Yesterday saw the second reporting stage of the Scotland Bill take place in the House of Lords, and from time to time I keep my critical eye on such proceedings.
In the report stage of the bill, the Lords vote on the amendments which they have been putting forward, most never see the light of day again, but It is still a worthwhile exercise in noting what they really think, and also with a Representative from the Government present, what the Government are really up to.
The first item of note concerned student fees:
Asked By Lord Forsyth of Drumlean
“To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they will ensure that students who are resident in England, Wales or Northern Ireland and attend Scottish universities will pay the same fees as those living in other European Union member states.”
The Advocate-General for Scotland (Lord Wallace of Tankerness):” My Lords, as I set out on Report on the Scotland Bill on Monday, higher education is devolved across the United Kingdom. This means that all areas of the UK have made different decisions regarding the funding of higher education. Any change to the devolution settlement would risk a key principle of devolution: that the devolved Administrations have the freedom to set devolved policies as they see fit.”
Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: “My Lords, I thank my noble and learned friend for that very disappointing reply. Should the Government not get together with the Scottish Government and end the scandalous discrimination against students from England, Wales and Northern Ireland, who have to pay up to £36,000 to go to a Scottish university, where Scottish, Italian and French students can go for free, and where anyone else in the European Union can also go for free? Meanwhile, under the Barnett formula, people from the rest of the United Kingdom are funding a grant for Scotland that works out at about 20 per cent more per head than is spent in England. This is not sustainable; it is unfair to our young people; it is bad for the union; and should the Government not do something about it?”
Lord Wallace of Tankerness: “My Lords, I recognise the sensitivity of the issue-and the tenacity with which my noble friend pursued it in Committee and on Report. It is totally in character that he should continue to do so. As I indicated, fees are only one part of the question. Different student support arrangements are in place in different parts of the United Kingdom. Support for English students, including English students studying in Scotland, is more generous than for Scottish students studying in Scotland. The universities in Scotland have also made generous bursary arrangements for English students wishing to study at Scottish universities.”
Baroness Liddell of Coatdyke: My Lords, I have always regarded the noble and learned Lord as a very fair man. He is in the very difficult position of having to justify the manifest unfairness towards English, Welsh and Northern Irish students. I welcome the initiative in seeking to reopen discussions with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. Will he also look at anti-discrimination legislation, because this is a clear case of discrimination against students from these three parts of the United Kingdom, and at the end of the day rich students will still be able to come to Scotland while those with humbler means will find it even more difficult?
Lord Wallace of Tankerness: My Lords, I cannot accept the proposition of the noble Baroness. As I indicated, the support arrangements available for students domiciled in England apply whether they are studying in England or at a Scottish university. Scottish universities have put in place generous bursary arrangements to help students coming from England and other parts of the United Kingdom. Students from England, whether they are studying in Scotland or England, will not have to pay off any of their loan until they are earning at least £21,000. That should not deter students from poorer backgrounds from coming to Scotland.
So there we have an incidence of Lord Micky Forsythe (Conservative) and Dame Helen Liddell (Labour) seeking to have a parity of arrangements between England and Wales and Scotland, the effect of resolving in the way they would wish it would mean the ending of free education in Scotland in order to satisfy English demands that all in Scotland pays Englands extortionate fees.
There are no SNP Lords, nor will there be, so no answer can be made by them in this unelected establishment.
It is interesting but of no surprise to note, that Forsythe always acts against Scotlands Interests, but perhaps surprising for some to see Labour Lords and Dames doing likewise.
Lord Jim Wallace acting for the Government actually advises that English students are better looked after in Scotland than they are in England and also have better arrangements in Scotland through bursaries than their Scottish counterparts.
There have been reports in the press recently that the Scottish Government has agreed to progress with the Scotland Bill, and that they have done a deal with the British Government on this matter.
This reporting took me by surprise, and by what I had been hearing the Scottish Government had in the process gained more powers, but not as much as they would like. However on the other hand they were not giving back any powers either, other than oversight over the Antarctic zone.
It took me by surprise because the Scotland Bill is still making its way through the House of Lords, and they are messing about with it something rotten.
But it would appear, that they are actually discussing a Bill which will be utterly irrelevant before it sees the light of day. What the Scottish Government have agreed to is a Section 30 Order, which cannot be amended or discussed by the Lords. The Section 30 Order allows for business between the two governments to be thrashed out behind closed doors,and allows for the Scottish Government to call a Binding rather a Consultative Referendum, to set the question, and to name the date. So in fact, the British Government and Unionist parties for all the noise they make in public have already thrown in the jerseys!
Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: “My Lords, I am surprised that there is not more interest in this important piece of legislation. This amendment is very straightforward. If my noble and learned friend is not able to accept it, I hope that at least he will be able to give an undertaking that the substance of it will be adopted by the Government.
It is perfectly apparent that the Government do not intend to use the Scotland Bill to provide for the forthcoming referendum on independence. As my noble and learned friend has made clear, the preferred procedure is to use a Section 30 order, but subject to the important conditions that such a referendum taken forward by the Scottish Parliament would be regulated and run by the Electoral Commission, and that there should be a single question.”
The Earl of Caithness:” I support what my noble friend Lord Forsyth has said about information. In the United Kingdom we are woefully short on information as to the consequences of this potentially tragic leap that we are encouraged to take. I was disappointed in Committee by the lack of response from my noble and learned friend on these matters. I raised some of them,”
“I agree with my noble friend Lord Sanderson of Bowden on his scepticism over the Section 30 order. We cannot alter this Bill. It has been agreed behind closed doors, and is subject to a legislative consent Motion. My noble and learned friend Lord Wallace of Tankerness was very clear about this when I raised it on the first day of Report, when I asked what happens if we have an amendment at Third Reading. He said, “Well, Holyrood will have something to say about that”. So we will not be able to alter the Bill, and we will not be able to alter a Section 30 notice. Again, it will be agreed behind closed doors and presented as a fait accompli.”
“Secondly, my noble and learned friend likened the United Kingdom to a club. If a member wants to leave, they should be allowed to leave the club without any of the others having any say in the matter. My amendment on the rest of the UK having a say in what Scotland decided was not acceptable to him. Will he therefore confirm that, in the Section 30 notice, he will allow parts of Scotland also to leave the proposed club of an independent Scotland? It comes back to my point about Orkney and Shetland, but it might be the Western Isles or somewhere else. There cannot be one rule for the United Kingdom and another for those in Scotland.”
At this point in the debate we enter barking mad territory, or is it?
The noble Earl of Caithness suggests that the UK is private club, which it might appear to their Lordships, but not to us in Scotland.
At various points in time they suggested that the rUK should have a say in the referendum. This is complete nonsense as Scotland passed an Act of Union in 1707 and England passed their own Act of Union a year earlier. It took a decision by Scottish Lords to enter into the Union, and It will only take a vote by the majority of Scots to remove ourselves from it.
The following extract from the final committee stage raises the attempt by Caithness and subsequently as we have seen in the press by Tavish Scott and Co to extricate the Northern Isles from Scotland.
“There are a lot of reasons why it is so important that the United Kingdom is kept together, which, if it is broken by a minority, will have huge implications. That is why I have put forward my Amendment 89, which says that the referendum in Scotland should be advisory and could be implemented only if it was agreed in the rest of the United Kingdom. We are sleepwalking into a whole lot of issues that have not been discussed, the implications of which nobody fully understands, and which the vast majority of the United Kingdom will not have a say on.
My Amendment 90 is an amendment to Amendment 88 and says that if the vote in a referendum held in Scotland is for a separate Scotland-I do not say “independent Scotland” because Scotland is about as independent a country as you can get-but that if the people of Orkney and Shetland vote to remain in the United Kingdom, they should be allowed to do so.
The obvious argument in favour of that is the argument that has been expounded about Scotland, which I have just spoken about. Here we have a minority of people in the United Kingdom saying “We want to become separate” or “We could want to become separate”. The rest of the United Kingdom has to accept that, as the noble Lord, Lord Reid, thinks is right. I am saying
that if Orkney and Shetland decide that they want to stay in the United Kingdom-although that is not the only alternative for them-their wish should be granted.”
“in 1979 the people of Orkney and Shetland voted against a referendum. In 1997, they voted very narrowly in favour but the people of Orkney voted against the tax-raising powers. There is a totally different culture in the Northern Isles, which has been evidenced by DNA tests that show that 60 per cent of the people of the Northern Isles are of Norse descent. That is not just on the male side but also the on female side. Further research in 2005 showed that as many women came over from Scandinavia to populate Orkney and Shetland as men. It was not a takeover bid by males; whole families moved over, and settled and integrated into Orkney.
Recently, there has been a slight change in the SNP position. After six months of castigating me for what my amendment proposed, in the past couple of days I have seen that the SNP has now admitted that Orkney and Shetland might be able to stay out of a separate Scotland should they vote against independence. In a recent interview, the SNP’s rural affairs spokesman, Angus MacNeil, admitted that if that was the case, that part of the oil in the Orkney and Shetland basins would remain with the islands.”
Angus MacNeil as a point of interest said no such thing about oil in the Orkney and Shetland basins
“Although my amendment proposes that Orkney and Shetland might be able to stay within the United Kingdom should they so wish, there are other options. There is outright Shetland independence and Shetland exceptionalism, which the current Convenor of the Shetland Islands Council has been promulgating. There is of course the opportunity to become a Crown dependency. One further interesting fact is that, in January, the debate at the Althing was on the motion that Shetland’s future lies in an independent Scotland. That was defeated. In that debate, the people of Shetland clearly indicated that they did not wish to become part of an independent Scotland.”
“My next amendment deals with the island of Rockall, those uninhabited rocks out to the west of the United Kingdom. I appreciate that in 1972 the Island of Rockall Act received its Royal Assent. At that time, it was administratively made part of the isle of Harris, which was then part of Inverness-shire. But I shall go back a little further than that to what happened when people landed on Rockall on 18 September 1955. A plaque was placed on Rockall on that day by people off HMS “Vidal”, which read:
“By authority of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, by the Grace of God of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of her other realms and territories Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith, and in accordance with Her Majesty’s instructions dated the 14th day of September, 1955, a landing was effected this day upon this island of Rockall from HMS Vidal. The Union flag was hoisted and possession of the island was taken in the name of Her Majesty. [Signed] R H Connell, Captain, HMS Vidal”.
Lord O’Neill of Clackmannan: Does the noble Earl anticipate there being a polling station on Rockall and the like? We are dealing with matters of rather greater significance than these flights of geographical fancy.
The Earl of Caithness: My Lords, I do not anticipate a police station-
Lord O’Neill of Clackmannan: A polling station.
The Earl of Caithness: In fact, I do not anticipate people living there. But what is important are the oil exploration rights around Rockall, which have huge implications. What I want to ask my noble and learned friend is what takes preference. Is it Her Majesty’s instructions to raise a union flag and it is taken for the union, or is it an Act of Parliament which gives administrative rights so that the island of Rockall is part of Scotland? That ought to be decided. I would say to the noble Lord, Lord O’Neill, that these are the sorts of issues that we need to be clear about when it comes to the referendum. If oil is found within the waters of Rockall, let us have a clear mandate as to who owns it and who is going to have responsibility for those areas, and indeed defend them against attack, perhaps by terrorists, if the oil is developed.”
And there we have it…..out of the mouths of Lords…The real reason for the interest in the Northern Isles and the lump of rock called Rockall in the Atlantic…Its nothing to do with the inhabitants of the Northern Isles or the seabirds of ROckall, but all to do with laying claim to Scotlands Oil.
Lord Des Browne commented on this aspect himself
“Lord Browne of Ladyton:
I shall deal with the noble Earl’s other two amendments about the islands. My suspicion was that what lay behind those amendments was oil, which was perhaps doing a disservice to the noble Earl as I listened to him explaining the history of the islands and his knowledge of the island of Rockall and how it was claimed for the United Kingdom. He was quite candid about the issue towards the end of his remarks. I say to him that if that is the intention of any person in relation the Bill, that is not a game that people on these Benches will play. The challenge that we face is to persuade the people of Scotland to stay in the United Kingdom for good, positive future reasons. If we cannot meet that challenge, I will be no part of telling the voters of Scotland that if they vote for independence the UK will take away their oil. Starting down that line would be utterly counterproductive.
I must caution the noble Earl. Whatever the underlying motivation may be for these amendments-respecting the wishes of the people of the high north with regard to the United Kingdom, or the history of the island of Rockall, which is much more chequered and less specific than it first appeared-now that he has linked this issue to oil, I ask him please not to repeat these arguments in Scotland, as they will damage our ability to keep the union together.
The Earl of Caithness: That was not my argument. I was responding to an intervention by the noble Lord, Lord O’Neill. My argument was not about oil. That was not my intention at all, particularly with regard to the Orkney and Shetland amendments. As for Rockall, I just wanted to know what the legal position is.
Lord Browne of Ladyton: I am glad to hear from the noble Earl that that is the case. The legal position is that the island of Rockall would not be part of the United Kingdom if it were not so close to Scotland. If we break the relationship between Rockall and Scotland, we will lose our basis in international law for claiming it in the first place. We should be very careful about that.”
So there we have the legal position on Rockall in Black and White…The UK cannot claim Rockall without admitting it is in Scottish territory, therefore Scottish if Scotland gains Independence.
Lord Wallace of Tankerness:
There are clearly issues that go to the core of the referendum issue and what shape a Section 30 order might take. Before I address those points, it might be helpful if I pick up some of the more specific points that were raised, not least in the amendments spoken to by my noble friend Lord Caithness.
In many respects, his amendments proceed on the proposition that in the event of Scotland voting for independence there should be a subsequent referendum of the whole United Kingdom to ratify it. I certainly take the view, which was expressed by the noble Lords, Lord Browne and Lord Reid, that, to use the words of Sir Malcolm Rifkind-if it was he who coined them-“If you want to leave the club, the other members shouldn’t really stop you”. Therefore, it is not a tenable position to suggest that if Scotland were to vote for independence, there should be a subsequent vote in the United Kingdom as a whole. In that sense, the subsequent vote of the people of Orkney and Shetland and the position of Rockall would not arise.”
In effect you cannot go chopping off areas or bits of Scotland prior to the referendum, and anything that transpires after a YES vote would be an Issue for the Scottish government and the rUK would have no say in the matter. It is a purely Scottish decision what happens in the referendum and no other subsequent referendums on independence can be held in the rUK on the matter.
it is interesting to note just how chummy all these Unionist Lords are with each other, and not just the terrible twins of Foulkes and Forsythe….Here is a freudian slip by Des Browne
“Lord Browne of Ladyton: My Lords, I had not intended to speak in this debate for the simple reason that I do not support the amendment and I feel that I am destroying my relationship with my noble friend Lord Forsyth bit by bit in a salami-slice fashion.
Noble Lords: Oh!
Lord Browne of Ladyton: Sorry, I meant my noble friend Lord Foulkes. Maybe I should start again.”
And lastly we come to Barnett. What is proposed to happen to the Barnett Formula if Scotland stays.
“I thank the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, for so ably speaking to it on my behalf. It was much appreciated, as were the other speeches in the debate, although not all of them were ones with which I would agree, as I will point out in a few moments.”
“The issue is about the fairness of allocating expenditure between England, Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland. I am moving the amendment on a Bill about Scotland but if it is accepted, as I hope, it would affect the money going to the other parts of the United Kingdom as well. It is bound to do.
The amendment is based on the select committee’s report and requires need to be taken care of. In other words, instead of the block grant changing each year based on population, it would be based on need.
I know that there have been reports that the Barnett formula was once referred to by Alex Salmond, the present leader in Scotland, as the Barnett squeeze. He reckons it is all perfectly reasonable and fair to Scotland. Following a report by some research body recently, I saw a headline that said, “Scots rejoice as subsidy junkie myth laid to rest”.
This amendment would not be needed if by any chance, even knowing the facts of the economic and financial situation, the Scottish people were so foolish as to vote in a referendum for independence, which I do not believe for a moment they would be. I hope and believe that all parties in your Lordships’ House will strongly support the United Kingdom remaining united. The facts to be put before the Scottish people are very clear but, if by any chance there were to be independence, the only good thing about it would be that we would no longer need a formula. However, I hope and believe that it will not happen.
One comes to the other proposition which I gather the Government of Scotland propose to put to the Scottish people. It has become known as devo-max. If it were to be put to the Scottish people, it could not be put in detail. It would be a pig in a poke because they would not know the outcome of devo-max when voting. They could not, because whoever won the election in Scotland after 2015 would have to negotiate with the Treasury. The best of luck to them in negotiating those financial arrangements. Whatever they negotiated, they would almost certainly still need some kind of allocation of grant. That allocation should be made on the basis of need, which is the background of my amendment.
This amendment would implement the changes in 2015-16, well after the coalition Government’s plans to stabilise the economy, so I assume that the Minister will say that the present Government now agree with this amendment because I do not see how they could object to it. He has told me so many times that the Government are on target to achieve stability in 2015. I do not believe that they are, but that is another matter. That is the Government’s policy. In those circumstances, I do not see how the Government or anybody else can really object to this amendment.
Lord Steel of Aikwood:” My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, is held in great affection and respect in this House and he has given us a very good history of his formula, for which he deserves great credit. The reason I am opposed to this amendment is not financial; it is simply the politics of the situation that we are in today. With great respect to the noble Lord, he is now out of date. Subsection (4) of his amendment says:
“The new Barnett formula should be implemented no later than 1 April 2016″-
so we have new Labour, new Barnett; it goes on.
My argument is that by 2016, if politics develops as I expect it will in Scotland, the Barnett formula will not need to be amended; it will be abolished.”
After some discussion the amendment was dropped for the meantime, namely because the Government do not want to scare the horses.
They will come back to it after 2014, and if Scotland has said No, it will then be implemented on a Needs basis…which if in force today would lose the Scottish Government 4.5million a year off their budget and that money sent elsewhere in the UK, mostly to England and Wales. The Welsh do lose out considerably by Barnett, and thus they need better arrangements made. Scotland receives back a greater amount of its contributions but it still doesn’t meet what Scotland contributes to the UK. This proposal as it stands would badly hurt Scotland post 2016.
I certainly hope Lord Steele is correct in saying it will be abolished, but because we have voted for Independence, he rather hopes for Devo Max. But as has been pointed out, nobody has come up with any proposals of what enhanced devolution would entail, nor can we even vote for it, as it requires agreement of the whole of the UK not just Scotland. We can guess how that will work out if we are still chained to this Union, and it wont be well.