HC Deb 20 February 1978 vol 944 cc1003-4
29. Mr. Canavan

asked the Lord President of the Council what consultations he has had with interested parties concerning amendments made during the Committee stage of the Scotland Bill.

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

At their request, meetings have been held with the General Council of the Scottish Trades Union Congress and the Scottish Council of the Labour Party, where the amendments made to the referendum clause of the Scotland Bill were discussed.

Mr. Canavan

Will my hon. Friend the Minister of State have consultations about the implementation of the 40 per cent. rule in the referendum? Will an estimate be made of the number of people on the register who have died, and will such an estimate be taken into account in an announcement in advance of the referendum being held about the minimum number of votes required to implement the Bill?

Mr. Smith

My hon. Friend raises an extremely important and relevant point. I undertake that the Government will carefully consider this matter.

Mr. Grimond

Does the Minister agree that there have been certain unsatisfactory aspects to the handling of the Scotland Bill, and will he consider asking his right hon. Friend to refer the matter to the Select Committee on Procedure, since we seem to be faced with a guillotine whenever we have an important Bill and, as a result, many serious amendments are not debated at all?

Mr. Smith

There are some unusual features about this Bill and the way in which it has been dealt with by the House, but whether matters are discussed or not is the responsibility of the House as well as of the Government, as I think the right hon. Gentleman will recognise.

Mr. Wigley

Has the Minister applied his mind to the anomaly which will arise because there will be students in Scotland who are at university in one area and who have their homes in another, being lawfully registered as voters in both areas, who may want to vote "Yes" but, by so doing, will have their wishes cancelled by the assumed "No" vote in the second area, where they cannot lawfully use their vote and are therefore deemed to have abstained?

Mr. Smith

The hon. Gentleman has raised another point on the same lines as that raised by my hon. Friend the Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan). I assure him that we shall consider it carefully.

Mr. Carmichael

Will my hon. Friend consider also that we have in Scotland, as in other parts of the country—though perhaps more in Scotland—a fairly large number of religious people who refuse to vote at all? Will they be considered?

Mr. Smith

There would be certain difficulties in establishing who had a conscientious objection to the use of the vote. I think that these difficulties arise, in a sense, in relation to the decision which the House took against the Government's advice.

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