United Kingdom: The Union - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:07 pm on 23rd June 2022.

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Photo of Lord Cormack Lord Cormack Conservative 4:07 pm, 23rd June 2022

My Lords, it is a real honour and privilege to follow the right reverend Prelate’s short but moving speech. This is a bittersweet moment for us all because, as he said, he has been with us for only two years. It is less than two years since he made his maiden speech, which I read again this morning. It was referred to then by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, who followed the right reverend Prelate, as

“a thoughtful and exemplary maiden speech”.—[Official Report, 8/9/20; col. 687.]

It clearly was.

This afternoon, we have heard an exemplary valedictory speech from a man who is both genuinely humble and totally determined. He really does live his faith, both in his diocese and here. He has led us in Prayers every day this week. He will be much missed because, although he has been with us for such a short time, he has made it plain that he is a campaigning bishop who is passionate about Christians and those of other faiths who are being persecuted around the world. We will long remember him. I wish him every possible happiness and success; I know that I speak for the whole House in saying that. He will now have more time for gardening, reading, cycling, DIY and the other things he lists as his recreations in Who’s Who and Dod’s. Godspeed—come back and see us often.

It is a privilege to speak in this debate. I thank and congratulate my long-time friend and noble friend Lord Lisvane, who was such a wonderful clerk of the other place and who has made this one of his subjects. I want to concentrate on two aspects. I was one of those who fought against devolution, with George Thomas in Wales in the early 1970s and the late, great Tam Dalyell, my great friend; I had the privilege of giving an address at his memorial service. Both of them strongly and passionately believed that devolution would weaken the unity of the United Kingdom.

We lost that battle and devolution has happened. We must, of course, do all we can to make it work, but we have to recognise that there is one fundamental problem. One of the nations of the United Kingdom, Scotland, has had a Government for many years now who are utterly determined on independence. They are not really interested in working together to make the United Kingdom a success because they are passionately keen to have an independent Scotland—they have every right to their views. What can we do about that?

I want to put one idea to your Lordships’ House. We have had a lead recently from our Lord Speaker, who has been liaising with the Presiding Officers in Edinburgh and Cardiff, and the Speaker in Belfast. I believe we should build on that as a United Kingdom Parliament. I agree with everything my noble friend Lord Strathclyde said about the desirability of having a Scottish equivalent of the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, in this House, but I hope we can try to have a working group of Peers and Members of the other place, and elected Members of the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Senedd and the Northern Ireland Assembly. What is of absolute importance, whatever the ultimate future, is the united prosperity of the United Kingdom. I believe that the elected representatives and your Lordships’ House can make a contribution.

One of the things I have valued about this place in my nearly 12 years here has been the way in which, in spite of all the tensions of Brexit, which have been unpleasant on occasions, we in your Lordships’ House disagree agreeably rather more effectively than in other places. I hope we can perhaps, with that accumulated wisdom for which we are supposed to be renowned, try to take a lead in bringing together parliamentarians from around the United Kingdom to see whether we can find a way forward in this very difficult time. After all, we could face a European or a world war within the next two years. We face terrible economic strains and difficulties, partly as a consequence of that war. We have a duty to those on whose behalf we seek to work to try to preserve prosperity, unity and peace. That is the prime duty of us all, whether we sit in Edinburgh, Cardiff, Belfast or Westminster.

I hope that, following this debate, we can try to bring together a group of parliamentarians who will work for this prosperity. My noble friend Lord Lisvane, as a former clerk of the other place, would be well placed to do so. Then, if in due course a referendum comes, as it might well, I will fight with my son in Scotland—we are a united family—to keep the United Kingdom, but at least I would hope to do so against a background of prosperity, not of fractious division. I hope that is how we can work.