|5||'(1) Before an order is made under section 114 of this Act there shall be held—|
|(a) a referendum on the question whether effect is to be given to the provisions of this Act so far as they relate to the government of Scotland, and|
|(b) a referendum on the question whether effect is to be given to the provisions of 5 this Act so far as they relate to the government of Wales;|
|and each question shall be decided by a majority of the valid votes cast in the referendum.|
|(2) Schedule (Referendums in Scotland and Wales) to this Act shall have effect with respect to the referendums held in pursuance of this section.|
|10||(3) If the decisions in the referendums are that no effect is to be given to the 10 provisions of this Act, this Act (except this section and that Schedule) shall not take effect; and if the decisions are that effect is to be given to those provisions so far only as they relate to the government of Scotland or Wales an order under section 114 of this Act shall not be made so as to give effect to them also so far as they relate to the government of the other of those countries, and Her Majesty may by Order in Council make such|
|15||amendments to this Act (including amendments to the title and short title) as appear to Her necessary or expedient as the result of the decisions.|
|(4) If an Order in Council under this section is made, copies of this Act as amended by the Order shall be printed by Her Majesty's printer.|
|20||(5) No recommendation shall be made to Her Majesty in Council to make an Order 20 under this section unless a draft of the Order has been laid before and approved by a resolution of each 20 House of Parliament.'—[Mr. John Smith.]|
§ Motion made, and Question proposed [10th February], That the clause be read a Second time.
§ Question again proposed.
§ 3.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)
On a point of order, Mr. Murton. I ask your indulgence for a few moments. I notice that Amendment (k) to the new clause has not been selected for discussion and vote. I understand that the reason given was that it extends the scope of the Bill. I humbly suggest that other amendments which have been accepted, including (o) and (i), also extend the scope of the Bill. The referendum itself extends the scope of the Bill, and on that basis it seems logical that an amendment that seeks to do something different from the others should be selected.
One amendment suggests that the English people should vote on whether the Scots and Welsh should have devolution. Many of us think that is wrong, because this is a matter on which the 266 Scottish and Welsh people must decide. However, we want to involve the English people in the question of devolution, and that is precisely what my amendment does.
Some of the amendments are reasonable and commend themselves to many hon. Members, but my amendment also commends itself to quite a large body of opinion in the Committee. As some amendments that have been selected for discussion extend the scope of the Bill and my amendment is similar to them up to a point, I cannot understand why it has not been selected. It is different from many others and in that sense is unique. I ask you to reconsider your decision and to allow this amendment to be taken, perhaps with others, or certainly to give us the opportunity to vote upon it.
§ Mr. Timothy Raison (Aylesbury)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Murton. Can you tell us whether you will be calling only those amendments to the new clause that are listed in today's provisional selection of amendments and 267 whether you will be calling further amendments on the schedule?
§ The Chairman (Mr. Oscar Murton)
The answer to the point of order of the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison) is "Yes". In reply to the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr.Heffer), perhaps I may explain again the ruling which the Committee will recall I gave on 1st February. I said, and the Committee accepted, that the scope of the Bill extends to cover the various means by which the government of Scotland and Wales might be altered and improved, with any necessary consequential arrangements affecting bodies elsewhere in the United Kingdom.
I must make it clear that in my view the creation of a separate Assembly for England is not, in this sense, a necessary consequence of the Scottish and Welsh provisions, but is a matter which fundamentally and separately affects the government of England itself. Therefore, in my view it is quite outside the scope of the Bill, and anything more than an incidental reference to this possibility is out of order.
§ Mr. Terence Higgins (Worthing)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Murton. Is that also the case when introducing a referendum, which the new clause does? That clearly affects the government of England, because it introduces into our system an arrangement that alters the way in which the House of Commons conducts its affairs.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Murton. I do not want to make too much of this, or to appear to quibble, but are you not making from the Chair various value judgments which are open to discussion? For example, in yesterday's newspapers there was a long account about how the people of Berwick are strongly protesting about the effects on them of devolution? One does not wish to make mountains out of molehills, but that type of situation affects one's judgment.
§ The Chairman
Any value judgment is indeed a matter of personal judgment, whether in a newspaper or elsewhere.
§ Mr. George Cunningham (Islington, South and Finsbury)
If it is to be the case that no amendments will be in order which pretty directly affect the government of England, will that mean that an amendment would not be in order if it provided that in future, after devolution, Scottish representatives in the House should not be able to vote on matters which are exclusively of English concern?
§ Mr. George Cunningham
Further to that point of order, Mr. Murton. Interesting questions are always hypothetical. The House of Commons nonsense of not answering hypothetical questions is a way of avoiding them. If an amendment which provides that Scottish hon. Members cannot vote on purely English matters is in order, by anticipation my hon. Friend's amendment should be in order. We must be consistent about this. If this decision stands, the next amendment should be out of order, but I think that the next, which I have already mentioned, will be ruled in order.
§ The Chairman
On first hearing the hypothetical point raised by the hon. Gentleman sounded to me as though it might not be in order.
§ Mr. Tim Renton (Mid-Sussex)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Murton. You have not fully dealt with the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins). Surely the question of holding a referendum will be exclusively confined to the people of Scotland and Wales. It is inevitable that it will affect the government of England, because it is a brand new constitutional practice for the government of England. It must flow from that that it is appropriate to consider amendments which specifically refer to the government of England, because that government is already in question by the very nature of the referendum proposed by the Government.
§ Mr. Norman Buchan (Renfrewshire, West)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Murton. Will you confirm that among the additional matters that will be discussed, although they are not on the selected list, are Amendment (c) and Amendment (aaa), which refer to the independence question?
Further to the point of order by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer), with whom I disagree, if it is in order to discuss a referendum and for questions to be tabled to amend proposals concerning independence for Scotland and Wales, ipso facto that also involves the independence of England within the United Kingdom. I entirely disagree with the amendment which has been chosen—that the other parts of the United Kingdom should decide on the Scottish referendum—but it seems correct that we should be able to discuss the matter in Committee.
§ The Chairman
I shall take the second and more difficult point of order of the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan) first. Incidental references to this matter will be in order, as I said to the hon. Member for Walton. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, West for drawing my attention to New Clause 40 and its amendments. Three amendments to the new schedule—(b), (c) and (aaa)—were inadvertently omitted from the group selected to be discussed with amendment.
§ Mr. Paul Channon (Southend, West)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Murton. Amendment (x) has been selected for debate and is tabled in the name of the Leader of the Liberal Party. If that amendment were carried, the opportunity would be given to establish a domestic Parliament in Scotland that would have jurisdiction over all its internal affairs. Can it seriously be argued that that would not have consequences for the government of England? If that is so, surely the amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) is analogous to the situation.
I hope that the ruling that you gave off the cuff to the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) will not be taken as a definitive statement of your views on whether it is in order to discuss what 270 rôle Scottish Members can play in the House of Commons should the Bill be passed. If the Bill were passed and an Assembly were created, that would have direct relevance to our discussions here on the rôle of Scottish and Welsh Members. The situation would be fundamentally different. It would be a serious matter if we were debarred from debating that situation, and the Committee will wish to debate it on a suitable occasion.
§ Mr. Peter Emery (Honiton)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Murton. May I ask you to look also at the last line of Amendment (x), which has been selected for discussion? It would allow Scotland to have independence from the United Kingdom. Surely nobody can suggest that if that happened the government of England would not be affected. By allowing that amendment the Chair seems to have set the pattern which should allow the Committee to discuss the amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer). His amendment would have no greater bearing on the government of England than that which suggests that Scotland should leave the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. Eric Moonman (Basildon)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Murton. I appreciate the dilemma in which the Chair finds itself. In addition to the points of order in relation to the amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer), is it not true that the mechanics of the referendum mean that Scottish and Welsh people who are resident in England will be given an opportunity to vote? Is it not, therefore, all the more pressing that they be given assistance to vote?
§ Mr. Douglas Henderson (Aberdeenshire, East)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Murton. Hon. Members have impressed upon us the necessity of discussing independence. If we cannot have a timetable motion on the Bill, perhaps we can have a timetable motion on points of order, which are abusing the time of the House day after day.
§ 4.0 p.m.
§ Several Hon. Members rose—
§ The Chairman
Order. Perhaps I may deal with some of the points raised. 271 As regards the last point of order, raised by the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. Henderson), that suggestion would give the Chair great comfort, but it is not possible so to rule, or so to expect, in the Committee.
I refer now to the off-the-cuff ruling that I gave, referred to by the hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon). I must be careful what I say when giving off-the-cuff rulings. I think that this shows the danger of the complexity of the situation, and I would not wish this to be quoted against me. I think that the Committee will have some sympathy with me in the difficulties that I have in attempting to deal fairly and honestly with the points that hon. Members wish to make to me.
§ Mr. Heffer
Further to my point of order, Mr. Murton. When this matter was originally discussed—you referred to it yourself, Mr. Murton, and to the fact that you gave a ruling—the Lord President made it absolutely clear, and it was said by Labour Members, that he could not determine this matter and that it would be up to the Chair. However, the point was made that we should be able to table a wide range of amendments. I took the Lord President at his word.
It seems to me—I am not blaming anyone for this—that we are remaining rather narrow even though it was agreed at an early stage of the proceedings of the Committee that, because of impinging upon England and the rest of the United Kingdom, we should not be able to go wide enough to encompass all aspects of this matter. Therefore, I ask you, Mr. Murton, to reconsider the ruling that you gave based upon the original discussions that we had.
There is one last point, Mr. Murton. Will you explain to Scottish National Party Members the meaning of democracy in the House of Commons?
§ The Chairman
The hon. Gentleman's last point does not affect the Chair.
I quite understand his point of view. It was decided that in debate a considerable number of amendments would be tabled. This has been carried out, I think, very effectively, because we have reached, I think, page 1727 in the amendments that have been put down.
272 However, I must reiterate what I said to the hon. Gentleman. I am sure that he will understand the difficulties of the situation. Anything that is more than an incidental reference to the possibility that he raised would not be in order, because the question of England is fundamentally separate and would affect the government of that country itself. I regret to say that I cannot alter my decision.
§ Mr. John Mendelson (Penistone)
On a different point of order, Mr. Murton. Although this is not a point of view that I would support, in having ruled out the amendment proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer), you have deprived him and a considerable number of Members of the main argument that they have been advancing consistently throughout these debates. I merely put this forward to underline the seriousness of the decision, which of course must be your decision.
However, it is particularly serious because my hon. Friend the Member for Walton has consistently been arguing, as have others, that his whole attitude to this legislation would be different if we were asked to consider by the Executive a general arrangement for all parts of the United Kingdom—some scheme of regional government or governments that affected all parts—and the only way in which my hon. Friend can produce this alternative would be by the kind of amendment that he has tried to move.
If this is ruled out of order, it would not merely be ruling out of order something that is judged not to have anything to do with the Bill; it would be ruling out of order the most significant alternative that my hon. Friend and other hon. Members have been advancing throughout these debates.
I have merely advanced that view to submit, with respect, Mr. Murton, the question whether that does not raise the opportunity for you in your own time to reconsider whether you will have another look at your decision on the amendment.
§ The Chairman
I understand the hon. Gentleman's argument fully. In fact, I understand it extremely well. However, I am bound by the rules of order and I must adhere to them. That must be my decision.
§ Mr. Dalyell
Further to that point of order, Mr. Murton. I think that we all sympathise with the difficulties into which you have been placed, but I am a bit bothered when I hear you refer to this as a fundamentally separate issue. I think that those were the words that you used. The position is that it is not fundamentally separate at all, because the hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Gray), for example, could vote about all sorts of things in Poole, Dorset—your own constituency, Mr. Murton—but he could not vote on matters affecting Ullapool, in his own constituency. How in those circumstances, with 71 Scottish Members able to vote on all sorts of moneys and Bills in relation to England but when we cannot vote—nor can English Members—in relation to our own constituencies can it be suggested for one moment that this is a fundamentally separate issue? It is in fact intertwined.
§ Mr. Higgins
Further to that point of order, Mr. Murton. We all understand very well the difficult position in which you are placed. We fully understand the heavy duty that falls upon you. What we have difficulty in understanding is simply how the two rulings are consistent—first, that the new clause is in order, and, second, that the amendment proposed by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) is out of order—because the argument as to why the new clause is in order is that it does not affect the government of the United Kingdom, when clearly it does, and the argument against the hon. Member's amendment is that we cannot debate it because it would affect the government of the United Kingdom. The two rulings seem to be quite inconsistent, at any rate to me. I hope, Mr. Murton, that you will give the matter further consideration, even though I understand that you would wish to continue your advice as it now stands.
§ The Chairman
I assure the hon. Gentleman that I have given the very deepest consideration to this matter. He maintains that my ruling is inconsistent. I have to inform him that, after very deep thought, I consider that my ruling is consistent.
§ Mr. George Cunningham
I wonder whether you could help us on two points, Mr. Murton, which might help us to have some idea of what might or might not be in order in future. Can you tell us whether, in deciding whether a particular amendment is held to be in order on grounds of scope, any preference is given to the Government, as the initiators of the Bill, as against any other Member? I ask you that question quite genuinely, because I can appreciate that the initiators of a Bill ought, perhaps, to have more latitude than others. Do they have any more latitude?
§ Mr. George Cunningham
I have two points to make, with great respect, Mr. Murton. The second is that although Amendment (k), in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) has been ruled out of order, there are many parts to Amendment (k). If I recall correctly—though, again, one is going on a ruling given orally—what you said at the beginning, it seemed to mean that the bit that made the whole amendment unselectable was B, under the heading "For England only".
§ The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Michael Foot)
I hope that it will be helpful if I intervene for a few minutes to continue the discussion on the new clause and to refer as briefly as I can to the Government's suggestions on two points which engaged a good deal of attention last Thursday, and which were discussed by the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) and other Members earlier in the day's proceedings It might be helpful if I gave the Government's comments now. Other hon. Members may wish to comment on these in further discussion on the new clause.
The first point concerns the constitutional status of the proposed referendums. We have considered carefully the concern expressed on Thursday's discussion and also, in part, in amendments on the 275 Amendment Paper relating to the questions of substance rather than those of procedure and order. We recognise that there is genuine unease to some degree in all parts of the Committee about the concept of referendums that would in effect be mandatory and not just advisory to Parliament on a matter of such fundamental importance as devolution. What I have to say is not to be taken as enunciating any general doctrine either for or against such a concept. But we have decided that in the present context it would be right to modify our proposals so that the referendums should be consultative and not mandatory.
We envisage that after the referendums, whatever the outcome, there should be, in respect of each country separately, further positive parliamentary process necessary before the Act can be implemented or, in the alternative, can be repealed. In other words, no substantive results in regard to the Act would follow automatically from the result of the referendums.
I believe that this will accord with the general views expressed from all sides of the House. As one who has supported the concept of a referendum and who believes that the people of Scotland and Wales should have the opportunity of expressing their views, directly through referendums, on what Parliament proposes, I do not believe that what we are proposing is in any way injurious to or will interfere with their wishes. It is a way of ensuring that their wishes can be expressed and that Parliament can take them into account, and that the Government can also take account of what Parliament has said on this subject.
We shall want to consider further the precise procedural mechanisms by which this concept can best be translated into legislative form. We shall bring forward amendments at Report stage accordingly. Our intention is clear and I hope that the Committee will find it helpful. I thought it right that I should make this clear at the beginning of today's discussion so that we could proceed on that basis.
The second point concerns the wording of the preamble and the questions that we have proposed. Some comments were made during Thursday's proceedings and 276 we also had a wide variety of proposals on the Order Paper to stimulate our discussion and imagination. We have considered what has been said and we propose accordingly to put before the Committee adjusted wording to meet at least some of the points that have been made. The new wording that we offer—one for each country—will, I hope, be available on tomorrow's Order Paper for the Committee to study.
I can tell the Committee now that the adjustments are of three kinds. First, on the question, we are prepared to accept the formulation "Do you want …?" instead of "Do you agree …?". This is in response to comments that were made in several quarters. Secondly, on the preamble, we are prepared to put the reference to referendums at the beginning rather than at the end although we remain of the view that there should be an informative preamble giving some reminder of what is in the Act. Thirdly, we propose that the reference to the continuance of the unity of the United Kingdom—which we think is important—should be made in such a way that it makes it quite explicit that this is a factual statement about the provisions of the Act, not a general political prediction or view.
I say to the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire—although I do not think that he or I would claim that this is the biggest constitutional reform since Magna Carta—that we think it right to accommodate his wish that the boxes for "Yes" and "No" should be clearly separated and not contiguous.
I have made this intervention to aid general discussion and not in the expectation that it will bring all debate on the matter to an end. I hope that the Committee will accept what I have said as a constructive contribution to help matters forward and to reinforce the fairness of our proposals.
§ Mr. Henderson
Does not the Lord President realise that making statements such as this day after day is a sign of the quagmire into which the Bill is sinking, and the fact that many of these things have clearly not been thought out beforehand? Will the right hon. Gentleman answer two points about the changes that he has announced? First, now that he has changed the referendum to a consultative referendum, as he termed it, will he give 277 an undertaking that he, on behalf of the Government at least—since he cannot answer for the Committee—will be bound by the result of the referendum? Secondly, can he tell us in what possible way he will get interest among Scottish people if they feel that they will vote in a referendum and then an English majority here can overrule them?
§ Mr. Foot
The hon. Gentleman has misunderstood the situation and the basis on which the Bill is proceeding. Right from the beginning of our proceedings. and in the first speech which the Prime Minister made on Second Reading, we have made it clear that we would listen carefully to what the Committee said on all different aspects of the Bill, and that we would take that into account in the amendments which we would propose as the Bill proceeded. That is exactly what we have done.
I do not believe that anyone who listened to the debate the other day—I listened to every word of it, and I believe that those discussions represented views that have been expressed throughout the country generally—could conclude that the Committee was not making serious representations to the Government. We took them into account. We have come back to the Committee, as we promised, to make fresh proposals in the light of the discussions that have taken place. I believe that this is a better way of doing it. The arguments for a consultative referendum have always had strength. I believe that Parliament will retain its sovereignty. They also mean that Parliament will take into account what is decided and the views expressed by the people of Scotland and Wales in the referendums.
§ Mr. Foot
Monmouthshire is part of Wales, as all hon. Members who are informed about the situation know well enough without my having to instruct them.
I believe that the referendum results will be accepted by the House of Commons, but the House must have the final word in the matter, and that is why we are making these proposals, which I believe that the Committee will see are sensible.
278 I do not believe that the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. Henderson) need raise any alarm that the people of Scotland or of Wales are to be deprived of their rights. We shall be prepared to accept their decisions, and I hope that members of the Scottish National Party will be prepared to accept the decision in Scotland.
§ Mr. Buchan
My right hon. Friend has largely subsumed this point in his last remarks. Those of us concerned with getting the Bill through in order to have it properly put to the Scottish people should understand that one of the objections to it has been the fear in this House that the sovereignty of Parliament is being infringed in this way. Therefore, those of us, like the Scottish National Party, who wish to get the Bill through should be prepared to accept the Government's concession. I do not find it welcome, because I know the sort of distorted version that the SNP will give it, but I understand the necessity for it if we are to get the Bill through. I for one will accept as mandatory the decision made in Scotland, and I take this opportunity to ask hon. Members belonging to the SNP whether they will accept the Scottish people's decision as being mandatory on them.
§ Mr. Malcolm Rifkind (Edinburgh, Pentlands)
The right hon. Gentleman says that in his view the House will accept the decisions in the referendums, but he has no control over the House. He says that the Government will accept the wishes of the people of Scotland. But that does not indicate what the Government's view will be if the wishes of the Scottish people are not clearly indicated as a result of the referendum there. He has not answered the point whether the Government will feel bound by the referendum, irrespective of whether there is a narrow division between those who want the Bill and those who do not want it, and irrespective of the proportion of people who turn out to vote.
§ Mr. Foot
Of course the Government will feel bound by the outcome, but the final word will be spoken by the House 279 of Commons. That is the meaning of the consultative referendums. As I say, I believe that we are responding to representations made from many quarters in the House. I do not think that a great mystery need be created about this matter. We are not suggesting that we should transform the referendums into public opinion polls. We are saying that we accept the representations made from many quarters in the House that we should seek to make the referendums consultative.
§ Mr. Channon
What the right hon. Gentleman says is welcome to me at least, but he is putting the Committee in some difficult. We are asked to take this clause today without the faintest idea of what it will say in the end, nor any idea of what the positive parliamentary process will be at the end of the day—whether it will be done by a Bill or by an Order in Council. These matters are strictly relevant to whether the clause should be read a Second Time.
§ Mr. Foot
I think that the hon Gentleman is seeing imaginary difficulties. The new clause sets out the case for the commitment to referendums. I am indicating, at the beginning of our discussion—and I think it obviously will affect the way the discussion goes—that on Report or on the schedule we shall have to make alterations in order to accommodate what I have said. I believe that it is perfectly possible for the Committee to continue the discussion of the new clause, which will decide whether we should have the referendum proposals inserted in the Bill—which is the main issue to be decided. But I have also indicated the response of the Government to questions which were raised by the Opposition Front Bench earlier in the debate.
§ Mr. Neil Kinnock (Bedwellty)
I share the reservations of my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan) about these changes, because the nationalists in Scotland and Wales will unquestionably, with their taste for misrepresentation, endow the word "consultative" with all the treacherous meanings of which they are capable. But on that basis, it is acceptable to me. In pursuit of clarity, however, and in order to assist the House after the referendums, is this not an appropriate time for my right hon. Friend to give further con- 280 sideration to the necessity for the second question—the independence question—so that all tastes and all opinions are clearly marked?
§ Mr. Foot
I know that the matter of the second question gives great concern, particularly to several of my hon. Friends, including my hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) and my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan). My hon. Friend the Minister of State dealt with this aspect in his speech at the beginning of the debate, and I accept the view he put forward. There will be further debate as we proceed. But I believe that it is perfectly possible for us to agree with what the Government have proposed irrespective of what is the position about the second question, the independence question. That is a different matter, which raises different issues.
I would not accept that the whole of this proposition can be disrupted or distorted by the methods or tactics of nationalists in Wales or Scotland. If Parliament carries what we have proposed, I believe that the country will understand why the referendums are to be consultative. The vote will take place, it will be a very important vote, and it will of course largely determine the situation. But the very last decision will rest with this House, and I believe that, in accepting the fact, we accept the rights of this House in the matter.
§ Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarvon)
My understanding of the wording as it stands is that if there is in Wales a 40 per cent. turnout with a 51 per cent. vote in favour of the Bill and 49 per cent. against, the result will automatically be put into effect. Can the right hon. Gentleman really expect those like the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) or the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) to vote in favour of the Bill on that sort of result, if that is the outcome, bearing in mind the campaigns that they have run against the Bill?
§ Mr. Foot
Each hon. Member will have to decide what he is to do in such circumstances. But I think that, in common sense, if the referendum were carried as the hon. Gentleman suggests, Parliament would confirm it. What we are proposing recognises that Parliament must keep the very last word unto itself.
§ Mr. George Cunningham
We are being put in an impossible position which is perhaps not unprecedented but is surely unacceptable. My right hon. Friend appears to be asking us to vote for a clause which the Government are now against. The Government do not now favour the wording of the new clause as it stands—or they do not technically favour it—but are asking us to approve it. But they are to ask us at a later stage not to pass it then but to pass something else. They are asking us to pass it in Committee, go through the whole Bill, and then, on Report, come back and consider the amended proposals. I suggest that the sensible thing would be to withdraw this clause, which the Government now do not support, and then for the Government to move such new clause in the amended form that the Government now think they have a chance of getting through. We could then discuss the proposals in proper detail instead of having this procedure of having to question my right hon. Friend.
§ Mr. Foot
My hon. Friend is a great expert on parliamentary affairs and he knows that what I am doing is in conformity with what has happened time and again in the history of the House of Commons. The Government make proposals for a Bill; representations are made during the course of discussion; and the Government may get up in the course of the Committee stage and say that on Report they will make alterations of a particular character. It does not alter the fact that the main proposition before the Committee now is that we should have the new clause which proposes the referendums. I am giving an undertaking in exactly the form in which such undertakings have been given on innumerable occasions in the history of Parliament—that there will be an amendment on Report in the terms and for the purposes I have described. I think that my hon. Friend is mistaken in thinking that this is the wrong way to proceed. I think that it is a very sensible way to proceed.
§ Mr. David Steel (Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles)
I support the change which the right hon. Gentleman has announced, but does not he accept that it has fundamental importance in the respect that both 282 he and the Minister of State have said repeatedly that they were conducting not an opinion poll in Scotland but a mandatory referendum? They said clearly that there was to be only one possible question—"Yes" or "No" to the Bill. Now, if the referendum is to be, in effect, a 100 per cent. opinion poll, it is open to the Government finally to be more flexible on the matter of what the questions are to be. But also—and I am addressing this point partly to the Chair—surely it will be for the Chair to re consider the selection of amendments, because what amendments would have been in order on a mandatory referendum will be a different matter now that we are to have a consultative referendum.
§ 4.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Foot
The question whether the referendum is to be consultative or mandatory alters the judgment that the Chair may make about what amendments it calls. It may of course alter the judgment of hon. Members about the questions which may properly or advisedly be put in such a ballot. I understand that, but the Government's view is still that, in order to have the referendum as clear as possible, we should stick by the single question which we have proposed, coupled with the preamble. That is why we have dealt with those two subjects in the announcement that I have made today, because they are associated.
Though I know that some of my hon. Friends will argue for a second question, it is still our view that much the clearest way of proceeding is what we have proposed, which makes the matter clearer still and at the same time takes into account all the representations that we have had. If it is said that because we are taking those representations into account, we must withdraw any clause on which the debate is taking place, that would make our procedure a hundred times more cumbersome—and some of us think that they may occasionally be cumbersome at the moment.
§ Mr. Raison
Perhaps I might expose my ignorance by saying that I am not sure whether, after a new clause has been brought up and read the First and Second times and amendments have been put down to it, we may then have a clause stand part debate. But if that is possible after the amendments have been taken, 283 would it not also be possible for the Government to bring in their further amendments before the clause stand part debate—presumably tomorrow—so that at least we can consider the clause as a whole?
§ Mr. Foot
I will see whether that is a possibility, but I doubt it. I believe that my suggestion is a reasonable one. The main principle that we are discussing is whether there should be a referendum on this whole question. But the form and the circumstances of that referendum are obviously matters for debate. If the Committee does not agree to a vote immediately—I assume that that is most unlikely—it will continue to debate the main proposals for a referendum but will obviously take into account what the Government have said are the proposed alterations to meet the representations which have come from all parts of the Committee.
§ Mr. Dalyell
Would my right hon. Friend accept that, although there is at least a case for a mandatory referendum, the idea of a consultative referendum will simply make the House of Commons an object of derision? We shall just be told that we cannot make up our minds. Furthermore, for two-and-a-half hours this morning there was a long and bitter debate in the Scottish Grand Committee about the closure of training colleges. If, for £3 million or more, we solemnly go ahead with a consultative referendum while we are closing down teacher training colleges, what on earth are the people going to think of us?
§ Mr. Foot
I am happy to say that it is not my responsibility to deal with long and bitter debates in the Scottish Grand Committee, so I cannot comment on that. My hon. Friend says that a consultative referendum, would bring the House of Commons or its procedures into disrepute. But that did not happen with the referendum on the Common Market, which was consultative. Some hon. Members may not have liked it or its outcome, but most accepted it as a proper way to proceed.
§ Mr. Leo Abse (Pontypool)
While, like everyone else, I regret the extraordinary improvisation with which this major constitutional Bill is being afflicted, it would be churlish of me not to acknowledge that the Leader of the House is respond- 284 ing to a genuine anxiety in all quarters that, if he took any other course than the consultative one, he would be seriously subverting the sovereignty of the House of Commons. I therefore welcome his statement.
What is causing me difficulty—no doubt other hon. Members have other points in mind—is the manner in which, if at all, my right hon. Friend will make reference now in the preamble to the issue of the United Kingdom. Would it not be wise to take up the suggestion which have already come from the other side of the Committee, that, since we shall be voting upon a principle of a referendum in something like a particular form, the amendments which the Government intend to put down should be before the Committee before we decide whether we agree with the principle of the clause? It cannot be right that the Government have not clearly directed their minds to the anxieties among hon. Members. Merely to say in general terms that they wish to allay those anxieties without enabling them to come before the House in a concrete form before the final vote does not help.
§ Mr. Foot
I am grateful for what my hon. Friend said at the start, but his intervention illustrates the problem. If the Government do not concede anything, they are accused of arrogance and stubbornness. If we make concessions to representations, we are accused of improvisation. In my experience, the best Committee stages are those in which there has been considerable improvisation, with proposals brought forward in the light of discussion. There is nothing out of order or contrary to our normal procedures in my indicating the general ways in which we propose alterations to our original proposal for framing the preamble to the question. What I have said is a clear alteration of it.
I have stated the reasons for some of the alterations. I believe that those changes also accord with what was represented to us from some quarters. I have stressed that we wish to retain in the preamble reference to the proposal for elected Scottish and Welsh Assemblies and to the fact that Scotland would remain a part of the United Kingdom. It is an important question, and that is one reason that we have brought the matter forward for discussion.
§ Mr. Douglas Jay (Battersea, North)
On a point of order. As this is not Question Time, and as some of us would like to make speeches on this issue, can we resume our normal procedures?
§ Mr. George Cunningham
Further to the point of order. What issue are we on? That is the whole point. We are not on the issue that the Lord President has put before the Committee. We are on New Clause 40.
§ Sir David Renton (Huntingdonshire)
On a point of order, Mr. Murton. May I make what I hope will be considered a constructive suggestion, which in the long run would save the House a great deal of time and save the Government some difficulty and embarrassment? I do so by way of supporting the suggestion of the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) that the Government should table amendments as soon as possible embodying the Lord President's proposals. The right hon. Gentleman has said that the Government's amendments to embody his proopsals would be tabled on Report.
But let us just consider what will happen if we have to wait until then. Of course we shall have to have the resumption, I hope very soon, of the debate on the Second Reading of this clause, but then we must go through the Committee stage on the clause, and there is a whole heap of amendments for that Committee stage. Hon. Members on both sides have tabled them without knowing about the forthcoming proposals which, I think rightly, the right hon. Gentleman has made today.
If we are to have that Committee stage, we cannot expect hon. Members to withdraw all their amendments, because they will not know, and cannot be safe and certain in their minds about, how the Government will deal with these matters in detail. Therefore, may I suggest that we simply try to concentrate on the Second Reading of the clause? I invite my hon. Friends on the Front Bench and other hon. Members on both sides not to hold it against the Government if they table the necessary amendments 286 overnight. They will be starred amendments. It will still be within the discretion of the Chair to select them, and then we could make progress and save time.
§ Mr. Foot
I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman. We shall certainly do our best to meet the proposals that he has made. We shall put down the amendments to the form of the preamble and the ballot tonight. I hope that they will be on the Order Paper tomorrow. That will help the Committee tomorrow.
On the question of making the referendum consultative, I believe that that would take further arrangements and would have to be dealt with at a later stage. This is not an abnormal procedure. We could have said that we would wait until the end of the whole debate on the new clause, perhaps at 11 o'clock or 12 o'clock at night, and that we would not give any indication to the committee of what our reconsideration of these matters was until then, or we could have held up the question until Report or a later stage of the Bill before giving an indication that we would look at the matter afresh. We considered the matter because serious points were raised following last Thursday's discussion.
Some hon. Members said that these were matters which affected the constitution generally and that therefore the Government must give their view. Once we had considered what hon. Members said on Thursday and had come to a conclusion, we had to decide what to do about it. It was much more open and honest for the Government to make a statement on the matter and to tell the House as early as possible what we were proposing, as I have done. Far from that placing the House in difficulties, as my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) suggested, it does nothing of the sort. It means that the debate will continue—when we have finished with this "Question Time"—on the basis of knowing what the Government will propose and what they are committed to doing at later stages of the Bill.
There is nothing novel in that. Time and again in the history of the House Governments have said that they will do this or that or make a certain innovation. Far from being contrary to the normal 287 procedures of the House, what I propose is in full conformity with them. We responded to the representations made, and I hope that on that basis the Committee will be able to continue.
§ Mr. Moonman rose—
§ Mr. Foot
I shall give way to my hon. Friend in a moment.
I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) that many hon. Members may wish to put their points of view in the form of a debate, but I do not believe that it is proper that it should be done solely in question and answer.
§ Mr. Moonman rose—
§ Mr. Heffer
On a point of order, Mr. Murton. In view of the statement made by my right hon. Friend the Lord President can we continue to discuss this clause? Subsection (3) is undoubtedly mandatory, one way or the other. Therefore, how can we continue to debate it unless we know whether it and possibly subsection (4) are to be withdrawn? We could then table amendments to the actual wording of the clause. I am not trying to be difficult, and I can tell Scottish National Party Members that I am not trying to prolong the issue. In the interests of the way in which we conduct ourselves here, I cannot understand how we can continue on that basis. The Lord President said that there is a fundamental 288 change in this clause. There is no doubt about that. I ask for your guidance, Mr. Murton, about where we now stand as a result of the Lord President's statement.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Francis Pym (Cambridgeshire)
It may be helpful, following on what the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) has said, to suggest that the difficulty might be overcome if you, Mr. Murton, saw fit to select the three starred amendments in my name—(kk), (ll), (mm)—together with the amendment which I tabled some time ago to Clause 114. These amendments would turn the mandatory referendum into a consultative one. It is conceivable that that would be a helpful way to proceed.
§ The Chairman
I shall give very serious consideration to the right hon. Gentleman's proposal when I next select amendments.
§ Sir David Renton
On a point of order, Mr. Murton. I should like your guidance. I am sure that inadvertently the Lord President has misled the Committee. I am not accusing him in any way. It is the sort of slip anyone could make. He said that what he was proposing was in accordance with the established practice of the House. But is it in accordance with established practice for a Minister, during a Second Reading discussion, even a Committee Second Reading discussion, to say that he will table amendments on Report? Is it not much more in accordance with the practice of the House for the Minister, whether on ordinary Second Reading or on Second Reading of a clause, to say that he will table them in Committee?
§ Mr. Foot
In reply to the points raised by the right hon. and learned Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton), may I say that it is perfectly normal procedure for a new clause or an amendment to be moved in Committee, for discussion to take place upon that clause or amendment, for representations to be made to the Government, and for the Government to say that they will consider what has been said and, at 289 a later stage of the Bill, will try to take a particular action.
§ Mr. Moonman rose—
§ Mr. Foot
I shall give way to my hon. Friend, because I was going to give way to him about seven rounds ago, but first may I say that I hope that the House will accept what was said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, North, that the proper way for us to proceed—although I have done my best to answer some of the questions—is by debate.
§ Mr. Moonman
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way. I suggest that we make this issue as simple as possible. My right hon. Friend has always been concerned with the rights and interests of the Back Bencher. I am not concerned with the Government's posture or the attitude of the Official Opposition. Will my right hon. Friend take into account that it is very difficult for a Back Bencher, even in Committee and even with the discussion which has taken place, to cope with such references to an amendment which appears on the Order Paper tomorrow, whether a small or large amendment? Is it not necessary to return to the debate on the Bill, rather than even attempt this exercise? What will happen is that we shall have an academic discussion on the referendum. That is not what is wanted, and it is not the best use of our time.
§ Mr. Foot
One of the virtues of the House is that it can deal with immediate matters and can, to use the word used by my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse), improvise. Just as it is possible for Governments and Ministers to respond speedily to representations from all parts of the Chamber, so it is possible for hon. 290 Members to adapt themselves to the situation. I do not believe that my hon. Friend will suffer any disability in that respect as compared with other hon. Members.
§ Mr. Bruce Douglas-Mann (Mitcham and Morden)
While we greatly welcome the flexibility my right hon. Friend has shown, and I am delighted with the proposal to have a consultative referendum, there is an overwhelming case for getting on with that referendum immediately and putting it in a separate Bill, preferably dealing with the Bill that is now before us in Select Committee, so that we may get it sorted out while the referendum is being considered. In practice, my right hon. Friend will be forced to do this because it is the only way to make progress without a guillotine. It will also be advantageous procedurally, as it is absurd to discuss amendments to this clause on Report, because we shall be coming to the Report stage under a guillotine, if we ever reach it.
§ Mr. Foot
That is a different question altogether, which my right hon. Friend has raised on a number of occasions. I have sought to answer him then, as I seek to do now in, I hope, concluding my speech on this new clause. The proposal has been made by others as well. I saw the other day that it was made by Lord Home, who also said that we should not proceed with the proposition for a referendum as proposed in the new clause after the Bill had passed but should hold up all proceedings on the Bill and have a referendum within the next few weeks or within the next month or two. My hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) has on occasions advocated the same course.
That proposition raises great difficulties. One is that the question that would then be put to the people in the referendum would be nothing like as clear as the question that we propose should be put once the Bill has become an Act. The proposition would then at any rate be clarified. If we were to have a referendum beforehand, the question would be much vaguer and much more difficult to apply.
Therefore, I think that my hon. Friend is wrong in advocating that course. I am not saying that it is impossible to have a referendum in such circumstances, 291 but I think that it would be more difficult than our form of referendum. That is one of the reasons why we should proceed in the way that we suggest.
§ Mr. Douglas-Mann
Does my right hon. Friend agree that by the time we have a referendum in the way he proposes we shall be presenting a Bill which cannot subsequently be changed, but that to have one now, with questions framed on the lines proposed in the amendment in the name of the Leader of the Liberal Party would mean that we could shape the Bill to fit the wishes of the people of Scotland and Wales?
§ Mr. Foot
My hon. Friend is begging a whole series of questions. This is one of the reasons why we have proposed that the referendum should proceed in the way we suggest in the new clause, with the addition of what I have proposed today. This comes back to our main proposition. We think it much better that people should have to judge at a referendum an Act which has been clarified by discussion in this Chamber rather than a general, vague question in which no one would know exactly what the different words meant. I do not want to anticipate the argument we may have later about the question on independence. the term "independence" has many different meanings and ways of definition. Therefore, that raises some difficulties.
If we proceeded along the lines suggested by my hon. Friend, I believe that we should immediately discover that we were in great difficulties as to how we were to frame the question. I am not saying that it would be impossible, but it would be much more difficult to have a clear question by proceeding along those lines.
§ Mr. Russell Johnston (Inverness)
May I get clear in my mind one thing which seems to be becoming lost in the arguments about what the Bill should or should not contain? The right hon. and learned Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton) suggested that it would be reasonably simple to have a Second Reading debate today, to give an opportunity for the Government to put down their amendments tonight and for other people to adjust their amendments. Is it the intention of the Leader of the House to follow that procedure?
§ Mr. Foot
It is not within my competence, and it should not be within the power of any Minister, to dictate a fresh procedure for what we are discussing now. What is before the Committee is a new clause suggesting a referendum. We are discussing that major issue of principle, and that issue is the one that will, I hope, be debated predominantly in this discussion. But the form of that referendum is a matter of some importance. What the Government propose is a matter of some importance. Therefore, we thought it advisable to give the Committee at the earliest possible date the Government's response to major representations from the Opposition Benches.
I should like to quote a speech made by the right hon. Member for Cambridge-shire (Mr. Pym) to illustrate exactly why we have proceeded in this way. He said that it was a contentious question. I do not seem to have the relevant Hansard here. [Interruption.] I am grateful to be handed a copy by the hon. Member for Honiton (Mr. Emery). I am grateful to receive the hon. Member's speeches, from whatever source they come. We think that it is not a contentious question. We would not have put forward what we thought was a contentious or misleading question. But, whatever hon. Members may think about it, we believe it to be highly desirable that a question put in a referendum should be generally accepted as fair. Whether people are for or against referendums, whether they are for devolution or opposed to it, the wider can be the acceptance that the question is fair, the better. That is why we responded to representations made by right hon. and hon. Members.
But the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire also underlined very strenuously in his speech—I still have not found his exact words of wisdom, but they are imprinted on my mind and are printed somewhere in Hansard—that it was essential in the interests of Parliament that the referendum be made consultative. I believe that that was also the view of many other hon. Members, not because they wished to diminish the importance of the referendum but because they wished to do nothing to diminish the importance of the House and of Parliament.
We have responded to that appeal from many quarters. Once the Government 293 had reached their conclusion, we intended to tell the House as soon as possible. Some of my hon. Friends say that we should have withdrawn the clause and had no more discussions on the matter until it had all been put in a different order. I can understand the interest of some of my hon. Friends and others in doing that. It has been borne in on me from time to time that one or two of my hon. Friends are actually opposed to the Bill itself, and therefore a few hours' or days' delay might be advantageous from the point of view of injuring the prospects of the Bill's reaching the statute book.
That is the other reason why I cannot agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury, who I am glad to see has left the Chamber. I cannot agree with him, because I am sure that he would have been only too pleased if I had withdrawn the clause—and, indeed, the Bill—to have proceedings at a later stage. That would not have been the right way to proceed.
But there is nothing improper, nothing difficult, nothing awkward about our proceeding with a general debate on a new clause that proposes a referendum, even though the Government have indicated in advance how they believe that that proposal can be improved in the light of representations by hon. Members.
§ Mr. Emery rose—
§ 5.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Emery
I am most grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. I do not believe that anyone who has listened to him could do other than believe that he has attempted to be extremely helpful to the Committee in meeting the views of a large number of hon. Members. I think that the Committee should be grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for the way in which he has responded and the speed with which he has done so.
The right hon. Gentleman can continue with the procedural method that 294 he has outlined. As a Committee there is nothing that we can do to stop him from going forward if that is his wish. However, I make a suggestion that I think might be for the benefit of everyone. It is a suggestion that would make it appear that we are proceeding in the most sensible way possible.
If we are to continue with the debate that we have already started, and it looks as though that is what we are likely to do and that it will take up most of the clay's proceedings, it will be within the power of the right hon. Gentleman to table another procedural motion first thing tomorrow. That need not be debated, as it could be for the convenience of the Committee.
Because with the new Government amendments that will be tabled to the rest of the new clause and the schedule tomorrow, which will be starred amendments, we shall have to have manuscript amendments to the starred amendments if we are to continue with this procedure tomorrow. The Committee is bound to get itself into some considerable muddle tomorrow and that is not what the Leader of the House or anyone else wants.
I do not want at this time to propound anything that will delay the Bill or that will be considered to delay it, but could not the right hon. Gentleman take Clauses 4, 5 and 6 as next business and return to his new proposals next week when the Committee has had full time to consider them, when amendments to his amendments can be tabled properly and can be selected properly?
§ Mr. Foot
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman has put forward his proposals in the best belated Christmas spirit, if I can describe it in that way. Obviously he is out to help us. I must confess that after our experience last week I am not excited at the prospect of tabling another procedural motion to alter the form and the procedures in which we take different amendments. The hon. Member for Honiton might give us an assurance that he will not make a speech on the subject, but that would not bind the other 634 Members. I do not think that that is the way in which we should proceed.
I do not believe that the Committee need get into any tangle. The clause can be discussed in the light of what the Government have said. That does not 295 mean that the major part of the discussion has to take place on the proposed amendments that I have indicated. The main part of the discussion is whether we are to have a referendum. That is the major question. There are lesser questions—for example, how it should be dealt with and how it should be done.
I have sought to clarify the Government's proposals in the light of the representations that have been made. We believe that those representations have enabled us to do what I said at the end of Second Reading we wished to do—namely, to make a good Bill a better Bill. What we are doing under this procedure is to make it a better Bill. I hope that the Committee will accept that and proceed on that basis. If I might be so venturous to make the suggestion, perhaps we can now proceed with the debate instead of the Committee asking further questions.
§ Mr. John Pardoe (Cornwall, North)
On a point of order, Mr. Murton. I am sorry to delay the Committee but I wish to ask a question that I did not ask before because I thought I knew the answer to it. However, the Leader of the House has raised a question in my mind that I wish to raise with you, Mr. Murton. I refer to what my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Liberal Party said in his intervention to the Leader of the House concerning the selection of amendments. I refer to the amendments that are in the names of my right hon. and hon. Friends and myself that ask for a question to be put on proportional representation. I am primarily concerned with the question that appears in page 1590, which reads:Do you agree that the Scotland and Wales Act 1977 should have made provision for the Scottish Assembly to be elected by a system of proportional representation?I think it will be clear to you, Mr. Murton, and the rest of the Committee that there was some difficulty in phrasing that question to ensure that it would be in order, the reason being that it is extraordinarily difficult in referring to one question of which one part is to be mandatory and another consultative, and my question was intended to be consultative.
We intended the question to read:Do you wish the Scottish Assembly to be elected by a system of proportional representation?296 In the consultations that I had with the Table Office I was told that that question would be out of order as it would mean that the Bill would have to be changed if it were mandatory. The result was that the question was rephrased in the somewhat awkward way in which it now appears. I ask you, Mr. Murton, whether, if we are to have a consultative referendum, it is not a fact that there seems no reason—certainly no reason was advanced during my discussion with the Table Office—that we should not table an amendment on the lines that my right hon. and hon. Friends originally suggested.
§ The Chairman
I should find it difficult to select such an amendment without much further thought. I think I can leave that point now.
§ Mr. Abse
On a point of order, Mr. Murton. A matter that is troubling me and, I expect, other Members is that we are led to understand that it is probable that some starred Government amendments will appear on the Order Paper tomorrow. For example, the Leader of the House has intimated that the phrase in the preamble that Wales will remain a part of the United Kingdom is to be modified in some manner or form.
I do not understand in what form it is to be modified and we shall wish to see the modification. I have an amendment that seeks to remove that sentence. Clearly it may be wholly inappropriate for that amendment to remain on the Order Paper or to be pressed in the light of the change that the Leader of the House is to put before the Committee. What attitude will the Chair adopt to amendments to the amendments introduced by the Leader of the House? When we see those amendments are we to have the opportunity for discussion? Some hon. Members may want some further slight or major amendments irrespective of the form of my right hon. Friend's amendments. It is important that we should have some appreciation of my right hon. Friend's amendments. Surely it is our right as Back Benchers to be able to table amendments to the amendments that are proposed.
When the Government's starred amendments appear on the Order Paper tomorrow, will the Chair respond in such a way as to allow Back Benchers to 297 present manuscript amendments after they have seen the starred amendments? If that is not so, hon. Members from both sides of the Chamber will be debarred from modifying the starred amendments effectively in any form. I should genuinely like to know what the Chair may have in mind.
§ Mr. John Mendelson
Further to that point of order, Mr. Murton. I did not put this matter to my right hon. Friend the Lord President during the recent questions and answers because I thought that he was in the position of being judge and executioner at one and the same time when the questions that were being asked were really matters for you to decide, Mr. Murton. Clearly, my right hon. Friend was prepared to say that everything he had prepared was in order for otherwise he would not have put forward the scheme. Surely he would not have put it forward in the first place if he had considered that it was not in order. However, it raises serious questions, one of which I wish to put to you, Mr. Murton.
§ The Chairman
I shall answer the principal point of order. I assure hon. Members that I shall do my best to accommodate them when I see what is put before me. I believe that that is how I should rule at this stage.
§ Mr. John Mendelson
Perhaps I may continue with the point I have in mind, Mr. Murton, which leads on further from the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse). I refer to the position in which Members will find themselves tomorrow under the procedure that my right hon. Friend has proposed. Naturally, the Government know what they intend to do. They know what they have in mind and how far they want to go, but we do not.
Although it must be assumed that the proposals that my right hon. Friend proposes to put forward at a later stage, perhaps on Report, will be in order and will follow precedent, that does not follow when we look at the wording of the clause now before the Committee and the changes that the Government propose to put forward tomorrow following the suggestion of the right hon. and learned Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton). When those changes are introduced, we shall have debated 298 all day today matters that will not be before the Committee until tomorrow afternoon.
There is a double contradiction. First, it involves a debate today on a clause that will not exist until tomorrow. Secondly, we shall not know in advance what amendment to table to new provisions that we have not seen in advance.
I suggest that procedurally the only proper constitutional course is for the Lord President to take back this clause. Whatever the Lord President may have said to my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham), and whatever suspicions he might harbour against those of us who oppose the Bill, he cannot deny that we have the right to raise matters of procedure in Committee. It is not for my right hon. Friend to allege any motives against any member of the Committee, and I certainly allege no motives to my right hon. Friend in the changes that he proposes.
§ The Chairman
May I interrupt the hon. Gentleman? He is now moving into a sphere which is not a matter for the Chair.
§ Mr. Mendelson
You are quite right, Mr. Murton, and I shall not pursue that point further.
Strictly on my point of order, the serious double difficulty we face is that if my right hon. Friend is now to take back the clause and if debate is not to proceed today, the Government will lose seven hours of debating time. However, we should be observing the important point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) who has proved conclusively that the clause as at present constructed is mandatory in substance.
Therefore, it is not right to continue to discuss that clause when the Government do not intend such amendments to be based on a provision which, after tomorrow, will be mandatory no longer. However, the time lost is far less important than that the Committee should not proceed in a way that would be wholly out of order in view of the constitutional principles that have always been followed in this place. Therefore I submit, Mr. Murton, that you should rule that the 299 debate should not proceed on the basis of this now defective clause.
§ Mr. Channon
On a point of order, Mr. Murton. I am sorry to trouble you, but we are dealing with a most important matter, not something of a trivial nature. These are fundamental matters, and the Committee finds itself in some difficulty.
Is it in order for an hon. Member who is not in charge of the Bill to move that the clause be postponed for discussion later, or can such a motion be moved only by the hon. Member who is in charge of a Bill? If such a motion is in order, would you be prepared to accept it for discussion? If you would agree to do so, I or some other Member would wish to move it.
§ Mr. Channon
Further to that point of order, Mr. Murton. But there has been no opportunity to give you notice, Mr. Murton, because we have had only an announcement from the Secretary of State and he has given us no notice. I have known occasions in Standing Committee when such motions have been allowed and, with respect, Mr. Murton, I submit that on this occasion there has been no opportunity to give you notice. The situation now before the Committee is and it involves new important changes. No doubt they will be welcomed by many Members, but I submit that they change the fundamental nature of the Bill. I suggest that it would not be unreasonable for the matter to be postponed, and I ask you to consider the matter.
§ Mr. Heffer
Further to that point of order, Mr. Murton. Is it possible to move that the Committee do now adjourn so that the Government may take back the clause and re-examine it? If that is possible, I shall happily move such a motion immediately.
§ 5.15 p.m.
§ Mr. George Gardiner (Reigate)
Further to that point of order, Mr. 300 Murton. I wish to draw attention to the situation of those hon. Members who have tabled amendments to the new clause and whose amendments you have kindly selected for debate later today. For example, I refer to Amendment (o) in the names of myself and my right hon. and hon. Friends. That amendment was drawn up and tabled in the light of the new clause as it then stood. It concludes with the lines:and each question shall be decided by a majority of valid votes cast in the referendum before any order is made under section 114 of this Act.Obviously, we shall now seek to change the wording of that amendment completely since we are now apparently seeking to amend a totally different clause. How can we proceed later tonight to discuss the amendments which you have selected when the clause to which they were tabled no longer exists?
§ Mr. Fred Evans (Caerphilly)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Murton. Will my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House seek to assist his Labour colleagues who remember the decisive vote at the Labour Party annual conference at Blackpool last year against the use of referendums? Since many of us have been called treacherous, disloyal, and all the rest of it, and since we have heard a good deal about the sanctity of manifestos, I hope that that vote will be taken into account in framing our approach to the referendums.
§ The Chairman
What the hon. Gentleman says is interesting but is not a matter that affects the Chair.
§ Mr. Heffer
I should now like to move that the Committee do now adjourn, on the basis that the Government should take back the clause and return with a new clause that takes into consideration the points made. In other words, I am suggesting that we should get the appropriate clause before us before we proceed.
§ The Chairman
I take it that the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) wishes to move that I do report progress.
The Question is,That the Chairman do report Progress and ask leave to sit again.As many as are of that opinion—
§ The Chairman
Under Standing Orders the Chair has power to put the Question forthwith, and I do so.
§ Question, That the Chairman do report Progress and ask leave to sit again put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 28 (Dilatory Motion in abuse of rules of House):—
§ The Committee divided: Ayes 202, Noes 231.303
|Division No. 71.]||AYES||[5.20 p.m.|
|Adley, Robert||Grist, Ian||Montgomery, Fergus|
|Arnold, Tom||Grylls, Michael||More, Jasper (Ludlow)|
|Atkins, Rt Hon H. (Spelthorne)||Hall, Sir John||Morris, Michael (Northampton S)|
|Awdry, Daniel||Hall-Davis, A. G. F.||Morrison, Charles (Devizes)|
|Beith, A. J.||Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)||Morrison, Hon Peter (Chester)|
|Bell, Ronald||Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife)||Mudd, David|
|Bennett, Dr Reginald (Fareham)||Hannam, John||Neave, Airey|
|Benyon, W.||Harvie Anderson, Rt Hon Miss||Nelson, Anthony|
|Berry, Hon Anthony||Hastings, Stephen||Neubert, Michael|
|Biffen, John||Havers, Sir Michael||Newton, Tony|
|Biggs-Davison, John||Hayhoe, Barney||Onslow, Cranley|
|Blaker, Peter||Hayman, Mrs Helene||Osborn, John|
|Body, Richard||Heffer, Eric S.||Page, Rt Hon R. Graham (Crosby)|
|Boscawen, Hon Robert||Hicks, Robert||Page, Richard (Workington)|
|Bottomley, Peter||Higgins, Terence L.||Palmer, Arthur|
|Boyson, Dr Rhodes (Brent)||Hodgson, Robin||Pardoe, John|
|Braine, Sir Bernard||Holland, Philip||Pattie, Geoffrey|
|Brittan, Leon||Hooson, Emlyn||Penhaligon, David|
|Brocklebank-Fowler, C.||Hordern, Peter||Percival, Ian|
|Bryan, Sir Paul||Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey||Peyton, Rt Hon John|
|Buchanan-Smith, Alick||Howell, David (Guildford)||Phipps, Dr Colin|
|Budgen, Nick||Hunt, David (Wirral)||Pink, R. Bonner|
|Bulmer, Esmond||Hunt, John (Bromley)||Powell, Rt Hon J. Enoch|
|Butler, Adam (Bosworth)||Hurd, Douglas||Prior, Rt Hon James|
|Chalker, Mrs Lynda||Hutchison, Michael Clark||Pym, Rt Hon Francis|
|Clegg, Walter||James, David||Raison, Timothy|
|Cockcroft, John||Jenkin, Rt Hon P. (Wanst'd & W'df'd)||Rathbone, Tim|
|Cooke, Robert (Bristol W)||Jessel, Toby||Rees, Peter (Dover & Deal)|
|Cope, John||Johnson Smith, G. (E Grinstead)||Renton, Rt Hon Sir D. (Hunts)|
|Cormack, Patrick||Johnston, Russell (Inverness)||Ridley, Hon Nicholas|
|Corrie, John||Jones, Arthur (Daventry)||Rifkind, Malcolm|
|Cunningham, G. (Islington S)||Jopling, Michael||Rippon, Rt Hon Geoffrey|
|Dalyell, Tam||Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine||Roberts, Michael (Cardiff NW)|
|Davies, Rt Hon J. (Knutsford)||Knight, Mrs Jill||Roberts, Wyn (Conway)|
|Dean, Paul (N Somerset)||Lamond, James||Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)|
|Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James||Lamont, Norman||Ross, William (Londonderry)|
|Drayson, Burnaby||Langford-Holt, Sir John||Rost, Peter (SE Derbyshire)|
|Dunlop, John||Latham, Michael (Melton)||Sainsbury, Tim|
|Durant, Tony||Lawrence, Ivan||Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)|
|Edwards, Nicholas (Pembroke)||Lawson, Nigel||Shepherd, Colin|
|Elliott, Sir William||Le Merchant, Spencer||Silvester, Fred|
|Emery, Peter||Lester, Jim (Beeston)||Sims, Roger|
|Evans, Fred (Caerphilly)||Lestor, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough)||Sinclair, Sir George|
|Eyre, Reginald||Lewis, Kennett (Rutland)||Skeet, T. H. H.|
|Fairbairn, Nicholas||Litterick, Tom||Smith, Dudley (Warwick)|
|Fairgrieve, Russell||Lloyd, Ian||Spearing, Nigel|
|Farr, John||Luce, Richard||Spicer, Michael (S Worcester)|
|Finsberg, Geoffrey||Macfarlane, Neil||Sproat, Iain|
|Fisher, Sir Nigel||MacGregor, John||Stanbrook, Ivor|
|Fookes, Miss Janet||McNair-Wilson, M. (Newbury)||Stanley, John|
|Fowler, Norman (Sutton C'f'd)||Marshall, Michael (Arundel)||Steel, Rt Hon David|
|Fraser, Rt Hon H. (Stafford & St)||Marten, Neil||Stewart, Ian (Hitchin)|
|Freud, Clement||Mates, Michael||Stokes, John|
|Gardiner, George (Reigate)||Mather, Carol||Stradling Thomas, J.|
|Gardner, Edward (S Fylde)||Maudling, Rt Hon Reginald||Tapsell, Peter|
|Garrett, W. E. (Wallsend)||Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin||Taylor, R. (Croydon NW)|
|Gilmour, Sir John (East Fife)||Mayhew, Patrick||Taylor, Teddy (Cathcart)|
|Glyn, Dr Alan||Mendelson, John||Tebbit, Norman|
|Goodhart, Philip||Meyer, Sir Anthony||Temple-Morris, Peter|
|Goodhew, Victor||Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove)||Thatcher, Rt Hon Margaret|
|Gow, Ian (Eastbourne)||Mills, Peter||Thorpe, Rt Hon Jeremy (N Devon)|
|Gray, Hamish||Mitchell, David (Basingstoke)||Townsend, Cyril D.|
|Grieve, Percy||Moate, Roger||van Straubenzee, W. R.|
|Griffiths, Eldon||Molyneaux, James||Vaughan, Dr Gerard|
|Grimond, Rt Hon J.||Monro, Hector||Wainwright, Richard (Colne V)|
|Walder, David (Clitheroe)||Winterton, Nicholas||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Walker-Smith, Rt Hon Sir Derek||Young, Sir G. (Ealing, Acton)||Mr. Paul Channon and|
|Whitelaw, Rt Hon William||Younger, Hon George||Mr. Eric Moonman.|
|Allaun, Frank||Gourley, Harry||Park, George|
|Anderson, Donald||Grant, George (Morpeth)||Parker, John|
|Archer, Peter||Grant, John (Islington C)||Pavitt, Laurie|
|Armstrong, Ernest||Grocott, Bruce||Pendry, Tom|
|Ashton, Joe||Hamilton, James (Bothwell)||Perry, Ernest|
|Atkins, Ronald (Preston N)||Harper, Joseph||Price, William (Rugby)|
|Atkinson, Norman||Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)||Radice, Giles|
|Bagier, Gordon A. T.||Hart, Rt Hon Judith||Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn (Leeds S)|
|Bain, Mrs Margaret||Henderson, Douglas||Richardson, Miss Jo|
|Barnett, Guy (Greenwich)||Horam, John||Roberts, Albert (Normanton)|
|Barnett, Rt Hon Joel (Heywood)||Howell, Rt Hon Denis (B'ham, Sm H)||Roderick, Caerwyn|
|Bates, Alf||Howells, Geralnt (Cardigan)||Rodgers, George (Chorley)|
|Bean, R. E.||Hoyle, Doug (Nelson)||Rodgers, Rt Hon William|
|Benn, Rt Hon Anthony Wedgwood||Huckfield, Les||Rooker, J. W.|
|Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N)||Hughes, Rt Hon C. (Anglesey)||Roper, John|
|Bidwell, Sydney||Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)||Rose, Paul B.|
|Bishop, E. S.||Hughes, Roy (Newport)||Ross, Rt Hon W. (Kilmarnock)|
|Blenkinsop, Arthur||Hunter, Adam||Ryman, John|
|Boardman, H.||Irvine, Rt Hon Sir A. (Edge Hill)||Sedgemore, Brian|
|Booth, Rt Hon Albert||Irving, Rt Hon S. (Dartford)||Shaw, Arnold (Ilford South)|
|Boyden, James (Bish Auck)||Jackson, Colin (Brighouse)||Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert|
|Bray, Dr Jeremy||Jackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoin)||Shore, Rt Hon Peter|
|Brown, Hugh D. (Proven)||Janner, Greville||Short, Mrs Renée (Wolv NE)|
|Brown, Robert C. (Newcastle W)||Jay, Rt Hon Douglas||Silkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich)|
|Buchan, Norman||Jeger, Mrs Lena||Sillars, James|
|Buchanan, Richard||Jenkins, Hugh (Putney)||Silverman, Julius|
|Callaghan, Rt Hon J. (Cardiff SE)||John, Brynmor||Skinner, Dennis|
|Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P)||Johnson, James (Hull West)||Small, William|
|Campbell, Ian||Jones, Alec (Rhondda)||Smith, John (N Lanarkshire)|
|Canavan, Dennis||Jones, Barry (East Flint)||Snape, Peter|
|Cant, R. B.||Jones, Dan (Burnley)||Spriggs, Leslie|
|Carmichael, Neil||Kerr, Russell||Stallard, A. W.|
|Carter-Jones, Lewis||Kilroy-Silk, Robert||Stewart, Rt Hon Donald|
|Cartwright, John||Lambie, David||Stewart, Rt Hon M. (Fulham)|
|Castle, Rt Hon Barbara||Lamborn, Harry||Stoddart, David|
|Clemitson, Ivor||Latham, Arthur (Paddington)||Stott, Roger|
|Cocks, Rt Hon Michael||Lever, Rt Hon Harold||Strauss, Rt Hon G. R.|
|Cohen, Stanley||Lewis, Arthur (Newham N)||Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley|
|Coleman, Donald||Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)||Swain, Thomas|
|Concannon, J. D.||Lipton, Marcus||Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)|
|Conlan, Bernard||Loyden, Eddie||Thomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery)|
|Cook, Robin F. (Edin C)||Luard, Evan||Thomas, Mike (Newcastle E)|
|Corbett, Robin||Lyon, Alexander (York)||Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)|
|Cox, Thomas (Tooting)||Lyons, Edward (Bradford W)||Thompson, George|
|Craig, Rt Hon W. (Belfast E)||Mabon, Rt Hon Dr J. Dickson||Thorne, Stan (Preston South)|
|Craigen, Jim (Maryhill)||McCartney, Hugh||Tierney, Sydney|
|Crawford, Douglas||MacCormick, Iain||Tinn, James|
|Cryer, Bob||McDonald, Dr Oonagh||Tomlinson, John|
|Cunningham, Dr J. (Whiteh)||McElhone, Frank||Torney, Tom|
|Davidson, Arthur||MacFarquhar, Roderick||Tuck, Raphael|
|Davies, Denzil (Llanelli)||McGuire, Michael (Ince)||Varley, Rt Hon Eric G.|
|Davies, Ifor (Gower)||MacKenzie, Gregor||Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne V)|
|Davis, Clinton (Hackney C)||Mackintosh, John P.||Walden, Brian (B'ham, L'dyw'd)|
|Deakins, Eric||McMillan, Tom (Glasgow C)||Walker, Harold (Doncaster)|
|Dell, Rt Hon Edmund||Madden, Max||Walker, Terry (Kingswood)|
|Dempsey, James||Magee, Bryan||Ward, Michael|
|Doig, Peter||Mallalieu, J. P. W.||Watt, Hamish|
|Dormand, J. D.||Marks, Kenneth||Weetch, Ken|
|Duffy, A. E. P.||Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)||Weitzman, David|
|Dunn, James A.||Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)||Wellbeloved, James|
|Eadie, Alex||Maynard, Miss Joan||Welsh, Andrew|
|Edwards, Robert (Wolv SE)||Meacher, Michael||White, James (Pollok)|
|Ellis, John (Brigg & Scun)||Mellish, Rt Hon Robert||Whitlock, William|
|Ellis, Tom (Wrexham)||Mikardo, Ian||Wigley, Dafydd|
|English, Michael||Millian, Rt Hon Bruce||Willey, Rt Hon Frederick|
|Evans, Ioan (Aberdare)||Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)||Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)|
|Ewing, Harry (Stirling)||Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)||Williams, Alan Lee (Hornch'ch)|
|Fernyhough, Rt Hon E.||Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)||Williams, Sir Thomas (Warrington)|
|Flannery, Martin||Moyle, Roland||Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)|
|Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)||Murray, Rt Hon Ronald King||Wilson, Gordon (Dundee E)|
|Foot, Rt Hon Michael||Newens, Stanley||Wilson, Rt Hon Sir Harold (Huyton)|
|Forrester, John||Noble, Mike||Wilson, William (Coventry SE)|
|Fraser, John (Lambeth, N'w'd)||Ogden, Eric||Wise, Mrs Audrey|
|Freeson, Reginald||O'Halloran, Michael||Woof, Robert|
|Garrett, John (Norwich S)||Orbach, Maurice||Wrigglesworth, Ian|
|Gilbert, Dr John||Orme, Rt Hon Stanley||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Golding, John||Ovenden, John||Mr. Ted Graham and|
|Gould, Bryan||Owen, Rt Hon Dr David||Mr. Frank R. White.|
§ Question accordingly negatived305
§ Question again proposed, That the clause be read a Second time.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Pym
If it is in order for me to intervene again so soon, I undertake to be brief. We have reached an extraordinary situation in debating New Clause 40. We have been discussing it now for three and a quarter or perhaps three and a half hours and only Front Benchers have spoken.
I think that the Lord President made a significant intervention this afternoon. Indeed, in some respects it was dramatic. In effect, he conceded two major points on the referendum clause. The first was to modify the clause so that the referendum, instead of being mandatory upon Parliament, would be a consultative process. The right hon. Gentleman undertook that there would be a proper parliamentary process after the referendum took place, whatever happened.
Secondly, the Lord President accepted the criticisms which I and others of my right hon. and hon. Friends have made—of course, only I have made them in detail because I am the only person who has been able to speak on this new clause from these Benches so far—that the wording of the question was obviously not acceptable, and he undertook to adjust it.
I should be less than generous if I did not welcome that statement by the Lord President and say that we appreciate that he should have taken on board at so early a stage the criticisms and anxieties which have been raised and come forward with a statement indicating that the Government were persuaded that what they had originally proposed in the new clause and the schedule ought to be altered.
I realise that the Lord President made his statement in a spirit of helpfulness, having considered what was said on Thursday night of last week. I am sure that the whole Committee is grateful to him for that. Naturally, we wait to see exactly what is to be tabled. There is no question but that the Committee is put in difficulty as a result of what the right hon. Gentleman said. I agree that if he can table a new question which is thought by the Committee to be fair and reasonable in all the circumstances and has general acceptance, that would be a great plus. If we had a referendum and the House of Commons were still 306 extremely unhappy about the question posed, it would be a very bad situation. Therefore, we must wait and see what the right hon. Gentleman proposes.
The Lord President ventured to say that he thought that the question would still include what he described as an informative preamble. I think that he will need to draft the preamble with great care because it was the so-called informative nature of the original preamble which gave rise to a great deal of criticism. We await that new question with great interest.
At an earlier stage today you, Mr. Murton, said that the amendments to the new clause and schedule were of a complex nature from your point of view with regard to selection. I note and am grateful for your undertaking that, in the course of the Second Reading debate, you will give further careful consideration to the selection that you have already made and that which you will make.
I should like to remind the Committee of the history of New Clause 40. It was first foreshadowed on the last day of Second Reading of the Bill, and nothing was heard of it until it was tabled the week before last. There had been a certain amount of pressure for the new clause to be tabled, and it was tabled the week before last.
The Lord President then tabled a motion to take the new clause out of order by taking it next for consideration. What happened this afternoon justifies the criticism which I and many of my right hon. and hon. Friends made of the motion to take New Clause 40 before New Clause 4. I put it to the Leader of the House that he might, at any rate, contemplate tabling a new procedure motion tomorrow so that we may have further time to consider the further amendments which will be tabled.
I express the view that it would be better to debate New Clause 40 after all the existing clauses—that is, in its proper place. However, it could be debated at an earlier stage if the Committee wished. Indeed, I think that the suggestion made by my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow), that it be taken at the end of Part II, might be appropriate.
The Lord President said that he hopes to table his proposal tonight so that it appears as a starred amendment tomorrow. Obviously we cannot consider 307 tomorrow the starred amendment and any amendments to it, because hon. Members will not have had time to look at it. In any case, we shall not have had an opportunity of considering how the Government intend to make the referendum consultative.
As I said earlier, I have tabled three or four amendments to convert the mandatory element of this referendum into a consultative one. That may or may not be the best way of doing it, but we might consider debating those amendments that are already on the Order Paper. If it is not the best way, and the Lord President wants to do it another way, then that is an argument for postponing discussion on the referendum clause so that hon. Members have time to consider all the implications of the new method of holding a referendum that the Government have in mind.
We had this procedure motion to enable New Clause 40 to be debated last Thursday. That inspired an important point of order by my right hon. Friend the Member for Farnham (Mr. Macmillan). In your response, Mr. Murton, you referred to the fact that the referendum being mandatory influenced your ruling. Certainly, you mentioned that point in the course of subsequent rulings. That raises an important principle and has given rise to an Early-Day Motion on the matter raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Farnham. I am sure that the House will want to return to this issue.
The new clause has had an unhappy history, and this emphasises what we, on these Benches, have been saying from the start—that the Bill has not been thought through properly and that it never should hav[...] ecome forward with proposals for both Scotland and Wales in the one Bill. We have always maintained that, because the form of devolved government for Scotland is on a different basis from that for Wales. Then we have had added to this the referendum new clause which itself should be a different Bill, setting out the principles on which a referendum should be held and the criteria which should be satisfied.
The last hour and a half, with all the interventions and interruptions, indicates the kind of quagmire in which we 308 find ourselves. That was the expression used by the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. Henderson). I am glad that he also feels that way about the situation. It is an indication of the point that this Bill has reached. Maybe the Scottish National Party is not so keen now to have a guillotine on its head in the middle of a quagmire Some hon. Members may think that that is a suitable way of disposing of that particular affliction in the political system of the United Kingdom. Personally I would not go so far, as I would not wish that fate on the hon. Member. The fact is that we have reached a most awkward situation on this Bill.
A motion to report progress has just been moved by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer), and it is the first time I can remember a motion to report progress being moved by a Back-Bench Member on the Government side. I suppose that there is a precedent for that —there is a precedent for almost everything in this House, but I do not remember one. This is an indication of the state of play on this Bill.
I would criticise the whole basis of the Bill, its handling, the way it was produced and the insertion of the referendum clause. Nevertheless, we appreciate the fact that the Leader of the House took on board the two major criticisms of New Clause 40 and the schedule that I raised on Thursday night. These were that the referendum must be consultative if it is to be acceptable to Parliament, and that the wording of the question as tabled was not acceptable to the House in that it was thought to be tendentious. If the right hon. Gentleman decides to table a more neutral form of wording I am sure that the whole Committee will appreciate that.
I think that the House will want to continue now with the Second Reading debate on the new clause. We should conclude that Second Reading tonight without the question being put. Then the Leader of the House should consider not proceeding with the Bill tomorrow, so that there is time for his amendment to be tabled and for hon. Members to table amendments thereto. Then when we come to the debate on the clause being added to the Bill we might have a cleaner situation than we have at present. I do not see how we 309 can possibly proceed beyond a Second Reading debate on the new clause. I think that the question should not be put and should remain over, and I hope that we shall now proceed on that basis.
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ Mr. George Gardiner
On a point of order, Mr. Murton. In the absence of a response from the Lord President of the Council I wish to raise the point of order that I put just before we divided and to which you were unable to reply because the motion to report progress had been put. My point of order is that a peculiar difficulty faces those of us who have amendments to this new clause down and selected. If we are to move on to discussing these amendments tonight when we do not know the pattern of the Government amendments, we shall be in some difficulty. In fact it would be a gross abuse of the Committee to discuss Amendment (o) in my name and those of my hon. Friends when the last two lines of that amendment are based on the assumption of the new clause remaining the same as it is printed on the Paper. Maybe your discretion in this matter is limited, Mr. Murton, but it would help greatly if the Lord President could indicate that it is not his intention to press on with this amendment to the new clause tonight when he is still in the act of tabling amendments himself which materially affect our amendment.
§ Mr. Cranley Onslow (Woking)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Murton. May I press the same arguments in a slightly different form? I want to know whether it is your intention to allow the Question to be put this evening if the Lord President does not indicate that he wants the matter to stand over. We should know where we are likely to finish up. We are faced with so many loose ends, and it is the Lord President's duty to help the Committee.
§ The Chairman
On the second point raised by the hon. Member, I have no power not to allow the Question to be put. As regards the selection of amendments, nothing that has been said today has affected the fact that the amendments are in order.
§ Mr. Buchan
Further to that point of order, Mr. Murton. I stress that I am one who wants to see this Bill make progress. I understand your point that the various 310 amendments are in order. However, I have sympathy and agree with the complaint that they may require modification if we are to be confronted by a different situation tomorrow. I hope that we shall have a general debate on this new clause and then suspend the sitting in order to take account of the new situation tomorrow. I say this because I want to make progress, and I feel that if this procedure is not followed we shall be faced with a considerable number of points of order. If we can have a wide-ranging discussion tonight on the referendum and whether it should be mandatory or consultative I think that we shall be ready for a swift vote tomorrow when we see the actual proposition in front of us. This is the most democratic and civilised way of proceeding and I hope that it will commend itself to my right hon. Friend.
§ The Chairman
The hon. Member has raised a point of order, but it is not a matter which affects the Chair.
§ Mr. George Gardiner
Further to my point of order, Mr. Murton. I was not questioning whether the Amendment (o), for example, was still in order. I was submitting that it would be a gross abuse of the Committee if hon. Members are to be called upon to progress with the clause and discuss it in its present form when we know that certain lines in it will be made totally irrelevant by the amendments that the Government will have on the Paper tomorrow.
§ The Chairman
I do not say that I can put the hon. Member's mind at rest, but at least I can assure him that this is not a matter for me in the Chair.
§ Mr. Peter Rees (Dover and Deal)
On a point of order, Mr. Murton. I should be grateful if you could give guidance to the Committee. Are we to understand that you will accept amendments to our amendments in the course of the debate tonight or tomorrow? I am confused about how I am to proceed with the amendments which stand in my name end the names of my right hon. and hon. Friends. I might wish to modify them, subject to your direction, after I see what the Lord President has in mind. Shall I be permitted to hand in manuscript amendments in the course of the debate, to be circularised during the debate? How is the Committee to proceed?
§ The Chairman
When the amendments are put down I shall see them, and I shall consider and select or otherwise according to the rules of order.
§ Mr. Peter Rees
Further to my point of order, Mr. Murton, am I to understand that your process of selection will actually continue during the debates in the Committee? If so, how will those hon. Members who might be privileged to move an amendment concentrate their thoughts by reference to what the Lord President is saying? We shall be placed in great difficulty if you are to select during the debate. I hope you will forgive us if my hon. Friends and I are not as nimble as the Chair or the Lord President and if we are placed in some difficulty in adjusting our thoughts and amendments to the process of debate.
§ The Chairman
I am afraid that the Chair cannot consider the amendments till the Chair has seen them.
§ Mr. Heffer
May I first pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House? He has been most patient and most cool. I would commend his attitude, because many of us were trained under his guidance. He will recall the debates which took place on the Bill to reform the House of Lords. My right hon. Friend will no doubt recall the speeches and the points of order that were raised then. The Lord President at the time, the late Richard Crossman, also showed commendable coolness in the face of immense hostility from both sides of the House.
I do not think that there has been quite the same hostility on this occasion. There has been no filibustering. The hon. Members on the National Bench may laugh, but if they want to see filibustering we can show it to them. They should know that we made speeches of one to one and a half hours on clauses on that Bill. We are not filibustering. We are discussing this matter in depth. It is one of those fundamental issues we have to face.
I reluctantly supported the idea of a referendum, not because I thought the referendum was a good thing but because, since I thought we had got into a mess with the Bill, the only way to get out of it was to consult the people about what they want. I am not very much in 312 favour of a referendum. It is not the best way to proceed. I felt there was no alternative, however, and I supported it. Where are we now, however? I heard one hon. Member say that we were in an astonishing situation. I would say that it is a confused situation, with confusion being piled upon confusion.
We were told at first that there would be no referendum. My hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) pointed out that the omnibus resolution discussed and passed at the Labour Party conference provided that there would be no referendum. My hon. Friend the Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan) sought to get the resolution changed, but he was defeated. That was at the beginning of October. Quite rightly, my right hon. Friend said that he was willing to listen to the arguments, and in replying to the debate at the Labour Party conference he indicated that this issue was open. My right hon. Friend was fair all the way through, but the resolution was against him. Within a month or so, however, the Government came down in favour of a referendum. Then a clause was tabled to provide what was clearly a mandatory referendum. Now, after arguments from both sides of the House, we are asked to accept a change by the Government to make the referendum consultative.
Well, all right, that is flexibility. I am not certain how flexible one can be. This all shows that the House is being listened to. I could suggest to my right hon. Friend that he should take this a stage further and listen to the other arguments, particularly from hon. Members, and drop the Bill altogether. That would provide even greater flexibiity, and it would mean that my right hon. Friend was listening even more closely to what hon. Members were saying.
We have a referendum and I am in favour of it only because I see no alternative, but where do the English fit into all this?
§ Mr. Heffer
The hon. Gentleman says that they do not, and he says it in a clear and decisive way. I hear him ask "Why should they?" Whether he likes it or not, the Union has existed for quite a long time. We have all worked fairly 313 amicably together. People have fought together and given their lives together for this United Kingdom.
If we are to have a referendum I do not think that we in England should decide whether the Scots and the Welsh should have devolution. If the English voted against it en bloc they would be denying the Scots and the Welsh their right if they so want it. I am not giving anything away here to the SNP, but I do think that that is right.
Having said that, surely the English also have a right to participate in the concept of devolution and to say whether they want it. I do not think that they want it; I certainly hope not; but they may want it because they feel that the Scottish and Welsh Development Agencies will take something away from English regions such as the North, the North-West and the South-West. The English may feel that they also want a regional dimension. They have a right to be consulted on the issue. In particular, they have a right to be consulted on whether they want any change.
That is why we ought to have three questions in the referendum. The people of Scotland and Wales have a right to be asked not just whether they are in favour of the Government's plans and whether they are in favour of independence from other parts of the United Kingdom, but whether they want any change at all. They may come up with a clear answer that they do not want change.
§ Mr. Robert Adley (Christchurch and Lymington)
If at some time during our relationship with the EEC, perhaps 50 or 270 years after our joining the EEC, there were to be disquiet among the British people about our membership of the Common Market, does the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heller) think that the French, the Germans and the Italians should be given the right to vote on, or to decide, whether Britain should remain in the EEC?
§ Mr. Heffer
That is a hypothetical question. I am not certain whether I shall be concerned in 50 or 250 years' time. In any case, we have not yet reached in our union with the Common Market the relationship that exists between Scotland and England and between Wales and England—and I 314 would resist that. There is a clear difference and distinction between our relationship to the Common Market and our relationships within the United Kingdom. Hon. Members opposite should not shout that there is no difference. If they do not understand that they do not understand the ABC of their own union within the United Kingdom. Of course there is a difference.
I have answered the question, but it was not a sensible question. If we were part of a European Community that was totally united and we wished to withdraw from it, it would be quite wrong for the French or the Germans or anybody else to stop us coming out. I answer that question in a hypothetical way because the situation does not arise. If it did, that would be my answer.
I do not wish to make a long speech. It is not—as an hon. Member opposite has just commented from a sedentary position—a point of order. The Chairman would not allow me to make such a long point of order.
§ The First Deputy Chairman (Sir Myer Galpern)
I am glad that the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) has now taken notice of the Chair. If he addressed his remarks exclusively to the Chair he would have a much smoother ride while making his contribution.
§ Mr. Heffer
So long as it is not only the Chair that is listening to me, I shall be pleased to address my remarks to the Chair.
I conclude on the point about whether the referendum should be mandatory or consultative. If we are to have a referendum, it ought to be mandatory because if it is not the Scottish National Party and the Welsh Nationals will say that the Government are backsliding and moving away from their commitment. Indeed that is already being said by them. They will say that, even if people vote in favour of devolution, the Government may decide not to carry it through because the referendum was not to be a mandatory one. That is the propaganda that will be used by The Scotsman and other Scottish newspapers, and it is certainly what the SNP will say. We always seem to be handing arguments to the 315 SNP in an attempt to be fair. I wish that the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson) would stop making stupid nationalistic remarks from a sedentary position. A little earlier I heard a member of the SNP say that such nonsense as this would not be tolerated in the Scottish Assembly, but what would the SNP like to see in the Assembly—democracy or a one-party State? Is that what they want?
The first people who used our democratic procedures to delay the House of Commons were the Irish nationalists. They kept the House late night after night. Hon. Members opposite should learn their history. But that is part of the democratic process, and if the SNP does not want Scottish democracy I hope that the Scottish people will take notice of that point when the SNP talks about the Scottish Assembly.
It is important that the democratic processes of the House of Commons even though they are awkward and difficult, and though we are kept here for many hours, should be maintained, in order that every conceivable point of view may be heard before a decision is finally reached. If we destroy that we destroy the whole basis of our democracy.
I fear that the SNP will use the propaganda in Scotland that once again the Government are backsliding on their commitments. I do not think that they are. When we finally get down to voting on the new clause I shall support it, but we must have put in front of us what we shall be voting for before we finally decide.
§ Mr. Tim Rathbone (Lewes)
The Government appear to be absolutely determined to hold the referendum, although they show some uncertainty as to its form and why it should take place. We have been improvising as we go along with the Bill. I wonder whether the Leader of the House will show the same determination to make the Bill a better Bill—as he stated earlier this afternoon—when we begin debates on subsequent clauses and when he begins to be tempted to apply a guillotine.
I should prefer to have no referendum and no devolution Bill, because I doubt the reasons behind them. Referendums have been advocated before, and are being advocated now, solely to paper over 316 party political divisions. It may be worth reminding the Committee that the first time that a referendum was suggested, by Lord Balfour, it was to paper over divisions about the Lords and Commons debate and about tariff reform. Although the referendum was not used, it was advocated to paper over party political divisions. More recently, a referendum was used on the EEC to paper over party divisions.
§ Mr. Douglas-Mann
The hon. Member used the phrase "paper over", but is not a referendum appropriate in a case where there is no clear division between the parties? The electorate does not then have an opportunity to make an adequate choice? A referendum is needed not because of a desire to paper over differences but to clarify the views of the electorate when they cannot be determined by the party system.
§ Mr. Rathbone
I was going to make that point in regard to national referendums, but on historical precedence it does not apply to local referendums as conducted, for example, in Northern Ireland. That was on an explicit question—much more explicit than the matter that we are discussing—and asked whether Northern Ireland should remain part of the United Kingdom or be joined with the Republic. The low turn-out of only about 61 per cent. and the high level of Catholic abstentions must cast aspersions on the referendum as a measurement of the feelings of the whole population on that question.
Whether the EEC referendum measured the tenor of the nation or not, there are lessons that we can learn from it. The first is that the public is slow to authorise change. The EEC referendum vote was a vote for the status quo. That will not be the case in the devolution referendum, except in the most technical sense. That will seek public ratification of a recent piece of legislation that is fairly revolutionary in its content.
Before the Bill is passed, a vote for devolution would be a radical vote. After the Bill has become an Act, a vote to unite could be described as being just as radical, whatever riders are contained in the Act.
The second lesson to be learned from the EEC referendum is that the outcome 317 did not instil in the Government a more Community-minded spirit. Nor was the new impetus exploited to meet our problems within the Community. By the same logic, just because the Scottish and Welsh people may, through a vote in favour of devolution, express the desire for new powers, it does not mean that their good intentions will necessarily carry over into a real effort being made to make good use of those powers once they have been granted. Endorsement by referendum, however decisive, does not necessarily bode well, however much we may wish otherwise.
The third lesson is that the EEC referendum became increasingly a battle between two wings within the Labour Party, with the lines of demarcation moving steadily further apart. The party appeared to be in great discomfort, which has not seemed to diminish since. I cite this not in an attempt to rake over old coals but as an example of the limitation of the extent to which it is possible, within a single referendum, to isolate a single issue for popular decision, independent of any party political content.
§ Mr. Buchan
If there are divisions within a party on an issue, that seems a fairly good reason for not deciding it on a party basis, but for saying that it should be put to the people.
§ Mr. Rathbone
The hon. Gentleman misses my point, which is that the complexities in any aspect of modern government and the inter-relationship between issues and the perceived and actual responsibility for the political management of economic and social change all argue against the ability of any single Government action to be seen as separate from any other Government action. A referendum, whatever its outcome, is a false measure.
The last lesson to be learned from the EEC referendum is that apart from a small aberration in the outer isles off the Scottish coast it produced a remarkably similar outcome in all areas of the country in the vote and in opinion polls leading up to it. The effect and efficacy of central Government publicity rather than local campaigning was of the essence.
This raises the question that I put to the Minister when we started our debate 318 on this subject last week. What plans do the Government have for carrying not only the people of Scotland and Wales but the people of England on the question whether the Act is good for the United Kingdom? Linked with that is the question of what subventions the Government plan to support such a public discussion. What moneys will be given to what bodies? How much will be spent in Scotland and Wales and how much in England? What Government communications facilities will be made available? What will be the total cost of the publicity, in addition to the cost of the referendum itself?
Apart from these questions of detail, how constitutional is the referendum in this context? This point was raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Farnham (Mr. Macmillan) last week. The European referendum could credibly be described as consultative. It was to confirm or deny a situation that was already firmly in existence. The devolution referendum and its inclusion in the Bill will make the application of the Act dependent, either legally or morally—it remains to be seen what the actual wording will be—on the outcome of the referendum.
Does this not involve a prima facie case of the derogation of parliamentary powers to a relatively small part of the United Kingdom from which Parliament gains some of its powers? Because of the present mandatory character of the referendum—and we must wait to see whether that is changed—it denies even a theoretical application of the Burkean theory of an hon. Member's responsibility to his constituents. For those who would retain for Parliament the powers that we still have, even in the face of a steady erosion by the Executive, and those who wish to see a return of some of the powers that we have lost through that erosion, is not the so-called direct democratic nature of the referendum contrary to such aims?
To the extent that the power of the Prime Minister has become a presidential power, the referendum will only magnify that fact, and I do not find that prospect attractive or desirable.
The referendum in Northern Ireland was designed to take the border out of politics. It has been less than a total 319 success. How much less can a referendum in Scotland and Wales take devolution out of politics? I do not believe that it can. In its very essence, devolution is almost a guarantee of increased political friction between parties, and between Edinburgh and Cardiff on the one hand and Westminster and Whitehall on the other.
Such a referendum, in reality, therefore, is designed to elicit a positive choice for more political animosity, whether or not those who vote understand that properly as they cast their vote. When the same people are asking hon. Members more than anything else to engage in less and less party political antagonism, and they recommit them to tackle the problems of the nation as a whole with a spirit of co-operation between the parties, the referendum becomes even more anachronistic in character.
The referendum issue also brings one to the question of devolution, and whether a referendum is a way of measuring people's real expression of desire for it. In so far as a desire for local Assemblies stems from a general feeling of disenchantment with government at Westminster, will not a referendum vote on that subject be yet another measurement of that disenchantment rather than a measurement of the desire for devolution, however well the content and purpose of the Act is explained in the meantime? Is not the Act, and now the referendum that may go with it, just a cover-up for a far deeper malaise and the fact that our democratic system is no longer working well? May not that disenchantment with Parliament and hon. Members stem from a national awareness that it is not only not working well but, in its unrepresentative nature, is sadly undemocratic?
If that is so, the hangover created by the referendum could be worrying in its effect when people see that the serious problems that exist have not been resolved by the referendum or by the devolution Act. I find that a sorry and worrying prospect.
I do not believe that one part of the country should impose on another a decision that goes against that region's wishes, Therefore, I do not believe that the referendum on Scottish devolution should take place in Wales, Ulster or England. The same principle applies to the referen- 320 dum vote for Welsh devolution being taken in Scotland, Ulster or elsewhere.
Should not devolution be offered to England if it is to be offered to Scotland and Wales? If it is offered to England, only the English should be in a position to decide whether they want that devolution.
§ Mr. Dalyell
That assumes that all Scots live in Scotland and all the English live in England and that there is some kind of ethnic similarity. I am being flooded with protests from Scots living in England who resent deeply the fact that they will have no say in the referendum. That is a fact of life.
§ Mr. Rathbone
The hon. Gentleman anticipated my next argument. Those people who are citizens of the United Kingdom who can establish a direct link with any part of the United Kingdom by blood or, indeed, by upbringing, should be allowed to vote in a referendum on the future government of that part, wherever they live at the moment. It is peculiar that someone born in Scotland and who grew up there will not have a vote, because he is temporarily residing in England. On the other hand, I know someone who was born in London, lived most of his life in Africa, returned to the United Kingdom, lived in Sussex for four years and has lived in Edinburgh for one year. He will be able to vote on this subject.
§ Mr. Rifkind
My hon. Friend's argument is unsound. Either the referendum on the Assembly should be voted on by those resident in Scotland or, if it is their Scottishness that gives them the right to vote, a Scot living in Canada should have as much right as a Scot living in Cornwall.
§ Mr. Rathbone
I did not say that a Scots person had to be living anywhere in England; I said that it must be someone with United Kingdom citizenship and direct links of birth or upbringing with that part of the country. Scots should be given that right whether they are living in England, Canada or places further afield.
§ Mr. Fred Evans
I accept the hon. Gentleman's last statement but does he pretend that he can produce any objective criteria to decide the status of a Scotsman, a Welshman or an Englishman? He 321 embraces such a wide area that I challenge him to find any objective criteria.
§ Mr. Rathbone
There is one simple delineation—by birth. I should like to find a method of broadening that category in some way. I should like people who have been born out of the country but who have spent most of their lives in Scotland to be able to vote. I should also like to narrow the category to eliminate from consideration those people who were born in Scotland but who have lived the rest of their lives elsewhere and continue to wish to do so.
§ Mr. Adley
Will my hon. Friend look at the amendments in my name and possibly support them on another occasion? They seek to do precisely what my hon. Friend is suggesting. They restrict a vote on the referendum to people who were born, or whose parents were born, in Scotland. Does he agree that the difference between a Scot living in England and one living in Canada is that legislation that this Parliament passes, either now or after the Bill becomes law, will affect that Scot if he lives in England or Ulster, but not if he lives in Canada?
§ Mr. Rathbone
I shall look at my hon. Friend's amendment. I am sure that it will underline how much the Scots can learn from those living in the south of England about the difficult perspective of these problems.
§ Dr. Colin Phipps (Dudley, West)
The hon. Gentleman is on to an important point. Does he recall that during the EEC referendum debate amendments were tabled by my hon. Friends and myself which sought to give a vote in that referendum to Britons living abroad? Our argument was that the decision to go into the EEC would affect them and their children if at any time they chose to return to this country. This is exactly the same situation.
§ Mr. Rathbone
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, because he, if no one else, understands my argument.
§ Mr. Russell Fairgrieve (Aberdeenshire, West)
Why is my hon. Friend making such heavy weather of this issue? Surely we shall be dealing with the electoral register. We are interested not in the views of Scotsmen living in England but of Englishmen living in Scotland.
§ Mr. Rathbone
My argument is better understood on the Government side of the Committee. We are interested in both.
My last argument concerns the question itself which we shall return to later when we discuss the amendments to the schedule. As I said to the Minister last week, there is room here for professional advice in order to obtain the best question couched in the best way. There was one study prior to the European referendum which found that by couching the same question in five different ways one could elicit a difference in response of 18 percentage points. The Government are wrong to claim that professional advice would be of no assistance.
I am delighted that the Lord President has already suggested one amendment to the question that we were discussing and which the Minister said would be defended line by line when discussing it last week. Unless the Government seek such professional advice from the Market Research Society or other professional bodies, all of which are interested in this sphere, there must remain a doubt in people's minds that the Government are trying to load the question. I do not believe that the Government are doing themselves or Parliament a service by letting that doubt remain. I therefore hope that the Government will still seek such professional advice. Indeed, I hope that the professional bodies will proffer such advice to the Government, even if it is unsolicited.
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Buchan
I had not intended, three hours ago, to take part in what I thought would be a preliminary discussion on the referendum, because it seemed to me that the important issue was to get on to the specific questions with which we were faced. Today has altered that. I want to deal with one or two points that have emerged from the debate. First, however, perhaps I may deal with a few of the points raised by the hon. Member for Lewes (Mr. Rathbone).
The hon. Member is absolutely right about the importance of the wording of the question. I think that one of the values of such a debate and, I would have hoped, the debate on the following amendments, is that we can explore some of the wording of the questions. Some of 323 my hon. Friends and I have put down a question on independence in two forms in the hope that we shall get some discussion on seeing how acceptable they are to all sides of the House.
The other point is that I think that we should deal with the question of Scots in England being entitled to vote—my son works in London—but there is no case whatsoever for saying that we can do other than use the electoral register in Scotland. People who have come, or and to come, to live and work in Scotland have every bit as much right to have a say there, and I believe that people, who, again through necessity, or through choice, have left, cannot have a say there. I hope that they will make their views heard and tell people back home in Scotland "We do not want to be cut off." However, I see no other fair way of doing this. Once we move on to the other path, the path on to which we shall have moved is the path not of democracy but of racialism.
We are dealing with serious issues. Even the comment about people of Scottish blood, and so on, shows the dangerous path on which we may set. I think that already enough viciousness has been inserted into British life from the rise of nationalism, particularly in Scotland. I cannot speak so much for Wales, because I sense that in Wales the Welsh nationals have a love of Welshness. I feel none of this about the Scottish nationals. There is enough viciousness without its being developed further.
§ Mr. Adley
I do not want to raise a frivolous point, but does the hon. Gentleman not agree that in the modern world in which we live people travel much more than previously? Is he not aware that many other democratic countries around the world have either recently passed or are passing legislation that specifically makes arrangements for their citizens who are living or working abroad to vote in national or even local elections? Is he not being a little unfair in the way in which he is treating this matter, and in trying to make anti-SNP points?
§ Mr. Buchan
Believe me, I have got well beyond making anti-SNP points. What hon. Members should recognise is the nature of the dangers that they are facing, which go well beyond any party 324 issues and any anti-nationalist knocking or knocking anything else. We are dealing not with a complicated or difficult situation but with a highly dangerous situation. [Interruption.] Let me make the point. The difference is that people are registered or can register for a local constituency in which they can vote. That is the difference. A referendum is a very different matter.
§ Mr. Raison
The hon. Gentleman has just said that he laments the introduction of nationalistic ideas into the debate. So, my goodness, do I. However, the fact is that that is what the Bill is about. Page 2 of the Government's White Paper "Our Changing Democracy" says that the proposalswill help to foster the distinctive national traditions of Scotland and Wales".The trouble is that we are moving from a starting point where nationalism is inevitable.
§ Mr. Buchan
I hope to deal with that matter. There is a difference between saying that that exists—I have just finished saying that—and saying that we should take measures that accept that this should be the basis of our democratic operation. That is what we are doing with this kind of concept. For heaven's sake let us recognise that the devolution proposals are concerned with an extension of democracy, or they mean nothing. I agree that we have this whole background of nationalism and the viciousness of that behind them with this particular form. Of course that is there. That is why I say that the situation is dangerous.
§ Mr. Buchan
The second thing that I want to say is this: I believe that my right hon. Friend the Lord President introduced the proposal today, providing for the Government will change the referendum from a mandatory to a consultative referendum in order to do two things. It is in order to try to help the genuine fears, and to answer and respond to the genuine fears, of people who felt that a mandatory referendum was cutting across the sovereignty of Parliament and could constitute a dangerous precedent. I think that my right hon. Friend should have 325 been thanked for that, rather than criticised.
Secondly, I believe that my right hon. Friend has done it for the best of political purposes—which has nothing to do with tax; we are way beyond that point. We are way beyond any party politics in this situation. I believe that my right hon. Friend has done it not for a party political point but for the correct and honourable political point that the Bill should have the chance of getting through the House of Commons, and that the Government and many others regard it as important that it should go through Parliament and that this might be one means of getting it through, unless that is prevented by those who feel strongly on this aspect but who otherwise may have supported it. It seems a perfectly honourable thing for my right hon. Friend to do.
Having said that, I must warn my right hon. Friend of the dangers of what he has done. I accept that I, too, may have to accept this, but I should have preferred, at any rate, the concept of a mandatory referendum—for this reason. I accept those who have put forward this reason, such as my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer). We are not dealing with normal politics and normal politicians in these circumstances. It is not a question of the nationalists saying "Let us look at this objectively. Let us see what the Lord President is trying to do and see whether this is right." The reaction is "What maximum political damage can we do? What gain can we get by pretending that this is trying to con the Scottish people?" Some will take that line. I shudder to think what the Daily Record may do, because it never really gets past the first level of complexity in these arguments and it might take precisely that line—that this is a means of preventing the will of the Scottish people from being expressed. I do not believe that it is.
Of course, I shall accept it as being mandatory. If we cannot use the term "mandatory", it will be so effectively, and we shall have to accept it. I certainly take it amiss when it is suggested that something is being done by sleight of hand here, but the nationalists are the one group of people in the House of Commons who want to use the word "mandatory". They are the one group 326 that is not prepared to say "We shall accept the decision", and it lies little in their tongues for them to make that particular point.
Therefore, consultative or mandatory, we must accept that what we are doing and what we are offering to the Scottish people must, for some of us at any rate, be a complete and binding decision.
§ Several Hon. Members rose—
§ Mr. Buchan
I have wanted to say this for about two years, so I shall not give up this opportunity.
I say this for another reason. I believe that the question will be distorted if people believe that they are merely expressing a vague wish instead of knowing that their cross is to be decisive. Like executions, a cross on the ballot paper can concentrate the mind wonderfully. As I want to have a second question introduced, I want that concentration to take place and for people to know that what they will say will decide that Scotland will remain a part of the United Kingdom.
Many compliments have been paid to me over the last few weeks at party meetings and in the House of Commons about the Government's having accepted my argument and my strategy in relation to the referendum. I hate looking any gift horse in the mouth, but I must say, with all respect, that the Government have not accepted my argument and my strategy on this matter.
I exempt my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House from that charge. I believe that although he understands the argument completely the Government as a whole have failed to understand it. The problem will not be solved by having only a single question in the referendum. Hon. Members must understand that there is no solution to the problem in this House alone. We are facing not one but two problems. There is the problem of the Bill—whether it goes through—and there is also the problem of the dangerous situation in Scotland.
I must tell hon. Members, even if they detest devolution and do not want devolution, that they will not solve the problem by killing the Bill here. The only people who can solve the problem are the Scottish people, by voting for or against 327 devolution. Therefore, we must look at things differently. It was proper and correct of the Government to bring forward a referendum proposal, thus recognising that whatever decision was taken in the House would not solve the problem in Scotland. The problem will be solved by allowing the will of the people to be expressed and by gaining acceptance for the framework of the Assembly.
My strategy has been simply to get the Bill through. I am in favour of a guillotine to get it through. Hon. Members who are for or against the Bill must recognise that to a certain extent the matter is now out of their hands. If they kill the Bill now they will exacerbate the situation in Scotland. Those who are for the Bill must accept the referendum proposal and those who are against it must also allow the Bill to go through so that a referendum can be held. I cannot speak for Wales; I speak only for Scotland.
§ Mr. Heffer
Does my hon. Friend agree that he has often said in private conversation that we are dealing with a balance of dangers and that the situation is equally balanced in either direction? It could be argued that, irrespective of whether we agree to an Assembly, the SNP could still gain a majority. Nobody knows. We have to do the right thing.
§ Mr. Buchan
I am glad that I have tutored my hon. Friend so well. He is absolutely right. It is possible that things could go wrong either way. That is what I meant when I said that we are in a dangerous situation. But it is a certainty that things would go wrong if we tried to kill the Bill now. If we killed the Bill we would soon find that those who were opposed to devolution would surdenly discover that they wanted it. The nationalists would have a field day. On balance, the danger would be greater if the Bill did not go through.
My strategy is that if the new Scottish Assembly comes about—if that was the will of the Scottish people—it will start in a framework of acceptance. Scottish people will be able to say that, for the time being, they have decided to have an Assembly and they will have to make it work. Obviously, difficulties will arise, and the Assembly will be shot through 328 with anomalies. This is why the question of independence must also be put to the Scottish people. If the Scottish people say "No" to independence, they will have decided, for the time being, that they must make the Assembly work.
I wish to stress that there is a difference between the attitudes expressed on devolution in the Committee, in London generally, and in the Fleet Street newspapers on the one hand, in Scotland and by the Scottish newspapers, on the other. There is hesitancy about devolution and mounting fear and worry about it. I believe that that would change if we killed the Bill. There is no doubt whatever that the mass of the Scottish people who are concerned with this question were totally taken aback by the Government's decision to have only one question. This was what I told my hon. Friend the Member for Walton when I spoke about the balance of dangers. The proposal to have only one question in the referendum makes the situation even more dangerous than it would otherwise be. The pressure in support of a second question has been astonishing. Except for the Scotsman, which has been described by Private Eye as the House organ of the SNP, every newspaper has expressed support for a second question. Without a second question nothing will be settled. Among those newspapers that support a second question are the Glasgow Herald and the Daily Record. A total of 19 out of 20 parliamentary candidates—who were not selected on a narrow basis—all expressed their astonishment at the failure to have a second question. Lord Home spoke in favour of it last week, and the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw) until he was bludgeoned by the Shadow Cabinet—a great pity—recognised that we are dealing with a dangerous and difficult situation.
I am told that it would be impossible to have this kind of question unless the whole of the United Kingdom voted upon it. My hon. Friend the Member for Walton held this view strongly and has provided an alternative that makes more sense, although I disagree with him. We cannot tell the Scottish people that they will be able to vote to decide their future but that at the same time a group 10 times larger will also be voting. 329 Scottish people will take that to mean that the Government are telling them "You can vote if you like, but we have a group that can out-vote you." If I where in Scotland that is how I would see it. It would make nationalists of Scottish people overnight.
I recognise the argument that everyone in the United Kingdom has a right to take part in a decision and to have his say on whether the United Kingdom should be split up, but there is a difference between having the right and exercising that right. My right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General did not exercise the right that he had to take the Post Office workers to court, and he was right not to do so. To quote from Macbeth:O! it is excellentTo have a giant's strength, but it is tyrannousTo use it like a giant.
§ Mr. Nicholas Fairbairn (Kinross and West Perthshire)
The issue whether there should be two questions in the referendum is important. The hon. Gentleman talked about concentrating people's minds. If we do not have the second question dealing with independence, people will have to weigh whether they think the Bill will result in independence. If we have the second question they can absolve themselves of that responsibility by answering "No".
§ Mr. Buchan
I understand what the hon. and learned Gentleman says. Those who are arguing for devolution will argue that that will not be the case. The position must be put squarely. We must ask the Scottish people whether they are in favour of this thing called an Assembly which will deal with domestic matters, and we must also ask whether they support this thing called independence which will lead to a totally separate and independent state.
With two questions people may tend to feel that they have an option, and that they will say "Yes" to one question and "No" to the other. I hope that that problem can be overcome. It would be eased by putting the questions on two separate forms. However, by the time of the referendum the arguments will be known. I do not think that much is determined by what people read in the 330 ballot box. What matters is the campaign leading up to the referendum.
When talking about party politics we have to recognise the nature of the Scottish National Party. I heard the remark by the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. Henderson)—"We will not have that in a Scottish Parliament." I know what gave rise to it, and I fear it. Many good people in Scotland support the Scottish National Party for all sorts of causes, but, by the reaction of hon. Members belonging to the SNP to my right hon. Friend today and on other occasions, we must recognise that we are dealing with a different group of people. They have tremendous ability to attribute evil to all other people's intentions. They have an immediate viciousness in seeking for the lowest of all possible motivations. Yet the rest of us recognised today that in my right hon. Friend's speech there were no low motivations.
Members of the Scottish National Party in this House remind me of the children in an Ivy Compton Burnett novel—children who speak, at the age of eight or nine, in Miss Burnett's classical prose and perform evil without understanding its nature. They are playing with a keg of gunpowder without recognising the kind of situation that they are creating. They indulge in poisonous racialist lies that others cannot—the sort of lies, for example, that appear in letters in the Scotsman, which are never repudiated by the SNP but which, if "Jew" or "Pakistani" were substituted for "English", no other publication would print, except for the organ of the National Front. But that sort of language is becoming acceptable to the SNP. Its members regard as truth what is for the time being in the interests of their party, and they will do so in a campaign on a single question.
We know how they will campaign on a single question. They will say "Vote for this, although it is the first, insulting and tawdry concession that we have wrung out of them, so that we can go further towards independence". That will be their campaign on a single question.
There will and can be no enthusiastic Labour and trade union campaign—there are too many anxieties and too much understanding of the dangers for that. The only way in which we can deal with this issue is for the SNP to face up to its 331 single-issue policy and defend it. If it wins, so be it—I shall accept it on the spot. If it loses, I ask hon. Members in the SNP also to have the honour to accept that decision on the spot, allowing the Assembly, if it is set up, to work, or, if it is rejected, to be rejected. That will be a test of the SNP as well as of this House.
The House cannot solve the problem; it must be put to the Scottish people. To do that, the Bill has to be got through, and to secure the right framework of acceptance the only way in which the Assembly can operate for its first two or three crucial years is to have the second question, deciding whether for the time being we are to accept the Assembly or have independence. Without that, I fear that there will be a deliberate intention to wreck by acrimony and conflict, and anything more disastrous for the United Kingdom as a whole and for Scotland in particular one cannot imagine.
§ Sir David Renton
Unlike the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan), I hope that the Bill will be defeated, but if it is not, despite the chaos surrounding its gestation, I think that it will be vital to have the referendums in order to give the people of Scotland and Wales a chance to say whether or not they wish to be lumbered with this, the worst of all imaginable schemes of devolution. But I think that the final responsibility should rest upon Parliament.
Although we should not pass the buck to the people I see nothing wrong in consulting them on rare and special occasions.
I should like to describe my conversion to the idea of the consultative referendum. I used to be a keen opponent in principle. I used to use all the classical arguments against such referenda: the sovereignty of Parliament; that our responsibilities must be carried by ourselves and not shared by the people, and so on. I used to quote Burke's Address to the Electors of Bristol, and all that. But during the Common Market referendum campaign of 1975 I saw the light. It dawned on me then that the referendum was the only opportunity for the great silent majority of the people of all parties to express themselves, to do so collectively, and to do so in a way which was 332 otherwise denied to them. It gave them an opportunity to show their muscle, an opportunity which many of them had been frustrated at not having.
We politically active people have great opportunities. We may be only a small minority of the electorate, as a whole, and those elected to Government may receive the support of only a minority of the electorate who vote. For example, the present Government were elected with the support of 28 per cent. of the total electorate and only 38 per cent. of those who voted. The great silent majority is a majority of people of all parties who do not have the mass media at their disposal, who do not have the power which comes to all Governments, even those elected by only a relatively small percentage of the people under our present system of first past the post.
I should say to my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart) that my conversion took place before he kindly sent me a copy of his most interesting book, but that book fortified and confirmed me in my new-found belief.
§ Mr. Channon
I understand the force of my right hon. and learned Friend's argument, and many people would sympathise with a lot of what he is saying. The difficulty I would have in accepting it lies in where one is to draw the line. If it is right for the vast silent majority to express their views on the Common Market or on devolution, where is the line to be drawn? Many people feel far more deeply about capital punishment, for example, and other subjects than about the Common Market and devolution.
§ Sir D. Renton
I have already said that referendums should be used only on rare and special occasions. I am coming to the point about when we should use them.
I think that it was right to have a referendum in the case of the Common Market because all the parties were divided on the issue. The people were uncertain about it. It had never been made a single specific issue in a general election campaign, but the people's minds were wonderfully concentrated in that three-week referendum campaign. I found it rather a sweat in my constituency, holding a great many all-party 333 meetings, but I also found it a worthwhile exercise and learned a lot from it. I like to think that the voters also learned a lot more, both for and against the Common Market, than they could possibly have learned in a General Election campaign or even by reading every page of Hansard.
On the other hand, if we are to test the matter by results, using hindsight as to whether it was right to have a referendum, one accepts that it was a wonderful revelation of the power of the people. There was a turnout of 63 per cent., of whom 67 per cent. voted "Yes", when the indications had been that it would probably be a close-run thing and that there might be far more abstentions than there were.
I do not say that we should have a referendum whenever Parliament has a difficult and controversial constitutional problem to solve. On the contrary, I consider that we should be cautiously selective in ever having one at all, and that it should always be consultative.
The present occasion is quite different from that in 1975. For one thing, that referendum was merely to endorse something which had already happened and was going on. This situation is quite different. No one, except perhaps the Scottish nationalists, would deny that there is uncertainty among public opinion in Scotland.
I say it with regret because individually they are very pleasant people, but that confusion has been greatly increased by the extravagant claims about devolution by the Scottish National Party. The over simplification which has gone on is simply deplorable. The impression is given that devolution means only one thing. I have already bored the House several times by showing how many different things it can mean.
On this occasion, it seems that in this Bill the Government have picked out from the various forms of devolution a selection of the least acceptable elements of any of them. Therefore, if only to give the public the opportunity to concentrate their minds—to the extent that it can be done on a complex Bill of this kind—and in order to remove uncertainty about where public opinion stands in Scotland, 334 I believe that for Scotland, at any rate, there is a strong case for a referendum.
I would not have said the same about Wales until, in the early discussions in Committee, we had the vote on Wales. I was astonished that the Committee did not vote Wales out of the Bill altogether, but it did not. If by some mischance, in spite of the chaos in which the Bill is now bogged down, it were ever to receive the Royal Assent, the people of Wales should have the chance to vote themselves out of the scheme. They can do that only by means of a referendum, unless, of course, there were a General Election before the Bill came into effect. Then, I hope, whichever party won it would take Wales out of the Bill.
§ Mr. Dalyell
As a member of the Kilbrandon Commission, does not the right hon. and learned Gentleman in retrospect wish that the Commission had made it a little clearer that the situations in Scotland and Wales were different?
§ Sir D. Renton
I am grateful for that intervention, because although I have made myself clear previously, it allows me to repeat that I was in a minority of one on the Kilbrandon Commission in wanting only an advisory and consultative Assembly for Scotland, with limited legislative powers delegated ad hoc by this House, and in a minority of three out of 13 in wanting only an advisory and consultative Assembly for Wales, with no legislative power at all. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for allowing me to make that clear. I still disagree with the majority of the Kilbrandon Commission on both Wales and Scotland.
For the reasons that I have given, therefore, I consider that the Government were right to ask Parliament to approve a referendum for Scotland and Wales and I shall certainly not vote against the new clause, but I regret very much the way in which the Government have handled this matter.
First, I join the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, West, who is no longer here, in saying that we should not be churlish towards the Lord President. He spends hours in the Chamber listening to the debates, and he has shown today that he not only listens but that he listens sometimes with respect. 335 Apart from the fact that I disagreed strongly with what the right hon. Gentleman said about the preamble on the voting paper about "the United Kingdom" being capable of being expressed in a way which made it fact and not opinion—that was ingenuous in the extreme of the Lord President—I welcomed his suggestions.
However, I was astonished when he said that the Government amendments would not be put down till Report. It seems to me that that will place the Chair in a very difficult situation. The Chair has made the selection for the Committee stage, no doubt after several days' consideration of a frightfully complex matter. Then, hon. Members will have to reconsider the amendments that they have already tabled. We do not mind that: we will consider anything.
But then the right hon. Gentleman told us, in answer to a suggestion of mine, that perhaps some of these amendments could be tabled for Committee stage. The amendments to the new clause apparently will be tabled overnight and be taken in Committee, but the amendments to the schedule containing the preamble and the question to the voters will not be tabled till Report. If that is wrong—
§ Sir D. Renton
I am most grateful. I tried to listen to the Leader of the House. In his kind and forthcoming way, he says so much that I cannot always keep track of all of it and I had to go to an important Select Committee before he had finished. That may be why I have misunderstood the position and it is why I am especially grateful to my right hon. Friend.
I should have hoped that all the amendments would have been tabled overnight, or as soon as possible at the Committee stage. When on points of order the procedure which we are now to follow was being considered I made the suggestion—I still adhere to it—that at any rate today and tonight we should 336 confine ourselves to the debate on the question, That the clause be now read a Second time. I suggested earlier that we should go on tomorrow with the amendments to the new clause and schedule but my right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) made a better suggestion—that once the clause has been read a Second time the Government should table their amendments to it and that we should adjourn further consideration till we can all consider the Government amendments and reframe our own amendments, and the Chair make a fresh selection.
In a confused situation, that seems to be the most orderly way of proceeding. I hope that the Government will accept that suggestion, because, despite the good will which has been shown, we are getting into appalling chaos. I am sure that any other hon. Member who has been in the House for the 31 years that I have will agree with me that during that time, in spite of the vast weight of legislation, often very controversial, introduced by both parties, in spite of our memory of the Parliament (No. 2) Bill, we have never had such chaos as has arisen already in this early part of the Committee stage of this vital Bill. Any way of getting out of this chaotic situation, whether it saves the Bill or not, might do something to save the reputation of Parliament. I therefore hope that my right hon. Friend's suggestion will be followed.
§ Mr. Abse
The main benefit from this Second Reading debate on the referendum—a Second Reading debate inspired by the Government's new clause—is that it shows clearly that the Government recognise that they never had a genuine mandate to introduce a devolution Bill. It cannot be sustained that throughout Britain in the last election a mandate was given to the Government to proceed with this important constitutional Bill. Not only was it not mentioned in almost every constituency in England; it was hardly mentioned in the majority of Welsh constituencies. Now that we have an absolute acknowledgment by the Government that they must have a referendum, Wales is not to be duped into devolution by stealth. It now has to be affirmed openly or rejected by the people of Wales. 337 If the Bill becomes law, this clause will give the people of Wales an opportunity to express their view. The pretence that the Government had no choice, because of a binding mandate, is abandoned by this clause. The Government now acknowledge that a decision is needed on a clearly defined Bill and not upon a footnote within a manifesto—a footnote to which most people in Britain did not have their attention drawn. So there are clearly merits in such a clause.
§ Mr. Wigley
I cannot speak for what happened in the rest of Britain, but the hon. Gentleman will recall that his party's manifesto in Wales, "Wales Will Win With Labour", started with a section headed "A Democratic Wales", which underlined over the whole of one page the Labour Government's commitment to setting up a Welsh Assembly.
§ Mr. Abse
I am certainly aware of it, and I am emphasising that the Government have now retreated from that position. They recognise that what may have been published within the manifesto did not necessarily gain the support of the overwhelming majority of the Welsh electorate.
In my area the only person to mention devolution was the hapless Plaid Cymru candidate. No one listened to him and he, like 26 other Welsh nationalists, lost his deposit, gaining fewer votes in the last election than he did when I first fought the election in Pontypool in 1958. Therefore, no one can suggest—since my views have been well known in my constituency for many years and known by the Welsh nationalists—that I have no mandate to speak in the way in which I have, and to say that the people of Pontypool do not want this devolution Bill. I am glad that they now will have the opportunity to express their views.
There have been strained efforts by many people to suggest that people like myself were bound, and should not have the freedom to express a contrary view. My hon. Friend the hon. Member for Newport (Mr. Hughes), to whom I gave notice that I would raise this matter, has, I regret to say left the Chamber. That will not deter me from dwelling on one strained effort to suggest that we were absolutely bound.
338 7.15 p.m.
The House will recall that on 15th December, in an exchange between us, my hon. Friend affirmed categorically that I had attended a meeting on 6th November 1973. He said that he would supply a copy of the minutes of that meeting to any hon. Member who requested them. He claimed—and it was recorded in Hansard and the local Press—that I was party to a decision, to which the Lord President was also party, in which I expressed a view contrary to that which I have just expressed.
I wish that my hon. Friend, who seems to be so ready to supply minutes of private party meetings to the whole House, would supply them. I want to place on record, for my constituency's benefit, that he was quite right in almost everything he said about that meeting, except for one important fact. Not only did I not subscribe to the view he attributed to me, not only is it recorded in the minutes that I did not speak, but, as the House would expect, I was not present. I hope my hon. Friend's peddling of that type of mendacity in my constituency and in Gwent will cease. Whilst I acknowledge his right to express a view on devolution, I hope that he will not strain, as he has been doing for so long, to suggest that those of us who take a view contrary to that canvassed so far by the Government are taking a view contrary to that which we were mandated to take during the last election.
The recognition that there has been no mandate from the electorate means that the time is ripe for the Government to consider whether they wish to obtain a mandate. I am sure that I am interpreting correctly the view of the overwhelming majority of members of the Parliamentary Labour Party and Opposition Members when I say that what they all desire is that the people of Wales and Scotland should reject the proposals if we have the referendum. That is not a view held simply by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer), who has put forward his views as vigorously as we expect him to. It is the general view of all except my right hon. Friends the Leader of the House and the Secretary of State for Wales, and a handful of others. 339 I challenge my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to ask the Parliamentary Labour Party whether it wants the Government to campaign in the proposed referendum. Does it want the Government to give the people of Wales and Scotland a choice, or does it want to persuade them that the best thing for the United Kingdom is that we should have this muddled devolution Bill? The Government have no mandate from the Parliamentary Labour Party to campaign for these devolution proposals. What they will do by the clause is to meet the wish of the Committee and the Parliamentary Labour Party that the people of Wales should have the choice. But nothing would be more absurd than that we should put through a Bill and then, by a campaign, try to create what the Government could call a form of compulsory democracy and what I would describe as compulsory bureaucracy. I believe that the overwhelming majority of hon. Members do not wish to see the Bill come into effect, but they feel that they have no alternative to letting the people of Wales and Scotland decide for themselves.
If that is so, why should Ministers or any hon. Members be driven to plead, in a referendum in Wales and Scotland, for a devolution that they must hope the people will reject? Why should Cabinet Ministers, who are notoriously unenthusiastic about devolution, be reduced to marionnettes dancing to a discordant jingle played by a minority of Ministers committed to devolution? Why should they be shamefully silenced, unable to tell the people of Wales and Scotland "This is your decision, and whatever it may be we shall accept it"? Would it not be more honourable to tell the people "We have come to the conclusion that there is a necessity for a referendum. That is why we have a clause to that effect in the Bill. But we warn you that the disadvantages are greater than any gains." What a pity it would be for our Parliamentary Labour Party to find that Cabinet Ministers, by so straining the doctrine of collective responsibility, were called upon to campaign for acceptance of a devolution Bill which the majority of Ministers and Back Benchers believed to be a massive folly!
§ Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East)
Does my hon. Friend agree that there is a very useful precedent here, in the agreement to differ on the Common Market issue? If there were such an agreement to differ at Cabinet level, many Ministers would be able to express their real views on the matter and expose just how few are the enthusiasts for the Bill.
§ Mr. Abse
Certainly, there is ample precedent. I do not want slavishly to use any precedent, but I agree with what I think my hon. Friend is saying, which is that if the referendum is to mean anything we tell the electorate to listen to all the arguments on both sides and then choose. But to dragoon Ministers or Members into a reluctant regiment which must, against all conviction and inclination, fight the arguments of the anti-devolutionists, would be to take away from all the benefits that can come from a referendum.
§ Mr. Adley
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that in Wales and Scotland, and in many parts of England, there is a desire for decentralisation, but that the way in which the Government have handled the Bill and the shape of the Bill have turned a logical, reasonable argument on decentralisation into a fevered debate about the future shape of Britain.
§ Mr. Abse
There are many arguments for centralisation, and many against. The worst type of centralism is the ethnocentralism of Plaid Cymru and the Scottish National Party, because that always brings with it the appalling corollary of xenophobia, of animosity and hostility against any outside group that does not conform to what is usually its mythological ethnic view. But, as the hon. Gentleman said, the arguments for and against different forms of centralism are not what we are debating.
The clause will put a specific Act before the people of Wales and Scotland. It is bad enough that we must have a referendum at all, even though it appeared to many of us who dislike the Bill that there was no alternative in the circumstances. What is much worse is that all of us who look uneasily at a referendum fear that it may undermine all the best elements of our parliamentary system, in that we shall then cynically go forward 341 with a referendum asking people to vote for something that it will be well known is not the wish of those who are putting it forward. Are we to induce still more cynicism in people's minds about our party system because it is so rigid that in a referendum the Government send out their minions and those on their payroll to insist that the people of Wales and Scotland conform to the Government's declared wishes? It will become increasingly well known that although those are their overtly expressed wishes they do not represent the majority opinion of Cabinet Ministers or the Parliamentary Labour Party.
If that is what happens in the referendum, it will debase the whole debate. If we are to wrest anything from the referendum, we must have an educational debate, in which the arguments of all are sincerely presented, and probably passionately presented. The right hon. and learned Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton) spoke of our experience during the Common Market debate.
It would debase party politics—a necessary ingredient of our democracy—and further devalue politicians if it were seen that those participating were doing so without belief and only because of the threat of the lash of the Whip and the lure of sustaining themselves permanently in office. It would do no credit to the Parliamentary Labour Party if it were believed that those who demanded a "Yes" answer in the referendum did so only because of the Whips or the lure of office.—We want a referendum that is informed by conviction, not one that is governed by intimidation. In short, we want a genuinely free and fair referendum. It must, first, present an honest question, untainted by argument.
I am sure that we shall all look attentively at the changes that the Leader of the House has generously indicated will soon be known to us. I am grateful that he has responded in such a manner to what was a collective view of the Committee. However, the disquiet that I and others are left with is the possibility of the importation of an argument in what must be a free choice.
In the preamble there must be a genuine neutrality if we are to have a fair referendum. My right hon. Friend has indicated that he is omitting the words 342 providing that Wales and Scotland will still be within the United Kingdom in the form in which they are now presented. I do not know in what way he will introduce the United Kingdom argument, but it is highly contentious on both sides of the Chamber and in all quarters. It is a highly contentious view that the Bill will not lead to the separation of the kingdom. Is that the likely consequence of what is now intended? That will be one of the great debates of the referendum.
We who are against the Bill shall be saying clearly to the people in Wales that in our view this is the penultimate step to separation. The Leader of the House does not believe that but I do, along with many other hon. Members. As it is material to the debate and the argument, my right hon. Friend needs to be extraordinarily cautious in what he inserts within the preamble if he wants as he claims to want and as I believe he wants, a fair question in what I hope and want to be a free referendum.
How many questions should there be in the referendum? Should there be one question, or two? I hope that the flexibility that my right hon. Friend has shown will not extend to yielding on that issue. In Wales, Plaid Cymru, never mind anyone else, has indicated that it does not object to one question. I am not at all surprised. It lost 26 deposits in the previous election. Bearing in mind its derisory votes and the open division and confusion within the party on what are and are not its goals in respect of independence, of course it does not want to have a second question. Indeed, Plaid Cymru has indicated that it is satisfied with one.
Why should we put such a question to the Welsh people? If we asked the people of Wales whether they wanted to divorce themselves from the United Kingdom, we should be as clumsy as blundering social workers asking the Archbishop of Canterbury if he wanted a separation from his wife. There is no opinion—
§ Mr. Wigley
The hon. Gentleman may have noticed that my hon. Friends and I have an amendment on the Order Paper asking for a second question. He may also be aware that three or four weeks ago we submitted evidence to the Lord President and the Ministers responsible for devolution asking for a second question. That is our party's policy.
§ Mr. Abse
I have read the statements that have been made. Members of Plaid Cymru speak with many voices. I do not know for whom the hon. Gentleman is speaking. His party has only three Members, but they manage to produce a clamour and diversity that exceeds even that produced by my right hon. and hon. Friends. The hon. Gentleman knows that there is no unity within his party on this issue. Why should anyone want to press the issue when even Plaid Cymru as a unit, has no stomach to ask the people of Wales what is a grossly insulting question?
I have discovered that the only advocates in Wales for two questions are those who are devious enough to believe that such an approach may give them a higher chance of obtaining a "Yes" vote to devolution. They believe that that will be the outcome of presenting their case as the proponents of a middle course between two sets of extremists. Knowing that Wales has preserved its Welshness not by confrontation but by guerrilla wars—usually, let me hasten to say, waged in Committees—it seems that the pro-devolutionists calculate that two questions may lead the Welsh people into believing that the middle course is the sensible road, even though it would, ere long, I believe, ultimately join the highway to separation.
No such wish is expressed by the Government or by the majority of Welsh Members on the Back Benches who dislike this devolution Bill. No opinion in Wales is calling for more than one question. Whatever the position may be in Scotland, Wales wants one question. It is my belief and hope that one question will be quite enough to put the Bill in the grave. By means of this debate we are now digging that grave. We have been digging it in all the debates that have taken place on the Bill.
This morning I had letters from the National Union of Teachers. Despite attempts by the Government to allay its anxiety, and despite a meeting with the union, the teachers have, belatedly—understandably—appreciated the full impact of the Bill upon teachers in Wales.
The teachers are an important section of the Welsh community. Wales has exported so many teachers that it has partially educated England and Scotland. That is the result of the export of teachers from the Principality. This important 344 group has realised that if the devolution scheme continues it will be disadvantaged in its negotiating strength and that its salaries and pensions will be at the mercy of bodies other than those with which it has long-established links. It fears—in my view, with justification—that its mobility could be destroyed and that it could be caught in a trap inside the Principality. The Government have met the teachers, but that is still their belief. They do not accept what has been said by the Government.
I cite the teachers as an example of the attitude that may be taken by many before the referendum. The teachers have become alerted to the dangers. We heard this morning—this shows how important a referendum is, as distinct from some broad brush within a manifesto—from the British Waterways Board, which is aware of the canals that are inside the Principality, whose amenities are enjoyed by so many from England and Wales. The Board points out that the canals, including the Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal, in my constituency, are in danger as a result of devolution. In the Board's opinion they will be in danger of insufficient funding flowing from devolution. It fears that they will not be adequately mantained and that the leisure activities of many people in Wales and England will be put at risk.
I do not want to dwell upon the rising opposition from many groups inside Wales—opposition that is being clearly expressed as a result of our debates. I do not doubt that we shall be hearing from many other groups that are learning from our debates. This is the result of the attention that devolution is now belatedly receiving in the Principality. The dangers that lie in wait for the people of Wales if the Bill ever becomes an effective statute are now being realised.
§ Mr. Abse
My hon. Friend is pointing out how many Labour constituency parties are now expressing their opinions. I am not surprised that my hon. Friend has intervened. His constituency party made it clear in an unequivocal statement last week that it will urge people to vote "No". I hope that my right hon. Friend 345 realises that there is a need for the Government not to overcommit themselves, and a need politically for them to hesitate. If they do not take that on board, they could divide destructively the whole Labour movement in Wales and put the Government at risk. They could put the Government at risk if they were foolish enough to put their credit at stake in the referendum. If they wish to make that an issue of confidence, it will be inept. Indeed, they may get a dusty answer.
I hope that the personal view of the Leader of the House, who has affirmed constantly that he wants home rule for Wales, will not be imposed on the Cabinet or on the constituency parties in Wales.
I cannot speak so dogmatically—I would not presume to do so—about Scotland. Should there be one or two questions in Scotland? I listened with care to the views of my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan). I realise his desire to end, as he sees it, the present influence of the SNP by seeking an unequivocal reply to some question or other on independence. But my hon. Friends who take to that view should take care. It was Kierkegaard who said that what man most dreaded he most longed for, and that what he feared the most he desired the most. That was the view of a theologian and philsopher. A psycho-analyst would put it another way when suggesting that a second question should be posed relating to separation. It has been illustrated clinically that fear of death leads to unbearable tensions and may become a motive for suicide and, furthermore, fear of pregnancy may become a motive for conception.
If that sounds to be a little too highfaluting, as I suspect from some hon. Members' smiles, let me put the matter more robustly. Let me put the matter as it is put to a young lawyer who first goes into court: "Remember that if you ask a bloody silly question you will get a bloody silly reply". In other words, if we put questions on independence at a time when one never knows what crises may be taking place, one may get a reply that is ill-thought-out and ill-considered and which may corroborate one's worst fears. Why should one skate on such thin ice?
346 It is surely an illusion that if there were a total rejection of independence the SNP would liquidate itself. The raison d'être of the SNP is the fight for independence. If only 10 per cent. declared themselves for independence, they would merely affirm the next day that the question was wrongly put and that the campaign had been unfair. In other words, they would fight on.
§ Mr. Buchan
I accept what my hon. Friend says, but it is not the point. The point is that the Scottish people, not the SNP, will have an opportunity to make the Assembly work in the first few years. That is the point of the second question.
§ Mr. Abse
The only consequence that could flow if that question were rejected, if the matter were to remain viable, would be that the SNP would redouble its efforts. We should allow a platform to be created on which the SNP could still further expand its views, and indeed it would elevate those views to an important place.
There is one thing that is open to the SNP if it wants independence. Let its members obtain a majority of seats in Scotland declaring that they want independence. Then, and only then, can this House concede such a demand.
There are other dangers if we float such a question. Nobody knows better than members who come from Scotland how readily nationalists of all types will distort and manipulate the media. From all I hear, the SNP has a great deal of access to the media.
§ Mr. Iain MacCormick (Argyll)
Is the hon. Gentleman implying that we should not have access to the media?
§ Mr. Abse
That was not what I said because they have every right to such access, but there appears to be a disproportionate amount of support given by the media in Scotland to the SNP. I do not doubt that if in the referendum there were a second question, the SNP would campaign on what it considered to be the reply in that referendum.
What would be the consequences of this situation abroad? We have a pound that is not exactly stable, we know how easily it can be blown off course. We know how sensitive is opinion abroad 347 to any change of opinion in this country. We know how our trades unions are listened to, even when they make murmurs, as though they were on the rampage. We also know how delicately balanced is the situation of sterling. What would be the consequences if the second question were canvassed and the media in Scotland suggested to the outside world that the probable response would result in Scotland going independent? However unlikely it would be, that situation would cause considerable alarm abroad. The belief would arise that there was a strong possibility of the United Kingdom breaking up. I do not see why the United Kingdom should be placed at such risk.
The Government must consider such factors instead of yielding to demands for a second question. It would be up to the SNP to decide whether its members wanted to vote for a devolution Bill. Let them be impaled on that question. Let us not present them with an alternative that assists them. It is certainly no part of the duty of this House to assist any party that seeks to bring about the break-up of the United Kingdom.
I hope that if we can ever extricate ourselves from the muddle of this Bill and get to a referendum, we shall be free in the sense that the Government will not regard it as essential that it urges all these provisions must go forward, irrespective of individual views, and that all in the Government are bound by the doctrine of collective responsibility. We must not allow any referendum to be a cynical exercise. I hope that the reshaping of the question will mean that we shall have a neutral question that will enable people to give an honest reply to an honest question. I hope that it will be one question, so that it will be seen that, in the end, there is a rejection of a Bill the seriousness of whose consequences, certainly in regard to the Principality of Wales, more and more people, happily, are realising.
§ Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)
I agree with what was said about the Leader of the House. The right hon. Gentleman has sat here most patiently throughout our debates and we should not complain when he takes some notice of what is said. Many of the proposals 348 that he made this afternoon will improve the Bill. But I cannot wholly agree with him when he said that he was making a good Bill better. I am afraid that he is also making a confused Bill more confused.
Last Thursday, we understood fairly clearly what the Government would do after the referendum. At that point it was a mandatory referendum and they would carry out the wishes of the public. It is now far from clear to me what the Government will do this autumn if the referendum goes against devolution in, say, Wales. It will be interesting to see what the Government's reactions will be. They are committed to devolution.
I myself think that this House has to look ahead. It may well be that such things as votes of confidence and free voting will take on a different aspect when we are going in for referendums as a permanent feature of the constitution. I also share the views expressed in the debate that the actions of the Leader of the House have hopelessly confused the Committee. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will take some notice of the various suggestions that have been made so that we do not carry on the fruitless process of discussing amendments to a new clause and new schedule which are not going to remain in the Bill. That would be a waste of time and there is no justification for it whatever.
The Leader of the House rightly said that government have frequently changed Bills and have put down their amendments on Report. But he should note that this is rather more than a normal process for a normal Bill. We are, in fact, dealing with very important constitutional matters in this Bill. I myself believe it is undesirable that they should be dealt with in this Bill at all. I would rather see a separate Bill. But if they are to be dealt with in this Bill it behoves the Government to take the greatest care in order that the Committee stage can be as relevant and as fruitful as possible.
We are setting precedents. It is not only a question of getting the contents in this Bill right. I believe that the contents of the Bill will be quoted in numerous Bills in the future. Whether we like it or not, referendums are now a part of the British constitution. Now that we 349 have accepted one for the Common Market and one for this Bill it will be extremely difficult to go back on the precedents.
§ Mr. Terence Higgins (Worthing)
The right hon. Gentleman said that referendums are now part of the British constitution and quoted both the Common Market and this Bill as the reason why this was so. If this one is rejected, that would not be so.
§ Mr. Grimond
I take the point, but my own view is that we should accept this new departure but give careful consideration about when referendums are permissible, how they should be conducted and what in general is their place in the constitution.
The right hon. and learned Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton) touched on this subject, but I think his arguments were inconclusive. I do not believe it is enough to say that we must have a referendum because the silent majority might not be fully represented in this House. The views of the silent majority can be ephemeral and may be founded upon reasons of which I certainly would disapprove and of which they themselves might disapprove rather quickly or to which Parliament will ultimately give effect.
What is true is that the party system is now so out of touch with great sections of the community that it can no longer be said to represent them on all issues. In addition, the parties are divided on most issues. They are divided on the very issue before the House. They are divided on the major issues of the day. Lastly, people today are not prepared to treat Parliament as an elite organisation to which they are willing to entrust all their decisions. We may regret that. It may well be that Parliament can be strengthened—as I believe it should be—by new procedures and methods, but that is the present situation. In that situation, there is a case for a referendum as part of the constitution.
I, like other hon. Members, would like to confine it to the minimum of cases. I believe it should be held only if it fulfils certain criteria. It is quite untrue to say that this country has no constitution. It has no written constitution, but 350 it has had until recently some very strong constitutional practices.
The first question that arises in respect of a matter that may be subject to a referendum is whether it entails a shift of sovereignty, as happened with the Common Market Bill and with this Bill, too. Secondly, would it be difficult, if not impossible, to reverse what is done in the Bill? It is one of our constitutional doctrines that Parliament, being sovereign, can always overturn what was done by a previous Parliament. That is one of the reasons why we have so far had no written constitution or any Bill of Rights. Grievances can be redressed by Parliament.
But it is recognised that it would be extremely difficult to overturn our entry into the Common Market.
§ Mr. Grimond
It would be extremely difficult as a practical matter to go back upon this Bill before us.
§ Mr. Powell
I rise only to remind the right hon. Gentleman that in the paper which they presented on the Common Market referendum the Government themselves said that if the result was affirmative our continued membership would depend upon the continuing assent of Parliament. That is contradictory to the proposition that the right hon. Gentleman is putting forward.
§ Mr. Grimond
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. The Government were misleading. He makes a point I was coming to. I do not think the Government realise the implications of putting a referendum into this Bill. They have tried to play down the importance of the Bill. They have made it clear that the United Kingdom Parliament is entitled to legislate upon everything to do with Scotland and they have constantly referred to the continuing unity of the United Kingdom.
But why, then, have a referendum? To me a referendum implies that constitutional issues of far greater importance than the Government have owned up to are implicit in this Bill. It certainly implies to me that if the Bill goes through it will not be possible for succeeding Parliaments to reverse it and abolish the Scottish Assembly. To my 351 mind it is similar to the situation that we faced over the Common Market. It is not like a local government reform which can be repealed.
Therefore, by introducing a referendum at this time the Government have made a very important comment on the Bill before the House. At any rate, the criteria which are essential before any referendum is thought of should be—is sovereignty affected and can it reasonably be reversed by a succeeding Parliament?
The Government have changed from a mandatory to a consultative referendum. I regard that as a change of considerable importance. A mandatory referendum could have been justified if the Bill had gone through all its stages and laid before the country as a complete piece of work. In those circumstances, I would have thought that the Government would simply ask people to vote for or against it.
But when we come to a consultative referendum there is a case for putting it to the people before the Bill reaches its final form, or perhaps before it is introduced at all. There is also a case for having more than a single "Yes" or "No". Here we come into the difficult realm of what is propaganda and what is information, and what is intelligble and what is misleading.
Nevertheless if it is to be a consultative referendum it is reasonable to ask the people of Scotland and Wales such questions as whether they want complete independence, to stay as they are, or to have some sort of federal government. The answers to questions of that sort will not be expert or accurate, but if the referendum is not mandatory and the purpose of having it is to assess the general tenor of opinion, they may be valuable. I think that it would be fair also to put such a referendum to the English people. Of course that could not be a mandatory referendum—it must be consultative, but it could be fair to ask them whether they want to secede from the United Kingdom.
I ask the Government how this referendum will be conducted. The Common Market referendum was conducted in different parts of the country, and I found 352 this extremely useful in my constituency. I hope that the same procedure will be followed and that the referendum will not be held centrally. It will be very valuable to find out exactly what my constituents think. I believe that we should include Service men in this referendum, although I do see difficulties in going any further. Thousands of Shetland and Orkney Islanders are in Canada, Australia and New Zealand. If people from Wales and Scotland are to be asked these questions, there is a case for going south of the Equator to find out what people think. I do realise the difficulties here, but I do think that Service men should be included.
I hope that the very important issues inherent in this new clause, which was introduced into the Bill half way through, will not obscure the fact that we are creating a new constitutional doctrine and that it would have been better to do this by a separate Bill. In this way the various matters could have been discussed and in the end the devolution Bill would not have been held up any more than it is in arrears at the moment.
§ Mr. MacCormick
The hon. Member for Lewes (Mr. Rathbone) made one point that I wish to take up, when he talked about the lessons from the Common Market referendum. He said that the most important lesson we learned from that referendum was that once there was one referendum there would be others and that this was inevitable. I wonder how many times one can hold a referendum on the same subject.
I refer to certain remarks made in what I can only describe as an intemperate tirade by the hon. Member for Renfrew-shire, West (Mr. Buchan). I am sorry that he is not here to hear what I have to say about him. He referred repeatedly to the "viciousness" of the Scottish National Party and he aked what sort of rôle we would play once we were taking part in a Scottish Assembly. The same point answers both questions. I think that the Scottish National Party can be justly proud of the way in which it has played a constructive and co-operative part in the working of this House, together with hon. Members from Plaid Cymru.
In a situation posed by a Scottish Assembly we shall do exacty the same thing. It is no part of our case to destroy 353 the Scottish Assembly. Our case will be to get through and prove to the people of Scotland—if some of them still require proof—that of course Scottish people can run their country and make a better job of it than has been made up to the present time.
It is important now to think of the background to the referendum and the questions that will be put in that referendum. We have always regarded the whole question of devolution as being a progressive business—evolution rather than devolution. It is a pity that so many hon. Members representing seats south of the border, and some representing seats north of the border as well, do not realise that the questions of devolution and a referendum on that subject are not new in Scotland. In fact they are getting very old.
If we talk meaningfully about the referendum being held in Scotland, we must look at the only real example we have of this. That was in the late 1940s when the Scottish covenant was launched. That was not an official thing, and was not a referendum in the same sense as the one we are discussing today. But it was an honest collection of signatures and an indication of the will of the Scottish people. A large majority of Scottish people signed that plebiscite, if one can call it that, in which we asked for a similar degree of self-government—in fact, a little more than is proposed in the devolution Bill.
Once the signatures were collected—and there were about 2 million of them—the organisers of the covenant wrote to the then Government which was, by strange irony, a Labour Government. The reply which came from the then Secretary of State for Scotland, reflecting the views of the Government, was:Such questions cannot be dealt with by simple question and answer of the kind contained in the questionnaire, or by plebiscite. I should add, too, it is our view that any constitutional change in this country should be considered and settled by the normal process of parliamentary democracy.The use of that phrase should give food for thought to Members of the Government who imagine that they can slide out of and try to avoid their commitment to devolution.
Having said that and shown how in many respects the Government are trying 354 to change the ground rules for playing politics in Scotland, we in the Scottish National Party are not opposed to a referendum. After all, it was the SNP which prepared the Scottish covenant. We support the concept of referendums, and in a self-governing Scotland we shall use referendums to establish important moral and constitutional points. There is no reason why that should not be the case. But we approach this particular referendum with obvious reservations, and the first reservation must be the questions that are actually asked.
We are all sensible people in this House. Is there any point in having a question which is meaningless? Are we going through all the business of organising a referendum if we end up with a wishy-washy question such as "Do you like it or not?" I do not think there is any point at all in that. We are tabling an amendment asking for a question about independence to be put into the referendum. We shall go out and campaign democratically and without viciousness to enable as many people as possible in Scotland to come into the open and show where they stand on the issue.
§ Mr. Ted Leadbitter (Hartlepool)
We find it confusing when Members of the Scottish National Party speak on this subject. Is the hon. Gentleman saying that his party is convinced about and totally committed to independence for Scotland?
§ Mr. MacCormick
Not only is our party committed now to independence; it has been ever since it was established in 1928.
Let me now spell out the second reservation of my party about the referendum. It relates to the excellent point which arose earlier in the debate. A referendum is about one particular moment in time. It is a still picture of a continually moving situation. If that is the case and if one concedes that a particular issue can be dealt with suitably by referendum, one must accept that there should be periodic referendums on the subject. One would then find a continual growth in support in Scotland for our views. At least, it would be up to us to campaign to produce that result. I accept that 10 or 20 years ago far fewer people in Scotland supported the idea of independence. But the number of people who 355 do is growing, and we believe that it will continue to grow in the future.
§ Mr. Dalyell
I would not wish to embarrass the hon. Member with my agreement, but what he says about a still picture is absolutely true. Will he confirm that if the referendum were to go against his party's point of view, his party, quite honourably and understandably would continue to campaign for what it believes in, namely, independence? Does he say that the referendum would in no way be final?
§ Mr. MacCormick
We would not regard it as final. How could we? How can any single idea be regarded as final? On 1st February the Lord President said that the Government's proposals for devolution had been changing. The Lord President used the word "flexible". Every idea must be flexible, and we must look to a changing situation. Perhaps I may spell out what we would do.
First, we will go to the Scottish Assembly and fight democratically—as we have always fought—to win seats. We shall help to make that Assembly work and work well. We shall then seek to get as many of our Members as we can elected to this House. They will come down here and work within the democratic framework which exists, as we have worked since we were first represented in the House of Commons. We shall work to bring about a greater degree of independence.
§ Mr. Leadbitter
Does that mean that the establishment of an Assembly is merely a matter of convenience, a political instrument, the threshold for ultimate independence? Does the hon. Member mean that he has the responsibility to say to the people of Scotland just what independence means in terms of the costs it would involve?
§ Mr. MacCormick
I regard the setting up of a Scottish Assembly as in one sense a stepping stone to independence. In the same way I regard the election of myself and my right hon. and hon. Friends as another stepping stone in the same direction. In a sense I regard the creation of the Secretary of State for Scotland as having been just such a stepping stone. It is not for me to say how many stepping stones there will be before we achieve the situation in which, under the Crown and 356 while maintaining close links with our friends and relations south of the border, we shall become a meaningfully independent country.
§ Mr. Buchan
Does the hon. Member accept that it means that his friends and relations south of the border will be literally in a foreign country?
§ 8.15 p.m.
§ Mr. MacCormick
They will be no more in a foreign country than are the nationals of this country foreigners in Australia, Canada and New Zealand. If the hon. Member thinks of those countries as foreign, I do not.
§ Mr. Robin F. Cook (Edinburgh, Central)
The hon. Member said that people south of the border would no more be aliens than are the citizens of countries like New Zealand. All these other countries, however, have their own separate defence and foreign affairs policies. The amendment that the hon. Member and his hon. Friends have tabled refers to an independent Scottish Parliament having control over Scottish affairs. Are we to understand the phrase "Scottish affairs" to include such issues as defence, foreign affairs, overseas aid and external representation?
§ Mr. MacCormick
For as long as I can remember the aim of the SNP has been to set up a self-governing State within the Commonwealth with exactly the same status as any other Dominion of Commonwealth status.
§ Mrs. Jill Knight (Birmingham, Edgbaston)
May I point out to the hon. Member that there are no Members of Parliament in this House from Australia, Canada or New Zealand, or any other part of the Commonwealth? Is the hon. Member not giving a perfect example of someone wanting to have his cake and eat it?
§ Mr. MacCormick
Clearly there are no Members of Parliament here representing those countries. That is because this Parliament does not control any aspect of the life of those countries. Until a Scottish Parliament has completed control over our affairs in Scotland we shall be entitled to and we shall demand full representation in this House, and we shall use it to try to expedite progress towards the attainment of sovereignty by the Scottish people. 357 I reiterate the SNP's complete devotion to the democratic process and to bringing about peacefully self-government for Scotland, even though the ground rules have been changed by this and former Governments, and albeit in this slow, stumbling and regrettably disappointing fashion.
§ Mr. Douglas-Mann
Every time I hear one of the SNP members speak it strengthens my opposition to the Bill. I am sorry that the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) is leaving the Chamber because I was so strongly in agreement with his speech that I shall be able considerably to curtail the points I had intended to make.
Initially I did not favour a referendum to test opinion on the EEC. However, after we had been discussing the matter I concluded that there was no other way in which a fundamental constitutional issue of that kind could be resolved, and that a referendum was desirable in such circumstances, but only where there is a fundamental constitutional issue involving sovereignty. Most particularly, I concluded that when there was a division within the different political parties so that it could not be said that at a General Election the issues had been resolved by the votes, one way or the other, a referendum would be appropriate.
I accept that we certainly have no such clear mandate as a result of the 1974 General Election. The manifesto on which I fought that election contained a very tiny passage concerning the Assembly in Scotland. That Assembly certainly was not a major feature of the issues. It was not mentioned at any time in the election campaign in my constituency, and I am sure that the same goes for the vast majority of the other English constituencies. We did, unfortunately, have a somewhat different and rather more emphatic manifesto in Scotland but that should not bind me or impose on me and any of my English colleagues an obligation to regard ourselves as being mandated in support of the Goverment proposals. Nor should my electors feel themselves committed to supporting the measure.
I do accept that there is some evidence of a desire for either a measure on the lines proposed by the Government or for 358 the sort of xenophobic Island State that the SNP wish to set up. There is some such desire in Scotland, but I do not know how strong it is. I have no idea, and until and unless we have a referendum the House cannot have any idea. As the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland said, now that there is the idea that the referendum will be used as a means of consultation in order to ascertain the real views of the peoples of Scotland and Wales, there is now a case for having not just a single question about whether one approves or disapproves of the Bill but for carrying out consultation to find out whether the people of Scotland want to stay as they are, whether they want to build broadly on the lines of the Bill, whether they want to go further on the road to autonomy, or whether they want independence.
§ Mr. Leadbitter
How does the hon. Gentleman reconcile the point that he has just made, and the determination that the Scottish National Party displayed just a few moments ago that the Assembly should lead to independence, with his own modified and moderate views? How does he reconcile those two extremes with the people of Scotland and Wales or anywhere else in this country answering one simple question? How can people answer one simple question when there is this dilemma in front of them that is separate from the great constitutional issues?
§ Mr. Douglas-Mann
I am not unalterably opposed to devolution or even to independence if it is clearly established as the consequence of a referendum that the substantial majority of people in Scotland or Wales are clearly determined to separate themselves from England. If that were the case there would be nothing that we could do about it. We are not going to send in troops to hold them. But at the moment we do not know what they want When we have clear evidence as a result of the referendum that the people of Scotland or Wales really approve of the Assembly, or that they do not want any changes, the majority of hon. Members will accept that and the procedural problems that are so besetting the Government and bogging down Government business will be relieved. Holding a referendum now will enable us to ascertain what the views of the people are.
359 I am not unalterably opposed to the Bill if that is what the electors of Scotland and Wales want, but proposing it was a serious mistake. At best, the consequences of the Bill will be to complicate Government, delay Government, add to the cost of government in the regions, add to bureaucracy and add to the problems of trying to pass any measure or achieve any change. That is the best result that we can hope for. The worst result has been outlined by the hon. Member for Argyll (Mr. MacCormick).
Until we know what are the real feelings and determinations of the people of Scotland and Wales it is not legitimate for us to say that we are going to take fundamental and effectively irreversible decisions on such fundamental constitutional issues.
If we are going to hold a consultative referendum, there must be no serious case against our taking that consultation before Parliament has concluded its consideration of the Bill and before we have fixed its final shape. We shall learn from the referendum; we shall learn the attitudes that we have to take into account in framing legislation. I remind the Leader of the House that if we do things in that way we could then proceed to much more productive consideration of the Bill.
The Leader of the House and other hon. Members know the disastrous errors that we make when we rush through legislation with a guillotine. The Leader of the House knows that he could not hope to get the Bill through without a guillotine while there is some incentive to those who are opposed to the Bill to delay it by filibuster. If we know that we are to have a referendum, that will determine whether people are opposed to the principles of the Bill or strongly in favour of the Bill, that would overcome most of the opposition. If we know that the Bill can be further amended, or dropped, in the light of the referendum result there would be no reason why we could not proceed to consider properly and seriously either in Committee or on the Foor of the House—but preferably in Committee—the details of the Bill. If we do not go through the Bill clause by clause without filibustering and without a guillotine we shall make some awful bloomers.
360 The Leader of the House knows well enough the consequences of the Industrial Relations Act having gone through the House on a guillotine. The Conservative Government found that they regretted many of the clauses that had been incorporated in the Act which had not been adequately discussed. Last week we had to introduce an amending Bill to the Rent (Agriculture) Act because insufficient time had been given to the consideration of that Act. We shall make many mistakes in the Bill if it goes through on a guillotine.
But the Leader of the House could avoid the need for a guillotine by accepting that there should now be a separate consultative referendum Bill that would ask a sufficient range of questions to enable the views of the people of Scotland and Wales to be properly ascertained. Once the answer to those questions are known the Leader of the House will find that, if there is a clear majority for one solution or another, opposition to this Bill will disappear. I still regret that we went into the EEC, but I do not seek to reverse that decision and I would not seek to obstruct legislation on it. Only a tiny minority of hon. Members would now do that.
I urge this on the Leader of the House on the grounds that it is absolutely constitutionally proper that before making such fundamental constitutional changes we should have before a referendum, before the seal of parliamentary approval is put on them. As the Bill stands we shall be saying to the people of Scotland and Wales that this is what the elected Parliament has passed, presenting them with an Act and not a Bill, and asking them whether they approve. The effect of rejecting it would be, to a certain extent, rejecting Parliament. There are a large number of loyal Labour supporters, even though some may have voted for other parties or strayed into other folds, who will feel that the fact that the Labour Government has carried the legislation through imposes a call on their loyalty. The Act will carry tremendous weight because it will be an act of a Labour Government. As my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool pointed out, that would be a fraud, because there is no enthusiasm for it within the Labour Party. The most that could be said for it is that it has acquiescence in the 361 Cabinet: it is at best regarded with indifference by most of the Parliamentary Labour Party. If we wait until after the Bill is passed, we shall be presenting it to the electorate with the seal of parliamentary approval.
I urge the Leader of the House to hold the referendum before the Bill is passed. There is another point which may appeal to him a little more. In practice, he will not have much of an opportunity to do anything else. If he cannot get a guillotine—and the fact that we have not had one yet shows that, according to the calculations of the Whips, he would not get such a motion—his alternative is a referendum Bill.
Many of us who would vehemently oppose a guillotine would accept a Bill providing for a consultative referendum and would proceed to consider the Bill in detail with no incentive to filibuster because we should know that the Bill would not have a Report or Third Reading until after the result of the referendum was known.
If the referendum is deferred until after the Bill becomes an Act, it will be presented as having parliamentary approval and will be loaded in favour of a solution for which in fact there is exceedingly little support. I urge my right hon. Friend to reconsider the time scale for a referendum and to frame it in a form which does not load the answer, but which gives an opportunity for the electorate of Scotland and Wales to make clear their genuine attitudes, by an adequate range of questions.
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Rifkind
I listened carefully to the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Mr. Douglas-Mann) and could see the force of his argument, but I believe that it would be unwise for the Government to contemplate a referendum in advance of the Bill reaching its final stages. Such a referendum would be consultative so that the House could establish the views of the people of Scotland and Wales on the Government's proposals and on the concept of devolution. It would be no more than an opinion poll and it would be impossible for the House to resist the view that several choices should be put to the electorate and not simply whether they want this Bill.
362 If that is the proposal of the hon. Gentleman, he is leading the House and possibly the country into a dangerous position. If we gave the electorate the choice of half a dozen possibilities are we also to give them a commitment that the House will implement whichever option is chosen?
If a majority opted for a federal solution, as opinion polls suggest they might, is the House to feel morally obliged to implement that without consulting the electorate in England and without knowing whether such a system could work?
If the response of the majority of the electorate of Scotland or Wales was for proposals which the House felt unable to implement, would that not create the tensions, problems and frictions which the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden is seeking to avoid?
I do not have any great sympathy with the concept of a referendum, anyway. I regard it as an obnoxious innovation in our constitutional system. I opposed the EEC referendum, though it produced the result that I wanted, and I do not support a referendum on devolution, which I suspect will show that the majority are in favour of devolution and against separatism.
If we must have a referendum, the only possible basis on which it could be a help would be on a specific Bill that had been considered and approved by this House, with the electorate being asked whether they accepted the Bill and whether it should be implemented.
A grandiose opinion poll would not settle any matter and would probably show a division of opinion between four or five possible assertions in Scotland, if not in Wales. It would leave the House as bitterly divided and as unable to reach an agreed solution as ever.
If we are simply interested in opinion polls, there has been an abundance of them over the past 30 years, which should satisfy any hon. Member that the majority of people in Scotland want some sort of Assembly, even if the Bill commands on minority support.
§ Mr. Kinnock
The hon. Gentleman is, inadvertently I am sure, doing a great disservice to democracy, since none of the opinion polls to which he referred has taken place through the ballot box on 363 the basis of "one man or woman over 18, one vote." That surely makes all the difference between opinion polls conducted by research organisations and a referendum on devolution, which will be conclusive.
§ Mr. Rifkind
I expect that it would be conclusive if we presented the electorate with a Bill that had been decided by Parliament. But if people are to be asked "Do you want an Assembly?", "Do you want no change?" or "Do you want a federal system?", not only will there be enormous confusion about the meaning of those questions, there is no certainty that a majority view will emerge.
I remind the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) that an opinion poll published in the Scotsman last week showed a fascinating confusion in the minds of the electorate. There were four or five options ranging from the status quo to independence. 17 per cent. said that they wanted independence for Scotland. A subsequent question asked "If there were a referendum and the question was 'Do you want Scotland to remain in the United Kingdom?' what would you answer?" To that 19 per cent. said that they would like Scotland to leave the United Kingdom. The third question was "Do you believe that Scotland should be an independent State?" To that 24 per cent. said that they wanted Scotland to be an independent State. The same sample of the population was asked the identical question in three different ways and those wishing independence varied from 17 per cent. to 24 per cent.
No logical conclusion can be reached from that opinion poll, except that it displays a confusion about what independence means and what being part of the United Kingdom means. That illustrates the confusion, and why it is necessary for any referendum to be confined to a specific Bill which can be accepted or rejected in toto.
§ Mr. George Cunningham
The hon. Member is assuming that if the electorate said "Yes" to the 166-page Bill it would have read it all and understood it better than the few words that he has quoted. Is he sure that the people will understand the Bill?
§ Mr. Rifkind
I am unsure; that is why I deplore the whole concept of a referen- 364 dum. The electorate will understand it as little as they understand the details of the EEC issues. For that reason, the whole concept is absurd. There are 635 Members of Parliament who have the time and, we hope, the ability to go through the clauses and come to some conclusion.
If we must have a referendum—which I do not want—it is better that it should be on a specific Bill rather than on some vague constitutional doctrine which few hon. Members in the House understand, much less the general public.
The Lord President of the Council said that he could not understand why, when he was being flexible and responding to the wishes of the House, he was accused of giving in to pressure. The problem is not that the House disapproves of his responding but that it has a suspicion that the Government do not know, do not mind and do not understand what type of procedure should be used. The House suspects that the Government are drifting from one position to another, seeking to achieve some kind of parliamentary majority in any vote in the House.
There are four possible reasons for having a referendum. First, there is the reason, explained by the hon. Member for Bedwellty, that there is a genuine curiosity to find out what the electorate wants. Second, there is the Government's object of trying to achieve a majority for their guillotine motion. Third, there is the objective of the last-ditchers who are totally against the Bill and who see the referendum as their last means of preventing the establishment of assemblies.
§ Mr. Percy Grieve (Solihull)
Is not the case for a referendum—difficult as it may be to phrase the question itself—that it is the only means of seeking to ascertain the will of that part of the British people in Scotland?
§ Mr. Rifkind
I do not accept that, because I take the view that if it is simply the wishes of the majority of the electorate, there are many indications of that. If it is simply a question whether, for example, the electorate of Scotland wishes to see an Assembly of some kind, it is perhaps significant that it is clear that the vast majority of elected Scottish Members, of almost all political parties, have demonstrated their support for 365 devolution and for an Assembly. Whatever the personal reasons of each individual Member may be, their conclusions are quite clear. Equally, such evidence as is available has pointed in that direction.
If there is an argument for a referendum, it is simply that it may prove, sadly, at the end of the day, as being the only means of legitimising the whole concept of devolution and of trying to settle the issue once and for all. In a way, that could be argued of the Common Market in the short term. I am not convinced of that argument, but it is the nearest thing to justification that we have.
I should like to comment on two points that have been raised in the debate. The first is the campaign—if one may call it that—of the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan), who has argued strongly that there should be at least two questions in the referendum, and that one of those questions should he whether the people of Scotland and Wales wish to remain part of the United Kingdom. Frankly, I believe that there is only one circumstance in which such a question should be posed—if at some future date a majority of the Scottish electorate actually vote for Members of this Parliament who stand for election on the basis of seeking independence for Scotland. I do not believe that at this stage anything would be achieved by a question of the type proposed by the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, West.
We have tried it before. We tried it in Northern Ireland, in the hope that, somehow, by demonstrating the will of the overwhelming majority of people in Ulster to remain part of the United Kingdom, the Irish problem would be solved. We tried it in Gibraltar, hoping that we would demonstrate the clear wishes of the overwhelming majority of the people of Gibraltar. In both cases the most that we achieved was a public relations exercise. We were able to say, at the United Nations or on international platforms, or when touring the United States trying to persuade people of the wisdom of our policies, that these were not colonial situations and that the Government's policy actually represented the wishes of the majority of the people in those two territories.
366 When we talk about the problems of Scottish and Welsh nationalism, let us get away from the whole objective of public relations exercises. If one believed for a moment that a majority vote for remaining part of the United Kingdom would dispense once and for all with the threat of nationalism or the threat of separatism, none of us would oppose such an objective. However, the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, West has failed to indicate what other purpose such a referendum would achieve.
§ Mr. Buchan
I am getting tired of this. The objective is not so that the Scottish nationalists will not continue campaigning. They are in a perfectly honourable position, and I would expect them to continue campaigning. What I am saying is that if we set up an Assembly that is about to enter into fairly difficult relationships with the United Kingdom, especially the preliminary relationships, there is a grave danger of the situation being fractured unless there is a general will and acceptance in the people of Scotland that we should want to make this thing work.
I draw a parallel with the EEC. I stomped the country about the EEC up to 5th June. I did not stomp the country on 6th June. I certainly would do so if a new situation arose in relation to Brussels, but for the time being the people have said "This is what we have decided, so let the thing work".
This would give the Assembly a chance of proving itself or not proving itself. The SNP, honourably, will continue to campaign. Incidentally, if the Assembly did not work at least we would have a body in existence which could negotiate a peaceful independence. That is the argument for the referendum. Let the Assembly get through the first few years, and give it a chance of working in an atmosphere without a spectre behind it.
§ Mr. Rifkind
It is interesting to listen to the hon. Gentleman, but he has not said anything that he did not say in his speech. If there were any serious doubts—as there were in the case of the European Community—as to the wishes of the majority of the electorate, there might be a case for what the hon. Gentleman has proposed. Concerning our membership of the EEC, there was reason for 367 doubt as to whether the electorate as a whole wished Britain to be a member or to continue to be a member of the Community. No one has seriously maintained that at present a majority of the electorate, or anything remotely approaching a majority, in either Scotland or Wales, wish Scotland or Wales to be independent States. If there were the remotest doubt about the matter, one would expect at least the right hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) to make such a claim.
He does not make such a claim. He and his hon. Friends do not claim that a majority in Scotland seeks independence. The most that they claim—for obvious reasons, because it is a fact—is that there is a minority at the moment that aspires to independence. They believe that it is a growing minority, which will one day become a majority. But no one would maintain at present that the people of Scotland or Wales want independent status. All that the hon. Gentleman would be achieving would be to put at the forefront of political argument a question that would have been inconceivable five years ago. It would be saying to the people of Scotland that the nationalists have now put on the map an issue that, despite the indications of opinion polls or parliamentary elections, will now be considered a major question which has to be resolved by the electorate.
§ Mr. Kinnock
I should like to put two considerations to the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind) in a way that, perhaps, my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan) has failed to do. I put these considerations with the same motives as my hon. Friend. The first first is that because there is a political party and a body of opinion in Scotland committed to separate Scottish status, as there is in Wales committed to separate Welsh status, if we put to the people of Scotland and Wales just one question, not that of separation but of devolution, there is a possibility that a majority will be obtained for devolution—perhaps only slightly over 50 per cent.—for mixed devolutionary and separatist motives. That will to some extent invalidate the 368 referendum as a declaration on devolution.
Similarly, it could be that the proposition on devolution was defeated by an unholy alliance of those who favour the status quo and those who favour separatism. That, too, would invalidate the whole decision on devolution. If the Act does not command the support of the majority of the people we should not have devolution in any case. The danger is that it will command a majority for the wrong reasons—for reasons that have nothing to do with devolution. If we want a clear declaration, having two questions, one on devolution and one on separation, is the only way to discover people's opinions on this matter.
§ Mr. Rifkind
I should expect the hon. Gentleman to be arguing for at least three questions. What is wrong with the option of asking people if they favour no change at all? Are we to assume that those who vote on one question in the affirmative and the other in the negative—
§ Mr. Rifkind
There is no way of knowing what the wishes of the majority of people are in that situation. Either we are to have a referendum with a specific set of proposals or we are to have a glorified opinion poll. If we are to have a glorified opinion poll a whole series of questions will have to be put to the electorate. An opinion poll, or referendum, on the question of separatism is rather like a blunderbuss, which will either kill the enemy or blow up in one's face. It is a weapon that may ultimately have to be used if there is serious doubt about the wishes of the electorate to remain members of the United Kingdom. But we have not yet reached that stage.
The final point is, who should vote if there is to be a referendum? I accept the argument of those who maintain that this is a United Kingdom issue and that, whether people live in Scotland, England or Wales, everyone should be able to participate in such a referendum. That is a perfectly logical position. Another logical position is to say that where there is a Scottish or Welsh Assembly, which will be concerned simply with the domestic issues of those areas of the United Kingdom, only those on the electoral roll in 369 Scotland or Wales should participate. That is also a logical position.
What I find an illogical and absurd position is to argue, in the case of Scotland, that those who should be able to vote are all those resident in Scotland and all others who claim to be Scots living in other parts of the United Kingdom. That is absurd, as I said when I intervened during the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Mr. Rathbone). We can take the view that simply by being Scottish one should be able to vote in a referendum on the future government of Scotland—in which case it would make no difference if one lived in Edinburgh, Cornwall, Canada, Australia, or anywhere else. If that is the approach we are to use, the residence of the person concerned should be irrelevant.
Alternatively, we say that either this should be a British problem, which should be voted on by any citizen of the United Kingdom or it should be a purely Scottish internal matter, to be voted on only by those resident in Scotland. To think in terms of a Scotsman living in England or of a Welshman living in Scotland having votes on his own ancestral territory is impracticable, and it would create absurdities that no one would wish to defend. If we are to have a referendum, I do not believe that it is realistic to contemplate one that would involve other than those persons resident in Scotland or in Wales and on the electoral rolls at the time of the referendum.
§ Mr. Adley
If one had on the ballot paper a question about independence, one would be suggesting to people who were Scottish and British and living in England that they might have to consider changing their place of residence in order to make their choice between the two nationalities that might subsequently be offered to them. There is, therefore, a difference between the Scot living in Canada and the Scot living in England.
§ Mr. Rifkind
My hon. Friend is incorrect. If it is to be a question of independence, Scotland cannot become independent of England without England becoming independent of Scotland, and in such a referendum all the citizens of the United Kingdom should be able to vote. It is not possible even to contemplate that as an internal Scottish reform 370 of government. It must be a United Kingdom matter if the independence of any part of the United Kingdom is involved. I would not necessarily attack the concept of every Scottish citizen of the United Kingdom being entitled to vote. It would be absurd to seek out all those with Scottish connections but living in England, or Wales or Northern Ireland so that they could vote on whether there should be an Assembly in Edinburgh. That would be unworkable in practice and would produce absurdities.
The reasons why the Government have adduced these proposals are no doubt well known to them. It may be that they see temporary comfort from the point of view of certain hon. Members who believe that a referendum is desirable. But I do not believe that a referendum goes to the real issue. At best, the referendum as a concept is a rather pleasant, perhaps harmless irrelevancy to the central issue we have to determine. We are concerned not only with how the decision is to be made—that is important—but with the fundamental question of how the constitutional arrangements are to be implemented, and despite all our debates we are no nearer producing a coherent set of proposals today than we were seven days ago.
§ Mr. Moonman
The highways and byways of the Bill are breathtaking. Those of us who have been reminded that we must stick to the relevance of the clause will attempt to do so. Indeed, the seriousness of all the many Government changes forces one to concentrate today on the single question of the referendum.
I believe, therefore, that it might have been advisable for the House to take another decision earlier today—that is, not to proceed with the Committee stage today, because it is extremely difficult for us to speculate on what the Government will introduce tomorrow. What might follow concerning the most serious aspect of the Bill—the question of the referendum and its use for the second time in a couple of years—will mean a very clear distinction in the way in which decisions affecting the nation are made.
We should recognise the importance of referendums. It would be foolish not to do so. The arguments that were put in favour of its application on the Common 371 Market are now being related to this device of devolution, and therefore to me it is inescapable that the clamour will continue for other referendums in the future.
It seems inappropiate to me that we have these setpiece debates, perhaps a little removed from the essence of the Bill. I wish that the opportunity had been taken in more favourable circumstances, whether an Opposition Supply Day or a general debate, because serious consequences flow from having a second referendum in such a relatively short time. It is odd that the consequences have not been argued from the Front Bench. I appreciate the fact that the Lord President has attended the Committee in a way in which few Ministers have attended in a comparable situation. I think that I speak for all of us who are opposed to the Bill in saying how much we appreciate the time and the diligence that my right hon. Friend has given to these matters.
I am not against the principle of a referendum as such. It is a legitimate device to assess Government policy and genuinely widens the basis of consultation and consent between the Government and the electorate. But that is one reason that I am against the Bill—that, far from achieving any of its objectives, it proposes another layer of bureaucracy in Scotland and Wales, while denying England any say in the future of Britain as a whole.
The same criticism can be levelled against the referendums. By limiting them to Scotland and Wales the Government are saying in effect that their outcome is of interest and importance only in those two parts of the United Kingdom. This argument has been put several times today. The consequences of devolution are not limited in that way. Many people in England, including many local authorities, are waking up to this fact. To stifle debate before they have been able to make their views known to their Members of Parliament is grossly immoral. The same can be said about the decision not to allow the English to express their views in a referendum.
Much though I welcome some of the Front Bench arguments about the refer- 372 endum—there has been a shift from the original views, and it would be churlish not to recognise it—such a device is open to abuse. The former President of France, de Gaulle, was always fond of referendums, because he recognised that the answer depended on how the question was framed.
§ Mr. Grieve
That certainly was not the case in the last referendum that he held. That shows that the referendum may be used democratically.
§ Mr. Moonman
De Gaulle had a very good record until that last moment. In terms of the wording of the questions, although I have expressed my concern about this particular referendum, I think that a single question would be correct and that the further amendment to the wording suggested by the Lord President will help in that direction. There have been examples throughout the world in the use of referendums whereby attempts to put a multiplicity of questions have not only wrecked the original intentions of open public debate but have in part resulted in no decision being made by the governments concerned.
Therefore, those who are serious about trying to get some decision about the Bill must feel satisfied with a single question.
§ Mr. Philip Goodhart (Beckenham)
I have studied about 50 important referendums held in various countries since the end of the war. In no case have those on the losing side complained that they lost because of the phraseology of the question.
§ Mr. Moonman
Much depends, of course, on the margins of victory. In our EEC referendum, it is likely that we should have heard many more complaints and anger from those who were not successful if the margin had not been so great.
Thus, the implications of two referendums in two years are very serious and should not be ignored. I hope that at some point the Lord President will respond to these questions. He may feel justified in arguing for the referendum, but he should take into account the possibility of clamour for continuing this device as a regular feature of national decision-making. 373 9.0 p.m.
The referendum two years ago on British membership of the Common Market was intended by the Labour Administration to be a one-off affair. They put that on record. Yet the dust had hardly settled after the campaign when the demand began for another referendum, this time on devolution for Scotland. Until that time those opposed to referendums were determined in their arguments. I shall quote from speeches by Ministers, who said:Referendums undermine the authority of Parliament.They encourage politicians to pass the buck.If promoted by governments, they can be used to manipulate voters.These are serious remarks. Another Minister said:If promoted by voters, it would be difficult to avoid holding them on 'inappropriate subjects' (such as flogging and homosexuals).Another said:Low polls might produce unrepresentative results.I have said enough to show that there has been a good argument in the past.
A referendum has never been a good way of introducing a progressive measure. The most striking example of this is Switzerland. Hon. Members who have made a study of these things will not have ignored the fact that the use of referendums has obstructed reform in that country. It resulted in Switzerland's denying the vote to women until 1971, another indication that that country is not ready, hot and roaring to alter its pattern of society. Herman Finer said—when discussing what has happened in Switzerland where referendums have been used two or three times a year not only on a national basis but on a regional basis—that the referendums have produced some liberal measures but have shown the Swissto be anxious for liberal political rights, severe to murderers, unfriendly to centralisation, in favour of tariff duties, occasionally anti-Semitic, a drag on state activity in the control or management of industries, supporters of domestic virtue … steadily austere … in relation to the payment of public officials, and unenlightened regarding public health measures".That sort of scenario will appeal to some hon. Members, but I should like to feel 374 that there are more progressive elements, at least on this side of the Committee, who think that it has always been risky to use referendums.
It is necessary to examine the implications of this type of decision-making. That is what it is likely to become for the reasons I have mentioned. Of course, there are advantages. Some 12 countries have used the referendum in the last 15 years to deal with matters affecting the constitution. Other countries have adopted the referendum to deal with other matters. It is pointless to run a referendum without running a full campaign beforehand, to educate the people concerned in the implications of their choice.
If it is intended to proceed with a referendum, whichever form it takes in the clause tomorrow, I hope that my right hon. Friend the Lord President will accept that as in the EEC referendum, both sides can put their views in documents circulated by the Government. It is not fair or rational to attempt to embrace the totality of the argument in a sort of appendix attached to the Bill. The words cannot be altered or manipulated to assume that people understand the full range of implications of the Bill.
More and more we are at a loss in the Committee, with all our opportunities to look at material, to question the Lord President, and constantly ask "Is this right?". We had an example again this afternoon, when additional elements were put into the Bill.
At the end of all this, even if we go the full time allocated by the Lord President, with or without a guillotine motion, we shall have introduced a new element in government for the people of this country to consider. We shall have indicated that there is perhaps a way of providing some form of decision-making in selected parts of the country, though there is nothing here for those of us who represent English constituencies.
We have thus a tremendous responsibility—and we must not fail in discharging it—at least to ensure that those asked to vote understand what they are voting for. The detailed additional questions about separatism and so on do not matter at this stage. I should like the people of Scotland and Wales to feel when they put pencil to paper that they do so in the full knowledge of what would 375 happen if they voted one way rather than the other. The same information exercise must be done in this case as in the EEC referendum. If it is, maybe a referendum will have some value. But if my right hon. Friend does not understand the importance of an informational campaign to go with the referendum, the referendum will be, like the Bill, meaningless.
§ Mr. Powell
When the Lord President succeeded in resuming his seat, what seems many hours ago, he opined that what was happening to the Bill was that it was being made a better Bill by the propositions that he had put forward this afternoon. I think that the right hon. Gentleman's cheerfulness was assumed, for he must be aware, as the Committee is, that what is happening is that the Bill is being destroyed, or, rather, it is destroying itself by its own inherent contradictions, which are once again being exposed.
The House, in these days spent on the Bill, has been watching history repeat itself. On one of the previous occasions when the House sought to devolve legislative power to what it maintained would remain an integral part of the United Kingdom, for month after month the Committee of the whole House witnessed Mr. Gladstone slipping and sliding from one proposal to another, from one expedient to another, until at the end of the process it was evident to everyone that the Bill could never become a reality. That was not because the towering genius of Mr. Gladstone had been weakened by 1893, any more than it is a discredit to the firm constitutional conceptions of the right hon. Gentleman that he finds himself slipping from one proposition to another—
§ Mr. Powell
No, because the right hon. Gentleman will recall that the Liberal Government were perfectly clear, by the time they got the Bill through the Commons, that it was a goner anyhow. Indeed, there was a question whether it should be sent to the Lords at all. They therefore switched to a different tack—a different political platform.
376 But it is not at all to the discredit of the right hon. Gentleman now, any more than it was to the discredit of Mr. Gladstone then, that he fords himself being pushed from one expedient to another. First, there is to be no change in the representation of Scotland and Wales in this House. Then we hear that the whole representation of the different parts of the kingdom in this House is to be reconsidered. Suddenly that is pulled away again and we are assured that all is well with the present representation. First, there is to be no referendum; the idea of a referendum is repudiated. But then there is to be a referendum, and when the referendum turns up it is to be a binding or mandatory referendum. Then, a week after, it is to be a consultative referendum.
All this arises out of the nature of the Bill, combined with the predicament of the Government who are putting it forward, for the proposition of a referendum, now as in the past, arises only when a party is unable to resolve its internal differences upon a matter of major importance. In that circumstance, both parties to the argument are given an escape route by the proposition of a referendum, since, whichever way the result of a referendum may turn out, there is a salve, an excuse, an ultimate escape from responsibility for one side or the other to the internal argument.
That was why—this is an open secret—the referendum was adopted, in the context of the European Economic Community, by the Labour Party in 1973. The Leader of the House suggested—he thought not entirely unsuccessfully—that the 1975 referendum was a precedent. He prayed that in aid this afternoon. But there was one important aspect that he overlooked. The effect of the reconciling method of the proposal of a referendum is quite different according to whether the party that proposes it is out of office or in office. When a party is out of office, such a proposal enables it to confront a hypothetical future with present unity, but when a party is in office it is presented instead with the most cruel dilemma.
The hon. Member for Lewes (Mr. Rathbone) reminded the Committee that one of the famous former occasions on which a referendum was used for this 377 political purpose was in respect of tariff reform, under Balfour's Government, in the early years of the century. No sooner was the referendum proposed and no sooner did the free traders and the tariff reformers discern the possibility of some escape from their division than someone asked "At what stage are we to have a referendum?", thereby opening the unanswerable question.
If the referendum is held first, the electorate does not know what it is talking about or what it is being asked to decide. In that circumstance one cannot frame the question sufficiently precisely for it to be a defensible operation. But if it is said "We must go to the people at the end"—this is the other extreme—"as they must be quite clear about what it is to which they are saying 'Yes' or 'No', so it must be a Bill that is about to become an Act about which there can be no further dubiety", the House of Commons discovers and the parties discover that in their endeavour to reconcile their internal differences by transferring their responsibility to the electorate they have, whether they like it or not, rendered the decisions of the House of Commons and its final authority subject to the novel and capricious device of popular consultation.
The right hon. Gentleman, impressed as he was last week by the difficulties of a mandatory referendum in these circumstances, will, I predict, discover—no, Mr. Wells, I am not being fair to the right hon. Gentleman; he knows already, he is probably there before us—that the consultative referendum will turn out to be exactly as mandatory as a mandatory referendum and will be just as much binding in effect one way or the other and just as much an arrogation or usurpation of the sovereignty of the House of Commons, whichever are the modalities and whatever is the classification.
What we are witnessing in the debate is that we cannot, except at the expense of denuding ourselves of our responsibilities to the electorate and the very purposes for which we exist, resort to the device of referendums for relieving us of our difficulties.
But the problem goes deeper than that, as the debate has revealed. This debate, like all the debates, has gone back or down into the inherent contradictions and what have been called the instabilities of 378 the proposals in the Bill—the proposals for administrative and legislative devolution within the United Kingdom.
There are two questions—certainly all speeches have referred to them—that have to be decided. There are at least two, but two eminently in connection with the referendum. The first is: what is the question to be asked? What is it that is being put to the electorate? The right hon. Gentleman has recognised that the formulation proposed in the schedule, the bald statement that Scotland will remain part of the United Kingdom, is open to objection. Indeed it is, but it is an objection that cannot be removed, given the proposal in the Bill, by any form of referendum.
If we say to the electorate "Are you for or against the Bill, because this has nothing to do with independence?", we falsify the situation. If, on the other hand, we escape from this dilemma by leaving the question of independence out of consideration altogether, in terms of a second question, we still falsify the situation. What the debates on the Bill have revealed is that, whether we like it or not, by the nature of its contradictions it breaks the framework of the United Kingdom and, against the will of those to whom it is applied leads to separation and indeed to the break-up of the United Kingdom. Therefore, there is no form in which, by way of a referendum, the will of the British people on the future of the United Kingdom can be taken.
I say that there is no way by means of a referendum—but there is a way, and it is a very old way indeed. It is by way of debate, because it is only by debate on the Bill that the relevance to separation and the ambitions of national parties are revealed.
§ Mr. Foot
Will the right hon. Gentleman say whether that consideration was in his mind when he recommended this matter to the House by signing a motion for a referendum? Was that not a novel and capricious thing to do? Will he say whether the referendum that he recommended to the House by his signature on that occasion was consultative or mandatory? What was the form he had in mind, and why has he abandoned that view so quickly?
§ Mr. Powell
I was aware that at some stage the right hon. Gentleman would bring up the subject of the Pontypool motion and require me to pass some observation on it and on the reason for my signature and others on that motion, opposed as we are inflexibly to this Bill. We rejected the Bill on other grounds. I must not be considered, by having assented to a motion proposed by those who were, as we are, opponents of this Bill, at every subsequent stage of the proceedings to be restrained from examining the implications of the principles by which I stand, despite the shaking of locks by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House.
The second question that has to be decided in connection with a referendum is: who are to be the electorate? Who is to answer the referendum? The answer we give to that question must reveal our intentions as to the ultimate outcome of the Bill.
We know what are the Government's intentions, because they are set out in Clause 1. They have no conception of the unity of the United Kingdom being disturbed. They would like to introduce that into the referendum ballot paper. But if that arrangement for the altered and better administration of an integral part of the United Kingdom is to remain, there can be only one answer to the question "Who are the electorate for the purposes of a referendum?". Indeed, who in this House is to decide on the Bill? The whole House will vote, because this is a United Kingdom Bill for the better government, it is supposed, of parts of the United Kingdom. Therefore, the House will vote—and that means that Scottish, English, Welsh and Ulster Members will take part at every stage in deciding the future government of Scotland and Wales.
When we decide, however unwisely, to remit the question to those who sent us here, can we then say "But we are only going to remit it to a small fraction of those who sent us here"? We in this House who represent the electorate of the whole of the United Kingdom will, of course, vote for or against every proposition contained in the Bill. But when we refer back to our masters—to the creators of this House—shall we say to five-sixths of them, or whatever the proportion, "It 380 has nothing to do with you. Clearly we whom you sent here voted on it. We whom you sent here from Ulster and England have voted on it and we would have taken the decisions on it if we could have done, or dared to do it, or had the Government allowed us to do so. Now it is to be remitted to the electorate, but it is to be restricted to the electorate which returns Scottish or Welsh Members"? That is an impossible proposition, provided that this, is a constitutional change within the United Kingdom, destined not to alter the integral unity of the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. Powell
I have read the motion with some care. It said that the people of the parts of the United Kingdom affected by devolution should have the opportunity of speaking on it. I certainly did not read the motion as excluding a view being expressed upon it by the electorate of the rest of the United Kingdom. I have studied the wording with some care, and the right hon. Gentleman will find that there is nothing exclusive. It was the right hon. Gentleman who, for the purpose of the argument, inserted the word "only", which did not stand in the motion tabled by the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse).
But let us look at the other side. If, of course, one views the operation of this Bill—as, apparently, the Prime Minister does, to judge from what he said on Second Reading—as a progressive recognition of nationhood within the United Kingdom, the answer to one's question becomes different. It cannot be a matter to be decided by the whole of the United Kingdom where a part of the United Kingdom seeks its fate and future in separation from the rest.
If separation is the ultimate destiny of that—in the words of Parnell—to the march of which no limits can be set, and if nationhood is what this Bill is about, it can only be the Scots who can say "We are a nation" or "We are not a nation" although there are different ways in which they can say this. 381 By the very form of their proposal the Government have again disclosed a fatal ambiguity in the Bill—whether it is a recognition of nationhood by devolution in the first place—a devolution which will thereafter necessarily be widened as by the driving-in of a wedge—or whether it is simply an administrative device for the better government of parts of the United Kingdom.
If it were the first of those alternatives it would not be by means of a referendum that the firm, settled determination of the people, either of Wales or Scotland, ought to be ascertained. There is only one way in which that can be done. That is by the ultimate parliamentary democratic method of ascertaining whether those countries will send to this House an ever larger number of representatives who come here to say, as the Scottish National Party does, "We wish to be a separate State. We wish to be linked with you in friendship, but we wish to be a separate State."
That is the way in which a nation casts a firm and reliable vote for or against separation. It is done by means of the parliamentary processes—parliamentary election, parliamentary debate and parliamentary decision.
So in the end once again we find as we debate one aspect of this Bill after another that it has at its heart an unresolved contradiction between two totally different processes and intentions, and the unresolved contradiction of legislative devolution within a unitary parliamentary State.
This is the contradiction that will ultimately destroy this Bill, however many successive turns and twists the Government go through in an endeavour to force it through the House. It cannot be done. It has been attempted over and over again in the parliamentary history of this country. It has not succeeded, for the simple reason that it cannot succeed.
§ Mr. Goodhart
In his powerful speech the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) suggested that in practice there would be very little difference between a consultative referendum and a mandatory referendum. He said that in practice this House would be bound just as much by one as by the other.
382 I do not share the pleasure and enthusiasm shown by many of my hon. Friends for the change announced this afternoon by the Leader of the House. It seems to me that by changing from a mandatory referendum to a consultative referendum we lose one powerful safeguard which for many years has attracted me to the referendum as a constitutional device.
What I fear very much is that Governments that are returned to office by a substantial minority of voters—and after all this Government were returned to office by only 28 per cent. of all those who could vote—will then make major changes in the constitutional patterns of the major institutions without seeking any sanction of the popular will. A mandatory referendum gave some safeguard against that. Consultative referendums can, alas, be overridden by a minority Government determined to have their way in irrevocably altering the democratic institutions of our country.
§ Sir David Renton
I think that my hon. Friend, by a slip of the tongue, said that this Government were elected by 38 per cent. of those who could vote.
§ Mr. Goodhart
No, I said 28 per cent.
This new clause was introduced amid scenes of procedural shambles, the likes of which I cannot remember in some years in this House. I expect confidently that the shambles will continue, and continue right throughout the referendum campaign itself, if we ever get to the stage where it begins. It was always plain that the referendum campaign for staying in the EEC would be administratively simple—in fact, child's play compared with any referendum on Scottish and Welsh devolution.
On Europe there were two camps. But there was broad agreement within those camps. One camp said that it wanted to stay in and the other that it wanted to get out. The camp that wanted to get out contained people of strongly divergent views. These included the Leader of the House and the right hon. Member for Down, South, who did not agree on many things but at least agreed on the central issue of getting out of the EEC. 383 9.30 p.m.
There will be nothing like the degree of unity on the devolution Bill as existed over Europe. Some people on the Labour Benches will be campaigning in favour of the Bill, seeing it as the last step along the road to devolution. Other hon. Members—in the SNP—claim to see it merely as the beginning of the road to total separation. How, therefore, would broadcasting time be allocated? How many pamphlets would be distributed around the houses in Scotland and Wales? Who would pay for them? Would there be a Civil Service information unit, as there was during the EEC campaign? If so, who would give it guidance?
§ Mr. Anderson
Perhaps on reflection the hon. Member will agree that his argument is not as valid as he may think. Surely amongst those who wished to vote "Yes" in the European referendum were the maximalists and the minimalists. There were those who would style themselves as European federalists and those with a much less sanguine view of the road to federation. Perhaps, therefore, the analogy is not as strong as the hon. Member thinks.
§ Mr. Goodhart
It is true that there were federalists and non-federalists on the pro-European side, but during the campaign they deliberately sank their differences. I have written a study of that campaign and I can assure the hon. Member that there was a deliberate attempt in it to play down the differences on each side. No one listening to the speech by the hon. Member for Argyll (Mr. MacCormick) a few moments ago could believe that there will be any playing down of differences during this campaign. Instead, one would gain the view that every effort will be made to exacerbate those differences. The campaign itself therefore will be a shambles.
I do not believe that in our discussions on the amendments tomorrow we can possibly arrive at sensible solutions to all the administrative problems with which we shall be faced, and yet it seems that this will be the last time that the House will have an opportunity of discussing them.
Perhaps I may make one suggestion to the Leader of the House, in all good faith. When we pass this new clause 384 this evening I suggest that he sets about forming a committee of the independent leaders of the communities in Scotland and Wales to discuss contentious matters, such as the issue of the allocation of broadcasting time and exactly what should be the question that appears on the ballot paper. By all means, when the consultations have been held, let the matter return to Parliament and let Parliament decide whether it agrees or not. Certainly we cannot, in the amendments, that we shall discuss tomorrow, deal with all the problems that will face us.
I end on an even gloomier note than I have struck so far. It is highly unlikely that the Bill will be the last major devolution measure that we shall have to face in Parliament. Perhaps not in this Parliament, but in Parliaments to come I fear that there will be other devolution measures. I accept that, because of the pledges given in various party manifestos at the last General Election, one can readily say that at this point we should leave the casting of votes in this referendum to those who are registered in Scottish and Welsh constituencies, but let us make it absolutely plain now that if any further measure of devolution is put before Parliament the entire United Kingdom must be involved, and the entire electorate of the United Kingdom must have an opportunity to have its say in a referendum. Let us say that now, so that when that time comes—as I fear it will—there will be no further argument.
§ Mr. George Cunningham
The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) said that he thought that it was by debate in this House and by going over the ground in this detailed and persistent manner that the pros and cons of the whole business could best be canvassed. I agree with him, but it worries me that there seems to be a gulf between the proceedings in the House and what is actually going on in Scotland. The proceedings here are seen by large numbers of Scots, led by their Press and other media, as being rather irrelevant to what is happening in Scotland.
My solution to the great nonsense into which we have been led by one judge and one academic, along with general circumstances, is that we should move the whole caboodle up to Edinburgh so 385 that the Scots could not complain that they were being governed from London any more. That would at least ensure that our discussions would be taking place in the middle of the Scottish forum and that there would be some link between what the Scots were talking about in Scotland and what we were saying about them in this rather cosy Chamber.
One can illustrate that point by reference to another point that was made by the right hon. Member for Down, South. He said that the proper and reliable way to test what the people of Scotland want is to judge by the number of SNP Members that they have chosen to send to the House. The right hon. Gentleman must know that a tremendous number of Scotsmen voted for the SNP without having the least desire for independence.
§ Mr. Cunningham
Because one knows Scotsmen. I do not know as many Scotsmen as the right hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) but I have my links and I know many people who have voted for the SNP and who have not only no desire for independence but are totally opposed to it. They voted SNP because they felt, wrongly in my view, that that was the way to get things for Scotland that they thought had been denied to Scotland in the past and that were badly needed. I should have thought that was a statement of the obvious that would have been recognised. That is why we cannot judge the matter according to the party affiliation of hon. Members sent here from Scotland.
It has been suggested that we should regard this as a debate in principle on a referendum of some character in relation to the issue. Among all the daft things that it does, the House at least has the common sense to tend to pass Bills on the basis of texts. It is right to do that. We should have before us an actual text which at least someone believes in at the time when we are invited to vote for or against it.
We are not in that position today. God alone knows what the Government believe in on devolution, but they do not actually stand behind the new clause which we are discussing. They stood 386 behind it last Thursday, but not today. Who knows what they will stand behind tomorrow.
It was suggested to me by the Lord President, who unlike me, knows all about parliamentary procedure, that it was extremely common practice for the Government to say at a certain point that it had taken all the representations on board and would be coming back with proposals at a later stage, but would the House please pass the measure now. That happens very often in Standing Committee and there is nothing wrong with it on points of little or middling importance, but it is no way to decide a major constitutional matter such as this.
What are the points upon which the Lord President has made concessions today? They are about the wording of the question and the Government health warning to be attached—the statement that the referendum does not mean independence. They are matters of words, and we should have the up-to-date proposals before we go ahead with the new clause. The sensible thing would be for the Government to take this little bastard clause, which has no father or mother, back where it belongs and for us to amend the order of our proceedings so that we could consider other parts of the Bill and return next week to whatever the Government wish to put in place of the new clause.
We are not doing that, so we are arguing up in the air, and that is not a proper way to conduct our business. I am certain that if the boots were on the other feet, the Lord President would be far more eloquent, forceful and effective than I can hope to be in making the points that I am making. That is what encourages me to feel that I am entitled to oppose him in what he is trying to get away with.
In the House we normally have dialogue and argument between the Government and the rest, but on this issue the Government are, in a sense, irrelevant because they have so nailed their colours to the mast of getting a devolution Bill through that they are not open to persuasion. They are, however, open to force, and that is the reason for the concessions. They have to make concessions, whatever they are, in order to get the essence of the Bill on the statute book. I do not blame them for that, 387 although I do not think that they should have walked into this deep water. They are now in it up to their necks and will be obliged to walk on until their hats float. The rest of us are not in that position and we have to argue with each other and leave the Government to their own inelegant devices.
The Lord President has made concessions in the wording of the question which will be put in the referendum. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden (Mr. Douglas-Mann) that it does not matter whether we are asking the people of Scotland and Wales whether they agree with the content of the Bill or whether they want the content of the Bill. From what has been indicated to us so far, it seems that the wording will be something such as "Do you want the provisions of the Scotland and Wales Act to be implemented?" That is a terribly loaded question.
Every decent person wants an Act of Parliament to be implemented. The question that we should ask is "Do you want"—followed by some neutral words such as "devolution" or something like that. We must not say that an Act of Parliament has been passed by the House of Commons and the House of Lords and has been given the Royal Assent and then ask "Do you want to chuck it out of the window or do you want it to come into force?" That is a loaded question and it must be put right.
Then there is the Government health warning. It will not do to make an assertion that the Bill does not change the unity of the United Kingdom, or that it is in any way changed, simply by tagging on a little label which reads, "True. Fact. Certified by the Government. This is not a political statement." It is a statement of opinion and anyone who purports to give it any status other than that is cheating and dishonest. That must not happen.
Then there is the question of what further parliamentary action will be taken on the Act after the referenda have taken place. The new clause, which has not now got a father, said that if the country voted "No" the Government would be entitled to amend the Bill to 388 any extent which they considered necessary or expedient as a result of the decisions taken in the referenda. That was a curious decision.
On occasions we do give to the Government power to amend Acts of Parliament by orders. That happens not infrequently. But we give them that right to alter Acts with regard to figures to bring them up to date and to take account of inflation. We do not give them a broad-brush entitlement to alter Acts of Parliament in any manner which is expedient. Is it suggested that the Act will not be an Act when it comes back to the House and that it could be brought back into force only by means of a further Act? Is it a question of the House having to give affirmative approval of an Order in Council of the nature of paragraph 3 of the new clause as it stands?
In all the frequent concessions I cannot suppress the recollection of the words of Carlyle when he described the situation of a very poor family which had to get rid of one child because of their poverty. He said, "After poor little Will has gone, is it poor little starveling Fred that must go or poor little starveling Tom?"
What a committee of ways and means! The Government will have to sacrifice one parliamentary procedure after another and one principle after another because they are so irrecoverably attached—and I accept that it is irrecoverable on their part, not ours—to the task of getting the Bill through.
I do not object to referenda as such. It is right to hold referenda on issues upon which the feelings of the electorate cannot be judged by the manner in which they voted in a general election. That is the obvious principle upon which one should distinguish the issues on which it is proper to hold a referendum and the issues upon which it is undesirable to hold a referendum.
I totally disagree with the views expressed by the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) last week and the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind) today, that the people to decide on devolution should be the people of the separated parts alone but that the people to decide on independence should be the people of the entire country. I entirely agree with the right hon. Member for Down, South. The 389 people of Scotland constitute a nation. They feel themselves sufficiently a nation, and they are, therefore, a proper unit for self-determination.
If anyone wants to bring in a Bill in the House of Commons for the independence of Scotland and there is evidence that a decent majority—not 1,000 people, but a decent majority—of the Scottish electorate want it, and it looks as though that is a settled conviction, I shall vote for it. I would say that the majority of the very large number of English Members of the House of Commons would not be entitled to use their numbers to oppose it. If the people of Scotland, separately, want independence, they are entitled to have it, and without Englishmen being able to vote that down.
However, that is not the case with devolution, because devolution is an intertwined arrangement. What is suggested here is that they should have their cake and eat it; that they should be able to have government within Scotland on their own, for the most part, but that they should be able to hold the rest of the United Kingdom to ransom by saying "If you do not give us more than our fair share"—which is what they get at present; more than their fair share—"then we shall push for a larger measure of independence."
Therefore, we ought to test opinion within Scotland only—but obviously in Wales in the same way—with regard to the independence question.
This whole business is about independence. It is not about devolution. The only way in which devolution comes into this is that some people want devolution to lead on to independence and others want devolution as a means of stopping independence. There is hardly anyone, except those on the Liberal Bench, who wants to forward devolution for its own sake. It would surely be better, therefore, to test opinion with regard to the independence issue and get that over quickly. I believe that the opinion of the people of Scotland on that issue would be against, by a sizeable majority.
Then, we can say "Right, as we are not talking about independence, let us consider what is an appropriate form of devolution, if that is what you want, which is compatible with not leading on to independence." It may well be that 390 the right answer then would be to have some kind of devolution within Scotland to the regions of Scotland. That would certainly satisfy the people in Shetland and some other parts of Scotland, more than the current proposals.
Some time we shall have to test opinion in Scotland on the issue of independence. The sooner we get on with it, the sooner we shall feel free to adapt our proposals in relation to Scotland without this blackmail behind us of feeling that we are leading the Scottish people gradually up a slope on which they have no particular point at which it is proper to resist. It is better, surely, to face them with the stark question whether or not they want independence and then decide our policy in the light of their answer to that question.
§ Mr. Wigley
The impression I get from listening to the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) is that there are some people who are implacably opposed to the Bill and that whatever concessions or movements are made by the Government, that opposition will still be there and, in fact, will probably be more encouraged by any move that is made.
The hon. Gentleman referred to the appropriateness of a referendum as a tool of government where it was unclear what the wishes of the population were on the basis of a General Election result. In the case of Wales—possibly in the case of Scotland as well, but I shall refer to Wales—that may well be so in the case of devolution. Earlier this evening we heard the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse), rightly, according to his own lights—though I disagreed with him—saying that he had argued, as a Labour candidate in his constituency, against the proposal of devolution all along the line. We have also heard other Labour Members from Wales arguing at different times that this proposal was in the manifesto of their party, on which they were elected. We have heard Labour constituency parties in Wales saying that and we have heard sections of the Labour Party in Wales saying otherwise.
It is impossible, on the basis of General Election results, to reach a determination on the question. This is an overwhelming reason why we should go ahead with a referendum in Wales. I hope that at least we can all agree on the basic question. My party welcomes a referendum, 391 although possibly we welcome the consultative referendum that we are now to have a little less than the Government's original proposal. We would have been much happier if the Government had stood by their intention to make this referendum binding rather than consultative. We understand the reasons why the Government have moved, but believe it to be regrettable in the whole concept of referendums.
There is nothing wrong in what the Government and the Leader of the House have done in announcing in advance that they are to bring forward some changes in response to points made earlier. That is a perfectly acceptable, normal and, indeed, commendable process. It would have been less commendable—had the right hon. Gentleman had such an announcement in mind as a result of last week's debate—if he had refrained from divulging it to the Committee at this time. We have a measure in principle before us. We know that three or four of the details will change later. For a Second Reading debate that is perfectly adequate. We can look at the detailed proposals of the amendments if and when they come forward.
§ Mr. Higgins
Are we to understand that the hon. Gentleman proposes to vote against any amendment that would change the referendum from being mandatory to consultative?
§ Mr. Wigley
Yes. If the opportunity arises for us to show that it is a binding referendum, which we prefer, we shall certainly take it. In Wales there is a strong opinion in favour of a referendum. It has been there for months, if not years. I accept that different people have supported this for different reasons. Some see it as an opportunity to stop the Bill and others as an opportunity to make sure that when the Bill has passed into law it will not be something that can be argued about in perpetuity but is a decision which, once taken, is acceptable to the people of Wales.
An opinion poll in Wales showed that 79 per cent. of the electorate wanted a referendum. Within that sample, 82 per cent. of Plaid Cymru voters were in 392 favour of the referendum. Our party's call for this is entirely in line with the wishes of our supporters. We called for a referendum in a resolution in conference 18 months ago.
§ Mr. Kinnock
While the hon. Gentleman is describing the history of support for a referendum in Wales, will he give the slightest acknowledgment to the fact that until recently those who were the most zealous devolutionists were the most zealous opponents of a referendum in Wales?
§ Mr. Wigley
I am not sure who the hon. Member has in mind as being the most zealous devolutionists, unless they are his hon. Friends and members of the Government. That may be so. All that I say is that, as in the case of the EEC and in other matters, we would like to see the use of the referendum as a tool of government.
The hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) says that there has been a change in the Government's attitude. We welcome that, believing it to be in the right direction. We underline the fact that in Wales the Conservative Party has long been totally committed to the use of a referendum. I draw attention to a report in the Financial Times of 29th December last, in which the Conservative Party's Front Bench spokesman for Wales, the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Edwards) said:The Executive of the Conservative Party in Wales has repeatedly passed pro-referendum motions with overwhelming majorities.I hope that those colleagues of the hon. Member for Pembroke representing English constituencies will be aware of the attachment of the Conservative Party to a referendum. Further, the hon. Member for Pembroke has advocated that the type of referendum, the staging of the referendum and the timing should be very much in line with the Government's proposals. I hope that the hon. Member will find it possible to support the Government's proposals. We believe that the referendum should be binding, because we would possibly disagree with some hon. Members about the concept of sovereignty. We put this argument at the time of the Common Market referendum. We believe that sovereignty comes in the first place from the people. 393 Interestingly enough, that concept has been enshrined in Scottish law—
§ It being Ten o'clock, The CHAIRMAN left the Chair to report Progress and ask leave to sit again.
§ Committee report Progress.