HC Deb 15 November 1978 vol 958 cc388-90
11. Mr. Knox

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland when the referendum on devolution in Scotland will take place.

The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Harry Ewing)

On 1st March 1979.

Mr. Knox

When do the Government propose to hold the Assembly elections if there is a "Yes" vote in the referendum?

Mr. Ewing

It would be premature at this stage in advance of the referendum to talk about holding Assembly elections. I think that we should await the pronouncement of the Scottish people, which will undoubtedly be "Yes".

Mr. Gordon Wilson

Will the Under-Secretary tell us why the draft order, which has just been published, setting out the eligibility for voting in the referendum does not deal with the vexed problem of dead men's votes and those who have double entitlement to voting, which will have an effect in terms of the 40 per cent. rule which the House passed and included in the Act?

Mr. Ewing

I should have thought the hon. Gentleman would have understood that that was simply because it is not possible to deal precisely with those matters in a referendum order. But they will obviously be dealt with during the debate on the order.

Mr. Sillars

Is it not a little difficult to accept that it is premature to set the date for the Assembly elections before the referendum, bearing in mind all the work that has been done on the Royal high school?

Mr. Ewing

As my hon. Friend knows, I do not have much difficulty in accepting anything about the Scotland Act although I understand that others do. The work which has taken place on the Royal high school is in anticipation of a "Yes" vote, and I am sure that that will be achieved.

Mr. Galbraith

What part do the Government intend to play in the referendum campaign? For example, will they issue pamphlets extolling the advantages of voting "Yes", or will they do nothing?

Mr. Ewing

As usual, it will depend upon our great eloquence in convincing the Scottish electorate that the Government's policies are correct.

Mr. William Ross

Bearing in mind the precedent of the EEC referendum, is it the intention that this House—my hon. Friend can pass this question on to my right hon. Friend the Lord President if he is unable to answer it himself—should be in recess for a few days to allow us all to go all out for a "Yes" vote?

Mr. Ewing

My right hon. Friend has lost none of his expertise in asking and answering questions. He is absolutely right. That is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Lord President.

Mr. Reid

Will the Secretary of State use his good offices to persuade the Prime Minister to go to Scotland during the referendum and campaign for a "Yes" vote in support of his legislation?

Mr. Ewing

We were seeking to use our good offices last week to persuade the Scottish National Party to ensure that the referendum took place at all. I think that the hon. Gentleman, who supported the Government—I pay tribute to him for that—should seek to persuade his colleagues that we ought to have a referendum.