HL Deb 30 November 1978 vol 396 cc1416-33

3.54 p.m.

The LORD CHANCELLOR rose to move, That the draft Wales Act 1978 (Referendum) Order 1978, laid before the House on 14th November, be approved. The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, the purpose of the order is to appoint 1st March next year, St. David's Day, as the day on which the devolution referendum will be held in Wales, and to apply the statutory machinery through which the referendum is to be conducted. We are reaching the end of the devolution pilgrimage in which we trudged so manfully through the long days of summer. The 1st March is chosen because it is the first Thursday on which it is possible to hold the referendum under the new electoral register; so we are proceeding as quickly as possible.

The order is made under paragraphs 1 and 4 of Schedule 12 to the Wales Act 1978. It applies all the relevant Parts of the Representation of the People Acts, including the Parliamentary Election Rules and the Representation of the People Regulations, and part of the Town and Country Planning (Control of Advertisement) Regulation 1969. It follows substantially the precedent of the order made for conducting the EEC referendum in 1975.

Your Lordships will note that the requirement of paragraph 1 of the Schedule, that the referendum shall be held on a day not less than six weeks after the making of the order, is being amply complied with. The main provisions for the holding of the referendum are laid down in Schedule 12 to the Wales Act. This of course will not be the first referendum to be held in Wales. We have them from time to time on the critical issue of whether Welshmen should be allowed to drink on Sundays. I well remember an occasion when a London Welsh Society foregathered and was addressed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris of Borth-y-Gest, the day before a referendum on the drink issue was to be decided in Carmarthenshire. The noble and learned Lord observed: It may give those of you some comfort on this wet day in London that tomorrow it will be dry in Carmarthenshire".

The devolution referendum will follow the precedent set by the EEC referendum. Polling will be conducted on the basis of districts, and the returning officers will be those who act in that capacity at district council elections. However, counting will be conducted on the basis of counties and will take place in the county halls. A chief counting officer will be appointed who will certify the overall result for Wales generally. He will appoint counting officers who will in practice be the chief executives of the counties and will declare the county results locally after consultation with the chief counting officer.

The form of the front of the ballot paper is prescribed in the appendix to Schedule 12 to the Wales Act and, as no doubt the House will remember, the Government accepted the Amendment moved energetically by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, on that occasion which made the form bilingual, although your Lordships will remember that we failed to extract from the noble Lord an attempt to read the Welsh version. For that I duly forgave him. However, without disparaging Lord Elton, I should say that the ballot form would of course have been bilingual even without his distinguished initiative.

The powers available under Section 2(1) of the Welsh Language Act 1967 will be used to prescribe a bilingual version of what will be on the back of the ballot paper and other statutory forms which are applied by the order. In Wales, as in Scotland, the 1979 electoral register comes into operation on 16th February, 1979. In selecting the date for the referendum it is our intention that it should be conducted on the basis of an electoral register which is as up-to-date as possible. The 1st March was chosen because it was thought to be the earliest practicable date after the new register takes effect, as I have said, and it will provide the opportunity for the maximum number of Welsh electors to cast their vote. The last statutory date for publication of the new register is 15th February, 1979. In view of the proximity of that date to the date of the referendum, the electoral registration officers in Wales have been asked to do their best to arrange for copies of the registers to be made available as soon as possible before 15th February. So far the indications on this point are helpful.

Eligibility to vote in the referendum is determined by paragraph 2 of Schedule 12 to the Act, and is not therefore a matter for this order. Those who will be able to vote in the referendum will be all those eligible to vote as electors in a Parliamentary Election in Wales and those Peers eligible to vote in a local government election in Wales. To be qualified to vote the elector's name must appear on the electoral register, and the electors must be 18 years of age or over on the day of the poll and not subject to any legal incapacity on that day. The qualifying date for entry on the 1979 electoral register was 10th October, 1978. The draft 1979 register was published on 28th November, and is open for public inspection and for notification of additions, changes and objections until 16th December, 1978. So it is important for the people of Wales to make sure that their names appear on the register, and to act timeously if they do not.

I return to the order itself. The general principle has been to apply the normal electoral law for Parliamentary Elections, modified as necessary. A great number of the modifications are necessary simply because, of course, there will be no candidates and therefore a consequent need to make such substitutions as, for example, "a particular result at the poll" for "the election of a candidate". The order consists of seven Articles and two Schedules. Article 1 provides that the order will come into operation as soon as it is made. Article 2 deals with interpretation. Article 3 is the enabling provision whereby the relevant provisions of the Representation of the People Acts and Regulations are adopted and applied. The provisions are listed in Schedules 1 and 2 with the modifications which are necessary to take account of the circumstances of the referendum. In general, the same provision is made as for the EEC Referendum in 1975. Article 4 fixes the date and the hours of polling from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., which are the same, of course, as for Parliamentary Elections. Article 5 provides that the Secretary of State may make arrangements for observers at the verification of the ballot paper accounts and the counting of the votes.

Article 6 provides that absent voting facilities, postal voting facilities, will be the same as for Parliamentary Elections. Article 6(1) provides that applications which have been allowed and which remain in force on 15th February 1979 enabling people to vote by post or by proxy at a Parliamentary (or, in the case of a Peer, a local government) election shall be in force for the purposes of voting at the referendum. Article 6(2) enables persons who are in certain categories to apply to vote by post specifically at the referendum. Here again, the normal rules applicable to Parliamentary Elections will apply. Article 6(3) enables a person who has asked to be treated as an absent voter because he is in service in one of Her Majesty's reserve or auxiliary forces to request the appointment of a proxy to vote on his behalf at the referendum. Article 6(5) provides that postal applications must be received by the registration officer by 15th February 1979. By then the registration officer must also receive, for the purposes of the referendum, an application to be no longer treated as an absent voter or cancelling the appointment of a proxy. It is of course important that people should be aware of this date, and I would urge anyone who thinks he is entitled to a postal vote to apply well in advance of that date. Article 7 carries out the provisions of paragraph 5 of Schedule 12 to the Wales Act, and provides for the expenses of returning officers to be defrayed as administrative expenses of the Secretary of State.

I should now like to turn to a provision in the Wales Act relating to the referendum which has given rise to a good deal of discussion, and to explain how we intend to deal with it. This is the 40 per cent. provision in Section 80 of the Wales Act. This section requires that if it appears to the Secretary of State that less than 40 per cent. of the persons entitled to vote in the referendum have voted "Yes", he shall lay before both Houses of Parliament the draft of an Order in Council for the repeal of the Act. In other words, if the 40 per cent. requirement is not met the issue whether or not the Act is to be implemented is automatically referred back to Parliament for decision. It does not mean that the Act must be repealed, but provides a mechanism whereby Parliament may consider the matter further. Naturally, the Government will take careful account of the result of the poll before recommending what action should be taken, as of course would Parliament itself, when either a repeal order or a commencement order is laid. It should be clear from this that the strict determination of what constitutes 40 per cent. of those entitled to vote, while important in deciding whether the Government should lay a repeal order, does not of itself decide the fate of the Act. In the last analysis, both the Government and Parliament will need to exercise a judgment bearing in mind the result of the referendum. In this sense it is an advisory referendum.

Before we can determine the 40 per cent. figure we must try to establish the number of persons who are entitled to vote in the referendum, and it is this expression "entitled to vote" in Section 80(2) of the Act which creates some problems. As I have said, to be entitled to vote an elector must be registered, so those who are entitled to vote will be those on the electoral register which takes effect on 16th February 1979. The register itself, based on residence on 10th October 1978, is not, however, an accurate record of all who are entitled to vote on polling day. This is because it contains the names of those minors who reach voting age only during the life of the register. A considerable number of these would not have reached that age by 1st March. These "attainers", as they are known, can be accurately deducted because their numbers can be counted when the 1979 register is available. On the basis of the 1978 register, the subtraction for this group would be of the order of 26,000.

The electoral register, sadly and inevitably, will also contain the names of those who have died since 10th October 1978. That category raises more difficulties, because it would be impracticable to check a roll of deaths against the electoral register. It is therefore proposed to make a statistical estimate using information held by the Registrar General and on the basis of experience of death statistics over the last few years. If the referendum had been held on 1st March 1978, the figure for deaths in Wales would have been of the order of 14,000. In 1978, therefore, the two categories amounted to a total of 40,000, which is a very small figure in relation to the total number on the electoral register in Wales of 2,065,045. There is a further problem which is still being examined; namely, of multiple registration—that is to say, those people who may have homes in, and may be registered to vote at, more than one address in Wales. They can, of course, only use one vote. The difficulty is that no statistics are kept on multiple registration of this sort.

A further very small category are those electors who are committed to prison after the register the register is compiled and, again, there would be very great difficulty in estimating their numbers. I hope that they will be rather less than more than we have had on previous experience; although I should be very optimistic indeed if I were to state that with any confidence, even in Wales. The House will no doubt bear in mind that the effect of these factors would only have an influence on the result if the "Yes" vote when counted is very close indeed to the 40 per cent. mark. The Secretary of State is looking into these matters carefully and will make an announcement regarding them in due course.

My Lords, the Government anticipate a conclusive "Yes" vote in the referendum. What I think is important is that everyone in Wales should make use of their right to express their own choice in the referendum on an issue of such great importance for the people of Wales, and we shall encourage as high a poll as possible. I beg to move that the draft order be approved.

Moved, That the draft Wales Act 1978 (Referendum) Order 1978, laid before the House on 14th November, be approved.—(The Lord Chancellor.)

4.12 p.m.


My Lords, it gives me very great pleasure to welcome this order and I am tempted on this occasion to say that this is another historic occasion not only for Wales but for the United Kingdom. Many Welshmen in the past have fought for a devolution of limited powers to the people of Wales in their domestic affairs. I should like to take this opportunity not only to congratulate the Government for putting forward their proposals for devolution in the Wales Act 1978 but also to congratulate them on the choice of date for the referendum—namely, 1st March, St. David's Day. If I may be permitted to do so with the leave of the House, I should like to couple those congratulations with the name of that great Welshman, the noble and learned Lord who sits on the Woolsack.

Of course, this occasion seems to me to demand that I should endeavour to engender in this House that Welsh hwyl which it so much deserves. Hwyl—and for the benefit of those noble Lords who may not be acquainted with that word, it is spelled hwyl—is a Welsh word almost incapable of translation; but it describes very graciously the Welsh exhilaration which is expressed on important occasions such as this. The noble Lord, Lord Elton, and I, as perhaps your Lordships may remember, were able to engender some of this hwyl at the conclusion of the debate on the Wales Bill. For my part, I find the noble Lord more muted today than he was on that spendid occasion at the end of the Wales Bill when he paid such a tribute to it.

Let me therefore conclude by echoing the hopes expressed by the Secretary of State for Wales when this order came before the other place. At the conclusion of his speech, he said—and I shall not repeat his words exactly—that he hoped everyone in Wales would make use of the right to express his or her own choice in the referendum. I trust that the people of Wales will give a clear answer and will respond with a resounding "Yes" so that the achieving of the 40 per cent. provision to which the noble and learned Lord referred will not be called into question.

4.15 p.m.


My Lords, it is a terrible temptation to me on this occasion to rake over the cold coals of the referendum question that we discussed at such length during the course of our debate on the Bill but I shall restrict myself to two observations because, I am delighted to say, I have been pre-empted by the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack. As a result, my comments will not be quite so lengthy as they might otherwise have been. In one of our many debates on the Wales Bill last Session, I suggested that the Welsh were a nation of debaters. A small paragraph in the Daily Telegraph of Monday of this week told me that, in fact, I was not so right as I had assumed myself to be. I make no apology to your Lordships for quoting that particular paragraph in full. I think it is very germane to the subject under discussion. It read: It cannot be true—or can it?—that when the question, 'Who or what is devolution?' was put to the people of a small community in South Wales, 10 per cent. said he was Jeremiah's brother, 10 per cent. said it was an aria from "Elijah", 10 per cent. said it was the last Book of the Bible and the remainder that he was a French prop forward". Your Lordships may laugh; but it is serious because one of my great worries about this whole question is that the wrong question is going to be answered by the people of Wales when they vote in the referendum. It may be a silly quotation but I think it is germane.

The question is not, "Do you want devolution?"—and I venture to suggest that we all want devolution in Wales—but, "Is it devolution according to the Wales Act 1978?"—which is a completely different cup of tea. I did my little bit towards trying to understand the Wales Act but I would not say I had it completely on top, fixed in my mind; I would not say that I was capable of giving a lecture on the subject in Wales or outside it. I venture to suggest that very few of us (even those who took a bigger part in our debates such as the noble and learned Lord, Lord McCluskey, and the noble Lord, Lord Elton) have got the whole thing well at their finger tips. However, it is all very well to have it at one's own fingertips and in one's own mind, but is it then possible to put it across to the voting population of the Principality? I personally have my doubts and I would ask—I would plead—that everybody, from whatever political Party and from whatever stance they are talking, either privately or publicly, should do their best to refer all the time to the 1978 Act and not to the issue of devolution per se.

I have said in your Lordships' House before that I have a feeling that the Welsh people will not vote "Yes" in spite of the confident words that we have heard from the noble and learned Lord who sits on the Woolsack. I hope I am wrong. I hope the answer that will be given in the referendum will be a thoughtful vote, having understood the question. The more anybody can do to bring this point home the better.

I was delighted to hear the noble and learned Lord bringing up my second query—which is what has been popularly referred to as the "dead vote". This is very important. It already has led to wide-scale discussion in the Principality and will continue to do so. My mind was very much relieved when I heard him say so definitely what he did say.

4.19 p.m.


My Lords, on the weekly prediction of duration of proceedings, I see that we were allocated one hour for these proceedings. I do not propose to take up what I presume may be my fair share of the ballot, but there may be time to blow on a few of the cold coals referred to by my noble friend. As to the details of the machinery, the noble and learned Lord was very helpful and clear in his exposition of them. But there are one or two minor points that I should like to refer to him. I notice that, while Article 4 of the order provides for the poll to be open until 10 o'clock on the evening of the day of the referendum, Rule 46 in Schedule 1 lays down that: The counting officer [while he] shall, so far as practicable, proceed continuously with counting the votes, allowing only time for refreshment … he may, subject to the directions of the Chief Counting Officer, exclude the hours between seven o'clock in the evening and nine o'clock on the following morning". In other words, he can shut up shop two hours before the votes are in. As it is hardly to be expected that counting, if done by enough people—and if pauses for refreshment are not too long and too frequent—will take more than 10 hours, I presume that this regulation is designed to permit scattered districts to delay the start of the count until the day after polling. It will be interesting to know what guidance will be given to the chief counting officer on making these directions or how many such districts there will be. More particularly—and the noble and learned Lord touched on this, though I did not quite get the sentence in which he described the process—when and where will the final verdict of the chief counting officer be given? Will it be upon St. David's Day or the day of St. Chad which follows it? When will campaigning start? In a General Election this is fixed by both statute and convention. I see none of that here.

I know that the Government are sensitive on the subject of St. David, and indeed all saints. They have become quite effusive in their denials in another place and firm in their denials in this place that they have had any motive at all in choosing his day for other than administrative con- venience for the holding of a poll. In another place this was greeted with incredulity. But I can quite believe it. Her Majesty's Government are quite without imagination, sensibility or poetic instinct in such matters. They do not understand about saints or national sentiment. How could a Government that has until now put every stage of the Wales Bill after every stage of the Scotland Bill, for instance, reverse the order so that we get the Wales order on St. Andrew's Day, of all days and claim to understand about saints and nationalities? How a Party which, as the noble and learned Lord generously admitted, could, but for the energetic proposals of my friends and myself on these Benches, have placed the Wales Act on the Statute Book without a word of Welsh in it, can claim to be sensitive to matters of language and religion, I do not know.

There is evidence in another direction. If one cares, as I am sure the noble and learned Lord often does, to look at Butler's Lives of the Saints, which has a most succinct reference to the life of St. David, one finds that when he founded his first Abbey at Mynyw, the people who were his disciples there were enjoined, among other things, that they should "never speak without necessity". The sparsity of contributions from the other side of the House makes me think that they are, after all, his devoted followers.

However, it is the object of the exercise, not the machinery for achieving it, that ought, with two exceptions, to occupy us beyond this. The object, as my noble friend Lord Skelmersdale has rightly said, is to ask the Welsh people a question. That question which will be asked if and when this order is approved is a simple one: but it is not what it is often made out to be. It is not: "Do you want devolution?", as my noble friend has said, or: "Do you want home rule for Wales?" It is something else. Her Majesty's Government will say it will be: "Do you want to be better governed? Do you want to be governed by yourself? Do you want to have a louder voice in your affairs?" I am not sure that that is right because what it really is is: "Do you want the sort of Assembly, the sort of bureaucracy and the sort of central control of local authority income that are embodied in the Wales Act?"

A lot of people have so far struck attitudes on the subject without really knowing what is in the Act and what it implies. Few people who do know what is in it will eventually want it. It provides for 75 Welsh people—the Assemblymen—to do what one Welsh person—the Secretary of State—does now. It takes all the money that comes from the Treasury to Welsh local authorities in the form of rate support grant—£498 million in the current year—away from the local authorities and gives it to those 75 people to dole out to them as and when they please. It allows them to remit important decisions to a committee made up only of members of the majority party and entitled by law to meet and deliberate in secret, and it requires them to fix, after their initial meeting, their own salaries, their own pensions and their own expense allowances. It will employ, as the new overseers of the Welsh, at least 1,150 extra civil servants; it will cost at least £4 million to set up and at least an extra £12 million to run every year. There will be a further additional cost in the first year of at least £l¼ million, and that is without counting the cost of the referendum itself or of the building built to receive the Assembly if it ever meets. The former is estimated at £1¼ million alone.

The "tab" to be picked up in the first year will therefore be £19 million. All for what? To give the Welsh a stronger voice in their affairs, we are told. But, if we pass this order and they vote "Yes" will they get it? Will they still be able to count indefinitely upon their own special representative in Cabinet? There are plenty of other minority groups of over two million without one and without their own Assembly either. The Irish, for losing their Assembly, are, it seems, to be given more seats in the Commons. The analogy is not a direct one but it is fair to say that the strengthening of one Welsh voice in Wales will inevitably weaken the other Welsh voice in Westminster. Will the Welsh be better off for it? I should like only to point out that, according to a written answer given in another place on 13th November, they are under the present system receiving public expenditure of £167 per head per annum more than is received by other citizens of the United Kingdom. That I hope will not be forgotten.

My Lords, under those circumstances one might wonder who would be likely to support the "Yes" campaign. In my view, there are a few small and very vocal groups whose true position will come as something of a shock to them when it is revealed by the poll. There are the Plaid Cymru; but they lost, I believe, over 20 deposits at the last General Election. There is the Labour Party; but 19 constituency associations have, I understand, declared themselves against the Assembly and dissentient members of the Government are not allowed to speak in the campaign. There are the non-political nationalists—people for whom I have a great respect—whose first and very proper concern is not with rate support grants or the employment of Welsh-speaking public servants but with the spirit of Wales itself, which is what this Bill is supposed to be about. But they are expecting a political and administrative institution to take on the role of a bardic and prophetic priesthood—and nothing is deader than the hand of a politically inspired bureaucracy. The final group is made up of those who privately hope to make for themselves comfortable and important careers in the new and richer tier of government that the Act proposes to create. But when the Welsh people "rumble" them they will surely go to the poll to vote "Nagedif".

I now return to the specific machinery of the referendum. Three important points must be made. The first—as has been pointed out in all fairness by the noble and learned Lord himself—is that if the voting in favour of this Assembly results in a majority but not 40 per cent. of those entitled to vote, the whole question will come back yet again to Parliament. That is the provision of Section 80 of the Act, and the noble and learned Lord has been kind enough to tell us that consideration is still going on of how the missing link, or the dead vote, is ultimately to be defined, and we await the resolution with interest. The second point is that under the circumstances of having a majority not amounting to 40 per cent. of the whole, Parliament is very unlikely to reject the Assembly. It will be difficult for Parliament—I make no commitment in advance—to say: "35 per cent. of you want it but only 20 per cent. voted against it; nonetheless we think that 20 per cent. was right". Therefore it is not enough for those who are opposed to the Assembly to stay at home and take silence as a vote against. It is essential that they should go to the polling station and, indeed, as the noble and learned Lord said, that they also get themselves registered.

The third point is the extent of the Government's commitment as a Government—and this is the most important point of all and ought to concern your Lordships closely—to securing a "Yes" majority. They are at pains to point out that this is not a General Election. By this, they appear to mean that it is not necessary to fight by the rules of fair play which are applied in General Election campaigns, and that one side may use the whole machinery of State available to a Government in Office to drag out of the Welsh a docile "yes" to the palliatives that they have invented while on the other side there will merely be a private organisation which, contrary to rumour, will not be in receipt of massive funds from the CBI or anybody else, but only of private subscription.

The Government's position was badly stated in another place during the debate on this order by the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary of State. The Secretary of State roused the suspicions of my right honourable friends, had they not already been roused by the proceedings in this House on Third Reading, when he said at column 1343 of the Official Report on 22nd November: The Government expect a conclusive result in the referendum. We hope that everyone in Wales will make use of the right to express his own choice in the referendum, and we shall encourage as high a poll as possible". That is perfectly all right, but he went on: We trust that the people of Wales will give a clear answer and will respond with such a resounding Yes that the achievement of the 40 per cent. provision will not be called into question". Following that speech and various exchanges after it, we have the Under-Secretary of State saying at column 1392: We are saying that the only ministerial costs which will be met from public funds will be those associated with the activities of Ministers fulfilling official engagements, at which they will be explaining, and advocating of course, the Government's policy on devolution. The Government information service and other branches of the Civil Service will be used only to the extent that is necessary to continue to explain the Government's policy on devolution", Saying that only ministerial costs will be met is rather like a general saying that only live ammunition will be fired. It has a nice air of false bathos about it; but the analogy is false and the difference is crucial, because in this case at least half the ammunition will have been paid for by those very Welsh people whom these generals—the generals of our supposedly even-handed Government—choose to make their opponents in this campaign. The meaning of the Under-Secretary of State's speech is this: the Government intend to take powers under the Act to use taxpayers' money to produce out of a consultative referendum the answer which they want and which I firmly believe a majority of those consulted do not want.

If that is the power the Government intend to take, I do not think it is a power that this House intended to grant them; and I base that belief on what was said on both sides of the House and not only on one. I am certain, therefore, that after the referendum the House will want to know what has been the expenditure of time and resources by all Civil Service Departments in all activities relating to the promotion of the "Yes" campaign. It will wish to know the cost to the taxpayer of that time and those resources, and whether they were spent upon research, upon publicity, upon accommodation, transport, entertainment or in any other way. Let Her Majesty's Government not reply when the day comes that it is not reasonable to expect them to discover the answer in retrospect. There is no retrospection about it, because I am giving them notice now and on the record of the questions they will be asked. They will be accountable and they must keep accounts. The Welsh will want to know the answers as much as we do.

For myself, despite the majestic and eloquent respectability which the support of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor has given to this Bill, I regard it as an Englishman's strategy to try to obtain a dangerous answer to a foolish question. I think the Welsh are too clever for them by more than half. They have seen them coming and they will see them off. As I said at the very beginning of our long exchanges all those months ago, Englishmen who go to Wales expecting the Welsh to admire their wisdom and their magnaminity had better learn to recognise at least two phrases in Welsh: "Ewch Ifwrd; Dim cynulliad I Gwmru". "Go away", it says, my Lords: "No Assembly in Wales". I would never presume to speak to the Welsh in Welsh, but to them I would say: "Staying at home is not enough. Turn out and vote Nagedif." St. Chad's Day, which has the great fortune for me of being my birthday, will be happier if they win.

4.34 p.m.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran, for the continued enthusiasm with which he has supported the case for the Welsh Assembly. The noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, described the Welsh as a nation of debaters. Lloyd George called them "a nation of quarrelsome nightingales". Really, to think of the Welsh people giving a docile "Yes" or "No" to anything is a gross misconception of the nature of the people of Wales. Furthermore, the idea that they will be incapable of understanding the question is again something which does not fit well with my knowledge and, indeed, general experience of the Welsh people as an intelligent and very politically-minded community. A vague question about devolution would not, I think, be satisfactory. I believe the Government have been right in suggesting a definite question relating to the particular Act and I think that Parliament, in turn, was right to approve the wording of the question in the Act, whether it be in Welsh or in English.

The noble Lord, Lord Elton, put a number of questions to me, having refreshed himself in preparation for the debate by reading the lives of the saints, a subject in which I am always greatly interested as three of my predecessors were saints! That is a piece of historical information which invariably gives rise to derisive laughter: why I cannot think! It is true, of course, that some of my predecessors were not saints, but over that I will draw a very heavy veil. The noble Lord Elton asked a number of questions. The first was: when will the result of the poll be announced? The intention is that the count will be made and the result announced on his own Saint's Day, 2nd March, the day after the referendum. There will be eight county declarations; they will take place in each of the eight Welsh counties and the chief accounting officer will announce the all-Welsh result. That is the intended programme.

The noble Lord also made some observations about the expense that the Assembly and the election and all else will involve, and he spoke about the future of the office of the Secretary of State. The Government believe, and Parliament has accepted, that the democratisation of government and administration in Wales is worth the relatively modest additional cost of the Assembly. It is the Government's intention that the office of the Secretary of State should continue. That is obviously right, as major matters of importance relating to Wales—that is to say, the reserve matters —will still be retained by the central Government and primary legislation, Acts of Parliament, covering Wales will still be passed here in Westminster.


Would the noble and learned Lord allow me to clarify one point? I was not questioning whether there would be a Secretary of State for Wales. What I was wondering was whether he would be in the Cabinet.


My Lords, my understanding is that the answer is "Yes", but of course I cannot bind future Prime Ministers—or indeed even present ones for that matter, come to think of it, bearing in mind the experience of one of my recent predecessors who found himself displaced without notice the night before the change happened. So one never knows with Prime Ministers, does one? At any rate, so far as I can gather, the intention is that the Secretary of State should be in the Cabinet, but, as I say, I cannot bind the view that any future Prime Minister may take.

The noble Lord, Lord Elton, once again returned to the fear that the Government would exploit, at enormous expense to the public, the fact that they are in Office, with governmental machinery at their disposal, to interfere in an unfair, weighted, partisan way with the referendum campaign. It is, of course, correct that Governments—and that would include the present Government—have the right to try to ensure that the policies which they promote should be carried out, and so, of course, Ministers will participate in the referendum campaign. But the only ministerial costs to be met from public funds will be those associated with official engagements which Ministers may have to keep, at which they may, nevertheless, explain and advocate the Government's policy on devolution. If a Minister attends a Party political occasion and goes to a place purely for that purpose to advocate a "Yes" vote, then the costs whether of transport or anything else, will of course be met not from public funds but from the funds of the Labour Party. The Government's information services and other branches of the Civil Service will be used only to the extent necessary to continue to explain the Government's policy. Obviously, civil servants will not take part in any Party political activities and the Government, as was said during the debates on the Bill itself, do not intend to issue campaign literature. So I hope that those assurances will dispel the fears that have been expressed by the noble Lord.

I was not quite sure about his reference to the choice of St. David's Day as the day for the referendum to take place. In another place, the Government were abused for choosing St. David's Day, because of its historical and cultural associations, and doing so for chauvinistic motives. However, the noble Lord, Lord Elton, thinks that the Government are incapable of chauvinistic, religious or cultural motives of any kind, so that there we are squeezed between the hammer and the anvil. But we shall emerge undismayed and, I trust, at the end of the campaign having persuaded the people of Wales that the "Yes" vote is in their best interest.

On Question, Motion agreed to.