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Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for introducing the amendment, and for taking on board the suggestions I made at Committee stage. Perhaps that negates some of the more hysterical comments we have heard about the Upper House having no business to examine legislation and make its views known. We made our views known at Committee stage. The Government accepted them, and here we are with the results. I am glad that it was a convincing argument. The noble Lord was kind enough not to point out that it was a brief argument and to draw the conclusion that the shorter the argument the more chance I have of success. I am not entirely convinced. I believe that my chance of success was hugely enhanced by the fact that the proposal I made meant that this House and another place would not have to sit until 8th August and could rise at the end of next week.

Perhaps I may ask a few questions of the Minister. My first point relates to the statutory instrument under which the Secretary of State makes the order. I presume that it is by negative procedure; otherwise the device that I have chosen so that we shall not sit into August would not work. We would have to sit in order to go through the affirmative procedure. That was the problem with the route which the Government had originally set out.

The second point is more serious in many ways. I refer to Amendments Nos. 8 and 19. When I put down the amendment to the Bill at Committee stage, I chose a rather longer time period than 11 days. I decided to make the beginning of August the cut-off point. I did so because the constituency in which I live in Glasgow has had some controversy over the question of late additions to the register during the election held on 1st May. As I understand it, those controversial points have not yet been resolved. I do not wish to go into the detail because the matter is the subject of police inquiries. No doubt a report will go, if it has not already gone, to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate, who I see sitting on the Government Bench. However, I believe that a little longer is needed for the authorities to make sure that the corrections and additions to the register are justified.

The issue may well go wider than just the referendum. Parliament may well have to consider the issue after we hear the results of the investigations at Govan. My recollection is that the procedure whereby people can register long after 10th October is of fairly recent date. The period for checking the register was towards the end of a year. Those dates are long gone. As I understand it, one can register in any month of the year if one were a

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qualifying elector on 10th October previously. That is what caused the difficulty in the constituency of Glasgow Govan. I hope that the Minister is right in choosing 11 days ending with the date of the referendum and that we do not have controversy about additions to the register during the month of August, with people claiming that they were in residence on 10th October last.

I invite the noble Lord to tell me whether there are any checks. I fear that he will tell me that there are none. Therefore, perhaps he will agree with me that it is a matter to which we should return in greater detail at a future date when we examine the Representation of the People Act.

Lord Sewel: My Lords, perhaps I may deal briefly with the points raised by the noble Lord. I think that I can give him the assurance that the order will be subject to the negative procedure. Therefore I believe that we can all go away safely.

I have some sympathy with the general point made about the 11 days. However, I heard arguments from the Benches opposite at an earlier stage that people should be allowed to register up until the last moment. I believe that that would have created havoc as regards proper regulation of the referendum.

On all the points covered by the amendments--they will incorporate the orders into the Bill--we have very much leant on the advice that we received from the electoral officers. We have to rest on their judgment and advice at this stage.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

3.15 p.m.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish moved Amendment No. 2:

Page 1, line 5, at end insert (", but not less than eight weeks after publication of the White Paper detailing the Government's proposals,").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 2, I speak also to Amendment No. 3. Both amendments deal with the question which exercised the Committee about the dates of the White Paper and the referendum. At Committee stage, noble Lords will remember that the dates were treated as somewhat of a state secret by the party opposite. We made it clear at Committee stage that we expected those dates to be made available before the Bill completed its parliamentary stages. I am glad to see that in at least one regard the Government have heeded what we said at Committee stage, and that we now know the two dates.

It would have been perhaps more mannerly to your Lordships' House if the Government had announced these matters today in response to the two amendments. Instead the announcements were made in answer to two Parliamentary Questions last week. I believe that the Government could have announced them today as a way of showing that they appreciated the debates at Committee stage and of indicating that it is a two-Chamber Parliament and not simply a one-chamber Parliament.

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It is welcome that we have something close to eight weeks as regards publication of the White Paper. Noble Lords will recall that the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, envisaged six weeks, give or take a week one way or the other. I was grateful for that assurance. As I understand it, seven weeks will be allowed now between publication of the White Paper and the Scottish referendum. There will be eight weeks between the publication of the Welsh White Paper and the Welsh referendum. That is a matter to which I shall return in a few moments.

The purpose of the two amendments today would have been to tease out the dates from the Government. If they had not allowed a reasonable time, I would have invited noble Lords to indicate their displeasure at the whole matter being rushed. I am still not convinced that the time available is sufficient. It might be sufficient at any other time of the year, in the later autumn or the spring. But I believe that when four of the seven weeks are in August, the period is less than satisfactory.

Many matters will have to be discussed during the seven weeks of the referendum campaign. Indeed, some matters are still coming to the surface. Last week we heard the amazing revelation that--after 18 years--the Labour Party thought that the Royal High School room set aside for the assembly of parliament was unsuitable. So goodness knows what else will emerge during the referendum campaign about which we shall have to think long and hard.

For example, has a deal been done between the Scottish National Party and the Government on the powers of the parliament, so that it will be able to vote Scotland into independence without coming to the Westminster Parliament? Press reports state that the Government have done that deal in order to have the support of the Scottish National Party for the referendum campaign.

Some noble Lords will remember that I suggested in Committee that the support of the Scottish Nationalists in the referendum campaign was very much a two-edged sword for the Government. On the assumption that they won, I said I could assure the Government that the Scottish National Party would claim that they had won only because the majority of the "Yes, yes" votes cast were actually cast for independence. How that could be a stable basis for proceeding with devolution, I failed to see.

However, the Government are clearly very concerned about the turnout and the result of the referendum--to such an extent that they want to try to ensure that the Scottish National Party are on board and are campaigning "Yes, yes" to devolution despite the fact that they believe in devolution no more than I do but actually believe in separatism just as firmly as I believe in the continued existence of the Union with one Parliament.

It is amazing that, at this late stage, the Government appear to be prepared to include in their White Paper (if the reports are true) the possibility that the Scottish parliament will be able to decide, by itself, without coming to Westminster, that Scotland can set itself up as an independent country. The proposal is that there is no so-called glass ceiling on the powers of the

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Scottish parliament. If I were a member of the Scottish National Party, I should certainly be celebrating today if the Government have given a secret undertaking to the SNP that they will allow powers to be given to the Scottish parliament which, some time in the future, will allow that parliament, without any reference to Westminster, to vote itself an independent parliament. I do not see in any way how that could be considered to be strengthening the Union.

All those matters will have to be discussed. Many people are on holiday in August--the Glasgow Fair started this weekend. But, frankly, those sorts of holidays have long since passed into history and holidays are spread over a much wider period. Anybody who was in Glasgow this morning would have seen that the city was a good deal busier than it would have been 20 or 30 years ago, when almost everybody went on holiday in the same fortnight. I know of no one in Glasgow who is actually on holiday this fortnight. A few are on holiday today; a few were on holiday on Friday at Troon; but I do not know anybody who has gone away during "fair fortnight". That has passed out of people's normal practice; people take staggered holidays. Anyone who goes to Glasgow airport over the next four weeks will see that holiday flights out and in are just as busy as they are this weekend and as they were last weekend. So it is a holiday period in Scotland. I have lived there all my life and I know. The schools are on holiday until the middle of August, and the private schools for slightly longer. All those who are not tied to school holidays will tend to take their holidays after the schools return, for reasons which I am sure the House appreciates.

I simply do not believe that the proposed period of time is long enough. It is better than I feared it would be when I thought that the referendum would be held on 4th September and that we should not see the White Paper until the end of July or in August. So we have made some slight progress in this place in regard to the length of time.

Perhaps the most significant part of the answers last week was that, instead of saying as they ought to have done that the Scottish and Welsh referendums would be held on 11th September, the Government announced that the Welsh referendum would be held on 18th September, despite the fact that the Bill as it now stands has the referendums on the same day.

I do not normally get into a state of righteous indignation. However, to say, before we had reached Report or Third Reading, that the Government will overturn the decision of this House is disgraceful.

Before the Liberal Democrats start smiling weakly at me and the Benches opposite start jeering, perhaps I ought to remind the House of what happened in this place on 30th July 1980 in similar circumstances. Your Lordships decided an amendment to the Housing Bill by 109 votes to 74 (a larger majority than for the amendment two weeks ago in Committee reducing the two-day referendum to one day). An announcement was made in the House of Commons that the Government of the day intended to overturn

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the decision of this House even before the Report stage. The indignation started from no less a person than Lady Birk, who was an esteemed Member of this place and of the party opposite. Asking that the House be adjourned during pleasure, just after three o'clock in the afternoon, she said about the Bill and the decision made:

    "The Bill has not yet been passed, and yet we have this behaviour on the part of the Government in another place which is an absolute insult to this House".

She went on to say:

    "But how are we, as a House, as one of the legislative Chambers of this country, to be able to proceed when we are treated in this way?".--[Col. 879.]

Lord Byers, Leader of the Liberals at that time, said:

    "all quarters of the House will regard this as a Parliamentary outrage of the first order".

Lord Shinwell, then still in fine form, said in the course of his intervention:

    "'It is all very well lambasting and criticising us [the House of Lords], running us down and saying nasty things about us, and it is all right for some sections of the press and media to supplement those opinions of us, but we are an independent institution?' Are we or are we not?".--[Official Report, 30/7/80; cols. 879-82.]

That is a question that we could easily ask today. Lord Shinwell went a little further than I would have gone and talked about abolishing the other place! My noble friend, the then Leader, Lord Soames, had some difficulty in resisting the onslaught of the then Opposition and their friends on the Liberal Benches. The issue was put to a vote; namely, that the Sitting should be suspended. Indeed, your Lordships voted for that. The House was adjourned during pleasure. No time limit was placed on the "pleasure"; the Lord Chancellor, on the Woolsack, said that he would return shortly, and if that did not meet with everybody's satisfaction the House could adjourn again and this time place a time on the adjournment.

That sounds a humorous exchange, but the point is this. Quite clearly, when the party opposite were in Opposition and we did this to them in 1980, they thought, and stated very bluntly, that it was an affront to this House and to Parliament. They were joined in that view by the Liberals.

I do not intend to ask that the House be adjourned during pleasure. As my noble friend the Shadow Leader said, the Government did not do that again. I do not want that. I agreed that we should make progress with the Bill, and I want to do just that. However, I want to say very firmly to the Government that they could have announced to this House today the date of the White Paper and the referendum. That would have been the right thing to do in response to the amendments we tabled in Committee and the amendments we withdrew. They should also have kept whatever decision they were going to take about the one-day versus two-day referendum until your Lordships had completed consideration of the Bill, just as their distinguished colleagues insisted in 1980 that the then government should have done with regard to a defeat on the Housing Bill.

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I do not think it is a very satisfactory position. I am sorry that the noble Lords, Lord Sewel and Lord Williams of Mostyn, are put in the position of appearing to ignore your Lordships' House, because I am sure that that is not their intent. Perhaps they might say very firmly to their colleagues that this is not the way to achieve good relations in your Lordships' House; that this is not the way to proceed with good government in a two-Chamber Parliament; and that in future the Government should resist the temptation to jump the gun on announcements of this nature and should certainly refrain from announcing that they will overturn defeats that they have suffered in this House before the Bill has completed its passage here.

I remember that on the defeats I suffered I certainly did not indicate what would happen before the Bill returned to the other place and the matter was decided there. If I may say so, my defeats were a good deal more significant than the defeat I inflicted upon the Government three weeks ago, although one would not think so from the absolutely hysterical outburst we had from the Prime Minister in Downing Street. I beg to move.

3.30 p.m.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, it seems to me that what the Government have done in announcing the date of the Welsh referendum in the way they have is an affront to the other place as well as to your Lordships' House. How are the Government to know that their Back-Benchers will help them to have a majority on that amendment? How are they to know that those in the other place will think that the people of Wales deserve better than to have to have their referendum on the same day? Is it better than having to wait for their referendum that they will not be able to make up their minds on the same day? It seems an extraordinary thing to do.

Surely the announcement of the date should wait until the other place has decided what it wants to do. In addition, if the Bill is returned to this House, this House could decide to stand by its amendment. The Government should wait for that. The whole referendum could then be held up for more than a year. This is a very odd way to behave and, I suggest, a new example of extraordinary arrogance on the part of the Government.

I support the amendment because eight weeks seems to be the minimum time to enable people to consider this matter. I have discussed the matter with a number of people who are either on holiday now or will be going on holiday soon and they feel that the time allowed is very short. To give satisfaction to the voters in a referendum and to achieve a satisfactory result, this length of time is essential. This is a very good amendment.

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