Scotland Bill — Third Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:32 pm on 21st March 2016.

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Photo of Lord Steel of Aikwood Lord Steel of Aikwood Liberal Democrat 4:32 pm, 21st March 2016

My Lords, I do not want to detain the House for more than a moment, but the passing of this Act by the House today is a major step in the history of Scotland. Donald Dewar was fond of repeating that devolution was not an event but a process, and so it has proved to be—and I have no doubt will continue to prove to be. This Act completes a process begun correctly in the original Scotland Act 1998. However, as I said at the time, that Act created a Parliament with substantial powers over expenditure but no responsibility for raising any of the money that it spent. This change is therefore of major significance and brings us closer to a quasi-federal relationship in Britain—closer in fact to the ideas in the Solemn League and Covenant way back in 1643.

In his magisterial new book Independence or Union, Professor Tom Devine says that his own preferred choice in the referendum,

“would have been to support a more powerful Scottish Parliament via some form of enhanced devolution. That opinion was in the end not available in the wording of the referendum. Many of those who thought like me were effectively disenfranchised”.

That is what we have delivered and I believe that it now accords with the views of the majority of Scots, recognising as they do that we had a lucky escape in the referendum following the collapse of the global oil price.

That is nothing new. We have always been interdependent in these countries. One of our greatest Secretaries of State, Tom Johnston, put it thus during the great depression:

“What purpose would there be in our getting a Scottish parliament in Edinburgh if it has to administer an emigration system, a glorified poor law and a desert?”.

We needed the strength of the United Kingdom then and we need it now. This Act creates an obligation and indeed an expectation that our two Governments will act together in the best interests of our people. That means that Ministers such as George Osborne need to abandon silly anti-nationalist rhetoric when dealing seriously with annual budgets and that the SNP need to stop blaming London for every one of its own shortcomings. Scottish people expect better than that and this Act provides a sensible foundation for the way forward.

I have one final thought. We in this House have been able to adjust and improve the Bill since it left the Commons. We have had to do that without the assistance of the SNP, which continues its absence from this institution. I hope that that may change, not least so that it can join in the efforts to reform this Chamber and make it even more of a sounding board for the United Kingdom as a whole.

Bill passed and returned to the Commons with amendments.