No. 40, in page 2, line 33, leave out from 'be' to end of line 35 and insert:
'undertaken on a constituency basis as for a Parliamentary Election, conducted by the returning officers in subsection (1) above, and the result shall be publicly declared for each constituency as at a Parliamentary Election'.
No. 42, in page 2, line 34, leave out from 'by' to end of line 35 and insert:
'the persons respectively designated in subsection (1) above to carry out the functions of returning officers.
(2A) Each person so designated shall certify and publish the total number of ballot papers counted and the respective answers given by valid votes and shall make a return of such information to a person (in this Act referred to as the Counting Officer) nominated by the Secretary of State'.
No. 110, in page 2, line 35, at end insert—
'(2A) There shall be a Counting Officer for each of the areas specified in Schedule (Areas for which Counting Officers shall be nominated) to this Act. The Counting Officer for an area may appoint Deputy Counting Officers to discharge his responsibilities at the referendum in different parts of the area for which he is Counting Officer, provided that the number of persons entitled to vote in the referendum in any such part of the area is not less than 200,000. There shall also be a Counting Officer to conduct the counting of votes cast in accordance with any special provision made in pursuance of section 1(4A) of this Act'.
No. 49, in page 2, line 38, at end insert
'and shall also certify for each total what number represents voting in accordance with any special provision made in pursuance of section 1(4A) of this Act and what numbers of the remainder represent respectively voting in each of the following areas, that is to say—
In the course of the debate yesterday various Ministers repeatedly argued that in conducting the referendum they wished to follow normal election procedure as far as possible.
In moving the amendment I submit that, as the Bill stands at present, to have a national, centralised count is a big departure from normal election procedure which is undesirable, for the following reasons. First, it is an extremly cumbersome procedure. The Lord President has not yet told us how the count will be conducted. I hope that he, or whoever will reply to the series of amendments, will be more forthcoming than hitherto. Presumably arrangements must be made for the ballot boxes to be brought to Earls Court from polling stations throughout the United Kingdom, and for the votes to be piled high and counted. The mind boggles at such an exercise, but no doubt plans have been made for it to be done, and we should like to hear about them. It will be a cumbersome process, and it must be expensive. The Committee is entitled to know how much of the £9 million cost is earmarked for this proposed method of count.
There are two other disadvantages in the national count. One is the inevitable delay of three or four days between the voters going to the poll and the results being announced. That is undesirable, because it creates a period of uncertainty. What plans have the Government to make sure that in a count over such a long period, unprecedented in this country, there will be no leaks of how the count is going? I find it impossible to imagine that leaks can be prevented. All of us who have experience of local government or parliamentary election counts know how difficult it is to prevent a leak from even a local count over a very few hours. Therefore, how shall we prevent speculation on a large scale about the result during the three days and nights of counting?
We have before us a whole series of amendments from hon. Members on both sides of the Committee which propose an alternative to what I regard as an unsatisfactory procedure. My amendment, which is simple, although it is long, is that the count be conducted at a constituency level. I accept that there are differing views on this. My right hon. and hon. Friends and I intend to press the amendment to a Division, but if it is defeated we shall support Amendment No. 49, which the hon. Member for Belner (Mr. MacFarquhar) will no doubt move in due course.
The case for a constituency count is on balance the stronger of the two. First, one is using the normal local expertise in counting, the normal returning officers and the normal machinery, which is fresh in everyone's minds, as it was used twice within the past year.
Secondly, there is an argument which bears on the referendum campaign. I am not the most enthusiastic supporter of the referendum, but, as it is to be held, there is an obligation on us all, on whichever side of the battle, to do everything possible to make sure that there is the largest possible turnout and the greatest amount of enthusiasm in the campaign. Are we more likely to generate that enthusiasm throughout the country if the counting is done on a national basis or if it is done on a local basis? I believe that it will give more people on both sides of the argument more incentive to involve themselves in the campaign if they know that their work will be realisable by their being able to see the result in their own communities. That is a powerful argument for using the normal machinery and having the count on a constituency basis. There should then be a marginally higher turnout and greater interest in the campaign than if everybody's results and efforts are swallowed up in one massive result counted at Earls Court.
Two objections have been raised to what I have proposed. The first is that a constituency count is liable to bring what some people would regard as undue pressure on the Member of Parliament in his constituency. That argument applies whether the Member is pro-Market or anti-Market. It is a constitutional point with which I have some sympathy. But it has been thrown out of the window by the holding of the referendum. Once we have decided to go through with the exercise, it does not hold much water then to say "One thing you must not do is to allow any Member of Parliament to know his constituency's thinking on the subject." There is no logic in that argument.
The second argument against a constituency count is that the referendum might be used by those who want to take advantage of it for separatist purposes within the United Kingdom. We must face up to this. In my view, the referendum will be used for separatist purposes anyway, whether the vote is local or on a United Kingdom basis. I see no reason why different parts of the United Kingdom should not be able to add up their total votes to see, as a matter of genuine public interest, what opinion has been in Scotland or Wales, or, for that matter, London, Yorkshire or any other part of the United Kingdom.
For a long time Wales, for example, returned Labour representation overwhelmingly, with an overwhelming Labour vote, during periods of Conservative Government in the United Kingdom as a whole. That may have created political difficulties for the Government of the day, but it certainly did not create constitutional difficulties. I see no reason why we should not accept that different parts of the United Kingdom, including different cities and towns, may vote in different directions. But we all know that the decision can be taken only on the one basis of British membership of the Community.
Does my hon. Friend also agree that it is better for all of us in all parties to deal with facts rather than myths, which would certainly grow up after a national count?
Yes, Sir. As I have said, the arguments of the separatists will be used during the referendum anyway. I take my hon. Friend's point, that if we try to conceal the differing opinions myths will grow up about people's real reactions. The public opinion polls will assume greater authority than the referendum, which is something to be avoided at all costs.
Some people may be frightened about a possible difference in the result in Northern Ireland, Scotland or Wales. but I am not. It might happen, but so what? If we pass Amendment No. 36 or Amendment No. 49, and have the count on a constituency, county or regional basis, there are bound to be variations within each of those countries as well. For example, Glasgow may vote "No" in total in a local count and Edinburgh "Yes". I take that just as an example, and do not suggest that that will be the outcome. Such a result would not be a strong argument for Scottish self-government.
We should not be frightened. It is a mistake to argue for a United Kingdom count on that kind of basis. As a Parliament, we should face up to the facts and the fullest possible expression of local and community opinion on the matter. To generate as much interest as possible in the referendum, we should amend the Bill so that we have a local count instead of the cumbersome procedure suggested by the Government.
I beg your pardon, Mr. Thomas.
I support what the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. Steel) said in moving the amendment, which directs the attention of the Committee towards a constituency count and a constituency declaration.
The referendum is a constitutional innovation which I believe we could well do without. But while we are having such an innovation it is our duty to try to make its execution as simple and straightforward as possible. By its very nature, the referendum is a device which allows the Government to duck the issue and pass the buck because of indecision and political inadequacy within the ranks of the Labour Party. Anyone who has helped to run a golf club or a bingo club will know that it is usually a big mistake to change the rules because of an immediate or specific problem, a temporary situation, as a hasty changing of the rules—
Order. I do not want to change the rules either. I let the hon. Gentleman make his point because I thought he was going to be brief, but he must now discuss how the count is to be undertaken.
The point I was making was that the changing of the rules concerns the way in which the people will be asked to vote and how the system will be applied to the vote, the count and the declaration. The Bill in general and Clause 2 in particular challenge the credibility of parliamentary government. It is necessary to make clear that Parliament alone will decide whether or not Britain remains a member of the EEC, and Parliament alone will decide whether or not to approve legislation which might lead to a British withdrawal from the Community. It is vital that the British public should be aware of those points before they cast their votes in the referendum.
The traditional and unique relationship which exists between hon. Members and their constituents is at stake in the referendum, and it is that relationship which has prompted the amendments which aim at bringing about a constituency count and a constituency declaration. I think that if the Committee accepts the traditional and, from the point of view of our constitution, paramount view that hon. Members owe their constituents their judgment as representatives and not as delegates, it therefore follows that the constituents owe hon. Members their opinion when those opinions are canvassed by a referendum of this kind.
This is an electoral contract which is exclusive to each hon. Member and his or her constituents. No such special relationship exists between the electorate and the Prime Minister or the Government of the day. In other words, if my constituents are to be asked to express their views on Britain's membership of the Common Market I want to know their opinion. I believe that I have a prior right as the Member of Parliament for that constituency to know that opinion before and above anyone else.
—but in so doing there is nothing wrong in the Member knowing the opinion of his constituents before that judgment is exercised. The specific answer to the question is that I would take the views of my constituents into account as any hon. Member would on any subject, but, having taken them into account, I would still exercise my judgment on the issue. It may be that I would not vote in the way that the majority of my constituents would wish, and that is what distinguishes a representative from a delegate. At least, however, I should know the views of my constituents on this matter if the referendum were conducted according to the normal methods of voting and counting votes in Britain.
I believe that any other method of assessing the result will damage further our constitutional propriety. In all the ghastly circumstances surrounding this referendum it is no credit to Parliament that, faced with this ill-conceived constitutional device, hon. Members should decline to know the views of their constituents.
Various methods have been suggested to save hon. Members the embarrassment of knowing what their constituents may think when the result of the referendum is known—
That would be my problem, not the hon. Member's. I am prepared to face up to my problem, if it is a problem, which is more than can be said for most Labour Members.
I think that the most absurd aspect of the referendum is the national count. There is no precedent for it, and it fills me with horror at the prospect of what might go wrong—from the possibility of a student prank as thousands of ballot boxes trundle towards London, to the prospect of a recount. I am told that the figure being canvassed for those willing to count at Earls Court is about £45 a day. What if there are two or three recounts? [Interruption.] If it is not £45 a day I hope that the Lord President will say how much it will cost to have the votes counted. How many recounts has he allowed for in his calculations in trying to give the Committee some idea of the cost of the operation?
Another possibility is some kind of local authority count, which again ignores Parliament and the relationship between Members of Parliament and their constituents. I cannot see any conceivable ground for this method of counting, which is another way of saving hon. Members embarrassment, which is another dodge and another trick on the constitution as we know it.
Bearing all these points in mind, I am sure that in considering the count and in considering his relationship with his constituents every hon. Member in his heart will want to know the opinion of those who elected him to this House. I am sure that no hon. Member would want to do anything which would damage that unique relationship each of us has with our constituents.
The hon. Members for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. Steel) and Edinburgh, North (Mr. Fletcher) have both devoted some of their remarks to reasons for opposing a central count. On Second Reading all my remarks were along the same lines, indicating why I am also against the proposal.
I shall not deploy again all the arguments used on that occasion, but, briefly, they fall into two general groups. One group deals with all the practical difficulties of a central count, with the very cumbersome operation involved in bringing together 50,000 ballot boxes, with them taking up so much space at the one central location and then having to be returned afterwards to the different parts of the country from which they came. That is an operation which will take time and manpower and will cost an estimated extra £2 million.
A further reason which has since come to my notice and which gives grounds for opposing the central count is that it imposes more rigidity on the timetable of the whole operation. It would appear that Earls Court is to be available on 5th June but not on 12th June. Later on in June there are difficulties again because the people who run Earls Court will be getting it ready for the Royal Tournament, which takes place at the beginning of July. If there are 50,000 ballot boxes lying around at Earls Court for too long they may be blasted to smithereens by the Royal Artillery.
The second group of arguments which counts against the idea of having a central count relates to the fact that in political terms it is quite unnecessary to have such a count. In fact, no other country which holds referenda has a central count. There is no harm in certain areas of the country knowing that they have supported the minority viewpoint. I believe that a central count will take away local interest in the referendum and may discourage many people from voting.
In this debate we are to consider the various alternative methods to the proposal to have a central count. The hon. Members for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles and Edinburgh, North favour the proposition of having counts by parliamentary constituency. Contrary to what the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles said, I find that that proposal raises many administrative difficulties. Since local government reorganisation took place in England and Wales last year—similar reorganisation will take place in Scotland during the next month—the boundaries of parliamentary constituencies have in many cases cut across the boundaries of local authorities. If the local administration of the count is to be organised by local registration officers and electoral returning officers for local authorities it will be more difficult in many cases to organise counting on a parliamentary constituency basis.
I put my constituency before the Committee as an example. It is a fact that the Goole parliamentary division now falls in no fewer than four counties. Four electoral registration officers have responsibility for different parts of my constituency. During the General Election last October we found that the mammoth operation of conducting the count and getting all the ballot boxes together in such a far-flung constituency with so many different registration areas imposed additional difficulties.
The hon. Gentleman's constituency may fall within different counties—in fact, my constituency covers three counties—but that is not the main point. Surely he had a satisfactory count in October 1974. Experience has already been gathered in the hon. Gentleman's constituency which has not been gathered nationally.
I could describe at great length some of the difficulties that we encountered in that campaign. I could also describe some of the difficulties which arise because of a parliamentary constituency having so many strange boundaries. Whereas the constituency of the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles neatly coincides with three of the old counties of Scotland, my constituency does not coincide with any local government boundaries apart from parish boundaries. In some of the towns even those boundaries are a little curious. Of course, my constituency is by no means unique in this respect. In many different parts of the kingdom there are constituencies which cut across local government boundaries
A writ would be issued and in due course a campaign would be held. A count would be held in the same way as last October. However, I am now considering the referendum and contemplating whether we can make better arrangements than those I experienced in the constituency which I fought and won last October.
Another reason for a parliamentary constituency-based count presenting difficulties is that the whole purpose of the referendum is to seek the views of the British people outside Parliament, independently of Parliament, without reference to Parliament and in no way connected with the processes of Parliament. If the results are to be made known on the basis of parliamentary constituencies it is inevitable that Parliament and hon. Members will be involved. Some hon. Members may think that that is a good thing. So be it. But it does seem that the whole purpose of having the referendum is to go outside the parliamentary system. We shall not be able to achieve that if we have a parliamentary constituency-based count.
I look for different methods of having a local count. Obviously the units for such counting are now to be found with the new local government areas. In many parts of the country they provide units which are different from parliamentary constituencies. The difficulty which we have to surmount is that of determining which units of local government are the right units to adopt in order to have the most localised count in the referendum, without in any way giving the results in terms of parliamentary constituencies. By that I think it would be wrong for any parliamentary constituency to have the results given in the count. If we had a counting system whereby some hon. Members knew the results in their constituencies and others did not that would be the worst of all possible worlds. It has to be a system which covers all parliamentary constituencies or none at all.
In choosing the right local government units for a local count in the referendum we must first consider those units which now carry the responsibility for electoral registration. For example, there is a chief electoral officer for Northern Ireland, one officer for the whole of the Six Counties. In Scotland, after 16th May, the function of electoral registration will rest with the new regional authorities and with the island area authorities. As the regions are much larger than individual constituencies the choice of regions as the units in the referendum count will get round the difficulty of giving the results in terms of parliamentary constituencies.
I agree that there is a difficulty regarding the island areas. If we were to have the count in Scotland by regions and islands we would give the results for two parliamentary constituencies in Scotland —namely, the constituencies of the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) and the hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. Stewart). In the amendment with which my name is associated those two island areas are coupled with the Highland area.
I now turn to England and Wales. The function of electoral registration rests with the new districts. If we were to have counting by district in England and Wales we would be able to deduce the results for no fewer than 74 English parliamentary constituencies, including the constituencies of my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Privy Council Office, the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. Price), and the hon. Member for Bedfordshire, South (Mr. Madel). Similarly, in Wales there would be five constituencies where the results would be given if we had a count at district level.
For England and Wales the natural unit to choose for local counting is the county. There is only one difficulty, which is that the Isle of Wight, which is a county, is also a parliamentary constituency. In the group of amendments which I support the Isle of Wight is deliberately grouped with the county of Hampshire for counting purposes. There are two sets of amendments on the Order Paper which choose the county as the basic unit for a count. The first set comprises Amendments Nos. 43, 44, 110, 111, 51, 52 and 98. Amendment No. 98 is a new schedule which gives the 63 basic areas throughout the country. Amendment No. 49 puts forward an alternative solution. All these amendments choose the same basic units as I have described.
There are, however, important differences. In the first place there is difficulty about the islands I have mentioned. Amendment No. 49 would give the results in terms of the three island constituencies to which reference has been made. It would allow the possibility, in practical terms of all the votes—although the results would be made known for local areas—being counted centrally. I suspect that if Amendment No. 49 is the one that is carried, the way in which it will be implemented will be by having all the votes brought to one central place but having the results declared separately for the areas mentioned in the amendment. This would involve all the expense and absurd inconvenience of the central count but there would still be local results.
Does the hon. Gentleman realise that there is another complication which arises in my constituency, which is the only one in England that crosses county boundaries? I am in two counties. One part of my constituency might contribute to a "No" vote while the other part might contribute to a "Yes" vote.
The hon. Gentleman has only just come into the Committee. If he had been here earlier he would have heard me say that my constituency overlaps four counties, so that it is twice as good as his in that respect.
The other difference between Amendment No. 49 and those to which I have attached my name is that the latter have built into them a further refinement depending on local cicumstances. This can be seen by looking carefully at Amendment No. 98, which specifies the 63 basic county areas. The clause which would give rise to that amendment has the wording now shown in Amendment No. 110, which would enable the counting officers for the areas shown in the new schedule at their discretion to split up their areas for the purposes of the count but to do so in such a way that no sub-divided unit would have an electorate of fewer than 200,000. There would not be the possibility of the results being known in terms of parliamentary constituencies.
This provision for sub-division of the county areas would be particularly applicable in the more heavily populated areas and would overcome some of the practical difficulties of having counts involving 500,000 votes or more. I think particularly of Greater London and the metropolitan counties of England, the Strathclyde Region of Scotland and also perhaps Northern Ireland.
If we take the electorate for each of the areas specified in the new schedule it is interesting to see how the possibility of sub-division with the individual units having electorates of not fewer than 200,000 can be worked out in practice. The amendments I support are considerably different from Amendment No. 49. Those amendments which have my support are the best solution to the problem of finding the right local counting areas.
My difficulty is that in your wisdom, Mr. Thomas, you have decided not to have a separate Division on Amendment No. 43. In that situation I am forced to fall back on a second-best solution. If the Committee does not accept the amendments which I have tabled I shall support Amendment No. 49.
Amidst all the welter of argument and counter-argument about the appropriate counting unit for the referendum there is one consideration which in my mind stands out above all the others. It is that whether we like it or not every effort will be made to ascertain what was the result of the referendum locally as well as generally. I deliberately use the word "locally" as the most general term because presently one has to consider what is the most convenient local sub-division for the purpose. But that there will be widespread and justified curiosity to know what is the distribution within the United Kingdom as a whole of opinion on this subject cannot be denied.
Any attempt to prevent that distribution from becoming known would be frustrated. The result of that, if it were done by counts at various polling stations, if it were done by public opinion polls or would certainly be to create a confusion of assertion and counter-assertion and to discredit in part the machinery which, however reluctantly, this Committee is setting up. On behalf of myself and my colleagues I would rule out as the least eligible alternative one national count accompanied by a sturdy refusal to supply any other information.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that of all opinion counts the ones which of recent years have been shown to be most erroneous and are, therefore, the most discredited are those which consist of asking people after they have voted how they have voted?
Whether that is true or not, and certainly some very weird results are obtained at General Elections from opinion polls, even those in close proximity to the voting, what the hon. Member has pointed out strengthens my objections to a system whereby we would suffer the bombardment of assertions which no one could afterwards check. If we are setting up a machinery, let it be such as will provide the public with the information which, whether we like it or not, it will want.
Having excluded that possibility, I come to consider which of the lesser areas of counting is most eligible. My colleagues and I would wish to reject the proposition of counting by the countries, or whatever name is chosen, of the United Kingdom. There may be some hon. Members who would wish to see those parts of the United Kingdom as separately treated as possible. That is not the case with my colleagues and me, who represent a part of the United Kingdom which is passionately determined to remain what it officially is at the moment, an integral part of the United Kingdom. Nor do I believe that it would be satisfactory if England was treated as a single unit for the purpose of the count, for many of the considerations which would lead the public to wish to have more information about local variations would not be satisfied by a figure which applied to England as a whole.
We are left with the alternative between a constituency count on the one hand and, on the other hand, a count in larger areas than constituencies but still areas which are smaller than the component parts of the United Kingdom.
I take seriously the objections to a count by constituencies. I see no point in denying that there is a certain contradiction between the device of the referendum and the normal responsibilities of a Member of Parliament. However, whatever contradiction there is between a referendum and the responsibilities of hon. Members of the House of Commons as a whole, that contradiction is rendered most painful and most obtrusive if the count is conducted by constituencies, for then we deliberately focus attention upon the local balance of opinion in a constituency on this subject and the manner in which, in his own judgment, or for whatever other reasons, the hon. Member representing it has conducted himself. Therefore, it would be a mistake for Parliament to settle, in this context, for counting by constituency.
I cannot follow the argument, although I accept the principle in general, and indeed, reinforced it in yesterday's debate, that we should, so far as possible, use normal electoral machinery, that that principle applies to the decision whether the count should be by constituencies or by some combination of constituencies or electoral areas. I am, therefore, brought to the conclusion that the most eligible choice is to count by areas which are substantially larger than the normal constituency and which, although they will give a reasonable picture of the local spread and balance of opinion on this subject, will avoid pushing to the extreme the conflict between parliamentary representation and the sounding of opinion by referendum.
That is why my hon. Friends and I will vote against the amendment which is before the Committee at present, but will support that which will, in due course, be moved by the hon. Member for Belper (Mr. MacFarquhar).
There is, however, one observation which I want to make with special reference to Northern Ireland upon the form of that amendment. Subparagraph (c) of that amendment proposes Northern Ireland as a whole as a counting area. I have already mentioned the reasons why that is regarded as objectionable and undesirable by the majority of those whom my colleagues and I represent.
Therefore, the question arises in Northern Ireland what would be the nearest approximation to what the hon. Member proposes for the rest of the United Kingdom? Unfortunately, given the layout of local government and electoral areas in Northern Ireland, the county is not suitable for that purpose. After careful consideration, my colleagues and I have come to the conclusion that, exceptionally, in Northern Ireland the most appropriate area is nevertheless—there, and there only—the parliamentary constituency.—[Interruption.] If any hon. Member with knowledge of the circumstances and layout of Northern Ireland can propose a more convenient sub-division for the purpose in Northern Ire. land, I am sure we should be interested to hear it.
However, it so happens that in Northern Ireland the embarrassment and the conflict to which I have referred do not exist, for, to the best of my knowledge, on the one hand there is no hon. Member representing a constituency in Northern Ireland who is not opposed to British membership of the EEC and, on the other hand, on all indications there is no part of Northern Ireland where there is not a substantial majority of the public who are also opposed to British membership of the EEC.
The referendum is for the United Kingdom. Therefore, I shall support the amendment proposed by the hon. Member for Belper, but I shall propose that in respect of Northern Ireland, for electoral convenience applying in the special circumstances there, it should be amended in the manner I have proposed.
I should like to speak to this amendment and to the amendment in my name which has been selected for separate Division, if requested. I shall be brief because many hon. Members have already spoken in this debate and on Second Reading and much has been covered already.
In the light of the fate of my two amendments last night, the Government may be alarmed to know that on the issue of the national count I agree with them in principle. This is a national issue and, theoretically, it would be a good idea to have a national count. I sympathise with the Government's desire to enhance national unity by avoiding publicising regional differences. Unfortunately like the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell), I believe that a national count will have precisely the opposite effect. It will exacerbate tensions within the country rather than relieve them. The reason is simple and well known. If there is a national count the Scottish National Party will for ever after claim that Scotland has been cheated, that Scotland is not being allowed to know that its people voted against staying in the Common Market. There will be rumours, suspicion, and, above all, precisely the bitterness that we want to avoid in the aftermath of the referendum.
Honesty is the best policy, and if the Scots, by a majority, vote that they want to leave the Common Market, let us not be afraid to face that fact. Let us face it squarely, whatever the implications may be for the politics of this country. My guess, which is admittedly only that of an emigré Scot, is that the Scots will show a majority in favour of staying in the Common Market. If they do, I hope that the SNP will digest that fact and face it squarely also.
Even if I am wrong, it is essential for us to face the implications of the Scottish vote. That is why I am proposing that the results of the count should be declared by regions and counted in the regions. However, in an attempt to strengthen the concept of national unity and the idea that this is ultimately a national count, I would suggest as a palliative that on referendum day, although the counting might be done regionally, all the results should be announced from London.
I cannot support the Liberal amendment for constituency declarations. The hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. Steel), who moved that amendment, stated that he believed that this was the natural way to do it and he dismissed the arguments against it. He dismissed the argument that hon. Members would be felt to be bound to the knowledge of the result in their constituencies, because he said that this was a referendum and so the normal rules regarding binding do not apply. He had failed to take into account a situation which could arise, which I and some other hon. Members mentioned on Second Reading. My hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) also raised it at Question Time. It is the situation where there is a small turnout with a majority of, say, 21 per cent. over 19 per cent. I have suggested that in such a situation the Government should at least consider whether or not they could be bound by a referendum result of that kind. Even if the Government felt that they had to be bound by that smaller turnout and narrower result, many individual Members of Parliament may not feel that they would want to be bound by such a result.
The hon. Gentleman has not put correctly the point that I made. I simply said that the argument that Members of Parliament come under pressure has been given away by the holding of a referendum at all. Everything the hon. Gentleman has said about the possible marginality of votes applies nationally and locally in precisely the same way.
My position is that I should like the referendum to be binding in the sense that there would be no need for a subsequent parliamentary vote. That will not and cannot be the case. In those circumstances, if we are faced with a very low poll many individual Members of Parliament may feel that they will have to exercise their individual judgment. In that case it would be better to be unfettered than fettered.
I accept that it is rather moving away from the central point, but I ask my hon. Friend to reflect on this continual repetition of the suggestion that the poll will be low. This is helping to bring about the very result which he claims to fear. It is the function of everyone here to accept that we are committed here to the referendum and, secondly, to do what we can to maximise the vote in that referendum.
I am sure that if my hon. Friend were to come again to my constituency, as he has done in the past, he would have no doubts about the efforts that I and others will be making to ensure a 100 per cent. turnout in the Belper division—and a 100 per cent. vote in favour of the Government's recommendation for staying in the Common Market. I certainly intend to try to ensure a high turnout. I agree with my hon. Friend in that I think that there will be a high turnout. I certainly hope so. However, we are here framing legislation and we must take account of possibilities in what the Government admitted last night was in many respects a leap in the dark. My hon. Friend does not support a count at constituency level anyway. He supports the amendment in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Goole (Dr. Marshall) and is not in favour of a constituency count. He is disagreeing, therefore, on something totally irrelevant to the amendment.
I would also argue against the Liberal amendment that by having a constituency count one could quite easily have a situation in a low poll where one would have what in effect would be a referendum by constituencies rather than by the country as a whole.
The right hon. Member for Down, South, with whom I agreed earlier on one point, suggested an amendment in the case of Ulster based on the problems of having a count on the basis of counties. I am certainly in no position to argue with him about the practicability of declaring or counting by counties in Northern Ireland. I should have thought that this might have been a minor administrative difficulty among all the major difficulties we face in the whole business of this referendum. But, for the sake of argument, I am prepared to accept that the right hon. Gentleman is correct. He uses logic with equal brilliance on many sides of the argument. That logic could easily have been used equally to justify a count on the basis of Northern Ireland as a whole as it was on the basis of constituencies. It seems to me that he rejected very well the argument for having a constituency count elsewhere. I found that argument far more convincing than his subsequent argument to justify a constituency count in Northern Ireland only. It would be far better to face up to the facts—as the right hon. Gentleman is prepared to do in the case of Scotland—in the case of Northern Ireland and to have the count by region.
The administrative arguments on the national count were perfectly well put by my hon. Friend the Member for Goole on Second Reading. Frankly, I believe that the Lord President could overcome the administrative difficulties. They are clearly administrative difficulties. That came through from our debates yesterday. They played a great part in my right hon. Friend's decision on how to run this referendum. If he thinks that he can overcome these administrative difficulties, he probably can overcome them. However, on the ground of political prudence, it would be better to reject a national count and to have it on a regional basis.
I rise to support the amendment proposed by the lion. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. Steel). In doing so I make passing reference to an amendment in my name which seeks to arrive at the same result. Hon. Members will be aware that on Second Reading I spoke of the need to have a result that showed a Welsh total. Hon. Members on both sides of the Committee may or may not agree with that objective. But on the particular issue of the need for a Welsh result, it is very difficult indeed to understand the argument that is put forward against that objective—that this could be used by nationalists in order to pull the United Kingdom apart.
Of course, it is our objective to have a fully self-governing Wales, as hon. Members are aware. But why should a result showing Welsh and Scottish totals separately from those of England help that? The implication of the argument is that Wales and Scotland may have a result that is different from that for England and that if the people of Wales and of Scotland knew that they had a different result they would want self-government.
Are we such great democrats in this House of Commons that we want to hide the knowledge from the people of Wales and Scotland that might take them on the course along which the information could lead? I find it an amazing argument. It is amazing that people are willing to advocate it.
There seems to be fallacy in the hon. Gentleman's argument—namely, that because people in Scotland or Wales may vote for coming out of the Common Market they are signifying their support for breaking up the United Kingdom. Is it not conceivable that many people who might vote against the Common Market would be heartily in favour of remaining in the United Kingdom? Is not that whole argument based on a fallacy? Even if Wales and Scotland voted differently from the United Kingdom, that would be no evidence that the people of Wales or Scotland wanted to break up the United Kingdom.
I am grateful for that intervention. The hon. Gentleman has underlined my point. The argument that if the result were declared on a Welsh and Scottish basis this would lead to the breakup of the United Kingdom is fallacious. Anyone who used that argument against having a separate Welsh and Scottish result would be misinterpreting the situation. The people of Wales and Scotland may or may not have the same result as the people in England or those in Northern Ireland. That remains to be seen. But they have at least the right to know where they stand, and I would defend that to the utmost.
However, in tabling my amendment and supporting the amendment we are now discussing, I take the argument further and argue this matter on a constituency basis. I believe that it is fundamental to our concept of democracy that the constituency is the basis of the power that we have as Members of Parliament in this Chamber. I appreciate that there may be some hon. Members who disagree with that view. But I wonder how they get their belief as to the source from which their power emanates. I should have thought that anyone who believes in representative parliamentary democracy could see that the power comes from the people. If we are to have a referendum—and this begs the question of whether a referendum is right or wrong on this issue or any other—and ask the people to give their views on this question, the very least we can do as their representatives is to know their voice and act on it. I go further. I should like this to have been binding on Members of Parliament. That is the only way by which we can avert a possible constitutional crisis, which was referred to in some speeches at the weekend.
My constituents have elected me to speak my beliefs. My party has often supported the call for a referendum on self-government for Wales. The Conservative Party opposed that. When that issue again arises I shall gladly debate it with the hon. and learned Gentleman. I look forward to an early opportunity.
The hon. Gentleman says that each Member of Parliament should vote in the House in the eventual legal decision according to how his constituents voted in the referendum. Has he faced the fact that that could result in a different outcome? A majority of constituencies could vote in favour, while the majority of the people voting in the referendum could vote against it.
That is a valid point. That is the assumption on which this Chamber is based. The total votes cast in a General Election are not reflected in the majority party which is returned. The Prime Minister referred to the alternative yesterday at Question Time. He said that if a majority was in favour of pulling out of the EEC, that policy would be implemented in this Chamber. That leaves many more loopholes than a policy implying that hon. Members should follow the result in their constituencies. I accept the point. This is not absolutely watertight. However, it is more watertight than any of the other alternatives. This is necessary to reinforce the belief that our people have in democracy.
If we hold a referendum and ask the people to give their judgment on an issue, there is no mechanism in the House for putting that result into practice. If the result is tight we may find extreme difficulty in putting it into practice. We could find ourselves the laughing stock of these islands. It could represent a serious challenge to this Chamber.
A constituency count, even if it is not binding on Members of Parliament, at least puts sufficient moral pressure on hon. Members to follow the lead given in their constituencies. That would be an advantage. However, I should like to go further and urge that the result be binding on hon. Members.
There are many practical arguments in favour of holding the count on a constituency basis. Those arguments were outlined in the Second Reading debate and I shall not repeat them. However, I emphasise that I shall regard my constituency result as binding on me. Failing a constituency result, I should accept the result on a Welsh basis as binding. According to my political beliefs, on no occasion would I accept a determination by the people of London or Birmingham of what is good for the future of Wales. I do not accept that as binding on myself. If there is no count on a Welsh basis—I would prefer a constituency count—I shall feel a considerable degree of pessimism towards the referendum process.
The hon. Gentleman advocates a policy of independence for Wales. However, he is supported by only 42 per cent. of the people who voted in his constituency. In other words, about 50-odd per cent. of those people are against the policy of independence for Wales. Does that mean to say that the hon. Gentleman will give up the policy which he has advocated?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for again bringing up the argument of self-government for Wales. I welcome the platform, although I am not sure whether I accept the main theme of the hon. Gentleman's argument. How many hon. Members are returned by an overall majority? How many Government supporters were so returned? On what basis can the hon. Gentleman presume that the overall result of a General Election comes about because of one issue? A number of issues are put forward during an election and the voters see fit to support certain of them. Three out of four of the candidates standing in Welsh constituencies supported wider proposals for legislative devolution than those proposed by the Government, the Tory candidates being an exception.
Whether or not the result of this debate will allow a Welsh count, we shall assess the Welsh result. We shall ascertain what that result will be. We shall not take five days to announce that result. We shall know the result the next day. The people of Wales will have four days' advantage. That may be welcomed by the Govern- ment. To avoid embarrassment, I suggest that the Government concede the principle of a constituency or a regional or Welsh count.
I have a great deal of sympathy with what the hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. Wigley) said. I think that the arguments against a central count are overwhelming. Apart from the objections and resentment in the regions, because information will be suppressed, the task of the counting and scrutineering staff will be overwhelming.
I seem to have made a speciality of fighting marginal seats. I once had the doubtful distinction of being defeated by 10 votes out of 50,000 or 60,000, while knowing that the number of disputed ballot papers exceeded my opponent's majority over me. It seems ludicrous to expect millions of votes to be concentrated in one place, to be scrutinised and subjected to a long and protracted recount procedure. I do not know what a returning officer in a centralised situation such as this would regard as a reasonable margin for granting or not granting a recount. There will be a heavy responsibility upon such an officer if there is a substantial margin, bearing in mind that Parliament will regard this as a binding result.
We must also consider the security situation in these days when there are bomb scares in public buildings. The opportunities for disruption that a centralised count will give make my mind boggle at the security arrangements that will have to be made. Two or three bomb hoaxes could add two or three days to the length of the count. It may well be that a count lasting one week will cause difficulty. It may cause nervousness in the City. That is not of the greatest importance to the Government. However, such protracted problems may weaken the pound, and that would not help the Chancellor.
We must consider the alternatives. I am glad that the Liberal amendment has been chosen for consideration. My hon. Friend the Member for Goole (Dr. Marshall) has put forward one suggestion. Though I prefer it to a centralised count and declaration I think that his regions idea, whilst it has certain advantages because the exercise will not be on such a gigantic scale, lacks the reassuring familiarity provided by a constituency count.
We have all described this whole exercise as being unique, and so it is, but in such a situation one of the difficulties is sustaining interest in it. One way of maintaining interest—this is, no doubt, a marginal factor—is to conduct the referendum as nearly as possible on the lines of an ordinary General Election. It is to be expected that people will then have rather more interest engendered in them than otherwise.
I have given some thought to the further alternative of counting even by local authority wards—the smallest component unit electorally that we have. I suppose the only thing against that idea is that it would be so massive an exercise, from the point of view of the staff to be employed, that certain advantages in economy of scale would be gained by carrying out the referendum on a constituency basis.
I hope that hon. Members who are not present—one can hardly blame them as we had such a long and ragged procedure yesterday—will consider this matter. We on this side of the Committee have a free vote in these matters, though it probably would not make much difference to some of us if we did not. I hope that the Committee will come to the conclusion that it is right to have a vote by constituencies. If not, there will no doubt be a great deal of resentment.
I think that the hon. Member for Caernarvon was going too far when he said that the referendum ought to be absolutely binding on a Member, even if it goes against his conscience. That is something that we cannot visualise being enforced, but it would be wholly dishonourable for hon. Members to disregard it.
As my last argument in favour of a constituency count I turn to the situation of there being a vote in favour of withdrawal from the Market and certain hon. Members being minded to disregard or to renege upon it. If, in such a situation, a large number of constituencies—not necessarily a majority, though I suppose that would be likely—as well as the aggregate of votes were against membership of the Market, the pressure upon a Member who could not accept the decision to resign his seat would be that much stronger. If hon. Members totally disregarded the decision and tried to bring the procedure into discredit, it would be reasonable for those in their constituencies, including members of their own parties, because this is a cross-party matter, to press them to resign. I should have thought that the only reasonable course for an hon. Member faced with that situation, rather than to follow the line indicated yesterday by the Leader of the Opposition, would be to get out.
I hope that the Liberal amendment will be carried. If not, if we have to fall back on the regional arrangements, they will be very much a second best, but at any rate they will be better than the centralised arrangement proposed in the Bill. That is totally indefensible. I hope that before the debate is over my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will indicate that he, too, accepts the absurdity of the situation as it now is.
I, too, have an amendment down in this group which recommends that we should have a count on a constituency basis. Indeed, I agree with the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. Steel) and others who have spoken in support of that proposal.
I particularly liked the argument adduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, North (Mr. Fletcher), who got near to discussing what is at the heart of this group of amendments. I am afraid that that has not been done by all speakers in the debate so far.
What is at the heart of this group of amendments is the relationship between an hon. Member and his constituency. I do not want this referendum. I oppose it in principle in every possible way that I can. However, that is not the subject for debate now. Granted that we are to have a referendum, the subject for debate is the future of the relationship between an hon. Member and his constituency whether we count nationally—that is, anonymously—or on a constituency basis —that is, with responsibility upon each hon. Member.
We must think beyond the date of the referendum to the time when the result is known. Each one of us has to consider what to do in the light of that knowledge. This matter has been bandied across the Floor of the Committee in the question: will it be binding on the Conservative Party or the Labour Party?
The hon. Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Mr. Lee), in an outrageous statement, suggested that those who did not agree with him should in some way be drummed out of their seats—even by their own parties.
That seems very far removed from the doctrine of the responsibility of an hon. Member to his constituents.
The fracas at the weekend, when my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and the Border (Mr. Whitelaw) discussed the question perfectly rationally, was greeted by the Secretary of State for Industry writing to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition asking for
an early statement on whether the Conservative Party would accept a referendum vote against membership of the Market.
The Secretary of State for Social Services thought that Conservatives in Parliament
would not dare to flout the will of the people expressed in a referendum.
I stood as a candidate at six General Elections on a platform in favour of membership of the Common Market. I was elected on all occasions against candidates from all parties who were anti-Common Market. I have never had a pro-Common Market candidate stand against me. I have always had anti-Common Market candidates against me. I do not complain about that, because I have always had a sufficient majority.
Thank you for your support in advance, Mr. Thomas. I wish I could ask you to come on that occasion.
The point is that each of us will have to be responsible for his or her conduct after the referendum. It is just as good a question to ask whether right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite, who are so passionately opposed to membership of the Common Market, will accept the verdict of the referendum. But how can they know the verdict of their constituents if the count is not done on a constituency basis?
The real reason why the members of the Government want the count done on a country or national basis is so that they can slide out of their responsibility to their constituents in what they do when the referendum is over.
It comes particularly ill from the four Ministers who are leading the revolt against the Government's policy to suggest that the result would be binding upon those who, like myself, are in favour, but at the same time to deny me and themselves the opportunity of knowing how our constituents actually voted. This is at the heart of the dishonest case which is being put forward by those who are pressing for a national count.
That brings me to the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell), whose speech came less close than usual to his standards of integrity and excellence. He argued that it should not be incumbent upon a Member of Parliament to know what his constituents voted in the referendum because it might be embarrassing, because it might put us in a bit of a spot. But the referendum puts us in enough of a spot. Why should not we be forced to face the fact of what our constituents think in this matter? I am prepared to accept it, and if necessary to continue to stand in a mode which is unpopular with what they express.
The worst of all worlds—and I say this with respect to the right hon. Member for Down, South—would be for 12 Members in Ulster to know what their constituents thought, but for 624 Members throughout the rest of the United Kingdom to be able to shuffle out of the responsibility. The right hon. Gentleman said that he could justify that because all the Members for Ulster constituencies are against Europe and the people of Ulster are against Europe. Right hon. and hon. Members have been arguing that the referendum will take this country out of the Common Market. I do not believe that for one moment. I believe that the referendum will show an overwhelming vote to stay in. I am prepared to face my constituents after the declaration of the vote, and I ask those who are not in favour of our continued membership whether they are prepared to face their constituents. Are they prepared to face the results which should be published for every constituency?
I should like to see the reaction of the right hon. Members for Stepney and Poplar (Mr. Shore), Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn), Ebbw Vale (Mr. Foot), Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) and Down, South, and my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten) to their constituency results. It is bad enough to have the referendum, but to carry it on in vacuo, away from our direct responsibility, is to increase the irresponsibility of what we are seeking to do.
Finally, I come to the question of counting the votes for England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. I do not object to the fact that by adding up the results in all the constituencies it will immediately be apparent which way the majority in Scotland or Wales, or, if one likes, Gloucestershire, voted. I think that Gloucestershire will produce a solidly strong vote to stay in, but that will not give Gloucestershire the right to opt out of a national decision, even if that national decision is to take us out of the Common Market.
I do not know what the hon. Gentleman means. If he means a sovereign area, it is not binding on it. If he means a country such as Wales or Scotland—which is what I think he does mean—I accept the right of those countries to opt out of the Common Market only after they have opted out of the United Kingdom, and not before. That is the matter which the hon. Gentleman has come here to argue, to debate and to fight for and I admire him for it. I even have some sympathy for him. I should like my constituents to pay very much less by way of tax. They are highly overtaxed and overcharged on their rates. There is something to be said for the hon. Gentleman paying for his own welfare in Scotland.
I am grateful to you, Mr. Thomas, for calling me to speak in this debate. My coleagues and I ally ourselves with the amendment. In passing, may I say that we launched a similar amendment, and we have great pleasure in supporting the amendment moved by the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. Steel).
We base our support for a constituency count on the sheer absurdity of having a central count. If it is not to be a constituency count we should be prepared to accept any unit, but the idea of a central count seems to be manifestly absurd and I should like to address my remarks to that proposition.
The argument whether there should be separate counts for Scotland and Wales is in no sense connected with the question whether this country should stay in the Common Market. If the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson) wishes to advocate separatist policies, I must tell him that this is not the debate in which to do it and this is not the time at which to raise it.
The whole question of Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, as opposed to England, and this issue of how we count the votes is a total red herring. I should like to know the figures for my constituency, just as I would for East Anglia, the South-West or London. I should like to know the figures regionally, and that is another reason for having a constituency count, but to think that there is some kudos for Members of the SNP in this debate seems to be giving them an importance which they do not deserve. I hope that the Committee will come to the conclusion that we should count by constituencies, so that we may have the courage to face our responsibilities.
The White Paper gave its own case away when it said that the Government would use the well-tried machinery which served for parliamentary elections. The familiar procedure that continues to apply to normal United Kingdom elections should be used as far as possible.
There is a lot to be said for using the familiar procedure when something as important as a vote on the Common Market is at stake. It has taken us centuries to evolve our system of law and that part of the law which relates to scrutinising the count at election time to ensure fair play. It is patently absurd to throw away all that we have carefully evolved.
There may be those who pooh-pooh the right of scrutiny. It may be that they are in the minority of hon. Members who rejoice in having a majority of votes in their constituencies. My majority is only 367 and when, at the October election, 1,000 votes were labelled with the wrong name we were grateful for the law which allowed us to have scrutineers present. What happened was a pure accident, but one can multiply the hazards experienced by someone who has been through only four parliamentary elections.
One can imagine the situation which could arise with a count lasting for five days. Who will be allowed to scrutinise the votes? Who will watch the sealing of my ballot boxes in Morayshire and Nairnshire? Who will escort them to Earls Court? I shall be in the guard's van with a little of the liquid that they make on Speyside to keep me warm on the long journey. [An hon. Member: "What about keeping the guard warm?"]—I had not considered that possibility. I shall keep it in mind.
I want to devote my speech to the absurdity of the central count. It is absurd for the Government to pretend that this is in accordance with well-tried practice. We are not widely experienced in the holding of referenda, so we turn to the experience of a number of countries in the civilised world. The Government have been fair and given me the ammunition for my speech by publishing the fact that referenda have been held in Australia, Denmark, France, Italy, New Zealand, Norway, Northern Ireland, Sweden, Switzerland and the United States of America, and in every case there has been no equivalent of what we are calling the central count. I shall not rehearse all the arguments about the breakdown.
My party and I are saying that we shall accept any breakdown. We tend to think that the constituency is a logical breakdown precisely because it is in line with well-tried practice. There were two General Elections during 1974, a year of painful memories for all. The sheriff clerk's department in Scotland is extremely efficient. It knows how to carry out a count with a minimum amount of time and effort and it can do it much more cheaply when it comes to getting the ballot boxes from the Island of Yell in the constituency of the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) or the Isle of Barra in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for the Western Isles (Mr. Stewart). What the Government propose does not make sense, and we are saying that a constituency count is a tried way which provides the right of scrutiny, and that there is no other answer.
I have asked parliamentary questions about this matter. I have asked how many boxes would have to be missing before it was conceded that there were recount problems. I have not been able to obtain serious answers. The matter is treated as a joke. Is it because it is a joke?
In Scotland we fret and feel frustrated before the results of elections are announced. However, we always have the last results before the Sabbath. It will be most frustrating for us if we have to wait five days for the result. We are accustomed to the frustration caused by a few results coming in as late as Saturday. People are frustrated because the final tally cannot be ascertained. Imagine asking the public to wait five days when basically the result, unless it is very close, can be made known within two days or even one day.
It is absurd to have a referendum and then start discussing whether it will be binding. Will not people be very confused if they are told "Even after you have voted we shall still consider whether you were old enough and wise enough to settle the matter"? Having thrown the ball into the people's court, how absurd it is to throw it back to the House of Commons.
The hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. Wigley) said that he will accept whatever his constituents think. I join him. I have a highly agricultural constituency. It may not be typical of Scotland, but I am on record as having said that I shall accept the wishes of my constituents. But we cannot have it both ways. Either Members of Parliament judge an issue, which is perfectly logical—that is what we are accustomed to—or, in an unusual matter, we throw it to the people to be the judges in a referendum. How absurd it is to say that the people are the judges but we must not find out what the people have said.
The Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru are being made into bogymen or spectres at a feast on the question of a central count. Almost every serious newspaper has made comments of this kind. The Scotsman wrote that there could
only be one reason why the Government should want to count vote, on a United Kingdom basis, because it fears that the results tanulated constituency by constituency or by county would give ammunition to the Nationalists".
If that is what it is about, we should be honest enough to say so. But that is an absurd reason for deciding the basis of the count. Although I aim to achieve independence for Scotland, I am a Member of the House of Commons and I accept its rules. I am a convinced democrat. Whatever the rules of the House, I shall accept them, and if I break them I shall take whatever reproach Mr. Speaker dishes out.
The idea of having a referendum on the basis of a central count is absurd and undemocratic. There are no means by which we can be sure that the result is correct. If 1,000 votes can go missing in a one-night count, how many votes may go missing in a five-day count? The idea of a central count is so absurd that, if it happens, the Government will be the laughing stock of the civilised, democratic world.
Perhaps we can return to some of the arguments involved in this matter, partly because I do not want to follow my favourite pastime of bashing the "Nats". It is a red letter day for them. Curiously enough, I agree with what the hon. Lady the Member for Moray and Nairn (Mrs. Ewing) has said. She based her argument on the question of absurdity. She is an authority on absurdity. What is proposed is an absurd proceeding because it is irrevocable. Her arguments about scrutineers and recounts are irrefutable.
The hon. Lady gave an example from her constituency relating to the loss of 1,000 votes. Similar problems have arisen in other constituencies. Therefore, I do not think that the Government can maintain for much longer, even on tactical, logistic grounds, that there should be a national count. We know some of the difficulties about time into which we are being pushed. The count was to take place over five days—and by the end of that time the pound would have gone down the drain through uncertainty. Now it is three days, one of them being what we call north of the border the Sabbath. Some English friends say that that should be Saturday. The argument in this respect does not wash.
The hon. Member for Moray and Nairn did less than justice to the Government's case for a national count. I understand that the Government's case is that the purpose of elections or democratic decisions of that kind by the people is to elect a representative in each area. A referendum is a single decision for the United Kingdom, and, therefore the decision is one decision. The constituency decision covers the whole country. That is the argument, and it is logical.
The Government say that it follows that there is no basis for carrying out a constituency count and that, by analogy with the election of hon. Members, there is no case for breaking it down to constituencies. The trouble with the logic is that it forgets a simple point: the moment we have had the result in each constituency we proceed to add up the numbers to decide the Government of the country. Written into our system is the concept of the constituency decisions adding up to the national decision. Therefore, even on the Government's own argument and logic, it would be correct that the decision should be made on a constituency basis.
I come to the error committed by the hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. Wigley). He drew a false concision; namely, that we must have a constituency-by-constituency decision because we in Parliament decide the membership, and, therefore, the Government, constituency by constituency. But that does not follow, for this reason. What should be proposed is to make a head count on one decision in the same way as we make a head count in the House of Commons to make a decision. That is the analogy.
It is, therefore, wrong to think that it is logical to add up the constituency decisions and say "This should be the result of the referendum and we should vote accordingly in the House of Commons." That does not follow, for another reason. In this respect the hon. Gentleman was less than fair. The House of Commons took a count. If we do it on that basis, by an accident of fate, the smaller constituencies are in Scotland and Wales and, therefore, there is a bigger addition for a smaller number of votes. The hon. Gentleman might have been more honest in bringing that out.
I accept what the hon. Gentleman says, but does he agree that, given that the Bill has no mechanism for automatically putting the result into practice, this is the next best step?
The hon. Gentleman's fear relates not to the referendum but to the behaviour of hon. Members, and that is a different problem which will not be solved by the hon. Gentleman in turn trying to rig the referendum. That is not the way to deal with it. Perhaps I shall have time to comment on that matter.
We are faced with five possible choices. First, there is the Government view, which I hope they will change, that there should be the single constituency—the United Kingdom—count. I have shown what is wrong with that. We are faced with the consideration put forward by the two national parties; namely, that the vote should be taken on a nation basis—and I accept that Scotland and Wales are nations. I shall deal with the fallacies and flaws which arise from that.
I do not think that this is the way to count either, because this assumes, before it has ever happened, if it ever happens, a federated concept for Britain. and adding up Scotland, Wales and England. It has been correctly said that the correct procedure is to make a decision on a United Kingdom basis, and if those nations wish to make another decision afterwards it is up to them. At the moment the correct constitutional procedure is that it is Britain deciding.
That does not mean that the nations should not know what is happening. What should happen is primarily the constituency argument. I agree with the hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) in one regard. I must say that one never knows whether the hon. Gentleman believes what he says or whether he is parodying himself. His self-satire and his speeches come so close that one day they will cross.
However, I agree with the hon. Gentleman's general argument in this regard. I want to know what those in my constituency say about this question. I say in advance that I shall be voting against the Market in the referendum and propagandising against it. I have nothing to hide. If my people in West Renfrewshire vote "Yes" on 5th June they may wish to go for an MP who agrees with them, perhaps; and they can make their decision at the next election.
I am not afraid of such a prospect. It will not be the first time that I have disagreed with my people. I think back to the time when I pushed through the ending of capital punishment in Scotland. That did not meet with the agreement of everyone. There is no reason why an individual Member should be afraid to face up to a decision.
I thought that I had made it not only manifestly clear but abundantly clear that my position in the House of Commons will be to vote for the decision of the referendum. I will accept the decision of the referendum. That is what I will do, because we have said as a party, as a movement and as a Government that the people will decide. I am campaigning at the moment to get the people to say "No."
I hope that the pro-Marketeers will not crow too quickly. The people have not
yet spoken. If I may go south of the border and quote Chesterton
For we are the people of England, and we have not spoken vet
They may yet speak in a way that will surprise even the denizens of Cirencester and Tewkesbury.
So that question is easily answered. I will vote in accordance with my pledge at the last two elections. I hope that every other Member on these benches at least will vote in accordance with the common pledge we made at the last two elections. That is the answer. The problem need not be thrown at me. There is no problem for me. The question of the behaviour of a Member then arises in this way, not in the way which has been suggested by one hon. Member, because that way leads to quagmires and dragons. It would be a serious decision for British democracy if rightly or wrongly—I think rightly—the House of Commons attempted—and not just this side; there is a double pledge for us but also hon. Members opposite—to reject the decision of the referendum. We should then have a serious situation.
Is the hon. Gentleman saying that he will accept the decision of the referendum however many people turn out to vote, however low the poll? I should be interested to hear this, because his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister refused to say this yesterday. [HON. MEMBERS: "He did not."] He said that it was a hypothetical question yesterday when he was asked by the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton). If we get a 40 per cent. poll only and just half of those vote for Britain's staying in, is that acceptable as the full wish of the British people?
The Temporary Chairman:
Order. The hon. Member for Renfrewshire, West) Mr. Buchan) has been grievously tempted, of course, but I hope that we shall now return to the matter under discussion. The views of the Prime Minister are not the matter before the Committee. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will now return to the debate on the question of the constituency and regional vote.
I am sorry, Mr. Williams. I am a man of innocence surrounded by all these tempters. However, I will quickly answer the question, if I may. The answer is that I will accept the vote. I greatly regret the habit hon. Members have of using this point not only to be tediously repetitive but also as a means of trying to talk down the vote. It is our task as democratic representatives to talk up the vote. I hope that is the last we shall hear of that nonsense from hon. Members opposite.
The choices we face are the constituency vote and the national vote. I have dealt with why I believe that the constituency vote is theoretically correct. I have dealt with why I believe that a national vote would be wrong.
I want now to comment on the question of the nations' vote. It would be wrong to exaggerate divisions in Britain. The problems facing Cardiff, the problems facing Tyneside, the problems facing Clydeside, are the same problems. I do not want to create such divisions in a United Kingdom referendum at this stage, whatever other arguments may be advanced.
I hope that the Scottish National Party, in particular, will stop its distorting and divisive line of saying "No" to the Market for Britain but "Maybe yes" for Scotland. I wish that its members would campaign together with the rest of us who are willing to drop all sectional interests and to campaign for what we commonly believe in. I would welcome them for once as partners in a progressive struggle.
The constituency basis comes up as theoretically correct, though I do not believe that it will be acceptable to the House of Commons. I greatly regret that. I believe that, despite the siren voice of the hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury, most Members will not be prepared to vote for it.
Therefore, we are faced with the choice betwen Belper and Goole, if I may put it that way. I hope that the Chair will think again about the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Goole (Dr. Marshall), because it embodies the same principle as that in the amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. MacFarquhar), which has been accepted, but it deals with some of the problems that are engendered by it. It is a much more subtle, more complex and more accurate representation of the position than the amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Belper. Although I never criticise the Chair, I must say that I think that it chose the wrong amendment to be voted on and I hope that we shall be able to have a separate vote on the amendment in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Goole.
The hon. Gentleman has presented some powerful arguments against a national poll. He has made quite a few observations but has not presented any convincing arguments against a constituency poll. Why is he so frightened of this? Would it not be useful to have some guidance of this kind?
I must be getting old or something. I thought that I had made it clear that I thought that the constituency basis was the correct one but that I believed that the House of Commons would not accept it.
I therefore argue that we are faced, as opposed to a United Kingdom vote, with either Belper or Goole, so to speak. The problem is that the Goole amendment has not been accepted by the Chair. If it is not accepted by the Chair, we support Belper. That seems to be logical.
Why should the vote be broken down in this way? We deal with the logistic argument, but that is insufficient to deal with the theoretical argument. The answer is simple. I do not believe there is anything to fear from letting it be known how Scotland, Wales or any other area voted. I have no doubt that if it is not known allegations will be made. Already it is being said that the people of Scotland and Wales are being conned. That is totally untrue, but it is undoubtedly being said and undoubtedly being thought.
I prefer to deal with facts rather than mythology. As the hon. Lady the Member for Moray and Nairn knows, my main academic life has been spent in the unravelling and study of mythology. That is why I can tell truth when I see it. In this area I would far rather we were dealing with truth than with mythology. If Scotland and Wales do not know what the result is, the national parties will invent the result. They will never be able to pin the truth down.
I would rather face the fact that Scotland and Wales may—they may not, of course—vote in a different way from the rest of the United Kingdom. But let us deal with that when it arises. If it is left as a mythology, backed by the suspicion that they have had the wool pulled over their eyes deliberately, we are dealing with a very trick creature indeed to whom I now give way.
I think it would be much more important to get a publication on the Scottish situation. I hope the Government will be publishing as fully as possible the facts affecting all aspects of British life and I hope the hon. Lady's party will publish a few true pamphlets as well. That would be a change. However, I am going off the point.
It is a national disease, Mr. Williams.
I hope that today hon. Members will recognise that an error was made in the first place in asking for a United Kingdom vote. I hope also that the Chair will look again at the Goole amendment, for I think that we would endorse overwhelmingly the call from the hon. Member for Belper and break down the polling so that we would know from constituency to constituency, from region to region, and, indeed, from nation to nation how people voted.
I always enjoy the contributions of the hon. Member for Renfrew-shire, West (Mr. Buchan), who seems to have a habit of following a Scottish National Member. I hope he will join the hon. Lady in the guard's van in asking for a constituency vote. That will he a most interesting journey.
We have been debating this issue for about two hours and we have been going round in concentric circles. We all know what happens to birds which fly round in concentric circles. The arguments which have been precipitated by this measure show what an addle-pated monster this measure really is. I have heard some remarkable propositions this afternoon, the most remarkable of all being put forward by the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, West about the duties of a Member of Parliament. He said that he personally, as well as other hon. Members on his side of the Committee, will accept the decision. He knows that we on this side of the Committee do not accept that proposition and it seems to me that hon. Members opposite are now trying to blackguard us into the position of so doing.
I find myself very much in agreement with the argument of my hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley). Like him, I have stood at four elections and have put forward clearly my own view that we ought to stay in the Market. If we have a national count I shall not have the vaguest idea of how my constituents have voted. Yet if hon. Members opposite have their way I must come back from my constituency to Westminster not knowing how my constituents voted, and vote against something with which I personally disagree and with which my constituents might well disagree. What sort of a Member of Parliament would I be for those people, voting in ignorance of their views? This is a matter which we must take into account.
It is a very uncomfortable thing to have a constituency count. I know that hon. Members on both sides of the Committee have lived in uncomfortable situations. I see my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten) nodding. He knows full well what it is to take an unpopular line in his constituency, and outside it, as well as in his own party and with his own Whips. I, too, have had plenty of experience of that. I must say that he looks quite unscathed by the whole experience. I would not say the same of hon. Members opposite who happen to disagree with their Whips, but that is a matter for them.
Sometimes voices from the past can be of some guidance in what should be the duties of hon. Members. I have consulted Burke, and what he says—not the
principle but the way he put it—is worth listening to. In a thousand years I could not put it in a better way. [Interruption.] If hon. Members opposite would like me to try rather than quote Burke, I will do so, but they might be here for a long time. He said:
that is, his constituents'—
ought to have great weight with him; their opinions, high respect; their business unremitted attention. It is his duty to sacrifice his repose, his pleasure, his satisfaction, to theirs—and above all, ever, and in all cases, to prefer their interest to his own. But his unbiased opinion, his mature judgment, his enlightened conscience, he ought not to sacrifice to you, to any man, or to any set of men living. These he does not derive from your pleasure,—no, nor from the law and the Constitution. They are a trust from Providence, for the abuse of which he is deeply answerable. Your representative owes you not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.
That puts the argument in a nutshell.
I support the amendment moved by the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. Steel) because my name is associated with a similar amendment. I also agree with the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell), who said that whatever happens, if the count is proceeded with on a national basis there is no doubt that every attempt will be made at local level to discover how people voted locally. I thought he ended in a rather unusual way, for, having gone over the whole of it and advocated that there should be a vote in constituencies in Ireland, he departed from that line in respect of the rest of the United Kingdom. If it is divided into larger regions, the same will still apply. In a constituency, people will do their very best to ascertain how the votes are cast, and it is right that they should know.
In this country there are wide disparities, for instance, in the spread of industry. Some Members represent agricultural constituencies, while others represent industrial constituencies, and there is no doubt that in the vote people will reach their decisions in different ways, but I believe that having reached a decision they will have a right to know how other people in a given constituency have voted.
Equally, I, as a Member of Parliament, have a right to know my constituents' views in this matter. I shall accept the national result. I have said that and I stand by it. But it is democratically right that we should hear the result on a constituency basis. It should be announced on a constituency basis.
While entirely agreeing with the hon. Gentleman, may I ask him what he would do if his constituents voted overwhelmingly one way, whereas the national result was overwhelmingly the other way?
I think the answer has already been given. I have said that I shall accept the national result of the people. It is quite clear where I stand. I might equally ask the hon. Gentleman what he would do in his own constituency of Cirencester and Tewkesbury. He has already told us that he is in favour of our being in Europe. I know that he joins me in the belief that the result ought to be declared on a constituency basis, but what would he do if he found that he was mistaken about the views of his constituents and that they voted to come out of Europe? What would he personally do? That is the answer we want from some Opposition Members. The hon. Gentleman has told us—indeed, he is continually telling me—that he always knows the views of his constituents.
I said that I would continue to stand and vote in favour of Europe whatever the results of the referendum, either in my constituency or in the country. That determination will last for years and years after the hon. Gentleman has ceased to be heard of.
I am a better democrat than the hon. Gentleman, because I have said that I shall accept the verdict of the people. I hope that that will stand me in good stead in future years. I have already declared my position.
Does the hon. Gentleman think it proper for a representative, if he considers that a particular course of action is likely to be disastrous for his country, to vote against his own beliefs, because of the momentary decision—perhaps not to be repeated—at one referendum?
I do not believe that it is disastrous to test the will of the people on such vital issues as national sovereignty, which it appears the hon. Gentleman would give away. That is necessary. It should have been done before we decided on entry, as it was in Ireland, Denmark and Norway. That is the test of democracy. It is the hon. Gentleman who has given up the claim to believe in democracy, by accepting entry without testing the will of the people. That is where the disaster lies. I hope that the position will be remedied. I shall accept the verdict of the people in the referendum.
I turn to the question of the way in which the count will be conducted. It has been said that it will be a national monstrosity to conduct it on a national basis. It will take days before the result is announced. Some of my hon. Friends have said that it could affect our economic situation, which is not good at the moment, and that the pound will be in difficulties if the result is long delayed. There is also the difficulty of the transport of the ballot boxes. In the light of her experiences I do not blame the hon. Member for Moray and Nairn (Mrs. Ewing), who said that she will follow the ballot boxes down. I hope that the guard is a handsome man, and that she enjoys her journey.
One question has not been answered. On what basis will a person or persons representing the two organisations be able to demand a recount? I foresee that recounts will go on for a considerable time. My right hon. Friend the Lord President, replying to earlier questions about holiday makers and others, said that there was a difficulty over the hall at Earls Court, because after 14 days it would no longer be available. What will happen if recounts are still taking place? It is not beyond the realms of possibility that we shall have to wait not five days but 10, or maybe 14 for a result if the voting is close. It is stupid to get ourselves into this kind of position when we would be doing the right thing if we went for a constituency result.
I am not as downhearted as some of my hon. Friends who do not believe that we shall tonight achieve what we desire, which is a constituency count. I believe that there is widespread support for it in the Committee. However, if we do not achieve it I shall support the idea of my hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. Farquhar), that instead of a national count we should break the vote down again, although that would not be as representative.
Another reason why I support a constituency count is that there is always more interest engendered, the smaller the unit. If we have it on a national basis, the poll will be lower than if it is on a constituency basis.
This point of interest has been raised by other hon. Members. Does my hon. Friend agree that, after two General Elections counted by the same method last year, having a third count on the same basis may diminish interest? Does he agree that if we are to have a referendum a new system of counting in regions may increase interest?
No. I must reject that. All the facts are against it. When we turn from local elections to county elections, we immediately find that the poll goes down. The larger the unit, the less the interest.
My hon. Friend has not fully understood. I said that in local elections, the smaller the unit the greater the interest. We know that when there were UDCs or borough councils greater interest was shown in the smaller wards. The units were increased in size, and in the new county unit the poll has gone down. I am pleased that my hon. Friend made that point. There is greater interest in a smaller unit.
I have followed with great interest the argument about the practical difficulties of a national count. Will my hon. Friend address himself to how we arrange a recount when the count has taken place on a constituency basis so that every constituency, having declared at various times, has to recount? What matters is the national result.
I cannot understand why any Member, with the possible exception of the Prime Minister would not wish that the result of the referendum should be both counted. which is more economic, and announced, which is more democratic, on a constituency basis. There has been much high-sounding talk about the verdict of the British people. However, the identity of the British people is founded in the regions that they inhabit. Those regions are formed of constituent parts with all the diverse whims, needs and characteristics that, in combination, have sent us to this place. The wish that these component elements in the verdict should be shrouded in the obscurity of a central count and a mass result is a symptom of the basic flaws in the whole device of the referendum.
The first flaw is the abdication by the House of criticism, evaluation, judgment and authority which the electorate entrusted to us when they sent us here. The second is the violation of the relationship which every one of us has, or should have, with his constituents.
I believe that those who drafted the Bill had two purposes. The first was to pass the buck, to contrive a situation in which, whatever the result and whatever the consequences, they could wash their hands and say "the people decided". They were passing the buck to the people on one of the most complex, far-reaching and specialised subjects ever put before the electorate. The second purpose was to avoid as far as possible, by concealment, any electoral consequences to themselves by the possibility of breaking down the answer into component parts and individual reactions.
That is the prime objection to the Bill —the distorting and obscuring of the Member of Parliament's relationship with his electorate. It is one that the Committee is best placed to ameliorate by amendment. Although it is presented as an extension of democracy, the Bill is a retrograde step, because it still further diminishes the individual character of the elector. If the results are presented on a constituency basis some individual and indentifiable characteristics of the answer may still be perceived and retained; but if it is simply an anonymous mass, a pure computer exercise without identity or emphasis, the real quality of democracy, which the House reflects, will be diminished.
By accepting the amendment the Committee at least has the possibility of ameliorating an evil precedent and retaining some vestige of its proper authority.
By a completely different route, I arrive at a similar position to that of my hon. Friends the Members for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan) and Nelson and Colne (Mr. Hoyle) in supporting the amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. MacFarquhar), although I also agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrewshire, West that the amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Goole (Dr. Marshall), which has not been selected, is better and perhaps more precise.
I speak as someone who has been opposed to the whole concept of the referendum, who, in supporting the Labour Party manifesto in two General Elections, supported a statement that we would put the decision to the British people through the ballot box, and who has always been prepared—and has said so—to see that decision put to them through the ballot box in a General Election. I always thought that that was something which the Labour Party had to decide, and which it had the courage to put to the people.
I was told that one of the principal reasons why that could not be done was that we could not fight a General Election on a single issue. What has come out of the debate more than anything else is that the people, and certainly the hon. Members representing them, do not believe that we shall have a referendum on a single issue either. It is clear that the people of Northern Ireland and Scotland will be voting for different reasons, and on a different issue from that on which my constituents will vote. I accept the challenge of the Scottish National Party to recognise that it will be fighting a campaign completely different from that which will be fought in other parts of the country.
The Republican Party and and the right hon. Gentleman's party may officially have a view, but I believe that when the people of Northern Ireland vote in the referendum many of them will be voting about the nature of Northern Ireland and the political position and constitution that they wish to have. I believe that that is also true of Scotland. The Scottish National Party has made it clear that that is the basis on which it will campaign in Scotland, and I expect that Plaid Cymru will do the same.
I think that my hon. Friend is subscribing to the mythology perpetuated by the Scottish National Party and Plaid Cmyru that the result in Wales and Scotland will have something to do with the nationalist question. The only reason why there may be a certain result in Wales and Scotland is their distances from the EEC. It is nothing to do with the nationalist question.
I am prepared to accept the statement of the nationalist parties that that is how they will campaign, and I regard that as having an important influence on the campaign in general.
If we are to have a total national count, when the issue being fought is different in different parts of the country, I believe that we shall have a result which is not representative of what my constituents want. Therefore, it is important to me that we have a count on something other than the national basis.
Equally, a nation count would be a bad precedent. A specifically nation count would allow the nationalist parties in particular to fight a campaign directed completely at their national situation rather than the specific issue of the Common Market. I can believe that there would be people in Scotland who were in favour of Common Market membership but who thought that a vote against it would be an effective way to present to the rest of the British people a protest from Scotland, and vice-versa. Therefore, I am not in favour of a national vote of that kind.
I can see that they could do it to embarrass the Labour Party. I believe that in the Sunday Telegraph a couple of weeks ago Peregrine Worsthorne proposed that Conservatives should vote against staying in the Community, in order to defeat the Labour Government. I accept that that might happen.
I am basically in favour of a constituency vote.
Yesterday my hon. Friend was supporting an amendment—which fortunately failed—to enfranchise people from abroad. One of the crucial distinctions he made between a referendum and a General Election was that it was not possible to relate people from abroad to particular constituencies here. That, he said, was the basic reason for treating referenda differently from General Elections, in terms of constituency results. I cannot understand how, if the amendment had been successfully carried yesterday, that would have been consistent with the granting of a constituency vote, which he is now apparently adumbrating.
I hope that my hon. Friends will allow me to develop my argument before jumping up and questioning me. I had not had the opportunity to develop the argument why I thought a constituency vote to be acceptable. The reason is that it is a pragmatic and useful basis, but I cannot see why it has any special basis for a referendum. I do not see the conection between a constituency and the referendum, apart from the pure practicalities of the count and the counting mechanism.
We discussed that issue at length yesterday. A constituency vote is a practical approach, but is not necessarily related to the referendum as a whole. I have no fears about a constituency vote, but I accept that with a constituency count the totality of votes might produce a majority one way while the majority on a basis of constituencies would go the other way. This has happened in a General Election —I believe it was in 1951 when the Labour Party had a majority of votes but a minority of seats and lost the election.
I fear that such a result would create great difficulties for many hon. Members in knowing which of the two results they should accept. Such an outcome would produce a multiplicity of excuses, and this is a situation in which the fewer possible excuses the better. We should have votes on a regional basis which, while getting away from the problems of a nation vote would none the less allow Members to know how their region voted if not their constituency.
In principle I support the amendment in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Goole, which is based generally upon larger local government areas, and I would expect that to apply to Wales as well. In Wales, that would produce a useful vote, giving Welsh Members an idea of how the different regions of Wales had voted without creating the difficulties inherent in a constituency vote. I am in favour of my hon. Friend's amendment which, unfortunately, has not been selected, and therefore I am bound to support the amendment in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Belper, which is similar to it though perhaps not quite so specific.
I dislike the national count for the same reason that I want to know what my region's, or—if it so turns out—my constituency's view is. I am most reluctant to be bound by a result which may be produced because of the way people in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have voted, however legitimately. I do not question that their vote is legitimate, but they would be voting for different reasons from those motivating my constituents. I would want to know what the vote was before making up my mind about what action I should take after the referendum.
I have yet to hear a genuine, substantive argument against a constituency count from anyone—with the possible exception of the "Goole argument", that it would inconvenient in Goole. Goole managed to conduct a General Election count without too much trouble, and I fail to understand the relevance of the view expressed by the hon. Member for Goole (Dr. Marshall).
A constituency count is normally quick, acceptable and understandable, and it even allows for recounts, though the Lord preserve us from recounts on the referendum. Why, therefore, can we not have a constituency count?
Hon. Members have not taken the point about recounts. The hon. Member says that a constituency count would permit a recount easily and simply. A referendum recount can take place only after there is a national result. How are the counting officers in each of the 635 constituencies to be recalled for a recount two days after they have gone home?
I would have thought that the problem of a recount was considerable whether the counting took place centrally in Earls Court, which I understand will not be available for some time after 5th June because of a display there, or in the constituencies. The problem will be the same in terms of recalling the counting officers, but on a constituency basis the process might take place more quickly.
There is no possibility of calling for a recount till the last constituency is counted, which I take it may well be the Western Isles. Till that has happened there cannot be a recount, but by that time the counters in all the other constituencies will have gone home for two days. At Earls Court, on a national count, the counters are still all there.
I still do not believe that to be an insuperable practical objection. We are talking about a hypothesis which most of the intentions about the result of the referendum suggest is most unlikely to be realised. I contend that it is perfectly possible and practical on a local constituency basis to recall people fairly quickly to carry out the recount.
But I would accept that.
I move on now to the main gravamen of the argument, which is not about practicalities. I do not think that the objection to a constituency count stems from the view that it would be less practical. The practicalities of having a count at national or regional level are more complex on balance than having it at constituency level. Therefore, the objections to having a count on a constituency level are political, but we have not heard any argument based on those objections apart from the intervention of the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell), who spoke of potential pressure being put on Members of Parliament. What pressure on which Members? That should be made quite clear at this stage. Of course, there is the nationalist question. That argument has been rehearsed and I shall not pursue it. I believe that it is better to know the facts than to have to deal with myths.
The other element we must consider is the group which has not spoken in this debate—namely, the social democrats within the Labour Party. It is a fact that many of them are deeply worried because a constituency count could lead to a situation in which they, being in favour of the Common Market, might find that a majority of their constituents had voted against it. It is right to allude directly to that situation as it has not yet been mentioned in this debate.
As a Liberal I have fought and stood for minority issues all my political life. I see no reason for anyone in any party being afraid of knowing the feelings of his constituents Surely that is a wrong attitude to adopt—fear of knowing one's constituents feelings. If that is the reason which will determine the votes of certain hon. Members tonight, I believe it is rather shameful. It is not a reason of which to be proud.
I do not think that the practical arguments hold any weight.
I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman was in the Chamber when the hon. Member for Birmingham, Hands-worth (Mr. Lee) was speaking, but he uttered some very rough threats against certain members of his own party who will do what the hon. Gentleman has suggested. Will he show a little more sympathy for people who might find themselves in that predicament?
I am tired of showing sympathy. I am tired of watching people whom I regard as Liberals sitting in the ranks of the Labour Party. In that way they enjoy the fruits of office and they do not have to bear the brunt of the battle people such as myself have to bear. That is why I am not overflowing with sympathy for them. In any event, that is a different question.
I know that time is pressing and I see that the right hon. Gentleman the Lord President is becoming restless. I conclude by saying that I think that the hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) put his finger on the very point that forms the basis of the referendum and what the referendum is all about—namely, the principle of letting the people have their say and letting their say be known. It is a question of having an anonymous result or an open result. If I do not know how the people in my constituency voted the result for me is anonymous. I want to know what they said and how they voted. I believe that all hon. Members should have a similar desire.
We have had a long debate on this issue, and perhaps I should say a few words. There are a large number of amendments on the Order Paper proposing alternatives to a central count and a single declaration. The amendments fall into two groups, namely, those in favour of declaring the results by constituencies and those in favour of declaring the result by counties, or regional authorities in Scotland. I am very much in favour of a central count but on the Government side we shall have a free vote.
First, I shall rehearse briefly the arguments for a central count. The issue in the referendum is a United Kingdom issue, and only the United Kingdom is significant. The constituency is the whole of the United Kingdom. When we have parliamentary elections we do not announce the results for a ward or a polling district but for the constituency as a whole. I believe it is right that the same principle should apply in the referendum.
Secondly, some of those who support the amendments want to be able to demonstrate that Scotland or Wales thinks differently from the rest of the United Kingdom in order to promote an argument for independence that has been consistently rejected by their own electorates. In the Government's view it would be wrong in principle to try to turn a referendum on one issue into a referendum on another. The Government have announced in a White Paper their proposals for devolution to Scotland and Wales, and I have promised legislation by the end of the year. When we come to debate that legislation that will be the occasion for argument about the aspiration of our friends from Scotland and Wales.
In 1707 the Scottish Parliament transferred Scottish sovereignty to a new body that was being set up, namely the Parliament of Great Britain. The Treaty of Union gave no authority to that new body to transfer the sovereignty of Scotland to a third party. Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that on this occasion it is essential that the Scottish people should know how they vote? Does he agree that this is a question of Scottish sovereignty being transferred from a second party to a third?
I have explained in the House, and the White Paper explains, that this Parliament can never alienate its sovereignty permanently.
The whole case for regional counting rests upon the desire to record for all time which parts of the country voted one way and which parts another way. Why should people wish to do this if not to perpetuate for the future the divisions and bitterness with which the EEC issue has sadly been surrounded for so long? What other reason can there be but to perpetuate these differences? When the referendum is over and the issue has been settled it is surely of critical importance for us all that we should unitedly accept the result, whatever it is, and join together to build upon it the best future that we can for our country. That will certainly not be helped by recalling how individual parts of the country voted. All that will do is make it easier to foster dissent and help to entrench any existing regional attitudes towards our membership of the Community. It is surely far better to face any short-term controversy over a central count and to resist these amendments than to risk damaging national unity in the future.
If that is true of a county count it is even more true of a count by constituencies, for then we should risk adding to the divisions that I have mentioned the further and real difficulties of those hon. Members who decided that the national interest, as expressed by the nation as a whole, should outweigh the views of their individual constituencies.
We, the Government and Parliament, have made it clear again and again that the final decision on our membership of the Community must rest with Parliament. We are also sure, as the Prime Minister has said, that the House as a whole will not flout the people's wishes. When my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan) was confronted with the question "Which people?" he did not answer. The House will wish to be guided by the wishes of the nation as a whole and not by individual parts of it. That is the essence of the case for a central count.
Will the right hon. Gentleman please address himself to the relationship—which I and other hon. Members have argued in this debate —between Members of Parliament and their constituents? Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that if constituents are canvassed for an opinion on this or any other matter the person above all others who should know their opinion is their Member of Parliament, in whose hands rest the decision on this or any similar issue?
I would have thought that hon. Members would have taken the trouble to find out the views of their constituents on a matter of this importance. I know that hon. Members are, naturally, often rightly impatient of arguments about administrative convenience. We heard a great deal about this yesterday. Many hon. Members—the hon. Member for Moray and Nairn (Mrs. Ewing) for instance—have attacked the proposal to count all the votes at Earls Court precisely on these grounds. Now that the preparations for a count at Earls Court are well advanced, and they had to be whatever the Committee decides, it is clear that adequate arrangements can be made for the transport, the security of the ballot boxes, the recruitment of staff and the organisation of the counting operation. I believe that at the moment the balance of administrative convenience lies very much with a central count.
It is no use the hon. Lady or any other hon. Member saying that it cannot be done or that it can be done only in a chaotic way. I assure the Committee that it can be done, and if the Committee so decides, it will be done, and done efficiently.
Will the right hon. Gentleman give us one or two details about the way in which it can be done? It is one thing to make a categorical statement that it can be done. How many scrutineers will there be? Can Members of Parliament go along and watch? If so, are we to have five days off? May we have a few of the "nitty gritty" details that are so crucial?
I am sure that if the hon. Lady wishes to be a scrutineer my right hon. Friend will be happy to appoint her —if she is fit to do the job after travelling down in the guard's van.
None of the counties in England and Wales has experience of counting votes, and in the six weeks left for the referendum they will have very little time to make preparations. In Scotland the position is even more difficult because, as I explained yesterday, the new regional authorities do not take over until the middle of May. Amendment No. 49, in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. MacFarquhar), on which we are to vote separately, for a declaration by counties would allow all the votes in the United Kingdom to be counted in London, rather than in the counties or in the Scottish regions, even though results would be declared by the national counting official.
An arrangement of this kind, apart from the administrative advantages, would ensure that early results from small counties did not give a misleading impression of the likely United Kingdom result. We have not yet reached a final decision on this, but this could well be the outcome if the amendment is carried, that is a central count—I believe the administrative advantage lies there now —but a declaration by counties.
My right hon. Friend will doubtless have noticed that I suggest that it would be better to have the count done locally and the result declared nationally, from a national centre.
The right hon. Gentleman is seeking to compromise and is spoiling his original decision. If we are to have a national count he should not spoil it on the basis of announcing the result by counties. We will then be in the situation that we are in a General Election, when one minute we are in Europe and the next minute we are out of it. There would be results which would contradict each other every half hour.
I have told the Committee that I am very much in favour of a national count and a national declaration. All I say is that if the amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Belper is carried it will be possible to have a central, national count but to have the county results declared centrally by the national counting officer.
It is not ludicrous. It is very much the system used in two or three other countries.
I turn now to the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) to which the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) spoke. This is an amendment to the amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Belper. It proposes that in the event of a declaration in the rest of the United Kingdom by counties or regions the result in Northern Ireland should be declared by parliamentary constituencies. This amendment will of course fall if my hon. Friend's amendment is defeated. I think all I need say about the hon. Gentleman's amendment at this stage is that if the Committee votes against the Liberal amendment in favour of constituency results through out the United Kingdom I do not think that there are any compelling reasons why we should make special arrangements for constituency results in Northern Ireland. The Committee will accept that the dangers of divisiveness are especially great in Northern Ireland.
One final point, which may not be unimportant. As my hon. Friend's conse- quential amendment to Clause 4 recognises, the Service votes—perhaps 300,000 of them—for which we have now made special provision in Clause I will be counted and declared separately if my hon. Friend's amendment is carried and the votes in the United Kingdom are counted and declared by counties. In a close result for the United Kingdom as a whole it might then prove to be the case that the Service votes had been decisive. If, on the other hand we have only a single United Kingdom result the influence of these Service votes or of the votes from any particular part of the United Kingdom will never be known. If we are all to accept the result of the referendum we do not want to be divided by issues of this kind.
I hope that I have said enough to persuade the Committee that my hon. Friend's amendment in favour of a declaration by counties is wrong in principle and could have unfortunate consequences. Nevertheless, I recognise that hon. Members take different views about this. That is why, on the Labour side of the Committee, we shall have a free vote on the amendment. I believe that many of my right hon. and hon. Friends will be voting unhesitatingly against the amendment. I hope that the Committee will reject it.
Let me make clear what the position is. Hon. Members who want constituency voting should vote for the Liberal amendment which will be put immediately after this debate. Hon Members who want a declaration by counties should support the amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Belper—
We have had a long debate, which I am bound to say has not been wholly enthralling. A number of hon. Members favour the idea of a local constituency count on the honourable and decent ground that they would like to know how their constituents voted. Others favour local constituency counts on rather less respectable grounds, in that they would like to know how the constituents of some of their hon. Friends voted, presumably because they would very much like to take the opportunity of being very nasty indeed to them.
Therefore, much as I respect the former opinions, I am driven to look at some-thing else. The next alternative which is presented is that as this is a "one-off", once only, unique operation, and ought to be different, we should have a national count. I wish that I had confidence that the administrative capacity of those who would be responsible for carrying out such a monstrous operation would be equal to it. However, it could be that an operation such as the marshalling of all these thousands of ballot boxes might even attract the attention of practical jokers, let alone, if I may mention it, those of more sinister intentions.
The Government would be ill-advised to accept the course which the Leader of the House has perfectly reasonably urged. They would be well-advised to turn away from an adventure which might well degenerate into high farce. It shows the nobility of my own temperament in putting this, because Conservative Members of the Committee dislike the whole idea of the referendum very much indeed and should not be expected to object to its operation degenerating into farce. Nevertheless, there is an underlying issue of immense gravity for the country. Therefore, it would be wrong to take risks with it.
I very much hope that the Government will have second thoughts and will recoil from this administrative horror and take account of the argument that has been used against it, that it will be a means of concealing the way in which people voted. As such it would not be effective for one moment. Indeed, it would play into the hands of some people—whom I shall not name because I do not wish to be interrupted. Whatever the
Conservative Members have a free vote, but just in case any of my right hon. or hon. Friends are interested in my opinion or my intentions, in my view the wisest thing to do would be to vote for the amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Belper (Mr. MacFarquhar). One other reason for commending that amendment is that it took the hon. Gentleman precisely half the time to recommend it to the Committee that it took his hon. Friend the Member for Goole (Dr. Marshall) to recommend the alternative. Therefore, there is an added merit there.
I seriously believe that on this occasion the Committee would be well advised to accept the alternative suggestion put for-ward by the hon. Member for Belper and have a count carried out, if possible, on a county basis and declared on a county basis. I understood the right hon. Gentleman to say that there would be no objection to it and that it would be perfectly possible under the amendment of his hon. Friend. One would hope that after such a reasonable compromise procedure had been carried out, we would all, hopefully, determine that we would never, never, repeat this ghastly experiment, wished upon us, as it was, by one of the worst counsellors under whose advice this nation has ever laboured.
|Division No. 181.]||AYES||[6.55 p.m.|
|Abse, Leo||Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N)||Buchan, Norman|
|Archer, Peter||Biffen, John||Buchanan, Richard|
|Armstrong, Ernest||Bishop, E. S.||Butler, Mrs Joyce (Wood Green)|
|Ashley, Jack||Blenkinsop, Arthur||Callaghan, Rt Hon J. (Cardiff SE)|
|Atkins, Ronald (Preston N)||Boardman H.||Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P)|
|Bagier, Gordon A. T.||Booth, Albert||Campbell, Ian|
|Bain, Mrs Margaret||Boothroyd, Miss Betty||Canavan, Dennis|
|Barnett, Rt Hon Joel (Heywood)||Bottomley, Rt Hon Arthur||Cant, R. B.|
|Bates, Alf||Boyden, James (Bish Auck)||Carter-Jones, Lewis|
|Bean, R. E.||Bray, Dr Jeremy||Cartwright, John|
|Bonn, Rt Hon Anthony Wedgwood||Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)||Clemitson, Ivor|
|Cocks, Michael (Bristol S)||Hunter, Adam||Richardson. Miss Jo|
|Coiquhoun, Mrs Maureen||Irvine, Rt Hon Sir A. (Edge Hill)||Roberts, Albert (Normanton)|
|Cook, Robin F. (Edin C)||Irving, Rt Hon S. (Dartford)||Roberts, Gwilym (Cannock)|
|Corbett, Robin||Jackson, Colin (Brighouse)||Robertson, John (Paisley)|
|Cox, Thomas (Tooting)||Jackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln)||Roderick, Caerwyn|
|Craigen, J. M. (Maryhill)||Janner, Greville||Rodgers, George (Chorley)|
|Crawford, Douglas||Jay, Rt Hon Douglas||Rodgers, William (Stockton)|
|Crawshaw, Richard||Jeger, Mrs Lena||Rooker, J. W.|
|Cronin, John||Jenkins, Hugh (Putney)||Rose, Paul B.|
|Cryer, Bob||John, Brynmor||Ross, Rt Hon W. (Kilmarnock)|
|Cunningham, G. (Islington S)||Johnson, James (Hull West)||Ryman, John|
|Davidson, Arthur||Jones, Alec (Rhondda)||Sedgemore, Brian|
|Davies, Bryan (Enfield N)||Jones, Barry (East Flint)||Selby, Harry|
|Davies, Denzil (Llanelli)||Jones, Dan (Burnley)||Shaw, Arnold (Ilford South)|
|Davies, Ifor (Gower)||Judd, Frank||Sheldon, Robert (Ashton-u-Lyne)|
|Davis, Clinton (Hackney C)||Kaufman, Gerald||Shore, Rt Hon Peter|
|Deakins, Eric||Kelley, Richard||Short, Rt Hon E. (Newcastle C)|
|Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)||Kerr, Russell||Short, Mrs Renée (Wolv, NE)|
|de Freitas, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey||Kilroy-Silk, Robert||Silkin, Rt Hon John (Deptford)|
|Delargy, Hugh||Lambie, David||Silkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich)|
|Dell, Rt Hon Edmund||Lamborn, Harry||Silverman, Julius|
|Dempsey, James||Lamond, James||Skinner, Dennis|
|Doig, Peter||Lee, John||Small, William|
|Dormand, J. D.||Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)||Smith, John (N Lanarkshire)|
|Dunn, James A.||Litterick, Tom||Spearing, Nigel|
|Dunnett, Jack||Lomas, Kenneth||Spriggs, Leslie|
|Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth||Loyden, Eddie||Stallard, A. W.|
|Edelman, Maurice||Luard, Evan||Stewart, Donald (Western Isles)|
|Edge, Geoff||Lyons, Edward (Bradford W)||Stewart, Rt Hon M. (Fulham)|
|Edwards, Robert (Wolv SE)||McElhone, Frank||Stott, Roger|
|Ellis, Tom (Wrexham)||Macfarlane, Nell||Strang, Gavin|
|English, Michael||MacFarquhar, Roderick||Strauss, Rt Hon G. R.|
|Evans, Gwynfor (Carmarthen)||McGuire, Michael (Ince)||Summersklll, Hon Dr Shirley|
|Evans, loan (Aberdare)||Mackintosh, John P.||Swain, Thomas|
|Evans, John (Newton)||Maclennan Robert||Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)|
|Ewing, Harry (Stirling)||McMillan, Tom (Glasgow C)||Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)|
|Ewing, Mrs Winifred (Moray)||McNamara, Kevin||Thomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery)|
|Fernyhough, Rt Hon E.||Madden, Max||Thomas, Mike (Newcastle E)|
|Finsberg, Geoffrey||Magee, Bryan||Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)|
|Fitch, Alan (Wigan)||Mahon, Simon||Thompson, George|
|Flannery, Martin||Marks, Kenneth||Thorne, Stan (Preston South)|
|Fletcher, Alex (Edinburgh N)||Marquand, David||Tierney, Sydney|
|Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)||Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)||Tinn, James|
|Foot, Rt Hon Michael||Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)||Tomlinson, John|
|Ford, Ben||Marten, Neil||Tomney, Frank|
|Forrester, John||Maynard, Miss Joan||Torney, Tom|
|Fowler, Gerald (The Wrekin)||Meacher, Michael||Varley, Rt Hon Eric G.|
|Fraser, John (Lambeth, N'w'd)||Mellish, Rt Hon Robert||Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne V)|
|Freeson, Reginald||Mikardo, Ian||Walden, Brian (B'ham, L'dyw'd)|
|Garrett, John (Norwich S)||Millan, Bruce||Walker, Harold (Doncaster)|
|Garrett, W. E. (Wallsend)||Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)||Walker, Terry (Kingswood)|
|George, Bruce||Miller, Mrs Millie (Ilford N)||Ward, Michael|
|Gilbert, Dr John||Mills, Peter||Watkins, David|
|Ginsburg, David||Mitchell, R. C. (Solon, Itchen)||Watt, Hamish|
|Golding John||Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)||Weetch, Ken|
|Grant, George (Morpeth)||Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)||Weitzman, David|
|Grant, John (Islington C)||Muiley, Rt Hon Frederick||Wellbeloved, James|
|Grocott, Bruce||Murray, Rt Hon Ronald King||Welsh, Andrew|
|Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife)||Newens, Stanley||White, Frank R. (Bury)|
|Hardy, Peter||Noble, Mike||White, James (Pollak)|
|Harper, Joseph||Ogden, Eric||Whitlock, William|
|Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)||O'Halloran, Michael||Wigley, Dafydd|
|Hart, Rt Hon Judith||O'Malley, Rt Hon Brian||Willey, Rt Hon Frederick|
|Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy||Orme, Rt Hon Stanley||Williams, Alan Lee (Hornch'ch)|
|Hatton, Frank||Ovenden, John||Williams, Rt Hon Shirley (Hertford)|
|Hayman, Mrs Helene||Padley, Walter||Wilson, Gordon (Dundee E)|
|Healey, Rt Hon Denis||Palmer, Arthur||Wilson, Rt Hon H. (Huyton)|
|Henderson, Douglas||Park, George||Wilson, William (Coventry SE)|
|Heseltine, Michael||Parker, John||Wise, Mrs Audrey|
|Hooley, Frank||Parry, Robert||Woodall, Alec|
|Horam, John||Pavitt, Laurie||Woof, Robert|
|Howell, Denis (B'ham, Sm H)||Peart, Rt Hon Fred||Wrigglesworth, Ian|
|Hoyle, Doug (Nelson)||Perry, Ernest||Young, David (Bolton E)|
|Huckfield, Les||Phipps, Dr Colin|
|Hughes, Rt Hon C. (Anglesey)||Price, William (Rugby)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES|
|Hughes, Mark (Durham)||Radice, Giles||Mr. James Hamilton and|
|Hughes, Roy (Newport)||Reid, George||Mr. David Stoddart.|
|Adley, Robert||Beith, A. J.||Blaker, Peter|
|Altken, Jonathan||Benyon, W.||Body, Richard|
|Alison, Michael||Berry, Hon Anthony||Bowden, A. (Brighton, Kemptown)|
|Banks, Robert||Biggs-Davison, John||Boyson, Dr Rhodes (Brent)|
|Braine, Sir Bernard||Hurd, Douglas||Renton, Tim (Mid-Sussex)|
|Brittan, Leon||Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)||Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon|
|Brotherton, Michael||Jessel, Toby||Ridley, Hon Nicholas|
|Bryan, Sir Paul||Johnston, Russell (Inverness)||Rifkind, Malcolm|
|Buck, Antony||Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine||Roberts, Michael (Cardiff NW)|
|Budgen, Nick||King, Tom (Bridgwater)||Roberts, Wyn (Conway)|
|Bulmer, Esmond||Kitson, Sir Timothy||Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)|
|Burden, F. A.||Knox, David||Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)|
|Carlisle, Mark||Lamont, Norman||Rost, Peter (SE Derbyshire)|
|Churchill, W. S.||Langford-Holt, Sir John||Sainsbury, Tim|
|Clark, Alan (Plymouth, Sutton)||Latham, Michael (Melton)||St. John-Stevas, Norman|
|Clegg, Walter||Lawrence, Ivan||Scott, Nicholas|
|Cockcroft, John||Lawson, Nigel||Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)|
|Cope, John||Le Marchant, Spencer||Shelton, William (Streatham)|
|Costain, A. P.||Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)||Shersby, Michael|
|Crowder, F. P.||Loveridge, John||Sims, Roger|
|Dean, Paul (N Somerset)||Luce, Richard||Sinclair, Sir George|
|Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James||McCrindle, Robert||Smith, Cyril (Rochdale)|
|Drayson, Burnaby||MacGregor, John||Speed, Keith|
|du Cann, Rt Hon Edward||Macmillan, Rt Hon M. (Farnham)||Spicer, Jim (W Dorset)|
|Dykes, Hugh||McNair-Wilson, M. (Newbury)||Spicer, Michael (S Worcester)|
|Eden, Rt Hon Sir John||Madel, David||Sproat, lain|
|Edwards, Nicholas (Pembroke)||Marshall, Michael (Arundel)||Stanley, John|
|Fairbairn, Nicholas||Mates, Michael||Steel, David (Roxburgh)|
|Fairgrieve, Russell||Mather, Carol||Steen, Anthony (Wavertree)|
|Fisher, Sir Nigel||Maude, Angus||Stewart, Ian (Hitchin)|
|Fookes, Miss Janet||Mawby, Ray||Stradling Thomas, J.|
|Freud, Clement||Mayhew, Patrick||Tapsell, Peter|
|Fry, Peter||Meyer, Sir Anthony||Taylor, Teddy (Cathcart)|
|Galbraith, Hon. T. G. D.||Mitchell, David (Basingstoke)||Tebbit, Norman|
|Glyn, Dr Alan||Moate, Roger||Thorpe, Rt Hon Jeremy (N Devon)|
|Goodhart, Philip||Monro, Hector||Townsend, Cyril D.|
|Goodhew, Victor||Montgomery, Fergus||Vaughan, Dr Gerard|
|Gorst, John||Moore, John (Croydon C)||Viggers Peter|
|Gow, Ian (Eastbourne)||Mudd, David||Wainwright, Richard (Colne V)|
|Gray, Hamish||Nelson, Anthony||Walker-Smith, Rt Hon Sir Derek|
|Griffiths, Eldon||Neubert, Michael||Walters, Dennis|
|Grimond, Rt Hon J.||Newton, Tony||Weatherill, Bernard|
|Grist, Ian||Normanton, Tom||Wells, John|
|Grylls, Michael||Onslow, Cranley||Wiggin, Jerry|
|Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)||Oppenhelm, Mrs Sally||Winterton, Nicholas|
|Hampson, Dr Keith||Osborn, John||Wood, Rt Hon Richard|
|Hannam, John||Page, Rt Hon R. Graham (Crosby)||Young, Sir G. (Ealing, Acton)|
|Harvie Anderson, Rt Hon Miss||Pardoe, John||Younger, Hon George|
|Hastings, Stephen||Penhaligon, David|
|Hawkins, Paul||Percival, Ian|
|Hicks, Robert||Prior, Rt Hon James||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Hordern, Peter||Rathbone, Tim||Sir Raymond Gower and|
|Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk)||Rees, Peter (Dover & Deal)||Mr. Peter Emery.|
|Howells, Geraint (Cardigan)||Renton, Rt Hon Sir D. (Hunts)|
I must apologise for my headgear, Mr. Thomas, which has been borrowed from the hon. Member for Moray and Nairn (Mrs. Ewing). How- ever, I wish to raise a serious point of order. The Government have suddenly sought to guillotine this important piece of constitutional legislation, when I and many of my hon. Friends and hon. Members on the Government side of the Committee were waiting to hear the views of Scottish and Welsh Members, such as the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton), my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Mr. Fairbairn) and my hon. Friend the Member for Barry (Sir R. Gower). May we have an assurance from the Government that they will not resort again to this miserable guillotine procedure on this miserable little Bill?
|Division No. 182.]||AYES||17.10 p.m.|
|Atkins, Ronald (Preston N)||Gilmour, Sir John (East Fife)||Roberts, Michael (Cardiff NW)|
|Awdry, Daniel||Gorst, John||Roderick, Caerwyn|
|Bain, Mrs Margaret||Gow, Ian (Eastbourne)||Rodgers, George (Chorley)|
|Barnett, Guy (Greenwich)||Gray, Hamish||Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)|
|Bean, R. E.||Griffiths, Eldon||Ryman, John|
|Beith, A. J.||Grimond, Rt Hon J.||Scott, Nicholas|
|Benn, Rt Hon Anthony Wedgwood||Hatton, Frank||Sedgemore, Brian|
|Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N)||Henderson, Douglas||Selby, Harry|
|Benyon, W.||Hooley, Frank||Short, Mrs Renée (Wolv NE)|
|Body, Richard||Howells, Geraint (Cardigan)||Skinner, Dennis|
|Booth, Albert||Hoyle, Doug (Nelson)||Spicer, Michael (S Worcester)|
|Buchanan, Richard||Huckfield, Les||Sproat, Iain|
|Butler, Adam (Bosworth)||Hughes, Roy (Newport)||Stallard, A. W.|
|Butler, Mrs Joyce (Wood Green)||Janner, Greville||Stanbrook, Ivor|
|Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P)||Jeger, Mrs Lena||Stewart, Donald (Western Isles)|
|Campbell, Ian||Jenkins, Hugh (Putney)||Swain, Thomas|
|Canavan, Dennis||Johnston, Russell (Inverness)||Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)|
|Carter-Jones, Lewis||Kelley, Richard||Taylor, Teddy (Cathcart)|
|Cartwright, John||Kerr, Russell||Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)|
|Clark, Alan (Plymouth, Sutton)||t amble, David||Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)|
|Clegg, Walter||Lamond, James||Thompson, George|
|Clemitson, Ivor||Lawson, Nigel||Thorne, Stan (Preston South)|
|Colquhoun, Mrs Maureen||Lee, John||Thorpe, Rt Hon Jeremy (N Devon)|
|Cook, Robin F. (Edin C)||Litterick, Tom||Tierney, Sydney|
|Corbett, Robin||Loyden, Eddie||Torney, Tom|
|Costain, A. P.||Lyons, Edward (Bradford W)||Viggers, Peter|
|Crawford, Douglas||McGuire, Michael (Inca)||Waintwright, Richard (Coine V)|
|Cryer, Bob||McMillan, Tom (Glasgow C)||Walker, Terry (Kingswood)|
|Deakins, Eric||McNamara, Kevin||Walker-Smith, Rt Hon Sir Derek|
|Dempsey, James||Madden, Max||Watt, Hamish|
|Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth||Marten, Neil||Weetch, Ken|
|Ellis, Tom (Wrexham)||Maynard, Miss Joan||Welsh, Andrew|
|Evans, Gwynfor (Carmarthen)||Meyer, Sir Anthony||White, Frank R. (Bury)|
|Evans, Ioan (Aberdare)||Mikardo, Ian||Wlgiey, Dafydd|
|Evans, John (Newton)||Mitchell, R. C. (Solon, Itchen)||Wilson, Gordon (Dundee E)|
|Ewing, Mrs Winifred (Moray)||Monro, Hector||Wise, Mrs Audrey|
|Fernyhough, Rt Hon E.||Morris, Michael (Northampton S)||Woof, Robert|
|Flannery, Martin||Mudd, David||Young, David (Bolton E)|
|Fletcher, Alex (Edinburgh N)||O'Halloran, Michael||Young, Sir G. (Ealing, Acton)|
|Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)||Orme, Rt Hon Stanley|
|Fraser, Rt Hon H. (Stafford & St)||Pardoe, John|
|Fraser, John (Lambeth, N'w'd)||Parry, Robert||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Freud, Clement||Penhaligon, David||Mr. David Steele and|
|Gardner, Edward (S Fylde)||Reid, George||Mr. Cyrii Smith.|
|Garrett, W. E. (Wallsend)||Richardson. Miss Jo|
|Gilbert, Dr John||Ridley, Hon Nicholas|
|Abse, Leo||Carlisle, Mark||Emery, Peter|
|Adley, Robert||Cockcroft, John||English, Michael|
|Altken, Jonathan||Cocks, Michael (Bristol S)||Ewing, Harry (Stirling)|
|Alison, Michael||Cope, John||Finsberg, Geoffrey|
|Archer, Peter||Cormack, Patrick||Fitch, Alan (Wigan)|
|Armstrong, Ernest||Cox, Thomas (Tooting)||Foot, Rt Hon Michael|
|Ashley, Jack||Craigen, J. M. (Maryhill)||Ford, Ben|
|Bagler, Gordon A. T.||Crawshaw, Richard||Fowler, Gerald (The Wrekin)|
|Banks, Robert||Cronin, John||Freeson, Reginald|
|Barnett, Rt Hon Joel (Heywood)||Crowder, F. P.||Fry, Peter|
|Bates, Alf||Cunningham, G. (Islington S)||Galbraith, Hon. T. G. D.|
|Biffen, John||Davidson, Arthur||Garrett, John (Norwich S)|
|Biggs-Davison, John||Davies, Bryan (Enfield N)||George, Bruce|
|Bishop, E. S.||Davies, Denzil (Llanelli)||Ginsburg, David|
|Blaker, Peter||Davies, Ifor (Gower)||Glyn, Dr Alan|
|Blenkinsop, Arthur||Davis, Clinton (Hackney C)||Golding, John|
|Boardman H.||Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)||Goodhart, Philip|
|Boothroyd, Miss Betty||Dean, Paul (N Somerset)||Goodhew, Victor|
|Boacawen, Hon Robert||de Freltas, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey||Goodlad, Alastair|
|Bottomley, Rt Hon Arthur||Delargy, Hugh||Gower, Sir Raymond (Barry)|
|Boyden, James (Bish Auck)||Dell, Rt Hon Edmund||Grant, George (Morpeth)|
|Bradley, Tom||Doig, Peter||Grant, John (Islington C)|
|Braine, Sir Bernard||Dormand, J. D.||Grist, Ian|
|Brittian, Leon||Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James||Grocott, Bruce|
|Brotherton, Michael||Drayson, Burnaby||Grylls, Michael|
|Brown, Hugh D. (Proven)||Dunn, James A.||Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife)|
|Buck, Antony||Dunnett, Jack||Hannam, John|
|Budgen, Nick||Edelman, Maurice||Hardy, Peter|
|Bulmer, Esmond||Eden, Rt Hon Sir John||Harper, Joseph|
|Burden, F. A.||Edge, Geoff||Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)|
|Callaghan, Rt Hon J. (Cardiff SE)||Edwards, Robert (Wolv SE)||Hart. Rt Hon Judith|
|Hastings, Stephen||Mahon, Simon||Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)|
|Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy||Marks, Kenneth||Sheldon, Robert (Ashton-u-Lyne)|
|Havers, Sir Michael||Marquand, David||Shersby, Michael|
|Hawkins, Paul||Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)||Short, Rt Hon E. (Newcastle C)|
|Hayman, Mrs Helene||Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)||Silkin, Rt Hon John (Deptford)|
|Hicks, Robert||Marshall, Michael (Arundel)||Silkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich)|
|Holland, Philip||Mates, Michael||Silverman, Julius|
|Horam, John||Mather, Carol||Sims, Roger|
|Hordern, Peter||Mawby, Ray||Skeet, T. H. H.|
|Howell, Denis (B'ham, Sm H)||Mayhew, Patrick||Small, William|
|Hughes, Rt Hon C. (Anglesey)||Mellish, Rt Hon Robert||Smith, John (N Lanarkshire)|
|Hughes, Mark (Durham)||Millan, Bruce||Speed, Keith|
|Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)||Miller, Dr M. S. (E Klibride)||Spicer, Jim (W Dorset)|
|Hunter, Adam||Miller, Mrs Millie (Ilford N)||Spriggs, Leslie|
|Hurd, Douglas||Mills, Peter||Stanley, John|
|Irvine, Rt Hon Sir A. (Edge Hill)||Mitchell, David (Basingstoke)||Steen, Anthony (Wavertree)|
|Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)||Molyneaux, James||Stewart, Ian (Hitchin)|
|Irving, Charles (Cheltenham)||Moore, John (Croydon C)||Stewart, Rt Hon M. (Fulham)|
|Irving, Rt Hon S. (Dartford)||Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)||Stoddart, David|
|Jackson, Colin (Brighouse)||Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)||Stott, Roger|
|Jay, Rt Hon Douglas||Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)||Strang, Gavin|
|Jessel, Toby||Morrison, Hon Peter (Chester)||Strauss, Rt Hon G. R.|
|John, Brynmor||Mutley, Rt Hon Frederick||Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley|
|Johnson, James (Hull West)||Murray, Rt Hon Ronald King||Tapsell, Peter|
|Johnson, Walter (Derby S)||Nelson, Anthony||Tebbit, Norman|
|Johnson Smith, G. (E. Grinstead)||Neubert, Michael||Thomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery)|
|Jones, Alec (Rhondda)||Newens, Stanley||Thomas, Mike (Newcastle E)|
|Jones, Barry (East Flint)||Noble, Mike||Tinn, James|
|Jones, Dan (Burnley)||Normanton, Tom||Tomlinson, John|
|Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith||Ogden, Eric||Tomney, Frank|
|Judd, Frank||Osborn, John||Townsend, Cyril D.|
|Kaufman, Gerald||Ovenden, John||Tugendhat, Christopher|
|Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine||Padley, Walter||Varley, Rt Hon Eric G.|
|Kilroy-Silk, Robert||Page, Rt Hon R. Graham (Crosby)||Vaughan, Dr Gerard|
|King, Tom (Bridgwater)||Palmer, Arthur||Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne V)|
|Kitson, Sir Timothy||Park, George||Walden, Brian (B'ham,L'dyw'd)|
|Knox, David||Parker, John||Walker, Harold (Doncaster)|
|Lamborn, Harry||Pavitt, Laurie||Ward, Michael|
|Lamont, Norman||Peart, Rt Hon Fred||Watkins, David|
|Langford-Holt, Sir John||Perry, Ernest||Weitzman, David|
|Latham, Michael (Melton)||Peyton, Rt Hon John||Wellbeloved, James|
|Lawrence, Ivan||Phipps, Dr Colin||Wells, John|
|Le Marchant, Spencer||Powell, Rt Hon J. Enoch||White, James (Pollok)|
|Lever, Rt Hon Harold||Price, William (Rugby)||Whitlock, William|
|Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)||Radice, Giles||Wiggin, Jerry|
|Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)||Rathbone, Tim||Willey, Rt Hon Frederick|
|Lomas, Kenneth||Rees, Peter (Dover & Deal)||Williams, Alan Lee (Hornch'ch)|
|Loveridge, John||Renton, Tim (Mid-Sussex)||Williams, Rt Hon Shirley (Hertford)|
|Luard, Evan||Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon||Wilson, William (Coventry SE)|
|Luce, Richard||Rifkind, Malcolm||Winlerton, Nicholas|
|McCrindle, Robert||Roberts, Albert (Normanton)||Wood, Rt Hon Richard|
|McElhone, Frank||Roberts, Gwilym (Cannock)||Woodall, Alec|
|Macfarlane, Neil||Robertson, John (Paisley)||Wrigglesworth, Ian|
|MacFarquhar, Roderick||Rodgers, William (Stockton)|
|Maclennan Robert||Rooker, J. W.|
|Macmillan, Rt Hon M. (Farnham)||Rose, Paul B.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|McNair-Wilson, M. (Newbury)||Ross, Rt Hon W. (Kilmarnock)||Mr. J. Hamilton and|
|Madel, David||Sandelson, Neville||Miss Margaret Jackson.|
|Magee, Bryan||Shaw, Arnold (Ilford South)|
I beg to move
Amendment No. 113, in page 2, line 32, at end insert—
'(1A) The council of any district in Scotland shall, if so requested by the council of the region in which that district is situated, place at the disposal of any officer of the latter council, for the purpose of assisting him in the discharge of any functions conferred on him in relation to the referendum by subsection (1) of this section, the services of officers employed by the former council'.
As the Committee is anxious to come to a decision on Amendment No. 49 on the way that votes are to be counted I will be brief.
This amendment merely seeks to regularise the position of district councils in Scotland. Subsection 2(l)(b) of this clause lays responsibility for the counting of votes on regional officers. We are asking that where help is required from the district councils by the regions that help should be forthcoming. In order to regularise the position we are seeking to write into the legislation this amendment. I content myself with those remarks.
Amendment proposed: No. 49, in page 2, line 38, at end insert
'and shall also certify for each total what number represents voting in accordance with any special provision made in pursuance of section 1(4A) of this Act and what numbers of the remainder represent respectively voting in each of the following areas, that is to say—
|Division No. 183.1||AYES||17.23 p.m.|
|Adley, Robert||Davies, Bryan (Enfield N)||Grylls, Michael|
|Aitken, Jonathan||Deakins, Eric||Hamilton, James (Bothwell)|
|Alison, Michael||Dean, Paul (N Somerset)||Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)|
|Atkins, Rt Hon H. (Spelthorne)||de Freltas, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey||Hampson, Dr Keith|
|Atkins, Ronald (Preston N)||Dell, Rt Hon Edmund||Hannam, John|
|Bain, Mrs Margaret||Dempsey, James||Harper, Joseph|
|Baker, Kenneth||Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James||Hart, Rt Hon Judith|
|Banks, Robert||Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth||Hastings, Stephen|
|Barnett, Guy (Greenwich)||Durant, Tony||Hatton, Frank|
|Bean, R. E.||Dykes, Hugh||Havers, Sir Michael|
|Beith, A. J.||Eden, Rt Hon Sir John||Hawkins, Paul|
|Benn, Rt Hon Anthony Wedgwood||Edwards, Nicholas (Pembroke)||Henderson, Douglas|
|Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N)||Edwards, Robert (Wolv SE)||Heseltine, Michael|
|Biggs-Davison, John||Ellis, John (Brlgg & Scun)||Hooley, Frank|
|Blaker, Peter||Ellis, Tom (Wrexham)||Hordern, Peter|
|Body, Richard||Evans, Gwynfor (Carmarthen)||Howell, Denis (B'ham, Sm H)|
|Booth, Albert||Evans, Ioan (Aberdare)||Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk)|
|Boyson, Dr Rhodes (Brent)||Evans, John (Newton)||Howells, Geraint (Cardigan)|
|Bradley, Tom||Ewing, Harry (Stirling)||Hoyle, Doug (Nelson)|
|Bray, Dr Jeremy||Ewing, Mrs Winifred (Moray)||Huckfleld, Les|
|Brittan, Leon||Fairbairn, Nicholas||Hughes, Rt Hon C. (Anglesey)|
|Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)||Fairgrieve, Russell||Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)|
|Bryan, Sir Paul||Fernyhough, Rt Hon E.||Hughes, Roy (Newport)|
|Buchan, Norman||Flannery, Martin||Hunter, Adam|
|Buchanan, Richard||Fletcher, Alex (Edinburgh N)||Hurd, Douglas|
|Buchanan-Smith, Alick||Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)||Irvine, Rt Hon Sir A. (Edge Hill)|
|Buck, Antony||Fookes, Miss Janet||Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)|
|Budgen, Nick||Foot, Rt Hon Michael||Irving, Charles (Cheltenham)|
|Bulmer, Esmond||Fraser, Rt Hon H. (Stafford & St)||Jay, Rt Hon Douglas|
|Butler, Adam (Bosworth)||Freud, Clement||Jenkin, Rt Hon P. (Wanst'd & W'drd)|
|Butler, Mrs Joyce (Wood Green)||Fry, Peter||Jenkins, Hugh (Putney)|
|Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P)||Galbraith, Hon. T. G. D.||Johnson Smith, G. (E. Grinstead)|
|Campbell, Ian||Gardner, Edward (S Fylde)||Johnston, Russell (Inverness)|
|Canavan, Dennis||Garrett, W. E. (Wallsend)||Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith|
|Carr, Rt Hon Robert||Gilbert, Dr John||Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine|
|Carter-Jones, Lewis||Gilmour, Rt Hon Ian (Chesham)||Kelley, Richard|
|Cartwright, John||Gilmour, Sir John (East Fife)||Kerr, Russell|
|Churchill, W. S.||Ginsburg, David||Lambie, David|
|Clemitson, Ivor||Glyn, Dr Alan||Lamond, James|
|Cockcroft, John||Golding, John||Lamont, Norman|
|Colquhoun, Mrs Maureen||Goodhart, Philip||Latham, Michael (Melton)|
|Cope, John||Gow, Ian (Eastbourne)||Lawrence, Ivan|
|Craigen, J. M. (Maryhill)||Gower, Sir Raymond (Barry)||Lawson, Nigel|
|Crawford, Douglas||Gray, Hamish||Lee, John|
|Cryer, Bob||Grimond, Rt Hon J.||Le Marchant, Spencer|
|Davidson, Arthur||Grist, Ian||Lever, Rt Hon Harold|
|Litterick, Tom||Percival, Ian||Swain, Thomas|
|Loyden, Eddie||Peyton, Rt Hon John||Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)|
|Luard, Evan||Phipps, Dr Colin||Taylor, Teddy (Cathcart)|
|Luce, Richard||Powell, Rt Hon J. Enoch||Temple-Morris, Peter|
|McElhone, Frank||Prior, Rt Hon James||Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)|
|MacFarquhar, Roderick||Rathbone, Tim||Thomas, Mike (Newcastle E)|
|MacGregor, John||Rees, Peter (Dover & Deal)||Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)|
|McGuire, Michael (Ince)||Reid, George||Thompson, George|
|Mackenzie, Gregor||Renton, Rt Hon Sir D. (Hunts)||Thorne, Stan (Preston South)|
|Maclennan Robert||Renton, Tim (Mid-Sussex)||Thorpe, Rt Hon Jeremy (N Devon)|
|Macmillan, Rt Hon M. (Farnham)||Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon||Tierney, Sydney|
|Madden, Max||Richardson. Miss Jo||Tomlinson, John|
|Madel, David||Ridley, Hon Nicholas||Torney, Tom|
|Marquand, David||Roberts, Michael (Cardiff NW)||Tugendhat, Christopher|
|Marshall, Michael (Arundel)||Roberts, Wyn (Conway)||Varley, Rt Hon Eric G.|
|Marten, Neil||Roderick, Caerwyn||Vaughan, Dr Gerard|
|Mather, Carol||Rodgers, George (Chorley)||Viggers, Peter|
|Maynard, Miss Joan||Rose, Paul B.||Wainwright, Richard (Colne V)|
|Meacher, Michael||Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)||Walker, Terry (Kingswood)|
|Meyer, Sir Anthony||Ross, Rt Hon W. (Kilmarnock)||Walker-Smith, Rt Hon Sir Derek|
|Mikardo, Ian||Royle, Sir Anthony||Walters, Dennis|
|Millan, Bruce||Ryman, John||Watt, Hamish|
|Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)||Sainsbury, Tim||Weetch, Ken|
|Mills, Peter||Scott, Nicholas||Wellbeloved, James|
|Mitchell, David (Basingstoke)||Sedgemore, Brian||Welsh, Andrew|
|Moate, Roger||Selby, Harry||White, Frank R. (Bury)|
|Molyneaux, James||Shore, Rt Hon Peter||White, James (Pollok)|
|Morro, Hector||Short, Mrs Renée (Wolv NE)||Wiggin, Jerry|
|Montgomery, Fergus||Silkin, Rt Hon John (Deptford)||Wigley, Dafydd|
|Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)||Silverman, Julius||Williams, Alan Lee (Hornch'ch)|
|Morris, Michael (Northampton S)||Skinner, Dennis||Williams, Rt Hon Shirley (Hertford)|
|Morrison, Hon Peter (Chester)||Small, William||Wilson, Gordon (Dundee E)|
|Neave, Airey||Smith, Cyril (Rochdale)||Winterton, Nicholas|
|Newens, Stanley||Smith, John (N Lanarkshire)||Wise, Mrs Audrey|
|Newton, Tony||Spearing, Nigel||Wood, Rt Hon Richard|
|Noble, Mike||Speed, Keith||Woodall, Alec|
|O'Halloran, Michael||Spicer, Jim (W Dorset)||Woof, Robert|
|O'Malley, Rt Hon Brian||Spicer, Michael (S Worcester)||Young, David (Bolton E)|
|Oppenheim, Mrs Sally||Sproat, Iain||Young, Sir G. (Ealing, Acton)|
|Orme, Rt Hon Stanley||Stallard, A. W.||Younger, Hon George|
|Padley, Walter||Stanley, John|
|Page, Rt Hon R. Graham (Crosby)||Steel, David (Roxburgh)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Pardoe, John||Stewart, Donald (Western Isles)||Dr. Edmund Marshall and|
|Parker, John||Stewart, Rt Hon M. (Fulham)||Mr. Robin F. Cook|
|Parry, Robert||Stradling Thomas, J.|
|Penhaligon, David||Strang, Gavin|
|Abse, Leo||Dunn, James A.||Johnson, Walter (Derby S)|
|Archer, Peter||Dunnett, Jack||Jones, Alec (Rhondda)|
|Armstrong, Ernest||Edelman, Maurice||Jones, Barry (East Flint)|
|Ashley, Jack||Edge, Geoff||Jones, Dan (Burnley)|
|Bagier, Gordon A. T.||Emery, Peter||Judd, Frank|
|Barnett, Rt Hon Joel (Heywood)||English, Michael||Kaufman, Gerald|
|Bates, All||Finsberg, Geoffrey||Kilroy-Silk, Robert|
|Biffen, John||Fisher, Sir Nigel||King, Tom (Bridgwater)|
|Bishop, E. S.||Fitch, Alan (Wigan)||Knox, David|
|Blenkinsop, Arthur||Ford, Ben||Lamborn Harry|
|Boardman H.||Fowler, Gerald (The Wrekin)||Langford-Holt, Sir John|
|Boothroyd, Miss Betty||Fraser, John (Lambeth, N'w'd)||Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)|
|Boscawen, Hon Robert||Freeson, Reginald||Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)|
|Boltomley, Rt Hon Arthur||Garrett, John (Norwich S)||Lomas, Kenneth|
|Boyden, James (Bish Auck)||George, Bruce||Lyons, Edward (Bradford W)|
|Braine, Sir Bernard||Goodhew, Victor||McCrindle, Robert|
|Brotherton, Michael||Goodlad, Alastair||Macfarlane, Nell|
|Callaghan, Rt Hon J. (Cardiff SE)||Grant, George (Morpeth)||McMillan, Tom (Glasgow C)|
|Carlisle, Mark||Grant, John (Islington C)||McNair-Wilson, M. (Newbury)|
|Cocks, Michael (Bristol S)||Grocott, Bruce||Magee, Bryan|
|Cormack, Patrick||Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife)||Mahon, Simon|
|Costain, A. P.||Hardy, Peter||Marks, Kenneth|
|Cox, Thomas (Tooting)||Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)||Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)|
|Crawshaw, Richard||Harvie Anderson, Rt Hon Miss||Mates, Michael|
|Cronin, John||Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy||Mawby, Ray|
|Crowder, F. P.||Hayman, Mrs Helene||Mayhew, Patrick|
|Cunningham, G. (Islington S)||Hicks, Robert||Mellish, Rt Hon Robert|
|Davies, Denzil (Llanelli)||Horam, John||Miller, Mrs Millie (Ilford N)|
|Davies, Ifor (Gower)||Irving, Rt Hon S. (Dartford)||Mitchell, R. C. (Solon, Itchen)|
|Davis, Clinton (Hackney C)||Jackson, Colin (Brighouse)||Moore, John (Croydon C)|
|Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)||Janner, Greville||Morgan-Giles, Rear-Admiral|
|Delargy, Hugh||Jeger, Mrs Lena||Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)|
|Doig, Peter||Jessel, Toby||Murray, Rt Hon Ronald King|
|Demand, J. D.||John, Brynmor||Nelson, Anthony|
|Drayson, Burnaby||Johnsor, James (Hull West)||Neubert, Michael|
|Normanton, Tom||Rowlands, Ted||Tapsell, Peter|
|Nott, John||Sandelson, Neville||Tebbit, Norman|
|Ogden, Eric||Shaw, Arnold (Ilford South)||Thomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery)|
|Osborn, John||Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)||Tinn, James|
|Ovenden, John||Sheldon, Robert (Ashton-u-Lyne)||Tomney, Frank|
|Palmer, Arthur||Shersby, Michael||Townsend, Cyril D.|
|Park, George||Short, Rt Hon E. (Newcastle C)||Walker, Harold (Doncaster)|
|Pearl, Rt Hon Fred||Silkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich)||Ward, Michael|
|Perry, Ernest||Skeet, T. H. H.||Watkins, David|
|Price, William (Rugby)||Spriggs, Leslie||Weitzman, David|
|Radice, Giles||Stanbrook, Ivor||Whitlock, William|
|Rifkind, Malcolm||Steen, Anthony (Wavertree)||Willey, Rt Hon Frederick|
|Roberts, Albert (Normanton)||Stewart, Ian (Hitchin)||Wilson, William (Coventry SE)|
|Roberts, Gwilym (Cannock)||Stoddart, David||Wrigglesworth, Ian|
|Robertson, John (Paisley)||Stott, Roger||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Rodgers, William (Stockton)||Strauss, Rt Hon G. R.||Mr. Laurie Pavitt and|
|Rooker, J. W.||Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley||Miss Margaret Jackson.|
The Deputy Chairman:
With this we are to take New Clause 17—"Result of Referendum"—
'The counting officers shall inform the Secretary of State of the result of the consultative Referendum and the Secretary of State shall then inform the House of Commons of that result as soon as possible thereafter'.
Hon. Members on both sides of the Committee could easily be forgiven for assuming that this is a rather minor matter, but I think that it is more than merely symbolic of the anxieties of many hon. Members who, irrespective of party, are extremely concerned about the wider issues—into which I shall not enter, for obvious reasons—of the referendum and its constitutional relationship to Parliament. I should be out of order if I were to go into those wider arguments and I shall deliberately and prudently refrain from so doing. They were dealt with substantially on Second Reading. But because they refer to details and deal with some of the more detailed aspects of the way in which the referendum will be operated and conducted if this legislation is passed I hope hon. Members will agree that it is incumbent on the Government and upon the Minister who will, I assume, reply to the debate, to give us assurances to allay the fears of many people.
The proposal here is for simultaneous announcements in both Houses of Parliament on the day after the counting of the votes. It seems to be an absolutely straightforward concept. There has been speculation in the Press about, and, I think, reference at Question Time to, the announcement of the result being made in the House, but I feel it is important for this provision to be written into the Bill. for a number of reasons.
There are two or three important reasons for suggesting this provision. First, if there is overall anxiety about the constitutional perturbations that could be caused to Parliament by this measure, I think that one should take every opportunity to include in the Bill provisions to ensure that the overall effect of the weakening of Parliament's sovereign authority does not take place.
Secondly, the view has been expressed by some hon. Members—and I think that it is a valid concern—that they are worried about the details of the count. Irrespective of the amendments which have been voted upon, hon. Members are concerned about the more practical details arising from the final form of the legislation. They are concerned about the fact that this is a new venture for those who will be responsible for the counting, the sorting, the allocation, the registration and the certification of these Votes.
This is a complex matter. This country has a long tradition of being eminently accustomed to running General Elections and other elections without batting an eyelid and impressing no end of countries overseas by the way we do it, but this is a new venure, and for mechanistic, functional and practical reasons I hope that the Minister will be able to allay our anxieties.
I refrain from discussing the previous amendment, but one can imagine all sorts of difficulties arising. There is the danger of Press speculation once the count has ended. We should like to know at what time the count will end. If the Minister, even in a speculative sense, can give an advance indication, it would help. There is the danger of all sorts of rumours circulating. Mislaid ballot boxes could give rise to their own kind of rumour.
It is important to consider the amendment not only in the general sense of the overall authority of Parliament, but in the specific sense that every hon. Member, whatever his views and his allegiance to the referendum, whatever his views on some of the details and bases of the count, and irrespective of what the Government call the sovereign populist view of the people as expressed in this unique, once-and-for-all referendum, will have the responsibility, one way or the other, to ensure that Parliament reaches its own decision on the referendum. Even those who are in favour of the referendum in a passionate sense, and there may still be some in the Committee despite the doubts that have arisen as the details have been debated, cannot gainsay that proposition.
This is not simply what the technicians sometimes call a probing amendment to see what the Government have to say. It is more than that, and it has the support of many hon. Members. It places Parliament in a proper perspective in relation to the referendum. It provides, I hope, acocrding to the efficiency of the public services, that guaranteed State security over the announcement of the overall result which should be secured and protected until Parliament has had the chance of hearing the result.
The amendment does not deal only factually with what might be regarded as a routine announcement it is an important amendment in symbolic and wider terms. I therefore hope that the Committee will ask the Minister to give us adequate indications, to put it mildly, of what the Govenment have in mind about announcing the result. If he does not. I am sure that hon. Members will seriously consider pressing the amendment, which I should like to do. I say no more than that. One might otherwise have too substantial a debate and tax the patience of you, Sir Myer, and other hon. Members. I am most anxious that the Minister deals satisfactorily with this important amendment.
It may be for the convenience of the Committee if I speak now.
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes) for tabling the amendment because it enables me to clear up one or two points. I assure him that there is every intention that a statement will be made in the House of Commons and a statement will be made at the same time in another place on the day after the count is concluded. Under the draft referendum order, published as a White Paper, the counting officer is required at the end of the count to notify the Prime Minister forthwith of the result that he has certified. It will then be for, in all probability, my right hon. Friend to make an announcement to the House of Commons at the earliest possible opportunity, and, in accordance with the normal practice, a statement will be made in another place at the same time. These arrangements will secure the substantial objective of the amendment.
There is, however, one matter on which I cannot satisfy the hon. Gentleman, and that is that no announcement should be made until the House of Commons has been informed. The hon. Gentleman asked when we expected the count to be completed. I cannot give a precise answer, not least because the Bill has just been amended, and that could affect the time at which the count might be completed. But I still expect that the final result will be through some time on the Sunday.
I hope the hon. Gentleman appreciates the concern in parts of the country where there are deep feelings about these matters that the counting should proceed on Sunday and that a momentous announcement about the future of this country should be made on a day which is regarded as one set apart which should not be used for major constitutional announcements.
I am well aware of the susceptibilities of those who believe that no activity should be undertaken on Sundays. However, inevitably counting will take place during the weekend, and Saturday is an opportunity for some members of the community to raise similar objections. There are difficulties of a religious kind. No one suggests that anyone with such religious objections should be asked to count on a Sunday. However, the final result may well be available on the Sunday, and it would be a profound mistake if we were to prolong unnecessarily the period of suspense between the casting of votes and the final computation of the result. That could have dire effects well outside the scope of the referendum.
I take the hon. Gentleman's point, but can he say why the count will not be finished by Saturday night? I should have thought that it would have been under the new arrangement.
That was why I chose my words carefully. It is hard to take account at such notice of the amendment which has just been passed. It could have that result. I should hate to commit myself, and that is why I said that I should still expect the result to be available on the Sunday. I hope that that will help to allay the fears of the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith).
I add my voice to that of the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith). I take his point that the Jewish community in the United Kingdom have their Sabbath on a Saturday, but they have, for all manner of reasons, accepted the position. They do not make a public protest that those who are not of their persuasion are asked to do anything different on their Sabbath. But the people of the persuasion to whom the Sunday Sabbath is sacrosanct are asking and always have asked, society to recognise their view, and sometimes the rights of the minority can be preferred to the rights of the majority without any of us suffering. Surely we could wait until Monday morning.
If the count were nearing its conclusion, it would be exceedingly difficult to shut up shop at midnight on the Saturday, with all the security dangers that that would entail, and resume on Monday morning. Apart from the arguments which I adduced a moment ago, to which I attach great weight, I should not want the result to be delayed in such a way as to damage unnecessarily the vital interests of this country by allowing a further 24 hours for speculation, possibly damaging speculation, about the result. Hon. Members will be aware of the consequences to which that could conceivably lead.
The great problem is that if the result is available at some point during the weekend it will be virtually impossible thereafter to guarantee that the result remains secret until such time as an announcement is made in the House of Commons and in another place. The amendment which has just been carried permits the counting to be done either at county or regional level or at national level but the declaration to be made on a county, regional and Northern Ireland basis.
The number of people involved in counting will be large. We cannot very well propose that after the count has been completed they should be locked up for a further 24 or 36 hours until 3.30 or beyond on Monday afternoon when my right hon. Friend makes his announcement to the House. Therefore, they must leave Earls Court, or wherever it may be. and there will then be little check on their activities. I do not suggest that any of the people selected would leak the result deliberately, but anyone who has spent some time in politics knows that some of our friends in the Press have remarkable techniques for wheedling information out of us, not least by talking to half-a-dozen people and putting half-a-dozen pieces of information together and making seven. That might well be the effect of trying to keep the result secret. It would be much the worst of all possible worlds if the result were, inaccurately or accurately, to leak before a proper declaration in due form had been made.
I therefore hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept that we can meet the spirit of his amendment—indeed, that we can meet the case without an amendment. I assure him that we can meet its precise wording, because the wording of the amendment does not require that there should not be a prior declaration before a statement is made in the House of Commons.
If I understood the Minister correctly—will he kindly enlighten the Committee about this—he said that there was an obligation on the counting officer to report the result of the referendum to the Prime Minister within 24 hours—on the following day, I think he said. Will he kindly draw the attention of the Committee to where those provisions are?
I broadly agree with the Minister's remarks, but it would he for the convenience of the Committee if he would clarify one point now on behalf of the Government. He said that the amendment we had just passed will allow the count to be taken centrally and/or on a county basis but it had to be declared on a county basis. Would it not be for the convenience of the Committee that he should now state plainly that, in view of the amendment we have just passed, it would be obviously right that the count should take place entirely on a county basis and that all the votes should not have to be brought to London?
No. It would be unwise of me to give a snap reaction to an amendment which has just been carried. I assure the right hon. Gentleman that an announcement will be made just as rapidly as possible about the effect of the amendment which has just been carried. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will not want to press me too hard on that because of the difficulty, which has been explained more than once, which can occur in Scotland. It is a real difficulty. I have every sympathy with those who will be responsible for conducting the poll in Scotland on behalf of the regional authorities when they come into active existence, if I can so call it, only some three weeks before polling day. To ask that they should also count the votes may be practical and it may be sensible, but it may not, and I would not at present want to commit myself. There may also be difficulties in parts of England, for the simple reason that we have never before conducted a count on a county basis. Even county council elections are held on an electoral division basis.
I am sorry to come back to the Minister on this, but although in Scotland there may be a difficulty about registration and that sort of thing there may not be any serious difficulty about counting the votes.
The amendment has been on the Notice Paper for some time. The Government have had a long time to think about it. Surely they must have made some contingency plans in case it was carried. The suggestion that they will have to go into some tremendous confabulation tonight and announce a decision tomorrow is not plausible.
The right hon. Gentleman must not guy what I said. I did not say that the Government would go into some confabulation tonight and come out with a solution tomorrow morning rather like producing a rabbit out of a hat. This problem has, of course, been the subject of ongoing consideration and there is not an absolutely crystal-clear answer.
I understand the difficulties to which the Minister is referring. I hope that he will accept that the difficulties in regard to the Sunday and the problem of trying to keep the result of the count secret would be eased if the count were conducted on a county basis and if declarations were made in each county. It seems likely that most of the counts could be completed by Saturday. If the Government will yield on this point they will be helped in both respects. I do not expect the Minister to give a snap response now, but I hope that he will realise that a count on a county basis would be an advantage from the Sunday point of view as well.
I take the hon. Gentleman's point. It had already occurred to me. I think that may well be the case.
To conclude, I greatly hope that the hon. Member will accept that we meet the spirit of what he requires but that we cannot meet every detail of it and that he will not press the amendment to a Division.
This is an important point. Bearing in mind the security point, if there were a fire or other major event centrally all the votes would be destroyed. If the count took place in the counties such a catastrophe would be much less likely.
I am indebted to the Minister for drawing my attention to the provisions on page 23 of the White Paper which contains the draft order. I wish to support the amendment and to propound new Clause 17. The Committee's attention should be directed to the procedure laid down in the order, a draft of which it has before it. It seems that the provision that the counting officer shall
forthwith notify the First Lord of the Treasury of the matters to be certified in accordance with Section 2(3) of the Referendum Act
is not of itself sufficient to provide for the manner in which the declaration of the result of this unique consultation is to be made.
We need to be more specific, for three principal reasons. There is no difficulty at General Elections about declaring, the result of an election in a constituency within a very short time of the votes being counted. The possibility of rumours to which my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes) referred is there, but is limited. Even when there are recounts we usually manage, even in seats held by the Liberal Party, to conclude our recounts within a matter of not more than four or five hours anyway.
In cases where we do not have the well-tried procedure of the constituency count—a procedure for which I voted a a short time ago—the declaration must be made in the House of Commons. As I understand page 23 and the draft order, the likelihood is, despite what the Minister said, that the announcement will not be made to the House of Commons at all. I greatly fear that as soon as the counting officer has reported to the Prime Minister the result of the referendum a statement will be issued from No. 10 Downing Street as to the figures that have been certified to the Prime Minister by the counting officer.
Surely now that the count is to be conducted on a county basis it will be impossible to believe that a county which counts early will not somehow release the result and that results will come piecemeal as each county reports. It would be difficult to report the result of each county to the Prime Minister. If that happened he would have a rather busy weekend on the telephone, which I would regret.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) has made a fascinating intervention. I fear that the effect of the earlier amendment will be that, though the results of the referendum will be declared county by county, the Government will still count nationally; they will have all the ballot boxes sent to London but will nevertheless announce the verdict county by county. That is what I fear the Government are going to do. I only hope that I am wrong about this. No doubt, the Minister, who will have thought about this, will be able to tell us.
I hope that we shall not spend too much time on the last amendment while discussing this one. I would be grateful if the hon. Gentleman would address himself to the practical problem of keeping the results, whether county or national, confidential till a statement is made to the House.
I think the Committee is entitled to say to the Minister that the Government should have thought this one through. The forethought of the Government should at least have entertained the possibility that the amendment would he carried against the advice of the Lord President. After all, if the Lord President was inviting us to reject the amendment it was a fairly safe assumption that the amendment would be carried. I would have thought that that possibility would not have been lost on the Government.
Whether the counting is to be done county by county or whether, as I fear, it is still to be done centrally, it seems to me to be a further diminution of the importance of the House of Commons and of another place that we should have, as I fear we shall have, a statement issued from 10 Downing Street. That would pander to the megalomania of the Prime Minister, who would be able to announce it from Downing Street instead of from the Dispatch Box where he would face Questions from my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition. That is the position. It derogates from the importance and supremacy of the House of Commons.
The second reason why I believe we ought to press the amendment is that I think the Government have not, as indeed the Minister's answer made clear a moment ago, thought this matter through. The Bill fails to make provision for the method of the declaration, a provision which is made specifically for General Elections. That is a glaring omission from the Bill.
Finally I say this to the Government. The question of an authoritative statement to the House at the earliest possible moment after the certification by the counting officer is one of the utmost constitutional importance. I foresee grave damage being done unless there is an obligation laid upon the Government to go to the House at the earliest possible moment after the counting officer has issued his certificate.
I add my small voice in commenting on the admirable way in which this amendment has been moved. It has much more importance than the Government appear to realise. When we debate the Question, "That the clause stand part of the Bill" I shall try to give the Government some advice about the action they should take now that the last amendment has been carried against the Government's advice. However, I think it would be out of order for me to do so on this amendment, and I shall refrain even from approaching the area of being out of order.
On the importance of the statement being made in this House, I would prefer the first actual knowledge of the result to be imparted in this House if it is in any way possible.
I am glad to hear the Minister indicate that that is what the Government would like. I should like the Government to examine whether that is within their power. If there is a central count, the actual totalling of the final tallies could easily be done by a very small number of people. In other words, there could be a sub-division of tallies—nothing geographical, nothing to do with the actual areas of the balloting, but a division of tallies into 10 or a dozen different sub-divisions. Only a few people, including scrutineers, would actually know the result of the final bringing together of those sub-divisions.
I accept the Minister's view that if the result were to be known by thousands of people—this is what might be involved if there were a central count—it would be impossible to keep it secure, but if it were known by only a few people the aspect of security would be greatly diminished and the Minister's argument would have to be considered much more closely. As one of the Minister's junior colleagues has indicated that the Government would like to be able to make the statement first in this House, that argument should be examined even more fully than it has been so far.
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that fiction can be just as damaging as fact, and that rumour and speculation for 48 hours about a result that was known to have been reached could be exceedingly damaging?
Yes, I certainly accept that. It could be damaging, particularly in financial circles and across the international money markets. However, there will be a number of days, and I believe that speculation against the pound will actually be on the Friday or the Thursday—polling day. There will not be very much speculation on the Saturday night or Sunday. The markets are closed at that time. Therefore, that aspect of speculation to which the hon. Gentleman refers is much less likely to be damaging over the weekend than in midweek. I accept the argument, but I believe the Government ought to consider this point rather more closely, because the security argument does not necessarily hold water.
I thank the Minister, as I am sure do my hon. Friends, for his assurance, because it went some way to meeting the point which some of us have put forward. However, I am not certain that the assurance goes far enough. I also have had to sit on the opposite side of the House, and I know that in times of great stress assurances which may have been given to the House are not necessarily absolutely binding. Let us take the possibility that, contrary to all the thinking of the Prime Minister, the country rejected his advice by a very small minority and on a small vote. It might be a great problem for him. To spell out in legislation that on the first day that the House sat after the count a statement would be made would be a very good exercise of discipline, not only in making the Prime Minister come here but on all the Departments which will have to prepare the briefing for the Prime Minister to enable him to answer the mass of questions which would be bound to arise should the vote be in the negative.
I come to the main point, which has not been raised by either of the two previous Opposition speakers. I want further assurances from the Minister. I hope that it is unlikely—but obviously some Ministers will hope that it is likely—that the country will reject the Prime Minister's wishes. In those circumstances there will be immense speculation throughout Europe as to how and when our withdrawal will be brought about. That speculation will be much more damaging than any speculation in the 48 hours before the result.
In addition to having a statement about the announcement of the result, the House will want to question fully and comprehensively the way in which the Government will have to act if the result is against their recommendation. If it is affirmative, we have no further worries. However, it is a matter of chance. There are only two alternatives—"Yes" or "No". If it happens to be "No", industries, the House, the money markets and diplomatic circles will all want to know a host of details, and they will want to know them immediately.
It will be no good the Prime Minister or anyone else telling the House, as the Minister has had to say today, "We have not been able to consider the result of a certain amendment which has been passed against Government advice". The fall-back position must have been thought out and planned for, so that none of these problems arise.
If the decision goes against all the advice that I would give for our staying in Europe, the problems that will face the Government will not be satisfactorily dealt with if they consider them in depth and detail only after or during the period of the counting or the announcement of the result. This is a real worry affecting not only Parliament, but the whole economy of the country. The Government must think this out clearly.
I hope that the Minister can give us specific assurances on those points. If he cannot, I urge my hon. Friends to support the amendment that has been so admirably moved.
Having heard the arguments, I am bound to add my slight weight in their support. The Minister has to satisfy three criteria. The first, to which he has already alluded, is the speed with which the result can be officially declared. We obviously understand that fully. The second is the security between the closure of the poll and the completion of the count. Thirdly, he must take due note that this is a unique situation in which the authority of the Government and the House is critically involved.
The result, either at constituency or county level, will not mean a change in representation or produce a certain course of action. One of the most important features of the referendum is that it is advisory and binding on the Government but not on the House. Therefore, it is critical that the House should be the first public forum in which the announcement of this unique declaration of national intent should be made.
I shall briefly comment on the two aspects of speed and security. Obviously, I understand the Minister's reluctance to comment upon the consequences of the amendment just passed. If there is to be a county-by-county count or a count by regions, the problems of both timing and security become critical. On timing, one can foresee that many counties will complete their task rapidly whilst many which are rural and in difficult geographical positions will be late. There will be a real problem about timing and the coordination of results.
Does the hon. Gentleman not accept that if, as I hope, the counting is done within each county, the figures for each area should be declared as the individual counts are completed, as was done in the Norwegian referendum?
That may well be so, but I am not entirely satisfied that it would be in the best interests of the House. We should be concerned about the totality of the vote. I am committed to the wisdom of a national count, although I fully understand the feelings of my hon. Friends in this area, where there are great divisions of opinion.
In terms of security, I hesitate to think what might be the result if there were a multiplicity of counting and the result could be easily predicted by the media by means of various devices. I believe that the whole explosion of a quantified result will take place early upon the Saturday in question.
If this is a unique situation it demands unique handling by the Government. In so far as the House is critically involved, it is only right that, through the offices of the Prime Minister, the first announcement of the total result should be in the House. If any other provision is made in the accumulation of the count, or even if the counting is by regions, or by county, particular regard should be paid to preventing the totality becoming published to the nation until the House has had an opportunity to hear it at first hand.
I do not see that it is a matter of great significance whether the result is announced on the Sunday or the Monday after the Thursday on which the voting takes place. I do not believe that that delay will be damaging to any of the major economic or financial factors involved. What is much more damaging to us here is that the House is apparently not to be given the first opportunity to hear the result.
I become more and more distressed as each hour passes in this increasingly disgraceful shambles and farce. It would be better acted at the other end of Whitehall. It is clear that the Government do not have a clue what they are doing, particularly after the acceptance of the last amendment. The fact that the votes will be counted at county level will create enormous difficulties in Scotland which have not been foreseen by the Government. We shall be within three weeks of our reorganisation. There is enough chaos in Scottish local government now one way and another.
I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. The existing Fife county becomes on 16th May the Fife region, which includes Kirkcaldy and Dunfermline, big burghs and small burghs. They are all juggling around, and a lot of skulduggery is going on. On top of that, we are to have this shambles imposed upon us.
What are we up to? I do not know whether the exact wording of the amendment and the new clause is right, but, however it is done, the Prime Minister must come here and face the music, Whatever the result, he must come here and get into the kitchen.
There has been hardly a debate on the matter in which the word "unique" has not been used. If it is a unique occasion and the result is likely to come through at 3 p.m. or even 3 a.m. on a Sunday, each Member should be told that on Saturday he must stand by his phone and that at 3 o'clock on Sunday morning we may all be called to the House to sit on Sunday morning—[An HON. MEMBER: "And say our prayers."]—maybe we shall take Holy Communion first—and then my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will declare the result.
We all know what will happen. Speculation has already started in the money markets, and will continue for the next five or six weeks because of this exercise.
The "Wee Frees" in Scotland will object to a Sunday announcement, but votes are counted and results declared in the Western Isles on the Sabbath. Activities of one kind or another take place in the Western Isles that the hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) might shut his eyes to. We all know what goes on on the Sabbath in the North of Scotland, though the people concerned must not enjoy it, or admit enjoying it.
It is not good enough for my hon. Friend the Minister to say that the Government will make a statement on the matter as soon as possible. Ministers will not have a confab tonight. How will it be done—by exorcism? Who will make the inspired statement, and how will it be arrived at? May we be told when the momentous decision will be announced to the House? Will it be in the course of the debates on the Bill or in a statement at 3.30 p.m. tomorrow?
I hope that the Government will accept the principle that however and whenever the national result is declared it will be done here, by the Prime Minister, whether on Saturday, Sunday or Guy Fawkes Day.
I have no great anxiety about whether the result is declared inside or outside the House. What I am concerned about is that we have a correct and just result.
After the acceptance of the previous amendment, I want to know what that amendment meant before we come to a decision on the one before us. There is a certain anxiety in the Chamber about its meaning.
May we be assured that there will be a separate count in the areas, and a separate declaration of that count—in other words, that we shall not have counts brought down in silence to Earls Court to be added together and announced there? The decision, the mood and the feeling of the Committee half an hour ago were in favour of counts in the regions. Before we proceed on this amendment it would be as well for my hon. Friend the Minister to clear up this point before any more damage is done.
When I moved the amendment I was under the total misapprehension that it was reasonably straightforward, basic and rather routine, and that the Government would deal with it satisfactorily. I had thought that the Minister, when he was able to concentrate on it—which he is not able to do now since he is engaged in conversation with the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan), his unofficial PPS in row 3 below the Gangway—would deal with it in a satisfactory manner and would give the Committee an assurance. I was seeking to be scrupulously fair by deliberately refraining from mentioning the previous amendment dealing with the count on a county basis. I thought that this was a minor amendment in the totality of the Bill and that the Government would accept it. I believe that it was one of the first amendments to be tabled, and that is borne out if one can judge by the number allocated to it. The Government have, therefore, had time to consider it.
What the hon. Member for Fife. Central (Mr. Hamilton) said will be echoed in all parts of the Committee. Throughout, the Government have shown an incredibly casual attitude to this business and are persisting in that attitude in respect of this and other amendments. I am surprised at that because I had expected a slightly different response from the Minister. But perhaps he is trying to emulate the Prime Minister, believing that the combination of being a cheeky chappie and eminently casual is the best way of dealing with matters in the House or on this unique referendum exercise.
I think that I am justified in asking the Minister to say a little more. He cannot leave the matter at this stage. It seems that there may or may not be a statement in the House. The Minister said that we should not worry but leave it to him because he might come back with an idea, although he was not sure. The Government have been asked to make the announcement first in the House of Lords and the House of Commons simultaneously. Is the Minister merely paying lip-service to this request and saying that it is too difficult to give any assurance or even a clear indication of what the Government have in mind? If so, that is disappointing and offensive to the Committee. We need to he reassured that the whole curious exercise that the Government are indulging in on the referendum will not lead to a diminution of the authority of the House. I see that the Minister is unable to concentrate yet again since he is now in conference with the Government Chief Whip.
The Government originally had in mind holding the referendum on a Monday or Tuesday so that it would take virtually the whole of the rest of the week to do the count. Now they have been advised by civil servants in the Department of the Environment, the Lord President's office and other Departments that the count can be carried out more quickly irrespective of its physical basis. The referendum has been switched to a Thursday, but even that date is not firm because the Bill is not yet law.
Is the Minister prepared to come back to us with a much more precise indication of what he has in mind? He has said that there will be a statement in due course. He has said that although the Government would like the announcement to be made in the House there are difficulties because of the gap between the physical completion of the count and, for example, certification by the national counting officer. He also referred to the transmission of the message to the Prime Minister or the Secretary of State.
It is not enough for the Minister to say that he will come along as soon as possible, that he hopes to do so but he cannot make a promise to do so. Maybe he will be able to say that he will return with a definitive assurance on Report, an assurance that will spell out clearly and unequivocally what the Government intend.
Many people outside the House will be concerned by the present position. My hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) has put the additional points more eloquently than I could put them. In addition, many hon. Members wish the Minister to elaborate and to allay the deep-seated suspicion that the Government are continuing to cock a snoot at hon. Members not only on the referendum but on other issues. People outside the House would legitimately say in response to the casual reply that we have had from the Minister "Well, why not delay the final stages of the count so that they go into the Monday morning, so that the count is completed at 12 noon on Monday, a couple of hours before the announcement is made in the House?".
Is Sunday the appropriate time to make the announcement? There are religious reasons for claiming that it is not. That in itself is a strong point. Further, there might be little time to complete the count. I am not dogmatically adhering to that point. All I am saying is that the Minister should come back to the House.
I think that it would be wrong for all sorts of reasons to press the amendment. I say that because I think that this is a matter that could be much better dealt with by order than by amendment to the Bill. To some extent, therefore, it is a symbolic amendment and a probing amendment, but as I said when I introduced it, it goes beyond that. That is why I say that the Minister should come back with more information. If he says that he is unable to do so I must, with reluctance, press the amendment. I think that many hon. Members are deeply unhappy about the way in which the Minister has responded so far.
I appreciate that there are functional and technical problems in terms of the count. It is a unique exercise. By definition General Election results cannot be announced in the House, but this is a unique exercise outside the functional ambit of the House of Commons, the House of Lords and Parliament as a whole. That is an even stronger reason for the announcement to be made in this House by the Prime Minister. The Minister must say more before we can say that we accept what he has said.
When the hon. Gentleman made his first speech in this debate I thought that he had made a very good speech with serious intent. Having listened to his second speech I now have some doubts. I carefully explained to the Committee the overwhelming difficulty of locking up the result for 36 or 48 hours until the Prime Minister can make an announcement in the House. I explained that it was impossible to guarantee security of the result. Any hon. Member who thinks of trying to keep secrets in the House will know perfectly well that that is true. For instance, let us consider the number of people who must be involved in the counting, however it is done.
I explained carefully that there would be great danger of damaging speculation in both meanings of the word. That could he as much fed by fiction as by fact. I hope that these points will be taken seriously by Conservative Members. To play with the currency of the country would be a very serious matter.
What really would be the consequence of the result not being made available on the Sunday? I accept that we have a large circulation of Sunday media. The Sunday papers are printed on Saturdays and are distributed on Saturday afternoons and evenings. Is the Minister genuinely suggesting that the damage which might result if the result were announced on the Monday would be so great as to warrant the Government saying "We must announce the result on the Sunday. We cannot wait until normal hours on Monday?"
We also have radio and television through which the result could leak. There are Monday morning newspapers and the exchanges are open long before the Prime Minister could come to the House at 3.30 p.m. on a Monday. It would be singularly dangerous to follow that course of action.
The hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) asked me why there were no provisions about a declaration of secrecy. He will see on page 26 of the referendum order that provisions are made to apply Regulation 42 of the Representation of the People Regulations 1974. I have been asked to repeat and relate to this clause what my right hon. Friend said at some length on the previous clause.
I cannot make an announcement tonight about the effect of a decision recently taken upon the time of the declaration of the result. I cannot do that for reasons well explained by my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton). He described the difficulties of the new Scottish regional authorities. It would be silly of us to seek to impose a burden upon those authorities which they could not stand. We are conducting investigations to determine the limit of the capabilities of those authorities in coping with the referendum.
That was said by my right hon. Friend when he explained the purport of an earlier amendment accepted by the Committee a little time ago. He pointed out that that amendment made it possible for both the count and the declaration to be made by counties in England, regions in Scotland, island authorities and Northern Ireland as a whole, or, alternatively, for the votes to be counted centrally but still to be announced in the former way. That is the method on which we have to decide before we know exactly when the result is likely to be available and how the result can best be announced.
I express every sympathy with the intention behind this amendment. I share the view of the hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes) that, if it had been possible so to arrange it without any danger of the result leaking or without the possibility of damaging speculation, it would have been better for the Prime Minister to make the first announcement of the result in the House. There are grave risks inherent in a procedure such as that, to which I could not conceivably commit the Government.
I hope the Minister will be assured that people are not unaware of the Government's difficulties. As I have remarked already, the putative time for the count seems to have varied enormously, from the early, speculative days to the more concrete information which the Government are now amassing. Since the time has seemingly grown shorter in recent weeks, could there not conceivably be difficulties that would make the counting period longer? Can the hon. Gentleman be so sure that there will be this weekend gap?
No, clearly I cannot. It is not inconceivable—though it is no more than a logical possibility—that with recounts we could get no result within 10 days; but I do not think that is likely. The probable impact of the amendment that has been carried will be either to leave the count no longer than it would have been or, perhaps, to shorten the period it would take; certainly not to lengthen that period by a significant amount.
The Minister seems greatly to have reinforced the point made by the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) about the complete uncertainty in which Parliament has been left as to when, how and under what circumstances it will be able to discuss the consequences of the amendment which has just been agreed. I ask the Minister to take into account the fact that the uncertainty of timing is one of the dangers surrounding the announcement.
If there is a possibility that the result will be first made known on a weekday at a time when the House of Commons is sitting, there is an overwhelming case for the result to be announced nationally through Parliament. This very fact adds weight and dimension to the amendment. If there is doubt as to what time and under what circumstances the result will be announced, that of itself will be disturbing to international markets, and the Government should give serious consideration to it. It will create uncertainty. There will be speculation, not necessarily only about the result, but about the time when it will be forthcoming. On the 6 o'clock news on the Saturday we may be told that the latest indications are that there may be a result by 10 o'clock that night.
A sort of frenzied interest, not only in the result, but when it will be announced, could develop unless we are given an indication of a more orthodox way—determined in advance—in which it could be announced to the country. This overwhelmingly corroborates the meaning behind my hon. Friend's amendment, that not only does it derogate from the powers and position of the House of Commons in assessing the result but it puts Parliament in an almost impossible situation in relation to the country, because neither Parliament nor the country knows when this momentous decision will be announced. I ask the Minister to give serious consideration to my suggestion.
It may assist the Committee, and in particular the Minister, if I say that it is the Opposition's intention to put down an amendment which, if selected, will provide for a count in each area provided in the amendment which the Committee has accepted. If the amendment is selected tomorrow, on Report, we shall be able to find out from the Minister —and I am warning him now—how long it will take to count the votes in the counties, and in Greater London, which will take the longest of all. We shall then be able to see whether the figure could be available to the returning officer when the House is sitting and thereby perhaps get round the problem.
The easiest way out of the impasse in which we find ourselves might be if my hon. Friend saw fit to withdraw his amendment and table it on Report. By that stage the position of the Government on my hon. and learned Friend's amendment would be more clearly known. I am certain that the Chair will take this closely into consideration in any selection.
I understood that we would withdraw the amendment only in that situation, and then, if we found ourselves in the unhappy position of not getting any further or extra information from the Government, we would have to pursue this matter tomorrow on Report. It is only one way around the problem, but it might be one way of easing the position of a rather unfortunate junior Minister who obviously cannot give a decision until it has been cleared by his lords and masters. I realise the difficulties in which he must find himself, and I am attempting to help him and the Government out of a rather difficult impasse.
I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Sir M. Havers) and to my hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Mr. Emery) for constructive suggestions, which show once again that it is from the Opposition that the assistance to the Government is provided, with the intervention of certain distinguished and hon. Members on the Government side.
If my hon. Friends could assume that the Minister, who seemed to be indicating physically that he was rather agreeing with the suggestion based on the announcement of my hon. and learned Friend about an Opposition amendment on Report, would indicate that an announcement will be made tomorrow giving us clear information about the timetable, about when the count will be completed and all that flows from that, it would be possible for me to beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
I take the same point, and I was about to rise to speak. I certainly assure hon. Gentleman that when we debate tomorrow the amendment which the Opposition have tabled I shall make every effort to give the fullest information possible by then of the effect of carrying that amendment and of the effect on the timetable of the amendment that has been carried today.
I merely want to ask the Minister of State to take this into consideration. He has said that the reason why the Prime Minister may not be able himself to announce the decision of the referendum in this Chamber is the speculation that might arise between polling day and the declaration. My point is that speculation is continuing all the time. It will continue from now until 5th June, from now right through polling day and from now until the count is declared, whether that declaration is made in this Chamber 24 hours afterwards or whether the announcement is made in a television broadcast from No. 10 Downing Street by the Prime Minister.
The speculation and the damage to sterling is going on all the time. The Minister knows that already the pound has fallen to its lowest ever rate against other currencies and that the dollar premium has now reached the unprecedented level of over 100 per cent. If he believes that even further damage can be done by delaying the announcement for a further 24 hours, I must tell him that that is not the way in which these things happen. The damage has been done by the referendum. If he wants to stop that damage he should withdraw the Bill.
There are one or two points with which I should like the Minister to deal. Although when discussing the last amendment we had a quite positive debate on the amendment which was passed by the Committee this evening, it would be wrong of me to suggest that it was out of order that that debate should have taken place. It seems to me that it is on the Question "That the clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill" that questions are best posed to the Minister on the position about the new amendment.
The Minister has given us the assurance—I thank him in advance—that when that amendment, notice of which was given by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Sir M. Havers), is debated tomorrow, or whenever the Report stage is taken, we shall definitely have an answer from the Government. May I therefore give him some advice? It may well be that that advice will be contrary to that which he will receive from the Opposition Front Bench.
I wish to ensure that in the period between the conclusion of the polling and the announcement of the result of the count there is not a massive trial by television of that result. I can see television producers organising a marvellous referendum programme, with a host of pundits making statements varying from one extreme to the other. Many of those statements might be to the detriment of the economic and financial position of the United Kingdom until the result is announced. I therefore urge the Government to hold steady.
It has been made clear that the announcement of the county and area results will be made at the time when the result of the final count is announced. If that is not the case we cannot avoid the production of brilliant television programmes. As each result comes in the television cameras will be on the steps of county hall. The returning officer will make a statement. The result will be declared and the local dignitaries supporting either side of the case will give their views on the effect of the result in, for instance, Clackmannan or St. Ives. That is not ideal. I strongly urge the Government to ensure that that does not happen. Otherwise we shall find ourselves in the damaging position which the Minister wishes to avoid.
The only way in which that situation can be avoided is to do the counting centrally. If the counting is to be done on a regional or county basis, I do not see how we can prevent the result leaking out, even if the Government give instructions that there should be no immediate local announcement. If the Minister thinks that he cannot ensure the security of a single count, how can he ensure the security of up to 74 counts? That is an impossible situation.
Some hon. Members have advocated local counts in the interests of speed and perhaps greater accuracy. However, if the announcements of results are made locally we shall find ourselves in a situation which I urge must be avoided. As the results come in from the South-East people will see a swing perhaps in favour of staying in and suddenly there will be an announcement from Ireland, and the situation may be reversed. This type of trial by television could be most damaging to the economy, particularly if it is to be carried on over more than 24 hours, as is possible in certain areas. I am sure that Treasury Ministers particularly will want to avoid that.
Therefore, I ask the Minister of State, the Leader of the House, or whoever has to reach a decision on the interpretation of the count under the new provisions, to undertake that Treasury Ministers will be consulted on this specific matter.
I see that the powers given to counting officers, set out in subsections (2) and (4), provide that certain payments may be made. At what level are those payments envisaged to be made? Will they be at the same level as at a General Election?
I urge the Minister, for the sake of greater accuracy and speed, to consider recruiting more professional counting agents than are sometimes recruited by returning officers at certain elections. I suggest that, wherever possible, bank clerks should be recruited. I am certain that the Minister appreciates from his own experience—if he has no experience of this matter, his Department certainly has—that the speed of the count depends considerably on the ability and experience of the counting agents in handling pieces of paper. I refer to bank clerks particularly, because they are used to handling notes, which are often about the size of voting papers.
Certain counties, as I know to my detriment, normally recruit amateurs to do the counting. The speed of counting can vary by as much as two or three hours, comparing the counting done by amateurs with that done by professionals. A variation of two or three hours with 60,000 or 70,000 votes, multiplied by the numbers that we hope there will be in the referendum, can make a major difference to the speed with which the decision could be reached.
Therefore, I suggest that a payment slightly greater than that which is normally allowed under parliamentary regulations should be made. In that way we could recruit the type of person to whom I have referred.
Although I am very much against the referendum generally, my remarks are intended to draw attention to the organisation which will be needed to carry through this obnoxious process, if and when it reaches the statute book, and to indicate that it should be as efficient as possible.
I am delighted to find myself in total agreement with the first point made by the hon. Member for Honiton (Mr. Emery). As my right hon. Friend said during the debate on where the count should take place, one of the disadvantages of having separate announcements—county by county or constituency by constituency makes very little difference up and down the realm —is that they are not co-ordinated, and so we have precisely the television "Grand National" presentation to which the hon. Gentleman rightly drew attention. That is highly undesirable.
The hon. and learned Member for Wimbledon (Sir M. Havers) told the Committee that the Opposition are tabling an amendment for consideration on Report requiring the count to be conducted by counties. I hope that when he moves the amendment he will bear in mind the difficulties to which his hon. Friend has so rightly alluded.
I showed the Minister a draft of the proposed amendment. I did not have much opportunity to consider it, and I was suggesting in that draft not that the announcement should be by counties but that the count should be by counties, which would avoid the difficulties of moving all these boxes to London.
We come back to the difficulties that were mentioned during the previous debate. It is almost inconceivable that we should be able to maintain security, and there is no doubt that there will be massive security problems. The clause, as amended, therefore poses some difficulty for us in maintaining our normal standards of secrecy at elections and avoiding any risk of dangerous speculation as we await the final result, because it is clear that some of the remoter areas will give us their results very much later than will some of the more compact and densely populated areas.
Coming now to the other two points made by the hon. Gentleman, I undertake to bear in mind his suggestion that where possible we should recruit those who are experienced in counting. My electoral experience—I have fought many elections at all levels and have been an agent in others—suggests that the hon. Gentleman is right, and we shall do everything we can to ensure that those who are recruited to count will be able to give us a rapid result and an accurate one.