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Lord Mackie of Benshie: Can the noble Lord explain whether spouses who are not born in Scotland will be eligible or is he going to exclude them? That would be grossly unfair. They may be dragged back to Scotland by their spouse to live and therefore they have as much right as spouses born in Scotland. Will he clarify that point?
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Williams of Mostyn): Before the noble Lord sits down perhaps I may point out that this is not a trivial point. It is perfectly plain from the drafting of the amendment,
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: Well, almost never. If the Government wish to accept this amendment in principle they have all the power of the draftsman behind them and it is no problem. The amendment says that if the spouse wants a vote she has to be born in Scotland as well. I would have thought that that anchors them in Scotland in the way that the noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay of Cartvale, is so keen to do.
Lady Saltoun of Abernethy: Even if the Government cannot accept the amendment as it stands, I hope that they can go some way towards meeting the spirit of it because the Armed Forces are a very special case. Also, if the Government are not able to go some way towards meeting the spirit of the amendment I wonder what effect it may have on recruitment.
Lord Crickhowell: Perhaps I may speak to Amendment No. 35, which is grouped with this amendment, and refer particularly to the situation in Wales. I start by taking up the question which has been asked about the right to vote. It was commented on by the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, at Second Reading. Of course it is true that there are special arrangements for the Armed Forces. I know that the Adjutant-General's Office is punctilious in drawing attention to the forces of their rights in this matter.
As my noble friend pointed out, the trouble is that many of the people involved had no idea at the time that their registration was going to be so significant. It is of course true that quite a large number of members of the forces and their spouses do take the trouble to arrange a postal vote or proxy at their own homes. But, as the noble Lord, Lord Parry, will know from his experience in my former constituency and his home county of Pembrokeshire, a very large number of servicemen were based at one time in the county. They registered in the married quarters where they were stationed. I can vouch for that fact, because I took a great deal of trouble canvassing them and soliciting their votes. I believe that I obtained quite a lot of votes and I have no doubt that the noble Lord, Lord Parry, obtained a few. I obtained rather more because I used to beat him. There is no doubt at all that a significant proportion of servicemen register their votes where they are stationed.
I give the example of two particular regiments that make my point. A short time ago my own regiment, the Royal Welch Fusiliers, returned from a gallant and distinguished tour in Bosnia. After the briefest possible stay in Chepstow it was sent to Northern Ireland. It returned from Northern Ireland just a couple of weeks ago. Because it was stationed in Northern Ireland throughout its tour, spouses remained in Chepstow. Noble Lords who know that area will be aware that the camp at Chepstow is on the spit of land under the Severn bridge that separates the Severn estuary from the river Wye. The camp is therefore separated from the border of Wales by a couple of hundred yards as represented by the width of the river Wye. The situation is that the senior regiment of Wales, a very high proportion of whom are Welsh-speaking and who have been born and brought up in Wales, and their spouses will not be able to vote in this referendum that will profoundly affect the future of their country.
I am informed that the Royal Regiment of Wales is at the moment on public duties in London and is stationed in Hounslow. No doubt its situation is similar to that of the Royal Welch Fusiliers. I confess that
I should like to refer back to the 1978 Act. If it was possible to do as we then did--namely, to have the parliamentary elections as the basis of voting but to have the Peers--surely it would not be too difficult to use whatever basis on which the Government intend to proceed (they seem determined to proceed on the local government electorate) and add the Armed Forces and their spouses in the way that we propose.
I have the greatest possible respect for the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn. I am sure that he has no intention of nitpicking in this matter and that if he gives his mind to it, and the parliamentary draftsman is able to do it, suitable amendments can be made if our amendments are faulty. I ask the noble Lord to give most careful consideration to this point. I am not alone in Wales in believing that it would be a matter of great regret if these men and women who perform so gallantly and so well in the service of their country were disfranchised from this important election.
Lord Simon of Glaisdale: I had counted on having left the area of controversial politics, particularly on issues that divided the two main parties. I was drawn into this Bill originally because I had great sympathy with the concept of devolution as an aspect of subsidiarity in bringing decision-making nearer the people. I was retained, however, in engagement with this Bill when I saw this amendment. If it is necessary, it appears to me to be absolutely outrageous. If the noble Lord intervenes now and says that it is unnecessary or that it will be dealt with in the draft Order in Council I shall sit down, but if it is necessary in any form it should be accepted. It may need to be redrafted but that is no answer.
What your Lordships will look for is acceptance in principle. I feel very strongly about this. During the war I was fortunate enough to serve in a brigade with two famous regiments whose successors would be affected. One was the first Royal Scots Fusiliers and the other was the second Royal Welch Fusiliers, which has been referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell. Not only did I have tremendous admiration for them as soldiers, but I was continually impressed by their sense of patriotism to their countries of origin--the countries with which those regiments were associated. This is not to be disposed of by saying that they could have registered in some way last September when this was not an active issue. I beg the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, who has conducted this Bill so skilfully, to recognise that this is a matter of major importance and to accept the amendment in principle.
Lord Parry: The Committee will expect me to respond pleasantly to the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell. He did beat me on three occasions. I could not understand then and I cannot understand it
The point that is made today about disfranchisement is important, but it would be quite easy to resolve the issue as to where a regiment was stationed at any given time. Certainly it would be possible to make arrangements for one of the regiments of Wales to be stationed at home. The plea that I make is that we go back to the real intention of the Bill that is before the Committee. The Bill is intended to devolve authority to Wales on certain matters and to create a senate within Wales that is able to deal with the specific issues that have been mentioned this afternoon. I believe that the amendments that have been dealt with, although put forward in good faith, do not contribute to the main thrust of the Bill.
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