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Lord Sewel: My Lords, I thank the noble Earl for giving way. He mentioned thresholds a number of times. His immediately preceding word was "exact"--an exact threshold. Can he tell the House what he proposes as the exact threshold?
The Earl of Lindsay: My Lords, the party opposite has proposed a referendum and it produced a manifesto stating that it wanted that referendum to deliver a popular endorsement. It is quite legitimate that we ask what constitutes a popular endorsement.
The Earl of Lindsay: My Lords, like the Labour Party when it seeks to change its constitution, and like many other organisations, when profound change is suggested it is often legitimate that more than a simple arithmetic majority may be the best expression of a popular endorsement.
The other issue that is raised by the concept of a popular endorsement--an expression which appeared so often in the Government's manifesto--is what exactly it is that they are popularly endorsing. It is not the Bill itself and many noble Lords made the point that in the present
The referendum will not require the electorate to make a judgment on the devolution Bill. If the timetable of the party opposite is short, as we expect, the electorate will not properly be able to vote on the White Paper because there is unlikely to be sufficient time for its debate. The electorate will be voting on the general idea. It is quite legitimate for us to suggest that the post-legislative referendum as an alternative was a supplement because the party opposite has been very good at changing its mind on devolution policy. My noble friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish gave chapter and verse of cases where, during a mere six-day period, issues had been proposed and withdrawn, depending on the whims of various figures in the Labour Party.
I welcome the thoughts of speakers around the House; from the noble Lord, Lord Shore, to my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway; and from my other noble friends such as Lady Carnegy, Lord Beloff and Lord Stanley. They suggested that only a post-legislative referendum enables the people to endorse or reject the final scheme for a Scottish parliament or a Welsh assembly as decided by Parliament. If there is no post-legislative referendum and Parliament decides to make amendments to the details of the scheme outlined in the White Paper on which, we are told, the referendum will be held, how are the people able to say that that is really what they want? As my noble friend Lord Crickhowell said, it is in the detail that the devil lies. It is in the detail that many opinions will finally be formed. This is a vital question that has been pursued by noble Lords from all corners of the House and it will undoubtedly be pursued further at later stages of the Bill.
On the basis that the pre-legislative referendum is to proceed as a general statement of intent, and that there should be a post-legislative referendum to enable the people to accept or reject a concrete set of proposals, then it is perfectly legitimate to argue, as did the noble Lord, Lord Sempill, for a multi-option referendum on the three broad constitutional options set out: independence, devolution and the status quo. That would give a clear indication of the true wishes of the Scottish people.
Undoubtedly, Committee and Report stages will see further discussion and further questions put to the Government on the exact franchise which is to be allowed in the arrangements for the referendum. My noble friend's "Cappuccino" question needs to be pursued. That is an issue on which not only government spokesmen but others have failed to produce a convincing answer. The fact that it differs from the conclusions of the report of the Commission on the Conduct of Referendums, which has been quoted widely, is also a point which carries some weight.
As regards organising the referendums, if we are to believe what is stated in the Labour Party's election manifesto, we are likely to be faced with numerous referendums in the coming years. That point has been made. It is surely imperative that if all those referendums are to be held, each must produce a clear and unambiguous result. Therefore, it is entirely logical that, as the Electoral Reform Society and Constitution Unit set
Many questions also remain about the funding arrangements for the various campaigns, including public funding for umbrella organisations, freepost delivery of election addresses and media broadcasts. Parliament must have an opportunity to debate those points, and other noble Lords have posed questions to the Minister in relation to that.
The Electoral Reform Society and Constitution Unit proposes that there should be equal public funding for umbrella campaigning groups and for a leaflet explaining the case for each of the referendum options to be delivered to every household. Also, as proposed by the same unit, there should be a balance of media broadcasting of the referendum options and air time should not be allotted on a political basis.
If one turns to voting, the schedule to the Bill and the draft orders state explicitly that voters should put a cross beside the options they prefer. That is different in practice from other elections, where any mark is accepted which shows clearly the voter's preference. For example, we should like to know whether ballot papers with ticks rather than crosses are to be rejected. There are a series of details which the Government will have to address as part of the scrutiny process.
Similarly, I remind the House that neither the Bill nor the draft order makes provision for an overall recount of votes on a Scotland-wide basis. There is provision for the chief counting officer to order a recount in a particular council area but no ability to have an overall recount ordered; and yet it is the overall vote that would be challenged. Also the draft order states that the counting officer will choose the observers of the count. There is no indication as to who will be chosen as observers and in particular, whether observers should be representatives of the various organisations promoting or opposing the referendum options. It is unclear with whom the counting officer should liaise at the count with regard to, for example, spoiled ballot papers. Similarly, it is not clear who may be appointed as polling agents and therefore able to enter polling stations.
Many of the speakers in this debate have concentrated on and explored the actual referendum questions. The noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, and others have expressed their views and no doubt we shall hear more of those views as the passage of the Bill proceeds. A number of different options have been suggested; for example, from no questions to one question, to two questions to three questions and to none of the above to all of the above. A mixture of views have been expressed on this point. The first question could be open to interpretation by Nationalists as meaning a separate, sovereign Scottish parliament. The wording should therefore read:
The second question is one that has, perhaps, generated the most comment. That is because it deals with the "tax-varying powers". My noble friends Lord Lauderdale and Lady Strange and, indeed, the noble Earl, Lord Perth, gave the House the benefit of their views in that respect. There is a strange discrepancy here between what the Labour Party put in its manifesto--namely, a promise to deliver a referendum question which dealt with the exact defining financial powers of this Parliament--and the actual question that we find in front of us, which simply has a limitless ability to vary power. I should be interested to hear whether the Government's intention is to stay with the promise given in the manifesto, or whether they are beginning to rethink the options and abilities that this assembly in Edinburgh would have to raise funds. Therefore, can the Minister give a categorical assurance tonight that the tax-raising proposals for the Scottish assembly will be those that were set out in their manifesto--that is, the Scottish Constitution Convention's scheme for the parliament to vary the basic rate of income tax by three pence in the pound?
If the Government cannot give that assurance, then perhaps they would afford this House and indeed the people of Scotland the courtesy of explaining what additional or alternative tax-raising powers are being considered. That is of particular relevance if the Government are considering tax-raising powers other than the ability to raise or lower the basic rate of income tax by three pence in the pound. If the Government intend to stick to the exact wording set out in their manifesto, the easiest thing would be for the schedule which contains the questions to be amended so that it reflects that wording. I give way to the Minister.
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