HC Deb 27 March 1975 vol 889 cc683-5
29. Mr. Tim Renton

asked the Lord President of the Council what plans he has to meet the leaders of the umbrella organisations in connection with continued EEC membership.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Alexander W. Lyon)

I have been asked to reply.

The Lord President met representatives of the European Movement and the National Referendum Campaign last month, and officials are in frequent contact with Britain in Europe and the National Referendum Campaign.

Mr. Renton

May we be assured that, in meeting these umbrella organisations, the Lord President will take up a totally impartial attitude in relation to the coming referendum? Second, in view of the unique event of public funds being made available to these non-political bodies, will a public account of these meetings be made available?

Mr. Lyon

I am sure that my right hon. Friend will be taking a completely impartial attitude towards the organisation of the referendum, although his personal view, of course, is in favour of our continued membership of the Community. On the second part of the hon. Gentleman's question, the best thing I can say is that my right hon. Friend will be prepared to answer questions about any aspect of the negotiations and give such details as are available from time to time.

Mr. Mike Thomas

If at 11.40 a.m., with only one Question to go, I am permitted to ask a slightly longer supple- mentary question, that being in your interest, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and that of everyone else—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Even on Maundy Thursday, the hon. Gentleman will realise that another four hon. Members rose to ask supplementary questions when he did.

Mr. Thomas

Will my hon. Friend make some statement on the provision for United Kingdom citizens who are permanently resident in the Community countries and who appear to be denied the vote under the proposals which have been announced in the Press this morning?

Mr. Lyon

As I understand it the matter is under consideration, but if my hon. Friend wishes to put down a Question to that effect my right hon. Friend will be pleased to answer it.

Mr. Moate

Is it the case that the Government are anxious to bring forward the referendum date? What approximate time scale do they now have in mind?

Mr. Lyon

That is rather wide of this Question. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to put down a Question on that matter my right hon. Friend will answer it.

Mr. Molloy

Will my hon. Friend convey to the Leader of the House that it is essential that there should be equal opportunities for fair presentation of the arguments on both sides and that there should be no advantage one way or the other?

Mr. Lyon

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for asking a question on which I have a note for a supplementary answer. I am happy to tell him that the two sides have had discussions with the Lord President, that they have agreed to prepare a statement of their sides of the case which will be of no more than 2,000 words, and that each of these statements will be produced as a separate pamphlet and distributed at public expense in order to put the respective cases dispassionately.

Mr. Gow

Will the Minister tell the House what representations were made to the Lord President by the leaders of the umbrella organisations in regard to those on holiday having the right to vote in the referendum?

Mr. Lyon

I have no information about that aspect of their representations, but, again, my right hon. Friend will be pleased to answer any of these questions when the Bill is discussed in its progress through the House.

Mr. Spearing

Since one of the objectives of the grant to the so-called umbrella organisations is to try to rectify a clear imbalance in resources, can my right hon. Friend give any information about the reasons for the relatively modest sum mentioned in the Bill? Since the House is being asked to make amendments, possibly before Second Reading, and in the first week after the recess, will my hon. Friend give the reasons of the Leader of the House for providing that sum and the criteria on which it has been based?

Mr. Lyon

It seemed to the Government that a grant of £125,000 to each of the organisations was, to say the least, a little more than modest, and was a reasonable contribution to each side to put its case. There is no limit to the amount which may be spent by any of the organisations, and no doubt each of them will be appealing to the public for funds.

Sir G. Howe

Will the Minister, who seems to be functioning this morning rather as an umbrella Minister—with rather less than a fully covered umbrella—convey to the Lord President and his colleagues the very great strength of feeling about the fact that people who are on holiday and who are living outside this country should be entitled to vote in the referendum on the footing that on this occasion, as opposed to a General Election campaign, there will be sufficient time for the registration officers to accommodate applications if the arrangements are set in hand almost immediately? This is a significant point of view which is widely held.

Mr. Lyon

I can certainly acknowledge the strength of feeling about this matter in certain areas. It is a point which would be properly dealt with in consideration of the Bill, and no doubt the right hon. and learned Gentleman will wish to table an amendment to that effect.

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