HC Deb 03 May 1978 vol 949 cc254-79

'(1) The preceding provisions of this Act shall not come into operation until such day as the Secretary of State may by order appoint.

(2) Different days may be appointed under this section for different provisions of this Act and for different purposes of the same provision.

(3) An order under this section may contain such transitional and supplementary provisions as appear to the Secretary of State to be necessary or expedient, including provision for expenses to be defrayed out of moneys provided by Parliament.

(4) The first order under this section shall not be made unless a draft of it has been laid before and approved by resolution of each House of Parliament.'—[Mr. John Smith.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. John Smith

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

The clause arises because Clause 82 of the Bill was defeated in the clause stand part debate. The House will recall that when that clause was defeated there was a combination of disparate interests which led to the Committee reaching that conclusion. However, the result of the deletion of Clause 82, as it then was, of the Bill would be that devolution would come into effect in Wales immediately on Royal Assent, thus requiring devolved subjects to be handed over to a non-existent Assembly. That clearly would be nonsense.

Mr. Nicholas Edwards (Pembroke)

Assuming that the Government win the Third Reading vote.

Mr. Smith

The Opposition are making remarks about Third Reading. We shall have to await that situation. I see no ground for their unfounded confidence in that respect. We understand that the Conservative Party does not favour any devolution for Wales. But I do not think that it would dissent from the proposition that, if the Bill receives Royal Assent, a referendum should be held to ascertain the views of the Welsh people before devolution is implemented. I understood that the Conservatives had at least confirmed, if not revealed, that policy in the debates in Committee.

Without sensible commencement provisions, the holding of a referendum before the implementation of this legislation would not be possible. The Government have tabled New Clause No. 1 to repair the damage that was inflicted, perhaps accidentally, in Committee. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] That was the effect of the vote that was cast. It cast out all the commencement provisions, and I am drawing that situation to the attention of the House by way of explanation.

I wish to draw attention to subsection (4) of the new clause, which provides the usual affirmative resolution procedure for the first commencement order. This replaces the earlier proposal which was in the Bill in Committee, which was the subject of a certain amount of mild criticism and which applied the special affirmative resolution procedure prescribed in Clause 71. The Government thought it right to make this change in the light of the views which have been expressed. For the sake of consistency we shall be moving a later amendment, No. 45, to make a similar change in subsection (3) of Clause 80 which deals with the referendum.

I hope that the House will find my explanation reasonable. It is necessary to make the Bill sensible, and we are accepting the criticism that was made by the Opposition.

Mr. Pym

The Minister tried to continue the impression of confusion which existed following the defeat of the original Clause 82. When that provision was defeated, a certain amount of guidance was given to the effect that there was some confusion and nobody knew what was being done. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Alec Jones)


Mr. Pym

That is true, and it is no use the Under-Secretary of State for Wales saying otherwise. Our criticism of the original Clause 82 was confined to the heinous provisions regarding the House of Lords and the power which was to be taken in those provisions for this House to be able to overrule the House of Lords. We were totally opposed to that step.

Having succeeded in what I grant was a strange alliance in knocking out the original clause, it is now before the House in an amended form. It would be churlish of me not to welcome it, because it meets the point that we put forward. We welcome Amendment No. 45 because it takes the provisions to which we had such strong objection out of what is now Clause 80. We regard that as a right and proper change.

Clause 71, as it now is, which empowers this House to overrule another place, now applies only to the override powers in Clauses 34 and 35. All the other subordinate legislation provided for in the Bill can now be proceeded with in the normal way. For Clauses 34 and 35 alone, however, the Bill still takes power to enable this House to overrule another place. We think that that is wrong because it envisages a situation in which the Government may try to oppose the views both of the elected Assembly in Wales and of the House of Lords It may seem an unlikely set of circumstances, but those are the circumstances envisaged.

The situation in regard to Clause 35 is even more undesirable. Under those provisions the Secretary of State could, if he wished to do so, use his party majority in the Commons to nullify a subordinate instrument legally passed by the Assembly under the devolved powers given to it by the Bill. If the Assembly had not been established, I think the position would be that one subordinate instrument could be revoked by another such instrument only by a vote in both Houses of Parliament confirming the new instrument. It is only Clause 71 of the Bill that dispenses with that need, and we think that is wrong.

I ask the Government please to reconsider that provision in relation to Clauses 34 and 35. We know that another place, in dealing with the Scotland Bill, has moved a most important amendment about these provisions as they relate to Scotland, and the Government have been sensitive to the proposition that both the Scotland Bill and the Wales Bill should, so far as practicable, be on the same basis. Although I am sure that the Government will take deep cognisance of what another place decides to do, I hope that there is yet a possibility that these provisions in respect of the powers which the Government wish to take to overrule the House of Lords will be reviewed.

I also hope that in addition to the new clause, which we welcome, and Amendment No. 45, which again we welcome, this change can be extended to the override powers. We believe that the Government would be right not to attempt any constitutional change in respect of Parliament by means of the Wales Bill. In that spirit we are prepared to let the new clause go through, and we are grateful to the Minister for putting it forward.

Mr. Ioan Evans (Aberdare)

I am glad that the Government have tabled the new clause. However, I do not welcome Amendment No. 45. The nationalists have succeeded in dragging the House of Lords into the consideration of these provisions.

It was said earlier by the right hon. and learned Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton) that we could have 59 separate debates. It is a pity that we have to have such a long debate on this clause, because this discussion could have been avoided if these provisions had been accepted, possibly as amended, in Committee. I am not sure whether there was confusion in the minds of Conservative Members, but there must have been some confusion in the minds of Plaid Cymru Members. They must have been ignorant, stupid or confused. I leave them to choose which it was, but they must have been in one of those states. They held up the debate that we could have had on the referendum by filibustering on the various amendments which they introduced. They did so to prevent what they thought was to be a vote on the minimum requirement when the Government had already given an assurance that a vote would take place. The fact that the Government had said that there was to be such a vote should have prevented the nationalists from adopting their filibustering tactics.

4.30 p.m.

There was a serious attack on the Bill. There are various interpretations, but the interpretation that the nationalists have put forward is that if no attempt was being made to replace the clause the people of Wales would have been denied the opportunity of a referendum.

Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarvon)

That is right.

Mr. Evans

The hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. Wigley) agrees. It is strange that he and the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Evans) tried to take some of us to task because we did not support a referendum Bill in 1969 when by their recent actions they were seeking to deny the people of Wales having a referendum as a consequence of the Bill passing through Parliament without the original clause. When the time comes, nationalist Members will have an explanation to make to the people of Wales. The whole purpose of their vote in Committee was for this measure, once it received Royal Assent, automatically to be put into effect without the people of Wales being consulted.

Mr. Gwynfor Evans (Carmarthen)

The hon. Gentleman attacks us for trying to get rid of the referendum and for the criticism of him and some of his colleagues for voting against a referendum 10 years ago. However, he knows very well the reason for our opposition to the referendum that is now proposed. Our opposition stems from the inclusion of the wrecking device which means that 40 per cent. of the total electorate will have to be involved before the referendum is valid. In the referendum which was proposed earlier, and in the Common Market referendum, it was the majority that carried the day. That should happen in a normal democracy.

Mr. Wigley

Absolutely right.

Mr. Ioan Evans

We have had some clarification. I understand that the nationalists are opposed to the referendum because there is a minimum requirement. It is strange that they were prepared to vote for a one-third minimum requirement.

Mr. Wigley

In preference to 40 per cent.

Mr. Evans

However, they voted for a one-third requirement. It seems that the argument was not about a minimum requirement. They accepted the minimum requirement. Therefore, the argument is between 33⅓ per cent. and 40 per cent. The argument is about 6⅔ per cent. Apparently that is the whole purpose of the nationalists, who say that they are opposed to a referendum as a means of putting the issue before the people of Wales.

Mr. Wigley

The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that with the 40 per cent. threshold fair play starts if there is a turnout of over 80 per cent. and that with a 33⅓ per cent. threshold, fair play starts with a 66 per cent. turnout. In other words, fair play starts lower rather than higher.

Mr. Evans

I am glad that we have it on the record. We now know that the nationalists are opposed to a referendum in Wales. Their intention in Committee was not that of the Conservative Party, whose Members voted against the Government on the ground of the provision relating to another place. That is the point that they were making. We now know that there was a deliberate attempt by the nationalists to oppose a referendum in Wales because a 40 per cent. minimum requirement was put in the Bill.

Mr. Emlyn Hooson (Montgomery)


Mr. Evans

I hope that the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson) does not wish to join the nationalists on this issue. Is he opposed to a referendum?

Mr. Hooson

Why does the hon. Gentleman fight his battle with the nationalists in the House rather than at the hustings?

Mr. Evans

The reason is that the nationalists are getting fewer and fewer at the hustings at Aberdare. Every time there is a by-election, we remove them. There are fewer and fewer on the council. We had six nationalists on the county council from my constituency but now there is only one. The argument against them must not be advanced only at the hustings. It must be engaged in on the Floor of the House. If we are not careful, we shall be getting mini nationalism. There are other ways of tackling and getting rid of the disease apart from immunising ourselves with a part of the disease. We shall get rid of the disease of nationalism only by speaking clearly against it at every opportunity.

The new clause is relevant and important. The original clause was a vital part of the Bill and, in effect, we now have it back. Are we to find that the nationalists will once more be opposed to the clause?

Mr. Wigley


Mr. Evans

It seems that they will be. That is interesting. That which is embodied in the new clause forms a major part of the Bill. The nationalists should not talk about our opposition to devolution. By their opposition to the new clause—they are consistent because they will be opposing it tonight—they are undermining an important part of the Bill.

If the hon. Members for Caernarvon and Carmarthen did not act in ignorance, they acted definitely and deliberately. They have said that Clause 82 was of enormous significance as it provided the facility for the referendum. I questioned whether the referendum would take place without that clause. It seems that the nationalists are afraid of the issue being put before the people of Wales.

Clearly, there should be a consultative referendum. It is good sense that there should be a minimum requirement. It is debatable whether the requirement should be one-third, for which the nationalists voted, or 40 per cent. The nationalists have issued their nonsense about dead votes being calculated, but the terms of the referendum merely provide that those who are entitled to vote should be taken into account and that, whatever is decided in the referendum, it will be for the House to decide what action to take. It is not a mandatory referendum. It does not follow that any particular action should necessarily flow from it. The hon. Members for Caernarvon and Carmarthen do not seem to take on board that it is a consultative referendum.

There are two arguments. One argument concerns the merits and demerits of the Bill. We have not had much time to go into that argument. The second argument is whether the people of Wales want the Bill. That is why it is important that we should have a referendum. Some of my hon. Friends challenge whether the people of Wales want the Bill. That is why it is vital that the people of Wales should be asked for their opinion. They should be asked whether they want the proposals that the Government have put forward.

In their heart of hearts, the nationalists do not want devolution. They believe in separatism. They want an independent Wales. The whole purpose of their party is to create a separate political and economic system for Wales. It is for that that they stand.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bryant Godman Irvine)

Order. It is difficult to find all this in New Clause No. 1.

Mr. Evans

Without the clause there would be no referendum. I dislike much of the Bill, but it is important that the people of Wales should be given the opportunity of choosing. The nationalists have said that they knew what they were doing, but 1 am trying to demonstrate that they were ignorant on the night when their amendment was carried. They objected to the minimum requirement being written into the Bill. We have heard from them now that they do not want the referendum now that a minimum requirement has been set.

Mr. Wigley

I am sure that the hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. Evans) was not trying to mislead the House in saying that there will be a consultative referendum. Clause 80, as it was amended in Committee, in dealing with the Secretary of State's actions after this loaded referendum, provides that he "shall lay before Parliament" the draft of an order. When I raised this matter on a point of order in Committee, I was told by the Chair that the referendum was not consultative but was binding and that there was a precedent for it in the Scotland Bill.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I hope that the hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. Evans) will not follow that hare down its hole but will continue on the basis of what is strictly in New Clause No. 1. He may have his opportunity of debating wider issues tomorrow.

Mr. Evans

We see now that the hon. Members for Caernarvon and Carmarthen are confused about the Bill. We can possibly expect clarification from them later.

I welcome the provisions that New Clause No. 1 will reinsert in the Bill. The SNP Members are not here to filibuster on this issue. No doubt they are licking their wounds after the results in the elections in Scotland yesterday.

I do not believe there has ever been a surge of nationalism in Wales. I believe that in Scotland it was only a temporary phase. We see from the results in Scotland that nationalism has only briefly reared its ugly head, rather like the Loch Ness monster. The tide of nationalism is a figment of the imagination, not a reality.

I hope that the House will agree to the clause and I hope that the Conservative Party will support it. I shall be most interested to discover what the Welsh nationalists do in the Division Lobbies tonight.

Sir Raymond Gower

I welcome the new clause. I also welcome the Minister of State's explanation and, on the whole, the manner in which he made it. I particularly welcome subsection (4) because its wording is much more consistent with the sort of procedure that we normally use in such matters. I am glad, too, that the Minister of State gave an assurance about Amendment No. 45, which is consistent with subsection (4).

I therefore give a generous welcome to all that the hon. Gentleman said up to that point, but his reluctance to amend Clauses 34 and 35 is at variance with his actions on New Clause No. 1. There is considerable inconsistency in maintaining the procedure which now is to remain in Clauses 34 and 35. Under that procedure, the need for the other place to give its assent is side-stepped. It is a back-door method of changing our constitutional arrangements. The unwillingness to change Clauses 34 and 35 means that, in spite of the new clause, that procedure will be retained in a small part of the Bill. It would be much more sensible to secure a consistent approach both in the Bill and in our general procedures by amending those clauses. That would overcome our objections, which are based not so much on the superior merit of that procedure but on the belief that this is the wrong way to change our constitutional arrangements.

Like the hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. Evans) and the two hon. Members who intervened in his speech, I am in favour of the procedure in the new clause and the referendum which it makes possible.

4.45 p.m.

Mr. Dalyell

For the sake of my good name—at least, my good name with my hon. Friend the Minister of State—I had better establish immediately that I was not a member of the unholy alliance which caused the occasion which gave rise to the new clause. I am a little concerned, however, about the phrase: until such day as the Secretary of State may … appoint ". I am concerned that enactment of the Bill could be delayed until such time as the Secretary of State in his judgment felt that it was required.

I shall not refer at anlength to yesterday's events in Scotland, but I am entitled to point out that candidates who were as anti-Assembly as I am did unprecedentedly well. Before I am checked by my hon. Friend the Minister of State, I should point out that the pro-devolution Labour candidates—and, I understand, the pro-devolution Tories—also did well. I therefore make no comparison in that respect.

After about 70 hours of canvassing at weekends over the past five weeks, some of us are clearer than ever that, whatever caused the election results, devolution was not at the top of the list.

Mr. Nicholas Edwards

May I inquire whether the hon. Member's colleagues on the Labour Benches are away convassing today? Once again, the hon. Gentleman is alone on the Labour Back Benches. Not one Welsh Labour Member of Parliament is prepared to come in to support his Front Bench.

Mr. Dalyell

It must be that once again my opinion represents the undisputed unanimous opinion of the Labour Back Benches present. Certainly that gives me confidence in what I intend to say, and before that confidence is exhausted let me say that I refer not only to the good results in West Lothian but also to people like such as Councillor Ronald Young of Strathclyde, who chaired the Labour "Vote No" campaign in Greenock and who also had a thumping victory.

Is it possible that if, in the light of future political events, after our discussion, much of which has seeped through from the House of Commons and the House of Lords to the Scottish public and, doubtless, to the Welsh public too, it then seems appropriate—and it is not dishonourable for people to change their minds, because after four years we all know a great deal more than we did—we could then decide not to go ahead with the Act? I hope that the answer is "Yes". I have a dreadful suspicion that it may be "No", but I pose the question nevertheless.

We now seem to be in the fantastic position of handing to Plaid Cymru and the SNP what they want when, for the present at least, they seem unable to achieve those objectives through the ballot box.

I have another question to ask. This applies to Wales as much as to Scotland. Some of us are curious about how many of those councillors—Labour or Conservative—who were elected after strenuous campaigns and by the sweat of their political brows will say "After all our work, having established ourselves for four years in these powerful regions, we want our powers usurped by an Assembly." I suspect that, human nature being what it is, once those councillors are elected in positions of great influence in the regions, they will hardly say that they support the Assembly.

The Minister of State may say that I should know now, on the forty-second or forty-third day, that the Assembly will not meddle in regional, district or local government. But everybody who discusses this matter, on whatever side of the argument he is, refuses to believe Ministers when they say that Assemblies will not very soon begin to meddle in local government. What else are they to do, given the limited nature of their powers? Heaven knows what a Welsh Assembly in particular will do other than meddle in matters that rightly belong, to local government in Wales.

We do not know, even at this stage, whether the Assembly is to be full-time or part-time or what the rewards are to be and the answers to all the practical nuts and bolts questions concerning those who may be going to the Coal Exchange if the Bill is passed.

At this stage, particularly after the events of yesterday and looking forward to what may happen on Thursday in elections in Wales, we should not embark on what would be the break-up of Britain.

Mr. Wigley

There are no elections in Wales on Thursday.

Mr. Dalyell

That means that even more attention should be paid to the Scottish results. We should not contemplate the break-up of Britain for ephemeral wishes which may have come from last year's "Bradshaw". I am joined by two of my hon. Friends who are as anti-devolution as I am.

In all the days and nights during which the Bill has been debated, the House of Commons has done nothing other than do its job properly. It has exposed the very nature of the matters that we are discussing. Therefore, I hope that I can be told the position of the Secretary of State on the matter. It would be a crying shame if, somehow or other, these measures were to get the imprimatur of the House of Commons and if the impression were to be given that somehow it had got through the parliamentary machine and that the elected Members of Parliament had approved of what was being put before the electorate. That would be a false impression of the debates and of the events that have taken place in the House. That is why I ask whether a Secretary of State would have the power not to recommend the Bill to the electors in a referendum.

Mr. Wigley

This is a far-reaching clause, as the hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. Evans) has said. It appears to reach to the regional elections in Scotland and to many other areas.

It is interesting that the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) said that the only way of supporting the moderate Assembly in Scotland and the even more moderate Assembly in Wales is by supporting the nationalists. That is the only vote, in the way in which he interprets yesterday's results, that can justify the existence of the Assembly. That is an interesting proposition. It will be interesting to those in the Labour Party in Scotland and in Wales who see that if they are to be judged as supporters of any form of devolution, autonomy, self-government or Parliament they will have to support the nationalists before hon. Members such as the hon. Member for West Lothian will believe that they are serious and know what they are doing. I am surprised that the Minister did not intervene to contradict what was said by his hon. Friend.

A vital point was raised by the hon. Member for Aberdare before he was ruled out of order. It is important to set the record straight. On 19th April, the Chairman in Committee ruled on the basis of a ruling in 1975 that a mandatory provision in the Scotland Bill and a similar mandatory provision in the Wales Bill were in order and that the provision that the Secretary of State should do this, that or the other was a mandatory provision. That is a change in the constitutional practice in regard to the two Bills.

I accept that after the Secretary of State has laid something down in the House the consequences are not mandatory, but that first step is mandatory. It has been challenged and has been upheld. All I say in passing is that that is a new concept of a referendum.

I should like to explain why Plaid Cymru will maintain its opposition to the new clause. I am even more opposed to it now than I was to it in its original form in Committee. Since the Committee stage, the Government have made a further change. They have made a further move backwards down the slippery slope of compromise to their own Back Benches and to the Conservatives in allowing the House of Lords to overrule provisions in the Bill. I am surprised that they have found it necessary to make that concession. I can only imagine that they were afraid of losing the Bill on Third Reading if they did not make the concession. I imagine that they thought that there would be an unholy alliance between Conservative Members and Members of the Labour Party, who would not have swallowed the Bill without this type of provision being made in the new clause.

None the less, I do not see why it was necessary to do this. The Conservative Party, in following us into the Lobby on the Division that we pressed in the clause stand part debate in Committee, did so for erroneous reasons. It did so because it had not followed the logic of the Bill as it stood then, particularly the provisions of Clause 2(4), which says: An order under subsection (1) above shall not be made unless a draft of it has been laid before, and approved by resolution of, each House of Parliament. The provision already existed. It was unnecessary to find this rabbit to chase and to give the Government the need to make a concession, unless the Opposition were finding an excuse for voting against Clause 82, having done so without realising the implication of its vote.

However, we were opposed to Clause 82 for the very reasons eventually given by the hon. Member for Aberdare, namely, that we are opposed to a referendum which was built into it a loaded provision of a 40 per cent. threshold which will make it difficult for the people of Wales to pass the Bill. It was not a provision which was required in the EEC referendum, the constitutional implications of which were more far-reaching than those of the Wales Bill or the Scotland Bill. It is not a provision which has been built into the Sunday opening referendum in Wales, which is the only other referendum that we know.

Had that provision been built into the Sunday opening referendum, as I was told in an answer to a parliamentary Question a few weeks ago, not one of the counties in Wales would have Sunday opening. The 40 per cent. provision would have been an insurmountable barrier—the sort of insurmountable barrier that opponents of the Bill wish to see built into the Bill to ensure that the people of Wales do not get the Assembly even if they vote for it by a straight majority.

The opponents of the Bill are so fearful of not winning on a straight vote that they need to rig a referendum in this way to achieve the result they seek. If that is not so, for what other reason would they have inserted the new clause into the Bill?

Mr. Ioan Evans

The hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. Wigley) is trying to rewrite history. He is now trying to find justification for the action that he and his hon. Friends took in Committee. How does he explain that he sought to delete the clause and succeeded in doing so before the House proceeded to take a vote on the minimum requirement? How can he argue that it was because a minimum requirement had been written into the Bill when the House proceeded to take the vote after it had voted on the clause?

5.0 p.m.

Mr. Wigley

We did it in the knowledge—we would not have done it otherwise—of the assurances given by the Government to their Back Benchers at the beginning of the debate that, even if no time were available for moving the amendment, the Government would adopt the 40 per cent. threshold amendment—the barrier, the loaded referendum provision—in order to facilitate matters for the honourable rebels on the Labour Benches and Conservative Members.

Mr. John Smith

The hon. Gentleman must not say again that the Government supported the 40 per cent. provision. They did nothing of the kind. They allowed the House of Commons the opportunity to take a decision and they opposed the proposal vigorously. The sooner the hon. Gentleman stops suggesting things that are quite false, the more respect he will be held in.

Mr. Wigley

The Minister should listen to the words that are used. If he listens to the tapes, he will hear that I said that the Government moved the new clause—and they did so. There were 101 other clauses that they could also have moved if they felt it necessary to give this great prerogative of democracy for clauses that have not been discussed because of the guillotine. But they did not choose to make this generous provision to their own Back Benchers and to the Conservatives on any other clauses. They did not do that on all the other important amendments that were not discussed because of the guillotine.

It was on this one provision only that the Government found that they had to capitulate and to give with one hand what they tried to oppose with the other. They went through the pretence of opposing it with a feeble Whip and ended up with a majority of 72 against them. The Government knew what they were doing in allowing this provision through. If it were not done with their eyes open, the Government are more blind in this matter than I have supposed.

Mr. Ioan Evans

The hon. Gentleman is deliberately distorting the whole situation. The only action that the Government took was to give Back Benchers the same facility as they had given to my hon. Friend the Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan) on the Scotland Bill. Although the House had decided in Committee on that Bill to write in a minimum requirement, after debating two minimum requirements, the Government allowed my hon. Friend to move the deletion of that minimum requirement. They have done no more than that on this occasion. The Government's responsibility is surely not just to put their policy but to allow the House to take the correct decision. On the Scotland Bill, the House reaffirmed its previous decision. In Committee on this Bill, the House of Commons was given the opportunity to vote on the minimum requirement.

The hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. Wigley) is opposed to a referendum, and he filibustered in Committee to deny hon. Members the opportunity to write in a minimum requirement. He succeeded in denying—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. Evans) has already made one speech.

Mr. Wigley

I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, though I was happy to let the hon. Member for Aberdare hang himself.

The truth is that the Government have not made an attempt on this Bill to get rid of the provision which was inserted in Committee as they did with the amendment of the hon. Member for West Stir- lingshire (Mr. Canavan) on the Scotland Bill. They have been happy to live with the provision on Report in a way that they were not on the Scotland Bill. That is as far as their democracy goes.

If democracy were so important on this clause in the Wales Bill, why was it not equally important on both Bills on provisions such as the amendments setting out a second question—the alternative of full self-government—or the many other provisions such as the amendment of the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) providing for controls over the money that is to be spent on the referendum? Why were those matters not important enough for the Government to give time for them?

If it is important for the Government to give time for all this democracy to be facilitated, as the hon. Member for Aberdare suggests, presumably he will always vote against any guillotine, because the inevitable consequence of a guillotine is that important matters will not be discussed.

To come back to the 40 per cent. amendment that the Government moved, it is interesting to note that they did not facilitate the 33 per cent. amendment which was also on the Amendment Paper. They could easily have moved it. The hon. Member for Aberdare led us to believe that it would have been a reasonable amendment to put into the Bill. The Government chose not the 33 per cent. amendment, which would have allowed a straight referendum on a turnout of about 66 per cent., but the 40 per cent. amendment requiring an 80 per cent. turnout for fair play, which was the worse of two evils.

The only logic that the Government could have had for doing that was that they were in a straitjacket and had been given an ultimatum by their own Back-Benchers that they would lose the whole Bill if they did not do this or if they were so wedded to the concept that the Wales Bill and the Scotland Bill must be identical that they thought this was necessary—though they saw it right only a few months earlier to split the two Bills and to give Wales none of the legislative power that was given to Scotland.

Mr. Dalyell

What does all this prove other than the magnanimous generosity of the Government towards those who disagree with them?

Mr. Wigley

I missed what the hon. Gentleman was saying, but I take it that he was suggesting that there was magnanimous generosity in this one instance. I cannot understand why it was done in this one instance only if this action was taken from the magnanimous nature of the Government's hearts rather than the reality of the hard grind of politics that goes on behind the scenes in these Bills with all the bargaining to get a Bill of some sort at any cost whether it is to be passed in the referendum in Wales on a straight vote, a twisted vote, a rigged vote or any other sort of vote.

Sir Raymond Gower

I am not the Government's apologist, but, to be fair to them, they said that they opposed the 40 per cent. requirement. Does this not bear out what the Minister has said? The Government had a better chance of defeating the 40 per cent. requirement than they might have had of defeating the lower minimum requirement. It was much easier for them to fight convincingly to defeat the 40 per cent. than to defeat the 33 per cent.

Mr. Wigley

The hon. Gentleman has been here much longer than I have and he knows that the reality is that when the Government are determined to get something as important as this through—and it is in their manifesto and their legislative programme—they do not lose votes on a three-line Whip by a majority of 72. When I heard the extent of the majority, I found it inconceivable that the Government could have been serious about winning the vote. Indeed, we have heard from a number of hon. Members that there was no retribution and not one word of rebuke for voting against the Government. The whole thing is a mockery and charade and an indication of the seriousness of the Government in getting the Bill on to the statute book and implemented.

The new clause has been put down in order to facilitate the rigged referendum with a 40 per cent. threshold. Its purposes could have been achieved by other means. If the Government had put amendments into other parts of the Bill, they would not have needed the provisions that they have now given and the marginal concession that they have given to the Tories in relation to the House of Lords.

Plaid Cymru has tabled amendments that would have allowed that to be achieved without the reintroduction of this clause, but the Government have reintroduced the clause in order, presumably, to have a rigged referendum. If they had accepted our amendment, they could have had a straight referendum, but they are determined to stick to the 40 per cent. threshold with all that that means.

We are opposing the new clause on the basis of its implications for the referendum. We are not against a referendum. We were calling for a referendum before the Labour Party did so. My hon. Friend the Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Evans) supported a referendum in 1968. However, we are opposed to a referendum which has a built-in obstacle and unfairness that means that the whole concept of the referendum is discredited before it starts.

At a cost of £500,000 in Wales and £800,000 in Scotland, it is a pretty futile exercise to go through all this when the result may not be credible.

Mr. Fred Evans (Caerphilly)


Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Before the hon. Gentleman makes his intervention, perhaps I may inquire how the referendum gets involved with the new clause.

Mr. Wigley

Indeed. I am pleased to explain that, Mr. Deputy Speaker. If the new clause is not passed, there will not be a referendum.

Mr. Fred Evans

Will the hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. Wigley) cast his mind back and recall that the debate in 1968 to which he referred, in which the leader of his party, the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Evans), took part, was a private Member's motion on proportional representation? I was present at that debate, and at one point there was reference to a referendum on proportional representation. There have been references in the House to the acceptance of a referendum—provided that Plaid Cymru could pretty well write all the questions. Members of Plaid Cymru suggested a multitude of questions which they wanted to see in a referendum. The hon. Member is engaging in a futile exercise. He is distorting history and filibustering. He is trying to prove that the pot is blacker than the kettle.

Mr. Wigley

The hon. Member cannot have it that way. If his Government had been as magnanimous to him as they were to some of his hon. Friends in relation to the amendment which led us to our present position, he would have had the opportunity to discuss not only our amendments about the number of questions which should be asked but amendments tabled by Members from other parties about the future of the Welsh people and the alternatives that were open to be put in a referendum, if one were held.

If the hon. Member casts his mind back to 1968, he will recall that there were two measures before the House. One of them was the Scotland and Wales (Referenda) Bill. That is the one to which my hon. Friend the Member for Carmarthen referred.

We oppose this new clause because it provides a referendum of a nature that we do not like. We do not like it because it means, for instance, that the names of people on the electoral register who are dead will be taken into account in the calculation of the 40 per cent., unless specific provision to the contrary is made.

Mr. Dalyell

Let us put the dead men in their graves. The basis of the calculation is what the Registrar General thinks would be an appropriate number, given the month of the year concerned.

Mr. Wigley

The hon. Member is saying that ex cathedra, but, unfortunately, the Bill does not provide for that. We can go only by what is in the Bill. From questions which I asked in February and March, I discovered that the Government do not have the month by month figures for the number of dead in Wales in the current year. The latest figures which could affect the register are those for 1974. The only way in which the Government can act in this respect is by using the 1974 figures and assuming that in 1978 the same number of dead men will be on the register as were on it in 1974. The Government could make some sort of calculation on that basis. But there is no provision in the Bill for doing that. As the Bill stands, the figure involved is that which appears to the Secretary of State to be 40 per cent. of the electorate.

Perhaps the hon. Member for West Lothian is suggesting that the Secretary of State should use dark spectacles or put on blue or pink spectacles when looking at the figures, so that even if the figure is 40 per cent. it appears to be something different. That is the only way in which there could be a meaningful exclusion of the dead men's votes.

When one talks about 40 per cent. of the register, one means the people who were registered in October. The register then comes into effect in February of the next year. Each month ###1 per cent. of the register becomes inaccurate. That means that by the end of the year in which that register is in force it is 17 per cent. inaccurate. That means that the total practical turnout is only 83 per cent., and we need 80 per cent. before we can have a straight referendum. If anyone believes that the people of Wales will be hoodwinked in that way into accepting a loaded and rigged referendum, he is wrong.

Another problem arises from spoilt papers. Spoilt papers represent part of the total register. They are, therefore, part of the total figure from which the 40 per cent. is calculated. There is no mechanism for ensuring that the spoilt ballot papers are excluded, unless an amendment is moved in the House of Lords.

Students cause another problem. They may be registered in two places. Students in my constituency may be registered in Caernarvon and Aberystwyth so that they can take part in elections either during term or during vacation. Students can vote only once. That means that the second vote cannot be used under any circumstances. If they are taken into account on the total register—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Member is going far too wide of the new clause. Will he try and restrain himself and come back to the provisions of the clause?

5.15 p.m.

Mr. Wigley

With respect, Mr. Deputy Speaker, we oppose the new clause because it provides for what we believe to be an unfair referendum. I am giving the example of the student whose first vote "Yes" will be cancelled by an assumed "No" vote in the second place of residence. That is a basic unfairness in the referendum. It is a reason why we shall oppose the new clause.

Mr. Neil Kinnock (Bedwellty)

The hon. Member is making the stupid presumption that all students will vote "Yes". I believe that the majority will vote "No". It is also true that the address at which they are resident when the register is taken in October is the address which is valid. They cannot appear on more than one register.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Perhaps the hon. Member can make that point tomorrow if he catches the eye of the Chair. This new clause deals with the mechanics of the referendum.

Sir Raymond Gower

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It might be helpful to look at Clause 80, which is a more appropriate vehicle for discussion on the details of the referendum.

Mr. Kinnock

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I shall abide happily by your strictures if all other hon. Members do so.

Mr. Wigley

The hon. Member for Bedwellty is wrong in his information, but I shall not go into that.

If we have a referendum—and the Government are providing a rigged referendum—we require answers at some stage to the issues that have been raised. It is a matter of opinion whether it is appropriate to debate them now or on some other occasion. These questions must be faced by the Government. If they do not do so, they will leave the people of Wales with the impression that the referendum is fixed and rigged and calculated to stop the Welsh people achieving the "Yes" vote which would be forthcoming in a straight referendum. For that reason, we cannot support the new clause and we shall oppose it in the Lobby.

Mr. John Smith

I shall reply briefly to some of the questions raised. The right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) referred to the fact that similar override provisions in respect of resolutions not approved by the House of Lords applied to Clauses 34 and 35. The hon. Member for Barry (Sir R. Gower), in a beguiling manner, also asked me to concede the argument on Clauses 34 and 35.

Different considerations arise out of those two clauses, but the other place reached a decision in line with the right hon. Member's thinking on the Scotland Bill. The matter as it relates to the Scotland Bill will come back to this House for further consideration in a Lords amendment. It is reasonable to suppose that the House of Lords will reach much the same conclusion on the Wales Bill. Therefore, the issue will come back for further consideration. It will be considered again before the Bill receives Royal Assent.

We shall bear in mind hon. Members' views. There will be a further debate on this matter in another place. It might be wiser for that debate to take place before the Government say anything one way or the other.

My hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell), with considerable ingenuity, managed to refer to the excellent results that the Labour Party achieved in the Scottish regional and island elections. I respect my hon. Friend's sincerity but his enthusiasm for opposing the Bill sometimes leads him into errors of logic. It is fanciful for him to conclude that because the Labour Party had sweeping victories and because devolution was at the centre of its policy, the people of Scotland showed that they did not want devolution.

I should have thought that my hon. Friend would have had a better point if the Labour Party had sustained serious defeats. My hon. Friend would then have said that it was because of our policy of devolution, and that if we did not have it we would have won. However, I must not follow my hon. Friend into these highways and byways of election results. One thing about which we are both agreed is that they are first-class results for the Labour Party. Even my hon. Friend's constituency chairman, who is a very strong pro-devolutionist, as my hon. Friend well knows, can agree with him on that. We can all agree on that.

My hon. Friend asked me what was the meaning of subsection (1) of the new clause. Subsection (1) is precisely the same as the subsection in the old clause. Clause 82. It is the absolutely conventional provision for commencement orders. My hon. Friend will have seen it in many Bills for which there are commencement orders But it so happens that it is entirely conventional. It alows the Secretary of State to bring in the different sections on different days. However, my hon. Friend was hinting. I think, that it might be used in some way to stop the Act coming into operation at all.

I think that it would be totally wrong for a Secretary of State to manipulate his discretion in that way after Parliament had passed an Act and, moreover, after it had been approved by a referendum.

My hon. Friend takes up some curious positions on the subject of the referendum. Having argued for provisions for a referendum to be put in the Bill, and, indeed, being one of the original signatories to the request that that be done, and having succeeded in getting included a very severe requirement that 40 per cent. of those entitled to vote should vote "Yes", I understand my hon. Friend's position to be that if the Scottish people,

as I believe they will, and the Welsh people, resoundingly decide in favour of devolution, my hon. Friend—so far as Scotland is concerned, at least; he has not said anything about Wales—will still vote against it. He will vote against it although it has been approved by Parliament and the people. Then he has the sauce to say that in addition to all that, the Secretary of State should try to manipulate this new clause in some way so that devolution does not come into operation.

There will come the day when my hon. Friend will realise that he has lost the battle. It has not arrived yet. We shall need the assistance of the electorate to persuade him about that. But it is going far too far to say that we should somehow manipulate this conventional and standard clause in such a way as to meet my hon. Friend's prejudices, because by that time he will be about the only person who is opposed to devolution.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time:—

The House divided: Ayes 235, Noes 17.

Division No. 195] AYES [5.23 p.m.
Allaun, Frank Davidson, Arthur Grieve, Percy
Archer, Rt Han Peter Davies, Bryan (Enfield N) Grocott, Bruce
Ashley, Jack Davies, Rt Hon Denzil Hamilton, James (Bothwell)
Ashton, Joe Davies, Ifor (Gower) Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife)
Atkins, Ronald (Preston N) Davis, Clinton (Hackney C) Harper, Joseph
Bagier, Gordon A. T. Deakins, Eric Harrison, Rt Hon Walter
Barnett, Guy (Greenwich) Dean, Joseph (Leeds West) Hart, Rt Hon Judith
Barnett, Rt Hon Joel (Heywood) Dell, Rt Hon Edmund Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy
Benn, Rt Hon Anthony Wedgwood Dempsey, James Hayman, Mre Helene
Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N) Doig, Peter Hooley, Frank
Bidwell, Sydney Dormand, J. D. Horam, John
Bishop, Rt Hon Edward Douglas-Mann, Bruce Howell, Rt Hon Denis (B'ham, Sm H)
Blenkinsop, Arthur Duffy, A. E. P. Hoyle, Doug (Nelson)
Boardman, H. Eadie, Alex Huckfield, Les
Booth, Rt Hon Albert Edge, Geoff Hughes, Rt Hon C. (Anglesey)
Boothroyd, Miss Betty Ellis, John (Brigg & Scun) Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Bottomley, Rt Hon Arthur English, Michael Hughes, Roy (Newport)
Boyden, James (Bish Auck) Evans, Fred (Caerphilly) Hunter, Adam
Bradley, Tom Evans, Ioan (Aberdare) Irvine, Rt Hon Sir A. (Edge Hill)
Brown, Robert C. (Newcastle W) Evans, John (Newton) Irving, Rt Hon S. (Dartford)
Buchanan, Richard Ewing, Harry (Stirling) Jackson, Colin (Brighouse)
Butler, Mrs Joyce (Wood Green) Faulds, Andrew Jackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln)
Callaghan, Rt Hon J. (Cardiff SE) Flannery, Martin Janner, Greville
Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P) Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) Jay, Rt Hon Douglas
Campbell, Ian Foot, Rt Hon Michael Jeger, Mrs Lena
Cant, R. B. Forrester, John Jenkins, Hugh (Putney)
Cartwright, John Fowler, Gerald (The Wrekin) John, Brynmor
Castle, Rt Hon Barbara Fraser, John (Lambeth, N'w'd) Johnson, James (Hull West)
Clemitson, Ivor Freeson, Rt Hon Reginald Johnson, Walter (Derby S)
Cocks, Rt Hon Michael (Bristol S) Garrett, John (Norwich S) Jones, Alec (Rhondda)
Cohen, Stanley Garrett, W. E. (Wallsend) Jones, Barry (East Flint)
Coleman, Donald George, Bruce Judd, Frank
Cook, Robin F. (Edin C) Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John Kelley, Richard
Corbett, Robin Ginsburg, David Kilroy-Silk, Robert
Cowans, Harry Golding, John Kinnock, Neil
Cox, Thomas (Tooting) Gould, Bryan Lamborn, Harry
Cronin, John Gourlay, Harry Lamond, James
Crowther, Stan (Rotherham) Gower, Sir Raymond (Barry) Latham, Arthur (Paddington)
Cryer, Bob Grant, George (Morpeth) Lestor, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough)
Cunningham, Dr J. (Whiteh) Grant, John (Islington C) Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)
Litterick, Tom Parker, John Summerskill, Han Dr Shirley
Luard, Evan Parry, Robert Swain, Thomas
Lyon, Alexander (York) Pavitt, Laurie Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)
Lyons, Edward (Bradford W) Pendry, Tom Thomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery)
Mabon, Rt Hon Dr J. Dickson Perry, Ernest Thomas, Mike (Newcastle E)
McCartney, Hugh Phipps, Dr Colin Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)
McDonald, Dr Oonagh Price, William (Rugby) Tacrne, Stan (Preston S)
MacFarquhar, Roderick Radice, Giles Tierney, Sydney
MacKenzie, Rt Hon Gregor Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn (Leeds S) Tilley, John (Lambeth, Central)
Mackintosh, John P. Richardson, Miss Jo Tinn, James
Maclennan, Robert Roberts, Albert (Normanton) Tomlinson, John
McNamara, Kevin Roberts, Gwilym (Cannock) Tomney, Frank
Madden, Max Robinson, Geoffrey Tuck, Raphael
Magee, Bryan Roderick, Caerwyn Urwin, T. W.
Mallalieu, J. P. W. Rodgers, George (Chorley) Varley, Rt Hon Eric G.
Marks, Kenneth Rodgers, Rt Hon William (Stockton) Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne V)
Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole) Rooker, J. W. Walker, Terry (Kingswood)
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S) Roper, John Watkins, David
Mason, Rt Hon Roy Rose, Paul B. Watkinson, John
Maynard, Miss Joan Rowlands, Ted Weitzman, David
Meacher, Michael Ryman, John Wellbeloved, James
Mellish, Rt Hon Robert Sandelson, Neville White, Frank R. (Bury)
Mikardo, Ian Sedgemore, Brian White, James (Pollok)
Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride) Sever, John Whitlock, William
Mitchell, Austin Shaw, Arnold (Ilford South) Willey, Rt Hon Frederick
Molloy, William Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe) Shore, Rt Hon Peter Williams, Alan Lee (Hornch'ch)
Morris, Rt Hon Charles R. Short, Mrs Renée (Wolv NE) Williams, Rt Hon Shirley (Hertford)
Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon) Silkin, Rt Hon John (Deptford) Wilson, Rt Hon Sir Harold (Huyton)
Moyle, Roland Silkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich) Wilson, William (Coventry SE)
Mulley, Rt Hon Frederick Silverman, Julius Wise, Mrs Audrey
Murray, Rt Hon Ronald King Skinner, Dennis Woodall, Alec
Newens, Stanley Smith, John (N Lanarkshire) Woof, Robert
Noble, Mike Snape, Peter Wrigglesworth, Ian
Oakes, Gordon Spearing, Nigel Young, David (Bolton E)
Orme, Rt Hon Stanley Spriggs, Leslie
Owen, Rt Hon Dr David Stallard, A. W. TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Padley, Walter Stewart, Rt Hon M. (Fulham) Mr. Ted Graham and
Palmer, Arthur Stoddart, David Mr. Alf Bates.
Park, George Strang, Gavin
Bain, Mrs Margaret Hooson, Emlyn Thorpe, Rt Hon Jeremy (N Devon)
Beith, A. J. Howells, Geraint (Cardigan) Watt, Hamish
Crawford, Douglas MacCormick, Iain Welsh, Andrew
Evans, Gwynfor (Carmarthen) Pardoe, John
Ewing, Mrs Winifred (Moray) Penhaligon, David TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Freud, Clement Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth) Mr. Dafydd Wigley and
Grimond, Rt Hon J. Thompson, Georga Mr. Gordon Wilson.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.