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Scotland within the United Kingdom

Volume 756: debated on Monday 13 October 2014


My Lords, as Deputy Leader of the House I wish to repeat a Statement made in the House of Commons by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Scotland entitled “Scotland within the United Kingdom”. The Statement is as follows:

“With permission, Mr Speaker, I wish to make a Statement to the House about the position of Scotland within the United Kingdom. As honourable Members will well know, on 18 September 2014 the people of Scotland voted in a referendum on independence. I am pleased to report to the House that by a margin of 10.6%, or 55.3% to 44.7%, the people of Scotland have voted to remain part of the United Kingdom.

The referendum was underpinned by the Edinburgh agreement signed between the United Kingdom Government and the Scottish Government in October 2012. That agreement ensured that the referendum would have a clear legal base, that it would be conducted in a way that commanded the confidence of both Parliaments, Governments and people and, most importantly, that it would deliver a fair, legal and decisive expression of the views of people in Scotland—a result that everyone would respect.

Over 2 million people made a positive choice for Scotland to remain part of the United Kingdom. The franchise for the referendum included for the first time ever in this country 16 and 17 year-olds, and, at a time when our elections have suffered from declining participation, the turnout across Scotland was nearly 85%—something that I am sure all across this House would welcome. Politics works best when people take an active interest in supporting the things that matter to them most. It also adds emphasis to the democratic result.

The decision of the people of Scotland was clear. They voted to continue to be a part of this family of nations, they voted to continue to work alongside people in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and they voted for us all to remain together as a United Kingdom.

It is important that everyone now accepts this result. We should all move on from the 55% or 45% to working for 100% of people in Scotland, and that is what we are doing. The vow made by the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister and the leader of the Opposition during the referendum campaign is already being put into practice. The Smith commission, chaired by Lord Smith of Kelvin, was up and running on 19 September. Lord Smith will convene cross-party talks to reach agreement on the proposals for further devolution to Scotland. His terms of reference make clear that the recommendations will deliver more financial, welfare and taxation powers, strengthening the Scottish Parliament within the United Kingdom.

But this process is not just about the parties. The referendum opened up civic engagement in Scotland across sectors, communities and organisations, and Lord Smith has made clear he wants to hear from all of these groups to ensure that the recommendations he produces are informed by views from right across Scottish society.

By St Andrew’s Day, Lord Smith will publish heads of agreement. The Government are committed to turning these recommendations into draft clauses by Burns Night 2015. The timetable is demanding but that is because the demand is there, in Scotland, to see change delivered, and it is a demand we will meet.

On Friday, 10 October, all of the five main Scottish parties submitted their proposals to the commission. In the case of the Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties, these proposals reflect the positions published by the parties prior to the referendum campaign. The SNP and Green Party agreed to join the cross-party talks after the referendum, and they too submitted proposals on Friday.

Today I can confirm that the Government are meeting the first step in the further devolution process with the publication of a Command Paper. The Command Paper we are presenting today provides a clear, factual summary of the proposals for further devolution in Scotland published by each of the three pro-UK parties, as we committed to do during the course of the referendum campaign.

These party plans encompass a broad, complex and often interlinked range of topics from taxation to borrowing and from welfare to regulation. To inform and assist consideration of each of these proposals, the paper also sets out factual information about the current situation in these key policy areas, as well as presenting some background information about devolution in Scotland to date. This publication is wholly without prejudice to the work of the Smith commission, which will look at proposals from all of the parties and others and seek to establish the ground for consensus.

This will be the first time, in the development of Scotland’s constitutional future, that all of its main parties are participating in a process to consider further devolution: this is a truly historic moment and one that I very much welcome.

I am confident that with all five main Scottish parties working together, in collaboration, we will reach an agreement that will provide the enhanced powers to the people of Scotland and accountability for the Scottish Parliament while retaining the strength and benefits of being part of the United Kingdom. That was the message heard loud and clear during the referendum campaign and it is one that this Government—and all of Scotland’s political parties—are committed to supporting”.

My Lords, on behalf of Her Majesty’s Opposition, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement and I record our gratitude to the Government for making copies of it available to us in advance.

Just over three weeks ago, in unprecedented numbers, the people of Scotland voted to remain part of the United Kingdom. This was an historic decision. The result was emphatically clear and should be accepted by all participants. The Scottish people voted for pooling and sharing resources across the United Kingdom, they voted to continue with devolution and they voted for a stronger Scottish Parliament. Today, I pay particular tribute to my right honourable friends Alistair Darling and Gordon Brown, who put the case for the United Kingdom with so much passion throughout the campaign. As well as all the people who took part in the campaign, it is also worth mentioning the 100-town tour of the right honourable Jim Murphy on top of his Irn Bru crate. Following the referendum, we can say with confidence that devolution is the settled will of the Scottish people and that we shall have a stronger Scottish Parliament.

A vital part of this campaign was the commitment made by the leader of the Opposition, the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister to a strengthened and empowered Scottish Parliament. Led by the right honourable Gordon Brown, we guaranteed a clear and definitive timetable for further powers, and Her Majesty’s Opposition are pleased to see the Secretary of State publishing the Command Paper, ahead of time, today. Can the Minister confirm that a Motion now appears on the Order Paper detailing this timetable?

The process that is ongoing under the leadership of the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Kelvin, will guarantee that more powers will come to the Scottish Parliament. The Labour Party will enter these talks in a spirit of partnership and co-operation with all the other parties, and we will apply a simple test to reaching a conclusion: what outcome respects the result of the referendum and will make people across Scotland better off? The people of Scotland have voted for pooling, sharing and prosperity, and that is what should guide the Smith commission’s discussions.

The referendum attracted the highest level of participation of any national poll ever held in Scotland, as was mentioned by the Minister. It is important that, as we develop the next stage of devolution, we reflect that. The Secretary of State mentioned in the Statement how voluntary organisations can participate. Can the Minister give us an indication of how individual members of the public can contribute, and can he tell the House how the noble Lord, Lord Smith, intends to engage with people across every area of Scotland?

When we debated the agreement for the referendum two years ago, my honourable friend Margaret Curran said that we would spend the campaign vigorously defending devolution from those who would seek to bring it to an end. Over the last two years, that is what we in the Labour Party have done. This campaign concludes with the devolution settlement not only secured but strengthened. We will continue to argue that the best future for Scottish people comes from pooling and sharing resources inside the United Kingdom, with a powerhouse Parliament that can again change the lives of people across Scotland. That is what the people of Scotland want and that is what the Scottish Labour Party will fight for.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord McAvoy, for his welcome of the publication of the Command Paper and indeed for what he said about the referendum. I join him in paying tribute to Gordon Brown, Alistair Darling and Jim Murphy. Gordon Brown’s speech on the day before polling day was one of the most electrifying that I have heard in a long, long time and it was very influential. I do not think that I know about even a fraction of the time and energy that Alistair Darling put into the Better Together campaign. He deserves all credit and praise for that. I think that Jim Murphy took more than one Irn Bru box as he went round Scotland. I know that his campaign was a great inspiration to many people who themselves were promoting the Better Together campaign up and down the country.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord McAvoy, that as a result of this we should and must have a stronger Scottish Parliament. He asked about a Motion on the Order Paper. I understand that there is a Motion on the Order Paper of the other place in, I think, the names of the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, the leader of the Opposition, Mr Alistair Darling and Mr Gordon Brown. As I understand it—I do not know whether it has been confirmed—there is to be a debate tomorrow. I should perhaps indicate that there will be a debate on devolution in your Lordships’ House on the 29th of this month, and I am sure that noble Lords from all sides of the House will want to take part in that.

The noble Lord, Lord McAvoy, also asked me about engagement with the commission under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Kelvin. I understand that the noble Lord will be undertaking a stakeholder engagement process, and I encourage all interested parties to respond to that. The commission also has a website, which is up and running and into which people can input ideas and proposals. He said that the test for the Labour Party would be whether the outcome of the discussions respects the outcome of the referendum. I very much endorse that. The importance of pulling resources across the United Kingdom was a message that came through very strongly, particularly in the latter stages of the campaign.

When the Scotland Bill 2012 was going through this House and the other place, the Government set out three principles: any proposal should have cross-party support; it should be based on evidence; and it should not be to the detriment to other parts of the United Kingdom. I believe that these are sensible proposals and, within the context, as emphasised by the people of Scotland in the referendum, they should also secure Scotland’s place in the United Kingdom.

My Lords, it is remarkable that a 300 year-old union between nations peacefully and democratically renewed itself. It is incumbent on this Parliament and the parties within it to carry through their vows. As the noble Lord, Lord McAvoy, said, it is very welcome that the publication is ahead of time in commencing its work. Liberal Democrats, with our colleagues and friends in the campaign for Better Together, indicated that a vote of no in the referendum was not a vote for no change.

The Command Paper’s analysis of the proposals by the three parties will assist in informing the public for their participation in the Smith commission. If the vow by the SNP is to be held, that this is a once-in-a-generation vote, then the proposals coming out of the Smith commission and those that will form the draft clauses, as the noble and learned Lord indicated, will also need to stand the test of time for the long term. That is why I and others in this Chamber have put forward for consideration a conference on the new union with a wider scope for other parts of the United Kingdom reform process too.

Will the noble and learned Lord also reflect on my view that if these proposals are to stand the test of time, and if the results of the Smith commission and the draft clauses will, in effect, be home rule proposals, then every household and voter in Scotland will need to be aware of them and their consequences? It will be insufficient for the Government simply to publish draft clauses that may well form part of a referendum. It will be important for the Government to make sure that every household in Scotland, through a publication direct through the letterbox, will be aware of the proposals and the potential opportunities for them, so that this is for the long term and for our lifetime.

My Lords, I agree that these proposals must stand the test of time and re-emphasise the fact that Scotland and the United Kingdom remain united. It would not be right for the people of Scotland, who voted so decisively to remain part of the United Kingdom, if we then adopted proposals that started to unpick and unravel the union. I do not believe that that is what people expect.

My noble friend and the noble Lord, Lord McAvoy, are right to draw attention to the fact that the Command Paper has been published ahead of time. I am not sure whether there ever was a budget, so I cannot say that it was within budget. My noble friend asked me to make commitments about sending things to every household. I am not sure that I can make such commitments on the hoof, but I take his point. It is an important point because I sometimes think that we have never been given the full credit for what Parliament passed in the Scotland Act 2012. Indeed, someone who was campaigning on the yes side said to me, “Why did you guys and girls never make more of the powers that have actually been transferred?” We have seen in the past few days, with the Finance Secretary John Swinney making tax proposals on the replacement of stamp duty, land tax and landfill tax, that these powers are now real. With the Scottish rate of income tax kicking in in April 2016, substantial powers are already in train and being delivered on the back of a commitment made by each of the three parties in their manifestos at the last election. So when some people question our willingness to hold to what we commit to, we need to point not only to what we did then, but also to what the Labour Government did in 1997.

My Lords, I am very glad that the noble and learned Lord emphasised the 2012 settlement, because I think that is something that people were not aware of in the course of the referendum campaign. I also thank the noble and learned Lord for emphasising the scale of the majority for the no vote, because, in the past few weeks, I have sometimes wondered if we did actually win. We have learnt that those who shout loudest do not necessarily find themselves on the winning side. It was the quiet majority in Scotland that voted no and were sometimes frightened to admit that. Does the Minister agree that, regardless of the outcome of the Smith commission and the conclusions of all the major political parties in this House, that will not assuage the views of the separatists and that we will have to return again and again to emphasise the scale of the majority for remaining part of the United Kingdom?

On a specific point, the Command Paper contains a number of proposals for variations in income tax and other economic measures. What action will be taken to ensure that there is no adverse effect on macroeconomic policy, because any adverse change in macroeconomic policy will affect not just the people of Scotland but the people of all of the United Kingdom.

My Lords, the noble Baroness is absolutely right to emphasise that there was a decisive outcome. Just as we are being held quite properly to give effect to the commitments which all parties made in the referendum, so the Scottish National Party should be held to the commitment made by the First Minister that the referendum was a once-in-a-lifetime or once-in-a-generation matter.

I have already named three Members of the other place. I would also like to take the opportunity to thank the noble Baroness. Many Members of your Lordships’ House contributed much in terms of campaigning for this referendum and I wish to thank them too.

The noble Baroness asked about the macroeconomic powers and specifics with regard to proposals in the White Paper. It is fair to say that the purpose of the White Paper is to bring together the different proposals and put them in the context of the current situation. It is not therefore doing a subsequent analysis. It is very much a matter for the Smith commission to consider the implications for particular proposals. I have no doubt that a view from the noble Baroness would be properly considered by members of the commission.

I congratulate the Government on this Statement and the response of the Labour Party by the noble Lord, Lord McAvoy, for its unity of view. It fulfils the first part of the promise that was laid out during the referendum campaign and which has been monstrously slurred by the separatists over the course of the last few weeks. The noble Baroness is right and I share her view that when it comes to the commission of our colleague, the noble Lord, Lord Smith, he will find it very difficult to produce anything that the separatists themselves will not say is too little, too late, not enough, will not do, and breaks the fundamental promises given during the referendum campaign. I very much hope that the Government will be wise to that and give full support to the noble Lord, Lord Smith, in his endeavours.

My noble and learned friend correctly pointed out the scale of the victory in the referendum for those who wished to remain part of the United Kingdom. This Statement is rightly about strengthening the Scottish Parliament. However, there is another side to this equation, which is also strengthening the United Kingdom and strengthening other parts of the United Kingdom within the overall devolution settlement. The two or three issues do not need to be tied together, but they cannot be left behind. We have to come forward with constitutional proposals which are going to be fair for representation and for taxpayers right across the United Kingdom. It is only in that way that we will avoid in another generation being faced with an argument about separatism again.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his words and for the contribution that he made in chairing the Conservative Party’s contribution to the debate on the powers of the Scottish Parliament. He is right to indicate that it is Scotland within the United Kingdom. I think we made it clear that it is time for the United Kingdom to come together and move forward. Part of that will be a balanced settlement that will be fair not only to the people of Scotland but also to the people of England, Wales and Northern Ireland. He will be aware that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has asked the Leader of the House of Commons, my right honourable friend William Hague, to draw up plans for that. I hope that they can be taken forward on a cross-party basis. But my noble friend’s underlying point is correct: we need to ensure that there is a sense of fairness in all parts of our United Kingdom.

My Lords, I think that there is a feeling of relief rather than triumphalism in Scotland. Many of us who were the poor bloody infantry in the campaign were conscious that it took rather a long time for the no campaign’s message to be expressed with the clarity that resulted in the 10% majority. It is also to be said that this document is welcome because it is a clear exposition of what the three main elements in the no campaign had to say. It is also welcome because there is no reference to any change in the representation in Westminster at this stage. We have to recognise that issues of that nature could poison the well from which the noble Lord, Lord Smith, will want to sup. Therefore, we have to be careful that in trying to produce what might be devo-max or devo-increased we do not lose sight and end up with Westminster-lite. One of the problems in this campaign has been the inability of many of us to get across the fact that Westminster is an effective institution and that working in partnership with an enhanced Scottish Parliament can provide better government not just for Scotland but for the whole of the UK.

My Lords, picking up on the point made by my noble friend Lord Purvis, it is important that we remind people that Scotland has two Governments and two Parliaments. Work done in this Parliament has important implications for the people of Scotland across a wide range of issues. If, as the noble Lord, Lord O’Neill, has indicated, we were a bit slow in the no campaign to put that forward, we made the case powerfully towards the end. It is a lesson for us that we do not ignore the many things that are done by the United Kingdom Government and the UK Parliament. Of course, we have our political differences over them but, over substantial and important areas of policy, they matter to the people of Scotland. Perhaps it is incumbent on all sides that we do far more about spelling that out.

My Lords, if we are taking it in turns, it is the turn of the Cross Benches which have not yet spoken on this matter. Perhaps we can go to the Cross Benches, then to the Conservatives and then back to the Labour Benches. I implore noble Lords to be mindful that this is a Statement and that contributions should be kept brief. We have a full day’s debate on this matter and wider devolution implications on 29 October.

I shall speak in order to tidy things up. The noble and learned Lord is right—the turnout was fantastic. I am proud to live in the constituency of East Dunbartonshire where the turnout was 91% and where they overwhelmingly voted no. Unfortunately, there are elements in the media and the so-called “45 brigade” who say that we should have another referendum. It is important that the cost of this referendum is put clearly to the taxpayers of the United Kingdom. There was a great deal of talk and concern about the poor who had to go to food banks and all the rest of it. We should therefore know the amount of resources that had to be put into that referendum so that anyone who says that they want another referendum soon would at least know the cost of the one that we had three weeks ago.

My Lords, I am sure that the different strands of costs will be published by the Scottish Government as well as such costs incurred by the United Kingdom Government. It would be very damaging indeed for us to continue to have these debates as they were very divisive. Those of us who live in Scotland know just how divisive they were. As the Secretary of State said in his Statement, it should no longer be about the 55% or the 45%, it should be about the 100%, which is what we are committed to address.

My Lords, the Statement makes reference to “working for 100% of people in Scotland”. Does my noble and learned friend agree that all the legislation to date has been for 100% of Scotland, including the Scotland Act 2012, and that Scotland has received more than its fair share under the existing arrangements?

I anticipated my noble friend’s question. We should not talk any longer about the divisiveness of 55% and 45% and should focus on ensuring that we deliver as best we can for the 100%.

My Lords, I want to add something about understanding the context of what happened in those last 10 days. I am deeply worried. I absolutely welcome the publication of the Command Paper today and fully congratulate everyone involved in the campaign. Many on the other side of the argument conducted themselves well—not everyone but most people. We are now in a situation where expectations have been raised almost exponentially by the vow given in the last 10 days of the campaign. None of the three main parties’ proposals published today meet that expectation. The discussions that take place over the next few weeks must be serious. They must look at the detail of what my noble friend Lord Robertson, the noble and learned Lord and I spent weeks, months and years in the mid-1990s looking at when trying to get tax and financial proposals right for the Scottish Parliament. Unless these discussions are meaningful and go deep into the detail, we will not reach a settlement that will stand the test of time, even if we also solve the other issues in the United Kingdom that have been mentioned by noble Lords. I ask the noble and learned Lord to urge all those involved to be very careful. Having raised the expectations, we do not want to bring them back down again and find ourselves in a never-ending debate and unable to move on to other issues.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, is right to emphasise how much detailed work went into the constitutional convention proposals, in which he, I and the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, were involved, and the work in terms of the taxation proposals now embodied in the Scotland Act. It is now two and a half years since that Act was passed. That shows the time that it has taken to get them implemented and to get it right. I agree that we should be under no illusion about that. I do not think for a moment that the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Kelvin, is under any illusion as to the challenge he is facing.

On the final point made by the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, about getting on with the powers and using them, he and I did a couple of events during the referendum campaign where we said some of the things that the Scottish Parliament had done. I very much hope that a right and proper debate about the extent of powers will not be used as an excuse for not using the powers that are already there. They should be used to tackle many things in Scotland, including education, health, transport and policing, which are crying out to be addressed.

I wonder whether my noble and learned friend saw the lead story in the Scotsman on Saturday, which began with the sentence:

“The battle lines have been drawn in the fight to shape post-referendum Scotland, as the SNP government yesterday unveiled demands”.

Does he agree that my former constituent, the noble Lord, Lord Smith, will have a difficult time in the few weeks that he has to produce the report? If this commission is approached on battle lines grounds, there is an obligation on those who lost the campaign to recognise that they did lose. There is also an obligation on those who won to recognise that 45% of the population voted the other way. We must hope that what will come out of the Smith commission is the maximum amount of home rule consistent with common sense and that the parties will approach the commission in a constructive and consensus-seeking spirit and not in a battle line way.

I agree with my noble friend that a battle line approach will not be productive. I accept that the time is tight for the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Kelvin. I rather fear, however, that if we were to suggest any slippage the cries of betrayal would be even louder so I think it is important that we do stick to that. However, it is important too that people entering into these talks do so with a view to trying to achieve a lasting outcome. Simply to make a concession, for example, on monetary union, that was going to be made anyway in the context of independence, I do not consider a concession.

I totally agree with the sentiment expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, but I fear that the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, is more likely to be correct in his prediction of the outcome of the Smith commission. It would have been better—there is no point saying this—to have defined in advance what further devolution would make sense. Some of us in the House said that. I feel it was a great pity that in 2012 the Edinburgh agreement left only one question on the paper. My concern now is that the difficulties of reaching a consensus on this in the Smith commission will be greatly increased if extraneous issues are brought in. It was a great pity that the West Lothian question emerged at 7 am on the morning after the referendum. I thought that was a very great pity. I hope the noble and learned Lord will agree that in present political circumstances, whatever the mathematical logic of the West Lothian question, the correct answer is get over it.

My Lords, I do not think it was ever possible for three parties to come together in the heat of a referendum campaign and hammer out a single proposal. Many of our opponents would have loved us to have spent our time doing that rather than getting on with deploying the case for the United Kingdom. That is why we now have a Command Paper that sets out the proposals. I reassure the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, that while it is the case that the position on the West Lothian question is being looked at, it has been made clear by everyone that the extra powers for Scotland are not contingent or conditional on that. It is important to underline that.