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Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I begin by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, for his kind remarks. This has been something of a learning curve for both of us. I have had to learn how to deal with Bills from this side of the House, having developed some bad habits in dealing with a fair number of Bills from the Government Front Bench. The noble Lord, Lord Sewel, has had to learn how to deal with Bills from the Government Front Bench.
I hope that when we come to deal with the Scotland Bill Ministers will have learned a little from this one. Perhaps we can engage them a little more in the debating process and a little less in just textual analysis of the amendments.
I thank my noble friend Lord Lucas, who has dealt with Welsh matters, and all of my noble friends who have taken part from the Benches behind me. I should like to pick out in particular my noble friend Lord Crickhowell for the part that he has played in looking after the Welsh situation.
I should like to make two points which have nothing to do with the technicalities or the small print of the Bill but have everything to do with what I believe to be two larger issues. First, I am still not in the least convinced that referendums should form part of our constitution, but I accept that the Government were elected on a manifesto that clearly indicated that there would be a number of them. Having said that, I believe that if one must sin--having referendums under the present system is probably a bit of a sin--one should do so, if I may dare say it in the presence of the Bishops Bench, properly and have post-legislative referendums, not pre-legislative referendums. If "Yes" votes are recorded in either Scotland or Wales, or both, when the Bills come before us perhaps we should consider whether we should insist on having post-legislative referendums before the detailed proposals, not the White Paper, are implemented.
My second point relates to the amendments moved today by the noble Lord, Lord Sewel. Your Lordships can observe from all the amendments to Schedule 3 that have been moved today that it is not an easy task to amend the Representation of the People Act, which is designed for general elections and local elections, to accommodate referendums. That may be a perfectly satisfactory way of doing it if it is a one-off. However, as we are promised a fair number of referendums, I appeal again to the noble Lord and to his colleagues in Government to think seriously about my proposal and that of the Commission on the Conduct of Referendums that there should be a proper referendums Act so that in one easily understood statute can be found all of the rules for the conduct of referendums.
Anyone who wants to study the rules for this referendum will have to sit with the Act and with the Representation of the People's Act and thread their way from one to the other to see what is in, what is not in and what is in that has been amended. That is not a good way to do business. It is not a good way to run referendums. I understand why the Government would
Lord Hooson: My Lords, having listened to the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, I would say that the best way of dealing with the problem of referendums is not to have any in the future, rather than to formulate rules which will encourage referendums in this country. If one wants weak governments, the way to get them is to have more referendums.
I congratulate the Government. In their manifesto they set out to achieve a certain end, and they have achieved it. It is no mean achievement. I have struggled for many years in Parliament to try to achieve something of the kind that the Government have achieved in the Bill. Everyone who has taken part is to be congratulated on that achievement.
Various changes have taken place during the course of debates on the Bill. We have heard, for example, from the Conservative Benches an acknowledgement of the great benefits of the secretariats for Scotland and Wales and of the service given by various Secretaries of State. I acknowledge that. I am only sorry that originally the Conservatives, because they were so frightened of change, were opposed to having Secretaries of State for Wales. I see two distinguished former Secretaries of State on the Conservative Benches. One is my old friend the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gwydir, and the other the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell. They are both distinguished former Secretaries of State.
During their time, the Welsh Office grew out of all recognition in Wales. They saw the development of Cardiff as a capital city, and that made all the difference. During the Bill's passage I said that one of the reasons why the Conservatives did badly in Wales was that they had overloaded some quangos with a disproportionate number of Conservatives. I have never heard it suggested that the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gwydir, or the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, were guilty of that fault. I feel that I should say that publicly.
We have seen other changes as well. The Leader of the Opposition, Mr. William Hague--I believe rightly, and I congratulate him on doing so--has stated publicly that the Conservatives have no intention of trying to reverse the decision, whatever it may be, of the electorate on the referendums. That is an important development. He has also said that he has reversed Opposition policy of opposing an elected mayor for greater London. That is an important development. It would be marvellous if he were to go a little further on the Bill so that it is given a good send-off, reconsider his position and withdraw his opposition in principle to the two Bills.
One of the worst arguments I have heard is that the Bill, or its consequences, could lead to the break-up of the UK. Nothing could be further from the truth. We have far too great a common heritage. We share many similar views. That does not mean to say that the Government of the UK should be centralised entirely, and that because we have a common heritage we do not also have important differences. It is a natural process to give Scotland much greater control over its domestic affairs and Wales a real say in its own government in the future.
It is ridiculous that a party such as the Conservative Party, which gained 20 per cent of the popular vote in Wales, does not have one MP. That is because of its opposition to electoral reform over the years. A Welsh assembly will give the Conservative Party a fair representation in Wales because of the provision for proportional representation. There will be Conservatives in the assembly dealing with day-to-day affairs in Wales. That is an important step forward.
This has been a worthwhile exercise. I congratulate the Government Front Bench, the Conservative Opposition Front Bench, everyone on the Cross-Benches and my colleagues on their part in the debate which has been conducted, in the main, in a highly constructive manner and marks an important achievement for the UK.
Lord Beloff: My Lords, I wish to break in briefly to complain about this universal atmosphere of congratulation which seems to have engulfed the House in respect of the Bill. As I indicated at an earlier stage, I find a Bill intended to alter the constitution of the UK in which those who inhabit the largest part of the UK are excluded from a voice wholly unacceptable. Even if everyone in all parties thinks that it had been a marvellous affair, perhaps I may say that I do not.
Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, I thank the noble Lords, Lord Sewel and Lord Williams of Mostyn, for their continuing courtesy and help throughout the Bill's passage. I have some brief comments to make upon events which have happened in the past five days so far as concerns Scotland; that is, since Report stage last week. The White Paper was of course published. There are many questions there which are unanswered, and hidden problems, although we were told to wait for the White Paper to see what was in it. We shall have an opportunity to discuss that at length tomorrow.
I must remind noble Lords that the referendum on 1st March 1979 was on a particular scheme already incorporated in the Scotland Act 1978. Electors in Scotland then were able to see and discuss that Act, warts and all, and then to vote upon it. This time a referendum is to be held before a draft Bill has even been seen by Parliament. Some electors in Scotland may be attracted by the ideas set out in the White Paper between now and 11th September but later find themselves opposed to the scheme that emerges as an Act.
The Labour Government, between 1975 and 1978, found it difficult, and demonstrated how complex a task it was when it all collapsed early in 1979. Given that there will be a referendum on general propositions in September, I regret that there was not a third proposition in the Scottish referendum; that is, the option of independence. That proposal was discussed in our earlier stages. It would have recorded approximately the amount of support for independence, as distinct from devolution as proposed in the White Paper.
Two days ago, since the Report stage, the leader of the SNP announced that that party had decided to advocate "Yes, yes" in the referendum for the two propositions. He made it clear that he was doing that only because he regarded a Scottish parliament on the proposed lines, which he described as a puppet parliament, merely as an unstable and divisive stage, not a settled solution. In his view, independence would be easier to attain in the contentious circumstances which he foresaw if the proposals went through.
A previous leader of the SNP, Gordon Wilson, had been urging the party not to vote "Yes" but to insist on the complete independence for which the SNP has always stood. It seems that "Yes" votes in the referendum are likely to include considerable numbers of people who dislike the ideas in the White Paper but who want Scotland to be a completely separate country.
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