UK: Union — Question

– in the House of Lords at 3:30 pm on 18th January 2012.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Labour 3:30 pm, 18th January 2012

To ask Her Majesty's Government what measures they propose to take to consult the whole of the United Kingdom about the future of the Union.

Photo of Lord Wallace of Tankerness Lord Wallace of Tankerness Lords Spokesperson (Attorney General's Office), Lords Spokesperson (Wales Office), The Advocate-General for Scotland, Lords Spokesperson (Scotland Office)

My Lords, following the outcome of the 2011 Scottish Parliament elections, the Government accept that there is a case for holding a referendum in Scotland. If there is to be a referendum, we believe that it should be legal, fair and decisive. Therefore, we are consulting on the best way to achieve this. I can reassure the noble Baroness that the Government look forward to receiving views from across the United Kingdom during the consultation process.

Photo of Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Labour

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the break-up of the United Kingdom will affect us all throughout the UK? If so, will we all have an equal right to make our views known, and why not through a referendum? We have had an equal right to express our views on AV; we are told that we will have an equal right if competences move from this country to the EU, so why is there not an equal right throughout this country to vote on the most important constitutional issue to face any of us in our lifetime?

Photo of Lord Wallace of Tankerness Lord Wallace of Tankerness Lords Spokesperson (Attorney General's Office), Lords Spokesperson (Wales Office), The Advocate-General for Scotland, Lords Spokesperson (Scotland Office)

My Lords, I am sure that most, if not all, of your Lordships would find it very grievous indeed if the United Kingdom were to break up. Nevertheless, in the 11 referendums that have taken place since 1973, only two were held nationwide. Indeed, previous referendums have been held in only one nation of the United Kingdom-in London and in the north-east of England. We believe that whether or not Scotland should leave the United Kingdom and become a separate independent state is a matter for the people of Scotland. It would not be good for relationships within the United Kingdom if it were felt that some parts of the UK had been prevented from doing so by others. Our sincere belief, which I am sure we share, is that that will not happen-that those of us who believe that the values which we share across these islands are to be upheld will win a comprehensive victory, and that Scotland has contributed to the United Kingdom in the same way as the United Kingdom has contributed to the good of Scotland.

Photo of Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Conservative

Does my noble and learned friend not agree that if the separatists in Scotland wish to leave the United Kingdom, that is a matter that needs to be settled in Scotland? If, on the other hand, the so-called devo-max option is being considered, whereby matters other than foreign affairs and defence are considered in Scotland, that is a matter for the United Kingdom as a whole. It would effectively create an English Parliament and a federal Parliament, and that would have to be settled by a UK-wide referendum.

Photo of Lord Wallace of Tankerness Lord Wallace of Tankerness Lords Spokesperson (Attorney General's Office), Lords Spokesperson (Wales Office), The Advocate-General for Scotland, Lords Spokesperson (Scotland Office)

I agree with my noble friend that if the separatists were to have their way and Scotland were to vote to leave the United Kingdom, that should be determined by the people of Scotland. I also agree with him that the so-called devo-max proposal, as far as one can understand what it is-in our exchanges last week, noble Lords suggested that it was a product without a brand or a brand without a product; I cannot remember which way round it was-has implications for other parts of the UK, and we are certainly well seized of that fact.

Photo of Lord Martin of Springburn Lord Martin of Springburn Crossbench

My Lords, as a Scot, I do not want separation. I feel strongly that there should be only one question in the referendum, and one question alone. I ask the Minister to give some advice to the Prime Minister: the best thing that he can do would be to stop appearing arrogant in his interventions. It does not help those of us who want to retain the United Kingdom.

Photo of Lord Wallace of Tankerness Lord Wallace of Tankerness Lords Spokesperson (Attorney General's Office), Lords Spokesperson (Wales Office), The Advocate-General for Scotland, Lords Spokesperson (Scotland Office)

My Lords, one of the issues in the consultation to which I referred is the number of questions in a referendum, although the United Kingdom Government have made it clear that our preference would be for a single question on whether Scotland should remain part of the United Kingdom. To do otherwise and to import questions such as devo-max would only muddy the waters and lead to a very indecisive outcome. We want a referendum that is not only legal and fair but decisive as well.

Photo of Baroness Royall of Blaisdon Baroness Royall of Blaisdon Shadow Spokesperson (Equalities and Women's Issues), Shadow Leader of the House of Lords, Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

The Government this week announced the establishment of the new Commission on the Consequences of Devolution for the House of Commons. There are some excellent members on it, but why was there no consultation on the membership with the Official Opposition? Who will be looking at the consequences of devolution for the House of Lords?

Photo of Lord Wallace of Tankerness Lord Wallace of Tankerness Lords Spokesperson (Attorney General's Office), Lords Spokesperson (Wales Office), The Advocate-General for Scotland, Lords Spokesperson (Scotland Office)

My Lords, the noble Baroness is right to draw attention to the fact that, as was announced yesterday, there will be a Commission on the Consequences of Devolution for the House of Commons. It is important to point out that the panel, which will be chaired by Sir William McKay, a former Clerk of the House, comprises six independent, non-partisan experts. There is no question over party balance in this. With regard to the consequences for the House of Lords, I am conscious that, although a Scot, I am a Peer of the United Kingdom.

Photo of Lord Maclennan of Rogart Lord Maclennan of Rogart Liberal Democrat

Would the Government support a broad-based British organised public discussion of the United Kingdom, in the manner of the Scottish convention, to help inform the debate that should lead to the decision on whether to dismember the United Kingdom? Is it not critically important that people's opinions are sought not just in a snap decision but having had an extensive discussion in which they can all be involved?

Photo of Lord Wallace of Tankerness Lord Wallace of Tankerness Lords Spokesperson (Attorney General's Office), Lords Spokesperson (Wales Office), The Advocate-General for Scotland, Lords Spokesperson (Scotland Office)

My Lords, I do not think that there is any chance of it being a snap decision. I am very conscious that, in your Lordships' House, many Lordships bring to bear from their respective experience examples of where Scotland has made a contribution as part of the United Kingdom to the common good of Scotland and of where Scotland has in turn made a valuable contribution to the United Kingdom. In the debates that take place on this I hope that people will be prepared to speak out and show that our shared values are of great importance, and that it would be a backward step to break up our United Kingdom.