§ Considered in Committee [Progress. 2nd February].
§ [Mr. OSCAR MURTON in the Chair]
§ 4.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Maurice Macmillan (Farnham)
On a point of order, Mr. Murton. The point of order that I wish to raise concerns both the motion in the name of the Leader of the House amending the order of this Committee, which we made on 13th January, and the New Clause 40 on the referendum in Scotland and Wales.
With respect, I submit that in selecting both the motion and the new clause the Chair is departing from the precedents very firmly set by past rulings established in strictly comparable circumstances. I believe that in so doing, we are now establishing a new precedent and setting out beyond all doubt that amendments to any Bill before the House may make the Act which that Bill is designed to become operative solely ad referendum to the people. This applies as much to Finance Bills as to every other kind of Bill. This is the consequence which inevitably flows from the selection of the new clause in this way.
I am not concerned for the moment with the merits or demerits of the referendum, or the method by which it is proposed that that referendum should be held. I am concerned simply with the propriety or otherwise of the procedure being used to have the new clause considered now. I quote from Chapter 21, page 523, of "Erskine May" in support of my contention:Amendments to a Bill proposing that the provisions of a Bill should he subject to a referendum have been ruled out of order as proposing changes in legislative procedure which will be contrary to constitutional practice.In making that proposition, "Erskine May cites two precedents, one from the Committee stage of the Government of Ireland Bill 1920 and the other from the Representation of the People Bill 1917. "Erskine May" does have a partial example in the opposite direction which is set out in footnote (g) on page 1675 523 which is appended to the main comment which I have just quoted. That footnote is concerned with an amendment which was moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten) to the European Communities Bill. That amendment said that the Act should come into force on a day to be appointed by Statutory Instrument to be passed by affirmative resolution of both Houses of Parliament, but that date should not be until after a consultative and advisory referendum—I commend those words to you, Mr. Murton, "consultative advisory referendum"—having no binding effect on the Government had first been held, thereby enabling an assessment to be made of the extent to which the Treaty of Accession had the full-hearted consent of the British people.
The main contention in "Erskine May" is that a referendum is not permissible for the reasons given. It is not permissible because it proposes changes in legislative procedure which would be contrary to constitutional practice. In setting out this footnote it is quite clear that the main proposition is not affected by it, because the footnote is concerned only with a consultative referendum and not with a mandatory referendum and not with trying to constrain this House and Parliament generally by such a referendum. The wording of the clause makes clear that a consultative and advisory referendum would have no binding affect on the Government. The New Clause 40 is different.
As "Erskine May" points out, the amendment proposed was expressly for such a consultative referendum, and it was not the lead amendment of a group, although it was voted on separately. In making that original statement, about a mandatory referendum which I have quoted, "Erskine May" turned, first, on the ruling given in 1920 on the Government of Ireland Bill. The Chairman ruled then that the amendment standing on the paper in the name of the then hon. Member for Leyton, which read:Nothing in this Act shall take effect in Ireland until the proposals therein have been submitted with other alternatives to a referendum of the Irish people",was outside the scope of the Bill. That ruling was perfectly clear. The proposal to make the Bill subject to a referendum 1676 of the Irish people was ruled out of order.
The second ruling was that earlier, in 1917, when the Representation of the People Bill was before the House. The Chairman said:With regard to the Amendment standing first on the Order Paper in the name of the hon. Member for the Watford Division of Hertfordshire (Mr. Arnold Ward) and other hon. Members, proposing that the whole of this clause should be subject to certain provisions for a referendum, I have to say that in my opinion that amendment is not admissible. I found myself on Mr. Speaker's ruling given on the 11th June, 1912''—that. of course, was Mr. Speaker Lowther—when an Instruction was proposed to the Committee on the Government of Ireland Bill, giving power to the Committee on that Bill to make the whole of the provisions of the Bill subject to a referendum, and in giving that ruling the present Mr. Speaker quoted a similar ruling of Mr. Speaker Peel given on the 5th May, 1893, with which he declared his agreement, and clearly if it is not competent to propose an Instruction to the Committee giving power to produce a sort of Bill within a Bill establishing a new constitutional principle of referendum, it must be less in order to bring forward a proposal of that kind in Committee.The Chairman went on:In addition to that, I am bound to say, having prevision of what might happen in the future, I cannot see my way to depart from a ruling of that kind."—[Official Report, 19th June 1917; Vol. XCIV, c. 1634.]How right he was and how correct was his prevision!
These deal with the question—and I think decisively—of introducing a referendum on an Act of Parliament by an amendment, a new clause, or a new schedule to the Bill concerned. I do not believe that the difficulty could have been overcome or can now be overcome by making a new Instruction to the Committee. First, Mr. Speaker has already ruled out of order an Instruction to the Committee, moved by myself, enlarging the scope of the Bill to include the Government of the United Kingdom. Yet a mandatory referendum of this kind obviously alters the government of the whole United Kingdom, because it introduces for the first time the principle that an Act of Parliament contains within it provisions for making that Act conditional upon a referendum.
There is no question of a consultative referendum for, say, a part of Wales or 1677 a part of Scotland. It is strictly comparable with the circumstances which obtained under Mr. Speaker Lowther's ruling in 1912 and again in 1917. Any question of an Instruction was equally ruled out of order by Mr. Speaker Lowther's quotation of Mr. Speaker Peel. "Erskine May" makes the point in page 112 that an Instruction of this kind is inadmissible if its objects are inconsistent with the decision of the House taken on Second Reading, or if they seek to traverse that decision by an alternative scheme or postponement. "Erskine May" goes on to give an example.
Instructions were put down that the Government of Ireland Bill in 1912 should not come into force until it had been approved by a majority of the electors of the United Kingdom, as was an Instruction on similar lines on the Government of Ireland Bill in 1893. These were disallowed on similar grounds on the principle that a decision of a referendum to override a decision of Parliament was of too great importance to be brought within the scope of the Bill by Instruction. Mr. Speaker Lowther's ruling on 11th June 1912 quoted Mr. Speaker Peel. A ruling was given on an Instruction proposed by Mr. Parker Smith. Mr. Speaker Peel said of the Instructions:The second deals with the ad referendum principle, and this, I need not say, is the Instruction which has given me the most anxiety; but I have come to the conclusion that an ad referendum is a matter of such transcendent importance that it could not be brought within the scope of the Bill by an Instruction to the Committee. I know that the ad referendum has been included in the provisions of some Private Bill enabling the ratepayers to decide by a vote whether or not they should adopt a particular Act which imposed a charge upon them. But this Instruction is a proposal to enable the electors to override the decision of this House; to go over the heads of the elected representatives of the people, and to submit to the electors generally whether a Bill of this great magnitude should come into force or not. That, I think, is quite beyond the scope of the Bill, and could not be brought within the scope of the Bill by an Instruction.Mr. Speaker Lowther concluded this quotation by saying:Those are the words of Mr. Speaker Peel, and I confine myself in ruling to quoting them."—[Official Report, 11th June 1912; Vol. XXXIX, c. 743.]It was on Mr. Speaker Peel's ruling that Mr. Speaker Lowther's ruling was 1678 founded, and it was on this ruling that the Chairman's decision was founded in the Representation of the People Act 1917 and the Government of Ireland Act 1917. I draw the attention of the Committee again to these two rulings.
In 1912 Mr. Speaker Lowther ruled that such a thing was not possible. In 1917 the Chairman backed up that ruling. Very recently Mr. Speaker ruled on an Instruction about this Bill that nothing could be brought in pertaining to the government of the United Kingdom as a whole. Yet for the first time we have a proposal of an amendment to a Bill to make that Bill ad referendum before it is effected as an Act of Parliament.
I submit that this is an alteration of the government of the United Kingdom as a whole, and I think that the precedent affects the whole of the United Kingdom. I therefore think that the proposals by the Leader of the House are outside the scope of the Bill and are contrary to precedent, and I think that in selecting them for debate, Mr. Murton, you are creating a precedent altering the whole status of Acts of Parliament and one I fear the House will come to regret in future.
§ The Chairman
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for having given me notice of the point which he wished to raise. I need hardly tell him that I am fully aware of the precedents which he has quoted, and I would not have considered going against a long-standing rule without what seemed to me to be very good reason.
It is clear to me that the Referendum Act 1975 has largely destroyed the basis upon which the previous rulings were given. It certainly cannot now be held that a referendum represents a change in legislative procedure which would be contrary to constitutional practice, and I do not think that this is fundamentally affected by the fact that the 1975 referendum, dealing as it did with a matter of the highest national and constitutional importance, was consultative rather than effective.
Parliament having made clear that there are circumstances in which it can regard a referendum as a necessary consequence of a measure which has affected its legislative competence, I believe that where the main purpose of a Bill is to create other authorities which will enjoy 1679 a concurrent competence, an additional provision to authorise a referendum must now be held germane to its scope.
I recognise the force of the right hon. Gentleman's apprehensions that this change on our procedure might be opening the door to the offering of amendments of this nature to all manner of Bills and for trivial reasons. I would, nevertheless, remind him and the Committee that the Chair has the power of selection of amendments, which I personally would not hesitate to use in appropriate cases.
§ Mr. John Mendelson (Penistone)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Murton. The obvious importance of the point raised by the right hon. Member for Farnham (Mr. Macmillan) need not be underlined. However, I rise to take issue with you, with respect, on the point you have just made, and to relate the implications if we were to accept your interpretation.
The main fault of this interpretation is that there would be no limit to these matters once we accepted as a matter of course that such a provision could be built into a law which had the qualifications that you ascribe to it, because those qualifications would be subject to arbitrary interpretation. The fact that the interpretation would be in the hands of someone of good judgment would make no difference to whether people wanted it, or whether hon. Members wanted to embark on this change.
The Committee, acting for the House, ought to know what it is about. I submit in all seriousness that we should be changing our constitution into a Swiss constitution if we adopted this course.
No less grave a decision is facing us. We should be arguing that in the middle of a Bill it would be possible at any time for the Executive—obviously under our constitutional proceedings the Executive has the decisive initiative in new legislation—to introduce, for reasons which may be of their counsel, another authority to overpower resistance within the House. I need not labour the historic significance, proved over decades and centuries, of the House and its Committees always being especially watchful against allowing the Executive, be it King or Government, to call in 1680 outside forces to overpower resistance within the House. By its own lassitude and carelessness a major Committee of the whole House would be opening the door to this dangerous precedent.
We ought to decide here and now that this matter be submitted to Mr. Speaker, that no further progress be made in debating these proposals, and that we unite on this question, whether we be supporters or opponents of the proposals. In constitutional importance this matters transcends any of the matters to be discussed over the next two or three days. We ought—by agreement and with your acceptance, Mr. Murton—to ask Mr. Speaker to consider the matter and, after due consideration on another day, the matter ought to be reopened and a further ruling given. I submit this course to the Committee.
§ Several Hon. Members rose—
§ The Chairman
Perhaps I may be allowed to answer the hon. Gentleman's point of order. I have, I hope, assured the hon. Gentleman and the Committee that I have given the matter extremely careful thought before I came to a decision in the ruling which I have given. But I must stand by my ruling. I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that the reasoned arguments which he has put forward are arguments which could well be used in speaking on the question of the Lord President's procedural motion.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Down, South)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Murton. You are plainly aware of the great importance of your ruling, as indeed is underlined by your emphasis upon the attention you have given to it, but I trust that you will not regard it is disrespectful if a further submission is made to you about the force and argument of your ruling.
As I understand it, your reason for deliberately setting aside precedent—as you plainly stated you were doing earlier—was the fact of the 1975 Referendum Act. I submit to you that this is to be distinguished in a crucial respect from the proposition which, if it be in order, may presently be submitted to the House.
The 1975 Act did not place any delay upon the coming into force, nor any condition upon the coming into force, 1681 of an Act of Parliament. The relevant Act of Parliament had already been on the statute book for almost three years. The 1975 Act created for the first time a new and separate piece of machinery which allowed for an expression of public opinion on a certain matter, and that matter was not that which was decided even three years earlier by the 1972 European Communities Act. The 1972 Act made it possible for the Treaty of Accession to be ratified on behalf of this country. The question which was placed before the electorate in the 1975 referendum was whether it was the popular feeling—if I may so summarise the matter—that we should seek to depart from the European Community into which we had entered.
These matters are so different in their constitutional nature and content that the one cannot fairly be regarded as bearing upon the other. I should like to make a proposition to you in the sense, though not in precisely the terms, of that of the hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson).
The proposition is that being seized, as you are, Mr. Murton, of the great constitutional importance of this ruling, you might be willing to hear any submissions that might be put to you by members of the Committee upon it, and that then, without in any way infringing the right of the Chair to rule upon a point of order, even one so fundamental as this, you might decide that you could reserve this issue for further consideration in the light of what might be submitted to you in the Committee.
§ 4.30 p.m.
§ Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)
On a point of order, Mr. Murton. I do not in any way wish to impugn your ruling, Mr. Murton, but as this matter is of such extreme importance, the Commitee should be clear about that ruling and its effects. Is it not possible for the matters mentioned by the hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson) to be debated? The basic matter he raised was whether this proposal was outside the scope of the Bill and whether it is a proper matter for debate.
As I understood from the remarks of the right hon. Member for Farnham (Mr. Macmillan), an important distinction has been drawn between mandatory 1682 and consultative referendums. Am I right in thinking that you take the view that such a distinction is not vital?
The procedure adopted in 1975 involved separate Act of Parliament. Are we now setting a precedent that a referendum may be included in any Act of Parliament, that it does not require a separate Act, that it may be mandatory and not consultative, and that this House feels that, if this rule is accepted, it will be a precedent which will leave us free to take such a course on any Act at any time?
§ Mr. George Cunningham (Islington, South and Finsbury)
On a point of order, Mr. Murton. We are raising these points of order on the basis of having heard your statement, but of course we have not been able to refer to it in writing. My impression was that just before you turned over the page you had a sentence to the effect that you were proposing to accept this proposition because it involved a transfer of power from this House, since the devolution Bill involves such a transfer. Could you clarify whether the fact that the Bill would involve such a transfer of power was an essential part of the background for you in reaching your decision? If that is so, are we to understand that the Chair in future will take the view that an amendment to try to provide for a referendum on a Bill, where a Bill transferring powers away from the Commons was involved, would not be accepted—until somebody managed to get a separate Bill passed providing for a referendum on such an issue? Are we also to understand that it would then be in order to take an amendment in the middle of a Bill on a matter where no transfer of power was involved?
I realise that the British, being fearful of taking decisions, always want to find some appearance of precedence before making up their minds, instead of having the guts to do without precedent in going ahead and making a decision. But will you understand the dangers involved in the present course? Are we saying that something is totally out of order in the middle of a Bill, but when somebody manages to pass a separate Bill saying that that can be done, are we saying that in future such a thing can be done without having a separate Bill? I suggest that if we take this course today, in future 1683 anybody will be free to table an amendment to provide for referendums on any point in a Bill. I suggest, with great respect, that in the end the Chairman will not manage to resist such amendments.
§ Mr. Terence Higgins (Worthing)
On a point of order, Mr. Murton. Perhaps I may add my view to those which have already been expressed on this issue—an issue which could turn out to be far more important than the Scotland and Wales Bill itself because in many ways this procedure may undermine the authority of this House.
May I ask you, Mr. Murton, to give the precedents for a Chairman of Ways and Means overruling precedents set by Mr. Speaker in previous Administrations? It would be helpful to the House to have your view on that point.
It has already been pointed out that the precedent that you seek to pray in aid on the Referendum Act on the Common Market is in no way on all fours with this Bill. On that occasion there was a separate Bill, and it in no way opened the flood gates to amendments which hon. Members in all parts of the House may find necessary to table. In addition, that referendum was not mandatory and, furthermore, whatever the Government's commitment, if this House did not like the result, it could have exerted its power to overrule it. Therefore, that precedent is not relevant to the present situation.
There is a further point that is even more important. The referendum on the Common Market was submitted to the people of the country as a whole. What is proposed in the motion which you seek to select is one that will extend the referendum to part of the community only. Where does one draw the line? If you accept that view, why should it apply only to the people of Scotland and to the people of Wales? Why not apply it only to the inhabitants of No. 10 Downing Street? Surely we should not seek to create precedents by which the authority of this House could be usurped on any matter, large or small.
I submit that these are matters that are vastly different from those that were in our minds at the time of the Common Market referendum—and may I say in 1684 passing that I was opposed to that referendum, too. What we are now doing is infinitely more dangerous than anything that was done then. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Farnham (Mr. Macmillan) said, such a process could be extended to Finance Bills. Therefore, we must consider these matters very carefully.
Following the points made by the hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson), may I ask you whether there is some way in which we can seek to express our view on this subject—for example on a motion "That the amendment be not now considered"? The general feeling of the Committee appears to be that such a matter should not come up for consideration at short notice. I hope that we may have your guidance whether you will accept a motion that will enable hon. Members to express their view on this subject.
§ Mr. Reg Prentice (Newham, North-East)
On a point of order, Mr. Murton. I submit that the anxiety which has been expressed in all parts of the House is based on the fear that accidentally we might be diminishing the sovereignty of this House as a by-product of the fact that the Government Whips are scared that they will not have a majority on the guillotine motion. This matter deserves much more serious consideration.
I wish to underline the point made by the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) and others that your reference to the Referendum Act 1975 is not a precedent at all. In that case provision was made for a referendum, and if that had resulted in a "No" vote, it would still have been open to this House to decide whether to repeal the European Communities Act. That would have been a decision open to hon. Members whether or not each and every one of us decided to be bound by the results of that referendum.
In this case we are being asked to slip into the Committee proceedings provision for referenda—or I believe they should now be called "referendums"—the effect of which would be that we shall have spent months of debate on this issue in both Houses of Parliament on the assumption that when the Bill becomes law there will be referendums in Scotland and Wales. The result of a 1685 "No" vote in one country or other would be activated by the decision of Ministers—and of Ministers alone—not to implement Clause 114 of the Bill. The matter would not come back to the House for a separate decision. The constitutional implications of that are unique and dangerous. Therefore we should not proceed with the debate and the matter should be considered by Mr. Speaker who should give a separate, considered, ruling in a few days.
§ Mr. Edward Heath (Sidcup)
Would it be in order if I supported your ruling Mr. Murton, because it is right? My right hon. Friend the Member for Farnham (Mr. Macmillan) has expounded the existing position with clarity and lucidity. You, Mr. Murton, have given the ruling that it lies within your power to give. I understand that you said that if the Committee so decided, it could go ahead and consider the motion put forward by the Leader of the House. If the Committee agreed with that motion, it could then go ahead to consider the various motions on the paper, the new clause and amendments dealing with the referendum. I see nothing wrong with this procedure because it will still lie within the power of the House to take a decision on every aspect.
All the points of order that I have heard so far—particularly that made by the right hon. Member for Newham North-East (Mr. Prentice)—have dealt with the aspects of the substance of the matter that it is still in the power of the Committee to decide in future. Whether the referendum is to be mandatory or consultative, or whatever form it will take, lies entirely in the hands of the Committee, and later it will be for the House to decide during further stages of the Bill. I hope, Mr. Murton, that you will adhere to your ruling.
What concerns me more than anything is that we, as an institution, are becoming ossified. The House has long prided itself on having greater flexibility than other institutions because it has no written constitution and that gives us greater flexibility in dealing with new situations. This is a new situation. You, Mr. Murton, have attempted to deal with it, and I hope that you will adhere to your ruling. We could then debate the motion put down by the Leader of the House. If we do not want to bring forward clauses 1686 we do not need to do so. If we do not want new clauses we can throw them out or we can amend them, but we can take our decisions only as a result of your ruling.
§ Mr. Douglas Jay (Battersea, North)
I find myself, for the first time in a long time, in agreement with the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath). The House has already transferred authority to override its decisions to an outside body—the European Economic Community. The question that we are debating is whether it may or may not be wise, in this case, to take the decision that the Leader of the House has asked us to take. The issue before us is whether the Committee is right to do that if it wishes to do so. I always understood that the strength of Parliament and of our unwritten constitution was that Parliament can do anything that it wishes to do advisedly, even if that means altering precedent. The old saying is that Parliament can do anything except turn a man into a woman or a woman into a man.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson) that this would be creating a new precedent and that it would be doing something different from what was done in the EEC referendum. But we have the right to create precedent if we wish. There have been many other such cases. I could quote one precedent of that: the origin of the closure. Mr. Speaker suddenly introduced the closure procedure on the spur of the moment. The House approved that procedure and it has now become recognised. Therefore, whether it is wise to do this or not, there is this much to be said in respect of the ruling—that if Parliament advisedly chooses this, then it is entitled to do so.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ Sir Peter Rawlinson (Epsom and Ewell)
The right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) said that Parliament could do anything, but surely Parliament can do only that which it is in order to do. A ruling has been made by you, Mr. Murton, which we appreciate and which we are now discussing. My right hon. Friend the Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) seemed to think that we could deal with the motion put down by the Leader of the House, but that motion is solely concerned with the order in which we should take the various clauses 1687 and says that New Clause 40 should be taken now.
You indicated, Mr. Murton, that you had the advantage of having been given notice by my right hon. Friend the Member for Farnham (Mr. Macmillan) that he intended to raise his point of order, but you gave your ruling without having been able to consider all the submissions that have now been made to you. Having regard to the obvious importance of the matter and the seriousness of it in relation to the debate and the Bill, may I reinforce the submissions already put that you should consider what the House has had to say during these points of order, and that the matter should be reflected upon, and that Parliament should itself decide whether such a procedure will be acceptable to the House in future. Therefore, I urge you to consider the matter with great care—as, of course, you have done hitherto—in the light of the representations that have now been made.
§ Mr. John P. Mackintosh (Berwick and East Lothian)
The right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) asserted that the Committee would, by deciding on the procedural motion put down by the Leader of the House, be able to decide all the points before it, but that is not the case. The Committee will decide by its vote whether to change the order of procedure and will therefore be able to decide whether it wishes to consider the matter of the referendum now or later. The key issue that is bothering the Committee will not be open to decision by vote. That issue is whether the referendum should, at this stage, be the matter of a separate Bill or spatchcocked into an existing Bill. That cannot be decided by this debate or by the vote that may take place at the end of it.
Many hon. Members are in favour of a referendum, but object to this method of bringing it forward. You, Mr. Murton, were kind enough to say in your ruling that while you appreciated the seriousness of the issue, you proposed to follow the 1975 precedent and not earlier ones, but you said that you would consider the matter in your selection of amendments. Will you consider again your refusal to select the amendment to the procedural motion that stands in my name and in the names of the leader of the Liberal 1688 Party and the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock)? That motion asks that the Committee should be allowed to debate this issue. Our amendment to the procedural motion asks that the question of a referendum should be considered in a separate Bill, to be taken in its own right, and that it should be consultative and not mandatory. A solution to the dilemma that is now gravely disturbing the Committee would be for this amendment to be selected—it has the support of a large number of hon. Members—and for it to be allowed to be debated. By excluding it, Mr. Murton, you restrict the Committee from discussing a matter that is disturbing it.
§ The Chairman
I will reply at this stage because the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh) has referred to his own amendment. I gave very careful thought to the matter before deciding not to select the hon. Member's amendment, as I am sure he will understand. I am well aware of the considerations that he has advanced, but the Chairman's discretion on selection is absolute, nor am I required to give reasons. In this case, however, my decision was not discretionary but was made on the grounds of order, since the terms of the amendment purported to commit the House to taking a particular course of action which no Committee is competent to do.
§ Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)
With reference to the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath), the House could consider the substance of the clause at some later date and not as part of the Bill. It is clear that you are altering the ruling of previous Speakers, Mr. Murton. The 1893 ruling, which dealt with an Instruction exactly similar to the one which we are discussing, said that it was aproposal to enable the electors to override the decision of this House, to go over the heads of the elected Representatives of the People, and to submit to the electors generally whether a Bill of this great magnitude should come into force or not. That, I think, is quite beyond the scope of the Bill".That is the point. The only exception quoted in "Erskine May" is the European Communities Act, because that referendum was not binding on the House in any way. The amendment, which was 1689 accepted as being in order on that occasion, provided:This Act shall come into force on a day to be appointed by Statutory Instrument passed by Affirmative Resolution of each House of Parliament but no such date shall be appointed until after a consultative advisory referendum, having no binding effect upon the government, has first been held, thereby enabling the government to assess the extent to which the Treaty of Accession has the full-hearted support of the British people.This is entirely different from the proposal that there should be a binding referendum, which is the object of the clause which we are asked to discuss.
You are changing the rulings of previous Speakers, Mr. Murton, and I join with those who have suggested that you should have time to reconsider your ruling.
§ Mr. Leo Abse (Pontypool)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Murton. This is a matter which must inevitably create a considerable dilemma for those of us, such as myself, who have constantly urged that there should be a referendum. In making my submission, I cannot consider only the question of my wishes without considering my position as a Member of this House and a parliamentarian. I do not think that any of us, however passionately we may desire to have a referendum, would willingly wish that there could come into existence a position in which the sovereignty of this House could be subverted for ever more.
I hope that, with the same seriousness with which you are evidently applying your mind to all our submissions, Mr. Murton, the Leader of the House, who is the jealous guardian of the sovereignty of Parliament, will also be directing his attention to seeing that we shall not get into a position in which, because the Government may desire, for transitory tactical reasons, to have this motion approved, we in any way yield to the moment and create what in the long run could be a major disaster for the rights of Parliament.
It is clear that in every case where the suggestion has been made that there should be a mandatory referendum it has been ruled out of order. The only instance in which it was not ruled out of order was when the referendum was only permissive. Underlining what has been put to you already about mandatory referen- 1690 dums, I hope that in any further consideration which you may give the Leader of the House will also be involved and will consider whether he can maintain the sovereignty of the House by having a permissive referendum, which would have the same effect but which would not impose on us a rigid framework by which we should all be bound in future.
I am not attracted by the proposition of the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath), who claimed that it was within the power of the House to make a decision now on whether we wanted a referendum. I want a referendum and so do many other people, but we should be placed in the impossible dilemma of voting against the principle of a referendum in order to be able to assert our position as parliamentarians who believe that we should not subvert our sovereignty. That is not an acceptable proposition for parliamentarians.
Given the opinions being expressed, we should not move forward on this matter, which has such far-reaching implications, without further thought being given by the Leader of the House, who should be making a statement. He surely cannot be silent on an issue which is raising so much anxiety among so many hon. Members and which affects the fundamental rights of Parliament. He has a duty to make a statement and to be involved in this issue.
I hope that we shall be able to work out a formula which gives us a new clause in a permissive form on which we could get general agreement and which, although it would bring about the desired objective, would not subvert our sovereignty.
§ The Lord President of the Council and Lender of the House of Commons (Mr. Michael Foot)
Perhaps I may intervene now to comment on the difficulty in which we are obviously placed by some of the questions raised and anxieties expressed by hon. Members in various parts of the House, and particularly in response to the suggestion of my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse). If I do not say all that I have to say in one sentence, I hope that the House will understand. I shall seek to deal with questions raised by hon. Members in all parts of the House.
I submit that the House has a duty to accept the ruling of the Chair, and in that 1691 sense I agree with what was said by the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath). I believe that this is the way that we should proceed and what I have to say will, I hope, assist hon. Members.
It is my belief—and this has come out in many comments—that most of the questions which have been raised in the submissions to the Chair would be open for debate either on the procedural motion or on the general question. [Interruption.] I hope that the House will permit me to conclude because what I have to say will be of assistance in dealing with this matter. My views accord with the ruling given by the Chair. It would be disrespectful for any Leader of the House to try to deal with a situation of this character without taking account of a ruling from the Chair.
I understand from what you have ruled, Mr. Murton, that a whole series of questions, including whether referendums are to be favoured and whether there should be a departure from the previous practice of the House on referendums, would be in order on the general debate and would be matters on which the House could take a view.
The point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool about the merit or principle of referendums and whether they are in order attaches exactly to footnote (g) to which the right hon. Member for Farnham (Mr. Macmillan) referred originally—that is the distinction between mandatory and permissive or consultative referendums. Our proposal is for a mandatory referendum.
It is also true that the precedent that has been quoted was that of a consultative referendum. I agree that that matter certainly should be debated. Speaking for the Government, I can say that we would certainly be very eager to take into account any representations that were made by right hon. and hon. Members, or any amendment that would make the proposed referendum consultative rather than mandatory. In that case we should have removed at least one obstacle—
§ Mr. Foot
The right hon. Gentleman will have his chance to make a submission in a moment. What I have suggested 1692 would deal with the footnote (g) that he mentioned and would further strengthen the reasons for acceptance of your ruling, Mr. Murton.
Returning to my original point, I believe that the proper way for the Committee to proceed is to accept your ruling, Mr. Murton, and to proceed on the basis of that ruling. [HON. MEMBERS: "No".] It is not such an outrageous proposition to suggest that we should accept a ruling from the Chair and proceed to the debate. Certainly it will be the Government's wish to facilitate any later debate on a referendum when we may discuss on an amendment whether the referendum should be consultative or mandatory. I hope that the Committee will be willing to proceed on that basis. [HON. MEMBERS: "No".] All that I am submitting is that we should accept the ruling from the Chair.
I acknowledge—as anyone who has listened to all the points of order must—that there are genuine anxieties in all parts of the Chamber. It is in response to them that I have made my suggestions. I believe that the right course is for the Committee to accept the ruling of the Chair and to proceed to debate on that basis.
§ Mr. Francis Pym (Cambridgeshire)
Further to the point of order, Mr. Murton. I was wondering at what stage I might rise to speak on this grave difficulty in which we find ourselves. I entirely agree with the Leader of the House that it is one's instinctive and natural desire to support rulings from the Chair, but it cannot be denied that a difficulty has arisen and that a considerable number of right hon. and hon. Members have expressed grievous doubts. The time has come for us to take stock. I speak as someone who remembers with great clarity one occasion when we had points of order continuing from the start of business right through the night. I should not like to see a repetition of that, whichever side of the Chamber I was sitting at the time. I am moved to intervene partly by what the Leader of the House has said. We have had to cope with the Bill as presented by the Government, and the right hon. Gentleman is asking the Committee to cope with his new clause on a referendum as presented to the House.
1693 There was no intention to have a referendum at all before the Second Reading debate began. The referendum possibility was announced during the last day of that debate. Since today's points of order began the Leader of the House has already indicated the possibility of a degree of flexibility about the status of the referendum, about whether it should be consultative or mandatory, but it does not accord with the flexibility he has shown—or has not shown—during the Committee's debates so far.
The question is not whether the referendum should be consultative or mandatory. The question now is whether the difference in form of the referendum justifies a change in the rules of order. That is the issue which is worrying hon. Members.
There are arguments on both sides. My right hon. Friend the Member for Sid-cup (Mr. Heath) and the right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) indicated that they thought your ruling was correct, Mr. Murton. No doubt other Members hold that view, but there are clearly many hon. Members who are extremely doubtful about it. The ruling was quite long. It is not before us in writing, and we have not been able to study it. We accept that the ruling was well considered beforehand, and that you feel it is correct, Mr. Murton. It is not for me to challenge that, nor do I seek to do so. But with the utmost respect, and without in any sense challenging what you say, I suggest that the Committee clearly desires to consider your ruling in greater detail so that all the issues involved may be looked at closely.
If the House of Commons wants to change our previous practice, it is open to it to do so. I would do anything I can to prevent our having a long period of wrangling on points of order about your ruling, Mr. Murton. It is our natural desire to support the Chair, but many hon. Members would wish to consider in greater depth what you said and the implications of your ruling. I say that with
§ no disrespect whatever. But, since I am conscious that there is something of an argumentative period ahead which should be avoided if possible, I suggest that you should consider adjourning the proceedings at this stage so that you may consider the representations that have been made, and, if you think it appropriate, consult Mr. Speaker. The House may then perhaps find a way to return to the matter and satisfy ourselves that what you propose is entirely right in all the circumstances.
§ I say that not to cause undue delay but because I do not want the Committee to continue to wrangle when we do not know exactly what your ruling was, or its implications.
That the Chairman do report Progress and ask leave to sit again.
§ Question put:—
§ The Committee divided: Ayes 197, Noes 248.1697
|Division No. 65.]||AYES||[5.7 p.m.|
|Abse, Leo||Bell, Ronald||Bottomley, Peter|
|Adley, Robert||Bennett, Dr Reginald (Fareham)||Braine, Sir Bernard|
|Alison, Michael||Benyon, W.||Brittan, Leon|
|Amery, Rt Hon Julian||Berry, Hon Anthony||Brown, Ronald (Hackney S)|
|Atkins, Rt Hon H. (Spelthorne)||Biffen, John||Bryan, Sir Paul|
|Awdry, Daniel||Biggs-Davison, John||Buchanan-Smith, Alick|
|Baker, Kenneth||Blaker, Peter||Buck, Antony|
|Banks, Robert||Body, Richard||Budgen, Nick|
|Beith, A. J.||Boscawen, Hon Robert||Bulmer, Esmond|
|Butler, Adam (Bosworth)||Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey||Prior, Rt Hon James|
|Carlisle, Mark||Howell, David (Guildford)||Pym, Rt Hon Francis|
|Chalker, Mrs Lynda||Howells, Geraint (Cardigan)||Raison, Timothy|
|Clark, William (Croydon S)||Hunt, David (Wirral)||Rathbone, Tim|
|Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)||Hurd, Douglas||Rawlinson, Rt Hon Sir Peter|
|Cooke, Robert (Bristol W)||Hutchison, Michael Clark||Rees, Peter (Dover & Deal)|
|Cope, John||Jenkin, Rt Hon P. (Wanst'd & W'df'd)||Rees-Davies, W. R.|
|Cordle, John H.||Johnson Smith, G. (E Grinstead)||Renton, Rt Hon Sir D. (Hunts)|
|Cormack, Patrick||Jones, Arthur (Daventry)||Rhodes James, R.|
|Crouch, David||Jopling, Michael||Ridley, Hon Nicholas|
|Cunningham, G. (Islington S)||Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith||Rifkind, Malcolm|
|Dalyell, Tam||King, Tom (Bridgwater)||Rippon, Rt Hon Geoffrey|
|Davies, Rt Hon J. (Knutsford)||Lamond, James||Roberts, Michael (Cardiff NW)|
|Dean, Paul (N Somerset)||Lamont, Norman||Roberts, Wyn (Conway)|
|Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James||Latham, Michael (Melton)||Rodgers, Sir John (Sevenoaks)|
|Douglas-Mann, Bruce||Lawrence, Ivan||Rooker, J. W.|
|Drayson, Burnaby||Lawson, Nigel||Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)|
|du Cann, Rt Hon Edward||Lester, Jim (Beeston)||Ross, William (Londonderry)|
|Durant, Tony||Lloyd, Ian||Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)|
|Dykes, Hugh||Macfarlane, Neil||Rost, Peter (SE Derbyshire)|
|Edwards, Nicholas (Pembroke)||MacFarquhar, Roderick||Sainsbury, Tim|
|Emery, Peter||MacGregor, John||St. John-Stevas, Norman|
|Eyre, Reginald||Mackintosh, John P.||Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)|
|Fairbairn, Nicholas||Macmillan, Rt Hon M. (Farnham)||Shelton, William (Streatham)|
|Fairgrieve, Russell||McNair-Wilson, M. (Newbury)||Shepherd, Colin|
|Farr, John||Madel, David||Shersby, Michael|
|Fell Anthony||Marshall, Michael (Arundel)||Silvester, Fred|
|Fisher, Sir Nigel||Marten, Neil||Sims, Roger|
|Fletcher, Alex (Edinburgh N)||Mates, Michael||Sinclair, Sir George|
|Fookes, Miss Janet||Mather, Carol||Skeet, T. H. H.|
|Forman, Nigel||Mayhew, Patrick||Smith, Dudley (Warwick)|
|Fox, Marcus||Mendelson, John||Speed, Keith|
|Fraser, Rt Hon H. (Stafford & St)||Meyer, Sir Anthony||Sproat, lain|
|Freud, Clement||Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove)||Stanbrook, Ivor|
|Fry, Peter||Mills, Peter||Stanley, John|
|Gardiner, George (Reigate)||Mitchell, David (Basingstoke)||Steel, Rt Hon David|
|Glyn, Dr Alan||Moate, Roger||Steen, Anthony (Wavertree)|
|Godber, Rt Hon Joseph||Molyneaux, James||Stokes, John|
|Goodhart, Philip||Monro, Hector||Stradling Thomas, J.|
|Goodhew, Victor||Montgomery, Fergus||Tapsell, Peter|
|Goodlad, Alastair||More, Jasper (Ludlow)||Taylor, R. (Croydon NW)|
|Gow, Ian (Eastbourne)||Morgan-Giles, Rear-Admiral||Taylor, Teddy (Cathcart)|
|Grant Anthony (Harrow C)||Morrison, Charles (Devizes)||Tebbit, Norman|
|Gray Hamish||Nelson, Anthony||Temple-Morris, Peter|
|Grieve, Percy||Neubert, Michael||Thatcher, Rt Hon Margaret|
|Grimond Rt Hon J.||Newton, Tony||Thomas, Rt Hon P. (Hendon S)|
|Grist, Ian||Nott, John||Thorpe, Rt Hon Jeremy (N Devon)|
|Hall, Sir John||Onslow, Cranley||Townsend, Cyril D.|
|Hall-Davis, A. G. F.||Page, John (Harrow West)||Wakeham, John|
|Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)||Page, Rt Hon R. Graham (Crosby)||Wall, Patrick|
|Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife)||Pardoe, John||Weatherill, Bernard|
|Hampson, Dr Keith||Parkinson, Cecil||Whitelaw, Rt Hon William|
|Hannam, John||Pattie, Geoffrey||Wiggin, Jerry|
|Harvie Anderson, Rt Hon Miss||Peyton, Rt Hon John||Winterton, Nicholas|
|Hastings, Stephen||Pink, R. Bonner|
|Hayhoe, Barney||Powell, Rt Hon J. Enoch||TELLER FOR THE AYES:|
|Higgins, Terence L.||Prentice, Rt Hon Reg||Sir George Young and|
|Hooson, Emlyn||Price, David (Eastleigh)||Mr. Peter Morrison.|
|Allaun, Frank||Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P)||Davies, Bryan (Enfield N)|
|Archer, Peter||Campbell, Ian||Davies, Denzil (Llanelli)|
|Armstrong, Ernest||Canavan, Dennis||Davies, Ifor (Gower)|
|Ashley, Jack||Cant, R. B.||Davis, Clinton (Hackney C)|
|Ashton, Joe||Carmichael, Neil||Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)|
|Atkins, Ronald (Preston N)||Cartwright, John||Dell, Rt Hon Edmund|
|Atkinson, Norman||Castle, Rt Hon Barbara||Dempsey, James|
|Bain, Mrs Margaret||Clemitson, Ivor||Doig, Peter|
|Barnett, Rt Hon Joel (Heywood)||Cocks, Rt Hon Michael||Dormand, J. D.|
|Bates, Alf||Cohen, Stanley||Duffy. A. E. P.|
|Bean, R. E.||Coleman, Donald||Dunn, James A.|
|Benn, Rt Hon Anthony Wedgwood||Colquhoun, Ms Maureen||Dunnett, Jack|
|Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N)||Cook, Robi F. (Edin C)||Edge, Geoff|
|Bidwell, Sydney||Corbett, Robin||Edwards, Robert (Wolv SE)|
|Bishop, E. S.||Cox, Thomas (Tooting)||Ellis, John (Brigg & Scun)|
|Blenkinsop, Arthur||Craigen, Jim (Maryhill)||English, Michael|
|Booth, Rt Hon Albert||Crawford, Douglas||Ennals, David|
|Boyden, James (Bish Auck)||Cronin, John||Evans, Fred (Caerphilly)|
|Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)||Crosland, Rt Hon Anthony||Evans, Gwynfor (Carmarthen)|
|Brown, Robert C. (Newcastle W)||Crowther, Stan (Rotherham)||Evans, loan (Aberdare)|
|Buchan, Norman||Cryer, Bob||Ewing, Harry (Stirling)|
|Buchanan, Richard||Cunningham, Dr J. (Whiteh)||Ewing, Mrs Winifred (Moray)|
|Callaghan, Rt Hon J. (Cardiff SE)||Davidson, Arthur||Faulds, Andrew|
|Fernyhough, Rt Hon E.||Mabon, Rt Hon Dr J. Dickson||Silkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich)|
|Fitt, Gerard (Belfast W)||McCartney, Hugh||Sillars, James|
|Flannery, Martin||MacCormick, lain||Silverman, Julius|
|Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)||McDonald, Dr Oonagh||Skinner, Dennis|
|Foot, Rt Hon Michael||McElhone, Frank||Small, William|
|Ford, Ben||McGuire, Michael (Ince)||Smith, John (N Lanarkshire)|
|Forrester, John||MacKenzie, Gregor||Snape, Peter|
|Fowler, Gerald (The Wrekin)||Maclennan, Robert||Spriggs, Leslie|
|Fraser, John (Lambeth, N'w'd)||McMillan, Tom (Glasgow C)||Stallard, A. W.|
|Garrett, John (Norwich S)||McNamara, Kevin||Stewart, Rt Hon Donald|
|Garrett, W. E. (Wallsend)||Madden, Max||Stewart, Rt Hon M. (Fulham)|
|George, Bruce||Magee, Bryan||Stoddart, David|
|Gilbert, Dr John||Mahon, Simon||Stott, Roger|
|Ginsburg, David||Mallalieu, J. P. W.||Strang, Gavin|
|Golding, John||Marks, Kenneth||Strauss, Rt Hon G. R.|
|Gould, Bryan||Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)||Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley|
|Gourlay, Harry||Maynard, Miss Joan||Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)|
|Grant, George (Morpeth)||Meacher, Michael||Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)|
|Grocott, Bruce||Mellish, Rt Hon Robert||Thomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery)|
|Hamilton, James (Bothwell)||Millan, Rt Hon Bruce||Thomas, Mike (Newcastle E)|
|Hardy, Peter||Moonman, Eric||Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)|
|Harper, Joseph||Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)||Thompson, George|
|Harrison, Walter (Wakefleld)||Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)||Thorne, Stan (Preston South)|
|Hart Rt Hon Judith||Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)||Tierney, Sydney|
|Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy||Moyle, Roland||Tomlinson, John|
|Hayman, Mrs Helene||Mulley, Rt Hon Frederick||Torney, Tom|
|Healey, Rt Hon Denis||Murray, Rt Hon Ronald King||Tuck, Raphael|
|Heffer, Eric S.||Newens, Stanley||Urwin, T. W.|
|Hooley, Frank||Noble, Mike||Varley, Rt Hon Eric G.|
|Horam, John||O'Halloran, Michael||Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne V)|
|Howell, Rt Hon Denis (B'ham, Sm H)||Orbach, Maurice||Walden, Brian (B'ham, L'dyw'd)|
|Hoyle, Doug (Nelson)||Orme, Rt Hon Stanley||Walker, Harold (Doncaster)|
|Huckfield, Les||Ovenden, John||Walker, Terry (Kingswood)|
|Hughes, Rt Hon C. (Anglesey)||Owen, Rt Hon Dr David||Ward, Michael|
|Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)||Padley, Walter||Watkins, David|
|Hunter, Adam||park, George||Watkinson, John|
|Irvine, Rt Hon Sir A. (Edge Hill)||Parker, John||Watt, Hamish|
|Irving, Rt Hon S. (Dartford)||Parry, Robert||Weitzman, David|
|Jackson, Colin (Brighouse)||Pavitt Laurie||Wellbeloved, James|
|Jackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln)||Perry, Ernest||Welsh Andrew|
|Jay, Rt Hon Douglas||Price, C. (Lewisham W)||White, Frank R. (Bury)|
|Jeger, Mrs Lena||Price, William (Rugby)||white, James (Pollok)|
|Jenkins, Hugh (Putney)||Radice, Giles||Whitlock, William|
|John, Brynmor||Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn (Leeds S)||Wigley, Dafydd|
|Johnson, James (Hull West)||Reid, George||Willey, Rt Hon Frederick|
|Jones, Alec (Rhondda)||Richardson, Miss Jo||Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)|
|Jones, Barry (East Flint)||Roberts, Gwilym (Cannock)||Williams, Alan Lee (Hornch'ch)|
|Jones, Dan (Burnley)||Robinson, Geoffrey||Williams, Rt Hon Shirley Hertford)|
|Judd, Frank||Roderick, Caerwyn||Williams, Sir Thomas (Warrington)|
|Kaufman Gerald||Rodgers, George (Chorley)||Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)|
|Kelley, Richard||Rodgers, Rt Hon William||Wilson, Gordon (Dundee E)|
|Kilroy Silk, Robert||ROSS, Rt Hon W. (Kilmarnock)||Wilson, Rt Hon Sir Harold (Huyton)|
|Kinnock, Neil||Rowlands, Ted||Wilson, William (Coventry SE)|
|Lambie, David||Ryman, John||Wise, Mrs Audrey|
|Lamborn, Harry||Sandelson, Neville||Woof, Robert|
|Latham, Arthur (Paddington)||Sedgemore, Brian||Wrigglesworth, Ian|
|Lestor, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough)||Shaw, Arnold (Ilford South)||Young, David (Bolton E)|
|Lipton, Marcus||Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert|
|Loyden, Eddie||Shore, Rt Hon Peter||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Luard, Evan||Short, Mrs Renee (Wolv NE)||Mr. Ted Graham and|
|Lyons, Edward (Bradford W)||Silkin, Rt Hon John (Deptford)||Mr. James Tinn.|
§ Question accordingly negatived.
§ Mr. Maurice Macmillan
On a point of order, Mr. Murton. Naturally I am disappointed that the Committee should have made the decision that it has just made, because it prevents us from having time, which we would otherwise have had, for further consultation. May I ask whether you would consider some method by which the operation of this very important ruling could be suspended for a period, in order to give time for further consultation and consideration, perhaps between the parties, and perhaps with 1698 Mr. Speaker involved? This is a very major constitutional issue.
If I needed any further argument, that was given by the Leader of the House when he pointed out that it was perfectly possible to discuss at some stage during our debates whether a referendum should be mandatory or consultative. However, that does not alter the argument as to whether the citing of a consultative referendum is enough to overturn rulings and precedents from the past, ment to a Bill, of a mandatory referendum—as we are today.
1699 Your ruling, Mr. Murton, with respect, was that it was the existence in the 1970s of a consultative referendum which allowed the consideration, on an amendment to a Bill, of a mandatory referendum. With great respect, I suggest that this is extending a new precedent into the processes of the House of Commons, rather than a convenient way, as was the Referendum Act of getting a new practice into our democratic procedures.
I am not at present arguing whether a referendum is a good thing or a bad thing, and I am certainly not arguing about whether we should have a referendum on this issue. What I am suggesting is that by the sort of slippery slope process which one of your predecessors feared in giving a contrary ruling we have introduced a new procedure into the House of Commons when what we are seeking to do is to validate a new practice in the operation of our parliamentary democracy. That, I suggest, requires a separate Bill. If we are to alter our procedures in this case, it should be done by resolution of the House of Commons and after time has been had for considering your ruling.
Finally, Mr. Murton, your ruling was a fairly long one. I think that it might be helpful if we could hear it again, because after this period it has been somewhat forgotten, I think, and some hon. Members may not have been present when it was given.
§ Mr. Skinner
I have been in the Chamber during this debate—so-called—for the past hour, Mr. Murton. I have been listening to the elder statesmen, with their plummy voices, putting across a challenge to the ruling of the Chair. [Laughter.] Have hon. Members all done?
During the past six and a half years I have been engaged in some such challenges—very short and very minor—and they have been brought abruptly to a close by the Chair, usually occupied by Mr. Speaker. On some occasions that has happened because I have had the temerity, perhaps, only to question the 1700 Chair's ruling. But today there has been an hour's debate in which many hon. Members have taken part—some of them without even mentioning the phrase "With due respect, Mr. Murton" or "With due deference to your ruling, Mr. Murton"; they have even omitted that—and many have gone on to challenge the ruling.
What I have to say to you, Mr. Murton, is this—"with all due deference and respect". If Mr. Speaker and the Chairman can say to me on occasions that if I want to challenge the Chair I must put down a motion, I expect some right hon. and hon. Gentlemen to be told the same thing. Notwithstanding the fact that I cannot stand the sight of the Bill, and forgetting all that, I think that it is time that everyone in the House was treated alike. That has not happened today.
§ The Chairman
Order. I would reply to the hon. Member for Bolsover. He has in some respects taken the words out of my mouth.
I should like to say to the Committee that I have listened very carefully to everything that has been said, both against and in support of my ruling. Once again, I assure the Committee that I have thought deeply about the course that I have taken. I realise that this is a new precedent of great importance. Nevertheless, I must adhere to my ruling. If any Member is dissatisfied—and I would entirely understand such dissatisfaction—it is of course open to him or to her to take the customary course and put down a motion.
§ Mr. Foot rose
§ Mr. Nicholas Ridley (Cirencester and Tewkesbury)
On a totally different point of order, Mr. Murton. It will be within your recollection that I have occasionally ventured to speak on the subject of Money Resolutions of Bills, and that on many occasions I have been prevented from putting down amendments to Bills because they have been outwith the Money Resolution. Perhaps I may remind you, Mr. Murton, of the Money Resolution on the Scotland and Wales 1701 Bill—with all due respect. It runs as follows:That, for the purposes of any Act of the present Session to provide for changes in the government of Scotland and Wales, it is expedient to authorize—There is no mention in that Money Resolution of the cost of holding referendums—if my grammar is right. Referendums cost money. They are nothing to do with the government of Scotland or Wales. To hold a referendum seems to me to be a charge upon the Consolidated Fund which the House has not authorised to be included in the Bill.
- (1) the payment of any sums out of moneys provided by Parliament; and
- (2) any charge on or payment out of or into the Consolidated Fund or the National Loans Fund."
Therefore, with all due respect, Mr. Murton, I would ask you to consider whether the new clause is out of order on the ground that it is outwith the Money Resolution. If that is so, may we ask whether a Money Resolution that would quite simply put the matter back into order has been tabled by the Government? Without such a Money Resolution, I cannot see how the Committee could proceed to discuss the new clause.
§ The Chairman
I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the new clause, if it became part of the Bill by the will of the Committee, would be covered by the Money Resolution.
§ The Chairman
Order. I shall call the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Small) in a moment. I call first the hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine).
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ Sir Bernard Braine
You will recall, Mr. Murton, that you called me earlier and that I was pre-empted. I do not rise to challenge your ruling, Mr. Murton. I listened carefully to what was said by the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner).
I believe that the Committee wants time to reflect. Many of those who voted in the Division were not present in the Chamber to hear—[Interruption.] I submit that this is not a normal procedural matter as the Leader of the House seemed to suggest. This is a matter that touches upon the constitutional rights of Parliament and the people—
§ Sir Bernard Braine
I wish to advance the argument that I would have advanced before the Division took place. This is not a trivial matter. It is not even a procedural matter. It is a matter that touches deeply upon the rights of Parliament and the people for reasons that many of us will seek to argue at greater length at a later stage.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) made a plea for greater flexibility and made an argument against what he called ossification. I submit that at present the Committee is marching down a road to chaos. That is precisely what the Government's proposals mean. It is for that reason—[HON. MEMBERS: "Sit down."] I will not be silent!
§ The Chairman
I assure the hon. Gentleman that there will be full opportunity to debate these aspects when we get on to the motion. Mr. William Small.
§ Mr. Small
I believe in common sense, Mr. Murton. Surely the Committee articulated its view in the Lobbies five minutes ago. As I witness what is now taking place, I believe that the Opposition are usurping the rule that the Chair shall call the speakers. I regret what I see taking place, which is a cheap style of scoring points.
§ Mr. Emery
As this is so important as a matter of order, Mr. Murton, may I ask you a direct question on your ruling? Are we to understand from your ruling—this is a point that has been posed by others—that in future amendments on 1703 referendum matters will be in order? I am not asking whether they will be selected but whether it will be in order to table such amendments on any major Bill.
If that is the case, the alteration that we shall see in this instance is of such a magnitude in terms of a change in procedure that the Committee would normally have asked that it be considered by the Procedure Committee for a decision to be made before allowing matters to proceed. If the Procedure Committee will deal with a top hat, surely something as important as this question of procedure—
§ The Chairman
Order. Perhaps I can help the hon. Gentleman by saying that that is in accordance with my ruling in regard to this specific measure but that I cannot rule on future hypothetical questions. The Lord President.
§ Mr. Maurice Macmillan
I seek your guidance, Mr. Murton. It has been indicated quite properly that any further action should be taken by means of a substantive motion. In fact, I have a substantive motion with all-party support. I should like to have your guidance on whether it can be debated now. The terms of the motion will be very different depending on whether we are dealing with something that has happened or is about to happen.
§ The Chairman
Such a motion cannot be debated now but it can be placed upon the Order Paper and debated in due course by the House of Commons.
§ Mr. Graham Page
On a new point of order, Mr. Murton. Shall we be permitted to raise similar points to those that have been raised already when debating the procedure motion? There are one or two Members who have some fresh points to make although they are rather similar to previous points of order. We are debating the procedure motion, are we not?
§ Miss Harvie Anderson (Renfrewshire, East)
With some difficulty I have remained silent up to date, Mr. Murton, but in view of your ruling, which you have just repeated. I draw the attention 1704 of the Committee—I am sure that it has this matter already in its mind—to the fact that your ruling, which alters precedent, will create a difficult position for those who occupy your position in future. I hope that that will not be forgotten when consideration is given to this debate.
I say that with some experience, as you have had, Mr. Murton, of the admirable advice that is available to the Chair and the consideration that is given to these matters. However, if I recall correctly your rather lengthy ruling, which you have recently re-emphasised, it included reference to the responsibility that will fall upon Chairmen of Ways and Means in future when selection has to be made. I think that today we are making that selection just that much more difficult. Those who have had close concern with selection know that it is already one of the most responsible tasks in the House of Commons. I ask you, Mr. Murton, to bear that especially in mind.
§ Mr. Higgins
With the greatest respect, Mr. Murton, I raise a question which I put to you earlier—namely, whether there is precedent for a Chairman of Ways and Means to overrule precedent set by Mr. Speaker over many, many years. Secondly, I take up the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) on the Money Resolution. The resolution refers to changes in the government of Scotland and Wales but I think that we all understand that New Clause 40 implies considerable changes in the governmental procedures in England as well, which would seem to be outside the resolution. I do not expect you, Mr. Murton, to give a ruling on this point immediately but perhaps it is a matter that might be considered.
§ The Chairman
I understand the hon. Gentleman's anxiety. I do not take the same position as the hon. Gentleman on his second point. As for his first point, and with all due deference to him, he is challenging my ruling.
§ Mr. Powell
On a point of order, Mr. Murton, to which the Lord President may find it convenient to respond when he addresses the Committee. I understood the right hon. Gentleman to say that it was within the contemplation of the 1705 Government that the referendum proposed might, in the event of amendments or as a result of them, become a consultative and not a binding referendum.
If I have understood your ruling correctly, Mr. Murton, and the preceding submission of the right hon. Member for Farnham (Mr. Macmillan), if the new clause were proposing a consultative referendum your ruling and our proceedings would be covered by the 1972 precedent. I wonder, therefore, whether it would he helpful to the Committee and to future occupiers of your position if the Lord President at this early stage were able firmly to indicate that that was indeed the form of the new clause in which the Government would intend to see it passed.
The consequence of his doing that might well be that our proceedings would effectively be covered by existing precedents. Many of the anxieties that have been deeply felt this afternoon would then be at any rate partly met.
§ Mr. Graham Page
Further to the point of order raised by the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell). I suggest that if you, Mr. Murton, were to invite the Leader of the House to ask leave to amend New Clause 40 before moving it, it would be a very simple matter. The amendment to New Clause 40 would be to leave out lines 9 to 21 and insert(3) The decision upon the referendum shall have no binding effect upon Parliament or the Government.It would then be fully within precedent.
§ Mr. Foot
I beg to move,That the Order of the Committee [13th January] be amended and that the new Clause (Referendums in Scotland and Wales) in the name of Mr. Michael Foot and the new Schedule (Referendums in Scotland and Wales) in the name of Mr. Michael Foot be considered before Clause 4.I shall refer to what the right hon. Members for Crosby (Mr. Page) and Down, South (Mr. Powell) said. However, I think that both points more strictly come within the later discussion on the new clause.
Acceptance of this motion will enable us to deal with the referendum without waiting until the end of the Committee stage, which would be the normal pro- 1706 cedure if we had not taken the step of putting down the motion for today. I should explain that nothing has been done speedily or without any consultation or indication of what we intended.
Those who recall the beginning of our proceedings will remember that many questions were raised about the timing of the clauses which we suggested would be introduced to deal with the referendum. During those first days, in response to points of order which were raised by hon. Members on both sides of the Committee, I stated that we would consider the procedure that we are now adopting of interrupting the normal operation of the Committee stage to put down a motion of this character. There is nothing out of order or normality in interrupting a Committee stage in order that a clause may be considered at an earlier stage in the proceedings on the Bill for the convenience of the Committee generally.
When I made this proposal a week ago and indicated the timing, I thought that I was responding to desires which had been expressed on both sides. I shall not weary the Committee by going through all the quotations. Hon. Members on both sides of the Committee pressed me to do exactly what we are doing in this respect. I assure the Committee that the evidence is there.
On two or three occasions—for example, on 20th January during business questions in response to questions by the Leader of the Opposition and other hon. Members opposite—I indicated that we would be adopting the kind of procedure that we are now adopting of moving this procedure motion. I thought that was the best way for the Committee to discuss the question of the referendum, which many hon. Members on both sides said that we should discuss, and to decide its form before proceeding with the rest of the Bill. I do not say that it was a unanimous view, but it was a view expressed by many hon. Members on both sides of the Committee.
Perhaps I may now deal with the particular points which have been raised by right hon. and hon. Members. As I said, the point made by the right hon. Member for Down, South arises more on the second part of the discussion when we come to the new clauses. But I repeat that I certainly understand the anxieties 1707 expressed by hon. Members during the points of order that were raised.
I appreciate that, whatever differences of opinion we may hold about this matter, genuine anxiety has been expressed by some hon. Members. Indeed, they were able to underline their anxiety by referring to the consultative nature of the previous referendum which has been cited by the Chair as the precedent. There is obviously an argument on that ground. There may be different arguments on different grounds, but there is obviously an argument on that ground for considering the possibility of making the referendum consultative.
I agree that the Government must be prepared to consider what the House of Commons may say on that matter. What advice the Government will give on that question I reserve until we reach that point later in the proceedings. The Government will certainly consider the matter.
We had previously thought that it would be better if the referendums were mandatory. If there are other reasons why they should be consultative, and if there were the further reason that the House of Commons thought that they should be consultative in order to protect the position of the House, as has been described, that factor would also have to be taken into account, first, in the way that the Government might reach their view and, secondly, in the way that the House of Commons might reach its view on the matter. I suggest that is a question to be settled not on this procedural motion, but when we come to discuss the new clause and what obviously must be considered in the light of the discussion by way of amendment.
I think that deals with the point made by the right hon. Member for Crosby. If not, I apologise, and give way to him now. I hope that I have dealt with his point.
§ Mr. Graham Page
I accept the right hon. Gentleman's invitation. I think that the matter arises when we are considering the procedure motion, because we are considering admitting into our debate a clause which, according to previous rulings, would not have been in order. I accept entirely that it is now in order. 1708 Therefore, it is important to try to put that clause right before we reach it.
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Foot
I understand that, but it seems to me that it arises more on the subsequent debate than on this one. The adoption of this procedural motion will enable discussion on the referendum to be taken now instead of waiting until the end of the Committee stage. I believe that that accords with the representations which have been made from both sides of the Committee. Indeed, I did not hear a dissenting voice on that subject. I had not heard a single voice raised against it in the House of Commons—neither the Leader of the Opposition, nor the right hon. Member for Crosby—until last week when I mentioned that we were proposing to proceed in this way. Prior to that there were numerous references to the procedure that we intended to follow, and there was no dissent to it. Therefore, I genuinely thought that I was responding to the interests and representations of hon. Members in bringing forward the motion. Certainly my hon. Friends the Members for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) and Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) pressed this point. I accepted their pressure as well as pressure by other hon. Members.
There is a commonsense reason why this is the right way to proceed—namely, the way in which the referendum may be taken and its possible effects and ramifications. I understand that there are several points that hon. Members will wish to discuss. This matter may have some bearing on the way in which the rest of the Bill should be considered and the judgments which hon. Members may make on other matters. Therefore, I believe that this is an entirely commonsense procedure.
What I am proposing—to interrupt the proceedings on the Bill to discuss a clause at an earlier stage—is hallowed and grizzled with precedents. Therefore, I hope that the Committee will accept the motion without lengthy discussion and will then go on to discuss the new clause, which will enable these matters of merit and principle to be discussed properly. We can then proceed next week to discuss the individual amendments which I believe can properly deal with all the questions which have been put by hon. Members on both sides.
1709 With the utmost diffidence, Mr. Murton, I believe that, at the end of the discussion, your ruling will be found to have enabled the Committee to have a proper debate on all these matters. If your ruling had been of a different character, the Committee would have been deprived of discussion on many of these matters. I hope that factor will be taken into account by the Committee. That is a matter on which different opinions may be held. But different opinions may not be spoken, because everyone is agreed that the decision of the Chair must be upheld unless a substantive resolution is passed by the House of Commons overturning such a ruling.
On that basis, I urge the Committee to accept the motion fairly speedily so that we may proceed to discuss the major issues of principle which I agree are involved in the Government's proposal.
§ Mr. Pym
Although this looks a normal, innocent motion, there is no doubt that in many respects it is unusual and extraordinary. It has given rise at the outset to a rather weighty challenge on the question whether the new clause is in order. Your ruling on that, Mr. Murton, after some argument, has been in effect, upheld, in the sense that it has not been formally challenged at this stage. But you yourself said that in giving that ruling you were setting a precedent of importance.
The motion has given rise also to an intervention by the Lord President to the effect that his mind was open to the possibility of amending the new clause and schedule even before they have been debated. He said that because of the questions which have been raised as to the validity of taking the new clause now, in view of the fact that the proposed referendum is to be mandatory rather than consultative. So it has given rise to all these issues being debated and it is in that sense, I am certain, an extraordinary motion.
However, apart from that, the purpose and intention of the motion is transparent for all to see. It is and is widely believed to be an attempt by the Government to reach a position in which they might be able to impose a t imetable on the Bill. It represents a confession by the Government of an impasse and it is embarrassing to them. It is true that some hon. Members have asked for an early debate 1710 on any new clauses when they were tabled, but what the Leader of the House proposed last Thursday—that is to say, a sudden announcement of this debate today—was, to say the least, precipitate in the extreme, a runaway panic reaction.
What is more, the right hon. Gentleman gave no notice at all to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition or to the Opposition Chief Whip that he intended to make that announcement. That is rather like a national emergency, when the House, at a few days' notice, is prepared to set aside its business for a very good reason. What degree of chaos and confusion in Government business is necessary to petrify the usual channels to that extent is difficult to see. But my answer would be that it is when the Government find that they are trying to pass a Bill for which they do not have a House of Commons majority.
I should like to thank the Lord President for having arranged that, after this motion, we should have what might be desccribed as a Second Reading debate. I am certain that that is an excellent arrangement before we come to the amendments, many of which would otherwise be starred.
But the awful truth—awful for the Government—has been revealed by this motion: that the Bill, this particular form of devolution, has been subject to such devastating criticism, has aroused such alarm and concern for the United Kingdom in all parts of the Committee and has been revealed as containing such a potentially lethal danger to the unity of the United Kingdom that there can be no further progress unless and until some device is inserted into the parliamentary proceedings, presumably in the hope of achieving a larger measure of support.
I can think of no other explanation which fits the facts of the precipitate way in which the motion has been produced. After all, we could have devoted yesterday and the day before to continuing with the Committee stage; then, next week, we coulid have taken the new clause on the referendum. But apparently that was not practicable. It had to be done instantly and immediately, before any further progress could he made. That is a weak position, which suggests a diversion to bring some respite to the beleaguered Treasry Bench.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)
I think that the right hon. Gentleman will recognise that I have not been the most orthodox Government loyalist, but I would say that to attack the Government on these grounds is a little disingenuous. The truth is that those of us who have sat through every speech have heard it said time and again that this proposal should be brought forward as a matter of urgency. I would therefore acquit my right hon. Friends of deviousness in this matter.
§ Mr. Pym
The whole House wanted the new clause on the referendum brought forward urgently. It was not thought of when the Bill was first produced. It was a commitment on Second Reading. Everyone wanted that, but the precipitate haste in arranging for it to be debated seems illogical. There seems no logic in taking it after Clause 3 and before Clause 4. I see no natural place for it there. If one looks at lines 81 and 82 of the new Schedule—
§ Mr. Foot
The right hon. Gentleman talks about the preciptate way in which this was raised. If he looks at the questions on my Business Statement on 20th January, he will see that his hon. Friend the Member for Conway (Mr. Roberts) complained to me about our dilatoriness in not producing this clause. We made a response then and said that we would produce it as soon as we could. So the right hon. Gentleman is utterly mistaken in thinking that we have been precipitate in producing it just in the last few days.
§ Mr. Pym
I do not think so. There is a difference between tabling and debating. If there were a case for debating the clause early—perhaps there was—all I am saying is that such precipitate notice seemed to be unnecessary. We could have got on with debating the Bill this week and then taken the new clause next week or the week after, and I do not think that between debates on Clauses 3 and 4, as the motion suggests, is a particularly sensible place for the new clause to be debated.
The preamble to the Government's suggested question for the Scottish referendum says:Scotland would remain part of the United Kingdom. The new Assembly and Executive would exercise substantial powers devolved by Parliament.1712 We have not yet debated the Executive, which will come up under Clause 21. There is merit in the amendment proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) that we should take this referendum clause, if we are to take it early, at the end of our discussion of Part II.
I think that it would be better and perfectly in order, now that the new clause has been tabled, to take the new clause at the end of the discussion on the existing clauses. But the Government have decided not to do that. The only case which can be made for the motion is that the Government are bogged down in a jungle of their own creation and are frantically trying to find a way out, some route by which they can make further progress with the Bill. I do not think that this is a way out. In many respects, it will add to the complications. It has already added to complications this afternoon in the way in which it has happened.
The Leader of the House—I am sorry to say this—has got Government business into an unnecessary mess for the second Session running. It is his own fault. The Government have made a major error of judgment by informing their proposals with such a partisan and party political bias. In trying to preserve their majority at Westminster, the Government launched into an ill-considered and hastily prepared constitutional Bill. I say that advisedly. Although they spent two years thinking about it very hard, I still think that it was ill-considered, because our debates so far in Committee, hour after hour, over three or four weeks, have shown the nature and the magnitude of the issues raised, which the Government do not seem to have thought through.
As the Committee knows, it is my opinion, and has been for a long time, that we have taken altogether the wrong approach in trying to deal with a most important matter—the government of the United Kingdom as it affects Scotland and Wales and all the other constituent parts of the Kingdom. Our debates so far have shown that this form of devolution is full of flaws, that it has wide implications for the United Kingdom and that it is a very expensive scheme.
No one who has been present to hear these debates can doubt the intensity of feeling and the sincerity with which hon. 1713 Members in all parties have expressed their views. Even this Government must be thinking again about their own proposals and the future of this Bill. After all that has been said already, I cannot think that it is right to continue with this Bill, with this form of the devolution.
Perhaps the Government do have in mind a guillotine motion. The Lord President said that the thought occasionally crossed his mind, but he went no further. If it crosses his mind again, I can only say that not only would such a motion be totally unjustified: it would also be a travesty of our proceedings in a matter involving constitutional reform, to which the House has not previously given more than a very little time. I have to say that because every commentator and many hon. Members believe that there is a direct relationship between this motion and the Government's desire to achieve a timetable motion.
§ Mr. Dalyell
I do not follow the right hon. Gentleman's logic when he argues that the bringing forward of the referendum new clause at this stage has something to do with the guillotine.
§ 6.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Pym
The hon. Gentleman will no doubt he able to argue that there are other reasons for bringing the new clause forward now. But the hon. Gentleman will agree that it has been done in an extraordinary precipitate way. It could be done perfectly well next week. I do not know what the argument is for suggesting that there should be absolutely no progress beyond Clause 3 unless and until we debate a new clause which was not even thought of when the Bill was introduced and when we have been told by the Lord President that it will probably be amended. That argument does not stand up to any very acute or deep analysis.
§ Mr. Abse
Is the right hon. Gentleman really being fair? Almost everyone has been pressing for a referendum to be brought forward and for the new clause to be debated. If the new clause came forward later, the right hon. Gentleman would be arguing that the Government were being dilatory and that the Leader of the House was not responding to the will of the House. Surely we have enough about which to criticise the Leader of the House and the Government without 1714 the Opposition going along such a spurious path on a mere precedural motion.
§ Mr. Pym
I predicted that bringing the new clause forward now would lead to complications, and it has. I always try to be fair. One of my problems is that I try to be too fair. I do not think that the comments I have made are unreasonable.
Although we should be justified in raising a substantial objection to this motion, it is not and never has been my intention to waste time or to obstruct progress. Nor have I done that. The arguments and the issues arising out of the Bill and the new clause speak for themselves. Deep new issues are raised by the referendum new clause. They are additional to those that have already been raised in Committee.
If there is a vote on this motion, however tempting it may be to vote against it, I myself do not intend to vote. Let us get on with the arguments until the Government in their new found wisdom decide to withdraw the Bill and this form of devolution and to handle the matter in a different way.
§ Mr. Emery
On a point of order, Mr. Godman Irvine. I wonder whether you would consider the matter of Clause 21 if this motion is passed. Clause 21 deals with the creation of an Executive for Scotland. It states that there will be an Executive for Scotland. If that is debated after the new schedule in the name of the Leader of the House, which sets out the wording in the referendum—
§ The Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Mr. Bryant Godman Irvine)
Order. The hon. Gentleman is raising a valid point, but it does not arise out of the matter that we are now discussing.
The Second Deputy Chairman
Order. We cannot have a further point of order arising from a point of order that is not a point of order. If the hon. Gentleman catches my eye, he will be able to raise the point that he wants to put.
§ Mr. Emery
This is an entirely new point of order, Mr Godman Irvine. You mentioned that I had a valid point. Would you consider a manuscript amendment so that Clause 21 can be inserted in line 2 1715 of the procedural motion? That would get the House out of the problem that I was raising. In other words, after the debate had taken place on the new clause and on the wording of the referendum, we could take Clause 21 so that we could decide whether there is to be an Executive. We should then be able to come to a decision on the wording of the new schedule and we should not be placing the Committee in a particular difficulty. If you were willing to accept a manuscript amendment, I would be prepared to submit it.
The Second Deputy Chairman
I should not be willing to accept it. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman takes the advice that I offered him a few moments ago.
§ Mr. Mackintosh
Seldom have I seen the House or the Government in quite such a mess or in such difficulties as we are in over this Bill.
§ Mr. Mackintosh
My hon. Friend says that it will get worse. I have no doubt that is the case. I take little comfort from the fact that we started down the slippery slope when the House first agreed to hold a referendum on our membership of the EEC. I was one of the few hon. Members who voted against the referendum, not because I wanted any particular result but because I felt that it was a fundamental derogation from the principle of parliamentary government to tell the electors that there was a category of issues so important that this House was not fit to decide them. We handed that responsibility to the people and this House ducked the issue.
Many hon. Members who talked about the independence, prestige and sovereignty of this House were so anxious to get a particular result in that referendum that they voted for it and did serious damage to our position as a representative body. Many of us said that if a referendum were held, it was likely to be repeated again and again. We felt that each time this House got into a jam, or the Government got into difficulties, it would ask the public to get the House and the Government out of the 1716 mess. By voting for this referendum we are only making matters worse.
In the end we shall find that there are other issues that will be handed to the electorate, such as a referendum on PR, because there will be divisions on one side of the House and divisions on the other side and hon. Members will say that there is only one way of getting out of it. We have embarked on a disastrous course, and I am deeply unhappy about it.
There is no getting around this. Every hon. Member knows the damage that will be done by having a referendum on this issue. What has happened is that this House does not contain a majority for this Bill. I say that although I support the Bill. As a person who has supported devolution for 20 years, I would rather see this House have the courage of its convictions and reject the Bill. It should be thrown out, and the electorate should make their views known at a General Election so that the Government can come back with a better Bill at a later stage. The issue will not disappear because of one rejection by this House. Many important constitutional steps have had to be brought back every five years until they are thrashed out and proper, sensible proposals produced.
§ Mr. Mackintosh
My hon. Friend is illustrating my point perfectly, because he dislikes what the Government have put forward. My hon. Friend has made some passionate speeches against the Bill, but did not vote against it. If my hon. Friend believed that this was a bad Bill his moral obligation was to go into the Lobby against it. It makes a laughing stock of this House for my hon. Friend and his colleagues to do what they have done and to fail to vote according to their convictions.
My hon. Friend is apparently against the whole principle of the Bill. He speaks for the people of Wales because he thinks that they still back him. But he is handing the responsibility to them rather than 1717 taking the responsibility himself as a Member of this House.
§ Mr. Mackintosh
My hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) has interrupted every speech that I have heard, including mine, but I give him credit this time. He is right. I should in due course have made the point, on his behalf, that he voted against the Bill. As I say, I would have preferred it to be defeated rather than come to this kind of expedient.
§ Mr. Kinnock
Could it not be that we want the responsibility for making a conclusive decision about this matter to rest with the people of Wales and Scotland because it is their responsibility? They will have to pay the price or draw the benefit. It was only in the vaguest fashion that any party could have said that it had secured a mandate for an irreversible constitutional change. Does my hon. Friend not think that it is a sensible approach to democratic representation not to impede a Bill that permits a referendum, so that we can achieve the conclusive result that he and I both want?
§ Mr. Mackintosh
My hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) is wriggling away from the point because he, too, did not vote against the Bill. He wants to hand on the responsibility to the electorate. It is no good saying that the problem is an alleged spurious mandate. No mandate is binding on the votes of Members of this House. Members of Parliament come here, having stood in their constituencies and made their positions clear. I do not hold it against my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian, as some do, that his conduct contradicts what he said in past speeches. The fact is that he supported devolution to a mild extent at the last General Election. But I do not hold that against him now. He is entitled to say that he has thought about it again, taking into account the interests of his constituents, and has taken a decision in the opposite sense. That is the essence of representative democracy—not being bound by some words in a manifesto, or handing back the issue to the electorate and refusing to take a decision on the Floor of this House.
1718 I come to another serious point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty. He said that the consequences would have to be lived with by the people of Wales and Scotland and that, therefore, they should take the decision. Does he realise what may happen? We are to have a referendum clause. We shall then consider the Committee stage of the Bill. But, instead of this being a proper Committee stage in which we consider the workability of the Bill clause by clause, in the minds of many hon. Members there will be the thought that the decision in principle is still to come at the end of the process and, therefore, there is every incentive to put rubbish into the Bill.
§ Mr. Mackintosh
My hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty is wrong. There are many amendments which could improve the Bill. But there will be every motive on the part of those who are deeply opposed to it not to make it a workable Bill. Then what is left to the people of Scotland and Wales in a referendum is a "take it or leave it" vote on a bad Bill or no Bill. What, then, shall we do, other than saddle the people possibly with a total sense of defeat if they are denied any measure of devolution by the referendum vote and with an unworkable, unsatisfactory Bill if the majority vote is in favour of devolution?
That was why I tabled my amendment to the Lord President's motion. I am sorry that it was considered by the Chair to be out of order, because it was seriously intended. The only way to unscramble the mess and to resolve the fears that I have as a devolutionist is to hold the referendum right away. I do not like referenda, but at least that would take the decision in principle. We would be doing what my hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty wants. We would be asking the people to do the job which we should have done on Second Reading; that is, deciding whether or not to have a devolution Bill.
At least when we then returned to the Committee stage, whether we disagreed with the Bill or not or disliked the principle or not, we could, as a House, give our minds to the crucial question—given a "Yes" vote in the referendum—of 1719 devising a workable scheme of Government. But, with the procedure now proposed, the House will continue for the rest of this Committee stage, while many Members whose disagreement with the Bill is so passionate and whose objection is so fundamental, and who are then presented with sensible mechanistic reforms for improving it, cannot but have in their minds the possibility that to accept these amendments will be to make the whole proposition more acceptable to the people of Wales and Scotland.
I fear that sensible schemes for revenue allocation to an independent Assembly, sensible schemes for representation, and sensible schemes for easing the relationship between Edinburgh and Westminster and Cardiff and Westminster will be debated with the overhanging thought in people's minds "Will this help us to defeat or to carry this proposal at the referendum?" I think that this is most unsatisfactory.
I have had many discussions in my constituency, as I am sure have other hon. Members in theirs, throughout the country. From them, I find that the dilemma that I am putting to the Committee is a very real one. Many people in Scotland say to me "We do not want devolution. If there is a referendum, we shall vote against it. But if the decision is in favour of having devolution in principle, for heaven's sake do it properly and make the machinery workable. Reduce conflict between Scotland and London to the minimum." I am sure that that would be the position of my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian if the decision in principle had been taken. But, if the decision in principle to which he objects so much, is to be taken after all the detail has been worked out, how can we, as a House, devote ourselves properly to the Committee stage of the Bill?
That is why, Mr. Godman Irvine, I had hoped very much that you and your predecessor in the Chair would be willing to accept my motion. Whether one is an opponent or a supporter of devolution, if the referendum decision goes against devolution, why waste three months of the time of this House and two or three months of the time of the upper House coming to a conclusion that will be put into operation? On the 1720 other hand, if the decision is in favour, at least we shall have got out of the way all these endless Second Reading speeches that we have been hearing and we shall be able to get down to the detail. However deeply opposed hon. Members may be, they could then apply their minds to producing a Bill which at the very least would not make the situation worse from their point of view.
I hope that my speech has not cut across the views either of those who are in favour or of those who are against devolution. I have tried to put the case for attempting to rescue the Government from their appalling difficulties which could, in the end, if the Bill was carried and the referendum decision was "Yes", endanger the unity of the country. I say that as a devolutionist.
In the circumstances, I hope that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will consider my suggestion to him not merely about having these clauses now but about having a separate Bill. Let us have the referendum, and then let us, in the light of the result, get down to our responsibilities as a House and produce a workable devolution Bill.
§ Mr. John Pardoe (Cornwall, North)
I agree with a great deal of what the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh) said. He was especially right to stress that we should have this device again and again. He said that we would be asking for it on proportional representation. That is precisely what the Liberal Party is asking, and I look forward to hearing the case that the Leader of the House or his Minister of State will then adduce to knock down the arguments, which seem to me to be inevitable now that it is accepted that proportional representation is a constitutional matter, that changing the electoral system is a constitutional matter and that of course, we should ask the people what kind of electoral system they want.
I am perplexed by the Government's attitude, because there are people who believe in the extension of the referendum principle. They argue it in the following way. They say that the electorate is now very much larger than in the days of Burke's speech to the electorate of Bristol. Electors are more educated. They are more involved. They watch television, and they join in the discussion. 1721 A referendum is thought to be an extension of democratic participation.
A constituent of mine wrote to me a closely argued and well-thought-out letter expressing this view. He said:I would like to see a new system of Government which allows the whole community to shape its future by a majority vote in an annual referendum on the major issues.I wrote back saying that I did not agree. I put forward all the arguments about the supremacy of Parliament and about the need for Parliament to consider these matters and to make decisions in the light of that consideration. But I thought that it would be a good idea to get the views of the Ministers responsible for this Bill. Accordingly, I wrote to the Leader of the House. I did not get a reply from him, but I received a letter from the Minister of State saying:What your constituent proposes would of course very seriously undermine the whole principle of representative Government at the heart of our parliamentary system.That was written on 17th January by the Minister of State. If there is a vote tonight on this issue, I wonder which way he will vote.
§ The Minister of State, Privy Council Office (Mr. John Smith)
The hon. Gentleman is not making the distinction between a proposition for a pre-Bill referendum and the post-decision referendum that is now proposed.
§ Mr. Pardoe
I am sure that we shall have plenty of time to discuss that definition. Various hon. Members are endeavouring to do so. But I do not see that it affects the Minister of State's point. He is arguing a constitutional point. He does not make a distinction between a referendum at one stage of the Bill and a referendum at another stage of the Bill, either before or after the Bill. I remind him of what he wrote:What your constituent proposes would of course very seriously undermine the whole principle of representative Government at the heart of our parliamentary system.I agree entirely with those words. I sent the hon. Gentleman a copy of my letter to my constituent, in which I said so. The hon. Gentleman agreed with what I had written.
The argument against a referendum is one that I have always accepted, along with the basic argument of Burke that there is no point in sending all of us to 1722 Westminster to debate issues, hammer them out, and so on, if someone else, after all that process, has to take the decision. But that is what the Government are proposing. We shall waste 30 days and 30 nights, or whatever it may be, discussing the minutiae of the Bill, and we may well succeed in making it worse than it is at the moment. Then we will face the people of Scotland and Wales with having to pick up the mess we have deposited on their doorsteps.
I had always assumed that one of the rôles of the politician was to make judgments about political opinion, about the views of constituents, which Burke enjoined us to take gravely to heart even though they did not override our judgment. We seem to have surrendered that in accepting the principle of referendums. In compounding that acceptance today, we seem to have accepted that political judgment is no longer part of the apparel of the politician in British politics.
Is Parliament inadequate? The hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) has argued that it was inadequate to take the decision about Wales. Somehow, there is something about Wales, according to the hon. Genleman, that this Parliament ought not to decide. If that is so, it makes the case for devolution—for a federal system. The hon. Member may well be right that this Parliament is not a suitable place in which to make decisions of this kind about what happens in Wales. If so, it means that this Parliament is no longer capable of making many decisions at all.
§ Mr. Kinnock
Perhaps "admired" would be the wrong word, but I have long had the chance to observe the hon. Gentleman's capacity for convulsions and political gymnastics. I would be obliged if he would keep them to himself and not attribute them to me, or attribute to me words that I never used.
The Second Deputy Chairman
Order. Before the hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Pardoe) deals with that point, I remind the Committee that we are dealing with a procedural motion as to whether we shall consider a new clause or not. There will be ample opportunity in due course to discuss whether a referendum is a good or a bad thing.
§ Mr. Pardoe
I wholeheartedly accept your ruling, Mr. Godman Irvine, but, with deference, I would point out that other hon. Members have strayed a little wide of the motion. Of course, basically we are discussing whether it is good to have the motion, so that we can push this clause into the Bill at a particular point. The hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian argued whether this was the right time to have a referendum. I understood his case to be that it is legitimate to argue whether we want a referendum now, whether we should have a separate Bill, or whether it would have been better to have had a consultative referendum before the Bill started.
Why is the Leader of the House bringing this motion forward today? Why is it so necessary to interpolate such a device at this stage? It has nothing to do with his belief in democracy. It has nothing to do with any extension of the participatory process—he long ago forgot anything about that. The fact is that it is introduced at this stage and in this way in order to try to get Labour Members to vote for the guillotine. That is why we are having to debate the motion now. It has nothing to do with anything about democracy.
The right hon. Gentleman has posed throughout his political career as a defender of the higher principles of democracy. The trouble with him is that he is forgetting the very first principles of democracy, and he is not in the least concerned with them today. He is concerned with trying to persuade a few Labour Members, particularly the hon. Member for Bedwellity and his friends, to vote for the guillotine so that the Bill can go through. I do not believe that it will persuade Labour Members from outside Wales to do it—certainly not those from the North of England. The right hon. Gentleman still needs a few more votes in order to get the guillotine. He will not get mine, whatever he does with the motion. I hope that he will not get the votes of a very large number of his hon. Friends.
§ Mr. John Mendelson
I shall stay strictly within the rules of order established this afternoon, remaining mindful that they will allow me to carry with me the good will of my right hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay), which I otherwise might quickly lose. Even more important, I shall remain 1724 within the instructions of the Chair and the agreement reached with the Minister that we would be able to discuss everything that some hon. Members wanted to discuss under the points of order once the main debate started. I was gravely doubtful as to whether we would be able to do so, but that was the agreement reached before the vote on the motion to report Progress was taken. I dare say that some hon. Members may have been influenced in their vote by that assurance. So I intend to say everything that I had intended to say on a point of order in reply to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. Hon. Members, when the points of order were being raised, were not given an opportunity to reply to him. That was no fault of theirs.
My right hon. Friend advanced a very shaky argument. First, he made great play, time and again, of the argument that he had only responded to the many requests that had been made to him. What did he respond with? He made it appear as though he had fulfilled the wishes of, for example, my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan), who is not here now but who is almost invariably present for these debates. I want to put on record that my right hon. Friend and the Cabinet have far from fulfilled my hon. Friend's wishes for a referendum.
The whole burden of the debate and its background represents an avenue of despair, as I will try to show. I am convinced that the reasons for this motion have not yet been revealed by the Government. It is essential that the Committee should be aware of them before we pass it.
My hon. Friend the Member for Renfrewshire, West—and I think that I can carry my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House with me in this, if in nothing else—can be called the father of the idea of having a referendum on this matter. Due credit has been given to him for it. But what did he want? He and others associated with him wanted a referendum because they shared with many of us the great fear that some people would use the Bill only as a first step on the slippery slope towards separatism and the disintegration of the United Kingdom. Such people are not 1725 the least bit interested in Assemblies or in having devolution. All they want is to use an Assembly in Edinburgh as a first step towards the destruction of the United Kingdom as we know it.
In order to meet that danger my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrewshire, West demanded a two-pronged referendum. He was only interested in a referendum that would be two-pronged. That is no secret. He has said so publicly in Scotland and in this Committee. He wanted to ask the people of Scotland a second question, one which he regarded as most important. He wanted them to declare, as he hoped they would by a large majority, that they want nothing to do with separatism and that they wish to remain part of the United Kingdom. That was his purpose and intention, and the Government have turned him down.
They have not introduced that kind of referendum. The Lord President has no moral or political right to imply that he has yielded to the wishes of his hon. Friends. He has done nothing of the kind. In fact he has done something quite different. He has used the idea of a referendum to introduce an additional component to find the reasons for the overpowering resistance to the Scotland and Wales Bill. That is the basis of my objection, and that is the fear I have about this matter of procedure.
If we allow the Executive suddenly to introduce, in the middle of a debate on a Bill, an amendment to hold a referendum, any Administration might decide to do just that when there was resistance to a Bill in the House of Commons. This resistance could be on any matter. There could be a group of MPs from every part of the House—cutting across party lines—opposed to some particular Bill. Instead of using the democratic process, giving the country time to think again, and putting the matter to the electorate, the Government have decided to have a referendum. They are saying that there is another arbiter to override the House of Commons. That is not the British way of doing things. It may be the way things are done under other constitutions, but it is not in our constitution. That is a point of capital importance.
I give notice that while I do not challenge the ruling now, the last has not been 1726 heard of this matter. The argument that the Government are merely responding to a number of requests falls to the ground without substance. The Government have done this, as Governments usually do, for their own reasons, and they should admit it to the Committee. There is no virtue in their decision. They wanted to make their position more powerful.
There is another equally serious reason for my feelings on this matter. I said a minute ago that the reason why the debate is so important and why it must go on for a long time is that the country needs time to consider the implications of this piece of legislation. The traditional function of the House of Commons is to give time to consider and to reconsider.
Along with many other hon. Members today I attended the annual luncheon of the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee. I sat beside someone from Aberdeen whom I had never met before. We got talking, and naturally our conversation centred on today's business. He told me that his organisation was holding a debate back in Aberdeen, and that there was growing opposition in that city to this Bill. I do not believe that Aberdeen is an isolated example. That means that doubts about the Bill are growing throughout the United Kingdom and particularly in the parts most directly affected by it.
§ Mr. Dalyell
Is not feeling against this Bill now surfacing across the political horizon from Lord Home of Hirsel to the Divisional Committee of the AUEW covering Edinburgh, the Borders, Dundee and Falkirk?
§ Mr. Mendelson
I am sure that many hon. Members will be able to make other reports. That is why no one wants to interfere with the freedom of the House or the Committee to debate the Bill properly and at length. Any such interference would be against the spirit and the letter of democracy.
I am implacably opposed to the introduction of a guillotine motion. It is the consensus of all political observers and correspondents and others who are in contact with Ministers that this bringing forward of a referendum is designed to pave the way for a guillotine motion a week or two later. We shall see whether I am right or not. If, in the next six 1727 weeks there is no guillotine motion, I shall have been proved wrong.
The Scottish National Party is, of course, demanding an end to the debate. I see that one of its members made a speech over the weekend in which he said that the Labour Party must be taught a lesson for opposing the legislation. I do not charge the Government with being inspired by the SNP's demands, but whatever their reasons for taking this step the fact remains that all political correspondents agree that this timing is designed to pave the way for a guillotine motion. That is a very bad reason for such timing. It has not been admitted to the Committee, but if it is true it should be admitted.
Another reason why I am unhappy about this matter concerns Wales. It is quite obvious that, although there is a consensus of opinion on what is assumed of Scotland, both the Government and hon. Members on both sides agree that it is unlikely that there will be a majority for an Assembly in a referendum in Wales. I know that that is the opinion of my hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) and many others who are qualified observers. A referendum should ask the people of Wales whether they are in favour of devolution. If one asks Government supporters and some propagandists for the Welsh nationalists what they intend to do in the referendum campaign they do not reply that they are asking people to support devolution. They say that they intend to organise a big Government campaign, which they hope the Prime Minister will open, to appeal to Welsh people to support the Government, not devolution. The Government have no right to make such an appeal to the people of Wales. It is not a Government referendum. The only authority the Government have is to ask the Welsh people whether they are in favour of devolution. They know that such a referendum would not be carried.
§ Mr. Dalyell
Is not the timing absolutely crucial? What happens if the Government were to give full backing, and then find that it was the week of another Marcia and Joe show?
§ Mr. Mendelson
Whatever other comments my hon. Friend has in mind, I 1728 hope he will not put them during my speech. He must not disappoint me too often, or I might not give way to him again.
It is very important to realise that if there were a defeat for the referendum in Wales that would not amount to a Government defeat. By the same token, the Government have no right to run this as a campaign demanding confidence in Her Majesty's Government, and that is particularly important to Government supporters. If the Government care for the unity of their supporters they will keep that point well in mind.
I have no confidence in any of the reasons given for bringing forward this measure at this point. I have no confidence in the way in which the referendum has been framed. I do not accept the Government's statement that it has been done in response to demands from Government supporters, because the main demand of the Government's supporters has not been fulfilled. The Government will, therefore, not have my support for the way in which they have chosen to move towards this referendum.
§ Mr. Julian Amery (Brighton, Pavilion)
The late Lord Beaverbrook used often to refer to the Lord President as Robespierre, that sea-green incorruptible. As we know, however, Robespierre, who began by thinking of the guillotine as a means, finished by thinking of it as the end, and to secure the guillotine was the one thing that mattered to him. That is what the Lord President and the Government are affronting the House with today. It is an affront. They have presented the House with an intolerable dilemma, which was best expressed earlier by the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse). He wanted a referendum in Wales for entirely acceptable reasons. He wanted the Welsh people to be given the chance to express their view, which, in his judgment, would be against the devolution Bill.
But the hon. Gentleman is also well known as a strong upholder of Parliamentary sovereignty and of the pre-eminence of this House. By introducing this procedural motion and the clause in the way that he has, the Lord President is mixing two things together. He seeks to give the hon. Member for Pontypool what he wants up to a point, in the matter of 1729 a referendum for Wales, but he seeks to do it in a way that the hon. Gentleman and many other hon. Members resent bitterly. He is doing it in a way that opens an enormous passage for a revolutionary change in our constitution.
I do not think that this matter can be allowed to rest where it is today. There I agree with the hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson). This is a matter so serious and revolutionary, in terms of our constitution, that it cannot be brought in by a back door—which is what is happening this afternoon. It must be discussed either by the Select Committee on Procedure or by the whole House, after due reflection both by Mr. Speaker and the Chair generally, and by all of us. The trouble is that the Government have been stumbling from one expedient to another. We saw it in an almost farcical form a few days ago. We know that the Bill was brought in originally in an attempt to try to stem the drift from the Labour Party in Scotland to the Scottish National Party, yet we found ourselves at one moment—if the rumour be correct—with the Lord President seriously considering proposing a reduction in the number of Scottish Members, in the hope of cobbling together a majority for the guillotine.
§ Mr. Nicholas Fairbairn (Kinross and West Perthshire)
With respect to my right hon. Friend, may I suggest that it was brought in not to stem the drift from the Labour Party but to stem the anticipated drift from the Labour Party to the Nats?
§ Mr. Amery
My hon. and learned Friend represents a Scottish constituency and he therefore can judge the matter better than I. He would know whether it was a prospective drift, or whether the drift was in progress. Nevertheless, the Government have been stumbling from one expedient to the other. The Bill has been brought in not for the benefit of Scotland and Wales but for party political reasons, but it will do more than anything I can imagine to break up the unity of the governing party, and I predict that the House of Commons will live to see that in their attempt to cobble together a majority for the guillotine the Lord President and his colleagues are doing more than anythting else to bring about the collapse not of the Government but of the Bill.
§ 6.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Dalyell
First, I must disagree with some of those with whom I have agreed on a great many matters, because, in candour, I would have made a long, eloquent tirade against the Lord President had he not done precisely what he has done in bringing forward the clause. It was not very realistic to talk about this subject at all without that provision in front of us. Therefore, I must say to the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) and the hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Pardoe) that I may be a simple soul, but I do not quite see the matter in the light in which they have put it forward. I accept that the proposal was made because of the clamour from all sides of the House, and it was done for perfectly honourable reasons. It would have been totally wrong had it not been so done.
Again, I may be simple and naive about it, but I am not sure that I agree, for all that the Press may say about it, that there is any direct connection between this proposal and the guillotine. That connection would have to be explained to me in words of one syllable.
I never cease to marvel at what I hear in this House. I never expected to be given a lecture by the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) on the question of flexibility. I had hoped that he would be here, because it would have been better to say that in his presence. However, I think there is an issue that arises out of what he said. It is a question of pot and kettle in a peculiar way when he tells us that we have to be flexible, that we must not ossify, and that we have to change the rules.
This subject has been bedevilled with the question of changing the rules. Much has been said about changing the rules in the middle of the match. There may have been good or bad reasons for doing that. With this kind of judgment from the Chair, would it not be possible, somehow, if the Chair has notice of points such as those raised by the right hon. Member for Farnham (Mr. Macmillan), to have the ruling circulated? A fortnight ago I raised a similar request and I was given by the ever-helpful Clerk's Department a copy of the ruling. If copies are to be distributed, they should not be confined to one Member, least of all the hon. Member for West Lothian. 1731 Is there not a serious argument here, that because of the unique nature of the Bill these statements from the Chairman should at least be circulated?
Furthermore—and this is more a question to the Chair than to my right hon. Friend the Lord President—to what extent is the EEC referendum to be taken as a precedent? There are a great many difficulties. None was more eloquently put than the one referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh), who said that the EEC referendum was quite different, because at that time there was no dedicated anti-Marketeer party, as such. We know that both major parties contained anti-Marketeers, but that is not quite the point. The point is that there is a party that is dedicated to altering the decision of the referendum and will not be satisfied until that is done.
One can imagine the situation at the end of the referendum. It is doubtful whether SNP Members will vote "Yes" or "N". I was told over the weekend that many SNP branches will vote "No". That would be the honourable answer for the SNP. Some SNP Members say that they do not want this kind of Assembly; others have told me that they will vote "Yes". These things can he interpreted according to one's position. Scottish National Party Members will say that a few years ago they were nothing, that in 1974 they received a quarter of the vote, and that in 1976 they got about 33 per cent. of the vote. They now want to make it more. That is a natural argument.
Any idea that this referendum has the finality that was attributed to the EEC referendum does not make sense. If we are not careful, we may just be helping the process by adding to the momentum of the SNP. So much depends on how things are phrased, and in what context.
§ Mr. Higgins
If we were to accept as a precedent what has happened this afternoon, presumably when and if the Bill goes through and there are arrangements each year for an allocation of money to Scotland, any hon. Member may table an amendment to the effect "Let us have a referendum on how much money will go to Scotland". That would involve the people of Scotland, but the people of England would 1732 have nothing to do with it. That is the kind of precedent that it is suggested we should follow or create today.
§ Mr. Dalyell
I listened to the hon. Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins) earlier, and I shall read what he said in Hansard tomorrow. My antennae suggest that he was on to a point of considerable substance and importance. I do not want to prolong the debate, and I am sure that the House will forgive me for not going into the hon. Gentleman's point now, other than to say that I suspect that it is important.
I asked the Lord President whether the referendum was to be consultative. Some of us assumed that if there were to be a referendum it would be mandatory.
§ Mr. Dalyell
If we tell our constituents that this consultative referendum will cost £3 million plus, at a time when training colleges are being closed, ratepayers are more angry than ever, and considerable financial problems face local authorities, the Committee can picture the kind of comments that will be made.
People are saying "What on earth do we pay Members of Parliament for?". This is being said more and more, and there will be more force in that argument if the referendum is consultative and not mandatory. There is a difference between a consultative referendum and a mandatory referendum. A consultative referendum would give rise to even more criticism about the use of taxpayers' money.
All of us have a vested interest in the amendments that are selected. There was earlier reference to the criteria on which amendments would be selected. It would be useful if, at the beginning of business on Tuesday, some indication could be given about the basis for the criteria on which the amendments are selected. We all plead our special cases.
The question should be, "At a time when the Prime Minister rightly emphasises, that priority should be given to the productive and manufacturing industries, do you, as a matter of priority, want to go ahead with an expensive 1733 shake-up in the form of government?" That might not be immediately seen to be the kind of neutral question to be asked in the referendum but—
§ Mr. Dalyell
I accept your ruling, Mr. Deputy Chairman, but may we have a statement at the beginning of business on Tuesday about the criteria on which these questions will be selected?
§ Mr. Graham Page
I shall stick strictly to the motion, which is that we should take New Clause 40 and the new schedule and insert them now or postpone them until later in the Bill. There are six reasons why we should postpone them.
First, we have had a new ruling on our procedure which seriously affects our consideration of the new clause and the schedule. We ought to have time to ponder on that and to consider how much it may affect our debates.
Secondly, we have been told by the Lord President that he will think again about New Clause 40—that it may be mandatory, permissive, or consultative. Well, let us give him time to think again about it and to table a new New Clause 40, which we may consider at leisure so that we are not rushed into it today.
Thirdly, we have had a warning that a substantive motion may be tabled questioning the ruling that has been made. If that is so, and if that is to be debated, it may be that the ruling will be upset by the House in a further debate. That is another reason why we should postpone discussing the new clause and the new schedule now.
Fourthly, the new clause and the new schedule pre-empt later debates. My hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Mr. Emery) said earlier that the schedule mentions an Executive for Scotland but leaves out the Executive for Wales We may wish to debate later whether there should he an Executive for Scotland and whether these should be an Executive for Wales. If we decide that these words are to go into a referendum now, how can we debate the subject later on? When we deal with amendments in Committee, we often find that we have already decided some of the matters, inadver- 1734 tently, by having discussed the same subject earlier.
Fifthly, we ought to have a chance to consider a new Money Resolution dealing with the expense that a referendum is bound to incur. I am not certain whether the expense will be borne by Scotland or by Wales, from their Consolidated Funds or by our Consolidated Fund, or whether it will come out of the money already allocated to the Secretary of State. We should have an opportunity to debate this before such a clause is written into the Bill. Whenever, in Committee, I have tried to introduce a new clause that involves spending money, I have always been told that I could not do that unless there were a Money Resolution, or I have had to wait until Report.
Sixthly, this motion is a condition precedent to a motion for a guillotine. Every hon. Member realises that. The longer it remains a condition precedent, the happier I shall be.
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ Mr. William Hamilton (Fife, Central)
We have had a wide-ranging debate on a thoroughly narrow procedural motion. I do not want to stray too far in my remarks, but we should be concerned about the constitutional principle that it involves.
Just as on the Referendum Bill in regard to the Common Market, the Prime Minister said that was a one-off matter and that there would never be another, so we have seen this principle gradually extended so that we now face yet another referendum.
Several hon. Members have given examples of how it would be possible on other Bills for a Government to get themselves off the hook by inserting at any stage in the course of a Bill a clause providing for a referendum. If we take the example of the block grant, which I assume could be covered by the legislative process, a provision could be inserted by the Scottish nationalists, by the Tories or by Labour asking "Do you think that this block grant is enough? Answer "Yes" or "No". Certainly the Scottish people would reply every time "No". Indeed it would be strange if they did not so reply. It is an important principle, which one needs to enunciate.
1735 My hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) said that although he might be thought to be simple or naive he did not accept that the reason the Government had introduced this motion was that they wanted to win a guillotine motion. I did not think that he was quite so simple and naģve as those remarks prove him to be. I do not know where he has been in the past few weeks—
§ Mr. Hamilton
I have been there too, but the message about what the Government were up to got across to me. I was waylaid by a Whip in the Tea Room and he asked "How will you vote on a guillotine, Willie?" I said "I am damned well going to vote against it." He said "But you will be out of the country. I shall see that the aeroplane schedules fit in with the vote." Every corridor in this place has been swarming with Whips. I have never been accosted by these wretched people more often than in the past fortnight.
§ Mr. Hamilton
If my hon. Friend makes utterances of the type we heard a little earlier this afternoon, I am sure that they will leave him alone. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House was partly right when he said that he was sensitive to the wishes expressed on all sides of the House and thought that the new clause and the schedule introducing the principle of the referendum should be introduced at an early stage. But that is no reason for its being introduced now. Surely the reason is obvious, namely, that the arithmetic was going the wrong way for the Government.
My right hon. Friend will recall that a short time ago he was criticised on this matter at a party meeting. I must not leak too much about party meetings, because some day someone may write a book about it. My right hon. Friend was asked at that meeting what negotiations he had had with the Liberal Party, because he was out to get their votes on a guillotine. The Leader of the Liberal Party had made a speech the previous weekend, laying down five conditions that had to be met if he were to be expected 1736 to deliver the Liberal vote on a guillotine motion. My right hon. Friend—I hope that I am not being unfair to him—said "There have been no negotiations. I have simply gone to the Leader of the Liberal Party and discussed these five points with him, and have told him what to do with them". It would be unparliamentary if I were to explain in full what that proposition was, but it was simply that the five points were rejected. Therefore, we were not to get the Liberal vote.
We had read in the Press about the proposition to reduce the number of Welsh and Scottish seats in this House, and that point was put to my right hon. Friend at the same party meeting. He was asked by three of his colleagues whether the Government intended to accept Conservative amendments to reduce the number of such members in this Chamber. Three times, as in the biblical story, my right hon. Friend refused to answer—which was untypical of him.
It was clear that bargains were being attempted by the official Opposition. Members of the Labour Party who were favourably disposed to the Bill said that if any bargains were struck with the Conservatives or the Liberals, those Labour Members would turn against the Bill. That was the dilemma. If the Government had made concessions to the Liberals on their five propositions, or to the Tories on the numbers of Scottish and Welsh Members in this House, they would have alienated Labour votes.
§ Mr. Foot
So that there is no misunderstanding on this matter, I must inform the Committee that no bargains were sought or agreed with the Liberals or with the official Opposition, or, indeed, with anybody else on any of these matters. I am sure that my hon. Friend does not wish to give circulation to false rumours.
§ Mr. Hamilton
I am not; I am putting the facts as I know them. I hope that my right hon. Friend will acquit me of distortion about what took place at our party meeting. I do not think I am giving any leak, since these matters have appeared in the newspapers.
§ Mr. Foot
I am not complaining about what my hon. Friend is saying about reporting. However, he suggested that there was some attempt by me to make an agreement with the official Opposition on this matter. I am sure that they 1737 would agree that that is not the case. The Leader of the Liberal Party, in debate the other night, agreed that no such thing had occurred. I am saying that my hon. Friend should not get excited about this matter, because no attempt at bargains was made.
§ Mr. Hamilton
I accept my right hon. Friend's assurances. That makes it more difficult to understand the exact implications that lie behind the bringing forward of this premature proposition that there should be a clause dealing with the referendum. I do not think that my right hon. Friend would deny that our Whips have been most active in the past week or fortnight in adding up their sums, because they know that if they do not obtain a guillotine motion soon the Bill will run into the sands. They want a guillotine at the earliest possible moment. All kinds of carrots, incentives, inducements and bribes—call them what one will—were dangled in front of those of us who said that we would not support a guillotine motion. This is part of the saga.
§ Mr. Ted Leadbitter (Hartlepool)
It was known that some of us had decided to dig in our toes. That was why the Whips were so active.
§ Mr. Hamilton
Everything except a life peerage. Every Labour Member knows what has been happening in the corridors of power. That is what has been happening in the House during the last fortnight. What I find deeply discouraging is the element of dishonesty that has run through all these debates. There is hardly a Minister or Back Bencher who can put his hand on his heart and say that he supports the Bill because he is convinced that it is right. Members of the Scottish National Party do not want the Bill for its merits, either; they are engaged in a form of dishonesty, as is every other hon. Member.
§ Mr. Buchan
My hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) said that we have all been offered bribes of one kind or another. Will he tell us what he has been offered. I do not believe it.
§ Mr. Hamilton
I wish that my hon. Friend would not be so trite and trivial in these matters. He is not normally so trivial. During the last fortnight the Government have tried every stratagem.
§ Mr. Hamilton
I wish that my hon. Friend would keep his mouth shut or else get to his feet and intervene properly.
§ Mr. Hamilton
My hon. Friend is entitled to say that, but I am entitled to give my interpretation of what has been going on during the last fortnight. The Government have exerted all kinds of pressures and stratagems to persuade those of us who have stated our intention to vote against the guillotine to change our minds. My hon. Friend must know that, as does every other hon. Member on this side.
§ Mr. Nick Budgen (Wolverhampton, South-West)
Would the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) comment on the rumour that things have even got to the stage where the Prime Minister is threatening to interview those of his supporters who might wish to vote against the guillotine.
§ Mr. Hamilton
I cannot comment on rumours, but the Prime Minister has been seen dining with one or two of them. Whether that is the kind of bribe that my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrew-shire, West (Mr. Buchan) had in mind, I do not know.
§ Mr. Hamilton
It does not matter, but it underlines the assertion that I have made that all kinds of stratagems have been attempted by the Government to persuade people into the Lobby for a guillotine motion, because that is the only way they will be able to get the Bill through. I say to the Leader of the House that it is not the only way.
If the Leader of the House believes now, as he did at the time of the EEC referendum, that no Bill of major constitutional importance should be subject to a guillotine, he should take that view now and agree to extend the term of the parliamentary Session. A former Prime 1739 Minister, the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) said earlier today that the House was flexible. If the Leader of the House wants the Bill, and if he abhors referendums on constitutional matters, he should simply tell the Government and the Prime Minister that they need the Bill, that he objects to the guillotine, and that therefore the parliamentary Session should be extended, if need be, to infinity. Infinity is how long it will take to get the Bill through.
If the Government are so committed to the Bill, that is the price that they will have to pay. The Government may think that they will get the Bill through by this strategem, but I do not think that this effort will influence any of us in the views that we shall take if and when a guillotine motion is put forward.
§ 7.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Hector Monro (Dumfries)
The hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) did not let many cats out of the bag. All his statements have been made clear by the Treasury Bench during the last two or three weeks, and it has been obvious to all hon. Members exactly what the Government have been trying to do.
Possibly the Leader of the House knows that I am basically a pro-devolutionist and that I believe in an Assembly within the United Kingdom. I did not oppose the Bill on Second Reading, but, by heaven, the Leader of the House has done his best to drive me away, through the proposals that he has made over the last few weeks. I have become totally disheartened at his handling of the Bill. Today's events have drawn me still further away.
I shall not criticise the decision to go ahead with the motion, but the Leader of the House must know that he initiated the disagreement in the House. He put down the motion and New Clause 40 that will follow it. The Leader of the House knows very well that the minimal progress of the Bill has been entirely due to his party political intentions. He knows perfectly well, from sensing the feeling from all sides of the House today and from listening to the debate on the new constitutional points, that he should have postponed the debate and held it over to another day when the matter could have been clarified. The Leader 1740 of the House knows that this motion, which paves the way for a referendum, will lead to a guillotine for purely political reasons.
Many of us who have grave doubts about the principle of a referendum and who, on principle, opposed a referendum on the EEC, have said today that this is another example of a decision, made by the Prime Minister of the day, being converted into a practice that will soon become commonplace. The responsibilities of the House will be devalued still further.
Both measures, for the reason that we know them to be for political gain, are thoroughly reprehensible, and have been brought before the House in this motion entirely for the purpose of saving the Government's skin, and certainly not for the one reason that ought to be applied—the promotion of better government for Scotland and Wales.
I oppose the motion because it places the referendum out of context in the Bill. The motion should have been held back either till Report or till later in the Committee proceedings.
I was surprised at the simple belief of the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell), that this was being done for anything other than political reasons. How can hon. Members consider the wording of the referendum or its necessity without knowing the contents of the Bill? The Leader of the House knows that we have not yet reached the central portion of the Bill. Clause 20 and subsequent clauses deal with the powers that will be given to the Assemblies. Who knows what worse measures will be in the Bill by that time, when we reach the end of the Committee—if indeed that is a possibility? Yet hon. Members are being asked to decide, perhaps next week, on the wording of the referendum and on further matters relating to it.
One of the worst arguments the Leader of the House put forward today and during business questions last week is that a large number of hon. Members wanted the debate on the referendum to be held this week and next week. I have sat through many of the debates on the Bill, but not all of them, and it may be that a proportion of hon. Members were anxious to see the new clause tabled. But nobody has asked the Leader of the 1741 House for the debate on it to be held between Clause 3 and Clause 4. We might have been happy to debate it later on, after Clause 114. To deal with it now, before we have dealt with the contents of the Bill, is entirely wrong. The Leader of the House says in support of his miserable decision that 12 or 20 hon. Members, out of more than 600, want to debate it between Clauses 3 and 4. I do not believe that he could produce the names of 20 hon. Members who wish to to be debated now.
However, using this minimal evidence to suit himself and his party, and not because it suits the House, he puts his party first and not the good of Scotland and Wales. His actions tend to drive those who are in favour of devolution more and more against the Bill and anything in it. The fact that the right hon. Gentleman is trying to bring in the recalcitrant Members of his party by offering a referendum which might case their consciences and save their souls is wrong in the context of what is good for Scotland and Wales. His actions will do nothing to help the further progress of the Bill.
§ Mr. Foot
The hon. Gentleman is questioning my good faith. Right at the beginning of our proceedings on the Bill we had a series of points of order, and I told the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths):Of course, I understand the interest that the House has in the referendum. Work is proceeding on the new clause that the Government will recommend to the House and I shall take into account the representations that have been made today. I cannot promise when it will be put on the Order Paper. We might consider taking it earlier. That might be a reasonable proposition. If so, the procedures of the House would enable us to do so perfectly well. The motion that we ask the House to pass now would not prohibit it."—[Official Report, 13th January 1977; Vol. 923, c. 1714.]I gave that clear indication to the House at the beginning of our discussions, and there was no protest from any quarter. On the contrary, the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds thanked me for responding to what the House had said. No hon. Member who has studied our discussions on these matters could find a single objection from any hon. Member opposite against the suggestion that we should deal with the question of referendums earlier—as we are doing.
§ Mr. Monro
It drives one to despair to see how the Leader of the House is prepared to put his own and what he believes to be his party's interests before what we are discussing as a Committee of the whole House. I was in the House when the right hon. Gentleman made the remarks to which he has just referred. My hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) is a wise parliamentarian and was entitled to say what he did, but that does not mean that the hundreds of other hon. Members must always agree with everything which he or the Leader of the House says.
I maintain that it would have been more advantageous if the Lord President had tabled the new clause so that hon. Members had plenty of time to discuss it among themselves or in party groups. There has been no indication of any desire to debate it now. It may be that the Lord President made the statement to which he referred at the beginning of our discussions because he did not believe that we would be in this position in the middle of February. No doubt, he thought that we would be half way through the Bill by now and in a much better position to discuss the new clause.
It is clear from everything that has happened today that there is considerable, strong and bitter feeling about what the Lord President has done. He should recognise this because he has been involved in many procedural wrangles himself. If we are to make sensible progress in the interests of Scotland and Wales it is time that the right hon. Gentleman came off his high horse and began to discuss these problems with the other parties. If he does not, he will not get progress. Perhaps he has given up, and is now playing out time rather badly, but till he is prepared to be more flexible in his approach to the Bill he will get nowhere at all.
His motion does not commend itself to me and I will certainly oppose it.
§ Mr. Bruce Grocott (Lichfield and Tamworth)
The discussion so far seems to have been largely comprised of analyses of various people's motives, and the last speaker made no exception. As a general rule it is not very helpful to analyse people's motives. It is much better to consider the merits of a proposal. Analysing motives is pretty difficult at the best of times. Motives are generally confused.
1743 If one supports the principle of devolution one cannot win when it comes to the analysing of motives. If one favours devolution for Scotland and Wales, one is a populist who is bowing to popular opinion and whose own views should not, therefore be considered. If one favours devolution for the English regions, as I do, one is told that there is no demand for it in those regions and that one is a fool and anti-democratic for proposing things for which there is no demand. One is criticised for being both populist and anti-democratic; so, when it comes to analysing motives, I give up. Perhaps it would be as well for us not to spend too much time considering other people's motives.
It is patently clear that there is no question of the Bill reaching the statute book unless there is a guillotine at some stage. I find nothing dishonourable or reprehensible in trying to manage the conduct of the Bill in order to see that, at some stage, it will be possible for a guillotine to be introduced.
§ Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East)
Is my hon. Friend arguing that there is a direct connection between the motion we are discussing and a guillotine motion?
§ Mr. Grocott
I am not asking the Government Front Bench to confirm it, but there is a strong feeling that there is such a connection, and I am happy that this should be. It is my judgment that if the procedural motion is passed, it may be marginally more likely that, at some stage in the near future, we shall have a guillotine. People outside will then stop criticising us for the ludicrous hours we sit on occasion, to very little purpose. I favour a guillotine and the procedural motion makes it more likely that it will be possible to get a guillotine motion passed in the near future.
There is, therefore, no need to analyse my motives; I have stated them clearly for anyone who is interested in listening.
I listen to my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson) with great interest on these matters. He argued today that such topics should be discussed at very great length because the public need time to assimilate the arguments, and possibly change views on the basis 1744 of what they hear here and discuss among themselves. Of course, I accept that as a democratic principle, and as a reason for a democratic assembly, but it cannot mean that such discussions are to be without limit. If we committed ourselves to the principle—and here I address myself to my hon. Friends more than to hon. Members opposite—that every constitutional change must be debated till every hon. Member drops from exhaustion—and most of us can talk even if we can do nothing else—that would be likely to take a very long time indeed.
We are committing this country to one of the most conservative constitutional arrangements of any democracy. Even in the United States, a country which has changed its constitution only about 30 times in 200 years, people say "We shall change the constitution if two-thirds of Congress agrees with three-quarters of the States." That is a very simple procedure compared with the one sometimes suggested here, that on constitutional matters we debate ad nauseam every clause and every conceivable amendment for as long as any hon. Member has the energy and stamina to do so. That would be a very dangerous precedent indeed.
I and other Members who would like to see the abolition of that outfit up the road, the House of Lords, dread the prospect of having to discuss that subject ad nauseam. It has already been discussed for 70 years. To think of discussing it without a guillotine would be very worrying.
We all know that the Bill will not be passed unless there is a guillotine at some stage. This procedural motion is likely to make a guillotine marginally easier—very marginally, judging from some of the remarks that I have heard—and if it does that it is something that we should support.
I hope that we are all aware of the implications of putting ourselves in a position of such rigidity on constitutional matters. To be over-rigid in such matters is just as dangerous as being over-flexible. It is dangerous to have a constitution that cannot be changed. We should be alive to these dangers before we reject the motion and the implications behind it.
§ Sir P. Rawlinson
What we are discussing is of profound importance, not only because of the clause which the Lord President is seeking to introduce, but because the right hon. Gentleman is seeking to introduce it at this stage of the Bill's consideration. Every hon. Member knows perfectly well that a referendum, on whatever subject, is in some way a derogation of the sovereignty of Parliament. A referendum was accepted on the question of our EEC membership and it will be accepted again if this clause becomes part of the Bill.
Every hon. Member should realise that a referendum represents a decline in the authority of Parliament. It means that the vote of Members, paramount for centuries, will no longer be so important. Decisions will be handed over to the direct vote of the populace. If the clause is accepted, the authority of Parliament will slip away, whether we like it or not. The reputation of Parliament is not what it used to be.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Farnham (Mr. Macmillan) earlier quoted the words of a former Chairman of Ways and Means, who spoke of his prevision of the effect on Parliament when he denied the right to introduce a referendum clause in a Bill 50 or 60 years ago. Although I have been in the House for 22 years, I never had the prevision that I would ever hear the Leader of the House introduce a motion to insert into a Bill provision for a referendum, substituting for the indirect vote of Members of Parliament the direct vote of the electorate.
I shall not go into the argument about whether this is manipulation. I agree with the hon. Member for Lichfield and Tamworth (Mr. Grocott) about motives. The Committee ought to realise what an important thing it is doing. Passing the clause would establish a precedent for referendums. Never again will the demand for a referendum be able to be resisted in any major measure. The demand will come more and more from the country.
The referendum is being introduced right in the middle of the Bill. I do not know the reasons. I accept that the Government may have good political reasons, but the fact that the Leader of the House is doing it when we have this law-making body dealing with the forms of government—
§ Mr. Foot
I was not the person who introduced the referendum in connection with this Bill. On Second Reading a motion was put on the Order Paper signed by about 150 hon. Members from all parts of the House, including some of the hon. Friends of the right hon. and learned Member for Epsom and Ewell (Sir P. Rawlinson). They introduced the question of the referendum.
§ Sir P. Rawlinson
Unlike some of my hon. Friends, apparently, I am not suspicious of the right hon. Gentleman's motives or manoeuvres. I have always thought that he believed very much in the sovereignty of Parliament, that he did not want to derogate from its authority, and that the did not want to hand it over to questions asked in a referendum, preceded by a campaign on the issues.
Today we have had a very important decision from the Chair—I shall not say that it was a surprising decision—which Parliament may wish to reconsider. In the middle of a complex Bill, when we were discussing the election of Members to the Assemblies, suddenly we are asked to make a decision on the new clause.
§ Mrs. Winifred Ewing (Moray and Nairn)
Did the right hon. and learned Gentleman read the Government pamphlet at the time of the EEC referendum, which gave very interesting information about the use of referendums in many countries, including Commonwealth countries? It indicated that where they are a normal part of democracy they are not abused and not over used. What is the right hon. and learned Gentleman so fearful about?
§ Sir P. Rawlinson
We must realise the importance of what we are doing. If Parliament is doing it with its eyes open, not for party political purposes, and if it is doing it because it believes the decline in the authority of the House of Commons is so great that we must have it, so be it. But let us do it honestly and accept that that is what it means. Let us not pretend that the referendum will be used only every now and then.
We had a referendum for the EEC, we shall have another with this Bill, and there will certainly be other Bills. Labour Members want to abolish the House of Lords. Will they do that without a referendum? If this House is put up against the reputation of the other place, one wonders which House would be preferred 1747 in a referendum. Many of us are frightened about that, because there is no doubt about the decline in the authority of Parliament, for all kinds of reasons. One is the incompetence and inefficiency of the House of Commons as a law-making body. We have had too much law. Far too much legislation is produced.
Here we have an example, with this manoeuvre. We do not efficiently make law—leave aside policy—but we produce legislation on such a scale and have such an effect that the people have lost confidence in the House of Commons. The Leader of the House should face up to what he is doing. I do not believe that he wants to do it, but he may have caught himself in a political corner, which everyone in politics does from time to time.
It is customary in an English House of Commons—[HON. MEMBERS: "British."] My chauvinism has revealed itself, but I can go back to before the Act of Union. Change has always taken place here more by accident than on purpose. If the clause is accepted, we shall be making a profound change in the procedures of Parliament.
§ Mr. Anderson
I have always had strong feelings about referendums and I have thought that the appropriate way of finalising a major constitutional change of this nature should be by way of a referendum. However, I have no strong views about the appropriate time in the passage of the Bill for a debate on the referendum. I have listened to the arguments and I have tried to ascertain whether my vote will be in favour of holding the debate on the referendum before Clause 4.
I listened carefully to the speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield and Tamworth (Mr. Grocott) who said, in all honesty, that the path to the guillotine—which is the only way of getting the Bill on to the statute book—lies through a referendum. He said that he would therefore support the motion and he hoped that it would be passed as speedily as possible.
I am reminded of a story about a friend of mine who went before a judge and argued at length. Eventually, the learned judge said in some exasperation "Mr. Grocott, is that your best point?" 1748 My friend was forced to say, "My Lord, that is my only point". I feel that my hon. Friend has fallen to that level. I listened carefully to see whether there would be points additional to that concerning the referendum, but I found that it is simply a question of why the new clause should be considered before Clause 4.
There is something symbolic in that because many of us have had doubts about the priorities of the Government and the way in which our legislative programme in this Session has been decided. This major Bill is to be discussed and all other Bills, which many hon. Members consider to be of greater importance, are to be crowded out.
We are told that the Bill represents a massive stride for Socialism, but some of my hon. Friends and I do not see it in that light. We feel that it is more a romantic type of liberalism. It is symbolic that this clause is to be considered before Clause 4. But we are still waiting for the reasons why we should consider the clause on the referendum at this juncture. The Government were right to table their amendments at this time. Perhaps I am heeding what my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield and Tamworth said about divining motives and I shall not go into the motives of the Government in yielding to pressure in favour of having a referendum on this measure. The Government properly decided on a referendum and I applaud them for that decision.
The Government promised that the relevant clause to deal with the referendum would be brought forward at an early stage. I applaud my right hon. Friend for having done that and for having brought forward the clause for a referendum since he promised the House that he would. However, I am not sure that there is a case for debating the clause at this early stage.
Are there certain technical reasons for that decision? Are there administrative reasons caused by the organisation of a referendum? Is it right that the only substantive reason which can be put forward, when all the other reasons are stripped away, is that which has been put by my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield and Tamworth? If that is so, it does not appear—
§ Mr. Foot
We thought that it would be reasonable to have a debate at an early stage because otherwise hon. Members would frequently be asking about what was going to happen to their amendments. Hon. Members would be asking what effect they would have on the general discussion. Hon. Members on all sides have said to me that they want the debate early. There are good reasons for that. It will enable many amendments to be properly discussed.
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Anderson
My right hon. Friend is an honourable man and I commend his assurance that there shall be Government amendments. One knows that the support of the House is such that there will be a referendum in Wales and Scotland before the Bill comes into operation—if, indeed, it ever does.
I am concerned about whether there is a serious argument, other than it being a sweetener on the road to the guillotine, for the debate at this stage.
§ Mr. Grocott
Will my hon. Friend explain what he thinks would be the appropriate time to discuss this important new proposal? There has been a suggestion that it could be considered after Clause 40. Will he give the House an estimate of the stage, between now and Clause 40, at which he thinks it would be reasonable for this to be discussed?
§ Mr. Anderson
I have no fixed ideas on the appropriate time to debate the new clause. I am still waiting for an explanation of why it is appropriate to debate it before Clause 4. It is in that state of indecision and doubt that I still await a good answer.
§ Mr. Fairbairn
Having listened to the Lord President's arguments about why this major constitutional innovation should be introduced into the Bill at this stage, I find his logic very strange. Apparently he regards it as a sufficient reason for people of the country to be consulted about the Bill that some anonymous hon. Members made representations to him that they thought that they should be consulted. However, the votes of hon. Members upon the Bill are not considered a sufficient justification for passing the Bill itself. On the one hand, a few nudges meaning "What about a referendum Lord President?" are enough 1750 to persuade him to make a major constitutional innovation. On the other hand, the votes of hon. Members are, apparently, all of a sudden not sufficient to pass the Bill.
§ Mr. Foot
It is not a question of anonymous hon. Members making representations to me. A total of 140 or more hon. Members signed a motion urging that there should be a referendum in connection with the Bill. Indeed, those hon. Members said that they would not give their assent to the Bill unless that was agreed. That was done in the open. Proper representations were made and we took account of them.
§ Mr. Fairbairn
I appreciate that, but that is not the point. None of the 140 hon. Members felt strongly enough about the issue to put down a motion or this clause; nor did they suggest that it should be squeezed in now. The Lord President should not pretend that that was his motivation. If it was, let him stand up and say so. He was motivated alone by 140 hon. Members putting down a motion and he responded by saying "As a good democrat, I shall do as they say."
§ Mr. Foot
At the time of the Second Reading many lion. Members—many from this side of the House but also those from other parties—asked for a referendum. During the course of the Second Reading the Government accepted those representations. Immediately after we began the Committee stage representations were renewed to me to have discussions. I said that I would seek to do that and to find a convenient opportunity. When at that stage not a single protest had been made about this procedure from any quarter of the House, I think that I was entitled to assume that there was strong support in all quarters of the House of Commons for this procedure, whether or not it was a new procedure, and there were hon. Members in all parts of the House who supported what I was proposing to do.
§ Mr. Fairbairn
I listen with great interest to this almost supersensory sensitivity that the Lord President has demonstrated—that these wishes were so much in his mind that that was his sole motive. However, can he say that his sole motive for bringing this proposal forward now was that reason and that alone? If he 1751 can say that, can we with confidence wait, as the hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson) suggested, for the fact that there will be no guillotine at all? Or, if there is the concept of a guillotine, will the Lord President give us any reason why we should not wait until after that matter has been considered before we consider any question of a referendum?
§ Mr. Fairbairn
Then I assume that the Lord President will be able to reassure us that there was no other motive in his mind, never has been or never will be, and that it is nothing to do with a timetable motion. If that be the case, I suggest that he can corroborate his veracity by postponing this matter until after the discussion of any guillotine motion. There is nothing wrong with that, because to discuss a referendum motion which has within it some of the arguments and says such things asThe new Assembly and Executive would exercise substantial powers devolved by Parliamentis to use a form of words to deceive the public, because they are to be used to describe the same things, whatever powers are presently in, will be in, or will not be in the Bill. Therefore, it is a deceit upon the public to say that one is bringing forward a form of referendum with words that describe things that may be utterly different.
I believe that it is a deceit upon the public because if the Lord President was genuine to introduce it, he would surely go to the people of Scotland in a referendum and say "Do you want a referendum on the Scotland and Wales Bill?" That would be the logic of his argument.
However, let me take a very typical example of how snide this device is. Let us suppose that a Government in this House of Commons were attempting to bring in capital punishment again. They would know on past form that they were likely to run into difficulties with a vote in the House of Commons. Accordingly, 1752 when they realised that they were running into difficulties, if they were utterly cynical and utterly careless of the genuine feelings of Members of Parliament as the representatives of the electors, what would they do? They would hold a referendum of the people and they would get a majority.
In other words, they would try to cheat the rules. When they realised that they would not win the game, they would change the rules. As we have seen in the Bill, if the Government do not get their way by cheating once, the Lord President is willing to cheat and change and try anything in order to achieve the end results, regardless of the wishes of hon. Members on any side of the House of Commons. That is essentially his purpose and intention. I wish that he could deny it.
§ Mr. Abse
How can the hon. and learned Gentleman pursue that argument when, as my right hon. Friend the Lord President has rightly said, 151 Members from both sides of the House of Commons signed the reasoned amendment that put down? In that amendment they were saying that before they would agree to a Second Reading they wanted from the Government the undertaking that there would be a referendum. How can it possibly be put at this stage that it is too early, when there was clearly an overwhelming opinion in Parliament that there was a need, as a precondition to passing the Second Reading, for a declaration by the Government indicating clearly that there would be a referendum?
§ Mr. Fairbairn
As the on. Gentleman has said, if that undertaking was satisfactory to persuade a lot of Labour Members who did not believe in the principle of the Bill to vote for the Bill—and God help their consciences—all I can say is why are we bothering to rush it forward now? If it is not in the hope of enticing the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton), or whoever else is being paranoically pursued in the Tea Room, into changing his mind about a timetable motion, why have it? Why have it now? Why have this massive undertaking to change the consciences of those who were against the principle on Second Reading? Why the rush? Why have a question which is meaningless because we have not decided 1753 the concept of what we are discussing? Why tonight? Why not at the end of the Bill? Why not have just a short referendum Bill? Why tonight if the motive is not specious?
However, let this be an important warning. The Assembly will take a leaf out of the Lord President's book. When it wants its way and this Parliament does not aeree with it, it will have a referendum in Scotland. That referendum will be based, as one Labour Member has warned us, on the fact that those who believe, and genuinely believe, that Scotland should be an independent country will say when—as the Bill is intended to prevent—so many of the industrial Labour seats, out of protest and through no desire for independence, fall to the nationalists "That referendum was when we had only 11 people; let us have another referendum when we have 40 people." If that referendum does not go their way, they will have another. They will have it on the differences about money, or whether it is fair for Parliament here to have this or that power, or whether it is rotten that the English are dealing with Scottish matters.
There is no end to this process if it is introduced as a snide cheat in order to get the Government off the hook and to persuade, as the Government did on Second Reading, people who fundamentally oppose the Bill to support it for some public favour or private interest.
§ Mr. Abse
I would have hoped that if we were discussing this procedural motion in the light of the ruling that had been given by the Chair, we would focus attention upon the very serious consequences that have flown from that ruling. Some have used the time of this procedural motion largely to impute curious motivations to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. They should realise that he has certainly responded to all the expressed wishes of the House of Commons. He has certainly responded to the wishes that have been indicated on the Order Paper, indicated by representations and indicated in other ways. When he has done all that, it seems to me that there is a certain falsity in the note that was struck when it was suggested that the whole reason why we have a procedural motion at this stage as a preliminary to going on to discussing 1754 the main matter is because it is a technique in order to bring nearer the guillotine. I can hardly believe that that was ever in the mind of the Leader of the House.
It has become clearer that this procedural matter will not be ended except by a vote on a closure motion coming from the Government—and moved before long by any Whip worth his salt—and with an Opposition who will probably be somnambulant, who do not know how to oppose a Bill and will probably not even be here to deal with a closure motion.
I find myself becoming a little impatient when the Opposition try to lecture the House on how it should approach a procedural motion of this sort. I become especially impatient when they adopt that approach although they are so extraordinarily inept in the manner in which they are mounting their whole opposition.
§ Mr. Higgins
The hon. Gentleman should accept that there are genuine objections to the procedural motion as such. I hope that he is not suggesting that those objections should not be raised on such an important issue.
§ 8.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Abse
I am not. I am saying that it would be more relevant and more sensible for the Opposition to direct their attention to the consequences that flow from passing the motion if action is not taken that may mitigate some of the damage, instead of playing games and charades and advancing a synthetic argument.
Although the Leader of the House has shown elasticity and has indicated that he will listen to the arguments, I am not convinced that that will prevent a fatal precedent being established. I am not convinced that that will be prevented by the present intention of possibly modifying a mandatory referendum and having one that involves consultation. We have to accept the ruling, and I am not convinced that a precedent has not been established for all time. Even if the Leader of the House goes along with the suggestion that it should be a referendum in which there is a form of consultation, a referendum that is not mandatory, I believe that we are still endorsing a definite and firm precedent that could 1755 cast its shadow for a very long time ahead.
Although I bear some responsibility for having brought about a situation in which we have the possibility of a referendum, I have never liked referendums. How could I? When I look back over the past 18 years, I conclude that whatever concept I originally put forward would have been rejected by the country if it had been put to the people. It requires persuasion in the House of Commons before the country, partially, wholly or substantially, will go along with what is later expressed in the House as the view of the House.
I have no love of referendums. The only reason that I go along with the idea that there should be a referendum is that it will explicitly show to the people of Britain—and Scotland and Wales in particular—that a major constitutional change cannot be passed through the House of Commons by stealth.
The fact that the Government are introducing a new clause that makes provision for a referendum is a clear acknowledgement that they recognise that they cannot maintain the argument that they have a mandate. They are now abandoning the pretence. They are acknowledging that they need to have corroboration. They are acknowledging that they never obtained it. They recognise that a footnote in a manifesto could never in any circumstances be regarded as an endorsement of a major constitutional change.
Precisely because that has acted upon a Government who wanted to take a step that would have placed them in danger of cheating the electorate, because the House of Commons has asserted itself, because Members have insisted that they are not prepared to allow to pass through the House of Commons a Bill of such dimension without electoral support and endorsement, that, at least, is some justification for what most of us cannot like as parliamentarians, namely, the derogation of the sovereignty of Parliament that every referendum is bound in some way to effect.
§ Mr. Fairbairn
I follow the hon. Gentleman's argument, which is ingenious, but it is a strange proposition that the will of the elected representatives of Great 1756 Britain should be corroborated by having a referendum among only one-eleventh of the electorate. There are plenty of Scots who live in England and there are plenty of English people who live in Scotland and Wales. How do we corroborate the wishes of the representatives of the whole of Great Britain by taking a sample representation only in the parts of the kingdom that are affected?
§ Mr. Abse
That is a matter that can be discussed when we deal, as I hope we shall before long, with the clause.
I return to the point that I started with, namely, that the House of Commons seems to be in danger of not directing its attention sufficiently to the dangers that arise from the Chairman's ruling. I believe that the more perceptive Members will realise that that is the point with which the Committee should be wrestling. Even if it were mitigated, the ruling would remain and the hazard that referendums could be introduced in many other situations would remain very real. If we can prevent unintended difficulties arising in this Bill and other Bills, I think that my right hon. Friend will have to give consideration to and be more explicit in his attitude to the question of being permissive or mandatory.
I do not believe that any House of Commons could allow a referendum to take place, even if it were a consultaive referendum, and then flagrantly to disobey everything that arose from it. I do not believe that the House of Commons would want to have a confrontation with its own electorate. It would not become the House of Commons to do so.
The Leader of the House must be aware of the dangers of the ruling, which means that we can have referendum amendments being tabled again and again. I do not believe that he can leave matters in such suspense. If the House of Commons is alarmed by the ruling, surely it can indicate clearly for generations ahead that we only permitted the ruling to go by on the understanding that it was a referendum involving consultation. Unless we do that we are making a rod for our own back.
§ Mr. Powell
The hon. Gentleman said that he could not imagine circumstances in which the outcome of a 1757 referendum would not be acted upon by the House of Commons irrespective of whether, in form, the referendum was binding or consultative. But in the proposed schedule a mere majority decides the question. I think that many hon. Members could easily imagine circumstances in which, if there were a fifty-fifty result, more or less, the House might nevertheless persist in the course upon which it was previously determined.
§ Mr. Abse
I agree. I do not think that opinion could be ignored. The onus for making a major change such as this must naturally rest upon those who propose it. If there were a 0.1 per cent. difference in Wales and Scotland between those for and against, I should accept it, and I think that the electorate would understand. We can no doubt pay some attention to this matter when we deal with the clause. It is not a matter with which we can really deal in discussing this motion.
I repeat that the Leader of the House should not be concerned about trying to ward off the trivial baiting of those who are attempting to tease and prod and make him out a Robespierre. That is not the issue and he should not be so deflected.
My right hon. Friend is concerned—at least, I hope he is—that we do not erode the sovereignty of the House of Commons in a way that could have such serious consequences that it would be possible in future for referendum amendments to be put down to major Bills. I am sure that he understands that he has a duty to protect the House of Commons from that situation. To move on from this procedural motion without the Committee having directed its attention to these serious consequences would be ill-advised.
§ Mr. Abse
The Leader of the House has the benefit of considerable advice. What has emerged from the ruling of 1758 the Chair is that there is absolutely no precedent for having in a Bill a binding referendum clause. What we have by way of precedent is that referendums are consultative, leaving Parliament's hands in theory still untied. It is no use my right hon. Friend saying that I should have considered all these consequences. It was because I believed that there was no mandate and because I was being told that I had a mandate—I knew that I had no such mandate from the people of Pontypool and I do not believe that any hon. Member has a mandate from the whole of Wales, Scotland or England—that I put down the original reasoned amendment. If the Government take it upon themselves to meet the view which has been expressed, they are responsible for ensuring that they meet that response in a way which will deal solely with that situation and will not permanently erode the role of legislators in future by the threat of a referendum.
§ Mr. Foot
I understand that the Government must accept their responsibilities. The Government have put down a motion in which, as I have indicated, the referendum would be mandatory. However, the Committee also wishes to discuss whether it should be a consultative referendum partly for the constitutional reasons which I explained earlier. Governments and Members of Parliament have responsibilities. When my hon. Friend took the responsibility of recommending that there should be a referendum on this major matter, he was suggesting a major change. I suggest that he should not depart from the recommendation that he made.
§ 8.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Abse
I have not. I thought that I had explained—if not to the Leader of the House, at least to hon. Members—my diffidence about making this move and the reason why I made it. It was because of the Government's totally false claim that they had full authority from the electorate—in particular in Scotland and Wales—for this Bill. My right hon. Friend is now seeking to suggest that I have to bear some responsibility for the morass in which the Government now find themselves, because we are reaching a stage at which the sovereignty of Parliament could be subverted for ever. That is something that I repudiate.
§ Mr. Foot
I do not want to intervene later in the debate, because I have said most of what I wanted to say on this matter, I am not asking my hon. Friend to accept responsibility for the whole Bill or anything like that. I fully understand his reasons for what he did. But, having come forward with a motion proposing a referendum, certainly he must take the responsibility for that with all its consequences. All the consequences, some of which he is now questioning, were known when he put down his motion.
§ Mr. Abse
I take responsibility for some of the consequences, but not for the clumsiness and ineptitude of those who, with all the advice in the world at their disposal, present a clause for a referendum in a form that could subvert Parliament for ever.
I do not want to try to shift the responsibility from the Leader of the House to a poor, simple Back Bencher. I certainly do not want to become a scapegoat for the Government. But, as a result of what has taken place, the Committee is in a difficulty. I think that all of us, whatever our respective views and whatever may feel about devolution, must attempt to rescue the Committee from a difficulty to which many hon. Members on both sides have contributed. We must at least create safeguards so that, when we move on, we move on in a way that indicates that we are dealing with a unique, almost rare, Bill and are not creating machinery that could impinge upon a whole range of future legislation.
It is clear from the responses by the Leader of the House that he is vigilant to the hazards. I hope that, wide as the differences between us are on the issue of devolution, at least we want to mitigate some of the consequences that will come from a referendum, which, I insist, was prompted or caused entirely because the Government claimed to have a mandate that they clearly did not possess.
§ Mr. Higgins
I am glad to have the opportunity of speaking immediately after the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse). The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that we should debate this procedural motion on the important constitutional issues which it raises. I am totally opposed in principle to the 1760 idea of a referendum on this or, indeed, on any other subject, and I appreciate that that view is not shared by the hon. Member for Pontypool.
This is probably the most important and the most dangerous constitutional innovation seen in the House of Commons in our lifetime. Therefore, we cannot allow today's events to remain as they are. The decision to select the new clause creates the most dangerous precedents. We must ensure that the possible consequences do not come to pass, since they would strike at the basis of our democratic system.
I exonerate the hon. Member for Pontypool from the charge of the Leader of the House that he is responsible for this matter. I understand that he thought it right to advocate a referendum, but the Leader of the House could have put down a separate Bill. He had no need to introduce it in this way. The hon. Member for Pontypool could not do that, and that is why he put down a reasoned amendment on Second Reading.
The Leader of the House was under no such inhibition. If he had put down a separate Bill, none of these dangerous consequences would be possible. We could have debated the matter on its merits. I would have opposed such a Bill as hard as I could, but it would not have opened the floodgates in the way that this proposal will.
Why did the Leader of the House decide to take this extraordinary action, putting the Chair, quite unnecessarily, in the most invidious position? It has meant that the Chair had to select the new clause or to take the unusual step of rejecting a Government amendment. Why did not the right hon. Gentleman bring forward a separate Bill?
§ Mr. Higgins
That may be so, but the objections are still sound and tremendously important. The fact that they may not have arisen until a late stage does 1761 not mean that the right hon. Gentleman did not have a duty to consider the implications of this proposal.
When I first entered the House, I had great respect for the right hon. Gentleman as a defender of parliamentary liberties. We have not spoken in the same debate for some years now, but we had a number of fascinating exchanges on the first Prices and Incomes Bill, when he was sitting below the Gangway. I would have hoped—but alas I have been disappointed—that whatever the form in which the matter came up, the right hon. Gentleman would at least have had the sense to foresee the consequences if the new clause were accepted.
§ Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)
In all fairness to my right hon. Friend, he made it clear at the beginning of what I consider to be the unfortunate debates that we are having on the Scotland and Wales Bill that there would be a referendum. Why did not the Opposition protest then? That was surely the time to object to the proposal to move new clauses to this effect.
§ Mr. Higgins
None the less, the matter is objectionable. It is arguable that the Chair would not have selected the amendments but at all events the consequences are clear. However the matter evolved, the dangers are now clear and we should not carry on along the dangerous path that we have begun to tread today.
Although they have not been outlined until a late stage, the consequences of this course are so serious that the right hon. Gentleman should consider whether it is right to proceed in this way or whether he should not withdraw the new clause and proceed by way of a separate Bill now that the full dangers have come to our attention.
§ Mr. Emery
Some people have cast doubt upon the claim that the Government were always seen as having the power to introduce a new clause of this sort. It is a respectable argument, and one to which I subscribe, that it would not have been possible for them to do so. That is reinforced by the ruling of the Chairman of Ways and Means, of which the Table Office has kindly given me a copy. The Chairman said:I recognise the force of the right hon. Gentleman's apprehensions"—1762 that is, the apprehensions of my right hon. Friend the Member for Farnham (Mr. Macmillan)—that this change over procedure might be opening the door".This new clause has therefore necessitated a change in our procedure. Although the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) has said many things with which I agree, it is not right to say that there is great significance in the fact that there was no objection to this procedure. Some hon. Members did not object simply because they did not think that it could be done.
§ Mr. Higgins
I think that my hon. Friend is right. Most of us were astonished by the views expressed when my right hon. Friend raised his point of order, especially about whether there was a precedent. But I do not wish to challenge that decision. However, it would not be right to suppose that all will be well if the referendum is non-mandatory. As I have said, there are many other respects in which the Common Market precedent is not a true one and should not be observed—certainly not to the extent of overriding all the precedents of previous Speakers.
Therefore, even if the referendum were made non-mandatory, it would not be right to introduce such a clause at this stage. Certainly, a referendum on capital punishment—
§ The Temporary Chairman (Mr. Alan Fitch)
Order. I think that the hon. Gentleman is coming close to criticising the Chair for its selection of these amendments.
§ Mr. Higgins
With great respect, Mr. Fitch, I was not seeking to do that. I was saying that even if we accepted that these clauses would provide for a non-mandatory referendum, there are a number of other issues which distinguish this situation from the Common Market issue. I would certainly not seek to challenge the ruling of the Chair, which we have all accepted, although I certainly believe that its consequences are so serious that the House should consider how they can be avoided. That is rather a different point.
Why should the new clause be introduced at this stage, between Clauses 3 and 4? Why is that so crucial in reaching 1763 a decision? We have had no coherent reason why, at this precise moment, between Clauses 3 and 4, this whole issue must be brought before the House of Commons and considered separately.
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Tim Rathbone (Lewis)
I would suggest that it has to be taken now because it has to be got through before Valentine's Day in order to keep the whole of the Labour Party together.
§ Mr. Higgins
I am not sure what significance Valentine's Day has, other than the well-known massacre. It is suggested that we should consider this matter and reach a decision on the question on the Order Paper which reads:Do you agree that the provisions of the Scotland and Wales Act 1977 should be put into effect in Scotland?There is a similar question for Wales. We are being asked to reach a decision about a referendum that will ask a question about a Bill the contents of which we do not know. We are being asked to agree to the question about what is in the Bill yet we only know what the Bill contains as far as Clause 3 and even that may be changed on Report. We have no idea what will happen after Clause 3. It is a wholly unreasonable procedure.
The electorate is to be asked a question about a Bill which we ourselves do not understand or know the contents of. Surely that suggests that perhaps this is not the right moment to consider the matter.
I turn to the question of whether such a referendum is likely to be final with regard to Scotland. I suggested in an intervention that, far from being final, it was likely to occur every time we had a Bill before the House of Commons dealing with a financial allocation for Scotland. Someone could say that he would like a referendum—only for the Scots or the Welsh of course, asking whether they should have more money rather than less. Indeed, it will probably be possible for the Scottish Assembly, if it were ever set up, to carry out referendums itself.
I assume that the Scottish Assembly could have a referendum in Scotland every year asking "Do you still want to have this arrangement or would you like to be 1764 totally independent or go back into the United Kingdom as you were before?" Perhaps the Leader of the House can tell us about that and say whether that would be within the powers of the Scottish Assembly. He may say that it would be outside the Assembly's financial limits but the argument about the financial limits and the existing Money Resolution has already been raised. That brings out clearly the point made by the hon. Member for Pontypool about the dangers that we face at present. They are dangers which are greater than any we have faced in the House of Commons for many years if not centuries. The fact is that the whole idea of the referendum and this procedural motion is a device to enable the Government to abdicate their responsibility.
I have never taken the view that a clear majority vote by one's constituents on a particular issue should determine how one votes in this House. We in this House have the advantage of hearing the debates and studying matters in depth. We can then reach a decision as the representatives of our constituents—not as delegates—and we should do so on the basis of what is good both for our constituents and for the country as a whole. That is not what this referendum would do.
I hope that on reflection the Leader of the House, who over the years has been a defender of parliamentary liberties and procedures, will not press ahead with the new clause as it stands but will give the House an opportunity of considering a separate Bill which can be drafted in precisely the same form. I hope that we shall not proceed any further with this proposal in view of the disastrous consequences which may follow from the events of this evening if we do not cease our proceedings on it.
§ Mr. Leadbitter
My opposition to the Bill has been consistent right from the beginning. But when we consider whether the Leader of the House has been cheating—that is very much the kind of criticism that has come from the Conservative Opposition—I must try to take some stand. It is inevitable for the Leader of the House, or the Government, to decide how best to bring before the House the kind of measures that will 1765 somehow mitigate the strengthening opposition that persists. I do not fault the Government's attempt to do that.
It is no justification to say that the Leader of the House has been dishonourable or, as one hon. Member suggested earlier, that he has been cheating. That cannot be the case. It is the function of Government to try to respond to the climate in the House of Commons in such a way as to deal with mounting criticism against the Bill. It is clear that over past weeks the Whips have decided that that criticism has been growing and that the likelihood of the Bill getting through this Session without a guillotine is remote. Therefore, I do not fault the Government for making what to my mind is a sensible judgment.
What is pertinent is that, once the Government make that kind of judgment, it is the function of the House of Commons to reassert itself and to see how best to deal with it. There is no call, therefore, for recriminations of the kind that bring to the House of Commons the reputation in the public mind that we are becoming less and less important.
The standard of our debate here will, in the end, either produce a better Bill or, as I hope, remove the Bill altogether. It is entirely up to right hon. and hon. Members. Although I pay due regard to the good standards of debate here, some right hon. and hon. Members on the official Opposition Benches would do well to note that—
§ Mr. Leadbitter
At this stage, I am not dealing with my own side of the Committee. When it comes to doing that, I can do a better job than the right hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) who is, by the very nature of things, the leader of a permanent minority party.
As I say, although I pay due regard to the high standards of the contributions of many Opposition Members, some of them ought to put the action where their mouths are. If an hon. Member criticises the Bill, he should go into the Division Lobby and vote accordingly. That is not happening.
§ Mr. Budgen
Does not the status or standing of this House, in the estimation of the country as a whole, depend most 1766 of all upon the personal responsibility of each Member of it, which he gives when he votes and which is based upon his status as a representative and not a delegate?
§ Mr. Leadbitter
There is a good deal of truth in that. But the parliamentary institution is a democratic one, in which there can be no perfection. There are human failings and there are constituency pressures. At the end of the day, we have to understand why hon. Members take certain courses of action.
On this issue, I argue that this is a matter of vital constitutional importance and, therefore, that there are no pressures other than the judgment of individual Members about what is right for the United Kingdom as a whole.
When we consider this procedural motion we have to remember that there is no precedent for it in the history of Parliament. There has never been an occasion on which a Bill has had this kind of procedural motion injected into it and on which right hon. and hon. Members have been expected to vote and to carry out its consequences not knowing what the Bill would look like from Clause 4 onwards.
The Bill has 115 clauses and 16 long schedules. Those of us who have attended the debates in Committee know that only when we discuss the issues in depth can we begin to evaluate the significance of each clause. Thus, we have learned that Clause 1 is in itself a great untruth. Yet it is the pillar on which the whole Bill rests in terms of the consequences for the United Kingdom as a whole.
This very day, we are all asked to consider the consequences, to ourselves and our consciences, to the House and the country, of passing this motion, knowing that in considering it we are blinkered because we do not know anything of what the Bill as a whole will be like. What kind of reputation will this House have in such circumstances? Are we to tell the people at the end of the day "We have passed an Act placing a law on the statute book, but we have so little confidence in ourselves as legislators that we are coming to you to ask for mandatory referendums in Scotland and Wales"?
1767 Worse than that—what happens if the vote goes one way in Scotland and the other way in Wales? We shall then have an Act of Parliament, approved by the legislature but which, by referendum, cannot reflect the proper judgment of the people. Anyone who has read the questions proposed in the new schedule will understand that we shall not be asking the people of Scotland and Wales for a judgment; we shall be asking them to respond to a leading question. We shall be saying to them "We have passed an Act of Parliament. Will you please follow suit?" We shall be doing exactly the same to the people of Scotland and Wales as we did to the people of the whole country on the question of membership of the EEC. That, in itself, was a downright trick. Large sums of money were used to persuade people to accept a preconceived action.
We shall be behaving improperly unless we oppose the motion successfully, for otherwise we shall be saying to the people that we have decided on a referendum on a limited set of questions, which we shall be considering without knowing what the rest of the Bill will be like. We are asked to pass a motion predetermining the situation.
I feel exceptionally sorry for my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. I have the highest regard for him, and I will not be party to the nonsense uttered by hon. Members who claim that they are disappointed because, they say, he has ceased to be a great parliamentarian. He is a great parliamentarian, but he is dealing with a damned rotten Bill. That sort of thing can come to any Member of the House of Commons. One only has to look at the history books, even the more recent ones, to discover that Ministers and Prime Ministers have all had this happen to them in the course of time. It is something that happens in the House of Commons.
The Government and not just the Leader of the House should have understood the reasons for the motion on the referendum—the motion that was signed by hon. Members on both sides of the House. They should have been far more competent in understanding this matter. The fact is that there was a fear of what would happen if the House of Commons 1768 pre-empted judgment of the Bill by seeking a climate of opinion in Scotland and Wales. Of course, some of us wanted opinions sought in England as well—in fact in the United Kingdom as a whole.
For the past three weeks an understandable amount of pressure has been put on people like myself to change their minds about their opposition to the Bill. Therefore, if the questions in the schedule to New Clause 40, which I have noted, actually refer to the asking of a mandatory vote in a referendum after the Bill becomes an Act of Parliament, I could make a simple deduction that there is plenty of time for this procedural motion. If there is plenty of time for it, why is it on the Order Paper today? I will not say that the Leader of the House has behaved improperly, but it is within the competence of the House to make its own interpretation.
I think that the motion has been put on the Order Paper today, to be considered before Clause 4, in the hope that it will appease people like myself and make it easier for the Government to get the guillotine motion next week.
The manner in which the referendum request was made earlier by 150 Members would have been better reflected in a single and separate Bill—that would have been the commonsense thing to do. I regret very much that with all the advice made available to the Government, the Leader of the House has had to bring this to the House of Commons. It is something for which the country will not thank the House if it makes the same mistake as the Government. If hon. Members want to criticise the procedural motion my advice to them is to put their actions where their mouths are, vote against it, and see what happens.
§ Mr. David Crouch (Canterbury)
On a point of order, Mr. Godman Irvine. This is very serious and is not a criticism of the Chair. In the course of three hours this afternoon, there has been consideration of the procedural motion of the Leader of the House. At the same time, many of us have had to consider the ruling of the Chair, and we are not helped by its implications. Some of us regard this clause, after four weeks' consideration of the Bill, as most important, because it is truly constitutional. This 1769 is the moment when we consider the future of parliamentary, democracy. What we are about to do in a matter of minutes or in the next hour or so, if the closure is moved, will establish a precedent for all time in the history of Parliament.
There is still a great deal to be said on the question of this procedural motion before we even consider the new clause that is being proposed by the Government. I am not seeking to filibuster or to delay our proceedings in any way. I have not spoken against the Bill, because I was not one of those who was prepared to vote it down on Second Reading. However, I believe that we should have adequate time to consider what has taken place in the past three hours. The implications of what the Leader of the House has done could involve many changes.
§ Mr. Emery
After that point of order I shall try to return to the motion before the Committee. It is a procedural motion and it is to argue against the acceptance of the procedure that I wish to pose four specific arguments.
The Leader of the House has just left the Chamber, but I do not condemn him for that. He has sat through the whole of our debate and has listened to almost every speech during our debate so far. I only ask the Committee to consider what sort of speech the Leader of the House would make from this Bench in opposition if a Conservative Government tried to change the rules as the Government seek to change them now. The right hon. Gentleman would be up in arms and there would be the most brilliant oratory defending parliamentary democracy. However, I am afraid that today he is becoming one of the greatest pillagers of the British constitution since the time of Cromwell.
The first reason for rejecting this procedural motion is that we must give time for the House rather than for the Committee to be able to decide whether the ruling we have had should stand. In saying that I in no way wish to criticise the ruling. It is of considerable constitutional importance. The Chairman of Ways and Means said in his ruling that he recognised the apprehensions that this change in our procedure might be opening the door to the offering of amendments of this nature to all manner of 1770 Bills and for trivial reasons—the nature in question being the nature of a referendum.
If we allow that to happen, or if that is what has happened today, a procedural alteration much greater than most references to the Sessional Committee on Procedure since I have been a member of it is taking place. Yet it is to be allowed to slip by. That is a process that the Committee should stop now.
I wish to appeal to my own Front Bench. My right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) said that he would not oppose this motion. I believe that this matter is so constitutionally important that we should have time to consider the matter, and I shall therefore appeal to him to reconsider. I urge all my hon. and right hon. Friends to vote against the motion for the arguments that I have propounded.
§ Mr. Bruce Douglas-Mann (Mitcham and Morden)
I agree with much of what the hon. Gentleman says, but supposing the procedural motion were defeated, the effect would be that consideration of the proposals would be deferred until a later stage of the Bill. If that were to happen and a guillotine motion were to be passed—I trust that it will not be—the proposals will not have had adequate consideration.
§ Mr. Emery
I believe that if time were allowed by the Government, the House of Commons could decide. A referendum on a national issue—rather than local referendums on closing hours—could be introduced by a separate Bill only for that specific purpose and that would allow the House of Commons to make that decision. I believe that that is a view that many hon. Members from both sides will accept.
The Leader of the House has started another precedent. If 140 hon. Members support a motion, he will immediately have it tabled for discussion. That is the first time II have heard that, but it needs to be recorded. That is one of the factors which he says prompted him to take this action.
I want to be helpful to the Leader of the House. If he persists in continuing with his procedural motion, we are being asked to make a decision on the question of a referendum before the Bill has 1771 been passed. I asked you earlier, Mr. Godman Irvine, whether you would accept a manuscript amendment to include Clause 21 in the procedural motion. I wonder whether the Leader of the House has had long enough to consider this points.
If we decide to take the new schedule at the end of the Bill, nothing would be lost. The referendum would still be accepted. I am against it, but the Leader of the House would be able to achieve that end without making a nonsense of our procedures, and we should not be deciding the wording of the referendum until the Bill had been completed—in other words, until the last schedule had been taken. That would get the Committee out of a number of procedural difficulties.
Many hon. Members did not oppose the right hon. Gentleman's idea of a referendum because they did not believe that it could be done procedurally within the scope of the Bill. We believe that the Government have been hoist with their own petard. Only by changing the rules of procedure are they able to bring this about. I consider that to be cheating. That is a matter of procedure, not of flexibility, as was suggested by my right hon. Friend the Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath), and it is a matter of constitutional importance. I cannot in any way support the Government's procedural motion.
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Foot
I shall try to reply briefly to the debate, and I hope that it will not be thought discourteous of me if I do not go into all the subjects that have been raised. I say with the utmost diffidence, and without in any way criticising the Chair, that some of the points made will be able to be dealt with later when we discuss the referendum proposal and the form of words that is to be settled by the House of Commons. Therefore, I shall seek to confine myself to the procedural motion that is before the Committee.
It is true that the question of a referendum introduces a new constitutional principle, even though we have had referendums on earlier occasions on subjects such as the opening times in Glasgow or Cardiff. I agree that these proposals involving referendums raise great 1772 constitutional issues. They are important matters and the Committee must have proper time to discuss them.
So little am I enamoured of referendums as such that I feel it would be proper for this Bill to have been put on the statute book without any referendum at all. That was the original view held by the Government. I have always held that view partly because it is the procedural situation and partly because I believe that we had a mandate to come forward with this measure. Certainly we had such a mandate in Wales, and I believe that the same argument applies to Scotland. Therefore, the Government's original attitude was that we should proceed to place this Bill on the statute book without any referendum.
The question of referendums was introduced by hon. Members in all parts of the Committee when the balance of the parties was tender. At such a time it is right that the Government should take account of representations from all quarters. A motion was tabled on this matter and it was signed by 140 Members.
I do not know why the hon. Member for Honiton (Mr. Emery) should sneer at the total of 140. I was not implying that the Government would always take account of the opinions of 140 Members, but the hon. Gentleman was implying that I had yielded to the pressure of several anonymous Members of Parliament. I wish to make it clear that so far from yielding to anonymous pressure I responded to the representations made by 140 Members who had signed that motion and to the continued representations made to me right from the time of the Second Reading and the Committee stage at the begininng of this year.
I shall not quote references, but there are many of them that I could quote. I know how tedious it is when Ministers quote what they have said on other occasions, especially when those quotations are so apposite that they knock Opposition arguments to one side.
The main burden of the argument has been concentrated on the question: Why seek to interrupt this Bill with a motion rather than to introduce a special Bill? It is obvious that this could have been done by a special Bill.
§ Mr. Crouch
The right hon. Gentleman is arguing that he has changed 1773 course and has even changed his mind on the referendum because 140 Members signed a motion on this matter. But he should know that Parliament usually agrees these matters by a majority. I know that the right hon. Gentleman, with his usual generosity, has enabled the Committee to discuss these important matters. The question is whether he supports the new clause, because I thought that he said that he did not want it.
§ Mr. Foot
The hon. Gentleman is confusing the issue. The original view that I and the Government held was that it would have been perfectly proper for the Bill to have been placed on the statute book without reference to a referendum, and I still hold that view. It is part of the duty of the Government and of the Leader of the House, according to the instructions that I am given—although when I yield to pressures for a proposal such as this I am told that I am giving way in a scandalous manner, but if I stand firm I am told that I am inflexible—to take into account representations from all quarters of the House.
My hon. Friend the Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan) has conducted his campaign for a referendum for a longer period than anybody else. My hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) and the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) and many other hon. Members signed the motion. The hon. Member for Down, South, like others, is a strong upholder of the sovereignty of Parliament. All these factors were taken into account.
Nobody can contest that right from the beginning of the Committee stage there have been discussions about how we should proceed. On behalf of the Government I indicated that we were thinking of introducing a new clause. Why was I not informed then that somehow or other I was committing an appalling outrage against the traditions of the House by trying to deal with the matter in that way? Surely, if I were guilty of such an outrage, the protests would have been made earlier when I first advocated this way of dealing with the matter. There have been plenty of opportunities for such protests during debates and points of order.
I shall come to the point made by the hon. Member for Honiton in a 1774 moment. There has been no deception of the House of Commons. Right from the beginning of the proceedings the Government have indicated the way in which they were thinking of proceeding. Any hon. Member who wished to protest has had every opportunity of doing so. Yet not one hon. Member had risen during either public debate or in private up to last week when I made known the Government's proposal on how the matter would be discussed, to make representations to me on the matter. In those circumstances it is unjust—I do not want to use an emotive phrase so I will say instead that it is slightly wrong-headed—for anyone to say that I have misled the Committee in any way.
I have sought to indicate to the Committee what the Government were doing, and how we were preparing and proceeding with the matter. Of course, when the Government considered whether there should be a separate Bill—and I do not dispute that there are arguments in favour of that—we had to consider what the situation would be if two Bills dealing with the same subject and upon which the same constitutional questions would arise, were running concurrently, although at different stages, through the House. If we had proceeded on that basis, exactly the same kind of protest would have been made by hon. Members who would have been asking me why I was not introducing the separate Bill to deal with the referendum before proceeding with the rest of the Scotland and Wales Bill. If I had introduced the separate Bill, I should have been told that it was too early and that I should have waited. Either way there would have been protests.
We have dealt with the referendum in the Scotland and Wales Bill because it is simpler to do so. I agree with the hon. Member for Honiton that that raises new and important questions, but it is incorrect to say that the Government have placed the Chair in an invidious position. The Chair makes up its own mind on what is presented to it. It was open to the Chair to rule differently on the matters before us. The Committee must accept the decision of the Chair. If the Committee wishes to alter the decision, it must be done on the basis of a motion on the 1775 Chair and we would deal with that separately.
§ Mr. Douglas-Mann
Many of us who believe that it is right that major constitutional changes should be attended by referendums do not believe that it is right that the Bill should be made conditional upon the outcome of a referendum. My right hon. Friend said that no one had made representations to him, but I made representations to him in private before the new clause was put down and urged a consultative referendum before we proceeded.
§ Mr. Foot
That is a different matter. I was saying that no one had protested about my proposal to deal with the referendums in a new clause. That has been the main burden of the attack from the Opposition. If I had accepted my hon. Friend's suggestion, we should have needed a new clause anyway to enable the referendum to take place earlier.
There are arguments for holding the referendums earlier or later, but one of the main arguments for doing it in the way that we propose is that if we wait until the end before the proposition is put to the people of Scotland and Wales the matters on which they will have to decide will be much clearer. One of the dangers of referendums is that they could be blurred and that people might not know what they said at the end. That is why we have suggested proceeding in the way outlined in the new clause.
I can assure the Committee that the Government gave careful consideration to the new clause and how it should be tabled, both in the best interests of the United Kingdom and in order to ensure that we avoided any blurring of the issues which might have been involved if the referendum had been held much earlier.
I said that I would be brief and I have been tempted away from the straight and narrow course. I am seeking to deal specifically with the procedural motion because the major question of the referendums and their nature will come later.
§ Mr. Higgins
I also wish to concentrate on the procedural side of things. I do not want a referendum, but if we are to have one, there may be a case for providing for it in a separate Bill or at 1776 the end of this Bill. Why must we discuss it between Clauses 3 and 4?
The Leader of the House said that he received no representations but since he decided not to have a referendum before the Bill, it was a reasonable expectation that it would come at the end. It was bounced on us only last Thursday that we should discuss it between Clauses 3 and 4.
§ Mr. Foot
I have said on several occasions that there is a procedure for interrupting the Committee stage. I do not blame the hon. Gentleman if he was not here at the time, although I have been present at most of our discussions, but I have said on numerous occasions that we were considering interrupting proceedings on the Bill to debate the new clause long before the end of the normal Committee stage. There was no question of anyone being misled.
The charge made against me by the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) was that I had been precipitate, but on 20th January, when representations were being made by the Opposition, the hon. Member for Conway (Mr. Roberts) accused me of being dilatory. The hon. Gentleman wanted the motion tabled. Some other hon. Members asked that it should be debated. The charge against me on 20th January was that I was being dilatory, yet the charge against me in the middle of February is that I am being precipitate. It is possible that Opposition Members cannot be satisfied whatever I do. They say that we have been inflexible, rigid and obstinate in refusing to make any concessions, yet what we are discussing is a concession by the Government on the referendum. What is the use of Opposition Members saying that the Government have refused to listen to what the Committee has said?
Other hon. Members say that we have created these difficulties. The new constitutional position is created precisely because we did listen to the House of Commons. We have listened and we shall continue to listen and to take account of representations. I say this in the light of the discussion earlier today. I said what I did in the hope of assisting the Committee in dealing with the immediate situation.
1777 The point raised first by the right hon. Member for Down, South, and later by others, as a point of order, as to whether the fact that our proposal was for a mandatory referendum affected the Chair's ruling is one argument. I have already indicated that the question whether it should be a mandatory or consultative referendum is still open to the House of Commons to decide. The Government's view, as I said before, is that there is a strong case for its being mandatory. That is a matter which it is proper for us to debate, and the House will have to make up its mind about it.
I know what will happen. If we stand firm and say that the referendum should be mandatory, we shall be accused of being inflexible and stubborn, but if we agree with the suggestion of many hon. Members and make it consultative, they will say that we could not make up our minds in the first place and that we changed our mind for scandalous and sinister party reasons.
What we are doing is to take account of what is said in the Committee and to carry out our pledge to the people of Wales and Scotland, and all the people of Britain, to put this Bill on the statute book. That is what we ask the Committee to support. This motion is part of the process of achieving that.
§ Mr. Dalyell
May I ask my right hon. Friend a question on a factual point? When is it likely to be convenient to discuss the question whether the referendum is to be mandatory or consultative?
§ Mr. Foot
That will arise on amendments that we shall have at the beginning of next week. I am in a beneficent mood about my hon. Friend. I thought that he had gone back to Scotland. That might have been even better. But I welcome him back with the news that we shall be able to discuss that matter next week. I hope that he will not make any more interruptions till then.
§ Mr. Pym
The Leader of the House may persuade himself by his eloquence and passion, but I do not think that he will persuade the rest of us. I do not know what is precipitate if it is not precipitate to bring forward a new clause at an earlier stage than it would otherwise be taken—it would normally be 1778 taken with the other new clauses—and to add to the Business Statement last Thursday an addendum, notice of which the right hon. Gentleman had not given to the Opposition, stating that he would take the referendum clause today.
Anyone who has listened to the debate and all the right hon. Gentleman's interventions must feel some relief at knowing that now we need to have only 140 names on an Early-Day Motion to get the Leader of the House to concede at once what is required. It is in that sense that I have criticised him for being precipitate, and I think that my criticism is justified. Neither in his opening nor concluding remarks did he adduce any arguments for taking this clause after Clause 3 and before Clause 4.
The debate has raised large issues. The Leader of the House was fair enough to say that the Government had considered the possibility of introducing the referendum by means of a separate Bill. I am sure that the Leader of the House has considered the matter but was his conclusion based on the constitutional and parliamentary proprieties of it, or upon political considerations? During the debate—admittedly from this side and understandably from myself, but perhaps more tellingly from hon. Members on the Government Benches—we have heard that there is infinitely more to the motion than meets the eye.
I wonder whether the Leader of the House is aware of the report on the tape saying that he intends next Thursday to announce that he will seek to introduce a timetable motion to the Bill during the following week. The right hon. Gentle-may may not be aware of that because he has been in the Chamber throughout the debate. He is not responsible for what appears on the tape, but it has appeared and from some of the remarks from both sides of the House there is reason to believe that that might be on his mind. As the Leader of the House knows, I am passionately opposed to what is suggested on the tapes.
When he was winding up the debate the Leader of the House said that the new clause raised major matters of constitutional importance and that there must be a proper amount of time to discuss them. In view of what has been said so far, a proper time to discuss them 1779 would certainly preclude any idea of a guillotine motion in relation to them. I am sure that the Leader of the House will take that into account.
Other issues have been raised today, arising particularly out of the points of order initiated by my right hon. Friend the Member for Farnham (Mr. Macmillan). The House may be aware that he and other right hon. and hon. Members have tabled a motion which is already in the Table Office. It indicates a certain point of view that hon. Members will wish to consider. I mention that because I am sure that the Leader of the House is aware that the Committee does not wish to leave this matter where it rests at the moment. The Committee will wish to return to it. The points of order were raised on the Chairman's ruling. We have made progress with the debate on the procedural motion to take the referendum new clause after Clause 3. But the preamble to all those points of order is critically important and I am sure that the Leader of the House recognises that.
§ Mr. Mendelson
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that we have not been able to influence the Government over the treatment of this matter? We have continued with the main debate on the procedural motion but we have exercised no influence on the Government's decision that the procedural motion must be taken now.
§ Mr. Pym
I agree. Important issues have come up in the debate. However, the motion is that we take the new referendum clause now. The issues raised in the points of order cannot be dealt with by voting on this motion. The Committee will wish to return to them in some other way.
There is no case for taking this new clause at this stage in the Bill. But it is not a matter of such critical importance that I wish to press it. All the issues that have surrounded the debate are those to which the Committee must return and decide. However, those are different matters.
§ Mr. Budgen
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the debate has revealed that both Front Benches have been caught out by the procedural motion? Does the 1780 agree that neither Front Bench realises the constitutional importance of adopting this procedure? If my right hon. Friend is prepared to accept that proposition, will he recommend to all his right hon. and hon. Friends that they vote against the procedural motion?
§ Mr. Pym
As I have indicated, I think that it is quite wrong to take the new clause now, at this stage, but that is a comparatively trivial matter. There are far bigger issues raised by this occasion in relation both to the new clause and all the issues surrounding it, and to the rules of order and all the procedural issues that have arisen, and we cannot solve them or do any good by voting on this procedural motion.
§ Mr. Crouch
Does not my right hon. Friend agree that we are at an early stage of the consideration of a constitutional measure and have got bogged down in it? The Leader of the House has said, not only to the House of Commons but to the nation, "The House of Commons has got so bogged down that we shall insert a clause that virtually puts an end to the House of Commons making final decisions in matters." This is to be sent out to the people of Scotland and Wales. The wording of the new clause sayseach question shall be decided…in the referendum.That is virtually to say tint from this moment, by going forward with this procedural motion, we are adopting a new procedure for how the House of Commons proceeds with the enactment of legislation! We refer it outside before we are finished.
§ Mr. Pym
I agree with the sense of what my hon. Friend says, but I do not think that this motion is the Ark of the Covenant on procedure. It is simply about taking a new clause out of order.
As I have said, I want to get on in due course with the arguments that have been raised. They are infinitely more numerous than they were when the Government started with the Bill today. Not only on the new clause but on the whole Bill we are constantly coming to issues which have clearly not been thought out by the Government. The range of those issues has been greatly extended today. The Government have been caught out. Perhaps some of my hon. Friends think 1781 that the Opposition have been caught out too. They may take any view that they like. The Government have been subjected to criticism from every quarter of the Committee, not least from the Opposition.
However, on the simple proposition that we take the new clause now although it is ridiculous, wrong and unnecessary, it is very important to discuss the larger issues raised by it. Certainly if we proceed on that basis and, after what the Leader of the House calls proper time for discussion, we come to a conclusion, I can visualise that there will be much more debate on Report, if that stage is ever reached, because obviously the Bill will have been altered. Therefore, it is not the end of the matter even if we spend two or three weeks in Committee debating the new clause, and let us have no illusions about that.
In that context, taking the new clause now, although wrong, is not something that I would regard as absolutely critically important. I do not think, quite honestly, that the Leader of the House has justified it. I think that it has revealed an increased range of weaknesses in the Government's armoury in relation to the Bill and all the issues that are
§ raised. It is clear that Parliament will take quite a considerable time to discuss this matter.
§ I hope that the Leader of the House will deny absolutely that he has the remotest intention of imposing a guillotine next week. That would be absolutely, totally and completely unjustified. I would regard it as a parliamentary obscenity if he were to move such a motion. If he did so and I were driven to it, I would argue that case as strongly as I could, because such a motion would be a complete parliamentary nonsense.
§ When the debate is over and if the motion is passed, let us get on to the major issue, not related to the original Bill, as the Leader of the House has said, but a completely new constitutional issue that will occupy us for several weeks, as the Leader of the House has promised.
§ Mr. Walter Harrison (Treasurer to Her Majesty's Household) rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.
§ Question put, That the Question be now put:—
§ The Committee divided: Ayes 253, Noes 51.1783
|Division No. 66.]||AYES||[9.29 p.m.|
|Abse, Leo||Craigen, Jim (Maryhill)||Garrett, John (Norwich S)|
|Anderson, Donald||Crawford, Douglas||George, Bruce|
|Archer, Peter||Cronin, John||Gilbert, Dr John|
|Armstrong, Ernest||Crosland, Rt Hon Anthony||Golding, John|
|Ashton, Joe||Crowther, Stan (Rotherham)||Gould, Bryan|
|Atkins, Ronald (Preston N)||Cryor, Bob||Gourlay, Harry|
|Atkinson, Norman||Cunningham, G. (Islington S)||Graham, Ted|
|Bain, Mrs Margaret||Dalyell, Tam||Grant, George (Morpeth)|
|Barnett, Guy (Greenwich)||Davidson, Arthur||Grant, John (Islington C)|
|Barnett, Rt Hon Joel (Heywood)||Davies, Bryan (Enfield N)||Grocott, Bruce|
|Bean, R. E.||Davies, Denzil (Llanelli)||Hamilton, James (Bothwell)|
|Beith, A. J.||Davis, Clinton (Hackney C)||Hardy, Peter|
|Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N)||Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)||Harper, Joseph|
|Bidwell, Sydney||Dell, Rt Hon Edmund||Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)|
|Bishop, E. S.||Dempsey, James||Hart, Rt Hon Judith|
|Blenkinsop, Arthur||Doig, Peter||Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy|
|Booth, Rt Hon Albert||Dormand, J. D.||Hayman, Mrs Helene|
|Boyden, James (Bish Auck)||Dunn, James A.||Healey, Rt Hon Denis|
|Bray, Dr Jeremy||Dunnett, Jack||Heffer, Eric S.|
|Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)||Edge, Geoff||Henderson, Douglas|
|Brown, Robert C. (Newcastle W)||Ellis, John (Brigg & Scun)||Hooley, Frank|
|Buchan, Norman||English, Michael||Hooson, Emlyn|
|Buchanan, Richard||Ennals, David||Horam, John|
|Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P)||Evans, Fred (Caerphilly)||Howell, Rt Hon Denis (B'ham, Sm H)|
|Campbell, Ian||Evans, loan (Aberdare)||Howells, Geraint (Cardigan)|
|Canavan, Dennis||Ewing, Harry (Stirling)||Hoyle, Doug (Nelson)|
|Carmichael, Neil||Ewing, Mrs Winifred (Moray)||Huckfield, Les|
|Carter-Jones, Lewis||Fernyhough, Rt Hon E.||Hughes, Rt Hon C. (Anglesey)|
|Cartwright, John||Fitt, Gerard (Belfast W)||Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)|
|Castle, Rt Hon Barbara||Flannery, Martin||Hunter, Adam|
|Clemitson, Ivor||Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)||Irvine, Rt Hon Sir A. (Edge Hill)|
|Cocks, Rt Hon Michael||Foot, Rt Hon Michael||Irving, Rt Hon S. (Dartford)|
|Cohen, Stanley||Fold, Ben||Jackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln)|
|Colquhoun, Ms Maureen||Forrester, John||Janner, Greville|
|Cook, Robin F. (Edin C)||Fowler, Gerald (The Wrekin)||Jay, Rt Hon Douglas|
|Corbett, Robin||Fraser, John (Lambeth, N'w'd)||Jeger, Mrs Lena|
|Cowans, Harry||Freeson, Reginald||Jenkins, Hugh (Putney)|
|Cox, Thomas (Tooting)||Freud, Clement||John, Brynmor|
|Johnson, James (Hull West)||Murray, Rt Hon Ronald King||Stewart, Rt Hon Donald|
|Johnson, Walter (Derby S)||Newens, Stanley||Stewart, Rt Hon M. (Fulham)|
|Johnston, Russell (Inverness)||Noble, Mike||Stott, Roger|
|Jones, Alec (Rhondda)||Ogden, Eric||Strang, Gavin|
|Jones, Barry (East Flint)||O'Halloran, Michael||Strauss, Rt Hon G. R.|
|Judd, Frank||Orbach, Maurice||Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley|
|Kaufman, Gerald||Ovenden, John||Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)|
|Kilroy-Silk, Robert||Owen, Rt Hon Dr David||Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)|
|Kinnock, Neil||Padley, Walter||Thomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery)|
|Lambie, David||Palmer, Arthur||Thomas, Mike (Newcastle E)|
|Lamborn, Harry||Pardoe, John||Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)|
|Latham, Arthur (Paddington)||Park, George||Thompson, George|
|Leadbitter, Ted||Parker, John||Thorne, Stan (Preston South)|
|Lee, John||Parry, Robert||Thorpe, Rt Hon Jeremy (N Devon)|
|Lestor, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough)||Pavitt, Laurie||Tinn, James|
|Lipton, Marcus||Perry, Ernest||Tomlinson, John|
|Litterick, Tom||price, C. (Lewisham W)||Torney, Tom|
|Luard, Evan||Price, William (Rugby)||Urwin, T. W.|
|Lyons, Edward (Bradford W)||Radice, Giles||Walden, Brian (B'ham, L'dyw'd)|
|Mabon, Rt Hon Dr J. Dickson||Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn (Leeds S)||Walker, Harold (Doncaster)|
|McCartney, Hugh||Reid, George||Walker Terry (Kingswood)|
|MacCormick, lain||Richardson, Miss Jo||Ward, Michael|
|McDonald, Dr Oonagh||Roberts, Gwilym (Cannock)||Watkins, David|
|McElhone, Frank||Robinson, Geoffrey||Weetch, Ken|
|MacFarquhar, Roderick||Roderick, Caerwyn||Weitzman, David|
|McGuire, Michael (Ince)||Rodgers, George (Chorley)||Wellbeloved, James|
|MacKenzie, Gregor||Rooker, J. W.||Welsh, Andrew|
|Mackintosh, John P.||Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)||White, Frank R. (Bury)|
|Maclennan, Robert||Ross, Rt Hon W. (Kilmarnock)||White, James (Pollok)|
|McMillan, Tom (Glasgow C)||Rowlands, Ted||Whitehead, Phillip|
|McNamara, Kevin||Sandelson, Neville||Wigley, Dafydd|
|Madden, Max||Sedgemore, Brian||Willey, Rt Hon Frederick|
|Magee, Bryan||Shaw, Arnold (llford South)||Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)|
|Mahon, Simon||Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert||Williams, Alan Lee (Hornch'ch)|
|Mallalieu, J. P. W.||Shore, Rt Hon Peter||Williams, Rt Hon Shirley (Hertford)|
|Marks, Kenneth||Short, Mrs Renee (Wolv NE)||Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)|
|Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)||Silkin, Rt Hon John (Deptford)||Wilson, Gordon (Dundee E)|
|Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)||Silkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich)||Wilson, Rt Hon Sir Harold (Huyton)|
|Mason, Rt Hon Roy||Sillars, James||Wilson, William (Coventry SE)|
|Maynard, Miss Joan||Silverman, Julius||Wise, Mrs Audrey|
|Meacher, Michael||Skinner, Dennis||Woof, Robert|
|Mendelson, John||Small, William||Wrigglesworth, Ian|
|Millan, Rt Hon Bruce||Smith, John (N Lanarkshire)||Young, David (Bolton E)|
|Moonman, Eric||Snape, Peter|
|Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)||Spearing, Nigel||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)||Spriggs, Leslie||Mr. Alf Bates and|
|Moyle, Roland||Stallard, A. W.||Mr. David Stoddart.|
|Mulley, Rt Hon Frederick||Steel, Rt Hon David|
|Amery, Rt Hon Julian||Harvie Anderson, Rt Hon Miss||Renton, Tim (Mid-Sussex)|
|Banks, Robert||Higgins, Terence L.||Rhodes James, R.|
|Brocklebank-Fowler, C.||Hutchison, Michael Clark||Roberts, Wyn (Conway)|
|Chalker, Mrs Lynda||Lawrence, Ivan||Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)|
|Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)||Macfarlane, Neil||Shersby, Michael|
|Cope, John||MacGregor, John||Sproat, lain|
|Crouch, David||Macmillan, Rt Hon M. (Farnham)||Stainton, Keith|
|Dean, Paul (N Somerset)||Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove)||Stanbrook, Ivor|
|Drayson, Burnaby||Mills, Peter||Steen, Anthony (Wavertree)|
|du Cann, Rt Hon Edward||Monro, Hector||Tebbit, Norman|
|Farr, John||Morgan-Giles, Rear-Admiral||Wakeham, John|
|Fisher, Sir Nigel||Onslow, Cranley||Wall, Patrick|
|Fookes, Miss Janet||Page, John (Harrow West)||Wiggin, Jerry|
|Fraser, Rt Hon H. (Stafford & St)||Page, Rt Hon R. Graham (Crosby)||Winterton, Nicholas|
|Gardiner, George (Reigate)||Raison, Timothy|
|Glyn, Dr Alan||Rathbone, Tim||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Goodhew, Victor||Rawlinson, Rt Hon Sir Peter||Mr. Nick Budgen and|
|Gow, Ian (Eastbourne)||Rees, Peter (Dover & Deal)||Mr. Peter Emery.|
§ Question accordingly agreed to.
|Division No. 67.]||AYES||[9.42 p.m.|
|Abse, Leo||Ashton, Joe||Barnett, Guy (Greenwich)|
|Anderson, Donald||Atkins, Ronald (Preston N)||Barnett, Rt Hon Joel (Heywood)|
|Archer, Peter||Atkinson, Norman||Bates, Alf|
|Armstrong, E nest||Bain, Mrs Margaret||Bean, R. E.|
§ can arise at this moment. The Question must now be put.
§ Question put accordingly:—
§ The Committee divided: Ayes 239, Noes 64.1787
|Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N)||Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)||Parry, Robert|
|Bidwell, Sydney||Hart, Rt Hon Judith||Pavitt, Laurie|
|Bishop, E. S.||Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy||Perry, Ernest|
|Blenkinsop, Arthur||Hayman, Mrs Helene||Price, C. (Lewisham W)|
|Booth, Rt Hon Albert||Healey, Rt Hon Denis||Price, William (Rugby)|
|Bowden, A. (Brighton, Kemptown)||Heffer, Eric S.||Radice, Giles|
|Bray, Dr Jeremy||Henderson, Douglas||Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn (Leeds S)|
|Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)||Hooley, Frank||Reid, George|
|Brown, Robert C. (Newcastle W)||Horam, John||Richardson, Miss Jo|
|Buchan, Norman||Howell, Rt Hon Denis (B'ham, Sm H)||Roberts, Gwilym (Cannock)|
|Buchanan, Richard||Hoyle, Doug (Nelson)||Robinson, Geoffrey|
|Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P)||Huckfield, Les||Roderick, Caerwyn|
|Campbell, Ian||Hughes, Rt Hon C. (Anglesey)||Rodgers, George (Chorley)|
|Canavan, Dennis||Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)||Rooker, J. W.|
|Carmichael, Neil||Hunter, Adam||Ross, Rt Hon W. (Kilmarnock)|
|Carter-Jones, Lewis||Irvine, Rt Hon Sir A. (Edge Hill)||Rowlands, Ted|
|Cartwright, John||Irving, Rt Hon S. (Dartford)||Sandelson, Neville|
|Castle, Rt Hon Barbara||Jackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln)||Sedgemore, Brian|
|Clemitson, Ivor||Janner, Greville||Shaw, Arnold (ilford South)|
|Cocks, Rt Hon Michael||Jay, Rt Hon Douglas||Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert|
|Cohen, Stanley||Jeger, Mrs Lena||Shore, Rt Hon Peter|
|Colquhoun, Ms Maureen||John, Brynmor||Short, Mrs Renée (Wolv NE)|
|Cook, Robin F. (Edin C)||Johnson, James (Hull West)||Silkin, Rt Hon John (Deptford)|
|Corbett, Robin||Johnson, Walter (Derby S)||Silkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich)|
|Cowans, Harry||Jones, Alec (Rhondda)||Sillars, James|
|Cox, Thomas (Tooting)||Jones, Barry (East Flint)||Silverman, Julius|
|Craigen, Jim (Maryhill)||Judd, Frank||Skinner, Dennis|
|Crawford, Douglas||Kaufman, Gerald||Small, William|
|Cronin, John||Kilroy-Silk, Robert||Smith, John (N Lanarkshire)|
|Crosland, Rt Hon Anthony||Kinnock, Neil||Snape, Peter|
|Crowther, Stan (Rotherham)||Lambie, David||Spriggs, Leslie|
|Cryer, Bob||Lamborn, Harry||Stewart, Rt Hon Donald|
|Dalyell, Tam||Latham, Arthur (Paddington)||Stewart, Rt Hon M. (Fulham)|
|Davidson, Arthur||Lee, John||Stoddart, David|
|Davies, Bryan (Enfield N)||Lestor, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough)||Stott, Roger|
|Davies, Denzil (Lianelli)||Lipton, Marcus||Strang, Gavin|
|Davis, Clinton (Hackney C)||Litterick, Tom||Strauss, Rt Hon G. R.|
|Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)||Luard, Evan||Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley|
|Dell, Rt Hon Edmund||Lyons, Edward (Bradford W)||Taylor, Mrs Ann (Balton W)|
|Dempsey, James||Mabon, Rt Hon Dr J. Dickson||Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)|
|Dolg, Peter||McCartney, Hugh||Thomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery)|
|Dormand, J. D.||MacCormick, lain||Thomas, Mike (Newcastle E)|
|Douglas-Mann, Bruce||McDonald, Dr Oonagh||Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)|
|Dunn, James A.||McElhone, Frank||Thompson, George|
|Dunnett, Jack||MacFarquhar, Roderick||Thorne, Stan (Preston South)|
|Edge, Geoff||McGuire, Michael (Ince)||Tomlinson, John|
|Ellis, John (Brigg & Scun)||MacKenzie, Gregor||Torney, Tom|
|English, Michael||Maclennan, Robert||Urwin, T. W.|
|Ennals, David||McMillan, Tom (Glasgow C)||Walden, Brian (B'ham, L'dyw'd)|
|Evans, Fred (Caerphilly)||McNamara, Kevin||Walker, Harold (Doncaster)|
|Evans, loan (Aberdare)||Madden, Max||Walker, Terry (Kingswood)|
|Ewing, Harry (Stirling)||Magee, Bryan||Ward, Michael|
|Ewing, Mrs Winifred (Moray)||Mahon, Simon||Watkins, David|
|Faulds, Andrew||Mallalieu, J. P. W.||Weetch, Ken|
|Fernyhough, Rt Hon E.||Marks, Kenneth||Weitzman, David|
|Fitt, Gerard (Belfast W)||Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)||Wellbeloved, James|
|Flannery, Martin||Mason, Rt Hon Roy||Welsh, Andrew|
|Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)||Maynard, Miss Joan||White, Frank R. (Bury)|
|Foot, Rt Hon Michael||Meacher, Michael||White, James (Pollok)|
|Ford, Ben||Millan, Rt Hon Bruce||Whitehead, Phillip|
|Forrester, John||Moonman, Eric||Wigley, Dafydd|
|Fowler, Gerald (The Wrekin)||Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)||Willey, Rt Hon Frederick|
|Fraser, John (Lambeth, N'w'd)||Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)||Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)|
|Freeson, Reginald||Moyle, Roland||Williams, Alan Lee (Hornch'ch)|
|Garrett, John (Norwich S)||Mulley, Rt Hon Frederick||Williams, Rt Hon Shirley (Hertford)|
|George, Bruce||Murray, Rt Hon Ronald King||Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)|
|Gilbert, Dr John||Newens, Stanley||Wilson, Gordon (Dundee E)|
|Golding, John||Noble, Mike||Wilson, Rt Hon Sir Harold (Huyton)|
|Gould, Bryan||Ogden, Eric||Wilson, William (Coventry SE)|
|Gourlay, Harry||O'Halloran, Michael||Wise, Mrs Audrey|
|Graham, Ted||Orbach, Maurice||Woof, Robert|
|Grant, George (Morpeth)||Ovenden, John||Wrigglesworth, Ian|
|Grant, John (Islington C)||Owen, Rt Hon Dr David||Young, David (Bolton E)|
|Grocott, Bruce||Padley, Walter|
|Hamilton, James (Bothwell)||Palmer, Arthur||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Hardy, Peter||Park, George||Mr. James Tinn and|
|Harper, Joseph||Parker, John||Mr. A. W. Stallard.|
|Amery, Rt Hon Julian||Cope, John||Farr, John|
|Banks, Robert||Crouch, David||Fisher, Sir Nigel|
|Beith, A. J.||Cunningham, G. (Islington S)||Fletcher-Cooke, Charles|
|Brocklebank-Fowler, C.||Drayson, Burnaby||Fookes, Miss Janet|
|Brown, Ronald (Hackney S)||du Cann, Rt Hon Edward||Fraser, Rt Hon H. (Stafford & St)|
|Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)||Emery, Peter||Freud, Clement|
|Gardiner, George (Reigate)||Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove)||Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)|
|Glyn, Dr Alan||Mills, Peter||Shersby, Michael|
|Goodhew, Victor||Monro, Hector||Sproat, lain|
|Gow, Ian (Eastbourne)||Morgan-Giles, Rear-Admiral||Stainton, Keith|
|Grist, Ian||Morrison, Charles (Devizes)||Stanbrook, Ivor|
|Harvie Anderson, Rt Hon Miss||Onslow, Cranley||Steel, Rt Hon David|
|Higgins, Terence L.||Page, John (Harrow West)||Steen, Anthony (Wavertree)|
|Hooson, Emlyn||Page, Rt Hon R. Graham (Crosby)||Tebbit, Norman|
|Howells, Geraint (Cardigan)||Pardoe, John||Thorpe, Rt Hon Jeremy (N Devon)|
|Hutchison, Michael Clark||Raison, Timothy||Wakeham, John|
|Johnston, Russell (Inverness)||Rathbone, Tim||Wall, Patrick|
|Lamond, James||Rawlinson, Rt Hon Sir Peter||Wiggin, Jerry|
|Lawrence, Ivan||Rees, Peter (Dover & Deal)|
|Leadbitter, Ted||Renton, Tim (Mid-Sussex)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Macfarlane, Neil||Rhodes James, R.||Mr Nicholas Winterton and|
|MacGregor, John||Roberts, Wyn (Conway)||Mr. Nick Budgen.|
|Macmillan, Rt Hon M. (Farnham)||Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)|
§ Question accordingly agreed to.
That the Order of the Committee [13th January] be amended and that the new Clause (Referendums in Scotland and Wales) in the name of Mr. Michael Foot and the new Schedule (Referendums in Scotland and Wales) in the name of Mr. Michael Foot be considered before Clause 4.
§ The Temporary Chairman
Before calling the Minister of State to move the new clause, I ought perhaps to mention that right hon. and hon. Members will have read in Hansard a point of order which the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Sillars) raised last Tuesday. I think that I can set the hon Gentleman's mind at rest.
The Chairman of Ways and Means has asked me to say that, in his view, were the referendum paper to contain what might be described as "the independence question", this would not affect the unity of the United Kingdom unless some specific provision also existed to give practical effect to an affirmative answer. Amendments which involve no such provision are, therefore, not in this respect inconsistent with Clause 1 to which the Committee has agreed.
§ Mr. Peter Rees (Dover and Deal)
On a point of order, Sir Stephen. Before we go on to the new clause, may I ask you to rule whether it is within the scope of the Bill?
I submit that this is an appropriate moment to raise this matter, and "Erskine May" suggests that it would be possible to raise it even after a debate on the matter had started.
You will recall, Sir Stephen, that the Chair was canvassed on the scope of the Bill at an earlier stage in our debates. Then, the Chair was disposed to consider whether the amendments in question were within the scope of the Bill by reference 1788 to the Long Title. If that be the test, I draw your attention to the fact that the Long Title is merelyA Bill to provide for changes in the government of Scotland and Wales.In the Long Title there is no reference whatever to a referendum. I believe that the Chair was then disposed to modify its position and to say that the scope of the Bill has to be gleaned from the substance of the Bill—in other words, one has to look at the general tenor of the Bill and the clauses contained within it. If one applies that test, one can search the original clauses of the Bill in vain to find any reference to a suggestion that there should be a referendum.
If it be suggested that a referendum is a normal incident of any Bill, that, of course, opens up some very novel constitutional vistas. It will be possible for an hon. Member to append the new clause to any Bill and make its effect dependent on a referendum to be held either in the United Kingdom as a whole or in a specified part or parts. I cannot believe that that would be for the good conduct of the business of this House.
Of course, it may well be that you will consider that this is a Bill of some constitutional significance and therefore that a referendum is a natural part of it—[Interruption.]—but I ask you to ponder and again consider the implications of the decision on these grounds. [Interruption.] It would mean, for instance, that if a Bill were introduced to grant independence to Rhodesia, it would be open to any hon. Member to make that Bill dependent on the holding of a referendum—[Interruption.]—in Rhodesia itself or in the United Kingdom.
§ The Temporary Chairman
Order. There is a great deal of disturbance in the Committee. I am anxious to hear the hon. and learned Member for Dover 1789 and Deal (Mr. Rees), but it may save both him and me some time if I tell him now that the Chairman of Ways and Means has previously ruled that the scope of the Bill is related to the government of Scotland and Wales, and he has ruled earlier today that this new clause is within its scope. Therefore, as wiser heads than mine have decided this, I do not see that there is any point in the hon. and learned Gentleman's pursuing the matter.
§ Mr. Rees
If I may take a hint from the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), I am always respectfully deferential to the Chair in such matters, but I respectfully dissent on one point. As I understood the ruling of the Chair, it was in the context of the point of order raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Farnham (Mr. Macmillan), which raised a quite different point. It may well be that, peripherally, the Chair touched on the scope of the Bill, but I do not believe, Sir Stephen—and I assert this with some confidence—that the argument that I am addressing to you on this matter was ever put in quite these terms—
§ The Temporary Chairman
Order. I have taken advice, and I am assured that the Chairman of Ways and Means did give a ruling that the new clause was within the scope of the Bill. I do not think that there is much point in pursuing the matter, in view of that ruling. I call the Lord President of the Council.
§ It being Ten o'clock, The CHAIRMAN left the Chair to report Progress and ask leave to sit again.
§ Committee report Progress.