HC Deb 22 November 1978 vol 958 cc1338-94

7.6 p.m.

The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. John Morris)

I beg to move, That the draft Wales Act 1978 (Referendum) Order 1978, which was laid before this House on 14th November, be approved. The purpose of this order, like the order relating to Scotland which we have just debated, is to appoint 1st March 1979 as the day on which the referendum will be held in Wales, and to apply the statutory machine through which the referendum is to be conducted. The order is made under paragraphs I and 4 of schedule 12 to the Wales Act 1978. It applies all the relevant parts of the Representation of the People Acts, including the Parliamentary Election Rules and the Representation of the People Regulations, and part of the Town and Country Planning (Control of Advertisement) Regulations 1969. It follows substantially the precedent of the order made for conducting the EEC referendum in 1975.

Following that precedent, polling will be conducted on the basis of districts, and the returning officers will be those who act in that capacity at district council elections. Counting, however, will be conducted on the basis of counties. I shall appoint a chief counting officer who will certify the overall result for Wales. He will appoint counting officers at county level who will declare the county results locally after consultation with the chief counting officer. I shall also be making an order under section 2(1) of the Welsh Language Act 1967 to prescribe the Welsh version of forms which may be used in the referendum. The front of the ballot paper is already prescribed in a bilingual form in schedule 12 to the Wales Act.

In Wales, as in Scotland, the 1979 electoral register comes into operation on 16th February 1979. In selecting the date for the referendum, it is our intention that the referendum should be conducted on the basis of an electoral register which is as up to date as possible. The date of 1st March was chosen because we considered it the earliest practicable date after the new register takes effect. It will provide the opportunity for the maximum number of Welsh electors to cast their vote. I hope that those hon. Members who in the past have accused us of dragging our heels will now give us the credit we deserve for pressing on with the referendum as soon as practicable.

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 in Wales have been asked to do their best to arrange for copies of the registers to be made available as soon as possible before 15th February. So far, the indications on this point are very helpful.

Eligibility to vote in the referendum is determined by paragraph 2 of schedule 12 to the Act, and is not therefore a matter for this order. Those who will be able to vote in the referendum will be all those eligible to vote as electors in a parliamentary election in Wales and those peers eligible to vote in a local government election in Wales. For an elector to be qualified to vote his or her name must appear on the electoral register to be used, and the elector must be 18 years of age or over on the day of the poll and not subject to any legal incapacity on that day.

The qualifying date for entry on the 1979 electoral register was 10th October 1978. The draft 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.

I return to 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 consequent need, for example, to make such substitutions as a particular result" at the poll for "the election of any candidate. The order consists of seven 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 at the verification of the ballot paper accounts and the counting of the votes. Article 6 provides that absent voting facilities will be as for parliamentary elections.

Article 6(5) lays down that postal applications must be received by the registration officer by 15th February 1979. I hope that this date is noted, and would urge anyone who thinks he is entitled to a postal vote to apply well in advance of this date.

Article 7 carries out the provisions of paragraph 5 of schedule 12 to the Wales Act and provides for the expenses of returning officers to be defrayed as administrative expenses of the Secretary of State.

I do not think that I need detail further the contents of the schedules, which are essentially technical and relate to the running of the referendum, but I hope that it will be possible to answer any question on technical points at the end of the debate.

I turn now to the 40 per cent. provision. Before we can determine this 40 per cent. figure, we must try to establish the number of persons who are entitled to vote in the referendum. It is the expression "entitled to vote" which creates some problems. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland has already explained the difficulties involved in making a precise calculation of the figure.

Before discussing these questions in relation to Wales, let us put the reasons for the calculation into context. Section 80 of the Wales Act requires that 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 the Act. In other words, if the 40 per cent. requirement is not met, the issue—whether or not the Act should be implemented—is automatically referred back to Parliament for decision. It does not mean that the Act must be repealed, but provides a mechanism whereby Parliament may consider further. Naturally, the Government will take careful account of the result of the poll before recommending what action should be taken, as no doubt will Parliament when either a repeal order or a commencement order is laid.

It should be clear from this that the strict determination of what constitutes 40 per cent. of those entitled to vote, whilst important in deciding whether the Government should lay a repeal order, does not of itself decide the fate of the Act. In the last analysis, both the Government and Parliament will need to exercise a judgment, bearing in mind the result of the referendum.

I shall run over again the factors which influence the calculation of those entitled to vote. First, those who are entitled to vote will be those on the electoral register which takes effect on 16th February 1979. However—here I apologise for going over some of the ground covered by my right hon. Friend in relation to Scotland, but that is because we are having two separate debates—the register contains the names of, first, those who are under 18 at the date of the referendum; secondly, those who have died since the register was compiled; thirdly, those who are legally incapacitated from voting since the register was compiled, but these numbers are very small; fourthly, multiple registrations—those who may be registered at more than one address.

As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland has already explained, the "attainers"—those who are under 18 on the date of the referendum—can be accurately deducted because their numbers can be counted when the 1979 register is available. On the basis of the 1978 register, the deduction for this group would be in the order of 26,000.

The deaths category raises more difficulties, because it would be impracticable to check a roll of deaths against the electoral register. We therefore propose to make an estimate using information held by the Registrar General and on the basis of experience of death statistics over the past few years. If the referendum had been held on 1st March 1978, the estimate of deaths would have been of the order of 14,000.

Mr. Leo Abse (Pontypool)

As I understood my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, a definite figure for deaths was likely to be in existence in February. My right hon. and learned Friend has referred only to estimates of deaths this year. Am I correct in assuming that the same practice will be adopted in Wales as in Scotland, to ensure that in February we know the figure up to that time?

Mr. Morris

The practice will be the same in both countries. Part of the figure would be certain and part would be an estimate. I have shortened my remarks because I did not want to go over the whole ground, but I would add that clearly the total in a whole year would in any event be an estimate. The general approach will be the same in both countries.

The question of multiple registrations is perhaps the most difficult category, because of the problems of making estimates of how many people may be registered at more than one address. However, I am very willing to listen to any points made in the course of the debate and to consider them further.

Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarvon)

Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that in that category, the multiple registrations, there would be a significant discrepancy between Wales and Scotland, needing different treatment? That is not only because of the likelihood that there is a greater number of second homes in Wales but because of the legal points, taking into account the Walter Scott case in Scotland, which prohibits multiple registration of second homes in Scotland, whereas that does not apply in Wales.

Mr. Morris

I am not an expert on Scottish law on this matter, and I would not dream of advancing any views. There are difficulties in calculation. One is dealing with the problem of people with two votes, people on two registers in Wales. If someone has another vote because he has another home in England, the problem does not arise. For this purpose the problem is that of people having two votes within the Principality. That is the narrow point as I understand it. If I am wrong, I can be corrected and we can return to this matter later. It is a question of calculation.

I know how the controversy rages about second homes generally, but I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman is with me on this point, that we are dealing with a particular kind of people, a particular class of people—if I may say that, lacking any other word—who happen to be on the electoral registers in two parts of Wales.

As I have said, I shall be glad to listen to points made in the debate and see whether it is possible, first, to calculate the size of the problem and, secondly, to get over it. As I see it, it is very difficult to get over the problem, if indeed it is possible.

In conclusion, I am proposing that deductions should be made from the total register for 1979 for two categories—those who have not yet attained the age of 18 years and the estimated deaths of over-18year-olds in Wales between 10th October 1978 and the date of the referendum. In 1978 these two categories amounted to a total of 40,000—an extremely small figure in relation to the total number on the electoral register of 2,065,045. I hope that the House will bear in mind the remarks that I made earlier about putting the 40 per cent. provision into context.

Mr. Nicholas Edwards (Pembroke)

I know that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is trying to speed up his remarks, but the Secretary of State for Scotland gave us some useful information about the number of students and nursing personnel who would be involved in double registrations. Are similar figures available for Wales?

Mr. Morris

I do not have them now, but my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Wales, who will hope to catch the eye of the Chair, will try to give that information before the end of the debate. I understand that he has obtained certain figures. We are in difficulty in producing a series of calculations of the sort that he has described as the circumstances are not exactly the same for Wales. However, we shall do what we can to give the House the information at our disposal.

I was saying that I hope that the House will bear in mind the remarks that I made earlier about putting the 40 per cent. provision into context. It does not of itself determine the final decision on the implementation of the Wales Act.

The Government expect a conclusive result in the referendum. We hope that everyone in Wales will make use of the right to express his own choice in the referendum, and we shall encourage as high a poll as possible. We trust that the people of Wales will give a clear answer and will respond with such a resounding "Yes" that the achievement of the 40 per cent. provision will not be called into question.

7.22 p.m.

Mr. Leon Brittan (Cleveland and Whitby)

The Opposition also expect a conclusive result from Wales, but we expect a different conclusion. However, we are united in agreeing that it is right that the people of Wales should have the opportunity of expressing their views on the Government's proposals.

We made it clear earlier in the year that we favoured holding the referendum as early as possible. If we had won the expected election in October, we would have ensured that the referendum was held as soon as possible.

I cannot help being mildly entertained by the bland way in which the Secretary of State announces the date of the referendum as being 1st March solely by reference to the convenience of that date and the fact that it is so close to the date on which the register comes into effect. The right hon. and learned Gentleman did not mention that it happens to be St. David's Day. I am surprised that that escaped him. That must be said as he made much of it being a happy day for the commencement of a previous stage in our deliberations on this measure.

Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East)

Does the hon. and learned Gentleman accept that 1st April might have been more appropriate.

Mr. Brittan

I think that St. David's Day is an extremely good day on which to hold the referendum. I have no doubt, in spite of the omission from the Secretary of State's speech, that it was chosen to fan the flames of national feeling in support of the referendum. However, I venture to suggest that there is good reason for supporting the holding of the referendum on St. David's day. That is because the effect will be exactly the opposite.

The holding of the referendum on that day will draw attention to the vigorous celebrations throughout Wales on 1st March. That will show that the union of Wales and England has in no way damaged the spirit of the people of Wales in celebrating St. David's Day. It will, therefore, show that there is no need for such national feelings to be given expression in the form of an Assembly for it to continue to exist and to flourish.

For that reason, I think that the ploy will backfire completely and that the people of Wales will realise that their national feeling needs no artificial vehicle in the form of the Secretary of State's Assembly.

The referendum is not the Government's idea. In supporting it we are not supporting anything that the Government thought was a beneficial way of testing opinion. Let us be clear about the history of the referendum. It was advocated at an early stage by my hon. Friend the Member for Pembrokeshire (Mr. Edwards), but others perhaps, were in the field before him. Before the Secretary of State laughs too loudly, what is relevant is not who was in the field first but why the Government took over the idea. The reason that the Government were prepared to contemplate and include the holding of a referendum was simple. It was that without agreeing to hold a referendum they would never have obtained a Second Reading for the Scotland and Wales Bill.

Mr. Abse

We are getting a rewriting of history. However, I hope that the Opposition Front Bench will recall that almost two years ago, on the eve of the Second Reading, and without any support from my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State and his Front Bench colleagues or from the Opposition Front Bench, I tabled a reasoned amendment that was signed by Welsh anti-devolutionist Members. I collected the signatures of 150 Members, including the Unionists. I collected no signatures from the nationalists. The motion was not signed by the nationalists or the Liberals.

Therefore, the only people who can claim credit for having given Wales the referendum are Welsh anti-devolutionist Members. The credit cannot be claimed by the two Front Benches. It must be given to the Back Benchers of the two major parties and the unionists who signed my motion. I hope that Wales will not be misled. Nobody except the Labour anti-devolutionists took the initiative of giving the Welsh people the right to decide their own future.

Mr. Brittan

I do not think that I shall give way a third time, but I shall answer the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse). I make it clear that I do not and could not take an ounce of the credit away from the hon. Gentleman for his achievement. I was stressing not who was first in the field but who was last. The Government were last. Indeed, the Government entered the field only because without doing so they would not have obtained support for the Bill to enable them to get it through the House.

It is of some importance for the record that just as we made our positon clear in the debate on the Scottish referendum we make our position clear in this debate. We shall campaign vigorously against proposals that are designed to lead ultimately to the weakening of Welsh local government, to centralisation in Cardiff, to damage to the power of Welsh Members of Parliament and the Secretary of State for Wales, and to the creation of a new, unnecessary and cumbersome bureaucrcy that will do nothing to increase the wealth or employment of the people of Wales or improve the quality of life within the Principality in any way. As that is our view of this measure, we shall have no hesitation in campaigning vigorously during the referendum against the Government's proposals and in favour of a "No" vote.

It is our duty as the Oppositon also to make it clear that in the highly unlikely event of there being a "Yes" vote in Wales and a clear majority in favour of the proposals in accordance with the requirements that the House has provided in the Wales Act, we shall advise Parliament to implement them. We would do everything in our power to make the new arrangements for the government of Wales work effectively for the sake of the people of Wales. We would do all that we could to minimise damage to the unity of the United Kingdom that we fear would result from the implementation of this measure.

We are concerned to ensure that there is a fair test of opinion in the conduct of the referendum in Wales as in Scotland. We are concerned that the odds are not loaded in favour of one side or the other of the argument. It is for that reason that, when talking on the Scottish order, I made considerable reference to the expenditure of public money and resources in favour of one side or the other in the campaign. I asked a number of detailed questions concerning the Government's publicity machine and the use of Government resources in the referendum campaign, which were not answered by the Minister in reply and which, therefore, I have no hesitation or regret in repeating to the Secretary of State for Wales, in the hope that at least his hon. Friend will make an attempt to answer them.

Of course, we accept that it is Government policy that there should be a "Yes" vote. Of course, we accept that Ministers are perfectly entitled to express that view. It is a little difficult to understand why in this case there is no permission to dissenting Ministers to campaign on the other side, as there was in the EEC referendum, when it was also Government policy that there should be a "Yes" vote. I do not understand the distinction.

One knows that Ministers do not campaign in isolation. Research has to be done for their speeches, if the speeches are not actually written for them. Backup facilities have to be provided, together with promotional material. There is promotion of the speeches and of the tours. This is done by the civil servants concerned. Ministers are driven in public cars, and there are the usual public relations of all kinds. How much will that cost, and who will pay for it?

Those are straight questions. The people of Wales and the people of the United Kingdom are entitled to answers. I should have much more respect for the Government if they said "Yes, we think that money should be spent on that. It will cost £X and we ask the House to approve of that expenditure." The House might have its views on whether that expenditure should or should not be approved. It might have its views on whether similar funds should be available to those who take a different view. It might decide that no money at all should be spent. But at least there would be a fair proposition, properly put, and the House would be able to decide exactly what view should be taken on it.

It is right that the Government should make clear in exactly what way their facilities are to be used during the course of the referendum campaign. It is also right that there should be an answer to the questions that were asked by me from this Dispatch Box and also to the questions from other hon. Members throughout the House on the conduct of the campaign in relation to broadcasting.

None of the questions asked in the last debate was answered. I hope that where we had silence from Scotland we shall have speech from Wales. It would not be unprecedented, and it would be a happy outcome this evening. Although I cannot pretend to express any great confidence that those questions will be answered. But, in all seriousness, there is a need for ground rules for the conduct of broadcasting. It is not automatic and it is not sufficient to say "People will say what they want in the party political broadcasts and as for the discussion programmes and the news programmes we must leave that to the media and they will look after it all right."

Mr. Fred Evans (Caerphilly)

Is the hon. and learned Gentleman aware that the freedom of conscience that we have heard so much about does not apply to Members of this House, and that the Establishment in Wales has expressed the opinion that we should not put a foot on any platform? In other words, we are to be stifled. If we are to be stifled in our own constituencies, what chance have we in Wales of putting a viewpoint that is diametrically opposed to the Government's viewpoint?

Mr. Brittan

I am quite confident that the hon. Gentleman is not of a calibre to be stifled anywhere. We have heard and seen too much of him to believe that he will be stifled. I am quite sure that there will be many others—I can see some sitting not far away from him—who will be equally difficult to stifle. I am not worried about people being stifled. I am worried about the conduct of radio and television.

The situation is not one in which there is a simple division between the parties. Taking the parties numerically and looking at their official position, we have the Labour Party officially in favour of a "Yes" vote. We have the Liberals officially in favour of a "Yes" vote, although they really want something quite different. But they will swallow the gnat and go along with it. The nationalists also want something quite different but will still say "Yes". The Conservative Party will say "No". On that count we have a three to one vote for "Yes", but everybody knows that to divide up the broadcasting time on that basis would be monstrously unfair.

What, then, is to be done? Would it not be right that there should be an equal division, not between the parties—I have not included the fact that three-quarters of the Labour Party will be in favour of "No"—but between the "Yes" and the "No" views? In all seriousness, I think that there is a problem which has to be dealt with, and it is very sad that neither Secretary of State has mentioned it. It may or may not be appropriate that it should be dealt with in the order, and I would be quite satisfied if the Government were to give an indication of how they propose to deal with it outside the order, but it is very unsatisfactory indeed that it should not be dealt with at all.

Mr. Wyn Roberts (Conway)

Will my hon. and learned Friend comment on the statement made by the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland to the effect that he regarded as fair the transmission of three party political broadcasts for devolution in Scotland and only one against in the course of a campaign?

Mr. Brittan

That shows a concept of fairness which some of us find difficult to understand, let alone to share. That is the most charitable comment I can make on it. But the very fact that it is possible for a Minister to make an observation of that kind shows how crucial it is that the Welsh Ministers should give some more enlightened guidance on what the Government are anticipating in that respect.

We are grateful for the guidance which has been given concerning the 40 per cent. requirement. No doubt for reasons of brevity, until prompted by various hon. Members, the Secretary of State for Wales was slightly less forthcoming than the Secretary of State for Scotland. But I am not making a serious criticism on that point, so the right hon. and learned Gentleman need not feel obliged to rise from his place. I recognise that there may be reasons which make it more difficult for him to quantify at this stage the offsets which should be made.

It is very important that on 1st March in the morning those going to the polls should know exactly how many people the Government propose to dock off the register before working out the 40 per cent. requirement. It is only if people know in advance what the figure is to be that any tears that the assessment of the 40 per cent.—which is necessarily in part subjective—has been influenced not by the true considerations but by the actual outcome of the vote can be overcome. It would be most unfortunate if there should be a whiff of suspicion that that is what has occurred. The way to avoid that is to publish the figure in advance, on the day. In regard to some factors it will be based on precise figures; in other cases it will be an estimate. Where it is an estimate, I urge the Secretary of State to publish as fully as possible the information on which that estimate is based, whether it is statistical material or whether it is survey material, so that a view can be formed.

I hardly need remind the Secretary of State that there are legal considerations. Although he has a subjective determination to make, he can be challenged in the courts if he takes wrong considerations into account or fails to take right considerations into account. If he asks his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence what I mean, he will be reminded of the Tameside case and be given some guidance on that point.

It is important, therefore, that the criteria to be applied—the objective tests, where they can be applied—and the subjective factors, where those have been applied—should be laid out as early as possible, and certainly by the date of the vote. But there are other questions to be asked. Will the Secretary of State assure the House that, if the vote does not reach the 40 per cent. requirement, he will place the repeal order before the House at an early date?

It would be of assistance if we were given some guidance as to how long an interval the Secretary of State was anticipating between the holding of the referendum and the placing of the repeal order before the House if the 40 per cent. figure is not reached. I suggest that the period should be as short as possible so that there is as little uncertainty as possible in the Principality.

In the previous debate I asked what period is envisaged between the referendum and the holding of elections for the Assembly if the vote goes the other way. This is a matter of some importance, because the parties concerned will have to organise themselves. It is right that they should know when the first elections will be held, if elections there are to be. I point out that Wales is blessed with the advantage of having no local elections in 1980. Therefore, it might be convenient that the first Assembly elections should take advantage of what I am informed is the situation in that year.

In any event, I also made the point that it would be wrong to hold the elections on the same day as the European elections or the General Election. In that regard, I hope that I shall get confirmation from the Secretary of State that he shares that view. I was slightly surprised to be told in the Scottish debate that it was odd that I should ask what period there will be between the holding of the referendum and the elections. I was told that that question had already been answered. I thought that perhaps I had missed some Written Answer on the last day of some parliamentary term when Hansard was not printed or that I had been dozing and that this answer was tucked away. But that was not the case. The answer was that the Government had made it perfectly clear that it was inappropriate to answer the question at this stage.

I did not regard that as being an answer of such clarity and definitive quality as to make it unnecessary for the question to be asked again. Therefore, I ask it again in the hope that from a more forthcoming and mellifluous Welsh voice I shall get an answer which will give some measure of satisfaction.

Of course, we support the passage of this order, but I hope that this time we shall have answers to the specific questions. I do not know how many times it is necessary to ask them questions before getting answers. How will the Government machine operate during the referendum, and at what cost? When will the repeal order be laid, if it is necessary to lay such an order because the 40 per cent. requirement is not met? What proposals do the Government have to ensure balance on radio and television, not between the political parties but between the "Yes" and "No" campaigns? If there is a "Yes" vote, when is it proposed that the first elections to the Assembly should be held?

I do not think it is asking too much to request the Government to provide answers to those questions before the House approves the order.

7.43 p.m.

Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East)

It would be churlish not to welcome the tabling of this order, because many of us have fought for it, and eventually the Government came around to our view. Some referendum boyos came early, some came late, but we are all referendum boyos now.

The order refers only to nuts and bolts. As to the problems of the register, I think that my right hon. and learned Friend has satisfactorily answered the way in which the dead men's votes will be counted. The problem of Welsh exiles has not been raised, but that appears to be an insuperable problem. Equally, there is no easy solution to the problems of dual registration.

I wish to make only one brief point in relation to the 40 per cent. hurdle. My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State mentioned his difficulties in objectively assessing of what 40 per cent. will be considered a proper total. This matter is clearly legislatively important and should be done correctly. But in my view its importance in practice can be overstressed, because the only respectable argument for the 40 per cent. hurdle—I personally did not support it—is that on an issue of this magnitude affecting the future of Wales we need to have a clear and fair endorsement.

If, in practice, as a result of a sufficiently large turn-out and a sufficient differential between the "No" votes and "Yes" votes, that endorsement impresses on this House that the people of Wales want to have an Assembly such as that proposed, it is inconceivable that this House would not accept that verdict of the people of Wales.

My own view is that, whatever legal difficulties there may well be about the definition of this 40 per cent. requirement, in practice it is unlikely to be a real difficulty when it comes to the House. That having been said, I need only to reiterate what has been said from the Conservative Bench about the need not only for a clear endorsement but also for a fair endorsement. I, too, ask for answers with regard to the ground rules for broadcasting and the extent to which the public services will be mobilised in support of the "Yes" campaign.

7.46 p.m.

Mr. Michael Roberts (Cardiff, North-West)

The hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) made a very important point about the 40 per cent. I do not think that it is a question of the legal difficulties. If a very substantial majority is in favour of an Assembly, even though the 40 per cent. is not quite reached, I am quite sure that the House will take note of that and will decide that the will of the Welsh people is clearly stated and that we shall act accordingly.

I hope that people in Wales are today taking note of this point, because up until now Welsh people have assumed that there is a 40 per cent. hurdle. In fact, that is not the major difficulty. Therefore, people in Wales must realise that staying at home is not the same as saying "No". I hope that that message gets over clearly to the people of Gwent and Cardiff. They cannot rely on what they thought they could have relied on, which was that if 40 per cent. is not reached—and that 40 per cent. hurdle will be difficult to achieve—automatically the whole measure will fall. This debate will clearly make it known to all those people that they cannot rely on that. Therefore, they must come out.

I should like to make one or two remarks about the machinery for ensuring that the media are impartial. I realise that this is of great difficulty, because when the independent television authorities and the BBC are faced with the practical problem of whom they will put on their programmes, whom they will select to represent various points of view or whose speeches they will select for news items, they will be able to say, for instance, that on the side against the Assembly there will be Gwent against the Assembly, Labour elements against the Assembly, the Conservative Party against the Assembly and some umbrella organisation called "Wales Against the Assembly".

The media will always be able to argue convincingly, at least to themselves, that they can select one here and one there. But we shall want to know well in advance of the referendum—the people in Wales will want to know as well—that there is absolute impartiality and that a machinery is set up which ensures that not only the "Yes" viewpoint is recorded and advertised, but also the point of view against an Assembly.

Whereas there is great respect for the BBC and HTV, and for the professional integrity of the people involved on practically every issue, there are not many people in Wales who actually believe that on the issue of devolution the same impartiality exists. Therefore, it is in their own interests and the interests of fairness in this referendum that the position is made perfectly clear and the ground rules established.

Mr. Wigley

The hon. Member referred to the term "machinery". What does he mean by that? How will such "machinery" operate? Does he accept that fairness is needed from the West of England transmitters which beam programmes to Wales, because their programmes are watched by people in his own area?

Mr. Roberts

West of England impartiality is very important. I admit that previously I had not thought about this. We want the BBC and HTV authorities to make perfectly clear their policy in advance. That is what I mean by "machinery". They should tell us and then we will have the means of consultation and the means of influence so that we will know whether there is the fairness that we all require.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)

It was generally thought in Wales that HTV and BBC were impartial in all matters. Then the hon. Member for Cardiff, North-West (Mr. Roberts) tells us that they are impartial on everything, other than perhaps one topic—that of devolution. Is it not a fact that a substantial number of jobs leading to promotion in the media, as in politics, depend on the creation of an Assembly? Therefore, is it not a fact that people in broadcasting are personally involved in this decision in a way in which they are not involved in most other decisions?

Mr. Roberts

For the reasons that the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) has pointed out, and for a whole host of suspicions that we have on this matter, devolution is an issue on which we would not be prepared to rely completely on professional integrity in the same way as we would be prepared to rely on it in the media's general approach to current affairs.

On the question of the two referendums being held on the same day, this is a decision I cannot really support. The position in Wales is very different from that in Scotland. Wales does not have to the same extent as Scotland a national daily press. We have the Western Mail, which has a circulation of 90,000 and the Liverpool Daily Post, but in Scotland there is The Scotsman, the Glasgow Herald and a whole range of Scottish newspapers.

The newspapers that influence the Principality are national dailies of England. The Daily Mail has a circulation of 60,000 in Wales, the Daily Express also has a circulation of 60,000, the Daily Mirror has a circulation of several hundred thousands and The Sun follows closely behind it.

If the referendums are held on the same day, the opinions expressed in these newspapers will have a London perspective on devolution generally. If a London perspective is also put out by the BBC and ITN, as well as in the coverage of the national dailies, the Scottish argument will get the greatest emphasis because more people are involved. The Scottish Assembly has legislative form and there is a greater move towards independence in Scotland. This will affect English interests more.

I do not know what effect this will have on the campaign in Wales, but there is no doubt that it will have a significant effect. I do not know which way it will go, but the people of Wales will read and hear more about devolution in Scotland than in Wales. One just has to consider the viewpoint of the producer of news. If he has five minutes in which to produce something about devolution as a national item, naturally he will give three minutes to Scotland and only two minutes to Wales. I cannot believe that that is the best way to secure informed opinion in the Principality. For these reasons I regret that we are holding the two referendums on the same day.

Mr. Ioan Evans (Aberdare)

In the debates on devolution it was argued by many that there would be a disadvantage if we were to have the referendum in Wales first. In those circumstances, if we threw out the Assembly it would affect the Scottish electorate, which would think that if Wales did not want an Assembly, why should Scotland have one. It was argued that if the referendums were held on the same day one would not affect the other.

Mr. Roberts

I am aware of that point which has been made on a number of occasions. However, it is worth pointing out the consequences of following this course of action. As far as the newspapers and news bulletins in Wales are concerned there will be an adverse effect.

Mr. John Morris

The hon. Member for Cardiff, North-West (Mr. Roberts) would have argued against us with the same force and eloquence at his command had we chosen a day for the Welsh referendum which followed the Scottish referendum. He would have then claimed that we were rigging the polls.

Mr. Roberts

That is a typically uncharitable comment of the Secretary of State. I am not saying that holding both referendums on the same day is to the disadvantage of one side or the other. I am simply pointing out the consequences. I was expecting more sympathy from the Secretary of State, but then I am an incurable romantic.

When it comes to the selection of the date of 1st March, the Secretary of State said that this was the earliest possible opportunity and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Cleveland and Whitby (Mr. Brittan) thought that it was a good idea. However, I do not agree. I think that the Secretary of State chose 1st March for a particular reason. He thought that it was an opportunist way to get a maximum vote for the Assembly in Wales. In order to do this, the Secretary of State, who looks after our schools in Wales, was perfectly prepared to disrupt a tradition. He laughs and jeers at tradition, but the Assembly will be voted upon on St. David's Day. I am aware that there are occasions when our schools have had to hold their celebrations at other times when St. David's Day falls on Saturday or Sunday. But in 1979 it falls on a Thursday.

The people of Wales will recognise—and those who support an Assembly will say that it is a good idea because it will maximise support at the polls—that the Secretary of State had an ulterior motive. This date was not the earliest opportunity, it was an opportunist moment to get the maximum number of votes.

The Secretary of State may say "You are joking", but I do not think that the Lord President of the Council, who was involved in this decision, knows much about it because he is an Englishman. The Secretary of State, however, is a Welshman. He knows full well that St. David's Day is a day when we are united, when there is no division among us whatever our political views of Assemblies, independence for Wales, or of any part of the union of the country. But the Secretary of State has chosen, whatever he may say, to make this day a day of disunion. If he believes that the campaign will not illustrate, for a time anyway, the sharp dichotomy that exists in Wales, he does not understand what the campaign is all about. In an opportunist way he has chosen the date, and he has divided Wales at the same time.

8.2 p.m.

Mr. Leo Abse (Pontypool)

I find the enthusiasm of both Front Benches for the referendum ironic, and I am sure, as has been indicated in the interventions, that Wales will remember—we must remind it—that there would have been no referendum were it not for the Welsh Labour Members who took the initiative and wrested the referendum from the Government. It was done without any official Front Bench support from the Tory Party.

Wales, now having the opportunity to decide its future as a result of the initiative of the Labour Members, will not forget that it was done entirely without support from the Liberals or the nationalists at the crucial time when it was still possible to seize the opportunity for a referendum.

The nationalists and the Liberals wanted what I call compulsory democracy. The pro-devolutionists came along with a spurious scheme of devolution. They stated repeatedly that there was overwhelming public support for it in Wales. It was clearly indicated by all the organisations that were listed from the Front Bench, by the nationalists and by the Liberal Party that we were an insignificant minority, that we represented no one but ourselves, that we did not understand Wales and that we knew not of the resonances and dissonances within the Principality. Well, who understands Wales? Is it understood by those whose experience of the country is limited to certain areas and certain sub-cultures? Or is it understood by those Labour Members who have consistently insisted that the voice of Wales must be heard, as now it will be heard, in the referendum?

I am not surprised, given the choice of 1st March, that there is concern about how the campaign will be conducted, particularly in the media. No one likes February campaiging. Although the worst victims, in terms of securing a good turn-out, of this miserable, silly, squalid opportunist notion of selecting St. David's Day will be the Scottish electorate, given the climate there, in Wales, too, it is a most inappropriate choice. I do not want to be provoked by the jeering of my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State at the conclusion of the speech by the hon. Member for Cardiff, North-West (Mr. Roberts). When the date was announced, I said immediately that it would disrupt the schoolchildren. But it goes further than that. Those of us who remember St. David's Day when we were at school have a lingering memory of why we wore the leek or the daffodil. Although, happily, in the charm and elegance of our school ceremonies, we buried some of the primary reasons for our celebrations, we were reminded by our teachers that the leek was to distinguish between Welsh and English fighters.

I do not think that that is a happy augury for the selection of a day which, by its nature, will evoke memories of less happy times when the kingdom was divided. What interpretation will be placed on the selection of a day which has such unpleasant chauvinistic overtones, a chauvinism so alien to the whole international mood and spirit of the Welsh Labour movement? It is sad, given that devolution could mean the creation of grave divisions within the United Kingdom, that a day should be selected which. because of its background, could wretchedly evoke memories of other days when there were genuine divisions which we hope will never recur.

The selection of that day almost disbars, given our sort of weather, the possibility of campaigning outside the media. It is therefore all the more important that the debate should concentrate upon how the media will handle the referendum. Clearly we shall be heavily dependent upon how the matter is presented. For the reasons that the hon. Member for Cardiff, North-West has already indicated, given the distribution of newspapers and so on, the campaign will be heavily dependent on the television and radio beamed into the Principality.

There are already certain guidelines about how the time is to be allocated between those in favour of the Assembly and those against. BBC Wales has taken special precautions to continue to ascertain opinion in Wales. The only yardstick we have, beyond our subjective feelings and declarations, is the opinion polls which the BBC has conducted. Up to last week the polls indicated that the majority of people in Wales were opposed to the Assembly.

Mr. Wigley

Will the hon. Member confirm that the poll to which he refers, which was held last week, showed that the element most in favour of the Assembly in Wales was the young people in Gwent, where over 50 per cent. were in favour?

Mr. Abse

I shall not be drawn into the minutiae of the argument. I am describing the general view, which must be accepted. It is, so far as we can ascertain opinion in Wales, that the majority of people have indicated quite clearly that they do not want an Assembly.

We are not addressing these remarks only to ourselves or to my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State. I am sure that we are also addressing them to the chairman of the IBA, to the director-general of the BBC, and to the head of the Welsh BBC Service in particular, to ensure that they, as independent organisations, will be utterly scrupulous in ensuring that a proper proportion of time is allocated.

On the evidence which the BBC has produced, it is abundantly clear that more time should be allocated to those who are against the Assembly than to those who are for it. What other evidence do we have? My right hon. and learned Friend laughs.

Mr. John Morris

He does.

Mr. Abse

My right hon. and learned Friend repeatedly categorised all the organisations which he said demonstrated beyond doubt that Wales was overwhelmingly—that word was used again and again—in favour of an Assembly. Instead, every fact, as far as we have it, indicates the contrary.

Mr. John Morris

My hon. Friend is relying on polls. If, on the mere evidence of one poll, he suggests that that should be used as the basis for the allocation of broadcasting time, perhaps he will recall the poll carried out by the highly reputable BBC in May 1978 when the division, on this calculation, was 40.8 per cent. for and 40.8 per cent. against. What does he make of that? If he refers to one poll, he might as well refer to more than one. Does he seriously suggest that allocation of time should be on the basis of any particular poll which happens to occur on one particular day? Does he seriously put forward that proposition?

Mr. Abse

No, I do not. My right hon. and learned Friend has cited an out-of-date poll which indicated an equal division. I am saying that the last thing that can be done by the IBA or the BBC is to suggest that, because officially the Liberal Party, the nationalists and officially the Labour Party are in favour of devolution, there can be a division of time which could mean that those who are anti-Assembly have less time than is awarded to those for it.

I repeat that on such evidence as exists —the rest can be subjective feelings—everything seems to indicate that the majority at the moment is against, and the BBC and the IBA have to take that into account. They always take it into account in other cases. They divide time proportionately. This time, if they are to act on past principles in dealing with a novel situation, they cannot be in breach of what is their traditional approach.

It is equally clear that those such as the Labour "Vote No" campaign, the people who support it, the people responsible for having precipitated the referendum, having been the dynamic against the Assembly, must have their own independent separate voice. The BBC and the IBA cannot expect that they can mould the Labour "Vote No" campaign and compel us to appear with those who may have come to the same conclusion as we have but for wholly different reasons.

After all, the same consequences often arise from very different motivations. One can say that celibacy and virginity can both result in the same consequences but there is, as it were, a different motivation as to how those consequences are reached. Similarly, between the Conservative Party and ourselves there may be many different reasons why we come to a conclusion. I know, for example, the main reason why I am opposed to an Assembly. I do not want Wales to shrink into a parish pump, and I believe that the Assembly is a violation of the international spirit which has always informed the Labour Party in Wales. I cannot expect Conservatives to say that that is their reason.

I believe, again, that the Assembly, if it came into existence, would inevitably mean a diminution in the leverage and power of the Labour Members in this Parliament and, more, it would mean a diminution in our numbers in the end. Because, therefore, I believe that it would result in making Labour Governments less likely in the future, I am opposed to the Assembly. But I cannot expect Conservatives necessarily to take the same view when they proffer their reasons why they are against an Assembly.

So it is important, and it will be requested by the Labour "Vote No" campaign, that the BBC and the IBA recognise the existence of a substantial independent body of opinion that has a reluctance to fight this campaign except on its own feet. My right hon. and learned Friend may have different views. He has appeared on platforms with Plaid Cymru and Liberals, and he has offended and wounded deeply, as my right hon. Friend the Lord President has, the Labour movement in finding that he thought he could have such misalliances.

The independent Labour campaign that we are going to conduct will not have funds behind it. We shall not have gone, as my right hon. and learned Friend may have gone, with people to importune Transport House and try to get money out of it after the Government have decided that no funds were to be allocated. We shall not have funds.

If, unfortunately, the Labour Party has allocated funds for this campaign, it has allocated those very funds that have been contributed by the many constituency parties in Wales which are wholly opposed to devolution. So we shall not have funds. We shall be rich in argument but poor in money. Therefore, since this campaign must not be decided by the use of money but by the use of argument, all the more reason why the BBC and the IBA have a very special responsibility as custodians. They are independent bodies. They must be prepared on this occasion, if need be, to make clear that they are prepared to distance themselves from any manipulation from any official channels and make sure they do it with balance.

The hon. Member for Cardiff, North-West has indicated his apprehensions about the in-built biases that he may feel exist. That has been expressed many times on this side of the House on major political issues. The BBC therefore must be particularly concerned, especially in view of the appointment of very good officers in charge of the news but who have very commited views. They are entitled to their views.

The new head of news in Wales for HTV has written many editorials, good in style but poor in content, attacking me and many others who take an anti-devolution stance. I do not challenge his right to his own views, but with an appointment of that kind—he is a very able young man—it is important that he should be aware of his bias and guarded against it as every other person in HTV and the BBC must be guarded against any self-indulgences.

Let me indicate, with the approval of those Labour Members who share my view, that we shall shortly be approaching the BBC and the IBA on this issue in order to have full clarification as to how, independently, our point of view is to be put forward on the media.

It is important that there should be such an agreement because, unfortunately and unhappily, the doctrine of collective responsibility, dissolved at the time of the Common Market campaign, has been revived, with the consequence that, as is well-known, Ministers who are either opposed to or churlish about an Assembly are not to be allowed to speak out as they freely think. It is an open secret in Wales. I would not embarrass anyone by indicating who those Ministers may be, but if that is the position—I trust that none of them is in the Welsh Office—whoever they may be, if they are to be silenced, it is even more important that the Labour "No" voice has an opportunity of being heard. I believe the real Labour voice to be the anti-Assembly voice.

Mr. Wyn Roberts

The hon. Member was present during the debate on the Scottish referendum. Does he agree that the Government are giving a bad lead, certainly to Scotland and presumably to Wales, because only the official parties will be consulted about attendance at the count?

Mr. Abse

I was not so worried about observers being at the count, but I was anxious that a principle should be enunciated by the Government because it seemed that only official channels would be used. I welcome the readiness of the Opposition to make clear that there should be a fair division of space and time on the media. I trust that the IBA and the BBC realise that the Conservative Party's view takes into account that there are divisions of opinion within parties. I expect the IBA and BBC to take them fully into account.

I hope that we conduct the campaign constructively. I hope that the arguments will be unfolded in a way which will mean that when a decision is taken all of us will accept it, whatever the result. I trust that there will be no rearguard action.

If the decision is that there is to be a Welsh Assembly I shall accept it bitterly, and I shall regret it. I trust that that is also the view of the Secretary of State for Wales. I know that the last word will be said not by the people of Wales but by the House. The emphasis and the interpolations of the Secretary of State seemed to indicate that he expected rearguard action if there were marginal differences which could be explained away by specious arguments. I trust that we shall all accept the decision. I hope that even Plaid Cymru will accept the decision. That party never wanted the referendum until it saw that the people of Wales wanted it. Then, belatedly, it tried to climb on the bandwagon.

The referendum will give the Welsh people, and in particular the Labour electorate, the opportunity to say that they want no division, that they believe in the unity of the working people of Wales, England, Scotland, Ireland and the rest of the world. I hope that they will show that they do not want anything that will frustrate the attainment of that much yearned-for millenium.

I hope that the Welsh people will use their votes. The hon. Member for Cardiff, North-West has emphasised the importance of everybody voting. Small vociferous minorities can sometimes so deceive people and themselves that they imagine that they represent the whole people. In this case long-suffering, English-speaking Welshmen in Gwent and Cardiff need to vote to ensure that the disadvantages that will come from devolution—spawning bureaucracy and the inevitable divisions in the unity of the kingdom—do not occur. I hope that Wales will have a high vote and that it will be seen that the campaign is a massive irrelevance which diverts attention from the real problems of unemployment, the health services and communications. I hope that at the end of the day, with all this behind us, we shall give our attention to the real problems, undistracted by fanciful distractions.

8.25 p.m.

Mr. Gwynfor Evans (Carmarthen)

We are discussing a referendum involving the biggest improvement in Welsh government which has ever passed as a measure through the Houses of Parliament. I want to deal with the 40 per cent. provision which is a wrecking clause which was agreed by the opponents of the devolution principle in order to defeat a democratic decision.

We have had only one experience of a major referendum—the EEC referendum. The London media covered that referendum for weeks. The people were excited by the issue which involved many deep principles, including the sovereignty of Parliament. In spite of those weeks of propaganda from both sides of the argument and an excited interest, only 65 per cent. of the people voted. That was regarded as a high poll. If only 65 per cent. of the people voted after all those weeks of propaganda by the major media elements in London, how many can we expect to vote in referendums which involves only Scotland and Wales?

The London media will show little interest in the referendums. Little time will be given on London television. We shall suffer from a lack of education on the issue. As a result, the turn-out will be smaller than that in the EEC referendum.

Mr. Fred Evans

I wonder whether the hon. Member is not over-playing that point. I understand that in local government elections the percentage poll in Wales is astronomically higher than that in similar elections in England. In by-elections the same enthusiasm is reflected. The Welsh people seem to be natural and addicted voters.

Mr. Anderson

It is a political nation, thank the Lord.

Mr. Fred Evans

The hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Evans) should not denigrate the ability of the Welsh people to recognise what is in front of their eyes and to do something about it.

Mr. Gwynfor Evans

If we were voters of that kind in Wales in referendums—and I am speaking not of elections but of referendums—that would be a different matter. But we have experience of referendums in Wales. We have had them on the closing of public houses in Wales, and we find that only a tiny proportion vote. If we had a provision for a 40 per cent. vote written into that kind of referendum, held every seven years, one after the other, all the public houses in Wales would be closed on Sundays.

Mr. Michael Roberts

Is the hon. Member suggesting that the people of Wales are not sufficiently interested in the Assembly to come out and vote for it?

Mr. Gwynfor Evans

I am suggesting that people come out and vote in a referendum when they get sufficient news about it and when their interest in it is awakened sufficiently. I pointed out that in the EEC referendum, 65 per cent. turned out. If we had a 60 per cent. turn-out, that would be very good for a referendum of this kind. But if there were a 60 per cent. turn-out, in order to win the referendum the pro-Assembly people would have to get two votes for every one against it. That is desperately unfair.

That is what we should concern ourselves with most of all. We have to protest against the fact that the people who do not vote, who are not concerned and who do not care whether there is a Welsh Assembly are the very people who may decide the issue—the "Don't knows". However, the people who really matter are those who take the trouble to turn out. The people who really care about the issue will vote on it. Surely it is enough to have a majority of those who really care to ensure that the Assembly is established.

My quarrel is not with the referendum. It is with the 40 per cent. rule, which is a rigging of the referendum against the pro-Assembly people. In fact the 40 per cent. rule makes opponents of those who are neutral. I think that this is entirely wrong. If the 40 per cent. who did not vote in a 60 per cent. poll were divided amongst themselves, I think that it would be found that they were equally divided between those who were in favour and those who were against an Assembly. But they should not matter. As I say, the people who matter are those who take an interest in democracy and who are prepared to turn out in a vote of this kind. I think that we should have insisted on that at the beginning. It was a great mistake to include this provision in the Wales Bill.

As we have heard, there are thousands of people who will not be able to vote, for various reasons. We have heard from the Secretary of State about those who will have died in the interval between the preparation of the electoral list and the day of voting. We have heard, too, what will be done about the students. I am glad to hear that these matters are being taken into account. But we have not had a satisfactory explanation of what will happen to those who have changed their addresses in the period between October and 1st March, those who have gone out of the country, or those who may have gone on holiday to seek the sun at that time of the year. They will not be voting, of course, but they count because they are in the 100 per cent., and that makes the difficulty of getting 40 per cent. even greater.

Incidentally, I have been told by many Welsh exiles in England that they would be glad to be able to come back to Wales to vote on this issue. I wish that they had the opportunity, but probably that is quite impossible.

This unscrupulous rigging of the referendum by this 40 per cent. rule has caused great resentment among Assembly supporters in Wales. If the vote is lost because of the 40 per cent. rule, despite having a good majority in favour, this House will have created a situation in which the resentment will smoulder and may break into flame.

Mr. Anderson

What the hon. Member does not appreciate is that the matter will come back to Parliament. If there is a sufficient differential here, does he not accept that it is inconceivable that Parliament will fly in the face of the clearly expressed view of the Welsh electorate?

Mr. Gwynfor Evans

What is a sufficient vote? Let us suppose that 35 per cent. were in favour of the Assembly and 25 per cent. were against it. Would that be a sufficient vote?

Mr. Anderson


Mr. Gwynfor Evans

I wonder whether the House would interpret it in that way. I am sure that the Conservative Opposition would not so interpret it.

Mr. Nicholas Edwards

We would.

Mr. Gwynfor Evans

I am glad to hear that, because that has been one of my greatest worries about this. We have never demanded anything like this proportion for the election of a Government. I do not think that any single parliamentary Government since the First World War has had 40 per cent. of the vote. The present Government had only 29 per cent., yet they are the Government of the land. The imposition of this undemocratic condition in the referendum is quite unacceptable.

We know that the Conservative Party will fight hard against the Assembly. It has fought against every major advance in Wales. I have drawn attention previously to the furious opposition of the Conservatives to the disestablishment of the Church in Wales. That was the greatest separatist measure we have had. It separated the Church in Wales from the Church of England; it separated the Church in Wales from the State. It was a great separatist measure, but everyone in the Church in Wales now says that it is the best thing that ever happened and I do not think that even the Conservatives would argue that the Church should not have been disestablished.

Mr. Ioan Evans

The leader of the Scottish National Party has said that he sees the creation of an Assembly in Scotland as the way to independence. Is that the hon. Gentleman's view of the creation of a Welsh Assembly?

Mr. Gwynfor Evans

I accept the measure as a great improvement in the government of Wales. We have always accepted such measures, including, for example, the creation of the Host of Secretary of State for Wales. The Conservative Party opposed that. We have argued for years in favour of an economic council for the development of our economy. We now have the Welsh Development Agency. The Tories also opposed that. They have opposed every measure that has taken Wales forward to any great degree.

The Conservatives' arguments are weak. They talk about bureaucracy, but the purpose of devolution is to have democratic control of the bureaucratic layer of government that exists in Wales. We have a bureaucratic tier of government and we want it to be made answerable to elected representatives. That is a valid argument in favour of devolution. It is an advance of democracy and we welcome it. Conservatives complain about the cost. I was told in answer to a recent Question that the running cost of the Assembly would be less than ½per week for each person in the United Kingdom. Democracy has to cost something and it could hardly cost less than that.

Although there are some Labour Members who do not approve of the Assembly, the battle is between the Welsh people and the Conservative Party—as Mr. Dai Francis so truly says. Perhaps I should say that the battle is against the Conservative Party and the CBI. The Conservatives complain about the Government giving aid to the "Yes" campaign, but I wonder whether they will complain when big companies give thousands of pounds to the "No" campaigns in Scotland and Wales. We shall look forward to finding out how much the CBI will contribute to the campaigns against the Assemblies.

The 40 per cent. rule must be accepted by my party and the Welsh people as a challenge to be overcome. I am sure that it will be overcome. If it is not, we may have the unacceptable situation of an Assembly in Scotland—that looks almost certain—and perhaps even a sort of assembly in Northern Ireland, while Wales is left without a voice. We cannot contemplate that possibility with favour.

8.40 p.m.

Mr. Ioan Evans (Aberdare)

I am pleased to be called to speak following the remarks of the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Evans). I shall return to the matter of the 40 per cent. qualification at a later stage, but in many debates on this subject I have put a number of questions to the hon. Member for Carmarthen and his hon. Friends the Members for Caernarvon (Mr. Wigley) and for Merioneth (Mr. Thomas) about where they stand on the question of independence. However, I have been given varying answers.

Do those hon. Gentlemen regard the Welsh Assembly as the means by which they can bring about the separation of Wales from the rest of Britain? They have refused to answer that question. Therefore, we can only assume that the hon. Member for Carmarthen holds the same view as the leader of the SNP, who sees the creation of an Assembly in Edinburgh as a means by which that party will achieve independence in Scotland.

Mr. Gwynfor Evans

The hon. Gentleman pays Plaid Cymru too high a tribute. It is not Plaid Cymru which will decide on the next step—indeed, that step will be decided not by any one party. It will be decided by the people of Wales. No step forward can be taken without their support. Does the hon. Gentleman have any faith in the people of Wales?

Mr. loan Evans

Of course I have faith in the people of Wales. That is why I demanded a referendum. I suggested that we should have the referendum on St. David's Day. I have enough faith in the people of Wales to know that on that day celebrating our patron saint they will throw out these proposals. Therefore, let the hon. Member for Carmarthen not accuse me of having no faith in the Welsh people. Of course it will be the people of Wales who will decide this matter.

We are talking of the day of decision—namely 1st March. But I wish to ask the hon. Gentleman whether he and his party intend to use the Assembly as a means to separate Wales from the rest of Britain. Although he says that Plaid Cymru will not do this on its own and that it will be the people of Wales who will decide, I remind him that it was the people of Wales who in the General Election lost Plaid Cymru 27 deposits. That is how the people of Wales are thinking and acting.

My main point is to emphasise that in supporting the creation of an Assembly, the nationalist parties of Wales and Scotland believe that there is no hope immediately of convincing the people, because support for the nationalists in both areas is declining. The nationalists see these assemblies as the launching pad that will bring about the breakdown of the unity of the people of Britain. They want to bring about that end in this way because they know that they have already failed at the ballot box.

The fact that we are having a referendum shows that we have faith in the people. There is no greater act of devolution than letting the people themselves decide. We in this Chamber can argue the merits or demerits of creating an Assembly. However, we need to know whether there is an overwhelming demand by the people in all parts of Wales that an Assembly should be created. That matter is now to be put to the test.

It is carious that when the Government introduce a provision stating that such a vote must amount to at least 40 per cent. we are accused of rigging.

The hon. Members for Carmarthen and for Caernarvon and others, including the Liberals, voted for 33 per cent. Presumably a third is not wrecking. We must therefore determine whether three out of nine or four out of 10 is wrecking. It is a strange argument that three out of nine, which they supported, should not be wrecking, but that four out of 10 should be wrecking. We have been told that when all the people on the register who are under 18 are deleted—and I regret that—

Mr. Wigley

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Evans

I shall give way shortly. I think that all those of 18 or approaching 18 should participate. In parliamentary elections we have given the vote only to those of 18 and over. I should like to see all those over 18 or approaching 18 who are on the register being allowed to vote.

Mr. Wigley

The hon. Gentleman cannot be allowed to get away with distorting what happened on the vote on the 33 per cent. He knows that my colleagues and I and others were against both the 33 per cent. and the 40 per cent. However, we regarded 33 per cent. as a less pernicious alternative to the 40 per cent. It requires an 80 per cent. turnout to get a close run referendum on a fair basis with 40 per cent. and only 66 per cent. with the 33 per cent. threshhold.

Mr. Evans

The hon. Gentleman need not try to justify himself. Of course, he will say "We voted for devolution powers for the Assembly, but that is not what we really want. We want independence. The Assembly is the lesser of two evils." Of course the hon. Gentleman will use that argument. We know where the nationalists stand. It is no use arguing—I hope that it will not be used in the referendum campaign —that there has been an attempt to rig the result because some voted for 40 per cent. and others voted for 33 per cent.

I am glad that we are to have the referendum on St. David's Day, not on St. Andrew's Day–30th November. The registers would have been outdated by then.

Some of us have talked about not taking account of a derisory decision by the people of Wales. We should not have a referendum with a turn-out in which the people of Wales vote 12 per cent. for and 10 per cent. against devolution. That would not be the will of the people of Wales. There must be an incentive to encourage people to vote. I believe that having a minimum requirement will lead to a maximum turn-out. The importance of a minimum requirement is to avoid the desire by those who advocate the Assembly having a quiet campaign in order to get those who are deeply disturbed about the proposals to abstain.

It is a pity that we do not have the finance that was made available to both sides in the Common Market campaign. I am not, of course, saying that the Common Market campaign was fair.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

No. It was 10 to one.

Mr. Evans

I know that financially the proportions were 10 for the pros and one for the antis. I am suggesting that the Government should give equal amounts. In the Common Market campaign, those who were for or against the Assembly were allowed to distribute one leaflet through doors. But the Government had a second bite at the cherry and sent out another leaflet.

I think that there is an argument for finance for this campaign. The call for finance has come from both sides of the House. In Committee there was a call that sufficient funds should be given to both sides of the campaign to ensure that the people of Wales understood the case being argued for and against the Assembly.

What must be realised, particularly by the media in Wales, is that this issue cuts across party boundaries. There are those in the Labour Party—on the Government Front Bench—who believe that the Assembly will be a method of unifying the people of Britain. This is quite different from the view of the nationalists, who see it as a method of destroying that unity. The Government's intention is to create unity. This was stated in the first clause of the Bill—a clause deleted by the House.

There are those in the Labour Party who are for an Assembly. I would hazard the guess that there may well be those on the Opposition Benches who would form a "Conservatives for the Assembly" lobby. Certainly the two Liberal Members representing Welsh seats claim to be in favour of the Assembly. Yet among Welsh Liberals there are those strongly opposed to the creation of the Assembly in Cardiff. We may well have a Liberal organisation acting against the Assembly.

We all think that the nationalists are united on this issue. Yet there has been division at the annual conference. Whereas nationalist Members are voting in favour of the Assembly because they see it as a method of bringing about independence, there are other nationalists, sticking to their principles of complete independence from the rest of Britain, who have said that they should not be seen to be arguing for this half-way house. They want all or nothing.

The 40 per cent. qualification is justified. The Government brought forward proposals to amend the figure because of some confusion which they said existed. However, it is now established that it is 40 per cent. of those entitled to vote, not 40 per cent. of those on the register. We hear talk of unfairness. It is said that dead people cannot vote. We have received an assurance from the Government Front Bench and we know that those nonsensical arguments will not arise.

I hope that we shall have a tolerant campaign and that we shall avoid dealing in personalities. Because there are these differences cutting across boundaries, it is vital that the broadcasting media in Wales, BBC and HTV, play this down the middle. I do not say that we should accept opinion polls without question. The Western Mail poll showed a majority of people in Wales against the Assembly. The "Swansea Sound" opinion poll, taken in a number of constituencies in west and mid-Glamorgan showed a majority against the creation of an Assembly. We have heard of the first BBC poll, overtaken by a second poll. The first showed a majority opposed to the Assembly, while the second showed the majority to be the 9ther way.

We should not be guided by opinion polls. Instead we should say that half the time available should be given to those who are for the Assembly, with the other half being given to those who are against it. Then there should be discussions, not through the usual channels, but between all of those who are for and against this proposal. We must not forget the nationalists and the Communists and all the other parties. They must be given time, too. We would need a definition of "proportion". Those of varying shades of political opinion should be allowed to put their case, whether they are in favour of the Assembly or against it. Those who are arguing for the Assembly have varying political views, just as those who are against it have.

I know that we do not want to delay too long on the order, but a number of questions that have been asked in the debate have still not been answered. I hope that before the people go to the polls they will receive the answers.

What will be the consequences of the creation of an Assembly for the financial support now given by the House to the people of Wales? There has been no answer. We do not know the method whereby the Assembly is to be financed by this House. It is difficult to see how we can expect the people of Wales to vote for an institution when they do not know the method by which it will be financed.

We do not know what is to be the future of the Secretary of State or the Welsh Office. We still have not had a categorical guarantee that we shall have a Secretary of State with a Cabinet position.

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

I know that in a debate on the order it is very difficult to deal with the sort of contributions that my hon. Friend is making, but he must be aware that whatever decision is made by succeeding Parliaments is not a matter for the present Government. However, the Labour Party's view is that the Secretary of State for Wales will remain, and remain as a member of the Cabinet. My hon. Friend is doing less than justice to his own argument to suggest otherwise.

Mr. Evans

I am glad that we have that assurance. We cannot bind succeeding Parliaments, but this is the first time the commitment has been made, although the question has been put before, that when there is an Assembly the Secretary of State for Wales will continue, but of course with much more limited functions.

What is to be the future of the representation of Wales? Are we to have in the House the same number of Members for Wales? Presumably we cannot bind future Parliaments on that matter either. Northern Ireland had a certain representation when it had Stormont. Stormont has been lost, and in this Session we are talking of increasing Northern Ireland's representation here. If an Assembly is created in Wales and Scotland, will the number of Members here be reviewed?

Although we have given the Assembly the function of examining local government reorganisation, before we decide whether to have an Assembly we must ask ourselves what is to be the future of the county councils and the district councils.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Myer Galpern)

I think that the hon. Gentleman knows full well that he is transgressing well beyond the purposes of the order.

Mr. Evans

Thank you for your guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You have been very tolerant.

It is important that the questions I have put be answered before the decision is made by the people of Wales. If the people of Wales reject the Assembly, as many of us expect, the Government must begin to look at the alternatives already. There are certain problems that the Assembly is intended to remedy. Those problems will remain. I think of the need for more democratic accountability of quangos and the question of having in Wales a body composed of Members of Parliament and representatives of the district and county councils. I hope that the Government will examine the alternatives and have them ready for 2nd March. That is when we shall have to consider these questions earnestly.

I hope that there will be a massive turn-out of the people of Wales, not merely a 40 per cent. turn-out. If there is a massive turn-out and if the people of Wales consider the issue on the basis of the interests of their people, they will maintain the unity of the people of Britain. They will not wish to endanger that unity. It is the purpose of the nationalists to try to create a body in Cardiff that will be the launching pad for separating the people of Wales from the rest of Britain.

I believe that at the end of the campaign the people of Wales will utter a loud and clear "No". When that loud and clear "No" is given in the referendum, let us consider the issues that have arisen in the debate and put things right.

9.1 p.m.

Mr. Geraint Howells (Cardigan)

I welcome the order. I am sure that that is the view of the majority of the Welsh people. I am sure that they welcome the opportunity to vote on 1st March and to record a "Yes" vote.

Generations of Welshmen have come and gone. Many of them were staunch devolutionists, as are many of us now present in the Chamber. Many of them fought hard for the principle of devolving power to the people of Wales. They were denied that right by successive Governments. I pay tribute to the present Government because proposals have been put forward to devolve power to the people of Wales. The proposals are not acceptable to all of us, but the principle remains—

Mr. Fred Evans

For the sake of the unenlightened such as myself, will the hon. Gentleman please devote a little time to explaining what he means by devolution?

Mr. Howells

At this late stage I am sure that it will be difficult to enlighten the hon. Gentleman. I hope that he will respect my view, as I respect his.

When the Prime Minister announced during the debate on the Queen's Speech that the referendum was to be held on 1st March, St. David's Day—Dydd Gwyl Dewi—the majority of the Welsh people, especially the young, accepted the decision that it was to be held on that day. The Prime Minister and the Government could not have chosen a better day on which to hold the referendum. The people of Wales will have the right to pray and vote for Wales on St. David's Day. The children will not be denied the right to celebrate. They will be celebrating by carrying leeks and daffodils and watching their parents going to vote for an Assembly for the people of Wales.

I am not unduly worried about the 40 per cent. hurdle. I take the view "Throw whatever you like at us". I and my hon. Friends believe in the Welsh Assembly. The challenge of the 40 per cent. requirement has been put before us by the anti-devolutionists. I am convinced that, once the Welsh people rally, they will surmount that hurdle with ease on St. David's Day.

I draw attention to one technical difficulty. There are many English students in Wales. There are many in my constituency. There are two universities in Ceredigion and there are thousands of English students. They have the right to vote in Wales and at home. Many of them have approached me and said—I respect their point of view—that because they are English they do not think that they should become involved in any way with the Welsh referendum. I hope that the Minister will clarify this technical difficulty.

If they do not vote on 1st March in Wales, will that upset the net result or percentage of the vote at the end of the day? These students are worried because they do not wish to be involved. They believe that it is an issue for the Welsh people.

Mr. Abse

As Englishmen in Wales, they should speak for Britain. They should vote "No".

Mr. Howells

I respect the point of view of the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse). I always respect an Englishman for being English. I always respect a Welshman for being Welsh.

The hon. and learned Member for Cleveland and Whitby (Mr. Brittan) said that he would be canvassing very hard against devolution. This is well known in Wales, and I am convinced that all the other Conservative Members from Wales will fight hard against devolution. But I give this advice to the hon. and learned Gentleman. If he comes to Wales on 1st March, I am sure that he will regret his visit, because he will not be on the winning side.

As a Liberal, I shall work as hard as I can to convince all Liberals in Wales, and all the supporters of the Welsh Assembly, to vote "Yes" ar Dydd Gwyl Dewi.

9.6 p.m.

Mr. Fred Evans (Caerphilly)

The world of politics is a weird and wonderful one, as we all know in this House. My mind goes back to November 1975, when I put down an early-day motion calling for a referendum to be held in Wales on the subject of devolution. I had the magnificent success of collecting three signatures, including my own. Later I saw the momentum with which this idea grew, so that a year and three months later, as my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) pointed out, we had the signatures of 150 Members of Parliament, and knew that we were achieving success. I am quite sure that that success will be maintained.

The other quirk of politics that we have seen is that everyone now assumes that a referendum is a good thing. People cover themselves with the cloak of sanc- tity in their utterances on this subject. It was not always so. The Secretary of State for Wales fought vehemently against the idea of a referendum. The Labour Party annual conference turned down the idea of a referendum. Some of us still insisted that the people of Wales must have the opportunity to express their point of view. We knew that we had won on the day when we saw the Leader of the House coming post-haste to the House of Commons—obviously after some Cabinet consultations—to announce that the referendum would be held.

Although many of us do not accept referendums as a normal feature of government in this country, it is no bad thing, when there is a vital issue about the future of people, and particularly when it is a constitutional issue, to have a precedent upon which to call in the final eventuality.

Like many hon. Members who have spoken in the debate, I am deeply concerned about my own country. I am an internationalist to the core but, like all good internationalists, I believe that there is a special corner in one's affections for the part of the world in the environment of which one was brought up. It is with that feeling that I approach the question of devolution. Not everyone does. I can remember the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Evans) one weekend giving even the Government's appalling attempt at devolution a lukeward welcome. By the Monday his tone had changed to one of condemnation. Then it veered back again. The following Monday the Scottish nationalists announced that they would fight devolution tooth and nail, whereupon the hon. Member for Carmarthen echoed the Scottish nationalists and said "They are right". Lo and behold today, like many others, he has become a perfervid supporter of the ideas which he denigrated not so long ago. Of course, as politicians we all realise exactly why.

The questions with regard to the so-called ground rules must be answered before the referendum is held. It is now nearly a year since I wrote to the Prime Minister, and put a Question on the Order Paper, about the costs of the referendum. The assurance which I was given—I still have the letter and the copy of Hansard —was that the Government did not foresee that they would incur any financial expenditure in a referendum campaign. Whether financial costs can be assessed directly or indirectly is a question that we ought to have answered. If Government publicity agencies are to be used, then again those of us who have fought elections know how substantial the cost can be of organising the kind of propaganda which one wants. We think that the people of Wales are entitled to some kind of statement about this.

I am not quarrelling with the Government's claim that they are implementing policy. I and many of my hon. Friends could argue about how it came to be laid down, but I do not enter that into the dispute or, indeed, the right of the Government to make the attempt to allocate funds. But as democrats in this House we do have a right, as do the people of Wales, to expect some kind of declaration of the total financial involvement.

Because of the Prime Minister's reply, which has obviously been handed to the appropriate Ministers, attempts are to be made to get funds from elsewhere. My hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool referred to some of these. An approach was made to the central Labour Party in Transport House. The same applies to Scotland. The feeling in the House was that the letter from my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell), who has been a staunch fighter throughout this campaign, emanated within a matter of 24 to 30 hours immediately on our return after the recess and gathered well over 100 signatures because it objected to the use of resources for this kind of purpose.

I find something immoral in the attitude which says "We know that people in Wales who contribute to a political party may be opposed to the idea. Nevertheless, we shall ask for moneys from the central body in order to finance the thing." Nineteen Welsh constituencies are opposed to this idea. If they were approached direct for contributions, I am afraid that the answer which would be given would be a very dusty one indeed. Therefore, such a request has to be made to the centre.

Mr. Dalyell

As the person who collected the signatures, I must point out that I got exactly 100 with very few refusals. As soon as I got 100 I told the Labour Party general secretary, Mr. Ron Hayward, that for reasons of time I thought that that was enough.

Mr. Evans

My impression was that there were 100 signatures, but that was not made clear in The Times report on my hon. Friend's efforts. We have the right to this kind of information, because the more we have the opportunity to put the viewpoints across to the Welsh people from both sides, the better it will be for everyone, the less back-biting there will be afterwards, and the fewer attempts to back track later.

There are many things that one could say about this matter. I challenge the people who refer to those of us who have resisted this measure as "anti-devolutionists". We are not. We believe that power should be brought as close to the people as possible. We do not think that power locked behind four walls in a futile institution such as the Welsh Assembly can really give power to the people. What further democracy will be given to the Welsh people by this institution? What further benefit will be conferred in social terms? The answer is none.

Every bit of devolution, in its true sense of bringing power close to the people, could have been obtained through the reform of existing institutions. We could have used the local government machinery very effectively had we overhauled its functions. It would have been possible to see a great devolution of power to all-purpose authorities, replacing the district councils. It may have been that the county councils would have to disappear in the interests of these authorities, but to keep adding tiers of government with additional expense and bureaucracy is not the answer. We must return to the true conception of devolution.

We must see that people have the full opportunity to share in decisions that affect their daily lives. This is all too often forgotten by politicians. This is what is meant by improving the quality of life when one gets to the root of it. By giving this sort of power to people, they will organise their communities, insist that power is as near to them as possible, and judge those who are wielding that power. This is the true essence of devolution.

I hope that on St. David's Day—and I share some of the reservations about the choice of the date because of the implications of working up an emotional reaction which is not the way to win this referendum—the people of Wales will say that, although they want to have more share in running their lives, they do not see this as the way to do so. I hope that they will tell the Government to take back this form of devolution and come up with something better.

9.20 p.m.

Mr. Nicholas Edwards (Pembroke)

One thing on which we are all agreed is that we should encourage as high a vote as possible. I am sure that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Cleveland and Whitby (Mr. Brittan), who opened the debate for the Opposition, was right to make that point, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North-West (Mr. Roberts) was right to emphasise that staying at home is not the same as saying "No". It is in the interests of all, whatever their views on this issue, that there should be the highest possible vote.

I express my gratitude to the Secretary of State for the way in which he helped to clarify some of the issues concerned with the problems of meeting the 40 per cent. requirement. It would be useful if he could give us fairly soon some indication, as his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland did on the previous order, of the number of student nurses and people in similar positions who have multiple registration.

I do not see an easy solution to the problem of those who have dual registration because they have two homes in Wales. I do not pretend to have a solution. I declare an interest. I am dually registered in Wales, to vote in two parts of the country, and there are others—I can think of a number of people who work in Cardiff and have homes in West Wales or elsewhere in Wales—who will be registered in both places. What is important, as my hon. and learned Friend emphasised, is that the Secretary of State should make known in advance the basis of his declaration. He should make absolutely clear, before people go to the polls, the basis on which he intends to work so that there can be no accusations afterwards that he has fixed the result. I am sure that he will take that advice and follow it.

My hon. and learned Friend put a number of important questions that I believe require answers. I hope that we shall have answers to them in this debate. I have a couple of specific questions. To one of them I am sure that we shall get a satisfactory reply.

Hon. Members will be aware that the ballot paper is bilingual. That provision is included in the Act. Schedule 12, paragraph 10, of the Act provides that the Welsh Language Act should apply in relation to the order. May I have confirmation that it is intended to print the relevant forms described on page 16 in Welsh as well as in English. This relates to form E and the other forms that are delivered to voters in their homes before an election. We ought to have clarification on that point.

Another matter on which I hope that the Minister who replies will be more understanding and more helpful than his Scottish counterpart is on consultation over observers at the count. It seems to me wholly wrong that this should be confined simply to members of the official parties in Wales. It seems unquestionable that there will be umbrella organisations, or organisations of one kind or another representing both sides of the question. It large and responsible organisations are taking part in the campaign they should be consulted on this issue and indeed on the other important question to which I will turn, that of broadcasting.

I hope that the Government will not stick to the decision, indicated by the Government Scottish spokesman, that they will listen only to the official political parties. I hope that they will be wiser, certainly in Wales, and, as they have said they intend to do on all other matters, take account of the views held in this House. It cannot be challenged that it was widely felt in this House that those consultations should have a wider basis than has been indicated so far. Schedule 12 of the Act provided that the order we are now discussing may…make provision as to the conduct of the referendum". The phrase the conduct of the referendum is very broad and wide ranging. I admit that a subsequent provision narrowed it somewhat by stating that it should not impose a charge on the Consolidated Fund.

Nevertheless, the order need be concerned not just with the nuts and bolts but with the whole conduct of the referendum. It is a striking feature of both the contribution by the Secretary of State and of the order itself that it is narrowly based and makes no provision for the general conduct of the campaign, and no view has been expressed by the Government on the important questions that have been raised by hon. Members on both sides of the House, particularly on broadcasting and the financing of the campaign.

The media will have an extremely difficult time. I do not envy them—I say that at once. I have no doubt that those concerned will try very hard, whatever their individual views may be, to treat the matter fairly not only in their discussion programmes but also—and this is important—in the news broadcasts. I feel that here again any consultations that take place by the broadcasting authorities should involve the principal organisations taking part in the campaign.

The hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) emphasised that people would be campaigning for different motives, and that he might not wish to be associated closely with those also campaigning for the same end but for different reasons. But the hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. Evans) was right to emphasise that we must get an overall balance so that those representing the "Yes" vote are balanced against those representing the "No" vote, whatever groups or political parties they may come from.

It would be valuable if the BBC and IBA were to indicate at an early date that they will be having wide-ranging consultations and will publish the basis on which they intended to conduct the campaign. It would have been helpful if the Government had expressed a view on this, and I hope that the Minister will make some comment even at this late stage.

Mr. loan Evans

May I clarify the position? I think that there is no difference between myself and my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse). What he is aiming at and what I am suggesting is that there should be an equal division, with half the time allocated to those who are for the Assembly and the other half given to those opposed, and that within each of the two halves there must be consultation, not just with the main parties, but with the various groups within the parties, as to how that hall is to be allocated. I think that I made the point more categorically than my hon. Friend did.

Mr. Edwards

I thank the hon. Gentleman for making the point so clear, and I agree with the way he has put it. I think that that is the basis on which we should proceed. It convinces me, if I needed convincing, that if we are to have referendums there is much to be said for laying down ground rules in advance and for some kind of commission to supervise their conduct, which was a principal recommendation of a Conservative Party committee that I chaired. I think that there are difficulties in trying to make the rules as we go along—we are seeing some of them in our debate today.

One reason why there are to be no rules about financial help is the considerable advantage that the lack of a clear statement of the position gives to the Government and the "Yes" campaign. That has emerged throughout the debate. In addition to the money that is being offered by the Labour Party and the trade unions to obtain a "Yes" vote. the full and massive weight of the Government's public relations machine, including handouts from public relations men, will be thrown behind the campaign. All the effective and powerful machinery that is available to Ministers in order to publicise their views and prepare their cases will be used.

If that is so, I cannot understand why the Government do not come clean and say that that is the situation. They should say clearly that massive resources will be available so that people clearly understand the arguments.

This is an important matter. If there is to be a referendum campaign, and if people are to be able to judge the strength of the arguments, those who take the decision should have information about the volume of resources and the nature of the campaign. It is also important that those who are against the measure realise what it is that they are up against. They will have to use all their energies in the campaign to win it or even to obtain the necessary resources.

We have heard declarations about the funds that will pour in from industry. The CBI has said that as an organisation it will not finance the "No" campaign. As one who is helping to organise the campaign, I wish that the declarations were true. The "No" campaigners will have to use considerable energy to match the resources used against them.

Perhaps the most significant item in the the order is the date—1st March. Whatever the motives for selecting that date, it is already clear that the supporters of the Act hope to make use of the date to create a wave of patriotic enthusiasm, to build up an Arms Park atmosphere and to smother fact and argument in a simple appeal to Welsh loyalty.

The hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. Wigley) indicated at a recent conference that he will present the case on that basis and that he will expect the Welsh people to vote "Yes" on grounds of patriotism and loyalty. The supporters of the measure have already made it clear that they intend to denigrate those who oppose the Act as being hostile to Wales and enemies of the Welsh people. A whole series of abusive and emotive epithets will be hurled at us.

On a weekend television programme recently, the Lord President of the Council, glorying in his new found and hastily donned Welsh patriotism, took the lead by describing opponents of the Act as reactionaries and aliens.

I do not believe that the Welsh people will be spoofed. They know how widespread is the opposition to the Bill. They know that it embraces different political parties and different groups in Wales. They know the strength of the Labour opposition about which the hon. Member for Pontypool spoke with justifiable pride because of the part which he has played in the campaign. They will not be diverted from condemning what they believe to be bad for Wales. They know that huge sections of Welsh opinion oppose the measure, and they will resent deeply this attack upon their loyalty and their Welshness. I think that it is an attack which will rebound upon its perpetrators.

The selection of 1st March is surely an attempt to play the joker of patriotism and, with it, to trump reasoned argument. Having failed virtually to find anyone to defend their Bill in the House, the Government are now trying to escape the need to find anyone to defend its details in the country.

Those in all parties who will campaign that Wales says "No", lacking the resources available to the Government and in the face of their appeal to the emotions of the Welsh people, will seek to expose the Act for its flaws—those same flaws which were exposed day after day and night after night in this House without adequate answer and hardly without challenge. They will argue that it will create conflict where no conflict now exists, that it will weaken local government, making it more remote from the people, that it will damage greatly the position of Welsh Members in the British Parliament and indeed in the British Cabinet, and that it will create an unresolvable dilemma about the future working of this place—the dilemma which was so exposed so vividly by the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell).

The people of Wales are too shrewd to be taken in by this attempt to rig the result in the closing stages of the game by choosing the day that the Government have. They will see through the tactic, and I am confident that they will reject the Act.

9.38 p.m.

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

I suppose that with typical Welsh modesty I might be tempted to describe this debate as an historic occasion for Wales. The debates on devolution both inside this House and outside it, both today and on many other occasions, have gone on for a very long time. The passage of the Wales Act involved a great deal of the time of this House, and I am sure that all of us, whatever our views about devolution, agree that it has been a very long haul.

We are now coming to the end of that long journey. It seems to me that it is a journey on which some hon. Members —the zealots—wished that we had gone further. Others who I describe as the cautious—those who wear both belt and braces—may think that we have gone too far. However, I think that the majority of right hon. and hon. Members believe that it has been an essential journey. Had it not been, Parliament would not have passed the measure which enables us to debate this order. To pretend otherwise is nonsense.

I was amazed by the tremendous heat engendered by article 4 of the order, which provides: The referendum shall be held on 1st March 1979. I think that we would have had the same objections whatever date had been put in article 4. The objections are not basically to the date. They are objections to the principle of devolution.

The hon. Member for Cardiff, North-West (Mr. Roberts) said that he would have welcomed a suggestion from the Government to hold the referendum on two different days. I have to confess to the hon. Member that it was a temptation that I found very difficult to avoid. If we had had separate days for the referendums, we would have been accused of manipulating them. We could not win. One of the strongest opponents of devolution is my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdare (Mr. Evans) and he thinks that 1st March is a very good day for holding the referendums. That indicates that there are different views and it is not possible to satisfy every hon. Member.

Mr. Michael Roberts

I do not want the Minister to misrepresent what I said. I was not criticising the fact that the referendums are to be held on the same day. I was merely pointing out that the consequences of that would disadvantage the "Yes" campaign. That was a legitimate point to make and I was not suggesting that the votes should be held on different days.

Mr. Jones

I assumed that the hon. Gentleman was suggesting that as the consequences of holding the referendums on the same day were so severe, we should have held them on separate days. If I misunderstood him, I profoundly apologise. That was, however, the impression that he gave me.

Hon. Members on both sides of the House have stressed the need for a fair referendum.

Mr. Abse

There are 365 days in a year. Why have the Government chosen 1st March? Was it just a coincidence or was it because that is St. David's Day?

Why was St. David's Day chosen if not for the most miserable, chauvinistic reasons?

Mr. Jones

I am sorry that my hon. Friend did not give me the opportunity to explain why that day was chosen. The referendums are being held on 1st March because that is the first Thursday on which it is possible to hold them under the new electoral register. If we are to have a fair result, it is important that we should use as up to date a register as possible

Mr. Michael Roberts

No one believes you.

Mr. Jones

The hon. Gentleman may not believe us, but dragging in the suggestion that we may upset school celebrations of St. David's Day is a load of nonsense. I have celebrated St. David's Day both as a pupil and a school teacher in Wales and I must say that they have been very tame affairs compared with the sort of language that hon. Members have been using about the referendums destroying the celebrations, arousing tremendous passions and invoking uupleasant overtones. The greatest attraction of St. David's Day celebrations for pupils was that we had the afternoon off school.

It is important to use an up-to-date electoral register. In all the elections in which I have taken part I have found that the older the register, the greater the dissatisfaction because so many people were omitted for one reason or another. An old register makes things much more difficult. It was perfectly reasonable for us to decide to use an up-to-date register and that brought us to 1st March. The suggestion that our choice of 1st March will have a tremendous effect on the people of Wales is a slight on their intelligence.

The hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Edwards) asked about the number of students who would be entitled to vote. I shall give the House some figures and repeat some of those given earlier by my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State so that they will all be in one place in Hansard.

The present register is 2,065,045. As my right hon. and learned Friend said, there would, using last year's register, be 26,000 young people under the age of 18 and we can expect that about 14,000 people would have died since the register was compiled. There are about 8,300 Welsh students in Welsh universities. A total of 2,650 students receive living-at-home grants. It is reasonable to assume that they would be registered only at home. That would leave a figure of 5,650 as the maximum number of students with a possible double registration. If we add to that number nurses and junior medical staff, it gives a figure of 6,500 students who may have double registrations. It is a complicated problem and we should try to ensure that we use figures that are as up-to-date as is humanly possible. If we obtain better figures, I shall pass them on to those hon. Members who are particularly interested in the subject.

The publication of figures before 1st March was also mentioned. That figure would include deductions. This is a widely held view and we should take it into account. However, there are technical and legal difficulties. We are giving the most careful consideration to these points because we appreciate the desirability of taking such action if it is at all possible.

I was asked by the hon. Member for Pembroke about bilingual forms. If the order is made this evening, an order will be made under the Welsh Language Act 1967 which will prescribe Welsh versions of the statutory forms to be used in the referendum. Therefore, that point has been taken into account.

I now turn to a subject which has caused a great deal of concern, namely, the subject of broadcasting time and the media. Many hon. Members suggested at the outset of their remarks that the media in Wales have up to the present time been fair and honest and have treated all parties on a par. However, there was then a big "but", because it was said that on this occasion the media would not present such a balance. It was suggested that that balance would become fairer if we as a Government were to take certain steps. I do not think that one can add to the impartiality of the broadcasting media by some kind of intervention by the Government of the day on any particular issue.

One hon. Gentleman said that although he was addressing the House he was, as it were, also addressing himself to the chairmen of the BBC and the ITV autho- rities. I am sure that those gentlemen will be interested to read his contribution.

The matter of broadcasting time is a proper matter for the broadcasting authorities. They have an obligation to ensure that so far as possible due impartiality is preserved. It is up to the broadcasting authorities to decide whether to allocate time to campaign organisations. It would be a dangerous step for the Government of the day to intervene in that respect.

The debates on devolution have now been going on for a very long time. Some of my hon. Friends who oppose devolution have certainly not been absent from the television screen. The viewpoints for and against devolution have been well and truly expressed in television programmes.

Mr. Nicholas Edwards

The Minister's remarks are helpful because they illustrate the kind of view to be taken by the media. However, does he appreciate that the usual balance on the television screen is between the three political parties on one side and one party on the other? The problems for the media is not that they lack integrity, but that they are facing an entirely new situation.

Mr. Jones

I do not think that the media are facing such an entirely new situation. I recall some of the television programmes which took place during the EEC referendum campaign. We then had Members from all parties and people from odd organisations lining up on both sides of the argument. I do not think this would be an insurmountable task. I am sure that the media will exercise their responsibilities in an impartial way. I must say that, whether on the Front or the Back Benches, I would not take kindly to too much Government interference in this situation.

Mr. Ioan Evans

I think that my hon. Friend is possibly conceding the point which has been made. Of course, we would expect both the IBA and the BBC to be impartial and objective. However, we contend that equal time should be given to those who are for and those who are opposed to the Assembly. Does my hon. Friend support that contention, which has come from both sides of the House?

Mr. Jones

Impartiality does not mean giving 80 per cent. of the time to one and 20 per cent. to the other. That would be an odd definition of impartiality. The broadcasting authorities have an obligation to maintain impartiality. It is certainly the Government's wish and my personal wish that they should maintain that degree of impartiality throughout the campaign.

Mr. Dalyell

Does my hon. Friend accept that what bothers us is not the allocation of hours or minutes on one side or the other, but a far more subtle issue--namely, that if there are prejudices inside a broadcasting organisation, it can get a good presenter of a case on one side and a bad presenter on the other? Is not the fundamental distinction between the EEC referendum and this referendum that, frankly, there are considerable interests inside the broadcasting authorities who want these plans to go ahead? We all know that with an Assembly in Edinburgh—I speak with less certainty about an Assembly in Cardiff—there will be many extra jobs and avenues to promotion in broadcasting. It would be naive not to recognise that here and now.

Mr. Jones

Obviously hon. Members perform differently on the box or on the wireless. If the only solution were that I, as a Minister, should pick who should speak for the "Noes" and who should speak for the rest, the result would be even worse than allowing the choice to be made by the broadcasting authorities. Naturally I should pick some hon. Members, and others I might care to drop. We cannot place this matter in the hands of a Minister. It must be left to the broadcasting authorities.

I do not agree with my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) that those who work for the media will be influenced, because of their interest pro- and anti-devolution, because they feel there will be better job prospects by selecting certain people to appear on the screen. That would be to make the BBC and ITV far too machiavellian in that respect.

I was asked about party political broadcasts. These will, of course, follow the normal rules. Parties have allocations of broadcasts. Even apart from General Elections they use those broadcasts whenever they wish. There has been no suggestion that we should call off party political broadcasts because of county council or district council elections. We do not have much to fear in that respect. We are merely maintaining the same position regarding party political broadcasts.

If ministerial broadcasts are to be made, the normal rules, including the right of reply by the official Opposition, will pertain. I am not envisaging masses of ministerial broadcasts on this issue.

Another matter which has caused a great deal of excitement is the use of Government machinery. I find this difficult to understand. I had always understood that the Government had the right to ensure that their policies were carried out. I do not recall any great objections to the actions of Governments who have been in office, duringthe time that have been in the House, when they have used Government machinery to put forward their own policies. At the time of the Trade Union and Labour Relations Act I do not remember any squeals and yells to the effect that it was unfair.

We are saying that the only ministerial costs which will be met from public funds will be those associated with the activities of Ministers fulfilling official engagements, at which they will be explaining, and advocating of course, the Government's policy on devolution. The Government information services, and other branches of the Civil Service will be used only to the extent that is necessary to continue to explain the Government's policy on devolution. Obviously civil servants will not take any part in party political activity. That is not something startlingly new. It is something which Governments always do. The Tory Government used government machinery to advocate policies which they were convinced were for the benefit of the people.

Mr. Britton

Does not the Minister agree that there is a distinction between using the Government machine and the money involved in putting forward a Government policy generally, and doing so in the context of a referendum campaign when there is no other side which is comparably equipped? The relevant comparison is with a General Election. In a General Election the Government machine cannot be used to put forward the views of a political party, even if it is the party which is in power.

Mr. Jones

This is nothing to do with the General Election. This is a Government in the course of their lifetime advocating certain policies which the House has accepted. It seems reasonable that they should use the normal machinery of government. When I heard that neither the "Yes" campaigners nor the "No" campaigners would have any money I began to think that we would be without any campaign.

The hon. Member for Cardigan (Mr. Howells) asked about English students living in Wales who chose not to vote. If that happens it will have the same effect as if the votes were "No" votes. That is one of the points raised by the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Evans) in criticising the 40 per cent. rule and its implications. The Government accept the Act, which includes the referendum, warts and all.

It is important that we seek to ensure a fair expression of the views of the people of Wales. The best way to do this is to aim for as high a poll as is possible. The Government believe that the people will endorse this proposal. While I know that not everyone shares that belief, I am sure that I am on common ground when I say that it is important to ensure a high poll. For that reason, I hope that all who are eligible to vote will be particularly careful this year to check that their names are on the draft register which will be available for inspection at public libraries and council offices between 28th November and 16th December.

It is worth reminding people that often they may have to consult more than one register. Some areas have a register which shows whether a person has been taken off the roll and another which indicates whether he has been added. It is not quite as simple as we sometimes suggest, but I stress the importance of ensuring that there is full registration.

For a similar reason, I believe that people who think that they are entitled to a postal vote should apply to the local registration officer as soon as possible. It is not necessary to wait for anything before applying for a postal vote, as long as one is qualified.

The referendum seeks the views of the people of Wales on the Act and its implementation. Whatever the outcome of the poll—and I have no personal doubts about the verdict—the order is a watershed in the long debate on devolution and the giving of power to the people of Wales. The order will give them and subsequently Parliament a chance to turn debate on devolution into action on it.

I commend the order to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the draft Wales Act 1978 (Referendum) Order 1978, which was laid before this House on 14th November, be approved.