HC Deb 12 February 1979 vol 962 cc785-8
31. Mr. Ioan Evans

asked the Lord President of the Council what are the target figures to determine a "Yes" vote in the referendums to be held in Wales and Scotland.

Mr. Foot

The electoral registers are not required to be published until 15 February. Target figures cannot be established until after that date.

Mr. Evans

Will my right hon. Friend join me in appealing to the people of Scotland and Wales to turn out in force on 1 March, recognising that those of us who are opposed to the establishment of the Assemblies made the strongest demands for referendums? Will my right hon. Friend ensure fair play by making representations to ensure that there are no party political broadcasts before the vote?

Mr. Foot

It would be a gross interference by the Government in the normal way in which these matters are conducted if we intervened to try to ban party political broadcasts. That would be a grave infringement of the way that these matters are normally conducted, and I am surprised that my hon. Friend should recommend such an undemocratic practice.

Mr. Gwynfor Evans

Is the Lord President aware that a BBC poll published on Friday night showed that many of the people of Wales do not think that the Government are in favour of an Assembly for Wales and that many people in Wales do not know what is the Government's attitude? I absolve the Lord President from responsibility for that, but does he not think that those findings reflect sadly upon the inactivity of the Government in putting across their policy?

Mr. Foot

I assure the hon. Gentleman and the House that the Government's views have been made well known in the House, and the more widely they can become known throughout Wales and Scotland, the better. Several of us will be taking special steps in the next two or three weeks to ensure that our views are still more widely known.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

Will the Lord President be kind enough to tell the House that, in the event of there not being the necessary qualifying 40 per cent. of the electorate voting affirmatively in the referendums, the Government will not only lay an order in the House, as required by the Act, but will support the order to annul the Act?

Mr. Foot

The Government will abide by the decision of the House. I revert to the reply that I gave the hon. Gentleman a few minutes ago. I only wish that he had shown the same democratic spirit as regards the resolution that we passed on the Bingham report.

Mr. Arthur Latham

Will my right hon. Friend accept my congratulations on the precedent established in Wales and, presumably, Scotland, in the delivering to every household of a printed leaflet, financed by the Government, explaining how people can qualify and obtain postal votes? Will my right hon. Friend have a word with the Home Secretary and the Secretaries of State for Scotland and Wales to see whether we can follow that practice for general elections in the United Kingdom?

Mr. Foot

There is a great deal to be said for what my hon. Friend has suggested, and I think that we should have discussions along those lines. I believe that the whole House will welcome the action that we have taken, since I trust that the whole House wishes every elector in Scotland and Wales to know what his possibilities are in the referendums?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

Is the Leader of the House aware that I entirely agree with him that both of us should abide by the decision of the House of Commons? I shall be happy to follow his example in that respect, but can he tell us what is the position of the House in a situation where their Lordships have rejected the Commons proposal for a sanctions commission? Does he intend, on behalf of the House, to set up a commission of hon. Members of this House only?

Mr. Foot

I have already told the hon. Gentleman that the Government will make proposals to the House in the light of the decision of another place. All that I was asking the hon. Gentleman to do was to say—and I am glad that he has said it, even if it was a little grudgingly—that he respects the decision of this House. We have to take that into account. We deeply regret that their Lordships should have decided not to pass their resolution because it gives rise to strains and stresses between the two Houses, and when this House goes out of its way to pass the sort of resolution that we approved it is most unwise for another place to neglect it as it did.

Several Hon. Members rose—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I allowed the question of the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas), but it was related to an earlier question. I must tell Members on the Front Benches that the same rules apply to them as apply to Back-Bench Members.

32. Mr. Canavan

asked the Lord President of the Council whether he is satisfied with the arrangements being made for the forthcoming referenda in Scotland and Wales; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Foot

Yes. Instructions have been issued by the Scottish and Welsh Offices to returning officers and arrangements are proceeding satisfactorily.

Mr. Canavan

Is my right hon. Friend aware that some reliable estimates of the discount required for a fair application of the 40 per cent. referendum rule are as much as five times the official Government estimate of 2½ per cent.—because of additional double registrations, illness, disability and removals? Will my right hon. Friend take that into account, because he must bear in mind that there are many people who, through no fault of their own, will be virtually incapable of exercising their right to vote on 1 March?

Mr. Foot

It is true that all these difficulties were discussed, as my hon. Friend has legitimately pointed out. All these factors will be taken into account when the Government make their statement, I hope before the recess, on the matter that has been raised, although I know, Mr. Speaker, that I must not refer to a previous question. The matter was referred to obliquely by my hon. Friend earlier. We shall take all these factors into account. These are some of the difficulties that have arisen from the decision that the House made. We have to abide by that decision.