HL Deb 12 March 1979 vol 399 cc468-88

8.39 p.m.

Lord CAMPBELL of CROY rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they are aware that an inordinate amount of misinformation was circulating in Scotland during the campaign period preceding the referendum on 1st March; and whether they accepted or repudiated the statement used in some Yes campaigns advertising: "If you don't vote, you vote No". The noble Lord said: My Lords,in tabling this Question, I intend to concentrate on the referendum held in Scotland on 1st March, and not on what should be done about the Scotland Act 1978. There will doubtless be opportunities to debate that later, and last Thursday the Prime Minister stated in another place that he needed time and also that repeal orders would, in due course, be tabled.

The referendum, with the simultaneous one in Wales, was the first of its kind to be held in the United Kingdom. Therefore, it seems appropriate that we, in your Lordships' House, should consider, while it is fresh in our minds, some of the extraordinary statements that were made during the preceding period. In this House we considered beforehand arrangements for holding the referendum. We now have the time in this House to consider what happened. The Government said beforehand last year that they were modelling the referendum so far as possible on the 1975 referendum on Europe, but there were fundamental differences, as was pointed out in our debate on the referendum order on 5th December. The details are contained in the record of that debate. I shall simply sum them up now.

On this occasion in 1979, the Government were officially supporting one side in the referendum. In the 1975 referendum on Europe, Ministers were allowed to campaign on both sides. There was no financial assistance, free printing, or post provided by the Government on this occasion in 1979. There was no accounting by each side afterwards. On the other hand, in the Europe referendum, individual's expenditure of over £100 had to be included in the accounts, and five senior Ministers' expenses were in the White Paper, four on one side and one Cabinet Minister on the other. These were examined and certified by the Comptroller and Auditor General. Most of the money accounted for on that occasion had not been contributed by the Government. Most of it had come from other sources, but it still had to be declared and the expenditure reported.

Another important difference, because it involves a major constitutional change to the present system—the greatest since 1707—was that the Commons inserted the 40 per cent. provision. The Government made no attempt to change that in this House. That provision in itself made the referendum not strictly comparable with the 1975 one. I have reminded your Lordships of these principal differences because I have been aware that there has been little sign South of the Border that the referendum campaign was taking place. I was myself in Scotland for about two-thirds of the time between mid-December and 1st March. This was because there were two recesses and because of my usual habit of flying to London for the days when I am needed here. Of course I was mostly in the area of my home in Nairnshire, near Inverness, but I was also in other parts of Scotland.

I think it is only right to point out the background to the referendum; namely, that in January and February most people in Scotland were very vague about what the Question was. The Press and the media did not help. I know that headlines and shorthand have to be used, but they led to expressions such as "referendum on devolution", or "referendum on whether to have an Assembly in Edinburgh". But of course the referendum was on neither of those two questions. The Question was, and I spell it out again: Do you want the provisions of the Scotland Act 1978 to be put into effect?

That Question did gradually emerge for those who were determined to find out what it was. It was not a referendum on devolution in general, and it was not a referendum on having any kind of Assembly. But the problem for the conscientious elector then was to see a copy of the Scotland Act. It cost £1.75, and many would not have thought it worth making a purchase for that single referendum. Indeed, I am sure that very few of them were sold in Aberdeen! In my Question in this House on 23rd January, I therefore asked about copies in libraries.

But, even if the elector achieved the sight of a copy, it was not easy reading, as we in this House know only too well. Schedule 10 on the subjects devolved was difficult to follow and was 25 pages long. That is just one Schedule. So I start by saying that mistakes about interpretations of the Act were made publicly by both the "Yes" and the "No" campaign groups. Some of the "No" campaign statements, in particular at the beginning, had to be admitted to be mistakes by the "No" campaigners who had made them. Similarly, broadcast discussions and letters and articles from prominent people contained wrong assumptions. For example, it was said that agriculture was to be devolved, when we who dealt with it in this House knew that it was not.

These were to be expected. Even the Government Front Bench here made mistakes in interpretation. The noble and learned Lord, Lord McCluskey, I think never let us down and gave us full explanations, but there were cases when Members of the Government had to correct what they had said on a later day and apologise. I am thinking in particular of the special grants for museums and galleries where we were told one thing and later exactly the opposite. So the complexity of the Bill did make errors understandable.

The Government had taken a deliberate decision not to produce a short, simple summary of the Act for cheap or free circulation. The reason given was that they felt they would be accused of slanting it however much they tried to make it neutral. So the result was that the electorate in Scotland was almost entirely dependent on the media and on hearsay. There were meetings, and of course those who attended them were better informed, but they could only be attended by a small fraction of the electorate. Anyone who attended meetings addressed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord McCluskey, would I am sure have received accurate information. But the television and radio interviews that I saw and heard were sketchy, often wrong, and very seldom upon the Scotland Act, the subject of the referendum.

Before I give examples of misinformation of a dangerous and divisive kind, the House might be entertained by the following example of just one incident of a kind which could happen only in a referendum and not at a General Election. In one Scottish newspaper, a journalist suggested that of former Moderators of the Church of Scotland six were "Yes" and only one "No". This immediately caused a Member of your Lordships' House, the noble Lord, Lord MacLeod of Fuinary, to telephone as many of the 16 other living ex-Moderators as he could, and he produced an opposite result: at least 11 "No's". His letter recording this was published with a gracious apology from the journalist.

Now I come to the most serious of the mis-statements, and I have included it in the Question on the Order Paper. Some of the "Yes" campaigners used the 40 per cent. provision as a pretext for saying and printing: If you don't vote, you vote No", and words to that effect. That is the one I have with me. That was palpably untrue. We in Parliament knew that the final decision on the Act was to be taken by Parliament, the referendum being advisory, and that a comparison of the strengths of the "Yes" and "No" totals would be one of the crucial considerations. I hope that the Government will confirm in reply this evening what I assume to be their attitude to this slogan. It is important that everyone should know what the Government's view is. I assume that the noble and learned Lord will tell us that where several groups are on one side in a referendum campaign and one is the Government, the Government do not and cannot subscribe to all the slogans propagated by fraternal groups.

But did the Government do anything to stop this slogan once it had started? For it was entirely incorrect and misleading. The Government must be the first to admit that. If it were true, then it means that 67 per cent. of the Scottish electorate—the sum of the "Noes" and the abstentions—have declared themselves opposed to the Scotland Act, and that is absurd, and it would not be giving the Prime Minister any trouble to decide what to do. I myself know of cases of people who could not vote on the day because of sudden illness, or unforeseen and essential absence. Some might have voted "Yes", and some might have voted "No". But this misleading slogan did undoubtedly in addition affect some who intended to vote "No" but could have done so only with some difficulty or with great difficulty. They knew about the 40 per cent. threshold. They should not have been misled by this propaganda into thinking that the comparison between the totals of "Yesses" and "Noes" would not also be important and matter.

I was aware of such electors—for example, some who were indisposed on the day but who could have gone to the polling booths, others who had transport difficulties and would have had to ask a neighbour for a lift in a car and others who were at work all day and were without a baby-sitter in the evening. If this had been repeated over Scotland, there are many who would say that the 2 per cent. gap between the "Yesses" and "Noes" might have been bridged and that there might have been more "Noes" than "Yesses".

I have with me the version of the slogan which the Scottish National Party put out. I have taken it from a weekly newspaper in my part of the country, the north of Scotland, called the Northern Scot and presumably it had the approval of the SNP MPs in the area. It said: Yes, yes, yes. If you don't vote, you vote No. If the story in yesterday's Sunday Express in the Cross-Bencher column is correct, one of those SNP Members failed to vote because she made a muddle about her postal voting. According to that report, it could only have been Mrs. Ewing's own fault that she did not vote. If her Party's slogan in the newspapers in that area had any validity, she became a "No" voter by not voting, and I am sure that is not what she intended. In fact, it is a case of being hoist with her own canard.

A referendum of this kind is a novelty in this country and the threshold is also a novelty. If we are to have more referenda and if they are to be on constitutional questions, again with a threshold, then the lessons from this referendum should be learned If there is a percentage threshold in any future referendum, any mis-statements of this kind about the effect of not voting must be shot down publicly at the beginning. While I am sure that the Government's intention was to encourage as many electors as possible of all views to exercise their vote—I am sure that is what the Government Front Bench opposite intended—I trust the noble and learned Lord will agree that this was the wrong way to do it.

Some other mis-statements which were made during the period must be corrected, otherwise a false mythology will be created; divisive, anti-English and untrue. It is easy to work up grievances in Scotland if you feel a neglected poor relation. It is tragic if such grievances are founded on fallacies. There was the mis-statement in the leading article of the Scotmsan on 23rd February which I corrected by a published letter. The editor was good enough later, in the correspondence columns, himself in an editorial note to agree that his newspaper was wrong. The mis-statement was the only comment made on the worrying and intractable problem known as the West Lothian question. It was: Parliament for years has loaded Scottish Committees with English MPs so that they reflect the composition of the whole House". That statement was totally wrong and likely, if not shot down forever, to cause damage. It also showed an unfortunate unfamiliarity with the present system. I am not a defender of the present system but at least more should be known about how it works. Misunderstandings of this kind would then be less likely to occur.

This particular misunderstanding arises out of the composition of the Scottish Grand Committee. Since 1907, over 70 years ago, the Scottish Grand Committee has consisted of all the 71 Members representing Scottish constituencies, plus at least 10 non-Scottish Members—I say that because they are Welsh and Irish as well as English—but not more than 15, so the Committee has always had to consist of 81 but not more than 86. That is under Standing Order 68, if anybody cares to look it up, and I am glad to see the noble Lord the Leader of the House in his place tonight because he was Leader in another place and will be familiar with these matters.

Originally the purpose in 1907 must have been to have a watching brief over United Kingdom interests in that Grand Committee when it was first set up; in my opinion it is now anomalous and unnecessary. Those non-Scottish Members do not need to attend, though nominated, and one reason for that is that there is no voting in the Scottish Grand Committee on any of the subjects discussed. The only motion that can be voted on is the equivalent to "That the Committee do adjourn" and the average votes on that work out at about one Division every five years.

Second Reading of Scottish Bills and six days in the year on Scottish Estimates are taken, plus two general subjects in the Scottish Grand Committee. If a Bill is opposed and there is likely to be a Division, or even the possibility of a Division, then the Second Reading is taken on the Floor of the House and the voting happens there. Thus, it does not matter at all whether or not the Government have a majority and there is no question of loading the Committee with non-Scottish Members.

For seven years—for part of them I was a Scottish Government Whip, so I am familiar with this—about half the time of Conservative Governments since 1945, the Government did not have a majority in the Scottish Grand Committee, even when the maximum of 15 non-Scottish Conservative Members were added. But it did not matter; the non-Scottish Members very seldom spoke and there was no voting. The 71 Scottish MPs did the talking. As for the Scottish Standing Committees which take the Committee stages of Bills, they are much smaller, and manned only by Members for Scottish constituencies. They are selected in proportion to the strengths of the parties, and Governments do have majorities there. I have explained that because it must be put on the record.

Now we come to the West Lothian problem with which this was compared. It is illustrated in this way: on a sensitive domestic subject—for example, comprehensive education in England only—a majority of the MPs representing English constituencies might be against a Bill. With the 71 Scottish MPs voting too, the majority—and the decision—might be the opposite. But the Scottish MPs who had caused that result, voting on this English subject, would not have any say in Scottish education, which would be decided by other people in Edinburgh. That is the problem and without a solution it is most unsatisfactory, to say the least.

But the vital point was voting and because there is no voting in the Scottish Grand Committee it could not be described as loaded with non-Scottish MPs without misleading the public. It is all the more important that this fallacy be killed off because, four days after that leading article appeared, the Prime Minister made the same mistake in the Panorama programme on 26th February. In reply to Mr. Robin Day, the Prime Minister dismissed the West Lothian question by saying that we have had the Scottish and Welsh Grand Committees packed by English Members. He went on to say that English Conservatives have been added to the Welsh Grand Committee to make up numbers. It is in fact a Scottish question but naturally, as a Member for Cardiff, he is more familiar with the Welsh scene. I must point out in the case of the Welsh Grand Committee that it consists of the 35 Welsh Members together with a maximum of five non-Welsh Members, which is not very much, and the additions are optional—not like the Scottish Grand Committee where there have to be at least 10 additional Members. Again, there is no voting. That is the main point, and the Welsh Committee meets only three or four times a year because there are no Estimates and there is hardly ever a Welsh Bill for Second Reading. There can be no real comparison with the existing Scottish system and the West Lothian problem. Mr. Robin Day could not be expected to pursue this question about the Committee system, so discussion of this most serious problem ended there.

I now appeal to all who aspire to prescribe or work out constitutional changes—and for myself I hope that they will begin with modest improvements of wide acceptability—at least to do their homework about the present machinery for dealing with Scottish Parliamentary business, and not to mislead the public. I add straight away that, in the cases I have mentioned regarding the newspaper and the broadcast, what occurred was clearly and certainly unintentional. It was simply a mistake. Yet no matter how such statements are made, damage can be done to amity between Scots and English when there are aroused false grievances based on fallacies of this kind.

To keep within reasonable time I shall select only one other misconception which must be corrected before it becomes bogus modern history. Like my noble friend Lord Cromartie (who I am glad to see is here, and due to speak), I am, as many know. unhappy about the way in which the new form of local government has been operating in some parts of Scotland. As I have said in previous debates, I believe that this is largely because some councils were allowed to build empires and appoint grandiose staffs of unnecessary size. My noble friend served in local government for many years and was a successful Convener of the Ross and Cromarty County Council. He certainly has not made any mis-statements on the subject, but, with his knowledge, he has been critical of the present system. Anyone reading the Scottish Press over the last two months would have formed the impression that the local government scheme for Scotland was hatched in London and imposed by England. Whether or not one likes the present organisation, the fact is that the two-tier system on the present lines—which included Strathclyde—was recommended unanimously by the Wheatley Royal Commission in 1969. The Commission was entirely composed of Scots. It included Members of Parliament from the principal political Parties in Scotland and it was presided over by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wheatley, who had been Lord Advocate in a Labour Government. It was equivalent to the Redcliffe-Maud Commission in England and Wales.

At that time, in 1969.70, the system proposed was generally accepted in Scotland. I cannot remember any significant voices being raised against it. Some changes were made, but they were generally welcomed. There was, for example, the introduction of the Islands groups and a border region. There were two or three important controversies and differences of opinion about them within Scotland. But it must be recorded plainly and without any ambiguity that the structure was the product of a completely Scottish Commission with which there appeared to be general agreement when its recommendations were published. If such facts are not registered in order to correct mis-statements, now that the referendum dust has settled, agitators and demagogues will be provided with bogus grievances with which to cause mischief and discord within Britain. I for one am determined to do all I can to prevent that happening.

9.4 p.m.


My Lords, as a "Yes" voter, and having over a number of years given my views on the desirability of some devolution of Government to Scotland, I shall be very brief. There were three main reasons why the number of the abstentions was so large. The first was that those—perhaps not a great number—who had read the Bill realised that it was not a good Bill and that it gave the proposed Assembly too little power. It might have been better if more of the Amendments proposed by your Lordships had been accepted in another place. Secondly, there was the very valid fear of gross over-government, and if the Government had had the courage to ensure that the disaster of regionalisation was abolished and that Scotland could return to some form of single-tier local government—which, incidentally, is working well in the Outer Isles—many prospective voters would have been reassured on this matter. Not only would local government have become again more truly local and far less expensive to both the ratepayer and the taxpayer, but the staffing of the Assembly could have been found from among the late regions.

Thirdly, there was the fear that the greatest area of Scotland would, because of its smaller population, have been dominated by Glasgow and Strathclyde, whose way of life and ideas are often at variance with those of the people of Scotland outwith this heavily populated area. Personally I think that this fear was overstressed; nevertheless, it was there. Would not proportional representation, as so clearly recommended by your Lordships' House, have gone a long way to mitigate this danger? As we all know, this was turned down in another place where many people think that this reform is long overdue. However, the fear of losing seats makes the idea unpopular. Finally, my Lords, let us not delude ourselves that the issue of self-government within the framework of the Kingdom is dead; it is not.

9.7 p.m.


My Lords, I wish to confirm the main point on which my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy started this short debate. There was indeed a very persistent campaign to persuade doubtful "No" voters that they did not need to go out to the polls on the day. If they abstained, the Act, or devolution, or whatever it was that the electorate thought was being offered, would fall if the 40 per cent. target was not met. From asking around among the people with whom I live and work in Scotland I am certain that a substantial number of people—even right up to the day—did not really believe that they had to vote "No" in order to register their opinion. Certainly, I persuaded those whom I know and whom I was able to reach that they should, but I could reach only people around me, and there must have been others elsewhere.

I should like to ask the noble and learned Lord, Lord McCluskey, whether, in the light of the way in which this referendum campaign was conducted, the Government will give some attention to laying down the principles under which referendums should be held, or will be held, in future. I would say here that I would prefer that there were no further referendums held in this country, but I am sure there will be; now that the practice has been started it is likely to continue. I would ask whether they would debate the laying down of some framework within which referendums should be held in future, in order that, before another referendum takes place, the electorate are aware of the ground rules and know that they will not be changed after the event, and know that when the referendum has taken place the result will be accepted.

The rules of this referendum were made up after the question had been put on the Table, as the Bill progressed through Parliament. That is obviously unsatisfactory, because it enables the two sides, not only to debate the referendum but to pull the rules apart as they go, and argue about them after the referendum. If the rules are understood before the referendum and are made to stick after the referendum, it makes it more likely that those whose views do not prevail at the ballot box will accept the referendum and not cause trouble and violence thereafter.

9.10 p.m.


My Lords, I think the House is indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, for asking this Question, and I am concerned only to express the hope that the Government will give due and proper regard to everything that he has said, and will answer the questions which have been put to them. I hope they will have regard to what he has said in relation to their consideration of what future action they are going to take as a result of this referendum, and also with regard to any future referendums which it may be considered appropriate to hold.

Beyond that, I would say only this. I suppose that in political warfare, as in other forms of warfare, truth is a not infrequent casualty; and the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, referred to a mis-statement by the "No" campaign, with which I was closely involved during the course of the referendum. There was, of course, a small mistake in one of our pamphlets, which we readily admitted; and we said we would withdraw all the other copies of the pamphlet if those involved on the other side of the battle would stop saying that an abstention was equal to a "No". This offer was not taken up. I myself gave this pamphlet 99 per cent. Discount 5 per cent. for my prejudices, and it was still substantially accurate. But this assertion throughout the campaign, repeated to a mounting crescendo until the eve of the poll, was the really big untruth of the campaign.

Indeed, an argument could be presented for the proposition that the result of the referendum was very largely vitiated by the way in which this assertion was repeated and officially endorsed, not just by people like the National Union of Students but by the Labour Party in Scotland itself. I have a very full and lengthy brief which would support such a case, though it might not carry such a case. I am happy to inform your Lordships that at this hour on this particular night I have no intention of using that brief. I shall keep it and, in the unlikely event of Her Majesty's Government seeking to persuade your Lordships not to repeal the Scotland Act, I shall use it then.

9.13 p.m.


My Lords, I shall endeavour to be as brief as I can, but I must make a proper reply to the speeches which have been made, and particularly to that of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy. If I may take a small point first of all, the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, referred to the fact that this particular referendum—I refer to the Scottish referendum—was different from the referendum on the EEC, and he pointed to some particular differences, specifying that in the campaign in Scotland the Ministers campaigned on only one side, whereas in the EEC referendum they campaigned on both sides. That is true. But as the noble Lord and the House will be aware, in the manifesto prepared for the 1974 October election, in the case of the EEC, the commitment of the Labour Party in that manifesto was to the holding of a referendum. It was not a commitment to asking for a "Yes" or "No" in relation to the terms which were to be renegotiated. The commitment was only to the holding of a referendum. In relation to devolution the Party was committed to the establishment of a legislative Assembly, an elected Assembly, for Scotland and no mention was made of a referendum.


My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble and learned Lord so early in his speech but I want to make this clear. I was merely stating the differences, which I accept. I was not being critical. I stated that this was a novelty because it is different in many respects. But that was not a criticism.


My Lords, I did not intend to sound defensive. I was trying to explain why this difference had arisen in case those noble Lords who do not know the history of this as well as does the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, might misunderstand the position. In relation to another matter he mentioned, the question of people's understanding in Scotland, he drew our attention particularly to the fact that many people, he said, were vague about what the question was but gradually it emerged. Of course, the question was advertised; it appeared on the ballot paper; and those who were able to read newspapers and were able to read advertisements in newspapers, and, I think, on television, would know what the question was. I accept that the Scotland Act is not bedtime reading although it often put Members of this House to sleep. But the Government did plan to issue a leaflet, as the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, has rightly said.

The Government took the view, based on what the opponents of devolution were saying, that they would certainly come to assert that any leaflet or even White Paper produced by the Government was biased and that, whatever was said in such a leaflet, the opponents of devolution would say that it was biased in favour of a "Yes" vote. If I may refer to the proceedings in another place on 18th July 1978, when the Minister of State, as he then was, Mr. John Smith, was speaking in the presence of Mr. Edward Taylor about this matter, he commented on something that apparently Mr. Taylor had said, and the passage reads: The honourable Member for Glasgow (Cathcart) says, 'We do not trust you.' I think that that argument is without any foundation. But that was the attitude at the time. And when Mr. Brittan, speaking on behalf of the Official Opposition, came to reply to what Mr. Smith had said, he indicated that Mr. Smith had been right to say that the Government were not to issue an independent leaflet or an authoritative objective leaflet and said that Mr. Smith was wise to eschew that course.

Of course, a lucid, unbiased account of the provisions of the Act could have been produced; and we were in the course of preparing such a document before the Government were forced into this position by the critics of devolution. Undoubtedly, it would have been characterised as tendentious whatever it said. It would have been accused of significant omissions and of misleading emphasis and of optimistic tone and so on. The Government wanted to avoid any such accusations and, accordingly, no such document appeared.

If, as was certainly the case, in the course of the campaign there were misleading statements about what was devolved and what was not and what the powers were and so on, there was then no official guidance to which anyone could turn to resolve his uncertainties unless he could read and understand the Act. We must simply draw our own conclusions from the fact that it was the opponents of the Scotland Act who opposed the provision of an official guide to its contents.


My Lords, if the Minister will allow me, is this not one of the occasions when it would have been for the benefit of the country as a whole, and of Scotland in particular, if the two parties or the three parties—there is no representative of the other one present at the moment—had been able to get together and discuss this instead of keeping it divided by these party lines?


My Lords, I do not know. That was a long time ago. No one suggested that. I cannot see how Mr. Teddy Taylor, on the one hand, and Mr. Smith, on the other, could have sat down and emerged at the end of a meeting with an agreed statement of what the Scotland Act said and meant. If the noble Earl can imagine that happening then he can imagine anything.

Let me turn to the other point on which I want to comment; the point that the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, made about committees. Of course, the position is exactly as he stated it to be in relation to his long-running battle with the Scotsman newspaper. He was right and the Scotsman was wrong. I have this recommendation to make to the editor of the Scotsman: that he buy an up-to-date edition of Erskine May. He is working on the 18th edition published in 1971 and the rule that we are concerned with was changed in November 1971. If he were to buy the 19th edition, an expensive document but worth purchasing in that office, he would find the up-to-date position made clear. It is as the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, has said it to be in relation to both the Standing Committees and indeed the Scottish Grand Committee as well.

The substantial point is this—and I do not think there is any contradiction between what I say and what the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, has been saying—Scottish legislation is from time to time passed at Westminster, contrary to the wishes of the majority of Scottish Members. But that result is achieved because of the composition of the House of Commons itself, not because the Committees are packed with English Members. So I think that we are in agreement about that.

There is one point of detail I might just pick up, and that is in relation to local government reform in 1973. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, connected that with his general matter in relation to the West Lothian question and these allegations about packed Scottish Standing Committees or packed Scottish Grand Committees. He is quite right in saying that the Wheatley recommendations were widely greeted with approval when they first appeared. Indeed, that approval continued until one saw what the result was. When one comes to the particular detail, the noble Lord will recall that my noble friend Lord Hughes in this House proposed that the Strathclyde Region, which is the biggest monster in the current machinery of Government mythology in Scotland, should be split into four separate Regions: Greater Glasgow, Lanarkshire, Argyll and Clyde, Ayr and Arran. That proposal was carried. The noble Baroness, Lady Elliot of Harwood, agreed with that proposal and I can see her nodding. That proposal was carried in this House and taken back to the other place. In the other place, the Lords' Amendment was defeated by a substantial majority; but if one counted the Scottish Members' votes they would have been in favour of retaining that Amendment. So the substantial point on which there is no disagreement is that it is the composition of the House of Commons that counts. If the House of Commons has a different political complexion from that which would be given if one looks solely at the Scottish Members, then one finds imposed upon Scotland legislation of a kind the majority of Scottish Members would not want.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord because I am well aware of that. The Bill had gone through the Commons. The Standing Committee in the Commons had agreed to Strathclyde which was one of the exceedingly controversial subjects. It was difficult to know how to deal with that area. My recollection is that of the Scottish Members who voted on the Lords' Amendment, there was a majority of one or two in favour of Strathclyde. That was an example of the whole House operating as it has before in another place, and all Members being the same and being able to vote on all the Bills, whereas the West Lothian question raised this very difficult point which I outlined and I shall not repeat now.


My Lords, on a point of information, the voting was 28 votes to 24 in relation to the acceptance or rejection of the Lords' Amendment—that is to say, 28 of the Scottish Members were in favour of the Lords' Amendment and 24 were against. So had it been left to the Scots, they would have split Strathclyde into four Regions. The fact that Strathclyde survived as one region derived from the circumstances that the Scots were not able to determine their own affairs in relation to that matter of local government.

May I go on to deal with what the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, thought was the most serious of the misstatements: that is, the statements in relation to the 40 per cent. I agree with him that the 40 per cent. provision was novel. He will recall that it was introduced into the Act by the opponents of devolution. It was, in my view, bound to introduce misunderstanding, and it did; it was bound to divert attention from the real issues, and it did. Let me remind your Lordships of what it said. I read the relevant parts of Section 85(2) of the Scotland Act: 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 Parliament the draft of an Order in Council for the repeal of this Act". The only legal effect of that is to impose upon the Secretary of State a duty to lay before Parliament the draft of an Order in Council for the repeal of the Scotland Act, provided that less than 40 per cent. of persons entitled to vote have voted "Yes". It sets a target for the "Yes" vote. The number voting "No" is irrelevant, as is the number not voting at all. If 60.5 per cent. of those entitled to vote either abstained or voted "No" the result upon the Secretary of State's statutory duty would have been the same. Even if 1,495,000 Scots had voted "Yes", the same statutory duty would have arisen, even if the other 2,252,112 had abstained. In the circumstances, it is hardly surprising that those who did not want such a draft order to be placed before Parliament stressed that a favourable majority was not enough. To put it another way, the legal effect upon that particular provision of an abstention was the same as the legal effect of a "No" vote. Either an abstention or a "No" would contribute, in other words, towards a failure to reach the 40 per cent.

Apart from the purely legal effect that I have described, it was also obvious that the opponents of devolution would claim the support of those who did not vote "Yes", just as politicians all over the world are wont to claim the support of the so-called "silent majority"—in this case simply those who were silent. One aspect of that is this: Those who support the repeal draft order when it is brought before the House would undoubtedly point with satisfaction to the non-voters as well as to the "No" voters. That is already happening. The opponents of devolution are already doing just that in order to justify the non-implementation of an Act which a clear majority of Scottish voters supported.

In that context, predictions by some "Yes" campaigners of how abstentions would be regarded and prayed in aid for repealing the Act are understandable, even if the wording of some of their warnings and utterances lack the precision and fullness that would be looked for from a lawyer or a Parliamentary draftsman. It is not for me to comment upon individual utterances, particularly those which came from the Scottish National Party or other bodies which happened to range themselves on the side of the "Yes" voters. In any event, each of the utterances has to be looked at in its own context and in the context of this regrettable and unprecedented 40 per cent. rule.

It is regrettable for many reasons, but one of them certainly was this: It was likely to produce and indeed did produce confusion, uncertainty and misunderstanding. I am not in the least surprised to hear it said that it did, in fact, produce confusion, uncertainty and misunderstanding. So it is not for me to condemn out of context asserted or assorted statements which were designed to explain in simple—perhaps over-simple—terms the effects of a very complicated subsection, being the one to which I have referred.

I have also been asked whether the Government would make some general comment about the principles upon which referenda should be held in the future. That is not a matter arising out of this Question, and I do not propose to make any such comment at all. In fact, of course, if the instrument of a referendum is to be considered again in the future, no doubt the circumstances in which it is proposed to be used will have some bearing upon the form a particular referendum will take. No doubt this is a matter which ought to be discussed, but it is certainly not a matter to be discussed in the context of this particular Question which has been put before the House tonight.

There has been reference both in the Question and in the debate to mis-statements and misinformation. There were a good many, and I am happy that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilson of Langside, has acknowledged that his particular organisation was responsible for at least one error. I think that he is being unduly modest about the number of errors to which one could point.


My Lords, if the noble and learned Lord cares to let me have a note of others, I shall be very glad to consider them. But I think that is very disingenuous of him—will he not admit it?—to make this assertion about relatively minor errors, which were admitted to be errors as opposed to outright mis-statements and falsehoods, which is what the assertion that an abstention is the same as a "No" vote was. That was a mis-statement and a falsehood and all his ingenious advocacy does not alter that.


My Lords, if the noble and learned Lord can point to one word of error in anything I have said, I shall be delighted that he should do so. What I find astonishing is that the noble and learned Lord should, when addressing the House say, "We made a mistake and we were willing to withdraw it, provided that they withdrew their mistake" and to say that truth must be a casualty in a particular campaign in this country. I find this an astonishing assertion to come from a former Lord Advocate, and one who played a substantial part in this campaign.

However, it certainly serves no great purpose to hash over the entrails of this campaign, and I shall not waste time doing it now. But the noble and learned Lord is well aware that his folding pamphlet contained a number of errors, and indeed his campaign tried to mislead the Scots into thinking that devolution was tantamount to separation. The campaign conducted in these terms was certainly not edifying. There were far too many errors and far too many half truths, and perhaps far too many personal attacks in the course of the campaign. One regrets that, and one hopes that the next time, if there is to be a next time, people will be more responsible.

I do not believe that the Government could have done any more than they did, or that Ministers who took part in the campaign could have done any more than they did, in order to try to bring the issues before the country, given the limitation that they had to accept in relation to the publication of a leaflet, and the limitation that was placed upon the Government in relation to expending public money in any way in relation to the campaign. There is no doubt bound to be some misinformation and misunderstanding in relation to a difficult constitutional matter, but I feel, at the end of the day, that the substantial character of the Scotland Act and the substantial nature of the opposition to it were well understood by those who took the trouble to vote. Indeed, when one looks at the figures of those who voted, one sees that the turn-out in Scotland was certainly larger than the turn-out at the EEC referendum, and also was respectable in relation to the turn-out at a General Election. I do not believe that the result has been substantially, if at all, influenced by this misinformation, but, none the less, one regrets that there has been misinformation on both sides.

House adjourned at twenty-seven minutes before ten o'clock.