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Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish moved Amendment No. 61:

Page 4, line 9, at end insert ("AS DETAILED IN THE WHITE PAPER").

The noble Lord said: In some ways this amendment takes us back to the issue of whether we should have a pre or a post-legislative referendum. The terms of the post-legislative referendum which was held in 1979 were clear. It asked whether the electorate agreed that the proposals in the Act should be implemented. That seems straightforward and uncomplicated. People knew what the Act contained. It had been debated long and

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earnestly both in this place and in the other place and was well reported in the Scottish newspapers. There was plenty of detail; nobody was in any doubt. A White Paper does not have quite the same authority. It has no legislative authority, for example. As I have said on a number of occasions, there will not be much opportunity to comment on the White Paper in the course of the month of August, a point drawn to the attention of Members of the Committee by the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, and made by the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, earlier today with regard to an education White Paper which the Government have just announced. There will thus be little chance of comment in the Autumn while the Bill is being prepared. The comments on the White Paper will therefore largely be after the referendum during the progress of the Bill through this House and through the other place and there could be changes.

The point of the amendment is to hear what the Government have to say about this matter. As I understand it, Scottish people will be asked to make a generalised decision about whether or not they want an assembly or parliament. We are told by the Government that details of the assembly or parliament, its powers and the way it will operate, will be set out in a White Paper which we have not seen and that the people will be asked to vote on that White Paper. If that is the case and people in Scotland and Wales are to be asked to vote on the White Paper, why not say so? Why not say, "as detailed in the White Paper"? One wonders whether there might be a bit of sleight of hand and that what we read in the White Paper, if the Scottish and Welsh people decide that that is what they want, might not be what appears at the end of the legislative process.

It is not that Members here or in the other place will make life difficult for the Government, I suspect, but that the Government may, in the light of consultation and observations, decide that they have to change some of the things they said in the White Paper that they would do. It seems to me quite difficult, and perhaps the Minister will say that it is difficult, to decide what is a major amendment and what is a minor amendment to the White Paper between the White Paper and legislation. I believe that that underlines the fact that we would be far better with a post-legislative referendum. I do not myself approve of referendums but, if we have to have them, they ought to take place after the legislation has passed through this House or, let us say, in the case of the single European currency, after the decision has been taken in Parliament.

I assume that the Government will resist this amendment. I am interested to know why they resist it and how closely they will feel themselves bound to the White Paper if they obtain a majority in either or both of these referendums. I believe that the Committee and the world outside might be very interested to know the answer to that question. I beg to move.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy: I should like to add one point to what the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, said. We are being asked to consider this White Paper in the month of August. As I understand it, people will probably be invited to vote in a referendum in

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September. I believe that it is worth putting on record that between the years 1900 and 1992 there has never been a general election in the months of August or September. The earliest one that I know of took place in the second half of October.

The months of August and September are traditionally months in which a great many people are on holiday, particularly professional people who would be of assistance in helping the people of Scotland to understand the implications of a White Paper. It is important to bear that point in mind and that a longer time should be given to the people of Scotland to understand the implications of what they are being asked to vote on.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: I do resist the amendments on the basis that they are not necessary. The questions spell out,

    "Parliament has decided to consult people in Scotland on the Government's proposals for a Scottish Parliament",

and similarly,

    "Parliament has decided to consult people in Wales on the Government's proposals for a Welsh Assembly".

Those proposals will be contained in the White Papers. My noble friend Lord Sewel and I have undertaken until it is perhaps becoming tediously repetitive that those proposals will be published and Members will have an opportunity to discuss them before the Recess. There is no point having reference to the White Paper, particularly when one remembers that the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, said with regard to the previous amendment that he did not suggest that everyone in Scotland and Wales should have a copy of the White Paper.

As regards the question about timing, I hear what the noble Lady says, but we have made plain on a number of occasions what the hoped-for timetable is. I do not think I can usefully repeat the arguments except to say finally, in answer to the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, that it has been made plain on a number of occasions that it is the Government's position that the referendums are to be advisory and for guidance. The Government's proposals will have been published in the White Papers and, I hope, fully discussed by the people of Scotland and Wales.

If the original purpose of these amendments was to obtain the undertaking that the White Papers will be published before the Recess, I do not think I can say any more often that that will be the case.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I think perhaps the noble Lord is keen to get to his supper, having conducted the dinner-hour business, something I remember doing myself, so I have some sympathy with him.

I hear what he says about not needing to put the White Paper point into the question because he believes that the preamble is sufficient. If he is putting on record that "on the Government's proposals" means "the White Paper", that is certainly progress and we have achieved a little. I would still like to see the White Paper referred to in the Bill.

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I did suggest that people would not want to read a White Paper but I also suggested that they might want to read a summary, and I believe they should be given the opportunity of doing so. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, is not dismissing out of hand the possibility of a summary of the Welsh and Scottish White Papers going to the Welsh and Scottish people. I think it is important that a summary should go to them. As I said earlier, in 1975 a summary was sent out. I do not believe that it is beyond the wit of man, woman or officials to produce a summary. In many White Papers produced by government--I can certainly speak for the previous Government--an attempt is made to produce a summary because we realise that not everyone will have the time, the interest or indeed the funds to purchase and read the original White Papers, but a summary is important.

However, with the noble Lord's assurance that the question means "a Scottish Parliament along the lines of the White Paper", I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 61A to 65 not moved.]

Lord Simon of Glaisdale moved Amendment No. 65A:


The noble and learned Lord said: I agree with the Liberal Democrats that this referendum, and therefore this Bill, is entirely unnecessary. I, no more than the Liberal Democrats, am impressed by the specious argument put forward in favour of the referendum immediately after the election. Indeed, I go a step further and ask, if the reasons do not stand up to examination, what are the true reasons?

I support devolution and agree with the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, on the question of thresholds. Despite that, I am bound to ask why we are having this referendum and, therefore, this Bill. The only answer I can find is that the Government believe that it is in their short-term and narrow political interest. Indeed, as the Bill has progressed, I have been increasingly feeling with great unease that the Government are playing politics with the constitution.

If we are to have a referendum, we might as well use it to ask useful questions and find out what the people really think and want. That is the purpose of Amendments Nos. 65A and 69A which put the same question, one way positively and the other way negatively. They have to be considered with an earlier amendment; namely, the one that conflated the two questions of a parliament and the powers of a parliament and the revenue raising powers. In effect, the suggested question was: do you want a parliament with powers limited to specifically Scottish affairs and with revenue powers for that purpose? To that, this amendment adds the question: do you alternatively want a Scottish parliament with plenary powers--in other words, plenary legislative powers over every matter that may affect Scotland? I know that the Government do not

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want that. But, equally, I know, because the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, told me so, that that is precisely what the Scottish National Party wants. The Committee will, I think, want to know the strength and whereabouts of that party. Until then we cannot judge how dangerous to the Union are the Government's proposals; nor can we proceed to a devolution Bill if the two issues are jammed and confused together so that an "I agree" vote embraces both the Scottish unionists, who are represented in this Chamber and whose voice carries great weight, and the Scottish National Party, which is anti-Union.

So this amendment asks two questions. Do you want the kind of parliament that the Government propose? Or do you want to go further? We shall only then know whether a truly significant force will try to drive home the wedge whose thin end is being inserted. Only then will we know the danger to the Union.

If those two questions are both answered in the negative, it is an indication that the electorate prefers the status quo. But the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, and the noble Lord, Lord Sempill, want that question put specifically. Indeed, there seems to be a great deal to be said for it. As I said, I shall not press any of my amendments to a Division. They are all probing amendments. The Committee will want to hear whether that third question should be specifically answered. I beg to move.

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