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Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, with all respect to the noble Lord, Lord Renton, I believe that the final thrust of his remarks relates to subsequent amendments, not the present one. The noble Lord has been dealing with the armed services, but that is not the purpose of our present amendment. The noble Lord will therefore acquit me of discourtesy if I do not deal with that particular aspect--
Perhaps I may say to the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, that I think that I can accept the noble Lord's assurance of "consensus and all that", which was the phrase that he used. Even the noble Lord could not continue beyond "consensus and all that".
The difference here is one of approach in principle. We believe--we have made this clear beyond doubt--that the clear criterion for deciding who should vote on the proposals should be residency in the country concerned. It is right in principle; it is workable in practice; and we have chosen the local government franchise because it most closely accords with the residency test. We do not believe that it is appropriate for an overseas elector--that is, someone who is not resident in the United Kingdom--to be entitled to a vote on a referendum concerning the arrangements for devolution to Wales and to Scotland. If overseas electors were to be included, it would mean, as my noble friend Lord Sewel pointed out on an earlier occasion, that if a Scotsman lived in Benidorm and a Scotswoman lived in Blackpool, the Scotsman living in Benidorm would be able to vote on devolution whereas the Scotswoman living in Blackpool would not. I suggest that that is not entirely intellectually consistent or coherent.
I suppose that this difference of approach is not capable of being reconciled. We do not believe that overseas electors ought to be able to vote in a referendum on the constitutional arrangements for Welsh or Scottish devolution. I know that the noble
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. He is making his position clear. May I ask him whether he envisages that overseas voters would be allowed to vote in the elections for the Scottish assembly, if it comes about?
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, that is not the point that we are dealing with at the moment. The noble Lord has great experience of being able to answer hypothetical questions, but I am much too young to have fallen into his bad ways.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I am sure that some of your Lordships will realise the truth of what I am about to say because if I had tried to give such an answer during our long hours on many social security Bills, "uproar" might have been a mild description of what would have happened in your Lordships' House. Indeed, "histrionics" might have been nearer the mark for the Opposition spokesperson if I had failed to answer the kind of question that I have just posed to the noble Lord.
I am disappointed because I had thought that I had found a way to accommodate the desires of the party of government to allow EU citizens (and some of your Lordships) to vote, while accepting that people appear on the parliamentary register for the perfectly good reason that they may be working overseas for our country. Of course, some of those people on the register will have retired abroad and others will be working in other operations. It seems to me that if we have allowed those people to appear on our parliamentary register, it is illogical not to allow them a vote in the referendum.
As I pointed out at Second Reading and in Committee, I have a particular interest in this because my daughter is an overseas elector in Northern Italy. She will not be able to vote in a referendum affecting the future of her country and yet an Italian waiter working in the famous icecream parlour, Nardini's in Largs, who has been resident in this country for a little while will be able to have a vote. Interestingly enough, there is such a person, although not from Bosisio Perini, where my daughter lives.
I find that arrangement fundamentally unfair, and despite, as always, the eloquence of the noble Lord, Lord Williams, I do not think that he has come any way towards meeting me, although I have come quite a long way to meet him by tabling this amendment which I believed would bridge the gap. I am sorry that the gap cannot be bridged, but I feel so strongly about this that I shall seek your Lordships' opinion.
Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.