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Lord Prys-Davies: My Lords, the first part of the noble Baroness's intervention reinforces my point that the White Paper should be as detailed as possible. As regards the second part of the intervention, I thought I had confined my criticism to the state of the economy in the valleys of South Wales and the communities of North and East Wales.
Lord Crickhowell: My Lords, I can hardly believe what I was just hearing from the noble Lord. I hesitate to intervene in the noble Lord's speech but he referred to the communities of North and East Wales. I do not know whether he has been to Shotton and Deeside recently or whether he remembers what it was like in the early 1980s. I can only tell him that the situation there is totally different.
Lord Prys-Davies: My Lords, I am accustomed to the oratory of the noble Lord. I accept that I should have referred to West Wales. I mentioned North and East Wales and I really meant North and West Wales. I apologise for that.
I return to the speech of my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor on 9th May, when he said that the assembly will assume the order-making powers of the Secretary of State. I should be grateful if the White Paper would elaborate on the order-making powers that will be transferred to the Welsh assembly. I believe that there are about 3,000 statutory instruments per annum. I am not sure how many are made by the Welsh Secretary of State, and perhaps that could be ascertained.
It is not clear to me to what extent the Welsh Secretary of State is involved in making statutory instruments under the European Communities Act 1972. It seems to me that it would be particularly helpful if the White Paper could establish to what extent primary legislation for Wales in the devolved subjects in the past has left scope for Welsh subordinate legislation in the future. If the primary legislation is tightly worded, there will obviously be little scope for the latter, and vice versa. Can the White Paper indicate how tightly worded future Westminster legislation will be?
I very much hope that the White Paper will lead to an informed debate about the role of the Welsh assembly. I am anxious that we should all play our part constructively in creating an assembly which will guard our inheritance and work for the enhancement of Wales as a nation and the betterment of its people in the coming century. I believe that we all have a duty and an obligation to do so.
Viscount St. Davids: My Lords, this is an excellent Bill. It is simple; it has a single purpose; and it is unambiguous. As your Lordships know, during its passage through another place, the Bill met with a number of reservations and 250 amendments, 25 new clauses and 12 new schedules were sought. I believe that all that was unnecessary save on one major point.
Much has been made of the constitutional propriety of holding referendums before the two devolution Acts have been passed. That can be an issue only if we believe that the Welsh people are uninformed on those matters. Nothing can be further from the truth. The recent history of those proposals starts in 1967 when the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos, then Secretary of State for Wales, raised the question in Cabinet. Public debate continued through the 1970s and culminated in the referendum of 1979.
Debate has continued and gathered momentum as the former government lost popularity in the 1990s. Hardly a week has passed without a serious debate on those matters in the Welsh media and we should not forget the recent discussion that took place during the general election and most other elections of recent memory. There should be no reservations on this Bill as to putting the cart before the horse. My countrymen across the Severn know exactly the issues for and against an assembly. Short of a proposal to reintroduce the death penalty for sheep stealing, there can be little in the White Paper that has not been debated in Wales in recent times.
What remains now is for those who are campaigning for and against an assembly to set out their arguments. The White Paper is essential for that as it will set out the parameters of the Government's intention. I ask the Minister how the White Paper is to be disseminated. Will a full copy be sent to each voter, or only an extract? I suggest that the English and Welsh versions should be separate publications and not, as is the common practice, printing one as the verso of the other. All too often, both are then discarded.
There are other reasons why we should agree to the Government's proposal and debate this Bill before the devolution Acts, even if that conflicts with some noble Lords' concept of constitutional probity.
I believe that your Lordships' role as revisers of legislation would be of even greater value given the authority of an affirmative vote in the referendum and a better Act of Parliament would be the result. A better debate will ensue when the will of the people is known rather than in the abstract. I believe also that your Lordships will have a vital role to play if a yes vote is obtained in a very low turn-out.
The vexed question posed by this Bill is the lack of a threshold or hurdle. Little comfort can be gained from debate in another place when the Secretary of State for Scotland, opening the debate on 21st May, said that,
I listened with great interest to the opening speech of the Minister and I did not find that he was any too clear on that point. I ask the Minister now whether he can help us further on that important matter. While I trust the Government's good will towards Wales, others will not be so trusting. The Minister may well save much trouble and time in later proceedings on this Bill by clarifying that matter. The Government's purpose must be made clear.
The political promises of yesteryear are all too often forgotten and those of yesterday and today are not so easily forgotten. The Members in the other place representing all 40 of the Welsh seats stand on a platform that states that the status quo is not an option. All recognise the fact that the nature of the government of Wales must change. All recognise the fact that to do that, the assembly must work. If it is to work, it must have the confidence of the people of Wales and their active support and participation. I cannot doubt the Government's wish to bring that about. Their rhetoric in opposition, their manifesto commitment and the priority which they have given to those matters all affirm that.
But what if, after all, the Government do not gain an affirmative vote in the referendum? What will they then do to change the government of Wales, for change there must be? Will there be any indication in the White Paper? The people of Wales must know the consequences of a no vote.
I return to the cart being before the horse. The outcome of the referendum in Wales is far from being a foregone conclusion. Should we spend endless hours in debate in order to pass an Act for which there may well be no need? The Government have a very heavy legislative programme. During the six years in which it has been my privilege to sit in your Lordships' House, I have not noticed that your Lordships are over-concerned with the convenience of government, but in this very particular case I feel that we can concur with the wish of the Government without the compromise of any principle.
This Bill does not in any way challenge the integrity of the United Kingdom; quite the contrary. If it leads to devolved government, then it will do much to ensure that the Union is maintained. The former government, by their refusal to recognise the diversity of political life in the Union and by insisting upon conformity, have bought Scotland and Wales into conflict with what is seen by both to be government by England. Does this not weaken the Union, and will not its reversal strengthen the Union? I believe that the answer is self-evident.
A question of importance to many is: should the English voter be consulted by means of this Bill? The answer has to be no! The present system whereby Wales is governed is no longer acceptable; it has to change. To give the English the right to veto that change and thus condemn the Welsh to live under a system that would not be accepted in England would be a constitutional nonsense. If there be any need to seek the opinion in England, it is not a matter for this Bill.
As I said at the beginning of my speech, this is a very simple Bill. In it the Government, quite properly, seek to ask the voters in Scotland two questions and those in Wales one. The people of both countries are known to be willing to answer these questions. I pray that your Lordships will do all that is in your power to keep the Bill to this purpose and this purpose only. The Bill must not be looked upon as some form of legislative Christmas tree that can be adorned and decorated until its original structure can no longer be recognised. That your Lordships require three or four days in Committee upon the Bill will no doubt go unnoticed in Llandrindod Wells, but not so any attempt to frustrate its purpose.
An excellent Bill; my only regret is that I cannot share my enthusiasm for it with my party--a party that rejects the assembly in principle cannot expect to play a part in its proceedings when it comes into being. The Welsh will, I fear, seek their political allegiance elsewhere. Members of my party in Scotland would appear to be ahead of those in England and Wales in taking a far more positive stance.
Many in Wales would like to see the Bill offer Wales the same questions to be answered as are being asked in Scotland. I should like to see a change of mind by the Government on the issue, for do they not recognise that to cast a vote for members of the assembly without the risk of financial penalty will ultimately lead to bad government? Do they not remember the wild excesses of a number of local authorities under their party's control during the bad old days of Labour of the "old" persuasion? The present Government party may well have political control of the assembly; the Government should ensure that the voter has a more direct interest in their good government.
Change of mind or no, I support the Bill, as it is at present the only solution to the problem of government of Wales which is on offer. I recognise--and I hope that all in Wales will recognise--that it can only be improved upon by the Government's wish. If the Government do not so wish, to refuse what it has to offer, however limited that may be, would be a very bleak day for the political history of Wales. Let us take what we can and hope that the assembly is seen to work and the issue of taxation can be revisited at some future time.
I listened with great interest to the speeches made by my noble friends Lord Crickhowell and Lord Beloff. Given their seniority in our party and my total juniority, I shall of course temper what I have to say. Both my noble friends have a great interest in opera. I suggest to them that they study the sub-text, and in particular the last act, from Mussorgsky's opera "Khovanschchina" for is there not a parallel between its story and the present state of the Conservative Party in Wales and also in England?
Lady Saltoun of Abernethy: My Lords, while agreeing with those noble Lords who have said that they do not like referendums, and while deploring the Government's determination to hold a referendum on the contents of a White Paper when the Bill based on it may emerge from Parliament considerably different, I accept the fact that, with such a huge majority in another place as to constitute an elected dictatorship, it would be futile to oppose their plans, although it should be possible to improve upon them. I just wish that they would realise that introducing constitutional change of such magnitude is a very dangerous business, and not be in such a hurry to implement what I suspect to be an ill-thought out scheme. After all, they have been elected for five years. I suppose the trouble is that the Prime Minister, when Leader of the Opposition, with the impetuousness of youth, promised to deliver its own Parliament to Scotland by the end of the first Session of a Labour Government, and now has to deliver it on time or lose credibility. It is a pity that the future of the United Kingdom has to take second place to party political expediency.
For 300 years we have had peace within this country, with the exception of the Jacobite rebellions, which were basically political, religious and dynastic, not wars between the Scots and the English. But for a long time before that there was intermittent fighting between the
In the debate on the Queen's Speech last month, I spoke about the importance of the West Lothian question, and proposed the federal or semi-federal solution to it, of each country in the United Kingdom having its own parliament for domestic affairs. I certainly cannot see any other solution and therefore I would agree with the preference of my noble kinsman Lord Mar and Kellie. To disregard the problem, as the Government seem determined to do, is to take the high road to disaster.
If, however, England is to have its own parliament too and since referendums, however undesirable--particularly on White Papers--are the order of the day, a referendum must be held in England. It is unthinkable to do otherwise. Therefore, I am seriously tempted to table as an amendment in Committee an additional clause and schedule to the Bill to enable a referendum to be held in England should the answer to the first question in the Scottish referendum be in the affirmative.
So far, enthusiasm in England for an English Parliament has been diffused and somewhat lukewarm. Devolution has not really been a news item in England, and few people have been very interested. Now, however, I think that the English are beginning to realise how much the proposals for Scotland and Wales, but principally for Scotland, will affect them. They are realising that they may have Scottish MPs at Westminster voting on their domestic affairs while they cannot vote on Scottish domestic affairs; that at the same time they are going to be expected to continue to subsidise Scotland through the block grant, as they have been doing for years past; and that they may still have only one Westminster MP per 65,000 voters, whereas the Scots will continue to have one per 55,000 voters. I think it not improbable that they might vote for a parliament of their own, or even start to demand one. The wish for devolution tends to be infectious.
Of course, although we have not yet seen the White Paper setting out the devolution proposals in their final form, the idea promulgated by the Scottish Constitutional Convention was that foreign affairs, defence, finance and social security should remain within the remit of the Westminster Parliament. Why social security? That would seem to me to be a domestic matter which should be dealt with by national parliaments, and one fewer bone of contention between them and Westminster were it to be so.
Surely, then, it could not be necessary to have anything like the number of MPs in the United Kingdom Parliament that we have now? A number roughly equivalent to the number of Euro MPs would probably suffice, and they might be elected at the same time as
Since it would probably not take a Westminster Parliament more than about one day a week to deal with finance, foreign affairs and defence, perhaps it could share the Commons Chamber with the English Parliament. That way you would save having to have a new Parliament building, while preserving the traditional venue for the English Parliament. It would also be an awful lot cheaper.
I do not suppose for one moment that the Government will be very keen on a solution which would not be to their party's advantage in England, but it is they who are offering devolution, so they really must face the problems. I hope the Government will give an undertaking to introduce a Referendum (England) Bill themselves should the Scots vote in favour of devolution, or should the English demand it, as I think they assuredly will, sooner or later. I hope that I shall get some answers to what I have said from the Minister later on when he comes to wind up.
It is eight years since my noble kinsman and clan chief, the Earl of Perth, initiated a debate on devolution. Many of the things said then hold good now. The noble Lord, Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove, predicted that there would be a total whitewash of Conservative Members of Parliament in Scotland--I must clearly get him to read the tea leaves one day for me. Some noble Lords then were in favour of devolution, I expect the same noble Lords still are. And some were not. And I do not expect they have found anything to change their opinion. I did not speak about devolution, but made a plea to abolish the new system of two-tier government, to return to the historic counties of Scotland, keeping separate the four big cities of Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Dundee. This has now happened. So perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, and I can both claim the power of prophecy. However, I did not advocate the dissolution of one extra tier of government merely to substitute it with another (with all the expensive infrastructure that that entails) and one that would be a sort of parish council, as it has been described. Except that it would be more like a super Strathclyde Council, of which many of your Lordships living on the west coast will have memories.
To go even further back in history, as did the noble Lord, Lord Steel, and the noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie--and I hope without being called a Rip Van Winkle by my noble friend Lord Beloff, though I fear I cannot remember the South Sea Bubble--my five
In Scotland we already have our own law, our own system of education, and a great deal of devolution through the Scottish Office and the Scottish Grand Committee. In the Scotland Act (1978) in Section 63 of Chapter 51 there is an amazing list of matters which would be devolved. I wonder if all of these would be included in the devolved parliament for which we are asked to vote.
There are two specific points of the referendums Bill on which I should like to comment. The first is Clause 4 which says that no court shall be empowered to act in any proceedings regarding the votes cast on a miscounted or discarded ballot when it has been certified by the counting officer. The counting officer used to be a sheriff-principal or judge, who was always open to challenge in a court if anyone suspected him of malpractice or inefficiency. The counting officers now are civil servants appointed by the Secretary of State for Scotland. It is of course extremely unlikely that they will interfere in any way with the ballot, but with this clause there will be nothing to stop them if they do, nor, indeed, any proof to point out that they have not, preventing other people accusing them of it.
The second point is about tax raising to pay for the extra tier of government. Is the tax to come from income tax, inheritance tax, capital gains tax, VAT, or corporation tax? And if the latter, will it not have a very bad effect on industry in Scotland, which will promptly head off south of the Border?
In our debate eight years ago Lady Elliot referred to the number of Scotsmen who were Cabinet Ministers, including her husband. Both the present Lord Chancellor and his predecessor are Scottish, so is the Foreign Secretary, and so is his predecessor, so is the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Minister of Defence--if there were another parliament in Scotland of whatever kind, sooner or later the Members in the other place would object to being ruled by Scots down here. The best solution on the West Lothian question seems to me to have no devolution.
Our speakers' list demonstrates one point at least. Whereas some 37 of your Lordships will have devoted between five and six hours simply to this Second Reading, procedures in the other place (to which, according to the Companion, we are fully entitled to allude discreetly), backed by an enormous majority, enabled the Government to push the entire Bill through all its stages there in just about six hours altogether.
The party opposite talk big, and have for years talked big, about democratic procedures, accountability, full freedom of speech and so on. The present Government, resting comfortably on a massive majority, have treated Parliament in this matter with a degree of contempt and have done so in a fashion that will bear comparison with almost anything short of Cromwell himself. That sets an historical landmark for bad government and unworthy conduct.
Although the present debate strictly concerns the referendum mechanism, it is important to recognise that much lies behind the machinery which we are discussing and there are important problems to be grappled with which this legislation overlooks altogether. I personally applaud the case so ably argued by my noble friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish for a comprehensive Bill for referenda in general rather than a particular Bill for this passing situation.
Since we are told that this is the start of a great programme of constitutional reform, it is impossible to confine oneself simply to the clockwork mechanism of the Bill in these two referenda. We must ask ourselves how the proposals will measure up to the problems regarding Scotland and Wales. With due respect to noble Lords on the opposite Benches, and elsewhere, who have spoken for Wales, I propose to concentrate on Scotland because I am a Scotsman, and since the mid-16th century my family has fought, battled and struggled for union with England notwithstanding the fairly frequent depredations of Scottish soil and treasure by English armies.
Having congratulated the Government on deciding to base their franchise on the local government electorate, I say immediately that the second question in the referendum for Scotland will need to be amended. The latest official figures reveal that Identifiable General Government Expenditure per head in 1994 and 1995 for England was £3,743 and for Scotland £4,614, a difference not far short of £1,000 per head. If that does not tell us that the Scots would need to raise taxes to achieve equality of public expenditure, I do not know what those figures do show.
Tax raising powers will face some difficult questions. First, would the threat of taxes or levies on industry and employment have the effect of helping or hindering Scottish employment? I declare an interest as a director
In the "darkness at noon" situation which envelops our discussions tonight as we await the White Paper, I do not believe that a tax raising Parliament is, or can be, a worthy forum for Scotland's aspirations. In all our history, there has been a story of division. In the mediaeval period, the great game was to hold the sovereign to ransom and use him or her as a tool to dominate the opposite faction. That habit from the pre-16th century period onwards has survived in the sense that Scotland is not a flat, monochrome unit. Anyone who travels around Scotland knows well that the different areas and regions do not always share the same high opinion of one another that they have of themselves. The people of Scotland have always been bitterly divided, as indeed they were on the field of Culloden, despite Hollywood's sentimental and sickening "Braveheart" caricature.
While I have much sympathy with the widespread Scottish sense that some sort of a distinct Scottish forum is required for the public debate of Scottish affairs--and the Scottish Grand Committee at Westminster is not really good enough, however much it may move from place to place and even bring the Prime Minister up to Inverness to explain himself--are we not proceeding to a vote tonight in a kind of darkness of ignorance as to what is proposed? We have not yet had the promised White Paper. We have no substantial document before us in order to pick through the proposal line by line, let alone with the care that such an historic proposal demands. What we do know is that it is to be a unicameral system without, apparently, any means for revision or review of mistakes made. In this House we know well that from time to time the other place gets things wrong; and we often improve a Bill when it comes before us. The proposals for a Scottish parliament, so far as we now know them, are not for a bicameral but for a unicameral system without proper system for review or revision.
I do not believe that a tax raising Parliament, bereft of proper rules of procedure, can ever be a successful solution to the imbalance between the Scottish and English economies. What about the effects on inward investment, let alone jobs? Those today are considered to be the most proper measure of economic success.
I repeat that I appreciate the Government's decision to base their proposals on the franchise of local authorities. That has a significance which many noble Lords may have overlooked. The Treaty of Union and the Act of Union were approved burgh by burgh throughout Scotland. Indeed, the documents even designate the number of representatives of each burgh who had to be consulted and had to give their assent to the decision. Therefore the local authority source as a basis is sound and good as well as historic in origin. I commend the Government for basing their provisions upon it.
However, what has to be realised is that Scotland is not a plain, monochrome country. Its various regions have jealousies of each other. One of the difficulties that has to be faced in a Scottish Parliament is how we can arrange to counterbalance the inevitably overwhelming strength of the population of the Central Belt, where most of the industry is, against the mostly rural areas, whether the Borders, the Grampians, or the Highlands.
So far as we know now, it is not evident that the project that is yet to be unveiled will have the right machinery for dealing with this imbalance. I greatly fear that a Scottish parliament could become an endless series of titanic wrangles as to how the money is to be raised, let alone how and where it is to be spent. They are wrangles that the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (CoSLA) has learnt to overcome.
I am amazed that in their plans the Government have overlooked the existence of CoSLA. It is a highly respected, well organised body representative of local authorities. It meets once a year, and moves from place to place. I always thought that it shall have regular base in Edinburgh. CoSLA has established itself with proper procedures and structures that enable the different regions and areas to get along together. It amazes me that the Government have not even thought of making use of CoSLA's structures as the model for a Scottish parliament.
The example of CoSLA is one that could well be imitated by the party opposite. Its own procedures for balancing the hostilities and suspicions between the Scottish regions have proved effective over the years. It is common enough for Englishmen to think that Scotland is just one plain, monochrome country. The fact is that in the Highlands there is suspicion in relation to the Borders. Ever since the Clearances the people there have had a great suspicion, even fear, of the Border shepherds with their lovely rich flocks of sheep. Again, the people of Grampian have memories that go back to the Battle of Harlaw in 1411, when the Lord of the Isles was defeated by the people of Aberdeen. The Highlanders, under the leadership of the Lord of the Isles, tried to come down and take their rich ground. There is no great love in Grampian for the Highlanders as such. As for the general attitude of highlanders, lowlanders and Grampian towards the Central Belt, the latter is sometimes unfairly and unkindly described as being dominated by the "Glasgow Irish". The language used by one region about another simply does not bear repetition under the procedures and manners of this House.
What we must give our minds to now is whether what used to be called the Salisbury Doctrine would apply to this situation. I submit that it does not. The Labour Party manifesto, and speeches by Mr. Blair, made plain over and over again that Labour's intention was not to disrupt the Union. Yet here we have a measure that looks as though it could set up a rival exchequer to that in London, a source of great disunity within the UK, to say nothing of a focus of disunity within Scotland itself.
Lord Parry: My Lords, your Lordships' House is weary, and so am I. The House is emptying, and I know why. If I could have thought of a good moral excuse an hour ago, I should have gone too. On the whole the debate has been good-humoured. There have been important exchanges; there are more to come. I rise as the 26th speaker in the debate and, for the encouragement of the House, there are 13 more to come after me--unlucky for some; lucky for those who have left. Your Lordships may think that the questions asked tonight have not been asked before. Some noble Lords who asked those questions may think they are being original in asking them. Those questions consumed my youth. I have lived with the question of devolution, and with debate upon it, all through my political life. I stand here tonight, at 71 years of age, convinced that while we may have inched the debate forward slightly, we have contributed very little to all the talking that has gone before. The issue is that the people of Wales and Scotland are to take their moment in history. They are being offered an opportunity.
I was glad that my noble friend Lord Prys-Davies had the opportunity of correcting one of the points he made. There was a sharp exchange between him and a former Secretary of State for Wales. I am sure that they will resolve the issue between them. I wanted the House to know in the minutes available to me that Wales is a nation. In case the House had not noticed it, I am Welsh; everything in my living has proved my Welshness. We speak here tonight not in a romantic sense but in the sense of being one of the peoples of Great Britain--the English, the Welsh, the Scottish and the Irish, who make up this mosaic that is Britain. When we say that we want a greater say in our affairs and greater control over them, the lesson of the necessity of that has been rammed home, even if by accident, by noble Lords on the Opposition Benches. It is the period of the past five or six years that has concentrated opinion in Wales on the idea that whatever Welsh people like to say, they are unlikely to be heard in the upper echelons of control in this nation.
The matter is brought into focus again. The Government pledged in their manifesto to give an opportunity to the people. There is nothing sinister in that. This is no plot; it is no conspiracy. This is a matter of the Welsh and Scottish people saying: "Okay, we've tried it your way. Now let's try it our way. Let's make the devolution of authority from Parliament a logical rather than an irrational process".
There is a point that has not been properly quoted in the debate so far--although in the 25 speeches before mine I have heard some points made 25 times. I have heard some points made 40 times, because some Members of the House felt they had to say them, or read them, four times over in the course of their remarks. The right honourable Ron Davies, Secretary of State for Wales, the latest in a long line of mighty men, said in concluding the debate in the House of Commons:
The noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley, is here so I can say it face to face. He is an old friend of mine, although on the opposite side of the House. He seemed genuinely concerned about something called the "South Wales-dominated socialist assembly". You would have to go a long way along the railway line in Wales to find a socialist assembly. Many of us have talked about it, some of us have dreamed of it, but we have never found it. There are not serried ranks of vicious councillors wishing to pull down the aristocracy of Britain now that they are in opposition. I must add that I find that the Opposition's appearance has improved with having the evening sun behind them. When I came to the House I sat on the Government Benches and I am delighted to be here tonight. I hope that the Opposition will become used to being where they are.
The noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, said that the referendum will be confined to the Welsh and Scots who happen to live in their own countries. He will wish to alter that tomorrow because it is not so. The referendum is offered to everyone who lives in Wales--Catholic, communist, Baptist, Wesleyan (and there are still a few of us left). It is offered to everyone who lives in Wales, not to people who are ethnic in any sense.
I wish to say something in conclusion and I have noticed that those who said they would not speak for long have taken longer than others. The Western Mail is the national paper of Wales and I was surprised when the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, said that so few people read it. I wrote for it for many years. It may be just a newspaper to some but it was bread and butter to me. The Western Mail had a headline:
I wish to say something about the confidence that exists in Welshness, Scottishness, Irishness and Englishness. The English were the most confident of all in the moment of their growth and glory. It may be that what is happening now is because of the loss of confidence of the English in the face of the growing confidence in other parts of the country. Noble Lords have had a long debate.
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