HC Deb 19 July 1978 vol 954 cc517-8
9. Mr. Knox

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland when he expects that the referendum on the Government's proposals for devolution in Scotland will now be held.

Mr. Millan

I cannot give a date at present.

Mr. Knox

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the sooner the question of devolution is sorted out completely, and the uncertainty removed, the better? Will he fix the date for a referendum in September, with a view to having the Assembly elections as soon as possible after that?

Mr. Millan

I agree that it would be useful if we could get the Bill on the statute book as soon as possible. As I believe the hon. Gentleman knows, it is proceeding pretty well at present. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman should direct his remarks to the other place.

Mr. Sillars

Why was it that for the European Community referendum the Government could give us the date of polling before we reached the vote on Second Reading, yet now that we have completed virtually all the stages of the Scotland Bill they are still unable to give a date for the referendum? Is my right hon. Friend aware that on previous occasions he said that there are many reasons for this circumstance? Can he give us just one?

Mr. Millan

The circumstances concerning the EEC Bill and the Scottish Bill are entirely different. My hon. Friend must be aware of that.

Mr. Reid

Is it the case that the date of the referendum cannot be announced until the difficulties over dead men having the vote, double voting for students, and so on, are cleared out of the way? What progress is being made to clear up that problem?

Mr. Millan

These are matters that will be relevant when we discuss the Order in Council on the referendum. I have been giving a good deal of thought to the matter in recent months. Some of the problems, at least, are not insuperable. The hon. Gentleman knows the Government's view on the 40 per cent. hurdle. We do not believe that it should have gone into the Bill.

Mr. Alexander Fletcher

Will the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance to the House today that before we rise for the Summer Recess he will intimate the date when the referendum will take place?

Mr. Millan

I do not think that I can add to what I have already said. The hon. Gentleman is very impatient to get the referendum, of course, because at one time he was a keen supporter of devolution.