§ 4.5 p.m.
The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Bruce Milian)
I beg to move,That the draft Scotland Act 1978 (Referendum) Order 1978, which was laid before this House on 14th November, be approved.The purpose of this order is to appoint 1st March 1979 as the day on which the devolution referendum will be held and to apply the statutory machinery through which the referendum is to be conducted. The order is made under paragraphs 1 and 4 of schedule 17 to the Scotland Act 1978. In addition to its substantive provisions, it applies all the relevant parts of the Representation of the People Acts, including the Parliamentary Elections Rules, the Returning Officers (Scotland) Act 1977 and, the Representation of the People Regulations. It follows substantially the precedent of the order made for conducting the EEC referendum held on 5th June 1975.
The referendum in Scotland will be conducted on the basis of regions and islands areas and the returning officers will be those who act in that capacity at regional and islands councils elections. I shall be appointing a chief counting officer, who will certify the overall result for Scotland. The chief counting officer will appoint counting officers at region and islands level who will be authorised by him to declare the area results locally.
The 1979 electoral register comes into operation on 16th February 1979. The decision to hold the referendum on Thursday 1st March 1979 therefore means that it will be conducted on the basis of an electoral register which is as up to date as possible. The latest statutory date for publication of the new register is 15th February 1979. In view of the proximity of that date to the date of the referendum, the electoral registration officers have indicated that they will do their best to arrange for copies of the registers to be made available as far in advance of 15th February as is practicable.
Eligibility to vote in the referendum is determined by paragraph 2 of schedule 17 to the Act and is not, therefore, a matter for this order. Those who will be able to vote in the referendum will in fact be all those who would be eligible to vote as electors in a parliamentary election in Scotland and those peers who 1271 would be eligible to vote in a local government election in Scotland. The canvass for the 1979 register has been undertaken and a draft is at present being prepared by the electoral registration officers. This draft of the 1979 register will be published on 28th November and will be open for public inspection and for notification of additions, changes and objections until 16th December 1978.
That is the general background of the order.
§ Mr. David Steel (Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles)
In view of the amendment passed by the House during the passage of the Scotland Bill, what will be the effect on this order and the holding of a referendum on 1st March in either of two circumstances—first, that a General Election could conceivably be called for 1st March, and secondly, that a General Election could be held on the Thursday before 1st March?
I am sure the right hon. Gentleman knows that in the event of a General Election there must be a three-month gap before the referendum. If the order is passed today, it will set the date of 1st March, but that could be set aside if Parliament were dissolved for a General Election. A delay would take place. That is the statutory position.
Let me deal with the order itself. The general principle has been to apply the normal electoral law for parliamentary elections, modified as necessary. A great number of the modifications are necessary simply because of the absence of candidates and the consequential need, for example, to make such substitutions asa particular result at the pollforthe election of a candidate.This means that a large number of amendments will be necessary to the normal regulations.
The order consists of seven substantive articles and two schedules. Article I provides that the order will come into operation as soon as it is made. Articles 2 and 3 deal with interpretation, application and construction. Article 4 fixes the date and the hours of polling, which are the same as for parliamentary elections. Article 5 provides for arrangements to be made for observers. Article 6 is of particular 1272 importance in that it provides that absent voting facilities will be as for parliamentary elections.
The main categories of persons who may vote by post if they can provide an address in the United Kingdom to which the ballot paper is to be sent are, first, those who no longer reside at an address in the regional electoral division for which they have been registered. I hope that Scottish Members will note that this now applies to regional electoral divisions. Secondly, the list includes Service voters, unless they have exercised their right to vote by proxy. Normal arrangements to vote by proxy will continue. Thirdly, it includes those who are prevented from going to the polling station by the general nature of their employment. Fourthly, it applies to the blind and physically incapacitated, including those in hospital.
The last date for the receipt of postal voting applications is 15th February 1979 —again, in accirdance with normal practice in parliamentary elections. In view of the importance of this vote, I very much hope that all those in Scotland who think that they will be entitled to a postal vote and wish to receive one will make sure that they apply to the electoral registration officer in good time.
§ Mr. Norman Buchan (Renfrewshire, West)
I wonder whether my right hon. Friend would clarify the point that he has just made about those who have moved to another regional electoral area. It is important for the public at large. It means, of course, the area covered by a single regional councillor or ward area. It would be useful if it were further clarified, because there is a lot of confusion on that point.
§ Mr. Millan
I wanted to emphasise that matter because the rules have changed since the last General Election. I do not think that everyone in Scotland is completely aware of that. In fact, until it was drawn to my attention I had not realised that this significant rule had been changed. Postal voting, in terms of change of residence, rests on a change from one regional electoral area to another. In many places, including my constituency —Glasgow, Craigton—it will mean a more liberal application of postal voting rules, even within a single constituency. It is important to make that clear to all 1273 those who might be entitled to a postal vote.
I shall be happy to answer questions, but I hope that I shall not subsequently be accused of taking too long.
§ Dr. Miller
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the arrangements made for voting by post or proxy will be the same as apply for a General Election? Will he also add an eighth article asking for good weather on the day of the referendum?
§ Mr. Millan
I wish that I could organise that. On the first point, it is the same as for parliamentary elections. The point I wish to make is that in one significant respect the rules have been changed since the last General Election and not every hon. Member is necessarily completely aware of that. However, the rules have been changed in a liberal direction, so postal votes for change of residence will be easier now than they were at the last election—at least, in most areas of Scotland.
I should now like to refer to the 40 per cent. rule, because I am sure that the House will expect me to do so. First, I should like to remind the House of the advisory nature of the referendum. The ballot paper itself makes this clear with its use of the words:Parliament has decided to consult the electorate".Whatever the outcome of the referendum, Parliament will have to approve the next effective step. If I consider that the 40 per cent. hurdle has not been met, I must introduce a draft order under section 85 of the Scotland Act, but it will be for Parliament to decide whether to approve the order. If, as the Government believe, the 40 per cent. hurdle is easily overcome, I must still come to Parliament to seek approval for the first commencement order under section 83 of the Scotland Act.
In short, the final post-referendum judgment is to be made by Parliament alone. The outcome of the referendum determines only whether I have to lay an order under section 85. Obviously the House, as well as the Secretary of State, will take full account of the result of the referendum. Nevertheless, it is 1274 ultimately an advisory referendum in the sense that the House will make the final decision.
The 40 per cent. hurdle was not of the Government's choosing but was incorporated into the Scotland Act against our strong advice. Section 85(2) of the Act provides:If it appears to the Secretary of State that less than 40 per cent. of the persons entitled to vote in the referendum have voted" Yes"…he shall lay before Parliament the draft of an Order in Council for the repeal of this Act.Before we can establish this 40 per cent. figure, we must first establish the number of persons who are entitled to vote in the referendum. It is the expression "entitled to vote" which creates problems, and I should like to explain in some detail how we propose to deal with them. I shall then leave it to the House to comment on what I have in mind as the best practicable course in the circumstances. The House will see that I shall not give a final view on what I think should be done on every matter that I mention.
To be entitled to vote on the referendum in Scotland on 1st March, people must be entered on the electoral register then operative in Scotland. Clearly, those whose names are not on the register will not be entitled to vote. But that does not mean in reverse that we can simply take the total number of names that appear on the register as being the number of people who are entitled to vote on any particular day. Entry on the register is certainly the basic qualification. Without it, there is no entitlement to vote. But, to obtain the number of those entitled to vote in the referendum on 1st March, it is necessary, for reasons which I shall explain, to make some deduction from the total number of names appearing on the register.
The main categories where deductions may arise are as follows, and I shall deal with them in turn. First, there are the people who attain the voting age of 18 after 1st March 1979. The register runs from mid-February to mid-February and includes the names of people who will not reach the age of 18 until mid-February 1980. Perhaps we could call those under 18 "attainers". These are the people whose names appear on the register as attaining the age of 18 within its period of currency but who will not be entitled 1275 to vote on the date of the referendum because they have not attained that age by that date.
That means that we must make a deduction of those who have not reached the age of 18 until after 1st March 1979. That is a comparatively simple deduction to make, because electoral registration officers will be able to provide the actual number involved, but they will not be able to count them until the 1979 registers are available. We cannot do it at the moment. However, I have had the order of magnitude of the deduction assessed for the 1978 register. It was just under 50,000. Therefore, I expect the figure for next year's register, which will be accurately counted, to be of the same order–50,000.
Secondly, there is the question of deaths. The names of people who were alive on 10th October 1978—the qualifying date for entry on the register—but who have died between then and the date of the referendum will normally appear on the register, because it is compiled by reference to the position as at the October qualifying date. Clearly, however, it would be wrong to include those people in a calculation of the number entitled to vote on 1st March 1979, so a deduction has to be made for these deaths in this period of rather more than four months.
The actual number of deaths in Scotland right up to the date of the referendum cannot be known until some time afterwards. Nor can we know whether all those concerned were on a Scottish electoral register or how many people who were on a Scottish register may have died outside Scotland in that period. Any attempt to check a nominal roll of deaths, even of those occurring in Scotland, against the electoral register would be impracticable. It could not begin until the registers were available and would not be complete until long after the referendum, and even then it would still be subject to error.
However, it will be possible to make a reasonable estimate of the deduction that should be made for the number of deaths of people aged 18 or over between 10th October 1978 and 28th February 1979. This deduction will be based on information held by the Registrar General for Scotland about actual deaths in Scot- 1276 land. For obvious reasons, an estimate relating to a referendum on 1st March cannot be made at this stage. I can, however, inform the House that if the referendum had been held on 1st March this year the deduction would have been about 26,000. I believe that this gives a reasonable guide to the deduction that might he made for deaths. By February, I shall have the actual number of deaths in Scotland up to the end of January. Estimation will therefore be confined to one month only. Rather more than three months' figures will be available. I hope that this helps the House.
Thirdly, people who are detained in a penal institution are legally incapable of voting. That means that there should be a deduction for convicted prisoners whose names are on the register. I shall not go into this in detail. An estimate poses some difficulties, but the evidence suggests that any deduction would be small compared with the deduction for 17year-olds and for deaths.
The most difficult category is that of multiple registration. That is the category of people whose names appear on more than one register in Scotland. Such people will be able to record only one vote in the referendum. They are entitled to vote at only one place, and their second registration is not an entitlement to a second vote. It is an offence for a person to vote more than once but not for a person to be registered at more than one address. There is no central check or facility for matching of names between registers. When registering a person for one address, an electoral registration officer cannot know whether that person has applied to another electoral registration officer elsewhere in respect of a second address.
Not every application to register would be successful. What constitutes "residence" for the purpose of registration is decided by the individual electoral registration officer on the facts of the circumstances. My officials have discussed the problem with the electoral registration officers. They consider that the largest categories of those who are likely to be registered for more than one address are students living away from home in term time and those living in residential accommodation at hospitals—nurses and young medical staff in particular.
1277 The current figure for the number of students receiving an award through the Scottish Education Department and living outwith the parental home in Scotland is about 28,000. That excludes those living away from home but not living in Scotland. There are about 28,000 students receiving a higher level of grant and living outside their parents' homes within Scotland. This figure is likely to be a good estimate of the total number of students with two addresses in Scotland and could thus be taken to represent the upper limit of the number of students in Scotland who might be registered on more than one register.
What we do not know, and I want to look into this further, is the proportion of the total who are recorded on more than one register. To have two addresses is one thing; to be on two registers is another. The position is likely to differ between private lodgings, where the students are probably appoached directly by those compiling the registers, and, say, student halls of residence, where the number appearing on the registers might well depend on the diligence of the wardens in registering students and the political awareness of the students. These are matters which have to be taken into account and which I am considering further.
I turn now to hospital accommodation to give some idea of the scale of the problem there. The upper limit for those living in such accommodation whose names might appear on two registers is estimated to be about 5,000. That is the upper limit. The actual limit is more difficult to determine but it is obviously likely to be less.
I have received a considerable number of representations from student bodies, students and others drawing attention to multiple registration and to the effect that it might have on the application of the power in section 85(2) of the Scotland Act. Those representations bear out the advice of the electoral registration officers to us that double registration of students is fairly common.
There is a strongly held view in Scotland that some account should be taken of multiple registration. I am looking into this matter further. I would be grateful to hear the views of hon. Members on this problem and in particular 1278 to hear what the House might regard as a reasonable adjustment for multiple registration.
To sum up—
§ Mr. Douglas Henderson (Aberdeenshire, East)
I did not intervene earlier because I thought that the right hon. Gentleman might be returning to this point. As he has clearly spelt out, it is essential for every vote to count in the referendum. Since the referendum conditions of counting are intended to reproduce as nearly as possible the conditions in a General Election, may I ask whether there will be scope for a Member of Parliament or some other authorised person present to ask for a recount of the votes in the area for which he is responsible if he suspects that it might be desirable?
§ Mr. Millan
Yes. The normal rules concerning recounting will apply. The hon. Gentleman will see that the order provides that the Member of Parliament is entitled to be present at the vote and at the polling stations in the area which he represents. There are difficulties about observers because this is not like an ordinary parliamentary election where the parties have their own nominees. That is provided for in the order. There will be observers. To answer the more general question, I intend that the chief counting officer should have discussions with the political parties in Scotland—at least, those represented in this House—about what would be satisfactory arrangements for observers at the counting of the votes.
§ Mr. Hamish Watt (Banff)
While we are grateful to the Secretary of State and his officers for the work which they have done in counting up the under–18s, the dead and those who are doubly registered, may I ask him to say whether any consideration has been given to those members of the community who for religious reasons do not choose to exercise their vote? Has he approached the various religious sects to ask for the numbers within those sects who do not vote? If he were to receive that number, would he divide it among the North-East constituencies so as to make the result more accurate? Failing that, may I ask him to look at the results in the North-East constituencies over the past few elections and deduct from the average vote in Scotland 1279 the actual percentage vote in these constituencies and work out the proportion of non-voters in that way?
That is a point of detail. If people have conscientious objections to voting, in many cases they will not be on the roll because they will not have taken the trouble to register. In that case there is no problem. If they are on the roll, they are still entitled to vote. If they do decide not to vote, for conscientious reasons, boredom or whatever, there is no way in which I can make a deduction, because they are entitled to vote. It is not legally possible for me to make a deduction, because they are entitled to vote. I can make a deduction only in respect of those who for one reason or another cannot vote, such as the 17-yearolds. In the case of death, we obviously have to make a deduction. I shall make deductions in the other categories. There is nothing I can do about people who decide not to vote.
§ Mr. Bruce Douglas-Mann (Mitcham and Morden)
Would my right hon. Friend accept that the way in which he has outlined the approach to this issue completely refutes many of the arguments presented against the 40 per cent. proposal?
I do not accept that. Since I am summing up my speech, I do not want to get into that argument again. It was unfortunate that such a proposal was put into the Bill. I am trying to explain how it might be coped with.
I will not be in a position to make the deductions for the 1979 register until that register is available. I have, however, indicated—I hope that it has helped the House—what the deduction might have been for attainers—that is, those under 18—and deaths if the referendum had been held on 1st March 1978. These figures will give a fair indication of the order of deductions which might be made for these categories for a referendum on 1st March 1979.
The total number of names on the electoral registers published on 15th February 1978 was 3,809,212. From this there would have fallen to be deducted for the two categories I have mentioned—those on the registers but under the age of 18 and deaths—about 50,000 and 26,000 res- 1280 pectively. This would have given a total of 76,000, to which might have been added further deductions for the other two categories I have mentioned—convicted persons and multiple registration.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Wales and I will listen carefuly to any views which the House may wish to express on the question of how we propose to deal with the 40 per cent. test. Against that background and with that explanation, I commend the order to the House.
§ 4.29 p.m.
Mr. Leon Britton (Cleveland and Whitby)
I shall be advising my right hon. and hon. Friends that the order should have the support of the House. It is right that the people of Scotland should have the opportunity to express their views on the Government's proposals. Indeed, we made clear some time ago that we favoured holding the referendum as early as was feasible. We made clear that if there had been an election in October, as was widely expected, and we had won we should have gone ahead with the referendum.
The date chosen by the Government–1st March, St. David's Day—as far as I am aware has no particular significance for Scotland, except perhaps that it will be almost five years to the day since the Labour Government came to power and announced in the Queen's Speech their intention toInitiate discussions in Scotland…on the Report of the Royal Commission on the Constitution, and…bring forward proposals for consideration.It is a matter for regret that there were no genuine discussions and that the Labour Government proposed, and went forward with, legislation of the kind that they did, because if they had consulted other parties they might have produced legislation that commanded much more widespread support in the House than the present legislation ever did. In those circumstances, it would perhaps not have been necessary for the Government to have a referendum at all.
In considering the order, it is relevant to consider the circumstances in which a referendum comes to be held. The referendum found no place in the original Scotland and Wales Bill. It was inserted in the Scotland Bill at the last minute only 1281 to fulfil the panic promise made to ensure that the Bill received a Second Reading. But now that we have the referendum there can, of course, be no opposition to the date, 1st March.
The date we suggested was 22nd March. which would have had certain advantages for those concerned, as I think we all should be, that the vote should be maximised. Clearly, the nights would be lighter and the chances of the weather being very bad would be that much less if the referendum were held those three weeks later. But clearly there is no objection on our part to holding it on 1st March.
I should also make clear that we on the Conservative Benches take the view that if there is a clear majority in the referendum in favour of the Government's proposals, in accordance with the requirements of the Act, we should think it right to advise Parliament to implement those proposals. We should think it right in those circumstances to do everything in our power to make the new arrangements for the government of Scotland work well for the people of Scotland and seek to do what we could to build a smooth-working relationship between the United Kingdom Government and Parliament and the Scottish Assembly and Executive.
But I also want to make it clear that during the referendum campaign we shall be recommending the people of Scotland to vote against the proposals. We regard them as ill-thought-out, illogical, cumbersome, expensive and amounting to a serious threat to the unity of the United Kingdom. They represent a recipe for conflict, especially in the financial provisions.
The division of powers in the Act is on no rational basis, and no solution is provided to the West Lothian question, which strikes at the very root of the proposals. In our view, the attempt to produce legislative devolution within the context of a unitary State will not meet with success as a result of these proposals. Nor do they take into account any thought to the weakening of the position of Scottish Members and the Secretary of State for Scotland if the proposals were accepted. In opposing the proposals during the referendum campaign, we shall not do so 1282 in a negative way. We are not asking the people of Scotland simply to endorse the status quo. If the proposals are rejected, we favour the setting up of an all-party conference to scrutinise alternative means of improving the government of Scotland. We have already published, on 10th September of this year, our draft submission to such a conference. We are entitled to ask the Government in laying the order before the House to answer the following question: what do they propose doing if the referendum rejects the advice given by the Government and if the people of Scotland decide that they do not want the proposals to be implemented? The Minister who is to reply to the debate should answer that question.
We do not reject the need for change; we do reject these proposals. The people of Scotland are entitled to something better than the divisive and illogical scheme conceived in political panic and foisted on a totally unconvinced Parliament by the sheer force of Government whipping.
§ Mr. Gordon Wilson (Dundee, East)
Is the hon. and learned Gentleman saying that in view of his considerable experience in this matter 10 years ago Sir Alec Douglas-Home, as he then was, would be invited by the Conservative Party to do a repeat of the inquiry that was done for the party and was pigeonholed by the right hon. Member for Sid-cup (Mr. Heath) when he was Prime Minister?
I thought that the hon. Gentleman's sense of hearing was sufficiently clear for him to distinguish between what he said and what I have said about the all-party talks.
The view that I have just expressed is the one that we shall put forward in the referendum campaign. As to the conduct of the referendum, we are anxious that it should be a straightforward and fair test of the opinion of the people of Scotland. We do not favour the expenditure of public money and public resources to assist either side of the campaign.
We are glad that the Government have set their face against any attempt to set out the facts in a so-called objective way or to give money to either side in the campaign. But, in our view, the biggest threat to the fair conduct of the referendum is one that was not mentioned at all 1283 by the Secretary of State—the use of the Government's own publicity machine. Before the order is passed, the Minister should fill the gap left by the Secretary of State in explaining the Government's policy on the matter.
This is not a matter that can be new to the Secretary of State. Novelty will be no explanation for his silence, because during the debates on the Bill we made abundantly clear our anxieties on this score. All that we had from Ministers was bland statements that Ministers would speak in favour of Government policy but would give no money to any organisations or individuals or spend money in any other way. It is not as simple as that.
If it is the Government's genuine desire to persuade the people of Scotland and the House that the referendum is to be conducted fairly, it will be necessary for them to explain what money, if any, will be spent by the Government on research and back-up facilities and what money will be spent on promotional facilities in the presentation of the "Yes" side of the campaign by Ministers. Are civil servants to act as speech writers for Ministers in these matters? Are public relations officials within the Government machine to be used? These questions should be answered and we should have figures.
The Government may say that they will do exactly the same as in a General Election, but I do not believe that that solves the problem, because a General Election is quite a different matter. Limits are imposed on the expenditure of particular candidates. In the present situation, where there are no candidates, the Government are under a public duty to explain exactly how they propose to use the Government machine, to what extent and at what cost.
§ Dr. M. S. Miller
Surely the hon. and learned Gentleman must realise that the Government are not saying that they are neutral in the matter. They back the legislation. They have said so all along. Surely the hon. and learned Gentleman does not expect the Government at this stage to tell the Scottish people "We are not giving you every indication, before the referendum and during the referendum campaign, that we support this all the way". 1284 That includes spending money in order to put forward that point of view.
§ Mr. Brittan
I am saying that the Government are entitled by their Ministers and supporters, if they can find any, to tell the people of Scotland that this is a good measure.
They have told the House repeatedly that they do not propose to spend public money advancing one side of the campaign or the other. If they have changed their mind and they think it is legitimate for public money to be spent in support of one side of the campaign rather than the other, they are entitled to take that view. In that event, they should tell the House that they have changed their mind and that they think they should spend public money in favour of the "Yes" campaign although no money will be available in support of the "No" campaign. They should say that they expect to spend a certain amount of public money in support of propaganda, a certain amount on speech writing, a certain amount on cars, and a certain amount in other directions. They should tell us what they expect the total to be. If they do that, the House will be in a position to decide whether that amounts to a fair conduct of the referendum.
I remind Labour Members that during a General Election the Government machine is not used to further the interests of any one party. The Government are entitled to take a view, but they should come clean with the House.
It is also worth asking why there is an important difference in the Government's conduct of the referendum compared with the EEC referendum. In the devolution referendum no dispensation is being granted to Ministers who do not favour the devolution legislation. It is no answer to say that it is Government policy. It is no answer to say—[Interruption.] The Secretary of State is muttering. If he will pay me the courtesy of listening to me as I listened to him, he will find that the House will hold him in greater respect.
§ Mr. Brittan
That is a matter for the Chair rather than for the Secretary of State. I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman finds the arguments that I am 1285 advancing so uncomfortable that he has to resort to sedentary interventions. He would be better off listening to what I have to say.
We are talking about the conduct of the referendum, and it is highly relevant to ask why the Government are insisting on collective responsibility. After all, in the European referendum it was just as much a part of Government policy that there should be a "Yes" vote. Ministers who disagreed with that were granted a dispensation. That is a question that should be answered.
There is another more specific matter relating to the referendum that should be mentioned at this stage. It is not dealt with in the order, but it is highly relevant if the referendum is to be conducted fairly. I have in mind the conduct of broadcasting during the course of the campaign. It is crucial that there should be agreed ground rules. No amount of looking sulky or sullen on the part of the Secretary of State will provide an answer.
During a General Election there are agreed ground rules. They apply to party political broadcasts. They relate to how many such broadcasts will be made and the conduct of current affairs programmes during the campaign. It would be right for comparable rules to be agreed for the conduct of the referendum campaign.
If there are party political broadcasts during the course of the campaign, will they be allowed to include references to the referendum? If so, that will not necessarily amount to a fair use of broadcasting time if we consider the position of the various parties that are concerned.
How is the balance to be maintained for discussion programmes? Is the balance in political discussions to be between the various political parties or between those who are in favour of a "Yes" vote and those who are in favour of a "No" vote? These are important questions and the Minister should address his mind to them rather than merely looking grumpy.
§ Mr. Leo Abse (Pontypool)
Am I to understand that the Conservative Party is taking the view that in any allocation of time for broadcasts of any sort it is important that the usual channels are not used? It is acknowledged and recognised, for example, in Wales—doubtless it is the same in Scotland—that there is 1286 a large Labour electorate that wants to vote "No". Am I to understand that the Conservative Party, in any such discussions, would welcome the fact that representatives who speak for a Labour electorate saying "No" must participate and help to make the ground rules, which I readily agree are most necessary?
§ Mr. Brittan
I am not seeking to specify the machinery that should be used to achieve the right result. I am specifying what the right result should be. Surely that should be that in any discussion there should be equal time between those who are in favour and those who are against, irrespective of which party they represent.
The substantial answer to the question put by the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) is "Yes". There should be room for Labour opponents. There should be room for those of all parties and of none on both sides. There should be room in equal proportions. That is the key factor. Those in opposition and those for should have equal time on the air, whatever form the programme takes. The Government should give some indication of how they will seek to ensure that that is achieved. It is the Government's responsibility, as they are responsible for the conduct of the referendum, to ensure that that happens.
I turn to section 85(2) of the Act and the placing before the House of a repeal order if the 40 per cent. requirement is not met. I am grateful to the Secretary of State for the careful way in which he has gone through the various categories. We agree that it is right, first, to establish the number of persons who are entitled to vote. They must be persons who are on the register. We further agree that it is appropriate that deductions should be made from the names that are on the register for those who are obviously not in law entitled to vote.
The Secretary of State referred to those who will not be 18 years of age by 1st March. I agree that persons in that category should be deducted. I am relieved to hear that it will be possible to make a precise calculation of those in that category. It is encouraging to learn that a precise calculation will be made of the dead up to the end of January. It is right that they should be eliminated from the total on which the 40 per cent. is based. 1287 The Secretary of State will have to rely on the assessment of the Registrar General for the remaining month. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to ask the Registrar General in good time to make a statistical assessment in the form of a paper, which should be publicly available, setting out the way in which the calculation for the month will be made, and as soon as possible to make an assessment. If there is an area in which open government is called for, it is in setting out publicly all the facts and matters that the Secretary of State will take into account in considering whether 40 per cent. is reached.
The Secretary of State gave us no figures for the penal institutions. However, I am relieved to learn that the number involved is small. Surely it would be possible to make a fairly precise estimate. I hope, too, that that will be done as early as possible.
I agree with the Secretary of State that multiple registration is the most difficult category. I agree that it would be right to make an appropriate discount for those who are not entitled to vote and those who appear twice on the register but may vote only in one place.
What should be the discount? The Secretary of State went into the various categories and talked about students. He said that the maximum figure was 28,000 but it was impossible to know the proportion of those actually on the register. I suggest that between now and the referendum a reputable academic survey should be made, based on the most recent year for which figures are available, to assess the proportion of students who appear on two registers. I do not think that that would be an impossible task. It need not be done by means of a total survey of the whole of the register for Scotland. It could be done by a sample. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to set that in hand and to publish the results.
Although the Secretary of State has the subjective task of deciding whether it appears to him that the requirement of the 40 per cent. has been met, in the last analysis that is something which could be subject to scrutiny by the courts. It is right that, in order to avoid anyone being tempted to seek such scrutiny, the criteria under which the Secretary of State is proposing to operate should be set out as clearly as possible in advance 1288 so that we have all the figures and facts before the date of the referendum.
What we really ought to be seeking to achieve, I suggest to the Secretary of State, is a position whereby, on the morning of 1st March, the electorate in Scotland will know the precise figure, derived partly from counting and partly from statistical assessment, which is to be deducted from the register to form the figure on which the 40 per cent. is based. Then there would be no fear that the assessment of what that figure should be has been influenced by the outcome of the voting. The figure for the discount should be known in advance, and I do not think that that is too much to ask.
There are, however, other questions which can be asked now and which I hope the Minister will answer. What period do the Government anticipate there being between the referendum and the elections for the Assembly if the people of Scotland vote "Yes"? It is important that all who may be concerned with that eventuality should have adequate time to make the preparations and that they should know what timescale is envisaged. I am sure that the Government will agree that it would be quite wrong that the elections should be held on the same day as either the European elections or the General Election. I hope that the Minister will confirm that my assessment of the Government's view on that subject is correct.
Before these orders are passed, I ask for answers to the specific points that I have raised. First, how will the Government machine be used, and at what cost? Secondly, when will the repeal order be laid, if it is necessary for it to be laid? It is right that it should be done as soon as possible so that Parliament has time and an opportunity to make its decision on the issue as soon as possible. Thirdly, how will balance be obtained and maintained on radio and television? Fourthly, when do the Government intend to hold the first. Assembly elections if they secure the "Yes" vote which we shall be campaigning against?
§ 4.53 p.m.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)
It is no part of the argument of those of us in the Labour "Vote No" campaign to support anything that may have the effect 1289 of leading to a low turn-out in the referendum.
On the contrary, the Labour "Vote No" campaign hopes for as a high a turn-out as possible, not only in the interests of democratic participation—and, frankly, not only out of a sense of chivalry, on account of the 40 per cent.—but because we know that at the end of the day the 40 per cent. is only advisory and that the House of Commons will decide whether to endorse the Scotland Act largely on the size of the vote of those who bother to go out and vote positively "No".
It is in the interests of those of us who share the convictions of the Labour "Vote No" campaign that there should be as large a turn-out as possible on 1st March.
Indeed, should the Government suggest two polling days—say, on 1st March and on 15th March—that would be wholly acceptable to us.
I recollect that on 1st March 1978 it was literally impossible to get from Whitburn to Fauldhouse in my constituency. There must have been similar difficulties in most of our constituencies.
I can imagine what would happen in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson), on the Lammermuirs, if snow made conditions impossible for voting. My hon. Friend the Member for East Kilbride (Dr. Miller) had a serious point when he asked what will happen if 1st March 1979 proves to be as inhospitable as 1st March 1978. I do not know whether it has been the misfortune of any other hon. Members to be stuck in a snowdrift. If they have, they will know what it is like. Those of us who have been stuck in snowdrifts at Drumochter or elsewhere know very well that on 1st March it may be impossible for many people in rural areas to reach a polling station.
§ Dr. M. S. Miller
Is my hon. Friend aware that in the 1966 General Election, which was held in March, there was snow in most parts of Scotland which made polling extremely difficult?
§ Mr. Dalyell
Yes, there was a problem and it could recur.
1290 We in the Labour "Vote No" campaign do not desire to see any unsatisfactory mechanical features of the referendum.
If there is argument about the 40 per cent., I understand from Sir Philip Allen, now Lord Allen of Abbeydale, who presided over the EEC referendum, that an accurate statistic of the total live electorate can be worked out for any date.
This, it seems, the Secretary of State has done, and the figure of 26,000 seems to be a reasonable deduction. Let us, then, once and for all put the dead men in their graves. Let us have no more of the argument about dead votes.
Similarly, one hardly doubts that a calculation could be made about the number of students having two votes but able to use only one of them, swelling the total out of which a 40 per cent. would have been obtained.
It seems to us, on the face of it, that the Secretary of State's figure of 28,000 is probably wholly reasonable. Of course, in these matters we trust him completely. The Labour "Vote No" campaign is not concerned to win on such trivia. We are out for a majority "No" vote, and not on the technicalities of multiple registration.
The Secretary of State asked for our views on the proportions which are recorded, on the question of private lodgings, and on the register of warden and student residences. I should have thought that we would be quite happy to let the Scottish Office officials work out these matters as they think just. This point also applies to hospital students.
I say here and now that those of us who are dissenters in this matter would wish to see a generous calculation made, and that we do not make quibbles on this.
The Secretary of State asked about the counting officers and whether they should have discussions with political parties. if they are to have discussions with political parties, I should have thought that it would be satisfactory to have discussions not only with those on either side of a political fence but also with those on either side of this political argument.
What concerns the Labour "Vote No" campaign above all is that people in Scotland should have some clear idea of exactly what they are being asked to 1291 assent to, what it is exactly that they are being asked to say "Yes" to.
This brings us to the question—it was raised by the hon. and learned Member for Cleveland and Whitby (Mr. Brittan) —about the media and the referendum.
We have no complaint about the press being overwhelmingly hostile to the views of the Labour "Vote No" campaign. Newspapers are entitled, in a free society, to their opinions. Even when we do not care for those opinions, we will struggle for the right of newspapers to express them.
Further, whatever the editorial policy of The Scotsman and the Glasgow Herald working journalists, editors and those who control the publication of letters to the editor have been generous and fair to those of us who dissent from them as to the creation of an Assembly.
Equally, I have no complaint about the other daily and national newspapers which have been trumpeting for an Assembly, or about independent radio, or about Scottish Television, which seem to be scrupulous in their approach.
Possibly I could be forgiven for gently suggesting to the Sunday Mail that its readers, who see my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Cook), Mr. Archie Birt of Gourock and myself attacked as "Abominable No Men", might like to know that the journalist who does it is a high official of the Scottish National Party. From time to time, Mr. Colin Bell ought to remind us of his medals and his credentials.
§ Mr. Buchan
Indeed, he is not only a high official of the SNP but is also the vice-chairman in charge of press and publicity matters.
§ Mr. Dalyell
My hon. Friend's intervention raises a question of ethics into which I shall not be drawn.
As to the BBC, some of us have an anxiety. In the past months and years, time and again, Mr. Alastair Hetherington has shown himself to be just as much a protagonist in this argument as I or many of my hon. Friends have been.
Is it satisfactory that a player in the front row of the scrum should also be the referee who blows the whistle? This is not the way they do things in Hawick, 1292 Galashiels or even at the Melrose Sevens.
Should Mr. Hetherington be the producer of "Match of the Day", if we can return to the round ball? It seems to many of us like asking Billy McNeill or John Greig to referee a cup tie between Rangers and Celtic.
§ Mr. Dalyell
My hon. Friend says that they would do it better than most referees, but I think there would be some comment from the terraces, perhaps of a ribald nature, if John Greig or Billy McNeill were to referee a Celtic-Rangers cup tie. Whether or not it was fair, and however good they were, the issue is whether it would be seen to be fair.
§ Mr. Robert Hughes
I am glad that my hon. Friend has clarified his position. While I understand the need for him to make analogies, and in view of the fact that Billy McNeill was a former manager of Aberdeen, I would hate anyone to think that he was unfair in any policy. One should he careful about using names in the context of an analogy.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Myer Galpern)
I hope that the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) will not pursue his analogy, otherwise there may be an outbreak on the Green Benches which may not be suitable for the House, and we do not want that.
§ Mr. Dalyell
The fact is that Mr. Hetherington makes no pretence but that he desperately wants an Assembly. He is down in the scrum, he is on the cup tie park, battling it out with the rest of us. There is as much sweat on his brow, and mud on his knees, as on mine. Independent-minded though men and women in the BBC in Scotland are, the controller's attitude, in the nature of things, is bound to permeate the organisation.
I have to say that the taste of parish pump piffle which some of us have been getting from Radio Scotland, at the start of the day's broadcasting at 6 a.m. when Mr. Neville Garden tells us that he is talking to the "nation", confirms some of our darkest suspicions.
§ Mr. Buchan
I am not out of sympathy with certain of my hon. Friend's remarks, but I do not think we can allow this 1293 attack upon the potential objectivity and, indeed, present objectivity of the BBC to go without comment. My hon. Friend has left on one side the entire mass media and commercial television. On the other hand, despite the particular views of the controller of the BBC, about which I know nothing, there is nothing to suggest that the BBC is any more partisan than any of the other newspapers or media. For goodness sake, my hon. Friend should look at The Scotsman. He should be careful about what he is saying.
§ Mr. Dalyell
It stretches my credulity to think that my hon. Friend, an assiduous reader of the Scottish newspapers, knows nothing of the views of the controller of the BBC, because anyone who reads the Scottish press can hardly be unaware of them.
Therefore, let it be suggested to the governors of the BBC that for the period of January to February 1979 they ought to grant Mr. Hetherington leave on full pay and instal a professional BBC man as controller who is identified with neither side of the argument.
Delicate decisions of balance will have to be made. Not only will they have to be fair, but they must also be seen to be fair. Indeed, to be fair to Mr. Hetherington, precisely because he is on the "Yes" side of the argument, and being the sort of man he is, he might lean over backwards to be fair to the "No" side of the campaign. Then there would be complaints from certain of my hon. Friends who are calling for an Assembly.
Mr. Hetherington cannot win in this situation. Far better that he should be sent on sabbatical. I would not complain even if he campaigned in a personal capacity for his point of view, but not from the perch of the controller's seat in Queen Margaret Drive.
§ Mr. George Reid (Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire)
Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that the BBC in Scotland is in breach of its charter? Would he not agree that, every time there has been a studio confrontation, both sides of the argument have been represented and will continue to be so?
§ Mr. Dalyell
It is very important that we discuss these matters. The hon. and 1294 learned Member for Cleveland and Whitby was quite right to raise the issue of the behaviour of the media, without which this discussion would be wholly incomplete. I leave it to hon. Members to make their own contribution, but I am sure that others of my colleagues will have something to say about the media, including the hon. Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire (Mr. Reid).
Let the House consider one example of where a man of Mr. Hetherington's public beliefs will be in a fix. Let us consider a particular problem, the ethics of which bother Mr. Russell Galbraith and Mr. Colin Mackay of STV, who have perceived the difficulties. That was the problem raised tendentially by the hon. and learned Member for Cleveland and Whitby.
Let us suppose that the Labour Party, in the person of Mrs. Helen Liddell, or the Scottish National Party, asked for a party political broadcast or an opt out in the immediate run-up to the referendum. What then do the broadcasting authorities do? Do they accept the right of the parties to give their own material, or insist in the interests of balance that the various "Vote No" organisations be given equivalent prime time? This raises deep questions of principle. A man of Mr. Hetherington's involvement would find it difficult to satisfy all concerned in such circumstances.
I ask the direct question: what is the Government's attitude to the use of party political broadcasts on the eve of the referendum? It would be grossly unfair to produce a party political broadcast in which the Prime Minister gave a pep talk to the people of Scotland unless the "Noes" had a right of reply.
Just as in a General Election, when things have to be done on balance, so they must be in a referendum. Not perhaps both political parties but both sides of the argument must be given fair treatment in the run-up.
§ Mr. Wyn Roberts (Conway)
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the key word in this issue is "balance" and that in broadcasting two types of balance can be achieved—balance within a series of programmes, and balance within the individual programme? If balance of either type is achieved, then the balance which 1295 must be achieved in any referendum broadcasting must be a balance as between those who say "Yes" and those who say "No"?
§ Mr. Dalyell
In general, that is a proposition to which I would assent.
If I have concentrated my remarks on the BBC, it is not that I am obsessed with it or with what it will do, or even that television will decide the issue.
There is a group of people who will be more decisive than the BBC—the editors and journalists of local and regional newspapers or of local radio. We in the Labour "Vote No" campaign take heart from this fact because we believe that the local and regional editors are the heirs to the greatest traditions of Scottish journalism. The local and regional editors are serious, perceptive, robust, independent minded, concerned with neither fear nor favour, their own men in the best sense, not dependent on their owners but dependent only on the respect of the local communities which they serve, and concerned, above all, with how the welfare of those communities will be affected by proposals from the Government or from anyone else.
The Labour "Vote No" campaign takes heart from the fact that, now that the crunch is coming in the shape of the referendum on 1st March, it is these men who are beginning to ask precisely what they are being asked to agree to.
As one local editor put it, "Just what are we being asked to vote 'Yes' to?"
In the short term, "Yes" is a yes for more politicians. These politicians will have to be paid out of the block grant. Therefore, "Yes" is yes for less money for hospital staff, for example.
"Yes" is a yes for a Clerk of the Assembly, Assembly clerks, secretaries and office staff—all skilled people who will be paid for out of a finite and far from bottomless block grant. Therefore, "Yes" is yes for that many fewer teachers paid out of the same kitty.
"Yes" is yes for more civil servants, a second tier of government, a parallel layer of bureaucracy, all paid for out of the block grant. Therefore, "Yes" is yes for fewer home helps. Do pensioners want more bureaucrats and fewer home helps?
1296 "Yes" is yes to an institution which has no power and no authority in economic affairs, but whose members will be forced to struggle for power and authority to cope with the most urgent problems which concern people about jobs.
I quote an example. At the three industrial meetings which I have held so far on behalf of the Labour "Vote No" campaign, the first question was always the same: "What will the Government do for us?".
The question was in essence the same whether it concerned the dumping of pipe from Italy which threatened work at Motherwell bridge; help for the shipbuilding industry needed by workers at the Greenock Engineers, Kincaid; the pricing of butiedine leading to redundancies at the International Synthetic Rubber Company at Grangemouth.
Members of an institution which styles itself the Scottish Parliament, with the paraphernalia of a Scottish Prime Minister, will be expected to do something about these problems, and they will put the responsibility on the "English" Government, implying that if only they had the power and the money from the parsimonius English Treasury they could do something about pipes, ships and synthetic rubber.
Therefore, "Yes" is yes to conflict from day one between London and Edinburgh—and it will be conflict with ill will and rancour not only from SNP Members of the Assembly, but from Members of every party in that institution.
"Yes" is a yes to a nagging and sustained devisiveness in these islands. Again, in the short run, "Yes" is a yes for more laws and regulations. It is said that we need changes in Scottish laws and there is not the time available at Westminster. The example usually given is the lapse of time between divorce law reform in England and divorce law reform in Scotland. Let that one be nailed. The delay took place, not because of a shortage of time at Westminster, but because my right hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross), backed by a majority of Scots MPs, simply did not want it. Parliamentary time has never been a real problem if Governments are really serious about wanting legislation for Scotland. Lack of time is often given as an excuse by Governments who, rightly or wrongly do not want to do something.
1297 "Yes" is yes for an Assembly which will have to churn out laws in order that the Assemblymen can justify themselves.
In the medium term, "Yes" is yes to an Assembly which will quickly and understandably come to realise the impossibility of having community councils, district councils, regional councils, COSLA, the Scottish Parliament, Westminster, Brussels and the European Parliament. We Scots are the most over-governed people on the face of the planet earth.
Therefore, "Yes" is yes to an Assembly which would be less than human if it did not try to get rid of the regions.
"Yes" is yes to an institution that is bound to try to take decisions currently made in Aberdeen for Grampian, Dumfries for the South-West, Dundee for Tayside, Glasgow for Strathclyde, Kirkcaldy for Fife, Kirkwall for Orkney, Lerwick for Shetland, St. Boswell's for the border, Stirling for Central and Stornaway for the Western Isles and shift them to Edinburgh.
In fact, "Yes" is yes for centralisation, not decentralisation.
I remember 15 years ago, when the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Sillars) was the election agent for my hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian (Mr. Eadie), he told me at Limond's Way, Ayr:Decisions about education in Ayrshire should not be taken in Edinburgh.Has that changed?
"Yes" is yes for every district and regional councillor from Dornoch to Dunbar and from Stranraer to Stone-haven having member of the Edinburgh Assembly breathing down his neck and meddling in his work in a way that Westminster hon. Members generally do not do because we have other responsibilities.
Let every councillor in Scotland be clear that "Yes" is yes for the creation of a different kind of animal from present Westminster Members.
"Yes" is yes to every councillor having members of an Assembly around his head as persistent as the midges in high summer in Perthshire.
"Yes" is yes for proposals about which the doubts of the Law Society and the Faculty of Advocates were deployed at length on Second Reading. These have 1298 never been resolved, because one cannot resolve the unresolvable.
"Yes" is yes to two bodies, two legislatures, two Parliaments making separate laws in these islands—a situation that is wholly different from our present position where there is one Government.
At European level, "Yes" is yes to a hazy notion that an Assembly will have direct relations with the EEC. It will not. As long as Scotland is a part of the United Kingdom, if a Scottish Prime Minister went to Brussels it would be in place of Mr. Speirs, secretary of COSLA, and he would sit alongside representatives of Merseyside, West Yorkshire, the Dorset county council and Greater London. France and Germany will not contemplate the superficially attractive idea of a Europe of the regions.
At a Labour Party level "Yes" is yes to coalition Governments—inevitably so, sooner or later unless one envisages permanent Labour or Conservative rule. Numerically, three parties probably will dominate the Assembly—Tory and Labour and SNP. A Tory-Labour coalition is unthinkable. Therefore, to form a Government there would have to be either a Labour-SNP or Tory-SNP coalition, and inevitably part of the bargain would be to move down the road to a separate Scottish state.
"Yes" is yes to something entirely different from that envisaged by the begetters of this Bill in their public statements.
"Yes" is yes to a house built upon the sand which will be washed away by the first autumn storm, and transformed into something else.
"Yes" is yes to an institution which cannot last in the form in which it is presented in the referendum. How long does anyone think that whoever is the hon. Member for West Lothian can go on voting, probably decisively, on comprehensive schools in West Bromwich or pay beds in West Ham?
How long can the new Secretary of State for Trade expect to go on voting on the most delicate issues of domestic policy in Southampton or South Shields, but not on those same matters in Stepps or Shotts?
"Yes" is yes for an infringement of the basic tenets of natural law and democracy.
1299 "Yes" is a yes for power without responsibility.
"Yes" is a yes to the absurdity, indeed, the logical impossibility, of having a subordinate Parliament in part of the United Kingdom.
It is no good the muddle-headed hon. Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind) getting up in the Central Hall in front of 800 London schoolchildren and saying that the situation will be all right, and that the so-called West Lothian question does not exist because there are more than 500 English hon. Members. I warned the hon. Member that I would raise this issue.
The point is that the Scottish and Welsh MPs will often in future, as they have done in the past, determine the composition of the Government. For the hon. Member for Pentlands to say that he is quite content to see decisions relating to English schools, housing and health determined by hon. Members representing only English constituencies, implies a Cabinet consisting of the present Prime Minister, the present Chancellor of the Exchequer, the present Foreign Secretary, and—wait for it—the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) dealing with housing, the right hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Jenkin) dealing with health, the hon. and learned Member for Runcorn (Mr. Carlisle) dealing with education, with the present Leader of the House shuttling in and out of his office and making way at awkward intervals for the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas), as occasion demanded it, as an English Leader of the House.
That is the consequence of what the hon. Member for Pentlands said and those others who suggest that to solve the West Lothtian question Scottish MPs could opt out of English business. In saying that, I am fortunate to have the assent of my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan).
That is precisely the situation prompted by those who say that the Scots can refrain from voting on English matters.
Nor is it any more convincing for the hon. Member for Pentlands to tell the schoolchildren that as 50 states of the United States have their own legislatures, why should not Scotland have its own?
1300 The parallel to that would be Texas, alone among the states, having its own Government while the rest of the states were ruled directly from Washington. The Americans would not contemplate such a grotesque nonsense. If it is argued that we must come to a federal State, it would be more honest to have a referendum on this.
The question then would be "Yes" or "No" to a federal State. If it is to be a federal State, let us have a referendum on a federal State.
Let us not have a referendum that is designed to deceive voters about what they are voting for.
These goods are totally different in reality from the goods as packaged in the form of the question. If there is to be a federal State, someone had better persuade the electors of Birmingham that they must have a separate law-giving body in Mercia, the people of East Anglia that they want a Parliament in Norwich, producing different laws from those made in London, 90 miles away, and that the kingdom of Wessex must be re-established with a capital in Winchester. That is the consequence which has to be faced by those who say "Let us have our referendum, vote 'Yes', and then we will get a nice, tidy federal solution." It is not like that.
"Yes" is yes to creating divisions in this land where, for a couple of centuries or more, people have not thought in terms of whether applicants for jobs and positions are Scots or English.
"Yes" is yes to mounting a tiger from which it will be impossible to disembark. For example, the universities may have heaved a sigh of relief that they are not devolved. If an Assembly is established, it will only be a little while, in the opinion of many of us, before the demand for control of universities by that Assembly becomes irresistible. I hope that university personnel intending to vote "Yes" will be clear that they are embarking, if that is the right word, on a tiger that they cannot get off. They should be clear what they are letting themselves in for—the break-up of the United Kingdom research pattern.
"Yes" is yes for the creation of a monster which will spend its time trying to knock down every barrier which seems to distinguish devolution from a separate 1301 State. I refer to Gilchrist's law which is as valid as any mathematical theorem.
"Yes" is yes to something that will either go as sour as milk left out of a refrigerator or, more likely, it will become a Frankenstein monster which will devour those who created it.
What is certain is that no more than milk will it remain in its original form.
Within months, this institution would become very different from what is proposed by those who beget it.
When this order was published, I asked the Clerks whether any amendment would be in order. I was told that it was a statutory instrument and unamendable. The amendment I would like to have put, with the support of certain of my hon. Friends, was after "Yes" to add the words—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The hon. Member has indicated that the amendment is not in order. He cannot propose it to the House in this debate.
§ Mr. Dalyell
My hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) says that he would like to hear it, but I know better than to read it. You, Mr. Deputy Speaker, are in charge of the proceedings. It is to your ruling that I must submit.
There should have been inserted in the referendum, however unrealistic it may be in terms of rules, the fact that those voting "Yes" would be voting for an expensive institution which would turn out totally different from that which is put forward by those who propose it.
All that those connected with the Labour "Vote No" campaign and those who think on parallel lines can now do is to sweat out our guts working for a resounding "No" to a proposal which, as has beecome clear over months and years, is against the true best interests of all those who live in Scotland.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I am compelled to remind hon. Members of Mr. Speaker's earlier appeal for brevity, otherwise we shall still be discussing the order on 1st March.
§ 5.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Gordon Wilson (Dundee, East)
I shall not follow the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) down his almost paranoiac path. His obsession about the Scottish Assembly is so great that any constriction of his remarks to the order we are discussing would, according to him, be out of place. He had to go over the whole field again to indicate his opposition to the whole principle of the Scottish Assembly. I would rebut his criticism of Mr. Colin Bell, a journalist, who is perfectly entitled to call the hon. Member for West Lothian an abominable "No" man. It seemed to me a remarkably mild description after his performance today. I suspect that some of his colleagues, who gave signs of mirth, would have much stronger epithets to describe him, and have probably used them.
Of the images that the hon. Gentleman conjured up, the one that took my fancy was the sour milk monster which he seemed to think was lying in wait for the Assembly.
The hon. Gentleman went too far in his attack on journalists and the BBC. They have editorial discretion. Many of us, from time to time, take exception to what they say and how they manage programmes, but generally it evens out and is fair. I do not think that the National Union of Journalists would be pleased to hear the views of the hon. Member for West Lothian about journalists. To my mind, he was not describing them correctly and was attacking the ethics of that profession.
Could I turn my attention to the order which I thought we were discussing—
§ Mr. Wilson
The hon. Gentleman says I should not turn my attention to the order. Despite that, I hope I shall have your support, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if I do so. I do not accept that this referendum is necessarily a straightforward and fair test, as was described. It has built into it the 40 per cent. condition. If that 40 per cent. condition had not been placed in the Scotland Act by this House it would have been perfectly right and proper to describe the referendum as fair. In view of that 40 per cent. condition, it is equally proper to describe this as a loaded referendum, because it sets a margin of 1303 acceptance that is far higher than is found in any other referendums that I have been able to discover.
I do not wish to make too much of this point because we have dealt with it in earlier proceedings. One of the problems that anyone looking seriously at the issue comes across is the effect of turnout on the 40 per cent. criterion. It is in the interests of the hon. Member for West Lothian and his hon. Friends who are against the Assembly to play a very quiet campaign and allow the issue, in effect, to fall asleep, so that the turn-out is small. It is interesting to look at the turn-outs in various elections. In General Elections, the percentages are much higher. For example, in the October 1974 General Election, the turn-out was 74.8 per cent. and in the February General Election 79 per cent., according to The Sunday Times. In the 1970 General Election the turn-out was 73.9 per cent. whereas, in the Common Market referendum, only 61.7 per cent. turned out. It would seem possible that referendums, by their nature, produce a lower turn-out and there is an obligation on all those supporting the Assembly to try to get out as many voters as they can.
There are problems, however. The hon. Gentleman mentioned the question of broadcasting and balance. I think one of the difficulties which may face those in favour of the Assembly is that certain television programmes which do not originate from Scotland but deal with current affairs will not cover the referendum and devolution to any great extent. I am sure that there will be some programmes about it, but, unlike the General Election campaign, I do not foresee the BBC and ITV broadcasting programmes about the political issues night after night. If insufficient attention is devoted to the referendum by the media, including the Press, I fear that the turnout for that vote on 1st March will be lower. It is therefore much more important that we look carefully at the order. The Secretary of State went through it in an admirable fashion. He showed that the Scottish Office had been giving attention to some of the problems that are likely to emerge as a result of the 40 per cent. clause and the higher standards that it sets. But he did not fully deal with one or two other matters.
1304 For instance, the right hon. Gentleman did not spell out fully some of the factors which will bear on the electoral register in terms of those who are entitled to vote. I understand the reason for that. He has been considering the matter in a narrow legal and technical sense so that he can discount those who are entitled to vote but cannot, but cannot discount those who are not entitled to vote but can.
Some of the categories which may cause trouble are listed differently. The right hon. Gentleman has dealt with those who have not reached the age of 18 on polling day but who are listed on the register. He has mentioned the question of those who have died, but he is unable to deal satisfactorily with the case of those who have emigrated and cannot therefore cast a vote, those in the Services who may run into difficulties in casting their vote, and those who have moved residence and will have only a postal vote. Some of those who change their addresses are less likely to vote than if they had remained in the area in which they were registered.
Another category which causes trouble is those with two homes on more than one list. The right hon. Gentleman specifically examined the question of students and those in hospital training or hospital hostels. One category with which he cannot deal is those who might be away on holiday at the time of the referendum and who are not entitled under our electoral law to a postal vote. They would be entitled to such a vote had they been away from home at work. A holiday, however, disqualifies them.
I concede that this last category is not particularly large since the referendum is being held on 1st March. However, in the October 1974 General Election a large number of my constituents were absent on holiday and therefore unable to vote because the election was held in the October holiday week. I had hoped that the Secretary of State would deal with these matters.
Another point is that in early March 1978 the Health for Scotland Campaign—a group of doctors who are campaigning for a "Yes" vote—brought to the Prime Minister's attention the fact, that unless allowance is made, hospital patients and those who are bedridden or otherwise incapacitated at home will count as having 1305 voted "No", unless they exercise the right to vote by post. In view of the 40 per cent. clause, the doctors asked that the 3 per cent. of the population who could vote because of illness should be taken into account. May I be told what cognisance the Government have taken of these representations?
It is unfortunate that, although the Secretary of State has spelled out some of the ways in which the Goverment intend to calculate the total electorate entitled to vote in the referendum, these critera are not spelled out in the order. From what the Secretary of State said I can understand some of his difficulties in quoting figures. It will not be possible to work out the arithmetic concerning those who are dead and certain other categories until close to 1st March. On the other hand, it might have been helpful had the order spelled out the criteria which will be taken into account.
It may be that at the time the House of Commons takes its decision some doubt will be cast on how the 40 per cent. has been calculated. If the formula had been set out in the statutory instrument there would have been less difficulty about the matter. In the absence of that, we shall have to refer to speeches by Minister in Parliament.
Westminster was hostile to the passage of the Bill, and it would not surprise me if hon. Members such as the hon. Member for West Lothan cast a critical eye at the figures, in the event of a fairly narrow majority, when the House determines whether the 40 per cent. figure has been achieved in accordance with the Act.
It is a pity that we have had to deal with these peculiarities of the electoral system in this way, but it was right for the Secretary of State to spell them out, because the 40 per cent. clause is basically unfair. It should never have appeared in the Act, and the Government, to their credit, did not intend that it should. It has created peculiarities which did not arise over the EEC referendum.
It is important for the public that referendums of this sort should be seen to be fair. My impression of the Scottish public is that, while it is not clear whether the meaning of the 40 per cent. is understood, the people regard it as basically unfair.
§ Mr. Teddy Taylor (Glasgow, Cathcart)
Does the hon. Member believe that there should be no minimum percentage but a simple majority at any level?
§ Mr. Wilson
As the hon. Gentleman knows, it is usual in referendums for account to be taken of a majority of those who vote. Since this is to be a consultative referendum I am sure that the House of Commons would take into account the fact that, say, only 5 per cent. or 10 per cent. of the Scottish population had turned out to vote. It was wrong to go the other way and build in the 40 per cent. provision which, as the hon. Member well knows, was intended to cripple the legislation and prevent it from being enacted. If that was not the intention, those who were against the Scottish Assembly in principle would not have introduced the 40 per cent. rule.
§ 5.36 p.m.
§ Mr. Donald Dewar (Glasgow, Garscadden)
We heard this evening a remarkable speech from my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell). I was asked last week by a journalist why my hon. Friend was practically the only person ever to speak against the proposal from the Labour Party in Scotland. The simple reason is that he represents a very small section of the Labour Party, and that there are few people, at least among the active members of the Labour Party, who would give credence or support to the extreme views advanced by my hon. Friend this afternoon.
I welcome the order. It is simple and straightforward. It puts into practice the machinery that was tried and tested in the EEC referendum. Whatever may have been the views of the respective arguments about Europe, I am not aware of any substantial criticism during or after that campaign concerning the machinery by which public opinion was tested and the votes counted. It would require a great deal of ingenuity, of which we have heard nothing substantial in the debate so far, to suggest that there were substantial difficulties about that machinery and that they are being re-enacted in this Order.
The debate has been used by certain hon. Members to rehearse the general arguments about the virtues of devolution. I found it almost comical to hear 1307 the hon. and learned Member for Cleveland and Whitby (Mr. Brittan) complaining that there has been no proper consultation in almost five years since the Government's intentions about this legislation were first announced. Looking back at those five years of my existence in politics in Scotland, I imagine that we have consulted about nothing else. If people are unclear about the issues, that is not because of any lack of effort by a large number of people inside the House and outside to put across the pros and cons of the issue. I welcome the fact that it is now coming to a head, to the point of decision for the electorate. It is right to hold the referendum on 1st March.
I say to members of the Scottish National Party that it was correct to delay the referendum until the new register came into being. That is sensible, given the kind of difficulty imposed by Parliament in terms of the 40 per cent. amendment. I do not think that the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson) was guilty, but some of his colleagues were loud in their complaints about delay in bringing the referendum forward. After the announcement that there would be no election last October, there were demands for an instant referendum. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will accept that that perhaps smacked of party politics and was not in the best interests of those who wished to see a "Yes" vote carried and the 40 per cent. left in the wake as a technical difficulty that was overcome.
If the date is to be 1st March, I accept that snow and bad weather may be a difficulty. But that is not a factor that we can do anything about. Perhaps I may declare a little personal interest. I am aware of the difficulties of snow because last April it was snowing extremely hard half-way through polling day at the Garscadden by-election. My descriptive phrases were probably more eloquent than anything I am likely to be able to muster in this speech to express what I thought about that particular act of God. But at the end of the day we polled within half a point of 70 per cent. and got what was perhaps, in my prejudiced view, a most satisfactory result.
I do not see that we can afford to start muttering and protesting about the possibility of bad weather as democratic 1308 politicians. If it is suggested that we should run the referendum over two days, why not run it over a week or month so that all those who had the misfortune to be away on holiday could get back to vote? There is no end to the amount of time that we could spend voting in order to try to push up the number of people who might be able to vote. We are stuck with one-day elections in this country, whatever the circumstances.
I accept that my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian wants to see a high poll in the referendum, but we should not look at his suggestion that we should consider extending the referendum or have split voting because of the danger of snow.
§ Mr. Dewar
I thought that on polling day at Garscadden they would be building igloos on top of Drumchapel in no time. Yes, I have been stuck in a snowdrift. I can also remember other occasions. I recall a famous election for Caithness and Sutherland when a defeated Member of this House claimed that bad weather had cost him his seat. That may well have been—these things happen. But it is something that we have to live with.
§ Mr. Dewar
That is the eternal vanity of geography with which I am inclined to agree. But the general point still holds.
There is a special arrangement in the order for observers at the count. Although this is a minor point, it is of importance. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said that he would consult the parties about representations at the count. I take it, therefore, that this at least is an instance where consultation will be with parties and not with combinations of individuals who may have set up an umbrella organisation. It might be important at this stage to get that clear.
We have had a great deal of discussion about the part the media will play. Clearly, whatever reservations I and others may have about the line that an individual newspaper may follow, that is that newspaper's business and within its 1309 province. We may complain, but we cannot do more and must try to bring to bear countervailing influences on its readers and others who may get its message.
I thought that the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian on broadcasting and television bordered on the eccentric. I declare something of a past interest. In a small and amateur way I was involved regularly for two or three years in broadcasting on a local radio station. Throughout that period—and I make no bones about—I remained active in the Labour Party in Scotland. It may sound a little conceited, but I imagine that it would probably be safe to say that no one in Parliament, for a Scottish seat at least, was unaware, when he came to be interviewed by me or to take part in a discussion programme that I was chairing, what my politics were.
§ Mr. Dewar
I think that my hon. Friend makes reference to books that he wrote about devolution. I was grateful that it was on the whole a commendatory reference and not a complaint about bias. The point is that I believe that it is possible for a person in the media to have political opinions, not to be a political eunuch, and still to be reasonably professionally impartial in the studio doing his job. I think that I could make a fair shot at giving the personal politics of all those in Scotland who are before the cameras at the moment, largely because I knew them as members of political clubs in their student days or have discussed politics and current affairs with them. I believe that on the whole there is a level of impartiality and balance in the Scottish media about which I make no complaint at all.
On the question of broadcasting and balance I say two simple things to my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian. If there is a party political broadcast which, in the normal course, has been allocated, not by the political genius of Mr. Alastair Hetherington but through the normal all-party machinery in this House which governs party poliway, that party will no doubt use it to push the party policy that it believes in.
1310 I accept that my hon. Friend does not like the fact that he has lost the battle within the Labour Party on the subject of devolution. But that is something he must live with and with which he must come to account. He will continue his own almost obsessive campaign against the Act, I have no doubt, and he is entitled as an individual to do so. But it is quite ludicrous to suggest that, in some way, if a political broadcast has been given to the Labour Party or to the Conservative Party it should be inhibited from putting its point of view about what, after all, will be at that stage the main and overriding consideration of Scottish politics.
Secondly, it seems to me that outside a specific allocated party political broadcast—and if at some time an hon. Member proposes that party political broadcasts be abolished, he will have my eager support—there should not be specific programmes, analogous to party political broadcasts, particularly scheduled for the referendum. It should be covered by the media in terms of normal debate and coverage of current affairs that we see on the BBC and STV. I have no doubt at all, whether it be the independent channel or on the BBC, that they will ensure that there is a fair spread of representation and that the issue is fairly argued out in the interests of public information.
I agree that we need to ensure that people know for what they are voting and what the issues are. My hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian got near to saying that there should be explanatory material and explanatory pamphlets, perhaps issued by the Government. I should have liked that, but he backs away from the possibility. At the end of the day, the fairest thing is to leave the media to continue what seems to me to be the reasonably high standard that they have shown in the past and not get a persecution complex about one man who happens to have a responsible job in the BBC and who has views which, like those of other people in the media, are known to us in this House. We are giving undue prominence to Mr. Alastair Hetherington's views. I judge him on many issues. It does not matter whether I judge him favourably or unfavourably. On this issue he has been regarded as a danger and an unbalancing factor. 1311 "Alone he did it" was the message of my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian.
I believe that we shall carry the "Yes" vote in Scotland. But I do not think that Mr. Alastair Hetherington will be responsible one way or the other for the fate of the referendum.
§ Mr. Dalyell
I accept what my hon. Friend said about the working journalists of all political convictions in the BBC. However, my hon. Friend's argument is slightly different. He is talking about whether the person who has to make the delicate decisions of balance—not the interviewer but the man in the controller's chair—is in a different position from the rest.
§ Mr. Dewar
When it comes to considering delicate matters of balance I suspect that the views of certain other members of the BBC staff are more important. For example, the head of news and current affairs, whom I know well, will have important decisions to take about what balance is to be struck and what interest groups are to be represented. I could give a thumbnail sketch of what I imagine to be that man's political views. I shall not do that because it is irrelevant. He is a professional who will do a professional job. We should leave him to get on with it. I do not think that anyone will be able to come to the House at the end of the referendum process arid make a substantial complaint about the way in which the balance has been maintained by the media.
I turn to the 40 per cent. hurdle and the deduction factors. The Secretary of State has been praised by a number of hon. Members for the thorough and sympathetic way in which he has been prepared to look at the problems that arise out of the imposition of the 40 per cent. rule. It is simple to calculate the number of dead and to exclude those whose birthdays fall after 1st March 1979.
I believe that the 40 per cent. provision is bad. I say to SNP Members that the time has come to concentrate on getting the "Yes" vote instead of recriminating about the 40 per cent. hurdle. The more sour and bitter they are the more counter-productive they will be and the more they will minimise the chance of overcoming that hurdle.
1312 The provision is bad because it involves the "removals" who cannot be compensated for. A person who moves from Glasgow, Garscadden to the top of Wick is unlikely to organise a postal vote because of a lack of interest in politics. Such a person will be entitled to cast a vote and cannot be struck off. That is a fault which is built in to the 40 per cent. concept. Those who pushed for it, including many Opposition Members should think seriously before they try to repeat that provision in any future referendum.
The hon. Member for Banff (Mr. Watt) spoke about a sect in the North-East the members of which will not vote on principle. I have knocked on doors in Aberdeen and been told with certainty that even though people were on the register they would not vote because there is nothing about voting in the Bible. Such doors were shut with an air of self-righteousness which I found disconcerting. Such people might change their minds. They might receive a revelation. However, we cannot get them off the register. We are stuck with them.
Factors such as the registration of the sick and those who have moved will make that percentage marginally higher in real terms. Because of that there is every reason to ensure that fair and adequate compensation is made on the double registration factor when it is possible to make a deduction.
The Minister has said that it is estimated that there will be 5,000 people in hospital and 28,000 students in residence. Those figures should be taken out of the calculation because they will lead to a considerable balance of disadvantage for those who wish to minimise the 40 per cent. hurdle.
§ Mr. Brittan
Would it not be unwise to do that because it would be illegal? The Secretary of State could not be satisfied that all such people were not entitled to vote because they would not all be double registrations. Therefore, if he operated on the assumption that the totality instead of the proper proportion was deducted he would be taking into account wrong considerations. He could then be challenged and that would not be in anybody's interests.
§ Mr. Dewar
The hon. and learned Member would lead the challenge in the 1313 context of balancing in the other direction. We should have the maximum discount that can legally be justified. There is a built-in disadvantage about which we can do nothing because of the ill-considered way that this provision was pushed on to the statute book.
I was pleased to hear what the hon. and learned Member said about the Conservative Party's attitude to the 40 per cent. provision. He made it clear that if the 40 per cent. hurdle was cleared he and his right hon. and hon. Friends would advise the House that it should accept the Assembly and ratify the "Yes" vote. I am glad that that has been made clear because different propositions have come from other hon. Members.
A kite—and that is being polite—was flown by the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym). He suggested that there would have to be a clear 40 per cent. majority in each of the regions before the Conservative Party would regard the vote as a wholehearted consent which they could endorse. The hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor) has also entertained unwise thoughts about accepting the result of the referendum.
I regard the referendum as advisory. I would not necessarily be bound by every jot and tittle of the 40 per cent. provision. As a Member of Parliament I must look at the overall picture. If I were satisfied that a substantial majority voted "Yes" and that the vote was near to the 40 per cent. required, I would not overrule the possibility of going into the Lobby to accept that decision. One must examine the facts at the time in the context of Scottish public opinion and what happens at the referendum. I hope that the Conservatives will take an equally flexible view.
I am glad that we are approaching the moment of decision after this long and difficulty fight. We have heard many versions of what devolution is about. I do not wish to fall into the trap of trying the patience of the House by giving my version. However, I believe that the Scotland Act is a useful strengthening of the government of Great Britain. When I campaign for a "Yes" vote I shall campaign for devolution, not as a half-way house or staging post towards leaving the United Kingdom, but as an essential change in the structure of the United 1314 Kingdom to strengthen it and to ensure that Scotland remains within the United Kingdom.
The Act reflects the legitimate aspirations of the Scottish people. It represents a more efficient and flexible system or government for Scotland. In spite of the hurdles and difficulties, and although we shall need at least a 10 per cent. greater turn-out than in the EEC referendum, I am convinced that there will be sufficient interest and enthusiasm to ensure that we achieve a resounding "Yes" for an experiment which will bring nothing but good for the future of the Scottish nation.
§ 6.0 p.m.
§ Mr. John Stokes (Halesowen and Stourbridge)
I feel that it is perhaps important that the House should hear an English voice in the debate which, although it concerns an order that specifically covers Scotland, has, as we know from our long debates on the subject, very important implications for the whole of the United Kingdom.
The order follows what I consider to be the primrose path of the Act. We have to remember that a referendum is still virtually unknown to the British constitution and to the British people, with the exceptions of the singular circumstance in Northern Ireland and the once and for all referendum, so we were assured, for our continuing membership of the EEC.
Despite our lengthy debates on the Scotland Act, I do not believe that the full implications of the referendum have yet been thought out. In my view, if a referendum is to be held at all it should be held in all parts of the United Kingdom and not just in Scotland and in Wales. The omission of England, with four-fifths of the total population of the United Kingdom, is a staggering oversight.
There is, of course, no enthusiasm for the referendum in England, not even among Scottish people living in England. If from now on we are to have a spate of referendums, people at large in Scotland, in England and everywhere else in the United Kingdom will prefer to vote on matters which really affect them vitally, such as capital punishment and immigration, or which affect the future of their race, such as Rhodesia.
The dislike of English people for the referendum stems from the fact that they object strongly to Scotland having its own 1315 Assembly and at the same time still being grossly over-represented in this House by what, in some cases at least, are little more than rotten boroughs. This manifest unfairness to England cannot be justified much longer. As it comes to be increasingly realised by English people, I am sure that it will cause burning resentment and lead to fundamental changes in the way that this ancient House operates.
The supporters of an Assembly in Scotland will, I fear, fight an unscrupulous campaign in the referendum. All sorts of wild promises will be made. The referendum is being held out to people as a chance of getting something for nothing, and in this materialistic world most people want something for nothing. The risk of damage to the essential fabric of the British constitution is of course hidden completely.
In its heart of hearts, the House knows —and the 40 per cent. provision inserted into the referendum proves my point—that as the result of this Act we are entering uncharted and dangerous waters. At this stage, no one can foresee the risks, the harm and the dangers which an Assembly will bring in what has been until now a unitary State, the largest part of which has no separate or special representation.
§ Mr. Stokes
The noises from below the Gangway prove only that once the new Assembly is set up, assuming that there is a "Yes" vote in the referendum, there will be continuing bitter conflict between that Assembly and this honourable House.
We know the history of this miserable Assembly and referendum, originally thought of by the Labour Party as a means of saving votes from the Scottish National Party which suddenly had discovered greed for Scottish oil. When the Labour Party saw that it could not get the Scotland Bill through the House, it tacked on at the end of it the referendum to make the pill less bitter. But, of course, the good sense of the House reasserted itself, and lots of patriotic English people, including many Government supporters, decided that before we voluntarily broke up the United Kingdom they would at least insert the 40 per cent. provision, 1316 and now we hear all the whines about that. Clearly there must be much less confidence in getting a "Yes" vote than there used to be.
Therefore, on these twin rotten planks of a new-fangled Assembly and a referendum, this whole miserable project rests. I hope only that in foundering it will not bring down us with it and the whole of the United Kingdom constitution.
Above all, I feel deeply—and I know my constituents and, I believe, the majority of people in the United Kingdom share my view—that we are not in this House addressing ourselves to those fearfully severe problems which affect the whole of the United Kingdom. All this paraphernalia of the Assembly, the referendum and the rest of it do nothing to help the country in its dire straits. Certainly they do nothing to restore the patriotism and proper national pride which are now lacking. They do nothing to help to set right the economic failure of the United Kingdom compared, for instance with France and Germany. They do nothing to enable us to keep order in our streets and towns. They do nothing to help the unemployed. Certainly they do nothing to help us to defend the shores of the United Kingdom from enemy attack. These are the matters with which our constituents throughout the length and breadth of the land expect us to concern ourselves, instead of this irrelevant and, in my view, dangerous order concerning the referendum.
§ 6.7 p.m.
§ Mr. Norman Buchan (Renfrewshire, West)
It would have been wrong for me to allow this final passing of the legislation without making some comment, as one who was responsible for launching this strange ship into slightly uncharted waters.
The launching of the demand for a referendum and the success in gaining one have resulted in its emerging in a very different form from that which I envisaged.
There are two aspects which in my view are thoroughly bad about the referendum. One is that the 40 per cent. provision has been inserted. I believe that to be bad, not for the spurious political reasons which have been advanced but because it allows the cry of "Foul" to be raised. 1317 There is a lot of sense in saying that if we are contemplating going into a new constitutional position, there must be a demonstration of a major political will behind it.
The cries of "Foul", especially by the SNP and, for that matter, by the SLP, displaying a certain timidity about their confidence in the will being there to accomplish it. Their fears about the dead man's vote having now been squashed by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, I should have expected the SNP to be a little more generous in thanking my right hon. Friend for his attempts to deal with the so-called "foul" aspects in what I regard as a bad concept.
That is one respect in which the present ship is rather different from the one which I launched. But, after all, Christopher Columbus set off to find China, and he hit America. I launched the referendum with a very simple proposition, which was to say "This Bill has emerged from Committee full of flaws. Only one thing can allow it to succeed and survive, as with any constitution, and that is that the political will must be there to allow it to survive." It seemed to me that that meant that the Scottish people should choose or reject an Assembly only—in other words, they should say "This Assembly is what we seek. We are not establishing an Assembly as the first step into independence", and make that choice deliberately.
After the passing of a few years it will be a different kettle of fish, but at least for the first few years the Scottish people should have this choice and try to make the Assembly work instead of allowing it to crack at the first crisis. I thought that it was necessary, therefore, to have both these questions—one on devolution and one on independence. I adhere to that view. The only argument for a referendum is that we have transcended party politics, because the sovereignty of this place, and indeed the sovereignty of the State, could have been questioned. That was a matter for the people to decide. We also had to allow the political will to be established which could, in the long run, make the Assembly succeed.
The hon. Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Stokes) is right in say- 1318 ing that there are dangers. There was always a balance of danger. The question always was not whether there were dangers in what we were doing but whether there were more dangers in not doing it. Some of my hon. Friends ignored the balance of doing something, just as others have ignored the balance of not doing something.
We shall not serve the establishment of the proper will of the Scottish people by exaggeration on either side—by saying that an Assembly is the best thing since sliced bread, to coin another metaphor known north of the border, or by saying that it must inevitably crack. I believe that there are dangers, but there are also opportunities.
I hope that the referendum in the form that it has come through will get what I am seeking and will involve the people in an understanding of what we are doing. It is my task to make clear that it is an Assembly that we are trying to establish and that we are rejecting the most vociferous of those who are crying "Yes" on the Assembly—that is, those who are keenest to destroy it and who seek an Assembly in order to use it as a catapult. The hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Sillars) described the measure as the "catapult to independence Bill". There are those who seek to use it as a catapult to wreck it into independence. My only role in the referendum campaign will be to spell out the role of the Assembly.
Having initiated and, partly, achieved the gaining of a referendum, I wonder whether I am the only person who really believes in it. That may be so. Some people seized on it as a means of making sure that they had enough votes on the Government side to get the Bill through. Others may have seized upon it in the latter stages as a means of preventing the Bill from getting through, or destroying it if it did get through.
I believe in the referendum on the constitutional argument I have held throughout. It is the only way to allow the flaws to be lived with until we can remove them. I shall not ask the people of Scotland to vote for this Assembly without. at the same time, making them aware of the dangers. There is the enormous danger of the lack of taxation powers. It is a question not only of giving power to the Assembly but of creating a spike 1319 through it which could restroy the Assembly. Having argued the case for a referendum, it would be wrong for me to try to sell a "Yes" vote without spelling out these dangers. That I am prepared to do.
We must be clear that we have not solved the major constitutional problem which arises concerning the role of hon. Members—the famous West Lothian question. My hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) has received a lot of stick, and sometimes laughter. I have sometimes participated in both the stick and the laughter. He used too many metaphors today, but he produced a pretty massive spike for the possible impaling of our constitution in relation to the West Lothian question. We have no solution for that, and that must be spelled out. If we take this matter on board, we must remember that we shall have to live with the situation for a long time, and that the independence question has not been put.
Therefore, it was a strange launch and perhaps I am the only survivor on it. I hope that the referendum campaign will serve the purpose of educating the people, but I want to stress again that I do not want it to be used for purely party political purposes. An hon. Member mentioned earlier the problem that might arise if a General Election followed soon after the referendum. I hope that we shall conduct the referendum in such a way that those in both main parties—such as the hon. Member for North Angus and Mearns (Mr. Buchanan-Smith) and my hon. Friends the Members for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Cook) and West Lothian —can argue their case within their movements and that it will be recognised that they are not attacking their party if they speak in a contrary way. The nature of the proposition, and the fact that we have used the mechanism of a referendum to deal with it, shows that we accept that it transcends party politics. I do not accept what my hon. Friend for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) said about only a small number of people in the Labour Party opposing devolution. A very large number of people in the party are extremely concerned because they love Scotland and care for it and do not want to see it wrecked. I want nobody on the "Yes" side to suggest that those who care about Scotland must not attack the 1320 devolution proposals. I can see that it will be a difficult role, but I hope that I can ask the people to try to fulfil it.
§ Mr. Dewar
Purely for the record, I certainly suggested that their numbers were few and I hold to that. They are few and they are getting fewer, but I never suggested that they were insincere or that, by definition, they did not care about Scotland. I might disagree with them about the future of Scotland, but I want it made clear that I did not accuse them of not caring.
§ Mr. Buchan
I absolutely accept that. I said that I did not think that they were few and I went on to make the point about caring. Of course, I absolve my hon. Friend completely.
I can speak with some authority on behalf of the Labour Party in Scotland because I am a member of the executive committee of the party in Scotland, and I accept completely that this is Labour Party policy, not only in Scotland, but in the United Kingdom. That is why I welcome today's decision of the executive committee to help with the finance of the "Yes" campaign—whatever my reservatons may be on either side of the argument. It is right that the party should fulfil its commitment to the House and to the people of Scotland.
I assure all hon. Members that the Labour Party, as a party, will be campaigning hard for a "Yes" vote. At the same time, we must have understanding and generosity towards others. Having got a referendum, we cannot ignore the dangers and difficulties that lie within it. Even in the midst of the campaign some of us will have to perform an educational role. Having got the referendum and having asked the Scottish people to make the decision, my main function is complete. I do not want a spurious will to be developed which is based, not on an understanding of the situation, but on the fact that people feel that they must vote Tory, Labour or SNP and therefore vote "Yes" or "No" accordingly. It must be done through understanding. Otherwise that which I have sought—the establishment of understanding in the first place and the political will to make it survive in the second place—will have been in vain.
§ 6.18 p.m.
§ Sir John Gilmour (Fife, East)
The details that the Secretary of State gave us of deductions from the electoral register—particularly in relation to those under 18 on 1st March and those who had died—showed the extent to which the difficulties in achieving the 40 per cent. vote had been exaggerated. Having got over that hurdle, we still have another to surmount.
When we hold a General Election, we go to great pains to ensure that money cannot buy the result. We also ensure that there is a fair allocation of time on television and radio. My recollection of the European referendum is that a sum of money was allocated to both sides in order to see that the matter was properly put. If the order is passed, we shall have not a three-week General Election campaign, but a referendum which has already started. Indeed, the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) will probably be reported on the radio with one or two of his "Yeses"—although I thought that he wanted to vote "No".
Therefore we have already embarked on a campaign in which people are electioneering, but there appears to be no machinery to show how much money any political party has spent trying to achieve a vote one way or the other and there is no reason to suppose that any other organisation will not step in and spend as much money as it likes, even though it may be very unrepresentative of the country as a whole. That is a loophole in the arrangements for the referendum which has not been properly looked into. I hope that further consideration will be given to that.
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Cleveland and Whitby (Mr. Brit-tan) spoke about not using public money. I suppose that it could be argued that any hon. Member who campaigns for either a "Yes" or a "No" vote should have to give up his parliamentary salary during the campaign, which has started today, because otherwise he would be using public funds to try to press his point of view. Perhaps I am taking the problem to the point of absurdity, but there is a real difficulty.
I hope that the Government will consider the matter and ensure that, when the result is announced, people will not 1322 be able to say that those who won the vote did so only because they spent much more money or put better known people on television to press their case.
I am dead against referendums, but, if we are to have the beastly things, there ought to be provision to ensure fair play.
§ 6.21 p.m.
§ Mr. Ian Gow (Eastbourne)
This is the last occasion on which the House will be debating the Scotland Act—at least until after the referendum. However, no hon. Member doubts that we shall be returning time and again to the consequences of the Act. If the result of the referendum is favourable and the Secretary of State lays his first order before the House, we shall be back with the Act again. If the result is negative, we shall have a different sort of order before us and it will be up to the House and another place to decide how to vote on it.
The Secretary of State told us nothing speech and dealt in detail with the criteria that would be adopted to decide whether the 40 per cent. vote had been obtained, but there were two serious omissions in his speech and I hope that the Under-Secretary who is to reply will deal with them.
The Secretary of State told us nothing about the estimated cost of the referendum. I hope that we shall be given that information. The Under-Secretary will remember that when we had the referendum on the EEC in 1975, an explanatory note was attached to the referendum Bill giving an estimate of the total cost.
The second omission was one to which my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Cleveland and Whitby (Mr. Brittan) rightly drew attention. We need a clear explanation about what the guidelines will be on broadcasting and television time during the referendum campaign. That is a matter of great importance.
Like the 1975 referendum in the United Kingdom, the referendum in Scotland has come about, not because of any deep constitutional commitment on the part of the Government to the principle of the referendum, but because the referendum is the only device that the Government could think of to overcome their own domestic difficulties. That was most emphatically the case in 1975 and it is most emphatically the case now. 1323 There was no suggestion of a referendum in the original Scotland and Wales Bill. We were offered a referendum as a sop to the anti-devolutionists on the Government side. Following that, the 40 per cent. amendment was made, to the discomfiture of the Government, in clause 85.
When we first embarked on the 1975 referendum, Lord Glenamara, who was then Leader of the House said:Governments are elected on their whole programme and it would be neither appropriate nor practicable to have referenda on individual parts of the package."—[Official Report, 11th March 1975; Vol. 888, c. 293.]He went on almost to contradict himself by saying that the justification for the referendum on the EEC was that it was a unique issue.
At the time, many of us, including myself, believed that we were setting a precedent, even though Government Ministers, notably the then Leader of the House told us that the referendum was special and would not be repeated.
§ Mr. Donald Stewart (Western Isles)
Does the hon. Gentleman also recall the assurance of the former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson), at the time of the EEC referendum, that he hoped never to use that device again?
§ Mr. Gow
I do not recollect the words of the former Prime Minister, but if the hon. Gentleman says that that is what the right hon. Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson) said, I accept it. The right hon. Gentleman has underlined my point.
If those of us who were concerned about the precedent in 1975 have been proved by the order before us to have been justified, we are entitled to say that an even more dangerous precedent is now being created. When, within three years, the House is asked to approve another referendum, in circumstances that are wholly different from those of 1975, we are fast on the road to setting a precedent which it will be extremely difficult for future Governments not to follow.
I am a strong opponent of the referendum as a constitutional weapon in the United Kingdom. It weakens the authority of the House and could involve our being put in a position of intense difficulty. A few years ago my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Wim- 1324 bledon (Sir M. Havers) suggested that we should have a referendum on the subject of the death penalty and the idea has found favour with other of my hon. Friends.
I have little doubt that, if there were a referendum on that issue, the British people would vote overwhelmingly in favour of a return of the death penalty. However, the House would still have to pass legislation and nothing said in a referendum would make me, as an opponent of the death penalty, vote in favour of its return.
I have another objection to the order. It is incredible that the Government should have framed the Scotland Act, the celebrated section 85 and the order in such a way that, although the implementation of the Act clearly affects the whole of the United Kingdom, affects fundamentally the relationship of hon. Members with the Government and will give to Scottish hon. Members the power to make decisions about matters affecting England and Northern Ireland, while hon. Members from Northern Ireland and England will not have a similar power in regard to Scotland, the referendum is to be confined to Scotland. It is inconceivable that in relation to the Scotland Act the people of Northern Ireland, Wales and England should be excluded from a matter that is of such importance to the whole of the kingdom. I make that statement despite my fundamental hostility to the whole concept of a referendum.
The Chair urged us to be brief, and I have almost completed my remarks. When the result of the referendum is known and the Government come to the House with their first order to operate the Act or to repeal it, we shall have taken a decision of the utmost importance. The Government agree with that fact. I hope that they will ensure that in the coming campaign there is no abuse of Government money or public funds, and I hope that we shall receive the clearest answers to all the relevant points made by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Cleveland and Whitby.
§ 6.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Teddy Taylor (Glasgow, Cathcart)
My hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) was right to remind the House that, although this debate had been thinly attended, we are 1325 discussing a matter of great significance. One factor which has united those who hold different views on the order is that beyond it lies an important decision. The second factor is that it is vital that the referendum campaign, the decision and the holding of the referendum should be fair and be seen to be fair.
It would not be good for Scotland if the impression is created that the referendum is unfair. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Cleveland and Whitby (Mr. Brittan) asked the Secretary of State a number of questions, and I hope that they will receive a reply at the end of the debate. I should like to put a number of other detailed points to the Minister.
My first question relates to attendance at or entry to polling stations. Is it the case that under rule 33 the only person who is entitled to go into a polling station, other than those who go there to cast their votes, is the Member of Parliament for the area? That appears to be the interpretation of rule 33 and, if so, is it correct?
Will the Minister in reply to the debate say something about the guidance to be given to counting officers? Will he say how they are to decide on observers and other persons who under rule 45 are to be allowed to attend the count? The Secretary of State for Scotland said that there would be discussions between the parties, but does he intend to give guidance—perhaps by means of a circular—to counting officers as to what they should take into account in deciding who should have the right to attend the count? Will such persons, for example, have the right to make representations on spoiled papers? Those of us who take part in General Elections know that one of the main functions of election agents, and sometimes of candidates, lies in giving advice or making representations on spoiled papers. Who in the referendum will perform this function, and who will be allowed to be present for this purpose?
Furthermore, what matters will the chief counting officer bear in mind in deciding whether to ask for a recount under rule 51? It would appear from the rule that that decision is a matter entirely for the chief counting officer.
I am afraid that in answer to an earlier intervention I gave a piece of wrong information. The question of a recount is a matter for the counting officer, and a Member of Parliament or anybody else present would not be able to call for a recount.
§ Mr. Taylor
I am grateful for that intervention; that was how I understood the order. But perhaps the Minister in reply to the debate will be able to say what considerations will be taken into account by the chief counting officer. What will happen if the total of "Yes" and "No" votes does not add up to the total number f voting papers issued, or will any other considerations arise?
The Opposition greatly welcome the order. We have made it clear that we support the basic provisions of the order that there should be a referendum in Scotland in March on the major constitutional changes proposed in the Scotland Act. We welcome the fact that the rules for conducting the referendum should follow as closely as possible the rules for elections, which have always been regarded as fair and equitable.
Some of us share the view expressed by the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) that perhaps there is a danger in holding the referendum on 1st March instead of 22nd March, as we suggested, simply because of weather considerations. We should remember that if there is very bad weather—for example, blizzards—it will affect not merely the 40 per cent. issue, but the balance of the result. The Minister is well aware that in different parts of the country there could be varying views on the "Yes" or "No" decision. For example, if there were a preponderance of "Yes" and "No" votes in the rural areas or in the city areas, the type of weather experienced at the time of the vote could have an effect on the result.
We are in no doubt that if there is a fair referendum, with both points of view being put forward and expressed with equal force and prominence, the voters will lose sympathy for what, at first sight, may appear to be an attractive package. I believe that they will go through exactly the same experience as did Parliament when, by the end of our debates, the argument had clearly been won by those who oppose the Bill. Few would argue 1327 that if we had had the kind of secret ballot envisaged in the order of all Members in the House, the Bill would never have reached the statute book. Our belief and our aim is that there should be a fair referendum.
I welcome the Secretary of State's comments on the issue of votes by the deceased or by those whose names appear twice on the register. The great furore on this issue has stemmed either from the ignorance of those who did not study the text of clause 82 or from a deliberate attempt to discredit the 40 per cent. provision. It was clear from the Bill that the Secretary of State had discretion in interpreting what amounted to 40 per cent. of those entitled to vote. Of course there is no entitlement to vote by dead people, although I am told that in some places that has occurred. Furthermore, people who appear twice on the list are not entitled to vote twice.
I hope that there will be no further talk about the result of the referendum being distorted by dead men or absent students. Although I have no wish to enter into the controversy about the impartiality of the media, some of us wonder, after the remarks of the Secretary of Stale, what correspondents will find to write to The Scotsman about after today.
However, we are less than happy about the other essentials of a fair referendum. It has been obvious up to now—and I think that it has been generally accepted —that the balance of argument so far and propaganda on the Scotland Act directed at the general public has been for the proposals. Probably this is inevitable. The majority of the Scottish press has argued for the Assembly, and there have been few opportunities on radio and television for the case against to be deployed.
This has happened, not because of lack of balance, but because most of the programmes have dealt with the progress of the legislation and the implications of the Assembly rather than with the arguments for or against the proposal. In these circumstances there is a special obligation on the Government to take no further steps that might be designed or interpreted as undermining the balance of what in Scotland's interests should be a fair campaign rather than a loaded one.
I hope that the Secretary of State will at least associate himself with the view 1328 of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Cleveland and Whitby that, although the broadcasting organisations should be free from political pressure, all parties in Parliament would regard the correct interpretation of the balance of argument on this issue as being a balance between the arguments for and against the Act and not a balance of the opinions of the political parties.
The hon. Member for West Lothian was right to point out that very difficult decisions will have to be made by the broadcasting organisations. It is a question not only of how many programmes or of balance—all kinds of considerations are involved—but of the mere location of a programme. For example, a programme could rightly be interpreted as being emotive in itself. If any of the broadcasting organisations were to suggest that there should be a great debate on the issue in the Assembly building, nothing could be designed to be more emotive and pushing one particular line. These are difficult decisions of balance which the broadcasting organisations will have to look at most carefully.
I hope that the Government will make it clear, as did the Secretary of State, that these are matters for the broadcasting organisations, but that, in the view of all parties in Parliament, the balance should be between "Yes" and "No", not the political parties.
I hope that the Under-Secretary of State will say something about the vexed question of party political broadcasts. The only Member who seemed to think that it would be fair and reasonable to have a number of broadcasts upsetting the balance was the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) who made an unusual speech. He seemed to he attacking no one, except those who could not or do not vote for religious reasons. That is a safe thing for a politician to do.
I think it only fair and reasonable that we should preserve a balance on television and radio. It is not a question of helping one side or the other. If we do not have balance, it will mean that, no matter what the result, there will be those who will say that it was a loaded, not a fair, campaign. Therefore, it is important that we should do all in our power to ensure that the campaign is fair and reasonable and that there does 1329 not appear to be any loading in any direction.
This referendum will be the second major referendum to be held in our democracy, as my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne was right to point out, and it may not be the last. On the other hand, I think that there is a growing feeling in the House that, while there are arguments for and against referendums on all kinds of issues, there seems to be a difference concerning constitutional issues. I think that it is fair and reasonable for some people, such as myself, to take the view that the voters give us sovereignty, which we exercise with discretion, to vote for what we believe to be right or wrong. If the voters do not like us, they can chuck us out after five years. However, if we are to change the rules, the constitution and the basis on which that sovereignty is given to us by the people, it is right that we should go back for another mandate.
My hon. Friend the Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Stokes) suggested that we should perhaps seek the consent of all voters, not just Scottish voters. However, I think that we can draw a distinction between constitutional issues, which involve changing the structure, and issues in which political considerations are involved.
I think that, despite this being the second major referendum that we are to have, we have not accepted the referendum principle as part of our normal process of decision making. The Opposition's major regret is that the Scottish people are to be asked to make their decision on the devolution issue and debate by voting for or against a scheme of devolution which was put forward by one political party guided as much by electoral considerations as by a genuine desire to improve the structure of government.
It is a fact that many of those who have been supporters of the principle of devolution regard the Scotland Act as unworkable and divisive. They find that the narrow choice between "Yes" and "No" will not enable them to express the view that they want constitutional change, and they regard the Scotland Act as almost the worst way of going about it. That view was reflected in the speech of the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, 1330 West (Mr. Buchan), who said that it would not be easy to guide people whether to vote "Yes" or "No", particularly if, as Members of Parliament, we were aware of the enormous constitutional pitfalls which would result from a "Yes" vote.
We welcome the order. It gives the people of Scotland the opportunity of rejecting or approving the decision made by Parliament. We shall certainly join those in other parties and in no party who argue for a "No" vote so that early discussions can proceed to place a more workable and less divisive proposal or series of proposals before Parliament and the people. But it is right that on such an important issue the people should be given the opportunity of expressing their view. The order provides a sensible way of going about it. We hope that the Government will make it clear that their view is the same as ours—namely, that we want a fair, balance and educational campaign so that the people of Scotland may make the right decision for Scotland in full knowledge of the facts.
§ 6.45 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Harry Ewing)
We have had a fairly wide-ranging debate on what has been a narrow and restricted order dealing only with the mechanics of the referendum to be held on 1st March 1979. We do not object to the wide-ranging debate. We have listened with great interest to the various suggestions which have been made about the numbers to be subtracted from the total numbers eligible to vote as at 1st March 1979. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said in opening the debate, we shall certainly give weight and consideration to all that has been said in that regard in the debate.
One or two main points were made in the debate. I promise the House, and my Welsh colleagues in particular, that I shall not take too long to deal with them. However, I intend to deal with them thoroughly. For that reason, I shall not single out every hon. Member who spoke in the debate.
The hon. and learned Member for Cleveland and Whitby (Mr. Brittan) asked several questions, some of which have already been answered, but others were raised only today. The one question which 1331 has already been answered related to the date for elections to the Assembly should the people of Scotland decide in the referendum to accept the legislation. Time and again we have said that it is premature to talk about dates for elections to the Assembly. I strongly suspect that the hon. and learned Gentleman knows that, but I know that he is always anxious to make this point.
§ Mr. Ewing
The other main point that was made related to the balance on radio and television and party political broadcasts. I propose to deal first with party political broadcasts.
Party political broadcasts are allocated according to a time-honoured formula. Every hon. Member knows how party political broadcasts are allocated throughout the year. I should point out, particularly to my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell), that there would be nothing wrong if, during the referendum campaign, the Labour Party were due to have one of its normal routine party political broadcasts and were to use it for the purpose of putting forward its policy on devolution. There would be nothing wrong in that at all. Indeed, I do not imagine that either the hon. and learned Member for Cleveland and Whitby or the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor) would complain about that. The material used in a party political broadcast is a matter entirely for the party concerned.
We shall not object—I give this undertaking—if the Conservative Party, during the referendum campaign, uses a party political broadcast to put forward its argument, which is against devolution. In fact, we hope that will be the position, because the people of Scotland are waiting with bated breath to hear exactly why the Conservative Party is so bitterly opposed to devolution for Scotland. We shall not object to that if that should be the case.
§ Mr. Teddy Taylor
This is a serious matter. We have always made it absolutely clear that we are not against devolution. The Minister must realise that this is an important issue. There are four parties in the House: the Scottish National Party, the Liberal Party, the 1332 Conservative Party and the Labour Party For example, the Liberals, the Scottish nationalists and the Labour Party, for their own good reasons, may decide during the referendum campaign to have party political broadcasts to the effect that devolution is a grand idea and, for its own good or bad reasons, the Conservative Party may decide to have a broadcast and not mention it at all. Would it help a fair and balanced campaign to be put before the people of Scotland if there were to be three television programmes saying that devolution was a great thing and one programme not mentioning it? Would it not be fair and reasonable to have a balanced argument for and against devolution rather than to distort it by party political broadcasts?
§ Mr. Ewing
This is a new approach to party political broadcasts—that the Conservative Party should retain to itself, the right of the SNP—and I hold no brief for it—to use the material it wants in its party political broadcasts or to dictate to the Liberal Party the kind of thing that it should say in its broadcasts. That is foreign to everything that has ever happened in party political broadcasts and if it is the intention of members of the Liberal Party to speak in favour of this Bill, if that is their policy, that is their business. If the SNP wants to do that, it is its business. But party political broadcasts are something apart.
Ministerial broadcasts, however, are something different. On every occasion when there has been a ministerial broadcast, the Opposition have always claimed, and have always received, the right to reply—on such things as Budgets and as on the night when my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister announced that there would not be an October election. There has always been the right of reply to a ministerial broadcast.
On the question of a balance in the media, we have a precedent here because during the EEC referendum campaign there were many people such as the hon. Member for Cathcart who campaigned against entry and who felt that the media were weighted against our going into the Common Market. That was a feeling some of us had. It did not happen that way. I must say in fairness that the broadcasting authorities and the television 1333 authorities maintained a meticulous balance in the time allocated to the argument for and against during the EEC referendum campaign.
We have no control over the press, nor would we want to control the press. I would be astonished if the Conservative Party wanted to do so. I have every confidence, against the background of the precedent created during the EEC referendum campaign, that the broadcasting authorities will maintain a strict balance. I hope, therefore, that I can allay any fears.
The hon. Member for Cathcart raised an important point—and I want to clear that up as well—when he mentioned the possibility of the Royal High School, or the Assembly building as I call it, being used for broadcasting during the campaign. I can tell the House that it will not happen. On Monday next week we are having an open day at the Royal High School to let the media see the progress that has been made. Thereafter, we shall ask them not to request broadcasting facilities again until the building is completed. Therefore, the building will not be used during the campaign for any kind of broadcasting, or any other purpose. I hope that no one is under any illusion whatever on that point.
I have been asked about the cost of the referendum campaign, in Scotland. We have answered questions on costs before. The cost is put at £880,000.
I turn now to the use of the Government machine. This is really a matter for my right hon. Friend the Lord President. These questions would be far better addressed to him. There will be ample opportunity between now and the referendum date, at Question Time and on other occasions, to raise these matters with my right hon. Friend. I can say that no one need be concerned about malpractices. There will be no malpractices and where a Minister is performing a ministerial duty he will be supported, as always, by the Government machine. That is the broad line that ought to be drawn.
I was asked one or two specific questions about entry to polling stations. The hon. Member for Cathcart asked about the eligibility of anyone to enter a polling station. The answer is that the only person eligible to enter will be the Member 1334 of Parliament for that area. Dealing with what criteria the chief counting officer will apply in deciding whether there will be a recount, I should make it clear that the chief counting officer is not responsible for establishing whether 40 per cent. of the people have voted "Yes". If the papers do not balance or if there is some other arithmetical error, the chief counting officer will be involved. But it should be clearly understood that the returning officers and the chief counting officer are not responsible for deciding whether 40 per cent. of the people have voted.
I turn now to the question of those who will be able to obtain admission to the count itself. Rule 45 of the Parliamentary Election Rules as modified by this order is quite clear. It makes provision for the presence of observers at the counting of the votes. The counting officer may limit the number of observers to one observer to every two counting assistants. A Member of Parliament is entitled to be present at the count if any of the votes to be counted have been cast within his constituency.
As to the appointment of observers, my right hon. Friend has in mind that consultations should take place at the official level with a view to arranging for the Scottish political parties represented in Parliament to submit to counting officers the names of persons they wish to be appointed as observers in each region or Islands area. While the counting officer will have the power to appoint whomsoever he wishes as observers he would, in practice, be likely to accept observers nominated by the main political parties in Scotland. The role of observers would be analogous to that performed by counting agents at normal parliamentary elections. I hope that I have cleared up that point.
§ Mr. Teddy Taylor
Surely the Minister would not think it unreasonable that, if approaches were made from an umbrella organisation, facilities might be given for it to attend a count? It would be wrong, particularly for those who might not agree with the official views of the party, to be excluded from the count simply because their views were individual. Surely, if there were a request from an umbrella organisation either for the "Yes" or "No" campaign, it would not be refused.
§ Mr. Ewing
We are not laying down rules as to whom the returning officer should admit or exclude. The guidance is quite clear. We are saying that consultation will take place, not with umbrella organisations, but with the Scottish political parties and the officials concerned. There is no intention of having consultations with any umbrella organisation which might spring up during the campaign.
§ Mr. Brittan
How does the Minister propose to deal with the interests of those members of the Labour Party who are opposed to the measure?
§ Mr. Ewing
That is an interesting question. The official policy of the Labour Party in Scotland, and the United Kingdom generally—and that of the Government—is that we are in favour of devolution and of this Bill. It is with the official organisation that consultations will take place. I notice that the hon. and learned Member did not ask me how we would deal with the interests of his hon. Friend the Member for North Angus and Mearns (Mr. Buchanan-Smith) or how we intend to deal with the interests of the hon. Member for Cathcart, who does not know whether he is "Yes" or "No". There is a host of imponderables when it comes to representing anyone's interest and obviously the best approach to this problem is to consult the political parties in Scotland. That is the guidance we have given.
§ Mr. Brittan
The hon. Gentleman is doing less than justice to the office he holds by treating this issue so frivolously. The position is that it is quite obvious to everybody that there are differences within the parties. If we are talking about seeking genuine consultations with people who take a particular view it is simply unrealistic to say that there will be consultations with the official political parties when the hon. Gentleman knows there are people within the Labour Party who disagree with the official line. If he wants to have proper consultations that point cannot be ignored, however frivolous he may be about it.
§ Mr. Ewing
I am not surprised at the touchiness of the hon. and learned Member. Having been shifted once already in the past fortnight, he may well be shifted again in the not too distant future, once the General Election comes along. I 1336 am sure that his touchiness is due to the fact that he sees the possibility of a "Yes" vote looming larger on the horizon. All I am saying—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger) is getting touchy, too. Is there something troubling him?
§ Mr. George Younger (Ayr)
The Minister is not doing justice to himself. I am sure that he is perfectly capable of taking this matter seriously and giving a sensible answer.
§ Mr. Abse
I put to my hon. Friend what has been put already in the debate. There are substantial sections of opinion in Scotland, as in Wales, which will be organised in a Labour "Vote No" campaign. It would be outrageous if, in any discussions which took place—with political parties, the media or the Department, or in connection with any directives about who can attend the count—there was an attempt to exclude substantial, organised bodies of opinion wishing to express their views. The reply which my hon. Friend has given does less than credit so far to that broad section of opinion in Scotland and Wales which is within the Labour Party and which should be acknowledged.
§ Mr. Ewing
I must make it clear to my hon. Friend that I am not talking about consultations with the broadcasting authorities. I have never mentioned that. I spoke about observers at the count. I thought I had made that clear. I said that our officials will have consultations with the main political parties. If the chief returning officer wants to talk to anyone else, that will be his business. Equally, if anyone wants to talk to him, they must make an approach. We are saying that the official discussions will take place with the Scottish political parties. This is not unacceptable. It is a totally acceptable, understandable and proper way to proceed.
The hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson) raised an important point concerning the number of people who may be in hospital during the time of the referendum, and thus unable to vote. This 1337 is one of the difficulties which face us. All hon. Members will have to accept that there will be those who, perhaps, should have been deducted from the total but who will not be deducted because of circumstances such as those put forward by the hon. Member for Dundee, East.
This is not the easiest matter with which to deal. People may suddenly become ill and be unable to vote. My right hon. Friend and I are very much aware that before 1st March, when polling takes place, people will want to know exactly how many votes will be required to reach a set target. We shall do our best to make sure that the necessary information is available before 1st March. I cannot go further than that now. We shall take into account all that has been said in the debate.
I would not wish to conclude my speech without a reference to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian. I intend to show my hon. Friend the same generosity as was shown to him by my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan). To digress for a moment, it was strange to hear the hon. Member for Fife, East (Sir J. Gilmour) plead the case that money cannot buy a result against the background of the activities of Saatchi & Saatchi over the past five or six months.
I hope that this campaign can be conducted on a constructive basis. I did not regard the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian as being one of the most constructive speeches he has made on this or any other subject. If the line that he took in his speech were to be continued throughout the campaign I can assure him that it would do nothing to ensure a constructive approach to this subject.
I am grateful for the support that has come from all parts of the House for this order. This is the last but one step on the road to setting up the Scottish Assembly.
§ Question put and agreed to.