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Lord Stanley of Alderley: My Lords, when the Minister replies, perhaps he will clarify a point. If my memory serves me right, last time, in Wales certainly, if the count was not by constituency it was by areas. I remember exactly to what extent Gwynedd voted against the assembly. If I am right, why has the provision been changed?
Lord Crickhowell: My Lords, I would not have spoken on the amendment, but I am provoked by the last intervention. It is a matter of extreme importance and considerable significance, in particular in a country like Wales where 1.75 million of the population of 2.5 million live in a concentrated area of south-east Wales, to know how the individual constituencies of mid-Wales, west Wales and north Wales voted last time. It was so important that during debate at Committee stage of the Bill a number of noble Lords on the same side of the House as the noble Lord, Lord Howie of Troon, spent a good deal of time commenting on the embarrassment that they felt when their constituents so clearly differed from them on the issue. A number of noble Lords commented that they had voted yes in the campaign and discovered that they did so with no support from their constituents.
We are dealing with parliamentary democracy. On this occasion we are dealing not with a post-legislative but pre-legislative referendum. When a Bill comes before this House with the proposals for government, it is of extraordinary importance to know how different parts of the country voted, their views, and the balance of opinion. It is important that Members of Parliament who will vote on the Bill should know the views of constituents.
Any Member of Parliament is entitled to form a judgment and to vote against the views and wishes of his constituents. However, most Members of Parliament are careful to consider their options if they discover--as occurred last time in Wales--that a majority of four or five to one in their constituency is against them. The Secretary of State of the day was forced to recognise on that occasion that if an elephant appeared in one's back garden one could not fail to recognise it. It is extremely important that if an elephant were to appear in any back garden on this occasion it should be clearly recognised, and that Members of Parliament in another place should understand how powerful that elephant is and what it is likely to do in trampling the undergrowth if they go against its wishes. I strongly support the amendment.
Lord Howie of Troon: My Lords, the noble Lord may be an elephant trampling over a back garden. He has done it often in his career here. But the other side of the House has consistently confused parliamentary elections and traditions with a referendum, which is quite different. The amendment is frivolous. It was most ably moved by the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, with his normal wit and frivolity.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I wonder whether I can introduce a calming note. I believe that I can give an answer to the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, which will meet his legitimate interest. I shall be as brief as the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish. The purpose is to alter the basis of counting from local government areas to parliamentary constituencies. We have debated at some
However, I can say this. We expect that the returning officers for the referendums will be the same people who are returning officers for parliamentary elections. If the count is done by local government area, the process is actually made simpler; otherwise a returning officer could have to cover several separate counts.
Amendments Nos. 12 and 23 were the objects of questions from the noble Lords, Lord Monson and Lord Stanley of Alderley, and of the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell. The amendments require that the local results be publicly certified by the chief counting officer at the end of each local count. This is in addition to the national results that he is already required to certify and in addition to the duty on local counting officers to certify the results for their area. We have no intention of suppressing publication of the certificates of the individual counting officers or to prevent them from making a public announcement of the results. The draft Orders in Council clearly envisage local announcements being made.
The results have a limited meaning in isolation--but they have a meaning. I respectfully agree with the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell. Taken together, they will make up the national result which is ultimately the only decision which determines whether we have a Scottish parliament and a Welsh assembly. There will be understandable local and probable national interest, I agree, in individual local results. We have no intention of preventing that disclosure.
There is no need to require the chief counting officer to certify the local results as well as the national results. There is no practical utility in the effect. The local results will be certified and announced by the local counting officers. To require the same results to be certified again by the chief counting officer is unnecessary and probably inappropriate because he will not have been present at those counts. We would expect that the chief counting officer will publicly report the local results as they become available before announcing and certifying the grand totals. These are to be major events in our constitutional life. We believe that public announcement of local and national results is a part of the process upon which we are embarked.
I hope, therefore, that I have been able to satisfy the concerns, which I readily understand, expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell. I hope that my assurances about our thinking and the way in which we imagine things will continue have been satisfactory.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, for confirming and putting on the record that the returning officer responsible for each individual local count will make a public announcement at the end of that count of the result of the referendum in his or her area. That is good and I am delighted about it. I did not think that the Government would propose
I thought that there was an interesting contrast between the noble Lord, Lord Howie of Troon, and my noble friend Lord Crickhowell. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Howie of Troon, admired seeing his country estate on television over the past four days in most magnificent weather.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: If the noble Lord was there in person, even better. He suggests that the referendum is the opinion of the whole nation. His argument would have held more water if this were a post-legislative referendum, if the referendum were mandatory and made the decision of the whole of Scotland and Wales.
There has been much debate about the nature of the referendum and what the result signifies. I suspect that that question will arise again shortly. Time and again we have been told that this is an advisory referendum. Whom will it advise? It will advise Parliament. Do Members of Parliament want the advice to be on the basis of, let us say, Glasgow Members knowing only how the whole of Glasgow voted, whereas the Member for Orkney and Shetland will know exactly how his constituency voted. He will therefore have received direct advice about how his electorate feel and also about how the whole population feel. If the referendum is to be advisory, surely it is an important piece of advice for Members of another place, who have then to decide when and to what extent they will proceed with the Bill.
This is an important point. I am sorry that the Government will not take it further. There will be a great deal of speculation about the result in each constituency, drawn from the result in each area. In some areas it will be fairly easy to reach a decision. Last time, the views of voters in two or three areas of Scotland represented at the time by fervent Liberals deeply in favour of the referendum, turned out to be totally at variance with the views of their Members of Parliament, much to the embarrassment of those Members. As I said, I am not in the business of stopping Members being embarrassed, and I am sorry that the Government will not accept this modest amendment in order to take the count by parliamentary constituency. However, I accept that the Government have kept their troops here in considerable numbers in order to prevent my winning any further Divisions. Safe in that knowledge, I beg leave to withdraw this one.
Page 1, line 20, after ("with") insert ("paragraph 11 of Schedule (Conduct of the referendums, &c.) and").