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Lord Parry: My Lords, having lived in Wales all my life and never lived anywhere else, I share some of the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley. I think though that he has gone far into the realms of conjecturing about situations that will never arise.

Those of us who took part in the earlier referendum in respect of an assembly for Wales were massively disappointed with the result. But it was nothing like my personal disappointment with the campaign on which it was based, because it was virtually non-existent. On this occasion we have a well organised campaign already springing up in Wales, even for the "No" vote. The campaign is already under way. It will be well co-ordinated and well staffed, and I am certain that the

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result will be a very good turn-out, probably as high as any turn-out in a general election. I see no reason to go into these difficulties. Having been born in south-west Wales, I certainly do not think the noble Lord need be afraid of the citizens to the south.

Lord Hooson: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Stanley, mentioned that the Liberal Democrats did not regard a referendum on this issue as being necessary. He is absolutely right. However, the Government have undertaken to have one. The reason why I very much doubt the value of referendums is that they are usually the sign of a weak government. This is not a weak government; they had a large vote and have a very large majority. Nevertheless, they had a minority of the vote in the country--44 per cent. of the popular vote, I think. Yet throughout our history one has been sufficient for a majority, as the late Lord Wilson said, and I have never known a Conservative to disagree with that.

The truth is that we take the most vital decisions on the result of an election in which often the majority of the people are against the Government. That has never been an impediment to government in this country. But when there is an issue such as this, thresholds are required. Why? There is not a case for it. If people are not inclined to vote because they are indifferent and do not care, why should they be counted as negative votes? That is the effect of the threshold, however it is dressed up.

It seems to me that there is little justification for that argument. Indeed, I believe that referendums altogether, save in quite exceptional circumstances, are a very bad thing. They are bad for democracy. Anyone who knows the history of the Weimar Republic before Hitler came to power knows how that weak government eventually was slaughtered as a result of their own referendums. Hitler, indeed, used them after he came into power to demonstrate that he had popular support.

However, as we are to have a referendum, I should like to add to what the noble Lord, Lord Stanley, said. He does not need to fear domination by South Wales. As a boy I was brought up in North Wales. I remember very few students--I knew one--who went to Cardiff to study at the university. Cardiff was regarded as a coal centre in Wales. From the moment that it became a capital city, to a large extent it meant that Wales was transformed. From all parts of Wales the percentage of students who now go to the university at Cardiff and the number of schoolchildren who visit the folk museum there and so on are increasing all the time. The noble Lord, Lord Stanley, frowns. But no government have spent sufficiently on communications in Wales. There is a capital in the south and it is time that there was a serious attempt to improve the communications.

That apart, we are not living 40 or 50 years ago but in the modern age. The younger generation are much more in favour of local control over local affairs. This will be the first democratically-elected assembly in Wales in history and that means a great deal.

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8 p.m.

Lord Howie of Troon: My Lords, I am sorry to disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, whom I have known for many years. I like referendums. I was vaguely under the impression that the Greek city states were governed by a series of referenda, as they called them in those days. It seemed to work quite well. I know that the electorate was very limited, but that is not the point.

I shall make three points extremely briefly because I do not wish to disturb my noble friends on the Front Bench who do not want to be kept up all night. First, I can give a certain amount of comfort to the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish. The whole of this debate has indicated that he is right to say that there ought to be a general law on referendums. It cannot be achieved in time for this set of referendums but I feel that the Government should put their mind to working out a set of arrangements for referendums in the future, of which I sincerely hope we have a great many. I am happy to say that I agree with the noble Lord on the Opposition Front Bench, although he probably wants fewer than I do.

My other two points are very simple. There has been a great deal of discussion in our general debates about pre-legislative referendums, as though we had never had a referendum before. There was a referendum on the border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic, which had nothing whatever to do with legislation and which had entirely to do with opinion. It seems to me that the referendums now proposed have to do with opinion related to self-government or home rule of some kind, however limited it might be. I leave the matter there.

I have raised my last point before in this House and it was mentioned also by the noble Lord, Lord Hooson; namely, the proportion of votes. There is no way in which an abstentionist should be counted. If he abstains, he has resigned from the competition. He is not in it. He has totally abstained--he is TT, so to speak. He does not count at all. He has taken himself out of the argument and therefore has resigned. Since he has resigned, he can and ought to be forgotten. There is no point in trifling. One can only count those who have voted.

Lord Stanley of Alderley: My Lords, I think that the noble Lord is speaking on behalf of the Scots. I do not feel that he understands the Welsh character.

Lord Howie of Troon: My Lords, I have never heard of a Welsh total abstentionist.

Lord Sewel: My Lords, I shall deal first with Amendments Nos. 11 and 22 tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish. I admit that when I first saw the amendments I had to start thinking about their purpose. I came to the conclusion that it was exactly the purpose explained to us by the noble Lord; that is to say, they are Trojan horses. They are just there to let through the threshold amendment that follows. I should have realised that such a distinguished mathematician as the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, did not

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need to have the counting officer use his own calculator to come up with the figures on turn-out and that it was not some kind of academic treatise for which the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, wanted the data. It was, in fact--let us be generous--a slightly more Machiavellian purpose that he had in mind.

But the amendments highlight one issue: the importance of distinguishing between turn-out and the eligible electorate. Turn-out is generally taken to be those voting as a proportion of those on the electoral register, which is a familiar concept. The eligible electorate is a little different, which, if we pause and reflect for a moment, becomes absolutely clear. On the register there are names of people who have died, people who have not reached voting age by the time the event takes place and some people who are registered twice but only have the right to vote once. Also, in this context and particularly in parts of Scotland, it is important to remember that there are those whose religious beliefs prevent them from voting. So, the eligible electorate is a slightly difficult animal to define. If we use proportions in terms of the eligible electorate, we get into very deep and complicated waters, if deep waters can be complicated.

Amendment No. 35 takes me back to Committee stage and the debate on thresholds, when we heard about the tartan sliding scale of the noble Lord, Lord Mackay. I forget how many arbitrary cut-off points the scale had but there were quite a number. The argument was advanced that it was a sophisticated, fair and reasonable way forward. But it was not fair, reasonable and a way forward that appealed to us; nor would it appeal to the people of Scotland and Wales. Now the noble Lords, Lord Stanley of Alderley and Lord Renton, have produced their own thresholds. The dark ages have dawned again. Rather than making progress in the sophistication of thresholds, there is a very crude approach which states that there has to be a 50 per cent. vote before the measure is passed; and if between 35 per cent. and 50 per cent. of the eligible electorate vote, the matter should be undecided. That is a novel idea in itself. If under 35 per cent. of the eligible electorate--however defined--vote, it falls.

Let us pause for a moment and think what the proposition was that was put before the people in the general election. The manifesto upon which the Government secured their majority; the manifesto that secured an overwhelming majority in both Scotland and Wales, put the simple proposition that the people endorsed as follows:

    "A simple majority of those voting in each referendum will be the majority required".

That is absolutely plain; absolutely straightforward; it is understandable, simple and democratic. That is the way we should proceed. We put our proposals to the people in Scotland and Wales. We invite them to make a judgment. We count the votes. If there is a majority in favour, then the proposition is carried. If there is not a

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majority of those voting in favour, then the proposition is defeated. We are not going to have this matter settled by those who remain on their backsides.

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