Rt Hon Lord Lilley

    Lord Lilley:

    My Lords, it is a great privilege to follow—and slightly unexpected to follow immediately —the noble Lord, Lord McInnes of Kilwinning, who has made an extremely thoughtful and valuable speech in opening this debate. I expected to follow the noble Lord, Lord Parekh, and I am sorry that he has had to scratch because, as the author of a distinguished report on multiculturalism, he would have had much to contribute to this debate, I am sure. I want to contribute very briefly from a partly English perspective to this debate about the union and emphasise that we should not merely strengthen it but celebrate it.

    I always feel slightly uneasy when I hear the term that has come into vogue only over the last few years of us being four nations. I have always thought of us as one nation—certainly of one union. Though membership of that union is ultimately voluntary—“the King has no unwilling subjects” is an old maxim—we should not passively say, “Well, it is up to you”. We should say, “We rejoice in the membership of all four parts of this union, which makes this union as great as it is”. Certainly, as someone who was brought up to be proud of my rather remote Scottish ancestry on my mother’s side, I know it would feel like losing a limb if Scotland were to ever leave. Although any Irish ancestry I have is even more remote, it would feel similar if Northern Ireland were to be separated from us.

    Philosophers and politicians have debated what makes a nation. Certainly ideas that it could be based on some single thing like common race or even common language have long since rightly been discarded. It is a whole range of things that unite people and create a sense of being one nation or one union: common language, common religious and cultural history, and common ancestry—certainly all the historical events that go into our background and forge our memories are important. Particularly, of course, nations and unions are very often forged in war, as ours have been. The sacrifices made by people from all parts of that union in the great battles and wars of the last century unite us by sacrifice and loss of blood. No one can forget the sacrifice made voluntarily by those of Northern Ireland—and of course the huge contributions from Scotland and Wales as well as England.

    Above all, Britain is unique in being bound particularly by common institutions: the monarchy, this sovereign Parliament, our common-law traditions—of course, Scotland has its own law but it is simultaneously a common law and a different tradition—which unite us in a way that few other countries can claim to be united. I did not even visit Scotland until my early 20s or Northern Ireland until my late 20s. When I did go over to Northern Ireland during the Troubles—in fact, studying the Troubles—I felt simultaneously that it was different and home. I felt I was at one with the people I met, even though I had an enormous amount to learn from them and about different traditions that prevailed there. That is why it is very different from the fact I have had a holiday home in France for nearly 40 years and have spent a month or two a year there. It is always a different country; whereas all parts of this union seem to me part of my home and the people bound to me. Much as I love France and the French, it will always be a different country.

    We should celebrate our union and strengthen it but recognise too that it has an economic basis which we must not allow to be weakened by the arrangements that have been set up in the North Sea. I hope that they will be so diluted that they do not weaken it. Our job is to make this union something we all want to belong to, feel enthusiastic about and be warm towards each other—warm enough, of course, to be rude and make jokes about each other. That positive approach, that sunny optimism with which the noble Lord, Lord McInnes of Kilwinning, began the debate, is something we should all share and rejoice in.