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Scotland Bill

Volume 592: debated on Tuesday 28 July 1998

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8.37 p.m.

House again in Committee.

Clause 35 [ Acts of Union]:

On Question, Whether Clause 35 shall stand part of the Bill?

I momentarily seek to oppose Clause 35. First, I wish to set down my disappointment about the state of the treaty between Scotland and England which in practice we are in the process of modifying. Half the treaty's articles are abandoned and it cannot be said to be a working document any longer.

This failure to keep the treaty up to date leads me to call for its renewal. A new treaty would be constitutionally healthy in a diverse and voluntary multi-national state. Not to describe the United Kingdom as such would be to accept the fact of annexation.

Secondly, I am concerned that the two Acts mentioned in Clause 35 are both largely not in force. Thirdly, the Union with England Act, passed in the Scottish Parliament in 1707, is not available on the Lexis computer system, whereas the Union with Scotland Act is. If the Union is as important as I keep being told it is, then this foundation Act should be electronically recorded and widely available.

Fourthly, I must say to the traditional Unionists that at present they are failing to explain to people in Scotland the benefits of the Union. This is exemplified by the failure to teach in schools the formation and purpose of the United Kingdom and its constitution. For example, out on the streets the treaties of 1536, 1706, 1800 and 1921 mean little, if anything at all.

I said that I shall not delay the Committee for long, and I shall not. I conclude with the statement that that all needs to be remedied before Clause 35 can be seen as a useful clause of the Bill.

Perhaps I may just make clear what is the effect and intention of Clause 35. The Government may be held responsible for many things, from natural calamities to the weather and the awful summer we are having, but I do not believe that we can be held responsible for which Acts and treaties appear on Lexis.

The intention behind Clause 35 is to make it clear that the provisions of the Bill should be given effect notwithstanding anything in the Acts of Union. That sends a clear signal that the provisions in the Bill are to take priority in the event that it may be alleged that there are inconsistencies. The Government are satisfied that there are none. That will reduce the potential for any uncertainty or legal challenge in the future.

I am aware of cases that have been brought in the past based on the Act of Union, not with great success. This provision will remove that possibility. That is the simple, straightforward reason for including the clause in the Bill. I do not accept the invitation from the noble Earl to go down the road of discussing whether or not we need a new treaty. I leave that to others.

Perhaps I can intervene briefly and ask the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, a question. Does that mean that the two Acts of Union will not be amended by this Bill and that, therefore, when I look at Statutes in Force, I will not find them with the amendments, deletions or whatever that are consequential on this Bill?

Let me repeat what I said. The provisions in this Bill are to take priority in the event that it is alleged that there are any inconsistencies between this Bill and the Acts of Union. I said that the Government are satisfied that there are none.

Does that answer mean that no changes will be made to the Acts of Union and Statutes in Force? It is a simple question and I should have thought it deserved a simple answer.

I gave the noble Lord a simple answer. There is a difference between a simple answer and an abrupt and abbreviated answer. I hope the noble Lord will accept that I answered his question.

Clause 35 agreed to.

8.45 p.m.

After Clause 35, insert the following new clause—