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Scotland: Independence

Volume 745: debated on Monday 13 May 2013


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what if any instructions they have given to each Government department to outline the impact that independence would have on its responsibilities in Scotland.

My Lords, the Government announced last year that they would carry out a detailed analysis of how Scotland and the rest of the UK contribute to and benefit from our partnership. This work will look at issues including the legal and constitutional set-up, the economy, wider policy issues such as the United Kingdom’s place in the world, defence, energy and welfare. This work is being carried out across government by policy experts in relevant areas.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his Answer. He will, like me, be confident that the overwhelming body of evidence supplied by government Ministers and their departments will show that Scotland is far better off staying within the union. However, the Minister knows that we must be careful with how this is portrayed in Scotland. We do not want lecturing or hectoring. I ask the Minister to do whatever he can to ensure that government Ministers produce and present these facts in such a way that they do not alienate opinion in Scotland.

I very much agree with the initial comments of the noble Lord that Scotland is better within the UK and the UK is better with Scotland in it. I take his point, too, that it is important that the tone of the argument is set, and that it is positive, because there is a very positive case to make. However, pointing out some of the difficulties and challenges of independence does not mean that we are scaremongering or being negative. For example, the paper recently published on currency showed the disadvantages of a number of other options but also showed, beyond peradventure, that the best option of all is for Scotland to remain part of the United Kingdom.

My Lords, will my noble and learned friend indicate what the Government’s position will be on the West Lothian question and on the Barnett formula? Surely, if people are going to vote in the referendum and wish to remain in the United Kingdom, they need to know what the position of their representatives at Westminster will be, and what the funding position in the future will be.

My Lords, as my noble friend will know, the commission established to look at the so-called West Lothian question, under the chairmanship of Sir William McKay, reported a couple of months ago, and obviously the Government are looking at and considering the detail of that report. It has been made clear on a number of occasions that the Government do not have any plans to reform or revise the Barnett formula, as our primary objective is to get the UK government finances back into a healthy situation.

My Lords, I am sure that the Minister agrees that defence and security are the most important duties of any Government. Is the Minister content that sufficient work is being done on looking at the full detail of the inconsistency of what the SNP says about providing a new MoD, command and control, intelligence and the Five Eyes community? These are a whole raft of issues that are crucially important for the defence of these islands in the future should, by some error or whatever, Scotland become separate. Those things need to be looked at, and I am not sure that they are being looked at.

My Lords, I certainly agree that one of the primary responsibilities of government is the defence and security of the realm. The report, which was published two weeks ago by the Foreign Affairs Committee of the House of Commons and the Economic Affairs Committee of this House, touched on a whole stream of important issues related to defence. Defence is one of the issues on which a paper will be published in the Scotland analysis series. It is important to recognise the benefits Scotland gets, not only from our defence of the UK but from the number of jobs that are dependent on the defence industries in Scotland.

My Lords, have the Government given collective consideration to how to get across to the general voting public in Scotland the facts that are being made available, in a department-by-department process? It is extremely important to bear in mind that the media are not giving detailed consideration to these issues. The Government might think it right to communicate with the electors directly on these matters. If we follow the pattern of the previous referendum, on alternative voting, we had two weeks of media coverage of that issue, although admittedly it was nothing like as important as the break-up of Britain. However, if we do not get detailed knowledge to an intelligent electorate, we could find that the public react against the general condition of the country at the time.

My Lords, I take my noble friend’s point about the importance of communicating the arguments. The paper on currency to which I have just referred in my response to the noble Lord, Lord McAvoy, had so many points in it that some did not necessarily get the full airing that they might have. The next paper in the series will be on the financial services industry, and numerous issues could arise from that. It is not anticipated that there will be any separate government publication in the run-up to the election in the way that there was in the run-up to the EU referendum of 1975. However, it is important that the Government communicate these important messages and arguments for the union in a way that is readily accessible. It is important that they are underpinned by some weighty analysis, but there is also a case to be made for making sure that the arguments are readily available to the public.

My Lords, what guidance has been given to the Civil Service about maintaining neutrality between the two sides in the lead-up to the referendum on independence?

My Lords, I recall that some time ago, following the election of the present Scottish Government, the previous Cabinet Secretary gave some indication that Scottish civil servants working for the Scottish Government would be expected, as are UK government civil servants, to promote the policy of their Government. Likewise, civil servants working for the Scottish Government, albeit that they are UK civil servants, will be expected to work towards the policy of the Scottish Government.

My Lords, will the Minister answer a question that his namesake, the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, could not, and confirm that the Cabinet has taken two decisions: first, that there should be no pre-negotiation with the Scottish Government, which is absolutely correct; and, secondly, that there should be no contingency planning, which is quite wrong, particularly, as my noble friend Lord West said, in the area of defence? Will the issue of contingency planning be reconsidered by the Government?

My Lords, the Government have indicated that there will be neither pre-negotiation nor contingency planning. I can understand why people talk about red lines and making things clear, but to ask the United Kingdom Government to prioritise one part of the United Kingdom over another would not sit easily with a Government who seek to serve the interests of all our citizens in all parts of the United Kingdom. It is not in the interests of Scotland or of the United Kingdom that we should start to unstitch the fabric of the United Kingdom before the people of Scotland have had their say.