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Lord Parry: My Lords, I congratulate the noble Earl on that. I wish to point out that the Western Mail also produced last week a sign of the virility and confidence of Welsh culture. Every page of the newspaper referred to a different aspect of music, including pop, from one extreme to the other. Each aspect is being celebrated in Wales at present. Marvellous things are happening, but the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, was quite right: some areas of Wales have missed out on them and we are desperately keen to see them develop. My own area of West Wales has been persecuted by the closure of some employment opportunities time and time again and it now has among the highest unemployment rate in Great Britain.
If I have been a little excited late in the day, it is only because I believe that the people of Wales are perfectly competent to run an assembly within the integrated parliamentary system of Great Britain and run it to the advantage of us all.
Lord Dixon-Smith: My Lords, I rise as one of the rare Englishmen who does not have a Scottish grandfather, still less a Welsh great-grandfather. Would that I had the eloquence that would result from such parentage.
I do not hesitate or fear to rise in this debate as one of the rare English participants because there is an English dimension which I shall touch on in due course. It has been a good debate but we all realise and appreciate how much more intense this debate is because of the lack of the Government's putative White Paper, which we all long for and even more the final legislation on devolution. However, it has to be said that this debate is more intense because of the absence of that process. Arranging the business this way round will inevitably intensify the debate, both on subsequent stages of this Bill and on the future Bill.
That said, one aspect to the debate so far has surprised and astonished me; namely, the expressions of surprise and occasionally even of irritation from the Government Benches that Members on this side of the House should apparently wish to apply those tactics which they applied so often against us in debates prior to the general
It has long been a fact of political life in democratic countries that individuals and communities will wish to draw to themselves the power to determine those issues which they see as being within their competence and intimately affecting their quality of life.
That is a fact that I have lived with throughout my life in local government. It leads me to one glaring gap in my knowledge of what is going on at present, which causes me some concern. When finally we are allowed to see the White Paper--and I am somewhat relieved that the people of Scotland and Wales will be treated with a greater degree of deference than Members in the Palace of Westminster--I hope that it will contain no proposals which will in any way diminish the present powers and competences of existing local authorities. Unless that is clearly stated, the concept of devolution is endangered. While I appreciate the problem the Government have in trying to decide whether the chicken comes before the egg, it is impossible to debate this Bill without touching on such issues which relate to the White Paper and the Bill which must follow it.
The Government are responding to a demand from particular parts of the United Kingdom for greater control over the matters that closely affect them. Consulting public opinion in those areas is reasonable, but I cannot help noting that the views of the remainder of the United Kingdom are not considered to be relevant.
I have already said that there is an English dimension. Opinion ranges from: "I cannot wait to see the last of Scotland"--a sad view, but I regret that it is becoming more common--to "Why cannot we do that here?". It is an approach that was elucidated by the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun of Abernethy. I must admit to a concern that across the whole country the public yearns for what I describe as the chimera of devolution, as it hopes to find within the chimera solutions to problems which are in fact nothing to do with devolution. There are matters such as confidence and certainty in economic affairs; confidence and certainty of employment and confidence and certainty of service. Those problems will continue, with or without devolution. Tackling them will continue to be--as it always has been--the concern of the whole community and all its institutions.
So far as concerns the Bill before us, I have only one small point to make. It is my view that the present wording of Schedule 1 to the Bill, which deals with Scotland, is capable of misleading people. After the heading the schedule reads:
Another question which of course cannot be answered at the present time is whether there will be a Secretary of State for Scotland, given that the Scottish parliament will hold pretty well all the powers that he at present holds. I suggest in those circumstances that that wording ought to be changed during the passage of the Bill through this House.
I wish the people of Scotland well. Many people of Scottish descent live in my part of the country, where they greatly enrich the community. We heard last week, in the Government's reply to the Question of my noble and learned friend Lord Fraser of Carmyllie, that transmigration into and out of Scotland continues in large numbers--over half a million in and half a million out in the past 10 years. It is ironic that many of the voters in the referendum in Scotland will not be of Scottish descent. I wish the people of Wales well, but in relation to Wales I have nothing further to add at this stage.
Baroness Seccombe: My Lords, I always feel that constitutional debates such as the one before us today are occasions not to be missed. Such important issues attract contributions from historians and others who have great experience and expertise. It is therefore with hesitation and humility that I rise to speak today--perhaps at this late hour some of your Lordships may wish I had hesitated even longer and not spoken at all.
I have two reasons for speaking today. First, as my noble friend Lord Lauderdale said, I had a Scottish grandmother, but I also had the added bonus of a Welsh grandfather as well as two English grandparents. As a result I have always felt passionately that I am a citizen of the United Kingdom and not of one of its component countries. Secondly, I was deeply shocked by the Government's guillotine of such a major Bill. It was unnecessary as they have a massive majority. I worry that that was an arrogance in denying thorough debate and scrutiny.
This is a Bill which will have a dramatic effect on every inhabitant of these islands. The Union has served us well for nearly 300 years and yet now we have a Government hell bent on creating a situation where the individual countries will be at odds with one another. Of course the devolution Bill will be debated in great detail at a later stage. But it is difficult not to raise issues at this stage due to the timing of the referendum. I must admit that I find it strange that we are to have the referendum before the devolution Bill has been passed by both Houses of Parliament. At the present time we do not even have a White Paper, as we have heard on many occasions, never mind a draft Bill. And I certainly do not need to remind your Lordships how different a Bill can be at the end of the parliamentary process.
I turn now to the subject of those entitled to vote in the referendum. Why should the local government register be used and not the parliamentary one? As we have heard, it means that European nationals seconded to Scotland could vote while a Scot seconded to a continental town would be ineligible. I also feel strongly about those who serve this country in the Armed Forces. They may be denied the opportunity to have a say in the future of this country, and I find that unacceptable.
In addition, there are many who feel that all United Kingdom residents should be able to take part in a decision which will probably lead to its break-up. After all, the Scottish National Party will support the Bill because it sees it as the first step to independence. I am concerned that there is to be no threshold for turn-out: a simple majority vote is to suffice. I am sure that all of us who are members of a sports club will know that around two-thirds of the members must vote if they want to change its constitution. It is very odd that a simple majority would be accepted in a situation such as a referendum.
I am sure that the Welsh cannot understand why they should be treated differently from Scotland. I ponder over many questions, but the recurring one concerns the tax-raising powers of the Scottish parliament. Why should Scottish Members of another place not be subject to the tartan tax simply because they are paid South of the Border? Other concerns include what will happen to multinational companies or even smaller businesses which stay in Scotland when a move to England would make them more profitable. What will be the effect on unemployment in Scotland if that happens? Will people decide to live in England and commute to Scotland? I can see only confusion and discord.
Who will pay the £8 million required for the referendum? Will it come from the Consolidated Fund grant to Scotland and Wales or will the English be expected to share the expense? That would surely create conflict and would constitute taxation without representation. How does local government fit into this structure? Would its powers be diminished? One point is certain. It would not be tenable to maintain the present number of constituencies in Scotland and Wales. The over-representation could not be justified for Scotland and the number would have to be reduced from 73 to around 59, and for Wales, from 40 to around 34.
The West Lothian question, first posed by the honourable Member for Linlithgow, Tam Dalyell, has never been answered in all the years since he first posed it. But it would be unacceptable for Scottish and Welsh MPs to vote on purely English matters when English
As I said earlier, the Union has served us well and is much stronger than the four individual parts. I believe that, as a small nation, we have always punched above our weight. We hold dear our influence throughout the world and value our role in international institutions, and particularly our seat on the Security Council. At present we are four countries but one nation. To tinker with this costly special arrangement would indeed be asking for a blank cheque. The last government gave more powers to Scotland and Wales but always defended the Union. This Bill would lead to yet another tier of government. There would be more bureaucrats, the cost would be enormous and inward investment would be deterred.
I would not oppose the Bill if I could be sure of benefits. But to undermine the constitution in this way would seem to do exactly the opposite. The Bill takes us into new territory. I do believe that it is the first step to the break-up of the United Kingdom. It is a Bill that embarks on a process which the Government do not seem to appreciate will change the way of life for all our citizens. I believe that one day it will be seen as a Bill that the Labour Party, whether it is old or new, will wish it had never signed up to.
Lord Desai: My Lords, I was going to make a mild speech but I think it is too late to do that now. For the noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, to say that the guillotining of the Bill in the House of Commons was unusual is a little rich. The Single European Act, which was much longer and more fundamental to the constitution of the country, was guillotined in the other place.
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