|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Peston: I hope Members of the Committee will forgive me for joining in the debate. I came in solely to listen as a way of passing the afternoon. I had no intention of coming out of hibernation in order to address the Committee. I assure Members opposite that I shall return immediately to hibernation. However, I have found what has been said interesting or irritating; I am not sure which.
As regards the question of time, we should pause and think. I sat on that Bench over there for 10 years and I must have used the same argument countless times. My record of being rejected was exactly 100 per cent. Members of the Committee opposite will get used to that kind of rejection over the next decade. I can tell them that you live through it and you just about maintain your sanity. Therefore, I hope that my noble friends do not remotely fall for that one or, if they do, I should like them to explain to me afterwards why they have done so when we failed so often ourselves.
However, my main interest is to ask the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, or the noble Earl, Lord Lindsay, whether I am right about the consequences of what they are saying. In particular, do they now accept that there should be referendums? Is it now Conservative policy that the party supports the referendums and therefore supports this Bill? If that is the case, they will withdraw a number of amendments which are totally destructive so that we can all go home earlier. I really do want to know whether they now accept the referendums.
As regards the four outcomes, I do not wish to be as nasty as my noble friend Lord Ewing but there was a general election and I believe the population of Scotland and Wales did pronounce to a moderate degree on the matter. I ask whether the party opposite will accept categorically the outcome of the referendums when they
Lord Peston: Yes, we did accept the outcomes last time. A great many years went by. I must remind the noble Lord that we were in opposition for quite a long time. I grew old during that period. There was a young man here originally. If the referendum goes our way, and if after 18 years the party opposite is back in power--and I do believe in the two parties taking it in turn--and it wishes to raise the issue again, although I shall not be around to listen, I believe that that would be perfectly in order.
Lord Simon of Glaisdale: I should like to say a few words in relation to the interesting question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Peston, as to whether the Government and Parliament will accept the result of the referendums or either of them. In my respectful submission, the constitutional position was stated correctly by the noble Lord, Lord Glenamara, as Leader of the House in the other place at the time of the 1970s referendums. He said that a referendum binds a government but it does not bind Parliament. He must have meant that it binds a government morally. It does not bind Parliament so long as we have parliamentary supremacy. It is a matter for Parliament to take into account and it is a completely novel doctrine that Parliament will be bound by the result of a referendum. We would be abnegating our responsibilities.
The Earl of Onslow: The noble Lord, Lord Peston, advances an extremely novel political doctrine. He states that the constitution can be changed now but that, heigh-ho, if someone wants to change it at another time that is all right. The noble Lord referred to a period of 18 years, but one must remember Abraham and Sodom and Gomorrah. He went from 95 to five, if I remember rightly. Why not change it in three years? If that is too short perhaps five years is all right. It is irresponsible to suggest that we should treat the constitution of the United Kingdom in this way. It is said that it is all
Earl Russell: I regret to say that the noble Earl is incorrect in saying that this matter is unprecedented. We need only look at the history of Reform Bills in the 19th century. When my great-grandfather introduced one in 1832 he believed that it was final. He was wrong.
Lady Saltoun of Abernethy: It is all very well for the noble Lord, Lord Peston, to say that even the thickest of us will be able to understand what is in the White Paper. The trouble is that the noble Lord is a very clever man. I do not believe that he has any idea what it is to be thick.
Lord Peston: I knew before I entered the Chamber that I should never have come here today or joined in this debate. I must inform the noble Lady that I have been teaching for 40 years and I know all there is to know about what it is to be thick.
Lord Sewel: I start by acknowledging the friendly and constructive spirit in which the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, moved his amendment. I am afraid that I must tell him that normal service has been partially resumed from these Benches. Therefore, I am unable to accept the amendment, sad as that may be to the noble Lord and his noble friends.
The Government are well apprised of the need to ensure adequate time between the publication of the White Paper and the vote on the referendum itself. We have made clear that the White Paper will be published and debated in this House before the Recess. I echo the words of the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie. That will come not after two months but about 20 years of consultation and debate certainly in Scotland and, albeit to a lesser extent, in Wales as well.
Viscount Cranborne: Perhaps the noble Lord will allow me to intervene. Is he able to inform the House whether his undertaking means that noble Lords will be given the opportunity to debate the White Paper before the final passage of this Bill?
A number of noble Lords referred to the lack of a gap between the Scottish and Welsh referendums. I believe that that is a matter to which we should properly return on later amendments. I acknowledge that we have not so far announced the dates of the two referendums. That is not the result of any desire to be obscure; it is based on a desire to be a little better informed about the date when this Bill is likely to receive Royal Assent. In that way we can ensure that there are early referendums consistent with providing adequate time for the necessary practical preparations to be put in place, for public debate on our proposals and for the referendum campaigns to galvanise the debate in the two countries.
The amendment that suggests the date 2nd October seems to me to be moved with a degree of mischievous frivolity, which is perhaps unintended. The noble Lord, Lord Mackay, may not have in his diary the fact that 2nd October falls during the Labour Party conference. I do not for a moment claim that this degree of frivolity equals anything like that exhibited in another place when this Bill was discussed, but it makes the point about the difficulty of taking the date of 2nd October. I believe that the very powerful point made by my noble friend Lady Ramsay underlines the total unsuitability of focusing on one particular date. Quite simply, it is the wrong date.
We fully intend to hold the referendums before the major party conferences. However tempting and seductive noble Lords opposite may be, I will not however be pressed into setting a date for the referendums at this stage. One of the main reasons for that is that it is not yet clear when the Bill will receive Royal Assent. In our view it would be premature at this stage to speculate on possible dates.
It has been indicated that perhaps this amendment is a probing amendment. If I may take it in the spirit of a probing amendment, I happily undertake that when we return to consider the Bill at a later stage--Report stage on the basis of the currently envisaged timetable--the Government will inform noble Lords of the proposed dates for publication of the White Papers and the holding of the referendums. I hope that noble Lords can wait just that little bit longer and accept the undertaking that I have given in the helpful spirit in which it is offered.
The Earl of Lauderdale: Before the noble Lord sits down, can he answer one question that has not yet been covered by the noble Lord, Lord Peston? Supposing the Scots vote for a Scottish parliament but against the tartan tax, what will the Government do?
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page