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The Earl of Lauderdale: The noble Lord, Lord Howie of Troon, has breathed a breath of fresh air into this afternoon's discussion. I could not help wondering whether he is not, like myself, a Suez rebel manque. In any event, he has been willing to challenge the view of his own side.
I turn now to the claim that what is before us has the blessing and even the benediction of the Scottish convention. That was a self-chosen body, worthy and eminent no doubt, but its members were not elected as far as I am aware. Therefore, their authority is at best empirical.
One aspect of the problem has not been raised so far and that is why I dare to rise to my feet. The previous Scottish parliament was a gathering of the Estates. The Estates did not by any means sit together. They represented different interests, including the higher echelons of the Church. The major boroughs had their representation. I wonder whether the reason that we still have right reverend Prelates in our House is not a relic of what was present in most medieval parliaments. Our own Parliament here began in the same way as the Scottish parliament, as a gathering of Estates.
Therefore, my main concern is not the merits of having a second Chamber but the fact that Scottish history is being ignored. I am not aware whether the Scottish Estates ever quarrelled with one another. I am not sure that they did. My research has been rather inadequate in that regard. However, there were separate Estates which did not always sit together, and nor did they always sit at the same time. That was a feature also of medieval parliaments of England.
Lord Ewing of Kirkford: My noble friend Lord Howie asked whether we could show him a politician who had changed his mind. The mover of the amendment changed his mind. My good friend the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, laughs. We have had extensive experience of Scottish politics. I can recall the days when the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, was a Liberal candidate. He changed to become a Conservative candidate to win the seat, only to be defeated at the next election by a Liberal candidate. However, that is all in the past.
I should say to the noble Earl, Lord Lauderdale, about the whole question of the Scottish Constitutional Convention that if we should not laugh out of court--and I do not believe we should--the proposal for a second Chamber, we should most certainly not laugh out of court the standing of the Scottish Constitutional Convention. My experience of that body--sharing the chairmanship with the noble Lord, Lord Steel--was that it was held in the highest regard by the people of Scotland and was recognised as a cross-party group, albeit that it excluded the Conservative Party and the Scottish National Party. But there were people from all sections of Scottish opinion working together to produce the document which it eventually produced, Towards Scotland's Parliament.
I suspect that we are today at the beginning of a fairly detailed and long debate. I do not mean that that debate is just for today; indeed, it will be a long debate during the months and years ahead about whether we should have single chamber government in Scotland or whether we should have a second chamber. In his contribution, the noble Lord, Lord Steel, said that the Scottish Constitutional Convention considered the whole question of a second chamber. That is absolutely accurate, there are no "ifs" or "buts" about it. The convention, under my chairmanship at that date, made its position clear when it rejected the proposal for a second chamber.
I am still strongly connected to the convention, although I no longer share the chairmanship with the noble Lord, Lord Steel, because that honour now rests with my noble friend Lady Ramsay of Cartvale. I do not want to pretend or give your Lordships the impression that somehow or other during my time with the convention I thought that a second chamber would be a good idea. But one of my great weaknesses is that I keep thinking and sometimes my thoughts overtake those that I had a few years ago. Sometimes that leads to inconsistencies in my own approach to particular policies. Indeed, it leads me to the position today where I honestly believe that we should not decide the issue today. I have a feeling that the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, will not want the issue decided today because it is far too important to decide on the basis of a debate lasting an hour or so. We need to give the matter the most serious consideration before we come to a decision as to whether or not there should be a second chamber. However, that is not an excuse, far less a reason, for
I have given some serious consideration to whether or not we should have a bicameral system in Scotland. I do not wish to be dogmatic. I am not imposing my views on anyone; indeed, I am just expressing my views and they may well be rejected and described as nonsense. Nevertheless, that has never stopped me expressing my views in the past and I do not propose to cease doing so today.
I believe that we should have an extensive debate on the matter. I do not like the idea contained in one of the noble Lord's amendments; namely, that we should have a commission. The first job of any appointed commission is to look for the next job. I have never really been in favour of such commissions being appointed. After all, we are all mature enough as politicians to decide the issue over the years ahead.
I have looked at the situation which has developed in Scotland, particularly over the past 8 months since the referendum. I say openly and publicly that one of the great mistakes that my party made in Scotland was sharing a joint platform with the Scottish National Party. When the BBC asked me whether I would share a platform on a television programme with the SNP people, I made it absolutely clear that they had played no part in the convention and that I would not share a platform with them. All we did as a party during the referendum was to throw a lifeline to a party that was dying on its feet. It did not have a good result in the general election in Scotland on 1st May 1997; indeed, it achieved 22 per cent. of the vote while in actual fact it was looking for something like 30 per cent. or 34 per cent. But we revived that party by agreeing to share platforms. Today we see the net result of shared platforms.
I have seen all the opinion polls in the past. I was telling some of my colleagues that, 12 weeks before the 1979 general election, one of Scotland's national newspapers, which I will not name to save it embarrassment, published an opinion poll. It then got the professor of politics at Strathclyde University to extrapolate the poll and then published a front-page headline stating that the SNP was going to win 44 seats at the forthcoming general election. However, if the late Donald Stewart, a much respected Scottish National Party Member for the Western Isles, had not held on to his seat at that time, the SNP would have been completely wiped out in Scotland. The party lost 10 of the 11 seats that it had held just 12 weeks after that opinion poll was published.
So I am not taken in by opinion polls. Nevertheless, I am worried about the unity of the United Kingdom. That leads me to leave with your Lordships my thoughts on a second chamber and how it should be comprised. It is my view that one of our duties is to ensure that a Scottish parliament is viewed in the way we have always intended; namely, as devolved, not independent or separate. The way to ensure that we present it as devolved is to link it inextricably with Westminster, on the one hand, and with Europe on the other.
Therefore, it is my view that a second chamber should be comprised of the elected Scottish Members of Parliament in the other House, and the eight elected Scottish Members of the European Parliament. Those Members would cost nothing. People worry about the costs involved, but they are already being paid. Those Members would comprise the second chamber. In that process we would link Edinburgh, Westminster and Europe all together. That process would also have another effect. People ask me for the answer to the West Lothian question: "Why can I vote for education in Blackburn, Lancashire, as a Scottish MP, but I cannot vote for education in Blackburn, West Lothian?". They would be able to vote on education in Blackburn, West Lothian, and that would also answer the West Lothian question.
I do not believe that we will decide the issue today--at least, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, will not push the matter to a vote. The noble Lord has done Scotland in particular, and the United Kingdom in general, a service by initiating this debate. It is a debate that we can take forward in a constructive fashion. That is why it is important that we do not take such decisions today; indeed, we must not lock ourselves in and compartmentalise ourselves. We must continue the discussion that has been rightly started by the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, as month follows month, and possibly in two or three years' time we will return to the issue.
If we are to preserve the unity of the United Kingdom--and for me that is paramount--the last thing I want to see is an independent Scotland. The last thing I want to see is separation. Nationalism is the most dangerous force in politics. I shall never forget the late Willy Brandt. While I was with the Council of Europe, he came to a Commission meeting and used the phrase that the "graveyards of Europe were littered with the victims of nationalism". We need nationalism like a hole in the head. If we need institutions that prevent us wandering into that kind of situation, we should be prepared to discuss them openly. For that reason, I am grateful that this amendment has been tabled and discussed. However, I plead with the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, not to push the matter to a vote today. This is neither the day nor the time to make a decision on such a vitally important issue.
Baroness Carnegy of Lour: I shall be very brief. The noble Lord, Lord Ewing, has, not for the first time, made a very important contribution to our debate. He thinks about these matters a lot, as indeed does the noble Lord, Lord Howie of Troon. I hope that the Government are listening. These are not all-party political issues, as the noble Lord, Lord Gordon, will discover during his time in this House. I am sure that he will make an excellent contribution to our future debates.
Those of us who have been here a long time know that legislation has to be tested. The policy within it has to be tested and so does the wording. It needs to be tested more than once. We have been doing this for
Civil servants and Ministers are not always right. Scotland, and Edinburgh in particular, are small places. Everyone knows everyone. The civil servants all know each other. They will know the members of the Scottish parliament and the members of the Scottish parliament will know them. Everyone will know the Ministers well. For all its new arrangements, can we be sure that this parliament will be able to stand up to its administration? Will the administration be able to stand up to its civil servants? I do not think for a moment that my noble friend, in moving this amendment, was trying to delay the establishment of the Scottish parliament. That, with respect, is a rather despicable suggestion.
It is reasonable to have this debate. It has been a good debate. I expect it is nearly over. Other great affairs of state are about to be discussed in this Chamber and we do not wish to delay them. I hope that the Government will think of some way out of this problem. The idea of the noble Lord, Lord Ewing, may be a good one. I was attracted to it when I first heard it. I believe it could have a good secondary effect as well as a good primary effect by linking the parliament to the constitution in a way that is acceptable to the people of Scotland. I believe that would be acceptable. We may need a specially created body. A reformed House of Lords may contain a structure which could meet in Scotland to do that job. There are a number of ways it could be done.
I believe that over the summer--if not before--the Government should think hard about this matter. The fact that this suggestion has not been made previously is surely because it has not been considered by this Chamber. We are the people who know about scrutinising legislation. Other people do not worry about it. They do not necessarily know what goes on here. I hope that the Government will think about this matter. I hope that my noble friend will take the advice of the noble Lord, Lord Ewing, at this stage and withdraw the amendment to enable the Government to consider it.
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