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Scotland Bill — Committee (5th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 9:10 pm on 21st March 2012.

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Photo of Lord Foulkes of Cumnock Lord Foulkes of Cumnock Labour 9:10 pm, 21st March 2012

My Lords, we have had a good debate on the whole issue of a referendum. However, there are one or two important amendments in this grouping that I think we should deal with very briefly.

The first is in relation to the Electoral Commission, which we dealt with earlier on. The noble Lord, Lord Steel, who explained to me that he was not going to be able to be here, has raised this issue as well. It is very important that the Electoral Commission determines this, and not the body that has been set up by the Scottish Government. The Electoral Commission has the experience, it has the authority and the respect. Questions in relation to the actual wording of the question on the ballot paper, the amount of finance and the control of financial expenditure and the conduct of the referendum should be left to the Electoral Commission.

The second point relates to the franchise. As I said in the earlier debate, it would be entirely wrong to change the franchise for this one referendum, just because the First Minister of Scotland thinks it would help him to get the right result. So we should stick to the arrangement that it is people over the age of 18 who are able to vote.

There is an interesting amendment by my noble friend Lady Taylor of Bolton which, if I understand fully, suggests that Scots who are now resident in England but who were born in Scotland and still have an interest should also have the vote. She is one of those concerned and one of the more famous Scots residing in England, a supporter of Motherwell Football club no less. There is a very credible argument for that point of view. I am not sure I agree with it exactly, but we certainly deserve to hear it.

There is also an amendment in relation to Scottish nationality in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, who does not appear to be in this place at moment. If he were, I am sure he would make a very entertaining and interesting contribution to that amendment. I want to raise the West Lothian question with the Minister. The noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, has arrived so we look forward to hearing him in relation to his amendment. On the West Lothian question, a committee has been set up by the Government to look at whether MPs from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland should vote on purely English matters in the House of Commons. I contacted the committee to seek to give evidence and I was told that it is not taking evidence. That seems very strange, given that it is an integral part of the whole constitutional debate that is currently taking place and given that it has some knock-on relevance to the point that we are dealing with. Perhaps the Minister could persuade the committee that it would be wise to consider evidence.