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The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Ampthill): I should remind the Committee that if this amendment is agreed to, Amendments Nos. 65B to 69 cannot be moved.

9 p.m.

Lord Sempill: With the leave of the Committee, I wonder whether my Amendment No. 74B may be brought forward to be discussed at this point? The subject matter is remarkably similar. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, has already, if I may say so, opened the batting on the issue.

The Earl of Onslow: I should like guidance from the Committee. The grouping is of Amendments Nos. 65A, 69A and 74. I do not know whether we should stick to that grouping or take the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Sempill, together with it. I agree with whatever the Committee wishes to do.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy: I am afraid that it is partly my suggestion that we should take the amendments together. It seems to me that they are concerned with exactly the same subject. It may, therefore, be for the convenience of the Committee and save a little time.

The Earl of Onslow: So perhaps we can come to Amendment No. 74, which is very simple. It says:

Lord Sempill: I want to clarify the situation while I feel so strongly about the multi-option referendum.

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Perhaps I may take a few minutes of the Committee's time to make an overall observation about the proceedings in the past three sessions. Those who are cricket fans will be aware today that the Third Test ended in a win for Australia and it was mainly due to the collapse of England's batting. I cannot help but feel that, if the noble Lords, Lord Sewel and Lord Williams of Mostyn, had been opening the batting, England would still be at the crease. Their performance over the past three sessions has been reminiscent of Geoffrey Boycott at his best.

Earl Russell: Is it England that would still be at the crease?

Lord Sempill: A well taken point. If we follow the British Lions' performance, the more of us who play under the same shirt the better. The point is well made by the noble Earl.

As I said, their performance was reminiscent of Geoffrey Boycott at his best. Questions were either blocked or casually flicked through the covers. More importantly, many were not played at all. I refer especially to the maiden overs bowled by the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas--who unfortunately had to go back to Cardiff--in which he addressed preferential voting. I do not believe that his balls were well played and I now wish to try my spin against the Committee.

This spin comes in the form of the multi-option referendum. I was remarkably unsuccessful in tempting either noble Lords in the Second Reading, so I beg the Committee's patience while I try again. In the summation of the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, in the Second Reading debate he said that the independence question had been so completely rejected at the election that it would be fatuous to include it in a referendum. But I believe that most of us are aware that if we had a multi-option referendum, between 25 and 30 per cent. of Scots would be likely to vote "Yes" to an independence option. That is a significant number even to those of us with the most basic mathematics.

The noble Lord, Lord Sewel, in opening the debate on the same day, said that the Government seek a broadly-based consensus for change. I have no disagreement with that. He said that the aim is to receive a population-based mandate for the proposals--I still have no disagreement--but then he added the word, "and", to test the settled will of the people of Scotland and Wales. I do not believe that the current referendum does that.

As Mr. Ancrum pointed out in another place, there is a dichotomy in the first question. It is right that a substantial amount of Scots will vote "Yes", but for two different reasons. Some will vote "Yes" to buttress the Union and others will vote "Yes" to break up the Union. He said,

    "There are thus two completely different and opposite reasons for voting for the same option. That is a dangerous basis on which to say that there is a mandate to take this matter forward and then to take legislation forward".--[Official Report, Commons, 4/6/97; col. 436.]

It provides a broadly-based consensus, but does not test the settled will.

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Opinion polls consistently highlight that support for independence is higher than support for the Scottish Nationalist Party. A recent poll in the Sunday Times for Scotland showed that support for devolution and independence was equal at 35 per cent. and that the status quo was 24 per cent. That varied significantly from the electoral support for the parties associated with each of those constitutional positions and therefore suggests that, in the general election of 1st May, different factors influenced supporters of every party.

Either the election settled the constitutional issue or it did not. The Government cannot have it both ways. If they consider it necessary to hold any referendum, especially an advisory referendum which is supposed to guide future legislation, then in the interests of democracy that referendum should place all the options before the people.

The Earl of Mar and Kellie: The amendments of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, and the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, seem to belong to a referendum asking about the setting up of a federal union or an independent state. That is not what is expected to be on offer in the White Paper, which I expect to be a distinctly unionist measure.

The Committee were not impressed with my amendment seeking to change the word "establish" to "re-establish" in connection with the Scottish parliament. The Committee chose to believe that "re-establishment" meant the reconstitution of the independent parliament of Scotland. It was clearly established in Committee that the proposed Scottish parliament will not have any Scottish powers. We are therefore left with a new conundrum: when is a Scottish parliament not a Scottish parliament? The answer of course is when it has executive rather than sovereign powers.

I have a good deal of sympathy with the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Sempill. The trouble, as I see it, is that more than three options are being thought about. Those include continuing the status quo, various degrees of devolution, various degrees of federal union, and an independent state. All of those should be thought of in terms of the relationship with the European Union. Clearly, this is becoming more complicated and will be beyond most citizens, with the exception of those whose hobby is constitutional variations.

Earlier, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Drumadoon, spoke about the stance that those seeking independence would take with regard to a yes, yes vote. I presume that most of those will vote yes, yes as a stepping stone. Perhaps the fundamentalists will not. After all, it is their dissatisfaction with the status quo which causes them to come up with independence as an answer in the same way as it causes others to see devolution as the answer to the unsatisfactory status quo.

9.15 p.m.

The Earl of Onslow: As my amendment, which seeks to insert the words "I want an independent Scotland", is being discussed at the moment, perhaps

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I may say a few words. What this whole issue shows is how unsatisfactory it is when we start producing advisory referenda. The Government start saying, "We shall only take advice on this issue, not that". That shows how referenda can be rigged to get the answer that is required.

I find that the issue of Scotland is in a funny way more simple than what is proposed by the Government. In 1707 the Scottish people, in effect, joined an English union. They joined the club. If they do not want to be in that club, I have no difficulty with that. The Scottish people did join an English union. They joined and they subsumed their powers in the British Parliament and it became the UK Parliament. That is an historical fact. It is no use the Minister arguing because that is self-evidently what happened.

Lord Sewel: I thank the noble Earl for giving way. I think he would cause less anguish on these and some other Benches if he recognised the distinction between the United Kingdom and England.

The Earl of Onslow: That is exactly the point I am making. The English union became the United Kingdom. The English make up 87 per cent. of the United Kingdom. The whole difficulty of this is that a very small minority of the United Kingdom want special rules for themselves. The Irish solved this problem by going their own way. That is easy to accept. If the Scots do not want to be part of the United Kingdom, that is easy. We do not have to send the XX Vintrix Legion back to Hadrian's Wall. Unless this option is on offer we shall get ourselves into a terrible and ghastly muddle because without doubt the English will feel aggrieved. Therefore, it would be easier to have an independent Scotland outside the union than to have an unhappy and nationalist England.

That will arise because the West Lothian question is not answerable. If tax is put up the Scots will say that it has to be put up because the Parliament at Westminster is not giving Scotland enough. If tax goes down the English will then say, "If the Scots think they can take the tax down we shall not give them such a large subsidy". We know perfectly well that the block grant for the National Health Service is 12.5 per cent. higher per head of population in Scotland than it is in England.

All of those threats are on the horizon. All of those threats will make the union more and more difficult. Surely it would be better to point this out, have it said and have it in the open. We could do that by asking, "Do I want Scots independence?" Scots independence is much easier to understand than a devolved Scotland with all the hassle that is bound to bring. If I, with five O-levels--the same number as the Princess of Wales--can understand the hassle, surely the Government can understand it.

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