Debates between Lord Desai and Viscount Waverley during the 2019 Parliament

United Kingdom: The Union

Debate between Lord Desai and Viscount Waverley
Thursday 23rd June 2022

(1 year, 11 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Desai Portrait Lord Desai (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, I too thank my noble friend Lord Lisvane for suggesting this topic. Going back to what I said earlier this afternoon and, again, talking about where I come from, India was supposed to have been acquired in a fit of absent-mindedness by the British. I think we have devolved in a fit of absent-mindedness. We have not devolved systematically; we have devolved by bits and pieces. That is the way we do things.

Let me start at the beginning: we are a union, not a federation. The problem is, can we become a federation while maintaining the unity of a union that is now coming apart? Because we do not do things formally, because we do things by bits and pieces and because our constitution is not unwritten but scattered all over the place—as the noble Lord, Lord Norton, has often reminded us—we have a very unsystematic way of doing things, but that is the way we do them. I think the time has now come to say that our unique pattern of doing things no longer works. The world has changed; people are very conscious of their rights across all classes. Therefore, it will not be possible for a few good chaps to come together and settle the problem.

At some stage, something formal will have to be done, if possible. The noble Lord, Lord Cormack, and other noble Lords have made suggestions. The Government will not do anything formal and systematic in this. They have absolutely no interest in starting all sorts of controversies that they cannot control. The only agency which can do anything about this is your Lordships’ House. The suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, is one that we should follow very seriously: to construct a meeting of the Parliaments of all the devolved Administrations, and your Lordships’ House, though not the other place, which has its own problems to deal with. Let us try to emulate what Scotland did: it had a convention which was informally and socially created, and which was discussing the problem of Scottish devolution ages before Scottish devolution was legislated. We need something like that.

Obviously, it would not have government authority or government sanction, but we ought to find ways of doing it informally, privately or whatever, meeting regularly to say, “This is a problem that we can all settle only jointly.” We must have serious lawmakers, lawyers and constitutional experts in our gathering, chosen from the already elected Members of the various legislative assemblies. A document of some sort could then be put forward that would prod any Government in power by then to do something systematic and thorough about preserving the union, and going from a union to a healthy federation of some sort. A union is too centralised a concept. India has become a union rather than a federation. I could bore all your Lordships on the difference between the Government of India Act 1935 and the Indian constitution, but that is for another day. It should be a federation, not a union.

I end by saying one small thing. When there was a proposal to reform your Lordships’ House during the coalition Government, we had a consultation by a Joint Committee chaired by Lord Richard. I submitted a note to that Committee, which is in print, suggesting that we should have a new version of your Lordships’ House, elected by single transferrable vote, from 10 regions of England and the three devolved Assemblies, with 30 Members each. If we had the House of Lords made up of people who were representing all the devolved nations and England, then we would have a federal Chamber.

We need the composition of a body as suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, to reflect that kind of balance. It should have people from each of the devolved agencies and from your Lordships’ House. It should work in its own time to propose a solution to the problem of the union. If we can do that, this alone will prod the Government of whichever party is in power to do something about it. Otherwise, Governments at the other end have no incentive to do anything about the union, because they have all the power and they are not going to give any of it up.

Viscount Waverley Portrait Viscount Waverley (CB)
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My Lords, before the noble Lord, Lord Desai, sits down, I apologise for breaking in at the end of his remarks but if we were to agree and able to implement the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, this grouping should contain members of Sinn Féin and the SNP, so that we deal with all this in the fullest manner possible.

Lord Desai Portrait Lord Desai (Non-Afl)
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I must confess that I am deaf, and the acoustics are absolutely terrible in here. I ask the noble Viscount if I can answer his question later on.