Scotland Bill — Third Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:20 pm on 21st March 2016.

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Photo of Lord Keen of Elie Lord Keen of Elie The Advocate-General for Scotland 3:20 pm, 21st March 2016

My Lords, before turning to the government amendments in this group, I should like to address some points that noble Lords have previously expressed in relation to Clause 2. This clause is to implement the provision in the Smith commission agreement that the Sewel convention should be put on a statutory footing. The Smith commission agreement did not suggest any change in the effect of the convention. The clause recognises that this Parliament will not normally legislate on a devolved matter without the consent of the Scottish Parliament, but the convention recognises that the decision whether to legislate is for this Parliament to take.

I have noted the points made by noble Lords who have made clear in previous discussion of this clause their view that the word “normally” is not a word sufficiently precise for a statutory restriction. Of course, we are not seeking, and nor are we able, to impose a restriction on parliamentary sovereignty, and it has also been made clear in discussion that the word is suitable for indicating how a discretion will be exercised. This clause is clearly intended to indicate that the discretion of Parliament to legislate for devolved matters will continue exactly as before and that it is not intended to subject that discretion to judicial control. I would add that the words “it is recognised” that appear in Clause 2 also reflect the continued sovereignty of the United Kingdom Parliament and that it is for Parliament to determine when a circumstance may be considered not normal. This is not a matter that the courts could meaningfully engage with.

I turn to a number of technical amendments that we have tabled to Clauses 3 and 5 of the Bill. Noble Lords will recall that we gave notice on Report that we would table these amendments, which are necessary to ensure that the clauses in the Bill relating to elections work as intended. Under the Bill, and in line with the Smith commission agreement, the timing of Scottish parliamentary elections is devolved to the Scottish Parliament, subject to the provision that Scottish parliamentary ordinary general elections may not be held on the same day as a UK parliamentary general election, a European parliamentary general election or ordinary local government elections in Scotland. We have tabled amendments to Clause 3 to improve the drafting of the part of the reservation relating to the timing of ordinary local government elections in Scotland. These amendments do not change what is reserved, but rather clarify the drafting to ensure that the reservation achieves the intended outcome—that an ordinary local government election in Scotland may not be held on the same day as ordinary general elections for the Scottish Parliament.

In addition, we have tabled amendments to Clause 5 of the Bill to improve the drafting of the new provisions to be inserted into Section 43 of the Representation of the People Act 1983. These provisions relate to the reservation of the timing of ordinary local government elections where they clash with the date of an ordinary general election to the Scottish Parliament, and provide a mechanism for the Scottish Ministers to change the date of the local government elections where such a clash occurs. The amendments improve and clarify the drafting of the provisions providing a mechanism for setting an alternative date.

Amendments 3 to 9 are technical amendments, which will ensure that there is clarity in the clauses in the Bill relating to elections and that they operate as intended. I beg to move.