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Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I can confirm that the White Paper is not about education in Scotland. As the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, has just said, the Scottish education system is different. It is one which many Members of your Lordships' House no doubt admire, as I certainly do. We can learn a great deal from the Scottish education system. One factor is that it introduced a general teaching council quite a long time ago. If only it had happened earlier in England and Wales!

I am unable to answer the more specific question that the noble Lord asked about a White Paper on education in Scotland and when it might be published. I shall certainly write to the noble Lord.

Baroness David: My Lords, can my noble friend enlighten me a little about the phrase,

which appears in the Statement? I hope that the LEAs are going to have a larger role than they had before they were diminished by the last government. I remember very well one way in which LEAs could help schools in some difficulty. It may be that one department was in difficulty whereas the rest of the school was not. Advisory teachers would go to the school and help to get the department right without the whole school having to go downhill. I hope that the LEAs will have a bigger role in helping schools and not have to wait until a school has failed before taking action.

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend for her question. Our proposals mean a new role for LEAs focused on challenging and supporting schools rather than controlling them. Every LEA will be asked to draw up an education development plan showing the target that it has agreed with its

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schools and how it proposes to support them so that the targets are achieved. The plans will be approved by the Secretary of State. Every LEA will be asked to have such a plan in place by April 1999. The LEAs will also have a very important role in advising and, where necessary, challenging schools in the setting of targets. I believe that we have provided a very clear job description for local education authorities. In return we want them to become fully accountable.

Baroness Perry of Southwark: My Lords, I warmly welcome this White Paper and the consensus that it represents. I have one question for the noble Baroness. There were three years in the 1980s when there was a national pilot scheme for induction. It fell apart at the end of three very good years with some very good experimentation, because there was not enough money to continue to give new teachers the one thing they most needed, which was some time in their timetables to reflect on their experience, to be given help and not to have a full timetable. That is expensive and it takes resources. Will that kind of time and the resources it represents be available?

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I accept entirely what the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, has just said about the importance of providing adequate time for teachers during an induction period. I cannot answer specifically how much additional time we shall be able to provide. However, it is something on which we shall be consulting the schools, the local education authorities and those in the teacher-training establishments who will be involved to some extent in the support of the initial training of teachers, induction and in-service training.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede: My Lords, I too very much welcome the White Paper. Can my noble friend say something about the role of parents, as she sees it, through this White Paper? The noble Lord, Lord Tope, spoke about teachers driving up standards, but parents will also have a crucial role in doing that. Can we believe any of the rumours we read in the newspapers about homework targets and things of that kind?

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I speak as a parent myself--I know that my noble friend Lord Ponsonby is a parent of school-age children--when I say that we believe strongly in the role of parents in supporting their children at school and in working with teachers. We want to see them involved as much as possible. We intend to introduce more family learning schemes to encourage parents to become involved, and to help them. All schools will be required to develop written home/school contracts which parents will be expected to sign. We also want to see greater representation of parents on governing bodies and LEAs. National guidelines will, for the first time, set out the amount and type of homework that pupils of different ages should be expected to do if homework is to play a full part in

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pupils' education. They are meant to be guidelines and they are meant to be helpful to parents as well as to teachers.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I am sorry to say that the 20 minutes for Back-Bench discussion have now elapsed and that we must now move on to other business.

Referendums (Scotland and Wales) Bill

5.21 p.m.

House again in Committee.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish moved Amendment No. 50:

After Clause 3, insert the following new clause--

Proportion of electors required to secure a majority

(" . A majority in favour of each of the propositions will be certified by the Chief Counting Officer if the proportion of those actually voting in the referendum for the proposition is equal to, or greater than, the proportion given in Schedule (Proportion of electors required to secure a majority) for the relevant percentage of the eligible electorate certified as having voted.").

The noble Lord said: Amendment No. 50 seeks to insert a new clause into the Bill while Amendment No. 83, which is grouped with it, seeks, more importantly, to insert a new schedule. We come now to the question of what forms a majority in a referendum. I am speaking of any referendum, not necessarily of this referendum only. I hope, as I hoped earlier, that we can discuss this matter in a slightly wider context--the context of all the referendums which the Government are promising us over the lifetime of this Parliament.

With regard to the question of what forms a majority, the question is whether or not a proposition has received sufficient assent in order to be taken as the "settled will of the people", as is the usual phrase with regard to Scotland. The Commission on the Conduct of Referendums, to which I have referred on a number of occasions, has not come down on any particular side with regard to thresholds. Paragraph 92 of its report points out that,

    "General elections in the UK are decided by simple majorities in each constituency. Simple majorities were required province-wide in the 1973 Northern Ireland referendum and nationwide in the 1975 European referendum. The 40% rule applied in the Scottish and Welsh referendums in 1979 involved a double test: a majority for change and a substantial turnout".

Paragraph 93 states:

    "The application of a threshold in future referendums is likely to be one of the most difficult issues to resolve. There are three main options: a simple majority of one; a proportion of those voting; a proportion of those entitled to vote".

At the risk of introducing a fourth main option, I believe that my proposal gives us an opportunity to discuss a combination of the number of those who vote and the majority achieved in that vote.

Various different systems are used around the world. Australia requires a majority of voters nationally and in at least four of the six member states. In the past, New Zealand required a 60 per cent. "Yes" vote and in Italy

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referendums can succeed only if the turnout exceeds 50 per cent. In 1975 the White Paper which introduced the referendum on the then European Community stated the following in relation to a specified majority:

    "The Government are concerned that the size of the poll should be adequate, and they are confident it will be so. They also consider it to be of great importance that the verdict of the poll should be clear and conclusive. In the circumstance, they believe that it will be best to follow the normal electoral practice and accept that the referendum result should rest on a simple majority--without qualifications or conditions of any kind".

Interestingly, some qualifications are made in that sentence--they are,

    "that the size of the poll should be adequate"


    "that the verdict of the poll should be clear and conclusive".

However, the White Paper did not address the issue of how those qualifications are measured. The qualifications were made, but were left to one side.

It seems to me that the proposition that I put at Second Reading deserves a better answer today than it received then. Perhaps I may summarise it like this: I can understand--I can agree with--the argument that in a general election-type of turnout a majority of one is sufficient. That is how we operate in this country and I am perfectly happy to operate in that way although it was not to my party's favour in Scotland or in Wales at the recent general election. Nevertheless, I am content to play by the rules and do not want to shout "foul" when the rules bounce against me.

The problem occurs at the other end of the spectrum. One must look at some local election turnouts and ask whether a majority of one in a referendum which had a local election turnout would be regarded as, to quote the words of the 1975 White Paper, having a poll of "adequate" size and giving a "clear and conclusive" verdict. I doubt it.

The Swiss are into referendums in a big way. I have done a little research--in fact, the Library did it for me and I am grateful--into the turnout at some recent referendums in Switzerland. I have a list of referendums going back to 1995. Perhaps I may give the Committee the turnouts for the various referendums. They were 40.4 per cent.; 40.3 per cent.; 40.3 per cent.; 31 per cent.; 31 per cent.; 31 per cent.; three propositions were put on the one day--30.9 per cent. and 31 per cent.--again, those propositions were put on the same day and some people clearly voted in one but not in the other--and 31.4 per cent. Those do not seem to me to be very big turnouts. Indeed, they are reducing turnouts. Lest any noble Lord should think that referendum turnouts in Switzerland are always at that level, I should say that in 1989 in a referendum which proposed the abolition of the Armed Forces in Switzerland by the year 2000 the turnout was, in the words of the quote that I received, unusually high with almost 70 per cent. of the electorate turning out.

I suspect that the turnout depends on the issue that is being tested. If, as I hope, we are looking not only at the issue to be tested in September, but at those to be

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tested in the future, it is right to ask ourselves what we should do if the turnout begins to drop away to 30 per cent.

Amendment No. 83 is a new schedule in the form of a table. It links turnout to majority and answers the question that I have posed to the Committee both today and previously: would a majority of one on a wet day's turnout be sufficient for the kind of changes that are being presented not only in this referendum, but in referendums in the future? In the table in Amendment No. 83, I have attempted to mesh turnout with majority so that if a turnout is at a general election level of over 60 per cent.--I believe that I am right in saying that almost every general election (if not every general election) has had a turnout well in excess of 60 per cent.--a simple majority will do. However, as the turnout drops by two percentage points, so the number required to vote for the proposition increases by one percentage point until on a turnout of less than 30 per cent., the support of 66 per cent. of those voting would be needed.

I decided not to carry on with the table because it seemed to me to be unlikely that the turnout would drop below 30 per cent. I am happy to leave it at two-thirds. I decided not to leave it at exactly two-thirds; otherwise, it would have involved fractions. I decided that we did not need them. Some of your Lordships may say that this represents a series of cliff edges. I could easily translate this into a formula, but the last time that I had to defend a formula in legislation, albeit from the other Dispatch Box, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, took me to task for its complexities. The formula on that occasion was fairly complex. The formula here is very simple. If m is the vote that "Yes" requires and t is the turnout, then the formula is: m equals 80 minus half of t. That gives one this table and the gradations in each group. (I hope that I am impressing the Government by my argument, if not my mathematics.) The table illustrates the point better than the formula, which is why I have used the table. It addresses some of the points that people have put about basing the whole matter on turnout or the vote obtained by the proposition and meshes the two. Therefore, there is a huge incentive on both sides to achieve a good turnout.

I have no doubt that the accusation will be laid at my door that I want to repeat what happened in Scotland in 1979. I do want to repeat what happened in Wales in 1979 where this table would have had to be continued quite considerably for the government of the day to have achieved a majority in the Welsh referendum in a quite different way. However, in Scottish terms one does not argue as to which side encouraged the "No" vote to abstain. My firm recollection is that those who campaigned for an assembly said that if one voted "No" one did not have to turn out. However, history being rewritten in Scotland as elsewhere, as it often is, people claim that the "Noes" did that. If your Lordships study the proposition that I have put forward, if some of the "Noes" do not vote because they believe that it is the same as voting "No", that is not the case. Every "No" who abstains and therefore drops the percentage of the poll will at the same time increase the numbers voting

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"Yes" by not voting. I see that the noble Lord, Lord Desai, nods in agreement. Therefore, the usual accusation that is made about thresholds in Scotland does not hold water.

I shall not bore your Lordships with some simple examples of what happens. However, to take the result last time, if even more of the "Noes" abstain than abstained last time the position will become even more favourable to the "Yeses", on the assumption that all of them vote. If the "Yeses" also abstain the proposition is in some difficulty, but on the assumption that all of the "Yeses" vote this proposition will ensure that neither side can influence the result by not voting. I accept that it is complicated and that this country tends to like simple electoral rules. However, I believe that if we are to have a number of referendums we should address this particular problem.

I do not pretend for a minute that my solution is the only one. I am sure that there are others. Certainly, one could vary the arithmetic of the timetable. One could go above 60 per cent. before one started the 50 per cent. majority. I have not done that. Before any noble Lord jumps up and makes a mistake about it, anyone who has done the arithmetic will realise that last time the "Yeses" would have won. Some of my noble friends believe that I have not done my arithmetic correctly. That is not the case. I am attempting to answer what I believe to be a legitimate, almost philosophical, point about referendums. The Government may say that if there is a referendum in which the turnout is badly down the result is only advisory and Parliament will be able to ignore it. Once we go down the road of referendums it will be extremely difficult for Parliament to ignore the outcome.

As I believe I said on one of the previous days in Committee, noble Lords who have ever stood for parliamentary seats--and won them occasionally--will know that often the electorate feels that Members of Parliament ignore its views on certain key emotional issues. I believe that if a majority even of a minority of the electorate vote for a proposition and Parliament decides to ignore it because there has been a low turnout that will be very bad for the trust between the people and Parliament. I believe that something along the lines of what I propose for all referendums, not particular ones, means that everyone will know the rules of the game. They will know against what the result will be measured. I believe that that is a sensible way in which to proceed if there are to be lots of referendums.

I hope I will not be told that I am being disruptive of the referendum that is about to take place. I am not attempting to do so. I hope that we can have a debate in which the general proposition about majorities in referendums is addressed and that we do not hark back to the 1979 rule. It is because of the 1979 rule and the undoubted difficulty that it created that I have devised this system to get round it. In my view, if some of the "Noes" had not stayed at home the majority would have voted against the proposition in 1979 and we might not today be discussing this issue. That is just my view and no doubt other noble Lords, especially those opposite and some beside me, may have a different view. However, I believe that if we are to go down the road

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of referendums we must address the problem of turnout against majority. I commend my humble effort for dealing with this problem to the Committee. I beg to move.

5.30 p.m.

Lord Steel of Aikwood: I seek to oppose the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, because, unlike those that he moved earlier this afternoon, this has the capacity to cause real mischief in the referendum process. I believe that his earlier amendments were relatively benign.

I should like to apologise to your Lordships' House for the fact that, although I spoke at Second Reading on the Bill, I have been unable to attend any of the Committee stage up until today. I am still fulfilling diary commitments entered into before I was appointed to your Lordships' House. I should like to assure the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, that I will think fondly of him during Report stage when he will no doubt make more amendments and I shall be in South Africa. In the meantime, while I am here I feel that this amendment is one that should be resisted.

I listened with fascination to the tail end of his speech about the difference between his sliding quota and the fixed quota last time--I take the arithmetical point that he makes, which had not occurred to me until he made it. However, any quota system is an interference with the principle of the simple majority and is open to confusion. Despite his warning, I shall hark back to what happened in 1979. In my view, the introduction of the 40 per cent. quota during the passage of the legislation left Scotland in the most profoundly unsatisfactory state of all; namely, a majority in favour of the proposition but a failure to meet the qualifying quota. That left a sense of real bitterness and frustration which one does not want to see repeated in any form on a future occasion.

There are serious objections to any form of percentage quota. I draw your Lordships' attention to the fact that the referendum is likely to take place in September, even though there is not so far an accurate date. Of course, the electoral roll is made up in October each year and comes into effect in February. Therefore, one is talking of conducting a referendum on a roll which will be almost a year old. It means that the quota will include people who are deceased as well as those who decide to exercise their right not to vote. Unless it becomes Conservative Party policy to make the vote compulsory, I do not believe that it is possible to have any kind of quota system.

One should look at the recommendations of the commission which the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, prayed in aid. During Second Reading the noble Lord quoted the section of the report which said that the use of thresholds was a political decision. However, the commission went on to say that if a threshold was used it should be a set percentage of the votes cast and not a percentage of the eligible electorate. If thresholds were set a clear explanation of the meaning of the thresholds should be included.

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I challenge the noble Lord to suggest how we are to give a clear explanation of that sliding formula which he has invented for the purpose of this afternoon's debate. He took us on a world tour. We went to Italy, Australia, New Zealand, and Switzerland. We failed to visit Patagonia or Outer Mongolia, but nowhere have we found the sliding formula. It is an Ardbrecknish invention. It will not work. It might work in Ardbrecknish, but nowhere else. Ingenious though the noble Lord has been, it is open to severe difficulties.

I shall make use of the useful statistics supplied by the Library. If one looks, for example, at the local government elections in Westminster--the Conservative Party flagship--of May 1994, one sees that the turnout was 46.1 per cent. of the electorate. If one then goes down the table of the Mackay sliding scale, one finds that the percentage required to support the proposition, according to his scale, is 57 per cent., whereas the percentage of the electorate which supported the Conservative administration was only 24.1 per cent. Are we going to suggest that all of its actions were illegitimate? In the case of Westminster, some of them of course were. Are we to suggest that the entire thing was void from the beginning? According to the Mackay scale, it would have been.

Let me take another Conservative Party flagship. In 1993, Buckinghamshire County Council was the only county council controlled by the Conservative Party. The turnout in the election there was 34.6 per cent. Scanning the Mackay sliding scale, I find that 63 per cent. of the electorate would have been required to support the proposition. In fact the percentage of the total which supported the Conservative Party was only 14 per cent. Is it going to be ruled out? I know that the noble Lord will tell me that he is not talking about local elections but about the referendum. Therefore I can save him an intervention. But the principle is the same.

Once we depart from a simple majority, we run into real trouble. If one takes the 40 per cent. rule from 1979, one of the irritations we had in Scotland was that the Conservative government in the general elections of 1979, 1983 and 1987 failed to get anywhere near the 40 per cent. of the electorate voting for them. It was 33 per cent., 30 per cent., and 31 per cent. Will the noble Lord see the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, to tell her that none of her administrations was legitimate because of that? If he is, I should like him to tell me the date so that I can sell tickets for the encounter.

This is a nonsensical proposition. The noble Lord has been ingenious; he is always ingenious. However, yesterday Mr. Arthur Bell, in an article in Scotland on Sunday where he is described as chairman of the Scottish Tory Reform Group--a contradiction in terms if ever there was one--is reported as saying that the party was disillusioned with the failure to face up to its current position. It has no MPs, no MEPs, a handful of councillors and no councils under its control. It is in more than a sorry state; its condition is pitiful. That would be the right description of the amendment. It is as though, having lost the argument on devolution as a

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principle, the Conservative Party is now going to rely on those who are dead or those who could not care less, to see through their arguments.

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