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Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, with the leave of the House, I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord for allowing me to interrupt his interesting reply. Is he taking no account of the last five lines of the amendment? Does he suggest that the Government

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do not want to contemplate the idea of a commission which would learn from what happens during these referendums? Do the Government not wish to learn from the report of the Commission on the Conduct of Referendums and lay recommendations before the House for future referendums? That course seems a practical idea. Is the noble and learned Lord discounting it?

Lord Hardie: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for seeking clarification on the matter. As I sought to explain, there is not time available to set up the statutory commission prior to the undertaking of the referendums. Of course we shall look at what happens in the referendums and learn any lessons that arise. I would not want to give the impression that either the Government or I are being complacent and saying that we could never learn from any experience. The way that this has been done in the past is to look at what happened in the past, learn from it and take matters forward.

It is not appropriate in this Bill, because of the timescale, to have such a commission. Therefore, it is not appropriate for the House to deal with it at this stage. I urge the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate for reminding me of what I said at Committee stage. I had not forgotten. One of the points of the Report stage in your Lordships' House, as it is in the other place, is that it allows Members to reflect on what was said in Committee. On reflection, I thought that I was rather overstating the difficulty of setting up a commission. Governments can do things pretty quickly when they put their mind to it. Probably a small commission could be put in place in plenty of time to look over the referendums. I am happy to hear that the Government will be looking and learning although, to be honest, I would rather have a slightly more independent eye than that of the Government to do the looking and learning.

Once again, however, the noble and learned Lord, like other Ministers, has failed to answer the second part of the debate about the conduct of future referendums. I know that this is Report stage, but I should be happy to allow him to intervene to indicate whether the Government have any sympathy for and are prepared to give any consideration to the proposition that there should be a generic referendums Act. If they do not, then the next time we come to a referendums Bill we shall have to go through many of the same hoops that we have gone through with this Bill. Then it will be the next one and then the next one, and that is very unsatisfactory.

Lord Mackie of Benshie: My Lords, perhaps I may intervene. If there is another referendum Bill, I trust and hope that we shall not waste the time on it that we have wasted on this one and that the Opposition's intentions will be a little better placed.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I do not think I need to take any lessons on opposition from the

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noble Lord, Lord Mackie. He has now moved to total support for the Government and has long forgotten that the Opposition's job is to probe and question, to ask what the Government intend by legislation. I suggest that he should go home--the noble Baroness on the Government Benches shakes her head--and, over the Recess, read some of the debates in the last Parliament where legislation was considered in great detail, quite rightly, by people on this side of the House.

I never made any complaint, even when we sat very late into the night, a good deal later than I have kept your Lordships with the Committee stage. That kind of intervention tempts me to show your Lordships that I am as capable as the noble Earl, Lord Russell, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis of Heigham, at keeping a Committee stage going long after we should all decently be home in our beds. Government Ministers are looking at me with some horror. I assure your Lordships that I intend to resist the temptation.

I am afraid that we shall have to come back to these issues when we have the next referendum. That is a pity. But perhaps by then the Government will have had a chance to reflect and decide that in everyone's interests it would be better to bring forward a representation of the people (referendums) Bill so that we know the basis on which all referendums will be conducted and will not have to go through very large schedules, as we have on this Bill, which we then have to marry to the appropriate Representation of the People Act. With that expression of disappointment, I withdraw my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Sewel moved Amendment No. 27:

Leave out Clause 3 and insert the following new clause--

Referendums: supplementary

(". Schedule (Conduct of the referendums, &c.) (conduct of the referendums) shall have effect.").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish moved Amendment No. 28:

After Clause 3, insert the following new clause--

Publicly-funded information

(" . Every household in Scotland and Wales shall receive a publicly-funded leaflet giving general information on the conduct of the referendums, and statements of the "Yes" and "No" cases relating to each referendum proposition, such statements to be of equal length and to be prepared by the organisations campaigning in the referendums.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, we discussed this amendment in Committee and at that stage the Government said that they would consider the matter of funding and come back to us. I quote the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn:

    "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".--[Official Report, 7/7/97; col. 474.]

He said that in response to the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, who graced us with his presence on that day. I believe I am right in saying that the Welsh

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White Paper indicates that the Government have decided that there will be a shortened version of the White Paper, which will be a more popular version, and that it will be distributed--by post, I presume--to every household in Wales.

I have not had a chance to look at the White Paper but, frankly, it will be the first government White Paper which presents a balanced picture for and against the Government's case. I make no complaint about that. I do not believe that in 18 years we produced a White Paper which contained both the Government's case and the Opposition's case in the same document. I do not ask the Government to add another chapter to their popular version, if I may so call it, giving the other point of view. But, undoubtedly, if the Government are to do what I have just suggested, at cost to public funds there will be a document going to every person in Scotland and Wales indicating the contents of the White Paper and, I have little doubt, putting the argument for the White Paper. I make no complaint about that.

But I shall complain if there will not be a similar facility for those who are campaigning against the White Paper and against the proposition that there should be an assembly in Wales and a parliament in Scotland. When there is a general election, the Government do not usually send out at taxpayers' expense a publication urging people to vote for the Government; though no doubt the party managers of both parties, when in government, would consider that to be not a bad idea and equally, party managers of the party not in government would think it an extremely bad idea. Rightly, we have not done that. I have tabled another amendment for later discussion which addresses the way in which we proceed at general elections and probes whether that would be the better way. But this procedure in particular rides on the proposition that a document precis-ing the White Paper will be sent to every household. My amendment seeks to know whether we shall include with that document or send separately an argument--I shall be quite fair--for the "yes" campaign and another for the "no" campaign.

Your Lordships will realise just how fair I am being because there will be two "yes" to one "no" over the Government's White Paper, which will be set out in, I hope, measured tones; and then there will be the more campaigning leaflet of the "yes" campaign and the "no" campaign. Obviously, if the Government just want to send their precis of the White Paper and a summary of the arguments against it, I shall be quite content. But I am trying to be reasonable in this matter and accept that the White Paper stands a little apart--not much--from a campaigning document on behalf of those who wish the people of Scotland and Wales to vote for the propositions in the White Paper.

I hope that I have sufficiently explained the position on this amendment and that the noble Lord, Lord Williams, who will reply to the amendment, will be able to give us some further information on how the Government intend to use public funds to make people in Scotland and Wales aware not just of their White

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Paper but of the arguments for and against the propositions which have been put to them. I beg to move.

5.45 p.m.

Lord Crickhowell: My Lords, let me briefly add a little background on what appears to be happening, which I believe is relevant. Again, I rely on the press in Wales. We are told that there will be a new "hi-tech Referendum Unit" established on Millbank and that the spin doctors who campaigned for the Labour Party and who led the campaign in the general election are spearheading the campaign to get a "yes" in the referendum in Wales. We are told that:

    "Labour's campaign in Wales is being organised with an almost military precision".

The Western Mail continues:

    "The use of Labour's general election machinery, drafting in English MPs to help with the Yes campaign, the appearance of Cabinet Ministers, a party political broadcast, rallies and public meetings, all lead to the impression that the people of Wales are in for a pro-devolution blitz.

    "Not only will there be £700,000 spent on Government publicity about the facts and figures involved in creating an Assembly, but there will also be a helpline for those with queries. A special bargain White Paper priced £3 will be available at newsagents across Wales".

I believe that we ought to hear a little more about that helpline. Who will be sitting on the other end of the telephone? Will they be civil servants in the Welsh Office. Will they be the spin doctors on Millbank? Who will be responsible? Who exactly is paying the bills? May we be allowed to know exactly what will be the total costs of putting over the Government's case and whether we shall be told at the end of the day what they in fact were?

Bearing in mind the undoubted sympathy expressed by the Minister when we last spoke about these matters for putting over fairly to people in neutral terms the basic facts without the arguments, I hope that we can have some elaboration now of his ideas and that he has been able to come up with some positive thoughts to reassure us.

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