HL Deb 09 November 1998 vol 594 cc609-20


The Forestry Commission.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, largely due to an oversight on my part the issue of forestry was not debated in Committee. The amendment moved in my name at Report stage was withdrawn for other reasons. At this time of night I do not want to pursue the matter other than to say that it is an important one. Many of us interested in forestry are puzzled as to how the Forestry Commission will operate. I do not believe that there are any other forestry experts in your Lordships' House at this time of night. I shall be content with an assurance from the Minister that he will write to me to say how he sees the Forestry Commission operating in its new devolved form and yet still carrying on as one body, as a UK Forestry Commission structure. Perhaps he would put his reply in the Library so that noble Lords who are also interested in forestry will have a chance to see what the noble Lord has to say, as the current UK forestry Minister, about the way in which the Forestry Commission is to be split up and yet carry on as one body. I could make a long speech, but at this time of night what I have said may be a good start. I beg to move.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, I am not a forestry expert despite having grown and cut down trees and done a number of other things like that. It is absolute nonsense to believe that forestry concerns could not be dealt with by a Scottish parliament. I know that there will be co-ordination difficulties, but they can be overcome. Certainly it should not be a reserved subject.

Lord Renton

My Lords, I am not a forestry expert, but I have a family interest to disclose as regards a property that I turned into a discretionary trust. It is very important that we have clarity in this matter. The Forestry Commission has acted on a United Kingdom basis and it has been financed by the United Kingdom.

It has been extremely active in south-west Scotland. In that part of the United Kingdom it has covered more acres than anywhere else. In some ways they seem a little remote at times, and at other times it is convenient to be able to get in touch with the local manager. However, we have to look at the subject from a national point of view. From that point of view, it is better that the matter should be reserved for the United Kingdom.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

My Lords, I should like to agree with my noble friend Lord Renton. If the Minister is to write to my noble friend on the Front Bench and also put a copy in the Library, perhaps he could send copies to those of us who have joined in the debate tonight. How the Forestry Commission is to operate is a matter of great importance. It is a huge industry. It matters enormously to Scotland and to the rest of the United Kingdom. We are very concerned about the mechanics.

Lord Hardy of Wath

My Lords, perhaps I may ask my noble friend, while he is taking account of the argument advanced by the noble Lord, Lord Mackie, whether he will bear in mind that a few years ago I recall being reprimanded in the House of Commons when I asked questions about English forestry of the Scottish Secretary of State. I had to point out to Mr. Speaker that it was the only way in which an English Member of Parliament could pursue English forestry questions. I have every faith that the arrangement which emerges will be splendid, but I hope that in that arrangement there will be adequate opportunity, both in this House and in the other place, for English Members to ask questions about English forestry.

Lord Sanderson of Bowden

My Lords, having been a forestry Minister, I have some sympathy with the Government on this point. I believe that there is a way through so that the Scottish trees can be administered by the Scottish parliament. That does not mean to say that the difficulties of the Forestry Commission are overcome, but perhaps the noble Lord would be kind enough to let us know how it will work and then I shall be a lot wiser than I am at the moment.

Lord Sewel

My Lords, I shall be more than happy to write to all noble Lords who have spoken in the debate, outlining the way in which we see the Forestry Commission working. I shall not make a long speech this evening. Basically, the matter can be summed up fairly simply. Forestry is a devolved function. Legislative competence devolves to the Scottish parliament. The Forestry Commission is seen as continuing as a cross-Border GB body and not a UK body. That will mean that the Forestry Commission will deliver forestry policy set by the Scottish parliament and the Scottish executive. Effectively, the Forestry Commission will prepare and work to a Scottish corporate plan and Scottish Ministers will be able to give direction to the Forestry Commission for forestry in Scotland.

In essence, forestry in England, Scotland and Wales will have the opportunity to be developed and delivered in a way which will perhaps be more sensitive to the priorities in the three countries. I should imagine, for example, that in Scotland commercial forestry would be of greater salience than perhaps will be the case throughout most of England. We are going down this road in order to recognise the diversity involved in forestry policy and bring it closer to the priorities of the constituent countries.

Lord Selkirk of Douglas

My Lords, will the Minister cover in his letter whether the headquarters of the Forestry Commission will remain in Scotland?

Lord Sewel

My Lords, I do not know whether I can cover that in my letter. That is something that at any stage can be decided one way or the other. It is not something that is fixed for all time.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister. It was my fault that I took my eye off this particular ball in Committee. Clearly, judging by the number of noble Lords who have intervened, we could have had an interesting debate. Given the position of the hands of the clock and the stage of the Bill, it would not be fruitful to debate the matter now. I hope when the noble Lord replies to me and sends copies to noble Lords who have spoken that he will also address the question of the users of forestry. It is not just the planting that has to be looked at on a Scotland and on a UK basis but also the users. I look forward to the letter from the Minister, and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

10 p.m.

[Amendment No. 77 not moved.]

Schedule 7 [Procedure for subordinate legislation]:

Lord Hardie moved Amendment No. 78:

Page 99, line 22, at end insert—

("Section 71(4B) Type K")

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Schedule 9 [Repeals]:

[Amendment No. 79 not moved.]

Lord Sewel

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill do now pass. On the little rubric that I have it says, "If you make a speech", and that is underlined. On this occasion, I believe that that is an invitation not to make much of a speech, and I do not intend to do so.

This is a truly historic occasion. Apart from what may be a little local difficulty later, we have reached the end of the parliamentary process of establishing a Scottish parliament. That is a milestone. It is some five months ago since I introduced this Bill into your Lordships' House. For many of us, the road has been a lot longer than five months. In my case, it goes back something like 20 years and more. I know that some have joined the road at a later stage but there is nothing wrong with that.

We have made good progress with this Bill. I understand that we have spent nearly 104 hours deliberating on it. Indeed, the rough calculation is that more than 1 million words have been spoken in addressing the various points at issue during the course of our debates.

The Bill establishes in Scotland a parliament for Scotland which will have real powers over those matters of public policy which are of most direct importance and relevance to the people of Scotland. That is good and right. We have established also a fair electoral system. In many ways, it is a ground-breaking electoral system to make sure that the interests in Scotland are properly and adequately represented.

We are now on the point of bringing into law a parliament which will serve the people of Scotland in a way which will enable legislation in the devolved areas to be more responsive to the needs, priorities and values of Scotland. That in itself is an enormous advance.

I wish to say something about the way in which we have considered the Bill. When I introduced it on Second Reading, I said that the Government would listen; that they would take account of the arguments they heard from all Benches in the House and that, if they were convinced of their value and merit, they should seek to incorporate them into the Bill. We have been as good as our word. We have listened and, on a number of occasions, we have been able to come forward with modifications and amendments to the Bill which have strengthened and improved it. I wish to give credit to all those who have helped in that process.

A great value of the Bill has been the way in which it has been discussed; namely, in a constructive and good-humoured way. There has been no sense of negativism or obstruction in the way that noble Lords have come to the Bill. There has been a great deal of challenge as we have argued points backwards and forwards. That is the way it should be. That is the way we do our business, and rightly so. There has also been quite a bit of fun and enjoyment along the way.

I do not wish to go through the list of all those who have contributed to our debates. However, I obviously recognise and thank the Mackay twins, who have always been up to the mark. Similarly, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood. If only he had not turned left when he was approaching Johannesburg, he might be with us today. Whether he will actually make it to the Scottish parliament is most likely not a matter of losing direction. Something else may intervene there.

I thank the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, and the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, for their contributions, together with the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, and the noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie. On the main Opposition Benches, I thank the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk of Douglas, and the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy of Lour. I thank too the scrutineer of all parliamentary legislation, the noble Earl, Lord Balfour. I thank also the noble Lord, Lord Renton, who always keeps us on our toes and, on the Cross-Benches, the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun of Abernethy.

This has been a great parliamentary experience. All noble Lords who contributed to our debates brought something to them. I say in all humility that we ended up with a better Bill than we were given to begin with. That is a credit to individuals and to the House collectively. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill do now pass.—(Lord Sewel.)

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, from these Benches there is unalloyed joy that this Bill is now coming on to the statute book. My record in this is that since 1950—the first election in which I took part—I have been advocating a Scottish parliament for Scottish affairs within and co-operating with the United Kingdom. The grandfather of my noble friend Lord Thurso was advocating a Scottish parliament back in the 1920s and the 1930s. Indeed, it has been part of Liberal policy. The Labour Party advocated a Scottish parliament, but dropped it for a while. However, they came back to the fold. The joy of someone returned is very great, whether or not they bring with them a fatted calf.

The Minister referred to my noble friend Lord Steel of Aikwood and his part in this. But he and the noble Baroness laboured for years in the constitutional assembly to produce the framework we followed in this Bill. I have heard people express fears, and exaggerated fears, that it will all lead to a rush of independence; that we will all split apart and so forth. But the Scots people are far too sensible. I find that many people who would never dream of standing for Westminster—people of quality and position—want to stand for a Scottish parliament. They want to do so because it is part of their background and they feel that they can do some good there. That is what devolution of power does.

This is a sensible Bill. It has been improved even by the doubting Thomases. In fact, the doubting Thomases—the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Drumadoon—contributed greatly to the good sense at the end and occasionally greatly to my boredom; but taken on the whole, they have done admirable work in spite of their opposition at the start to the whole concept.

I have enjoyed all the debates. They probed properly. The Government rightly and properly gave way on certain matters, notably to the lawyers, whom I think for once were talking sense. The Bill has been greatly improved by many interventions from a whole lot of people. I am extremely happy with it. We on these Benches are happy with it. We know that there may be troubles and difficulties ahead, but good will come from this Bill.

Lord Forbes

My Lords, I confess that I have never been enthusiastic about devolution for Scotland for the simple reason that it will probably lead to friction between Westminster and Edinburgh. The last thing that we want is conflict between England and Scotland. However, we are about to get devolution and I wish it well. I hope that it will work. If it does not work, if it leads to separation, the Government will never be forgiven because our strength is in the United Kingdom. Never must that unity be broken.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

My Lords, although noble Lords sitting around me on the Back Benches do not want to say anything, perhaps I may say a brief word.

The noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, who is not in his place today, commented on several occasions that he was surprised that Scottish Peers on the Conservative Benches, although fearful that the Bill might well turn out to have problems for Scotland within the United Kingdom, have in fact sought to strengthen rather than weaken it. I do not think that the noble Lord should have been surprised. We have, indeed, tried to strengthen the Bill.

We have spent many hours concentrating on the arguments, joining in and assisting. We have all tried to amend the Bill so that it will work better and more smoothly; so that the considerable potential for conflict between Holyrood and Westminster will be reduced and so that the new arrangements will work as smoothly as possible. I think we have succeeded, but I believe there are considerable areas with which the Scottish National Party at any rate will make great play and may make great trouble. What Scotland needs now is a Bill that works well and to the satisfaction of the people of Scotland so that they are not easily persuaded that they want to leave the United Kingdom. We have tried to achieve that.

From these Back Benches, I must particularly thank and congratulate, first and foremost, the members of my own Front Bench: my noble friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Drumadoon and particularly my noble and learned friend Lord Fraser of Carmyllie. They have done a great deal of work in preparing and speaking to amendments. I believe that from time to time they have been sorely tried, but they have never lost their cool or sense of humour. We all admire that.

The noble Lord, Lord Sewel, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hardie, and the noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay of Cartvale, have kept their cool too and we admire that also. It must have been very trying. They had instructions to change mighty little. I am not sure whether they always agreed with their political masters down the corridor. If they did not, it must have been even more difficult. Again, we admire that. They have persuaded the Government to make a number of changes that improve the Bill. However, there are still many controversial areas which may give trouble in the future. I thank them for their courtesy and patience to us all. Some of us are not as good at this as others. Those of us who are still very amateurish after many years in this House—I include myself—appreciate their patience.

It is now for the people of Scotland to accept this Bill and to do what they will with it. I, for one, hope that they will make a great success of it. I shall not play a part in trying to do anything to obstruct that. I am grateful to have taken part in the passage of the Bill. I feel that we have been taking part in an historic occasion.

Lord Brightman

My Lords, perhaps I may take a brief moment of your Lordships' time to commend the inclusion in the Bill of Clause 127 on page 61. This clause is an index of the 69 words and expressions used throughout the Bill which have a special meaning elsewhere in the Bill. As your Lordships will see, the left-hand column on page 61 enumerates all the specially defined words and expressions, whereas the right hand column simply states the number of the clause containing the definition. That device is not often used by draftsmen but an index is of immense value, not only to lawyers but also to all officials and laypersons concerned with the legislation.

Perhaps I may give your Lordships an example of the value of an index in this Bill. Clause 107 states the remedial action available if an Act of the Scottish parliament is not, within the legislative competence of the Parliament". Something outside the legislative competence of the Scottish parliament sounds an easily understood situation; namely, a Scottish Act which mistakenly deals with a reserved matter. However, the careful reader will wish to know whether the expression has a wider meaning and, if so, in what section of the legislation that meaning is to be found. Clause 127 will tell the reader at a glance that "legislative competence" has indeed a special meaning. The clause will direct the reader to Clause 29 where he will find that the expression relates to four other subject matters and not merely to reserved matters.

An index of defined expressions is a wonderful time saver in the case of a long Bill. Unfortunately, it is not put in a long Bill as often as one would wish. I hope that this user-friendly device will continue to find favour in the next Session of Parliament and be more widely used in drafting.

10.15 p.m.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, perhaps I may begin by thanking especially my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Drumadoon not only for taking, I suppose, half of the Bill—certainly all the legal and rather complicated constitutional parts—but also for all the work he did in scrutinising the legislation beforehand and in devising many of our amendments. I am deeply grateful to him. Indeed, I must say that the number of changes made to the Bill is a tribute to his record as regards the number of hits he achieved. I should also like to thank my noble friend Lord Courtown, who is the Whip in these matters and, as always, is silent but helpful and, indeed, keeps me in order.

Like others, I too should like to thank the three Ministers involved in the Bill. The noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay, and myself are old sparring partners from our Glasgow university days. It was a pleasure to be sparring with her again. All three Ministers answered our questions—that is, after the first rather uncertain day—courteously and in some detail. They also sent me a fair number of letters. I suppose that one should add the officials to our thanks because, at one stage, I thought that the entire post of the Scottish Office was directed at me, but perhaps others were also receiving correspondence. I should like to congratulate the three Ministers in particular, because the lack of support from those sitting behind them as day succeeded day was, I believe, very obvious—except in the Division Lobbies on three occasions.

The tribute to what your Lordships have done must be in the something like 350 government amendments which will now make their way down the Corridor when we release the Bill. My understanding from the gossip down the Corridor is that the Commons will have to consider something in the order of 180 groups of amendments. I shall not say that the Bill was ill considered, and so on. Clearly, what happened here was the government Ministers were prepared to listen to the arguments put forward and accept them, sometimes in whole and sometimes in part, and then come forward in many cases with their own amendments either entirely taking on board or partly taking on board what we were saying. In some cases the debate stimulated here caused them to think about other matters in the Bill and bring forward amendments which we had not addressed. That is a tribute to your Lordships' House.

I was about to be a little less charitable to the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, but after the kind things he said about the Mackay twins I shall draw back a little. Just occasionally—as he admitted—he showed some impatience at our probing and at our amendments. Sometimes I thought that if this had been left to the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, the Committee stage would have lasted half a day and the Report stage a quarter of a day. Dare I say to the noble Lord, Lord Mackie, that I do not believe we would have made the improvements we did if we had proceeded in that way?

We have made a fair number of amendments. I attempted to list them. I shall not read them all out but I believe that the rules on residency could prove important if the parliament ever decides to use the Scottish variable rate. The assurances we received on the SVR and pension contributions were important. My noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Drumadoon spoke in debates which led to some useful and—so far as the parliament is concerned—important amendments as regards the competence and privilege of the parliament. My noble and learned friend Lord Fraser of Carmyllie was also involved on that issue.

The Government's acceptance that the Speaker and his deputy should not belong to the one party was a useful measure. I refer also to the protection gained today for Ministers of the Crown and the acceptance that Ministers in this Parliament cannot be Ministers in Scotland. That is an important step forward. All these things arose from the debates we have had. Not only my noble and learned friend and myself took part in these debates but also all my noble friends behind me took particular interest in these debates. It is fair to say that my noble friends and other noble Lords elsewhere in the House who come from Scotland gave this Bill the kind of scrutiny that it certainly deserved. While many of us are unsure about what may happen in the future we all took part in the discussions in a positive spirit given the election result and given the referendum result.

We look forward to seeing what the Government will do with the 129 members. I very much hope that the other place will appreciate the points that we have made. I do not want to repeat what was said but I believe that if the Bill remains the way it is—or, rather, the way it was, as the Government tried to restore it—they will be stoking up trouble in the future for the Scottish parliament, the Labour Party, the Liberal Democrats and ourselves. The only beneficiaries will be the Scottish Nationalists. I certainly hope that the Government take that into account.

The judges can speak for themselves on the amendment that they made in their impressive manner. Again I hope that the Government will listen to their concerns. I hope that there will be pre-legislative scrutiny. I think that, if anything demonstrates the need for pre-legislative scrutiny, it is the 350 government amendments made to this Bill. I think that we can be pleased with what we have done. However, as the Bill leaves your Lordships' House for the other place I have to say that I watch it launched to the next stage and towards next May with both my hands behind my back and my fingers firmly crossed because, despite all the good nature shown on this Bill and the way we have tried to co-operate, I am still not convinced that this is not the start of the unbundling of the UK. I am still not convinced because George Robertson's phrase that devolution would kill the SNP stone dead has not come to pass. There is no sign of that yet; quite the contrary is the case.

The governing party will now have to defend the new Union. They are the people in a leading position in Scottish politics who will have to defend the new Union. They will have to change their tune markedly from the one they have played over the past 18 years. We heard a little of that today from the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, on the Liberal Democrat Benches, who harked back to the theme that the Conservatives have no mandate to govern Scotland. That is the kind of language that the governing party will now have to forsake absolutely and completely, otherwise they will continue to play the Nationalists' tune, which they played to their advantage and to the Conservative Party's disadvantage but also to the advantage of the Scottish National Party. They are going to have to drop easy phrases such as the one they devised for my noble friend Lady Thatcher; that she was an Englishwoman with no mandate in Scotland. They are going to have to forget that kind of language and to forget the kind of language they used against my noble friend Lord Lang when he was Secretary of State.

I must say to them that from my experience of being a member of the party defending the Union that they are going to have to do better than the Chancellor of the Exchequer did last week, because while it might have been a perfectly good argument in the 1970s to say that independence would lead to customs barriers, to extra costs and barriers against trade with England, it certainly is not true now when in fact we are in the European Union. Whatever happens in Scotland we will all continue to be in the European Union and there will not be trading barriers—"new and costly barriers", as the Chancellor called them. Nor, especially coming from the Chancellor, who is so much in favour of the single currency, can you really pray in aid financial transactions in different currencies, because these currency differences may not exist a few years down the line, whatever I or my party may think.

Really this kind of stuff, coming from the Chancellor and from Mrs. Liddell, will not aid the Government in their defence of the Union. If they will take that piece of advice in the genuine spirit in which it is given from somebody who has attempted to defend the Union against the Scottish National Party over very many years and, frankly, also against the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrat Party, at some stages over the last 20 years, then I believe that we might keep the Union together.

What we have to argue is that in this island we have a common heritage, we have a common language and a common culture. Even on the 11th of November, do I have to say we have a common history? We share all those things in this small island. We have intertwined economies and intertwined personal and family relationships. These must be the arguments that we all put forward if we want this devolved system to work and if we do not want to see the Scottish National Party gain advantage and unbundle the Union. As I say, the arguments put forward by the Chancellor and his friends recently simply will not do. New arguments have to be the arguments that are brought forward. I say to the Government that if they use these arguments and use them sensibly, and realise that we in the Conservative Party are with them as far as these arguments are concerned, then perhaps I can uncross my fingers and this will work. However, it is going to take a lot of effort, given the kind of negative publicity and campaigning that there has been against the Union by the other parties in Scotland over the past 20 years.

These are my final remarks and I conclude on perhaps a more optimistic note by saying that I look forward to the various pieces of secondary legislation coming forward and renewing this little battle, if at a slightly lower level than during this Bill.

Lord Sewel

My Lords, could I just very briefly reply to thank all noble Lords who have just spoken. I think everybody is right to draw attention to the work that we have done and to the way in which we have done it in relation to this Bill.

I will make just three short comments. One is to make clear that everything is not done and dusted as the Bill leaves this House, because we intend in due course to issue a statement about the circumstances in which the First Minister will take over the functions of advising Her Majesty on the exercise of Her Majesty's prerogative and statutory powers. That is something still to come, and there is secondary legislation still to come that the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, looks forward to with such relish. I am not quite sure that I do. Can I also at this stage thank my noble friends Lady Ramsay of Cartvale and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hardie, who have made an enormous contribution to the passage of this Bill. They have been more than capable in advancing the Government's case on the amendments that we have faced. I owe a great debt of gratitude to them and to all the civil servants and support staff.

I wish to state a simple matter of substance. I recognise that a number of noble Lords sincerely and honestly have reservations about the Bill and the idea of devolution. They fear that it will lead to the break-up of the United Kingdom. I do not believe that that is the case. I believe that it is possible to build a new, stronger union based on and recognising the value of diversity.

In conclusion, I wish to make a personal comment. I have argued for devolution within my party and beyond it for over 20 years. As the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, said, there were times when my party was not in support of that position. I argued the case and I believe it is the right way forward. However, if for a moment I believed that devolution would lead to the break-up of the United Kingdom and to the sterile road of separatism, I should have opposed it as strongly as I have supported it. I commend the Bill to the House.

On Question, Bill passed, and returned to the Commons with amendments.

House adjourned at twenty-nine minutes before eleven o'clock.