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It is not right to suggest that the referendum produces any new questions in relation to residence. For ordinary elections, it does matter where a person is registered. We have a constituency basis. It may be claimed that in a referendum, we move away from that. But it is my contention that if a serviceman has decided quite deliberately to register on the electoral register of the home where he is based rather than the one on which he would claim to be from, that is a deliberate act which has meaning. We are debasing that decision if somehow we say that it does not have meaning. He has decided in a very real sense that that is the place with which he identifies. It is not for us to second guess that decision.
Lord Crickhowell: My Lords, does the noble Lord not agree that there is a difference here? If you register for a parliamentary or local government election, that is because you believe that the result of that election may affect taxation, local and central, and many other issues where you are living at that time. But the quite separate issue here will affect the government of the country which you believe to be yours for generations to come. There is a fundamental difference. It is quite natural that people should register in the homes in which they are living currently because they are affected by what goes on locally. But we are now dealing with a totally different situation.
Lord Sewel: My Lords, I cannot accept the point which the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, makes. A serviceman who comes from Scotland or Wales and is posted somewhere else--for example, Colchester--and then makes a decision about whether to exercise the vote in Scotland, Wales or Colchester, faced, in a general election, with campaigns from the parties affecting the whole of the country, he makes the decision in relation to the place with which he identifies. That must be respected and, as I said, I do not think we should second guess that.
To suggest that service voters are somehow put at a disadvantage because they did not realise last October that there would be a referendum would always be wrong. We must recognise that people take decisions and that they are meaningful to them. We accept that service personnel are a special case, so we make possible the service declaration which they exercise. If that declaration produces a vote in Scotland or Wales, then that is absolutely reasonable and fair. Nobody would seek to deny a voter on that basis. But if they have decided deliberately to identify with some other part of the country, equally we must accept that decision. I hope that on that basis it will be possible for the noble Lord to withdraw the amendment.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I regret to say that that was just about as thin an argument as that used in Committee. I do not believe that servicemen make a decision in the way in which the noble Lord suggests. If the serviceman had not been posted to Colchester or wherever else and had been posted instead
The noble Lord's argument would be conclusive, and I would withdraw the amendment, if we were talking about a separate register being drawn up specifically for the referendum so that every serviceman knew what would be the result of his declaration. The fact is that when the serviceman makes that declaration, by and large, he makes it for parliamentary elections. He knows that wherever he is in the UK, there will be a parliamentary election on the same day and he will be able to vote for the same group of parties. I accept that there may be nationalists in Wales and Scotland who make some difference to that but, by and large, he will be able to vote for the same group of parties. Therefore, whether he is in Colchester, Glasgow, Chepstow or Cardiff does not make nearly as much difference as it does in relation to this referendum.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I shall come to that point in a moment, although I do not believe that it is relevant to the point I am trying to make. The argument of the Government Front Bench about the referendum would be valid if a register was being created deliberately with a view to the referendum or if the register created on 10th October last had stated quite clearly:
If the noble Lord does not like those words, I could make a few more suggestions to him. After all, he represents the Government, with all the power of the Civil Service and the draftsmen at his disposal. What about the phrase, "Had joined the forces from a Scottish address"? Alternatively, what about, "Had been registered at any time on a Scottish register"? That would take away the obsession that the noble Lord and his friend have about not wanting to consider where a person is born. If that is the only objection, I think that I can easily withdraw the amendment on the assurance that the Government will come forward with another one written along the lines of, "Joining from a Scottish
Lord Parry: My Lords, given my general sympathy for at least two-thirds of the argument put forward, which I expressed on the last occasion, will the noble Lord accept that there is another difficulty with the amendment; namely, that a great number--and a very welcome number--in the Welsh regiments are in fact Englishmen who have never lived in either Wales or Scotland, or, indeed, registered themselves there? Therefore, the total number involved is nothing like the number about which we seem to be concerning ourselves.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I accept that point. Indeed, some members of the Scottish and Welsh regiments will not have been born in Scotland or Wales and will not in fact have joined from a Scottish or Welsh address and, therefore, will not have been registered at any time on a Scottish or Welsh register--my three options. I am not bothered about them; they are obviously not my concern. I am concerned with people who, if they had not been in the forces or had not been transferred by the military to a base in England, would be in Scotland and allowed to vote. That is a self-evident proposition.
It may not be exactly what my amendment says, but I am an open-minded person. I have already indicated that if the Government wish to come forward with an alternative to my amendment which actually does what I and other noble Lords want, I would be happy to withdraw it. However, I have learned from fairly bitter experience during the course of the Bill's proceedings that there is not much point to that. Unless you are offering the Government something really good in return--like, for example, a week longer in the Recess--you have absolutely no chance of getting your argument or your amendment accepted.
I understand the point that the Government Front Bench are making about being born in Scotland. Indeed, a person could have been born in Scotland, left the next day and joined a Scottish regiment after some time. However, I think that "Joining from a Scottish address" is a fairly simple proposition. The military will have all these records. I know many young men and women who joined from their Scottish addresses. Alternatively, if they want to say that such people must have registered at some time, we could have, "Registered on a Scottish register", though I would be less happy about that because some people could join at such an early age that they would never have the opportunity to be registered at their original home address in Scotland or Wales. We could get round the problem if there was a particular determination on the part of Her Majesty's Government to do so, but I distinctly get the impression that they do not understand or sympathise with the argument.
Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, the noble Lord invited me earlier to intervene. There is an aspect to his argument which puzzles me. Can he say whether he accepts that it is objectionable, as the amendment
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