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Lord Crickhowell: I have but one simple question to ask and I do not intend to make a long speech. I should like to take this opportunity to inquire so that we have an answer which will enable me to begin to understand the situation. Why is it proposed that the referendum should be held on a local government basis in Wales this time when, under the 1978 Act, it was on a parliamentary basis with Peers added? I do not understand the change.
The Earl of Onslow: I was most interested to hear my noble friend Lord Mackay passionately talking about his country and asking why Greeks and Italians should be allowed to vote on its future. I find it quite odd that he does not want Englishmen to do so, but that is a different matter altogether. However, I must support my noble friend. It seems rather odd that people who live in the Peloponnese or in Dusseldorf who happen to be temporarily resident in Scotland should have a say in ruining the British constitution.
Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: I found the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, very puzzling. The Bill seems to propose an extremely fair and straightforward way of deciding who should vote in an election about what form of devolved parliamentary government will be established in Scotland. It seems to me to be fair that you should restrict the right to vote to people who are actually resident in the country. The noble Lord acknowledged that he would be told all about residency; indeed, he has been told about it time and time again. But he keeps returning to it.
The noble Lord has a mixed line of argument into which he throws some ethnicity, talking about people who say, "My country", and so on, and asking why certain people do not have a vote in their country, even though they are living abroad. Moreover, rather surprisingly, the noble Lord also introduced a slightly anti-European tinge into his remarks, asking why people from the European Union should have a vote. Well, they do have a vote in our local government elections as we have in theirs. The fact is that we are in 1997 and, so far as I am concerned, that is an advance. Indeed, I thought that that was the view of the noble Lord, unlike some other Members. I give way to the noble Lord.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I am much obliged. If the noble Baroness is right, does she think that those 12,000 Europeans who live in Scotland ought to be on the parliamentary register? Surely the logic of her argument is that if they are good enough to vote in the referendum, they were good enough to vote on 1st May.
Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: The noble Lord knows as well as I do that the whole question of European Union nationals and their rights of franchise in one another's country is an issue which has been discussed in the Councils of the European Union and all its organs. Of course, that may well happen; but we are not there yet. At present, there is an agreement among all the countries of the European Union that their nationals can vote in local government elections. I happen to believe that that is a very good thing and that it is an advance. I also happen to think that there is every ground for allowing people who are actually living in a country and who are resident there--not just visitors on holidays, but actually resident--to have a right to vote and decide on this kind of issue.
I am rather taken back by the kind of justification that the noble Lord gives for the roughly 1,500 overseas voters who would have a right to vote if we gave it to them on a parliamentary franchise. The noble Lord has no idea whether or not those people will return. I do not suppose that he undertook a trawl of the 1,500. He referred more than once to mainly young people, but I am not sure that that is true. I believe that many are older people who have gone to more comforting climes than those of Scotland. Therefore, we cannot make any generalisations about the 1,500 people. In any event, it is very dangerous to start speculating. We have a clear and straightforward criterion: people who are resident and who are on the roll to vote in local government elections.
There is one other matter I should like to mention. Although it relates to another amendment, I might just as well make my remarks now so that I will not have to repeat them later. To go for the parliamentary franchise and then introduce an additional measure to enable Peers to vote seems to me a very dubious exercise; indeed, a very self-serving kind of measure. Further, for it to come from this Chamber would definitely put this place into some kind of disrepute. It would look as if this Chamber wanted to introduce something its Members were not normally entitled to enjoy; namely, an extra which would enable Peers to vote alone as an exception. That is really not a very sensible way to proceed.
Lady Saltoun of Abernethy: What is fair about a register which excludes people who have been sent abroad by their firms to work for a limited period? I know a chap who is a banker. He has just been sent to Australia for two years by his firm, but he still has property in Scotland. At the end of the two-year period, he will return. What is fair about excluding him?
The Earl of Balfour: I have one question to ask at this stage because the amendment has been grouped with Amendment No. 15. Under the Government's proposals, is it possible for a person to be entitled to vote in more than one electoral area in Scotland?
Lord Beloff: I have been, as noble Lords are aware, wholly perplexed about this Bill. I do not understand it; I do not understand devolution; and every time the noble Baroness opposite gets up and makes a speech I am even more confused as to the purposes of our sitting here. It seems to me--and this is related to the amendment--that there is a large class of people with whom all others are intimately acquainted who will not be able to vote in a matter which we are told is of such importance to their country. I refer to a great many Scots people who live in this country of England, practise a profession, live here for some years and then, reasonably enough with the pull of their homeland, go back to retire to Scotland. Why should their views be excluded? They are often admirable people.
My hostility to the Bill has nothing to do with any prejudice against the Scots. In fact it seems to me that many of the arguments on the other side tend to imply that the Scots are not to be trusted. If they are in contact with the English for a couple of years in London, they may decide that it was not such a good idea as they were told by the Scottish press. Could we have some explanation as to why Scots people earning their living successfully, as many of them do, in England should not have a voice? They are even more likely, I would have thought, to go home on retirement when they reach that age, but of course if their pensions are now to be reduced they may think less of it. Could we have a straight answer to that question?
Lord Mishcon: I am sure the whole of Scotland will be indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, for putting on record that he has no prejudice against them. I believe also that all Members of your Lordships' House will invite the noble Lord to say that he is confused by their speeches, because they will regard that as a great compliment.
May I just put in one matter which has not been put in so far? It is that those who are ordinarily resident in Scotland, in England or in Wales are in fact liable for tax in this country. May I also mention that those who go abroad, if they go abroad for a sufficient time, claim to be quite properly domiciled in the country to which they have gone and are therefore not liable to United Kingdom tax? It seems to me that this is rather a relevant statement to make when dealing with the question of qualification by residency.
Lord Simon of Glaisdale: Your Lordships may remember the story of the two opening batsmen for a county side who decided that they would confuse the field by calling "Yes" when they meant "No" and "No" when they meant "Yes". Of course they merely confused each other and ran each other out. The noble Lord, Lord Sewel, has decided that there should be no confusion in our minds at all because he consistently said "No". It is fair to say that, if one is to have obdurate negatives, it could not be done more gracefully or more pleasantly than it has been done; and the same goes for the noble Lord, Lord Williams.
However, this is an occasion where he can say "Yes". The reason why local government elections are on the electoral basis that they are is that they affect practically entirely residents, but the powers it is proposed to give the Scottish parliament go very much beyond affecting residents. One can think of many examples. May I give just one? The noble Lord, with his consistent use of the South Sea Bubble technique, has kept under wraps what the Government propose to do. But at one point he let out that he was proposing to follow what was advised by the Scottish Constitutional Convention.
Certainly the Scottish Constitutional Convention recommended that Scottish law, public and private, civil and criminal, should be within the jurisdiction of a Scottish parliament. I am bound to say that that seems to me to be eminently reasonable since Scotland has a different system of law from that which obtains in England. In many respects the Scottish system of law goes beyond residents. A good deal of the criminal law goes beyond residents also as we have been developing it recently. The war crimes legislation, and even anciently the crime of piracy, went far beyond national boundaries.
But perhaps the most important is personal law. Every person in the kingdom has a personal law. It is that which defines his status; in other words, to what extent he is a member of a particular class of the community to whom the law assigns special rights and disabilities, capacities and incapacities. This is very important. For
But those matters are referred not to the law of residence--the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, used the word--they are referred to domicile. That takes up the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Beloff. So there is outstanding reason why we should move away from residency for the election that is proposed to the wider electorate that votes in a general election. That wider electorate are those who will be affected by the decrees of a Scottish parliament. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, having spurned our efforts to frame what he wants to do and to put them into the Bill in favour of some vaguer and more dangerous generality, will on this occasion accept the amendment.
Lord Desai: I am somewhat surprised by the amendment. We are debating a referendum for devolution. We are not debating Scottish independence. It is not a referendum to canvass the opinion of Scots wherever they may live. If that were the case, people of Scottish birth living in England would feel even more disenfranchised than people living in Italy.
I believe that the point that the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, makes is wrong. In our elections we allow Commonwealth citizens and citizens of the Republic of Ireland to vote. Neither citizenship nor nationality is a criterion for eligibility to vote. Let us get that straight.
The fact that European nationals vote in local government elections and not in parliamentary elections is an anomaly. There are many other anomalies. Does the principle involve local residence, or does it involve parliamentary elections? As my noble friend Lord Mishcon argued--Members of the Committee opposite make a lot of fuss about taxation--it is the people who live there and will pay the local taxes who should have a say in this limited devolution proposal. Therefore, issues of nationality should not be invoked, especially by people who care so much about the Union.
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