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Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I have heard the noble Lord speak on a number of occasions about international human rights issues, on which I know he is an acknowledged expert. However, sometimes a little dribble of common sense has to come into such matters. I am not talking about ethnicity; indeed, a person can be born somewhere and not actually be the ethnic of where he or she was born. I am attempting to address an issue which involves servicemen. It is possible that I am wrong about the "born" aspect, because someone could have left the next day. I am not too worried about whether the wording would offend some of the courts in which the noble Lord appears. Indeed, it is much more important to get the matter right so far as concerns people in this country who think that they ought to be able to vote.

I have in mind young men and women who, if they had been posted in Scotland, would perhaps have made a decision to be registered at their home base in Scotland or Wales or indeed may have decided to go back to their old home to be registered. However, when given that choice in England, those young people did not realise the serious significance of what they were doing and what would happen to them this September; namely, that they would find that their colleagues still based in Scotland and Wales would have a vote in the referendum but that they, because they decided to register in Colchester or Chepstow (where they reckoned they would be stationed for some little time) instead of registering in Scotland and Wales, would not.

I must be honest and consistent as I divided your Lordships' House on the question of the overseas voters. Frankly, the Government's case as regards the overseas voters is only marginally better than it is for the servicemen. By and large, the overseas voters have made the decision to go overseas, whereas, although the servicemen made a decision to join up, they made no decision about where they would be based in the UK; indeed, that was decided for them. Therefore, I should like to test the opinion of the House.

7.16 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 7) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 67; Not-Contents, 99.

Division No. 3

CONTENTS

Biddulph, L.
Bledisloe, V.
Brentford, V.
Brigstocke, B.
Burnham, L.
Cadman, L.
Campbell of Alloway, L.
Campbell of Croy, L.
Carnegy of Lour, B.
Chesham, L. [Teller.]
Colwyn, L.
Cox, B.
Cranborne, V.
Crickhowell, L.
Cross, V.
Cumberlege, B.
Darcy de Knayth, B.
Dean of Harptree, L.
Dixon-Smith, L.
Forbes, L.
Gray, L.
Gray of Contin, L.
Greenway, L.
Hamilton of Dalzell, L.
HolmPatrick, L.
Hooper, B.
Kenilworth, L.
Lawrence, L.
Leigh, L.
Lindsay, E.
Lindsey and Abingdon, E.
Lucas, L.
Luke, L.
Lyell, L.
Mackay of Ardbrecknish, L.
Marlesford, L.
Masham of Ilton, B.
Massereene and Ferrard, V.
Mersey, V.
Milverton, L.
Molyneaux of Killead, L.
Monson, L.
Montgomery of Alamein, V.
Mountevans, L.
Northesk, E.
Palmer, L.
Pearson of Rannoch, L.
Pender, L.
Platt of Writtle, B.
Rees, L.
Renton, L.
Rotherwick, L.
St. John of Fawsley, L.
Saltoun of Abernethy, Ly.
Seccombe, B.
Sharples, B.
Shaw of Northstead, L.
Stanley of Alderley, L.
Stewartby, L.
Strathclyde, L. [Teller.]
Taylor of Warwick, L.
Thomas of Gwydir, L.
Vivian, L.
Weatherill, L.
Weir, V.
Wharton, B.
Wise, L.

NOT-CONTENTS

Addington, L.
Archer of Sandwell, L.
Ashley of Stoke, L.
Barnett, L.
Berkeley, L.
Blackstone, B.
Blease, L.
Blyth, L.
Borrie, L.
Brooks of Tremorfa, L.
Callaghan of Cardiff, L.
Carlisle, E.
Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L.
Carter, L. [Teller.]
Chandos, V.
Clinton-Davis, L.
Cocks of Hartcliffe, L.
Dahrendorf, L.
David, B.
Dean of Beswick, L.
Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde, B.
Desai, L.
Dixon, L.
Donoughue, L.
Dormand of Easington, L.
Eatwell, L.
Ewing of Kirkford, L.
Falconer of Thoroton, L.
Farrington of Ribbleton, B.
Gallacher, L.
Gilbert, L.
Gould of Potternewton, B.
Graham of Edmonton, L.
Gregson, L.
Grenfell, L.
Grey, E.
Hamwee, B.
Hardie, L.
Harris of Greenwich, L.
Haskel, L.
Hayman, B.
Hilton of Eggardon, B.
Hollis of Heigham, B.
Hooson, L.
Hoyle, L.
Hughes, L.
Irvine of Lairg, L. [Lord Chancellor.]
Jay of Paddington, B.
Jeger, B.
Jenkins of Putney, L.
Judd, L.
Kilbracken, L.
Kirkwood, L.
Lester of Herne Hill, L.
Lestor of Eccles, B.
Lofthouse of Pontefract, L.
Lockwood, B.
McCarthy, L.
McIntosh of Haringey, L. [Teller.]
Mackie of Benshie, L.
McNally, L.
Mar and Kellie, E.
Merlyn-Rees, L.
Milner of Leeds, L.
Mishcon, L.
Molloy, L.
Morris of Castle Morris, L.
Murray of Epping Forest, L.
Ogmore, L.
Parry, L.
Perry of Walton, L.
Plant of Highfield, L.
Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.
Prys-Davies, L.
Ramsay of Cartvale, B.
Rea, L.
Robertson of Oakridge, L.
Rochester, L.
Rodgers of Quarry Bank, L.
Russell, E.
Sewel, L.
Simon of Highbury, L.
Smith of Gilmorehill, B.
Stoddart of Swindon, L.
Strabolgi, L.
Symons of Vernham Dean, B.
Taylor of Blackburn, L.
Taylor of Gryfe, L.
Thomas of Gresford, L.
Thomas of Walliswood, B.
Thurso, V.
Tordoff, L.
Turner of Camden, B.
Wedderburn of Charlton, L.
Whitty, L.
Williams of Elvel, L.
Williams of Mostyn, L.
Winston, L.
Young of Dartington, L.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

21 Jul 1997 : Column 1261

7.25 p.m.

Lord Sewel moved Amendment No. 8:


Page 1, line 13, at end insert--
("But an alteration in a register of electors under section 11(1) or (2) or 57 of the Representation of the People Act 1983 (correction of registers and registration appeals) shall not have effect for the purposes of the referendum unless it is made before the start of the period of eleven days ending with the date of the referendum.").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish moved Amendment No. 9:


Page 1, line 17, leave out ("local government area") and insert ("parliamentary constituency").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is a topic that we missed at Committee stage. We can address it quickly. Essentially the counts after the referendums in Scotland and Wales are to be based on local government areas. My amendment seeks to change that to parliamentary constituencies in Scotland, and in Wales to change the criterion from county or county borough to parliamentary constituencies. I propose that in Scotland and Wales the counts should be based on parliamentary constituencies.

I understand that in 1975 the original idea as regards the European Union referendum was to have a central count. The reason for that was that the then governing party was a little frightened that Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland might deliver different verdicts to England which could be embarrassing. Constituency counts might be even more embarrassing to individual Members of Parliament whose views turned out to be contrary to those of their constituents. Eventually it was decided to base the count on local government areas.

In 1979 the referendums were again based on local government areas in the regions and islands of Scotland and in the counties and county boroughs of Wales. Now the Government propose that the forthcoming referendums should be based on local government areas. It is interesting that the Commission on the Conduct of Referendums stated,


    "If the practice in general elections is applied to referendums, counting should be organised on a constituency basis. The machinery is well known and there are people already available who have experience of electoral procedure".

However, it also states--I mention this in case the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, is about to quote it--


    "On the other hand, the precedents of the 1975 and 1979 county-based counting suggest that for political reasons a constituency count may be inappropriate in a nationwide referendum".

I do not believe that a constituency count can ever be inappropriate. After all, we decide parliamentary elections in this country on a constituency count.

21 Jul 1997 : Column 1262

I suspect that may change at the next elections to the European Parliament where the proportional representation system will probably remove the constituency base. Frankly, I am not a supporter of that move, but it looks as if the Government wish to move in that direction. No doubt, given their majority in another place, they will succeed in persuading their colleagues to vote for that.

I understand the reasons for the precedents of 1975 and 1979. As I said, the 1975 precedent sought to achieve a kind of balance between holding a countrywide count and avoiding the embarrassment of constituency MPs knowing that their constituents' views differed from their own. I have no desire to shield Members of the other place from embarrassment in these matters; indeed, I wish actively to encourage such embarrassment. For that reason I believe that a count based on parliamentary constituencies would be an excellent idea.

In the 1979 referendum some parts of the country which clearly voted "No" caused great embarrassment to their sitting Members. That embarrassment will arise at least in certain parts of Scotland--I do not know about Wales--where some of the council areas are small enough to be contained in one constituency. However, at present, thinking on my feet, I can think of few of those. The majority of counts will be across more than one constituency. Constituency representation has served this country well over many decades, indeed centuries. It is the sensible way to do the count. People who operate counts are used to doing so on a constituency basis. I commend my amendment to the Government. I beg to move.

7.30 p.m.

Lord Monson: My Lords, I support Amendment No. 12 with which Amendment No. 9 is grouped. I believe that Amendment No. 12 is more important than Amendment No. 9.

Judging by what happened 18 years ago, the Orcadians and the Shetlanders had no wish to be governed directly by Edinburgh; and the people of the Borders had no wish to be governed indirectly by Glasgow. It is important for the stability of any semi self-governing Scotland, if one comes about, that we know whether the people living at either extremity of Scotland are of a like mind today. Unless Amendment No. 12, or something like it, is accepted, that will not be possible.


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