HL Deb 01 July 1997 vol 581 cc171-92

House again in Committee on Clause 1.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish moved Amendment No. 5: Page 1, line 6, after ("and") insert ("income").

The noble Lord said: As a result of the amendment and the others grouped with it, the question will be related to the income tax-varying powers of a Scottish parliament. I shall be reasonably brief, but the history is interesting.

The final document of the Constitutional Convention was clear on the agreed position between the parties to that convention. I quote from the paragraphs headed, "Secure and stable finances". The document states: and upon the limited power of the parliament to vary the basic rate of income tax".— As regards the variation of income tax, it states: The Scottish parliament will have the power to increase or cut the basic rate of income tax for Scottish taxpayers by a maximum of 3p. in the pound. This will give it a greater degree of independence". I am not entirely sure about that argument, but five lines further up the document states: Scotland will no longer be directed by Scottish Office Ministers who lack popular support". I wonder how that applies, to the current incumbents of the Scottish Office. I would have thought that they had reasonable popular support. But, there you are, the powers that be obviously never thought for a minute that the party opposite would regain power. I thought that myself for a while, but you live and learn.

The basic point is that the Constitutional Convention was perfectly clear: increase or cut the basic rate of income tax for Scottish taxpayers. The Labour Party's manifesto, which about four weeks ago I was advised to keep beside my bed in order to know all the answers to all the questions, varied from that. It stated: In the Scottish referendum we will seek separate endorsement of the proposal to create a parliament, and of the proposal to give it defined and limited financial power to vary revenue". There is a bit of a difference between the position in the document of the Constitutional Convention, which was to vary the basic rate of income tax, and the manifesto of the party opposite, which was simply to vary revenue.

I do not know whether there is any significance in that. No doubt the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, will tell me whether or not there is. The noble Lord, Lord Ewing of Kirkford, in his intervention in a previous debate said that he was clear in his mind that if the Scottish parliament attempted to vary any tax other than income tax—I am not sure about that and may return to the question in a moment—that would be outside its powers. It would not be able to do it. If I heard the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, correctly, he made it clear that this proposal was solely about income tax. I see that he agrees with my memory about what he said. The proposal is solely about income tax.

Although this amendment may not he the proper place to explore it, there is a problem concerning the basic rate of income tax. There is a huge difference between varying the basic rate of income tax by plus or minus 3p and varying the 20p or the 40p rates of income tax. I wonder whether one of the problems attendant upon this issue, which I referred to earlier, as reported in The Scotsman by Mr. Peter MacMahon, is that the Treasury may be saying that they might not always have a basic rate of income tax. Given modern technology I have little doubt that it would be possible to have rates of income tax of 10p, 20p, 30p and 40p, let us say. Perhaps the Labour Party will go higher than that but I think they said in their manifesto that they would not. Therefore none of these rates would he defined, as we currently define the 23p rate, as the basic rate of income tax. I do not ask the question with any great expectation of an answer, but it would be interesting if the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, when he answers, would deal with this point. Perhaps, in the interests of open government, he will tell us whether or not this is a bit of a problem.

If you define powers relative to the basic rate of income tax, it becomes rather difficult if at some stage in the future the basic rate of income tax ceases to have any meaning because the rates have been changed. Also, if it is based on the basic rate of income tax it is pretty regressive, because only a small portion of the Scottish electorate will be taxed. Obviously all taxpayers will pay 23 per cent. or above, but the tax will fall most heavily on those who only pay 23 per cent. Those who pay 40 per cent. will not have 3p added to their tax. Therefore, I should like to have confirmation as to the basic rate.

Turning to the purpose of my amendment, during the last debate in answer to the remarks of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, the Government Benches, both Front and Back, said that they were in no doubt that the tax was to be income tax and anybody who suspected that VAT or excise duty would be varied, or perhaps a property tax could be added to the existing council tax, or any other variation, was quite simply wrong and indulging in scare tactics. I would never do that, but I wonder why, if it is as clear cut as I am being told, the matter is not being put clearly.

I cannot believe that my amendment is not perfect so far as the parliamentary draftsmen are concerned. Even I could not get the drafting of an amendment of this degree of simplicity wrong, and so I hope that the noble Lord might remember what he said earlier in the debate and do what he has assured the Committee is the Government's intention: that is, only to have variation on income tax. I see no difficulty at all in the noble Lord accepting my amendment. It would certainly be the most amazingly pleasurable start to my brief time in opposition if I were to have an amendment accepted by the Government at this early stage. I beg to move.

The Earl of Balfour

My concern about income tax is that it is a tax based upon where you are employed, as against, say, council tax, which has to do with one's home. I am not an expert on taxes, and in fact I employ an accountant to look after my tax affairs and have never attempted to do that myself. For example, I was for a while employed by an English company and my tax returns went to the office close to Bishop Auckland in County Durham. What concerns me to some extent is that, if we are talking about income tax, I would have thought it would be fairly easy for many companies to move their registered office to England and perhaps avoid paying some of the tax. Equally, if a person is domiciled in England but working for a Scottish company whose registered office is in Scotland, are they not likely to pay Scottish income tax rather than English income tax? That is one of my concerns. I quite realise there is going to be an income tax.

Also there is the question of corporation tax. Does that come into the calculation? As I understand it, the basic rate of income tax is 23 per cent. whereas corporation tax is about 40 per cent. These are the sorts of problems which concern me as a Scot domiciled in Scotland. I may be wrong, but I have always felt that your tax was based on your place of employment and not necessarily on where you live. That is one of the things that worries me about the tax-varying powers, particularly in connection with income tax.

Lord Sewel

I do not intend to repeat the points I made in reply to the debate on the earlier amendment, but perhaps I could take up a couple of the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, and the noble Earl, Lord Balfour. Let me make it absolutely clear that we will obviously be producing our details on taxation in the White Paper. The noble Lord, Lord Mackay, makes the point that we may move in time from the concept of a basic rate. I accept that is possible: the concept may actually evolve and disappear. That is why we are taking time to make sure that the White Paper is sufficiently detailed to cover this sort of point and that is why I am not being as detailed and explicit as in some cases the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, wishes me to be at this time. These are matters which need a degree of thought and precision built into them.

As to whether the tax will be raised on the place of work or the place of residence, I have to say that all the thinking is in terms of place of residence. Where you live will actually determine whether you are liable to the additional power of the Parliament. These amendments, like those we discussed earlier, are intended to clarify the nature of the tax-varying powers of the Scottish parliament upon which the electorate will be invited to vote in the referendum. The purpose is to change the reference from tax-varying powers to refer specifically to income tax.

During the Second Reading debate my noble friend Lord Williams of Mostyn assured the noble Earl, Lord Lindsay, that the only tax-varying power that the Government have in mind for a Scottish parliament relates to income tax and that it would be confined to 3p in the pound. That is the point I tried to make clear in my reply to the earlier debate. The noble Lord, Lord Mackay, and also the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, proposed that this should be reflected in the Bill. While I fully understand and appreciate the intention behind these amendments, I do not believe they are necessary. Like the group of amendments that we considered earlier, they fundamentally misunderstand the process whereby our proposals for tax-varying powers will be enacted.

As I have already explained, the proposition to be put to the people in Scotland in the referendum is one of principle and principle alone: should a Scottish parliament have tax-varying powers? In responding to that proposition, I should stress that voters will have the benefit of the White Paper which will set out our proposals fully and clearly, including our detailed proposals on how the tax-varying powers may operate. I believe that that covers the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Mackay.

As I said earlier, the combination of the clear statement of principle in the propositions in the ballot paper, together with a clear reference in the preamble to the Government's proposals (also detailed on the ballot paper) and the details of our proposals as set out in the White Paper is, in our view, a fair and sensible way to proceed.

I return to the point that I made earlier. It is not the detail upon which the people will be voting; it is the principle. Assuming a positive outcome to the referendum—and I do not have the slightest doubt about that—the details of how such a power will operate will be contained in the main devolution legislation. Therefore, there is no possibility of a Scottish parliament somehow abrogating to itself additional powers to tax. Indeed, that will be defined and limited in the Bill which sets up the Scottish parliament. That legislation will be subject to full scrutiny both in this Chamber and another place. The noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, indicated that his amendment was a relatively small one. However, on this occasion I have to tell him that, although it may be small, it is not quite perfectly formed.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy

The Minister says that the detail is to be spelt out in the White Paper—namely, that such tax-raising or lowering power applies only to income tax. I am sorry, but we have not yet seen the White Paper and indeed we do not know when we shall see it. If my assumption is true, what is the objection to spelling it out in the question in the referendum?

Lord Sewel

I believe I dealt with this point on a number of occasions during the course of today's debate. The Government are approaching the whole issue by putting before the people of Scotland in the referendum points of principle. The point of principle is the power to vary tax; the point of detail, which will be covered in the White Paper and upon which I have given assurances on several occasions this evening, and indeed previously, will relate only to income tax. Our objection to going beyond principle is that once you get into detail you cannot actually stop. As I said, you go through the process of identifying that it is income tax, the fact that it is 3p income tax, the fact that it is related to where a person lives—the point made by the noble Earl opposite—and you go into more and more detail and finish up with a question which runs into paragraphs. That is the problem. Similarly, if you applied the same approach on the question of powers, it would not run into paragraphs; indeed, it would run into pages. Therefore we have deliberately adopted the approach of identifying and focusing on principle, backing that up through reference in the White Paper.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy

Surely that is the problem with having a referendum on a White Paper before you have legislation. If you had a referendum after the legislation on what was actually in the Bill and had been through Parliament, there would not be such a problem.

Lord Sewel

As I said before, the purpose of the referendum is to demonstrate the degree of support which exists in Scotland and Wales for the Government's proposals. That is the purpose.

Lord Simon of Glaisdale

I am increasingly confused. As the Minister repeatedly says that it is all so simple, the fault is obviously my own. I believe that the amendment expresses precisely what the Government propose to do. Both the Minister and the noble Lord, Lord Williams, have said exactly that. However, all the Minister can say now is that it is a point of principle. Why is it a point of principle to ask the Scottish people the misleading question, "Do you agree to tax-varying powers", but not a point of principle to ask them, "Do you agree to varying a power to vary income tax"? I cannot see why one is a point of principle and not the other.

As I am on my feet, perhaps I may ask the Minister to clear up a matter where, again, I have been left confused. I refer to the previous debate. What would be the financial effect on Scotland of reducing taxation? The noble Lord said that if you reduced taxation by, say, 3p on the basic rate, that would cost £450 million. Therefore, there will be that amount less to spend on the services. However, the noble Lord, Lord Haskel, went further and said, as I understand it, that the Barnett formula, which I think we ought to call the Barnett-Rees formula, the block grant, would be reduced by an equivalent amount which seems to me to amount to £900,000. I apologise if I have misunderstood and I shall gladly give way.

However, the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, said that we may later want to move from the basic rate, but there is nothing in the amendment about the basic rate; it is merely about income tax. If the real answer is, "We don't intend to accept any amendments because we don't want the Bill to go back to the other place", it would be better if the noble Lord would say so. We could then save our breath to cool our porridge. I hope that that idiom will appeal to the noble Lord.

Lord Sewel

The Government will look upon all amendments. If, in our view, certain amendments add to and improve the Bill, we will accept them and then, by definition, they will have to return to the other place for consideration. There is no attempt to confine consideration in this Chamber to prevent amendments being moved and accepted; indeed, that would be most improper. If they are amendments which improve the Bill, they will have our support in this Chamber and they will automatically go to the other place.

I deeply regret that I have so far failed to satisfy the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale. I have tried to satisfy him. He made two points, of which one escapes me. However, he asked what would happen if the Scottish parliament reduces taxation. I tried to spell that out in the debate on the previous amendment. If the parliament decreases the tax, clearly the Inland Revenue's tax take will be reduced, and, to reflect this, the overall level of resources passed to the Scottish parliament through the block and formula approach will have to be reduced by a similar amount. I hope that that deals with the issue.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

This has been an interesting short debate. However, I did not think it would be as long as it has been. The noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, put her finger on the matter when she said that if we had had the referendum after the Bill had been enacted we would not be having this trouble with these questions. I hope that the Government are not blaming anyone for having to go into these details, because this is a hole of their own making. They did not need to go down this road.

It seems to me that the principal question is the first one. I should have thought one could argue that the second question is a detail. It is just as much a detail as the matter of how the block grant will be arranged, or the matter of the voting arrangements for the parliament. The Government have got themselves into this trouble because they have asked this second question. I am sorry that the Minister has to defend the pretty indefensible, but that is the simple fact of the matter.

Having started to ask the question, we are entitled—as are the Scottish people—to ask for absolute clarity. If the noble Lord is telling me—as he is again—that this measure will concern only income tax, I fail to understand why that cannot be included in the question. It does not add too many words—just one word—it does not make it more complicated; it simply makes it clearer. I am not satisfied with the Minister's reply. He could have accepted this amendment and it would have helped to clarify the situation. However, I shall read what we said in this debate and what we said in the debate before supper. I may return to this issue at Report. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Earl of Perth moved Amendment No. 6: Page 1, line 6, leave out ("tax-varying powers") and insert ("power to raise or lower taxes").

The noble Earl said: At last I come to my amendment, which is grouped with that of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon. I fully understand why the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, said that it was important to break for supper rather than discuss this amendment at an earlier point.

I move my amendment despite the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, dealt with it generally when dealing with the amendment of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon. He made it clear that he felt the issue to be one of principle. I understand that the Scottish parliament should have revenue raising powers. But, if that is so, I wonder why we do not make that clearer. I do not like the words "tax-varying powers". The noble Lord also said that in practice the only thing that would occur would be a 3 per cent. variation in income tax. If that is firmly the view of the Government, why do they not say so?

Given that there must be flexibility on all these matters, I should have hoped that the Government would consider my amendment which instead of using the words "tax-varying powers"—which I think can mean all things to all men—would make it quite clear that what is proposed is to have powers to raise or lower taxes. Having listened to this debate I have come to the conclusion that to ask the Government to accept the words "or lower taxes" is perhaps wrong. My reason for saying that is that I have heard that, if the parliament lowers taxes, all that will happen is that the block grant will be reduced by the same amount. We are being asked, "Do you agree to raise taxes?" because lowering them means nothing.

My second point arises from what I have heard in this debate and outside the Chamber. Are we wise to have the second question at this time? In its first life, the Parliament at Westminster will have many issues to debate which will take up all its time. Would it not be better to defer the question of the principle on tax-raising powers to a later stage, to a second Parliament? There is nothing to stop the Government at that time, if they wish and are still in power, to have a second referendum directed to this all-important point of principle: is the Scottish parliament in principle to have revenue-raising powers? I beg to move.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy

As my name is to the amendment, perhaps I may say that, although I strongly agree with the objectives of my noble friend Lord Perth, I should prefer the amendment to refer to the power to raise income tax. My noble friend's point about lowering tax is valid. Therefore I shall not comment on it. But the fact that it is income tax which is involved should be spelt out.

9.15 p.m.

Lord Sewel

I am at some loss. I have to say with the utmost respect to the noble Earl, Lord Perth, and the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, that I believe I have covered these points in some detail and may be in danger of losing the attention of the Committee if I seek to rehearse the arguments yet again.

The Earl of Perth

I shall not divide the Chamber on the issue at this rather late hour. It is true that it has been covered. However, I hope that all Members of the Committee will read Hansard and note what is in my opinion an unsatisfactory answer to my amendment. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Dixon-Smith moved Amendment No. 7: Page 1, line 7, leave out ("Parliament") and insert ("Assembly").

The noble Lord said: The Committee will be pleased to know that the amendments in the group are identical. They are simple and brief. Their significance is in inverse proportion to their length.

The issue is this. What are we being invited to bring into being? Perhaps I may revert to the words of the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, who I see is once again in his seat. The issue is germane to the Bill. What we are discussing are the words on the face of the ballot paper, which I submit are misleading. The reason for the large group of amendments is simple. In order to have consistency throughout the Bill we need to make the amendment in a series of different places.

The argument for this amendment has already been put forward on a number of occasions. The noble Lord, Lord Rees-Mogg, made it earlier in the debate on the amendment moved by the noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie. The noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, made similar points, as have other Members of the Committee. What will be the body that it is suggested that we bring into being? Is it actually a parliament?

I was brought up to be a simple, straightforward countryman. I suspect that my view of Parliament is that held by many people across the length and breadth of this land. In saying that, I do not refer just to England but to Scotland, Wales and that part of Ireland which is appropriate; and it may even be that the Irish in the rest of Ireland hold a similar view. The English Parliament is rather special and rather particular. It is known as the Mother of Parliaments. It has been the basis on which democracy has been spread across the face of the globe in the past 50 years. Where democracy works successfully, it is where it closely parallels the organisation that we have in this country. The first thing we have is a bicameral organisation. I shall not get into a debate as to which House within the bicameral organisation is supreme and which superior. I think we know the answer: one is superior and the other supreme.

Having said that, Parliament works because it is democratic. It works because the electors, the elected representatives who are their servants and their elected representatives choose a government. I know that we have a party system which corrupts that, but it is what is supposed to happen. The Government are the servant of Parliament, the servant of the whole of Parliament, not exclusively of the elected representatives. Still less is the relationship the other way round, which has increasingly been the trend of modern times and which is regrettable. That is what I and the majority of people understand to be a parliament. But it is not what we are bringing into being. Whatever else it may be, it is not that. It is also the international perception of the best way of constructing a parliament. For that reason, I do not like the wording that we have.

Of course, it could be argued that there is a difference between what is happening in Scotland and what is happening in Wales. It could be argued that the Scottish assembly—I would prefer that word, as my amendment suggests—will have legislative powers. I have had a lot to do with local government which can bring in by-laws; so local government—if that is a definition—is, in a sense, a parliamentary form, but it does not bear the word "parliament" and it works extremely well without it.

Exactly the same point could be made with regard to tax-raising powers. Local government used to have far greater tax-raising powers, only constrained by the capping regime. If there is any local authority left in this country which is not constrained by the capping regime, such authorities have greater freedom of power over taxation than it is suggested the new body for Scotland will have.

So I seriously suggest that to put on the face of the ballot paper that a Scottish parliament is being created is misleading. I hope that the Government will consider the amendment seriously. I am quite happy to relieve the Minister of one burden in his reply by saying that at this stage the amendment is a probing amendment. I look forward to hearing what is said this evening on the subject. When I have read it all and considered the matter further, it is only fair to say that I may wish to bring it back. But at the moment it is a probing amendment.

Lord Hughes

Before the noble Lord concludes, more than once he referred to the "English Parliament" instead of the "UK Parliament". Part of the trouble in Scotland is that too many people consider that the UK Parliament acts as if it were an English Parliament.

Lord Dixon-Smith

I stand corrected and regret my error. Of course I meant to refer to the United Kingdom Parliament. If I inadvertently gave the wrong impression, I am happy to withdraw the phrase and put the correct one in place. I beg to move.

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale

I do not find myself in agreement with the amendments. I was slightly puzzled by something that was said in the introduction to the amendments. I may be mistaken but I understood the noble Lord to say that a bicameral situation was essential for a democratic parliament. I know many countries all over northern Europe where there are perfectly good democratic parliaments. None has a bicameral parliament. I am thinking of all the Nordic countries, none of which has a bicameral arrangement. So I do not think that that is an essential element for a democratic parliament. Let us get that out of the way, to start with.

As regards substituting the word "assembly" for "parliament", I shall be brief because it is late. There are two powerful reasons for the proposal. The kind of powers we plan to give to the Scottish parliament make it absolutely appropriate that we use the word "parliament" and not "assembly". It is important to do so for the Scottish structure, in order to differentiate it from the Welsh assembly which, as the noble Lord pointed out, has quite different powers. So it is very different. They are two different words for two quite different structures. That is the first point.

The second point is that it is quite important to get everybody's mind—including the minds of noble Lords in this Chamber and those in another place as well as the minds of the people in Scotland and Wales—off 1979. It was a Scottish assembly then. This is a very different animal that is proposed and it deserves a different name. I see nothing wrong with this body being called a Scottish parliament and I see everything wrong with it being called a Scottish assembly.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

The noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, need not be ashamed of referring to the "English" Parliament. Nearly all the English do it. It is a little weakness that they have. They cannot help it. I do not object to it. They are entitled to their little delusions. But it does raise the hackles of a number of Scots and it is unfortunate. It gives rise to much of the separatism in the Scottish National Party. So I have long been for a Scottish parliament. I have always wanted it to be a Scottish parliament; "assembly" does not sound right.

Indeed, for years the Stormont Parliament, which was technically very efficient, was called a parliament. There is a precedent. I do not believe that the name raises any trouble. I am surprised that a man of the noble Lord's perception should not see that it is only right and proper that we should have a Scottish parliament and a Welsh assembly, if they will accept it.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

I missed the first minute of my noble friend's speech, for which I apologise to the Committee. This is quite an important matter. People in Scotland have been expecting this body to be called the Scots parliament through the whole story of the Scottish Constitutional Convention. It is the name that they are expecting. What they do not yet understand and must understand before they vote is the relationship of the Scots parliament to the United Kingdom Parliament. That will be very important indeed; otherwise, there will be great disillusionment later on.

That relationship was very well expressed, as my noble friend said, by the noble Lord, Lord Rees-Mogg. I hope that we shall see that in black and white in some of the public print before too long. It will help everybody to understand that relationship. So long as we have that, I personally do not think that the name matters.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy

The noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, is quite right about this matter. The problem with the word "assembly" is "What does it actually mean?". I think that it means a gathering. It does not have any connotations of a legislative body so far as I know. Historically, it has connotations of social gatherings—the kind of gatherings that took place in the Assembly Rooms in Edinburgh and in various other towns and cities throughout the United Kingdom in the 18th and 19th centuries. So, we must be careful about this matter.

At the same time, I have reservations about "parliament". After all, "parliament", unless it is a sovereign parliament, seems a bit misleading too. I am in rather a difficulty here.

Earl Russell

The social context to which the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, alludes is not quite the right one. In Scottish history the word "assembly" normally means the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. Applying it to the body we now propose is about as appropriate as calling the body wherein we are now sitting a senate.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy

I take the point. But there are other connotations as well, if the noble Earl will forgive me.

Lord Hughes

On a more trivial point, the word "assembly" occurs in many parts of Scotland in towns and cities. There are places called "assembly rooms" and that has nothing to do with parliament.

The Earl of Perth

My memory may be wrong, but when in 1979 we held a referendum on devolution, it was in relation to an assembly and to a parliament. There is a lot of merit in it. The Church of Scotland assembly has, in relation to its duties, legislative powers. I would have hoped that we would apply the same distinction, using the word "assembly" rather than "parliament" which will be confused in many people's minds with the British Parliament.

Lord Kennet

I cannot forbear from pointing out that the word "assembly" is the one used by the French equivalent of the House of Commons. The lower House of their parliament is the National Assembly.

Lord Belhaven and Stenton

Perhaps I can cap that. Before the war it was called the Chamber of Deputies. Does it matter what we call it? We know what it is.

Lord Sewel

First, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, for the positive and genuinely constructive and conciliatory way in which he moved his amendment. I also hope that, perhaps having heard from a number of Members throughout the Chamber, he will reflect that the term "assembly" may not be the most appropriate term to apply to the body we have in mind.

Basically, the argument is simply that we will be setting up a legislature. By definition it will have law-making powers. We also intend for it to have—I must be extremely careful in this regard—tax-varying powers as well. When we put the two together we get something which justifies the description of a "parliament". We cannot say that the law-making powers of local government to enact by-laws come close to the legislative competence of the Scottish parliament which will be able to legislate across a wide range of subjects. It is not a runner to make that sort of comparison.

In this context it is important to look back to the Scottish assembly proposals in 1979. Our new proposals differ significantly from the proposals that were made at that time and we should rightly seek to differentiate that model of the Scottish assembly from what we now see as a Scottish parliament. It will have much greater powers across a broader range of subjects and take on the tax-varying power as well.

It is also appropriate to look across to the proposals for Wales where there is not a law-making function. That is why the term "assembly" is used there and the term "parliament" used for the Scottish proposals. It is wrong to force a common template—a common nomenclature—on these bodies. We must identify what is the most appropriate way of differentiating and describing the various bodies that we propose to set up. The idea of a Welsh assembly is a good one. The idea of a Scottish parliament is equally sound and I hope that, having heard the debate, the noble Lord will withdraw the amendment.

The Earl of Perth

Before the noble Lord sits down, can he say what will happen if the Scottish people vote yes to the first question and no to the second? That will leave the whole issue of assembly versus parliament in the melting pot.

Lord Sewel

That is the real hypothetical question. I think I am just about wise enough to know not to answer hypothetical questions. Perhaps I may say that I do not for one moment anticipate the Scottish people voting anything other than "yes, yes".

Lord Dixon-Smith

I am not really surprised at the response I have received. Perhaps I may use one old saying: "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet", or so I am told. The difficulty in this situation is that, as so many speakers have already said this evening, we do not know whether we are looking at a rose or at something else. We do not have the substantive legislation that is required for us to have that knowledge. I am quite happy at this stage to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish moved Amendment No. 8: Page 1, line 7, at end insert ("as set out in a White Paper to be published and debated by each House of Parliament not less than six weeks before such a referendum").

The noble Lord said: This amendment once again addresses the question of the White Paper, on which the Government have rested much of their case against the amendments we have bought forward today—largely, "Wait until you receive the White Paper, all will be revealed and then there will be no problem, and the people of Scotland and Wales will be able to vote in the knowledge that all the i's have been dotted and the t's crossed". If all the i's had been dotted and the t's crossed I would have preferred to see a Bill, even a draft Bill, but I suppose the best we shall get is a White Paper.

Earlier today we discussed the question of fixing the date of 2nd October. Then I discovered—and entirely understood why we could not have that—that the date was in the middle of the Labour Party conference. However, approaching the matter from a slightly different direction, I think it is important that we say something about the distance there ought to be between the production of the White Paper, and more particularly the debate on the White Paper in both Houses, and the referendum itself.

I have no less an authority than the noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay of Cartvale, who, in the Second Reading debate, speaking, I suppose, for the Government from the Back Benches, said that the White Papers, with their detailed proposals, would be published before the House rose for the Summer Recess and that there would be plenty of time for us to have debates. I am delighted to hear that. In fact, the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, has said the same.

It is one thing for us to have debate but I think there has to be debate in Scotland. I know I shall be told that there has been debate for 18 years. I beg to differ on that. There has been debate in certain newspapers and among certain groups but I have never found this to be "the" topic of conversation in the hostelries, restaurants and other meeting places of the public. It certainly is not the topic of conversation one meets on the Ibrox stands on a Saturday. I do not actually think the Scottish public spend most of their waking hours discussing whether or not they will have a Scottish parliament.

Lord Sewel

Does the noble Lord agree that one sign of the active debate that has occurred in Scotland over the past 20 years is the fact that so many of his friends have changed their minds?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

I am not sure to which of my friends from 1979 the noble Lord is referring. But I can think of one or two. I did not want to get into this but I have to say that I spent many happy evenings on the referendum campaign with a certain Mr. Brian Wilson. We were not debating against each other; we were actually on the same side—very clearly on the same side. The noble Lord comes from Aberdeen. I may be wrong but I think I am right in saying that the then Member for Aberdeen, North was not exactly too keen on the devolution proposal in 1979. The noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay of Cartvale, told me that I must not revisit 1979. I hope she will not blame me for being tempted to do so by the noble Lord, Lord Sewel.

In this debate I shall refer to the Commission on the Conduct of Referendums, which I mentioned earlier. I quote from paragraph 85 of its report: The difficulty with a pre-legislative referendum is that important aspects of the issue put to the electorate might be changed during the passage of the Bill through Parliament. Referendums on complex measures which Parliament would wish to debate in detail—for example, the pre-legislative referendums relating to devolution in Scotland and Wales—could make it hard to ensure that the electorate knew what it was voting for. One means of ensuring that the electorate was aware of the issues involved would be through the publication of a White Paper. This would enable the Government to set out the detail and the policy implications of the Bill to be presented to Parliament. A draft Bill could also be published and laid before Parliament". I agree with that. I thought that we were going to have a draft Bill. The Prime Minister said that, but he appears to have retreated from that statement. We know that we are going to have a White Paper. I hope that the noble Lord will clarify one thing about it. After the first debate some of my noble friends and I had an argument about what the noble Lord said. I thought he said that he would announce the date of publication of the White Paper at Report stage. One of my noble friends thought that he said that it would be published by Report stage. I would be grateful for clarification. If I am right and the date is to be announced at Report stage, that means that the White Paper is not going to be published until towards the end of July at the earliest. Then this House and the other place will have to sit a week later, and perhaps into August, to debate both White Papers, because it is not just the Scottish one but the Welsh White Paper as well.

When that is finished we then have August. I have already explained about that and I am not going over it again. We then go from August into September. It is quite important. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, pointed out, the White Papers on devolution for Scotland and Wales are not on the lists of summer reading. I suspect that they may not be currently on the lists, but they will have to be for those people who are interested and indeed all of those who will be asked to vote.

I accept that 2nd October would take us well beyond six weeks. I am trying to avoid the Government coming to Report stage and giving the date of the referendum, which is what I understand they intend to do at that stage, and giving us only four to five weeks—it may be less—in order to digest the White Papers. That is essentially why I have tabled this amendment. It is time we had some kind of timetable about this matter.

My amendment simply means that if we have to debate in the first week of August, then the Government can have their referendum, if my diary count is right, about 11th September. If we cannot have the debate until the second week of August, then we can have the referendum on 18th September. I certainly do not want a debate in the second week of August and the referendum on 4th September. That would be quite wrong and there is no need for that kind of speed. I hope that the Minister will be able to help me with the timings of the referendum and the White Paper and will be able reassure me. I will be happy with his assurance that the Scottish people will have at least six weeks between the debate and the referendum to consider these issues. I beg to move.

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 Opposition he talked himself into a corner by promising the Scots a devolved parliament within the first year of government. Now he is in a corner and cannot get out of it without losing face. But I am very sorry. This is far too important a matter to be rushed through in a hurry like this. As I say, the Government have five years to implement their manifesto commitments. What on earth is all the rush about?

9.45 p.m.

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.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy

If I might intervene, I think this is a rather more important matter even than a general election.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

Before the noble Lord sits down, does he think that his argument would apply to a general election held on, for example, 4th September with a campaign in August?

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 a Division. I had moved the amendment in order to obtain an assurance, which I received; and I was happy to withdraw it. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, may be about to tell us the same thing.

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 necessary to do so—about how difficult conditions were in Scotland in January and March. On the last occasion the campaign was held in January and February. The campaign started in January and polling day was on 1st March. My home is just beyond the Cairngorms.

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 Amendment No. 29, it would be right for them to accept this amendment or at least to give an assurance on the timetable equivalent to the amendment.

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.

Lord Campbell of Croy

Not in Scotland.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

As soon as I said that, I realised my error. I could feel the boomerang winging its way around and hitting me on the back of the head. I sympathise with the reasonable requirement that there should be a proper opportunity for consideration and debate. My noble friend the Lord Privy Seal said some weeks ago that there would be an opportunity to debate the White Papers in this place and in another place before the Recess. My noble friend Lord Sewel has repeated that assurance. I have repeated it. That is our commitment.

What my noble friend Lord Sewel said on the occasion referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, was: Hopefully by Report. on the currently envisaged timetable, the Government will inform noble Lords about proposed dates for publishing the White Papers and holding the referendums". That is still our hope. I cannot guarantee any specific time. As soon as the dates of the White Paper and the projected dates for holding the referendums are definitively known to us, we shall notify Members of this place. I cannot go further than that tonight. It is idle to pretend that I can. There is no suggestion that either my noble friend Lord Sewel or I are under instructions to give nothing away.

We recognise the legitimate interest in having an informed debate. I am content, of course, to take into account the advice given by the noble Lord to reflect on the previous government's mistakes, but that would be a long period of reflection indeed. I repeat what has already been said: when we know the dates positively, we shall return to this place with the dates for the publication of the two White Papers, the proposed dates for the referendums, and, when the usual channels have agreed, the dates for the debates on the White Papers in this place.

Lord Gray of Contin

I had not intended to intervene at this stage, because I have followed the recommendation of the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, to exercise discipline. I have exercised that discipline of silence for the whole of the afternoon. I have not heard a more inadequate reply to any debate than the one to which we have just listened. It is appalling. The Government have brought all this on their own heads. If the Government had done as any normal government would have done, and published their White Paper in adequate time so that it could have been studied and debated, we would not find ourselves in the situation in which we are tonight.

We have been accused of deviating from the point of various amendments. That is no wonder, because we just do not have the details that should be available to us from the White Paper. Now we are given vague information about the publication of the White Paper, which will arrive at a most inopportune time: the end of the parliamentary year when everyone is preparing to go away, when families are ready for holidays, when all the various bodies throughout Scotland which would wish to consider the matter carefully are facing the same problem of staff holidays, people unavailable to give opinions and everything else, and now we are told that the date of the referendum will come, presumably, and, we suspect, in September. That is a useless month for such an event. People will be on holiday and will be unable to vote. The whole exercise is a muddle. On top of that, we are faced with a situation in which the Bill was treated with contempt in another place. It was rushed through as though there was some desperate urgency about it. In this House, if we give it the due care and attention that is justified we shall be accused of time wasting. No doubt that would be used at some future time as ammunition to fire at us for trying to get at the Government. In fact, the Government should be applauding the fact that this Chamber is prepared to give the Bill consideration instead of suggesting that time wasting and other exercises have been taking place.

I hope that in future amendments which are tabled and carefully considered in this Chamber will be appreciated by the other side who will realise that we are only doing the duty expected of us. I hope that we can hear something more constructive from the Government. I have sympathy with the Ministers on the Front Bench. They are having to carry the can for what was not done by their counterparts in another place. The Bill needs careful scrutiny in this House.

Perhaps some of the arguments that have been put forward are more suited to the Bill which will follow. My colleagues and others on this side of the Committee may have deviated slightly from the purpose of the Bill because the information is not available and the White Paper has not been produced. I hope that the Government will take a little heart from the fact that they can be constructive by listening to what we have to say.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

One always wants to be constructive in listening to what anyone says. The noble Lord said that another place had treated these matters with contempt. Having studied the number of amendments and their content, I am obliged to agree. It was also said by the noble Lord, Lord Gray, that a vague date was being put forward. I have been as specific as I can, which is to reiterate the assurance given weeks ago by the Lord Privy Seal that there would he an opportunity for your Lordships' House to debate the White Paper before the Summer Recess. I am not intending to try to deceive anyone in your Lordships' House. I am giving your Lordships the information at my disposal, which I believe to be my duty.

Lord Gray of Contin

Perhaps I may make a further comment. I would not wish the noble Lord to believe that I had suggested he was trying to deceive the House in any way. That certainly was not my intention. I was sympathising with him in the hopeless task he had been given by his colleagues in another place. However, I believe that as regards this House the details must not be overlooked. Every detail of this Bill must be carefully examined because the legislation was not carefully examined elsewhere. It is simply not good enough for the noble Lord to criticise amendments which were tabled. Many of them were not considered, so there was no question of their being answered.

Earl Russell

Before the noble Lord, Lord Gray, sits down, he said one thing which surprised me greatly. He said that normal governments allow adequate time. Can he tell me when was the last normal government?

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy

Accusations of time wasting have been bandied about. It may interest the House to know that out of 90 amendments on the Marshalled List we are in the process of discussing the 43rd. In view of the fact that this is the first day of three, we are not doing too badly.

Lord Sewel

Before the noble Lady sits down, perhaps I may make it clear that neither I nor my noble friends have made any accusation about time-wasting in the Chamber this evening.

Lord Palmer

Further to my earlier comments, could Her Majesty's Government please tell us what is the desperate urgency about rushing all this legislation through before the Summer Recess? We do not even yet know when the Summer Recess is due to take place. Bearing in mind that many of us live in Scotland and the Scottish schools go back in the middle of August, some Members of Parliament, and certainly some Members of this House, will have no holidays with their children whatsoever.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

I did not think I was going to get a debate like this when I introduced my modest amendment; nor indeed did I think that I was going to get quite the audience I have got. I have not seen so many Government Ministers in the Chamber since we started and I am delighted to see that they have arrived at this time of night. I am hugely tempted to spend an hour or two reminding them—because they do not need a lesson—of how able they were in Opposition. They were able enough in Opposition to keep me at the Dispatch Box for many hours. However, perhaps the fact that the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis of Heigham, is not here reduces the temptation. It was she and the noble Earl, Lord Russell, who taught me how to deal with opposition.

I agree with my noble friend Lord Gray. Both the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis of Heigham, and the noble Earl, Lord Russell, would have considered replies of the shortness we have had today from government ministers pretty inadequate if I had attempted to use them in all the various pieces of legislation I took through your Lordships' House. However, I was grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, for clarifying one point.

As I said, a noble friend and I were disputing what his noble friend Lord Sewel had actually said. I am now clear that we shall not actually receive the White Paper by Report stage. When we reach Report stage we shall be given the date of the White Paper and the date of the referendum. That is what I had thought but I was beginning to doubt it, and indeed one of my noble friends suggested otherwise.

That means, I suspect, that the media are quite wrong when they suggest that we shall have the referendum on 4th September and it means, although I did not see it myself, that the Welsh Secretary made a slip of the tongue on television on Sunday when he said that we would see the White Paper in a fortnight. I now accept what has been said. That is fine as far as it goes, but the Minister did not address my amendment. The noble Earl rightly pointed out to me that this was a typical probing amendment of the kind that he used against me on many occasions just to get an assurance from the Minister, and then he would withdraw such an amendment. That was entirely my intention: that I would get some assurances from the Minister about the time and then I would withdraw the amendment, having had those assurances on the record.

Actually the amendment was not even addressed. The question of how much time there might be between the referendum being published and debated and the date of the referendum itself was not addressed. Perhaps I might invite either of the Ministers to give us some kind of assurance that no fewer than six weeks will elapse between this House and the other place debating the White Paper and the date of the referendum itself. Clearly I am not going to get any such assurance. I imagine that Members of the other place, especially Scottish Members, might not be too pleased to know that they are likely to be held here well into August to debate this White Paper, and miss out on the school holidays. I remember them being very annoyed in the early 1980s when I was a humble Back-Bencher in the other place and the Government of which I was a member kept us a little into August—not far into August—and we were all annoyed about that—not just the members of the Labour Party. We tried to persuade the Government, with some success, that they should not repeat that offence. I fear that the offence is going to be repeated very considerably this year.

Clearly I am not going to get answers to my questions. Neither of the noble Ministers are prepared to give me any kind of assurances or even to address the question of the interval between the two events. I may come back to this later. In the meantime, with a good deal of annoyance, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Hoyle

I beg to move that the House do now resume.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.

House adjourned at ten minutes past ten o'clock.