[Mr. Martin Caton in the Chair] — Boundaries, Voting and Representation (Scotland)

– in Westminster Hall at 12:00 am on 20th July 2006.

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[Relevant documents: Third Report from the Scottish Affairs Committee, Session 2005-06, HC 924, Putting Citizens First: the Report from the Commission on Boundary Differences and Voting Systems.]

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—[Huw Irranca-Davies.]

Photo of Mohammad Sarwar Mohammad Sarwar Labour, Glasgow Central 2:30 pm, 20th July 2006

I am delighted that today's debate, which has such importance for the people of Scotland, is being chaired by an hon. Member from another proud Celtic nation.

I thank the Minister for making Government time available for the House to debate this important matter. The Select Committee on Scottish Affairs had asked for a 90-minute Scottish Grand Committee debate on the report from the Arbuthnott commission, so we were pleased to be offered a three-hour debate instead.

The Commission on Boundary Differences and Voting Systems, also known as the Arbuthnott commission, was established by the Secretary of State in May 2004 to consider the consequences of having four separate voting systems for elections in Scotland and having different constituency boundaries for elections to Westminster and to Holyrood. The commission was established in the wake of the Scottish Affairs Committee report entitled "Coincidence of Parliamentary Constituency Boundaries in Scotland and the Consequences of Change", which followed the Government's decision to retain the number of Members of the Scottish Parliament at 129 and the provisional proposals of the Boundary Commission for Scotland to reduce the number of Scottish constituencies represented at Westminster from 72 to 59.

After an 18-month inquiry, the commission published its report, "Putting Citizens First: Boundaries, Voting and Representation in Scotland", on 19 January 2006. The commission's main recommendations included one that the current mixed member system for electing the Scottish Parliament should be retained, but with open lists to increase voter choice.

Photo of Jim Devine Jim Devine Labour, Livingston

Does my hon. Friend agree that there is a democratic deficit when people are allowed to stand not only in the list but in the constituency? Someone who stands in the constituency and loses can then become a winner, and in some minority parties losers could become not only winners, but leaders.

B

The real democratic deficit is in the existence of the list system which allows political parties to bring their unelectable stooges into the Scottish Parliament.

Submitted by Bob Burnett

Photo of Mohammad Sarwar Mohammad Sarwar Labour, Glasgow Central

I thank my hon. Friend for bringing an important point to my attention. I will address it later in my speech.

The commission also recommended that constituency and regional boundaries for the Scottish Parliament should be based on local authority areas rather than Westminster constituencies, with the regions revised to better reflect natural local communities; that candidates for election to the Scottish Parliament should not be prohibited from standing in a constituency and on the regional list; that clearer and more positive roles should be developed for constituency and regional MSPs; that the single transferable vote system should be introduced for European parliamentary elections; and that Scottish Parliament and local government elections should be held on different days.

In February this year, the Scottish Affairs Committee took evidence from Sir John Arbuthnott, the chairman of the commission, and from one of its members, Dr. Nicola McEwen. During the evidence session, members of the Committee raised several matters of concern about the commission's report, including coterminosity of Westminster and Holyrood constituency boundaries; the remit of the commission and honouring the devolution settlement; the voting system for elections to the Scottish Parliament; the boundaries and size of Holyrood constituencies; Scottish local government elections; wasted votes; the multiplicity of MSPs representing Scottish Parliament constituencies; voter confusion; dual candidacy for elections to the Scottish Parliament; and elections to the European Parliament.

Those are the facts. I am sure that if they catch your eye, Mr. Caton, members of the Committee will express their own concerns, but I would now like to make a few observations on my own account, rather than as the Chairman of the Select Committee. I am greatly concerned that the Arbuthnott commission has simply not resolved three fundamental issues. The first is the complicated and confusing system that we have in Scotland, with four different voting systems for the four different types of elections. We have STV for local government elections; proportional representation for elections to the European Parliament; a mixture of first past the post and a list system for elections to the Scottish Parliament; and first past the post for elections to the House of Commons.

Photo of Jim Devine Jim Devine Labour, Livingston

Does my hon. Friend agree that first past the post is the best system?

Photo of Mohammad Sarwar Mohammad Sarwar Labour, Glasgow Central

I have never been keen on first past the post and prefer proportional representation, but the mess that I witnessed during elections to the Scottish Parliament with list membership means that I now have serious reservations about proportional representation in our country.

All hon. Members will share my concern about the falling number of people who bother to vote in elections. Part of that reluctance to vote must be due to the confusion caused by having different systems for different elections, and the fact that, for elections to the Scottish Parliament, electors have two votes: for a constituency MSP and for a list MSP. The Scottish Parliament has introduced the single transferable vote for local government elections, and it clearly likes that system, so why does it not ask Westminster to introduce STV for Holyrood elections? If it is good enough for local government, surely it is good enough for the Scottish Parliament. Has the Minister received a request from the Scottish Executive to introduce legislation so that STV will be used in future elections to the Scottish Parliament?

Photo of Katy Clark Katy Clark Labour, North Ayrshire and Arran

My question is about the change to STV in local government elections. Does my hon. Friend share my concern about local representation on councils? The break between voters and councillors is something many of us are worried about. At the moment it is clear who people can go to and who is responsible for ensuring that council services are delivered in their area.

Photo of Mohammad Sarwar Mohammad Sarwar Labour, Glasgow Central

My hon. Friend makes an important point. A constituency link with the elector is vital. However, my concern is that, because we have elections on the same day for both local government and the Scottish Parliament, if the Scottish Executive think that it is a good idea to have STV in local government, people will ask why it is not a good idea for the Scottish Parliament. Introducing STV in the Scottish Parliament and in local government would at least reduce confusion for voters when they go to the polling station.

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland

Is it not true that most Labour Members of the Scottish Parliament are, for the reasons set out by Mr. Devine, totally opposed to the introduction of STV? Is it not the case that STV is being forced on the people of Scotland by the Liberal Democrats?

Photo of Mohammad Sarwar Mohammad Sarwar Labour, Glasgow Central

I do not speak on behalf of Labour Members of the Scottish Parliament. I believe and agree that there is a coalition in Scotland with the Liberal Democrats, but I assure the hon. Gentleman that the Labour members and activists who I have spoken to in my wards and my constituency are totally opposed to the introduction of STV in local government elections. If elections to Holyrood and for local government are to be held on the same day, surely it would make perfect sense, in order to reduce the voter confusion that I mentioned, for the same voting system to be used for both types of election.

Another matter that the commission does not address is the coterminosity of constituency boundaries for elections to the Parliaments in Westminster and Holyrood. The present system has led to the current situation, whereby there are 11 MSPs interfering in my constituency of Glasgow, Central. Four of them were elected by first past the post, and seven from the list. That situation is unacceptable and must change.

Photo of Katy Clark Katy Clark Labour, North Ayrshire and Arran

Are my hon. Friend's constituents similar to mine in that when they think about which MSP they should go to with their problems, they think of their directly elected MSP? One worry about the move towards single transferable votes for councillors is that it will not be clear to whom constituents should go. Perhaps, rather than the Scottish Parliament moving to a system with more STV, we should review how councils are elected.

Photo of Mohammad Sarwar Mohammad Sarwar Labour, Glasgow Central

There is a great deal of confusion among electors. Indeed, some do not even know who their constituency MSP is because the boundaries are not coterminous with the Westminster constituencies. The additional list Members are adding to the confusion.

Photo of Ian Davidson Ian Davidson Labour, Glasgow South West

Does my hon. Friend agree that although it is undoubtedly complex that 11 MSPs cover his parliamentary constituency, that would be manageable if each of them were responsible for a finite geographical area? Does he agree that the problem is not with the first-class MSPs who have been elected to particular constituencies, but with the second-class MSPs who were elected on the assisted places scheme who then pretend to represent the city as a whole, and cause confusion?

Photo of Mohammad Sarwar Mohammad Sarwar Labour, Glasgow Central

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. The unfortunate reality is that the Arbuthnott commission has not dealt seriously with the two classes of MSPs, and has not come up with clear roles for list and constituency MSPs. That is causing the problem.

Photo of Jim Devine Jim Devine Labour, Livingston

The original vision within the Scottish Constitutional Convention was that list MSPs would have an overview of their areas—Lothian, Glasgow or wherever—but that clearly has not happened. Does my hon. Friend agree that a way around the problem might be that instead of people having two votes—the first being for the party of their choice and the second being for another party—perhaps they should have one vote only?

Photo of Mohammad Sarwar Mohammad Sarwar Labour, Glasgow Central

I think that my hon. Friend has seen my speech. He reminds me of everything that I want to address later. I shall certainly cover that very important point later.

Photo of Ian Davidson Ian Davidson Labour, Glasgow South West

Does my hon. Friend accept my point about first-class and second-class MSPs? Is it not noticeable that many second-class MSPs stand in the first-past-the-post elections and try to become first-class MSPs, but that none go in the other direction? No first-class MSPs seek to become second-class MSPs?

Photo of Mohammad Sarwar Mohammad Sarwar Labour, Glasgow Central

I shall address that point later.

Photo of Charles Walker Charles Walker Conservative, Broxbourne

What is going on is clearly an absolute outrage. Who is responsible for creating this dog's breakfast in the first place? Who should be held accountable for what is going on in your seat in Glasgow and other parts of Scotland?

Photo of Mohammad Sarwar Mohammad Sarwar Labour, Glasgow Central

The previous Secretary of State for Scotland was fully aware of all those problems. That is why he established the Arbuthnott commission and instructed it to consider the issues and report back. The issue that we are discussing is something that the commission did not address.

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland

Will you address in your remarks the interesting concept that has been brought up about first and second—

Photo of Martin Caton Martin Caton Labour, Gower

Order. Hon. Members' use of "you" when they should be speaking through the Chair is creeping into the debate. Will everybody remember not to do that?

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland

I am sorry, Mr. Caton. My old Scottish Parliament habits are creeping back. I apologise profusely.

Will the hon. Gentleman address the interesting concept that has been raised of first and second-class MSPs in the Scottish Parliament? I am particularly interested to hear about that distinction because he will know that we were recently told, on the Floor of the House, that Westminster would not be workable if we had first and second-class MPs, so how is Scottish Parliament sustainable with first and second-class MSPs?

Photo of Mohammad Sarwar Mohammad Sarwar Labour, Glasgow Central

I am happy to answer the hon. Gentleman, who is an important member of my Committee. I used to value the Conservatives in my Committee at £1 million, but now, with inflation, I think it has gone up to £1.4 million.

The British Parliament is the Parliament of the United Kingdom. We can discuss many issues, but we cannot afford to have two classes of MPs in the British Parliament. My view is very clear. The nationalists at least know what they want to do—they want to break up the union and to divorce themselves from Britain—but the Conservatives are helping the Scottish nationalists' cause by saying that we should have two classes of MPs. Conservative Members on both the Front and Back Benches should know that we should have one class of MP only in British Parliament.

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland

Whatever the hon. Gentleman says on that, why is he perpetrating the view that there are two classes of MSPs?

Photo of Mohammad Sarwar Mohammad Sarwar Labour, Glasgow Central

I do not think that anyone is saying that the people on the list should not participate in or vote on legislative issues in Scotland. Nobody in the Chamber thinks or advocates that.

Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Spokesperson (International Development)

I do not know why Labour Members will not recognise or acknowledge that there are two classes of Members of Parliament in this House. There are Members like ourselves who represent Scottish constituencies, and Members such as Mr. Walker who have a full say on all the issues, such as criminal justice, health and education, in their constituencies. We do not have a full say on those matters in our constituencies, so we are clearly of a different class from the hon. Member for Broxbourne. The absurd thing about that is that although I cannot have a say about those things in relation to my constituency, I can in relation to the constituency of the hon. Member for Broxbourne. That is the absurdity; that is the two classes of MP in this House.

Photo of Mohammad Sarwar Mohammad Sarwar Labour, Glasgow Central

That issue does not concern only Scotland and England; we face that issue in relation to Northern Ireland, Wales and Greater London. If the hon. Gentleman feels in his heart that we should not break up the Union, he will think differently and will not appreciate the Conservative point of view that there should be two classes of MP in the Westminster Parliament.

Photo of Katy Clark Katy Clark Labour, North Ayrshire and Arran

Does my hon. Friend agree that if English people wish to opt for some form of English regional government, that is a matter for them? The purpose of this place is to be a Parliament for all the nations of these islands. That is essential to what we are debating today.

Photo of Mohammad Sarwar Mohammad Sarwar Labour, Glasgow Central

Yes, if the people in England want devolution for the regions and want to bring power closer to the people, nobody is preventing them from taking that option. In fact, if Conservative Members of Parliament want to opt for devolution and want people to be in charge of their own destinies in the regions, we would be happy to support them.

As you will know better than I do, Mr. Caton, the Government of Wales Bill seeks to rectify a similar situation concerning elections to the National Assembly for Wales. The Bill includes clauses to prohibit prospective Welsh Assembly Members standing in individual constituencies and on a regional list. I am pleased for the people of Wales that such sensible legislation has been introduced—well done. I have no hesitation in following a good example, wherever it comes from, be it Wales, England or any other part of the United Kingdom. I hope that the Bill becomes law shortly in Wales. However, if dual candidacy is not considered acceptable for the people of Wales, why is it considered perfectly acceptable for the people of Scotland? I hope that the Minister will be able to answer me on this issue.

K

The people of England do not want regional government they want an English Parliament to decide on matters effecting England.

Submitted by Kevin Wells

Photo of Jo Swinson Jo Swinson Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Scotland)

Does the hon. Gentleman not accept that the whole issue of dual candidacy would cease to be relevant if the Arbuthnott commission had recommended, as it should have done, STV for Holyrood elections? Everybody would be elected on the same basis, but the system would still be proportional and would therefore fairly represent the views of the people of Scotland.

Photo of Mohammad Sarwar Mohammad Sarwar Labour, Glasgow Central

If STV is to be introduced—it is involved in the coming elections—it will be a positive step forward: we would at least have the same class of MSPs elected the same way.

Photo of Katy Clark Katy Clark Labour, North Ayrshire and Arran

I am slightly concerned by my hon. Friend's suggestion that the whole of the Scottish Parliament should be elected by single transferable vote. We already know that the list MSPs that we have tend to focus on a small patch of the areas that they represent. They tend to focus on part of the huge area for which they are elected. They choose such areas, and it is not a matter for which they have any responsibility. Large parts of Scotland may find that they effectively do not have MSPs who will truly engage with the issues of those communities if everything were to be elected by STV.

Photo of Mohammad Sarwar Mohammad Sarwar Labour, Glasgow Central

The Arbuthnott commission has addressed the issue and recognised that there is a problem, but, unfortunately, it did not come up with any solution. That is the problem. I am not a great advocate of STV or any other system; I am saying that it will be confusing for our electorate in our constituencies if we are to have four different systems to elect four different bodies. That is my prime concern.

I have some suggestions to make if everybody is happy for STV to be involved. My suggestion for rectifying the interference by MSPs is simple, but would be effective. Two Westminster constituencies could be joined together to make one Holyrood constituency. The new units would elect four MSPs by STV, which would mean a total of 118 MSPs, and I would contend that that is a sufficient number. I am sure that some hon. Members will say that it is more than enough.

Photo of Ian Davidson Ian Davidson Labour, Glasgow South West

May I suggest to my hon. Friend and neighbour that he is making an assumption about my view? I have reservations about reducing the existing number of MSPs; my anxiety is maintaining the constituency link. While I can see the point of joining two constituencies together and having such areas elect four MSPs, would it not be even better if we simply had two Holyrood MSPs for each Westminster constituency, to be elected on the basis of one man and one woman from each constituency, thereby giving a gender balance and reducing the number of MSPs?

Photo of Mohammad Sarwar Mohammad Sarwar Labour, Glasgow Central

An even better proposal came from my hon. Friend Mr. Donohoe, who is unfortunately not present. He suggested that if there must be a proportionality element, we could elect 118 by first past the post and 11 using proportionality.

If Holyrood insisted that it could not do with fewer than the current 129 MSPs, my solution would be that the large rural constituencies could elect five MSPs to represent two Westminster constituencies. In paragraph 4.34, the commission set out comprehensively the benefits of electing the Scottish Parliament by STV, citing, for example, that it would remove the problem of two classes of MSP, which has been mentioned many times during this debate, and that it would remove confusion over the use of a "second" vote. Unfortunately, the commission seemed to lose its nerve, and paragraph 4.35 raises a number of what it describes as

"weaknesses when compared to a mixed member system".

One weakness mentioned was that it complicates the act of voting. What is more complicated than having four voting systems for four types of elections?

I believe the commission missed a great opportunity, by not recommending the obvious solution to voter confusion. If we retain the current situation, the Scottish Labour party has made the sensible suggestion that voters should cast only one vote—my hon. Friend Mr. Devine made a good point about that. The vote should be assumed to be also a vote for their preferred party. Paragraph 4.40 of the commission's report quotes from the Scottish Labour party's submission, which stated:

"There is potential to remove the need for a second vote and allocate the List MSPs on the basis of the constituency vote. This is a straight-forward measure that would simplify the voting system for those participating whilst still ensuring that the electoral system maintains significant proportionality."

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that such a proposal was contained in the Scottish Conservative and Unionist party response to the Arbuthnott commission? On this occasion, we are in agreement.

Photo of Mohammad Sarwar Mohammad Sarwar Labour, Glasgow Central

I am well aware that the Conservative party made a similar proposal. When we make proposals on which there is consensus with the Conservatives, I become a bit doubtful about whether we are doing the right thing. That is why I did not mention this proposal in my submission.

By reducing voter confusion, I believe we could maximise voter participation. My third fundamental issue is that there are two classes of MSPs, as many colleagues have mentioned: the constituency MSP and the list MSP. In paragraphs 4.23 and 4.24, the commission rightly highlights the less than clear role of the list MSP, and that constituency MSPs have accused list MSPs of cherry-picking individual cases, about which my hon. Friend Ms Clark made an eloquent point. The commission does not actually address the issue. The report is therefore disappointing, as it raises the problem, but does not seek to offer a solution.

The final point I would make is about the e-counting of votes. I hope that the Minister will use today's debate as the opportunity to bring the House up to date on what is happening in this area. In particular, I would like to know who will take responsibility if e-voting does not work as well as intended. Will it be the Scotland Office or the Scottish Executive?

I am sure many other hon. Members wish to speak in this debate, so I will now draw my remarks to a conclusion. As I said earlier, this is an important debate and I look forward to hearing what those on the Front Benches and other hon. Members have to say.

Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Spokesperson (International Development) 3:00 pm, 20th July 2006

It is a pleasure to follow Mr. Sarwar who said some sterling things about STV. I hope to convince him to continue down that lonely path on the Labour Back Benches because I think he is on to something that could be fruitful.

I congratulate Sir John Arbuthnott and his commission on a good and measured report. It makes a number of useful and positive recommendations that I believe will help the cause of Scottish democracy. It also deals with a few myths that were beginning to emerge, particularly among Labour Members. It debunked those myths constructively and positively. Sir John was given the massive task of looking at boundaries, voting and representation in Scotland and trying to put the voter first. This is a good report and Sir John went about his business in the diligent and professional way that we expected from one of the most respected academics. It is a testament to him that we are still debating his report a few months later and kicking around some of the issues to ensure that we try to improve on some of his work.

The report is good, but we do not agree with everything in it and there are some issues that I wish he had included, particularly STV, which the hon. Member for Glasgow, Central mentioned, and some that I wish he had emphasised a little more. It is worth looking at the background and the context.

Arbuthnott was asked to produce his report because of demand by hon. Members in this House, particularly Labour Members. I clearly remember them coming to the House week in, week out, saying that something must be done and the matter must be looked at. They came up with stories of constituents who were perplexed, confused and anxious about the different voting systems, coterminosity and so on, and demanded that the then Secretary of State for Scotland, Mr. Darling, do something about it. To his credit, he acted on those concerns and asked Sir John Arbuthnott to set up his commission. It was important that the commission was to be consensual, cross-party and independent, and that was the case because all the parties were represented and all Scottish interests were reflected.

The commission worked diligently and I was particularly impressed by the way in which it sought the advice and views of focus groups and consulted all political parties. I think there were three meetings at Dover house to discuss those issues, and the report fairly and accurately represents the evidence.

Photo of Ian Davidson Ian Davidson Labour, Glasgow South West

The hon. Gentleman mentioned focus groups. Does he accept that the clearest finding from the focus groups was that the electorate preferred the first-past-the-post system because they find it easy, straightforward and preferable to any other complicated system?

Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Spokesperson (International Development)

That is one issue that came from the focus groups, although they also recognised in the same breath that STV would solve some of the coterminosity issues and the problem of different sorts of MSPs. When it came to the focus groups, there was a mixed bag for all of us. Focus groups were a good idea and Arbuthnott produced a good report. Although there are some recommendations that I do not agree with, the report was independent, cross-party and consensual, and the House asked for it. It was demanded by Labour Members. We accept Arbuthnott's proposals because he did his job and he did it well.

We could compare Arbuthnott's consensual approach with the Government of Wales Bill—we discussed it just the other evening—in which the Labour party imposed its will and its view on the unsuspecting Welsh public. The approach was entirely different. The Labour party could do that in Scotland, but if they tinker with democracy, change the voting arrangements and try to improve democracy, it must be with consensus and cross-party support. If a political party imposes its view on a democracy, there is a strong suspicion that it is doing so for its own, narrow, party political interests. That came across clearly in the Government of Wales Bill the other evening.

Photo of Mohammad Sarwar Mohammad Sarwar Labour, Glasgow Central

Anyone can accuse the Labour party of party politics. If we had a first-past-the-post system in Scotland the Scottish Nationalists would have only five MSPs. Is that right?

Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Spokesperson (International Development)

Following the last general election, that is right. If we secured around 20 per cent. of the vote we would have five or six Members of the Scottish Parliament, but on the basis of votes cast we are entitled to many more than that. We must move on from the Jurassic dark days of first past the post. Those days have gone and Labour Members must get used to that, move on and accept that the future is proportional voting because people's votes matter. That is where democracies around the world are going. It is time for hon. Members on the Labour Benches to accept that.

Photo of Katy Clark Katy Clark Labour, North Ayrshire and Arran

In an earlier contribution, it was said that the Labour party introduced the voting system for the Scottish Parliament after many years of consultation in Scotland with a wide range of organisations. In the Scotland Act 1998, the Labour party was generous in the representation that it gave to other political parties and opinions. It could have gone ahead with proposals more akin to Labour's representation at Westminster. Does Pete Wishart agree that in terms of political representation the Scottish Parliament represents Scotland and all its different views in a different way and that by having two sorts of MSP—

Photo of Martin Caton Martin Caton Labour, Gower

Order. This is turning into a speech. Interventions should be short.

Photo of Katy Clark Katy Clark Labour, North Ayrshire and Arran

I apologise, Mr. Caton. I will try to keep my point as short as possible.

One problem is that list MSPs do not have as big a job or as clear a role as constituency Members. Does the hon. Gentleman accept that that should be addressed?

Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Spokesperson (International Development)

I think the hon. Lady is on more solid ground. The point that I was making was that the Arbuthnott commission, the Scottish Office and the Labour party in Scotland went about their business in a different way from that of the Welsh Labour party, which simply imposed its view on an unwilling Welsh electorate. I congratulate the Government on the way in which they approached the matter and for making it cross-party, consensual and independent. That is why the report reached different conclusions from the provisions in the Government of Wales Bill.

On the hon. Lady's second point, I do not accept that there are two different classes of MSP. I observe hard-working constituency Members of the Scottish Parliament, just as I observe Members of the Scottish Parliament who do almost next to nothing, and I observe hard-working list Members and list Members who do almost nothing. The difference in class is the difference in the quality of work from Members of the Scottish Parliament. That is the only distinction.

The way in which Arbuthnott approached the matter was positive and I hope that we see more of that sort of thing. We should try to do things consensually and with cross-party representation in future because there are many things we can agree on. I agree with the remarks of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Central about proportional representation. There is growing consensus among some Labour Members, Liberal Democrats and Scottish National party Members about that, which could help to drive the matter forward, with a strong and vigorous case for proportional representation in future.

I know that hon. Members are disappointed. I could sense that from some of the interventions. The Labour party in Scotland did not get what it wanted from Arbuthnott, but that is just too bad. We did not get what we wanted, but we accept the report and all its conclusions and recommendations. The Labour party in Scotland should also accept it.

I know that the Labour party in Scotland is disappointed that Arbuthnott did not say something about dual candidacy. In fact, the report received the same evidence as the Labour party in Wales about dual candidacy, but came to a totally different conclusion about the operation of dual candidates for the Scottish Parliament. Arbuthnott said of dual candidacy that trying to stop constituency Members of the Scottish Parliament standing in the list would be undemocratic and would place an unnecessary restriction on the democratic rights of potential candidates and local electors to have as unrestricted a choice as possible.

Arbuthnott looked at other democracies with mixed member proportional representation and found that in some of those legislatures there was a requirement for constituency Members to stand in the list to try to improve the choice for voters. A theme that runs through the report is putting the citizen first, not Labour Back Benchers. That is why Arbuthnott came up with his conclusions about dual candidacy. He said that dual candidacy only presents a problem

"to some people here because of the legacy of constituency representation within British political culture and the hegemony which this has secured for some parties."

He recognised that the first-past-the-post system has served some political parties particularly well over the past 100 years. That goes back to the point made by Ms Katy Clark that of course certain parties will do best. That suited the Labour party in Scotland for years and years, but does it suit the voter? I would contend that it does not. The voter wants to ensure that their vote matters. What is the point of voting in elections if they will only get a massive Labour majority once again? What is wrong with making votes matter and ensuring that the votes of those who elect a particular legislature are fairly reflected? Surely, that is a principle of genuine democracy.

I sat through some of the debate on the Government of Wales Bill. It was a shame that the Welsh people did not have the protection afforded by an independent commission looking into the issue. Instead, they had the straitjacket of the Welsh Labour party imposing its particular views.

I have heard some curious remarks about dual candidacy in the past year, and it is unfortunate that Mr. Devine is no longer in his place, because I think that he referred to dual candidacy as an affront to democracy. I shall tell you what is an affront to democracy, Mr. Caton: hon. Members from Scotland deciding crucial votes in this Parliament in England, when the issues have nothing to do with us or the constituents whom we represent, and when we can never be held accountable or responsible. That issue will develop and gain strength in the next few months.

I do not detect that those who come to me are clamouring to talk about their concerns about different voting systems or about candidates for the Scottish Parliament standing on the list and for the region. What I do detect, however, is a grievance emerging down here in England about the role of Scottish Members of Parliament, and that must be addressed.

Photo of Mark Lazarowicz Mark Lazarowicz Labour, Edinburgh North and Leith

I should explain that I did not hear the first part of the hon. Gentleman's contribution because I was attending the important debate in the main Chamber. As he will know, many Labour Members do not agree with some colleagues' arguments as regards dual candidacies. I am quite happy with what the Arbuthnott report says about the issue. However, rather than being an analysis of the Arbuthnott report, the hon. Gentleman's last point strayed into the world of sectarian politics. Do I take it from what he says that the SNP, having failed to persuade the people of Scotland that they want independence, has adopted a policy of getting the people of England to throw Scotland out of the Union as the second-best way of reaching its objective?

Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Spokesperson (International Development)

I did not know that that was the analysis, so I will leave that one firmly alone. However, like me, the hon. Gentleman probably saw the front page of the Sunday Mail, which suggested that a third of English people want independence for England. There are two reasons why that is happening—[Interruption.] I see the incredulity on the faces of the Minister and some Labour Back Benchers, but a third of English people now want independence for England. If the poll had happened 10, five or two years ago, a miniscule number of people would have supported independence for England. However, the number who do is growing and will soon become a majority, unless the issue is addressed.

Photo of Mark Lazarowicz Mark Lazarowicz Labour, Edinburgh North and Leith

As a matter of fact, the proportion of people in England who say that they do not want to be part of the Union has not changed significantly over decades. There has not been a great increase in the figure, and the hon. Gentleman would have found that it was not particularly dissimilar 10 or 20 years ago, if my recollection of opinion polls and surveys is correct.

Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Spokesperson (International Development)

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's contribution, but in researching my speech—[Hon. Members: "Research?"] Believe me, it has been researched. In researching my speech, I tried to find polling evidence on that question, but I could not, so if the hon. Gentleman has any, I would love to see it.

Photo of Charles Walker Charles Walker Conservative, Broxbourne

As the only English Member of Parliament present, let me say that my postbag is increasingly full of letters from constituents who express concerns about the settlement with Scotland, so the hon. Gentleman might be on to something.

Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Spokesperson (International Development)

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I am on to something. Two things are happening just now, and I am sure that you have detected this, too, Mr. Caton. One is that a new sense of English political nationalism is developing, which is a good thing. We saw that reflected in the use of England flags during the World cup. That development should be welcomed, but it is looking for a new type of representation, and it is unfortunate that the Conservatives have backed off from trying to represent such views. Having said that, I should add that I have no idea what Conservative policy is, although I am sure that we shall hear about it later from David Mundell. A new, defined sense of English nationalism is emerging in the opinion polls.

The second thing that is happening is more disturbing. There is a growing sense of grievance in England, which we see reflected in several debates, including those that are taking place just now on funding issues. That is particularly true of the Barnett formula and the totally erroneous view that we in Scotland are subsidised to the hilt. English metropolitan commentators and Members believe that Scotland is somehow subsidised to the tune of—well, God knows what it is this week, but it gets more and more fantastic the more we look at it.

We also see this new development reflected in the way in which Scottish Members are looked at down here and in the way in which we are supposed to support a particular football team. All those things are coming together. However, the one thing that informs and defines the debate is the issue of Scottish Members' voting rights in this place. I am certain that the constituency postbag of Mr. Walker will be full of letters about that, because I am seeing genuine concern about it down here. People recognise that the situation is unfair, and no democratic argument can be made—

Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Spokesperson (International Development)

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will try to make a democratic argument for Scottish Members coming down here and voting on certain English measures.

Photo of Ian Davidson Ian Davidson Labour, Glasgow South West

Will the hon. Gentleman clarify why he believes that the issue did not arise in previous years, when the same situation applied to Northern Irish Members? Why does he think that it is arising only now in relation to Scottish Members? Could it have something to do with the fact that the next leader of the Labour party, and the next Prime Minister, is from a Scottish constituency?

Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Spokesperson (International Development)

That might well be the case, but I cannot say why it did not arise in relation to Northern Ireland. All I know is that it is an issue now and a massive problem. It is the defining constitutional issue of this Parliament, and the debate on it will be had and will be concluded—it has to be, because the situation is just not fair.

Labour Members have tried to answer the West Lothian question. They say that we will somehow create two different classes of Members of Parliament, but as I said in an intervention, we are already two different classes, and hon. Members should get used to it. I have no say on education, health or criminal justice matters in my constituency, but the hon. Member for Broxbourne has a say on all those issues in his constituency.

Photo of Mohammad Sarwar Mohammad Sarwar Labour, Glasgow Central

The hon. Gentleman talks about two classes of MPs in the British Parliament, where all MPs are elected under the first-past-the-post system. However, in Glasgow, for example, we receive almost 200,000 votes, but we do not have even one list MSP in the Glasgow region. How can the hon. Gentleman justify that?

Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Spokesperson (International Development)

I did not create that system; it was the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues who put together the voting arrangements for the Scottish Parliament. I do not think that the system is perfect and I am not going to get into the business of defending it, because it is not my system—it is the system of the Labour and Liberal parties. On the hon. Gentleman's point, however, there are two classes of Members of Parliament, so the fact that some of us will somehow become a different class does not make any difference—we are a different class already.

Photo of Mohammad Sarwar Mohammad Sarwar Labour, Glasgow Central

Obviously, the hon. Gentleman is stressing the fact that there are two classes of MP in the UK Parliament. What is his message to the leader of the Scottish nationalists in the Scottish Parliament, who is a second-class MSP?

Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Spokesperson (International Development)

I do not want to debate classes of MSP, because that would not be particularly useful, and it would not help us. If we—[Interruption.] Well, I will answer that. If we become the Executive next year, which looks increasingly likely, we will seek to introduce the single transferable vote system. The hon. Member for Glasgow, Central thinks that that system is a sensible solution, and, indeed, it is the only sensible solution to the problem of ensuring that all Members of the Scottish Parliament are the same. It is the only solution that will work under the existing rules, which the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues created in the Scotland Act 1998. We tried to improve that legislation as it went through the House, but we are now stuck with the present system and we will contest things democratically and fairly in the way that the rules suggest.

When Labour Members do get into the business of responding to the West Lothian question, they say that it cannot be answered, because that would create more anomalies. It is the biggest constitutional issue that we have in this Parliament, but they say that they cannot answer it, because that would create further anomalies. That is not a very satisfactory response, and it will certainly go nowhere near dampening down the sense of grievance that is emerging on the issue.

Photo of Ian Davidson Ian Davidson Labour, Glasgow South West

The hon. Gentleman raises the issue of anomalies, but is he aware that, some time in years past, the Educational Institute of Scotland held a demonstration at which the main slogan was "Rectify the anomalies", so the issue was capable of mobilising quite a number of people? Let me just point out to the hon. Gentleman that, by his logic, there are not just two categories of Member, but five. The Scots' position is different from that of the Welsh, whose position is different from that of Members from Northern Ireland, whose position, in turn, is different from that of English Members in London and other English Members. It is therefore false to say that there are two classes of Member; under the hon. Gentleman's argument, there would be five.

Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Spokesperson (International Development)

The hon. Gentleman is once again correct and perceptive. What is, then, the problem in creating another class of Members of Parliament, who do not get involved in voting on legislation that has nothing to do with them? If it is all right to have such different classes of Members of Parliament, let us have another, fairer, more democratic class.

I have been intrigued and fascinated in the past year because Labour Members have been telling the Conservative party that somehow it has been playing fast and loose with the Union, in trying to address the debate. I say that it is not the Conservative party that is playing fast and loose, when it tries to answer the West Lothian question. It is by refusing to answer it that my cause is helped. I believe passionately in normality and independence for my nation, so please do not answer the West Lothian question. You guys are helping my cause immensely by letting it sit and leaving it unanswered. All that you are doing is adding to the frustration of the constituents of the hon. Member for Broxbourne as well as the general frustration and sense of injustice down in this part of the country. In the end, not just 31 per cent., or a third, of English voters will want English independence; soon a majority will want it. If the question remains unanswered that is what will happen—but it will be addressed. It has to be. It is not fair or just. I think that everyone in this Room agrees that the West Lothian question will at some point have to be answered. The Scottish Affairs Committee did us a great favour by recognising that something had to be done. You gave us the four options.

Photo of Martin Caton Martin Caton Labour, Gower

Order. The word "you" is back in the debate. Can hon. Members use the right form of address?

Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Spokesperson (International Development)

I am sorry. I take your rebuke seriously, Mr. Caton. The Select Committee did us a great favour by suggesting that the current arrangements were untenable.

Photo of David Cairns David Cairns Parliamentary Under-Secretary (also Scotland Office), Scotland Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (also Scotland Office), Northern Ireland Office

The hon. Gentleman has praised highly Scottish Affairs Committee reports, but he has spent the past 19 minutes referring to a completely different report from the one that we are debating. Perhaps he could give us the benefit of his wisdom on the issues dealt with in this report, which is not concerned with the West Lothian question. That is covered by a completely different report. What does he think of the one before us?

Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Spokesperson (International Development)

I think that I have said that it is a good report, but we have had few opportunities to discuss these issues. We must acknowledge that the concern has been a pressing one and that the Select Committee did us a great favour by highlighting the four possible solutions to the West Lothian question. Of the four, only one would work. That must be independence and mutual self-respect for both nations. It is the only one that could work. All the other different responses would lead only to the anomalies that hon. Members have been wrestling with in the past few years.

The Conservatives have suggested certification. I think that that is this week's policy. I do not know if it is still a "constitutional abortion", as Sir Malcolm Rifkind called it. It is one solution that could possibly help, but there are still anomalies.

Let us consider the issue of tuition fees. The explanatory notes to the legislation refer to "England and Wales only", but the impact of tuition fees on Scotland is massive.

Photo of Mohammad Sarwar Mohammad Sarwar Labour, Glasgow Central

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that we are today debating the Arbuthnott commission report, and not the other one? He has spent 10 minutes praising the Arbuthnott commission report, but in the end has said that he disagrees about the list system and first past the post, as his preferred option, and supports STV. What is his position?

Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Spokesperson (International Development)

I accept the Arbuthnott commission's report and its recommendations. I think that I said that. It is a good report and its recommendations will help to deal with some of the issues that we confront. It is correct that my own position is to prefer the single transferable vote. That is what we would propose for dealing with some of the anomalies in the Scottish Parliament. I think that it would be the right approach, but I accept Arbuthnott and its recommendations. Some of the things that I have heard from Labour Members amount almost to rubbishing and disparaging Arbuthnott, and that does Sir John Arbuthnott and the people who served on the commission a great disservice. I wish that Labour Members would stop doing that, because it was the Scottish Labour party in particular that asked for, or demanded, the report, and said that something should be done. It must therefore accept the recommendations.

Photo of Ian Davidson Ian Davidson Labour, Glasgow South West

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that many of us who wanted the issues to be examined recognised, as soon as we saw the membership and the remit, that the whole thing was rigged? Part of the remit of the Arbuthnott commission was to preserve the proportional balance of the Scottish Parliament. Given that starting point, the changes for which many of us would have argued were instantly ruled out. In those circumstances it was not possible for Arbuthnott to produce anything along the lines that many of us wanted.

Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Spokesperson (International Development)

That is the very point that I am making. That is where we start to criticise Arbuthnott, the process and the way that Sir John went about his business. I think that it is grossly unfair, and it is unfortunate that the hon. Gentleman says such things and feels that way. Obviously, the things he says are sincerely felt. I know that Arbuthnott came up with the wrong answer and conclusions for the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends. In some respects it came up with the wrong answers for me, too, but I accept it. I accept that the process was right, fair, appropriate and responsible, and I just wish that we could all say that there is something in Arbuthnott that will help to improve our democracy for the next election and the one after.

Photo of Ian Davidson Ian Davidson Labour, Glasgow South West

I am sorry if I did not make myself clear. I did not suggest that Sir John, a man with more than 13 degrees, did not go about his business properly. The problem was that his business was rigged beforehand. With the mandate that he was given, he did his job perfectly adequately. However, the remit was so restricted by the requirement that proportional representation had to be maintained for the Scottish Parliament elections that an entire area that I, and many other hon. Members, would have wanted to investigate, was instantaneously ruled out. In those circumstances it is inevitable that we would be unhappy with the conclusions.

Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Spokesperson (International Development)

If it was rigged, it was rigged by the hon. Gentleman's hon. Friend, the Secretary of State, who set up the remit of the commission. The Scottish National party did not do it—the Secretary of State and the Scotland Office did it. There is no point in saying that it is an issue for me. The hon. Gentleman should direct his points to his hon. Friend, the Minister, and see what response he gets. He will I am sure do that when the Minister gets to his feet, but it is not an issue for me.

I realise that I have been speaking for some time, Mr. Caton, so I shall conclude. I have been disappointed by some of the remarks that have been made about Arbuthnott. The remarks that have been made along the lines of "an affront to democracy" about dual candidacy do hon. Members no favours. Arbuthnott looked at the issues in the cold light of day, independently and consensually, and drew his conclusions. The affront to democracy, as I have said, is our role here in this Parliament. That is what must be addressed—not the fables about dual candidacy. The real issue is the voting rights of Scots Members in this place. After the opinion poll and the evidence that a majority of people in Scotland favour independence, we are now edging forward to somewhere where both our nations will have mutual self-respect and normality and be good neighbours. England will lose its surly lodger and gain a good neighbour. That day is coming soon.

Photo of Charles Walker Charles Walker Conservative, Broxbourne 3:27 pm, 20th July 2006

Thank you for calling me to speak in this important debate, Mr. Caton. It is a great pleasure to be here this afternoon as the English Member of Parliament. I want to start by saying how much I enjoyed being a member of the Scottish Affairs Committee. I very much enjoyed the company of my colleagues, who are great men and women, and the chairmanship of our Chairman, a great man who is very fair in the way he allocates time to hon. Members. Before my opening remarks get too crawly, I want to conclude them by saying that I have a great love for Scotland. I go there on holiday every year. I know that that does not qualify me as a Scot, but I love it greatly; probably a little more than my wife, but she does not like the midges, for which I have a great affinity, as they do an important job.

Photo of Charles Walker Charles Walker Conservative, Broxbourne

Well, if you wear Avon Skin-So-Soft they leave you alone. The good thing about them, to get to the point of the hon. Lady's question, is that they keep a lot of other English people away from where I go on holiday in Scotland, so that there is more room for me and my family on the beach.

My constituents in Broxbourne are concerned about what they perceive as a democratic deficit between Scottish MPs, MSPs and, of course, their own representative and other English MPs. For example, let us take a well-worn cliché, the smoking debate. That was decided in Scotland by Scottish MSPs. Quite rightly, Parliament debated it in this part of the world, and Scottish MPs voted on a matter that related solely to England. I think that that applied to fox hunting as well.

The issue that concerns my constituents in Hertfordshire, especially in respect of the NHS, is that we face significant cuts and reductions in services. There is a financial crisis in my part of the world and it strikes my constituents as odd that their future health care could be subject to votes cast by Scottish Members of Parliament. It is a real concern, which needs to be addressed.

I am aware that Lord Forsyth had a fairly novel idea about how to deal with that; just get rid of all MSPs, all 129 of them. Some Labour Members might think that is a good idea, others might be appalled. We do not actually replace those MSPs. We would have Scottish Members of Parliament who sit up in Holyrood in Edinburgh debating and voting on Scottish issues on Monday and Tuesday—they can have my hon. Friend Mr. Mundell for those two days as well—and myself and my English colleagues can sit in England on Monday and Tuesday debating English matters. On Wednesday and Thursday we all get together to have a big old discussion on things that affect the Union. That seems to me to be a very sensible idea. If the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland does not think it is a sensible idea, I suggest that it is an idea worth considering; it has some merit.

Photo of Charles Walker Charles Walker Conservative, Broxbourne

No, I have not, but I say to the Minister that I stand here today as a non-partisan member of the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs. I am speaking on my own behalf and on behalf of my constituents. If this is the end of my political career, I have enjoyed the last 19 months very much. I hope that this speech does not result in my being removed from the Scottish Affairs Committee and packed off to Ireland, because that truly would be a disaster—not that I have anything against Ireland; it is a wonderful country, but I have a greater affinity with Scotland.

There are other things that vex my constituents in Broxbourne—for example, the funding settlement between our two great nations. My constituents frequently write to me asking why we in the east of England get £5,800 per head in public expenditure, but in Scotland they get £8,200 per head. I do not want to make a partisan point because I have been to Scotland: I have been to the Shetlands, the Orkneys, the highlands and the islands and there are huge distances that need to be travelled. There are a range of issues that mean that Scotland, geographically for a start, is very different from the south-east and the east. But it would be useful if Parliament could have an honest and open debate without prejudging the findings as to the nature of the settlement between Scotland and England, perhaps for no other reason than to lance the growing discontent among my constituents. Perhaps there is a very, very good reason why Scotland gets more money, £2,401 per head more money than for the equivalent people in my constituency.

Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Spokesperson (International Development)

I cannot let the hon. Gentleman get away with that point. He knows, as I do, that the subsidy debate is a bit more complicated than that. When we are talking about the figures he mentioned, what we are seeing is identifiable spending. There is so much more unidentifiable spending—for example, money spent on the civil service in London and taxation from North sea gas and oil, which all has to be factored in. There is a massive debate to be had about who subsidies who.

Photo of Martin Caton Martin Caton Labour, Gower

Order. I have allowed the debate to range very widely indeed, but we are straying a little too far from the subject we are discussing.

Photo of Charles Walker Charles Walker Conservative, Broxbourne

I agree with you, Mr. Caton. The hon. Gentleman makes my point for me. What we should not fear is having that debate. There should not be a conspiracy of silence between the Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat, and Scottish National parties as to why these differences occur. We should just have an open and honest debate.

I want to move specifically to the Arbuthnott report; that has brought a smile to the Minister's face. It is important that people know who represents them. In the south-east and east we have proportional representation for the selection of MEPs. There is absolutely no accountability. It used to be the case before that system was brought in that people had a vague notion who their MEP was. They knew who was representing them in Europe but now they have no notion at all. You could stop a thousand people in Broxbourne, Cambridge and so on and ask them who is their MEP and I doubt that one would have any idea, because there is no accountability.

I urge the Minister, when he is considering voting systems in Scotland especially for local elections, to think how important it is for people locally to know who their councillor is and to be able to put a name, a face and a party to that person. Although STV may have worked and probably does work at a national level in Scotland, taking it down to a local government level would be making things just a little too granular.

Photo of Jo Swinson Jo Swinson Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Scotland)

Does the hon. Gentleman have any multi-member wards in his constituency for local government elections and is that a huge problem? Does he therefore propose all single-member wards?

Photo of Charles Walker Charles Walker Conservative, Broxbourne

When the hon. Lady says multi-member wards, I think of wards with three councillors and mixed representation. Is that what she means?

Photo of Charles Walker Charles Walker Conservative, Broxbourne

There are two cases in my constituency. The Rosedale ward is a multi-member ward. There is an outstanding councillor called David Lewis who is a Conservative, and a man who is a member of the BNP; I will work tirelessly to get rid of him. He is useless, our councillor is extremely good. I congratulate the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire on allowing me to make that point.

There is also a mixed-member ward in Waltham Cross, where there are two Labour councillors and a Conservative councillor, but the way we do elections down south means that we have an election every year, so that only one person in each ward stands. People in Waltham Cross knew that this year they were going to the polls either to return a Labour councillor or to re-elect a Conservative councillor. They knew exactly who they were voting for, and which party.

Photo of Jo Swinson Jo Swinson Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Scotland)

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that that is not the case in all local authorities in England. In some areas they have a ward with three councillors who are elected once every four years. Is he proposing to change that system?

Photo of Charles Walker Charles Walker Conservative, Broxbourne

No, I am not proposing to change that system. There are various systems used in this country; I am speaking purely from my experience on what I believe works best. I believe that a single transferable vote in local government would create more confusion and as the turnout in local elections is getting lower and lower, it could push the turnout in the wrong direction rather than bringing it back in the right direction.

I conclude by apologising for my massive ramble across the sunlit uplands of the democratic system in Scotland and England. Thank you for allowing me to speak in this debate, Mr. Caton. I have probably said more than I should have done, so I will sit down.

Photo of Ian Davidson Ian Davidson Labour, Glasgow South West 3:37 pm, 20th July 2006

It is with some pleasure that I follow Mr. Walker who gave us the very interesting notion that if you vote Tory, you get midges. At the last election, we said that if you vote Liberal you would get Tories, but that is a further variation on that theme.

It is also very interesting that the hon. Gentleman drew to our attention the fact that he loves Scotland more than his wife. I am not sure whether he loves Scotland more than his wife loves Scotland, or he loves Scotland more than he loves his wife. Perhaps he should clarify that before he goes home this evening.

Photo of Charles Walker Charles Walker Conservative, Broxbourne

I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. I love my wife very much; I love Scotland a great deal and I probably love being in Scotland more than she loves being in Scotland, although she, too, likes Scotland very much.

Photo of Ian Davidson Ian Davidson Labour, Glasgow South West

Possibly on a future occasion we will hear the hon. Gentleman's wife's view of midges.

I am speaking in an Adjournment debate on the last Thursday of the Session, which the Government gave us as an alternative to a meeting of the Scottish Grand Committee. I am not sure that that option has been as successful as it might have been. Resurrecting the Scottish Grand Committee in order to have more regular debates on Scottish issues in Westminster is perhaps something that should be considered further.

I want to consider the question of Arbuthnott in the context of the points that I made earlier about it having been a fix from the very beginning. The results were determined by the make up of the commission, but in particular by the remit which ruled out any re-examination of proportional representation for the Scottish Parliament. If, during consideration of how to harmonise voting systems, one system cannot be considered, matters will be skewed towards a proportional bent. I regret that, and the way in which consideration was undertaken without proper debate early in the process. I worry that some people deliberately seek to drive a wedge between Westminster and Holyrood, accentuating not only disagreements but differences.

On boundaries, there would have been more opportunities to work with our Scottish Parliament colleagues had we shared the same or contiguous boundaries. Whether there were two Westminster Members to four Scottish Parliament Members, as my hon. Friend Mr. Sarwar suggested, or one Westminster constituency with two Members of the Scottish Parliament and a smaller number of top-ups, as others have suggested, we would work more closely than we do now in our devolved and disparate state. We must consider whose interests are served by driving that wedge between us.

I do not support the first-past-the-post system, but Professor Arbuthnott and his commission did not adequately address two issues that arise from the two-ballot system. First, that system creates two classes of MSP: the first-class MSPs from the constituency section, and the top-up MSPs, who regard themselves as second-class, because they spend so much time trying to become first-class MSPs.

I represented the parliamentary constituency of Glasgow Pollok until last year's general election, and I still represent a large chunk of it. Back then, it was noticeable that Johann Lamont, the Labour and Co-operative party MSP for that constituency, was frequently pursued by two list MSPs. One, Tommy Sheridan, was elected for the Scottish Socialist party. [Interruption.] It is noticeable that the very mention of his name brings laughter from all parties in this Chamber.

I should clarify "pursued". Mr. Sheridan sought regularly to attend the same meetings as Johann Lamont, and he presented himself as the MSP for Glasgow Pollok. Kenny Gibson, a list MSP for the Scottish National party and a councillor in part of the Glasgow Pollok constituency, also attended many meetings in the area, similarly presenting himself as the MSP for Glasgow Pollok. Mr. Sheridan and Mr. Gibson stood for Glasgow Pollok in the subsequent Scottish Parliament elections. I am glad to say that they were roundly defeated. However, they spent a long period trying to persuade the electorate that they were MSPs for that area. Few if any MSPs elected by first-past-the-post seek to become list MSPs, which indicates their priorities.

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland

I do not understand the hon. Gentleman's point, which others make, too, because the Scottish Parliament has a corporate body on which the Labour party is represented. That body has made rules about how MSPs may act, but despite such concerns, it has not moved forward and the hon. Gentleman's Labour colleagues in the Scottish Parliament have not brought any pressure on the correct forum, the corporate body, to make clearer the rules about the roles of regional and constituency MSPs. Even without the Arbuthnott commission, if the Scottish Parliament were sitting, that could be done tomorrow.

Photo of Ian Davidson Ian Davidson Labour, Glasgow South West

I understand that many of my Holyrood colleagues have made that point but have been unable to attain the satisfaction about the make-up and structure of the Scottish Parliament that they desire.

My second point about the two-ballot structure, which no one has touched on, is that in Glasgow, Labour votes in the second ballot are wasted. Labour is successful in the first-past-the-post section, winning 10 out of 10 seats last time, but it means that unless we get 135 per cent. of the votes in the second ballot, we cannot have anyone elected in the top-up section. If one knows that one's vote for one's first choice in the second ballot is not likely to succeed, the second ballot becomes second choice. That is ridiculous and anomalous and it ought to be addressed.

That situation does not apply in all parts of Scotland, however. I said that a Labour vote was effectively wasted in Glasgow, and some bad thinkers presumed that I meant that nobody should vote Labour in other parts of Scotland in the second ballot. My point does not apply in those circumstances, and I look forward to seeing Labour Scottish parliamentary candidates elected on the list in several areas. However, it undoubtedly applies in Glasgow. Any solution that fails to address that will fail to address one of the main issues.

Many of my constituents who vote Labour in the general election, the first ballots for the Scottish Parliament and the local authority elections have to opt for their second choice in the second Scottish ballot. They go in various directions. I regret that the issue has not been considered.

Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Spokesperson (International Development)

I hope that it will not be such a big issue in the next elections, as I predict that a number of Labour seats will fall in Glasgow during the great wipe-out that we expect next year. However, does the hon. Gentleman agree that the new ballot paper is helpful? It will specify the second vote first, and then the constituency candidate. Will not that assuage his fears about the second vote?

Photo of Ian Davidson Ian Davidson Labour, Glasgow South West

If the hon. Gentleman assumes that the second vote will be first and the first vote second, will he clarify how it will make any difference to people casting their votes? They will regard the vote that they cast for the first-past-the-post seat, the first-class seat, as the most important. They will still have to choose where to cast their second vote, even though it might be first on the ballot paper. They will know, because we will tell them, that in Glasgow, there is no point voting Labour in the second ballot, so if they want their vote to count, they will have to identify someone else to vote for.

It is widely known that I was always in favour of the Co-operative party standing in the second ballot in parts of Scotland where it would have been beneficial. I am a Labour and Co-operative Member of Parliament at Westminster. It makes sense in such circumstances for the parties to run joint candidates. It would make equal sense in Glasgow to run separate candidates next time, with the Labour party not standing in the second ballot. The strategy might apply elsewhere, too. My main regret is that the issue has not been addressed.

Arbuthnott ought to have considered other issues, too, such as the discrepancy in constituency sizes. The Liberals have an MSP elected for Orkney. Had the same number of votes been cast in East Kilbride for that Liberal candidate, he would have come not first, second, third or fourth, but fifth. It seems unfair that constituency sizes are skewed in favour of some areas rather than others. Arbuthnott ought to have examined the issue more carefully.

Photo of Jo Swinson Jo Swinson Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Scotland)

Does not the hon. Gentleman accept that in island communities such as Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles, there are such different circumstances that it makes sense to create specific representation solutions not only for the Scottish Parliament, but for Westminster, where such solutions have existed for a long time, even if on the Scottish mainland there is greater parity?

Photo of Ian Davidson Ian Davidson Labour, Glasgow South West

There are undoubtedly difficulties in those areas. I am not entirely sure how best they ought to be addressed, as two conflicting issues have to be dealt with at the same time. One is sparsity, rurality and so on, and the other is the question of equal votes of equal value. The two are clearly incompatible and the fact that Arbuthnott did not consider the issue at all seems to be a noticeable omission.

I recognise that those who represent scattered and widespread constituencies, if they were given equal numbers of electors, would certainly require additional resources to ensure that they could provide a decent service to their constituents. When the European Parliament was elected on a first-past-the-post basis, Dr. Ewing, who represented Argyll and the Highlands, if I remember correctly, was given a large amount of additional resources to allow her to travel though her constituency and to employ additional staff to serve that widespread area. I am not sure what exactly the balance ought to be, but it is undoubtedly an issue and it is to be regretted that the Arbuthnott commission did not examine it in any way whatsoever.

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland

I am a little confused by what the hon. Gentleman is saying. The Arbuthnott commission addressed the issue of the number of representatives to geographical area. That was one of the reasons he gave in his evidence and in the report for not recommending the introduction of the single transferable vote across Scotland. The highlands and islands would have seen a reduction in the number of Members and Arbuthnott said in his evidence to the Committee that he thought that the geographical area that would have to be covered by those who were elected to represent the highlands and islands would have been too great. Although he did not consider the specific issue raised by the hon. Gentleman, he did touch on the issue when it came to suggesting a balance between geography and the number of elected representatives.

Photo of Ian Davidson Ian Davidson Labour, Glasgow South West

Arbuthnott gave much more information on those issues when he met the Select Committee than he did in his report. It is noticeable that the issue is not pursued by the Liberals because they benefit from it. They constantly raise the issue of equal votes of equal value when it suits them, but they decline to do so when it does not. I see Jo Swinson is leaving; I would hate to think that I was driving her from the field by raising this issue, but I am sure that she will think about it and come back at some point.

It is regrettable that there are not more Members in the Chamber to debate the subject. I know that the issues have long been considered by many of my colleagues and the Minister might want to reflect on whether an Adjournment debate on the last sitting of Westminster Hall before the recess rather than a Scottish Grand Committee is the best way in which to deal with such matters.

Photo of Alan Reid Alan Reid Shadow Minister (Northern Ireland) 3:52 pm, 20th July 2006

Thank you for calling me to speak, Mr. Caton. I apologise that I was not in the Chamber earlier, but I was serving in a Standing Committee that has only just finished. I am sorry that I missed the opening remarks.

I was certainly interested to hear the remarks of Mr. Davidson; I agree with some and disagree with others. I was extremely interested by one of his remarks, which was his forecast that Labour would win seats on a large number of the regional lists next year. The only way in which that can happen is if the Labour party does extremely badly in the constituencies and will therefore—

Photo of Ian Davidson Ian Davidson Labour, Glasgow South West

Can I point out to the hon. Gentleman that that is not true? We could win a large number of seats on the list for the south of Scotland, the north-east of Scotland or the north of Scotland through there being a swing to Labour in those areas. As well as holding on to the first-past-the-post seats that we have, we could gain seats by gaining more votes. It is entirely possible for us to gain more votes without losing first-past-the-post seats. I accept the hon. Gentleman's apology.

Photo of Alan Reid Alan Reid Shadow Minister (Northern Ireland)

The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that the Labour vote will be on the way down next year. I notice, for example, that Lord Foulkes has put his name forward to top the Labour list in Lothian. He clearly wishes to be elected to the Scottish Parliament, and I think that even he would accept that the huge, astronomical swing to Labour that would be needed to win a seat on the Lothian list without losing any first-past-the-post seats would be simply incredible. The much more likely scenario is that the Labour party will lose several seats in Lothian, and that its vote will therefore fall so low that Lord Foulkes will be elected. Both the hon. Member for Glasgow, South-West and Lord Foulkes seem to be thinking along the same lines.

Photo of Charles Walker Charles Walker Conservative, Broxbourne

Does the hon. Gentleman believe that the vagaries of the Scottish election system baffle, bore or simply amaze the electorate in Scotland? It sounds incredibly complicated and pretty uninteresting to all but the few people present. That is a concern.

Photo of Alan Reid Alan Reid Shadow Minister (Northern Ireland)

I suspect that it probably does all three. The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point, as the system is extremely complex. It is fairly straightforward to operate, as it is simply a case of putting a cross on two separate ballot papers. We believe the Scotland Office plan to make it one ballot paper next time and it would simply be two crosses on one ballot paper.

Photo of Alan Reid Alan Reid Shadow Minister (Northern Ireland)

Yes, that is right. It is simple for the elector to use but to explain the effect of their vote is actually quite complex. Basically, it is impossible to predict the outcome of their vote as party A might lose a constituency seat to party B, which could mean that party C would receive an extra seat through the list. The effects of the system are simply bizarre. In the west of Scotland region, for example, the Labour party won all the constituency seats in 1999 and lost one in 2003. If Labour were to lose more constituency seats, it would not gain corresponding seats on the list. However, the party that gained the corresponding seats on the list might be entirely different from the one that gained the constituency seats. The knock-on effects of parties losing constituency seats are impossible to predict.

Photo of Ian Davidson Ian Davidson Labour, Glasgow South West

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that that makes the system, not only in Glasgow but in the west of Scotland, clearly absurd for Labour voters? It would be much better if, for example, the Labour party did not stand and the Co-operative party stood with its co-operation.

Photo of Alan Reid Alan Reid Shadow Minister (Northern Ireland)

The hon. Gentleman is putting forward an interesting argument. Of course, because Labour wins eight out of the nine seats in the west of Scotland and has a low share of the vote, a lot of those seats are marginal. He might find that if he gave that advice to electors, the Labour party could lose a lot of the first-past-the-post seats and might need some of the votes on the list. It is impossible to predict what will happen. Advising people not to vote for a party on the list because it is bound to win too many constituency seats is a dangerous argument.

Photo of Charles Walker Charles Walker Conservative, Broxbourne

Is it therefore the case that people do not really understand the consequences of their actions when casting votes? If that is the case, surely it means that the system is fundamentally flawed because people cannot make an informed decision on how they cast their vote.

Photo of Alan Reid Alan Reid Shadow Minister (Northern Ireland)

People certainly can make an informed decision about the effects of casting their vote as far as their constituency representative is concerned, but it is impossible for anybody to predict the effect of that vote on the regional list. Without knowing the outcome of every constituency seat in advance, it is simply impossible to work out the effect that their constituency vote will have on the top-up list.

Photo of Ian Davidson Ian Davidson Labour, Glasgow South West

And the hon. Gentleman is in favour of that?

Photo of Alan Reid Alan Reid Shadow Minister (Northern Ireland)

The hon. Gentleman has pre-empted the next part of my speech. I do not think that this is a sensible system. It has the advantage that it is close to being proportional, but I stress the "close to" because in both 2003 and 1999—in 1999, in particular—it gave the Labour party far more seats than it deserved according to its share of the vote. It got so many first-past-the-post seats that it received far more seats than it would have been entitled to by the number of votes on the regional list. It is not a proportional system and, although it is close and certainly a great improvement on first past the post, it has several defects. The first is that it is not proportional. Another is that it is impossible to predict the knock-on effect of casting a constituency vote. A third, as the hon. Gentleman described in his speech, is that although a small number of regional list MSPs carry out their duties conscientiously throughout their regional list area, it is my experience that the majority of them concentrate on one constituency and seek to become the constituency MSP for that area. Sometimes they try to become the MP for the constituency, as did Jamie McGrigor MSP, the regional list MSP who tried to become the MP for Argyll and Bute. However, I am pleased to inform the House that he failed miserably; in fact, his vote went backwards.

The fact that both Jamie McGrigor MSP for the Conservatives and Jim Mather MSP for the Scottish National party were both adopted by their parties to stand again in the Argyll and Bute Scottish parliamentary constituency shows the defects of the system. That means that they are concentrating all their efforts on that constituency. A failed Tory candidate, Mary Scanlon, former MSP, was supposedly a representative of Argyll and Bute but no one there had a clue who she was and we never saw her. Rob Gibson MSP is also supposed to be a list MSP but again not a single person in Argyll and Bute has had sound or sight of him. Put simply, list MSPs do not represent the whole of their list areas.

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland

I see that Mr. Nicol Stephen is to top the north-east Scotland list, and that Mr. Mike Rumbles is second on that list. It would help the House and voters in the Scotland if the hon. Gentleman were to give a categoric undertaking that, if they are elected to the list, they will not focus their efforts on an individual constituency or area within the north-east of Scotland?

Photo of Alan Reid Alan Reid Shadow Minister (Northern Ireland)

I can certainly give the hon. Gentleman the assurance that, in the unlikely event of Nicol Stephen MSP and Mike Rumbles MSP losing their constituency seats and being elected from the list, they will cover the whole area. However, I am sure that that hypothesis will not be tested.

The Arbuthnott inquiry was set up partly as a result of the fact that there would be non-coterminosity—a bulky word—in parliamentary constituency boundaries after the latest boundary review of Westminster seats. We have had non-coterminosity for a year, and it has not been a problem. Having MPs and MSPs representing constituencies with different boundaries has not caused a problem.

Arbuthnott decided that it would be best to align Scottish parliamentary constituency boundaries with local authority boundaries. It came up with the idea that the lists would make the Parliament proportional, and therefore it came to the conclusion—I believe it was flawed—that there was no need for constituencies to be of equal size. It therefore concluded that constituencies should be wholly contained within one local authority area, and came up with the strange formula of allocating constituency seats.

I must declare an interest. Arbuthnott came up with a flawed proposal for Argyll and Bute, whereby the Scottish parliamentary constituency would be the same as that for the council. It would therefore have an electorate of 68,000, compared with the national average of 55,000 and with only 35,000 in the compact constituency of Clackmannanshire. In the past, the assumption has generally been that scattered constituencies that include islands should be smaller than the average. Unfortunately, Arbuthnott recommended one constituency for an extremely scattered area that includes 26 inhabited islands, despite the fact that the electorate is 13,000 above the average and 30,000 above smaller Clackmannanshire.

That conclusion is flawed; it cannot be assumed that, because of the regional list, it does not matter that constituencies are not of a similar size. People deserve to be able to see their MSP regularly, and having a constituency of 68,000 over a scattered area would mean that the MSP would be able to meet his or her constituents much less regularly than in small, compact Clackmannanshire.

Photo of Charles Walker Charles Walker Conservative, Broxbourne

For the sake of those not acquainted with the geography of Scotland, would the hon. Gentleman tell us what is the reach of those islands—from where in the south to where in the north?

Photo of Alan Reid Alan Reid Shadow Minister (Northern Ireland)

The constituency extends from the Mull of Kintyre in the south to the Isle of Coll in the north. It is about halfway up the west coast.

The Arbuthnott proposals are flawed. I recommend to the House that the Government should instead adopt the single transferable vote system. I know that Arbuthnott recommended that system for European elections. I am certainly in favour of it. The Scottish Parliament is adopting that system for local council elections, and it would make sense if the Scottish Parliament elections are held on the same day that it should use the same system.

The single transferable vote has several advantages. It is a proportional system that allows a direct link between the elector and the elected representative. Unlike the closed lists used for the European elections or for the regional ballots used in the Scottish parliamentary elections, STV would allow the elector to vote directly for the elected representatives. It therefore means that they could directly choose their elected representatives without any of the bizarre knock-on effects of the constituency vote on the regional list of which we spoke earlier.

Another advantage of the single transferable vote is that the constituencies can be of different sizes yet still maintain the same ratio of electors to elected representatives. If the natural boundaries of an area were of a size to justify five elected representatives, five people would be elected by STV for that area; if the natural boundaries were such that four elected representatives would be right, we could have four. We could still maintain the link with local authority boundaries as proposed by Arbuthnott yet avoid the situation of wildly fluctuating numbers of electors per elected representative. It would certainly satisfy the requirement that each vote should be of equal value. Another advantage is that there would be only one class of elected representative; rather than having two separate categories, as we do now, every one of them would be equal.

The single transferable vote system would satisfy all those criteria and have none of the disadvantages of the present system. I urge the Government to adopt it for future elections to the Scottish Parliament.

Photo of Jo Swinson Jo Swinson Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Scotland) 4:09 pm, 20th July 2006

I thank all hon. Members who have participated in the debate. Like so many Scottish debates, and like Scottish questions, it has been lively and interesting. A great deal of expertise and consideration has gone into the Arbuthnott report; it was a thorough process. I congratulate the Select Committee Chairman, Mr. Sarwar, and the Committee members. I am not a member of the Committee, but I have read the evidence transcripts. They flagged up some interesting points, which were highlighted in the report and some of which were brought to our attention this afternoon.

I welcome many of the recommendations in the report, starting with the focus on community boundaries for elections. In general, it is a helpful step in the right direction, but as my hon. Friend Mr. Reid said, a focus solely on local authority boundaries can bring with it problems, not least because of the sheer number of voters represented. He outlined the issues for Argyll and Bute, and I would draw attention to my part of the world, East Dunbartonshire. It is one fairly small local authority but, because it has 80,000 electors, it is proposed under Arbuthnott's recommendations that it would have two Members of the Scottish Parliament. Next door in West Dunbartonshire, which is not much smaller with 68,500 electors, there would be only one. A lot of people would see that great difference as something of a problem.

We must remember that there has been a lot of local government reorganisation over the years. Let us hope that the Scottish Executive do not have the appetite suddenly to do it again. It has meant that community boundaries are not always the same as local authority boundaries. Areas in different local authorities but close together can have an affinity and share similar issues, whereas areas in the same local authority are often very different and face different challenges.

I welcome the recommendation that there should be greater clarity in the regional vote and particularly the moves to redesign the ballot paper, which have also been proposed by the Secretary of State. It will make things clearer for voters, which is particularly important considering the new voting systems that have been put in place in Scotland in the past few years. Making it as simple as possible for people to exercise their democratic right is vital.

I also welcome the move towards an open-list system for the additional list members, which will give power to the people and take it away from the party hierarchies, which currently decide who is to be at the top of the list. Different parties have different ways of setting the order of their lists; in my party everything is democratic and decided by single transferable vote. I understand that other parties have moved towards allowing every member in an area to vote on the matter, but that still means that a fairly small section of an area's electorate—those who are members of a particular political party—decide the order. There are many cases in which the wider electorate might want to choose a member who is further down the list. I welcome the suggestion, as I hope other hon. Members will.

Photo of Ian Davidson Ian Davidson Labour, Glasgow South West

Does the hon. Lady recognise that one of the problems with that system, admirable though it might be, is that in reality members of the same party will end up fighting each other for their core vote? Rather than a political ding-dong between parties and a clash of ideas, elections under an open-list system might well be transformed into some sort of personal beauty contest.

Photo of Jo Swinson Jo Swinson Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Scotland)

I certainly do not want that to be the outcome, but a bit of healthy competition even within parties can be an excellent tonic. It is clearly important that political ideas are discussed in election campaigns, but there might be differences of opinion even within political parties, and voters might prefer to choose a particular candidate who is on one ideological wing of a party. That could mean that we get more debate on the issues.

Photo of Ian Davidson Ian Davidson Labour, Glasgow South West

On the point about allowing different ideological perspectives on the same list, is the hon. Lady not aware that in the past the Conservative party has not allowed people with different ideological perspectives to be on the same list? That has certainly been true in European elections. I am sure that my own party would never consider doing anything like that, but there are bad people who have suggested it.

Photo of Jo Swinson Jo Swinson Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Scotland)

I cannot answer for the Conservative party, nor would I attempt to figure out the bizarre structures by which it decides such things, particularly when it comes to Europe. It is difficult to keep up with where it is on that issue this week.

I welcome the recommendation to introduce the single transferable vote for European elections. I was pleased when proportional representation was brought in for those elections, but dismayed that the type of proportional representation was the least good sort. It gives maximum power to party bosses and minimum power to the voters. Voters do at least get a crop of MEPs more representative in political affiliation, but they do not get to choose who their representative should be. That decision is made by party hierarchies. A move towards single transferable vote for European elections would help to solve that problem.

I am sure that we all welcome the recommendation in the report to move towards e-counting for the next elections. It will be helpful considering the complexities of counting in the list and constituency system, but it must be implemented properly, with testing before the election. I have slightly more reservations about e-voting, because we must ensure that any security issues are properly dealt with. As we move into the 21st century, it is reasonable to suggest that we should not keep exactly the same method of voting that we had in the 19th.

Photo of Charles Walker Charles Walker Conservative, Broxbourne

If the hon. Lady treasures democracy as I do, does she not think that it is not unreasonable to expect people once a year or once every other year to get off their backsides and walk 500 yards or drive a couple of miles to the polling station? E-voting has the potential to dumb down the voting system.

Photo of Jo Swinson Jo Swinson Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Scotland)

The same arguments could be made for postal voting, which has been opened up in recent years. There have been concerns in some cases about security and fraud, but some people find it difficult to vote because of the lifestyles that they lead. I am sure that we have all knocked on somebody's door and found that they have left the house before 7 o'clock in the morning and are not getting back until after 10 o'clock at night because of work commitments that they did not know about in time to request a postal vote. If we are to allow postal votes, it is reasonable to extend the process.

Photo of Charles Walker Charles Walker Conservative, Broxbourne

We argue too often about today's lifestyle. I am pretty sure that our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents worked a great deal longer and harder than we do for a great deal less. I am slightly suspicious about the lifestyle argument and the idea that we are all so busy. In fact, we are probably sitting down at the pub or in a restaurant when we should be casting our ballots.

Photo of Jo Swinson Jo Swinson Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Scotland)

I am not sure what the hon. Gentleman does, but there are cases in which somebody can reasonably argue that they cannot get to the polling station. We all accept that that is true in cases of infirmity and medical conditions. If we are to allow voting by post, in the 21st century it is worth considering other options if the security issues can be covered. I make that incredibly important caveat.

I do not think, by the way, that e-voting is some kind of answer to making participation easier. I do not by and large buy the argument that people do not vote because it is too difficult. As politicians and members of political parties, we have a great responsibility to reach out and engage more with electors, which we do through election campaigning and through our roles as elected Members. That is how to raise turnout.

The report's recommendation for better education and information about voting systems is important. I have the benefit of having chosen to study modern studies at school, which gives an excellent introduction to all the different voting systems. In many schools, students must make a choice between history, geography and modern studies, so not everybody gets the opportunity to study such matters. We must ensure that, through citizenship education, all young people have the basic information to know how the political system operates.

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland

I am sure that the hon. Lady is going to mention it but, in case she is not, I ask her for clarification on where she and her party stand on the local government elections under STV being held on the same day as the Scottish Parliament elections.

Photo of Jo Swinson Jo Swinson Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Scotland)

The hon. Gentleman pre-empts me; I shall indeed come to that very point.

I move on to some of the issues that hon. Members have raised. Mr. Davidson raised the matter of coterminous boundaries, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Argyll and Bute. It is perhaps not fully addressed in the report, and I argue that there is confusion among voters about their representatives. Many people come to my surgeries and wait for some time if it has been a busy day, and then I find that I am not their MP. When there are different constituencies for MSPs, it can be difficult to keep up.

I am in a special situation, because three constituency MSPs cover my area and my constituency falls across two regions of the Scottish Parliament, which gives me an additional 14 MSPs as list members. Can anyone else in the Chamber beat having 17 Members of the Scottish Parliament representing part of their constituency area? Perhaps there should be a prize.

I accept that, in respect of the report, it is not always possible to balance coterminosity with making sure that community boundaries are adhered to and that there is general equity in the numbers elected across different seats, although I would argue that special consideration should be given to particular island and sparse communities. Although confusion results from the current boundary differences, there is not necessarily a simple option, unless—as I shall go on to say—we move to a single transferable vote system.

The hon. Member for Glasgow, South-West mentioned the remit of the Arbuthnott report. He suggested that the fact that it started from the position that there should not be a degree of proportionality in the Scottish Parliament was a major problem. However, my memories of when the Scottish Parliament was envisaged and set up are that it was to represent a different type of politics. That was part of its attraction.

The Parliament works differently in a lot of ways—its procedures, its openness to the public in respect of petitions, its hours and its accessibility. It has also tried to make sure that its Members can lead a reasonable family life, at least if they live within the central belt, although I accept that things are more difficult for those representing further-flung areas of Scotland.

The Scottish Parliament has been designed as a more consensual Parliament. Seating in the Scottish Chamber is in the shape of a horseshoe, in contrast to the combative arrangement in Westminster. People who have visited the Scottish Parliament know that the contrast to Westminster is stark. Here, everything is dark and there are lush carpets; the Scottish Parliament is light, airy and feels very modern. [Interruption.] I appreciate that the building has caused some controversy and that not everybody is a fan of it, but it has a very different feel, consistent with the type of democracy that was envisaged. The Parliament's consensual nature relies to an extent on a proportional system, which enables and requires parties to work together on different issues.

Photo of Charles Walker Charles Walker Conservative, Broxbourne

Does the hon. Lady not believe that robust debate is the essence of democracy and allows us to get to the core issues of interest to the public?

Photo of Jo Swinson Jo Swinson Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Scotland)

I have no problem whatever with robust debate, but occasionally it is perfectly in order to agree. Robust debate does not always mean the political bun fighting that we see here in Westminster; sometimes, our constituents get turned off politics because of the behaviour in the House of Commons. I am always slightly distressed that the bit of Parliament broadcast most often is the half-hour slot of Prime Minister's questions, which, although incredibly entertaining, does not necessarily paint us in our best light.

I disagree with some parts of the report—particularly the findings, to which David Mundell referred, on decoupling at the elections. I am glad that the Scottish Executive have indicated that local and Scottish parliamentary elections will be held on the same day.

My concern with decoupling elections relates primarily to turnout. Back in 1995, turnout for local government elections was 45 per cent. When those elections were held on the same day as those for the Scottish Parliament, turnout increased to 59 per cent.; in fact, turnout for the local elections was 1 per cent. higher than that for the Scottish Parliament elections. In 2003, the figure for local elections dropped back slightly to 49 per cent., but that resulted from a general drop in turnout and it was still significantly higher than in 1995. I worry that turnout might drop if we held the elections on a different day.

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland

I am confused, and not for the first time. The hon. Lady's argument on turnout is precisely the opposite of one made by her colleagues in the Scottish Parliament on the introduction of the single transferable vote. I was a member of the Committee that considered that issue; we were told that the Scottish electorate would be so galvanised by the introduction of the single transferable vote that they would turn out in their droves at local government elections held under that system. Is it not the reality that she—and, unfortunately, Labour colleagues in the Scottish Executive—is frightened of having Scottish local government elections on a different day because they know that STV will be a damp squib that will not return hundreds and thousands of people to the polls?

Photo of Jo Swinson Jo Swinson Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Scotland)

I certainly think that making every vote count would be an additional incentive for people to go to the polls. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is as concerned about turnout as I am, and that he would not decide to settle on only one solution to try to increase turnout. If there were other ways of doing it, he would surely embrace them as well. That is why I think that holding elections on the same day, in addition to STV, makes sense.

Photo of Charles Walker Charles Walker Conservative, Broxbourne

I am intrigued. Why does the hon. Lady think that turnout for local council elections in Scotland is so much higher than for those in England? We are lucky to get 32 per cent. or 35 per cent. in England, but the hon. Lady was talking about well over 45 per cent. in Scotland.

Photo of Jo Swinson Jo Swinson Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Scotland)

Indeed, the turnout in Scotland was 45 per cent. even in 1995, before the elections were held on the same day. I am not sure why; perhaps people in Scotland are more politically aware. We always hear from Conservative Members that the UK is being ruled by a Scottish raj; perhaps Scottish people are intrigued by politics. However, that may not be the case. Interesting research could be done on that issue.

Photo of David Cairns David Cairns Parliamentary Under-Secretary (also Scotland Office), Scotland Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (also Scotland Office), Northern Ireland Office

The hon. Lady is straying into giving ammunition to an argument of which she should really steer clear. She compares turnout of 45 per cent. in 1995 with the 32 per cent. of the most recent English local elections. However, I remember campaigning vigorously in the English local elections of 1995, and there was a very high turnout. One cannot compare one election with another that happened 10 years later.

While I am on my feet, may I ask whether the hon. Lady believes that it is axiomatic that the very fact of having an STV election will mean a higher turnout? If she does believe that, how does she explain the low turnout for the European elections under STV—I mean the proportional system?

Photo of Jo Swinson Jo Swinson Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Scotland)

The Minister makes my point; the European elections are not held under the STV system. I have pointed out that I do not think that the European election system is a great system of proportional representation, although it is better than the first-past-the-post system because it allows more proportionality.

Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Spokesperson (International Development)

Is the hon. Lady saying that people would turn out to vote if we replaced the d'Hondt system with an STV one? Does the d'Hondt system explain why an extra 100,000 or 200,000 people do not come out to vote? Is she saying that people are abstaining from casting a vote in a democratic election for a Member of the European Parliament because they do not like the d'Hondt system and prefer an STV one? Does she seriously expect us to believe that?

Photo of Jo Swinson Jo Swinson Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Scotland)

There are many reasons. People do not necessarily deliberately abstain in a European election; in 1999, the turnout was 24 per cent. or 25 per cent. For many reasons, such elections are not much covered by the media. However, as a general rule, the more people feel that their vote counts, the more likely they are to vote. In the same way, there is often a higher turnout in marginal constituencies because the parties campaign more vigorously and people see that their votes are more likely to make a difference.

Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Spokesperson (International Development)

Is the hon. Lady contending that there is a hierarchy, that under first past the post people do not feel that their votes count, that the d'Hondt system is more proportional so people will feel that their votes will count more and that STV is the better system, under which people's votes absolutely count? If that were the case, one would expect turnout for Westminster elections to be lower, turnout in elections under the d'Hondt system to be higher and turnout in the STV local council elections next year to be the highest of all. May I wager with her that that will be the opposite of what will happen?

Photo of Jo Swinson Jo Swinson Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Scotland)

That is far too simplistic. There is a hierarchy, and STV brings about the best situation. However, I do not propose STV mainly as a way of increasing turnout, but for reasons to which I shall come in a second.

Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Spokesperson (International Development)

Glasgow, in which there are massive Labour majorities, has among the lowest turnouts in the first-past-the-post-system because people know and feel that their votes do not matter. There are massive Labour majorities, so what is the point in voting? Of course, there would be an increase under proportional representation in such constituencies.

Photo of Jo Swinson Jo Swinson Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Scotland)

The hon. Gentleman makes an excellent point. There are issues with the European elections. Although a benefit of proportionality is introduced, there is the disbenefit of the parties still having a lot of control and voters not getting to choose individual candidates, although they like to make that choice. My solution would be to move to STV. Various arguments are made against that, among which is one that the Scottish people will be unable to work out the different systems if elections are held on the one day. However, the systems are fairly simple in respect of voting.

Obviously, as a Liberal Democrat, I am interested in constitutional affairs, voting systems and so on. However, I appreciate that I am not necessarily representative of the population. However, people do not need to understand exactly how quotas are calculated or how many excess votes will be transferred for candidates to meet their quota and be elected or to be eliminated, nor do they need to get down to 1.26 of a vote going one way or another. People do not need to know any of that to cast their vote under the single transferable vote system. They only need to be able to rank the candidates in order. We rank things in order all day, every day, filling in surveys and making choices as consumers.

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland

Yes, but the hon. Lady is making a spurious argument. The point about ranking candidates on the same day is that on one ballot people are asked to place an X and on the other they are asked to write 1, 2 and 3. We have clear evidence from elections in Northern Ireland—I had the opportunity to see the count in the last Assembly elections—of large numbers of people who understood that they had more than one vote but who, despite 20-odd years of operating that system, put two Xs on the ballot paper, making it invalid. Even if we accept the argument for STV, which I do not, what can be the purpose of holding such an election on the same day if—as was again shown in the London mayoral elections—having two separate systems exposes us to the risk of a disproportionately large number of people spoiling their ballots?

Photo of Jo Swinson Jo Swinson Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Scotland)

Northern Ireland holds first-past-the-post elections and STV elections on the same day, but the number of spoiled ballots is not dramatically high, at 1.4 per cent., which is only slightly higher than the figure for the equivalent elections in Scotland. However, that is of course a good argument for having strong educational programmes and ensuring that the information is available. That issue is also an argument for another point—which the Arbuthnott report should have addressed—in relation to holding STV elections for the Scottish Parliament too, which would be a simpler and better solution. Many hon. Members have referred to that, which would clearly help the situation. Indeed, I welcomed the comments that the hon. Member for Glasgow, Central made in opening the debate in support of STV for the Holyrood elections.

My hon. Friend the Member for Argyll and Bute outlined some of the advantages of that system, which I shall run through. It would give voters more choice, making the list open, so that they could choose which candidates they wanted, rather than that being decided by party hierarchies. Those who were elected would also be more representative of the population, because there would be a degree of proportionality, which would be an obvious advantage.

STV for the Scottish Parliament would also mean that a constituency link would be retained, even though the constituencies are larger. One of the arguments that is often made against proportional systems is that multi-member constituencies ensure that Members still have a responsibility to, and a link with, their constituencies. If voters have a problem, they can also decide which Member to go to. I am sure that all hon. Members in the Chamber are assiduous in dealing with their constituents' concerns, but someone living in a constituency where the MP is a bit rubbish at dealing with concerns does not have much choice. As we all know, because of the protocols, if a constituent from another constituency asks us to help them, we are constrained from doing so. With multiple Members in a constituency, if one of them does not give help, somebody else can be approached for assistance.

Multi-member constituencies also give voters the chance to support different parties if they so choose. We all campaign in elections, telling people to use their votes for the Liberal Democrat, Conservative, Labour or nationalist candidates, depending on the individual concerned. However, some voters out there do not have such party loyalty—we are probably in the minority in that regard—and would perhaps like to support a particularly assiduous local councillor, even though they did not like their party, and express further preferences in support of different parties. Multi-Member constituencies would give voters more choice over the type of representatives that they end up with.

Multi-member constituencies would also encourage more diverse candidates, and therefore elected representatives. For argument's sake, if a party fields three or four white male candidates in a constituency, it will be quite obvious that it fields candidates who are all the same. I am sure that we would all agree that there is not enough diversity in this place, of gender, ethnicity and so on.

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland

I do not know whether the hon. Lady is aware of the evidence that was given to the Scottish Parliament's Local Government and Transport Committee on the matter, which demonstrated that where proportional systems and the STV system had both been used, there was absolutely no impact on the gender balance within the Parliament concerned. Australia is a good example of that. Subsequently, those arguing the case, at least on that point, had to drop it, because the argument is totally spurious. As my party has recognised, a party's internal procedures determine who goes forward on behalf of that party. The electorate do not use proportional systems to change that.

Photo of Jo Swinson Jo Swinson Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Scotland)

The hon. Gentleman might have evidence that he can point to, but in my experiences of counts—particularly in multi-member wards in the recent local elections, in which not many female candidates stood—voters have clearly made that choice, perhaps voting for a woman from one of the parties, alongside other candidates. People do distinguish. Multi-member elections would also force parties not to put up slates of candidates who are very similar in their backgrounds, the way that they look and where they come from.

Photo of David Cairns David Cairns Parliamentary Under-Secretary (also Scotland Office), Scotland Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (also Scotland Office), Northern Ireland Office

Will the hon. Lady not accept that that is precisely what her party does and what my party does not do? She has been railing against manipulation by party hierarchies, as an argument against the closed-list system, but she cannot produce any evidence to refute the point that was made by David Mundell, who is actually half right in this instance. Is not the benefit of our system that parties can actively and positively promote gender balance in lists, by having male and female candidates, twining constituencies and so on? Those are all positive steps that the Labour party has taken, which is why we have a far better gender balance, both in the Scottish Parliament and here, whereas the hon. Lady's party talks a good game and appeals to TheGuardian-reading classes in its rhetoric but, when it comes to making tough decisions on such matters in its internal party structures, it flunks it every time.

Photo of Jo Swinson Jo Swinson Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Scotland)

I refer the Minister to his party's record in local government in Scotland, which, at 20 per cent., is appalling. All the other parties—even the Conservative party and the SNP—manage one quarter and my party manages about 30 per cent. The difference is that my party manages to do that through supporting and mentoring positive action measures, yet without resorting to positive discrimination. I accept that that might be the only way to achieve gender balance in the Labour party, but there are alternatives.

Photo of Jo Swinson Jo Swinson Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Scotland)

My party has structures in place and I am involved in those. One third of our new MPs in the previous election were women, which was a great step forward for our party. I agree that there is more to do, but what I am proposing could help us to do that.

Photo of Martin Caton Martin Caton Labour, Gower

Order. We are again moving off the subject. I recognise that the hon. Lady has given away a lot, but she has now spoken for nearly 29 minutes, which means that the other Front-Bench spokespeople will have less time than she has had, so it would be useful if she could try to bring her comments to a conclusion.

Photo of Jo Swinson Jo Swinson Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Scotland)

Thank you, Mr. Caton. I have outlined the arguments for the single transferable vote, particularly the fact that every vote counts. When we have disengagement from the political process, it is important that we encourage parties to campaign across the country and across constituencies, not only in those few marginal constituencies, to maximise their vote share. The STV system would engage people and ensure that more people went out to vote, which is what we all want.

There has been some discussion in this debate about English votes for English MPs. That is not really the subject of the debate, but to respond briefly, the issue requires some discussion, although the suggestion from Conservative Members would not work. Apart from anything else, power is currently devolved to the Scottish Parliament, not ceded, which means that different constitutional difficulties would arise. Indeed, it would be unfair to impose a de facto English Government and English Parliament, meeting on Monday and Tuesday, as Mr. Walker suggested, without allowing the English people a democratic vote on that in a referendum. Obviously the nationalists have a consistent stance on the issue, with which I disagree.

The issue needs some discussion; in fact, my party suggests a constitutional convention, to see how devolution can evolve. Devolution is a process that has not come to an end, and we need to continue to work out how best to represent the needs of voters and put citizens first.

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland 4:39 pm, 20th July 2006

I hope that you have found this an enlightening debate on matters Scottish, Mr. Caton. I have three things to declare. First, I was a witness to the Arbuthnott commission and therefore get a mention in the report in that, as a Member of the Scottish Parliament, I proposed a Bill to split the local government and Scottish Parliament elections, for reasons that I will come to.

Secondly, I was a Member of the Scottish Parliament for the South of Scotland region. We have heard much talk about the roles and responsibilities of regional MSPs. I want to touch on that, but most of all I proudly wish to declare that I voted against the introduction of the single transferable vote in the Scottish Parliament—sadly, along with only two Labour MSPs—and in the coming months and next year, the logic of doing that will be clearer than ever. I am afraid that, during the contributions of the hon. Members for Argyll and Bute (Mr. Reid) and for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson), I was no more convinced of the case for the single transferable vote, particularly in the context of the contribution of the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute. I recall Argyll and Bute council telling a Scottish Parliament Committee that it would be a disastrous system for Argyll and Bute, given the island communities and its geography, but it was not listened to.

Much of Sir John's work would have been unnecessary if the Scottish Conservative party's view had been followed and the provisions of the Scotland Act, which were argued for on the Labour Benches and which we favoured, had been upheld and the size of the Scottish Parliament had been reduced to 108 Members, in line with the changes proposed by the Boundary Commission. Although Government Members have suggested different numbers for the make-up of the Scottish Parliament, I hope that at least some of them will accept that 108 is a workable number. Indeed, some have suggested that, if there were fewer MSPs with more focus on their duties within the Scottish Parliament, Members might not perceive that they were interfering so much in their constituencies.

If we had stuck with the original proposals, we would have had a workable solution. However, we are where we are. We heard no apology from the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire for what the Liberal Democrats brought upon us, particularly in relation to the STV local government elections. I deeply regret that Scottish Labour did not withstand that pressure and vote those proposals down.

Photo of Jo Swinson Jo Swinson Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Scotland)

I am certainly offering no apology. I am just delighted that the hon. Gentleman is giving us the credit for introducing fair votes for local government.

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland

I am delighted to ensure that everybody in the Scottish borders, in particular—and in Argyll and Bute and rural Scotland generally—knows that it was the Liberal Democrats what done it, because they shall find that they are losing their community's local councillor and, instead, going into some large, amorphous mass with another community. The hon. Lady will, perhaps, come to understand that community is important in rural Scotland.

As ever, I was interested in the contribution from the Chairman of the Scottish Affairs Committee, who is a thorn in the side of the Government. That is always an important role for the Chairman of such a Committee and, as my hon. Friend Mr. Walker said, he has the complete confidence of Committee members, because we know that he will not hold back in relation to his ministerial colleagues.

I am disappointed that some hon. Members have said that there are two classes of MSP, because that permeates and reinforces the impression that some parties have tried to create. It is bizarre that hon. Members can bandy words about two classes of Members of Parliament at Westminster and regard it in a "shock horror" way, and then blithely say that there are two classes of MSP in the Scottish Parliament. It is a fact of the additional member system that there are constituency and regional MSPs with different roles. That has advantages—everybody in Scotland has a Conservative MSP to represent them, which is a significant advantage—but there are disadvantages as well.

Photo of Mohammad Sarwar Mohammad Sarwar Labour, Glasgow Central

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's kind remarks and for those of the hon. Member for Broxbourne, but I am not sure whether they will be regarded as complimentary on this side of the Chamber or whether they will credit or discredit me here. Pete Wishart has made a serious accusation that Labour Members are playing party politics. Let us consider the facts. If we had a first-past-the-post system in Scotland, we would have a two-thirds majority and the Conservatives would not have 18 Members of the Scottish Parliament—they would probably be lucky if they had two or three; the Scottish Green party currently has seven Members, but it would have none; the Scottish Socialist party has six Members, but it would have none; the Scottish Senior Citizens Unity party has one MSP, but it would have none; and the Scottish nationalists, who have 27 Members, would be lucky if they had 10. How can the Labour party be accused of playing party politics?

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland

I accept that, although sometimes the tone of such statements is as though they are coming down from on high. The Labour party has accepted that it would have fewer representatives in the Scottish Parliament than if other schemes had been adopted, but that does not mean—as it has become clear in the debate—that there are not others in the Labour ranks who would like to change that.

I am disappointed that Mr. Donohoe is not with us today; I understand that he is looking at voting systems in the Cayman Islands. His proposal would effectively give Labour a double majority and we would have a Ceausescu-type Parliament, with 100 or so Labour Members and half a dozen others. That is unacceptable to the people of Scotland.

The devolution settlement was voted on in the context of proportionality, which is why I disagree with Mr. Davidson about the remit. It would be unfortunate to accuse the Minister and the First Minister of trying somehow to rig the outcome of the report. Proportionality is one of the founding principles in the initial period of the Scottish Parliament—however long we regard that as being.

Photo of Ian Davidson Ian Davidson Labour, Glasgow South West

Let me clarify why the hon. Gentleman believes that the proportionality element of the devolution settlement was sacrosanct, yet the proposal embodied in the referendum scheme—that the number of seats should reduce for the Scottish Parliament in line with the Westminster reduction—was not given equal status and also maintained. Why did his party pick one and not the other?

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland

I think that there is some confusion, because I supported the Scotland Act 1998 and think that the seat changes should have been followed through. It is clear that a significant number of people supported devolution in the referendum knowing that the Labour party would not be guaranteed to run the Scottish Parliament indefinitely.

I agree with the hon. Member for Glasgow, Central about the single vote, which would simplify the system and be readily understandable. Rather than get involved in the debate that we touched on about whether the second vote is first or the first vote second—I think that you understand the complexities of that, Mr. Caton—and how the names should be arranged on the ballot paper, and whether they should be adjacent or whether the logo and box should be on one side, we could set all those arguments aside by having a single ballot paper. That would also help to avoid confusion about the second vote. There is no doubt that many people understand the second vote to be a second choice somehow and worth less than their original vote, so there is confusion.

I completely reject the arguments put forward by Mr. Devine in his interventions that people who are not elected by the first-past-the-post system are somehow losers who are then elected in another way. Similar arguments were, unfortunately, voiced during many of the debates on the Government of Wales Bill. I accept the legitimate argument that we want a first-past-the-post system rather than PR, but people must accept that if we move to PR, we will move away from the traditional system of having winners and losers. It is as simple as that. I shall not repeat the quote from the Arbuthnott report that the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire read out setting out the reasons why that should not be split, although it was the one sensible contribution that he made to the debate. I do not know why Scottish Ministers have held firm on that, but I commend them for doing so rather than going down the spurious and unhelpful route taken by the Welsh Assembly.

As my hon. Friend Mrs. Gillan has pointed out, the Labour party plays fast and loose with the old winners and losers argument. Indeed, the lady who lost the Blaenau Gwent seat in the general election has been appointed to the House of Lords and will now be able to legislate on behalf of Wales. I do not recall, from my days in the Scottish Parliament, the chant of "loser" coming from the Labour Benches when Mr. Peter Peacock—the Labour MSP and Minister for Education and Young People—or Maureen MacMillan, stood up. I shall be pleased, therefore, if the commission's report has done nothing more than put that idea to rest.

I shall draw the contributions of the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire to the attention of many of my colleagues, but not for the reasons that he hopes. He let us into the secret that he and his colleagues are whipping up English nationalism. My hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne mentioned the BNP; I think that the nationalism argument goes in the direction of the BNP, which is most unhelpful.

Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Spokesperson (International Development)

We are straying into some unsavoury territory. There is nothing wrong with recognising the new positive English nationalism that has emerged, particularly in the past few months. That can be completely disassociated from all the horrible racist nonsense that comes from the BNP. Even the hon. Gentleman, down here, must recognise that a big cultural debate is going on, which is starting to be reflected in a very positive English nationalism. I recommend that he read some of Billy Bragg's words on this issue. I am sure that he would find them worth a read.

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland

What I will find worth while is what my colleagues and I will be doing in the coming weeks: clearly making the case for the Union, particularly from an English perspective. We have to do that because legitimate issues have been raised by constituents of my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne. Those issues must be addressed in a civilised and forward-looking way.

Photo of David Cairns David Cairns Parliamentary Under-Secretary (also Scotland Office), Scotland Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (also Scotland Office), Northern Ireland Office

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman can enlighten us about something. A few Sundays ago, the shadow Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs, Mr. Heald, told the nation, via The Observer, that it was the firm intention of the Conservative party to use one of its Opposition debates before the recess to air precisely this issue. Why did not the Conservatives do that?

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland

My hon. Friend has many responsibilities, but it is not for him to determine which subjects are put up for Opposition debate.

Photo of David Cairns David Cairns Parliamentary Under-Secretary (also Scotland Office), Scotland Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (also Scotland Office), Northern Ireland Office

The hon. Gentleman accuses his hon. Friend of making a gaffe in a national newspaper, but how serious a gaffe was it? Was the shadow Secretary speaking off brief, flying a kite or simply getting it wrong? Did he not consult the hon. Gentleman? Why did the shadow Secretary make the gaffe of assuming that he had the power to say when debates on this issue would be held? What penalty will he pay for that appalling gaffe?

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland

There was no appalling gaffe. As the Minister knows, there are usual channels and processes by which the subject of debate is determined.

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland

I am sure that the Minister has an open line to the Leader of the House and the Chief Whip, and has the remit to debate any subject that he likes in Government time.

Photo of Martin Caton Martin Caton Labour, Gower

Order. Can we get back to the subject of the debate please?

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland

Thank you, Mr. Caton.

My hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne also mentioned Lord Forsyth, who, I know, particularly enjoys being mentioned in the Scottish Parliament. I am sure that he will be pleased to have been mentioned in today's debate. His idea is interesting, but times have moved on; it does not commend itself to me.

Lord Foulkes has been mentioned. I think that we would all welcome his presence in the Scottish Parliament, as he would bring a unique perspective. I understand, however, that Labour constituency candidates are telling voters that if they do not vote for them, they will get George in the Scottish Parliament. I think that that might have the desired effect.

I would rather have heard an apology than what we have heard from the Liberal Democrats. The case for STV was not made. Indeed, the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute confirmed why even Lord Jenkins described STV as being opaque. That is exactly what it is in terms of the detail.

Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Spokesperson (International Development)

What does the hon. Gentleman think Sir Malcolm Rifkind meant when he referred to the constitutional policy of the Conservative party as "a constitutional abortion"?

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland

We have just been told that we must not discuss issues that are not the subject of the debate. However, knowing my right hon. and learned Friend as I do, I am sure that he will fully explain his views on Scottish constitutional matters in great detail over the weeks and months to come.

I was interested in the views of the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire on the Scottish Parliament and its different style to Westminster. She obviously has not read any of the speeches of her colleague Tavish Scott. His touchy-feely approach to his opponents would go down well in the most aggressive of debates.

I am concerned about local government and Scottish Parliament elections being held on the same day, and have repeatedly raised that issue. I am particularly concerned that I am not aware, as a voter in Scotland, of any voter education programme having been carried out. I am slightly older than the hon. Lady and therefore was not party to modern studies classes on the subject, but I would wager that if we were to walk down Argyle street in Glasgow and ask people what they thought the STV was, they would tell us that it was a television station. That is the reality.

Photo of Charles Walker Charles Walker Conservative, Broxbourne

If one were to ask most people in my constituency what STV was, they would tell us to go to see the doctor and to take some penicillin for it.

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland

Just as one would for midge bites.

More urgently needs to be done to address the issue of the lack of understanding of the STV system. One single thing could be done—and this is where I reject the Secretary of State's response at the recent Committee meeting. It is an interest of his, because he is responsible in respect of the Scottish Parliament elections being on the same day as the Scottish local government elections. He should bring what influence he has to bear on the matter. He told us that he was in regular text contact with Jack McConnell. He could send Jack a text now saying, "Stop this lunacy. Step back from having these two elections on the same day." It is not too late to do that.

If the argument of the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire is right—I disagree with it, but let us put it to the test—that STV will increase voter turnout, why are people afraid to have the elections on separate days? The evidence is there in the Arbuthnott commission's comments about the London mayoral elections: muddling two systems on the same day leads to a much higher proportion of spoilt ballots. We all talk about the difficulty of getting people out to vote. It is ridiculous that when we do, hundreds of thousands of people's votes are rendered invalid. That is what happened in the London mayoral and Assembly elections. There is no excuse for carrying on with this situation, and I make a final call to make progress on the matter.

I have always argued, interestingly, that we need to have a better definition of the role of regional MSPs. That is a difficulty within the Scottish Parliament. As I said in my comments to the hon. Member for Glasgow, South-West, in the Scottish Parliament, Labour has not taken that issue forward. Its Members of this House have said a lot about that issue, but within the Scottish Parliament it has not got a grip of it.

The other sensible thing said by the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire was that the contributions of Members of the Scottish Parliament, particularly regional Members, vary enormously. Some people go round vast regions, but others do not. There is no clear guidance on the issue. It is hypocrisy to suggest that if other parties were in a different position, they would not do some of the so-called "shadowing", because clearly they would. We need the Scottish Parliament to have clear guidelines about what regional MSPs are expected to do. That could be addressed tomorrow without any legislation or difficulties. If I recall it correctly, if the Conservatives and Labour on the Scottish Parliament's corporate body were to combine, they would have a majority.

I have made the argument against STV. The AMS has a lot of issues with it and we have touched on those. I am not particularly in favour of open lists, because they are not the panacea that is presented by the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire. The evidence from Australia demonstrates that when people have the choice either to select from an open list or just vote for a party list, more than 90 per cent. of people vote for the party list. In countries such as Finland, which have open lists, certain people tend to be elected. This is not a direct criticism, but one of Finland's MEPs is a famous rally driver and another was involved in the modelling industry. The downside of the open list is that it can play to the cult of celebrity.

In conclusion, the commission has highlighted the issues. To some extent, and this is one point on which I might agree with some Labour Members, some of the issues were ducked because they are difficult. I am confident that the Minister, as ever, will demonstrate his leadership on them. I would be particularly pleased to hear him say that he is bringing influence to bear to decouple the elections and that we will have a single vote in next year's Scottish Parliament elections.

Photo of David Cairns David Cairns Parliamentary Under-Secretary (also Scotland Office), Scotland Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (also Scotland Office), Northern Ireland Office 5:05 pm, 20th July 2006

May I welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Caton? It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship today. I sincerely hope that today's proceedings will not have put you off Scotland for a long time. The picture we have given of midges, warring politicians, list MSPs wandering around cherry-picking and all the rest of it might not have presented you with our finest face, but I am sure that you have similar little local difficulties in Welsh politics, too.

This debate has been another opportunity. We have had a number of parliamentary opportunities to discuss and debate the findings of the Arbuthnott report; in fact, we had an Adjournment debate in Westminster Hall on its findings before it was published, and there was a debate in the House of Lords 15 minutes after it was published.

I want to say something clearly from the outset: the report came out in January, and in the normal course of events it would have been the Government's firm intention to respond to it and to give our views definitively on its recommendations by now. However, we became aware that the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs was holding an inquiry into the report, and obviously it would not have been appropriate to bring out our response before that. As the only recommendation from that Committee was that we have a debate on the issue, it would again not have been appropriate for us to bring out our response, particularly as it requested us not to do so until this debate took place.

I announce today that that sequence means that we will not be bringing forward our definitive response to the report until early in the next Session. It has been important to have these issues aired and debated, although the vast majority of the past two and a half hours has been spent debating things that are not in either the Arbuthnott report or the Select Committee's response to it. I am sure that we will return to some of these other issues at a later date when we respond to the most recent report by the Select Committee on the Sewel convention.

Pete Wishart said that there had been some traducing of Sir John Arbuthnott and his commission. He has not heard it from me—he will not do so—or from the previous Secretary of State, who commissioned the report, or from the current Secretary of State. I wish to take this opportunity to put on record the new Secretary of State's gratitude to Sir John and the members of the commission for all the hard work they have done throughout the 18 months of their inquiry and for their wide-ranging report.

We have only to glance at the lists of witnesses and meetings, and to consider the focus groups and the work done on the internet, to realise that this was a very serious commission, which did a serious piece of work and brought forward many recommendations. Not all of them are for us in this House; some of them are for the Scottish Parliament and others are for the Scottish Executive or the Electoral Commission. It is for others to come forward with their responses to the recommendations as and when. I know that the First Minister has written to Sir John thanking him for the recommendations, particularly those that fall within his sphere of responsibility.

As has been said by several speakers in the debate, the commission was set up in the middle of 2004 by the previous Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend Mr. Darling, following the decision taken by this Parliament on the reduction in the number of Scottish MPs and subsequently the retention of the original size of the Scottish Parliament, and the decision by the Scottish Parliament to introduce the single transferable vote for Scottish local government elections in May 2007, of which we have heard a great deal today. The remit was to examine the consequences of having four different voting systems in local and parliamentary elections in Scotland and different boundaries between Westminster and Scottish Parliament constituencies.

The Chair of the Scottish Affairs Committee, my hon. Friend Mr. Sarwar, outlined some of the issues on which the commission was asked to make recommendations. They were to bring forward proposals on the arrangements between elected representatives and to report on electoral boundaries, the relationships with other public bodies and authorities—that has not come up in the debate today—and the method of voting in Scottish Parliament elections.

There are 24 recommendations in the report. I do not propose to go through all of them today because some are not for this House to adjudicate on but are for other bodies. The main recommendations include retaining the current mixed-member system for electing the Scottish Parliament, but with reform of the open lists, and basing constituency and regional boundaries for the Scottish Parliament on local authority areas rather than Westminster constituencies, with the regions revised better to reflect natural local communities. The most recent revision of Westminster constituencies had as one of its two yardsticks the degree to which the new constituencies were based on local communities and local authority boundaries, with the result that my constituency is now exactly coterminous with my local authority, so harmonisation along the lines that Sir John and his commission advocated may already be under way.

The commission also made a clear recommendation that candidates for election to the Scottish Parliament should not be prohibited from standing in a constituency and on the regional list. There was a call for clearer and more defined and delineated roles for constituency and regional MSPs which, from my reading, mirrors closely the same delineation proposed by Roy Jenkins in his report in 1998 on, as you will remember, Mr. Caton, possible voting reforms for this House. He recommended broadly similar delineation of the roles that new regional MPs could take and I noted with interest that it was roughly similar to the conclusions that Sir John arrived at in his report. As Jo Swinson said, there was also a recommendation that the single transferable vote system should be introduced for European parliamentary elections.

The way in which the commission went about gathering evidence was exemplary and difficult to fault in any way. The report is complex and political. It is difficult to think of something that interests politicians more deeply than the way in which we are elected and the systems under which we operate. The commission operated in a highly complex and political area and it is clear from the report that there was not unanimity in all the recommendations. The commission did an exhaustive job, not least in putting all the current relevant issues on the table and allowing them to be debated here in Parliament today.

As the Secretary of State said at the time of publication, we had not reached a conclusion on a number of the recommendations because we wanted to hear what was being said in debates such as this one today. However, he said clearly at that time that because of where the date of publication fell in the parliamentary calendar it would simply not be possible to forward any of the recommendations that require primary legislation before the elections in 2007.

Those elections are complicated. The system for administering any election is complicated, but, as there was a brand new system for local authority elections under STV in Great Britain and an ambitious Electoral Administration Bill going through Parliament—I am pleased that it received Royal Assent a few days ago—to bring forward new ways of conducting elections and new rules for electoral registration officers and for joint valuation boards in Scotland, it was simply not practical to introduce primary legislation to implement any of the report's recommendations. That was clear from day one and I do not think anyone has gainsaid that. Some of the issues that we have discussed—for example, dual candidacy, which would require an amendment to the Scotland Act 1998, and moving the day of the Scottish Parliament elections, which is also fixed in the 1998 Act—were never going to be enacted by 2007 because they required primary legislation.

However, one issue that does not require primary legislation, to which several hon. Members have alluded, and on which we are moving forward on other recommendations by the commission is the decision on the layout of the ballot papers for the Scottish Parliament elections next year. That was precipitated by a number of factors. First, we are introducing STV, which is a novel system that requires us, as those who write the rules by which elections are administered, to ensure that we have the greatest possible clarity for the people who will take part in it. Because of the decision to have STV, it has been confirmed that we will move to e-counting. A great deal has been said about that during the debate. Great care is required to ensure that the ballot paper can be read by the machine. Because of those twin impetuses—should that be "impeti"?—it was logical and compelling to look at the ballot papers for the Scottish Parliament elections and we can do that absum primary legislation. That consultation is under way. It closes in early August and we shall bring forward some firm proposals towards the end of that month.

It was always clear that any recommendation requiring primary legislation would not be enacted before 2007. That also means that there has been no urgent rush to introduce definite conclusions in the Government's response. However, it should not be assumed that because we have not introduced proposals to implement recommendations before 2007 that is off the agenda for all time and will never happen. We made it clear that we would not do anything before 2007, but that should be not understood as meaning that we will not do anything after the 2007 elections.

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland

What does the Minister anticipate his reaction would be if there were a request from the Scottish Parliament to change its voting system to the single transferable vote after the Scottish Parliament elections next year?

Photo of David Cairns David Cairns Parliamentary Under-Secretary (also Scotland Office), Scotland Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (also Scotland Office), Northern Ireland Office

It would be for the Scottish Parliament to bring forward such a recommendation to this House and for the House to make such a decision. However, obviously we would have to bear in mind the fact that Sir John Arbuthnott does not make such a recommendation. He does not recommend, as some thought he would and to the disappointment of those who genuinely and legitimately favour the single transferable vote, that that course of action should be followed for the Scottish Parliament. It is entirely for the Scottish Parliament to make that recommendation to this House if it wishes to do so, but the method by which the Scottish Parliament is elected is a matter reserved to this House. I would not wish to pre-empt the decision that the House might wish to make.

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland

For clarity, we have it on the record that Mr. McConnell does not have the capacity to offer the Liberal Democrats the single transferable vote as a system of election for the Scottish Parliament in negotiations over the formation of a Scottish Executive next year.

Photo of David Cairns David Cairns Parliamentary Under-Secretary (also Scotland Office), Scotland Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (also Scotland Office), Northern Ireland Office

I am not entirely sure for whose benefit such a matter has been put on the record, because it is blindingly obvious to anyone with even a cursory, passing acquaintance with the Scotland Act 1998 that it is for this House to decide how the elections to the Scottish Parliament should take place, and what should be the shape of the Scottish Parliament and the voting system under which that election should take place. I am happy to have it on the record, but I cannot imagine that it will come as a surprise to anybody, because it has been the case since the Scotland Act was passed.

Photo of Alan Reid Alan Reid Shadow Minister (Northern Ireland)

The Minister said that it is the right of this Parliament to determine the electoral system for the Scottish Parliament. Will he give me an assurance today that it is, and will always remain, the Government's policy that whatever electoral system is used for the Scottish Parliament the seats allocated are roughly proportional to the votes cast?

Photo of David Cairns David Cairns Parliamentary Under-Secretary (also Scotland Office), Scotland Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (also Scotland Office), Northern Ireland Office

I am being invited to speculate on the outcome of a request, which may or may not happen as a result of some negotiations that have yet to occur following an election that has not even happened yet. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me for regarding that as one hypothetical question too many.

The Scotland Act is entirely clear; it was born out of the discussions of the Scottish Constitutional Convention that took place for many years and to which his party was an honourable participant, with my party, the trade unions, the Churches, civic society and all those who had Scotland's best interests at heart. It was a source of great regret at the time, and it remains so, that two parties refused to take part in the constitutional convention: the Scottish National party stood on the sidelines moaning and whingeing because, given the opportunity of engaging in a debate and actually having some influence, it chose to stand to one side, and the Tory party, which was dead agin the whole notion of devolution from the start and opposed it tooth and nail. It is now embarking on a policy choice that will inevitably lead to the break-up of the United Kingdom. As I said in Scottish questions last week, I well understand why the Scottish National party supports that as it is in its interest to make Parliament unworkable, to create multiple categories of MPs from Scotland, from Wales, from Northern Ireland and from London.

Where will it end? I firmly wager that, once we have multiple categories of MP, those living in the countryside in farming communities will ask why people in towns and cities are voting on agricultural matters that do not affect them. People living in fishing communities will ask why MPs in land-locked constituencies are voting on issues that do not affect them—

Photo of David Cairns David Cairns Parliamentary Under-Secretary (also Scotland Office), Scotland Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (also Scotland Office), Northern Ireland Office

I will give way in a second. In a unitary country we have a unitary Parliament where every hon. Member has the right to vote on whatever legislation happens to come before them. Once that principle is breached—it is the policy of the hon. Gentleman's party—it will lead to this Parliament becoming unworkable, which will lead to the inevitable breach of the United Kingdom.

In all seriousness, I appeal to those Conservatives who consider themselves Conservatives and Unionists to rethink that policy and go along with the reservations expressed by Sir Malcolm Rifkind and Dr. Fox. The Daily Mail, for goodness sake, is saying that the Tory party should think again; Peter Oborne is saying that the Tory party should think again. The hon. Gentleman should listen to his friends.

Photo of Charles Walker Charles Walker Conservative, Broxbourne

We did warn that devolution would put the Union under stress. Does the Minister not think that it is unjust that Scottish Members of Parliament can vote on matters to do with the NHS, for example, that relate purely to my constituents in England? That seems terribly unfair.

Photo of David Cairns David Cairns Parliamentary Under-Secretary (also Scotland Office), Scotland Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (also Scotland Office), Northern Ireland Office

The hon. Gentleman gave the very interesting example in his speech of the smoking ban. He seemed to be suggesting that Scottish MPs had voted on a discrete Bill. It was not; the smoking ban was a measure contained in the Health Improvement and Protection Bill, which had lots of clauses that applied in Scotland. His proposal is not English votes for English Bills, because not even his party could certify that Bill as an England-only Bill. It was a clause within a Bill.

Photo of David Cairns David Cairns Parliamentary Under-Secretary (also Scotland Office), Scotland Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (also Scotland Office), Northern Ireland Office

I will give way in a moment. Not only will we have multiple categories of MP voting on different Bills under the hon. Gentleman's proposal, but if we take the smoking ban as an example there will be multiple categories of MP, some voting on some clauses of the Bill and some voting on other clauses— because the smoking ban in that Bill does not apply in Northern Ireland, they would have to vote on different clauses.

Can the hon. Gentleman accept that in attempting to answer what he perceives to be an anomaly in the West Lothian question, the solution he proposes can be graphically described as a constitutional abortion, although frankly I think that phrase is infelicitous? He picked the example of the smoking ban, which was a measure that applied only to England in a UK Bill, and that further demonstrates—

K

Scotland decided for itself on smoking matters and England should have that right as well.

The only sensible soloution is for an English parliament anything else is an insult to democracy.

Submitted by Kevin Wells

Photo of Charles Walker Charles Walker Conservative, Broxbourne

It was still part of the Bill, which was a crummy Bill in the first place.

Photo of David Cairns David Cairns Parliamentary Under-Secretary (also Scotland Office), Scotland Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (also Scotland Office), Northern Ireland Office

I believe in a unitary Parliament and believe that every MP has a right to vote on whatever legislation is before them.

Photo of Martin Caton Martin Caton Labour, Gower

Order. If the hon. Member wishes to make a point he should intervene properly.

Photo of David Cairns David Cairns Parliamentary Under-Secretary (also Scotland Office), Scotland Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (also Scotland Office), Northern Ireland Office

The Health Bill did not apply only to the hon. Gentleman's constituency—he is plain wrong on that as it did not simply apply to England. Under proposals announced by the Tory Party democracy commission—whoever thought we would hear those words in the same sentence—the certification of Bills would not have applied to that particular piece of legislation and clauses and amendments would have had to be certified. The hon. Gentleman may shake his head, but that is the simple fact. He brought up the example of the smoking ban, which is part and parcel of a wider Bill that did not apply only to England.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of David Cairns David Cairns Parliamentary Under-Secretary (also Scotland Office), Scotland Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (also Scotland Office), Northern Ireland Office

If my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Central will forgive me, I cannot let him intervene and respond. I will finish shortly so that he can have three minutes to respond to the debate, as is his right as author of the report. The Government have not arrived at any firm conclusions in response to the recommendations of the report, other than the one that can be activated in the absence of primary legislation, as I mentioned earlier. Indeed, we will be having a separate consultation on that.

I would like to take this opportunity once again to thank Sir John and the commission for their work. They have greatly advanced the argument and early in the next Session the Government will introduce a definitive response to the Arbuthnott report.

Photo of Mohammad Sarwar Mohammad Sarwar Labour, Glasgow Central 5:27 pm, 20th July 2006

With the leave of the House, Mr. Caton. In reference to comments made by Mr. Reid about coterminus boundaries. I believe that I have had a different experience in my constituency and in Glasgow where people are really confused about boundaries. I am glad that Jo Swinson shares that opinion. The issue of coterminus boundaries has to be addressed.

I do not think that the Minister has touched on the issue of dual candidacy. It is very confusing for the electorate when a candidate who is defeated in the first-past-the-post system then becomes a Member of the Scottish Parliament. I have experienced that in both my present and previous constituency of Glasgow, Govan where the leader of the Scottish National party was defeated twice by the Govan electorate and then became the MSP for Glasgow. That is confusing for the electorate and needs to be addressed.

Pete Wishart made the point that the Labour party is playing politics, and I know that anyone who lives on this planet or in Scotland has realised that the new system introduced for elections to the Scottish Parliament has benefited every political party in Scotland at the expense of the Scottish Labour party. I do not understand how the hon. Gentleman can make that allegation against the Labour party.

I genuinely believe that STV in Scotland for elections to the European Parliament would increase the turnout—

It being half-past Five o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the sitting lapsed, without Question put.