We need your support to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can continue to hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

Scotland Bill — Committee (5th Day)

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

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Conservative 7:15 pm, 21st March 2012

Yes, I just wondered who dictated it. I am sure it is the noble Lord's own work; it is just that it is such a change of position in such a short time. We have discussed this ad nauseam and it is perfectly clear that there is agreement in this House that there should be one question and that the referendum should be conducted by the Electoral Commission and no one else.

I like the question that is in the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, but I am perfectly content for that question to be determined by the Electoral Commission. That is where we may end up. My preference would be for it to be decided by the Government, but I can see how that would create difficulties. The important point is that this whole process needs to be regulated by the Electoral Commission and needs to be conducted under the rules that have been established in statute for the conduct of referenda. I am very happy not to move my amendment and not to spend any more time talking about referenda in the context of this Bill, because this Bill is clearly not going to be used as the vehicle.

My noble and learned friend has been brilliant in his negotiations with Mr Alex Salmond, but I am not absolutely persuaded that Mr Alex Salmond is going to agree to a Section 30 procedure that meets all the criteria. The point that was made by the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, really needs to be taken into account. We do not want any shilly-shallying or giving way on these important points of substance. This is very important.

Mr Salmond does not want to have a referendum on independence because he knows that he will lose, and I am anxious that my noble and learned friend may be optimistic about reaching agreement. However, given his track record, he may well be able to reach agreement: in which case, fine. If he is not able to reach agreement, we will have to have a referendum Bill in the next Session of Parliament that delivers these things. I regret that, because unless there is agreement between the Front Benches to take this through the House reasonably speedily we will have another six or seven months of arguing about process, about the question and about who should run it, whereas I want the debate to be about what happens to Scotland's young people, the jobless, our businesses, our defence, people's pensions, and our country as a United Kingdom.

If we are going to go down this track, I very much hope that the negotiations will not be particularly extended. I believe in competition but, honestly, competition between consultation papers is a bit rich. The Scottish Government's consultation finishes in May. If this is the route that we are going to go down, let us hope that, at a reasonably early stage in the new Session of Parliament, either we will have reached agreement with the Scottish Government on using Section 30 or the Government will have brought forward a Bill that is taken through both Houses speedily and delivers the opportunity for a decision to be made. I would have preferred it if we had used this Bill to achieve that because we could have got on with it, but given the Government's Statement and the fact that we have to deal with all amendments by next Wednesday, it is perfectly apparent that that is not going to happen. I am content not to press my amendment.