§ Lords amendment no. 237, in page 89, line 17, after ("day") insert (", not less than six weeks after the making of the Order,")
§ 10.45 p.m.
§ Mr. John Smith
I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.
This amendment, inserted at Report stage, requires the Scottish referendum to be held not earlier than six weeks from the date on which the draft referendum Order in Council is confirmed by Parliament.
405 The Government believe that such a provision is unnecessary since the referendum order can be expected to include the date for the referendum and the Government have given no one any reason to suppose that they will propose an unreasonably short period between the laying of the order and the date of the referendum.
However, even though they consider statutory provision unnecessary, the Government do not consider that a minimum of six weeks is in itself an unreasonable period for the campaign, and in view of the concern expressed in the other place on this score they are prepared to recommend acceptance of the amendment.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Lords amendment no. 238, in page 89, line 39, leave out from beginning to ("may") in line 40 and insert ("No sum shall be charged on the Consolidated Fund whether by Order in Council under this Schedule or otherwise for the purposes of the referendum, save that an Order in Council")
§ Mr. John Smith
I beg to move, That this House doth disagree with the Lords in the said amendment.
This amendment relating to referendum expenses was agreed on a Division by 77 votes to 54 during the Third Reading debate in another place.
There was one point that we attempted to explain in another place, but we were not very successful. We believe that the amendment would be totally ineffective in securing the result intended by the Opposition in another place—or,indeed, any result at all. It rests on a complete misconception about the ways in which money is obtained from Parliament, and it would be quite wrong to leave the House under any illusions about this.
The amendment was represented in another place as a fetter on Ministers' powers. In reality, it would be a fetter on Parliament itself—that is to say, a prohibition against a future Appropriation Act voting money for particular purposes. That, of course, could not be.
The amendment has been attached to paragraph 5 of schedule 17. That paragraph represents a small derogation from paragraph 4, which allows an Order in Council to apply any provision of the 406 Representation of the People Acts. Under section 20(4) of the Representation of the People Act 1949, the expenses of returning officers are charged on the Consolidated Fund. The view taken on the Referendum Act 1975 was that this should not happen on the occasion of a referendum; and so paragraph 5 of schedule 17 duly provides that their expenses should instead be met out of Votes. There is nothing here about charging expenses on the Consolidated Fund.
But the Lords amendment assumes that a sum could be charged on the Consolidated Fundby Order in Council under this Schedule or otherwise".It could not be so charged. A sum can be charged on the Consolidated Fund only if an Act of Parliament so provides. The Scotland Bill does not so provide. There is no provision in the Schedule or anywhere else whereby referendum expenses of any description can be charged on the Consolidated Fund. These expenses will be ministerial expenses, as mentioned in clause 76, falling on a Vote in the usual way.
The main debate in another place centred on the subject of the Government's attitude to referendum expenses. We have made the position clear many times, and, therefore, I can be brief. The Government do not propose, as we had made clear time and again, to make public funds available for organisations on either side of the referendum campaign. I do not believe that there has been any serious disagreement with that decision, except from the Plaid Cymru Party in respect of the referendum in Wales.
There are many difficulties involved, not the least of which is the clear problem of the organisation of umbrella organisations on either side of the argument Nor do the Government—I should make this clear, although I think that there is a case for it—propose to issue any leaflet or pamphlet explaining the provisions of the Scotland Act. I think we are being fair in making that clear, because there would be a stateable case for saying that on an important referendum the Government should issue a document making clear to the public the nature of the Act's provisions which they were being asked to approve or disapprove.
407 The hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor) says "We do not trust you." I think that that argument is without any foundation. It is the sort of political remark that we would expect from him. But, since that view is held, we do not want to be accused of being partial in any way and the Government are making clear now, almost as a self-denying ordinance, that we do not propose to issue a leaflet, although I believe that a case could be made for doing so.
If that is causing concern to the hon. Gentleman or to anybody else, let me make it clear that we do not propose to take that step. We are, on reflection, satisfied that the issue will be made clear by the people who take part in the campaign and by the media of all types in the referendum campaign.
I must make it clear that devolution is Government policy and has had a leading place in the Government's legislative proposals throughout this Parliament, both in this Session and in the Session immediately preceding it. Ministers will continue to recommend and speak in favour of the Government's devolution policy, just as they would support any other important policy of the Government. In so doing, they believe that in the use of resources there is no case for departing from the customary practice followed in espousing any Government policy.
Is it to be seriously supposed that Ministers from a point in time not specified in the amendment are to be treated as different beings if they should have the temerity to espouse Government policy on devolution to Scotland?
I think that the amendment is seriously misconceived and makes nonsense of Paragraph 5 of the schedule. But behind it is a totally unjustified suspicion that somehow the Government will manipulate the use of taxpayers' money to give an advantage to one side or the other in the referendum campaign. I have tried in some detail to make clear that there is no foundation in that allegation. What the Government have stated to be the policy is entirely proper. I believe that this amendment is unjustified, and I hope that the House will not accept it.
§ Mr. Brittan
I do not propose to go into the technical points raised by the Minister. If his view is that the amendment is not sufficient to achieve the purpose that he understands the Lords to be wanting, it is his responsibility and duty to provide the assistance of the Government to table an amendment to achieve it.
The amendment arose because of the failure of the Government in the other place to give adequate assurances about their role in the referendum campaign. Certain explanations have been given, but the anxieties expressed in the other place will not have been allayed either by what was said by Ministers there or by what the right hon. Gentleman has said tonight.
It is plain from what the right hon. Gentleman has just said that the Government intend to use all the facilities of the Government at public expense to campaign in favour of a "Yes" vote in the referendum. Nothing that the right hon. Gentleman has said negates from that. In the Lords there were some equivocal answers by Ministers, but I think that the right hon. Gentleman has now made the position clear.
We say simply, shorn of the technicalities, that it is wrong that public money should be spent on espousing one side of a cause being put to the people in what is supposed to be a fair contest in a referendum. It is clear that the Government have said that they are not going to give money to outsiders, to the two contesting parties, and reasons have been given as to why that should not be done.
I am not arguing in favour of money being given to the two contesting sides. What I am arguing is that the Government should accept that there are two contesting sides and that it would be wrong for the Government to put their considerable resources and propaganda machine in favour of one side rather than the other.
The right hon. Gentleman has been good enough to say that the Government do not propose to issue an independent leaflet or authoritative, objective leaflet. He was wise to eschew that course. But that does not really dispose of the matter. A great many questions were asked in 409 the other place about what the Government were going to do, and most unsatisfactory answers were given.
There was the question, for example, about ministerial cars. As far as political activities and General Election activities are concerned, there is no difficulty in distinguishing between a party political activity and a governmental activity. There are rules about these matters. We are saying that in a highly controversial referendum campaign the "Yes" side should not have the unfair advantage of very considerable Government resources without any competing provision of resources for the other side.
It is perfectly possible for the Government, in going about their business, to distinguish between ordinary Government business relating to the continuing government of Scotland or of the United Kingdom and political speeches made during a referendum campaign. I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman believes that there is any difficulty in doing that.
It may be Government policy to have devolution, but once the referendum is declared there is a difference. It is not sufficient to say "When is the referendum started?" That is not a problem. If we do not want Government resources to be thrown into the referendum campaign, we can and ought to provide that they should not be.
At the moment, the Government stress how important it is that the Bill should be passed and that the referendum should achieve the result that they want. They stress what is described as the manifesto commitment. That was the phrase bandied about in another place in favour of Government involvement in the campaign. The Minister and his colleagues are in error in thinking that we are saying that they should not campaign. The Government are perfectly entitled to send all the Ministers who can be persuaded to speak on this issue up and down Scotland. All we object to is the taxpayer paying for that campaign. How can it be said, if we are seeking to set up a referendum in which the two sides have a fair chance of putting their view, that we have done that if the scales are tilted in favour of one side from the word "go" by Government resources being thrown in?
410 11.0 p.m.
The arguments against our view in another place were ludicrous. I do not know whether it was of his own motion or whether he was put up to it by the Government, but the heavy legal weight of Lord Wedderburn was wheeled in to raise a series of objections on which he threw up his hands in horror.
To illustrate the poverty of the argument, let us examine those objections. It was suggested that what their Lordships wanted to do was not clear. Lord Wedderburn asked a series of questions in terrorem. He asked whether the Government could not issue a White Paper if the amendment were passed. The answer is that the Government ought not to be able to issue any more White Papers. We have had enough. The House and Parliament are coming to a view, and if we pass the legislation it will be up to the people to decide in the referendum. It would be quite wrong for the Government to issue a further White Paper. I do not find that question difficult.
Lord Wedderburn asked whether the Government could send the Secretary of State to address business men. Well, really! Someone as experienced as Lord Wedderburn should know the answer to that question perfectly well. If the Secretary of State is addressing business men about Government policy for dealing with the economic problems of Scotland, of course he can do that and it can be paid for out of public funds. If the object of the exercise is to address business men in a sort of pro-devolution rally, the answer to Lord Wedderburn's question, once the campaign is under way, ought to be "No". If the object of the Secretary of State is to do partly the one and partly the other, the Civil Service has no difficulty in dealing with such problems. The demarcation problems are not insoluble.
Finally, Lord Wedderburn pulled out of his pocket the legal trump card. Supposing the amendment were passed, he said, and it became illegal for the Government to spend public money during the referendum campaign in order unfairly to tilt the scales in favour of one side, what sort of illegality would that be? That is an unworthy question from so distinguished a lawyer. It is clear what sort of illegality it would be. It would 411 be exactly the same sort of illegality as a breach of any of the hundreds of provisions in the Act if it is passed. There are a large number of rules and regulations concerning how the referendum should be conducted, and everyone from the Secretary of State down to the humblest clerk is capable of being in breach of them. The law will not be short of means of dealing with such a breach. They will depend entirely on whether the breach is discovered before or after the referendum and the nature of the illegality.
To say that we cannot introduce a restriction on the expenditure of funds because no one knows what sort of illegality will be imported if someone breaks that restriction is an absurd argument.
It is clear that the Government are saying that, having piloted through the House a highly controversial measure and having decided that it should be considered in a referendum, they are perfectly entitled to spend taxpayers' money in favour of one side of the case. That is a proposition that we shall not support. We support the amendment. It is wrong that the Government reject the amendment, even if there are technical objections to it.
§ Mr. Sillars
I keep thinking about what happened during the Common Market campaign, but that is not the matter that I wish to raise with the hon. Gentleman. We know what position the Government take. Is it not possible that there might be a General Election in October and that there might be a Conservative Government before we come to the referendum? I see that my right hon. Friend the Minister of State shakes his head, but I am only saying "might". Is the hon. and learned Gentleman committing a Conservative Government, elected before the referendum, to stay a political neutral throughout the referendum campaign? Is he saying that a Conservative Government will stick to what he is saying and will spend no money in the campaign? Is he saying that Ministers will have to use their own transport rather than ministerial transport?
§ Mr. Brittan
I have said that Ministers are welcome to make speeches in the campaign on whatever side they choose. We are not trying to muzzle Ministers. If they think that it will help to get the 412 right vote, they can say that it is Government policy. Whether that will help them to get the right vote is something on which I venture to have doubts. All that we are objecting to is the spending of public money in one direction or the the other.
If the amendment is made part of the Bill, which is what we are seeking, a Conservative Government will abide by that. They would be bound by the law. Unlike the present Government, they would not have the habit of getting caught out in breach of the law. There is no difficulty in answering the hon. Gentleman's question.
§ Mr. Dewar
What puzzles me is what the hon. and learned Gentleman thinks the wicked Government might do and what the amendment seeks to prevent. All that he has suggested so far is that Ministers might have free travel up north by confusing ministerial and political engagements. He has referred to ministerial cars. Lord Kirkhill dealt with ministerial cars in the debate to which the hon. and learned Gentleman has referred. Will the hon and learned Gentleman give me some specific examples of the abuses that he thinks the Government will perpetrate and that he thinks the amendment will prevent?
§ Mr. Brittan
It is not a matter of abuses. Lord Kirkhill said in the debate that he could not answer the question off the cuff.
§ Mr. Brittan
At a later stage he attempted to deal with the matter, but in a wholly unsatisfactory way in the view of their Lordships.
The whole use of the Government propaganda machine would be available, whether by broadcasting, writing, organising meetings, attending meetings or in any other way. All that would be open to the Government. The facilities of researchers, back-room boys writing speeches, advisers special or otherwise, and even civil servants are available. That is Government policy. The hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) shakes his head. He asked the question. If he does not like the answer, I cannot help that. He will get the answer.
413 If the Government chose to set aside five civil servants to write pro-referendum "Yes" speeches, that would be within their rights unless an amendment of this sort were accepted. It would cost public money, but the Government would be entitled to take that course. I do not see why one side of the referendum should be financially weighted by public funds.
The right hon. Gentleman mutters "Private funds". Yes, I think that that is right. Let those who wish to engage in the campaign do so fairly and fight according to the strength of those who support "Yes" and those who support "No". It is wrong to have the taxpayer contributing by putting his hand into his pocket at the behest of the Government to support one side rather than the other.
§ Mr. Dennis Canavan (West Stirlingshire)
During the passage of the Bill it appears that the Government have made it unnecessarily difficult to spend public money during the campaign. It appears to be the intention of another place in the amendment to make it virtually impossible to do so during the campaign.
The object of those who first proposed the referendum in an altruistic manner was that it would be a democratic test of the will of the Scottish people about what form of government they wanted for the future. Some hon. Members tried to abuse the referendum concept by using it as a stumbling block to the progress of democracy. We saw how such people proposed the referendum and then how they introduced the 40 per cent. stumbling block. Now, the Lords have produced another stumbling block. They see the financial bias in favour of the pro-devolutionists as an important factor in the campaign.
We have seen it all before—during the Common Market campaign, for example.
§ Mr. Canavan
I am glad to see the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor) nodding his head. The only time that I have been on the same side as he was during the Common Market campaign. The forces of the establish- 414 ment were against us on that occasion. The media were against us. During this campaign the media will be against us, with a few exceptions in the Scottish Press. The great forces of the British media will be aligned against us during the referendum campaign.
Nobody needs to argue about where The Daily Telegraph stands on devolution. It probably does not understand what devolution means, but it knows that it is against it since it is so reactionary that it is against most progressive matters. The same applies to the Daily Mail.
There are also the two-faced newspapers such as the Daily Express, which used to bring out one Scottish edition—printed in Manchester—which was so pro-devolution at one stage that it was like an organ of the Scottish National Party. Yet the edition printed south of the border was as imperialist, anti-devolutionist and anti-independence as ever. That is the two-faced attitude of parts of the press.
§ Mr. Teddy Taylor
I agree about Government money being used to back up the "pro" campaign, but, in fairness, does the hon. Member accept that the Scottish press, by and large, is in favour of devolution? If, in addition, Government money is used to back it up, it will not be a fair referendum.
§ Mr. Canavan
We must distinguish between the newspapers which are printed and published in Scotland and those which are printed and published south of the border. There is a difference in the point of view expressed by both sets of newspapers.
The Sun, for example, tries to promote its sales north of the border by the girls on page three to compete with the girls on page three of the Daily Record. What will The Sun do during the devolution campaign? It might even replace the girls on page three by anti-devolution propaganda in order to influence the people to vote in a particular way. But I think that sales would drop, for more reasons than one. These are the skulduggery tactics used by newspapers. They even use sex appeal to promote views about devolution.
Without public expenditure on the other side of the campaign to level the 415 matter out, we shall have a biased campaign. I remind the House that during the Common Market campaign there was considerable public expenditure. The Government took sides. They used public money to produce one pro-Common Market leaflet and one anti-Common Market leaflet. But they were not completely unbiased, because they used public money for a third leaflet which was even more pro-Common Market than the so-called neutral pro-Market leaflet. Two leaflets were in favour of joining and only one was against. I cannot remember Conservative Members complaining about an abuse of public expenditure at that time.
Apart from the media, the well-financed big business machine north and south of the border will campaign against devolution. We have seen it already. The CBI and the Scottish CBI and the chambers of commerce, the people who have done their best to ruin British industry and commerce, will claim that the over-centralised nature of the British economy is such a great thing and that devolution will present such a dreadful threat that they, too, will be campaigning against the devolution cause.
These were the same people who campaigned so vehemently for us to stay in the Common Market. I can remember the posters that were put up in my constituency—and, no doubt, in the others too—carrying all the rash promises that if there was a "Yes" vote to stay in Europe there would be jobs for the boys. Where are the jobs? Hardly a single job has been created in this country by the Common Market, apart from a few jobs for Roy Jenkins and his mates. Yet I can think of thousands of jobs which have been lost because of our entry into the EEC. We were subjected to all that highly financed propaganda during the referendum campaign, so the precedent is certainly there.
Apart from the forces of the media and big business, a few Labour Party Members, misguided perhaps, like my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell), will campaign against devolution. My hon. Friend should realise that the vast majority of the opponents to devolution will be on the Opposition side. They will include particularly the Right wing 416 of the Tory Party in this House and the House of Lords. Why on earth do lion. Members think that there was such opposition to the Bill from, as I have previously described them, the vandals in the House of Lords who tried to butcher and destroy the Bill? They may even try next week to inflict further damage on it. It is obvious that they take that view because they represent the interests of big finance. Take as an example the landowners such as the Duke of Buccleuch, who has more than a quarter of a million acres in Scotland. Then there is "Lord Pirelli", or is it—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Oscar Murton)
I am sorry to have to stop the hon. Gentleman's flow of oratory, but he should not mention Members of another place in a derogatory manner.
§ Mr. Norman Buchan (Renfrewshire, West)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You said that it was derogatory to refer to the fact that the Duke of Buccleuch owned a quarter of a million acres. Many people believe that that is highly desirable—the Conservative Party, for example. Surely such a comment is not derogatory.
§ Mr. Dalyell
Only the weekend before last, the Labour chairman of our own region—my hon. Friend the Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan) and I share the central region—Mr. James Anderson, suggested that he and I and the vice-convener of the region. Charles Snedden, should share a platform in the "No" campaign in Falkirk town hall and Bo'ness town hall, and the offer was echoed equally by the leader of the Labour group in the Lothian region.
§ Mr. Canavan
My hon. Friend must realise that in the same way as he and James Anderson campaigned against the Labour Party, the trade union movement and the whole Labour movement during the Common Market campaign, they will be against the Labour movement during this campaign. They will not be speaking in any way for the Labour and trade union movement in Scotland. I do not even know whether James Anderson will be speaking for the Labour group on the Central regional council, and I have never 417 known them to be in the avant garde of Socialism either.
§ Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North)
In the referendum campaign of course my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) and I will speak for what we believe is right. Despite the fact that a considerable number of institutions say that they are in favour of devolution, I trust that they will not deny us the right to put our views, which are very sincerely held.
§ Mr. Canavan
I am not doubting my hon. Friend's sincerity, but I would strongly advise him and his colleagues during the campaign to look around at some of their bedfellows, because they will be very odd bedfellows indeed.
As I was saying—and I shall not mention them by name, Mr. Deputy Speaker—there are certain people in the House of Lords, one of whom has got more than a quarter of a million acres of land in Scotland and another of whom is chairman of Pirelli as well as chairman of the Tory Party, and who stole—or, rather, his company stole—£9 million from the Post Office. He has also got more than 40,000 acres of land in Scotland. Is it any wonder that people like that, a load of thieves and rogues—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman is going far too far. He may not have mentioned any Member of another place by name, but there were imputations and he must withdraw them.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. It was apparent from certain remarks that were made that the imputation was there, and the hon. Member must withdraw it.
§ Mr. Canavan
I was referring, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to their ancestors who stole the land from the people of Scotland. They were thieves and rogues. [Interruption.]
§ Mr. Canavan
I was referring to a historical fact that many of the members of the House of Lords are descended from thieves and rogues, and that is a fact which no one who knows anything can deny.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The hon. Member has changed his stance. That was not what he said in the first place, and he knows that he must withdraw the imputation that he made originally. Now, I ask the hon. Member to withdraw, and then the matter will be closed.
§ Mr. Canavan
If I made any imputation, Mr. Deputy Speaker, it was on the fact that certain members of the House of Lords are descended from thieves and rogues—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."]—and that others are mixed up with companies which steal public money. [Interruption.]
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The hon. Member is getting himself into somewhat of a verbal tangle. He knows perfectly well that he made an imputation earlier, not by name but by inference, about one particular noble Lord, and I desire him to withdraw that imputation.
Now, I suggest that the hon. Member withdraws and we get on with the debate.
§ Mr. Canavan
I honestly do not see, Mr. Deputy Speaker, why I should withdraw something which is true. I have said nothing which I would not—[Interruption.]
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The hon. Member should withdraw the remark that he made earlier, which was an imputation against a noble Lord. I suggest that the hon. Member does so forthwith. Mr. Canavan.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
I must warn the hon. Member once more. Will he withdraw? Is the hon. Member going to withdraw?
I direct the hon. Member forthwith to withdraw from the House for the rest of this day's sitting.
§ The hon. Member then withdrew from the Chamber.
§ Sir David Renton
Quite apart from the last incident, which involved a point of order and to which I shall not refer, the supporters of the Bill on the Labour Benches are getting into a very strange conflict with each other. On the one hand, we have the hon. Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan) in effect pleading that the Government should do something to counteract the alleged activities against devolution of Scottish newspapers, industrialists, landowners and others, and on the other hand we have the Minister of State parading the political and financial virtue of non-intervention. Quite rightly we shall not have any pamphlets, but, somehow or of other, the Minister of State has been trying to convince the House that the Government will run this campaign without incurring any public expenditure in advancing the cause of devolution.
Leaving aside the obvious administrative expenses which are referred to in the schedule, some consideration must surely be given to the expenses which Ministers will incur as they go about the country during the referendum campaign, and they will no doubt be trying to explain and to excuse the almost incomprehensible provisions of the Bill and the kind of administrative set-up which the Scottish people will wish to have explained to them if they are to understand it at all.
In those circumstances, I think that we should know the Government's intention. Will they allow Ministers carte blanche to go about the country to take part in the referendum campaign, using their ministerial cars, accompanied perhaps by their secretaries and possibly by experts in the Scottish Office? If so, we should consider what provisions of the Bill entitle them to do that. Also, we are entitled to try to find out from the Minister of State whether his parade of virtue of non-intervention was a mere pretence.
420 The hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) will no doubt be taking part in the campaign. I would think that if Ministers are to use their cars to go about, the least that the Government could do is to lend him an Under-Secretary's car, with a Government chauffeur, perhaps wearing the hon. Member's family tartan, or something like that, in order to differentiate the temporary different status of the Government driver. Fair is fair. I know that the Minister of State was trying to convince the House that the Government will be fair, but, in view of the valiant part played by the hon. Member for West Lothian in trying to drive some kind of sense into our proceedings time and time again, the least the Government could do for him, if Ministers are going to use their cars, is to let him have a Government car too.
§ Sir D. Renton
In that case, I commend the hon. Gentleman's modesty and public spirit. I only hope that the Government will follow the example which, obviously, he would like to set them, because he does not wish to call upon any public resources in this matter. That is a splendid attitude.
As, I believe, we are discussing these amendments together, I wonder whether I may refer to Lords amendment no. 238. The Minister of State pointed out, quite rightly in my opinion, that it is very strangely worded as it stands. The Government could have invited us to put it right. As I understand it, they are simply going to accept the Lords amendment.
§ Mr. John Smith
I had better make it clear that I shall invite the House to disagree with amendment no. 238. We have already agreed to amendment no. 237, but I spoke against amendment no. 238 and we will vote against it.
§ Sir D. Renton
I am very sorry; perhaps owing to the hubbub in the House at the time I misheard the Minister. But, quite clearly, that seems to be an amendment which, from the technical point of view, needs to be rectified. I would have thought that the right thing for the Government to do was to have the technical amendment made and to accept 421 the principle that the Lords had carried. That would have been a very easy thing to do. It would have been a sensible thing to do, and it would have gone a little way towards removing some of the doubts that we feel after the speech of the right hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. Sillars
What is at stake here is a question of principle—whether or not a Government are entitled to campaign for their own policy. Outside of the Ulster situation—I am not an expert on that—we have had one previous experience of a referendum, and that was the Common Market referendum. There there was no shadow of doubt in any quarter of the House about the Government's entitlement to campaign for their policy on the referendum. Indeed, before we ever dreamed of a referendum in this House the Conservative Government campaigned with public money on behalf of their White Paper, on behalf of the vote, in principle, in the White Paper and on behalf of the vote on the Second Reading of the European Communities Bill. [An HON. MEMBER: "That was not on behalf of the referendum."] But the principle was exactly the same. Are not the Government entitled to campaign for their declared policy?
At the time of the White Paper on the European Communities, popular versions were placed in post offices. Easy guides to Europe were available all over the place at public expense. No one from the Conservative Party and very few from the Labour Party objected to that. There was general recognition of the Government's right to explain their policy to the people.
Then, on the actual referendum, with a Labour Government in power, as my hon. Friend the Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan)—who is no longer with us, for a variety of reasons—has explained, the Government of the day put out their own version. They put the Government recommendation on the ballot paper—something which will be missing on this occasion. No doubt the Minister of State will say that that is an example of the Government being ultra-fair.
Not only in that, but in other areas of Government policy, there is evidence of 422 the Government believing that they ate entitled—with agreement to this effect in the House—to campaign for their own declared policy. Let us consider the current wages policy. We are talking now about phase four. When phase one was introduced, 23½ million households received a document from the Government explaining counter-inflation policy, so-called, without any complaint at all from Members on the Conservative Front Bench or Back Benches or from any part of the House on this side. There was a general recognition that the Government were entitled to campaign for whatever happened to be Government policy at that time.
In a sense, by refusing to commit the Government to the full extent possible, given the precedents, Ministers are being unfair to the "Yes" side of the campaign. On any projection of the likely expenditure on the campaign in Scotland and that in Wales, there is no doubt where the money bags will lie. They will be very much in favour of the "No" vote. For a variety of reasons, the money will pour in on that side and the "Yes" vote will have difficulty in raising cash
§ Mr. Sillars
The trade unions are not massively rich organisations. [Interruption.] I do not need to reply to that remark. If an election comes along in October or next year—[Interruption.] They are all getting upset at the prospect of a General Election this year instead of next year. In an election, the trade unions will not have a tremendous amount of money available in their political funds. Anyone who knows anything about trade union law knows that they cannot invade the general fund for political purposes. So limited funds are available to them. The same restriction does not apply to many companies and rich individuals who will weigh in on the "No" side.
Therefore, if we are talking about fairness, the balance is tilted against the people campaigning for Government policy. The Government have already admitted that they will not campaign to the full extent they could—given the precedent—and the Conservative Party now says that they should not campaign at all but should remain neutral. If the 423 Leader of the House intended to make a speech in Edinburgh in the afternoon, one somewhere in Stirling later on on behalf of my hon. Friend the Member for West Stirlingshire, who is no longer with us, and one in Glasgow later still, apparently he will not have the facility of a Government car to take him around campaigning for Government business.
I asked the hon. and learned Member for Cleveland and Whitby (Mr. Brittan) about the Conservative Party's attitude. He made much of the fact that he thought that it was unfair for the Government machine to be committed to a public policy campaign. If the amendment is not agreed to and we are left with the Bill as it left this House, and let us suppose for a second—I am sorry to upset my right hon. Friend on this point again—that a Conservative Government get in before the referendum, is the hon. and learned Gentleman still telling me what he told me in his intervention; that in no way would that Conservative Government involve themselves in campaigning as a Government against an Act which, they say, in their view it is not in the interests of the Scottish people to have implemented? Before the hon. and learned Gentleman answers me, I suggest that he has a word with the Member next to him, his hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor), who would be the Secretary of State in that Cabinet, because there is no way in which he would give that hostage to fortune at this time.
§ Mr. Brittan
Does not the hon. Gentleman realise that there is absolutely no point in making any commitment of that kind when the whole object of the amendment which we are defending tonight is to make it illegal for a Government to do that? If that were to happen—which we shall with voice and vote support—of course a Conservative Government would obey the law. The hon. Gentleman finds that difficult to understand. I can appreciate that in view of the way the Labour Government have behaved, but if the law is not changed the position is a completely different one.
§ Mr. Sillars
We have dealt with one hypothetical situation which many hon. Members on this side believe will never occur. I am dealing with the other hypothetical situation which in about 25 min- 424 utes' time will occur when this amendment will be defeated. Would a Conservative Government then restrain themselves from taking part in the referendum campaign? It is noticeable that it was the hon. and learned Gentleman who answered and not the hon. Member for Cathcart, who would be the Secretary of State for Scotland in that eventuality.
We will go a little further into Conservative policy. The hon. and learned Gentleman must bear in mind that the Leader of the Opposition has committed the Conservative Party to referendums, probably on industrial relations. Is he telling us that, if the Conservative Party is returned to Government and if that Conservative Government produce a referendum Bill on industrial relations, part and parcel of that Bill will be a clause providing that the Conservative Government will not involve themselves in compaigning for the question they place upon the ballot paper? I will give way to the hon. and learned Gentleman now if he is prepared to make that commitment. [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."] This matter is not irrelevant, because the hon. and learned Gentleman based the whole of his speech on principle. The principle is to be carried into law and the law is then to be applied. If a future Conservative Government engage in referendums on industrial relations, will they make that principle which the hon. and learned Gentleman enunciated part and parcel of their law?
§ Mr. Sillars
The hon. Gentleman says "Yes". He has no chance of being involved in the next Conservative Government. That is why lie said "Yes" with such alacrity. What do the hon. and learned Member for Cleveland and Whitby and the hon. Member for Cathcart say to that question?
§ Mr. Brittan
I think that the scales should be fairly weighed. [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."] If the House is not prepared to listen to the answer, there is no point in the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Sillars) asking the question. Therefore, there is something to be said for a position as occurred with the European referendum in which money is provided by the public openly for both sides 425 of the campaign. There is something to be said for no side of the campaign having any kind of resources and the Government staying out.
Which solution should be followed cannot be considered in the abstract. I am saying that in this Bill the worst of both situations applies, because on the one hand no money is being given to both sides of the campaign; no money is being given to the "Noes"; all the money is being spent out of the public purse for the "Yes" side. Therefore, whatever solution might be worked out for another Bill relating to other matters, this solution is indefensible.
§ Mr. Sillars
That is a long and convoluted lawyer's answer which, in effect, amounts to saying that a Conservative Government will use the machinery of government if they are involved in a referendum on industrial relations. That makes humbug of every point the hon. and learned Member for Cleveland and Whitby made in arguing that he based his case upon principle. If not, we look forward to the day when the Conservative Government donate money to the trade union movement to allow it to campaign against a policy of the Conservative Government. That is how absurd is the situation described by the hon. and learned Gentleman. I have no doubt at all that at the end of the day the House will reject the point of view put forward by the hon. and learned Member.
I have a final point to make to my hon. Friends the Members for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) and Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes). It is unfair for anyone on either side of the argument to say to my hon. Friends that there is something illegitimate about their campaigning with someone of a different party or different basic ideological philosophy. The point at stake is a much bigger one than that, and the debate should be conducted at a much higher level. The point applies to both sides of the House on this question, as it applied to both sides over the Common Market issue. I hope that my hon. Friends, with whom I disagree, with whom I shall debate and against whom I shall campaign, will not feel themselves constrained in any way by arguments of that kind.
§ Mr. Gordon Wilson
This debate is ending on the tone on which it commenced. The House of Lords has endeavoured to follow the policies which the Conservative Opposition have followed over the past two years in seeking to prevent Scotland from having any form of self-government. The exchange which has just taken place between the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Sillars) and the hon. and learned Member for Cleveland and Whitby (Mr. Brittan) is indicative of that.
I have not seen for some time a Front Bench Opposition spokesman caught out in the embarrassing fashion in which the hon. and learned Member was caught out in relation to the policies being followed. He advanced arguments on questions of principle, as the hon. Member for South Ayrshire said, and yet it appears that, in future referendums which the Conservative Party, if it ever gets into power, intends to implement, it will adopt a different position. It will campaign as a Government and will spend public money. Here we have a party which is against public expenditure coming out and preparing to spend public money in pursuing its own policies.
§ Mr. Brittan
The hon. Gentleman is entitled to present his propaganda as he wishes, but he ought to know that there is one place where sheer distortion will not carry any weight, and that is this House.
§ Mr. Wilson
I am quoting what has been said. The record indicates the position. If the hon. and learned Member reads the record tomorrow, he will understand that what I say is true. This will bounce back on him. The place where distortion applies is perhaps the Shadow Cabinet where this shabby trick was dreamed up, passed on to the House of Lords and then brought before this House in this fashion. It is indicative of the attitude that we have had from the Conservatives during the debate. They started out in favour of the Scottish Assembly. They passed through all sorts of phases and have now ended up with this shabby expedient of trying to prevent the Government from presenting their own policies.
I see nothing wrong with a Government being in a position to present 427 their policies to the public. The position is even stronger in this case. This is not a question of the Government giving information to the public to persuade them that the Executive's policy is correct. This is a case of the Government going out in the context of an Act of Parliament, where there is legislative as well as Executive sanction for the expenditure concerned. There are two reasons why the Government would find it legitimate to spend money.
I wish to be critical of the Government. I believe that they are being far too fair. They have said that they will not issue a leaflet. They have adopted a self-denying ordinance and will not spend sums of public money to present their policies. They are prepared to trim the explanation behind the question in the referendum because of pressure which has been applied. They have been forced backwards, and I criticise the Government most strongly for not having the courage of their convictions and going out to present to the Scottish people what they presumably sincerely believe in—namely, the form of legislative devolution which is encompassed in the Scotland Bill.
§ Mr. Buchan
The hon. Gentleman is arguing strongly that the Government should come out and campaign and argue for the Assembly, which is what he believes in. Will he therefore explain why he and his colleagues have done their best to destroy this Government in votes of confidence in the last few weeks?
§ Mr. Wilson
The only vote of confidence in which we took part related to the reputation and policies of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, which had nothing at all to do with the Scotland Bill. It was the Government who made it a vote of confidence, and that was their choice. It should be remembered that a very large number of the unemployed in Scotland are in that position because of policies of the Labour Government.
I should like to return to the question which we are discussing, which is that of fairness. I have criticised the Government because I think that they should have been much more active in the promotion of the Scottish Assembly. Reference has been made by several hon. Members to the fact that there could 428 well be a shortage of money for those campaigning for the "Yes" vote, because reliance is now to be put purely on private funds.
We know about the money which will be produced from businesses in Scotland, and also from businesses in England. What the question has to do with businesses in England I do not know, but the Confederation of British Industry has indicated its opposition to these proposals and I have no doubt that it will persuade member companies to shell out to the "No" campaign. We shall end up, as in the Common Market referendum, with a situation in which the expenditure by the "No" campaign will far exceed that of the "Yes" campaign. In fact, those on the "No" side will seek to redress the weakness of their case by the length of their purses.
It is quite wrong, in a referendum which seeks to gain the opinion of the people, for the Government not to put out information about what devolution will mean. In addition, the Government have not supplied money in an attempt to redress the financial difficulties which will occur and they have not sought in any way to control the referendum expenditure.
We know that the Conservative Party intends to adopt the referendum system as part of its apparatus of government. If that is the case, and parties go into a referendum and say that they intend to make the referendum part of the apparatus of the modern State, it is high time that Parliament addressed itself to rules which would be generally applicable to referendums, to ensure that fairness exists, whatever the subject of a referendum might be. I am not satisfied that we have done it in this case.
The point was made that there might be illegitimate expenditure of public funds in support of the Scottish Assembly. I should be interested to know whether some of the business contributions will be deductible from the point of view of income tax. We may end up with some of the contributions coming to the "No" side resulting in a reduction in income tax or corporation tax payable and thereby leading to a reduction in public funds. But, whether or not one follows that example through, this amendment from the Lords is quite unsupportable. 429 It illustrates the mean-minded way in which the other place has approached the Bill, and I hope that the House will reject the amendment.
§ Mr. Dalyell
It is news to me that all this money is coming to the "No" campaign, but that is by the way.
I am a bit relaxed and light-hearted about this amendment. I listened to the debate in the other place when this question of cars was raised, and I thought that it was a bit churlish and unworthy of their Lordships. If the Minister of State or anyone else who has ministerial responsibilities wants to use a Government car in this context, I do not think that we should spend all this time complaining about it.
My reason for being light-hearted may be that I have the suspicion that these clouds of Ministers will not descend on Scotland during the campaign. If the truth be told, I suspect that the number of Ministers taking part in the campaign will be about approximate to the number of Ministers who have bothered to sit on the Treasury Bench during our debates. I have no nightmare about an expensive car being ordered for the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster to come to campaign for a "Yes" vote in Bathgate.
§ Mr. Dalyell
If the Lord President wanted to come and join us, he should have a car. I suspect that the Home Secretary, shrewd politician that he is, will find better and more urgent things to do and will not come at all. He will be very wise in that respect. I suspect, too, that many of my senior colleagues will find that they have overwhelming duties elsewhere. Therefore, this is a bit of a non-issue. Let us put to bed this question about the use of Government cars. Do not let us get het up about it. Give the Minister of State his car, and the Under-Secretaries, too, and let them go about their business. None of us should complain about that.
What is altogether more serious is what the BBC and STV will do. I lay down the marker that I hope that they stick to the same scrupulous allocation of time 430 as they have during General Elections. I see no reason why they should not. I am sure that the BBC and STV will play fair. But that is a very important issue, unlike the one on which we have spent so much time.
§ Mr. Brittan
I am sure that the whole House regrets deeply the most unfortunate incident which rendered it necessary for the Chair to suspend the hon. Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan) until the end of today's sitting. In all fairness, those of us who were sitting opposite saw the Government Chief Whip urging the hon. Member to withdraw what he said, and we regret that he felt it impossible to do so. We would like to have heard the remainder of his contribution to the debate.
Turning to the matter that we are debating, it is not merely a question of cars. Cars are a trivial example, hot only an example. The real ill which the amendment seeks to prevent is the use of the whole Government propaganda machine in support of a "Yes" vote. The information officers available to the Government, able to prepare material and provide statistics, without necessarily publishing that material in any form which would conflict with what the Minister of State said, are very considerable in number. The impact and assistance which they could provide would be considerable, and the resources applied in that way would be substantial. That is what concerned the House of Lords, and we support the other place.
I am especially sorry that the hon. Member for West Stirlingshire has been suspended, because he raised a matter which I should like to have dealt with in his presence. It was a most extraordinary argument. He seemed to be saying that, because big business had more money and was able to campaign, the Government ought to spend public money to campaign on the other side.
If we are to make assessments of that kind, are we to say that every time a Government come to the conclusion that those who oppose them have more money than the Left wing to put forward a view—perfectly democratically—the balance should be redressed by a disproportionately large amount of money being thrown out of the public purse into the opposite scales? That is an extremely dangerous 431 argument to apply to anyone who has any belief in democracy at all.
I deal with the position of the Conservative Party. The hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson) knows perfectly well that what he said was a distortion of my remarks. It was a total and disgraceful distortion, which gives us all notice of the sort of tactics that we can expect from the Scottish National Party in all future General Elections and referendums.
I said that there are two ways of approaching this. I am not committing my party—I do not see any reason why I should—as to which of the approaches should be followed on other legislation. Each is perfectly defensible. On the one hand, one can say that it is right, where an issue is being put to the country, that the two sides should be equally supplied with a certain amount of money out of public funds. The scales having at least been balanced financially, it is appropriate then that the Government should conduct their campaign in the normal way. The other way is to give money to neither side.
Yet another approach has been put forward by the Government in this Bill. They are saying that they will not give any money to outsiders and will not spend any money on leaflets, but on the other hand we reserve the right to spend public money on one side of the campaign alone. We say that that cannot be right. It should be against the law, and that is what the amendment, defective as it may be, seeks to do. Either one provides money to both sides, or one provides money to neither and does not spend Government money on one side of the argument rather than the other. That proposition is entirely consistent and logical, and we put it to the House.
The hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Sillars) asked whether the Government were entitled to campaign for their policy. The answer, of course, is "Yes". But there is a difference between arguing about a Government's policy outside an election or referendum and campaigning during a referendum or election. The logic of what the hon. Gentleman argues is that even during a General Election it is right that the Government should spend taxpayers' money in favour of the 432 particular political party that is contesting the election.
That is not a principle that has ever been followed in this country. It has always been the case that it is possible for a Government in an election campaign to distinguish between the governmental functions that they are pursuing in the course of that campaign—the Queen's Government must carry on—and the actual issues that they are putting before the electorate in the campaign.
The referendum should be treated in the same way. The Government can certainly put forward their views, but if they are advocating one cause rather than another during the course of the campaign they should do so at their own expense and at the expense of their memmers and not at the expense of the public purse. That is the principle on which we stand, and that is why we support the Lords amendment.
§ Mr. John Smith
I do not object to having a very short time to reply because there is little to reply to. I cannot remember an occasion on which an Opposition have collected more egg on their faces than this, when the Conservative Party has chosen to support this Lords amendment. It was a very foolish decision. The Opposition did not follow this line of argument when they discussed the matter in this House, but they followed one of the more foolish amendments passed in another place.
It is the height of sauce for the hon. and learned Member for Cleveland and Whitby (Mr. Brittan) to talk as he did, bearing in mind the practice of a previous Government in a previous referendum, well known to the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor). It was even worse for the hon. and learned Gentleman to make a rod for his own back, in view of the Leader of the Opposition's views on referendums and other matters. The Opposition have made a rod for their own back on the 40 per cent. issue and in some of the things they have said on this occasion. I hope that when the right hon. Lady has read the hon. and learned Gentleman's remarks in Hansard she will be kind and allow him to take part in debates on the Wales Bill, because we enjoy his contributions.
433 The truth of the matter is that the most poverty-stricken argument has been put forward in this debate. There may be something in the criticism that the Government are being over-fair, but we would rather be over-fair than be accused of being in any way unfair.
§ It being midnight, Mr. SPEAKER proceeded, pursuant to the Order [4th July], to put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair.
§ Question put, That this House doth disagree with the Lords in the said amendment:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 297, Noes 258.
§ [For Division No. 285 see c. 491.]
§ Question accordingly agreed to.
§ Mr. SPEAKER then proceeded to put forthwith the Question necessary for the disposal of the Business to be concluded at midnight.