Committee (4th Day)

Part of Scotland Bill – in the House of Lords at 1:30 pm on 15th March 2012.

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Photo of Lord Browne of Ladyton Lord Browne of Ladyton Shadow Spokesperson (Scotland) 1:30 pm, 15th March 2012

I am grateful to the noble Lord for his intervention. I think that the somewhat delayed intervention by the noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie, on the noble Lord's speech-it occurred long after the noble Lord had stopped speaking, but it was in the nature of an intervention-answered that point, but I will come to that in a moment. I think that I can answer that question.

Although it could be said that matters of significant constitutional change ought to be put to a referendum, many are not. Indeed, there was never a referendum on the Human Rights Act 1998-some people may regret that-the Fixed-term Parliaments Act, the Constitutional Reform Act 2005 or, indeed, if I anticipate the outcome of the debate that is presently taking place, on the future of your Lordships' House. The House of Lords Reform Bill does not anticipate a referendum on that matter in the next Parliament. Therefore, while there appear to be certain broad principles on which academics and others can give evidence, which indicate what is a good candidate for a referendum, ultimately it seems that it comes down to a political judgment. We appear consistently to have exercised this power on the basis of political judgment. It is for this reason that I do not think we can discuss the noble Lord's amendments-I anticipate my noble friend's amendments-in a vacuum from the political environment. We have to defer to the political circumstances that face us during our consideration of this Bill. That is what I invite noble Lords to do.

I suggest that to require a referendum on the devolution of financial powers before the commencement of Part 3 of this Bill would be irrelevant in the present political context. Indeed, I go further-I think it would be irresponsible for the reason that the single fundamental question being posed to the people of Scotland at this time concerns the issue of secession. An additional referendum in this context would only confuse such a debate and distract from the single important question at hand. I understand that the circumstances have changed but we are discussing this matter now and not when we had expected that we would when this Bill was conceived as it emerged out of the Calman commission.

It is important to note that with the exception-it is an impressive exception-of the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, and his shaky alliance with my noble friend Lord Foulkes, there is no political movement at all for any such referendum. There is no clamour for such a referendum in Scotland. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, will say that is because many people in Scotland do not understand the implications of this piece of legislation.