HC Deb 16 January 1978 vol 942 cc24-8
27. Mr. Tim Renton

asked the Lord President of the Council what recent representations he has received on extending the referendum on the Scotland Bill to native-born Scots now working outside Scotland.

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

Two, Sir.

Mr. Renton

Would it not be fair to extend the vote in the referendum, which will involve the issue of the future independence of Scotland, to all those who were born in Scotland and who can show that they still have a family home there? If the Minister of State says "No" to that, is not that simply because he is fearful that on the basis I have suggested the Government would lose the referendum?

Mr. Smith

With great respect, the hon. Gentleman ought to read the Bill again. It does not propose independence for Scotland, and in our submission it will strengthen the unity of the United Kingdom. The hon. Gentleman should appreciate that the principle which we are trying to bring into effect by the use of the referendum is that the people who are most directly affected by devolution should have the opportunity to say "Yes" or "No" to the implementation of the Act. However much sympathy one might have for the desires of expatriate Scots or Welsh people to vote in the referendum, it would be extremely difficult to identify them and make arrangements for them to vote. The principle that we are following is that the people most directly affected—that is, those on the electoral rolls in Scotland and Wales—should be consulted.

Mr. James Lamond

Is my hon. Friend aware that in the House of Commons there are approximately 20 men and women who were born in Scotland and who now represent English constituencies—which is a very great tribute to the racial harmony in England—and that on this basis there will be 2 million Scots working among the general population of England alone? Is it not evident that the total number of Scots throughout the world must be so large as to swamp completely the number taking part in any referendum held in Scotland?

Mr. Smith

It would be very hard to estimate the number of Scots throughout the world. I appreciate the advantages which some constituents, such as those of my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, East (Mr. Lamond), have in their representation and that, similariy, many Scottish constituencies have benefited by being represented by Members not born and brought up in Scotland. But the question we have to decide is a practical one. It is whether we should follow the principle of applying the referendum to those most directly affected. We believe that that is a good principle, and that is the one to which we shall adhere.

28. Mr. Canavan

asked the Lord President of the Council what representations he has received about the issues raised by amendments made to the Scotland Bill.

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Michael Foot)

Other than representations I have received in this House, none, Sir.

Mr. Canavan

In view of the defeat of the clause trying to tie the Scottish Assembly to Westminster pay policy and the fact that neither the Trades Union Congress nor the Scottish Trades Union Congress has voted to accept the present Government pay policy, will my right hon. Friend give us an assurance that he will not try to reintroduce that obnoxious clause at a later stage of the Bill?

Mr. Foot

I would not necessarily accept what my hon. Friend has said about the interpretation of the meaning of the clause, but the Government are considering what we should do about the vote that the Committee took on that matter and will consider all aspects of it carefully.

Mr. Gow

What proposals does the Lord President have to stop the farce of whole clauses and whole schedules of the Scotland Bill passing through the elective Chamber without any debate at all? Will he please reconsider the timetable motion and allocate further time to the Scotland Bill?

Mr. Foot

I have already given my view about the timetable motion and said that if there were to be any alterations they would have to be within the general framework of that timetable motion. There might be alterations as to the way in which the Bill should proceed within the same time limit. But the time allowed under the timetable is, on the whole, a good deal more generous than has been arranged for almost any other previous constitutional Bill. I think that must be taken into account by everyone, including Opposition speakers, in the debate.

Mr. Dalyell

Does my right hon. Friend know that at 11 p.m. last Wednesday we were discussing an amendment, which will be continued on Tuesday, concerning the possibility of having one abortion law in England and one abortion law in Scotland? Will he have a word with the Under-Secretary who is meeting a delegation from the Scottish office of the British Medical Association tomorrow morning at Dover House and consider its very strong objections, and those of many other people in Scotland, to the whole proposal that there should be one abortion law in Scotland and one abortion law in England, with the possibility that we might have something of an abortion haven here?

Mr. Foot

The debate on that clause is not yet concluded, and it would be most unwise if the House were to initiate a procedure of discussing a particular clause when it is already before the Committee of the House.

Mrs. Bain

When considering the representations made on amendments discussed during the passage of the Scotland Bill, will the Lord President note the widespread disappointment that there is in Scotland concerning the rejection by the Committee of a very sensible amendment, which would have given Scotland its right to raise its own finance for the Assembly? Will the Government be bringing forward any constructive plans on Third Reading?

Mr. Foot

These are all basic questions which are being fully debated during the passage of the Bill through the House. I do not believe that it would be a good innovation in the procedures of the House if we were to have frequent questions on matters which are being debated according to the normal procedures.

Mr. Pym

Is the Lord President aware that we are not satisfied with the total amount of time available for debating the Bill? I appreciate what the Lord President said about reallocating the time within the number of days allotted, but the point that we have been making—it has been made from both sides of the House—is that in relation to the importance of the issues being raised it is unacceptable and unsatisfactory for the House to pass a Bill, or to appear to pass a Bill or go through that process, without there being adequate discussion of all the constitutional issues which are raised. Will the Lord President please reconsider the total amount of time and consider the possibility of adding extra days to those already allotted?

Mr. Foot

As I have said before, and I emphasise in the light of what the right hon. Gentleman said, more time was allocated for the discussion of this Bill than for almost any constitutional Bill which has been through the House for many decades. The time allowed is not a short time. I fully accept that the subject is of great importance and that any form of timetable gives rise to grievances, which hon. Members naturally raise when a Bill is going through the House, but I cannot promise any more time for the Bill. The House took into account all the factors about the major constitutional nature of the Bill when it passed the timetable motion.

Mr. Pym

Will the Lord President at least keep an open mind on the point at this stage, so that he does not close the door to the possibility of extending the time available if, on reflection in the next week or two, he feels it to be desirable?

Mr. Foot

My mind is always open in regard to representations which come from responsible or even from irresponsible quarters, and, therefore, I assure the right hon. Gentleman that I shall listen to any representations that are made. But it is only fair to the House and to the right hon. Gentleman, in replying to his questions, to indicate to him that I do not see any reason for changing the decision that the House reached some weeks ago.

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