Professor Adam Tomkins, who was a member of the Smith commission and was recently invited to advise the Secretary of State for Scotland, is calling for a new Act of Union. That might be a vital component of the way forward in protecting and securing the United Kingdom. It could, for example, clearly set out on strong foundations the parameters of the relationship between central government and the devolved Governments. The West Lothian question can surely be dealt with by the House of Commons in a way that is both fair and sensitive to the wishes of the people of England as well as to the wider union. The Prime Minister’s proposal concerning the use of Standing Orders will be a matter primarily for the other House.

Now I come to the SNP’s latest goal of full fiscal autonomy, which the independent Institute for Fiscal Studies calculated would have left a huge £7.6 billion black hole in the Scottish Government’s budget this year. It is forecast to rise to £9.7 billion by 2020, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies. I certainly would not wish an elephant trap of that nature to be

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set in the path of the Scottish people. Such a move would seriously damage the benefits that Scotland receives from the pooled resources of the United Kingdom, and I am very pleased that the Scottish Secretary is considering asking for a detailed report on what this kind of maximalist devolution would mean for the Scottish economy. The noble Lord, Lord Forsyth of Drumlean, made a strong call for a White Paper. That could well be a solution to this matter.

It is absolutely essential that every elector in Scotland knows what impact full fiscal autonomy would have on the country’s finances. I am well aware that the Prime Minister said in the Queen’s Speech debate that he was clear what full fiscal autonomy meant. He said:

“it means raising 100% of what it spends. That means asking Scottish people to pay almost an extra £10 billion in taxes or making almost an extra £10 billion in … cuts by the end of this Parliament”.—[

Official Report

, Commons, 27/5/15; cols. 51-52.]

Even the SNP shows signs of moving away from this policy, but it was a very large issue in the Scottish referendum and during the recent elections. The Government and the Prime Minister are right to take it seriously.

I do not believe for a single moment that Scotland is set on an inevitable road to independence. I am most certainly not prepared to give up on our union with the rest of the United Kingdom, which with the necessary reforms can be both resilient and durable. Let us never forget that the union is a voluntary partnership of different nations. By all means let us make sure that Scotland gets additional powers that it was promised before the referendum, but even more importantly let us apply ourselves to the need to draw up a new constitutional settlement that above all will be fair to all parts of the United Kingdom.


5.52 pm

Lord McFall of Alcluith (Lab): My Lords, this will be a Parliament dominated by constitutional issues: the Scottish question, the European question and that of human rights. A casual approach to any of these could fatally undermine the union. If we are to learn anything from the situation in Scotland, it is that a sloppy approach from Westminster has resulted in a badly destabilised union, to the extent that the question we face today is: can the centre hold? Some would say that it is too late—that there comes a time when the decay of the political parties inevitably is followed by the decay of the power structures in which they function. We have to accept that in Scotland, the SNP largely has both the momentum and the trust of the Scottish electorate—so, as the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, says, this is a precarious situation for the union. However, there is not an inevitability regarding independence.

In my anecdotal evidence from going around for the general election, I remember knocking on a door and saying to the woman that I was calling on behalf of the Labour Party. She said, “Oh, son”—by the way, that was the first compliment I got and I was happy to receive it—“we used to be Labour but the whole household, half a dozen of us, is now SNP. We’re going to give them a chance and I think that Nicola deserves as good a chance to get into 10 Downing Street as any of the others”. The unreality of the

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situation in Scotland hit me right in the face as a result of that. We—I speak here as the Labour Party, but it must apply to other opposition parties—have lost the capacity to converse with the electorate in Scotland. Permission for us to engage was denied by the electorate. From the Labour Party point of view, we have a cultural problem to resolve about how the party speaks and the way that it pitches its appeal to the electorate in Scotland. I guess that that goes for other opposition parties as well.

Despite the SNP being full of contradictions, its voice is dominant in Scotland. But let us not forget that 50% of the electorate there voted for the SNP and it secured 56 seats, while 50% of the electorate in Scotland voted for those parties that support the union and we have three seats. It is a very divided country but all is not lost. There is still a substantial majority in Scotland in favour of the union, yet we must address a number of important issues if we want to preserve it.

First, we need a serious, considered and engaging approach by the UK Government and the Westminster body politic. We should never repeat the folly of having a two and a half year referendum campaign without a backward glance, and allowing the positive case—yes—to be made for separation. We need to have a positive narrative for the union—not just something in the negative sense—and it has to be made robustly here.

Secondly, the UK Government need a single-focus devolution mechanism to replace the present fragmented structure, where there are six separate Whitehall centres for devolution policy. We have three Secretaries of State, the Department for Communities and Local Government, the constitutional group of the Cabinet Office and the Treasury’s devolution team. It is a recipe for disaster. The Labour Government, during their time in office, considered a Secretary of State for the nations and regions. They ducked that but it is time for the Government to look at that issue again.

The third issue is civic engagement across the entire countries and regions of the UK. Accompanying that there must be a structural road map to progress constitutional development. As others have said here, devolution policy has been ad hoc, piecemeal and rushed to the point of recklessness. Last Thursday, the Scotland Bill was published, based on the Smith recommendations. The core basis of this agreement has to be implemented. It was endorsed unanimously by all Scottish parties but it is clear that proposing further powers for Scotland creates a need to satisfy the desire for further devolution in England and Wales, and for the political reform of this Parliament. So there is an overwhelming case for a proper constitutional convention to examine carefully, and for the first time, UK-wide devolution implications.

The work of the former Political and Constitutional Reform Committee in the other place on a new Magna Carta points a way to options for reform. However, as one who was involved in the Scottish Constitutional Convention preceding the Scotland Act 1998, I say that it represented the best template for a constitutional convention. It brought together Labour, the Liberal Democrats, the Green Party, local authorities, the Scottish Trades Union Congress, the churches, the

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Federation of Small Businesses, ethnic minority representatives and the Scottish Women’s Development Forum. The only one absent from it was the Scottish National Party—and, sadly, it has thrived as a result. But that broad-based participation resulted in a report that formed the basis of the 1997 Labour Government White Paper,

Scotland

s Parliament

. The Scottish Constitutional Convention was very successful. It had a defined remit and covered all the angles which a proposal for a Parliament needed.

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: While agreeing with the noble Lord on the need to have some sort of constitutional convention, surely he is not arguing that the asymmetric devolution which resulted in Scotland has led to success. It has led to the disastrous position that we are in now.

Lord McFall of Alcluith: The noble Lord always likes to look backwards. I am not going to engage in looking backwards. He should work with me and others to ensure we are forward looking, given that his speech said that the union is in a perilous state. I am sure that he will agree with that, so let us move on and be positive; let us not be negative.

Any idea that the latest round will provide an enduring settlement is illusory. If we are to achieve a proper balance, it will take a long time. That is why a constitutional convention representing the peoples of all parts of the United Kingdom is important. In that convention, a legitimate question will be: how much further can the UK go and remain stable? Is it the intention to maintain the political, social and economic union? If so, there is tricky terrain for us there, not least in the areas of tax, welfare and pensions.

The general election answered the question, “Who is to govern the United Kingdom for the next five years?”, but left open the question of whether there will still be a UK to be governed. If we do not realise the gravity of the constitutional situation facing the UK and do not adopt a serious, coherent, all-embracing, long-term approach, perhaps in five years there will not be a UK to be governed. That would be a tragedy for all the people of these islands, and we must do our best to ensure that it is not the case.

6 pm

Lord Thomas of Gresford (LD): My Lords, in a debate in the other place shortly after the European convention was signed in October 1950, the Conservative spokesman, Duncan Sandys, son-in-law to Winston Churchill, welcomed the convention as a binding treaty, fashioned as it had been, as other speakers have noted, by Sir David Maxwell Fyfe, later Lord Kilmuir. He said that it imposed a common obligation,

“on all the signatory States, to assure to their citizens the rights which it contains. What perhaps is the most novel and important feature of this Convention is … the setting up of a European Court of Human Rights, to which cases … can be referred for adjudication”.

He added:

“It is rare for a democracy to be overthrown in one single sweep. There is almost always a twilight period, during which human rights and civil liberties are being progressively curtailed

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and undermined. It is in this critical stage that the publication of the proceedings and the judgments of the Court might very well have a decisive influence”.—[

Official Report

, Commons, 13/11/1950; cols. 1412-13.]

Emrys Roberts, the Liberal MP for Merioneth, whom I later came to know well, said that the rise of fascism in Italy and Spain and the aggression of Nazi Germany might have been prevented if the human rights contained in the convention could have been guaranteed by all the states of Europe. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, said, that was the context in which the convention came into being. Mr Roberts said:

“Every State that refuses to sign the Convention on Human Rights will stand condemned in the eyes of the public of Europe”.—[Official Report, Commons, 13/11/1950; col. 1468.]

As it turns out, the convention and the court have been great successes. In my own field of law, military justice, the successive decisions of the European Court of Human Rights in the 1990s were the decisive influence in causing this Parliament radically to reform the military justice system so as to bring it into line with modern standards of justice. It is dismaying to hear suggestions that the military should be excluded from the protection of the convention, not just for themselves but for the people who may be in their custody. That was an issue that was very live during the second war in Iraq.

The right-wing press with which we are blessed seem incapable of grasping that the European Court of Human Rights is not an offshoot of their hated European Union, and has no power to bind our Supreme Court or to enforce its decisions. Putting aside these misconceptions, it is necessary to grapple with the arguments put forward by the serious proponents of a British Bill, the two junior Ministers now at the Ministry of Justice, Mr Dominic Raab and the noble Lord, Lord Faulks.

First, they are right to argue that some of the judges of the present court lack weight and experience and to point to the huge backlog of cases, but these are questions that have already been addressed. The Brighton declaration in 2012, following the high-level conference under the chairmanship of the UK, called for the court to concentrate on the most serious violations of human rights, for the amending of the convention to enable trivial cases to be thrown out at an early stage and for the continued refinement of the process of selecting judges. The answer is not to remove from the European court the highly experienced and competent British judges but to demand a better system of appointment from other member countries. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, could enlighten us as to how far the Brighton declaration is being followed up.

Secondly, the noble Lord and Mr Raab argue that the European court has extended its remit with a degree of judicial creativity and activism that is unacceptable. They cite in particular the issue of prisoner voting. They regard such a question as falling well within the margin of appreciation that should be accorded to a democratic national order governed by the rule of law. However, that means we stand next to Austria, Bulgaria, Estonia, Georgia, Hungary and Russia; of the 47 countries in the Council of Europe, those are the only ones that have a total ban on prisoner voting, and they are not

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perhaps the most progressive regimes. Enlightened opinion on this side of the House believes that, as in other major European countries such as France and Germany, it is in the public interest to help to rehabilitate those prisoners who are serving small or medium-term sentences by giving them a stake in the political process. I was interested in the possible solution to the impasse suggested by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, and no doubt that will be followed up.

A third area of criticism is the question of deportation. Here the argument is that the British courts have pre-empted decisions in Strasbourg by allowing prisoners to resist deportation on the grounds that their rights to a family life under Article 8 of the convention would be breached. Yet in the case of RB (Algeria) in 2009 the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, stated that he could find no Strasbourg case where deportation had been overruled on human rights grounds other than under Articles 2 or 3—that is, a risk to life or the possibility of torture. Preventing deportation under Article 8—a risk to family life—is a British-made law. In an individual case, it may indeed be a merciful and just decision. My noble friend Lord Marks was right to point out that most of the decisions that attract such awful publicity are decisions not by the European court in Strasbourg but by courts in this country, upheld very frequently in the Supreme Court.

However, I suggest that the criticisms from the noble Lord and Mr Raab pale into insignificance when compared with the real gains that the convention has meant for the vulnerable in our society. Decisions have led to the protection of people against state power and led to changes in the law and in regulations concerning care homes, child victims of abuse and trafficking, women subject to domestic and sexual violence, those with disabilities and victims of crime.

Today the press have suggested that the Prime Minister is at odds with Mrs May and Mr Gove on the issue of withdrawal from the convention. Good. The shades of Duncan Sandys and Lord Kilmuir will doubtless applaud him, and I am sure that he will have the full support of this House. This is a particular issue where the ancient Salisbury convention, which was invented for another time and another constitution of this House, surely cannot have effect. This House will say no.

6.10 pm

Lord Mackay of Drumadoon (CB): My Lords, I rise to make a short contribution to this important debate on the Motion that an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty. I begin by congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Dunlop, on an outstanding maiden speech which will be remembered throughout the legislation which is to follow in the light of the lodging of the Bill in the other place last week.

I have reached the view that, as a lot of what I would like to have said has already been touched on, I should keep my remarks brief. I am also conscious of the fact that a number of retired judges have already spoken and have dealt with issues which I might have said something about. I wish to stress that ever since devolution came along after the 1998 Act the people of Scotland have taken a great interest in political

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matters and constitutional arrangements. I am sure I am not the only lawyer present who remembers a time when constitutional law was restricted to being the subject matter of lectures addressed to undergraduates in law school. How matters have changed. Now it is quite clear from everyday life that a majority of people in Scotland have an interest in constitutional arrangements relating to Scotland benefiting from devolved powers. That interest encompasses talking about the possibility of a further referendum about independence in the not-too-distant future and generally about the relationship between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom.

On 18 September 2014, almost 85% of those registered to vote in Scotland took part in the referendum on independence for Scotland. During the months preceding that referendum, an increasing number of the residents of Scotland began to take a greater interest in the constitutional arrangements within the United Kingdom and the consequences to which devolving further powers to the Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament might lead. Following the referendum, such interest has continued, with the no vote and the yes vote having conflicting interests in it. This has been illustrated by the number of television debates addressing some of the matters in dispute and, in the weeks leading up to the general election, in the increased debates and newspaper reporting that followed.

In considering what might be said at this stage in the knowledge that the Bill will be with us in a few months’ time, it has struck me that in the mean time other bodies have been showing an interest in what is at stake. It is quite clear from this debate that a great deal is at stake for those who live in Scotland, who have an interest in Scotland or who feel that Scotland should remain as it is, a member of the United Kingdom. I do not intend to go into detail, but if one reads the report of the Smith commission, which was prepared shortly after the referendum by the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Kelvin, and the reports prepared by a number of parliamentary committees in recent months—again without going into detail, I refer to the reports prepared by the House of Lords Constitution Committee, the House of Commons Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, the House of Commons Scottish Affairs Committee and the Scottish Parliament Devolution (Further Powers) Committee—one will get fuller detail of how people think and how serious this matter is. I commend those reports for consideration during the months that lie ahead. I have little doubt that they will assist in an informed debate and cover the great detail that is at stake.

Lord Ashton of Hyde (Con): My Lords, the noble and learned Lord was commendably brief, but I remind noble Lords that we still have 37 speakers to go. If we are to finish at a reasonable time and have adequate time for the Front Bench speeches, it would be very helpful if noble Lords would restrict themselves to the advisory speaking limit of seven minutes.

6.15 pm

Lord Jopling (Con): My Lords, the gracious Speech and so many of the speeches we have heard today referred to the one-nation approach to politics. I therefore

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suppose I ought to declare an interest as a former member of the one-nation group in another place. Sadly, when one leaves the other place or even comes here, one is excommunicated from that admirable dining group, but there we are.

I shall say a few words about the constitutional position of your Lordships’ House. For many years now, I have said that, given a Conservative Government, the worst job in the world must be to be government Chief Whip in your Lordships’ House. I recognise the problems which confront my noble friend the Chief Whip with only 29% of the vote in this House. I certainly welcome the statements from opposition parties recognising that final decisions lie with the other place and that the Salisbury convention still has great relevance. I hope those statements are the truth and are not mere words. Of course, we accept the right of the Opposition to make mischief and a nuisance of themselves so far as the Government are concerned, but I hope that the traditions of both Houses will be acknowledged, given that the Government of the day have only 29% of the vote.

My principal concern is the composition of your Lordships’ House. For 10 years or so, I have made various suggestions, so let me comment on your Lordships’ House as I see it in the light of the general election. I do so in the light of two principles. First, I do not want to see an elected House, and secondly, I do not want us to move towards proportional representation. So far as proportional representation is concerned, the electorate do not want it. Although it was not on that exact issue, the referendum made public opinion clear. The fact of proportional representation to which I am so opposed is that it is a potential recipe for weak government through alliances.

Next, I come to the problem with regard to numbers. By common consent, your Lordships’ House is much too big with 788 members. I find it a joke when I talk to my American friends who say that their upper House manages very well with 100 members and ask what on earth we want 788, or around 800, members for. Therefore, I believe that the House should have its membership reduced by statute in tranches at successive general elections to a figure which we could discuss: let us say 500, or even 400. That is for discussion. The question is: how do you do it? The answer is, in exactly the same way as for the 92 hereditary Peers who were elected back in 1999. Each party caucus knows best who attends, who contributes, who should stay and who should go, and I would reduce the numbers in that way, with each party deciding at each general election. Total numbers must be reduced down to what would be a statutory figure of, as I say, 500, for example, and during a Parliament a statutory limit should be put on the number of new elevations, let us say of 5%.

I come to what should be the composition of Lords by party. It is vital that the House has some reflection of the current political environment. It should be broadly representative of current thought. Again, I think by common consent, there is a general view that the Cross-Benchers, who play such a valuable role, might have a statutory 20%, but I note in passing that they now have 178 Members, which is 23% of the

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whole vote. However, with regard to party representation very careful thought needs to be given. There must be a good deal more flexibility than we have now. The present balance does not reflect the current democratic atmosphere in this country, and the only way is to find a formula so that one can allocate numbers for each party which broadly reflect the current atmosphere.

I have often warned your Lordships’ House that if a leader were to come forward, as has happened in other countries, and bring a party from nowhere into forming a Government, the composition of your Lordships’ House would look particularly stupid if there was no representative here of that new governing party. In a minor way we have seen this happen in the course of the past month. We have seen the Scottish Nationalist Party gain 4.7% of the votes—8% of the seats in another place—while in your Lordships’ House they have no representation at all. UKIP, with 12% of the votes, has only one seat, and has only three Members of your Lordships’ House. I am sure that some of my friends will kill me for saying this, but in the next list some representative appointments ought to be made from both the Scottish Nationalist Party and UKIP.

Conversely, as I come to the end, with regard to the Liberal Democrat Party, which had 7% of the votes and only 1/10th of 1% of the seats, yet has 13% of the membership of your Lordships’ House, at this time it would be very hard to justify new Liberal Democrat appointments to this House, because that party is significantly overrepresented at this time. If the Liberal Democrat Party believes in PR, surely it would be a good moment for its Members to vote among themselves to find a substantial number to stand down under the new rules, to make way—this is important—for some of those highly qualified former Members of the other place to come here. I think particularly of Sir Menzies Campbell and Sir Alan Beith. It would be very hard to justify making new Liberal appointments at this time.

I am sorry—I have spoken longer than I should have done. I have previously drawn attention to the need for flexibility, and today that is even more important than in the past.

6.24 pm

The Lord Bishop of Leeds (Maiden Speech): My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this debate, especially given the kindness I have already met in this House since being introduced in February. I wish to express my gratitude to all sides of the House for the welcome I have received and particularly to the staff, who have assisted and advised me, sometimes on the same issue more than once. This coming Saturday I will be speaking in Stuttgart before thousands of people along with Kofi Annan and the German Foreign Minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier. At least today I can address this House in English.

I find myself in something of a quandary, as one who has lived in many parts of England but ended up in Yorkshire. In fact, coming to Bradford as the bishop in 2011 was something of a return journey. I studied German and French at the University of Bradford in the late 1970s before retraining as a professional Russian linguist at GCHQ in Cheltenham, an experience that shaped me, not least in relation to an understanding of security-related matters such as military intelligence

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and the ethics of surveillance. Not only did the journey take me from intelligence—though not take intelligence from me, I hope—to theology, but also from a West Yorkshire industrial city that was beginning to decline, not only in wealth and productivity but also in morale and confidence. Radical demographic change also led in those days to substantial social challenge, as facts on the ground outstripped the creative ability to shape the post-industrial future.

When I returned to Bradford in 2011, having served in the Lake District, Leicestershire and south London, latterly as the Bishop of Croydon, I found a very different place. Yet it was evident that the seeds of a determined vision for future development were there in the creative energy of some of the key players in business, the council, faith communities and the social sectors. As well as the real and continuing challenges it faces, Bradford today is a place of growing confidence and well-founded optimism. Why am I talking about Bradford when I am now the Bishop of Leeds? It is for two reasons: first, because the Church of England has done something remarkable in Yorkshire, and secondly, because Bradford will be one of the touchstones of success or failure as regards the Government’s much-vaunted aspirations for a northern powerhouse. I always thought the real northern powerhouse was Liverpool Football Club, but because of what we have seen at the end of this season, I will not mention it.

Four years ago the Church of England, not widely known for its cheerful and adventurous willingness to change itself, began a unique process of reorganisation. The dioceses of Bradford, Ripon and Leeds, and Wakefield, which were all created in the late 19th or early 20th century to enable the church to adapt to changed demographic and industrial realities, faced dissolution and the creation from them of a single new diocese for the region. A three-year process of debate led to a visionary agreement to do just that, and the Diocese of West Yorkshire and the Dales came to birth at Easter 2014. I became the diocesan bishop just a year ago this week. The diocese covers a vast rural area of West Yorkshire and parts of North Yorkshire, and the urban conurbations of Bradford, Leeds, Wakefield, Huddersfield, Halifax, Barnsley and everything in between. Now organised into five episcopal areas, we can maximise the potential for serving the region—which has an economy greater than that of Wales—while optimising our attention to the distinctive local realities of local communities. Challenging? Yes. Exciting? Definitely. I am privileged to be leading a diocese that encompasses so many of the lived realities that need to be represented in this House as the details and implications of government policies are debated and scrutinised.

The relevant point here is that the future needs to be shaped by those who have both vision and commitment. The complaint that the world has changed is usually the recourse of those who mourn a version of the past that probably never existed anyway. One of the lessons we have learnt in West Yorkshire through the often painful processes of reorganisation and institutional change is the need to focus on the big picture as well as the detail, never losing sight of the vision that drives us.

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This has wider application. In response to the gracious Speech last week, I heard in this House several speakers refer to the need for reform of this House. Yet this occurred in the context of the potential or threat, depending on how you see it, of wider constitutional change. The role of the United Kingdom in Europe cannot be divorced from questions about the possible fragmentation of the United Kingdom itself. My fear is that bits of reactive slicing here and picking there will lead to a frustrating and unworkable sequence of partial reordering that loses sight of any common purpose or overarching vision. In this context, I shall simply observe that calls for a constitutional convention have the obvious virtue of bringing together a wide range of otherwise potentially atomistic concerns that should be considered together, taking cognisance of the fact that they interrelate anyway and will have inevitable consequences that would best be anticipated and debated rather than faced ad hoc and merely reacted to.

On questions of our place in Europe, I shall hope to return in future debates in this House. I lived briefly in both Germany and France, and I co-chair a commission that brings together the protestant church in Germany and the Church of England—the Meissen Commission. I am concerned not only with institutional national engagement with Europe but also with how we develop a new narrative for Europe that captures the imagination of my own children’s generation in a way that the narrative derived from the mid-20th century response to war no longer does. I could say more, illustrated particularly by a debate that I had with Herman Van Rompuy in Brussels a couple of years ago, but I shall leave that to another day.

I said that there was a second reason why I mentioned Bradford—the northern powerhouse. Just under a year ago, I moved from Bradford to Leeds, about 10 miles, and I now live in a different world. Leeds is well connected and thriving in many areas, and key to this development over the past 40 years has been transport. Not only does the motorway system make Leeds quickly accessible from so many parts of the country but its rail links open it up to wide opportunities. Any concept of a northern powerhouse has to concentrate less on north-south links and focus more on building expandable infrastructure from west to east. Talk of the northern powerhouse usually includes reference to Leeds, Manchester and Liverpool, and understandably so, but unless cities such as Bradford are connected—and you cannot currently go by one train across Bradford, because there are two stations and they are not joined up—they will get left behind. The burgeoning of Britain’s youngest city, in terms of the age profile of its population, with its cultural, gastronomic—and I mean curry—tourist and commercial riches must not be wasted by planning that compromises longer-term development by shorter-term limitations.

I spent eight years on the board of an international insurance group, from 2002 to 2010, and learnt a good deal about business, finance, organisational change and the shaping of business to serve not just profit but those whom profit is there to benefit. At the end of all deliberations, be they political, economic, cultural or financial, are the people who make or break our societies. By serving in this House, I hope to have the

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adventure and humility to learn. I also have a responsibility to represent here the lived experience of people in the communities served by the church in West Yorkshire and the Dales. This includes those of wealth creation, business and enterprise, the rural economy and industry, but it also includes those who, whatever my own thoughts about the rightness or wrongness of particular policies, suffer the consequences of poverty, need and hopelessness. There is a verse in the Old Testament Book of Proverbs that stood as an indictment of much of the Christian church in Germany in the 1930s and 1940s. It says:

“Open your mouth for the dumb”—

in other words, give a voice to the experience of those who otherwise are silenced. This is why the Lords spiritual are here, rooted in communities across the whole of our country, networked internationally, informed, often inconveniently and compelled to tell the truth as they see it. I hope to fulfil this vocation with the humility and confidence that it surely demands.

All the work of this House and the established church is done in the glare of media scrutiny, and rightly so. Intelligent and healthy media are vital to a living democracy. As someone very engaged with the media, I remember the caution expressed by a former Bishop of Durham. Once when feeling depressed and misrepresented by the media he had lunch with a rabbi, who told him the story of the bishop and the rabbi sailing on a lake in a park. The rabbi’s skull cap blew off and floated away on the water, and the bishop instantly stood up, got out of the boat and walked on the water to retrieve it. He got back into the boat and handed it back to the rabbi. Next morning’s headline read, “Bishop can’t swim”. We need to keep things in perspective.

6.35 pm

Lord Liddle (Lab): My Lords, it is a great pleasure on my part to congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds on his excellent maiden speech in this House. It was charming and well constructed. Since I joined your Lordships’ House five years ago, I have come to appreciate the wisdom that emanates from the Bishops’ Bench, and I think that “Bishop Nick”, as he is known, will make a good contribution. Like me, he is a lover of the miracle of modern Germany, yet we need to make a stronger and more modern case for Europe. Like me, he has written books; the difference is that it took me five years to write a book, while he seems to write one every year. He is also a voice of the north, and I was glad to see that his first curacy was in my home patch of Carlisle—so welcome, and congratulations.

I would also like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Dunlop, on making his maiden speech in introducing this debate, which is a very difficult thing to do. It was an excellent speech; I did not agree with all of it, of course, but it was an excellent speech. He is joining a very select trade union in this House, of former special advisers, of whom I am one. Again, I welcome and congratulate him, particularly since special advisers need protecting against what former Ministers say—inaccurately, perhaps—about them.

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The centrepiece of the gracious Speech was the European Union Referendum Bill, which marks the opening of a period of profound uncertainty about our constitutional future as a nation. Our membership of the EU and the very future of the United Kingdom itself are inextricably linked. I accept that the referendum is now inevitable and that it would be constitutionally wrong for the Lords to try to oppose it in any way. When the referendum comes, I shall hope, at least, to be on the same side as the Prime Minister, fighting with the heart and soul that he once promised us to maintain Britain’s membership of the EU and save him from the potentially disastrous consequences of his own folly.

I have to say that I did not undergo a doorstep conversion during the general election campaign. Although the referendum Bill is inevitable, I do not and will not support it, because I believe that it is a reckless gamble with Britain’s future. It was on this issue that I believe that Ed Miliband got it right; it is a reckless thing on which we are now embarked—and it is reckless for two reasons. First, in setting up a series of demands for a change in our relationship with Europe, particularly on the issue of migration, we are setting up things that will be objectives, and which will be extremely difficult to achieve, if not impossible, in any renegotiation. The rather modest results that I expect from the renegotiation can only strengthen the hand of the populist anti-Europeans when the referendum comes. Because of this risk, I strongly urge pro-Europeans and, particularly, pro-Europeans in my own party in the other place, not to get involved in some competition over who can demand the toughest reforms. Reform in Europe is, of course, needed but Labour’s continued support for our EU membership does not depend on reform. Under all circumstances we must be the champions of our membership of the EU.

I fear that the referendum also poses a reckless risk to the unity of the United Kingdom. I spent five days of the general election campaign on the doorsteps of Cumbernauld, so I know a bit about the Scottish situation. They were a particularly difficult and miserable five days for a Labour campaigner fighting for someone who was an excellent Labour Member of Parliament—and it grieves me deeply that Gregg McClymont is no longer in the House of Commons.

We face a critical situation as regards the union of the United Kingdom. I agree very much with what the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, said—namely, that we now need a cross-party constitutional convention to think about the future of how we hold this nation together. The one event that would have the power to derail that effort to find a new constitutional settlement would be an EU referendum vote where England votes to come out of Europe and Scotland—as is now almost certain—votes to stay in. Make no mistake, this would be a vote for the break-up of Britain. The no-sayers to Europe in England could end up being the disuniters of our United Kingdom.

I do not believe that there would be consequences just for Scotland; there would be knock-on impacts in Wales as well. A vote for EU withdrawal would also greatly discombobulate the nationalist community in Northern Ireland, about which very little has been

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heard, as it would result in one of the pillars of the Good Friday agreement crumbling to dust—namely, the fact that the island of Ireland is united on both sides of the border by the fact of EU membership. Therefore, I think we face a very serious situation.

Mr Cameron argues that the decision on our membership of the EU is one for the people of the United Kingdom as a whole. I am not convinced that he is absolutely right about this. If our future is as a federal Britain—I am not saying what the constitutional convention may come up with—the rights of each nation within that federation deserve proper and equal respect. Does England have an automatic right to enforce its will on the Scots or other parts of the UK just because of its population and dominance?

At the same time, the constitutional convention must address the question of English identity. The alienation from politics that led to a large number of votes for UKIP in working-class constituencies such as my home town of Carlisle in my view reflects a powerlessness on the part of communities that had the economic heart ripped out of them in the 1980s, and where nothing substantial offering hope has been put in its place. The answer to that has to be effective devolution all round, particularly of economic power, to our city and county regions to give them the power to rebuild their economies. I welcome the Chancellor’s emphasis on his northern powerhouse, but it has to be more comprehensive in its approach and reach. This is the way to address the English question and establish consensus, and not allow the Conservative Party—I make a partisan point—to lead the charge on,

“English laws for English votes”,—[

Official Report

, Commons, 26/3/2015; col. 1637.]

as Gordon Brown once aptly put it.

The case for Europe is fundamentally the same as the case for the United Kingdom: we are better together, meeting together the multiple challenges and threats we face in a spirit of solidarity with partners whose interests and values we fundamentally share. Just as we can revitalise our democracy by offering the prospect of genuine self-government to our nations, regions and cities in the United Kingdom, so through our membership of the EU we also gain the possibility of self-government on issues such as climate change and security that are now beyond the reach of even the biggest European nation states. Let us try to see off the risk of a narrow English nationalism taking over this country and seek a new constitutional settlement based on a federal Britain in a united Europe.

6.45 pm

Lord Rennard (LD): My Lords, the election results on 7 May 2015 felt for many of us like those of 1 May 1997 in reverse. However, what is consistent in our general elections is the lack of consistency between the votes cast and the number of MPs elected. This is not about unfairness to parties but about unfairness to voters, many of whom simply have not had their views properly represented as a result of the election.

Three weeks ago, the Conservative Party won just under 37% of the vote but 51% of the seats. The Labour Party won 30% of the vote and 36% of the seats and my party was reduced to 8% of the vote and

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only 1.2% of the seats. The lack of fairness and real democratic representation resulting from the recent election can perhaps best be seen in terms of the number of votes required to elect an MP from each party. On 7 May, it took 34,244 voters to elect a Conservative MP, 40,290 voters to elect a Labour MP, but 301,986 voters to elect each Lib Dem MP. The distortions from how people voted were even greater for other parties. It took 1,157,613 voters to elect a single Green MP and 3,881,129 voters to elect a UKIP MP. In contrast, it took only 25,972 voters to elect an SNP MP.

We heard much from the Conservatives in the election campaign about the threat of what they called the “undue influence” of the SNP but that influence now comes about because the electoral system rewarded a party that obtained 50% of the vote in Scotland with 95% of the seats in Scotland. This point was acknowledged by the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, who is not in his place but who noted the problem without pointing to the obvious solution. The distortions produced by first past the post in Scotland will again, in my view, put in jeopardy the future of the United Kingdom.

Lord McAvoy (Lab): Would the noble Lord care to remind us of the result of the referendum on the AV proportional system?

Lord Rennard: My Lords, one of the big problems was that noble Lords such as the noble Lord, Lord McAvoy, clearly did not understand that AV was not a proportional representation system at all; it was far from proportional representation. If politicians in other parties had had the courage to let voters choose between proportional representation and first past the post, there might well have been a very different outcome. Certainly, it was an option in the Labour Party’s 1997 manifesto, when Tony Blair secured a majority of 179 on the basis of that manifesto having a referendum on proportional representation. That should have happened.

This Government should now realise that achieving a majority in the Commons based on the support of less than 37% of the voters does not give them the right to rule as though the views of the 63% who did not support them are unimportant. We heard earlier from the noble Lord, Lord Dunlop, in an excellent maiden speech, about what he called fairness for England, but we heard nothing about fairness for voters. We also heard much from the Conservatives in the last Parliament about what they called “fair constituency boundaries”. The consequence of the successful amendment to the then Electoral Registration and Administration Bill which I tabled in the autumn of 2012, together with the noble Lords, Lord Hart of Chilton, Lord Wigley and Lord Kerr, was to prevent new boundaries that would have given an even greater unfair advantage to the Conservative Party coming into force in the recent election.

However, I doubt that many of the newly elected MPs realise that the legislation passed in 2011 means that they may never be able to fight those same constituencies again. Unless there is another Bill to prevent it, the size of the Commons will be reduced from 650 to 600 in time for the next election. The coming

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boundary review will be very disruptive because of the very narrow margin of only 5% allowed for any variation in the number of electors from the average set as a target. Some MPs may also be shocked to learn that these reviews will also take place every five years under the existing legislation, so that MPs might never fight the same constituency with the same boundaries on two occasions. Nor will those MPs know the boundaries of the constituencies that they may want to fight until well into the second half of each Parliament. The Political and Constitutional Reform Committee in the other place did an excellent job of showing how the boundary reviews could proceed on a much more sensible basis. The new Government’s response has been to abolish the committee.

In some of the first debates in which I participated in this place, I led for the Liberal Democrats on the then Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Bill in 2000. I warned then about the escalating arms race in party spending. On 3 April 2000, I said:

“In each of the 1974 elections the Conservative Party was calculated to have spent less than £100,000 on its national campaigns. By 1979, with the services for the first time of the noble Lord, Lord Saatchi, in charge of advertising, the Conservative Party is estimated to have spent £2 million … By 1983 the sum was £4 million; by 1987 it was £9 million; by 1992 it was £11 million; and by 1997 it was a staggering £28 million”.—[Official Report, 3/4/00; col. 1160.]

The failure of the last Labour Government to heed those warnings about party funding has now resulted in a far greater problem in which our democracy may quite possibly be considered to be “for sale”. The legislation that we approved in 2000 has clearly failed to control the arms race in party funding. In the year before the 2005 general election, the reported donations to the main parties amounted to £44 million. By 2010, the figure was £72 million, and this year it was over £100 million. That is a doubling in 10 years.

The proposal in the gracious Speech to limit trade union members making contributions without their express consent is long overdue. However, it must be part of a package that introduces a sensible cap on all donations, and allows all political parties to campaign without being in hock to the interests of the richest donors. Without that comprehensive package, British democracy may actually be sold off. We have an electoral system that is very far from one based on “fair votes”, and a party funding system which means that campaigns simply cannot be called a fair fight.

It is a cruel irony that the result of the most recent election is that those who have not been properly represented in the Commons will have to have their democratic voice heard here, in a Chamber without democratic mandate. In this House we have a duty to moderate the absolute power that this Government may try to exercise, and to ensure that constitutional legislation in the coming years has the interests of the voters—not any one political party—at its heart.

6.54 pm

Baroness Quin (Lab): My Lords, it is a pleasure to be taking part in this debate, which includes a number of maiden speeches. In that context, I very much look

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forward, immediately after my own contribution, to hearing the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Lisvane.

Today’s debate focuses on a number of important themes. I cannot deal with all of them, but let me briefly record my strong agreement with the words of the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, and others, about the importance of the European Convention on Human Rights.

I found the consequences of the general election deeply worrying for our constitution—consequences both from the actual election result in terms of seats and because of the approach to the constitution which the new Conservative Government seem from their election manifesto and from this gracious Speech to be likely to pursue.

Colleagues have spoken in this debate about their own experience of the election campaign. During that campaign I worked in three very different constituencies: in Gateshead, my old parliamentary patch; in Berwick-upon-Tweed, the constituency in which I now live; and in Glasgow East, where, despite the defeat Labour suffered, it was a pleasure working with a great team of enthusiastic and talented young Labour volunteers who I believe can make a great contribution in building up Labour support there once again.

I found it depressing that in a UK-wide election so much of the focus was on separate national identities rather than on our common British identity, and while I congratulate the Conservatives on winning the election I was frankly appalled at the tactics of claiming that Labour was in the SNP’s pocket. Not only was that not true but it played into nationalists’ hands in Scotland. It was no doubt a very useful short-term tactic to weaken Labour, but it was a very dangerous and irresponsible tactic for the long-term view of the cohesion of the United Kingdom. I am glad that some Conservatives, such as the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, who I am glad to see in his place, had the courage to voice their concerns about this.

The emphasis on nationalism within the UK was also evident, I felt, in some bizarre broadcasting decisions during the campaign. The BBC, of which I am usually an enthusiastic supporter, gave us regional election debates that meant in reality a question-and-answer session with Nicola Sturgeon in Scotland, with Leanne Wood in Wales and, astonishingly, with Nigel Farage in England. Although I am no fan of UKIP, its title is the United Kingdom Independence Party, not the English Independence Party, and it has MEP representation in both Wales and Scotland. I certainly therefore resented UKIP being seen as the party of England in those debates. I can only feel relieved that despite the absolutely massive publicity given both personally to Nigel Farage and to his party, he was not actually able to win a seat in Parliament. I also thought that the absence of the First Minister of Wales, Carwyn Jones, from the regional debates was wrong. It was as if Plaid Cymru was the governing party in Wales in those debates, which is clearly far from being the case. Indeed, everything that happened in the election seemed to be aimed at reinforcing the view that devolution is only about national identity rather than about a rational and sensible decentralisation of decision-making.

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Because of the nationalist surge, I also worry that south of the border we are becoming increasingly forced to identify ourselves as English rather than British, even though many of us, particularly those like me with mixed heritage, do feel British. As someone who welcomes and celebrates our increasingly diverse population, I am also aware that many people who came to our shores chose to come to Britain, to the United Kingdom, rather than to any one of our constituent nations.

I also have to say that I very much regretted what I felt were the Prime Minister’s ill-judged and ill-timed comments the day after the referendum in Scotland, when he announced his plans for English votes for English laws. To those people—the majority—who had voted no in the referendum, this seemed like a further erosion of the United Kingdom, to which they had just given their support. How much better it would have been if, in welcoming the referendum result, the Prime Minister had pledged to do all he could to make the UK as a whole work better and to listen and consult widely before making further constitutional decisions.

Of course, making the UK work better as a whole will no doubt involve not only honouring the commitments to Scotland and Wales but devolution and decentralisation within England, but this needs to be done in a way that contributes to the success of the UK as a country as a whole and does not undermine it.

Sadly, the Government are now embarking on a number of England-only policies, some of which verge on the incredible. Apparently, money is to be given to cities but only if they agree to have directly elected mayors, even in cities where there have recently been referendums that have resulted in that idea being rejected by the people. For a Government who are planning to hold an in/out EU referendum, it seems an alarming precedent to be already ignoring or contesting referendum results that have been held in cities in our country. Are the Government similarly planning to ignore the EU referendum result if it does not produce a result that they like?

In the north-east of England there are towns that have elected mayors and there are towns that do not, but I have not noticed a difference in the quality in local government there as a result. Indeed, as my colleagues from the north-east of England know, I always like to pay tribute whenever I can to the huge successes of Gateshead Council in recent years, yet Gateshead, with its superb record of partnership with both the public and private sectors, has a traditional model of a council with the leader elected by the majority of councillors. I ask the Minister directly why the Government are proposing to penalise such proven success and why they are proposing to override wishes democratically expressed in local referendums.

Devolution in England is complex both because of the size of England’s population and because of the different types of area within England. Some areas can fit into the city-regions model and some into the county-regions model, and some are a mixture of these, but the danger with one model is that some communities and rural areas, or areas such as the coalfield areas in the north-east, will lose out because

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they do not fit into some narrow definition decided by politicians at the centre. We need to get devolution right rather than rush into a single approach. I was glad that the Minister, in his opening comments, said that he rejected a one-size-fits-all approach across the UK, but I suggest to the Government that they also ought to reject a one-size-fits-all approach within England when looking at the issues of devolution.

Given, however, how complex further devolution within the UK is, this is why the constitutional convention is such a sound one. It has been remarkable that in this debate there have been calls for such a convention right across the House, from all quarters, so I urge the Government to give real consideration to this and not simply to plough ahead with their programme, which seems to be their approach at the moment.

7.03 pm

Lord Lisvane (CB) (Maiden Speech): My Lords, it is an honour—although one laced with trepidation—to address your Lordships’ House for the first time. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Dunlop, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds on displaying absolutely none of the trepidation which I now feel.

I am the third Clerk of the House of Commons to have the privilege of membership of your Lordships’ House. Last year, I followed my learned predecessors, Sir Thomas Erskine May in 1886 and Sir Gilbert Campion in 1950, so noble Lords of a mathematical turn of mind will see immediately that this is something which happens precisely every 64 years.

I had no difficulty in choosing Lisvane as my title. My parents and I were born in the parish or on its borders—it lies to the north of Cardiff. My grandparents are in the churchyard, and my great-uncle’s name is on the Lisvane war memorial. The centenary of his death on the Somme falls next year.

I may not sound Welsh but, time out of mind, all my forebears have come from the Welsh Marches—with the single exception of a Danish great-great-grandmother, who was no doubt brought in to provide what my farmer neighbours in Herefordshire would call “hybrid vigour”. My mother’s family trace their descent from Einion ap Collwyn, a rather flaky 11th-century chieftain who was known as Einion the Traitor because he is supposed to have let the Normans into Wales, no doubt for money. Clearly he was an early opponent of devolution.

I could not have been made more welcome and at home in your Lordships’ House. The warmth of the welcome from noble Lords on all sides and from staff in every department of the administration has been wonderful, and I am most grateful. I know a little bit about induction. The induction here for a new Member has been absolutely first class. My previous experience of induction was in 2010 after the general election, when, to let your Lordships’ blood run cold for a moment, the House took in 227 new Members.

One piece of advice which my grandfather treasured from his time as an infantry officer on the Western Front was, “If in danger, fear or doubt, run in circles, scream and shout”. Now I do not for a moment—not for a moment—charge Her Majesty’s Government with possessing those emotions just at the moment,

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but on constitutional issues that well-worn piece of advice argues for purposeful deliberation. The gracious Speech contains seven measures which one might describe as constitutional, but they are all separate items on the menu. The menu does not, unfortunately, contain a proposal to fix the Fixed-term Parliaments Act. In respect of devolution, we face the intractable problem of asymmetrical populations and resources combined with centrifugal aspirations, leaving us with what people are already calling “the English problem”.

I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Dunlop, on his magisterial speech seeking to knit together all the issues, but there has never been a better time to ensure that changes are thought through, co-ordinated and integrated, because if they are not they will not stick, and if they do not stick they will not provide the abiding constitutional settlement that the United Kingdom needs. Whatever the process is called—“constitutional convention” it might be—surely this is the time for a comprehensive examination of the distribution of powers within the United Kingdom and, crucially, the processes for exercising those powers.

The gracious Speech is naturally a legislative agenda. This House has a very well-deserved reputation for the careful examination of primary legislation but might we not, more ambitiously, look for ways of legislating better, rather than making the best of what we have? Draft Bills, considered by Joint Committees of both Houses, are one option. Ministers have less political capital invested in a draft Bill and evidence-based change is more easily accepted. Of course, draft Bills are much more difficult in the first Session of a Parliament because of the other pressures on scarce drafting resources, but might we possibly hope for an assurance from the Government Front Bench of a record number of draft Bills over the course of this Parliament?

And we could think more innovatively. There was much to be said for the Victorian practice of Motions for leave to bring in Bills so that the necessity for legislating, and the broad intention, could be considered before getting involved in the scrutiny of a fully worked-out Bill. Why do we not use purposive clauses more extensively so that it is possible to debate an expressed intention as well as the means used to secure it? For those who are uneasy about the margin of judicial interpretation—I should say that I am emphatically not among them—purposive clauses have the added benefit of putting the intentions of Parliament on the face of a statute.

A constitutionally relevant matter which was not mentioned in the gracious Speech but which will be always in our minds in this Parliament is the condition of this wonderful building, known and loved throughout the world. I take some satisfaction from having initiated, with the Clerk of the Parliaments, the assessment of what needed to be done, because I felt very strongly that we could not be another generation of stewards who passed on our responsibilities to this building. But we will be faced with some agonising decisions. Whether we go for so-called super-aggressive maintenance, a “Cox and Box” decant or a full decant—and it is quite important that both Houses agree on the same solution—the outcome will be uncomfortable. Whatever decision is taken, we must see it in the wider context.

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Work on this unique building will be a wonderful opportunity to nurture and develop heritage skills and crafts for which we have a national need. I declare an interest as a governor and former chairman of the Hereford Cathedral Perpetual Trust. I would like to see the foundation of a Westminster academy as an imaginative focus for those skills and a source of apprenticeships of all sorts, something about which I am passionate.

In considering the role of this House, I was glad to see no reference in the gracious Speech to any proposed change, although I hear the ghost of the late Mandy Rice-Davies at my elbow saying “Well, he would say that, wouldn’t he?”. What is often forgotten is that when Executives are over-mighty—and Executives of all parties will always be over-mighty; it is the default setting—parliamentary power is not a zero-sum game. The powers of the Lords do not detract from those of the Commons, nor those of the Commons from the Lords. The strength of the institution of Parliament lies partly in the fact that the two Houses are complementary and are not competing. They do the same tasks but in a different way. A perfect example is that in this House our Select Committees work horizontally across a number of government departments and responsibilities. In the Commons, they work vertically, drilling down into departments, agencies and regulators. They are complementary and not competing.

We cannot be complacent. Parliament has constantly to earn acceptance and understanding. A challenge for us all in the 2015 Parliament must be to spread greater understanding of what Parliament does for our citizens. If we can do that, what we do will be valued; and if it is valued, we can hope that our citizens will come to feel ownership of the institution that serves them.

Many years ago, the advice to maiden speakers in the House of Commons was to stop when you saw the Speaker’s wig wreathed in flames. There is no such early warning device in your Lordships’ House, so if I have trespassed on your Lordships’ patience, I can only crave indulgence for one of the newest of new Members.

7.12 pm

Lord Cormack (Con): My Lords, it is an enormous privilege to be able to follow the noble Lord—my noble friend—Lord Lisvane. I congratulate him on a truly remarkable and splendid maiden speech. There is no word more misused in the English language than unique, but the noble Lord brings unique qualities and experience to this House. At a time when we are facing very real constitutional problems, to have him among us gives me at least great comfort. It is often said that such and such a person has an encyclopaedic knowledge of something but it is rare to be able to follow that by saying, “And he wrote the encyclopaedia”. I would just commend to your Lordships the seventh edition of How Parliament Works, which was written by the noble Lord, Lord Lisvane, and Rhodri Walters, who used to be the Reading Clerk in your Lordships’ House. It is an absolutely riveting read and I defy any Member, however much he or she thinks they know about Parliament, to put that book down without

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having gained some real new insight. To me, along with

Erskine May

, which is a little more turgid, it is the indispensible guide to Parliament and its practices.

I would also like to say how much I enjoyed the maiden speeches of the right reverend Prelate, who is no longer in his place, and my noble friend Lord Dunlop, who has certainly taken on a formidable task. My noble friend said something which made me very gratified and encouraged. He said that there is ample opportunity for your Lordships’ House to involve itself in debate. One of the unfortunate aspects of the past couple of weeks has been those who have approached the position of your Lordships’ House with a degree of timidity. Supremacy rests at the other end of the corridor, in another place, in the elected House, but recognising that does not mean we have to abdicate our responsibility to scrutinise. We have a duty to scrutinise. If that means that on occasions we say to the Government, “You haven’t got it right; think again”, we do not have to feel inhibited by that. I speak particularly to my colleagues on this side of the House. Of course, I am delighted that we have a Conservative Government and that we have a majority—I am particularly delighted because I put money on it and won something—but we have a duty and this House has no point or purpose unless it says from time to time to the Government of the day, “You’ve got it wrong”. At the end, we have to concede that the elected House has its supremacy. When we have said, “Please think again” and it says, “No” and we perhaps say it a second time and it says no again, that is that. But we must not feel inhibited or cowed in any way.

There are some extraordinary issues that we have to face. I share many of the concerns about the suggested abandonment of the European Convention on Human Rights. I was much encouraged by what appears to be the Prime Minister’s very sober and sensible view, as given in this morning’s papers. But here is an issue where time must be taken. We have a Joint Committee on Human Rights, which should be asked to report to both Houses and be able to take evidence before we have a Bill. Perhaps the Government should produce a White Paper for it to consider and discuss during its deliberations. That is a sensible way to approach things.

Several noble Lords in all parts of the House have talked about a convention. I am broadly in favour of a constitutional convention but only if it comes after proper preparation. How will it be drawn up? Who will be in it? There is an overwhelming case for a Joint Committee again of both Houses to look at this issue, how it should best be constructed and what its remit should be. My noble friend Lord Forsyth made a splendid speech—and I agreed with so much of it—about the problems in Scotland. I can see the noble Lord, Lord McFall, who also made a very thoughtful speech, nodding.

I believe passionately in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. I believe that a dangerous way to advance the interests of the union is to move in the direction of English nationalism. “English votes for English laws” comes trippingly off the tongue. The Government, with their acceptance that at Second Reading and Third Reading every Member should vote, recognise this. But it is crucial that it should be recognised.

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Again, there is talk of the northern powerhouse. Anyone who has an interest in the history of England—we are talking in this context of England—must look with admiration at the achievements of our Victorian forebears in the great cities in the provinces; namely, Birmingham, Leeds, Liverpool and Manchester. You have only got to go to any of the great civic buildings in those cities to realise that. But that progress came from the people, and a model was not thrust upon the people. The noble Baroness, Lady Quin, made a good point when she referred to the position of elected mayors. There is something alien in the concept of a presidential figure having executive authority over a great town or city. If the people themselves wish it, then so be it, but do not suggest that that is the only model, the only way forward, because, most emphatically, it is not.

We have to beware of splitting England because that is no way to advance the cause of the union. England is so predominant in its size and its economy that everything done here has repercussions in Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland. The whole business has been made more difficult by devolving, but we have done that; we cannot go back—and that is where the noble Lord, Lord McFall, was right when he gently chided my noble friend Lord Forsyth. My noble friend and I might wish that we were not here, but we are and we have to respond to the circumstances as they are. It is crucially important that we recognise that, because England is so predominant in its size and its economy, the United Kingdom is not a template for a federal constitution and cannot be so.

That is why—I come back to a point I made earlier—the preparation for any constitutional convention must be thorough and carefully done, and I think it should be done by Members of both Houses working together. Then we will move forward. In all those deliberations we have something to contribute, not least in the vast experience of people such as my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern, the noble Lord, Lord McFall, many others and, on this day of all days, the noble Lord, Lord Lisvane, who could inform every discussion on the basis of an unrivalled experience.

7.22 pm

Lord Elder (Lab): My Lords, I wish to make a few brief reflections on the present position in Scotland and a further point on the electoral system generally in the light of the election result and the announced legislative programme.

We have still to introduce the most important Calman recommendations, never mind the more recent recommendations, relating to finance. I declare an interest because I was a member of the Calman commission and was heavily involved in its discussions. Calman reported in 2009—almost exactly six years ago—and those important recommendations have taken far too long to be introduced. I do not understand why it has taken so long. After all, the tax proposals in the original White Paper were on the statute book within about two years. For this to have taken more than six years is astonishing.

We should remember that the original Scotland Act included a referendum not only on the general issue of devolution but also on the separate question of setting

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the tax rate within, certainly, fairly narrow bounds. This would have affected Scottish Government income by plus or minus £1 billion in the figures of the time. However, it was a start and Scotland voted to have that power. It was not, however, to the taste of the SNP and so the power was simply dropped by it. It was supported by Scotland but was inconvenient for the Scottish National Party. It was an interesting turn of events and one to bear in mind as we are told by the Scottish National Party what Scotland wants.

I make this point because I am keen to get away from the position where all we hear from the Scottish Government is about new powers—by which they mean new powers to spend—with no real requirement to raise some of the money themselves. Setting tax rates will help to rebalance that, especially as the Scottish Government have finally apparently realised that fiscal autonomy is not at present a realistic possibility.

The Scottish Government always want more powers but, as was shown on finance, they do not want—at least within the present system—to have more responsibility for raising them. The Calman proposals were designed to do both. In the eyes of Holyrood, everything that is spent in Scotland is the result of their efforts, and everything that they cannot do is the fault of Westminster for not giving them enough money. There is recent and mounting evidence that in matters such as cancer screening and in some key areas of education policy standards in Scotland are falling, and that is not Westminster’s fault.

Those of us who wish to remain in the United Kingdom need to remember that there are no circumstances in which the SNP will not say that it wants more powers. It is much keener to do that than to argue on policy matters because it knows that that is the one thing on which it can unite the party. We need to be much more assertive in pointing out how badly it is using some of the powers it already has. We need to keep our nerve in saying, as the Scottish people did 12 months ago, that there is still need for central powers and to be part of the United Kingdom.

The original Scotland Act 1998 set out what was reserved, not what was devolved. We need to bear that in mind. We cannot endlessly chip away at what is reserved and still remain, in any real sense, a united kingdom. However, that is what the Scottish people voted for. The SNP may never win a referendum on independence. There is enough evidence from, say, Catalonia and Quebec that you can have national movements which press for more powers but ultimately —at least so far—get no further than that. It would be absurd if we were to respond every time to nationalist pressure for more powers and find that independence had been reached more or less by accident.

My final point, which is very different, relates to the electoral system which has produced the recent general election result. I say this with fear and trepidation. My preferred electoral system would be a central parliament elected by first-past-the-post dealing with central economic policy, defence and foreign affairs, and to devolve from that parliament the rest, as far as possible, with increasing degrees of proportionality as we get nearer to the community. I say in parenthesis

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that the SNP’s enthusiasm for devolution is for devolution from Westminster to Edinburgh and not from Edinburgh to anywhere else. They are a very centralising Government.

However, I fear that that will not happen and so, reluctantly, I have to conclude that the present system, which has given absolute power to a Government with only just over a third of the votes cast and denies effective representation to other parties which have polled millions, is no longer fit for purpose. If we cannot change the structure of government, we need to address the issue of the voting system. I support strongly the idea of a constitutional convention, which must look at all the matters that have been discussed already. However, I fear that the time has come when we must also consider whether the present electoral system can continue.

7.28 pm

Lord Woolf (CB): My Lords, I have heard some excellent speeches today, particularly from the three new Members of this House who made their maiden speeches. I am also conscious that this is the first time that I have to consider the situation that arises from having a second Lord Chancellor who is not in this House and not a lawyer. From that point of view I welcome the fact that the new Lord Chancellor decided to invite further consultation on a matter of great importance to not only this country but all other truly democratic countries around the world—that is, the suggestion that we should take drastic action about the result of the remarkably successful achievement of the introduction into our domestic law of the European Convention on Human Rights.

That was achieved by the 1998 Act, with considerable success in practice. It was a huge step for this jurisdiction to take, because although we played a part in drafting the convention, it was also very much influenced by jurisdictions whose legal traditions were very different from our own. We always focus on the contribution we made to its drafting, but I am bound to say that if this discussion were taking place in France, they would be claiming equal credit and responsibility. That document was hugely influenced by not only a common law jurisdiction, but a jurisdiction different from ours—a civil tradition that was adopted around the globe, in the same way as ours had been. The provision was implemented by a short Act of Parliament, at a fairly late stage in its career compared with the situation on the continent, where many jurisdictions had been dealing with the convention directly, and we had to face up to the same problems as they had faced and dealt with very well.

One of the reasons why judges welcomed the Act when it came into force was the situation that existed in our legal system before that Act. In fact, we had two systems. Our citizens could be involved in litigation going before the European Court of Human Rights without those cases going through our courts at all, so their progress and outcome were not influenced by the contribution this jurisdiction’s judiciary could make. We did a very good job of absorbing that convention and getting the benefit it could provide: there was now one system whereby, before someone went to the European

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Court, they had to satisfy it that they had exhausted the domestic remedies through which our judges and lawyers could make a contribution.

The jurisprudence that came out of this country and out of the European Court show that both were benefiting from the process. Not all the decisions were ideal, and I, as a judge in this jurisdiction, could easily identify for the House certain ones in Europe that I thought were wrong. Equally, I was aware that, in its approach to the convention, this jurisdiction benefited considerably from the fact that, in dealing with human rights—fundamental rights of a global, rather than domestic, nature—different techniques were required. Here, I pray in aid what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, said in his admirable speech. He pointed out that since 1998, a great deal of water has flowed under the bridge and the process of consolidating the European convention and our own common law has gone hand in hand. One surprising thing about the European Court of Human Rights is that, in many ways, it is a common law court that approaches cases according to the facts, rather than the principle. It comes to a conclusion based on the facts and does not mind moving forward stage by stage, evolving the law in the way this jurisdiction does, which is one of the great strengths of the common law.

The fact that I am speaking so favourably about the European Court and the European convention does not mean that I am against the idea of a British Bill of Rights in principle. Like the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, I can see nothing wrong in principle in having such a Bill. But if a British Bill of Rights is not currently necessary, and if I am right in saying that having two systems did not work, let us not go back on what we achieved through the 1998 Act unless there is very good reason to do so. I have been following as closely as I can the arguments in favour of a British Bill of Rights, which involve pointing out the shortcomings that are said to exist with the European Court’s judgments. I can only say that in my view, the case has not been made to justify taking the risks involved in starting again, when we have made so much progress since 1998.

That is why I very much welcome the wise decision that was taken to have further consultation. I listened to what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, said about what happened last Thursday in the other place, and I have read the relevant Hansard. I see no reason why this House should not think that, when it is said that consultation will take place, that means meaningful consultation, and that is what I urge. It could take many forms, but let us have meaningful consultation. If we do not, we will let down not only the citizens of this country but the citizens of the many countries that depend on our influence and that look to us when considering how to deal with the big issues we face today, many of which have at their heart the observance of the rule of law and the convention on human rights.

7.38 pm

Lord Lawson of Blaby (Con): I hope the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, will forgive me if I do not follow up his remarks on the important issue of human

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rights, because we have limited time and I would like to focus on the issue of Scotland.

The noble Lord, Lord Dunlop, made an excellent maiden speech. As the responsible Minister, he has a hard road to hoe in our debates on this issue, as he will increasingly find—I am sure he is expecting this—and I wish him the best of luck. We have been very privileged. I have been a Member of this House for nearly a quarter of a century, but I cannot remember three more distinguished maiden speeches than those we have heard today.

As far as Scotland is concerned, like other noble Lords who have spoken, I am a committed supporter of the union. I am a unionist on the grounds of history and of sentiment, and indeed for hard-headed defence considerations—but not at any price. The question before us is this: what form of constitutional settlement should we seek in the light of last year’s referendum and the promises made at that time, followed by the sweeping success of the SNP in last month’s general election?

In my judgment, the Smith commission did as good a job as it could in the wholly inadequate time available to it, but its work was far too hurried and the outcome inevitably defective. In any event, it has been rejected by Scotland’s triumphant First Minister, so it is a case of back to the drawing board. Moreover, as my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has insisted, fairness to England must be an integral part of the new constitutional settlement, and this was outwith the terms of reference of the Smith commission. I join those on all sides of the House today who have called for the setting up of a full-blooded constitutional settlement covering both of these interlocking dimensions, but not all the other important constitutional issues that will be raised in this debate. That would cause inordinate delay and time is not on our side.

Among the most important issues to be decided is the degree and nature of Scottish fiscal autonomy. The Smith commission recommended a significantly increased degree of fiscal autonomy, and since the election, the Prime Minister has hinted that this might be taken slightly further. But fiscal autonomy has two meanings. The first essentially concerns the freedom to decide whether Scotland is to be a high tax and high public spending economy or a low tax and low public spending economy. That is fair enough, but the second meaning of fiscal autonomy concerns the freedom to borrow, and this raises very big issues indeed which have scarcely been addressed at all. The Smith commission decided that Scotland should have increased borrowing powers for certain specified purposes, subject to Treasury approval, but that merely raises the issue without settling it.

It is no accident that in a number of developed federal constitutions, the subordinate Governments are granted a high degree of fiscal autonomy in the first sense, subject to an overriding balanced budget constraint. The precise nature of the borrowing constraint and the method of its implementation has to be a central pillar of any new constitutional settlement. For a Scottish Government would be borrowing in sterling, the currency not of Scotland but of the United Kingdom as a whole, yet that discipline seems to be far from the present thinking of the SNP, which

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presents itself as a means of escaping from what it calls “austerity”. And austerity is all about borrowing—to be precise, the means of reducing and eventually eliminating the budget deficit. We have only to look across the Channel at the travails of the eurozone in general and Greece in particular to see the centrality of the problem of separate national authorities borrowing within a common currency area. As I well recall, we in this country faced the issue to a lesser but still serious extent with Liverpool’s excessive and irresponsible spending and borrowing in the 1980s. The position of Scotland, of course, is hugely more important and more serious, and so far has scarcely been addressed at all.

The other major issue for a Scottish constitutional settlement is, as I have already mentioned, fairness to England. The Government appear to be committed to the EVEL proposal: English votes for English laws. I believe this to be objectionable in principle and unworkable in practice. It is objectionable in principle because those of us who wish to preserve the union cannot wish to see the Westminster Parliament composed of two separate classes of MP with separate voting rights. It is unworkable in practice for reasons well explained by, among others, the Prime Minister’s old politics tutor, Professor Bogdanor, in an article in the Guardian last September. Unlike most of what appears in the Guardian, it is well worth reading. In a nutshell, the proposal—which so far as I am aware has understandably never been attempted in any other serious democracy—would make effective and coherent government impossible. It would, incidentally, also lend itself to gaming: a Government dependent for their existence on the support of Scottish Members would have little trouble in ensuring that all their legislation had a Scottish dimension.

The only workable solution, as my noble friend Lord Forsyth has already pointed out, is that which was adopted a little under a century ago when southern Ireland seceded and Northern Ireland was given a high degree of home rule under the Stormont Parliament—accompanied by a significant reduction in the number of Ulster Members of Parliament. A marked reduction in the number of Scottish MPs may lack the theoretical logic of the EVEL proposal, but it avoids the divisiveness of two classes of Westminster Members and is eminently workable, as the Northern Irish precedent has shown. It is essential that it is seriously considered by the much-needed constitutional convention.

I have one final and more fundamental point. The outstanding success of the SNP in last month’s general election reflects a number of factors, but most obviously a reawakening of the sentiment of Scottish nationalism. I have never been among those who decry nationalism. It is true that there have been occasions in history—never, happily, in this country—when terrible things have been done in its name, and that is equally true, as indeed we are vividly reminded today, of religion. But that is not widely considered a reason for abandoning all religion. Nationalism is important because people need a sense of togetherness and belonging, and because democracy is unworkable without it; for it is the nation which constitutes the demos. The union will not be saved without a reawakening of British nationalism.

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7.47 pm

Lord Tomlinson (Lab): My Lords, for some years now I have felt a sense of pride in being able to represent this House as a member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. However, in recent years that pride has given way to a combination of sorrow and anger at the increasingly strident way in which the British Government have sought to criticise both the European Convention on Human Rights and the Human Rights Act 1998.

Let us be absolutely clear from the outset: the European Court of Human Rights is not a European construct. It comes as a logical progression from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 and the determination at the end of the Second World War that the horrors that man had inflicted on his fellow man should never happen again. From the Universal Declaration of Human Rights came the European convention.

We now call for a Bill of Rights, but in fact we have one: it is the Human Rights Act, which was legislated for by the last Labour Government. What irony there is in the fact that at a time when we are celebrating 800 years of the signing of Magna Carta we are almost simultaneously seeking to strike down the Human Rights Act.

I think we should remind ourselves of what the 2015 Conservative Party manifesto said. It stated quite clearly:

“The next Conservative Government will scrap the Human Rights Act, and introduce a British Bill of Rights. This will break the formal link between British courts and the European Court of Human Rights, and make our own Supreme Court the ultimate arbiter of human rights matters in the UK”.

The party has also said that it would:

“Limit the use of human rights to the most serious cases”.

However, by the time we came to the Queen’s Speech, that clear manifesto promise had been reduced, and the pledge boiled down, to 12 words:

“My Government will bring forward proposals for a British Bill of Rights”.

I did not agree with one part of the speech made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf. The rest of it was admirable, but I do not think that this is a time just to reflect. There has been plenty of time for reflection. It is nine years since David Cameron, although he was not Prime Minister at the time, established a panel of legal experts. Despite the passage of those nine years, the manifesto pledge that we were given proposed a law of constitutional standing with no knowledge of the content and no clarity as to its compatibility with our international and treaty obligations, especially to the devolved parts of the United Kingdom. The jingoistic claims about the Human Rights Act undermining British sovereignty do not stand up to examination. In fact, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, showed us, the reverse is the case. Before there was a remedy under British law in British courts, there was only one course of redress: to take your case to Strasbourg. It was not a case of increasing the powers of British courts.

Government policy is very confused at present, as the house magazine of the Conservative Party this morning shows us very clearly in its graphic headline,

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“May and Gove split with PM in human rights row”. It is not a question of further consultation or further clarification, it is that despite the last decade of deliberations there is still an overwhelming need to patch up the divisions inside the Conservative Party and the splits that so clearly exist there.

As we appear weak in our defence of human rights, we are doing two things simultaneously. We are, I believe, weakening our moral authority and giving comfort and succour to those who are poor in their application of the convention. That will be a disservice to mankind and a disservice to human rights, and it is a course that we should resist entirely when the legislation comes before us.

7.52 pm

Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD): My Lords, in many respects, the fear of who might govern one part of the United Kingdom was a decisive factor in who was elected in another in the general election. The playing off of one part of the UK against the other for electoral purposes will perhaps be a feature of the 2015 general election that will be written about by historians to come. Our electoral system acts as both an accelerator and a condenser in this. We have a majority UK Government elected by 37% of the people—in effect an English majority—and a bloc of Scottish MPs, 95% of whom were elected on just half of the votes. I congratulate the Conservative Party and the SNP, which used the first past the post system to devastating effect. However, if we have five years or more of governing where the political interest is to maintain this fear, and where there is a climate in which political advisers advise the leaderships of those two parties to maintain the bear at the door, north or south of the Tweed, we will have a permanently fractious union, to the disbenefit of every nation within it.

Before I turn to a legislative measure not mentioned in the gracious Speech and suggest a potential way forward for the long term, I will address a measure that is in the Government’s programme: the Scotland Bill. I support the Bill and commend the Secretary of State—a former fellow MSP when I served in the Scottish Parliament and also a former Liberal Democrat—and his predecessor, Alistair Carmichael, who both have honoured their commitments to turn the Smith commission proposals into legislation. Parliament will no doubt scrutinise the legislation, but it is both a fair representation and an impressive piece of work, given the timescale of the Smith commission and the duties on government to realise the proposals in legislation.

All the principal parties in Scotland agreed to the proposals. The SNP also agreed, but, in footwork more nimble than a sabre dance, it instantly condemned the Bill and said that it was not sufficient. Now the SNP has an opportunity to convert the Scotland Bill, through a whole suite of amendments from their 56 MPs in the Commons, into what I understand it still proposes to see, which is a measure for full fiscal autonomy. For the party to match its election rhetoric—and, indeed, the commitments from Nicola Sturgeon, the leader of the SNP, during the leaders’ debates in the general election—its MPs would have to bring forward detailed amendments to turn the Bill into a full Scottish fiscal autonomy Bill.

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Alex Salmond said on election day that the “Scottish lion” had “roared” when people backed the SNP and its plans for full fiscal autonomy. This week, and following Second Reading in the Commons, is their opportunity to prepare a whole raft of amendments to bring this to fruition. When the measure comes to this part of Parliament, we will see the measures that they have brought forward. Of course, if they do not bring any forward, then we can draw our own conclusions about the robustness of the principle of full fiscal autonomy—the party’s flagship policy for over a decade.

The election changed politics, not only in Scotland but across the whole of the United Kingdom. Our institutions must adapt to this, too. We now need to design our future constitution. Our current framework, even with the Scotland Bill passed, is not sufficient to meet the future demands of the United Kingdom. Let this be the term of Parliament when we settle the questions of our unions—our union in these islands and within our nations, and the Union beyond our shores with our European neighbours. Let this be the term of Parliament when we settle for the people these long-term decisions and establish the best constitutional framework for the long-term governance of the United Kingdom.

To develop that, and in the absence of any proposal in the Government’s programme, I hope that Parliament will take a lead in supporting the Constitutional Convention Bill that I was fortunate enough to secure in the ballot for Private Members’ Bills. It received its First Reading today. The Bill states, at its core, that there should be, no later than 31 December 2016, a convention to,

“make recommendations on the constitution of the United Kingdom”,

and, in particular, to consider,

“the devolution of legislative and fiscal competence to and within Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland … the devolution of legislative and fiscal competence to local authorities within the United Kingdom … reform of the electoral system”,

and, yes,

“reform of the House of Lords”.

In my view, it should consider how this institution can best be placed as an institution for all of the United Kingdom, binding together the nations and regions of the country.

I believe very strongly that a constitutional convention can also provide the opportunity for creating a narrative statement on what the United Kingdom is and what it offers its citizens—a charter of a new union, if you will, which can be a legacy of Her Majesty’s current reign but also allow that narrative to be here for future generations.

During the referendum on Scottish independence, some of the best arguments I heard—both for and against independence, but most profoundly for the union carrying on—were made by young people: in fact by the youngest voters. They had a coherent fluency of argument far beyond that of politicians.

Finally, in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Dunlop, on his maiden speech and his introduction as Minister, I observed from the speech of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, that the noble Lord, Lord Dunlop, had studied under John P Mackintosh. John P Mackintosh has been a great

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inspiration for many in considering what the right balance of governance in the UK should be. In the Scottish Parliament building in Holyrood, carved on the granite threshold of the Donald Dewar Room, is this quote from John P Mackintosh:

“People in Scotland want a degree of government for themselves. It is not beyond the wit of man to devise the institutions to meet these demands”.

Surely it cannot be beyond the wit of men and women now to devise the UK institutions fit for the next generations, to inspire trust, enthusiasm and hope so that we are not governed by fear as the election, I am afraid, was won by fear. The best provision we can make for the young people of our country is to create a constitutional convention that is citizen-led, and to come up with the kinds of solutions that I believe can be long-standing for the UK.

8.01 pm

Baroness Adams of Craigielea (Lab): My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Purvis. I congratulate those who have made their maiden speeches today, every one of them far better than most of us have ever heard in this House.

We are in a constitutional mess and there is no mistake about that. It reminds me of the story of the man asking for a destination and being told, “Well, I wouldn’t start from here”. I do not think that any of us would start from here, but the question is: where do we go from here? What should be our direction of travel? Unless we have a clear destination we are not going to get very far, yet I have heard very little from the Front Bench today to give us a clear destination of where the Government think we should be going. We have heard yet more piece-by-piece items being raised that we should continue to add on to the constitution. One of them, of course, is English votes for English laws, coming, it is said, from the great question—the West Lothian question.

We were very often asked, on the Labour side in the Commons, what our answer was to the West Lothian question for Scotland. The West Lothian question was never a question for Scotland. Scotland was at that time putting forward measures to devolve some issues, home affairs in the main. How people in England decided to undertake their own home affairs was a matter for the people of England. We are coming to that question only now, all these years on. But I have to ask myself: can we in a Parliament that elects people from every corner of these islands then separate off the home affairs of one part of that? I would contend that that is not a suitable solution to the question posed.

I think that the only way in which we can find a suitable solution is by having a constitutional convention. All the people of these islands are entitled to be represented in equal measure within this institution. Scything one part off is not going to do that. It is almost like building a house which you continue to add to without looking to the foundations. The foundations of this UK Parliament are very old and we have continued to add devolution solutions, local government solutions and mayoral solutions without looking at how those affect the foundations. If we go

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forward with English votes for English laws, that may well be the solution that cracks the foundations of this union.

There is no doubt that in the election a few weeks ago there was a seismic change in Scotland—or was there? The SNP success was on a 76% turnout of the electors; it achieved 51% of that turnout, which means that 38% of those eligible to vote sent 56 out of 59 MPs to the other end of this Building. We then have to ask ourselves: are all the people being equally represented? I do not think they are. The noble Lord, Lord Purvis, is quite correct when he says that we have to look again at the voting system that produces such a result. I have always supported first past the post and it may well be in a constitutional solution that suits everyone that we come to that agreement, but it surely cannot be right that 50% of the people in Scotland are represented by three Members of Parliament.

We have in Scotland now almost a one-party state. Part of that was that during the election campaign there was very little scrutiny of the SNP. The SNP continuously draws power from blaming Westminster for everything that goes wrong. But let us just take a look at one aspect of the SNP’s policies. It makes great play of free university tuition but fails to tell us that this came at the cost of 170,000 places at further education colleges. There is a lot there to be looked at. We in this part have not taken part in the blame game, but perhaps it is time that we pointed out the positives of this union and stopped focusing on the negatives.

Another problem that we had in Scotland was undoubtedly the Tory posters showing the Labour leader in Alex Salmond’s pocket. That may well have worked in England, but we on this side found ourselves caught between two nationalistic approaches. What does it say to people in Scotland when they are told, “You are better off with a Tory Government than a Labour Government who can be supported only by Scots”? And we wonder why nationalism continues to breed.

I think the only solution we can come up with here is to set out on the road of a constitutional convention, one that looks at the governance of the UK as a whole, with equal votes and equal representation for everyone in the UK as a whole. I hope that the Government will look closely at the Bill that the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, has introduced and take it very seriously indeed if we are to continue to have a UK at all.

8.08 pm

Lord Bew (CB): My Lords, the gracious Speech includes one very important sentence as far as Northern Ireland is concerned:

“Legislation will be taken forward giving effect to the Stormont House Agreement in Northern Ireland”.

Ever since Her Majesty uttered those words in this Chamber, it has become clear that the Stormont House agreement barely exists as a consequence of the stand-off in the votes in the Northern Ireland Assembly. Over the weekend there were what appear to be well-sourced reports in the Northern Irish papers about the possibility of a Stormont House agreement mark 2, but at this point the Stormont House agreement is in a fairly parlous condition.

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This is not the Government’s fault. There are a number of miscalculations involved. It may indeed be that, like so many people, Sinn Fein believed the polls during the election campaign and believed there would be a change of Government, which would allow it at least a face-saving move in the context of the austerity issue. I do not actually believe that, had there been a change of Government, there would have been a really significant change in the public finances of Northern Ireland and at Westminster, but there clearly could have been an atmospheric change, which would have been helpful to the Sinn Fein leadership. Anyway, the miscalculation has been made and they are now in a difficult position. The consequences of the arrangements in Northern Ireland are that we are all in a difficult position. It is a difficult moment and it is quite hard to see how Northern Ireland will extract itself.

In his important speech introducing the debate today, the Minister stated explicitly that the Government intended to legislate anyway for those elements of the Stormont House agreement that lay within their sole area of responsibility. He included in this respect measures for dealing with the past and the legacy of the Troubles, proposals that essentially emerged from the Haass talks some time back. I have no problem in principle with the suggestion that the noble Lord articulated about the need for an oral history archive. I only wish to say that I speak from fairly bitter personal experience, having been involved in the setting up of an oral history archive at Boston College, when I say that these things can become very fraught, very difficult and very painful. Very careful thought is required so that this particular idea does not run into some of the same difficulties that we ran into. I am afraid that good intentions, in this respect, are not enough.

I wish to advance one point with great seriousness: the need for a government strategy in this area that is more proactive than it has been in the past—I speak of both the Conservative/Lib Dem Government and the Labour Government, which were so important during the peace process. In handling the past, we have actually managed to garner essentially the worst of both worlds. A classical example is the decision, which is confirmed in the Conservative manifesto, that there should be no general amnesty. There are very good reasons for this, not least the provisions of the Good Friday agreement, which the noble Lords, Lord Trimble and Lord Empey, played such a role in bringing about in 1998. That having been said, the on-the-runs controversy has convinced many ordinary citizens that there is in effect at least a partial amnesty for terrorists. Therefore, we have garnered, in a sense, the worst of both worlds. The Government’s posture is typically defensive and crouching. Somehow, details and stories of allegedly nefarious activity by state agents—sometimes not allegedly but definitely nefarious activity by state agents—keep coming out, again and again and again, most recently in last Thursday’s “Panorama” programme.

I want to argue that there needs to be a moment of reflection about what information to release and how to do it. The manifesto commitment of the Conservative Party says something very interesting. It says that, in government, it is not going to be party to rewriting the past—logically, that means rewriting the past in the interests of terrorists. However, that cannot be left just

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as a pious hope or aspiration. Thought has to be given to the contextualisation of material and, I suspect, a fairly radical approach to the release of the material, but not in some sort of vacuum.

Let me say something that struck me very forcibly last week when Sir Brian Cubbon’s death was announced. Three decades ago, Sir Brian Cubbon was in the car in which the British ambassador to Dublin was blown up and killed. Judith Cook, a young official who was a contemporary of mine in Cambridge, was also killed, and Sir Brian was badly injured. Cubbon was a great patriot at the centre of policy; later, he would be in the Home Office as PUS, but in the late 1970s he was in Northern Ireland. Cubbon is now gone. He is now not available to explain to us the context of policy and the difficult decisions that any liberal democratic state has to take in the face of a dirty, sectarian war and terrorism. It is this type of testimony that the Government should be preserving. It is quite remarkable that, if you want to learn about the mistakes that the British Army made on Bloody Sunday, we have published a multi-volume account to tell that to you. If you want to understand what happened in the background to the murder of Pat Finucane, a multi-volume account is available to you, all published by the state. But if you want to know how a liberal democratic state tried somehow to palliate a brutal, sectarian civil war and eventually bring peace to a troubled Province, we have not a word to say.

I am really arguing here that candour is the best policy, but there is a moment for thought here. If we are going to go ahead and implement the elements of the Stormont House agreement that are not dependent on the local parties, we should take our time and reflect carefully on how we actually do it.

8.15 pm

Lord Norton of Louth (Con): My Lords, in the few minutes available, I want to focus on the fundamental point deriving from the several measures of constitutional significance that appear in the Queen’s Speech. Like many noble Lords in today’s debate, I address what is missing.

The gracious Speech makes the case for something that is not in it. The same can be said of many Queen’s Speeches since 1997. Successive Governments have introduced significant constitutional changes, but the changes have derived from no clear view of where we are going. Since the time of the Glorious Revolution, we have seen some major reforms, but they have largely been individual measures, each of which has had time to bed in before another change is made. However, in recent decades, we have seen almost constant change. We have introduced changes affecting the relationship between the state and the individual; between Parliament and the people; between the centre and the different parts of the United Kingdom; between the United Kingdom and other nations; and between the different organs of the state. The changes have been justified on their individual merits but, however good the case for the specific measure, it has impacted on the wider constitutional framework of the United Kingdom and done so largely without that impact forming part of the debate. Our constitution is changing,

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and changing quite significantly, without us having any clear idea of what we are doing to it as a constitution. We are too busy planting the trees, be it on devolution, human rights or cameral relationships, to have time to stand back and make sense of the wood. The Westminster system of government is in danger of being replaced by a shapeless forest of constitutional measures.

I have previously made the case for a constitutional convention. Many noble Lords have also made the case for one in today’s debate. However, I would refine the terminology. Use of the term “constitutional convention” carries too much baggage; it is often taken to denote a body created to draw up a new constitution. My view is that this is potentially dangerous, given that we do not have the foundations for such a body to operate. What I favour is a body that can stand back and make sense of where we are. That must be the essential basis before we embark on any more grand constitutional measures. We need what, for want of a better name, I will call a constitutional convocation.

The Government are committed to particular measures. I appreciate that they cannot row back on those in the Queen’s Speech. However, before going beyond them, I urge them to create, or rather to join with other parties to create, the mechanisms for looking at our constitution in the round—where we are now, how the different elements fit together, and the constitutional principles that underpin those arrangements.

A constitutional convocation could look—must look—at the relationship between the state and the citizen. The proposal for a British Bill of Rights could be encompassed within that consideration. In terms of making sense of relationships within the state, it would encompass inter-institutional relationships within the United Kingdom, the role of Parliament, the relations between the two Chambers and between Parliament and other organs of the state. I notice in respect of devolution that a new report from the Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law has concluded, as indeed have several noble Lords today, that the ad hoc approach to devolution has gone as far as it can and that a more systematic view is required. If the UK remains a member of the European Union, we need to address how that fits with our overall framework. Otherwise, we shall simply continue to do what we have done since we joined the then European Communities and that is, in terms of the constitutional implications of membership, play catch-up. We are too often in response mode.

In short, we can move—we need to move—from the current approach of generating measures that are disparate and discrete and look at our constitution as a whole. Let us take the measures in the Queen’s Speech that affect different parts of the United Kingdom. It is not just that we have a Scotland Bill, a Wales Bill and a Northern Ireland Bill. We also have a Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill. I am not suggesting that we have a grand, all-encompassing devolution Bill—the one-size-fits-all solution identified by my noble friend Lord Dunlop—but I think that these measures make the case for standing back and making sense of how the different parts of the United Kingdom fit together. Otherwise, we are in danger of creating a rather haphazard and potentially unstable patchwork

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quilt of constitutional relationships. I am not arguing the case for some neat uniformity but rather saying that if we are to have a patchwork quilt, let us make sure we know what we are doing. We need to appreciate the overall effect rather than end, with bits thrown together without any thought to the wider consequences.

The only mechanism we have for standing back and looking holistically at our constitution is the Constitution Committee. However, it will have its work cut out this Session fulfilling its remit to report on each Bill of constitutional significance. If it has the time to fulfil the other part of its remit, to keep the workings of the constitution under review, and complete a full-scale review, it would be of enormous benefit. It is, though, a major undertaking, one that may be best suited in terms of time and resources to a constitutional convocation. As we address each constitutional Bill this Session, we need to keep in mind the wider picture. We need to stand back and address what is happening to the constitution of the United Kingdom. That is the core message that I take from the gracious Speech. I trust that it is one that will be heard by the Government. I look to my noble friend Lord Faulks to confirm that it is.

8.22 pm

Lord Cashman (Lab): My Lords, it has been an enlightening and enlightened debate, and there have been wiser counsels than mine own, but I want to concentrate on one particular aspect and express my deep concern at the Government’s intention to publish proposals with a view to scrapping the Human Rights Act and proposing a British Bill of Rights.

I never thought that in my lifetime and in the 21st century I would see human rights, or rather the judgments based on the European Convention on Human Rights, become a political issue that could result in diminishing human rights and access to justice in this country. There are huge consequences to such an approach, both domestically and internationally, as well as consequences for our continuing membership of the European Union, a Union based on fundamental values, human rights and the rule of law.

Let me be clear from the outset what I think the Government’s intentions are. They are to appease their right wing and the leader writers of the tabloids in particular and the right-wing press in general. It is about constructing a potential Bill which will deliver judgments that the Government believe they can live with and the public will approve of. It is a dangerous route of populism for a country built on the tradition of the protection of the individual both at home and abroad.

Access to the courts on issues such as human rights or the interpretation of such rights defines us as a democracy. I believe that the problems are with the judgments which have been delivered from the European Court of Human Rights, and from our own Supreme Court, when they have not fitted comfortably with the Government’s view of human rights or those of the right-wing press. So we scrap the Human Rights Act, which has worked well—there have been many examples in this debate. Then we withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights because we do not like the judgments delivered from that court, or indeed

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the justiciability of such a court. What happens, then, when the Executive or some future Government do not like or welcome the judgments from the Supreme Court when based on a Bill of Rights? Do we scrap that Bill or do we place judges in the courts to deliver judgments that are palpable? The road ahead is worrying indeed and we will never appease the

Daily Mail

, the

Sun

, the

Telegraph

or the

Times

—none of them. We will have lost power to so-called populism: to the mob.

The fury and misrepresentation around judgments from the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg has bordered on the hysterical but I remind your Lordships that many rights exist in this country today because courageous individuals and organisations took their cases to that court. Before the Human Rights Act, they had to quite literally drag their cases through the domestic courts before they could have their rights recognised, then upheld, in Strasbourg. Even then, in some instances, Governments resisted.

The infamous judgment on the rights of prisoners to vote was, sadly, hysterically seized upon by most political parties but the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg did not state that prisoners should have the vote. It stated that a blanket ban was in breach of the convention, and so it is. Let the punishment fit the crime; if we believe in a Prison Service which is redemptive, should we not prepare our people to carry out their civic duties and responsibilities when they leave prison, including participation in democratic elections? There are myths—many myths—but I would rather have a system which could be abused by a small number of people than diminish the right to a fair hearing, or diminish the human rights of communities and out-of-favour minorities or individuals.

I believe that a civilised democracy—a civilised country—is judged by how it treats its least favoured, least revered and least loved individuals or minorities. On a personal note, I come from a minority which is still much maligned and misrepresented. Even today, our rights in some parts of the United Kingdom are still resisted or denied. The rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual people are still not universally welcomed or accepted in the United Kingdom. Sadly, even in Northern Ireland, same-sex marriage is still not legal or available. I remember well that until the 1990s, we in our community had virtually no rights in this country. We now have them, due in great part to the courage of individuals and organisations such as Stonewall, which pursued individual cases through the courts to Strasbourg. The rights that I enjoy from the European Convention on Human Rights and the Human Rights Act—the rights that we all enjoy—are enjoyed because generations of individuals have had the courage to stand up against injustice, tyrannies and Governments to demand equality. They demanded not to be treated better but to be treated equally.

Let me conclude. On behalf of the least favoured and least popular, and in defence of the human rights of all and the principle that human rights are universal and do not stop at manmade borders or during manmade wars, I urge your Lordships to defend vigorously the Human Rights Act and the European Convention on Human Rights. It is better that our lives as legislators are made more difficult and we face criticism from populists than that the rights of another be sacrificed

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on the misconstructed altar of public opinion, which will shift and shift. I am very clear indeed on this. Judges and judgments are not there to please or to make the lives of politicians or Governments easy, or easier. They are there to make our lives difficult and, where necessary, to make us think again—to pause and hesitate—and never more so than in the realms of human rights and civil liberties.

8.29 pm

Lord Taverne (LD): My Lords, it is quite clear that in the next five years we will face a great constitutional upheaval. Major taxing powers for Scotland and government plans for English votes for English laws will both have profound implications for Wales and Northern Ireland, and then there is the issue of devolved power to cities with elected metro mayors. This hugely ambitious programme of constitutional reform cannot possibly be achieved bit by bit. The noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, made a magnificent speech that provided unanswerable arguments in favour of a constitutional convention. Such a programme must be coherent and acceptable to the different nations of the UK and should strengthen the union.

However, there is one missing piece, to make sense of the whole. We are going to face something that is in effect much more akin to a federal Britain. The question arises: how will these different elements in a much more federal Britain be properly represented? In fact this presents an opportunity: in a federal Britain we could then transform the House of Lords, which has resisted previous rather poorly prepared and unacceptable attempts to do so. We could have a new upper Chamber that in effect performed some of the functions performed in Germany by the Bundesrat. Such an upper Chamber could be greatly reduced in size. That would also cure our present intolerable overcrowding, which prevents the proceedings of this House from being as efficient as they should be.

There is another proposal in the Queen’s Speech that has not been mentioned but which sets a profoundly undesirable constitutional precedent: a statutory limit on income tax and VAT. The new Government may well face a major economic crisis: our recovery is fragile because a sharp decline in productivity has caused a huge trade deficit, the largest in the OECD, that has been financed by the inflow of hot money. We are on our way to a new housing bubble caused by rising house prices. The eurozone may be in deep trouble if Greece is forced out, and foreign investors may get scared by the possibility of Brexit. That hot money may flow out very rapidly and cause a major crisis. If we face an emergency and the need for drastic measures to protect the pound, the Treasury’s hands will be tied by its inability to raise taxes and it will be forced to rely on ever-deepening spending cuts.

Personally, I am completely out of sympathy with the Government’s aim of a shrinking state. Lower taxes should not be our primary concern as a matter of principle. The lowest-taxed industrial societies are the most dysfunctional, as shown in that seminal book The Spirit Level by Wilkinson and Pickett. As the famous American judge Oliver Wendell Holmes observed:

“Taxes are the price we pay for a civilised society”.

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Contrary to Conservative belief, higher-taxed democracies on the whole, in the decades before the crash, had a faster, not slower, record of economic growth. We already have a society with huge inequalities. Income tax and, to a lesser extent, VAT are progressive. Cutting public spending even more will be deeply regressive. Moreover, at some point ever-greater austerity inflicted on the poorest in society may not work. An economic crisis will lead not to one nation but to an even more broken society.

I have one further point, which may comfort those who fear that we are in for a long period in the doldrums for the Labour Party, or the disappearance of the Liberal Democrats. In 1959, after a calamitous defeat for Labour, many forecast that they would never again see a Labour Government. Roy Jenkins, a very wise man with a great sense of historical perspective, wrote in an article at that time that things did not look good, but that we should remember 1902, when there was not a cloud on the horizon for Salisbury’s Conservative Government, with the Liberal Opposition deeply divided in the aftermath of the Boer War. Within four years there was the greatest anti-Conservative landslide in history. Things may not prove quite as they look at present.

8.35 pm

Lord Empey (UUP): My Lords, it is interesting where the applause for that comment came from. At this late stage in the evening, it is hard to say things that are unique, but I welcome the noble Lord, Lord Dunlop, to the Front Bench, with the unbounded enthusiasm that we will no doubt knock out of him as time goes on.

The noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, pointed out that this year we will have a Scotland Bill, a Wales Bill and a Northern Ireland Bill. If that sounds familiar, it is because last year we had a Scotland Bill, a Wales Bill and a Northern Ireland Bill. It is immediately obvious to everybody that we have a Lego kind of constitution, which we are putting bits into and pulling bits out of as we go along, and there appears to be no overarching plan. This is very disturbing.

The convention that has been lobbied for is one model. I think that my noble friend Lord Trimble and I are the only Members of this House who were members of an elected constitutional convention. That happened many years ago and was a great success, was it not? It took another 20-something years to get to the point where we had an agreement. However, whether it is a convention or a commission or the Lord Chancellor appoints an advisory group or whatever—I would not be precious over the methodology—we need to have constitutional coherence in our policies in this country, which unfortunately is missing. We understand the vagaries of the political process and why it is the way it is. Things have happened—Macmillan famously commented, “Events, dear boy, events”—and we have been reacting to events. We are not directing events, we are not controlling events, and we are sadly not influencing events, which is a matter of grave concern.

I shall turn briefly to the devolution side of things, because obviously we watch with very great concern what is going on in Scotland. I have no doubt that in

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his demure, quiet and diplomatic fashion the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes of Cumnock, who follows me, will have a word or two to say on that. I believe that we are in severe difficulties, because ironically Nicola Sturgeon said that if a referendum were held on the European Union, all parts of the United Kingdom would have to tick the box to say yes. I did not see her go on to say that in the European Union if decisions had to be taken every part of the European Union would have to tick the box, because that is a totally different argument. We are not dealing properly with the Scottish question. We got so many things wrong. The question was wrong, the timing was wrong and the campaign was wrong. Everything was wrong, and we are reeling from that. As many Scottish noble Lords have said, we need to rethink our position.

My part of the country is Northern Ireland. As one of those who were able to assist my noble friend Lord Trimble in getting the devolution settlement in 1998, I am deeply disappointed at the way things have gone. I always felt that we could use the devolved Administration to do something different on behalf of the people. We are gradually reaching the tipping point where if things go on as they are at Stormont, one will be unable to say that it is helping the people of Northern Ireland. We are very close to that.

One of the reasons, and a mistake that we are making in devolution generally, is the idea of “legislate and forget”: in other words, we draw up a piece of legislation, devolve the issue and Westminster walks away. That is a mistake. It was made in 1921. If Westminster had kept an active interest in what was happening in Northern Ireland and if it keeps an active interest in Scotland and Wales, we will avoid problems. “Legislate and forget” does not work. It merely reinforces what I have said before in this House: that devolved Administrations become ATM machines, the local politicians spend the money, and if there is not enough of it the evil legislators in London are responsible. We are not linking this Parliament to the money and to the people there. I am for devolution, but it has to be within a context and not simply, “Hand over and then forget about it”. That would be a mistake.

Sadly, we are now facing another crisis at home. We have a Bill which the Minister has announced to implement the Stormont House agreement. As we stand here tonight, there is no Stormont House agreement. I hope that will change tomorrow when the leaders meet the Secretary of State and the Irish Government, and I wish them well, but I fear another press-gang coming along looking for more money. That is the mechanism that Sinn Fein has used to disguise the fact that what it is really doing in reneging from the Stormont House agreement is trying to protect its electoral interest in the Republic of Ireland next year, and it is prepared to sacrifice the interests of ordinary working people in Northern Ireland. We are losing at least £2 million a week, which is being taken out of our budget because of the failure to implement the agreement, and not only that: we are losing far more in what could flow from the Stormont House agreement. Hundreds of millions of pounds are being lost.

It is not purely down to the welfare issue. Sadly, I have to say, it is down to gross financial mismanagement by Stormont over a number of years. It was given its

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budget for the year ending March this year in October 2010, and this year’s budget in June 2013. Until the crisis last autumn, no action was taken to get the expenditure to meet the budget. For the first time since 1921, Stormont was about to default and had to go to the Treasury to get this Wonga loan to try to bail it out for this financial year, otherwise it would have defaulted. Now it is back in another mess. Not only is it not fully implementing the welfare but it is now borrowing hundreds of millions of pounds to pay off 20,000 workers, when it should have been gradually running the thing down over a period of years at effectively no cost because it would have been natural wastage. The reductions it is asking the Civil Service to make have not been made. It keeps asking it do more but then puts forward schemes to pay its employees off. It is paying them off, but at the moment it is only being allowed to borrow the money to do that. Now, because of the Stormont House agreement, it is not able to do that, so all those people have applied for a scheme that is currently endangered.

The voluntary and community sector is in an even worse position: some of the people have not had money for months because nobody knows what the budget is. That sector is doing such good work. It makes up 5% of the Northern Ireland economy and represents some of the most vulnerable people, yet it is living from hand to mouth. Some of the people who work for those organisations are in tears because they do not know what their future is and the money is locked up. That is not good governance.

I have to ask the Minister, and I hope he addresses this in the wind-up, whether more money is going to be paid to the parties, should they come here looking for it, or whether what we have in the Stormont House agreement is a solid figure that has to be stuck to. That is a fundamental question, and if we do not know the answer to that, what happens tomorrow may happen under false pretences. People need to know that and hear that. I hope that it works tomorrow, although I have my doubts.

The point I would like to emphasise and close on is this: we should not turn our backs on the institutions devolved from this Parliament. That was a mistake that was made before, and if we keep on going the way we are going we will repeat the same mistake again. I hope we will not do so, given the Scottish example. We need to fight for the union. We need to sell the case for the union and for togetherness, and to re-establish some British identity. I do not look upon myself as a separate unit that has floated off somewhere else. That is not what the union means to me. The whole purpose of it has to be set out clearly and articulated with some enthusiasm, and not simply left to others to articulate. I therefore ask the Front Bench to bear those things in mind.

Finally, I also ask the Front Bench to pay close attention to my noble friend Lord Bew, who made some excellent points. There are those who are trying to rewrite history. The number of victims whose names we never hear have just as much a case as those who happen to have support groups to push their case. If we go on trying to dig and tear at those scabs for ever, we will never get the peace that we seek and deserve.

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8.45 pm

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the wise words of my noble friend—I think that I can call him that as I have known him for a long time—Lord Empey. I am not sure that I will be able to live up to his billing, but I shall do my best.

First, however, I want to try to dispel a myth. There is a myth going around that the SNP is a left-wing party. That myth arises because Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond said that they could work only with a Labour Government and not work with the Tories, but nothing could be further from the truth. The SNP from 2007 to 2011, as a minority Government in the Scottish Parliament, relied on the Tory party and Annabel Goldie, now the noble Baroness, Lady Goldie, for its support. It would not have been able to get a budget through or to survive without the Tories. So that is not left wing.

The council tax freeze that the SNP has introduced is not left wing, either. I benefit from it—it is wonderful for me, in a nice house in Corstorphine—but people at the lower end of the income scale who rely on council services are losing out. That is not left wing. Then there is the so-called free higher education, which helps people who are relatively well off at the expense of college students. There are 130,000 fewer college students now than when the SNP started, who are unable to do vocational courses. That is not left wing. And then there is ScotRail. When the franchise came up, the opportunity was there to put it into public ownership, but the SNP continued with franchising and now it is in Dutch hands, being run by a Dutch company. That is not left wing. So there is not a shred of truth in the argument put forward, unfortunately successfully, by the SNP in Scotland. It is one of the reasons why the party did well, but nothing could be further from the truth.

I also take this opportunity of castigating the SNP for taking its eye off the ball. It has been so preoccupied with constitutional issues and the referendum in particular that the services that it has responsibility for at the moment—health, education, social work and justice in Scotland—have been neglected. The noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, mentioned the Scottish education system, which was once the pride of the world. In the past few years, we have seen literacy and numeracy rates go down in Scotland because of the SNP. Over the past four or five years, the astonishing thing is that the increase in expenditure on the NHS in Scotland under the SNP has been less than under the Tories in England. It is certainly not left wing and it has certainly occurred because the SNP took its eye off the ball.

Anyway, that is nothing to do with the gracious Speech, but I wanted to get it off my chest and I feel better for it. They are two important things. But I now get back to congratulating the noble Lords, Lord Lisvane and Lord Dunlop, as well as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds, on three excellent maiden speeches. It reminds me of my maiden speech, not in here but in the other place, in 1979. Outside this place I would say that very few people would remember that—but, of course, in here everyone remembers way back, long before 1979. Even then, I raised the question of the constitution, right at the start of my parliamentary

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career. Rather more recently, in the Queen’s Speech debate on 14 May 2012, I argued in favour of a constitutional convention moving towards a quasi-federal or federal system. I warned then that if we did not come up with a sensible, credible and above all stable alternative, we would be back at the precipice that we saw in the general election sooner rather than later. I can say that underlined, a fortiori, and even more so because of what has happened. That is why we need to find a credible alternative. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Dunlop—I will no doubt have other opportunities to do so when we get to the Bills that are coming through—that unless we find a credible, coherent alternative, nationalism and the separation of Scotland from the rest of the United Kingdom will become increasingly likely, if not inevitable.

That brings me to what we are getting from the Government. What are we getting? Instead of something coherent, we are getting EVEL, which really is evil, as so many people have said. It is not getting much support. Apart from the Minister, I do not think it has even had any support on the other side of the House. What will happen? Discussions and decisions that take place in Committee, when only English Members can participate on English Bills, could be overturned at a later stage. When I spoke informally to the Secretary of State, Mr Mundell, he told me that that was not likely to happen. However, it is a bit naive to say that that is not likely to happen.

The noble Lord, Lord Lawson, rightly said that it is ridiculous to have two levels of Members of Parliament. However, it is even more ridiculous given that it will not work in practice. As regards this place, no one has said anything about Scottish Peers—if they can be identified—not participating in English legislation. Therefore, unelected Members from Scotland are allowed to participate in English legislation but not elected Members from Scotland. Is that not ridiculous? It is absolutely ridiculous. We now have an opportunity to take a coherent look at this.

As well as EVEL there has been mention of the northern powerhouse and today we have heard about developments in the Midlands that are being pushed by the Government. However, that is not a coherent approach to this issue. The noble Lord, Lord Purvis, and I have set up an all-party group, of which a number of Peers and MPs are members, to push for a coherent solution. The noble Lord, Lord Purvis, has introduced a Bill on this subject. It will be interesting to see the Government’s response when that Bill comes forward. It is a coherent way forward.

However, I recognise what the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, said. We have to pay a lot of attention to what he says, not just because he is a Member of this House but because of his academic background and experience. I understand that the constitutional convocation, commission or convention—whatever we call it—needs to be established. Indeed, a convocation might be a more appropriate way forward, but something needs to be done to sort out all the muddle that exists and find a systematic—to use the noble Lord’s word—way forward. The noble Lord said that the Constitution Committee of this House was too busy to do this work. That is a pity because

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this is the most important matter in the constitution. Even if the committee cannot undertake this work, I urge him and other members appointed to the Constitution Committee to point the way forward or at least to signpost or give a direction as regards what should be done. That could be done by the Constitution Committee in one or two sessions. I hope that others will take it up.

That brings me to my penultimate point.

A noble Lord: Thank God!

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: Who said “Thank God”? I never did like some of the Liberal Democrats but now they are on our side I am told that I have to like them. However, even the Liberal Democrat who said “Thank God” might agree with what I am about to say. For some time I have been an advocate of first past the post for election to the House of Commons. The strong argument in favour of it, which I think even those who are sceptical about it are agreed on, is that it maintains a good constituency link and that Members in the other place are interested in their constituencies, run surgeries and are very much involved in their constituencies. That is a good thing which does not always occur in other systems that we have. However, we have got into a muddle on this as well. I take Scotland as the worst example again. In Scotland we have four electoral systems: in local government, we have STV; in the Scottish Parliament, we have the additional member system, which is a combination of first past the post and lists; in Westminster, of course, like the rest of the United Kingdom, we have first past the post; and in Europe we have the closed list—the worst of all, by the way. I do not know how we ended up with that.

I have now come round to the conclusion that that muddle could also be looked at by the convocation or the convention. If a Neanderthal like me—a dinosaur like me, one of the great first past the post advocates—can come round to that point of view because of the mess we are in, surely the Government and those who are sceptical about looking at this in a comprehensive, coherent, systematic way, as the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, and others have suggested, can also think again. I know the pressures from civil servants. I sat in exactly the same office in Dover House that the noble Lord, Lord Dunlop, is now occupying. It is by far one of the best offices in Whitehall, by the way—it has the best view. When Trooping the Colour takes place everyone comes in and looks out; it has a wonderful view. But I remember going again and again to Cabinet committees and Labour Ministers—yes, Labour Ministers—coming up and reading out briefs that had been prepared by their departmental officials. Fortunately, because I was the Minister of State for Scotland, we did not have such a vested interest. I would say, “Wait a minute. We are here as Labour Members to implement Labour Party policy, not the departmental policy”. That is why I think we need Ministers like our new Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Dunlop, and the noble Lord, Lord—

The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Faulks) (Con): Faulks.

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Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: No one can pronounce my name properly either. You know who I mean. By the way, we also have the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, here today—we have the whole trio.

I hope Ministers will take away from this debate the fact that there are people like the noble Lords, Lord Forsyth, Lord Lawson, Lord Norton and Lord Purvis— people of all political parties and none—who are arguing in favour of some kind of coherent look at the constitution. I hope they will exercise their muscle, push this and say, “This is the considered view of the House of Lords. Let us in government consider it also”.

8.57 pm

Lord Trimble (Con): My Lords, I start by echoing the praise which has been given throughout this House to the three maiden speeches that we have heard. We have also heard a number of other extremely good speeches, but I want to move on to my own.

I begin with a couple of what might seem like minor points. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, referred in their speeches to the funding of political parties. I come with a suggestion which is borrowed from the German example. In Germany they have a process whereby the person filling in his tax form can tick a box and by doing so a proportion of his tax will then go to a particular body. They use the system in Germany for financing churches, but I suggest that we should use it here for financing parties. It would not mean people paying any more money; some of their tax money would be used for it. The support of the party would then come from ordinary people and ordinary voters. That may not be the exclusive way of doing it, but I suggest it because we clearly have a system that needs repair. It is one suggestion.

Another thing that may need repair is the provisions on human rights. I shall mention two things, one of which is really quite important but has been mentioned only in passing. It was in our manifesto and concerns the application of some aspects of human rights law to the Armed Forces.

Originally, the situation was quite clear: the Armed Forces were bound by the law on armed conflict, which is basically the Geneva conventions-plus. But in recent years—the European Court of Human Rights in particular has been guilty of this—human rights law concepts which previously had nothing to do with armed conflict have been brought into armed conflict law, and they are having very negative consequences there. I was at a conference a month or two ago where a number of persons from various countries, partly in Europe, partly elsewhere, were discussing this issue. A representative from NATO said that NATO is now very worried about the way in which human rights concepts have come into the Northern Ireland conflict. This needs to be fixed or our Armed Forces will become ineffective.

With regard to the manifesto commitment in the Queen’s Speech for a Bill of Rights, I would be willing to see what comes along and I do not think that we should jump to conclusions. There is a lot of jumping to conclusions going on here but let us wait to see

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what comes. If it is a genuine British Bill of Rights, I do not see a problem. A number of people are saying that the European convention is embedded in the devolved arrangements for Northern Ireland and Scotland, but I do not see a problem there. If the legislative capacity of the Northern Ireland Assembly is such that it cannot legislate in contravention of the convention, and if it cannot legislate in contravention of a British Bill of Rights, I do not see a problem. Therefore, something has been turned into a problem when it is not really a problem.

Earlier, we heard an excellent speech from my noble friend Lord Forsyth. I found myself agreeing with virtually everything he said, but he made one really big point which we should all take to heart and think about, and that is the consequence of this general election for the Smith proposals. Those proposals were endorsed by Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats in Scotland, who, between them, got three seats. However, the proposals were not endorsed in the manifesto of the SNP. Instead, it went down the road of fiscal autonomy and got 56 Members. In that situation, in normal politics you turn round and say that the Smith proposals are dead because they have been rejected by the Scottish electorate. However, we are continuing with the proposals. One axiom from literature is that you should never reinforce failure, but that is what we are doing. I think that we should take what happened there as an opportunity to stand back and think about those proposals.

That brings me to what has been coming from a number of quarters here: the suggestion that we need some sort of convention or body, the sense that constitutional matters have been handled on a piecemeal and short-term basis, and the feeling that putting the union on a sounder footing needs more than just repeating a phrase; it needs to be thought through. That thinking through should come not from continually scratching the sore of devolution but from looking at the other end and asking what the core matters of our union are—the matters that must be uniform throughout the state. We cannot say that everything is up for grabs; there has to be a core element.

I came across a suggestion of that from a colleague in the Commons, John Redwood. In his blog last week he said:

“Our union is above all a currency, benefits and tax union”,

and of course for those things there must be uniform standards throughout the kingdom. You can change some aspects and you can devolve matters, but legislation will set the standards. Administration can be devolved and there can be minor variations in these matters but unpicking too much will unpick the whole system. Consequently, we need to think about that as well.

As we know, welfare is a problem at the moment in Northern Ireland. It is an anomaly. For the other devolved bodies, there is no power to legislate for welfare. There is in Northern Ireland, although purely by accident. In 1920 there was no welfare state, so there was no provision for the reservation of welfare legislation to Westminster. After the creation of the welfare state, the Northern Ireland Parliament stuck rigidly to its step-by-step policy and copied GB welfare legislation on to the Northern Ireland statute book en

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bloc. Northern Ireland voters accepted this. They did not hold Stormont responsible for the ups and downs of welfare policy, knowing that the policy was made in London and that overall they were beneficiaries from it.

That has now been disrupted, but before coming to the specific causes of that disruption, I want to say that if a policy is to be uniform throughout the kingdom, is it really then fair for London to expect the local representatives in a particular part of the kingdom to bear responsibility for the heavy lifting of having that uniformity? I do not think that it is fair but that is what is happening with regard to Northern Ireland.

One then has to turn to the role of Sinn Fein in this matter. A problem arises because Sinn Fein is a single party that operates in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. If it were two separate parties, the problem would not arise. Sinn Fein might evolve organically into separate parties but that will not happen this year or next year, although it is something that may well happen. However, Sinn Fein’s chief objective at the moment, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Empey, is next year’s elections in the Republic. Because Sinn Fein in Dublin opposes austerity, so it has insisted that the party in the north must do the same. There is reason to believe that the northern party tried to adopt a more sensible line but that it was dragged back into line.

The second point to make about Sinn Fein is that once it has said something in public, it will insist on that even when it is clearly bad for it. It foolishly thinks that this makes it look strong. We have seen these characteristics demonstrated over recent months and it is silly to think that they will change.

Last week, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland was reported as saying that there was a move in the direction of bringing back the power to legislate to Westminster, which I have suggested before. But it was said that the Secretary of State was thinking that there was still some way to go on this. Why dither when the only consequence of waiting is that hundreds of millions of pounds are taken out of the budget, which would involve huge tax cuts in Northern Ireland? The Secretary of State could cure that tomorrow simply by taking steps to bring back legislation. No doubt Members will have noticed that Peter Robinson, the First Minister of Northern Ireland, has endorsed that proposal on several occasions. There may be a fear that if that is done somehow Sinn Fein will react negatively to it—a fear which I think is completely misplaced. If it does something to damage the Assembly, voters in the south will punish it next year, and it knows that. What it does will be limited.

I shall briefly mention the policy of English votes for English laws. I am indebted here to a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Lisvane, which I heard at a conference we were attending in St Anne’s College many months ago. Apparently, the clerks in the Commons had looked to see how many times a measure had been carried without the support of a majority of Scottish Members. They found that in a 10-year period, that had happened only in the order of four times. Therefore, it is not a big problem.

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My final point on that is quite important: the measures in the Commons are supposed to bite on things that relate exclusively to England. If a Bill triggers a Barnett consequential, it is not exclusively English. If it triggers a Barnett consequential, all the people in the devolved areas should be involved and should not be kept out. That is crucial. I have not heard that said and it needs to be borne in mind.

9.07 pm

Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws (Lab): My Lords, I join colleagues in welcoming our new Lords and thank them for their contributions today. I look forward to hearing from them in the many months and, I hope, years to come.

Like others, I have grave concerns about the legislative programme which will be coming before this Parliament. Echoing fears expressed already, I think that one of my major fears is that the pursuit of an agenda to eviscerate public services, to play around with our membership of the European Union and to tamper with the rights and freedoms of our citizens by, perhaps ultimately, abolishing the Human Rights Act, will drive a deep wedge between parts of this kingdom. I also fear that that might accelerate its demise as a union.

The Prime Minister promised one-nation governance, but that means genuinely having to take into account what the election results meant. I know that people on the other side of the House are enjoying a victory, but they have to remember that it involved only 36% of the electorate—I remind Labour Members that in 1997 when the Blair Government got in, again it was on as low a section of the electorate. Governing as a one-nation party means speaking to the many and going beyond just the traditional Conservative voter.

I am sure that the defeat of Labour is giving a great deal of contentment to Conservative Members of this House, but that will be short term. It seems to me that the real message of the results of this election is that people were not very taken by the old political parties and their way of doing business. We have to recognise that the political class is distrusted by a large section of the population. That distrust will grow if the promise to govern for all of this kingdom is not kept.

Many people have expressed a certain amount of relief that there will be further consultation before legislation on a British Bill of Rights, but why has it taken so long? The Conservative Party has included in its manifestos since 2002 its desire to create a British Bill of Rights and to abolish the Human Rights Act. It has had a lot of time: it has set up committees and had the benefit of lawyers on the Conservative side advising it. Why is it that it cannot put together a coherent Bill?

I sat on the commission set up by the coalition Government on whether there could be a British Bill of Rights and we consulted. If consultation is what is wanted, let me tell you that we consulted up hill and down dale only a few years ago and further consultation is not necessary. The Government needed to pause because of the complexity of what is involved and because, as described by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, a lot has happened since the Human

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Rights Act came into being. The developments that have taken place have been important and it will be hard to unravel them now. The plan for a British Bill of Rights was ill conceived, incoherent and, in my view, dangerous.

The impact on Scotland should not be taken lightly. When we created the Scotland Bill at the initial time of devolution, we said that change would involve the consent of the people. Having consulted in Scotland over the possibility of a British Bill of Rights, it is clear that it would be seen as the arrogance of Westminster. The Scots are content with the incorporation of the European convention and do not want it interfered with.

We also consulted in Northern Ireland. While I smiled when the noble Lord, Lord Trimble, suggested that all that would be involved would be putting in a small amendment suggesting that there had to be compliance with the British Bill of Rights rather than the European Convention on Human Rights, that small amendment would be highly contested by a large number of those persons who signed up to the Good Friday peace agreement. I suspect that the non-dominant community would find that hard to swallow.

We also have to think about its impact on foreign policy and our treaty obligations and the effect it would have on our reputation worldwide. Britain is a beacon for the rule of law imbued with commitment to human rights. I say this as chair of the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute. Britain is looked to around the world for guidance and inspiration on these matters. I worry that this has been kept in the back pocket as a card to be played if the referendum goes towards maintaining the European Union; that it is to give red meat to Eurosceptics.