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Page 1, line 13, at end insert ("and members of the United Kingdom armed forces born in Scotland and their spouses who would be entitled to vote in a general election in any electoral area of the United Kingdom").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, perhaps I might invite the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, to submit an opinion--I believe that that is what it is called in legal terms--that I can show to my daughter as a result of the latest vote.

I shall speak also to Amendment No. 18. The amendment is one that we proposed in Committee. The noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, expressed some sympathy with the arguments being put forward. He said that the best that he could do was to give careful consideration with his colleagues to everything that had been said. I have put down the amendment to allow him to tell us what conclusion he has come to, and, if that conclusion is unfavourable, to try to persuade us why we should accept the situation.

If we have servicemen who are Scots or Welsh who are currently based in England, they may or may not have a vote in Scotland or Wales. It all depends upon whether they made a declaration on or about 10th October last as to whether they wanted to vote where they were based--somewhere in England--or in Scotland or Wales where they had last voted or last had a residence, or at their parents' house or whatever. I gather that the position is reasonably generous so far as allowing servicemen or servicewomen to decide to vote in Scotland and Wales when they live in England.

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That is fine as far as it goes. However last October none of those servicemen in England realised the consequences of their election. Many of them probably have their wives and children with them at the base from which they operate in England. For example, the Royal Scots are based at Colchester. That I understand is their home base, and so I suspect that a fair number of them have decided, over the past two or three years, to register their vote and that of their families in Colchester where they stay for the moment as they are attached to the Royal Scots and have been sent there. If the Royal Scots were in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Fort George, or wherever, they would be registered there. They would be sent there. The same is true for the Navy and Air Force. Those people do not have much say over where they are sent. They can end up in England or Scotland. If they end up in Scotland, they will not have a problem. If they end up in England, they do have a problem.

The position of the Welsh regiments is more difficult because, as I have no doubt my noble friend Lord Crickhowell will explain in greater detail and with greater knowledge, two of the Welsh regiments are based permanently on the wrong side of the border, if I may call it that. The same problem has occurred with them for many years. Many of them probably decided to register their vote where they were based. That does not make them any less Welsh and does not take away from the fact that if they had joined the other Welsh regiment which is based in Wales they would have no problem. They would probably have registered in Wales or at their previous home, their parents' home, or wherever. A problem exists for the servicemen and servicewomen who are currently resident in England because they are acting under the instructions of the Royal Air Force, the Royal Navy or the Army.

Lord Ewing of Kirkford: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for giving way. Will he give an example of any serviceman, Army, Navy or Air Force, who on 10th October 1996 knew where he would be based on 11th or 18th September 1997? That is a simple question.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, servicemen do not know where they will be based in a year's time, but if they are with the Royal Scots, for example, the chances are that they will still be based at Colchester because that is their home base. If they are sent abroad there is a method by which they can vote back at home. I do not believe that the noble Lord's intervention has answered my point. I doubt whether last October any of them were aware of the consequence of where they registered their vote. They would not realise that if they did not elect to register at home in Scotland or Wales they would lose out on the vote in the referendum.

It is a difficult proposition. The noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, accepted that. I understand that there may be complexities about delivering a vote in the timescale envisaged; that is, beginning now and ending on 11th September. However, that is not a timescale of my making and therefore I am not impressed by the

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argument that there is no time to organise a vote for the service voters who are based in and have their votes in England. The Government ought to have given that matter some thought. After all, presumably they thought about it before the election. It is all very well being sympathetic, but we want that sympathy to be translated.

I hope that, unlike the previous amendment, the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, will come forward with a positive proposal. I shall leave the matter there, but I have no doubt that the Welsh point of view will be put forward. Even more Welsh servicemen will be based outside Wales than there will be Scottish servicemen based outside Scotland, and I have no doubt that my noble friend Lord Crickhowell will wish to speak about the matter. I hope that during the two weeks since the Committee stage the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, has asked his colleagues to come forward with a solution. If it means delaying the referendum for a week or two, I would be happy to accept an amendment on Third Reading. I beg to move.

Lord Crickhowell: My Lords, I do not intend to add a great deal to what I said in Committee, but the situation is worse in Wales than my noble friend indicated. All three Welsh regiments, the Royal Welch Fusiliers, the Royal Regiment of Wales and the Welsh Guards, are stationed permanently outside Wales. They do not have a home base in Wales.

In Committee, the issue received support from all sides of the House. My noble friend and I deliberately used that phrase, although technically it may be incorrect. My noble friend and old political opponent Lord Parry and I found ourselves in agreement on the issue. He confirmed what was the situation when he and I were doing battle politically in Pembrokeshire--that often the forces stationed there registered there rather than at their home elsewhere. It happens that last October the Royal Welch Fusiliers were in Northern Ireland, having moved there after a gallant and noteworthy tour of Bosnia. The Royal Regiment of Wales is currently carrying out public duties in London and is stationed at Hounslow.

All three Welsh regiments face the same situation. It happens that the permanent base of the Royal Welch Fusiliers is Chepstow. It is separated from Wales only by the width of the River Wye. Therefore, its members are in the extraordinary situation of having their families in accommodation on a promontory between the River Severn and the River Wye and are separated from the Principality by a few hundred yards. Therefore, they clearly make the point that we sought to make in Committee.

The noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, gave a helpful and sympathetic response, but I understand from the gesticulations on the Front Bench that on this occasion he is handing over the responsibility to reply to the noble Lord, Lord Sewel. I hope that that is not an indication that the message to be conveyed is bad news

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but that the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, will take the credit for the helpful announcement which I am sure we are about to receive from the Government.

Lord Renton: My Lords, I rise only to mention that the point I made prematurely in respect of the previous amendment has been strengthened by the facts given by my noble friend in respect of this amendment.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, I hope that the Minister will be able to respond positively. There is a feeling among those who appreciate the situation--and many do not--that a sharp injustice is built into the Bill. That may have occurred unwittingly, but it exists. I hope that it will be possible to remedy the problem, otherwise some people will have a strong feeling of dissatisfaction.

Lord Forbes: My Lords, I support the amendment. I cannot see why some Scottish members of our Armed Forces who are prepared to fight for Monarch and country may be denied a vote in the referendum, when other Scots who do far less for their country will have a vote. Surely, Her Majesty's Government should hold our Armed Forces in slightly higher esteem.

Viscount Bledisloe: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, gave an unduly mild answer to the noble Lord, Lord Ewing. Perhaps that is not something of which he has often been accused. Most soldiers know where they will be based next year. Perhaps the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Ewing, was: although they may not know where they will be posted next year, although they may have been posted to Northern Ireland or Bosnia for three months, they will remain based in their headquarters in Colchester or in Chepstow (which is on my doorstep). Surely they know where they are based and surely they remain based there.

The Earl of Balfour: My Lords, I have some sympathy with the amendment because our Armed Forces can be sent anywhere at short notice. In that respect, I believe that they deserve to be a special case.

Lord Sewel: My Lords, the amendments seek to allow Scottish and Welsh-born servicemen and the spouses of servicemen to vote in referendums regardless of where they are registered to vote in the United Kingdom. As noble Lords will recollect, in Committee we undertook to give the matter thought, to reflect upon it and to consider our approach to service voters. We have done so, but we remain convinced that our original position was correct. I understand that that will come as a disappointment to some noble Lords opposite and therefore I consider it necessary to explain the reasons behind our judgment.

Our general approach to the business of voting in the referendums is that it should be based on the principle of residency in the country concerned. The amendment opens up our two old friends, residency and nationality. They reappear under a slightly different guise. In principle, members of the forces should be treated in the same way as any other potential voters. Accordingly, a

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member of the Armed Forces entitled to vote at a local government election in Scotland or Wales will be entitled to vote in the appropriate referendum.

The special circumstances of service personnel are reflected already in the provisions of the Representation of the People Act in relation to registration of voters who are members of the Armed Forces. They have a special place and that should be recognised. Members of the Armed Forces can retain, through a service declaration, their right to vote in Scotland or Wales even if they are on service elsewhere. It makes absolutely no difference whether a member of a Welsh regiment is serving in Cardiff, across the Severn or in Bosnia. If he has made his service declaration showing residence at a Welsh address, he will have a vote. No member of the Armed Forces will lose his right to vote simply because he is on duty elsewhere. Let us make that absolutely crystal clear.

There are some difficulties about the wording of the amendment. Let us look at that. The amendment refers to members of the Armed Forces "born" in Scotland or Wales. It is perfectly possible to have been born in Scotland or Wales, to have moved away at a very early age; to have been brought up in England and to have joined an English regiment; and to have no intention of returning to the country of birth. Yet, according to the amendment, that person would have a vote in the referendum. That is the important point because that person has no residential link with Scotland or Wales. The service declaration keeps open and is based on the concept of a residential link, albeit attenuated by the fact that the person is serving abroad. If we rely purely on birth, we are not maintaining that vital residential link.

As regards the problem of spouses, according to the amendment there could be a Scottish soldier born in Scotland who has a wife--for the sake of illustration--born in Japan. They may have met in Colchester. The wife has never lived in Scotland and perhaps has no intention of doing so. But the amendment would confer on that wife a right to vote in a referendum on the future government of Scotland.

7 p.m.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, is the Minister aware that if we were to begin to divide up the electorate for elections, leaving aside the referendum, on the basis of this kind of amendment and on the basis of the ethnicity or place of birth of one section of the electorate, that would give rise to real problems under Article 3 of the First Protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights read with Article 14 of the convention? That is because it would give rise to racial discrimination or discrimination on the basis of ethnicity in the choice of legislature. Is the Minister aware that for the same reason, it may give rise to problems under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights?

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