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Lord Thomas of Gresford: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, is entirely wrong when he suggests to your Lordships that we on these Benches are smiling weakly at the different dates for the two referendums; we are smiling broadly. We are

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smiling broadly because it is the fulfilment of an agreement made on 5th March 1997 prior to the election and very widely publicised in Wales. That agreement said that:

    "Both Parties [the Liberal Democrats and the Labour Party] agree that a short time should be allowed to lapse after the Scottish referendum in order to ensure the debate in Wales, with its distinctive form of devolution, is not overshadowed by the process in Scotland".

We subscribed to that agreement; we hold the Labour Party to their part of the agreement and we expect the Members of Parliament in the other place who were elected on that platform to reverse the decision taken in your Lordships' House. We say that the choice should be before the Welsh people when they are fully informed and have had the opportunity for mature consideration of all the issues which arise in this referendum.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy: My Lords, I support the amendment, although I would prefer that it went further. I would rather have a 12-week period elapse between the publication of the White Papers and the date of the referendums or referenda--I do not know what they should be called; my Latin is a little rusty.

This is a much more important matter than a general election. This referendum concerns a grave constitutional change which may well affect the future of the United Kingdom. That is more than can be said for any general election. At Committee stage the Government compared the time that would be allowed to elapse between the publication of the White Paper and the date of the referendum to the length of time which must be allowed to elapse between the announcement of the date of the general election and that election taking place, which I believe is three weeks.

I have gone back to 1900 and have ascertained that no general election since then has ever taken place in the month of August and I do not think that any have taken place in the month of September. If my memory serves me correctly, I think that the earliest date of an election in the autumn was about 24th October. Why is that? It is because people are away on holiday and do not have an opportunity to read the papers describing what is on offer and to make up their minds. Why are we being pressed on this occasion to have a referendum in the middle of the month of September? What is all the hurry about? Can the Government give me a straight answer, please?

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: My Lords, perhaps I could begin by answering the last question: it is partly because it was a manifesto commitment that we should have the referendums by the autumn.

I have to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, on managing to speak at such length and with so many different flights of fancy; I had difficulty seeing that they had anything to do with the amendment. They included a great flight of speculation about the Scottish National Party and an invitation to us to go into psychoanalysis on the motivation of people who would vote "yes". It seemed to me that the noble Lord was inviting us to reject or repel voters who would

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vote for the "yes, yes" campaign because we might not approve of their motivation. That is a novel way of running any kind of election or referendum.

A lot has been said about why the Government did not wait until today to announce dates for the White Papers. I understood the Benches opposite to have been demanding on previous occasions that the Government should announce the dates as soon as possible--like the day before they were speaking. Then, when the dates are announced, people say that the Government should have waited until this afternoon to announce them. I do not see the logic of that.

I quite accept from the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, that the old days of the industrial fortnights in Scotland, when the whole of Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen closed down, may have gone. But there is still a preponderance of Scottish holiday-taking earlier than in England because of the school holidays as well as the light nights and so on. It means that the balance in Scotland is more toward July, with life getting back to normal when the schools go back in August.

The noble Lord, Lord Mackay, cannot have it both ways. He cannot say on the one hand that everything has been changed and everyone staggers their holiday and at the same time seem to imply that the whole of Scotland is on holiday for all of August. That is not the Scotland I know.

So, if everyone is not on holiday for the whole of that time, it is quite possible to have a campaign when a fair proportion of the people are there for most of August. I do believe that we should get back to basics, if I dare use those words. By that, I mean that we should focus on the amendments. I understand that there will be a period of eight weeks in Wales and seven weeks in Scotland between the White Papers and the referendums. The amendment mentions eight weeks. The only difference is one week in Scotland. I cannot understand what all the fuss is about and why the amendment was moved in the first place.

Lord Forbes: My Lords, I support the amendment. Eight weeks is an absolute minimum when such an important constitutional issue is to be considered, especially during the holiday time.

Lord Parry: My Lords, the Opposition well might like to take into account the fact that, since polls have been taken on the attitude of the Welsh people, the numbers have been doubling. The latest poll conducted over the weekend showed that the ratio was two to one in favour of the assembly proposals. If the period extends for 10 weeks, we might wipe out the opposition, as we did in the election.

Viscount Weir: My Lords, I am a Glaswegian and I am on holiday during the fair holiday at this very moment; that is, if one can describe being in your Lordships' House as being on holiday.

Let me return to the point about timing. The true reason and explanation of why the Government will not give a decent interval between the White Paper and the

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vote must be perfectly plain. Despite what we have just heard about the opinion polls being apparently two-to-one, yes-to-no, at the moment, they were, I remind your Lordships, two-to-one, yes-to-no, at the beginning of the referendum campaign in 1979.

The Government have learned their lesson from that campaign, which effectively lasted for three months. They noted that the more the Scots saw of devolution, the less they liked it. The "yes" vote shrank and the "no" vote increased inexorably in the opinion polls as the campaign went on until it was virtually a dead heat on the day. So the reason why a truncated campaign period is being foisted upon us is only too obvious.

Lord Harris of Greenwich: My Lords, it is always a pleasure to listen to the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, making a fascinating series of Second Reading speeches on each of the amendments that he puts before us. We have had a re-run of one of the glittering Second Reading speeches that he made during Committee stage.

I understand that the argument is that it is entirely wrong for a government to indicate immediately that they do not propose to accept an amendment carried in the House of Lords. I was a little surprised to hear that argument. Those of us who had the pleasure of dealing with Home Office Bills when Mr. Michael Howard was Home Secretary became used to being told within 30 minutes that the Government would in no circumstances whatsoever accept the amendment. Therefore, I suggest to the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, that he might take an interest in the attitude of some of his Home Office colleagues in the late administration.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. Does he not agree that we never pre-empted the outcome of what the other place would do in any vote? As the Minister responsible, I may have indicated that we would invite the other place to consider overturning a measure but no public statements were made which implied or pre-empted the outcome of a vote in the other place.

Lord Harris of Greenwich: My Lords, the deputy Government Chief Whip and I spent many happy hours debating issues with the noble Baroness. I believe that both of us could recall with the greatest clarity what was said on Mr. Howard's behalf every time that he lost a vote in this Chamber. He lost quite a substantial number of votes in this House, I am glad to say. But I hope that the House will now move on a little more briskly.

Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, if the noble Lord--

Noble Lords: Order!

Lord Harris of Greenwich: There is no order involved. I shall gladly give way in a moment. I always do. I simply say that it would be a good idea if we moved rather more rapidly through the amendments; all the more so because the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, last week expressed his concern about the fact that we appear to have an overloaded legislative

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programme. One of the reasons why we are proceeding so slowly on this Bill, which has precisely six clauses, is the never-ending series of Second Reading speeches to which we are subjected. I note that the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, wishes to intervene.

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