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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
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
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.
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.
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?
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:
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
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
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 be 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
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