Lords debates alternatives to UK devolution

15 October 2012

Members of the Lords examined what alternative constitutional settlement could be proposed instead of devolution and the break-up of the UK on Thursday 11 October.

Lord Maclennan of Rogart (Liberal Democrat), tabled and opened the debate, saying: ‘The referendum proposed on Scottish independence is without precedence since 1707 and the Act of Union. I know it is widely considered that the majority of Scots in Scotland who will participate in this test of opinion are unlikely to take such a self damaging step, but there is no ground for complacency’.

He continued by suggesting the possibility of a nationwide convention which ‘should take years, and not months, to deliberate, so that the people of Scotland recognise that the choice is not between separation and the status quo and so that they can see, like everyone else in the United Kingdom, that there are a range of opportunities that would lead to better governance.’

Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale (Labour) followed by saying that: ‘Our objective should be to seek the best constitutional settlement for the United Kingdom and for the people of the United Kingdom – and, from my perspective particularly, for the people of Scotland – not just that which is tactically helpful for those of us that believe that the United Kingdom has a role in the modern world at this time’. He expressed his concerns about a nationwide convention by saying: ‘It is important to have a sense of purpose for such a body and for it not to operate in a vacuum. There must be an end in sight, even if the details are not all clear at the beginning.’

Lord Cormack (Conservative), focused on the issue of referendum in Scotland, he said: ‘I strongly agree... on the need for a holistic look at the constitution of the United Kingdom. I very much hope that the next two years will not be barren in that regard.’, he went on to discuss the issue of lowering the voting age in Scotland to 16 for the referendum, stating that: ’If there is any suggestion that there should be a change, then that is a change that should extend to the rest of the UK and should be brought into effect only if both Houses of the Parliament of the UK decide that is the right way forward.’

Lord Wallace of Tankerness (Liberal Democrat) responded on behalf of the Government. He started by stating that the Government sees ‘a vibrant and strong United Kingdom with its constitutional arrangements such as devolution thriving and developing’, and that ‘the people of Scotland deserve a referendum that is legal, fair and decisive, and that aim is best achieved with a referendum that poses a single, clear question’.

Lord Wallace responded to Lord Cormack’s concerns by saying: ‘The United Kingdom Government have no plans to lower the voting age for elections... however, if we were to agree to a transfer of powers to the Scottish Parliament to hold a referendum...it is the Bill enacting the referendum that determines the franchise.’

On the issue of a constitutional convention Lord Wallace said: ‘The Prime Minister... said that he agreed that we will need an open, involved and comprehensive conversation about the type of union we want to see and that... we should consider the best way to go about doing so. However, he went on to say he believed that a better time to do that would be once the Scottish referendum debate has come to a conclusion.’

Other speakers included:

Lord Steel of Aikwood (Liberal Democrat), Lord Foulkes of Cumnock (Labour/Co-operative), Lord Judd (Labour), Lord Kerr of Kinlochard (Crossbench), and Lord Soley (Labour) also contributed to the debate.

Further information

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