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Scotland Bill — Committee (5th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:30 pm on 21st March 2012.

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Photo of Lord Foulkes of Cumnock Lord Foulkes of Cumnock Labour 6:30 pm, 21st March 2012

The noble Lord is anticipating something I am going to say. For once, exceptionally for me, I have written down the argument in some sort of order. I was going to say, before he interrupted me, that we should not rule out such an option if the circumstances made it desirable, or perhaps made it the only acceptable option. That could be because the timing was contrived, in relation to the proposed referendum by the Scottish Parliament, or because we would not succeed because we could not get agreement in relation to a Section 30 order. That is not the preferred option; it is the fall-back position. As I said earlier, the good thing about a referendum organised by the United Kingdom Government would be that it would not only be decisive but it would be legal and would not be open to challenge.

I now come to the other option, which is the proposal of a Section 30 order. I think that is a good arrangement, a clever arrangement and an arrangement that will enable the Scottish Government to legislate for a legal referendum. That would not be likely to be challenged, but it would have to be on an agreed basis. That is why the question raised in our earlier debate about whether the order would be amendable is important. I think the Minister said that, in debating the order, he would consider whether some opportunity might be taken for amendments to be considered. I think that my noble friend Lord Sewel suggested that we might have a debate on a draft order. We may be crossing bridges before we get to them, but that is a good suggestion that would enable us to table amendments.

In this context, the Secretary of State's letter of 20 March to my right honourable friend the Shadow Secretary of State, Margaret Curran, confirms, as did the Minister earlier, that the consultation indicated clear support throughout Scotland for this proposal, including from constitutional experts-the Minister described them earlier-and knowledgeable organisations such as the Law Society of Scotland, the Royal Society of Edinburgh and the British Academy. The Scottish Government have now accepted this, but a Section 30 order still has to be agreed with Scottish Ministers. That is where the difficulty might arise and where the negotiations will be important, where, in the words of the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, we will need to have had our porridge oats, or Scott's Porage Oats. The Minister is negotiating, so that they take a firm line.