§ 3.3 p.m.
§ The LORD CHANCELLOR (Lord Elwyn-Jones)
My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.
§ Moved, that the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(The Lord Chancellor.)
§ On Question Motion agreed to.103
§ House in Committee accordingly.
§ [The Earl of Listowel in the Chair.]
§ The CHAIRMAN of COMMITTEES (The Earl of Listowel)
I think I should point out that owing to a printer's error Amendments Nos. 8 and 9 on the Marshalled List are in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, whereas they should be in the name of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor.
§ Clause 1 [Holding of referendum]:
Lord REAY moved Amendment No. 1:
Page 1, line 15, leave out (" and").
§ The noble Lord said: Amendments Nos. 1 and 2 seek to ensure that, subject to certain qualifications, the right to vote in the referendum is extended to British subjects overseas who are resident in other Member States of the Community. The reason for limiting it in this way, and for not trying to apply it to wherever in the world such persons are resident was simply to take account of the further 13 days which have elapsed since the other place debated this matter and, since it failed to adopt the official Opposition Amendment put to the vote in the other place, to take account of the more serious practical difficulties that must be assumed to have accumulated in the way of making the necessary arrangements on a worldwide basis in time for the referendum on 5th June.
§ I believe that the voting provisions could, and should, have been made for British subjects, suitably qualified, where-ever they are resident overseas. The fact that this is surely no longer practicable is not, in itself, sufficient reason for not making provision for a smaller group, to whom it should surely still be possible to give the vote without prejudicing the date of the referendum.
§ We believe that it is unjust not to give the vote to British citizens resident overseas. I use the term "British citizens" for the sake of convenience; I recognise it has no legal basis that would give them the vote in this referendum. The referendum is a quite different sort of occasion from a General Election, and the fact that it has been recognised as such should surely be appreciated by Members of this House, who 104 themselves have the vote for the first time on a national occasion. The referendum is taking place outside the framework of our continuous system of electing representatives to Parliament; a system which a British resident leaves if he gives up residence in this country at any time, and which he rejoins if he returns at any time to take up residence here again. This vote is a vote on a single issue which vitally concerns not only the future of this country, but also the futures of very many of those who have taken up residence overseas, and certainly of the majority of those who have taken up residence elsewhere in the Community.
§ In my opinion, all British subjects resident overseas with the qualifications in the Amendment should have had the vote. Nevertheless, there are particular reasons why the vote should not be denied to the much smaller group resident in other Member States of the Community. The trouble with the argument of the Government, as the Lord President of the Council put it in another place, is that it tries to represent non-residents as having foresworn their service to this country, their loyalty to this country, their interest in the result of the referendum, and therefore their right to a say in what that result should be. But, in fact, this is the reverse of the actual situation.
§ Those British subjects resident in the Community include large numbers whom we had to provide for the proper functioning of Community institutions; people who were not only permitted but encouraged to take up employment in the Community following the accession of the United Kingdom. Obviously, their careers are directly at stake. Those jobs will simply no longer be available for British citizens if the United Kingdom leaves the Community. The group includes others performing functions of value to this country and to the Community. It includes businessmen involved in exports, journalists responsible for providing the public with an account of what goes on in the Community, and so on.
§ It should be borne in mind that one of the principles of the Common Market is that there should be free movement of labour. This is thought to be a desirable principle, and so far as I know, is entirely accepted by Her Majesty's Government. This principle has been in 105 application, so far as we are concerned, for over two years. All those who have made use of it, with the complete support of successive Governments, to go to other Member States of the Community and take up employment there, are extremely interested in the outcome of the referendum. If, as a result of the referendum, the United Kingdom wants to leave the Community, these people will no longer be protected by the provisions of this principle. Therefore, the repeated allusion made by the Lord President of the Council to the tens of thousands of "Lotus eaters" was a most unfair and much resented characterisation of a group which deserved, and deserves, better references from the Government.
§ The Lord President considered that there should be five conditions which a British subject resident overseas—or, in this case, resident in other Member States of the Community—would need to satisfy before receiving entitlement to vote, and four of these would, in his opinion, need to be covered by a declaration. The first was a right of abode, in the United Kingdom—which is also in our Amendment—which should be stamped in most passports, but, in any case, it should not be too hard to establish in practice among the British subjects resident in the Community, although I can imagine that it could have presented a problem in other parts of the world: the condition of not being on a United Kingdom electoral register, which is also in our Amendment: the condition of having been at some time a resident of the United Kingdom: and the condition of holding a present occupation or service or employment in a Member State, or being a spouse of someone who did hold such employment, occupation or service. These would need to be covered by declaration.
§ I do not see any objection to those conditions of the Lord President, or to that procedure, and I would not suspect that in practice there would be much likelihood of abuse. The Lord President also proposed a fifth condition, a declaration of intention to return to reside in the United Kingdom. This seems to be a product of the same attitude which produced the remarks about lotus eaters, a really rather inappropriate tendency to regard those who take up residence abroad 106 for whatever reason as being suspiciously like deserters rather than as people who could be making a positive contribution to the advancement of this country's interest. In fact, it might well turn out to be the case that it is in this country's interest that such people should spend the rest of their working lives in the Community. Therefore, I should like Her Majesty's Government to drop the idea of this not very meaningful fifth condition, if it came to a question of printing and distributing declaration forms.
§ With regard to the objection that it would be an anomaly to give a certain class of British subjects the right to vote if resident in the Community while denying that right to the rest of the same class who were resident elsewhere in the world, I would say again that this would not be as great an anomaly as to exclude the entire group altogether. I should like to state my attitude, at least, on the question of whether or not to push this Amendment to a Division. I would not wish to do so if there was a general feeling in this House that this subject had been sufficiently aired and it was time to call it a day. But I should also not like to do so if the consequence of incorporating such an Amendment as this was to endanger the possibility of holding the referendum on 5th June. Like the Opposition Front Bench and the Government Front Bench, I certainly have no wish to see the date of the referendum put back.
I should, therefore, like to put to the Government a similar question as was put to and answered by the Lord President of the Council in another place, and I would trust the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor or the noble Lord, Lord Harris, to give a considered and honest answer. Perhaps I could say that I gave notice on Friday morning that I had the intention to raise these questions. First, could the provisions of the Amendment be implemented without prejudicing the date of the referendum? Secondly, if the answer to that is, No, would it nevertheless be administratively possible to incorporate this Amendment or a similar Amendment giving the vote to those resident in the Community but serving there in an official capacity only; that is, yet further to restrict the group to which the provision of the right to vote would apply. When asked whether there was still time to make arrangements
for all British subjects with the right of abode—not on a United Kingdom electoral register, and without the right to vote in another country, wherever in the world they were resident—to vote in the referendum, the Lord President of the Council on 22nd April replied:
… it would probably still be possible to do it in the time, though in a very makeshift way. But I must be honest and say that I think it could still be done."—[Official Report, Commons, 22/4/75, c. 1343.]
If in reply the noble Lord gives a similar answer to that question with respect to the much more limited group of British subjects resident much closer to home, then, if the House gives signs of support in any reasonable quantity, I would feel inclined to press the Amendment to a Division. I beg to move.
§ 3.17 p.m.
Lord SAINT OSWALD
Played out, as it has to be against the background of Parliamentary abdication, this debate can hardly be edifying in essence, at least to me. Realistically, however, we have to face the fact and make some sense out of the fact that the British people have had inflicted upon them a referendum, unwanted by any but a small minority, and imposed for negative purposes. It is now up to us to apply the residue of Parliamentary responsibility left to us in this matter, to ensure that the maximum number, not a restricted number, of our fellow countrymen are entitled to cast their vote, either to confirm or to contradict the expressed vote of Parliament, in settling the most important issue to face our country in several centuries.
The purpose of the Amendment, as my noble friend explained, is to extend the franchise slightly, only slightly, beyond the limits at present permitted, to extend it not as far as possible, which would be a logical and desirable aim, but as far as is practicable; to extend it to a category of our fellow countrymen which the Government, the authors of this unsought procedure, may consider it practical to include. That is far narrower than most of us favouring the object would wish. But since politics is the art of the feasible we seek a formula easy for the present Government to accept, conscious that, if proper thought had been given to this when the phenomenon of a referendum became part of their policy, it could have, 108 as undoubtedly it should have, embraced many more. This Amendment is intrinsic to the declared purpose of the referendum, because it would bring on to the register a number of those British citizens who have applied their minds specifically to the problems of British membership of the European Community, and those views, for this reason, have a specialised value, the value of knowledge at close quarters in their working day and working week, year in, year out.
The Lord President of the Council, in opposing the far wider Amendment on the 22nd April in another place, raised two main objectives neither of which, I submit, could sensibly apply to this Amendment. He affirmed, however, and this is of the greatest and most crucial importance, and was regarded so by my noble friend:In our study over the last week we established that it would be possible to construct a scheme under which those citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies who would be outside the United Kingdom on 5th June would be able to vote ".—[Official Report, Commons, 22/4/75, c. 1343.]And he continued, in words which my noble friend quoted, that,… it still could be done ".The question which forces itself upon our minds is why only "last week" was the method considered. The Government Party have had a referendum in their minds for at least three years. Yet on the admission of the Lord President, those minds had been applied only during the week previous to 22nd April, after the Second Reading in another place, to the idea of enfranchising British subjects with a direct interest in the issue and a direct knowledge of it.
I will parade the two main objections, to which I have referred, as presented by the Lord President. He said that in working out the scheme—and I suggest that "working out" is a flattering description of the procedure taken—his colleagues felt that there were five minimum conditions for a right to vote and they could not accept anything else. The five conditions, which can be found in columns 1343–44 of the Commons Hansard report of that debate, have been listed by my noble friend. I do not intend to repeat them today, but I must refer to them. Adding all these conditions together, he affirmed that it would be possible for overseas voters to attend to 109 vote at about 265 High Commissions, Embassies and Consulates throughout the world which have the facilities and the trained United Kingdom staff to cope with the procedure. At this point he introduced the gratuitous insult—now no doubt accepted as a gift on the music hall stage of "Lotus eaters living around the Mediterranean ". As this was no slip of the tongue, but repeated at various points of his speech and in his answers to subsequent interventions, I feel justified in asking the Government precisely what relevance it has, or had.
Is it their considered view that in our own country only proven and identified classified "useful members of society" should have a right to the vote, because this might considerably reduce the British electorate itself were some such curious criteria applied? However, that element of prejudice, even in its strictest application, would have little bearing on the outcome of the present Amendment if incorporated in the Bill. Few of the people brought within the franchise in this way would recognise a lotus, even if they came face to face with one in their bath, and even fewer would have any desire to eat it! For the wider botanical knowledge of members of the Government, the lotus is a native of Asia and Egypt and it was not that end of the Mediterranean which I think the Lord President had in mind.
The people whom my noble friend and I wish to see voting on this specific issue are those who have gone to live in our eight partner countries of the European Community, most of them because in this way they can best assist Britain's commercial, cultural and political interests within those countries, while exerting British influence for the benefit of the Community as a whole. In so doing, apart from other benefits, they provide employment, through our export trade, to several hundred thousands in British industry. Their own numbers are difficult to compute, but noble Lords may have noticed in The Times of 20th April some figures drawn from Foreign Office sources of British subjects registered in British Consulates in a number of countries. For the purposes of this Amendment I will select only those figures relevant to the partner nations: in West Germany, 39,000; in France, 23,000; in Belgium, 21,000, and in Holland, 110 11,000. Extrapolating from those figures to include the probable figures for Italy, Denmark, Luxembourg and Southern Ireland, and to include those who have not registered themselves at British Consulates, my own calculation—with which anybody is welcome to differ—would be in the range of between 150,000 and 200,000, probably far nearer 150,000.
As a footnote and as a factor applying to these figures, I mention one characteristic which will be well understood by several Members on the Government side of the House as well as on ours, though it will cause surprise to others on all sides. For the very reason that the Community with a large "C", considers itself a community with a small "c", many of those who cross internal frontiers with a view to working in the whole great enterprise do not consider it necessary to register at their Consulate. Speaking personally, I find this heartening, though I can see that others may not. It used to be the same in the Commonwealth countries.
Before closing I will, as I said, refer individually though briefly, as did my noble friend, to the Lord President's five conditions. The right of abode in the United Kingdom will present difficulties to few, as the Lord President himself attested. Proof of the fact that they were not on an Election register in the United Kingdom, or that they or their spouses had resided at some time in the United Kingdom, would take time—more time than is available between now and 5th June. But that is not their fault, because they have not been asked to prepare such evidence. It is the fault of the Government, who, with three years in hand, apparently turned their attention to this matter on Tuesday, 15th April 1975. The form of their employment in the country of their residence would not, I should have thought, be difficult to prove, but I have no doubt that if they filled in their forms as "Lotus eaters" their rights would receive scant sympathy.
The fifth condition—the declared intention to return, to reside in the United Kingdom—would require, as my noble friend said, a crystal ball for quite a number. Those who have worked abroad, sometimes married abroad, built up businessess and homes abroad and served their country in one capacity or another away 111 from their native land for most of their lives may, in certain cases, find it difficult to lay their hands on their hearts and declare that when the day of retirement comes, when their life's work is over, when they retire from their vocation, they will totally uproot themselves from the environment in which, by the very nature of their lives, they have most friends and most familiar objects. This seems to be a harsh and artificial insistence, sometimes affecting those who deserve most of their countrymen at home. All the other conditions—and possibly this as well—could be accepted subject to a solemn declaration or affidavit, personally signed by the claimant for a vote, for which facilities already exist in every British Consulate as everyone who has travelled will know.
The second objection of the Lord President to a far greater widening of the franchise than we propose here was that it was open to abuse. What electoral system is not open to abuse? By an Amendment immediately preceding the one I have mentioned so frequently, on 22nd April in another place, and happily accepted by the Government, a vote was given to British Servicemen overseas, sometimes in posts on the other side of the world. It was agreed that there might be abuses, but this was accepted for the sake of the greater fairness to the majority of honest men and women. I submit that precisely the same issue applies here.
During the whole of that debate in April, the Government were pressed from various parts of the House on a number of occasions to accept that upon this issue as many British citizens as possible should possess the vote. I did not find the Government responding to that principle. I hope sincerely that they will respond if by no more than a nuance, by accepting this consciously modest and limited Amendment, and extending the franchise to some of those who know more than most of us what the whole matter is about.
§ 3.30 p.m.
I for one have a great deal of sympathy with the Amendment. I believe my noble friends were right to table it, because it is intended to surmount the problems of British subjects living overseas. I do not think anyone should be under any misapprehension as 112 to how strongly those who live overseas feel about this matter. All kinds of figures have been used—400,000, for example—which apparently relate to people who will not be entitled to vote on an issue over which they should be able to vote. These include people who work for organisations like Shell and ICI; people in the European Commission;front men in industry; people who represent our own businesses abroad in the Common Market and elsewhere; people who work in hospitals abroad. Many of them have gone abroad because of the European Community, and, having known, worked and been involved in it, they may well be more motivated to want to take part in such a referendum than others who are not so intimately involved. These people are just as British as anyone else, with just as much right as others in this country to have their opinion considered. Both my noble friends have mentioned the unfortunate remarks of the Lord President of the Council when he referred to the lotus eaters. The only comment I would make on that is that we are coming to a pretty poor state of affairs if we are to enfranchise or disfranchise people according to our moral judgment of the way in which they live their lives.
What is the position? The Lord President was reported as saying that if we give the vote to people overseas this will be interpreted as pro-Market fanaticism. I do not believe that we could accept that, because those who were resident in England on 10th October last year will be on the role and therefore will be entitled to vote, even if they have since gone abroad to the Community; they are entitled to vote, and to vote by proxy. It is those who went abroad before 10th October who will be disfranchised. One can imagine the example of a firm sending out two people to work on a contract in, say, Germany: one goes out on 7th October and the other follows a week later. The one who went out a week later is entitled to vote, but the one who went first is not. This seems an absurdity, if not manifestly unfair. Another example was given in another place of a person who was a legal adviser to the Community. He was asked to go to Geneva to represent his country at the Conference on the Law of the Sea. He will not now be allowed to vote, yet up the road lives 113 another legal adviser who happens to be a colonel in a regiment, and he is entitled to vote.
This puts the whole thing into perspective, and shows the absurdity of how one category of person will be permitted to vote and another will be denied the opportunity. This is what happens when one tinkers with the Constitution in an ill-prepared manner. The Minister of State for Defence said in another place on 22nd April at column 1250 when considering an Amendment concerning serving soldiers:The obstacle was of finding a way round the problem which would not delay the referendum or create more anomalies than it removed. … This was not easy. It was a race against time that we did not win …In other words, by the Government's own admission this Bill was ill-conceived; they did not have time to consider it properly. Of course a referendum should never have been allowed, but if allowed, it should have been considered properly.
Even the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor said on Second Reading of this Bill, referring to this Amendment—one similar to that which was discussed in another place—that if these people were going to be involved in the franchise, their credentials would have to be checked, and he said:These additional tasks could not be properly carried out in the time available …"—[Official Report, 29/4/75; col. 1192.]The Government have had a long time. They have been in power for 12 months, and they said, "We will hold some form of referendum ". Why is it that they have not had time to consider properly the way such a referendum should be conducted?
I asked a Question on this very subject just before we rose for the Easter Recess. I asked the noble Lord the Leader of the House whether people who worked in businesses abroad would be given a vote, and the Lord Privy Seal replied:My Lords, the House will appreciate that I cannot anticipate the publication of the Referendum Bill, which is expected shortly.When I then asked why these people could not know now—remember, this was 25th March—whether they would be en- 114 titled to have a vote, the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, told me:Very simple, my Lords. It is because a decision has not yet been taken."—[Official Report, 25/4/1975, col. 1091.]It was the very next day that the Referendum Bill was published. I had occasion to write to the noble Lord telling him that it seemed very odd that on 25th March no decision had been taken, yet on 26th March the Bill was published, and that surely the Bill must have been in the hands of the printers and a draft of it available. The noble Lord assured me that on that day when he replied to my Question, which was 2.30 p.m. on the 25th, no decision had been taken.
If there was a decision to be taken, then there must have been a choice. If one of the two options was to exclude these people from voting, then one of the options must have been to include them. One cannot have it both ways: it cannot be impossible to include them, and yet at the same time the Government have the option of taking a choice. The real reason was that Her Majesty's Government had not given enough thought to how this particular problem was going to be overcome, and they therefore took the easy way out and excluded these people.
I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, will not gloss over the issue by hanging his argument on the words with which the Lord President opened his speech in reply to a similar Amendment in another place, when he said:… in preparing the Referendum Bill we thought it important to keep as close as possible to our normal tried and trusted electoral arrangements, and that includes the definition of the electorate We felt this because we believe that it is essential to ensure the credibility and acceptance of the result."—[Official Report, Commons, 22/4/1975, col. 1342.]I suggest that there is no comparison at all between a General Election and a referendum. In a General Election those who are abroad know full well that they will be disfranchised while they are abroad, but they also know that when they return to their country they will have the right, if they do not like what has been going on, to take part in a General Election to alter it. A referendum, however, is totally different. This is a unique occasion, as we have been told; one where the future of the country may 115 for all time be changed and decided. These people know that they will never have an opportunity to vote, and have their say in a matter which affects the future of their country and that of their children and grandchildren. They feel very sore about it.
My heart is with this Amendment, but I will not vote for it because I do not believe that it is right to include for voting purposes only those who happen to be abroad in the Community, and thereby exclude those who happen to be abroad but outside the Community. To give the vote to an ICI representative in Milan, and deny it to one in Madrid, seems absurd. However, if we give the vote to them all, then I feel that the Government will be in real difficulty in getting their arrangements through for a referendum within four weeks from the present date.
The fact that I shall not vote for this Amendment does not mean that I do not believe my noble friends to be entirely right in putting it down. Nor does it mean that I approve of the Bill as it is. It just shows that if one is going to alter the Constitution in the way this Bill seeks to alter it, it is wholly inappropriate that the Bill should be ill-considered and ill-thought out, and that it should thereby cut out of the franchise many people who should be put in it, and who feel very bitter that they have been left out of it.
§ 3.39 p.m.
§ Lord HARRIS of GREENWICH
On one point I accept part of the argument adduced by the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers; that is, that I am well aware of the fact that a large number of British citizens abroad feel that they have been harshly and unreasonably treated. I am well aware of that fact and a number of them have represented their case with great vigour. It is only fair to say that a number of them have held that view for some little time. To many, it has been a constant source of injustice that they have been debarred from voting not only, as on this occasion, in the referendum but in a Parliamentary General Election. In that connection, the same arguments as those used by the noble Earl have in the past been put forward by British citizens abroad. However, I think one has to accept that, whatever may have been the wisdom or lack of it—as the 116 noble Earl would describe it—of the decision of the Government on this matter, the question the House has to consider today on this, as on other Amendments, is whether it wants the referendum to take on place on 5th June, which seems to me to be overwhelmingly in the national interest.
So far as the background to the decision is concerned, as the noble Earl has pointed out, the Lord President of the Council in another place made it clear that the Government thought it right to keep as close as possible in terms of the arrangements for this referendum to our normal electoral arrangements in a General Election. I nearly said "tried and trusted arrangements" but, as the noble Earl used that form of words, I thought it wiser to avoid it. I believe that it is very important, so far as the House is concerned, for us to accept that it is essential to obtain the most widespread acceptance of the credibility of the result of the referendum once it has taken place. Therefore, if there were to be a series of serious malfunctions in the electoral process, as a result of the fact that we were trying to create special arrangements at very short notice, I believe that that would not be in the national interest.
As the House will be aware and as the two noble Lords who have spoken to the Amendment have made clear, a number of people have argued during the debate in another place and here for extension of the franchise to some or all British citizens overseas, though that is, of course, not the purpose of the present Amendment, as the noble Earl has pointed out. In replying to the debate in another place, some of my right honourable friends explained the practical difficulties which would be involved. I should like to refer to these in a few moments. As the noble Earl pointed out, it was made clear in another place that the Government established two or three weeks ago that it would at that stage have been possible to construct an extremely makeshift scheme under which citizens of the United Kingdom and colonies who would be outside the United Kingdom on 5th June would be eligible to have a vote.
As has been made clear in a number of speeches, there were five conditions which the Lord President thought it 117 appropriate to specify as having to be satisfied in such an eventuality. The first was that such people must have a right of abode within the meaning of Section 2 of the Immigration Act 1971 and, that that had been clearly established. Indeed, that is a qualification which is made in the present Amendment. Secondly, such people must not be on a current Parliamentary electoral register in the United Kingdom. Again, that appears in the Amendment which is before the House. There were two other conditions, before I come to the fifth condition, on which there is some disagreement. The third condition was that the person or his or her spouse had resided in the United Kingdom, and the fourth condition was that their occupation, service or employment or that of their spouse must be abroad. Fifthly and more controversially, as I understand it, there must be an assurance of a continuing connection with this country and the persons concerned must declare an intention of returning to reside in the United Kingdom.
The noble Lord, Lord Reay, accepted the first four of these conditions as reasonable and I shall therefore concentrate on the fifth condition, on which there is a wide area of disagreement. It is only fair to say that, of these conditions, only the first could be verified in practice. I am sure that your Lordships would feel some doubts about using even this right of abode qualification, raising as it does some difficult and controversial issues of patriality. The rest of the qualifications could be covered only by a declaration to consular officials that the statement made was a true one. The five conditions that I have mentioned, taken together—
§ Lord BALNIEL
It is most kind of the noble Lord to give way. I should like to refer to the first condition. He says, if I understood him aright, that it could arouse some controversial issues. Surely, however, all passports which have been issued since 1971 have the right of abode written into them. That is a statement of fact and I rather doubt whether any controversy would arise on that.
§ Lord HARRIS of GREENWICH
I said that only the first condition could be established without any doubt. Also, I believe that the date of the change in passports was 1973, not 1971. However, 118 the noble Lord is right; since that date, the position has been made clear. However, in the case of passports issued before 1973, there would have to be evidence put forward which would be satisfactory to a consular official and, at a consular post where substantial numbers of people were coming forward, this could, as I am sure the noble Lord will be aware, from his experience as a Foreign Office Minister, create very substantial administrative problems in the timescale about which we are talking. It is 31 days from now until the day when the polling stations open for the referendum; that is, of course, if the House accepts the timetable as reasonable.
To return to the point which I was making, the five conditions which I have mentioned were, taken together, in our view the fairest that could be devised. Yet they still left a number of serious loopholes and inequities, and created as many anomalies as the scheme itself was designed to remove. I have mentioned some of them and I should now like to come to another—only one, though I could cite others. The declaration to which I have referred would be open to abuse since, even if a false statement were made and were subsequently uncovered, there could be no prosecution unless the individual concerned later returned to this country. This is only an illustration of the sort of problem which emerges, but it shows the complexity of the question. It is not to say that that is a fatal flaw in what has been put forward, but it is an indication of the problems that arise if we try to create a system which will be as little open to abuse as possible.
I have already mentioned—and the noble Lord, Lord Balniel intervened on this point—my doubts about the right of abode qualification suggested in the Amendment. I should like also to mention—and this is the point which the noble Lord made—that in 1973, rather than in 1971, passports were changed to include this information. That indicates the number of passport-holders in relation to whom there is no indication of whether there is a right of abode. As I say, I do not want to make too much of this point, but that undoubtedly creates a problem which could lead to serious administrative difficulties in the very limited amount of time allowed to us. Such people who have passports issued before 1973 would 119 have to establish their right when they went to vote at a consular post by furnishing documentary proof that they had such a right. This would involve documentary proof, such as a birth certificate or the ability to prove five years' residence in this country, and it might not be easy for a number of people to get this proof in the very limited amount of time now available.
A number of noble Lords have referred to the need to avoid anomalies. I should like to put forward one argument which was touched on by the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, when he indicated his attitude to this Amendment. It would create the most extraordinary anomaly if the House were to agree to the Amendment which is before us today, because what we are being asked to give is not a right to all British citizens living abroad who are doing, as many of them are, useful work for this country, but only to those living in Member States of the European Economic Community. It seems to me a fairly remarkable doctrine that we are to apply a new test for the franchise in this country, that is, in which particular country a person resides. Are we really to argue that a person who lives in Denmark, doing work for Ford's, should have the vote, while a person living in Norway and working for Ford's should not. Although I wholly understand and respect the motives of the noble Lord who has put down this Amendment, it seems to me that this could conceivably create far more anomalies than already exist.
I come now to my final point. As he has indicated, the noble Lord gave my office notice on Friday that he wished to ask whether it were possible to extend the vote to British subjects in EEC countries without prejudicing the date of the referendum. He asked for a fair and frank answer and that I shall endeavour to give. It would be unreasonable for me to say that it would be impossible to do this, but it would be exceedingly difficult—gravely difficult. All I can say to the House is that, on the basis of the argument which I have endeavoured to put forward this afternoon, showing the serious anomalies which would be created if the House were to pass the Amendment, I very much hope that, on reflection, the noble Lord will decide not to press the Amendment. If he does not so decide, 120 I hope the House will reject the Amendment.
§ Lord REAY
A certain amount of sympathy has been expressed for the Amendment. It has been expressed very forcefully indeed by the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, although he reached a different conclusion with regard to the merits of this Amendment. Sympathy has also been expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich. His tone was very much more sympathetic than one might have expected and was certainly more sympathetic than the tone of the Lord President of the Council. This is a difficult matter. I am inclined to agree that there are dangers involved. I must take the word of the noble Lord. Although what is proposed is not actually impossible, he spoke of the fear of serious malfunctions, grave difficulties, and so forth. In view of this I am probably reluctant to press the matter to a Division. I cannot speak for my noble friend Lord Saint Oswald. He is entitled to arrive at a separate conclusion and I would think no worse of him if his conclusion were different from mine. But, in view of what the noble Lord and the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, have said, I should like to beg leave to withdraw the Amendment and if my noble friend Lord Saint Oswald does not wish to follow me in this request he can make his objection at the proper moment. With the leave of the House I should like to withdraw this Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 3.55 p.m.
Lord WIGODER moved Amendment No. 3:
Page 2, line 2, leave out (" and ").
§ The noble Lord said: I beg to move this Amendment which is a paving Amendment for Amendment No. 4 to which I shall therefore, with your Lordships' leave, make my observations. During Second Reading it was the general consensus of your Lordships' House, first, 121 that nothing should be done to imperil the holding of the referendum on 5th June; and, secondly, that the referendum result would be, at the least, unsatisfactory unless the greatest possible number of people participated in the voting. This Amendment is designed to operate within those guidelines. It will allow certain people to vote by post. I wish to emphasise that they are people who are already on the electoral register, and who, by sheer chance, no doubt arranged their holidays some time before the Government fixed the date of the referendum. They will not therefore be able to vote at the polling station in the ordinary way
§ There is the further proviso in the Amendment that this arrangement should apply to people on holiday in the United Kingdom, the reason for that being that within the very limited time available before 5th June it would appear desirable not to embark upon any difficulties about proxy votes for people who are abroad. So far as can be ascertained, this Amendment affects in the region of 1 million to 1½ million of our fellow citizens who are entitled to vote, who possess the vote, and to whom, I suggest, it is the Government's duty to facilitate arrangements so that they can participate in this referendum. That, in brief, is the case for this Amendment.
§ Three main objections appear to be raised to the principle of postal voting for holidaymakers and I wish to say a few words in this regard. First, it has been pointed out that no Speaker's Conference has ever approved postal voting by holidaymakers for a General Election in this country, and the last time it was considered, in 1965, the recommendation was opposed. It is equally true to say that no Speaker's Conference has ever approved the proposal that your Lordships should vote in a General Election, yet your Lordships have a vote in the referendum. I mention that merely because it goes to show that what governs a General Election has no real bearing on our procedure for the referendum. We never tire of being assured that this is a "unique occasion ". Indeed, one Minister has even assured us that it is "a very unique occasion." In those circumstances, if postal votes were allowed to holidaymakers on this occasion it would not, and could not, be a precedent for General Elections, which would still 122 remain the province of the Speaker's Conference in the ordinary way.
§ The second objection sometimes raised is that although those who apply for postal votes, on, for example, medical grounds, have to, or may have to, produce some document or evidence in support, it would be quite impossible to ask holidaymakers to produce a certificate from a travel agent or hotel proprietor, and therefore this proposal would be equivalent to giving postal votes on demand. I venture to think that that fear is very much exaggerated. The inconvenience to anyone who wanted for some reason to obtain a postal vote, although he was not going on holiday, would be far greater than the inconvenience of going around to the local polling station on 5th June.
§ Such a person would have to get an application form, fill it in and send it off. He would have to arrange with his alleged holiday address that the ballot form, when it arrived, should be sent back to him at his own address. He would then have to fill in the ballot form, get it witnessed, and post it off. There are very few people who would want to avail themselves of those devious measures in order to exercise a postal vote, when they were, in fact, residing happily at home and able to go to their local polling station. People who are away, not on holiday but for business purposes, are entitled to a postal vote without any supporting document or evidence of any sort. If there is no objection to that, there is no reason why any objection should now be raised to people applying for a postal vote if they are going on holiday.
§ The third reason put forward is somewhat bizarre. It appears to be postulated that the boarding-houses of Brighton are full of people whose passions—perhaps I should say political passions—are so intense that they will rush out of their bedrooms to the letter box every morning to see whether postal vote forms have arrived intended for other people, which they can misappropriate. The objection has only to be stated for it to be realised, I hope, that the fear is very much exaggerated. I therefore suggest to your Lordships that on the merits of this matter there is a strong case for allowing 1 million to 1½ million of our people 123 who are already on the register, to exercise their right to vote on this special occasion by being allowed postal votes.
§ It may be that the real difficulty concerns not so much the merits of the proposal as its practicability. As I understand it, the existing timetable—and I shall wait with interest to hear what is said about it—appears to be this. Polling day is scheduled for 5th June. In any event there will be postal votes for people who are unfit to go to the polling station or who are away on business. As I understand it, applications for postal votes have to be received by the electoral registration officer 12 effective days before polling day. Making allowance for Sundays and for the Bank Holiday which intervenes, I make 21st May as the last day for the arrival at the electoral registration officer of applications for postal votes. I may be wrong by one day, one way or the other.
§ It was indicated in the other place that this Bill can expect to go through all its stages and receive Royal Assent by 14th May, and that the necessary Order in Council can therefore be made on that day. I would remind your Lordships that, in any event, this Bill will have to go back to the other place if, as I assume will be the case, the Amendment standing in the name of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor is accepted a little later this afternoon. In those circumstances, the position appears to be that from 14th to 21st May people, going on holiday will apply for postal votes. It involves very little administrative work, beyond slightly altering the present application card to include one ground of application; namely, "I intend to be away on holiday on 5th June ". There would be no difficulty about such an application form being printed in the newspapers, and I believe that this has been done on a previous occasion. I do not suggest that seven days is ample time but it would at least be adequate for the great majority of people who are going on holiday to make such an application.
§ Once those applications are received by 21st May, electoral registration officers will have 12 working days in which to carry out their duties. On the experience of the last few General Elec- 124 tions, it looks as though those electoral registration officers would, in any event, have something like 1,000 applications per constituency for postal votes from people who are ill or who will be away on business. If the estimate that 1 million to 1½ million people in this country will be away on holiday is correct, and if all potential holidaymakers apply, which is not certain, that will work out in the region of 1,000 to 1,500 additional postal applications per constituency. The position, therefore, appears to be that the electoral registration officers will have to cope not with 1,000 but with 2,000 applications, and will have 12 days in which to compile the list, mark them off against the register and send out the ballot papers and envelopes. I venture to think that, given the proper will and determination by the electoral registration authorities, that is a perfectly practical procedure.
§ I know that in 1971, when the Electoral Advisory Conference considered postal votes for holidaymakers at a General Election, it was suggested that perhaps as much as 12 extra days would be necessary to carry out the routine clerical work. That was on the basis that each application would have to be checked, vetted and scrutinised to ensure that the applicant was a genuine holidaymaker. I very much doubt whether it is necessary to take that step and I suggest that, given the will and perhaps a little overtime and the employment of two or three extra part-time clerks, there is no reason why, on this one occasion, the electoral registration authorities should not be able to cope with what I recognise to be a substantial additional burden. In those circumstances, I suggest that this Amendment is desirable and practicable, and I therefore venture to move it.
§ Baroness EMMET of AMBERLEY
Before the Minister replies, as Peers are to be given the vote in this referendum, may I ask whether Peers abroad or on holiday will be allowed to exercise this right? On this occasion I do not think it would be a very complicated matter.
§ Lord AVEBURY
I should like to say a word in support of my noble friend. I know that this matter has been discussed on several occasions by Speaker's Conferences and by the local Advisory Conference. They have come to the conclusion that in General Elections, because 125 an extra burden would be placed on the Returning Officer, there should not be an extension of the postal vote for people going away on holiday. As my noble friend has just said, that was the assertion of the Electoral Advisory Conference in 1971. It was then suggested that an additional 12 days would be required. No matter how many times the extension of postal voting facilities is considered, this will always be the objection of the civil servants and the body which presents advice to the Home Secretary. The figures quoted by my noble friend could perhaps be examined a little further. If the average number of postal votes in each constituency is at present 1,000 to 1,500, and the additional 1 million or so people who are likely to be on holiday all exercise their right to a postal vote and that number is doubled, the total for any individual constituency will still be quite a lot below the largest figure which is processed by an individual returning officer at the moment.
If I may quote the case of my own constituency, in 1970 we had over 3,500 postal votes. That shows that it can be done without difficulty within the time-scale, so long as one does not check every individual application to make certain that the person concerned is genuinely going on holiday. We know that they do not check individual applications from people who say they will be away on business, and it is not outside the knowledge of some people who have fought Elections that people pretend to be on business when, in fact, they will be away on holiday. Of course we in the Liberal Party are always very scrupulous, and if anyone comes to our agent and asks for advice on this matter we say, "No, you must not say you are going to be away on business if, in fact, you will be on holiday ". But we know that in the Conservative and Socialist Parties every agent worth his salt advises people to put in a form of application.
I see no reason why, if people are being denied the privilege of voting because there happens to be a very scrupulous agent in a constituency, we should not amend the rules so as to make sure that everyone is entitled to the same privilege. The length of holidays is increasing. Many people have the good fortune to go away for five or even six weeks, so the likelihood that an individual will be 126 absent on polling day is increasing all the time. As my noble friend said, this is a unique kind of poll that we shall not have again in our lifetime—or perhaps in the political history of this country—so, whatever arrangements are made for the extension of postal voting in terms of General Elections, there are very good reasons for adopting his proposals in this instance.
§ 4.10 p.m.
§ Lord BALNIEL
The noble Lord who moved this Amendment moved it in most persuasive terms and developed his argument at some length. I rise only to indicate my support briefly for the Amendment moved because this is an Amendment along the lines of previous Amendments moved both in this House and in another place with the basic argument behind them that in so far as possible one should try to provide in the referendum the maximum opportunity for the maximum number of people to take part. The whole motivation for the referendum has been to try to ascertain the voice of the people. In so far as it is possible for the Government to widen the franchise so as to obtain fairly and correctly the voice of the people wherever they may be situated, I think they would be anxious to try to assist in the securing of this objective. I think the point made by the noble Lord in his opening remarks must be emphasised. This Amendment is very different in character from the Amendment we debated only a few moments ago. The Amendment we debated earlier involved a very substantial extension of the franchise, in that its purpose was to give a vote to persons whose abode was in this country, who were overseas, but who were not on the electoral register. It also involved the substantial change, which I found myself unable to support, of differentiating between people resident within the European Community and people resident outside the European Community.
The arguments for this Amendment are very different. The persons we are talking about all have a legal right to vote. It seemed to me that, whereas the noble Lord advanced convincing arguments of principle against the last Amendment, I suspect that he will find it very difficult—although knowing his great skill he might achieve the impossible—to advance 127 arguments of principle against this Amendment; although I can see that practical arguments can be advanced. The persons whom we are concerned with all have the legal right to vote. This is something very different from other persons to whom the right to vote has been given in this Bill. For instance, Peers who normally do not have the right to vote in Parliamentary Elections are, under the referendum procedure, being given this right. By an Amendment of which I greatly approved the Government have decided to give the right to vote to Servicemen irrespective of whether or not they are on the electoral register. The people we are talking about in this Amendment have the legal right to vote. They are qualified on the grounds of nationality, they are qualified on the grounds of having residence in this country, they are qualified on the grounds of age and they have the absolutely basic legal qualification that their names exist on the electoral register.
What has happened to them is that, literally in the last few days, the Government have announced that the referendum is to be held on 5th June and many of them, in fact, have already made their arrangements for having a holiday. As we all know to break a holiday, apart from considerable personal inconvenience, involves people in quite substantial financial hardship. Many people will be precluded, unless the Government can meet this Amendment, from voting in the referendum. I realise that this is not universally shared, but personally I have long held the view that persons who are away on holiday should be entitled to vote in a Parliamentary General Election. Certainly many noble Lords who were in another place will agree that probably the greatest grievance which electors feel is that, particularly during the summer months because they are away on holiday, they find that they are deprived of a vote. This is a source of considerable annoyance to many people.
But I do not think that the Government can argue that acceptance of this Amendment will affect the Parliamentary Elections. We have heard stated repeatedly by Government Ministers that this is something quite unique; that it will not recur. It is unique, for instance, in that Cabinet responsibility has been 128 abandoned. That, I think, is something we are incredibly unlikely to see in any future Parliamentary Election. So it does not seem to me that they can argue that this is a precedent which will affect Parliamentary Elections. But in Parliamentary Elections, the argument against allowing holiday-makers to vote is that, as the noble Lord made clear, the time by which the application has to be in is very short indeed. The period of a General Election campaign is short and therefore the time by which the application must be placed is short. But in the referendum this is not the case. First of all, the Government have had a very long period of time to prepare for this referendum. Certainly since last February, they should have been making arrangements to ensure that as wide a section of the British electorate as possible should have the right to vote in the referendum. Equally, it seems to me—and I think this is a view shared by the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder—that, in fact, there is still ample time to allow persons who are abroad or away on holiday to register their applications for a vote and to record their vote in the referendum.
The numbers involved are quite considerable. None of us can be accurate, but I think it is a reasonable guess that, if this Amendment is not accepted, something like 1 million people, all of whom are on the electoral register or fully qualified legally under the Parliamentary electoral system to vote, will be deprived of their vote. The purpose of the referendum is to ascertain the voice of the people. If this Amendment is not accepted, something like 8 per cent. or 9 per cent. of the population on the electoral register, something like 1 million people, will not be allowed to vote in the referendum.
Although the numbers are large the practical problem for the electoral returning officers is not very great. It would mean something like an average of 1,000 to 2,000 extra postal voters, if they all voted, in each constituency. I am bound to say that the arguments for this Amendment are very strong, indeed. I hope that the Minister in winding up the debate will find it possible to accept them. The only argument which I would find a convincing argument against the Amendment would be that it would delay the holding of a referendum. Were that to 129 be the case, I should find it difficult to press my argument in a Division. But were that to be the case, it is a very serious condemnation of the arrangements the Government have made for the holding of the referendum.
§ 4.18 p.m.
§ The Earl of KIMBERLEY
I thought that my noble friend Lord Wigoder put the case for this Amendment more eloquently than I could put it and I was delighted when he spoke first. I should like to be associated with what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Balniel; since the other day I was misreported as being "dissociated" with him. Very briefly, we are all agreed that the obvious conclusion that this referendum has given us is the bigger the poll, the better the result will be from whatever viewpoint. It has been said several times that the referendum is unique; we have been constantly reminded of that. Furthermore, noble Lords have been allowed to vote. But there is a first time for everything.
Although we hope this referendum will be the last to be inflicted upon this country, surely that is no reason why holiday-makers cannot have the vote. We agree with the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Office when she stated in another place on the 2nd May that it would not be possible to check the applications of people who said they would be on holiday. I cannot see that it makes any difference, provided they are on the electoral register. The Prime Minister said in Britain's New Deal in EuropeAbove all, I urge all of you to use your vote.As other noble Lords have said in this House this afternoon, should this Amendment hold up the referendum—I think there is no reason why it should—we would be prepared to withdraw it. We also sincerely hope that the Government will look on it favourably, as this country can hardly be called truly democratic unless everybody entitled to vote is able easily to do so.
Viscount ST. DAVIDS
I wish to support this Amendment. I loathe the Bill; I think it is a constitutional horror; I hope it never happens again. I believe it is important that we should make this Amendment because my one great fear is that if too low a proportion of those entitled to vote do so, we may find that 130 somebody puts us through this "racket" again. It is very important that we have the absolute maximum possible number voting in this referendum, otherwise somebody may say that it does not count. It is highly important that we should get an absolutely top vote.
We are holding this referendum in the middle of what is now a very popular holiday period. Years ago the holiday period came later, but now very large numbers of people are on holiday in June, and a serious proportion of the electorate will be disenfranchised because they will not be at home. I have some personal feeling here; I shall be doing a spot of "nibbling" at a figurative lotus on that occasion. No doubt therefore I shall have to put aside the vote which has been given to me, unless we are told that our position of Peerage makes us unique and we are allowed a vote, which I do not imagine will happen. It is important for this vote to be a large one; so let us agree to this Amendment.
§ 4.22 p.m.
§ Lord HARRIS of GREENWICH
May I say I have arguably bad news for the noble Viscount who has just resumed his seat. I cannot offer any special arrangements for Peers who may be away on polling day. They will stand or fall by the Amendment before the Committee today. That also answers the question which the noble Baroness asked. A number of Lords referred to the background of this problem. The Speaker's Conference in the 1964–66 Parliament considered providing the vote for holiday-makers and rejected it at that time. The Government of 1970–74 took no action, as the noble Viscount who has just spoken will recall. No doubt they then found the advice given by the Home Office Electoral Advisory Committee as decisive as their predecessors had done, which brings me to a speech of the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. I noted his view about the civil servants and others involved in this enterprise. But I understand the Liberal Party is represented on the Committee and that makes it difficult for me to understand why the noble Lord took such a critical view of the decision arrived at on that occasion. This indicates that when this problem has been analysed in the past on the normal tripartisan basis, the judgment has been that we should not pursue this particular idea.
131 A number of problems would arise from its implementation. I entirely agree with the view that in this referendum we want the largest possible vote. There are a number of practical problems, and it is on these that I will try to found my case. We want to ask ourselves what would be the practical consequences of trying to introduce the postal vote for holiday makers on this occasion, taking the time scale of which we are well aware, and that it is the view of the Government and the House as a whole that we want to make the decision on this matter on 5th June. First, applications would have to be individually considered and granted by returning officers. They have no power to begin this work until the Referendum Order, not this Bill, has been made, which, given the time scale we are talking about, cannot be until 14th May. The closing date for applications is the 19th May, not 21st May, and therefore there are only five days in which to deal with this problem and perhaps enfranchise a formidable number of people. Indeed, a substantial figure has been passed around the Committee as to the possible number of people who would be involved. That is a fairly substantial argument.
The case for your Lordships considering this matter with care is even more powerful than this. We have to look at the position in Scotland. Scotland is involved in major local government re-organisation at the moment. The new regional authorities that will be responsible for the poll will take office only on 16th May. That is less than a week before the closing date for applications. I suggest that this is a fairly substantial case so far as Scotland are concerned. The Scottish authorities have reacted in an extremely co-operative way in assisting the Government in making complicated arrangements for the holding of this referendum on 5th June. If it is proposed to give them a new responsibility, it seems to me the Committee will be rather unreasonable.
There are a number of other practical difficulties involved. I cannot remember whether it was the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, or the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, who referred to the passionate boarding house keepers of Brighton who 132 would be concerned in this matter of large numbers of ballot papers arriving on their front doorstep for those staying in their boarding houses. The argument was introduced in another place that this might create certain problems if large numbers of ballot papers arriving at single addresses because there are people in Brighton, and elsewhere who feel strongly on the subject of the referendum. It is not beyond the bounds of possibility that there may be serious allegations that large numbers of ballot papers were filled in by one person at a particular address. This is not a totally frivolous point. It is one worthy of consideration and careful thought by your Lordships.
§ Lord DRUMALBYN
May I interrupt the noble Lord? How on earth could any such person predict how their various lodgers were going to vote? What interest could they possibly have in this?
§ Lord HARRIS of GREENWICH
I am sorry, the noble Lord has missed the point. If large numbers of ballot papers arrive at a particular address the person might not be concerned how they wished to vote; but he may have a clear view himself, and that is the point that the Committee should consider. Then there is the last problem, which is perhaps not so weighty, that a person claiming a postal or proxy vote, because of illness or employment has to produce evidence which the Electoral Registration Officer can check. In the case of a person on holiday he would have to accept the statement made by the person asking for the postal vote. What we are therefore doing is not simply giving a postal vote to people on holiday, but—and it is not an overwhelming, decisive argument but this Committee should be aware of it—giving a postal vote to anybody who wanted one. It is all very well for the Committee to accept that but, if I may return to the example of Scotland, the numbers involved could be very considerable. Here are new local authorities not yet in existence who may have to cope with the most substantial inflow of postal vote applications. The noble Lord, Lord Balniel, asked me whether, if this Amendment were carried, it could prevent the referendum taking place on 5th June. As on the previous occasion, I should not like to give the easy or obvious answer that it would make the 133 referendum impossible; but I would say that it would create the most formidable practicable difficulties, and it is these that I think the Committee should accept, quite apart from all the other arguments which I have put forward.
§ Lord AVEBURY
Before the noble Lord sits down, may I ask him how it could possibly take longer than ten seconds to put in the post to somebody who has made an application a reply which is pre-printed, and to tick off that person's name on the electoral register? Therefore what does it matter how large is the number?
§ Lord HARRIS of GREENWICH
I am well aware that the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, has had rather more experience of elections than I have, although I have some personal experience of General Election campaigns. I think he tends to brush aside too easily some of the problems associated with verifying applications for postal votes. We are talking about regional authorities in Scotland, to which I have particularly alluded this afternoon. These are authorities which, given their size, might receive thousands upon thousands of applications. If we want the postal vote to be taken seriously we have to assume that there is at least some process of verification. If that is to be done, the committee must accept that there are substantial administrative problems in doing what this Amendment would like us to do.
§ Lord ROBBINS
Before the noble Lord sits down, may I ask one further question? The noble Lord has just used the words "thousands and thousands ", and this prompts me to ask him to make a comparison. Supposing all the untoward incidents which he has described so ingeniously and excellently were to take place—supposing the maximum muddle were to occur in Scotland and in certain watering-places such as Brighton, and so on—how would that compare quantitatively with the disenfranchisement of over a million people?
§ Lord HARRIS of GREENWICH
To answer the noble Lord's question, of course none of us likes disenfranchising a million people. All I am attempting to point out to the Committee is that the Government have recommended that we 134 should have in this referendum campaign what we have in a normal General Election campaign; so what is being proposed is not quite so monstrous as the noble Lord's question might suggest. May I, in return, ask the noble Lord a question?—no doubt wholly out of order. Let us say, for the sake of argument, that the result of the referendum was a narrow one—which I profoundly hope will not be the case—and it was then to be suggested that there had been a widespread breakdown of some of the administrative processes involved in postal vote registration in a number of areas, would that not create formidable difficulties?
As we are all asking each other questions, I wonder whether I might ask the noble Lord a very naive one. One of the arguments which he has given against the postal vote is that of the time-scale. This is a formidable argument, and one accepts it. It was also an argument used against the previous Amendment. But if this is accepted, can the noble Lord explain why this Bill was produced so very late? Why was it not produced earlier, when all these arguments could have been discussed on their merits, without having a pistol, so to speak, pointed at our heads and being told that there is no time to discuss these things? The Bill was published only on 26th March. Why could it not have been published earlier? To whistle something like this through Parliament and to say: "We really have not time to discuss it and we certainly cannot put it in the Bill now ", is really almost beyond belief.
§ Lord HARRIS of GREENWICH
The noble Earl always makes his points persuasively but, with respect, I do not think he has done so on this occasion. Surely the Government have behaved perfectly reasonably in this matter. They have introduced legislation as soon as the renegotiations in Dublin came to an end. I should have thought very serious criticisms might have been laid at the Government's door if they had not produced this Bill speedily after the Dublin Summit. After all, a large number of major investment decisions, quite apart from other weighty issues, are involved in this decision by the British people on 5th June. It seems to me clearly in the national interest to push this legislation through as speedily as possible.
My objection was not to the finishing time of the Bill: I was asking why it did not start earlier.
§ 4.37 p.m.
§ Lord SHINWELL
My noble friend has replied to all the questions that have been put with his customary courtesy. Had it been left to me, I would have replied more abrasively. There has been a lot of shadow-boxing this afternoon, and not only shadow-boxing but also an appearance of frenzy. Noble Lords have been horrifically frantic lest something might go wrong at the last minute. What are they worrying about? There is even an implication in some of the speeches from the other side that the Government have proceeded rather too expeditiously and have been politically motivated, and also that they are in some way to blame. But the Government have recommended everybody in the country to vote "Yes". What could be more favourable to the other side than that?
Moreover, is it not a foregone conclusion? Have we not had public opinion polls quoted, for instance, in the Evening Standard and elsewhere? Results of the Harris Poll—which has nothing to do with my noble friend, of course—have been published, and only today the Daily Mail printed some opinions. What could be more effective than all these things? Yet we have had Members on the other side of the Committee so disturbed, so afraid, and so horrified lest, at the last minute, people may be persuaded to vote in the wrong direction! I am really amazed at some Members of this Committee. The dice have been heavily loaded in favour of the majority opinion in this Committee, and never more heavily loaded than on this occasion. Mr. Wilson is behind noble Lords: they can now embrace Mr. Wilson, whatever they may have thought of him in the past. Mr. Peart, the Minister of Agriculture, is on their side.
May I, with the permission of the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, before he intervenes, indulge in a personal reminiscence here? The right honourable gentleman, Mr. Peart, said the other day that some time ago he had been sceptical about the Common Market. He was convinced that the right course of conduct was to go in or, if you are in, not to come out. I remember in another place an occasion 136 when Mr. Peart, as Minister of Agriculture, was being hotly attacked by no less a person—and I am sorry he is not present at the moment—than my noble friend Lord George-Brown. His ardent supporters had what amounted to almost an obsession about entering the Common Market. It was demanded that Mr. Peart should resign. I rose in another place and pleaded with my right honourable friend Mr Peart: "Don't resign "; and he acted according to my suggestion. Now here he is—what a transformation! I suggest to Members of your Lordships' House that we should let this pass. You are getting all your own way, anyhow.
As to the Press, Heavens! some of them are trying their best, but not very successfully, to appear impartial. They remind me of a mayor who had been elected in some provincial town and sought to ingratiate himself with the public by assuring them that it was to be his duty to be neither partial nor impartial. If I mention the Daily Telegraph abrasively, I shall not get a single paragraph. Then there is our grandmother of newspapers, The Times, and there are the rest of them, even the Daily Mirror. I can remember when the Daily Mirror was 100 per cent. anti-Common Market It has done a somersault. I have never in my life witnessed such a display as the amazing transformation of the Daily Mirror. I repeat that Members of your Lordships' House have all your own way, as have some of my noble friends on this side of the Committee—they are quite sincere, of course. They have the wrong ideas, and that is all I will say of them. Just wait for the referendum and do not bother about postal votes.
I have had more electioneering experience than any other Member of your Lordships' House. I started electioneering way back in 1906 and, therefore, I know something about it. I know what it means to organise a postal vote. It is not as easy as it appears. To require a postal vote now would require much organisation, and not all the ability of the noble Lord, Lord Widgery—I know he has exceptional ability, and I mean what I say—would enable us to proceed with a postal vote successfully. So I suggest your Lordships' let the matter pass and wait for the results. If it so happens that the result is not favourable to your Lordships on the other side and 137 to some of my noble friends on this side, well, just accept it. For my part, if the public decides that we should remain in the Common Market I shall, as a democrat, accept it; I shall not argue about it. I will accept it for what it may be worth. In the course of a few years it will not matter very much to me, I do not suppose. When the disaster comes—and there will be a disaster if we remain in the Common Market, make no mistake about it—all this so-called integration that is anticipated will fail. In the very nature of things it must fail. But it will not affect me very much. I shall depart, "shuffle off this mortal coil ", with the melancholy reflection that all those who follow me are going to suffer, but I shall have escaped.
§ Lord ROBBINS
May I assure the noble Lord that on this occasion his suspicions are baseless. I asked my question in complete ignorance of the way in which the supposedly disenfranchised persons will vote. Following the example of the noble Lord, whose interpositions I always much admire, I was simply attempting to address myself purely to the question under discussion: the logic and the meaning of the concept of the referendum.
Viscount ST. DAVIDS
I should like to ask the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, one last question. Why was the date 5th June chosen for the referendum? Why was a date chosen which was so close to the date of re-organisation of local government in Scotland? The Government must have known that the two dates were coming close together. They must have known that the state of affairs in Scotland at that time would be chaotic. They must have known that by doing this they were tying the hands of Parliament; that they would make it more difficult for us to give the people of Britain the wider vote that we should like to see them have. Why did the Government choose 5th June which is so close to the other date, as they must then have known? Why did they not make the date a week later, or 10 days later, and create a small gap? Why, I ask again, was this date chosen?
§ 4.46 p.m.
§ Lord WADE
I should like to ask the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, to clarify one remark I understood him to make; namely, that it was the wish of the Government that there should be no departure from normal General Election procedure. Surely, in some respects there is bound to be some departure. To take the case of this House, there will be sonic new procedure. Members of this House are, of course, entitled to vote in local elections, but not in General Elections. On this occasion they will be entitled to vote in the referendum. Presumably it will be the duty of the Electoral Registration Officer to inform his staff that Members of this House will be entitled to vote in the referendum. I think it follows from that that Members of this House will be entitled to apply for a postal vote if abroad on business but not if abroad on holiday. That is the position as I understand it to have been stated from the Government Front Bench. But there will be this new procedure.
The only question, therefore, is whether in addition to that new procedure there should be a right for general electors, other than Members of this House, to apply for the necessary form to request a postal vote on the grounds that the person in question will be abroad on holiday. That seems to me to be the gist of the matter. It is not that there will be no new procedure. It comes to the two points and I need not stress them, because they have already been made. One is whether there is adequate time. I can think of General Elections when Electoral Registration Officers have had to work under great pressure. Although not myself entitled to vote, I believe they were under considerable pressure in February 1974. For one thing, they did not know whether the Election would be on or off, and then it was a great rush when it was on. I can remember a by-election called at the end of July, when it was extremely difficult for the Registration Officer because practically all his staff were on holiday. But they managed to get over these difficulties. This is an exceptional occasion. Personally I hope we do not have another referendum. There is always this argument about time, but I think it can be overcome.
§ 4.49 p.m.
§ Lord HARRIS of GREENWICH
I will reply fairly briefly to the points that have been made. The noble Lord, Lord Wade, is perfectly right. We are differentiating in this referendum campaign in two significant respects. First, there is the right of Peers to vote. This does not create any particular administrative problems, given the fairly substantial but limited numbers of people who are involved in this matter. Secondly, there is the question of the Service vote. There has been a Speaker's Conference recommendation on this point, largely arising from the fact that we reached the situation where, under the existing arrangements, only 30 per cent. of Servicemen were getting a vote. Indeed, through my honourable friend the Minister of State for Defence in another place, the Government had already announced their intention to change the basis of the Service vote for Parliamentary Elections as well. We had to make special arrangements on this occasion and we have decided to do so by unit voting, so far as Service votes are concerned.
The noble Viscount, Lord St. Davids, asked why, knowing the problem so far as Scotland is concerned, we had arranged for the referendum to be held on 5th June. That is a difficulty of which the Government were well aware. However, given the fact that there was a clear public interest in obtaining a decision as quickly as possible, if the referendum were not to be on 5th June let me indicate to the noble Viscount the problems which are involved. I do not think that a delay of one week would have greatly helped the Scottish regional authorities. Even if we had delayed the referendum for a period of one week only, there would have been substantial difficulties in North Staffordshire, where the minors have their holidays at that time. And if we had delayed the referendum for two weeks, which might have given some relief to the new authorities in Scotland, that is the occasion of the school holidays in Glasgow. Therefore, considerable numbers of people would not have been there on polling day. A week later, there are the Wakes Weeks in Lancashire, and the person who was most vigorous in asking the Government that the referendum should not take 140 place on 26th June was Mr. Cyril Smith, the Liberal Member for Rochdale.
§ 4.53 p.m.
§ Lord WIGODER
At this stage, I do not believe it helps to seek to analyse whether the Government have been reasonable in the arrangements they have made for the referendum, nor to speculate about which Party, or Parties, were responsible for the various Speaker's Conferences of 10 years ago; nor, indeed, to speculate rather idly about how these postal voters may divide on the issue when they come to vote. This is essentially not a Party political issue. It is essentially an issue as to whether your Lordships feel it is right that about 1 million people who are entitled to vote should have arrangements made for them to exercise that vote.
I am grateful to noble Lords who have spoken in support of this Amendment. I have listened with care to what the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, has said against it. He has made two points on the merits with which I might very briefly deal. He has reverted to the issue of the Brighton hoteliers. This is a fear that can be exaggerated. Nobody can misappropriate ballot papers unless he is prepared to find someone who is willing to witness them quite falsely. The intended recipient would at once notice the absence and discovery would be made immediately. I believe that this is a theoretical rather than a practical fear.
My other observation on the merits is that in a sense this would amount to postal voting on demand. As I indicated earlier, I accept that, subject to the qualification that I do not believe anybody in his senses would apply for a postal vote unless he were genuinely intending to go on holiday. One ought to make it clear that nobody who obtains a postal vote and does not go on holiday is thereby getting an extra vote. No question of that arises. The vote must be exercised either at the polling booth or by post.
On the practical side of the matter, I am deeply grateful to the noble Lord, because he has given the House a little information about the dates, which I think strengthens the case of those who put forward this Amendment. I was wrong when I said that it looked as though there would be a period from 14th to 21st May in 141 which to apply for a postal vote. Apparently, it is from 14th to 19th May; that is, five days in which the only thing that has to happen is that people should send in an application form which is cut out of the newspaper, or obtained from the local town hall, or obtained in some other way. The important date is the date at the other end, which I put as 21st May to 5th June but which the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, has been good enough to amend to 19th May to 5th June. Those are the days when the work has to be done, and those are the days when the checking has to take place. I am encouraged to think that it is a somewhat longer period than my arithmetic had led me to believe.
The noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, said that it is necessary to consider individually each of these applications. I venture to doubt whether this
§ is so, any more than it is necessary to consider each application individually for a business vote. It is accepted on its face value; and in the sure knowledge that the elector cannot abuse the situation—either he gets a postal vote or he votes in person. Equally, there would be no abuse this way. I believe that with real determination—I think that the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, conceded this point—machinery can be devised and efforts can be made so that postal votes can be given to holiday-makers without interfering with the holding of the referendum on 5th June. For those reasons, I would ask your Lordships to support me in proceeding to a Division on this matter.
§ 4.55 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said Amendment (No. 3) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents; 38; Not-Contents, 61.141
|Airedale, L.||Greenway, L.||Robbins, L.|
|Amherst, E.||Hayter, L.||St. Davids, V.|
|Amulree, L.||Hylton-Foster, B.||Saint Oswald, L.|
|Arran, E.||Kimberley, E.||Selkirk, E.|
|Avebury, L. [Teller.]||Loudoun, C.||Sempill, Ly.|
|Bledisloe, V.||Macleod of Borve, B.||Shannon, E.|
|Boothby, L.||Mountgarret, V.||Sharples, B.|
|Brock, L.||Norwich, V.||Somers, L.|
|Cathcart, E.||Ogmore, L.||Stamp, L.|
|Clwyd, L.||Platt, L.||Swaythling, L.|
|de Clifford, L.||Powis, E.||Wade, L.|
|Derby, Bp.||Rankeillour, L.||Wigoder, L. [Teller.]|
|Gainford, L.||Reigate, L.||Wilberforce, L.|
|Annan, L.||Fisher of Rednal, B.||Mais, L.|
|Ardwick, L.||Gaitskell, B.||Melchett, L.|
|Aylestone, L.||Gordon-Walker, L.||Pannell, L.|
|Balogh, L.||Goronwy-Roberts, L.||Phillips, B.|
|Bernstein, L.||Greene of Harrow Weald, L.||Popplewell, L.|
|Birk, B.||Greenwood of Rossendale, L.||Rusholme, L.|
|Blyton, L.||Gridley, L.||Shinwell, L.|
|Brockway, L.||Hale, L.||Slater, L.|
|Bruce of Donington, L.||Harris of Greenwich, L.||Snow, L.|
|Buckinghamshire, E.||Helsby, L.||Stewart of Alvechurch, B.|
|Castle, L.||Henderson, L.||Stow Hill, L.|
|Champion, L.||Jacques, L.||Strabolgi, L. [Teller.]|
|Cole, L.||Janner, L.||Taylor of Mansfield, L.|
|Collison, L.||Leatherland, L.||Wallace of Coslany, L.|
|Cooper of Stockton Heath, L.||Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B. [Teller.]||Walston, L.|
|Crook, L.||Wells-Pestell, L.|
|Crowther-Hunt, L.||Longford, E.||Wigg, L.|
|Davies of Leek, L.||Lovell-Davis, L.||Winterbottom, L.|
|Elwyn-Jones, L. (L. Chancellor)||Lyons of Brighton, L.||Wootton of Abinger, B.|
|Erskine of Rerrick, L.||McLeavy, L.||Wynne-Jones, L.|
|Faringdon, L.||Maelor, L.|
Resolved in the negative, and Amendment disagreed to accordingly.
§ On Question, Whether Clause 1 shall stand part of the Bill?143
§ 5.2 p.m.
§ Viscount AMORY
I wonder whether I may take up a minute and a half in order to ask the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, two questions arising out of this clause which I think he can answer very quickly. I am referring to a very small number of people, but I think worthy people; namely over 1,000 volunteers who are deployed in about 50 foreign countries. They go for 18 months or so, they are mostly young people in their twenties, and, substantially, they are all coming home within a year and going to pursue their careers in this country, so they are obviously interested in this important question. I think the majority of them will have left the United Kingdom before October last and so will presumably not be on the register. My two questions are, first, if they are on the register is there any way in which they can vote; and, secondly, if they were not on the register last October is there no way in which they can vote?
§ Lord HARRIS of GREENWICH
I fear that the answer to the latter question is that if they are not on the register there is no way in which they can vote. With regard to the first point, I will look into it and will let the noble Viscount have a note by tomorrow when the further stages of the Bill are to be taken.
§ Lord HARRIS of GREENWICH
I fear the answer to the noble Lord is that he would be committing a criminal offence were he to vote in both places. Therefore, I am sure he will be wise enough to vote in only one place.
§ Lord HARRIS of GREENWICH
Yes, we will certainly do our best to ensure that people are aware of that fact.
§ Baroness WOOTTON of ABINGER
I should be glad if the noble Lord 144 would answer one other question. What happens to people such as civil servants who have been compulsorily moved out of London to another part of the country? Can they have a postal vote, or must they come back to their old addresses to vote?
§ Lord HARRIS of GREENWICH
As I understand it, my noble friend is asking about people such as civil servants who have moved out of London. I am not sure whether she means moved to another country or to another part of the United Kingdom?
§ Clause 1 agreed to.
§ Clause 2 [Conduct of referendum]:
§ 5.8 p.m.
§ Lord WIGG moved Amendment No. 5:
Page 2, line 34, leave out subsections (1) and (2) and insert:
(" (1) The following powers, duties and functions shall be exercised by every person who in a parliamentary election would be a returning officer, namely—
(2) The national counting of votes at the referendum shall be conducted by the Counting Officer, who shall certify
§ The noble Lord said: The White Papers which the Government have published contain two monstrosities from my point of view. The first is the proposal to have a national count. The mind 145 boggles at the administrative difficulties which are bound to arise with such a conception. At this moment, I will not mention the second monstrosity although I may return to it later on. The Government have been persuaded that the national count was not a starter, and in another place they substituted for that an Amendment, which is now included in the Bill, that there will be a count on a county basis. I should think I carry noble Lords in all parts of the Committee with me when I assert that it is highly desirable that steps should be taken to get the highest possible poll. That being so, it seems to me to follow that the Election should be held in circumstances which everyone understands; perhaps I might even use the term "natural circumstances" without abusing it.
§ Twice in the last year we have had General Elections based upon the Parliamentary constituencies, so the administration is already there. Why not, then, have the count on a Parliamentary constituency basis? The machinery is there, everyone has used it before, everyone understands it and, of its very nature, it would tend to maximise the poll rather than have the opposite result. I can understand that there are a few people who would take exception to that side of my argument, but the objections to a constituency count are, I think, because people are fearful of the electorate becoming aware of too much. In another place the argument was used with regard to the effect upon a Member's constituency. Let me admit at once that what is really fundamentally at issue is the relationship between a Member and his constituency.
§ I do not object or take any exception to those who argue that a Member of Parliament is not a delegate but a repreresentative, and that he owes to his constituency his judgment. In the years in which I was a Member of Parliament, I always held the view, both in the other place and in my constituency, that I was in fact a link between the place of power on the one hand and with every one of my constituents, never mind how humble, on the other. They could come and talk to me about any old subject they liked, or they could write to me, and thousands did. They made their views known. I formed my own judgment, put my own point of view, and I think I gained 146 respect for it. I had the honour of being returned seven times by the constituents of Dudley. From the word "go" I had the great good fortune to have a constituency in which we could maintain a dialogue.
§ One fundamental issue on which I happened to be right, although few in the Labour Party or in the Conservative Party held the same view, was on the issue of conscription. I hold the view that it is a national disaster that we abandoned conscription, not only militarily, but socially. Although many in my constituency do not accept this I said it in and out of season, on every occasion that I could in the other place, and in Party meetings. I go on saying it now, and I have not lost out on that account.
§ I remember another occasion when the noble Lord, Lord Aylestone, then Chief Whip, sent for me and said that it had been suggested that I become a member of the Racecourse Betting Control Board. The reason it was suggested was because no one else wanted the job. Having put the point to me, and the noble Lord being a friendly and well disposed man, he put it to me that it would be unwise from the political point of view to accept the job because, like his own constituency, Dudley had a Noncomformist conscience. Therefore, to be in any way associated with betting or horse racing was dangerous, but as one who believes in living dangerously, I accepted, and suffered no political disadvantage. Indeed, on balance, I believe I suffered advantages. I do not believe that any Member who says one thing and sticks to it will suffer disadvantage because the bulk of his constituency do not like what he says. Members of Parliament will suffer when they say one thing in one place, and something else in another. That is where the trouble occurs.
§ I am looking beyond the referendum. I believe that the referendum was conceived in iniquity and born of intrigue. I have never doubted that. I believe the negotiations were phoney. The discussions in Dublin were phoney from beginning to end. On the issue now before the country, nothing could be more phoney. On Second Reading, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor told us that the idea of economic and monetary union is as dead as a dream, bad, gone and finished. So that is out. No one now 147 says a word about the great chasm dividing our legal system and constitutional procedures from those of the European inheritors of the Napoleonic tradition—not a word about that.
§ Then we have the testimony not only of myself, but of the noble Lord, Lord George-Brown—and the noble Lord, Lord Aylestone, would not disagree—that the negotiations obtained in Dublin could have been obtained in 1967. There is no fundamental negotiation about the Common Market. I have said this before and I will say it again; we have managed to elevate a narrow argument about a Free Trade Area to the level of an ideological and theological difference, with the result that we have damaged our most precious heritage, national unity. We must face up to the question, what happens on 6th June? I know what happens on 5th June. That is the day after Derby Day, and I shall be weighing up whether or not. I have been clever and backed the winner. But on 6th June, when the referendum is over, then the political promissory notes issued by all Parties, but mostly by those who are avid, fervent supporters of the Common Market, will start to come home to roost, and it is a pretty tidy old bill!
§ Now I come to my second monstrosity, What a staggering thing! The Government White Paper on the negotiations, in its effort to inculcate fear, said, "Ah well, if we stay out, it means more inflation, less confidence and the threat of more unemployment." What I should like to ask any spokesman for the Government—on either side of the House, Ministers and Back-Benchers alike—is, if these arguments are true, why were they not put forward at the February Election? Why were they not put forward last October, when the issue was being put to the country, in a half-hearted sort of way, of what was going to happen if the Labour Party won the Election? Why did not the Prime Minister then say, "Ah yes, we will go into negotiations, but negotiation will be dangerous. If, as a result, we don't get our terms and decide to come out, it will bring with it the threat of great unemployment, confidence will be impaired, the risk of inflation will be increased." But we have to wait until the White Paper, and this is what worries me.148
§ When the referendum is over, there are those on both sides of the House who will support it. My noble friend Lord Shinwell said he will support it. But the question of whether or not he accepts it does not make twopennyworth of difference. What matters, of course, is whether what the pro-Marketeers have said tallies with what then happens. If unemployment continues to soar, if inflation increases, if confidence is not restored, then no longer can we blame the threat of staying out of the Common Market or of going into it. We are in. But all the adverse things that happen will be laid at the door of the Common Market. That is what the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, was saying in the last part of his speech. He and I think alike on this. We believe the referendum is phoney. We believe that in the long run the issue to be decided is the responsibility of those who have organised the referendum in the way that they have.
§ What happens in the constituencies? The fear is expressed that if there is a count by constituencies, the Members of Parliament who have voted and expressed views contrary to those of their constituencies will be in trouble. Why should they not be in trouble? What is wrong with a constituency saying, "Well, our Member of Parliament has voted or operated in a way which we do not find acceptable. It is innimical to the interests of the constituency as a whole. We are going to try to get rid of him." Why not? This is the penalty you incur if you happen to be wrong. I do not want to personalise differences. I just want to see this country get back on the right course, back to the point where it will tackle the problems which face us and which cannot be ignored, because they are part of the objective situation which must be faced, whether we like it or not. Therefore, the first step is always to return to truth and objectivity at the earliest possible moment.
§ The decision to have a national count was taken because the Government were afraid of the political consequences of having anything less than a national count. Having been driven away from the impossible position in which they put themselves by suggesting a national count, they have now gone to a halfway house and decided to have it by counties. Why not pluck up sufficient courage to accept the logic of the situation and put it on 149 the basis of the constituencies, which is wholly in line with what happens at a Parliament Election? It is for that reason that I have put down this Amendment. I believe that, on reflection, the majority of this House, and I believe the majority of the House of Commons, would have favoured a constituency count.
§ The Government certainly cannot argue in this case that it is impracticable to do it, because they are engaged in all sorts of administrative conundrums in trying to put it on a county basis. The word has only to go forth to put it on a constituency basis and the job is done. The only possible argument against it is not an argument in logic and not on a question of fact, but the Government lack the guts to say to their supporters, "This is the best way to handle this problem, because, whether you like it or not, when the count is over you have got to face the facts, and the best thing to do is to begin to face them now ". I beg to move.
§ 5.21 p.m.
§ Lord HARRIS of GREENWICH
If the noble Lord will forgive me, I will address myself to the issue dealt with in this Amendment rather than to some of the wider questions involving the merits of our membership of the Common Market, on which the Government and the noble Lord are clearly not in agreement. May I begin by saying that I am glad that at least on one point we have satisfied him, that another place took the decision that they would not in fact have a national count and decided in favour of this—as no doubt the noble Lord would regard it—unsatisfactory halfway house. But I think what is proposed has rather more merit than the noble Lord has suggested this afternoon.
First of all, I would agree with him at once on one point. It is clearly desirable to have a high poll, and hopefully with a decisive majority, so that this argument is brought to as speedy an end as possible. It is desirable in the short and long-term interests of this country that that should be so. But I am bound to say that I do not accept the implication in what he said, that there would be a higher poll if one were to have a constituency count. I would myself slightly doubt whether people will make their decision on whether or not to vote on 150 polling day on the basis of whether the vote is going to be counted at constituency or county level. So I think, in short, that it will make little difference to the size of turn-out whether we have a county count, as is suggested, or a constituency count, as the noble Lord suggests in his Amendment.
Of course, on the point of substance, the question of the relationship between a Member of Parliament and his constituents, the Government do not agree with the noble Lord, nor does another place. It is the view of the Government and of another place that it would be undesirable for Members of another place to be put under this sort of pressure. I am well aware that there has been substantial argument, and I understand my noble friend shares the view, that the idea of the referendum is objectionable, for various reasons. The argument has been put forward by noble Lords opposite, and as I understand it my noble friend shares some of those views. But I am bound to say that I think it would be far more objectionable if, by having a constituency count, one were to have a situation where, however small the poll, there would be a comparison between the way in which a Member of another place voted and the way in which his constituents voted.
The noble Lord brushes aside the question on the basis of his own experience as Member for Dudley, on the basis of a position he took on a highly controversial issue, namely conscription. Then, despite the fact that many of his constituents disagreed, he continued to put forward that point of view. With respect, I think this is a totally different question. Here it is a question where in over 600 constituencies in this country there would be a comparison made between the way in which a Member voted and the way in which his constituents had voted. From a constitutional point of view, I think this raises major questions of the desirability of such a procedure. I do not think it is in the interests of another place. It is certainly the view taken by another place, where in a Division which crossed normal Party lines this particular suggestion was rejected by a majority of two to one. On the basis of that decision, I hope the noble Lord will not press his Amendment to a Division this afternoon.
§ 5.25 p.m.
§ Lord WIGG
I am afraid that I failed to make my position clear in relation to my constituency. It was not that my constituents disagreed: I do not know whether or not they disagreed on that particular issue, because, of course, I was always returned by fairly large majorities. The difference was between myself and my divisional Labour Party. They held different views from the views I held about defence. I put over my judgment and explained my point of view, and there was no difference between us.
I find it most odd that the Minister should be dogmatic about the position of another place, because I cannot believe that any Member of Parliament of experience who has, as it were, a wider—I might almost say liberal—view of his duty as a Member of Parliament believes that it will weaken the authority of Parliament because the truth becomes clear. This seems to me the oddest argument that one could possibly put forward, that one must obscure the truth because it is politically inconvenient for the truth to emerge. This is a very odd basis on which to argue the case for the referendum or for the dignity of Parliament as such. I would also point out that in relation to the Common Market it is perfectly clear that the South-East, London, Kent, the rest of that part of England, are doing very well out of the Common Market. Every weekend the argument about the cost of living is answered in Dover and in Folkestone by hordes of Frenchwomen coming over to this country to shop because, of course, the cost of living, so it is said, is dearer here than there!
§ Lord WIGG
Forgive me—perhaps irony is something that one should not use. They demonstrate how cheap it is by coming over every weekend and filling their shopping baskets. The Common Market, of course, is like a vortex; it has sucked the economy of this country into the South-East; that area will prosper, and there will be a heavy vote there in favour of the Common Market. But, equally, in the West Midlands, which will become an industrial slum—because Leyland is only the beginning—people ought to know how their Members of Parlia- 152 ment voted. The Minister has been kind enough to admit quite frankly that there is no argument in logic against the point I have put. What he is saying is that it is a matter of political convenience to the supporters of the Common Market that they should not be made aware that their constituents hold views contrary to theirs. This seems to me to be the oddest argument. I congratulate the Minister on being so frank, because I think his frankness is on a point of view which is painful, that we need to have a cloak put over this because it would be highly inconvenient to Common Market supporters on the Labour Benches if the truth be told.
That is not the only objection to the Minister's argument. The question of whether the poll would be increased is a matter of opinion. Perhaps I may quote from practical experience. I sat for the oddest constituency in the country. In order to meet the convenience of the Conservative Party, after the 1951 re-organisation I had Stourbridge tacked on to Dudley. They are not contiguous, they are six miles apart. I know only too well the complaints that one had, in season and out of season, because the count was in Dudley. There were arguments as to whether the constituency should be called "Dudley and Stour-bridge" or just "Dudley ", which subsequently it was called. If there is a constituency count all the apparatus associated with the election down to ward level swings into action. When, as now, the actual focal point is more remote in the constituency it is bound to affect the result. I cannot prove it: I readily agree that this is a matter of opinion.
Reading the arguments in another place I noticed that many speakers there held similar views. Speaking from the Liberal Benches Mr. David Steel, who moved the original Amendment, argued on similar lines. I believe the nearer you move to the point of action the more likely you are to obtain a large poll. The further you take a poll to the point of a national count the more remote it becomes. I make that point in answer to the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich. The real point of substance is the one which I have established.
Whatever decision your Lordships make we now have it perfectly clear, 153 spelt out in terms which cannot be denied, that the Government have decided not to have a constituency count because they are afraid of the political consequences of the truth being known. So, if I am for no other reason entirely satisfied with the debate that has taken
§ 5.43 p.m.
§ The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN of COMMITTEES (Baroness Wootton of Abinger)
I have to call the attention of the Committee to the fact that if Amendment No. 6 is agreed to, I shall not be able to call Amendment No. 7.
§ Lord HARRIS of GREENWICH moved Amendment No. 6:
Page 3, leave out lines 16 to 26 and insert—
(" (3) A separate count shall be conducted of the votes cast at the referendum in each of
§ place, I have not the least intention of withdrawing my Amendment.
§ 5.33 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said Amendment (No. 5) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 5; Not-Contents, 102.153
|Brockway, L.||Davies of Leek, L. [Teller.]||Wigg, L. [Teller.]|
|Bruce of Donington, L.||Shinwell, L.|
|Aberdare, L.||Faringdon, L.||Newall, L.|
|Amory, V.||Ferrers, E.||Norwich, V.|
|Auckland, L.||Fisher of Rednal, B.||Nugent of Guildford, L.|
|Aylestone, L.||Gainford, L.||Ogmore, L.|
|Balfour of Inchrye, L.||Gaitskell, B.||Pannell, L.|
|Balniel, L.||Gordon-Walker, L.||Platt, L.|
|Balogh, L.||Goronwy-Roberts, L.||Popplewell, L.|
|Belstead, L.||Greenway, L.||Rankeillour, L.|
|Berkeley, B.||Greenwood of Rossendale, L.||Reay, L.|
|Bernstein, L.||Hale, L.||Robbins, L.|
|Birdwood, L.||Harris of Greenwich, L.||Rusholme, L.|
|Birk, B.||Hayter, L.||St. Just, L.|
|Blyton, L.||Helsby, L.||Segal, L.|
|Brougham and Vaux, L.||Henderson, L.||Selsdon, L.|
|Burton, L.||Hill of Luton, L.||Sempill, Ly.|
|Campbell of Croy, L.||Hornsby-Smith, B.||Shackleton, L.|
|Carrington, L.||Hylton-Foster, B.||Slater, L.|
|Castle, L.||Jacques, L.||Snow, L.|
|Cawley, L.||Leatherland, L.||Stamp, L.|
|Champion, L.||Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B. [Teller.]||Stewart of Alvechurch, B.|
|Chorley, L.||Stow Hill, L.|
|Cole, L.||Long, V.||Strabolgi, L. [Teller.]|
|Collison, L.||Longford, E.||Strathclyde, L.|
|Cooper of Stockton Heath, L.||Loudoun, C.||Strathcona and Mount Royal, L.|
|Cowley, E.||Lovell-Davis, L.|
|Crook, L.||Lyell, L.||Swaythling, L.|
|Crowther-Hunt, L.||Lyons of Brighton, L.||Taylor of Mansfield, L.|
|Daventry, V.||Macleod of Borve, B.||Vivian, L.|
|Denham, L.||Maclor, L.||Wade, L.|
|Derwent, L.||Mais, L.||Wallace of Coslany, L.|
|Drumalbyn, L.||Mancroft, L.||Wells-Pestell, L.|
|Dundee, E.||Margadale, L.||Wigoder, L.|
|Elton, L.||Melchett, L.||Winterbottom, L.|
|Elwyn-Jones, L. (L. Chancellor.)||Mersey, V.||Wootton of Abinger, B.|
|Emmet of Amberley, B.||Mowbray and Stourton, L.|
Resolved in the negative, and Amendment disagreed to accordingly.
the areas specified in subsection (4A) below, but the votes cast (in accordance with any provisions made in pursuance of section 1(5) of this Act) outside the United Kingdom shall be counted with those cast in Greater London.
(4) The Secretary of State shall appoint a person (in this Act referred to as the Chief Counting Officer) who shall, for each of the areas specified in subsection (4A) below, appoint a person (in this Act referred to as a counting officer) to conduct the counting of votes cast in that area in accordance with any directions given to him by the Chief Counting Officer; and the councils of districts and London boroughs shall place the services of their officers at the disposal of the counting officers.
(4A) The areas referred to in subsections (3) and (4) of this section are—").
§ The noble Lord said: I will, if I may, deal with the remaining Government Amendments to the Bill at the same time. They relate to an undertaking given in a statement made on Second Reading by my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor, when he pointed out that consequential on a decision of another place relating to the central count, it would be his intention to table a number of Government Amendments. This he has done and these Amendments are now before the Committee. There are five Amendments in the name of my noble and learned friend, and all are designed to give effect to this undertaking.
§ The first Amendment, to Clause 2, has the effect of inserting two new subsections in the Bill, the first of which does two things. It specifies that there shall be a separate count of the votes, including the Service votes, cast in each of the areas specified later in the clause; that is, in Greater London, the other English counties, the Isles of Scilly, the Welsh Counties, the Scottish regions and island areas and Northern Ireland. We have been assured by representatives of the local authorities concerned that they can carry this additional burden. Thus, instead of one count—which was, as the Committee will be aware, initially proposed—there will be nearly 70 separate counts, from Orkney and Shetland in the far North to the Isles of Scilly in the far South-West, but still including Earls Court, where both the Greater London votes and the overseas Service votes will be counted.
§ The second purpose is to enable the Service votes cast overseas to be counted at Earls Court together with those in Greater London. The purpose of this provision has been explained to the Greater London Council and I should say a word about it. No problem arises in the case of Service votes cast in this country. At Plymouth, Aldershot and Catterick, for example, it is right that they should be counted with the votes of Devon, Hampshire and North Yorkshire, the counties where Service men and women are living and working for the time being and where the wives of Servicemen are often on the register in the ordinary way. There are no such readily identifiable county affiliations for the votes of the Servicemen overseas, of 156 whom there are about 120,000 of the total of 400,000 who will be able to vote under the provision in Clause 1 of the Bill. It seems wrong to create a separate Services constituency for people in this category and, therefore, we have decided to aggregate their votes with those cast in Greater London.
§ The third Amendment is designed to replace subsection (5) of Clause 2 by a new subsection (7). This does two things: it enables my right honourable friend the Home Secretary to pay Counting Officers in the counties and regions as well as the Chief Counting Officer. The fourth and fifth Amendments standing in my noble and learned friend's name are merely consequential on the first three, and I therefore beg to move the first of the Amendments in my noble and learned friend's name.
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ Amendment moved—
Page 3, line 30, at end insert—
(" ( ) The counting officer for each area shall certify the number of ballot papers counted by him and of the respective answers given by valid votes, and the Chief Counting Officer shall certify the total of the ballot papers and respective answers; and in certifying the number of ballot papers counted each counting officer and the Chief Counting Officer shall distinguish between ballot papers issued in accordance with any special provision made in pursuance of section 1(5) of this Act and other ballot papers.").—(Lord Harris of Greenwich.)
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ Amendment moved—
Page 3, line 31, leave out subsection (5) and insert—
(" (5) The Secretary of State shall pay to the Chief Counting Officer, to the counting officers and to persons appointed to assist any counting officer such remuneration as he may, with the approval of the Treasury, determine.").—(Lord Harris of Greenwich.)
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 2, as amended, agreed to.
§ Clause 3 agreed to.
§ Clause 4 [Exclusion of legal proceedings]:157
Page 4, line 10, leave out (" Counting Officer ") and insert (" Chief Counting Officer or any counting officer ").—(Lord Harris of Greenwich.)
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ Amendment moved—
§ Page 4, line 10, leave out second (" the ") and insert (" any ").—(Lord Harris of Greenwich.)
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 4, as amended, agreed to.
§ Remaining clauses and Schedule agreed to.
§ House resumed: Bill reported with the Amendments.