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9.53 p.m.

Lord Howie of Troon: My Lords, my capacity for amazement is unexcelled. I have been in this House for 18 years and I am always amazed by what I hear. I did not know that the Labour Party had such a policy for the regions, but I am very pleased to hear about it if that indeed is so. One of the things that struck me about what was said by the noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, to whom I give my warmest greetings, is this: has she never heard of how the men of Kent and the Kentish men throw bottles at each other whenever they can? There are regional difficulties even in England. It is a fact. I do not want to pursue that because there are no proposals for regional government in England unless the English want it. If they want it, they can have it; it is none of my business to interfere with the English. If they want it they can have it; if they do not want it they need not have it. As I said, my capacity for astonishment is unexcelled.

I was interested to hear the noble Lord, Lord Bancroft, claim that he is not a politician. It so happens that I have sat with him on Sub-committee B of the European Communities Select Committee for the last six months or so, and it may be taken from me that he is a politician from the top of his head to the bottom of his toes, as can be seen from the comments that he made. Many of his comments I agree with entirely, with only one reservation: they are far too late. If his proposals had been followed some time ago and we had had this Royal Commission and so on in the 1980s or earlier on, everything would be hunky-dory; but we have not had it. It is far too late and things have gone too far. We cannot now say: "Let us now have another Royal Commission and wait for two or three years and all will be well." I am sorry to disagree with such a distinguished fellow member of the Select Committee, but he happens to be mistaken. He is actually wrong.

I have to apologise to the House for two reasons: first, my speech has already been made at least twice. It may have been made more than twice; I had to leave for an important meeting downstairs. I managed the first course and had most of the second course, but I had to leave the pudding, so the speech may have been made yet again in my absence. I shall pursue my speech regardless of how often it has been made, if only to show how widespread agreement is on this side of the House and, indeed, perhaps on other sides of the House as well.

I gather that reference has already been made to a notable article in today's Times by the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky. I do not want to deal with his

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arguments because they dealt mainly with tomorrow's business which is the reform of our House. I daresay that is important but it is not our business today. He gave two quotations which I thought were of great significance. He said that reform should be based on precedent. He then referred to Burke, who seems to carry a great deal of weight on the other side of the House, and to Burke's grounds of tradition, convenience and expediency. The two words "convenience" and "expediency" are extremely important in a debate of this kind because they deal with the realities of politics rather than the certainties of philosophy.

Perhaps I may now refer to the speech of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor. Unusually for me, I do it with a certain element of criticism because the noble and learned Lord knows that I have great regard for him. Quite apart from being a lawyer, he is a Scotsman and therefore valuable. He seemed to speak, in his very interesting address today, as though devolution was something new, something which had not happened before. But others have drawn our attention to the Northern Ireland experience. It has not been wholly happy, we admit, but in constitutional terms the Northern Ireland experience was an example of devolution. In so far as it failed, it failed because of those who were running it; not because of the structure and not because of its devolutionary nature. The Northern Ireland experience is a model. It may not be the best model but it is the one we have, and it is a model on which we can build, reflect, criticise, examine and improve. But I say to the noble and learned Lord that it did exist and, although he left it out from his address earlier, I am quite sure that he has heard of it. That experience lasted for 50 years or so, which is quite a time. As a constitutional experience it was sound.

It has specific relevance to what is referred to as the West Lothian question. It has been said before, most eloquently by my noble friend Lord Ewing, and my noble friend Lord Sewel, who said it in almost exactly my own words. He is a university professor and is not a fool.

I remember my days in another place in the 1960s when I had a very agreeable acquaintance called Stratton Mills. Many noble Lords may remember him. He was a very agreeable young man, a Northern Ireland solicitor and Ulster Unionist. He sat for Belfast North. Stratton used to come into the other place and go on about English matters, Scottish matters and matters throughout the entire globe or indeed the universe--although I cannot remember him going so far as that. Stratton Mills was able to expand on all those things whereas I, his close acquaintance and friend, was unable to utter a squeak on Northern Ireland. Not one sound could I utter on Northern Ireland, although I was fairly interested in it.

Nobody ever said, "What about the Belfast North question?" The Belfast North question did not exist. It did not exist because Stratton Mills, a nice young man, as he was, and misguided, as I daresay he was, was on the government side at the time and a Conservative, although sitting as a Unionist. The only change is that West Lothian and West Belfast are slightly different.

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Tam Dalyell is my oldest political friend apart from my noble friend Lord Merlyn-Rees. We go back a long way, I am afraid to say. Tam's virtues leaned towards eccentricity--they did not reach eccentricity; they leaned towards it and this is one of his most eccentric activities. The West Lothian question is a figment in terms of Burke's grounds of tradition--the Northern Irish tradition--convenience, which is a Northern Irish convenience and Burke's expediency, which is the Northern Irish expediency. If it is good enough for the Northern Irish, who are excellent people, it must be good enough for the Scots--most of the Northern Irish are Scots anyway, or a good many of them are.

I do not want to go on about the tartan tax. I wonder what it was called when the Conservatives wanted it. Anyway, it is little different from the kind of tax which the third tier of government applied--for example, the GLC when it existed. I do not want to draw too much attention to the GLC; I use it as an example. I say to my Front Bench that it would be a good idea if, instead of talking about three pence on or off our income tax, they forgot all about that because that irritates people. People are funny about income tax. They want to pay taxes, but not income tax. Why do we not make it a precept upon the rates in the same way as the GLC and the county councils precepted upon the rates? People would pay that happily because they enjoy paying the rates, though they do not enjoy paying income tax.

I want to conclude by making just one more point. I could say a great deal more but I will confine myself to the referendum. I welcome it. It was a mistake to have left out the idea of a referendum. When I spoke on the Maastricht Treaty some years ago I was in favour of a referendum--not on the currency matters, which are not constitutional, but on the treaty itself. I believe in referendums as a good thing in themselves.

One point was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, whom I am happy to see in his place. He was defending himself as a Secretary of State for Scotland. He was one of the best we have ever had. Apart from the fact that he belonged to the wrong party, I wish his reign had lasted longer than it did. He raised a question which I raised in this House 18 years ago when I was a new Member and we were discussing the referendum. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, worried about the fact that Scotsmen who were not resident in Scotland would be debarred from voting. That worried me also at that time. He may remember--though I have no reason to suppose that he would--that I raised the matter in the following terms.

I pointed out that the referendum was coming up and my daughter Annabel was a student in Edinburgh. My niece, Kirsty, was a student at the same college. Annabel was born in London, though her antecedents are wholly Scottish; she is pure. My niece Kirsty was actually born in Johannesburg and her mother is English. I hesitate to say that she is impure; I do not want to say that she is tainted; but she is not the real thing. I questioned the government closely. I asked why Annabel, who was born in London and raised in Edinburgh, can vote in the referendum and Kirsty--lovely girl that she is and my brother's proudest possession, apart from his wife--can also vote in the referendum whereas I, so Scots that

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I can barely be seen for shortbread, have no vote in the referendum. That is not right. I am not claiming that we should have Scotsmen throughout the world voting in the referendum, but a little thought should be given to the position of we exiles. We are economic refugees.

The unicameral nature of my party's proposal is mistaken. There should be some way in which this House can deal with whatever legislation comes from the Scottish parliament which I very much hope to see. It may be that the House as a whole can deal with it. There may well be some Scottish committee. The matter should be looked at. I applaud my party, which is not something that I always do. I am sure that it has got it right, or nearly right this time. If it listens to this debate and pays careful attention to what has been said, it will get it right in the fullness of time.

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