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Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, as the noble Lord has intervened, perhaps I may simply say that I can count and I noticed the last Division. I do not think his argument holds a great deal of weight. I am more appalled at what I have just heard about this item on press releases than I am about the purdah issue, and I was pretty appalled at that. I beg to move.

7.38 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 201) shall be agreed to?

22 Nov 2000 : Column 893

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 42; Not-Contents, 124.

Division No. 2


Ampthill, L.
Astor of Hever, L.
Blackwell, L.
Blatch, B.
Byford, B.
Carnegy of Lour, B.
Colwyn, L.
Courtown, E.
Cranborne, V.
Dean of Harptree, L.
Elton, L.
Fraser of Carmyllie, L.
Geddes, L.
Glentoran, L.
Gray of Contin, L.
Harris of Peckham, L.
Henley, L. [Teller]
Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, L.
Hunt of Wirral, L.
Laird, L.
Lucas, L.
Lyell, L.
McColl of Dulwich, L.
Mackay of Ardbrecknish, L.
Mar, C.
Marsh, L.
Moynihan, L.
Noakes, B.
Norton of Louth, L.
Onslow, E.
Peyton of Yeovil, L.
Renton, L.
Roberts of Conwy, L.
Rogan, L.
Seccombe, B. [Teller]
Selsdon, L.
Stewartby, L.
Strathclyde, L.
Thomas of Gwydir, L.
Waddington, L.
Willoughby de Broke, L.
Windlesham, L.


Acton, L.
Addington, L.
Ahmed, L.
Alderdice, L.
Amos, B.
Andrews, B.
Archer of Sandwell, L.
Bach, L.
Barker, B.
Bassam of Brighton, L.
Beaumont of Whitley, L.
Bernstein of Craigweil, L.
Billingham, B.
Blackstone, B.
Blease, L.
Bradshaw, L.
Bragg, L.
Brennan, L.
Brett, L.
Brooke of Alverthorpe, L.
Burlison, L.
Carter, L. [Teller]
Chandos, V.
Clarke of Hampstead, L.
Clement-Jones, L.
Clinton-Davis, L.
Cocks of Hartcliffe, L.
Cohen of Pimlico, B.
Crawley, B.
David, B.
Davies of Coity, L.
Davies of Oldham, L.
Desai, L.
Dubs, L.
Elder, L.
Evans of Watford, L.
Falkland, V.
Farrington of Ribbleton, B.
Faulkner of Worcester, L.
Fyfe of Fairfield, L.
Gale, B.
Gibson of Market Rasen, B.
Gladwin of Clee, L.
Goodhart, L.
Gordon of Strathblane, L.
Goudie, B.
Gould of Potternewton, B.
Grabiner, L.
Graham of Edmonton, L.
Greaves, L.
Gregson, L.
Grenfell, L.
Hamwee, B.
Harris of Greenwich, L.
Harris of Haringey, L.
Harrison, L.
Hayman, B.
Hilton of Eggardon, B.
Hollis of Heigham, B.
Holme of Cheltenham, L.
Hoyle, L.
Hughes of Woodside, L.
Hunt of Kings Heath, L.
Islwyn, L.
Janner of Braunstone, L.
Jay of Paddington, B. (Lord Privy Seal)
Jenkins of Putney, L.
Kennedy of The Shaws, B.
Kirkhill, L.
Layard, L.
Lea of Crondall, L.
Lipsey, L.
Lockwood, B.
Lofthouse of Pontefract, L.
Macdonald of Tradeston, L.
McIntosh of Haringey, L. [Teller]
McIntosh of Hudnall, B.
MacKenzie of Culkein, L.
Mackenzie of Framwellgate, L.
Mackie of Benshie, L.
McNally, L.
Maddock, B.
Mar and Kellie, E.
Massey of Darwen, B.
Miller of Chilthorne Domer, B.
Mitchell, L.
Molloy, L.
Morgan, L.
Morris of Castle Morris, L.
Nicol, B.
Northover, B.
Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay, L.
Ramsay of Cartvale, B.
Rea, L.
Redesdale, L.
Renwick of Clifton, L.
Rodgers of Quarry Bank, L.
Roper, L.
Russell, E.
Sainsbury of Turville, L.
Sandberg, L.
Scotland of Asthal, B.
Scott of Needham Market, B.
Sharp of Guildford, B.
Shutt of Greetland, L.
Simon, V.
Smith of Clifton, L.
Smith of Leigh, L.
Stoddart of Swindon, L.
Thomas of Walliswood, B.
Tomlinson, L.
Tope, L.
Tordoff, L.
Turnberg, L.
Uddin, B.
Varley, L.
Walker of Doncaster, L.
Warner, L.
Wedderburn of Charlton, L.
Whitaker, B.
Whitty, L.
Wilkins, B.
Williams of Mostyn, L.
Winston, L.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

22 Nov 2000 : Column 894

7.48 p.m.

[Amendment No. 202 not moved.]

Lord Marsh moved Amendment No. 203:

    Page 87, line 44, at end insert--

("(3A) Subject to subsection (3B), no material to which this section applies shall be distributed or displayed to the public free of charge during the referendum period by or on behalf of--
(a) any Minister of the Crown, government department or local authority;
(b) any other person or body whose expenses are defrayed wholly or mainly out of public funds or by any local authority; or
(c) the Post Office;
unless such material--
(d) is factual and impartial; and
(e) has been circulated to permitted participants at least seven days before it is published.
(3B) Subsection (3A) does not apply to--
(a) material made available to persons in response to specific requests for information or to persons seeking access to it; or
(b) material published on web-sites.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I rise--encouraged by the narrowness of the last vote--to pursue Amendment No. 203. Briefly, it is an issue of fundamental principle.

I start by saying that, having heard some of the comments in the previous debate, I do not believe that any circumstance of national consequence could arise in which the parties involved in a referendum would manage or even wish to stop the government of the country getting their message across. I do not believe that would happen and Amendment No. 203 specifically recognises that government have to continue in the course of elections and referendums; and they have a right and duty so to do.

One of the fundamental differences between democracies such as ours and those with a shorter history of stability and trust is the extent to which governments intervene in elections and referendums. This amendment seeks merely to find another formula

22 Nov 2000 : Column 895

which the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, although he holds a brief which probably makes minor changes, might find acceptable.

I was a founder member of Business for Sterling and I am president of the council of that admirable organisation. In the light of some of last night's debates, I believe that the amendment goes wider than arguments about the European Union, the euro and so forth. The issue is simple, fundamental, non-partisan and was clearly described in the report of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, which I shall not quote again. It is that all governments will be tempted--they always have been--to take advantage of any situation and if they are able to mobilise at taxpayers' expense an argument which suits them politically they will take the opportunity to do so.

I have been accused of many things but never of being a political romantic. Governments have always sought to use their position to influence the results of elections and referendums. Luckily, we in this country can afford to live with it, despite complaining when it happens. But the problem is the blatant potential imbalance which arises regularly with each referendum and is beginning to endanger the credibility of referendums in a democratic society.

An example is the European referendum. The "no" campaign will be restricted to £5 million for the referendum period but the Government have already spent more than £15 million on "information", including a direct mailshot to 800,000 businesses. I give that example because 75 per cent of British business has no trade with Europe. By definition, the 15 per cent which trades with Europe does not require advice on how to trade in foreign currencies, whether they be deutschmarks, French francs, Burmese kyats or euros. It is a totally false argument which is thinly disguised as crucial to the Government's position. The position is indefensible and if it remains unchecked it will worsen.

It is not a party issue. When I became a Minister many years ago I received a wondrous letter from the late Douglas Houghton congratulating me on becoming a Minister. He concluded by stating (those who remember him will hear his voice):

    "You will enjoy being a Minister enormously. It will almost certainly be the most interesting thing you ever do. But one thing, dear boy, never forget, it will not last".

I warn noble Lords on the Government Benches that when the two parties change sides, as will happen at some stage, Chancellor Mackay of Ardbrecknish will stand at the Dispatch Box and with all his usual eloquence will argue that any restrictions upon the Government's freedom of action would be a constitutional outrage and undoubtedly a breach of human rights legislation.

The trend will continue and if it continues on the present scale it can only get worse. It is highly undesirable. The amendment gives the government of the day plenty of opportunity to circulate any factual and impartial material, subject to the participants having an opportunity to comment within seven days. All the materials published on websites will also be

22 Nov 2000 : Column 896

unrestricted. Like others, we seek to halt a situation in which a government can wage two campaigns at the same time: one through their party office, like all the other parties, and the other at the taxpayers' expense out of Number 10.

It is a highly undesirable situation. I put the amendment to the House and hope that the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, will absorb it in addition to all the others. It is a pity that all the similar amendments were not in the same group. I hope that the noble Lord will accept that such a change would benefit everyone. We seek a position in which no one will view the legislation as giving anyone the authority to prevent a government governing during an election or referendum campaign.

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