HC Deb 26 March 1979 vol 965 cc23-5
34. Mr. Gow

asked the Lord President of the Council what was the total cost to public funds of each of the two referenda held on 1 March; and what proposals the Government have for further referenda.

Mr. Foot

The estimated costs of the referendums, as already given to the House, are £525,000 for Wales and £880,000 for Scotland. The Government have no plans at present for holding further referendums.

Mr. Gow

Is it not clear that this total expenditure of not much less than £1½ million was wholly unnecessary? Is this not a commentary on the ill-judgment by the Government of the mood and wishes of the people of Wales and Scotland? Does the right hon. Gentleman think that it would be appropriate for there to be some modest contribution from Her Majesty's Ministers towards the cost of these referendums?

Mr. Foot

The hon. Gentleman has in the past advanced many foolish propositions, but none to equal that to which we have just listened. As for his suggestion that the money was ill-spent, I suggest that he should look back to see who voted for the referendums. Hon. Members in all parts of the House voted for them. If we had sought to proceed with these matters without the referendums, I think that the House would have resented it and would not have voted for the propositions at all. Therefore, before the hon. Gentleman makes such outlandish propositions, he should re-read what happened.

Mr. Anderson

Far from being unnecessary, does my hon. Friend agree that this money was well spent; that it was cost effective and prevented a substantial amount of wasteful public expenditure?

Mr. Foot

I have never seen eye to eye with my hon. Friend on this matter, and it is a little late to start now. Therefore, I do not think that we shall reach agreement on the matter. I do not think that referendums are the best way of settling all these matters, but in these instances I think that they were advisable. That was why the House reached the conclusion that it did. But the House should think seriously before doing what the right hon. Lady the Leader of the Opposition has sometimes recommended, and that is to, have referendums on every subject under the sun.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

Is it not desirable that referendums—I believe that that is the correct word; it is an English word rather than a Latin one—should be used for issues involving major constitutional changes, such as the reform of the House of Lords, which I know is near to the right hon. Gentleman's heart, although it would be unsuitable to use them for such moral matters as abortion or capital punishment, which have normally rightly been left to the consciences of Members?

Mr. Foot

I do not know whether that reveals an early split between the hon. Gentleman and his right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, because I think that she might take a different view. I believe that referendums—and it is a matter of taste which word one chooses—should be used with the utmost circumspection. I believe that it would be absurd to introduce them into industrial disputes. I hope that that proposition has now been withdrawn. I do not accept the idea that all constitutional issues should be settled by referendums. As for the reform of the House of Lords, I am in favour of its abolition, and I believe that the proper body to carry the abolition of the House of Lords is the House of Commons.