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Scotland Bill — Committee (5th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:45 pm on 21st March 2012.

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Photo of Lord Empey Lord Empey UUP 7:45 pm, 21st March 2012

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Williamson of Horton, said that up until his contribution, with the exception of a brief intervention by the noble Lord, Lord Neill of Bladen, no voice other than a Scottish voice had been raised in the debate. I agree entirely with the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Reid of Cardowan, that the Bill and the prospect of independence for Scotland affects substantially everyone in the United Kingdom.

The noble Earl, Lord Caithness, made a point about Rockall which brought a response from the noble Lord, Lord O'Neill, who is not in his place at the moment. I remind the House that in the late 1980s or early 1990s, a would-be politician in the Irish Republic changed his name by deed poll and ended up calling himself Dublin Bay Rockall Loftus. He went to place an Irish flag on Rockall and promised that he would visit the island every year to stake his claim. That gentleman has since passed away but the anecdote illustrates the fact that others claim the island as a base. Of course, the concept of oil and natural gas also arose at that stage. The point is not quite as flippant as some people think; in fact, it could be significant.

The implications for the rest of the United Kingdom are substantial but, sadly, there has been an obsession with the personality of the First Minister in Scotland and we should get away from that. As the hymn writer said:

"Time, like an ever-rolling stream,

Bears all its sons away".

We are thinking here of the long term, of the implications for generations and of the economic implications for the people of Scotland.

However, there are implications for others. For instance, a large part of our energy supply comes through Scotland via pipelines and interconnectors. There is the question, which we discussed last Friday, of access to airports and their status. That is a huge issue for Scotland too, because obviously connectivity is vital to the Scottish economy.

I hope that we can move the debate on to the key issue: that is, what is in the best interests of Scotland? Of course, it is its decision, but let us also take into account that there are implications for the rest of us, some of which have been mentioned. The status of the United Kingdom would be drastically changed in the event of Scotland leaving it. I tabled a Question to the Minister some time ago about what name we would give to Great Britain if Scotland was not part of it. The noble and learned Lord, with his great experience in these matters, answered by saying that he was not expecting such an event to take place. I hope that he is right. Nevertheless, these simple questions are left in the air. We have to go beyond the process and get down to the real issues. What is the economic future for the people of Scotland? What are the implications for the rest of us? I hope the debate can move on to those issues.

I strongly support the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Reid of Cardowan. When we had the referendum in Northern Ireland there was a decision by the United Kingdom to implement the results of the referendum, and that became the Northern Ireland Act 1988. Since then, Parliament has ratified a series of intergovernmental agreements that were politically negotiated. At every stage in that instance, the Irish Government, their Parliament and ours were involved. Every part of the United Kingdom had a say in the arrangements that we were permitted to enter into. That emphasises the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Reid. Yes, a decision on independence is for the people of Scotland. We all have an interest in anything other than that and should have a say in it through our representative Parliament. If that is not possible, there is another route open to us.

The point is well made that if you go beyond the basic, fundamental question of independence, you move into an entirely different area of activities and responsibilities where more than the people of Scotland are affected. As they are our own kith and kin, I sincerely hope that the people of Scotland do not go down that road but we have got to get on to the main issue of the debate-the rights, wrongs and benefits of it. We hope that the people of Scotland, who must be free to make their own decision, reach one that will help strengthen the United Kingdom and not tear it apart. That would weaken all of us. We are stronger together than the sum of the individual parts. Ultimately, I hope that that is the direction that we travel in.

Finally, when the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, was in his place, he pointed out to the Minister that there was an absence of punctuation. I remind the Minister that a speech was made some years ago by the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville-he is not in his place-in which he said that Britain had,

"no selfish strategic or economic interest in Northern Ireland".

The noble Marquess, Lord Lothian, who is also not in his place, proceeded to write a book about that sentence, making the point that we in Northern Ireland took the wrong meaning from it because of the punctuation. That goes to show that when dealing with these matters one has to be extremely careful what one says. The small print and, in this case, the punctuation can be just as important.