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.