By a Newsnet reporter
Michael Forsyth, the last Conservative Secretary of State for Scotland, who now sits in the House of Lords as Baron of Drumlean, has reacted angrily to what he claims is a lack of information from the Coalition Government about their consultation on the independence referendum.
The peer was also angered that the UK Government had apparently made further concessions to the SNP. Mr Forsyth said that Scottish Secretary Michael Moore had treated the Upper Chamber with “contempt” and added that it was now impossible for the Lords to have an “informed debate”.
The UK and Scottish Governments jointly agreed to go ahead with the Scotland Bill on Wednesday after reaching an agreement. But Mr Forsyth has complained about the handling of the bill, saying that the House of Lords was not given enough time to consider the UK Government’s response to a consultation on an independence referendum, before the report stage of the Scotland Bill begins.
Mr Forsyth said that “very extensive concessions” had been made by the UK Government in order to reach agreement with Holyrood and said that it was “quite unacceptable” that the House of Lords would not be able to discuss and debate them properly.
Unelected politician Mr Forsyth had tabled a large number of amendments to the Bill, mostly advocating the return of powers from Holyrood back to Westminster, a policy position which enjoys very little support amongst the Scottish public.
Addressing the House of Lords, Mr Forsyth said: “I would like to complain in the strongest possible terms about the way this legislation is being handled.”
He added: “There is absolutely no time for us to take account of this consultation. It is really unacceptable that we should go into the report stage on Monday without a full analysis and full information relating to the consultation process, and also an indication of where the government stands on this.”
He went on: “In short, this a major constitutional bill which has huge implications for the people in Scotland … and the rest of the United Kingdom.
“The way in which the parliamentary process has been handled has limited our opportunity and I have to say, I think he [Mr Moore] has treated this House with a degree of contempt.
“He knew that we were delaying these proceedings to deal with the consultation process and at the very last minute at 11 o’clock on the day to give us such a cursory analysis of the consultation makes it absolutely impossible for us to have a fully informed debate.”
Labour peer George Foulkes, who has likewise tabled a series of amendments to the bill, said that he shared Lord Forsyth’s frustration. However Mr Foulkes said that Lib Dem peer Jim Wallace, who is responsible for piloting the Scotland bill through the Lords, should be “absolved” of blame for the UK Government’s handling of the bill.
In a statement which admitted that the UK Government has been put on the back foot in the debate on the Scottish constitutional settlement, Mr Foulkes said that Mr Wallace had to work with a UK Cabinet which had “only recently begun to realise” the implications of devolution. He added that Mr Wallace was under “great difficulty” from “a number of sources”.
Speaking in response to the remarks made by Mr Forsyth and Mr Foulkes, Mr Wallace claimed that the Lords had already given the bill proper scrutiny and had improved the legislation.
Mr Wallace said there had been 3,000 responses to the consultation and the government wanted to ensure it did “justice” to the quality of submissions received. The minister added that he was “more than willing” to discuss how best to order the business for report stage of the bill, which is due to begin on Monday.