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Lady Saltoun of Abernethy: I have two points. The noble Lord, Lord Steel, said, quite correctly, that we shall be working on a voters' roll that is approximately a year out of date and that therefore in the interval a number of people on it will have died. Equally, he did not mention that a number of people, very possibly approximately the same number, will, during that period, have become eligible to vote who are not on it.
Lord Ewing of Kirkford: I am grateful to the noble Lady for giving way. When the electoral register is made up in October each year, anyone who becomes eligible to vote during the whole currency of that register is included on the register with the date from which they are eligible to vote appended at the side of their name.
Lady Saltoun of Abernethy: I am very much obliged to the noble Lord. I apologise for being so ill informed. Perhaps I may return to what the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, said. It is not just bad weather that stops people coming out to vote. If you are unhappy and discontented, the chances are that you will come out to vote, but if you are happy with the status quo you are generally politically lazy, and you are very much less likely to come out to vote.
The Earl of Onslow: The figures produced by the noble Lord, Lord Steel, are interesting. Yes, 40 per cent. in Westminster voted. But the people who voted in Westminster could have chucked the brutes out, as happened on 1st May. The brutes were chucked out. What we are talking about with the referendums for Scotland and Wales is the total upheaval of the British constitution with all the dangers that that implies.
As I have said before, it seems to be something that is not allowed to concern the English much. But it does concern the English. A minority of a minority will be able to vote. Let us say we are down to a 30 per cent. turnout in Scotland. The population of Scotland is 5.5. million or thereabouts; and 30 per cent. of the electorate, which I presume is 4 million, is about 1.2 million.
The Earl of Onslow: I suspect that it is something like 1.2 million. If only half of those people were to vote yes, and 49 per cent. no, it means that a very small number in a very small part of the UK has changed the UK constitution. That is a recipe for disaster. If this thing is going to go ahead, and we are going to have devolution, with all the effects that it will have on England, which no one seems to be addressing, at least let us have a substantial majority of the Scots who say, "We are prepared to risk the difficulties with England. We are prepared to go ahead with this arrangement". Let us do it that way.
Being a good Jewish businessman he argued God right down, I think, to five. God was prepared to concede that there was another point. I wish that we would have a proper and substantial turnout and a proper and substantial amount of both the Scots and the Welsh who, if they are determined to wreck the British constitution, do it in spades and not in one club.
Lord Renton: This surely is the most important issue that we have to decide on the Bill. The idea that a mere, simple majority is good enough to make a great constitutional change which may be permanent is surely wrong. My noble friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish put forward the case for the amendments in a careful and moderate way. I would go much further than the amendments. I would say that there needs to be half the electorate supporting a change of this kind. We must not overlook the cause of abstentions.
Abstentions are the result not merely of people not knowing how to make up their minds or believing that it does not matter, but often of people saying, "The only thing that matters in this vote on a referendum, which is quite different from a parliamentary election, is whether or not one is in favour of change. If one is not in favour of change what is the point of voting?".
Furthermore, in Scotland and Wales there are sometimes considerable distances to be travelled in order to vote. Many people who may have difficulty in travelling to vote might say, "I'm not going to vote because I believe that we do not want this change. I do not see the point of going to vote when it really won't matter". As was pointed out last week by my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy, that is a relevant factor in deciding the matter.
I do not know whether a decision will be made today, but we must consider the matter very carefully. It would be tragic if the people of Scotland were thought to have approved of such a major change--of a new parliament perhaps with tax-raising powers--when only 36 per cent. approved, as happened in 1979. Thank goodness that was not accepted by the Government of the day. This is an important matter and I hope that ultimately we shall reach the right decision. I should have been prepared to table an amendment providing that no change shall be made unless 51 per cent. of the people approve.
Lord Monson: I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Renton, that this is one of the most important matters, if not the most important, that we shall discuss. I agree with it wholeheartedly in principle. It is wrong that a majority of 50.001 per cent. of a low turnout should suffice to push through constitutional change. Few would deny that devolution equals constitutional change and that, moreover, it is likely to lead sooner or later to greater constitutional change than is perhaps now envisaged.
When constitutional change is contemplated, it is normal to require a more convincing and solid majority than 50.001 per cent. of the entire electorate, whether or not they turn out to vote. The noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, gave a number of examples. He might also have instanced the March 1950 plebiscite in Belgium over the return from exile of King Leopold III. However, nearer to home, what better example can we have than the Church of England. A majority of two-thirds in each house of the Synod is required for any major change to take place. The Committee will remember that the Anglican/Methodist unity proposals foundered in May 1972 because although 85 per cent. of the bishops were in favour, the overall majority was only 65.81 per cent. It may be that 66 per cent. is too large a majority in this instance, but certainly 50 per cent. on a low turnout is much too small.
Baroness Carnegy of Lour: As regards satisfaction with the outcome of the referendum, the straight majority that is suggested is worrying. If I may say without sounding too pompous, this is a House of Lords matter. The noble Lord, Lord Steel, laughed at the amendment with merry glee. It is complicated and the algebraic formula may not be plain to all voters. However, if the Government could stop laughing at every suggestion that a straight majority is a fancy threshold, as they have up to date, they would obtain a formula which would make the referendum satisfying to the people of Scotland and Wales. It will not be very satisfying if there is a 60 per cent. turn out and 31 per cent. of those who might vote say, "Yes", and we have a parliament, or the other way around.
The relating of the two columns is a clue to the amendment. I believe that the Government should take the issue seriously. I do not know whether we will vote on it or what the outcome will be, but whatever happens Members of the Government should take the issue seriously and should not just sit there smiling away. There was an article in today's edition of The Times warning about that. I feel strongly that on such issues the House of Lords should say to the House of Commons, "Please, think of a better way". I say to the Government and I say to the Commons, "Please, take this seriously".
Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: I, too, take the issue seriously. Before the Bill came to this House, Members opposite made much of statements that unlike their party colleagues in another place they would not introduce amendments that were frivolous or juvenile, a word used by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Fraser of Carmyllie, who is not in his place. That was to their credit.
This amendment is certainly not juvenile. I hope that it is not juvenile because I do not understand it. I believe the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, is overestimating the mathematical abilities of other people. They are abilities which he undoubtedly has but which I cannot match because I do not understand the amendment. It is certainly not frivolous, but I cannot help believing that it is what the French would call "not serious". I have heard many threshold proposals, but of all I have heard anywhere this is the most bizarre.
As I said on Second Reading and during the debate on the humble Address, I am against thresholds in principle. I can see no logic in allowing people who do not participate in voting in democracies to affect the results. In democracies such as Britain where everyone can vote, where everyone has the opportunity to do so, I do not see how one can possibly defend the choice not to do so as a result of apathy or whatever, which will affect the result. The British tradition of not having thresholds is correct. It is not helpful--
The Earl of Onslow: I thank the noble Baroness for giving way. There is no British tradition of referendums. We are treading uncharted waters. That is the difference.
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