House of Lords
Thursday, 25 January 2007.
The House met at eleven o’clock: the LORD SPEAKER on the Woolsack.
Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Manchester.
Leave of Absence: The Lord Speaker
My Lords, the Prime Minister recently announced that the UK intends to sign the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings, and the Home Secretary is liaising with colleagues across government on how to progress this issue as quickly as possible.
My Lords, does my noble friend not agree that the delay is becoming inexplicable? On the Joint Committee on Human Rights, on which I serve, we listened to witnesses working in the front line with these unfortunate people, and the story was harrowing and moving. Too often, they are seen as just a troublesome extension of the immigration problem, as distinct from women in danger and in dire need of support and help. When will we send a clear message to all concerned in this country, and to all those in Europe and the world, that we stand absolutely firm and resolute in condemning this beastly trade and in supporting all those who are endeavouring to help these women in their predicament?
My Lords, my sentiments are entirely with my noble friend Lord Judd. I am sure he listened carefully to what I said, which was that it is our very firm intention to sign the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings for the very reasons my noble friend set out in his supplementary. We have always said that we are wholly sympathetic to the objectives behind the Council of Europe convention, which, as I am sure we all appreciate, will provide greater support for all victims of trafficking and continue our fight against organised immigration crime, something that is at the very top of our political agenda.
My Lords, as always, I welcome the Government’s commitment to sign up to the convention. Is the Minister aware that delay costs lives? Practical measures can be taken now to protect trafficked children. Is the Minister aware of the report by ECPAT, published last week, which points out that of the 80 children rescued by government agencies from trafficking, two-thirds have gone missing and are back in the hands of traffickers? What will the Government do to protect them now?
My Lords, we continue to take firm action. The ECPAT report does not absolutely identify the 48 missing children—we are not fully apprised of all the circumstances set out in the report—but we continue to ensure that proper enforcement measures are taken. Certainly, with the measures that we have put in place in the past few years, this Government take the issue very seriously, which is why we support projects such as the Poppy project, through the Eaves housing project, and so on, providing all the opportunities that we can to ensure that proper standards of child protection are in place.
My Lords, is it not essential that when these unfortunate women manage to escape they are not sent back to their country of origin? The country of origin may well be the place where they were abducted by a criminal gang in the first place. Returning them to their country of origin may mean returning them to a family that does not want to accept them because they are regarded as dishonoured. Could we not adopt a more compassionate attitude in such cases?
My Lords, we do that and that is why we have made the announcement that we intend to sign the Council of Europe convention, which will put that firmly in place. But, of course, it is important that we develop our policy further to ensure that the 30-day reflection period and the protection that is offered to victims are in place and are well supported.
My Lords, we on these Benches welcome the long-delayed promise to sign the convention, but when will the Government ratify it? So many conventions have been signed but not ratified.
Before Christmas, we were promised an action plan on trafficking that was supposed to be published last year. It was to come out in January, and we are now well into January. When will it be in our hands?
My Lords, we have made it clear that we will ratify the convention. An absolute date for signing up to it is still an open question. A number of states, including us, have yet to do that.
On the action plan, we launched a three-month national consultation exercise on proposals in January of last year. The proposals are being developed. The consultation period ended in the middle of last summer with many responses. We are obviously keen to ensure that they are properly fed into developing the plan so that the consultation document, which was welcomed, gives full effect to our policy intentions.
My Lords, the Children’s Society is reporting cases of trafficked children in the south-east of England being arrested during factory raids and prosecuted for illegal working. Are the Government aware of these specific instances? In the light of what the Minister said about the consultations over a trafficking action plan, what precise matters will be addressed by the Government at this moment?
My Lords, I am not in a position to provide precise details. Operations such as Operation Pentameter do pick people up, particularly minors. We must ensure that they are adequately cared for through social services. It is a difficult exercise. I am happy to write to the right reverend Prelate and share more detailed information with him.
My Lords, is it not clear, as was revealed in the recent debate in your Lordships’ House, that the extent of this trafficking is such that a mere commitment in words is not enough? The minimum step is to sign up to the European convention.
My Lords, I have indicated that that is our policy intention. We continue to develop important policies to ensure that we have strategies in place to deal with the fall-out of doing so and to provide the proper protection that young people, in particular, deserve.
My Lords, is it not outrageous that, the Prime Minister having said that he would sign the convention, we are now prevaricating? This convention must be not only signed but ratified, and we must have a timetable for ratification soon. While this is happening, women and children—girls and young boys—are going through terrible, horrendous lives and many are being killed.
My Lords, I agree with the need for a timetable, which is being developed across government. It is essential that we get it spot on, because this is an important issue. I am sure that your Lordships’ House is fully in support of our overall approach.
Road Safety: Mobile Telephones
My Lords, the latest figures, for 2004, show that, for England and Wales, there were 789 prosecutions and 641 convictions for using hand-held mobile phones while driving. However, offences are dealt with by the offer of a fixed penalty. In 2004, some 74,000 tickets were paid.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his Answer and for the rather flattering signal-ahead answer given by the Home Office two days ago. I hope I shall have such favoured treatment when I ask a Question in the weeks and months to come. The Answer revealed the figures for successful prosecutions, and another survey showed that some 500,000 calls are made on hand-held phones in a 24-hour period, so is he satisfied that the police are pursuing this matter with sufficient vigour, or perhaps the offence is difficult to prove? Does he agree that what is really required is a sea-change among the driving community, such as occurred with drink-driving, which nevertheless took many years to become socially unacceptable?
My Lords, the noble Viscount makes a very good point about drink-driving and the culture of drinking that prevailed at the time, which initially made it difficult for enforcement to bite. The offence has been in place for only two or three years and, as I revealed in the Answer, some 74,000 drivers have been ticketed, which indicates a high level of enforcement. I agree with him that this area will develop over time. The Government take the issue of driving while using a hand-held mobile phone extremely seriously.
My Lords, can the Minister say why he can give the statistics for the number of tickets issued for using a hand-held telephone while driving but not for the numbers of tickets issued and paid for the offence of cycling on footpaths? Why does he not collect one set of statistics, or why does he not give them when he is able to give them for the other offence?
My Lords, I do not want to underestimate the nuisance value of cycling on footpaths, but the threat potentially posed by hand-held telephones when a motorist uses one while driving is rather different. It is clearly important that we collect data and statistics on that issue. The cycling question is rather more difficult.
My Lords, given the extraordinary disparity between the number of successful prosecutions and the number of recorded telephone calls made by people while mobile in a car, does the Minister not agree that the time has come to try to produce a culture change? That will require advertising, particularly television advertising.
My Lords, the Department for Transport has embarked upon a campaign on this issue. I am sure the noble Lord will have noticed that an increase in the penalty is to be introduced on 27 February, and there is a substantial advertising campaign around that. We have also recently been blessed, I guess, with some fairly high-profile cases of people being convicted of driving while using a mobile telephone.
My Lords, I do not have precise statistics on that issue. I can say that accident figures continue to fall, and I would like to think that our efforts to tackle mobile phone use while driving are part of the explanation behind that. In the last year for which I have statistics, there was a further decline in accident numbers and, in particular, in serious injuries. I am more than happy to provide those statistics to the noble Countess in a letter.
My Lords, I want to follow on from the question asked by the noble Countess. Does my noble friend have an analysis of the statistics which shows what proportion of those people convicted of driving while using hand-held mobile telephones were involved in a road traffic accident as a result? Are the police proactively seeking to prosecute people who have not yet caused an accident, but who might do so if they continued their behaviour?
My Lords, the noble Baroness is seeking statistics which may not exist. She will know that I am new to this brief, but I shall check on the matter because that information might be extremely valuable. We are well on the way to achieving our casualty reduction targets for 2010. There has been a 40 per cent reduction in the number of people killed or seriously injured in road accidents compared with the average number for 1994 to 1998, and a 50 per cent reduction—this is an important statistic—in the number of children killed or seriously injured during that period. The Government are having a fair measure of success in meeting their casualty reduction targets.
My Lords, about one hour ago, I was very nearly knocked off my bicycle by a car turning left at the bottom of Wimpole Street—I was on the road and not on the footpath. As the driver was turning left, he was blowing his horn and was on his mobile. If I were to take his registration number and report it to the police, would anything happen?
Armed Forces: Expenditure
asked Her Majesty’s Government:
Why, in light of Lord Drayson’s statement on 5 July 2006 (Official Report, col. 229) that defence expenditure as a percentage of gross domestic product had reduced, Lord Davies of Oldham stated on 17 January (Official Report , col. 649) that the Government had not reduced the percentage.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that rather surprising reply, but since the GDP cake has been growing by 2.5 per cent per year since 1992 and the defence slice of that cake has been growing by only about 1.5 per cent, was not your Lordships’ Defence Minister surely right?
My Lords, I am glad that the noble Earl acknowledges that under a Labour Government there has been a real growth in defence expenditure during the past 10 years. The simple explanation for his misunderstanding of the position is as follows: the defence budget has been at the level that he stated, but I answered last time on defence expenditure, which includes military operations.
My Lords, while I recognise the slight increase in real terms in the defence budget, the tasking, too, has increased significantly during this period. The National Audit Office recognised that in its report and the Prime Minister said in Plymouth that it would mean the need for long-term extra expenditure. Will the Minister confirm that the Treasury is working with the Ministry of Defence on redefining and costing the defence planning assumptions?
My Lords, the first base is the Comprehensive Spending Review, which will culminate in the middle of this year. Defence expenditure and the defence budget for the next three years will be included in that. However, the Government of course take into account changes in priorities in the longer term. This is all part of the work that is done together by the Treasury and the Ministry of Defence.
My Lords, does the Minister recognise that, as the noble Lord, Lord Garden, said, it is also a question of commitments? I do not think that many of those serving in the forces will be impressed by the bandying around of statistics or the clever answers coming from the Treasury Bench, given that those forces are faced with shortages, increasing levels of commitment and an increasing abandonment of the harmony guidelines, which provide a decent interval between unaccompanied tours of duty. The Prime Minister’s comments in Plymouth, belated though they were, were at last a recognition of the serious shortfall in defence expenditure.
My Lords, the issue is not that the Treasury produces these statistics; the noble Lord who asked the Question called for the statistics. This derived from a Question about defence last week. I am, therefore, obliged to put the record straight. However, I recognise what the noble Lord says: of course it is important that we sustain defence expenditure to meet the commitments of our troops. It is quite clear that the extra cost of military operations reflects the deployment of our troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the noble Lord will recognise that that involves substantial increased expenditure.
My Lords, I do not know whether the Minister feels that he has yet understood the questions. Surely he will agree that a Government who saw the end of the Cold War were able to reduce defence expenditure, and a Government who involved our Armed Forces in only one relatively minor overseas war were able to contain defence expenditure. Does he not realise that the Government of which he is a member will probably go down as the most warmongering since the end of the Second World War? That is why defence expenditure ought to be far higher than it is today.
Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland
My Lords, this very thorough report by the police ombudsman has identified serious failures of duty by a small number of police officers over the period from 1991 to 2003. While the report’s contents are shocking, the fact that the police ombudsman’s investigation has succeeded in bringing this to light demonstrates how effective are the new police accountability mechanisms that are now in place. The Chief Constable has accepted the report’s recommendations, and work on reinvestigating the cases referred to in the report has already begun.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that Answer and I declare an interest, because the police ombudsman was a member of my staff when I was vice-chancellor of the University of Ulster. She is an exemplary public servant and does not deserve the unwarranted observations made in Grand Committee yesterday by certain noble Lords. I now ask the question put to the Prime Minister by the honourable Member for Foyle yesterday in another place, which was not replied to. Can the former Chief Constable, Sir Ronnie Flanagan, now remain credible as Chief Inspector of Constabulary after the ombudsman’s report? He denies any knowledge of the gross irregularities that took place in Special Branch while he was Chief Constable of the RUC. Is that not dereliction on his part?
My Lords, can I suggest that this document on an investigation that took place over four years is totally inconclusive, is high on assumptions, is based on a dubious hypothesis and is low on evidence? Will the noble Lord confirm that yesterday at the Police Board the police ombudsman made it very clear that whatever faults she implied were not systemic throughout the RUC? Will he deplore the naming of three senior officers by Mark Durkan in another place yesterday? I know the three officers—I have worked with them; they are among the most honourable men I know. I want that to be noted by the noble Lord. What is he going to do to protect officers whose reputations have been impugned by this very shoddy document, which has been produced at a huge cost? Finally, will the Minister confirm that the officers named did not refuse to give evidence to the police ombudsman? They wrote to her and offered to give evidence in any substantive inquiry that she should conduct.
My Lords, nobody has claimed that this was systemic in the RUC; that was made absolutely clear in the report and the answers that have been given. On the second point, frankly, it ill behoves any Member of this place to criticise the use of parliamentary privilege by any Member in another place, and I do not intend to do so.
As I said in my original Answer, it has been made quite clear that the Chief Constable, of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, has accepted every one of the recommendations, and is going to take further a police investigation. That is what will happen. People may have their individual views—idiosyncratic though they may be—about the report and its quality but the Chief Constable has accepted the recommendations and is now pursuing a police inquiry. We should await its outcome.
My Lords, this is indeed a serious, important and shocking report, as the Minister has indicated. Many of us believe that it needs full debate. Are protocols in place to deal with how relationships operate between informants and security forces and, if so, will a statement be made about how these now work?
My Lords, there is a question here of general application, in that the police ombudsman has taken the view that where the security forces run an agent who is inside a paramilitary organisation, that is collusion unless a clear set of procedures, some of which are rather bureaucratic, are followed. Senior police officers in Northern Ireland, however, regarded those procedures as being quite unrealistic in dealing with terrorism. That is the issue of general application, because we are in danger here of setting precedents that will come back to haunt us in dealing with terrorism elsewhere in the United Kingdom.
My Lords, it is self-evident that, in order to counter terrorist threats to the UK from various bodies, it is essential to infiltrate terrorist groups from time to time. There is a set of rules and protocols for that. Some of the informants may, indeed, be committing criminal offences and therefore the handling of this requires the utmost professionalism. Under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, it is now in the interests of national security to make sure that those informants’ actions are proportionate to what the use of that conduct seeks to achieve. A source that acts beyond the limits recognised by the law will be liable to prosecution.
My Lords, does the Minister recognise that we support the Chief Constable in following up the accusations that he made? That is obviously entirely right, but at the same time we recognise the difficulties and dangers of running informants, particularly at the times referred to, which were incredibly difficult. Yet intelligence gathering was essential to fighting the terrorist war and remains so now; it is a very dirty war.
Business of the House: Debates Today
My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in the name of the Leader of the House.
Moved, That the debate on the Motion in the name of Lord Forsyth of Drumlean set down for today shall be limited to four hours and that in the name of Baroness Gardner of Parkes to two hours.—(Lord Grocott).
On Question, Motion agreed to.
Consumers, Estate Agents and Redress Bill [HL]
My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.
Moved, That the amendments for the Report stage be marshalled and considered in the following order:
Clauses 2 to 24,
Clauses 25 to 29,
Clauses 30 to 34,
Clauses 35 to 44,
Clauses 45 to 52,
Clauses 53 to 66,
Schedules 7 and 8.—(Lord Truscott.)
On Question, Motion agreed to.
United Kingdom: Treaty of Union
rose to call attention to the 300th anniversary of the Treaty of Union and to the case for maintaining a United Kingdom; and to move for Papers.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, what better time to debate the importance of the Treaty of Union than in this, the tercentenary year and on the birthday of Scotland's national bard, Robert Burns? He may have denounced the Scottish negotiators as
“bought and sold for English gold”,
but he also confessed that he was devoted to the British constitution, “next after my God”.
By the time of Burns’s death at the age of 37, the union had brought prosperity with the opening up of free trade, and the country was pulling together in the war against France. The age of enlightenment was in full swing. Scotland was leading the world in philosophy, economics and architecture with men such as Adam Smith, David Hume and Robert Adam. Our historic partnership literally changed the world, and Scots have been in the front line of national endeavour from the thin red line to Tumbledown, from Alexander Graham Bell to John Logie Baird.
We in Britain are more fortunate than we know. We have the oldest and most stable constitution in Europe. The sea is our timeless frontier. In 1603, Scotland inherited the English throne, and in 1707, by sovereign treaty, the union of Parliaments made us free and equal partners in the United Kingdom. We take a lot of things for granted—our prosperity, our freedom and our stability under the Crown—but what we take for granted most of all is the privilege from which all those advantages derive: the privilege of being British. There is no one prouder to be Scottish than I am, but I take equal pride in being British. There is no contradiction, no clash of interests or allegiance that disrupts that dual identity. It is our birthright to be Scots, English or Welsh; our good fortune to be British; and, I believe, our duty to be unionists.
Gordon Brown has called for a big debate to celebrate our common values. The Government marked the 300th anniversary of the greatest partnership the world has ever seen by hosting a reception. It was hosted by the Chancellor and the Scottish Secretary in my old office, Dover House in Whitehall. I felt that I ought to go along. The Chancellor did not turn up and the Scottish Secretary left early to debate with Alex Salmond on “Newsnight”. Is that really the best that the Government can do to celebrate the tercentenary?
The Education Secretary, Alan Johnson, announced today that he wanted Britishness taught in our schools. Asked on the “Today” programme this morning what Britishness was, he spluttered incoherently searching for an answer. I suggest to him that if he wants our children to understand what Britishness is, he should ensure that we return to teaching history in our schools from beginning to end, not as a disjoint set of topics or periods.
Amazingly, Mr Brown is now attacking Conservatives for playing what he described as fast and loose with the union by demanding English votes for English laws. He warns:
“It is now time for the supporters of the Union to speak up to resist any drift towards a Balkanisation of Britain and to acknowledge Great Britain for the success it has been and is”.
I recognise that phrase, “Balkanisation of Britain”. It was first used by one of his ministerial colleagues, Mr Kim Howells. Arguing against devolution for Scotland and Wales, he said:
“I did not enter politics to help with the Balkanisation of Britain”.
It appears, according to the Chancellor, that he did just that. English votes for English laws was always the inevitable consequence of engineering Scottish votes for Scottish laws. It is a proposal that carries support in opinion polls on both sides of the Border, because people in Scotland and people in England recognise that it is only fair.
How is this for brass neck from Mr Brown:
“Conservative writers now embrace anti-unionist positions, from independence to another anti-Thatcher stance: ‘English votes for English laws’—itself a Trojan horse for separation.”?
He calls my noble friend Lady Thatcher in aid, and I welcome his reassessment. Yet it is this Government who changed everything and created the Scottish Parliament. They refused to listen to the warnings from my noble friend and from Sir John Major and unionists on their own side. You only needed to read the title of Tam Dalyell’s book, Devolution: the End of Britain?, to get the message. Frank Field is today calling for English votes on English issues because he is a unionist, not a nationalist. The noble Lord, Lord Robertson, assured us that devolution would kill nationalism stone dead. The truth is that the Government’s gerrymandering of the constitution has ignited nationalism on both sides of the Border and urgent remedial action is now required.
English votes for English laws is attacked by Ministers because they say it would create two classes of MP. But the Government did that when they prevented 59 Scottish MPs—including the Chancellor, the Home Secretary, the Trade Secretary, the Defence Secretary and the Transport and Scottish Secretary—from voting on devolved issues in their own constituencies as a consequence of establishing a Scottish Parliament. The Higher Education Act introducing top-up fees in universities was passed only on the strength of Scottish Labour MPs voting on a measure that was rejected for their own constituencies by Labour in the Scottish Parliament.
My Lords, I understand what the noble Lord is saying about English votes for English laws in the House of Commons, although I do not agree with it. How would it work here in the House of Lords when dealing with exactly the same legislation? Would he and I be able to vote on that legislation?
My Lords, it is not for me to sort out the mess. The noble Lord—to be fair to him—has not always been the most enthusiastic advocate of devolution, but it is not for me to say how to sort out the mess that we warned the Labour Party would result from proceeding as it has.
As I was saying, the Higher Education Act passed only because of the votes of Scottish MPs, but the provisions did not apply to their own constituencies. That is not sustainable. It is not defensible. We need to change it. The late Robin Cook, another distinguished parliamentarian, claimed that if a Scottish Parliament were created, he could not be Secretary of State for Health because he would not be accountable to his constituents for a department which presided over health in England. Quite what he would have made of Dr John Reid as Home Secretary trashing his own department, I do not know. It is a failure to address these problems that will feed the worm of separatism which is growing at the very heart of our union.
The Government describe devolution as a process. Well, it is not working and it needs reform. It is striking how many of the enthusiasts for the creation of a Scottish Parliament have fallen silent and disappeared into the background. I thought that it would be expensive. I thought that it would struggle to attract the most talented people. I thought that it would marginalise Scotland, diminish the authority of Scottish MPs at Westminster and undermine the union. It has exceeded all my expectations. At the very least, a root and branch reform is needed. There are too many politicians in Scotland and the Executive is far too large. We had five ministerial cars; they have 22 ministerial cars and preach about the importance of global warming. They are marginalised in their relations with Whitehall. Their role was never properly thought through.
The noble Lord, Lord Barnett—who wanted to be at this debate, but cannot because of family illness—has called for a review of the formula that bears his name. If Scotland was to have its own legislative and tax-raising powers, it was crucial to demonstrate that the Parliament was funded on a fair basis. The noble Lord, Lord Barnett, thinks that it is not. A needs-based assessment for each of the regions and countries of the United Kingdom was essential to establish a baseline that was fair and seen to be so. Providing funding of 20 per cent more per head for Scotland than for England without such an exercise, while introducing more generous policies on tuition fees or free care for the elderly north of the Border, was bound to create resentment. The Chancellor should commission that objective needs assessment now. The Treaty of Union guaranteed fair and equal treatment for all parts of the union. It is his duty to demonstrate that this is being done.
George Orwell introduced us to the concept of doublethink—the ability to hold two contradictory thoughts simultaneously and to believe both of them: “War is peace”, “Freedom is slavery”, “Ignorance is strength”. To these, the Scottish nationalists have added, “Independence in Europe”. Scotland’s voice counts in Europe, in the Security Council, in the UN, in NATO, in the Commonwealth, and in the G8 as part of the United Kingdom. An independent Scotland would struggle to catch the waiter’s eye in Brussels. It would be a country of 5 million in a community of half a billion.
The nationalists of old, such as Compton Mackenzie and Wendy Wood, offered hardship and sacrifice as the price of freedom. Their latter-day successors pretend that the economic and political advantages of being in the union could be retained and that secession would be painless. This is dishonest politics. If independence is the overriding priority, people have every right to vote for it, but they also have the right to be informed in advance about the heavy sacrifice it entails.
In the unlikely event of the Scottish nationalists winning a majority of the seats in the Scottish Parliament in May on the very anniversary of the Treaty of Union, a referendum will have to be held on independence. The Lord Chancellor, whom I am delighted to see participating in the debate, has taken to the airwaves and warned us on GMTV that the future of the United Kingdom is at stake. He would do well to reflect on the role that he and his colleagues would have played as correspondents in any divorce proceedings. This marriage of 300 years is worth saving.
The United Kingdom is greater than its individual parts. Unity is our instinct and our strength—unity that has been forged and tested in peace and war. We are a nation united under the Crown by common interest, by history, and by destiny. We must never relinquish that precious inheritance, and must fight to preserve our United Kingdom for generations to come. I beg to move for Papers.
My Lords, I shall take this opportunity to speak in support of the continuing union between England and Scotland. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, for introducing the debate, even though, in my view, as the author of the poll tax he was probably the politician in the 20th century who came closest to destroying that union. However, I agree with the first part of the noble Lord’s speech. I support the union; I believe that it is right. But here is one long-term supporter of devolution, who is still a long-term supporter of devolution, who believes that the establishment of the Scottish Parliament was right. I had an enormous sense of déjà vu when I listened to the noble Lord’s speech, which he could have made in the 1980s, the early 1990s and even when he was Secretary of State for Scotland. The noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, was wrong then and he is wrong now.
I did not support devolution in order to create an independent Scotland. I supported devolution because a democratic deficit had to be addressed. Before devolution, the Secretary of State introduced legislation to this House and the other place that related entirely to the Scottish people but was not supported by the Scottish people democratically. They had never elected anyone to introduce those laws. If that was not a major anomaly and a major deficit, I do not know what was.
In some ways I am almost representative of the union. I was born in England of Scottish parents. My brothers and my sisters still live in England, where they brought up their children. My brothers divide their loyalties between England and Scotland. Their children see themselves as English, while my sons see themselves very much as Scottish. I have lived for 45 years in Scotland: I know many people would not believe that on listening to me—although I may look it. I have brought up my family in Scotland; I holiday in Scotland; and I support any Scottish team or Scot taking part in any sporting activity. I suppose, in the words of Jim Sillars, that makes me a 90-minute patriot.
However, along with the majority of Scots, I cannot understand why anyone should propose the break-up of the United Kingdom. Of course, there are times when people should declare their independence from a dominant power. On these Benches, we have supported throughout our political lives the struggle of oppressed peoples for freedom throughout the world. But, despite the sometimes strange rhetoric of the SNP, no comparisons can be made between Scotland and those oppressed peoples. I have heard Alex Salmond compare the struggle of Scotland’s independence with the struggle against apartheid in South Africa. What an insult to the people of South Africa that is.
Except for history and sport, what divides us from England? We are not divided by religion; we speak the same language; and we are of the same race and colour. There is not even a natural geographic divide between the two countries. When I was driven north by my parents, we believed that we were in Scotland when we crossed the Solway. I now notice that the Border is about a mile further up the road nearer to Gretna.
Scotland is not an oppressed colony seeking freedom. As the noble Lord said, Scots played a dominant role in the discovery, settlement and administration of the British Empire. They played a major role in the growth of the British economy. Even today, Scots play a leading role in the government of the country. Our present Prime Minister was born and went to school in Scotland. The next Prime Minister, who will be there for as long as he wants, is Scottish. The leader of the Liberal Party is a Scot and I am sure that, given his name, David Cameron has Scottish ancestors somewhere.
If the Scots had wanted independence, they could have voted for it at any general election in the past 50 years by voting for the SNP. If a majority of SNP MPs had been elected, no British Government would have refused to negotiate or call a referendum. But the Scottish people have steadfastly refused to do this—nor will they in May or any future election. The Scots like to moan about the English and what awful people they are. They like to support any football or rugby team playing against England, wherever that team comes from. But they also want to enjoy the enormous social and economic benefits that union with the rest of the UK brings.
The SNP tries to pretend that it is a modern, social democratic party, but it clings to a concept of nationhood that has no basis other than some romantic historic memory. It is significant that the party holds a rally every year at Bannockburn, believes that Scotland was defeated at Culloden and wraps itself in the Scottish flag. In a modern, democratic, high-tech world where trade and the economy are global, where the internet has brought to all nearly all the knowledge that we require and where we travel freely across the world, seeing and sharing a multitude of cultures, nationalism appears old-fashioned and narrow-minded—a philosophy of the 19th and early 20th centuries with little or no relevance in the modern world. While the leaders of the SNP represent the face of reason and argue a case, seemingly based on reason, too many of their most ardent supporters base their nationalism on hatred of the English, not on any love for their own country.
It would be a major blow to both England and Scotland if the bond between them was broken. Devolution has created some anomalies but, as I have said, they are no greater than the anomalies that were there when the noble Lords, Lord Forsyth and Lord Lang, were Secretary of State. The British constitution is riddled with anomalies; this House is, after all, probably the biggest anomaly of all. We amend these anomalies when necessary. I do not believe that the present relationship between England and Scotland needs any amendment at this stage. Let us celebrate and enjoy throughout the United Kingdom the benefits that the union brings—personally, socially and economically—and let us, on all sides, stop harping on about the few problems and grievances that exist.
My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth. He is one of the kind of bare-knuckle politicians whom I admire. He has not yet fulfilled the prediction that I made when he entered the House—that he would make an immediate putsch for the leadership of the Conservative Party—but I would recommend that the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, keep an eye open. It is also a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Maxton, who of course in his way is a part of one branch of Scottish aristocracy—the red Clydesiders.
The truth is that, whatever the political settlement agreed between the different peoples of these islands, we are bound together by an entanglement of history and the realities of geography. I am of Irish origin, some 150 years ago—both sides of my family come from County Mayo. I have never checked back, because I fear that we may have left without paying the rent. I recall a visit by Jack Lynch—then the Irish Prime Minister—to Downing Street when I worked with Jim Callaghan. The receiving line consisted of Denis Healey, the Chancellor, Bernard Donoghue, head of the policy unit, and Tom McCaffrey, head of the press office. When Jack Lynch reached me he said, “Is this my delegation or yours?”.
I emphasise those Irish roots because the tragedy of Ireland serves both as a lesson and a warning. Gladstone said 120 years ago:
“We are bound to lose Ireland in consequence of years of cruelty, stupidity and misgovernment and I would rather lose her as a friend than as a foe”.
Ireland has cast such a long and bloody shadow over our politics throughout the 20th century, in part because politicians sought to use the problems of Ireland for short-term political gain. One of the reasons why I wanted to participate today was in order to listen carefully to what was said by noble Lords on the Conservative Benches. I sincerely hope that they are not contemplating a 21st-century version of playing the Orange card by stoking up a spurious kind of English nationalism because, if they do, they may release a genie from the bottle with dire consequences for the union.
I listened to what the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, had to say about the English question. Perhaps I can recommend especially to noble Lords on the Conservative Benches a book in the Library, The English Question, edited by Robert Hazell. It is a collection of studies of this issue by British academics which does not set out the stark choices outlined by the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth. He referred to Balkanisation. It is interesting to note that, when I was a schoolboy, Balkanisation was a pejorative term; it was a description of failure. But in recent years, not least in the Balkans themselves, we have seen Balkanisation, with many countries smaller than Scotland opting for independence, so an independent Scotland would not look out of place in a community of nations. If our union is to continue, it has to do so because of shared values and interests, as the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, said, and because of mutual benefit.
I watched the debate on “Newsnight” between Douglas Alexander and Alex Salmond, and I have to say that I found it sterile and unsatisfactory in many ways, not least because neither of them seemed to argue for what I would coin the third way. I hope that, over the next few hours, Members on these Benches will expand on that third way. I have never had any trouble identifying myself at a number of levels. To take the Tebbit test, I support Blackpool at football, Lancashire at cricket, England at football and cricket, Great Britain at rugby league and Europe at the golf Ryder Cup. Likewise in my politics I can see tasks best suited to the European Union, some to the UK Government, some to national and regional government and some to local government. It has been a constant theme of this party to move power from Whitehall to the level of most effectiveness—that horrid word, “subsidiarity”. In fact, we have the most overcentralised government in the western world, and I hope that a number of my colleagues will develop themes in terms of the English regions, Wales and Cornwall.
We will hear from my noble friend Lord Steel, who will address the specific question raised by the Barnett formula and his own work on that. Here I pay tribute to my noble friend for his contribution to the establishment of the Scottish Parliament and carrying through devolution. We will hear from my noble friend Lord Mar and Kellie. It will be a distinctive view. Harold Wilson once said that every dog has one bite, and today my noble friend will have his bite. I hate to challenge him, because he has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the skulduggery and chicanery of Scottish politics going back 600 years, not least because his family seems to have played a major part in that skulduggery. We will also hear from my noble friend Lord Maclennan of Rogart, who with the Cook-Maclennan report set in motion moves towards the Scottish Parliament, of which Members on these Benches are extremely proud. Lastly, yesterday I had the pleasure of hearing the leader of the Liberal Democrats in Scotland, Nicol Stephen, speak to us. He set out an inspirational vision, one in stark contrast to what we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, and we can go into the forthcoming elections in Scotland with a track record of good governance and a positive vision of Scotland’s future.
Members on these Benches will continue to argue that the union will be stronger if we embrace genuine devolution with significantly more powers for the existing devolved bodies and a renewed attempt to devolve power to the English regions. The late Donald Dewar described devolution as,
“a process, not an event”.
If we see it that way and work with imagination and generosity of spirit to devolve power and decision-making, we will achieve that win-win situation of a United Kingdom strong enough to be a major influence on world events and with a constitutional settlement that respects and enhances the identity of our constituent nations. In that way, and in contrast to Gladstone’s prediction of losing Ireland as a foe, we will retain Scotland and other parts of the union as friends, and in this House we will welcome a Scottish Prime Minister from whichever party he may come.
My Lords, like the three previous distinguished speakers, I come to celebrate the union, not to bury it. I make no apology for intervening as a Welshman because this debate relates to the future of the union as a whole.
I make but four brief observations. First, it is unlikely that the union question would have been raised at earlier anniversaries. Clearly, there is now a Scottish question, to a lesser extent a Welsh question and, as I shall come to shortly, certainly an English question.
Secondly, what are the roots of the present challenges to the union? Even in Scotland in the 1979 referendum the statutory hurdle was not reached and in Wales there was a 4:1 majority against the devolution proposals. Less than 20 years later, in the new referendums there was a massive majority in Scotland and a bare majority in Wales in favour of the proposals. Why? What had happened during those 20 years? Obviously, one cannot separate the question from the UK political context. In 1979, the proposals were put forward by an unpopular Labour Government. In 1997, the proposals were made by a Labour Government after an overwhelming Labour election victory. Yet there were wider reasons. To provoke the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, who will speak after me, I say that some of the responsibility must lie with the Conservative Government after 1979, who failed to recognise that there is a Scottish question and failed to follow the example of Disraeli over the franchise and partially to steal their opponents’ clothes. The party fell into a narrow English nationalism, with the result that it lost all its seats in Wales and Scotland in the general election of 1997.
It is interesting to speculate what would have happened if, after 1979, instead of ignoring and neglecting the problem, the Conservative Government had instituted a form of indirect election to an all-Wales body drawn from Welsh local authorities. Those super-councillors would then have had a vested interest in maintaining the new body. Perhaps that speculation is like asking whether Ireland would still be in the union if the wise home rule proposals of Gladstone had not been defeated by the unionists in the 1880s.
Thirdly, the problem is now exacerbated by the West Lothian or West Glamorgan question. Opinion polls suggest that half the English want independence, perhaps for economic reasons. In my judgment unwise initiatives and slogans such as, “English votes for English laws”, by those from the unionist tradition could have negative consequences. Those who blow on the flames of English nationalism may one day find the union consumed by them. Perhaps because of the dangers we should recognise that some problems have no solutions, or at least no solutions without unacceptable consequences.
Finally, as the noble Lord, Lord McNally, said so well, surely the real problem is how in the post-imperial world we can best accommodate differences of national identity within the union. The problem is not confined to the United Kingdom. There is the Quebec problem in Canada and that of Catalonia and the Basque country in Spain. Even in Napoleonic France there are pressures for recognition of regional identities.
Part of the solution may be to recognise multiple identities. In time the European Union identity, the United Kingdom identity and the internal national identities may all be considered valid. Perhaps we have been too complacent and inflexible. First, we should be ready to sing the praises of the union, which has given us all a greater weight and led to a greater sharing of resources within it. I note with regret that when on 17 January, for example, the United Kingdom Ministry of Defence announced the establishment in the Vale of Glamorgan of the training centre for the entire UK Armed Forces, no voice in Wales that I heard stated that this was one of the benefits for us in Wales of the union.
Secondly, we should give a warm welcome and recognition to the Scottish and Welsh dimensions of our national politics, including incrementally transferring more power to the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly, but also avoiding centralising power in Edinburgh and in Cardiff by strengthening local authorities. In short, we should seek creative ways of reshaping our constitutional arrangements to respond to this search for identity, perhaps like Spain evolving an autonomy à la carte, which may be necessary because of the disproportionate population and the economic weight of England, and because of the lack of a sufficient regional identity in the English regions shown in the referendum in the north-east.
The fact that England does not wish to be divided into smaller units means that a classic federal solution is unlikely, but we are probably sleepwalking according to the normal British tradition in the direction of a quasi-federal structure. At some point along that road, we shall have to consider a constitutional court to adjudicate on disputes and other features of classical federalism, but there are many termini on the road from the current unitary Government with their devolved Administrations to fragmentation and independence.
My Lords, I must first thank my noble friend Lord Forsyth for giving us the opportunity to debate this important issue. We all know why Mr Gordon Brown has belatedly stepped forward as a defender of the union. He fears that his perfectly honourable ambition to be Prime Minister and effective in that role may be under threat. We also know why Mr Peter Hain, equally ambitious, is presenting himself as the passionate defender of the union. It appears likely that the Labour Party will be dismissed from office by a thoroughly disillusioned Welsh electorate in the May elections for the Welsh Assembly.
Mr Peter Hain’s campaign is particularly curious. If you really want to defend something, it is a mistake to put all the blame for the fact that it is threatened on those who share your views. Conservatives share his opinion that the advantages and benefits of the union are compelling. He is also right that the case does not rest on economic arguments alone, but even more on the family ties that bind us. Yet in the Western Mail he alleges that,
“our shared values are now under threat as never before from an opportunist coalition of myopic Tories and the narrow separatists of Plaid Cymru and the Scottish Nationalists”.
At Welsh Questions in another place last week he attacked the leader of the Opposition and the shadow Secretary of State for Wales for what he termed,
“their disgraceful policy of wishing to break up the United Kingdom by joining an alliance with Plaid Cymru to create second-class status for Welsh MPs”.—[Official Report, Commons, 17/1/07; col. 768.]
It is an odd constitutional doctrine that if the governing party loses the confidence of the electorate, other parties should not try to find common ground to provide an alternative Administration. I believe that it is their duty to do so. Even more absurd is the charge that it is myopic Tories who are to blame when it has been a succession of Labour Governments who have been blind to the foreseeable consequences of their own devolution measures.
In 1976 Tam Dalyell, a Scotsman sitting for a Scottish seat, placed the problem in the centre of the debate when he posed the West Lothian question. Speaking in another place on Labour’s White Paper proposals in that year and after referring to the fact that Scottish and Welsh MPs would be powerless in their own constituencies, I said:
“In another respect they will be privileged because they will be able by their voices and their votes to decide in England the policy on a whole range of matters; the structure of the education service and the organisation of the National Health Service, for example, which in their own parts of the United Kingdom will have been transferred elsewhere. I do not believe that this situation would for long be acceptable to this House”.
Almost exactly 30 years ago, in January 1977, we debated the Government’s Bill. The explosive nature of the West Lothian question had become even more apparent, and the indignation of the English electorate was being roused. Twenty-one years later, debating the then Government of Wales Bill in this House, we came back to the issue. I spoke of,
“the dog that did not bark in the night … in the debates in another place. I refer to the English dog. I fear that in due time he will bark and may bite … It is an issue that we would be foolish to put completely on one side … if we care for the stability and good government of Britain as a whole”.—[Official Report, 21/4/98; col. 1061.]
The next time the dog appeared it was in the very well trained and placid form of the Bill introduced by my noble friend Lord Baker of Dorking in the previous Session. Unless we find a solution, we may not be so fortunate on a future occasion. It is likely that next time it will be a dog with a vicious bite.
Mr Hain in his Western Mail article referred to the historic and fundamental principle of equality between all Members of Parliament and suggested that English votes for English laws would result in second-class status for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. He seems not to understand that Labour’s devolution legislation has already destroyed the historic and fundamental principle, creating a situation in which the English may well believe that they are now the second-class citizens.
The union of our country is too valuable to be left in this dangerous state of instability. We have no option but to return to the proposition so admirably presented by my noble friend Lord Baker. I press the point of the social reason that I referred to earlier: the family ties that bind us. A few years ago I wrote a family history. I concluded the introduction with the observation that,
“the intermingling of English, Welsh, Scottish and Irish blood (and the history of those nations) that has produced my children and grandchildren is a characteristic of families that is … unlikely to be exceptional. That fact appears to me to be significant when confronted by the current wave of nationalist sentiment and at a time when the unity of the United Kingdom is under threat … My grandchildren have every reason to take pride in their common heritage from all four nations in the British isles”.
A vast number of others on these islands are in the same position.
Let us join battle to defend the union, not on the grounds of personal ambition, however honourable that ambition may be, but because we are all members of a family with a shared history, shared interests, shared values and shared hopes.
My Lords, I begin with an apology. When I put my name down to speak in this debate, it was scheduled to last two and a half hours. Although I am delighted that it has been extended to four hours, it creates a problem for me because in the mid-afternoon I have to catch a plane to fulfil a long-standing engagement in Edinburgh this evening. I hope that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor and others winding up this debate will acquit me of any discourtesy.
I welcome the debate and the action of the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, in initiating it, but I must chide him gently for his slightly shaky grasp of history, as his Motion is incorrect: the 300th anniversary that we are celebrating this month is not of the Treaty of Union but the passing of the Act of Union by the Scottish Parliament. The treaty was negotiated in the summer of 1706. However, we will let that pass, because a much more serious deviation from true history is conducted by the nationalists in their current campaign. They would wish us all to believe that the people of Scotland were against the union at the time. That is simply not so, and I am very grateful for a recent article by Professor Dickinson for pointing out that most people in Scotland, as in England, were at the time in favour of the union. Why was that so? It was partly because of the experience of the Union of the Crowns for a century, and partly because of the economic catastrophe of the Darien scheme, and the wasteful competition between Scotland and England in colonial adventures. The merchant companies of Edinburgh and Selkirk were ruined by the experience. There was overwhelming support of long standing for the union to be turned from simply a Union of the Crowns into a union of Governments.
Where it went wrong was in between the agreement of the treaty and the drafting of the legislation. During the period from October 1706 to January 1707, the support that had existed for the union turned to opposition because of the nature of the proposal. People had wanted to retain the Scottish Parliament, but no one had yet devised any satisfactory federal system. It is part of the argument made by the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, that no one has yet devised a satisfactory federal system. The argument was against an incorporating union, and even such as well known Scottish patriot as Fletcher of Saltoun, in his speeches from 1703 to 1706, was arguing for the union, not against it. Public opinion and the riots in Edinburgh were driven by the nature of the incorporating union abolishing the Scottish Parliament. I argued in debates during the passage of the Scotland Bill that the abolition of the Scottish Parliament was never accepted by the people in Scotland. That long-standing grievance and injustice was put right by the Scotland Act and by the re-creation of the Scottish Parliament. That is to be warmly welcomed.
A recent survey of 25 top businesses in Scotland by the BBC’s “Newsnight” found not one in favour of breaking the union. That is, in my view, wholly understandable. However, in the past few weeks, one or two prominent individual businessmen have declared that Scotland could be independent. I am happy to agree with them. Some of the arguments against independence have verged on the ludicrous, such as the claim that it would make life easier for al-Qaeda. The real question is not whether Scotland could be independent, but whether it should be. On that, together with most Scots, my answer is definitely no. We can enjoy the benefits of the union while developing the powers of our Parliament, especially in the area of raising the money that it spends. The alternative, including the dismantling of our social security system, would be wholly unnecessary and costly.
Unfortunately, at present the media tend to portray the upcoming choice in this year’s Scottish elections as being between independence and the status quo. That is simply wrong. Opinion polls show that more people are in favour of ending the system whereby our Parliament is wholly dependent on a grant from this Parliament, by giving it the power to raise what it spends, rather than going for separation. A YouGov poll this month, commissioned by Channel 4, broke down the various options, and it made very interesting reading. Nine per cent wanted Scotland to become a completely separate state outside the UK and the EU; 22 per cent wanted Scotland to become a completely separate state outside the UK but inside the EU; 37 per cent wanted Scotland to remain in the UK but the Scottish Parliament to have more powers; 12 per cent wanted the Scottish Parliament to continue to have its current powers; and 10 per cent wanted to abolish the Scottish Parliament.
In other words, adding together those figures, those who want some kind of independence add up to 31 per cent, those who want the present Scottish Parliament, perhaps with more powers, add up to 49 per cent, and 10 per cent want to abolish it. I can say from experience of my independent position in the Scottish Parliament Chair that the Scottish Conservative Party plays a distinguished and useful role in that Parliament. I do not think that it will thank the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, for suggesting that it should fish for future support among the 10 per cent who are in favour of abolishing the Scottish Parliament. There is one element—
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. I am sure that he did not want to mislead the House. I did not at any stage in my speech argue for the abolition of the Scottish Parliament. I argued for reform, which could include changing its powers. I hope the noble Lord might withdraw his comment.
My Lords, the tenor of the noble Lord’s speech led me to believe that he wanted to go back to where we were before. He was chastising the Government and this House for having passed the Scotland Act. I do not see how one could put any other interpretation on it. However, I accept what he says.
I thank my noble friend Lord McNally for mentioning the commission that I chaired last year, whose conclusion has now been approved by the Liberal Democrats as party policy. That will be the policy on which they will fight the coming election.
I would like to see one element of the Act of Union repealed: that is its incorporation of the English Act of Settlement 1701 into Scots law. That stipulates that our monarch must not be a Roman Catholic nor be married to a Roman Catholic. However that may have been justified at that time in history, it is now thoroughly offensive. We are concerned in Scotland about sectarianism. The First Minister has spoken out about the effect of football clubs and extreme loyalties, and a Sunday newspaper has started a legitimate debate about the effect of separate Catholic schools, but here we have sectarianism entrenched in the law of the land. In practical terms, its presence means that the Princes William and Harry may fall in love with an atheist, a Muslim, a Jew, a Hindu, or a Buddhist but must take care to avoid any girl who is a Roman Catholic. That is a basic breach of their human rights, and it is high time that a UK Government repealed that odious measure.
In a speech in Washington in 1969, Prime Minister Trudeau said:
“Living next to you is in some ways like sleeping with an elephant. No matter how friendly and even-tempered is the beast … one is affected by every twitch and grunt”.
That was the Canadian view of living next door to the United States. By being in the union, at least we have some control over the behaviour of the animal. Thousands of Scots live and work in England and thousands of English live and work in Scotland; none of them wants to wake up one day to find he or she lives and works in a foreign country.
My Lords, I suppose that I speak as the elephant. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, on giving us this opportunity to debate the union. I am very grateful for that. Like many people, I think of myself as British; I certainly do not think of myself as English because, as with most of us, I do not have to dig very deep to find elements of other parts of this island and parts of places further afield. One of the great strengths of our country is its diversity and its diversity in history. I am also very pleased to follow the noble Lord, Lord Steel. He showed much insight into the value of the link and I agree very much with many of his comments.
I have always regarded that link as having been made at a rather crucial time when the Industrial Revolution was developing. At the time, it opened up what was probably the largest single market in Europe and possibly much further afield, without any real constraints on the growth of science, technology and business. In doing that, it enabled the Industrial Revolution to take off even faster here than it was already doing. We should all be grateful for that and recognise that that is one of the many reasons why we led the world in the Industrial Revolution. I believe that that link was very important. When one considers the Scottish contribution, particularly to science and technology, and the number of railways around the world that were built by Scottish engineers, one recognises that that was a joint enterprise, fuelled by English capital but very often by Scottish skills. Those things are very important.
I declare an interest in that my failed attempts to get an education in England were finally put right in Scotland. At the age of about 20, I applied to Ruskin College in Oxford—the adult education college mainly for people with a trade union and Labour background—but it turned me down. That is why my street credibility is better than John Prescott’s, because he was accepted at about the same time. However, I went on to Newbattle Abbey, which is a very good adult education college just outside Edinburgh. I am sorry to say that Malcolm Rifkind, who was on the board of governors at one time, tried to close it down, for reasons that totally elude me. There was a big debate about it at the time and changes were made, but it survived and, as far as I know, it still survives today and is still doing well. That also enabled me to go on to Strathclyde University.
I have had many jobs in Scotland, the first of which was when I was still struggling to come to terms with some of the accents in parts of the west coast and in parts of Glasgow. I was a bus conductor on what was then called Alexander buses. On the Ruchazie or Easterhouse run on a Friday or Saturday night, collecting fares was a dangerous occupation and paying them entirely voluntary. The first comment when I asked a man for his fare on a Saturday night was, “What’s a Sassenach doing on my bus?”. My attempt to explain that nationalism did not fit comfortably with the concept of international socialism failed rather miserably. I retreated to the back of the bus and consigned myself to ringing the bell occasionally to demonstrate that I had at least a nominal command of the bus, even if it was not realistic.
I discovered fairly early that, although there is at times a resentment of the English in Scotland at face value, it does not go very deep—as my noble friend Lord Maxton said—except for a small minority of people.
Don’t you believe it.
Well, it goes deep in certain respects, my Lords, such as sport and one or two other things. However, there is ultimately a willingness to come together that over-rides all that.
I often hear it said—as it has been several times today—that the British constitution is at risk from the anomalies and contradictions of the West Lothian question or whether Scottish MPs should vote on English matters. The British constitution is essentially a series of contradictions surviving through the practice of tolerance. That is what has probably made it by far the most successful constitution that the world has ever seen. It works largely because it is, at times, a contradiction.
Other, written, constitutions appear logical, but logic does not always translate into practice. The most obvious examples are ones such as the old Soviet Union constitution, from which you would have thought you were living in heaven when, in reality, you were in hell. The American constitution’s opening statements, with all men being created equal and all the implications of that, did not apply to the negroes. Many of them—this is not well known—used to flee to Britain when they escaped slavery. At the front of the tract against slavery by William and Ellen Craft is the famous saying about when the slaves reached the English coast:
“They touch our country, and their shackles fall”.
Nor did the words of the American constitution apply to the North American Indian. Logic is not always a good driving force for constitutions.
The majority of people in Britain understand that there are going to be contradictions if you have one large country—England—with two neighbouring smaller nations as part of the same land mass. The same applies to Northern Ireland, but in a different context. People might grumble and groan about it at times, but it does not go that deep. There is and always has been a strong case for English regions. I do not accept the idea of an English parliament for reasons to which I have alluded. That is where the logic argument falls down. There may be a simplistic argument for an English parliament, but it does not work as a constitutional settlement given the relationship between these parts, whereas regional government within England does, as do the Scottish and Welsh parliaments. I strongly commend to this House the continuance of the union and the recognition that our constitution is not a logical document, but one that is joined together by tolerance, which is what makes it so successful.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate my noble friend Lord Forsyth on initiating this debate at such a timely point, and on the brilliant way in which he did so. He said much that I wanted to say, so I shall add only a few points in support.
It is clear that everyone who has spoken in the debate so far is strongly in favour of the union. We have had no Scottish nationalist voice; perhaps that is because all the Scots here want to remain in Westminster. I, too, am a strong supporter of the union and would greatly regret any break-up. I have personally benefited greatly from the union. I was born, brought up and educated in Scotland, have spent most of my working life in England and represented an English constituency. I have often thought that I got an English constituency partly because of my wife and partly because there are now so many Scots living in Norfolk who, I hope, voted for me.
The noble Lord, Lord Maxton, referred to going north of the Border and crossing the Solway. I clearly remember that my three children, who have Scottish names, used to have a chant as we were approaching the border in the car, ending with a triumphant “And we’re in Scotland!” when we arrived. I support Scotland at rugby and England at soccer. As my noble friend Lord Forsyth said, many Scots have been on the front line of national endeavour. We currently see it clearly in business and politics. It is highly significant that a number of Scottish Members of Parliament in favour of devolution nevertheless wanted to continue their parliamentary careers here at Westminster, in both Houses.
I do not want to comment much on the Scottish elections, as I am much less familiar with them than many here are. My understanding is that it is highly unlikely that the Scottish nationalists will get a majority vote, that there will be a referendum for independence or that it would succeed. However, as one with no objection to devolution at all, I believe that it must be fair on both sides. This is where I part company with the noble Lord, Lord Soley; although tolerance is a feature of the British race, so too is fairness. That is clearly shown in polls on both sides of the Border, where there has been majority support for the understanding that English votes should apply to English laws.
I was astonished by the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s nerve when he suggested in a recent speech that the blame for causing difficulties, by fanning English nationalism or anything of that sort, should be attached to the Conservatives. That is absolutely not the case. Labour decisions caused the problem; all we are doing is drawing attention to the problem and looking for solutions. We all understand why he framed his speech in that way: he was clearly worried that his position would be jeopardised by any move towards Scottish independence. That is not an argument for producing fallacious attacks on my own party.
English votes on English laws is not a new point for me. I spoke on the proposal of my noble friend Lord Baker in this House on 10 February last year. I will not repeat the views that I expressed then, as they are all on the record. I will say that I spoke in the very first debate about devolution in the other place on 14 December 1976. There were then long debates through the night and, according to Hansard, I rose to speak at 5.32 am, so perhaps not many people were listening to what I had to say. I will not repeat the quotations, because they were recorded in the House of Lords Hansard on 10 February, but I drew attention to this problem. One person who was listening was Tam Dalyell, who intervened, raising one of the points that opponents of the proposal for English votes for English measures have always suggested. I replied and shortly thereafter he supported this general view, and the issue became known as the West Lothian question.
The Government of the day suggested that economic planning councils for England would be the answer. That was clearly wrong because, apart from all the other objections, they have no democratic legitimacy. Regional assemblies were proposed, and we now know that they are certainly not wanted by any English region—not even the one that John Prescott thought most likely to vote for such an assembly. I was originally attracted to the idea of an English parliament, but have rejected it because it produces additional politicians, bureaucracy and expense. The only logical, just and fair solution is English votes on English laws. There are difficulties, but they can be overcome. I tried to suggest some ways of doing that in my speech last year.
Many of those in Scotland who oppose English votes for English laws recognise that the current position is indefensible. They either say, “Do not ask the question”, because they do not want to hear the answer, or they say, as the noble Lord, Lord Maxton, did, that we should stop harping on about the inequities and grievances. Frankly, those will not go away, and therefore the sooner we take on the solution, the better. It is the best alternative.
My next point concerns the problem of Scottish Ministers from Scottish seats having a department or responsibility for legislation that deals mainly with England. I do not believe that when, for example, John Reid was Minister for Transport he would in his heart of hearts have argued as strongly in the spending round for English roads as an English Minister would have.
That leads me on to the Barnett formula, which I shall discuss very briefly. I have long been against the Barnett formula, and I am delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, has now come out against it. It has long been felt to be a running sore. It is not just that 20 per cent more expenditure per head goes to Scotland than to England. I shall take my own region as an example, where the expenditure last year was £5,605 per head, which is much less than the spending per head in Scotland. In fact, people in Scotland got about 33 per cent more than people in the eastern region of England. The obvious solution is that regional and national allocations should be based on need. In the case of Scotland, they are clearly not. I say to the Chancellor that it is clear that Conservatives strongly believe in the union and always have done, but the union is strengthened by being fair to all sides. At the moment, it is not in the case of English votes on English laws or in the case of the Barnett formula. We are not fanning feelings of English nationalism; we are addressing two running sores, which Labour Governments caused and which still need to be put right.
My Lords, this debate celebrates the 300th anniversary of the Treaty of Union. As for celebration, I leave it to those with a deeper sense of history to get right when the celebration should be and whether it should be today or some other day. The second part of the Motion refers to the case for maintaining the UK. I am in favour of it, but what is the nub of the case? It seems to me that it is the “how”. The union is fine, but it is fluid. In the earlier part of the previous century, we had the breakaway of the Irish Republic, first within the Commonwealth, and then, half way through the century, outside it. Then we had the commencement of the Stormont assembly, and in the last year of the century, we had the new Parliaments for Scotland and Wales.
We could be having a debate to celebrate getting on for eight years of the Scottish Parliament. There have been some achievements. I am not an avid reader of the Scotsman or the Glasgow Herald, and I could know more, but I know that Scotland has free social care for the elderly, does not have tuition fees and has an inclusive Parliament. Only yesterday or the day before, I—and no doubt all noble Lords—was favoured with a letter from an outfit called Rethink, which is concerned about mental health legislation. The letter is headed “7-Nil”. There has been some suggestion about the quality of politicians. These outsiders are saying that Scotland has the legislation right to the tune of 7-Nil against what is being proposed here. In Scotland, there are fair votes and the prospect of local government elections this May under the single transferable vote. That will mean that many places that were one-party states for the whole of the previous century will have a richness about them in terms of those who are able to take part in local government. They will be bubbling with ideas that were not possible in one-party state organisations.
There is a temptation to have public opinion polls as part of the celebration. Those have been quoted. As I understand it, the Scots say “no” to independence but want devolution with more powers. Then we hear that the English are saying, “What about an English Parliament?”. I am rather attracted to a Parliament in York, but I do not believe that people who are saying that they would like an English Parliament are saying that they want another Parliament in York, Nuneaton or Tunbridge Wells. If respondents answer, “an English Parliament”, they mean that this place should be for England. I do not believe they mean a Parliament elsewhere or that anyone is saying that they want an English Parliament and a UK Parliament as well. But people in England see successes in Scotland and some of them might slaver at them and want some of them. They wonder how on earth it can happen. They know that there are no more taxes in Scotland, which has not had to go to the 3 per cent extra available to it. They also know that there has to be a degree of financial redistribution in the Highlands and Islands and in other sparsely populated areas, but perhaps the benefits of the Barnett formula go a bit too far.
I return to the question of England. Having an English Parliament and looking at England separately does not seem right in terms of the balance of population. We must look at the regions of England. There are four points: first, we have got to think of regional devolution in England on a slim-line basis, not with puffed-up parliaments all over the place, but a slim-line democracy; secondly, we know that there is devolution in England in government offices in the regions, and we want to democratise them; thirdly, we do not want sucking up from local government to those regions; and, fourthly—and this is the problem—we want to see UK ministerial power given up to the regions in England.
Reference was made to the referendum in the north-east of England. I am rather glad that the Government did not favour us with one in Yorkshire because it was very difficult to campaign for a “yes” vote when what was on offer was not worth having. If I had lived in the north-east of England, I would have had to go round saying, “It’s not much, but perhaps we can build something on it”. That is not the best way to get regional devolution. As the noble Lord, Lord Maxton, said, we want to address the democratic deficit in England. He also remarked that we are of the same race and colour. That is not necessarily the case. I do not know the exact demography of race and colour in Scotland, but race and colour vary in England. It may well be that regional assemblies could be one way in which that deficit could be addressed. When one is making a fresh start in a fresh Parliament, that could be addressed.
My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend Lord Forsyth of Drumlean for initiating this debate, which times very neatly with the drawing to a close of the second term of the devolved Scottish Parliament. On 3 May the people of Scotland will go to the polls for elections to that Parliament. The central question before them will be whether the Labour/Liberal coalition and its several members, which they have had for those eight years, have delivered for Scotland, or whether they should be looking for alternatives. Unfortunately, this issue is becoming more and more confused with whether the Scottish Parliament is the correct constitutional arrangement. The Scottish press and locally minded politicians see great mileage in stirring up this issue.
The issue in 1707 and still again at this time is what is a realistic concept of nationhood for our time. The Scots need to be wary of choosing outdated goals in an interdependent world. The noble Lord, Lord Maxton, touched on this topic. The Scots have always treasured concepts of nationhood and I like to think that my direct ancestors have been among those who tried to play a part. It was an ancestor of mine who was recorded as the right-hand man of William Wallace, pace the authors of “Braveheart”. Others were a signatory of the Declaration of Arbroath, which is acknowledged as the inspiration for the United States Declaration of Independence, and among those who fell defending King James IV at the battle of Flodden.
The Act of Union was bound to be a controversial issue as it was trading certain elements of nationhood for a very active part in the major power structures of the day. The noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, outlined some of the reasons for Scottish support for the concept, but it is also quite interesting to note that four previous attempts at union had failed, even though England was already quite reliant on Scottish soldiers to fill the ranks of the Army. It was only when both the Scots and the French began to be beastly at the same time that the English thought that it was appropriate that a union should be formed.
My ancestor in 1707 was president of the Privy Council in the Scottish Parliament, but he turned down the invitation from the ancestor of the noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie, to be one of the commissioners to go to London for the negotiations. The Earl of Mar, in trying to turn his mind, wrote to him to say,
“the English nation were never in such a good disposition towards Scotland and if we get not a good union I have reason to believe it will not be their fault”.
Perhaps the then marquis was aware that the Duke of Argyll as commissioner had complained that the Lord Treasurer had been,
“sending him up and down like a footman from one country to another”,
and that any efforts made tended not to be reimbursed unless you finally fell in with the Government’s wishes. Now that we have politicians who know how to be completely above board about their financial dealings, it can be easy to pick holes in the way in which business was done in those days. The whole construct engendered endless suspicion.
My ancestor kept a list entitled, The Peers and Gentlemen of Scotland who have appeared most zealous for the protestant succession with a note of the offices and pensions bestowed. It would be nice to think that this was just a record of what he had noted taking place as one might do today, but I suppose it is possible that he had some role in it.
One element that is easily overlooked is that these men, by the responsibilities they held, were the local enterprise company, the highway authority, the social security providers, the financiers of education and even the local courts, so they had many calls on their finances, although, of course, for some reason which nowadays in our enlightened times we would find hard to understand, they often liked to do a bit too well out of it for themselves.
Certain elements of the wrangling between partners have continued since then, but it is interesting to see in a letter from a young Graham relation the year after the treaty the statement—some of this was alluded to earlier—that,
“the revenue of the customs at Port Glasgow has increased: I find the merchants begin to taste the sweet of a direct trade to the plantations and how convenient it is to have their outward bound cargoes all of their own woollens and linen”.
The Scots have had a prominent role in spreading concepts of nationhood and freedom to the far corners of the world, but what we spread was, luckily for others, not what we had evolved in the years up to 1707, but something that was achieved by the uniting of the two traditions thereafter.
The idea of a Scottish devolved legislature is still a very green concept and, as the noble Lord, Lord McNally, pointed out, even those who set it up admit that it is being worked out as it goes along. A great deal still needs to be done to find ways to address what a number of Peers have identified as needless duplication and more efficient delivery. However—I follow on from the arguments of the noble Lord, Lord Maxton—for all these generations, our civil structures have been built on concepts of the nation state. The drive for greater separation from the United Kingdom is based on the fond hope that somewhere out there it is still possible to achieve a nation state.
An issue that is being discussed at this very moment in a gathering at Davos is that the advent of globalisation and the knowledge revolution mean that our institutions and systems of global governance are disintegrating and being reshaped. Next year, 2 billion people will be connected by the internet. The nation state on its own has no answer for climate change, rogue states, terrorism, the collapse of the Doha talks or the crisis in Darfur. As my noble friend Lord Howell of Guildford was saying in this House yesterday in terms of defence, we are entering a period of immense change from what he described, using the terms that Thomas Friedman used for our economic outlook, as a very flat world, where vertical structures of authority are being replaced by horizontal networks of social communities and collaborative platforms. Klaus Schwab, the chief executive of the Davos Group said, in his introduction to that conference, that we will have to reinvent ourselves, our social structures and our power structures within this flat world.
Seen in this perspective, my conclusion for Scotland is that it will be much more effective to remain working within the United Kingdom framework with those with whom we share so many concepts, rather than cast ourselves loose, like a shipwrecked container, in the hope that the winds of history will cast us up on some distant friendly shore.
My Lords, the sins of the fathers will be visited unto the third, fourth and, in my case, umpteenth generations. The Treaty of Union was presented to Queen Anne on 21 July 1706, solving the problems of that era. Lord Mar introduced the Union with England Bill on 10 October, and it was finally touched by the sceptre on 16 January 1707. British government extended to Scotland on 1 May, and the union parliament sat for the first time in that autumn.
During the summer of 1706, the commissioners from Scotland, including Lord Mar, read the runes correctly: Scotland was coming into a parliamentary union either voluntarily or by force. Wisdom suggested that the treaty was the easier of the two.
The United Kingdom, of course, had been created in 1603, when James VI inherited the English and Welsh throne. Lord Mar was one of the ambassadors who came to London to negotiate that dynastic union. His great grandson would have seen in 1706 how the dual monarchy was not working. English Ministers had too much influence over the Crown. This was after all a period of personal regal government. The Parliament of Scotland did not have a clear run at the Crown. The parliamentary union was an expedient—workable but not necessarily just.
Now, the parliamentary union is unnecessary. Scotland and south Britain should seek a new treaty. To spell it out, I want to retain the Union of the Crowns 1603 as a substantial symbol of the British social union, forged over so many years.
Let us consider in passing how well we interact today with the Irish, despite the elongated process of parliamentary disengagement. The English-speaking people of north-west Europe thrive on their great affinity, and the two Prime Ministers stand together as equals.
My model for the future is a more successful version of the dual monarchy, with two separate sovereign Governments under the Crown. Why will this work this time? It will do so because we have progressed from personal regal government to democratic government. This solution will bring the resentment to an end and it should happen soon. The Irish trauma came about because it was drawn out far too long.
The parliamentary union is a cross between a forced marriage and a marriage of convenience. Considerable resentment is always a feature of such relationships. Since 2004 and EU enlargement, the need for Scotland to be submerged in a multinational state is over. I want Scottish mothers to believe that they have some influence over who we go to war with. I want to see Scotland’s Foreign Minister addressing the UN, EU, NATO and the 50 or so other international organisations to which small countries normally belong.
The Scottish Jacobites resented the loss of their international standing in Europe. They had just become some sort of funny English. I want their historic nationality back. The Scots need to depart from being subsidised, thinking that they are subsidised or thinking that they are being short-changed. Only complete control of taxation can do that.
In north-west Europe there are many small countries to learn from. The post-war European movement is beneficial to those countries. When one considers the success of those countries in departing from multinational states, the omens are good—Portugal in 1812, Belgium in 1830, Norway in 1905, Finland in 1917, Iceland in 1918 and Ireland in 1922. Recently, the Baltic states were welcomed into the EU by the UK, among others. I heard no one telling the Latvians, Lithuanians and Estonians that they should go away and rejoin the Russian Federation. Now they enjoy full member status of international organisations.
My noble friends believe that they can devise a federal state for the United Kingdom. This spring I will campaign with them for more powers for the Scottish Parliament. Perhaps they will find a solution to how the federal policies can be decided on, but I cannot see how England can be expected to accept equality of decision-making with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. That would be undemocratic, but those are the only terms which would get near to the powers needed by the people of Scotland. I recognise the insecurities which that suggestion throws up. When approaching a marriage or a choice of career there is a need for a mild degree of recklessness. You do it because you want to, come what may. It is the same for the people of Scotland. Ultimately, they will get more out of their national life with political independence.
Finally, what are the risks of staying in this parliamentary union whose 300th anniversary we are commemorating? These risks are, among others: being dragged into more, possibly illegal, wars; attracting terrorism because of superpower-style foreign policy; being subjected to macroeconomic policies that are suitable only to the south-east of England, with the wrong business taxation set-up; continuing to be subsidised, or thinking that one is subsidised; continuing with the dependency culture that the UK Government seem to have created in Scotland; and continuing to be submerged in a multinational state without a national passport.
To conclude, the past 300 years have allowed the parliamentary union to run its course. It is now unnecessary in European terms and the people of these islands will feel better about themselves as they get on with their national lives without the redundant compromises that a multinational state requires. The parliamentary union was a good idea in the era of regal government and inter-European conflict. Those have disappeared and that is worth celebrating. The United Kingdom can continue as a social union and Scotland can re-find its own place in the world. Ultimately, the English-speaking people of north-west Europe will have more influence in the world through having three sovereign governments.
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Forsyth’s excellent and comprehensive speech in introducing his Motion leaves little new for the rest of us to say; but how right he is to focus on the Treaty of Union and its 300th anniversary.
Often it is only when something familiar has gone that one begins fully to appreciate its true value. Whether it is a tree in a landscape or an old building in a town centre, sometimes only their loss leads to recognition of what they stood for. But if that is so with tangible things like trees or buildings, how much truer it is with something intangible but so much woven in many different ways into the fabric of our lives. That is the difficulty and the danger that we face in seeking to evaluate the Treaty of Union and what it means to us today. It is a treaty with which, after 300 years, familiarity seems in some quarters to have bred, if not contempt, at least a measure of discontent.
It is easy for Scots to look over the fence to, say, Ireland, to which the noble Lord, Lord McNally, referred, where I suppose the grass is indeed greener, and to forget that for 50 years after independence from the British Crown, that country languished in relative poverty and emigration until it was saved, first, by EU grants—no longer available since EU expansion—and, secondly and dramatically, by a wholly admirable conversion to sound money, controlled public expenditure and low taxation. That is a state of grace that has not yet been attained by the Scottish Executive, the Scottish Parliament or the Scottish electorate, but is one that would be vital to the survival of an independent Scotland—a country where, at present, public expenditure amounts to over 50 per cent of GDP.
I do not believe that the union is the cause of the present dissatisfaction that undoubtedly exists among many Scots and, now, growing numbers in England, but I do believe that the constitutional tampering with the union in recent years is mainly what has called it into question. Unless we acknowledge that the devolution settlement is the cause of the damage and do something about it, that dissatisfaction will grow and fester. I make no apology for having been a robust opponent of devolution, and thus, in a sense, I abandoned principle—devolution in a broader sense being a central tenet of Conservative philosophy—although in opposing it we certainly cannot be accused of advancing political self-interest. We opposed it because we were driven by a stronger principle—the maintenance of the integrity of our nation state.
Appeasement seldom pays, as the past few years have demonstrated, but at least we can now join together in recognising the problem that, far from killing nationalism stone dead, the devolution settlement has given it a new lease of life. We should all now together seek to pursue that higher objective of maintaining the integrity of our United Kingdom.
Like my noble friend Lord MacGregor, I do not believe that the danger is as dire yet as has been claimed in some quarters. There are still a lot of 90-minute nationalists, in the late Jim Sillars’s telling phrase, but the threat is real, could get worse and would be folly to ignore. We have an obligation to approach it in a positive way; first, with specific proposals to stabilise the present untenable imbalance created by the Scotland Act and, secondly, by actively promoting the many and huge benefits that flow both to Scotland and England from the union.
On specific proposals, first and fundamentally, let the Government recognise, however belatedly, that the West Lothian question must be answered. Of course we know that there is no perfect answer short of full federalism, which would be a step too far and create new problems, but, at least as a minimum, let us face reality and stop Scottish MPs voting at Westminster on English domestic matters. Those who look for democratic deficits should consider the fact that, at present, English MPs can have English legislation forced on them by the votes of Scottish MPs. Simple certification by the Speaker of the Commons as to which matters fell into the English law category could easily facilitate the necessary process, in the same way that used to happen with Scottish domestic matters that were then referred to the Scottish Grand Committee. The Prime Minister repeatedly rejects that, solely on the argument that it would create two classes of Westminster MPs; but that blindingly facile and incompetent argument misses the point that the Scotland Act, as my noble friend Lord Forsyth pointed out, has already created two classes of MP, because Scottish MPs cannot vote on education, health and a host of other matters affecting their own Scottish constituencies. All we ask for is even-handedness and fairness for England and Scotland if we are to have a hope of achieving constitutional stability.
Secondly, to enable English MPs to deal with such certified measures, I have long favoured not the separate English parliament that some suggest—that too would go too far and create further anomalies and problems—but why not an English grand committee, in which only English MPs would debate their English business, but whereby the integrity of the United Kingdom Parliament would remain intact? A grand committee can be a highly flexible vehicle, as all the changes that I introduced myself to the Scottish Grand Committee in 1994 demonstrated.
Also, the Government should implement many of the recommendations of the report by the House of Lords Select Committee on the Constitution on how the mechanisms of devolution have been operating between the United Kingdom’s Government and the Scottish Parliament. In that report published in 2002, we found huge inadequacies and neglect in the establishment and use of mechanisms for dealings between the two Parliaments. Sofa government is not good enough, here or anywhere else. The report made 18 specific recommendations, such as the proper use of the joint ministerial committee, greater openness over the use made of that and other mechanisms, a number of recommendations on the Barnett formula and other expenditure matters, and indeed that consideration be given to ways in which Westminster could benefit from adopting some of the procedures developed by the devolved bodies. Perhaps the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor could tell your Lordships, in winding up, how many of the carefully considered proposals in that report have been accepted and what progress has been made.
Money, as we always predicted, is at the heart of the tensions and resentments that are now growing on both sides of the Border. Just as the Labour Party fanned the flames of grievance—never a hard task in Scotland—in order to gain support for devolution, so the nationalists are doing the same now to gain support for its offspring, separation. That subject will have to be addressed in depth, impartially and with firmness, openness and fairness to both sides if the union is to survive in the longer term. Time does not allow me to plunge into the detail today; anyway, as the political historian Robert Kernohan once observed,
“you cannot answer a poem with a balance sheet”.
The real task that we face now is to win the emotional battle and make manifest the reality in all our lives of what being part of this United Kingdom means. It is not just the family ties, shared values, economic links and common heritage, but the pride in all that we have achieved as a powerful force for good around the world and the chance to grow, to flourish and prosper, and to continue to have influence.
Just as the union, from the very beginning, protected Scotland’s culture—its law, church, and ancient universities—and the other vital organs of a nation, so it too brought new opportunities, broader horizons and a chance to share in and contribute to the remarkable history of one of the world’s most successful democracies. Once again, we must make that case and win it.
My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth—but unlike my noble friend Lord Mar and Kellie—I am a convinced supporter of the union. The end of the union would be a tragedy for England, and even more so for Scotland. I am also a strong supporter of Scottish devolution and the existence of the Scottish Parliament, without which the pressure for Scottish independence would be far greater than it is.
However, I am not trying to convert those who want Scottish independence, few of whom are present in your Lordships’ House today. I want to try and explain to those who support the union why the exclusion of Scottish MPs from voting on issues solely concerned with England and Wales would lead to the break-up of the union. I talk of England and Wales—and, so far, only the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, has mentioned Wales—because so long as the Welsh do not have the power of primary legislation then England and Wales must remain a single unit for these purposes.
Ironically, the exclusion of Scottish MPs is supported by a great many Conservatives, including all who have so far spoken in this debate—four of whom are, in fact, former Cabinet Ministers. Such exclusion would lead to chaos in circumstances, which happen sometimes, where one party has an overall majority of the seats in England and Wales but is not part of the United Kingdom Government.
Let us take education as an example. That matter is devolved to the Scottish Parliament, so the United Kingdom Parliament would necessarily be responsible for education in England but not in Scotland. If Scottish MPs are excluded, imagine then the position of a Secretary of State for Education and Skills in the UK Government, who would presumably be a member of the governing party. That Secretary of State would have no power to get either primary or secondary legislation on the subject of education through Parliament, because he or she would have no majority. The Opposition, meanwhile, would control the power of voting but would play no part in administering the Department for Education and Skills, and would have no say or control in financing that department. Think of that situation: it is totally and completely unworkable.
We could, of course, have a separate English parliament. It might be workable, but how would it work in fact? First, the English parliament would insist on taking control of welfare and pensions—the largest element in public spending, and a subject that would be of enormous importance to England. The English parliament would next insist on setting its own taxes. It would not be prepared to leave control of the raising of funds, which the English parliament would then need to spend, to a United Kingdom Government controlled by another party. The result would be that the powers of the United Kingdom Government were limited to foreign affairs, defence and, probably, immigration, with perhaps some DTI matters such as competition. Do those powers contain enough glue to keep the union together? Clearly, they do not. The English Government would be far more powerful in everyday life than the United Kingdom Government, and if that happens then Scottish secession from the union seems almost certain.
Is there another answer? None is wholly satisfactory but I will suggest that, as I have indicated, we need to recognise that the circumstances giving rise to the English question—or the West Lothian question—are relatively rare. They happen only when one party has an overall majority in England and Wales, but at that time is not part of the United Kingdom Government. That condition can and indeed has occurred, but only rarely—and when it has, the situation is usually unstable and has not lasted long. When that condition occurs, we need a pragmatic acceptance by the United Kingdom Government that they should not impose legislation on England that is not acceptable to a majority of English MPs—although they would, of course, retain ultimate control.
I hope that this would become a constitutional convention, to be parted from only in exceptional circumstances. That is the best hope of retaining the union, while removing the right of Scottish MPs to vote on questions affecting England and Wales would have exactly the opposite effect.
My Lords, I also congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, on the historic sweep of his introduction and on giving us the opportunity to debate this issue—even though I felt that his contribution deteriorated into political point-scoring. Like him, I was listening to the “Today” programme and heard Alan Johnson give a perfectly reasonable response on the introduction of British citizenship to the curriculum. Clearly, coherence is in the ear of the listener.
Like many of your Lordships, if you scratch my skin on nationality then the British bit does not run very deep—I would describe myself as a sort of European mongrel—at best going back to my DNA inheritance from grandparents. Nevertheless, after a few generations we feel a loyalty to the concept of the United Kingdom: at least, most of us do.
I want to respond to another point made by the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth: he said that the way to get over the concept of what it means to be British is to teach history. Now, I am a fan of history and believe that it has an important place, but telling today’s young people about what happened 300 years ago will not necessarily get them to understand what it means to be British in today’s multicultural society. In my view, they want ideas about its relevance to today’s society, not why we chose to get together 300 years ago. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Maxton, that Scottish nationalism, at its worst, wants to celebrate the glorious victory at Bannockburn and weep over the atrocities of Culloden. That does not really seem a recipe for taking us forward.
The criticism of the current state of play seems to centre on devolution and what a terrible curse it has been. That analysis implies that there would have been no criticism whatever if we had just left the union as it was with no devolution. Apparently, everything in the garden would have been rosy. I find that hard to believe. I think that it was a reasonable accommodation at the time and has served us reasonably well. It is not perfect, as more learned commentators have said. The British constitution over the years never reaches a state of perfection, but it just about manages to work its way forward and balance the anxieties of the various parts of our society.
I thank my noble friend Lord Anderson, although he is not in the Chamber, for reminding us of the problems that can arise from the struggles for national identity. We are certainly seeing a resurgence of that across the world and we cannot ignore it, even though those struggles, as in the example of Canada that my noble friend gave, do not always find a perfect way forward. I was surprised when the noble Lord, Lord McNally, accused the Government of being the most centralised. They have their moments, but they are still the Government who introduced devolution, the most decentralising measure, so I found that remark a bit paradoxical and a tad unfair.
The noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, saw devolution as much more of a curse and failed to recognise that it was a necessary solution to retain a United Kingdom. I enjoyed the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Steel, because it was a measured analysis of the state of the union and suggested how it can develop.
I share some of the views of my noble friend Lord Soley about regional governance, although we have not yet managed to popularise that approach—perhaps because there is now an innate fear that with another layer of government comes another layer of expenditure. We must work through that problem.
I was also indebted to the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, and the noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie, for giving us their personal historical account. I found it fascinating to hear of the pragmatic and expedient decisions that took place even with regard to the claiming of expenses. I had not thought about that influencing the state of the union, but I should have realised that “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose”, as they say. I was also interested in the point made by the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, when he talked about the global world that we live in now and how, at the same time, we must recognise people’s understandable desire to feel a sense of national identity. That is indeed a telling point.
Those who want to take us down the road either of an English parliament or of undermining the status of current MPs from all parts of the union are fanning the flames. They say that it is the dog that does not bark. They are the very people who are encouraging the dog to bark. I share some of the analysis of the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, that this is a dangerous road to go down.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, for giving us the opportunity to debate the nature of the union and to celebrate it. Long may it continue.
My Lords, this debate provides the perfect answer to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Young, who said that history is irrelevant to what is happening today. My noble friend Lord Forsyth can be very pleased with the broad sweep of the debate that we have had so far, where history—
My Lords, I think that I must be allowed to get on.
History has undoubtedly coloured the views of many noble Lords who have spoken. It is interesting to what extent noble Lords from all parts of the House have been able to relate their personal and family situations and histories to the issue. I should like to refer briefly to my extended family. I am not often regarded in this House as a Scot, but in fact I am. I was born in Edinburgh, as were my parents and three of my grandparents. On my mother's side of the family, we look back to generations of Scottish people, some from fairly humble backgrounds—one of my ancestors was a shepherd on the Lammamuir hills—and some who achieved great eminence in their professions. The great Scottish doctor, Sir Robert Christison, who was physician to Queen Victoria, is an ancestor.
On my father’s side, distinctions included the first professor of engineering in Edinburgh University, my great-grandfather. Incidentally, he was tutor to Robert Louis Stevenson, who did not think much of professors or of engineering. Also on my father's side, we can look back to the church. When I listened to Neville Chamberlain telling the country that we were at war, I did so in the home of my great-uncle, who was the Bishop of Argyll and the Isles. Anyone old enough to have heard that broadcast will never forget it; it was one of the great turning points in one’s life.
I married a Scottish girl in Edinburgh Cathedral. Her mother’s brother was one of the great generals of the Second World War, Sir Philip Christison, who was the first allied general to defeat the Japanese on land through a very distinguished campaign in Burma. As a young man, he served in the Cameron Highlanders. When I joined the Army just at the end of the war, I joined the Cameron Highlanders and was very proud to wear the tartan of Cameron of Erracht. So were two of my brothers. I was also taught Scottish dancing by a very fierce sergeant major. Three times a week, we paraded at seven o'clock in the morning to learn the steps.
Today, where are we? We have relations all over the world and all over the United Kingdom, with family in Edinburgh, Argyll, the Isle of Arran, Aberdeen, Ayrshire and Roxburgh—mentioning Ayrshire, one of my ancestors was Davie Sillar, a very close friend of Robbie Burns who is referred to in some of Burns’s writings—and in many towns and countries south of the border.
My point is that we see ourselves as citizens of the United Kingdom and have done for generations. For 300 years, we have been citizens of the union and we are entitled to be listened to—there are millions like us—in this argument about whether we should go for some form of Scottish independence. I listened to the noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie, with some interest and found it slightly strange that he finds himself able to sit on the Liberal Democrat Benches in this House. He came nearest to the Scottish nationalist view of asking for independence.
For generations, we have been citizens of the United Kingdom and we wish to remain that way. The union of Scotland and England, which we celebrate this month, has, as others have said, proved to be one of the most successful, enduring and productive institutions of our time. The Scottish National Party claims that it is the emotions of the Scottish people that justifies their seeking independence from the United Kingdom. I do not deny those emotions, but millions of us, no less proud of our Scottish heritage, are just as emotional about our wish to remain in the United Kingdom. We are entitled to be heard loudly and clearly in all this argument.
One argument that has come forward in the debate today is that there needs to be more positive promotion of the union. As others have said, we tend to take it for granted and we must not. We must be heard loudly and clearly, and I hope that this debate will help that process. I thank my noble friend for introducing it.
My Lords, I am a Yorkshireman who lives in Lancashire and have never really thought of myself as being English. I am certainly British. The question “what is English?” is mixed up, and the Tory party—but not all noble Lords here—are dabbling in a dangerous way with English nationalism. It is something we should deplore and they should think hard about where it is taking them.
Like my noble friend Lord Shutt of Greetland, I want to talk about the English regions. The English question is an important one in the light of the new constitutional position, and a lot of the answer has to lie in devolution within England. Two years ago we saw the result of the referendum in the north-east. It was an ill-conceived proposal, and I am not surprised that people voted against it, as I would have been tempted to. The result was announced at about two o’clock in the morning on bonfire day, and everybody thought it was English regionalism put on the bonfire for ever. I am not sure that is the case.
My noble friend Lord McNally referred to a book from the Constitution Unit of University College, London. I refer to another by Mark Sandford, The New Governance of the English Regions, which clearly sets out just how much government is already taking place at regional level within England. He wrote:
“Regionalisation has slowly and quietly colonised an increasing range of policy debates, becoming an almost ubiquitous feature of the sub-national governance of England”.
He makes an interesting and useful distinction between “regionalism”—an advocacy or belief in the regional tier of government, particularly a democratic tier—and “regionalisation”. This latter has been taking place surreptitiously but strongly. The system is still developing and growing. It includes a much stronger central government presence in the regions through the government offices, which started off as vehicles for the delivery of the single regeneration budget and other structural funds and has steadily come to encompass other government departments in the regions. Large numbers of executive agencies and national quangos have strong regional offices to deliver their agendas. I apologise for using “delivering agendas”— this “new Labour”-speak catches up with you.
Regional development agencies exist in all the regions. More and more planning takes place at regional level, particularly the regional spatial strategies following the last Planning Bill that went through your Lordships’ House a couple of years ago. Structural planning has now been moved up from local government to the regional level in a way that affects us all. Regional economic policy is more and more important, and there are business organisations working at regional level to match this. A plethora of forums, boards and other groups are forming a veritable network of regional policy-making groups, with meetings and a huge amount of internet and personal communications. What ties all these things together is that a great deal of the membership is appointed from above by the Government, and a great deal of the funding comes from above, too. This is how central government are able to develop and impose their own policy agendas and priorities in a top-down way.
I referred to the executive agencies, the regional quangos. There is a huge list of them: Learning and Skills Councils; the Environment Agency; the Arts Council; Sport England; English Heritage; the Countryside Agency and English Nature—which are coming together as Natural England and including the rural development service. The Housing Corporation and English Partnerships are both strong at regional level. We now hear they are to be amalgamated under the rather ludicrous new Labour name of Communities England—I really wish they would not do this. It will take over the whole of the housing market renewal functions, which are certainly important to many parts of the north-west region. There is then the Highways Agency, the strategic health authorities and many more. There are also the strategies and policies that come from these—regional economic strategy, regional spatial strategy, regional transport strategy, regional housing strategy, cultural and waste strategies, strategies for biodiversity, tourism, energy, health, sport and the rural action plan. Of course, because all this exists there have to be integrated regional strategies to pull the whole thing together.
I do not in anyway criticise the people who are working on this. They are all working hard, doing their best for regions such as the north-west. Yet the democratic accountability is minimal, to put it mildly. In the north of England, some of these organisations come together to form the body called the Northern Way, which seems to have a lot of influence. Nobody quite knows what it is, what it does or how it does it. Every so often people say something is from the Northern Way, and so you have got to do it. If devolution is a process and not an event, the process that is taking place in the English regions is administrative and bureaucratic, and certainly not democratic. It is about strategic co-ordination and planning, a lot of administrative decision-making, a lot of scrutiny, and what the Government call—again I apologise for these words—“the engagement of stakeholders”.
The noble Lord, Lord Young of Norwood Green, said that people do not want another layer of government, but we have got it. The problem is that the democratic accountability is not there. Of course there are the regional assemblies, what used to be called chambers, which bring in local government. Yet the real purpose of that is to bring in local government, get it involved in the top-down decisions and get on board. It is not in any way a democratic, accountable system as we would normally know it. Again in the words of Mark Sandford, it is “mimicking democratic practice”.
As a democrat, I want to see real democracy. Democratic regional government has to be revisited. Two years after that miserable failed referendum, it is time to talk seriously again.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, will not take offence when I say that, although I listened with great care to what he said, I hope that I never follow him again. It is always disagreeable to have to say that one does not agree with a single thing that a noble Lord has said in the Chamber. This includes the bizarre and geographically challenging notion that Lancashire is not part of England. Tell that to the Chancellor of the Duchy.
I have four points to make. First, I like the union. It automatically follows that I liked the excellent speech of my noble friend Lord Forsyth of Drumlean, and agree with absolutely everything that he said in his robust introduction. Like my noble friend, I got an invitation—it was the first time in 10 years of Labour rule in this country—to a party at the Scotland Office last week, on Tuesday 16 January, to celebrate the excellence of the union. I went there full of hopes of being entertained by my two hosts. Yet the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr Gordon Brown, was unable to be there because he was absent in India dealing with the diplomatic fall-out of the “Big Brother” programme. I had not met and longed to meet Mr Alexander—I hope that he asks me again—but he scuttled off to a television studio rather than spending any time entertaining distinguished guests such as my noble friend and myself. However, I liked the excellent speech by the Leader of the House in another place, Mr Straw, who spoke stalwartly in favour of the union and saved what would otherwise have been a complete social debacle for Her Majesty’s Government in the Scotland Office. I liked what Mr Straw said and commend it to your Lordships. I also liked the party bag that we were given as we left, in the shape of a quite lengthy and well produced document, “United into One Kingdom”, which was written not by spin doctors or special advisers, but by historians.
The document is an excellent résumé of why the union is what used to be called a good thing, at least in every one of the 25 articles bar one—the second, which discriminates against what the Act of Union called “papists” in the matter of the succession. I will not dwell on this matter for long, except to ask noble Lords to imagine that, if the Act of Union had discriminated against a religious group, such as Sikhs, against people with some personal orientation, such as lesbians, or against someone with a disability, such as blindness, the other place and this place would be up in arms putting it right. It cannot be allowed to go on, and I look forward to the Lord Chancellor’s response to this in terms in his winding-up speech, particularly in these times of difficulty between the Roman Catholic Church and the state, in which some have sensed a bubbling anti-Catholicism in parts of government.
My second point is that the Government have brought on themselves the difficulties that they are in now by their legislation since 1997. For the time being, they have institutionalised constitutional asymmetry in our constitutional arrangements. This wrong will have to be put right by the next Conservative Government.
That brings me to my third point. This constitutional anomaly cannot be rectified by introducing an English parliament—perish the thought in an already grossly overgoverned country with a multiplicity of layers on which the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, and his close friend and ally the Deputy Prime Minister want to superimpose a great number of regional bodies. I have done a little rough arithmetic. If one multiplies pro rata the proportion of the electorate to MSPs in Scotland, one can very easily come to a number of, in England, about 1,000 Members of Parliament and the Assembly, endlessly arguing about putting right some injustice in Wessex or some misapprehension of pressing social need in the eastern counties, or whatever else would be discussed. The way to put this right, as many of my noble friends have said, is by ensuring that the Scottish voice is properly heard in Westminster and supports Westminster, but that in Westminster Scottish Members of Parliament do not vote on matters that do not concern Scotland. That is a way of underpinning the union, not diminishing it.
I do not know what the answer is in whole or in part to the question posed by the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, who is not in his place at the moment, about what would happen to your Lordships’ House, but I suppose that the same logic would apply if there was ever an elected element, not that I think that there should be such an element in your Lordships’ House. Otherwise, it is a matter, as my noble friend Lord Forsyth said, for the Government to sort out the mess that they have created.
Fourthly, what are we in the Conservative Party going to do, and what are the Government going to do, to right this injustice? We have, in England in particular, the UK Independence Party. I do not see the group represented in the Chamber this afternoon. I hope that those who were my noble friends will soon be back as my noble friends. One of them was good enough to tell me in the Corridor the other day that the two of them meet in a caucus each morning to toss up who should be leader for the day. They have probably not been able to resolve the issue today. Although I can say that the UKIP policy on withdrawal from Europe is completely wrong—I wholly support the stand of my right honourable friend Mr David Cameron, the leader of the Conservative Party—my party must recognise that there are many people in England who are not necessarily UKIP supporters but who are fed up with the way in which the English are being treated. Some of them may well go to UKIP unless they have a clear indication of what the Conservative Party intends to do to redress the unfortunate situation in which the English electorate are discriminated against by our present constitutional asymmetry. My party cannot and must not go into the next general election without having a clear policy on this. I do not suggest that it should have one now; there is plenty of time between now and whenever the next general election is to address this issue.
Lastly, although we may now have a few problems not with the details of UKIP policy but with the growing English backlash against Scottish over-representation, major problems will come to bite the next Labour Government. The dulcet tones of the leadership of the Labour Party, desperate for English votes, will echo around the hustings and the media studios at the next general election, so let me name a few members of that leadership: Mr Alexander, Mr Gordon Brown, Mr Des Browne, Mr Darling and Dr—as he prefers to be known—John Reid. They will find a considerable backlash from the English constituencies from which they desperately need English votes to form another Government if they have not addressed the unease of the English at the discrimination against them. I promise the noble Lord, Lord Maxton, who said that we should simply tell people to forget it, calm down and leave it alone, that this issue will not be left alone at the next general election.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth of Drumlean, for providing us with the opportunity to have the debate today—a singularly appropriate time. His speech was very much one of two halves. The first half was a finely argued and eloquent defence of the union, one of the best that I have heard. The second half was back to the old Michael Forsyth, doing what he does pretty well—making narrow, partisan, party advantage points and dressing them up as the highest form of political altruism. That has always been his trade mark. I have fond memories of the noble Lord during his time as Secretary of State for Scotland. Rather, I have one fond memory—let us not overstate it—which is of the noble Lord looking absolutely splendid in his kilt as he escorted the Stone of Destiny across the bridge at Coldstream. It was a magnificent occasion, and the noble Lord, as he was not then, was particularly outstanding. The only trouble is that it did not do a great deal for the union or for the fortunes of his party.
Let us turn to the issues. To be quite honest, I am not prepared to take any lessons on maintaining the union from the party opposite. It is not that I doubt its sincerity; I do not. I think that it is totally sincere in seeking the continuation of the union, which is a great tradition in that party. It has simply gone about it in completely the wrong way. In the 1990s, it stretched the union perilously close to breaking point. I invite noble Lords on a trip to a political wonderland and ask them to imagine the Conservative Party winning the May 1997 election without any Conservative MPs in Scotland. What would have been the nature of the constitutional debate that would have followed that outcome? Quite honestly, its policies on devolution and on the union have been tried and tested and found wanting by the people of Scotland, who have rejected it. Let us not take any lessons from the party opposite on how to defend the union, because it brought the union to a testing point at which the answer may well have been one that none of us would have wanted.
I shall not speak for long on the subject of English votes for English laws, as I spoke on it in our debate led by the noble Lord, Lord Baker of Dorking. However, I must ask the party opposite why this has become such an immediate and urgent issue now, given that for most of the 20th century it raised no objection to the situation brought about by the Government of Ireland Act 1920, which established virtually the same relationship with regard to Members of Parliament from Northern Ireland as the Scotland Act 1998 established with regard to Scottish Members. Could it be that that period of deafening silence was quite simply because the Conservative Party was in formal alliance with the Ulster Unionist Party? If there is not a convincing answer to that question, we have to suspect the motives behind the sudden interest in the argument for English votes for English laws.
If devolution is to endure and flourish, I believe that it must be based on fairness for Scotland, England and the rest of the United Kingdom. Although I reject English votes for English laws, I think that there is a case to be made that some work and some thinking still need to be done on representation and public expenditure. However, that needs to be done with a view that looks forward to strengthening the union and does not try to make narrow points.
As has been demonstrated in this debate, we are all, to some extent, products, if not prisoners, of our own biographies. I was born in the south of England; I was brought up in the north of England; my first job was in Wales; and I have lived most of my life in Scotland. I am British. Britishness is a value that is absolutely essential to my identity, and I wish to see it preserved, but in a way that strengthens the diversity of the United Kingdom—a way that devolution has provided.
I have one question, which I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan of Rogart, will answer when he winds up for the Liberal Democrats. The question looks forward to May and the Scottish elections, and after those elections. If—and I hope and believe that this outcome will never come about—there should be the possibility of a change of administration, would the Liberal Democrats sustain in power in Scotland a party that has as its principal policy the dismemberment of the union? It is important that we have an answer to that question as soon as possible.
My Lords, I feel that I must begin by making a confession. Frequently on occasions such as this when I am preparing my speech and listening to the previous speakers, I find that I have got bored. It has been the opposite on this occasion, which is testimony to the timeliness of my noble friend Lord Forsyth introducing this debate. I have enjoyed and have become more interested in the topic as it has proceeded. I do not know whether many other noble Lords went in the autumn last year to the Sir Thomas More lecture at Lincoln’s Inn. Our judge in the European Court of Justice, Sir Konrad Schiemann, explained that in his view we are living at an interesting time in history because the nature of international relations is changing as the very nature of the world and society we live in is changing. Of course, political systems are propelled by what is going on in the outside world, and not the other way around.
In Sir Konrad’s view, one of the consequences of this change is that we are moving back towards a slightly different and older hierarchy of loyalties. Instead, perhaps, of a 19th century mono-focus on the nation, we are returning to a world where there is a hierarchy of complementary and not conflicting loyalties, among which obviously one can find: one’s family; religion; in my case, the Conservative Party; Cumbria where I live, which, interestingly, was once part of Scotland until captured by William Rufus; the north of England; England as a whole; and Britain and Europe. In this context, I believe that the absolutely crucial political circumstance for stability in a free society is that any person or community must be prepared to accept the legitimacy of a decision with which they fundamentally disagree. If that breaks down, we are all in trouble. I think that the circumstances where that can apply may and do change over time.
It is interesting to look at the relationships that existed between England and Scotland during the past 1,000 years. I learnt from those who taught me that roughly from the time of St Margaret and Malcolm III about 1,000 years ago until the English Plantagenet incursions, the countries were coming closer together. Obviously, after the Plantagenet involvement, they drifted further apart. Then we had James VI of Scotland becoming James I of England and the pendulum swung again. It may be that the pendulum is swinging a bit in the opposite direction now, although I pray for reasons I will mention later that it will not go as far as a schism or partition.
I agree with those who argue—I have to admit to being a Buchanan-Smithite Conservative—that the pre-devolution relationship between England and Scotland had become unsatisfactory and unfair. That is because it was perceived—I think that it was the case—that the English were telling the Scots what to do, not because it was necessary for good governance but because the system in place made it inevitable in the circumstances of the time that that happened. I say this with some diffidence in the presence of a number of distinguished Conservatives, but, as a Conservative from the north of England, and from the perspective of the north of England, part of the problem that the Conservative Party has had is that it was perceived, rightly or wrongly, as being the emanation of the sentiments of a south-east of England golf club. In the late 1980s and 1990s, there was an idea that real northerners and real Scots do not vote Tory. It was not a matter of predilection, it was a matter of definition, which is why I am glad that our new leader is trying to change that—and more strength to his arm, say I. Whatever words one uses, it is difficult to be a credible unionist party if you have very little support in some of the component parts of that union.
I believe that the problem of devolution is that it has created another problem which is more or less the mirror-reversal of the previous difficulty; that is, Scots have an excessive and unnecessary role in England. Here, there is an interesting parallel with the early years of the reign of James I in this country when there was widespread criticism of the Scots King and his favourites, for which one can now read Prime Minister and Cabinet Ministers. As J M Barrie put it in the early part of the last century:
“There are few more impressive sites in the world than a Scotsman on the make”.
In particular, it seems that it is felt that Scots politicians have too much political say in English domestic affairs and, as other noble Lords have said, that Scotland gets too much money from England, which means that they can have things that we are told we cannot afford—for example, university top-up fees. It may even be untrue, but that does not matter because it is the perception that matters. These things rankle with people a lot. As they say, something must be done to get things back in kilter. I do not want noble Lords to get me wrong: I do not think that it necessarily follows from that that we have to mirror what has happened in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland in England. We need an English solution to an English problem which is compatible with the framework of the union.
The party opposite appreciated that there was a potential problem and thought that they had solved it with their plans for regional government, but I do not think that regional government was the answer, as the people of the north-east of England said emphatically, because it entirely fails the test of political legitimacy. There is no natural homogeneity over the regions that have been identified. I believe, as does a noble Lord who spoke earlier, that Spain provides an extremely interesting and instructive example of the way in which internal constitutional change can be exercised.
We want to be clear that there is nowhere an immutably precise constitutional definition of the union. It is something more than the sum of its component parts. It is also important that as the world evolves, in order for institutions to survive, they must evolve with it. I am an Englishman by birth. I believe that my Englishness is enhanced by being British. I am a British genetic mongrel: I am a bit English, but principally Anglo-Irish—not that they exist any more because of the collapse of another union. Perhaps I may now illustrate that in literary terms: my culture is as much Carlyle and Scott or Yeats and Synge as Milton and Shakespeare.
It seems to me that the identity of Britishness is a curious combination of what in continental jurisdiction is known as “jus solis”, or where you come from, and “jus sanguinis”, or who your ancestors are. It is that combination that I think is so potent, and which makes Britishness so precious and why, if the union were to break up, we would all be losers. That would be as true for the English as for the Scots.
My Lords, I am very grateful to my noble friend Lord Forsyth for initiating this debate. I joined the Unionist Party in Scotland many years ago and recall, even at time, that a union jack draped the platform in some of the meetings—something I expect the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, will never had had the pleasure to have seen.
Nothing that has happened since those days has changed my allegiance from my party, as there is no doubt that the unity of the United Kingdom has been very beneficial to Britain’s influence in the world. However, there is definitely a feeling of uncertainty creeping in in Scotland and even friends who are not political are starting to wonder what has changed and what the future holds. In other words, is the union under threat, and if so, why?
I should have thought that the cause is pretty obvious. If there is an election pending—as there is—and if the Government in power are having a rough time, people look around for an alternative. In Scotland’s case, that seems at the moment to be the SNP. All Governments that are in power for several years are liable to fall from grace. This Labour Government are no exception, what with the Iraq war and all the recent antics in the Home Office, to name just two events. Yet they have by law to face the Scottish electorate in May. The Government, albeit with liberal involvement in Scotland, are of the same political persuasion both north and south of the Border.
If we examine the alternative, it is of an SNP that is determined to take Scotland out of the union and which tells the electorate that they would be better off as a separate nation, like the Republic of Ireland, where corporation tax is 12.5 per cent as opposed to 30 per cent in the UK—people are envious of a low tax rate. Surely, however, a Scotland governed by a socialist SNP will be almost certain to follow the exact opposite path to that which has made Ireland rich—low tax on those who came to invest there and create the wealth so successfully. As a leading article in the Spectator this week said, any Scot loyal to his country’s greatest economist—Adam Smith—would rapidly conclude that the wealth of Scotland is best preserved by keeping the SNP far from power, and that all the SNP would achieve would be to increase Scots’ public spending while cutting off the cross-subsidy from England which sustains it. In the light of this, and speaking more as a businessman—having been involved in many Scottish companies and even as chairman of a joint Scottish bank—surely it is time for the captains of industry in Scotland, collectively and individually, to take the floor. They should not be standing on the touchline but getting into the game. After all, if Sir Thomas Farmer can come out for the SNP, where are the unionists who have so much to lose from even a threat of a break up? The time is now.
Listening to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown, one would think that he bore no responsibility for where we stand now with the union. Yet it is the lopsided arrangement, as has been said by so many noble Lords today, of what passes for the Scotland Act that is aggravating the situation. If Tam Dalyell had been ennobled by the Prime Minister to sit on the Benches opposite, he would explain much better than I can why some call the current arrangements a constitutional anomaly.
Speaking as a past chairman of a large pension fund I am afraid that I cannot forgive the Chancellor for virtually killing off good, defined benefit schemes by his total removal of ACT in one of his early Budgets and for which we have suffered ever since. Not least to suffer have been the workers who have now had to put up with defined contribution schemes as a poor substitute. As the bully in the Scottish playground said when challenged by the teacher, “It wisnae me”—and I do not need to interpret this for the noble and Learned Lord the Lord Chancellor. But it was him. And if the Chancellor appears to say any different of the threat to the union now and blame everyone else, he is saying, “It wisnae me”. And I reply with, “It willnae do”. For he and his colleagues, by agreeing to a lopsided and flawed arrangement which is the devolution settlement, is entirely to blame. As for his attack on the Conservative and Unionist Party, he has a nerve to do so. As the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, said on another matter, I will not take that from him. No, let us hope sense prevails in the May elections and the Unionist Party succeeds in stopping the SNP from obtaining power. When it is all over, a serious debate has to take place. I was interested and pleased to hear the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, saying that there was work to be done. Yes, there is work to be done. Work must be done on the removal of the Barnett formula and sorting all the financial affairs and Scotland and rest of the United Kingdom. There is also work to be done on what purports to be the West Lothian question. If this Government do not take the initiative, their successor must, if all the advantages of the United Kingdom are to be preserved.
My Lords, what a pleasure it is to follow my noble friend Lord Sanderson. Indeed, he has chopped at least two minutes off my speech by referring to the unionists. During my youth I thought of unionists as people I saw in portraits, with moustaches and watch chains—senior citizens and, indeed, the type of person I might find if I came into your Lordships’ House. The problem is that I am now considerably older than some of those who would have been depicted in those pictures.
Then I hear about the union. In my youth, I spent the first eight years of my life virtually entirely in Scotland, and the union jack was flying everywhere. I certainly became aware of the union jack during the war. My father served with Scots Guards and as far as I can remember, many of his friends and many of those in the regiment came from south of the Border. Whether they were what I call Surrey Highlanders, Scots resident, I am not too sure. But the British Army and the regiment that I had the honour to serve with, after my father, came from throughout the United Kingdom.
1956 was a cathartic year for me. It was my last year at school. One must be careful about referring to noble Lords who are no longer in the Chamber but that would also have been the last year for the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, because Heart of Midlothian won the Scottish Cup—indeed, I had the privilege of being in Scotland to see them do this. About a week after this great event, we had an event on the Kinnordy Estate during which a leading lawyer from Edinburgh came up and asked my mother what I would be doing when I left school. My mother replied with a wonderful backhand, “Come and look after the broad acres”. However, fortunately this lawyer had a bright idea and said that perhaps I might join one of the great institutions in Scotland, or might see if they would admit me one day to membership. Indeed it was thought fit and decreed that I should try to become a member of the Chartered Accountants of Scotland. I commenced my apprenticeship on 1 October 1962. It admitted me to a membership on 13 October 1967, with a request for 50 guineas, which I thought was quite reasonable. I am extremely proud of this. It was one of the proudest moments of my life—that I managed to qualify under Scottish rules for a great institution that spreads throughout the United Kingdom.
But that insight into Scotland and Scottish showed me that the capital city of Scotland is Edinburgh. As my noble friends Lord Forsyth and Lord Sanderson will realise, in the 50 years since then Edinburgh has grown into one of the most flourishing cities in terms of finance and financial services in the United Kingdom. All credit is due to the Scots and perhaps also to those who have come in from elsewhere in the United Kingdom and all over the world.
However, I ask noble Lords to proceed north out of the capital city, away from the media and the constant strivings of our new Scottish Parliament—together with the other great city of Scotland—and come up into the kingdom of Fife. Carry on through the old capital of Scotland, certainly it was the capital in 1437 when the ancestors of the noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie, killed King James I in the Blackfriars’ monastery. From there, come on to the area where I live because when you enter the county of Angus, you will find what I think is known as the source of Scotland. My noble friend Lord Forsyth is an honorary Angus man, as I am, and there should be plenty of others. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, probably is one. I do not know whether my noble friend Lady Carnegy of Lour is, let alone my noble and learned friend Lord Fraser of Carmyllie. But that five noble Lords in this House should come from one particular region of Scotland shows that we do have strength in the regions outside the great Scottish cities.
There are many advantages for those who live north of the Border in that there is plenty of space and the distances are great. The downside is that travel throughout Scotland can be difficult, as can some communications because of the unique nature of our geography. But the same goes for England and Wales, and one day it would be interesting to hear from the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor on whether they have the same challenges.
There is one more thing of which I have a tiny experience; that is, of living and working in the United Kingdom with a land border. Some years ago, in her wisdom my noble friend Lady Thatcher decided I should follow another eminent Scot, the Earl of Mansfield, in serving in the Northern Ireland Office. There one found a land border on a fellow island of the British Isles with different tax rates, different laws—indeed, a totally independent country with borders and customs arrangements, yet things seemed to work. Reference has been made to the Partition, the separation of the island of Ireland into the Republic of Ireland and Commonwealth. Indeed, the noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie, who I am glad to see back in his place, referred to an idea concerning independent armed forces. A little banner is going through my mind that says, “The Magnificent Mar in his Flying Machine”. I am not quite sure how he envisages defending an independent Scotland from the air with goodness knows what armed forces.
However, I have some experience of what can happen with different tax rates and so forth. Certainly in the area of agriculture in Northern Ireland we had immense fun with that sort of thing. Can noble Lords imagine that going on between Scotland and England, with cattle carrying some subsidies and sheep carrying different ones, as happened on the island of Ireland? I see that my noble friend Lord Sanderson is beaming. When he had responsibility for agriculture in Scotland I am sure he would have liked to have those subsidies as well.
I conclude by thanking my noble friend Lord Forsyth for giving us the opportunity to celebrate what I believe has been an enormously successful union, and I am very proud to be a part of it—except possibly on some Saturdays. On certain sporting occasions I am tempted to cheer on the North Koreans at, say, Wembley. A noted politician once said that we in Scotland are “90-minute nationalists”. Once the game is over and the minor differences are gone, I am delighted, proud and very happy to serve in your Lordships’ House or elsewhere and to be friends with my colleagues all over the United Kingdom.
My Lords, it seems to be par for the course to talk about one’s ancestry and pedigree in this House. I have great pride in the fact that I was born in Dagenham, which I suppose is best described as occupied Essex ever since Greater London took over that part of the world in the local government reforms of the 1970s. Because of that I have British citizenship. I also happen to have Irish citizenship, and of course European citizenship as well. But I want to move on to talk about one of the four Celtic nations that make up the United Kingdom of this union. It is where I moved to and participated in politics in the late 1980s and beginning of the 1990s: it is Cornwall. Cornwall is a nation, a duchy and, of course, a county as well. Its union with England goes back to the 10th century, but even after that it had a Stannary Parliament which to a degree still exists and has a little legal force, although it is not exactly a democratic organisation. Cornwall has its own language, which is recognised as a European minority language. I had the great privilege of representing Cornwall in the European Parliament during the 1990s.
When I first became involved in Cornwall, one of the great issues in the area was that of economic decline. In fact, like many of the other Celtic nations in the United Kingdom, it too had troubles with its traditional industries, those of fishing, farming and tin-mining. Many professionals and workers from that industry emigrated across the globe and throughout the empire in the 19th century, particularly to Canada and South Africa. That diaspora had a great reputation worldwide, and still does. Yet it was a time of great problems.
During the 1990s and into this century, through its own hard work and with the assistance of the European Commission and of Governments of both colours in terms of changing rules and boundaries and giving economic assistance, Cornwall has managed to move away from those difficulties and has become a successful part of the United Kingdom in terms of its economic performance. It has a combined university for the county, it boasts the Eden Project and, if one looks at the indicators that are probably being considered in Davos in terms of the height of economic attainment, Cornwall does now have a Jamie Oliver restaurant to add to its fame.
The point that has been made clear to me during the economic transformation that has started to really move forward over the past decade is that the concern, fear and resentment towards England I perceived when I began my political career—although it did not show itself in a strong movement towards regional independence—has, with increasing economic success, changed into a higher level of self-confidence within the community. With that increase in self-confidence there has been a change. No longer is there much of a drive for independence or growth in political parties like Mebyon Kernow or the Stannary Parliament. Rather, with increased self-confidence, Cornwall feels itself to be a much more equal partner with the rest of the south-west region and is able to hold its head high. No longer is there any of the inward and backward-looking behaviour that was the negative part of its great cultural and industrial heritage.
From experience of the fourth Celtic nation of the United Kingdom, we can learn two small lessons. The first is that with economic success and moving towards the right sort of governance, communities and nations have increased confidence in themselves and do not look to move on; they are happy to be partners within a broader political framework. Devolution has conferred on Scotland self-confidence and a sense of strengthened Scottish nationalism within the United Kingdom, which means that there is less likelihood of a split in the future.
If regional government and regional devolution are to have any chance of working in England, they need to relate to natural communities which see themselves as individual units. That is the case in Cornwall but it is not the case in many of the English regions that have been created bureaucratically but do not have public support. For devolution to move forward in England, which I believe is right, it has to have a democratic and popular mandate and its boundaries need to relate to natural communities; at the moment they do not.
My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend Lord Forsyth of Drumlean for introducing this timely debate today and I wholly agree with everything he said in his excellent speech.
Although I have some Scottish antecedents, from both Aberdeenshire and the borders, I am predominantly English, although I have always considered myself more British than English. As an English Peer I feel most privileged to take part, especially as some 16 of the 28 Peers on the speakers list, or 17 if I include my noble friend Lord Jenkin, are in some sense or other Scottish.
Although I am not very Scottish, I have been a regular visitor to Scotland all my life. I have another rather tenuous connection with the subject of today’s debate in that I live in a house built by Sir Ralph Sadler, Queen Elizabeth’s ambassador to Scotland and sometime guardian of Mary, Queen of Scots. He was one of the architects of the Treaty of Leith, which laid the foundations for Scotland’s inheritance of the English throne mentioned by my noble friend Lord Forsyth.
I am not sure that I agree with the Chancellor of the Exchequer that,
“a national debate about Britishness and the future of Britain is overdue”.
My observation is that up and down the country there has been for some time now a greatly increased level of debate about these matters. I welcome the launch of the new £2 coin bearing the inscription, “United into one Kingdom”, but think that the Government should have done more to celebrate the anniversary of the Act of Union, and as the Chancellor said,
“to acknowledge Great Britain for the success it has been and is”.
But he is trying to have it both ways because he goes on to say that we are,
“a model for the world of how nations can not only live side by side, but be stronger together but weaker apart”.
It is, of course, a fact that England and Scotland are side by side but I believe that since the Act of Union we are one nation, comprising two peoples, or indeed three or four peoples, and that is what has made us stronger. The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, might wish to include the Cornish as an additional distinct people. But if we are to revert to being two nations or more, by definition we would be apart and, as the Chancellor says, weaker. I believe that Scotland’s contribution to the United Kingdom has been, and is, far bigger than one based on its proportion of the population of the country.
I lived in Japan for many years and noticed the many Scots among those who have built up and led the Asian operations of British businesses across all sectors. The Scottish contribution to our Armed Forces cannot be overstated, but I fear that the amalgamation of such great and proud regiments as the Black Watch and the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders into a single amorphous infantry regiment called the Royal Regiment of Scotland will harm morale and regimental spirit, making a difficult recruiting situation even worse.
Frankly, it beggars belief that Mr Brown is attempting to wear the mantle of protector of the union. Amazingly, the Chancellor praises my noble friend Lady Thatcher for rightly defending the union even when not expedient to do so. But unlike the Chancellor, my noble friend did not choose to defend things depending on expediency—rather, it was on whether she believed in them.
Noble Lords will remember that the previous Government consistently opposed devolution of the kind that this Government have introduced, correctly predicting that it would weaken the union and increase pressure for separation. The constitutional vandalism wrought by this Government will have consequences which will be very difficult for their successors to sort out. Surely what the Government should have done to respond to growing demands for Scottish votes for Scottish laws was to introduce legislation providing that Members of Parliament representing Scottish constituencies would meet in Edinburgh on certain days to debate and decide devolved matters, and attend here at Westminster on other days to debate and decide reserved matters. Such a grand committee of Scottish Members of Parliament could even have been called the Scottish Parliament. Such a system would have been entirely logical because Members of Parliament for English constituencies would continue to meet here on the days when their Scottish colleagues met in Edinburgh to handle devolved business. I think that this is also what my noble friend Lord Lang of Monkton proposed. Support in Wales for devolution was only from one-quarter of the electorate, but if there was really a strong demand for Welsh votes for Welsh laws, a similar arrangement could be introduced for Wales.
I know that we are where we are but I believe that in the longer term we have two alternatives. One is to retain the form of a unitary state but respond to the demand for devolved decision-making in some way such as that which I have suggested. The other alternative is to correct the illogical asymmetry of the Government’s constitutional settlement, which is obviously not at all settled, by equalising the degree of devolution between Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and doing something similar for England involving the creation of an English Parliament.
The Chancellor claimed that,
“some Conservative writers now embrace anti-Unionist positions, from independence to ‘English votes for English laws’—a Trojan horse for separation”.
But the Trojan horse for separation is the Scottish Parliament itself in the form created by this Government. Those writers who the Chancellor claims are anti-unionist are simply recognising the political difficulty of adopting the first of the two alternatives that we face in solving the mess. They recognise that the second alternative, the creation of a symmetric federal system, is a much easier road to follow. However difficult it may seem and however many complications will need to be addressed, we should follow the more difficult road and preserve the unity of this great United Kingdom which has gained, and continues to gain, so much from its cultural richness and the special contributions of all its people.
It certainly appears that Scots are already seriously disillusioned with the Scottish Parliament in its present form, as only 49 per cent of the electorate bothered to vote at the 2003 elections. The noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, claimed that only 10 per cent of Scots are in favour of the abolition of the Scottish Parliament. However, I should be interested to know how Scots would respond to the question: would you support the reform of the Scottish Parliament so that it would in future consist of the Members of Parliament for Scottish constituencies meeting in Edinburgh to consider devolved matters?
I look forward to the speeches of other noble Lords and in particular to hearing how the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor intends to deal with the West Lothian question, which really must now be addressed.
My Lords, I too thank my noble friend Lord Forsyth of Drumlean for introducing this debate. However, I believe that it should have been a government Motion to celebrate 300 years of the union. I agree with my noble friend that it is very disappointing, but typical, that the Government have done so little to celebrate one of the great success stories of modern Europe.
There have always been, and always will be, friendship as well as tensions between Scotland and England, just as there are within Scotland and within England. Scotland is dominated by the central belt whereas in England it is London and the south-east that is the powerhouse. Opinions change over time and the pendulum swings between the advantages and disadvantages of any union between the two countries. John, Earl of Caithness in 1289 supported the proposed marriage of Margaret, the Maid of Norway and heiress to the crown of Scotland, to Prince Edward, heir to the throne of England. However, his son Magnus supported Robert the Bruce and signed the Declaration of Arbroath. Alexander, Earl of Caithness voted against the Treaty of Union in 1706, which was very unpopular throughout Scotland. He was the last surviving Peer of that old Scottish Parliament. Only six years after the Treaty of Union in 1713, the Earl of Findlater moved a Motion for a Bill to break the union which was defeated in this House by only four votes, all of them proxies.
So restlessness on both sides is nothing new, but this time it is set against a very different background due to what has happened since the end of the last war. In Europe we are extremely fortunate that we have enjoyed such an unprecedented period of peace. One of the ingredients of the union from the English point of view was to bind together with the Scots against the French. When the present situation is taken for granted and there is no common enemy that is often the time when friends reassess and question their relationship. The empire has gone. When I was growing up I lived in Britain; that did not stop me shouting for Scotland at Murrayfield—whereas now the UK is just another European country. Many in Scotland believe that it has moved from being a partner in a global imperial enterprise to being a region in a member state and part of their resentment of the EU is a sense that it is part of their downgrading.
Then, of course, there is devolution. The West Lothian question has been well aired so I will not comment further on that. But I would like to pick up a point that my noble friend Lord Forsyth made. He told us that the Chancellor, Gordon Brown, said that English votes for English laws would be a Trojan horse for separation. That is not what he said in 1980. He wrote:
“Most of all, a revised Scotland Act could embody some form of the ‘in and out’ principle. Under such a principle the remaining Scottish MPs at Westminster would not be allowed to take part in the proceedings of the House when it was debating England or Welsh domestic matters ... Labour … may be expected to consider a plan along these lines in the future”.
The Chancellor has clearly reneged on his beliefs.
We have heard that Scotland receives more from the taxpayer than some parts of England. On the other hand there is concern in Scotland that the English continue to have an attitude of arrogant superiority which was exemplified by William Attwood's pamphlet in 1704, The Superiority and Direct Dominion of the Imperial Crown of England over the Crown and Kingdom of Scotland.
So what of the future? There is no question that Scotland can be independent, even perhaps if it allows Orkney and Shetland to go back to Norway. There are smaller and less prosperous countries in Europe. The two questions the Scots have to determine are whether they would be better off or whether they would be better governed by being independent. If the evidence from the performance of the Scottish Executive is anything to go by, the answer to the second is probably no for those of us who live in the far north. I think that we did better under a Westminster Government than we would under a Scottish one dominated by the central belt. So far as local government is concerned, it will barely exist in Caithness from May, for the Scottish Executive have built on the disastrous reform that we made when in government with the creation of the Highland Council by centralising even more power in Inverness.
Will Scotland be better off? Again I have to answer no to that question on the evidence to date. From the perspective of Scotland as a nation, I believe that each of the constituent parts of the United Kingdom can exercise greater influence in the world and achieve more together than would ever be the case if they were separate nations. When it comes to the vital concerns of terrorism and defence, there is no doubt that sitting at the top table is very much in Scotland's interest. That is very important in all the international fora and particularly in the EU. It might well be that how we handle this within the union needs to be reassessed for there is a strong perception north of the Border that in our negotiations within Europe the Scottish voice is not being taken enough into account.
To the noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie, I would say that the reality of working in Brussels is being able to form a blocking minority when one's interests are jeopardised. From 1 January this year, 91 or more votes out of a total of 345 will be enough to block a proposal. At present the UK has 29 votes and thus only needs to ally with another 62. If Scotland was to be independent and accepted as a member of the EU, then it is likely to have only seven votes whereas England and Wales might well stay on 29 but at worst reduce to 27. It would be very much harder for Scotland to put together a blocking minority and it would stand a greater chance of having alien legislation forced upon it.
The other perspective of being better off is purely the cash one. An independent Scotland could choose one of two options. It could follow the Irish model which, as we have heard, has become good only by following a low-tax, deregulatory, free-market and pro-business agenda; or it could follow the Scandinavian model, which is what the Scottish Executive lean to, of high taxes and socialist intervention.
The main driver in the Scottish economy is the financial service sector, which contributes one-fifth to the gross value added. As a proportion of the total economy only the United States has a larger financial service share than Scotland. Since 1999 this sector’s GVA has averaged 3.1 per cent. However, only 20 per cent of its output is for the Scottish market; of the rest 90 percent is for the English consumer. Even with this success story the annual GVA in Scotland has been less than that of the UK in five out of the last seven years and on a par with it for the other two. It has never in this period exceeded the UK’s. This underlines the importance of the financial sector to the future prosperity of Scotland. Separation from England would pose a whole new challenge to it and London would become a powerful and aggressive competitor.
The question for the English is, do they really care? Whatever the Scots did to help create a prosperous union, an empire and more recently to protect our freedoms in the last century, is history. The Scots are increasingly seen as an expensive addition in an unequal treaty. Should there be independence for Scotland the political landscape of England would change hugely. The Labour Party would clearly be a loser but some would shed no tears over that. More worryingly there would be increased tensions between the affluent south-east and other areas. The arguments that are being deployed now about the Scots would resurface for another area of England.
The Act of Union may not have merged England and Scotland into a single country but it has lasted 300 years and brought many benefits to both countries. There is no comparison to it anywhere in the world and it has been a very great achievement. It is now being questioned in a way not seen for hundreds of years. Devolution is but a slippery slope and has not been the success it was intended to be. It is unfinished business as more powers have been sought for the Scottish Executive. The logic of the next step, independence, is that it does not need positive argument. If the union is to persist it must be argued for now. It needs to work better and more fairly if we are to keep something as successful as this union, but I would rather try than let it go by default or lack of interest.
My Lords, we draw towards the end of a most fascinating debate, in which personal and ancestral experience has been brought to bear on our deliberations in a quite unusual way. It is fascinating to me to follow my near neighbour the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, and to be able to agree with him at least in the general proposition that perceptions of the union have fluctuated since it was finally implemented on 1 May 1707, although the concept of union was a lot earlier than that.
I have to say in parenthesis that, despite my neighbourly outlook, I totally disagree with the noble Earl’s view about how the north highlands is being deprived of local government. I would attribute the blame squarely to the former Secretary of State for Scotland, the noble Lord, Lord Lang of Monkton, who set up the Highland Regional Council. But let me not be diverted into such byways, as they may be perceived.
The differences of opinion go back centuries. In the 16th century, we had two distinguished Scottish historians at the University of Paris. One was Hector Boece, who wrote the tendentious account of the history of Scotland that provided Shakespeare with the mythological account of the story of Macbeth on which he relied heavily. At the same, time there was a fascinating account of the history of the British Isles—or Greater Britain as it was called, albeit in Latin—written by one John Major, a unionist of his day, followed in some respects by his perhaps better-remembered successor of the same name.
After the Act of Union, opinion continued to fluctuate and the strength of the union, certainly in holding at bay the intrusions by a dominant partner that characterised the period of the union of the Crowns, of which my noble friend Lord Mar and Kellie spoke with a degree of sympathy—some will recall it as the century in which Cromwell sought to impose his solutions across Scotland—was not entirely appreciated. Recognition of the strength of the union, in its positive sense, was slow to come. Although 15 of the 25 aspects of the treaty were economic, the benefits were not felt instantly. Perhaps not until the end of the Seven Years’ War in 1763 was there full recognition in Scotland, and the United Kingdom generally, that Britain was now the strongest nation in Europe and owed that in large measure to the coming together of its two constituent parts.
One must acknowledge the persistence of myths, for example the myth that that achievement was the result of bribery. The scholarly view today in Scotland, as elsewhere, notably advanced by Christopher Whatley, a professor of history at Dundee, is that that myth is largely based upon the testimony of the disgruntled and mischief-making Jacobite George Lockhart of Carnwath and subsequent arguments have been based on it.
We should be determining our future constitutional settlement not on the basis of re-fought battles or reminiscences, some of which are not entirely personal, but on our calculations of where the advantage of the constituent parts of our country lies. The Scotland Act, which is recently enacted, is an important step towards some of the constitutional principles that we ought to be embodying in a modern British constitution. I do not wholly go along with the view of the noble Lord, Lord Lang, that it is not possible to reflect in a written constitution principles that are lasting, effective and democratically accountable. India is a good example in a relatively modern period, as it has shown a stability and strength that have greatly assisted it. Many in this country would aspire to have our freedoms, which are not infrequently under attack these days, embodied in a written constitution.
The relationship of the parts to the whole of the United Kingdom has been defined by written constitution, and it is certainly not perfect. In that, I go along with the general view of many speakers in this debate, including that of the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, who eloquently defended the union. I do not accept his prescriptions, which seem to embody the highly partisan and dangerous proposals of the Conservative Party first advanced in this House by the noble Lord, Lord Baker, in a debate in which he once again resurrected the idea of English votes for English measures, wholly failing to acknowledge that most so-called English measures, on expenditure at least, have a direct impact on all constituent parts of the United Kingdom. The formula adjusts up and down the money available to those parts, and it would be virtually impossible to tear those measures apart satisfactorily.
The strength of the union will surely be enhanced if we look to achieve greater effectiveness, fairness and democratic accountability. It is always possible for us to improve these things in the light of experience. We should recognise that the purpose of the union is not only to address those questions but also to enable the Scots as much as the English to have an international role, which without the union it is quite inconceivable they could play.
As individuals, Scots missionaries and so forth have played a notable part overseas, but the real strength of the Scots has been as part of the wider union. My judgment is that the Scots would not opt for a Baltic solution, as advocated in some quarters, or be satisfied to be the Slovakia of the British Isles. The voice of the Scot in the international councils needs to be heard and will be heard so long as the union is preserved and developed. Its development is critical. We do not have to worry about the loss of cultural identity. The Scots have a flourishing cultural life, with probably more internationally recognised writers—I think not only of JK Rowling and the Harry Potter series—than at any time in modern life, perhaps since Sir Walter Scott, who was a creature of the union.
Scotland also has economic strength. References have been made in this debate to the importance of the financial sector. That, too, must be preserved and strengthened. But there is a problem with matching the powers in a body politic to the electorate and ensuring that they can be exercised effectively and accountably. I put it to noble Lords in response to what has been said that we have not got this quite right. Greater fiscal responsibility in Scotland is highly desirable, and a better mechanism than the Barnett formula for distributing central government funding is obtainable.
I draw particular attention to the example of Australia, where the distribution of central funding appears to take into account needs, resources and costs in a way that the Barnett formula does not. If such a formula were to be introduced as a constitutional reform, it would help greatly to remove any sense of unfairness. Of course, it would operate much more effectively if it were to be operated right across England, in the regions, which my noble friends Lord Shutt and Lord Teverson and others mentioned. That is part of the agenda for continuing constitutional reform, as should be the introduction of a fair voting system not only in Scotland, but in the United Kingdom as a whole. Were such a system to exist, the problems raised by the West Lothian question, which really are a chimera, would not be seen as major issues in any part of Britain, because there would be no overwhelming seizure of power by one party in one part of the country to the disadvantage of others.
I hope that this debate will allow us to focus on the future. The noble Lord, Lord Sewel, is clearly annoyed, or at least concerned, that I might be ducking his question. I will say this in conclusion—
My Lords, I will simply conclude my sentence. Nothing in the precedent of 1924, when the Labour Party first served in power, would lead me to the view that my colleagues in the Liberal Democrats would sustain any policy in the Scottish Executive that was intended to lead to the break-up of Britain.
My Lords, it is a very great pleasure to participate in this debate, which has been outstanding. That is hardly surprising when you think that we have had two former Secretaries of State for Scotland speaking, an assorted number of other Cabinet Ministers, Scottish Office Ministers, and even the former Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament, as well as many noble Lords who have been experienced in Scottish matters for all their lives. The debate is also immensely timely, as so many noble Lords have said. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Forsyth of Drumlean, who tabled this Motion. I wonder whether it has struck other Members of this House that, when this Government came in almost 10 years ago, devolution was their flagship policy, and yet how few have come forward today either to praise their achievement or to celebrate the union that has served this country so well.
I much enjoyed the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord McNally. The House will know that the noble Lord has been unwell—not critically. I hoped that while he was away he might have improved on his jokes, making them newer and better. He has been trotting out the Strathclyde/Forsyth joke for at least seven years, and it is time for a new one.
My noble friend Lord Forsyth of Drumlean is a proud Scot; he is a great lover and servant of Scotland and a great servant of the United Kingdom. I, too, am a Scot. Indeed, Mr Salmond, Sir Menzies Campbell and I are the three party leaders in the two Houses who were born in Scotland and live in Scotland. For the time being, that is. We all know that another Scot is shortly to receive his uncontested coronation at Westminster—and not even Macbeth yearned more longingly for that crown. It will be a major change in our politics; it will be the first time since the Scotland Act that a Prime Minister, with power to direct policy in every nook and cranny of our public life, has come from Scotland. I am one of those who still firmly believe that there should be no bar to a Member of Parliament from a Scottish constituency being Prime Minister. Mr Brown has suddenly started a new party turn, about Britishness. For most of us, the idea of Britain does not come as the revelatory moment that it seems to have done for Mr Brown. Was not my noble friend Lord Forsyth right when he said that knowledge of history is the key to understanding Britishness? I wonder how the noble and learned Lord will respond to that.
As a Scot, I have never had any difficulty in feeling a sense of also being British or of loyalty to the union, and to be frank I do not understand why there should be any such difficulty. I am sure that the noble and learned Lord feels the same way. Yet, as my noble friend said, how dismal and pathetic it is that the Government have been so mealy-mouthed about the celebration of the 300th anniversary of our union, which was the creation of the greatest voluntary partnership in history.
The facts are indisputable. The 18th century saw the flowering of the Scottish Enlightenment, and it was the union that forged the intellectual climate that inspired men such as David Hume and Adam Smith. The 19th century brought unprecedented prosperity and influence to Scotland as an industrial power and a participant in empire. As part of Britain, Scotland played its immense part in what my right honourable friend David Cameron called the greatest moral endeavour of the 20th century, the defeat of Nazi Germany. Within the union, Scottish statesmen, churchmen, military men, writers, painters, intellectuals, industrialists, philosophers, explorers and honest hard-working men and women of every call and station in life have shaped not just the face of Scotland but that of the United Kingdom and indeed of the whole world.
I do not pretend for one moment that every aspect of it has been good; it never is in any union. But it would be sheer madness to throw it all away. Even Alex Salmond knows that, which is why he is trying to take the curse off the nationalist vote by promising a referendum and relying on the natural revulsion of the Scottish people at the ineptitude and incompetence of the Lib-Lab Administration at Holyrood. Yet it would be an enormous error to put Scotland in the hands of an unreconstructed party of socialist high spending such as the SNP. Scotland’s future, like Scotland’s past, must surely be one of enterprise, vigour and optimism. It is not one of cutting links with the union and setting sail for the Faroe Islands, the role model proposed for Scotland by the noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie. Even he did not say whether in his vision Scotland would keep the pound, join the euro, or create its own currency. We should face the fact that devolution has not been successful in sedating the separatist tiger. Given that the difficulties within the union flow from frequently quite unnecessary and avoidable misunderstandings, we certainly need to create no further institutional stimuli for separatism.
My party has borne a great deal of criticism, much of it, as my noble friend and others have pointed out, quite unjustifiable, for defending the union over the past 30 years or so. My goodness, how great the historic responsibility is of the Labour Party in trying to push under the carpet the glaring unfairness unveiled in the West Lothian question. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg, who sat through much of this debate but is sadly no longer in his place, said a few years ago that the best way to deal with the West Lothian question was not to ask it. The behaviour of the whole Government has been to live out that Canute-like view of the world.
I agree with my noble friend Lord Crickhowell, who said that the dog is barking and biting. Sadly, every opinion survey shows the growing impatience of the English with the unequal relationships that flow from the present arrangements. Scottish MPs, who cannot even vote on reserved matters in Scotland, swan down to Westminster to impose policies on England that would not be accepted at Holyrood. The West Lothian question is a problem. It not only needs to be asked; it needs to be answered. It is hardly controversial in Scotland that MPs elected by the local electorate should not meddle in, for instance, English education when they can do nothing for the problems of local schools in their own constituencies.
We need a parliamentary solution to this parliamentary problem. It is a problem that exists far less in this House than in another place. My right honourable friend David Cameron has asked the Conservative Party’s democracy task force, led by Ken Clarke, to look at some solutions. We need to address the asymmetrical nature of current arrangements and we should do so in a calm and considered fashion. That does not include behaving like the honourable company of ostriches who inhabit the government Front Bench and the Liberal Democrat Benches; both those parties refuse to acknowledge the very existence of the problem. Alex Salmond could not ask for more effective allies in his campaign to break up the union, given the growing sense of unfairness, not as in the past in Scotland, but increasingly today in England. My party will fight, all the way, those in England or Scotland who see the solution as separation for Scotland.
What about the end to the Barnett formula? Even some Labour politicians, such as Ken Livingstone, complain that Scotland gets far more of the national pot than it is entitled to. I do not believe that it is quite that simple. Other areas of the United Kingdom receive more per head than Scotland. We should remember that before rushing to conclusions. Perhaps the time has come for a genuine reassessment of spending criteria throughout the United Kingdom. If we address the inherent constitutional unfairness to England resulting from the Scotland Act, grievances such as that will not gain purchase. That is the challenge for the Government at Westminster and it is one that so far they have hopelessly failed.
The 300 years of the union stand as an astonishingly successful example of inclusive, civic nationalism, combined with wider diversity. Devolution was not needed to protect Scotland’s legal or educational systems; that was inherent in the nature of the union. Together we have given the world so much. The message from this debate is that we should not be complacent about the dangers, but that, if we take the right action now, there is far more that our union still has to give, not just to the people of these islands, but also to the global community that we all inhabit.
My Lords, I join noble Peers to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth of Drumlean, on obtaining this debate. It is timely and has been of the highest quality. Perhaps I can quote the words with which he started the debate: the union is an historic partnership that changed the world. I could not agree more. His opening paragraphs, in which he defended the union, were so impressive that I very much agreed with them. I agree with my noble friend Lord Sewel that his speech went radically off the rails thereafter, but the beginning of the speech was absolutely enthralling.
To start with, I want to draw four points from the debate. First, as the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan of Rogart, said, the debate has been absolutely fascinating in its historic dimension: the noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie, recanting on behalf of Lord Mar; the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, recanting on behalf of an earlier Marquis of Montrose; the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, recanting on behalf of an earlier Earl of Caithness; the noble Lord, Lord MacGregor, telling us what he was doing at 5.30 in the morning in 1976 in beginning the process that led to the beginning of the West Lothian question—
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Duke’s ancestors on their bravery at Flodden but, on the part that they played as one of the commissioners, it seems to me in every respect that the story is not entirely perfect.
We also heard from the noble Lords, Lord Lang of Monkton, Lord Forsyth of Drumlean and Lord Crickhowell, three people who also played their part in the move to devolution and what happened subsequently. As I listened to the noble Earls, Lord Mar and Kellie and Lord Caithness, and the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, I wondered whether there was something to be said for the hereditary principle. In generations to come, perhaps the great-great-grandchildren of the noble Lords, Lord Lang and Lord Forsyth, or even the grandchildren of the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell—to whom he referred—might have some insight into the role that they all played in the situation that currently exists.
The second point to emerge so strongly from the debate was the close interconnectedness between Scotland and England, which was so ably demonstrated by what people said about their own lives. Who would have guessed that the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding, is in fact Scottish? Everyone will know that my noble friend Lord Maxton is Scottish, but who would have guessed that my noble friend Lord Soley spent so much time in Scotland—in an attempt to get to Oxford he ended up at Newbattle Abbey, but many congratulations—and even the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, was able to tell us that he lived in a house that had once been occupied by someone who had been the ambassador from Queen Elizabeth I to Scotland. So we all have links with Scotland.
Thirdly, with the honourable but totally misguided exception of the noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie, every single person in the Chamber supported the continuation of the union and was extremely keen to see it in place.
The fourth point to emerge so strongly from the debate was the stream of speeches that attacked devolution. It was not clear whether people were opposing devolution root and branch, although I think the noble Lord, Lord Lang of Monkton, was. I thought the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth of Drumlean, had made the same mistake as the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, but he corrected that and said that he was not attacking devolution but simply a form of it. The noble Lords, Lord Lang, Lord Crickhowell, Lord Forsyth, Lord Patten and Lord Strathclyde, and the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, all made a series of complaints about devolution which had at their heart the proposition that in some way devolution has contributed to an increased desire for separation in Scotland.
It was interesting that the only party to put forward that argument was the Conservative Party. It is also interesting that the Conservative Party had no seats after the 1997 general election in Scotland and now has one seat in Scotland. I forgot the noble Lord, Lord MacGregor, who raised questions about devolution in relation to the current settlement. But it is not without significance that the only people attacking the devolution settlement or its sense are members of the party that is listened to the least by the people of Scotland.
What about England?
My Lords, I shall turn to England in a moment. It is very interesting that those noble Lords attack the devolution settlement and talk about English votes for English laws. One cannot come away with any sense other than that the Conservative Party, despite its proud history as a unionist party, appeared to be turning its back on Scotland. It is no surprise to me that the debate came down so firmly—
My Lords, I think the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor misunderstands the posture of those of us who spoke about devolution. For many years, before devolution was enacted, we warned against the dangers that we thought would flow from it. We now all see those dangers coming into being. We are now saying that we must work to save the inheritance that we have as a result of devolution by removing the imbalances and thus protecting the union.
My Lords, I do not think anyone would regard that as a sensible contribution. The idea that English votes for English laws will deal with the issues of separation that have been raised seems to me to be completely wrong.
The point made by my noble friend Lord Sewel was incredibly forceful. What would have happened if there had not been devolution after the 1997 election and the Conservatives had won without one Scottish seat in the United Kingdom Parliament? It would not have been sustainable for a moment. Everyone involved in Scottish politics recognises the need for devolution and its importance in preserving the union.
My Lords, I do not think the noble Lord has quite understood what happened in Scotland in 1997. It was not a question of which was the biggest or the smallest party; the Conservative Party did not have one MP in Scotland. It is no surprise to anyone in the House that the debate came down so firmly in favour of the Treaty of Union and the maintenance of the United Kingdom. That is the Government’s position and that is the position of the vast majority in this House. Together, over the past 300 years, England and Scotland have achieved things which I am sure would be entirely beyond their reach as separate countries. The union has created a model of a country of different nations and plural identities sharing common values and a common patriotism.
It has never been the case that the union should mean uniformity. It was born out of different interests. The English were concerned to secure the Protestant succession, and therefore to secure political stability and security. The Scots were anxious to gain access to the markets not only of England, but of England’s growing overseas possessions. The Scots were also concerned to preserve their Presbyterian system of church government from what they saw as the potential tyranny of the episcopate. I agree with the point of the noble Lord, Lord Patten, that discrimination against Roman Catholics is wrong. While I agree with his basic points, there are of course so many other things that would have to be changed in the treaty and Act of Union to correct that that it is an issue for another day.
The English wished to preserve their episcopal system of church government from what they saw as the potential anarchy of Presbyterianism. Each side equally wished to preserve its distinctive system of law. The commissioners for the union appointed by each Parliament took these differences of view and deeply felt concerns and—despite what the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, said about historical research—wove them into a union which has lasted for 300 years. They took the approach that diversity should continue except in those areas where a common approach was required. This was a union of two Parliaments, two nations which had hitherto simply shared a sovereign, to create a new nation and a new Parliament.
Over the years, the union and the political stability it has brought have contributed to the greatness and the economic strength of the United Kingdom. A small, offshore country tucked away in the north-west of Europe at one time ruled half the world. Everyone is aware of the contribution that the Scots have made to that process, as engineers, explorers, soldiers—as referred to by the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard—doctors and merchants. The larger English economic, political and military strength provided opportunities that the Scots could never have forged alone, but the contribution of the Scots significantly enhanced the nation’s ability to take advantage of them.
The new state fostered a new cohesion and a British national identity, ushering in a period of extraordinary national success. There can be no doubt that the creation of the United Kingdom Parliament was an essential precondition for Britain’s economic, social and democratic development, and for Britain’s rise as a world power. It was also one of the important factors in the growth of a British way of life based on active citizenship, a volunteering spirit and a strong civic society. The treaty created the largest free trade area in 18th-century Europe. It is no exaggeration to say that building on the back of that has made the United Kingdom the world’s fifth-largest economy. It is a significant market for Scottish goods and services. This, and our shared language, currency and geographical proximity are reflected in the fact that nearly two-thirds of exports from Scotland are to the rest of the UK. The Scottish economy is now a fundamental part of the wider UK economy.
The Government entirely agree with those speakers who point to the continued importance of the union in sustaining our present position in the world. Yes, our particular concerns have changed. In England, we no longer fear the invasion of foreign powers through the back door of Scotland. The Scots no longer crave access to England’s colonial trading routes. In turn, as a result of 300 years of union, we share, as the debate has revealed, increasingly deep family and cultural ties. This interconnectedness is mirrored in every field of life: cultural activities of all kinds, a wealth of charitable activity and a host of personal and family connections. Many Scots make their homes and careers in England, as do many English people in Scotland. Many families have relatives in both nations, as we have heard today. Almost one in 10 of the people living in Scotland was born in England. The union represents our values and gives them expression to the world. Our constituent nations have retained their separate identity, but at the same time have drawn from each other. We have a fully integrated economy—not only between England and Scotland, but between all parts of the United Kingdom.
Divisions within the island of Great Britain—as everybody but the noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie, said—would be a significantly retrograde step. Even if all the parties remained within the EU, barriers and differences of economic policy would distort our markets. I saw a report last week that, in an independent Scotland, the Scottish National Party would seek to jettison the pound and introduce the euro, thus introducing an exchange rate question into trade between England and Scotland—not moving on into the future, but reversing 300 years of history.
Globalisation will pose increasing economic challenges. To improve our competitiveness in that increasingly challenging world, we must continue to enjoy economic stability which provides the framework and opportunity for people to create wealth. The union has played a huge part in providing economic stability. The union stood against Nazism in the Second World War, and created the National Health Service in the years that followed. It was, and is, a collective undertaking. It should not be put in jeopardy.
Unfortunately—and this is where there has been debate today—there have been disagreements about whether particular policies enhance or damage the union. It has been suggested that, in introducing devolution, or not changing it, the Government have put the union in jeopardy. We emphatically reject that allegation. Devolution, as I have said, was essential in securing and strengthening the union. It is unclear whether those questioning devolution today accept that proposition. Do they think devolution was necessary, post-1997? If they do not, what do they say should have happened?
Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all have legitimate concerns that the overwhelming number of Members of Parliament representing English constituencies means that specific Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish concerns can get lost when legislated for by the Westminster Parliament. Devolution provides the right balance between local and national concerns. It frees the constituent parts of the United Kingdom to innovate local solutions for local problems. If there are different policies in different parts of the United Kingdom, that is one of the purposes of devolution. Yes, the arrangements are asymmetric, but if we were seeking symmetry or even logic in the UK constitution, we would have to tear up most of it. We are not about constitutional symmetry. We seek practical changes for practical goals. The great strength of our constitution is its effectiveness. It can accommodate difference and rough edges in support of wider goals of national unity, affiliation to the institutions of the state and the service of those institutions to the public.
But—and this is my second point of disagreement—I do not believe that it can accommodate an English Parliament or its proxy, the seductively entitled “English votes for English laws”. The noble Lord, Lord Shutt of Greetland, was right when he said that the critical point in this debate is not support for the union, which, with the one exception I referred to, all noble Lords are in favour of. Instead, the question is how best we achieve it. The big issue raised by this debate is whether English votes for English laws would promote the union or would, as I believe, be a significant step towards the break-up of the union.
Make no mistake: if we were to introduce English votes for English laws in the other place—and I note that there does not seem to be any suggestion that it should be introduced in this House—that would simply be the first step on the way to an English Parliament, and the break-up of the union would follow. I echo the words of my noble friend Lord Anderson who said, “Those who blow on the flames of English nationalism may find that those flames consume the union”. I agree that that is what proposals about English votes for English laws would do.
Why, it has been asked, should there not be English votes for English laws when the Scottish Parliament votes on Scottish issues? The reason there is a Scottish Parliament is because England is over 80 per cent of the United Kingdom. England has over 80 per cent of the population, over 80 per cent of Members of Parliament and over 80 per cent of the country’s GDP. If we had English votes for English laws, how would the system work? I cannot better the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, who explained the absurdities and impracticalities that would arise. If we take what he said, and take it one stage further, all noble Lords would agree that the Government of the day must be formed by the party that commands a majority in the House of Commons. Is it seriously suggested that we could have a Government of the nation that could not pass legalisation in relation to England? That would be the effect of what is proposed. It is obvious that the moment that we do that, we end up in a situation where the United Kingdom Parliament gets completely dominated by English issues. The point of devolution is not a federation, because most constitutional experts who look at the concept of federation say that about 30 per cent is the largest that any one member of a federation can be without completely dominating it to the exclusion of its other parts. It is not a practical proposition, and it inevitably leads to an English Parliament.
My Lords, surely the situation the noble and learned Lord describes is what we have now. We have a Government who have been unable to get their education policies through without the support of Scottish Labour Members of Parliament or, in at least one case, without the support of Conservative Members of Parliament. Governments command a majority in the House of Commons; if not, they have to change their policies. What is wrong with that?
My Lords, the noble Lord misses the point: if we want a union, which most people do, there needs to be a Parliament that brings the union together. If we go down the route of English votes for English laws, we separate Parliament into two bits. As the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, said, one bit would deal with issues to do with the DTI, defence, foreign policy and, perhaps, immigration and the other would deal with English domestic affairs. We would completely lose the institution and the constitutional arrangements that bind this country together. With respect, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, that that is the argument he has to deal with. He must ask himself whether going down the route of English votes for English laws would promote the union. I have very little doubt that it would have precisely the opposite effect. Where would it stop? Should London MPs be the only MPs to vote on London? If we had English votes for English laws, a UK Government elected on a UK mandate might find themselves unable to deliver key policies on which they had been elected.
But if we put aside all that, we all understand that we as a nation, the whole nation of the United Kingdom, are inextricably linked. What we spend on education in England has a huge effect on what is available to spend in relation to education in the other parts of the country.
I note from what the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, said that English votes for English laws only is an issue which the constitutional convention or committee, or whatever it is Ken Clarke is sitting on, is considering. I very much agree with what the noble Lord, Lord McNally, said. One of the great and important aspects of this debate is to seek to discover the Conservative Party’s policies on the union and what steps it thinks will most promote the union.
I believe that everyone in this debate is sincere in wanting to promote the union. We should hear what is said in detail by the Conservatives about the steps that they want to take. The people can then judge whether they promote the union rather than, as I fear, drive it further apart.
I do not want to end this debate on a note of disagreement. The noble Lord’s Motion calls attention to the maintenance of the United Kingdom. I return to his opening words, in which he identified what the historic partnership has achieved. I entirely agree with him that the continuation of that partnership is essential to our continued success in facing the new global challenges which our country as a whole will have to face in the 21st century. The 300 years of our union have created a great nation. Long may it continue.
My Lords, we have had a splendid debate. I thank everyone who participated in it. I thank also the Lord Chancellor for his reply. It is not a moment for further discord, as he indicated.
I started the debate by saying how proud I was to be British. I am proud also to be a Member of this House. The debate that we have had today is a classic example of the role that this House can play in teasing out the issues, which the Lord Chancellor will forgive me if say still remain to be resolved. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion for Papers.
Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.
Health and Care in the Community
rose to call attention to health and care in the community; and to move for Papers.
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I am pleased to have the opportunity of opening this debate today. The wording of the subject is deliberately wide as “health and care” encompasses a vast part of all our lives. I thank those who are to speak in this debate and who have particular experience and expertise from which we can all benefit.
When I checked the dictionary for the definition of “health”, “care” and “community”, I decided that each of these means much more now than the definitions given, especially “health”. One cannot pick up any newspaper or magazine without finding some new angle on “health”. Fitness and health are often taken to be the same thing, but this is not so. A person can be healthy but unfit, or unhealthy but still fairly fit. Recently, a speaker at the Royal College of Physicians referred to “the ill and the worried well” and I thought that that accurately reflected part of society.
In spite of constant advice to modify our habits or diets, the majority of people think more about health when they suffer some setback. The young have always believed they are immortal. The old are only too aware of their mortality and the ageing process. There is constantly published conflicting advice about the food to eat, exercise to take and the lifestyle to follow. Even those who just take everything for granted and never give a thought to health expect immediate National Health Service care and attention to be available at the moment of crisis, and usually it is.
Chronic conditions are something that people have to live with, often over very long periods and at home rather than in any medical facility. This is where the major problem arises. Many face the living bereavement of loved ones suffering from Alzheimer’s disease or senile dementia. Others have children with special needs requiring a lifetime of care. There are so many different situations.
The dividing line between health and care is creating a huge gulf in services. Social care is provided by local authorities and can be simple or complex, depending on the needs of the individual. The noble Lord, Lord Bruce-Lockhart, introduced a very good debate in this Chamber on adult social care, particularly the local government aspect of it, on 7 December. I do not intend to use this short time to repeat that debate, but commend it to those who have not read it.
The Department of Health, too, covers social care. If the words “social care” were included in the title of that department, it might be recognition of the importance of the issue.
There is need for much closer liaison between the fully funded NHS care and the social care in the community that is often available only at a cost to the patient. Local authorities face a double budget difficulty with an increasing load being transferred to home care from the NHS and a restriction on increasing their council tax. Is it surprising that we constantly read reports and hear anecdotal evidence of social services being less available and more restrictive conditions being applied, so that only the most critical cases now meet the eligibility criteria for free personal care?
The differentiation of treatment between NHS and social services has always been controversial. It is a great pity that more was not done by the Government in recent years to bridge that divide. It would have been easier to make changes when the Government were pouring money into the NHS—sadly, without result. Until joint working of health and care is established, those problems will continue. The NHS is keen to send patients home at the earliest possible date, but someone has to deal with the continuing burden—and that area lacks clarity. If the patient requires continuing health treatment at home, that is funded by the state; if their rehabilitation is classified as social need, they are not covered in the same way.
At a senior management level, there are joint committees and there is some joint working and planning of NHS and social care; but there is need for partnerships to extend that down to the everyday working level. There should be joint NHS and personal care for people, whatever their needs. Where do you draw the line between health and care in the community? What exactly does “personal care” mean?
I look forward to hearing from other noble Lords who intend to speak about vital issues such as child services, respite care, terminal care and the hospice movement, and care at home to keep people out of hospitals. In addition to the many social workers employed by the councils, it is estimated that some 5 million people provide care informally. No matter how much care is provided officially, the greatest amount of caring is done by relatives and friends who give their time to that dedicated service. Often, those carers are themselves reduced to a state of ill health by their great efforts. The whole community owes them a debt of gratitude.
My noble friend and colleague in dentistry Lord Colwyn had hoped to be able to put the case for NHS dental services to be readily available to all. Unfortunately, he is operating today and cannot be here. It should be remembered that dentistry is not a free service for any but the priority classes, but it remains far from being available and accessible for all, in spite of the Prime Minister’s promise to the contrary.
When I was a local authority chairman of social services, long before Ken and his freedom pass, we introduced free travel passes for retired people. We realised that keeping our older residents active and mobile was one of the best forms of social care and meant that those people were very much part of the community—not isolated at home, perhaps seeing no one except the person delivering meals on wheels. Human contact is essential to keep people going and many voluntary organisations play an important part in that process.
For some years, I was on the advisory committee of RSVP, the retired senior volunteer programme—part of Community Service Volunteers. By involving the retired in helping others, volunteers not only provided much-needed assistance, but were given an important and demanding role from which they benefited themselves. I recall a retired bus driver who was helping a young person on a one-to-one basis; he was delighted to have achieved a result in a field outside his own qualifications and he went on to help others in the same way. Others shopped, read and provided company—the needs were almost unlimited. The work continues and many voluntary organisations do a great deal to help people.
In December, the joint report of the All-Party Group on Primary Care and Public Health and the All-Party Group on Social Care considered that there was a need to reconfigure existing provision and resources to achieve the increase in preventive health and social care envisaged in the Wanless report. As one of the signatories to that all-party group report, I took full part in the meetings and hearings of evidence on which it was based.
The report concluded that current funding was insufficient to meet present and predicted demographic pressures and that because the charge for domiciliary social care is—to put it mildly—unpopular with service users, it acts as a deterrent from using such services if the user has to pay. That often leads to earlier use of more expensive institutional care. In considering the best use of public money and the best way to provide services, it is important that the overall long-term costs and benefits are assessed.
We know that the Government plan to have more NHS treatment centres available in the community, which should be good—but only if those centres are up and running before the same services in the hospitals are closed. At the outset, that might be more costly as the services will need to be run in parallel during an overlap period, to establish the changeover. The savings would follow.
In London, many patients choose not to have a GP. They rely on going to the nearest A&E when they have a health problem, which clogs up those important emergency services. It would be better if those patients were able to go to a community treatment centre. It will, however, remain essential to have additional major trauma centres.
On funding, the all-party group recommended:
“2.1 The Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) must acknowledge and make provision for the demographic pressures on Local Authority and NHS care and training budgets reflecting growing numbers of disabled children and young people with complex needs, adults with multiple disabilities suffering social exclusion, and the sharp rise in older people with combinations of physical, sensory and intellectual impairments.
2.2 The CSR should make provision for new money to address the issue of health inequalities and the need for training and development of the work force in their new role.
2.3 Government should take further steps to promote maximum flexibility in the use of resources, including wider opportunities for pooled budgets, greater financial and decision-making delegation to front-line staff and people using services, schemes to combine statutory and community resources, and safeguards against cost-shunting.
2.4 The rationale for and impact of charging for domiciliary care should be rigorously re-examined. A public debate on funding for social care might help to explore alternative solutions”.
Many other matters were considered by the all-party group, such as the need for change from the culture of dependency, with patients taking more responsibility for their own health, particularly in preventive terms.
I have been involved in the NHS as a dentist and on the administrative side for many years, serving on area and regional health authorities and as an NHS trust chairman. Each time that the NHS seemed to be just settling down, it was re-organised, which was damaging to morale and usually financially wasteful. Nevertheless, I am suggesting further changes now. This is because social services and personal care are each essential parts of a complete healthcare system, and it is time that each human being’s treatment was considered as for the whole person.
That takes me to exactly 12 minutes, the time which I was to have. However, I have been told that I have three minutes more. As a result, I will just quote from a letter that I received from the General Social Care Council on arriving in the House this afternoon. I was particularly pleased to have this and to realise how standards are improving and that there is a register. Social workers have always deserved such a degree of recognition. What also pleased me, in view of my comments, was that the General Social Care Council,
“realizes the importance of practitioners working together across the whole range of professional specialisms in health and social care to make joined-up services a reality for service users”.
That summarises the whole thing. I beg to move for Papers.
My Lords, it is always a great pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes. I must say that I very much agree with her about the importance of social care. As an ex-director of social services, I could hardly say otherwise. I am glad that she tabled this Motion for debate today, because it provides me with an early opportunity to engage in a kind of mini-retrospective of my time as a health Minister. That was a job which had two parts to it: continuing the repair job, if I may put it that way, on the NHS that has been in progress since 1997; and taking forward the reforms that will enable the NHS and social care to cope with the challenges of the future.
Those challenges are formidable: rapidly changing medical technology; rising public expectations; and a set of demographic changes involving a considerable rise in the numbers of over-80s that will increase demands on health and social care. I heard quite a lot in my time as a Minister from the Benches opposite about the shortcomings of the Government's approach to the NHS, but I have not heard a great deal about their policies. From the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, I began to discern some emerging policies. Another reorganisation sounds interesting. This week, we also saw some green shoots from the other place, from the leader of the Opposition, who seems to want a return to GP fund holding and the dropping of all national targets. I will return to them in a moment.
First, I want briefly to refresh the memories of everyone on the Benches opposite on how they left the NHS in 1997, after running it for 18 years. It was an NHS short of doctors, nurses and virtually every other type of staff. Healthcare spending was at the bottom of the EU league at about 6 per cent of GDP. It is at 9 per cent now—about the EU average. There was a deficit in 1996-97 of 1.5 per cent of turnover, which is about twice what the very noisy deficit was at the end of last year. The buildings, plant and equipment were in a parlous state, reflecting the failure to invest. Perhaps worst of all were the scandalously long waiting lists, appalling conditions in many A&E departments and, if I may put it this way, unnecessary deaths from failure to invest adequately in cancer and coronary heart disease services. I do not want to dwell too much on that, but it is worth us remembering those things.
I acknowledge that not everything that the Government have done on the NHS is perfect, but we have invested. We have recruited many more staff and improved their pay and conditions of service. We have built literally dozens of new hospitals and hundreds of new GP and community facilities. We have also provided a whole new generation of modern equipment. We can point to that extra investment improving patient services.
If the leader of the Opposition thinks that the changes could have been achieved without some national targets, he is being managerially naive. If he believes that the Conservatives never resorted to national targets or objectives, he is badly briefed. I well remember how, as a health authority chairman under the Conservatives, we were interrogated quite vigorously about the 50 or more national priorities that the Government were running at the time. There was not much difference between those national priorities and targets.
I shall spend the rest of my time referring to the continuing changes that the NHS needs and that the Government have initiated to meet the challenges of the future. I spent much of my time in the past two years pushing on with those necessary changes and I am pleased that we have done so. My only regret is that we did not start some of them sooner. This is particularly the case with choice, an area we are now well and truly establishing. The public will insist that any future Government continue to pursue choice. It needs to be continually nurtured and promoted, against some professional resistance. We need to move choice into new areas, including end-of-life care and how we can leave this world with dignity, at a time and place of our choosing.
As a Government, we have put in place a commissioning framework involving a smaller number of eventually better skilled PCTs. Both Governments have been slower than they might have been on this issue, but we at least have grasped the nettle. I am particularly proud of our work in establishing practice-based commissioning. The GPs deserve great credit for embracing this idea. We will achieve virtually 100 per cent GP coverage with practice-based commissioning, compared to the 50 per cent coverage that GP fund holding achieved. It looks as if the leader of the Opposition wants to abandon this improvement and impose an arbitrary change of GP fund holding on the profession and the NHS.
Alongside commissioning and choice, we have done a lot to establish foundation trusts. By the beginning of 2008, we should have at least 100 of them, including many mental health trusts. There has been a great deal of effort to ensure that hospitals can achieve more autonomy from Whitehall. I do not have time to dwell on the other necessary modernising changes we have pursued, such as the national programme for IT or the important strategic White Paper on services outside hospitals, Our Health, Our Care, Our Say, which said much on strengthening integration of health and social care.
Finally, on competition and markets, the Conservatives deserve a great deal of credit for the way they introduced a mixed economy into community care in the early 1990s. I was pleased to be involved in that. Yet I fear they lost their nerve on this issue when it came to the NHS. It has taken a Labour Government to face up to the fact that the public is on the whole indifferent to whether they get their healthcare from the public, private or voluntary or social enterprise sectors. We have had the nerve to bring in plurality of providers, and a jolly good thing, too. We deserve the credit for carrying on with that policy—long may it continue.
My Lords, with so much having been placed on primary health care and the working hours GPs having been reduced, patients often do not seem to have the continuity of care that they used to from their GPs. As so many problems arise at night, on bank holidays and at weekends, patients have to rely on the out-of-hours doctors services. Prevention is vital in so many cases. Checking blood pressure and sugar levels is easy, but unless patients ask for it this often does not take place. I personally heard recently of several patients who were misdiagnosed by the GP and not sent for a scan. These involve serious conditions of cancer and brain tumours. GPs should be vigilant not evasive in these cases.
The correct procedure when people have strokes or heart attacks should be to get them to a centre of excellence, so that they can have a scan within three hours and, if appropriate, clot-busting therapy. Without scanners working 24-hour days seven days a week, this cannot happen. This is still a dream in some areas such as rural north Yorkshire, where I live.
There must be a reliable emergency ambulance service. Is the Minister aware of the concern over the 45-minute meal breaks for ambulance crews, which are statutory under EU law but are subject to local negotiations? As about 13 deaths have been attributed to meal breaks that cannot be disturbed—goodness knows how many near misses there have been—I hope that the Minister will take up this challenge, particularly from the Scottish border to north Yorkshire.
In the interests of patient safety, there is concern that the posts of specialist nurses for long-term medical conditions such as stoma care, diabetes, epilepsy, MS, strokes, Parkinson’s disease, motor neurone disease and many others are being cut or not replaced when they become vacant, and that skilled nurses are being put on to general ward duties. This will be economically disastrous, as these nurses are the vital link between the specialist hospital unit and the community. They give support to the patients and their carers. They monitor medication and equipment, and they support and train district nurses. Because they are paid by the hospitals, if not by voluntary organisations, I hope that the Minister will be able to sort out this vital matter with the hospitals and PCTs. Perhaps there will have to be joint funding, otherwise patients will become neglected in the community and land up in hospital.
The North Yorkshire and York PCT has inherited debts of millions of pounds and has therefore made stringent cuts, delaying patient treatments and out-patient appointments. In the long run, I cannot see that this will benefit anyone. One of the silent cuts has been made to the wheelchair and equipment service. Two men deliver and collect these aids from and to patients’ homes in a wide rural area in the Harrogate district. A third man was employed to clean everything before it was reallocated. He has left, and the post has not been refilled, with the result that the equipment may not get a thorough cleaning. This is extremely dangerous, given infections such as C. difficile, which is very dangerous to vulnerable, disabled people.
In a prelude to my Question on 8 February, I feel I should alert your Lordships to the growing anxiety about forms of community-associated MRSA—CA-MRSA—which are easy to spread. PVL—Panton-Valentine leukocidin—destroys the white cells that the body uses to defend itself. Because it can infect young people who are not expected to become ill, the infection is often not identified quickly enough to treat. High-risk groups are participants in close contact such as sports clubs, the military, residential homes and children’s playgrounds. There should be regular bathing, showering, hand washing, and changes of linen and underwear, and sharing personal items such as toothbrushes, face cloths and towels should be avoided. Wounds should be covered.
Fast NHS tests are needed that can track the spread of the disease from the community to infecting vulnerable people. Existing methods take more than two weeks to detect the organism, when it can kill within a day. In Texas, bacteria with the PVL genes continue to spread. They have risen to affect 10 per cent of all children in three years and cause symptoms ranging from pimples and boils to flesh-dissolving disease and the killer, pneumonia.
In the USA, the incidence of CA-MRSA is screened nationally, and in Scotland there is a system of identifying all MRSA strains. Surely, with such risks, we should have rigorous surveillance and screening for CA-MRSA in the community. I hope that the Government will push this forward with the expertise of the Health Protection Agency. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, for securing this very important debate.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate my noble friend Lady Gardner of Parkes on the excellent way in which she has initiated this debate. As ever, she has brought to bear on these matters her first-hand experience of many long years. In the excellent debate last week on the social care workforce, which was initiated by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, all speakers rightly congratulated the Government on making more funds available for the NHS. They also spoke warmly of the many policy frameworks that have been provided for community care.
However, last week, as today, we were obliged to confront the gulf between what has been provided and what people are experiencing at grass-roots level. I have no doubt that we will hear from the Minister—he would be right so to say—that funding for the NHS has increased from around £34 billion in 1997-98 to around £78 billion in 2005-06; that will save him a bit of time. We will also hear, correctly, that there have been real improvements in certain health outcomes, including a reduction in waiting lists and better facilities for patients, which are entirely welcome. But those of us whose reading includes the regional press—I assume that that does not include the noble Lord, Lord Warner—cannot have failed to notice the weekly, sometimes daily, stories about cuts, closures and crises in the NHS, which, if only partly accurate, are puzzling when set against government statistics. Sadly, these cuts, closures and crises more often than not affect community care. So what is going wrong?
In its report published last December on NHS deficits, the Health Select Committee in another place went some way towards providing the answer. The report points out that the overall NHS deficit has increased over the past two years, partly because of funding formulae, but also because of,
“poor central and poor local management”.
It says that government estimates of costs for, for example, Agenda for Change and doctors’ contracts,
“proved to be hopelessly unrealistic”,
which is a point apparently now accepted by Patricia Hewitt. The report adds that repeated policy changes imposed by the Government at short notice have contributed to the problem. Poor local management is also blamed. The extraordinary saga of the creation of a multiplicity of primary care trusts on the ground of improved local delivery, only for that decision to be reversed two years later, illustrates the problem.
My Lords, I thought that I would tempt the noble Lord from his lair. Perhaps he would like to continue to listen to my remarks—and I claim injury time.
The situation of the NHS in Norfolk also illustrates the problem. We are told that Norfolk PCTs account for £50 million of the overall NHS deficit. I do not see how this can be. I do not know what kind of management at national and/or local level can have incurred such a debt in one county that serves only 750,000 people. But, more seriously, what are the consequences of making good such a debt on health services in Norfolk? The only certain thing is that the people of Norfolk have to suffer reductions in service through no fault of their own. The impact of meeting these deficits is projected to be dire.
Norfolk has nine community hospitals, which, as always, are much loved, supported and used. They provide a range of services, as well as, in most cases, a halfway house for patients being discharged, often after serious surgery. All these hospitals are being considered for closure or a reduction in the number of beds. I can describe these plans only, in the words of Sir Humphrey, as “Very courageous, Minister”, because they are not very popular. Earlier last year, I seem to recall, there were headlines about a £750 million windfall to develop community hospitals. What happened to the windfall? According to local health chiefs, the emphasis is to shift to treatment at home.
I can only ask the Minister, who is greatly respected and admired in this House for his knowledge in these matters, to look at the reality of care at home in a rural area. Who is to provide and deliver that care? How stretched is domiciliary care already? What are the travelling times and costs? Is it realistic to provide, say, physiotherapy in the home, where travelling times between patients could be up to an hour? I am quite sure that he understands these matters and is considering them.
Last week, we learnt that there are to be drastic cuts in the out-of-hours GP service across Norfolk—again, in an effort to meet the £50 million deficit. The number of bases manned between midnight and 8 am is to be cut from 11 to six, to meet demands for reductions from the PCT. Local GPs believe that the reductions will put patients at risk in such a large and thinly populated county. GPs are the cornerstone of community care. These cuts are bad news for worried and vulnerable people who have to use the service out of hours. A&E will have to try to take the strain and so will families and carers. Social services will certainly not be able to help. As Dame Denise Platt points out in her second report on the state of social care, there is a gap between what the Government want to do and what is actually happening in people’s experience.
I have perhaps been unduly critical and gloomy. I recognise that the Government have been serious in their intention to put more resources into healthcare; indeed, they have done so. But, as Camilla Cavendish says in the Times today,
“Money should never have been seen as a substitute for management”.
I share the bewilderment of patients and their families, who are hearing one thing and experiencing another. I hope that today the Minister, drawing on his own extensive experience, will have some words of comfort.
My Lords, I, too, add my name to the long list of those giving deserved congratulations to the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, but I hasten to add that I must disagree that the National Health Service needs more structural reform. I will say why a bit later.
In the last debate on the National Health Service in your Lordships’ House, I declared an interest as both consumer and stakeholder. I make no apologies for doing so again. Speaking today as a service user, I want to get away from the lofty heights of budgets and macro-numbers in respect of National Health Service provisions. We already know that investment in the National Health Service has doubled, that there are over 300,000 additional staff since 1997 and that waiting times have been reduced in many areas of clinical care.
I want to talk today more about the principles that should underpin the current NHS reforms—the reform programme that the Government call “Care Closer to Home”. As a user, I welcome the objective behind the Government’s proposals, which aim to provide a flexible, integrated and responsive health service, based on the community and built around the needs of the community. At the same time, there must be a recognition that our healthcare depends equally on our social care. I hope that, in the reform programme, the Government will ensure that a wide range of social care services, working with health services, is available in what is popularly called the one-stop care shop.
The White Paper quite properly refers to preventive services. Preventive services ensure that an assessment is made of people’s lifestyles so that they themselves can be mindful of the risks. The White Paper is encouraging on the issue of self-care. So the continuing challenge for the Government is to tackle inequality and, as part of social care, to ensure that they also attack the roots of poverty. We all know that if you live in poor housing, if your diet is poor and if you are among the long-term unemployed, your medical needs are likely to be that much greater. The Government and our care services must deal with the effects of these problems, but individuals can also make a contribution by dealing with the causes.
The significance of the next step in the reform agenda for the National Health Service is that services are required to be carried out within a framework of certain basic principles. I want to suggest one or two principles that I feel are necessary. Reform should be based on need and not driven solely on the basis of cost. In other words, what counts is what is best for patients. Treatment must remain free at the point of use. We cannot adopt the practices prevalent in some countries where your credit rating is checked before your pulse. There must be equality of access and universal coverage. Ours is a national health service, open to all and with care for all. Local services should be designed by and with local communities, but national standards should also apply. The next round of reform must also end the postcode lottery in respect of health access and provision. As a fundamental principle, there should be more collaboration in healthcare and less competition.
The best patient care is delivered when all service providers work in partnership and share best practice. The Royal College of Nursing has called for binding contractual obligations, requiring organisations tendering for NHS services to develop co-operative partnerships. I support that aim. The NHS belongs to all of us, whether patients or providers. We all have an interest in its reform. So the NHS has many needs, but what it now requires above all else is a period of stability, with continuity of policies. As we speak, there is a great danger that the NHS will suffer from what I call policy indigestion, leading to structural instability.
To sum up, we must co-ordinate all our care services, including health. We must involve both consumers and stakeholders in the decision-making process. The NHS must remain the centrepiece of this country’s healthcare; public health and social justice depend on it. The staff of the National Health Service have played their part. They have adopted and are delivering Agenda for Change. If we now fail to secure a reformed NHS, we risk a return to the unhealthy, unequal country that was Britain before the NHS.
My Lords, it is some 40 years since I began my work with the Women’s Royal Voluntary Service in Leicestershire. At that time we provided a vast range of services to meet various needs in our local community. One of our busiest sections was responsible for working with older people. It included meals on wheels, clubs for the elderly, day centres, our work within hospitals and later the books on wheels scheme. All these provided support for people, enabling them to lead independent lives in their own homes for longer. I take this opportunity to place on record my thanks to all those people and to those who continue that work today.
Here we are today all these years later tackling some of the very same issues, but the major change is the increased longevity of many people. In 1971, 16 per cent of the UK’s population were over 65. By 2005, 6 per cent of the population were over 85, and the 2001 census showed that, for the first time, the number of people in England and Wales over 60 was greater than the number under 16. Therefore, the pressures we are facing to provide the services that we hope to provide are even more acute.
We should add to that the pressure on the NHS itself. The Department of Health expects a shortfall of 1,200 general practitioners in the coming years and the likely closure of a further 36 community hospitals, which I understand are under review, 10 having been closed since 1999.
I am very grateful to my noble friend Lady Gardner of Parkes for introducing this important debate. She and other speakers highlighted some of the important issues. I should like to pick up a crucial point that she made on pooled budgets and the possibility of shunting cost responsibility between health, social services and local authorities.
My noble friend Lady Shephard spoke of what happens on the ground. As your Lordships know, I have the great honour to be the Conservative Defra spokesman in this House. Therefore, I cover rural affairs and will address that subject today. Care provision is needed whether one lives in a town, a village or a remote hamlet. However, the cost of providing such cover is higher and more difficult to deliver in rural areas and in some cases is very fragmented. That is all the more reason to ensure that services are joined up. It is important that services should be provided in people’s own homes and that people living in their own homes are enabled to attend surgery and hospital appointments when necessary.
I am glad to tell the House that earlier this week an all-party group on rural services was established. One of the issues suggested for detailed consideration was that of health and social provision in rural areas. Members of the group recognise that such services can be successfully provided only by overcoming any barriers that exist between the NHS and social care services. If we add to that the contribution made by many families, friends and voluntary organisations, we realise that there is a big challenge ahead and that proper provision has to be established.
I fear that in some cases the care provided is not adequate. In an era of modern communications surely we should be able to connect healthcare, social care, the doctor’s surgery and other support services. It is much easier to do that than it was 40 years ago. As my right honourable friend David Cameron said in a recent speech to Age Concern:
“We want to see more joint commissioning of both health and social care services acting together for the benefit of both the cared-for and their carers, rather than in opposition to each other, as so often they do today”.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Morris, I looked at the health White Paper. I should like to draw two matters in particular to the Minister’s attention. One of the first observations it makes is that in placing new responsibilities on local authorities and the NHS to work together, adequate funding will be needed. I hope that the Minister will give us an assurance on funding when he replies to the debate. Secondly, the White Paper refers to offering support for carers, including improved emergency respite arrangements and the establishment of a national helpline for carers as one of its priorities. Thirdly, the White Paper states that extending direct payments and piloting of individual budgets for social care to allow people to decide what their allocations are spent on must be achieved through primary legislation. I was surprised by that and I seek clarification from the Minister as to when that will happen and whether it requires primary legislation.
All of us are acutely aware of the needs of some of our most vulnerable and elderly people and I hope that today’s debate will contribute to ensuring that on the ground that sort of support and encouragement will be achieved.
My Lords, I should like to deal with a very different aspect and that is the connection between unemployment and ill health. Many doctors have appreciated that those who lose their jobs often suffer ill health as a result. Indeed, many patients who suffer ill health might improve if only they were able to find employment suited to their special needs.
There was a fascinating experiment in 2001 which I should like briefly to describe to your Lordships. I am associated with the Tomorrow’s People charity, which specialises in helping the long-term unemployed into work. It has a brilliantly successful record in that regard. It appreciated that there were these patients who might be helped and this led to a liaison with the James Wigg general practice in north London whereby it was arranged that one of the advisers would go to the surgery on one day a week and offer to those who wished to avail themselves of it the package of employment support. In this case 200 people were seen and of those 61 agreed to go for the full package. As a result some found employment and others found voluntary work or went into training.
The results were evaluated in 2004 by an independent authority. It found that 36 per cent were in employment and 55 per cent went for training or voluntary work. But what was most interesting was the health outcome. There were 20 per cent fewer GP consultations from the 61, 74 per cent fewer referrals to other practice counsellors and 19 per cent fewer antidepressant prescriptions after people had been on board with the GP for 18 months.
This led to Tomorrow’s People wishing to expand the initiative and it now has advisers in about 80 surgeries across the country. There are some in the area with which I am particularly associated—Plymouth and Torbay—and I happen to know the adviser who acts for these GP surgeries. He is a remarkable man and has even got himself into the pain management clinic of Torbay hospital.
So it really works but it works because people are in an environment that they trust with doctors whom they trust and it is entirely voluntary. There is no pressure at all. The doctor may suggest to the patient that this would be useful and the patient can take it up or not. In some cases the patients learn about this through going to the surgery and seeing the adviser. I know that this has been sufficiently impressive for the Government to consider taking it up on a wider scale still through Jobcentre Plus. That sounds fine but I add a note of caution: one of the reasons for the success of Tomorrow’s People or any similar voluntary organisation is that the advisers are totally independent. Many patients are scared of the official approach. Jobcentre Plus advisers cannot be anything other than official; it is the nature of the case.
Furthermore, disturbing noises are coming from Ministers about trying to coerce people into seeking employment. In the very vulnerable sector with which we are dealing, that would be tantamount to disaster. It is essential that people decide themselves what they want to do. I trust that Ministers will bear that in mind if they really want to roll out this initiative on a much broader base.
There is much good in this approach. It has a very positive effect on people’s health. There is a clear financial aspect, because the more people go back to work, the less dependence there will be on benefits. There is disturbing information from the Department for Work and Pensions that when someone has been on benefits for, say, a year they are likely to be out of work for eight years, which could even take them to retirement age, meaning that they never work again. There is immense pressure, if one wants to save public money, to pursue this line. I am concerned, however, that this initiative should not fall into the hands of bureaucrats, who, however well intentioned, will not understand that its success depends on its voluntary, non-official nature and its advisers’ willingness to work one to one with individuals for as long as it takes.
Each session normally lasts from 45 minutes to an hour. Compare that with the average consultation with a GP or even a Jobcentre Plus worker and you will see how much time and effort is given. What is more, volunteers will carry on and on until the individual is in work or they have otherwise disposed of the case. It is a fascinating way of dealing with a long-term problem, and I hope that the Government will take it on board by funding some of these private initiatives rather than operating through Jobcentre Plus.
One of the things that restrains Tomorrow’s People is the difficulty of finding funds from hard-pressed GPs, who would be very happy to take up such work but simply do not have the funds so to do. I leave that thought with the Minister.
My Lords, this is a very welcome opportunity to debate our concerns, hopes and expectations for healthcare in the community. We must recall that this can be a meaningful debate only if we have the assured confident continuity of a securely financed National Health Service that can operate within its budget parameters and confidently provide accurate and wholly transparent financial assurances of its ability to do so.
When last we debated the National Health Service, on 7 December, I drew noble Lords’ attention to the apparent uncertainty and confusion about the precise deficit forecast by the service for the current year, according to the quarterly report that it had filed in our Library on 9 November. Following that debate, I wrote to Her Majesty’s Government requesting clarification of the precise deficit now forecast as the correct interpretation of the figures in the 9 November filing. The then Minister of State at the Department of Health, the noble Lord, Lord Warner, replied that the deficit forecast at quarter two for the National Health Service as a whole was £94 million, after the application of a £350 million contingency established by the strategic health authorities. I think that it was implied that they had been applied in the current financial year, which is a very important point. I was extremely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Warner, for his reply, which was extremely helpful and commendably prompt. I found it less than wholly clear on a possible second £350 million contingency that was referred to in the same sentence, and it was not clear whether there were two separate contingencies of £350 million or one, and how many of those had been applied to arrive at the £94 million deficiency.
I am afraid that I submitted a further six Questions for Written Answer to the Government, each dealing with a very specific aspect of the same deficit forecast for the National Health Service this year. Those Questions were tabled on 9 January 2007. I anticipated a reply within the normal 14-day term, by 23 January 2007. I may have overlooked one of the many rules that I have had to learn on arriving in this House; perhaps a novice Peer is not entitled to a reply within 14 days. I am still waiting on those Answers. At present, none of the replies has come in, so I am talking today without the knowledge of what will be the result.
Without boring your Lordships with the detail of the six Questions, I summarise by saying that each of them was concerned with how far the £94 million currently forecast deficit already took account of any provisions or contingencies that had been previously made by the National Health Service in setting its internal budgets for the current year, and what precisely might be the value of any such provisions and contingencies still remaining, which could be included later to adjust any further adverse variance which might be suffered by the NHS in the balance of the current year.
My curiosity about these figures was particularly acute because the noble Lord, Lord Warner, in his helpful reply, had recognised that the £94 million forecast deficit was after the application of the £350 million contingency. That raised in my mind the possibility that this might mean that the real running rate of cash deficiency—if we were in fact talking about a cash deficiency for the current year—was actually the sum total of those two figures at £444 million, or perhaps even £794 million, if the sum of the other £350 million mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Warner, as apparently a second contingency, was also already written back. This question does, however, raise the issue of what precisely the deficit that we are seeking to quantify actually constitutes.
What I am trying to get to here—and I can find no record anywhere in government reports to assist me—is the net cash cost of running the National Health Service for each year, and then to compare how that net cash cost, stripped of all confusions caused by contingencies and provisions, compares from one year to another. If we can once get to the definitive net cash deficit for the NHS, then we shall have an accurate account at last of how far the NHS is performing within central government’s overall budget plan, and whether there is in fact a black hole for the current year, which will carry on as a reflection of operating net deficit, which will need to be filled by incremental funding from the public purse, from the taxpayers’ pocket, for the next financial year. Alternatively, there will need to be significant further reductions in NHS services to compensate, thus reducing the value of the health service that the taxpayers hope and believe they are paying for.
The Secretary of State was quoted by the BBC on 21 November 2006 as stating that she would take “personal responsibility” to restore the National Health Service “to financial balance” by the end of March 2007. Unfortunately, what the Secretary of State did not say was how the NHS will define the winning post for achieving a “financial balance” at the end of March 2007. Do the Government intend, as probably they should, that this represents the balance of cash spent compared to cash allocated in accordance with the Government’s budget for health for the whole year, or do they have some alternative scheme whereby they intend to judge themselves on a performance based on what would effectively represent the trading account for a conventional corporate entity—no loss/no profit—which may be significantly distorted by the release and offset of contingencies and provisions on the lines that I have stated?
My very strong belief is that all uncertainty should be removed now from this important issue, so that we may know precisely what figure will reliably show when the NHS budget is “in balance” and how that figure is quantified and defined by the NHS financial control arm. It is on the record as stating that 56 trusts and 119 primary care trusts are currently in deficit. I suggest that the accountants for the National Health Service must have discovered the holy grail of accounting if they can absorb 175 quasi-subsidiaries in deficit and still be in balance at year end. In which case, I shall bow my head in humble admiration of their brilliant accounting techniques.
My Lords, this is an opportune debate and I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Gardner of Parkes for initiating it. It comes when many community hospitals are threatened with closure, as PCTs struggle with debt, and when social care, whether in care homes or in the community, is subject to huge budgetary pressures. Earlier this week we heard from the LGA, and how the service is in danger of imploding through lack of adequate funding. Recently, I spoke in a debate on the pressures that exist in the social service budget of Lincolnshire County Council. Suffice it to say that the Government cannot expect councils to meet demographic changes and provide for increasing care needs without adequate funding.
I want to speak about community hospitals. A paradox is that the threat of closure comes when the Secretary of State is talking about building new ones. I join the debate to talk to the House about the opportunity that I believe exists and which suggests itself as a result of my direct experience of a small local community hospital, looking at things from the other end of the telescope from my noble friend Lord James of Blackheath.
I declare an interest as I remain a trustee of the hospital in Holbeach of which I was chairman for 18 years until last September. Time means that I must précis the story, but in 1988 when it became clear that Holbeach Hospital was to be closed, the South Lincolnshire Health Authority, as it was then, faced a budget cut consequent on RAWP, which some noble Lords will remember as the Resources Allocation Working Party. Rightly there was an outcry. Our nearest district general hospital was over 20 miles away. A group of us sought to set up a new model, which to the credit of the health authority was accepted and continues to flourish to this day.
We formed a community-based charitable trust and, backed by councils at county, district and parish level, we raised funds from local organisations and people. Converting the open wards to 26 nursing-home beds, we occupied them with many of the original long-term-stay patients. The hospital had very much been a geriatric long-term-stay institution. At that time the social security budget funded their care. The majority, with the exception of a few self-funders, are now social-services funded, of course. We also contracted with the health authority to provide six doctors’ beds and continued the out-patients’ clinics, including the physiotherapist clinic. The net result was an improved facility, running at an overall budget of half that which had been allowed by the health authority.
It has been an interesting adventure and not without incident, but the outcome has been remarkable. The trust benefited from a legacy which enabled it to extend the building and further improve facilities. From the original 26 beds, we now have 37 care beds offering different degrees of nursing care. The six doctors’ beds are now nine and they are used for terminal, respite and intermediate care. The out-patients’ facilities have been increased, so that out-patient clinics, the services of our part-time physiotherapist plus the nine beds are now provided in this current year to the NHS for £273,000. The Minister will know that that is remarkable value for money for the NHS.
We are optimistic that practice commissioning will provide additional opportunities for us. We already run phlebotomy clinics for the local doctors. Above all, we have preserved a local resource which is locally seen to be an important part of our community’s life. A recent local fundraising campaign means that we are on the verge of buying the residual freehold from the NHS, thus saving the rent that we have been paying.
Your Lordships may consider me a little overweight with this subject. I certainly manifest the symptoms of excessive enthusiasm for my own ideas; that can be a fatal condition in a political speaker. However, I hope that it may prove infectious in this case. What better way has central government of keeping health resources at local level than trusting local people to run them on a voluntary basis? With imagination, closures can be averted. Valuable community resources can be maintained. Government can build on the local support—indeed, affection—of what people rightly consider to be their hospital.
My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend Lady Gardner of Parkes for allowing me the opportunity of indulging what has become a hobby. As my noble friend Lord Howe knows, I have been able to get interested in health over only the past two years, an interest created by its problems and opportunities. I have also admired the dogmatic approach of the noble Lord, Lord Warner, and his confidence in what he has done, for which I thank him. He is a good servant of the health service.
If I were to speak in the noble Lord’s words, I would remind your Lordships that we have the biggest and most expensive hospital-building programme in Europe, and our doctors and consultants are the highest paid. We have more employees in the health service per head of population than any other country in Europe. We are advanced in drug development and certain research. We also have great demand and the greatest waiting lists for our hospitals and trusts in Europe.
Last time, I asked the government Front Bench if they could answer a simple question. I spoke about waiting times, and pointed out that, in general, it was roughly another 43 days after you had seen a doctor before you saw a consultant. I said that I would table a Question for Written Answer, and 43 days later I am just about expecting a response. I asked the Government,
“what is the average time it now takes for citizens to—
(a) see their general practitioner (GP);
(b) see a consultant, upon referral by the GP, by way of the ‘choose and book’ system;
(c) obtain an appointment for a diagnostic procedure, for example, an MRI scan, a CT scan or a blood test, upon referral by a consultant;
(d) obtain a follow-up appointment with the consultant to discuss the results of the diagnostic procedure; and
(e) enter hospital for the appropriate surgery or treatment”.
I would appreciate it if I could have an answer within 47 days.
Health has become a hobby of mine because I am handicapped by my own advantages. I do not think I have spent a day in bed in my life. I have certainly never spent a night in hospital. I have been and worked in some of the more difficult and deadly parts of the world, where my body seems instantly to reject every foreign body; I could well be an appointed taster to some of the crowned heads of the world. In these areas, we were always provided with packs containing syringes and instructions. There would be moments where one needed to use morphine, and the pack would say, in badly translated English, “Get the posterior of the patient in a bent position, advance and stab him viciously”. I looked at many of the tricks you must have, because you would not have a doctor in some of these countries.
I would find—this also happens in European countries—that there was always an expert, ancien or wise man at local community level. While we look at the bigger picture of great hospitals and expenditure, little community activities seem to work extremely well in some other countries. In many of them, there is now a tendency to devolve and plurality is starting to arrive, as the noble Lord, Lord Warner, said. We could never reproduce the noble Lord, Lord Warner, so plurality is perhaps the wrong word; perhaps I should say the repetitiveness of certain services. As the noble Lord, Lord Morris, said, the nearer to a person’s home, the better.
The age profile interests me. I remind my noble friend Lady Byford that the House of Lords has more people over the age of 80 than any other body in the world, roughly 15 per cent. When I have had foreign consultants here, and we have wandered around the corridors, they have said, “We don’t need to go any further to have a perfect sample of almost every form of disability or activity in the world”. Noble Lords also have the advantage of being kept active so they will live to an older age.
At local community level in many countries, I now find that the ambulance system comprises of three groups of people: people’s children who, after their driving test, learn to become intermediate ambulance drivers; the ordinary paramedics who will turn up at any moment; and the fire brigade or community services, which will arrive within eight minutes. It is much better to ring them up because if there is a woman patient, they will send a woman doctor, a male paramedic and two others within a short time. At the other end, removing people from hospital at an early date and providing local community services that will take them back as out-patients, deal with their drips, care for them, talk to them and not leave them alone is much more economic and efficient, particularly as we have modern technology.
Noble Lords will remember that one of the greatest scanners in the world was the British EMI scanner. If we look at diagnostics now, there is new equipment. Scanners can produce 128 slices instead of the normal 28 or 56 and can do a dual scan in half an hour. If referral could be made quicker, the throughput could be enormous. Noble Lords may be aware that there is a scanning operation just down the road that requires only six to eight people a day to cover itself.
I feel that we should get away in thought from large hospitals and large bodies and stop arguing about whether PCTs have enough money. We should go back and start from the community and work upwards, rather than from the top downwards.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes. I hope she will forgive me for saying so, but I have come to think of her as the nearest thing the House of Lords has to Shane Warne because she casually strolls up to debates and bowls the Government some issues and who knows what will happen as a result? Today is a perfect example of that. We have had a fascinating debate with a range of extraordinary contributions. The noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, took us off in an interesting direction, and the noble Lord, Lord James of Blackheath, gave a marvellous contribution because he is right that, until such time as we get to the bottom of the exact position of NHS funding, we are all shooting in the dark. My understanding is that last year the Government were forecasting an NHS deficit of about £500 million, so the figure of £94 million is likely to be very inaccurate.
We also know from several surveys that, at the moment, social care is underfunded by about £1.8 billion. That is an important place to start. In her opening speech, the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, spoke about the dividing line between health and social care. I want to talk about the interface and the overlap. It is important to do so now when we are in the run-up to CSR07 and when the Government, following a period of consultation, are about to announce the policy they intend to adopt on NHS continuing care criteria.
A lot of the debate centred on the relocation of health services. There has been a lot of predictable outcry when services such as A&E wards or maternity services are closed. What rarely make the headlines are the consequences of those policies on non-emergency and non-elective procedures and, in particular, the consequences for social care.
The British Geriatric Society, in its response to the consultation on NHS continuing healthcare and NHS funded nursing care in England, published in November 2006, noted that, in 2005, there was a loss of about 1,400 rehabilitation beds. More were lost in 2006. The effect of that was that people who had chronic disabilities and had undergone serious health problems such as strokes were being sent back into the community with far less rehabilitation.
The society noticed also that there had been an increase in admissions to hospitals because of the out-of-hours GP contract. What is increasingly happening is that an out-of-hours service gets a telephone call from an elderly person whom it does not know. To cover its back, it will send them into an acute admissions hospital, to doctors who also do not know them. Noble Lords should contrast that with the service outlined by the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Holbeach, which runs effectively and well, and is reliant on people knowing in depth the patients whom they serve. There were many unforeseen consequences of the way in which the Government negotiated the GP contract. That was one of them. As the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, said, it has been an exercise in cost-shifting rather than in pooled budgets and joint working.
An assumption was made in many of today’s speeches that the transfer of care from an acute to a community setting would somehow be a straight replacement and cheaper. That is not always the case. As the NHS Confederation pointed out when it was talking about the future of general hospitals, although it is possible to move some functions such as rehabilitation which are now carried in acute hospitals—even intensive rehabilitation following an operation—there is never a point at which a functioning general hospital does not need that facility within its walls. In some cases, we are talking about duplication.
We are in the run-up to elections in Scotland. Therefore, the media south of the Border are beginning to pay attention to what is happening in Scotland. They are beginning to talk about the Scottish Executive’s policy of free personal care. Much of that reporting has been misleading and simplistic. It is important to look at it because it has important lessons for those of us in England.
Research from Stirling University, which was commissioned by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and published in 2006, looked at the financial models of care in Scotland and the UK, and it came up with some interesting findings. It found that the introduction of the free personal care policy did not reduce the level of informal care, as had been predicted. Rather, it enabled carers to cope and to provide other forms of care, and, in some cases, to keep on working. It became an additional service and not a substitute. They found that the difference between Scotland and the rest of the UK in the public costs of personal and nursing care are very much smaller than is popularly assumed. In Scotland, people who are in residential care do not receive attendance allowance, for example; but they do in the rest of the United Kingdom.
It has been said frequently that the cost of the introduction of that policy has been a great deal higher than was expected. Yes, it was £143 million in its first year instead of £125 million. That is still only 0.2 per cent of the gross domestic product. Much of those costs would have arisen in any case. Care standards, for example, were introduced in Scotland and they had a cost attached to them.
Depending on the rate of demographic change and whether the costs of care rise in proportion to inflation, it is true that the cost of that policy could triple to 2 per cent of GDP by 2053. However, in the intervening period, there is an opportunity for Government to take action that would offset it; for example, by prolonging the periods of healthy life in older people and, crucially, by extending care at home.
The introduction of free personal care policy has had a beneficial impact on two groups of people in particular—older people with modest means and savings, often women, and people who have Alzheimer’s disease. If noble Lords think about many of the cases in the past two years where appeals have been won over continuing NHS care against decisions to refuse free nursing care in England, it is those people who are being disadvantaged by the unclear policy that this Government have deliberately pursued for the past seven years.
It is difficult to extrapolate directly from the experience from Scotland to the rest of UK. That is not because there are huge demographic differences. In practice, there are greater demographic differences within the four nations of the UK than there are between them. It is difficult to equate the fact that our system of social care funding is much more complex, and it is difficult to draw a parallel when much of the costs of social care are covered, for example, by the housing and benefits system—the benefits system is slightly different in Scotland.
Perhaps the most important finding of the Scottish study is that the implementation of that policy of free personal care has enabled carers to cope and it has caused a transition of care to move away from institutions and towards homes. When noble Lords stop to think that the annual cost of caring for an older person in their own home in Scotland is £3,000, they should contrast that with the annual cost of residential care—there is a dramatic difference.
Two weeks ago, CSCI presented its report on the future of social care. It called for a full and open debate about the settlement between the state and individuals about future care costs. We have known for many years, and all parties have accepted for many years, that since the major debates on the Royal Commission on the future of long-term care, the state will not pick up the full cost of social care. It is unlikely that it ever has done that. What is not clear, and is certainly not clear to individuals, is the likelihood of their social care provision being met by the state when they are older. Many people have wholly unrealistic views of what that is.
My suggestion is one that we have been making to the Government from these Benches for a long time—since the publication of the Royal Commission report: just as is the case with pensions, there is a need to come to a settlement in which there is clarity, simplicity and an understanding of which aspects of social care will be paid for by the state and which will have to be paid for by individuals. Until we do that, we will have a continuing system of fragmentation for those who are trying to deliver social care and utter confusion for those who receive it.
My Lords, I begin by thanking my noble friend Lady Gardner for introducing her Motion so clearly and so well and for having chosen a topic which we surely need to discuss and revisit regularly on occasions such as these. Like her, I see this short debate as an opportunity.
It is now just about a year since the Government published their White Paper, Our Health, Our Care, Our Say. That document was in many ways a landmark statement of policy. I was, and remain, enthused by a great deal of its content. Its ambitions were noble, its aims were absolutely to the point and, on the whole, it was realistic in so far as it set out a timetable for change that appeared reasonable. Therefore, as is not infrequent in health matters, we find ourselves sharing the Government’s aspirations about the increasing emphasis that we should be placing on delivering health and care services in community settings. We are very much with them on the idea of more and better joint working between health and social care. We are also enthusiastic about encouraging patients to be more independent, particularly those with long-term chronic conditions. We warmly back the idea of better support for carers.
That is the good news. The areas in which we find our doubts and fears coming to the surface are to do not with policy but with delivery. Many of the contributions today have focused on one or other aspect of that, and I believe that this kind of scrutiny is timely. I want to concentrate on three areas where there are real barriers to delivering the Government’s community health agenda. They are funding pressures, commissioning and training.
Funding pressures are a hardy perennial of these debates, but absolutely crucial in the context of my noble friend’s Motion. A lot of the problem stems from the acute sector. The combination of deficits in acute trusts, combined with government targets for elective treatment, has had a severe effect on the money available for rolling out the delivery of care in the community. A year on from the Secretary of State’s assurances that no community hospital should close purely because of short-term budgetary pressures, 105 are still under threat of closure. The Government say that closure of beds does not always matter. Certainly, one can make a theoretical case for the closure of some beds, or whole hospitals, if joined-up community services are there to take their place, but we are still a long way off being able to make that claim. PCTs have seen their budgets top-sliced this year to feed the voracious appetite of the acute sector. That has seriously affected their ability to invest in community services.
For example, there is a government target to create 3,000 community matrons by March of this year—nurses whose job it will be to keep people with chronic conditions at home and out of hospital. The latest Written Answer on this says that only 267 community matrons are so far in post. That figure has probably gone up, and the RCN believes that it is higher, but it is quite clear that the target will not be met by a wide margin. What about health visitors? The number of health visitors, if one looks at full-time equivalents, has gone down since 1997, and even since 2001. The number of midwives working in the NHS declined last year, even though the number of births went up. Midwife-led maternity units and birth centres are closing or under threat.
In general practice, there are further concerns. Many areas of the country are under-doctored, but we find that schemes encouraging doctors who have left the NHS to come back have been cut. There are also cuts in flexible career initiatives: 60 per cent of GPs recently surveyed said that their premises are unsuitable for present needs, let alone any expansion of activity stemming from the White Paper. Nearly half of all practices have complained that they cannot now provide enhanced healthcare services, because the budget for these has been withdrawn by the PCT. Yes, one can point to progress in some localities, and I am sure that the Minister will do so. The Making it Happen paper published in October refers to some successes, but they are patchy and as yet small in scale. All too often, the necessary momentum is simply not yet there.
At local government level, the picture is no less difficult. According to the LGA, seven out of 10 local authorities have found themselves hit by the withdrawal of NHS funding from jointly funded projects, or by a sharp increase in the referral of patients who would normally be cared for by the NHS. Some have experienced both, and the funding shortages are such that many authorities have reported increased waiting times for assessments and for social care services, while many are withdrawing services altogether. The structures for joint working are, in many cases, being put in place; but the means to achieve a step change in delivery are absent.
In many parts of the country, the squeeze on PCTs is not helped by the formula underlying the funding—the so-called resource allocation formula. I have serious worries about the effect of the current formula on areas of the country where there is a high burden of disease but relatively low premature mortality. The Government’s current formula weights the funding in a way that does not give sufficient emphasis to morbidity, as reflected largely in the age profile of the population. The result is that capitation payments in many areas are insufficient to cover existing demand for healthcare, let alone any heavier demand. I am aware that the Government are currently awaiting the weighted capitation formula. It would be helpful to know when the review is likely to be complete. My honourable friend Mr Lansley wrote to the Secretary of State about this more than two months ago but is yet to receive a reply.
My second concern relates to commissioning. Commissioning by PCTs is still weak. Part of the weakness lies in lack of skills, but part also lies in poor financial management. Of the 303 PCTs rated by the Healthcare Commission last year, none was rated excellent for use of resources. Only 24 were rated good and 124 were rated weak, which means that immediate action is required to remedy failings. In total, nine out of 10 PCTs were rated weak or barely adequate for their financial management. That is a hopeless basis on which to expect the ambitions of the White Paper to materialise successfully.
Meanwhile, payment by results is with us. One of the recognised features of payment by results is that it incentivises activity. Unless there is effective demand management on the commissioning side, the supply side, in the shape of acute trusts, will tend to suck in money from commissioners. At the same time, the tariff set for in-patient care is very broad brush. Rolled up in it is an element designed to cover the cost of convalescence. The tariff therefore provides no incentive to an acute trust to discharge a patient into step-down care in the community. Until the tariff is unbundled to separate the cost of intermediate care, the business of getting patients out of acute settings will continue to be hampered. The Government have insisted that such unbundling, if it is to happen, must take place locally, but they know full well that that is a tall order when both acute trusts and PCTs are already under severe pressure and in many cases overspending.
My third concern is training. In the domiciliary and care home workforce, a large majority lacks training of any kind. Only 10 per cent of care home staff have any training in looking after people with dementia. On the nursing front, we have heard from the RCN this week that training for new district nurses and health visitors is being cut back drastically in many parts of the country. That is concern enough; but there is a wider issue here.
Despite the changing role of nurses, and increased specialisation into fields such as long-term conditions and public health, there is still nothing that one could describe as an established career pathway for nurses; nor are educational funding streams linked to the future shape of the nursing workforce that we all want in place. That lack of a career pathway for nurses and the absence of appropriate funding streams was one of the warnings made by Professor Dame Jill Macleod Clark at the major nursing conference that took place in London this week. I hope that the Government will heed it.
My overarching worry in the delivery of Our Health, Our Care, Our Say is that although the Government may have willed the ends, they have not sufficiently willed the means. The system is creaking badly; and it is very difficult to see how the five-year time horizon which the Government set themselves in the White Paper will be deliverable. At any one time, there are up to 1.5 million vulnerable people, notably the elderly, most of them at home, dependent on social workers and support staff for help. There are 17.5 million people with chronic diseases who are reliant on the NHS. For the sake of those people, I hope that if we revisit the issues in a year’s time, we shall be able to point to a somewhat rosier picture than the one currently before us.
My Lords, I join other noble Lords in congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, on securing this debate. Her knowledge, interest and support for the National Health Service are well known and I was delighted by the tenor of her speech. She chose a wide topic, which noble Lords have made wider still. In fact, we seem to have had a sort of Queen’s Speech debate about the whole health and social care system, and why not?
The noble Baroness talked about mortality and demographics. Since my noble friend gave up being a health Minister, he looks 10 years younger; I certainly feel 10 years older. In a wholly objective way, he analysed the stewardship of the past Government and the achievements of this one. I can but endorse his assessment.
In some excellent speeches today, we have heard concerns that noble Lords legitimately have about the challenges facing the health and social care system. I would not seek in any way to underestimate those challenges, though I will respond to them. We just need to bear in mind the huge advances that have been made over the last few years, such as in the number of staff now working in the health service—about 325,000 more people than in 1997. The resource is going in, including capital investment, and above all the staff are doing fantastic work to develop services, reduce waiting times and give the people of this country the health service that they undoubtedly require and ought to have.
On this question of targets and priorities, I remember a search for how many priorities the health service had in about 1993, when I was working for the National Association of Health Authorities. We discovered about 57 and thought that we had better stop there. Whichever party is in government, there are lots of things that they will wish to achieve in a publicly financed national healthcare system. We, too, went down the target route. I believe that that was essential at the time, as we put resources into the NHS plan. Many of those targets have now achieved their purpose, and we are moving on to system reform, in which there are a number of components.
First, there is a lot more emphasis on the individual personal care that patients should receive from the NHS, much more accessible services and more choice. Of course there have to be some central targets; that is the deal with the taxpayer. It is absolutely right on such an issue as waiting times that the Government set a target for the NHS as a whole. The system of regulation and standards at the national level allows you to give much more freedom to individual organisations at the local level, with the financial incentive that payment by results gives to reward the best performers. We move from a situation where there have been a lot of centrally directed targets to a new system where there is a great deal of emphasis on the personal service to the individual patient, but with the safeguards of national regulation and safety standards. I am sure that that is the appropriate way to go.
We have all had a go at restructuring the health service and the noble Baroness invites us to have yet another go in health and social care. We have learnt that, whatever the structures, the key thing is whether people work together. Are there the right incentives? Can we remove the barriers to organisations working together? We have decided that it is better to try to get the incentives right to encourage people to do the right thing and to work together.
Nowhere is this more necessary than in commissioning. The changes that we have made, such as the reduction in the number of strategic health authorities and primary care trusts, 70 per cent of which will now be coterminous with the relevant local authority, have been a sensible approach alongside improvement in the capacity of the NHS to commission effectively. The noble Earl, Lord Howe, talked about commissioning capacity. I accept that the commissioning skills of many PCTs needed to be enhanced, but we believe that reducing the number of PCTs and strengthening commissioning capacity is the way to achieve an effective inter-relationship both between PCTs and NHS organisations and between PCTs and local authorities in the services that they provide. That will lead to a much greater integration of services. The department and the chief executive of the NHS have signalled that leadership and managerial capacity and its enhancement are among his key priorities, and I very much intend to support him in that.
The noble Baronesses, Lady Masham and Lady Shephard, talked about the role of GPs and the out-of-hours experience. Let me say just one thing about the GP contract, to which quite a lot of attention has been given in recent months. The essential part of that contract is the direct relationship between the performance of GPs, in the quality and range of services that they give to their patients, and the financial rewards that they receive. That relationship is unique in modern healthcare systems throughout the world. The question of money has been about GPs exceeding the expectation of the degree to which they would provide the services according to the quality contract. We can build on that, but the structure is there to incentivise GPs to do the right thing by their patients. The result has been more services in primary care, more and better access, and more services such as minor surgery.
On the question of out-of-hours services, my experience in Birmingham is that the role of the PCT in securing the quality of those services has led to very much enhanced service at the weekends and in the evenings. However, I take note of comments that have been made. We expect PCTs to act as guardians of safety and quality, which noble Lords have discussed.
My Lords, I very much appreciate the fact that the Minister is trying to address the concerns expressed in the debate. Does he accept that there is a fundamental difference between the kind of geographical area that must be served in Birmingham and the kind of geographical area that must be served in, for example, North Yorkshire or Norfolk, and that in the latter cases sparsity of cover has a real effect?
My Lords, I am always tempted to talk about Birmingham, because that is what I know best. I recognise that there are very different characteristics and that some of the organisational issues and challenges that would be faced in Norfolk and North Yorkshire are very different from those to be faced in downtown Birmingham. However, the key issue is still the same. It is the responsibility of the primary care trust to ensure that people in those areas receive a quality service. That is what we will monitor them against.
We have heard a lot about deficits. First, I apologise to the noble Lords, Lord James and Lord Selsdon, for the fact that their Written Questions have not been answered. I have double-checked, and I am assured that they await my earnest attention. I will ensure that the noble Lords receive those Answers as quickly as possible. I will certainly ensure that the DoH improves its performance.
We have had a problem this year with deficits, and we decided that it would be much better to sort them out once and for all and to put the NHS back on a sound footing than to allow the deficits to continue and to fester. That has meant that some very difficult decisions have had to be taken this year, but it is our firm view that getting rid of the deficits of the NHS as a whole at the end of the year is the vital foundation for ensuring that future resource investments are made on the basis of long-term planning, as opposed to people having to take some very short-term and difficult decisions. The noble Lord, Lord James, asked some interesting questions about the definition of a deficit. I will not rise to the challenge of giving him a very technical answer now, although I promise to give him the answer in writing, which I will copy to other noble Lords. Essentially, for the National Health Service, clearing the deficit means exactly what it says.
The noble Baroness, Lady Masham, rightly mentioned MRSA. These are very tough challenges, but we have ensured that the NHS is taking the issue seriously. We have set a very challenging target and have local targets for C. difficile. The indications are that MRSA rates are coming down. We need to redouble our efforts, but I do not think that anyone in the health service is under any misapprehension that this very serious matter has to be tackled. My noble friend Lord Morris is right about the essential principles of the NHS and the tackling of health inequalities.
I endorse the views of the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, on the contribution of the WRVS. I also agree with her about the challenges of increased longevity; it is clearly a major challenge for our health and social care systems. Direct payments are available and, we believe, have been greatly welcomed. Thirteen local authorities are piloting individual budgets in order to get evidence to enable decisions to be taken on whether this should be rolled out nationally. Clearly, again, we see great potential there.
My Lords, I am not aware that it needs primary legislation, but I will double-check to make sure that I have got that right.
The noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, made some interesting comments, particularly on the potential of new equipment. There is no question but that there will be huge gains in productivity and speed of access to treatment the more quickly we can adopt proven new technology. We are committed to encouraging the NHS to embrace innovation as fast as it can. I also agree with him on the need to look at the provision of services in a bottom-up way. My understanding is that the resource allocation review will be completed by autumn 2007, and I am sure that there will be a great deal of interest in that.
The noble Baroness, Lady Gardner, questioned how well partnerships are working. She suggested that it might be all right at director level but that, for people working in the field, it is not so hot. I do not share that view. None of these partnerships works without the staff of both organisations being committed. I accept that sometimes barriers come in the way of that, but the progress that has been made on delayed discharges and in the hundreds of Health Act partnerships that have been developed has been the result of a lot of people doing a lot of hard work in different parts of the country, which we need to support.
The noble Baronesses, Lady Gardner of Parkes, Lady Byford and Lady Shephard, referred to resources. I will not repeat what I said in last week’s debate on social care. There has been growth in the social care sector. Of course, I know people are arguing that it is not sufficient. The LGA report, Without a Care?, has proved to be of great interest to us all. It says that there is enough money in the system, but that it is in the wrong place. For local delivery mechanisms, the Government need to shift resources from acute NHS care to social care. I know that the LGA has also expressed serious concerns about whether central government funding is keeping pace with demographic change. These are issues that fall to be considered in our discussions in the next spending round. But I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, that account was taken in reaching the 2004 spending settlement of pressures arising from rises in demand, pay and prices. There may be a debate about how successful that has been, but part of the spending review settlement process is to pick up and identify those issues.
There is of course continuing debate about the question of personal care as opposed to nursing care. Noble Lords will recall with fondness our great debates on these matters. Coming back to the LGA and the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Bruce-Lockhart, I would say to the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, that we are working closely with the LGA and the ADSS to identify long-term funding requirements for social care that will inform the spending review. We warmly welcome those kinds of debates. We understand the issue of demographic pressures. The evidence presented by Sir Derek Wanless is a matter of great interest to us all and we will feed it into the process. I also accept the comment made by the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, about promoting financial flexibilities. We will continue to do that and to ensure that advantage is taken of them.
The noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, made a fascinating speech about the links between the long-term unemployed and their health and life outcomes. She will know that I have just come from the Department for Work and Pensions, so what she said was music to my ears. The work being done by Tomorrow’s People sounds wonderful. She says that advice coming from a neutral source for people who have perhaps been on incapacity benefit for a long time may be better received. I understand what she is saying, but the Pathways to Work pilots that my previous department undertook also showed that, when you work positively with people and give them the confidence and support to consider work again, even if they thought that they would never get back to work, that can have a remarkable and hugely beneficial impact when they do get back into work. I agree with her that having employment advisers based in GP surgeries is an excellent idea. It means that when a GP is asked to sign a sick note they can offer a constructive alternative. That would be very positive. I shall certainly ensure that her comments are passed on to my noble friend Lord McKenzie of Luton, who now has responsibility for that.
Noble Lords made a lot of comments about the value of community hospitals. The experience of the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, was interesting and very encouraging. Let me repeat the Government’s policy on community hospitals. We have made it absolutely clear that we want more services to be provided in settings that are convenient for patients, such as community hospitals, primary healthcare centres and similar facilities. We have also made it clear that closures should be proposed at local level not in response to short-term budgetary pressures but only where a particular facility is not considered clinically viable or is not being used effectively.
In this great world of devolved decision-making, which both parties are now signed up to, it is not for Ministers to intervene when there are local discussions. It would be wrong for us to do so. Our job is to signal the importance of what many community hospitals can provide. That is why the £750 million capital programme was brought into being; it will encourage the provision of better facilities. On 22 December, my noble friend Lord Warner announced the first schemes to receive funding from the programme. So while I accept that at the moment some difficult decisions have to be made, noble Lords can be assured that we believe that community hospitals are a very important part of the development of community services.
My Lords, we have just two minutes left. I thank the noble Lord for how well he has answered the debate, but I must comment on the usual party political from the noble Lord, Lord Warner. I want to make it clear that I have no official status in anything that I have said today. He thought that I was quoting party policy. If the party takes it up, I shall be delighted, but I do not have any official role.
I was pleased to hear the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, talk about specialist nurses, because I could not speak more highly of any group. I loved the contribution made by my noble friend Lord James of Blackheath. It is typical that no one asks questions about millions of pounds. On any committee, if you are debating something that costs £50, you will spend half an hour on it, but the millions go through on the nod. So it is good to have someone like my noble friend Lord James closely following up those matters.
All the contributions to the debate were marvellous. They were so varied that we have had a thorough debate. My noble friend Lord Taylor set out a wonderful history for us, one that sets an example for others. My noble friend Lord Selsdon is always a joy to listen to, as he is one of the best speakers in the House. The noble Baroness, Lady Barker, made a superb contribution, which does not surprise me, because her experience is so great. We could have spent much longer on this debate and I think that everyone would have liked more time to speak. It has been very worth while. I thank all who participated and I beg leave to withdraw the Motion for Papers.
Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.
Compensation (Exemptions) Order 2006
rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 29 November 2006 be approved.
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this order was laid before your Lordships’ House on 28 November 2006, and a correction slip was issued on 13 December 2006 to correct two errors in that draft. One was a formatting error and the other the date for issue of the trade union code of practice, which I confirm was 28 November.
The order specifies the classes of persons and organisations that are exempted from the statutory requirement to be authorised to provide a regulated claims management service under Part 2 of the Compensation Act 2006. Other related instruments setting out the scope of regulation and detailed regulations that underpin the framework were debated in your Lordships’ House on 5 December and came into force on 14 December. The conduct rules for authorised persons were published in December and the authorisation process was commenced.
The definition of claims management services in the Act is deliberately wide to ensure that there are no loopholes. The aim of the regulation is to target those who provide claims management services in certain specified sectors: personal injury, financial products and services, criminal injuries compensation, housing disrepair, unemployment and industrial injuries disablement benefits on a commercial basis. Individuals working in a voluntary capacity—for example, in citizens advice bureaux or legal advice centres, or where claims management advice is given to a friend—are therefore specifically excluded from the scope of the Act.
The order, which was debated in the other place on 22 January, is made under the power in Section 6(2) of the Act. The Government consulted on the order and discussed the proposals with a range of key representatives to ensure that the definitions accurately described the persons or classes of persons to be exempted. The order exempts legal practitioners, provided they act in the normal course of business permitted by the professional rules to which they are subject; the exemptions will apply only in so far as those concerned are already regulated in the provision of claims management services.
Those providing a regulated claims management service are regulated under the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000. This covers the handling of insurance claims by insurers, including where the insured deals directly with a third party who has a claim against its policyholder, often referred to as third-party capture. I am aware that there are concerns around this issue. The FSA has made it clear that it will take very seriously any allegations of impropriety over the handling of third-party capture claims by insurers. The activity of referring uninsured losses for a fee to a legal practitioner or an authorised person, however, is not covered by the FSMA and any person carrying out this activity will need to be authorised under the Compensation Act.
The order also exempts independent trade unions. The exemption for trade unions was debated at length during the parliamentary passage of the Act. We took seriously the concerns raised and have limited this exemption to trade unions that are certified as independent by the certification officer under the Trade Union and Labour Relations Consolidation Act 1992 in providing regulated services to members and members’ families. The strict criteria set out in this Act qualify a trade union, and the added requirement of a certificate of independence will help prevent a claims management business attempting to set itself up as an independent trade union and thus avoid regulation.
The exemption for trade unions does not extend to any subsidiary company, whether owned wholly or partly by a trade union, and any such company will be required to seek authorisation to provide a regulated claims management service. A condition of the exemption is that trade unions are required to act in accordance with a code of practice issued by my noble and learned friend the Secretary of State on 28 November. The code sets out some key standards that exempted trade unions will need to apply in the provision of regulated claims management services to their members.
My department will work with the Trades Union Congress and the certification officer on monitoring the operation of the code of practice. A requirement of the code is that individual trade unions have an effective means for members to pursue a complaint. Clear breaches of the code can be reported to the TUC or to the Secretary of State. These will be investigated and appropriate action taken against individual trade unions. Very serious breaches of the code could lead to the exemption being withdrawn from an individual trade union, which would then have to apply for authorisation or cease providing claims management services.
The order also exempts: charities and not-for-profit advice agencies; the independent complaints reviewer; students’ unions; the Motor Insurers’ Bureau; the Medical Protection Society and the Medical Defence Union; and individuals who refer or introduce a claim but only if they meet the strict criteria set out in the order. This exemption may apply to garages and body-shops that pass on referrals for fees, reward or gain, but only if they meet the tests I have outlined today. The order provides for an exemption from the need to be specifically authorised and does not imply exemption from the rules of conduct.
The primary aim of claims management regulation is to protect consumers by regulating the conduct of those who provide these services for commercial gain. We recognise that the regulation of the claims management sector alone is not enough to ensure consumer protection. It is vital that all aspects of claims handling are effectively regulated to ensure proper safeguards for consumers, and my department is working closely with the Law Society, the Financial Services Authority and others to achieve this. I beg to move.
Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 29 November 2006 be approved. 5th Report from the Statutory Instruments Committee.—(Baroness Ashton of Upholland.)
My Lords, as far as I am aware, the main concerns about the order have been expressed by insurance brokers. Approximately 95 per cent of their work on behalf of insured clients is regulated by the Financial Services Authority, and therefore exempt under the regulations. A very small proportion of their endeavours, however, involve making referrals in circumstances where there is an element of uninsured risk. This activity falls outside financial services regulation.
Instead of legislating so as to bring these transactions within the scope of FSA regulation as well, insurance brokers are to be subjected to these new regulations, so they are now faced with two separate bodies that have responsibility for regulating intermediary claims activity. This appears to fly in the face of the Government’s often expressed desire to regulate with a lighter touch.
My Lords, I have two questions for the Minister. The first is slightly longer and may give her the chance to provide an answer by the end of the debate. It was asked by my honourable friend Mr Simon Hughes in another place and is about exemptions. He asked:
“What about organisations such as provident societies or mutual societies, in which members have a self-help set of activities?”.—[Official Report, Commons First Delegated Legislation Committee, 22/1/07; col. 6.]
He asked if they would have to get a specific exemption or have a class exemption, but the Minister was not able on 22 January to answer him in another place. Is the Minister in this House able to update us?
The second question is: how would an individual who felt the exempt body had behaved badly have their complaint dealt with? Other than that, we support the order.
My Lords, let me begin with the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, which specifically concerns the British Insurance Brokers Association. As he rightly indicated, BIBA requested an exemption. My officials met with BIBA to discuss the reasons, which were very carefully considered. The noble Lord indicated that BIBA made the case for exemption on the basis that brokers are regulated for other activities and that further regulation brings with it greater burdens. We have decided that is not a reason for exemption. A broker dealing with a claim which is not under a policy arranged by him or on behalf of a client is not regulated by the financial services Act. This is most likely to occur when a broker is aware of a possible personal injury claim by a client for whom he has arranged a multi-policy. If the broker chooses to deal with that claim by referring him to a solicitor, this activity is not regulated by the financial services Act. We therefore need to regulate it under the Act.
The noble Lord referred to a possible extension of the financial services Act. That would take primary legislation and it is not appropriate to waste time on this. We need to regulate properly now. I know BIBA is aware that this is the case and I believe we can work closely with it to ensure that the regulation works effectively. As it says in the order under Article 12, where brokers refer fewer than 25 cases per calendar quarter they will be exempted by the introducer exemption. I am grateful for the chance to explain our reasons.
The noble Baroness, Lady Harris, raised the question of mutual societies, et cetera. I am sorry my honourable friend was not able to answer it. They are either voluntary, so excluded on the face of Bill, or they are not for profit so they are exempted. I hope that gives Mr Simon Hughes the answer he is looking for.
The noble Baroness asked me too about the process by which people could complain if things went wrong. We have set in place slightly different systems for trade unions and companies. An individual who feels a company has misbehaved can get in touch with the company, which will be required to have a complaints procedure, or we have set up a monitoring compliance unit through the regulation process. That unit will deal with complaints; it will investigate; it will also do mystery shopping and spot-checks through trading standards. We are also working with the Solicitors Regulatory Authority to put together a memorandum of understanding so that we can intelligence-share in order to get information. If the rules have been breached, there can be an oral warning, a public censure, and a suspension of the authorisation; we can put conditions on the authorisation, or ultimately cancel it. I hope that gives the noble Baroness the answers she is looking for.
On Question, Motion agreed to.
Marriage Act 1949 (Remedial) Order 2006
rose to move, That the draft remedial order laid before the House on 20 February 2006 be approved. 16th and 29th Reports from the Joint Committee on Human Rights, Session 2005–06.
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this instrument was laid before your Lordships’ House on 16 February 2006 and amends the Marriage Act 1949. It might be helpful if I outline the details of the case that led to the making of this order.
The case is called B and L v United Kingdom and concerns a couple, B and L, who by virtue of marriage were father-in-law and daughter-in-law. Over the course of time both parties’ marriages broke down and both ended in divorce. Some time after the breakdown of those marriages, B and L formed a relationship and started to cohabit. L’s son shared the home with B and L, and although B is his grandfather, the child called him “dad”. Some years later, B and L decided that they wished to formalise their relationship by getting married; however, the superintendent registrar of deaths and marriages at the local register office correctly informed them that such a marriage would be impossible unless both their former spouses were dead.
The couple argued that the relevant provision in the Marriage Act 1949 was incompatible with Article 12 of the convention, which concerns an individual’s right to marry. The European Court of Human Rights accepted those arguments and declared on 13 September 2005 that those sections of the Marriage Act 1949 were incompatible with Article 12.
I shall outline the effect of the Marriage Act 1949 (Remedial) Order 2006. Section 10 of the Human Rights Act sets out procedures for remedial action to remove any incompatibility with the European Convention on Human Rights. The remedial order amends Section 1 of and Schedule 1 to the Marriage Act 1949 to remedy the incompatibility immediately. It removes the current prohibition on marriages between former parents-in-law and children-in-law. It also exempts a Church of England or Church of Wales clergyman from what would otherwise be his obligation to solemnise such a marriage.
Noble Lords will be aware that the Civil Partnership Act contains similar prohibitions on civil partnerships between former parents-in-law and children-in-law; however, they have never been commenced. The judgment in B and L v United Kingdom came after the Civil Partnership Act had completed its passage through Parliament but before it was implemented. The prohibitions on civil partnerships between former in-laws therefore appear in the Act but have not been, and will not be, implemented. In time the provisions will be repealed.
Although the Government could have taken the opportunity to amend the Civil Partnership Act using the remedial order, there were concerns that the power to make incidental, supplemental or consequential provisions under the Human Rights Act might not extend to those changes and that they could be considered out of scope. As the provisions in the Civil Partnership Act have not been implemented, the decision not to include these amendments in the remedial order has no practical consequences.
The Government considered a number of options to address the Act’s incompatibility with the European Convention on Human Rights before deciding upon a remedial order. They may have applied for the judgment to be referred to the Grand Chamber. However, the judgment was not out of line with the direction of government policy intentions for marriage legislation. The Government’s view was that the European Court of Human Rights had not inaccurately interpreted or applied the convention. They therefore decided to accept the judgment.
Secondly, consideration was given to introducing primary legislation to amend the relevant sections of the 1949 Act. We decided not to do this because the necessary amendments fell outside any planned legislation, and the need to seek parliamentary time could lead to a substantial delay in implementing the judgment. Bearing in mind that the couple in question were waiting to marry, such a delay was considered unacceptable.
Finally, having decided to use a remedial order, we had to decide whether to use the urgent or non-urgent procedure. The Government considered that the urgent procedure would not be appropriate in this case as, given the importance of marriage as a fundamental social institution, it is appropriate for the proposed draft order to be subject to parliamentary scrutiny before coming into effect.
Noble Lords will have had the opportunity to read the 16th report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, which considered the proposed draft remedial order. In its report the committee agreed that the Government had compelling reasons for proceeding with the amendments by way of remedial order rather than primary legislation. It also indicated that proceeding to remedy the incompatibility by way of a non-urgent order rather than an urgent order strikes a reasonable balance between the competing considerations of the need to avoid undue delay before remedying the incompatibility and the need to afford a proper opportunity for parliamentary scrutiny.
The Government received two representations on the order. One raised a question of vires. It queried whether the Lord Chancellor had the requisite power to remove the age restriction on marriage between parents-in-law and children-in-law, on the basis that the European Court of Human Rights did not consider the age restriction and, had it needed to do so, the Government might well have been able to mount a strong case for saying that it was not incompatible with Article 12.
The Government conceded that the European Court of Human Rights did not expressly consider the age restriction but they considered it necessary to remove the restriction in order to address the incompatibility with Article 12 of the convention across the board. They have the vires to do so by means of the remedial order.
The Government consider that there will be very few cases involving a party under 21. That is because the younger individual must have been 16 or over to enter into their first marriage, and then could not divorce for at least one year afterwards, and secondly because very few couples marry at so young an age. It should also be remembered that, as the younger party has already been through both a marriage and a divorce, the law has recognised them as an adult on at least two occasions. The Government therefore consider that requiring a couple who are ready to marry to delay that marriage until the younger is 21 is a breach of Article 12.
Noble Lords will also have had the chance to read the 29th report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, which considered the draft order. In that report, the Joint Committee took into account the representations that were received from both individuals and the public. Two such representations were received; one made observations, while the other proposed a change to the draft order. The Joint Committee accepted the Government’s argument, and concluded that the Lord Chancellor is entitled to reach the view that the age restriction on marriage between parents-in-law and children-in-law is incompatible with Article 12 of the ECHR as a result of the Court’s decision in B and L v United Kingdom, and that he therefore has the power under the Human Rights Act to remove the age restriction by remedial order. The Joint Committee concluded that the special attention of each House is not required to be drawn to the draft order on any of the grounds on which the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments may report in relation to most other instruments. It also recommended that the order should be approved.
I should also point out that the judgment in B and L v United Kingdom has already been implemented by Scotland in the Family Law (Scotland) Act 2006, which amended Section 2 and Schedule 1 of the Marriage (Scotland) Act 1977 and came into effect on 4 May 2006; and by Northern Ireland in the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Northern Ireland) Order 2006, which came into force on 19 September 2006. I beg to move.
Moved, That the draft remedial order laid before the House on 20 February 2006 be approved. 16th and 29th Reports from the Joint Committee on Human Rights, Session 2005-06.—(Baroness Ashton of Upholland.)
My Lords, we are quite content with this order. As the noble Baroness has pointed out to your Lordships, the order is the consequence of the case of B and L v United Kingdom, in the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. The individuals concerned were, by virtue of marriage, father-in-law and daughter-in-law. Subsequently, both divorced and decided to get married to each other. This, they discovered, was prohibited by the Marriage Act 1949, unless both their former spouses were deceased. The Court held that this provision of the 1949 Act was incompatible with Article 12 of the convention.
Although it was no part of the judgment, the Joint Committee on Human Rights, as the noble Baroness has indicated, concluded that the Government were entitled to conclude that the age restriction of 21 in the 1949 Act between parents-in-law and children-in-law was also incompatible with Article 12. Although it is almost inconceivable that any of the very few couples who are likely to fall within this order will be under 21, they will perforce have been married before, and in our view the age restriction serves no purpose.
My Lords, unlike the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, the Bench of Bishops is not content with the order; but we accept it.
The aim of the original prohibition was to uphold the sanctity of marriage, to prevent the development of inappropriate intimate relations or rivalries within the family and to protect the parent-child role. We accept that in the light of the ruling of the European Court of Human Rights the Government are obliged to amend the Marriage Act 1949. However, we regret that it has been judged necessary to make such a substantial change. I hear what the Minister and the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, say about age, but retaining a legal impediment to marriage between parent-in-law and child-in-law, at least in cases where the younger party is under the age of 21, would have been our preferred outcome. Regrettably, that would not appear to be permissible following the decision of the Strasbourg court. Nevertheless, we are glad to see a conscience clause for the clergy of the Church of England and the Church in Wales included in the draft order, as the Minister has indicated.
In light of those changes to marriage law, the Bench of Bishops seeks the Minister’s assurance that the Government will continue to uphold marriage. I think she referred to it in her speech as a fundamental, social institution and, if I have understood her correctly, perhaps she would be good enough to reinforce that. I also ask the Minister to give an undertaking that the Government will seek to encourage healthy relations within families.
My Lords, I am grateful for the support of the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, and the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, and for the contribution of the right reverend Prelate. It is precisely because we want to uphold the importance of marriage as a fundamental social institution that we want to allow this to happen. There is nothing to prevent such people living together and never has been; it is not regarded as inappropriate in that sense. The individuals, having been together, may wish to marry. I think the right reverend Prelate would applaud that, but I understand his reservations.
The order allows these people who want to be together to solemnise that fact in their own way. I completely understand that for all sorts of reasons one has to be cautious about the pressures we put on people. I hope that the church will continue its teachings, as I am sure it will, to ensure that people understand the importance of the solemnity of marriage.
We have thought pragmatically about the age issue. People can get married at 16 and these individuals have already had a marriage and a divorce so they will already have been recognised in law twice as adults. Such people will not be 16 because there is not time to do everything and still be 16. I hope they will want to be with each other for as long as possible, if not the rest of their lives. While I accept the reservations of the right reverend Prelate—I completely understand what he has said—he has been good enough to raise them in a spirit of understanding what we are doing. We recognise that marriage, sometimes in unusual circumstances, is still fundamentally important.
On Question, Motion agreed to.
Agriculture: Organic Farming
rose to ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they will withdraw financial support which encourages farmers to convert to organic farming.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, in this short debate, I want to examine the merits of organic farming. There is no doubt that it is a great business success story. It is expanding rapidly and has become a major and profitable industry with a turnover, in Britain alone, of well over £1 billion a year. It is backed by a powerful and influential lobby group, the Soil Association; it is heavily promoted by supermarkets; and organic food is popular with consumers. They pay premium prices because they are persuaded that organic food tastes better, is healthier than conventional food and that by buying organic, they benefit the environment and are helping to save the planet. We are constantly told that ethical living—which is all the rage—means buying organic. Who can possibly question the merits of organic farming? It is like questioning motherhood and apple pie.
I started without any prejudice against organic farming. I have no financial interest in supporting it or opposing it. If the evidence supports the claims made for organic farming I will back it. Unfortunately, it does not. Blind tests have shown that when people compare organic and conventionally grown fruit that is equally fresh, they cannot tell the difference. Time after time, tests by the independent Food Standards Agency have shown that organically grown food is not significantly different in terms of safety and nutrition from food produced conventionally. In one respect, it is arguable that it can be more likely to endanger health. Nor, perhaps surprisingly, is organic farming better for the environment. Far from saving the planet, promoting it can damage the environment and make global warming worse.
I start with health. People buy organic food because they feel it is free from synthetic pesticide residues, which are widely believed to cause cancer. In fact, the organic creed is founded on the principle that synthetic chemicals are bad and dangerous, while natural chemicals are safe and good. That is, of course, a scientific howler. It ignores the fact that a molecule is a molecule, whether man-made or natural. Any number of synthetic chemicals, such as anti-bacterial drugs, are highly beneficial; any number of natural chemicals, such as arsenic, ricin or aflotoxin, are highly poisonous. We consume many thousands of times more natural pesticides, manufactured by plants themselves to ward off pests, than synthetic ones.
Fear of pesticide residues is one of those media-hyped scares that has no scientific basis. It ignores the lesson taught by Paracelsus, of which no one in the Soil Association seems to be aware, that it all depends on the dose. Every mouthful we eat contains poisons, but in such tiny quantities that they do not harm us. Regulations set the safety levels for pesticide residues so high that they are between 100 and 1,000 times above concentrations at which any harmful effect might result. We should note that farmers, who are more exposed to pesticides than the rest of us, have lower than average rates of cancer. Stomach cancers, which might be expected to be closely related to the carcinogenic effects of ingested pesticides, have declined by about 60 per cent in the past 50 years.
Indeed, concentrating on organic food may have bad effects on the health of our population. Evidence suggests that a diet rich in fruit and vegetables protects us against cancer. However, eating habits, certainly for the lower income groups, are influenced by price, and organic food costs more. When every lifestyle magazine urges readers to eat organic food, and implies that we are not looking after the health of our children if we do not, people on lower incomes may feel that they should buy more expensive fruit and vegetables, which means they are likely to eat fewer vegetables and less fruit, which may increase their risk of developing cancer.
On the environmental effects, I accept that many people take up organic farming because they want to benefit the environment, and no doubt they succeed. However, in a recent, carefully conducted experiment at Boarded Barns in Essex, where one farmer farmed similar land for 10 years in three different ways—conventional farming, organic farming and the system known as “integrated farm management”—therefore making the best possible comparison, it was shown that the system adopted is the least important factor for wildlife. What matters is leaving ample field margins and hedgerows, where 80 to 85 per cent of wildlife exists. On balance, of the three systems, integrated farm management came out best for biodiversity. Organic farming came out relatively badly, because it used the most energy.
Two vitally important factors contradict the environmental claims made for organic farming: its dependence on the plough, and its lower yield. No-till, or low-till, agriculture—avoiding the use of the plough—greatly benefits the environment. It prevents soil erosion, improves the structure and quality of the soil, increases its water storage capacity and reduces the need for irrigation. It reduces the risk or extent of flooding. It reduces the run-off of nitrogen and phosphorus into rivers. It avoids disturbing birds’ nests, earthworms and insect life in the way that ploughing does. Crucially, it reduces carbon emissions and sequesters carbon into the soil. Ploughing, on the other hand, an integral part of organic farming, is incompatible with conservation agriculture. Promoting conservation agriculture should be a prime objective of government farm policy.
In fact, what greatly facilitates no-till farming is the cultivation of genetically modified herbicide-tolerant crops. They have enabled American farmers to increase overall no-till to 35 per cent of all farmed land; compare that with Britain, where only 3 per cent of arable land is farmed without the plough. The carbon sequestration achieved by no-till or low-till agriculture in 2005 brought a saving of more than 8 billion kilograms of CO2, which is equivalent to removing 3.6 million cars from the roads. These are huge environmental benefits. The organic movement denies us these benefits. GM crops, which the organic movement opposes, facilitate them. Yet perversely, contrary to all the evidence, we back organic farming and oppose GM crops.
The second count against organic farming is even more serious and is its relative inefficiency. It makes less effective use of land than other systems. That is why organic food costs more. Supporters of organic food cannot have it both ways. If organic farming is not less efficient, then the premium prices charged for organic food prices are a ramp. In fact, the higher prices reflect a lower yield. Various studies show that the yield of most organic crops is 20 to 50 per cent lower than the yield from conventional farming. That may not matter to prosperous Europeans, but the world as a whole desperately needs more efficient farming. The supply of good farming land is running out, which is what drives South American and Indonesian farmers to slash and burn tropical forests. Saving tropical forests requires more, not less, efficient agriculture.
At present, nearly a billion people do not have enough to eat. Further, by the middle of this century, we will have to feed at least another 2.5 billion people. Hundreds of millions in Asia will adopt western styles of living, will eat more meat and vegetables and will have millions more pets, which are unlikely to be vegetarians. Finally, climate change threatens to increase droughts and heat waves and turn more areas of the world into deserts. What can organic farming, with its low yields, offer the developing world when it desperately needs more efficient agriculture?
In the words of the eminent Indian biotechnologist, CJ Prakash,
“the only thing sustainable about organic farming in the developing world is that it sustains poverty and malnutrition”.
The Government should act on the basis of the evidence. They should recognise that, whatever the popular fashion and the hype, the organic movement is based on a scientific howler, commands premium prices that represent no extra value, holds back farming practices that benefit the environment in vitally important ways, and, if exported to the developing world, would be disastrous for the campaign to reduce poverty and hunger. Nothing can justify spending scarce resources on such counter-productive purposes.
I have a feeling that the Minister may sympathise with some of the points that I make, but I am not sure that Defra will allow him to say so. I ask him to draw the attention of the Secretary of State to the arguments I have made and, in particular, to consult the chief scientist at Defra.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Taverne, for securing this debate on organic farming. It is disappointing that there is an unusually low turnout of speakers, especially as the topic touches on several important matters of public debate, such as the relative merits of organic versus conventional produce, public support for various production systems and farming in general and the relative environmental impacts of different systems, as well as health and food.
I declare an interest as a conventional dairy farmer, a director of Dairy Farmers of Britain, a farmers’ co-operative marketing both organic and conventional dairy produce, a past president of the Royal Association of British Dairy Farmers, a former chairman of Cheshire CLA and a member of the NFU and CLA. I was also a member of Sub-Committee D of the European Union Committee of your Lordships’ House in the late-1990s, which undertook an inquiry into organic farming.
I was drawn into agriculture through exposure as a student to the merits of organic farming by reading the pioneering literature of Lady Eve Balfour, Newman Turner and others and through working as a WWOF—Working Weekends on Organic Farms—volunteer. I am pleased that organic farming is now recognised as a valid niche in the market, that organic produce can be purchased more widely than from health food shops and that sales of organic food grew by 30 per cent last year, with the industry now worth some £1.6 billion, which is about 4 per cent of total farm produce.
Organic farming is based on the belief that sustainable agriculture is maintained through attention to the soil and its health, rather than the crop or produce grown on it. That is why the Soil Association is so named. It is recognised by the EU as one of the certifying bodies for organic standards in the UK.
Organic production is generally recognised to be less efficient in terms of reduced output and/or increased costs, yet it can nevertheless be profitable through higher prices. The Government originally gave grants to farms under the organic farming scheme to help them in the two-year conversion process involved in qualifying for the organic standard, a period when they had higher costs, yet could not be deemed “organic” to attain higher prices. This has now changed to the organic entry level scheme or OELS—I think that that is correct. Farmers would not say that it encourages them to convert, rather that it provides support for those in conversion in recognition of maintaining organic management requirements to deliver effective environmental benefits.
Once a farm is converted to organic standards, it is up to the farmer to harvest or market the benefits. I would think that one of the primary objectives of the Soil Association is to maintain supply just below demand. If this balance is lost, as it was in the late 1990s, with a subsequent crash in prices, farmers will be caught in a situation where they will have to repay the conversion grants if they can no longer afford the losses and wish to go back to conventional production.
Organic produce is criticised for being some 63 per cent more expensive than conventional food, according to recent research by Morgan Stanley. Relative pricing is up to the market to determine, but, generally, it must be welcomed that one of the attractions of organic production is that the producer can begin through his own marketing to set his or her pricing at a level which the market will bear, and not be subject to having to accept deflationary pricing undertaken by the mass-market grocery food chains, with a resultant drift towards what is disparagingly ticketed as factory farming. The resulting dynamics of supply and demand, inflationary costs and deflationary pricing will determine the extent of the organic market.
The impetus for this debate was supplied by the recent reports of the debate at the Oxford Farming Conference, where the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, David Miliband, said that the Government were pleased to give extra support to organic production, totalling some £30 million annually, in recognition of the public benefits from organic food and organic production. He later said in an interview in the Sunday Times that there was no proof that the health benefits of organically produced food were greater those of conventionally produced food.
The Minister is correct on both counts. The Secretary of State is supported by the Food Standards Agency. Sir John Krebs has said:
“In our view, the current scientific evidence does not show that organic food is any safer or more nutritious than conventionally produced food”.
It is for this reason that organic production is often dismissed as “muck and magic”.
In a paper prepared by Defra’s sub-group on the European Action Plan for Organic Farming in July 2002, the relative merits of claims and counter-claims are assessed. Regrettably, there are few comparisons between organic and conventional extensive farms. In any case, comparisons between different systems are relatively insensitive and variables so numerous that a clear definition of conventional agriculture can become rather meaningless.
However, it can be stated in the generality that, under organic production, biodiversity is improved, pesticide pollution is less, soil organisms benefit and waste is lower. It is generally the case that the farming skills and good practice are more relevant than the system. The care and controls in place throughout the food chain are far more significant.
What irks the farming fraternity more in this debate is the missionary attitude of the Soil Association and its spokesmen towards conventional production. Its claims are misleading and without evidence. The Soil Association is believed even to have suppressed evidence that did not reinforce its prejudices. I have been led to understand that recent research commissioned by the Soil Association at the Scottish Agricultural College found that the modern Holstein cow performed best in an organic system, yet that has not been publicised. A philosophy based on the soil does not have any bearing on genetics, yet the Soil Association is backward-looking in disqualifying genetic improvement through embryo transfer and is ignoring the debate on genetic modification and the benefits that that could bring. In the different, but related, matter of cloning, in a recent press story, Lord Melchett propounded opinions without foundation or evidence regarding a daughter of a clone recently born on a farm in Staffordshire.
That said, it is right for consumers to be concerned about their diet and health. Poor diet probably contributes as much as one third of the risk regarding two big killers—cancer and cardiovascular disease. Jamie Oliver recently highlighted the benefits to health in providing good food in schools. The Food Standards Agency aims to help effect changes in diet to improve health. It is also right for producers and the food chain to be concerned about production methods, handling systems and food quality. Government support for organic farming provides a framework within which consumers have choice and which they demonstrate they are willing to pay for.
The Government, through the taxpayer, provide support for public goods. Good food is instrumental in providing good health. It is well to reflect on the use of partnership between government and industry. Against the background of BSE and the foot and mouth outbreak, the debate is engaged concerning government support, best practice, the public good, industry independence and so on. The Government are keen to promote a partnership approach within agriculture, especially as regards cost-sharing in their health strategy. For that to work, it is essential that partnership does not take on an Orwellian meaning, whereby some partners are more partners than others. Partnership between government and industry should mean transparency and combining to run systems jointly. That means open books. If industry is paying to run systems, the industry has a duty to scrutinise those systems and alter them if it is felt that they could be run better. That means that industry is part of management and is not used as a victim. Partnership means commitment and support from both sides to make decisions that are carried out both by government and industry whereby both sides must gear up for the job. In that regard, severe dismay is being expressed on the introduction to the change in the pre-movement test requirements.
It is only a week until 1 February, the first anniversary of the wholly insufficient tabular form of valuation for compensation to farmers caught up in the TB outbreak. While this debate is not concerned with such wider matters, it is nevertheless part of a general debate on government support for agriculture. The industry, which in this case means Holstein UK, which registers and certifies the parentage of three dairy breeds and some beef breeds, has put forward a more just, rational and logical tabular form of livestock valuation. Can the Minister agree to give that swift attention to correct an imbalance and dishonest practice that is hurting the rural community?
I will end with one more query for my noble friend. The organic farming scheme closed for new applicants in about 2004. Such agreements are still in place for some producers. The OFS producers are encouraged to transfer to OELS, organic entry level stewardship, but some 90 known producers have come forward, saying that they have received repayment demands from Natural England. I understand that that relates to handbook guidance that is unclear on the eligibility of OFS to OELS conversion and has captured some OFS in countryside stewardship, which is not eligible for OELS. Can my noble friend undertake to look at this with a view to issuing clearer guidance in the handbook, and discuss that with Natural England to pursue a more lenient attitude in the mean time, given that so many producers are involved?
My Lords, I warmly thank my noble friend Lord Taverne for putting down this important debate today, and for keeping the issue of farming methods under close scrutiny. If public money is going into them, we need to consider carefully the benefits of the various methods.
My noble friend is quite right to point out the great importance that soil plays in food production, in flooding and in carbon sequestration. He addressed some remarks to a worldwide situation, but I will restrict mine to the UK—partly as this debate is focused on the support that the organic sector gets from the UK Government, and partly as it is a wide enough brief anyway.
The organic sector set the standard for agriculture to lay emphasis on things that in the 21st century are agreed to be important again: animal welfare, biodiversity, soil management and so on. Yet, at the time when the Soil Association was struggling to promote them, these things were regarded as not at all important. Quantity was all. The Soil Association had to fly the flag for the importance of those issues, and did so effectively through those years. It still has an important role to play in bringing forward debates: for example, on antibiotic use in animals.
The Minister is probably more aware than I that research has not yet come forward to prove any case for linking the rise of diseases such as MRSA in hospitals with the fact that humans are increasingly resistant to antibiotics yet are, of course, consuming them in various forms. That may be because they are taking them for their own illnesses, or as a result of what they are eating. All sorts of issues need to be raised, and the Soil Association has a strong part to play in that.
I would agree with my noble friend that the Government need to look closely at their policies again in the light of climate change. Ploughing is not necessarily integral to organic production. In my neck of the woods in the West Country, for example, organic farmers are primarily concerned with poultry and dairy production, which does not involve vast amounts of ploughing. Their organic standards are much more based around animal welfare, and the sort of grass mixes that can be used.
Some interesting research done by the University of Wales, Aberystwyth, showed that organic milk from cattle fed on red clover had a vastly increased amount of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids in their milk—the very ones that the FSA is anxious that people should have in their diet, although they are conventionally regarded as coming only from fish. So, that sort of dietary implication needs to be borne in mind.
A study conducted over 21 years addressed the very issue that my noble friend Lord Taverne was talking about. It took place in Switzerland and looked at the long-term efficiency benefits in comparing organic and integrated farming. It found that yields were 20 per cent lower in the organic system, but that fertiliser and energy input were 34 to 53 per cent lower. That is extremely important when thinking about climate change, as fertiliser is one of the most energy-hungry types of substance that one can get. Pesticide input was 97 per cent lower—which, again, is very important when one considers the cost of cleaning up our water from pesticides. About £120 million is spent in the UK on removing pesticides from the water supply. Those pesticides are mainly a result of the chemicals used in conventional farming. I have that figure from research done in 2000.
To return to the Swiss comparison, the organic system also had high soil microbial biodiversity and activity and greater soil particle stability—both very important for stability as climate change, flooding, and so on is likely to rise in importance. The reference for that research is from Science magazine in 2002. The organic farming sector can continue to hold its head high. It has every claim to be able to meet the issues brought about by climate change.
I turn for a moment to the issue of why consumers buy organic food. As the noble Lords, Lord Taverne and Lord Grantchester, have said, the organic sector has grown considerably over the years. Despite what Sir John Krebs said, consumers continue to have faith in organic food. That is partly because of what is not in that food rather than what is in it. There have been no conclusive tests about taste issues: they are very subjective. I have already mentioned antibiotics. People are often concerned about their food containing pesticides. One lot of Cox's apples, for example, can be sprayed up to 16 times with 36 different pesticides. The Government’s official advice is to wash and peel vegetables and fruit to remove those pesticides.
It is extremely important for consumers that they are not consuming things that they feel unhappy with. But I think that they are also convinced by the case for biodiversity and the importance of field margins, beetle banks, ponds and hedges. They all cost money to manage. Part of that is recovered through the organic premium. I am surprised by the figure cited by the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, although I would not question it. If we take milk, for example, organic milk costs 20 per cent more at most. A chicken, which is at the very top end of the range of what might be more expensive, is about 50 per cent more. In many cases, the conventional and the organic product are only some pence apart—carrots or lettuce, for example.
In my remaining time, I should like to ask the Minister about a piece of research done by Manchester Business School for Defra, commissioned at the cost of £140,000, I believe, to investigate whether purchasing an organic or a conventional trolley of goods had more environmental impact. It did not conduct any new lifecycle assessments. Crucially, considering the importance of the impact on biodiversity and landscapes, which must be considered, Natural England was not consulted at any stage of the study, which seems a big gap.
I would also be grateful if the Minister would tell us what plans Defra has to continue funding such important research as the Organic Conversion Information Service, facilitated by the Elm Farm Research Centre in Berkshire. The funding runs out in March 2007. Over the years, it has done especially valuable research and it would be extremely useful to know what are the Government’s plans for it.
I should also like to ask the Minister about undersupply in organic British livestock feed. If the Government’s official policy is to cut down food miles, as the NFU has pointed out, that needs to be addressed. Currently, 70 per cent of organic livestock feed is imported. Clearly, that is not in keeping with the principle of low food miles.
In conclusion, the organic sector has the confidence of the consumer and of the Government. Liberal Democrats have a proud record of supporting the organic sector.
My Lords, I must begin by declaring an interest yet again: we have a commercial, family farm in Suffolk, we are members of the NFU and the CLA, and we are partakers of the FWAG scheme. We produce high-quality food, conserve and enhance the countryside and, over the years, have extended pathways on part of our farm, enabling other people to come and enjoy the countryside.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Taverne, for asking the Question this afternoon. It is important because claims are being made by one side of the industry that, in some ways, belittle the contribution made by the other side. A chance to talk about it today is extremely important. I was also pleased that he particularly mentioned the real value of the integrated farm management scheme, which I claim as LEAF’s. As president of LEAF, I claim it with even greater joy. LEAF has enabled many farmers to farm commercially, while protecting and conserving the countryside. Lord Peter Melchett was the main speaker earlier this week at the City Food Lecture, obviously speaking on behalf of the Soil Association but also of organic producers. Interestingly, he also recognised the value of integrated management. I was particularly pleased when, in the question time, Sir Stewart Hampson, chairman of John Lewis, with Waitrose one of their businesses, again recognised the importance of LEAF.
It is not that one is right and one wrong. If people want to buy organic, if it is properly labelled and does what it is supposed to do, they are the consumer and they should have the choice of what they want to buy. Later on, I will challenge the Minister on the need for clear labelling so that people know what choices they are making.
I, many of my friends and other people devote money and garden space to cultivating fruit and vegetables in their own garden. There are many thousands who still have their allotments. Has there been any research or is there any knowledge of the amount of food produced by individuals for their own use and the contribution that that makes to the lessening of pollution? Anybody who has been down to the garden to dig up their own potatoes or pick a handful of raspberries or has even bought some fresh spinach will know the difference that it makes being able to eat it straight away. The debate today is not necessarily “organic versus commercial” but is more about locally produced and fresh food. That is exciting, and it offers great opportunity for the future.
The behaviour of the British shopper is definitely changing, and sales of organic products have risen steadily. They now form an important part—albeit a small one—of the total. The Secretary of State recognised recently that it was only 4 per cent of the total farm produce, not 40 per cent:
“I would not want to say that 96 per cent of our farmed produce is inferior because it is not organic … Despite the rise in organic sales being ‘exciting’ for shoppers, they should not think that conventionally produced food is ‘second-best’”.
I hope that this debate will reflect that.
I was interested by the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester. He has great experience and rightly recognises the valid importance of niche marketing and the growing possibilities for that. I say simply, “Good luck”, because that is clearly right. We used to have livestock on our farm—sadly, we do not anymore—but the whole question of how livestock are raised is important in the wider field. The Minister is very generous, but he was wide of the mark. The whole question of breeding stock in relation to TB is in fact unresolved.
In my youth, we used to talk about the balance of payments and how the Government had a duty to ensure that the country did not get into debt by spending more overseas than it earned. Apparently, that concept is old-fashioned and no longer the way in which the country’s finances are judged. I am disappointed that we now produce less than two-thirds of our own food requirements, and that proportion will continue to fall steadily if we are not careful. The Minister is well aware that I still have concerns about food security overall, which I know he also supports. I am not saying that we should produce everything, but, as the noble Lord, Lord Taverne, commented, in an era in which there is pressure on a growing international population as a result of climate change and difficulties with the water supply, we and other countries that can grow our own food are beholden to grow it. I am grateful that the current Minister appreciates that.
I echo the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Taverne, and others: no science has said that organic is better or not so good. The Secretary of State has said so, as did Sir John Krebs when he was chairman of the Food Standards Agency. The whole question is therefore one of choice, but I must ask how the consumer makes that choice. I do not know whether the Minister happened to see it, but I was very concerned that, at Prime Minister’s Question Time yesterday, following a Question from my honourable friend Jim Paice, the Prime Minister could not explain why Ministers in another place had blocked four separate attempts to bring a labelling Bill into being. Such a Bill would require at least country-of-origin labelling, and, I hope, would have greater detail that would help people to make that wise choice. As I have indicated, it is important. We want the general public to be able to feel confident that the food that they buy is good and healthy and that as much of our food as possible is produced with assured standards of production. These matters are all important, and it is vital that we can pass this on to the general public.
The noble Lord, Lord Taverne, asked whether the Government would be withdrawing their financial support. I will not pick up directly on the issues that have been raised. The NFU briefing was good on that, so I will let the Minister refer to it. The organic farmers have certainly had direct support in the past five years. I want to broaden the issue so that it is not the Government’s responsibility. I was surprised to learn recently that the National Lottery had given the Soil Association large sums of money for farming projects. From 2001 to 2006, the total funding that it received—noble Lords will not believe this—amounted to a staggering £17,909,679. I could not believe it. I am not saying that it will not be wisely used, but there are many ways in which we could use National Lottery money rather than directing it in that way. If the Minister has a view, I would be grateful if he would share it with us when he comes to respond. Defra clearly tries to put its money where it thinks it should be spent. Obviously, there is never enough money, so it has to take difficult decisions, but £17 million to a particular organisation that is involved in only 4 per cent of the food that is produced overall is nonsense. I really am concerned about that.
Briefly, another contribution to the debate was made at the Oxford farming conference by Professor Diana Bowles. Her contribution was very exciting. She talked about the great opportunities that would be available in the next five and 10 years. She reflected on how not only would crops be able to produce food but other aspects of the same plant could be used in new ways.
The key to such innovation requires adequate funding, which has already been touched on. It is worrying that, in recent years, research funding has reduced. I very much hope that this will be a priority for Defra in easier times when it does not have to look at the £200 million budget deficit and will be able to put money back into research and science, without which we cannot make proper judgments.
I have indicated that I am not against organic production. I certainly do not say that it does not have a place or that it is not right. Consumers should have choices, but they must have the ability to make those choices. We believe that farmers should be encouraged to follow whatever form of production suits them wherever they think the marketplace is, but I want to ensure that we do not see one side of the farming community belittling the contribution of the other. I return to where I began: I am very proud to be a member of LEAF. It leads the way on how we can continue production on a commercial basis while conserving and protecting, for example, wildlife, and, more particularly, water and soil, which will be crucial to us all.
My Lords, I welcome this debate, during which I have been accused of having Defra put words in my mouth. I will use as little of this brief as possible. I will not be able to deal with some issues, but I shall try to answer as many of the detailed points as possible. On any points that I am unable to address, I will do a note. On declaring my interests and in terms of being pro-organic or anti-organic, I make no bones about it: I am pro-GM, but I declare an interest as a member of the Soil Association. I do not see anything incompatible in that. I became a member out of solidarity some years ago. I had a family member who was having chemo and wanted to have fewer chemicals in their body. Going organic was one way to assist with that.
Organic cannot be one-size-fits-all. Some claims made on both sides of the argument are quite ridiculous and are not based on any science. Nor do I subscribe to the anti-science view around the country, particularly of those who do not want trials to take place because they are worried about the information that might be gathered from experiments. To that extent, I oppose and criticise the people who rip up crop trials. How do we get information if we do not do trials? Not wanting the information to be out there because it destroys one’s original concepts or prejudices is not on.
I also want to make it clear that there is no unsafe food on sale in this country. I repeat: no unsafe food is on sale. No one can claim that their food is safer than anyone else’s. Any unsafe food would be illegal if it was on sale. It is as simple as that. However food—whether it is crops or meat—is farmed or produced and wherever it is produced in the world, there are checks and surveillances of residues and other matters that are beyond the imagination of the public in terms of the numbers and the quantity in the policing of the system to protect the whole food chain. We publish the results, so there are no secrets, including where we buy produce from.
To that extent, John Krebs was right. No one can say that because a food is organic it is healthier. It can be claimed that because a food is organic there may be less chemical residue. But if the residues are within the limits, they are perfectly safe. The two things are not incompatible. No one can claim that commercially produced, ordinarily produced, intensively produced food is any less safe than organic food. That cannot be the case. Going with the science is important.
As for some of the prejudices that are around, the other week I was in a 12.5-acre greenhouse, which was next to the site of a 14-acre greenhouse that was being constructed. It will produce one product—tomatoes—in England between March and November. Those tomatoes will be grown on our land and everything used will be the by-product of another food—the carbon dioxide, water and heat. Even the bees for pollination are home-grown. In every calculation, the produce out of that greenhouse would be organic if the root was in soil. But it does not classify because the root is not in soil, even though the product is as organic as any organic tomato. It is a by-product of sugar production at the largest, most efficient sugar plant in Europe, which is in Norfolk. So there are prejudices about the way in which the product has to be produced.
The organic movement is a voluntary movement. It is highly regulated—the Soil Association is just one of the certification bodies. But because it is a voluntary movement, it can make its own rules. There are European standards now and that is important. The noble Lord, Lord Taverne, did not push very much on the monetary aspect in his attack on the concept of organic farming, but in our view there is a public good out of the money that the Government use to support organic producers. It is an infinitesimal amount—£30 million to £40 million a year—in terms of environmental goods, but the single farm payments to farmers stand at £1.5 billion a year. The idea that we are paying out this money for the public good only because the produce is organic is wrong. It is an infinitesimal amount compared to the overall scale of public support for farming, and quite rightly so, because we are buying an environmental good.
My Lords, it would be, but of course our publicly funded research into agriculture receives much more than that. However, with reference to the latter points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, I saw those adverts and I said to someone, “Where did the money come from?”. I saw a full page of adverts a couple of weeks ago, and I discussed the matter with Sir Don Curry, who assists Defra these days. It is far more money than we have to fund the Year of Food and Farming, which will start later this year. I cannot criticise the National Lottery and the way in which this was done. I do not know the reasons and the background and why such a large sum of money was given to one organisation for one narrow aspect of agriculture. I do not criticise that, but I do not know the background or the reasons.
Since 1997—the year the world started, of course—there has been a 13-fold increase in land being farmed organically in the UK. The figure stood at just over 51,000 hectares in 1997 and it is 620,000 hectares in January this year. That is a substantial increase and it represents around 4 per cent of the total agricultural area of the UK. A lot of that is in Scotland. There is a disproportionate amount there—that is not a criticism, it is just the way in which the land has been used.
But that does not mean that the ordinary, intensively produced food, whether it is grown or whether it is livestock, is second best. Nobody is saying that. In fact, we could not feed ourselves if we went organic. I know that people will dispute this, but if we went all organic we would be importing huge amounts of food, whatever people might claim, because the yields would be so much less. I appreciate that one has to look at the totality of the energy that is used. There would be fewer pesticides and other things that are used to produce the crops if we went organic, but we want to encourage choice.
I agree 100 per cent with what the noble Baroness said about LEAF. I wish every farm was operating LEAF rules and practising integrated farming. We started a similar process in Northern Ireland when I was there; I said, “This sounds like LEAF in England”. I went to one of the farms in Gloucestershire where farmers go to learn about the LEAF techniques. It is absolutely vital. It is good for the environment and it needs supporting. It is good that supermarkets and other retailers are recognising this in their marketing. It is not marketed as being safer, but it is marketed as being more environmentally friendly and as encouraging greater biodiversity. There is no question about that at all.
The fact is that since we increased the level of support for organic farming, the amount of land given over to it has gone up 13-fold. It helps our sustainability objectives and provides environmental benefits—I know there can be arguments about this—by encouraging biodiversity, and it gives farmers a choice. A lot of young farmers are involved in the organic movement. They are often much more entrepreneurial than the older generations. I have met some of them, as has the Secretary of State. These farmers are willing to use different systems and techniques and to enter into new marketing arrangements for their products.
If there is any criticism to be made, and one can always find lots to criticise, it is on the dairy side. All these new probiotic yoghurt drinks are imported, save for one being produced by a co-operative in Scotland for Marks & Spencer. However, all organic yoghurt is made here at home in the UK. But in terms of added value, of getting more out of the produce for the premium, others are showing the way on that side of the dairy industry. But Yeo Valley, for example—the only yoghurt I will touch—and others because I must not advertise too much, produce all their yoghurt in the UK. That is a lesson to the rest of the dairy industry. The probiotic drinks producers went for a certain kind of marketing in a niche area, and have been very successful, but we have let that opportunity pass us by.
Consumers want organic food for a variety of reasons, whether for animal welfare, the environment or other reasons. The choice is theirs, and that is the point. The noble Baroness is quite right: sometimes people buy organic produce because they think it may be better for them. There is nothing wrong in that so long as the claims made are accurate. Indeed, more flexibility on this is on the way with the introduction of European labelling, which I shall come to shortly. At present, certain organic foods cannot use an organic label if the whole product is not organic. Some of the ingredients may have been produced organically, but it is difficult to get an organic label for them. The European Union is producing more flexible rules to assist in that, which is good for organics, consumer choice and improvements in labelling. The proposed regulation before the EU Agriculture Council would require origin labelling for some organic produce where the EU organic logo is used. On the organic conversion scheme, we are working on a new one which is to be launched later this year.
The noble Baroness, Lady Miller, asked about long-chain omega-3 fatty acids. That got me going because it is not in my brief. I am reliably informed by the Box that organic milk contains short-chain omega-3 fatty acids which are not the same as the long-chain omega-3 fatty acids found in oily fish, which are what protect us against cardiovascular disease. What we need are long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, so organic milk cannot make that claim because it contains short-chain omega-3 fatty acids. If these claims are being made, one has to look closely at the science.
On the TB evaluation, we are in touch with the sector on a realistic valuation for organic reactor animal slaughter. This is an issue and I appreciate it very much in terms of the distress caused to farmers in any event. We are looking at the cases mentioned by my noble friend with Natural England. I shall come back to him on that because it is a somewhat specialist issue.
I turn to legal safety standards, and here I cannot impress on the House enough the fact that organic produce and conventional produce have to meet exactly the same legal food safety standards, as would any GM foods. So far as I know, there has never been a food safety issue related to GM foods. Notwithstanding some of the arguments that have been made, that is the case. In fact, we know more about some GM foods than we do about traditional foods because of the science involved in the gene and DNA work being carried out. Nutrient levels are similar whether food is produced by organic or conventional agriculture. That is the evidence.
Support for organic farming by the Government does not mean to say that we see it as the only way forward. We support a range of farming activities. As I say, the amount of money here is small, but it is necessary to encourage farmers who wish to take the organic route. They are not forced or encouraged to do so but schemes are available if they wish to do that. The Government are saying to farmers, “We do not want to subsidise production. We want you to be nearer to the market”. That is important for freshness, as the noble Baroness said. We want farmers to be nearer to the market, to market their products better and to get more control over their aspect of the food chain, which is also important. We are saying to farmers that if they want to go that route there is an opportunity to do so if they wish to take it. Farmers are not forced to go that route and must accept the risk of doing so.
Organic farming makes an important and profitable contribution to the farming industry; we make no bones about that. Certainly, it contributes to biodiversity and has environmental advantages. However, biodiversity and environmental advantages can also result from aspects of LEAF farming and integrated farming. So it is not the case that one kind of farming is all good and another is all bad. A realistic assessment is needed. All forms of farming and different aspects of production can meet customers’ needs. It is important that we should produce as much of our own food as we can and slightly lengthen the seasons, if we can. However, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Taverne, that the Government do not propose to pull the plug on their support for organic farming.
House adjourned at 6.51 pm.