Lord Nicol Stephen’s maiden speech

In recent months, LDV has been bringing its readers copies of our new MPs’ and Peers’ first words in Parliament, so that we can read what is being said and respond. You can find all of the speeches in this category with this link. Last night, Baron Stephen, of Lower Deeside in the City of Aberdeen, made his maiden speech in the House of Lords during a debate on the Barnett Formula (the formula that determines the distribution of public funds in the different parts of the UK). His words are reproduced below.

My Lords, it is a great privilege and honour to speak in this historic Chamber for the first time. It is exactly 20 years since I gave my maiden speech in the other place, but I guess that I am unusual as, in the intervening period, almost all of my political career has been spent in another other place-the Scottish Parliament. It is very supportive and reassuring to see many of my friends and close colleagues from across political parties-the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, being one of them-in the Chamber this evening. I agreed with much of what he had to say.

It has been a great experience for me to be back in these Houses of Parliament, with all the history and ceremony, although, obviously, I was slightly disappointed that, unlike in the other place, there was no pink ribbon under my coat peg on which to hang my sword. Most important of all has been, not the surroundings that we see here, but the people. I have had incredible help from so many noble Lords and so many people who support the working of this House, from the doorkeepers through to Lion, Garter, Black Rod, the Clerk of the Parliaments and many more. Never did I think that I would be present for a phone call that began, “Lion, this is Garter calling”, and far less that it would be about my future title in this place.

In the Scottish Parliament, never would a week go by without mention of the House of Lords, and two noble Lords in particular. There was the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, and the so-called Sewel Motion, and the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, and his Barnett formula. The noble Lord, Lord Barnett, will be pleased to hear-or perhaps not-that he has outlasted the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, as the term Sewel Motion has now gone, to be replaced by the term Legislative Consent Motion, which is very disappointingly dull.

The Barnett formula, in contrast, is never dull. At times, it has taken on totemic proportions in Scottish politics, often seen as a touchstone of a political party’s commitment to Scotland and supported over the years by all of the main political parties and, somewhat ironically, because under them there would be no such formula-by the Scottish Nationalists. That includes my party. It is not my place to be controversial this evening, but I fully share the objective of the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, of avoiding the break-up of the UK. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, pointed out, not all share their view. The events of 5 May this year now mean that Scotland’s political future is once again centre stage.

In my view, it was unsustainable for the Scottish Parliament to continue simply to receive this cheque, this £30 billion payment, under the Barnett formula, with its only role being to decide how to spend that money. I am very pleased that there was cross-party co-operation here and in Scotland between the Liberal Democrats, the Labour Party and the Conservatives to create the Calman commission and to progress so speedily now to deliver on its recommendations through the Scotland Bill. Creating a stronger Scottish Parliament with new powers, including tax-raising powers, is a vital step. It is a crucial test of any Parliament that it should have real fiscal responsibility. If the Barnett formula has helped, as I believe it has, perhaps through its controversy, to make that change more possible, it will have played a vital role in Scotland’s history. It opens up the possibility of further change.

It has been a great privilege to participate in the debate led by the noble Lord, Lord Barnett. I have a hunch that the fame of the noble Lord in Scotland and, indeed, across these isles, will live on for quite some time.

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