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Lord Williams of Mostyn: As the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, pointed out, this is a question of principle and a question of mechanics. The noble Lord virtually conceded that the second part of his amendment is defective. How does one define an umbrella campaign organisation? There are difficulties, but there is no purpose in my spending time on the deficiencies of the second part of the amendment because he concedes those. Finding more holes in the amendments on a drafting basis is not fruitful at this time of the evening.
The real question is the question of principle which the noble Lord identified; that is, that the public should be properly informed. The media will have their part to play along with political parties, political figures and everyone who has an interest. That is one of the reasons we felt it was important in Wales that there should be a period of decent, calm reflection of two weeks or so, so that the public are fully informed on the specifically Welsh complexion and aspects of the situation.
There is a good case for ensuring that those who will vote in the referendums are well informed about the proposals on which they are being asked to vote. Therefore other persons and bodies have their part to play. I take the thrust of what the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, said; it is something with which I agree. And I can tell him that we are currently considering how best to achieve that. I do not believe that one needs yet another layer of bureaucracy with an independent commission. The umbrella organisation's description, even as a floated proposition, is not likely to work.
I take up the offer of the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, when he says that he is perfectly happy to put his proposals forward in a little more detail. All I can say, with the usual caveat now tattooed upon my head, is that there are no guarantees. I am perfectly happy to see whether or not we can come to a conclusion which is satisfactory to him. If not, we shall have to make up our own minds. But I stress again to the Committee that we believe in the validity and virtue of the case that those who are to vote ought to be well informed. On that basis, which I hope he finds helpful--I have not overlooked the second part; I have simply not dealt with it because nitpicking has diminishing returns--I ask him to respond in the way that I approached his point.
Lord Sempill: Perhaps I may quickly intervene. What I find interesting about the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, is that one issue of which we are well aware, especially in Scotland and I am certain that it applies to other parts of the United Kingdom, is that there is substantial apathy among our youth towards voting--it was shown in the last election--and in their general attitude towards politics as a subject. It is important therefore that due consideration is given to the proposal and that the tone of the leaflet inspires young people. After all, they are voting on an issue which will affect their future much more than ours. They must be clearly made aware that the destiny of the way they want the constitution of this country to be taken forward sits in their hands. If the money can be found for some form of publicly-funded leaflet, clarifying exactly what is the status they are considering, it should be funded and the leaflet subsequently circulated.
Lord Steel of Aikwood: Perhaps I may briefly support the thrust of the agreement between the two Front Benches on this issue and make one suggestion. It is important that the Government, in coming to their final conclusions on this issue, look at the experience of both the 1975 and 1979 referendums. There were differences.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: I do not want to mislead the noble Lord, Lord Steel. I did not say that. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, would not have taken my remarks in that way. I said that we are currently considering how best to achieve public information and that I shall be grateful--I am sorry for any discourtesy--to all sources who wish to put forward their views. However, I stress that I have done nothing more than that.
Lord Steel of Aikwood: I understand that. I hope that I was not putting words into the Minister's mouth. I am urging him to look at the experience of the 1975 referendum, which I felt was the best procedure and better than that adopted in 1979. If he does that, he will end up doing that which the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, is pressing him to do.
The Earl of Lauderdale: The noble Lord, Lord Sempill, referred to the atmosphere among young voters. The noble Lord, Lord Williams, said that the public must be properly informed. Perhaps I may remind the Committee that we in this Chamber are here because we take a great interest in politics. On the whole the public outside do not do so and the last general election was overshadowed by a year of media coverage of events which had not yet happened. Of course, the public were bored stiff.
I remind the Committee that it is easy to get bored with politics and perhaps I may give by example a personal reminiscence. When I used to stand for the other place and go night after night to three or four villages and address an almost empty school hall with around three people in the audience, it was often said to my wife, "Why do you not sit on the platform with your husband?" Her answer was, "I do not want him to see me wince".
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I am not entirely sure what I am being offered. I was grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Steel, for his support and in fact for his questioning which brought the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, to the Dispatch Box again. I then took a note of what he said. He said, "Public consider"; something about "public information".
Lord Williams of Mostyn: I do not believe I can help the noble Lord. I want simply to be as clear as possible so that no one is misled. What I have said, and I have said it twice but I repeat it, is that we are currently considering how best to achieve that; that is, that those who are to vote or to consider voting in the referendums are well informed. I said that any sensible proposal, from whatever source, will be part of that consideration. However, I stress that I am doing nothing further than that.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I am grateful for that clarification as far as it went. Perhaps I can make it clear to the noble Lord that I would certainly recommend that my noble friends vote against any proposition brought at Report or Third Reading which envisaged an information campaign which gave only one side of the argument. I would certainly recommend that my noble friends voted against that. I hope that the Cross-Bench Peers may see the force of that argument and even, in this case, the Liberal Democrats also.
I hope that that is not what the Government have in mind. They ought to give consideration to this proposal in relation to public information. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Williams, as far as it goes. I shall take refuge in the usual phrase that I shall read carefully what he said--and I certainly shall have to read it carefully. I shall also probably have to write to the noble Lord about it. However, I hope that whatever the Government are considering on this issue, they will be in a position to respond at Report stage when, if they do not table an amendment to allow us to discuss the issue again--either an amendment which they mean to put into practice or just one to allow us to debate it and allow them to say what conclusion they have reached--I shall certainly table an amendment, perhaps better worded than this one, in order to bring the issue to your Lordships' attention. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.