HC Deb 19 May 1975 vol 892 cc1009-11
36. Mr. Hurd

asked the Lord President of the Council whether he is satisfied with progress made in organising the referendum on 5th June on British membership of the EEC.

Mr. Gerry Fowler

Yes, Sir.

Mr. Hurd

Can the Minister of State give his latest estimate of the time at which the national result is likely to be known? Since that result will have an important bearing on several aspects of Government policy, whatever the result, can he assure us that there will be an early opportunity for the House to have a debate soon after we return after the recess?

Mr. Fowler

The timing is, of course, a matter for Sir Philip Allen, the Chief Counting Officer. He has said that he hopes that the vast majority of results, if not all the results, will be in by the Friday evening on 6th June. Some of the results from more outlying parts of the country may not be available until the Saturday. We hope, however, that the result will be known substantially by late on the Friday. As for the question of a debate, we have already undertaken that there will be a statement on the Monday.

Mr. Ioan Evans

In organising the referendum, will my hon. Friend reject the crocodile tears of Opposition Members concerning taxpayers who live abroad and who are not on the register? Does he recall that the party opposite rejected the idea of taxpayers and those on the register in this country having a vote, as they were against the referendum as such?

Mr. Fowler

I am grateful to my hon. Friend.

Mr. Fletcher-Cooke

Can the hon. Gentleman confirm that the usual rules relating to spoilt papers will apply in the case of counting the referendum votes? Can he confirm that there will be an opportunity for those concerned, one way or the other, to argue whether or not a paper is sufficiently spoiled for it to be ignored?

Mr. Fowler

Yes, Sir. I answered this point in the House recently when we debated the suggested amendments on what is now the Referendum Act. This is a matter for final decision by the counting officers in the counties and regions. Sir Philip Allen is giving general guidance, and broadly the normal rules will apply.

Mr. Wigley

If a county seems by some accident to have an invalid result and a recount is required, will that recount take place if it will not affect the overall result in the United Kingdom?

Mr. Fowler

The question of an invalid result in a county is different because it depends on what is meant by "invalid". There will be a verification procedure. If the total number of ballots in the box were found not to correspond with the total number of ballots issued, there would have to be a recount at that stage. Subsequently Sir Philip Allen intends that there will be very careful counting in the counties in such a way as to make the total votes cast either way almost beyond dispute.