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After Clause 3, insert the following new clause--

Free postage for campaigning organisations

(" . The Secretary of State shall defray the costs of postage, subject to Post Office regulations, of any organisations designated by him for the purpose of campaigning for and against the propositions set out in Schedules 1 and 2, subject to a limit of one item per elector, containing matter relating to the referendums, not exceeding 60 grammes in weight.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I hope that we shall not have any textual criticism of this amendment because it is a very close crib from Section 91 of the Representation of the People Act 1983, which states:

    "A candidate at a parliamentary election is, subject to Post Office regulations, entitled to send free of any charge for postage to each elector one postal communication containing matter relating to the election only and not exceeding 2 ounces in weight".

I have changed the "2 ounces", to take account of modern usage, to 60 grammes, which I am assured is the Post Office equivalent of 2 ounces. Otherwise the amendment, as your Lordships will have noticed, follows very closely the wording of the Representation of the People Act.

The reason for the Representation of the People Act 1983 and its predecessors deciding to allow political candidates in an election to send out free mail is simply in order to make sure that people are aware of each candidate's case and the arguments that that candidate wishes to put forward. It is part and parcel of our democratic process. If the Government have decided that that is one of the parts of our democratic process that one day, in the next year or two, they might remove, it would be nice to hear them say so today. I rather hope that all political parties are very much in favour of this service at election time which allows candidates to produce an election address and send it to each elector free of charge. What I am suggesting here is that an organisation designated by the Secretary of State for the purpose of campaigning for and against the proposition set out in the two schedules should be able to have the same facility, if it wishes to use it, as do candidates in an election.

I have tried to get round the problem of the organisations, which the noble Lord, Lord Williams, has put to me, by saying,

    "any organisations designated by [the Secretary of State]".

I am trusting the Secretary of State for Wales, whom I do not know, and the Secretary of State for Scotland, whom I do know, to carry out that task honourably. I am sure that they would do so. It would not be the most difficult task for them to carry out. In Wales, it would certainly be easier because there are only two answers--either a yes or a no. Scotland is more complicated. However, in general terms I think the first question is the dictating question, and it would be

22 Jul 1997 : Column 1351

perfectly easy for the Secretary of State for Scotland to designate a "yes" campaign, which I gather has been set up--I have read a little about it but not a great deal--and a "no" campaign, which I know has also been set up. They could easily be designated by the Secretary of State for the purposes of this new clause to receive exactly the kind of services that are received by a candidate for election. I have said in the amendment "one item per elector". That is probably over-kill. In this day and age I think that one item per household is sufficient. But that is the way we have organised it. We have one item per elector at general elections. I see no reason why we should not do exactly the same at this referendum.

If the Government are to put out at taxpayers' expense a precis of the White Paper, as they have made clear they are going to do, and if in that precis they are to advocate their proposition at public expense--I should be rather surprised if they did not do that--they should give serious consideration to this amendment which allows the two campaigning organisations in Wales and the two campaigning organisations in Scotland to do what candidates are allowed to do at a general election.

The Government cannot complain about unfairness because I conceded by withdrawing my previous amendment that the Government can go ahead with a precis of the White Paper to every household. The "yes" campaign will therefore get a second bite of the cherry. But the "no" campaign will also get a bite. If noble Lords opposite are genuine in wishing this matter to be resolved by the Scottish and Welsh people in a high turn out and wish to know the settled view of the Welsh and Scottish people, I cannot comprehend what argument the Minister will have against this amendment. I very much commend it to your Lordships and to the Government. I beg to move.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I am afraid that I am going to disappoint the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, again and essentially on the same basis as I resisted his previous amendment. The Government have come to the conclusion that they will not provide any public funds to support any campaign organisation for the referendums. The "yes" campaigns in Scotland and Wales will have to be funded in the way that the noble Viscount, Lord St. Davids, indicated.

I agree that the amendment does not have the same technical deficiencies and I think I was careful to put the technical deficiencies in respect of the previous amendment very much as subsidiary to the point of principle at which the Government have arrived. We have come to the conclusion that it is not the occasion to provide public funds to support any campaign organisation, whether "yes" or "no". I realise that that is a disappointment to the noble Lord. I hope he will acquit me of discourtesy if I simply restate the Government's position as there comes a stage where simply repeating the Government's position with variations is not particularly fruitful. I feel a sense of time passing as this is the last occasion on the Report stage when I shall have to respond on behalf of

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Her Majesty's Government to the seduction of the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, with whom it is always a pleasure to cross swords.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, the last part of the Minister's remarks certainly almost dulled my critical analysis of the first part of his remarks. I am grateful to him for what he said. The essence of debate occasionally is that we do go over some of the same issues. We try to look at them from a slightly different point of view, we try to accommodate the objections made at the Committee stage and come back at Report. While, I freely admit, it has been something of a learning curve for me to do it from this Dispatch Box, I am sure that it has equally been something of a learning curve for the Minister and his colleagues to do it from the other side. I suspect that we shall have plenty of practice in the years that lie ahead.

What worries me about what we have just heard is that when we read it in Hansard we will be able quite easily to pop "general election" into "referendum" and read an argument which the Government could easily bring forward in favour of actually abolishing the right contained in Section 91 of the Representation of the People Act 1983. I do not think even the Liberal Democrats would be happy if the Government were proposing that. I believe that all the arguments in favour of candidates having the right to send out a leaflet free of charge are as persuasive for these two referendums as they are for general elections and by-elections.

I am not happy with the answer. I wish to see how many of your Lordships will join me in registering our displeasure that the Government are not prepared to follow in referendums the procedures of Section 91 of the Representation of the People Act 1983. I wish to test the opinion of the House.

6.18 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 29) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 91; Not-Contents, 111.

Division No. 2


Ailsa, M.
Allenby of Megiddo, V.
Anelay of St. Johns, B.
Astor, V.
Astor of Hever, L.
Barber of Tewkesbury, L.
Beloff, L.
Biddulph, L.
Blatch, B.
Brabazon of Tara, L.
Braine of Wheatley, L.
Brentford, V.
Campbell of Alloway, L.
Campbell of Croy, L.
Carlisle, E.
Carnegy of Lour, B.
Carnock, L.
Chesham, L. [Teller.]
Clanwilliam, E.
Clark of Kempston, L.
Craig of Radley, L.
Cranworth, L.
Crickhowell, L.
Dacre of Glanton, L.
Dean of Harptree, L.
Denbigh, E.
Denham, L.
Denton of Wakefield, B.
Dixon-Smith, L.
Downshire, M.
Elliott of Morpeth, L.
Fraser of Carmyllie, L.
Gage, V.
Gisborough, L.
Gray, L.
Grimston of Westbury, L.
Halsbury, E.
Harlech, L.
Harrowby, E.
Hayhoe, L.
Howe, E.
Howell of Guildford, L.
Hylton-Foster, B.
Inchcape, E.
Jenkin of Roding, L.
Jopling, L.
Kintore, E.
Lauderdale, E.
Lawrence, L.
Lindsay, E.
Lindsey and Abingdon, E.
Long, V.
Lucas, L. [Teller.]
Lyell, L.
Mackay of Ardbrecknish, L.
Mar and Kellie, E.
Marlesford, L.
Massereene and Ferrard, V.
Miller of Hendon, B.
Milverton, L.
Monson, L.
Mowbray and Stourton, L.
Nelson, E.
O'Cathain, B.
Palmer, L.
Pearson of Rannoch, L.
Peel, E.
Perth, E.
Pilkington of Oxenford, L.
Reay, L.
Rees, L.
Renfrew of Kaimsthorn, L.
Renton of Mount Harry, L.
Saltoun of Abernethy, Ly.
Seccombe, B.
Shrewsbury, E.
Skelmersdale, L.
Stanley of Alderley, L.
Stewartby, L.
Stodart of Leaston, L.
Swinfen, L.
Taylor of Warwick, L.
Teynham, L.
Thomas of Gwydir, L.
Torphichen, L.
Trumpington, B.
Ullswater, V.
Vivian, L.
Waddington, L.
Wharton, B.
Wise, L.


Addington, L.
Alderdice, L.
Archer of Sandwell, L.
Barnett, L.
Berkeley, L.
Blackstone, B.
Blease, L.
Blyth, L.
Borrie, L.
Brooks of Tremorfa, L.
Bruce of Donington, L.
Calverley, L.
Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L.
Carter, L. [Teller.]
Castle of Blackburn, B.
Chandos, V.
Clinton-Davis, L.
Crook, L.
David, B.
Dean of Beswick, L.
Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde, B.
Desai, L.
Dixon, L.
Donoughue, L.
Dormand of Easington, L.
Eatwell, L.
Evans of Parkside, L.
Ewing of Kirkford, L.
Falconer of Thoroton, L.
Falkender, B.
Falkland, V.
Farrington of Ribbleton, B.
Gallacher, L.
Gilbert, L.
Gladwin of Clee, L.
Glasgow, E.
Glenamara, L.
Gould of Potternewton, B.
Graham of Edmonton, L.
Gregson, L.
Grenfell, L.
Hampton, L.
Hamwee, B.
Hanworth, V.
Hardie, L.
Harris of Greenwich, L.
Haskel, L.
Hayman, B.
Hilton of Eggardon, B.
Hollis of Heigham, B.
Hooson, L.
Howell, L.
Howie of Troon, L.
Hughes, L.
Irvine of Lairg, L. [Lord Chancellor.]
Jay of Paddington, B.
Jeger, B.
Kennet, L.
Kilbracken, L.
Kirkhill, L.
Kirkwood, L.
Lestor of Eccles, B.
Lockwood, B.
Lofthouse of Pontefract, L.
Longford, E.
Lovell-Davis, L.
McIntosh of Haringey, L. [Teller.]
Mackie of Benshie, L.
Mallalieu, B.
Merlyn-Rees, L.
Milner of Leeds, L.
Mishcon, L.
Molloy, L.
Monkswell, L.
Morris of Castle Morris, L.
Murray of Epping Forest, L.
Nathan, L.
Nicol, B.
Ogmore, L.
Paul, L.
Peston, L.
Plant of Highfield, L.
Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.
Prys-Davies, L.
Ramsay of Cartvale, B.
Rea, L.
Richard, L. [Lord Privy Seal.]
Rochester, L.
Rodgers of Quarry Bank, L.
Russell, E.
St. Davids, V.
Sefton of Garston, L.
Serota, B.
Sewel, L.
Shepherd, L.
Simon of Highbury, L.
Smith of Gilmorehill, B.
Strabolgi, L.
Symons of Vernham Dean, B.
Taylor of Gryfe, L.
Thomas of Gresford, L.
Thomas of Walliswood, B.
Thomson of Monifieth, L.
Thurso, V.
Tordoff, L.
Turner of Camden, B.
Varley, L.
Wedderburn of Charlton, L.
Whitty, L.
Williams of Mostyn, L.
Winston, L.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

22 Jul 1997 : Column 1354

6.16 p.m.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish moved Amendment No. 30:

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