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Scotland Bill — Committee (5th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:15 pm on 21st March 2012.

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Photo of Lord Williamson of Horton Lord Williamson of Horton Crossbench 7:15 pm, 21st March 2012

My Lords, I have sat through the three and a half hours of this debate. Fortunately, Hansard records our words but not our accents. If it did, it would have to have a little asterisk against mine because, apart from a very brief intervention by my noble friend Lord Neill, I am the only person with a non-Scottish accent who has participated in the debate.

I shall make one point, but it will be quite short. I thank the Minister for what he said in clarifying the Government's position. It is extremely important. In so far as conditions are going to be set for the referendum in the way in which it is presented in the Section 30 Order in Council, it is extremely important that when we finalise that position, we still carry the support, trust and confidence of the people of the other countries of the United Kingdom that the referendum will be fairly drawn up and monitored. There is more than one party to this referendum. There are the Scottish people and there are the people of the United Kingdom as a whole, and confidence in the political process is important.

For that reason, I will say briefly that although these issues are going to turn up-as we know now, in the Section 30 Order in Council and not in this Bill-none the less the points that are raised in the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, and that also arise in his Amendment 94C are extremely important. I emphasise that it is extremely important that we stand by the points that are set out in these amendments. The first is that we are talking about whether Scotland should become independent of the rest of the United Kingdom. There must be a clear question on the ballot paper and in the order. The referendum must be carried out in accordance with the provisions of the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act 2011 and the draft must be laid before each House of Parliament. The two further points in Amendment 94C seem to be extremely important. The timing must be made quite clear. It cannot be left ambiguous. The question must be equally explicit. I think that the question that the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes of Cumnock, has put forward in that amendment is excellent.

We need to stick to these points, although I have this terrible feeling, based on a long period in public life, that when we come to negotiations-and there will be negotiations in relation to this Order in Council-gradually a little change will come in. It will not be exactly as it started off, and by the time we get to the end we may find that we are not carrying fully the confidence of all the people of the United Kingdom. Those four points are extremely important to me. They are negotiating points that we need to stick to. We have to be extremely careful that we do not just fade away into something that is much too mushy. We need to stick to the clear points that we have often discussed here. They are extremely valuable and must be carried into the Order in Council.