HC Deb 25 January 1978 vol 942 cc1419-23
Mr. Francis Pym (Cambridgeshire)

I beg to move Amendment No. 627, in page 37, line 32, after 'Parliament', insert 'together with a statement setting out the answers given in the referendum held pursuant to section 82 of this Act in each legion and islands area, and the percentage of those eligible to vote who have voted in each region and islands area, as well as the corresponding details for the whole of Scotland'.

The First Deputy Chairman

With this amendment it will be convenient to take the following amendments: No. 628, in page 37, line 33, leave out from 'Parliament' to end of line 35.

No. 629, in page 37, line 35, at end insert— '(5) Any resolution approving the draft laid under subsection (4) of this section shall have no effect for the purposes of that subsection unless it includes a statement that the House approves the draft having regard to the results of the referendum as set out in the statement laid before Parliament under subsection (4) of this section.' No. 625, in Clause 82, page 38, line 3, at end insert— '(3) If a resolution under section 81(4) of this Act has been moved in each House of Parliament, but has not been passed, the Secretary of State shall lay before Parliament the draft of an Order in Council providing for the repeal of this Act.' No. 626, in page 38, line 5, leave out from 'House' to 'Her' in line 7.

Mr. Pym

It is undoubtedly a matter of grave anxiety to the Committee that we should start one hour and 20 minutes late on a guillotine day when we are coming to a very important part of the Bill.

The Committee will be aware that the referendum was forced on the Government originally because the House of Commons as a whole, regardless of whether Members were for or against devolution, was not happy with the scheme proposed by the Government. Originally there was no referendum provision at all in the Scotland and Wales Bill. That provision was introduced on Second Reading in the form of a new clause making it a mandatory referendum. Subsequently, after more pressure and argument from both sides of the House, the Government decided to change yet again and to move to a consultative referendum. I think that they were right to do that.

Amendment No. 627 and the amendments linked with it cover two substantive issues, each of which would be worth quite a substantial speech. However, I shall be brief.

Amendments Nos. 627 and 629 emphasise the consultative nature of the referendum. Later this afternoon, I hope, we shall come to the amendments dealing with particular percentages of majorities and of the poll. There are many advantages and disadvantages, to which we shall come.

The Committee will wish to and, indeed, must take account of all the circumstances surrounding the referendum and the decisions reached. Therefore, it is vital that a full statement of the referendum results be presented to the Committee. That is what the amendment asks for.

Moreover, the amendment asks for the results to be on the basis of region and Island areas. I am sure that the Committee will wish to take into account and to reflect upon the spread of voting in Scotland. I am certain that Parliament will want to consider the position that might result from the possibility that the central belt of Scotland votes heavily for the Bill and the rest of Scotland votes decisively against it.

If there were an overall majority in favour of the Bill, would Parliament be prepared to accept that verdict? I think that it would very much depend on the circumstances and on what the exact figures were. It is questionable whether Members would wish immediately to jump to the conclusion that they should accept a straightforward majority verdict. Therefore, it is important that a proper and full statement of all the facts and figures relating to the referendum should be presented to Parliament.

I hope that when the Minister of State replies to the debate he will not simply say that the amendment is unnecessary, that the referendum is already consultative and that no further words of that kind need to be added. If that is all he proposes to say about the matter, apart from any minor drafting amendments that he may wish to suggest, that is no reason for not including the amendment. I think that it is important at this stage to have an amendment that underlines and underwrites the essentially consultative and advisory nature of the referendum.

Amendments Nos. 628 and 626 relate to the role of the House of Lords. One of the most fantastic omissions from the Committee stage of the debate so far has been the failure to provide time for a discussion on what is proposed in Clause 74 in relation to the House of Lords. It is a profound alteration to our constitution and to the workings of Parliament. Yet we have not had one word of debate on the matter.

I do not want to dwell at length upon this referendum clause. However, I am sure that it is right to draw the attention of the Committee to it. Plainly it is of exceptional constitutional importance.

What Clause 74 and Clauses 81 and 82 in part seek to do is to put another place in a position of irrelevance—incompetence—in relation to the parliamentary processes that flow from the Bill. The Minister smiles, but that is what is being done. The other place is being removed from all responsibility for the parliamentary processes that flow from the Bill, particularly the referendum.

Mr. Gordon Wilson (Dundee, East)

Is the right hon. Gentleman arguing—I hope he is not—that the non-elected House of Lords should have the opportunity or right to overrule the referendum of the people?

Mr. Pym

I strongly believe that Parliament as a whole should go through the proper, normal parliamentary processes in considering what action should or should not be taken as a result of a referendum.

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

Is the right hon. Gentleman suggesting that, instead of the procedure in the Bill, after a referendum result has been obtained and a resolution of the House of Commons has been passed to implement the Bill, the view of the House of Lords, should it come to a different conclusion, should prevail over the view proclaimed by the House of Commons?

Mr. Pym

No doubt the Minister in reply will explain why, in New Clause 40 in the Scotland and Wales Bill, there was no suggestion of excluding the House of Lords in any way whatever, whereas in this Bill there is provision to enable the House of Commons by two votes to do whatever it wishes regardless of whether the other place takes any action. I do not think that is a correct, proper or necessary procedure. On the day that we are to debate the referendum I do not want to dwell upon this, although in many ways it is more important than the referendum.

5.0 p.m.

I have said what I want to say, and I have been brief because other hon. Members wish to speak. The amendments are important because they emphasise and underline the consultative nature of the referendum and the procedure in Parliament that will follow. I hope that the Government will accept them.

Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)

I simply wish to have it confirmed that it is the Government's intention that the referendum will be carried out in the same manner as the referendum on our entry into the EEC. Will the referendum be carried out on a region and Islands basis, and will each result be announced separately?

Mr. John Smith

I can deal immediately with the question of the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond). The Government's view is that the results should be announced separately for each region and Islands area. That was the procedure for the referendum on the EEC. As hon. Members will have noted, we are following closely the rules for the referendum on the EEC. Our opinion is—whatever hon. Members' views were about the result of the previous referendum—that it is desirable to follow the same rules since there was little dispute about the arrangements for that referendum.

The amendments deal with two matters. Amendment No. 627 ensures that the first commencement order is put before Parliament together with a statement setting out the answers given in the referendum in each region and Islands area and the percentage of those eligible to vote who vote in each area. That amendment is unnecessary for the reason that I gave in my reply to the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland.

It is our intention that the results of the referendum shall be announced separately for each region and Islands area. This information will be readily available to the public and to the House of Commons. The Government are prepared to consider including in the announcement details of the total electorate for each region and Islands area and to place a copy of the announcement in the Library of the House.

The second matter raises the question which we were unable to debate on Clause 74. It deals with the rôle of the House of Lords so far as the commencement order is concerned. The Government have arrived at the view that, under the operation of Clause 74, if the House of Commons approves the implementation of devolution following the referendum and then the motion goes to the House of Lords and it reaches a different conclusion, the House of Commons can overrule the House of Lords' decision.

We can either leave the clause unamended or we can cut out the Lords from the whole procedure. We have decided on this method. We feel that this is a sensible way of dealing with the matter, and I shall resist the amendment.

Mr. Pym

I should have preferred to press this amendment to a Division and to have had a more substantial debate, but, in view of the time, I shall not ask my right hon. and hon. Friends to divide. I am sorry that the Minister is not prepared to accept the amendment, particularly since it would stress the importance of the consultative nature of the referendum.

Amendment negatived.

Clause 81 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

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