European Union (Withdrawal) Bill - Report (5th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:45 pm on 2nd May 2018.

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Photo of Lord Bruce of Bennachie Lord Bruce of Bennachie Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Scotland) 8:45 pm, 2nd May 2018

My Lords, I am comforted by the fact that all of the learned noble Lords who have contributed have acknowledged that this is an extremely complicated situation, one in which there are clearly differences of views. Indeed, the submission that we have had from the Law Society of Scotland took a similar view. However, I also recognise that it is just as well that it is complicated because Clause 11, in its initial format, was brutally simple and wrong. We therefore have got to a position where, after some time, we are now able to debate something that acknowledges the difficulties that Clause 11 originally contained.

Everybody has genuinely welcomed—and should rightly welcome—the progress that has been made, the spirit with which it has been made and the work that has been done to get to a situation which genuinely acknowledges that what we are trying to do is find a decision-making process that carries everybody with us, recognises legitimate interests, but is always left with the elephant in the room, which is, “Where does the buck stop?” Clearly, the buck ultimately stops with the UK because we are a United Kingdom. That, of course, is not entirely acceptable to people who do not believe in the United Kingdom and do not wish it to continue.

It is fair to say that Mike Russell in particular has, on more than one occasion, acknowledged constructive progress and engagement. Indeed, many of us have the view that, left to his own devices, the Scottish Government might have accepted where we are today. The First Minister clearly has not. She has not only sent a letter here to the Lord Speaker, but made fairly—shall we say—lively representations in the Scottish media as to what she thinks is intended. The trouble is that what she said might be legitimately attached to Clause 11 as it was, but it does not legitimately attach to where we are today. That is why the sentiment of this House—and I suspect the sentiment of those people in Scotland who think about it—is that the Scottish Government should be very careful that they do not over-push their position, because Scotland has voted to be in the United Kingdom, is part of the United Kingdom, and recognises that there are shared interests, where we will need to make decisions together. The issue is: how do we find a process that has the trust and confidence and the interests of everybody that can be taken on board?

We might eventually have to talk about a federal constitution; the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, was the only speaker to mention quasi-federalism. We are stumbling towards a federal United Kingdom and we may need to acknowledge that, because federalism would provide a legal framework in which the powers were clearly stated in law and disputes were resolved through a constitutional court.