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Lord Renton: I should have thought that the Government would welcome Amendment No. 1. It adds credibility to their intentions. In many statutes over the years power has been given to have an appointed day made by Order in Council, but such appointed days have sometimes never been appointed. That is because the Government decided, perhaps in order to implement a manifesto commitment or to raise hopes in the public mind when they have no intention of going ahead, to put the power into the hands of whoever makes the Order in Council--Her Majesty, of course, makes it on advice.
Surely it would be better to make the position clear, as my noble friend Lord Mackay said. If the Government say that they do not know when the arrangements will be completed for the holding of the referendums, I shall find that rather strange. Do they need more than three months to do that? They have the whole of July--today is the first--August and September. We are accustomed to elections and have even had referendums in this country. Surely the administrative machinery could be put into force and the printing done quite easily within three months.
I hope that the Government will realise that the amendment is in their interest. In relation to the date chosen, 2nd October, many of us know from experience that the climate in Scotland is often rather good at that stage of the autumn and the days have not become too short for people to travel if they have to travel to polling stations. It is therefore a sensible day. It would surprise me if the Government do not accept the amendment.
Lord Sanderson of Bowden: Looking at Amendments Nos. 1 and 23, I am not convinced by what the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, said at col. 1223 on 17th June, when he said that a different day should be chosen for Wales as opposed to Scotland.
What has been learnt since 1979? It was all right then to hold referendums on the same day. It is quite clear that the issues are different--of course they are; one is to be a legislative assembly and the other is not. However, I am not convinced by what is proposed and I should like to hear what the Minister has to say as to why the days should be different.
Lord Thomas of Gresford: I oppose Amendments Nos. 1 and 23 for the very reason to which the noble Lord referred a moment ago. The amendments suggest that the same day should be chosen for the referendum in Wales as that for Scotland.
The experience in 1979 was that the national media--the press and television--gave twice as much coverage to the Scottish referendum as they did to the Welsh referendum. That is particularly difficult because, whereas more than 90 per cent. of the newspapers that circulate in Scotland are printed in Scotland, only 13 per cent. of the newspapers that circulate in Wales are actually printed in Wales. It is therefore essential, if the Welsh electorate are to have a proper opportunity to consider the issues that arise in the referendum that
Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: I confess that I am extremely disappointed in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish. I had hoped that he would explain why he chose 2nd October of all dates. We heard generalities as to why he did not like September but did not hear why it should be 2nd October.
The 2nd October is a particularly bad date. It is Rosh Hashana--the Jewish New Year. I understand that no practising member of the Jewish community would vote on such a date. It would therefore be only proper for noble Lords opposite to withdraw the amendment. I am sure that they did not intend to disenfranchise the Jewish communities of Scotland and Wales and that the amendment was tabled in total ignorance of the significance of the date. I therefore ask that they withdraw the amendment.
Lord Campbell of Croy: As regards the point that has just been made, I would be perfectly happy to make it a week later, provided it was also considered whether there was a Moslem or other holiday. I speak as the Patron in Chief of the Scottish Pakistani Association, which is by far the largest ethnic community in Scotland. So I do think that a week later might be better.
Perhaps I may remind the Government and the Front Bench spokesmen what happened on the last occasion. While the Scotland Bill was going through in this House I recommended that there should be at least a six-week interval. I am glad to say that that was accepted by the government. The referendum order came before both Houses on 5th December. That had already been published a week or two beforehand and it had the date of polling day--1st March. So on the last occasion both Houses and the country had at least three months' notice of the date. I just remind the Government Front Bench of what happened on the last occasion.
Earl Russell: Before I address the amendment I should like to take half a minute to congratulate the Welsh Conservative Party on its conversion to proportional representation. I think it is quite right. It has suffered a grave injustice that 20 per cent. of the vote has led to no representatives in Parliament. I simply hope that that conversion is for better, for worse.
I very much hope that this is a probing amendment. The noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, has many times across this Chamber lectured me on the virtues of flexibility. They are not quite as great as the noble Lord has sometimes argued but I have always conceded that they do exist. As soon as you fix anything finely in primary legislation, then you need primary legislation to reverse it.
Baroness Carnegy of Lour: It seems to me that the important point about the amendment is not the specific date but that there should be time between the publication of the White Paper and the date of the referendum. That really is important. It is important because not only do the voters have to become acquainted with what is in the White Paper so that they will know what they are voting about, but those who will have an opinion on the subject which might enlighten the voters need to know too.
I was surprised when I telephoned the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities to ask whether it had anything to say about the timetable. The person to whom I spoke said that the convention had no view on that; all it wanted was a referendum as soon as possible. That strikes me as very strange. I do not think that the convention can have thought very much about what will be in the White Paper unless it knows--it may know already--and thinks that it does not matter. It seems to me that it is likely to affect the convention very much and that the voters will need to know what it thinks about the matter. The Law Society of Scotland, to which I also spoke, told me of one or two concerns it has about the referendums Bill and the White Paper, but it, too, did not have a view about the timetable.
The schools in the area where I live are sending their children home tomorrow. A good many local authorities in Scotland will be sending home their children tomorrow; others will be sending them home a week or perhaps two weeks later. Where I live they are coming back on 18th August. In Scotland, 4th August is a bank holiday, so it stands to reason that many families will take their holidays in the last week of July or the first or second week of August. That means that whenever they are going away, whether now or in the next two or three weeks, they will not see the White Paper until they come back. There will be a very short time during which they can study the White Paper.
Likewise, many people who are councillors or lawyers tend to take their holidays slightly later because they are interested in what is going on in Parliament. They do not want to be away when it happens. They will be at home when the White Paper is published but they will not be available to advise the public when the public comes home. There is quite a long spell when people will simply not be there.
The most important point of all about the referendum is that people should know what they are voting about. Later in the Committee stage we shall be discussing other aspects of that question, but the timetable really matters. I understand the problem about 2nd October. I have to say that 9th October is a time when my part of the world will probably be having potato holidays, so
Lord Tebbit: We are engaged in a slightly academic and artificial debate and the matter could be cleared up very quickly indeed. I am in favour of a degree of flexibility in these matters. The noble Earl has put the argument for that well. However, we are all proposing to celebrate the millennium on a date which I think was fixed a couple of thousand years ago, so one should not go overboard on that argument.
One has to be careful about dates at the beginning of October. As we know, the beginning of October is the occasion for those festivities of the conferences around the seaside. No doubt they will be particularly interesting this year, so we should not keep people away from those.
The essence of the argument which my noble friend put and which I think is in the minds of all Members of the Committee is that there should be proper time between the publication of the White Paper and the actual referendum. If we could be given some guarantees about that we would be able to reach a conclusion on this amendment very quickly indeed. That would enable us to get on with other more interesting amendments.
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