HC Deb 06 November 1978 vol 957 cc498-501
48. Mr. Sillars

asked the Lord President of the Council what is Government policy towards those organisations in Scotland campaigning for an affirmative vote in the coming referendum.

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

Naturally, the Government welcome public support for their policies.

Mr. Sillars

Will my right hon. Friend strongly resist the criticism directed at him when he agreed to meet the "Yes for Scotland" umbrella campaign to discuss the need to conduct the referendum on fair rules? Is my right hon. Friend in a position at the moment to announce that in principle the Government are prepared to adjust the electoral register to ensure, for example, that people who die between now and polling day do not count "No" in the referendum?

Mr. Smith

I am not able to give a complete statement on the matter to my hon. Friend, but certainly the matter which he and others in the House raised during the course of the Bill's passage is under very active consideration by the Government. We recognise the equity of deducting from the register those who are not entitled to vote by reason of the fact that they are deceased.

Mr. Gordon Wilson

Will the Minister of State say whether during the recess he had the opportunity of reconsidering the Government's peculiar decision not to issue a neutral leaflet of explanation to the electors in this important referendum indicating what the Scotland Act is all about?

Mr. Smith

The Government came to the conclusion that it would be beyond the wit of man to produce a leaflet which each side regarded as neutral. The House knows that there would have had to be statutory provision within the Scotland Act for finance to be made available to either side, and there was certainly no consensus on that.

The hon. Gentleman will remember that campaign money was made available to both sides for the EEC referendum, in addition to the leaflet, which distinguished the case. The Government will make every effort to make sure that the Scotland Act is well understood, because we believe that the more it is understood the more it will be approved.

50. Mr. loan Evans

asked the Lord President of the Council when it is proposed to hold the referendums on devolution to Scottish and Welsh Assemblies; and if he will make a statement.

59. Mr. Wigley

asked the Lord President of the Council when he proposes that the referendum on the Government's proposals for Welsh and Scottish Assemblies be held.

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

As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister announced on 1st November, the referendums are to be held on 1st March 1979.

Mr. Evans

Does my right hon. Friend accept that we appreciate that the referendum is to be held on St. David's Day, in line with a suggestion which I made in Committee? Will he now ensure that there will be guidelines for the conduct of the referendum? If he has discussions, will he ensure that these are not merely with the usual channels but with all those who are interested in this matter?

Will my right hon. Friend also ensure, with regard to the media and broadcasting in particular, that both the BBC and the independent broadcasting authorities give an objective and impartial assessment of the case for and against the proposals for an Assembly?

Mr. Foot

It is not the business of the broadcasting authorities to do exactly as my hon. Friend has suggested. It is their business to take into account their requirement to be impartial in these matters, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Wales mentioned a few minutes ago.

As for the date of 1st March having been chosen because of the representations of my hon. Friend, it just shows how accommodating we are, and on that account I am looking forward to his conversion to Labour Party policy.

Mrs. Bain

In view of the earlier mention by the Minister of the need for equity in disseminating the argument on the various sides of the referendum questions, will the Lord President tell us what reply the Government intend to send to the Scottish council of the Labour Party and, indeed, to the Welsh Labour Party, which have both requested funding for the conduct of a "Yes" campaign?

Does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that it is essential that funding be given to such organisations on the "Yes" side, in view of the fact that the CBI, or at least elements of the CBI and its Tory allies, will do everything possible to do down the "Yes" campaign?

Mr. Foot

The requests that were made on the subject, as reported in the newspapers, from the Labour Party in Scotland and the Labour Party in Wales were to the Labour Party organisation, and this is a quite separate matter.

The hon. Lady really should not be frightened about the CBI. Nobody really thinks that on such a matter as this anyone will be swayed by its antediluvian opinion.

Mr. Tim Renton

If the 40 per cent. hurdle in both referendums is passed, does the Lord President see any reason why the first Assembly election should not be held on the same day as the European Assembly election, on 7th June?

Mr. Foot

I think that we should take into account the results of the advisory referendums when they are forthcoming, and the House of Commons will take them into account in its recommendation of the date. It would be a presumption on the part of myself and the Government to presume what would happen afterwards until we have seen the results of the referendums.