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Scotland Bill — Committee (5th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:15 pm on 21st March 2012.

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Photo of Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Crossbench 6:15 pm, 21st March 2012

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth of Drumlean, raised one other question in his reading of the Statement. I am very grateful to the Minister for his Statement, and I feel much less pernickety about it than the Committee as a whole seems to do. It is a good thing that this agreement has been reached. A number of demands from the north have been dropped. A number of changes that the Government propose to make seem to me perfectly earnestful. The reason why it has been possible to negotiate this successfully is that everyone has decided that it is de minimis-it really does not change the price of fish. That is the trouble with the Bill: it does not attack the real issues.

The noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, referred to the sentence in the Statement in which we are told:

"The Government is open to considering what further powers might be devolved after a referendum on independence".

The noble Lord asked how we should construe that sentence. Scots are good at punctuation. There is no punctuation in that sentence. That, I take it, means, "We are open to considering now, today". It does not mean, "We are open to considering what further powers might be devolved, after a referendum". The Minister had a good Scottish education, so I am convinced that I am reading this correctly. That seems to me to be a move from the porridge oats speech, where I think the punctuation included a comma. Am I right? Am I reading this correctly?

Secondly, what mode are we in? The porridge oats man is very muscular. He is very active.

"The Government is open to considering", suggests to me a rather passive role. The Government will sit there and if anyone turns up with an idea, they may look at it. Are we active or passive? I think that the porridge oats position, the punctuated position, is impossible-after there has been a referendum, then we will consider what more you might get. Scots have long memories. It will not work; that is an unsustainable position. Therefore, I am very glad to see no punctuation in that statement. Are we actively to define what further measure of devolution would be feasible, or are we to leave it to others to devise devo-maxes, devo- pluses and devo this, that and the other? I feel that there is a strong case in logic for being clear before an independence referendum about what would be on offer after it.