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Scotland Bill — Committee (5th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:38 pm on 21st March 2012.

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Photo of Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Conservative 3:38 pm, 21st March 2012

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Wallace of Tankerness for the Written Statement and for circulating the copy of the letter from the Secretary of State. However, without being churlish, I should like to complain in the strongest possible terms about the way in which this legislation is being handled. We agreed to defer the consideration of those parts of the Bill which relate to referendum amendments until after the consultation process had been completed. Your Lordships will recall that we were considering the Bill in Committee when, out of the blue, came the consultation paper, to which responses were required by 9 March. Therefore, we agreed to consider the Bill so that we would be able to debate the issues arising from the referendum on independence with the knowledge of what had happened during the consultation process. As a result of that, the Bill, although it has been before Parliament for well over a year, is being considered right at the end of the Session, so we also agreed that the normal period between Committee stage and Report stage would be truncated.

This afternoon, we are now faced with a two-page letter from the Secretary of State, which tells us very little about the consultation paper but tells us, as my noble friend has just said, that,

"tomorrow's debate in the House of Lords"- that is today's debate-

"is as well informed as possible, with the need to provide Parliament with a full and detailed analysis of the consultation in due course".

When I was a Minister, "in due course" meant six months. We shall have to consider the Report stage of this Bill on Monday and Wednesday and, therefore, the only opportunity that we have to table amendments which relate to the first parts of the Bill is tomorrow. There is absolutely no time for us to take account of the consultation. I very much hope that my noble friend will impress on his colleague, the Secretary of State for Scotland, that it really is unacceptable that we should go into Report stage on Monday without a full analysis and full information relating to the consultation process and an indication of where the Government stand on this. To add a little zest to that, perhaps I may give notice that, in the absence of that undertaking, I will table a Motion for Monday to provide for that.

I turn to my second point which relates to something that is quite unacceptable. I am not being critical here of my noble friend as I know he is the messenger in this respect-I should have said my noble and learned friend; indeed, I may have played some small part in that, but that is another story-and I realise that he is taking the Bill through the House with great courtesy and skill. However, in earlier consideration of these matters, when we raised the issue of legislative consent and whether the Scottish Parliament was giving legislative consent, we were not informed of what we are now informed of: that the Government have done a deal with the Scottish Government, that the concessions made are very extensive, and that they relate to this Bill. Again, we are being told that amendments will be tabled by the Government. Presumably, these amendments will be tabled tomorrow and, therefore, there will little opportunity for us to consider them. However, I have taken the measure of placing a new amendment on the Marshalled List for today which will give us an opportunity to discuss at least some of the issues set out in the Written Ministerial Statement to which my noble and learned friend referred.

In short, this is a major constitutional Bill which has huge implications for people in Scotland and huge implications for people in the rest of the United Kingdom. The way in which the parliamentary process has been handled has limited our opportunity. I have to say to my noble and learned friend that his right honourable friend has treated this House with a degree of contempt. He knew that we were delaying these proceedings to deal with the consultation process, and to give us such a cursory analysis of the consultation, at the very last minute, at 11 o'clock on the day, makes it impossible for us to have a fully informed debate. Therefore, I am not going to spend any time this afternoon discussing the referendum issues. I shall leave that until Monday. Furthermore, I was told at lunchtime today that on Monday there is to be new business which will be tabled to be discussed before the Scotland Bill, so once again our time for consideration of the Bill is being curtailed.

The behaviour of Ministers towards this House is one of the most persuasive arguments I have ever seen for devolution. We are not giving the proper consideration that we should give to a major constitutional Bill with enormous implications.