Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Ewing of Kirkford: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for giving way. I should just like to clear this point up. The manner in which the Scottish Constitutional Convention was established was such that no one was invited to join. The initial meeting was called in the building of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in Edinburgh, and people joined of their own volition. No invitations went out to anyone to join. Against that background at that time it was open to the Scottish Peers Association to join those in the convention.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe: My Lords, I thank my noble friend. The absence of Scottish Peers from the deliberations was unfortunate. Whether it was my responsibility or that of someone else I do not know.

The situation is almost the West Lothian question in reverse. I am a Peer of Parliament, but I live in Scotland. Most of my life and my cultural, economic and political activities are in Scottish affairs. If a Scottish parliament is to be responsible for health, education, housing and the basics of government in Scotland, as a Scottish Peer I shall have no voice whatsoever in these matters. It will, however, be possible for me to come down to Westminster, to deliberate, speak and vote on matters relating to English education, housing, health or whatever.

This question has to be resolved. It is not the West Lothian question. It relates to Scottish Peers and the place of the House of Lords in the constitution of this country. If there is a unicameral parliament in Scotland, as is provided so far as I can see in the programme of the Scottish convention, I presume that legislation relating to the basic concerns of the Scottish people will go direct to Her Majesty in order to secure approval. I hope this point will be taken care of in the White Paper and also in the Bill. There is no provision for a revising Chamber on such basic Scottish matters. Provision for scrutiny by the House of Lords would therefore be denied. It would almost represent an innovation in the British constitution--by-passing the scrutiny of the House of Lords. It will almost be a move in the direction of unicameral government. That is important.

When I make such statements it may be assumed that I am against devolution. I am in favour of devolution. I feel that the devolution of Scotland and Wales should be part of an overall distribution of power. There must be a move towards the decentralisation of power in any healthy democracy.

I agree with the noble Earl, Lord Russell. In Germany we have the Lander, which exercise a great deal of local authority and power. Part of my family lives in Switzerland, where the cantons enjoy a great degree of

17 Jun 1997 : Column 1206

decentralised power in a lively, democratic city. I hope that devolution in Scotland, which I will support, as I will support this Bill, will be only one step towards an examination of decentralised power in the United Kingdom.

As was pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Shore, in an excellent maiden speech, there is presently a demand all over the world for the greater decentralisation of power. I believe that arises from the fact that we are living in a world of big and powerful industrial and political institutions. It is a great thing that the human spirit is revolting against excessive power at the centre. I hope, therefore, that we shall respond to the need for decentralisation and that Scottish and Welsh devolution will be part of that process.

10.5 p.m.

Lord Gray: My Lords, I may not agree with all that the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, said, but I have always respected his opinions. I listened to his speech with great interest. It is unnerving to realise that one is the speaker everyone wishes to sit down so that they can hear the winding up speeches from the Front Benches. That is my lot tonight. I do not know how much it will inhibit me, but I suspect that it will.

In common with other noble Lords who have spoken today, I was heavily engaged in our devolution debates in this House nigh on 20 years ago. When only one-third of the Scottish electorate voted "yes", I never thought I might have to face the prospect of a re-run. I might therefore have been expected to welcome the Government's decision to have a pre-legislative referendum. But--and it is a big "but"--it is not to be a pre-legislative referendum in the true sense of that description. In their understandable anxiety to avoid using up parliamentary time on what might be rejected by the Scottish electorate, as I see it, the Government have, under the pretext of taking Scottish opinion, opted to ask the Scottish electorate to buy a pig in a poke. When the referendum is held, voters will not really know what they are voting for. That is a very undesirable scenario. We are told that we shall have a week or two to consider and study a White Paper. A White Paper is just that. It does not necessarily represent what would be in subsequent legislation.

Parliament is sovereign, not the Government. I see that the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhill, has taken his place and I am sure he will agree with me that what emerges from the parliamentary process is not exactly what a White Paper would propose or even what the Bill proposes as first drafted. Yet the referendum campaign must be conducted on White Paper ideas.

What a weird campaign threatens! My noble friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish entertained us with the contradictory and self-contradictory quotes from Labour Party spokesmen over months past, describing what I think of as the revolving door of political gaffes. But there is a serious point arising therefrom. It is this: we are facing the consequences of compromise within the government ranks and the prospect of a referendum campaign based on a range of hopes and expectations that perhaps do not necessarily relate to reality. Unless the

17 Jun 1997 : Column 1207

Government surprise me and perhaps everyone else by changing their mind, the argument advanced by my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy that a second referendum should follow the passing of any Scotland Act, merits serious consideration.

Neither a White Paper nor a claim to a mandate by virtue of one element in a general election manifesto are a proper basis for legislation of this constitutional magnitude--with consequences perhaps yet unthought of--unless the Scottish electorate know exactly what they are voting for and what they are letting themselves in for. That is the paramount consideration.

So much for generalities. I know the House wishes to get on to the speeches which are to follow. However, before I sit down I should like to put down a few markers for the Committee stage. First, in relation to the franchise, when I looked at what was proposed I was immediately unhappy about the vote position of the Services. Next, I am concerned about how out-of-date the electoral rolls will be and should like at a later stage to speculate about how we may get round that.

In addition, I am worried about the Government's view of who should be qualified. At some points of the debate today it sounded as though they did not know what to do with Scottish noble Lords who live in Scotland and I may humorously suggest that they should give each of us a document which we can take to the polling station. They can then use the parliamentary electorate. If we are able to turn up with a piece of paper saying that we are entitled to vote--there are only 123 of us--it may be easier than proposing regulations in relation to qualifications that make us a little unhappy.

That is all I wish to say tonight. I have no doubt that I shall be back at Committee stage. I thank your Lordships for listening to me.

10.13 p.m.

Lord Thomas of Gresford My Lords, I add my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Shore of Stepney, on his stimulating maiden speech this afternoon. I hope he will forgive me if I give even warmer congratulations to my noble friend Lord Steel of Aikwood, whom I have known since 1965. He used to come to my constituency in north-east Wales--initially in a battered car and, as he went up in the political world, in a helicopter--campaign after campaign. How I managed to lose them all, as the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, was kind enough to inform your Lordships, I do not know.

We have not heard a demand in your Lordships' House for self-government for England. Perhaps that is not surprising. The English perception is that they govern themselves. The Welsh and Scottish perception is that England governs Wales and Scotland. That is the difference which sometimes English people fail to appreciate. When the noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, said,

    "The union has served us well",
I wondered who the "us" were. Despite all the efforts of the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, Wales remains a country where wage levels are lower than they are in England; where health is worse, and where benefit dependency is greater.

17 Jun 1997 : Column 1208

I agree entirely with the noble Viscount, Lord St. Davids, who said that the status quo is not an option; there must be change. But the stoutest opponent of change your Lordships have heard today, the defender of the status quo, is the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, who said that on this issue the House should stand and fight. Those are the strongest words your Lordships have heard in opposition to the Bill before the House. I welcome his frank and open opposition.

Lord Crickhowell: My Lords, I did not say that we should stand and fight on the Bill. I said that we should stand and fight on the very simple proposition that the facts should be presented equally to the electorate, as recommended by Sir Patrick Nairne, Mr. Butler and others.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page