§ 8.6 p.m.
§ Lord Palmer
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill he now read a second time.
This Bill is intended to test Scottish opinion as to whether the Scottish Parliament is achieving its aims and whether its people believe that Scotland would be better governed from Westminster. I must declare an interest. I am a great supporter of the Union. I am also a resident of Scotland and have been for half of my life, albeit that I was born and brought up in England. All three of my children were born in Scotland.
I love my adopted country, its countryside and its people, but I know that there is a growing consensus that the Scottish Parliament is not fulfilling the role that it was intended to do. Indeed, I have yet to meet anyone from any walk of life who approves of how the Scottish Parliament is conducting its affairs. The large postbag that I have received in support of the Bill's objectives supports this view. Neither must it be forgotten that, since the passing of the Scotland Act 1998, neither House has had any opportunity to look 1027 at the success or otherwise of the Scottish Parliament. With that in mind, I believe it appropriate to test Scottish opinion.
I deeply regret that Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish is no longer with us as I feel certain that he would feel even more strongly about this Bill. I also regret that the original First Minister, Donald Dewar, is no longer with us either; I believe that he would be horrified at what is going on at the moment. He so eloquently set out the aims of the Scottish Parliament in his opening Address on 13th May 1999:We will make mistakes … but we will never lose sight of what brought us here; striving to do right by the people of Scotland, to respect their priorities, to better their lot and to contribute to the common weal".I accept that it is early days, but I believe that none of that vision has been achieved; hence the reason for this Bill.
Few people voted in the referendum or to elect the first Members of the Scottish Parliament. The turnout was under 60 per cent and in some areas as little as 40 per cent. Less than 45 per cent of these said "Yes" to a Scottish Parliament. I believe that voter apathy is one of the most troubling and worrying aspects of modern political life. If the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, and I were running a public company with shareholders, we would require at least a 75 per cent majority to approve a change to our constitution. The figures that I have just quoted show that they fall a very long way short.
I am aware that there are many who question what right I may have, as an elected hereditary Peer at Westminster, to introduce such a Bill and at so early a stage in the existence of the Scottish Parliament. I do so because I believe that the Scottish Parliament is like a runaway train without a guard and because I believe that Scotland, once a great nation, would be better governed with greater value for its people, and at a fraction of the cost, than it currently is from Edinburgh. To those who support the continued existence of the Parliament, despite its flagrant defects, I say, "If you are true democrats, you will not deny the Scottish electorate the right to express its wishes".
I would like to point out just some of the costs that are currently faced by the Scottish people. First, the Scottish Parliament building. Several years ago a turnkey project offered the Scottish Parliament a new building at the Port of Leith completed and delivered for £32 million. Coincidentally, my great great grandfather was once the elected Member for Leith. This was to be next door to the Scottish Office on land donated by Forth Ports—I must declare another interest as a very small shareholder in Forth Ports—as a gift to the nation and the building, based on a European regional model, to include press buildings.
The plan was rejected as it was not considered prestigious enough. Many people have asked why the Old Royal Infirmary building could not have been adapted, and at a fraction of the cost of the new building. But the Scottish Executive wanted new premises originally estimated at £40 million. After realising, however, long after the project got under way, what they had ordered was not big enough, this rose to a staggering £280 million. Now, according to 1028 the Edinburgh press, MSPs are already quibbling about the quality of the furniture. I am reliably informed that the final bill will end up nearer £500 million; I repeat, £500 million.
On 21st March this year, ignoring massive public opposition, when one poll revealed 99 per cent of voters believed their politicians should not receive any more money, the Scottish Parliament awarded themselves a 13.5 per cent pay rise. One national newspaper ran a headline, "Obscene". Expenses for each Member are now running at around £50,000 a year. Yet only a few months ago, nurses were forced by these same Members to accept a pay rise of just 3.5 per cent. Indeed, the increase in salary that the Scottish Members awarded themselves equates to the annual pay for many public sector workers. My socialist instincts find this offensive in the extreme.
People were dismayed that the last First Minister resigned his office after 10 months in the job with a mammoth pension for life. What message does that send out to the people of Scotland, especially the young?
There are currently 38 NDPBs—"non-departmental public bodies"—to quote a politically correct definition. Most of us know them as "quangos" or "task forces". They lurk, unelected and unaccountable, behind the Scottish Executive. The cost to the people of Scotland?—8,478 people are so employed spending over £2 billion funded by the Scottish taxpayer.
The number of civil servants has also climbed—from 12,873 in 1997 to more than 13,700 today. Staff costs have increased by £18 million. There are now 50 press officers, nearly double the 1997 figure and five times the number of spin doctors than there were two years ago. Publishing glossy books has increased 75 per cent in the last three years to £2.5 million.
During the past year the Scottish Executive managed to spend its way through £236,000 on taxi fares and £586,000 on 22 ministerial cars; another source of great indignation for the people of Scotland. When one considers that the total running costs for the Scottish Parliament for the year ending 31st March was £35.1 million, this represents a very hefty bill for what the comedian Billy Connolly referred to as "a wee pretendy parliament".
Yet only recently The Fraser of Allander Institute issued the warning that Scotland's economy is set to grow at less than half the rate of the United Kingdom in the next year. Is this really what the people of Scotland want? I do not believe that it is. If one of the aims of the Scottish Parliament was to take on some of the responsibilities of local government, surely it would be reasonable to expect a moderation in costs? It is difficult, if not impossible, to understand why, following an 18-month inquiry, council tax band changes have been proposed which will land some house owners with increases of up to 61 per cent.
All kinds of strategies, packages and initiatives have poured forth. Along with legislation that almost beggars belief. For example, the ban on hunting, which was forced through by 83 individuals, some of them 1029 not directly elected, most of them completely ignorant of the argument. The worrying reality is that 65 Members can impose any legal measure they want upon the Scottish electorate. This instils a real sense of fear into many people, particularly as there is no revising chamber to carry out any of the necessary checks and balances on the Executive. Where, given this situation, is democracy?
It must not be forgotten that when we were debating the Scotland Act many of us were concerned about the lack of a second chamber and we were assured that the Scottish Executive's committee framework would act as a safeguard. The Rural Affairs Committee recommended that the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Watson of Invergowrie, was unworkable, yet it has now received Royal Assent. I believe it is appalling that the Executive can so blatantly disregard the recommendations of its committees.
I turn now to the Bill to ban fur farming. What a scandalous waste of time and taxpayers' money to ban an activity that does not even exist in Scotland, and has not, for at least 10 years. Yet the export of live animals for slaughter overseas continues unabated from Scotland, with all the misery and suffering this inflicts on these hapless creatures. The Land Reform (Scotland) Bill, labelled by many as the "Land Theft Bill", is another vastly unpopular measure, with potentially devastating results on the people and countryside of Scotland. Do we really want to follow in Mr Mugabe's footsteps? I think not.
More than 1 million people voted in a national referendum to keep Section 28—more people than voted for the governing party in the Scottish Parliament. Yet those million people were branded as "bigots" and the Executive arbitrarily went ahead and repealed Section 28, regardless of such strong public feeling.
Many of your Lordships might reasonably ask, "But surely the Parliament must have done something right"? If one were looking for redeeming policies, two possible candidates could be the introduction of free universal care for the elderly and the abolition of tuition fees for students. Unlike the Parliament's other legislation, at least the intention in both measures was good. Alas, the implementation is an empty sham. Care for the elderly will cost at least £125 million a year; after the first two years, the Scottish Executive has no idea where the money will come from. It will be forced to pillage other public services, robbing Peter to pay Paul. As for the so-called abolition of student fees, for the majority of students they have simply been replaced by graduate endowments requiring them to repay £2,000 after graduation when their income reaches the modest threshold of £10,000. Most Scottish students no more enjoy free tuition than people with a mortgage acquire a free house.
So where should the focus and the money be better spent? Surely not on making criminals of parents who smack their children, but on providing police officers, nurses, doctors and teachers. That is what I believe the late Donald Dewar meant when he said, 1030striving to do right by the people of Scotland, respecting their priorities".The problem that all this poses to England is that our Government are committed to introducing more regional assemblies. In fact, eight further regional chambers in each of the English regions are due to be introduced over the next three years. The Government have allocated a budget of £15 million. Given the Scottish experience, I feel confident that noble Lords will agree that this is a very modest sum. Every time that we have an extra layer of government, it is obviously going to cost. Is it right to impose on the people such a form of government that is to be expensively housed, along with all of the added costs of civil servants, taxis, cars, telephones and so on? The idea of £500 million buildings springing up in Newcastle, York and all points south would be appalling and would further alienate the electorate.
This is a very expensive way to finance the "political third eleven" to strut and to preen themselves. That disillusionment is now being expressed by those who are best placed to judge the effects of devolution on Scotland's prosperity—the crucial wealth creators. A survey in the current issue of Scottish Business Insider magazine, conducted among the chief executives and financial directors of 500 of the leading companies in Scotland, shows that almost half believe that the Parliament should be abolished—an increase of 15 per cent in just three months. In the words of a very famous cook and a much-loved Scottish personality, "If it was a recipe, I would throw it out and start again".
When people throw up their arms in despair, asking the question, "What can I do?", the answer is, I believe, contained in the Bill. I know that it will be welcomed by all those who voted "No" for a Scottish Parliament but it will also be much welcomed by many who voted "Yes" as well as by many who did not bother to vote at all.
I also ask those who insist that the Parliament is successful, representative and popular to have the courage of their convictions and empower the people of Scotland to prove that this is the case. If the Parliament is really wanted, then they should welcome a referendum, which would presumably result in a landslide endorsement of devolution. I have made it clear how I would vote; if the majority of Scots feel differently, let them have the opportunity to say so. All that I am attempting to do is to give the Scottish people a voice. I believe that the Bill is a democratic way of doing so.
I hope that your Lordships' House will give the Bill a safe passage.
Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.— (Lord Palmer.)
§ 8.23 p.m.
§ Lord Hogg of Cumbernauld
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, made a powerful speech. However, as the evening wears on, he may discover that the Scottish Parliament has some supporters and that the picture is not quite as black as he has 1031 portrayed. However, his initiative has two great merits. First, it affords us the opportunity to say something about Scotland, which, in these post-devolution days, is a little difficult to do in the Westminster Parliament. Secondly, it allows us to explore the constitutional value and consequences of holding referendums.
As to the purposes of the Bill, I can say only that if it gets into Committee I will bring forward two amendments. The first will provide for a referendum after five years following enactment, not six months, as the noble Lord proposed. The second will meet the recommendations that are set out in the sixteenth report of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee. That will provide for an order to be made under Clause 2(2) to be a statutory instrument—the Bill currently does not contain such a provision. That is a matter for Committee but I give notice now that I shall take those steps if the Bill reaches Committee.
I am in favour of referendums on proposed constitutional changes of importance. It was right to hold a referendum confirming our membership of Europe and on devolution in Scotland and Wales in 1979 and it was right to re-run those referendums in 1997. It will be right to hold a referendum on whether or not we adopt the euro. The Government were right to insist on a referendum in Scotland following the general election in 1997. The Scotland Act was a massive change to the constitution. Billy Connolly said that it was a small parliament; he is clearly something of a comedian but he does not know much about the constitution. How the people are governed and the arrangements for government should, in a mature democracy, be a matter for the people.
I do not believe that we should put non-constitutional issues to a referendum. So far, central government have always confined referendums to constitutional matters. The trigger for referendums is in the hands of governments, and therein lies a weakness. They choose the issues, the questions, the timing and who will he consulted in the referendum. When the five conditions on the euro are deemed to be met, the sixth unwritten condition will kick into place. That sixth condition is, "Can we win?". All governments take that approach, as we know. I am now 64 years of age and I am sure that noble Lords will consider such cynicism very distressing in one so young. Referendums can become "neverendums", as has been the experience in Canada with the Quebec secessionist issues.
Those are our worries about referendums. In an ideal democracy, it would be possible for the people to trigger a constitutional referendum. That could perhaps be founded on a parliamentary petition that was properly constituted and signed by a fixed percentage of electors. However, that is as unlikely as a referendum on an Act of Parliament setting up an elected Upper House. However, that is another matter; I should return to the noble Lord's Bill.
The noble Lord, Lord Palmer, wants to hold his referendum six months after his Bill is enacted. That is too soon. Likewise, it is too early—and, I believe, 1032 inappropriate—for the Constitution Committee of this House to be looking at devolution. Constitutional changes of such a profound nature take time to bed down and there have been many early problems that have taken time to resolve. I believe that five years would be about right, if we were to do that at all.
The noble Lord, Lord Palmer, is right to make a referendum a statutory requirement and at a fixed time. That has the merit of removing it, to some degree, from the machinations of government.
The Parliament in Scotland has not, I regret to say, proved to be the settled will of the Scottish people. The late and much missed John Smith said that devolution was the settled will of the Scottish people. I believe that devolution is the settled will of the Scottish people—he was absolutely right. However, the Parliament that we, in this Parliament, constructed is not the settled will and has settled nothing. For a start, the official opposition—the Scottish National Party does not accept the settlement. It persists in demands for separation. I deplore that, but it is a fact.
Now it happens that the SNP is currently badly led. Mr John Swinney has none of Alec Salmond's political skills. He lacks presence on the political landscape and his judgment is poor. His recent return to a fundamentalist position on separation makes it very unlikely that he will head up the next Scottish Administration. The SNP never wins elections—I suppose that that is the good news—because the Scots are not separatists. However, prudent politicians—"prudent" is today's buzzword—must assume that the official opposition will some day win an election. We must remember that there is no precedent in this country for an official opposition failing to win in perpetuity. An SNP victory in the Scottish elections next year would trigger a referendum on separation and the end of the partnership with Westminster. It would destabilise the whole devolution package.
The new Scottish Parliament has done many good things and I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, did not list them. However, some of the things it has done have been unpopular and the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, mentioned Section 28. I support the reform of Section 28 but I accept what the noble Lord says about the reaction of opinion in Scotland.
We have been faced with much criticism about the huge and escalating cost of the new parliament building. But most worrying of all is the perceived central belt bias in policy making which has contributed to disappointment. The Parliament must learn that there is not one Scotland: there is Highland Scotland, Lowland Scotland, industrial Scotland, Scotland of the Gaels, Scotland of the Northern Isles and Scotland of the new Scots who have settled there. It is a very diverse place and there is much more to it than just the conurbations at either end of the M8 corridor.
We have had problems but I believe that Jack McConnell is the best First Minister we have. Much more than that, he appears to me to have what it takes. He shows firmness in decision-making; his appointments to ministerial office have been well 1033 received; and he has a sound grasp of the job, its parameters and its constraints. He is a tough, effective politician whom I supported when as a young man he was appointed General Secretary of the Scottish Labour Party—not an easy job. He proved his worth then and nothing since has caused me to change or revise my judgment.
I do not know where the Bill will go but I do not believe that we will ever see a referendum. However, I believe that if there were to be a referendum the Scottish people would reaffirm their commitment to devolution. At this moment in our national life it has to be given the benefit of the doubt. If we must revisit the issue, it should be some years hence because my argument is that all of this is much too soon.
§ 8.33 p.m.
§ Lord Monro of Langholm
My Lords, we all owe the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, a huge debt of gratitude in that we can discuss Scotland today. It is odd that here we are in the United Kingdom Parliament, but week in and week out it is impossible to discuss issues relating to Scotland. That is to the detriment of the standing of Parliament. We should have some method of doing so. At least another place has Scottish Questions but I do not know what one can table in this House. Perhaps I could ask the Ministry of Defence why it has removed the military guard from Edinburgh Castle, but I suppose that that might be said to be related to tourism and thus be devolved. That is a pity and I hope that the Minister will believe that there should be a way in which occasionally we can have a Scottish debate in this House. That is why the Bill put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, is so satisfactory. It has given us an opportunity to speak about Scotland.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hogg, who cut such a fine figure and who was such a successful Lord High Commissioner, that this occasion may be too soon. On the other hand, if we can point the Scottish Parliament in a more productive direction, the sooner we do so, the better. I hope that from tomorrow onwards, the comprehensive speech of the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, will be prescribed reading for every Member of the Scottish Parliament.
Originally, I was opposed to the Scottish Parliament. I believed in administrative devolution, as was carried out significantly by the Scottish Office for many years, but I felt that it was too soon for a Parliament. However, the referendum having called for a Parliament and the Bill having been passed by both Houses of Parliament, I am in favour of retaining it but making it work more efficiently.
We have had 1,000 days of the Scottish Parliament and I believe that most Scots will say that it has been a sorry disappointment. Therefore, today's debate will be a valuable wake-up call, ensuring that the Members in Edinburgh realise that occasionally other people have a view different from theirs. Indeed, last week the Scotsman published a survey of the top businesses in Scotland. Forty-eight per cent voted to scrap the Scottish Parliament. They believed that it had become 1034 another layer of bureaucracy, expensive and lacking leadership. Yesterday's Scotsman contained an interesting article by the Meat and Livestock Commission and farming agencies in general stating that in Scotland it was difficult to run devolved policies relating to agriculture which were different from those in Wales, England and Northern Ireland. It stated that there was not the required degree of co-operation for it to be successful.
We are approaching decisions by Westminster on the composition of the Westminster and Edinburgh Parliaments. The number of Scotland's Westminster Members of Parliament will fall from 72 to 59, as recommended by the Boundary Commission. Each constituency will then have approximately 69,000 people as opposed to the present 54,000. Under the 1998 Act, which was agreed in both Houses, when that happens, the number of Members of the Scottish Parliament will automatically fall from 129 to 106. Our eyes were open and we knew what would happen. If Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish were still with us, he would now be having a field day.
Do not let us automatically believe that the MSPs can retain their 129 Members, which is what they seem to be setting out to do. And do not fool me into thinking that either group—Members of the Scottish Parliament or Scottish Members of the Westminster Parliament—will be overworked. The pre-devolution Westminster MP could manage his work, plus all the difficulties of travelling to and from Scotland. If 72 Members of Parliament could look after Scotland, surely 106 can do so in future.
As mentioned by the noble Lords, Lord Palmer and Lord Hogg, the pre-legislative consultative committee system set up by the Scottish Parliament has proved disappointing. It has recommended major changes to legislation and opposed the hunting Bill and many changes to land reform legislation, but those sailed through the Scottish Parliament as though the committees did not exist. I believe that the votes were cast as a result of prejudice and not on the merits of the cases. Like the noble Lord, Lord Hogg, I am concerned that we are becoming a central-belt Parliament and not one that represents the whole of Scotland, particularly the rural areas.
In addition, and as indicated by the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, surely it is not right to increase salaries by 13.5 per cent, even if recommended by an independent body. Politics have to come into Parliament from time to time and politically it was not an astute move to increase to £48,228 Members' salaries when inflation was low—credit to the Government for that. When I came to Parliament many years ago, Members were paid £1,750 and received nothing for secretaries. Now salaries are approaching £100,000 with secretarial allowances. That really is going far too far.
I cannot understand—this is an important point which is discussed at length in Scotland all the time—why, with a Parliament of 129 Members, we need 21 Ministers plus four in London. That is 25 Ministers to run Scotland when pre-devolution and pre-Parliament 1035 both the Labour and Conservative parties were running on seven Ministers with no problems at all, plus the travelling difficulties from Scotland to London. It is a tremendous expense involving extra private offices, staff, accommodation, motorcars and so forth. No wonder the people of Scotland blink and say, "How on earth can we in this comparatively small country with a small population afford to have a top-heavy Parliament such as that foisted on us at the present time?".
The noble Lord, Lord Palmer, rightly mentioned the cost of the new building—in round figures, people speak of £300 million—for 106 Members and their secretaries. Who was responsible for that? Who oversaw it? Was it Members of the Scottish Parliament? Was it the civil servants? Who in the early days agreed to go down the road of acquiring the most complicated and expensive building imaginable for a small number of Scottish Members of Parliament? Of course we want a prestigious building, and it is in a good part of Edinburgh. But the complicated design and the quality and standard that seems to be required of the furnishings has got totally out of hand. I am astonished and gloomy that the cost eventually has to come out of the block grant at the expense of far more important matters such as health, education and roads.
Of course there are disappointments. I have mentioned roads, and I refer now to the A75 from Stranraer to Carlisle. From the point of view of Northern Ireland we desperately need that road to be of the highest standard for the freightliners that continually run along it. Yet nothing has been done to that road since 1997 that was not in the pipeline at that date. We have got nowhere when it comes to joining up the gap between the M6 at Carlisle and the M6 in Scotland. The gap is around five to seven miles where it is still dual carriageway. Nothing has been done in that regard.
Section 28 was mentioned. That has now gone through Parliament. There has been misuse of the good causes of the Lottery Fund for land purchase. That money was allocated differently before the 1997 election. Chaos in examination results is another issue. But even more serious is the year-by-year increase in local council taxes. They go up far above inflation and the councils say, "We are forced to make such increases by the Scottish Parliament. It makes us do things which we feel are unnecessary". But taxes continue to go up and it is a real strain on those living in Scotland.
I look to my right, rather sadly, at the Liberal Democrats. They went into partnership with the Labour Government when the MSPs won the election for the Scottish Parliament. Yet they have three Ministers who seem to have no influence whatever. Socialist legislation continues to be introduced year after year. We had hoped that the Liberal Democrats would try to reduce socialist legislation and make some impact on Scotland. I do not know what Gladstone or Haldane or some of the other great Liberals would think of the things going on in the Scottish Parliament. What would they have thought of 1036 compulsory land purchase in Scotland? What would they think of many of the aspects of the hunting Bill? I know it was a free vote and many Liberal Democrats did not vote for the Bill—indeed they voted against it—but if that party had real influence, that Bill might never have reached the Floor of the House, considering what happened in the pre-legislative committee.
So the Liberal Democrats have a great deal to answer for in not using their influence in the Scottish Parliament. Why do they not stand up to the First Minister and say, "If you will not listen to us, we will vote against you"? The Scottish Parliament would then lose important legislation. They seem to flow like sheep through the Parliament, supporting the socialists year in and year out. I shall be interested to hear from their Front-Bench spokesman as to when they are going to perk up and put a bit of spunk in the Scottish Parliament. When are they going to do some opposing?
The sad part is that the Parliament is going ahead on essential belt-and-braces legislation all the time, and we Scots in the peripheral areas are feeling great dissatisfaction in what is being provided at such enormous cost. If we do not get a referendum—I appreciate the problems of taking a Private Member's Bill through both Houses at this time of year—the best thing the Scottish people can do at the next general election in Scotland is to show how much they disapprove of what they have had so far.
§ 8.45 p.m.
§ Lord Mackie of Benshie
My Lords, I am glad that the noble Lord finished his speech with an appeal to democracy. Up till then he was rather ignoring it. However, I listened to his criticism of the Liberal Democrats with interest; I did not feel it was entirely unbiased.
The noble Lord, Lord Palmer, is correct when lie says that we had no discussion in this House. But if he wanted discussion surely the way to do that was to table a Question. Perhaps that should have been done earlier. But it is a mistake to put forward immediately a Bill for a referendum.
However, I listened to his impassioned speech. It was a good speech, though I felt it missed out certain factors—many good factors in fact. Certainly there have been snags. But it is astonishing how well this entirely new body has done. It is a great pity that nearly all the senior politicians in all parties chose to stay in Westminster. We could have done with more of them in the Scottish Parliament.
One of the great issues for discussion and criticism is the building. But the fact is that that was arranged by the Westminster Parliament. It was organised by that great body, the Scottish Office, before the Scottish Parliament was elected. That was quite wrong. If it had waited and let the Scottish Parliament decide, we might not have had such a prestigious building, but we would have seen a lot of common sense. They were hung with the thing. Whether they handled it well or badly, the fact is that the project originated with the 1037 Secretary of State—the late lamented and much respected Donald Dewar and his department. That has been one of the major focuses of criticism, and rightly so.
The noble Lord, Lord Monro, mentioned the pay rise. That is always a subject of criticism, but when it is recommended by an independent body it is a strong factor, and even the noble Lord admitted that. We cannot criticise it. There had to be an increase in the staff, which can always be criticised. But I do not believe it has been all that bad. The fact is that the Scottish Parliament has worked within its budget. It has not sold us up the river with enormous extravagance. I could continue.
The hunting Bill was mentioned. But let us wait and see what this Parliament makes of that issue in England and Wales. I believe that there will also be great trouble when it comes to putting it into practice. I hope that we can put that right, but it is a fact that many people feel passionately about hunting. I do not feel one way or the other about it. I believe that people should be allowed to hunt if they want to so long as they are not cruel. But many people do not use reason in relation to that subject, and that would apply in our British Parliament as well. Therefore, a whole series of matters can be raised.
Land reform is being discussed much more sensibly. It is true that access to much of the land in Scotland has been removed for many Scottish people, and not by Scots. Therefore, a genuine concern arises in relation to that matter. I, along with the noble Lord next to me, am a countryman and I do not altogether like the urban influence. However, we must admit that Edinburgh, Glasgow, Dundee and Aberdeen contain the majority of the people in Scotland. We must accept that.
I agree that there have been snags, but I also believe that many good things have come about. I hope that noble Lords who have already spoken have been in the Scottish Parliament and have listened to the debates. I attended once or twice and was rather taken with the atmosphere. I considered it to be rather good.
In relation to what the people of Scotland think, of course polls go up and down. The results depend very much on the question that is put to the people. That is especially the case with regard to polls run by the Scotsman, which I would not say was one of the great or valuable newspapers.
But what do people say? I have assembled some of the comments. The National Union of Students of Scotland say:In its short existence, the Scottish Parliament has made significant improvements to the well-being of students and has the potential to do even more".Then there is a very good quotation from Friends of the Earth. As I do not always agree with that organisation, I shall not quote it. The Ramblers' Association speaks rather well of the Scottish Parliament.
1038 Then we go on to more practical bodies. The National Farmers Union says:The vital role of Scotland's farmers has been recognised today in the strategy for Scottish agriculture published by the Scottish Executive".It also says:The Scottish Executive through the strategy, is committing itself to a route to a better future for agriculture".Again, the NFU says:For the first time, Government has recognised the vital role of Scottish farmers as being key to a whole range of other businesses and sectors which make up the rural economy".The Scottish Landowners' Federation says:The Executive's agricultural strategy is a welcome review of the priorities and direction of agriculture in post devolution Scotland".The Scottish Fishermen's Federation—I shall continue for some time yet—says:Both Mr Morrison and Mr Smith"—officials of the Scottish Fishermen's Federation—declared themselves content with what had been achieved in Brussels, with the chief executive paying tribute to Mr Finnie's 'gritty determination'".The National Trust,welcomed the basic principles of the [Land Reform] Bill. The Chief Executive … said: 'The trust is pleased to see that the access proposals in the bill reflect the recommendations of the Access Forum. The proposed right of responsible access to land and water acknowledges Scotland's long tradition of access to the countryside'".Turning to newspapers—I once worked for the Scotsman but now do not approve of it so much—the Glasgow Herald said:Police numbers are at a historic high, the Drug Enforcement Agency is up and running, and efforts are now in hand to make courts more consumer friendly for witnesses and jurors".It also said:The Scottish Executive's land reform bill … is a radical document".Then, again for the benefit of my noble neighbour, it said:The Lib Dems have played a significant part in producing Scottish solutions for Scottish problems, most notably with the graduate endowment package replacing tuition fees, and free personal and nursing care for the elderly".The Guardian said:The Land Reform Bill is one of the most important pieces of legislation to be drawn up [in Scotland]".Here, it will please noble Lords, the Daily Telegraph said of land reform:A Charter for the most extensive redistribution of land ownership in generations was published yesterday".I do not know whether the newspaper was signifying approval when it said that.
Then we go to the Sunday Mail and an article by Selina Scott:I didn't hear anybody complaining when the Scottish Parliament agreed to pay for free care for Scotland's elderly, despite the fact senior citizens south of the border didn't receive similar payments. Nor has there been an outcry because Holy rood has decided more money should be spent on health in Scotland than the rest of the UK. There hasn't been a squeak about the way Scotland funds student loans which, unlike England, don't have to be repaid until the students have jobs.1039These are genuine benefits of the new Parliament and have come about as a direct result of devolution".There is much more, but I want to quote one specific thing; that is, the handling of the foot and mouth outbreak in Scotland. Ross Finnie, the Minister responsible, received great credit for his handling of it. Certainly it was infinitely more competent than the handling of the outbreak in England. It was more competent because Scotland is a good unit. When one looks at Europe and sees the regional governments in Bavaria and elsewhere in Germany all playing a part, the question of a unit which is cohesive is very important. The Scottish Parliament has worked to a large extent. There have been snags, but I consider that this Bill is wholly inappropriate and harmful to a body which is developing reasonably hopefully. That is enough for me because I believe in its purpose.
§ 8.57 p.m.
§ Baroness Strange
My Lords, we are all very grateful to my noble friend Lord Palmer for introducing this Bill and for giving us all a chance to air our views, even though they may, as my noble friend Lord Hogg of Cumbernauld says, go no further. My views have always remained the same, and I am no convert, as my late noble friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish claimed to be. Since the union of the Crowns in 1603, with King James VI of Scotland succeeding his cousin, Queen Elizabeth I. through his grandmother, Princess Margaret Tudor, who was Elizabeth I's aunt and Henry VIII's eldest sister, we have enjoyed the same monarchy. However, even with a Scottish King in London, things did not go well for Scotland with the separate Parliaments of Edinburgh and Westminster. It may have been fine for England, but it was not so for Scotland, with the South Sea Bubble and economic disasters all round us.
My great-great-great-great-great grandfather was a Member of the Edinburgh Parliament at that time. He spoke of the venality of the Scottish Members of Parliament and of the lack of money to spend on Scotland. He felt very strongly that the only way for Scotland to survive was to have a united Parliament with England. Alas, he died three years before that happened, but his son and grandson went on to become Members of the United Kingdom Parliament. And for nearly 300 years everything worked rather well.
On 17th June 1998 on the Second Reading of the Scottish Parliament Bill, I said:The main problems are, of course, financial, because a new parliament, with the appropriate buildings, infrastructure and salaries of the members as well as their supporters, will all cost money".—[Official Report, 17/6/98; col. 1653.]Many other noble Lords, including my noble friends Lady Saltoun and Lord Belhaven and Stenton said the same thing.
We have heard from noble Lords about the venality of the Scottish Parliament today, of which my great great great great great grandfather complained 300 years ago. What many noble Lords foretold in the Second Reading debate four years ago—of the expense to Scotland of the whole enterprise—has now 1040 come true. Are we any better off for it? A correspondent in the Dundee Courier and Advertiser noted this week that with a closed list representation it was no longer even democratic. He pointed out its failings and thought that the only course might be to throw rotten eggs. That seems to me rather extreme.
The trouble really is the expense, which the rest of us have to support. It is all chiefs and no Indians and tar too many layers of government, each one more expensive than the last. There are the councils, the Scottish Parliament, the Westminster Parliament, and the European Union.
I was delighted last year to visit the Scottish Parliament, and to see it in action. I was most impressed, as I would expect to be, with my noble friend Lord Steel. Otherwise, I found it an interesting and informative experience. The Chamber was hardly more than half full. If it was not a full session, where were all the other members? If it was, do we need another hugely expensive new building, the Scottish Dome.
Although I dislike the word, I fear must admit to being a pragmatist. What I mean is, that in any situation you must start from where you actually arc, and go on from there. What anyway was the point of a Scottish Parliament? The noble Lord, Lord Sewel, said,We are also about building a more decentralised plural society in which real power is dispersed and the political process becomes more accessible to all citizens".The point of the exercise was therefore to have more devolved local government, getting government back to the people.
Well then, perhaps we should be a bit more devolved still. Perhaps we should cut Scotland in half, north of the Forth and Clyde, leaving the Scottish Parliament where it is. The new £4 billion pound building, with its £400,000 rose gardens and landscaping, would make a splendid new hospital of which we have great need in Scotland.
The rest of Scotland which goes on for quite a long way, could then become Caledonia and the Isles. My late noble friend Lord Thurso and my noble friend Lord Burton and I fought a notable battle to split the enormous unitary local council authority which goes from Inverness to Wick into two more manageable bodies. We pointed out that the whole area was the size of Belgium, and that the roads were not good. We lost, but not I think before I had quoted a story of a fisherman at Kinlochbervie where my husband some years ago had a small netting station. He said that he was thinking of going south for his holidays that year. My husband, knowing how far north Kinlochbervie was, said, "Perhaps you might be thinking of Inverness". "Oh no", he replied shocked, "Not so far south as that".
Caledonia and the Isles could have a small parliament, sitting perhaps in Perth, or Abernethy, or even Dunkeld, all ancient capitals of the kingdom. Members would only be paid expenses, not a salary, which would fall if there was more legislation, and rise 1041 when legislation was repealed. Because of this, sessions could be infrequent, and much could be devolved back to the local councils.
We would be supported by a large national lottery, tickets being sold abroad, by all the Scotsmen who live around the world, with our share of the block grant, and revenues from North Sea oil, whisky and tourism. We would also make tax advantages to encourage wealthy people to come and live there, bringing their money with them. We would have the airports of Aberdeen, Inverness and Dundee as well as the smaller ones, and a direct continental ferry from Rosyth. It would truly be devolved government with the political process being accessible to all citizens. And it would be much cheaper and possibly more fun.
§ 9.4 p.m.
§ Baroness Carnegy of Lour
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, quite rightly, spoke of some of the successes of the Scottish Parliament, but I do not believe that even he would deny that it is self-evident that there is considerable disappointment across Scotland at the present time at the way that the eagerly-awaited Parliament has performed so far. However, the remedy proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, in this Bill does not appear to me to be a good idea at all. I am one of those who have always believed in devolution but I voted "no" in the original referendum.
Anyone who has been involved in local government at a time of reorganisation knows that, even at that level, it takes a while for a changed system to bed down. Elected members and officials have to learn to operate new roles and, above all, the local public have to find out how to use the new system, individually and collectively, to their advantage. All that takes time and hard work by everyone involved.
The creation in Scotland of an entirely new Parliament, new people elected on a new electoral system and new ways of arriving at the laws within which we live, is a far greater change than any local government reorganisation. Few of the elected MSPs had ever legislated before. The committee system and the relationship of the Executive to Back-Benchers was new and hitherto untried in the United Kingdom. The civil servants were unused to their much more visible and exposed roles. The public and countless nongovernmental groups in Scotland had a totally unfamiliar system to which to relate.
Therefore, I suggest to the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, that it is still early days for the Scottish Parliament, and that he should be a little more patient. Having said that, damaging and avoidable mistakes are being made. It seems to me that the biggest has been the headlong rush into huge commitments and complex legislation so early in the life of the Parliament.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, that it may have been sensible to have delayed the commissioning of the new parliament building until MSPs could assess what site would suit their purpose best, precisely what accommodation was 1042 needed and until there was a system of cost control in place. A year or two more in temporary accommodation would have done no harm. The reputation-damaging tenfold rise in the cost would have been avoided.
In beginning to legislate, a gentle start on simple but much needed Bills would have been wise. The Scottish Law Commission had some ready and some were indeed successfully taken in hand. But the huge, complex, and extremely controversial, land reform Bill is a very different matter. The noble Lord, Lord Monro, said that the Liberal Democrats have no influence. The Bill is being taken through by Mr Jim Wallace as lead Minister, the Liberal Democrat Deputy First Minister. It contains—I am not speaking about the access provisions—almost Soviet-style compulsory purchase measures. The crofters apart, virtually everyone who works in the rural Highlands is astonished and somewhat horrified—notably of course the ghillies, the gamekeepers, the foresters and the stalkers who see their jobs disappearing, and, to top it, lottery funding is being used to chase them out.
Investment in the development of the rural Highlands is already much reduced. As the compulsory purchase proposals for lowland areas become more fully appreciated, the damage and the anger will increase, particularly, I suspect, in the Borders.
This must be a mistake. A vociferous few may still wail about the Highland clearances of the 17th and the 18th centuries, but modern Scots have plenty of good sense. They know a modern Scotland needs rural as well as urban prosperity and that inward investment matters everywhere.
Instead of rushing into this most damaging and illiberal measure, would Mr Wallace not have done well to wait a while, so that all the implications could be properly considered and a better and less old-fashioned way forward emerge?
I understand that one of the problems of legislating, which may have been a problem in the case of this Bill, is that the Parliament's committees—committees even more important in the Scots system than in the Westminster system—are not working in the consensual way that is required. It seems that the Scottish National Party members find it necessary, for whatever reason, to carry on their opposition role even where it is not appropriate in the Parliament's particular system.
Whatever the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, says, we do still live in a democracy. At the end of the day, the people who will cure these ills and bring success to the Parliament are of course the electorate of Scotland. They must resist the fashion of cynicism; they must participate in every way that they can; they must express their wishes; above all, they must watch closely what the political parties and individual MSPs are up to; and at election they must vote accordingly. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, far from promoting this Bill, should encourage that. I suggest that, without delay, he should withdraw the Bill.
§ 9.12 p.m.
§ The Earl of Erroll
My Lords, I should like to say a few words under the auspices of the Bill about some constitutional issues which concern me.
I noticed the first matter when we passed legislation in Westminster that affected devolved matters in Scotland. The way that it was done was rather cunning. We amended the part of a pre-devolution Act that affected Scotland. It was the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 2000. Section 1(3) amends Section 13 of the Criminal Law (Consolidation) (Scotland) Act 1995. That is a rather odd thing to do. It is a back-door way of legislating for Scotland. It should not happen. One does not know where one stands. If we arc to have devolution, it should be done properly.
The second matter that worries me is that we should remember that we are still the sovereign Parliament of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The Scottish Parliament ought more properly to be called an assembly, because it has only devolved powers. It can produce primary legislation, but only in certain areas devolved to it, and those powers may be taken hack at any time. It is not a separate, sovereign Parliament. I am concerned when it does things that would not be passed by this sovereign Parliament, because philosophically they are contrary to how we behave in a basically capitalist economy.
I am of course thinking of the Land Reform (Scotland) Bill, to which several noble Lords have already referred, which is passing through the Scottish Parliament, and the community right to buy, which has just been mentioned, provided in Section 43. Someone told me that that was ridiculous because it was unclear. Section 43(1) states that the community right to buy,may be exercised when the owner of the land … is deemed to have given … notice … that a transfer is proposed".As that is couched in only the vaguest of terms, it could include when someone dies and a transfer of land happens.
Are we in this sovereign Parliament happy that a subsidiary body is passing legislation that will allow communities to expropriate land from the children of perfectly legitimate landowners? Do we really want to go that far? Such matters should be debated at this level rather than there. Tinkering with land tenure is one thing, but compulsory purchase in a new and socialist form is entirely another.
There is then the question of who will pay for all that. Perhaps the lottery will fund some of the initial purchase, but who will continue to run things? Most Scottish estates—the power is bound to be exercised for them in the initial days—run at a huge loss, so there will be a running cost to the Exchequer. At present, the Barnett formula gives about a 20 per cent per capita advantage to Scotland for money raised by taxation. I should imagine that that formula will be quickly revised, because I do not envisage people in England and Wales being happy to fund wonderfully grandiose and expensive schemes in Scotland.
1044 The next thing that worries me is that the procedures are being ignored. A lot of assurances were made about how the unicameral Chamber would operate. Legislation was first to be published in draft for public consultation; there would be pre-legislative committees to scrutinise it; only then would Parliament act like a second Chamber. In other words, it would be more like this House—with less political motivation and more effort to ensure that Bills were correct.
That is not happening at all. It is a highly politicised Chamber that is overruling the findings of pre-legislative scrutiny committees, such as the Rural Affairs Committee in the case of the Watson Bill. That also occurred in relation to some of the provisions of the Land Reform Bill. A good example is that the crofters' right to buy fishing rights contiguous to crofting land was inserted only when it reached the Parliament—it never went out for public consultation. That has environmental consequences because attempts to keep up the river environment and the riparian environment along the rivers are funded by private money. Although Scottish fisheries boards can raise a levy, it does not cover all the work that needs to be done. So there are problems with regard to future funding. Such things have not been properly considered, which worries me.
The trouble is that there are no checks and balances in the Scottish Parliament. As is the case with this Parliament, there is no constitutional court to which to take an issue; nor is there a second Chamber. That is extremely dangerous. We ought to remember that a democratic parliament is not there to force the will of the majority on a minority; it is there to protect the rights of all citizens equally. The majority does not have the right to interfere with a minority just because it is the majority. In fact, very few governments are ever elected by a majority of the electorate. They may have a majority among people who turned out to vote, but not of the total electorate.
I am coming to an end, but I turn briefly to another matter that has been raised. I suspect that the Opposition in the Scottish Parliament will change. At present, there is no home for the centre and centre-right vote, which I am sure will emerge as the true Opposition in the Scottish Parliament, rather than there being two socialist parties fighting it out. That vote exists; but until that happens the position is difficult.
This referendum Bill should not matter, because if the devolution experiment—sorry, devolution—has been so successful, there should be no fear about the result of such a referendum. It should endorse what is happening. I cannot see what is the danger therein. On the other hand, some people may consider such a referendum to be their last chance to hang on to some stability and to retain some of their assets. I suspect that the result of such a referendum might well shock a few people.
§ 9.19 p.m.
§ Baroness Michie of Gallanach
My Lords, as we have heard tonight, it is customary to congratulate the 1045 noble Lord on securing the debate. However, when I saw the matter listed in the Minutes of Proceedings I did not know whether to laugh or cry. I thought: "Here we go again". However, on reflection I decided that the noble Lord was performing a service because it would give us an opportunity to air some home truths. Indeed, on reading the report in the Herald last Friday, I was amused by his comment:My worst nightmare has been that no one will turn up"—that is, turn up for this debate—Then people would say, 'Yes, he really is barking'".Having since met the noble Lord, I can vouch for the fact that he appears to be quite sane. However, I should warn him that he is straying into dangerous territory. It is certainly not helping those who want to keep the United Kingdom together. The noble Lord says that he has not met anyone who is in favour of the Scottish Parliament. I wonder who he has been talking to—simply, I presume, those who never wanted it in the first place.
Before I continue, perhaps I may answer one or two of the points made earlier. For example, the noble Lord, Lord Monro, complained about the fact that he could not ask any questions about Scotland in this Chamber. That is not true. There are massive reserve powers to this place. The noble Lord could table Questions on the constitution, on defence, on foreign affairs, on electricity, coal, oil, gas, or on nuclear energy, on employment, on financial and economic affairs, and on social security. Indeed, there is a huge gamut of subjects upon which he could ask questions.
I believe that the noble Baroness, Lady Strange, mentioned the fact that the Chamber in the Scottish Parliament was half full when she paid it a visit. How many times has the Chamber in the other place been less than half full? During my 14 years in the House of Commons there were very few Members of Parliament in the Chamber on many occasions.
The noble Baroness seems also to object to the rose gardens being created around the new building and the cost involved. But how much did the fig trees in Portcullis House cost? I wonder whether anyone complained about them? I give way to the noble Earl.
§ Earl Ferrers
My Lords, I am most grateful. I wanted to complain about that and table a Question, but I was told that I could not do so because that would be poaching on House of Commons territory.
§ Baroness Michie of Gallanach
My Lords, I live and learn. It seems that we are not allowed to poach on House of Commons territory.
The noble Lord, Lord Monro, talked about Liberal Democrats and what little influence they have in the Scottish Parliament. That is absolute nonsense. If we were not engaged in a partnership government, there would be no stability in the Scottish Parliament. What would everyone be saying then? Perhaps, "This is dreadful: the Labour Government trying to rule as a minority party, with things going wrong from day to day and from week to week". We have had an 1046 enormous influence on that Parliament. Indeed, my noble friend Lord Mackie of Benshie pointed out the particular influences that we have had on, for example, student fees, on care for the elderly, on freedom of information, and so on. I give way.
§ Lord Monro of Langholm
My Lords, the noble Baroness is most kind. However, I disagree with her on the question of whether the Liberal Democrats have the influence that I would have expected of them when they are in such a position of power. The present Labour Government in Scotland could not manage without the support of the Liberal Democrats. I should have thought that they would use their influence to reduce the flow of some of the socialist legislation that we all find so unattractive.
§ Baroness Michie of Gallanach
My Lords, I can assure the noble Lord that we have done so. Indeed, there could have been much more socialist legislation passing through the Scottish Parliament. However, that is unlikely with a minority government.
The noble Lord, Lord Palmer, talked about a low turnout in referendums. I should remind him that the House of Commons government is always elected on a minority vote. The people of this country accept that, although it is not particularly democratic.
I think that the noble Lord also complained about the design and the cost of the new building for the Parliament. I am glad that my noble friend Lord Mackie of Benshie pointed out that that decision was made at Westminster, not by Members of the Scottish Parliament. People go on about how much it costs and say that it is disgraceful that it has cost £300 million—or whatever it is. That building will last for many years and will house Scottish democracy. It will not be a cheap building. Did we ever hear about the overrun in costs for Portcullis House, the British Library or the Dome? Why did we not hear about that?
§ Baroness Michie of Gallanach
We did hear about the Dome? Good.
The salaries of MSPs have been described as obscene. MSPs have a large workload. There is all the constituency work and all the business relating to education, housing, transport and so on. The salaries were decided by an independent pay review body, which recommended that that was what the Members should be paid. I hope that we will remember that it is considerably less than what Westminster MPs are paid. I remember how there were always rows in the other place when we had to vote on salaries recommended by an independent review body.
I looked up the noble Lord's biographical details. I discovered that he had listed hunting, shooting and gardening as his recreations. I wondered whether the Bill had been triggered by his annoyance at the fact that the Scottish Parliament had had the temerity to legislate to ban fox hunting. Will the noble Lord's next logical move be to introduce a Bill for a referendum to 1047 abolish the House of Commons when it votes to ban fox hunting later this year, as I am sure that it will? Some would say that that would not be a bad idea.
I am sorry that the noble Lord seems to have joined those in this House and in the other place who, together with parts of the press and media, never wanted the Scottish Parliament in the first place. They routinely denigrate and insult the institution and its Members. They have an anti-devolution and anti-Scottish agenda. Fair criticism is justified, but it should not he offensive, as it has been in the press, in particular.
We do not want to hear gratuitous abuse. We are dubbed, by the London press in particular, "subsidy junkies" and "whingeing Jocks". It all culminated recently in the shameful reporting in the London press of the Scottish women's curling team's success at the Winter Olympics. Incidentally, your Lordships may not have noticed that we have since gone on to win the world championships and the gold medal in North Dakota. None of that has really been reported, but that is understandable: Beckham's metatarsal—his toe—is much more important to this part of the country.
The denigration that has gone on in the press—including the Scottish press—is neither sensible nor helpful. It is extremely damaging. I am not sure what the noble Lord is suggesting—that the Scottish Parliament should be abolished and we return to Westminster, to the old ways? Heaven forbid. If the noble Lord had ever attended Scottish Questions in the other place, he would know that we were allowed only one hour a month to question Scottish Office Ministers on serious matters such as our own health service, our own education service and our own legal system. Those Questions were always a fortnight out of date. It was almost impossible to put distinctive Scottish legislation on to the statute book in any one year.
The noble Lord has also suggested that, according to press reports, things are running out of control. I do not understand what he means by that. Has he visited the Scottish Parliament? On the contrary, at last we have been able to address the real issues. Many Bills have been introduced, of which 30 are now on the statute hook. Noble Lords may not agree with them all, but that is democracy.
The Scottish Parliament has brought legislation close to the people, based on openness, accessibility and the sharing of power. That has been strengthened by the ability of the public to petition the Parliament. Over 300 petitions have been dealt with by the Petitions Committee, instead of disappearing into a bag at the back of the Speaker's Chair, never to be heard of again, as was the case during my time in the other place. If the noble Lord mustered sufficient signatures, he could petition the Scottish Parliament to abolish itself. That would certainly save the cost of holding a referendum.
Perhaps I may briefly remind the noble Lord of what happened in the beginning. The Treaty of Union in 1707 was supposed to be a union of the two 1048 Parliaments, but in fact it was a grafting on, an incorporation of the Scottish Parliament into the English one. Scots were to send 16 Peers and 45 Commoners to join the 190 Peers and 513 Commoners already there. The introduction of the Alien Act 1700 and the threat to the cattle and linen trades were the methods used to tighten the screw. Those, together with bribery and corruption both north and south of the Border, ended the Scottish Parliament. As Robert Burns put it in the oft-quoted lines:We're bought and sold for English gold, sic a parcel o' rogues in a nation".Those rogues were in the Scottish nation. A sorry tale indeed.
There was deep anger and opposition to that foolish move, as demonstrated by the arguments in the Scottish Parliament and the riots that took place in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Dumfries. If a referendum had been held at the time, the Parliament would not have been lost. From then on it was downhill all the way, at least for a section of the Scottish population, with the deliberate and systematic destruction of an entire people, their culture and language in the Highlands of Scotland gone, never to return.
From that time on, the campaign began for the restoration of the parliament. It became firm Liberal policy. We won the 1979 referendum, subsequently' dismissed by the Thatcher government. Some 25,000 of us marched in Edinburgh in the early 1990s, and at last there was a resounding "Yes, Yes" vote in 1997.
I pay tribute to the Labour Party for having served with us and many other groups for well nigh on seven years in the Constitutional Convention, which resulted in the White Paper and the Scotland Act 1998, brought to Parliament by the late lamented Donald Dewar. I would remind this House that the Tories refused to take part, as did the SNP. To be fair, one or two individual Conservatives and one or two individual SNP members served on the convention, but officially they would not take part and they would not discuss the future of Scotland.
What of the future? I say to the Labour Government, lighten up a little; do not be so timid; allow Scotland to become truly entrepreneurial and the Parliament to be really responsible and accountable. That means having access to all of Scotland's resources. The aim should be to develop the economy to the stage where it does not have to come to London every year for its block grant and we do not have to go through what happens on a yearly basis where everyone complains about what Scotland gets in the block grant.
It means fiscal autonomy. Why, I say to the Labour Government, be so afraid of it? It is nonsense to suggest that it would mean Scotland walking away and becoming independent. It would simply mean economic freedom to use all of our own considerable resources and to remit to London what is due for agreed common UK services. You can look to Spain for examples of that.
I say to the Government think big; think exciting. Go for regional devolution in England. Free up the regions so that they have a real stake in the economic 1049 development in each area. Move towards a federal United Kingdom government, even if it means taking on Liberal Democrat policy.
Central government in London is so restrictive, so suffocating, so overpowering. I believe that Pierre Trudeau in relation to Canada and America and Ludovic Kennedy in relation to Scotland and England likened their respective countries to "being in bed with an elephant".
I believe that the rekindling of political interest in the country depends on the decentralisation of power. Indeed, the proper delivery of public services also may well depend on it. The Government have the opportunity and the majority, but do they have the political will to build a new national interest based on honesty, humility and freedom?
I say one final thing: we will never, ever again give up our Scottish Parliament.
§ 9.37 p.m.
§ Lady Saltoun of Abernethy
My Lords, I, too, am grateful to my noble friend Lord Palmer for introducing the Bill because, whatever the Bill's fate or the pros and cons of holding a referendum on the continued existence of the Scottish Parliament, he has given the House the opportunity of discussing it, which some of us have been longing to do for some time.
I shall first say a word or two about the Parliament building. When the Scotland Bill was passing through this House, there was a lot of discussion in Scotland as to where the proposed Scottish Parliament building should be. Many people in Scotland were in favour of adapting the old high school—which had been prepared for the Parliament which never materialised in 1979—a very fine traditional building with a fine debating chamber which harmonised with its surroundings. Extra office space and other facilities would have been required, but these would not have presented an insurmountable obstacle. However, the late Donald Dewar, the Secretary of State for Scotland, had other ideas. The reason he gave for not using the old high school was that at the cost of an estimated £40 million to revamp it, it would be too expensive. Other reasonably priced possibilities were also rejected.
So the world was trawled for architects who would compete for the contract to build a new Parliament, as if there were not excellent home-grown architects in Scotland and as if it could ever conceivably have been feasible to buy a site, prepare it, and then build a Parliament for less than £40 million.
The usual public sector "quest for safety" in the choice of design went out of the window in a politically correct rejection of traditional style in favour of the avant-garde design of a Spanish architect—first estimated cost £108 million. As many of your Lordships are aware, the cost had risen to £266 million in March, and that is only what official channels are prepared to admit to. Recent press reports have suggested that £280 million would be nearer the mark, and Mr David Black, an architectural correspondent 1050 who has written extensively on the project, has suggested that the final cost may well be around £340 million. Our Parliament does not penny-pinch when it comes to spending on itself, although it could not afford to compensate people put out of work by its Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Bill.
To return to the design of the Parliament, the original design, which did have some cohesion, has been enlarged, so that it is now a conglomeration of buildings of questionable aesthetic appeal. Luckily, it is not up on a hill, but down in a hollow, where the visitor to Edinburgh can avoid seeing it; otherwise it might well join that list of buildings, such as the Chateau Frontenac Hotel in Quebec, the Alhambra Palace Hotel in Granada and the Victor Emmanuel Memorial in Rome, which it is best to be either in or on, because that is the only place from which you cannot see them. That, of course, will not present any problem to the MSPs, who will be cosily holed up inside, with imported oak panelling and so forth.
The Scottish Executive consists of the First Minister, 11 other Ministers and 10 junior Ministers—22 in all. The First Minister gets a salary of £69,000 a year; the 11 other Ministers get £36,000, and the 10 junior Ministers get £22,000. These salaries are on top, of course, of their salaries of £48,000 as MSPs. And of course, there is still the Secretary of State for Scotland at Westminster, and the Solicitor General for Scotland.
The noble Lord, Lord Monro of Langholm, asked why it is necessary to have 22—no, 23—Ministers to do the job which was done by five Ministers, plus the Lord Advocate and the Solicitor General in the days of the previous government. I dare say Secretaries of State, Ministers and Parliamentary Under-Secretaries worked harder in those days. The noble Lord was one, so he should know. Some were friends of mine, and I know that they worked very hard indeed. Perhaps it is right that they should not have to work quite as hard as their predecessors did. But still—a fourfold increase! It is a bit much. I cannot help feeling that quite a few people are doing very nicely thank you at the expense of the Scottish people.
I turn to the size of the Scottish Parliament. Now the question has arisen, as we always knew it would, of the number of Scottish MPs at Westminster being reduced, and the number of MSPs being reduced as well. Views have been sought from various bodies in Scotland on the practicality of this. I am sorry to have to say that the only people who seem to have the common sense to support a reduction are those in the Scottish Conservative Party. From all the others, including the Scottish National Party and an amorphous body called UNISON, we get a chorus of bleating to the effect that the parliament will not be able to do its job properly; it will not be able to man the various committees; family friendly working practices will suffer and so will equal opportunities. It really is pathetic. Equal opportunities should mean what it says, not special mollycoddling for women. At this rate, your Lordships will be expecting to be mollycoddled next! Committee members would have to bear an increased burden. And, horror of horrors, 1051 certain subjects could be marginalised. If that means what I think it does, so much the better—because what I think it means is that nasty Nanny Executive would not be able to find time for quite so much unwanted, unnecessary, intrusive and unenforceable legislation—such as the Bill to prevent people smacking their children if they are under three (the children, not the people!), and a great many people in Scotland would be a lot happier.
Let us do a little arithmetic. Reducing the number of MSPs, at £48,000, from 129 to 108 would save £1,008,000 a year. Sacking five Ministers would save £180,000 and sacking five junior Ministers, at £22,000 each, would save another £110,000. That makes £1,300,000, taking no account of their expenses, office space and other hidden costs. I accept that that is not an enormous sum in the total budget, but it would all help.
I return to pre-legislative scrutiny, which the noble Earl, Lord Errol, mentioned. When the Scotland Bill was passing through this House, a good deal of concern was expressed that, with no second chamber, ill-thought-out and half scrutinised legislation would result. We were assured by Ministers that that would not be the case, because all Bills would receive pre-legislative scrutiny in committee and the Parliament would incorporate the committee's amendments into the Bill. Those assurances were not worth the breath that they were spoken with, as the rejection of the scrutiny committee's recommendations on the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Bill has proved. I know that that is the only occasion so far on which that has happened, but it is frightening that it can happen and a very dangerous precedent has been set.
To end with, I do not for one moment believe that the people of Scotland want to give up their Parliament or would dream of voting to do so. However, I believe that many would like a leaner, meaner Parliament that would put the real interests of Scotland first, instead of their own interests and political dogma.
§ 9.46 p.m.
§ Lord MacKenzie of Culkein
My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, for giving us the opportunity to debate issues relating to the Scottish Parliament this evening. This is a matter about which I have felt very strongly since my first political awakening when, as a youngster, I used to listen to my father advancing arguments in favour of a devolved parliament in Edinburgh dealing with Scottish matters. Like me subsequently, he had no time for the notion or the nonsense of Scotland becoming an independent state. I have been a supporter of devolved government in Edinburgh for the better part of 45 or 50 years, during times when the idea was politically unpopular, even in my own party, which, in the immediate post-war years, forgot its earlier pro-devolution stance.
It was with huge delight that I saw the outcome of the 1997 referendum, when the Scottish people voted by a majority of almost 75 per cent to approve that there should be a Scottish Parliament. That is an overwhelming majority by any standards.
1052 That parliament came into being less than three years ago, on 1st July 1999. As with any constitutional change of that magnitude, there will inevitably be a settling in period. No doubt assisted by the sterling work of the Scottish Constitutional Convention, the transition from Westminster to Edinburgh has been without any obvious difficulty. I am of the view that it went very smoothly, with the doubters completely confounded, much as I suspect that the same doubters have been confounded by the successful introduction of the euro across most of the EEC. It is noteworthy that political parties that opposed the referendum and the setting up of a Scottish Parliament now accept that it is here to stay.
I am a little puzzled by the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, that there is a need for a referendum at this stage on the continuation of the Scottish Parliament. Despite the case that he has put tonight, it is likely that a goodly proportion of my fellow Scots will share my bafflement.
Of course it is inevitable with any parliament or any elected body that there will be those who do not approve of all the outcomes. That is a fairly understandable tenet of democracy. However, not liking outcomes or having unreasonably high expectations unmet does not detract from the fact that the existence of a Scottish Parliament remains a matter of great pride for most Scots. Had there been real public dissatisfaction, I have no doubt that the outcome of the 2001 general election would have been much less one-sided. Equally, I am certain that the Scottish public will demonstrate their continuing engagement next May when the Scottish Parliament comes up for re-election.
For those reasons and many more, many of them as enunciated by the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, I cannot really see the point of proposing a further referendum, certainly not a referendum so soon after the setting up of the Parliament. As has been said, it is not a part of the political heritage of this country that we seek to govern by continuing referenda.
I believe that government works best and delivers best when decisions are taken as close to the public as possible. I believe that the "one size fits all" policy is not the best way forward for the countries that make up the UK. The existence of a Scottish Parliament and a Scottish Executive enable Scottish Ministers to follow the priorities set by the people of Scotland on devolved matters. I would also argue that there is now adequate ministerial and parliamentary scrutiny of the devolved machinery of government in Scotland. I strongly suspect that, prior to 1999, vast chunks of the old Scottish Office never saw a Minister much less a Member of Parliament. The Scottish Parliament has allowed some 30 or 35 Acts to reach Royal Assent, when it is unlikely that four or five distinctly Scottish Bills could possibly have been dealt with at Westminster since 1999, such is the pressure on UK parliamentary time.
1053 One common criticism is the different outcomes in Scotland from the rest of the UK, for example on tuition fees or on care of the elderly. These different outcomes in Scotland are not anything other than a strength and a vindication of the system, and the system as it was intended to be. I say that despite the fact that I personally may not agree with each and every bit of legislation or every policy of the Executive. I agree with my noble friend Lord Hogg of Cumbernauld that there is too much concentration on the central belt. I think that much more attention could be paid to Gaelic culture and the Gaelic language, for example. I also do not agree with the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act 2002. As has been said, much more attention should have been paid to the pre-legislative scrutiny. I am an unashamed supporter of the regulation of hunting—the so-called middle way—as evidenced by my voting twice in the past 12 months in your Lordships' House for that course of action.
On the other hand, a very long overdue measure is in hand in the Scottish Parliament—the Land Reform (Scotland) Bill. Coming from crofting stock, I could hardly other than welcome what will be an important contribution to community empowerment in Scotland's rural areas. As far as I am concerned, Part 3 of that Bill correctly alters the balance of power between the crofting community and the landowner. I believe that that Bill properly represents the view of the majority of Scots and certainly the view of the majority of highlanders.
Until the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, mentioned Comrade Mugabe I had not intended to join the vociferous few who the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy of Lour, thought might talk about the Highland clearances. I respectfully tell the noble Lord that I think he was over-egging the pudding in referring to Mugabe in this context. I believe that those who burned out my forebears in the Highlands of Scotland and Sutherland and drove them to the inhospitable shores of Assynt, to eke out a living, or on to the immigrant ships had much more in common with Mugabe than do the proponents of that Bill.
No parliament will ever satisfy everyone. I can disagree with the outcomes, as clearly does the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, but it would not occur to me that we should hold a referendum to abolish the Edinburgh Parliament because I do not like those outcomes. As a nurse, I do not much like the entirely artificial difference made in this Parliament, for financial reasons, between personal care and nursing care, but I do not want a referendum to abolish this House or another place.
What the people do have the absolute right to do if they do not like the policies or legislation that has been passed is to remove the politicians from power at an election—not to abolish or attack the institution itself. Elections are the best and the only referenda now necessary whether for Edinburgh or for Westminster. Meanwhile, the institution of the Scottish Parliament—a young parliament and a parliament on a learning curve—should have the support of all of us.
§ 9.54 p.m.
§ Earl Ferrers
My Lords, your Lordships may wonder why an Englishman should come bounding into a debate on Scotland. I can only say that I once was the only Englishman among 17 Welshmen taking part in a debate during the passage of the Welsh Language Act. That was a fairly formidable experience. Therefore, I suppose that if one is the only Englishmen among 13 Scotsmen, one can say that one is, as an engineer would say, "case hardened".
However, I am not sure that I am the only Englishman. The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, masquerades as a Scotsman by his first name, but the second part of his name would seem to make him indelibly an Englishman. I have always thought of him as an Englishman. Therefore, I shall be interested to see which way he jumps, as it were, tonight.
I can understand anyone who wants their Parliament to be situated close to them. I do not want to get involved in that argument. I happen not to approve of the idea of devolution. Some 25 years ago I spoke from the Front Bench to oppose the then Labour government's Scottish devolution Bill. However, as I say, I can understand anyone who wants their Parliament to be situated close to their home and I do not want to get involved in that argument.
I wish to make only three points. The first concerns the cost of the new building which has been referred to on many occasions. My noble friend Lord Palmer said that it was estimated to cost £40 million. The figure is now £280 million. Some people say that the figure is expected to be £350 million and others say £500 million. My noble friend Lord Monro asked how the total sum has been allowed to escalate. Who is in charge of any contract or architect? Who approves the additional expenditure? No government department could ever exceed its budget to that extent. I wonder how this situation arose. There must be someone, surely, who says, "That is all right; you can spend another £100 million". Will the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, be good enough to tell us about that if I can have his attention for half a minute? I should not wish to interrupt his discussion with his noble friend on the Front Bench. As I said, will he be kind enough to tell us who has the responsibility for saying, "You may spend £100 million and more on this building"? One wonders where all the money comes from, who is responsible for it, and who pays. I assumed that the Scottish Parliament paid, but the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, said that Westminster pays. Presumably, that means that the Chancellor of the Exchequer finds the money.
I wondered whether any English money went towards the scheme. I presume that a lot does. It is odd that when anything relates in any way to what might loosely be described as democracy or democratic rights, somehow the money appears. There may be a row for a few days but then the coffers open and the money appears, yet governments find it difficult to find money for schools, railways and nurses. The noble Baroness, Lady Michie of Gallanach, mentioned 1055 Portcullis House and the Dome. I quite agree that those two come almost in the same category; certainly, Portcullis House does as it greatly exceeded the expenditure limits set for it.
Secondly, if that is the experience in Scotland, we do not want to see it repeated ill England. I seem to be referring often to the noble Baroness, Lady Michie of Gallanach, but she made a lot of comments that stimulated one's interest. She asked the Government not to make the Scots apply every year for block grants. I can understand that, but I also understand that the Scots per capita get more money than do the English per capita. Perhaps the Scots will lose out in that regard.
The noble Baroness then suggested giving the English regional government. As a good Scots lady I cannot see why she wants to interfere in the English set-up. I am merely interfering in this debate because it affects England. We are all part of the United Kingdom and what Scotland does affects England. We do not want in England another layer of government and bureaucracy, with all the expense that that would involve. The eight new regional council buildings proposed for the next three years presumably all have some kind of budget, and presumably all of those budgets will be exceeded. We shall also presumably see what the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, described as "third eleven" politicians strutting around preening themselves and trying to justify themselves. In his view that was a good description—and I merely repeat his description. We do not want such an increase in bureaucracy here. I hope that the Government will not import into England the experience of the Scottish Parliament, particularly in relation to the building.
My third point involves the position of the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister is always the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom—of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. In the middle of all of the hunting hoo-hah that took place about 18 months ago, the Prime Minister went on television and gave the assurance that, once the hunting problem was over, so long as he was Prime Minister, there would be no action taken against shooting or fishing. That was supposed to give a certain amount of comfort to a certain number of people, and I believe that it did. However, the Scottish Parliament need take no notice of that whatever. I asked the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, when she was a Minister, whether the Scottish Parliament could introduce a Bill despite the fact that the Prime Minister had said that that would not happen. The answer was that the Scottish Parliament can do whatever it likes. Therefore, any comfort or assurance that the Prime Minister can give cannot affect Scotland. That is terrible. He is the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and if he gives such an assurance, it should cover all of the United Kingdom. That is one of the results of this great cavalry charge to get devolution under way, and that is sad.
§ 10.2 p.m.
§ The Earl of Mar and Kellie
My Lords, before answering some of the many points that have been 1056 raised, I pay tribute to my noble friends Lady Michie and Lord Mackie for their defence of the Scottish Parliament in the face of a fierce onslaught.
The noble Lord, Lord Palmer, discussed voter apathy. It involves a dangerous mix of contentment and disaffection. However, I believe that an enraged electorate will vote. The noble Lord complained about economic growth. However, economic growth is not set by that Parliament. It may have to live with the fact that economic growth is generated elsewhere. Similarly, I believe that it was the Scottish Parliament rather than the executive that chose to overrule the Rural Development Committee.
The noble Lord, Lord Monro of Langholm, asked about Liberal Democrat Members. I say modestly that they have provided justice, education and rural affairs quite adequately. In particular, Ross Finnie did extremely well in relation to rural affairs. Jim Wallace has done remarkably well on the three occasions so far that he has been acting First Minister.
The noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy of Lour, and my noble friend Lord Mackie raised the experience of new MSPs. We are doing rather well to have progressed to the point at which we have a First Minister who has not been a Westminster MP. That is commendable.
The noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, talked about the block grant. The Parliament is being built with the block grant and the people of Scotland will suffer it or enjoy it in that context.
I remind the noble Baroness, Lady Strange, that these Benches supported her in her campaign to halve the Highland council area. It was interesting to hear that two amendments before, Clackmannanshire was an appropriate size for a local authority and that, two amendments later, the Highland council, which is only the size of Wales or Belgium, was also an appropriate size for a Scottish local authority.
To the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy of Lour, and the noble Earl, Lord Erroll, on the subject of crofters, perhaps I may point out that this Parliament gave the individual crofter the right to buy his croft at a time of his own choosing. I suggest that the legislation in Part 3 of the land reform Act is progressing on that precedence.
§ The Earl of Erroll
My Lords, I thank the noble Earl for giving way. My point was not whether the crofters should or should not have such a right but that the right to buy adjoining fishings was inserted at a later stage. The proposal was not published for pre-legislative consultation; it was inserted only when the Bill arrived in Parliament. Therefore, the measure did not comply with assurances given about how legislation would be conducted through the Scottish Parliament. My objection relates to the abuse of the procedures; not whether it is the right or wrong measure to take.
§ The Earl of Mar and Kellie
My Lords, I suspect that the Parliament must be in charge of its own procedures. Therefore, I do not believe that it is for us to complain too bitterly about how it conducts its 1057 business. However, I say to the noble Earl that I suspect few people will want to buy the fishings. After all, it is well known that in the Highlands the most usual sight on a Sunday night is that of the laird's car heading south so that he can earn more money in the City, or in a city, or somewhere else in order to pay for the estate, its maintenance and infrastructure. Therefore, I do not believe that that piece of legislation will be too much of a threat.
As regards the reduction of the number of Members to 106, I say to the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun of Abernethy, that we on these Benches believe that to do that will threaten, first, the committee system; secondly, proportionality; and, thirdly, rural representation.
The noble Lord, Lord Palmer, has found a novel way of getting around the usual self-denying ordinance in this House about discussing the performance of the Scottish Parliament. In theory, the Scottish Parliament is a creature of statute; in practice it is a fact of life. The noble Lord seeks to return to the 1706 settlement. That was not freely negotiated. The Scottish negotiating position was barely considered—and the Duke of Marlborough was in the wings waiting to roll the Scots up and add a Scottish location to Blenheim, Romilly, Oudenarde and Malplaquet.
The 1998 Act adjusted the 1706 settlement. Scotland became a semi-detached part of the United Kingdom and in so doing achieved the benefits of United Kingdom membership and control of its own domestic destiny. Scotland is not just the past; it is the present and the future.
The noble Lord, Lord Palmer, complains about the actions and costs of the Scottish Parliament. We must all accept that the Scots need to have a 10-year socialist revolution, which was denied them by the British—or more likely middle England. I believe that the Scots will eventually reject this chauvinism and adopt a more liberal approach, even if they do not vote Liberal Democrat. The United Kingdom is increasingly Scotland's finest achievement and the Scots have certainly not been held back by Scotland's membership of the United Kingdom.
My historic Erskine, Mar and Kellie predecessors over the centuries wrestled with the search for permanent peace with England. For them it was a prize well worth fighting for. For us today, while permanent peace with England is assured, it is right to organise the relationship between the two countries to mutual advantage. With tongue in cheek, I hope that the Scottish public will be kind to the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, who believes in what lies behind the Bill. Part of me believes that he needs to be protected from being lined up with the historic Lords Seafield, Queensberry, Mar, Loudon, Sutherland, Morton, Wemyss, Levin, Stair, Rosebery, Glasgow, Dupplin and Ross and of course Archibald Campbell, the brother of the Duke of Argyll. He is in danger of becoming the 15th of the Parcel of Rogues and perhaps we need what might be called a "Rabbie Burns" amendment to save him from that fate.
1058 On a more serious note, referendums should be used to confirm what has been building for several years. It was appropriate to hold a referendum in 1997 and indeed in 1979. The resurgence of Scottish national identity had been running since the early 19th century.
Does the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, recognise that the concept behind his referendum would have been more appropriate in 1750 when the post of Secretary of State for Scotland was abolished and the notion of North Britain was possibly at its height? The questions then would have been, "The Scottish Parliament should continue to be adjourned" and "The Scottish Parliament should be reconvened".
The House should delay further consideration of this Bill until your Lordships' Constitution Committee has completed its current inquiry into the early workings of devolution. The Select Committee will be taking evidence in Scotland in May and elsewhere throughout the year. Its findings will be published in the autumn of this year. The House imposed this resurrected and impeccably logical device upon the Government only recently. Such a Motion would find favour with the House. The noble Lord, Lord Palmer, may or may not have a lot to thank his noble friend Lord Moran for, with his recent parliamentary procedural archaeology.
The Bill is almost admirable in its provisions. It legislates for two questions which are more fair and less prejudicial than those asked in 1997. The Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee points out that an amendment will be required to Clause 2(2) to create a statutory instrument, and we approve of there being a sunset clause.
But there are other questions that the people in Scotland would probably prefer to answer before answering a question about return to direct rule. Such issues would include the need for a second Chamber, the size of the Parliament, fiscal devolution or even separation and independence. I would not recommend any referendum on devolution issues until the current settlement has had the opportunity to bed down for, say, 10 years, and even then only if a sustained groundswell of opinion arose which sought to move away from the 1998 Act in any direction.
There is the somewhat perverse statistical evidence that support for Scottish independence has increased recently in England and decreased in Scotland. Could it be that Scotland's elected politicians have been found to enjoy human frailty? The Scottish parliamentary process will settle down in the future. The difference now is that, while 72 Scottish MPs in Westminster are difficult to identify in a House of more than 650, in Edinburgh they are completely exposed to public scrutiny.
There can be little doubt that we on these Benches support the existence and continuance of a Scottish Parliament within the United Kingdom. We do not believe that there is sufficient long-term groundswell of opinion in Scotland which the proposed referendum could confirm or that sufficient time has elapsed for such to evolve. We hope that the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, will decide not to proceed with further 1059 consideration of this Bill, or at least that he will wait for the Constitution Committee's findings after its inquiry into devolution.
§ 10.14 p.m.
§ The Duke of Montrose
My Lords, I reiterate the gratitude that has been expressed to the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, for raising this issue and for using the Bill as a possible way of initiating a debate on Scottish affairs. Through the Bill, the noble Lord is adding another episode to a great Scottish tradition. History provides many cases where the Scots have taken some momentous decisions but where some have then hardly taken the time to turn around once before deciding that it was all completely wrong.
The best known example was referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Michie of Gallanach, who spoke about the Union of Parliament in 1707. I was delighted to hear the noble Baroness. I always believed that she would be a strong wielder of the cudgels for the Liberal Democrat Party and she certainly did not disappoint me this evening. She referred to the comments of Robert Burns on the outcome of the Union, when he regretted that Scotland.had been bought and sold for English gold".In fact, that was always the rationale of the whole issue. One would like to think that his evaluation of gold would have recognised the "equivalent" which Scotland received at the time of the Union. It amounted to a substantial increase to the Scottish Treasury at that point. The Union also brought in quite a lot of money over the years that it continued.
I even have to admit to an ancestor who signed and fought for the covenanting forces in 1638 and then changed over and fought for the Royalist cause because he questioned the motives of those who were driving the covenant.
The noble Lord, Lord MacKenzie of Culkein, drew our attention to the outcome of the referendum which was held on the question of the Scottish Parliament. The fact that 74.3 per cent of those who bothered to vote were in favour of a devolved legislature means that some politicians, unlike the noble Lord, Lord Hogg of Cumbernauld, have come to call this the "settled will" of the Scottish people. I admit that that is fractionally short of the 75 per cent that the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, demanded, but it is not that far away.
The greatest weakness of that result was that it was a pre-legislative referendum, with perhaps the most awkward question—the one about which we have heard most this evening—remaining unanswered; that is, how much it would cost. Perhaps from the Government's point of view, not knowing was an extremely wise position to adopt. We have heard enough today about the projected expense of the Parliament so I think that we can say that we still do not know the answer to that question. The most uncharacteristic thing about the whole issue is that the Scots were prepared to sign a blank cheque and are still considering what the outcome will be.
1060 Perhaps I may mention that the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, is likely by his action in promoting This Bill to incur the wrath of the godfather of the Scottish Parliament. Noble Lords here may well ask me who that godfather is. Who else but Canon Kenyon Wright? In referring to legislation that was brought up earlier in our debates here, he said that, because the Parliament is less than three years old, under Scottish law it would be illegal to smack it.
There is no doubt that the Scottish Parliament has enabled detailed consideration to be given to the issues that are of particular Scottish interest in a way that would never be possible at Westminster. In fact, possibly the biggest shock to the accustomed pace of life in Scotland is how, in spite of the seemingly interminable consultation processes thrown up by the pre-legislative scrutiny committees, the Parliament has passed 38 Acts. In addition, it has graciously passed 32 Sewel Motions on legislation that could be devolved, showing how anxious it is to leave us in Westminster to deal with some of the knotty problems that it comes up against.
The Scottish Conservative Party is committed to making a success of the Scottish Parliament. That means that there is much important work to be done. Devolution requires a new relationship between the constituent countries of the United Kingdom and, in particular, between the Westminster Government and the devolved institutions. The Government have been able to brush these questions under the carpet, relying on the fact that they have a large majority in Westminster and are the dominant party in the two coalitions running both the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly.
For the devolution settlement to be successful, it must be capable of working when different parties are in charge of the different institutions. The Conservatives have continued to raise this aspect of how the constitutional framework of the United Kingdom should develop with the aim of strengthening the Union and ensuring that it is a true partnership.
The difficulty now being experienced in Scotland is that the honeymoon period with the Scottish electorate is over. The trust with which it was initially regarded has been lost by some of the actions of MSPs who appear not to be able to put the interests of the public ahead of their own. Some might like to raise the question of whether that is an insurmountable problem, but it is not in itself a reason to discount the actual institution.
My noble friend Lady Carnegy of Lour outlined in a measured way where the Scottish Parliament has rushed in and produced legislation that may turn out to be full of problems.
Yesterday I heard an MSP addressing a seminar entitled "The New UK—Learning the lessons of devolution". He was obviously upset by the present tone of the Scottish press who have now picked out as the three major points of concern for the Scottish Parliament: Members' remuneration, building costs and hunting. He regarded their attitude as too 1061 simplistic and premature for such a young institution. But criticisms have come not only from the press. The hunting issue has raised great objection from those whom I meet in the agricultural and rural areas.
Even within the Parliament itself there are Members who have decided not to stand again. Perhaps their idea of what they were being asked to do was too rosy and ambitious. It is not so long since one young type attacked the debating skills of some of the female MSPs saying that,they displayed a total inability to make an informed and relevant contribution",and described some of the efforts as an affront to democracy. If that type of language were used in your Lordships' House, it might land the Member concerned in trouble with Standing Order No. 32 on asperity of speech.
One of the honourable Members in another place commenting on the Scottish Members' proposal for equal pay said on Radio Clyde,If they want to work the same hours as Westminster MPs and be home after midnight, then fair enough. But don't try to compare themselves with Westminster MPs. It's very much an odds and sods parliament. They've all got to put their arms round one another in order to get a decision".We come to the next knotty problem about which I believe the noble Lord, Lord Monro of Langholm, knows more than I do: the change to the number of Members required under the Scotland Act due to the revision of Westminster constituencies by the Boundary Commission. That is an old problem which the Government have wished on themselves. Various noble Lords have mentioned our discussions at the time of the Scotland Act, and will remember the long hours spent (both in Committee and on Report) in trying to get the Government to get to grips with the issue before the legislation was in place, rather than waiting until this late stage to resolve the matter.
A number of Peers have spoken of my noble friend the late Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish. On the first day of the Committee stage, at col. 1337 of Hansard, he argued that if a reduction was envisaged it should be introduced at the outset. However, the then Minister for Scotland had just insisted that,After thinking long and hard on these matters, the Government have concluded that the balance of advantage lies with maintaining the link between Westminster and the Scottish parliament constituencies. We gave careful consideration to the arguments advanced for breaking the link, but have concluded that the disadvantages outweigh the possible advantages".—[Official Report, 8/7/98: col. 1336.]We may have a new Secretary of State for Scotland, but we still have the same Government and it seems a bit rich that, having given that unequivocal assurance to the House, they are now considering changing their mind.
I believe that reducing the number of Members of the Scottish Parliament would be a step in the right direction. I have received notice that the Scottish Conservatives have asked for the implementation of the Scotland Act. Coupling that with their proposal for a reduction in the number of Ministers in the 1062 Scottish Executive from 20 to 10 should help to fulfil the proper objective of doing less better. It is probably of interest to the Scottish electorate that they reckon that those two measures would result in savings of over £2 million per annum, which would be enough to employ another 100 nurses or another 80 police officers.
In considering this Bill, I am inclined to follow the thoughts of the noble Lord, Lord Hogg of Cumbernauld, and to say that this has been a useful chance to air the many arguments that at the moment are flying around in Scotland. Although it is too early to pass judgment on the structure that we have created in Edinburgh, it is not too early to have a chance to express our views.
§ 10.24 p.m.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, at the outset I should make the Government's position clear. We do not seek to impede the progress of this Bill. We never seek to impede the progress of any Private Member's Bill through this House. However, I must say from the outset that, for reasons which I shall set out, we do not support the Bill. I also should explain the appropriate limits that I have in responding to this debate. Of course I am not responding to the debate; it is the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, who is.
The first limitation is that if there are questions about the scope and content of the Bill, it is for the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, to answer them and not for me. Interestingly enough, there have been virtually no comments on the contents of the Bill.
Secondly, in so far as the debate has covered the devolved actions of the Scottish Parliament, it would not only be ill-advised but utterly inappropriate for me to comment on anything that has been said. Indeed, if this debate had taken place in the House of Commons, nearly all of it would have been ruled out of order by the Speaker. We have no such clear and effective rules in this House. No one has sought to intervene. But I must say that it would not be well-taken by the Scottish Parliament to have the kind of criticism that has been made of its actions in conformity with the responsibilities given to it by the Westminster Parliament.
The noble Lords, Lord Hogg and Lord Monro, said that the debate gave us an opportunity to discuss Scotland, which is not easily available to us. I thought that that point was well answered by the noble Baroness. Lady Michie, who said that all of the reserved aspects of Scottish public life are still properly to be debated in this House, but the devolved aspects should not be debated and especially not by an unelected Chamber such as this one. Therefore, I shall not be responding to a large part of today's debate.
I therefore turn to my response to the Bill. I say immediately that, much as I have respect and affection for the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, we believe that it would be wholly inappropriate to hold a referendum on whether the Scottish Parliament should continue to exist. It is not only, as the noble Lord, Lord Hogg, said, too soon, but it is much too soon. It is not much 1063 too soon by a matter of five years but by double or treble that figure. After all, it is only four-and-a-half years since the referendum of September 1997 in which the Scottish people overwhelmingly endorsed the Government's detailed plans for the Scottish Parliament, which was set out in the White Paper. They were almost 75 per cent in favour on a turnout which may not have been wonderful—60 per cent—but it was actually higher than the turnout in the United Kingdom for the last general election.
We must remember that this did not come out of the blue on the basis of the Labour Party's 1997 election manifesto. It was based on the work of the Scottish Constitutional Convention, which had built a wide consensus in Scotland. That in turn was based on pressure which had been building up in Scotland over many years for devolved government. The result, it can justly be said—it was John Smith's phrase—was that devolution was the "settled will of the Scottish people". It is, of course, the biggest constitutional change in Scotland for 300 years. Surely, that is not something that should be tinkered with less than three years after the Scottish Parliament assumed its powers.
I have listened to what has been said about the perceived defects of the Scottish Parliament, but there is not any major party or body of opinion in Scotland that wants to bring the issue of devolution into debate once more. The noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, confirmed that even those who opposed devolution at the time now accept that their task is to make it work.
If I am told that public opinion in Scotland is turning against the Scottish Parliament, as has been suggested in the debate, I must say that, if anything, the effect has been the other way. The most recent Scottish social attitudes survey found that people wanted more powers for the Scottish Parliament, rather than fewer. Of course, there will always be criticism of the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Executive. That is politics and public life. But devolution has made government in Scotland more accessible, more responsible and therefore, inevitably, closer to home and easier to criticise. That is part of the point of devolution.
As I said, it is not my job to defend the Scottish Parliament's conduct in its devolved responsibilities, but it is worth saying—as have some noble Lords—that devolution has belied the fears expressed in this House during the passage of the Scotland Act 1998. This House, above all, does not need to be reminded of the importance of careful and considered scrutiny of legislation and of the activities of the executive branch of government. It is often said that the Westminster Parliament in total is inadequate in that respect.
The noble Baroness, Lady Michie, reminded us that in the old days there was little time for specifically Scottish Bills—typically for about two a year during the period before devolution. Admittedly, when there were Scottish Bills, they attracted considerable attention, especially in this House. When I first arrived here, almost 20 years ago, in one session we had two Bills, one a salmon Bill and one an enormously 1064 important education Bill. Your Lordships' House gave far more time to the salmon Bill than it was prepared to give to the education Bill.
There has clearly been a backlog of important legislation that the Westminster Parliament was unable to pass which has been tackled by the Scottish Parliament. Since 1st July 1999, 36 Acts have been passed by the Scottish Parliament, and a further three still await Royal Assent. I am not saying that the number of Bills is a positive achievement for any Parliament; I am not saying that the more legislation the better. I am saying that the bottleneck that existed for Scotland's interests has been tackled. The legislative programme has reflected the Scottish Parliament's own policies and priorities in education, transport, housing and other key areas.
Without intervening in devolved matters, it is worth mentioning how the Scottish Parliament has approached legislation. I say that only because it has significant implications for how this House should be doing its business. It is a feature of the Scottish Parliament that Member's Bills and Committee Bills can and do make progress and become law, where they can command support in Parliament. In other words, legislation is not simply a matter of the programme of the governing party.
That is one feature that Members of this Parliament ought to look on with admiration and a touch of envy. The noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, referred to it. Not everyone likes the result and Parliament does not always do what the scrutiny committee recommends—if it did, there would not be much point in having a Parliament. But there are lessons that we could learn from the Scottish Parliament: the strength of its committee system; its daytime working hours; its electronic voting at specified times; its serious consideration of public petitions by a full committee of the Parliament; and the level of background information attached to its affirmative statutory instruments—I mention that in the presence of the noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie, as I know that that is something for which he has been pressing for a considerable time. As a result, there is better scrutiny of the Scottish Executive than is the case here in Westminster. We ought not to underestimate that fact.
Very few specific points were raised about government policy in relation to devolution to which I ought to refer. The noble Earl, Lord Erroll, and other speakers, spoke about the Barnett formula. We take the view that that formula is fair: it is easy to understand; and it is consistent in its application. We have committed ourselves to using it until the year 2004, at any rate, and have no current plans to review it.
The noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, quoted the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, about the number of Members in the Scottish Parliament. I noticed the terms used by the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, during the Committee stage of the legislation. He said that, after careful consideration, the Government had decided that the balance was in favour of those provisions, which, in the end, were included in the Scotland Act. 1065 As is well known, we have been consulting on the issue. The consultation process has just come to an end, and the results of that consultation and subsequently our views will be made public. However, it would not be appropriate for me to comment further at this stage.
I should tell the noble Duke, and especially the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, who holds strong views on this point, that we are not, in any sense, talking about a blank cheque that the Scottish people have signed. The expenditure of the Scottish Parliament is within a budget that is set. That Parliament has tax-raising powers, which were given to it by the second question in the referendum. However, those tax raising powers have not been used. Such matters have continued to be ruled in Scotland by the Edinburgh Parliament in accordance with the provisions of the Scotland Act. I give way.
§ Earl Ferrers
My Lords, I am much obliged. I should tell the Minister that in no way was I suggesting that the Scottish Parliament was acting outside its remit. When someone states that a project will cost a certain amount of money but it turns out to cost twice as much, I was concerned as to who would be responsible for saying, "Yes, go ahead and do that". Presumably that would not be the Scottish Parliament; it would be the responsibility of an individual.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, I cannot speculate on who would be responsible within the Scottish Parliament. Of course, the Scottish Parliament is ultimately responsible for the acts of its Ministers and of its Members. Similarly, the Scottish Parliament is ultimately answerable to its own electorate. As the noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie, made clear in his speech, the one certainty is that English taxpayers are not paying for any overruns of expenditure. I give way.
§ The Duke of Montrose
My Lords, I thank the Minister for giving way. When I mentioned a "blank cheque" I did not mean a blank cheque against the Treasury and the British Government. The Scottish public has given the Scottish Executive a blank cheque as to how much of the funds that it receives will go towards the Scottish Parliament.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, the Scottish public elected the Scottish Parliament, which, in turn, chose its Executive. How the Scottish Parliament spends its money within its budget is a matter of democratic accountability. Those concerned will have to account to their electorate in due course. They form a corporate body: they are collectively responsible. 1066 That is what democracy is all about. Indeed, that is true whether it is in Edinburgh, in London, or in Timbuktu.
I hope that I have made it clear that we do not think that it would be appropriate for the Bill to be enacted or for there to be referendum. We respect the views expressed and the level of expertise shown in the debate, but we are of the settled view that devolution has improved the governance not only of Scotland but of the whole of the United Kingdom.
It is, of course, a matter for the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, but if he were to feel it appropriate not to press his Motion, the Government would not be wholly disappointed.
§ 10.40 p.m.
§ Lord Palmer
My Lords, that was typically courteous of the Minister. I thank him sincerely for the full way in which he summed up what has been a fascinating debate.
One of the most interesting things to come out of the debate is the idea that I am about to introduce a Bill to ban the House of Commons, particularly if it decides to do anything about fox hunting. I had not thought of that; perhaps it would be worth thinking about over a drink in the Bishops' Bar later. It is an idea that would be greatly welcomed throughout the United Kingdom!
My greatest sadness tonight is that I have been unable to persuade my very dear friend, the noble Lord, Lord Ewing of Kirkford, to leave his greenhouse in Kirkcaldy and come down tonight. I am sure that he would have added great colour to the debate. I am grateful to noble Lords from all parts of the House who have taken part tonight. I do so hope that Holyrood will take note of some of what we have discussed tonight.
I will not deny that to pass the Bill would entail deep consideration, coupled with great courage—two great hallmarks of your Lordships' House. The Bill is, above all, an empowering measure, to secure the free expression of the will of the Scottish people. The leaders of Scotland proclaimed in the Declaration of Arbroath in 1320:We fight not for glory, nor for wealth, nor honours, but for freedom alone which no good man surrenders but with his life".I do not know exactly what to do, but, in the light of what the Minister said, I thank again all Members who have taken part and beg leave to withdraw my Motion for Second Reading.
Motion for Second Reading, by leave, withdrawn.
House adjourned at seventeen minutes before eleven o'clock.