§ 3.28 p.m.
§ Lord Sewel
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.
Before I begin on the substance of my speech, perhaps I may say how much I am looking forward to hearing my noble friend Lord Shore of Stepney and the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, both of whom will be making their maiden speeches in this Chamber during our debate. I am sure that they will both make distinctive but, I suspect, somewhat different maiden speeches. Both of them of course will enrich this House, bringing, as they do, their considerable parliamentary experience from another place. I am sure that the whole House will wait with anticipation to hear their contributions.
The years of waiting are coming to an end. Today this House begins the process that I am sure will lead ultimately to the establishment of a parliament for Scotland and an assembly for Wales.
Today's debate is not a Second Reading debate on devolution. This debate is about the principles and mechanics of holding the referendums, as set out in the Bill. It is not about the merits of a Scottish parliament and a Welsh assembly—those are matters for another day, and we will debate them in the many days that lie ahead. The Bill before us is simple and clear in its intent—to allow the people in Scotland and Wales to have their say on a Scottish parliament and a Welsh assembly. This is a test to determine the will of the people in Scotland and Wales. This Bill makes no judgment on the issues and the arguments about devolution.
1112 This Government were elected on their manifesto commitment to introduce a comprehensive programme of constitutional reform specifically to hold referendums in Scotland and Wales on our proposals for a Scottish parliament and a Welsh assembly before bringing forward the main legislation. The people have spoken. Their views could not have been clearer. Accordingly, the Government's comprehensive programme for constitutional reform is now under way.
The first phase of that programme is the Bill under consideration today. This Bill will allow the people of Scotland to vote in a referendum on our proposals to establish a Scottish parliament with law-making powers, firmly based on the agreement reached in the Scottish Constitutional Convention. The detail of our proposals will be set out in a White Paper to be published shortly. Subject to this Bill being passed, we expect the referendum to be held by early autumn.
§ Lord Sewel
My Lords, the time is always right. On the basis of what I expect to be a popular endorsement of our plans, we shall then immediately bring forward legislation to create a Scottish parliament.
At the same time, the Bill provides for a referendum to be held in Wales on our parallel proposals for a Welsh assembly to provide democratic control of the existing Welsh Office functions. We shall he 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.
The introduction of the Bill so early in this Session of Parliament, indeed so early in the lifetime of this Government, is a measure of our commitment to provide the people in Scotland and Wales with an opportunity to express their views on our proposals for a Scottish parliament and a Welsh assembly. The Bill was the first to have its Second Reading in another place this Session and was considered in Committee on the Floor of another place before receiving its Third Reading there with a majority of almost 200. The Bill is an essential step towards delivering a Scottish parliament and a Welsh assembly.
It might be helpful if I remind the House of the expected order of events; the process that lies ahead of us. Subject to the Bill being given its Second Reading in this House today, the remaining stages will be taken over the next month or so. Orders in Council will provide the detailed rules for the conduct of the referendums. Copies of the current drafts of those orders are available in the Library. We would welcome any comments from noble Lords on the draft orders. The final drafts will have to be debated in this House and in another place.
White Papers setting out our proposals for a Scottish parliament and a Welsh assembly will be published well ahead of the referendum so that the people voting in the referendums will have ample opportunity to consider the issues involved. We will also ensure that this House has the opportunity to debate the proposals in 1113 the White Papers before we rise for the Summer Recess. Referendums will be held by the autumn, in advance of the major party conferences.
Following popular endorsement of the Government's proposals, the substantive legislation will be introduced before the end of the year, with elections to the new Scottish parliament taking place as soon as practical after the main legislation receives Royal Assent. I believe that we can have a Scottish parliament and a Welsh assembly in place to welcome the millennium.
It is a demanding timetable, moving in such a short time to a defined settlement, workable and efficient, accepted and endorsed by Parliament and by the people. But I believe that we can hold to that timetable. We owe it to the people in Scotland and Wales to do so.
The principle of holding a referendum is not new. Referendums were held in 1975 and 1979, both concerned with fundamental constitutional change. What we seek is a broadly based consensus for change. The aim is simply to put the popular mandate for these proposals beyond dispute; to test the settled will of the people of Scotland and Wales.
The establishment of a Scottish parliament and a Welsh assembly will affect everyone living in Scotland. That is why we chose the local government franchise—it is closest to the residency test. While the election result already shows that there is a strong demand for constitutional change in Scotland and Wales, we believe that it is important to consult on such an important single issue; to establish beyond doubt that there is support in the two countries for our proposals. Once we have established that support, on the basis of a simple majority of those voting, we will bring forward the necessary legislation.
Popular consent will add legitimacy to our proposals—in a sense it is the way to build the settlement into the system—to give it roots. Our manifesto commitment made it quite clear that we would consult the people in Scotland and Wales at this early stage, and that only with their support would we move to bring forward the substantive legislation which would establish a Scottish parliament and a Welsh assembly.
Parliament will, of course, remain sovereign. It will be for the Government and, ultimately, Parliament to reflect on the result of the referendums. That is why the insertion of any form of threshold would be inappropriate. The only purpose behind such a threshold would be to seek to tie the hands of the Government and, more importantly, Parliament as to its future conduct. This is an exercise in democracy which everyone should support, regardless of their views on devolution itself. It provides an opportunity to spell out our proposals and to engage in debate. All sides will be able to have their say on the merits, and it will be for the people to decide.
The Bill before us today is relatively simple in legislative terms. It provides for the propositions to be voted on in the referendums. It stipulates the electorate, the funding arrangements and the basis of the count. It also provides for the technical detail for running the referendums to be set out in secondary legislation. 1114 Finally, it authorises the funding of any necessary preparatory work on the establishment of a Scottish parliament and Welsh assembly. This is a prudent measure to ensure that suitable accommodation is available for a Scottish parliament or a Welsh assembly. It would, and I stress that it would only, be used following a positive referendum result.
I would like to take a few moments to explain the provisions of the Bill in more detail. Clause 1 of the Bill provides for a referendum to be held in Scotland on the establishment and tax-varying powers of a Scottish parliament. It authorises the date of the referendum to be appointed by Her Majesty by Order in Council. It stipulates that the propositions to be voted on and the front of the ballot papers should be in the form set out in Schedule 1 to the Bill. It further stipulates that those entitled to vote in the referendum will be those who would be entitled at the date of the referendum to vote in a local government election in Scotland.
It also provides for the appointment of a chief counting officer for Scotland by the Secretary of State and for the appointment by the chief counting officer of a counting officer for each local government area in Scotland. Each counting officer is to be responsible for the counting of the votes and for the certification of the numbers of ballot papers counted and votes cast for each proposition in the relevant local government area. Finally, Clause 1 provides that the chief counting officer will certify the total of the ballot papers counted and the votes cast for each proposition for the whole of Scotland.
The House will appreciate the great care that has been taken in framing the propositions. We have taken expert advice from returning officers. We have endeavoured to achieve clarity and above all fairness in the forming of the propositions. We have been scrupulous in avoiding leading questions.
We also aim to reduce the potential for spoilt ballot papers. Expert advice is that the yes/no formulation should be avoided, as experience from 1979 suggests that it increased the risk of confusion and misinterpretation. There were a significant number of spoilt ballots in Lothian alone in 1979 which were the result exclusively of the yes/no formulation and the confusion that that caused. We are providing for two ballot papers in Scotland to enable people to vote independently on each question. Two separate ballot papers will also aid the counting process.
I turn now to the franchise. We have taken residency as the key criterion for eligibility to vote. Those who are to be most directly affected by the proposals are the people who should determine the outcome of the referendums. Use of the local government electoral register will allow resident Peers—123 of us—and European Union citizens who are on the register to vote and will exclude overseas voters. Use of the parliamentary electoral register would have excluded resident Peers and EU nationals while allowing overseas voters to vote. That would clearly not satisfy our key criterion of residency. With exception of the EU citizens, our proposals effectively replicate the 1979 franchise.
1115 As for any suggestion that the franchise should be extended to Scots and Welsh living elsewhere in the United Kingdom, the establishment of a Scottish parliament and Welsh assembly will most affect people living in Scotland and Wales respectively. It is therefore reasonable to base the franchise on residency rather than, for example, any idea of ethnicity. I am sure your Lordships would agree that it would be extremely bad practice to have a test of ethnicity entering into a decision about who should participate in electoral practice. Clause 2 makes similar provisions in respect of Wales.
Clause 3 provides for the detailed arrangements for the referendums to be made by Order in Council. The Orders in Council will specify the date of the referendums. As I have said, the current draft Orders in Council are available in the Library, and we shall be pleased to consider comments on them before formally laying the final orders before Parliament. No recommendation may be made to Her Majesty to make such an order unless that order had been approved in draft by resolution of each House of Parliament.
Clause 3 also provides that staff of any county or county borough council in Wales shall be placed at the disposal of the returning officer and counting officer for that area. Equivalent provision for Scotland in ordinary elections is already made by Section 25 of the Representation of the People Act 1983, which will be applied, and modified to apply to counting officers as well as returning officers, by Order in Council.
Clause 4 provides that no court shall entertain proceedings for questioning the results declared by counting officers or by a chief counting officer. This applies both to the number of ballot papers counted and to the number of votes cast. Thus, in particular, the normal procedure at parliamentary elections whereby an election can be challenged by Parliamentary Election Petition will not apply in the referendum. Clause 4 has precedent from 1975 and 1979. It should thus provide a safeguard against the opponents of devolution trying to delay implementation of our proposals following a yes/yes vote by calling into question the mandate provided by the referendum through spurious, but lengthy, litigation.
Clause 5 provides for expenditure in connection with the referendums and with preparation for the establishment of a Scottish parliament or a Welsh assembly. It provides for the bulk of the expenditure in connection with the conduct of the referendums to be charged on and paid out of the Consolidated Fund. That covers expenses of returning officers and counting officers and the processing of poll cards and ballot papers. This is consistent with the practice for normal parliamentary elections.
It also provides for expenditure of the Secretary of State in connection with the referendums to be paid out of money provided by Parliament. This will cover expenditure on matters such as publicity on absent voting arrangements. The clause also provides for expenditure in preparation for the establishment of a Scottish parliament or a Welsh assembly to be paid out 1116 of money provided by Parliament. This will allow necessary preparatory work to be carried out in advance of the main devolution legislation receiving Royal Assent, but this power will not be exercised unless there is a positive outcome in the referendums. Expenditure under this provision will be subject to the normal parliamentary scrutiny of supply. Estimated costs are set out in the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum to the Bill. The estimated cost of the referendums is £5 million in Scotland and £3 million in Wales. The maximum cost of the preliminary work for the Scottish parliament is estimated at between £18 million and £25 million, and for the Welsh assembly is estimated at between £5 million and £15 million.
People in Scotland and Wales should be given the opportunity to vote on the Government's proposals for devolution. They should be given a direct say on whether or not we proceed. This Bill will give them that opportunity.
I should like to repeat once again our assurance that the proposals for devolution will be set out in White Papers well in advance of the referendums and before the House rises for the Summer Recess. There will be ample opportunity for our proposals to be evaluated, considered and debated before people come to vote on them. I have no doubt that we will receive the support of the people. This will provide a helpful backdrop against which Parliament will be able to scrutinise the main devolution legislation.
The legislation itself is simple, clear and fair. It is the first step in making the government for Scotland and Wales more directly and democratically accountable to the people of Scotland and Wales. I commend the Bill to the House.
Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Lord Sewel.)
§ 3.49 p.m.
§ Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish
My Lords, I am sure that the whole House is grateful to the Minister for explaining the purposes of the Bill. The Minister and I are at one when he says that the Bill is not about devolution; indeed, it is not. But interestingly enough, the Bill and, if the referendum succeeds, the devolution Bill to follow will be extremely significant in a number of regards. One is that those Bills will be the last two Scottish Bills to be brought before your Lordships' House. Indeed, they may mark the last appearances of a Minister from the Scottish Office in your Lordships' House. The noble Lord, Lord Sewel, may be the last in a distinguished line of Ministers who have answered for the Scottish Office from the Dispatch Box opposite.
The significance of this Bill is that it is the first of three—or perhaps it is four or five—that we are promised on referendums. I gather that they are to be called "referendums". I suppose that that is due to the new standards of education that the noble Lord's party wishes to bring forward. I agree with the body set up by the Constitution Unit and the Electoral Reform Society, the Commission on the Conduct of Referendums. It said that before we actually start on the referendums, we ought to have a general 1117 referendums Act. That body had some very interesting people serving on it. The noble Baroness, Lady Gould of Potternewton, sitting opposite was one of them. The noble Lord, Lord Holme of Cheltenham, from the Liberal Democrat Benches, was also on it. I commend the report to anyone who is interested in the subject of referendums. The report says:A generic Referendum Act could establish an Independent Commission and a statutory framework for the efficient, fair and consistent conduct of referendums … Established guidelines, accepted by all political parties, can ensure that referendums, relating to different issues and whenever held, are conducted efficiently, fairly and consistently".My first point of criticism for the Government is that I believe that that is what they should be doing now. They should not be starting us off with one of the specific referendum Bills. That inevitably means that we will be discussing general issues as well as specific issues relative to the referendums in Scotland and Wales. Although the draft orders drawn to our attention by the Minister answer a considerable number of points, I must advise noble Lords that they will need at least two Acts of Parliament and a good deal of a day in the Library of the House in order to work their way through what will be the rules governing this referendum. It would certainly have been far better if all the material had been brought forward in a proper referendum Act.
There are still some points left unanswered. Will there be a free post delivery, as is the case in general elections? Will there be a balance in broadcasting? The commission had something interesting to say about that. It said:A balance should he maintained between the 'Yes' and 'No' viewpoints rather than between the different political parties. Broadcasters should be encouraged to provide a limited amount of airtime for setting out the arguments for each option on the referendum".In his reply later today, I hope very much that the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, will address that particular problem. I also hope that he will address the other problem; namely, whether a letter will go to every household from the Government at public expense outlining the case for and the case against. The commission recommended exactly that. It said:Every household should receive a publicly funded leaflet giving general information on the holding of the referendum and statements of the 'Yes' and 'No' cases relating to the referendum question".As I said, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Williams, will address that issue.
The other point that the noble Lord might address is why the Scottish and Welsh people are to be asked to vote on different days. Why can we not have a referendum on the same day? It seems to me that the reason may possibly be that the Government are very uncertain about the Welsh and, as they are a little more certain about the Scottish, they hope to be able to persuade the Welsh on the basis of a coat-tails argument. However, perhaps my suspicions are wrong.
Why are we having these referendums? After all, as regards 1st May, the Minister says that the people have spoken. I do not exactly approve of the way they spoke, but I accept that they certainly have spoken. I repeat: why are we having these referendums? Perhaps one should go back a little in time. Last 1118 February the Labour Party had a very clear policy: it was very opposed to referendums. Mr. George Robertson, the then shadow Secretary of State for Scotland, said:We have no proposals for a referendum because we want to legislate early and quickly for this outstanding commitment and that is the clear party policy".Actually, it was not quite that clear because, five years before, the party had a different view. I shall come to that point later. Mr. Robertson went on to say something to which I really want your Lordships to listen. He said:There is no question of the Labour Party supporting calls for a referendum on a Scottish Parliament".That was Mr. Robertson speaking on 12th February 1996. Indeed, Mr. Tony Blair, now the Prime Minister, said that he was,actually not a great exponent of government by referendum".I now turn to September 1996 when the same Mr. Robertson said:The people of Scotland will be asked to endorse the proposals in an early referendum to pave the way for legislation".I am sorry, I said September; that was in fact said on 28th June. I quote from the Scottish Daily Express. Nevertheless, that is a fair old turnaround. The reason behind it was the confusion that the party got into about tax. Indeed, it got into even more confusion because in that U-turn, if I can be maritime in my metaphors, the party lost at least two people overboard. One was its constitutional spokesman, Mr. John McAllion, and the other was the noble Lord, Lord Ewing of Kirkford. I look forward to hearing whether the noble Lord has managed to find a lifeboat and get back on board.
However, that was not the end of the story. I move on to September 1996 and another proposition—namely, that on the assumption of a double "Yes" and with devolution coming about before the Scottish assembly can actually impose any taxation, there is to be another referendum. In Scotland on Sunday on 1st September, Mr. Robertson said:I think that the people of Scotland want to be asked. They should be asked twice".Not everyone agreed. Indeed, a passenger was lost overboard in that instance; namely, Mr. Dennis Canavan—but perhaps he has always been overboard so far as concerns the Front Bench of the party opposite. He said:It is the politics of a madhouse and I honestly wonder how on earth a group of intelligent people can sit down and botch something so completely".However, the endorsement was there right up to the top. Mr. Blair did not agree with Dennis Canavan—indeed, I do not suppose he has ever done so—but he did agree with George Robertson, saying:I welcome this mature and sensible decision".It was indeed mature. It was so mature that it lasted only six days. On 6th September Mr. Robertson said:I am saying today … that a second referendum is not necessary and will not be pursued by the Labour Party".That is the confused history of how we have come to he where we are today with a pre-legislative referendum. I am sure that many noble Lords will today suggest that, if we are to have a referendum at all, we really ought to 1119 have one after the legislation has been passed and the detail has been made known. Indeed, I pray in aid no less a person than Mr. Ron Davies, now the Secretary of State for Wales. He said on 28th June last year in the Scottish Daily Express:The problem with a pre-legislative referendum is that there are so many questions which you cannot answer".Exactly, I must tell the Minister that I was grateful to hear his comments about the White Papers. I welcome his assurance that we will have a debate in this House before we rise for the Summer Recess. It is rather a pity that we could not have had the date of publication for the White Papers. Will it be before we reach Committee stage? Will it be between the Committee and Report stages? Will it be between Report and Third Reading? Alternatively, will it be after the Third Reading debate and perhaps just in time? While I am at it, perhaps I may ask a question which is in the interests of all your Lordships; namely, when is the Summer Recess? That question is a little like asking how long is a piece of string.
§ Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish
My Lords, I hear a noble Lord say November, and he may well be right. It may well take until November to work out the White Papers.
I should now like to consider some of the questions which the Bill addresses because I do not propose to talk about the detail of the White Papers. I shall spend a few minutes discussing the electorate. The Minister made some point about using the local government electorate. I refer back to the commission that I previously mentioned which, on the question of the electorate, said:Those entitled to vote should be the same as in general elections, with the addition of Members of the House of Lords"—that, of course, is very sensible; in other words, the same as parliamentary general elections. But that is not what we are being offered. We are being offered local government elections. Therefore, Scots abroad on the overseas register will be deprived of a vote. I have no problem about people from the Commonwealth or the Republic of Ireland who are on the register, both parliamentary and local. However, I do have a little problem with members of the European Union who, if they are in Scotland, can get on the register but only for local government purposes, not for parliamentary purposes.
I highlight the problem in this way. My daughter lives in northern Italy in a little village just south of Lake Como called Bosisio Perini. She is an overseas voter, not in the Glasgow constituency of Govan, where she certainly might be checked up on in the current circumstances, but in the Glasgow seat of Maryhill. I do not believe that her vote adds much there but, never mind, she has a vote. She will be deprived of a vote. Let us consider the beautiful little gelateria in the centre of Bosisio Perini and let us assume that the waiter there had decided to come to Scotland, perhaps to work in the famous restaurant of Nardini's in Largs for a year or 1120 two. He was there on 10th October last and he registered to vote, as he is entitled to do as a European national. Do not the Government think it is indefensible to say that the Italian waiter from Bosisio Perini, who came on a brief visit to Scotland but who was there long enough to register, can vote on the future of Scotland but my daughter who is Scottish to the core is not allowed to do so? I expect this to be known as the Mackay—
§ Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish
My Lords, I need notice of that question. I believe that she has lived in Italy for about seven years. She is well within the 20-year period that is highlighted in the legislation. I do not see that there should be any problem about that. She comes back to Scotland every summer and she considers herself a Scot. At some stage she will return to live in Scotland. I do not think that was a good question from the Minister.
Ironically, the noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay of Cartvale, who is to speak later, would have been deprived of such a vote for most of her working life when she worked so hard for this country in, I believe, the Diplomatic Corps. I think that that is equally wrong. There is an easy way to solve that problem. We just need to add Peers to the parliamentary register. However, I would happily sacrifice my vote to ensure that youngsters from Scotland who by and large travel abroad to work for a short period of time have a vote. I should like to see them have a vote and be involved in the politics of Scotland. After all, if my daughter was thought good enough for the noble Lord's party to send her an election address in the days leading up to 1st May to try to persuade her to vote for Maria Fyfe, it seems to me she is good enough to vote in this referendum.
Of course I appreciate that the matter is more difficult as regards the Scots in England. However, there are Scots in England who feel that they are Scottish and who fully intend to return to Scotland. For example, there are the Royal Scots based in Colchester. In another place Mr. Henry McLeish got into deep trouble on that matter. He did not answer the question as to how those Royal Scots based in Colchester who registered their vote last October in Colchester are to be allowed to vote in the referendum. The simple answer is that they cannot do so. Those people will have no say, no voice and no vote in that important decision for their country.
I now turn to how we judge the majority in this referendum. The Minister tried to address that point. In any organisation there is usually some kind of qualified majority needed to change the constitution. I believe that is sensible. I am not trying to be difficult about this but the commission has said, as regards these matters,The use of thresholds is a political decision".I agree with that. The commission continued,If a threshold is used, it should be a set percentage of the votes cast and not a percentage of the eligible electorate. If thresholds are set, a clear explanation of the meaning of the threshold … should be included".1121 As I understood the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, he said—in trying to answer this question—that if the vote is too low, Parliament will decide to ignore it. I cannot think of anything worse than Parliament being invited to ignore the results of any referendum on any subject. Would it not be far better to try to find some sort of agreed position for all referendums against which the result could be judged? Before the noble Lord or anyone else intervenes and talks about the old 40 per cent. rule, I understand all the defects of that. However, it cannot be beyond the wit of man nor of a government to find a way to mesh turnout to majority. I put it simply. As regards the kind of majority and the kind of turnout that we get at parliamentary elections, I would have no argument with a simple majority. But let us say we get a 30 per cent. turnout; the kind of turnout we get perhaps on a wet day in Aberystwyth at local government elections—
§ Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, implies that there is no such thing as wet days in Aberystwyth. I must go there. Would a bare majority be enough in those circumstances? I do not think it would. Seriously, we ought to look to see whether we can find some sensible and agreed method—that is the point I am making—for all the referendums.
I now address the question itself. The Welsh and the Scots are being asked different questions. I have not been persuaded on that issue by anyone. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, with his deep Welsh roots might try to persuade me why the poor old Welsh should be offered very much a second best procedure compared to that of the Scots. The Minister in another place who is in charge of this Bill, Mr. Henry McLeish, said,We, of course, firmly believe that a Scottish Parliament should have the power to vary tax. The Westminster Parliament and local authorities have such powers. We believe that the responsibility and discipline that come with having the power to vary tax are important … If hon. Members are so sure that the Scottish people want a Parliament with tax-varying powers, what harm can there be in asking them?".—Official Report, Commons, 4/6/97; col. 407.]There is none at all. Therefore, what harm can there be in asking the Welsh? Why cannot they be asked the same two questions, if there have to be two questions? Why are the Welsh getting only half the cake that the poor old Scots are being asked to digest in this case? In any case I believe that the simple question, "Do you want, or do you not want?" is more appropriate to a post-legislative referendum. As regards a pre-legislative referendum, which seems to me to establish the principle, I should have thought that it is at least worth exploring why the Scots and the Welsh are not being given the three options that are generally available: status quo, devolution, or independence.
I look forward to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, just after mine. I gather that some years ago he introduced a Private Member's Bill in the other place asking for exactly that three-way referendum. I shall be interested to hear what he has to 1122 say about the subject in his maiden speech. However, in more recent times, Mr. Donald Dewar, now the Secretary of State for Scotland, said—when he was the shadow Secretary of State in 1992—when addressing the Scottish Trades Union Congress (this is why I said that I would return to referendums and the Labour Party's position) that the democratic arguments for a referendum should be "shouted from the rooftops".
But, wait until your Lordships hear about the referendum. He said that the referendum should be a multi-option referendum. He said in the Daily Telegraph on 13th April that,the party's 49 Scottish MPs would campaign for a multi-option referendum on the country's political future".Scotland United comprises a group of Labour MPs who were brought together to mourn the results of the 1992 election, rather as some of us are doing with regard to the 1997 election. However, the group sought to mourn that election result in a positive way. It said,One of the big problems with the 1979 referendum was the absence from the ballot paper of the independence option, which meant that a significant section of the Scottish population was denied the opportunity to vote for their preferred option".I understand that a fair number of Members of the current Government were members of Scotland United, and no doubt subscribed to that view. If we want what is described as the "settled will" of the Scottish people, surely we should be honest enough to try to find that out. We should ask them the following simple questions. Do you want to remain, as at present, part and parcel of one United Kingdom? Do you want devolution, with a tax-raising assembly; or do you want independence? Those are the three issues. There is not a single Scot on earth who does not realise that those are the three broad issues that are argued about in Scottish politics. Surely that is the way to do it. As regards the Government's proposal, how will they quantify the number of people who vote "Yes; yes" who are actually for independence? That is an important question. How will they know that?
After the referendum the SNP will claim that the majority of the people who voted "Yes, yes" were in favour of independence, and if the assembly project gets off the ground it will get off to a bad start as Scottish Nationalists and some sections of the Scottish media will say that a majority of the people who voted "Yes, yes" voted for that as the first step on the road to independence. Will the Government welcome the support of the Scottish National Party's "Yes, yes" campaign, which I understand is to be based on the slogan,The first step to Scottish independence"?These and a number of other matters are serious issues not just as regards this referendum but for all the referendums to come.
I reiterate what I said at the beginning. It would have been better for the Government to have come forward with a generic referendum Act. But they have not done so. We shall have to discuss these general issues at Committee stage.
Finally, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, will address the serious question of the place that referendums have in parliamentary democracy. 1123 Governments are elected and expected to govern, to decide policy, to make decisions, and to stand or fall by those decisions and policies. They are not elected to pass the buck back to the people when it is convenient. The buck stops here in your Lordships' House, down the corridor in another place, across in Whitehall and ultimately in 10 Downing Street. Referendums are a cop-out. I do not approve of them. But I am determined that in the Committee stage of the Bill, which we shall treat seriously, we shall attempt to ensure that, if we are to have referendums, they will follow clearly defined and set down rules and regulations with which we can all agree at the commencement.
§ 4.11 p.m.
§ Lord Steel of Aikwood
My Lords, I crave the indulgence of your Lordships' House to make my maiden speech. After 32 years in another place I have much appreciated in the past few days the warmth of welcome in your Lordships' House. I look forward to serving in it.
It is an especial pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish. In the days of his youthful enlightenment when he was a member of the Liberal Party he and I used to go fishing together. In recent years we have fished in different waters. He is not so much a quota hopper, more a party hopper; but it is a great pleasure to be with him again on this occasion. As regards some of the mechanical points he made about the referendum Bill, I find myself strangely in close agreement. We shall need to examine issues such as postal and broadcasting arrangements at later stages of the Bill. I took part actively in the two referendums that we have had in this country; the 1970s referendum on Europe; and the later one on Scotland. The European referendum was much better organised than the Scottish one and I hope that lessons will be learnt from that past history.
My excuse for making my maiden speech so early on arriving in your Lordships' House is that for seven years I was co-chair of the Scottish Constitutional Convention whose proposals are the basis of the legislation which will come shortly before Parliament. Contrary to the common view south of the Border, that constitutional convention enjoyed widespread support. It was not just a meeting of the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats. It embraced all the Churches in Scotland, the trade union movement and many other organisations. We deliberated long and hard before coming forward with the measures which form the basis of the forthcoming proposals.
It is the view of my party, and my own view, that the proposed referendum is entirely unnecessary. We agreed with the views of the late John Smith that the settled will of the Scottish people was that the Scottish parliament should be restored. The noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, had much fun with the Labour Party over the various terms and referred to the resignation of my co-chair, the noble Lord, Lord Ewing of Kirkford, whom I look forward to hearing later today. Nevertheless, without going back over those unhappy days, it is quite clear that the referendum will take place. 1124 My only remaining objection is to the unnecessary second question. The proposition which will be put before the Scottish people—namely, that they might vote for a Scottish parliament without tax-raising powers—is an option which no political party in Scotland supports. It is, therefore, a rather peculiar proposition to put before the Scottish people. Nevertheless, the referendum will clearly happen; the other place has decided that already quite clearly. Indeed, I believe that a respectable intellectual case can be made for a referendum in Scotland given the different constitutional background in Scotland.
We were a sovereign nation until 1707 and the Act of Union. But the important point to note is that sovereignty in Scotland lay with the people, and always did. That is why kings and queens north of the Border were always referred to as kings and queens of Scots, not of Scotland. One never hears of kings and queens of the English; one hears of kings and queens of England. That symptomises the difference in the constitutional position. Indeed, the then Lord President of the Court of Session, Lord Cooper, in his celebrated 1953 court judgment, was quite specific about it. He said:The principle of the unlimited sovereignty of Parliament is a distinctively English principle which has no counterpart in Scottish constitutional law".It is important that that is understood. The Claim of Right issued in 1988 re-emphasised that. It pointed out that the matters on which the Treaty of Union,guaranteed the Scots their own institutions and policies represented the bulk of life and government at the time; the Church, the Law and Education. However, there was never any mechanism for enforcing respect for the terms of the Treaty of Union. Many of its major provisions have been violated, and its spirit has never affected the huge areas of government which have evolved since.The say of Scotland in its own government has diminished, is diminishing and ought to be increased".This referendum provides the people of Scotland with the opportunity to have a say in their future government.
But these arguments about the governance of Scotland are far from new. These are not matters of recent political debate. Following the Union of the Crowns in 1603, there was much debate in both countries about whether the Union should be a closer one or whether there should be a Union of Parliaments. The failure of the colonial dairying scheme, the Scottish economic venture in the Americas, led to a greater recognition in Scotland that union with England made sense, and that we should gather round us the strength of a united kingdom. The real argument which took place in 1707 was not for and against union; it was whether or not it should be an incorporating union or a union in which the Scottish parliament remained for Scottish affairs. That argument was lost, and again there was much debate and history about the extent to which Members of the Scottish parliament were or were not subject to influences in the days before Lord Nolan had written his report.
However that may be, the fact is that the abolition of the Scottish Parliament was never really accepted by the Scottish people. Indeed, the disappearance of the parliament has been consistently resented. In the 18th century one had the two open revolts against 1125 the authority of the Crown in Westminster. In the 19th century one had the agitation for home rule under the Government of Mr. Gladstone. In the early 20th century a Bill to provide for a Scottish parliament passed through all its stages in the other place. It was frustrated only when it came to your Lordships' House, was followed by the outbreak of the First World War, and so made no more progress. In the 1950s the Scottish Covenant was signed by a majority of the population of Scotland. In 1978 the Scotland Act passed through both Houses of Parliament, followed by the referendum with the 40 per cent. qualifying rule to which the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, made reference.
In that referendum a majority of the people voted yes for the creation of a Scottish parliament. However, it was not a sufficient majority in accordance with the Act. A critical person who intervened in the 1979 referendum, at quite a late stage, was Lord Home, who was held in great respect throughout Scotland, and indeed in both Houses of Parliament. He advised a no vote rather to everyone's surprise because, in common with Mr. Edward Heath (as he then was), as Leader of the Conservative Party he had supported the principle of devolution. However, I draw your Lordships' attention to what Lord Home said when he declared himself in favour of a no vote. He said:I should hesitate to vote no if I did not think that the parties will keep the devolution issue at the top of their priorities".That is what he said in 1979. Unhappily, in the past 18 years the devolution issue was not at the top of the Government's priorities.
What I regard as improved proposals have now been brought forward and are substantially better than those on offer in 1979. They are improved in two respects. The first is the tax-varying power. That is important. As Mr. Tony Blair, rather maladroitly, attempted to say during the election, if even the smallest English parish council has the capacity to raise some of its revenue, how can that capacity be denied to a body called a Scottish parliament? If the will of the Scottish people, reflected through their elected politicians, is, say, to spend more on health than is the view south of the Border, why should they not do so, raise the funds and be responsible and accountable to the electorate? The financial component is a novelty, and is an improvement on the previous proposals.
The second improvement is that the electoral system proposed is a proportional one. That is important for the reason that, in 1979, there was great concern in the outlying areas of Scotland, including my own area in the Borders, that a Scottish parliament, if elected under the first-past-the-post system, might well be dominated by the Labour majority in the central belt of Scotland. I pay tribute to the Labour Party for recognising that as a serious problem in relation to public opinion and for accepting in the constitutional convention proposals for a proportional system. The Labour Party does not enjoy the support of more than 50 per cent. of the Scottish people. Therefore there is no likelihood of an automatic majority for the Labour 1126 Party when these elections take place. So, given these improvements, it is right that the Scottish people should be asked again what is their view.
The reaction to Scottish agitation over the years has been to devolve more and more administration to Scotland. The Scottish Office was created in 1885; and more and more parts have been added since. But that has created real problems of democratic accountability. If I may give your Lordships the benefit of my experience in the other place, there is a real frustration in being a Scottish Member watching one's English colleagues ask a Question of the Minister of Health on Monday, the Minister of Education on Tuesday, the Minister of Housing on Wednesday, the Minister of Agriculture on Thursday, when you as a Scottish Member have to hold all these questions for the one occasion in a month when the Minister responsible for these and many more matters for your constituency comes before the House to answer Questions. Then you have to choose which questions—health, education or housing. Accountability has been lost with the transfer of administration. That is a powerful argument for restoring democratic accountability north of the Border.
It is argued that anomalies will arise if there is a Scottish parliament. My answer is: yes, there will be anomalies. There is no system that we can devise which does not have anomalies. There are consequent changes that could be made. We could reduce the number of Scottish MPs, as recommended by the Royal Commission on the constitution under Lord Kilbrandon in the 1970s. We could establish an English Grand Committee. We have a Scottish Grand Committee, a Welsh Grand Committee and are to have a Northern Irish Grand Committee; there is no logical reason why there should not be an English Grand Committee. I passionately believe that there is no anomaly in the proposals that will come before this House as great as the anomaly that exists at the present time, and is best seen in the advent of the poll tax. There were Members for English constituencies in the other place who voted to inflict the poll tax on Scotland and who, a year later, saw the light and decided to revolt against having the poll tax in their own constituencies. The fact that we have legislation inflicted upon us by Members who have no constituency responsibility for what happens is what makes the present arrangements so unsatisfactory.
Finally, there is the argument about the slippery slope, referred to in passing by the noble Lord, Lord Mackay. Looking round at the rest of the world, we gave the constitution to post-war Germany; we constructed it on a decentralised model. The country has not broken apart. And it can be argued that, but for the federal constitution, Quebec might well have seceded from Canada before now. A more recent example is that, since the death of Franco, and the restoration of parliament in Catalonia, there has been great success in the revival not only of the Catalan economy, but of Catalan culture. There is not a federal system; there is what I would call lopsided federalism—much more analogous to what we are likely to end up with here in Britain. There is distinction in Scotland between a proud patriotism, which we all share, and a narrow nationalism confined 1127 to a small minority of the population. After all, the SNP entered the last election arguing for a separate army, navy and air force. I do not believe that to be anywhere near the wishes of anything like a substantial minority of the Scottish population.
In the past few days there has been some press speculation north of the Border that this House might in some way delay or obstruct this legislation and the legislation that is to come. I can think of nothing that is more likely to bring disfavour on your Lordships' House after an election that was so clear-cut and resounding in favour of these proposals.
I end by quoting the remarks of Mr. Malcolm Rifkind when he was an Opposition Back-Bencher. He said that Scotland is the only territory on the face of the earth which has a legal system without a legislature to improve, modernise and amend it. This Bill provides the opportunity to put that right.
§ 4.25 p.m.
§ The Earl of Perth
My Lords, it is my great honour and pleasure on behalf of the whole House to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Steel, on his maiden speech. I recall the time, some years ago, when he and I used to attend conferences in relation to the constitution. Whether or not I agreed with him, I always admired his clear thinking and his advocacy in one form or another. We heard exactly that today in his maiden speech. I can only say: please, keep on talking to us and telling us things that are so valuable.
To turn to the Bill, the Minister seemed to indicate that we should not talk about the merits or demerits of the referendum, that that is decided and the various details of it are a question to be considered later. I am not sure that I go along with that view. It is a pity that the referendum is to be held before the White Paper is issued. My hope is that what takes place in this House, in debate on the Bill and otherwise, will be taken into account when the Government produce their White Paper. If that is the case, then there is some excuse for the order of batting; but I am not entirely happy about it.
Whether I am in order or not, I intend to look in particular at Schedule I and the proposed questions. The first is:I agree that there should be a Scottish Parliament".I only hope that the answer will be "Yes". I have campaigned consistently over the past 15 or 20 years for such an assembly. But I am equally anxious that its powers should not endanger the Union. The record of the Union is one of great advantage to all the four countries about which we are talking. The second proposal, in Part H of the schedule, is:I agree that a Scottish Parliament should have tax-varying powers".It is said that the vote will be "Yes; yes". I very much hope that it will be "Yes; no". I say that as strongly as I can. My reason is that if a Scottish parliament has tax-varying powers, it will be the slippery slope to 1128 which the noble Lord, Lord Steel, referred. It will be very difficult to retain the Union in the form in which we know and like it.
Noble Lords may ask me why I say that. Let me try to explain. If we give tax-varying powers and the Scots decide to increase taxes on themselves, what will happen? Business will leave and so may many people who now live in Scotland. They will ask: "Why pay taxes?". It may be argued: "Well, it's only 3 per cent. or thereabouts". But that is quite a lot of money. We are talking of a total budget of £27 billion that we get every year, so 3 per cent. is a lot of money.
However, let us look at the other side. Supposing the Scots say: "Ah, here's the chance we want. Let us decrease our taxes". To me, that is an invitation to the English to rise and say quite simply: "You are not going to, or if you do we shall cut down the block grant which you get". They would be perfectly justified in doing that because at present we in Scotland—quite rightly, I think—have a great advantage in what comes to us from Parliament. I believe the figures are that we receive about £4,600 per head from the block grant, whereas the English receive only some £3,800 a year, a difference of nearly 20 per cent. If people in England rise and decide to cut the block grant, we shall be in grave trouble.
It seems to me that it would be tragic if, because the people of Scotland wanted a say in the running of their own affairs, they should vote "Yes; yes". I beg that it should be "Yes; no". If there are no tax powers for the Scottish parliament, people may say that it will become an ordinary talking shop. That is not true. The opportunity they will have will be to decide how they will cut the cake of the block grant that they are given. Believe me, if you are trying to cut a cake of £27 billion, it is a pretty formidable figure to work on, giving all kinds of opportunities for people to decide whether they want to spend more on health, more on education or more on the roads, etc. It could be an effective body, without the need for any taxing powers.
So I feel strongly that we should say "Yes" to the first question and "No" to the second. My worry is that the people of Scotland may not appreciate why a large number of people may advocate saying "No" to the second part of the question. Superficially, it sounds fun: "Let's be able to change the tax in one way or another and get more or less, as the case may be". My anxiety is that the opportunity to plead the case against the "Yes" on the second part of the ballot may not be adequate. I am worried that the White Paper and all the arguments against such an answer will not be given a fair hearing. That is a serious point.
I care enormously about continuing the Union. Let us not endanger it by saying "Yes" to the second part. Originally, we had the Act of Union under somewhat murky circumstances—I believe that is the right word to use. But over the past 300 years, it has proved of enormous advantage to all of us. Let us not forget our triumphs and the contribution the Scots have made, whether it was militarily or even politically. We did it 1129 as a Union. Please let us not start—and I use the phrase again—down the slippery slope to independence, with all that that means to our disadvantage.
§ 4.34 p.m.
§ Lord Shore of Stepney
My Lords, I too crave the indulgence of the House for making my maiden speech now. I felt a certain hesitation in addressing your Lordships so soon after being introduced. I do not have quite the same excuse for doing so as the noble Lord, Lord Steel, because I am neither a Scotsman nor a Welshman; I am not even a former Leader of the Liberal Party. However, I claim to have some stake in the matter as I am one of the veterans of the last Labour Government. I can assure the House that many anxious hours were spent both in the other place in debate and in Cabinet committee discussing the problem and deciding how we should proceed in our earnest endeavours to bring about devolution for Scotland and Wales and to carry that proposal with the additional strength of a referendum. So I feel that I too should say something on this important matter today.
It is a short Bill—no doubt about that. But it raises many questions, some of which have already been touched on in the few speeches we have heard this afternoon. There are two particular matters which I feel should be addressed at this early stage in the debate. One is the whole place of referenda or referendums in our constitutional processes. It is an important matter and something even of an innovation. Secondly, we must address the question which has been expressed not only here but also in many parts of the country recently: whether devolution for Scotland and Wales, in the way that has been proposed, poses a threat to the unity of the United Kingdom. I am quite sure that all of us are united in our resolve to maintain the integrity of the United Kingdom.
On the referendums, I do not agree with the noble Lord, Lord Steel, that a referendum is unnecessary. I can perceive and well understand the argument that prevailed for a time in Scotland among my Labour Party colleagues that one did not need an additional referendum after all that had been gone through on previous occasions in Parliament and in debate in the country. Was it needed, after the question of devolution and a referendum appeared so clearly and specifically in the manifesto of the party? The electoral mandate is undoubtedly there in what was said during the general election campaign. It was rather striking that those parties which favoured the status quo failed to gain a single representative in the House of Commons, either from Wales or Scotland. Clearly there is already plenty of evidence of a desire in Scotland and I think in Wales too for what is outlined in this measure—for a referendum and for a say on the whole question of devolution.
However, I believe that we were wise to insist upon a referendum. We were wise to do so not because referendums are—as the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, who spoke for the Opposition put it—a "cop out". It was not for that reason, but because this is a constitutional measure. I hope that in this country we are developing a new convention for our constitution which will insist 1130 that, whenever the powers of Parliament to legislate and tax are either devolved or handed over to others, we should not proceed until the proposals are legitimised by a referendum of our people. The House will well understand that I have in mind occasions other than devolution for Scotland and Wales.
The referendum is already becoming part of our unwritten constitution. In my period in politics we have had a referendum on the status of Northern Ireland in relation to the United Kingdom; and that was absolutely right. We had a referendum on whether or not we should join what was then called "the common market". We had referendums in Scotland and Wales on previous measures that were enacted, and have been promised—not necessarily to the satisfaction of noble Lords opposite—further referendums on such matters as changes in the electoral system and the fraught subject of a single currency.
We do not have a written constitution and are, in a sense, vulnerable to change as compared to a number of other democratic countries which do have written constitutions which entrench the constitutional powers of their parliaments either by insisting upon an additional large majority vote in those parliaments and/or a referendum of their people. We have no such written constitution. However, it is important that we begin seriously to accept the new constitutional convention that in the future we shall insist upon the use of a referendum whenever the powers of our Parliament affecting legislation and taxation are involved.
That apart, I want to say something about the understandable fear that devolution will destabilise the United Kingdom and provide a stepping stone for separatism and total independence. It is not easy to be certain about this. Looking over the fraught history of our relations with Eire, I take the view—I may be wrong—that if we had been able to devise a satisfactory scheme for Home Rule before the Easter rising in 1916, we may well have been able to maintain a union with southern Ireland as well as Northern Ireland. That would have been extremely satisfactory.
There is a danger—and Ireland gives us some indication of it—of frustrating the perfectly legitimate ambitions of people who feel that they have a national identity. Unlike in the regions of Britain, the Scottish and the Welsh feel that they have a cultural and national identity. They experience frustration in not being granted some substantial measure of self-determination.
Self-determination and self-government are now accepted almost throughout the world. Indeed, in the 20 years since we last debated these matters in Parliament in relation to Scotland and Wales, a number of countries have insisted upon self-government and self-determination. That has had the effect of the break-up of so-called sovereign states. There was a Soviet Union 20 years ago; it now consists of 15 separate states. There was a Yugoslavia 20 years ago; it now consists of four separate states. Throughout the world people have been insisting and continue to insist on self-government. We would be foolish if we did not take account of that and act with greater sensitivity than we have shown in the past in 1131 recognising the desire for greater self-government and self-determination. This measure will contribute to that end and, in so far as it does so, it will not weaken, but strengthen, the continued unity and continuity of the United Kingdom.
My final point is a plea to the Minister who is to wind up to say a little more about the pre-legislative referendum that we are now proposing as opposed to the post-legislative referendum which we practised 18 or 19 years ago. What is the specific reason for our insistence upon a pre-legislative referendum? I ask the question because I am worried that, while a referendum should give greater force and weight to the devolution proposals, it will and can be argued that unless Parliament has first seen, and the people have seen, the full measure of what is being proposed, it will not have the same authority and legitimacy as it would if it were proposed afterwards. I hope that the Minister will give further thought to that important matter.
§ 4.45 p.m.
Lord Campbell of Croy
My Lords, it gives me great pleasure to be speaking immediately after the noble Lord, Lord Shore of Stepney, and to congratulate him on behalf of the whole House upon his maiden speech. He and I were in the other place at the same time for some years and I know that he is an accomplished speaker from the other place, where he was a distinguished Minister. He will be listened to attentively in your Lordships' House by friends in all parts of it. The noble Lord may find himself especially at home if he is on the same Bench as the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, and others who share a common view on Europe. The noble Lord, Lord Bruce, is a doughty debater. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Shore, on his excellent maiden speech.
I have already given my first reactions to this Bill on the second day of the debate on the Address on 15th May, because it was published and available that afternoon. I am glad of the opportunity today to say more because I took a prominent part in the two referendum campaigns in this country in 1975 on whether to stay in the European Community—it was not in relation to joining but in relation to staying in—and in 1979 on the Scotland Act. I voted in both. In both also I travelled round the country and was on the same platform as Members of the Labour Party who shared the same view. I found it an invigorating experience and we achieved the desired results in both campaigns.
In relation to the 1979 Scottish referendum, in this House, from the Opposition Front Bench, I spoke on the necessary order on 5th December 1978, having attended every minute of all the stages of the Scotland Act 1978 during its passage through this House. Modestly, I must also recall that I initiated the only post-mortem debate in Parliament after the referendum in 1979, on 12th March—only 12 days later—upon the conduct of the Scottish referendum.
Those referendums in Scotland and Wales were provided for by the Scotland and Wales Acts themselves. Draft statutory instruments for the 1132 referendums were discussed and accepted later by both Houses. On the Scottish Bill, I proposed an amendment, passed by this House and accepted by the Government in the other place, that there should be at least six weeks for the campaigns. I shall wish to explore that time factor at the Committee stage because it is not certain this time that there will be such a period. We are told that the White Paper will come around the end of July and it is rumoured that the referendum may take place in early September.
In 1978 the Labour Government eventually decided to hold referendums in Scotland and Wales on the respective Acts after they had been passed by Parliament. The question in the Scottish referendum was,Do you want the provisions of the Scotland Act 1978 to be put into effect?".In the Bill before us today there are not questions but statements; namely, "I agree that there should be a Scottish parliament" or "I do not agree". The wording is vague; "a Scottish parliament". What kind of Scottish parliament? I can think of about 50 varieties of a possible parliament. The Bill will not be available before the referendum takes place, even in its form before its passage through Parliament. A White Paper, still apparently five or six weeks away, promises to be vague and will not answer the vital questions.
This time, in contrast to 1978, the Government are putting a referendum first. My noble friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish quoted the comments of the present Secretary of State for Wales on the trouble with a pre-legislative referendum. The same right honourable gentleman, Mr. Davies, has been very frank. He was recorded as stating in mid-April, during the election, on tax-varying powers, which are not included in the Welsh proposals, that it was economic illiteracy to think there could be one tax rate on one side of the Welsh border and another tax rate on the other side. What about the Scottish Border and the tax-varying proposals for Scotland? Is that economic illiteracy? These are contradictory proposals which show that a parliamentary examination of a Bill for a Scottish parliament is needed before it is fair to ask the electorate in Scotland to take decisions.
In 1976 the then Labour Government made a statement in Parliament, repeated in this House by the then Leader, that there would be no referendum at all before or after. That was later changed and the first Bill was withdrawn completely and then replaced. I can understand the reason for the Government now opting for a referendum before a Bill even appears. They want to avoid losing the many days of parliamentary time that they lost in the other place on the last occasion—all to no avail, because in five-and-a-half years they did not achieve a single small devolutionary step. All the steps taken in the past 25 years in that direction have been by Conservative Governments. I am suspicious, however, of the words in the Labour Party manifesto that a simple majority in the referendum will "speed" the passage of the Government's proposals through Parliament. It is one thing to vote on a vague idea—a parliament, not a particular system; it is another to vote on a definite, fully explained scheme for a parliament.
1133 On the last occasion, if there had been a referendum first, my guess is that about 60 per cent. in Scotland would have voted yes to "Are you in favour of devolution?" or "Are you in favour of an assembly?" It is like asking "Are you in favour of decentralisation?" or, as the Americans would say, "Are you in favour of apple pie?" A second referendum in 1979 would nonetheless, I believe, have produced the same 33 per cent. only in support. That is as happened, with 31 per cent. against, because the defects and the unanswered problems became clear to much of the Scottish electorate in 1979 when the whole Act was there to be seen. So, as I urged on 15th May, there should be a second referendum in Scotland after the new Act is passed so that it is put to the same test as the 1978 Act, with the question, "Do you want the provisions of the Scotland Act 1998 to be put into effect?"
There is a second statement to he made by electors in Scotland; namely,I agree that a Scottish Parliament should have [or should not have] tax-varying powers".Why is that to be on the Scottish ballot paper but not on the Welsh one? I join my noble friend Lord Mackay in asking that. It is not an answer, as was given in the other place, simply to say that this was in the Labour Party manifesto. My question is: why was there this difference in the manifesto between Scotland and Wales on the subject of tax?
In 1978 this House examined parts of the Scotland Act not scrutinised by the other place because of the guillotine, including the provisions for a referendum. History is repeating itself now. During the Committee stage in another place two weeks ago there was no time for discussion of three important matters. Because no amendments were made to the Bill, there was no Report stage. The first was the question of whether there should be a threshold. In the 1978 Act a threshold of 40 per cent. was inserted as a result of an amendment introduced by a Labour Member of Parliament. It led to the automatic repeal of the Scotland Act, and the sighs of relief from some members of the Labour Cabinet at that time when this happened were very audible, presumably because at that time they were fully aware of the defects and the unsolved problems of a thoroughly unstable assembly. What happens if the turn-out on this occasion is low or if there is a very small majority in favour; for example, 36.5 per cent. in favour and 36.4 per cent. against? It is, I understand, to he an advisory referendum, like its predecessors. Will the Government be left to take the final decision if the result is very close?
The second important matter for which there was not time in the other place was the conduct of the referendum and its financing. The 1979 referendum did not follow the 1975 pattern. In 1975, those leading both sides on the question of whether to stay in the European Community had to account for the money received. A White Paper was published afterwards recording the figures, including the names of contributors and recipients of sums of more than £100. For example, the names of four Ministers then serving in the Labour Government were recorded, with their expenses and organisation costs. All four, I am glad to say, are now 1134 in your Lordships' House, though three of them are on the Liberal Democrat Benches and would, I think, in the words of the noble Lord, Lord Steel, be party hoppers. My expenses did not amount to £100, so my name did not appear.
On the conduct of referendums, I draw attention to the letter in The Times of 11th June from Sir Patrick Nairne, chairman of the Commission on the Conduct of Referendums. Its last paragraph reads:We hope that the House of Lords, when it shortly debates the Referendum Bill (provisionally planned for June 17th)"—that is today—and subsequently the Government, will give careful consideration to arrangements for the conduct of the referendums on which will depend public acceptance of the legitimacy of their results".But those questions could not be discussed in the other place. No doubt we shall be able to get down to them at Committee stage. There is not much time, as Sir Patrick Nairne hoped, for those matters to be looked into today.
The third particular matter of importance for which there was not time in another place was the situation of service men and women not registered at their home addresses in Scotland and Wales. Last October, when the electoral registers were last being compiled, they would not have had uppermost in their minds the possibility of referendums. In this House we will again have to address subjects on which discussion was chopped off in another place or excluded. The referendum in Scotland is designed to consult the electorate in Scotland—those on the electoral rolls on a certain date, including many non-Scots. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, that ethnicity should not be a qualifying factor or disqualifying factor. But the electorate cannot be described correctly as "the Scottish people", as the Minister did, many of whom will not be on the Scottish electoral register because they are away from home, working, married or for other valid reasons. I am not referring mainly to the Scottish football managers and players who strengthen English teams so well.
Of course, Members of your Lordships' House can vote in referendums, as in the past and as in local elections. I was mildly shocked by the words of the right honourable gentleman the Secretary of State for Scotland, Mr. Dewar, in the Second Reading debate on 21st May. He expressed surprise that there were only 123 Peers eligible to vote in Scotland. Whether that was caused by his arithmetic being at fault or his acquaintance with population figures—123 is almost exactly one-tenth of the total number of Peers in your Lordships' House, which is 1,196, as recorded in the latest annual report of the House of Lords. One-tenth is what one would expect. It reflects the fact that Scotland contains about one-tenth of the United Kingdom's population.
He continued,They may he glad to know"—that is, the Peers in Scotland—that it will not be possible to identify them and discover exactly how they voted".—[Official Report, Commons, 21/5/97; col. 728.]1135 This may have been intended as a jocular remark, but it casts doubt on the conduct of a referendum involving secret ballots.
In 1979 there were members and former members of the Labour Party who were opposed to the 1978 Act. For example, the chairman of the organisation called Scotland Says No was the noble Lord, Lord Wilson of Langside, who had been Lord Advocate in the previous Labour Government. Labour MPs included the right honourable gentleman Mr. Robin Cook, who was not then a senior Minister. He stated in another place that he hoped that the whole issue would be killed and buried.
I end with an unusual episode. I hope that some noble Lords will remember the late Lord MacLeod of Fuinary, as I do, warmly. He was a former Moderator of the Church of Scotland, which is the Church to which I belong, who sat on the Labour Benches. Shortly before polling day a letter from him was published in The Scotsman newspaper, complaining about a report that six former Moderators were to vote yes and only one no. Lord MacLeod himself telephoned to all the ex-Moderators he could trace and found that 11 of the 17 still living were in the no lobby, including himself. I am glad to say that an abject apology from the journalist concerned appeared below his letter.
I hope that this House will carefully examine the Bill at later stages, raising the points that need consideration. This the House did over the provisions in the Scotland Act 1978 on the referendum and the subsequent statutory instrument, without taking up any more time than was necessary.
§ 5.3 p.m.
§ Lord Mackie of Benshie
My Lords, with consideration for the 30 speakers to come after me, I shall be somewhat shorter than previous speakers. But I would like to take time to congratulate the two maiden speakers. I know that it should be done by the immediately following speaker, but I have connections with them. I went into the other place about the same time. The difference is that they stayed in and I was put out. The quality of the speeches obviously shows what an acquisition they will be. It is lovely that we follow the quaint custom of saying that they are maiden speeches, although how anyone can preserve any form of vocal virginity after 30 years in the House of Commons I cannot imagine. After the speeches that we have heard, I am sure that we all agree that their effect here will continue to be extremely beneficial.
The Minister said that we should concentrate on talking about the referendums. That advice has not been quite followed until now. Indeed, one must stray somewhat. The Government, particularly the headquarter's party while fighting the election, deserve to be condemned thoroughly for the fact that they interfered with Scottish affairs without consultation. They became terrified of the success of the tartan-tax phrase, which was invented and produced by Mr. Forsyth. They reacted in a manner which the Scots, who knew the situation, would not have done.
1136 I do not believe that there is any need for a referendum. The Scots have spoken very clearly. They have sacked every single Tory representative in Scotland—but one would not think so to hear the Tory speeches today. One would have thought that while in defeat there is defiance, a little humility might well have been the order of the day as well.
The tartan tax aroused great fears. The Tories assiduously put it about that every single factory in Scotland would be taken out and immediately put away. The fact is that the Scots comprise and the Scottish parliament will comprise sensible people. They certainly would not drive away the people who were feeding them. Indeed, a Scottish parliament, composed of good Scottish people—better people than those who go to the other place—who are still at the height of their careers, will produce an atmosphere which will ensure that there is a good deal of indigenous investment as well as inward investment.
The noble Lord, Lord Sewel, has already given the House information on the wide composition of the Scottish convention. It has laid down sensible rules and a sensible programme for the Government to follow. I hope that they will follow it. The last referendum was a device put up by an MP for the north-east of England out of jealousy in order to defeat the Bill. It was effective for one reason: there was no mention in it of any form of proportional representation. My brother—my Liberal one—voted no simply for that reason. I believe that many of the Moderators who have been referred to probably did the same. I am sure that that will not apply to this Bill.
I disapprove of the referendum. I do not believe that it should have been brought forward. I do not believe that the second question is necessary. However, I believe in the sincerity of the Government and that they mean to bring forward this referendum and a Bill immediately afterwards. For that reason there is no question but that we in the Liberal Party in Scotland will be campaigning for a double yes, which I believe is a sensible attitude. The Government have sinned, but we shall forgive them, in view of the fact that they are going to put things right. God help them if they do not!
§ 5.8 p.m.
§ Lord Elis-Thomas
My Lords, in following the noble Lord, Lord Mackie, I am tempted to speculate whether his forgiveness might ever extend to the previous Government, but I shall return to that a little later in my short remarks. I follow him in congratulating the two maiden speakers. It is a great pleasure for me—I suppose that I should never have been in this House at all as a lower case Welsh nationalist, but I shall explain that in a moment as well—to welcome colleagues who join me here from different positions.
As regards referendums, I remember that I campaigned on the wrong side with both noble Lords in two referendums. I was on the same side as the noble Lord, Lord Shore, concerning the referendum and opposed to membership of the European Community at that stage, while the noble Lord, Lord Steel, was a distinguished proponent of the other case. I have since 1137 changed my mind. In the case of devolution, the noble Lord, Lord Steel, was a proponent and argued in favour. For the moment, I cannot recollect the public position of the noble Lord, Lord Shore, but perhaps he will enlighten us a little later. However, I know that the noble Lord's acumen in criticising the European Union and all its works in his previous incarnation will be as helpful to us in this House as the warm Euro-federalism of the noble Lord, Lord Steel.
That reminds me that I have been on the winning side only once in any referendum. Former honourable Members from Wales will know what that was. It was when I strongly advocated the opening of public houses on Sundays in my previous constituency. We won with a large majority. My firm intention is to be on the winning side in the coming referendum in Wales, which is why I have made my compromise and I support the Government and the Bill as it stands.
As regards the matter of there being two questions for the Scots and one for the Welsh, perhaps I should say that it has nothing whatever to do with the level of literacy, numeracy or bilingualism of the peoples concerned. It is all to do with the "maturing"—if I may put it like that—of Labour Party policy in Scotland and in Wales. The Labour Party in Wales tends to take the view that Plaid Cymru at 10 per cent. of the vote in Wales is not as much of a threat to it as the Scottish National Party which has 20 per cent. of the vote in Scotland. That is why Wales is offered an assembly while Scotland is offered a parliament. Historic spurious reasons are invented, but political reality is the order of the day.
However, I shall not go into all that because I want to be positive in my support for the Government and to say that one question is enough—that is, one clear question as opposed to the 1978 question which was not so clear. This is a much better-worded referendum. There is no need for us to go into a series of options, although in Committee some of us might want to rehearse some of those discussions and get them out of the way.
The referendum—or the "preferendum"—is on a direction of policy and that is why the whole argument about whether it is a "preferendum", a post-legislative referendum or, as in the case of the European Community, a post-membership referendum looking back to decide whether we did the right thing is not an issue. All approaches are about the direction of policy.
The referendum campaign and this Bill will enable us to have a serious debate about a direction of policy which has been galloping ahead under governments of both main parties, including the Conservatives. The Conservatives have been devolving power to Wales and to Scotland at an alarming rate. I can speak and declare an interest because I am part of it. I was appointed to serve on a public statutory body in Wales which was set up by the previous Conservative Government as part of their devolution policy. The Welsh Language Board is not the exception because a whole series of bodies dealing with the countryside, the environment and all aspects of the implementation of public policy were set up by the Conservatives.
1138 The Bill will enable us to have a debate about the form of that devolution and whether that structure of government should be accountable in an assembly. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell, referred to the question of "a parliament" and "an assembly", but I can see no problem because that is exactly what they are. We are talking about a form of government. That is why people who may agree or disagree with other forms of parliament—whether 15 parliaments or three Welsh assemblies—should feel able to support this question and that is why it is essential that we have an open debate during the referendum campaign.
I agree entirely with the franchise. It should indeed be based on local government residency because that is what for practical purposes the local, regional or national citizenship of a place comprises. It is not a question of ethnic connection. It is not a question of people outside an area being able to influence its course of events. This is not some great historic decision about the future of the Scottish or Welsh peoples; it is a simple debate about the structure of government that will be put in place during this Parliament.
The history of this issue should remind us that if we do not make some progress this time, it will come back to haunt us—presumably not on a 20-year cycle, but probably on a 10 or even a five-year cycle. The structures and forms of devolved government have been debated in this House and in another place with increasing regularity since the 1960s. We heard earlier from the noble Lord, Lord Steel, about the turn-of-the-century examples of how this House got devolution in this kingdom terribly wrong. The results are still with us in Northern Ireland to this day. I do not say that because there is any such threat from Scotland or from Wales, but simply to emphasise the fact that, although devolution is a question for this House in terms of legislation, it is primarily a question for the people.
I come now to the final three minutes of my speech—that is, if I can contain myself to three minutes when speaking about why I have been so disappointed by the Conservatives' attitude so far today. From the way in which Conservative noble Lords have spoken, one would have thought that the Conservative Party had won the election in Scotland and in Wales with a massive majority. One would have thought that there was no need to consult the people and that Conservative policies had been completely vindicated. I am the last person to argue that the result of the election in Wales was satisfactory for the Conservatives. It is not satisfactory that they should have 20 per cent. of the vote but no Members of Parliament in another place. Thank goodness that noble Lords from Wales can speak for the people of Wales here—and we are always glad to hear them, especially when we agree with them. But that issue relates to the electoral system and should be tackled in that way.
Surely, however, the Conservative Party should reflect on the fact that it has a role to play now in the public life of Scotland and of Wales beyond the result of the last election. The Conservative Party should be addressing itself to ways in which the referendum campaign can be conducted positively. Obviously, there are positions for and against and I understand that the 1139 Conservative Party agreed at a mass meeting in Llandrindod—or was it Rhaeadr?—that it would allow its members to speak and to take part in the referendum debate whether they were for or against the issue. It will be interesting to see to what extent that happens and to what extent the Conservative Party in Wales will feel able to participate in the debate.
It will be seen as the ultimate hypocrisy in Wales and in Scotland if the Conservative Party decides to campaign aggressively against a referendum—and even to prevent some of its members from speaking in favour—and then, if an assembly or a parliament is established, for its members to stand as potential candidates for that structure. The Conservative Party should realise at last that the unity of the kingdom is nothing to do with a uniform political structure; it is about a diversity of structure which cements and retains that unity.
That is why at the beginning of my speech I described myself as a Welsh nationalist (lower case); some might describe me as another kind of case, but I am a lower case Welsh nationalist because I am not a separatist. I do not even like the word "independence" because clearly within the European Union there can be no independence; there is only interdependence. I suppose that I am a European federalist, but these proposals are not federalist, European or otherwise. These proposals, the referendum and the White Paper when it comes, will not be anything more than the devolutionary recipe that we have already seen in the manifesto of the Labour Party.
Therefore, I do not understand the argument about the slippery slope. Indeed, I have never understood "slippery slope" arguments. They are advanced by those who are opposed to any change whatsoever. No progress and no change can happen in a constitution, written or otherwise, unless it is by the consent of the people. When I hear the argument about a written constitution, my first reaction is to say that if we do not have one, it is high time that we started writing it. In a sense, that is what we are doing this evening in the referendums Bill.
Any further progress towards a federal structure in the United Kingdom—indeed, as a result of this Bill and the question in Wales, any progress towards a legislative Welsh assembly—will depend on a further question and a further referendum because, even if they consent to a Welsh assembly, the Welsh people will not have consented to a legislative or tax-raising body. Therefore, as a Welsh democrat I would argue that there should be a further opportunity to take that decision in a further referendum. Clearly, the referendum on the slippery slope is yet a further referendum because if we are talking about federalism, further legislative action would be required which would be subject to a further referendum. Therefore, I believe that there can be no argument as to that.
I hope that this time we do not resort to the kind of referendum campaign conducted last time. From my reading of the Western Mail—I use this voice when referring to the Western Mail—there are terrible signs that all of the old arguments about the north hating the south will be repeated. I am aware of no country in the 1140 world where the north gets on with the south, or vice versa. More sinister is the highlighting of the difference of language.
I believe that this House and the Government have dealt with the issue of legislating for language in Wales for a long period. There can be no argument but that the Welsh assembly will be subject to a language scheme. There is no way in which that assembly can be used in any way to inflict a form of language policy on people who do not agree with it. That assembly would be bilingual by consent, as the rest of public life in Wales has been. I shall play my part in ensuring that that happens. Let us not have any argument that Welsh speakers in the north will terrorise English speakers in the south, or, worse still, that Welsh speakers with a Welsh southern accent will terrorise English speakers in the north.
I hope that we shall not hear it said that somehow this assembly is a Labour Party creation. Of course, this assembly has evolved from the internal debates of the Labour Party, but the result of the last election has signified quite clearly that there is overwhelming support in Wales for the Labour Party. If the proposals for the assembly are put to the vote and are accepted by the Welsh people, that will be a national decision. That assembly will belong to all of us and it will be a national institution. I hope that the Conservatives in Wales will have the sense to participate in that institution as well.
§ 5.22 p.m.
§ Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos
My Lords, I also extend a warm welcome to my noble friend Lord Shore and also to my old friend Lord Steel. I congratulate both of them on excellent maiden speeches. I also thank my noble friend Lord Elis-Thomas for his effective support of the Government.
In his opening speech my noble friend reminded the House that a White Paper would be published later in the summer and that it would explain in greater detail the Government's proposals for an assembly. I shall not venture to comment on the Scottish proposals, but I must state the truth: the policy for a Welsh assembly is a modest one in comparison. When we vote we must bear that in mind, as indeed will the Welsh people. It is important that they will have an early vote on the establishment of a directly elected Welsh assembly. We must be careful to remember that the consequence of this will strengthen democracy in Wales so that our interests will be heard not only in these islands but beyond.
The House should note that whenever we seek a new form of devolution in Wales there is excitable opposition in some quarters. This puzzles me. There are forms of devolution in most of the countries of western Europe and they operate effectively. But Wales, which is one of the very oldest countries in Europe, with its own culture, language and literature, is treated like a helpless colony. On a clear day looking out to sea from Anglesey I can see on the horizon another Celtic island—the Isle of Man. It is the same size as Anglesey and has a population of about 70,000. It is a Crown dependency, with its own parliament and legal and 1141 administrative system. This is devolution in a big way, but I hear no criticisms from the Government. In all my 46 years in both Houses I have never heard a single Conservative criticise the Isle of Man—because they have too much to do over there and should be drawn into the United Kingdom.
§ Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish
My Lords, I am interested in the noble Lord's argument. However, does he accept that it is not home rule for Anglesey that we are considering?
§ Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos
My Lords, we are concerned with Wales, but in considering Anglesey, which is one of the finest islands around these coasts, we should also consider other islands. If the noble Lord wishes, I shall go to the Isle of Wight as well!
The referendum on our own assembly will give us the opportunity to vote yes for Wales. That will mean a bigger say in policies and in decisions that affect our lives. There is an urgent case to bring power closer to the people, from Anglesey to Gwent. This can be achieved only by an elected assembly. I know from long experience that a hard-working Member of Parliament can do much for his people, but there is a limit to what he can do if a government impose unpopular and unattractive changes in the essential fields of health, education, employment and housing. Local government has been undermined in Wales for several years, and this effects Members of Parliament. I believe that that should be considered very carefully.
Furthermore, to our deep objection, quangos have been appointed in large numbers in Wales with party political influence. These quangos need to be examined in detail, and in many, if not most, cases the operations should be transferred to an elected assembly. Hospital trusts, the WDA, the Development Board for Rural Wales, the Land Authority and all of the training and enterprise councils must be looked at in detail and, where necessary, transferred to the assembly. These are Welsh organisations that exist to serve Wales and they should be elected by the Welsh people. Is there anyone here of whatever political party who can oppose that? I do not believe that there is anyone, and here I include Members of the Conservative Party.
I admire and respect the development of a free society in England, and Welsh men and women have made their contribution to this. But what I find difficult to understand is why the English establishment in Whitehall oppose the reasonable efforts of the Welsh to establish modest progress towards devolution. Throughout the last century and up to the last war those efforts were thwarted. Our first significant achievement was the appointment of the Secretary of State and the establishment of the Welsh Office in 1964—which occurred a century later than the establishment of the Scottish Office. This has been an undoubted success. Why did we have to wait so long for so modest a step forward? We must not wait so long for an assembly whose objective is to enable the Welsh people to make their own choices and implement their own policies over a reasonable area.
1142 However, it should be made plain that Wales does not want separation from Britain. Power already resides with the Welsh Office. The object of the assembly is to make sure that the powers are accountable democratically. The Secretary of State will be a link between the assembly and the Government and there will also be a Welsh voice in the Cabinet. These are reasonable and sensible proposals which I hope that the House will support.
I regret that the speeches of some of the Opposition orators have not been of the highest standard. Mr. Michael Howard, a former Home Secretary and an able man, strained his imagination when he said:The Bill would allow one of the greatest changes in our islands history to he decided by a bare majority of Welsh and Scottish voters".—[Official Report, Commons, 21/5/97; col. 739.]The Welsh people would be stunned if they thought that they were going through one of the "greatest changes in history". The last change in our history was in 1535, and that was not great, although it was introduced by an Anglesey man; namely, Henry Tudor. I cannot therefore understand why so much fuss is being made about the modest proposed assembly.
Let me say again, it is a proposal with fewer powers than the Scottish parliament. If the Welsh referendum is allowed to take place and is positive, there will be further legislation and debate in due course. If we achieve the assembly, it will have gone through the parliamentary processes.
English people who settle in Wales are welcome. I am glad to say that they, in turn, respect our way of life. The great majority encourage their children to attend our schools and to learn Welsh. Most of them will sympathise with us in this objective. Let us in this House show that we believe in reasonable measures of reform and of democracy.
We have a long and complex journey before us over the next few months. We have the White Paper which will precede the referendum. We have legislation in due course, if the referendum so decides. We have heard a bundle of technicalities today. There were also technicalities in another place when it debated the Bill. But at the end of the day we are dealing with principle—high principle at that. The case for the Welsh and Scots to have a measure of self-government is in my view unanswerable. There is no real case against it in a civilised society.
As we proceed—and as my noble friend Lord Shore said, let us think carefully about the consequences of dismissing the wishes of Scotland and Wales—it is by being reasonable and sensible that we preserve the UK.
§ 5.32 p.m.
§ Lord Crickhowell
My Lords, 20 years ago, at about this time of year, we were debating devolution in another place. Because I follow two noble Lords from Wales who take a different view, even though I fully share that sense of national identity referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Shore, in his notable maiden speech, I shall spend just a brief time explaining why my views about that assembly have not changed fundamentally in those 20 years.
1143 The noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, was uncharacteristically fierce this afternoon. He chose to devote a large part of his speech to lecturing the Conservative Party. I shall say to him on two points that he made, first, I do not think that he need tell the Conservative Party that it has the freedom to make up its own mind on this issue, although he may have to look a little further along to the Benches close to him where the Labour Party now seems to take a rather different view. Secondly, I can agree with him entirely on what he had to say about the Welsh language. Whatever will divide us in the coming discussions, it will not be that subject.
I wish to devote a brief time—I shall return at greater length on a later occasion to exchange views with the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn—to explaining why I still remain unconvinced by the arguments in favour of an assembly. As the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, observed, for several decades now we have had a Welsh Secretary of State in the British Cabinet. I agree with him that the existence of the Welsh Office and the presence of the Welsh Secretary of State in the Cabinet have been immensely beneficial and powerful instruments for improving the economic and social well-being of the Welsh people. It is my fear that the introduction of a Welsh assembly is bound gravely to weaken those instruments without providing an adequate substitute.
The noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, referred to local government. Local government stands at the opposite end to the Cabinet and to the departments of state in our system. In my judgment—here I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn—one of the greatest mistakes made by the Conservative Administration since 1979, for which I must accept my share of responsibility, was to weaken local government. I want to reverse that trend and strengthen it, but I believe that in Wales to impose the kind of assembly that is suggested on top of it will weaken it still further, almost to the point of destruction.
There is just one other reason I shall mention today for my hostility to what is proposed: we are to have a package that would leave us with different arrangements for the government of each of the constituent parts of the United Kingdom. Those arrangements would be inherently unstable, and, because the assembly proposed would be incapable of meeting the hopes and aspirations invested in it, there would be an inevitable demand that it should be given greater and greater powers. Indeed, while saying that this need not be a slippery slope—I am prepared to accept that from the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas—he made it clear that there would indeed be further demands for greater and greater powers. We know that that is what his party will fight for. There is no reason why it should not.
§ Lord Elis-Thomas
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. The point I was trying to make was not that there would be more demands, but that the agreement of the Welsh people would be 1144 required before any of those demands could be implemented. Therefore the demands would be subject to further referendums.
§ Lord Crickhowell
My Lords, I am about to come on to the subject of the referendum. I content myself at this stage by merely saying that what is proposed will be a system that will be unstable.
Although I am against the Government's proposals for a Welsh assembly, I should be all in favour of having a referendum about them, and those for Scotland, if it were a referendum like that in 1979, held after the legislation had been presented, debated and amended in Parliament. My noble friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish has already quoted the words of Ron Davies, the Secretary of State for Wales, with which I entirely agree. Tam Dalyell, the honourable Member for Linlithgow, put it slightly differently in another place when he said that the devil was in the detail: those awkward questions that have not yet been answered about the numbers and the role of Scottish and Welsh Members of Parliament; whether the Civil Service is to be split in Scotland and Wales; how a system based on divided loyalties and responsibilities is to work; the cost; the manner in which important quangos—those referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn—all established by legislation, will operate in these new circumstances; and how their existing statutory obligations are to be amended.
"Don't worry", we are told as the Bill is indecently hurried through on the back of a House of Commons guillotine, "there will be a White Paper before Parliament rises for the Summer Recess". However, we have not yet been told how long before. I hope that today we can at least be given a specific undertaking, not only that we will have a debate before the House rises, but that there will be ample time for that debate. These issues are important and cannot be hurried through in a single day.
Even then, that will not be enough. Acts of Parliament frequently finish up in a form quite different from that envisaged in the White Papers which precede them. How can the process be adequate?—a couple of days' debate in Parliament just as the electors are off on their summer holidays. Then when they are hardly back they are asked to vote. On 22nd May Mr. Dalyell described what we are being offered as a pig in a poke. Mr. Alan Williams, the much respected Member for Swansea West, said that it could not be identified that clearly; it might be a pig, a mouse or a tiger. Mr. Rogers from the Rhondda warned of the danger that it would provoke cynicism among the electorate.
No doubt all those honourable Members were being as charitable as they could manage about the Government whom they support. I fear that I cannot be that charitable. What is proposed is little short of political chicanery. Let us be clear about what is taking place. The Government intend to rush through the Bill before they allow us to see a White Paper, let alone a draft Bill. They will then produce a White Paper, which may or may not fill in some or all of the detail. The press may or may not report what we have to say about it—it will be a rare exception to the modern rule 1145 if they do. The electors, their minds anaesthetised by sea breezes and arduous air travel, will return to cast their votes.
The Government hope, and no doubt expect, that with their own Members carefully disciplined and the Administration still basking in the goodwill of the honeymoon period, they will get their "Yes" vote. Then, when a Scotland and Wales Bill is finally brought to Parliament, we will be told that it must be hurried through without much more debate or amendment because the electorate has approved the principle, an electorate, let it be noted, confined to the Welsh and Scots who happen to live in their native countries. The rest of the population of these islands will be deprived of a vote on a measure which may have profound consequences for them all.
The Government and their supporters are not even waiting for the referendum before indulging in this game of political bullying and blackmail. Already there is a great deal of talk about the existence of an overwhelming mandate. If there were one matter on which I disagreed with the noble Lord, Lord Shore of Stepney, in his maiden speech it was his implication that even he thought that that was true. I do not dare venture to comment about the situation in Scotland, but I know a little bit about what goes on in Wales. I say to those who believe that we hardly need to debate the matter because it has already been decided, stop and think again.
I note that the debate is to be wound up by the noble Lords, Lord Williams of Mostyn and Lord Thomas of Gresford. Perhaps wisely, the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, has never fought an election in Wales. The noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, has fought a great many elections in Wales and has never won one. I have fought a good many elections in Wales and I have never lost one. During the previous referendum campaign on devolution I played a leading role and I can see why the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, was so cross and indignant about the arguments advanced on that occasion because he found himself in a tiny minority of the Welsh people when we had the vote.
It is true that at that time there were eight Conservative Members of Parliament in Wales. However, we won a little less than 24 per cent. of the vote and Labour had almost 50 per cent. Labour, Liberal and Plaid Cymru between them had then, as they have today, an overwhelming majority. However, on 1st March 1979, referendum day, that same electorate voted by a majority of more than four to one against the assembly. The then Secretary of State, now the Attorney-General, observed that if an elephant appears in your back garden you cannot fail to recognise it.
In the recent general election, the electorate decided to get rid of a Conservative Government. However, there is no evidence that what moved them to cast their votes in Wales was the promise of an assembly. It may have been different in Scotland, but in Wales the subject created minimal interest. It was totally ignored by most of the party press conferences and was not mentioned in the manifestos of a large number of Labour candidates.
1146 If your Lordships do not believe me, at least take some notice of those who won seats in Wales. Mr. Rogers told the House of Commons that he was returned to Parliament by 35,000 electors in the Rhondda, but he did not believe that any of them voted for him because they wanted a Welsh assembly. Ted Rowlands did not believe that the anti-Tory vote in Merthyr Tydfil & Rhymney represented a vote for devolution. He said that the chattering classes got it wrong last time and observed that, having campaigned for devolution on that occasion and voted for it in the referendum, it was a painful process to find himself so overwhelmingly in a minority among his constituents. In recent weeks, a number of surveys in Wales have provided evidence that no one should confidently invoke the argument that the result of the general election has provided a massive mandate for a Welsh assembly.
There are grave risks in pushing this devolution legislation through without the most thorough examination. It was the long weeks of painstaking parliamentary examination last time that exposed an army of devils in the detail. If we do not remove them this time, they will come back to torment us for years to come.
Surely, one issue must be addressed before the referendums Bill leaves this House. It was referred to by my noble friends Lord Mackay of Ardhrecknish and Lord Campbell of Croy. If this inadequate pre-legislative referendums Bill is to pass, we must at the least accept the firm advice of Sir Patrick Nairne and Mr. David Butler, chairman and vice-chairman of the Commission on the Conduct of Referendums, set out in a letter to The Times on 11th June that every household should receive a publicly funded leaflet giving general information and statements on the "yes" and "no" cases; and that broadcasters should be encouraged to set out the arguments for each option in the referendum with a balance maintained between the "yes" and "no" viewpoints. The thorough report of the Institute of Welsh Affairs, The Road to the Referendum, makes exactly the same recommendation.
It is a particularly vital requirement in Wales where up to one-third of the population receive their terrestrial television channels from English receivers and only 13 per cent. of the population read either of the two Welsh daily morning newspapers. The question should not divide us on party lines. Mr. Alan Williams made the same point cogently and well in another place on 22nd May. The noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, in his maiden speech made the same point and gave support to the issue. Surely there must be many Members on the Benches opposite and alongside the noble Lord, Lord Steel, who share that view and agree that, if we are to have referendums on constitutional issues, we must have proper ground rules. If the Government fail to meet us on that fundamental requirement, I can only conclude that we are confronted with a very serious abuse of parliamentary power and it is an issue on which this House should stand and fight.
§ 5.50 p.m.
§ Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale
My Lords, we have before us for Second Reading of the Referendums (Scotland and Wales) Bill which is commendably short—six clauses and two schedules—and admirably concise. I shall speak mainly about Scotland only because that is what I know best and not out of lack of affection for Wales.
First, however, I should like to add my voice to the congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, and my noble friend Lord Shore of Stepney on outstanding maiden speeches. They come to this House as distinguished parliamentarians and I know that we all look forward to their future contributions.
It is a particular pleasure for me to find myself in the same debating Chamber as the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, for two reasons: first, because we were both active in Scottish student politics and, indeed, were office bearers in the Scottish Union of Students from our respective universities—I shall not specify dates; and secondly, because I have very recently joined the noble Lord as his new co-chair of the Scottish Constitutional Convention. It is a privilege to join him and a privilege also to succeed my very able predecessor, my noble friend Lord Ewing of Kirkford.
I return to the Bill before us. I am sure I am not alone in Scotland in wondering how such a straightforward proposal to consult the people in Scotland can unleash such a wide variety of queries and criticisms. Scrutiny, on which this House rightly prides itself, is about constructive criticism. It would do no credit to this House to dress up as scrutiny what are attempts to wreck the enterprise.
The noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, found great entertainment in giving a list of quotations from leading Labour figures who, over the years, had different views on devolution. I must say to the noble Lord that that is a very dangerous road for him to go down.
§ Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish
My Lords, the noble Baroness should recall my speech more accurately. Like the Minister, I never mentioned devolution in any great detail at all. The quotes that I gave were all about referendums, not about devolution.
§ Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale
My Lords, the implication from the noble Lord was that the Labour Party and its leadership had kept changing its mind as to how it was to achieve a Scottish assembly. Referendums are a part of how that is to be achieved. Therefore, he was making the point that members of the Labour Party were changing their minds about how devolution was to be achieved. What I was going to say, as the noble Lord well knows, is that there are many leading Conservatives, including ex-Ministers, who can easily be quoted as having changed their minds just as radically on devolution and how to achieve it.
I shall not trade quotation for quotation with the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, but I shall merely give one quotation. The noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, 1148 quoted Mr. Malcolm Rifkind. I particularly like a quotation that Mr. Malcolm Rifkind made in another place in December 1976 when he was discussing devolution. He quoted Victor Hugo as saying that nothing is so powerful as an idea whose time has come. That is very, very true and I agree with that.
Some people have questioned the need for a referendum at all, especially after the results of the election when the two parties committed to establishing a devolved parliament for Scotland won 66 out of 72 seats; the party advocating independence took six seats; and the party supporting the status quo won no seats at all.
As I said in my speech on the Address, I believe that it is quite right that people living in Scotland should nevertheless be consulted specifically on such an important single issue. I think it right in principle and I think it right politically in order to put beyond argument that a parliament with tax-varying powers is wanted by the people in Scotland.
Of course, it was a specific manifesto commitment by the Labour Party which the Government are quite rightly honouring to the letter. Let us be quite clear what that commitment was. It was:We will enact legislation to allow the people of Scotland and Wales to vote in separate referendums on our proposals, which will be set out in White Papers. The referendums will take place no later than the autumn of 1997. A simple majority of those voting in each referendum will he the majority required".Some have argued that the referendums Bill should not be considered before the White Papers are published. I cannot understand that because, with respect, that is what I would call a confusion in thinking. The White Papers, with their detailed proposals, will be published before the House rises for the Summer Recess and well in advance of the autumn referendums. This Bill establishes the mechanism for the will of the people in Scotland and Wales to be expressed in the autumn. The Bill is designed to give the voters in Scotland and Wales an opportunity to vote on the proposals for devolution as promised in the manifesto. I should add in parenthesis that it is not to hold a plebiscite on any other proposals such as independence.
This House, like another place, will have an opportunity to debate the Scotland Bill when it is before us. In the context of this Bill, we should look only at the principle of consulting the Scottish people. I consider that the proposals for doing that in this Bill are as simple, clear and fair as possible.
The questions are laid out in a way which is easily understood and should avoid ambiguity. They have been arrived at after advice from returning officers and other experts on the form and wording.
The franchise is to be those eligible to vote in local government elections. I find it quite right that residency should be the requirement and not ethnicity. The rationale of those living in a place deciding how it should be administered seems fairly self-evident to me 1149 and is indeed why we have the local government franchise in its present form. I see that the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, wishes to interrupt.
§ Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for giving way. I do not want to make this look like Glasgow University a few years ago when the noble Baroness and I debated there.
As far as I understand it, the parliamentary franchise is not based on ethnicity either. If the noble Baroness is telling me that it is based on ethnicity, she is saying something quite new and radical. My understanding is that it is not.
§ Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale
My Lords, the noble Lord has just anticipated my next sentence. I find it preferable to the alternative of the parliamentary franchise because I find nothing objectionable in allowing 123 resident Peers the vote, nor the 12,000 European nationals, nor in excluding the 1,500 voters who are resident overseas.
I also do not wish to make this appear like it was some years ago but the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, named me as an example of someone who, when I was serving abroad in the Diplomatic Service, would not have had a vote because I would not have been on the local register for local government elections. I am sorry to spoil his fun on that but that is not the case. When I was abroad for the Diplomatic Service, I could vote in local elections through a proxy. That would apply wherever I had had my last residence. If that had been Scotland, then it would have applied in Scotland.
As to why other voters in the United Kingdom should not be included, the answer is simple. The question of whether there should be a Scottish parliament is primarily for the people in Scotland, and similarly in Wales. The details of the proposals will be open for debate by all the Members of both Houses of the UK Parliament during the passage of the main devolution Bills.
There has been much talk of introducing a requirement for a fixed proportion of voters to participate in a Scottish referendum before the result should be considered valid. The banner headline on the front page of my Scottish newspaper only last Sunday was,Tory Lords plan new hurdle for home rule",and was full of quotes about voting thresholds. I know not to believe all that I read in newspaper reports, and I shall rely on what noble Lords opposite say in this House. But, in fact, they have said enough both in speeches on the humble Address and also already today to give some credence to that headline. I shall repeat a point which I made in my speech on the humble Address. The Scottish people will rightly take it amiss if threshold requirements on voting are imposed on their referendum which are not used in any other voting situation in the United Kingdom, and which were only introduced in the 1979 referendum by those opposed to devolution.
1150 It will be suspected, with considerable justification, that precisely the same wrecking motivation is at work again. I hope for a very high vote indeed and for an affirmative result, but I could not be more opposed in principle to the introduction of those so-called "fancy franchises", thought up in desperation by those who fear the result will indeed be affirmative on both questions.
I shall be in Scotland working hard for a maximum turnout and an affirmative vote. However, I have to say that I can never understand the logic of allowing, in any ballot, those who are either too apathetic to vote or abstain for other reasons, to affect the decision taken. I am therefore in principle against thresholds in democracies where everyone has the opportunity to vote. I believe that the British tradition of not having them is entirely correct.
Finally, I appeal to this House, especially at this stage of Second Reading and before the Committee stage, to consider carefully how it handles the Bill. It is an opportunity to display to the people in Scotland, and in Wales, the wisdom and objectivity on which this House prides itself. It would indeed be a pity if that reputation were to suffer because the Bill was seen to be treated in a partisan manner and subjected to undue delay. This is a very important Bill, but it is a very short one with a clear and precise aim: to consult the people. That can surely not be wrong.
§ 6.3 p.m.
My Lords, the noble Baroness rightly said that she welcomes constructive criticism. Perhaps I many remind her that we have already had plenty of valuable constructive criticism in today's debate from my noble friends Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, Lord Campbell of Croy and Lord Crickhowell, all of whom speak with tremendous knowledge on the subject. The noble Baroness also said that the people of Scotland should be consulted and, of course, we all agree with her. However, what proportion of them should be required to approve a major constitutional change like that envisaged by the Bill? Surely it should be at least 50 per cent. and not merely the kind of result that we had in the referendum on the Scotland Act 1978, when I believe only 36 per cent. voted in favour, although that was more than half the votes polled. Nevertheless, that is not good enough.
The speeches to which I have already referred made by my noble friends enable me to shorten my contribution. However, before I go any further, I have three confessions to make. First, although I was born in Kent, am a member of the English Bar and have fought and won 10 general elections in Huntingdonshire, I am proud to say that I am more than half Scottish. I shall, therefore, confine my remarks to the Scottish situation under the Bill.
I turn now to my second confession. I must say that the delightful maiden speech of the noble Lord. Lord Steel of Aikwood, has tempted me to make this confession. I. too, was born a Liberal but like my noble friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish and the great Sir Winston Churchill, I became a Conservative. My third and last confession is that I am the only speaker in 1151 today's debate who was a member of the Royal Commission on the Constitution which sat for four years. I served upon it for the last three years and was put on it when Lord Selwyn-Lloyd was made Speaker of the other place. I was on it when decisions were taken, and I am sorry to have to tell your Lordships that I disagreed with all the other members of the commission, all of whom wanted legislative and executive devolution for Scotland on a considerable scale. I personally favoured the setting up, as recommended by the late Lord Home, of a deliberative assembly for Scotland with limited legislative powers over secondary legislation, with Committee stages of Scottish Bills being taken before that assembly but with Westminster having the last word.
Having made those confessions, perhaps I may now make my few comments on the Bill. I agree with those speakers who have already said that it is wrong in principle because it proposes pre-legislative referendums. I suggest that these are wrong because Parliament has, and should have, constitutional expertise and responsibility which we cannot expect the great mass of voters to have in sufficient numbers. The great mass of voters—the people—should be consulted and given a chance to decide, but on proposals already approved by Parliament and not merely promised for the future.
We really should not be asked to provide for holding referendums without our deciding the constitutional outcome of voting in favour of them. All we are told on this occasion—and this is different from all the previous occasions—is that a White Paper will be produced after the Bill is passed and that we may have a chance to debate it. However, a White Paper is not part of our law. Moreover, when it is said to take the place of a code of practice, which has been mentioned on behalf of the Government, we must remember that normally a code of practice is not part of our law unless it is approved by Parliament as secondary legislation.
We are told that, if the voters decide that there should be a Scots parliament with perhaps tax-varying powers, we shall have legislation to implement the White Paper. But if after full discussion in both Houses of Parliament—assuming that that takes place—it is found, on reflection, that the White Paper contains some principles which are unsound or unworkable, the later Bill would have to depart from the proposals in the White Paper. The result of that would be that the people of Scotland would have voted for the devolution suggested on one assumption—the assumption in the White Paper—but Parliament later would be asked to implement it on a different assumption, an assumption based on the changes from the White Paper. In other words, the Scottish people would then have been misled. That is another reason why pre-legislative referundums are unconstitutional and, I suggest, undemocratic.
I am glad that the Government have decided to keep the Scottish Office. It does splendid work and it is based mainly in Scotland, but of course it also has its presence in Whitehall, and that enables the Westminster 1152 Parliament to be kept fully in touch with Scottish affairs. Would it not be much better, in the light of what I have been trying to put before your Lordships, to make that clear in a Bill introduced before the referendum, setting out the exact division of responsibilities of the Scottish Office? Those responsibilities will be divided under the scheme proposed by the Government. Those responsibilities will be partly vis-à-vis a Scottish Parliament and partly vis-à-vis Westminster. That should be made abundantly clear.
We have a duty to revise and improve legislation sent to us from another place. I hope that we shall do so on this Bill, especially in the ways already mentioned by my noble friends.
In conclusion, we live in a progressive society in which we have experienced since the war continuous change. But in a matter of such great democratic importance as devolution, we should observe the fundamental principle—I believe that it is a good Conservative principle—that if change is not necessary or is not wanted by the people, it is necessary not to change.
§ 6.13 p.m.
§ Lord Hooson
My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Renton, but at the outset of his remarks when he referred to the possible threshold for a vote, I could not help reflecting on the fact that when the government of the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, were elected in 1979 I believe they obtained 35 per cent. of the vote of this country. Everyone on the Conservative Benches extols the revolution she wrought with that government, but where would they have been if there had been a threshold?
I must apologise for the absence of my noble friend Lord Geraint, of Ponterwyd, who is the embodiment of Welshness. He has been devoted to devolution throughout his life but, alas, he was taken ill when we were travelling home last weekend and he is in hospital. However, I am glad to say that he seems to be well treated and I hope that he is recovering. His position is very much like mine because I have always been in favour of devolution. He, like me, is prepared to go much further on this issue than the Government. However, we wholeheartedly support the Government and commend them on this Bill. I hope that it will lead to Wales, for the first time in the whole of its history, having a directly, democratically elected national political body. No one can underestimate the importance of that for the future welfare of the people of Wales. I hope that all who believe in Wales having a greater say in its own affairs, or in having a body which will be trusted, and which can gradually get rid of most, if not all, of those executive appointed quangos which now so dominate, and in some cases distort, in an entirely undemocratic way, the life of the Principality, will combine to support this move. When I say "distort" I think one of the great problems of quangos, particularly when they are remote from the people, is that they distort the priorities of ordinary people in their areas.
1153 I understand that my old friend Sir Wyn Roberts, who rendered signal service to Wales for many years as Minister of State at the Welsh Office, has apparently opined that he would support an assembly for Wales if it had tax-raising powers. Like him, I should like to see an assembly with such tax-raising powers for it would greatly increase the responsibility of its members. But such a preference is no excuse whatsoever for not supporting this measure or the proposed assembly.
I believe Mr. Peter Hain, the Under-Secretary at the Welsh Office, was quite right when he said during the Second Reading debate in another place,If Wales votes no to devolution for the second time in a generation. Wales can kiss goodbye to devolution. That is the blunt truth".—[Official Report, Commons, 22/5/97; col. 854.]I think that is right. Party differences and loyalty should be set aside if necessary in the greater interest of the Welsh people. Labour is the dominant party in Wales and that is as far as it will go when it faces reality. The noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, mentioned with approval people he does not normally mention with approval; that is, members of Old Labour with huge majorities in Wales who are against devolution. However, I believe that he could not refer to any members of New Labour who are against it.
The tone of the official Conservative Opposition on this issue is, to put it mildly, somewhat pathetic. They seem to be trying to fight yesterday's battle, for the country, whether we like it or not, has given the Government a clear mandate for their purpose—nowhere so clearly as in Wales and Scotland, but also (let us not forget this) in England too. I am delighted to learn that some eminent Conservatives have already clearly demonstrated their acceptance of the view so poetically expressed in The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám,The moving finger having writ moves on and never once returns".Thus, the noble Viscount, Lord St. Davids, the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths of Fforestfach, Mr. Tristan Garel-Jones, all eminent Welshmen, and Sir Edward Heath, a distinguished former Prime Minister, to mention a few, have already disapproved of the continued anti-devolution stand of their own party, and have indicated that a much more constructive and forward-looking approach is necessary.
I wish to make a few points on issues which have been raised during this debate, but in particular in a debate on the loyal Address. I am generally against referendums of any kind save where there is an irrevocable major change to our constitution. No act of devolution is a major constitutional change because the sovereign power rests in the devolving body and can be returned to it at any time. Therefore this is not such an occasion. If the Government had not promised a referendum in their manifesto I would have said that they clearly had a sufficient mandate to go ahead with their devolution proceedings.
Equally I think it is bunkum to suggest the referendum should involve the electorate of the whole of the United Kingdom. That is a purely wrecking approach. If I may say so, so many of the arguments I have heard today are ingenious debating hurdles that 1154 one hears in a debating society and do not reflect a pragmatic realistic approach. This is a party that has won an election with devolution as part of its programme and we are now facing the reality. Did any Conservative ever suggest that a referendum on the future of Northern Ireland, for example, should involve the whole of the electorate of the Republic of Ireland as well as Ulster? I see the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, restive in his seat; I come to what he said in the debate on the Queen's Speech. After all, Ireland was one country until the early 1920s. He argued that devolution affects England as well as Scotland and Wales. I shall give way to the noble Lord in a moment. He referred to the Wilsonian principle of national self-determination when he advocated English participation in the referendum. He should consider carefully what that involves. If that principle were applied to England in relation to Scotland and Wales, surely it should apply to the whole of Ireland in relation to Ulster.
§ Lord Beloff
My Lords, I had the impression from the statements by the Irish Government ever since 1922, and perhaps even more so since it ceased to be part of the Commonwealth, that the Republic of Ireland is a foreign country. For the inhabitants of a foreign country to take part in a referendum in another country would indeed he a major departure in international law. Belgium, for instance, has referendums. No one suggests that we, the Scots, the Welsh or anyone else should take part in their referendums.
§ Lord Hooson
My Lords, I hear what the noble Lord says but he does not convince me. However, I shall leave the point for the moment.
To suggest that the referendums Bill is a major constitutional issue is nonsense. The Bill is an enabling Bill to permit referendums to be held in Scotland and Wales in order for the view to be expressed as to whether those people want Parliament to entertain prospective Bills as outlined in the White Papers which will be presented before the votes on the referendums take place. The Bill simply deals with the mechanics of the operation, as Mr. Dewar rightly said in another place.
It seems to me regrettable that the official Conservative Opposition seem to have adopted the view that they must try to frighten the people of Wales, Scotland and England with unsustainable arguments about the possible break-up of the United Kingdom to match the perceived threat by many of the Eurosceptics of a parallel threat from the European Community. They hope to organise a new base for the Conservative Party in Wales and Scotland on the backs of the "no" campaign, as they did in 1979. It has always been my view that the referendum was introduced into this country by the late Lord Wilson when he was Prime Minister to get himself off a political hook regarding disagreements within his own party on Europe. The Labour Party resorted to referendums on devolution in Scotland and Wales in 1979 at a time when the then Labour Government were extremely unpopular. They were an unpopular government; and we saw people campaigning within the Labour Party against the 1155 Government because they sought to anticipate what they considered was the inevitable fall of the Callaghan Government. That distorted the result of the referendums in both Scotland and Wales.
I believe that the Scottish parliament and the Welsh assembly will prove to be interesting guinea-pigs for future devolution and will be keenly observed. There has been a great deal of devolution in Europe already. A noble Lord on the opposite Benches adverted to the development in post-war Germany of legislative and administrative devolution. We have had a great deal of administrative devolution in France. Under the Conservative Government we have had a great deal of administrative devolution within England. People tend not to remember that.
A Question for Written Answer which I put down was answered on 20th March 1997 by the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers. It asked about the progress made on the integrated regional government offices in England. Ten regional centres with integrated civil servants, including the Departments of the Environment, Trade and Industry, Transport and Education and Employment were established in April 1994. The average staff levels on 20th March 1997 was 258 per centre. That approaches the number of civil servants in Wales before a Secretary of State for Wales was established. So the administrative devolution is already happening within England, and I believe that it will continue. It will be interesting to note the experience and effectiveness in Scotland of a legislative-making body, a parliament for Scotland, compared with an administrative, supervisory devolved body in Wales with regard to the principle of subsidiarity as more and more powers are taken in Europe. It will be interesting to see which affords the best guide to the future form of government in this country.
I wish to quote from a document entitled The Implications of a Welsh Assembly published by the Welsh Local Government Association. I agree with its assessment of the situation. However, it said this, and I have extreme doubts about it:One practical means of encouraging partnership—that is, partnership between assembly and local government—would be in allowing dual membership of both local authorities and the Assembly. Such a facility is common and well used in other democracies".I have considerable doubts—and I mention them at this stage because I believe that the Government should give a little more thought to the matter—about whether it would be good for Wales that members of the local government above community council level should be allowed to be members of the Welsh assembly. I can see arguments in favour, but I can see many arguments against.
I conclude with a cautionary tale. Already noble Lords have referred to the fact that Scotland had a Secretary of State established in, I think, 1885. Wales did not have a Secretary of State until 1964. Wales could have had a Secretary of State much earlier. One of my great heroes in life was David Lloyd George. When he was at the height 1156 of his power as Prime Minister of a coalition government, he was approached by a Welsh delegation in 1920 requesting a Secretary of State for Wales. Lloyd George, then at the height of his influence and power, could have granted that request. He turned it down and said, "For heaven's sake, don't bother with that. Go for the big thing"; that is, home rule! It took another 45 years to establish a Secretary of State for Wales!
There are people in Wales who argue today, "Don't bother with an assembly. Be in favour of a Welsh parliament or nothing". We must take what we can realistically achieve from the elected Government. The Government have put forward a practical, sensible proposal bearing in mind the difference in the history of Scotland and Wales; and if we were to have a directly elected assembly, it would be an important step for Wales.
§ 6.29 p.m.
§ Baroness Carnegy of Lour
My Lords, Scottish Office Ministers and, as the noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay, said, the Scottish press, have been making somewhat threatening noises about how this House will try to block the Bill, and the dreadful fate that awaits us if we do. Unlike the noble Baroness, it seems to me that the speeches today have demonstrated that we shall perform our usual role of looking carefully at the referendums Bill line by line to ensure that it is appropriate to its purpose and will be workable in practice.
I believe that the sort of devolution the Government have so far outlined—particularly the devolution for Scotland, about which I shall mainly speak—will mean such big changes for so many people and for so many areas of public life, industry and commerce in Scotland that it is justifiable on this occasion to hold a referendum, although I take the point from my noble friend Lord Mackay that it is a pity that we do not have the frame of a referendum Act within which to form the legislation.
I believe it is a mistake to ask people to vote, as other noble Lords have said, before they know with any accuracy what they are about. My reason is that given by the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell. If the vote based on the White Paper is "Yes", but the legislation that results from Parliament's scrutiny turns out to be somewhat different, it could lead to a lot of dissatisfaction afterwards. Post-legislation referendums would certainly be wiser and very much more democratic; but the measure before us, for good or ill, provides for voting on a White Paper.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, that in looking at this Bill we must bear in mind the outcome of the general election in Scotland, and indeed in Wales. Such was the nature of the election campaign north of the Border—from my experience on the doorsteps I believe that the situation was rather different to that in Wales described by the noble Lord. Lord Crickhowell—there can be little doubt that virtually all Labour and Liberal Democrat voters, who formed some 60 per cent. of the total vote in Scotland, knew that they were voting for a package that contained some sort of referendum on some sort of parliament. Polls show that a considerable 1157 proportion of the 17½, per cent. who voted Scottish Conservative were in favour of devolution of some kind. It seems likely that the majority of the Scottish National Party voters, who formed 22 per cent. of the poll, knew that their party supports a referendum and a Scots parliament as a good way to hasten independence. One can therefore say that probably some 80 per cent. of voters in Scotland have consciously declared themselves in general favour of a referendum and a devolved parliament which might or might not have tax-raising powers.
At the same time it is extremely important to remember, so far as Scotland is concerned, that it is only the idea of a referendum, on the idea of a Scots parliament, which has so far been endorsed by the 80 per cent. The more thoughtful voters, the more interested, the politically active, were aware during the general election of some of the Government's likely plans and of the pros and cons. But most people have given little thought as yet to the implications for them personally, for their families, for Scotland's clout within the United Kingdom and in Europe. They have not so far thought much at all about the difference between having a parliament that could raise extra taxes in Scotland and one that could not. They have not been able to think, because enough information has not so far been available, there as to the implications of each alternative sort of parliament: for jobs; for the Scots economy; for schools, colleges and the Scottish universities; for the health service; for the power of the unions; or for getting the best for Scotland at Westminster, where the most important decisions of all will still lie.
Everyone knows what the parliament's proposed meeting place, at the Royal High School in Edinburgh, looks like. Most have not formed any picture at all as to how the parliament would operate, which parts of Scotland would have the biggest say, what the parliament would be able to do, and not do, and what it would cost. And of course information gathering has not been helped very much by the brevity—a total of three days—and indeed the style of the passing of this Bill through another place.
It is now, therefore, the very important job of this House to ensure that this Bill gives the people of Scotland and Wales a proper chance to look precisely at what the Government's proposals are, a proper chance to discuss them, to hear the views of local government in Scotland, and of industry, the health service, schools, colleges, universities and lawyers. We in this House must, so far as is possible, ensure that people vote knowing what they are about and that the outcome properly reflects what the true majority want. We should do this by looking in some detail at the Bill, not merely at what is included but at what is left out, always with an eye to workability and fairness.
The Government's majority being what it is, and with no Scots or Welsh MPs in the main Opposition party in another place, the Cabinet is likely to pay good attention to carefully reasoned and informed arguments from this House, whether we divide on amendments or not. And 1158 with so many Scots MPs in key positions in the Cabinet, they will know a good argument for Scotland when they read it.
As the House works on the Bill, a number of important questions have to be asked. Other speakers touched on the question as to how the proposals in the White Paper are to become properly known to referendum voters. Will each receive a summary through the post? I hope that the noble Lord who will reply will tell us the answer to that. It is a very important point. What is the intended space between the publication of the White Paper and the date of the referendum? We must bear in mind the holiday dates in Scotland. From the beginning of July we shall all be on holiday, and therefore when Parliament rises and no doubt when the White Paper is published; and holidays in Scotland end in the third week of August. Will the various organisations that will be most affected, and which can best advise voters—the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities; the Law Society of Scotland; the Faculty of Advocates; employers' organisations; the unions; health service professionals; and the universities and colleges—have time to form an opinion and comment on the White Paper for the purpose of advising referendum voters?
How can Parliament ensure that the referendums are the proper expression of majority opinion? We have heard disparaging remarks about "fancy thresholds". We have a right to know how much weight should be given to, say, a "Yes" vote by 16 per cent. on a turnout of 30 per cent. What do the Government mean by "a positive outcome"? I hope the noble Lord in replying will tell the House what is meant by that. Should a proposal be written into the Bill? Another important question is: should the ballot paper indicate that the proposals have not yet been scrutinised by Parliament and warn people that they might change? Should the Bill provide for a second referendum on what Parliament eventually decides? And, as my noble friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, suggested, would the expression of opinion in Scotland be clearer if a third option on independence were added to the ballot paper? That would separate the reasons why people are voting as they are.
Careful, informed, constructive examination of the Bill is what is called for. I believe that there has not been enough of that so far in Parliament. Without it, the referendum project will do more harm than good. I hope very much that, to begin with, the House will give the Bill a Second Reading.
§ 6.40 p.m.
§ Lord Ewing of Kirkford
My Lords, there was a refreshing reality about the first two or three minutes of the speech of the noble Baroness. One of the first speakers from the Conservative Opposition Benches has finally accepted that the Conservative Party has massively lost the election and that we now have in power a Labour Government who were elected on a mandate with a specific promise in the election manifesto to put to the people of Scotland and Wales the proposals that your Lordships' House is now discussing. 1159 I shall follow the advice of my noble friend Lord Sewel and not wander into the devolution argument which will take place when primary legislation to establish a parliament in Scotland on the one hand and an assembly in Wales on the other is put before your Lordships' House. I was grateful for the concise way in which my noble friend introduced this short but important Bill.
I say at once in relation to the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, that whichever party won the election, we were going into a period of referendums. The Conservative Party had—I do not know whether it still has—a commitment to referendums on various aspects of policy. There was no question that, had the Conservative Party won the election, a generic Bill dealing with referendums would have been introduced. It is only when Labour comes to power that, looking for obstacles to place in the way of a Labour Government honouring their promise to the people who elected them, issues are raised that we should have this generic piece of legislation that covers all referendums.
I say that because I hope that I am generous in my praise where it is deserved. In my view, the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, made an outstanding speech. In my innocence—because I am an innocent chap—I could easily have been deceived into believing that the Conservative Party in Scotland was united on the issue. Then, as the noble Lord went through the various aspects of his speech, I pictured Arthur Bell making the speech from the Opposition Dispatch Box. I can tell noble Lords opposite that Arthur Bell, a leading Conservative, would have made a totally different speech from that made by the noble Lord, Lord Mackay. Then my mind drifted to Brian Meek and I pictured him making the speech from the Opposition Dispatch Box—a totally different speech, had it fallen from his lips. I suspect that at the moment the Tory Party in Scotland is agonising over the issue. Malcolm Rifkind has changed his mind for the fourth or fifth time. He is now on record, three weeks after the general election, as saying that devolution would not lead to the break-up of the United Kingdom.
Here I pick up a point ably made by my noble friend Lord Shore in an outstanding maiden speech. He said that there was every possibility that devolution would bring the United Kingdom together again. As I said in my speech on the loyal Address, there is evidence that the United Kingdom has already broken up. That is the issue before us.
I enjoyed the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Steel, and was grateful to him and my noble friend Lady Ramsay for their kind comments about myself. I wish my noble friend well in her role as co-chair of the Scottish Constitutional Convention. I was glad that the noble Lord, Lord Steel, mentioned the past of the noble Lord, Lord Mackay. I still have a wonderful picture in my press cuttings at the time of the election address of the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, for the Argyll constituency at both the 1964 and 1966 general elections. The picture showed the noble Lord, Lord Steel, at one end of a fishing boat, with the rod hanging over the side and the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, at the 1160 other end of the boat with his rod hanging over the side. There he was, the Liberal candidate in Argyll in 1964 and 1966. All right, he did not win. But then an interesting sequence of events took place. He left the Liberal Party and joined the Conservative Party. Talk about a misguided youth! He joined the Conservative Party and eventually became a Conservative candidate in Argyll. Surprise, surprise, he won, only to be defeated at the next election by the Liberal candidate. Anyone who can get themselves into such a confused position will have great difficulty understanding not only the referendum Bill but the devolution Bill when it comes before your Lordships' House.
The noble Lord, Lord Mackay, is about to correct me, he fought two parliaments before he was turfed out. Whatever happened, he came here long before he planned.
§ Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish
My Lords, as the noble Lord seems to disapprove of people changing their minds and thinks they are confused, I take it that he does not approve of one of the junior Ministers at the Department of Education in the current Government, Mr. Alan Howarth.
§ Lord Ewing of Kirkford
My Lords, the noble Lord is tempting me but I shall not go down that road. The number of times my honesty and frankness get me into trouble is nobody's business! I shall certainly not go down that road.
The referendum legislation is before your Lordships' House. The noble Lord, Lord Mackay, challenged me to say whether I had found a lifeboat after my resignation from the Scottish Constitutional Convention because of the referendum. I have not found a lifeboat, I am not a convert to referendums. I do not like the idea, I believe that it is alien to our parliamentary system. But I have got my eye on one target only—the creation of a Scottish parliament. If this is the route that has been chosen, then I shall make sure so far as I possibly can that the route is followed and my long-held ambition is realised with the creation of a Scottish parliament.
I do not intend to detain your Lordships much longer, I shall just mention one or two other issues. The whole question of the threshold is, in my view, one of the most dangerous introductions to the democratic process that one could engineer. As my noble friend Lady Ramsay said, we should never allow the 1979 situation to repeat itself, where those who sat at home had more influence than those who took the trouble to go out and vote. I said during the campaign, and was contradicted time and time again, that every person who did not vote was counted as a "no" vote. We were destined to lose that referendum: it would have been a miracle if we had won it with the 40 per cent. rule introduced by George Cunningham. Incidentally, he was the Member for Islington, which has been in the news a lot lately.
Should the SNP campaign? I am on record as saying that it should not. At the last referendum, one of the big problems that we had was that every time the SNP said: "Vote for this because it is the first step on the road to separation", it switched off 10,000 votes. I say again that I would not worry one bit if the SNP sat at home 1161 and did not become involved in the referendum campaign. I believe that it damaged the campaign and would damage it yet again.
Should there be a question on independence? The answer is no, so far as I am concerned. In the seven elections that I have fought—not as many as some Members of your Lordships' House—the one thing that has been clear in Scotland is that, if you voted for the SNP, you were voting for independence. The SNP has never collected more than 28 per cent. of the vote. What appears to be being suggested is that, having failed to persuade the electorate in a general election, the SNP now says, "Let us try another method. Let us try to persuade the people in a referendum". Everyone who has been involved in referendum campaigns in the past, knows that to add more questions adds more confusion.
My final word is this, and I say it as gently as I possibly can. As the debate developed this afternoon, rightly or wrongly—I hope wrongly—I had the feeling that there is developing a determination to deny the people of Scotland and Wales what the people of Scotland and Wales wish. I hope that I am wrong. If I am right, I say, with great respect to every Member of your Lordships' House here today, that we are playing with political dynamite. On our heads would be a horrendous responsibility for the problems that such denial would cause to the democratic institutions throughout this country.
Therefore I plead—I have more than enough confidence in your Lordships' House—that we scrutinise the legislation and do our job properly. I do not enjoy Members of another place referring to the Upper House in a threatening manner. When they do that they compromise the position of the Government Ministers here in your Lordships' Chamber. The day will come—sooner rather than later—when your Lordships' House will have to be used to introduce amendments to legislation that the other place does not get right. They should therefore stop the nonsense of threatening it.
However, we too have a responsibility; that is, to be responsible. That is all I ask. I wish the Bill every speed on to the statute book; through with the referendums and then on to the real business—the creation of a parliament for Scotland and an assembly for Wales.
§ Baroness Carnegy of Lour
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, perhaps I may ask him a question in relation to thresholds. He has thought long and hard about these matters. Would he think that on a turnout of 30 per cent., 16 per cent. voting yes is something that should be given full weight by Parliament? I should be interested to know what he thinks about that.
§ Lord Ewing of Kirkford
My Lords, it would be much more dramatic to talk about a turnout of 10 per cent. I have noticed these figures flying about; I noticed the noble Lord's article in the Glasgow Herald. But it will be a much bigger turnout than 30 per cent. There was a turnout of 62 per cent. in the 1979 referendum and we have had 18 years of Tory 1162 government since then. I can assure noble Lords opposite that that is enough to put another 30 per cent. on any vote.
§ 6.54 p.m.
§ Lord Stanley of Alderley
My Lords, although I have lived and worked in Anglesey for 51 years, I realise that, like my dog, I am a mongrel. The male branch of my family only came to Wales in the 18th century and, although the female side came many centuries before that, I gather that they do not count.
When a similar Bill was discussed in your Lordships' House on 23rd May 1978, I expressed my dislike of it, as did the Welsh electorate to the tune of four to one. I see no reason to change my mind. But more importantly, I find the way that the Government are rushing this Bill through, without giving details of what a Welsh assembly might or might not do, to be intolerable and indeed insulting to the Welsh electorate. Despite what the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, said, how can I decide to vote when I do not know what the Welsh assembly may or may not do?
I suppose the Government have done this because they know that they will get a South Wales, socialist-dominated assembly. I accept that the instinctive reaction to the question, "Do the Welsh want a Welsh assembly?", is likely to be, "It would be good for Wales". But if asked "Why?" and, more importantly, "What will a Welsh assembly achieve?", the answer I hope will change. What the Government are proposing reminds me of the words of the song that went, "We don't know where we're going 'til we're there". That may be a wise and kind thing to say or sing in the war: it is certainly not for peacetime constitutional reform.
In line with the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Shore, I suggest that it is up to the Government to spell out now where they think we are going and what the Welsh assembly will do. It is not good enough to say that all will be revealed in a White Paper. Who has ever read a White Paper, let alone understood one? Like other noble Lords I ask: when will we get the White Paper? Will it be free? And, most important of all, will it be sent to every eligible voter? White Papers should be discussed in Parliament and dissected in Committee and by the press.
I am saddened that the Government have forbidden their party to put the opposite view. I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, that no Conservative Chief Whip would ever dare to take such an attitude. Indeed, not even my family in its most autocratic and arrogant state would ever have forbidden the hearing of a contrary view; and to state, as did the Lord Privy Seal, that the Welsh want a Welsh assembly because most of them voted for the Labour Party at the general election, is being more than economical with the truth.
It is your Lordships' duty to pose the questions that must be answered in detail before this Bill leaves your Lordships' House. They should include the following. In common with many other noble Lords, I suggest that there should be a minimum turnout requirement. Following the line of my noble friend Lord Mackay, I ask who will be allowed to vote and whether postal 1163 votes will be allowed. In my opinion, giving ex-pat Welsh a vote would be a mistake. It is as mistaken as suggesting that those who live and work outside Wales should not have the same voting rights as I do because they only turn up for the odd weekend—usually to tell me how to run my farm. I thought for a moment that the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, was going to suggest that weekenders should not be allowed to vote; perhaps I misunderstood him.
I must disagree once again with the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas. What method of voting will be used? Will it be first-past-the-post or PR? Regardless of which method is used, North Wales will be dominated by the more populated South Wales, apart from the technical difficulty of getting from north to south. Moreover, if a South Wales, Labour Party-dominated Welsh assembly is to be put in control of the cash or of distributing or being in charge of anything, the fragile relationship—again I am sorry to disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, but it is fragile—between North and South Wales will result in more bitterness and, worse still, envy. Certainly Gwynedd Health Authority found difficulty in getting its problems accepted by the South Wales authorities. At least it had an impartial Secretary of State to whom it could appeal. I gather that that will not be the situation in the future. If not, what is the effective role of a Welsh assembly?
I trust that the Minister will be able to assure me that the Welsh assembly will have nothing to do with agriculture. Farmers have enough paperwork generated by Brussels and single interest groups without a lot of chattering councillors in Cardiff compounding our problems. Like my noble friend Lord Crickhowell, I ask, can the Minister tell me whether the details suggested in the White Paper will be in the eventual Act? If not, it will mislead the public who have to decide on which way to vote on the information that it gives. If yes, why not dismiss Parliament and save some money?
Following the line taken by Plaid Cymru, how can a Welsh assembly be responsible and accountable when it has no tax-raising powers? Who will pay these councillors—they are never cheap? Will it be the Welsh council tax payer—that is me—or the UK taxpayer? If the latter, I fear that it will cause resentment and division in a world that I had truly believed and hoped was becoming less divided and less racist.
What powers would a Welsh assembly take away from Westminster MPs, county or borough councillors—a point raised by my noble friend Lord Crickhowell—the Welsh Select Committee and indeed the Secretary of State? If the noble Lord replies "none", it proves that a Welsh assembly will be a Welsh waffle house. In passing, perhaps I may tease my old friend the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn. I think I may have misheard him but I thought it was in 1485 and not 1535 that the Welsh put a Welsh king on an English throne. Certainly, my dates are right over Henry VII.
I have asked only a few of the questions that must be answered and properly presented to the Welsh electorate before it can decide whether it wants another layer of government. Entirely disagreeing with the noble Lord, Lord Ewing—perhaps I am agreeing with him—I think 1164 it would be totally wrong to wreck or delay the Bill. That is for the Welsh and Scottish electorates to do. But it is our job constructively to elucidate what a Welsh assembly could do and will do and what it could lead to in the future. I fear that, like Topsy, it will almost certainly grow.
For, my Lords, democratically elected councillors like more power. They live on it. But do they add to or subtract from the ordinary person's liberty? The ordinary person working and living in Wales perhaps should be advised to consider, as should my old friend the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn and the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, the younger Pitt's remarks:May the liberties of the people never he trampled to pieces by democracy".That is perhaps an overstatement but I think we should think about it.
The way in which the Government have rushed this referendums Bill through Parliament without explaining thoroughly what a Welsh assembly might or might not do is, as I have said, an insult to those living and working in Wales. Your Lordships really must ensure that the dog sees the rabbit. And if anything resembles a rabbit, it is the Government's present proposals for a Welsh assembly.
§ 7.3 p.m.
§ Lord Sempill
My Lords, the sad news is that we are only half way through the debate. On reviewing the length of the list of speakers, I realise that it will be essential to keep my contribution short and to the point. The issue of devolution is capable of arousing strong emotions, impassioned speeches and more amendments than the proposed number of devolved Scottish parliamentarians. I must apologise to your Lordships who have strong Welsh connections but I have to focus my observations on the Bill from a purely Scottish perspective.
The Bill itself could not be any simpler, although judging by the large number of amendments put down in another place, it is obviously too simple. I have to raise the question, as did the noble Lord, Lord Steel, in his maiden speech, as to the Bill's relevance. The recent election and various opinion polls have clearly shown that the Scots are keen to have their own parliament. Therefore, the first question will only reaffirm what is already known. The second question is a good deal more contentious. As we speak, we are uncertain as to its full implications. Unfortunately, we shall all have to wait for the White Paper, which, it is to be hoped, will address the tax varying powers and capabilities of the proposed Parliament. What we do understand is that many in the Scottish business community have expressed strong reservations, especially those whose main markets are south of the Border.
Individually, most of the Scots I have spoken to believe—and the articles that I read imply—that a parliament without tax varying powers is not dissimilar to having a car without an engine. You may have the status and the potential to go where you want, but you lack the power to achieve it. It is not a good combination of questions. It allows the electorate to make an 1165 emotional "yes" answer to the first question and a rational "no" answer to the second. Either we as Scots take command of our own affairs with the appropriate fiscal responsibilities or we retain the status quo. And it is this simple logic which draws me strongly to recommend that a multi-option referendum should be considered as an amendment to the Bill. It would provide us with the option for independence.
As the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, pointed out in his speech—he and I are obviously carrying out the same research—the current Government have supported the multi-option referendum in the past. It is only four or five years ago that in the Daily Telegraph the current Secretary of State, who was then the honourable Member for Glasgow, Garscadden said:The party's 49 Scottish MPs would campaign for a multi-option referendum on the country's political future, something which has been endorsed at the meeting of all Scottish Labour MPs".That is some turnaround. I believe that the case for a multi-option referendum is as strong today as it was in the early 1990s. Today, the main proponents, not surprisingly, are the Scottish Nationalists, who polled over 20 per cent. support in the last election. This, combined with a recent poll in the Sunday Times on the referendum showing that the number preferring independence and devolution was tied at 35 per cent., clearly shows that there is sufficient evidence among the electorate to broaden the referendum to include the entire spectrum of opinion in Scotland.
I am mindful, however, that the new Government won an overriding majority endorsing their proposals on devolution. And once again I question whether they need to run this referendum. Would they not be better to pass the devolution Bill and then hold the referendum? That is a point raised by many noble Lords.
I am aware that there may well be a reticence to confront the issue of the support for an independent Scotland; but at least it addresses the Claim of Right, which states the sovereign right of the Scottish people to determine a form of government best suited to their needs. This powerful pro-devolution polemic, published in 1988, led to the formation of the Scottish Constitutional Convention, a body committed to the task of presenting detailed proposals for a Scottish assembly or parliament. Churchmen, trade unionists, politicians, academics and many others contributed, with two notable exceptions: the Conservatives and the Scottish Nationalists—or, if I may put it this way: the Unionists and the separatists. I maintain that there is no better time than now to test the depth of support that these two opposite views command in Scotland. To quote the Labour Party manifesto:A sovereign Westminster Parliament will devolve power to Scotland and Wales. The Union will he strengthened and the threat of separatism removed".Surely a multi-option referendum would show how correct that assessment is.
Finally, perhaps I may remind government Ministers that the Secretary of State for Scotland stressed at Second Reading in another place that the Bill seeks to gain popular consent and that it gives the Opposition 1166 and other dissenters the opportunity to defeat it and, in effect, kill it. I therefore have to conclude that a multi-option referendum would be a more effective test of the people's will than the proposed question in the Bill as it currently sits in front of your Lordships.
§ 7.10 p.m.
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Sempill, who proposes a multi-option referendum. My own approach to the Bill has already been reflected by my noble friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish and in particular by the most moving, authoritative speech of the noble Earl, Lord Perth, who laid great emphasis on the importance and incalculable value of the Union.
The purpose of this speech is to welcome a referendum on a Scottish parliament as part of our kingdom united under the Queen; to suggest some threshold of consensus as part of some constitutional convention to which the noble Lord, Lord Shore of Stepney, referred in his magnificent maiden speech; also to ensure that the questions in Parts I and II of Schedule 1, which have no sufficient certainty and meaning—here I join issue with the noble Lord, Lord Sewel—may be more clearly expressed by amendments to Clause 1(1) of the Bill, as also suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Steel, in his masterly exposition and by many other noble Lords.
As an expatriate Scot who supported in your Lordships' House Rosyth and the Scottish Police Federation structure, I have no entitlement to vote under Clause 1(3) and I seek no such entitlement. If I had a vote, I would follow the advice of the noble Earl, Lord Perth. But as regards Clause 1(3) of the Bill, surely any clause which disenfranchises my noble friend's daughter must require further consideration.
This Bill heralds constitutional change on both sides of the Border. It is not unconstitutional: the Queen in Parliament is sovereign and supreme. But the way in which the Bill has reached your Lordships' House is a matter for legitimate protest. The hope is that, in the wake of the Committee stage guillotine, we are not about to be taken for a ride in a pony cart in which our revisory role is stuffed away in the boot as unwanted baggage. The hope is that your Lordships' amendments will receive due consideration in your Lordships' House as well as in another place. If not, to what constructive end do we debate at all? Without the benefit of discussion in another place we are asked to consider the mechanics of a pre-legislative referendum without knowing the substance, means and extent of the proposed devolvement. To that the analysis of the noble Lord, Lord Shore of Stepney, was wholly convincing.
As my noble friend Lord Renton said, it is wrong in principle. The principle of this Bill is whether to set up a Scottish parliament and, if so, whether it should have or not have tax-varying powers. No means of implementation of that principle are set out in the Bill. So within the ambit of the Long Title your Lordships will no doubt put down markers for amendments to provide such means of implementation. A whole wagonload of white paper would not cover the cracks in 1167 the structure of this Bill. Separatists and federalists could well cast an affirmative vote on both questions, as drafted. A threshold of sufficient proportion of those who vote must be imported into the Bill if some semblance of authenticity for a yes vote is to be retained on either of the questions in Parts I and II of the first schedule.
The noble Lord, Lord Steel, pinpointed the nub of the separatist problem. The objection to a threshold by the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, is that it ties the hands of governments, but that is simply not understood. It affords no viable answer, as was pointed out by my noble friend Lord Mackay. The advice of my noble friend Lord Renton on this matter warrants most serious consideration.
Is it intended that the tax-varying powers should extend to raising a surcharge? If so, would that be levied on the basic or the higher rate? Would it be levied on unearned income such as dividends and bank interest? Would not small businesses which pay income tax be at a disadvantage with larger businesses which pay corporation tax? What would be the position of those living in Scotland who work both in England and Scotland? Before the people of Scotland mark the ballot paper they are entitled to know the answers to those questions. Is it intended that the tax-varying powers can afford a sales and service tax? I ask that because the Governor of the Bank of Scotland considers that a surcharge would be a self-inflicted wound which would have cumulative and corrosive effect on the Scottish economy and would pull up the drawbridge and distance the economy from the world of competition. He considers a sales and service tax as a possible alternative. Assuredly, there is no mandate for a surcharge.
On this question the electorate in Scotland is divided. They should have the opportunity of knowing what they are being asked to approve clearly on the ballot paper before they mark it. The recommendations of the Commission on the Conduct of Referendums, an independent body set up in 1996, as to public information, access to broadcast media and other matters ought to be adopted. Perhaps consideration may be given to the amendment of Clause 3 of the Bill (the supplementary provisions) to deal with that.
In conclusion, I speak but to seek to persuade accommodation. This is no simple, clear, fair Bill, as suggested by noble Lords opposite. A short Bill is seldom clear. It is inevitably complex because the simplicity hides the essence of the problem—and most lawyers know that to their cost. It may be seen as such by noble Lords opposite. Two—no, four—noble Lords opposite have said quite happily that to them this is a simple, clear and fair-minded Bill. I am not questioning the integrity of their view, but I am asserting respectfully that on any objective analysis it is not so, and it is a mistaken view.
So, with the greatest respect, I ask the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, when he replies to the debate whether he will keep the open mind for which he is well renowned in our profession and deal, first, with the want of clarity and the case for amending Clause 1(1); with 1168 the sufficiency of the drafting of Clause 1(3); with the introduction of a threshold as part of a new constitutional convention; with incorporation of recommendations of the commission—the adoption and ground rules to which other noble Lords have referred—and with the vital tax question of Schedule 1(2) which makes no specific reference to the surcharge; and with whether a further question to that end should be on the ballot paper. I apologise to your Lordships for the time that I have taken.
§ 7.22 p.m.
§ The Earl of Mar and Kellie
My Lords, from these Benches it is important to support this Bill which will enable the referendums in both countries to take place. That does not mean that I shall restrict myself to speaking in support of the Bill.
First, I am in favour of the use of a bare majority as I suspect that this complicated issue may lead some citizens to abstain because they do not fully understand the issue and wish to leave the decisions to those who do. I shall work towards a high turnout. I have joined Scotland Forward, the "Yes Yes" campaign organisation, but I expect this type of issue to appeal more to the activists, a situation not dissimilar to most issues of governance. I hope to be wrong in that respect.
I am also in favour of the electorate comprising those who have committed themselves to living in Scotland. The expatriate vote and the ethnic vote are inferior to that. I want us to have no truck with thoughts of ethnic Scotsmen. The cry has to be the slightly feeble, "Scotland for its residents".
So, having dismissed the Gary McAlistair question, let me turn to the West Lothian question. I believe that we can resolve that with the Speaker's Ruling approach. Within this devolution scheme, Scotland needs to retain full representation at Westminster to influence those matters which are reserved to Westminster. The Speaker's Ruling would prevent Scottish Members of Parliament from voting on English, Welsh and Northern Ireland matters which are devolved in the Scottish context.
Two other problems are often raised. The first—concern about the apparent need to lose the post of Secretary of State for Scotland—can be met by the appointment of a senior Scottish Westminster MP to act as a Minister without portfolio, to represent the Scottish interest in UK matters in Cabinet, and to be the liaison between the UK Government and the Scottish parliament.
My second concern is the unicameral nature of the proposed Scottish parliament and the exclusion of this House from the Scottish parliamentary process. I believe that the solution lies in the powerful pre-legislative committees which will scrutinise and contribute to legislation at the White Paper stage and onwards.
I support the Bill because it is important to stick to the agreement which the Liberal Democrats and others reached within the Scottish Constitutional Convention. I know that the Government have already departed 1169 somewhat from the agreement, but social work practice suggests to me that one should persevere with an offender.
The second question on the ballot paper is incongruous. We should be testing all the powers of a parliament, not just one of them. Why are not the making of laws and the holding to account of the executive being tested? Why are we testing the power to grant supply? That question puts at risk the possibility, sought by no one, of a parliament without one of its fundamental powers.
There are other solutions to the central problems that we are trying to address. I believe that the central problems are no less than the inevitable domination of the Union by the sheer scale of the English state, the governance of Scotland by an undemocratic and unrepresentative system and, allied to that, the apparent view of the Prime Minister that Scotland was annexed in 1707. The constitutional position has to be that Scotland is a country that has placed its sovereignty within a union; Scotland is not just a region of the United Kingdom. In this broad proposal we will be resolving the problem enshrined in Article 22 of the Treaty—the problem of unequal representation.
I seek to adjust the means and effect of Scottish representation. The purpose is the introduction of domestic democracy at a national level. Such a mild alteration is entirely within the spirit of the Treaty which aimed at resolving the problems of neighbouring states. I believe that at least four solutions are available to us, putting the multi-question referendum into the two-page variety. The first solution is the granting of legislative powers to the Grand Committee, as recommended by Professor Dicey during the Irish Home Rule crisis, which has the merit of requiring no additional parliamentarians, but is compromised by Westminster's love of first-past-the-post, and hence unrepresentative, government. The symptoms are simple to identify: the Labour Party achieved 77 per cent. of the seats in Scotland based on 46 per cent. of the vote, and Mr. Blair's majority of at least 170 is based on 44.5 per cent. of the UK vote.
The second option is a devolved parliament, which will be a daughter parliament of mother Westminster and will need to be recognised as a grown-up daughter. Family experience suggests that it will work if everyone at Westminster and in the Scottish parliament is committed to making it work. Ironically, this is almost the tamest solution and is possibly the most difficult to arrange, but it appeals to my cautious countrymen.
The third solution, a federal solution, is of course the solution of my choice. It has not been mentioned within the context of a multi-question referendum. Within a united states of Britain, Scotland could thrive on federal autonomy. It would raise all its own finance and pay its dues to the federal parliament for federal tasks. That is not dissimilar to the existing arrangements within the European Union.
Fourthly, an independent Scotland is a viable prospect, but it is second-best. I suggest that it may become more attractive in inverse proportion to this Parliament's efforts to find a satisfactory settlement. 1170 The House will be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Sempill, for his remarks on that. Staring us in the face is the example of the loss of Ireland from the United Kingdom. What happened in 1921 was the direct result of intransigence. That is the process of, "Resist, resist, resist, and then, you can go". I hope that the party that practised that policy will keep that effect in mind.
I welcome genuine efforts to find a UK solution, but not to deny that there is a problem. The public expect Parliament to harness all its talents to find the answer, not to squabble about it. This latter plea will be assisted by the early publication of the White Paper and the Bill. To know whether we are considering the blueprint of the constitutional convention, a near replica, or a hybrid will assist us all. We can but await the Government's pleasure. Meanwhile, I believe that we should take a fundamental look at the Union, its purpose and origins.
The Queen's Address to the Scottish Parliament of 1705 was read on 3rd July by Sir David Nairne:We are fully satisfied (and doubt not that you are) that great benefit would arise to all our Subjects, by an Union of Scotland and England, and that nothing will contribute more to the composing of differences and extinguishing the heats, that are unhappily raised and fomented by the enemies of Both nations, than the promoting of every thing that tends to the procuring of the same. Therefore we earnestly Recommend to you to pass an Act for a Commission to set a treaty on foot between the Kingdoms, as our Parliament of England has done, for effectuating what is so desirable and for such other matters and things as may be judged proper for our honour and the good and advantage of both Kingdoms for ever. In which we shall most heartily give our best assistance".The words "good and advantage" are helpful. They commit us to relieving unnecessarily onerous burdens, such as minority rule.
On 22nd July 1705 the draft of an Act for a treaty with England was presented by the Earl of Mar and read. (This is a rather more unionist speech than I would normally make.) The treaty was signed on 22nd July 1706 and presented to Her Majesty on 23rd July of that year. In October 1706 the Earl of Mar read the Queen's Address:Since your last meeting, We did nominate Commissioners to treat of an Union betwixt our two Kingdoms of Scotland and England, and, by their great care and diligence, a Treaty is happily concluded, and laid before us. We have called you together as soon as Our affairs could permit, that the Treaty may be under your consideration, in pursuance of the act made in the last Session of our Parliament there, and We hope the terms will be acceptable to you. The Union has been long desired by both Nations and We shall esteem it as the greatest glory of Our Reign, to have it perfected, being fully persuaded that it must prove the greatest happiness of Our People. An entire and perfect Union will he the solid foundation of lasting peace".The use of the words "entire and perfect" suggests to me that these criteria, once sought, allow for modification and amendment to maintain them in a perfect state. We are currently striving for a better union that will meet the needs of all the citizens.
The wishful thinking and the hopes for the future contained within these ancient Queen's Speeches tell us about the problems of unco-ordinated government of sovereign countries under a united crown. The hostility between the two states, the obstruction of trade and the English influence over Crown appointments in Scotland all had to be resolved. The choice was that of a federal 1171 union or an incorporating union. We know the result and we are now trying to sort it out again. Only a win-win situation will work. Perhaps this should be done by a treaty negotiated by commissioners from each sovereign state. Such a possibility is far from being too difficult. The Crown has it in its powers to recall a Scottish parliament and to appoint commissioners. The Scottish Parliament adjourned itself on 25th March 1707 until 22nd April 1707, but it never sat on 22nd April and so it remains adjourned until… This approach is entirely in keeping with the constitution of the United Kingdom and draws directly upon its formation.
On 1st May 1707, the day of the Union's inception, Harry Maule wrote gloomily from Edinburgh to his first cousin Lord Mar in London:There is nothing so much taken notice of here, today, as the solemnity in the south part of Britain, and the want of it here. The first tune of our music bells, this day, was:'Why should I he sad on my wedding day?'".Let us grasp this opportunity and make the UK bells ring out with joy.
§ 7.35 p.m.
§ Lord Beloff
My Lords, as the 20th speaker in this debate I must have listened to 19 speeches already. I cannot say that I have been enlightened as to the purpose or necessity of the Bill that is before us. All I can say is that my confusion has been constantly enhanced, notably by the speech just made of the noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie, who appears to believe that it is possible to summon up a number of Scottish Rip Van Winkles to man a revived Scottish parliament. It may be true that that parliament only adjourned but by now its members can hardly be among the living. I do not see how this parliament can suddenly come to life again. But that only serves to demonstrate that inevitably we get into all kinds of discussions about the past and the future without coming to grips with what is before us; namely, a Bill.
It is true that the subject of devolution itself provokes intellectual confusion. For instance, the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, referred with admiration—and why not, my Lords?—to the constitution of the Federal Republic of Germany. But that is a federal constitution and devolution is not a form of federalism. It is something very different. The examples that can be found elsewhere in the world may not altogether satisfy one.
One comes to another problem that was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Hooson: why is this Bill before us? The noble Lord referred to the earlier referendums on devolution in 1978 and said that they had been brought in to deal with disagreements within the Labour Party. One wonders whether there is something in that for us today. We are constantly told by noble Lords on the Government Benches that they have a wonderful mandate based on their manifesto. The words "mandate" and "manifesto" fall from their lips with almost constant repetition. Sometimes they give the impression that a Labour manifesto is holy writ. I believe that to be an exaggeration. Moses on Mount Sinai is one thing; Mandelson on Millbank is quite different. But if they 1172 have this mandate from the people, why do they need a referendum Bill, unless it be to solve internal problems that they have not so far revealed? It is very curious. One understands that if one is a democrat by inclination one may want a constitutional change referred to the electorate and not left merely to its representatives, but that argument applies only if the change that is to be made is evident to the people who are asked to sanction it.
When I begin to think of historical parallels or references which might bolster that argument, the thing that most comes to my mind is the South Sea Bubble. Noble Lords will remember that there was no Securities and Investments Board at that time. So matters on the Stock Exchange were rather free—freer than they are likely to be in the future, I gather. There was one company which advertised for subscriptions to its shares:In pursuit of a project which will later on be revealed".That seems to me to be the exact parallel to a pre-legislative referendum: you are not told the project, but you are asked to trust the directors. Whether the names Dewar and Sewel appeared on the list of directors, my records do not altogether confirm.
That is the major objection to the Bill: that the people are to be asked to vote on something which they cannot possibly know about. The argument that a White Paper is sufficient has already been demolished by a number of noble Lords on the ground that a White Paper is, again, something like a manifesto. It may indicate the intentions of government: it is not a document in the law, and a parliament legislating within that framework may well decide on different provisions.
One comes to the other principal objection to which I referred in the debate on the humble Address, which is that what is intended—whatever the particulars may turn out to be of the devolution proposals—they are proposals to make a major change in the arrangements for the governance of the UK. My noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway and other noble Lords referred to the financial implications which are not merely for Wales and Scotland but in some respects are bound to affect the English taxpayer and Treasury.
There are other aspects which are equally unresolved. We are to have Scottish Ministers. How are they to be chosen? Is the Queen to summon someone to form a Scottish administration? If so, will she not be faced with considerable problems which have been satisfactorily solved in the UK by the development of conventions which enable the parties to designate the person most likely to command the confidence of the House? As we understand that the Scottish parliament is to be elected by proportional representation which, unless things change a great deal, means a minimum of four parties, and so always some form of coalition government, that creates certain problems of a new kind, at least within the UK.
Or again are the legislative Acts of a Scottish parliament to require Royal Assent? If so, is that assent to be given, as is normal in the UK, upon the advice of the Prime Minister of the UK or upon the advice of the chief minister of Scotland? What if the two of them 1173 disagree? That again is a major constitutional problem which those people who have been chattering about this issue for so long have not even begun to face.
We are, in other words, asked to contemplate asking the Scots and the Welsh alone to decide upon major changes in the way that the UK is governed without anyone being able to give even the remotest idea of how that government would look in operation. It is a fantasy. One can only assume that drunk with the triumph of electoral victory, the Government have decided that it does not matter: let us give what we have promised. If it all turns out badly, we have time to think again.
§ Lord Hooson
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. Earlier in his speech he drew the distinction between devolution and federalism. He said that devolution is not federalism. That is right. No one suggests that it is. But devolution means that the only power a Scottish parliament will have is power devolved to it by Westminster. Westminster can recover that power. Therefore the arrangements for the approval of Scottish legislation, and so on, will all be governed by the Bill that devolves power.
§ Lord Beloff
My Lords, that may well be the case. My argument is that we have not yet seen the Bill that devolves the power. The noble Lord, Lord Hooson, may be opening another flank to attack. He is now suggesting that, after all, it does not matter. Give the Scots and the Welsh what they want. If we do not like it, the UK Parliament will repeal all the legislation. That does not seem to me to be an argument in favour of stability.
I know that nothing we say at the moment in the way of trying to amend the Bill will make a great deal of difference. I fear that my noble friend Lady Carnegy of Lour was much too kind in believing that Her Majesty's current Ministers will take any notice of what we say, because they made sure that the House of Parliament in which they have a majority was not allowed to make any difference. They are determined to push this measure through. The people of Scotland and Wales, as well as of England, will pay for these errors. One can only pray that this situation does not last for too long.
§ 7.47 p.m.
§ Lord Prys-Davies
My Lords, I, too, have listened to 20 speeches, including that of the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, and it strikes me that there is a huge gap between the thinking of Members of the Conservative Party in this House and that of the Government, the Liberals, and the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas. The Government can take great comfort from the support which the noble Lords, Lord Hooson and Lord Elis-Thomas, have given to the Bill. There is this huge gap between ourselves and the Conservative Party.
I am not entirely surprised at that, but I have to say that most of the speeches from the other side of the House seem to be an anthology of assertions, and sometimes prejudices. Anyone who is familiar with the history of Wales will not be in the least surprised by that response.
1174 On the third day of the debate on the Address, the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, made an interesting reference to a debate between F.E. Smith and Mr. Asquith just before the First World War, if I may quote history. However, the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, could also have mentioned how in 1912, 1913 and 1914 Conservative Members, led by Mr. F.E. Smith, fought strongly to reject the Established Church (Wales) Bill. That battle has become part of Welsh folklore. Of course it has passed into history, but it is not forgotten.
In its attitude to Welsh aspirations, apart from the support given to the Welsh language over the past 15 years, which I gladly acknowledge, the Conservative Party has not changed. I would not be foolish enough to ask the Conservative Party to make atonement for its shortcomings in Wales in the past, but I would urge Welsh Conservatives to follow the example of the noble Viscount, Lord St Davids, the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths of Fforestfach, and others who have adopted a constructive policy towards the Government's devolution policy for Wales, and who are obviously anxious that the Conservative Party should play a positive role in the affairs of Wales and the assembly.
I wish to confine myself to the Welsh background to the Bill and to concentrate on the proposed White Paper. Many Conservative Peers have complained that they have not seen the Bill or the White Paper, but, apart from one Peer, no one has told me what he wants to see in the White Paper. I believe that I can best help the Government and the devolution argument by indicating to my noble friend on the Front Bench the matters which I believe ought to be thoroughly defined and clarified in the White Paper.
I urge the Government to ensure that they deal in detail with certain matters which I shall mention so there is no doubt as to what is proposed. I understand that there may be difficulties between that stage and the presentation of the Bill, but at least let us he clear what the Government are proposing in the White Paper.
The Welsh assembly has been presented as a means of evolving a more democratic control of the actions of both the Welsh Office and the nominated bodies which have power to spend public money in Wales. There is strong expectation in some quarters that, following devolution, nominated bodies in devolved fields will disappear to be replaced by the assembly, or possibly by the local authorities in the case of some functions. In the debate on the humble Address on 19th May, my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor said that the assembly:will exercise control over the web of quangos … and ensure that appointments to them are fair and open".—[Official Report, 19/5/97; col. 148]Those words suggest to me that there will be no reduction in the number of quangos operating in Wales. Therefore, while the Government are working on the White Paper, will they consider transferring to the assembly the functions of some of the all-Wales nominated bodies, such as the Sports Council and the Tourist Board? Those bodies have the power to spend public money. I believe that readers of the White Paper in my part of Wales will also want to know how the 1175 health authorities and trusts are to be more accountable to the public. Therefore, I plead for less generality and more detail on these particular issues.
I turn to the need to define the relationship between the assembly and the Welsh local authorities. Some of your Lordships will remember that the issue was raised in emotional terms in the debate on the constitution last July. It was again raised in the debate in the humble Address when the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, said from her position on the official Opposition Front Bench that she believed that devolution:would … weaken the powers of local government".—[Official Report, 19/5/97; col. 153.]What is the authority for that assertion? I know of no justification for the statement. It was made again today by the noble Lords, Lord Crickhowell and Lord Stanley.
That assertion, that allegation, is contrary to the evidence which the Welsh Local Government Association gave last year to the Select Committee on the relations between central and local government, which is published in volume 2 of the proceedings. Moreover, as the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, mentioned, two or three weeks ago the Welsh Local Government Association published a 26 page document. At page 16 it concluded:Welsh local government looks forward to working in partnership with a Welsh assembly".I would like to believe that the criticism which has been addressed to the Welsh assembly—that it will undermine the powers of Welsh local government—are made in ignorance and are not based on an intention to misrepresent.
§ Lord Stanley of Alderley
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for giving way—he did refer to me. I find some of his remarks strange. The majority of Members on this side of the House have been trying to find out all this information. I did not say that powers should be taken away from local authorities; I merely asked from where they would get their powers. To accuse us of wrecking the Bill, which I believe he was trying to do, is totally unfair. We were merely asking how it will work and what powers the local authorities will have.
§ Lord Prys-Davies
My Lords, we must wait until we see tomorrow's Hansard. If I have misrepresented the position, obviously I shall withdraw my remarks. However, in view of the uncertainty and the criticism that has been made, I hope that the White Paper will refute what I believe to be the unfounded criticism that the assembly will undermine the Welsh local authorities.
The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, in her speech on 19th May claimed that the assembly would impair the Welsh economy. To the best of my knowledge, that too is an unfounded allegation. It is a bit rich, coming from a former Minister in the previous administration, which left the valleys of South Wales and many of the communities of north and west Wales sadly impoverished. The Labour Party may well have its faults, but of all parties it is not in the business of impairing the Welsh economy. Nevertheless, the White 1176 Paper should note that the allegation has been made and I hope that it will go on to demonstrate how the assembly will provide a stimulus to the new industrial investment that we need.
I was pleased to hear my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor say that the assembly would ensure that the Welsh interest would henceforth be more clearly heard in Europe. I sincerely hope that the White Paper will provide further and better particulars of the new procedures or machinery to achieve that desired end.
§ Baroness Blatch
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. He invoked some of the comments that I made on the gracious Speech and I entirely defer to him to have his own views about what I said. However, two points arise. The first is that the crux of today's debate is in the absence of any detail whatever. We do not know what powers will move from Westminster to the assembly or what powers will move from local government to the assembly. For example, if it is responsible for education, clearly that will impact on local government in Wales. Secondly, I seriously take issue with the noble Lord's comment about Wales being impoverished as a result of the actions of the previous government. The prosperity which developed and the inward investment which went into Wales during the lifetime of the previous government are irrefutable, and it is a proud record.
§ Lord Prys-Davies
My Lords, the first part of the noble Baroness's intervention reinforces my point that the White Paper should be as detailed as possible. As regards the second part of the intervention, I thought I had confined my criticism to the state of the economy in the valleys of South Wales and the communities of North and East Wales.
I return to the speech of my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor on 19th May.
§ Lord Crickhowell
My Lords, I can hardly believe what I was just hearing from the noble Lord. I hesitate to intervene in the noble Lord's speech but he referred to the communities of North and East Wales. I do not know whether he has been to Shotton and Deeside recently or whether he remembers what it was like in the early 1980s. I can only tell him that the situation there is totally different.
As regards Wales as a whole, I can do no better than quote from the most recent publication of the Institute of Welsh Affairs and David Waterstone's article in which he says:If you go a little further back to the late seventies when coal and steel were virtually in free fall, and compare that time with conditions now, then the change in the Welsh economy is almost miraculous".The noble Lord really should not come to the House and mislead it in that way.
§ Lord Prys-Davies
My Lords, I am accustomed to the oratory of the noble Lord. I accept that I should have referred to West Wales. I mentioned North and East Wales and I really meant North and West Wales. I apologise for that.
1177 I return to the speech of my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor on 9th May, when he said that the assembly will assume the order-making powers of the Secretary of State. I should be grateful if the White Paper would elaborate on the order-making powers that will be transferred to the Welsh assembly. I believe that there are about 3,000 statutory instruments per annum. I am not sure how many are made by the Welsh Secretary of State, and perhaps that could be ascertained.
It is not clear to me to what extent the Welsh Secretary of State is involved in making statutory instruments under the European Communities Act 1972. It seems to me that it would be particularly helpful if the White Paper could establish to what extent primary legislation for Wales in the devolved subjects in the past has left scope for Welsh subordinate legislation in the future. If the primary legislation is tightly worded, there will obviously be little scope for the latter, and vice versa. Can the White Paper indicate how tightly worded future Westminster legislation will be?
I very much hope that the White Paper will lead to an informed debate about the role of the Welsh assembly. I am anxious that we should all play our part constructively in creating an assembly which will guard our inheritance and work for the enhancement of Wales as a nation and the betterment of its people in the coming century. I believe that we all have a duty and an obligation to do so.
§ 8.3 p.m.
Viscount St. Davids
My Lords, this is an excellent Bill. It is simple; it has a single purpose; and it is unambiguous. As your Lordships know, during its passage through another place, the Bill met with a number of reservations and 250 amendments, 25 new clauses and 12 new schedules were sought. I believe that all that was unnecessary save on one major point.
Much has been made of the constitutional propriety of holding referendums before the two devolution Acts have been passed. That can be an issue only if we believe that the Welsh people are uninformed on those matters. Nothing can be further from the truth. The recent history of those proposals starts in 1967 when the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos, then Secretary of State for Wales, raised the question in Cabinet. Public debate continued through the 1970s and culminated in the referendum of 1979.
Debate has continued and gathered momentum as the former government lost popularity in the 1990s. Hardly a week has passed without a serious debate on those matters in the Welsh media and we should not forget the recent discussion that took place during the general election and most other elections of recent memory. There should be no reservations on this Bill as to putting the cart before the horse. My countrymen across the Severn know exactly the issues for and against an assembly. Short of a proposal to reintroduce the death penalty for sheep stealing, there can be little in the White Paper that has not been debated in Wales in recent times.
1178 What remains now is for those who are campaigning for and against an assembly to set out their arguments. The White Paper is essential for that as it will set out the parameters of the Government's intention. I ask the Minister how the White Paper is to be disseminated. Will a full copy be sent to each voter, or only an extract? I suggest that the English and Welsh versions should be separate publications and not, as is the common practice, printing one as the verso of the other. All too often, both are then discarded.
There are other reasons why we should agree to the Government's proposal and debate this Bill before the devolution Acts, even if that conflicts with some noble Lords' concept of constitutional probity.
I believe that your Lordships' role as revisers of legislation would be of even greater value given the authority of an affirmative vote in the referendum and a better Act of Parliament would be the result. A better debate will ensue when the will of the people is known rather than in the abstract. I believe also that your Lordships will have a vital role to play if a yes vote is obtained in a very low turn-out.
The vexed question posed by this Bill is the lack of a threshold or hurdle. Little comfort can be gained from debate in another place when the Secretary of State for Scotland, opening the debate on 21st May, said that,we see the purpose of the referendum to establish consent in principle",—[Official Report, Commons, 21/5/97; col. 722.]and when the Secretary of State for Wales closing the debate said that,we shall seek majority support among those who cast their votes".—[Official Report, Commons 21/5/97; col. 894.]That is not one concept but two concepts and they are far from being identical. Unless the White Paper provides some clarification as regards those statements, we must assume that the Government would proceed with an assembly if there was a very low turn-out. Otherwise, we must assume from the first statement that the referendum is consultative.
I listened with great interest to the opening speech of the Minister and I did not find that he was any too clear on that point. I ask the Minister now whether he can help us further on that important matter. While I trust the Government's good will towards Wales, others will not be so trusting. The Minister may well save much trouble and time in later proceedings on this Bill by clarifying that matter. The Government's purpose must be made clear.
The political promises of yesteryear are all too often forgotten and those of yesterday and today are not so easily forgotten. The Members in the other place representing all 40 of the Welsh seats stand on a platform that states that the status quo is not an option. All recognise the fact that the nature of the government of Wales must change. All recognise the fact that to do that, the assembly must work. If it is to work, it must have the confidence of the people of Wales and their active support and participation. I cannot doubt the Government's wish to bring that about. Their rhetoric in opposition, their manifesto commitment and the priority which they have given to those matters all affirm that. 1179 But what if, after all, the Government do not gain an affirmative vote in the referendum? What will they then do to change the government of Wales, for change there must be? Will there be any indication in the White Paper? The people of Wales must know the consequences of a no vote.
I return to the cart being before the horse. The outcome of the referendum in Wales is far from being a foregone conclusion. Should we spend endless hours in debate in order to pass an Act for which there may well be no need? The Government have a very heavy legislative programme. During the six years in which it has been my privilege to sit in your Lordships' House, I have not noticed that your Lordships are over-concerned with the convenience of government, but in this very particular case I feel that we can concur with the wish of the Government without the compromise of any principle.
This Bill does not in any way challenge the integrity of the United Kingdom; quite the contrary. If it leads to devolved government, then it will do much to ensure that the Union is maintained. The former government, by their refusal to recognise the diversity of political life in the Union and by insisting upon conformity, have bought Scotland and Wales into conflict with what is seen by both to be government by England. Does this not weaken the Union, and will not its reversal strengthen the Union? I believe that the answer is self-evident.
A question of importance to many is: should the English voter be consulted by means of this Bill? The answer has to be no! The present system whereby Wales is governed is no longer acceptable; it has to change. To give the English the right to veto that change and thus condemn the Welsh to live under a system that would not be accepted in England would be a constitutional nonsense. If there be any need to seek the opinion in England, it is not a matter for this Bill.
As I said at the beginning of my speech, this is a very simple Bill. In it the Government, quite properly, seek to ask the voters in Scotland two questions and those in Wales one. The people of both countries are known to be willing to answer these questions. I pray that your Lordships will do all that is in your power to keep the Bill to this purpose and this purpose only. The Bill must not be looked upon as some form of legislative Christmas tree that can be adorned and decorated until its original structure can no longer be recognised. That your Lordships require three or four days in Committee upon the Bill will no doubt go unnoticed in Llandrindod Wells, but not so any attempt to frustrate its purpose.
An excellent Bill; my only regret is that I cannot share my enthusiasm for it with my party—a party that rejects the assembly in principle cannot expect to play a part in its proceedings when it comes into being. The Welsh will, I fear, seek their political allegiance elsewhere. Members of my party in Scotland would appear to be ahead of those in England and Wales in taking a far more positive stance.
1180 Many in Wales would like to see the Bill offer Wales the same questions to be answered as are being asked in Scotland. I should like to see a change of mind by the Government on the issue, for do they not recognise that to cast a vote for members of the assembly without the risk of financial penalty will ultimately lead to bad government? Do they not remember the wild excesses of a number of local authorities under their party's control during the bad old days of Labour of the "old" persuasion? The present Government party may well have political control of the assembly; the Government should ensure that the voter has a more direct interest in their good government.
Change of mind or no, I support the Bill, as it is at present the only solution to the problem of government of Wales which is on offer. I recognise—and I hope that all in Wales will recognise—that it can only be improved upon by the Government's wish. If the Government do not so wish, to refuse what it has to offer, however limited that may be, would be a very bleak day for the political history of Wales. Let us take what we can and hope that the assembly is seen to work and the issue of taxation can be revisited at some future time.
I listened with great interest to the speeches made by my noble friends Lord Crickhowell and Lord Beloff. Given their seniority in our party and my total juniority, I shall of course temper what I have to say. Both my noble friends have a great interest in opera. I suggest to them that they study the sub-text, and in particular the last act, from Mussorgsky's opera "Khovanschchina" for is there not a parallel between its story and the present state of the Conservative Party in Wales and also in England?
§ 8.14 p.m.
§ Lady Saltoun of Abernethy
My Lords, while agreeing with those noble Lords who have said that they do not like referendums, and while deploring the Government's determination to hold a referendum on the contents of a White Paper when the Bill based on it may emerge from Parliament considerably different, I accept the fact that, with such a huge majority in another place as to constitute an elected dictatorship, it would be futile to oppose their plans, although it should be possible to improve upon them. I just wish that they would realise that introducing constitutional change of such magnitude is a very dangerous business, and not be in such a hurry to implement what I suspect to be an ill-thought out scheme. After all, they have been elected for five years. I suppose the trouble is that the Prime Minister, when Leader of the Opposition, with the impetuousness of youth, promised to deliver its own Parliament to Scotland by the end of the first Session of a Labour Government, and now has to deliver it on time or lose credibility. It is a pity that the future of the United Kingdom has to take second place to party political expediency.
For 300 years we have had peace within this country, with the exception of the Jacobite rebellions, which were basically political, religious and dynastic, not wars between the Scots and the English. But for a long time before that there was intermittent fighting between the 1181 two countries. I am very worried at the thought of what the future may hold. Many of my ancestors were killed fighting the English, and I do not want my descendants to be. Therefore it is vital that devolution, if the Scots want it, works; otherwise it will lead to the break-up of the United Kingdom.
In the debate on the Queen's Speech last month, I spoke about the importance of the West Lothian question, and proposed the federal or semi-federal solution to it, of each country in the United Kingdom having its own parliament for domestic affairs. I certainly cannot see any other solution and therefore I would agree with the preference of my noble kinsman Lord Mar and Kellie. To disregard the problem, as the Government seem determined to do, is to take the high road to disaster.
If, however, England is to have its own parliament too and since referendums, however undesirable—particularly on White Papers—are the order of the day, a referendum must be held in England. It is unthinkable to do otherwise. Therefore, I am seriously tempted to table as an amendment in Committee an additional clause and schedule to the Bill to enable a referendum to be held in England should the answer to the first question in the Scottish referendum be in the affirmative.
So far, enthusiasm in England for an English Parliament has been diffused and somewhat lukewarm. Devolution has not really been a news item in England, and few people have been very interested. Now, however, I think that the English are beginning to realise how much the proposals for Scotland and Wales, but principally for Scotland, will affect them. They are realising that they may have Scottish MPs at Westminster voting on their domestic affairs while they cannot vote on Scottish domestic affairs; that at the same time they are going to be expected to continue to subsidise Scotland through the block grant, as they have been doing for years past; and that they may still have only one Westminster MP per 65,000 voters, whereas the Scots will continue to have one per 55,000 voters. I think it not improbable that they might vote for a parliament of their own, or even start to demand one. The wish for devolution tends to be infectious.
If the domestic affairs of all four countries are dealt with by their national parliaments, the West Lothian question disappears like the proverbial snow in June.
Of course, although we have not yet seen the White Paper setting out the devolution proposals in their final form, the idea promulgated by the Scottish Constitutional Convention was that foreign affairs, defence, finance and social security should remain within the remit of the Westminster Parliament. Why social security? That would seem to me to be a domestic matter which should be dealt with by national parliaments, and one fewer bone of contention between them and Westminster were it to be so.
Surely, then, it could not be necessary to have anything like the number of MPs in the United Kingdom Parliament that we have now? A number roughly equivalent to the number of Euro MPs would probably suffice, and they might be elected at the same time as 1182 the Euro MPs and for the same constituencies, thus saving a fourth tier of elections, which should be a consideration, since the turnout at the three that we have at present is so deplorably low even on sunny days in Aberystwyth. An alternative might be for the members of each national parliament to elect a certain number from among themselves to sit at Westminster.
Since it would probably not take a Westminster Parliament more than about one day a week to deal with finance, foreign affairs and defence, perhaps it could share the Commons Chamber with the English Parliament. That way you would save having to have a new Parliament building, while preserving the traditional venue for the English Parliament. It would also be an awful lot cheaper.
I do not suppose for one moment that the Government will be very keen on a solution which would not be to their party's advantage in England, but it is they who are offering devolution, so they really must face the problems. I hope the Government will give an undertaking to introduce a Referendum (England) Bill themselves should the Scots vote in favour of devolution, or should the English demand it, as I think they assuredly will, sooner or later. I hope that I shall get some answers to what I have said from the Minister later on when he comes to wind up.
§ 8.20 p.m.
§ Baroness Strange
My Lords, may I first congratulate the noble Lords, Lord Steel of Aikwood and Lord Shore of Stepney, on their masterly maiden speeches which I much enjoyed hearing.
It is eight years since my noble kinsman and clan chief, the Earl of Perth, initiated a debate on devolution. Many of the things said then hold good now. The noble Lord, Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove, predicted that there would be a total whitewash of Conservative Members of Parliament in Scotland—I must clearly get him to read the tea leaves one day for me. Some noble Lords then were in favour of devolution, I expect the same noble Lords still are. And some were not. And I do not expect they have found anything to change their opinion. I did not speak about devolution, but made a plea to abolish the new system of two-tier government, to return to the historic counties of Scotland, keeping separate the four big cities of Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Dundee. This has now happened. So perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, and I can both claim the power of prophecy. However, I did not advocate the dissolution of one extra tier of government merely to substitute it with another (with all the expensive infrastructure that that entails) and one that would be a sort of parish council, as it has been described. Except that it would be more like a super Strathclyde Council, of which many of your Lordships living on the west coast will have memories.
To go even further back in history, as did the noble Lord, Lord Steel, and the noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie—and I hope without being called a Rip Van Winkle by my noble friend Lord Beloff, though I fear I cannot remember the South Sea Bubble—my five 1183 greats grandfather, Adam Drummond, was a member of the Scottish parliament in Edinburgh from the early 1680s until his death in 1704. He said in 1703:We have indeed as sad a prospect of things for all honest men as ever I saw next to the latter part of King James his time, and I am persuaded that unless with the Lord's help we can achieve union of the two parliaments, we cannot escape ruin".Sadly for him, he died three years before he could see his hopes come to fruition, but 20 years later his son became a Member at Westminster.
In Scotland we already have our own law, our own system of education, and a great deal of devolution through the Scottish Office and the Scottish Grand Committee. In the Scotland Act (1978) in Section 63 of Chapter 51 there is an amazing list of matters which would be devolved. I wonder if all of these would be included in the devolved parliament for which we are asked to vote.
There are two specific points of the referendums Bill on which I should like to comment. The first is Clause 4 which says that no court shall be empowered to act in any proceedings regarding the votes cast on a miscounted or discarded ballot when it has been certified by the counting officer. The counting officer used to be a sheriff-principal or judge, who was always open to challenge in a court if anyone suspected him of malpractice or inefficiency. The counting officers now are civil servants appointed by the Secretary of State for Scotland. It is of course extremely unlikely that they will interfere in any way with the ballot, but with this clause there will be nothing to stop them if they do, nor, indeed, any proof to point out that they have not, preventing other people accusing them of it.
The second point is about tax raising to pay for the extra tier of government. Is the tax to come from income tax, inheritance tax, capital gains tax, VAT, or corporation tax? And if the latter, will it not have a very bad effect on industry in Scotland, which will promptly head off south of the Border?
In our debate eight years ago Lady Elliot referred to the number of Scotsmen who were Cabinet Ministers, including her husband. Both the present Lord Chancellor and his predecessor are Scottish, so is the Foreign Secretary, and so is his predecessor, so is the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Minister of Defence—if there were another parliament in Scotland of whatever kind, sooner or later the Members in the other place would object to being ruled by Scots down here. The best solution on the West Lothian question seems to me to have no devolution.Let us keep together, work together, play together and be ready to take an active and important part in the whole United Kingdom",said Lady Elliot. At the weekend, I was watching the Queen's Birthday Parade on television. The colours were being trooped by the Scots Guards. Their motto is Strength in Unity. So there is.
§ 8.26 p.m.
§ The Earl of Lauderdale
My Lords, only a sense of duty brings me to my feet at this hour of nearly 8.30, little more than half-an-hour before my familiar 1184 bed-time of 9 o'clock to which I have been sentenced by doctors and family alike since a stroke two years ago. That is more important to me now than it was until recently as I am still emerging from delayed shock after a nasty motor accident a week ago yesterday.
Our speakers' list demonstrates one point at least. Whereas some 37 of your Lordships will have devoted between five and six hours simply to this Second Reading, procedures in the other place (to which, according to the Companion, we are fully entitled to allude discreetly), backed by an enormous majority, enabled the Government to push the entire Bill through all its stages there in just about six hours altogether.
The party opposite talk big, and have for years talked big, about democratic procedures, accountability, full freedom of speech and so on. The present Government, resting comfortably on a massive majority, have treated Parliament in this matter with a degree of contempt and have done so in a fashion that will bear comparison with almost anything short of Cromwell himself. That sets an historical landmark for bad government and unworthy conduct.
Although the present debate strictly concerns the referendum mechanism, it is important to recognise that much lies behind the machinery which we are discussing and there are important problems to be grappled with which this legislation overlooks altogether. I personally applaud the case so ably argued by my noble friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish for a comprehensive Bill for referenda in general rather than a particular Bill for this passing situation.
I also agree with the principle enunciated by the Government that they propose to base their Scottish franchise largely on the structure of local government.
Since we are told that this is the start of a great programme of constitutional reform, it is impossible to confine oneself simply to the clockwork mechanism of the Bill in these two referenda. We must ask ourselves how the proposals will measure up to the problems regarding Scotland and Wales. With due respect to noble Lords on the opposite Benches, and elsewhere, who have spoken for Wales, I propose to concentrate on Scotland because I am a Scotsman, and since the mid-16th century my family has fought, battled and struggled for union with England notwithstanding the fairly frequent depredations of Scottish soil and treasure by English armies.
Having congratulated the Government on deciding to base their franchise on the local government electorate, I say immediately that the second question in the referendum for Scotland will need to be amended. The latest official figures reveal that Identifiable General Government Expenditure per head in 1994 and 1995 for England was £3,743 and for Scotland £4,614, a difference not far short of £1,000 per head. If that does not tell us that the Scots would need to raise taxes to achieve equality of public expenditure, I do not know what those figures do show.
Tax raising powers will face some difficult questions. First, would the threat of taxes or levies on industry and employment have the effect of helping or hindering Scottish employment? I declare an interest as a director 1185 of one of the largest oil and gas companies working on developing the United Kingdom offshore area. It is anxious to know how far the powers of the Scottish Parliament may affect its operations. The simple question one must ask is whether tax-raising powers exercised by a Scottish Parliament would not have a deleterious effect on inward investment.
In the "darkness at noon" situation which envelops our discussions tonight as we await the White Paper, I do not believe that a tax raising Parliament is, or can be, a worthy forum for Scotland's aspirations. In all our history, there has been a story of division. In the mediaeval period, the great game was to hold the sovereign to ransom and use him or her as a tool to dominate the opposite faction. That habit from the pre-16th century period onwards has survived in the sense that Scotland is not a flat, monochrome unit. Anyone who travels around Scotland knows well that the different areas and regions do not always share the same high opinion of one another that they have of themselves. The people of Scotland have always been bitterly divided, as indeed they were on the field of Culloden, despite Hollywood's sentimental and sickening "Braveheart" caricature.
While I have much sympathy with the widespread Scottish sense that some sort of a distinct Scottish forum is required for the public debate of Scottish affairs—and the Scottish Grand Committee at Westminster is not really good enough, however much it may move from place to place and even bring the Prime Minister up to Inverness to explain himself—are we not proceeding to a vote tonight in a kind of darkness of ignorance as to what is proposed? We have not yet had the promised White Paper. We have no substantial document before us in order to pick through the proposal line by line, let alone with the care that such an historic proposal demands. What we do know is that it is to be a unicameral system without, apparently, any means for revision or review of mistakes made. In this House we know well that from time to time the other place gets things wrong; and we often improve a Bill when it comes before us. The proposals for a Scottish parliament, so far as we now know them, are not for a bicameral but for a unicameral system without proper system for review or revision.
I do not believe that a tax raising Parliament, bereft of proper rules of procedure, can ever be a successful solution to the imbalance between the Scottish and English economies. What about the effects on inward investment, let alone jobs? Those today are considered to be the most proper measure of economic success.
I repeat that I appreciate the Government's decision to base their proposals on the franchise of local authorities. That has a significance which many noble Lords may have overlooked. The Treaty of Union and the Act of Union were approved burgh by burgh throughout Scotland. Indeed, the documents even designate the number of representatives of each burgh who had to be consulted and had to give their assent to the decision. Therefore the local authority source as a basis is sound and good as well as historic in origin. I commend the Government for basing their provisions upon it.
1186 However, what has to be realised is that Scotland is not a plain, monochrome country. Its various regions have jealousies of each other. One of the difficulties that has to be faced in a Scottish Parliament is how we can arrange to counterbalance the inevitably overwhelming strength of the population of the Central Belt, where most of the industry is, against the mostly rural areas, whether the Borders, the Grampians, or the Highlands.
So far as we know now, it is not evident that the project that is yet to be unveiled will have the right machinery for dealing with this imbalance. I greatly fear that a Scottish parliament could become an endless series of titanic wrangles as to how the money is to be raised, let alone how and where it is to be spent. They are wrangles that the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (CoSLA) has learnt to overcome.
I am amazed that in their plans the Government have overlooked the existence of CoSLA. It is a highly respected, well organised body representative of local authorities. It meets once a year, and moves from place to place. I always thought that it shall have regular base in Edinburgh. CoSLA has established itself with proper procedures and structures that enable the different regions and areas to get along together. It amazes me that the Government have not even thought of making use of CoSLA's structures as the model for a Scottish parliament.
The example of CoSLA is one that could well be imitated by the party opposite. Its own procedures for balancing the hostilities and suspicions between the Scottish regions have proved effective over the years. It is common enough for Englishmen to think that Scotland is just one plain, monochrome country. The fact is that in the Highlands there is suspicion in relation to the Borders. Ever since the Clearances the people there have had a great suspicion, even fear, of the Border shepherds with their lovely rich flocks of sheep. Again, the people of Grampian have memories that go back to the Battle of Harlaw in 1411, when the Lord of the Isles was defeated by the people of Aberdeen. The Highlanders, under the leadership of the Lord of the Isles, tried to come down and take their rich ground. There is no great love in Grampian for the Highlanders as such. As for the general attitude of highlanders, lowlanders and Grampian towards the Central Belt, the latter is sometimes unfairly and unkindly described as being dominated by the "Glasgow Irish". The language used by one region about another simply does not bear repetition under the procedures and manners of this House.
What we must give our minds to now is whether what used to be called the Salisbury Doctrine would apply to this situation. I submit that it does not. The Labour Party manifesto, and speeches by Mr. Blair, made plain over and over again that Labour's intention was not to disrupt the Union. Yet here we have a measure that looks as though it could set up a rival exchequer to that in London, a source of great disunity within the UK, to say nothing of a focus of disunity within Scotland itself.
I do not believe that such a situation, albeit repudiated by the Labour Government but implicit in the Bill, is what the Salisbury Doctrine would commit us to 1187 accepting. For these various reasons I simply cannot accept the Bill as it stands. I am sure that the second question regarding tax-raising powers will have to be amended in Committee. I trust that through the good offices of the usual channels we shall have enough time in this House for the proper Committee stage examination which the Government denied to Parliament in the other place.
§ 8.44 p.m.
§ Lord Parry
My Lords, your Lordships' House is weary, and so am I. The House is emptying, and I know why. If I could have thought of a good moral excuse an hour ago, I should have gone too. On the whole the debate has been good-humoured. There have been important exchanges; there are more to come. I rise as the 26th speaker in the debate and, for the encouragement of the House, there are 13 more to come after me—unlucky for some; lucky for those who have left. Your Lordships may think that the questions asked tonight have not been asked before. Some noble Lords who asked those questions may think they are being original in asking them. Those questions consumed my youth. I have lived with the question of devolution, and with debate upon it, all through my political life. I stand here tonight, at 71 years of age, convinced that while we may have inched the debate forward slightly, we have contributed very little to all the talking that has gone before. The issue is that the people of Wales and Scotland are to take their moment in history. They are being offered an opportunity.
I was glad that my noble friend Lord Prys-Davies had the opportunity of correcting one of the points he made. There was a sharp exchange between him and a former Secretary of State for Wales. I am sure that they will resolve the issue between them. I wanted the House to know in the minutes available to me that Wales is a nation. In case the House had not noticed it, I am Welsh; everything in my living has proved my Welshness. We speak here tonight not in a romantic sense but in the sense of being one of the peoples of Great Britain—the English, the Welsh, the Scottish and the Irish, who make up this mosaic that is Britain. When we say that we want a greater say in our affairs and greater control over them, the lesson of the necessity of that has been rammed home, even if by accident, by noble Lords on the Opposition Benches. It is the period of the past five or six years that has concentrated opinion in Wales on the idea that whatever Welsh people like to say, they are unlikely to be heard in the upper echelons of control in this nation.
The matter is brought into focus again. The Government pledged in their manifesto to give an opportunity to the people. There is nothing sinister in that. This is no plot; it is no conspiracy. This is a matter of the Welsh and Scottish people saying: "Okay, we've tried it your way. Now let's try it our way. Let's make the devolution of authority from Parliament a logical rather than an irrational process".
Wales and Scotland have gained immeasurably from having control of their own affairs gradually filtering down towards them. In Wales we have been extremely 1188 fortunate in our Secretaries of State for Wales and in the policies that we have espoused. I remember the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, who made a magnificent speech earlier, publishing Wales: The Way Ahead, a document which some saw as giving many answers and which some saw as incomplete. Nevertheless, it was a movement towards solving some of the problems.
There is a point that has not been properly quoted in the debate so far—although in the 25 speeches before mine I have heard some points made 25 times. I have heard some points made 40 times, because some Members of the House felt they had to say them, or read them, four times over in the course of their remarks. The right honourable Ron Davies, Secretary of State for Wales, the latest in a long line of mighty men, said in concluding the debate in the House of Commons:We are asking the people of Wales and the people of Scotland whether we should proceed with the process of democratisation"—we are in a democracy; our whole system is alleged to be democratic. Is it a threat to anyone that we wish to extend that democracy? He continued:which we clearly signalled in our manifesto, on which 34 out of 40 Members of Parliament were elected in Wales and 56 out of 72 in Scotland. Forty out of 40 Members representing Wales in this House were elected on the basis that the status quo is not an option".What is available is for the people to say yes or no to an expansion of devolution, to the creation of an assembly in Wales and a parliament in Scotland.
The noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley, is here so I can say it face to face. He is an old friend of mine, although on the opposite side of the House. He seemed genuinely concerned about something called the "South Wales-dominated socialist assembly". You would have to go a long way along the railway line in Wales to find a socialist assembly. Many of us have talked about it, some of us have dreamed of it, but we have never found it. There are not serried ranks of vicious councillors wishing to pull down the aristocracy of Britain now that they are in opposition. I must add that I find that the Opposition's appearance has improved with having the evening sun behind them. When I came to the House I sat on the Government Benches and I am delighted to be here tonight. I hope that the Opposition will become used to being where they are.
The noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, said that the referendum will be confined to the Welsh and Scots who happen to live in their own countries. He will wish to alter that tomorrow because it is not so. The referendum is offered to everyone who lives in Wales—Catholic, communist, Baptist, Wesleyan (and there are still a few of us left). It is offered to everyone who lives in Wales, not to people who are ethnic in any sense.
I wish to say something in conclusion and I have noticed that those who said they would not speak for long have taken longer than others. The Western Mail is the national paper of Wales and I was surprised when the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, said that so few people read it. I wrote for it for many years. It may be just a newspaper to some but it was bread and butter to me. The Western Mail had a headline:Taxing Question of Evolution of Devolution".1189 That is what we are about. It is not a plot when we produce a referendum designed to set up a proper assembly for Wales. We know that it will change as time goes by. It is only dying institutions which do not change.
I wish to say something about the confidence that exists in Welshness, Scottishness, Irishness and Englishness. The English were the most confident of all in the moment of their growth and glory. It may be that what is happening now is because of the loss of confidence of the English in the face of the growing confidence in other parts of the country. Noble Lords have had a long debate.
§ The Earl of Lauderdale
My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that every Englishman always has a Scottish grandmother?
§ Lord Parry
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Earl on that. I wish to point out that the Western Mail also produced last week a sign of the virility and confidence of Welsh culture. Every page of the newspaper referred to a different aspect of music, including pop, from one extreme to the other. Each aspect is being celebrated in Wales at present. Marvellous things are happening, but the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, was quite right: some areas of Wales have missed out on them and we are desperately keen to see them develop. My own area of West Wales has been persecuted by the closure of some employment opportunities time and time again and it now has among the highest unemployment rate in Great Britain.
If I have been a little excited late in the day, it is only because I believe that the people of Wales are perfectly competent to run an assembly within the integrated parliamentary system of Great Britain and run it to the advantage of us all.
§ 8.54 p.m.
§ Lord Dixon-Smith
My Lords, I rise as one of the rare Englishmen who does not have a Scottish grandfather, still less a Welsh great-grandfather. Would that I had the eloquence that would result from such parentage.
I do not hesitate or fear to rise in this debate as one of the rare English participants because there is an English dimension which I shall touch on in due course. It has been a good debate but we all realise and appreciate how much more intense this debate is because of the lack of the Government's putative White Paper, which we all long for and even more the final legislation on devolution. However, it has to be said that this debate is more intense because of the absence of that process. Arranging the business this way round will inevitably intensify the debate, both on subsequent stages of this Bill and on the future Bill.
That said, one aspect to the debate so far has surprised and astonished me; namely, the expressions of surprise and occasionally even of irritation from the Government Benches that Members on this side of the House should apparently wish to apply those tactics which they applied so often against us in debates prior to the general 1190 election. That is a fairly natural process of evolution and I have no doubt that the tide will turn again at some point in the future.
It has long been a fact of political life in democratic countries that individuals and communities will wish to draw to themselves the power to determine those issues which they see as being within their competence and intimately affecting their quality of life.
That is a fact that I have lived with throughout my life in local government. It leads me to one glaring gap in my knowledge of what is going on at present, which causes me some concern. When finally we are allowed to see the White Paper—and I am somewhat relieved that the people of Scotland and Wales will be treated with a greater degree of deference than Members in the Palace of Westminster—I hope that it will contain no proposals which will in any way diminish the present powers and competences of existing local authorities. Unless that is clearly stated, the concept of devolution is endangered. While I appreciate the problem the Government have in trying to decide whether the chicken comes before the egg, it is impossible to debate this Bill without touching on such issues which relate to the White Paper and the Bill which must follow it.
The Government are responding to a demand from particular parts of the United Kingdom for greater control over the matters that closely affect them. Consulting public opinion in those areas is reasonable, but I cannot help noting that the views of the remainder of the United Kingdom are not considered to be relevant.
I have already said that there is an English dimension. Opinion ranges from: "I cannot wait to see the last of Scotland"—a sad view, but I regret that it is becoming more common—to "Why cannot we do that here?". It is an approach that was elucidated by the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun of Abernethy. I must admit to a concern that across the whole country the public yearns for what I describe as the chimera of devolution, as it hopes to find within the chimera solutions to problems which are in fact nothing to do with devolution. There are matters such as confidence and certainty in economic affairs; confidence and certainty of employment and confidence and certainty of service. Those problems will continue, with or without devolution. Tackling them will continue to be—as it always has been—the concern of the whole community and all its institutions.
So far as concerns the Bill before us, I have only one small point to make. It is my view that the present wording of Schedule 1 to the Bill, which deals with Scotland, is capable of misleading people. After the heading the schedule reads:Parliament has decided to consult people in Scotland on the Government's proposal for a Scottish Parliament".The use of the word "Parliament" twice worries me. It may be interpreted as implying a parity between the two institutions. Whatever else it may be—we have at the present time virtually no information to go on—the new Scottish body will in some ways have to be subsidiary and subordinate to the Parliament of the United Kingdom. That applies particularly in financial matters, where a large proportion of the body's funding will be provided by the United Kingdom Government.
1191 Another question which of course cannot be answered at the present time is whether there will be a Secretary of State for Scotland, given that the Scottish parliament will hold pretty well all the powers that he at present holds. I suggest in those circumstances that that wording ought to be changed during the passage of the Bill through this House.
I wish the people of Scotland well. Many people of Scottish descent live in my part of the country, where they greatly enrich the community. We heard last week, in the Government's reply to the Question of my noble and learned friend Lord Fraser of Carmyllie, that transmigration into and out of Scotland continues in large numbers—over half a million in and half a million out in the past 10 years. It is ironic that many of the voters in the referendum in Scotland will not be of Scottish descent. I wish the people of Wales well, but in relation to Wales I have nothing further to add at this stage.
All the people in both Wales and Scotland will have to consider, when they vote, that it is the substance of the proposals that will matter and not their form.
§ 9.2 p.m.
§ Baroness Seccombe
My Lords, I always feel that constitutional debates such as the one before us today are occasions not to be missed. Such important issues attract contributions from historians and others who have great experience and expertise. It is therefore with hesitation and humility that I rise to speak today—perhaps at this late hour some of your Lordships may wish I had hesitated even longer and not spoken at all.
I have two reasons for speaking today. First, as my noble friend Lord Lauderdale said, I had a Scottish grandmother, but I also had the added bonus of a Welsh grandfather as well as two English grandparents. As a result I have always felt passionately that I am a citizen of the United Kingdom and not of one of its component countries. Secondly, I was deeply shocked by the Government's guillotine of such a major Bill. It was unnecessary as they have a massive majority. I worry that that was an arrogance in denying thorough debate and scrutiny.
This is a Bill which will have a dramatic effect on every inhabitant of these islands. The Union has served us well for nearly 300 years and yet now we have a Government hell bent on creating a situation where the individual countries will be at odds with one another. Of course the devolution Bill will be debated in great detail at a later stage. But it is difficult not to raise issues at this stage due to the timing of the referendum. I must admit that I find it strange that we are to have the referendum before the devolution Bill has been passed by both Houses of Parliament. At the present time we do not even have a White Paper, as we have heard on many occasions, never mind a draft Bill. And I certainly do not need to remind your Lordships how different a Bill can be at the end of the parliamentary process.
In 1979 the referendum took place after a full and thorough debate in both Houses. It was supported by the Labour Government, but rejected by both Scotland 1192 and Wales. As I understand it, in Scotland 33 per cent. of the electorate said yes; 31 per cent. said no; but 36 per cent.—one in three—stayed at home and did not vote. In Wales, 12 per cent. said yes; 47 per cent. said no; and 41 per cent. stayed at home. The referendum in 1975 also took place after the Bill's passage through Parliament. We are told that, should there be a referendum on a single currency, it too would only be held after the Bill had been through both Houses. Why then should we be expected to accept a different process this time? I fail to understand.
I turn now to the subject of those entitled to vote in the referendum. Why should the local government register be used and not the parliamentary one? As we have heard, it means that European nationals seconded to Scotland could vote while a Scot seconded to a continental town would be ineligible. I also feel strongly about those who serve this country in the Armed Forces. They may be denied the opportunity to have a say in the future of this country, and I find that unacceptable.
In addition, there are many who feel that all United Kingdom residents should be able to take part in a decision which will probably lead to its break-up. After all, the Scottish National Party will support the Bill because it sees it as the first step to independence. I am concerned that there is to be no threshold for turn-out: a simple majority vote is to suffice. I am sure that all of us who are members of a sports club will know that around two-thirds of the members must vote if they want to change its constitution. It is very odd that a simple majority would be accepted in a situation such as a referendum.
I am sure that the Welsh cannot understand why they should be treated differently from Scotland. I ponder over many questions, but the recurring one concerns the tax-raising powers of the Scottish parliament. Why should Scottish Members of another place not be subject to the tartan tax simply because they are paid South of the Border? Other concerns include what will happen to multinational companies or even smaller businesses which stay in Scotland when a move to England would make them more profitable. What will be the effect on unemployment in Scotland if that happens? Will people decide to live in England and commute to Scotland? I can see only confusion and discord.
Who will pay the £8 million required for the referendum? Will it come from the Consolidated Fund grant to Scotland and Wales or will the English be expected to share the expense? That would surely create conflict and would constitute taxation without representation. How does local government fit into this structure? Would its powers be diminished? One point is certain. It would not be tenable to maintain the present number of constituencies in Scotland and Wales. The over-representation could not be justified for Scotland and the number would have to be reduced from 73 to around 59, and for Wales, from 40 to around 34.
The West Lothian question, first posed by the honourable Member for Linlithgow, Tam Dalyell, has never been answered in all the years since he first posed it. But it would be unacceptable for Scottish and Welsh MPs to vote on purely English matters when English 1193 Members would have no say on purely Scottish or Welsh matters. It would lead to disaster as governments tried to get their legislation through. There would obviously be conflict and tension. These are the questions to which people in Scotland and Wales need to know the answers before they look at the referendum questions.
As I said earlier, the Union has served us well and is much stronger than the four individual parts. I believe that, as a small nation, we have always punched above our weight. We hold dear our influence throughout the world and value our role in international institutions, and particularly our seat on the Security Council. At present we are four countries but one nation. To tinker with this costly special arrangement would indeed be asking for a blank cheque. The last government gave more powers to Scotland and Wales but always defended the Union. This Bill would lead to yet another tier of government. There would be more bureaucrats, the cost would be enormous and inward investment would be deterred.
I would not oppose the Bill if I could be sure of benefits. But to undermine the constitution in this way would seem to do exactly the opposite. The Bill takes us into new territory. I do believe that it is the first step to the break-up of the United Kingdom. It is a Bill that embarks on a process which the Government do not seem to appreciate will change the way of life for all our citizens. I believe that one day it will be seen as a Bill that the Labour Party, whether it is old or new, will wish it had never signed up to.
§ 9.11 p.m.
§ Lord Desai
My Lords, I was going to make a mild speech but I think it is too late to do that now. For the noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, to say that the guillotining of the Bill in the House of Commons was unusual is a little rich. The Single European Act, which was much longer and more fundamental to the constitution of the country, was guillotined in the other place.
§ Baroness Seccombe
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for giving way. I think it was guillotined at a much later stage.
§ Lord Desai
My Lords, I hear voices in my right ear that that was not the case. But I say this to the noble Baroness. Not only was the Single European Act much more fundamental. But in her concluding remarks she said that the Labour Party might regret the Bill. Whether or not that turns out to be the case, I shall say one thing. Her party regrets passing that Act.
This is a small, technical Bill. It is a first step which opens a process. Noble Lords opposite have said that in 1978 only one in three voters voted in favour. What has happened since to change so much the situation in Scotland and Wales that we expect not only a yes vote but a large turnout? I shall tell the House what has happened. The party opposite's Government has happened. The poll tax disaster in Scotland will never be forgotten. Not only that, but when the English poll 1194 tax voters were given a subsidy, an on-the-spot correction had to be made to remind the Minister in charge that he had entirely forgotten Scotland.
I have no stake in the system. I cannot claim a grandparent or any ancestor English, Welsh or Scottish. I am neutral in this respect. One of the longest Acts debated by this Parliament was the Government of India Act 1935. It set up a federal system, which is a very good system. But we are not discussing a federation. Here I take issue with the noble Lord, Lord Steel, and others on the Liberal Democrat Benches. The German case is irrelevant because we are not setting up a federation. I do not believe that it would he possible to do so with a population which is so unequal between the four areas. We are discussing devolution. In that respect we are saying that, given what we already know from the election results, one can presume—I am perfectly willing to take a bet with anyone on the opposite side of the House who disagrees with me—that the referendum will result in a yes vote in Scotland.
§ Baroness Carnegy of Lour
My Lords, does the noble Lord appreciate that one of the main reasons for anxiety about the position in Scotland and the longing for a Scottish parliament is that people say that they never got the kind of government that they voted for? I am informed that now, when people have the kind of government they voted for, they are becoming a bit cool on the Scottish problem.
§ Lord Desai
My Lords, let us test that proposition. If the noble Baroness is right, I am sure that she will celebrate. I presume that people do not change their minds that quickly. I have read a lot about the Scottish convention. I believe that the process was deep and wide ranging. It is not going to be abandoned that easily. I will not take a bet on the Welsh vote; I shall hedge my bets on that. I shall give a cautious prediction that there too the vote will be yes. I do not believe that anyone so far has said that the votes will be "yes, yes" or "no, yes". That would be disastrous. I believe that there will be a "yes, yes" vote throughout.
One of the problems of an unwritten constitution is not that it is unwritten, because a large part of it is written, but that it does not have a precise system for changing the constitution. There is an advantage here. When we come to contemplate any particular change in the constitution we can be flexible. Therefore, in my view it is quite right to adopt the idea that for this particular constitutional change we should take a simple majority of all those voting for the very sound reasons put forward by my noble friend Lady Ramsay.
I do not believe that we should presume that those who do not vote are against. When opinion polls are taken the "don't knows" are proportionately divided between yes and no. It is a common statistical practice. There is no basis for saying that everyone who says "don't know" will say no. If people care enough to stop something they should go down to the polling booth and vote no rather than be rewarded for their laziness. It is perfectly fair to say that we should have a simple majority, because that is not the end of the process. Given our constitution, all referendums are consultative 1195 by definition. Parliament has to ratify the decision and pass the Bill and only then will the referendum decision be validated.
§ Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. We normally debate economic matters and this is a change for both of us. If I heard him right—leaving this referendum aside for the moment and talking about referendums in general—it is conceivable that Parliament might decide to ignore the result of the referendum. Does he not believe that that is likely to cause a great deal more trouble than setting down, as the Commission on the Conduct of Referendums suggested we should, some kind of ground rules for deciding on a majority rather than leaving it to Parliament after the event perhaps to overturn the referendum?
§ Lord Desai
My Lords, I believe that we have only one constitutional doctrine; namely, the sovereignty of the Crown in Parliament. This Bill is not proposing such a fundamental change that we will have another rule just for Scotland no matter what happens. For the sake of argument I assert that in this case, as it is laid down, a simple majority should suffice because after the referendum we shall have to debate the Bill through Parliament. It is only when it is passed that we shall have a parliament in Scotland and an assembly in Wales.
Like my noble friend Lord Prys-Davies, I wish to mention one or two things which should appear in the White Paper. This is my only chance to do so because we shall debate the White Paper after it appears. This is the only pre-White Paper debate that we shall have.
I should like to make two points. The first relates to the second question in Schedule 1, which covers taxation. Everybody is presuming that the Scottish parliament may increase taxes, but it could also cut taxes, which may raise problems with regard to the Barnett formula. That is a non-statutory formula, which is usually adhered to, given the rules of the game. Once we have set up a separate parliament, we shall have to give the Barnett formula statutory form. Indeed, that should be done because the Barnett formula is a very good formula—but perhaps to make noble Lords opposite happier I should call it the Goschen-Barnett formula because it goes back more than 100 years. That formula should be codified and one should perhaps establish prudent financial rules. Perhaps such a change should already have been made in the UK, given the way in which the previous government behaved. One should not cut taxes while deficits are high. There should be sound financial rules.
With regard to clarification, we should seek carefully to embody what my right honourable friend the Prime Minister—he was then the Leader of the Opposition—said about where sovereignty lies. I believe that the White Paper should state explicitly that it lies with the powers of the Westminster Parliament. Section 75 of the Government of Ireland Act 1920 provides a very good formulation which I urge upon my noble friend. I thought that I would just throw in that rather obscure reference to match the popular reference given by the 1196 noble Viscount, Lord St. Davids. Apart from that, this is a good example of the rapid enactment of a manifesto promise and I therefore welcome it.
§ 9.22 p.m.
§ The Earl of Northesk
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Desai, has just told us that this is a small, technical Bill. It runs to only six clauses and two schedules. We are told that it is a simple matter of the Government honouring their manifesto commitment to consult the peoples of Scotland and of Wales. I reassure noble Lords opposite that I am entirely comfortable with those propositions. I have no objection at all to the principle of the people being consulted. I welcome that. Indeed, I welcome the Government's tacit admission that devolution is a matter of such momentous importance that the mandate afforded by the majority gained at the election needs to be buttressed by further consultation of public opinion.
Why, therefore, does the Bill make me feel uneasy? Inevitably, part of the answer lies in what we know about the Government's proposals for devolution. As we are all too painfully aware and as has been manifest from today's debate—I suspect that the Government are facing their own quandaries here—those proposals are littered with a whole raft of unanswered questions. No doubt we can anticipate many happy hours agonising over them in due course. But—and I hope that noble Lords opposite will be pleased to hear this—I can accept that they are not necessarily of particular relevance to the Bill before us.
Like other noble Lords who have already spoken, I believe that there are certainly two, and possibly three, substantive issues which this Bill fails to address adequately. They are whether pre or post-legislative referendums are the most appropriate means of achieving the desirable objective of public consultation; whether the respective electorates for the referendums are adequately defined; and whether the outcomes should be subject to some form of threshold criteria.
Of course, the arguments relating to these issues have already been well rehearsed; but, be that as it may, I make no apology for any repetition to which I may fall prey. Whatever noble Lords may feel, these remain matters of fundamental importance. I shall limit myself to consideration of the first two only. As to the first, it is all very well to consult about a broad principle, but how can people come to a considered and rational opinion without knowing the substance of that principle? Transport analogies are somewhat in vogue at the moment—perhaps due to the influence of the Deputy Prime Minister. I was initially tempted down the route of steamrollers or even rollercoasters—both in their own ways appropriate. Instead, I plumped for the thought that the Government are in effect asking the whole of the United Kingdom to purchase a car without affording it the opportunity to inspect it or look under the bonnet. Bluntly, whatever the bodywork from a distance, be it a Rolls-Royce or a beat-up Land-Rover, one cannot make an informed judgment as to the desirability of purchase without reference to the interior trim and engine. Nor does the offer of the referendums being determined in the light of the Government's 1197 respective White Papers help. Regardless of the Government's majority in another place, these are simply the dealers' option packages. Under no circumstances do they necessarily represent the vehicles that will or will not be driven out of the showroom.
I simply pose the following question: should the peoples of Scotland and Wales trust the used car salesman ethos upon which the Bill is based? (I hasten to add that I mean no disrespect to that honourable and noble profession.) An observation of the Commission on the Conduct of Referendums is pertinent here:A referendum cannot, however, settle issues once and for all. At best it can offer a considered measure of the electorate's views at the time it is held … The sovereignty of Parliament means that the power to legislate against a referendum, however overwhelming, remains, at least in constitutional theory, with Westminster".This highlights a considerable and desperately important confusion which I believe has coloured debate about the use of referendums in our constitution thus far; namely, the distinction between whether they should be consultative in character or consentient. This is exceptionally important.
Listening to the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, in introducing the debate I am none the wiser as to the Government's view on this matter. But the important point is that the passage I have cited infers that greater credibility particularly in terms of consent can be attached to post-legislative referendums.
As to the second issue, viewed from the consultative/consentient divide, my mind strays to Her Majesty's most gracious Speech and almost the very first words spoken in this Parliament; namely, that the Government intend to govern for the benefit of the whole nation. The Union exists. On that basis the English and the Irish have just as much right to be consulted as the Scots and Welsh. Failure so to do renders this implicit promise somewhat hollow. I accept of course that any referendum of the English or Irish should not determine whether devolution in Scotland and Wales will proceed and that such referendums should be consultative. Rather, in line with the nature of a pre-legislative exercise, such referendums would do an enormous amount to inform debate on any future legislation.
More than that, one should not be blind to the simple fact that the whole nation has a vested interest in the outcomes of the referendums. The financial implications of devolution, particularly in Scotland, are such that it is extremely difficult to sustain any argument that the English nation should not be consulted. Accordingly, in a pre-legislative scenario what is important above all else is that the proposed changes to the structure of the Union should be subjected to, if not the consent, then the opinion of all the peoples of the Union, thereby fulfilling this Government's avowed aims of democratisation. If the Government wish to remain true to their pronouncements on this there is no alternative to a nationwide referendum. The Bill as it stands, if it is based on a consultative purpose, is at once both hubristic and arrogant.
Inevitably, we have been regaled by noble Lords opposite with protestations that the Bill is merely a matter of the Government fulfilling their manifesto commitment. I have no problem with that mantra. 1198 I acknowledge the Government's mandate. But, pursuing the train of thought of my noble friend Lord Beloff, we can be a little disquieted that there may be a sense in which a soundbite is being used here and, indeed, more generally, as a substitute for reasoned debate and policy substance.
Philip Norton, Professor of Government at Hull University, writing recently in the House Magazine expressed it thus:Manifestos establish goals. They state the principle rather than the detail".He goes on to say:A government that believes in its measures should welcome rather than fear parliamentary scrutiny. Running away from parliamentary scrutiny and hiding behind a party majority, is a sign of a weak rather than a strong government; and the weaker the scrutiny, the greater the harm in the long term to support for the political system".The cynic in me is tempted to suppose that the Government's approach to the Bill—the persistent avowal of their mandate, the guillotine Motion in another place—serves to limit and deflect proper and adequate scrutiny. In a sense, of course, that brings me full circle back to my reasons for being uncomfortable about pre-legislative referendums. Certainly I have yet to hear any reasoned defence of the substantive issues in today's debate so far, especially the distinction between the use of referendums as mechanisms of consultation or of consent. I therefore hope and trust that that will be forthcoming when the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, winds up the debate.
§ 9.31 p.m.
§ Earl Russell
My Lords, the noble Earl, Lord Northesk, is mistaken when he describes the majority in favour of devolution as a party majority. In saying that, I do not refer only to my own Benches, crowded though we are; I recall, for example, the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Alport, in the debate on the humble Address. This is a body of opinion that stretches a long way beyond the boundaries of any one party. Indeed it has, even quite recently, taken in large parts of the Conservative Party.
The noble Lord, Lord Desai, as always, was entertaining and thought-provoking. He is of course right, that what we are proposing here is not a federation; but relevance, as he knows well, is a relative and not an absolute concept. So when my noble friend Lord Steel, in a delightful and distinguished maiden speech, referred to Germany, the relevance is to the English idea that the unitary sovereign state is the only form of state. To that point, my noble friend's point was entirely relevant.
Hans-Dietrich Genscher, talking to my late noble friend Lady Seear, once said:You British are a generous people. You created the best constitution and the best system of labour relations in Europe. You gave it to us, and you didn't keep it for yourselves".That point is worth quite a lot of thought.
I do not believe that this is a major constitutional Bill. The devolution Bill itself, when we get it, undoubtedly will be such a Bill. All this Bill does is authorise us to allow the people to vote, which is not a particularly 1199 dramatic thing to do. That makes the issue of the publication of the Bill, or indeed of the White Paper, rather less dramatic than perhaps it sounded during the day.
By the time people vote, they will know what it is they are voting on. I believe that people usually find White Papers easier to read than Acts of Parliament. By the time we here vote, we will know what we are voting on. So the delay in the Bill and the White Paper is not of desperate seriousness, especially since, as my noble friend Lord Steel of Aikwood pointed out, in relation to Scotland the proposals rest securely on the Scottish Constitutional Convention whose proposals have been clearly known, though, I admit, in England not quite as widely known as they should have been, for quite some time.
In general, I could not help feeling that there was a slight note of, shall I say, captiousness in some of the objections to the Bill. For example, the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, was distressed that people would be asked to vote in a referendum immediately after returning from holiday. Let us suppose that the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, was to say at the end of the evening that he was persuaded by the point and that he was shifting the referendum to February. Might the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, then suggest that that was a difficult time because of the risk of snow drifts in the Welsh and Scottish mountains?
§ Lord Crickhowell
My Lords, I believe that it would be a considerable improvement because there really would be time for the debate to be carried to the people, as was the case last time, instead of there being totally inadequate time.
§ Earl Russell
My Lords, is the noble Lord really proposing that everyone should have to make their way through snow drifts in the Cairngorms in February? I do not believe that that is particularly practical.
§ Lord Crickhowell
My Lords, frankly, the argument is now absurd. All I am saying—and I stick to the suggestion—is that to have a debate on a White Paper, which the noble Earl will read, unlike many people in Scotland and Wales, and then to expect the electorate to vote on it as soon as they return from holiday in September, without adequate time to discuss the issue, is an abuse of parliamentary procedure. I would prefer that gap to be much longer.
§ Earl Russell
My Lords, we have been debating these issues for about 20 years. The issues are of age. I believe that we have reached the point when we might legitimately make up our minds.
The noble Lord, Lord Renton, asked what if the Bill should depart from the White Paper. In a sovereign parliament that must be a possibility, but it seems to me to be strictly analogous to the possibility of a Bill departing from a party manifesto. It must be open to people when they come into government to look at the evidence in, one hopes, a constructive way. To prohibit either of those options would be extremely unwise.
1200 It is not for any of us in this place to discuss the amendments which were tabled in another place. However, I hope that when the Opposition come to table their amendments they will take account of the proposals of the noble Lord, Lord Renton, in the report on the preparation of legislation relating to points which are too small to be included in primary legislation. When the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, mentioned guidance, I believe that he was looking in the right direction. I am certain that he will listen to practical suggestions that are made about the guidance. Proposing to put such matters in primary legislation is not the right way of approaching the drafting of legislation.
We have heard a great deal about proposals for defining the electorate. I wish to say to the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish—he has been liberated from a written brief, he enjoyed it and it was great fun for all of us—that I am extremely sorry about the case of his daughter, but she is obviously not one of those likely to be primarily affected by these proposals. There is good sense in the idea that consultation should be with those primarily affected, which is likely to mean those who live in the area concerned. My parents in Los Angeles once met a Scotsman and asked him how long he had been there. They received the reply, "For-rty four-r years"! I doubt whether that gentleman, had he been voting in the referendum, would have been in a position to cast a particularly informed vote.
§ Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish
My Lords, it is a novel experience to trade thoughts with the noble Earl on this new subject and not on social security. I am sure that, before he goes too far in this argument, he will wish to be reminded that one can be an overseas voter for only 20 years after one has ceased being a voter by residence in the United Kingdom.
§ Earl Russell
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for bringing that to my attention. I was in fact overseas when the overseas voting rights were brought in.
I recall also what was said in 1944 when the armies of Marshal Timoshenko were defeating the Germans in all directions. I was told that it was commonly said in Cardiff that he was really a Welshman known as Timmy Jenkins. Therefore, we are capable of entering on an infinite regression.
We have heard a good deal about thresholds. There is substance in the proverb that hope deferred maketh the heart grow sick. I wonder also that anyone should propose thresholds when it is considered what they would do to the voting figures in this House or what they would have done to the last presidential election in the United States when I believe only 49 per cent. of the voters bothered to cast a vote. That is rather a dangerous line to go down.
The noble Lord, Lord Beloff, was worried about the constitutional position of the Monarch. She is already Queen of Scotland. Her predecessors were kings and queens of Scotland long before they were of England. 1201 She is Queen of many other countries. Her Majesty is used to taking advice from Ministers in all the countries over which she presides.
§ Lord Beloff
My Lords, I am well aware of the provisions regarding the Commonwealth countries of which Her Majesty is head of state. I simply want clarification as regards legislation passed by a Scottish parliament from whom she takes advice regarding Royal Assent. It is a perfectly straightforward question.
§ Earl Russell
My Lords, I cannot answer for the Minister. I presume that it would be from her Scottish Ministers, and I observe the Minister to nod.
We have heard a great deal also about the suggestion made by the noble Earl, Lord Northesk, a few minutes ago about a referendum for England. In fact, the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, and I crossed swords on this in the debate on the humble Address. It seems to me that any relationship between two countries involves consent on both sides. But except in what I regard as the unlikely event of both Scotland and Wales voting "No" in those referendums, I should read the result of the general election as signifying that there is no consent in either country to the continuation of the status quo. Therefore, if there were to be a referendum in England, the question would have to be between devolution and separation. If the Conservative Party wishes to press strongly for an English referendum on that question, I suppose that in principle the case would deserve a hearing but the political prudence of the proposal would not be instantly obvious to me.
We have been asked many times why there is a difference between Wales and Scotland. That is rather important because the constitutional basis of those two countries' relationship with England is quite different. The Welsh Act of Union of 1536 was an Act passed by the Parliament of England. There was no Welsh input into the political process that led to it. Wales is governed by English law made by the English.
If this referendum produces a "Yes" vote in Wales, it will put the relationship between Wales and England on a basis of consent for the first time since the reign of Edward I. I would regard that as a very substantial advance. Whether the differences between Wales and Scotland, as they are set out here, are the right ones is a question that we might debate. But there is a real theoretical basis for difference.
The relationship with Scotland is quite different because that, like that with the EU, was a relationship between two independent sovereign powers and as the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor reminded us in the debate on the humble Address, it has not proved possible—and I think possible is the right word—to unify their two systems of law. That is why we have arguments about the West Lothian question. But our choice, so long as we have a Union Parliament and two systems of law, is only between a West Lothian question and a West London question.
I recall leading on the Higher Education (Scotland) Bill, which dealt with law to which I was not likely to be subject. I believe that only those who have expressed 1202 dismay about the West London question are also entitled to express it about the West Lothian question. I am of that number myself, but how many other noble Lords are? If one has to choose between West London and West Lothian, is it not better to have Scottish MPs making English law, which they cannot do without the co-operation of some 40 per cent. of English MPs, rather than English MPs making Scottish law which they can do without the collaboration of any Scottish MPs whatever? The only way out of this is a full regionalisation of the United Kingdom which has not yet been proposed. However, if this discussion continues, that is where it would lead.
The noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, made a very strong statement indeed. She said that these proposals would almost certainly lead to the break-up of the United Kingdom. The noble Baroness's crystal ball is in remarkably good working order. However, if that is so, how is it that we had union between England and Scotland for 104 years with two different parliaments and no disaster resulted? In fact, what is behind this is, I think, a fundamental misapprehension of the nature of the British state. The British state is not a unitary, sovereign nation state. England in 1603 was such a state. But for just that reason the British state could not be. The British state is a plural, multinational state. I do not see that recognition of that fact will endanger it; but I believe that failure to recognise it might endanger it very greatly.
§ 9.46 p.m.
§ Lord Rowallan
My Lords, six-and-a-half hours into today's debate and it is my luck to follow the most eloquent speaker in the House. However, I shall do my best. I have come to the conclusion that I am a fairly rare species because I am actually a pro-devolutionist Scots Tory, having fought in two elections in 1970 and been part of the Perth Declaration. I am only for devolution as far as it does not lead to the break-up of the United Kingdom. I hope that that is what we are debating today; indeed, it is certainly what I am debating.
The referendums Bill is extremely simple in itself, but its consequences could be potentially enormous for the United Kingdom. I wonder why it is that we are just doing it in Scotland and Wales, because we do have enormous financial costs here. The estimated cost of the referendums is £8 million. Then, if we go beyond that, we have between £31 million and £48 million in total money to be spent. I presume that that will have to come from the budget of Great Britain. Therefore, I do not believe that it is fair just to make it a Scottish and Welsh problem.
We have had several thoughts expressed in that respect; indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Desai, mentioned that one of the problems in Scotland, with there being no Conservatives left there, was the poll tax. I hope that we are not using the vehicle of devolution as another experiment on Scotland before we decide what to do with England. If we go ahead with the plan, we shall end up with parliaments or assemblies in Scotland, Wales and Ireland but with nothing in England. The only way forward is to do exactly what I believe the 1203 Liberals stood for. I should point out to the House that my great uncle was Jo Grimond and, therefore, I thought that I did understand what they stood for. However, they now seem to be advocating the opposite; namely, a federal system where all four countries have their own parliament—I can go along with that completely—all subservient to the Mother of Parliaments here in Westminster. That is where we have to go, but we must be careful. There is no going back. Whatever we decide now we cannot take away because, if we do, we shall have riots on our hands. We must get it right this time.
I was going to talk about all the problems that have been mentioned from the West Lothian problem to what is going to happen to the House of Lords, but I shall not bother as those matters have been covered so strongly by so many other noble Lords in this House. However, I wish to point out that I am a Scot, although it does not sound like it. I can prove my parentage back a long way. I am extremely proud of being a Scot. But I am also British and I am proud of that. I wish I still had my blue passport instead of the little red one. I trust that I can be both a Scot and British in the future, but I worry that asking the questions in this referendum could lead to the break-up of what I want and what I have loved in all the 50 years I have spent on this earth.
How can the general public answer the questions before they understand the consequences? I am here in Parliament and I do not know the answers. I am afraid that I disagree with my noble friend who said that everyone will understand the White Paper. I do not think people will understand the White Paper and what is proposed will change so fundamentally during the course of its progress through the other place and through this House that by the time the people get to know anything about it it will be a completely different animal.
I say that we must beware. We must not be swept along in a tide of nationalism and media excitement, because today the media rule our thoughts. We must be careful about that. I am not anti-devolution in any way. As I said at the start of my comments I am pro-devolution, but I am "anti" the breakdown of the United Kingdom. The Scots and the Welsh have shown that they want some sort of autonomy. My party has suffered badly for that. I accept that totally. I do not think it is necessarily the only reason but it is certainly a strong reason for there being no Conservative Party representation in Scotland and Wales. That is a complete disaster as regards the government of this country making any sense. An absence of Conservative representation in those countries is not a good thing. However, it is the job of Members in this House and in the other place to find the correct vehicle to allow our great country to stay together but at the same time to give the people of Scotland and Wales, and indeed England and Ireland, what they want.
§ 9.53 p.m.
§ Lord Taylor of Gryfe
My Lords, over the years in this House I have tried to introduce a Bill to abolish boxing on the grounds that after a certain period a boxer suffers so much punishment that he becomes 1204 punch-drunk. I feel not unlike a retired boxer at this stage. If my fluency suffers, I am sure the House will appreciate that I have been here throughout this debate listening to the speeches.
One thing disappointed me about the excellent speeches that have been made this afternoon, and that is that the issue of devolution, and the issue of this Bill—the right to consult—seemed to be tackled more or less on a party basis. I was delighted to hear the noble Lord, Lord Rowallan, at this late stage in the debate calling for some degree of consensus in looking at this matter. I think that the tone and the effort of the party of the Opposition in the other House was not in keeping with a desire for consensus or even good government. As has been said before, in the case of this Bill we had a Bill of six clauses and two schedules; we had 250 amendments, 25 new clauses and 12 new schedules. That indicated that the matter was being reviewed on a strictly party basis, and amendments were being introduced which were neither constructive nor helpful but were aimed at destroying the whole project. I hope that we shall consider the Bill in a constructive and helpful way. It is in the best traditions of the House of Lords that we take that view.
I confess that in the 1978 referendum I campaigned in Scotland against devolution. At that time I did not believe that it was in the best interests of good government in Scotland. I confess, too, that in considering the Bill that we debate today I have some sympathy with speakers who have said that we should see the legislation before we make the decision. If one floats a company and asks subscribers to take up shares, the Stock Exchange insists always that one produces a very detailed prospectus. I am not against devolution, but I should be happier if we knew in great detail what we were going to vote for. It is a major constitutional change.
In its enthusiasm, rightly and commendably, the Labour Party is determined to carry out its manifesto and promises. That has introduced into British politics a breath of fresh air. There is a feeling about that here are a Government anxious to carry out their promises to the people. That is commendable and good for democracy. Unfortunately, in the light of current debates about devolution in Scotland, the promise was made that within the first year of the new Government we would have a devolution Bill and the process of devolution would be carried out. I do not think that that was wise. I can understand the Labour Government responding to the excitement of the prospect of Scottish self-government. But this is an important and fundamental constitutional change which requires detailed examination.
When the Scottish Constitutional Convention discussed the matter, as has been said today, all kinds of organisations were invited to participate in its proceedings, presided over with great distinction by the noble Lord, Lord Steel, whom we welcome in this House today, and my good noble friend and colleague Lord Ewing of Kirkford. At that time I was president of the Scottish Peers Association. I wrote to The Scotsman and the Glasgow Herald to suggest that it might be of interest to the Scottish Constitutional Convention to hear 1205 the views of Scottish Peers since the construction of Parliament was to be changed. I regret that Scottish Peers were not invited to join the convention. I was told that if one wanted to do so, to come along, or words to that effect. The position of the House of Lords would then have had greater scrutiny and examination. There is no provision—I hope that there will be some in the White Paper and in the legislation—for the operation of the second Chamber.
§ Lord Ewing of Kirkford
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for giving way. I should just like to clear this point up. The manner in which the Scottish Constitutional Convention was established was such that no one was invited to join. The initial meeting was called in the building of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in Edinburgh, and people joined of their own volition. No invitations went out to anyone to join. Against that background at that time it was open to the Scottish Peers Association to join those in the convention.
§ Lord Taylor of Gryfe
My Lords, I thank my noble friend. The absence of Scottish Peers from the deliberations was unfortunate. Whether it was my responsibility or that of someone else I do not know.
The situation is almost the West Lothian question in reverse. I am a Peer of Parliament, but I live in Scotland. Most of my life and my cultural, economic and political activities are in Scottish affairs. If a Scottish parliament is to be responsible for health, education, housing and the basics of government in Scotland, as a Scottish Peer I shall have no voice whatsoever in these matters. It will, however, be possible for me to come down to Westminster, to deliberate, speak and vote on matters relating to English education, housing, health or whatever.
This question has to be resolved. It is not the West Lothian question. It relates to Scottish Peers and the place of the House of Lords in the constitution of this country. If there is a unicameral parliament in Scotland, as is provided so far as I can see in the programme of the Scottish convention, I presume that legislation relating to the basic concerns of the Scottish people will go direct to Her Majesty in order to secure approval. I hope this point will be taken care of in the White Paper and also in the Bill. There is no provision for a revising Chamber on such basic Scottish matters. Provision for scrutiny by the House of Lords would therefore be denied. It would almost represent an innovation in the British constitution—by-passing the scrutiny of the House of Lords. It will almost be a move in the direction of unicameral government. That is important.
When I make such statements it may be assumed that I am against devolution. I am in favour of devolution. I feel that the devolution of Scotland and Wales should be part of an overall distribution of power. There must be a move towards the decentralisation of power in any healthy democracy.
I agree with the noble Earl, Lord Russell. In Germany we have the Länder, which exercise a great deal of local authority and power. Part of my family lives in Switzerland, where the cantons enjoy a great degree of 1206 decentralised power in a lively, democratic city. I hope that devolution in Scotland, which I will support, as I will support this Bill, will be only one step towards an examination of decentralised power in the United Kingdom.
As was pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Shore, in an excellent maiden speech, there is presently a demand all over the world for the greater decentralisation of power. I believe that arises from the fact that we are living in a world of big and powerful industrial and political institutions. It is a great thing that the human spirit is revolting against excessive power at the centre. I hope, therefore, that we shall respond to the need for decentralisation and that Scottish and Welsh devolution will be part of that process.
§ 10.5 p.m.
My Lords, I may not agree with all that the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, said, but I have always respected his opinions. I listened to his speech with great interest. It is unnerving to realise that one is the speaker everyone wishes to sit down so that they can hear the winding up speeches from the Front Benches. That is my lot tonight. I do not know how much it will inhibit me, but I suspect that it will.
In common with other noble Lords who have spoken today, I was heavily engaged in our devolution debates in this House nigh on 20 years ago. When only one-third of the Scottish electorate voted "yes", I never thought I might have to face the prospect of a re-run. I might therefore have been expected to welcome the Government's decision to have a pre-legislative referendum. But—and it is a big "but"—it is not to be a pre-legislative referendum in the true sense of that description. In their understandable anxiety to avoid using up parliamentary time on what might be rejected by the Scottish electorate, as I see it, the Government have, under the pretext of taking Scottish opinion, opted to ask the Scottish electorate to buy a pig in a poke. When the referendum is held, voters will not really know what they are voting for. That is a very undesirable scenario. We are told that we shall have a week or two to consider and study a White Paper. A White Paper is just that. It does not necessarily represent what would be in subsequent legislation.
Parliament is sovereign, not the Government. I see that the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhill, has taken his place and I am sure he will agree with me that what emerges from the parliamentary process is not exactly what a White Paper would propose or even what the Bill proposes as first drafted. Yet the referendum campaign must be conducted on White Paper ideas.
What a weird campaign threatens! My noble friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish entertained us with the contradictory and self-contradictory quotes from Labour Party spokesmen over months past, describing what I think of as the revolving door of political gaffes. But there is a serious point arising therefrom. It is this: we are facing the consequences of compromise within the government ranks and the prospect of a referendum campaign based on a range of hopes and expectations that perhaps do not necessarily relate to reality. Unless the 1207 Government surprise me and perhaps everyone else by changing their mind, the argument advanced by my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy that a second referendum should follow the passing of any Scotland Act, merits serious consideration.
Neither a White Paper nor a claim to a mandate by virtue of one element in a general election manifesto are a proper basis for legislation of this constitutional magnitude—with consequences perhaps yet unthought of—unless the Scottish electorate know exactly what they are voting for and what they are letting themselves in for. That is the paramount consideration.
So much for generalities. I know the House wishes to get on to the speeches which are to follow. However, before I sit down I should like to put down a few markers for the Committee stage. First, in relation to the franchise, when I looked at what was proposed I was immediately unhappy about the vote position of the Services. Next, I am concerned about how out-of-date the electoral rolls will be and should like at a later stage to speculate about how we may get round that.
In addition, I am worried about the Government's view of who should be qualified. At some points of the debate today it sounded as though they did not know what to do with Scottish noble Lords who live in Scotland and I may humorously suggest that they should give each of us a document which we can take to the polling station. They can then use the parliamentary electorate. If we are able to turn up with a piece of paper saying that we are entitled to vote—there are only 123 of us—it may be easier than proposing regulations in relation to qualifications that make us a little unhappy.
That is all I wish to say tonight. I have no doubt that I shall be back at Committee stage. I thank your Lordships for listening to me.
§ 10.13 p.m.
§ Lord Thomas of Gresford My Lords, I add my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Shore of Stepney, on his stimulating maiden speech this afternoon. I hope he will forgive me if I give even warmer congratulations to my noble friend Lord Steel of Aikwood, whom I have known since 1965. He used to come to my constituency in north-east Wales—initially in a battered car and, as he went up in the political world, in a helicopter—campaign after campaign. How I managed to lose them all, as the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, was kind enough to inform your Lordships, I do not know.
We have not heard a demand in your Lordships' House for self-government for England. Perhaps that is not surprising. The English perception is that they govern themselves. The Welsh and Scottish perception is that England governs Wales and Scotland. That is the difference which sometimes English people fail to appreciate. When the noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, said,
The union has served us well",
I wondered who the "us" were. Despite all the efforts of the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, Wales remains a country where wage levels are lower than they are in England; where health is worse, and where benefit dependency is greater.
§ I agree entirely with the noble Viscount, Lord St. Davids, who said that the status quo is not an option; there must be change. But the stoutest opponent of change your Lordships have heard today, the defender of the status quo, is the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, who said that on this issue the House should stand and fight. Those are the strongest words your Lordships have heard in opposition to the Bill before the House. I welcome his frank and open opposition.
§ Lord Crickhowell
My Lords, I did not say that we should stand and fight on the Bill. I said that we should stand and fight on the very simple proposition that the facts should be presented equally to the electorate, as recommended by Sir Patrick Nairne, Mr. Butler and others.
§ Lord Thomas of Gresford
My Lords, I am most grateful for that correction. I have been carried away by the words of the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, a moment ago with his boxing analogy. I suppose that we are all punch drunk at this time of night.
I obviously misunderstood what the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, was saying. He was a distinguished Secretary of State for Wales. It is not surprising that he takes the attitude he does. He did a great deal for Wales. He fought the cause of Wales in Cabinet and elsewhere. As he told us, he was for 20 years the Member for Pembroke, so it is not surprising that he sees the Welsh Office and the office of the Secretary of State for Wales as beneficial and powerful instruments. All I would urge upon him and those who think in the same way is that time has moved on.
He gently chided me about my credentials for replying to the debate. I recall that in 1972 I was presenting before the Royal Commission on the Constitution, on which the noble Lord, Lord Renton, served—I do not remember, and he does not remember, but I suspect that I appeared in front of him in Cardiff—proposals for a Welsh parliament at that time. Perhaps the noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay, was right when she said, quoting Victor Hugo, that this is an idea whose time has come. Well, so far as the Conservative Party is concerned, Pembroke has gone, and so has the rest of Wales. I would urge the noble Lord to re-think his position.
A moment ago the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, called for the dispersal and decentralisation of power. But the Conservative cast of mind is to see power as a very tight nucleus, a ball, which one can grasp in one hand. The idea of dispersal, whether it is devolution to Wales and Scotland or the dispersal of part of it to Europe, is anathema to the Conservative mind. The fact is that the government of Wales as it has been exercised over the past 20 years, to which the noble Lord was referring, was not acceptable to the people of Wales, as the election demonstrated. It was not acceptable because it was not accountable. There has been devolution—administrative devolution—to unaccountable quangos.
In opposition to the Bill your Lordships have heard about a number of hurdles that have been thrown in its way. The first hurdle is that this is a pre-legislative referendum with only a White Paper to guide the voter 1209 in the task he is undertaking—the car salesman's approach, as one noble Lord described it. We are speaking in this House today on the principle. Why should not the people of Wales and Scotland be heard on the principle? As the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, remarked, the principle is as obvious as apple pie. He was referring to the vote on devolution. I was not quite so sure about the custard—that is to say, the taxing powers of the second question.
The noble Lord, Lord Beloff, said that we are making a major change to the government of the United Kingdom and that people should know the details. The examples that he gave were, first, how Ministers are chosen. Secondly, will legislation require the Royal Assent? I can tell noble Lords that in the bar of the Aberdeen Arms in Tarland on Deeside tonight they will be discussing avidly whether legislation will require the Royal Assent. If my noble friend Lord Russell is correct, his suggestion accepted, and we have a vote in February, one can imagine them huddling around the pub fire thumbing through the White Paper and discussing all the matters which are contained therein. Let us be sensible about it: it is a question of principle, and the people of Wales and Scotland should be allowed to deal with it in that way.
§ Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish
My Lords, I am listening with interest to the noble Lord. From what he has just said I take it that he is in favour of a referendum. I wonder whether he listened to his noble friend Lord Steel of Aikwood. He indicated quite clearly that his view—perhaps a Scottish one—was that we do not need a referendum and that the mandate on 1st May was overwhelming enough. If the noble Lord listened to me, I accepted rather reluctantly the conclusion that the mandate was pretty overwhelming.
§ Lord Thomas of Gresford
My Lords, again I am very grateful for that interruption. I can tell the noble Lord that since the Labour Party refused to discuss matters in detail with us in Wales, as it did in Scotland, different arrangements were arrived at. Mr. Alex Carlile, the Member of Parliament, as he then was, for Montgomery, came to an agreement with the Labour Party, which we shall sustain. It was that a referendum was acceptable having regard to the terms of the letters which were exchanged between the parties at that time. So there is a difference. I am glad that the noble Lord recognises the difference that may arise between Wales and Scotland.
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. Will he take on board that of course the principle of the Bill is plain as a pikestaff? What is respectfully objected to is the absence of any means of implementation in that Bill. That is the complaint. I hope that the noble Lord can take that on board.
§ Lord Thomas of Gresford
My Lord, I am trying to take it on board. If I may be forgiven for interpreting what the noble Lord is saying, he believes that it is the detail which the electors will require to see before they 1210 make up their minds. I recall that one noble Lord in this debate said that the matters for the constitution are so complicated that they require the detailed consideration of both Houses of Parliament and with that I agree. I cannot see that the Government can deviate to any considerable degree from any White Paper that they publish. We shall try: we shall put down amendments and seek to improve their proposals. With the sort of majority and mandate that they gained, destroying the Conservative Party in Wales and Scotland and mostly in England as well, I do not see that we are going to have a great deal of success on either side in putting forward our amendments.
I return to the other matters which have been raised in this debate. The next hurdle is the threshold argument. It is a consultative referendum that has been proposed. It is not part of the Wales Act or Scotland Act as it was in 1978 and 1979 when in order for that legislation to come into force there had to be a "yes" vote on the rules that were set out in that legislation. That was not consultative, but in order to confirm the Act that had already been passed. We know what the problems were then. I am with the noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay, and the noble Lord, Lord Ewing: we are not to be ruled by those who choose to stay at home. We cannot allow those people who do not wish to take part in a referendum to be counted as a "no" vote and to defeat the legislation which others want.
The next hurdle is that of the multi-options, put forward by Plaid Cymru, and in this debate by the noble Lord, Lord Sempill. That is not an option that can be accepted—
§ Lord Thomas of Gresford
My Lords, allow me to explain. Let us suppose that there are four options, three of which are changes to the status quo while the fourth is the status quo itself, and let us suppose that each of the three changes—first, for the sort of programme which the Government have put forward; secondly, for Liberal Democrat policy; and, thirdly, for independence—gains 24 per cent. of the vote in Scotland while the status quo gets 28 per cent. of the vote. What is to happen? Is the status quo to remain when there is an overwhelming vote, and overwhelming popular support, for change? There has to be a simple vote on a question of principle.
I come now to the issue of the electorate or the franchise. Should it be the local government franchise or the parliamentary franchise? I am glad to hear that none of your Lordships regards this as an ethnic issue. My noble friend Lord Mar and Kellie and the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, referred to that. I was surprised to hear that the noble Lord voted for Sunday drinking. I had thought that, like myself and the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, he would have joined the Band of Hope at an early age and signed the pledge; but clearly that was not the case. It is the people who are affected who should vote—just as those who drank on Sundays were affected.
In answer to the case of the Italian waiter, raised by the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, presumably that waiter lives in Scotland, pays his taxes, 1211 is affected by the legislation and suffers the benefits and the disadvantages of the administration in Scotland, so why should he not have a vote? He is exactly the sort of person who should be able to voice his view. He is directly affected and he pays for the administration that is set over him.
The next argument—
§ Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, but on the basis that the Italian waiter in Scotland pays his taxes and therefore ought to vote, why is he not allowed to vote in parliamentary elections?
§ Lord Thomas of Gresford
My Lords, perhaps he ought to. We are all part of the greater European Union, are we not?
Perhaps I may move on to the argument that this Bill will weaken the power of local authorities. The noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, conceded that the Conservatives had weakened local government in their 18 years in power, but he said that devolution will weaken local government even more. The view expressed by the Welsh Local Government Association in the publication to which reference has already been made was this:Welsh local government has worked hard over the years to build an effective partnership with Secretaries of State for Wales. To a large extent it has failed because those Secretaries of State have not been accountable to Wales but have been accountable to a far wider constituency. All too often when Welsh local government has made proposals for partnership based on the identified circumstances of Wales, the response has been in directions and policies developed elsewhere for different interests. All too often the interest of a Secretary of State seeking to impose values from outside Wales has been in diminishing the only exercise of democratic political power in Wales, diminishing local democracy".That is the view of Welsh local government: not that its powers will be weakened by the proposals, but that they will be strengthened. It is interesting that Welsh local government feels that Secretaries of State for Wales have always had their eye on something else.
The last hurdle is the suggestion that these proposals will not work because of the rivalries between north and south and those who speak Welsh and those who do not speak Welsh. That is a very ancient view. Perhaps in the days when to go over the mountain to see the people in the next valley was a bit of a problem, there might have been some validity in those complaints. It is true that different dialects of the Welsh language developed in different parts of Wales. But time moves on. The all-Welsh institutions—the Urdd and the Eisteddfod—and the coming together in sport and political institutions have brought Wales together. I can say with my hand on my heart that there is a greater difference between myself in Gresford, Wrexham, and the people of Chester than there is between me and even those in Pembrokeshire, the former constituency of the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell.
I fully support this Bill. I have no doubt that it will be the subject of further discussion. We do not accept that there should be no legislative or taxing powers for Wales. When the proposals come forward, we shall 1212 argue that they are essential. We shall seek proportional representation on a more satisfactory basis, but we shall keep our eye on the ball. We want a Welsh parliament and, together with all noble Lords and other parties, we shall enter into an all-Wales campaign to ensure that the proposals go through.
§ 10.32 p.m.
The Earl of Lindsay
My Lords, the quantity and quality of the speakers tonight bear witness to the significance of the Bill and its importance not just to Scotland and Wales but to the rest of the United Kingdom. In that context we have had important contributions from noble Lords with an indisputable pedigree in these areas. There are many examples, but I refer in particular to former Secretaries of State of the territorial departments such as my noble friends Lord Campbell of Croy and Lord Crickhowell and the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos. Those noble Lords and others are old war horses in referendum matters. They have fought them this way and that and have seen them come and go as the decades have come and gone. I was also grateful that my noble friend Lord Renton was able to contribute. He is a survivor of the Royal Commission on the constitution and has brought a certain perspective to these matters.
I paraphrase the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, when I say that the two maiden speakers are perhaps two of the most experienced maidens that the House could ever hope to meet. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, will be able to contribute tremendously, not just on constitutional legislation through his involvement in the Scottish Constitutional Convention, but his contribution to a devolution Bill, which would follow his desired referendum result, would considerably benefit the House. The noble Lord is also famous for his advocacy of countryside matters and traditions. That is another theme on which the House will enjoy hearing from the noble Lord. The noble Lord, Lord Shore of Stepney, is another veteran of many areas of policy. We look forward to hearing his wise words tonight not only on constitutional matters and the role of referendums in general but on other subjects on which he will further the debate of the House.
After a lucid explanation of the Bill from the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, for which we are grateful, we heard a number of fine speeches, many on devolution rather than the referendums Bill. No doubt noble Lords look forward to hearing those same fine speeches again. I hope that that will be, in part, when we discuss the White Paper, which is a prospect we are anxiously awaiting, and no doubt in full, if and when we have a devolution Bill.
The noble Lord, Lord Ewing of Kirkford, prided himself on resisting the temptation to discuss devolution, as did the noble Earl, Lord Russell. In a sense, those speakers who decided not to concentrate on devolution were right, because there are many serious issues raised by the referendums Bill itself. We must pursue those points during the Bill's passage. In fact the Secretary of State for Scotland said in May when the Bill was published that when it came to 1213 considering the referendums Bill and the White Paper there was a need for proper parliamentary scrutiny and proper public debate. That is what the House must deliver on both the Bill and the White Paper.
We agree most profoundly with the Secretary of State that the referendums Bill sets out a mechanism which will provide the Scottish and Welsh with a say on what will undoubtedly he the most radical constitutional change the UK has seen for decades. Newspaper editors, both north and south of the Border, have also encouraged full parliamentary scrutiny. They have had to warn the Government at times when they have been suspected of trying to short cut such parliamentary scrutiny.
If we fail to provide that parliamentary scrutiny, we fail not just ourselves and the responsibilities, duty and reputation of the House, but we fail the people of Scotland and Wales, whichever side of the referendum debate they may be on. In delivering that parliamentary scrutiny I can speak for the Conservative Front Bench when I say that that scrutiny will not involve frivolous or wrecking amendments. In fact we support the principle of the Bill. I stress that to the noble Lord, Lord Steel, who was in some doubt about that, and to my noble friend Lord Stanley. We support the principle of the Bill for at least two good reasons.
First, the Salisbury/Addison convention is alive and well. Secondly, the Conservatives undoubtedly believe that such a far-reaching constitutional change for Scotland and Wales, and ultimately for Westminster and the UK, should proceed only upon the basis of express public consent. The noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, suggested that it is our party which does not want to consult the people; that we do not feel that it is necessary to consult the people. That is wrong. The Government intend introducing this change to the constitutions of Wales and Scotland, and we applaud the fact that express popular consent is a prerequisite.
The noble Lord, Lord Sewel, used the expression "popular consent". The Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland used the phrase "popular endorsement", as did the Labour Party manifesto. Popular endorsement will be vital, but it is right, in the proper parliamentary scrutiny that the Secretary of State for Scotland says is needed, that we look at what constitutes popular consent. An endorsement could come from a small majority and a small turnout. Whether that would constitute popular endorsement must be subject to the scrutiny of this House. It is right that it should be subject to the scrutiny of the House.
I was interested in the fact that the Secretary of State for Scotland dismissed discussion about thresholds as being discussion about fancy franchises. The noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay of Cartvale, also suggested that such discussion was merely wrecking discussion. She should understand what the Secretary of State was asking when he said that the Bill should be subject to full parliamentary scrutiny.
The noble Lord, Lord Sewel, suggested that thresholds would merely tie the hands of government. That has created more questions than it has answers. Surely the whole House realises that 51 per cent. of a 1214 small number is an extremely small figure. Under the Government's proposals it is possible for the creation of a Scottish parliament or a Welsh assembly to proceed with the active support of just one-quarter of the electorate. The Government wish this referendum to be held under the same general rules as local government elections in Scotland and Wales. The point was made by a number of noble Lords that local government elections do not always produce high turnouts. My noble friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish and other noble Lords made the point well that this House ought to scrutinise the exact threshold that may be involved in establishing what is a popular endorsement rather than a simple endorsement.
§ Lord Sewel
My Lords, I thank the noble Earl for giving way. He mentioned thresholds a number of times. His immediately preceding word was "exact"—an exact threshold. Can he tell the House what he proposes as the exact threshold?
The Earl of Lindsay
My Lords, the party opposite has proposed a referendum and it produced a manifesto stating that it wanted that referendum to deliver a popular endorsement. It is quite legitimate that we ask what constitutes a popular endorsement.
The Earl of Lindsay
My Lords, when we receive answers to questions we will be able to discover exactly what is a popular endorsement.
§ Earl Russell
My Lords, was it not the view of the former leader of the noble Earl's party that one is enough?
The Earl of Lindsay
My Lords, like the Labour Party when it seeks to change its constitution, and like many other organisations, when profound change is suggested it is often legitimate that more than a simple arithmetic majority may be the best expression of a popular endorsement.
The Earl of Lindsay
My Lords, fundamental change is exactly that; it is fundamental and therefore should require a proper proportion of the electorate.
The Earl of Lindsay
My Lords, the party opposite has proposed a referendum. It is up to us to seek to improve that legislation.
The other issue that is raised by the concept of a popular endorsement—an expression which appeared so often in the Government's manifesto—is what exactly it is that they are popularly endorsing. It is not the Bill itself and many noble Lords made the point that in the present 1215 process the cart has been put before the horse. The last speaker to put that point well was the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe.
The referendum will not require the electorate to make a judgment on the devolution Bill. If the timetable of the party opposite is short, as we expect, the electorate will not properly be able to vote on the White Paper because there is unlikely to be sufficient time for its debate. The electorate will be voting on the general idea. It is quite legitimate for us to suggest that the post-legislative referendum as an alternative was a supplement because the party opposite has been very good at changing its mind on devolution policy. My noble friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish gave chapter and verse of cases where, during a mere six-day period, issues had been proposed and withdrawn, depending on the whims of various figures in the Labour Party.
I welcome the thoughts of speakers around the House; from the noble Lord, Lord Shore, to my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway; and from my other noble friends such as Lady Carnegy, Lord Beloff and Lord Stanley. They suggested that only a post-legislative referendum enables the people to endorse or reject the final scheme for a Scottish parliament or a Welsh assembly as decided by Parliament. If there is no post-legislative referendum and Parliament decides to make amendments to the details of the scheme outlined in the White Paper on which, we are told, the referendum will be held, how are the people able to say that that is really what they want? As my noble friend Lord Crickhowell said, it is in the detail that the devil lies. It is in the detail that many opinions will finally be formed. This is a vital question that has been pursued by noble Lords from all corners of the House and it will undoubtedly be pursued further at later stages of the Bill.
On the basis that the pre-legislative referendum is to proceed as a general statement of intent, and that there should be a post-legislative referendum to enable the people to accept or reject a concrete set of proposals, then it is perfectly legitimate to argue, as did the noble Lord, Lord Sempill, for a multi-option referendum on the three broad constitutional options set out: independence, devolution and the status quo. That would give a clear indication of the true wishes of the Scottish people.
Undoubtedly, Committee and Report stages will see further discussion and further questions put to the Government on the exact franchise which is to be allowed in the arrangements for the referendum. My noble friend's "Cappuccino" question needs to be pursued. That is an issue on which not only government spokesmen but others have failed to produce a convincing answer. The fact that it differs from the conclusions of the report of the Commission on the Conduct of Referendums, which has been quoted widely, is also a point which carries some weight.
As regards organising the referendums, if we are to believe what is stated in the Labour Party's election manifesto, we are likely to be faced with numerous referendums in the coming years. That point has been made. It is surely imperative that if all those referendums are to be held, each must produce a clear and unambiguous result. Therefore, it is entirely logical that, as the Electoral Reform Society and Constitution Unit set 1216 out, a Referendum Commission should be established to oversee the rules and organisation of this and future referendums. It should be independent of government but accountable to Parliament. We should then have in place a stable mechanism to ensure fair and proper conduct of referendums in this country.
Many questions also remain about the funding arrangements for the various campaigns, including public funding for umbrella organisations, freepost delivery of election addresses and media broadcasts. Parliament must have an opportunity to debate those points, and other noble Lords have posed questions to the Minister in relation to that.
The Electoral Reform Society and Constitution Unit proposes that there should be equal public funding for umbrella campaigning groups and for a leaflet explaining the case for each of the referendum options to be delivered to every household. Also, as proposed by the same unit, there should be a balance of media broadcasting of the referendum options and air time should not be allotted on a political basis.
If one turns to voting, the schedule to the Bill and the draft orders state explicitly that voters should put a cross beside the options they prefer. That is different in practice from other elections, where any mark is accepted which shows clearly the voter's preference. For example, we should like to know whether ballot papers with ticks rather than crosses are to be rejected. There are a series of details which the Government will have to address as part of the scrutiny process.
Similarly, I remind the House that neither the Bill nor the draft order makes provision for an overall recount of votes on a Scotland-wide basis. There is provision for the chief counting officer to order a recount in a particular council area but no ability to have an overall recount ordered; and yet it is the overall vote that would be challenged. Also the draft order states that the counting officer will choose the observers of the count. There is no indication as to who will be chosen as observers and in particular, whether observers should be representatives of the various organisations promoting or opposing the referendum options. It is unclear with whom the counting officer should liaise at the count with regard to, for example, spoiled ballot papers. Similarly, it is not clear who may be appointed as polling agents and therefore able to enter polling stations.
Many of the speakers in this debate have concentrated on and explored the actual referendum questions. The noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, and others have expressed their views and no doubt we shall hear more of those views as the passage of the Bill proceeds. A number of different options have been suggested; for example, from no questions to one question, to two questions to three questions and to none of the above to all of the above. A mixture of views have been expressed on this point. The first question could be open to interpretation by Nationalists as meaning a separate, sovereign Scottish parliament. The wording should therefore read:I agree that there should be a Scottish parliament, as proposed in the White Paper" [or,]I do not agree that there should he a Scottish parliament, as proposed in the White Paper".1217 The second question is one that has, perhaps, generated the most comment. That is because it deals with the "tax-varying powers". My noble friends Lord Lauderdale and Lady Strange and, indeed, the noble Earl, Lord Perth, gave the House the benefit of their views in that respect. There is a strange discrepancy here between what the Labour Party put in its manifesto—namely, a promise to deliver a referendum question which dealt with the exact defining financial powers of this Parliament—and the actual question that we find in front of us, which simply has a limitless ability to vary power. I should be interested to hear whether the Government's intention is to stay with the promise given in the manifesto, or whether they are beginning to rethink the options and abilities that this assembly in Edinburgh would have to raise funds. Therefore, can the Minister give a categorical assurance tonight that the tax-raising proposals for the Scottish assembly will be those that were set out in their manifesto—that is, the Scottish Constitution Convention's scheme for the parliament to vary the basic rate of income tax by three pence in the pound?
If the Government cannot give that assurance, then perhaps they would afford this House and indeed the people of Scotland the courtesy of explaining what additional or alternative tax-raising powers are being considered. That is of particular relevance if the Government are considering tax-raising powers other than the ability to raise or lower the basic rate of income tax by three pence in the pound. If the Government intend to stick to the exact wording set out in their manifesto, the easiest thing would be for the schedule which contains the questions to be amended so that it reflects that wording. I give way to the Minister.
§ Lord Sewel
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl for giving way. Perhaps I may be of help to him. The actual quotation from the manifesto says,and limited financial powers to vary revenue".
The Earl of Lindsay
Well, my Lords, that is an issue to which we shall look forward with enthusiasm to exploring during the later stages of the Bill. However, if the Minister would look at the proposed question as set out in the schedule to the Bill, he will see that the question which will be put to the electorate is wider than "limited".
The other question that I should like to leave for the Minister to answer tonight is one which has been posed from all sides of the House; namely, when will we be able to see the White Papers? I requote the Secretary of State for Scotland when he said that it was not only the referendums Bill but also the White Papers which should be subject to proper parliamentary scrutiny and proper public debate. I repeat: when will we see the White Papers? If the Minister would confirm that the date that the Government prefer for the referendums is in early September, I believe it is imperative for us to see that White Paper as soon as possible. It is even more important that the people of Scotland and of Wales see their respective White Papers as soon as possible.
1218 My noble friend Lord St. Davids posed a very good question when he asked how the White Papers would be distributed to those of us who are not on the normal receiving end of official papers like White Papers. It would be interesting to hear whether the Government will make an effort to ensure that there is a wide distribution and a wide understanding of what is contained in the White Papers. Even if the Minister is unable tonight to give us an exact date of when those White Papers will be published, can be please tell the House whether they will be published and available to us between, for example, today's Second Reading and the Committee stage, or between the Committee and Report stages? That would be of great assistance. I assume that the publication will be no later than at the Report stage. In the uncomfortable event that the White Papers are still not available when the Bill leaves this House after Third Reading and is on its way to Royal Assent, I cannot conceive how the Government believe that there could be adequate public debate of the White Papers if the referendums are to be held as soon as early September. It would therefore be advantageous if the Minister could tell us the likely dates for the referendums.
The House has a serious duty to perform with this Bill. It is a duty that in a sense has been requested by the Secretary of State for Scotland and by those in other walks of life who realise that this legislation must be subjected to proper scrutiny for the sake of everyone who is involved and for the sake of anyone who is planning to take part in the referendums in either Scotland or Wales. We must deliver that parliamentary scrutiny as the Secretary of State has admitted is needed. We must help generate that public debate as the Government admit is needed. We must scrutinise the propriety and the equity on which the referendums will be organised, and most importantly we must ensure that the Bill delivers referendums for Scotland and Wales that are assured, in turn, of delivering a complete unambiguous expression of the will of the people. If we fail to do that in any of these respects we fail ourselves, we fail the people of Scotland and Wales, and in the end we fail the people of the United Kingdom.
§ 10.55 p.m.
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
My Lords, I have had the infinite pleasure of listening to 36 speeches; I have not left my place at all. As regards the previous speech we heard, I was most grateful for the constructive approach which the noble Earl, Lord Lindsay, adopted. I and my colleagues were grateful when he said quite unambiguously that the Opposition support the principle of the Bill, the principle of the Bill being of course, as is well understood, a pre-legislative referendum. He said that he was sure that constitutional change of this sort ought to be put to a referendum. There is nothing between us on that. I understood him then to say that he was floating the idea of a second, post-legislative referendum. I understand from his not dissenting that 1219 I have understood the Opposition policy correctly. Despite the fact that he chided us that the devil was in the detail, he was unable for the moment—
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
My Lords, I am well aware of that and I am sure noble Lords opposite will have to become well aware of the fact that they are now the Opposition. As I said, the noble Earl chided me that the devil was in the detail, but at the moment I understand that there is no devil to be let loose from the detail about the exact threshold, that the Opposition contend.
I hope I may start with one of two statements of principle. We as a Government believe in the continued maintenance of the Union.
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
My Lords, it is foolish to snigger when that is such an important point. We believe that these arrangements for Wales and Scotland will ensure the continuance of the Union. We believe that a fruitful future for Wales and Scotland in the Union will be reaffirmed and strengthened by these devices.
There has been a lengthy debate, not just tonight—it may feel like 20 years, but it was not—but over the past 20 years in Scotland and Wales. Most people know the issues involved. We trust the people who have given us their trust and empowered us for a time—I realise it is for a time—with their authority. It was only last month that the people of this country gave this Government a significant mandate. It is not a mandate to bully or to oppress reasoned opposition, and this Government do not take it in that way. But it was a comprehensive programme put before the electors: incorporation of the European Convention on Human Rights into our law; the introduction of a freedom of information Act; and the modernisation of Parliament. This is the most wide-ranging programme for constitutional reform that has ever been put before a parliament. The political landscape of this country will change for ever if these measures go through; and it is my absolute, fundamental belief that it will change for the better.
People in Scotland and Wales have made it quite plain that they wish and desire more immediate, direct, effective control over their own affairs. As my noble friend Lord Cledwyn said, it is a matter of high principle. I define that high principle with this question. Should Wales and Scotland have the opportunity to give their judgment on the way they wish to be governed within the Union? That is all this Bill does. It is a perfectly simple device to open that door. It does not contain detail, as I have been reminded in the 36 speeches. But I had noticed that. There will be a White Paper with detail. There will be an opportunity for this House to debate and scrutinise.
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
My Lords, in due time I shall answer the questions if I am offered the 1220 opportunity to go my own way; and, if I sit down having failed, I dare say someone—at least one person—will jump up and chide me again.
This is a matter of fundamental principle which has been put plainly before the electorate. We have not been dilatory. We intend to fulfil our promises and stand on our commitments.
The noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, said that matters were being indecently hurried through. They are not. The noble Lord and I are joint authors of a small academic thesis called "the Crickhowell/Williams effect" which translated means that anything that the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, says I disagree with, and anything I say he disagrees with; and it has certainly stood the test of time. But I cannot accept that members of this sophisticated electorate will be so overcome by jet lag—or, for the common sort such as myself, bus sickness—when we come back from our holidays that we shall be unable to decide on these questions. There is ample opportunity for these matters to be discussed; it will be weeks. I do not despise my fellow citizens and fellow electors. They are remarkably mature, remarkably sophisticated, and often remarkably right, as we saw on 1st May.
We shall set out detailed proposals in White Papers. This House is entitled to that; every Member of this House is entitled to that. We shall publish them well ahead of the referendums so that those voting in the referendums will have ample opportunity to consider the issues involved. We have given an undertaking, which I happily repeat, that in this House and in another place there will be the opportunity before this House rises to consider and debate the proposals in the White Paper.
Now, as regards the answer to the question which will not satisfy those who asked it, I cannot give any commitment as to the precise timings of the debates. I can assure your Lordships that it is our clear, settled intention that there will be a proper opportunity to consider the White Papers before they are debated. That answer has the disadvantage of being straightforward and candid but that is the answer which I am giving.
§ Lord Fraser of Carmyllie
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord. As one of the most distinguished silks at the English Bar he has a warranted reputation for precision and accuracy. We are grateful to him, and to the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, for the undertaking that both have proffered: that this House and the House of Commons will have the opportunity to debate that White Paper before the House rises for the summer. We are grateful for that.
It is now 17th June, and closer to the 18th June than I think the noble Lord and I would like it to be. I understand the proposal to be that the referendum in Scotland should be as soon as 4th September. If it is to be on 4th September, the outrage is not that the opportunity to debate the issue will not be afforded to this House or another place. It is the fact that it is likely to be some five weeks from the publication of a White Paper to the referendum. That is a total outrage. If we were to put out, in Scottish terms, a paper setting out 1221 the legal responsibility for cleaning the common stair in a tenement and we wanted a White Paper response to that in five weeks, let us consider what would be the response of the noble Lord, Lord Ewing, to such a proposal. It is nothing less than an outrage.
If the Minister will promise that we shall see the White Paper, not for either House but for the people of Scotland, those with the necessity of examining the proposals over a realistic period, we shall be very much more satisfied than we are on the broad generalisations that he has been able to offer us this evening.
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
My Lords, we aim to please. However, I have said what I have said. I personally believe that there will be ample opportunity for consideration in this House and in another place, and for informed reflection on the part of those who are involved; that is, those on the electoral register, as appropriate, in Scotland and Wales.
We expect the referendums to be held by the early autumn. If we receive popular endorsement of our plans, we shall bring forward legislation to create a Scottish parliament and a Welsh assembly. There will then be a further full opportunity for this House and another place to debate our proposals during the passage of the main devolution Bills. Once that legislation is enacted, we shall immediately put in hand the necessary preparations to establish a Scottish parliament and a Welsh assembly.
Scotland and Wales therefore stand on the threshold, and they must make their own decisions. They have waited a very long time for a greater say in their own affairs. I shall not recite old history, especially as the centuries and dates seem to vary according to which noble Lord is addressing this House at any particular time. I shall take an encyclopaedic knowledge of Welsh pre-history and Scottish recent history—that is, the past 600 years or so—as a given and shall therefore not weary your Lordships by reading out what has been provided for me.
Over the past 20 years or so there has been a steady transfer of functions—in effect, devolution—to the Welsh Office. It has resulted in a secretive, corrupt administration of public moneys. I make it absolutely plain that I regard secrecy—unaccountability—as corrupt. There have been some notable successes in the Principality. I am happy, despite the syndrome that I mentioned, to give full credit to the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, for bringing the measures in. But that there has been a deficit—it has almost become a totemic phrase: "the democratic deficit" in Scotland and Wales—cannot be sensibly disputed.
After those relatively non-controversial matters I come to the question of the "black spot" so used by Long John Silver. It is time now for the donation and delivery of the black spot, which I am happy to offer to the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish. I am about to say things that are bound to ruin his future political career. First, it is always a pleasure to listen to him. I like him personally, not least because he is a humorist. Mind you, my Lords, if I were on those Benches, I should be a humorist as well. Secondly, he hit the nail on the head by saying that this debate is not about devolution.
1222 So there are two dreadful gloomy curses upon his future: first, I enjoyed his speech; and, secondly, I agree with him. He is in a sorry state at the moment, having had to turn to part-time employment by writing newspaper articles, one of which I read, as I mentioned to him when we met on an earlier occasion. When you lose your job and you have to do part-time work in Swansea and Cardiff, it is called "doing a darker", which means that you do not declare it to the Inland Revenue. But that is not the point of doing a darker, it is just that you have to turn your hand to any work that offers itself. In that article, the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, was offering an even fancier franchise which was to be a floating proportion, depending on how many people turned out to vote. So if X per cent. (not specified) turned out to vote, you would only have to have Y per cent. (not specified) for it to be a compelling mandate. If one got further up or down that ladder—not specified, but the devil is never in the detail—one would have a perfectly satisfactory outcome.
We shall not have a fancy franchise. They are not perfect in operation. Look at the Conservative Party leadership election. I must not intrude into private grief, but perhaps I could help: Clarke, 64; Hague, 62; Redwood, 38. I do not know what the threshold is, perhaps there is not one.
The noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, asked specific questions, first about publicity and broadcasting. If noble Lords think it helpful, I can deal with the matters by question rather than the identity of those who asked, because a number of recidivists admitted that they were asking questions that he had already asked on an earlier occasion.
We want the fullest possible dissemination of information. Whether that is best done by sending out a White Paper or a summary is still under consideration. Those are matters being considered, I am giving no undertakings of any kind that I cannot deliver.
The question of broadcasting is important, but the broadcasting authorities are bound by the general law relating to political matters and they will be obliged—as I paraphrase them—to give proper consideration to all views. Indeed, the respective governing bodies and supervisory authorities will see to that.
§ Lord Fraser of Carmyllie
My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that the broadcasting authorities, which are trying to achieve a sense of balance, are concerned about how they are to interpret that? I hope that the Leader of the House does not think this a frivolous intervention, because those who have talked the matter through with me are extremely worried about it. It would be helpful if, at the earliest possible opportunity, they understood from those who might participate how they are to approach the matter.
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
My Lords, I do not regard any intervention from the noble and learned Lord as frivolous. I think we know each other well enough for him to take that. As he knows, the fact is that the responsibility lies with the broadcasting regulatory bodies to which I referred a moment ago: the governors of the BBC, the Independent Television Company, S4C 1223 (the Welsh fourth channel authority) and the Radio Authority. It is important that they are independent of government and seen to be independent of government. It is not for government to dictate how they deal with these public interest matters. I have no doubt that those important bodies will see that their duty is properly discharged, quite apart from the rest of the media, which, for Wales and Scotland, have been—I almost said obsessively—interested in the general public's interest in the discussion of those matters for many years past.
Why are there different days for Scotland and Wales? The noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, asked that. There are different issues to be addressed and we believe that since they are discrete issues, the Scottish referendum ought to precede the Welsh one. It may or may not be that the Welsh electorate will be influenced by the arguments and the conclusion of the Scottish referendum. I do not know. That is the answer.
The question was raised about the electorate and in particular a matter which I regard as of importance: the question of those who may vote on the local government electoral register or may be disadvantaged if they are serving in the Armed Forces. As has been said so often, the key criterion is residency in Scotland and Wales. All those eligible to vote at local government elections can vote in the referendums.
The same arrangements will obtain as to service personnel as obtain for local government elections. That is to say, if a member of Her Majesty's Armed Forces makes a request to appear on the register in Scotland or Wales, he or she will be able to vote no matter where in the world they are at the time of the referendum. Those provisions will also extend to certain Crown servants who are working overseas; that is, diplomats.
§ Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. I hear what he says. But that serviceman would have had to make the declaration on 10th October last. The problem really arises for those servicemen, like the Royal Scots I mentioned stationed in Colchester on 10th October last, who may not have given the matter any great thought and may have decided just to vote where they were currently living; that is, in Colchester. I understand the difficulty. But do I take it from what the Minister is saying that those soldiers will have no voice in this important decision?
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
My Lords, the example of the personnel in Colchester necessarily involves the conscious decision of registering there to vote. That conscious decision having been made, I do not believe it to be unreasonable to stick to the normal practice that one is eligible to vote wherever one registers, and that is the position. I believe that to be a rationally sustainable position.
Another question the noble Lord asked was why there were different questions for Wales and Scotland. The answer is obvious, as a moment's reflection would show. The history of Scotland is different. The legislative system in Scotland is different. Scotland has 1224 a completely different education system and a different system of local government. The historical context has been amply set out by the noble Earl, Lord Russell. It is plain that different solutions are being offered to different countries. Whether that is right or wrong the electorate in those countries must decide for themselves. I believe we have struck a proper balance. I do not overlook the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, takes a different view. There are differences of nuance; differences of approach here. At the end of the day one has to make a judgment; the Government have made their judgment and believe they have it about right.
I am gratified to hear from the noble Lord and the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, that we shall have their full support in the yes campaign in Wales. I am tempted, having heard the various permutations of "yes, yes, yes, Yes", to wonder whether somebody has not recently been watching the film "When Harry met Sally", but perhaps I should not mention that. I see the noble and learned Lord, Lord Fraser of Carmyllie, laughing and he has therefore convicted himself out of his own mouth.
The noble Lord, Lord Mackay, and others further asked why there were not to be three questions. We have not put a question about independence for Scotland, nor a question in relation to independence for Wales, because it was so completely rejected at the last general election that we felt to do that would be a fatuous exercise.
Interestingly enough, I detected a possible internal inconsistency in the general approach of the noble Lord, Lord Mackay. He said that it was very important to have a general referendums Bill, to set out the parameters, the workings of all referendums in this country. But before he had drawn breath he said that he did not agree at all with referendums because they were a complete cop-out. Was there an internal inconsistency or was it just that I was punch-drunk at the time?
§ Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish
My Lords, I am glad that I am giving the noble Lord the opportunity to rest for a moment. I do not believe that there is an inconsistency. I do not believe that referendums have a part to play in our democracy. But if we have to have them, then the issues addressed by the commission are absolutely correct and ought to be addressed by the Government.
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
My Lords, I am grateful for that restatement and I am sure that, since inconsistency is in the eye of the beholder, the noble Lord is perfectly satisfied, and so am I.
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
My Lords, the people in Wales never send letters "without prejudice". They normally send the most abusive letters "with prejudice".
I echo the tributes paid to the two maiden speakers. It is rather presumptuous of me to add my mite or two, but both speakers were, as always, a pleasure to listen to. The noble Lord, Lord Steel, said that there had been a clear-cut and resounding indication in Scotland and Wales in favour of the Government's proposals. Yes, but we still think it prudent, appropriate and right to have the further consent of the public in both countries by this simple referendum.
The noble Lord, Lord Shore, asked about the pre-legislative referendum. This is perfectly simple as we see it. We say that it is right to offer the question to a mature electorate in as simple a form as this. It is exactly the form that the Lord Privy Seal put on an earlier occasion in your Lordships' House. How can it be wrong to ask an educated electorate directly, "Do you want us to proceed with our proposals for constitutional reform?" That is all the Bill empowers the Government to do—to ask that simple question. We trust the people to come to their own view—their own informed view—informed by a wide variety of opinion and by a wide variety of channels. That is the answer which I offer to the noble Lord, Lord Shore.
The noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, shocked me, as he shocked the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, with the admission that he had voted for public houses to open on Sundays in Wales. I am bound to say that, despite the suggestion from the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, to the contrary, I always voted to keep public houses closed in Wales on Sundays, mainly, I must say, to annoy my friends like the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford.
There were other questions with which I believe I have dealt, because, I repeat—this is not frivolous—the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, set out a fairly full spectrum by way of menu. On the questions about majority, we are not having a fancy franchise. We are looking for positive support. It is perfectly correct that in some cases some people wish to abstain as a positive act. Others want to turn up and vote. I think the argument put forward by my noble friend Lord Ewing is completely unanswerable.
The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, asked us to give particular scrutiny to Clause 1(1) and (3) and to the question in Part II of Schedule 1. He will know that I shall pay careful attention to what he has said. We have worked together in the past and I hope to improve in small ways legislation in this House. I cannot give him any guarantees except that I have listened carefully and will re-read carefully in the morning what he has said.
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
My Lords, I am about to come to the end of my remarks. I am so sorry. I have been interrupted so often that 27 minutes have just 1226 flown by. I cannot sit down without paying tribute to the very substantial speech of the noble Viscount, Lord St. Davids.
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
My Lords, he will not be embarrassed in the slightest way. The trouble with sotto voce comments is that I happen always to hear them. It was a very considerable and informed speech. It comes from a knowledge of government—not, after all, a Labour government—and it comes from a deep experience of Wales. It was extremely impressive to hear a contribution of that kind.
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
My Lords, it was of course one I agreed with and therefore was even more impressive.
We have had, by and large, a good natured debate and we are on the edge of an extremely important constitutional change. Of that there is no doubt. Some will be passionately for it and some equally passionately against. I impugn no one's motives. There are many areas in politics and human activities where honourable people can honourably disagree. I commend the Bill to your Lordships.
The Earl of Lindsay
My Lords, perhaps I may press the noble Lord on tax, because I did ask a question to which I do not believe I received an answer. The question in the schedule does not echo the promise set out in the manifesto in terms of having a limited and defined tax-raising power. Can the Minister reassure us that the only tax-raising power that the Government are thinking of relates to the standard rate of income tax and that it is confined to the threepence in the pound variation?
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
My Lords, the varying ability in respect of tax, up or down, will be in the White Paper and I confirm the understanding of the noble Earl, Lord Lindsay, when he put the question to me.
On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.