HL Deb 03 July 1997 vol 581 cc316-73

4.12 p.m.

Lord Sewel

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now again resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Sewel.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES (Baroness Serota) in the Chair.]

Clause 1 [Referendum in Scotland]:

[Amendment No. 8A not moved.]

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish moved Amendment No. 8B: Page 1, line 9. leave out ("papers") and insert ("paper").

The noble Lord said: Amendment No. 8B is a paving amendment to the more important Amendment No. 74BA, in which the new schedule to replace the current schedule puts the same questions but on one ballot paper. There would therefore be no reason for two ballot papers.

I propose the amendment for a number of reasons. First, we are not used to two ballot papers in the British electoral system. One ballot paper would make life a great deal more simple for those who run the ballot and for the electorate. Secondly, there is a legitimate interest in knowing how the variations in possible answers play out. At the beginning of Committee stage on Tuesday, I pointed out that there were four potential combinations of answers: "Yes, yes"; "Yes, no"; "No, yes"; and "No, no". As a result of the way in which the Government intend to conduct the count and issue the ballot paper, there would be no way of knowing about the relationship between the first and second votes.

However, by placing all the questions on one ballot paper the count can be done so as to show the number of people who agree that there should be a Scottish parliament and that it should have tax-raising powers. It will also show those who agree with the Scottish parliament but, like the noble Earl, Lord Perth, believe that it should not have tax-raising powers. Similarly, those who do not agree that there should be a Scottish parliament will be asked whether, if there were to be one, they want it to be tax-raising or not tax-raising. Therefore, we will have a better idea of the variations and Parliament will be better able to judge the outcome of this complex referendum—we were told last Tuesday that that was the intention—when deciding on the nature of the Scottish parliament if the first question receives a "Yes".

The difficulty is that someone such as the noble Earl, Lord Perth, who told us on Tuesday that he wants a Scottish parliament but does not want it to have tax-raising powers, may easily decide that if it is to have tax-raising powers he would prefer not to have it. There may be some people who want a Scottish parliament only if it has tax-raising powers. The Government have brought the problem upon themselves by having two questions in the referendum. If they had accepted, for example, the proposition put by Mr. Jim Wallace in another place to combine the questions and to have only one, my amendment would be unnecessary.

I believe that the Minister should consider the proposition of placing the questions on the same ballot paper so that in the count we will be able to subdivide the "Yes" and the "No" vote according to those who want or do not want tax-varying powers. I look forward with some interest to hearing what the Minister has to say. I am not alone in hoping that today we shall have Ministers addressing the amendments in more detail and giving more satisfactory answers than they gave on Tuesday.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy

I support the amendment because people may well get two ballot papers in a muddle.

Lord Desai

I am surprised because at the recent general election some constituencies also had a local election and people handled two ballot papers. To believe that the electorate cannot handle two ballot papers and put two crosses on them is to think very low of them. We must have better reasons for the amendment.

Lord Sewel

I had thought for a moment that in tabling the amendment the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, was seeking to display his concern for the environment and wished to reduce the number of trees to be felled. As I have responsibility for the environment in Scotland, I was somewhat sympathetic to that view. However, as I also have responsibility for forestry, I can see that there is great merit in the alternative argument, too.

There are good practical reasons for using two separate ballot papers, as my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Scotland made clear at the launch of the Bill. The main reason is one of simplicity. Each ballot paper will ask only one question. The more that is written on them the greater the risk of confusion. That is the view not only of the Government. We have taken advice from the very people to whom the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, referred. We have sought the views of those running elections; we have gone to the returning officers and have sought the views of the Association of Electoral Administrators, the body representing them. They are clear in their advice that it would be better to go for two questions on two pieces of paper, avoiding the risk of confusion and spoilt papers. We also wish to make it absolutely clear to the electorate that they have a completely free choice in casting their votes. Voters may wish to cast a vote on only one of the questions and that is their right. If both questions appeared on the same ballot paper, voters might feel obliged to answer both questions. If there are two separate papers, they can decline to answer a question if they wish.

This is an issue of practicality that has been determined solely on the basis of the professional advice we received from those experienced in running elections.

I recognise that that method will not enable us to identify the precise number of "Yes" votes and "No" votes in their various combinations. As a former academic who has written articles on electoral behaviour, I can see an attraction in that argument. It opens up vast possibilities for writing learned articles, but we cannot arrange electoral procedures on the basis of what might suit academics in years to come in order to fill academic journals which will remain largely unread.

The essential point is that this decision has been taken by the Government on the basis of the advice of people who have had the responsibility of running elections. It is their advice that this is the simplest and clearest way forward and that the electorate will understand this way much better than having a ballot paper with a number of questions when they may not be clear which question to answer or whether they have to answer both. In this way there will be one sheet of paper for one question and one sheet for the other question.

This matter has been decided purely on the basis of practical advice from those experienced in these matters, and therefore I hope the noble Lord will withdraw the amendment.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

I have listened carefully to the answers and I appreciate the point of simplicity. It would be much simpler if the Government only asked one question, that posed by Mr. Jim Wallace in another place, but the Government declined to do so. That would be the simplest question. The Government state in their manifesto that they want a tax-raising assembly. Why did they not put that question to the Scottish people? The simplicity argument can easily be resolved by asking the one question, which I am sure is the proper way to proceed.

I think that the reason for rejecting the amendment and for asking two questions is that the Government do not want us to know how many people agree that there should be a Scottish parliament and do not want tax-raising powers and how many do want it to have such powers. The Government want to confuse the issue if possible, and this is the way they have set about confusing it.

Some people who do not want an assembly may decide that, if there is one, it ought to have tax-raising powers, or they may not. Their votes will not be known. The numbers will not be known to your Lordships or to the other place. As we were told on Tuesday, this is an advisory referendum. In that case I should like as much information as possible from the referendum. The right way to achieve that is to ask the questions in the way I have indicated. I am not satisfied with this answer and I would like to test the opinion of the Committee.

4.23 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 8B) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 91; Not-Contents, 131.

Division No.1
Addison, V. Kinnoull, E.
Ailsa, M. Kintore, E.
Alexander of Tunis, E. Lauderdale, E.
Ashboume, L. Lindsay, E.
Astor of Hever, L. Liverpool, E.
Belhaven and Stenton, L. Lucas, L.
Beloff, L. Lucas of Chilworth, L.
Blatch, B. McColl of Dulwich, L.
Bowness, L. Mackay of Ardbrecknish, L.
Boyd-Carpenter, L. Mackay of Drumadoon, L.
Broadbridge, L. Mayhew of Twysden, L.
Buckinghamshire, E. Merrivale, L.
Cadman, L. Milverton, L.
Caithness, E. Monckton of Brenchley, V.
Camegy of Lour, B. Monson, L.
Charteris of Amisfield, L. Mottistone, L.
Chesham, L. [Teller.] Mountevans, L.
Clanwilliam, E. Mowbray and Stourton, L.
Coleridge, L. Murton of Lindisfame, L.
Cranbome, V. Napier and Ettrick, L.
Crickhowell, L. Norfolk, D.
Cullen of Ashbourne, L. Norrie, L.
Cumberlege, B. O'Cathain, B.
Davidson, V. Oxfuird, V.
De Freyne, L. Pearson of Rannoch, L.
Dean of Harptree, L. Pender, L.
Denham, L. Plummer of St. Marylebone, L.
Denton of Wakefield, B. Prentice, L.
Dilhome, V. Rankeillour, L.
Dixon-Smith. L. Reese, L.
Downshire, M. Rennell, L.
Ellenborough, L. Renton, L.
Elliott of Morpeth, L. Renwick, L.
Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L. Romney, E.
Halsbury, E. Rowallan, L.
Hamilton of Dalzell, L. Saltoun of Abernethy, Ly.
Harding of Petherton, L. Sanderson of Bowden, L.
Hayhoe, L. Seccombe, B.
Hemphill, L. Shaw of Northstead, L.
HolmPatrick, L. Strathclyde, L. [Teller]
Hooper, B. Taylor of Warwick, L.
Keyes, L. Trefgame, L.
Kingsland, L. Trumpington, B.
Vivian, L. Wise, L.
Wedgwood, L Young, B.
Wilcox, B.
Addington, L. Kilbracken, L.
Ailesbury, M. Kirkhill, L
Alderdice, L. Lester of Heme Hill, L.
Allen of Abbeydale, L. Lofthouse of Pontefract, L.
Ashley of Stoke, L. Lovell-Davis, L.
Birdwood, L. McCarthy, L.
Blackstone, B. McConnell, L.
Borrie, L. McIntosh of Haringey, L. [Teller.]
Bruce of Donington, L. McNair, L.
Callaghan of Cardiff, L. Mallalieu, B.
Calverley, L. Mar and Kellie, E.
Carlisle, E. Mason of Bamsley, L.
Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L. Merlyn-Rees, L.
Carter, L. [Teller.] Methuen, L.
Castle of Blackburn, B. Mishcon, L.
Clancarty, E. Molloy, L.
Clinton-Davis, L. Monkswell, L.
Cocks of Hartcliffe, L. Morris of Castle Morris, L.
Currie of Marylebone, L. Murray of Epping Forest, L.
Dahrendorf, L. Nicol, B.
David, B. Ogmore, L.
Dean of Beswick, L. Parry, L.
Dean of Thomton-le-Fylde, B. Paul, L.
Desai, L. Perth, E.
Diamond, L, Peston, L.
Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L. Plant of Highfield, L.
Donoughue, L. Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.
Dormand of Easington, L. Prys-Davies, L.
Dubs,L. Ramsay of Cartvale. B.
Eatwell, L. Rea, L.
Elis-Thomas, L. Redesdale, L.
Evans of Parkside, L. Rees-Mogg, L.
Ewing of Kirkford, L. Richard, L. [Lord Privy Seal.]
Ezra, L. Ritchie of Dundee, L.
Falconer of Thoroton, L. Robson of Kiddington, B.
Falkender, B. Rochester, L.
Falkland, V. Rodgers of Quarry Bank, L.
Farrington of Ribbleton, B. Rogers of Riverside, L.
Fisher of Rednal, B. Sainsbury, L.
Fitt, L. St. Davids, V.
Gallacher, L. Sefton of Garston, L.
Geraint, L. Serota, B.
Gilbert, L. Sewel, L.
Glasgow, E. Shepherd, L.
Gould of Potternewton, B. Shore of Stepney, L.
Graham of Edmonton, L. Simon, V.
Grenfell L. Simon of Highbury, L.
Hampton, L. Smith of Gilmorehill, B.
Hanworth, V. Stoddart of Swindon, L.
Hardie, L. Strabolgi, L.
Harris of Greenwich, L. Strafford, E.
Haskel, L. Symons of Vemham Dean, B.
Hayman, B. Taveme, L.
Hilton of Eggardon, B. Tenby, V.
Hollis of Heigham, B. Thomas of Gresford, L.
Holme of Cheltenham, L. Thomas of Walliswood, B.
Hooson, L. Thurlow, L.
Howell, L. Thurso, V.
Howie of Troon, L. Tordoff, L.
Hoyle, L. Turner of Camden, B.
Irvine of Lairg, L. Wallace of Coslany, L.
[Lord Chancellor.] Wedderburn of Charlton, L.
Jay of Paddington, B. Wigoder, L.
Jeger, B. Williams of Crosby, B.
Jenkins of Putney, L. Williams of Elvel, L.
Judd, L. Williams of Mostyn, L.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

4.33 p.m.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Serota)

In calling the next amendment, Amendment No. 9, I should point out that if this amendment is agreed to, I cannot call Amendments Nos. 10 to 21.

[Amendment No. 9 not moved.]

The Deputy Chairman of Committees

I call Amendment No. 10. If this amendment is agreed to I cannot call Amendment No. 11.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish moved Amendment No. 10: Page 1, line 13, leave out ("local government election in any electoral area") and insert ("parliamentary election").

The noble Lord said: My name is also attached to this amendment and, in the absence of my noble friend Lord Gray, I will speak to it. I wish I could say that it is a novel experience to be beaten, but some of your Lordships will recall that on a number of occasions when I was on the Government side I was also beaten. So it is not a novel experience to be beaten. But I always win the arguments and that is the most important thing.

We discussed this issue on Second Reading. It concerns who should vote in the referendum. Essentially, the great bulk of people are on both the local government electoral register and the parliamentary register. However, there are some people who are on one but not the other. Your Lordships, for example, are on the local government register but not on the parliamentary register. I understand, thanks to research carried out by the noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay of Cartvale—or, rather, the advice given to her—that there are 123 Peers resident in Scotland who are on the local government register but not on the parliamentary register.

Another group of people on the local government register but not on the parliamentary register are European Union nationals, other than citizens of the Irish Republic who are on both our registers. We very generously allow citizens of the Irish Republic to vote in our parliamentary and local elections. As a passing thought, I wonder if the Minister, when he comes to reply, can help me. If in a year or two's time angling becomes so politically incorrect that it is banned and I decide to move to the Republic of Ireland to carry on my sport—as probably many people have to do as the party opposite bans one innocent pursuit after another— will I be immediately allowed to register a vote in the Republic's elections? I want to know because I might need to start studying the political complexities of the Republic.

Lord Ewing of Kirkford

If the noble Lord gives an absolute undertaking that he will move to the Republic of Ireland, I give him an undertaking that I will support his claim for a vote.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

I thought that the noble Lord was going to say that he would back a ban on angling, but he was careful enough not to do that.

Citizens of the Republic and citizens of the Commonwealth are on both registers, but one group on the local government register but not on the parliamentary register are citizens of the European Union who are resident for the moment in Scotland. According to the noble Baroness they number 12,000.

One group of people on the parliamentary register but not on the local government register are overseas voters. They are people who have moved abroad—within the last 20 years, it must be said—and who are able to vote as overseas voters, arrange proxies and so on. To adopt the local government register for the referendum means that those of us who are resident in Scotland will be able to vote, as will the 12,000 European Union nationals. But the overseas voters—there are 1,500 of them—will not be allowed to vote. I would imagine that, by and large, they are all Scottish. They have lived in Scotland, had a vote in Scotland and have gone abroad.

I give as an example the situation of my daughter, who lives in a little place called Bosisio Perini in Italy. I pose the question: why should my daughter and other overseas voters, who are entitled to vote at parliamentary elections, not be allowed to vote in this important election whereas the waiter from the Gelateria in Bosisio Perini, who is in Scotland for a short visit but long enough to allow him to register, will be able to vote about the future of a country which he intends to leave very shortly to return to the warmer and drier climate of northern Italy? However, it was not warmer or drier last week. So your Lordships are as well on holiday here as on the Continent.

It is a very good question, but I have not received a very good answer. The noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, tried saying that in the 1979 referendum the local government register was used. But there is this difference. I do not think that European citizens were on that register. The system had not yet arisen where, thanks to one of the various treaties we have made, European Union citizens are on each other's registers for European and local government elections.

I asked my daughter how easy it was to get on the local government election register in Italy as a non-Italian. She laughed and said "How easy do you think it is?", which probably means that it is excessively bureaucratic and not something that is openly encouraged. But that is by the by.

The point is that in 1979 such people were not on the register. Nor were overseas electors. So, rather unusually, the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, did not have a very good argument. The registers are quite different today from the registers in 1979. At that time the only difference between the two concerned the Peers of the realm and no one was actually disqualified from voting if the local government register rather than the parliamentary register was used. Everyone on the parliamentary register was on the local government register in 1979.

We have a situation which involves one very small group—frankly, not very many people. The Government seem to think that the referendum will be as close as 1,500. They are frightened that 1,500 largely young Scots living abroad may decide that they do not want to return to live in a rather more heavily taxed part of the United Kingdom. They may think that the referendum will be as close as that, but, the polls certainly do not show it. I am more than delighted at this stage, eight weeks out, when I remember how the margin narrowed during the eight weeks preceding the 1979 referendum.

I believe that it would be fair and reasonable for the Government to accept the amendment or to explain why 1,500 overseas voters from Scotland who would have been able to vote before they left and who received Labour Party documentation at the last election, as my daughter did in an effort to try to persuade her to vote for Maria Fyfe in the constituency of Glasgow Maryhill, should be deprived of a vote? Incidentally, that would probably have been an easier task, although I do not think a successful one, than persuading her to vote for the Labour candidate in Glasgow Govan where I live, but that is another matter. If my daughter was trusted to vote in a parliamentary election, why should she not be trusted to vote in the proposed referendum? Why should the privilege of deciding the future of her country—and, indeed, my country—be given to some European nationals, who are in our country for a short time? Why should it be taken away from some young Scots who were perfectly entitled to vote at a parliamentary election but who now seem about to be deprived?

That is fairly mean spirited, and I cannot understand the logic behind it. I know that I shall be told all about residency. But there will be people voting in the referendum who will have left Scotland and who will vote by post or by proxy. Therefore, to be logical about residency, the Government would have to prevent or take away postal or proxy votes from anyone who is now resident outside Scotland. If residency is the Government's basis for the proposal, it should be residency on the day of the referendum. That ought to be the test. It is not, and I understand why. All I ask the Government to do is to use the parliamentary election register. After all, they did pretty well with that register on 1st May; I do not know why they do not stick to it. I beg to move.

Lord Crickhowell

I have but one simple question to ask and I do not intend to make a long speech. I should like to take this opportunity to inquire so that we have an answer which will enable me to begin to understand the situation. Why is it proposed that the referendum should be held on a local government basis in Wales this time when, under the 1978 Act, it was on a parliamentary basis with Peers added? I do not understand the change.

The Earl of Onslow

I was most interested to hear my noble friend Lord Mackay passionately talking about his country and asking why Greeks and Italians should be allowed to vote on its future. I find it quite odd that he does not want Englishmen to do so, but that is a different matter altogether. However, I must support my noble friend. It seems rather odd that people who live in the Peloponnese or in Dusseldorf who happen to be temporarily resident in Scotland should have a say in ruining the British constitution.

4.45 p.m.

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale

I found the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, very puzzling. The Bill seems to propose an extremely fair and straightforward way of deciding who should vote in an election about what form of devolved parliamentary government will be established in Scotland. It seems to me to be fair that you should restrict the right to vote to people who are actually resident in the country. The noble Lord acknowledged that he would be told all about residency; indeed, he has been told about it time and time again. But he keeps returning to it.

The noble Lord has a mixed line of argument into which he throws some ethnicity, talking about people who say, "My country", and so on, and asking why certain people do not have a vote in their country, even though they are living abroad. Moreover, rather surprisingly, the noble Lord also introduced a slightly anti-European tinge into his remarks, asking why people from the European Union should have a vote. Well, they do have a vote in our local government elections as we have in theirs. The fact is that we are in 1997 and, so far as I am concerned, that is an advance. Indeed, I thought that that was the view of the noble Lord, unlike some other Members. I give way to the noble Lord.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

I am much obliged. If the noble Baroness is right, does she think that those 12,000 Europeans who live in Scotland ought to be on the parliamentary register? Surely the logic of her argument is that if they are good enough to vote in the referendum, they were good enough to vote on 1st May.

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale

The noble Lord knows as well as I do that the whole question of European Union nationals and their rights of franchise in one another's country is an issue which has been discussed in the Councils of the European Union and all its organs. Of course, that may well happen; but we are not there yet. At present, there is an agreement among all the countries of the European Union that their nationals can vote in local government elections. I happen to believe that that is a very good thing and that it is an advance. I also happen to think that there is every ground for allowing people who are actually living in a country and who are resident there—not just visitors on holidays, but actually resident—to have a right to vote and decide on this kind of issue.

I am rather taken back by the kind of justification that the noble Lord gives for the roughly 1,500 overseas voters who would have a right to vote if we gave it to them on a parliamentary franchise. The noble Lord has no idea whether or not those people will return. I do not suppose that he undertook a trawl of the 1,500. He referred more than once to mainly young people, but I am not sure that that is true. I believe that many are older people who have gone to more comforting climes than those of Scotland. Therefore, we cannot make any generalisations about the 1,500 people. In any event, it is very dangerous to start speculating. We have a clear and straightforward criterion: people who are resident and who are on the roll to vote in local government elections.

There is one other matter I should like to mention. Although it relates to another amendment, I might just as well make my remarks now so that I will not have to repeat them later. To go for the parliamentary franchise and then introduce an additional measure to enable Peers to vote seems to me a very dubious exercise; indeed, a very self-serving kind of measure. Further, for it to come from this Chamber would definitely put this place into some kind of disrepute. It would look as if this Chamber wanted to introduce something its Members were not normally entitled to enjoy; namely, an extra which would enable Peers to vote alone as an exception. That is really not a very sensible way to proceed.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy

What is fair about a register which excludes people who have been sent abroad by their firms to work for a limited period? I know a chap who is a banker. He has just been sent to Australia for two years by his firm, but he still has property in Scotland. At the end of the two-year period, he will return. What is fair about excluding him?

The Earl of Balfour

I have one question to ask at this stage because the amendment has been grouped with Amendment No. 15. Under the Government's proposals, is it possible for a person to be entitled to vote in more than one electoral area in Scotland?

Lord Beloff

I have been, as noble Lords are aware, wholly perplexed about this Bill. I do not understand it; I do not understand devolution; and every time the noble Baroness opposite gets up and makes a speech I am even more confused as to the purposes of our sitting here. It seems to me—and this is related to the amendment— that there is a large class of people with whom all others are intimately acquainted who will not be able to vote in a matter which we are told is of such importance to their country. I refer to a great many Scots people who live in this country of England, practise a profession, live here for some years and then, reasonably enough with the pull of their homeland, go back to retire to Scotland. Why should their views be excluded? They are often admirable people.

My hostility to the Bill has nothing to do with any prejudice against the Scots. In fact it seems to me that many of the arguments on the other side tend to imply that the Scots are not to be trusted. If they are in contact with the English for a couple of years in London, they may decide that it was not such a good idea as they were told by the Scottish press. Could we have some explanation as to why Scots people earning their living successfully, as many of them do, in England should not have a voice? They are even more likely, I would have thought, to go home on retirement when they reach that age, but of course if their pensions are now to be reduced they may think less of it. Could we have a straight answer to that question?

Lord Monson

When the Minister comes to reply I wonder whether he could tell us whether nationals of other EU countries resident in France and Denmark respectively in 1992 were allowed to vote in those countries' referendums on the Maastricht Treaty? I rather suspect not.

Lord Mishcon

I am sure the whole of Scotland will be indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, for putting on record that he has no prejudice against them. I believe also that all Members of your Lordships' House will invite the noble Lord to say that he is confused by their speeches, because they will regard that as a great compliment.

May I just put in one matter which has not been put in so far? It is that those who are ordinarily resident in Scotland, in England or in Wales are in fact liable for tax in this country. May I also mention that those who go abroad, if they go abroad for a sufficient time, claim to be quite properly domiciled in the country to which they have gone and are therefore not liable to United Kingdom tax? It seems to me that this is rather a relevant statement to make when dealing with the question of qualification by residency.

Lord Simon of Glaisdale

Your Lordships may remember the story of the two opening batsmen for a county side who decided that they would confuse the field by calling "Yes" when they meant "No" and "No" when they meant "Yes". Of course they merely confused each other and ran each other out. The noble Lord, Lord Sewel, has decided that there should be no confusion in our minds at all because he consistently said "No". It is fair to say that, if one is to have obdurate negatives, it could not be done more gracefully or more pleasantly than it has been done; and the same goes for the noble Lord, Lord Williams.

However, this is an occasion where he can say "Yes". The reason why local government elections are on the electoral basis that they are is that they affect practically entirely residents, but the powers it is proposed to give the Scottish parliament go very much beyond affecting residents. One can think of many examples. May I give just one? The noble Lord, with his consistent use of the South Sea Bubble technique, has kept under wraps what the Government propose to do. But at one point he let out that he was proposing to follow what was advised by the Scottish Constitutional Convention.

Certainly the Scottish Constitutional Convention recommended that Scottish law, public and private, civil and criminal, should be within the jurisdiction of a Scottish parliament. I am bound to say that that seems to me to be eminently reasonable since Scotland has a different system of law from that which obtains in England. In many respects the Scottish system of law goes beyond residents. A good deal of the criminal law goes beyond residents also as we have been developing it recently. The war crimes legislation, and even anciently the crime of piracy, went far beyond national boundaries.

But perhaps the most important is personal law. Every person in the kingdom has a personal law. It is that which defines his status; in other words, to what extent he is a member of a particular class of the community to whom the law assigns special rights and disabilities, capacities and incapacities. This is very important. For example, there is the capacity to form the mental state sufficient to constitute a crime. There is the mental capacity, and there is the general capacity, to marry. What could be more important than that?

But those matters are referred not to the law of residence—the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, used the word—they are referred to domicile. That takes up the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Beloff. So there is outstanding reason why we should move away from residency for the election that is proposed to the wider electorate that votes in a general election. That wider electorate are those who will be affected by the decrees of a Scottish parliament. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, having spurned our efforts to frame what he wants to do and to put them into the Bill in favour of some vaguer and more dangerous generality, will on this occasion accept the amendment.

5 p.m.

Lord Desai

I am somewhat surprised by the amendment. We are debating a referendum for devolution. We are not debating Scottish independence. It is not a referendum to canvass the opinion of Scots wherever they may live. If that were the case, people of Scottish birth living in England would feel even more disenfranchised than people living in Italy.

I believe that the point that the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, makes is wrong. In our elections we allow Commonwealth citizens and citizens of the Republic of Ireland to vote. Neither citizenship nor nationality is a criterion for eligibility to vote. Let us get that straight.

The fact that European nationals vote in local government elections and not in parliamentary elections is an anomaly. There are many other anomalies. Does the principle involve local residence, or does it involve parliamentary elections? As my noble friend Lord Mishcon argued—Members of the Committee opposite make a lot of fuss about taxation—it is the people who live there and will pay the local taxes who should have a say in this limited devolution proposal. Therefore, issues of nationality should not be invoked, especially by people who care so much about the Union.

Lord Rees

Before the noble Lord sits down, will he explain at least for my benefit why a Scotsman who has been transferred, say, by the Scottish Office or by some great company, to work temporarily in London for three, four or five years with the intention ultimately of returning to Scotland should not have a vote on the matter?

Lord Desai

We are not discussing independence for Scotland. We are discussing a devolution of limited powers to a parliament in Scotland. It is not a national issue. It is a regional issue.

Lord Parry

From this side of the Chamber, I feel bound to ask this question. Are we not making much of very small figures? The noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, has given us figures which apparently have been properly accounted. I do not question them. Nor do I question the right of the House to make its protests over the matter. I wonder how many of those people who were quoted as being disenfranchised because they are overseas care about that fact. I know a Neyland man who lives in China. He seldom thinks about Wales, let alone about the referendum about which we are working ourselves into such a frenzy. It is only those of us who care who have expressed our concerns. I believe that this number of people among those eligible to vote is minimal. We are getting very excited about it.

Lord Mackay of Drumadoon

Perhaps I may ask a couple of questions arising from what was said by my noble friend Lord Balfour on Amendment No. 15. Can the Minister confirm that it is possible to be resident in more than one place in the United Kingdom? In other words, one could have two residences in Scotland; one could have a residence in Scotland and in England; one could have two in Wales; or one could have one in England and one in Wales. If that is so, and such residence entitles one to register as a local elector in more than one electoral area, what is the harm in putting Amendment No. 15 on the face of the Bill?

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy

I believe that it was the noble Lord, Lord Desai—or was it my noble friend Lord Parry?—who asked what all the fuss is about; the referendum is not about Scottish independence. No, it is not, but many of us believe that the constitutional changes proposed will inevitably lead to Scottish independence.

Lord Sewel

In replying to the debate I shall try to focus on some of the questions asked, in particular the terms of the amendments as they stand. I remind the Committee that this group of amendments seeks to change the electorate for the referendums from that for local government elections to that for parliamentary elections with the possibility of adding in Peers. The net effect—it is what the debate on the amendments is about, although wider points were raised—of the change would be to disenfranchise EU citizens resident in Scotland and Wales and to allow overseas electors to vote. That is the guts of the amendments. The issue is as narrow as that.

However, before I deal with it, I hope to answer a few points raised. The noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, asked about the person sent abroad by reason of his work. I understand that by virtue of Section 5(2) of the Representation of the People Act 1983, a person's residency in a dwelling house for the purposes of his right to vote is not interrupted if he goes abroad as part of his employment as long as he intends to resume actual residence there within six months of giving up that employment. I hope that that deals with the matter that the noble Lady raised.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy

I am grateful to the noble Lord. That means that the chap working abroad who is rich enough to keep his home in Scotland while doing so will be all right; but the chap who cannot afford to keep a home in Scotland at the same time will lose his vote.

Lord Sewel

We are getting down to the minutiae of the issue. I shall seek to give the noble Lady as much assurance on that point as I can at some later stage. It is a developing point; we shall return to it.

On the point raised about EU nationals in France qualified to vote in their referendum on Maastricht. EU nationals in France did not have the right to vote on the referendum on Maastricht because it was the Maastricht Treaty which conferred that right on EU nationals. It did not exist then.

We have already made clear beyond doubt—the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, anticipated this point—that the key criterion for deciding who should vote on our proposals must be residency in the countries concerned. We make no apology about that. It is so eminently fair and obvious. That is right in principle and it is workable in practice. That is where we start from: identifying the principle. The principle is that those who are most directly affected should be the people to determine the outcome. Having decided that principle, one then looks for the franchise which comes nearest to that; and that is the local government franchise.

The Earl of Onslow

Is the noble Lord saying, therefore, that because the principle is those who are most affected, a temporary Greek resident will be considered to be more affected by British constitutional change than a temporary Scots absentee who wishes to return to continue his career over the long term? I find that logic totally unacceptable.

Lord Sewel

The difficulty is that the word temporary does not get into any definition of franchise. How long anyone will live in any one place is pure speculation. We can only take the point of residency in terms of qualifying for the franchise itself.

Let us develop this point. At Second Reading, and again today, the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, raised the question of the Italian waiter. Scotland must be full of Italian waiters. I hasten to add that they do a very good job and I look forward to being served by them more frequently in the future than in the past. We believe that that person, who will be affected by the result of the referendum every bit as much as any other person residing in Scotland, should have a say in the outcome of the referendum. It would be wrong to question his entitlement on some grounds of ethnic origin. There is a slight undertone in the arguments that we have heard today that indicates—

Lord Simon of Glaisdale

The noble Lord returns to the issue of ethnic origin, which has not been mentioned in this debate but was mentioned earlier. Will he accept that this amendment has absolutely nothing to do with ethnicity as it was put? Whether the franchise is general or local, there will be an ethnic mix in the electorate.

Lord Sewel

I accept entirely that the noble and learned Lord would not for one moment introduce an ethnic factor. However, I am concerned that we continue to hear a reference to Italians, which seems to carry with it an ethnic colouring.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

Really, if that is the best the noble Lord can do, we might as well all pack up. The point about the Italian is that I am using a real, live example. I am not being theoretical; I am talking about where my daughter lives. If she had lived in France, I should have used the example of a French waiter; had she lived in Germany, a German waiter. There is nothing wrong in this. I am served by Italian waiters constantly in Glasgow.

Lord Sewel

I am sure that that is so, and I envy the noble Lord. The point is, an argument seems to be arising that some definition of Scottishness is required and non-Scottishness—particularly the non-Scottishness of a person living in Scotland—is somehow a form of semi-disqualification from voting in the referendum. That is fundamentally wrong.

Conversely, the émigré Scot living in Italy, however good is the Scottish blood coursing through his or her veins (I am sure it is of the highest quality), simply does not have the same direct interest in the result because he or she does not live in Scotland. People who decide to make their place of residence in some other country clearly do not have the same direct interest in the outcome of a referendum determining the form of government for their original country once they have moved their residency elsewhere. It is just not good enough—

Lord Beloff

I should simply like to clarify my mind again. The noble Lord is saying that the principle is those who are likely to be directly affected by the legislation. Since alterations in the constitution of the United Kingdom affect everyone in the United Kingdom, why should the English not vote?

5.15 p.m.

Lord Sewel

The words I used are, "most directly affected". The fact that these sovereign Houses of Parliament will ultimately have the say on the devolution Bill protects the interests of all the people of the United Kingdom. It must be remembered that the charge we face, and have faced continually, in Scotland from our opponents is that our proposals do not enjoy the support of the people of Scotland. That is why we are holding a referendum: to deal finally and conclusively with that point. That is why the test as to who are the people of Scotland is: those who live in Scotland, those who will be affected by the change in the nature of the government of Scotland.

Let us return to the idea of the émigré Scot. It is not good enough to say of the émigré Scot who has been away five, six, seven or 10 years, living in Italy, France, Germany, China or wherever, that he or she intends to return. We cannot base a decision on some intention to return, or indeed on the fact that an Italian waiter may not continue to live in Scotland forever. We do not know. Individuals themselves do not know. Personal events change matters. They may have a full intention to return and then perhaps fall in love, or fall out of love, and that may affect their decision as to whether to return or stay. I am saying that any decision based on intention, hypothecating some form of action in the future, is a matter of pure speculation. The only certain thing is residency. That is why it is a robust and necessary test. Entitlement to vote in any election is predicated on residence on a specific date and not on any possible future residence. That is why we say that residency is right in principle and right in practice.

An interesting side-effect of the specific amendments we are discussing is that they would create something of a tension. The Scot living in Benidorm, so long as he had been there for fewer than 20 years, would be able to vote; the Scot living in Blackpool would not. These amendments would establish that sort of tension.

I am interested in Amendment No. 14 tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Gray, which would reinstate voting rights for Peers if the parliamentary election franchise is used. I am afraid that, whatever the opinions of the 123 Members of this House who would be entitled to vote in Scotland on this basis, it might sound rather like special pleading if we made that adjustment. Why should—

Lord Howie of Troon

It would not be special pleading at all. The reason why we are not on the parliamentary register is that it is not necessary as we are here already. Voting for ourselves would be otiose at best. This is an entirely different matter. I am talking now about Scottish Peers resident in Scotland. It would be very simple to tag them onto the back end of the electorate and there would be no alarm raised in Scotland by anybody, except perhaps my noble friend.

Lord Sewel

I am thinking about the difficulty of trying to persuade the electorate of Scotland that we were so intent on bringing about a new and modern parliament that we went out of our way to ensure, exceptionally, that Members of this place should have a vote in the referendum, whereas if the normal franchise were used, they would not. That would present some difficulty.

I am aware that the noble Lord's amendment would replicate the franchise for the 1975 and 1979 referendums. That is true. However, it must be remembered that there have been changes to the franchise since then. Overseas electors are now entitled to vote at parliamentary elections and EU citizens are entitled to vote at local government elections. Neither of those groups was considered in 1979. That brings me back to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, that these two categories did not exist in 1975 and 1979. I continually return to the idea that, as we believe, the criterion for eligibility to vote must be residence. That is why we have chosen the local government register.

I now turn to Amendment No. 15 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Gray, and to the point made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Drumadoon, and raised by the noble Earl, Lord Balfour. This amendment seeks to prevent any person from voting more than once in the referendum in Scotland. That is absolutely right. We can fully agree that that should be prevented. However, I can give a complete and utter assurance that this matter is already dealt with in the Order in Council which will apply the necessary provisions of the Representation of the People legislation—in particular Section 61—to prevent multiple voting. The matter of multiple voting has been identified and we are dealing with it through the orders.

On the basis of this (I hope at least partly convincing) explanation, I urge noble Lords to withdraw their amendments.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

I thank the Minister for his final point and for the clarification he gave. I see that matter is covered in the draft order. I shall not rehearse an argument I shall develop later; namely, that a draft order of this complexity ought to be part of the Bill. We should not then have to raise such issues in relation to primary legislation.

We have had an interesting debate, and it is most interesting that the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, had difficulty with his argument. The longer he went on, the more it began to appear to me that perhaps his right honourable friend the Prime Minister was right when he described this parliament as no more than a parish council. He seemed to me to be saying that you should have the same qualifications as those for a parish council.

Lord Sewel

We do not have parish councils in Scotland.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

Well, the Minister's noble friend Lord Desai described it as "very limited devolution". So, in a way, by not having the important parliamentary electoral register as the key factor in this, the Government are saying that it will not be much of a parliament. They must be careful about that argument.

To take my daughter as an example, of course I accept that she may or may not return to Scotland within 20 years, (the right for overseas voters does not last more than 20 years). That is true, and the Minister— I shall try to avoid his ire—has no idea whether the Italian waiter will return to Italy. He has no evidence that this chap or "chap-ess" will be back in Italy by the time the assembly is set up, if the referendum is won.

It is a pretty weak argument and the impression I get, especially from the noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay of Cartvale, is of a grim determination that those European nationals in Scotland at the moment who are permitted to vote in a local election should be able to vote in the referendum. She seems extremely keen that they should vote. I do not know whether she thinks that they would vote for a Scottish assembly, but it looks as though she thinks that and wants them on the register. Perhaps it is just her pro-European credentials.

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale

I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. Yes, it is part of my pro-European credentials. This has nothing to do with which way such people would vote. I feel passionately that it is an advance in European matters that we have agreed that European nationals can vote in each other's local election franchises. That franchise is the correct one to use for the referendum in Scotland and therefore it is right and I am happy that they should have the vote. I make no apology to the Committee or to the noble Lord for that.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

If that happened, with all the elections the Italians have, my daughter would be voting far more often in Italy than any of us vote in the United Kingdom. That point is interesting. We could already do that because we do not need reciprocal arrangements. The question was not answered as to whether we have a reciprocal arrangement with the Republic of Ireland; I doubt whether we have reciprocal arrangements with the Commonwealth countries, so we could already do it. The noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay, may be expounding Labour Party policy, I do not know.

Lord Sewel

I failed to answer the question on Ireland and I have to say that if an Irish referendum were held under the local government franchise at the time when the noble Lord had decamped to do his angling, he would be able to vote.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

I am grateful to the Minister but I notice that I would not be able to vote in parliamentary elections. Yet the citizens of the Irish Republic can do so here.

Leaving that aside, it seems that the Government are keen that European nationals should vote. I can understand the point about residency and people being in Scotland and on the register. However, I still fail to understand why the Government will not accept that the 1,500 other people on the register who are allowed to vote in parliamentary elections and who are overseas voters should not have an overseas vote in this election.

As the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, said, many people are sent abroad by their companies in order to advance the cause of industry and commerce in Scotland. For example, the Scotch whisky industry sends many people around the world to work for the industry and for the good of the economy of Scotland. There are problems with people who live in England, but there is no problem at all with people who live overseas and who have bothered to register themselves. They can easily have a vote in the referendum.

I shall not go on. I think I understand the Government's determination that European Union nationals should vote. There is an easy amendment which would accommodate their position and mine and I shall come back with it at Report stage, when I expect it to be accepted. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 11 not moved.]

Lord Mackay of Drumadoon moved Amendment No. 12: Page 1, line 13, at end insert ("or who are included in a central register to be established in accordance with Schedule (Central register of electors for referendums (Scotland))").

The noble and learned Lord said: With the leave of the Committee, in speaking to this amendment 1 wish also to speak to Amendments Nos. 17, 34, 37, 79 and 80.

The amendments fall into two groups, three dealing with Scotland and three with Wales. They seek not to delete anything from the Government's proposals for the franchise but to add to them. They do so in the first place by allowing those who were born in Scotland and live or reside elsewhere in the United Kingdom to vote in the Scottish referendum and those who were born in Wales and live elsewhere in the United Kingdom to vote in I he Welsh referendum.

The noble Lord, Lord Sewel, said a moment ago that the only certain requirement is residency. I suggest that one can be equally certain where an individual was born and that, having been born in Scotland or Wales, that person is now resident elsewhere in the United Kingdom. Therefore, the proposals that are incorporated in the amendments do not fall to be criticised because they add any uncertainty to the situation.

The Labour manifesto stated that, As soon as possible after the election, we will enact legislation to allow the people of Scotland and Wales to vote in separate referendums on our proposals".

There is a strong argument that a person who is one of the people of Scotland or Wales does not cease to be so merely because that person leaves the land of his birth and resides elsewhere for a short or even a longer time. Recently, in reply to a Question put down by my noble and learned friend Lord Fraser of Carmyllie, the House was informed that over the last 10 years some 500,000 people had moved their residence from Scotland and slightly fewer had moved their residence from other parts of the United Kingdom to Scotland. So there is a constant traffic in people moving one way and another. Many people born in Scotland or Wales leave the country of their birth for a while, possibly to pursue education or employment. But they remain, in their own minds at least, part of the people of Scotland or Wales and strongly linked to those places. They will have parents and other members of the family residing where they were born and in the fullness of time they may send their children back to that country for secondary or tertiary education. In certain instances, they may maintain second homes there to which they intend to retire in time.

At Second Reading, when my noble friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish told us about his daughter in Italy, I believe that he was on the point of saying that it could be referred to as the "Mackay Question". However, an intervention came from the noble Lord, Lord Sewel. My noble friend used his daughter as an example to illustrate the argument that he had advanced. I wish to use a similar example. My best man, with whom I went to school, was born in Scotland of Scottish parents. He received all his education in Scotland, qualified as a doctor there and, like his father before him, ended up working in England. Indeed, his father was a Member of your Lordships' House, Lord Hunter of Newington, who was created such when the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, was Prime Minister. He took as his title "Lord Hunter of Newington" because it was the area of the City of Edinburgh where he was brought up. The area is known well to my successor, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hardie.

If my best man intends to return to Scotland, as I suspect he does in the fullness of time, why should he and his Scottish-born wife, who was similarly born and educated in Scotland as a doctor and who practised for a while in England, not have some say in the future government of the country to which they hope to retire?

We are dealing not just with issues of local government, where people are elected for a period of three or four years to serve in the local authority and discharge statutory responsibilities for that period of time before they have to face the electorate again. We are dealing with issues which could change the system for governing Scotland and indeed the system for governing Wales, one suspects for a substantial period of time. I can see no harm in the Government extending the franchise, if they obtain support from those additional voters whom the central registers would incorporate. It can only fortify their position when they bring a devolution Bill before the House, assuming that the questions are answered in their favour.

On the other hand, if people who are born in one of those two countries express concern about the proposals, then so far as the referendums are meant to be advisory, one would like to think that the Government might pay some regard to that advice. Those who were born in the country but have not moved from the United Kingdom and therefore remain taxpayers in the country are concerned about these particular proposals. I beg to move.

5.30 p.m.

Lord Desai

I am sorry to have to rise to my feet again on this question. But perhaps I may put to the noble and learned Lord once again that we are not discussing a national question. We are discussing a regional devolution. If he continues to go down his present path, it will cause immense problems. For example, let us imagine that in the near future a referendum is held in Northern Ireland. Suppose that someone says that everybody born in Ireland should have a say in the future of Northern Ireland—even those only born in Northern Ireland. Half of Boston would vote. Does the noble and learned Lord really want that?

Traditionally, the franchise in the United Kingdom has not been based on the issue of citizenship or nationality. I need hardly remind the noble and learned Lord that all subjects of the British Empire were entitled to vote in British elections. The Republic of Ireland is an anomaly. Commonwealth citizens still have a right to vote. European nationals are a recent addition in the Maastricht Treaty. Origin or birth has never been a criterion for having the vote.

The noble and learned Lord is trying to escalate the referendum into something much bigger than in fact it is. Again and again he invokes the impression that everybody born in Scotland or Wales should have entitlement in this matter. But very soon people would say, "What about people who were not born in Scotland but who live there? Why should not they be entitled to vote?"

Let me give a counter-example to that of the noble and learned Lord's best man. I have a cousin twice removed who is a doctor in Perth. He and his wife have lived there for 37 years. His children were born there and brought up there. One son, who is a doctor, practises in Newcastle-upon-Tyne; his daughter is in London. Obviously, the children should vote but the parents should not vote. As soon as one says that only those people—or everybody—born in Scotland should be allowed to vote, very quickly there will be the counter-arguments about not just Italian waiters but people from the Commonwealth. I request the noble and learned Lord not to go down that path, which is a very dangerous path to tread.

Lord Mackay of Drumadoon

Before the debate proceeds any further, I should make clear to the noble Lord that I do not seek to exclude the Italian waiter or his relative who has resided in Perth for 37 years. I seek to add to the franchise the children of his relative, who, under the Government's proposals as I understand them, would be excluded from voting.

Lord Desai

If this is considered as a regional question and not a national question, residence is by far the most relevant property.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy

With great respect to the noble Lord, Lord Desai, Scotland is not a region. It is a nation.

Lord Desai

With respect, we are not discussing independence of the nation. We are discussing devolution in a very limited sense.

The Earl of Mar and Kellie

The noble Lord, Lord Desai, must accept that Scotland is not a region of Britain. It is a sovereign country, which has placed its sovereignty in a union.

Lord Howie of Troon

Those noble Lords who have known me in this Chamber for quite a number of years will probably have come to realise that in fact I am a Scotchman—"Scotchman" was good enough for Walter Scott and it is good enough for me.

I am a temporary resident in London and have been for some time. But I wish to vote in this referendum. I support the amendments tabled by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Drumadoon.

When the previous referendum was held, I went through a similar trauma in a very personal kind of way. We heard of the daughter of the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, and we very much hope that in due course she will return to this country, especially if she is as entertaining as her father. At the last referendum, being resident in London, I was denied a vote. However, by coincidence, my daughter and my niece were both temporary residents in Edinburgh as students for a relatively short period of years. My daughter, who was born in London, has blood of the purest Ayrshire on both sides of her family. My niece is not quite so fortunate. She is only Ayrshire on one side; she is half Ayrshire and half English and was born in Johannesburg. But they both had votes in the referendum and I did not; nor indeed did my wife, who is also from Ayrshire. My daughter saw the injustice of that situation and on the day of the referendum she telephoned me and asked me how she should vote. Of course, I said, "Annabel, my dear, it is entirely up to you"—and she did what she was told.

My noble friend Lord Desai totally misses the point— some of the points, at any rate—when he speaks of this issue as a regional matter. So has my noble friend Lord Sewel, when he denies the ethnicity of this matter. We should cast our minds back to how this question of devolution all began. In the middle 1960s a lady called Winnie Ewing won a by-election in Hamilton in the Scottish national cause. That caused a great deal of disturbance, uproar and even anxiety in parliamentary circles. From that upsurge of Scottish national feeling— not regional nor residential feeling but genuine national feeling— arose the whole question of devolution. So, to regard this issue as a matter of local government or regional government is quite mistaken. It is a response to national feeling and because it is a response to national feeing, the ethnic element in it does matter.

Many Scots—I do not know how many there are— are temporarily resident in England. There must be three-quarters of a million, maybe even more—perhaps a million, so far as I know. It is a very large number, not the small number which so irked my noble friend Lord Parry during our discussion on the last group of amendments. It is not a small number but a very large one. Most of those people are Scots in strong feeling.

I do not want to go on at any great length about this matter. I simply want to remind your Lordships with regard to this ethnic or nationalistic question of a point which was brought to our attention by both the noble Lord, Lord Steel, in his maiden speech, and my noble friend Lord Hughes later, when he reminded us about the Queen of Scots. She was not the Queen of Scotland but was the Queen of Scots.

In the same way, I see the planned parliament not as a parliament of Scotland but as a parliament of Scots. As I am one of them, I should dearly like my noble friend to accept the amendment or at least say that he will take it away, consider it and return with some variant of it which will give the¾million of us the vote that we so richly deserve and so much desire.

Lord Thomas of Gresford

I have been sitting on my hands for most of the afternoon but cannot resist following the noble Lord, Lord Howie of Troon. I have a specific problem in my family just as he has in his.

My wife was born in Scotland. She came to live in Wales at the age of 10 and has not so far told me that she has any intention of returning to Scotland. On the other hand, her sister was also born in Scotland, lives in Scotland and the colleague of mine from my home town to whom she is married also lives in Scotland. What are they to have? Should they have a vote in Scotland or a vote in Wales?

We talk of returning to each other's country; my wife talks of going back to Scotland and my brother-in-law of coming back to Wales. But surely devolution is about sensible, accountable government. We are trying to improve the constitution of this country to bring accountable government closer to the people. All this business about who is Scots and who is Welsh gives me another problem: what about my children? They could play for either Scotland or Wales if they were good enough, which they are not. They may be qualified to do all kinds of things, being Scots and Welsh. Why should not they vote in both places?

Do not bring ethnicity into this discussion. Let us look calmly at what devolution is about; that is, sensible government.

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale

I could not agree more with the concluding remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Thomas. It has been fascinating to hear the family details of noble Lords, but I am not sure that they clarify any of the issues.

Ethnicity is a bizarre kind of qualification for a franchise. Where one is born should neither qualify nor disqualify one in relation to voting. We are discussing a referendum on how Scotland will be governed through a devolved Parliament. The selection is extremely important but we should go for a franchise which is simple, straightforward and practical, and that is the local government franchise. As it stands at the moment, that is perfectly acceptable to everybody. I do not see why we are trying to play around with it. The idea of trying to prove who is or who is not a Scot is an extremely complicated one.

Lord Hooson

Many years ago I remember hearing of a distinguished Welshman—some would argue the greatest Welshman of the century. It was said of him that he would do anything for Wales but live in it. If that was his attitude, he should not have a vote in the referendum.

Lord Hughes

I am encouraged to come in to the debate only because the noble Lord, Lord Howie of Troon, mentioned what I had to say about Mary Queen of Scots. Many years ago, when I was a Minister in the Scottish Office, there was a period when I looked round and there was not a single Scot who could be regarded as a possible supporter of what I was putting forward as a Minister. I remind the noble Lord that I then noticed him. I asked whether he would be good enough to give me support on a specific matter. He said, honestly, "It is a long time since I have lived in Scotland and I am not knowledgeable on this. Will you forgive me if I do not help you?". Perhaps he will remember that.

Lord Howie of Troon

I must say that that must be a case of mistaken identity.

Lord Hughes

Does the noble Lord think for one moment that there is anybody in this Chamber who could be mistaken in appearance for the noble Lord, Lord Howie of Troon? There is a certain amount of fantasy in what he said, but that is carrying it a bit too far.

Lord Howie of Troon

Oddly enough, a respected senior Member of this Chamber—I see him present here this evening, though I shall not name him—constantly confuses me with my noble friend Lord Carmichael.

Lord Hughes

The noble Lord is now going from fantasy to myth. My main point was not to remind him of his modesty on that occasion, but to refer to what he said as to when devolution started. He said that it started in Scotland only after Winnie Ewing won the by-election in Hamilton. He is not only years out in that; he is decades out.

Many years before, a Scottish Member of Parliament tabled a Bill to establish an independent Scotland. That was perhaps even before Winnie Ewing was born. Therefore the noble Lord's idea of when devolution started is quite wrong. I am now 86 years of age and cannot remember any time as an adult when this subject was not talked about at some time or other in Scotland.

5.45 p.m.

Lord Elis-Thomas

I rise to support the remarks of the noble Lord. Of course devolution has been an issue in the politics of Scotland and Wales for all our lives. I remind the Committee, to get the historical record straight, that there was a by-election in the constituency of Carmarthen a year before the by-election in the constituency of Hamilton. In fact, my noble friend Lord Prys-Davis was a candidate in that by-election and well remembers having lost narrowly to Mr. Gwynfor Evans, the former president of Plaid Cymru and at one time a colleague in another place.

I did not intend to mention any of that, but there is a serious point here. We are in danger of lapsing into what I call the worst kind of narrow ethnic nationalism. As the representative of post-nationalism on these Benches, it is important that we should get the matter straight. When we are talking about affiliation to a national or cultural group, it can be dealt with in all sorts of ways. If one is a Scot in England or wherever, one can participate in Scottish life in all kinds of ways in cultural forms, whether it be music, finance or whatever. We are talking about the franchise for the structure of government which is to be devised for Scotland and Wales within the next two years.

This is not a question of national affiliation; it is a question of the arrangements for government. Surely the arrangements of government have to be based upon a notion of citizenship. I would argue that the only possible notion of citizenship which can be a franchise for this kind of intermediary level of government is residency. Any other form of franchise calls into question the whole issue of nationality and ethnicity. Once we go down that road there is the question of the people from outside Wales who live in Wales and from outside Scotland who live in Scotland. It has been raised already.

I have spent my whole life in politics trying to argue that the people who are resident in Wales are ultimately the only people who should make a decision about the future arrangements for that country, and similarly in Scotland. Clearly if arrangements arise which affect our brothers and sisters in England or in Ireland, those are matters to be decided by the people of those countries as well. There may well be a stage when the people of England need to be consulted about these matters. I do not doubt that at all. But, in the limited proposals we are facing in the Bill, to extend the franchise on what can only be described as a basis of nationalistic affiliation is unacceptable.

My final point must surely carry weight in this Chamber. If there were to be a referendum in Derby about autonomy and regional government in Derby, my president in another place, Mr. Dafydd Wigley, would have a vote because he was born in Derby.

Lord Sewel

I remind the Committee that these amendments seek to allow Scottish and Welsh born people living elsewhere in the United Kingdom to vote at the referendums regardless of where they are registered to vote in the United Kingdom. By definition, that brings into play concepts of nationality or ethnicity and we cannot turn our face away from that—that somehow being born in a place carries some right to vote for the government of that country no matter how long you have been away from that country.

Lord Simon of Glaisdale

Does the noble Lord accept that being born in a place does not merely affect nationality but affects domicile? If he does not, I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Williams, will confirm it to him. What we are concerned with here is people who were born in Scotland and therefore have Scottish domicile—not Scottish nationality.

Lord Sewel

I understand that it may, in that one can have domicile of origin; but one can also have domicile of choice as well. That is an important distinction. For the lay person the fact is that the amendment would carry a heavy nationalist overlay. That is something no part of the House would wish to encourage in any way, shape or form.

If place of birth were to be a deciding factor in having a vote about the future governmental arrangements of a country one could soon get to total absurdities. I understand that Sir Cliff Richard was born in India. I understand that we are soon to be joined by a former captain of the England cricket team who was similarly born in India. If place of birth is important, can the claim really be made that people who have been born in one country but left at a very early age—I am in the same category in that I left the country I was born in, England, at a very early age—should have a continuing right to have a say in the arrangements for the government of that country? That is a difficult argument to sustain. The noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay of Cartvale, was right when she said that where you are born should neither qualify you nor disqualify you from voting in this type of referendum. That must surely be right.

As the debate has gone on it has been clear that what I accept may well have been a well-intentioned amendment from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Drumadoon, somehow to give some sense of ownership to people who are Scots of what is happening in Scotland would produce immense difficulties. There is the difficulty referred to by one of my noble friends of what should happen if there were a referendum about Northern Ireland. Would it mean that everyone who was born in Northern Ireland should have a vote in that referendum? We would go down a very dangerous and perilous path if we go down the route advocated by the noble and learned Lord.

Lord Butterfield

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. I am concerned because as I understand it American citizens born in America but living abroad can vote in the American presidential election. Furthermore, American citizens living abroad have to pay tax to the American people. I cannot quite make that fit together with what the noble Lord is saying about eligibility to vote in a referendum. I have not thought deeply about this but I know that Americans can vote from overseas in the election of their president. They are taking part in the government of their country.

Earl Russell

If the noble Lord, Lord Butterfield, will forgive me, perhaps he will consult the noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery of Alamein, about the damage done by the American concept of extra-territoriality. It is a road I do not think we want to go down.

Lord Sewel

I cannot add anything more to the comments of the noble Earl. We have to decide what are the best arrangements for dealing with an internal problem in the United Kingdom, which is the move towards devolved government within the United Kingdom. That is the point we have to resolve. We ought to keep the concept of nationality and ethnicity well out of it because in our country, above all countries, that is a particularly dangerous and perilous path.

There is another point. The central register that the proposal would imply would be the most monstrous bureaucratic nightmare. How would it be set up? One would somehow have to verify place of birth and residency. There would have to be checks on birth certificates. There would be a requirement either to have polling stations throughout the United Kingdom or to have a totally massive postal voting system. We would have an enormous bureaucratic exercise which would break under its own internal contradictions.

I would not make the claim that the amendment was moved out of any sense of mischief. I am sure it was not. I am sure the intention was to generate a wider sense of ownership in a Scottish parliament. However, the way chosen, resurrecting the idea of nationality and ethnicity, which is central as soon as one starts using the definition of place of birth or country of birth as a qualifier, would be an extremely dangerous course of action. I strongly urge the Committee to reject the amendment.

Lord Campbell of Croy

I wish to put a short point arising from the Minister's remarks. If the Bill remains in its present form I would ask the Government to refrain from referring to "the Scottish people-. It will not be the Scottish people who are being asked to give their views in the referendum; it will be the residents of Scotland at a particular time. I am quite happy that that should be so—there are a great many difficulties—but the Government should not go around saying that it is the will of the Scottish people or that the Scottish people have determined something or other. That is false. Then to go on to say that it is "the settled will of the Scottish people" makes it even worse. Of course a referendum based on the electorate in Scotland—the latest register— gives a good view of opinion in Scotland. But do not call it the will of the Scottish people.

Lord Sewel

I have toyed with that one myself on many occasions. The formulation I tend to favour is "the people of Scotland".

Lord Mackay of Drumadoon

I am grateful to those noble Lords who have contributed to the debate. I am particularly grateful to the Minister for saying that he treated the amendment as being well intentioned. I have to say that chuckles from noble Lords on the Benches to my right may suggest that they do not entirely agree with that compliment. I accept it in the way it was intended.

In putting forward the amendment I feel that I was speaking for a number of people born in Scotland and Wales who no longer live there. The noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay of Cartvale, suggested that the franchise chosen is perfectly acceptable to everyone. I suggest that it is not. However, I accept that there might be certain bureaucratic problems in taking forward the amendments I propose. I beg leave to withdraw it.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

6 p.m.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish moved Amendment No. 13: Page 1, line 13, at end insert ("and members of the United Kingdom armed forces and their spouses who were born in Scotland and who would be entitled to vote in a general election in any electoral area of the United Kingdom").

The noble Lord said: In a way this is a subset of the previous amendment. Amendment No. 13 is grouped with Amendment No. 35, to which my noble friend Lord Crickhowell will speak.

I outlined the position at Second Reading. It concerns those Scottish members of the Armed Forces who find themselves in a position where they are commanded to go with their regiment, or move their homes to another Air Force base, or to move to the south of England in the case of a Scot in order to be near their Royal Navy base. They then find themselves south of the Border when the referendum comes along. If they have moved with their wives and families they may well have registered at their bases and homes south of the Border without realising the consequences as regards the referendum. I use again the example of the Royal Scots, currently based at Colchester. There may be at least 400 of them. I suspect that the young unmarried ones will have registered at home in Scotland; I suspect equally that a number, particularly those living in married quarters, will not.

I understand the difficulty. I have tried to phrase my amendment carefully. It says, members of the…armed forces and their spouses…born in Scotland".

I may even be able to accept some of the arguments put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, and re-define that to, "having once had a vote in Scotland". That is in order to try to make the link even stronger so that the noble Lord cannot say that someone born in Scotland could have left at the age of two or three years and might never been back and that it would not be right if that person had a vote.

I am grateful to both the noble Lords, Lord Williams of Mostyn and Lord Sewel, for their explanations—one in debate and the other in a letter. Of course, I know the rules for service declarations. Perhaps I may quote from the letter of the noble Lord, Lord Sewel. It states: Thus members of the forces can retain through a service declaration their right to vote in Scotland. Accordingly no member of the forces will lose his right to vote in this referendum simply because he is on duty outwith Scotland".

That is a carefully and brilliantly drafted couple of sentences. It is exactly true, but it is not really true because, when posed with the question about how to use their service declaration, members of the forces did not know that they were going to have this dilemma imposed on them. They were unaware of the considerable consequences when it came to a referendum.

Am I allowed to talk about parliamentary elections? They seem to be so unimportant. But in an ordinary parliamentary election the servicemen are voting for the same United Kingdom Parliament, although how long that will last, if these proposals ever see the light of day, I do not know. They are voting for the same United Kingdom Parliament so whether they vote in Colchester or somewhere in Scotland to that extent is neither here nor there. Probably at the time they said, "We are going to be here for a few years so we had better register here which will save us the bother of the postal or proxy votes we shall need if we continue to vote in Scotland." So they end up registered in Colchester, based with a Scottish regiment and without a vote.

I appreciate all the logistical difficulties that the Ministers have. But it is a very real problem. It seems to me that it is totally the luck of the draw. My daughter decided to go and live in Italy and the best man of my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Drumadoon decided to come and doctor to the English. My understanding of these matters is that one does not have too much say in the matter. If the regiment moves to Colchester you move with it and that is the end of the discussion. If you are posted to an air force base in the south of England from Lossiemouth you move to the air force base in the south of England. The servicemen are the serving forces of the Crown.

We deserve a better answer than either my right honourable and honourable friends received from Mr. Henry McLeish down the corridor or we received at Second Reading. Even a little sympathy and the words, "We are sorry. We know that it is not right, but we cannot think of a way round it" would be at least helpful. To brush these young men and women aside as though they and their votes do not matter does not seem right. My amendment may not be right, I hope, however, that Ministers will give much more consideration to the position of these young men and women. I beg to move.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

Can the noble Lord explain whether spouses who are not born in Scotland will be eligible or is he going to exclude them? That would be grossly unfair. They may be dragged back to Scotland by their spouse to live and therefore they have as much right as spouses born in Scotland. Will he clarify that point?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

To be honest, I believe that the noble Lord is making a mountain out of a molehill. The amendment is quite clear. It states, armed forces and their spouses who were born in Scotland'". Given the distinguished career of the noble Lord, Lord Mackie, in the Royal Air Force, I am surprised that he shows absolutely no sympathy for the position of young Scots who have joined the forces and who are now resident in England.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Williams of Mostyn)

Before the noble Lord sits down perhaps I may point out that this is not a trivial point. It is perfectly plain from the drafting of the amendment, members of the…armed forces and their spouses who were born in Scotland". That means that the categorisation of "spouse" limits the spouse in this instance—and, subsequently, in Wales in the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell— to a spouse of a member of the Armed Forces who herself or himself was born in either Scotland or Wales.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

When I was a Minister I never nitpicked at all—

Noble Lords


Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

Members of the Committee are free to look back through many acres of Hansard. I hope that the noble Lord will confirm what I have said.

Earl Russell


Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

Well, almost never. If the Government wish to accept this amendment in principle they have all the power of the draftsman behind them and it is no problem. The amendment says that if the spouse wants a vote she has to be born in Scotland as well. I would have thought that that anchors them in Scotland in the way that the noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay of Cartvale, is so keen to do.

Lord Mowbray and Stourton

Is it not true that young men and girls in the forces who have not got property of their own are able to register in their parents' homes in Scotland and would therefore automatically have a proxy vote, being in the forces?

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy

Even if the Government cannot accept the amendment as it stands, I hope that they can go some way towards meeting the spirit of it because the Armed Forces are a very special case. Also, if the Government are not able to go some way towards meeting the spirit of the amendment I wonder what effect it may have on recruitment.

Lord Crickhowell

Perhaps I may speak to Amendment No. 35, which is grouped with this amendment, and refer particularly to the situation in Wales. I start by taking up the question which has been asked about the right to vote. It was commented on by the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, at Second Reading. Of course it is true that there are special arrangements for the Armed Forces. I know that the Adjutant-General's Office is punctilious in drawing attention to the forces of their rights in this matter.

As my noble friend pointed out, the trouble is that many of the people involved had no idea at the time that their registration was going to be so significant. It is of course true that quite a large number of members of the forces and their spouses do take the trouble to arrange a postal vote or proxy at their own homes. But, as the noble Lord, Lord Parry, will know from his experience in my former constituency and his home county of Pembrokeshire, a very large number of servicemen were based at one time in the county. They registered in the married quarters where they were stationed. I can vouch for that fact, because I took a great deal of trouble canvassing them and soliciting their votes. I believe that I obtained quite a lot of votes and I have no doubt that the noble Lord, Lord Parry, obtained a few. I obtained rather more because I used to beat him. There is no doubt at all that a significant proportion of servicemen register their votes where they are stationed.

I give the example of two particular regiments that make my point. A short time ago my own regiment, the Royal Welch Fusiliers, returned from a gallant and distinguished tour in Bosnia. After the briefest possible stay in Chepstow it was sent to Northern Ireland. It returned from Northern Ireland just a couple of weeks ago. Because it was stationed in Northern Ireland throughout its tour, spouses remained in Chepstow. Noble Lords who know that area will be aware that the camp at Chepstow is on the spit of land under the Severn bridge that separates the Severn estuary from the river Wye. The camp is therefore separated from the border of Wales by a couple of hundred yards as represented by the width of the river Wye. The situation is that the senior regiment of Wales, a very high proportion of whom are Welsh-speaking and who have been born and brought up in Wales, and their spouses will not be able to vote in this referendum that will profoundly affect the future of their country.

I am informed that the Royal Regiment of Wales is at the moment on public duties in London and is stationed in Hounslow. No doubt its situation is similar to that of the Royal Welch Fusiliers. I confess that I have not inquired about the whereabouts of the Welsh Guards. However, I can say that a very large number of the two out of the three regiments of Wales will be disfranchised from this election. That is deplorable. I believe that an effort should be made to amend the Bill to enable them to have a vote.

I should like to refer back to the 1978 Act. If it was possible to do as we then did—namely, to have the parliamentary elections as the basis of voting but to have the Peers—surely it would not be too difficult to use whatever basis on which the Government intend to proceed (they seem determined to proceed on the local government electorate) and add the Armed Forces and their spouses in the way that we propose.

I have the greatest possible respect for the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn. I am sure that he has no intention of nitpicking in this matter and that if he gives his mind to it, and the parliamentary draftsman is able to do it, suitable amendments can be made if our amendments are faulty. I ask the noble Lord to give most careful consideration to this point. I am not alone in Wales in believing that it would be a matter of great regret if these men and women who perform so gallantly and so well in the service of their country were disfranchised from this important election.

6.15 p.m.

Lord Simon of Glaisdale

I had counted on having left the area of controversial politics, particularly on issues that divided the two main parties. I was drawn into this Bill originally because I had great sympathy with the concept of devolution as an aspect of subsidiarity in bringing decision-making nearer the people. I was retained, however, in engagement with this Bill when I saw this amendment. If it is necessary, it appears to me to be absolutely outrageous. If the noble Lord intervenes now and says that it is unnecessary or that it will be dealt with in the draft Order in Council I shall sit down, but if it is necessary in any form it should be accepted. It may need to be redrafted but that is no answer.

What your Lordships will look for is acceptance in principle. I feel very strongly about this. During the war I was fortunate enough to serve in a brigade with two famous regiments whose successors would be affected. One was the first Royal Scots Fusiliers and the other was the second Royal Welch Fusiliers, which has been referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell. Not only did I have tremendous admiration for them as soldiers, but I was continually impressed by their sense of patriotism to their countries of origin—the countries with which those regiments were associated. This is not to be disposed of by saying that they could have registered in some way last September when this was not an active issue. I beg the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, who has conducted this Bill so skilfully, to recognise that this is a matter of major importance and to accept the amendment in principle.

Lord Parry

The Committee will expect me to respond pleasantly to the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell. He did beat me on three occasions. I could not understand then and I cannot understand it now. However, I can go two-thirds of the way in supporting with sympathy the case that he makes specifically for the regiments of Wales. He is quite right that the regiments of Wales have no barracks in Wales. At present, there is nowhere where a Welsh regiment can be housed at home. That seems to me to be a good argument for giving Wales further devolution so that it can control matters in its own way. I shall not go too far down that road. Incidentally, I believe that the Welsh Guards are currently stationed at Wellington Barracks in the City of London.

The point that is made today about disfranchisement is important, but it would be quite easy to resolve the issue as to where a regiment was stationed at any given time. Certainly it would be possible to make arrangements for one of the regiments of Wales to be stationed at home. The plea that I make is that we go back to the real intention of the Bill that is before the Committee. The Bill is intended to devolve authority to Wales on certain matters and to create a senate within Wales that is able to deal with the specific issues that have been mentioned this afternoon. I believe that the amendments that have been dealt with, although put forward in good faith, do not contribute to the main thrust of the Bill.

Lord Monson

In discussing this amendment inevitably one will go over some of the same ground as when we discussed the two previous amendments. I am glad to see the noble Earl, Lord Russell, in his place. Earlier this week, in a most powerful speech based on his profound historical expertise, he told noble Lords in no uncertain terms that Scotland was a nation, as indeed Wales and England were nations. He went on to deny emphatically that Britain was a nation. If true, this has interesting consequences which doubtless we shall address on another occasion. When the noble Earl states that Scotland is a nation, I do not believe that it is a random geographical area containing a random group of people from all over the place who just happen to be there at the particular time when the electoral register is compiled. Surely a nation comprises people with a common heritage, culture and interest in the long-term future of their nation. I stress "long-term" because people who are there on a three-year contract do not have the same interest. Surely, people who fall into this category have the moral right to vote on major constitutional issues that affect the future of their nation.

I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Desai, is no longer in his place. He was sanguine about this and denied that it was a major constitutional issue. I prefer the view of my noble friend Lady Saltoun, who pointed out that it might not be intended to be a major constitutional issue but it would almost certainly become one because one way or another devolution would probably lead to independence. That was what I inferred from the comments of my noble friend, and I believe that she is right.

I accept what the Minister said about the difficulty of including all expatriate Scots, and Welsh for that matter, in the electorate for the referendum, but this is a very much smaller group of people. I hope that in the circumstances the noble Lord can see his way to accepting the principle of the amendment.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

I have no personal interest to declare because, although I am a Scot, I am not entitled to vote anyway.

If the Government were not prepared to say now that they accept the amendment in principle, I could understand that. However, I could not understand it if, having heard the debate, they could not say, without commitment, that they will take this back and consider it, because there really is an injustice.

Lord Elis-Thomas

I do not want to argue in favour of any amendment that will delay the Bill because we should move towards the referendum as soon as possible. However, in this case I support the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, and my noble and learned friend Lord Simon of Glaisdale and the noble Lord, Lord Parry. I ask the Government to look at this matter again. In relation to an issue such as the RWF the noble Lord and I always stand together.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

The whole tone of this amendment has been one of reasoned constructive appeal, for which I am most grateful. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, and I are getting too old and intolerant of each other.

There is no doubt that any government should give a sympathetic ear to arguments concerning the Armed Forces. Other people similarly serve the state and are subject to direction as to where they are to live. Others serve a different, higher cause, for example, ministers of religion who are required to move in some denominations. The problem, though a lesser one, arises in those cases.

It is nostalgia time at the OK Corral tonight and I think it is now my turn. I was born in a taxi travelling between Mostyn and Prestatyn—Point of Ayr, as the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, says. The taxi therefore turned left at the bottom of School Lane (Tŷr Ysgol), Mostyn. If he had turned right and gone to Chester I suppose I would have been entitled to vote in an English referendum. My wife is Indian and was born in Durban. I am registered to vote in the local election in Evenlode and she is registered to vote in the local election in London. If there were a referendum about London government she would vote in London and if there were to be a referendum about regional devolution in Gloucestershire or Oxfordshire I would vote there and she would not.

This is a serious point. In any system constructed there are bound to be anomalies. At the end of the day one has to strike a balance. One has to ask what the purpose is of this referendum. I cannot do better than repeat what the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, said when he encapsulated the matter so perfectly and pithily. That is a fundamental approach. The second approach is to look at the detail. The noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbreckish, said that we should look at the subset. He did not mean that offensively and nor do I. I entirely agree with him. I will not weary your Lordships by going over old ground.

As the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, stated, and as has been mentioned in careful correspondence, the service declaration is a mechanism that is available. I do not pretend that it is perfect. No electoral arrangements are perfect. They are never perfectly symmetrical. One can find anomalies, and noble Lords have spent many a happy hour finding anomalies this evening. I dare say there are more anomalies to come.

To take an earlier example, if the serviceman moves to Colchester, on the noble Lord's illustration, he can register there. He is not then entitled to vote in a parliamentary election or a local election in Scotland. I hope your Lordships will accept that I have a good deal of sympathy for the arguments that have been put forward, but the best I can do— in answer to the proposal put by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway—is to give careful consideration, with my colleagues, to everything that has been said. However, there are no guarantees of a changed mind. I have gone as far as I can in answer to the thrust of the noble Lord's point and in answer to the question put by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

I am grateful for the response and I appreciate the difficulties of trying to solve this problem. I do not think that any noble Lord would deny that. This is not an easy issue to resolve but I am delighted to hear that the Government appreciate and accept that it is worthy of a bit of attention and effort on the part of officials, draftsmen and politicians to see if it can be resolved. The Scottish example highlighted a real difficulty. If the Royal Scots had been based in Scotland they would have a vote.

The issues raised by my noble friend Lord Crickhowell make a strong case; there is no possibility of these regiments being based in Wales at all. That is a point worthy of consideration.

I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn. I hope that we can see some solution to this difficult but important problem by Third Reading. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment Nos. 14 to 19 not moved.]

Lord Simon of Glaisdale moved Amendment No. 19A: Page 2, line 3, after ("for") insert ("each local government area in Scotland and").

The noble and learned Lord said: My noble friend Lord Elis-Thomas left me to draft the amendment and then went off on a lengthy weekend without telling me that it needed to be translated into Welsh. The consequential amendment is defective in that respect. He is entitled, indeed honour bound, to lead on Amendments Nos. 19A and 39A. I beg to move.

Lord Elis-Thomas

This amendment is in the later group starting at Amendment No. 28.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Ampthill)

The amendment has now been moved. Would you be so kind as to withdraw it?

Lord Elis-Thomas

I apologise. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 20 and 21 not moved.]

Clause 1 agreed to.

[Amendment No. 22 not moved.]

6.30 p.m.

Clause 2 [Referendum in Wales]:

[Amendments Nos. 23 and 24 not moved.]

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish moved Amendment No. 25: Page 2, line 4, at end insert ("under section 1 (1)").

The noble Lord said: In the spirit of co-operation shown by the Government Front Bench a few minutes ago I thought we would try and speed up the process to arrive at this interesting amendment. The amendment proposes that the Scottish and Welsh referendums should be held on the same day. For some mysterious reason which nobody, especially the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, was able to persuade me of at Second Reading, the Welsh referendum is to be held a week after the Scottish referendum. I do not understand why that has to be. No good reason was given on Second Reading and I shall be interested to hear what is said tonight about the decision to hold the Welsh referendum a week after the Scottish referendum.

The only explanation offered was that of the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford. It appeared to be that the Welsh needed "clean air time" away from the Scots in order that they could make up their minds. I have not made inquiries, but I do not suspect that too many editions of the Scottish newspapers have great sales in Wales. I must disappoint the Welsh Members of your Lordships' House by saying that not many editions of the Western Morning Post will be sold in Scotland—

Noble Lords


Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

I am sorry, the Western Mail. I have illustrated the point clearly; it is not the morning reading even of newspaper junkies such as myself who believe that we must read every newspaper. I am sure that in Wales, The Scotsman, the Herald, the Daily Record

Lord Parry

I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. I recommend that he reads the Western Mail of yesterday which shows the latest poll on the state of support for devolution and a Welsh assembly.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

I accept that invitation. I assure the noble Lord that I am capable of reading the Western Mail, understanding the points it makes, reading the Herald or The Scotsman, understanding the points they make and realising that they are dealing with two different countries and two different referendums. I appear still to have a vote in the referendum, despite my earlier amendments. I hope that Ministers will not threaten me with losing my vote. Perhaps a special clause will be put into the Bill if I am not careful! However, I will have no difficulty differentiating between the two.

Of all the poor arguments I have ever heard, the poorest is that the Welsh need a week free of the Scots in order to be able to make up their minds. If there were any logic in that proposition there would be a demand for the Welsh referendum four weeks before the Scottish one, or even four weeks after. But that would enter Labour Party conference territory and I have already been reprimanded about that.

There is no logical reason why we should not have two referendums on the same day. If the issues are important let them be resolved in Wales and Scotland at the same time. The principal issues are identical: do Scotland and Wales want devolved parliaments? I appreciate that the detail is different. Somehow the Welsh are not being offered quite the same bunch of supposed goodies which the Scots are being offered. I do not believe that Scots will be in any doubt about what they are being offered. They will know that they are being offered a tax-raising assembly, if that is agreed, and they will know that they are not being offered the same weak assembly as the Welsh. The Welsh are being offered a much weaker assembly. Equally, I am sure that the Welsh will know that they are being offered an assembly which will have no law-making or tax-raising powers.

If that is the best argument that the Government can put forward I suggest that they ring up the white flag right now before some of my noble friends from Wales join in the argument. I see no reason why the two issues should not be resolved on the same day. After all, people throughout the United Kingdom are asked to vote on the same day for Members in another place and that does not appear to cause any difficulty. I cannot for the life of me see why Scotland and Wales should not vote on the same day. I shall not even tempt the Government into telling me which day it is—it appears to be one of the official secrets—but journalists are telling me that it is 4th September. If that turns out to be correct it will look very much as though the journalists are told but Parliament is not. I beg to move.

Lord Thomas of Gresford

It is a great failing on my part that I did not make myself clear to the noble Lord when I spoke previously on this topic. I am not complaining that Wales will be swamped by the Scottish press but that if the two referendums are held together the national press will be concerned mainly with what is happening in Scotland. I made the point that more than 90 per cent. of the newspapers which circulate in Scotland are published in Scotland, but only 13 per cent. of the newspapers which circulate in Wales are published in Wales. That means that the national press—the UK press—has much greater influence in Wales than in Scotland.

It does not stop there because as regards broadcasting there is an area of overlap in Wales of some 35 per cent. of the territory. Television broadcasts can be received from England in 35 per cent. of the Welsh heartland. In Scotland, the figure is 0.2 per cent. One has to think only of the Borders to realise why that is so. Often people in north-east Wales turn to Granada Television and to BBC North. People in Mid-Wales turn to the Birmingham area and to the Midlands channels and in south Wales, in particular south-east Wales, they turn to Bristol television programmes.

That means that the problem of raising the consciousness of people in Wales to the issues involved in the referendum is that much greater than it is in Scotland. Furthermore, there are significant differences of principle between the Scottish and Welsh referendum proposals. What I and my noble friends are concerned to avoid is that the people of Wales should believe that they are being offered what is on offer in Scotland. A different proposition is being put before them. It is a question of information. I am sure that all Members of the Committee agree that the better and more fully informed the voters are, the fairer and more democratic the vote will be, whichever way it goes. That is why we contend that there should be a distinction between the dates of the referendums. That is why we are glad to see the proposal in the Bill.

Lord Crickhowell

I can agree with at least one comment of the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, and I am glad that he made it. It is that plenty of information should be provided to the electorate. We shall address the best way of doing that in later amendments. I wish to deal with the points that he made in two parts. First, on the general proposition, he is proved wrong by what happened on the previous occasion. We have a good precedent. Some of us spent perhaps too much time— certainly a considerable amount of time—debating the issue when the referendums were held on the same day. I was so sleepy the other day that when the noble Earl, Lord Russell, challenged me about the absurdity of having a referendum in February I entirely overlooked the fact that on the previous occasion we campaigned all through February, despite the weather, and held a referendum on 1st March.

On that occasion, there was a vigorous debate on Welsh issues which was carried right around the country. I do not believe that anyone who took part in the debates could conceivably have argued that the result was decided because information had not reached the people of Wales and that they had somehow followed with fascination the detailed debate of affairs in Scotland. It is simply untrue and an absurd rewriting of history.

Lord Thomas of Gresford

I thank the noble Lord for giving way. Of course, I was campaigning in 1979, having been involved in the debate since 1967, and I well remember what went on. What concerned me about the campaign in 1979 was not the information that was being circulated but the disinformation. That is what I want to avoid.

Lord Crickhowell

That is a totally different issue. Certainly, a good deal of disinformation was circulated but I suggest not necessarily by the campaigning groups to which the noble Lord referred. However, I shall not become involved in that argument because I wish to turn to the subject of television.

I know a certain amount about television on the borders of Wales. I live in Wales, close to the Welsh border, and understand that a good many people along the Welsh border, for one reason or another, receive television from English transmitters. I am a director of HTV and have some responsibility for television broadcasting on both sides of the border. I am at this moment in the uncomfortable position of being taken over by United Media and the noble Lord, Lord Hollick. However, for the time being my responsibilities extend to both sides of the border.

If the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, really thinks that Granada in putting out programmes for its listeners will be filling them with information about Scotland, or that HTV West will be packing its news programmes with broadcasts about the Scottish referendum debate rather than the Welsh, he knows nothing at all about television. The simple fact is that BBC Wales and HTV, and I suspect Granada because of its interest in retaining viewers in North Wales, will be following the subject quite closely. Granada has an added reason for doing so because, as the noble Lord will know and welcome, HTV has just opened, is now getting access to a new transmitter in Wrexham and will be able to reach a considerable part of the electorate that earlier broadcasting arrangements prevented it from reaching in the past.

The proposition of the noble Lord is that somehow the viewers in Wales will be plugged in—I am not sure how—to Scottish television in order to follow the debate there but will be deprived of the arguments in their own patch. That is so improbable that I find it hard to understand how such a distinguished and sensible noble Lord could have seriously advanced the argument in a debate in this House. There are compelling reasons for having the vote on the same day and I strongly support the amendment of my noble friend.

The Earl of Onslow

I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, will not be too offended if I say that I think that his attitude to the voters in Wales that they can hardly read or write—which he is saying by implication—is patronising in the extreme. The Welsh are quite capable of understanding.

Noble Lords


The Earl of Onslow

Is it out of order to suggest that somebody is patronising? I said that the noble Lord's remarks struck me as being patronising. I am very sorry, but I will stand by that opinion. I thought he was being unkind and illiberal to the Welsh people, who are quite capable of making up their minds. Whether they will make them up in the way I would like them to is a different issue altogether, but they are quite capable of making up their minds. They have a lively local press; there is a special Welsh channel in north Wales which broadcasts in Welsh to the Welsh people; and they are covered by just as much television as we are in England and Scotland. The suggestion that they cannot understand these issues is quite beyond me.

Earl Russell

The noble Earl, Lord Onslow, has not understood what my noble friend was saying. My noble friend said nothing whatsoever which in any way denigrated the understanding of the Welsh people. He was talking about the task of getting space within the UK-wide media. That is a very different problem indeed. When the noble Earl has had longer experience of belonging to a minority party he will understand this a great deal better than he does now.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, for reminding me that the previous referendum was held on 1st March and for drawing my attention to what may very likely be the reason why the vote failed to reach the threshold.

The point about the UK-wide media is crucial. People may have a vast amount of ability to understand an argument but not the ability to get it into the columns of one of the national dailies. Many good arguments are sent off in press releases to the national dailies, which do not print them. All of us on every side of this Chamber have had experience of that.

It is unfortunately clearly the case that because Scotland is the larger country it attracts more attention from the UK-wide media. It has a slightly bigger share of leading journalists in London and a slightly bigger representation in Cabinet, and so it gets the lion's share of attention. The difficulty in getting Welsh arguments— especially specifically Welsh arguments—into the press during the Scottish referendum will be very much greater than it will be later.

As I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, will confirm, that will be particularly true because, regrettably, many Englishmen do not speak or read the Welsh language and, therefore, many will find it a great deal harder to get somebody to pay attention to arguments which are being conducted in the Welsh language and which may be of considerable importance. It will be easier to get a journalist with the requisite linguistic skills assigned to cover those arguments when there is not another referendum going on in Scotland. These are very good reasons for the Bill doing what it does.

6.45 p.m.

Lord Rowallan

There is a quite large Gaelic-speaking minority in Scotland, so what is right in Scotland must be right in Wales. It cannot be argued that the Welsh will be less likely to try to find out what they want to do and how they are going to vote than the Scots. They are quite as capable of making up their minds as the average Scot, and should be encouraged so to do.

To give them a week or a fortnight, whatever we choose, to think about it—and maybe to say the Scots did that; perhaps we should do the same, or something completely different—is completely illogical. The answer must be that they should vote on the same day. It will be ascertained that the voters are not stupid in this country—if they are we should not be asking them to vote in a referendum at all; we have to assume that they know what they want—which is why we are giving them this referendum. Having said that, why do we not hold the referendums on the same day? There is nothing to be frightened of.

Lord Simon of Glaisdale

This is an important amendment which raises a matter of political decency and respectability. If the Government believe that they will have a good chance of getting a favourable result in Scotland (which I think they have) and are doubtful or a little doubtful of getting a favourable result in Wales (which I think is also justified), they have every reason to bring the Scottish referendum on first in order to influence the Welsh. That would be quite reprehensible.

We had that system in England at one time when elections took place on different days. Lancashire voted first, and it used be said that what Lancashire said today the rest of England would think tomorrow. It is undoubtedly true that one can influence the other. That is why national polls are forbidden in a number of European countries a week or a fortnight before an election. People like to shout with a bigger mob. Therefore, I very much hope that the amendment will be accepted. If the noble Lord is inclined to treat it at this stage as a probing amendment, I venture to think that it is so important that it should be brought forward at a later stage.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

I have known the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, for a long time. We normally disagree on political matters and almost invariably, in the nature of our past employment, we have disagreed about legal issues. I have never heard anyone suggest that the noble Lord is patronising towards the people of the country from which we both originate and where he still lives. Incidentally, Sianel Pedwar C is not a small television station broadcasting to North Wales; it is actually based in Cardiff and broadcasts to the whole of Wales.

The general thrust of the amendments has been that it is absolutely essential politically, and virtually a moral imperative, that the referendums should be held on the same day in Scotland and Wales. Therefore, I focus my eye and my mind on Amendment No. 26. I do so because it says that the referendum in Wales shall be held, not less than seven days before the day appointed … for a referendum to be held in Scotland". I am sorry. I do not have my reading spectacles with me, but my noble friend Lord Sewel has just pointed out to me that the amendment is tabled in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Mackay.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

I feel that I should explain. In tabling such amendments, I was trying to be helpful to the Government. Amendment No. 25 seeks the same day, which I believe to be a very compelling argument. However, if the Government believe that the referendums ought to be held on different days, then Amendment No. 26 gives them the option of having the Welsh referendum before the Scottish one. It is up to the Minister to accept whichever amendment he wishes.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

Well, well, well. How the world turns! A little while ago the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, was saying that he had never heard such a footling argument as that put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford. I would not of course be as graceless as to say that I have heard better arguments in my time in the Gowerton Magistrates' Court. This was going to be the perfect distilled question of principle; but it is not so at all.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, who can plead not guilty to this particular amendment, said that the cry of the mob was not to be heard. I do not describe the electorate in Scotland as a mob; I believe that they are perfectly capable and entitled to make their own judgment on properly conducted campaigns. It seems acceptable to those noble Lords who have attached their names to the amendment that the cry of the mob in Wales is perfectly all right, if they wish to categorise it in that way, because there will not be any pollutant consequence upon the voters of Scotland.

The Earl of Onslow

My noble friend is quite capable of speaking for himself. However, it seems to me that what he is saying is this. What is the point of having the referendum in Scotland or in Wales first? Please justify which way round it should be? That is the point. We actually believe that it would be better to have them on the same day. Noble Lords opposite obviously feel that there is a moral supremacy in voting for Scotland first. Some of us may say later that there is a moral supremacy for the Welsh to vote first. That is the difference between the two amendments. The basic and fundamental difference between the two of them is that they lead to quite different roads.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

I hear what the noble Earl says. However, I am entirely unconvinced by this attempt to dig a tunnel out of Amendment No. 26 and escape, first, through the tunnel and then jump over the barbed wire. Although I do not know this for certain, I believe that the material upon which the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, was relying was not anecdotal evidence which he had gathered himself. I have read the document and I understand that the evidence came from the publication, The Road to the Referendum, to which the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, referred on Second Reading. It was produced by the independent Institute of Welsh Affairs. I shall not repeat the points about the disparity in media coverage in Wales and its origin because I believe that the statistics given by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, are correct.

The Institute of Welsh Affairs made another significant finding. It reported on the London-based press and its consequences in 1979. The detail is set out in the statistical material and I shall not repeat it. The institute found that: The London-based press was largely uninterested in the devolution issue. When it did consider the subject, it concentrated far more on the Scottish dimension. Nearly twice as much television news time was devoted to the campaign in Scotland than that in Wales". That is not something which has been conjured up out of the air; it comes from that independent report. We believe that we should seek to avoid that situation. They are distinctly different questions; distinctly different consequences. We believe that there ought to be a gap between the Scottish referendum and that for Wales. Therefore, I do not accept the amendments on behalf of the Government.

Lord Rees

Before the Minister sits down, can he tell Members of the Committee what he would regard as a reasonable time, and on what basis, between the two referendums if they are to be held on different days?

Lord Williams of Mostyn

I personally would regard a reasonable time as sufficient to give a calm reflection to the electorate in Wales. Whether that is to be one or two weeks is a matter of judgment at which the Government will arrive and announce in due time.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

We have had an interesting short debate. I believe that my noble friend Lord Rees has just put his finger on the point. If the Welsh need clear time, I have to tell the Minister that, whatever the result of the Scottish referendum on, say, Thursday 4th September—although we cannot be given that information—I suggest that for the next few days thereafter, and certainly over the weekend and well into Monday and Tuesday, the national UK press (which I am told is so important in Wales because it penetrates so much of the Principality and upon which everyone depends, ignoring the TV points made by my noble friend Lord Crickhowell, and so on) will be dealing with the result. Indeed, for days after the Scottish referendum, the Minister should understand that the national press—that is, The Times, the Telegraph, the Independent, the Guardian, the Mirror, though perhaps not the Sun because it has a Scottish edition which will deal with those aspects—will be concentrating on the aftermath of the result of the Scottish referendum.

If the answer is genuine, it is not a week that the Minister should be asking for; it is three or four weeks so that there can be two clearly differentiated campaigns. I accept and appreciate that the Minister's clever way of picking on the second amendment in an attempt to show contradictions might well convince juries in courtrooms throughout the country, but I doubt whether it will convince the jury in this Chamber tonight.

I listened to the arguments put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, and then to my noble friend Lord Crickhowell, who I believe comprehensively demolished them. When they looked at the Liberal Democrats, it seemed to me that the Government Front Bench should have been saying to themselves, "God protect me from my friends; I can look after my enemies myself". However, perhaps they were not saying that because the Minister then seemed to agree.

As I said at Second Reading, I cannot understand how the Government and the Liberal Democrats can possibly think that the noise in the press, and especially in television broadcasts, as regards interest in the Scottish referendum will so dominate life in Wales that the Welsh people will be unable to realise that they have a separate referendum campaign going on in their own country—

Earl Russell

Perhaps we may make one final attempt to draw to the attention of the Opposition the fact that our arguments do not concern the capacity of the Welsh people; they concern the quantity of information put before them.

7 p.m.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

I have tried to explain that, and perhaps I can just go over it again. I tried to explain that the chances are that in the week's interval which the Government and their friends on the Liberal Democrat Benches so want, the aftermath of the Scottish result, whichever way it goes—I ask the Committee to be in no doubt about this—will dominate the United Kingdom-based papers. If the noble Earl really wants clear blue water— or perhaps clear yellow water— between the two referendums, he should be proposing four weeks: that is what he should do. But frankly, as the Liberal Democrats have failed to put down any amendments bar one about re-establishing a parliament that has not existed since 1707 I am not surprised by the absence of any proposal to that effect.

Lord Tebbit

Will my noble friend allow me? I apologise both to him and to the Committee. I was delayed in coming back into the proceedings on the Bill and I may have missed the most vital part of the discussion. Has the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, explained why it is so essential in his judgment that the Scottish referendum should he first?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

No, indeed he has not: not at all. But the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, as always—I must warn the new Ministers that this is something they will have to watch—has told us exactly why the decision has been made by the Government to hold the Welsh referendum a week after the Scottish one. I would have more respect for the Government if they actually advanced that argument instead of trying to put all these "pretend" arguments which the noble Lord, Lord Williams, knows do not hold water.

The reason why the Government want it this way is quite simple. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, said, they think—and opinion polls certainly bear this out—that it is possible they will get the result they want in Scotland but they are very, very uncertain of Wales. Even the poll in the Western Mail which was drawn to my attention is not exactly the kind of poll that you would be inclined to put the rest of your fortune on regarding the result of the referendum in Wales. So the reason they want the referendum in Wales a week later has nothing to do with the press or anything else; it has everything to do with the hope that they can persuade the Welsh to do the same as the Scots—to ignore the actual issue before the Welsh people and just do the same as the Scots. I find that thoroughly unsatisfactory. The other place had no chance to discuss this important matter. I therefore think I should test opinion.

7.2 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 25) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 101; Not-Contents, 94.

Division No.2
Allenby of Megiddo, V. Lucas, L.
Anelay of St. Johns, B. Lucas of Chilworth, L.
Ashboume, L. Lyell, L.
Astor of Hever, L. Mackay of Ardbrecknish, L.
Attlee, E Mackay of Drumadoon, L.
Baker of Dorking, L. Masham of Ilton, B.
Belhaven and Stenton, L. Mayhew of Twysden, L.
Biddulph, L. Mersey, V.
Blatch, B. Miller of Hendon, B.
Bowness, L. Milverton, L.
Brabazon of Tara, L. Molyneaux of Killead, L.
Brookeborough, V. Monson, L.
Brougham and Vaux, L. Mountevans, L.
Burnham, L. Mountgarret, V.
Byford, B. Mowbray and Stourton, L.
Cadman, L. Moynihan, L.
Campbell of Alloway, L. Munster, E.
Campbell of Croy, L. Norrie, L.
Camegy of Lour, B. Northesk, E.
Chalker of Wallasey, B. Onslow, E.
Chesham, L.[Teller.] Oxfuird, V.
Colwyn, L. Pearson of Rannoch, L.
Courtown, E. Pilkington of Oxenford, L.
Cranbome, V. Prentice, L.
Crickhowell, L.
Prior, L.
Cumberledge, B Rankeillour, L.
Rawlings, B.
De Freyne, L Rees, L.
Denton of Wakefield, B Rennell, L
Dixon-Smith, L. Renton, L.
Downshire, M. Rowallan, L.
Eccles of Moulton, B. Saltoun of Abemethy, Ly.
Elton, L. Sanderson of Bowden, L.
Feldman, L. Seccombe, B.
Ferrers, E. Sempill, L.
Flather, B. Shaw of Northstead, L.
Fraser of Carmyllie, L. Simon of Glaisdale, L.
Gardner of Parkes, B. Skelmersdale, L.
Hamilton of Dalzell, L. Soulsby of S waffham Prior, L.
Hankey, L. Strange, B.
Harding of Petherton, L. Strathclyde, L. [Teller.]
Henley, L. Swinton, E.
HolmPatrick, L. Taylor of Warwick, L.
Home, E. Tebbit, L.
Howe, E. Trumpington, B.
Kingsland, L. Vivian, L.
Kintore, E Waddington, L.
Lauderdale. E. Weatherill, L.
Leigh, L. Wharton, B.
Lindsay, E. Willoughby de Broke, L.
Liverpool, E. Wise, L.
Addington, L. Clinton-Davis, L.
Alderdice, L. Currie of Marylebone, L.
Ashley of Stoke, L. David, B.
Blackstone, B. Dean of Thomton-le-Fylde, B.
Borrie, L. Desai, L.
Brooks of Tremorfa, L. Diamond, L
Carlisle, E. Donoughue, L.
Carter, L. [Teller.] Dormand of Easington, L.
Castle of Blackbum, B. Dubs, L.
Chandos, V. Eatwell, L.
Elis-Thomas, L. Lofthouse of Pontefract, L.
Evans of Parkside, L. Lovell-Davis, L
Falconer of Thoroton, L. McIntosh of Haringey, L. [Teller.]
Falkender, B. Mackie of Benshie, L.
Falkland, V. Mallalieu, B.
Farrington of Ribbleton, B. Mar and Kellie, E.
Fitt, L. Mishcon, L.
Gallacher, L. Molloy, L.
Geraint, L. Monkswell, L.
Gilbert, L. Morris of Castle Morris, L
Glasgow, E. Nicol, B.
Gould of Pottemewton, B. Ogmore, L.
Graham of Edmonton, L. Parry, L.
Gregson, L. Paul, L.
Grenfell, L. Prys-Davies, L.
Hamwee, B. Ramsay of Cartvale, B.
Hardie, L. Rea, L.
Harris of Greenwich, L Redesdale, L.
Richard, L [Lord Privy Seal]
Haskel, L.
Hayman, B.
Rogers of Riverside, L.
Hilton of Eggardon, B. Russell, E.
Hollis of Heigham, B. St Davids, V.
Holme of Cheltenham, L. Serota, B.
Hooson, L. Sewel, L.
Howell, L.
Simon of Highbury, L.
Smith of Gilmorehill, B.
Howie of Troon, L. Stoddart of Swindon, L.
Hoyle, L. Symons of Vernham Dean, B.
Hughes, L. Thomas of Gresford, L.
Irvine of Lairg, L. [Lord Chancellor] Thomas of Walliswood. B.
Thurso, V.
Jay of Paddington, B. Tordoff, L.
Jeger, B. Turner of Camden, B.
Jenkins of Putney, L. Wallace of Saltaire, L.
Judd, L. Wedderbum of Charlton, L.
Kilbracken, L. Whitty, L.
Lestor of Eccles, B. Williams of Crosby, B.
Lester of Heme Hill, L. Williams of Mostyn, L.

Resolved in the affirmative, and amendment agreed to accordingly.

[Amendment No. 26 not moved.]

7.10 p.m.

Lord Simon of Glaisdalemoved Amendment No. 26A: Page 2, line 4, at end insert ("being such day as is appointed under section 1(1),").

The noble and learned Lord said: This amendment has to do, I think, with the date of the Welsh referendum, has it not? Really, I would like to take this opportunity of asking the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, about the White Papers that are due to lead to it. I hope that I am not out of order and speaking on the wrong amendment.

What worried me were two things the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, said at Second Reading. At col. 1112 of the Official Report of 17th June 1997, the noble Lord said: White Papers setting out our proposals for a Scottish Parliament and a Welsh Assembly will be published well ahead of the referendum".

That is what we always understood. However, the noble Lord also said, We shall be publishing a separate White Paper on our detailed plans for Wales. Immediately following a majority in the Welsh referendum, legislation will be introduced to implement these plans".

That seems to say that there may be two referendums. One is suggested before the referendum, and the other post-referendum before the legislation is introduced. The two statements seem to say two different things. I thought that I should give the noble Lord an opportunity to clear up the matter.

Lord Sewel

I have not been able to follow what the noble and learned Lord said. Perhaps I may rehearse what I hope I have always said. I have sought always to say exactly the same thing on this point.

There will be two White Papers: a Scotland White Paper; a Wales White Paper. There will be two referendums: one in Scotland, one in Wales, on the proposals contained in the White Paper. Legislation will be brought in on the basis of the White Papers once they have received the endorsement of the electorate in Scotland and Wales.

Lord Simon of Glaisdale

That is the referendum legislation, is it not?

Lord Sewel

The referendum legislation is what we deal with now. The referendum legislation establishes the means by which the views of the people in Scotland and Wales will be ascertained.

Lord Simon of Glaisdale

I think that the noble Lord has answered my question. He has now made clear, I think, that it was referendum legislation and not devolution legislation.

Lord Sewel

I think that I have done so, but I am certainly happy to discuss and resolve the matter outside the Committee with the noble and learned Lord.

Lord Rees

I do not wish to gild the noble Lord's lily, but what account will the Government be able to take of the views expressed in this Chamber or in another place about the detailed proposals contained in the White Paper? Will the Government Front Bench be able to respond to the criticisms—perhaps constructive or destructive—made in the course of a debate on the White Paper which we are assured will be held before we rise for the Summer Recess?

Lord Mackie of Benshie

With due respect, should the Committee now get on with the business on the Order Paper?

Lord Sewel

I am not sure which amendment we are discussing, to be brutally honest. I am not sure that this relates to the matter about which I am being asked. I just say that Her Majesty's Government are always open to constructive suggestions and criticisms.

Lord Simon of Glaisdale

I thought that we were discussing Amendment No. 26A; and I still think that. I had better write to the noble Lord because I am not clear in my mind what he meant at Second Reading. It seems to me that he is stating two different dates, two different White Papers: one after this Bill passes, and dealing with the process of Welsh devolution, and the other after the referendum has resulted in an affirmative vote for a Welsh assembly. That is how I read it. If the noble Lord can clear that up in correspondence, I shall be very grateful.

Perhaps I may also say that I find the interventions of the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, however well meant and favourable to the Government in the present mood of the Liberal Democrats, most unhelpful.

Lord Sewel

I shall deal with the matter through correspondence with the noble and learned Lord.

Lord Simon of Glaisdale

I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 27 not moved.]

Lord Elis-Thomas moved Amendment No. 28: Page 2, line 5, leave out ("establishment of a Welsh Assembly") and insert ("governance of Wales").

The noble Lord said: This group of amendments enables us to discuss in greater detail, although not at greater length, it is to be hoped, the form of the referendum relating to Wales: the forms of the questions; and how the Welsh people should be consulted. Some detailed preferences are set out. At the outset, wearing my hat of the Welsh Language Board, perhaps I may congratulate the learned Clerks of this House on their effectiveness in dealing with bilingual legislation. This legislation has had the most detailed, bilingual amendments put forward. I can only congratulate the Clerks on handling it, and say that it provides a good precedent for a Welsh Assembly or a Scottish Parliament should it arise.

Rather than making the referendum a simple "yes" or "no" response to the Government's proposals, this set of amendments deals with the various possible options that might be put forward. As the noble Lord, Lord Parry, mentioned, they follow on the latest opinion poll on this matter published in yesterday's Western Mail. It is worth citing some of those figures; they are produced in a poll by Beaufort Research for the Western Mail and are therefore doubly reliable.

A sample of the electorate was asked: Do you agree with the Government's Welsh Assembly proposals?

In response, 39 per cent. said "yes"; 27 per cent. said "no"; and the "don't knows" did rather well at 34 per cent. When the "don't knows" were "squeezed", the projections resulted in a figure of 43 per cent. voting "yes"; 29 per cent. purporting to say that they would vote "no"; and 28 per cent. indicating "don't know".

The reason for quoting those figures in detail is that they set out the varied opinions within Wales on this issue. When in a further question people were asked: Do you want an assembly with tax-varying and law-making powers?",

31 per cent. favoured that option and 40 per cent. said no. When the question was asked, Do you want Wales to be an independent republic in Europe. severing all constitutional links with the UK?",

the answer was a surprising 16 per cent. saying yes to that and 61 per cent. saying no. The "don't knows" were fairly constant at 24 per cent. Those figures indicate the variety of opinion within Wales.

One significant fact was that, according to the poll, there seemed to be a "yes" majority in all regions of Wales, with the highest regional breakdown showing a "yes" majority, after squeezing the "don't knows", in Mid-Wales at 49 per cent.; followed by the Valleys of South Wales at 45 per cent.; North Wales and West Wales, 42 per cent. and 44 per cent. respectively; and Cardiff and the south-east at 37 per cent. "yes".

The poll indicates the varied views that the people of Wales hold on this subject. Those views appear to come together at this stage in a majority "yes" vote with a 10 per cent. majority—that is, not counting all the high proportion of "don't knows".

In this group of amendments I want to argue that voting by the expression of preferences on governance could actually strengthen the Government's case for a "yes" vote rather than undermine it; that the registering of preferences would in fact ensure a wider debate on the governance of Wales, and not merely treat it as a simple "yes/no" matter. I am arguing that we could have a better debate if all the options were debated rather than if the electorate were merely asked to reply "yes" or "no" to the Government's proposals. That is why I have set out some options in Amendment No. 78, which is included in this group.

The options canvassed in these amendments are not exactly those of the Western Mail. In paragraph (a) of Amendment No. 78, the electorate is offered, "The present constitutional arrangements". I use that form of words in the amendment because "The present constitutional arrangements" are not the same as "no change", which was one of the options offered in a multi-option referendum in another place. The reality is that in terms of the constitutional development of Wales over the period since the Welsh Office was established, we have seen a substantial dynamic, a substantial change in the Welsh Office system itself. It is not for us to argue this evening in the context of the referendum what other alternatives the Government might have were it to turn out that the Western Mail opinion poll is not reflected in the result of a referendum. I see that the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, cannot wait to enter the debate. I suggest he is as lively as the RWF Goat on this matter. (That has no other connotations, I hasten to add.) Were the Western Mail opinion poll not to be reflected in the result of a referendum, the political system—the administrative system—in Wales would continue to exhibit the kind of dynamic that it has exhibited over the past 25 years. I am sure that executive decentralisation would continue, regardless of whether it had an elected component. I therefore think that option (b) in Amendment No. 78, "An elected Executive Assembly", is a clearer description of what, in advance of seeing the White Paper, I understand government policy to be than is the mere statement that there shall be a Welsh assembly. It makes clear that this is not a parliamentary or a legislative type body, but is an executive body, taking over the executive functions of the department.

Option (c), A subsidiary Parliament with law-making and tax-varying powers",

is an attempt to translate into the Welsh context the Government's option in Scotland. I know that my noble and learned friend Lord Simon will have further comments to make on this matter as we debate this group of amendments. Option (c) makes clear that the proposal is to establish a subsidiary body. This is not, of course, federalism; it is devolved parliamentary law-making, which is not the same. Clearly, in a well-structured federal system the powers are separated within a unitary system between the different levels of government according to the principle of subsidiarity.

Option (d) contrasts with the alternative question put by the Western Mail, which, as I said had 16 per cent. voting for what was described as, an independent republic in Europe, severing all constitutional links with the UK".

I believe that the version I propose in Amendment No. 78 of self-government for the Principality more closely reflects a position which I hold, and the tradition from which I come, a tradition represented both by the Liberal Party and Plaid Cymru, and indeed by sections of the Labour Party in different guises. The emphasis is on ymreolaeth, self-rule, self-government or autonomy, rather than independence, and a parallel emphasis on the role in relation to Wales of UK, British, Britannic, or whatever word one might choose, institutions. That is a form of federal, or confederal relationship, including a clear role for the monarchy and for your Lordships' House.

I shall not enter into the historical debate on that. I wish merely to emphasise that, so far as my option is concerned, there is no slippery slope. As I said at Second Reading, there can be no further progress towards greater devolution without further consent. Further constitutional changes would require further consultation by referendum. There is no slippery slope; my option has a series of safety nets—or "constitutional cushions", if that metaphor is preferred. Then, to confuse the Committee entirely, I might say that the slippery slope has become a level playing field within the European Union, or it can potentially become so if we obtain the consent of the Principality for the equivalent of a European regional assembly.

It is important to rehearse these alternatives and to rehearse the argument that the referendum as a consultation process might benefit from a deeper debate. I beg to move.

7.30 p.m.

Lord Simon of Glaisdale

I wish to speak to Amendment No. 30A which is grouped with Amendment No. 28. It is in the name of myself and my noble friend Lord Elis-Thomas and reads: at end insert ('with, so far as is practical, similar powers over Welsh affairs as a Scottish Parliament has over Scottish affairs')". I realise that I charged my noble friend prematurely with treachery and desertion. In fact, it was one of the consequentials of this amendment that he left me with the task of translating into the Welsh language. I am a great admirer of Welsh literature but I have only read the proposal in English. When I found that I had been treacherously deserted, I looked round wildly for the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, to help me, but unfortunately he had disappeared too.

I regard the referendum as wholly unnecessary. Thus far I agree entirely with what was said from the Liberal Democratic Benches. I add—which they would not in their present mood of formal complaisance—that I am satisfied in my mind that the reason we have this quite unnecessary referendum is twofold. The affirmative answer will give the Government greater power to bully your Lordships; and as for tax-raising, it is to save the face of Mr. Blair, after the trouble that he got into in Scotland.

If we are to have a referendum, we might as well make the best of it and use it to tell us something useful about the subsequent legislation. The Committee will want to know why the Welsh people are not being offered a legislature, assembly or whatever with the same powers as for Scotland. I can understand that there are differences. The Welsh legislature is much more closely integrated with that of this country. There is now no longer any separate Welsh system of law, as there is a separate Scottish system of law. I remember when I used to go on circuit to South Wales that we were always harangued by the then Lord Lieutenant of Glamorgan on the great virtues of the ancient Welsh code. I see the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, nodding. Perhaps he will tell us about it.

What the Welsh people will want to know is that they are given a choice. What are they being given? Why are they denied the same powers as the Scottish assembly? Little is known about the Government's intentions. The noble Lord, Lord Sewel, has persistently taken refuge in his South Sea Bubble defence. What he says is: "Just invest in my prospectus and you will find later that we will tell you what wealth it will bring you. Be good little boys and girls, vote for my referendum Bill and later there will be a White Paper—jolly holiday reading— which will tell you what questions you ought to have asked and put into the referendums Bill". It will be too late then. I want to see both the Scottish and the Welsh people given a wide range of choice.

So far as I understand it, the Welsh assembly will have power over such functions as are carried out by the Welsh Secretary of State at the moment and the Welsh Office. The noble Lord will correct me if I am wrong, but I understand that it will extend the power over secondary legislation. That in itself is important. It runs to thousands of pages every year—far more than the primary legislation. But the crucial question will be: will the assembly have power to amend that secondary legislation?

With great difficulty, your Lordships have finally achieved a resolution that you have full power to reject secondary legislation. The noble Earl, Lord Russell, has already ingeniously found ways of getting round the supposed ban, but so far we have entirely failed to get an equivalent concession on the amending of secondary legislation. Will that be in the power of the Welsh assembly? I support the amendment.

Lord Crickhowell

I do not intend to spend long on this group of amendments and it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale. At least I know exactly where I am with both of them. It is rather more difficult to know where you are with the Liberal Democrat party. We had a startling intervention on an earlier amendment from the noble Earl, Lord Russell, who referred to the Conservative Benches as "the Opposition", from which I can only assume that he places himself and his colleagues as the alternative Labour Party. If he is going to pursue that line, I wish he would give us a little more room on the Benches this side and move himself and his colleagues to the Benches opposite, where they clearly feel at home. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, is not going to give them a welcome.

I see that the noble Lord, Lord Mackie, wishes to intervene. But I do not wish to give way but to get on to more serious points. He is urging that we get on. I shall do so and deal with the points that have been made.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, asked an important and significant question: why no tax-raising powers? I believe that Mr. Ron Davies, when asked the question elsewhere, said: "Well, we didn't put it in the manifesto". That seems to be about the thinnest offering ever made by a Minister. It makes even the replies we have got used to from the Benches opposite sound solid, substantive and informative. But that is what we have on offer at the moment.

If the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, was guided on his visits to Wales by that notable Lord Lieutenant, Sir Cennydd Traherne he could have no better guide. He knows everything that needs to be known about Wales. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, that he may be attaching too much significance to the poll published yesterday in the Western Mail. Earlier this year I had a tragedy in my garden in Wales. We had some ducks which laid 11 eggs. Then my grandchildren came to stay for the weekend. I am sorry to say that the ducks deserted and the 11 eggs were still there, never likely to be hatched, for several weeks afterwards. I remind the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, that at about the same stage at the end of 1978 and in early 1979 there were a number of similar polls in the Western Mail. The result declared on 1st March 1979 bore no resemblance to them. So the noble Lord should not be too confident about the end result.

I term this group of amendments the "slippery slope" amendments. The noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, said that he was not creating a slippery slope because he was introducing a safety net at every stage. Therefore there would have to be a referendum before one went any further. But he has tabled an amendment which suggests a series of preferences and asks the electorate to say now which of those preferences it wants. He is already trying to take us down the slippery slope quite fast before the snow melts or any rocks appear in his path. If there is one thing we have learnt about this referendum debate over more than 20 years it is that it is the detail that matters.

I cannot remember exactly how many years we spent debating this topic 20 and more years ago and how many weeks we spent on the legislation. But I have no doubt at all that it was the detail which emerged that had a decisive influence on the judgment of the electorate. Until then, the electorate had had nearly no idea of what was intended.

The trouble about having a list of preferences is that, unless there is a most extraordinary information-providing system—presumably to be financed by the state, as it is hard to see how otherwise it would be financed—it is simply totally impossible to put in front of the electorate the kind of information that it would need to make sensible judgments on each of the preferences offered. Indeed, even the question, "Why should we not have the same legislation as in Scotland?", raises some major issues. The Government, in their White Paper and indeed in any material that they present to the electorate, would have to set out a string of further arguments which I do not believe they contemplate including in their White Paper at the moment. They would have to set up a whole series of arguments on why things were the same as those in Scotland or why they should be different. So it is a complex set of questions that are raised in this set of amendments.

As the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, said, the reality is that we are involved in a dynamic process. He said that the Welsh Office had emerged and extended its responsibilities and that will continue. But he hastily added, "Of course, I shall introduce some safety nets". Well, it is dynamic in that sense. That is what some of us fear. We are not happy or confident about the safety nets. We have a genuine fear that once one starts on this process, it is not easy to stop. As I understand it—I have not yet seen, nor has anyone else outside the Government, even a draft White Paper—what is being proposed is quite an extensive change in the present practice. Mr. Ron Davies, speaking in the Welsh Grand Committee in North Wales on 30th June said that the assembly would be responsible for almost all aspects of public life for which the Welsh Office is currently responsible: health, education, housing, sport, the arts, culture, heritage and so on. Later said, in answer to a question from one of his honourable friends, he said that the overwhelming majority of the present responsibilities of the Welsh Office were going to be transferred.

So, in the proposed legislation to which the referendum refers, we are confronted with a very major change indeed. Essentially, it is the abolition of the entire system of government which has been developed by successive governments of different political persuasions over the past 30 years in Wales and which has had a significant impact not only on the governance of Wales but on the economic successes in Wales and the transformation of the Welsh economy. It is quite clear that, if the powers of the Welsh Office are to he transferred in that way—I noted the suggestion of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, that it was intended to transfer to the assembly the powers as well as dealing with secondary legislation—it is almost inconceivable that a Secretary of State for Wales could remain in a British Cabinet. What would be his role? It would be hardly even that of a messenger boy.

A whole series of detailed questions are posed about the role of the Civil Service, the responsibilities of Welsh Members of Parliament and every aspect of government. So even this one step, which is likely to be less extensive than in Scotland, is a very big step indeed on to a very slippery slope. For one thing is absolutely certain: if there is an assembly which is given those responsibilities, it will not be content with what it is first given. When anything goes wrong, whenever the people of Wales utter a word of criticism, the assembly will say, "Of course, it is not our fault. It is that Government back at Westminster". It probably will not be able to say that it is the fault of the Secretary of State because no doubt the Secretary of State will no longer exist, but whoever is given the responsibility in a government at Westminster will be blamed. Therefore, there will be tension created between Westminster and the assembly which will be deeply dangerous and damaging.

We have in this set of amendments a very interesting revelation of the road down which we are being asked to advance. I, for one, am deeply grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, for putting before this Chamber and, for the first time in this current debate, before the electorate the real issues that will confront the electors of Wales when the referendum takes place, issues which so far have been disguised by the Government and kept from that electorate.

7.45 p.m.

Lord Hooson

It is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, but I am very amused by the fact that he defends the status quo of the secretaryship of Wales, when the Conservative Government did nothing to establish it. I remember putting forward the proposition that there should be a Secretary of State for Wales and it was turned down by the Conservative Government of the day. That is the nature of political life.

The noble Lord referred to the attitude of the Liberal Democrats on this matter. I want to make quite clear what that is. It faces political reality. For the whole of my political life I have fought for a domestic parliament for Wales. In fact, I fought within my own party and outside it. I supported every campaign for a domestic parliament for Wales. As the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, knows, I have always opposed a separate Wales and an independent sovereign state in Wales.

The reality of the political situation is that the Labour Party is dominant in Scotland and in Wales. It fought an election with the issues set out clearly as regards their proposals for Scotland and for Wales. I would go much further than the Government are prepared to go. But the reality is that they democratically won an election. They have a very large majority in the elected Chamber. We make our comments as nominated or hereditary Members of another place. We must face the political reality. We have to take or reject what is on offer. We may be able to amend the eventual proposals but we shall probably he able to amend them in only a minor way.

The Bill provides for a referendum to be held in Wales and in Scotland. I made quite clear that I do not believe in referendums. Let us look at the history of some other countries—for example, Germany, before the war. There were referendums continually in the Weimar Republic and they nearly always produced the wrong results. I believe that a government should govern.

Having said that, the position regarding this Bill is that it provides the machinery for referendums. I cannot support the proposal of the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, for what he would accept is really a "preferendum". To open the political debate again, he and I would go much further than what the Labour Party and the Government propose. But it has one supreme merit so far as Wales is concerned; that is, for the first time in the history of Wales we would have a directly, democratically elected body to represent Wales. Whatever its powers, it would be an enormous milestone in the history of the Welsh people. The fact that, incidentally, it could deal with other matters such as the nominated bodies that so proliferate in Wales and that are unaccountable to the people of Wales, is a different matter. For the first time in our history we would have a directly elected assembly.

The issue of whether our personal preferences are for an independent Wales, a domestic parliament or an assembly with tax-raising powers, is not relevant to the present discussion. The only question is whether we vote for this Bill to allow the referendums to take place and vote "Yes" or "No" on a simple issue. I would not do anything to cloud that issue. The real test is facing political reality; that is, are we for or against what the present Government—which have a huge majority in the elected Chamber—propose?

Lord Lucas

I am fascinated by the excellent exposition of the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, on the nature of opposition. We are not in the dispirited state in which the Liberal Party finds itself; we are in opposition, not in eternal opposition. We believe that one day we will find ourselves once again on the Benches opposite and contributing all our skills and understanding to the governance of this country.

That makes us considerably more interested in this Bill, and I am particularly interested in hearing what the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, will have to say about the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas. The noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, demonstrated quite conclusively that the difference between what the Welsh and the Scots are being offered is merely a matter of scale not of substance; that the two issues are as one and that we were entirely right to press to a Division the amendment we have just won.

My noble friend Lord Crickhowell, in an exceptionally powerful speech, and the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, demonstrated that the road down which we are being invited to go by this Government—one that will no doubt be followed if the Welsh choose to vote for it—is a slippery slope which will lead to something far more like what the Scots are getting and what the Scots will undoubtedly get in the end—their independence.

I am also interested in hearing the answer of the noble Lord, Lord Williams, to the question posed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, as to why the Welsh are getting less. If the Government know that the Welsh want less, why do they need a referendum? If they do not know that the Welsh want less, why do they not ask them?

Perhaps I may conclude by adding one small piece of knowledge to the great store of that possessed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale. Yes, the assembly will have considerable powers over secondary legislation. It is clear from what Ron Davies said on 30th June in the Grand Committee that extensive powers for altering legislation and changing matters are envisaged for the assembly, presumably through some massive Henry VIII clause to be incorporated in the Bill to come before us. It is clear from what Mr. Davies said that the Welsh White Paper is long written and prepared; it is sitting there waiting only for the Scots to deal with the difficulties which may arise. I hope that we will see it soon. I do not see any reason why the Welsh should have to wait on the Scots forever.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

As the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, said, what is being sought by the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, is really a "preferendum"; a choice of a range of alternatives which could he four. The question set out indicates that the voter does not have to use all the preferences and therefore one could have 25 per cent. for (a), for (b), for (c), and for (d), which would not be illuminating as a guide to future political arrangements.

We will put to the people of Wales the question which is in the referendums Bill. We are not offering the establishment of a tax-varying or law-making parliament.

Lord Simon of Glaisdale

If the noble Lord will give way, perhaps I can point out that it is not a question of what is offered to the Welsh. They are being asked what their view is. That is what these amendments are concerned with.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

I understand what the amendments seek and I am stating the Government's position, which is not that held by the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas; in fact, it is virtually the opposite.

If we go down the road advocated by the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, it is perfectly possible that the result of the "preferendum" could be wholly inconclusive. That would be the worst of all possible worlds for the people in Wales, where this matter has now been under discussion for around 100 years in one form or another. I am not claiming personal knowledge of 100 years ago, but I remember as a small child of five being brought up, as were most of my Welsh colleagues on these Benches, in an actively political household that that was the important topic of the day, particularly among people who involved themselves in political life in Wales. There were the most violent, horrendous disputes between neighbours and colleagues about these questions.

As has been said on many occasions, Scotland is different. It has a different system of law, of education, of health and of local government. Its modern history is utterly different from the modern history of Wales and therefore we are offering to the people of Wales in the referendum the opportunity to say "Yes" or "No" to the Government's proposals, the detail of which will be in the White Paper. I shall deal with the White Paper specifically, if it is convenient, on Amendment No. 29.

We say that Wales has been different in its modern history; it is also different in its present relationship to England. We are intent—if I may put it in that way—to give the people of Wales their choice. It is for them to decide and I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, will withdraw his amendment.

Lord Simon of Glaisdale

Before the Minister sits down, will he deal with the questions I asked? Is it intended that the assembly should have power over secondary legislation? If so, is it intended that there should be power to amend secondary legislation?

Lord Williams of Mostyn

I said, I hope without being unduly repetitive, that the detail will be contained in the White Paper. The White Paper will be full; it will be debated in your Lordships' House and I am not proposing to be drawn—I know the noble and learned Lord will accept that I am not being discourteous—on detail which is in the White Paper and has not yet been published.

Lord Elis-Thomas

I am grateful to my noble and learned friend Lord Simon for his persistent questioning on this issue. Indeed, I look forward to his contribution to the debate on the White Paper which may or may not already be written and sitting in the Welsh Office in Cardiff. I do not presume to know about those things.

I was glad for the historical perspective brought to the subject by the Minister. He is right to emphasise that the whole question of a degree of autonomy for Wales has been a major issue of public debate among those who have been concerned about political developments on a cross-party basis. That has been exhibited again tonight. There is a party in Wales which still apparently insists on not being part of that debate. That was fairly clear from the responses of the noble Lords, Lord Lucas and Lord Crickhowell.

The noble Lord, Lord Hooson, emphasised the campaigns that had taken place to establish the office of Secretary of State. The noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, made a fascinating and powerful speech in defence of the office of Secretary of State. But what has happened down the road? His leader, Mr. William Hague, has apparently abolished the office already. He has established in Mr. Michael Ancram a constitutional supremo and has brought in Mr. Nigel Evans, who is now reduced to the rank of a protester, a supplicant to the Welsh Grand Committee, leading a picket line—

Lord Williams of Mostyn

Of 12.

Lord Elis-Thomas

I am grateful to the Minister. He was leading a picket line in Mold the other day. Are we seriously to believe that the Conservative policy to be canvassed in the referendum when it comes will be to retain the office of Secretary of State when that office does not exist? The Conservative opposition have to have a rethink on this matter. If my contribution to this debate has done nothing else except once again draw out the totally negative attitude of the Conservative Party towards constitutional progress in Wales—

Lord Crickhowell

Is the noble Lord suggesting that he would wish the role of Secretary of State to be abolished? While I can see all kinds of reasons for continuing to develop the system of government in Wales—I took some fairly substantial steps myself when I was Secretary of State—I would robustly defend the continuing existence of a Welsh Secretary, playing the influential role that he can in the government of Britain as a whole and in defending the interests of the Welsh people. I hope that the noble Lord's party is not resiling from that position.

Lord Elis-Thomas

Most certainly not. It is not my party or the parties of other colleagues which are riven with contradiction on the matter. Our position is clear. As long as the United Kingdom is operated as a unitary state, with one central government, without division of powers and without subsidiarity and federalism, there is a continuing case—I am glad to have agreement, as always, from those on the Liberal Benches on these matters because they are the experts on federalism, whatever may be the caricature of their position today—for the offices of Secretary of State for Wales and for Scotland to remain.

As I understand the Government's proposals, the office of Secretary of State as an office of the United Kingdom Government Cabinet cannot be affected in its detail. We are dealing there with a different operation. I see that noble Lords opposite are dissenting. Clearly they want to go back to the days when the Secretary of State determined everything in Wales—either the Secretary of State himself or his officials, totally unaccountable to the people of Wales directly, although accountable to Parliament indirectly through Question Time and so on. They want to remain with that system—in which I again declare an interest because I am part of it: I serve on an NDPB—but that is not an acceptable way of running a country. Indeed, I was often distressed by having Conservative colleagues along the corridor and outside the House referring to me as if I were a justification for the fact that the nominated system worked, because here was a quango chair who was not a Conservative. I am now publicly expressing all this disquiet because there has been a change of government. However, it is important that all of us who have been involved in the present system of operating government in Wales should come out and make it clear that it is not an acceptable way to run a modern democratic nation or region of Europe. Therefore, having carefully considered all the detailed arguments which I have heard in the debate, particularly the trenchant advice of my sponsor in the House, the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Gould of Potternewton

I beg to move that the House do now resume. In moving this Motion, perhaps I may suggest that the Committee stage begins again not before 9.10 p.m.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.