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Lord Rees: Before the noble Lord sits down, will he explain at least for my benefit why a Scotsman who has been transferred, say, by the Scottish Office or by some great company, to work temporarily in London for three, four or five years with the intention ultimately of returning to Scotland should not have a vote on the matter?
Lord Parry: From this side of the Chamber, I feel bound to ask this question. Are we not making much of very small figures? The noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, has given us figures which apparently
Lord Mackay of Drumadoon: Perhaps I may ask a couple of questions arising from what was said by my noble friend Lord Balfour on Amendment No. 15. Can the Minister confirm that it is possible to be resident in more than one place in the United Kingdom? In other words, one could have two residences in Scotland; one could have a residence in Scotland and in England; one could have two in Wales; or one could have one in England and one in Wales. If that is so, and such residence entitles one to register as a local elector in more than one electoral area, what is the harm in putting Amendment No. 15 on the face of the Bill?
Lady Saltoun of Abernethy: I believe that it was the noble Lord, Lord Desai--or was it my noble friend Lord Parry?--who asked what all the fuss is about; the referendum is not about Scottish independence. No, it is not, but many of us believe that the constitutional changes proposed will inevitably lead to Scottish independence.
Lord Sewel: In replying to the debate I shall try to focus on some of the questions asked, in particular the terms of the amendments as they stand. I remind the Committee that this group of amendments seeks to change the electorate for the referendums from that for local government elections to that for parliamentary elections with the possibility of adding in Peers. The net effect--it is what the debate on the amendments is about, although wider points were raised--of the change would be to disenfranchise EU citizens resident in Scotland and Wales and to allow overseas electors to vote. That is the guts of the amendments. The issue is as narrow as that.
However, before I deal with it, I hope to answer a few points raised. The noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, asked about the person sent abroad by reason of his work. I understand that by virtue of Section 5(2) of the Representation of the People Act 1983, a person's residency in a dwelling house for the purposes of his right to vote is not interrupted if he goes abroad as part of his employment as long as he intends to resume actual residence there within six months of giving up that employment. I hope that that deals with the matter that the noble Lady raised.
Lord Sewel: We are getting down to the minutiae of the issue. I shall seek to give the noble Lady as much assurance on that point as I can at some later stage. It is a developing point; we shall return to it.
On the point raised about EU nationals in France qualified to vote in their referendum on Maastricht. EU nationals in France did not have the right to vote on the referendum on Maastricht because it was the Maastricht Treaty which conferred that right on EU nationals. It did not exist then.
We have already made clear beyond doubt--the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, anticipated this point--that the key criterion for deciding who should vote on our proposals must be residency in the countries concerned. We make no apology about that. It is so eminently fair and obvious. That is right in principle and it is workable in practice. That is where we start from: identifying the principle. The principle is that those who are most directly affected should be the people to determine the outcome. Having decided that principle, one then looks for the franchise which comes nearest to that; and that is the local government franchise.
The Earl of Onslow: Is the noble Lord saying, therefore, that because the principle is those who are most affected, a temporary Greek resident will be considered to be more affected by British constitutional change than a temporary Scots absentee who wishes to return to continue his career over the long term? I find that logic totally unacceptable.
Lord Sewel: The difficulty is that the word temporary does not get into any definition of franchise. How long anyone will live in any one place is pure speculation. We can only take the point of residency in terms of qualifying for the franchise itself.
Let us develop this point. At Second Reading, and again today, the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, raised the question of the Italian waiter. Scotland must be full of Italian waiters. I hasten to add that they do a very good job and I look forward to being served by them more frequently in the future than in the past. We believe that that person, who will be affected by the result of the referendum every bit as much as any other person residing in Scotland, should have a say in the outcome of the referendum. It would be wrong to question his entitlement on some grounds of ethnic origin. There is a slight undertone in the arguments that we have heard today that indicates--
Lord Simon of Glaisdale: The noble Lord returns to the issue of ethnic origin, which has not been mentioned in this debate but was mentioned earlier. Will he accept that this amendment has absolutely nothing to do with ethnicity as it was put? Whether the franchise is general or local, there will be an ethnic mix in the electorate.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: Really, if that is the best the noble Lord can do, we might as well all pack up. The point about the Italian is that I am using a real, live example. I am not being theoretical; I am talking about where my daughter lives. If she had lived in France, I should have used the example of a French waiter; had she lived in Germany, a German waiter. There is nothing wrong in this. I am served by Italian waiters constantly in Glasgow.
Lord Sewel: I am sure that that is so, and I envy the noble Lord. The point is, an argument seems to be arising that some definition of Scottishness is required and non-Scottishness--particularly the non-Scottishness of a person living in Scotland--is somehow a form of semi-disqualification from voting in the referendum. That is fundamentally wrong.
Conversely, the emigre Scot living in Italy, however good is the Scottish blood coursing through his or her veins (I am sure it is of the highest quality), simply does not have the same direct interest in the result because he or she does not live in Scotland. People who decide to make their place of residence in some other country clearly do not have the same direct interest in the outcome of a referendum determining the form of government for their original country once they have moved their residency elsewhere. It is just not good enough--
Lord Beloff: I should simply like to clarify my mind again. The noble Lord is saying that the principle is those who are likely to be directly affected by the legislation. Since alterations in the constitution of the United Kingdom affect everyone in the United Kingdom, why should the English not vote?
Lord Sewel: The words I used are, "most directly affected". The fact that these sovereign Houses of Parliament will ultimately have the say on the devolution Bill protects the interests of all the people of the United Kingdom. It must be remembered that the charge we face, and have faced continually, in Scotland from our opponents is that our proposals do not enjoy the support of the people of Scotland. That is why we are holding a referendum: to deal finally and conclusively with that point. That is why the test as to who are the people of Scotland is: those who live in Scotland, those who will be affected by the change in the nature of the government of Scotland.
Let us return to the idea of the emigre Scot. It is not good enough to say of the emigre Scot who has been away five, six, seven or 10 years, living in Italy, France, Germany, China or wherever, that he or she intends to return. We cannot base a decision on some intention to return, or indeed on the fact that an Italian waiter may not continue to live in Scotland forever. We do not know. Individuals themselves do not know. Personal events change matters. They may have a full intention
An interesting side-effect of the specific amendments we are discussing is that they would create something of a tension. The Scot living in Benidorm, so long as he had been there for fewer than 20 years, would be able to vote; the Scot living in Blackpool would not. These amendments would establish that sort of tension.
I am interested in Amendment No. 14 tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Gray, which would reinstate voting rights for Peers if the parliamentary election franchise is used. I am afraid that, whatever the opinions of the 123 Members of this House who would be entitled to vote in Scotland on this basis, it might sound rather like special pleading if we made that adjustment. Why should--
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