HC Deb 28 February 1977 vol 927 cc25-7
31. Mr. Adley

asked the Lord President of the Council what consideration he has given to the practical problems involved in making arrangements for Scottish and Welsh people not currently on an electoral register in Scotland or Wales but on the register elsewhere in the United Kingdom, but enjoying Scottish or Welsh nationality by birth or parentage, being enabled to vote in the devolution referenda.

The Minister of State, Privy Council Office (Mr. John Smith)

I have nothing to add to what I said during Committee stage of the Scotland and Wales Bill on 10th February.

Mr. Adley

In the new circumstances prevailing since the Question was tabled, does not the hon. Gentleman agree that one way in which it would be possible to overcome the opposition to devolution from many English Members of Parliament would be to assure them that the Government were taking steps to make available the known views of the people of Scotland and Wales? In view of the danger of the Scottish people coming to believe that it is Members of Parliament from England who are preventing their obtaining any measure of devolution, will the hon. Gentleman say that it is not beyond the wit of the Government to advise a form of referendum before legislation is introduced, and, if necessary, to make it a referendum which can be confirmed by a further referendum after legislation has been put through this House?

Mr. Smith

That would require to be considered very carefully. We do not rule out any proposition entirely. But, as my right hon. Friend the Lord President indicated last Thursday, the Government have serious reservations about the proposition to have an immediate referendum. It would require separate legislation and, inevitably, the question or questions would be imprecise—a feature which would not apply to the referendum which we propose.

Mr. Grimond

Although I have some doubts about the proposal in this Question, will the Government bear in mind if they come to a referendum that those people who normally vote in a General Election will expect to vote—that is to say, those islanders in my constituency who normally vote by a postal vote will expect to vote, and Service personnel will certainly expect to vote? Will the Government give attention to that situation so that these people can vote?

Mr. Smith

I thought that we had indicated in Committee that a special effort was being made to incorporate Service voters, and, of course, postal voters would have to be taken into account as well. To have any value, any proposition would have to have the largest possible number of people participating.

Mr. Kinnock

Is my hon. Friend aware that many people realise the strong reservations that the Government must have about producing a speedy referendum? But the problem of impreciseness does not arise if the Bill is put in the form of a White Paper. As to timing, it is largely a matter for the Government to decide whether to have a Bill to permit a referendum or no Bill at all.

Mr. Smith

With respect, I disagree with my hon. Friend that the problem of impreciseness can somehow be avoided by producing a White Paper. The problem arises about what the various solutions that will be canvassed by people in a referendum mean in practice and what the House would do with them once the results had been obtained.