House of Lords
Tuesday, 24 June 2014.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Birmingham.
My Lords, through our 548 teaching schools and teaching school alliances we are developing a truly school-led system providing a wide range of CPD opportunities for schools across the country. This is substantially enhancing the career opportunities for teachers. Some 74% of trainee teachers now hold a 2:1 degree or better—the highest proportion ever. Teaching is the most popular career choice for Oxford graduates and Teach First is Britain’s biggest graduate recruiter. Vacancy rates are declining and 78% of new teachers are teaching after five years, which represents a considerably lower number of career changes than in many other jobs.
My Lords, while I thank the Minister for that—encouraging on the surface—reply, will he confirm that many teachers regularly work 60 hours a week and in school holidays and find it very difficult to make time to develop their own practice? Coming from a family that is richly endowed with teachers, I see these pressures close up. I believe that he gave some figures from his department showing that 74% of newly qualified teachers now stay in the profession for five years. Recent figures showed the rate as being closer to 50%, which, if true, would certainly be a terrible waste. Will the Government ensure that boards of governors and head teachers take seriously the well-being of teachers, including the need for them to be good parents to their own children, and pay attention particularly to the need for mentoring and professional development?
The noble Baroness is quite right; as I have said before, teaching is the noblest profession and, at this time in our history, is one of the most important jobs in the country. The figure is actually 78%, not 74%, and the recently reported figure of 50% is inaccurate. We applaud what teachers do. We know that they consistently go the extra mile to help their pupils. We take their responsibilities very seriously and we constantly exhort governing bodies to focus increasingly on CPD opportunities for teachers.
My Lords, does the Minister recall and agree that for many years the average academic attainment of those entering our Bachelor of Education degree courses was around, or even less than, two Es at A-level? The teachers thus qualified often do more harm than good. Will the noble Lord tell your Lordships what the Government are doing about those who are still in the system? I take the opportunity to congratulate the Government on the rest of the noble Lord’s first Answer.
There is no doubt that teachers who may not have had a particularly good academic career can substantially raise their game through CPD. However, it is also undoubtedly true that some teachers are now dropping out of the system due to a more rigorous approach. As I say, we are seeing a much higher quality of teachers coming into the system than ever before.
My Lords, the Minister will be aware that highly qualified teachers are often leaving schools through confidential compromise agreements, costing the education service literally hundreds of thousands—maybe millions—of pounds. Is this a good use of scarce education resources? Does he also agree that when compromise agreements are decided by a school they should be open to public scrutiny?
It is a fact that many schools, rather than go through an extensive competency procedure, which can be highly contested, decide to enter into compromise agreements in order to move teachers on earlier. These often contain secrecy clauses, but I know that this area is being considered more widely.
My Lords, since the Minister seems to agree that good qualifications, including good degrees, are essential for good teaching, can he explain why the Government have made it legal for academies to employ unqualified people as teachers? Given this, can he assure the House that his department is monitoring the extent to which academies are doing so? How many unqualified people are now working as teachers in academies and free schools?
I am, as always, delighted that we are having this discussion about qualified teachers because, frankly, if that is all that divides the parties, we have clearly nearly reached a consensus on our extensive teaching reforms. There are, in fact, fewer unqualified teachers under this Government than under the previous Government, despite the substantial increase in academies, which are able—as the noble Baroness rightly says—to recruit them. I will write to her with the precise figures on academy teachers but, as I say, we have fewer unqualified teachers overall. It would be unwise to deny the opportunity for, say, a professional actor or singer without QTS to teach in a school, or someone with a PhD in molecular biology to teach in a school—as is the case in one of our free schools—or, indeed, a teacher from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama to teach part time in a primary school.
My Lords, is it not a fact that through successive years some of the most effective teachers in some of the highest-achieving schools have not had a technical teaching qualification? What teachers need is motivation, a love of their subject and an ability to transmit that to others—not just a piece of paper.
I agree entirely with my noble friend. Studies show that holding QTS is by no means the arbiter of a successful teacher, and we must remember of course that QTS training is extremely brief. A McKinsey study highlighted the importance of personal characteristics such as commitment, resilience, perseverance and motivation—and, of course, subject knowledge is very important. Reflecting my noble friend’s comments, Richard Cairns, headmaster of Brighton College, one of the most improved schools in the country, said:
“I strongly believe that teachers are born not made and I will actively seek out teachers from all walks of life who have the potential to inspire children”.
My Lords, way back in the 1960s, I may have been the only person in your Lordships’ House who was an unqualified teacher. During that period, the classes I was given by the head teachers of the day tended to be those with children with behavioural and learning difficulties. Can the Minister assure the House and all those parents and grandparents of children with special educational needs that their teachers will be qualified in the expertise of teaching special needs children, not thrown to the wolves as the children thrown to me were?
I respect the noble Baroness’s experience. I think we have moved a long way on SEN teaching since the 1960s—I certainly hope and believe we have. Our policy is that all schools must have a qualified SENCO overseeing all teaching of SEN pupils. Successive Governments have invested substantial sums in developing the skills of teachers focusing on SEN, and teachers generally, on identifying and teaching SEN pupils.
My Lords, the Government take food safety seriously, particularly food poisoning, which can have severe consequences for individuals and place a burden on healthcare services and the economy. A range of initiatives are in place to engage all sectors of the food chain, from producers to consumers. Last week, for example, the UK Food Standards Agency led Food Safety Week, which focused on clear consumer messages about preventing campy- lobacter infections by not washing raw chicken before cooking.
I thank my noble friend for that reply. She will be aware that food poisoning is the cause of 500 deaths every year in the UK. Many other cases result in long-term debilitating illnesses. In Wales it is now compulsory for all food premises, care homes and food manufacturing premises to display their food hygiene rating certificates in a prominent position, allowing the consumer to make informed choices about those premises. Do the Government have any plans to introduce a compulsory “scores on the doors” system in England?
The food hygiene ratings scheme is one of the Food Standards Agency’s initiatives to reduce food poisoning. All ratings are published online, but access to ratings at the point of choice is particularly important. Compulsory display of stickers will strengthen the scheme’s potential to drive up hygiene standards. The Food Standards Agency worked closely with the Welsh Government to introduce the necessary legislation for this in Wales and it is actively monitoring its impact so that a case can be built for England.
My Lords, is the Minister aware that most chickens in this country were infected with campylobacter because of the way they were executed? They were electrocuted upside down, so the contents of their alimentary tract was spread over the whole of the chicken. That is why so many of them were infected. Are the Government looking into more satisfactory ways of dispatching these chickens?
I thank the noble Lord for such a graphic description. Indeed, the Government are aware of that, as is the Food Standards Agency. Much research is being done throughout the whole food chain—from dispatch to the serving hatch, if you like—into ways of reducing opportunities for food poisoning.
My Lords, is the Minister aware that campylobacter does not just belong to chickens? It can also be found in some 49% of dogs, and children particularly should be instructed to wash their hands after playing with their pets. The instruction to wash hands and dry them well before preparing food is a very good one.
I have no information in my brief to that effect. However, it should be said that this scheme has been adopted by all but two local authorities in England, the two exceptions being the Royal Borough of Greenwich, which is ready to implement it, and Rutland, which is somewhat anxious about the success of businesses.
Housing: Underoccupancy Charge
We expect to publish the interim report by the Summer Recess.
I welcome that reply although I note that last October the Minister said that he expected the report to come out in the spring, which has now come and gone. Can he assure me that in the meanwhile, he and his colleagues will be meeting some of the many people who have indicated their willingness to downsize but for whom there is no alternative accommodation and nevertheless end up having to pay a bedroom tax that they cannot afford?
There are some 200,000 smaller premises in the social rented sector available through each year. We are now seeing a good increase in the number of home exchanges. Some systems are going up and the housing partners’ HomeSwapper scheme, for instance, has now had a 25% increase partly because of the effect of this change.
Is the Minister aware of disputed cases being referred to the Local Government Ombudsman for decisions? If so, have there been any decisions in favour of the claimant as I understand that some people have disputed the charges that have been made under the bedroom tax?
My Lords, many older people do not want to leave the property in which they have lived for many years, and I have suggested in the past that they should be able to take in a lodger, which would help pay their costs. However, I have been told that many authorities do not allow people to take in lodgers. Is the department aware of that and is anything being done to ensure that people who wish to take in a lodger—many people are looking for accommodation—can do so in order to stay where they are?
We are encouraging people to take in lodgers when appropriate for them. Housing associations and local authorities are looking at that and tend to accept that that is a way of doing it. There is some confusion between strictures against subletting, which is a different matter entirely, but lodging tends to be accepted around the country.
My Lords, the Ipsos MORI report, undertaken by the National Housing Federation in February this year, looked at 183 housing associations. It found that two-thirds of tenants affected by the underoccupancy charge were in rent arrears and 38% indicated that they were in debt. That is the equivalent of 72,000 tenants in housing associations in debt in England alone, which seems to be allied in some way to the underoccupancy charge. What assessment have Her Majesty’s Government made of the impact on housing associations of rent arrears because of the underoccupancy charge?
We have a general look at the level of arrears through the Homes and Communities Agency, whose statistics show that arrears have fallen—not risen—for the past two quarters in a row. The average rent collection rate for associations remains at 99%, a very high figure, which is very much at variance with some of the stories that we hear and the data that the right reverend Prelate referred to.
The noble Lord was asked by my noble friend Lady Quin when the Government expect to publish the interim report. I may have missed it but I did not detect any Answer from the Minister as to when the Government expect to publish the report. Can he tell us why it is so delayed?
My Lords, does my noble friend agree that, if he is going to visit and meet people who have been concerned with this, he will also meet people who have lived in overcrowded conditions for long periods of time because of the underoccupation of homes that ought to have been available for them?
My Lords, that is clearly one of the points of getting a better match for our very scarce housing. There are long waiting lists for social housing and substantial overcrowding. Depending on the data at which you look, there are more than 250,000 overcrowded homes in the social rented sector. On the census basis, that figure rises to 361,000.
My Lords, can the Minister tell us whether the interim review will include an assessment of how the underoccupancy charge affects people with conditions such as Parkinson’s, which can involve night terrors and uncontrollable movements that make it completely impractical for their partners to sleep in close proximity?
My Lords, for obvious reasons, I have not seen the report. It will be published but I am not aware of that kind of detail at this stage. Clearly once the report is out we can look at the issues that remain uncovered. There will be a full report, which will be published next year in 2015.
My Lords, the Minister has often complained about councils underspending the discretionary funds that mitigate the effect of the bedroom tax. Did he see the report in Inside Housing last week which stated that £7 million of the extra £20 million allocated by the Government last July remains unallocated to councils by the Government? An FoI request showed that 27 councils did not get the money they asked for mostly because the department decided that this would allow them to buy out the effects of the bedroom tax. So people asked for money, were turned down because it would have the effect that was wanted, and then it is claimed that the underspend shows that they did not need any more money in the first place. How can the Minister explain that to the thousands of people affected by the bedroom tax?
My Lords, some of my more sharp-eyed colleagues here will have seen the information we put out on the discretionary housing payments for last year. That showed that there was a £13 million underspend by 240 councils and that of the £20 million bidding fund, £7 million was not spent. The £20 million was not applied for in its entirety. However, we allocated that money on the basis of parity of requirement. There was an extensive process to make sure that we gave the appropriate amounts of money to those councils.
My Lords, the Ipsos MORI review, of course, is much awaited, not least by the Master of the Rolls who, in making a judgment in favour of the Government, said that the DWP had informed him that,
“the scheme may need to be modified in the light of experience”.
When the independent review comes out and my noble friend sees it before the Summer Recess, will he agree to act upon it and take decisions to make changes to the scheme so that it fits the experience shown by his independent review?
Personal Independence Payment
We are committed to ensuring that personal independence payment claimants receive high-quality, objective, fair and accurate assessments. I acknowledge that the end-to-end claimant journey is taking longer than expected. We are absolutely committed to improving performance, both ours and that of the assessment providers.
My Lords, as the Minister is aware, his own department’s figures show that it will take 42 years to clear the backlog. Yesterday in the House of Commons the Minister of State, Mike Penning, said that this was scaremongering. If that is the case, can the Minister give a guarantee as to when it will be cleared?
One can do some funny things with mathematics and that 42-year figure is one of them. Clearly in the opening period of any new policy of this sort there is a ramp-up, and we need to get that ramp-up right. As I said, the position of this process is not satisfactory and we are taking a lot of steps to make sure that we get the improvement that we must have. We are pushing up the numbers of staff, improving claimant communications in this process, getting more paper-based reviews which will speed the process up, and taking a series of other initiatives to get this right.
My Lords, given the view just expressed by the Public Accounts Committee of the House of Commons that the introduction of personal independence payments has been a “fiasco”, and that in securing the contract ATOS gave,
“incorrect and potentially misleading information”,
does the Minister have any plans to re-examine the ATOS tender documents? Does he believe that ATOS should be able to bid again in future for DWP contracts?
My Lords, the Government remain committed to maintaining support for disabled people. We spend roughly £50 billion a year, every year, and that is held in real terms. That is a fifth higher than the EU average. The overall spend on incapacity benefits has remained roughly flat in real terms over the life of this Government, and indeed the benefits about which we are talking—PIP, DLA—have actually been going up in real terms over the past four years.
My Lords, the Minister’s assurances would be rather more encouraging were it not for the fact that, as well as this shambles of the WCA and the 42-year backlog, employment and support allowance has been delayed and proved not to be succeeding; the Work Programme has a 94% failure rate; the bedroom tax is not meeting its objectives; and at current speeds, universal credit will take 1,052 years to roll out. Is the Minister proud of these achievements?
My Lords, we are transforming the welfare system in this country. We are doing it across the piece. It is all very well for the Opposition to complain about the speed at which we do these programmes. These programmes are difficult to do. They were shied away from by the previous Government. I think that Peers all round the House will be pleased to see these transformational changes go in and transform the way in which this country operates at a fundamental level. There is a level of cynicism about what is always a difficulty: getting difficult, complicated programmes through exactly to timetable. People who know how difficult projects are know that process, but this is critical work for our country.
My Lords, there is, however, an important point that I would like the Minister to comment on, following on from earlier comments made by colleagues. People increasingly say to me that in the implementation of the flagship schemes contained in the Welfare Reform Act 2012 we are beginning to look as if we have bitten off more than we can chew. That is a matter of serious concern. On the narrow point of PIP, I exhort the Minister to hasten slowly. Will he give an assurance to the House that it is more important to him to get these things right than to do them quickly? In that regard, will he look at the possibility of clearing the backlog of personal independence payment claims before the rollout of the reassessment of DLA to other parts of the United Kingdom?
My Lords, as my noble friend said, we have to be careful to get the implementation right. We are aiming to do our programmes at the pace that we can do them, so if we have to slow down we will slow down. We go at the pace that works because it is one thing to not go at exactly the speed you may have planned at the beginning; it is another thing to make it difficult for people. In the case of PIP, we are looking at how we carry out the next stage of the PIP rollout, the natural reassessment process. We will extend that only when we have capacity to do so, and so far we have not made any decisions on when we will do that rollout.
European Union (Information, etc.) Bill [HL]
A Bill to make provision for information to be available in various public places relating to the activities and organisation of the European Union; to make provision for the flying of the flag of the European Union on various public buildings; to provide information to further the establishment of twinning arrangements between towns in the United Kingdom and elsewhere in the European Union in accordance with the European Union’s town twinning support scheme; and for connected purposes.
The Bill was introduced by Lord Dykes, read a first time and ordered to be printed.
Council Tax Valuation Bands Bill [HL]
A Bill to make provision for the introduction of a new set of council tax valuation bands to apply to all dwellings bought or sold after 1 April 2000.
The Bill was introduced by Lord Marlesford, read a first time and ordered to be printed.
The Bill was brought from the Commons, read a first time and ordered to be printed.
Health: Patient Safety
My Lords, I now repeat a Statement made earlier today in another place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State on the subject of patient safety.
“Mr Speaker, I would like to make a Statement to the House about a package of measures that I have announced today in order to boost safety, transparency and openness in our NHS following my earlier Written Ministerial Statement.
Just last week, the respected Commonwealth Fund ranked the UK in first place for quality of care, including safety. We compare well internationally and it is clear that we have much to be proud of. However, it is also clear that there is more to do. We must not be complacent.
It is estimated that 12,000 deaths a year in hospitals have a 50% chance of being prevented. Figures released by NHS England today tell us that there were 32 ‘never events’ in the last two months, including a throat pack and a hypodermic needle being left inside patients post-surgery. These are shocking statistics.
In the Government’s response to Sir Robert Francis’s landmark public inquiry on the poor standards of care at Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust, I made clear our determination to make the NHS the safest and most open and transparent healthcare system in the world.
So, today, all hospital trusts around the country will receive an invitation to ‘Sign up to Safety’. This campaign, led by Sir David Dalton, the inspirational chief executive of Salford Royal, will help us achieve our ambition of halving avoidable harm and thereby potentially save 6,000 lives. Trusts will be asked to devise and deliver a safety plan, and may receive a financial incentive from the NHS Litigation Authority to support implementation.
Mr Speaker, we are also fulfilling the pledge we made in our response to Francis to create a hospital safety website for patients. As of today, the NHS Choices website will tell us how all hospital trusts are performing across a range of seven key safety indicators including ‘open and honest reporting’. And, for the first time, the website will let patients and the public see whether a hospital has achieved its planned levels for nursing hours.
Indeed, I am pleased to inform the House that the latest workforce statistics published today show us that we have 5,900 more nurses on our hospital wards since our response to Francis.
Mr Speaker, I am proud that the NHS is blazing a trail on openness and transparency. We are the first country in the world to publish this breadth and depth of safety data.
Finally, I am pleased to announce today that Sir Robert Francis QC will be chairing an independent review on creating an open and honest reporting culture in the NHS. This review will provide advice and recommendations to ensure that NHS workers can speak up without fear of retribution. The review will also look at how we can ensure that where NHS whistleblowers have been mistreated; there are appropriate remedies for staff and accountability for those mistreating them.
Mr Speaker, I am confident that this package of measures will shine a light on poor care so that lessons can be learnt, action can be taken and harm to patients prevented”.
That concludes the Statement.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement on patient safety.
As we said in the other place, an open learning culture across all parts of the NHS is an ambition shared across the House and builds on the work of the previous Government following care scandals in the 1990s. It is right to call for openness, transparency and accountability, but I ask the Minister how he will guard against the risk, as pointed out by Martin Bromiley, of creating a naming, shaming and blaming culture.
Secondly, the Minister has told the House that one-fifth of hospitals are failing to report properly. How does he plan to address this? Will he extend full transparency to all providers of NHS services, including the private sector?
Thirdly, the Commonwealth Fund found cause for concern on infection compared to 2010, with the NHS now ranked worst in the world for patients reporting infection in hospitals or shortly after. What is he doing to turn around this very worrying trend?
Lastly, the Secretary of State for Health talks about his new target to save 6,000 lives over three years, which we all clearly welcome. I welcome the appointment of Sir David Dalton, a person I know well, to the position of leading this initiative. However, will the Minister explain further today how this will actually be achieved with the current pressures on NHS budgets?
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his welcome of the measures that we have announced today. They must be seen in the context of other measures that we have taken in the light of Robert Francis’s report, many of which have been debated in this House.
The noble Lord spoke about a culture of naming, shaming and blaming. I do not see it in that light. The key message from Robert Francis was surely that we need a change of culture in many of our NHS institutions. That is not something that can be dictated by legislation. On the other hand, it is something that we can assist in promoting by means of transparency. The whole drive towards quality is surely assisted by shining a light on poor practice where it exists, encouraging all staff in hospitals to take ownership of what their organisation is doing and then putting those things right. That culture should extend from the board right down to the lowest level of staff. This is part and parcel of the move that the NHS is trying to make in the direction of creating a better culture—one that exists in many parts of our NHS but not in enough of them.
Do we intend to promote transparency in all those providing services to the NHS? Yes, that is the intention. This would be done by means of the NHS standard contract, which in time will incorporate the necessary provisions.
As regards infection rates in hospitals, the picture nationally is in fact very good. The numbers of MRSA bloodstream and C. diff infections are currently at record lows, but there is no scope for complacency. We believe that the website that I referred to in the answer that I repeated, which will incorporate the indicator relating to infection and cleanliness, will act as a spur to hospitals when they know that their patients can see the degree of infection pertaining over the previous three-month period.
How do we intend to save the lives that we have the ambition to save? As I said at the beginning, much of this depends on openness, on transparency and clarity for the public, and indeed on staff taking ownership of problems where they exist, not shying away from them. We think of measures like the fundamental standards being introduced that will define the level below which standards of care should never fall. We think of the duty of candour that is to be introduced. We think of the new ways in which the Care Quality Commission, with its new chief inspectors, is approaching the task of assessing the quality and safety of institutions. All these things combined should be seen as part and parcel of the picture.
My Lords, a 2012 report by the American Department of Health showed that 86% of reportable events were not reported, partly because of staff misperceptions about what constitutes patient harm. Will the Minister reassure the House that both the Government and the NHS regard one in five incidents going unreported as unacceptable? What will the Government do to ensure that all staff understand what needs to be reported and do so in a truly open and transparent culture?
My noble friend makes a series of very important points. Clearly, a balance has to be struck here. It would become self-defeating if every single mistake, even one that had no bearing on patient safety, had to be reported by every single member of staff. The system would be overloaded. We are keen to ensure that those incidents that result in potential harm, real harm or—worse still—death are reported, exposed and dealt with. Of course the National Reporting and Learning System, which was originally part of the National Patient Safety Agency when the previous Government set it up and is now housed at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, has the task of collating safety incidents from trusts and drawing lessons from them. That is every bit as important a process as it ever was. It will be the task of NHS England to draw those lessons together and incorporate them in its commissioning guidance. My noble friend has raised that issue and we have a task ahead of us that will take some time to achieve; but I believe that this is a welcome start.
My Lords, looking back on it, was the Nursing 2000 initiative not a bad mistake because it turned nursing into an all-graduate profession, with degrees supplied by the second-rate social science departments of the former polytechnics? Are the Government doing anything with the training of nurses that reflects what the noble Lord’s colleague at education, Mr Gove, is doing with the training of teachers, about which we heard in the first Question today? Is there a new emphasis on practical training and on getting back to matron and the discipline of the ward?
It was only recently that the Nursing and Midwifery Council revised the curriculum for the training of nurses. I am sure that the noble Lord will be pleased to know that that curriculum is broadly divided 50:50 into practical training and training in the classroom, which was the balance historically. I believe that nurse training is now set fair for the future. The noble Lord is right to raise concerns about Project 2000, which many people felt did not quite address the needs of nurse training. However, that programme is substantially different now from what it was in 2000.
My Lords, I am delighted to follow the arch-moderniser, the noble Lord, Lord Pearson. In the whole of my noble friend’s Statement, and indeed until the noble Lord raised his question, not a word was mentioned about the training of the staff who actually care for our patients. We have a situation in which, unless you are a medic, you are not entitled, even if you are a qualified nurse, to have resources spent on you in order to continually update your professional development. In terms of preceptorship, there are no resources; in terms of mentorship, there are little additional resources; and there is virtually no resource to train healthcare assistants. Will my noble friend agree that although the move to have 9,000 more nurses is incredibly welcome, we need to put training at the very heart of the safety agenda, because unless we train we will not get high-quality staff?
I agree with my noble friend; it would be difficult to disagree with him. Training is essential if we are to have high-quality staff. That is why we have protected the training budget, which is now hosted by Health Education England, whose job it is to ensure not just that there are adequate numbers of each type of professional in the health service but that the quality of the training is as we would all wish. It is the task of the local education and training boards to assess the position at a local level and, informed by the NHS providers that are under their wing, to respond to the needs of those providers.
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will now repeat a Statement made by my honourable friend the Minister for Immigration, Mr James Brokenshire, in the House of Commons earlier today. The Statement is as follows.
“With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a Statement on the abuse of student visas. Since the last election, the Government have taken action across the board to reduce and control immigration. We have introduced a cap on economic migration from outside the European Union, we have reformed the family visa system and we have eliminated much of the abuse of the student visa system we saw under the previous Government. The result is that net migration from outside the EU is close to its lowest levels since the late 1990s, while net migration is down by a third since its peak under the party opposite.
The Government have always said that even in light of the reforms we have introduced, we need to keep each of the main immigration routes to Britain under review, we need to remain vigilant against abuse of the student visa system, and education providers need to meet their responsibilities.
That is why I can tell the House that, since the start of February, immigration enforcement officers, with the support from the National Crime Agency, together with officials from UK Visas and Immigration, have been conducting a detailed and wide-ranging investigation into actions by organised criminals to falsify English language tests for student visa applicants. They have also investigated a number of colleges and universities for their failure to make sure that the foreign students they have sponsored meet the standards set out in the Immigration Rules.
Since the reforms we introduced in 2011, it has been a requirement for all student visa applicants to prove that they can speak English at an appropriate level. All students in further education or at a university which relies on English language testing who want to extend their stay by applying for a new student visa have to be tested by one of five companies licensed by the Government. One of those companies, the European subsidiary of an American firm called Educational Testing Service, was exposed by the BBC’s “Panorama” programme earlier this year, following systematic cheating at a number of its UK test centres. Facilitated by organised criminals, this typically involved invigilators supplying, even reading out, answers to whole exam rooms, or gangs of impostors being allowed to step into the exam candidates’ places to sit the test. Evidently, this could happen only with considerable collusion by the test centres concerned.
Having been provided with analysis from the American arm of ETS for a number of ETS test centres in the UK operating in 2012 and 2013, officials have identified more than 29,000 invalid results and more than 19,000 questionable results. As they still have to receive test analyses from ETS for other testing centres that it operated in the UK, it is likely that the true totals will be higher.
Officials from immigration enforcement and UK Visas and Immigration have not found evidence to suggest there is systematic cheating taking place in the tests carried out by the other providers. As soon as the allegations of systematic cheating were first made, we suspended ETS testing in the UK, put a hold on all immigration applications from those in the UK using an ETS test certificate, and made all applications from overseas subject to interview by UK Visas and Immigration staff. In April ETS’s licence to conduct tests for immigration purposes ended, and two weeks ago, we formally removed the company as a test provider in the Immigration Rules.
Because of the organised criminality that lies behind the falsified tests, the National Crime Agency has been brought in to work alongside immigration enforcement officers to pursue criminal action against the perpetrators. Immigration enforcement has begun work to identify anybody who is in the country illegally as a result of the falsified tests, so that they can be removed. Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs is also helping the investigation by scrutinising pay and tax records. A criminal investigation has been launched into the role of ETS Global Ltd. More generally, immigration enforcement is working to identify, pursue and prosecute those involved in facilitating this activity, and to investigate links to wider organised crime. Arrests have been made and I expect that more will follow.
I should be clear that proof that a visa applicant can speak English is only one test for somebody seeking to study in Britain. Other requirements include proof of academic qualifications, attendance at college or university and compliance with the Immigration Rules. If these student visa applicants had to cheat to pass an English language test, it is highly doubtful that many of the colleges and some of the universities that sponsored them in numbers were fulfilling their duties as highly trusted sponsors.
As I said earlier in my Statement, UKVI and immigration enforcement officers have been investigating many of the colleges and universities I am talking about because of wider concerns about their conduct. The evidence they have provided of what is going on in these institutions is cause for serious concern.
The work undertaken by HMRC has identified a number of overseas university students earning more than £20,000 a year, despite the rule that they must not work more than 20 hours per week during term time. Overseas students at privately funded further education colleges are not allowed to work at all, yet one college—the London School of Business & Finance—has more than 290 foreign students who worked and paid tax last year. One university student identified by HMRC had been working a 60-hour week for six months.
UKVI identified people allegedly studying in London while their home addresses were registered as restaurants as far as away as Ipswich and Chichester. Students sponsored by Glyndwr University so far identified with invalid test results provided by ETS number more than 230, rising to more than 350 if you add the scores counted as questionable. The comparable figures for the University of West London are more than 210 sponsored students with invalid scores, rising to more than 290 when questionable scores are included.
At certain private further education colleges, as many as three-quarters of the file checks completed by UKVI officers were a cause for concern. At one college, a staff member told UKVI officers that they were encouraged not to report students’ absences or failures because doing so would reduce the college’s income and jeopardise its right to sponsor foreign students. The Government are not prepared to tolerate this abuse. So I can tell the House that this morning the Home Office suspended the highly trusted sponsor status—that is, the right to sponsor foreign students—of Glyndwr University.
In addition, we have suspended the licences of 57 private further education colleges, a list of which I will place in the Library of the House. We have told a further two universities—the University of Bedfordshire and the University of West London—that they are no longer allowed to sponsor new students, pending further investigations which will decide whether they, too, should be suspended.
Other universities are involved in the continuing investigation and further action may follow, although, because of the steps they have already taken to improve their processes, including voluntarily ceasing overseas recruitment to London sub-campuses, we will not at this stage remove their right to sponsor foreign students. Because much of the worst abuse we have uncovered seems to be taking place at London sub-campuses of universities based in other parts of the country, I can also tell the House that the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education will examine these London campuses to see whether further action should be taken against their parent universities.
The Government do not take such action lightly. However, we are clear that this kind of irresponsibility cannot go without serious sanction. We have already removed some 750 bogus colleges from the list of those entitled to bring foreign students to Britain and of these almost 400 we now know were linked to those who obtained invalid ETS certificates.
We have tightened up the rules for individual students. We have reduced the level of immigration to Britain, in part by cutting out the abuse in the student visa system, but we have always said that we must remain vigilant against abuse. The steps I have outlined today show that we will not hesitate to take firm action against those students, colleges and universities which do not abide by their legal responsibilities and resolutely pursue organised criminality to bring those responsible to justice. I commend this Statement to the House”.
My Lords, that concludes the Statement.
My Lords, the most important criterion of any immigration and visa system is its integrity. Governments should always take swift and effective action to stop any abuses of the system and must always be vigilant to prevent abuse. The scale of abuse outlined in the Minister’s Statement is absolutely shocking and it is right that action is taken to tackle such abuse. Indeed, the Labour Government closed 140 colleges between April 2009 and January 2010. My questions are on the practicalities and implications, rather than the principle.
As the Minister said in repeating the Statement, following the BBC “Panorama” programme’s investigation in February the Government announced that they had suspended language tests run by ETS. Can the Minister clarify the timescale of who knew what and when? When were Ministers made aware of the scale of the abuse? Was that before or after the BBC investigation? If they knew before, why was action not taken earlier? If they did not know before, how is it that after four years in government the BBC knew about it before the Government did? The longer this goes on, the greater the culpability of the Government in not tackling it.
The Minister referred to criminal proceedings. Can he tell us who those proceedings will be against and how long those investigations will take? Will they include proceedings against the 48,000 people who fraudulently obtained language certificates? Do the Government know who they are and where they are? The Statement says that arrests were made but how many have been made to date? With regard to the universities, what discussions and consultations have there been with those universities where action has been taken? What are the implications for lawful, legitimate university students and institutions?
The Government’s independent inspector, John Vine, issued warnings about the system’s abuse in 2012. However, it appears that no serious action was taken until the BBC investigation, so this is a crisis created on the Government’s watch. The Government have talked tough but done very little and while this abuse was festering, we had the nonsense of an Immigration Bill that did nothing to tackle the abuses we are talking about today but proposed actions detrimental to law-abiding universities and their genuine students. In the interests of national security and the integrity of the system, and in the interests of those universities and students that abide by the rules and bring huge benefit to this country, the Government must restore confidence.
My Lords, I accept that the noble Baroness is right to point out the seriousness of this situation but I do not think that she is right to try to single out the actions of this Government in that respect. We were taking action to investigate the whole scale of abuse in London colleges before the ETS fraud was revealed through the “Panorama” programme. At that point, we realised why it was that we had found such large-scale abuse going on in London colleges as a result.
I cannot say to the noble Baroness that I welcome her words on the Immigration Act. Much of the focus of that Act was designed specifically to deal with the problem of student abuse. I am mindful of those occasions on which the noble Baroness has called for students to be removed from net migration figures. Does this not show how right the Government are to seek to tighten up in this area, because of the failure of the previous Government to tackle the problem at all? The truth of the matter is that we came in with an immigration process that was totally incapable of examining the out-of-control flow of immigration into this country. A little bit of humility on the part of the noble Baroness might help this particular problem.
She asked about criminal proceedings. I am not prepared to talk about them because of their nature, except to say that it is quite clear that criminality has been involved in this case. I hope that I have the support of the noble Baroness in the Government’s attempt to make sure that the abuse of the system that has been exposed by our investigations into London colleges and by the BBC “Panorama” programme is effectively dealt with. We are putting responsibility where it lies—which is on the colleges, to make sure that they keep orderly houses and discourage irregular use of the student visa passage for working and illegal immigration into this country.
My Lords, I am sure that the Minister shares my and many people’s anger and shame that so many innocent students have been duped and have had cheating promoted to them as if it were a British value—which clearly it is not. Can the Minister tell the House whether the individual students caught up in this will have a chance to retake the tests before immigration action is taken against them? Can he also say what positive steps the Government are taking to promote the sector, which we all agree is such an important export? We know that a factor in students choosing to come and study here is whether they feel welcome or not.
I will start with the last suggestion made by my noble friend because it is really important. Despite having to deal with this problem— I think the whole House will understand why the Government have had to deal with this problem—we recognise the enormous asset that we have in the higher education and further education facilities in this country. They are global assets and we want them to be available to the world. But they must be conducted under rules which reflect the fact that people come here to study and not as a short cut to involvement in working.
We have had a lot of debates in the House. I think that some of the best have been on this subject, but sometimes I have been the only person saying that students should remain within the net migration figures. I hope that noble Lords who thought differently will be thinking along my lines now and seeing how important it is. I have emphasised that we want the brightest and the best to come here, but they should do so with their sponsorship in order and without the criminality that has been revealed by this particular investigation.
My Lords, I have a question as to the order of events referred to in the Statement. In the first place, the investigation into these important matters started, we are told, at the beginning of February. There is also a reference to the BBC “Panorama” programme, which was also at the beginning of the year. Which of these two events came first? Was it the “Panorama” programme which stimulated the investigation? If so, should it not be given credit for it?
I hope that I have paid tribute. The Statement did, in fact, pay tribute to the “Panorama” programme. It has done the country huge service in revealing this abuse. I asked the very same question when I was being briefed on the issue earlier today. There was indeed an investigation by immigration enforcement—UKVI itself had initiated an investigation of the London colleges. It appears that the London-based colleges have been causing trouble, in particular where the universities are established elsewhere and have branches in this country.
We did not have suspicions about English-language testing until it came up as a result of the “Panorama” programme. The two things are complementary and reinforce the action that the Government have taken in investigating the matter.
My Lords, on what date was the subsidiary of ETS given a contract to carry out this work? What assurances were sought from these private companies when they were hired to carry out this work that they were competent to do it? Will the Minister admit that he is muddling up two completely different issues when he suggests that this has something to do with the category under which students should be placed, whether part of the migration statistics or in a separate category for students? That has nothing to do with the issue that we have been discussing today, the appalling lapse in standards by a company presumably hired by this Government, which the Minister has told the House about.
ETS was licensed in 2011 to carry out the English-language testing that we brought in at that time. ETS has been a long-standing supplier of educational testing services to the Government. Its appointment in such a role predates our period in office. Five companies were selected by a process of competition to perform this task, and ETS was one of the successful companies. In all fairness, we had no reason to suppose that it would be undertaking this task fraudulently.
My Lords, is my noble friend aware that this issue has been going on for at least a decade? This is about the fifth time that I have stood up on this issue. Are not his actions greatly to be welcomed? Is it not really worrying to discover that time and again our newer universities and colleges, on the whole, are at fault? Previously it was London colleges, and now I hear that my home county of Bedfordshire is under deep suspicion. Will my noble friend tell us what action will be taken when he has carried out his investigations to ensure that senior personnel at those universities who are, or are supposed to be, in charge are fully reprimanded and, I hope, removed from their posts?
My Lords, how universities deal with this is largely a matter for them. I believe that I was right to draw the attention of the House to those measures which we eventually agreed in the Immigration Act to deal with this matter. It should make it much easier to monitor and deal with in future, but we have to deal with things at present. I emphasise that the vast majority of students here are genuine and are here to study. We want to make sure that we give them our support. We want to make sure that the vast majority of educational institutions are genuine and doing their best for their students’ education. We will invite the Department for Education, the Higher Education Funding Council for England, the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales, the Scottish funding agencies, Universities UK and the National Union of Students to join a working group on how we offer support to genuine students who find themselves in situations not of their making as a result of the measures that we are taking today.
My Lords, it is very pleasing that the Minister managed to make some sympathetic remarks about overseas students. I thought that the initial Statement, which, I appreciate, was read in the House of Commons, was deeply depressing, seeing students as a threat and not an opportunity or enrichment of this country, and seeing the issue in terms of immigration and not of educational policy. Is not the real explanation of this problem to do with privatisation? We are not talking about universities; we are talking about a whole range of privately funded colleges and institutions, many of them in London, which do not observe the strict academic and educational standards of our universities, of one of which I had the privilege of being a vice-chancellor. The institution that is under criticism is a hived-off institution to deal with English language teaching. I hope that the Minister, who I know to be a very progressive-minded man, will take the opportunity to affirm that real universities observe the highest standards in inquiring into the educational and personal background of students. It is really quite unfair of the Statement made in the House of Commons to confuse them with a number of far inferior institutions.
I am sorry that the noble Lord has taken that view of the Statement. I think that it described why we were taking action this day to deal with particular institutions. I stayed for the questions after seeing my honourable friend Mr Brokenshire make his Statement, and he was at pains to emphasise that our relationship with universities is very important to us, because £2.8 billion—or is it 2.8%?—of the British economy is in the educational sector. I shall not rise to the fly that the noble Lord has cast across me about privatisation. I do not think that that matters. The truth of the matter is that all education institutions, whether public or private, must conduct themselves in a proper fashion. That is what we are seeking to emphasise. However, as I think I made clear earlier, I believe in the universities of this country. They enhance our lives and prosperity and enable us to have a presence in the world that we would not have without their international role.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for once again reassuring us with his usual balance and judgment of the situation. We are all appalled that there should have been exploitation in this way. My noble friend referred to the duping of students. Some of these students would have been duped, not knowing any better about what they should do and relying on what they seemed to think was authoritative advice. What steps will be taken to strike Educational Testing Services off the list of approved organisations for this purpose in future, and can he tell us what other sanctions might be exercised to ensure that these crucial agencies satisfy the requirements that the Government ask of them?
I am not an arrogant sort of person, as my noble friend will know, and I think that there are lessons for the Government to learn from this situation. It is right that we should seek to learn these lessons. I agree with her that many of the individuals involved may well have been perfectly innocent of the circumstances in which they now find themselves, of being illegally in this country, having applied through one of these bogus entry systems, which contain in them a germ of criminality, as I said earlier. How that aspect is dealt with will be a matter for the courts to decide. Meanwhile, as I say, I am quite prepared to accept that there are things that the Government can learn from this experience, and there is a need to ensure that we play our part in supporting universities in their job.
My Lords, the Minister very properly makes the point that the vast majority of foreign students are perfectly genuine entrants into the United Kingdom. However, there are two issues, one of which is the bogus student. I applaud the Government for their action, but I hope that they do not send an unfortunate message, which they do not intend to send, with regard to the general welcome of students into the United Kingdom.
The other issue is that of the genuine student in relation to the classification of immigration. As I see it, the situation is this: over the past two years, the Prime Minister has said very clearly that he wishes to see annual immigration reduced to a figure below 100,000. I think that is a fair estimate of what he said. At the same time, it has been said time and time again in both Houses of Parliament that genuine students are nevertheless to be regarded as immigrants. That is the classical and historic way in which they have been regarded, and I believe they were regarded in that way by the previous Government. In light of the fact that the number of genuine students whose genuineness is not in any way in dispute is in excess of 100,000 per annum, how can the two objectives ever be served—in other words, keeping immigration below 100,000 and at the same time welcoming every genuine non-EU student? At the moment there is a dichotomy. What do the Government intend to do about it?
I think that I have made our policy clear—namely, to encourage genuine students to this country. I do not see any fundamental difficulty with that, and I am not in favour of moving the goalposts on this issue. The Government have their objective of reducing net migration. The noble Lord suggests that that might be in conflict with a policy which encourages genuine students to come here. I do not believe that the two are incompatible. I think that it is possible to achieve both and it is certainly the Government’s aim and ambition to do that. However, to do that, we need the co-operation of the university and college sector. No gathering of individuals contains more people associated with universities and colleges than perhaps this House. I appeal to everyone who is involved in university courts, is a vice-chancellor or is involved in any way whatever to emphasise the Government’s determination to maintain the importance of the sector but also to emphasise to those involved in university administration the importance of applying their mind to the consequences of illegal immigration to this country and of playing their part in seeking to eliminate it.
My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that my experience of validating the polytechnic sector for 10 years led me to complain that there was no system of quality control in higher education, as opposed to quality assurance, which is really just academics cosily scratching each others’ backs? Does not this story call into question the usefulness of our Quality Assurance Agency? How could all this go on right under its nose? Is it not time that we set up a system of higher education quality control, which would have many wider benefits as well?
The noble Lord will understand that a university’s funding is dependent upon it satisfying the funding agency, HEFCE, on the quality of education being provided. I have great faith in the Quality Assurance Agency. As a result of today’s announcements, we will use it to check out further those colleges which are still the subject of our concerns and anxieties following the inquiries. Therefore, I do not share the noble Lord’s views on this issue.
I agree with my noble friend. That is why we are particularly concerned that the institutions themselves failed to take proper regard of the fact that some of their students were not capable of speaking English properly and had insufficient command of the language, and we know that in some cases the students concerned were not really studying at all but were out there working. The HMRC figures have clearly demonstrated this, and that is why we are taking this action.
My Lords, what positive steps are being taken to ensure that innocent students at these institutions do not suffer unnecessary hardship and are not left stranded? If that happens, it will send a negative message about how much we welcome students. It is important that steps are taken to ensure that innocent students do not suffer.
The noble Baroness will know that previously we had to suspend the sponsorship status of London Met, and we worked closely with the university. We are doing the same now because it is not in our interests to upset the studies of those who are here and clearly want to continue them. We want those students to feel that they can carry on. That is our objective and we will be doing that. Meanwhile, we have to say to the colleges and universities I have mentioned that it is in their hands—it is their responsibility to take the necessary measures to make sure that they run an orderly establishment.
Motion to Take Note
My Lords, there are 40 speakers for today’s debate. If Back-Bench contributions are kept to around eight minutes, the House should be able to rise at the target time of 10 pm. This advisory time does not apply to the movers of both Motions, my noble and learned friend Lord Wallace of Tankerness and my noble friend Lord Lang of Monkton, or to the opposition winder, the noble Lord, Lord McAvoy.
My Lords, I thank noble Lords who are attending and intend to participate in this important debate. With some 85 days to go to the referendum, it is important that your Lordships’ House has an opportunity to express views on this most fundamental question facing the people of Scotland.
I welcome the fact that the debate is linked to the House of Lords Constitution Committee report on the constitutional implications of the Scottish referendum. I thank the committee for this report, not least the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, who chaired the committee. I look forward to the speech of my noble friend Lord Lang of Monkton, who now has the distinction of chairing that committee, and to the speeches of many of its members who are here to take part. The report is a very thorough and important contribution to the referendum debate and took evidence from a broad range of witnesses, including respected academics and Ministers from both the United Kingdom and Scottish Governments. The United Kingdom Government have until 16 July to respond to this report, and I can confirm that we will publish our response in advance of that date. I do not wish to pre-empt what will be said by my noble friend Lord Lang and others who wish to reflect on the report, but will respond in my closing remarks to the points they make.
As I indicated, it is now less than three months— 85 days—until the people of Scotland take the most important decision a country can ever be asked to take—whether we decide to stay in the United Kingdom family, or to leave and go it alone. I passionately believe in Scotland being within the United Kingdom, not because of dogma, nostalgia or ideology but because of what the United Kingdom means in the here and now, and what we can continue to achieve together as we go forward into the future. I believe in the contribution we have made over the past 300 years, along with our friends and families across England, Wales and Northern Ireland—our common effort to create and share something bigger that serves us all well. Together we can go on creating more, delivering more, and quite simply being more than we would ever be as separate states. Perhaps for too long Parliaments and Governments have allowed to go unspoken the contribution that Scotland makes to the United Kingdom; perhaps they have been equally silent on the benefits Scotland gets from being part of the United Kingdom. The referendum has focused our minds on what these benefits are.
Those of us who reside in Scotland will receive a booklet through our door entitled What Staying in the United Kingdom Means for Scotland. The booklet is going to every household in Scotland because we want everyone in Scotland to have the opportunity to make an informed decision in September, ensuring that voters no longer feel they are uninformed on the case being made by the United Kingdom Government. It is a booklet that sets out the facts in clear and simple terms, covering currency, pensions, trade and defence. We believe that the evidence is overwhelmingly clear. The evidence is also overwhelmingly positive: Scotland is better off staying in the United Kingdom and having the best of both worlds. We have more opportunities and greater security as part of the United Kingdom, while also having a strong Scottish Parliament with responsibility for important matters such as health, education, justice and transport.
As part of the United Kingdom, the powers of the Scottish Parliament will increase: we are already delivering the largest transfer of financial powers in 300 years, as set out in the Scotland Act 2012. Those powers will make the Scottish Parliament accountable for raising revenue, as well as spending public money. More powers will follow. That is the firm commitment of all three pro-United Kingdom parties in Scotland—not just by the separate commitments that each party has made, but by their united pledge to deliver further powers in the event of a no vote. This firm commitment to devolution, shared by both the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, is no doubt something that may be reflected on in this debate. I see that my noble friends Lord Strathclyde and Lord Purvis of Tweed are down to speak; they have made important contributions to their respective parties on this issue.
The important point about the booklet we are sending to every household is that it is not based on mere assertion or speculation, which so many of the Scottish Government’s proposals have been based on in this debate. Their 670-page White Paper included only one page of costings and projections, based on just one year’s financial information. In sharp contrast, our material draws on evidence from the Scotland Analysis series. I welcome the fact that the Constitution Committee’s report gave proper credit to that series, which concluded last Thursday with the launch of the summary paper by the Chief Secretary to the Treasury. That paper—number 15 in the series—is the conclusion to a series of papers that has been widely lauded as a comprehensive and detailed analysis of Scotland’s place in the United Kingdom. You might choose to call it “project fact”: more than 1,400 pages of analysis, citing hundreds of independent experts and organisations. The series has provided the evidence base for the positive case I wish to outline—the positive case for Scotland remaining in the United Kingdom.
I first highlight the positive economic case. Scotland is the wealthiest part of the United Kingdom outside London and south-east England. Scotland has the highest employment rate of all the nations in the United Kingdom—it is even higher than that of the United States of America. Scotland has a lower unemployment rate, at just 6.5%, than the UK as a whole, at 6.9%. Scotland is part of one of the six richest economies in the world. All this, and much more, has been achieved as part of the United Kingdom—because of the United Kingdom, not in spite of it. Scotland’s economy is not held back by our position in the union. That is an unfounded assertion that those seeking independence regularly repeat.
Let us be clear: being part of the larger United Kingdom economy provides Scotland with jobs, stability and security. It provides a recovering domestic market. In 2013 Scotland exported £50 billion of goods and services to the rest of the United Kingdom—four times more than Scotland’s exports to the rest of the world—and imported £63 billion of goods and services from the rest of the United Kingdom. It is a domestic market that saw, in 2011, 33,000 people of working age move from other parts of the United Kingdom to Scotland, and another 35,000 move in the opposite direction. It is estimated that some 30,000 people travel in and out of Scotland to work each day. Why would we want to risk the protection that the UK economy gives not only Scotland, but England, Wales and Northern Ireland? Why would we want to put an international border in the middle of all this?
Critically, why would we want to lose the formal use of the United Kingdom pound? Let us be absolutely clear: in the event of independence, there will not be a currency union. I do not believe that that would be in the interests of Scotland or the continuing United Kingdom. Scotland would have no control over mortgage rates, and would be binding its hands on tax and funding for vital public services.
I did a Q&A session with some law undergraduates at Aberdeen University last autumn when the question of the currency came up. I made the point that the problem with a currency union would be that there would be no Scottish control over mortgage rates as well as limitations on tax and public spending. I said I could not understand why any self-respecting nationalist would want to sign up to that. At the end one of the undergraduates came up to me and said, “I am a self-respecting nationalist and I agree with you”.
The continuing United Kingdom would surely not put its taxpayers at risk of bailing out a separate state and its banks. It is inconceivable that Parliament would pass it or that the people of the continuing United Kingdom would accept it. That is why all three of the main political parties have ruled it out. It is economic issues such as this, which impact on our daily lives, that affect the decisions of voters, and for many, personal issues, such as whether we would be better or worse off in an independent Scotland. That question once again provides us with a positive case to vote no. By remaining part of the United Kingdom, people in Scotland will benefit from what has been labelled the “UK dividend”, which is worth £1,400 per year in lower taxes and higher public spending to every Scot.
This £1,400 derives from the clear economic benefits that Scotland gains from being part of the UK: a strong fiscal position; a large economy able to manage the volatility of declining oil revenues; stable borrowing costs; policies which are costed within the current economic climate; and a broad tax base, able to effectively deal with an ageing population.
I am not claiming, and the Government have not claimed, that Scotland could not or would not be able to be a separate state—of course it could. But it is important, too, to face up to the realities and acknowledge them. We must combat the many assertions so often alluded to by the Scottish Government. We must not allow those who raise reasonable questions or concerns to be silenced by intimidation or fear.
It is not only the economic case that demonstrates why we are truly better together. I am sure that during today’s debate we will hear arguments covering a full range of topics—the European Union, for example. The UK exerts its influence in Europe on behalf of Scotland and all parts of the UK on issues that matter to people and businesses in Scotland, such as budget contributions, fisheries and agricultural subsidies. This influence is exerted in Brussels, Strasbourg and across all member states. It is influence which ensures that Scotland has a loud voice at the top table, and will continue to do so as part of the UK.
It is a different story for an independent Scotland. First, there is the question of application. All 28 member states need to agree the process and the timescales. There is no automatic entry or special procedure for Scotland. There are European Union-wide rules that plenty of others have had to follow, so why should Scotland expect to receive special treatment? Perhaps more crucially, there is the question of the terms of membership. No one should assume that Scotland would be able to negotiate the same favourable terms of EU membership which the United Kingdom currently enjoys: an opt-out from the euro; an opt-out from the Schengen area; and the UK’s budget rebate, which is worth more than £3 billion to the United Kingdom taxpayer each year.
Let us recall that no other member state has negotiated its own rebate. Instead, as a new member state, Scotland would have to contribute to the United Kingdom rebate like all others. Let us be clear that the rebate could not be shared between states; it is the United Kingdom rebate, and a vote to leave the United Kingdom would be a vote to lose this. However, a vote to remain part of the United Kingdom would be a vote for each household in Scotland to continue to save money as part of the UK’s rebate—a vote to keep the United Kingdom’ s opt-outs and a vote to retain a place of influence at Europe’s top table.
One of the other issues that I have encountered in your Lordships’ House and around Scotland is the implications for the defence of Scotland, and the continuing United Kingdom. That is important in two particular respects. The United Kingdom has the fourth largest defence budget in the world—£33 billion to £34 billion annually, behind only America, Russia and China. Crucially, Scotland benefits and contributes to the full range of these defence capabilities. Scotland benefits by having the security of the United Kingdom defence forces fighting for our common values and interests, wherever needed, across the world—both in combat and peacekeeping activities.
Scotland contributes to this through its 11,100 Regular Armed Forces based in the country, rising to 12,500 by 2020, alongside thousands of reservists. This is all supported by a thriving defence industry employing around 12,600 people. Many of these jobs are at HM Naval Base Clyde. We need to be clear—and again to avoid the spread of assertions from the Scottish Government and those who would urge us to vote for independence—that companies based in an independent Scottish state could no longer be eligible for contracts that the United Kingdom chose to place domestically for national security reasons. Other than in world wars, the United Kingdom has not built a complex warship outside the United Kingdom since at least the start of the 20th century. Where they could continue to compete, Scottish yards would be pitching for business in a competitive international market dominated by major economic powers. That is not, as some would say, scaremongering: it is a statement of fact. It is important that we get that across.
In addition to the strength and bravery of our defence forces, the United Kingdom is a soft power superpower. Our culture, education, business environment, values and heritage help us to bring influence throughout the world and help us to use that influence for good. The United Kingdom is the second largest donor of international aid in the world—aid administered from East Kilbride in Scotland. By 2015, this United Kingdom department, based in Scotland, will have helped to immunise 55 million children against preventable disease; will have helped to save the lives of 50,000 women in childbirth and a quarter of a million new-born babies; and 60 million people will have access to clean, safe water, thanks to the United Kingdom’s aid programme.
Together, we have championed democracy and the rule of law around the world. We campaigned against slavery in the 18th century and drafted the European Convention on Human Rights in the 1950s. Together we have resisted invasion and conquest. We did not fall for the ideologies which blighted so many lives in the 20th century but together made sacrifices in opposing them.
However, it is not only our heritage and our history. A more recent example is the United Kingdom’s Preventing Sexual Violence initiative. This was the core theme of our presidency of the G8 in 2013, leading to a new United Nations Security Council resolution and a United Nations General Assembly declaration on sexual violence within conflict, which of course led to the summit hosted by the Foreign Secretary and Angelina Jolie earlier this month. The United Kingdom was to the fore among the states which launched the campaign for the United Nations Arms Trade Treaty, which was finally adopted last year.
I am not claiming that an independent Scotland would walk away from these values that it has shared with us over the past three centuries—far from it. I expect it would probably sign up to them. However, it would lack the clout and influence to bring about such initiatives and, rather, as a consequence of independence, would possibly reduce the United Kingdom’s ability to promote justice in the world.
When we say that Britain is a force for good in the world and that it punches above its weight on the world stage, it might seem like a soundbite but it is true. We are an influence for good in the world and we do punch above our weight. This has been recognised. Although they have said that it is a matter for Scotland, what Britain achieves together has been recognised in recent weeks by President Obama, by Hillary Clinton and even by his Holiness the Pope, who all admire the strength of the United Kingdom and believe that we—both an independent Scotland and the continuing UK—would be weaker without each other. We should be mightily proud of our role across the globe, a role that we play together as a result of being a United Kingdom. Together, over three centuries, we have made one of the great states of the modern world; we continue to be a force for good in the modern world; and I am confident that together we will continue to be so for many years to come. I beg to move.
My Lords, I would very much like to contribute to the main debate today but my first duty and privilege is to speak to the report from your Lordships’ Constitution Committee on the constitutional implications of the referendum on Scottish independence. I am grateful that we are able to debate the report so soon after it was published, and to the many expert witnesses who gave evidence to us.
This is my first speech as chairman of the Constitution Committee and, before addressing the report, I put on record my thanks to my predecessor, the noble Baroness, Lady Jay of Paddington. I know I speak on behalf of the whole committee in saying how effective and skilful she was in the chair. The committee’s success in recent years is in large measure down to her.
I earnestly hope that the work embodied in our report on what might need to happen in the event of a yes vote will turn out to be redundant. However, the committee felt that there had been relatively little consideration of what the constitutional implications of such a vote would be. It is well to be prepared for the worst while striving to prevent it from arising.
It emerged from our inquiry that certain legal principles would govern the aftermath of a yes vote, some of which are founded in international law. Perhaps the most important is that the rest of the United Kingdom would retain the personality of the existing UK and thus become the continuator state. This would mean that it would retain the treaty obligations and membership of international organisations of the existing UK. For example, it would remain a member of the EU, the UN and NATO and would not have to apply to them anew. Scotland would become a new breakaway successor state. It would have to seek membership of international organisations and, where it does not already have them, create its own institutions. That was the overwhelming view in the evidence that we heard and we agreed with it. Whether by international precedent, share of population and territory or by recognition by other states, there is no room for doubt; all legal principle and convention point to that fact. No realistic alternative has been offered, not even by the Scottish Government.
This conclusion leads directly to the question of the division of assets and liabilities between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. The most important established legal principle would be that they should be shared equitably between the two states. Fixed or immovable assets, such as government or military buildings, would automatically become assets of the state in which they were located. However, moveable assets, such as military equipment, would be subject to apportionment through negotiation. Similarly, the apportionment of liabilities, such as the national debt, would also be subject to negotiations. All this is already well recognised, but the status of the UK as the continuator state has particular importance where its institutions are concerned.
The precedents are clear beyond doubt: the institutions would remain with the United Kingdom. Whether it is the Bank of England or the National Lottery, the nation’s intelligence services or the BBC, the Supreme Court or the UK’s worldwide Diplomatic Service, its research councils, all its administrative and regulatory services and countless more institutions, all would remain with the United Kingdom. There would be no obligation on the UK Government to bring them forward for negotiation. A vote to leave the UK is a vote to leave the UK’s institutions. It is essential that those voting in September’s referendum understand what is at stake. That is why the Chancellor of the Exchequer, when he made it irrevocably clear that a shared currency would not be agreed to, was on strong legal grounds and was able to do so without qualification.
I turn now to the significant implications of independence for the constitutional institutions of the UK. Evidently, legislation would need to be passed by this Parliament to facilitate Scottish secession from the union. That legislation would need to end Parliament’s legislative competence over Scotland, and it is likely that extensive consequential legislation would also be needed. In the period between a yes vote being delivered and the date of actual independence, Scotland would still be in the union although it would be known that independence was on its way.
We were taken by surprise when the Secretary of State for Scotland told us that:
“Unless and until the people of Scotland vote otherwise, the UK Government will continue to act on their behalf”,
and when a Foreign Office Minister said:
“If Scotland votes for independence, from that time on ministers in the UK Government will have a responsibility for people of the rest of the United Kingdom”.
Surely it cannot be right that from the moment of a yes vote, many months or possibly years before an actual date of independence, the UK Government would cease to act in the interests of the people of Scotland. I hope that my noble and learned friend will be able to clarify the Government’s position on this at the end of today’s debate. It would mean that for that transition period the UK Government would not take into account the interests of Scotland when making policy on reserved matters, and Scotland would not be represented internationally. This could leave Scotland in constitutional limbo.
We therefore recommended that the two Governments should reach an agreement immediately after any yes vote to clarify the international representation of Scotland, and that during the transition period the UK Government should take long-term decisions on reserved matters primarily or solely affecting Scotland only after consulting the Scottish Government. I think that your Lordships will agree on the logic and common sense of that; it seems to me to be inescapable.
The impact of independence on the House of Commons would also be profound. It is widely accepted that the 59 MPs representing Scottish constituencies would have to depart the Commons. The committee concluded that they should depart on the date on which Scotland secedes from the United Kingdom. Until then, their constituents would still have a right to representation at Westminster. Legislation to this effect would be necessary.
Although those MPs would remain Members during that period, it also seemed clear to us that they should not participate in parliamentary business that does not affect Scotland. As one of our witnesses said, that would be like,
“the West Lothian question on steroids”.
It may be that the Commons could make internal arrangements to address the matter or that Scottish MPs excuse themselves from votes on non-Scottish business. Whatever the answer, we think that the matter should be resolved quickly should there be a yes vote. It should certainly be settled and enshrined before the 2015 general election.
As your Lordships would expect, the committee turned its mind to the implication of independence for your Lordships’ House. Most Members of this House hold peerages of the United Kingdom. We do not represent territories. As this Parliament would remain the Parliament of the rest of the UK, Peers of the United Kingdom would continue to have the right to sit in it. However, under the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010, all Members of this House are deemed to be,
“resident, ordinarily resident and domiciled in the United Kingdom”,
for purposes of certain taxes. Unless that law were amended, it would mean that Members of the House who live in Scotland, currently estimated at more than 60 Members, would either have to pay tax in the rest of the UK or they would have to retire from the House on the date of independence.
Independence may also affect the six Members of the House who sit solely by virtue of a Scottish peerage. It would need to be decided whether they should be entitled to continued membership of the House on the basis of a Scottish peerage alone. However, these are matters that need not be decided until after 18 September, when I hope that such decisions will become unnecessary.
Turning to consideration of the negotiations that would follow a yes vote, it seems obvious that just as the seceding state of Scotland would negotiate in its own best interests, so the sole objective of the negotiators for the rest of the UK would be to secure the best outcome for the people of the rest of the UK. All other considerations flow from that. We heard different suggestions as to who should be represented on the rest of the UK’s negotiating team. We concluded that while it would be important for the Official Opposition and devolved Executives in Northern Ireland and Wales to be consulted during the negotiations, the actual negotiating team should most effectively be small and composed solely of representatives of the UK Government. That would, incidentally, follow the precedent of 1922 and would seem to offer the best prospect of successful negotiations within a reasonable time.
Related to that, we reached the conclusion, supported by our witnesses, that Scottish MPs, whether Back-Bench or Ministers, should not be on the negotiating team for the rest of the UK. Their duty as MPs would be to represent their Scottish constituents. That would conflict with the objective of the rest of the UK negotiating team to secure the best outcome for England, Northern Ireland and Wales. Nor did the committee think that Scottish MPs should play any part in debating or approving the negotiations; again, there would be a clear conflict of interest. Were there to be a yes vote, we recommended that the UK Government should put before Parliament a proposal to put these matters beyond doubt at an early date.
It would also be undesirable for either one or both of the negotiating teams to be unable to start work because of avoidable legal challenges. We therefore recommended that soon after any yes vote, a Bill should be introduced to this Parliament that would devolve power to the Scottish Parliament to make provision about a negotiating team for Scotland and to create a legal basis for the UK negotiating team. Such a Bill need not name the negotiators. The intention of it would be simply to put the legal basis of their position beyond doubt.
The committee also considered the timetable for negotiations. The Scottish Government have set out their proposed timetable, which would see Scotland becoming independent on 24 March 2016. We heard mixed views on how realistic this would be, but the key point is surely that the date has no formal status. It is an aspiration of the Scottish Government but the negotiations would take as long as they took. There is no constitutional principle involved and there would be no obligation on either side to meet a specific target date.
I hope that in producing this report the Constitution Committee has provided some clarity on what a decision taken by Scotland to vote for independence would mean in the short term for the constitution of the rest of the United Kingdom. Longer-term constitutional damage is harder to assess.
By way of an antidote, I turn from contemplating what would need to happen if there were a yes vote to the wider and more immediate debate itself and the need to press the arguments for voting no. I reflect that 700 years ago today we Scots won a great victory against overwhelming odds over an invading English army. It changed our history but brought us neither security, order nor prosperity, all qualities that give substance to the word “freedom”. It did not end the fighting, which went on. Just over 200 years later, we were the invading army and England won, but still the fighting continued. The lessons of Bannockburn make sense only when considered alongside the lessons of Flodden. Only in 1707, after the Treaty and Acts of Union that created one country—Great Britain—had abolished English and Scotland as separate states, did lasting peace break out, and with it prosperity, intellectual flowering and national security. Since then, except for Culloden when Scots fought on both sides, we have always stood steadfast together against common enemies and seen them off. Together we have prospered in peace and security.
Next week Her Majesty the Queen will come to Scotland to launch the biggest ship and the greatest defence vessel ever built in the United Kingdom. No part of the UK could have done it alone. That aircraft carrier, HMS “Queen Elizabeth”, is designed to serve the cause of peace, security and freedom for the next generation of all of us in this country and beyond. It is 100% British and a triumph of co-operation, to be launched at Rosyth but bringing together the workmanship of thousands of skilled workers there, on the Clyde, on the Tyne, at Portsmouth, at Birkenhead and in Devon. Nothing better exemplifies the extent to which all the peoples of the United Kingdom are better together. There is our future security. What a contrast it is to the alternative of a separate breakaway Scotland, isolated and unable to defend its own shores, let alone the vast areas of open skies and seas to the north and west. Not only would secession jeopardise Scotland’s own security, it would also blow apart the highly integrated nature of the UK’s defences, in which Scotland plays such an important role.
The referendum in September is not just about Scotland’s future; it is about the future of the whole United Kingdom. In striving to save Scotland for the union, we would also be saving our United Kingdom.
My Lords, the report of the Select Committee on the Constitution on the constitutional implications of the referendum on Scottish independence is a welcome addition to our debate today and to the debate that will take place over the coming months in Scotland. The noble Lord, Lord Lang, has introduced that report with the clarity that we would expect from him, and the whole House will welcome his appointment as the chairman of the Constitution Committee, given his history and his commitment to the issues on which he has spoken today and on other occasions. This is an informative, thoughtful and stimulating report, and I agree with many of the recommendations contained within it. I believe that it provides a strong framework for preparation and a guide to the judgments that will be required following a possible yes vote in September. I hope that the Government will respond within the two-month timetable that has been requested by the Committee, because if there is a yes vote in Scotland in September, we will need cool heads and steady hands to deal with the situation that emerges.
I also congratulate the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, the Advocate-General for Scotland, on his opening speech, which was, as we would expect from him, a positive case for the United Kingdom in these times. No one is more trusted, in my view, on home rule and devolution in Scotland than the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace. I am delighted that he is leading our debate today, and I hope that he plays a more prominent role in the campaign over the summer months.
I want to confine my remarks to three particular issues: first, the campaign; secondly, the choice; and, thirdly, the future. There are just under 100 days to go before the referendum on Scottish independence. I take no pleasure in seeing the prediction that I made come true—I may even have made it in your Lordships’ House—that, as the day came closer, the gap between the two sides in public opinion would come closer, too. Today, I am certain that we will hear speeches across your Lordships’ House that will be almost unanimously opposed to the principle and practice of Scottish independence, but at this early stage in the debate I want to say that there are good people on both sides of this debate in Scotland today. We should not allow the bad behaviour of some to diminish the passionately held views of others, who seek answers to the problems that they see in a complex world. All of Scotland deserves a better and higher level of debate than we have seen thus far.
About 250 years ago, Voltaire described Scotland as the place where, across Europe, we all look for our ideas of civilisation—dear knows what he would think today if he had followed this debate over the past few months. I urge the leaders of the yes campaign to do two things in particular: first, to make a real effort to stamp out the culture of bullying and intimidation that exists not just on the internet but in Scottish public life today; and, secondly, to discuss seriously the legitimate concerns people have about the option of Scottish independence and to answer questions more factually and accurately than perhaps has been the case so far.
Those who are in favour of Scotland’s membership of the United Kingdom need to raise their game, too. In a university abroad about six months ago, I judged a debate between two teams of students, one defending Scotland’s membership of the United Kingdom and one promoting Scottish independence. Those in favour of Scotland’s membership of the United Kingdom had read all the evidence and papers—many of them produced by Her Majesty’s Government—and become so convinced of the case that they went to the pub at lunchtime, became complacent and, despite having all the arguments, lost the debate comprehensively to those who were more focused, determined and clearer about their aspirations for the future of Scotland.
In the spirit of friendship to the campaign, I want to say three things. First, united campaigns win over divided campaigns. The lessons of 1979 and 1997 in Scotland are that divided campaigns do not succeed and united campaigns win. Secondly, if the Better Together campaign to retain Scotland’s membership inside the United Kingdom is to win, it is vital that it broadens its engagement with people outside the traditional groups of political leaders who currently dominate the campaign. It must engage with those who, through the 1980s and 1990s, fought for Scottish home rule and devolution and then participated in making it successful in the early years of the new Scottish Parliament. Thirdly, and most importantly, it needs to outline a positive vision for the future of Scotland inside the United Kingdom, campaigning not to protect the union and the established order but for a new order—a reformed United Kingdom with a new Scotland actively participating within it. The choice is not between the old United Kingdom and some more autonomy for Scotland but between home rule or devolution for Scotland as it exists today within the United Kingdom and independence or a separate state. We need to clarify that choice over these coming months, not detract from it.
The United Kingdom is the most successful voluntary political union in the history of the world. Within that, Scotland has managed to secure a level of autonomy that has seen Scotland as a nation improve and develop since 1999. We have seen decades of population decline reversed. We have seen two economic shocks—not one—where the UK helped and made all the difference. The first was in the early years of devolution, when electronics manufacturing—which the noble Lord, Lord Lang, did so much to bring to Scotland in the 1980s and 1990s—moved east and left Scotland with a real crisis of employment and economic growth. We have also seen improvements in Scotland’s health—for too long it was the sick country of Europe—and a vibrancy in our culture. There have been significant, huge improvements in things such as recycling and renewables because of devolved government attention.
That is the case for devolution and home rule within the United Kingdom; it is the case for a modern Scotland inside a United Kingdom that is more diverse and celebrates that diversity. If the case is made over the coming months not for a United Kingdom that is a single state but for a United Kingdom that is made up of a whole range of cultures, histories, traditions and futures pulling together in the national interest, then I believe that the people of Scotland will make a positive choice to stay and build a better United Kingdom for future generations—one that can protect our environment, protect our security and deal with economic shocks but seize economic opportunities, too; one that can enhance our quality of life, build a fairer society and do so as part of a community of nations.
My Lords, as has been said, this is a vitally important issue. It is the biggest issue facing the future not only of Scotland but of all of us here and all of us in the United Kingdom. Thursday 18 September is a very important day.
A great deal of very good work has been done by the committee and I commend the noble Lord, Lord Lang of Monkton, and the members of the committee on many aspects of this excellent report. Very good work has been done also by the Secretary of State for Scotland, Alistair Carmichael, and my noble and learned friend the Advocate-General. We now have a very solid and comprehensive list of reports from the UK Government setting out the case for keeping Scotland in the United Kingdom.
The leaders of all the Scottish political parties who oppose independence also deserve very significant praise. Willie Rennie, Johann Lamont and Ruth Davidson have done exactly the right thing by confirming the commitment of their parties to future constitutional change. Particular praise should go to my noble friend Lord Strathclyde and to the Conservative Party for the radical set of proposals that has been produced after, if I may say so, a few decades of slight reluctance.
It does political parties no credit whatever when individuals within them start to attack each other or suggest separate campaigning. Working together, as in the campaign to join the European Union back in the 1970s, is what impresses people; and what convinces them is the guarantee that there will be radical new powers for the Scottish Parliament in the event of a no vote in September, and when that guarantee is delivered by individuals such as Charles Kennedy, Gordon Brown and Ming Campbell and—if I may use the names by which they are known and more widely respected in Scotland—Annabel Goldie, John Reid and David Steel. These are the individuals who can be trusted to help deliver the no vote on 18 September.
In contrast with those names is the face of nationalism. When I first met Alex Salmond I sat next to him at a lunch in Aberdeen. I was a young councillor; he was a candidate. I was talking about Scottish politics and the Socialists, meaning, believe it or not, the Labour Party at that time. He checked me on that occasion and asked me to confirm which party I meant. Then he said, “Always remember, Nicol, there are two socialist parties in Scotland: the Labour Party and the SNP”.
Alex Salmond does not say that any more. At that time he may have been right; some nationalist parties are socialists. Many are right-wing and some are in the centre ground of politics. Some nationalist movements believe in producing a bigger state—bringing together the state of Germany or the state of Italy. Some believe in smaller states: Bosnia, Croatia, the Czech Republic or Scotland. Each is very different—one might say chameleon-like—apart from one thing. They will do whatever needs to be done to deliver the nation state that they believe in.
Therefore socialist nationalism of the 1980s—“We are the inheritors of Red Clydeside”, they used to tell us—has changed to modern, civic, soft nationalism. Alex Salmond has changed too. He is now moderate, smiles, is nice to the Opposition and keeps his temper—so they tell us. He does that not because that is the real Alex Salmond but to deliver nationalism, independence, separation.
What should be our response? There is a lot of talk of patriotism. I must confess to being instinctively uncomfortable with patriotism in politics. There are people who like to counter the SNP by saying, “I am just as patriotic as you, Mr Salmond”. In debate, it works quite well, but for me, patriotism is a bit like nationalism: it comes in many forms, not all of them good and positive; some of them are very negative. Patriotic politics, just like religious politics, can be volatile and nasty. We have seen that in recent years, we have seen that in recent days. We must avoid a volatile and nasty campaign.
The cybernats, the attack dogs of the nationalist movement, are not positive people. They can get very nasty. Their attacks on JK Rowling last week were nothing short of disgraceful. I am pleased that the Lord Advocate is considering prosecution of some of the more extreme haranguing that she received. However, it goes right to the top. The First Minister’s special adviser, still working for Alex Salmond to this day, attacked the mother of a disabled child who supported the Better Together campaign. The First Minister can do little better than say that there have been faults on both sides. That is not the sort of leadership that we should be looking for in this campaign. That is the dark, divisive side, the unacceptable face of nationalism.
In being endlessly positive about the good reasons for keeping this country in the United Kingdom, we should not forget the nature of the challenge we are facing. It will be crafty, clever campaigning against us. Everyone knows that economics will be at the heart of the campaign. The perceived wisdom is that if people believe that they will be better off by a few hundred pounds, it could swing the pendulum of their vote either way. On such does the fate of a nation hang. Surely the future of one of the most prosperous and successful nations on this planet should be decided on better grounds than that. We are told by the nationalists: “Risks? None. Dangers? None. Negatives? None. Threats? None”. Authoritative academic reports are rigged, muddled or misleading. I have twice been promised through my letterbox thousands of pounds more if I vote for independence. That is the nationalism that we face in 21st century Scotland.
I believe that we should be looking for a better way forward. At my heart, I am a liberal and a democrat. For me, those are enduring values. Nationalism is not what drives me; nor is patriotism. I believe in the values that put people and communities first. I believe in decentralisation of power, not in separation. I very much welcome the initiative by the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, and my noble friend Lord Purvis to take the initiative to try to achieve decentralisation of power right across the whole of the United Kingdom.
The people of Scotland and the people of the United Kingdom are best when we are internationalist in our values—values of interdependence and working together. Those are the values that should drive us in the 21st century, not the politics of nationalist division that blighted so much of the 20th century. The people of Scotland and the United Kingdom, working together, have done great things. We have produced great scientists, great poets, great politicians, great entrepreneurs, great economists and great people. That is positive politics, the politics of hope, the politics of what might be. That is why we should say loudly and decisively, “No thanks”, to independence on 18 September and yes to a new Scotland in a better, reformed United Kingdom.
My Lords, it is very good to have this double-barrelled debate. One sentence in the gracious Speech on such a fundamental issue did not really seem a sufficient springboard for discussion.
I am one of those many Scots, in the past and the present, who have spent a lot of their career and working life outwith Scotland, but I feel myself immensely fortunate that, on retirement from public service 20-odd years ago, I was able to return to Scotland and have a number of different jobs in different areas of Scotland in the many years since then.
One of the most striking things on returning to Scotland in the early 1990s was that deep, deep sense of alienation from London institutions, from government and from Parliament. That struck one enormously. I therefore believe that the vote on devolution and the vote on re-establishing a Scottish Parliament was the right thing to do. Indeed, if anything, it should have been done rather earlier.
Now, there is a real sense that Edinburgh as a capital city has flourished since that period of devolution. Of course, Edinburgh has always been a marvellous city, but now you feel a greater sense of self-confidence in the artistic world, as well as in the political world. You can take the development of a huge number of cultural facilities—the Scottish National Gallery, the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, the National Museum of Scotland, Our Dynamic Earth and so on—as examples of what has been happening, or you can take a much more prosaic figure. I checked on the number of passenger arrivals at Edinburgh Airport. In 1992, when I returned to Scotland, there were 2,500 arrivals per year. The latest figures I got were for 2012. The number was well over 9,000—a far greater increase than at any other airport in Scotland.
Of course, all this is not simply due to devolution and the establishment of a new Parliament. However, I suggest that it is part of it. I therefore rate devolution and the revival of the Scottish Parliament as a success. Of course, it takes time to establish a new parliament and for its members to get used to using it effectively. It has, however, been done pretty well. So, too, has the work of the present Scottish Government. One does not have to agree with all of their policies and not even with their main raison d’être to recognise that there are many hard-working, dedicated and effective Ministers dealing with the issues facing Scotland.
The question now is: why go further? Why go from an increasingly high degree of autonomy to independence? I can see why, for some people, it is attractive—maybe more so for young people who think, “This is exciting. It is not just a dull continuation of what was going on yesterday. We can experiment with new things. Perhaps I can play a greater role”. The awful thing, however, is that—to misuse that well known phrase—it is not just for Christmas. It goes on, and a vote for independence cannot easily be reversed: it would take decades at the very least.
I do not see this as a rather sterile argument about whether Scots are going to be £1,000 better off or £1,400 worse off, although the noble Lord, Lord Stephen, said that this might be a key issue, and I accept that. I see it far more as a question of whether it is right to dismantle a union which has been of such enormous value to Scotland and to the other nations of the United Kingdom.
The excellent report on the constitutional implications of the referendum—which were described just now by the noble Lord, Lord Lang of Monkton—shows how complex many of the issues are. There are also many, many practical issues in setting up an independent state. You cannot help asking: is it really worth the effort of doing all this?
I shall mention one or two of the issues. Why set up a completely separate foreign service when at the moment there is a Scottish Government representative within a number of important British embassies, such as in Peking? Why set up completely new intelligence services? It is not dead simple. Why go through the trauma of setting up a separate Scottish army when existing Scottish regiments, and the Royal Regiment of Scotland, derived from such famous earlier regiments, have served both Scotland and the United Kingdom so well? Why replace the British Council—I should declare an interest as a former trustee and chair of its Scottish committee—with something different when the British Council serves Scotland so well around the world? Is it worth doing all these things? Surely it would be a great diversion from what is really needed to make Scotland continue to prosper, and what also, as other noble Lords have said, enables the United Kingdom to play such a major role in the world as it does at the moment. We have all benefited from the unity of the United Kingdom and from diversity within that unity.
I have one final point. I suggest that it is a great pity, to put it mildly, that the question is, “Should Scotland be an independent country?”. Most research shows that people like to say yes when they are asked a question; they do not really like to say no. It is therefore a great pity that those of us who take a positive view of the massive benefits of the union will have to tick a negative box. When I come round to putting a tick or an X, whichever it has to be, with my hand I will be doing that in the no box. But in my head and heart I shall be saying yes to the continuation of a union which has meant so much to Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom, yes to diversity within the union and yes to continuing the devolution of powers to the Scottish Parliament, to bring effective government and the raising and spending of money closer to the people who are directly affected.
My Lords, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Birmingham has regrettably been called away but I very much hope that we shall hear from him again on another occasion.
I am a unionist. I believe that because of our shared culture, economy and geography the people of these islands are better served by being part of the governance of the United Kingdom rather than being divided. I am Scottish and British; I have no difficulties with any of that. I wholly support my noble and learned friend Lord Wallace of Tankerness when he listed all the great things that Scotland has achieved over the past 300 years as part of this extraordinary union, rather than in spite of it.
However, there is a voice that is missing in this afternoon’s debate: the voice of Scottish nationalism. I know that this will sound strange, coming from me, but there is nothing like the power of debate. I do not actually know whether anybody is going to speak up in favour of breaking up the United Kingdom—perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, may be tempted to do so—but we need to hear another view. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, and his noble friend Lord Wigley will forgive me if I say that on this occasion, Welsh nationalism is not enough.
I very much regret that in my time in government, I did not succeed in getting Scottish nationalists into this House. I urge the Scottish National Party to nominate one of their number to sit in this House, and if not I urge Her Majesty’s Government to invite a Scottish nationalist to come and sit here. I can tell them from experience that the invitation of this honour is rarely refused. We all know that there are eloquent and capable Scottish nationalists—I will not name them for fear of damaging their chances of coming here or of embarrassing them—who would make excellent Peers even if we disagree with their views.
I am delighted that my noble friend Lord Lang of Monkton has taken over as chairman of the Constitution Committee. He brings an experience, a knowledge and, if I may embarrass him for a moment, a wisdom that is shared by very few: that of being a former Secretary of State for Scotland, with all the complexities of that, and of being a Secretary of State for a UK-wide department in the Cabinet. I am sure that that experience will be brought to bear during the course of his chairmanship and that we will all be the richer for it. The strength of his report is to highlight the long and difficult process of division. The report is dry as dust and all the better for it. Let no one be under any illusions about the huge complexities of disentangling the British constitution.
As the noble Lord, Lord Wilson of Tillyorn, pointed out just now in his examples, there are many things that few of us have thought about which would need to be disentangled and reinvented—and for what? We really are guddling about in the entrails of the ties that bind us. It would be much worse than any divorce that any of us have witnessed.
Last year, the leader of the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, Ruth Davidson, invited me to chair a committee on the future governance of Scotland. The premise of this commission was a simple one: in the event of a no vote, what should be the position of my party in Scotland? Our analysis was also very simple. First, we said that the Scottish Parliament is an immensely powerful body. It has not always used the powers that it has available, but it is a very powerful body within the United Kingdon.
Secondly, the Scottish Parliament can spend an enormous amount of taxpayers’ money, but it does not raise any money. Therefore, our primary recommendation —to try to avoid that grievance culture that is sometimes apparent between Holyrood and Westminster—was that the Scottish Parliament should be responsible for raising income tax, setting the rates and the bands within Scotland, so that anybody earning money in Scotland should be paying income tax, and that income tax would go to the Scottish Parliament and should be spent in Scotland on the priorities of the Scottish Parliament. It is a substantial and visible tax paid by many, and an attempt to bridge the fiscal gap: the difference between what the Scottish Parliament raises and what it spends. I believe that this will begin to ensure a process of greater accountability.
We also made recommendations on improving legislative scrutiny within the Scottish Parliament and improving the checks and balances. But we also concluded—and this has already been apparent in the course of this afternoon’s debate—that the United Kingdom is no longer at ease with itself. The referendum campaign has exposed some serious misunderstandings about the United Kingdom and its role and about the role of this Parliament and those who sit in it. It has exposed many people who feel cut off from the processes and happy to accept that silvery-tongued line from Alex Salmond and others. The union has been threatened like never before.
I am not one who is hugely in favour of royal commissions and constitutional conventions. They have not always succeeded in the past. But in rediscovering the glue that holds us together, we should use the new, existing institutions that have been created over the course of the past 15 years. So, the final recommendation of my committee’s report was that we should create a committee of all the Parliaments and Assemblies of the United Kingdom to consider the developing role of the United Kingdom, its Parliaments and Assemblies and their respective powers, representation and financing.
The noble Lord, Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale, made some useful points precisely about this and it is important that we should try to get this right. If we do, we might just be able to create a stronger centre and a stronger acceptance of what the union Parliament is for—the House of Commons and House of Lords here at Westminster—with strong bodies in the countries and regions of the United Kingdom: in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. This prize is definitely worth voting no for and building on the tremendous institutions that we already have.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, once again. We have not done it for a few years since he departed, so I take great pleasure in following him—and I agree with a great deal of what he had to say.
This is a debate about the effects of the Scottish referendum result on the rest of the United Kingdom. I therefore hope that it is not totally inappropriate that someone who is Welsh should now comment. I declare an interest at the outset: I am as passionate about Wales as Alex Salmond is about Scotland. I have equal respect for the history, traditions and culture of Wales as he probably does for those of Scotland. Additionally, I have to recognise that Wales has a distinction that Scotland lacks; namely, a working, living language. I also believe firmly and deeply that Wales is a nation. It is not a glorified county council: nor is it really a geographical region. Its past and the way in which it has jealously guarded its culture and way of life give it a national character.
Having said that, I am none the less convinced that the future of Wales lies within the United Kingdom and not outside it. The advantages of Welsh association within the UK are apparent. Over the years it has brought Wales relative prosperity and a standard of living which I do not think we could conceivably have achieved had we been an independent country of merely some 3 million people. The United Kingdom has given us a degree of stability and economic protection that would be jeopardised in the event of independence.
It is not for me, as a Welshman, to enter into the details of the debate on the Scottish campaign. I shall say only this: the note produced by the Library of the House of Lords should perhaps be compulsory reading for all the combatants in this debate. It is comprehensive and accurate and, as far as I can judge, it takes a neutral view. It clearly demonstrates—this has emerged in the course of the debate so far—the extraordinary complexity of the process of Scottish independence. The number of institutions that would have to be amended, changed or removed and the amount of institution building that would have to take place inside Scotland if it were to come out of the United Kingdom mean that it would be an extraordinarily complex and a very detailed and daunting prospect.
As for the benefits that the Scottish National Party claims will inevitably flow from independence, the claims are excessively optimistic, to put it mildly. They seem to be based on a Panglossian view that everybody else is going to be nice to an emerging Scotland. I do not think that that is necessarily true for a moment. I do not think it is true of the rest of the United Kingdom that we will be particularly nice to an emerging Scotland that has just rejected us. As far as the European Union is concerned, it does not follow that it would welcome Scotland in with open arms. I can think of a number of countries that almost certainly would not welcome Scotland in with open arms. There would have to be a fresh application to join, there would have to be detailed negotiations and there would have to be a transitional period before Scotland could become a full member. During that period, a lot of the benefits that at present come from the EU to Scotland would presumably cease—because they go to the United Kingdom, not to Scotland. I suspect that the agricultural subsidy that goes from Brussels to Scottish farmers would have to cease during that period of association. I cannot believe that is very much in the interests of Scotland.
Nor does the economic arithmetic seem to fit. Trying to look at it as objectively as I can, the Scottish case seems to be based on a series of economic assumptions, almost all of which are on a best-case basis rather than a worst-case basis. If everything goes right, perhaps it will work. But in this world, you cannot guarantee that everything is going to go right with this sort of process, as complex and difficult as it will be. It therefore seems to me that there are dangers in this whole process.
However, the matter does not rest there. I am in favour of devolution. Indeed, a committee on the powers of the Welsh Assembly, which I had the honour of chairing in 2004, still forms the basis for my thinking on this matter. It is the next stage after the referendum that is important. It is said that one consequence of a no vote could be a change in the relationship between Scotland and the rest of the UK. Together with many others, I believe that a no vote would result rather in further consideration of the constitutional framework of the United Kingdom as a whole.
One interesting thing that seems to be happening is the gradual emergence of a consensus that the present constitutional structure of the United Kingdom is no longer fit. Too much power is concentrated at the centre and too little has been transferred to the nations and regions of the UK. It is a mess, grossly asymmetrical and, frankly, increasingly ineffective. Various suggestions are being made on the issue of the further devolution of powers to Scotland in the event of a no vote. All the major parties now seem to be in favour of more powers being transferred from Westminster to Holyrood.
In parentheses, I make the point that, if they are transferred to Holyrood, they certainly need to be transferred to Cardiff and Belfast. I do not believe that the priority in the event of a no vote should be just to consider the devolution of further powers; it should be to have a long, hard look at our existing constitutional structures, which would have to include an examination of the possibility of developing regional or representative structures within England. At present, in the quasi-federal system that seems to be emerging, one of the main problems is the size of England in relation to the other nations. The exact position of London and the other major cities after any change in the constitution is also profoundly difficult to clarify.
These are great and difficult issues, but something has to be done. We really cannot continue with this lopsided concentration of powers, held together by allegiance to the Queen and a rather looser one to the Westminster Parliament. The West Lothian and Merthyr Tydfil questions are not going to go away; indeed, they are perhaps becoming more, not less, urgent. If they are going to be joined by the Marylebone conundrum—consideration of the powers that London may have in future—something has to be done.
There is strong merit in the idea of establishing a major inquiry into those constitutional issues. Whether it is called a convention or a royal commission matters not greatly, but it needs to be wide-ranging in its agenda and comprehensive in its membership. It will require intense deliberation and may take some time. It may end up with a proposal for a written constitution or it may not—I do not know how it would come out. These would be uncharted waters, but so they were for the Americas in 1776. What is important is that we should now start this process, and the Scottish referendum will give us that opportunity.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow a Welsh voice in this debate about the future of the United Kingdom, which is what the debate is about; it is not just about Scotland. I entirely agree with the concluding words of the noble Lord, Lord Richard, and I shall come back to them in a moment.
One thing that I have found dispiriting about the public debate in Scotland so far is that it has concentrated too much on whether it will be cheaper or more expensive to get out of the union. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Wilson of Tillyorn, is quite right that it is missing the point to argue about £1,000 here or £1,400 there. We all know that divorce is an expensive business, but if it is the right thing to do we must bear the cost. My belief is that it is the wrong thing to do and, therefore, the cost is irrelevant. What we ought to be arguing about—and I welcomed the speech of my noble and learned friend, because he concentrated on this—is the benefits of the union and the concept of a reformed union after a no vote in September. I think that that is the right way to go.
There have been a lot of debates about how long it would take for Scotland to become independent, if there were a yes vote. I do not believe for a second that the nationalist Government are right to say that it can be done in six months; that is preposterous, for the reasons that the noble Lord, Lord Richard, has just spelt out. One cannot sort out the currency, membership of the European Union and defence structures all within six months. An academic said last week that it would take 10 years. That is perhaps a little excessive, but certainly it would take some time and during that awkward period between a yes vote and actual independence Scotland would be in some kind of limbo; we should be clear about that.
However, if there is a no vote, we should be positive about how we move forward on the back of the declaration by the three political parties in Scotland. My great guru in these matters was Jo Grimond, who wrote many years ago:
“I do not like the word devolution as it has come to be called. It implies that power rests at Westminster, from which centre some may be graciously devolved. I would rather begin by assuming that power should rest with the people who entrust it to their representatives to discharge the essential tasks of government. Once we accept that the Scots and the Welsh are nations … we must accord them parliaments which have all the normal powers of government, except for those that they delegate to the United Kingdom government or the EEC”.
It has always seemed to me that that is the better starting point for discussing what should happen after 18 September.
I am glad to say that we have some new converts to the cause of a federal or quasi-federal constitution. Gordon Brown, with all his experience as a former Chancellor and former Prime Minister, wrote a very powerful essay in the New Statesman last week, which states:
“No one can now ignore the basic fact that the United Kingdom is no longer and will never again be the all-powerful centralised unitary state of the constitutional textbooks. With one parliament, two legislative assemblies and a high-powered London authority taking powers from the centre, Britain is not the unitary state we were taught about at school”.
He is right about that. He goes on in the same essay to say:
“The system of sharing across the UK creates a form of equality between the citizens of the four nations that no other group of countries can match for its depth and sophistication and this is arguably the defining characteristic of the Union today”.
These are wise and profound words, of which people in Scotland should take account.
An intriguing, additional argument has been put forward by Alan Riley, professor of law at City University —namely, that the advantage of the UK having a written constitution is that of protection against mission creep from Brussels, which so exercises politicians and press alike. He writes:
“A British version would, like the German law, set out the major institutions of the state, set out principles and enumerate fundamental rights. The British Supreme Court would then be able to police the borders of the union’s jurisdiction”—
that is, the European Union’s jurisdiction—
“in a similar fashion to the German courts”.
Again, I think that that is a powerful argument for looking forward to some form of written constitution and the development of a quasi-federal constitution for our country.
I find that many people in Scotland on the yes side argue about the advantages historically of the Scots making their mark in the world. That is undeniable—for example, the Jardines and the Mathesons in the Far East. However, they forget that many of the Scottish heroes of whom we are most proud were dependent on mutual support from English organisations. For example, David Livingstone’s remarkable exploits were carried out on behalf of the London Missionary Society, while the Selkirk-born Mungo Park, who died on the River Niger, relied on the support of the African Association in London. This is true of our inventors as well, of whom we are all very proud. Sir Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin but developed its use at St Mary’s Hospital in London. James Watt developed his steam engines in Bristol and Cornwall and John Logie Baird developed his television in Hastings. These people, of whom we are so proud and whom the nationalists talk up, were all dependent on the mutual support of the United Kingdom for the work that they did.
In my first general election manifesto when I was party leader, I called for reform of the House of Lords, but my wording was carefully chosen. I stated:
“The House of Lords should be replaced by a new, democratically chosen, second chamber which includes representatives of the nations and regions of the United Kingdom, and UK members of the European Parliament”.
If you look back to the Bryce commission of 1918, which recommended that a reformed House be indirectly elected by Members of the Commons, here is the possibility of a reformed senate—an upper Chamber of this Parliament—being elected by Members of the Commons, the European Parliament and the devolved Assemblies, and being a real, quasi-federal institution. That is why I welcome what my noble friend Lord Strathclyde had to say about what could happen after 18 September—a coming together of such people into some kind of constitutional convention or commission, in which this House could play a distinguished part in the future.
My Lords, I am glad to follow my fellow Knight of the Thistle, as the third of three members of the Order of the Thistle speaking in this debate.
We should not be in any way defensive about the fact that this debate is taking place here in the Lords and that there is no representative of nationalism and separatism here in the Chamber. After all, the SNP was once a republican party, it was once against NATO and it was once a socialist party. It has changed its stance on a whole series of issues, so it should accept any invitation given.
A lot of issues will be covered in the debate and I could say many things, but I want to focus on the future of Britain’s independent nuclear deterrent in the light of the proposals being put forward by the Scottish Government for the referendum. In the document published last week, a draft constitution for an independent Scotland, the Scottish Government, the SNP, made it clear that the,
“timetable for removal of Trident would be a priority for negotiations, with a view to achieving removal within the first term of an independent Scottish Parliament. The Scottish Government would also propose, for the permanent constitution, a constitutional prohibition on nuclear weapons being based in Scotland”.
They are therefore now proposing to make the expulsion of Britain’s independent nuclear deterrent a fixture in a written constitution for Scotland.
Some 8,900 people work at Faslane, in and around Her Majesty’s Clyde submarine base—plus there are a lot of other people in the supply chain, all of whom are endangered by this proposal. In addition, Britain’s position in the world, perhaps even the safety of the world, is prejudiced by this casual approach to the independent deterrent. So that is going to be in the written constitution—quite neat, is it not? In doing that, the SNP will remove from future generations the right to take a vital defence decision in any subsequent parliamentary debate. What price democracy and the right of the Scottish people to make a choice?
The draft constitution published last week will apparently be the subject of “consultation”. Sadly, we all know what that means in the new Scotland. Presumably that will be it. Therefore, based on one current SNP policy—indeed, obsession—there will be no turning back. Perhaps another referendum will be proposed to anchor this embryonic constitution. There is nothing about that in the document but I recall that, when I proposed a referendum on behalf of the Labour Party in 1996 to anchor the devolved Scottish Parliament in this land, the SNP howled me down.
This approach to the deterrent is strange on at least two counts. First, the four most recent opinion polls in Scotland on the subject show, at worst, a split view and, at best, a majority of the Scottish people in favour of retaining the nuclear deterrent. Polls have been commissioned by the House of Commons Public Administration Select Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Ashcroft, and, only a few weeks ago, the Sunday Post newspaper; all showed a majority in Scotland supporting Britain’s deterrent. Last week, the Herald revealed that the British Social Attitudes survey confirmed all those polls. For the SNP to claim that the overwhelming majority of the Scottish people are against the deterrent is just plain wrong; to now use a constitutional trick to weld in a ban on the deterrent is a democratic outrage.
The other contradiction in the SNP’s policy relates to being in NATO. NATO is a nuclear alliance. That is in its fundamental strategic concept, accepted by all its members, which says that as long as nuclear weapons exist, NATO will “remain a nuclear alliance”. The Herald said quite perceptively in its editorial a week last Friday:
“There is also the question of the SNP’s stance on Trident: would the US and Nato be relaxed about one of the nuclear powers being cut in two? President Obama’s comments would suggest he is worried”.
Since then he has been joined in his apprehension about the break-up of Britain by Mrs Hillary Clinton, the Pope and the Prime Minister of China. Are they all wrong and only Alex Salmond is right?
The Herald’s sister newspaper, a quite independent newspaper called the Sunday Herald, which has now declared itself for independence, wrote in an editorial last April that,
“there is a world of difference between a state rejecting nuclear weapons for itself, and a state disarming a reluctant neighbour. That is Salmond’s scenario”.
It went on:
“For Salmond to have credibility on this, he must produce evidence Nato would side with Scotland over the UK on Trident”.
I do not think that the paper has seen any evidence—I wrote to the editor asking whether he had—because there is no such evidence at all.
I negotiated the entry into NATO of seven new eastern European countries: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovenia, Slovakia, Romania and Bulgaria. For them there was no picking or choosing. They and all the existing members of NATO accept the principle and the practice of a nuclear alliance. There are assuredly some non-nuclear members of NATO, but there are no anti-nuclear members of NATO—nor could there be. There were difficult negotiations and talks on the Baltic states, with President Putin; on Slovenia, which was having a referendum; and on Slovakia, whose previous Prime Minister and possible future Prime Minister at that time were bitterly anti-NATO. A host of other complications were involved in that process. I know that entry to NATO is neither easy nor automatic. One vote against is a total veto.
Putting the position much more eloquently than I can is Mr Patrick Harvie, who, as the Scots among us will know, is the former leader of the Scottish Green Party, now one of the parties in alliance for a yes vote. He said last year:
“The idea that we sign up to a nuclear alliance, the implication of which is to ask other countries to deploy nuclear weapons on our behalf, and then have a debate about whether they should be moved from the Clyde is a nonsense”.
That is exactly right. There is a dishonesty at the heart of the SNP’s policy on Trident, so it resorts to ever more extreme gimmicks—such as this constitutional ban—while all the time seeking to reassure the public that Scotland will, after separation, continue to enjoy the collective security of NATO, the most successful defence alliance in history. It is neither credible nor honest and it is unworthy of a Scottish political party.
My Lords, I welcome the opportunity for those of us from other parts of the United Kingdom to express our views on the implications for all of us of the proposal for Scottish independence. I also warmly welcome the Constitution Committee’s report, which had the foresight to set out the consequences for all of us should the Scottish people vote yes. This area has been largely swept away under the carpet because people have not felt it appropriate to face up to some of these matters lest that encourages the yes campaign, et cetera. Given the significance of the proposal in front of us, it would have been foolhardy for Parliament not to have at least looked at the long-term consequences of the proposal for the rest of us.
I am bound to say, and this was brought forward earlier in the debate, that what has puzzled me most about the campaign for independence has been the assertion that because Scotland probably has a higher GDP than the rest of the United Kingdom, that should be the plank from which to launch independence. Surely the logic of that argument is that it is best deployed by those who want to stay in the United Kingdom. It is precisely because of Scotland’s membership of the United Kingdom that it is in the position that it is in. If there was a union that was clearly failing the people of Scotland economically, Scotland would not have the economic position that it has. Indeed, it may argue that it was in a better place before the union, but the fact is that the union came about precisely because of a financial crisis. Therefore, what has happened in the intervening years has been an improvement.
However, I believe that we ain’t seen nothing yet. There is much more opportunity for greater improvement. The noble Lord, Lord Lang, in a previous contribution earlier this year set out why we could review the constitution of the United Kingdom and what unionism could look like in the future. That is an element that has been lacking in the debate so far. The noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, in a previous discussion, raised the question of the European Union, and I know that this matters a great deal to many people in Scotland. The noble Lord said—I think I recall correctly—that perhaps the United Kingdom Government should assist the Scottish Government and have an early negotiation to see whether it is possible to help the people of Scotland formally. I do not detect that there is an appetite for that in the Government, and indeed why would the United Kingdom Government want to take on that role? An independent country negotiates its own treaty; it does not subcontract that out to somebody else, least of all to the Government of the country it has just sought to leave. Therefore, I do not think that that will happen.
Things are happening in other countries in the European Union. In Catalonia, there is growing demand for independence from Spain, but it is inconceivable to me that the Spanish Government—and they are not the only ones—would encourage and clear the path for Catalans to leave and become independent. Therefore, taking into account the self-interest of other members of the European Union, I do not see that they will be in the mood to clear the path and make it easy for Scotland to enter the European Union under favourable terms in the short term. That is a huge issue. It has been glossed over but, as has just been mentioned, all the links and dependencies that Scotland has in the European Union could be thrown into jeopardy.
To deal with other issues that are not specifically economic, the union is not all about arithmetic. I take my own region of Northern Ireland as an example. We are hewn from the same rock as the people of Scotland in many cases, and we have much in common. We have an industrial heritage and we suffered in many cases from the downstream consequences of that heritage. We have soldiered together for centuries. We share different religious and sporting traditions, and we share our geography. Our history is so intertwined that the idea of separation fills many of us with dread.
As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, said, of course Scotland could survive on its own. I think that it would survive with a much lower standard of living, but of course it could survive, and the Scottish people have the right to take off in that direction. However, I must say to them that there are downstream consequences for the rest of us. On behalf of my party, the Ulster Unionist Party, and as our name suggests, I appeal to the people of Scotland not to leave us. We are partners and share many of the same aspirations. We are literally kith and kin. We would not be well served by their departure. I hope that they will stay with us. As the noble Lord, Lord Lang, so eloquently put it, we can work together to mould a stronger and better union.
The people of Scotland ran this country in the previous Government. The Prime Minister was a Scottish MP, as was the Chancellor from the commencement of that Government until the end of it and the Secretary of State for Defence, as well as the Secretary of State for the Home Department, the Department of Health and other departments. The people of Scotland, through their representatives in Parliament, were in the commanding heights of the previous United Kingdom Government only a few years ago. They invited President Obama to come to the G8 in Scotland. Prime Minister Brown was at the centre of attempts to solve the financial crisis. In other words, Scotland, like many of our regions, including that of our Welsh colleagues, punched way above its weight. That will not be possible, with the greatest of respect, in an independent Scotland. Stay with us; work with us; and the next 300 years will be far better than the last.
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Strathclyde referred to the Scottish Conservatives’ Commission on the Future Governance of Scotland report. I understand that it has had widespread coverage in Scotland but very little down south. That is a pity because it is well worth reading. It sets out proposals for a strengthened Scottish Parliament in the context of a no vote in the referendum, based on the strong Conservative principles of responsibility, transparency and accountability. It is particularly interesting in the context of accountability, with its proposals in relation to income tax and the closing of the fiscal gap.
I want mainly to concentrate on the Select Committee report. There have been many reports over the past year or more from the UK Government, the Scottish Government and both Houses of this Parliament on the many crucial economic, fiscal, defence, currency and international issues that the referendum involves. How much I agree with all the excellent points so well expressed by my noble and learned friend Lord Wallace and his opening comments on that. This report is the first proper analysis of the constitutional and parliamentary issues, as my noble friend Lord Lang made clear in his outstanding speech. It is clear from the report how crucial they are. The report is a riveting and impeccable analysis and I warmly congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, and her committee on it.
I wish to stress three points. First, if there is a yes vote, it is extremely unlikely that the negotiations can be completed by May 2016. It took our Economic Affairs Committee nine months to complete its early analysis of the economic implications. Since then it has taken both Governments about a year to do the detailed reports on all the issues that need to be covered.
It is clear that on the currency issue Scotland will not be able to retain the pound, but much flows from that for the negotiations. It is clear that Scotland will have to negotiate on entry to the EU and the eurozone. That will take time, with an uncertain outcome. The noble Lord, Lord Robertson, has just made clear the position on NATO. On everything else the negotiations will be massive and complicated, as the noble Lord, Lord Richard, pointed out. They are far-reaching in their implications and with parliamentary approvals required. Meanwhile there will be a UK general election in the middle and no certainty as to the outcome of that, possibly involving a change in the UK Government’s negotiating position on key issues, as paragraph 93 points out. There is therefore the possibility of reopening parts of the negotiations already working towards agreement; paragraph 116 of the report makes the points on that very well. I agree with the report and my noble friend Lord Lang today that any negotiations should take as long as necessary and should not be foreshortened in order to meet a deadline set by one party to those negotiations.
Secondly, there is the position of the Scottish MPs prior to independence. It is, as the Secretary of State for Scotland stated in paragraph 101 of the report, blindingly obvious that no Scottish MPs could be part of the negotiating team for the rest of the UK, nor could MPs from Scottish constituencies be involved in voting on any measures concerning the outcome of the negotiations, nor indeed in holding the negotiators for the rest of the UK to account. As paragraph 135 of the report makes clear, and this is worth repeating:
“We conclude that MPs for Scottish constituencies should not be involved in holding the negotiators for the rest of the UK to account, nor in voting on any measure which ratifies the outcome of the negotiations. In the event of a ‘yes’ vote”—
this is the key point—
“we recommend that the Government put before Parliament a proposal that would put this matter beyond doubt before the 2015 election”.
I agree with that.
This brings me to my final point. It is clear to me that Scottish MPs elected to the UK Parliament cannot continue to serve in that Parliament after independence day, so I agree with the report on this point. I note the observations in paragraph 66 by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, who will be speaking later, that under current legislation all MPs are elected to serve a full term and that:
“Previous changes to representation, the franchise or the distribution of seats have come into force at the subsequent general election”.
In this case, I believe that that would not be tolerated by voters in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. As my noble friend Lord Lang pointed out, it would be the West Lothian question—although I would put it as “the West Lothian question in spades”. Legislation to remove these Scottish MPs after independence would be essential. What would the SNP Government say if there were many MPs from English constituencies in a Scottish Parliament, perhaps even holding the balance? This could have profound implications for the rest of the UK Government at that time and involve the possible disruption of another early election at a time when, given all the economic, world and security issues facing us, we would least want it.
We have tended to focus on all the other substantial issues of an independence vote so far. We owe a debt of gratitude to the Select Committee for bringing out so clearly and so compellingly issues that are just as important as the economic and defence ones. I was born and brought up in Scotland and I owe so much to the values, benefits and attitudes that my Scottish education gave me. At a time of such turbulence and challenge in the world today, given the huge constitutional upheaval and parliamentary changes of a yes vote so well identified in this report, and given especially the benefits to Scotland and the rest of the UK that have been so well articulated by the Minister today, I profoundly hope that the United Kingdom will stay united.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, made an important point in his speech on the Loyal Address: that this House should have more general debates on a whole range of subjects, whereas we seem to spend so much of our time discussing the lacunas—important lacunas—in undigested House of Commons Bills. I therefore welcome this debate to discuss the enormous constitutional implications of the possible break-up of the United Kingdom. It is blindingly obvious that if there is a yes vote, there will be substantial implications for England, Wales and Northern Ireland too. Yes or no, the case for a constitutional convention to look at the role of the nation states within the United Kingdom becomes stronger every day.
We, the people of England and Wales, have not had the opportunity of a referendum although we, too, are much affected by it. The Prime Minister took it upon himself to sign the Edinburgh agreement in direct negotiations with Mr Salmond. I was reminded the other day that the Act of Union and the treaty concerned the union of two Crowns: the Crown of England, which included Wales, and the Crown of Scotland. I believe that it was a grave mistake for the Edinburgh agreement not to provide for consultations with the citizens from the other parts of the union. I particularly regret that the people of Wales—some of whom I had the honour of representing for more than 40 years in the Commons, and serving as their Secretary of State for nearly six years—were not given the opportunity to play a similar role to the Scots in the contemplated divorce in the constitution of which they, too, are an important part.
Come to think of it, my ancestor, Morgan Jenkin, who in 1706 was farming in Cardiganshire, was not consulted either. Our extended family still farms in broadly the same area, of which I had the honour to be the lord lieutenant. I thought that with the coming of universal franchise and democracy, we had moved on.
As the architect of the original Welsh devolution proposals, with our Government, which after many years of blood, sweat and tears, were agreed to by both Westminster and the people of Wales, I can be quite sure that whatever the result in Scotland, there will be repercussions for Wales, and that the present Wales Bill now going through Parliament will have to be looked at again. We may indeed be driven to look radically at federalism for all the countries of the United Kingdom.
From my point of view, however, the top priority must be for the Government to deal with the Barnett formula, which is unfair in Wales and which Governments of all parties have failed to address. With the independence of Scotland, the Barnett formula will, I suspect, be irrelevant.
I turn briefly to the West Lothian question, which the McKay commission sought to answer. Not unexpectedly, the matter is gathering dust in Whitehall’s pigeon-boxes despite the original coalition agreement. The Government have not responded to the committee’s report, but I welcome the Minister’s statement today that we can expect a reply by 16 July. Given that the two debates have been conflated together, I might have thought that there would have been a little effort to expedite the reply to meet the needs of this debate.
It is unfortunate that insufficient thought was given at the time of the Edinburgh agreement to the closeness of the date of the Scottish referendum and the fixed date of the general election in 2015. Looking at it in terms of the interests of the Westminster Parliament, I do not know why our Prime Minister agreed to the closeness of the two dates given the possible effect on the remainder of the country. If the referendum were to go one way then, as we have just been reminded, the 59 elected Scottish MPs will be in the strange position of having been elected to serve for the whole of the Parliament—as I think the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, reminded the committee—but then be expected, on independence, to vacate their seats at Westminster. They could not in any shape or form continue at Westminster following independence. The implications for the colour of the incoming Government in 2015, and for the coming months until independence, are enormous. These should have been thought out in agreeing to the dates of the events—the election on one hand and the referendum on the other.
The report makes a very important point at paragraph 63. It states:
“In the event of a ‘yes’ vote, the status of MPs for Scottish constituencies in the period between the referendum and independence day should be resolved quickly, and certainly before the 2015 general election”.
The report rightly points out in paragraph 44 that,
“legislation to facilitate Scottish secession … may not need to be extensive”,
but that consequential legislation would. The amount of legislation needed for the change in the role of the Lord Chancellor was chickenfeed compared with the extensive consequential legislation that will be needed in the event of Scottish independence. These are the problems that will have to be faced. I regret that those who drafted and—much more importantly—agreed to the Edinburgh agreement did not consider these real problems as deeply as they might have.
My earnest hope is that Scotland will not cross this particular Rubicon. If it did, it would be an enormous loss to the continuing contribution of the Scottish people, to the benefit of us all, to our work at Westminster and elsewhere, which has lasted for 300 years. I am grateful to the Constitution Committee for drawing our attention to this series of vital issues, only a few of which I have been able to touch on. I suspect that many more important issues will emerge in the coming months.
My Lords, I have been so impressed by all the speeches so far in this debate that I feel that my shortened contribution may seem superfluous, but I am so concerned about Scotland’s fate that I felt it my duty to take part. As the date of the referendum draws closer my concerns grow stronger.
A year or so ago we Scots were assured that no more than 30% of our countrymen would actually vote for independence in a referendum and so we did not concern ourselves unduly. Many of the English displayed a deignful indifference and seemed almost unaware that this fateful referendum was coming up. But now, at last, most Englishmen have come to appreciate that the possible break-up of the United Kingdom will affect them profoundly as well, in spite of the fact that they will have no say in its outcome.
We have all got to wake up to the fact that the cunning and some say dirty tricks of Alex Salmond have made the prospect of an independent Scotland a real possibility. Yet the idea of Scotland actually leaving the union is not just frightening, it is unreal. It is almost impossible for me to contemplate the break-up of the United Kingdom. How could it possibly benefit the Scots? Earlier speakers have pointed this out so well.
My countrymen, who have had a disproportionate influence on world affairs over the past 300 years, will become no more influential than the republican Irish. Which of the world powers is going to care about what Scotland thinks? Without Scotland, how much less will the world powers concern themselves with England —or with whatever is left of the United Kingdom; I do not want to denigrate the importance of Wales and Northern Ireland—and how much less still if, two years later, it votes to leave the European Union?
How will independence affect the identity of Scots like me who feel both Scottish and British? With a home in Scotland can I no longer be British? Will I be stopped at the border every time that I travel between England and Scotland? What will happen to all those Scots who live and work south of the border? Will their place of birth still be their home, or will they become foreigners in their native land? In any event, I imagine that we will all have to be issued with new passports.
The SNP is promising much to the Scots if they vote for independence, but why does Mr Salmond assume that it will be in power if Scotland does vote for independence? What will happen if Scotland votes for independence but a Labour Government win the Scottish election? Will we still, for instance, have to scrap our nuclear submarine bases? What about the pound as Scotland’s currency? The pound is a British currency. It does not make sense to me.
Total Scottish independence simply does not make sense and yet it seems that Alex Salmond has persuaded a large number of Scottish people that it does. Nationalism drives them on and yet nationalism, as has been proved so often in the past, is a dangerous and sometimes sinister thing. This was well pointed out by my noble friend Lord Stephen. Nationalism divides people as well as countries and breeds bitterness and hatred, which have already crept into the SNP’s referendum campaign. Salmond’s declaration that an independent Scotland will be a friend to England may be his honest belief, but that is not the way that some of his followers see it. Now is surely the time when we need nations to work more closely together, not to split up. Of course more devolution for the Scottish Parliament and more control by Scotland of its own affairs make sense, but the break-up of the United Kingdom does not. It is nothing short of madness.
As I said in my earlier speech, a week ago, my ancestor, the first Earl of Glasgow, was one of the architects of the Act of Union in 1707. In the decade before that, England and Scotland were close to being at war with each other, particularly over the English colonies in the Caribbean. The union bound them together and resulted in what Simon Schama described as,
“the most successful multinational partnership in modern history”.
What possible reason is there for seeking a divorce now? Surely the SNP’s objection to a Conservative coalition Government with whom it might not agree is not a good enough reason.
It seems to me that even the most ardent Scottish nationalist can appreciate that it is in his country’s best interest to retain his bigger and more powerful neighbour as a partner rather than returning to the days before 1707 when it was his rival. I pray that my fears about the break-up of the United Kingdom will not be realised and that the Better Together campaign can talk sense into the 20% or so of my fellow countrymen who appear not to have decided how they are going to vote. I would like the Government’s assurance—not just that of my noble and learned friend Lord Wallace, of whom I have no doubt—that they are doing everything in their power to save the United Kingdom.
My Lords, I was struck by the litany quoted by the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, of Scots who grew, and made good, through the union, living or working outside Scotland. As I rise, the pride of English footballing prowess is trotting on to the pitch to play the might of Costa Rica. It seems appropriate to recall Mr Archie Gemmill, who 36 years ago today scored the finest World Cup goal ever—at the time. Had he stayed in St Mirren, had he stayed in Paisley, had he not come under the influence of the genius Mr Clough, would he have attained the heights that he did? If Sir Alex Ferguson had stayed in St Mirren, who sacked him I believe, would he be the legendary figure that he is now? I really hope that we are not forced to choose between being Scottish and being British. If we are, both sides will lose.
This is an excellent report and I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Lang of Monkton, for introducing it. I want to speak only on the premise, which is the premise of the report, that Scotland opts for secession. I hope and believe that Scotland will not opt for secession. What I would have said on the assumption that Scotland chooses to remain in the union has been very well said by the noble Lords, Lord Strathclyde and Lord Richard, and I have little to add to that.
On the premise that Scotland opts for secession, I agree with almost everything in the report. I pause on paragraph 97, where the committee recommends that the necessary negotiation between Scotland and the rest of the UK before independence should be conducted, on the rest of the UK side, by a team from the Government alone. Speaking as a member of a disenfranchised diaspora of Scots, I see certain defects in the Edinburgh agreement: the franchise, the threshold, the question. There is something to be said for having an all-party team negotiating in that situation. I register that as my one doubt about the recommendations of the committee of the noble Lord, Lord Lang.
I hope that in response to the plea made by the noble Lord, Lord Lang, the Minister will assure us that the Government’s policy on international representation is not as described in the report at paragraphs 47 and 49. The committee recommends that in the period between a vote for secession but before the act of secession,
“an agreement be reached between the two governments immediately following a ‘yes’ vote to clarify the basis of such representation for Scotland in the period between that vote and independence day”.
That follows quotations from two Ministers who appear to be arguing that at the moment when the Scots vote for secession but before the moment of secession the United Kingdom Government will no longer be interested in representing their interests abroad.
That cannot be right, as the noble Lord, Lord Lang of Monkton, said. If a Scot is in trouble abroad, he will be entitled to UK consular protection. If a Scottish company needs support, it will be entitled to the support of the UK Government. While the Scots remain UK taxpayers, they are entitled to receive the support and assistance of the Government at home and abroad. If an issue arises in the EU of particular relevance to Scotland—for example, fisheries—in the period after the vote but before secession, the UK Government must devote all their efforts to ensuring the best possible deal for the Scots. I hope that the Minister will be able to reassure us that that would indeed be the position of the Government. The Minister knows his Burke:
“Magnanimity in politics is not seldom the truest wisdom”.
It would be mean, petty, vindictive and wrong to take the line attributed to the two Ministers in the report.
I will make one cognate point, which is the one that the noble Lord, Lord Empey, kindly mentioned that I have made before. Supposing we were in a situation in which Scotland has voted for secession, it is my view—and I know the Minister had doubts about it when I put it to him before—that a responsibility would fall on the UK Government in the period between the vote for secession and the act of secession. We all know that despite the bluster and bravado of the Scottish Government’s White Paper, Scotland could not just pull up another chair at the EU table and carry on as if nothing had happened. We know that we are in Article 49 territory. We know that there would have to be an accession negotiation. We also know that, legally speaking, Scotland cannot even apply until it is a sovereign state—in other words, after the act of secession. Scotland cannot sign a treaty until it is a sovereign state and that treaty would not come into force until it had been ratified by the Scots and all the other member states. I remind the House that Belgium has seven legislatures that would be required to approve the Scottish accession treaty.
It follows that there are two potential periods of hiatus: first, after secession but before a treaty has been signed; and, secondly, during the ratification period. We cannot say, “That is the Scots’ problem”. We cannot just shrug our shoulders and walk away from it. With every respect to the arguments of the noble Lord, Lord Empey, it would be mean, vindictive and narrow-minded—let us remember our Burke—and while Scotland is outside the European Union we, the rest of the UK, would be responsible for manning the customs frontier of the European Union, which would be in Belfast Harbour. Goods coming from Scotland would have to be examined and customs duties charged. We would be rebuilding Hadrian’s Wall. That would be the responsibility of the United Kingdom Government, not of the Scots, who would be outside asking to get in.
It might not be possible to do what I hinted before and am hinting again that we should try to do. The lawyers in Brussels might well say, “No, we stick to the letter of the law. We will not hear the Scottish case for accession until Scotland is a country”. That would be in line with past practice but of course we are in uncharted waters because no member state has ever split before. It is possible to think of a member state, or perhaps several, which would have an interest in ensuring that the Scottish accession was as prolonged, complicated and difficult a process as possible. It might not be an easy task but it is one that the United Kingdom Government would have to attempt.
Let us not exaggerate the difficulties. The accession negotiations themselves would be relatively simple, on three preconditions, because Scotland is in good standing under EU law now—all EU laws apply in Scotland. It is absurd when one gets a spokesman from No. 10 saying that Scotland would have to take its place in the queue behind Montenegro and Macedonia. That is clearly nonsense and we should avoid saying such things.
Three preconditions would have to be met. First, the divorce terms would have to be agreed. You would never persuade the Brussels machine to get in the middle of a debate between Holyrood and Westminster. The terms would have to be agreed and they would have to cover, for example, the currency question. With respect to the Minister, there is no question of the Scots being obliged to join the euro. Scotland is not qualified and will not be qualified. It would fail all four of the tests that you have to pass before you can join the euro. But the Scots would need to be able to tell us, through their advocates in Brussels—if we were taking on the task—what currency they were proposing to use because the Commission and the member states would ask. All that would have to be settled.
The second precondition is that the First Minister of Scotland would have to abandon the ludicrously ambitious aims he sets out in his White Paper. The Minister spoke to the issue of the budget rebate, in my view completely correctly. It is not possible if you are knocking on the door as an applicant to say, “I am afraid I do not want to pay the club subscription”. I do not think you can do that. If you are knocking on the door from outside—no rebate.
Thirdly, it would be necessary for all other member states to acquiesce in this entirely new process: an informal prenegotiation of the future terms of membership for a country that is not yet a country. There is absolutely no precedent for any such thing and, as I said, one can think of several countries, one in particular, which might choose to object. Trying to persuade them not to press these objections would be a task for UK diplomacy in the period between a vote for secession and the act of secession.
It may or may not be possible but I would like to hear the Minister—this time; he was very sceptical the previous time I mentioned it—address whether it is not actually what we should be trying to do. Not only does he know his Burke, he knows his Burns. If there were to have to be a parting of the ways—and I hope and believe there will not—it would be very important that auld acquaintance should not be forgot because we really do not want to have to rebuild Hadrian’s Wall as the EU’s frontier. I really hope that we do not get there but if we do, magnanimity will be extremely important and the Government should act in the spirit of Burke. Let us hope we do not get there. The union is so much more—so much greater, so much bigger and better—than the sum of its parts.
My Lords, I wish to make a number of points by way of intervention in what is already proving a fascinating debate. I have been involved in one way or another in virtually all the stages of the development of devolution over the past 20 or 30 years: the constitutional convention, of which I sat endlessly on the executive; the White Paper production when I was in the Scottish Office; and, more recently, the Calman commission.
The Calman commission reported almost exactly five years ago. I am sorry that the main recommendations in it, which were really quite substantial changes to the tax powers, have still not been implemented. I absolutely understand that time was needed to set up the new system. But I think it would have changed fundamentally the context in which the current discussions are taking place if that transfer of power and responsibility to the Scottish Parliament had already been achieved. I am sorry that that is the case.
I am not opposed to further changes to the Scotland Act. But in a sense I am going against party leaders who seem to be saying now that there should be a new set of proposals. I am, with a very small “c”, a rather conservative person. My own view is that there were really substantial changes in Calman and we ought to see how they bed in before we start launching ourselves into further proposals. I am not opposed to changes, but for goodness’ sake let us make sure that we see what the next stage looks like.
The present nationalist Government seem to want to deny the Scots a look at the new scheme in practice before going for full independence. I regret that. Indeed, as far as tax powers are concerned, we should remember that the important tax powers in the original Act—and they were explicitly backed by a second question in the referendum and so backed by the Scottish people—were allowed to drop by the SNP Government, because they thought that they were inconvenient to their narrow political case. They wanted to prove that the Scottish Parliament had fewer powers than it actually had, so they let some of them drop. I regret that. It was always a mistake. It was always a miscalculation. We should not let them forget that.
As far as the rest of the political parties are concerned, there has never been a bar to further movement. I would not wish to imply that I do not want to see further movement, but I want to see where the present very substantial changes go before we go down that road.
Secondly, there seems to be an unwillingness by the SNP Government to consider that Scotland will not get everything it wants. I hesitate to venture into areas where people who know a great deal more about this than I do have already spoken, but the idea coming out of the SNP Government that Scotland will be able to get what it wants in the UK, what it wants in Europe, what it wants in NATO, without any negotiation and without anyone being able to question it, seems to me to be quite wrong.
Let us take the EU. I hesitate to venture into this immediately after the noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard—but nothing ventured, nothing gained. If the only issue were Scotland, it is perfectly possible to see how some kind of accommodation might be reached. But I am reminded of going with the late John Smith more than 20 years ago to a conference in Athens. I remember getting off the plane in Athens, I thought in my innocence that I had covered all the bases and made briefs on everything that he could possibly be talking about—international development, expansion of Europe and all sorts of things. We got down to the bottom of the steps at Athens airport to find a phalanx of about 50 photographers and journalists, all of whom wanted to know one thing. Mr Smith had been involved in devolution in Scotland; could he give his views, please, on the Macedonian question? Mr John Smith’s views subsequently expressed to me of this were sadly not particularly printable. I thought it was a splendid performance that he put up because it really did sound as though he knew everything about the Macedonian question—a class act, as ever.
It seems to me, if you were a commissioner in Brussels, looking about and you saw Scotland, you saw Macedonia—both of them—you saw Catalonia, and you saw the Basque country, and you were sitting in Brussels in a country that until very recently almost did not have a Government because it was split in two, you would worry a great deal about setting in constitutional process a system that enabled countries to split without any kind of consequences. It seems to me that that is not a remotely credible option.
As to NATO—again, I hesitate to venture into things that my noble friend Lord Robertson has discussed—the idea that you can somehow pick and choose the terms on which you go into what is a nuclear alliance is frankly absurd. Failing to answer some of the questions on that is a major failing of the nationalist position. And do we really expect the UK to take an entirely benign view of everything Scotland does? The Chancellor’s recent comments on this have been criticised by some in Scotland, but it seems to me to be self-evidently the case that if you are going to be a different country, you must expect to be treated differently. You cannot expect a Westminster Government to respond, “All right, we’ll have a separate country but we’ll treat it no differently”. That just seems to me to be absurd. At least that is now out in the open and understood.
Thirdly, I want to say a brief thing about more powers. Most of the party leaders have said, yes, they will look at advanced powers. Care should be taken here. I have consistently argued for a proper degree of independence within the United Kingdom, within the European Union, and beyond. With its own tax powers in addition to all the rest of the powers Scotland already has, we are just about there. I repeat that I am not ruling out more powers. I am just saying that we should see where we are when the full package is in place before we go any further.
Finally, we need to be realistic. For all that appears in the Scottish Government’s White Paper, most of the serious questions remain unanswered: currency, monetary policy and European membership are still left hanging in the air. There is a Panglossian air about the SNP view. With independence it thinks that all will be for the best in the best of all possible worlds. I fear that the world is a much more complicated and difficult place than that—much more complicated and difficult than it is prepared to admit. If I am right, post-independence will be far too late to find that out.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Elder, who makes a great contribution to this House. He does not speak very often; I wish that he would speak more often than he does because that was a very thoughtful contribution. He is one of the architects of devolution, to which I was opposed, so it is a great pleasure for me to find myself completely in agreement with what he has said today about extra powers for the Scottish Parliament.
I believe that 95% of the Scots do not even know the additional powers that have been provided under the Scotland Act, which enables the Scottish Parliament to invent completely new taxes and set whatever level of income tax it chooses. So I agree with him: let us get across what we have done before we start thinking about doing any more. In fact, let us not talk about that at all now. This debate in Scotland is about whether or not we are going to remain in the club that is the United Kingdom, not about the rules and nature of the club.
I have something in common with Alex Salmond: both he and I took exactly the same position on an important constitutional matter. We were both opposed to devolution. I was opposed to devolution because I thought that it would provide a platform from which the SNP would be able to go about breaking up our United Kingdom. Alex Salmond was opposed to devolution because he shared the view of the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, that devolution would kill nationalism stone dead. It has not worked out that way.
Now we are in this constitutional mess. You have only to listen to the number of speeches around this Chamber because we have gone about piecemeal constitutional reform. So I also agree with the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, that now we are in this mess, we cannot unilaterally look at extra powers for the Scottish Parliament; we have to look at the United Kingdom as a whole. It is complicated and therefore we need to have some sort of convention. That part of the report by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, I entirely endorse.
I will be voting on 18 September for Scotland, for partnership and for a prosperous and secure future. I will be against inward-looking separatism and against the dissolution of Britain. I have to say to the noble Lord, Lord Stephen, who is not in his place but is a bit confused, that nationalism and patriotism are not the same thing. Patriotism is a noble thing. It can apply to people of all views and no views. I suggest to the noble Lord that he might like to look at George Orwell, who wrote a very famous essay that makes the distinction between nationalism and patriotism. That should sort out his views on that matter.
“United we stand, divided we fall” is a cliché but it is true. It is true of families, companies, political parties—as my noble friends are only too aware—and companies. It is also true of countries. The noble Lord, Lord Empey, reminded us in his brilliant speech that the union was formed to save Scotland from bankruptcy after the collapse of the Darien scheme. Some 300 years later, in 2008, Scotland’s First Minister wrote a letter of congratulations to Sir Fred Goodwin for doing the deal that brought down the bank and almost bankrupted our country; indeed, it would have been bankrupt but for the union that is the United Kingdom. There were £40 billion of losses by the Royal Bank of Scotland alone—one-third of Scotland’s GDP. Where would we have been if Alex Salmond had got his way? After 300 years’ experience of the triumphs and disasters that we have had as a United Kingdom, what kind of madness is it that cannot see that the United Kingdom needs Scotland and Scotland needs the United Kingdom?
The brilliance of the Act of Union was that it enabled Scotland and England to work in partnership, as my noble friend Lord Lang pointed out on this anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn. We started to work together rather than against each other. Scots talent and ingenuity flourished on a global scale, protected by the wooden walls of the Royal Navy. It is utter nonsense to suggest that Scotland somehow lost control of its own affairs as a result of entering into the union. In the past 150 years, almost half the Prime Ministers have been Scots or of Scots descent or represented Scottish constituencies: Aberdeen, Gladstone, Bute, Rosebery, Balfour, Asquith, Bonar Law, MacDonald, Bannerman, Douglas-Home, Brown and Blair. These people—who were not all Tories, noble Lords will have noticed—made a fantastic contribution to our country. For three centuries we have worked together.
Now we have the NATO alliance, which provides security not just for us but for our allies, and the nuclear deterrent, which has delivered peace in our time. The alliance helped to set Europe free from communism. That is why President Obama and Hillary Clinton intervened, extraordinarily, in the debate; it is about not just our security but the security of the west. The noble Lord, Lord Robertson, was mocked by the nationalists for a speech in which he underlined the importance of that question.
The only certain thing in this world is that uncertainty and the unexpected will happen. Who will pay the bill for removing Trident? I have heard estimates of as much as £30 billion—that is a lot of money. Will it be shared between Alex Salmond and us? Some 10,000 jobs are dependant on Faslane. There are defence jobs on the Clyde and at Rosyth. Does anyone here believe that an independent Scotland will have its navy built in England? Of course not, so why does Alex Salmond assume that England would be any different and have its ships built in Scotland? What about the service men and women who have served our country so loyally? To maintain their careers, they will have to opt to be in the British Army as mercenaries fighting for a foreign country or alternatively join Alex’s “Dad’s Army”, with all that that means for the reduction in professionalism.
Some 800,000 Scots live in England and 40,000 English live in Scotland. I say to the noble Earl, Lord Glasgow, that yes, they will be made foreigners in their own country. Their own children and grandchildren will be disenfranchised of their birthright. Bleaching the blue saltire out of the union jack will be a caustic and messy business. My noble friend Lord Steel says that divorce is always expensive. Divorce should never be entered into lightly and it is certainly never easy. It is particularly awkward if circumstances force you to continue living next door to each other for ever more.
Alex Salmond’s White Paper tells us that we can have it all ways. We can keep the Queen, yet the leader of the yes campaign tells us we will need a referendum on whether to become a republic. We can stay in Europe if we need to, yet we have heard from people of experience like the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, that that is not quite so easy. Of course, we have heard from the Spanish Government on that, too. We can stay in NATO, a nuclear alliance, and be a nuclear-free zone. We can maintain our public services and be utterly dependent on the price of oil and the spending and investment decisions of multinational companies. We can keep financial services even though that will mean doubling the cost of regulations, which for one company alone, Standard Life, amount to £45 million a year. We can keep our banks even though their balance sheets would be 12.5 times the entire GDP of Scotland, and we can do that without any systemic risk or any risk of higher interest rates. We can save the money from North Sea oil and put it into an oil fund, and we can spend it at the same time. We can keep the pound without actually getting agreement from the English, who will guarantee Scots bank accounts and savings, and at the same time will have no interest in how much Alex borrows, spends or taxes.
Although 80% of our companies employing more than 250 people are outside Scotland, we can dismiss their increasingly vocal concerns as scaremongering. We can ignore the President of the European Commission, the President of the United States, the Governor of the Bank of England, the Permanent Secretary to the Treasury, the Secretary-General of NATO, the Prime Ministers of Denmark, Sweden and China, the ratings agencies, the Institute for Fiscal Studies, the CBI and the trade unions, and make a great leap in the dark. Salmond, a gambler, asks us to gamble our children’s future in a campaign—irony of ironies—funded largely from the proceeds of gambling. We owe it to our children to preserve this great legacy of theirs that is the United Kingdom and reject the separatists who, like Esau, would give up our birthright for a mess of pottage.
My Lords, I am pleased once again to follow the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth. I will not follow his line of argument, although I agree with almost all of it. I am also not going to use this opportunity to advocate once again the case for a constitutional commission or convention because that case has increasingly been accepted. My noble friend Lord Richard and a number of others indicated that today.
No, I will spend the whole of my speech on one thing and one thing alone: paying personal tribute to someone I have known for almost 40 years, someone whose cunning and chutzpah are unrivalled in British politics, someone who—by his skill, ability and yes, his courage—has turned himself from a little-known Royal Bank of Scotland oil economist into the First Minister of Scotland with a vice-like grip on the SNP, the Scottish Parliament and all that is happening in Scotland today. You may wonder why I will do this. The reason is very simple. Over the past decade, no other person has had more influence on what is happening in Scotland —and the United Kingdom as far as constitutional matters are concerned—than Alex Salmond. Yes, he has a great team—Kevin Pringle, Stephen Noon and many others—but he brought these clever people in and has made sure that he has this control. His combination of cunning and gall has outfoxed politicians in both Holyrood and Westminster, resulting in this referendum that could break up the United Kingdom—as someone else said earlier, the most successful economic union the world has ever known.
Let me elaborate on the astonishing way Salmond has done this. First, in the election of 2007 the SNP won only one more seat than Labour. They were a minority Government and they won that last seat by 40 votes. Yet even before that, Salmond had a plan to announce himself, as soon as he had one more seat, as the First Minister of Scotland. He had hired a helicopter to fly him to the gardens of Prestonfield House Hotel, where he had set up in presidential style a podium to announce that he was going to be the First Minister. There was no discussion, as we had at the last general election in the United Kingdom; no Queen to go to, to say, “Can I get together with other parties and form a coalition?” There was nothing like that at all. In fact, if you read Five Days in May by my noble friend Lord Adonis, you will see that people in our party were worried after the last election that someone else might “do a Salmond”, as it was called. When he did that our party—for instance, my noble friend Lord McConnell —was so shell-shocked, and other parties so taken aback, that they accepted it. Therefore, through chutzpah alone, Salmond announced himself as First Minister of Scotland; and all of us in other parties were left open-mouthed.
We come then to the Edinburgh agreement, on which my noble and learned friend Lord Morris did a wonderful demolition job. I will add to that: why did winning the Holyrood election, getting 44% of the vote, give the mandate to Alex Salmond to have the agreement with Cameron that there was going to be a referendum? We, the Labour Party, controlled the majority of Westminster seats in Scotland. It did not get 50% of the vote; he assumed that there was a mandate and Cameron accepted that. We all accepted it; I say to my noble and learned friend Lord Morris that we should not just blame the Prime Minister. That means that we ended up with Salmond choosing the question—all right, it was amended slightly by the Electoral Commission—choosing the date and choosing the electorate. He had total control over what was happening. He did that through his cunning. That is why we must admire him; that is why I pay a personal tribute to him.
Look at what is happening now. The first point I want the Government, all noble Lords in this Chamber and everyone in the Chamber down the Corridor to learn is that, once again, Alex Salmond is threatening to do exactly the same thing with this draft constitution. As my noble friend Lord Robertson said, it includes the question of getting rid of Trident. What does that have to do with the constitution? It includes things such as vital social services. What does that have to do with the constitution? Why is he drafting a constitution? It is because in the—I hope—unlikely event of a yes vote, he wants his constitution to be the agenda: he wants to set the agenda. He is already saying that the Holyrood Parliament will decide all these things. As the Minister has indicated on many occasions, constitutional affairs are a reserved area. Yet if Alex Salmond has trumped us on two or three occasions previously, is he not going to do it again, unless we are ready to make sure that he does not, in the unlikely event of a yes vote?
I will take no more of noble Lords’ time except to say that we must not underestimate Alex Salmond. I think that we are on course to victory—we have the right arguments—but we have to be very careful indeed. One of the things said by the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, which I agree with, is that united we stand, divided we fall. Over the next 85 days we have to put every effort into this campaign. We must not underestimate Alex Salmond, because his cunning, chutzpah, skill, courage and gambling instinct could undermine us once again. We need to be united to make sure that he does not use those to break up this United Kingdom.
My Lords, the debate was opened with great éclat and great positivity by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, who spelt out for the whole debate the advantages of union partnership created over 300 years. It does not need me or anyone else in this debate to enlarge on what he has said because he has said it with historical accuracy and great understanding.
This whole House has demonstrated its hostility to the separation of Scotland. However, we have to recall that we are not just faced by a vote on the status quo or separation. We are facing the need to visualise and express, in the remaining 85 days, our alternative vision for the development of the United Kingdom. We have gone through a period of time following the recession that has made many people feel distinctly uncomfortable that this has not been the best period for Britain, nor indeed for other countries. To some extent, overcoming the problems of the recession has taken over the political debate and has not given voice to the requirement for a better United Kingdom.
I welcome the constitutional report: it is very detailed, real and logical. The speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Lang, expressed it extremely clearly. However, we now need not just to express the union of views about fiscal taxation, which was done recently by the leaders of the three principal United Kingdom parties in Scotland, but to express a view about the structure of decision-making, how it can become more effective and closer to the citizens of the country, and how we can realise this goal. The report produced by the team of which the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, was the chairman, was a valuable suggestion; its concluding recommendation was that we should get the Governments within the country together to discuss how best to restructure the powers. If we are going to capture the imagination of the electorate in Scotland they have to understand that it is not just a continuation of what we are facing at the moment.
Last week the Financial Times suggested in its first leader that we should have a federal country. That was a surprising recommendation from that portal, but it is certainly a possibility. Indeed, it has been recommended by a number of noble Lords in this debate. I suggest that we need to indicate now that we want to see a convention established into which the input will come not only from existing Governments at all tiers, but from representatives of business, the trade unions, civic society and religion across the country, so that we can see how the people can better determine their future. Some of those who are undecided in the Scottish referendum campaign seem to be affected by uncertainties. If we had such a convention, it would enable people to have input into the outcome. That is extremely important if our democracy is to express itself with constructive consensus.
I have served on a couple of conventions, including the Convention on the Future of Europe. What I noticed about that was, how, when people got together at the beginning of that convention, their ideas were not necessarily aligned but gradually, within the space of two years, they got together and much of what was recommended has been implemented, despite the referenda in France and the Netherlands.
I believe that if we were to announce now that that is our alternative intention for United Kingdom governance, that would reassure many people who do not like the situation we are in, and give some satisfaction to those who feel that the choice is between the status quo and separation.
My Lords, the United Kingdom is an extraordinary crucible of ideas, learning and creativity. Part of our strength is that, although we can speak with one voice when fighting totalitarianism or at the opening night of the Olympics, we are also heterogeneous; we can celebrate difference and speak in harmony with many voices.
I am as proud to be a Liverpudlian—I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, did not mention Bill Shankly—as I am to be British. I am proud of that willingness to challenge convention that inspired Alan Bleasdale, Ken Dodd and the Beatles, but I recognise, too, just how enriched I am by Yorkshire’s writers and artists, by Northern Ireland’s poets or by the new powerful contributions that post-war immigration to the UK has brought us. Through the multiplicity of all those subtly different voices and accents, we can also hear something that we have in common: something distinctively British. That is something that the rest of the world can and does recognise too.
No part of the United Kingdom has made a greater contribution to the whole than the people from Scotland. We have heard that in abundance today in this remarkable, eloquent debate. The list of those who have made contributions is too long to repeat, but perhaps I may be allowed to mention some: Adam Smith and James Boswell, JM Barrie and Arthur Conan Doyle, Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson, Muriel Spark and Carol Ann Duffy, Ian Rankin and Alexander McCall Smith, Ludovic Kennedy and Andrew Marr, Billy Connolly and David Tennant, Armando Iannucci and Irvine Welsh. I note that Irvine Welsh once said that he loved the “density and complexity” of Jane Austen and George Eliot. That can be no surprise, for they are all part of the same British literary tradition.
One reason for Britain’s exceptional creative and intellectual vitality is our genius for founding institutions which channel and foster our national talent. None of those bodies is more effective than the BBC. Illuminatingly and tellingly, the BBC was founded and critically shaped by a young Scot of vision, a can-do engineer and a curmudgeonly son of the manse, John Reith. It was that bold Scot who bequeathed the BBC an enduring conviction, a stubborn commitment to excellence and a lasting set of values.
As we have heard today, there would be many consequences if Scotland were to become independent, but let us be clear what they would be for the BBC and for broadcasting in Scotland and in the rest of the United Kingdom. First—I do not think that this has yet been properly recognised in the debate today—the BBC, like other national institutions, would lose 10% of its income. The recent brand-new obligations placed on the BBC to fund the World Service, S4C and other activities from the licence fee will in short order take a further 15% out of the pot currently utilised for funding TV, radio and online services. In the space of just a few years, if Scotland became independent, the BBC as we know it would effectively lose one quarter of its funding. Changes to BBC services would be unavoidable.
Secondly, the BBC buys programmes of distinction from other countries—most notably recently from Scandinavia. Even with its diminished revenues, the BBC would no doubt buy some programmes from an independent Scotland but, as with other countries, only programmes in the “outstanding” category would be purchased.
Thirdly, a smaller BBC would no doubt make some programmes in and about Scotland, as it does now in other countries, but that would be exceptional, unlike now, when, as a matter of policy, a proportionate slice of its budget is spent in Scotland on programming for the whole of the UK. If Scotland were independent, I am very sorry to say that it would no longer be much reflected on our screens and airwaves in the rest of the United Kingdom.
Fourthly, the new Scottish publicly funded broadcaster —the SBS—would have about a tenth of the BBC’s current budget. Like other countries with populations of about 5 million, the SBS would tailor its programmes and services to its limited means.
Fifthly, like other broadcasters, I expect that the SBS would want to acquire programmes from the BBC, not least those loved intensely by Scottish audiences. The BBC is, thankfully, independent of government, so whatever is said wishfully by some, the BBC will have no alternative whatever but to act in the interests of its licence fee payers and to seek the best possible commercial terms for the sale of its programmes in Scotland, not least because of the aforementioned financial impoverishment that it will just have suffered.
Finally, as for the availability in Scotland of the BBC’s continuing services for the rest of the United Kingdom, there will of course be some transmission spillover at the border, and BBC channels and services will certainly be accessible more widely in Scotland, but encrypted and available only on commercial terms.
Those who will vote for independence identify and expect many gains, but I suggest that many of the advantages that the most creative and inspiring talents in Scotland have enjoyed for 300 years—of making a massive impact on a big stage to global acclaim—will simply be lost.
If Scotland votes for independence, the rest of the United Kingdom will lose too, for in all sorts of different ways the UK will make a lesser contribution to the wider world. Our status and standing will be diminished. Worst of all, we will suffer the loss of the Scots at the very heart of our affairs as admired and appreciated allies, collaborators and friends.
My Lords, first, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Lang, and his colleagues on the committee for an excellent report. In particular, I fully endorse paragraph 117 on the proposed timetable for completing negotiations on independence by March 2016. It is a fact that the reorganisation of the police force in Scotland took 19 months—one month longer than for national and international agreements to take place. What a fantasy. Therefore, the weight of decision-making has to be in favour of sorting out these problems, however long that takes. I agree with that.
I was in Barcelona with a number of colleagues a few weeks ago, and I had the opportunity to speak to the mayor, Dr Xavier Trias. They are very European in Barcelona. They want a referendum in Catalonia, but they realise that if there is a vote in favour of independence, negotiations with the European Union will, to use Dr Trias’s phrase, be “very, very, very difficult”. If that is the case for Catalonia, it is also the case for Scotland. The First Minister has indicated that everything has a certainty about it, whereas we are entering a very uncertain world. That was made plain by his former economic adviser, Professor John Kay, when he came to the Economic Affairs Committee. He said that the negotiations will be difficult and will take many, many years.
However, the most important date for us is 19 September, the day after the referendum, because, irrespective of the outcome, nothing will be the same again. If it is a yes vote, the future will be irrevocably changed for England and the rest of the UK. The global reach and authority of the UK will be diminished.
It has been quite sad to see that the rest of the UK has been allowed to almost sleepwalk into this referendum. It is just a matter for Scotland, they say. However, this is not just about Scotland, with only Scots involved. If there is a yes vote, an important part of every one of us will be lost for ever. If there is a no vote, there will be a demand for more devolution and decentralisation. Therefore, my message today is that the entire UK should engage in this debate from now on, and it should be a central participant in any campaign.
Sadly, devolution for Scotland has, for years, been implemented as a process, not an event. In fact, it is even described as that by one of our former Labour First Ministers. However, if we continue along this path, it will produce such constitutional imbalance that, unplanned, it may implode politically. The ad hoc nature of the approach to constitutional reform has not served any of us well. It has to give way to a systematic, coherent and executed UK programme. Whitehall does not now work in the best interests of the whole country. All of us see that. We should take time—perhaps many years—over how we approach this constitutional change and ask fundamental questions. For example: what is Parliament for? How best do we centralise and ensure that we get symmetric devolution and decentralisation throughout the country so that we strengthen the sinews of the nations of the United Kingdom? Will a royal commission be the way to do this? Will that cede authority and control, or does there need to be a co-ordinating committee to make sure that there is the political charge and political responsibility to ensure that, part by part, we have a coherent approach to our constitutional change?
Mention was made of the former Labour Prime Minister, Tony Blair. I am sure that history will show him as one of the most constitutionally reforming Prime Ministers ever. However, I have yet to find a substantial speech by him on constitutional reform. That is because, in many ways, like the Calman report, it was given away, it was bagged, and we moved on to the next agenda. We should learn from that and ensure that there is change in that respect.
I mention the need for seriousness, and that is very important. I certainly did not see that when, two weeks ago, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury and the First Minister traded fantasy figures on the monetary benefits of voting yes or no in the referendum. Alex Salmond promised an independence bonus of £2,000 per household on voting yes, while Danny Alexander, with absolute certainty, heralded £1,400 per Scot if they voted no. I suggest that snake-oil salesmen could not have bettered these efforts. It was compounded by the disgraceful Scotland Office PR on 4 June outlining:
“12 things that £1,400 UK Dividend could buy”.
Included in the 12 things were:
“An overseas holiday for two with cash left over for sun cream … Experience 636 joyful caffeine highs … Share a meal of fish and chips with your family every day for around 10 weeks, with a couple of portions of mushy peas thrown in”,
“Go for one haircut a month for over 3 and half years … you can go for significantly more if you’re a man”.
That should never have appeared on an official PR document emanating from government. It has trivialised and degraded the economic argument, and that has to be the one message that the Minister takes back so that that approach is disowned in future. As for the First Minister’s figures, to achieve this dividend of £2,000 he says they will transform the economy by increasing productivity by 1%. That has been a conundrum for 40 years, and that too rests in fantasy land.
However, I am worried by the degree of rancour and bitterness in Scotland. I am not just talking about JK Rowling. This referendum will be accompanied by profound psychological wounds, and they will not be restricted to Scotland. How do we prevent a “neverendum” if there is a no vote? I was recently in the company of a senior SNP politician who said that if it is a 60:40 vote—60 no, 40 yes—this story is not finished. We have to ensure that everyone on both the yes and no sides signs up to a declaration that, whatever the outcome, they will respect the integrity of it and work for the benefit of a better United Kingdom or an independent Scotland. Given that present-day politicians and the political process are already held in low enough regard by an increasingly disillusioned public, that is the least we require before 18 September. A serious and co-operative way forward for the common good must start on 19 September.
My Lords, during the debate on Scotland held here on 30 January, I said:
“With children and grandchildren who have blood and genes drawn almost equally from Wales, England, Ireland and Scotland, I say with particular fervour that I dread the possibility of a divorce at the heart of the United Kingdom family”.—[Official Report, 30/1/14; col. 1392.]
As a Welshman I had joined with those who had made the positive case for the retention of the union.
Today, as a member of the Constitution Committee that produced the report so admirably introduced by my noble friend Lord Lang of Monkton, I want to say something about the comments that it has provoked. One of the nastiest features of the yes campaign has been the flood of insults thrown at those who take a different view. I suppose it was inevitable that the SNP would lash out at the House of Lords and a report by one of its committees. A leader in the Guardian said that the SNP ignored the substance of the report and that that was a mistake. The report, it suggested,
“is a serious attempt to look at some of the central legal and procedural implications of a yes vote”.
“took evidence from some formidably well-informed witnesses”.
Exactly. This is not a report which sets out to make a political, economic or social case one way or another; we have left that to others. What we have sought to do is to explore the constitutional implications of a yes vote, and we have identified a number of important issues that need to be resolved between a yes vote and Scotland actually becoming independent. All our conclusions are based on the evidence that was presented to us. We heard from academic experts, the UK Government and commentators on Scottish politics. We received a wide range of written evidence, including from the Scottish Government. The SNP critics have taken particular exception to our conclusion that MPs representing Scottish constituencies should not negotiate for the rest of the UK, hold those negotiators to account or ratify the outcome of the negotiations. That conclusion was based on the views expressed by our witnesses, most powerfully by Professor Alan Boyle, professor of public international law at Edinburgh University. The very fact that this matter has already provoked strong reactions suggests that we were right to propose that, in the event of a yes vote, the Government should, in advance of the 2015 general election, lay before Parliament a proposal that would put this matter beyond doubt.
SNP MPs have been equally hostile to our view that there is no constitutional principle by which the Scottish Government’s timetable should bind the UK Government. We say:
“The UK Government should not put the interests of the rest of the UK at risk by attempting to stick to that timetable. Any negotiations should take as long as necessary”.
The noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, has doubted our conclusion in paragraph 97 regarding the Government acting as the negotiator. We attempted to deal with the criticism that he made in paragraph 98, where we proposed that there should be close consultation with the Official Opposition and the Governments of the devolved Assemblies.
The Constitution Committee has not been alone in reaching evidence-based conclusions about the Scottish referendum. Starting in 2012, the British Academy and the Royal Society of Edinburgh began a series of 11 seminars where presentations were made and discussions held. The record has now been published. On reading it, I was struck by the way in which the evidence closely matched the evidence that we received. Even the most passionate nationalists can hardly dismiss the conclusions of the British Academy, which was established in 1902 and is the UK’s expert body that speaks for the humanities and the arts, and the Royal Society of Edinburgh, which was established in 1783 and is an enduring memorial to the Scottish Enlightenment of the 18th century, representing all academic subjects as well as the arts, culture, business and enterprise.
Among the factors that the study by these distinguished bodies exposes are what Donald Rumsfeld described as known unknowns. These make nonsense of many of the certainties contained in the Scottish Government’s White Paper, among them the timetable to which I have referred. Negotiations that would follow a yes vote with the UK Government, with the EU and with NATO will all feel the impact of elections—and the outcomes, as we have heard during this debate, are highly unpredictable. The complexities of the issues on which negotiations will have to take place are vividly described in five pages of the introduction.
Professor Vernon Bogdanor pointed out during the constitutional seminar that the Scottish nationalists have various aspirations for an independent Scotland, such as shared currency and social union, but that an independent Scotland would have no right to these things. It could only propose them and see whether the rest of the UK would agree to them in negotiations. A yes vote in the referendum is a vote to become a citizen of another country, distinct from the UK, after which it would not be possible for Scotland to pick and choose which aspects of the union it wished to enjoy. An independent Scotland would have to negotiate for those things that it now enjoys as a right. A yes vote is a vote for uncertainty.
With all the political parties now offering more devolution for Scotland and Wales, another huge question has to be addressed. Our own special adviser, Professor Tomkins, pointed out at the same seminar that if there is a no vote the interesting question will be: what happens next? He suggested that in the event of a no outcome, what needs to happen is for the future of Scotland’s constitutional position to be put in the context of the whole of the UK. He argued that the voices of the Governments and peoples in Northern Ireland, Wales and the north of England have to be brought to the table. At the moment, he observed, there is no table for these voices to be heard; one has to be built.
I am sure that Professor Tomkins is right but I would go further, as have many speakers in this debate today. We should not be awaiting the outcome of the referendum; we should be beginning to construct a table for the voices to be heard. At Questions yesterday the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes of Cumnock, suggested a constitutional commission to examine further devolution and decentralisation. Others have suggested a convention. My noble friend Lord Strathclyde suggested a committee representing the Parliaments and Assemblies of the whole United Kingdom.
Whatever method we adopt, we need to pursue with vigour a holistic solution to what is now an urgent problem. The more that this Parliament makes it clear that this is a question that is being considered with urgency, and that finding a solution will be a high priority for the next Government, whoever forms that Government, the more likely it is that the people of Scotland will want to remain within the union and play a major part in fundamentally reshaping it—in shaping the new, reformed United Kingdom referred to by the noble Lords, Lord McConnell and Lord Stephen—rather than see it happen without them and face alone the huge uncertainties outside.
My Lords, somewhat more than 50 years ago I presented a series of programmes on Scottish television called “Scots Abroad”, which broadly celebrated the wholly disproportionate role that Scots had played in the building of the British Empire and, subsequently, the Commonwealth—whether by colonisation, occasionally by conquest or by administration. Scotland also benefited hugely from the existence of the Empire markets. My native city of Glasgow simply would not have grown from a small village to one of the fastest-growing cities in the world in the 1800s were it not for the demand for ships, railway engines et cetera, all of them manufactured in Scotland.
In the world of ideas, too, the golden period is known as the Scottish Enlightenment, as has already been referred to. Indeed, I remember meeting in America a scholar at the Smithsonian who had no Scottish connections or background but who entitled his book How the Scots Invented the Modern World—along with almost everything in it. It was entitled The Scottish Enlightenment when it was republished in this country. Neil MacGregor, the very distinguished director of the British Museum, subtitled a talk there: “When the Scottish Enlightenment encountered London globalism”. Both are important because those were wonderful Scottish ideas, and nobody is pretending that they are other than Scottish, but they would not have had the world stage without the British connection. That is really the lesson that those of us who will be voting no want to get across tonight.
The UK now exercises its power through soft power. Just as the whole country was genuinely proud of the way that London handled the Olympics, I hope that we will have equal cause for pride in how Glasgow will handle the Commonwealth Games in just a few weeks’ time. The noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, has already given the litany of Scottish Prime Ministers and senior government officials. Anyone who claims that Scotland has been a downtrodden nation for the past 300 years really cannot pretend to serious consideration.
Scottish traditions and institutions have also been allowed to flourish very freely by the union settlement of 1707. We all think of devolution as beginning in 1999, but it did not. We have had administrative devolution since 1885. In 1999 came democratic control over that—with all the positives and negatives that that brings, let me tell you. What is being proposed now, I think, is adding fiscal powers. By and large I support that. I genuinely support the points that the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, made in his speech, because I believe that politicians will be more responsible if they are responsible for raising the money they promise to spend.
However, I would urge a couple of caveats about devolution. I am in favour of subsidiarity, but there are some issues where we do not like the idea of a postcode lottery. There are some issues that we want to be handled the same throughout the country. I would say that pensions is one of them. I want everyone in the UK to enjoy the same right to a pension. I would probably say health and welfare as well, but they could be argued about. There are other issues where you may want devolution, but the practicality of achieving it on a very small island with a land border is somewhat limited. You may want, for example, to have a higher customs duty on drink and tobacco north of the border, but unless you institute a border post, people will just drive down in pantechnicons and bring up booze.
Likewise the position of the economy—and Alex Salmond knows this. This is why he wanted a third option, because at that point he was honest enough to recognise that independence is impossible with a currency union, which he regards as desirable. That is why he wanted the third option. He now says that Scotland needs more immigrants and the Scottish Government would aim at having 27,000. Nothing is stopping the Scottish Government having more immigrants at the moment. The trouble is that immigrants do not go where Governments direct them. They go where the jobs are. That is why they all went to Glasgow in the 1850s. They came from the Highlands and Islands, Ireland, and England, let alone abroad, simply because Glasgow was the workshop of the Empire at that point. The idea that somehow you can have a currency union with separate economic policies is unthinkable and Alex Salmond knows it. It surely is preposterous to suggest that a foreign country will have more influence over Bank of England policy than one that is an integral part of the same country—yet that is what the Scottish people are being asked to swallow.
The noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, earlier referred to the Darien scheme. By a strange, uncanny coincidence the losses of the Darien scheme in modern terms, I am told, would have been roughly the same £40 billion that RBS cost us. The interesting thing is that the Darien scheme was promulgated by a Scot, William Paterson, who had also founded the Bank of England. It is undoubtedly true that the English Government were less than helpful, because we were two separate countries at that point. A lot of Scots Nats say that it was the Darien scheme that led to Scotland having to go into a union almost unwillingly—“bought and sold with English gold” and all those phrases. But, in fact, it almost proves the Better Together point. Had we been part of the union, the Darien scheme might have foundered anyway, because it was a malaria-ridden swamp on the Isthmus of Panama, but on the other hand, at least lives would have been saved had we had England as a partner rather than a rival and formal enemy.
I really hope that Scotland votes no, because even then, at the time of the Darien scheme, we would have been better together. The alternative of a weakened Scotland exercising even less influence on a diminished England means that the UK as a whole will be sidelined from the world’s stage. I regard that as a tragedy for the whole world, because I think that, with all its faults, Britain is still a beneficial influence in the world and I am very proud of the part that Scots have played in making that so.
My Lords, I am the 23rd speaker in today’s debate and the 23rd male. Of the 40 speakers who will be taking part in the debate, with the notable exception of the noble Baroness, Lady Adams of Craigielea, who I was grateful to for taking part in my debate last week, 39 will be male. That is neither representative of this House nor of the country and I hope that all our groups may reflect on why that is the case today.
There will be a genuine tinge of sadness for me when I cast a vote in the referendum because I will effectively be asked to choose between two things that I love. I will also be asked, in a negative way, to affirm support for what is a remarkable coming together of peoples, histories and cultures in our union, as we have been debating this afternoon. Equally, there will be many fellow voters who will simply be elated by the opportunity to vote in that referendum; they hold sincere views and I respect them for that. However, my sadness will be tempered by a quiet pride that this union, without resorting to state terror, armed conflict or repression from government, would allow itself to be democratically dissolved because that was the democratic will of people who had chosen a different path from the one that we here would choose, as we have been discussing today. They would be doing it democratically and through a ballot. They want a different path for their country.
I have not been able to see the deadly disputes around the world since we have been having our debate on Scotland without reflecting on how we are carrying out our process differently. That is something that should give us pride. Scottish Nationalists seek to take credit for this and say that it is a peculiarly Scottish characteristic in this debate, but it is actually a remarkable thing about our United Kingdom that through tough times of great national peril where the very existence of our union has been threatened by foes from abroad, through times of imperial expansion when we have seen our position in the world grow exponentially, through times of famine or economic crash at home and through times of remarkable economic growth due to international trade—with all our shared history—we still have a compassionate and profound position that, if people within one part of our nation choose that they do not wish to continue to be part of it, this union will end. The Constitutional Committee of your Lordships’ House shows the process that could commence if that were the view.
I share the position of one of the four Knights of the Thistle who have been taking part in the debate today, the noble Lord, Lord Wilson of Tillyorn: I will cast a no vote.
And two more to come. I do not know what the collective noun for Knights of the Thistle is; maybe a contribution later in the gap could tell us what it is.
I will be casting my no vote and endorsing a bigger and better vision, which is that Scotland can have an opportunity and a thriving future as part of our union. Part of the positive future in rejecting independence is founded also on my commitment to do what I can in working with colleagues across parties in this House and in other Parliaments in Wales, Northern Ireland and the regions of England to help to bring about a refreshed union. Why do I feel that the union needs to be refreshed? Noble Lords have already highlighted some of the reasons in the debate today. We remain a too centralised state and this has skewed decision-making. We established national legislatures but we did not establish fiscally accountable Governments. This has skewed decision-making in the nations. We have not created a coherent narrative for the reasons why our services for all the UK should be for all the UK, such as pensions, macroeconomics or single-market policies, and why we believe it is better that some policies should be decided at a national level.
Without a proper narrative explaining why that is the case, as the noble Lord, Lord McFall, warned us, we will be perpetually in an ad hoc situation with regard to devolution. I agree profoundly with my noble friends Lord Stephen and Lord Steel of Aikwood, who quoted Jo Grimond saying that devolution is power retained in this place rather than a proper decentralisation of power to the nations, and then to the regions, by the fact that they are there in their own right for better governance rather than just because it suits this Parliament at any given time.
The noble Lords, Lord Strathclyde and Lord Richard, commented that we will benefit from this Parliament being a more representative of the nations and the regions within England. I agree with them. My noble and learned friend Lord Wallace of Tankerness ably presented the strong opportunities for Scotland in continuing in the UK, and I need not rehearse those arguments. I hope that all of us will be reinforcing them with passion and gusto over the next 85 days.
What is the future of our union and how can we express it so that people outside Parliament are enthused by it and feel that it is representative of them and that they can play an active role within it? In many respects, the case for many aspects of this union is made by the SNP, which, even with independence, wishes to continue to be part of it: the head of state, the currency, the BBC and pensions are all unions that it wishes to leave but rejoin, most likely on poorer terms. The noble Lord, Lord Birt, referred to a former constituent of mine, Sir Walter Scott. In his “Marmion” he said,
“Oh, what a tangled web we weave,
When first we practise to deceive!”.
That sums up the SNP’s position on the unions in this land. It is worth pointing out to the noble Lord, Lord Lang, that “Marmion” was about Flodden Field.
I have put forward a proposition for a conference of the new union to take place shortly after the general election in 2015 to complement the conference on the new Scotland that my right honourable friend Alistair Carmichael has announced will commence after the Scottish referendum. The purpose of the conference on the new Scotland is to bring together those who have already published their proposals for what further powers should be provided to the Scottish Parliament, for making the Scottish Parliament a permanent part of the United Kingdom’s institutions and for this Parliament permanently to cede authority over legislating on what are currently home rule areas. I believe that a conference on the new union should take place in a similarly consensual way after the general election to address the relationships between the nations, Whitehall institutions and the Westminster Parliament. It should last no longer than six months and should therefore be focused and inclusive. It should be government sponsored, with the intention that it will result in legislation that can be presented within the next term of the United Kingdom Parliament, and it should focus on entrenching the legislatures in the United Kingdom, making their legislative capacity permanent and making the relationship between them and our institutions here in Westminster and Whitehall decided not unilaterally here but by a bilateral process with them. Importantly, it should also address issues concerning the governance of England.
Without such a conference of the new union, without it being focused and without it being the intention, on a cross-party basis, to deliver legislation, we will perhaps continue to be searching for the overriding narrative for supporting the union. Unless we do it, up to 40% of the people of one nation in this country will continue to believe that their views and future aspirations are not being addressed by the union. I passionately believe in the union but equally I believe very strongly that work needs to be done to make sure that it respects and is representative of their views.
As a Protestant Irish nationalist from the county of Parnell, I feel that I am straying into a family feud that has some quite bitter feelings about it. I share the view expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, that it is a pity that perhaps only one Member of this House will state the nationalist case. If I were in Scotland, despite my nationalist background, I would have to vote no.
I want to talk today about the implications for England, in the north of which I have lived for 50 years, of what will happen. Whatever the result on 18 September, things will never be the same again and the constitutional consequences for England will be profound. More and more devolution to the Celtic nations means more and more problems for England, leaving England with the most centralised system of government in any major democracy, a point that Scottish nationalists are not slow to point out.
Economic and political power outside London has been drastically eroded over the past 70 years. One hundred years ago, the vast majority—70% to 80%—of the top 100 companies had their headquarters outside London. Today the figure is less than 10%. Until the Second World War, health, education and a host of other public services were the responsibility of local government. Today, local government empties the bins and carries out a narrow range of administrative duties under the close scrutiny of Whitehall, though Ministers are still quick to blame local authorities when things go wrong. Because the role of local government has been so severely diminished, the quality of local political leadership has declined. It is a perfect Catch-22. Oh, for the days of Joe Chamberlain and his like.
The big companies have followed the trend and migrated en masse to London. In so doing, they have lost their sense of civic pride and local community engagement, which was such a feature of Victorian Britain. Who can forget the remarkable achievements on behalf of their local communities of the Cadburys in Birmingham, the Rowntrees in York, Rank in Hull, the Lever brothers in the north-west and the banks in East Anglia, Bristol, Edinburgh and elsewhere? I remember the sad day when Cadbury relocated from Birmingham to Berkeley Square. Clearly the game was up. The municipal buildings built around the country by the Victorians are a magnificent manifestation of partnership and commitment between local government and business. The railway network was created by the efforts of local business entrepreneurs, not central government. Britain’s local structure of government was the envy of the world. Today it is a shadow of its proud past.
Why did this happen? In part, it was a sign of progress on two fronts. RA Butler’s Education Act 1944 established national standards but, while the national Government established strategy, it was left to local authorities to deliver. Over time, Whitehall has steadily eroded localism so that today it is scarcely an exaggeration to say that, relying on the regulatory powers of Ofsted, Michael Gove has 23,000 head teachers reporting to him. Nye Bevan’s NHS structures were even more centralist. When Herbert Morrison, a former leader of the GLC and a great champion of local government, argued that the day-to-day administration of the NHS should remain the responsibility of local government, he was overruled by Mr Bevan who famously asserted that Whitehall needed to hear the rattle of every bedpan that fell on the hospital floor. To be fair, Bevan and Butler wanted to establish consistent, higher standards across the country, but in so doing they undermined an equally important requirement: accountability. The NHS is unmanageably large and short on accountability, as is the school organisational structure.
Ironically, but for different reasons, the Conservatives and Labour both pursued this greater centralisation, Labour because it believed that the state knows best and the Conservatives because they believed that the town halls were a hotbed of Trotskyites. It is so different elsewhere in the big democracies. The US, Germany, Australia, Canada and Spain all operate quasi-federal systems of government, and big corporations do not flock to Washington, Berlin, Canberra, Ottawa or Madrid. Boeing is in Seattle, McDonald’s is in Chicago, Siemens and BMW are in Munich and Airbus is in Toulouse and Hamburg.
In the English regions outside London, it is my guess that 80% or 90% of decisions affecting the local economy are taken elsewhere, either in London by Whitehall and businesses located there or internationally. The centralised so-called controls of the banks are a far cry from the local bank manager who knew his customers and the local economic conditions.
The quality of administration in Whitehall is poor. When I worked in the Cabinet Office a few years ago, I was struck by the contrast between the effectiveness of the civil servants in Edinburgh and London. In Edinburgh everyone knew each other, discussions were open and decisions were arrived at expeditiously. In London people worked in dysfunctional silos, and had poor interdepartmental communications and woefully slow decision-making processes. People paid lip service to collaboration.
So, post-18 September, things will have to change. However, do the politicians have an appetite for change in the light of a number of failed attempts at local government reform? The Heath Government changed the boundaries but little else. Then Major changed the boundaries again, but little else. The Blair Government went for nine regions and, although the economic structures, the regional development agencies, were not bad—I declare an interest as a long-time board member of Yorkshire Forward—the plan to create democratically elected assemblies never got off the ground. The present Government scrapped the RDAs and replaced them with local enterprise partnerships, more modest in size and ambition. I chair the Humber LEP.
Irrespective of past failures, reform must once more be on the agenda post-18 September, and here is what I would do. First, there are far too many local authorities in England—400 of them. They should be reduced to 80 or 90, as was suggested by Redcliffe-Maud in the 60s. I would gradually increase their responsibility for delivering public services, including health and education, but only when they had proved their competence. Secondly, there are too many LEPs—39 of them. I suggest that economic development boundaries should be drawn around large cities, with a few quasi-rural exceptions such as Cumbria, Devon and Cornwall. This would result in fewer than 20 LEPs with an average population of nearly 3 million people. Thirdly, I would treat the south-east as a special case. About 20 million people live east of a line from Peterborough to Portsmouth. They are, for the most part, heavily under the influence of London. Their local government arrangements should reflect that dependency.
It is much more difficult to reverse the centralisation and globalisation of big business, but if the big Whitehall departments were to be devolved to the regions—BIS to Birmingham, the NHS to Leeds, Education to Manchester, Defence to Bristol, DEFRA to York, DWP to Newcastle—might not the big companies, keen to be close to where the power is, follow suit? Of course, none of this is likely to happen. Today’s politicians and business leaders lack the vision and risk-taking inclinations of their Victorian forebears. Besides, they love the metropolitan life of London. Still, perhaps the Chancellor of the Exchequer, after his great speech yesterday, will prove me wrong. The status quo is not an option after 18 September and, if we do not take action soon, we are storing up grave political and economic problems for England in future.
My Lords, I feel that this is rather the graveyard slot. Those who have delivered their speeches have departed to refresh themselves, while a few are waiting to enlighten us. Having listened to every single speech, as has my noble and learned friend Lord Wallace of Tankerness, to whom I pay a real tribute for his stamina and resilience, I might be tempted to go and have a little refreshment later myself.
Whether I am driving along the lovely lanes of Lincolnshire, as I was last week, or driving in Scotland, where I spent the whole of the war as a young boy, growing up—
Not the First World War, like the noble Lord opposite; I cannot claim to rival his longevity. But whether I am driving there or in Scotland, I feel, in the words of Walter Scott, already quoted by the noble Lord, Lord Purvis:
“This is my own, my native land!”.
I am British. My family comes originally from Scotland. My elder son, known to the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, is settled in Scotland and I do not think will ever leave, and my eldest grandchild will have a vote on 18 September. I deeply regret that I shall not have one. But I very much hope that she, along with the other enfranchised 16 year-olds, will vote a resounding no, and I am confident that she will. She spent some time with us a fortnight ago and we were talking about this. In her school in Edinburgh, they had had a poll of all the girls, and 90% had voted no. In the boys’ school next door, she was slightly disappointed that it was only 88%. That gave me some real encouragement. Like the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris of Aberavon, I regretted the way in which Mr Salmond wound the Prime Minister around his finger in getting the 16 year-old vote, but I had some reassurance from what she told me. When I asked her why, she said, “Because we don’t want to cut off our opportunities”—and that, in a sense, is what it is really about.
I have talked before in this House about the difference being between remaining in a Great Britain or in a little Scotland. Of course, Scotland could be independent and go it alone, but we would be deprived—and I believe that my friends and family in Scotland would be deprived—if they did that. I profoundly hope, as I think virtually everybody who has spoken in this debate hopes, that they will not.
Only 9.1% of the population of the United Kingdom lives in Scotland. I will not repeat all the lists of Prime Ministers, economists, scientists and writers who have been referred to this afternoon. But if any part of any country has punched above its weight, Scotland, which is a nation, has punched above its weight in the United Kingdom—and I want it to continue to do so.
In 1984, I had a very interesting experience during the long Summer Recess from the other place. I spent a semester at the University of Austin in Texas. It was the time of the presidential election and a number of the cars that were driving around had a little sticker on the back that said, “Secede”. I said to my Texas host, “Some of them talk as if they mean it”. “Oh”, he said, “that’s just the heart expressing itself—the head knows that it would be total madness”.
Much as I respect those who have a different point of view, I hope that those who are contemplating voting yes in September, and still more those who have not yet made up their mind, will reflect on what a great country this is—and it is a great country because of the contribution from Scotland, which is way beyond its percentage of the population. I very much hope that there will be a resounding vote on 18 September, and that the people of Scotland will say that, yes, they want to remain part of the United Kingdom. I do not want my granddaughter to become a citizen in a foreign land, and she does not want her cousins—the children of my other son, who live in London—to be foreigners, with different passports.
Somebody talked about borders. I had the great good fortune to be the chairman of the Northern Ireland Affairs Select Committee in the last Parliament, and I saw the difficulties created by a border there. Unless you have absolute similarity between taxes and revenues, what it does among other things is to encourage organised crime, which is a very real cross-border problem between the Republic and Northern Ireland. I rejoice at the settlement, and I am not one of those who feels deeply unhappy about Her Majesty receiving Mr McGuinness; we have made enormous progress. But the fact is that there are two countries on one island and there is a border, and that creates problems. We do not want to have that here.
We have to recognise that we are exceptionally fortunate. My noble friend Lord Forsyth of Drumlean, and the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, whom I regard very much as a friend in the context of this and many other issues, pointed to the brilliance of Alex Salmond. I referred to that before in this House. But we need to have robust debate, and what he has been saying is very misleading. We have had many examples, quoted during the last three and a half hours. Salmond’s approach really is that of eating the cake and having it, to put the phrase the right way round. I have often thought, particularly over the past few weeks, of the reputed remark of the great conductor Richter to the third flute, “Your damned nonsense can I stand twice or once, but sometimes always, by God, never”. The people of Scotland are being misled. As my noble friend Lord Forsyth said, they are being asked to take a leap into the dark. It is a step into the unknown.
Of course, many have talked about changes that will come about. Like my noble friend Lord Forsyth, I was against devolution but that is all over now and we have to make it work, and make it work even better than it has done—of course we have. However, it would be a constitutional and a political tragedy if we were all in this United Kingdom plunged into the uncertainty that a yes vote would create. I devoutly hope and pray that it will be a no vote and an emphatic one, and that we can more warmly embrace each other across the border. I hope that it will not become an international border, and that we can continue to recognise the enormous importance that Scotland has and the enormous contribution that it makes to this United Kingdom of ours. Long may that United Kingdom flourish.
My Lords, at this stage of the evening there is always a temptation to start debating rather than delivering a speech, particularly if you have been at the other end of the Corridor, where Members debate much more than they do here. However, I wish to give the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, a collective noun—perhaps a “prickle” of thistles might be appropriate.
Along with many others, I will not discuss the report on which this debate is configured, partly because I live in Scotland and have a vote in the referendum. I hope that the cameras will pick up the badge I am wearing, which says no. I will vote no and I believe that we will win the vote on 18 September, which happens to be my late father’s birthday, and therefore the report will become irrelevant, however good it may be and however well it may be received.
I do not know from where the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, draws his opinion that the polls are narrowing, because the latest opinion polls in Scotland show that the polls are widening, not narrowing towards independence. Certainly, all the serious polls are now saying that. I assume that the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, was referring to a private school in Edinburgh when he addressed that issue. However, pupils in school after school in Scotland have debated this issue, have voted on it and, time after time, the result has been a resounding no. The 16 to 18 year-olds who Mr Alex Salmond thought would all vote for independence are proving him very wrong.
Secondly, despite what has been said today, the people of Scotland must realise that they are not voting for one further stage towards better devolution. I support giving further powers to the people of Scotland, although not necessarily to all the institutions of Scotland, but please let us stop confusing devolution and independence: they are two totally different animals. The people will be voting to establish an independent state which is separate from the rest of the United Kingdom. Unlike devolution, it is not a decision that can be changed, modified or reversed by democratic process if it does not work or if circumstances change. Some things may well need to come back to central government as opposed to going to the devolved powers.
It is not about Mr Alex Salmond and David Cameron or about a Tory Government versus the so-called left-wing one in Scotland: it is an irreversible decision. If Scotland votes yes, the only way back to the United Kingdom will be on its bended knees and, even then, the rest of the United Kingdom may say, “Very sorry but we don’t want you any more”. However, I also believe that, if Scotland votes no, a very long time must pass before we have another referendum on this issue. A 60:40 result is good enough. It should be enough to say, “No, no more, we are not going to have any more referendums on this issue”. There is only one way that could occur, and it will not be from a vote in the Scottish Parliament. It could occur only if the SNP gained a majority of seats in the House of Commons. Then there might be a case for saying, “We will hold another referendum”.
If Mr Salmond wins by one vote, he will demand an independent country. However, I have to say to my noble friend Lord Foulkes, with whom I do not often disagree, although I do on this issue, that it is my view that if the SNP loses the referendum, particularly if it loses it as convincingly as I believe it will, there is a hard core, English-hating, independence at any cost part of the SNP that will turn on Mr Salmond and blame him for the failure, and the party will rip itself apart because it will have lost its purpose. It will no longer have a reason for existing if it can no longer claim that it is seeking independence.
Thirdly, it is surely time that we ask why Scotland should become an independent country and a separate state. What is it that divides us from the rest of the United Kingdom? Normally, when you look at history—I am a quasi history teacher from a long time ago—you see four major things that divide one nation from another. One is language. Well, we speak the same language. I was in Bruges recently, where Flemish and Dutch are spoken, whereas in Brussels French is spoken, so Belgium is divided. However, we are not divided; there is no difference in language. There may sometimes be a difference in dialect but there is no difference in language.
As regards religion, Scotland itself may sometimes be divided by religion, but it is not divided from the rest of the United Kingdom by religion. As regards race, there are different races in the United Kingdom but the Scots do not make up a separate race. Otherwise, if we voted yes on the 18th, my brothers, my sister, my nephews and my nieces would not only become foreigners but would also be part of a different race, which is just unimaginable.
The status quo is the present union, so why are we dividing it? The last issue is that of a boundary, to which the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, referred. There is no natural frontier or boundary between Scotland and England. In fact, when we used to drive north, my father used to throw his cigarette out the window because he never smoked in Scotland. When we crossed the Solway, he would say, “We are now in Scotland”. However, the border is now 200, 300 or 400 yards up the road.
Noble Lords may not be surprised by my final point. In the modern world, where we have a global economy and some companies are bigger than nation states and have a greater turnover than many nation states, why on earth would we split up a small country like ours into different parts and say to one part of it, “You can control your economy”? No, you cannot. We are struggling in this country in the global economy to tax companies properly. Surely that will be the case if we have an independent Scotland. Therefore, I will vote no and I hope that the rest of Scotland will follow my example.
My Lords, I associate myself with the thrust of the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Haskins. He is right to say that we need to devolve power out of London in an overcentralised England. I want to do that, as he does, as part of a United Kingdom that includes Scotland.
I hope that voters in Scotland will vote no decisively. The United Kingdom is stronger together, to the benefit of Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England, individually and collectively. The process of splitting would be long and hard, and the outcome would be uncertain for everyone. I do not want to see a border created between Scotland and England, but one might prove to be inevitable. Greater devolution following a no vote would be the best outcome, and would lead in turn to faster and deeper devolution in England—a trend that has started but which has some way to go to equal what is happening in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
I want to concentrate my contribution on the report of the Select Committee on the Constitution and say that overall the report is extremely cogent and persuasive. It confirms that if Scotland becomes independent, it is seceding from the United Kingdom, which will remain the continuator state. The report defines the rules around division of fixed assets appropriately, and concludes correctly that division of non-fixed assets would need to be negotiated. The constitutional implications are clearly set out.
I was a member of the Economic Affairs Committee when it undertook an inquiry into the economic impact on the UK of Scottish independence. It reported last year and during the hearing of evidence I began to doubt the wisdom of holding only one referendum. If the result in September were a no vote, that would be clear and no further referendum would be needed. However, I felt as we listened to the evidence that the complexity of the issues was such that to hold a referendum only on the principle of Scotland becoming independent, as opposed to a referendum on the final agreement, might cause more problems than it solved if the result of the September vote was yes.
I am still of the view that two referendums are needed if the first results in a yes vote. This issue is alluded to in paragraph 67 of the Select Committee on the Constitution’s report. The matter considered in that paragraph was whether Scottish MPs elected to the UK Parliament in 2015 should leave the UK Parliament on independence day, should there be a yes vote in the referendum. I agree with the report’s conclusion that they would have to leave. I do not see how that could be in dispute. This paragraph, however, contains a second issue, which is perhaps too summarily dismissed. It says that,
“the Edinburgh agreement was for a ‘decisive’ referendum whose outcome will be respected on both sides”.
That of course is true, strictly speaking, but it assumes, first, that there will be two sides, not several sides, when it comes to a negotiation; and secondly, that Scottish voters will not want to change their mind.
My question is this: what happens if the vote on 18 September is yes by a very narrow margin of, say, 51:49, but the Scottish Government elected in May 2016 want to reverse the decision to become independent, and secure a mandate at the election to overturn that narrow yes vote in the referendum? The referendum question in September is a simple one about principle. It lacks any detail. It asks:
“Should Scotland be an independent country?”.
There are no timescales. My point is that the negotiations, however long they take—whether they be short or long, and whether there is an independence day before the 2016 elections—are likely to throw up problems that voters may not have considered or not been able to consider, and which may cause them to wish not to proceed. So can they change their minds?
To hope or to expect that a narrow yes vote can be “decisive” when negotiations have not taken place seems to be an assumption too far. I am for speed in the negotiations should there be a yes vote, in order to avoid constitutional limbo. However, I cannot see how a referendum is decisive when it is about principle only and not about the practical consequences. I hope the Minister in his reply may be able to define in what circumstances a yes vote in September could be overturned by the choice of Scottish voters, either by a second referendum, should one be called, or by the result of the 2016 election.
My Lords, one of the subjects that the Constitution Committee, of which I am a member, had to consider was an aspect of the governance of Scotland between the referendum and the day on which Scotland would become independent, assuming a yes vote. That would be a period of indeterminate length.
Evidence given to the committee by the Secretary of State for Scotland—statements that were not off the cuff but plainly premeditated—led the committee to conclude that from the date of the referendum, if it was a yes vote, the UK Government would no longer seek to act on behalf of the people of Scotland. The committee therefore considered that there could then be a “constitutional limbo”, to put it mildly. So, I suppose, in the worst case, there would be no Minister answerable to this House or in the other place for matters reserved to this Parliament under the Scotland Act. In those circumstances, the committee made a number of recommendations, including a recommendation that the two Governments should agree on the transfer of powers prior to independence day.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Lang, that the view that the UK Government would instantaneously lose their mandate in the event of a yes vote cannot be right. However, I am glad that there are now some signs that, contrary to the impression given to the committee, the UK Government are overcoming their diffidence about acting in the interest of the people of Scotland in the event of a yes vote. This emerged to some extent last week. On 18 June, the Electoral Commission published the draft of a leaflet to inform the public about voting, which is due finally to be issued at the end of this month. It is to contain guidance as to how members of the public can take part in the referendum, and information from lead campaigners.
There is also to be a joint statement by the Scottish Government and the UK Government about the process that would be followed in the event of a yes or no vote, as the case may be. Such a joint statement had been requested by the Electoral Commission some time ago but, for whatever reason, was months overdue by the time it was provided recently. One might have expected that the joint statement would have been published before the leaflet was put together, but that is not what has happened, so far as I know.
Part of the joint statement states:
“The United Kingdom Government would continue to be responsible for defence, security, foreign affairs and constitution, most pensions, benefits and most tax powers up to the date Scotland becomes an independent country”.
Many important subjects fall within the scope of matters reserved to this Parliament, but I am bothered by the fact that only seven of them are mentioned in the joint statement. It makes no mention, for example, of the economy, transport, or oil and gas, to name but three matters that are of some interest in Scotland. I therefore wondered whether the selection of seven subjects in this joint statement was simply deliberate because it was as much as could be agreed between the two Governments. Or is the selection simply because this statement was to give general guidance to members of the public? Either way, there needs to be clarity at this point, 85 days from referendum day.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Lang, I would welcome a response from the Advocate-General, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness. I hope that he can assure the House that the United Kingdom Government will continue to be responsible for all the matters reserved to this Parliament. If that is not to be the case, what will be the position?
My Lords, coming 30th in the debate is not the easiest position, given that most points have already been made. I am now looking for different ways of saying the same thing. I am not surprised to have found myself in agreement with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness. Given that the Liberal Party was a partner in the constitutional convention, I fully expected to agree with most of what he said. I was a bit more surprised to find myself in almost total agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Lang, and, God forbid, with the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, whom I often jousted with in the other place when he was not a supporter of devolution and I was.
The noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, wondered what would have happened if Alex Ferguson and Tommy Gemmell had not left Paisley to head south. I can tell him, as a resident of Paisley—in fact I was born there—we would have been delighted for them to stay. I am sure that we would have found a junior football team they could both have managed and coached. However, they did come south, and I think that was of benefit to everyone.
My first interest in politics came when I was 17 and I joined the Labour Party. Life was simple then. The Conservative Party on one side and the Labour Party on the other. I hate to say this to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, but the Liberal Party was on the fringes. Life was simple: we all knew where we stood, we all knew who our opponents were. Then, in the late 1960s, up popped Scottish oil and the almost minute Scottish National Party adopted its first slogan: “It’s Scotland’s oil”. That is what I always thought about nationalism: it is a selfish, inward-looking phenomenon. Nationalism is a destructive force; it is not a force for going forward. It sets people against people and countries against countries, no matter what form it takes. In my view, it should be avoided at all costs.
That slogan set off the debate that went on for almost 40 years and led, in the late 1980s, to interested parties—the Labour Party, the Liberals, the churches, the trade unions and civic Scotland—becoming involved in the constitutional convention, to hammer out how we could avoid nationalism but go forward and allow Scotland’s home affairs to be decided in Scotland. That process took the next eight years, and in 1997, when the Labour Government were elected, my noble friend Lord Robertson came forward with the proposal that we should have a referendum to decide whether there should be a Parliament in Scotland or not. There I found myself again divided from some of the people I had been closest to in the argument for devolution. They did not think we should have that referendum; they thought it had been in the manifesto and that we should go forward. They were looking for something different from what I was looking for: devolvement of power, not on a national basis, but bringing power home, closer to people. I found myself in agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, and I hoped he would include local government. That is where real power should lie. The closest point we have to the people who elect us is at local level.
The phrase by Donald Dewar that is often quoted is that the devolved Parliament was a process, not an event. I do not think for a moment that Donald Dewar meant that that process was further devolving powers to the Scottish Parliament; rather it was devolving powers from that Parliament back to local government and the people who first elect us. That did not happen. In fact, the exact opposite happened. We have watched councils decline in Scotland. There are currently 32; I doubt that will last for very much longer. Power is being sucked up to the centre, albeit the centre has changed. I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Wilson, who said he had looked at the rising numbers at Edinburgh Airport. If you want to look at things being pulled to the centre, simply look at that. As Edinburgh Airport has grown, Glasgow Airport has declined. Power, jobs and influence are all being sucked into one place in Scotland.
Alex Salmond was never going to be content with a devolved Parliament. He did not want it in the first place. He went along with it and saw it as a stepping stone. We now come to the referendum that he talked us into. It is quite simple—yes or no—but not according to Mr Salmond. We have again been sidetracked down the road of what happens if there is a no vote: “What more powers do we get? What’s the second prize?”. We should not have been distracted down that road. It is a quite clear yes or no, and, like with most things, no should mean no.
I hope there will be a no vote, but that we then look at the whole situation in the UK. I think we need another constitutional convention or conference, whatever you wish to call it, that does not look at it in a piecemeal manner, as we have looked before. That is the difficulty we have got ourselves into: we keep chipping bits off and adding bits on. We need to look at the whole circumstance in the UK—from this Parliament to regional governments, to the Scottish Parliament, to the Welsh Assembly, to local government —to see what has to be done as a whole. I do not think we can continue in the way we are. People are now disfranchised and almost certainly do not feel included. Until they feel they have some input to make at local level, I do not think we are going to see voting patterns increase—rather, they will decline.
I appear to be the only woman speaking in the debate. To be quite honest, that does not surprise me. Women in Scotland have not been very vocal about this, but when it comes to opinion polls the answer is no. That is because women are not gamblers. Men are more likely to take a gamble on what might be, but women are used to the everyday issues of what happens now: “How do I put the bread on the table? How do I keep the family clothed? How do I pay the rent? Am I going to gamble all that?”. Maybe it will be all right on the night, but maybe it will not. Women’s family ties are important to them. Like the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, I have two grandchildren living in Scotland with a Scottish mother and an English father, and two grandchildren living just outside Cambridge with a Scottish mother and an English father. One set of them will be foreigners. Whichever way we go, the family living in England are going to have foreign cousins and the family living in Scotland are going to have foreign cousins. My grandchildren are all British, and I hope they all will remain British.
I want to ask the Minister what the implications are for education. My eldest granddaughter is 16. She has just sat her Highers and hopes to do very well. She will not apply to university until next year because she is too young, but she wants to look at her options throughout the UK. If, by sheer chance, there is a yes vote in September, she will have to apply to the English universities, I presume, as a foreign student. Young people do not want that to happen. They do not see borders and boundaries in the way that my generation probably did. She finds the thought of a border between Scotland and England laughable. She sees herself as European more than anything.
That leads me to EU membership. If, as we are being told, after a yes vote Scotland will not automatically be a member of the EU—I think that that is the case—my granddaughter will not be applying as an EU student but as a foreign student. She cannot freely travel to Europe, as she would hope to do in a gap year; that will not be open to her without visas and all that comes with it. She will need a different passport. What of EU members living in Scotland at the moment? A large number of them live in Scotland, so what will happen to them after an independence vote? Are they to be cast aside? I was interested to hear one of my colleagues say that Welsh was the second most spoken language in Wales. Can I tell noble Lords that Polish is the second most spoken language in Scotland? That is not a recent event. It comes from the 1940s when the Free Polish Army was stationed in Scotland. It has been for a very long time.
These are very big questions but questions that the Scottish Government are refusing to answer and we have to get those answers before proceeding further.
My Lords, for many Englishmen, Scotland is a land of mists and mysteries, and I am an Englishman. I confess to being something of a genealogical nut and yet in 40-odd years of clambering up my family tree I have found not a single drop of Scottish blood.
Perhaps the trolls and social-media Stalinists would claim that this gives me no right even to participate in this debate, and that I fail the McTebbit test, or whatever passes as an appropriate test of my loyalties north of the border. So let me be clear: I support two teams—England when it is playing Scotland, and Scotland when it is playing Germany, France, Italy, or almost any other country.
The world of books has always been of some importance, so perhaps I should use that as a starting point. The first book I ever remember reading was Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, as a boy, by torchlight beneath the covers. Even on a cold winter’s night in Hertfordshire I could walk on warm sands with Jim Hawkins and his famous Scottish creator. The Scots, as we have heard, have always been renowned for their literary imagination, with Barrie, Burns, Conan Doyle and Kenneth Grahame—an endless, illustrious list given by the noble Lord, Lord Birt. Of course, as many have mentioned, there is Walter Scott.
I prepared for this debate by reading for the very first time that classic novel of the north, Rob Roy. That would tell me something about the Scottish spirit, I thought. It is a rather long book, so it came as something of a surprise to discover that I was more than half way through it and still had not set foot in Scotland. Dare I admit it—parts of the dialect were a bit challenging. As I am sure all noble Lords will know, it is set in the years immediately after the Act of Union. It is a novel of national pride, cultural aspiration and, most of all, reconciliation One of its heroes is Baillie Jarvie, a man who—I am using Scott’s words,
“although a keen Scotchman, and abundantly zealous for the honour of his country, was disposed to think liberally of the sister kingdom”.
I think Baillie Jarvie was saying that we are better together. He scolds the foul-tempered Andrew Fairservice thus—although I will not attempt the accent:
“Whisht, sir!—Whisht!—it’s ill-scraped tongues like your’s that make mischief atween neighbourhoods and nations. There’s naething sae gude on this side o’ time but it might hae been better, and that may be said o’ the Union”.
That may still be said of the union, and even more so of ill scraped tongues.
My noble and learned friend Lord Wallace, and several others, referred to a nation punching above its weight. I prefer to think of it as a nation singing above its scale. Scotland has certainly done that. There are so many great inventors, industrialists, engineers, academics, surgeons, artists, and just plain good exceptionally hospitable people. We have already heard stories of great Scotsmen and women in so many areas—in business, science, education and military valour—which I will not repeat.
However, let me turn to one area of great national pride and cultural interest—that of sport. It is a stunning matter of fact that Scottish athletes who made up 10% of Great Britain’s team at the Olympics hauled in 20% of our medals. Who will ever forget the pride of the entire country at that extraordinary achievement? Could that have been achieved by Scotland on its own in isolation? I doubt it. Look at the English premiership these past few years—the finest football league in the world and run by, yes, Scots. I am sorry, but it is the shocking truth: Alex Ferguson, Kenny Dalgleish, David Moyes, Paul Lambert, Steve Kean, Owen Coyle, Alex McLeish, and on, and on, and on—Scotsmen to a man and in every lilting post-match syllable. Has that smacked of arrogance in the English? Arrogance is usually administered with a firmer hand than that. If my old friend Francis Urquhart had ever heard of the drive for independence, I suspect that he would have concluded that the demand for it came from south of the border, not the north.
Those Scots are everywhere, even here in Westminster. As my noble friend Lord Forsyth pointed out so passionately earlier, take out those with Scottish roots from the list of Prime Ministers these past 100 years—the Campbell-Bannermans, the Douglas-Homes, the Browns and the Blairs, the Macmillans and the MacDonalds and all the rest, and you are left with a remarkably short list. Take out a couple of Welshmen who crept in there as well and the list is shorter still. So have we English lost out? No, all of us have gained.
There is a golden thread, a mixture of sentiment and common interest, that has bound our peoples together that makes us stronger, not weaker, and that has made this union one of the most adaptable and successful ever devised by man. Do I take all this for granted? Of course I do at times, I am English. Was I taught too little at school about Scottish history? Absolutely I was. Do I wish this union of ours to continue? Most certainly, and with all my heart.
Even as an Englishman it is impossible to walk the fields of Culloden without feeling the power of its history. You cannot read the pages of Rob Roy or listen to the songs of old Scotland, even with a dull English ear, without being taken up by the romance of Scottish culture. Walk through the streets of Edinburgh in August, as I do, and you will see heads held high—just as they are bent low when walking those same streets in January. I defy you to sail the seas of the west coast in the company of Para Handy without laughing with every blow of the puffer’s bilge.
I have not an ounce of Scottish marrow in my bones. I represent a party that would gain mightily and overnight if Scotland disappeared and took all of its Labour MPs with it. The rest of us would move on. Yet we—the English, the Scots, the Welsh and the Irish—are more than friends, we are family. If Scotland were to decide to quit, to leave us and go its own way, it would be the greatest sadness of my political life. May that day never come.
I have lived, worked and studied in Scotland and England. My family roots are from all parts of these islands. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, that if he digs deep enough he will find little parts of these islands in all of us. It is one of the many reasons why I think of myself as British, not English, and why I recognise that the United Kingdom is, in my judgment, by far the most successful political and economic union that the world has ever seen.
The noble Lord, Lord Lang, put it very well—I thank him for his committee’s report—when he reminded us that in 1707 the Act of Union brought to an end years of fratricidal strife across the border. It introduced peace and prosperity to these islands that allowed England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland all to build up, especially in the more radical parts, that tradition of democracy, the rule of law, freedom and tolerance that made us the most successful nation of that period. It was a nation that was able to invent and carry forward the Industrial Revolution because of those economic and political freedoms. We should be proud of it. We should fight for it.
In 1707 that Act was, in a way, about an unformed federal state—it was federalism before federalism was invented. The Scots kept their own legal system; the English kept theirs. There were separate church/state relationships. Those aspects of federalism were there in these islands already. When I hear people say, as Alex Salmond and others do, that somehow or other Scotland is uniquely different, I say, as I have indicated, that the interrelationship within these islands is far too complex to be dismissed in the way in which it is sometimes done by the SNP. In my view, one of the greatest achievements of the United Kingdom is that we can maintain our differences in a way that enables different cultures within the United Kingdom to flourish. I go to Scotland and I can enjoy the culture there. Scots come here and they can enjoy the culture in England—or in Wales or in Northern Ireland. We can do that because we have developed political structures that allow it to happen.
The noble Lord, Lord Shipley, hit on an important point when he indicated that we have to keep our thinking flexible on what happens next. That is not only because there could be a narrow vote on 18 September; rather more worryingly, if there is a strong yes vote—I hope that there will not be—and then a flight of capital and jobs from Scotland, we will find that the attitude towards separation changes. There will be an election for the Scottish Parliament in 2016. What will happen if the SNP is thrown out? Will we carry on negotiating on an independence that no one wants? I very much doubt it.
I strongly object to the way in which the SNP addresses this argument. It is trying to present it as though voting for independence on 18 September means that everything changes but nothing changes. It cannot be like that. There are crucial dangers on the economic and currency fronts. The issue of whether Scotland joins the European Union is crucial, too. I cannot improve on what, from his great knowledge, the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, told the House. As someone who has had to deal with political realities over the years, I can say that if I were a state such as Spain or some other European state that had separatist groups within it, I would do everything possible to make it difficult and costly, if not impossible, for a separating state to join. You would want to send the message to the separatist groups in your country that separation is a bad idea. We have to accept that hard political reality.
What do we do about the current argument? I have my criticisms of the way in which the no campaign has been run in Scotland and feel that we are underestimating the importance of bringing the rest of the United Kingdom into the argument. As has been pointed out, about 1 million Scots live in the rest of the United Kingdom. About a quarter of a million live in south-east England. When I talk at the Caledonian Club, I find that most of the Scots there are anti the separatist vote. When I go to some of the other Scottish groups to whom I talk, they are anti the separatist agenda, too. They realise, rather better than many SNP members, that if you leave the union and separate, you are saying to the rest of the United Kingdom, “We are leaving you. This is a divorce”. Those who want to leave need to recognise that if they poke the English, in particular, in the eye, the feeling on this side, here, will be awoken that Scotland is not wanted. You can already hear that. When I talk to people in the rest of Britain about this, they say, “Well, if they want to go, it doesn’t matter”. If they are saying that, there will not then be a nice, friendly, structured argument about who gets what. If a separate Scotland tries to walk back into the family the following day, who gets what can certainly be discussed, but the family that has been left cannot be told how it should run its economy. That is why Scotland cannot have the economic and monetary policy that the SNP says that it wants.
What do we do next? I know Scotland well. I hope and believe that the Scottish people will not vote yes to separation. My guess is that they will not but, if they do, we need some major constitutional changes for the remaining parts of the UK. If they vote no, however, we cannot just carry on as before. I understand and to some extent am sympathetic to a constitutional convention, although there are problems about how to contain it in a limited timeframe and focus it effectively. If we do not have that, we need to have a structured way in which we can recognise the changing relationships between the regions and countries of the United Kingdom.
There is the question of greater devolution. Much of the talk in this debate has been about devolution within Scotland, but there is the matter of devolution throughout the UK. A rarely addressed problem is that of England. An English Parliament is not necessarily the answer. When you look at England, it is very important to recognise that the south-east corner, bounded by Cambridge, Milton Keynes, Oxford and Southampton, contains over 22 million people. That is over one-third of the total population of the United Kingdom. In the early 1980s, I and Bryan Gould, who was then the MP for Dagenham and a shadow Minister, tried to work out a regional structure for England, but the impossibility of the south-east hit us hard. There is a great problem there. It is not insoluble, but it is a difficult problem, which we need to address.
The issue of England in relation to all this is important. It greatly troubles me when the SNP seems to think that it is enough simply to be anti-English. Many of its members are anti-English rather than anti the United Kingdom. That is deeply offensive to many British people in England. That is why the SNP perhaps needs to take on board that arguing for independence in the way that it does sets off a reaction elsewhere in the UK that will not create the thoughtful debate that we would have to have after a yes vote. I hope that there will not be an independence vote, but we have to face the reality.
My Lords, when I sent my name in for this debate, I suspected that I might end up in a minority but I did not expect to be in a minority of one. However, there is on the wall of this House a very important reminder of the failure of the House of Lords to understand issues of home rule, as it was then called. Of course, I am referring to the two famous portraits of the 1890s which show their Lordships—in those days bedecked in fine top hats, of course—doing down the aspirations of the Irish people. I wish to speak about the idea of the exercise of sovereignty within an existing state and the way in which that can and should happen in a context that respects everyone’s rights to self-determination as peoples.
I am very grateful to the Constitution Committee for the way in which it has exercised its judgment on this issue but I am concerned about the constitutional framework that is being pursued. My suspicion is that the notions of a continuator state and a successor state are not precisely analogous in the present position. I know that there are no other precedents but it is important for us to consider how the devolution transformation has changed the United Kingdom already and how it might change it again.
What has really dismayed me about this debate is that your Lordships seem to believe that the United Kingdom was created by almighty God. The United Kingdom is a constitutional chapter of accidents, just like most other constitutions are. As someone who has studied the history of these islands, I am aware that the United Kingdom did not remain a kingdom as originally conceived, with the union of the kingdom of Scotland and the kingdom of England, which had already taken on the Principality of Wales, with Ireland, but that existed in history only for some 150 years. So why is that state form the only thing that we can envisage in the 21st century?
I confess publicly that if I had a vote in Scotland I would vote yes. That does not make me a nationalist with a capital N and it certainly does not make me a separatist. The badge that I habitually wear indicates which Union I think is the most important to belong to—the European Union—alongside the nation of Wales, but that does not mean that I do not consider it to have been a great privilege in my political life to have served in this building for 40 years. That is my approach to this issue.
What I have tried to do here for that period, especially the 15 years I have spent trying to establish the constitution of Wales, with a lot of help from my noble friend Lord Richard—I was glad to hear him say earlier that his work is yet unfinished; I look forward to the time when we will have more equality in the numbers of Members who serve across the United Kingdom in our assemblies—is to have a positive approach to trying to make devolution work. To that end, I have always emphasised the important principle of the sovereignty of the people and of the self-determination of peoples. This is what I find very attractive about both the original Scottish Government White Paper—much attacked and savaged in this Chamber—and, more recently, the draft independence Bill.
I am a big fan of what is usually known as the continental way of making constitutions—in other words, putting down basic principles and indicating fundamental rights—and here we have a fine example in how a series of policies is set out. The noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Port Ellen, has already referred to this matter. As a former Defence Minister—and someone with whom I have had disagreements in the past on matters of nuclear disarmament—he is quite seriously concerned about a Scottish Government who are attempting to make nuclear disarmament a principle of the constitution. Well, for heaven’s sake. We have a situation where 190 countries have already signed the non-proliferation treaty, so is it not rather good—for some of us, anyway—that one of the nations of the United Kingdom might decide to do that by its constitution?
Apart from the international issue of disarmament, there are issues relating to social policy, which is set in the constitution, and in particular there are issues involving the environment. Again, I would be very attracted to a yes vote on these grounds—the commitment to legislate on biodiversity and to address the mitigation of climate change, following on from what the Scottish Government have already done in this area in the Climate Change (Scotland) Act and so on. The notion of placing in one’s constitution, as about 90 other countries have done, the right to a healthy environment is also attractive. However, perhaps most attractive is the provision for a permanent constitution to be prepared as a written constitution by a further constitution convention. It is not something that the Scottish Government themselves are seeking to do; it is something that they are seeking to establish by the same principle by which devolution was established—that is, through a convention made up of civic society.
In contrast to everyone else who has spoken, I do not see these huge fears about the future of the United Kingdom and I do not share the pessimism. I will co-operate of course with whatever refreshed union—to use the term of the noble Lord, Lord Purvis—will emerge from these discussions. I still believe, however, that the best way forward is a yes vote in Scotland. This would have a catalytic effect on constitutional development not only north of the border but across the Marches of Wales.
Since the noble Lord was kind enough to refer to me, I wonder whether he could answer a question. I heard what he said—I listened with great interest—but is he saying that at the end of the day he wants to see a United Kingdom in which Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and the regions still participate, or is he saying that he wants to see a United Kingdom which Scotland, and possibly also Wales, is no longer part of?
What I certainly see is the constitutional position, especially since there will be one common head of state, where what we are talking about is not the end of the United Kingdom but the creation of united kingdoms or the recreation of united kingdoms, which of course includes the Principality of Wales and indeed a significant portion of the island of Ireland. Especially when we look at the new relationships within the island of Ireland, there are myriad possibilities. I look forward with excitement to the further changes in the history of our kingdom.
My Lords, despite all our discussions, both on previous occasions and today, I do not believe that we are any closer to realising the full impact that will occur in this country—and by that I mean the whole of the United Kingdom—and Europe, if there is a yes vote for separation. We have not fully analysed it, and I do not think it is possible to fully analyse it at the moment.
A number of problems have been raised that could occur in this debate. In fact the noble Lord, Lord Soley, prompts me to ask my noble and learned friend now: what is the legal situation should there be a narrow vote for yes to independence and then an immediate backtracking in Scotland and the removal of the SNP from power? Is there a provision where there could be a second referendum or is it a fait accompli that once there is a yes vote on the 18 September, that is it for ever and a day. I would be grateful if he could clarify that.
I am also grateful to my noble friend Lord Lang for his excellent report and for highlighting just what a difficult and bumpy road there is ahead of us in the event of a possible yes vote. My noble friend reminded us that today is the anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn, which he said was primarily a Scots versus English battle. I remind the House that a lot of Scots fought on the English side. There was Comyn, the de Umfravilles, Macnabs and MacDowells. There were Highland clans fighting for the English. It was as much about a settlement of who should be the King of Scotland as between Scotland and England. My ancestors were involved in that battle and in the Battle of Flodden that my noble friend mentioned. At least we helped to win one of the battles we took part in. The point of that was to remind the House that Scotland was as divided then as it is now. As my noble friend Lord Lang said in his speech, the union in 1707 brought the peace and harmony that both countries really wanted.
There has been a mass of paperwork and many good government publications, but the fact remains that we in Scotland—in fact, we in the UK—do not know the full implications of what will happen and the effect of the independence vote. Only 14% of people in Scotland know what the current arrangements are between Holyrood and Westminster. Compound that with the Scotland Act 2012 and there is a huge information problem that the Government must try to address. In addition to the book that will arrive in everybody’s home about the independence vote, would my noble and learned friend consider whether there could be a small pamphlet explaining the powers of Westminster and of Holyrood now and what they will be? The fact is that under the 2012 Act the Scottish Government are allowed more tax-raising powers by secondary legislation without primary legislation—but not many people realise that.
There will inevitably be questions that are unanswered because the negotiations have to take place after a yes vote if there is one. We must recall that that is in marked contrast to the situation with regard to Europe, where it seems to be the policy that all the negotiations should happen before the referendum takes place. We would be much better served in Scotland had such a situation happened so that we had a clearer view of the likely implications, and the division of assets and liabilities. One would then be in a better position to put the cross on the paper.
I follow the noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, in regard to Europe. What does my noble and learned friend think the timescale might be if there is a yes vote? Could there be a negotiation for Scotland to become a member of the EU by the time separation day happens? If there is not time—I do not believe there is—England will find itself with a foreign country that is not part of the EU on its northern border. The effect of that on the north of England will be dramatic, as it will be on the south of Scotland. An artificial line that has occurred through history would have to be manned at all its border posts. How many roads would be closed so that that may be satisfactorily managed to avoid fraud? Let us recall that 23 million vehicles cross in both directions each year between Scotland and England. Some 15 million tonnes of freight move in each direction and there are 7 million rail passenger journeys. If there are to be border controls, that will impede the natural flow of trade within an area that at the moment is all united. It is therefore no wonder that the polls in the border areas show a higher percentage of people wanting to have a no vote and to stay in the United Kingdom than elsewhere in Scotland.
Will my noble and learned friend comment also on the draft Scottish independence Bill published on 16 June? Are the Government going to do a critique of it and are they satisfied on its legal accuracy?
There has been quite a movement of powers to Scotland following devolution, mainly with the Scotland Act 2012. All the major parties are saying now that there should be a further transfer of powers from Westminster to Holyrood if there is a no vote on 18 September. That has caused considerable upset in parts of England, from Cornwall to Northumberland. There is no doubt that there will have to be a constitutional convention to try to work out a better way in which the union can operate, because we are past the point of no return now. The Scots have driven us to this situation. Although I am in favour of transferring more tax-raising powers from Westminster to Holyrood, on this occasion it is time to make haste slowly, because this is a matter which, if it is not done correctly, could break up the United Kingdom in other ways that we have not envisaged at the moment. For that reason I support that part of the report of my noble friend Lord Lang in which he says that there ought to be a constitutional convention as soon as 18 September is past.
My Lords, the challenge we face in this debate is immense in itself, but it is also symptomatic. We live in an age of paradox. Never have the people of the world been more interdependent in terms of security, economics, health and all the rest. Yet somehow there has never been such a widespread sense of alienation and disenchantment with existing political structures. I believe these two factors are working together in the situation that confronts us.
It is not just about economics. In the case of Scotland it is clearly about emotion and culture as well. There is a deep-seated yearning for a sense of identity and personal significance and the confidence that comes out of a sense of identity. The challenge is how we recognise that identity and enable it to flourish but at the same time enable people to see that in the world in which we live it is simply impossible to find a way forward without co-operation; and that therefore it is not really the right time to dismantle a very effective part of co-operation, as demonstrated within the United Kingdom.
I am a half-Scot, and I hope that the House will forgive me if I am a little personal in my approach to this debate tonight. I had a father who could not have been more English, rooted in the Surrey-Hampshire borders. I had a mother who could not have been more of a Scot. She had lost two brothers, serving the United Kingdom in the Army, one not yet 20, who after being awarded an MC was killed in action. The other, as a young captain serving in the Indian army 84 years ago—a kilt-wearing captain, when he had the opportunity—was killed on the north-west frontier.
During the war my mother was working and therefore my grandmother had a great deal to do with bringing me up. She had gone out at the age of 19 to marry my grandfather in India, and they lost two of their children there. He was a missionary in the Church of Scotland. He ended his life as secretary of the foreign missions of the Church of Scotland. He was not, as I understand him, an evangelical, but he was dedicated to the cause of education and had concentrated on education in his time in India.
During the war, my grandmother used to tell me vivid stories about Scotland all the time—often in the cosiness of the shelter as the bombs fell round about. My mother identified very strongly with London during the Blitz, but always as a Scot. She never doubted or questioned her Scottish identity. That was true of her work in academia, at London University and the LSE, on the Bench and in local politics.
What did all that mean for me? How did it affect me? It meant, I realise in my older age, that I grew up with a sense that England and Scotland were inseparable. They were different—that I was very clear about—but they were inseparable. There was a certain confidence about that. Indeed, at times, the humour was quite strong. One of the stories I was brought up on was the story of the Scottish businessman who had been building up his business very successfully and had always resolved any difficulties that arose at St Andrew’s House but was finally confronted with something that meant that he had to go to London, to Whitehall. The family were rather anxious about what would happen, so when he came back, they asked him, “How did you get on with all those Sassenachs?”. He said, rather puzzled, “Sassenachs? I did not meet any Sassenachs; I only met the heads of department”. That story made a great impression on me.
It was therefore not altogether a surprise when, as a very young Member of the other place I became a PPS at the then very large Ministry of Housing and Local Government for England and Wales and went to ministerial meetings on Monday mornings. There was quite a big team of Ministers. Down one side of the table were the Ministers and down the other side were the civil servants. Bang in the middle, opposite the Secretary of State, was the Permanent Secretary. Who was the Permanent Secretary? Stevenson, a rugby-playing Scotsman, if ever there was one.
I think that that is central to the story of the United Kingdom together. England and Scotland together have had a great and successful past. Yes, we have had our differences. Yes, there are some historic resentments in Scotland about how the Scottish aristocracy perhaps sold out the Scottish people to the English. Those things are real; they do not go away. What we must face is that if there is a no vote in the referendum, that will not be the end of the story. We will have gained a political victory, but the issue will remain. I do not want to be a Jeremiah, but I have a foreboding that it will accentuate and could turn quite ugly. I see some Scottish Members of the House indicating their doubts, with me, on that matter.
Therefore it is essential that, with no further prevarication, we get down to the job of restructuring the United Kingdom in a way that meets that challenge. Let us stop theorising about the possibilities of a federal United Kingdom. A federal United Kingdom is what is required. It is the logic of all that is happening in terms of devolution and the talk of greater opportunities and financial powers for Scotland. I am convinced that we will have a stronger United Kingdom on a federal basis than we do when we are always trying to sweep the issue back under the carpet.
It seems to me that there are parallels here with Europe. Looking back at the European story, I happen to believe that we would have had a stronger Europe if we had had a greater confederal approach rather than the emphasis on a unitary approach. Sometimes, strength lies in the co-operation and effective operation of confident people with a strong sense of identity. From that standpoint, I would be the first to applaud the creation of a commission to look at the future constitutional structure of Britain, but I would want that commission to have a firm remit that it was to look at it in terms of the contribution to be made to our mutual future on the basis of a federation.
My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble Lord, Lord Judd, because I agree so much with his peroration, and I shall come back to that point in a moment.
The committee report outlines, quite rightly, the very considerable constitutional implications of a yes vote. It certainly places in sharp focus the profound and shocking effect that it would have on both the continuation state of the UK and the successor state of Scotland. However, I am an optimist. As a fellow Celt, a Cornishman, I hope very much that our Scottish cousins will firmly vote no. I believe that we should plan for that every bit as much as we prepare for the stark reality of yes. A number of colleagues in all parts of the House have been referring to the possibility that we have to do something very serious indeed even if there is a no vote. What the noble Lord, Lord Judd, has just said echoes that.
We were given a lead earlier in this debate from the noble Lords, Lord Strathclyde and Lord Richard, to the effect that we should be looking very firmly at the implications for the whole of the United Kingdom. Indeed I am repeating a phrase that I think the noble Lord, Lord Lang, made in introducing his committee’s report.
Many of today’s contributions have understandably focused on the challenges for Scotland on 19 September. However, how does this Parliament, and the parties in it, deliver on the promise that a no vote will not mean that there will be no change?All the leaders say that they are committed to more devolution and that Scotland must be assured that it will happen. My noble and learned friend Lord Wallace of Tankerness reiterated that promise at the start of today’s debate.
It is in that context that I am disappointed—though it is perfectly reasonable—that the committee did not look at the constitutional implications of a no vote. Perhaps it needs to return to that, even before 18 September. That is because, as devolution takes another step forward, after the referendum, both in Scotland and in Wales, we cannot forget that the largest part of the United Kingdom is England. The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, in a debate on the gracious Speech said:
“We clearly recognise in Scotland and Wales the distance and resentment towards Westminster-dominated decisions. We need to recognise that the same instincts apply in Newcastle, Norwich, Cumberland and Cornwall”. —[Official Report, 11/6/14; col. 460.]
Colleagues on all sides of the House, on these Benches and throughout, have spoken in similar terms.
The Chancellor spoke about this only yesterday in Manchester. Naturally enough he expressed it in terms of giving an economic boost to the north of England, and he suggested doing so by getting the big northern cities to work together. In that speech, however, he acknowledged something vital, which is that real economic powerhouses must possess real political power too.
In that context we have to examine the whole issue of local democratic accountability. To take a rather more parochial example, yesterday the Government took a big step: finally devolving to Cornwall the right to allocate the latest tranche of EU structural funds, some £450 million, and that is where the power should be, rather than in those artificial regional development agencies that we all suffered from.
However, that should only be the start. More power should be devolved to a democratically accountable Cornish assembly, or whatever it may be in different parts of the country. That is subsidiarity. There were quotes from my erstwhile leader, Jo Grimond, about the concept of subsidiarity. I do not think that he invented the term, but the concept is quite clear: that decisions should be taken as close as practicably possible to those whom they affect. Colleagues from all parts of the country and all parts of the House have made a similar point. Different arrangements will suit different parts of England–we should be relaxed about that. Dr Andrew Blick, a highly respected academic in this field, has written an excellent pamphlet detailing how this model could work—a model of devolution on demand. This will be relevant whatever the outcome of the referendum of 18 September, to both Scotland and other parts of the United Kingdom. We must build on the new city deals so that the new powers, along the lines offered to Wales in 1998, can be available as of right to institutions which mean something to the people they affect. This concept of devolution on demand, which we Liberal Democrats have been advocating, is very well examined by Dr Blick’s paper. It would mean getting councils to come together to form the new institutions; and in return for working together they would be entitled to power, initially on the scale offered to Wales in 1998, and then on a greater scale, with more responsibility for finance eventually following thereafter.
As the Chancellor said yesterday, Wales has its own parliament and can pass its own laws but the economies of Manchester and Leeds are each bigger than that of Wales. So I conclude, as he does, that there is no reason why parts of England cannot take power on a similar scale to the Welsh Assembly if the will is here in this building to make that happen. There is no reason why Kent, Cornwall, Manchester or Leeds cannot take on responsibility and have proper accountable governance. They would be more strategic and powerful than local authorities but not as centralised and clumsy as control from Westminster.
I very much agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Soley, said about an English parliament and I invite him to look at the effective debunking of that idea in Dr Blick’s pamphlet, which I quoted in Grand Committee last week. It would be incredibly unbalancing and centralising to invent an all-England parliament at this stage. Incidentally, if there were a yes vote in Scotland then an English parliament would be even more disruptive to the British constitution. That is because it would of course be representing 92% of the remaining United Kingdom, with Stormont and Cardiff Bay representing 3% and 5% respectively. That would surely be impossible to sustain for any period.
The second option, which is equally undesirable, is that of English votes for English laws. This has been examined and examined again but even the year-long work of the McKay commission raised more questions than it answered and, sadly, it ended up being rubbished on all sides.
Thirdly, the idea of some top-down imposition of regional government, as was attempted in the north-east of England, has also been dismissed and seen as irrelevant. Those artificial regions that were created for a different purpose just do not meet the needs and aspirations of people in England. I take as an example the northern end of the south-west region that is dear to my heart, which is nearer to Scotland than it is to Land’s End. The idea that that region has a natural unity is just not true.
The noble Lord, Lord Judd, emphasised just now—as the noble Lords, Lord Crickhowell and Lord McFall, did previously—that 19 September is as much a constitutional opportunity or threat as 18 September. We have to grasp the fundamental asymmetrics of the demand for devolution in England—the fundamental messiness of England—and the essential asymmetrical reality of the United Kingdom, and then go with the grain. Once people have devolution they tend to like it and their neighbours will then demand it too. We can move toward a more devolved United Kingdom—the whole of the United Kingdom—without imposing artificial boundaries, in the way so eloquently described just now by the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, and without unbalancing the whole union by pitching England against the rest. The next Parliament must make that happen.
My Lords, I confess that I am a little sceptical about this idea that devolution cures all, which many noble Lords seem to have embraced, but I do not want to go down that route today.
I begin by referring briefly to the position that would arise in the European Union in the event that Scotland were to secede from the United Kingdom. The legal position is quite clear, contrary to what Mr Salmond would wish us to believe. As long ago as 2004, President Prodi stated in reply to a question in the European Parliament:
“When a part of the territory of a member state ceases to be part of that state, e.g. because that territory becomes an independent state, the treaties will no longer apply to that territory”.
More recently, the position was validated by President Barroso, who said,
“a region which secedes from a member state automatically ceases to be part of the European Union”.
So there would need to be a negotiation. Other noble Lords—the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, has already spoken—are better qualified than I to speculate as to how that might develop. I would just say that I can think of half a dozen member states that would count up to 100 very slowly indeed before rolling out the red carpet for an independent Scotland. At the very least, negotiations would not be a piece of gateau, as the French might say. There would be no fast track—rather, a bumpy road leading who knows where.
However, I do not want to dwell on the downsides; I want to take a much more positive line. Too much of the debate has sounded like a bunch of snotty southerners firing warning shots at the Scots. I am Welsh, and whenever I hear our national anthem, “Mae Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau”, I feel an emotion shared by the noble Lord, Lord Richard, and other Welsh Members of your Lordships’ House. Consequently, I think I can understand the profound sense of attachment and belonging that the Scottish people feel for their country.
The real drawback of this referendum from my point of view is that I feel forced to reveal something that we Celts have kept quiet about for several hundred years. Between us, the Celtic fringe—that is, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland—while accounting for only 15% of the population, have been running Great Britain for years. Delve into any area of British life—the arts, the law, the civil service, the business world, politics—and what do you find? You find that we are hugely overrepresented. Tell it not in Gath, speak of it not in the streets of Ashkelon, but we have been running this place for years.
When I was Minister of State at the Foreign Office during the Maastricht negotiations, our principal adviser was a chap called John Kerr, later head of the Foreign Office. Our spokesman was a chap called Gus O’Donnell, later head of the Treasury. Emyr Jones Parry headed the EU external department at the FCO and later was our ambassador at the United Nations. There are no prizes for guessing their particular origins. The noble Lords, Lord Kerr and Lord O’Donnell, are now respected Members of this House, and my only regret is that we were never joined by Emyr Jones Parry, who would have been a considerable strengthening of the Taffia in your Lordships’ House.
It is true that our ultimate boss, the Prime Minister, Sir John Major, was English, but it is also true that no fewer than 50% of the Prime Ministers in the 20th century were Scottish or Welsh—half of them. The noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, made reference to that. Noble Lords may think that I am stretching the envelope a little by including Lord Salisbury in that list, but more than 500 years ago the Cecils were Welshmen on the make from Allt-Yr-Ynys on the Monmouthshire border. True, they anglicised their name from Sitsyllt to Cecil. True, they now sound like proper English toffs. But it is true too that the present Lord Salisbury—the noble Marquis, Lord Salisbury—clutches his Welsh origins to his bosom with pride, as I am sure do the 700,000 or 800,000 Scots living and working in England today.
Look at British history and it is the same story. Robert Burns, Adam Smith, Alexander Fleming, David Hume, John Baird—in any walk of science, business, the arts or the military, Scottish names appear again and again. If I were to give your Lordships a full list and add the Welsh and Irish figures, I would need to detain the House overnight.
Lastly, I will quote two apparently contradictory slogans: “Small is beautiful” and “Size matters”. Our countries—Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales—are not only beautiful; they give us a deep sense of belonging and social cohesion. On the other hand, many of the decisions that affect our daily lives are taken increasingly in international fora where size matters, whether it be the EU, the UN, NATO, the WTO or the G7. In all these, Great Britain has the size and weight to be at the top table. I say to my fellow Celts in Scotland: let us have the best of both worlds, let us continue to take a deep pride in our small homelands and let us continue—on the quiet—to represent Great Britain on the international top tables where size matters.
My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Steel, said, in his recent book My Scotland, Our Britain Gordon Brown draws attention to,
“what is unique about the modern United Kingdom—and distinguishes it not only from the US and other federal countries but from the European Union—is the extent to which UK citizenship guarantees fundamental social and economic, not just civil and political rights. It means that regardless of whether you are Scottish, English, Welsh or Northern Irish, you have a right to a UK-guaranteed pension; a right to UK-guaranteed assistance when unemployed; a right to fully funded health care free at the point of need; and a right to minimum standards of protection at work, including a UK-wide minimum wage and tax credits, no matter who you are and where you reside. The system of sharing across the UK creates a form of equality between the citizens of the four nations that no other group of countries can match for its depth and sophistication and this is arguably the defining characteristic of the Union today”.
We are surely right to care deeply about this and to campaign as hard as we can for its retention.
I want to deal with wider questions on the basis that the SNP’s independence referendum is defeated on 18 September, because the problem will not go away. The SNP is clearly peddling a lie when it asserts that Scotland can be a nation again only if it becomes a separate state. We are a nation. We have always been a nation, and what is more we have been successfully part of a world-class state for more than 300 years. Other speakers have explained what this has meant in practice and celebrated the contributions that Scots have been able to make on a world stage as part of the United Kingdom.
In Scotland, we control our institutions. We have a separate legal system, we are free to practise different religious practices and we have a distinctive culture. It is the best of both worlds, so what is the problem? It does not seem to be Scotland. My reading of the situation is that the people of Scotland would like to remain within the United Kingdom in the union that has lasted for more than 300 years, but that the conditions under which they are prepared to do so have changed and they need to be reflected in a new constitutional settlement. Like my noble friend Lord Richard, I believe that our present constitutional arrangements are a complete mess. The changes that need to be made are significant but not impossible to deliver, although there are consequences that may take time to be worked through.
This is a constitutional moment, an opportunity to sort out issues, that we must seize. The problem that we have to solve after 18 September is with the UK, not Scotland. There are three dimensions to it. The first is the sovereignty of the UK Parliament. Noble Lords will recall that in the run-up to the referendum on devolution, the sovereignty of the UK Parliament was reaffirmed and in the 1997 White Paper Scotland’s Parliament the Government said:
“The United Kingdom Parliament is and will remain sovereign in all matters”.
This claim was repeated in the assertion in the Scotland Act 1998 that the Scottish Parliament,
“does not affect the power of the Parliament of the United Kingdom to make laws for Scotland”.
With the benefit of hindsight, this now seems the wrong way round. Not only have we transferred significant powers to Brussels, for good reason, but one Parliament, two legislative Assemblies and a high-powered London authority are taking powers from the centre. Referendums, reflecting our new notion of popular sovereignty, are in effect required when important constitutional decisions are made.
Then there is local government. I think noble Lords enjoyed the rather delicious, bilious attack on the present arrangements by the noble Lord, Lord Haskins, and would wish for them to be changed. I also thought that the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, was right to bring up the quotation from Jo Grimond, which correctly analyses where power resides.
It is a mistake to believe that Britain is in any meaningful way a unitary state today. In any case, in my view what Scotland wants is the certainty that in its own sphere the Scottish Parliament holds undisputed power and its decisions will not and cannot be overruled by Westminster. This should apply to all devolved Administrations. So the second problem that needs solving is the need to decentralise decision-making in Britain, which is not devolution, as has rightly been said, and should not be confused with it. Decentralisation is different.
What we now need is more than the simple devolution to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, which should happen; we need double devolution, which means that power will also go to the UK city regions and other areas so that London powers, at least, are operating in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Belfast, Cardiff, Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, Newcastle and Teesside. We could add to that the Midlands and the south-west. In practice, Parliament does not legislate on matters directly affecting Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland or London, so would it be so different if devolved matters in England were left to city regions or an equivalent wording?
Thirdly, with regard to our own House, one further set of reforms might help to cement the new arrangements. The House of Lords could perhaps be replaced with an elected senate-like forum that represented the nations and regions, was sensitive to their needs and recognised that there are areas so controversial that they may cause polarisation, sufficiently strong to jeopardise the union, and therefore provided a forum where these issues could be resolved.
If we manage to seize the legislative moment—a constitutional moment that comes up only very rarely—and move to a more federal system, we will need a properly codified constitution. Federal systems all around the world are typically characterised by clear divisions of powers between different tiers of government, a set of autonomous institutions, a formal division of competences and rules for the resolution of conflict. As the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, said, the Commons Political and Constitutional Reform Committee and its advisers are doing a great job on this, and surely its time has come. It might be good if, as part of its programme, it could look at how responsibility for defence and security issues, the maintenance of our single economic market, welfare and guarantees for the funding of key services such as healthcare and pensions could be organised within the new federal system, while at the same time allowing for the proper and unfettered devolution of other powers without reservation.
Whatever the post-Scottish referendum arrangements are, the UK already looks more like a constitutional partnership of equals in what is in essence a voluntary multinational association. In some way it must make sense to codify the new division of powers and the new power-sharing, tax-sharing, risk-sharing and resource-sharing rules in a beautifully crafted and written codified constitution. As others have said, we should start working on that now.
My Lords, I come very near the end of a long and fascinating debate, in which we have had excellent contributions from so many parts of the United Kingdom, right down that lovely banana that lies on the Celtic fringe of our islands, from the Western Isles down to and including Cornwall. And we have had a marvellous contribution from pure Englishmen as well.
In the time available to me, I should like to concentrate on the report of the Select Committee. I was one of those who was privileged to give evidence before the committee, and I was very impressed by the quality of the questions that were put to me, and by the expert and effective chairmanship of the noble Baroness, Lady Jay. We were being asked to consider an event which we all wished would not happen. However, as an intellectual exercise, it was a very stimulating experience. I pay tribute to what I think is an excellent report and to the masterly way in which it was introduced for us this afternoon by the noble Lord, Lord Lang of Monkton.
Although it contemplates the implications of a vote for independence for the rest of the United Kingdom, it has some very important things to say about what that vote would mean for Scotland, too. It seemed to me to be clear, when I was giving evidence, that Scotland could not take this step without a great deal of assistance in that direction from Westminster. I took the orthodox view; there are reserved matters. The union of the kingdoms of Scotland and England and the Parliament of the United Kingdom are reserved; so also is the power to repeal the two Acts that gave effect to the Treaty of Union—the Union with Scotland Act 1706 and the Union with England Act 1707—of the Scottish Parliament. So the recommendations that legislation would be needed in this Parliament to set the process in train, as described in paragraphs 37 to 44, seemed to me to be entirely appropriate, with legislation going through this Parliament to make the necessary changes to enable the process.
As the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, said, the recommendations were cogent and persuasive, but that is not how the matter was seen north of the border. The scales were lifted from my eyes when, on 16 June, the Scottish Government published the draft Scottish Independence Referendum Bill. I rather regret that it has not been made available for all of us in the Printed Paper Office, because it really has to be seen to be appreciated. One may ask how it could be that the Scottish Government should devote time and money to something that is outside their competence, but it seems that we are far beyond niceties of that kind. It is quite plain from this document that the SNP Government take a quite different approach. In effect, that draft independence Bill is their response to the committee’s report. Far from being, or seeing itself, as a “successor” state deriving its independence by a grant of independence from the rest of the UK—a gracious grant, as someone said this afternoon—independence is something that they wish to assert as their constitutional right on their own terms. That is what this document is all about.
Mr Salmond is not looking for a Scottish independence Bill passed in this Parliament. What he is doing in this draft Bill is making a draft declaration of independence on his own terms. As I see it, that is a warning for all of us. It changes the flavour of the debate from that which I think the Select Committee, with great respect to it, was contemplating in its discussions. I think that it will lead to a demand by Mr Salmond for a Section 30 order removing all the obstacles to his Bill, so as to allow him to put the measure before his Parliament within days of his obtaining a yes vote. He will claim to have the backing of the Edinburgh agreement, about which the noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, made some very persuasive comments. It may be very difficult to see how we can escape from its terms. I hope that the Minister will say whether the Edinburgh agreement will survive a change of government if in 2015 the Government change and the Opposition become the Government. As far as Mr Salmond is concerned, speed is essential. His target is to achieve independence during the lifetime of his present Government in Edinburgh while he can still control events, and the rest of the United Kingdom must face up to that.
I think it is right to say that the launch of the Bill was a propaganda exercise. “We can give you something that London cannot give you—your own constitution”, it is saying. It is, at first sight, a simple and compelling document, as the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, said. It is brilliantly drafted, readable by everyone, including primary schoolchildren, and is something that anyone who cares to read it will at once understand. All the bits that one would expect to find are there: the nature of the state; an outline of the machinery of government; citizenship; protection of rights and freedoms; equality; the environment and, of course, the repeal of the Act of Union. Anyone who dares to criticise it does so at his peril. However, there certainly are things to criticise. Like the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, I suggest that the Government need to look at the document’s terms very carefully and point out where the flaws lie. One of the most important is the matter to which the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Port Ellen, drew attention— namely, the declaration in Section 23 about nuclear disarmament and the removal of nuclear weapons from Scotland. This, of course, is a subject of debate in Scotland, and many people disagree with what is being proposed. However, as I understand it, the provision is there to tie the hands of the successor Government. That is why it is so important to Mr Salmond to get this through while he maintains a majority. That is another reason for being cautious about the making of a Section 30 order. One would need to be very clear about the implications if this constitution, and its effect on the nuclear weapons policy, gave the independence Bill a free hand in setting out what it intends to do.
There are other things to be concerned about. The provision about the head of state is, at first sight, very reassuring. The Queen and all her heirs and successors are to be head of state. However, there are already signs of great unrest among the nationalists who want independence. The problem with putting a provision like that in a Bill of this kind is that it attracts debate and creates instability.
There is the repeal of the Act of Union. Only one Act is mentioned given the inward-looking nature of this document. However, this was a treaty: there are two Acts, but the other Act is simply not mentioned. After all, what is the constitution really trying to do? One of the things it starts off with is claiming that the people are sovereign. Many countries in the world have written constitutions. All the countries in the Soviet empire proclaimed that the people were sovereign but, of course, we know that was simply not true. It is a charade in a way, a clever piece of propaganda, but one has to recognise the dangers there and what the Government will be faced with when they are presented again with the Edinburgh agreement and a demand for a Section 30 order. That is the challenge for the Minister, to which I invite him to reply.
My Lords, I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Lang of Monkton, and the members of his committee for producing the report and for the masterly way in which it was introduced. It cleared the decks for rational discussion, and I am sure that the whole House is grateful to him and his committee.
We stand here today in the midst of an historic debate on an historic issue—an issue that could lead to some of the greatest constitutional consequences in living memory. We are here on an historic date, 24 June —the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn. Though our debate may be placed on such an historic occasion, this is not a nationalistic point about the triumph of the Scots over counterparts south of the border; for it was a much different time and, as the lyrics of “Flower of Scotland” state:
“Those days are passed now
And in the past they must remain”.
The noble Earl, Lord Caithness, provided a varied picture of the make-up of the Battle of Bannockburn, thereby emphasising that it was not straightforward.
Thankfully, since those dark times we have learnt to evolve and work together for the collective benefit of all. The point I wish to make is that we should be clear that the SNP has no ownership over the history of the Scottish nation and, while the past is something to be looked to and learnt from, what we are concerned with is the immediate and future well-being of the people of Scotland and the people of the entire United Kingdom. Mention has been made of being anti-nationalist and the merits of being nationalist and patriotic. There is nothing wrong with being patriotic. It should not be a case of “my country, right or wrong”, because we know that that is not the case, but I do not accept the correlation between patriotism and bad nationalism made by the noble Lord, Lord Stephen, for instance.
The report we are discussing outlines the stark realities that the people of Scotland and the United Kingdom will face in the event of a yes vote, and it highlights a process that will not be simple and easy but rather long, complicated and at times, it seems, rushed. All this in order to facilitate unnecessary Scottish secession from the union, and at what cost? What pressing issues will we be faced with between September 2014 and the 24 March 2016 that will not be fully addressed due to this process of secession and dealing with the resulting constitutional fallout? When trudging through the deep mire of constitutional issues resulting from independence, ordinary men and women may well be left to fend for themselves while competing and overlapping constitutional and legislative jurisdictions are worked out, and tough negotiations take place.
In the report, we see highlighted the fact that an issue of “prime importance” would be the existence of the United Kingdom as a “continuator” state. This in effect means that what lies ahead for Scotland by leaving the union is a full process of renegotiating many of the things we have achieved and worked towards as a united British people, thereby losing our place at the centre of global, social and economic decision-making. It is true that there has always been a very strong Scottish voice at the heart of British politics, as illustrated by the listing of names by several noble Lords. Those strong Scottish voices were reaching far beyond what the proportional figures may coldly suggest. Via our collective strength, we have seen Scottish voices reach a global significance that would be impossible to achieve as an independent nation. However, as the report outlines, the UK would continue to function with Wales, England and Northern Ireland, and keep key institutions such as the BBC, and international places on the G8, G20, NATO and the UNSC. The SNP would effectively silence the voice of the Scottish people, preventing it reaching those corridors and rooms far beyond the borders of Scotland and carrying significance far beyond that of a nation of our size.
I therefore wonder whether the SNP is willing to be honest with the people of Scotland, as this and other reports have been. The road to independence is not a smooth one, as Alex Salmond would have us believe, nor is there a pot of gold at the end of the nationalist rainbow. What there will be is hardship, which will require the tough endurance of the Scottish people to overcome, but I cannot say whether that endurance will be worth it in the end.
When points like this are made, we are accused of scaremongering. This is not scaremongering; it is being honest with the Scottish people about the realities they will face. This is something that the SNP refuses to do because it fears the people. It fears the proper judgment of the Scottish people. It will not trust them with the facts and the honest truth but, instead, delivers false promises and disingenuous assurances that all will be rosy in the Garden of Eden.
There is a clearer, honest path that the Scottish people can follow, being assured of security and strength as part of both Scotland and the UK. This path can be seen in the devolution proposals set out by all parties, but especially, I must point out, as set out by Labour. We wish to see a strengthened Scottish Parliament, trusted and able to carry more of its own load, but in turn only as part of a stronger United Kingdom, retaining the benefits that working together delivers for all our people. We wish to see a new union for the 21st century, one that delivers on social justice and enhances social unity and cohesion between all its constituent parts. We wish to see a more progressive Scotland as part of a more progressive United Kingdom. We must work to preserve the gains of the past, while also laying the groundwork for the innovative achievements of the future.
There are areas of government policy that the Scottish Parliament is best placed to deliver on; we agree with that. However, we should go further. Devolution does not just mean full centralisation of power in the devolved Administration, as the SNP seems bent on doing. It should lead to further devolution of power to where it can be utilised, away from the central power sources of the Holyrood Parliament to government bodies and councils, ultimately empowering local people. Devolution in Scotland seems to have stopped at the Scottish Parliament; there is no further devolution to local authorities. Instead, there is a drawing of power, institutions and decision-making to the centre. Local councils are hamstrung by the local government funding arrangement, where, quite frankly, they have to do what they are told or lose out. We now have a national Scottish police force. Devolution, like subsidiarity, is a good principle, but it is not happening in Scotland and it certainly will not happen under an SNP-controlled Government.
While we bear that in mind, we also have to keep in mind our responsibilities as part of the whole UK body and maintain the continuation of the UK welfare state and those benefits that we derive from it —guaranteed, as they all are, to the people of the United Kingdom. We must share the load, making our own contribution for the benefit of all. These are social responsibilities that develop a strong and true union between all of our people, standing in solidarity with each other through times of hardship. However, we must be wary and careful. We must ensure that devolution does not go too far and lead to a situation where we have fierce competition between the four nations of the United Kingdom, developing a race to the bottom socially and economically. We must strike that fine balance between the ability to cater for regional needs and the ability to address national ones as well.
Like many other noble Lords, I have no doubt about the ability of the Scottish people, in the event of a yes vote, to overcome the challenges that will face them. They are a truly resilient people. However, it is for us to show them that, while they can go it alone, this does not mean that they should, or that it is the best option.
To finish, I would like to address a point that I made at the beginning of my remarks about looking to the past and learning from it. While in the deep past we have seen division between the nations of the United Kingdom, I like to look to the recent past and see the great challenges that we have confronted as a united nation: domestic challenges that undermined our welfare and external challenges that threatened our liberty. Yet we stood firm and overcame them together. In the 1940s, when confronted with the vilest and shocking tyranny of Nazism, we, as our own nation, supported by the Commonwealth, persevered, held out and finally defeated the evil that confronted us. We did that by standing together. When the time came to rebuild our shattered nation, after all the heartbreak, destruction and sacrifice, we came together yet again to create a new society, leaving a legacy to the generations that would come after of new homes, new lives and new hopes.
I take great pride in showing visitors everything in this place—it is a wonderful place—but in the Royal Gallery, amid all the pomp and ceremony of the royal portraits and the murals of famous well won victories, I take most pride in showing people, in the corner by the window, a beam from the jetty at Dunkirk where the British troops were able to embark and get back to Britain. Without it, we would not have won that war. That was a tremendous example of how, as a United Kingdom, we pull together.
Today we are once more faced with economic hardship and great social and economic challenges that are currently being felt throughout the country—certainly in some of the deprived areas of Scotland. Now is the time to stand together once more. It is not about offering false dreams and false hopes, as the SNP has done, but about delivering a new dawn by working together. We will have to fight by all and for all. We cannot just retreat into our respective homelands and shut ourselves off from each other. We must stand united, regardless of our differences, and give truth to the old Labour adage that,
“by the strength of our common endeavour we achieve more than we achieve alone”.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part. It has been a remarkable debate in the quality of the contributions. Indeed, as in some of our earlier debates on this subject, we have had a range of very thoughtful contributions from noble Lords on all sides of the House, from all parts of the United Kingdom—Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, England and, indeed, Cornwall. That has enriched our debate.
One of the most important things that came through was the number of people who talked of their own experience. The noble Lord, Lord Soley, talked about working in Scotland as well as in England. The noble Lord, Lord Judd, talked about his family and what makes him what he is—a product of this United Kingdom. My noble friend Lord Dobbs said that he was a full-blooded Englishman but nevertheless has a great affection for and affinity with what we have achieved as a United Kingdom.
My noble friends Lord Glasgow and Lord Purvis and the noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, said that what they so much regret about the referendum debate is almost having to choose between being British and Scottish, whereas most of us think we can be British as well as Scottish—and indeed, European—whatever part of Scotland we come from. The noble Lord, Lord McConnell, talked about the strength and diversity within the United Kingdom. In spite—or perhaps because—of that diversity, we are a United Kingdom. We can celebrate the diversity and our unity.
I particularly thank my noble friend Lord Lang of Monkton for his reprise of the recommendations of the Constitution Committee’s very valuable report on the constitutional implications of the referendum and, specifically, of a yes vote. The Constitution Committee of your Lordships’ House has a well deserved reputation for full and detailed examination of key constitutional debates that we face in the UK. This latest report discussed in today’s debate is no different.
As I indicated in my opening speech, we will offer a full written response in advance of the due date of 16 July. The noble Lord, Lord McConnell, asked about that. I understood that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris, might have thought that that was a response to the McKay commission, so I make it clear that it is a response to the report that we are debating today.
I will offer a few reflections on behalf of the Government because the report rightly highlights that the constitutional stakes could not be higher. A yes vote in September would have a profound impact not just on Scotland but on people right across the United Kingdom. Those implications would be far-reaching and would extend far beyond constitutional points—to the economy, our place in the world, and our relationships with one another across these islands.
However, as the committee notes, at its very core the implications are set out in law; and it would be to the law that we would have to turn. Successive Governments have been very clear that it is for people in Scotland to decide if they wish to remain a part of the United Kingdom, or if they wish to leave and go it alone. That is why I say to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris of Aberavon, who indicated that the Welsh were not involved in the agreement signed in Edinburgh in October 2012, that it has been the view of successive Governments that if the people of Scotland wish to leave they should not be held in the union against their will. That was the background to the agreement.
However, as my noble friend Lord Purvis pointed out, it is one of the strengths of the union that, because we have established the rule of law and the basis of democracy, we are confident that these matters will be determined through the ballot box and not through means by which other countries in history have sought to claim their independence.
The referendum on 18 September will determine this question. I say to my noble friends Lord Shipley and Lord Caithness that, in a debate where both sides are almost invariably at odds with each other, the one thing that the two Governments have never disputed is that there should be only one referendum. It is important to recognise that if Scotland votes yes on 18 September it will be not only for Christmas, as one noble Lord said in his contribution, but decisive. The agreement reached was intended to be decisive and would be respected. The noble Lord, Lord McFall, asked whether that was set down when it was signed up to. In fact both Governments have said that it would be a decisive referendum that would be respected by both sides. Therefore one would expect that a no vote would be respected by those who have campaigned for a yes vote.
However, as the committee notes at paragraphs 38 to 43, if there is a yes vote, legislation delivered through this Parliament will be required to take Scotland out of the United Kingdom and to establish a new, separate state. I shall come later to the point raised by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope. The committee recognised that the extent and scope of that legislation may be very limited. Many subsequent orders will be required but the legislation itself could be quite limited. Much will depend on the agreement reached.
As I have said in your Lordships’ House on a number of previous occasions, these negotiations cannot begin in advance of the referendum as we must not pre-empt the outcome of the negotiations. To do so would require the United Kingdom Government to put themselves in the shoes of a Government of the continuing United Kingdom minus Scotland. It would require the United Kingdom to act in the interests of only one part of the United Kingdom rather than the whole of the United Kingdom. To do so in advance of a referendum would be to deliver exactly what the nationalists want—a United Kingdom that excludes Scottish interests and acts only in the interests of England, Wales and Northern Ireland. That is the reality of independence: it means that there will be two separate states, and where you have two separate states you have two separate sets of interests. Sometimes they will be mutual, sometimes not.
Later in the committee’s report the question of who should make up the negotiating team for the rest of the United Kingdom was raised. As someone who has represented a Scottish constituency in the United Kingdom Parliament as well as in the Scottish Parliament, and as someone who will continue to be resident in Scotland after the referendum, whatever the result, I find the report’s recommendation on the role of Scottish representatives and the exclusion of those who would have a conflict interest very compelling.
I turn now to the points highlighted by the committee, including representation of Scotland within the UK Parliament and by the UK Government in the period between a referendum which endorsed a yes vote and independence day. In paragraphs 56 to 58 of the report the committee raises the risk of constitutional limbo. This issue was raised in his introductory speech by my noble friend Lord Lang, by the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, and by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Cullen of Whitekirk. I have looked back at the context in which my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Scotland answered that question. It was in the context of negotiation, whereas, as I have just said, you cannot have negotiations where there are different sides of the argument.
However, to make it clear, during any negotiations Scotland would still be part of the United Kingdom and public services would be delivered as they are now. This means that the Scottish Government would continue to be responsible for health, education, justice, rural affairs, housing and transport in Scotland as well as the other devolved matters, and the United Kingdom Government would continue to be responsible for reserved matters. I do not think that the noble and learned Lord expected the Electoral Commission statement to contain the whole list of Schedule 5. However, the key ones are there and there is nothing sinister about the ones that were mentioned or not mentioned. The United Kingdom Government would continue to be responsible for reserved matters, including defence, security, foreign affairs and the constitution, plus pensions, benefits and most tax powers up to the date when Scotland became an independent state.
During the negotiations, the two Governments would continue to discuss any policies of either that affect the responsibilities of the other. Equally clear is the reality that a vote to leave the United Kingdom is a vote to leave its institutions, including the Houses of Parliament. The timing of any changes would have to be settled in the event of a vote for independence.
I sincerely hope that there is a clear endorsement—a view expressed by all noble Lords with the exception of the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas—of Scotland’s place in the United Kingdom. If there is not, that is when the negotiations will begin. I suspect that they will take as long as necessary to ensure that both sides are content, rather than fitting neatly into a timetable laid down by the Scottish Government. I hope that that answers the question raised by noble friend Lord MacGregor. The noble Lord, Lord Robertson, with his experience of negotiating seven NATO entries, indicated that that was not by any means an easy process. As the noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, pointed out, as did my noble friend Lord Garel-Jones, negotiation of entry into the European Union is by no means a straightforward matter either.
As people have said before, it is the deal in any negotiation that is important and not the date. With regard to the negotiations themselves, as the Constitution Committee report notes, the starting point for them is predetermined by the legal position that underpins all of this debate. The first of our Scotland analysis papers dealt with the legal and constitutional position of Scotland within the United Kingdom and the implications of independence. This was the right place to start, because it is from the law that political realities and experiences will flow. The legal reality is clear: the rest of the UK would be the continuator state in the event of independence. Scotland would leave and become a new successor state. I welcome the committee’s clear endorsement of this position in the first of its conclusions.
This key legal point has a number of ramifications. The United Kingdom would continue to be a member of all the international bodies to which it is currently party: the European Union, permanent membership of the Security Council of the United Nations, NATO, the G7 and the G20. As a new successor state, Scotland would need to apply for and seek new terms of membership. Those negotiations cannot in turn be prejudged in the way that the Scottish Government and advocates of independence seek. As has been pointed out in this debate, 28 member states of the European Union, each of which will wish to protect and represent the interests of its citizens, will have to sign up to these negotiations. Many of these states have had to accept terms of EU membership from which the Scottish Government expect to be exempt.
In the previous debate I did not wish to seem dismissive of the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard. I hugely respect the experience that he brings to these matters, but it would not be right to speculate on how negotiations could work. Previously I perhaps raised an eyebrow more with the idea that the Scottish Government would find it acceptable for the United Kingdom Government to negotiate on their behalf: I just think that you need to say that there could be some political issues around that, but I certainly do not dismiss lightly what the noble Lord, with his experience, says.
As I noted at the start of today’s debate, the Government will respond in full to the committee’s recommendations, ahead of the response deadline. I hope that I have given some indication of our likely response to some of the key points made by the committee and repeated during this debate, and a clear sense of the approach that the United Kingdom Government are taking on these issues.
I turn to some of the other points that have been raised. In reference to the Edinburgh agreement I indicated that it is one wherein the United Kingdom and Scottish Governments agreed to work together to ensure that the referendum on Scottish independence could take place on a legal basis. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, thought that we had been tricked into it. Noble Lords might want to think about this for a moment. With the SNP having won—with a manifesto commitment to a referendum—a majority of seats in the Scottish Parliament, in which the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, and I have some responsibility for the electoral system used, neither of us or many others thinking that any party could win a majority, it is not unreasonable that the referendum was facilitated. I rather think that Mr Alex Salmond, with the cunning wiliness referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, hoped that the United Kingdom Government would say no and give him ever more of a grievance.
A 45% vote on a 50% turnout is not an overwhelming mandate. I am not saying it is overwhelming in one direction or the other but it is arguable that it did not provide the mandate and there could have been further discussions. I also said that in the discussions the UK Government seem to have conceded on every issue—issue by issue.
My Lords, I do not accept that. In a PR election, to win an outright majority of seats—the political reality was that there was an expectation that if we had sought to thwart that, it would have played into their hands. There was the possibility that they would have run their own referendum, which we would have argued was not legal, and we would have been embroiled in a constitutional mire. The fact is, there is a binary question, yes/no, but I rather think that some in the nationalist cause would have liked to have muddied the waters with a third question and allowed us all the time to negotiate among ourselves what the third option would be, thus taking our eye off the ball and not tackling the main issue, which is whether Scotland should be an independent country.
The noble Lord, Lord Birt, made important points about the BBC. As the committee indicates, that is one of the institutions that would belong to the continuing state. He highlighted the detriment that Scotland leaving the UK would cause the BBC: 10% less funding for BBC programmes and for the rest of the UK. He also pointed out, importantly, that of course the BBC is independent of government and any negotiations it had with the Scottish broadcasting service would be akin to the kinds of negotiations that I am sure it has with many other national broadcasting companies throughout Europe and the rest of the world. Unlimited access to BBC services in an independent Scotland would cost money, and it is naive and indeed misleading for the Scottish Government to pretend that everything would just go on as before.
The noble Baroness, Lady Adams, asked about English universities. Access for Scottish students would be the same as for those from other European Union countries. The other thing that is slightly odd is the Scottish Government trying to pretend that English students coming to Scottish universities could be treated differently from those from other European Union countries.
Indeed, if Scotland was a member of the European Union, they would be treated the same as everyone else from there; if it was not, they would be treated the same as international students from India or wherever. Of course, if Scotland were to be part of the European Union—a point that I think the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, is about to latch on to—the idea that you could allow free tuition for students from every other European Union country and charge English students does not have any sound basis. It is difficult to say that you want to enter into a social union with other parts of the United Kingdom but one of the first things you do is charge its students when you are not charging anyone else.
I know it is difficult but it has already been said. Mr Salmond has said that they would not get free tuition—that English, Welsh and Northern Irish students would not be treated as other European students. That is what we are facing. We are doing everything by the book. We are treating these matters honourably. People on the other side of the discussion are not.
My Lords, there is such a thing as the European Court of Justice, and anyone who attempted to fly in the face of what most people would think of as accepted European Union law may find that the law caught up with them.
My noble friend Lord Cormack and the noble Baroness, Lady Adams, talked about their grandchildren and how they do not wish to see opportunities cut off and cannot understand why we would want to build barriers. That has been reflected in many schools, where there have been substantial no votes. It shows that in an era when young people can communicate so easily, when the communication barriers have been broken down because of modern technology, the idea that you would start erecting barriers is something that many of them just cannot comprehend. That is a great strength for our union as we look forward.
My noble friend Lord Caithness asked about the draft Bill. I confess that we have not yet done any analysis of it. My noble friend Lord Lester of Herne Hill, however, was telling me the other day that he has already identified two or three inconsistencies with the European Convention on Human Rights, and if my noble friend has identified them, that probably means that they are right. It is not a very good start for a constitution if it seems to fall foul of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, raised the question about whether it could be a Section 30 order. It is clear that independence cannot just be asserted. The terms of an agreement reached between the representative of an independent Scotland and a continuing UK would have to be that: an agreement. I have already indicated what the position would be with regard to the period between the date of a referendum if there were to be a yes vote and the date of independence, and all the responsibilities that the United Kingdom Government would have. The quote that I gave was a direct quote from the statement given jointly by both Governments to the Electoral Commission, so the Scottish Government themselves have signed up to that.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Cullen, made a point about how long it took to get that agreement, and that was just an agreement to make a statement. That might put into context how long it might take to negotiate an independence settlement. If Scotland chooses to leave the United Kingdom, it must be prepared to do so whatever the terms, because the terms cannot be known in advance.
As the report of the Constitution Committee indicates, there could be possible difficulties with a Section 30 order if it was challenged in the courts that the use of the Section 30 order had gone beyond what Parliament intended an order to do—if it were bringing in independence when in fact that was clearly never the intention of Parliament.
I think I said in my evidence to the committee that there was a possibility of a Section 30 order but that there are difficulties with that. I indicated that there might have to be very limited legislation, if only to allow the Scottish Government to put together a negotiating team and enter into negotiations. As the noble and learned Lord probably knows better than anyone in the House, along with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Cullen, the propensity for some people to litigate in areas like this could be very great. If that were the situation that we were in, although we sincerely hope that it will not be, it would be important to put the negotiations on a proper legal footing so that they could not be subject to some further challenge.
I am conscious not to take up more time. Following on from the point made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, the Scottish Government have put forward, in the documents that have been referred to, the assertions that the Scotland Act would be revised again. They have said that, together with the enactment of the Scottish independence Bill, the existing Scotland Act would be amended, but in the document they have not said by whom and when.
If I am correct in thinking that the concordat still exists between the Scottish Government and the UK Government that any proposals put forward by the Scottish Government that may impinge on reserved matters should be discussed in advance with the United Kingdom Government, was there any discussion or any forenotice by the Scottish Government that they would be bringing forward this matter, drafted by civil servants and presented to the people of Scotland as a Scottish Government paper?