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Baroness Hayman: My Lords, these amendments address important issues about the conduct of the referendum. I hope to be able to reassure the House as to how we intend to proceed and make clear to the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, that these amendments are unnecessary. Amendment No. 4 seeks to establish an independent statutory commission which would monitor the conduct of the referendum and make recommendations as to the conduct of future referendums. I was not present for all of the prolonged discussions on the referendum Bills for Scotland and Wales, but I am well aware of the keen interest that the noble Lord has taken in these matters. I hope that he will not be too disappointed when he discovers that I shall not respond any more favourably to his amendment than did my noble friends at that time.
The noble Lord is right to anticipate that the Government cannot accept Amendment No. 4 because of some practical problems concerning the London referendum. An independent commission would need careful preparation: a clearly defined remit and so on. No doubt there would be pressure for inter-party consultation on its role. It would not be possible to have such arrangements in place in time for a referendum on 7th May. Any delay in the date of the referendum would lose the advantages of a combined poll, add about
I should like to make clear that the Government's position does not depend simply on the issue of timing. My noble and learned friend the Lord Advocate does not need to be here to keep me in line on this matter. I totally agree with the stance that he took during Committee stage on the Scotland and Wales Acts that the Government see no need to set up such a commission. Each referendum is different. There are bound to be different arrangements appropriate to referendums of different scale. Current arrangements whereby Parliament makes specific provision for each referendum have served us well in Scotland and Wales and I believe will do so in London.
I do not agree with the noble Lord that his amendment would obviate the need for debate on specific issues. The prolonged debate on the wording of the question in this Bill shows that Parliament takes a keen interest in matters such as the wording of a proposition in a referendum. The answers to issues such as how many questions should be on a ballot paper or their wording will depend not on generalities but the issues in the particular referendum in question. It is quite right that Parliament should have the opportunity to consider the legislation which provides for each referendum, to debate the detail and press the Government to explain their proposals. I do not believe that this amendment should be accepted.
I turn to the amendments relating to broadcasting. We believe that these are unnecessary given that all broadcasters are obliged by law to maintain due accuracy and impartiality in reporting any matters of political controversy or current public policy. I do not believe that it is appropriate to legislate in this Bill on this matter. To add further provision on top of the long standing general obligation or to give a new role to an independent commission would serve merely to muddy the waters. The broadcasters are answerable to their independent regulators and the courts for satisfactory compliance with their duty to maintain due accuracy and impartiality. I am confident that the existing framework of regulation will be quite adequate to ensure that impartiality is respected during this referendum campaign.
Amendment No. 10 would require the independent commission to monitor the publication and distribution of campaign material. Amendment No. 8 would prohibit the use of public funds to fund campaign organisations. We have made it absolutely clear that we do not intend to provide any state aid to campaign either for or against the proposal. I am happy to repeat that undertaking to the House today. We do not believe that it is feasible to try to identify umbrella campaign organisations as potential candidates for financial support. If people wish to oppose or campaign in favour of our proposals they are free to do so. But the Government will spend their money on ensuring that people are fully informed about the referendum so that they are able to exercise their right to vote. Government-funded publicity will be factual and neutral. A summary version of the White Paper will be distributed to every household and there will be other
The creation of an independent commission is not necessary to ensure that the proposed referendum on the GLA is both fairly conducted and effective. Obviously, campaign material produced by organisations either pro or anti the proposition put by the Government will not be impartial. Provided that it is within the law--for example, that it is not obscene or libellous--its content is and should remain a matter for those who produce it. Moreover, I see no reason significantly to delay the holding of this referendum for which the people of London indicated their support at the general election when two important fair and successful referendums have already been conducted during the course of this Parliament.
As far as concerns the specific issue of Civil Service conduct, the Cabinet Office will publish clear guidelines well in advance of the referendum. They will be based on the normal rules which apply to civil servants as respects political impartiality. Similar guidelines were in place in Scotland and Wales and I believe that they proved to be wholly sufficient for the task.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for the assurances that she gave about the Civil Service, funding and broadcasting. I expected the assurances as I received them when we discussed the Scotland and Wales Bills. I am grateful to her for giving them to me on this Bill.
However, I am not nearly so happy with the answer provided by the noble Baroness to Amendment No. 4. In my original contribution I said that the Government had had since last August to prepare for an independent statutory commission if that was what they agreed to. It seems perfectly clear--perhaps a little clearer from the reply of the noble Baroness than in August--that the Government have no sympathy with the idea of either an independent statutory commission for referendums or a generic referendums Act. I believe that an Act would be helpful. Of course, for each referendum a piece of primary legislation would be needed, but it would be a small piece of primary legislation that simply slotted into the generic Act. That Act would govern all other issues that the orders govern under the Representation of the People Act. The argument of the noble Baroness could be applied to the Representation of the People Act. Each time there was a general election another series of rules could be brought forward. We have not gone down that road, but have used a more sensible method.
Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.