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Lord Irvine of Lairg: My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, can he tell us from all his experience of Scotland, whether it is his judgment that the Scots would oppose devolution on a referendum after legislation? If that is his judgment, does he agree that a vast amount of prime parliamentary time would have been wasted? Does he therefore agree that the path of prudence is to have a referendum, after a detailed White Paper, on the principle of devolution before legislation is embarked on?
Lord Gray of Contin: My Lords, I am flattered that the noble Lord should consider that I am able to give an answer. My personal opinion is that the people of Scotland would, first, be insulted by a referendum before legislation took place. Secondly, if they waited until the legislation took place and were then asked to vote on it, the first question should be: do you approve of the Act passed by Parliament?
Viscount Tonypandy: My Lords, it is a great privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Gray, who was my colleague in another place. Like so many who have spoken, I wish to congratulate the Lord Chief Justice, who on the day of his introduction was linked with the county of Powys in Wales. It appears that his judgment
Constitutional issues unfailingly arouse strong passions, not only here in the high court of Parliament, but outside, among our people. The British people have a highly sensitive nerve when constitutional change is proposed. The constitution they know is a guardian and helps to be the provider of their quality of life. The opinions which I shall express in this debate are not those of a sudden convert, like Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus. The convictions which I shall express are after a long career in the public life of Wales. Like the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gwydir, I once had the great privilege of being Secretary of State for Wales.
I wish to confine my remarks to two issues: the referendum and the assembly. After I had listened with deep interest to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor introducing his speech, I thought it was a bit thick for him to be accused of being political when the speech that followed was not exactly a Sunday school lecture. But neither the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor nor the noble Lord who spoke for the Opposition seemed to know much about Wales. The information they gave us about the proposed assembly was anaemic and pitiful. It was a shot in the dark for the Welsh people. I do not wish to tread on any Scottish corns. I know that there is an immediate reaction.
However, like so many who have already spoken, I am a great believer in the unity of the United Kingdom. I have taken great pride in the fact that we have risen above racial discrimination and having one form of government for Scotland, another for Wales and another for England. Our glory and our strength have been that we are a united Parliament, a united country. When there is talk so glibly of decentralisation, I would point out that we are a major country in the world, but it is a small country. People talk as though London were Tokyo. I do not believe that there is a clamour from people at the present time for the sort of assembly at which I am guessing. I shall come to it in greater detail.
A referendum on an assembly for Wales is not new to us. Indeed, the matter arose under the administration of my noble friend--if the House will permit me to call him that--Lord Callaghan of Cardiff, who by tradition sits on that side while I sit here. My noble friend was obliged by certain pressures to consider introducing an assembly for Wales. His instinct told him that he had better find out whether the people wanted it. It was a very good instinct; and in his wisdom he followed it. We had our referendum. People like the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, who tonight said that we want change, told us the same thing then. The same people pretended that they understood the innermost depths of feeling of the Welsh people in relation to wanting a break. I shall come to that in a moment.
A general election is a form of referendum. However, at a general election people are rarely chosen on one issue. They are usually chosen on broad issues. The one issue is pushed in between others in the manifesto, and
I turn to the assembly itself. What form is it to take in Wales? From whence will come its powers? Powers are not in the air. They are with local government or national government. I am told that they can look after the quangos. Incidentally, I sat in the Chair in the other place listening to Mr. Philip Holland on the Conservative Benches complaining bitterly about all the quangos that the government of the day had created. That is a complaint that belongs to both sides of the House. Some have been there longer. That is why they have created more quangos.
If an assembly were to take powers from the Secretary of State, it would mean disaster for Wales. The Welsh Office, set up 32 years ago by the late Lord Wilson of Rievaulx, has grown significantly in the life of the Principality. It has enormous influence on our everyday life. There have been 10 Secretaries of State in the 32 years. I have not yet had the pleasure of meeting Mr Hague. He has a good reputation. And he is learning the Welsh language, with which my noble friend sitting here is responsible for helping in Wales.
The strengths of the Secretary of State for Wales in the Cabinet depend upon his being able to say, "I am speaking for Wales". How can people gain access to an assembly, or to quangos? How can they challenge those, as we can challenge Ministers in the Welsh Office and bring them to account? To weaken the Welsh Office would be a disastrous loss for the people of Wales. I hope they hear my voice as I say it. They know that the Welsh Office has made an enormous difference to the quality of our life.
The noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, who will speak later, knows, as does the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, that the Welsh Office, with English subsidies, has done more for the Welsh language than has any other body. It has encouraged it. It set up a language bureau. If we remove powers from the Welsh Office and leave it anaemic, the Secretary of State's voice in the Cabinet will be a whisper, and all who serve in the Cabinet will know that that is the case.
What if the powers are to be taken? They must come from somewhere. To take them from the recently elected new statutory local authorities in Wales would be a fiendishly cruel, stupid thing to do. Parliament has already played havoc with the life and careers of those who serve in local government, given all the changes that have been inflicted. If the new single-tier authorities in Wales are now to be undermined by a loss of power, it will be difficult to say that we are helping the Welsh people. Mark well my words: there will be a storm of protest from the newly elected authorities in Wales if an assembly is to take their powers and reduce their influence within the Principality.
If the assembly is as anaemic as it appears it will be, this House may be assured that it will have a voracious appetite. It will want more power and more influence--of course it will. The agitation will begin. First, people will say, "What has happened in Scotland? Are we second-rate? We must have the same: a Parliament with tax-raising powers". It is idle to say that there is not a danger to the Union, because every political assembly by its nature always seeks more power for itself. That is the history of another place. It began in a small way. Within four years it was claiming the right to control expenditure in the United Kingdom, and that is a quality of local government that has not changed.
Naturally, the assembly in Wales will want more power. Of course it will strengthen the nationalists. I am not here to argue about Labour, Liberal or Welsh Nationalists, but it would not be difficult for noble Lords to guess my feelings and opinions. I say this: rather than take the risk of a process that would lead to us having racial parliaments in Scotland, Wales and England, we should say "No" now, and that will be my advice to the people of Wales.
Lord Kingsland: My Lords, it has always been my nightmare that one day I would have to follow the noble Viscount, Lord Tonypandy. Today, even by his own high standards, he has exceeded his usual lofty cruising altitude.
We are today debating the constitutional settlement of the United Kingdom. In thinking about it, I have been very struck by the extent to which it still depends upon the common law, interpreted by the judges. Let us reflect on that for a moment. A statute is a creature of common law. It is defined by common law. The doctrine that no parliament can bind its successor is a doctrine of common law. Indeed, the doctrine of the sovereignty of Parliament itself is a doctrine not of Parliament but of the courts. Above all, those great principles upon which this nation's freedom has depended throughout the centuries--the principles of liberty and of equality and of fairness and reasonableness--are not principles created by statute; these are principles established by the common law through the courts of this country.
Underlying all this is the great doctrine of the separation of powers. The courts do not interfere in the proceedings of Parliament and Parliament does not interfere in the proceedings of the courts. Parliament passes law and the courts interpret it, and so each one is king in his own country.
The extraordinary thing is that these principles, which derive from medieval times, have withstood the enormous changes that have taken place in our political society in this century. In Parliament, for example, there has been the most dramatic change in the balance of power between the legislature and the executive. It is now true to say, I am afraid, that in another place it is not the legislature which controls the executive, but the executive which controls the legislature. It has been this fact, accompanied by the huge volume of legislation, much of which is extremely discretionary, which has
The reassuring thing is that they have met that challenge. They have met the expansion of governmental power generated by modern-day legislation with their own techniques of discretionary control. I believe it is fair to say that without the existence of any written constitution or any entrenched powers, if one compares the liberties in this country today with those of other great democracies such as the United States and many of the western European democracies, we compare pretty well with them. There may be some areas in which we are slightly weaker but there are others in which we prove a great deal stronger.
I believe it would be a very ill-considered move to try to disturb this system. Any attempt to seek to incorporate the European Convention on Human Rights into our constitution should be looked at with deep suspicion. First, I do not believe that it is necessary because our guarantees are already underlined by the common law as interpreted by the courts. Moreover, I am not sure that it would work. For example, suppose that the convention were introduced by an Act of Parliament. What would happen when a subsequent law was passed? We have already heard from the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chief Justice that, if there is some ambiguity about the relationship of an English statute to the convention, the courts would interpret that law in sympathy with the convention. In that case, what is the point of incorporating the convention into our law in the first place?
On the other hand, if a law breaching the convention is passed after the convention is entrenched, which contradicts that law then the convention would be of no help because of the doctrine that no parliament can bind its successor. The subsequent law would overturn the previous convention. Therefore, the introduction of the convention is either unnecessary or futile.
The real problem we face with discriminatory legislation is one that need not be confronted by introducing some new judicial dimension to our constitution. It ought to be confronted at its source--which is in another place. It is not the custom in normal debate in your Lordships' House to look at the operations of another place; but I understand that for the purposes of the debate during the next two days--our overview of the British constitution--it is permissible to talk about what happens in another place. The problem is fundamentally this: if one enters another place as a new Member of Parliament, one can no longer look forward to a career as a parliamentarian. The only really desirable course open to one is to seek to become a member of the executive--just as nowadays I am afraid that people no longer go into the Army to become regimental officers; they all go in to become generals. These are unhappy developments in both places.
The way ahead is to make a career in another place in controlling the executive just as attractive as being a member of the executive. My noble friend Lord St. John of Fawsley introduced in another place what is probably the most dramatic constitutional innovation in
Lord Plant of Highfield: My Lords, I want to focus my contribution on issues of decentralisation and devolution. I shall also speak in passing about the electoral system for the proposed Welsh and Scottish assemblies and about the referendums in Scotland and Wales. Most of the points have already been made by my noble friend on the Front Bench and my noble friend Lord Sewel in their contributions. However, there are still one or two other issues to which I should like to point in favour of the case for devolution and greater decentralisation.
It has always struck me that the strongest case for devolution derives from the critique of the role and competence of government, which has been the main theme of the party opposite since the 1970s. It has been argued in relation to the economy that government cannot plan, regulate or intervene because of their limited competence, limited knowledge and limited capacity. That has led to a diminution in the role of government and the decentralisation of economic decision-making from collective bodies more and more toward the market. Yet at the same time, there has been tremendous growth in centralisation of government in other areas, as the Prime Minister acknowledged in his speech at the Centre for Policy Studies the other evening.
The critique of the competence of government, which has been relied upon to justify removing government from the market, applies equally well to other aspects of government. Human knowledge, as Hayek--a great mentor of many Conservatives for the past 20 years--argued, is fragmented, dispersed, limited and, above all, localised. If government are to act competently, they need to decentralise to a greater degree the power that they hold centrally. Decentralised institutions, whether local government or assemblies in Scotland and Wales, would allow such local knowledge to be better utilised for the public good. I am rather sorry that the debate about devolution and decentralisation has yet to mention the role of local government.
It can also be argued that the state and its associated constitutional arrangements embody something about the ethos of what it is to be British and that is why we need the centralised and unitary state. It is a point made by the noble Viscount, Lord Tonypandy, a few minutes ago. We need a centralised and unitary state to embody that kind of British ethos. However, I argue that in a way that British ethos itself is now somewhat differentiated. We are, of course, in many important ways a unified nation. I am sure that we all want to preserve that. But I believe very strongly that the sense of unity needs to respect difference and give a political place and political recognition to difference in a pluralistic society.
I also believe that the sense of difference, whether it is attachment to locality, community or region, as in Wales or Scotland, is likely to grow in salience largely as a result of economic changes. The globalisation of the economy and the homogenisation of life to which it leads, as well as the insecurity which a global market generates, will lead people to value more and more the familiar, the local and what is distinctive to them and supports their sense of identity and work. If that intuition is correct, it seems to me that the attachment to locality and region will grow in importance and demand political expression. We may not like pluralism and we may not like the more differentiated nature of the country which it produces, but we ignore it at our peril. Not all the growing attachments will be political but, as they grow in importance, they will, I believe, lead to the demand for political expression, whether through an enhanced role for local government or regional government or assemblies in the nations of Scotland and Wales.
Those concerns about the growing pluralism in society are reflected in the proposals for the electoral system for both the Scottish parliament and the Welsh assembly. It would be quite wrong to have a first-past-the-post electoral system for such bodies, since those bodies are being set up in part, as I suggested, as a response to diversity and difference. That would have been inconsistent with a first-past-the-post electoral system, which would have led to the risk, given the Labour Party's position in those two nations, of setting up one-party states. I am very pleased that the Labour Party has been able to see beyond narrow party interests and has recognised that the Scottish parliament and the process that has led to it--namely, the Constitutional Convention--should presage a new, more open, more consensus-seeking and consent-building kind of politics. I believe that the change in the electoral system will carry that process forward.
I want now to turn to the referendum. I preface my remarks by saying something about the Scottish Constitutional Convention. The convention has been a remarkable process which has shown that new approaches to politics are possible and that with patience it is possible to achieve unanimity over proposals which are radical. I pay tribute to Canon Kenyon Wright, Sir David Steel and my noble friend Lord Ewing of Kirkford for all that they have done to achieve that quite remarkable result. In my view it is a pity that the issue of the referendum announced last week was not discussed with the convention. I can fully understand how my noble friend Lord Ewing felt about that. At the same time, however, although I was surprised about the announcement and indeed initially shocked by it, on reflection I believe that it has considerable advantages both of principle and politics.
A referendum will make the issue of devolution come alive for the people of Wales and Scotland. If approved, it will be a devolution of power produced with the full-hearted consent of the people, and that surely is good to underpin constitutional change. If the proposals are approved, those devolved bodies would, it seems to me, be a long way towards entrenchment.
Tactically, too, despite what the noble Lord, Lord Gray of Contin, said, I still think that there is a major gain. I doubt whether the party opposite, as he said, would have accepted that a manifesto commitment to a parliament and an assembly would have been enough on the not unreasonable grounds that people vote for a range of things in a manifesto. Hence, a positive result in a referendum will help to process these historic changes through Parliament.
The noble Lord, Lord Beloff, in an intervention in the speech of my noble friend on the Front Bench at the beginning of the debate, asked why we were not proposing a referendum in England. Indeed, the Prime Minister made that point last week in his speech, at which I was pleased to be able to be present. I believe that it is a rather opportunistic argument since, as I understand it, we are quite likely as a result of the peace process in Northern Ireland, to which everyone naturally wishes the greatest success, to have a set of constitutional proposals emerging for Northern Ireland. I do not imagine that the Prime Minister will propose to hold a referendum in England on changes to the Constitution of Northern Ireland. So I cannot see that there is a case for having a referendum in England on proposals for decentralised power in Scotland.
As someone who wants to try to preserve the union of the Kingdom, it seems to me that the greatest threat to the Union is Scottish nationalism and the bid for Scottish independence. Those flames will be fanned by doing nothing. In the hope that Edmund Burke is still regarded as a kind of guru for the Conservative Party, along with Hayek, I quote two lines from his Reflections on the Revolution in France:
The Earl of Perth: My Lords, all in the House will welcome the news regarding the Stone of Destiny. I want to touch briefly on two issues: first, the composition of a new House of Lords--we have all heard the threat to the House of Lords in its present form; and, secondly, devolution. I hope to show that there is a link between the two.
Under the Act of Union, Scottish Peers elect 16 of their number, which is well over 100. I hope that in a new House of Lords that which is enshrined in the Act of Union will remain for Scottish Peers. Many noble Lords will remember that a little while ago the system for appointing Scottish Peers was changed and we all became UK Peers, whether or not we wanted that. I assume that that did not mean the abolition of Scottish Peers, but rather that they were subsumed in the greater UK peerage. I hope that I am right in that and, when it comes to any change in the composition of the House of Lords, the Act of Union will prevail in relation to Scotland.
I said that there was a link between that and other reforms in the House of Lords, and the link is this. I believe that the same sort of system should apply to the other UK Peers, the hereditary Peers who are so often attacked; that is to say, a number of UK Peers other than the Scots should be allowed to come into the House of Lords through election. One of the great advantages of such a system is that we would have the benefit of hearing the experiences and thinking of younger people in the Chamber and that is very good for us "oldies".
I touched briefly on the composition of the House of Lords, particularly in relation to the Scottish Peers. I want now to come to devolution, which has been the subject of much discussion today. I have always been in favour of a Scottish assembly--I stress the word "assembly"; I do not favour a Scottish parliament--I shall elaborate on the difference shortly. We in Scotland must have more say in what happens at Whitehall and run our own affairs to a considerable degree; that would be right and proper. However, I advocate taking one step at a time. If the assembly does not satisfy the Scottish people, we can try a parliament. But if we start with a parliament and it does not work, we cannot go backwards.
What powers do I visualise for the assembly? Above all, it should consider the cutting of the cake; that is, the apportionment of the block grant which is given to us by Parliament every year. That is by far the most important work of the Scottish Office. It says that it tries to consult on how the cake should be cut up and tries even harder when it has to take account of the Scottish Grant Committee sitting in different parts of the country. That does not bring home to the Scottish people what they want. For example, they want to be able to decide whether they would rather spend more money on health and less on education or vice versa. If they had the right to criticise or advise on--or, more than that, to dictate the form of--the cutting of the cake, that would go a long way to avoiding the worries and objections that they have at the present time in relation to the powers of Whitehall.
By forming an assembly we would avoid many of the pitfalls about which we have heard this afternoon. I have in mind such matters as the West Lothian question, the number of Scottish MPs there should be in Parliament, the size of the block grant (which will shortly be challenged), the question of the North Sea oil revenues and so forth. Those questions put our very Union at stake. Let us start by forming an assembly. Many noble Lords and Scottish people will say that it is just a talking shop, particularly if it is to have no taxing powers. But taxing powers are dangerous. If we lowered our taxes in Scotland we would see immediately a reduction in the block grant; if we increased our taxes, slowly but inevitably industry and financial activities would move south. We should not consider at this stage a tartan tax.
The question of the composition of an assembly is of prime importance. I advocate indirect rather than direct representation or election. Leading bodies, such as the Church of Scotland, the unions and industry, should each elect a certain number of their members to sit in the assembly. It is a choice which avoids appointing a quango and avoids any challenge to Whitehall in that they are elected by the people.
I conclude by saying that to start as proposed, with a quickly set up new Scottish parliament and to have a referendum in that regard is full of danger. Let us try forming an assembly first. Together, over 300 years, England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have done great things for the world. There is still much work for us ahead.
As my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor reminded us in introducing this debate, our constitution is largely unwritten. We rely greatly on convention, precedent, custom and on the common law. This suits our national character, but it means that, because of the nature of our constitution, wherever possible change should proceed by agreement. It should be evolutionary and it should build on the past and not break with the past.
This seems to me to be the approach that Her Majesty's Government are adopting towards devolution. There have been many examples of domestic decisions made about Scotland and Wales which are now made in Scotland and Wales rather than in Whitehall and Westminster. We have had recent examples of the strengthening of the powers and the authority of the Scottish Grand Committee and the Welsh Grand Committee which have given them greater ability to question Ministers and officials than hitherto.
From the speeches that we have heard today and previously, it seems to me that the approach of Her Majesty's Opposition is very different. It appears to believe in upheaval rather than evolution. As we have heard again today, it is suggesting that there should be a Scottish parliament with tax-raising powers, the so-called tartan tax. What effect would that have on inward investment into the United Kingdom? I suggest that, with the possibility of the tartan tax hanging over them, it would be a natural deterrent to firms to go to Scotland. It raises, too, the whole question of the financial relationship between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. It is the case that Scotland receives more per head in grants and subsidies than the people of England. As an Englishman I do not particularly relish that, but I believe that it can be justified in present economic circumstances. But a very different question would arise if a Scottish parliament had the power to raise a tartan tax.
There is also the West Lothian question, which has been referred to on a number of occasions. I shall not repeat the argument except to remind your Lordships that there are three aspects to it. The first is what powers Scottish MPs should have in Westminster on English domestic affairs; secondly, how many Scottish MPs should sit in Westminster and, thirdly, how many Scottish Ministers should sit in Cabinet and in government.
This matter also affects your Lordships' House. If there were to be devolution the question may well be asked: should that have some effect on the number of Scottish and Welsh Peers who sit in your Lordships' House? I believe that all these questions would be open to discussion and argument. Indeed, the whole of our constitution would be in the melting pot, including the composition of both Houses of Parliament. The noble Earl, Lord Perth, has just referred to the possible changes in the composition of your Lordships' House. I do not believe that one can isolate that from the question of devolution.
It seems to me that the proposals of the Labour Party represent the worst of all worlds; namely, a two-stage reform. It sounds to me like 1911 all over again. The preamble to the Parliament Act 1911 suggested that there should be a reform of the composition of your Lordships' House. There were a series of negotiations, but no agreement was reached. That preamble remains a dead letter. It was many years before a reform was eventually introduced; namely, the Life Peerages Act 1958. I believe that in the first stage of this proposed reform your Lordships' House would be greatly weakened by the entire loss of its hereditary element, which broadens our representation and which brings a wide range of experience, independence and youth. I believe that your Lordships' House would then become a glorified and aged quango, dependent for any
I am not against reform of your Lordships' House. I can think of many reforms which would strengthen it and make it easier for your Lordships to have an effective brake on the government of the day and to ask another place to think again. Whether another place would find these reforms acceptable is a different matter.
There is the proposal for regional assemblies in England. Who wants them? If you ask anyone in the West Country whether they prefer to be governed from London or Bristol they would say, to a man and a woman, London. It would mean another enormous upheaval in local government. I believe that that proposal would be very much the fifth wheel of the coach.
In conclusion, I believe we all recognise that the British constitution is a living but tender plant. It has developed over the centuries with few upheavals. It seems to me that the proposals of Her Majesty's Opposition would threaten the unity, integrity and stability of the United Kingdom and the checks and balances which exist within our parliamentary system. I much prefer the approach of Her Majesty's Government that change should be evolutionary and in accordance with the manners, customs, laws and traditions of the British people.
Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe: My Lords, for obvious reasons the debate has tended to focus on devolution. I am well aware of the head of steam behind that. In fact, I probably know as much about it as many noble Lords here because I was the Government Chief Whip who lost the guillotine Motion on the first Scotland and Wales Bill. I did eventually drive through, although not entirely with wholehearted consent, the Scotland Bill and Wales Bill. I do not wish to dwell on that, but to pursue other issues which have been touched on because this is supposed to be a wide-ranging constitutional debate. We are told there is a head of steam about other issues which I do not believe.
I should first declare an interest as both the vice-chairman of the BBC and deputy chairman of the LDDC, both of which are quangos, as your Lordships will know. We have had previous debates where a number of speakers have criticised this country when advocating constitutional change, pointing out all sorts of defects and claiming popular support for these constitutional reforms. I have said in the past and I say it again, that I am fed up with all this knocking of our country which goes on. This orgy of self-denigration by a small, but gifted group in our society has become totally obsessive.
In the past few months I have been buying the weekly newspaper the European. Hardly a week passes without a report of a scandal abroad in mainland Europe involving a prominent person and large sums of public money.
Why is it that we are so obsessed with the motes in our own eyes, yet we ignore the beams in the eyes of others? Why does there appear to be a constant bubbling of unrest on constitutional issues in this country? A number of noble Lords have referred to what has been called a groundswell of change or desire for change. I do not believe that it exists. There has been a sustained campaign of articles and letters in newspapers, often written by lecturers in law and/or politics. These pedagogues appear so frequently that one wonders whether they are hoping to use the material for the next series of lectures or courses. I am tired of the sycophantic way in which they pick up each other's points and congratulate one another on their enormous insight into the problems of this country.
But there is a common thread which runs through all of this--to which I have referred in this House in the past--namely, Charter 88. When one looks at Charter 88 one has to consider several organisations. The Charter 88 Trust was registered as a charity on 8th August 1991. Its address is Exmouth House, Pine Street. The description of its objects, taken from its charity submission is:
The Charter 88 Trust also works with Charter 88, a company which shares its premises and carries out educational and research work in accordance with the trust's own objects and also campaigns for constitutional change. I believe that the distinction between the educational and research work and the campaigning for constitutional change is very blurred, and there could well be some infringement here. Charter 88 is a private company limited by guarantee. It has the same address and telephone number as the trust. Several trustees of Charter 88 Trust are also directors of Charter 88 private company limited. There is also Charter 88 Trust Publications Limited, a private limited company, and Charter 88 Enterprises Limited. There is some sharing of names between these different bodies in the control.
How has this veneer of desire for change been created? Charter 88 has a very large budget. Indeed, it is difficult to make sense of the profit and loss account to 31st March 1995 in which we are told that net sales amount to £803,953 and gross profit amounts to £803,953. I believe that the auditors have some explaining to do. General expenses amount to £792,495. Elsewhere, we are told that grants and donations in general amount to over half a million pounds and that the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust has coughed up £100,000.
The spending of money alone cannot generate the appearance of support, so where has this money gone? The money has gone on advertisements, mainly in the newspapers, for signatures for Charter 88. I will not weary the House by describing the terms in which the advertisements refer to this dear country of ours, although the general impression given is that we are living in a police state. Although we are told that ours is the only democracy without a written constitution, we are not reminded that the Weimar Republic in Germany before the War had a written constitution, Article 136 of which guaranteed religious freedom. That did very little to protect the six million Jews who died in the holocaust or the mentally handicapped, mentally ill and gypsies who were similarly eliminated.
In the past I have drawn the attention of the House to the Charter 88 commentary on the third periodic report on the United Kingdom, which is to go to the United Nations Human Rights Committee. At the end of that report, referring to devolution, one sees:
Where has the money gone to create the alleged climate to which I have referred? I have obtained the figures for newspaper advertisements. These advertisements were designed basically to invite people to sign various demands, such as freedom of information, a bill of rights and the rest of it, which was more or less read out as an agenda by the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill. The advertisements appeared during the period 1989 to 1994. I inform your Lordships of the number of advertisements which appeared in various periodicals and newspapers: New Statesman and Society, 33; Guardian, 49; Observer, 13; Herald, 1; Scotsman, 1; Independent, 13; Independent on Sunday, 7; Sunday Times, 4; Sunday Correspondent, 1; The Times, 1; Daily Telegraph, 1; and Today, 1. The corresponding spending is about £600,000, of which over half went to the Guardian. By the way, the offices of the Guardian are 50 yards down the road from the headquarters of Charter 88. I am sure noble Lords will agree that that is entirely coincidental. The total absence of advertisement in the Sun, Mirror, Daily Mail and Daily Express shows the contempt which the chattering classes have for the tabloid press and, by implication, for those who read the tabloids. This is a form of intellectual arrogance which is disgraceful. I suggest that the Charity Commissioners should look into these inter-connected organisations because, even if there is nothing technically wrong, the use of this charitable cloak is morally wrong. The Minister may wish to consider giving the Charity Commissioners more powers to investigate and deal with this kind of situation.
The noble Lord, Lord Lester, said that he was involved with the Constitution Unit. In my researches I have come across a number of names in Charter 88. Quite by chance, on going into the Labour Whips Office today--I always report to get my instructions--I found a briefing from the Constitution Unit. The particular topic was reform of the House of Lords. When I look at the advisory committee what do I see? I see the names of the noble Lord, Lord Lester QC, Robert Maclennan MP, Professor David Marquand--the archetypal fount of all knowledge and wisdom--and Andrew Marr. I am reminded of the old song during the War "The Gang's all Here". It is the stage army again. I am afraid that if you look at other organisations you find that similar coincidence of names.
Apart from considering whether the Charity Commissioners should have a bit more power to look into this sort of thing, the country does not deserve to be bounced in that way. It would be much better if those intellectually gifted people, many of whom are lawyers, would concentrate their energies on pressing world problems, and, nearer home, on the great threat to society posed by the growing tide of litigation which, unless stemmed, will lead eventually to nobody going into the caring professions. When that happens, and
Lord Goold: My Lords, I am Scottish and proud of it, but I am also British and proud of it, and after Scotland was knocked out of the European Cup I supported England. The very last thing that I want to see is the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland threatened. And that is precisely what I believe would happen if we go down the road to an assembly or parliament in Edinburgh. Let me say why.
The proposals of the Opposition are, to put it mildly, seriously flawed. With the U-turns and histrionics of the past week, I believe that they are dangerous, unworkable, and will exacerbate divisions. We are told now that were the next government to be Labour, there would be a referendum to ask the people of Scotland whether they want a separate assembly in Edinburgh; and, secondly, whether they want it to have tax-raising powers. I do not know what the answer to the first question might be; less than one third of the electorate voted in favour at the last referendum in 1979. I am sure this time that there would not be a significant majority either way, and therefore it will be divisive. If though, as a result, an assembly were to be introduced and failed to live up to expectations, as I believe it would, there will be no going back; it cannot be experimental, and Scotland will suffer and the Union will be at great risk.
On the tax issue, can we really see the Scots voting to pay 3p in the pound more on their income tax than the English? We should realise that 3p, which perhaps does not sound too much, is 12.5 per cent.--if my arithmetic is correct--more than the present standard rate of 24p in the pound. Let us be clear what that means: a person working in Dumfries would be forced to pay 12.5 per cent. more income tax than someone doing the same job a few miles away in Carlisle. I do not believe that the Prime Minister would relish defending that when he attends the Scottish Grand Committee in Dumfries. That difference in tax would be an affront to justice and common sense. It is a recipe for conflict, yet that is what Labour says it will campaign for in a referendum.
I believe that the Scots will not vote for higher taxes. The consequence would be an assembly without tax-raising powers; that is, a talking shop which would forever be at loggerheads with Westminster. The last thing we need in Scotland is another talking shop.
Labour has spent over six years stating that a parliament without tax-raising powers would be unworkable and irrelevant. Is it prepared to implement a policy it does not believe will work and will be irrelevant? Perhaps it should be pointed out again to Labour that there is already a forum for scrutiny of Scottish issues, which does not have tax-raising powers--the Scottish Grand Committee, which is evolving at this very time. It can do everything that Labour's assembly could do, and more. And, perhaps most important of all, it is within the British parliamentary system where all legislation is
The proposal for a single chamber in Scotland is all the worse given the intention that nearly half of its members would be appointed by party leaders from party lists, rather than being elected directly by the people of Scotland. That is not the way the British parliamentary system has been for centuries, and it should not be changed in that direction now.
I also believe that an assembly would be disastrous for Scotland in that it would deter investment, particularly inward investment. Indeed, we are now beginning to see the result of all the publicity and talk of an assembly. It was reported last weekend that a big North of England pension fund had decided not to invest in the Edinburgh financial sector because of the uncertainty over the constitutional future of Scotland. That is just the tip of the iceberg. The thing that industrialists hate most of all in their plans for the future is uncertainty. The future prosperity of Scotland is at best uncertain if we go down the devolution route proposed by the Scottish convention and the Opposition. Scotland is doing exceedingly well as part of the UK; indeed, better than most other parts. To put all that at risk would be wrong.
I hesitate to draw the attention of the House to the fact that under the Barnett Goschen formula, Scots, through the block grant, receive more--significantly more--from the national Exchequer per head of population than do the English. That is one of the reasons why we have better health care, better education, better communications, lower unemployment, and altogether a better standard of living. However, let me hasten to say that I believe that the rest of the UK gets a good return from Scottish exports to England, be they liquid or people.
If Scotland were to have its own assembly or parliament--call it what you will--could we seriously expect to continue to receive a higher percentage of revenue from the national Exchequer than England? If we legislate for almost everything in Scotland, why should we continue to have more Westminster Members of Parliament than our population merits compared with England?--23 more to be exact. Would we still have the power to vote on English legislation while English MPs would not have the power to vote on Scottish? Would we still have a Secretary of State with a seat in the Cabinet? These questions cannot just be dismissed, as they were by some noble Lords opposite today, as being of no importance. The answer to all of those questions is probably no, at best doubtful, and it does not take much imagination to see the disruption and dissatisfaction which would occur between Westminster and Edinburgh.
There is another interesting point. If one party has a majority in Scotland and another in Westminster, who would be responsible for the legislative programme and from which party would the Secretary of State, if there is one, come?
Devolution, in the form proposed at present, is an ill-thought out disaster waiting to happen, forged by opposition parties for short-term political gain. Now even the leaders of the Labour Party are beginning to see the folly of their proposals, hence the fudge over a referendum that we have seen in the past few days.
The United Kingdom, with Scotland as an important part of it, is best for everyone within these British Isles. The Union between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland is one of the most successful and enduring partnerships in history. Change should come, as it has in the past, and very recently, through evolution. I urge noble Lords to do everything in their power to stop party meddling in this vital constitutional issue. There is a saying:
Lord Elis-Thomas: My Lords, it is a pleasure to take part in the debate. It is also a pleasure to listen to the contributions of colleagues from Wales and Scotland and to have a noble friend from Wales, Lord Merlyn-Rees, speaking for English regionalism. That is a voice which needs to be heard far more in these debates. Unless England is allowed to speak for itself, the debate will concentrate on forms of Scottish and Welsh apparent demands and the demands, of England for its identity and political expression may be neglected. We must look at the whole issue of the devolution of powers within the Union in a way which reflects the actual diversity of the Union today.
The reality of the diversity of the Union is that the cultural, economic and social structures of the lives of the people in the communities which make up the Union are miles away from the unreality of the so-called "representation" which they have in their structures of government. That is the issue which we must face.
I cannot get excited about the devolution debate because we have all been here before. I have heard my noble friend Lord Tonypandy for 40 years say the same thing. He will say that he has heard me and my friend Mr. Gwynfor Evans for 40 years, formerly my honourable friend in the other place, say the same thing. Of course, my noble friends Lord Hooson and Lord Geraint also say the same thing. It seems to me that we are not much further forward. However, I hope that the people of Wales and Scotland are a little further forward. They should have learnt one thing: when the Labour Party in opposition gets nearer to government, it begins to change its policy on devolution.
I do not regard that as a mortal sin. Rather I regard it as following the nature of the beast. The Labour Party, in terms of its membership, is more representative of the political balance of the Kingdom than the rest of us. Therefore, when it is faced with the prospect of actual
Obviously your Lordships will say that that is not a problem for me because I can see increased votes for the SNP and Plaid Cymru. Yes, I can, but I am not as cynical as that, because that leads only to a further problem--the protracted negotiations about the nature of powers within the Union between the representatives of the SNP, Mr. Alex Salmond and others, and the representatives of Plaid Cymru. Therefore, there is no immediate short-term solution in that direction. Neither is there a solution in the direction of out-and-out unionism. That is where I have a difficulty with the Conservative Party, as I have a little difficulty with the Labour Party. I have no difficulty at all with the Liberal Democrats. If I were living and voting in England I should probably vote for them because clearly they are far to the left of the Labour Party.
As regards my difficulty with the Conservative Party, I have many friends on mainland Europe who are social conservatives, Christian Democrat conservatives and all kinds of conservatives. They believe in a social market, market forces and all the rest of it. However, I also know them as good Catalan nationalists, or good Basque nationalists of the non-violent kind, and so forth. On mainland Europe there are many conservatives who are also autonomists, and many are in power in regional governments and so forth.
I do not see why the fact that one is a Conservative in the UK leads to one being a unionist who believes in a unitary state and believes that the only expression of British political culture must be by way of a unitary state. That is an equation which for some historical reasons we understand Conservatives tend to make. It is not an entirely monolithic position because there was an initiative on Scottish devolution when, for instance, the Leader of the Conservative Party, Lord Home, was Prime Minister for a brief period. Therefore, there are voices of dissent on that issue even within the Conservative Party. We need to realise that our debate is not deja vu to 20 years ago, but, as we have heard from some noble Lords, it is deja vu to the 1890s.
This Kingdom always was made up of one big partner, one middle-sized partner, a smaller partner and a partner which became gradually more divorced but retained in part a relation to the Kingdom. That always was the case, and in my view when we come to look at the political system we need to legislate for that structure in a way which meets the legitimate demands of those regions and nationalities. That is why I wish to declare myself unexpectedly as entirely in favour of a
When that appears, of course Mr. Alex Salmond will campaign for a referendum which includes the option of the SNP, together with other options. I would not dare to speak for him in this House all the time, but certainly on this issue I may speak for my former friend in another place. I am sure the Scottish Liberal Party will campaign for such a referendum. However, perhaps I may say to members of the Labour Party that they cannot expect us in the SNP and Plaid Cymru to turn out in the hills and valleys of Wales to campaign for a policy which they did not campaign for, which is where we were at in 1979.
I remember a car-boot full of leaflets--red Labour leaflets in one part of the boot, blue Conservative leaflets in another showing a picture of one Mr. Edward Heath and maintaining that some Conservatives were in favour of devolution, and some green leaflets for Plaid Cymru which we were told to hide away. Although we were Plaid members and supporters canvassing for Labour Party policy, we were the ones who did so and members of the Labour Party did not bother to turn up to most of the meetings. There were some few honourable exceptions, such as the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, who was then constitutional adviser to the Welsh Office.
When I hear the Leader of the Labour Party in the United Kingdom tell us that he will campaign for his policy I know what that means. Its members will turn up for one stage-managed rally in LLandrindod and that will be it. We have been there before. I say to members of the Labour Party that if they are serious about this issue, then legislate for it seriously. Let us have the promise of a multi-option referendum and not just two questions, as in Scotland. If the Scots can have two questions, the Welsh should have at least five. We must have a multi-option referendum and a serious debate so that we can come nearer to resolving the present balance.
This is not a slippery slope argument because there are no slippery slopes. There is just one big morass of various levels of powers, as mentioned by the noble Lords, Lord Plant and Lord Sewel. We do not have a slippery slope. There are no simplistic models of political powers. There are levels of regionalism, competencies and subsidiarity throughout Western Europe and all developed democracies. Everything is comparative federalism. Why should the UK be so absolutely unitary in relation to all those? That is something I do not understand.
Lord Bowness: My Lords, like other noble Lords who have spoken, I must apologise that I may not be able to remain until the end of the debate. But I welcome the opportunity of being able to speak on the question of devolution. In particular, I should like to refer to the question of devolution in England, which has not been dealt with in any great detail, certainly by the parties opposite. I well understand that it may not raise the same passions as devolution for Scotland and Wales, but I suggest that it raises similar difficulties, especially if it were to be established only in some parts of England.
Perhaps I should say what I am in favour of before I criticise what other people have put forward. Twenty eight years in local government have left me quite enthusiastic for it. I favour subsidiarity between central and local government. I favour partnership between central and local government and central government regional offices. I favour local government having the means to lead the community. I favour local authorities coming together for different purposes, perhaps in different groups for different purposes, not least for European matters. But a belief in all that does not mean that you must have a belief in what is proposed; namely, an additional tier of administration for government.
Of course I find attractive some aspects of local and regional government to be found in some of the other countries of Europe. Sometimes I think that there are things which we could learn from that but they were developed against a totally different historical and political culture. I do not believe that we can pick out elements of those systems and bring them into the United Kingdom.
I give your Lordships one example. Very often people in the United Kingdom look to the Netherlands as a good example of local and regional government. But I do not believe that any members on either side of your Lordships' House would accept the situation where the Queen's commissioner in the provinces or burgomaster was appointed by the Crown, which is the case in the Netherlands.
Therefore, I am very doubtful about the wisdom of trying to introduce regional government into England. I believe that it would be little more than yet another local government reorganisation. I do not believe that outside political circles and local government circles, where it is discussed almost endlessly, there is any popular demand for it.
Nobody has answered the question: what are the regions? I understand that it is proposed to establish those regional assemblies according to the boundaries of central government's own regional offices. It may be that there would be a referendum as regards whether there should be a move from indirectly appointed
The truth of the matter is that there is not a great identity by the public at large with the regions as such in England. People want good quality services but I submit that they are not that concerned as to the particular organisation or the level by which they are delivered. Having spent a very long time in local government, I could perhaps regret that. But that is a fact that we should remember and I believe that that is indeed the case.
Equally, the question arises as to what function would be assigned to those regional assemblies. Initial responsibility for economic planning and transport, although what aspects of transport is not spelt out, is suggested. Are we to have a situation in which, perhaps in different regions, those regional assemblies will exercise different functions? Will Parliament and the public accept a situation in which different functions are exercised in some regions and for those regions perhaps without an assembly, those functions would be exercised by central government? Or is the truth of the matter, as I suggest, that it is really, as with local government reorganisation, that the bulk of the powers will go upwards from local authorities into the proposed regional level?
I believe that that is the nub of the problem and--dare I say it?--it is probably the nub of the problem in the more weighty discussion about the reform of Parliament. What functions Westminster is prepared to cede is the key question. In my submission, it is the key question also in relation to any reform of your Lordships' House because other parts of the parliamentary system may not be too content with additional powers being ceded in any particular direction.
Another anomaly arises out of the proposal for regionalisation in England which concerns London in particular. As I understand the proposal by the party opposite, it is to establish a strategic authority for London with a range of responsibilities, again, it is alleged, taking no responsibilities from local government as it exists at present but all from central government. That remains to be seen. But there is an anomaly because if you are to establish a regional authority coterminous with a government office, then there is a government office for London. Will London and that area be exercising more functions than the other regional authorities, if they were established? That question remains quite unanswered.
As regards London, I believe that all the talk about establishing yet another tier is based on a number of false assumptions. They are assumptions that all that needs remedying in and around the area of the capital will be remedied by the creation of another tier of
I shall not take up the time of the House in discussing London in greater detail. But it is typical of a solution which suggests that a tier of government will remedy everything. I suggest that London, with its established boroughs, can govern itself very well. That is not to say that there should be no development; that the co-operation between London authorities, as with other authorities in the rest of the country, should not be encouraged; that the confidence which comes from that co-operation should not be built upon and perhaps even formalised in some particular way. But new ways of working are needed to achieve real improvements and not new tiers of government in London or the rest of England.
Lord Ewing of Kirkford: My Lords, I trust that your Lordships will not object to me saying that there is always in my eyes a slight touch of irony when your Lordships spend so much time discussing democracy. It hardly fits well into the remit of your Lordships' House. But having said that, I welcome this opportunity to contribute to this debate.
I begin at once by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Gray of Contin, and my noble friend Lord Plant of Highfield for their very generous tributes to me on my resignation as co-chairman of the Scottish Constitutional Convention. It was typical of both noble Lords that they should be so generous in their tributes to me and I am very grateful for those comments.
I should like to say a few words on my own position. Lest anyone should think that between Thursday of last week and Wednesday of this week I suffered a blinding conversion, perhaps I may dismiss that idea out of hand. I should also like to explain that the proposals for a Scottish parliament do not belong to the Labour Party; they do not belong to the Liberal Democrat Party; they do not belong to the STUC, the Churches, the Green Party or, indeed, the "Campaign for a Scottish Assembly": they belong to the Scottish Constitutional Convention.
There is an argument in favour of a referendum, but there is also an argument against it. My complaint is that that argument never took place. As has already been said, the Scottish Constitutional Convention should have been consulted. It was not, and I took the view that it was time for someone to stand up and protest so that a voice be heard.
As regards the proposals for legislation to allow a referendum to take place after the next general election, I should stress that my great hope is that it will succeed. Because I am so passionately in favour of a Scottish parliament, I shall campaign for a "yes" vote. However, in all honesty, I have to say that my great fear, to use football parlance, is that what appears to be the golden goal of 1996 may well turn out to be the missed penalty kick of 1997. I leave it at that, and pass on to the proposals for a Scottish parliament.
In the 30 years that I have campaigned for a Scottish parliament, I have always been able to respect the views of those who take an opposite view to the one that I hold. I shall continue to respect those views because there are views on all sides of the argument. However, one of the things that worries me deeply is the way in which the politics of fear continue to be used in order to try to decide a very important constitutional question. With respect, it simply is not acceptable to threaten that inward investment will dry up. Again, with respect, it simply is not acceptable to threaten that, if the people of Scotland dare vote to have their own Scottish parliament, the block grant will be cut in half. That is the politics of fear. The net effect of using that fear is to drive more and more people into the arms of the separatists.
In passing, I should tell the noble Viscount, Lord Tonypandy, that I shall not venture across the Severn Bridge into Wales. For one thing, as a good Scot, the toll charges are far too high for me. The noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, mentioned the possibility of both Plaid Cymru and the SNP campaigning for a "yes" vote in the referendum. I shall appeal particularly to the SNP not to do so. I say that in all seriousness because during the last referendum in 1979 in Scotland, every time the SNP said, "Vote yes because it is the first step on the road to separation", it switched off another 10,000 votes. The people of Scotland simply would not have it.
That is where I join forces with the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor who opened the debate. However, I should say that it is about the only point upon which he and I are in agreement. I am just as passionately and as strongly in favour of preserving the Union as any other Member of your Lordships' House. The question is: how do we preserve and strengthen the Union? My answer is that we would strengthen and preserve the Union by devolving power in the creation of a Scottish parliament, along the lines suggested and worked out in great detail by the Scottish Constitutional Convention.
Nowhere on the point of inward investment is there an example of any company coming into Scotland and saying that, if there were a Scottish parliament, it would not have done so. Indeed, if I may say so, such a question was often asked. The Scottish Information Office would give the question to a friendly journalist and, as a new factory was being opened, its chairman would be asked: "Would you have come here had there been a Scottish parliament?" One of two answers was usually received: either an outright "yes"; or, alternatively, "It would not have made any difference", which, in a way, is an indirect yes. That answer was received so
I turn now to the question of revenue raising powers. In an earlier debate in this House, I pointed out that during the 1979 referendum campaign the Conservative Party told people not to vote for that Bill because the late Lord Home would introduce a Bill which contained fiscal powers. I must tell the noble Lord, Lord Goold, who is a well-known employer in Scotland, that it always strikes me as passing strange that the Conservatives are not quite in favour of different rates of income tax in the country but--by God!--they are in favour of different wage rates. It seems to be all right to pay the people who work in Scotland lower wages and nothing is done about it. There must be a degree of consistency in the whole argument.
The political scene in Scotland has changed beyond all recognition. When I first entered the other place we had 68 parliamentary constituencies in Scotland, while the Conservatives held 22 of those seats. However, we now have 72 parliamentary constituencies and the Conservative party holds only 10 of them. Indeed, some Members of your Lordships' House came to this Chamber much earlier than they had anticipated because of decisions made by the Scottish electorate.
As I said, the scene has changed. One of the continuing problems is the imposition of unwanted legislation on an unwilling population by an unrepresentative government. The people of Scotland have the settled view that we should have a devolved Scottish parliament. Ireland has been mentioned and, indeed, the West Lothian question. Again, when I entered the other place, although Irish MPs could vote on all legislation affecting other parts of the United Kingdom, we could not even ask a Question about Northern Ireland. It was only on the imposition of direct rule in Northern Ireland that we were allowed to ask Questions and debate the whole issue of the Province.
I shall finish on the following note because I do not want to delay your Lordships for too long. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor said that the Prime Minister will visit Dumfries on Friday. The Scottish Grand Committee--that travelling circus that goes around Scotland--is also meeting there on Friday. But there is yet another engagement in Dumfries on Friday; namely, the bicentenary of the death of Robert Burns. Indeed, it was in July 200 years ago that Robert Burns died and was subsequently buried in Dumfries.
When Burns went to Dumfries it was the most unpopular--indeed it was the only unpopular--time of his life. He was a tax collector and worked for that mad Hanoverian king, "jingling Georgie" who was on
Shall hang from the highest steeple
But while we say God Save the King
We'll no forget the people".
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