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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 be 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.
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
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:
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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