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Lord Williams of Mostyn: As soon as I said that, I realised my error. I could feel the boomerang winging its way around and hitting me on the back of the head. I sympathise with the reasonable requirement that there should be a proper opportunity for consideration and debate. My noble friend the Lord Privy Seal said some weeks ago that there would be an opportunity to debate the White Papers in this place and in another place before the Recess. My noble friend Lord Sewel has repeated that assurance. I have repeated it. That is our commitment.
That is still our hope. I cannot guarantee any specific time. As soon as the dates of the White Paper and the projected dates for holding the referendums are definitively known to us, we shall notify Members of this place. I cannot go further than that tonight. It is idle to pretend that I can. There is no suggestion that either my noble friend Lord Sewel or I are under instructions to give nothing away.
We recognise the legitimate interest in having an informed debate. I am content, of course, to take into account the advice given by the noble Lord to reflect on the previous government's mistakes, but that would be a long period of reflection indeed. I repeat what has already been said: when we know the dates positively, we shall return to this place with the dates for the publication of the two White Papers, the proposed dates for the referendums, and, when the usual channels have agreed, the dates for the debates on the White Papers in this place.
Lord Gray of Contin: I had not intended to intervene at this stage, because I have followed the recommendation of the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, to exercise discipline. I have exercised that discipline of silence for the whole of the afternoon. I have not heard a more inadequate reply to any debate than the one to which we have just listened. It is appalling. The Government have brought all this on their own heads. If the Government had done as any normal government would have done, and published their White Paper in adequate time so that it could have been studied and debated, we would not find ourselves in the situation in which we are tonight.
We have been accused of deviating from the point of various amendments. That is no wonder, because we just do not have the details that should be available to us from the White Paper. Now we are given vague information about the publication of the White Paper, which will arrive at a most inopportune time: the end of the parliamentary year when everyone is preparing to go away, when families are ready for holidays, when all the various bodies throughout Scotland which would wish to consider the matter carefully are facing the same problem of staff holidays, people unavailable to give opinions and everything else, and now we are told that the date of the referendum will come, presumably, and, we suspect, in September. That is a useless month for such an event. People will be on holiday and will be unable to vote. The whole exercise is a muddle. On top of that, we are faced with a situation in which the Bill was treated with contempt in another place. It was rushed through as though there was some desperate urgency about it. In this House, if we give it the due care and attention that is justified we shall be accused of time wasting. No doubt that would be used at some future time as ammunition to fire at us for trying to get at the Government. In fact, the Government should be applauding the fact that this Chamber is prepared to give the Bill consideration instead of suggesting that time wasting and other exercises have been taking place.
I hope that in future amendments which are tabled and carefully considered in this Chamber will be appreciated by the other side who will realise that we are only doing the duty expected of us. I hope that we can hear something more constructive from the Government. I have sympathy with the Ministers on the Front Bench. They are having to carry the can for what was not done by their counterparts in another place. The Bill needs careful scrutiny in this House.
Perhaps some of the arguments that have been put forward are more suited to the Bill which will follow. My colleagues and others on this side of the Committee may have deviated slightly from the purpose of the Bill because the information is not available and the White Paper has not been produced. I hope that the Government will take a little heart from the fact that they can be constructive by listening to what we have to say.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: One always wants to be constructive in listening to what anyone says. The noble Lord said that another place had treated these matters with contempt. Having studied the number of amendments and their content, I am obliged to agree. It was also said by the noble Lord, Lord Gray, that a vague date was being put forward. I have been as specific as I can, which is to reiterate the assurance given weeks ago by the Lord Privy Seal that there would be an opportunity for your Lordships' House to debate the White Paper before the Summer Recess. I am not intending to try to deceive anyone in your Lordships' House. I am giving your Lordships the information at my disposal, which I believe to be my duty.
Earl Russell: Before the noble Lord, Lord Gray, sits down, he said one thing which surprised me greatly. He said that normal governments allow adequate time. Can he tell me when was the last normal government?
Lady Saltoun of Abernethy: Accusations of time wasting have been bandied about. It may interest the House to know that out of 90 amendments on the Marshalled List we are in the process of discussing the 43rd. In view of the fact that this is the first day of three, we are not doing too badly.
Lord Palmer: Further to my earlier comments, could Her Majesty's Government please tell us what is the desperate urgency about rushing all this legislation through before the Summer Recess? We do not even yet know when the Summer Recess is due to take place. Bearing in mind that many of us live in Scotland and the Scottish schools go back in the middle of August, some Members of Parliament, and certainly some Members of this House, will have no holidays with their children whatsoever.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I did not think I was going to get a debate like this when I introduced my modest amendment; nor indeed did I think that I was going to get quite the audience I have got. I have not seen so many Government Ministers in the Chamber since we started and I am delighted to see that they have arrived at this time of night. I am hugely tempted to spend an hour or two reminding them--because they do not need a lesson--of how able they were in Opposition. They were able enough in Opposition to keep me at the Dispatch Box for many hours. However, perhaps the fact that the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis of Heigham, is not here reduces the temptation. It was she and the noble Earl, Lord Russell, who taught me how to deal with opposition.
I agree with my noble friend Lord Gray. Both the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis of Heigham, and the noble Earl, Lord Russell, would have considered replies of the shortness we have had today from government ministers pretty inadequate if I had attempted to use them in all the various pieces of legislation I took through your Lordships' House. However, I was grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, for clarifying one point.
That means, I suspect, that the media are quite wrong when they suggest that we shall have the referendum on 4th September and it means, although I did not see it myself, that the Welsh Secretary made a slip of the tongue on television on Sunday when he said that we would see the White Paper in a fortnight. I now accept what has been said. That is fine as far as it goes, but the Minister did not address my amendment. The noble Earl rightly pointed out to me that this was a typical probing amendment of the kind that he used against me on many occasions just to get an assurance from the Minister, and then he would withdraw such an amendment. That was entirely my intention: that I would get some assurances from the Minister about the time and then I would withdraw the amendment, having had those assurances on the record.
Actually the amendment was not even addressed. The question of how much time there might be between the referendum being published and debated and the date of the referendum itself was not addressed. Perhaps I might invite either of the Ministers to give us some kind of assurance that no fewer than six weeks will elapse between this House and the other place debating the
Clearly I am not going to get answers to my questions. Neither of the noble Ministers are prepared to give me any kind of assurances or even to address the question of the interval between the two events. I may come back to this later. In the meantime, with a good deal of annoyance, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
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