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Committee (2nd Day) (Continued)

Part of Scotland Bill – in the House of Lords at 6:45 pm on 2nd February 2012.

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Photo of Lord Sewel Lord Sewel Deputy Speaker (Lords) 6:45 pm, 2nd February 2012

My Lords, my mind goes back to consideration of the Scotland Bill in 1998. Some things are the same and some things change. What is the same is that now we are reduced to a relatively small House; what is different is that in 1998 our deliberations were at 2 am-when we used to carry on till that time-and now it is 6.45 pm. Nevertheless, as they say, I am sure that we will be able to make some progress.

The amendment deals with the appointment of what is called the BBC Trust member for Scotland. In olden days it used to be referred to as the "Scottish governor" of the BBC. At the moment the Bill says:

"A Minister of the Crown must not exercise without the agreement of the Scottish Ministers functions relating to selection for a particular appointment", and then goes on to explain. My amendment would take out "agreement" and put in "consultation".

That is partly because of something that happened way back in 1974, when local government in Scotland was reorganised. I remember going to a conference of the good and the great, where the whole discussion was about the relationship between the two tiers of local government in Scotland, the regions and the districts. I remember a very distinguished civil servant at the time saying, "Given good will, the relationship between the two tiers of local government would work very well indeed", and a grizzled chief town clerk-those were the days when we had town clerks rather than chief executives-saying that in his experience the last thing that you could count on in the relationships between local authorities was the existence of good will.

I am not daring to say that that typifies the relationship between the Scottish Parliament and the Parliament of the United Kingdom, or between Scottish Ministers and UK Ministers, but having an appointment that depends upon the agreement of two Ministers from different Parliaments and maybe of different political hues, as sometimes happens in this House, creates at least the opportunity-I put it no stronger than that-for mischief-making. In other words, it is possible to generate a major row or a clash over something relatively minor, so that what perhaps starts off as an irritant becomes a major issue of principle. Basically, let us avoid that; let us avoid creating a structure that offers that possibility.

By all means let us have consultation. My amendment would mean that the Secretary of State had consultation with Scottish Ministers. To be honest, I would prefer the Scottish Minister to have the decision rather than the Secretary of State, if we got away from the business of agreement. My first position is the Secretary of State and my second position is Scottish Ministers. I just want to avoid the opportunity-the invitation, almost-to create a fuss over something where it should not exist.