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 8:15 pm on 21st March 2012.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Browne of Ladyton Lord Browne of Ladyton Shadow Spokesperson (Scotland) 8:15 pm, 21st March 2012

Clearly it could be done by the Summer Recess, and that would be my preference. It would be contradictory to issue a consultation document and argue for the resolution of this issue as soon as reasonably practicable and then put practical blocks on that being done because we cannot get through the process here. We in this Parliament have all had experience of dealing with things in an emergency. In the context of Northern Ireland, for example, in order to maintain momentum in the peace process or to respond to circumstances, we have taken legislation through each House in one day. So if there is a will there is a way, and there ought to be a will because this is the most important question that the people of Scotland have ever been asked-or at least since 1707-and, as we have heard repeatedly from noble Lords, it has serious implications for other parts of the United Kingdom. People have lots of investment in this. The Government should treat this as a priority and find a way forward. We have stuck to a timetable that is associated with the consultation that the Scottish Government have issued, and to respect them we must observe that timetable. Beyond that, though, we need to move as quickly as possible.

With regard to the noble Earl's three or four amendments, I think we were all interested in the history lesson that we had about the islands of Orkney and Shetland, the observations about Rockall and indeed the argument about a complementary referendum for the United Kingdom after the Scottish people have had their say, if they determine to leave the United Kingdom. Like other attempts to amend the Bill, the complementary referendum falls down on the next question, which is: if the Scottish people decide to leave and the rest of the United Kingdom wants to keep them, how do you keep them in the United Kingdom? Unless you were going to ask that question, why would you hold the complementary referendum? I listened to my noble friend Lord Reid explaining the necessity for dealing with these issues in series. Many of us who have been in this debate consistently had got to that point a while ago. I read in some of the responses to the consultation attempts to explain this by analogy, but the best analogy that I have heard for this is that if you are a member of a club and you choose to leave, that is a decision for you, but if you are a member of a club and you want to change the rules, that is a decision for all the members of the club. That seems to be common sense. The analogy belongs to Sir Malcolm Rifkind, by the way; maybe he got it from someone else, but he said it to me and I thought, "That's exactly the position".

Consulting all the other members of the club about changing the rules, if that is what we choose to do in future, will be a complicated and difficult process because there is a lot to be done if we enact the Bill. First of all, we have to work out the exact implications of what we have already devolved to the Scottish Parliament. We have learnt a lot in this Committee about Clause 28, which is quite substantial devolution. We have to persuade those people who are good at making up phrases to describe what they want and what it means-they had their opportunity with Calman to come forward and explain what all that meant, and precious few of them appeared-and then find some mechanism beyond the separate party mechanisms of finding an inclusive, all-party process of measuring whether all this is in the best interests of Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. Then perhaps we can decide how we are going to ask for approval from the people of the country for that deal if we come to some recommendation. That, however, is a process for another day; it cannot be done in the context of this Bill.

I shall deal with the noble Earl's other two amendments about the islands. My suspicion was that what lay behind those amendments was oil, which was perhaps doing a disservice to the noble Earl as I listened to him explaining the history of the islands and his knowledge of the island of Rockall and how it was claimed for the United Kingdom. He was quite candid about the issue towards the end of his remarks. I say to him that if that is the intention of any person in relation the Bill, that is not a game that people on these Benches will play. The challenge that we face is to persuade the people of Scotland to stay in the United Kingdom for good, positive future reasons. If we cannot meet that challenge, I will be no part of telling the voters of Scotland that if they vote for independence the UK will take away their oil. Starting down that line would be utterly counterproductive.

I must caution the noble Earl. Whatever the underlying motivation may be for these amendments-respecting the wishes of the people of the high north with regard to the United Kingdom, or the history of the island of Rockall, which is much more chequered and less specific than it first appeared-now that he has linked this issue to oil, I ask him please not to repeat these arguments in Scotland, as they will damage our ability to keep the union together.