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Queen's Speech — Debate (3rd Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:10 pm on 27th May 2010.

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Photo of Lord Boyd of Duncansby Lord Boyd of Duncansby Labour 4:10 pm, 27th May 2010

My Lords, I, too, welcome the new Ministers and congratulate them on their appointments. However, I wish to refer to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness. He and I sat next to each other in Cabinet for five years in a coalition Government-although one of a different hue-in Scotland. I formed a very high regard for him during that time, for much of which he was Minister for Justice and I was Lord Advocate. Jointly we had responsibility for the justice system and faced some very difficult issues. I hope that I do not embarrass him by saying that I always thought there was very little political difference between us, but it is perhaps a measure of the times that we find ourselves so far apart across this Chamber. He is very highly regarded in Scotland across all the political parties and his appointment will be warmly welcomed.

In a recent speech, the Deputy Prime Minister promised us the greatest set of political reforms since 1832. Quite why he chose 1832, I was not clear, because many historians would say that 1867-although of course that was a Tory Administration-or the enfranchisement of women were more significant. He could also have mentioned the more recent reforms: the establishment of the Scottish Parliament; the National Assembly for Wales; the Good Friday agreement, which led to the new constitutional arrangements in Northern Ireland; the Mayor of London and the London Assembly; proportional representation for the European elections; the establishment of the Supreme Court and the new arrangements for judicial appointments; or the start of the reform of this House. Indeed, in that speech, unless I misread it, the only reform of the past 13 years to which he made any reference was the Human Rights Act.

Had the Deputy Prime Minister acknowledged those reforms, he could, with justification, have claimed some credit for his party in the passing of many of them because the Liberal Democrats added considerable intellectual muscle and political weight to the arguments. However, he eschewed any such claim, perhaps because they were all opposed by the very party with which they are now in coalition, or perhaps because he did not want to acknowledge any achievement by the Labour Party. Well, I am happy to take the credit-collectively, of course-for the Labour Party.

The attempt to airbrush out 13 years of constitutional development is, I believe, worrying because it fails to recognise the very profound constitutional developments that have happened, the way in which the constitution has changed and, indeed, the way in which politics themselves have changed. The relationship between the United Kingdom Government and Parliament and the devolved Administrations, and more widely between the nations of the United Kingdom, will be of great significance during the course of this Parliament, however long it lasts.

The Prime Minister has said that the Government will rule Scotland with respect. In my judgment, he got off to a good start by visiting Edinburgh, Cardiff and Northern Ireland and attempting to establish good relations with each of the Administrations. However, it will be on their deeds that the Government are judged, not on style and rhetoric.

With the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, I served on the commission under Sir Kenneth Calman on Scottish devolution, so I welcome the announcement that the Government will bring forward a Bill to enact the commission's recommendation. I worry a little about the timing of the introduction. We know that the elections are due in May next year so it would be right and proper if these new powers could be in place for the new Parliament and Executive. Will the Minister let us know whether the timescale of the Bill will meet that timetable?

Central to the Calman proposals are tax and borrowing recommendations. In the Scotsman yesterday, the Secretary of State, Danny Alexander, was quoted as saying the he could not confirm that the recommendations would be in the Bill. If they are omitted, that would be extremely serious. My view is that the Government need not bother introducing the Bill in that case because those recommendations are so central to it. I worry that that is the start of a rearguard action by the Treasury to roll back on the commitment given by the previous Government that they would enact, more or less, the recommendations on tax and borrowing. The Secretary of State, to be fair, says that he has to speak to Scottish Ministers, which is well and good, but he and the Government collectively should know that on constitutional issues the Scottish Ministers do not speak for Scotland. The Scottish Parliament is representative of Scottish opinion and the SNP Government are a minority Administration. The Scottish Parliament co-sponsored the Calman commission and welcomed its recommendations. I remind the Government that the Labour Party fought the election on a promise to implement Calman and won 42 per cent of the popular vote in Scotland.

In speaking to Scottish Ministers, will this Government, like the previous Government, first speak to representatives of the parties, including my own Labour Party in the Scottish Parliament, and take their views on board? When will we get an announcement about what is to happen on tax and borrowing powers?

There are three areas on which we need a more coherent United Kingdom approach. One is the West Lothian question and I note the Government's intention in relation to a commission on that matter. I am sceptical whether there is an answer but I am happy to look at it. Secondly, the Barnett formula on funding needs to be on a UK-wide basis. Thirdly, I doubt that in Scotland there will be a referendum for independence because of the arithmetic within the Scottish Parliament. We ought to set down a principle that there should be no referendum unless there is a majority in the Scottish Parliament who want it. The time has come for a written constitution that sets out not just the relationship between the various parts of the United Kingdom but between the other institutions of the United Kingdom.