my involvement with local government and I am certain that the whole issue of proportionality was crucial in helping us to deliver the Scottish Parliament. I agree that the system is not perfect, but it is not worrying people in our constituencies. I have always supported proportional representation and nothing that has happened has persuaded me otherwise.
My hon. Friend referred to the list candidate for the Scottish Parliament for Cumbernauld and Kilsyth. The way to defeat such individuals is by working hard and making sure that we beat them at the poll. Does she accept that that person is not in the Scottish Parliament because the Scottish National party put him so far down the list that he could not win a seat?
My hon. Friend again demonstrates that this is a matter that politicians talk about. It is not discussed in our constituencies. People quickly suss out what is happening. I repeat that we defeat such candidates politically and not by complaining about the system.
I welcome the fact that the commission will have an opportunity to consider these issues. I am sure that many people will wish to give evidence and to express their views. I suspect that civic Scotland wants a proportional system that delivers a Parliament that reflects society. A first-past-the-post system does not deliver a Parliament that reflects society or gives the views of the people due credence. Every vote must matter, and a system of proportional representation is the one to do that.
The Scottish Parliament is settling down, and recent opinion polls show a great deal of support for it and its achievements. Given the views expressed today, I hope that a consensus is reached, but I do not envy the work of the commission. How on earth can consensus be achieved? I wish the Secretary of State luck.
I welcome the Bill, which will keep 129 MSPs in the Scottish Parliament, although I wish that it were much better. I also wish that the Bill were more wide ranging and that we could table amendments to it relating to different electoral systems. I also welcome the Secretary of State's announcement of a commission to consider changes to the electoral system for the Scottish Parliament.
Despite welcoming both the Bill, which keeps 129 MSPs, and the commission, which will review the electoral system, I regret the sequence of events that has taken us to this situation at this time. The commission should have been set up one year ago, when the Secretary of State's predecessor made her statement in the House in December 2002. The commission should have started its work after the 2003 Scottish parliamentary elections, because at that point we had seen the electoral system work for a full Parliament and had been through two elections. If the commission had been set up then, we could have discussed its recommendations in this debate.
The hon. Gentleman suggests that the commission should have been set up a year ago when the then Secretary of State, Mrs. Liddell, made the announcement. Does he not take on board the powerful point made by Mr. Wilson that the commission is being set up to deal with a problem that has not yet occurred? If the commission had been set up then, the problem would have been one year away. The problem of coterminousity and lack of boundary consistency is not yet there to deal with. Why should the commission have been set up one year ago?
When we envisage a problem, we should take steps to stop it arising. If I understand the hon. Gentleman's argument, he wants to wait until we have a problem, and only then take steps to deal with it.
The Scottish Parliament has undoubtedly been successful—we have a consensus on that point and no party wants to abolish it. It has passed many Bills because we needed to catch up. For many years, there had not been parliamentary time at Westminster to pass the number of the Bills required in Scotland to keep Scots law up to date.
When considering the numbers, it is important to remember that the Scottish Parliament is a single chamber. Earlier, Conservative Members were calculating the number of elected politicians in Scotland and comparing that figure with England. However, they all failed to take into account the many unelected politicians in Westminster in the House of Lords. The number of people scrutinising legislation in Westminster is far greater than the number of MPs alone.
On the subject of the large number of unelected members in the other place, does it strike my hon. Friend as strange that Conservative Members' enthusiasm for reducing the number of politicians never extends to that end of the building?
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point, which I wholeheartedly endorse.
Since the Scottish Parliament has a single chamber, its Committees play an important role both in scrutinising the Executive and in improving the quality of legislation. The Committees already have a full work load, and a cut in the number of MSPs would either greatly increase that, or reduce the effectiveness of the Committees. The recent Scotland Office consultation on whether the current number of MSPs should be retained also came out heavily in favour of keeping the number at 129.
I welcome the Government's decision to introduce the Bill rather than allowing the Scotland Act 1998 to reduce the number of MSPs to 106 at the 2007 election. However, I agree with the hon. Members who say that the Government's method, if it is ever implemented, will lead to confusion. It will have an impact only at the 2007 election, and if, as the Secretary of State has promised, the commission proceeds speedily, the Government and Parliament could have accepted its recommendations before the 2007 election. The legislation that we pass tonight may never come into effect, because it will be overtaken by events.
I also agree with many of the comments about the list system. Although constituents do not use the word "coterminousity" when they discuss the issue, as hon. Members have pointed out, they raise the subject in other ways. Obviously, my constituency and the Scottish Parliament constituency currently share the same boundaries and the same name—Argyll and Bute. However, Argyll and Bute council covers a larger area than my constituency. The current parliamentary boundaries were drawn up under the previous local government boundaries, and follow the former local government district of Argyll and Bute, which was abolished in 1996.
If the Bill has its full effect and is not overtaken by the commission, the current Scottish Parliament constituency of Argyll and Bute will survive until 2011, despite being based on the boundary of a district council that was abolished in 1996. It is difficult to explain that situation to my constituents. Because the constituency boundary does not follow the council boundary, I spend a great deal of time explaining to constituents that my constituency does not cover the whole of Argyll and Bute and that people who live in the parts of Argyll and Bute council area that are not covered by the Argyll and Bute constituency are represented by Mr. McFall.
Will the hon. Gentleman accept that that will be the case in many situations? There are parts of three different local authorities in my constituency; under the new scheme, the new Angus constituency will not cover the whole of Angus, parts of which will go into two Dundee seats. The same problems will occur whatever system is selected.
There will certainly be an element of confusion, but it does not need to be this confusing. For example, the two Aberdeen, Norths and two Aberdeen, Souths will follow different boundaries, as will the two Dundee, Easts and the two Dundee, Wests. That is a recipe for total confusion.
The election of the Parliament on a proportional basis has been a proven success—and I say that as a member of a party that has derived little benefit from the top-up lists. They have produced only four Liberal Democrat MSPs compared with 13 elected in the constituencies. The main beneficiaries of the top-up lists have been not the Liberal Democrats but the Scottish National party and the Tories, but it is only right for SNP and Tory voters to have fair representation in the Scottish Parliament.
List MSPs do not have a properly defined role. They invariably cherry-pick, either by concentrating all their efforts on one constituency and setting themselves up as shadow constituency MSPs, or by taking up issues that provide them with a public profile, leaving constituency MSPs to do the less high-profile casework on behalf of individual constituents.
One unexpected outcome of the top-up list system has been that because the party that gains the most votes inevitably wins more than its fair share of constituency seats, and because most of the top-up list seats therefore go to the smaller parties, the bulk of the Ministers are drawn from the constituency MSPs. That leaves the list MSPs with little to do. The constituency MSPs have all the constituency work to do and make up the vast majority of Ministers. That was an unforeseen effect, but now that we can see the system in operation, we can see that as one reason for changing it.
I hope that the commission's remit will allow it to consider only proportional systems. It should choose a system under which all MSPs are elected using the same method, and avoid having two separate categories of MSP as we have at the moment. The obvious choice is the single transferable vote—STV—system. That could be implemented by pairing new Westminster constituencies, each pair to form a multi-Member constituency for the Scottish Parliament. Each of those multi-Member constituencies could then elect four or five MSPs.
That would mean that all MSPs were on the same footing and, importantly, that the voters would decide who was elected from each party—unlike the present list system, where the party members effectively decide who is elected by determining the order of the names on the lists. The STV system would also have the advantage that Scottish Parliament and local council elections held on the same day could be held using the same voting system. I hope that the commission will recommend STV.
I shall vote to give the Bill a Second Reading because it keeps the Parliament at 129 Members, but I regret that the Government have framed it so tightly that it excludes consideration of alternative electoral systems.
At this time of night it is often difficult to find something new to say, but I shall try my best. I can understand why Opposition Members want to pursue a PR system, which is in their interests, but as a Labour Member I take the view that if we are winning, I want to continue to win and to deliver for the people whom I represent. That is a clear difference between Opposition Members and me.
This could be a debate for anoraks, looking at different systems and discussing which way to go. So far as I can see, it is a debate for the chattering classes. I think that there was a demand for a Scottish Parliament because the people in Scotland were so fed up with voting constantly for a Labour Government and losing during the 18 years of Conservative rule, and of seeing the damage that the Conservatives did to ordinary people in Scotland, that they gave up and decided, "We're never going to win a general election, so let's have a Scottish Parliament. Let's have something new that will protect the people of Scotland." That is one reason why civil society and members of the Labour party were at one in trying to establish a Scottish Parliament.
I welcome what the Secretary of State has said today, but, as he said, we have to look at the system and at the issues that the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs has raised. I commend the Committee for its report, which covers several issues very well. When it was published on
However, I have a confession to make. I was a list member in 1999, when the Labour party placed me first in the list for Central Scotland. I was lucky—I escaped and am here instead of in the Scottish Parliament. When I was standing, I could not campaign, because we were concentrating on the first-past-the-post candidate in the constituency—and, I am delighted to say, we were successful in securing his election.
The literature that we produced for the electorate targeted the first-past-the-post seat and did not target the list candidate. There were eight of us on the list, which was sent to constituents, who then had to make a decision. The Labour party achieved 130,000 votes that evening, and the Member who was elected to the Scottish Parliament won 17,000 votes. I have always thought that the list system was unfair—I am not just saying so because I was a list member. However, my experience demonstrated graphically that it was certainly not the way in which we should proceed.
The explanatory notes to the Bill say:
"There are currently 73 constituency Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs) and 56 regional list MSPs. The Act also provides that the Boundary Commission for Scotland when reviewing the Westminster constituencies should use the same (larger) electoral quota as used in England. This is likely to reduce . . . to 59."
The Minister should take note of the fact that the boundary commission is currently examining the English constituencies for numbers. If we are going to apply the Scottish parliamentary model to Westminster it is likely that there will shortly be another reduction in the number of MPs representing Scotland. It would be better to introduce proposals to reduce the number of Scottish MPs when proposed boundary changes are made in England, Wales and Scotland. There are now 129 MSPs, but we are reducing the number of MPs from Scotland. I believe that change should have been effected on a broader basis.
As politicians, we should look at the genuine opportunity presented by our debate. If we are to improve government structures we should do so not on the basis of whether there are 59 MPs or 129 MSPs, but on the basis of how best to deliver for the people whom we represent. The Scottish people were excited about the Scottish Parliament, and may have had huge expectations about what it could deliver. To some extent, they have been disappointed—even the First Minister has said so. However, the Scottish Parliament will grow and deliver for the people of Scotland. It will settle down and take the direction that it should have taken originally, and I am delighted that we set it up.
Participation and the involvement of the people are crucial. I do not believe the electorate are interested in the numbers, whether they are 59 or 129. They are interested in what we can deliver. When I was doing research for our debate I came across a press release:
"A Gallup survey . . . last week painted a very depressing picture of the way people in Britain today feel about their country and its institutions. It revealed a significant and worrying loss of confidence in Parliament, in our justice system, and in the way the country is governed. Only a tiny number of those questioned believed . . . that Britain is a country at ease with itself.
I have no hesitation in saying there is an undeniable and pressing need for constitutional reform in this country. Undeniable because—as I hope to demonstrate—our structures and institutions are clearly failing properly to represent the people they were set in place to serve. And pressing because of the mounting sense of disenchantment and cynicism amongst the people of this country about our political system, a deeply disturbing trend that must be checked if we are to secure the future health of our democracy."
I would question whether we have been successful. Do the same problems still exist even with the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly in place? It is important that we examine not only structures but what we are doing as politicians to create the impetus for people to be involved in the political process. At the last Scottish parliamentary election in my constituency, 46 per cent. of the electorate turned out. That must be of concern to every Member in this place and to every politician in Scotland.
I wish to understand the hon. Gentleman's train of thought a little better. He has talked about ways of galvanising the electorate to help deliver aspirations in the run-up to the Scottish Parliament elections. Does he share the view of the majority expressed in an opinion poll last week for The Herald, which indicated that an overwhelming number of people in Scotland want to see greater power exercised by the Scottish Parliament?
Out of the consensus of the Scottish Constitutional Convention came the opportunity for consensus and the establishment of the Scottish Parliament. The SNP had no part in that consensus. It is regrettable that it did not take the opportunity to be involved. I understand that Sir David Steel is asking for another convention to be set up. I understand also that the leaders of the SNP are now saying, "Let's go for it." Obviously, their intention is to try to achieve more power for the Scottish Parliament. If we are talking about bedding down a Parliament and retaining 129 Members to see how it goes by allowing the parliament time, that should be our approach to the entire process. We should take our time and then decide what is necessary.
We should carefully consider where we are on these matters. I shall vote with the Government, but I hope that the opportunity will arise in Committee for us to be involved in discussions and amendments to improve the Bill. That will be essential. I recognise that we have some serious problems. I also recognise that we must deal with the issues that are before us. I believe that the Bill needs amendment, and I look forward to that process.
I sympathise with Mr. Tynan in the effect of the different electoral systems on his political fortunes. I am sure that he would agree that he is better off as a Member of this place than as a list Member of the Scottish Parliament.
I do not feel strongly about all of the Bill, and neither do my constituents. However, there are aspects of it about which they feel particularly strongly, and I wish to represent them on those points.
First, I wish to address a remark that was made earlier, which was that the constitutional settlement in Scotland was a done deal. Mr. Hood suggested that we were in danger of unpicking the devolution settlement. The Bill certainly attempts to unpick that settlement—let there be no doubt about that. As Mr. Donohoe said, one of the aspects of the settlement was the number of Members of the Scottish Parliament, and that is being unpicked by the Bill.
The Secretary of State used the word "consensus" twice. I picked him up on that, but I never received an answer, so I repeat my point so that the Under-Secretary can reply later. The first time the right hon. Gentleman referred to a consensus, and the second time to a consensus in Scotland with regard to the future of the 129 MSPs. When I challenged him he said that a consensus is what is arrived at in this House. On that basis, we have a consensus on foundation hospitals and on tuition fees. I do not think that that is a very good description of a consensus. The description in the Scottish Constitutional Convention referred to by Mrs. Adams, albeit not a consensus to which I would have subscribed had I lived in Scotland at the time, was a much better description of a consensus than that furnished by the right hon. Gentleman.
There is a great concern—if one reads the Select Committee's report carefully it is even easier to feel such concern—that the Bill is a Trojan horse to retain the number of MSPs and, subsequently, use that as an excuse for retaining the number of Scottish Members of this House. I was glad to hear the Secretary of State come near to denying that that was his intention, but that was certainly the recommendation, as I read it. If one retains the number of MSPs and coterminosity, the only consequence can be to retain the number of Scottish Members of this House, and that, it appeared to me, is what the report was recommending.
The report recommended that the Westminster Members be reduced in number, but that the commission to be set up should find a way of making coterminous boundaries with the 129 at Edinburgh and the 59 at Westminster.
I thank the hon. Lady for that explanation. I shall have to think rather more carefully about how such a commission will be able to do that, but I am grateful for her guarantee on that.
The best argument in favour of the retention of coterminosity was that put forward by Mr. Wilson—it is that of confusion. That was repeated by Mr. Reid. He made a long speech, much of which I agreed with. He announced at the end that he would vote for the Bill, which I found rather curious, but he repeated the point made by the hon. Member for Cunninghame, North. I checked, and 21 constituencies would have the same name but different boundaries were the Bill to be enacted, and one constituency would have the same boundaries but a different name.
A lot will arise from the Bill with which I disagree, but I will support it tonight because it will result in a better situation than would be the case without it. The important thing is to keep the number of MSPs at 129, which a unicameral Parliament and a strong Committee system requires.
I understand the hon. Gentleman's motivation in voting for the Bill; it is to maintain the present number of MSPs. I do not agree with it, but I understand his motivation for it. Incidentally, it was 20 constituencies, not 21—I apologise to the House. But I see no magic in the 129 figure, and so far no one has been able to explain it to me. I accept that the Scottish Parliament is unicameral and that it has a strong Committee system, but it has less to do than the Westminster Parliament has to do for England. Yet it seems to be necessary for Scotland to have five times the representation in one Parliament or another that my constituents have, and I simply do not understand that. That is the point that is talked about in the pubs and clubs on the Isle of Wight. It is not coterminosity that is talked about; it is the position of Scottish electors compared with that of English electors, and, most particularly, English electors who happen to live in the Isle of Wight.
The hon. Gentleman is clearly talking once again about the West Lothian question, but what he seems to have failed to understand throughout the years of debate is that that question was never one for the people of Scotland. Rather, it was a question for the people of England and a question of how they addressed their home affairs. If they chose to address them in this Parliament, it would be as part of a UK Parliament. If they chose not to do so, they would need regional assemblies to address those problems.
There is more than one way of skinning a cat. The method that I think most of my constituents would prefer is one whereby English Members of this Parliament deal with English matters. I can see absolutely no objection to that argument. I do not understand—
I am intrigued by the idea of pubs and clubs in the Isle of Wight tuning their TVs to the Parliament channel as we discuss the Scottish Parliament (Constituencies) Bill. I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that one answer to his dilemma is the establishment of a powerful regional assembly covering his part of the country. I understand that he is against that proposal, but whatever the degree of criticism that has now crept in about the Scottish Parliament, the degree of public support for it shown in the opinion polls is higher than for the Westminster Parliament.
That might well be true, but it is the case because Scotland has an identity as a nation, whereas I doubt that the hon. Gentleman could even say in which region my constituency lies, and neither could most of my constituents. They do not identify with the so-called regions of England and they do not wish to have a regional parliament or assembly, whether it is in Guildford, Woking or Milton Keynes. That is not something that they want or that should be imposed on them. I am glad that there will be a referendum if there is any proposal that such an assembly should be established, as I am sure that we will vote against it.
The point is that, at the moment, hon. Members on both sides of the House who represent English constituencies are covering a range of activities. I am fortunate because I represent more than 100,000 people; indeed, I believe that I am unique in that respect in this Parliament. We cover a range of responsibilities, whether they relate to England or the UK, and we accept that it is for the Scots to have a Scottish Parliament if they choose and that it is for them to decide to have five Members of one Parliament or another for every one Member of one Parliament or another who represents the Isle of Wight. That is their decision, but we do not understand why Scottish MPs seem to object to English matters being dealt with by English Members of this House. I am not talking about banishing them from having any say in United Kingdom affairs—
I accept that entirely, Madam Deputy Speaker, and I want now to talk about one aspect of representation of those constituencies. The Secretary of State represents in the Cabinet not only Scotland, but transport. My constituents would like him to explain why, as Secretary of State for Scotland, he can decide with the support of Members of Parliament from England, Scotland, and Wales and Northern Ireland for that matter, that no subsidies should be given to the ferries that ply across the Solent to my constituency—
I was about to say that that is happening while 129 Scottish Members can decide what subsidies are given to the ferries that ply their way to the Scottish islands.
I shall try to rescue the hon. Gentleman and bring him back to the subject of the debate. Does he understand that he will be going into the Lobby this evening to vote on a Bill that is applicable only to Scotland, and not to England or Wales? If he thinks that that is okay—and I think it is okay—why was he criticising Scottish MPs for doing the same thing a fortnight ago?
I will vote on the Bill because it is a United Kingdom measure. Nobody has tried to argue that the Bill is not a UK measure, whereas many people—particularly residents of the Isle of Wight—argue that ferry subsidies to the Isle of Wight is not a Scottish measure and that Scottish MPs should not be entitled to vote upon it. I see that you are keen that I should not go too much further down that road, Madam Deputy Speaker, so I will not.
There is one other point that I should like to make about the value or otherwise of MSPs. I understand that the average cost of an MSP is £317,317 per annum, while the average running cost per member of this Parliament is a mere £5,000 more, yet there are so many more MSPs per Scottish elector than there are Members of the UK Parliament per UK elector. I accept that we have peers as well, but most are very cheap; some of them come free. We get good value from the other place, we get good value from this place, but we get exceptionally poor value from MSPs.
Is the hon. Gentleman's supreme constitutional point that if MSPs were prepared to accept no salary, he would have no objection to however many of them there were?
My point was that the number of Members of this Parliament per elector produced better value than the number of electors proposed by the Bill per MSP. It is not a supreme constitutional issue, but it is an issue with which I would be concerned were I a Scottish elector. I am not a Scottish elector, but I do not feel that that should influence the decision one way or the other.
When the Government introduce legislation, they should not turn it upside down within three or four years, which is what I object to most about the Bill. The Government do that all the time, of course. They have done it recently, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the Opposition remarked at Prime Minister's Question Time last week. It is embarrassing that they do so because it indicates that they have not thought through legislation. Indeed, the hon. Member for Cunninghame, South said that we had sleepwalked into this position and that we did not look at the details of the legislation.
As a result of the Bill, I would like us to decide not to change the current settlement. By making a change, the Government are accepting that it is open to us, and to anyone, to propose changes to the settlement. If we are entitled to propose changes to the settlement, we who represent English electors will seek to open the West Lothian question.
I do not believe that more politicians mean better services. I do not believe that my constituents believe that, and I would be surprised if Scottish constituents believed that. That is why I will vote against the Bill tonight.
I am aware of the time and will do my best to leave sufficient time for John Barrett.
In an attempt to stop Members intervening to ask who I have talked to lately, I say that I base my input tonight on the debate that I have had with members of my party and of my electorate and on my experience overall in campaigning, since 1978, for a Scottish Parliament.
The first question I asked myself when I was putting my speech together is, "Why open the Act?" I asked the same question when I made my submission to the previous Secretary of State for Scotland.
I have had great difficulty in coming to terms with that, so I have great sympathy with Opposition Members. I could mention private conversations that I had with the late Donald Dewar, but I will not do that—instead, I will quote from what he said at the time, which can be read in Hansard by any Member who wishes to do so. When the House of Lords tabled an amendment on whether 129 MSPs should remain for ever, he said:
"In the White Paper, we made it clear that the size of the Scottish Parliament would change to take account of changes at Westminster so as to maintain common boundaries.
I should reassure the House that the Government have thought long and hard about the implications for the Parliament of a reduction in its size. We do not believe that such a reduction will make the Parliament less able to carry out its key roles in scrutinising effectively the Scottish Administration's work and enacting legislation."—[Hansard, 11 November 1998; Vol. 319, c. 381.]
Suddenly, we find that the Government have changed their mind about that. Having said unreservedly that they could conduct business in the Scottish Parliament with fewer than 129 MSPs, we now find ourselves faced with a fait accompli, which, regretfully, I shall have to go along with. That does not mean that I am fully minded to walk through the Lobby with my party tonight—I have still to make that final decision. I will not vote with the Opposition, however: I could never walk through the Lobby with the Conservatives, and my father would turn in his grave if I did so.