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Lord Crickhowell: My Lords, I believe that it would be a considerable improvement because there really would be time for the debate to be carried to the people, as was the case last time, instead of there being totally inadequate time.
Earl Russell: My Lords, is the noble Lord really proposing that everyone should have to make their way through snow drifts in the Cairngorms in February? I do not believe that that is particularly practical.
Lord Crickhowell: My Lords, frankly, the argument is now absurd. All I am saying--and I stick to the suggestion--is that to have a debate on a White Paper, which the noble Earl will read, unlike many people in Scotland and Wales, and then to expect the electorate to vote on it as soon as they return from holiday in September, without adequate time to discuss the issue, is an abuse of parliamentary procedure. I would prefer that gap to be much longer.
The noble Lord, Lord Renton, asked what if the Bill should depart from the White Paper. In a sovereign parliament that must be a possibility, but it seems to me to be strictly analogous to the possibility of a Bill departing from a party manifesto. It must be open to people when they come into government to look at the evidence in, one hopes, a constructive way. To prohibit either of those options would be extremely unwise.
It is not for any of us in this place to discuss the amendments which were tabled in another place. However, I hope that when the Opposition come to table their amendments they will take account of the proposals of the noble Lord, Lord Renton, in the report on the preparation of legislation relating to points which are too small to be included in primary legislation. When the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, mentioned guidance, I believe that he was looking in the right direction. I am certain that he will listen to practical suggestions that are made about the guidance. Proposing to put such matters in primary legislation is not the right way of approaching the drafting of legislation.
We have heard a great deal about proposals for defining the electorate. I wish to say to the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish--he has been liberated from a written brief, he enjoyed it and it was great fun for all of us--that I am extremely sorry about the case of his daughter, but she is obviously not one of those likely to be primarily affected by these proposals. There is good sense in the idea that consultation should be with those primarily affected, which is likely to mean those who live in the area concerned. My parents in Los Angeles once met a Scotsman and asked him how long he had been there. They received the reply, "For-rty four-r years"! I doubt whether that gentleman, had he been voting in the referendum, would have been in a position to cast a particularly informed vote.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, it is a novel experience to trade thoughts with the noble Earl on this new subject and not on social security. I am sure that, before he goes too far in this argument, he will wish to be reminded that one can be an overseas voter for only 20 years after one has ceased being a voter by residence in the United Kingdom.
I recall also what was said in 1944 when the armies of Marshal Timoshenko were defeating the Germans in all directions. I was told that it was commonly said in Cardiff that he was really a Welshman known as Timmy Jenkins. Therefore, we are capable of entering on an infinite regression.
We have heard a good deal about thresholds. There is substance in the proverb that hope deferred maketh the heart grow sick. I wonder also that anyone should propose thresholds when it is considered what they would do to the voting figures in this House or what they would have done to the last presidential election in the United States when I believe only 49 per cent. of the voters bothered to cast a vote. That is rather a dangerous line to go down.
The noble Lord, Lord Beloff, was worried about the constitutional position of the Monarch. She is already Queen of Scotland. Her predecessors were kings and queens of Scotland long before they were of England.
Lord Beloff: My Lords, I am well aware of the provisions regarding the Commonwealth countries of which Her Majesty is head of state. I simply want clarification as regards legislation passed by a Scottish parliament from whom she takes advice regarding Royal Assent. It is a perfectly straightforward question.
We have heard a great deal also about the suggestion made by the noble Earl, Lord Northesk, a few minutes ago about a referendum for England. In fact, the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, and I crossed swords on this in the debate on the humble Address. It seems to me that any relationship between two countries involves consent on both sides. But except in what I regard as the unlikely event of both Scotland and Wales voting "No" in those referendums, I should read the result of the general election as signifying that there is no consent in either country to the continuation of the status quo. Therefore, if there were to be a referendum in England, the question would have to be between devolution and separation. If the Conservative Party wishes to press strongly for an English referendum on that question, I suppose that in principle the case would deserve a hearing but the political prudence of the proposal would not be instantly obvious to me.
We have been asked many times why there is a difference between Wales and Scotland. That is rather important because the constitutional basis of those two countries' relationship with England is quite different. The Welsh Act of Union of 1536 was an Act passed by the Parliament of England. There was no Welsh input into the political process that led to it. Wales is governed by English law made by the English.
If this referendum produces a "Yes" vote in Wales, it will put the relationship between Wales and England on a basis of consent for the first time since the reign of Edward I. I would regard that as a very substantial advance. Whether the differences between Wales and Scotland, as they are set out here, are the right ones is a question that we might debate. But there is a real theoretical basis for difference.
The relationship with Scotland is quite different because that, like that with the EU, was a relationship between two independent sovereign powers and as the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor reminded us in the debate on the humble Address, it has not proved possible--and I think possible is the right word--to unify their two systems of law. That is why we have arguments about the West Lothian question. But our choice, so long as we have a Union Parliament and two systems of law, is only between a West Lothian question and a West London question.
The noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, made a very strong statement indeed. She said that these proposals would almost certainly lead to the break-up of the United Kingdom. The noble Baroness's crystal ball is in remarkably good working order. However, if that is so, how is it that we had union between England and Scotland for 104 years with two different parliaments and no disaster resulted? In fact, what is behind this is, I think, a fundamental misapprehension of the nature of the British state. The British state is not a unitary, sovereign nation state. England in 1603 was such a state. But for just that reason the British state could not be. The British state is a plural, multinational state. I do not see that recognition of that fact will endanger it; but I believe that failure to recognise it might endanger it very greatly.
Lord Rowallan: My Lords, six-and-a-half hours into today's debate and it is my luck to follow the most eloquent speaker in the House. However, I shall do my best. I have come to the conclusion that I am a fairly rare species because I am actually a pro-devolutionist Scots Tory, having fought in two elections in 1970 and been part of the Perth Declaration. I am only for devolution as far as it does not lead to the break-up of the United Kingdom. I hope that that is what we are debating today; indeed, it is certainly what I am debating.
The referendums Bill is extremely simple in itself, but its consequences could be potentially enormous for the United Kingdom. I wonder why it is that we are just doing it in Scotland and Wales, because we do have enormous financial costs here. The estimated cost of the referendums is £8 million. Then, if we go beyond that, we have between £31 million and £48 million in total money to be spent. I presume that that will have to come from the budget of Great Britain. Therefore, I do not believe that it is fair just to make it a Scottish and Welsh problem.
We have had several thoughts expressed in that respect; indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Desai, mentioned that one of the problems in Scotland, with there being no Conservatives left there, was the poll tax. I hope that we are not using the vehicle of devolution as another experiment on Scotland before we decide what to do with England. If we go ahead with the plan, we shall end up with parliaments or assemblies in Scotland, Wales and Ireland but with nothing in England. The only way forward is to do exactly what I believe the
I was going to talk about all the problems that have been mentioned from the West Lothian problem to what is going to happen to the House of Lords, but I shall not bother as those matters have been covered so strongly by so many other noble Lords in this House. However, I wish to point out that I am a Scot, although it does not sound like it. I can prove my parentage back a long way. I am extremely proud of being a Scot. But I am also British and I am proud of that. I wish I still had my blue passport instead of the little red one. I trust that I can be both a Scot and British in the future, but I worry that asking the questions in this referendum could lead to the break-up of what I want and what I have loved in all the 50 years I have spent on this earth.
How can the general public answer the questions before they understand the consequences? I am here in Parliament and I do not know the answers. I am afraid that I disagree with my noble friend who said that everyone will understand the White Paper. I do not think people will understand the White Paper and what is proposed will change so fundamentally during the course of its progress through the other place and through this House that by the time the people get to know anything about it it will be a completely different animal.
I say that we must beware. We must not be swept along in a tide of nationalism and media excitement, because today the media rule our thoughts. We must be careful about that. I am not anti-devolution in any way. As I said at the start of my comments I am pro-devolution, but I am "anti" the breakdown of the United Kingdom. The Scots and the Welsh have shown that they want some sort of autonomy. My party has suffered badly for that. I accept that totally. I do not think it is necessarily the only reason but it is certainly a strong reason for there being no Conservative Party representation in Scotland and Wales. That is a complete disaster as regards the government of this country making any sense. An absence of Conservative representation in those countries is not a good thing. However, it is the job of Members in this House and in the other place to find the correct vehicle to allow our great country to stay together but at the same time to give the people of Scotland and Wales, and indeed England and Ireland, what they want.
Lord Taylor of Gryfe: My Lords, over the years in this House I have tried to introduce a Bill to abolish boxing on the grounds that after a certain period a boxer suffers so much punishment that he becomes
One thing disappointed me about the excellent speeches that have been made this afternoon, and that is that the issue of devolution, and the issue of this Bill--the right to consult--seemed to be tackled more or less on a party basis. I was delighted to hear the noble Lord, Lord Rowallan, at this late stage in the debate calling for some degree of consensus in looking at this matter. I think that the tone and the effort of the party of the Opposition in the other House was not in keeping with a desire for consensus or even good government. As has been said before, in the case of this Bill we had a Bill of six clauses and two schedules; we had 250 amendments, 25 new clauses and 12 new schedules. That indicated that the matter was being reviewed on a strictly party basis, and amendments were being introduced which were neither constructive nor helpful but were aimed at destroying the whole project. I hope that we shall consider the Bill in a constructive and helpful way. It is in the best traditions of the House of Lords that we take that view.
I confess that in the 1978 referendum I campaigned in Scotland against devolution. At that time I did not believe that it was in the best interests of good government in Scotland. I confess, too, that in considering the Bill that we debate today I have some sympathy with speakers who have said that we should see the legislation before we make the decision. If one floats a company and asks subscribers to take up shares, the Stock Exchange insists always that one produces a very detailed prospectus. I am not against devolution, but I should be happier if we knew in great detail what we were going to vote for. It is a major constitutional change.
In its enthusiasm, rightly and commendably, the Labour Party is determined to carry out its manifesto and promises. That has introduced into British politics a breath of fresh air. There is a feeling about that here are a Government anxious to carry out their promises to the people. That is commendable and good for democracy. Unfortunately, in the light of current debates about devolution in Scotland, the promise was made that within the first year of the new Government we would have a devolution Bill and the process of devolution would be carried out. I do not think that that was wise. I can understand the Labour Government responding to the excitement of the prospect of Scottish self-government. But this is an important and fundamental constitutional change which requires detailed examination.
When the Scottish Constitutional Convention discussed the matter, as has been said today, all kinds of organisations were invited to participate in its proceedings, presided over with great distinction by the noble Lord, Lord Steel, whom we welcome in this House today, and my good noble friend and colleague Lord Ewing of Kirkford. At that time I was president of the Scottish Peers Association. I wrote to The Scotsman and the Glasgow Herald to suggest that it might be of interest to the Scottish Constitutional Convention to hear
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