Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Mackie of Benshie: My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, can he assure us that under PR the Conservatives would have their proper representation in Scotland so that the disasters that he envisages need not occur?

Lord Sanderson of Bowden: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his question. I know his views on proportional representation. What concerns me far more is what happens in the Palace of Westminster at the time of the proposals being put forward, without equal treatment being given to those who live in England.

4.21 p.m.

Lord Elis-Thomas: My Lords, I have a slight degree of trepidation at being the first non-Scottish Member of your Lordships' House to intervene in the debate. I do so at the kind invitation of the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, and I am grateful to her, as a colleague on the Cross-Benches, for proposing the debate.

I have been fascinated by the range of the historical discussion we have had so far. We have ranged back to the roots of the union between England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland. We have also ranged heavily through devolution. There are two separate Welsh and Scottish pronunciations of that word; one rhymes with "revolution", the other apparently does not. We have ranged from the devolution debates of the 1960s and 1970s through to a great concern about a separatist future.

Speaking as a post-nationalist of strong conviction, I wish to argue that there can be no separatism anywhere any more. Neither can there be pure nationalism which is not also negative. However, there can be degrees of power relations between various centres of powers. That, I believe, is what the debate should be about. If we are calling attention to alternatives for the governance of Scotland, we are at the same time looking at the structures which will influence the rest of the United Kingdom, indeed the rest of Europe. We are no longer in the age of the construction of nation states. Whether we like it or not—and I have the impression that many Members of the House do not like it—we are not in the time of the construction of a nation state, but in a time of its deconstruction. The argument which is still going on in another place is very much about that subject and the relationship between the British state and the European Union. That is part of the European context of our debate. That is why I say that we are no longer about separatism or borders; we are no longer debating economic independence. We should be debating how we set out the relationships between partners.

Therefore, when we argue about the relationship between Scotland, Wales, England or Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom, we should not be positing the question of the United Kingdom and separatism as if they were two alternatives. None of my colleagues in the Government of Catalonia would posit the issue in that way. They have no difficulty. Jordi Pujol, as the Minister President of Catalonia, a Christian Democrat

4 Jul 1995 : Column 1023

of long standing, would have no difficulty in reconciling the unity of the Spanish crown with the autonomy of Catalonia.

Similarly, the time is coming when unionists in the United Kingdom who have a serious commitment to the Crown in Parliament, as the constitutional structure of the kingdom, should also address themselves to the question that the United Kingdom is not necessarily a unitary state. With respect, that seems to me to be at the root of much of the confusion in the debate. One can have a United Kingdom. If I dare to speak on behalf of the Principality of Wales, one can feel oneself part of the United Kingdom without at the same time taking the view that it should be run by a Secretary of State, appointed by the Prime Minister of the day, to govern the country in the style of the previous Secretary of State for Wales. I am not talking about the present caretaker, but about his predecessor.

So one can imagine a situation where, within a United Kingdom, there can be elected and devolved levels of government which share power in a federal structure, as is the situation in the Spanish and the Belgian kingdoms. Your Lordships' House might have a view about the Belgian state which has recently gone through a major constitutional transformation. It has emerged with what? A crisis? With a major political upheaval? No: with the same kind of government in terms of party balance as it had before. I suggest that it is possible to imagine a similar translation within the United Kingdom. It is possible to envisage the development of gradual federalism within the kingdom without undermining either the Crown itself or the traditional institutions of British society which we share in common.

Therefore, as we look to the future and the 21st century of the principalities, nations and regions of these islands, we need to have a far more forward-looking and, dare I say it, European continental philosophical approach in terms of political structures. We need to return, as this House has always done, to the major constitutional issues that were debated at the turn of the 19th century and debated again in the 1960s and 1970s when Members of this noble House made such an important contribution. We have already heard of Lord Crowther and Lord Kilbrandon, and we need to return to those attempts to consider the issue rationally and dispassionately.

I was interested in the proposal of my colleague on the Cross-Benches, the noble Earl, Lord Perth, that we should have another constitutional convention or commission to consider the issue. It seems to me that that might not be the appropriate solution. However, if, after the next general election to the other place, there is a clear majority in the Principality of Wales and the nation of Scotland for proposals of a devolutionary nature, it might be appropriate for all parties sharing those views—whether or not in government—to sit around a table. It might be at a Speaker's Conference or some other constitutional venue that they should discuss future developments. Thus all the parties within those areas that might be devolved could feel that they had a share in the change. I would not want Conservatives and unionists in Scotland or Wales to feel that they were in

4 Jul 1995 : Column 1024

any way excluded from a process of change, if that is what the peoples of those two nations decide after an election.

That brings me finally and appropriately to the question of England. I have a deep concern for the well-being of all colleagues in England. As a historic nation, we have enjoyed open borders with England for over a thousand years. Indeed, we no longer have an Act of Union because, by Schedule 2 to the Welsh Language Act 1993, the legislation which incorporated Wales into this realm of England henceforth and evermore was deleted from the statute book as lapsed legislation. The basis of the union between Wales and England is now current and modern legislation. Therefore, it is quite easily reformed. It does not even require another treaty.

Looking at the future of England, I do not see how the argument that one partner is bigger than the other somehow denies the basis of the relationship. Historically, the growth of the English nation and its becoming intertwined with the British state may have been a negative force in the life and culture of England itself. I believe that when the people of England—those in its regions and of its ethnic and cultural diversity—realise the potential of being a free partner in the European Union, then those will be positive days for England itself. We may see less Euro-scepticism about than has been the case in recent weeks and months.

England is a medium-sized European nation. Its historical role as the determining and strong nation within the British state probably even now prevents it from being a wholehearted partner in a European union of nations and regions. Therefore, I believe that it has always been the historic role of Welsh and Scottish nationalists to assist in the liberation of England.

4.30 p.m.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, I want to speak about a more detailed matter than has just been dealt with by the previous speaker. In an article last week in The Times entitled "Labour's Better Way", Mr. Tony Blair gave his justification for some of the recently announced U-turns in policy which he hopes that the Labour Party is about to execute. In that article he spoke about reversal of his policy for parts of the National Health Service and for schools in England and Wales. It seems that, having consulted the customers, the Labour Party has decided that many of the Conservative Government's new arrangements which the Labour Party has bitterly opposed through the years are in fact working well and should not be changed.

I want to suggest to the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, who opened the debate for the Labour Benches, and the noble Lord, Lord Ewing, who will wind up for them, that there is an urgent need for the Labour Party to extend such pragmatic realism to its thinking about its policy for the governance of Scotland. From the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, given from the Labour Front Bench, one would not have known that his party had any detailed policy at all but merely that it favours devolution and feels that it will be the solution to the fear that Scotland might go independent.

4 Jul 1995 : Column 1025

In fact, I should have thought that to reverse policy on the plans for a Scottish parliament would not be easy for Mr. Blair. On his visits to Scotland, he has in person repeatedly and explicitly promised the people of Scotland that, if elected, a Labour Government would legislate in their first year for a legislative and tax-raising body covering a very large area of responsibility. He has promised that. That general prospect—most people do not think too much about the details—played a large part in Labour's success in the recent European and local government elections in Scotland. Negative equity in housing is an issue in only very small parts of Scotland. The economy is succeeding above the UK average in Scotland. I believe that the feel-good factor has to do with the issue of the Scottish parliament.

The trouble is that, attractive though the general idea may seem to be in Scotland, from what we know so far from the small print the scheme not only would not work but would lead to such tension between Scotland and the rest of the UK that possibly sooner rather than later the Union would simply disintegrate. It seems to me that, quite apart from the much discussed problems of which members of which parliament would vote on which matters, and the like, the financial arrangements alone, as so far indicated, would cause disastrous conflict.

Last November, speaking to local government councillors, Mr. George Robertson, Tony Blair's principal spokesman on Scotland, stated that the funding would be on the lines proposed by the Scottish Constitutional Convention, whose proposals were explained very clearly by the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, and whose joint chairman, the noble Lord, Lord Ewing, will reply to this debate on behalf of the Labour Party. The Scottish parliament, we are told, would have assigned to it all the income tax and VAT raised in Scotland. That would be supplemented by a grant to make up any shortfall in current levels of funding for Scotland and the parliament would then be able to increase or cut Scottish tax by the equivalent of 3p on the standard rate. That means—the point has not yet been made—that in effect the level of the basic rate of income tax in Scotland would depend on the size of the parliament's grant from Westminster. So, inevitably, if the Scots parliament raised the basic rate from, say, 25p to 28p in the pound, that would justifiably be blamed by Scots on too small a Westminster grant; and if the Scots' basic rate was reduced from 25p to 22p, that would be seen in the rest of the United Kingdom as the result of too high a Westminster grant.

How would the Westminster grant be fixed, anyway? Scotland has 8.8 per cent. of the population of the United Kingdom. It contributes only 8.3 per cent. of United Kingdom revenue from the four main taxes. But it secures, I believe for justifiable reasons, 10.3 per cent. of public spending. How would the rest of the United Kingdom see that 10.3 per cent. of public spending if the Scots parliament chose to lower Scots' tax by 3p?

Whatever else it is or will become, the Labour Party is a party which values the Union. It tells us that the parliament will be designed to strengthen that Union. I

4 Jul 1995 : Column 1026

respectfully suggest that the parliament as so far proposed, far from strengthening the Union, would in fact destroy it. Doubtless, that is why the Scottish National Party separatists are thinking of supporting the Labour Party's legislation, if and when it ever comes to Parliament.

In the article in The Times that I mentioned, Mr. Blair wrote:

    "The debate in the late '90s has to move beyond structures to outcomes".

I myself am not so sure as some of my political colleagues who have just spoken that we can in fact do without some change of structure for the governance of Scotland beyond the ideas already under way for greater use of the Scottish Grand Committee and the Scottish Standing Committee system. But it must be change which will strengthen the Union and not weaken it.

Scotland's sense of nationhood is strong. It still does not see that sense adequately reflected in Parliament. That does not mean that people want to be a separate nation. Perhaps the recently announced independent constitutional unit, which nobody has yet mentioned, to be chaired by the director of the Hamlyn Foundation and financed by charity will have helpful ideas. I do not know. At least it is looking at the right problem.

I hope that my own party will continue to develop its thinking. In the meantime, I hope that the Labour Party, for the moment in the person of the noble Lord, Lord Ewing, when he speaks, can give us some assurance that it is looking at plans which are different from those that it has so far advocated and that it realises that the outcome of the structural change that it seems to have in mind could be disastrous for the Union.

4.39 p.m.

Lord Cooke of Islandreagh: My Lords, I too wish to thank the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, for bringing forward this debate today. It is important and timely and I particularly note the second half of the Motion,

    "and to their effect on the future of the United Kingdom".

I believe that to be important. However, I rise with some trepidation fearing that I may be struck down because I do not have the Scottish credentials of those noble Lords who have already spoken. I am merely a near neighbour from across the 12 miles of the Irish Sea.

I have an interest in the debate because I am a committed Unionist who would oppose any weakening of the Union. I have been glad to note that almost all noble Lords who have spoken have been strongly in favour of the Union. However, I wonder whether concern and thought for the Union is so widespread in the world outside. Since this Motion appeared on the Order Paper, I have been asking people what they think about the Union and often received a reply such as, "I don't mind if the Scots go off on their own"; but usually the consequences have not been thought out and after some discussion the remark is withdrawn. It is worrying that the importance and value of the Union does not seem to be generally understood.

As a native of Northern Ireland I can well understand why the Scots have been discussing a whole range of alternatives. In their view their interests and needs have

4 Jul 1995 : Column 1027

not been taken into account by a Government that is based in London and appearing to think only of London and the Home Counties. Exactly the same feelings are widespread in Northern Ireland where we have an even greater democratic deficit. I believe damage has been done in the past 12 or 14 years by the increasing centralisation and concentration of government in London. To those living several hundred miles from London it often seemed that decisions had been made and action taken for reasons of political doctrine and little or no account taken of the possibility that a particular policy may not be appropriate to all regions. Representations and reasoned objections seldom have any effect. It is no wonder that a wide range of alternatives have been discussed. I do not find it surprising that Conservative Party support in Scotland has almost disappeared.

However, the future of the United Kingdom and the steps taken in Scotland are so important that it would be dangerous if they were taken in any way for party reasons. I listened with interest to the suggestion from my noble friend Lord Perth that in some way we might have another Royal Commission, though I can understand the possible difficulties in that regard.

The thought of a regional parliament terrifies me. I can see it leading to all sorts of problems. I do not think much better of a regional assembly. It will lead to bickering, arguments and lusting after further powers. It does not seem to me to be impossible, by the parties working together, to devolve two regions to work on what they can best do locally. The principle of subsidiarity is treated with disdain because of its European context, but it should be applied to Scotland and the outer regions. It should not be beyond the wit of man to arrange a practical system for devolved government that can be dealt with locally.

Unless those matters are thought through and appropriate action taken in the near future, we shall see growing support for unreasonable action or even unilateral declaration of independence by Scotland. I hope and trust that that does not come about and that all politicians who care about the Union will come together to find a solution for what is a real and urgent problem; a solution that will strengthen the Union rather than lead to its destruction.

4.44 p.m.

Viscount Weir: My Lords, first, I apologise for any discourtesy to other speakers if I do not stay for the whole of the debate; I am temporarily incapacitated and cannot sit for any length of time.

We should all be grateful to the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, for the opportunity she has given us today to discuss the future of Scottish constitutional affairs. The whole issue is inextricably linked with the national identity of Scots and Scotland and the future of the Union itself. On the first of those I make no bones about my position. I was born a Scot; I live and work there; and therefore, like so many of my countrymen, I consider myself as Scottish first and British second.

Equally, on the issue of the Union, I speak as a Unionist who supports Conservative policies rather than as a Conservative. Indeed, I greatly regret the changes

4 Jul 1995 : Column 1028

made in the 1960s under which my party in Scotland ceased to be styled as plain and simple Unionist, or Scottish Unionist. I believe that we would fare far better electorally if we now returned to our original and proper description.

My definition of a Unionist is one who believes that the maintenance of the Union is the great political concept which is overwhelmingly more important than any of the lesser political issues that divide parties. There have always been two perversely different sides to the Scots, or perhaps there are even two different types of Scot. There are the progressive Scots who looked on the United Kingdom, and often the world, as giving them the wider opportunities that a small country would have denied them. In industry, finance, commerce, science, medicine, war, philosophy and politics, the Scots have made contributions quite disproportionate to their numbers, and a great many of them achieved such things, not after permanently leaving their homeland, but while remaining firmly based in Scotland.

It was the native and constructive energy of the Scots which was released by the Union and which for centuries now has benefited both parties to that great bargain. However, I am afraid that there is another side to the Scots which is something of a querulous, parochial and complaining one—we all suffer from that at times. Right now I fear it is that side of our character which is in the ascendant.

There is today much general discontent in the UK as a whole with the performance of the Government. In Scotland that discontent is conveniently, if somewhat irrationally, magnified because the main seat of government is in London. Just as Britons often find it useful to blame Brussels for many of their perceived woes, so perhaps the Scots today, in their moments of discontent, blame what they perceive as an English Government because it is English. The Scottish Nationalists of course have nurtured that unconstructive reaction with the sound bites which pass for their policy.

In all of that the benefits of the Union are simply taken for granted, and we Scots should just remind ourselves clearly what some of those are. There is the wider opportunity the Union provides; there is the disproportionate share of national revenue which Scotland enjoys—naturally the SNP denies that that particular advantage exists but its studies on the subject do not stand up even to superficial analysis compared to the financial reality which is strongly beneficial to Scotland.

In domestic political terms, Scotland benefits from the Union through disproportionate representation at Westminster—and, incidentally, no party normally benefits more from that than does Labour. In international political terms, the Union also benefits Scotland as its interests are backed by the weight of the United Kingdom as a whole. Such are some of the advantages of the Union to Scotland. Perhaps they are taken for granted simply because they have existed for so long and have become such integral parts of the structure of Scotland. It is because I believe that

4 Jul 1995 : Column 1029

devolution will strain the bonds of the Union and ultimately even destroy them that I am so strongly opposed to it.

Consider for a moment just what strains devolution in the form proposed will cause: the West Lothian question, with which your Lordships are all familiar, is not effectively addressed by these proposals; over-representation at Westminster is not addressed; the proposals for tax-raising powers can be condemned twice over—first, because of the public focus they will inevitably bring on Scotland's disproportionate share of national revenue and the likely practical result of that, and secondly because they will adversely affect Scots financially. They will add to the costs of Scottish industry and to the cost of simply being a Scot. Worst of all is the situation which will arise if there are governments of quite different political persuasions in Westminster and in Edinburgh.

Of course the simplistic will argue that there are successful politically devolved states all over the world. But most of them started that way—like Switzerland and the United States—and none of them that I can recollect consciously and successfully turned itself into such a form of government.

There are plenty more lesser issues which time prevents me rehearsing but which would give every divisive opportunity for rancour and disagreement. I would only mention the proposal to have, compulsorily, a large number of ladies in the proposed assembly. Some people will rightly think that this proposal is condescending to ladies. Others, I am afraid, will simply recall John Knox's phrase "the monstrous regiment of women". The SNP will make it their destructive business to exploit these opportunities, since to them the assembly is but a stepping-stone to the dissolution of the Union as we know it. The media, for whom good news seldom counts today as news at all, will hardly pour oil on such troubled waters.

Finally, I ask whether Scots really want devolution. Of course the opinion polls say that they do, and so do those who go on about such matters as "a widely perceived democratic deficit". But I remind your Lordships that when the referendum campaign started in 1978, the majority for devolution in the opinion polls was exactly the same as it is today; and yet in the end the vote was almost exactly evenly divided. Moreover, without exception, the opinion polls always show that devolution is very low in the list of concerns of the Scottish public.

Perhaps the true situation is that a majority of Scots have some vague sympathy today for the idea of an assembly, but the low place they seem to give it in their political priorities simply indicates their lack of conviction or enthusiasm, just as it confirms how totally unsound it is to use the result of a general election, where presumably people actually vote for their political priorities, as a mandate by proxy for constitutional change of this magnitude.

After all, the populist instinct of most lemmings, prompted perhaps by their love of sea-bathing, leads them to jump off cliffs, but that is no good reason for responsible political leaders to invite them to do so, or

4 Jul 1995 : Column 1030

even give them the opportunity. I do not know where it leaves you all, my Lords. It leaves me, as a Scot, with a deep sense of foreboding and with the fear of constitutional convulsion and even the destruction of the Union in which Scotland's distinct identity and spirit have been preserved, and on which its prosperity and success have been built, if we plunge into such murky waters.

4.54 p.m.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe: My Lords, we are indebted to two Members of this House for the debate today. One is the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, whose interesting and perceptive introduction was much appreciated by noble Lords on all Benches. We are indebted, too, to the noble Lord, Lord Ewing of Kirkford, who has to wind up the proceedings for the Opposition today, because for two years he shared the chairmanship of the convention which has been the basis of the new policy document of the Labour Party, but not only of the Labour Party because it has been widely welcomed among the Scottish people.

My only criticism of the convention at the time was that, although it invited all organisations in Scotland to contribute to its deliberations, somehow or other it omitted the Scottish Peers Association, as a result of which they do not feature in the convention's plans for a unicameral parliament in Scotland. I somewhat regret the fact that while I am a Peer in this House it will be impossible for me in future to make any contribution whatever on the questions of housing, health, education, rural transport and so on. I shall be able to do that down here in England, but I shall have no voice whatever on those matters as they affect Scotland. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Ewing, will respond to that minor criticism when he comes to wind up.

During the previous discussions on this matter and on the original referendum on the subject I, along with the noble Viscount, Lord Weir, campaigned against a Scottish assembly. There was a very active committee at that time, of which I was a member. I have since changed my mind on the matter. I support the Labour Party document on this subject for several reasons. First, it is obvious that around 80 per cent. of the people of Scotland want an assembly. Some—a minority—want complete independence but about 80 per cent. of the people have declared in favour of a Scottish assembly.

A great deal has been said about preserving the Union. The noble Viscount, Lord Weir, has painted a picture of decline and a slippery slope towards complete independence. I tell the House that if we do not respond to the wishes of the Scottish people for an assembly the descent into the demand for complete independence will grow and will not diminish. The people of Scotland will feel that they have a right to their own assembly. But if they are told that they cannot have it and that the English Parliament has decided that they cannot have it, the reaction will be towards more extreme demands for independence than are involved in the document which the noble Lord, Lord Ewing, produced.

That is one reason. This demand cannot be resisted. As a democrat I feel that we must respect that demand. I must say, too, that one of the unfortunate things about

4 Jul 1995 : Column 1031

my fellow Scots who have contributed to the debate is their lack of trust in the good sense of the Scottish people to resist complete independence. I have trust in the Scottish people in that they want to preserve the Union, as I want to preserve the Union. I am quite sure that the disadvantages of complete independence will be readily apparent to the very sober and sensible fellow Scots with whom I live.

The other interesting thing that made me change my mind on this matter is the complete decline of the democratic process in Scotland. When I was a very young member of the Glasgow City Council we had complete control over housing, health and education. They were all locally controlled and in the hands of people who had responsibility for administering these matters. Today in Scotland all these functions have been transferred to non-elected quangos. There has been a tremendous growth of centralisation of government. People have lost power over the things that affect them in their daily lives. The suggestion of the Labour Party for a Scottish assembly is simply to bring back power to the people. It is a demand that must be met.

One thing that encourages me about the proposals of the Labour Party is its acceptance of a degree of proportional representation. I am sure that that commends itself to the noble Lord, Lord Mackie, and the Liberal Benches. Initially, I was afraid that a new Scottish assembly under the old voting arrangements would simply be Strathclyde Council Mark II, but I am now satisfied that, because we shall have proportional representation, we shall have better and more democratic representation and greater diversity in the deliberations of that assembly.

Many people have said that, if we move towards the assembly, somehow that will seriously affect the economy. I do not believe that that is so. Some people have said, "You will not get the same degree of inward investment". Southern Ireland does not do too badly in terms of inward investment. It is a much smaller country with a greater degree of independence than Scotland. Inward investment is attracted by skilled labour and the kind of environment in which people can have their work and their being. I do not believe that the creation of the assembly would necessarily have any serious impact on inward investment.

The problem of centralisation of government and power is an international problem. Some countries have been able to do very well in decentralising without necessarily disturbing the state as a whole. I have family who live in Switzerland. There a great deal of power is decentralised into the cantons. I look at the power and the exercise of influence of the German Lander which not only has a great deal of power in conducting its own affairs, but has representation in Brussels to ensure that its regional interests are taken care of.

So I believe that decentralisation proposals put forward by the convention of the noble Lord, Lord Ewing, will not in any sense destroy the Union. They will not in any sense cause us to rush down the path of Scottish nationalism. Therefore, I commend very much the proposals which will be further outlined by the noble Lord, Lord Ewing.

4 Jul 1995 : Column 1032

We are glad to see the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, back in her place today. She was a little unfair about the Labour Party not giving details of its proposals. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Ewing, in winding up, will tell her a little more about that.

There are several questions still outstanding. As has been indicated, the West Lothian question has not been completely dealt with, including the number of MPs and so on. These are matters that can be worked out at a later stage. From these Benches we are simply saying that the voice of the people of Scotland is demanding some degree of devolution. I completely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, that it is a major constitutional change and that we must proceed with some degree of care and caution.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page