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Noble Lords: Mail!

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I am sorry, the Western Mail. I have illustrated the point clearly; it is not the morning reading even of newspaper junkies such as myself who believe that we must read every newspaper. I am sure that in Wales, The Scotsman, the Herald, the Daily Record--

Lord Parry: I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. I recommend that he reads the Western Mail of yesterday which shows the latest poll on the state of support for devolution and a Welsh assembly.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I accept that invitation. I assure the noble Lord that I am capable of reading the Western Mail, understanding the points it makes, reading the Herald or The Scotsman, understanding the points they make and realising that they are dealing with two different countries and two different referendums. I appear still to have a vote in the referendum, despite my earlier amendments. I hope that Ministers will not threaten me with losing my vote. Perhaps a special clause will be put into the Bill if I am not careful! However, I will have no difficulty differentiating between the two.

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Of all the poor arguments I have ever heard, the poorest is that the Welsh need a week free of the Scots in order to be able to make up their minds. If there were any logic in that proposition there would be a demand for the Welsh referendum four weeks before the Scottish one, or even four weeks after. But that would enter Labour Party conference territory and I have already been reprimanded about that.

There is no logical reason why we should not have two referendums on the same day. If the issues are important let them be resolved in Wales and Scotland at the same time. The principal issues are identical: do Scotland and Wales want devolved parliaments? I appreciate that the detail is different. Somehow the Welsh are not being offered quite the same bunch of supposed goodies which the Scots are being offered. I do not believe that Scots will be in any doubt about what they are being offered. They will know that they are being offered a tax-raising assembly, if that is agreed, and they will know that they are not being offered the same weak assembly as the Welsh. The Welsh are being offered a much weaker assembly. Equally, I am sure that the Welsh will know that they are being offered an assembly which will have no law-making or tax-raising powers.

If that is the best argument that the Government can put forward I suggest that they ring up the white flag right now before some of my noble friends from Wales join in the argument. I see no reason why the two issues should not be resolved on the same day. After all, people throughout the United Kingdom are asked to vote on the same day for Members in another place and that does not appear to cause any difficulty. I cannot for the life of me see why Scotland and Wales should not vote on the same day. I shall not even tempt the Government into telling me which day it is--it appears to be one of the official secrets--but journalists are telling me that it is 4th September. If that turns out to be correct it will look very much as though the journalists are told but Parliament is not. I beg to move.

Lord Thomas of Gresford: It is a great failing on my part that I did not make myself clear to the noble Lord when I spoke previously on this topic. I am not complaining that Wales will be swamped by the Scottish press but that if the two referendums are held together the national press will be concerned mainly with what is happening in Scotland. I made the point that more than 90 per cent. of the newspapers which circulate in Scotland are published in Scotland, but only 13 per cent. of the newspapers which circulate in Wales are published in Wales. That means that the national press--the UK press--has much greater influence in Wales than in Scotland.

It does not stop there because as regards broadcasting there is an area of overlap in Wales of some 35 per cent. of the territory. Television broadcasts can be received from England in 35 per cent. of the Welsh heartland. In Scotland, the figure is 0.2 per cent. One has to think only of the Borders to realise why that is so. Often people in north-east Wales turn to Granada Television and to BBC North. People in Mid-Wales turn to the Birmingham area

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and to the Midlands channels and in south Wales, in particular south-east Wales, they turn to Bristol television programmes.

That means that the problem of raising the consciousness of people in Wales to the issues involved in the referendum is that much greater than it is in Scotland. Furthermore, there are significant differences of principle between the Scottish and Welsh referendum proposals. What I and my noble friends are concerned to avoid is that the people of Wales should believe that they are being offered what is on offer in Scotland. A different proposition is being put before them. It is a question of information. I am sure that all Members of the Committee agree that the better and more fully informed the voters are, the fairer and more democratic the vote will be, whichever way it goes. That is why we contend that there should be a distinction between the dates of the referendums. That is why we are glad to see the proposal in the Bill.

Lord Crickhowell: I can agree with at least one comment of the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, and I am glad that he made it. It is that plenty of information should be provided to the electorate. We shall address the best way of doing that in later amendments. I wish to deal with the points that he made in two parts. First, on the general proposition, he is proved wrong by what happened on the previous occasion. We have a good precedent. Some of us spent perhaps too much time--certainly a considerable amount of time--debating the issue when the referendums were held on the same day. I was so sleepy the other day that when the noble Earl, Lord Russell, challenged me about the absurdity of having a referendum in February I entirely overlooked the fact that on the previous occasion we campaigned all through February, despite the weather, and held a referendum on 1st March.

On that occasion, there was a vigorous debate on Welsh issues which was carried right around the country. I do not believe that anyone who took part in the debates could conceivably have argued that the result was decided because information had not reached the people of Wales and that they had somehow followed with fascination the detailed debate of affairs in Scotland. It is simply untrue and an absurd rewriting of history.

Lord Thomas of Gresford: I thank the noble Lord for giving way. Of course, I was campaigning in 1979, having been involved in the debate since 1967, and I well remember what went on. What concerned me about the campaign in 1979 was not the information that was being circulated but the disinformation. That is what I want to avoid.

Lord Crickhowell: That is a totally different issue. Certainly, a good deal of disinformation was circulated but I suggest not necessarily by the campaigning groups to which the noble Lord referred. However, I shall not become involved in that argument because I wish to turn to the subject of television.

I know a certain amount about television on the borders of Wales. I live in Wales, close to the Welsh border, and understand that a good many people along the Welsh

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border, for one reason or another, receive television from English transmitters. I am a director of HTV and have some responsibility for television broadcasting on both sides of the border. I am at this moment in the uncomfortable position of being taken over by United Media and the noble Lord, Lord Hollick. However, for the time being my responsibilities extend to both sides of the border.

If the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, really thinks that Granada in putting out programmes for its listeners will be filling them with information about Scotland, or that HTV West will be packing its news programmes with broadcasts about the Scottish referendum debate rather than the Welsh, he knows nothing at all about television. The simple fact is that BBC Wales and HTV, and I suspect Granada because of its interest in retaining viewers in North Wales, will be following the subject quite closely. Granada has an added reason for doing so because, as the noble Lord will know and welcome, HTV has just opened, is now getting access to a new transmitter in Wrexham and will be able to reach a considerable part of the electorate that earlier broadcasting arrangements prevented it from reaching in the past.

The proposition of the noble Lord is that somehow the viewers in Wales will be plugged in--I am not sure how--to Scottish television in order to follow the debate there but will be deprived of the arguments in their own patch. That is so improbable that I find it hard to understand how such a distinguished and sensible noble Lord could have seriously advanced the argument in a debate in this House. There are compelling reasons for having the vote on the same day and I strongly support the amendment of my noble friend.

The Earl of Onslow: I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, will not be too offended if I say that I think that his attitude to the voters in Wales that they can hardly read or write--which he is saying by implication--is patronising in the extreme. The Welsh are quite capable of understanding.

Noble Lords: Order!

The Earl of Onslow: Is it out of order to suggest that somebody is patronising? I said that the noble Lord's remarks struck me as being patronising. I am very sorry, but I will stand by that opinion. I thought he was being unkind and illiberal to the Welsh people, who are quite capable of making up their minds. Whether they will make them up in the way I would like them to is a different issue altogether, but they are quite capable of making up their minds. They have a lively local press; there is a special Welsh channel in north Wales which broadcasts in Welsh to the Welsh people; and they are covered by just as much television as we are in England and Scotland. The suggestion that they cannot understand these issues is quite beyond me.


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