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Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, I am extremely grateful to the noble Lord and sorry that I even presumed to interrupt him in full flight. But I could not help wondering whether the noble Lord felt that the defeats that he rightly recalled that he and those whom he and his party adulate so greatly on the other side--the present Government Front Benches--inflicted were any more valid than the defeats which occasionally have been inflicted on the present Government since the general election.
Lord Harris of Greenwich: My Lords, the difference between the defeats in the lifetime of the previous government and those in the very brief lifetime of this Government is, as noble Lords know, that the Conservative Party in this House has three times more representatives than the Labour and Liberal Democrat parties put together. Therefore, when they were defeated in this House, it demonstrated that they could not even obtain the support of their own colleagues.
Lord Sewel: My Lords, we have sat through the usual contribution from the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, which was a wide-ranging, fascinating, colourful and predominantly irrelevant speech--perhaps more detached from relevancy than it was from reality, judging from parts of his speech, which I understand he obtained from a certain newspaper circulating in Scotland.
Let us look at what the amendment refers to rather than at cooked-up deals that are supposed to have been going on somewhere hither or thither. The amendment concerns the date of the referendum. Amendment No. 2 is intended to ensure that there are at least eight weeks between publication of the White Papers, which will be debated in both Houses, and the referendums in Scotland and Wales. As we heard, the purpose is to provide sufficient time for the people in Scotland and Wales adequately to examine the proposals contained in the White Paper before being asked to vote on them. Amendment No. 3 would prevent the referendums being held earlier than 18th September 1997.
We have already announced that we intend to publish the White Paper on the Scottish Parliament on Thursday of this week. We have also announced our intention to hold the Scottish referendum on 11th September. That provides a gap of seven weeks between publication of the White Paper and the referendum.
Is it seriously being argued by noble Lords opposite that the whole basis of democratic decision-making will come tumbling down because we have decided on seven weeks rather than eight weeks? Is it being suggested that somehow the people of Scotland can reach a mature, considered decision in a period of eight weeks but cannot make any reasonable, informed decision on the basis of seven weeks' consideration? That is absolute
The noble Lord was arguing for six weeks. We listened to him; we heard him; we have given the matter consideration. We are saying seven weeks. Of course, noble Lords opposite are upping the ante to eight weeks. How long does this dutch auction in reverse go on for?
I should also say that we intend to publish the White Paper for Wales tomorrow--Tuesday, 22nd July--and to hold the referendum on 18th September. That will give eight weeks between publication and the referendum. Your Lordships will also note that what I said confirms the Government's intention to seek to overturn in another place the amendment passed in this House requiring the referendums to be held on the same day.
We have had a lot of huff and puff, a lot of bluster about the way the Government announced their intention. We have been accused of pre-empting the decision of Parliament--something that Mr. Howard never did. I must have been listening to a completely different radio programme. Let us go back and see what words have been used to date. The authoritative words on the issue are contained in the Answer given by the Government to the Question of my noble friend Lord Merlyn-Rees. He asked Her Majesty's Government, on 17th July, when they expected to announce the date of the referendum to establish a Welsh assembly. My noble friend Lord Williams of Mostyn replied. The accusation is pre-empting; that is what we are accused of. My noble friend said:
The words "subject to" are used so many times in that sentence that it is preposterous to say that we are pre-empting the decision of this House or the other place. We are not. We are going forward quite properly.
The point was made by the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, that never could she remember an election being held in August or September. I hesitate to raise the historic point, but if my memory serves me correctly the 1945 election was held in July. In Scotland that was a much greater holiday month, and it still is. The 1945 election was a decisive victory; the referendum will be a decisive victory.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, it seems that I am not alone in making a Second Reading speech. The noble Lord, Lord Sewel, was making a good job of one towards the end. I am grateful to all noble Lords
I was delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Harris, graced us with a Second Reading speech. He suggested we get on with it. I suggest to him that for the rest of the afternoon he goes to the Library and studies some of the Committee and Report stages of Bills that I debated from the Dispatch Box and asks himself the question whether Members then sitting on this side of the Chamber were getting on with it. Were they introducing new material? I suggest that he studies in particular the contributions of his noble friend Lord Russell who was a frequent participator in my debates. I always attempted to respond to his questions, whether or not they were germane to the amendment. That is the way your Lordships proceed.
Perhaps we are now seeing new rules as the House has changed position. I hope that the Government do not think that and that they believe it right and well within the rules to raise issues which come up on a day-to-day basis against the amendments that are in front of us. I should have thought that this morning's press reports were perfectly legitimate matters for me to raise. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Harris, thinks otherwise.
I was not, as the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, implied, arguing again the case for two days as against one day. I was simply pointing out--by quoting, for example, Lord Byers, Lady Birk and Lord Shinwell--that when the Conservative government did something similar there was a great deal of indignation from the then Labour Opposition Benches and the Liberal Democrat Benches. I am not entirely sure whether I should call them the "still opposition" Liberal Democrats". Perhaps not.
I was not arguing about one or two days and I do not disagree with the other place's right to reverse our position. I am simply saying that in 1980 the noble Lord's colleagues and the Labour Party made a great deal of fuss about a Conservative government making a statement in the other place that they intended to overturn the amendment. I was referring to that fact and the making of the statement in the other place last week. That is why I drew your Lordships' attention to the events of 1980.
I notice that no noble Lord who has sought to defend the position responded to my references to 1980. That is perhaps because your Lordships realise that the point made then was a legitimate point against government and the point I am making today is also a legitimate point against government.
The noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, mentioned the fact that we have not, by and large, had general elections in August and September, and that is right. It seems to me therefore that it would be better if the referendums were not held in holiday months. I know the noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay, has not lived in Scotland for some years. I can assure her that the position I portrayed is right;
The noble Lord, Lord Parry, smiles. It reminds me of his intervention when he said that in his view the Welsh referendum result prospect is becoming better by the day. Why then, if noble Lords are so confident, have two separate days? But that is the argument we have already resolved.
I am glad about seven weeks. I am sorry to hear that the Government intend to overturn the amendment passed in your Lordships' House that the referendums for Wales and Scotland should be held on the same day. The arguments given, to put it mildly, were weak, indeed, very weak. They deserved to be beaten, and the decision of this House merits being endorsed by the other place. I am not sure that that will happen. The imperative put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, in Committee will be the one that rules; in other words, the only way to get a yes result, if that is possible at all in Wales, is to hold the referendum a week after the one held in Scotland. It will be the price of this little bit of gerrymandering if it does not work like that.
I am delighted that we are having seven and eight weeks. I would prefer the vote not to take place in August; that is a serious problem for all the campaigners. The noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay of Cartvale, will find, in trying to campaign for the yes vote, that many people are away in August and that many of those at home in rural Scotland will be too busy dealing with tourists who take their holidays in August to bother with referendums.
However, we have made some progress in your Lordships' House. We have ensured that the White Paper is published before Third Reading. That was not certain before the Report stage. We also ensured before Report stage that we knew the date of the referendums. With those two small thank yous to the Government, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.