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Lord Desai: I did not want to speak because I thought I would only add to the confusion by mentioning formulae. Would the noble Lord not agree that his formula--and I am talking about the mathematical formula, not the threshold numbers--still gives a weight of one-half to everyone who abstains? So it is not true. If you put T=100-a, where a=abstentions, he will get a result which leads to 30+½a and ½a means that everybody who abstains has a weight of a half. So it is not true that he has taken care of the problem.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I knew that it was a mistake to give way to the noble Lord, Lord Desai. He is not for nothing one of the leading economics professors in the country. We have debated on a number of occasions. I think I should invite his noble friend the Minister to write to him.

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I was interested in the very first contribution, which was from the noble Lord, Lord Steel, who said that quota systems were an interference in democracy. I found that somewhat hard coming from a party that favours, I understand, the single transferable vote, which involves quota systems. There is nothing too alien in quota systems so far as concerns the Liberal Democrats. But in fact I thought his arguments were very poor. I was not addressing parliamentary or local government elections, as one of my noble friends pointed out. In those circumstances, there is a multiplicity of perhaps three or four parties. If the electorate does not like what the party does in government, it can turf that government out next time.

Referendums lead to decisions which inevitably will be much more stable and likely to last and not be susceptible to the will of the electorate at the next turnout on a general election. So I do not think that he has a very fair point. I was not in the least impressed with that part of the noble Lord's argument, any more, frankly, than I was impressed with his argument earlier when he was discussing the abolition of the Scottish Parliament of 1707 and the resentment caused by it and when he prayed in aid the '15 and the '45 rebellions. There were many more issues involved then, if my memory serves me rightly. Being a Mackay, my memory does in these matters, serve me rightly, as we and the Campbells, whose crest I see around your Lordships' House quite commonly, were on the right side of that dispute. I believe that there were more Scots fighting on the Hanoverian side at Culloden than were fighting on the Jacobite side. So one has to be somewhat cautious in drawing lessons from history.

I am sorry that the Government do not consider this a matter that they have to take seriously into account if we are to go into a new situation in our politics, where referendums will be--not two-a-penny; I do not suppose they will be that--not so infrequent. At least we are seeing something like five or six maybe in this Parliament already. I believe that, if we do not lay down now the kind of ground rules that I am suggesting to the Committee, we shall inevitably have to do it one day in the future. Otherwise, we shall end up with the situation in which a government decide that they will not accept the majority in a referendum because there has not been a big enough turnout. I believe that that would cause very considerable tension between the electorate and the Government and between the people outside Parliament and the Members of Parliament, including the Members of this Chamber.

But, as I said, I have read the Labour Party's manifesto. I have been invited to read it so many times that I could not avoid reading it. I have made it perfectly clear in everything that I have said in the Committee on this Bill, that I have no intention of breaking the convention about manifesto commitments. I regret to say that it is the best argument that the Government can put forward and it is rather sad, given the importance of referendums, this one and others to come.

In the light of the very clear undertaking that the Government gave in their manifesto and in view of their majority, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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6.45 p.m.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish moved Amendment No. 51:

After Clause 3, insert the following new clause--

Publicly-funded information

(" .--(1) Every household in Scotland and Wales shall receive a publicly funded leaflet giving general information on the holding of the referendums, and statements of the "Yes" and "No" cases relating to the referendum question.
(2) The Independent Statutory Commission shall have a duty to facilitate, on an equitable basis, the preparation, publication and distribution of campaign material provided by umbrella campaign organisations; and if no umbrella organisations exist, the Independent Statutory Commission shall produce the leaflets after appropriate consultation.").

The noble Lord said: This amendment stands in my name and the name of the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, who cannot, unfortunately, be present. The important point about this new clause is that it suggests that:

    "Every household in Scotland and Wales shall receive a publicly funded leaflet giving general information on the holding of the referendums, and statement of the 'Yes' and 'No' cases relating to the referendum question".

I apologise to the Committee in that I should have set down an amendment suggesting that the "yes" voters and the "no" voters should have the availability of the Freepost, as in a general election, under Section 91 of the 1983 Representation of the People Act. That has not been translated forward into the draft regulations.

I want to explore with the Government whether they believe that some provision should be made for every elector to receive in their hands a proper discussion of the issues, pro and con. The amendment simply asks for a general leaflet indicating what the referendum is about. I am relaxed about how that is done. Perhaps on one side of the paper is put the case for the yes vote and on the other side the case for the no vote. It will be a piece of paper that everyone receives, publicly funded. The public will then be able to judge on a precis of the White Paper the case for and the case against it and what they should do.

The importance of the Freepost was underlined to me this afternoon when I heard from the Benches opposite the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, suggest to his noble friend Lady Blackstone that having consultations including during the month of August was quite wrong. He hoped that there would be enough time for consultation on the Government's White Paper on education to allow proper responses and that August was not good enough. I thought I had heard myself using that argument a little earlier and making no headway with the Benches opposite. I was rather surprised, therefore, that the noble Baroness agreed with her noble friend and said that there would be plenty of time other than August. Of course, we know that there will not be plenty of time other than August for this particular issue. We shall be addressing it during August, leading to a referendum on, let us say--just because we cannot find out the date--4th September.

Because it is in August and because it is an important question--we all agree on that; people who are in favour of this constitutional change believe it is very important,

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as do people who are against it--I believe that there is a big argument for each member of the public in Scotland and in Wales to receive a piece of paper at public expense which clearly states the pros and the cons of the issues that they are being invited to address. That means that in Wales there would be a leaflet explaining it in favour of the Government's proposition in the White Paper and comments in the same leaflet giving the opposite point of view. In Scotland there would have to be a slightly more complicated discussion, explaining the pros and cons of the first question and then explaining the pros and cons of the second question. As an aside, I might be slightly amused to see the Government's argument in favour of the pros for the second question, considering that they have gone to all the trouble of a referendum on the second question. But that is another matter.

This is a matter which I take very seriously. I believe that it is right and proper that people should be properly informed. All along the line, the Government have said that. Therefore, I believe in having some form of publicly-funded leaflet. It would be better if an independent statutory commission were there to hold the ring in such matters; but in our democratic society, where the usual channels can work rather well, an agreement can easily be reached between the pros and the antis as to the contents of each side of the leaflet, if that is the way it is to go. The public can thus be properly informed and we can have the kind of turnout that noble Lords opposite are so keen to have in order to establish the settled will of the Scottish people.

This is an important amendment. At risk of the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, finding another court, I just quote again the Commission on the Conduct of Referendums. In guideline 12, it says:

    "Every household should receive a publicly funded leaflet giving general information on the holding of the referendum and statements of the 'Yes' and 'No' cases relating to the referendum question".

I believe that it is a pretty convincing argument in that case. The eminent people who sat on that committee thought that we should have something of that nature for referendums in general. I believe that it is important for referendums in general and for this one in particular. But, if the Minister wants to tell me that there will be Freepost available to both the "yes" voters and the "no" voters, it would put my amendment in a slightly different light and I would look at it from a slightly different point of view. But if that is not forthcoming, the Government ought to accept this amendment. If it is not properly drafted, and I fully accept it may not be, in the second part of the proposed new clause, as I know from long experience it is a very simple thing for the Government to put right. I beg to move.

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