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Lady Saltoun of Abernethy: For a matter of such importance as a referendum on a serious constitutional change, six weeks seems to me to be a very short time for the voters to consider what they are voting on. That is the absolute minimum of time. I would have preferred the people to have had three months. What is all the hurry about? The Government have been elected for five years. When the Prime Minister was Leader of the
Lord Palmer: I too would like to echo the comments of my noble friend Lady Saltoun. One only has to think back and to look at the experience of the last government, who made the crushing mistake with the poll tax by introducing it into Scotland as an experiment, then introducing it into England and Wales and then abandoning the whole thing. I urge the Government most strongly just to reflect on the previous government's mistakes and not rush things.
Lord Hughes: At a general election, it is usual that the election is held three, or not more than four, weeks after the announcement of the dissolution of Parliament. The people of the country have to consider not just one issue, as is the position with this referendum, but a whole variety of things which a government may do.
This year, the previous Prime Minister departed from the normal procedure and we had an election campaign which ran for six weeks. By the end of that time, a great part of the population of the country was bored stiff and most people were not listening to the election broadcasts which then took place. Six weeks for a general election proved to be too long, and I am quite sure it will be too long in relation to this referendum.
Earl Russell: This amendment has a certain plausibility about it. I am sure that, if the Government can, they will do what this amendment asks. It does not therefore follow that it is appropriate to embody it in primary legislation as I learnt all the way through my first parliament and for much of my second.
That is the case made so clearly by the noble Lord, Lord Renton, in his report on the drafting of legislation. The legislator cannot possibly foresee all details. The more detail you put into primary legislation the more repealing legislation will be needed and the more cluttered parliamentary time becomes.
I remember one particular occasion when I moved such an amendment. The noble Lord, Lord Renton, took me to pieces like a clock and told me that it would be most improper to have any such thing in primary legislation. I replied to him that I agreed with him entirely had I ever intended to press the amendment to
Lord Hughes: The noble Lord, Lord Mackay, invited me to answer a question. If there were to be a vote on 4th September and information on 15th August, he would be perfectly correct. But I can see nothing wrong if it is between 4th August and 4th September.
Baroness Carnegy of Lour: This is a very important amendment. I rather agree with the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, that, if anything, six weeks is too short. I do not believe that it is correct to compare this with a general election campaign.
We are now setting up a referendum, the answers to which will not follow party lines. It will be a cross-party issue. There are four options for the way one votes. As my noble friend Lord Mackay said earlier, a number of campaigns will be running which say different things. People must sort out not only what are the proposals but which combination of votes they wish to cast. I do not know yet how I shall vote. I doubt that I shall vote "Yes, yes", but there is the option of "No, no" or "No, yes", which are both valid ways to vote in my view. I am increasingly certain that I want to say "Yes" to the second question. That is a complicated process through which people must go. It will lead to a good deal of dissatisfaction because for half of the time people will be on holiday. In my view, this has nothing whatever to do with an attempt to frustrate the Bill or referendum. If we are to have a referendum it must be fair and clear to people what they are doing. We must be satisfied that the outcome is what the people of Scotland want.
I am sorry that the Government appear to be so determined in this matter. I do not know whether the Front Bench has been instructed not to give way on anything. I said at Second Reading that I thought that with no proper opposition in another place Ministers there would be very interested in the arguments deployed in this House. I hope that that is so. This is one of those matters on which I believe the Government should think again.
Lord Campbell of Croy: As I indicated to the Committee earlier, 19 years ago I was successful in getting the Government to accept that there should be a period of six weeks between the setting of the date for polling day and the statutory instrument that had to pass through both Houses of Parliament. That statutory instrument, which I quoted earlier today, was discussed in your Lordships' House on 5th December. Polling day was on 1st March. Therefore, because the statutory instrument already had the date of 1st March in it one was aware of the date three months beforehand.
I was then leading on the Bill from the Opposition Front Bench, having been Secretary of State for Scotland for four years some time before that. I confess that in these matters I am antediluvian. Then we did not worry about wintry conditions. In the Second Reading debate quite a number of comments were made--I did not interrupt anyone at that time because it was not
Comments were made in particular by the Liberal Democrat Benches about ice and snow. That made no difference to us at all. We take ice and snow as a matter of course in northern Scotland. We were quite happy to have a longer period in order to consider the questions in the then referendum. I was successful in obtaining at least six weeks last time. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhill, is not here, because he was the very co-operative Minister of State at the time who accepted our suggestions. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, will do the same today. Both come from Aberdeen. The noble Lord, Lord Kirkhill, was Lord Provost of Aberdeen when I was Secretary of State. Therefore, I know him very well. At that time the amendment was accepted. We knew that we would have more than six weeks. I must support my noble friend on this amendment.
Lord Mackie of Benshie: I hesitate to contradict the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy. He does not live in an area of ice and snow. He lives in the most favoured part of Scotland where the Gulf Stream comes pouring in. Had he represented Caithness and Sutherland he would have had a very different idea of ice and snow.
Lord Campbell of Croy: I do not live on the west coast of Scotland where the Gulf Stream permits palm trees to grow. I live by the Moray Firth just beyond the Cairngorms which in winter is probably one of the coldest areas of Scotland.
The Earl of Northesk: I infer from comments made by noble Lords opposite that the presumption against my noble friend's amendment is that six weeks of campaigning will be too long. However, as I understand it this amendment seeks a six-month interval between publication and debate of the White Papers in this House and another place and the referendums. The presumption therefore that there will be a six-week campaign is wholly erroneous. The campaign for a yes or no vote need only take three weeks irrespective of what my noble friend's amendment seeks to deliver.
Lord Rees-Mogg: I support the amendment. Amendment No. 29, which will not come up tonight but which is a similar amendment in respect of Wales, has even greater strength than this amendment because the Welsh assembly is less defined in people's minds than the proposal for a Scottish parliament. If the Government were to feel that they could not resist
Lord Williams of Mostyn: The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, said that in his part of Scotland they took ice in their stride. I always thought that they took ice in the whisky, but there we are.
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