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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.
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
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
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?
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