HL Deb 23 June 1978 vol 393 cc1529-54

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Strabolgi.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The Lord ABERDARE in the Chair.]

Clause 78 [Amendment of enactments]:

The Marquess of TWEEDDALE moved Amendment No. 106A: Page 31, line 16, leave out subsection (2).

The noble Marquess said: Before I move this Amendment, I should like to say—and I say this in order to avoid having another what I can only describe as a deflowered ululation from the Front Bench of the Government as regards our treatment of the Welsh people—that at the moment I have no intention of pressing this Amendment. I do not see why the people of the Principality should be denied this particular subsection. It cropped up in virtually the same form during the proceedings on the Scotland Bill.

I shall ask virtually the same questions as were asked then and I have no doubt that I shall be given virtually the same answers as were given on that occasion. Depending upon one's feeling at the time, I have no doubt also that the Amendment will then be withdrawn and that we shall all depart feeling either miserable or merry. I should like to ask the Minister about the definition of certain words in subsection (2). First, what is the Government's definition of a "Minister of the Crown?" Secondly, can the Government clearly explain to me, as a simple and rather stupid Scot, what is the definition of the words "necessary" and "expedient"? I beg to move.


My list of questions is not quite so complete as that of my noble friend, but this clause seems to me to embody the most sweeping powers that I have ever seen in a proposed Act of Parliament. I have not studied the Scotland Bill and I do not know what answers my noble friend expects with regard to the debates which occurred on that Bill. However, it occurs to me, after reading subsection (2) of this clause, that the powers are very sweeping.

A Minister of the Crown may by order make such amendments in any Act passed before or in the same session as this Act and in any other enactment passed or made before the passing of this Act …". I leave out the passage about such amendments as appear to the Minister of the Crown to be necessary, because my noble friend has covered this point. Surely this includes any Act passed during the current Session of Parliament, including the Wales Act. By order, the Minister may change the Wales Act. We are now on the sixth day of the Committee stage. We had one day for the Second Reading. Without committing anybody to anything, we shall possibly have three days on Report. In one order, a Minister of the Crown may change this Bill when it becomes an Act.

Turning to subsection (3), I gather, although my knowledge of statute law is very limited, that a Statutory Instrument is to be subject to annulment, which means by a Negative Resolution. I should not have thought that this gave very many safeguards to Parliament. If I am right, to allow a Minister of the Crown to alter this Bill when it becomes an Act by Negative Resolution seems to me to be dangerous, to say the least. I shall be very glad to have the Minister's comments.


I noticed this point. Although I should not be prepared to go into the Division Lobby, because I do not think that that is necessary, in my opinion—although I do not claim to be a professional—the drafting of this subsection appears to mean that in the case of almost any Act passed during this Session, whether horse-racing or anything else, a Minister of the Crown will be allowed to do pretty well what he desires by way of amendment. I know that the safeguard here is the Negative Resolution procedure.

Although I do not wish to delay the Committee, because there is much work to be done today, I came here specially this morning to obtain an interpretation of subsections (2) and (3) of this clause. I believe that the Committee is entitled to that interpretation. Although I should not go into the Division Lobby if the Amendment were pressed, nevertheless I believe that this point needs to be clarified. In my humble opinion, some redrafting is required.

11.13 a.m.


The purpose of subsection (2) is to empower a Minister to tidy up, behind the Wales Act, by making minor, consequential Amendments to other enactments. Such changes could have been made in the Wales Bill itself, but this course would have necessitated a substantial lengthening of the Bill. Furthermore, it is likely that the scale of such an exercise would have made it impossible to complete it accurately within the time scale of this Bill, and I imagine that we would all aim at accuracy and precision in regard to this Bill, above all.

What is involved here is tidying up the Statute Book after a legislative exercise which covers a huge area—probably the biggest for many years. I am sure the noble Marquess will agree that the approach adopted is the right one; namely, to concentrate in the Bill on the principles and to let the minor detail be carried elsewhere. I would commend to your Lordships that this is very much in line with the recommendation of the Renton Report. I will not delay the Committee by quoting from that report although I have a few apposite quotations to hand. So in regard to both this Bill and the companion Bill, which has already been discussed in your Lordships' House, we shall be acting very much in line with an authoritative and weighty report which makes recommendations to deal with this class of legislation and provision in this way.

The noble Marquess asked me to define the phrase "Minister of the Crown". This designation is well precedented in statutes without, I think, further definition. It is like our old friend "may be" or "reasonable" in so many statutes: it is found "reasonable" not to attempt too close a definition of the word "reasonable". Indeed this point was debated at length on the Scotland Bill when Amendments were tabled by the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk. I would myself say that "a Minister of the Crown" covers those Ministers of whatever designation who are normally concerned with the promotion of legislation. Beyond that I think it would be dangerous for me, or indeed any of my successors, or any other Government, to proceed.

The point is well taken, though. There are a number of definitions that we might look at again, including more than one raised by my noble friend Lord Davies of Leek. I ask the Committee to agree with me that we should accept this definition of "Minister of the Crown" as being an operative one in our experience and one which will not cause difficulty in regard to this particular legislation or, I anticipate, future legislation.

The point raised as to the definition of "necessary or expedient" falls into the same category, I fear. I find that in other comparable legislation there appear the words "necessary or proper" with the same purpose. They appeared in the National Health Service (Scotland) Act 1972, the Local Government Act 1972a tremendous piece of legislative provision—and a number of others. I gather that the words there were "necessary or proper",which it did not seem to be necessary or proper to define closely at the time, and I would suggest that the terms "necessary" and "expedient", like "necessary or proper" barely relate to the consequences of the Bill and the Act in question. So what is seen to be necessary to be done as a result of the provisions of the Act as it finally emerges, and indeed what is seen to be expedient, shall, under these provisions, be done.

I fear that I cannot go beyond that in the field of definition, always a minefield for any Minister to enter into. However, there was one other point which I felt was well raised, as to whether this particular Bill would be included in the term "Acts in the current Session". My right honourable friend could not change the Wales Act by order. It is "this Act" and cannot be an Act passed in the same Session as "this Act". That is to say, this Act stands on its own apart from the Acts described as being Acts passed in the current Session or, of course, preceding Sessions.

I hope I have made reasonably clear the attitude of the Government on the points raised. I very much welcome what the noble Marquess has said about what I know to be his desire never to diminish the importance of any provisions made for the Welsh people. I hope that our little exchange the other night has not indicated to him that I take anything like an adversary view on this legislation. I welcome also his constructive attitude that he will not press this Amendment and I hope with these few words of explanation he may feel that he will stick to his intention.

Baroness ELLES

Before my noble friend replies, I wonder whether I may put one or two questions to the Minister concerning this subsection. Clearly, it concerns all Members of your Lordships' House as to its effects and particularly of course in relation to the meaning of the last four or five words of the subsection. I say this deliberately because I do not propose to go into the many long arguments that were entailed in the definition of "a Minister of the Crown". It is quite clear that the Government have not been able to do so and apparently nobody else in your Lordships' House has been able to tell us precisely what a Minister of the Crown is or who are the individuals who will be fulfilling that function in relation to Clause 78(2). I presume that it could be anything from about 40 to 110 people, but who exactly they are it seems to he difficult to discover.

I should like to ask the noble Lord what he meant by "minor consequential Amendments". He informed the Committee that this subsection was a tidying up of the Statute Book. The noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, and I have discussed many issues across this Table, and I do not, of course, wish to be antagonistic in any way; this is merely searching for the truth as to what this means. What is in consequence of this Act could be merely the actual contents of the Act itself and literally a tidying-up process. But, of course, it could also mean all the consequences that flow from this Act coming into force, and this could be indefinite and very considerable indeed.

I would feel very much more satisfied if there was a limited and restricted definition of what "in consequence of this Act means"; namely, that nothing that flows as a consequence of the Act coming into force should be involved in giving powers to Ministers to change any Act of Parliament. As it is worded, I think justifiably anybody could read this in the normal sense as meaning that any Minister of the Crown may by order make any amendments in any Act. The consequences of this Act must be more clearly defined in order to restrict and limit the actions of Ministers of the Crown.

I think it would be very valuable if the noble Lord would be kind enough to expand on this. If not, we might possibly come up with some kind of drafting to restrict it and reassure all Members of your Lordships' House that this is meant to be a restrictive clause. I do not doubt the noble Lord's words; I believe they repeat the words used by the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhill, when this matter was debated during discussion on the Scotland Bill.

The noble Lord did mention the Renton Report, which we debated in your Lordships' House, but I think it is fair to remind your Lordships that that report has never been officially adopted. Although it was debated, and although the contents were admirable and many of us agreed with much that was said, it has no legal status whatever. Although the noble Lord may rightly refer to it, it does not impose any obligations on the Government to fulfill the recommendations set out in that report. I would not accuse the noble Lord of being misleading, but nevertheless the Committee might have been misled by the words he used when he referred to that report. The recommendations in it have never been formally adopted.

The last point I would make is with regard to the question of the form of Statutory Instrument which would follow the order being made by a Minister of the Crown. My noble friend Lord Skelmersdale has rightly pointed out that this is a Negative Resolution, and I should have thought that in the circumstances in which any Minister of the Crown may make an order, we would certainly welcome at least an Affirmative Resolution; so that if any matter is raised which seems to be an abuse of the powers of the Minister—it may well not be—an opportunity should be given to both Houses of Parliament at least to debate the issue. I do not say that they will ever be debated, but I think both Houses should at least have that opportunity.

The Marquess of TWEEDDALE

I should like to thank the noble Lord for his reply. Once again, as an ignorant Scot I really cannot quite reconcile the words "expedient and proper". I have done an enormous number of improper things in my life and most of them have been expedient. However, if the Minister can assure us that he will look at this again, I would beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.


Perhaps I may reply to the noble Baroness before the Amendment is withdrawn. I am really most obliged to the noble Marquess, but I do disagree with him profoundly on one point of very important substance, when he refers to himself as an ignorant Scot. There are no ignorant Scots. I take that as a typical piece of Anglo-Saxon pejoration advanced by a typical Scot.

The noble Baroness raised a number of important points. I think I can satisfy her on the first point she raised. I wonder whether in fact I made it absolutely clear—I thought I did—that these words empowered a Minister to tidy-up behind the Wales Act, in the wake of it, by making minor consequential Amendments to other enactments. There will be consequences, none of them very large but all of them quite important, which need to be attended to as other enactments are considered as a result of the passing, as we hope, of this Bill into an Act. It is that class of Amendment, which is really common form, as the noble Baroness and I know, which is referred to in the phrase "minor consequential Amendments to other enactments".

The second point the noble Baroness made was about the Renton Report. I referred to it as a weighty report; I deliberately did not call attention to its recommendations as being those that have been commended in any way authoritatively by Parliament, or indeed by statements of Ministers. The noble Baroness is quite right; it is a weighty report, which I am sure every Member of your Lordships' House has read word by word. I certainly have had opportunity in relation to this Amendment to look at the Renton Report, about which I had heard, and I do find in it a great deal of very useful indication as to how we might more officially in the future relate our proceedings on legislation of this category.

The third point the noble Baroness raised was on the question of the affirmative as opposed to the negative Statutory Instrument. In view of the noble Marquess's decision to withdraw this Amendment, I will certainly take that point for further consideration. I cannot, of course, give the slightest commitment on this, but I do not propose today to argue the case for negativity as opposed to affirmativity. I think—and here I agree with my noble friend—that this constantly needs to be looked at, indeed during the stages of a Bill and in between Bills. It is always a question of the utmost importance. With that indication, but without the slightest commitment, I will indeed call attention to the point made by a number of noble Lords on this. I hope we may be able to accept the noble Marquess's motion.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 78 agreed to.

Clause 79 [Interpretation]:

11.28 a.m.

Baroness ELLES moved Amendment No. 106B: Page 31, line 39, leave out ("or hydraulic power") and insert ("hydraulic power or water").

The noble Baroness said: I do not intend to take up the time of the Committee debating the issue of water again; it was very fully debated yesterday and indeed before that. I think it should be pointed out to the Committee that the general definition of "excepted statutory undertakers" in the Town and Country Planning Act includes, in Section 290, a good many statutory bodies which are not included in the interpretation clause of the Wales Bill; in particular, water transport, canal, inland navigation and water. I think it should be drawn to the attention of the general public that it is the intention of the Government to devolve the powers of water authorities to Wales, and that these water authorities control resources which are of extreme importance and need to other parts of the country besides Wales. I will not elaborate on this theme, but I would like to make this point so that people should be aware that in the interpretation clause of this Bill water authorities of every kind in so far as Wales is concerned are excluded, and that this is going to affect the water resources of England as well as Wales. I beg to move.


The noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, agreed with me the other night that I have a suspicious mind. Perhaps that is not a bad thing when in Opposition, although it maybe more damaging were I sitting on his side of the House—I hasten to add behind him! I go a little further than my noble friend Lady Elles and wonder whether there is any ulterior motive behind the Government leaving out the statutory water companies under this paragraph.


Is the noble Lord thinking of something like the Severn Barrage being influenced by this?


It is possible, but I was not thinking of that specifically.


I do not want to intervene unduly between the two noble Lords about the Severn Barrage because I might find myself drowning in between them! As the Lord Chairman may recall, the Severn Barrage has always been somewhat of a topic in Wales and I have no doubt in the Welsh Marches as well. I welcome the tone and content of the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Elles, in formally moving the Amendment. It is true that we have fully debated the issues raised by the Amendment. She has once more quite properly voiced apprehensions—if that is not too strong a word to use—or, perhaps, hopes that the operations of the water authorities concerned will in the future, as they are now, be in the interests of both Wales and England. I have always felt that both countries have an interest in an amicable arrangement about water, the source of which is in Wales and many of the users of which are in England. That is the basis on which I think that the very constructive arrangements whereby the two authorities co-operate have gone a great distance to solve what has been a very difficult question in Wales, as many noble Lords and the noble Baroness know. Indeed, I am tempted to say that water in Wales has, in the past at least, been as inflammable as oil in Scotland. One would commend successive Secretaries of State and Governments in dealing with this matter in a constructive way with the result that we have the present arrangements which I need not go into.

The definition of "excepted statutory undertakers" is purely consequential upon what has been determined elsewhere in the Bill. Indeed, the noble Baroness described very succinctly what has been done in the Bill in this regard. The addition of water authorities is, I suggest, clearly inappropriate because ministerial responsibility for their operations in Wales is devolved in the Bill. I think that the Amendment, if it were pressed—I take leave to regard it as a very proper way of reminding the Committee of certain concerns about which I have no complaint—would confuse the division of responsibility between the Assembly and the Government, by involving the Secretary of State in matters for which the Assembly rightly, through the Bill, has full responsibility in other contexts. It would create an additional tier of Government for the matter concerned, and would, I think, inevitably risk friction between the Assembly and the Government.

However, I shall resist, if it is necessary, the Amendment, but I do not object to it at all. Indeed, I think that it is right that we should from time to time remind ourselves as regards the question of water that where the source is in one country of the United Kingdom and a good deal of its use takes place in another, then arrangements must be made to safeguard the interests and the position in both countries.

Speaking as one who lives in Wales and who has lived with this problem all his life, I am very confident that the arrangements that we have evolved over the years in regard to water resources in Wales, their distribution and use, have gone a long distance towards solving what used to be a quite intractable problem.

Baroness ELLES

I am particularly grateful to the noble Lord for that reply, because he has confirmed exactly what I believed; namely, that the existing arrangements are working not too badly. It is precisely for that reason that I am concerned that the arrangements which are at present under the authorities will be devolved to the control of the Welsh Assembly. I do not think that that was what the noble Lord meant to say, but I am particularly worried because concern has been expressed by my noble friends about changing what has already been achieved over a considerable number of years.

As the noble Lord has said, this is a difficult and delicate subject which could concern friction between Border lines—I shall not call them different countries because I consider that Wales and England are part of the United Kingdom, and I do not like the thought of dividing the United Kingdom into specific areas quite so much as the noble Lord, who will rightly feel on his side, that he would like to call them countries. Nevertheless, I am glad that the matter has been raised.

As the noble Lord rightly guessed, I do not intend to press the Amendment. However, I express a reservation and regret that the good co-operation that has been evolved over the years on this subject should now be put again into the political field and possibly be used as a political football between the two neighbouring and adjacent territories. I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.


I am sure that we would all agree with the general tenor of what the noble Baroness has said. However, I wish to insert a caveat: nothing immediately would recreate the acerbity of this issue more than to take away this provision from the Assembly and give it back to the Secretary of State. There may be arguments such as the ones which the noble Baroness has advanced, but I would, in a bypassing manner, strongly advise against any such move being made.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 79 agreed to.

Clause 80 agreed to.

Clause 81 [Referendum]:

11.38 a.m.

Lord ELTON moved Amendment No. 107:

Page 32, line 43, at end insert— ("(4) If a resolution under section 80(4) above has been moved in each House of Parliament, but has not been passed by both Houses, the Secretary of State shall lay before Parliament the draft of an Order in Council providing for the repeal of this Act.").

The noble Lord said: Clause 81 relates to the referendum and the machinery that is to be put into operation according to whether the referendum gives one answer or another. The effect of the clause as it stands is that if a resolution were moved under Section 80(4), but not passed, the terms of this Bill—or this Act as it then would be—would not be put into effect, but the Act (as it then would be) would remain on the Statute Book. Therefore, this is not an Amendment of profound importance in terms of the political effects that it would have after a referendum. But it is a Parliamentary housekeeping and tidying-up operation to remove from the larder, as it were, food which became so stale that it was inedible. The Statute Book is already too full and anything that we can do to thin out the contents of the pages would in my view be welcome. I beg to move.


An almost identical official Opposition Amendment to the Scotland Bill was carried on a Division against the Government's advice during the House of Lords Committee stage. We accept that this House has already decided in a Division that a similar provision should be inserted in the Scotland Bill. Therefore, we are ready to accept this Amendment, so far as this House is concerned.


I am grateful to the noble Lord for making that concession. Of course, I know that he always has to make these sad reservations. It is nice when is he able to make an acceptance wholeheartedly. None the less, we are glad to be able to press this Amendment without a Division.


I should like to express my pleasure at the Government having accepted this Amendment because perhaps it shows the way in which the wind blows. When the Scotland and Wales Bills are returned to another place, I hope that another place will accept a great deal of what this House has done.

I should like to express the view that, although both Bills are not had Bills, they are unworkable Bills. They will create more trouble before we have finished. But I am a democrat and therefore will accept the decision that is taken. However, equally, the Government should be willing to accept the democratic process. I am delighted that if the referendum goes against them, the body will not be left about unburied; that they will then accept this and the slate will be wiped clean. I do not suppose that one can wipe slates clean with bodies, but the noble Lord will know exactly what I mean. I am grateful to the Government for accepting this, but I am even more grateful because I think it shows that the Government have learned a great deal during the passage of these two Bills through this House, and that perhaps is a good thing.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

On Question, Whether Clause 81, as amended, shall stand part of the Bill?

11.43 a.m.


I should like to slip in an observation here, although I am not absolutely certain whether I am doing it at the right place. There has been a discussion on the Scotland Bill about the date of the referendum and the desire that there is, I think on both sides of the Committee—certainly on this side of the Committee—that the referendum for Scotland should be held on the same day as that for Wales. Unless the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, shows an unexpected reluctance to take the point that I am making, I do not think it will be necessary for me to elaborate the reasons for that. I think that it would be fairly apparent on reflection by your Lordships that it would be a mistake to have the referenda consecutively and, what is more, very difficult to decide which should be held first. Those who are in favour of devolution would favour one order of batting and those who are against it would no doubt favour another, hoping that whatever result they expected in one forum would influence that in the other.

As I understand it, the argument at this point in the Scotland Bill resolved itself upon the point that we cannot include in one statute a provision which is dependent upon the passage of another. That is to say, in this Bill we could not place a requirement that anything to be done under this Bill should be done at the same time as something was done under another Bill, when that Bill is a Bill and not an Act, because it is assuming what we all, in fact, take as a valid assumption—that both Bills will be enacted. However, that is an assumption which I understand the legislative conventions of this country deny us. If that is the case—and the noble Lord will confirm, no doubt, whether or not it is—it would be very useful for those of us involved in this debate and not in the other to have from him now or at a suitable later stage—preferably now, if it is possible—an assurance that it is the Government's intention to hold the referenda or referendums (I am never sure which is the correct usage) on the same day.

One could embark upon various stratagems which would allow the time elapsing between, let us say, the Parliamentary vote, and the passing of an order to he the same in each case. But whichever way one tries to do it, there is always what I would call a "slippage" if one is not allowed to refer to the other Act. I should have thought that we would be much better advised to rely upon the good faith of the Government if they are prepared to give an undertaking on this during the passage of this Bill.


I support the point of view put from the Opposition Front Bench. The argument used on the Scotland Bill was that the Government could not accept it because they could not be quite sure that the Wales Bill would be passed. But now that it is reasonably certain that both Bills will reach the Statute Book, I should have thought that the Government's categorical assurance on this point—that so far as possible the referenda will in fact be held on the same date—would be wholly satisfactory.

Perhaps the Minister will allow me 30 seconds to put what might happen if for some reason the referenda were taken on different days. Obviously, the result of the first must influence that of the second. Therefore, from every point of view, I should have thought that the Government would wish to be fair and would wish to be seen to be playing fair. I would accept an assurance given from that Dispatch Box that that will happen, which would be wholly satisfactory.


On the point of the referenda, particularly the referendum as it pertains to the Wales Bill, can the Government either confirm or deny a report in the Western Mail earlier this week which suggested that an up-to-date register of electors would not be available until mid-February? That report suggests that an up-to-date register would be absolutely essential in order to get a true reflection of the 40 per cent. figure.


The central point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, and, if I may say so, powerfully reinforced by my noble friend Lord Wigg, was on the question whether the referenda—and whatever the correspondence columns of The Times may say, the noble Lord, my noble friend and I are quite right in referring to them, in the plural, as "referenda"; we can argue about the respective merits of gerunds and participles later—would be held on the same day. It is the Government's intention that both referenda should be held on the same day. Indeed, the arguments for this have been very succinctly put by my noble friend Lord Wigg. It is not necessary—indeed, it may be inexpedient—to make statutory provision on this point. However, as my noble friend said that he—and I imagine the noble Lord, Lord Elton—would accept the Government's assurance on this point, I am able to give the assurance that the referenda will be held on the same day. I cannot conceive of circumstances—except the failure of the passage of one Bill or its delay, which, as my noble friend has pointed out, hopefully, and I believe precisely, will not happen—that would in fact interfere with that intention.

As to the question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, I think that to some extent it was a repetition of that point. I hope that I have covered the nuance of what he raised; if not, perhaps he would repeat his point.


No, I do not think quite so. I understand that the register of electors is not precisely up to date and that a new register will not be ready until next February. A new register is apparently essential for calculating the effects of the 40 per cent. figure which is referred to elsewhere in the Bill. Could the Government either confirm or deny this fact?


As one who has had a very great deal to do with electioneering and the organisation of elections, I think there is a good deal in the point which the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, has made. The new register, which will be canvassed in October, will not be printed or come into operation until about the middle of February—that is the usual thing. If, unfortunately, we use the old register, we frequently find that 20 per cent. or 30 per cent. of those on the old register have died, emigrated or moved to another part of the country. Therefore, to have a poll of any kind, or referendum, before the middle of February would be very unreal and dangerous indeed.


I apologise to the noble Lord for not having replied to him. Frankly, I could not read my own handwriting. It is the normal Parliamentary register of electors which will be used for the referenda. If the referenda are held before February 1979 the February 1978 register will be used. This is normal practice in elections, including General Elections, and indeed by-elections. To some extent it is possible for Governments, without being offensive to regulations or to public opinion, to time elections in order to put them as close as possible to the effective, fullest, most comprehensive register, but it is not always possible, as we all know in all Parties. I am afraid there is no way in which we can manage this one. The last effective register would be used for this purpose. I take note of what my noble friend Lord Leatherland has said. He has experience of these things, and I agree with the general purport of what he said. Nevertheless, this is the situation. We have to proceed as we do with other voting processes on the basis of the last effective registration.

Reference was made to that excellent daily newspaper the Western Mail; that it carried a report to the effect that we heard. I almost always read that the Mail has to say with great pleasure and the fullest credulity, but sometimes, as I said the other day, even the Welsh Homer nods. I am not saying that this happened in the case of the Western Mail. I think that is a fair point. They were canvassing the need to bear in mind that the more recent the register is, the more effective and the more comprehensive the expression of opinion can be. But I am afraid that we cannot help in this matter because of the circumstances I have described.


Might I ask the Government to think again? The noble Lord is treating this as a matter of a General Election. This is not a General Election, this is a major constitutional change. It is absurd to me that it should be treated as a normal election, and that we should take a chance on whether the old register is going or not. This is a case where we want to make it right up to date, and I wholeheartedly support my noble friend.


Might I add a footnote to what the noble Lord who has just sat down has said. It seems to me that the requirement as regards the percentage of the electorate removes referenda of this sort from the logic which is applicable to General Elections.


Surely it is not a question of using logic; it is in fact a question of mechanics. Those of us who have engaged in a number of elections—and, for my benefit, I have—know only too well the splendid work which is done by the registration officers throughout the length and breadth of these islands, but it is not an easy task. It makes a great demand upon the registration officers' staff. The idea that this measure could reach the Statute Book by the end of July, and that the machinery could then be devised—I think it would require legislation, in any case—and that you could compile a new register for the specific purpose of the referenda, seems to me not really "on".

What we are discussing on this Amendment is not the actual mechanics associated with the preparation of the register; we are discussing the simple point that the referenda should be held in Scotland and Wales on the same day. That is very important. We have an assurance from the Government on that point. Let us he satisfied with that. If there are noble Lords who think that the Government should be directed to hold the referenda immediately the new register comes into operation, that would be an Amendment that could be considered on Report, hut it is not applicable to the matter we are now discussing.


With respect to the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, who has been most helpful in this debate, we are not discussing an Amendment at the moment but whether the clause shall stand part, and therefore we can range as we wish. He has suggested a way out of the difficulty which could be put in concrete terms at Report stage. I am obliged for that thought, and we might pick it up. I accept the point made by my noble friend Lord de Clifford that this is a matter of considerable importance, and I would much deplore any tactics, or decision, by the Government which would lead to this referendum campaign being directly analogous to an election campaign. It should not be an issue between the Parties as they are aligned on other matters, but between the Parties as they are aligned on the specific matter of devolution.

There is a large area of coincidence with the Party main line policy, it is true, but I think that if that were to lead us into a sort of electioneering approach in I which the "Ins" took one view and the "Outs" took another as a result of the fact that this House and another place are constructed in such a way that that is almost the only way the argument can be conducted while we are discussing what should go on the Statute Book, that would be a great pity. If this is the intention of the Government—and I must say that some of the events occurring in Wales at the moment lead me to suppose that it may be so—the use of the media seems to he geared to a political approach directly in line with Party alignment. This may, or may not, be inevitable. I hope that is it not.

It leads me to mention to your Lordships another matter which has of late concerned my noble friends and myself increasingly, and that is the lack of an assurance when it was sought on the Scotland Bill that the very large resources of the Government in terms of Civil Service manpower, printing, publication, and so on, would not be used in order either to advance or oppose the cause of devolution. At some stage in our debates on this Bill we should like from the Government a statement as to whether or not they are going to go into Wales bearing the Act in one hand and a Manifesto in the other seeking people to vote for it, and using all the engines at their disposal, as Her Majesty's Government, in order to do so; because that would put an entirely different complexion on the debates we are having now, and we ought to have notice of it before we conclude the process on this Bill.


I do not disagree with one single word of the noble Lord, Lord Elton, except to correct him on one point. I was not replying to noble Lords on the other side of the Committee in terms of points of order. What I was anxious to establish is that he has got something; and I am glad he has got it, and I pay tribute to him for getting it; but having got it I do not want it to get hidden away by this discussion of another fundamentally important subject. I took exactly the same line as he did. I am doubtful about the media, and indeed I have my doubts about the Government. I am sure that my noble friend Lord Goronwy-Roberts does not want me to defend him, but he was making a point in comparison with a General Election—that, whether this House or another place like it or not, the mechanics connected with the preparation of the register are such that it has to be fought on the same register on which a General Election would be fought for precisely the same reasons, because there is no alternative.

With respect, the suggestion that I make to noble Lords opposite is that, if they wish to tie up the Government—for which they would certainly have my support, for what use it would be—let us put down an Amendment at Report stage to insist that the Government call the referendum, say, within reasonable time of the coming into force of the new register. That is the only way that it can he done. It cannot be done the other way round. One cannot imagine that at this stage in the game the Government can be forced—even if they had the will, which I doubt; and to say nothing of the expense involved—to institute proceedings to draw up a new register. That cannot be done. Therefore, let us take what we have and be grateful for it, and let us return to this matter at the Report stage, not necessarily on the lines I suggest, but in a way which we think would be practical.


This seems to be leading into a lengthy debate. The real point at issue was whether the referendum would be conducted on an up-to-date register, or on a register which was 11 months out of date, and which consequently would contain the names of a large number of people who had died, or who had removed. Having, like the noble Lord opposite, read the newspapers, it occurs to me that this matter may probably settle itself. The referendum is not to be held until three months after the General Election. The new register will be out by about the middle of February. We understand that the General Election will he held in October—perhaps my noble friend can confirm that. If three months are to elapse after the General Election in October, that would leave several weeks before the new register would come into operation, and therefore the referendum would be conducted on the new register which would be issued in the middle of February.


I do not know whether the Minister wishes to answer at this stage, or whether I am allowed to put a further point. It seems to me that one cannot consider legislation on the assumption of a General Election, and therefore I think that the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Leatherland, is perhaps to be discounted. The point I was trying to get at—and which I do not think has been raised at all—is that the population of Wales is, I understand, approximately 2½ million. I would guess that of that total about 1½ million, or 1¼ million, are on the current electoral register.

The noble Lord, Lord Leatherland, with his great experience, has said that there may well be a difference of 30 per cent. one way or the other between a new register and an old one. If less than 40 per cent. of the electorate—on whichever register is chosen, and which happens to be in force at the time of the referendum—fail to vote in favour, the Secretary of State shall lay before Parliament the draft of an Order in Council for the repeal of the Bill, after it has become an Act. If there is an out-of-date register of electors, surely from that point on there will be tremendous arguments in Wales as to whether in fact the referendum gave a fair answer to the question that was posed. Therefore, in my submission there must be a register of electors which the Welsh people will see to be fair at that particular time. If there is an out-of-date register—even if it is only slightly out-of-date—the Welsh people will not see it as being fair, and they would be arguing from then until the next time that devolution is raised in a Bill in this House or in the other place.


I should like to suggest that we discuss this matter at the right time and the right place, which is in relation to Schedule 12, when we get to it.


I wish to say what I thought the noble Lord opposite was going to say, because I think that this ought to be said. If the referendum is carried out on the basis of the old register, and 20 per cent. of the people are no longer on it, then, if my mental mathematics are right, instead of requiring a figure of 40 per cent. of the total electorate one would be requiring 50 per cent. I felt that I should make this point, not to argue it one way or the other, but merely to enable it to be considered.


I believe that this question could be fairly easily settled if someone was to propose a particular date. The date 1st March could be proposed, if wished. There is no reason why that should not be inserted in this Bill or in the Scotland Bill.

12.6 p.m.


As the noble Lord opposite mentioned, this is a general discussion, and so anything goes which is relevant to the provisions we are considering. I am once more most obliged to my noble friend Lord Wigg for putting the matter so well. There is no intention to equate this voting process—and I believe that I earlier used the phrase "voting process", as well as "elections"—with any election, even a General Election. However, the comparison, in general terms, for the purposes of explaining the difficulties of the mechanics involved, is I believe apposite. Therefore, to raise a great heat about whether we are to treat this as a general Election is a little misplaced. There is no intention to treat the referendum as an election. It is not an election; it is a test of opinion. As to its becoming an adversarial contest between the Parties, —and by now I know Wales almost as well as the Opposition Front Bench—I submit that every Party is split, to some degree or other. My noble friend Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran, who knows Wales so well, would agree with me. I have met members of Plaid Cymru—the Welsh Nationalist Party—who have said that they propose to vote against the Act in the referendum. Thus, to some degree or another, all Parties are split on this question, as, to a very great degree, all Parties were, I think, split on the question of our retaining membership of the European Economic Community.

Therefore, I see no likelihood of the usual kind of partisan acerbity about this. There will be great argument; there will also be argument within Parties. But the Government's position is clear. This is part of our Manifesto, part of Government policy. We have gone to great lengths to keep our pledge to the people of Scotland and Wales that we would introduce devolution Bills. First, we brought in a Bill covering both countries, and in the light of Parliamentary comment and experience we divided this into two. In so doing we have—whether rightly or wrongly is a matter of Parliamentary opinion—devoted much time and energy to implementing the pledge that we would produce devolutionary measures. We have done so; here they are. They are to be put to the Welsh and the Scottish people for a test of their opinion, which Parliament, by means of the processes described in the proposed legislation, will then consider. The processes which will follow after that are well known to your Lordships.

With regard to how that test of opinion can best be held, I agree that it should he conducted as soon as possible after the latest, most effective register is available. There is a law of diminishing returns about this. My noble friend Lord Wigg spelled it out. There is this fact of life in connection with any voting procedure, whether one describes it as an election or a referendum. Unless provision is to be made for the preparation of a special register because of one situation which is deemed to be special—and once there is one special case, everything becomes special—then it is necessary to organise it in the best way possible, as is done with other processes of voting. If the word "election" is obnoxious I shall not use it. As I said, this must be organised in the best way possible, as is done on other comparable, though not identical, occasions in relation to the best, the latest, and the most comprehensive register available.

The noble Lord is again right; there are stages still awaiting this measure at which some Amendments may be made. I cannot say that the kind of Amendments which I think may be made will receive more practical favour—and it is a matter of practicality more than anything else—than I have indicated in the tone of my remarks; but Parliament is free to do this. Your Lordships' House is free and the other place is free to consider at some stage whether they would put down such an Amendment, or indeed the kind of Amendment we have heard suggested by my noble friends who have taken part in this debate. This is a matter for Members of either House or both. Houses to consider, and it will be a matter for the Government to decide their attitude if such an Amendment is tabled.

I pass now very quickly to points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, who asked me to give assurances on certain matters. I can assure him that it is not the intention of the Government on this occasion, differently from the occasion of the test of opinion on the permanency of our membership of the Community, to put out publicity material. This, I think, was made clear in the debates on the Scotland Bill; and there are no plans for an explanatory leaflet. I do not know; there may be views about this which may well be expressed, but that is the Government's position. I have reminded the Committee that it is a manifesto pledge, and therefore the Government, despite the fact that not all their supporters in Wales or Scotland may agree with them on this point, will of course put forward clearly and strongly their view as a Government, very much as they will put forward their view on other appropriate occasions about their support for their Budgetary proposals, or any other proposals.


It might help if I asked for clarification at this point. I do not quite follow the congruence of the two statements: one, that there will be no commitment of Government resources to persuading the electorate any more than there was on the European referendum; the other, that the Government would give all their energies to persuading the electorate that they ought to support the Act that they have brought on to the Statute Book. That is how I heard the noble Lord; I may have got it wrong.


If I may make it perfectly clear, we shall campaign for it as a Government mindful of the fact that not all of our supporters in either country support this. The great majority do, but that is another matter. What I said was that we have no plans for an explanatory leaflet anal3gous to the one which was issued by the Government in relation to the Community referendum. Nor do we intend to put out publicity material on those lines. In fact, the Government will campaign (once more I have to use the analogy of an Election) as if it were an Election; that is, they will advocate this, he in favour of it, very much as they would advocate the adoption of the fiscal Bill on Budgetary matters, or any other.

Perhaps I can help a little further if I say that we shall not make funds available, as we did in the referendum on the Community, for campaigning organisations. There may be varying views about this; there were at the time when we discussed this provision for campaigning organisations for the purposes of the Community referendum. We shall not do it in this case; and I see no evidence of a proposal to make this provision by Amendment to the extant Bill, either in this House or, so far as I know, in the other place. That is as far as I can go today on the assurances to the noble Lord. It may well be that what I have said can be amplified or further reinforced at a later stage, but it is enough to go on with, I hope.

As to the point made about the media—and here I would listen with particular respect to my noble friend and, indeed, to the noble Lord—it is to he expected confidently that the media (the Press and the broadcasting authorities, both the BBC and the IBA) will themselves seek to make such arrangements that give equal, full opportunity for all views, all substantial views, to be expressed. It cannot, of course, provide for endless eccentricity, but there are definable attitudes within the noble Lord's Party—some very interesting ones, about which I personally, as an assiduous listener and viewer when I get the chance, would like to hear more. It is for the authorities, without too much formalisation from on high, to make these arrangements. We shall be told of the arrangements, and no doubt noble Lords and others who know a good deal about this will be watching how these arrangements emerge. There will be plenty of opportunity to check, to comment and to urge, perhaps, adjustment and improvement. I think I have covered most, if not all, of the points which have been raised in this rather Second Reading debate, which I welcomed. If I have missed out any point of substance, I am sure the Committee will allow me to write to the noble Lord concerned upon that point.

Clause 81, as amended, agreed to.

Schedule 12 [Referendum]:

12.15 p.m.

Lord ELTON moved Amendment No. 107A: Page 86, line 30, after ("day") insert (" , not less than six weeks after the making of the Order,")

The noble Lord said: My own print, unfortunately, does not carry Amendment No. 107A, and therefore your Lordships will bear with me a moment while I repeat the contents thereof, which refer to page 86 of the Bill and the insertion in line 30, after the word "day", of the words, "not less than six weeks after the making of the Order". The purpose of this Amendment is to establish what is in fact to be the length of the campaign. I am sorry to have taken so long to specify what was the purpose behind the Amendment, which must have been clear to the noble Lord before I actually spoke to it. I beg to move.


We are in the mood of concession today—reluctant, but nevertheless effective concession. This Amendment is identical to one made earlier this week to the Scotland Bill, of course. The Government believe that the Amendment is unnecessary and introduces an unnecessary degree of inflexibility; but, as your Lordships have seen fit to write the provision into the Scotland Bill, we are willing to accept it in the Wales Bill so far as your Lordships' House is concerned.


I have observed before the frequence of the qualification of the noble Lord's generosity. I noticed that it was absent, when we conducted the whole of our exchanges on the Question, Whether the last clause shall stand part, as to the possibility of his Government not being in office to honour the pledges that he was giving. But, of course, that is only a gibe at the noble Lord. I am grateful to him, none the less.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

12.17 p.m.

Lord ELTON moved Amendment No. 108:

Page 58, leave out lines 5 to 9 and insert— ("Mae'r Senedd wedi penderfynnu ymgynghori gyda etholwyr Cymru ynglyn a ddylid gweithredu Deddf Cymru 1978.

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