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Lord Mackie of Benshie: I could not agree more with what the last speaker has said--that we might get on to the other amendments. Whether they are interesting or whether they are there for a different purpose I would not know.
The argument that we need to have time in Scotland to think about the referendum is curious. Everyone except the Conservative Party seems to know that Scotland has been thinking of little else for the past few years. That is probably why the Conservative Party does not have a seat left in Scotland. It does not know what people are thinking. The referendum was put in as an extra precaution by the Government, who are far too over-cautious about it in my view. However, they are putting it in now, and the sooner we get the Bill through the better. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, will not take seven minutes to introduce every trivial amendment he has tabled.
Lord Simon of Glaisdale: I have put down an amendment, which appears later in the Marshalled List, making the dates of the two referendums identical. Although it has not been grouped, the debate has obviously gone over that ground. It is very important that the dates should be identical because the one that is held earlier may influence the later one, particularly if it is a larger vote than the later one. It is the Eatanswill principle which your Lordships may remember--shout with the mob; and if there are two mobs, shout with the larger one. It is exactly the same principle which in some European countries precludes opinion polls for a week or a fortnight before an election--because people tend to vote with the larger mob.
The noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, who has taken to the Treasury Bench as if he had been born in a Dispatch Box, said at Second Reading--I hope that Members of the Committee will excuse me while I use a magnifying glass--
It would have been equally cogent to say, "Since there are different issues we believe that the Welsh referendum should precede the Scottish one". When the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, looks back at the end of a very distinguished political and legal career, I cannot believe that he will think that that was one of his most cogent arguments.
That is the reason why the dates should be identical. It is precisely because the earlier referendum with the greater number is likely to influence the later one. Whatever the Government feel about the date, I hope that they will at any rate agree that the two referendums should be held on the same day. As regards the rest, I agree entirely with the noble Lord who said that the important thing is that there should be sufficient time between publication of the White Papers and the referendums.
Lord Crickhowell: I had not intended to speak at this stage, but I am encouraged by the speech that we have just heard to comment on two points. I will come back later to the powerful arguments for holding both referendums on the same day and for having adequate time before the electorate is asked to consider the issues after the White Papers have been published.
I am really prompted to my feet by the fact that the Liberal Democrat party now seems to believe that it has joined the Government Benches and spends most of its time doing the work of government Ministers. I am prompted to comment by two speeches that we have heard from the Liberal Democrat Front Bench in the past few minutes. One suggests that there is no need to have these debates because everyone in Scotland knows exactly what is going to happen. I am not speaking about Scotland, but I do know a little about Wales.
The truth is that no one in Wales knows exactly what is going to happen if only because the Government themselves do not yet know how the thing is going to work and have certainly not been able to draft a White Paper yet which will explain all the details. The publication of the White Paper in Wales is an absolutely fundamental requirement if the Welsh electorate is to understand what is going on.
We do not want a misleading view of history recorded by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, about what happened last time. Of course I accept the fact that the Welsh press printed in Wales is read by about only 13 per cent. of the electorate in Wales. Indeed, I made the same point when we last debated this matter. If the noble Lord really believes that the issue was not adequately debated in Wales last time, he is wrong. The issue was very
Earl Russell: I ask the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, to take note that the degree of apparent agreement between these Benches and the Government Benches is very largely the achievement of the Conservative Party and were Mr. Malcolm Rifkind, for example, leading for the Conservative Party, we might be having a very different and much more interesting debate.
Lord Ewing of Kirkford: I wish to make clear that I share the views of all Members of the Committee who have spoken. We need adequate time between publication of the White Paper and the holding of the referendum. Where we part company is that I am absolutely and totally confident that there will be adequate time between publication of the White Paper and the date of the referendum as it is being considered by the Government at the present time.
What astonishes me is the attitude of Members of the Committee opposite in asking for adequate time for a long campaign. I thought that they had learnt a lesson from long campaigns. When one looks at the history of general elections in this country, campaigns normally run for three weeks until polling day. The general election date this year was the brainchild of Conservative Central Office. It said, "We shall have a six weeks' campaign and we shall really get our message across. People will understand and they will re-elect us". Tory MPs are as scarce as hens' teeth in both Scotland and Wales after a six weeks' campaign. I believe that Members of the Committee opposite should exercise just a wee bit more caution when they talk now about the length of the campaign, given the background of their bitter experience of a long campaign earlier this year.
Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, what is the objection? Is it that the date is too early or too late? Or is it that there is a date at all? Is that the objection and the reason for it, as was said by the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, at Second Reading in another context, that it ties the hands of government? If that is the objection, then in these circumstances it is about right that the hands of government should be tied.
We are having a referendum not on whether we are to have an Act to give schoolchildren free sweets or something like that but on a very far-reaching constitutional change which is going to affect the whole of the United Kingdom, not only Scotland. So what on earth is all the hurry about? It seems to me that a matter of this kind should be given very serious consideration not only by Parliament but also by the people of Scotland and Wales who are to vote in the referendums. They should have plenty of time. I have heard rumours that the White Paper will be published only towards the end of this month and that the referendum is to take place in early or mid-September. If that is true, then I do not consider that there is anything like adequate time for people to take in the contents of the White Paper and consider them.
Lord Rees: I have no doubt that many of our debates for the next few weeks on this issue will have echoes of what happened 20 years ago. Many Members of the Committee in this Chamber recall with painful clarity what happened then. But, of course, there is one fundamental difference. Twenty years ago, we came to a referendum after something like six or eight months of careful, detailed debate about the precise form of devolution which should obtain either north of the Border or west of Offa's Dyke. In this case we are being asked to approach the issue with nothing more than a few scrappy words in the course of the election campaign. I do not believe that that is a serious basis for serious legislation in this Parliament.
I am not over concerned with the agricultural, climatic or even religious implications of 2nd October. I am afraid that I am uninformed as to what the Druids would have thought about any particular date. But I am concerned that some of us would like to take an active part both in this House and outside. I must confess that I played a minor role 20 years ago, although it was nothing like as strenuous or distinguished as the role played by my noble friend Lord Crickhowell. Perhaps I may say to the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, that in Wales we have been a little less self-absorbed than some of our friends and relations north of the Border. We have not been talking day and night about the precise form of an assembly and what its powers and occupation should be. We should like to know long before we move to that kind of issue, either at Westminster or west of Offa's Dyke, exactly what is to be in the White Paper. What sort of assembly are we to have? What will be its powers and what sort of prerogatives will it be endowed with?
There are three critical dates. The first is the date of the White Paper. If the Government are serious about a referendum in the early days of the autumn--we hope very much that the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, will disclose the Government's hand on those critical points fairly soon--when will the White Paper be published? When shall we have an opportunity to debate the White Paper? A White Paper does not have legislative
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, who is much more qualified to do so, raised the issue of whether the referendums should be on the same date in both countries. I shall not touch on the almost insulting issues as to where the bigger mob is--north of the Border or west of Offa's Dyke--or whether my compatriots west of Offa's Dyke are likely to be influenced by what is said in Inverness or--dare I say?--in Orkney and Shetland where there may be a rather interesting outcome.
I support the amendment not because I am wedded to the date of 2nd October but because I want to know when the White Paper will be published for our inspection, when we shall have an opportunity to debate it, and how long will ensue afterwards before we have a referendum either in both countries or in one country.
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