|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Davies of Coity: My Lords, perhaps I may remind the House that the seeds of the national minimum wage were first sown in 1986, the very same year that the Conservative Government started to dismantle the wages councils, which were set up by Winston Churchill in the early part of this century. It is absolutely clear that those sitting on the Conservative Benches are totally opposed to a national minimum wage. What are not so clear, and indeed are rather confusing, are the arguments that they marshal in support of their opposition. It seems that they do not address the objectives of this Government or the realism of the situation.
The Government have two worthy objectives. One is to try to get as many people as possible into employment. The other is to ensure minimum standards of a civilised nature for those who are most vulnerable in our society. When addressing those objectives, there has to be some degree of proportion and balance. If the minimum wage is levelled too much towards adults, on the one hand large numbers of adults can be unemployed and young people will find employment--
Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, to respond to my noble friend's last point, many employers have already taken advantage of the fact that the climate in industry is changing, and they are themselves changing. Many are paying in excess of the recommended national minimum wage.
My noble friend is right in drawing attention to the history of the abolition of the wages councils--an example of Conservative amnesia. The great thing about the Conservative Party is that it does have balance--its members have a chip on both shoulders.
Lord Lang of Monkton: My Lords, remembering, as I do, the sets of figures with which I was furnished by my officials at the DTI as to the number of jobs that would be lost at different levels as a result of a national minimum wage, with what figures has the Minister been supplied by his officials at the DTI indicating the numbers of jobs that will be lost given the level of minimum wage that has now been decided by the Government?
Lord Burlison: My Lords, I welcome the Statement by my noble friend the Minister. It brings us into line with many of the other western European countries, and indeed America, by establishing a national minimum wage, which already exists in those other countries. I congratulate the Government on persisting in establishing the principle of a minimum wage. Does the Minister feel, as I do, that the establishment of that principle will in the future provide a means of getting rid of poverty pay in this country?
Lord Clinton-Davis: Yes, my Lords, that is one of the reasons that I have already adduced. Achieving better conditions in Britain's workplaces is critical in terms of achieving a more involved and committed workforce, and a workforce that is treated decently and with dignity. That is effectively what this is all about.
Lord Harding of Petherton: My Lords, I do not know what the precise cut-off age will be for young people being paid less than older people. Will the Minister accept that, as the noble Baroness, Lady Jeger, does not seem to recognise, if I employed a labour force I should not expect to pay more experienced people the same as young people who had just started in the job?
Lord Hardy of Wath: My Lords, will my noble friend monitor the situation to see where jobs will be saved as a result of the introduction of the national minimum wage? Will it not mean that the responsible employer who pays decent wages will not find himself in unfair competition with an employer who may prosper mightily while paying starvation wages to his workers, who as a consequence have to be subsidised by the state?
Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, my noble friend is right, that is why many employers have supported the concept of the national minimum wage. It is the old argument about the level playing field. People who are carrying on a decent job of employing workers on a civilised basis do not want to be cut down by cowboys displaying the kind of tactics of which presumably the Conservative Party approves.
I have already said that the position is to be monitored by the Low Pay Commission and I am glad that that is the case. The point was made by the noble Lord, Lord Razzall, in the debate that we had. I hope that he is satisfied with that response.
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, will my noble friend confirm that at £3.60 per hour we are talking about a weekly wage of just under £137? That is little enough and I feel sure that all noble Lords sitting here would find great difficulty living on it.
I wish to ask two questions. First, will the minimum wage be increased year by year? Secondly, will it be increased in relation to the retail prices index or in relation to wage movements, or a mixture of both? Finally, perhaps I may ask him whether the 20p difference between £3 and £3.20 for young people will have any effect on employment. I doubt it.
Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, as to the last point, my noble friend is entitled to entertain his doubts about the situation. The proof of the pudding will be in the eating. That is why it is important. All the other points he raised relate to that and that the Low Pay Commission should monitor the situation. That will be done. Therefore it will also impact on the mechanism to be deployed as to whether there should be increases.
I entirely agree with the point made by my noble friend that few noble Lords would wish to live on the minimum wage. However, it is a floor; it is not something which will apply in all cases of employment. We hope not. But at least it is right for the first time to have that floor so that the lowest paid--the most vulnerable--can be protected.
Lord Jacobs: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the real danger of a minimum wage--and I support it--lies not in London and the south east of England where job opportunities are considerable, but in parts of England like the north and the west country, where the
Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, with respect, I do not believe that the noble Lord is right about that. There are places in the regions that suffer a serious impact from low wages. Even in parts of the country where we expect people to be well rewarded, that is not always the case. That is why we do not accept the regional argument which has been well and eloquently argued in this place in Committee by the noble Lord's party.
Lord Rowallan: My Lords, can the Minister furnish us with the list of countries which do not have a minimum wage? In answer to the question from the noble Earl, Lord Russell, he said that the list was short.
Lord Watson of Invergowrie: My Lords, the Minister referred a few moments ago to the national minimum wage being a floor. Does he agree that there is a danger that those who do not accept the concept of the national minimum wage--and I am talking about employers--will view it as a national maximum wage? For that reason, does he agree that the need to be a member of a trade union at this time is as great as it has ever been?
Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, yes. I happen to be a trade unionist myself, so I agree with the point. My noble friend is well known as having an excellent background in that regard, and I can understand his articulation of the point.
The Earl of Glasgow: My Lords, I shall make a short, rather schizophrenic speech. I very much welcome a Scottish parliament, but at the same time I cannot help having doubts and apprehensions. I believe passionately in devolution. The more power that can be transferred to the regions and away from central government the better. Scotland is much more than a region, it is a country with a long and independent history, with its own legal and educational system. It has long deserved a parliament of its own.
Never was that more apparent than during the Thatcher years when many of us living north of the Border felt that we had become a colony, governed by a remote foreign power that emanated from somewhere in the home counties. We feel more comfortable today, but that is because the whole of Great Britain is now largely governed by Scots.
I know that one of the Government's intentions in establishing a Scottish parliament is to strengthen the Union, not to weaken it. It is desperately important that this turns out to be the case. Yet, as several noble Lords from the Conservative Benches have already pointed out, polls in Scotland suggest that the prospect of a parliament has increased Scottish enthusiasm for an independent Scotland rather than calming it down. Let us hope that this is only a transitory frustration, a protest against the early disappointments of the Blair administration or the result of World Cup fever. We certainly want to distance ourselves from the English football fans, for example!
I am also disturbed when many friends and colleagues, Scottish and English--and not predominantly Conservative--talk as if Scotland were already in the process of becoming an independent country. They speak as if there were an unstoppable inevitability about it, that it is only a question of time. Is that the way the establishment of a Scottish parliament is being perceived out there? It is important that we--and I mean people like me in particular--do not get talked into feeling that way too.
I also have a more personal historic reason for feeling ambivalent about a Scottish parliament. My ancestor, the first Earl of Glasgow, was one of the architects of the Union of the Parliaments in 1707. He was treasurer depute and a Privy Counsellor in the last Scottish Parliament. Like the merchants of Glasgow, whose interests he came to represent, he believed that the Union was essential for Scotland's economic survival. We sometimes forget that Scotland was close to war with England at the turn of the 18th century, particularly over the issue of England's refusal to let Scotland trade with its colonies. That made life almost impossible for the monarch, William of Orange and later Queen Anne, who was head of state of both countries. I cannot help but envisage similar difficulties for our monarch in the future, if we were to separate again: disputes over ownership of North Sea oil, for example.
The first Earl of Glasgow is vilified by Scottish Nationalists as the man who got hold of a large sum of money from the court of Queen Anne and proceeded to bribe Scottish MPs, particularly opportunist Jacobites, to vote for the Union against their natural instincts. It is probably true that the Act of Union would never have passed through the Scottish Parliament without a little greasing of the wheels. However, we in our family have never accepted the charge that he was guilty of such shenanigans. Even if he was, it seems to me that there is nothing intrinsically wicked in offering bribes to further a good cause. It is those who accept the bribes who need to look to their consciences.
Whatever nationalists may say now, there is no doubt that the Union benefited Scotland as well as Britain. Certainly, the merchants, the traders, the middle classes, thrived under the Union and I do not think that they can even blame the Highland clearances on the Union, just because the Duke of Sutherland happened to be an Englishman.
While I cannot get rid of apprehensions, I tell myself that the majority of Scots are sensible people; that they do not really want an independent Scotland. We are certainly not the kamikaze pilots that some Conservatives patronisingly predict us to be. We are a tolerant, practical, friendly, inventive people. In relation to the size of our population, we have had more influence in the world than any other race, with the possible exception of the Jews. We have had to put up with a lot of English arrogance and insensitivity over the years. But we tolerate it because we realise that they do not know any better.
Surely we are too sensible to be hoodwinked into edging towards an independent Scotland. All we want is what we have always wanted; that is, the right to decide things in Scotland that affect Scotland. If that is what we are to get--that is clearly the Government's intention--then the re-establishment of a Scottish parliament will be the best thing to happen since the first Earl of Glasgow and his cronies had it abolished in 1707.
But we must work hard at the Bill to get it right. At present there are several areas relating to reserve powers at Westminster that will be controversial and could provide ammunition for the nationalists. The Bill is a leap in the dark. It is beset by dangers. But if we all have the will to make it work, we will make it work. And it will serve ultimately to strengthen and not to weaken the United Kingdom.
I had a general impression that, given the fact that under the referendum the Scots wanted, to a degree, to go their own way, yesterday's speeches were all constructive and helpful. I was struck by the fact that some of the business leaders in particular were worried by the problems that may arise when the Scotland Bill goes through. One or two other important points were made, such as the relationship of Scotland with the European Union, the point made by the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, as to how the £500 million outwith the block grant for agriculture and so forth will fit in, and the question of who will decide and organise it if there is to be a referendum. However, I must not make up a resume of yesterday or give a winding-up speech; rather, I must keep to my own brief that, above all, this Bill must safeguard the Union. We should all look at it with that constantly in mind.
To a degree all that will change because many Scots will now devote their attention to building up Scotland within the framework of the United Kingdom. The question of how to divide the block grant will be difficult. We must cover the issues of education, health, social services, transport and various economic developments. I wonder whether the dream of a canal from the Atlantic to the North Sea will be one of them? It is clear that a formidable task faces the Scottish parliament. I am only comforted by the fact that the Scottish Office is such a good machine and will help us all from an administrative point of view.
Constitutional changes are hugely difficult and will need the greatest understanding, patience and good will, not only on the part of England and Scotland, but also we must not forget Wales and Northern Ireland. When embarking upon a project for the building of a new Union--a new Great Britain--and the relationship of the parliaments, we are facing a unique situation, though there are the examples of the Lander and so forth in Europe. We must make no mistake: this will be a difficult task. It is of significance that, not only are we to undergo constitutional changes in Scotland, but that it is taking place against the background of constitutional change in Europe.
We are all going to be kept pretty busy. I have puzzled much over the issue of the European currency and EMU. I only say to those who have the responsibility that they must not drag their feet too much. We must always remember what happened when the Treaty of Rome came about to our disadvantage and not as we would have liked to see it.
Recently I became aware and indeed was shocked at the hatred some of the Scots feel for all things English. I wonder why? The poll tax may have had a part to play when we were the guinea-pigs, or situations such as when Rosyth lost the battle for submarine bases to Plymouth. Clearly that was a decision taken for political rather than economic reasons. I have no doubt that the Scots in central Scotland remember that and resent it to this day.
But that is all in the past. What matters is the future. The Scotland Bill must ensure that such things never happen again. It will take time and patience, as I said. But let all parties combine if there is a serious threat from the blandishments of the Scottish National Party for independence. The history of the Union shows that that would be a tragic mistake and we must never forget the part that Scotland played.
Clause 5 and its reservations are the key to the Bill. It is important that the Government realise that we are all trying to help and that they listen to the points being made, not only by the Opposition but by all the speakers on the Bill. They must understand the basis of their comments, take notice of them and improve the Bill by so doing. It is only in the spirit of "We have to get it to work" that the Scotland Bill will succeed, and we must all work together to ensure that this happens.
Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, at this stage of the debate, on the second day, I will try to find some new ground in commenting on the role of the Bill. My noble friends have already pointed out the unsolved problems, especially in the contribution by my noble friend Lord Lang of Monkton yesterday, which I thought was outstanding. I will also refer to developments in Scotland in the past few weeks, well after the Bill left the other place.
This House has had little opportunity until now to discuss the Government's proposals. The White Paper was published only about five days before a debate, on the day before Parliament went into the long Summer Recess last year. The debate was on the Welsh White Paper as well. The Scottish White Paper would not be recognised as a White Paper by statesmen and parliamentarians of the past. It was a glossy brochure. It contained colour portraits of the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Scotland, but was very short on substance. It could be described as a spin doctor's prospectus.
Scottish Conservatives will now be working to make the proposed new parliament function as smoothly as possible. That is a laudable intention. However, they will find it uphill work. Some of us have given warnings about the pitfalls and problems for many years. The Government are already bumping into some of them. Three weeks ago an opinion poll in Scotland showed the Scottish National Party--the SNP--to be 9 per cent. ahead of the other parties. Twelve days ago, in another poll, on independence for Scotland, 52 per cent. were found to be in favour and 41 per cent. against. This appears to have taken the Labour leadership by surprise. But why? They were warned many times.
The right honourable gentleman the Secretary of State, Mr. Dewar, has turned on the SNP with bitter criticism, having accepted them as allies in the referendum campaign last summer. The Secretary of State has been joined by the Minister for the Armed Forces, Dr. John Reid, who was quoted in the Scotsman newspaper on 25th May as saying, in a powerful speech in Edinburgh:
I do not disagree with Dr. Reid, but why has the Labour Party waited until now to say this? The situation was the same and the SNP policies were the same a year ago. Similar wording appeared in a joint statement by the Prime Minister and the leader of the Liberal Democrats. That stated on 11th June, only a week ago, that Labour and Liberal Democrats,
We were giving warnings a year ago, and before that, but the Labour Party either refused to listen or let the spin doctors take over to get the result they wanted in September's referendum. The SNP has never made any secret of its ultimate objective in Scotland--that Scotland should leave the United Kingdom. It wants the new parliament to be thoroughly unstable and to be at loggerheads with Westminster.
We seem to be moving into a era of constitution changing by referendum. Referendums are still new in this country. I took an active part in the very first two--the 1975 one on Europe and the 1979 one on the Scotland Act. In both, there was no shortage of information, including the solid text of an Act of Parliament in the second. Before the Bill for the 1978 Act was introduced, opinion polls in Scotland were showing that about 60 per cent. of the population were in favour of what was then the vague concept of devolution. A referendum then would have reflected that 60 per cent. in favour. The referendum was, sensibly and correctly, held later, in 1979, when the tangible and substantial Scotland Act was available for all to see and examine. Then only 33 per cent. of the electorate in Scotland gave support to those proposals.
Last September, in the referendum held before clear plans or legislation had been produced, some 60 per cent. of the electorate voted in favour of the principle of devolution. The Times newspaper, in its leading article on 28th May on the referendums in Scotland and Wales, stated:
Referendums on abstract ideas can be misleading. Few members of the public feel like voting against a principle like devolution, any more than they would vote against freedom or virtue. In Scotland, the electorate may, before long, be expected to vote in a referendum on another attractive sounding concept--independence. The latest opinion poll indicates a majority in Scotland now in favour of 52 per cent. No general framework or agreed principles on conducting referendums have yet been formulated. If in the United Kingdom we continue to use this new electoral device--several more are now in prospect--there should be some basic arrangements to ensure that they are orderly, well understood and efficiently administered. Otherwise we shall be changing the constitution by a new method--the random referendum.
The Scottish electorate, as previous speakers pointed out, are sensible and canny, but they must have the facts and the consequences of a high sounding principle like independence fully before them so that they can make judgments that are based on those facts. It seems almost inevitable that a referendum will be held in Scotland before long on independence. If held today it seems that a majority would be in favour of it. So much for what was described as "the settled will" of the Scottish electorate, which supported something quite different--namely, devolution--a few months ago. That is unsettling.
I suspect that "Cool Britannia" is already losing some of her sang-froid as her domain becomes seriously threatened with a major amputation; and there will be no question of a "Cool Caledonia" while Scotland is undergoing severe internal surgery. I foresee much muddle and confusion ahead. The test of who is proved to have been accurate in forecasts in this debate will be in two to three years' time--what actually happens. I shall seek to raise the subject then for review.
The Bill aims to transfer to the proposed new parliament those functions which are already entirely devolved administratively to the Scottish Office and the Crown Office of the Lord Advocate. Most of these have been devolved for 60 years or more; for example, home affairs, health, education, housing, roads and local government. The advantage of this dividing line is that it already exists. There will be difficulties in drawing that line precisely, as there have been at times in the present system. An attribute of the present United Kingdom Cabinet system is that Ministers and officials can get together and iron out such matters concerning the precise division of functions in doubtful areas as they arise.
We are informed by the present Government that concordats are to be reached in the new set-up between Edinburgh and Westminster. Concordats are most unlikely to replace effectively the present Cabinet systems especially if the SNP is involved, as is likely because of the system of proportional representation which will produce coalitions in the executive.
I gave two illustrations in our debate on 30th July of how the present system works well. Briefly, they were that 27 years ago, during my term of four years as Secretary of State for Scotland, there was direct co-ordination with my noble friend Lady Thatcher, then responsible for education south of the Border, on two initiatives that I was taking on schools in Scotland. The second was co-ordination with the late Lord Joseph on my Scottish Bill to reorganise the National Health Service in Scotland in a different way from that to be adopted a year later in England and Wales.
I am reminded of that time, and I commend to the Government and your Lordships the speeches of the noble and learned Lords, Lord Hope and Lord McCluskey, yesterday and in particular their criticism of the proposals for appointing and dismissing judges. I appointed several judges while I was Secretary of State, but always in the closest consultation with the Lord Advocate of the day. I hope the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hardie, the present Lord Advocate, when he winds up tonight, will undertake to address these matters in full.
While the functions and subjects now within the domain of the Scottish Office are to be devolved, there are some subjects and services, closely affecting individuals and families in Scotland, which will continue, as now, to be administered from departments in London. I refer in particular to employment and social security. They are administered by United Kingdom or Great Britain departments now, and that means jobs, pensions and benefits. Many families in Scotland will be surprised when they find that these personal, almost daily, contacts with government will not come under the Scottish parliament or be dealt with by its new members.
A Scottish Office function for many years which is accordingly to be devolved is supervision of local government and its powers to raise money. There is concern in Scottish businesses that business rates will be increased. There is also general concern that the parliament could force council taxes to be increased, so widely increasing taxes as a whole.
Apparently there has been a change of attitude within the Government on expression of views by business, industry and financial institutions. Mr. Henry McLeish, a Minister in the Scottish Office, was reported last month as urging the business community to make full and vocal comments on the proposed parliament. He said, "They must speak out on these issues". What a contrast with the treatment of Sir Bruce Patullo last year during the referendum campaign. He questioned the skeleton proposals for varying income tax, the subject of one of the two propositions. Sir Bruce, then Governor of the Bank of Scotland, knows as much about finance and taxation as anyone in Scotland. His points have proved to be correct and relevant, but he was publicly told to shut up, stick to his banking and not to interfere in politics. Many of us thought that he was treated disgracefully, as finance and taxes were to be voted on in one of the propositions. The only excuse that can be made is that the spin doctors, determined to do anything to win the referendum, would stop at nothing.
I mentioned earlier the Minister for the Armed Forces, Dr. Reid, with many of whose reported views I agree both on the integrity of the United Kingdom and defence matters. I am in an age group that meant that I was already in uniform at the outbreak World War II. In the Army I was commanding a body of officers and soldiers for three years in a Scottish TA infantry division. My recollections are continually refreshed because I am still asked to lecture on those times at staff colleges or on battlefields abroad about three times a year. I am doing that again next month at a two-day conference at the new Joint Services Staff College at Bracknell.
In the Army there was immense strength in the unity of our country. Our Scottish division was, during one period of operations, alongside, or handing over, to the 53rd Welsh Division and the 43rd Wessex. We were determined not to let them down or to fail to give them the greatest support possible. There was also friendly rivalry between us within our complete commitment to defeat the enemy and Hitler.
Another strength emerged unexpectedly when we had crippling casualties. In at least two offensives our division lost more than half of our combat units, killed and wounded, inside a week. Replacements had to be provided rapidly from miscellaneous regiments and corps. Many were not Scots and to their great surprise were joining Scottish units. Within a short time, and certainly after the next major battle, they were all pulling together as a team.
We hope never to have a world war again. In very testing times, nonetheless, the United Kingdom proved to be a powerful entity. At question time on these lecturing occasions I am often asked to what extent patriotism motivated our troops when having to advance under intense fire or to defend a position against superior numbers and weapons. My answers include what I have just said. Noble Lords will understand why I personally feel particularly depressed at any prospect of Britain breaking up.
The one proposition that all speakers so far on all sides of the House have agreed is that Scotland leaving the United Kingdom would be a tragedy for all concerned. Our differences lie in assessing the degree of risk involved in the proposals now before us.
Lord Watson of Invergowrie: My Lords, it is an honour to take part in this debate. Noble Lords may be surprised to hear that the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, was Secretary of State when I was a student. I regard it as an honour to follow him and his contribution. However, while I may be slightly more kindly disposed towards him and his views now than I was some 25 or more years ago, I was slightly disappointed by his contribution. He began by saying that as this was the second day of the debate, he hoped to say something different. I regret to say that, with the exception of his war-time reminiscences, he really gave us much of what is called in some parts of Scotland kail rehet. It was largely about the referendum and the dangers of independence. I shall return to both of those topics, if I may.
While I am expressing my disappointment, perhaps I may refer to the fact that my noble friend Lord Ewing of Kirkford is not participating in the debate. I think that that is a shame, although I understand my noble friend's reasons. He has made a massive contribution over many years to getting us to our current position with this Scotland Bill. I hope that my noble friend will make a suitable contribution in Committee. I am sure that he will.
I regard participating in this debate as an honour. Although it may sound like hyperbole, I believe that whenever your Lordships' House votes we are in a sense making history and I believe that in a very real sense this Bill is history in the making. It has had a long and tortuous road to travel before getting to the current position. Even within my lifetime, many attempts have been made to frame a Scotland Bill which would produce a parliament for Scotland. That idea began seriously to gain ground when the Claim of Right was signed in 1989. I am one of those who was in the privileged position of being able to sign it. My noble friends Lord Ewing of Kirkford, Lord Hogg of Cumbernauld and Lord Hughes of Woodside are other Members of your Lordships' House who signed that Claim of Right in 1989.
Perhaps I may refer now to the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, which I enjoyed. As a new Member of your Lordships' House, I was advised that the noble Lord was one of those Peers to whom I should be sure to listen. In that respect, the information that I received as a new Member was accurate. I enjoyed the noble Lord's contribution. I enjoyed both his delivery and the sources from which he drew. Of course, I did not agree with much of what he said, but he made some pertinent points, many of which I am sure will be revisited in Committee. Having referred to the Claim of Right, the noble Lord charted the moves towards this Bill. He referred to referendums, saying that we have
|Next Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|