With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 2, in page 3, line 14, at end insert—
No. 3, in page 3, line 15, leave out sub-paragraph (3).
No. 4, in page 3, line 18, leave out 'eight' and insert 'two'.
No. 5, in page 3, line 19, leave out sub-paragraph (2).
No. 6, in page 3, line 22, leave out sub-paragraph (3) and insert—
'(3) Six members shall be returned for one region and five members shall be returned for the other region.'.
No. 7, page 4, line 41, at beginning insert—
'( ) The Boundary Committee for Scotland shall submit to the Electoral Commission a report with recommendations on the arrangements to be put in place under paragraph 1(2A) above.'.
As we saw earlier, politics is not a pure science. On the basis of the previous debate, that is perhaps more the case in respect of the Scottish Parliament (Constituencies) Bill than other Bills that have been before the House.
In my estimation, the Scotland Act 1998 got some things wrong, but I believe that the position would worsen if this Bill were passed and that it would compound the problems created by that Act. From talking to hon. Friends and other hon. Members, I have identified the fact that both in my constituency and elsewhere in Scotland there have been real problems with that Act—not least because the existence of the added list Members has created mayhem in the Scottish Parliament and in the constituencies of both MSPs and Members of Parliament. I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the Committee have examples of that.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on touching on what is a sore point with many of us. In the city of Glasgow, for example, the 10 constituency MSPs can only raise cases relating to their own constituency, yet the seven additional Members can raise cases in all 10 constituencies. Not only that, but they raise reserved matters that are nothing to do with them. It is a prime example of mischief making. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for taking steps to remedy that.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. As he and others have said to me over the period of the Act's existence, there are real problems in respect of added list Members. Members from every party in the House that is represented in Scotland have told me that.
But that is not what the hon. Gentleman is suggesting in his amendments. He is suggesting expanding the range of list Members, who will have more say in more people's constituencies if his amendment is accepted.
As I develop my speech, it will become apparent to the hon. Gentleman that I have addressed that issue. At that point, if he still does not agree with me, he can intervene again.
I am conscious of the fact that you, Mr. Cook, are a stickler for the rules. I will turn immediately to the amendments themselves. I emphasise that the figures that I have mentioned are based on the current review, which is expected to deliver 59 Members of Parliament. As things stand and as I think every hon. Member knows, that number is now conclusive. We are talking of 59 Members. My proposal is based on that number and not on any other.
I have been made aware of some technical problems with regard to the amendments but, as I have already emphasised, my figures are based on those recommended by the Electoral Commission. I accept that the amendments may not be technically perfect in their own right, but having checked with the draftsman and others I have concluded that they are competent to be debated and voted on in the Committee. After all, they have been recommended by the Electoral Commission as the basis on which to calculate.
That is a possibility. My hon. Friend is right. That is what I will try to convince those on the Front Bench to accept, if that is required.
A number of hon. Members, not least my right hon. Friend Mr. Foulkes, who has just entered the Chamber, are on my side and support the amendments. Some 24 Members the length and breadth of the Committee support the idea that we need to look at the boundaries within the Scottish Parliament as well as within Westminster.
If the chairman of Heart of Midlothian is lined up for the amendments, there must be something to be said for them. None the less, how many Members of the Scottish Parliament has the hon. Gentleman consulted, given that it is their electoral system that he is changing, and how many have come out in favour of his proposals?
That is not my responsibility but the responsibility of others. The consultation was open to MSPs. What is fundamentally important—I am glad the hon. Gentleman intervened—is what my constituents and his think about the proposal. My constituents will be concerned about the matter today, but when the changes come about they will become even more concerned. Of that there is no doubt. I will expand on that issue as we move through the debate.
What I am trying to say more than anything else is that we should not allow ourselves to sleep walk into things again, as we did in 1998. By virtue of what we have today, I am clearly of the opinion that we should address the issue with far more purpose than we have to date.
The amendments call for Scottish Parliament and Westminster Parliament constituency boundaries to be coterminous. That is as far as they go. I do not go any further, although I could. I do not discuss the voting systems that we could create. I do not do anything in terms of gender balance. I say nothing of some of the other elements and problems.
I accept that the amendment says nothing about the voting system, but does my hon. Friend not accept that, in moving to a system of two-Member constituencies and of hardly any top-up Members, we will inevitably move away from the proportional system that was included in the Scotland Act? Is that not the effect, and indeed the intention, of his amendments?
I would not expect anything less from the architect of PR north of the border, but I will develop the argument. I have perhaps allowed too many interventions, but I stress that I am not dictating terms. In the previous debate, it was said that my hon. Friend Mr. Hood was perhaps dictating terms, but I am leaving it open.
Without coterminous boundaries, we will create complete confusion as well as additional bureaucracy for political parties, the structure of elections and electoral rolls. That will cause mayhem and the measure has not been thought out as it might have been.
Is my hon. Friend aware that I represent 15 wards at the moment, but that that will rise to 19, whereas the MSP for the same area will still represent 15? In effect, two constituencies with the same name will represent two different places, which is an absurdity.
That further example reinforces my argument. Difficulties will be created for the party structures, as well as for returning officers. Most importantly, it will create havoc for our electors. That is more important than anything else and needs to be addressed. There is no doubt that that is the major complication of the existing system.
Does the hon. Gentleman share my surprise that all this havoc and chaos was predicted in 1998 during the passage of the Act, as can be seen from the debates on Second Reading, Third Reading and Committee? Everyone knew that this would happen if we strayed away from coterminous boundaries. It is the Government who have done the U-turn, in an embarrassed fashion, to create the second pillar to which the Under-Secretary referred in her speech.
I am sure the hon. Gentleman is right, but I return to the most important plank in my argument—namely, the creation of problems in the minds of the voters whom he, I and other hon. Members represent.
I have seen the confusion in the minds of the public. Earlier this year, the Secretary of State said that he had gone to a polling station and met an old woman who asked how she should vote. We are moving towards four different forms of election, which is wrong and ludicrous. This measure must be thought about carefully by the Under-Secretary and those responsible.
It is patently obvious that the existing system is not working, and we need to know the commission's timetable. I am not indicating in the amendments what form of voting there should be, and I leave the options open for further discussion. I have said that I do not want to construct a form of election.
The report of the Scottish Affairs Committee, chaired by my hon. Friend Mrs. Adams, contains much that I feel should be adopted as the way forward. The report is worthy of more consideration by the Government and I look forward to a positive response from the Under-Secretary.
Not everything about the Bill's Second Reading was bad. The best part was when I heard the Secretary of State bring forward the commission to this side of a general election. By doing that, he gives me confidence that sensible changes will be made. We heard about the commission and that it would be implemented shortly, but I have not heard a single thing since that statement. How many people will be on it and whom will they represent? Who will chair the commission? I certainly hope that it will not be the chairman of the Scottish Constitutional Convention. What discussions have taken place with other parties? I have had no indication that there have been such discussions, and that is a fundamental point.
These are legitimate questions that the Under-Secretary will be answering shortly. The hon. Gentleman says that he is not prescribing any electoral system, but as I understand the amendments, he wants 118 people elected at constituency level and 11 elected at list level. We can argue the pros and cons of that, but how can he maintain, with this unaccustomed modesty, that he is not prescribing an electoral system in his amendments?
There are different forms of election within constituencies, as well as potentially different boundaries. I have had discussions with Mr. Salmond—perhaps these were off the record but should now be put on the record—that suggested that some things might be attractive even to the nationalists.
On the question of the make-up of the commission, some have said facetiously that lawyers, people from Edinburgh or others of that ilk might be on it. It would be unusual if that were the case. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is sometimes easier to get the verdict one wants when one picks the jury? It is important that the commission is seen to be independent of Government and of those who appoint it.
I trust that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary has heard my hon. Friend making the very point to which I am seeking an answer. I would rather that the great and the good appointed to the commission are of a mind to take on board the point that he made.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way in those circumstances.
On the question of the commission, in which decade does my hon. Friend expect a decision or recommendation from it to be implemented? Does he expect a decision to be implemented in this decade in time for the 2007 election, or in some future decade?
My hon. Friend has been reading my script. Before I come to that point, however, I should like to finish my point on the commission.
My right hon. Friend Mr. Wilson said in the debate of
"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."—[Hansard, 9 February 2004; Vol. 417, c. 1182.]
Of all the statements made during that debate, that is one that hon. Members should bear in mind.
My final point on the commission, which has already been alluded to in part, is that we need to establish the time scales. The next Scottish Parliament elections will be in 19—or, rather, in 2007; let us not go back, although some of us would perhaps like to go back to 1998. Can the Minister give us some idea today of the time scale for the commission? I should like specific answers to specific questions, and perhaps the Minister will address them when she winds up. The most important question to be answered is whether a decision has been made on whether the relevant Act will be in place—because primary legislation will be required—in time for the next Scottish Parliament elections.
If we require primary legislation from the commission's eventual conclusions, I am a little concerned about the need for the commission. After all, this place has the responsibility—and should have the responsibility—to take such decisions for itself. Although I am posing questions about the commission, my major question is whether we need to have a commission at all. We could take decisions here that would bring the whole matter to a conclusion, and we could have done that today. If I may be partisan for a minute, my party has a massive majority, and could have chosen, on the basis of the facts before us, to drive through proposals that would lead to a common-sense position: that taken by the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs and by every single institution in which I have been involved. That is where the nub of today's debate should lie.
On Second Reading on
As someone elected with 53 per cent. of the vote, I have such a majority.
There are alternative systems, and surely the most important issue being raised today is accountability. That is what is missing from the current proposals. When I go to the electorate, they will know all the problems that I have had and will determine whether or not I am accepted. That is the same for my MSP colleague, who is elected on a first-past-the-post basis. That is the big issue, and it is the same whether the system is alternative vote or first past the post. There are alternative systems available.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I support him 100 per cent. in what he says.
As a member of the Scottish Constitutional Convention, I noticed over the years that we seemed to take everything that it said on board as being set in tablets of stone. I do not accept that any longer, because of my working knowledge of the system in operation. I warned about that before, but I was willing to go along with it. Now, however, my clear opinion is that there is absolutely no doubt, on the basis of what my hon. Friend David Hamilton just said, that there must be an attachment to a particular constituency. There must be a clear indication to those who elect us that we are their property. We move away from that when we talk about the situation created by the Scottish Constitutional Convention. There are those here who think that that convention is a sacred cow. I have to say, however, that much that it proposed caused damage, not good, in terms of governance north of the border. We should all be aware of that.
To sum up, when I constructed my speech I was of the opinion that it was possible that we would get some sort of flexibility from the Front Bench, and I am looking for that tonight. On the basis of what I hear and learn about the commission, I am concerned that when its proposals come before this House, they will require primary legislation. It will be difficult for such primary legislation to be included in a Queen's Speech and debated in this House before the 2007 elections, so I wonder about the time scales. We also need to know whether and when the commission will be reporting. Will that be before the end of this year, or at the beginning of next year?
In that spirit, I commend the amendment to the Committee.
I commend Mr. Donohoe for introducing this group of amendments. They are a valiant attempt to improve the Bill but, in his heart of hearts, he might well think—and perhaps he will not be reticent about saying so—that this Bill is, arguably, incapable of amendment. It is a bad and unnecessary Bill. It is not necessary to introduce this measure at this time. The Scotland Act was passed in 1998 and there is absolutely no requirement to do anything to resolve the problem of coterminous boundaries.
As the hon. Gentleman knows, I am a humble seeker after truth. He has made the self-denying ordinance not to vote on any English legislation. Can he tell me, then, why all his English colleagues trooped through the Lobby a few minutes ago to vote on purely Scottish legislation?
Thank you, Mr. Cook. Perhaps we can engage in that subject later.
The fact is that the Bill that the hon. Member for Cunninghame, South is attempting to amend is unnecessary. Like me, he will recall the comments of Henry McLeish, who said:
"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. 223.]
Lord Sewel went further when he said:
"In the White Paper, we explained that we believed that the integrity of the Union would be strengthened by having common constituencies for the Scottish parliament and the UK Parliament, with the exception of Orkney and Shetland."—[Hansard, House of Lords, 8 July 1998; Vol. 591, c. 1336.]
If we trawl through history, we can find a number of changes of position over the years, but how can the hon. Gentleman claim consistency for his party? If he looks at the report of proceedings in the House on
Of course, in the long and involved passage of the Scotland Act 1998, we can find quotations in all directions. I am pointing out the magnitude of the Government's U-turn. It is beyond question that they have gone back on their commitment to implement the Act unamended.
For the sake of clarity, will the hon. Gentleman confirm that the late Lord Mackay was a valiant defender of the Scottish Parliament's right to set its own number of constituencies?
I am happy to confirm that the Conservative party made that argument in both Houses, and we take no lessons in consistency from the hon. Gentleman.
The hon. Member for Cunninghame, South has waved the white flag on 129. Like me, he opposed the political fix in principle, yet the amendment would allow a stitch-up to let things proceed with some kind of amicability on the Labour Back Benches. Scottish Labour Members have capitulated. The amendment does nothing about the fact that there is a widespread view that there are simply too many politicians in Scotland.
I do not agree with that last comment, as surely it is a question of the quality of representation, not the numbers. The hon. Gentleman is skirting around the fact that the amendments deal with a fundamental point with which his party agrees: that there should be a better arrangement for the electorate. As it is clear that the Government want to press ahead with 129, following a consultation, it is best to have something that makes sense to the electorate, and not simply to oppose everything on principle, just to wreck the Government's Bill.
I am coming to some constructive points about the amendment.
I share some of the concerns that were expressed about the commission and its open-ended nature. The Scottish Conservative party has declined the invitation to nominate someone to the commission, on the basis that it is unnecessary at present. The problem that the commission is being set up to solve is that of non-coterminous boundaries, but the fact is that the Bill will create those boundaries. As Mr. Wilson said on Second Reading, the commission is being set up to solve a problem that is yet to be created.
Mr. Connarty rightly said that I should be more positive about some of the general themes in the amendment, and I propose to do just that. The amendment goes some way towards offering an electoral framework that we would support, but perhaps the hon. Member for Cunninghame, South has shied away at the last minute from some of the more direct first-past-the-post elements that we both instinctively favour.
First past the post creates better elections and engenders better results. We in the Conservative party believe that some of the stagnation in recent Scottish Parliament elections is due in no small part to the proportional system creating a disenchantment with elections and we strongly favour returning to a system that is more focused on first past the post. We would encourage the Government to consider any such possibility carefully in the months and years ahead.
I have just realised what the hon. Gentleman said earlier. The Conservative party has declined to nominate someone to the commission, and now he is arguing for first past the post. Surely, he should nominate someone to argue that case within the commission. He is guilty of a total abdication of responsibility—typically Tory.
The right hon. Gentleman need not get so excited. Perhaps he did not fully understand me the first time. We take the view that the commission will have its place in time, when the Bill has been enacted, but we have not given up on successfully opposing its passage. If the Bill is not enacted, there is no need for a commission, because we will not have non-coterminous boundaries.
I really am interested in what the hon. Gentleman is suggesting. I note from the amendment paper that his party has tabled no amendments whatever. He has made no constructive suggestions and has said that he is not nominating someone to the commission, in the vain hope that the Bill will be defeated. The Government have a huge majority, so that is absolutely stupid. Surely he can now say that the Conservatives will nominate someone to the commission. To do otherwise is outrageous.
I do not agree that there is only a vain hope of defeating the Bill. To my recollection, only one Labour Member spoke in favour of the Bill on Second Reading. Every single other Labour Back Bencher was directly critical of it. What will be different is if on Third Reading we can tempt them to follow that through and join us in the Lobby.
We believe that the decline in turnout in Scottish Parliament elections has a direct correlation with people's concerns about proportional systems. We believe that the amendment could have been more precise in offering first past the post, although the hon. Member for Cunninghame, South has some imaginative ideas for first-past-the-post constituencies.
Is my hon. Friend aware that, according to all my inquiries, he has the absolute, full and complete support of all the Conservatives on the Back Benches behind him? Is he further aware that it would be absolute nonsense to table amendments to a Bill that is absolutely unnecessary? Does he agree that the best sense of all is to give the people of Scotland a chance once again to decide whether they want to keep this assembly—or whether they would rather not?
I am delighted to have my hon. Friend's company in the Committee tonight. He holds up the esteem of Conservative Back Benchers with aplomb, as usual.
The imaginative proposal for two small constituencies per Westminster constituency offers interesting possibilities. It would allow for a more local voice in the Scottish Parliament, could create a greater link with councils and councillors and could well resolve some of the difficulties with constituencies overlapping council boundaries. It could help with local public service issues, as small constituencies could reflect distinct interests. In my constituency, Wigtownshire and Stewartry face very different issues, and perhaps the two-constituency idea could form the basis of some agreement.
Under the amendment, there would be a reduction in the number of list MSPs from 56 to 11. One of the ironies of Scottish Parliament elections is that the Scottish Conservatives, who were among the greatest opponents of the list system, were among its greatest beneficiaries.
There is considerable resentment among Labour Back Benchers about the role of regional and list MSPs. They were sceptical during the passage of the 1998 Act and I suppose that nothing that has happened in the past five or six years has convinced them that it is other than a bad system, badly implemented, and they feel compromised by it. As I said in an intervention, this issue says more about the power struggle within the Scottish Labour party than about how we govern Scotland. The hon. Member for Cunninghame, South suggests a reduction in the number of list MSPs, but that will not eliminate the problems caused by arbitrating in disputes between list MSPs and constituency MSPs; simply having 11, rather than 56, does not eliminate the problem.
The hon. Gentleman proposes that the number of Scottish Parliament regions should be reduced from eight to two. That has a simplistic attraction in that it is simple to administer, but it would reduce the commonality of interest across those regions. He has not been specific about how the two regions would be created but, for argument's sake, Glasgow in the west of Scotland could be one region, and Edinburgh in the east could be the other. If so, I look forward to hearing whether Edinburgh or Glasgow should get the additional Member and the repercussions in the press that will result from that argument.
Alternatively, the division could consist of one region comprising the urban central belt and the south of Scotland and another comprising everything north of Stirling. In such a case, regional and local interests could be marginalised. For example, no one from the south of Scotland might be elected, with all the Members coming from the urban central belt.
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that, although many of his arguments against having two top-up constituencies are valid, the rules of the House—given the Bill that was introduced—meant that it was not in order to table an amendment proposing only a single list for the top-up? Indeed, the Bill made it impossible for hon. Members to suggest that there should be no top-up Members whatsoever. The amendments are making by far the best of an extremely bad job.
The hon. Gentleman is right. As I said during my comments on the first group of amendments, this Bill is a clever drafting job. A lot of effort went into its drafting to preclude debate any wider than the Government wanted. It is perhaps unfortunate that we have not been able to discuss some of the issues that he and I want to discuss, even if the Government do not.
The amendments are designed to engage voters with a system that might be more local to their needs and that provides the opportunity of overlaying a first-past-the-post election system. However, it misses the main point by cementing into the Bill the fact that there will be 129 Members of the Scottish Parliament. That is not what the Scotland Act 1998, or the deal that was done with the Scottish public, is all about. The reality is that the Government have gone back on their commitment and I regret that nothing in the amendments gets us close enough to addressing that fundamental problem. The Scottish public believe that there are simply too many politicians and that fact outweighs some of the superficial advantages of the amendments. On that basis, unfortunately, I cannot support them.
I have a great deal of sympathy with the sentiments behind the amendments of my hon. Friend Mr. Donohoe because I know that they are driven by his desire for coterminous constituencies. Coterminous constituencies are vital to the way in which we go about our business. The electoral system should be devised not for our comfort and convenience, but for that of our electors.
A fundamental change took place in May last year in the discussions on the coalition agreement, in that it was decided that there should be proportional representation for local government. I shall not go into the ins and outs of whether I find that attractive, but it does mean that four different systems of election will be available to our electors.
On polling day last year, a friend—he was not a lawyer but a consultant physician—phoned me as he was about to vote. He asked, "How do I vote Labour twice?" I said, "There isn't an awful lot of point in voting Labour twice because this system is so skewed that it doesn't work properly." The problem that we face is the fundamental flaw in the electoral system that was chosen for the Scottish Parliament. I do not believe for a minute that the Scottish Constitutional Convention envisaged the system operating as it is currently being operated. It did not see it as a life-support system for rejects and retreads who could not get elected first past the post. That is not what proportional representation is supposed to be about.
Although I said that I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Cunninghame, South and other supporters of the amendment, I regret that I cannot support them in the Lobby tonight. They have failed to take into account the important announcement by the Secretary of State about the establishment of a commission. Given the four different systems of election available in Scotland, even a commission that consisted 100 per cent. of Edinburgh lawyers—God forbid—would conclude that change to the nature of the electoral system for the Scottish Parliament has to come about. It goes against reason that we should not try to achieve some rationality in the system of election.
I am disappointed in the Scottish Conservatives for not seeking to be part of that commission. They appear to want to have their cake and eat it. They say that they want first past the post, yet they—along with parties even more minor than them—are among the biggest beneficiaries of the present system. They are not prepared to consider a more rational view of electoral systems in Scotland because it does not fulfil their own self-interest.
I may be one of the few hon. Members on this side of the House who knows what the right hon. Lady is talking about. I accept her point about not wanting to miss the bus, but this commission is being set up to solve the problem of non-coterminous boundaries. Until the Bill becomes an Act, we do not have a problem with non-coterminous boundaries. As and when the Bill becomes legislation, we will talk about the commission.
One of the key issues that emerged from the vast majority of replies to the consultation on the size of the Scottish Parliament was the broad consensus on the figure of 129. That consensus sprang in some instances from self-interest, but in others from the fact that we have achieved a constitutional change in Scotland, reversed a system that existed for 300 years and introduced a new one, the most remarkable aspect of which is its stability. Well may the only Scottish Tory in this House mock that: the Scottish Conservatives were root and branch against devolution because they saw, during 18 years of Tory rule, the extent to which their lot in Scotland could be imposed on the rest of us, who did not want it.
The right hon. Lady talks about introducing stability, but the problems that the Government face stem from the fact that they are already changing the system. Their own Labour Members were with them, so there was a "consensus", as they like to call it, on their side. Now, however, they are moving the goalposts and that is what is causing the problem.
The consensus was expressed by the people of Scotland through Civic Scotland and our own political parties—I remind my right hon. and hon. Friends that what we are talking about tonight is Labour party policy—and there was clear evidence of support for having 129 MSPs. Some of my hon. Friends who oppose that may now regret not taking the consultation process more seriously. I repeat that it is significant that we are here tonight debating something that, despite its difficulties, is a comparatively minor part of the overall constitutional settlement. Since 1999, a stable Parliament has been in place.
Constitutional change has been brought about in a stable way, but there is an inherent anomaly at the root of our electoral systems in Scotland. The problem is that we have taken all the different electoral systems in isolation, failing to take into account their impact on our electors. We now have an opportunity through the proposals before us tonight—particularly the proposals recommended by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to establish a commission—to let common sense reign. Let us sort out the mess that is proportional representation and get a system that is fair, transparent and comprehensible.
Mr. Donohoe is a serious man and he has proposed a serious amendment, which merits sound argument. It is certainly worthy of debate. I should congratulate him in passing because the last time that I saw him outside this place he was awarded the "Keeper of the Quaich" medal for his outstanding service to the whisky industry—a well merited award, if ever there was one.
The effects of the amendment are principally twofold. The primary effect would be to create coterminous boundaries, which is a good thing. No one can argue against them; they clearly make for a much easier life. However, we should not become over-concerned about what they do. Mr. Duncan made much of the fact that this is a problem of the Government's own making. The original Bill had the problem in it from day one, because it was structured with regard to the differing boundary commission reviews of the Scottish Parliament and Westminster. That meant that, approximately every eight years and for a period of at least two years between the decision of the two boundary commissions, there would be non-coterminous boundaries. That was always in the Bill, so the problem of non-coterminosity is nothing new.
The hon. Gentleman will correct me if I am wrong, but were not the building blocks of the Bill based around coterminous constituencies? What does he say about the fact that we are dismantling those building blocks and going off at a tangent somewhere else?
I do not believe that we are dismantling the building blocks. Rather, the Bill addresses a provisional position to get from where we are to where we want to be. My point is that if the current Bill were left untouched and the status quo accepted exactly as envisaged under the 1998 Act, because of the different boundary reviews between the two Parliaments, there would be repeated periods of non-coterminosity from time to time.
I want to leave aside the question of coterminosity and move on to the second effect of the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Cunninghame, South, which is far more important and deserves to be considered seriously. That is the suggestion that each of the current Westminster seats in Scotland should be divided into two, with the remaining requirement for 11 Members being made up from two regions. I have to tell the hon. Gentleman that that drives a coach and horses through proportionality. [Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."]
I want to make it clear that I have the greatest respect for Labour Members who want a first-past-the-post system and face considerable difficulties in introducing it through this short Bill. Returning to first past the post is obviously what they seek. As I said, I respect that; they have been quite open about it. My objective—I shall expand on it when we debate the commission—is a fair proportional system. My hon. Friends and I have always believed that the single transferable vote system provides the answer.
The hon. Gentleman and certainly Lord Steel and other Liberals agree with us that the current system for electing the Scottish Parliament is crazy. Was not one of the principal architects of that system Canon Kenyan Wright? Is it not interesting that he has now come out in his true political colours as a liberal, so are the Liberals not to blame for this mess and dog's breakfast?
Much as I respect the right hon. Gentleman, he is quite wrong. The convention produced a number of principles and a practical way of delivering them. Key among those principles was that of proportionality. The House and the Government—of whom the right hon. Gentleman was a member at the time—quite properly enacted those principles and the result was the Scotland Act 1998.
The hon. Gentleman is right that proportionality was one of the key principles of the convention, but one of its other key principles was to have a gender-balanced Parliament. Why did the Liberals not keep their word on that?
I believe that proportionality in the Scottish Parliament is considerably better than it is here, so we are advancing in the right direction.
Can we clear up the point about who devised the detail of the electoral system? Was it Canon Kenyan Wright or someone else? Was it the Labour party or another party? Who was it in the convention who came up with the magnificent idea of having two votes, even in a list system?
I am afraid that I am unable to answer the hon. Gentleman's question. We all accepted what the convention put forward when we debated the issues in 1998. The Bill was before the two Houses, but I must confess that I was in the other place at the time and I am not sure what happened at this end of the Corridor. What was accepted then, however, was broadly what the convention had proposed. That was right and proper. A critical element of what was proposed was that proportionality should be a key part of any electoral system. As I have said, my hon. Friends and I happily argue for STV, but at that time we accepted the system that had been recommended by the convention.
Much has been made of the fact that there are four electoral systems in Scotland. In fact, there are three. These are: the first-past-the-post system for this place; the closed list system for European elections; and the current system for the Scottish Parliament. There may be a fourth system for Scottish local government, and it may be—I hope that it will—STV. However, that is a matter for the Scottish Parliament. We have devolved that power and it is up to that Parliament to take the decision. We have debated devolution many times, but the House must get used to the fact that we have devolved power to the Scottish Parliament. It not for us to argue about STV for local government elections, because the power has been devolved.
I am listening to what the hon. Gentleman is saying about STV for local government elections. Will he be honest with the Committee and say whether he genuinely believes that STV will also be used for Scottish Parliament elections in future? That would reduce the number of different ways of electing people in Scotland.
I would hope that the input that I and my hon. Friends make to the commission—and the input from MSPs and all other interested parties in Scotland—might result in a decision to recommend to this House that STV is the best system. If this House brought forward legislation based on such a recommendation, we would support it. We must deal with the potential consequence of a possible future decision by the Scottish Parliament.
In an earlier debate, the Minister said that there are two pillars to the argument about maintaining 129 MSPs. As Mrs. Liddell said, many people want 129 MSPs to be retained in the Scottish Parliament. A variety of reasons can be adduced for that, and self-interest might be one. I believe that the committee system has been one of the successes of the Scottish Parliament, as it has helped to deliver better government for Scotland, and to encourage people to participate in government.
The maths is as follows: if one subtracts the number of Ministers from the total of 129 MSPs—and it can be argued that there are too many Ministers—and divides the remainder into the number of committees, one discovers that each MSP is already involved in 2.9 committees. Therefore, reducing the number of MSPs will clearly create a fairly impossible work load. There is considerable support—if not overwhelming support—for maintaining 129 MSPs.
In a moment. The other pillar to the argument is that it clearly must be right to reduce the number of hon. Members in this House who represent Scottish constituencies. Given that we now have a Scottish Parliament, we do not need a level of representation that predates devolution.
Those are the two principles involved. If we want to enact them reasonably quickly, a holding Bill such as this one is the only way forward. It is obvious that the right way to proceed is to have a commission to deal with the likely consequences of having four voting systems, to replicate the work of the convention, to achieve a consensus and then to make a recommendation to this House in respect both of a future electoral system for the Scottish Parliament and of coterminous constituency boundaries.
I thought that I was giving way to Mr. Duncan.
I am very grateful, Sir Michael. After all that time, I was not sure that the hon. Gentleman would come back to me. He mentioned that each MSP was involved in 2.9 committees. Does he not accept that the simple solution would be to have fewer committees? Is not it the quality of legislation and of government in Scotland that is important, and not the quantity of the legislation that is created?
I do not accept that proposition at all. I certainly do not believe that legislation is the only thing that makes a Parliament good. The effective scrutiny of an Executive's actions are of paramount importance. One of the successes of the Scottish Parliament is that—in some ways, although not all—it is able to hold the Scottish Executive to account far more effectively than this House does for any Government.
However, I must say that I find the Conservative party's position on these matters almost incomprehensible. Other hon. Members have mentioned the comments made by the late Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish. I mentioned them on Second Reading, and I shall not repeat them today. However, it is clear that, when the Scotland Bill was being enacted, the Conservative party wanted fewer than 129 MSPs. When it was obvious that 129 would be the number, the Conservatives made absolutely clear their belief that the number chosen at the beginning should not be changed.
The Conservative party has done a complete volte-face, U-turn or whatever one wants to call it. I can have sympathy for the views of hon. Members of other parties who, even though they disagree with me, have held their views for a long time. I hope that they would accord the same respect—if I may put it like that—to me. However, I find the Conservative party's shenanigans completely inexplicable.
The amendments would not solve the problem. The Secretary of State has set up a commission, which must gather evidence from all parties. It is ridiculous that the Conservatives are not prepared to take part in it.
Once again, they have elected to let down their few supporters in Scotland by standing on the sidelines instead of engaging in the game. They really are letting down the electorate, and they should rethink their approach on this matter.
I am following what the hon. Gentleman is saying with interest. From a sedentary position, Mr. Duncan used the word "yet" when it was stated that the Conservatives did not want to serve on the commission. Are nominations for the commission about to be announced? Is the appointment of the commission being held up until that group decides to catch the bus?
I could not possibly answer for a Tory, but the hon. Gentleman makes the interesting suggestion that the Conservatives, having engaged in fun and games tonight and found a way to oppose the Bill, will do a prompt U-turn yet again and take part in the commission. That is perfectly possible.
I shall conclude by saying that it is right to have a commission to look at electoral systems. I hope that the Conservatives do perform a U-turn, as everyone should be represented on the commission. The appropriate time to discuss electoral matters will be when the commission makes its recommendations to this House. I hope that that will be sooner, rather than later. It is because of that that Liberal Democrat Members, if pressed, will vote against the amendments.
Thank you, Sir Michael, and I am sorry that I mistook the courtesy of John Thurso for the conclusion of his remarks.
When the hon. Gentleman said that the amendment would effectively end the system of proportional representation in the Scottish Parliament, he was greeted by a chorus of some Labour Members saying, "Hear, hear!" There is no doubt that one of the amendment's consequences would be to move away from the proportional basis for election to the Scottish Parliament, and that some hon. Members would welcome that. No amendment that would replace the present system with 118 MSPs chosen by the first-past-the-post method could lead to a system that was anything other than grossly disproportionate. However, one of the amendments being discussed would do just that.
I remind the Committee why we have proportionality in the electoral system for the Scottish Parliament. As my right hon. Friend Mrs. Liddell said, the change in the electoral system for local government means that there is a case for looking at the system of proportional representation used for the Scottish Parliament. However, it is worth remembering why the principle of PR was adopted by all the various parties and interest groups involved in bringing forward the proposals that eventually resulted in the Scotland Act 1998.
The PR system was not adopted because of the immense power that I wielded in Labour party committee back rooms over a few months some 15 years ago. To say that it was would be to flatter my role in the political process at that time. The Labour party supported the electoral system eventually presented in the Scotland Act because, at party conferences over more than a decade, it had supported the idea of moving towards a proportional system. That was supported, and still is, by the vast majority of trade unions, including Unison, the biggest union in Scotland. It was also supported by a wide range of organisations outside the political process, and it was supported for a number of reasons.
Some people felt that some proportional system would be fairer than first past the post, which is an argument with which I have some sympathy. One of the arguments put against a Scottish Assembly in the 1970s was that first past the post would lead to domination, based on a small plurality of the vote. If that option had been put forward in the referendum for the Scottish Parliament, it might not have gone through. Others recognised that moving to a PR system would make it harder for the Labour party to win an overall majority in the Scottish Parliament, but would also have the effect of stopping any other party, such as the Scottish nationalists, ending up with an absolute majority on a relatively small percentage of the vote.
There were many reasons why a number of organisations came together to support PR for the Scottish Parliament. Certainly, the idea that we should now reject the principle of PR, which would be the effect of the amendment, should not be adopted in the absence of broad consensus among the political parties and other organisations in Scotland. Clearly, there is no consensus for moving away from a PR system.
Not everyone agrees with the first-past-the-post system, but there is not only one proportional representation system. I believe strongly in an alternative vote system, which connects the Member with the electorate. It takes 50 per cent. plus to be elected through that system, which is an extremely good one. I wish my hon. Friend would stop justifying his position on the decision that he took some time ago, which has landed us with the problem that we now face. He can rewrite history as much as he likes, but at the end of the day, that is not what this is about.
As we are going into history, which I do not want to overdo for fear of straying from the subject, my hon. Friend will remember that one of the strongest advocates of PR for local government was the National Union of Mineworkers, of which he was an active and leading member for many years. History can take us down a number of paths if we wish to follow them.
It is worth looking at the history because it reminds us that the experience of the Scottish Parliament has not led to a majority of the public moving away from support for some form of proportionality in it. The support among the public for that is as strong as it was at the referendum in 1997. I must tell some of my hon. Friends that it is not me, others who share my view or the Government who are out of step with Scottish public opinion on this matter, but some of those among my colleagues who argue against the principle of proportionality.
Unless I am wrong, my hon. Friend seems to be speaking about political expediency in the introduction of proportional representation in the Scottish Parliament. We have to consider the electorate's participation in PR systems. Does he agree that turning to PR for the European elections has been an absolute disaster for turnout, but that turnout for the last Scottish Parliament election certainly did not suggest that PR was the answer as far as the people of the country are concerned?
I am not for one minute suggesting that proportionality is any electoral panacea for Scotland or elsewhere. As with history, statistics can be interpreted in various ways. The drop in turnout between the 1997 and 2001 UK general elections, held under the first-past-the-post system, was even greater than the drop between the Scottish Parliament elections of 1999 and 2003. Different things can be drawn out depending on the argument one wishes to make.
The essential point, which cannot be contradicted, is that there is not a groundswell of opinion in Scotland for moving away from some form of proportionality. Given the introduction of PR for local government, which has gone through the Scottish Parliament and which will happen, no matter what, we have to consider how the different systems will mesh together. Although I was as happy 14 years ago to support the principle of proportionality as I am today, I actually spoke against the system of two ballot papers. Unfortunately and regrettably, as on other issues, my wise counsel was ignored by those who made the decisions. There we are; that, too, is history.
There is no broad consensus among political parties and other groups in Scotland, or among the population, if opinion polls are to be believed, for moving away from proportionality. If we are to change the electoral system, one thing we certainly cannot do is impose that change on the Scottish people and the Scottish Parliament from Westminster. For reasons that we might go into later, I do not accept the Scottish National party's position that the right to change the electoral system should be devolved to the Scottish Parliament. However, the spirit of any change in the system should certainly go with any broad consensus not just in this Parliament but in the Scottish Parliament and among the Scottish people.
My old university friend might go the extra step by accepting the principle that a self-respecting Parliament should be in charge of its own electoral system. If he did that, he might gain a few friends in the House, which he seems sorely to need at present?
The hon. Gentleman clearly wants to help me to maintain my friendships on my own Benches. We could debate examples later of how Parliaments and regional assemblies elsewhere in Europe make decisions on changes to their rules. That would be of interest to at least three or four of us.
The principle that we cannot impose change by edict on the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish political settlement needs to be emphasised from the Labour Benches. Since the Scottish Parliament was established, a new political reality has developed. The Scottish Parliament and the political arena around it are well established and as greatly respected as any other political institution in the UK, including this Parliament. That is the nature of the devolutionary change brought about gradually throughout the UK. Politics are not centred here in Westminster, but are being devolved in a real and direct sense.
If my hon. Friend would not mind, I shall continue for a moment. We must recognise that the view, which he recommends, that we can do what we want because we have a majority and can force change through the Scottish Parliament is fundamentally undemocratic. Of course there are times when Governments have to make difficult decisions that may be against the broad body of public opinion. That should not be done regularly, especially by political parties that wish to have continued electoral support.
No, I have not had any difficulties with additional Members and the activities that some of my hon. Friends have described. However, I accept that some additional Members have acted as he described, and that is one reason why we might seek to change the type of proportionality without abandoning it completely.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that under the amendments the two new regions would have 56 constituencies, with five or six list Members in each? One of the main arguments for a decent proportional system is to avoid the risk of a minority extreme Government ever being elected again. After all, we speak on the anniversary of the day that Margaret Thatcher was elected to Government on 40 per cent. of the vote.
I have made a strong enough case for proportionality already without being tempted down that road.
The establishment of the Scottish Parliament has had one of the consequences that those of us who supported it hoped it would. By establishing a Scottish Parliament, it was hoped that the case for devolution in the UK would be strengthened and the case for separatism would be weakened. That has indeed happened. As support for independence has declined, support for devolution has increased. It is no accident that the Scottish National party is now tearing itself apart over whether to embrace extreme independence or to make use of devolution. The establishment of the Scottish Parliament has sidelined the SNP and its demands for independence.
The irony is that the political victories that have been won by those of us who support devolution and the Union, and oppose independence, could be put at risk by those who would try to impose a political settlement on the Scottish Parliament—in terms of proportionality and number of Members—that would not be supported by our Labour colleagues or, indeed, by the vast majority of Scottish political organisations or Scottish society more generally. To follow the path suggested by some of my hon. Friends tonight would be to snatch political defeat from the jaws of victory.
It will not surprise Mr. Donohoe to learn that I do not find his amendments attractive, for many of the reasons outlined by Mr. Lazarowicz, in a fine contribution. The amendments would cause as many problems as they seek to solve. My impression was that the hon. Member for Cunninghame, South intended that those in first and second places should be elected for the constituencies, but the amendments provide no clear indication as to how he would arrange the election of two Members from one Westminster constituency. I hope that he will tell us when he winds up. Electing those in first and second places might be a good idea compared to what we might actually get.
On Second Reading, several problems were identified, especially by Labour Members, including those to do with coterminosity, a multiplicity of voting systems and the effectiveness—or otherwise— of list Members. Do the amendments satisfy those three basic concerns? They certainly meet the test of coterminosity, because they would be based on the new Westminster constituencies. Do they meet the test of the multiplicity of voting systems? No, they fail dismally. If we were to accept the amendments, we would have first past the post for Westminster, first and second past the post for Holyrood, an additional Member list system for Holyrood, STV for local government and the closed list for European elections. That is five electoral systems, so the amendments would add to that problem.
The third test is whether the amendments would address the problems created by the list Members. They would not do so, because—as I pointed out in an intervention—the list Members would be crawling over half of Scotland, making the situation much worse. On the three critical tests identified on Second Reading by Labour Members, the amendments fail two. That is not good enough.
As I represent the fourth largest constituency in the UK, I crawl over a fair bit of Scotland. I spend quite a bit of time travelling between Kinloch Rannoch and Brechin, although I prefer to drive because it is a more convenient and suitable way to get around.
I took seriously the concerns about coterminosity expressed on Second Reading. Labour Members may have a point, although they over-egg it. I have never had a constituent express concern about differing boundaries for Scottish Parliament elections and Westminster elections, but I agree that we are more effective when we work in conjunction with our Scottish parliamentary colleagues. Different boundaries might cause confusion in the electorate about whom to approach for assistance and advice. However, the problems would probably not be as bad as some Labour Members seem to believe—they appear to think that a lack of coterminous constituencies would mean the end of the western world as we know it.
The more pertinent point is the multiplicity of voting systems, and it must be addressed. If the amendments were accepted, we would have five systems. It is unfortunate that we have not had a real chance to debate the merits of the single transferable vote. We tabled amendments to that effect for this debate, but unfortunately they were not selected—I accept that there were good reasons for that. Surely STV would be the most elegant and sensible solution—[Interruption.] Hon. Members shout, "First past the post", but what has happened in Scotland in the past few weeks? Labour Members' colleagues in Scotland are now enthusiastic champions of proportional representation for local authorities. They are prepared to go on record to champion that cause, and I am sure that Labour Members here would cheer them to the rafters for doing so. The STV system will be used for elections to local authorities in Scotland, and it would make sense to have all domestic Scottish elections settled in the same way.
I assure the hon. Gentleman that the voting record on the Scottish Executive is not the same as the voting record of Labour party branches and constituencies. In fact, if a vote were held among Scottish constituencies, as many as 90 per cent. would support first past the post, although that is not the case on the Scottish Executive.
Well, there we have it. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that insight into the Labour party's position. We have seen exposed not so much the divisions between London Labour and Lanarkshire Labour, but the divisions between Labour Members in Westminster. Apparently, there are also divisions between branches and constituencies and the Labour party nationally on this policy. I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for pointing out the differences between parts of Scottish new Labour, because it is very revealing.
It would be unfortunate to pre-empt and prejudge the outcome of the Secretary of State's commission. We support the commission because we believe that it is a good idea. There is a job for it to do and we shall be judicious workers on it. We have provided our nominee well ahead of the time scale set by the Secretary of State—the Conservatives, unfortunately, could not do that. We at least are fully signed up members of the commission and we want to make it work.
It is fair and right that the case for STV is made at this stage, if only so that, after studying our debate today, the commission does not conclude that the only solution the Committee could come up with was the half-baked proposal made by the hon. Member for Cunninghame, South. As I said earlier, STV is an elegant and sensible solution, given the overwhelming conversion, which I have enjoyed watching, of Scottish new Labour to PR for local government.
There are some things that I cannot marry up. The leader of the hon. Gentleman's party has said that it would be wrong to impose an electoral system on a Parliament in a democracy, so why on earth would it be justified for us to impose—with the support of his party and mine in the Scottish Parliament—a PR electoral system for local government when people do not want it?
What is behind that sentiment is very revealing and shows where the hon. Lady and her colleagues are coming from—they do not like this matter being devolved to the Scottish Parliament. They would prefer that decision to be in their hands and that is the real intention behind her question.
I listened carefully to the concerns expressed about list Members and about Members elected from the additional Members list. Labour Members have a point about list Members; they have not covered themselves in glory and there are issues in respect of their role. There is real disappointment that the list system has not worked, although as I reminded Labour Members earlier, the House itself decided on that system—perhaps that is a reason for giving the decision to the Scottish Parliament.
Labour Members also have a point when they refer—as several of them did—to the fact that 70,000 Labour voters in Glasgow could not elect one Member in the list. That is a legitimate point, but I wish that Labour Members would show some democratic consistency in applying that principle. What about the 40,000 SNP voters in Glasgow who secured 4 per cent. of SNP councillors in the city? That is equally wrong. It takes about 12,523 SNP voters to elect one councillor in Glasgow, yet it takes only 1,230 Labour voters to do so.
I accept that there are problems about all those wasted votes and that Labour Members have principled objections to that and to Labour votes being wasted, but they must concede that a first-past-the-post system for local authority elections will also give rise to problems of democratic deficit.
The reason for that is because they do so overwhelmingly well under first past the post—that is why they are not selected. That is a key and legitimate point.
That is a very good point. We do not expect that kind of consistency from Labour Members; they seem to be concerned only with securing a first-past-the-post system.
Only STV will ensure that every vote counts. It will ensure that tactical voting will not take place on the scale that we experienced during the last Scottish parliamentary elections. If we had STV, there would be no second-vote Green; the Greens and the Trots would have to compete for the first votes like the rest of us. Surely, that makes sense.
Given that we could solve all the issues on voting systems for domestic Scottish elections, the only real opposition to STV would be if Labour Members were opposed to proportional representation per se. That is closer to the facts, because we have heard from their contributions that they do not want PR for the Scottish Parliament.
The commission has a big job to do; it will have its work cut out if it is effectively to square all the concerns that we have heard today. However, it must not be used as a fig leaf to cover the real differences that exist in Scottish new Labour. It must not be used to try to heal the wounds that have developed between Lanarkshire Labour and London Labour.
Although many views are being expressed from the Labour Benches, the hon. Gentleman makes a mistake if he characterises everyone on them as new Labour.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman; he sums up the differences in the Scottish Labour party. Indeed, the differences that have emerged during this debate are truly overwhelming. I do not know where he fits into the spectrum, but he certainly has much to choose from.
There would be support from their Welsh colleague, but the rest would reject it overwhelmingly.
Whisky strip stamps are another issue—[Interruption.] Labour Members are asking about Divisions, so I would give them one on whisky strip stamps. That is an interesting and indicative—[Interruption.]
The Second Deputy Chairman:
Order. May we have fewer interventions from a sedentary position? I can hardly hear what the hon. Gentleman is saying. May I also ask him to address his remarks to the amendments before us?
I am grateful to you for your guidance, Sir Michael.
My point was that if Labour Members had their way up the road they would oppose whisky strip stamps, but in this place not one of them was prepared to support the whisky industry in its hour of need. That was disgraceful.
We shall support the Bill. We believe that it is right and that we must have 129 Members for the Scottish Parliament. The amendments are not the solution to the problems that we heard about at such length on Second Reading and again today, and if they go to a vote, I urge the Committee to throw them out. We should support the Bill, but throw out the amendments.
I want to consider whether the proposals can be improved. They start from the assumption that the system in the Scottish Parliament is the best of all possible worlds and that the current construction—with 129—is not capable of change or enhancement. There are two main reasons why that is not the case.
First, the existing system is unfair. The situation in Orkney offers an example. The Member for Orkney, who is the Deputy First Minister, was elected with—I believe—3,659 votes. With that figure, he would have won second place in no constituency and would have come only third or fourth in many others. In fact, with 3,659 votes in Strathkelvin and Bearsden, where there were five candidates, he would have come sixth. The absurdity that someone can be elected in one constituency with a vote that would not even have enabled them to come last in another needs to be addressed, so it is reasonable to consider a system that would give us more equally sized constituencies—[Interruption.] I hear a Welsh comrade, Chris Bryant, say that that is the consequence of first past the post, but it is not simply that. The system is being used in constituencies of grossly unequal size and we must address that.
Let me come to the answers in a moment, but my understanding of the amendment is that there would be two Members for each Westminster constituency, as proposed under the new system. Orkney and Shetland would each remain a constituency in the Scottish Parliament, with one Member each, but every other constituency would be split in half and their sizes would then be less disproportionate to the size of Orkney and Shetland than at the moment. Orkney would no longer have the gross, disproportionate advantage of being able to elect someone with a vote that would give him or her sixth place, behind the five others, in at least one other constituency. Clearly, that unfairness needs to be addressed, but it was not foreseen when the Scottish convention drew up the current system.
That is a fascinating point, about which I invite the hon. Gentleman to submit an amendment. I have identified a difficulty, and I am happy to support the amendment, which would address it. If the hon. Gentleman has subsequently identified another difficulty, let him submit an amendment to try to deal with it.
I certainly want to associate myself with the earlier comments about the difficulties caused by list Members who pretend to represent individual constituencies. In the Pollok constituency, which I represent in the House, Johann Lamont was elected by a clear majority at the first Scottish parliamentary elections. She defeated Kenny Gibson of the SNP and Tommy Sheridan of the Scottish Socialist party, both of whom went on to pretend to be the constituency Member for the Pollok area. They advertised, presented themselves and went round to organisations, making it clear that they were the representatives for the Pollok constituency and deliberately trying to mislead the electorate. The SNP's internal election results have removed Kenny Gibson from the scene since then, but Tommy Sheridan still pretends to be a Member representing the Pollok constituency. That causes considerable confusion in the minds of many of the electorate.
I want to echo the point made by my right hon. Friend Mrs. Liddell. Indeed, Australia's gain is our loss in the circumstances. She graphically pointed out the difficulties of the second vote system, which involves substantial numbers of wasted votes because of the way in which it operates.
Let me first outline what the difficulty is before returning to my solution.
In the second ballot in Glasgow, 77,000 people cast a vote for the Labour party, but they got no one elected. Those 77,000 votes were wasted. However, the SNP and the SSP together polled only 66,000, but they got four people elected. Why can 66,000 votes get four people elected, but 77,000 votes get no one elected? That seems to be patently unfair. Similarly, if the figures for the Liberals, the Greens and the Tories are put together, they polled only 45,000 votes, but got three people elected. So it seems that, with the second vote system, someone can fail to get elected even though he or she get lots of votes, while other people with fewer votes can get elected. Indeed, that applies not only in Glasgow, but in the west of Scotland, Lanarkshire, central Scotland, the Lothians and a number of other areas.
Will the hon. Gentleman explain how it is fair that it takes 87,313 votes—48 per cent.—for Labour to get 71 seats on Glasgow city council or 90 per cent. of the seats there, when the SNP gets three seats with 37,570 votes or 21 per cent. of the vote? Explain how that it is fair.
Well, we now have someone in the national party of Scotland, as it sees itself, calling for Westminster to take powers away from Edinburgh and to determine how local government elections should be conducted in Scotland. I am prepared to support that suggestion if the hon. Gentleman is willing to table proposals that say that such things should cease to be devolved matters and should be dealt with here. The vast majority of councillors in Scotland, not only from my party but from other parties, would enthusiastically support stripping that power away from the Scottish Parliament.
Does the hon. Gentleman not remember that the reason for the second vote was that the first vote was for a non-proportional, first-past-the-post seat? The second vote was intended to make the entire result more proportional. It was a case not of holding a completely separate election, but of making the entire election more proportional.
That was not why the system was set up; it was set up to keep the Liberals on board. It was a sweetie given to the Liberals to keep them happy and to stop them walking out of the convention and threatening to sabotage the establishment of the Scottish Parliament. That is why it was done.
Is it not also a fact that, when those people were standing outside the polling stations, they told the people who were going in, "Yes, you can vote Labour. We don't want your first vote. It's okay to vote Labour, but vote for us in the second vote. Don't worry about that; Labour won't mind because their second vote doesn't count"? Is that what we call democracy?
Indeed, that is exactly what was said. Not only were the Liberals saying it, but the Trots, the nationalists and, indeed, the Tories were saying it in Pollok. [Hon. Members: "Tories in Pollok?"] Yes, there are a few Tories in Pollok, and we know where they live. Yes, we have got their names. Everyone was clearly saying that the Labour party's votes in the second ballot would be wasted, so people should vote for the other parties. Of course, many people took that advice, which artificially depressed the Labour party's vote in the second ballot—otherwise it would have been much higher. The 77,000 votes that were cast is a lower figure than the number of Labour votes in the first ballot. It cannot be sensible to have a system with two ballots, when people know that their votes will be wasted if they support Labour in at least five out of Scotland's eight divisions. That is not tenable.
I am grateful to a fellow Labour and Co-operative Member for giving way. As I understand it, he is saying that it is wrong for parties to suggest that voters in the second ballot should vote in a way that does not reflect their preferred electoral wishes but that makes the most of the electoral system. My hon. Friend has been calling for some time for the Co-operative party to do that very thing in the list system for the Scottish Parliament. Has he now withdrawn that proposal, which, of course, has regrettably found no support at any official level in the Co-operative party?
May I say how glad I am to get that introduction from my colleague? I was identifying the difficulties before moving to the solution, and it seems entirely sensible that we examine it in the light of the two problems that I have identified—the unfair sizes of individual constituencies and the preponderance of wasted votes in the second ballot—whether or not the amendment proposed by my hon. Friend Mr. Donohoe addresses those issues.
Of course, the amendment clearly addresses both the issues that I have identified. By splitting in half the proposed Westminster constituencies and creating two seats in each, we would bring the seats more in line with Orkney and Shetland, although not sufficiently so in my view. Of course we would also allow a system of gender balance in respect of my own party. That would not involve legislation, but I support that because it would be in line with our view of how any revised system for the Scottish parliamentary elections should be conducted.
However, let us consider the second system that I suggest. If there is no change in the electoral system along the proposed lines, we must all, especially Labour Members, consider how to react. We have two experiences of every Labour vote in the second ballot being wasted. In those circumstances, the rational response is to consider casting one's vote elsewhere. I know that the Tories, the Liberals, the nationalists, the Greens and the Trots have appealed for those votes at some time. However, I believe that it is far better to cast that vote for a party with which we already have an alliance; it is far better to give it to a nice, kind body such as the Co-operative party, which can be trusted to work more closely with the Labour party than with the Liberals.
Like my hon. Friend Mr. Lazarowicz, I stand for this place as a joint Labour and Co-operative candidate because, on a first-past-the-post system, it makes no sense for a Labour candidate and a Co-operative candidate to stand against each other. However, under the system that we are considering and that I want to amend, it is irrational for Labour to put up candidates in both categories for the Scottish Parliament elections. In such circumstances, I hope that our arrangement with the Co-operative party would be recast to allow the latter to stand and Labour to stand down in order to create a Co-operative and Labour party alliance.
I appreciate that I have outlined a new idea, which is therefore considered dangerous. I also know that it was not invented at head office and must be even more suspect. None the less, I hope that Labour Members will consider it on its merits. We cannot continue to ask our people to waste their votes in election after election and subsequently find ourselves forced into an alliance with people with whom we would not choose to share an enclosed space for any length of time, simply because the other alternatives are worse.
Would my hon. Friend want to preclude people from standing for constituencies and the list? That would obviate the problem that we in Wales call the Clwyd, West system, whereby one person wins the constituency seat for Labour and all three losers win list seats and end up in the Assembly.
I acknowledge that that is a difficulty but I would not legislate against it because I believe that the way in which to address it is to try to reduce the numbers of list members and to make it clear that they have a national rather than a local responsibility. Although I would be prepared to amend the figure of 129 to bring it slightly more into line with the balance of first past the post and proportional representation, we are told that it is a sacred number from which we cannot depart. If that is so, and we have identified 118 first-past-the-post seats, I would choose to elect the remaining 11 representatives on a proportional representation system for the whole of Scotland and ask them to take on a national responsibility and perhaps focus on Committee chairmanships or positions so that they are distinct from the constituency Members, who tend to pick up on local issues and present them in the Parliament.
It is an unwarranted intrusion into the flexibility and freedom of political parties to tell them that individuals cannot stand for both lists. I appreciate that especially the lesser known parties would want their leaders both to head a list and stand for a specific constituency, knowing that he or she was unlikely to prove successful. I acknowledge the problem but the suggested solution is not appropriate.
It has been suggested that everyone always accepted the two principles of 59 Members of Parliament and 129 Members of the Scottish Parliament. However, the consensus in the Labour party has always been for the third principle of coterminosity. The majority of Labour Members accept that. The amendments that my hon. Friend the Member for Cunninghame, South tabled would fulfil the three criteria better than the Government's proposals.
I hope that, when the Under-Secretary responds, she will tell us more about the commission. I remain anxious about the decade in which the commission will report and in which its reports will be implemented. If we allow ourselves to move beyond 2007, new facts will apply. I presume that that is the intention of those who support delay. After 2007, local authorities would be elected by proportional representation and there would be enormous vested interest in adopting a specific solution wholesale.
It is more sensible to make decisions quickly, acknowledge our difficulties, judge the success of proportional representation by the turnout for the European elections and conclude that the universal application of first past the post is by far the fairest means of conducting elections in this country.
Mr. Davidson tempted me into contributing to the debate. I emphasise to him that I have never argued that voting Labour in the second ballot was a wasted vote. I have argued that voting Labour in the first ballot was a wasted vote and I shall continue to maintain that position.
The hon. Gentleman said that his proposal about the Co-operative party was a new idea. I congratulate him on re-presenting an idea that I have heard him present many times in the past few years. However, he has a quality that is not given to everyone participating in the debate: consistency. He was the only Labour Member of Parliament who spoke against the current electoral system for the Scottish Parliament when it was debated in Committee on
That does not apply to the Tory Front-Bench spokesman, Mr. Duncan. When only one Tory Back Bencher was present in the debate, it was a little like old times. The only difference was that that used to happen in debates on Scottish legislation when the Conservatives were in government, and the people who were not present carried the vote. The hon. Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale should have a word with Conservative Members who claim to take such an interest in Scottish affairs and want to vote. The party could at least provide some token representation to show some interest. The hon. Gentleman is more interested in Merseyside than his colleagues are in Scottish affairs.
I do not mind the hon. Gentleman's teasing the Labour party about U-turns, but no one has performed more U-turns on the matter that we are considering than the Conservative party. In 1997, the Conservative party in the Lords played a key part in arguing that the Scottish Parliament should have the right to maintain its numbers. It said that it would be impossible for Parliament to impose different systems on the Scottish Parliament. Conservative Members have done a U-turn on that.
Conservative Members are about to perform a U-turn on the commission. I should like an explanation. On several occasions when the hon. Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale has been asked about Conservative participation, he has used the word "yet". We are therefore being told from a sedentary position that Conservative Members are about to change their mind. My only concern, as someone who posted my letter, first-class post, to the Secretary of State, is that it is a bit much to have to wait to hear who is on the commission until the Conservative party eventually decides that it will nominate—whenever the hon. Gentleman is told that he can by his party leader. Will the Minister confirm that she is not waiting for the Conservative party, or will she deal with that point later? The Minister indicates that she will deal with the point later. I am glad to hear it. It would be extraordinary if we were waiting for the commission to be established because the Conservative party was playing some game about when it would nominate.
I have two points on the subject of debate. I am not an expert on the constitutional convention, for obvious reasons.
Before the hon. Gentleman leaves that point, I have no reason to question his integrity or his knowledge of what happened in 1998 in terms of my hon. Friend Mr. Davidson being the only Labour Member speaking in the debate. However, will the hon. Gentleman accept that, since 1998, there has been a significant change in personnel on the Labour Benches?
I did not say that the hon. Member for Glasgow, Pollok was the only Labour Member who spoke in the debate. I said that he was the only Labour Member who spoke against the electoral system. Five Labour Members spoke in the debate, including the Father of the House, the then hon. Member for Midlothian, whose successor seems to have a different opinion, Mr. Stewart, who I suspect still has the same opinion, and the then hon. Member for Falkirk, West, who of course is no longer in the Labour party. Only the hon. Member for Glasgow, Pollok was against the system.
I accept the point that we have learned from experience. I was merely saying that very few people had the foresight at the time to identify the problems in the system. Where did they arise from? I am not an expert on the constitutional convention, but I suspect that the story runs something like this. The Liberal party on the convention wanted a single transferable vote. Although, as Mr. Lazarowicz pointed out, the Labour party had accepted proportional representation, it did not accept the single transferable vote and said that there could be a list system. The Liberals then said that they wanted 145 Members in the Scottish Parliament. The Labour party wanted about 100. The figure of 129 was settled on, as the least possible number to ensure some form of proportionality. So there was a process of horse trading, and perhaps it is hardly surprising that the system that arose from that was by no means perfect.
I have no idea which evil genius decided to have two ballots, which is unnecessary in an additional Member system. It is perfectly possible to operate an additional Member system with one ballot. Incidentally, it could be done—I would say this to the hon. Member for Midlothian if he were here—with ATV in the first ballot. Some people do it that way. I do not know exactly where the two ballot proposal arose from. We have heard Canon Kenyon Wright blamed. I thought that it was the hon. Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith, but he has specifically denied it in this debate and we have to accept his word.
The key problem with the current system in the Scottish Parliament arises from the second ballot. With great respect to the Labour Members who are concerned about list MSPs crawling all over their constituencies, I was an MSP and had list MSPs crawling over my constituency, but it never did me any harm. I do not reckon that it did the electorate much good, but it was not the most enormous issue. With respect to Mrs. Liddell, I do not think that the problem with the two votes is the one that she identified, namely that of people saying that a vote for Labour is a wasted vote. It is perfectly clear from an examination of the statistics on the second vote that a substantial minority, probably the majority of people voting, think that the second vote is a second preference. That applies to every party on the first vote. The fact that some parties reinforce that belief in their campaigning may add to the problem, but it is not the heart of the problem. If someone is given two ballot papers and told that they have two votes, it is a reasonable assumption, even for someone who is quite interested in the political system, that the second vote is not quite the same as the first and might be for a second preference. In my experience, most people think that the second vote is for a second preference. That is the heart of the problem, because it is a real corruption of the political system and must be dealt with, whatever else happens in the commission.
I am not an expert on the workings of the constitutional convention. To be able to plead not guilty to that is something of an asset, but I know a bit about the way in which the referendum campaign was conducted in Scotland. I have mentioned before that the Scottish news archive shows that the late Donald Dewar had 183 mentions during the election campaign. I had 120. The right hon. Member for Airdrie and Shotts had four. Mr. Foulkes had one. The Minister, who was a Back Bencher at the time, had five, and the current Secretary of State for Scotland had seven. Most of them may say that they were Ministers in other Departments, but Mr. Wilson was a Minister in the Scottish Office, and he had 15 speeches and contributions recorded in the referendum campaign. Eleven were references to his previous hostility to devolution; only one was about involvement in the campaign itself. It was launching referendum ice cream, sold by Ricardo Varani, the owner of the Forum café in Kilmarnock. "Very refreshing" was the then hon. Gentleman's comment. He was obviously crawling all over that constituency and sampling the ice cream.
I do know something about the referendum campaign, and the point was that it was not the specifics of the electoral system—and not even the 129 MSPs—but the idea of proportionality that was very much part of the campaign. Wanting to change the system is perfectly legitimate, given the problems that arise in that respect, but those who want a return to first past the post should remember that, although it was not a dominant or overwhelming part of the campaign, a significant argument in the campaign was that the Scottish Parliament would represent all of Scotland and be elected by a form of proportional representation. With great respect to the right hon. Member for Cunninghame, North and the other Cunninghame Member, Mr. Donohoe, there is a strong suspicion—without going into the detail of the electoral system that he would like to arrive at—that whatever else may be said about it, it is not a proportional system. Therefore, I suspect that he is cutting across one of the key arguments that were made when we jointly sought the consent of the people back in 1997.
I thought that the hon. Gentleman was about to finish his speech, so I was waiting for an opportunity to ask the same question as I asked a colleague of his. The hon. Gentleman maintained earlier that we should have no right to inflict or impose a voting system on an established democracy. The same established democracy wants to do that by introducing PR in local government. How does he marry the two arguments?
The hon. Lady is correct. It is not a question of inflicting a system. A legislative Parliament should have the right to determine its own electoral system. Electoral systems can be determined only by legislation and therefore only where there is legislation. I am not sure whether the hon. Lady was arguing this, but conceivably under her argument there could be a different electoral system for each local authority in Scotland, which would not be a great idea. If we are concerned about four or five electoral systems, being concerned about 25 might seem a bit much.
The principle of consent comes through the political forces in the Scottish Parliament. I have been shocked to discover in this debate that it is estimated that only 10 per cent. of Scottish Labour party members support the electoral system for local government that the First Minister announced only a few weeks ago as a breath of fresh air and a revolution in Scottish democracy to which his party was fully signed up. I suspect that he has as much influence on these matters as he did with his call to vote against whisky strip stamps, if I can mention that issue again. The fact that the First Minister of Scotland does not represent what some hon. Members understand to be Labour party opinion is, with great respect, a matter for the Labour party and the First Minister, not for the rest of us. What I can say is that there are enthusiastic supporters in local government—certainly in my party and, I think, in others—of a form of proportionality, but Parliament takes the decision. I am sure that the hon. Lady's colleagues in the Scottish Parliament will take a decision for the best of motives on what they believe in, not for any other base objective.
The mechanics of the voting system in Scotland have certain flaws, and nobody who has seen that system in operation, or who has experienced standing for election under it, could deny it. The system is capable of change; it should be changed by the Scottish Parliament, and at the very least I hope the Minister can go a bit further than her disappointing allusion. Previous Ministers in her position, while reserving within their opinion the right to legislate, have always conceded that such legislation primarily affects the Scottish Parliament and its view in the matter certainly should be taken into account. As Lord MacKay of Ardbrecknish said in 1997, it would be inconceivable for someone else to impose on the Scottish Parliament an electoral system that it did not want.
When the hon. Gentleman speaks about two votes and one being wasted, I work on the assumption that at the next general election he will inform his constituents in Banff and Buchan that if they vote for him to come to Westminster that will also be a second vote for him to go to the Scottish Parliament as well. One way or another, one vote will be wasted.
I am fortunate in that, as yet, my constituents in Banff and Buchan have reckoned it reasonably worth while to elect me to whichever Parliament I have stood for. With great respect, I have more confidence in the judgment of my electorate than I would if they were composed only of the hon. Gentleman. Let us leave that matter in the hands of the people of Banff and Buchan, and I will be delighted to accept their verdict.
On contribution rates—I shall not talk about my own, of course, as modesty forbids—those of my hon. Friends seem to be higher than those of virtually every Labour Member in the Chamber. That is the case not only for contributions made from the Floor—
I accept your strictures, Mrs. Heal. I think that Labour Members know what I was about to say, so let us leave it there and get back to the heart of the issue.
I believe that the Scottish Parliament—any self-respecting Parliament—should determine its own voting system. The events when this Parliament determined the voting system and legislated on it on
My last point to the Minister is a serious one, and I hope it is shared widely. Given the problems that have been identified in the voting system for the Scots Parliament from a variety of points of view—for problems there are, without question—can she say whether a new and better proportional voting system will be up and running in time for the next Scottish elections?
I look at the time and see that I have plenty of it, but I do not intend to take up too much.
In relation to his comments about 1997 and 1998, I say to Mr. Salmond that hindsight is a wonderful thing, but I wonder how many of my colleagues would now not intervene to try to prevent what was proposed at the time. I agree, as he did with me on Second Reading, with his analysis on ballot papers. One ballot paper is sufficient for anybody. The voting system we might not agree on, but never mind.
This has been an excellent debate and, as usual, we have had a lot of fun. Unfortunately, the people we are here to talk about and represent probably do not care a jot about what we are discussing and what will happen at the end of it. They might eventually care, but at this moment they do not. Something that my right hon. Friend Mr. Wilson said of the commission fully fits practically everything that we are saying today. He said:
"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 going to do? We'll set up a commission. When will the commission report? After the shambles has been created."—[Hansard, 9 February 2004; Vol. 417, c. 1182.]
That sums up exactly what we are talking about in relation to the system that we have in Scotland.
Mr. Duncan asked why we need to open up the Act. I have great sympathy with that question and we have been known to agree in the matter. This comes down to whether we are getting value for money. I am happy to accept 129 MSPs, and I am sure that the people of Scotland would be happy to accept that number if they felt that they were getting value for money. Sadly, I do not think that they are.
That came out in particular in the Scottish Affairs Committee when we took evidence on the subject, as neither the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities nor representatives of the Scottish Executive—I know that Mr. Weir will agree— had anything good to say about the list system. The jokes and the laughter about people crawling over constituencies are only too true.
Other than the annoyance caused to MPs and MSPs elected under first past the post, there is the cost to the nation. The cost, in Scotland in particular, is vast. Questions are asked in duplicate, triplicate and goodness knows what "iplicate" when we get to about 16 questions, which is a waste of time and money. It has to be addressed.
On wasting money, my hon. Friend will be aware that that happens not only in the Scottish Parliament, but at Westminster, where we have MPs asking duplicate questions when the answers are available from the ministerial website. Those MPs refuse to get the information in that way, so they waste Parliament's time by asking the questions and using them in a league table.
My hon. Friend is right. If we are to try to get value for money for any Parliament, not just the Scottish Parliament, we must look seriously at the asking of such questions. Nationalist Members may get involved with league tables, but I have to say that certain Conservatives have to take a really good look at themselves and the number of questions they ask. On opening up Hansard, we can find 20 pages filled by questions from one Member. That is not value for money for the constituents he represents, and it is not value for money for the House. It certainly is not value for money for the taxpayer.
Amendments Nos. 1 and 2 would introduce two Members per constituency, but at no time did anyone in whose name those amendments stand talk about the electoral system as such. Two per constituency would keep coterminosity, which, in most cases, has been agreed to be desirable. If not desirable, it is a necessity. Election might be by first past the post, STV or AV—I lean towards first past the post, but then again I would—but that is not to say that there could not be election by another system.
The fact of the matter is that that is not what the amendment is about. It is about keeping coterminosity and keeping a relationship between Westminster and the Parliament in Scotland. Of course, it would be politically advantageous for the nationalist party to get rid of that. The last thing that it wants is Westminster and Holyrood working together in partnership and doing what is right for the people. I do not think that the Scottish nationalists care two hoots about the people, unless they happen to vote for them. Thank goodness for the rest of us, who do not vote for them in great numbers.
The hon. Gentleman will have played a key part in the referendum campaign in Glasgow in 1997. Can he conceive of the reaction if the Labour party had proposed to the Scottish public a system whereby different constituencies would have been in place for Westminster and the Scottish Parliament only six years on?
The hon. Gentleman asks a good question. Sadly, at that time it would not have made any difference, because the debate was about not what was going to happen in relation to the Parliament, but for the hearts and minds of the people and voting for a Scottish Parliament. We all worked hard for that.
I was fortunate enough to be Donald Dewar's election agent, as well as his campaign manager in the constituency because he was out and about in the country. We worked very hard and got a very good turnout in my constituency. We also got a good vote for the Parliament. Lots of parties were involved and that was one of the few times that I have ever congratulated the SNP in my constituency, where it came out, helped and worked hard for a yes, yes vote. The unfortunate thing was that it could not do anything as a party in the Glasgow area to get a yes-yes vote. It was left to the Labour party to do all the work. That was sad, but the good news was that it came out and helped and we got the vote.
What would my position have been if I had known then how it would turn out? I must speak for myself in relation to that. Not too many people come to talk to me about this subject. They might say that the Scottish Parliament is too expensive, or that there are too many MSPs, but it is not generally talked about. People are more concerned about the delivery of services by the Parliament. The question is: is that good? While there are good points, there are also negatives, and the people will decide, but that is not what we are talking about today. We are talking about the amendments.
Many hon. Friends mentioned local government, which is fair. The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan said that there was no legislation on local government in that respect. Well, there is, but it does not come from the Scottish Parliament. Out of 28 councils in Scotland, 24 would like it to stay that way. They are not happy at being told that they are moving to an STV system. They are not happy about a wee cosy get-together in Edinburgh where deals are done long before anything comes out and appear as a fait accompli to the membership. Because of the numbers game at Holyrood, whereby my party has no overall majority, the tip of the tail must be listened to, because they are doing the wagging.
I thank my hon. Friend for that point. Again, I can speak only for myself—I would not dream of speaking for anyone in my party or anyone else on this matter—but I must agree. I would never have gone into any kind of coalition with any party under any circumstances. I would much prefer to have been a minority Government, and I believe that we would have got better government in Scotland if we had stuck to that. Hindsight is a great thing.
For clarification—I know that this is what the hon. Gentleman is saying—will he confirm that his problems with this matter are related entirely to decision making in his party? It is no one else's responsibility. If the Labour party want to govern as a minority in Scotland, it has the ability to do it. That was even done in Wales for a time. Those are choices made by his party colleagues and there is no point in criticising the rest of us for something inherent in his party.
I apologise. The hon. Gentleman goaded me into it, and it is not my fault. A big boy did it and ran away. I think that I have made my point.
Amendments Nos. 4 to 6 do away with the connection to eight European constituencies, which would seem sensible, as we are doing away with the eight European constituencies. As of June this year, we will have a list-type system under which the top people will be voted in. They will not have constituencies to represent. Why would we want to set up a system in the Scottish Parliament that mirrors a system that no longer exists? Nobody wants to answer that question, which seems fair enough.
If we do not want eight European regional lists—let us say for the sake of argument that we want to get rid of them—with what will we replace them? Were we to change to the system that my hon. Friend proposes, we could still have a list system of five or six to top up, depending on whether we want to make one seat of the Western Isles. I identified that kind of problem in my submission. Be that as it may, five or six MSPs crawling over the whole of Scotland has a certain appeal to me, as it will keep them busy and well away from me and let me get on with the work that I think that I do very well for my constituents—[Hon. Members: "Hear, Hear."] I thank hon. Members. I do not know to whom Hansard will attribute that intervention—[Hon. Members: "Everyone."] That will do for me.
Amendment No. 7 asks for recommendations on which Parliament can decide. The House must make the laws and decisions. We cannot allow a commission or someone else to make the decisions for us. This is our job. In effect, it is what we get paid the big bucks for. Those of us who want to shirk the responsibility should go somewhere else. We must take on the responsibility and, to that extent, we should make the decision. I ask my hon. Friend to consider that in relation to the commission. I would like the commission to make recommendations—in the plural—not one recommendation that suits everybody. I want recommendations so that we can come to the House and have a serious debate, and nothing less.
On recommendations, my hon. Friend will be aware that hundreds of our colleagues are in their offices watching this debate and millions throughout the rest of the UK are listening to it. In the event that this proposal is withdrawn or voted down, what system would he recommend to those in the rest of the UK, particularly in England, when devolved government is rolled out?
I know what my hon. Friend is trying to say, but I will leave that to the English regions. It is not for me to tell them that the system that we have got is crazy. That will be for them, and I hope that they will find that out before they try it and that at least they will listen to us.
I have spoken for a little longer than I anticipated. The point is that this is the House of government—not just the Front Bench but the Back Benches—and we have the right to our say. The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan said that a mistake was made in the laws back in 1997 and 1998. He is right; I think that there were a great many mistakes. The reason for the House, I thought, was to make laws and amend Bills. Why do we do that? We do it to make those laws better. Is that not what we are here to do? We are here to make the law better for the people of this country. How do we do that without people telling their representatives what they think? I make representations to my party and I stand on the Floor of the House and say what I think is right. The Opposition say what they think is right and we end up with a Bill that is fit for the people of the country. I see nothing wrong with that: it is democracy. What I do know is that whatever we have today, at some stage we shall have to revisit it. That is what government is all about.
I thank Members on both sides of the Committee for the way in which the debate has been conducted. As one of my colleagues said—I cannot remember who it was—it has been goodnatured and wide ranging. Amendment No. 1 has prompted discussion of many issues, but I want to deal with all the amendments tabled by my hon. Friend Mr. Donohoe before giving him—I hope—enough time to consider a little proposal that I shall make after that.
I thank my hon. Friend for recognising that his amendments involve technical difficulties. As was pointed out by my hon. Friend Mr. Davidson, however, technical difficulties can be ironed out, and even if they did not exist in this case we would not be minded to accept the amendments. Let me deal first with some of the questions he raised in relation to the commission, the timetabled remit and the membership. I hope that he will take some comfort from what the Secretary of State has proposed, and that what I say will address questions raised by other Members, including my hon. Friend John Robertson, about the way in which the commission will operate.
On Second Reading, the Secretary of State made clear that the commission would be independent, transparent and consultative. Let me respond to concern expressed by my hon. Friend Mr. Roy by reminding him that, according to the Secretary of State, the chair of the commission should be a senior politician—not serving—an academic, a business leader or another prominent individual in Scotland. The key qualifications will be transparent independence and a manifest competence in dealing with a complex set of issues. It is clear from this evening's debate that the issues are complex. The chair should be capable of leading an inquiry that will require substantial public consultation.
How will it be possible to select an independent chair who is political but not party political, and who will do the selecting?
It has been made clear that the senior politician—if a politician is selected—will not be a serving politician. I hope that my hon. Friend will accept that the process of appointing the chair and members will involve consultation with the commissioner for public appointments.
I cannot emphasise too much—various Labour Members in particular have raised this issue—that the commission will make recommendations to the Secretary of State and the First Minister, after which the Secretary of State will decide on the Government's response. He will of course take account of the Executive's view, but, as the Secretary of State said on Second Reading, ultimately it will be for the House to decide. An independent commission will not be making decisions for the House. We have the legislative responsibility, and we will continue to exercise it. As for the time scale, the inquiry will start as soon as possible and will be expected to finish within 18 months to two years. The process has already begun.
What I am not prepared to do, and what we were not prepared to do on Second Reading, is anticipate exactly what the commission will come up with. If we establish an independent commission with a remit that, in my view, is quite broad but at the same time very focused—if that does not sound like a contradiction in terms—we must allow it to make the recommendations that it sees fit to make. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State assured the House on Second Reading, however, they will be recommendations, not proposals made on a "take it or leave it" basis. Ultimately, it will be for the House of Commons and Parliament in general to decide whether to enact whatever emerges from the recommendations.
I shall be very brief. The Secretary of State said that the commission would report to him and to the First Minister. The Minister has just said that its recommendations will then come to the House of Commons. Will they also go to the Scottish Parliament, which is the subject of these changes, for its approval and consent?
The hon. Gentleman is again trying to put words into my mouth. What I said was that the commission will report to the Secretary of State and to the First Minister, and that the Secretary of State will then consider the recommendations—I have now said that three times. The Secretary of State will then decide on the Government's response, taking into account the Executive's view. If there is a need for any legislation, it will be the responsibility of this House, but that brings me—
Not at the moment because I want to deal with the issue of the commission and its membership.
We were extremely disappointed at the actions of the Leader of the Opposition—I cannot quite remember his constituency. [Hon. Members: "Folkestone and Hythe."] Right. In his letter, he states that he would not wish to participate in the establishment of the commission and that its establishment was "premature". That was reiterated by Mr. Duncan. I would have some, not sympathy but understanding for that position, were it not for the fact that, within 96 hours of the boundary commission report in respect of the new Dumfries and Galloway seat, the hon. Gentleman was acclaimed as a prospective parliamentary candidate for a seat that, according to parliamentary procedure, did not exist—we had not yet laid the order for the new boundaries for the Westminster Parliament. If the Conservatives are going to start to stand on principle, as they see it, they need to think through the logic of their argument. I suggest that logic and principle do not sit easily with the Conservatives.
We can find out how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, but I will come to the specific point that the hon. Gentleman has raised and deal with the commission's remit, which has exercised hon. Members over the past couple of hours.
That is the Conservatives for you.
The Government have to oppose the amendments. Our commitment since the announcement to the House on
I make two very quick points. First, a few seconds ago, the hon. Lady said the report would come back to the Secretary of State, who would take into account the opinion of the First Minister and the Executive. Did she mean the Scottish Parliament, or the Executive? Secondly, on something that is of interest across the Committee, is it the Government's intention that, if changes to the Scottish Parliament system are recommended, they will be in place in time for the next Scottish Parliament elections?
I said what I said and I will say it again; we have made no secret of this. The commission will make recommendations to the Secretary of State for Scotland and to the First Minister. The Secretary of State will then decide the Government's response, taking into account the Executive's view. That is the constitutional settlement, but I reassure the hon. Gentleman, before he gets in a twist, that the reality is that, of course, the commission will look to engage with Scottish politics and civic society. I would be astonished if MSPs—either individually or in groups—did not present evidence to the commission, which will take evidence from various people. This is becoming a bit tedious, but I repeat that the commission is expected to complete its work within 18 months to two years.
In response to the Scottish Affairs Committee report, the Government said that they wanted the commission to report back in time for 2007, but my hon. Friend has said that the commission may take 18 months to two years. It seems that there may be some flexibility and the commission may run over. Will she reassure the Committee that the commission's timetable will allow it to do its work and report back in time for the 2007 election?
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said that he wanted the commission to start its work as quickly as possible and indicated that the anticipated time scale would be between 18 months and two years. I do not want to elaborate further on that.
I assure hon. Members that the fact that the Conservatives have refused to participate in the establishment of the commission will not mean that the commission's work and deliberations will be delayed. If we had to wait for the Conservative party to make up its mind on what it wants to do on devolution, we would be here until kingdom come.
The amendments, even if redrafted to achieve the desired outcome of my hon. Friend the Member for Cunninghame, South, would create a radically different electoral system and would significantly reduce the proportionality in elections to the Scottish Parliament. I am not aware of any consensus or general support for the model that he and other hon. Friends propose.
Even if such a new electoral system for the Scottish Parliament were a valid and ultimately popular option, it is entirely premature for this proposed solution to perceived problems to be accepted. It was quite clear on Second Reading, and from the broader debate outside this House, that there is at present no consensus either between hon. Members or within civic Scotland on whether changing the electoral system to the Scottish Parliament is appropriate and, if so, what alternative arrangements should be introduced. We have heard a variety of options this evening.
We are of course not blind to the concerns raised by a variety of hon. Members, from the former Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for Airdrie and Shotts, through to Mr. Salmond. We made it clear on Second Reading that we were aware of the difficulties that might follow from the operation of different boundaries for Westminster and Holyrood constituencies as a result of the passage of the Bill and from a reduction in the number of Scottish MPs. Indeed, that was why we welcomed the recent report by the Scottish Affairs Committee on the possible impact of non-coterminous boundaries on voters, party organisations, electoral administrators and others.
In response to the Select Committee report, the Scotland Office said:
"This will be an issue for the independent commission on boundary differences and voting systems to consider. The commission will examine inter alia the consequences of having different boundaries between Westminster and the Scottish Parliament constituencies for voter participation and representation of constituents by different tiers of elected members."
It is clear that that is part of the remit.
The Scottish Affairs Committee also commented on difficulties in relations between elected Members, the electorate and other bodies following the overlapping responsibilities of constituency and list Members of the Scottish Parliament. There is also the imminent prospect of four different voting systems operating in future Scottish elections—an issue alluded to by many hon. Members. That is why my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, after consulting the First Minister, announced that the commission would look at the consequences of different constituencies for Westminster and Holyrood elections, and that the Commission should be set up now and not left until after the Scottish Parliament elections in 2007 as previously planned.
I am pleased to report that work on achieving that is well advanced, in spite of the reluctance of the Conservative and Unionist party to participate. We have now received suggestions from political parties for members of the commission, and we are actively involved in the process of selecting the chairman, in consultation with the First Minister. We hope to announce the name of the chairman shortly.
As I have already said, the commission will be independent, and will consider the case for change and make recommendations. It will be the commission's task to look at all the matters that might give rise to the difficulties that hon. Members have identified. As we announced on Second Reading, the commission will examine the consequences of four different voting systems in Scotland and of different boundaries at 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.
The commission will also be asked to make representations on whether the consequences of such matters require action to be taken on arrangements among elected representatives to ensure that constituents and organisations receive the best possible service. That links with the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Anniesland, who said that he wanted the freedom and liberty to do what he does best: to represent a constituency in his own area. The pattern of electoral boundaries in Scotland will also be part of the commission's remit, as will the relationship with other public bodies and authorities in Scotland and the method of voting in the Scottish parliamentary elections.
With all respect to hon. Members who have tabled amendments, I suggest that it is not now this House to which we should be directing our proposals and comments in the first instance, but the new commission on boundary differences and voting systems when it is established. It is precisely the issues that hon. Members have raised today that the commission will want to consider and weigh against alternative representations and options.
Devolution was achieved because of a remarkable degree of consensus across Scotland. As we have previously argued, there must be a degree of consensus throughout Scotland before any further changes to the electoral system for the Scottish Parliament are introduced. May I say, with great respect to colleagues, that the way in which the Scottish Parliament is constituted is not just a matter of concern for hon. Members, or even for political parties in Scotland. The electorate and civic society in Scotland, too, are entitled to have their say. The commission will be expected to carry out its remit through a wide-ranging consultation designed to achieve general support for any change. Having thus considered the various views and options, including those of hon. Members, it should reach its conclusions and make recommendations. Then, and only then, can we consider how best to proceed.
For those reasons, we cannot accept the amendments. I hope, however, that my response has given my hon. Friend the Member for Cunninghame, South enough confidence that the independent commission, in terms of both its remit and its timetable, will meet some of the concerns that he and other colleagues have raised. Having said that, I congratulate hon. Members on their contributions and on the thought that they have put into their proposals. I know that some concerns are deeply felt, and cut across party lines. Hon. Members have clearly set out an alternative view for elections to the Scottish Parliament, which has taken the debate forward and will be of immediate assistance to the commission when it begins its deliberations.
In the light of what I have said, I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Cunninghame, South will feel able to withdraw his amendment, and that the consequential amendments will not be pressed to a Division. We recognise the concerns that hon. Members have raised today. The independent commission, as some hon. Members have clearly identified, will give us the opportunity to discuss those concerns, maximise the consensus in Scotland and ensure that the Scottish Parliament, which has been built on consensus, will go forward on the basis of consensus. I ask my hon. Friend to withdraw his amendment.
It has become obvious that there is a widely held view that we should maintain the 129. All parties have agreed that that is still in the best interests of the best performance of the Scottish Parliament. The only exception to that consensus is Mr. Duncan.
I would like to go into detail on the interesting contributions that we have heard, but that would be inappropriate in view of the time.
The hon. Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale surprised me when he said that his party had turned down the chance to make a contribution to deciding who was on the commission. That will not help us to make progress at the rate that I believe is required to allow us to solve some of the problems that have emerged not just tonight but over the whole period of discussion on the Bill.
My right hon. Friend Mrs. Liddell powerfully emphasised my point that we tend to forget that the most important people in all this are our constituents. We clearly have not taken full account of how important it is to have them on our side. She also mentioned the four different systems, which have engendered a debate that is fundamental to the need for change and for the commission to work in a timely way towards a single system.
As having four systems has been identified as a difficulty, and as we currently have only three systems, would it not be sensible for the Scottish Parliament to refrain from changing the system of election for Scottish local government until after the commission has reported?
There is a point there, but we have no control over what the Scottish Parliament does.
I thank John Thurso for his fulsome praise at my being appointed a keeper of the quaich. As a master of the quaich, with the long service that he has, he understands what an honour that is. A great deal of work is undertaken not only by myself but by others in the all-party group on Scotch whisky, and I am glad that that has been recognised.
My hon. Friend Mr. Lazarowicz suggested that the list system was flawed, and even he wanted it changed. Coming from the architect of proportional representation on these Benches, that is quite something, and it was very well received.
Pete Wishart said that he, too, supported 129. He asked specifically how I would have the two Members elected. I said at the outset that I did not intend to close my mind to the different options available. I said that my first preference was for one male, one female—perhaps with a blue paper and a pink paper—which reflects the fact that the Labour party is among the few with anything close to a gender balance in the current Scottish Parliament, and there is a lot to be said for that.
My hon. Friend Mr. Davidson mentioned constituencies being divided into two. The possibility of the person who comes second being elected was also suggested, but that is a matter for others to determine. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for explaining clearly the absurdity of the current system.
Mr. Salmond gave us his usual history lesson. Sometimes, history does teach us something, but the essence of his contribution was to point out his belief that additional list Members crawling all over his constituency will not do much good for his constituents. I accept that view; indeed, it is one of the main reasons why I have reached the conclusions that I have reached.
John Robertson rightly said that, at the moment, people do not care a jot about this issue. However, when it begins to affect them, they will care a lot. My biggest worry is that they will not vote. In such circumstances, democracy is the victim.
The Minister has answered some of my questions, such as who will chair the commission. I am grateful to her for making that issue clear, and I am also happy with what she said about time scales. A time scale of 18 months, rather than 24 months, will be satisfactory—at least to me.
I tabled the original amendments before
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
I beg to move amendment No. 11, in page 10, line 10, at end insert—
Wherever the boundary of a constituency for the Scottish Parliament is not coterminous with the boundary of a constituency for Parliament, the Electoral Commission or the Boundary Committee (as the case may be) shall ensure that the names for the different types of constituencies shall be different.'.
I shall be brief. Although I support the Bill, as drafted it will result in unnecessary confusion. In 23 cases, constituencies for the Scottish Parliament will have different boundaries from constituencies for Westminster, but the same names. For example, there will be two constituencies of Aberdeen, North, and two of Aberdeen, South. That is not the fault of the boundary commission, which thought that it was producing a report that would work for both Parliaments. Legislation should be put in place to ensure that we do not end up with constituencies with different boundaries but the same name.
In view of the lack of time, I do not intend to force a vote tonight, but I look forward to the Minister's response.
The intention behind the hon. Gentleman's amendment is to avoid any confusion that might arise from the decoupling of Westminster and Holyrood constituencies where such constituencies will have the same name. It will place the relevant requirement on the boundary committee of the Electoral Commission after the changeover has taken place, but as we have discovered, many electors prefer to stick with a well-established and accepted name for both their Westminster and Holyrood constituency—for example, Banff and Buchan, Gordon and East Lothian—notwithstanding the fact that the boundaries are not identical. We believe that they should retain that right, and I have every confidence that before the same name is adopted for a Westminster and Holyrood constituency, future reviews will take full account of the possibility of confusion and other difficulties that might arise.
As drafted, the amendment would apply only to the new rule for future boundaries, and would make no difference to the current situation. I therefore ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw it.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
It being Nine o'clock, Madam Deputy Speaker put forthwith the Question necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that hour, pursuant to Orders [
Schedules 1 to 3 agreed to.
Bill reported, without amendment.
Order for Third Reading read.
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Third time.
Over the two days of consideration—on Second Reading and in Committee today—we have had useful and interesting debates on the issues in the Bill. I thank all hon. Members who have contributed to our debates, as well as parliamentary counsel and civil service colleagues who have been involved in the drafting of the legislation. This is a short Bill, focused on a relatively straightforward objective—to remove the existing statutory link in the Scotland Act 1998 between the number of constituencies at Westminster and those at Holyrood. That position was supported by a wide-ranging public consultation, which showed overwhelming support for retention of the current number of MSPs.
However, as was made clear on Second Reading, we are aware of concerns about the operation of different boundaries for Westminster and Holyrood constituencies in the future. That is why we are setting up an independent commission to look at boundary differences and voting systems.
The debate and varied proposed amendments today have shown that there is a range of views on the extent of the potential problems and what the best solutions might be. Further consideration of the issues is clearly necessary, and I entreat all colleagues in the House to ensure that they participate fully in the commission's deliberations. I appeal once again for the Conservative and Unionist party to reconsider its decision not to nominate candidates for the commission. The party has stood outside some of the major constitutional developments that have taken place in Scotland. If it is serious about participating in Scotland's development, the party should reflect again on its decision.
We announced on Second Reading that we would set up the commission as soon as possible. As I said in earlier debates, work is now well advanced towards achieving its establishment. We now have the political parties' suggestions for members of the commission and we are in the process, in consultation with the First Minister, of selecting the chairman. We hope to announce the chairman's name very shortly.
If tonight's deliberations are anything to go by, the commission will have an important and potentially far-reaching task. However, we should be confident that it will be able to carry out its task, consulting openly and fully with the people of Scotland and their representatives. Once again, I hope that hon. Members will participate fully in the debate over forthcoming months.
The Scottish Parliament (Constituencies) Bill marks a small but important step in the machinery of devolution, and I commend it to the House. I trust that hon. Members on both sides of the House will give it a fair wind on its way to the other place.
I have said consistently today, and on Second Reading too, that this Bill is unnecessary. It has no purpose. It is merely a political fix that the Government are determined to force on their Back Benchers. The evidence from the debates today and on Second Reading is that those Back Benchers are, at best, unwilling and, at worst, complicit in that fix.
The Government have performed a spectacular U-turn. They made a deal with the Scottish public at the time of the referendum, but they have gone back on that commitment. The depth of their despair was made clear by the appointment of a commission. It is often said that when a Government have second thoughts they will undertake a review; that when they feel that a further reassessment is required they will have a structural review; and that when they are contemplating an embarrassing U-turn and want to do a deal with their Back Benchers, they will have a commission.
The Government have set up a commission to solve problems that do not yet exist. Those problems will not be created until this Bill completes its passage through the House.
In passing, I note that, in the Committee debate that has just ended, the Minister quoted from a letter written by my right hon. and learned Friend the leader of Her Majesty's Opposition. In that letter, the Conservative party's decision not to make a nomination to the commission at this stage was made clear. The hon. Lady omitted to quote from the final paragraph of the letter, which states:
"If and when the Bill is passed, I would be happy to put forward a recommendation of someone to serve on the Commission."
That is our position, and it is worth putting it on the record.
The commission is being set up to solve a problem of non-coterminous boundaries that will be created by the Bill. The Government are creating the problem that the commission is being set up to fix.
I do not want to speak for the Minister, but I think she made it clear that we are not holding up the process. My right hon. and learned Friend's letter is clear: the phrase
"If and when the Bill is passed" implies approval by both Houses. At that time, we will submit a name for consideration by the Secretary of State.
The devolution referendum was a dialogue with the Scottish people, based on the proposals in the White Paper that was the originating document for the Scotland Act 1998. It is worth noting the importance of that White Paper, which in effect set out the terms of the contract governing the relationship between the constituencies of Members of Parliament and of MSPs. Lord Sewel recognised the importance of that deal; the whole thing was a package, not something from which one could simply pick and choose. That package was put to the Scottish people in its totality, if I dare use that word. Lord Sewel said:
"That was in the White Paper. That is what we campaigned on. Having looked at the arguments again, on balance we think that that is the right proposition."—[Hansard, House of Lords, 8 July 1998; Vol. 591, c. 1336.]
We campaigned on that deal, but the Government are seeking to cast it aside.
The Government know that things have not changed. They knew then, and they know now, that coterminosity is vital to good working relationships between MPs and MSPs. Donald Dewar said as much during the debate, and the Minister and the Government know it now. However, that does not fit with the deal that they are trying to hatch to get them through this political conundrum.
The Government knew then, and they know now, that a reduction in the size of the Scottish Parliament is possible and achievable. It is possible to deliver a Scottish Parliament that is lean and fit, and which delivers for Scotland without necessarily having 129 MSPs. That number was a consequence of taking the number of Westminster constituencies, and then applying a proportional element: 129 was not set in stone, and it is not a necessary requirement for the delivery of good and effective governance in Scotland.
Finally, the Government knew then, and in their heart of hearts they know now, that a big Parliament does not make for better government. Better legislation does not depend on having bigger Parliaments, more Committees and more MSPs. We in this House should focus on what is best for the Scottish people. We should be after quality legislation, not necessarily more legislation.
An amendment to the Scotland Act 1998 could be made only at huge political risk. The Government knew that before, and they know it now. Having been through a difficult afternoon at the hands of her Back Benchers, the Minister knows the large political risk taken in the Bill, and the fact that she has introduced it illustrates the power struggle between Holyrood and Westminster within the Labour party in Scotland.
The Bill is a kick in the teeth for Labour Members in Scottish constituencies. They have been asked to swallow their pride on the boundary review at Westminster. They have been asked to accept a cull in their numbers, which has created significant problems for some of them. They have trooped through the Lobbies when they have been requested to support a failing and struggling Government. On issues that are not applicable in Scotland because the equivalent powers have been devolved, their support has been critical to the Government's success in forcing through unpopular legislation, on top-up fees in particular and on foundation hospitals. They have been shown to be more loyal on those issues than Labour Members representing English constituencies. They have done everything expected of them, and arguably a good deal more.
Then came the Bill. They were lumbered with it as the other side of the deal. Having done all that was expected of them, they saw a part of the deal that they understood was in place withdrawn from them. Members of the Scottish Parliament, whom some Labour Members here deeply mistrust—that mistrust is misplaced—are to be excused the cull in their numbers. They have been let off the hook, and Back-Bench Labour Members know that their Front-Bench team has done a deal it should be ashamed of. Scots are sick of having too many politicians in Scotland. They have again been let down by Labour on the scale of government north of the border. Labour Members have had a kick in the teeth from their own Front Bench on an issue on which they thought a deal had been done in the Scotland Act.
Much of our debate has focused on alternative electoral systems. We had a useful debate on the amendments proposed by Mr. Donohoe, which raised the possibility of the first-past-the-post system for some of the constituency alterations that he envisaged. To put things straight and on the record, let me say that there is no doubt that the Scottish Conservative and Unionist party believes in first past the post. It creates good elections, good representatives, and good and decisive government. We shall continue to make that case in both Parliaments.
There is another side to the deal hatched in the Scotland Act, which promised a reduction in the number of MSPs, that the Government have reversed. That other side was a reduction in the number of Members of Parliament. Members from Scotland face a reduction in number from 72 to 59. By introducing the Bill, the Government have shown their contempt for the Scotland Act's provision on the number of MSPs. We shall hold them to account on their supposed determination to bring forward the boundary review on constituencies before the next election. I received some reassurance in that regard when I received a copy—it is always a delight to get them—of the Secretary of State's Edinburgh, Central constituency newsletter. It begins:
"Parliamentary constituency boundary changes mean that the Edinburgh Central Constituency will disappear at the next General election."
To my knowledge, that is the first time the Secretary of State has been so specific. I am delighted that he has been, and the Minister can rest assured that we shall spare no effort in the coming weeks and months to ensure that the Government are unable to worm their way off that hook. The reduction in the number of MPs from Scotland is a critical part of the Scotland Act, and we want to see it implemented.
The hon. Gentleman has said that he intends to oppose the Bill. However, if the Bill were lost, the boundary commission report would be delayed, because it would have to draw up regional boundaries for the Scottish Parliament before it could report. That would make it less likely that the number of Scottish Members of Parliament would be cut at the next election.
I do not see any need for that process to take very long, and there would also be other ways to achieve that end—for example, by secondary legislation.
There are too many politicians in Scotland, the cost of the Parliament is burgeoning and the cost of the Executive is exploding. Administration costs have risen by £95 million in the past seven years. Ministerial cars have increased from eight to 14 in the same period. Staff numbers in the press office have increased from 60 to 90 and by more than 1,000 in the Executive office in the same period. The Government north of the border is exploding in size and quantity. The Scottish Conservative and Unionist party believes in small Parliaments and in small government.
The political landscape in Scotland is clear, with one party—the Scottish Tories—committed to delivering smaller government for Scotland. All the others have become addicted to the bureaucracy and softened by the waste, so that they are unable to contemplate a devolved Scotland being governed by any fewer than 129 MSPs. Would that have been any different had the original number been 200 or 250? We have no way of knowing. The simple truth is that political parties have become consumed by their own importance. They have forgotten the interests of the man in the street, who is tired of Scotland's over-governing and is demonstrating that in declining turnouts in elections. Who would have thought that fewer than one in two would vote in the second elections to the new Scottish Parliament, which—the Government were keen to point out—had been anticipated for 300 years? Four years on, and less than half the population wished to participate in the second election. That was due in part to the issues addressed in the Bill: Scotland has too many politicians and the public know it.
We will oppose the Bill tonight. It is an unnecessary piece of legislation, and the Scotland Act 1998 should be implemented in full. I was pleased to receive the support of some Labour Members in an earlier Division on amendments that would have delayed the implementation of the Bill. I hope that more will have the confidence to back with their support in the Lobby their significant support for our view in the Chamber.
Mr. Duncan asked for support in the Lobby tonight, but that would be to vote for a cut in the number of MSPs from 129 to a much lower figure. No Back Bench Labour Member would do that. We have criticisms of the electoral system, but we do not want to destroy it. We want to be more constructive and to improve and enhance the Scottish Parliament.
I regret the fact that we have had such a narrow debate about the Scottish Parliament today and recognise that that was because the Bill was deliberately drawn so narrowly by the Government as to preclude wider discussion. That was a major mistake. We should not be so defensive about the work of the Scottish Parliament that we are afraid to have a debate about its activities. Its work has been overwhelmingly positive. The media in Scotland have focused on some negative aspects, but the Parliament has achieved far more for Scotland in its relatively brief life than we could have reasonably expected, and it will continue to do so. It will build on the success that it has achieved so far in a way that justifies the faith that I and so many of my hon. Friends had in devolution, even when it was a minority position.
I turn again to the commission, as it seems to be an integral part of the Government's position. The more I listen to the Minister, the more I cannot help feeling that we have been sold a pig in a poke, because there is no chance that anything resulting from the commission will be implemented in time for the 2007 elections.
We are in May 2004. It is suggested that the commission will take a minimum of 18 months for its work, so that takes us, at the earliest, to November 2005, which is less than 18 months before the next elections to the Scottish Parliament. We are led to believe that during those 18 months it will be possible to consider the commission's report, set up a dialogue with the Scottish Parliament and other interested parties before we come to a decision and then put that decision into legislation. Even after the legislation is passed, boundary changes will have to be considered and implemented.
All that leads me to believe that it is inconceivable that anything from the commission will be in place in time for elections in 2007. I am willing to wager a modest amount with anyone in the Chamber who thinks otherwise. I look forward to discussing the matter with anyone who assiduously supports the Government in all things to see whether anyone is daft enough to put their money where their vote will go. It is clear that there is no chance that any changes can be in place by 2007, so in those circumstances it would be much better to be honest with the people of Scotland and say, "This is something for 2011, so we shall take our time and do it thoroughly."
We have also been told that the commission will look at relationships with other public bodies, which will take us into something altogether different. I am not entirely clear about what it means but I am sure that in due course it will be an alibi for delay. If anyone wants to wager a fiver or an amount in any other currency, I shall be happy to take them on, but the fact that no one is leaping forward to take my wager is an indication that my money would be safe if I were to make it.
Finally, I want to think out loud on behalf of people in my constituency Labour party and in the Labour party in Scotland, especially in Glasgow, about what we should do now in preparation for the next set of Scottish elections under the existing system, particularly in relation to the second ballot. It is clear that voting Labour in the second ballot in Glasgow and in several other areas will be an utter waste of time. We cannot justifiably ask people to waste their vote when there is no prospect of gaining any seats as a result of that vote, unless we lose five of the 10 first-past-the-post seats. If, as we get closer to the election, it looks as though we might lose five of those 10 seats, I might revise my opinion. However, it is likely that we shall win at least eight or nine seats; I expect us to win 10, but even if we slip a little, the second vote will still be wasted. We cannot in good conscience ask people deliberately to waste their vote in the second ballot. We need to have something more constructive to say.
I shall support the Government tonight, even though I regret this missed opportunity both to defend the work of the Scottish Parliament and to seek constructive improvements to the electoral system. Nevertheless, we are where we are, so, with considerable reluctance, I shall support the Government.
This small Bill is simple and straightforward. None the less, it has given rise to serious points and it is right that we had the opportunity to debate them.
As an interim measure, the Bill will do the job that it sets out to do. It was introduced because a simple mistake was made in 1998, about which both the Conservative Opposition and the Liberal Democrats warned the Government. The mistake was thinking that, as the Parliament was set up with a set number of MSPs, no one could possibly seek to change that number less than six years after it was set up. We are here today because that mistake has been recognised and needs to be rectified.
What I find extraordinary—bearing in mind the late Lord MacKay of Ardbrecknish's cogent arguments, which have been mentioned already today—is the complete reversal that has gone on among those on the Tory Front Benches. Mr. Duncan now says that coterminosity is everything and that the numbers can fluctuate, when his predecessors said in 1998 that, once people had picked a number, they had to stick with it. At that time, we decided that coterminosity was of less importance. It is extraordinary that the views of those on the Conservative Front Bench should oscillate in that way.
I find that even more extraordinary when we are offered a commission with a serious opportunity to consider all the issues. That is the place where we can look at the various election methods. The AV system has been mentioned and it is a perfectly valid system. The first-past-the-post system is valid, but it is not one that I happen to agree with. All those systems need to be considered in such a forum, so that the views of all Scots, not just those who happen to be present in the Chamber, can be taken into account. It will then be our job to consider those recommendations and debate them, and we need the time to do so.
It shows a stunning lack of political judgment that the Conservative party should fail to take part in that process, unless this were all some curious device to be able to vote one way today and another way at a later stage. The lack of judgment displayed by the Conservative party in that regard is equalled only by its leader's lack of judgment over the Butler inquiry.
Perhaps I have not made myself clear—if so, I accept the hon. Gentleman's admonishment—but the commission is being set up to resolve the problem of non-coterminous boundaries. Despite the lack of support from Mr. Davidson, we still think that we might muster the numbers to oppose the Bill. We have not given up hope. Until the Bill completes its way through the House and becomes legislation, we do not have a problem with non-coterminous boundaries.
The hon. Gentleman might have persuaded himself in the shaving mirror about that argument, but he has not persuaded anyone else.
It has become clear that a substantial majority of people in Scotland clearly understand that we need to maintain the number of Members at 129, or there or thereabouts—if it were 128 or 130, I would not quibble—to be able to preserve the workings of a new, young Parliament. That is the consensus view. As Mr. Davidson pointed out, the Scottish Parliament is successful and has done a good job and we do not need to start rocking the boat at this juncture. It should be allowed to continue to do its work.
There are two simple reasons for hanging on to 129 Members. First, the Scottish Parliament is working well and, secondly, because it is just settling down. I have always thought that it would take two or three Parliaments for the Scottish Parliament to settle down properly. However, there are clearly consequences, two of which have been debated at length tonight. One of them is the lack of coterminosity that will follow the next general election.
As I mentioned earlier, the lack of coterminosity is built into the Scotland Act 1998. Approximately every eight years, when there is a boundary commission review, which takes place at different times for the two Parliaments, there is a period between general elections in each Parliament of approximately two years when the boundaries would be different. The consequence was there—we all knew that it would be—and it is not quite the great bugaboo that everyone has made out.
The second consequence, which is only a partial consequence, is that the Scottish Parliament may choose another electoral system and vote for single transferable vote for local government. It is perfectly sensible that a commission should consider both voting and coterminosity and make recommendations. As I said on Second Reading, I hope that that will happen reasonably quickly. The Under-Secretary has given us some assurances about that.
Given the need to act with reasonable dispatch to preserve the status quo on the one hand, and the consequences of that—coterminosity or its lack and the voting mechanism—on the other, it is clear that we need a mechanism. The commission is a sensible way forward and my hon. Friends and I will be happy to make representations to it. I hope that hon. Members who believe in AV and first past the post will present their arguments, as we will make ours for STV.
Let us hear from the commission and base our decisions in the House on what it says. However, for the moment, let us pass a small, straightforward Bill that corrects an obvious mistake and preserve the future of the Scottish Parliament from the sword of Damocles of change.
As John Thurso said, the Bill is small, but it has produced a big and useful debate. Although the measure was designed exclusively to decouple the link between the reduction of the number of Members of this House and the desire to retain 129 Members of the Scottish Parliament, we have had the opportunity to examine many other important issues to do with Scottish Parliament. It has therefore been a valuable use of time.
It is fair to acknowledge that it is our first opportunity to debate the Scotland Act on the Floor of the House since it was passed in 1998. I hope that it is the first of many such revisits to devolve further powers to the Scottish Parliament. I am sure that several other hon. Members share that ambition.
The debate has given us an opportunity to examine the problems of coterminosity, consider voting systems and assess the workings of additional member systems of proportional representation for the Scottish Parliament. However, the genuine difficulties and challenges in the Labour party were much more revealing. The Westminster group and the Edinburgh group take different approaches and the differences emerged in our debates. [Interruption.] My hon. Friends remind me that there are differences within the Westminster group. A problem has been identified and I hope that we shall now work towards a sensible solution.
The only outstanding issue for me and my hon. Friends is the role of the Scottish Parliament. The Secretary of State made it clear when he announced the commission that it would report jointly to the First Minister and the Secretary of State. The Under-Secretary has subsequently told us that it will report to those fine upstanding gentlemen and then be considered by the Scottish Executive before reverting to this place for further consideration and approval. The system appears to work until we get to the last bit. I am worried about the matter reverting to this place, given the hostility that has begun to emerge from Labour Members towards the Scottish Parliament. I hope that we can get a commitment that the consent of the Scottish Parliament will be required before any significant changes are made here. This Parliament will be subject to change and it is right that the parliamentarians who are elected by the Scottish people and who are accountable to them for their decisions have a say in the matter and that their consent is given to any changes made here.
On Second Reading, the Secretary of State announced his intention to set up a commission to examine such issues. The Scottish National party looks forward to participating in the commission, of which we shall be judicious members. I share the disappointment at the Conservatives' decision not to join the commission at this stage. I agree that it represents monumental folly on the part of Conservative Front Benchers.
Mr. Duncan said in reply to my earlier intervention that he intends to join the commission after it has met for several months. That is some contribution from the Conservative party. We will all be part of the commission, trying to find a solution to some of the major problems that we have identified. Then along will come the Tories, once the Bill has finally gone through. That is an unsatisfactory solution for the Tories and I urge them to think again about serving on the commission.
My colleagues and I will support the Bill on Third Reading because, along with the majority of people whose views have been canvassed, we believe that 129 Members are absolutely necessary for the Parliament to do its work effectively, not only because of the Committee system, but because that figure has been identified as the minimum to make the Parliament work. Again, only the Conservatives are against the measure.
The hon. Gentleman said that 129 is the minimum figure. Does that mean that the Scottish National party would like a bigger Scottish Parliament?
Yes, is the short answer. We would like to think of the Scottish Parliament as an independent normal Parliament, contributing to the rest of the nation. To perform that function, we would need more MSPs, or Members of Parliament, as they would be in an independent Scotland. I would hope that the hon. Gentleman would join us in that ambition. I am disappointed in the attitude of Conservative Members, who will vote against the Bill tonight. They will oppose it just as they opposed the Scotland Act 1998 in the first place.
A number of Labour Members are itching to join the Conservatives. I note that John Robertson is not paying attention, but his "stick with the Act" campaign is probably doomed to ignominious failure this evening. I sense that he would quite like to join the Conservatives in the Lobby tonight to oppose the Bill, so that he could stick with the Act.
The figure of 129 is right, and we are committed to it. We look forward to the work of the commission. We hope that it can deal with some of the issues that have been identified in the two debates and we will certainly work with the commission to ensure that some solutions are delivered so that we can start to go forward.