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Scotland Bill — Committee (5th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:45 pm on 21st March 2012.

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Photo of Lord Foulkes of Cumnock Lord Foulkes of Cumnock Labour 5:45 pm, 21st March 2012

My Lords, I welcome the fact that a legislative consent Motion has been agreed. I also welcome its terms; I mentioned that earlier, and we may have the opportunity to discuss it later on. However, I want to refer briefly to the very important point made by the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, almost as an aside in his introduction. It was about the speed by which this legislative consent Motion was agreed within the Scottish Executive.

At the end of this week, I am going to one of the most newly independent countries to talk about its request for accession to the European Union. The EU has made it clear to that country that it will not get membership-I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, knows exactly what I am taking about-until it can show that there is a clear separation of powers between the legislature, the Executive and the judiciary. It is right that the EU should impose that condition upon the application, and we are going to discuss it and what needs to be done to change the arrangements in the country's constitution.

It occurs to me now that the situation in Scotland, which has come about because of a series of events, is presided over by someone chosen by the First Minister, and that there are committees-my noble friend Lord McConnell knows more about this than any of us, and I know that the noble Lord, Lord Steel, has looked at it carefully-which were supposed to be the checks on legislation as it went through and to challenge and question what the Executive were doing, as indeed they did until the most recent election in Scotland. These committees have SNP majorities. With committees here, where there is a government majority in the House of Commons among committee members, we get a degree of independence and challenge to the Executive. There is none of that in Scotland now.

Even here in the Cabinet-if the situation is still the same, and I understand that it is-before agreement is finally reached, a letter or memorandum is sent around the various departments concerned, agreement has to be reached by the department and there is some consensus. That takes time and some thought. In Scotland now, all it needs is for one man to make a decision that something will happen and it is automatically agreed by his Cabinet and Executive, which are beholden to him, and by his legislature, which is also beholden to him. That is not good for democracy. It would not be acceptable if an independent Scotland applied for membership of the European Union, which is another reason that could rule it out. That situation is very worrying and something that we have not really addressed in this Committee but should have done at some point.

Apropos this concern, I said jokingly in a tweet yesterday-the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, laughs, but this is a modern form of communication and even people of my age have to get used to it-that Scotland might need a second Chamber, and I referred to it mischievously, as I have done before, as a "House of Lairds", which is just a name for it. I was not suggesting that the hereditary Peers from Scotland should be recalled for that purpose-certainly not the noble Earl, Lord Erroll, for example, but that is another story. Interestingly, from a number of people on Twitter who do not normally agree with me I had a lot of agreement; they are genuinely worried that there is no check and balance on what is decided by the Scottish Executive. This issue is worrying, and it is time that those of us from Scotland who are concerned about Scottish democracy paid some attention to it.