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Lord Thomas of Gresford: Speaking from these Benches and devoted to devolution as we are, we are of the mind that the purpose of the referendum was to hold the Labour Party together in the run-up to the last election.
However, there is a distinction between this advisory referendum and the referendums which were held in 1979 under the Wales and Scotland Acts. Members of the Committee will recall that the amendment to introduce a threshold to those pieces of legislation was introduced not as a matter of principle by the Labour Government of that day; it was forced upon them. It was put into the legislation and provided that devolution in Scotland and Wales could not happen post the legislative process unless it was confirmed by the referendums that were carried out at that time. That compromise resulted in the most unhappy situation where a majority of people in Scotland--that is, 50.6 per cent.--voted for Scottish devolution; but that amounted to only 32.6 per cent. of the entire Scottish electorate.
We must avoid such a situation occurring again, not just in Scotland but also in Wales. The two referendums have been put forward for pre-legislative consideration by the people to give legitimacy to the discussions that we are having but not, at the end of the day, in any way to take away from the Government's mandate to introduce a parliament for Wales and a parliament for Scotland.
Lord Hughes: Many figures have been quoted in this debate. The noble Lord, Lord Mackay, pointed out that at the last referendum 64 per cent. of the people voted. As has just been pointed out, it was a very bare majority; indeed, less than 51 per cent. in favour and slightly more than 49 per cent. against. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, said, if his formula had been adopted it would have been carried at the time. However, it was not carried because Mr. Cunningham inserted the amendment and persuaded Parliament to accept it. In other words, it had to achieve 40 per cent. of the electorate, not 40 per cent. of the people voting, but 40 per cent. of the electorate. We have already heard what that meant in real figures.
Argument has been based on the possibility of a low turn-out. The noble Earl, Lord Onslow, and my noble friend sitting behind me spoke of the position if only 30 per cent. of the electorate turned out. The noble Lord, Lord Rees, went much further. He talked about the position if only 10 per cent. of the electorate voted. An organisation to campaign vigorously for a "no" vote has just been established in Scotland. It has been set up under the chairmanship of a distinguished Scottish Queen's Counsel, Mr. Findlay. Moreover, its principal organiser is the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish.
Lord Hughes: I stand corrected. However, the fact is that a distinguished Member of the Opposition Front Bench is taking an active part in working for the "no" campaign. As I was about to say, do they or anyone else taking part in that campaign believe for one moment that a 30 per cent. or a 10 per cent. turnout is a possibility? I would suggest that it is much more likely to be between 60 per cent. and 70 per cent. The last one fell as stated because 40 per cent. of the electorate was required.
The noble Lord, Lord Renton, wants to go yet further. He referred to 50 per cent. of the electorate. In a 70 per cent. poll, 70 per cent. of the people voting would have to be in favour. Under no circumstances would that figure have ever been accomplished in the table put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish. I come back to what we all hope will take place; namely, that the campaign of those we are voting "yes" and the campaign of those voting "no" will result in a big turnout. It is almost certain that there will be a substantial majority of that 70 per cent. But that is guesswork at this stage. Nevertheless, that is likely to be the position. On that basis a simple majority is the obvious solution.
Lord Beloff: The noble Lord, Lord Thomas, surprised me once again by the depth and inconsequence of his historical allusions. He referred to the fact that the Liberal Government claimed a mandate as the result of winning two successive general elections on their pledge for House of Lords' reform. I believe that many noble Lords would be perfectly content if the Government said, "We are going to the country again. There will be another general election and, after that, we will feel that we have a mandate". They seem disinclined to follow the noble Lord's advice. But I have a much simpler suggestion. I always like to come to the rescue of Her Majesty's Ministers. My suggestion is based on the practice of a number of countries recognised as democratic in their institutions; namely, that for this purpose there should be compulsory voting in both Scotland and Wales. Compulsory voting exists in Australia, Belgium and other countries. We would not need to talk about thresholds if there was compulsory voting. If there were fines for non-voters--as I believe is the case in countries which have compulsory voting--I dare say the problem of distance would be overcome. There would be no need to talk about thresholds and we could see what the result was.
Lord Sewel: Finally we have it. Ever since Second Reading we have been waiting expectantly for the noble Lord's sliding scale--Mackay's tartan threshold. The former principal teacher of mathematics at Oban High School, the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, has laboured long and hard to produce his sliding scale. At the end of the day, however, his report must state, "Could have done better, could have done a lot better--perhaps should not have tried at all".
Now that we have seen it in all its full glory--even its algebraic formula--we are more convinced than ever that rigged ballots and fancy franchises are not acceptable. Indeed, they do not get much fancier than this one. However, the whole idea of a threshold misses the basic point. The referendums we shall be holding will seek the electorate's views on the Government's proposals. We have made clear from the beginning that the referendums will be advisory and are intended to establish the level of support for our proposed settlement. We are committed to abiding by the views of the people of Scotland and Wales. Parliament, of course, will be free to take its own view on the significance of the referendum results.
At Second Reading and throughout much of our deliberations in Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, has quoted approvingly and at length from the Commission on the Conduct of Referendums. However, as regards the matter we are discussing he has quoted somewhat selectively. Paragraph 94 of the report states,
The manifesto on which the Government were elected made it clear that the only threshold in the referendums would be the requirement for a simple majority to vote in favour of our proposals. We shall have nothing to do
We have had discussions today about high principles and about mathematics and statistics. As regards those who have spoken in favour of thresholds and those who have expressed opposition to the concept of devolution, there is a high R 2 value; in other words, there is a remarkably high correlation between those who want a threshold and those who are opposed to devolution.
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