HL Deb 29 July 1997 vol 582 cc105-24

1. This proxy paper gives you the right to vote as proxy on behalf of the elector whose name is given overleaf.

1. Rhydd y papur dirprwy hwn hawl i chi bleidleisio fel dirprwy dros yr etholwr(aig) a enwir drosodd.

2. Your appointment as proxy will be for the referendum only. You have the right to vote as proxy only at the referendum specified in the proxy paper.

2. Penodir chi yn ddirprwy ar gyfer y refferendwm yn unig. Mae gennych hawl i bleidleisio fel dirprwy yn y refferendwm a bennir yn y papur dirprwy yn unig.

3. Prior to the elector applying to have you appointed as proxy you should have been consulted and asked if you were capable of being, and willing to be, appointed as proxy, or you should have signed a statement to the effect that you were capable of being, and were willing to be appointed as proxy. You are capable of being appointed as proxy if you are at least 18 years old on polling day, a British or other Commonwealth citizen, a citizen of any other member state of the European Union, a citizen of the Republic of Ireland and not for any reason disqualified from voting. If for any reason you are not capable of being, or are not willing to be, the proxy please advise the elector, without delay, in order that the elector may cancel the appointment.

3. Cyn i'r etholwr(aig) wneud cais i chi gaol eich penodi yn ddirprwy, dylid bod wedi ymgynghori â chi a gofyn i chi a oeddech yn gymwys i fod yn ddirprwy ac yn fodlon i gad eich penodi, neu dylech fod wedi Iloinocli datganiad eich bod yn gymwys i fod yn ddirprwy ac yn fodlon i gael eich penodi. Yr ydych yn gymwys i'ch penodi yn ddirprwy os ydych yn 18 oed o leiaf ar y dyddiad pleidleisio, yn ddinesydd Prydeinig neu'n ddinesydd un arall o wledydd y Gymanwlad, yn ddinesydd un arall o aelod-wladwriaethau yr Undeb Ewropeaidd, yn ddinesydd Gweriniaeth Iwerddon a heb eich gwahardd rhag pleidleisio am unrhyw reswm. Os nad ydych, am unrhyw reswm, yn gallu bod yn ddirprwy neu yn fodlon cael eich penodi yn ddirprwy, rhowch wybod i'r etholwr(aig), yn ddioed, er mwyn i'r etholwr(aig) ddileu'r penodiad.

4. You may vote as proxy at the polling station allotted to the elector on whose behalf you are appointed. However, you may not vote as proxy in any electoral area for more than two electors of whom you are not the husband, wife, parent, grandparent, brother, sister, child or grandchild. Shortly before polling day you will be sent a proxy poll card telling you where the polling station is. You do not need to take either the poll card or this proxy paper to the polling station but you may find it helpful to do so. You should note that the elector may still vote in person. If a ballot paper is issued to the elector at the polling station before you apply there for a ballot paper as the proxy, you will not be entitled to vote as the proxy.

4. Cewch bleidleisio fel dirprwy yn yr orsaf bleidleisio a bennwyd i'r etholwr(aig) y penodwyd chi drosto/drosti. Er hynny, ni chewch bleidleisio fel dirprwy mewn unrhyw ranbarth etholiadol dros fwy na dau o etholwyr nad ydych yn ŵr, gwraig, rhiant, tad-cu neu fam-gu, brawd, chwacr, plentyn, ŵyr neu wyres iddynt. Ychydig cyn y dyddiad pleidleisio anfonir cerdyn pleidleisio dirprwy atoch yn dweud Ile mae'r orsaf bleidleisio. Nid oes angen i chi fynd â'r cerdyn pleidleisio na'r papur dirprwy hwn gyda chi i'r orsaf bleidleisio, and hwyrach y bydd o gymorth i chi wneud hynny. Sylwer y caiff yr etholwr(aig) ddal i bleidleisio yn bersonol. Os rhoddir papur pleidleisio i'r etholwr(aig) yn yr orsaf bleidleisio cyn i chi wneud cais yno am bapur pleidleisio fel y dirprwy, ni fydd gennych howl i bleidleisio fel y dirprwy.

5. You may also apply to vote by post as proxy at the referendum if the Electoral Registration Officer is satisfied that you cannot reasonably be expected to vote in person at the elector's polling station.

Any application to vote by post as proxy should be made on Form DR93 which may be obtained from the Electoral Registration Officer. You should note that the Electoral Registration Officer cannot allow an application to vote by post at the referendum if he receives it after 5.00 pm on the eleventh working day before the poll.

5. Cewch wneud cais hefyd am bleidleisio drwy'r post fel dirprwy yn y refferendwm os yw'r Swyddog Cofrestru Etholiadol yn fodlon nad yw'n rhesymol disgwyl i chi bleidleisio'n bersonol yng ngorsaf bleidleisio yr etholwr(aig).

Dylai unrhyw gais am bleidleisio drwy'r post fel dirprwy gaol ei wneud ar Ffurflen DR93 y gellir ei chael oddi wrth y Swyddog Cofrestru Etholiadol. Sylwer na all y Swyddog Cofrestru Etholiadol ganiatáu cais am bleidleisio drwy'r post yn y refferendwm os daw'r cais i law ar Ôl 5.00 pm ar yr unfed diwrnod gwaith ar ddeg cyn y bleidlais.

6. It is an offence to vote, whether in person or by post, as proxy for some other person if you know that person is subject to a legal incapacity to vote (eg if that person has been convicted and is detained in a penal institution in pursuance of his sentence).

6. Mae'n drosedd pleidleisio, boed yn bersonol neu drwy'r post, fel dirprwy dros ryw berson arall os gwyddoch fod y person hwnnw yn methu yn gyfreithiol â phleidleisio, (e.e. os yw'r person wedi'i gollfarnu ac wedi'i gadw mewn carchar yn unol â'i ddedfryd).").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

In the Title:

[Amendments Nos. 48 and 49 not moved.]

3.33 p.m.

Lord Sewel

My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill do now pass. At Second Reading I said that this Bill was short and simple. Following the amendments on Report which changed the Bill from six to 36 pages, I can hardly claim that it remains a short Bill. It is however still in essence a simple Bill. It provides for the people of Scotland and Wales to be asked whether they support our proposals for a Scottish parliament and a Welsh assembly. It also sets out the detailed provisions for the conduct of the two referendums.

This Bill has been the subject of far-ranging debate over the past few weeks. Your Lordships have scrutinised it thoroughly and without the many frivolous amendments that have been encountered in another place. Amendments have been moved in an attempt to promote debate on a range of important subjects, including eligibility to vote, broadcasting, the provision of information to voters, thresholds and the machinery for future referendums.

We have listened carefully to the arguments that have been advanced and have set out why we believe that our approach is right. The merits of including provisions for the conduct of the referendum in the Bill have been examined, and we have been pleased to do that.

There are areas in which your Lordships' House has disagreed with the Government. Another place will shortly examine those areas. We have made it clear that for very good reasons we intend to hold the referendums in Scotland and Wales on 11th and 18th September respectively. Subject to the views of another place, we intend that the amendment passed in Committee which requires the referendums to be held on the same day should be overturned. Similarly, subject to the views of another place, we intend that the amendment passed on Report relating to income tax should be overturned on the ground that it is both unnecessary and undesirable.

It is worth noting that the time spent by this House on the Bill is greater than that spent on either the Referendum Act 1975 or the relevant provisions of the Scotland and Wales Acts 1978. I make no complaint about that. The quality of the debate in your Lordships' House has, as always, generally been of the highest order. For the most part the debate has focused on the issues relating directly to the referendums rather than devolution more generally. In particular, the Opposition Front Bench should take credit for focusing the debate so clearly on the substance of the Bill.

It is customary on an occasion like this to thank all those who have contributed to the consideration of the Bill. I am more than happy to do so on this occasion. One should also recognise that there are those who appeared as major figures in the debate but who were not physically present in your Lordships' House. The Italian waiter has become an old friend. I feel that I have developed a close, but perhaps not enduring, relationship with the daughter of the noble Lord, Lord Mackay. Most of your Lordships have made admirable contributions to the debate. As we have moved on, many substantial and proper contributions have been made, as befits your Lordships' House in scrutinising such an important piece of legislation.

This Bill is in a very real sense a beginning on the way to the establishment of a Welsh assembly and a Scottish parliament. Tomorrow we have a debate on the White Papers. We on this side of the House look forward with confidence to the passage of the substantive Bills. There will be plenty of opportunities for noble Lords to continue what has been a good-humoured and courteous yet serious debate on the topics that we have been addressing over the past few days. I suspect that we shall not want for opportunities to take forward the debate in the days and perhaps evenings that lie ahead. At this stage, I commend the Bill to your Lordships.

Moved, That the Bill do now pass.—(Lord Sewel.)

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, I begin by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, for his kind remarks. This has been something of a learning curve for both of us. I have had to learn how to deal with Bills from this side of the House, having developed some bad habits in dealing with a fair number of Bills from the Government Front Bench. The noble Lord, Lord Sewel, has had to learn how to deal with Bills from the Government Front Bench.

As I indicated a few minutes ago, I made a small mistake at Report stage in failing to move some amendments that I should have moved because they were consequential to a previous decision. It reminds me of earlier proceedings involving the late Lady Seear. At one stage in a particular Bill I accepted one of her amendments. Lady Seear was so surprised that she rose but did not automatically move it. There was much whispering to suggest to her that she should move it. Whenever I think of Lady Seear I shall always remember that little incident. I have made my little mistake and I shall learn from it. I shall make sure that I look at the amendments on the Marshalled List more carefully later on, especially when I have had a small victory over the Government.

I hope that when we come to deal with the Scotland Bill Ministers will have learned a little from this one. Perhaps we can engage them a little more in the debating process and a little less in just textual analysis of the amendments.

I thank my noble friend Lord Lucas, who has dealt with Welsh matters, and all of my noble friends who have taken part from the Benches behind me. I should like to pick out in particular my noble friend Lord Crickhowell for the part that he has played in looking after the Welsh situation.

I should like to make two points which have nothing to do with the technicalities or the small print of the Bill but have everything to do with what I believe to be two larger issues. First, I am still not in the least convinced that referendums should form part of our constitution, but I accept that the Government were elected on a manifesto that clearly indicated that there would he a number of them. Having said that, I believe that if one must sin—having referendums under the present system is probably a bit of a sin—one should do so, if I may dare say it in the presence of the Bishops Bench, properly and have post-legislative referendums, not pre-legislative referendums. If "Yes" votes are recorded in either Scotland or Wales, or both, when the Bills come before us perhaps we should consider whether we should insist on having post-legislative referendums before the detailed proposals, not the White Paper, are implemented.

My second point relates to the amendments moved today by the noble Lord, Lord Sewel. Your Lordships can observe from all the amendments to Schedule 3 that have been moved today that it is not an easy task to amend the Representation of the People Act, which is designed for general elections and local elections, to accommodate referendums. That may be a perfectly satisfactory way of doing it if it is a one-off. However, as we are promised a fair number of referendums, I appeal again to the noble Lord and to his colleagues in Government to think seriously about my proposal and that of the Commission on the Conduct of Referendums that there should be a proper referendums Act so that in one easily understood statute can be found all of the rules for the conduct of referendums.

Anyone who wants to study the rules for this referendum will have to sit with the Act and with the Representation of the People's Act and thread their way from one to the other to see what is in, what is not in and what is in that has been amended. That is not a good way to do business. It is not a good way to run referendums. I understand why the Government would not accept my request on this occasion, but they have a good few months before we come to the next referendum. I appeal to them to think seriously about a referendums Bill. Perhaps through the usual channels we can find a way to get it passed without a long war of attrition so that when we come to further referendums we will not have to have these large schedules which to most of us are double Dutch. I hope that the Minister will consider that. With those thoughts, I shall leave the issues upon which we Scots will have to decide these matters until tomorrow.

Lord Hooson

My Lords, having listened to the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, I would say that the best way of dealing with the problem of referendums is not to have any in the future, rather than to formulate rules which will encourage referendums in this country. If one wants weak governments, the way to get them is to have more referendums.

I congratulate the Government. In their manifesto they set out to achieve a certain end, and they have achieved it. It is no mean achievement. I have struggled for many years in Parliament to try to achieve something of the kind that the Government have achieved in the Bill. Everyone who has taken part is to be congratulated on that achievement.

Various changes have taken place during the course of debates on the Bill. We have heard, for example, from the Conservative Benches an acknowledgement of the great benefits of the secretariats for Scotland and Wales and of the service given by various Secretaries of State. I acknowledge that. I am only sorry that originally the Conservatives, because they were so frightened of change, were opposed to having Secretaries of State for Wales. I see two distinguished former Secretaries of State on the Conservative Benches. One is my old friend the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gwydir, and the other the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell. They are both distinguished former Secretaries of State.

During their time, the Welsh Office grew out of all recognition in Wales. They saw the development of Cardiff as a capital city, and that made all the difference. During the Bill's passage I said that one of the reasons why the Conservatives did badly in Wales was that they had overloaded some quangos with a disproportionate number of Conservatives. I have never heard it suggested that the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gwydir, or the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, were guilty of that fault. I feel that I should say that publicly.

We have seen other changes as well. The Leader of the Opposition, Mr. William Hague—I believe rightly, and I congratulate him on doing so—has stated publicly that the Conservatives have no intention of trying to reverse the decision, whatever it may be, of the electorate on the referendums. That is an important development. He has also said that he has reversed Opposition policy of opposing an elected mayor for greater London. That is an important development. It would be marvellous if he were to go a little further on the Bill so that it is given a good send-off, reconsider his position and withdraw his opposition in principle to the two Bills.

One of the worst arguments I have heard is that the Bill, or its consequences, could lead to the break-up of the UK. Nothing could be further from the truth. We have far too great a common heritage. We share many similar views. That does not mean to say that the Government of the UK should be centralised entirely, and that because we have a common heritage we do not also have important differences. It is a natural process to give Scotland much greater control over its domestic affairs and Wales a real say in its own government in the future.

It is ridiculous that a party such as the Conservative Party, which gained 20 per cent of the popular vote in Wales, does not have one MP. That is because of its opposition to electoral reform over the years. A Welsh assembly will give the Conservative Party a fair representation in Wales because of the provision for proportional representation. There will be Conservatives in the assembly dealing with day-to-day affairs in Wales. That is an important step forward.

This has been a worthwhile exercise. I congratulate the Government Front Bench, the Conservative Opposition Front Bench, everyone on the Cross-Benches and my colleagues on their part in the debate which has been conducted, in the main, in a highly constructive manner and marks an important achievement for the UK.

3.45 p.m.

Lord Beloff

My Lords, I wish to break in briefly to complain about this universal atmosphere of congratulation which seems to have engulfed the House in respect of the Bill. As I indicated at an earlier stage, I find a Bill intended to alter the constitution of the UK in which those who inhabit the largest part of the UK are excluded from a voice wholly unacceptable. Even if everyone in all parties thinks that it had been a marvellous affair, perhaps I may say that I do not.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, I thank the noble Lords, Lord Sewel and Lord Williams of Mostyn, for their continuing courtesy and help throughout the Bill's passage. I have some brief comments to make upon events which have happened in the past five days so far as concerns Scotland; that is, since Report stage last week. The White Paper was of course published. There are many questions there which are unanswered, and hidden problems, although we were told to wait for the White Paper to see what was in it. We shall have an opportunity to discuss that at length tomorrow.

I must remind noble Lords that the referendum on 1st March 1979 was on a particular scheme already incorporated in the Scotland Act 1978. Electors in Scotland then were able to see and discuss that Act, warts and all, and then to vote upon it. This time a referendum is to be held before a draft Bill has even been seen by Parliament. Some electors in Scotland may be attracted by the ideas set out in the White Paper between now and 11th September but later find themselves opposed to the scheme that emerges as an Act.

A referendum on the final proposals, after the legislative process, would produce a better measure of the Scottish electorate's views. I am critical of the Government for giving the public the impression that the creation of such a parliament within a unitary state (the UK) is easy and for not warning that it is a difficult operation to carry out.

The Labour Government, between 1975 and 1978, found it difficult, and demonstrated how complex a task it was when it all collapsed early in 1979. Given that there will be a referendum on general propositions in September, I regret that there was not a third proposition in the Scottish referendum; that is, the option of independence. That proposal was discussed in our earlier stages. It would have recorded approximately the amount of support for independence, as distinct from devolution as proposed in the White Paper.

Two days ago, since the Report stage, the leader of the SNP announced that that party had decided to advocate "Yes, yes" in the referendum for the two propositions. He made it clear that he was doing that only because he regarded a Scottish parliament on the proposed lines, which he described as a puppet parliament, merely as an unstable and divisive stage, not a settled solution. In his view, independence would be easier to attain in the contentious circumstances which he foresaw if the proposals went through.

A previous leader of the SNP, Gordon Wilson, had been urging the party not to vote "Yes" but to insist on the complete independence for which the SNP has always stood. It seems that "Yes" votes in the referendum are likely to include considerable numbers of people who dislike the ideas in the White Paper but who want Scotland to be a completely separate country.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, I shall be brief. Far be it for me to move away from the amiable atmosphere at the end of this Session, but I am desperately worried that we should be discussing the White Paper tomorrow, it not having been discussed previously. What has happened is that we have had an amiable debate. It has not been a very constructive one. It has been rather tedious at times and there has been a good deal of shadow boxing because the substance has not been there. It will not be there even tomorrow. I have read the White Paper and I shall not go into it. I protest against this form of debate. I hope that the substance will be before us on any future occasion before we have to consider what is, yes, a simple Bill but a skeletal Bill with no substance.

I wish to make one other point, again briefly. It is perfectly plain that the Government wish a "Yes" answer to the first question. But surely they want an authentic and a true answer. What they have done is to devise a form on the first ballot which is bound to give—I do not say "intended to give" because that is an unkind and unnecessary allegation and I do not make it—a flawed answer. We know, and we knew before what was said by my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy, about the Scottish Nationalists. We knew long before that they would vote "Yes" because, although they are separatists wanting independence, they would see it as a step towards their goal. There can be no way that the votes can truly be segregated to produce an authentic and fair result which the Government can truly consider in order to implement their policy. That seems to me to be unfortunate in the extreme and, unfortunately, we do not have the multi-option as proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Sempill, and in another place by my right honourable friend Mr. Michael Ancram.

Lord Ewing of Kirkford

My Lords, perhaps I may intervene in the debate between the Campbells. In this Third Reading debate I do not regret that we are not debating tomorrow's subject today. I am purely in favour of debating today's subject today. What we are debating today is the Third Reading of the referendums Bill on Scotland and Wales. Perhaps I may say with great respect to the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, that he never seems to spoil a good argument by getting it accurate. There was a whole host of inaccuracies in the noble Lord's submission to your Lordships today.

I intervene in the debate to offer my warm and sincere congratulations because it is right and proper that we on this side of the House should do so. I offer them to my noble friends Lord Sewel and Lord Williams of Mostyn for the way in which they have conducted the debates throughout the consideration of the Bill.

My noble friend Lord Williams of Mostyn and I were introduced into your Lordships' House on the same day. I knew as we were taking part in the rehearsals that my noble friend was headed for the highest heights. Anyone who moves from chairman of the Bar Council to the high and elevated position of Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State in the Home Office must have made progress.

I knew that my noble friend Lord Sewel was headed for the highest heights, too. Anyone who can move from the Faculty of Medicine and Law at Aberdeen University to become Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Scottish Office is headed for the highest heights.

I have enjoyed the debates on the Bill and I believe that my two noble friends in particular deserve eternal credit. Furthermore, my noble friend Lady Farrington, who has acted as Whip on the Bill, deserves credit for the way she has conducted the proceedings.

I have always recognised the debating skills of the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish. I have never doubted them. The one thing that I have doubted about the noble Lord is the quality of his amendments. As the Bill has passed through your Lordships' House, there has been no doubt in my mind that those amendments have reduced in quality. We heard about the Italian waiter in Glasgow; we heard all about the noble Lord's daughter in Italy; we heard about the sliding scale thresholds in the referendum; and we heard about the unfranked ballot papers. There was a stage during our debates when I came firmly to the conclusion that the noble Lord was quota hopping in red herrings!

Be that as it may, no one can say that your Lordships' House has not considered the Bill seriously. Therefore, it returns to the other place for consideration of the amendments that have been made. More importantly, it goes to the Scottish people, who in my view will record a resounding "Yes, yes" vote. In my view, the people of Wales too will record a resounding "Yes" vote.

On Thursday of last week I listened with interest to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, saying that he hoped that at this time next year we were not bogged down in controversial legislation. As I look around your Lordships' House I can say with some confidence that most of us would express the hope that we are here at this time next year. Whether or not we are bogged down in controversial legislation, at least we shall be here!

I look forward to a resounding, "Yes, yes" vote in Scotland and to this time next year when we shall have Royal Assent for the primary legislation which will lead to the creation of a Scottish parliament. I make no secret of the fact that for more than 30 years that has been my ambition. I am not in favour of referendums, and in that the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, and I share the same view. I believe that it is alien to the British constitutional way of life. I am not in favour of referendums, but that is the chosen path, and therefore I shall support it.

Perhaps I may return to the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, about the Scottish National Party. I agree with Gordon Wilson, the Vice-President of the SNP, for reasons different from those which he quoted. He says that the SNP should have stayed out of the campaign because he believes that it will damage the SNP. I believe that the SNP should have stayed out of the campaign because it will damage the campaign. I believe that it will damage a "Yes, yes" vote. I say now that I shall not share a platform with any Scottish National Party member in the referendum campaign.

Therefore, I agree with Gordon Wilson that the SNP should have stayed neutral and should have stayed out of the campaign. I am not in favour of referendums in any shape or form. But in my view this Bill has been conducted brilliantly by my noble friends on the Front Bench and I am honoured today, from these Back-Benches, to place on record my tribute to my noble friends Lord Sewel and Lord Williams of Mostyn, and also to Lady Farrington, who acted as a Whip on the Bill.

4 p.m.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Ewing, I did not think that the Bill was necessary. I did not want it but because of a promise made by the Government, I have backed it all the way through. I cannot join in the love-in between the Front Benches. We have wasted the most enormous amount of time. I am extremely glad that it is over. Some good arguments have been put forward, even by the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish. But the amount of time that we have spent on a simple enabling Bill has been quite ridiculous. It is a good Bill because I hope—in fact, I am sure—that it will lead to better things. But for me the best thing to come out of it is the fact that "referendum" is now an English word and we talk about "referendums" instead of "referenda".

Lord Simon of Glaisdale

My Lords, if anything could have shaken my adherence to devolution, it would have been this enabling Bill. If anything could have reconciled me to this Bill, it would have been the conduct of the two noble Lords who are its promoters in your Lordships' House.

I say that it is a demeaning Bill. In the first place, it is unnecessary. That was declared roundly on Second Reading by the noble Lord, Lord Steel, and was repeated on a number of occasions by other Liberal Democrats subsequently. Today, I believe for the first time, the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, with whom I generally agree, seemed to think that this is a useful Bill. On the other hand, he was followed by the noble Lord, Lord Mackie, who considers that it is not worth discussing at all. It is worse than useless. It is demeaning because time and again issues have been fudged. They have been fudged in order that the vote of the Scottish National Party shall be added to those who support the limitations of the White Paper and to secure an overwhelming vote. That overwhelming vote, which is hoped for in Scotland and which I think is likely, will then be used to bully the Welsh into following suit.

Of course, everybody knows that an earlier election can influence a later one. American primary elections are a very good example of that. But we had our own example in this country. At one time the general election was held over a period of days—I think it was a week or 10 days. But it was found that the earlier results unacceptably influenced the later ones. Therefore, we now have a general election with all votes cast on the same day without difficulty. This Bill has been improved by stipulating that the two elections shall be on the same day so that neither can influence the other.

The other major improvement is the insertion of the words "income tax". The Government wish to have tax-varying powers because the Scottish National Party want to erect customs offices along the Border which will then be a frontier. Therefore, members of that party will vote for tax-varying powers but they may not vote for income tax-varying powers because that is a limitation.

Therefore, in those two respects, the Bill has been improved although I am afraid that it is still full of fudge and political intrigue. The hand of the back-room boys is very strong on this Bill—those who have achieved influence by mounting the back stairs: the spin doctors.

It is pleasant to turn from that to those noble Lords to whom we owe so much. In the first place, that is the two ministers. My recollection of debating goes back to Winston Churchill, Michael Foot, Crossman and fain Macleod. I hope I may say without seeming impertinent that although the technique of the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, is different from those others, he gave a consummate example of how what I regard as a weak case can be put forward attractively.

I should like to pay a particular tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn. Unfortunately, I was not present last week but I read his speeches with considerable emotion. What he seemed to do was to breathe into what is now known as "vacuant Blairism" a warmth, a conviction and a pride in the country which ennobled the whole of the theme with which we are now concerned.

From the Cross-Benches, I must say also how much we owe to the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, in his conduct of this Bill. I am sure that he was right about what he said about referendums or referenda, and for once, I disagreed with the noble Lord, Lord Hooson. I believe that they have a place in a democratic parliamentary constitution. But it needs to be thought out. That was the first thing that should have been done as we approach the various constitutional matters. Instead of wasting our time on what the Liberal Democrats almost unanimously said is an unnecessary Bill. We should have thought out in what circumstances a referendum, particularly an immediate post-election referendum, can be justified; how far pre-legislative referendums are justified; and how far it is an advantage, as the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, said, to have a post-legislative referendum. After all, when one comes to think of it, that is by far the most democratic expedient.

There is one other noble Lord whom I must mention: the Chief Whip. Chief Whips are universally unpopular. From the Cross-Benches, I must say that we have been done proudly by the noble Lord, Lord Carter. He has given us time to debate this measure which is the concomitant of your Lordships allowing a government to get through their business. I was very glad that the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, reciprocated so that that business was dealt with on schedule.

The last thing that I should like to say is how much I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, that what we have missed is the English dimension, which is very important. I said that that was the last thing, but I should like to add something else. I believe that the supporters of the Bill have altogether underestimated their danger from the Scottish National Party. Any body of radicals is always liable to be outbidden by those who are more radical. One has only to think of the deputies from the Gironde at the French Revolution—all their radicalism and all their commanding gifts did not prevent their being bundled into the tumbrils and having their necks severed at the guillotine.

I am sure that the Government's supporters in the Scottish parliament—which I think we shall have—will find themselves in the very uncomfortable position of being constantly taunted for not standing up to Westminster, for not fully implementing their powers, and so on. I am very glad that the Conservatives are going to take their place in that parliament. That will make it very much easier for those who support the White Paper.

4.15 p.m.

Lord Crickhowell

My Lords, I am rather relieved that my noble friend Lord Beloff has left the Chamber and is no longer seated immediately behind me. I say that because he may feel that, in thanking the Ministers for the way in which they have handled the business, I am somehow joining in a love-in. I should like to take this opportunity to thank the Ministers for the courteous and sometimes disarmingly charming way in which they responded to debates. However, they had every reason to do so in the face of the rather remarkable handling of such matters by my noble friends on the Front Bench on this side of the House. They produced some formidably good amendments, but did so with great wit to the great delight of the whole House.

However, having thanked the Ministers for their charm and courtesy, I should like to make a few further points. It seems to me that the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, might have been better placed at Headingley over the past few days rather than in this House. He certainly plays with an extremely straight, defensive bat; indeed, he was so straight and defensive with his bat when responding to one particular amendment that I felt moved to press it, even though I never intended to do so when entering the Chamber. In all my time in Parliament, I do not think that I have ever received such a non-response to points made.

I should tell the noble Lord that, if another Bill comes to this House after the referendum, he will not be able to get away with that again. If that happens, we shall expect our debates to be responded to in detail. Quite clearly, if the people vote for an assembly, we would accept that verdict. However, that does not mean that we would have to accept everything that the Government chose to offer and that we would not he free to criticise the Bill, to examine it and, if necessary, to amend it. I should like to make it absolutely clear that, if we were to get another Bill, I shall be doing just that.

The noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, said that I was in some form a Welsh nationalist. I should tell the noble Lord that, certainly in the non-political sense, I am proud to be a Welsh nationalist, just so long as I am able to be equally proud of being a British nationalist. If the intended legislation after a referendum were to go through, I fear that the Britain I love might be disrupted. I believe that we are on a course which is extremely dangerous.

One of the most fascinating aspects of our debates in recent weeks has been the revelation of the strength and character of the new Lib-Lab alliance. We no longer share the Benches on this side of the House with the other opposition party. Now that its leader sits in a Cabinet Committee, clearly it has sold its soul. It has displayed an extraordinarily strong support for the Government during recent weeks; indeed, a stronger support than we saw from almost any Member on its own Benches.

However, having said that, I should add that I was extremely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, for acknowledging one point; namely, that the accusation made that quangos were unreasonably packed could not be made about my noble friend Lord Thomas of Gwydir or myself. In fact, in this House of all places, it would be rather hard to sustain the charge. I say that because we have here two examples of "quangdocracy". We have one or two representatives on the Benches opposite who represented the old Labour quangos before we came to power and who sat on those quangos without almost anyone else but Labour colleagues. In the days of Lord Haycock, that was the way that things were done.

We also have on the Benches opposite—and I am delighted to see him here today—my noble friend, as I persist in calling him, Lord Parry of Neyland, who was renewed in his chairmanship of a quango by me after I had taken office; just to prove that we have an open mind on such matters. However, that is something for debate on another occasion.

I have one further thought to put before the House. I should like to take up the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, who commented that we had debated the matter for longer than was the occasion in 1978. Well, of course, we have done so. On that occasion we were tacking a referendum on to a Bill which set out the detail of what was being put to the people. We were dealing then with a post-legislative referendum; what we are confronted with today is a pre-legislative referendum. I agree with everyone who has criticised the principles of pre-legislative referendums. In my view, they are entirely wrong in principle and should not be pursued again; indeed, I hope that they will not be.

So we come to the end of these proceedings and we shall debate the White Papers tomorrow. It seems to me to be wrong that the White Papers should have been introduced into this House so late in the Session. Both White Papers, which will be crucial to the understanding of the electorate when it comes to vote, were presented so late that they cannot be properly debated in Parliament. There has, of course, been a debate in another place: but it took place on a Friday, which meant that it had to end at 2.30 p.m., and thus 12 Welsh Members were unable to speak. Nonetheless, that debate produced some notable speeches. I hope that everyone in this House—and, indeed, the electorate of Wales—will read the two distinguished contributions by Mr. Alan Williams and Mr. Denzil Davies. They are two of the most powerful speeches that I have ever read on the subject and were delivered by two very experienced former Ministers. If anyone thinks that the Government have an easy ride ahead of them, he should read those speeches.

As I said, tomorrow we shall debate the White Papers in this House. When I last checked the speakers' list, I counted 35 names upon it. In my opinion, it is a disgrace that Parliament should be treated in this way and that, during the last week before we rise for the Summer Recess, we should be forced to have a debate on such an important constitutional matter—a debate which, by its very definition, will be inadequate. If I have praised the Ministers for their charm and courtesy, I must also point out to them that they have a pretty tough case to defend when it comes to the manner in which the Government have handled the whole affair.

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale

My Lords, as one of the speakers in tomorrow's debate I am not sure I like to hear it dismissed as inadequate before we have even had it. I look forward to the debate very much. I rise at this stage of the Bill to join in the tributes which have been paid to my noble friends Lord Sewel, Lord Williams of Mostyn and Lord Hardie for the way they have steered this Bill through the House. I add my voice to that of the noble Lord, Lord Ewing of Kirkford, in congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, on the role that she has played.

This is an important Bill. I am delighted that it has now almost passed through your Lordships' House. However, I cannot help feeling much sympathy with what the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, said. I believe that some of the highways and byways that we went up and down in the course of discussing the amendments to this Bill were not helpful. I doubt whether all of them were necessary. Of course, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, for his usual debating skills and the deftness with which he made his amendments sometimes appear more relevant than they were. I am particularly grateful to him for introducing a new element in Scottish politics; namely, the Italian waiter. I recently spent a few days in Northern Italy where I had an enjoyable time canvassing Italian waiters to see whether I could find one who had a vote in the referendum. I am sorry to report that I did not find such a person.

Noble Lords


Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale

My Lords, I refer to Italian waiters who work in Italy but who could still go backwards and forwards to Scotland and be entitled to a vote there. Nothing is too far-fetched as regards some of the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Mackay. Therefore I do not see why what I have just said should be too far-fetched. As I said, I did not find an Italian waiter who had at any time established residence in Scotland. Although I did not find one who was entitled to vote in the referendum, I certainly had a great deal of enjoyment trying to find that out.

I look forward to campaigning on the referendum, to the referendum itself and to a positive result. I look forward to the two Bills which will be introduced into Parliament to establish a Scottish parliament and an assembly for Wales, or a Welsh assembly. We all know what we mean by that. This is an important Bill and we should all be happy that it has gone through this House.

Lord Renton

My Lords, I hope that when the noble Baroness goes canvassing in Scotland she will make it clear to the voters that the taxes which they pay, especially the income tax, may well go up if there is a Scottish parliament. I rise to put one point only, a very important constitutional point which I do not think has yet been raised in this short debate. It seems to me to be undemocratic as well as unconstitutional that a major change of the kind envisaged, especially in Scotland, could take place with the consent of only a small minority of the voters. We were told by the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, last week that one is enough—a majority of one person. That is to say that the votes in favour and the votes against are what have to be compared. But supposing the total vote expressed by the people amounts to only 25 per cent. of the electorate. It would be absurd to make the changes in those circumstances.

This, we are told, is an advisory referendum. The Government have a duty to tell your Lordships now, if they have made up their minds—which I hope and suppose they have—what percentage of support from the people of Scotland they would regard as adequate for such a major constitutional change. Without that knowledge the people ought not to be invited to vote at all in this referendum. It is a vital matter and I hope we shall be told what the answer is.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy

My Lords, I shall talk about the White Paper tomorrow, not this afternoon. I think that many of our debates on this Bill have been enormously enjoyable, particularly those on the amendments of my noble kinsman Lord Mar and Kellie. I also enormously enjoyed, in common with many of your Lordships, the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, moving his amendments. It was a joy to listen to him and I would not have missed it for the world.

I cannot say how much I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, who thinks that it has all been a waste of time. Can such enormous enjoyment ever be a waste of time? If we did not sometimes enjoy things in this House I do not know how we would survive.

I entirely agree with what the noble Lords, Lord Campbell of Croy, Lord Campbell of Alloway and Lord Renton, have said. I am sorry that the Government have been so intransigent over some of our amendments, none of which were in any way wrecking amendments. I refer in particular to those regarding the dates of the referenda and the eligibility of Scots and Welsh who are temporarily resident abroad to vote and the eligibility of members of the Armed Forces posted out of Scotland or Wales to vote. I think that the Government may come to regret that last point. However, that will be their problem.

Finally, I must congratulate the noble Lords, Lord Sewel and Lord Williams of Mostyn, on making the most of a lot of very weak arguments.

Lord Parry

My Lords, I express the hope that no one in this House on the Front Benches on either side will have had their career permanently damaged by the compliments paid to them by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale. His compliments, from my experience of after dinner speaking, were the toughest and the roughest votes of thanks that I have ever heard in my life. Compliments have already been paid to the noble Lords, Lord Thomas of Gwydir and Lord Crickhowell, who presided over the Welsh Office with distinction and left behind them monuments that will remain for a long time.

However, I want to make the point that the Welsh Office secretariat was the creation of James Griffiths and of the original Secretary of State for Wales. I have jotted down the names of James Griffiths, George Thomas, Cledwyn Hughes, John Morris and, of course, I added the name of Ron Davies. I had the pleasure and opportunity of not simply knowing but working with all of those Secretaries of State for Wales. The House has heard me say before that we have been extremely fortunate in those Secretaries of State. I believe that what they have done in their careers at the Welsh Office has its logical extension in the creation of the assembly for Wales. I hope that our people will vote overwhelmingly in favour of it. I add my congratulations to all those who have taken part in the debate.

Lord Rowallan

My Lords, I rise to make three points. I am sorry that I missed the Report stage of this vital Bill. It has been a difficult Bill to debate. I refer to the difficulty of debating the referendums Bill as opposed to the devolution issue as a whole. The House has managed well to split the two matters but I think that we have missed one or two vital issues as we have progressed through the Bill.

The noble Lord, Lord Sempill, introduced the multiple option. I believe that the quickest way to get rid of the nationalist input in politics today would be to include the option of the complete separation of Wales and Scotland. If we had asked that question, I believe that the people of Wales and the people of Scotland would have responded with a resounding "No". We might have lost the nationalist input for ever, and that might have been an extremely good thing, at least for Scottish politics, although I am afraid I cannot speak for Welsh politics.

However, the most important matter about which we have forgotten—it was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, and, sadly, has not been followed up—is the complete disenfranchisement of the English. They are not being asked a single question. I do not think that the English have woken up to the enormous effect that this legislation could have on the whole of the country. They are still asleep on the issue. The English think of themselves as Britain. They are in for a big fright. I hope that somehow or other the matter is brought home to them.

We in this House, and especially the Ministers in our Government, must make quite clear to everyone that their intentions are to keep the whole country as Great Britain. The Government have already assured me that that is the case, and I believe them implicitly. But I am extremely worried that we are allowing certain elements in politics today to use this as a vehicle to gain complete independence. I sincerely hope that I am wrong in even thinking it for one second, but I have to say that I think it and feel it. I am worried that if we are not careful, when the English wake up the cry for a federal system will so outweigh what we have that we shall be stuck in the mire that we have created; and there will be no going back.

I see the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, grimacing at me, thinking what nonsense this man is talking. I hope that I am wrong. I have my worries. I hope that your Lordships will think about the matter long and hard. As I said before in this House, the road we are going down is a rocky one. If we are wrong, there is no going back.

4.30 p.m.

Lord Monson

My Lords, perhaps I may pick up on the first point made so powerfully by my noble and learned friend Lord Simon of Glaisdale. The noble Lord, Lord Sewel, told us that, subject to what the other place may decide tomorrow, the Government intend to reverse your Lordships' decision on a uniform polling date and will insist that the Scottish referendum be held one week before the Welsh referendum. To avoid any suggestion that the Government are unfairly and perhaps even improperly trying to influence the outcome of the Welsh referendum, will they consider even at this late stage following the established pattern of elections to the European Parliament? As your Lordships will know, different countries hold their elections on different days of the week. Will they decree that the results of the Scottish referendum will be held back until the Welsh polling stations have closed a week later? It is still not too late to put that into effect tomorrow in another place.

The Earl of Balfour

My Lords, when the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, introduced Schedule 3, a complicated schedule, I referred to the difference between elections for the European Parliament and for the Parliament at Westminster. For the European elections there are no polling agents. Almost at the end of the Report stage in your Lordships' House, I asked whether we would provide for parliamentary agents in this referendums Bill. In other words, would the referendums be like a Westminster election or more like a European election? With great respect to the Minister, he may have written to me and the letter may have gone astray, but I have had no answer to either of those questions.

Lord Forbes

My Lords, the Bill is about referendums in Scotland and Wales. It sounds innocuous, but enormous constitutional changes could take place as a result of the Bill. Not only will Scotland or Wales be affected, but the whole of the United Kingdom.

I deplore the fact that voters have not been given more time to consider the implications of what they will be voting for. I doubt whether anyone can foresee all the implications a "Yes" vote might bring about in the future. I have lived nearly all my life in Scotland, which I love. Like many others in your Lordships' House, I fought for the United Kingdom. I am determined that neither Scotland, nor Wales, nor the United Kingdom shall suffer from hasty legislation that has not been properly revised. For those reasons, I look on the Bill with grave concern as it leaves this House.

Lord Geraint

My Lords, I am sure that noble Lords will agree that we have listened to excellent speeches on both sides of the House today. But I think the time is up for talking; it is time for action. The issues of devolving power to the people of Scotland and Wales have been debated by them for the past 50 years.

Noble Lords may not be aware that the father of the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, was the headmaster when I was at school. He talked then about devolving power to the people of Wales.

The time has come; and to all of those who are in favour of devolving power to the people of Wales and Scotland, let us go home for the Summer Recess and campaign for the "Yes" vote. Our parliament is long overdue and now we must make the right strike to ensure that we achieve it.

Lord Sewel

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this Third Reading debate. I think that I can thank those noble Lords who directed such kind words to the Government Front Bench, but I reserve the right to look at Hansard tomorrow.

At Third Reading, it is interesting to observe how old friends—perhaps I should say bad apples—keep popping up. We have had the post-legislative referendum discussion. We have had the independence option. The noble Lord, Lord Renton, even managed to bring in the threshold question. We have examined those three issues in all genuineness, and reached conclusions in fair and proper debate. We have given good time to them. I believe that the matter has been subject to proper scrutiny.

Perhaps I may deal initially with the point raised by the noble Earl, Lord Balfour. My memory is that I have written to the noble Earl. I have certainly signed a letter. If he has not received it, I apologise. However, I clarify that there will be no polling agents. There are polling agents in parliamentary and European elections but that is not appropriate for a referendum. However, other safeguards are built into the system. When the noble Earl receives my letter, I hope that he will be content with the explanation that I offer.

I move on to the three old friends, or bad apples: why are we not having a post-legislative referendum; why do we not have the independence option on the ballot; and why do we not insist on a threshold? One answer to that series of questions is that in the manifesto we put our proposals before the people. The manifesto dealt with the issues of a post-legislative referendum, the idea of independence and thresholds. In the manifesto clear proposals were put before the people and the electorate endorsed those proposals. That is what we base this legislation on: the endorsement by the electorate of our manifesto proposals.

Some noble Lords may think that that is not good enough. I shall extend the argument. Why not a post-legislative referendum? If we look into the origins of the pre-legislative referendum we shall find that a major advocate of the pre-legislative referendum was a former Conservative Secretary of State for Scotland. He chided us about the level of popular support in Scotland for our proposals, and baited us that we would not have confidence to put those proposals before the public. We are doing just that. We shall give the people of Scotland the opportunity to make a decision on clear proposals outlined in the White Paper. For the vast majority of people a coherently written, comprehensive White Paper is more easily understood than a Bill. I believe that we are on sound grounds in going to the people of Scotland and the people of Wales and saying, "This is what we propose to do; this is the way we intend to go. We seek your endorsement." That, surely, is a sensible, commonsense way forward?

That deals with the independence option, as well. The basis of the referendum is not some glorified public opinion poll on various options. The basis of the referendum is the Government going to the people and saying, "These are our proposals. We seek your support; we seek your endorsement."

It would be completely wrong for the Government to include an independence option in the referendum because the Government could not, in all conscience, advocate the independence option as a way forward to the people of Scotland and the people of Wales. What we are seeking is endorsement of a specific line of policy. If the people of Scotland and the people of Wales wish to support independence, they have the opportunity to do so at general elections by voting for candidates committed to that course of action. The people have already spoken on that issue: they have turned away from the option of independence. We seek to put clear, devolution-based proposals to them.

The issue of thresholds was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Renton. We have maintained all along, from the earliest discussion on these proposals, that we think that fancy franchises and thresholds are a way of frustrating the democratic will of the people. We are not going to have this issue decided by people who are perhaps uninterested or apathetic and who are not prepared to turn out to vote. It is those who vote who count and it is they who will make the decision. We have made clear that the Government are committed to moving ahead with the legislation when it is endorsed by the electorate.

I take the point, of course, that government cannot commit Parliament. Parliament will be in the position, during consideration of the Bill, to take account of the full circumstances surrounding the result of the referendum. That is a proper matter for Parliament. But the Government have given the commitment that they will move forward on the basis of the outcome of the referendum.

Lord Renton

My Lords, before the noble Lord leaves that very important point, would he be so good as to say what minimum number of votes in favour the Government have in mind in order to justify this big change?

Lord Sewel

My Lords, no. We are going to the people of Scotland and the people of Wales to put our proposals before them. If we win, we will go ahead; if we do not win, we will not go ahead. It is as simple as that. It is for the people to decide.

In conclusion, we have rightly and properly scrutinised this legislation. It begins a process; it does not end the process. We have now virtually done our job. We hand the decision over to the people, and I hope that, as good democrats, we trust the people.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, perhaps I may ask the noble Lord one question before he sits down. Does he give an assurance on behalf of the Government that they will introduce primary legislation to prohibit the Scottish parliament from varying taxes other than UK income tax? I think that everybody is entitled to know.

Lord Sewel

My Lords, the specific assurance that the noble Lord seeks is unnecessary because the powers of the parliament will be defined in the primary legislation setting it up and the only powers that it will have to vary tax will be the income tax powers as defined in the White Paper.

On Question, Bill passed, and returned to the Commons with amendments.