Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Howie of Troon: It would not be special pleading at all. The reason why we are not on the parliamentary register is that it is not necessary as we are here already. Voting for ourselves would be otiose at best. This is an entirely different matter. I am talking now about Scottish Peers resident in Scotland. It would be very simple to tag them onto the back end of the electorate and there would be no alarm raised in Scotland by anybody, except perhaps my noble friend.

Lord Sewel: I am thinking about the difficulty of trying to persuade the electorate of Scotland that we were so intent on bringing about a new and modern parliament that we went out of our way to ensure, exceptionally, that Members of this place should have a vote in the referendum, whereas if the normal franchise were used, they would not. That would present some difficulty.

I am aware that the noble Lord's amendment would replicate the franchise for the 1975 and 1979 referendums. That is true. However, it must be remembered that there have been changes to the franchise since then. Overseas electors are now entitled to vote at parliamentary elections and EU citizens are entitled to vote at local government elections. Neither of those groups was considered in 1979. That brings me back to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, that these two categories did not exist in 1975 and 1979. I continually return to the idea that, as we believe, the criterion for eligibility to vote must be residence. That is why we have chosen the local government register.

I now turn to Amendment No. 15 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Gray, and to the point made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Drumadoon, and raised by the noble Earl, Lord Balfour. This amendment seeks to prevent any person from voting

3 Jul 1997 : Column 332

more than once in the referendum in Scotland. That is absolutely right. We can fully agree that that should be prevented. However, I can give a complete and utter assurance that this matter is already dealt with in the Order in Council which will apply the necessary provisions of the Representation of the People legislation--in particular Section 61--to prevent multiple voting. The matter of multiple voting has been identified and we are dealing with it through the orders.

On the basis of this (I hope at least partly convincing) explanation, I urge noble Lords to withdraw their amendments.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I thank the Minister for his final point and for the clarification he gave. I see that matter is covered in the draft order. I shall not rehearse an argument I shall develop later; namely, that a draft order of this complexity ought to be part of the Bill. We should not then have to raise such issues in relation to primary legislation.

We have had an interesting debate, and it is most interesting that the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, had difficulty with his argument. The longer he went on, the more it began to appear to me that perhaps his right honourable friend the Prime Minister was right when he described this parliament as no more than a parish council. He seemed to me to be saying that you should have the same qualifications as those for a parish council.

Lord Sewel: We do not have parish councils in Scotland.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: Well, the Minister's noble friend Lord Desai described it as "very limited devolution". So, in a way, by not having the important parliamentary electoral register as the key factor in this, the Government are saying that it will not be much of a parliament. They must be careful about that argument.

To take my daughter as an example, of course I accept that she may or may not return to Scotland within 20 years, (the right for overseas voters does not last more than 20 years). That is true, and the Minister--I shall try to avoid his ire--has no idea whether the Italian waiter will return to Italy. He has no evidence that this chap or "chap-ess" will be back in Italy by the time the assembly is set up, if the referendum is won.

It is a pretty weak argument and the impression I get, especially from the noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay of Cartvale, is of a grim determination that those European nationals in Scotland at the moment who are permitted to vote in a local election should be able to vote in the referendum. She seems extremely keen that they should vote. I do not know whether she thinks that they would vote for a Scottish assembly, but it looks as though she thinks that and wants them on the register. Perhaps it is just her pro-European credentials.

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. Yes, it is part of my pro-European credentials. This has nothing to do with which way such people would vote. I feel passionately

3 Jul 1997 : Column 333

that it is an advance in European matters that we have agreed that European nationals can vote in each other's local election franchises. That franchise is the correct one to use for the referendum in Scotland and therefore it is right and I am happy that they should have the vote. I make no apology to the Committee or to the noble Lord for that.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: If that happened, with all the elections the Italians have, my daughter would be voting far more often in Italy than any of us vote in the United Kingdom. That point is interesting. We could already do that because we do not need reciprocal arrangements. The question was not answered as to whether we have a reciprocal arrangement with the Republic of Ireland; I doubt whether we have reciprocal arrangements with the Commonwealth countries, so we could already do it. The noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay, may be expounding Labour Party policy, I do not know.

Lord Sewel: I failed to answer the question on Ireland and I have to say that if an Irish referendum were held under the local government franchise at the time when the noble Lord had decamped to do his angling, he would be able to vote.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I am grateful to the Minister but I notice that I would not be able to vote in parliamentary elections. Yet the citizens of the Irish Republic can do so here.

Leaving that aside, it seems that the Government are keen that European nationals should vote. I can understand the point about residency and people being in Scotland and on the register. However, I still fail to understand why the Government will not accept that the 1,500 other people on the register who are allowed to vote in parliamentary elections and who are overseas voters should not have an overseas vote in this election.

As the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, said, many people are sent abroad by their companies in order to advance the cause of industry and commerce in Scotland. For example, the Scotch whisky industry sends many people around the world to work for the industry and for the good of the economy of Scotland. There are problems with people who live in England, but there is no problem at all with people who live overseas and who have bothered to register themselves. They can easily have a vote in the referendum.

I shall not go on. I think I understand the Government's determination that European Union nationals should vote. There is an easy amendment which would accommodate their position and mine and I shall come back with it at Report stage, when I expect it to be accepted. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 11 not moved.]

Lord Mackay of Drumadoon moved Amendment No. 12:

Page 1, line 13, at end insert ("or who are included in a central register to be established in accordance with Schedule (Central register of electors for referendums (Scotland))").

3 Jul 1997 : Column 334

The noble and learned Lord said: With the leave of the Committee, in speaking to this amendment I wish also to speak to Amendments Nos. 17, 34, 37, 79 and 80.

The amendments fall into two groups, three dealing with Scotland and three with Wales. They seek not to delete anything from the Government's proposals for the franchise but to add to them. They do so in the first place by allowing those who were born in Scotland and live or reside elsewhere in the United Kingdom to vote in the Scottish referendum and those who were born in Wales and live elsewhere in the United Kingdom to vote in the Welsh referendum.

The noble Lord, Lord Sewel, said a moment ago that the only certain requirement is residency. I suggest that one can be equally certain where an individual was born and that, having been born in Scotland or Wales, that person is now resident elsewhere in the United Kingdom. Therefore, the proposals that are incorporated in the amendments do not fall to be criticised because they add any uncertainty to the situation.

The Labour manifesto stated that,

    "As soon as possible after the election, we will enact legislation to allow the people of Scotland and Wales to vote in separate referendums on our proposals".
There is a strong argument that a person who is one of the people of Scotland or Wales does not cease to be so merely because that person leaves the land of his birth and resides elsewhere for a short or even a longer time. Recently, in reply to a Question put down by my noble and learned friend Lord Fraser of Carmyllie, the House was informed that over the last 10 years some 500,000 people had moved their residence from Scotland and slightly fewer had moved their residence from other parts of the United Kingdom to Scotland. So there is a constant traffic in people moving one way and another. Many people born in Scotland or Wales leave the country of their birth for a while, possibly to pursue education or employment. But they remain, in their own minds at least, part of the people of Scotland or Wales and strongly linked to those places. They will have parents and other members of the family residing where they were born and in the fullness of time they may send their children back to that country for secondary or tertiary education. In certain instances, they may maintain second homes there to which they intend to retire in time.

At Second Reading, when my noble friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish told us about his daughter in Italy, I believe that he was on the point of saying that it could be referred to as the "Mackay Question". However, an intervention came from the noble Lord, Lord Sewel. My noble friend used his daughter as an example to illustrate the argument that he had advanced. I wish to use a similar example. My best man, with whom I went to school, was born in Scotland of Scottish parents. He received all his education in Scotland, qualified as a doctor there and, like his father before him, ended up working in England. Indeed, his father was a Member of your Lordships' House, Lord Hunter of Newington, who was created such when the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, was Prime

3 Jul 1997 : Column 335

Minister. He took as his title "Lord Hunter of Newington" because it was the area of the City of Edinburgh where he was brought up. The area is known well to my successor, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hardie.

If my best man intends to return to Scotland, as I suspect he does in the fullness of time, why should he and his Scottish-born wife, who was similarly born and educated in Scotland as a doctor and who practised for a while in England, not have some say in the future government of the country to which they hope to retire?

We are dealing not just with issues of local government, where people are elected for a period of three or four years to serve in the local authority and discharge statutory responsibilities for that period of time before they have to face the electorate again. We are dealing with issues which could change the system for governing Scotland and indeed the system for governing Wales, one suspects for a substantial period of time. I can see no harm in the Government extending the franchise, if they obtain support from those additional voters whom the central registers would incorporate. It can only fortify their position when they bring a devolution Bill before the House, assuming that the questions are answered in their favour.

On the other hand, if people who are born in one of those two countries express concern about the proposals, then so far as the referendums are meant to be advisory, one would like to think that the Government might pay some regard to that advice. Those who were born in the country but have not moved from the United Kingdom and therefore remain taxpayers in the country are concerned about these particular proposals. I beg to move.

5.30 p.m.

Lord Desai: I am sorry to have to rise to my feet again on this question. But perhaps I may put to the noble and learned Lord once again that we are not discussing a national question. We are discussing a regional devolution. If he continues to go down his present path, it will cause immense problems. For example, let us imagine that in the near future a referendum is held in Northern Ireland. Suppose that someone says that everybody born in Ireland should have a say in the future of Northern Ireland--even those only born in Northern Ireland. Half of Boston would vote. Does the noble and learned Lord really want that?

Traditionally, the franchise in the United Kingdom has not been based on the issue of citizenship or nationality. I need hardly remind the noble and learned Lord that all subjects of the British Empire were entitled to vote in British elections. The Republic of Ireland is an anomaly. Commonwealth citizens still have a right to vote. European nationals are a recent addition in the Maastricht Treaty. Origin or birth has never been a criterion for having the vote.

The noble and learned Lord is trying to escalate the referendum into something much bigger than in fact it is. Again and again he invokes the impression that everybody born in Scotland or Wales should have

3 Jul 1997 : Column 336

entitlement in this matter. But very soon people would say, "What about people who were not born in Scotland but who live there? Why should not they be entitled to vote?"

Let me give a counter-example to that of the noble and learned Lord's best man. I have a cousin twice removed who is a doctor in Perth. He and his wife have lived there for 37 years. His children were born there and brought up there. One son, who is a doctor, practises in Newcastle-upon-Tyne; his daughter is in London. Obviously, the children should vote but the parents should not vote. As soon as one says that only those people--or everybody--born in Scotland should be allowed to vote, very quickly there will be the counter-arguments about not just Italian waiters but people from the Commonwealth. I request the noble and learned Lord not to go down that path, which is a very dangerous path to tread.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page