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THE SCOTLAND BILL - SECOND READING

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Scottish secretary Donald Dewar yesterday opened the debate on the Second Reading of the Scotland Bill in the house...
Scottish secretary Donald Dewar yesterday opened the debate on the Second Reading of the Scotland Bill in the house of commons.

He said:

'Madam Speaker, on May 1 this government was elected with a

mandate to deliver a Scottish parliament.

'We have kept that promise and have done so in a remarkably tight

timescale. The pace has been brisk. The Referendums Bill was

published within two weeks, the White Paper appeared within

12 weeks, the referendum fought and won in 16 weeks. And the

legislation was introduced into this House before 1997 had died away.

'Seven months all in and I would want to pay tribute to the

commitment of political colleagues and above all the remarkable

patience, tenacity and skill of the civil service team and those who

drafted the Bill.

'This Bill will be welcomed by democrats everywhere - it is not simply

about Scotland, nor is it in any sense routine reform tinkering with the detail of our political system. It goes to the heart of our democracy and offers hope for the democratic process itself.

'It is part of the most far reaching programme of constitutional reform this country has seen for well over a century. In years to come people will look back on this Bill as a decisive step in the fight to modernise our constitution. The intention, the objective is a new covenant with the people.

'It is not a prescription for Scotland's needs alone. The Welsh

assembly, London government and a new voting system for European

elections, the Commission on Voting Reform, regional development

agencies in the English regions, reform of the house of lords, and

measures to buttress individual liberties such as the incorporation of

ECHR and freedom of information. It is a formidable programme and

one of which this country can be proud.

'British public life has been scarred by cynicism sometimes amounting

to contempt for parliamentary democracy.

'And it is the people who have played the key role in making change

possible. The referendum, much criticised and the subject of much

hostility even in my own party gave the country its chance to speak. It was an example of trusting the people, an exercise in direct democracy, an occasion where politicians practised what they preached. The people gave us a handsome majority not in a blaze of razzmatazz but with a quiet determination that left no room for doubt - this is the settled will of the people.

'The arrival of this Bill on the floor of the house is a real milestone - easy to undervalue because of the extensive debate and publicity over many months. It is difficult to over-estimate the sweep of legislative power that will be transferred. No longer will apologetic Scottish provisions be unhappily tacked on to basically English legislation. No longer the agonised debate about which of the pressing options for a place in the Westminster legislative queue. I look forward to a parliament that will consider radical reforming legislation with the opportunity, time and energy to abolish the feudal system, tackle gridlock in our urban transport system, revive local democracy and deal with the problems of health, education and housing. These are the things that matter to the people of Scotland and these will be the daily responsibility of Scotland's parliament.

'Much else of course is happening - last week I was able to announce

that the parliament building would be on a cleared new build site in the historic heart of Edinburgh next to the palace and with a superb

backdrop of the Royal Park, Salisbury Crags and Arthur's Seat. It will

be an architectural opportunity of the first order - a chance to prove this generation can literally build for the future with imagination and flair.

'There will be much discussion and no doubt perfectly legitimate

dispute about finance, the parliament's European role, relations with

Westminster and these are important issues. The main case, the drive

and thrust, is the democratic case, for trusting the people to take

decisions that affect their lives - the attempt to reconnect the individual citizen to the political process.

'The Bill delivers the commitments that we gave in the White Paper.

Indeed the vision which stirred so much interest and excitement last

July is here in the fine print of clauses and schedules. The message is that we remain committed to establishing a substantial and powerful

parliament in Scotland.

'We said in the White Paper that the electoral system will enable us to build a parliament based on fairness. These arrangements will ensure both a strong constituency link and a closer correlation between votes casts and seats won.

'This uncomplicated statement reflects a major principled stand by my

party and points forward to very significant changes in political

practice in Scotland. In a four party system it is not easy to achieve a simple majority. The Labour party has long been the beneficiary of the weighted results that come with the first past the post system. The decision to move to a more proportional system is an unusual example of principle triumphing over narrow political interests. Our vote was for a parliament in which every significant strand of Scottish opinion will be fairly represented. That will be achieved - no longer will it be possible for 20 per cent of the votes to bring no reasonable return of seats. There is also a weighting because of population distribution and the regional list system in favour of rural areas. It is a commitment reinforced by the separate constituencies for Orkney and Shetland.

'Even a politician with half a wit can see the implications - it will

herald a new flexibility, new thinking and perhaps new forms of co-

operation. It is far-reaching reform.

'I would like to highlight the provision which will allow independent

candidates to stand as regional members. This is an advance on the

proposals in the White Paper. It reflects our commitment to open the

doors of the parliament as wide as possible and to encourage new

talent possibly from outwith the political establishment. All this could add up to a rough ride for the established political parties. If it does, so be it!

'Much has been made of our determination to develop a new type of

parliament fit for the purpose, equipped for the future, modern,

efficient and accessible. The key decisions about how the parliament

will work will be taken by the parliament itself. If we were to lay

down in tablets of stone how a parliament with such wide-ranging

legislative powers should organise its affairs, it would be to contradict the principle of devolution at the heart of the Bill.

'What we will do is put in place a framework which can be developed

and built upon by the parliament. The Bill will ensure, for example,

that MSPs have similar rights of parliamentary privilege as

Westminster MPs in relation to the law of defamation; and that they

declare any relevant interest before taking part in proceedings of the

parliament. We are also legislating to give the parliament substantial

powers to order documents to be produced and to summon witnesses to

give evidence on matters within its remit.

'We have established a cross-party working group under the

chairmanship of my hon. friend the Member for Central Fife (Henry

McLeish), to draw up proposals on how the parliament might

operate. Our aim is to achieve a consensus on best practice drawing on

experience both in this House and in other parliamentary bodies. The

results of the group's deliberations will be presented to the new

parliament once it is elected. It will be for the parliament ultimately to decide on how it conducts its business but this should provide a useful starting point.

'Relations between Edinburgh and London will be based on

consultation, consent and co-operation at official and ministerial level buttressed where necessary by non-statutory agreements between

Departments. No provision is required or made in the Scotland Bill

because relations will evolve and build on the present good working

relationship between Whitehall and The Scottish Office.

'Our aim is always to minimise friction and a settlement which

achieves that. The Bill includes a fair and open system for resolving

any disputes about vires. The Law Officers of either the UK

Government or the Scottish Executive will be able to refer a Scottish

Bill to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council if they have any

doubts about its competence. The Judicial Committee will for these

purposes be composed of people who are or have been Lords of Appeal

in Ordinary or who otherwise hold or have held high judicial office.

This is an important advance on the proposal in the White Paper to

restrict membership to the 12 Lords of Appeal in Ordinary. It will

mean that there will be a bigger pool of potential candidates available, both north and south of the Border.

'The Scottish Executive will, as we promised, be headed by a First

Minister appointed by the Queen. It will also consist of Scottish

Ministers and the Lord Advocate and Solicitor General.

'The Executive will be fully accountable to the parliament. Ministers must be approved by the parliament. No Executive will be able to survive a vote of no confidence.

'The Bill provides that the Lord Advocate and Solicitor General should

be members of the Scottish Executive. There will be a Scottish Law

Officer in the UK Government - the new post of Advocate General for

Scotland. The Bill will specifically protect the independence of the

Lord Advocate in relation to the prosecution of crimes and

investigation of deaths, and gives him the right to decline to answer

questions in Parliament about individual criminal cases.

'We are looking for a new balanced partnership between the executive

and legislative branches of the state in Scotland. This will promote

consensus and good government. There will need to be far more give

and take; more listening; more co-operation. This will bring real

benefits to the people of Scotland.

'The other central feature of the constitution is the judiciary. It is right that responsibility for the judicial and court system should be devolved, and the Bill so provides. This was not the case in the 1978 Act but the judiciary is at the centre of the legal system and the legal system at the heart of the Scottish difference which justifies devolution. Safeguards to protect the position of the judiciary have been built in. For example, dismissal of a judge, will be possible, at the recommendation of the First Minister, if two-thirds of the members of the parliament vote in favour of it. This is an important safeguard to ensure that no judge can simply go on the say so of a simple majority vote.

'The government promised in the White Paper that the parliament

would be established on a sound financial basis. Clauses 61-68 fulfil

that commitment. They set out the financial arrangements for the

Parliament and Executive including the accounting for funds made

available to them.

'The Bill will transfer to the Scottish parliament the fundamental

power to determine its own expenditure priorities and to answer to the

Scottish people who will be affected by them. That is the essence of

democracy.

'Subject to the outcome of the referendum the government promised

to give the Scottish parliament a limited power to vary the basic rate of UK income tax in Scotland by up to 3p.

'The decisive vote on the second question in the Referendum surprised

many people - including some of the most enthusiastic supporters of

devolution. Faint hearts there were in plenty and I understand that in a political world too often dominated by the gloomy theories laid out in the Culture of Contentment. Scots challenged that orthodoxy.

Scotland wanted the power to vary revenue - the discipline and the

responsibility. The Bill reflects that will.

'These clauses and the power itself have been the subject of very

considerable debate. It could add or subtract in any one year

something over£400m at today's prices to or from a block of£14bn.

But in my view, and clearly that of the people of Scotland, too, it

represents an important fiscal flexibility appropriate for a grown-up

Parliament with grown-up powers.

'I turn now to European affairs. As the White Paper made clear, the

relations with the European Union is necessarily reserved to the UK

Government because the UK is the member state. But the Bill gives

the Parliament and the Scottish Executive the full powers they need to

honour and implement European Community obligations as they relate

to the devolved areas. The parliament will be able to scrutinise

relevant EU proposals and legislate to give effect to Community

obligations for Scotland. And crucially schedule 5 provides that the

Scottish Executive will be able to play a full part in negotiations

alongside the UK government.

'There are major advantages for Scotland that will come with the new

arrangements. Devolution will give a constitutional basis which in

turn will give a higher profile for Scotland and the ability to relate as an equal with the German Lander, the Spanish Provinces and the other forms of devolved government that are the mark of so many successful European states. It is at that level that much business is done in Brussels - alliances struck, tactics evolved, pressure applied. It is a new dimension which will be reinforced by a Scottish representative office in Brussels briefing Edinburgh and supporting Scotland's efforts in Europe.

'I commend the Scotland Bill to the house. It represents an

irreversible watershed with the past. It is bold, innovative legislation. The Bill is a radical constitutional measure designed to bring the processes of government closer to the people. Our aim is a more pluralist, outward-looking democracy which is in tune with the modern world. We want to build a system of government which people can

access easily, feel part of and take part in.

'In 1999 a Scottish parliament will sit in Edinburgh for the first time in almost 300 years. It is not the reincarnation of the nation state which in 1707 entered a partnership which became the UK. This is

unashamedly a settlement within the United Kingdom. Unashamed,

because the majority of Scots are determined to maintain the bonds of

friendship, trust and common interest built through time. It has been

and always will be the views of the people of Scotland which alone

will decide their future.

'It is however radical change - providing democratic opportunity and a

stronger voice for Scotland in the UK. By establishing that our

constitution can adapt to meet the needs of the time it strengthens the Union and enriches the country as a whole. It will be a parliament

fashioned in Scotland for Scotland and with the ability to build a better Scotland.'

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