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Scotland Bill — Committee (5th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 9:15 pm on 21st March 2012.

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Photo of Baroness Taylor of Bolton Baroness Taylor of Bolton Labour 9:15 pm, 21st March 2012

My Lords, unlike the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, I do not have a lair. However, I was born to a Scottish father in Motherwell, Scotland. My grandfather was the chairman of Motherwell Labour Party, which may or may not be a recommendation. However, I have a Lancashire mother. After several years in Scotland, my mother won the battle and we moved to Lancashire. Many families share that kind of situation. Many Scots have moved away for work, education, sporting or other reasons. I tabled my amendment because I was concerned that, as the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, suggested, a lot of people will feel that they are missing out on what they believe is their right to have a say in their heritage.

When I tabled this amendment, my noble friend Lord Foulkes was indiscreet enough to mention it to a member of the press, and therefore there was a little publicity. I am not sure that I was grateful for that because it resulted in the usual barrage of e-mails and letters, but it threw up some very interesting situations. I shall quote just one: "I am a 30 year-old Scot born, raised, university-educated in Scotland and currently living in London. I would like to return in future. I have a large network of young professional Scots both in England and around the world. Those are people who have a significant vested interest in the future of Scotland and their decisions about their future lives may well be affected by the outcome of that referendum".

The amendment that I have tabled, which I do not claim to be perfect, would not give either of us a vote, because I have suggested that we use parliamentary election registers. There are many options. When I looked at the Hansards for the debate on similar issues in 1979 and 1997, it was intriguing to see the variations in voting procedures. We can use the local election register, which incidentally would allow noble Lords to vote. We have EU citizens, Irish citizens living in Scotland, and an overseas register, but you have to have lived in Scotland in the past 20 years to be on it. We have people who have property in Scotland, but it is not their first home. We have English people who have a second home in Scotland. It is a very complicated area. We could do with some clarity on this. My noble friend Lord Browne, who was Secretary of State for Defence when I was a Minister in that department, will well remember our difficulties in trying to get service personnel on to any electoral register. Many Scottish service men and women serving in the British Armed Forces may be resident for several years in England, yet, I suggest, have a very significant interest in this.

In the 1979 and 1997 elections, significant polls suggested that we should keep the register as simple as possible. I have looked up how I voted and, to my great relief, they were two of the rare occasions when as Leader of the House of Commons I did not vote. Whether that was subconsciously or consciously, I have no recollection, although I have been thinking about it. A referendum on independence is different from the referendums that we had on devolution all those years ago. This is a much more fundamental step. Listening to the whole of the debate today, that is one thing that everyone in this House agrees on. It is a far more fundamental step than the referendums in 1979 and 1997.

I hope that we are not going to be told that because of time or difficulties, this cannot be done. I would not suggest that we go as far as saying that anyone whose father was born in Scotland should be eligible. I would just go for people who were born in Scotland and are already on a parliamentary register somewhere in Britain. That would be feasible and would catch a group of people who have made a great contribution to Scottish life as well as to British life and people who might well feel excluded.

In the debates on the two previous devolution referendums, there were, as my noble friend indicated, many references to football, which seems to come up in all these debates. It was very interesting that in 1979, it seemed to be the Kenny Dalglish question: would he be allowed a vote? In 1997, it was whether Gary McAllister would be allowed one. Today, Scottish players are no longer predominant in English football, so we have to rely on asking whether certain managers could have a vote. My choice would be the manager of my English football team, Bolton Wanderers, namely Owen Coyle, who has distinguished himself in recent days following the frightening collapse of Fabrice Muamba at White Hart Lane on Saturday. That is a really good example of a Scotsman who has done everyone proud, and I am sure that we all send Fabrice Muamba every good wish for his recovery.

As far as the referendum is concerned, someone who plays football for Scotland but has a career in England or somewhere else would not be allowed to vote about the future of that country. Many other issues will come down the line-dual nationality, passports and security, as my noble friend mentioned earlier-but the simple point that I put to the Minister is that surely there is some way of finding a system whereby those who were born in Scotland can have a say on the future of the country of their birth.