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Lord Fraser of Carmyllie: As the noble Lord will appreciate, I have always considered that the more important time in relation to this debate is not when the Bill finally completes its passage through your Lordships' House and Parliament but the period which elapses from the publication of the White Paper to the date of the referendum. Clearly, that is the document on which any serious and rational debate will proceed in Scotland. I shall not rehearse the problems about serious professional organisations in Scotland trying to study that paper during August. Do I understand correctly that it is only at Report stage that we will be told the date of the publication of the White Paper? Further, do I understand correctly that the referendum will be before the party conferences? Otherwise stated, it seems to me that both could take place during
Lord Sewel: The noble and learned Lord seeks to seduce me. I have said that I will not be seduced. I have made it clear that I shall remain virtuous. I will go through it again. On the basis of the current timetable, I give the undertaking that the Government fully expect to come to the House by Report stage and indicate the date of publication of the White Paper and the date of the referendum.
Lord Tebbit: It seems to me that this debate takes on an extraordinarily unreal air. Quite clearly, the noble Lord is now aware of the date on which he expects the White Paper to be published. Why can he not tell us? He has informed noble Lords that he will tell them when Report stage is reached, but it is unlikely that there is anything in the discussion on this Bill that will affect consideration of when the White Paper is to be published. What has happened to the past attachment of the party in government to freedom of information? Somewhere within the noble Lord's department is a document bearing a date. Why should we not know what it is? That is not a matter affecting state security. It may affect relationships within the Labour Party--between Ministers and their Back Benchers--which I understand are a little turbulent at times, but surely he could tell us that. If his detestation of open government is such that he is unwilling to do so, perhaps he could bring himself to tell us what he defines as the meaning, in this context, of the words "adequate time". Is "adequate time" one week, 10 weeks, or 12 weeks? Surely it is not unreasonable that, when a Minister is asked what is "adequate time", he should tell us. He must know. If he does not know, he could not use the words. If he does know, why should he conceal from us the meaning which he attaches to them?
Lord Tebbit: Having been in government for eight years, I know those things as of experience. I can recollect many occasions when I have had documents with dates on, and for my own reasons at times I would rather not have exposed them. But I can see no good reason why we should not now know that date and the meaning which the Minister puts to the words "adequate time".
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: We have had an interesting debate. As the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, has drawn his presence to my attention, perhaps I might return to what he said. He described the amendment as trivial. Has he looked at the amendment
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: There is nothing nasty about my amendment. I am trying to help the Government by pinning a date to this important referendum. I shall not hurry up as I am being urged to do by the deputy unpaid Chief Whip for the government Benches who is sitting along the row from me.
We have had an interesting debate. As the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, has tempted me, it will be interesting to see the Liberal Benches putting down the amendment that Mr. James Wallace put down in the other place and took to the vote, because he thought it was serious enough. I notice that it has failed to appear on the Order Paper in this place. That is a pity, because with all due respect to the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, it was a serious point that was addressed by Mr. James Wallace. Unless I am persuaded otherwise in an hour or so, I do not believe that the amendment in the name of his noble friend Lord Mar and Kellie can be described as serious.
This is a serious point. We have drawn some interesting points from the Minister and from the Benches opposite. I should have known that the basic reason for not having the referendum on 2nd October is that it is during the Labour Party conference. It is a pity that the noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay of Cartvale, did not have the hymn sheet adjusted, because is it not ridiculous that the Labour Party conference is being held at a time when some of her Jewish fellow citizens will be unable to go to it because they have more serious business to do?
Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: I wish to make two points with which I believe the noble Lord will agree. First, I made a serious point about the Jewish New Year and the issue of voting. Secondly, there is big difference between conferences and meetings to which people of any religion can decide whether to go, the demands and rules of their own religion, and holding a national referendum in Scotland and Wales on a day when it would be known that practising members of the Jewish community would be unable to vote. I am sure that the noble Lord will agree with me that there is a big difference.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: Perhaps I may give help and advice to the noble Baroness; I suspect that in those circumstances she would find that people would be entitled to postal votes, which would solve the problem. Perhaps I might advise the noble Baroness not to dig too great a hole for herself. It is possible that the Government may be forced to have a referendum on 2nd October, if the White Paper's publication is delayed and it does not appear on the date which still appears to be unknown. I shall leave that aside. I should be happy
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My noble and learned friend indicates that that is his birthday. That is an even better reason for having it on 9th October. I shall pick up one or two of the points that have been made. The noble Lord, Lord Peston, to whom it is always interesting to listen, suggested that the amendments were destructive. I do not believe that they are.
Lord Peston: I did not mean that these amendments were, but unless I missed the point I felt that several of the later amendments did not have the constructive quality that I would normally associate with the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: None of the amendments in my name would prevent the Government from having a referendum on 2nd October or at any time in September, as is their current plan. The noble Lord asked whether we would accept the outcome. He was well pulled up by my noble friend who asked him whether the Labour Party had accepted the outcome of previous referendums. My recollection is that the Labour Party continued to campaign against the European Community long after the 1975 referendum, for example, was decided. I do not want to go into that. We shall shortly be having a debate on whether or not the referendum should be advisory. That might be an important debate to which the noble Lord, Lord Peston, could contribute.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, pointed out to the noble Lord, Lord Peston, that the idea of the referendum was that it was advisory and could not bind Parliament. That is a serious point which we should address in the general context of referendums, not just this one. The Committee will appreciate that I shall be returning later to the general question of referendums and the rules that we should have for them.
My noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy reminded the Committee that three months' notice was given on the previous occasion. If I may follow the noble Lord, Lord Ewing of Kirkford, a little, that may be why the Labour Party wants to make the period as short as possible: to see whether it can win this one, because on the previous one it did not do as well as it thought it was going to do.
Some Welsh points were made in relation to Amendment No. 23. The noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, made an interesting contribution. We will no doubt return to the point. Just to establish the position--if I understand it--the noble Lord holds his fellow Welshmen in such low regard that he does not believe that they will be able to consider the issue while the Scottish referendum is going on because of the din about the Scottish referendum that will be coming from north of the Border. The Welsh will not be able to block off
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