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The Earl of Lindsay: Well, my Lords, that is an issue to which we shall look forward with enthusiasm to exploring during the later stages of the Bill. However, if the Minister would look at the proposed question as set out in the schedule to the Bill, he will see that the question which will be put to the electorate is wider than "limited".
The other question that I should like to leave for the Minister to answer tonight is one which has been posed from all sides of the House; namely, when will we be able to see the White Papers? I requote the Secretary of State for Scotland when he said that it was not only the referendums Bill but also the White Papers which should be subject to proper parliamentary scrutiny and proper public debate. I repeat: when will we see the White Papers? If the Minister would confirm that the date that the Government prefer for the referendums is in early September, I believe it is imperative for us to see that White Paper as soon as possible. It is even more important that the people of Scotland and of Wales see their respective White Papers as soon as possible.
My noble friend Lord St. Davids posed a very good question when he asked how the White Papers would be distributed to those of us who are not on the normal receiving end of official papers like White Papers. It would be interesting to hear whether the Government will make an effort to ensure that there is a wide distribution and a wide understanding of what is contained in the White Papers. Even if the Minister is unable tonight to give us an exact date of when those White Papers will be published, can be please tell the House whether they will be published and available to us between, for example, today's Second Reading and the Committee stage, or between the Committee and Report stages? That would be of great assistance. I assume that the publication will be no later than at the Report stage. In the uncomfortable event that the White Papers are still not available when the Bill leaves this House after Third Reading and is on its way to Royal Assent, I cannot conceive how the Government believe that there could be adequate public debate of the White Papers if the referendums are to be held as soon as early September. It would therefore be advantageous if the Minister could tell us the likely dates for the referendums.
The House has a serious duty to perform with this Bill. It is a duty that in a sense has been requested by the Secretary of State for Scotland and by those in other walks of life who realise that this legislation must be subjected to proper scrutiny for the sake of everyone who is involved and for the sake of anyone who is planning to take part in the referendums in either Scotland or Wales. We must deliver that parliamentary scrutiny as the Secretary of State has admitted is needed. We must help generate that public debate as the Government admit is needed. We must scrutinise the propriety and the equity on which the referendums will be organised, and most importantly we must ensure that the Bill delivers referendums for Scotland and Wales that are assured, in turn, of delivering a complete unambiguous expression of the will of the people. If we fail to do that in any of these respects we fail ourselves, we fail the people of Scotland and Wales, and in the end we fail the people of the United Kingdom.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I have had the infinite pleasure of listening to 36 speeches; I have not left my place at all. As regards the previous speech we heard, I was most grateful for the constructive approach which the noble Earl, Lord Lindsay, adopted. I and my colleagues were grateful when he said quite unambiguously that the Opposition support the principle of the Bill, the principle of the Bill being of course, as is well understood, a pre-legislative referendum. He said that he was sure that constitutional change of this sort ought to be put to a referendum. There is nothing between us on that. I understood him then to say that he was floating the idea of a second, post-legislative referendum. I understand from his not dissenting that
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I am well aware of that and I am sure noble Lords opposite will have to become well aware of the fact that they are now the Opposition. As I said, the noble Earl chided me that the devil was in the detail, but at the moment I understand that there is no devil to be let loose from the detail about the exact threshold, that the Opposition contend.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, it is foolish to snigger when that is such an important point. We believe that these arrangements for Wales and Scotland will ensure the continuance of the Union. We believe that a fruitful future for Wales and Scotland in the Union will be reaffirmed and strengthened by these devices.
There has been a lengthy debate, not just tonight--it may feel like 20 years, but it was not--but over the past 20 years in Scotland and Wales. Most people know the issues involved. We trust the people who have given us their trust and empowered us for a time--I realise it is for a time--with their authority. It was only last month that the people of this country gave this Government a significant mandate. It is not a mandate to bully or to oppress reasoned opposition, and this Government do not take it in that way. But it was a comprehensive programme put before the electors: incorporation of the European Convention on Human Rights into our law; the introduction of a freedom of information Act; and the modernisation of Parliament. This is the most wide-ranging programme for constitutional reform that has ever been put before a parliament. The political landscape of this country will change for ever if these measures go through; and it is my absolute, fundamental belief that it will change for the better.
People in Scotland and Wales have made it quite plain that they wish and desire more immediate, direct, effective control over their own affairs. As my noble friend Lord Cledwyn said, it is a matter of high principle. I define that high principle with this question. Should Wales and Scotland have the opportunity to give their judgment on the way they wish to be governed within the Union? That is all this Bill does. It is a perfectly simple device to open that door. It does not contain detail, as I have been reminded in the 36 speeches. But I had noticed that. There will be a White Paper with detail. There will be an opportunity for this House to debate and scrutinise.
The noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, said that matters were being indecently hurried through. They are not. The noble Lord and I are joint authors of a small academic thesis called "the Crickhowell/Williams effect" which translated means that anything that the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, says I disagree with, and anything I say he disagrees with; and it has certainly stood the test of time. But I cannot accept that members of this sophisticated electorate will be so overcome by jet lag--or, for the common sort such as myself, bus sickness--when we come back from our holidays that we shall be unable to decide on these questions. There is ample opportunity for these matters to be discussed; it will be weeks. I do not despise my fellow citizens and fellow electors. They are remarkably mature, remarkably sophisticated, and often remarkably right, as we saw on 1st May.
We shall set out detailed proposals in White Papers. This House is entitled to that; every Member of this House is entitled to that. We shall publish them well ahead of the referendums so that those voting in the referendums will have ample opportunity to consider the issues involved. We have given an undertaking, which I happily repeat, that in this House and in another place there will be the opportunity before this House rises to consider and debate the proposals in the White Paper.
Now, as regards the answer to the question which will not satisfy those who asked it, I cannot give any commitment as to the precise timings of the debates. I can assure your Lordships that it is our clear, settled intention that there will be a proper opportunity to consider the White Papers before they are debated. That answer has the disadvantage of being straightforward and candid but that is the answer which I am giving.
Lord Fraser of Carmyllie: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord. As one of the most distinguished silks at the English Bar he has a warranted reputation for precision and accuracy. We are grateful to him, and to the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, for the undertaking that both have proffered: that this House and the House of Commons will have the opportunity to debate that White Paper before the House rises for the summer. We are grateful for that.
It is now 17th June, and closer to the 18th June than I think the noble Lord and I would like it to be. I understand the proposal to be that the referendum in Scotland should be as soon as 4th September. If it is to be on 4th September, the outrage is not that the opportunity to debate the issue will not be afforded to this House or another place. It is the fact that it is likely to be some five weeks from the publication of a White Paper to the referendum. That is a total outrage. If we were to put out, in Scottish terms, a paper setting out
If the Minister will promise that we shall see the White Paper, not for either House but for the people of Scotland, those with the necessity of examining the proposals over a realistic period, we shall be very much more satisfied than we are on the broad generalisations that he has been able to offer us this evening.
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