Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Thomas of Gresford: I think that the Welsh people will see through the remarks that the noble Lord is making now.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: If they read them, I hope that they will see that the point that I am making is in defence of them and against the noble Lord, who seems to think that they will be unable to consider this issue at the same time as the Scots. The only temptation for having the Welsh referendum on a different day is to allow all those excellent Labour MPs from Wales who have not signed up to this scheme the opportunity freely to express their views away from Westminster and the power of the Labour Party Whips down the corridor. That is an issue that is running at the other end of this Palace, and perhaps we need not go into it too much here.

We have been told that the Labour Party has been thinking about this for 18 years. There has been this constitutional convention. The noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay, is a chairman of it. The noble Lord Ewing of Kirkford, is a former chairman of it. The noble Lord, Lord Steel, was its chairman. They spent hours and weeks on it. Acres of trees must have been cut down for it. It has been reported copiously in the press over the past six or seven years, I suspect. Yet, here we are and the Government still do not know whether they have a White Paper to present to us. The only conclusion that one can reach, is that they do not have a White Paper ready. I can understand if it is at the printers or at the proof stage--at least one can have some idea of it--but the Minister said that on Report he would tell us the date of its publication.

It may be of great interest to your Lordships to know that that puts it well into the 20s of July. I presume that we will have a week, with a weekend included, to consider the contents of the White Paper before we come to debate it. Therefore, those Members of the Committee who have arranged their holidays for the first week in August, and whose holiday plans I have attempted to protect elsewhere in the Marshalled List, may well have to cancel their holidays and be here to debate the White Paper. I do not find that satisfactory.

I believed that we would see the White Paper before the Report stage, not because its detail should be debated before then but, looking at a sensible timetable, because we could debate it before the end of July, which would allow both Houses of Parliament to rise. I am disappointed that the noble Lord is telling us that the publication of the White Paper is further away than I thought. I hope that it will appear around the Report stage, preferably before.

I believe that the noble Lord said that he would tell us the referendum date then. Being mindful of the many lessons I received at the knee of the noble Earl, Lord Russell, about the importance of primary as opposed to secondary legislation, if on Report the Government know when they want the referendum, perhaps they will table their own amendment along the lines of mine, inserting

1 Jul 1997 : Column 108

their date. Flexibility is not needed for a one-off referendum. I would have accepted the noble Earl's argument if he had been talking about referendums in general, but we are debating a specific Bill. It was part of the Labour Party's manifesto, which we know is pretty Holy Writ, that a referendum is to be held in the autumn. I do not see why 2nd October is such a bad day, but I shall not put it to the test. I should hate to deprive the Benches opposite of the pleasures of the Labour Party conference by keeping them in Scotland and Wales attempting to propound the arguments in favour of a "Yes" vote. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment, although I hope that on Report the Government will bring forward an amendment to primary legislation.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

4.15 p.m.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish moved Amendment No. 2:

Page 1, line 5, leave out ("Her Majesty may by Order in Council") and insert ("the Secretary of State for Scotland may").

The noble Lord said: The amendment invites the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, to say a few words about how we shall know about the date of the referendum and how it is to be enacted. I have suggested a way in which he can do that. As this is a probing amendment, perhaps he can explain why he has chosen to do it by Order in Council as opposed to my suggestion that the Secretary of State for Scotland should make an order.

At the risk of incurring the wrath of the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, I wondered whether the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, fancied a visit to Balmoral during August in order to attend a meeting of the Council to deal with the issue. I suggest that the matter can be dealt with simply by the Secretary of State making the order or, as I have suggested, by the Minister coming forward on Report, or even at Third Reading, and tabling an amendment which lays down in primary legislation the date or dates on which we shall have the two referendums. I beg to move.

Lord Sewel: I am somewhat at a loss as regards the distinction which the noble Lord is trying to make between the phrases "Her Majesty may by Order in Council" and "the Secretary of State for Scotland may". If at this stage he is laying the grounds for an argument that it would be appropriate to dispense with the orders and to incorporate them into the primary legislation, I am able to respond to him. At this stage I seek that degree of clarification from him.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I am not seeking to do that; it arises later in a substantive amendment which brings them all together. I am simply inviting the noble Lord to tell me why it has to be an Order in Council. If he is saying to me that it is tied into the other orders--and I suggested a way in which we might deal with them--I am happy to leave the matter there and withdraw my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

1 Jul 1997 : Column 109

Lord Campbell of Croy moved Amendment No. 2A:

Page 1, line 6, leave out ("a") and insert ("an advisory").

The noble Lord said: Members of the Committee will notice that the amendment is starred, although I submitted it last Thursday in the early evening when the House was still sitting. Apparently, it became stuck in the tabling process and was found and rescued only yesterday morning after I telephoned to find out what had happened to it. Although Members will have seen it only for the first time today, it is simple and a probing amendment.

On Second Reading I said that I understood that the 1975 referendum on staying in the EC and the 1979 referendums in England and Wales were advisory to Parliament. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, commented on that today in respect of an earlier amendment. Can the Minister confirm that this referendum is also advisory in character? Is it intended that the Government, having obtained the approval of Parliament, should decide on appropriate action when the referendum in Scotland has taken place? That would be important if the result were close or if there were a low turnout.

However, the Government have made it clear that the object of a pre-legislative referendum is to obtain a green light from the electorate in Scotland before spending much valuable parliamentary time and enlisting the energy and labour of many civil servants on what has to be a complex and intricate scheme for a new parliament. Of course, a referendum after legislation is passed, as happened previously, would be preferable and more indicative of considered opinion in Scotland. I hope that that is still an option.

The Government's reply might be that the result will not be close. The media and opinion polls in Scotland indicate that about 60 per cent. of the Scottish electorate is in favour of what is known as devolution--the general idea. I can remember a similar situation in 1976 and 1977 when about 70 per cent. of the population was reported as being in favour of the idea of devolution. In the 1979 referendum on the Scotland Act, the legislation that had been passed, the percentage in favour was only 33 per cent., with 31 per cent. against. The Labour Government of that day had approved the insertion of a 40 per cent. threshold in their Scotland Act, so under their own terms it had to be repealed. As regards this Bill, it appears that a simple majority, however small, is to be effective.

In those circumstances, I suggest that the status of the referendum should be advisory to Parliament. There are proposals in Amendments Nos. 50 and 83 on how the results might be treated. We can discuss those in due course. However, they appear much better than the threshold provisions in the Labour Government's 1978 Scotland Act. They apply to the number of electors who have voted in the referendum and not to a percentage of the electorate. The electorate is always difficult to assess precisely owing to deaths, moves and other factors.

I am not pressing for the word "advisory" to be included in the Bill. I shall be satisfied if the Government make it clear that that will be the status of the referendum. I am very glad to see the noble Lord,

1 Jul 1997 : Column 110

Lord Kirkhill, in his place because I should like to record how extremely helpful he was in 1976 and 1977 when he was Minister of State at the Scottish Office and had to deal on behalf of the Government with the Scotland Act and the subsequent orders dealing with the referendum. He did accept a number of proposals, including some of mine, particularly, as I mentioned earlier, the minimum interval of six weeks. So in those days in opposition our proposals were not always rejected, as the noble Lord, Lord Peston, suggests. We were successful in getting quite a lot of amendments accepted and I would like to say that the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhill, made a great contribution to our debates and he was prepared to accept a number of our proposals. I beg to move.

4.30 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: It is not the intention to press for the word "advisory" to be put into the Bill. Having listened carefully to what my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy has said, I think his anxieties are reflected by what the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, has already said. At Second Reading, in col. 1113, he said, accurately:

    "Parliament will of course remain sovereign. It will be for the Government and, ultimately, Parliament to reflect on the result of the referendums."--[Official Report, 17/6/97; col. 1113.]
"Reflection", I take it, encompasses "advisory" and so there appears to be really nothing between the Committee so far on this.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page