As I was saying before that commercial break, I believe that the concept of sovereignty arising from the people is enshrined in Scottish law. It should commend itself to hon. Members as a basis for the whole idea of the referendum. If sovereignty does arise from the people, it is reasonable and legitimate for us to transfer the right to our constituents to take a decision on any specific issue, albeit that we have been elected otherwise to represent them for the duration of a Parliament.
Yes, in the same way as General Election results, however low the turnout and whatever the proportion supporting the party that comes to power, are binding for the next five years. That is basic to democracy. Because of that, it is important that if we are to have a referendum it should be binding.
It would also be advantageous, in this referendum or any other, that the results should be known on a constituency basis. That would put even greater moral pressure on an hon. Member, particularly if the referendum was consultative rather than binding, to follow the lead of his constituents.
Has the hon. Gentleman considered the implications of the mandatory situation that he has described and to which his party is committed? For example, different constitutional, legal and other implications arise out of a mandatory referendum before a Bill comes before the House from those which arise after a Bill has come before the House.
I accept that, but I am addressing my remarks to this Bill and the procedures that the Government have recommended, whereby we are to have an Act of Parliament to which the electorate can say "Yes" or "No". We would have preferred a referendum much earlier in the process of the devolution discussion. We suggested a six-option referendum that would, by the nature of the animal, have been consultative, in that any one of the answers to the questions could have been put into force. We put that months ago, as a background to the forthcoming introduction of the Bill, but we would accept at this stage that now it would mean drastically changing the nature of the Bill and would be delaying that which we would not find acceptable.
It would also be organisationally better if the constituency were the basis for the referendum. The political parties will necessarily be involved, although one does not know whether they will be involved in the same way in all their branches. They will be the basic bricks from which the referendum is built. Political animals will do the work, and they are used to a constituency framework. The counting of General Election results is on a constituency basis. There are many advantages and no disadvantages in this approach.
Many hon. Members have wondered who would vote. I naturally sympathise with the predicament of expatriate Welshmen who will be denied a vote, but whatever way we approach this question, so many greater problems arise in overcoming it that my party comes down on the Government side in taking the electoral list for Wales as the only possible basis for a referendum.
Any sort of ethnic argument involves problems. The argument does not appeal to us in any case, but the other side of the coin would rapidly be an argument for disfranchising people from other parts of the world who live in Wales. That should not happen. They have a stake in the future of Wales, and for us everybody living there, whatever his colour, language or religion, is a citizen of Wales and should be entitled to vote.
One area of difficulty might be the anomalous situation of university students who are in Wales only on a transient basis but who will be entitled to vote. That does not undermine the Lord President's argument, but it is a possible difficulty. However, if the referendum is consultative, the final decision will be taken here. It has been suggested that on a 40 per cent. turn out, with a 1 per cent. margin, hon. Members in this Chamber would be entitled to vote differently from the conclusion in Wales. We should then have the ridiculous situation of Englishmen being able to vote on the proposals while Welshmen living in England could not.
Have I understood the hon. Gentleman correctly? Is he saying that the Plaid Cymru view is that students in Wales who were not born in Wales should be excluded from the franchise and not allowed to participate, although they are citizens of the United Kingdom with a special experience of Welsh problems through their sojourn in Wales? I am sure that all the students in Swansea, Cardiff and the other universities will be very interested to learn that Plaid Cymru intends to assume, in the referendum campaign, a further campaign to disenfranchise students who do not conform to that party's ethnic requirements.
The hon. Gentleman likes jumping to conclusions that are not based on fact. If he had listened carefully he would have heard me accept on behalf of my party, the Government's proposal that the referendum should be held on the current electoral register. I specifically and deliberately turned down the idea that it should be based on any ethnic arrangement. I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman would hear that and would not try to turn my words against me.
I brought up the subject of students because there will be Welsh people living in Wales who will point to students as an anomaly to support their case. That will give the Government some diffi- culty, but, as I said clearly—the hon. Member for Pontypool should be under no misapprehension—my party accepts the current electoral lists, which will presumably be those compiled last October, as the basis for the referendum.
This is not an inflatable point, but can the hon. Gentleman tell us what kind of Welsh people—[Interruption.] They are not people whom I recognise as Welsh, not with our traditions of hospitality. What kind of people would give attention to the transitoriness of the students and thereby seek to deny them the vote?
I was referring to letters mentioned by other hon. Members which they had received from Welsh people living outside Wales who considered that they should be given a vote in the referendum.
I turn now to the discussion on the questions that should be asked in the referendum. We would like to have seen a broader spectrum in an earlier referendum, but, given the present situation, the questions, can only be "Yes" or "No". However, I believe that the Government are opening the floodgates to some extent in making it a consultative referendum. If it is consultative and not binding, any extension—apart from the extension in the direction we have in the amendment on the Order Paper—to give a choice to the people of Wales to show that they want to go considerably further than the Government's proposals, should also allow the people of Wales saying whether they would like to have a system of proportional representation in the Assembly. I can see nothing wrong in this in a consultative referendum, even if the reference is to the second round of elections and not the first, which will have been determined in the Act.
The final point that I wish to discuss has, surprisingly, been mentioned by only one speaker so far. It concerns control of expenditure. In the EEC referendum many people were unhappy that expenditure was not controlled. It has been suggested that the imbalance of expenditure between the two sides was in a ratio of 7 to 1, or even more. It is essential that the referendum campaigns in Wales and Scotland should be fair and be seen to be fair, and that there are no niggling doubts like that.
That presupposes that there would need to be umbrella organisations on both sides. Otherwise, it is not possible to control expenditure. The only way in which these umbrella organisations can be formulated is if the Government, in the same way as they did in the EEC referendum, say that there will be a contribution towards putting the arguments for and against. Having done that, we will have to define the umbrellas and be able to put an obligation on the people who receive those funds to work within the terms of the financial restrictions. I suggest that £50,000 should be the limit of expenditure for each side. That would be £1,500 for each constituency.
Does the hon. Gentleman recall that in the EEC referendum there was a third document sent out by the Government, which was twice as long as each of the others? Can the hon. Gentleman give his party's view on whether the Government should publish a similar document giving their points of view in this referendum? If so, should it be twice as long as the other umbrella organisations' documents?
I take for granted that the Government will have a point of view on this matter. They have a point of view already, to which some hon. Members are objecting.
The creation of these umbrellas is also necessary in order to allocate broadcasting time, if there is to be any, for the referendum. The time allocated to the opposing groups—either the "Yes" recommendation or the "No" recommendation will otherwise lie in the hands of the broadcasting authorities. No doubt they will do their best to give a balanced view. But it may not be a view that is acceptable to "Yes" campaigners or "No" campaigners in the heat of the referendum.
Our fear is that in the absence of such broadcasting time allocation the campaign could be dominated by the London-based media and bodies such as the CBI, which will be campaigning and donating money to the "No" voters in Wales.
We enthusiastically support the concept of a binding referendum, and less enthusiastically support the concept of a consultative referendum. But we have no doubt that when the chips are down the people of Wales will vote "Yes", whether the referendum is binding or consultative.
On a point of order, Mr. Godman Irvine. I am the last person to make any personal complaint about not being called, and that I do not do. But as some of us have been sitting here since 3.30 p.m. waiting to speak, could not the debate be continued after my right hon. Friend the Lord President has intervened?
When we started the debate several hours ago, as my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) has reminded us, there was some discussion about whether we could profitably continue the debate on the basis of the new clause, because of the concessions, amendments or alterations which I had suggested in my earlier remarks. Suggestions were made in some quarters that those proposed alterations were so far-reaching that they altered the nature of the debate altogether and might make it abortive. Everyone will have seen from the debate that nothing of the sort has occurred. Since we voted on the motion to report Progress at about the beginning of our discussions, the debate has ranged over the very matters the clause indicated were there to be debated. On the question of the introduction of the referendum a whole range of important questions had to be discussed.
I have listened to the whole debate, except for one or two minutes when I was out of the Chamber. Nobody who has listened to the debate as I have could doubt that it was a perfectly proper way to proceed. That is my answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham), who suggested in his most astringent manner that we could not discuss these questions because the concessions or amendments were of such a far-reaching character that we were discussing something that was not very clear. I do not believe that that has been the case.
Certainly, the rest of the debate has proved that we were discussing the very matters comprised in the new clause. The fact that we indicated at the beginning what fresh alterations we would propose at a later stage has not interfered with the central themes of the debate.
The right hon. Gentleman constantly refers to the whole debate, to the rest of the debate and so on. There are still many hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber who have sat here throughout the day since 3.30 p.m. and still expect to speak. Will the right hon. Gentleman give us the assurance that we shall have an opportunity to do so?
On a point of order, Mr. Godman Irvine. The Leader of the House told us that he was commenting on the whole debate. The debate is not yet over. This is a constitutional matter, but the right hon. Gentleman intervenes at an early hour. There is no reason why the debate should not go on for a long time. As far as I am concerned it is by no means over.
I am not saying that the debate is concluded, although even in Committee in the whole House debates are somtimes brought to an end by other methods. That must be taken into account in the debates on this subject, as on other matters.
I shall not give way. I am trying to comment on the remarks made by those who have taken part in the debate. I do not want to do it at any great length.
To continue with my earlier remarks, anyone who has listened to all the speeches that have so far been delivered, if that is a more attractive way of presenting the case to the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch), must come to the conclusion that any proposal for a referendum is one to be most carefully considered and that any proposal in a referendum has considerable constitutional consequences and cannot be treated lightly.
In the main the right hon. and learned Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton) has been opposed to referendums in the past but he may have been persuaded by the tragic outcome of the referendum in 1975 that we should take such a course again. It seems that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has been converted by what he has seen. I think that what the right hon. and learned Gentleman said confirms what I am saying—namely, that everyone who has taken part in the debate recognises that proposals for referendums should not be made lightly and that when they are made they should be examined by the House carefully. Further, it should be recognised that their nature can be altered and their rectitude or justification greatly influenced by the way in which the question is put.
It was interesting to hear the right hon. and learned Member for Huntingdonshire, who is such an expert on referendums that he has written a book on the subject, telling us that there has never been a complaint in recent times against the form of the question that has been put in referendums. That is an interesting fact that I did not know before. However, I do not think that anyone would draw any conclusion from that to the effect that we should not be extremely careful in the way in which we devise the question. That is why the Government have taken carefully in account what has been said previously in debate.
We considered carefully the question that should be presented to the House of Commons. We thought that we had presented both a preamble and a question that were absolutely fair and not slanted in any way. But what I said and what I underline again is that just as it is important that we should believe that they are fair, so it is even more important that the whole House and the country should believe that they are fair. Therefore, we have to take into account the representations that have been made in that respect.
When the right hon. and learned Gentleman said that he thought the question was tendentious in some respects we had to examine it. In my opinion we should be guilty in dealing with referendums if when the House of Commons made representations of that nature we did not take them into account. That does not mean to say that necessarily we agree with such representations, but when they are made we must take them into account. I believe that the Committee will recognise that we have done so in a sensible way. When we come to the amendments I think that hon. Members will see that we have dealt with the matter sensibly.
The main part of today's discussion has been—
I shall give way once but I do not want to give way on too many occasions. As hon. Members may remember, my right hon. and hon. Friends and I have given way on a huge number of occasions previously. I think it would be unfair to continue to do so, but I shall give way to the hon. Member for Lewes (Mr. Rathbone).
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it is a thoroughly technical matter what sort of question and preamble should be put and not something that can be thoroughly debated within the House of Commons because there are not sufficient professional market researchers within it—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Hon. Members may say "Oh" but they are not professionals in that sphere. I hope that the Government will rethink my suggestion.
We thought very carefully about the original preamble and question we put to the Committee. We thought afresh about it very carefully when representations were made to us. We shall take into account any representations from individual Members or parties. I must say to the hon. Member for Lewes, with all respect to his profession, that I should not ask market research experts about this matter because they may be the very people who are expert in trying to get the answer they want in the first place. I believe that they are an example to deter, not an example to follow. In that sense I welcome the hon. Gentleman's intervention.
We are discussing why the subject of a referendum was introduced at all. The new clause which incorporates the proposal for a referendum is the responsibility of hon. Members on all sides of the Committee, including my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury. He signed a motion at the time of the Second Reading urging that we should have a referendum.
The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell), with his customary eloquence, skill and logical cohesion, said that we must rely on the parliamentary process. That argument is powerful and will always have an appeal in this place. But again the right hon. Gentleman must take account of what he did at the time of the Second Reading of the Bill. He signed the motion urging the Government to have a referendum. At that time he was prepared to depart from the absolute rigid allegiance to the parliamentary process. He thought that in the context of this Bill that was a proper way to proceed. Therefore, his argument that there is some inherent contradiction in the Bill cannot logically be applied in this case because he has urged that there are special circumstances that may lead to the introduction of a referendum.
What the Government have done on the referendum is to take account of the representations made in all parts of the House. My hon. Friends the Members for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) and for Basildon (Mr. Moonman), and other hon. Members from very different points of view, have urged that the Government should have a referendum. Partly in response to those pleas and requests we have provided the means to do so. We have considered how best we could pro- ceed to ensure that a referendum does not injure the parliamentary process.
The right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) said earlier that there was
an overwhelming argument for saying that, whatever else happens, the referendum ought to be on a consultative and advisory basis. It is hard to believe that the House would accept the proposition if it was not arranged in that way."—[Official Report, 10th February 1977; Vol. 925, c. 1822.]
We felt when we introduced the Bill that it was proper that it should be on a mandatory basis, but persuasive arguments were deployed by the right hon. Gentleman. One argument that he used was that he would be strongly opposed to the referendum if it were not on a consultative basis, and he suggested that we had to take that into account for the reasons I have already indicated. If we are to have a referendum, as I believe we shall under the Bill, I believe that it is of great importance for the future of the country as a whole that that referendum should be regarded by everybody throughout the country as valid, fair and conducted on a proper basis. Therefore, when the right hon. Gentleman said in such strong terms that he believed a mandatory referendum would be unacceptable that ought to be taken into account.
I shall not give way to the hon. and learned Gentleman. I am seeking to reply to those hon. Members who have already taken part in the debate.
Moreover, there is the question to which the right hon. Gentleman referred today. I agree that it is a very important question. I shall not go into it now because we shall have to deal with it on some future occasion. It relates to the Early-Day Motion on the Order Paper signed by the right hon. Member for Farnham (Mr. Macmillan) and many other Members. The Government had to take that into account. I do not pass any judgment on that motion now because it involves other questions. We shall see whether it is necessary for them to be debated in order to resolve them.
The Committee will also recall that there was a further implication in the argument about a consultative referendum or a mandatory referendum. Indeed, from the precedents cited by the right hon. Member for Farnham, it was evident that if the referendum were consultative it was at least not open to some of the objections made from other quarters. We have to take that into consideration as well.
There is the question of how such a referendum might affect the authority of this House. There is the question of how we can ensure that the referendum will command the authority of as many hon. Members as possible. All these questions had to be taken into account. We have had to consider how we can present this to the Committee in this debate.
I believe that all hon. Members who have been present throughout the day will agree—whatever criticisms they may have of us on other counts—that we have presented this matter absolutely fairly. We have told the Committee that we wish to approach it in this way. I believe that we shall reach a conclusion which is satisfactory to the overwhelming majority of hon. Members.
I would remind hon. Members again that even such people as the right hon. Member for Down, South—who have criticised the Government most fiercely on the matter—were at one stage committed to backing the referendum. The right hon. Gentleman has spoken of it as being something he supports. The nationalist parties and the Liberal Party have also supported it in different ways. Whatever criticisms there may be about it I hope that the whole Committee might come to the conclusion that what we are proposing on the referendum is something which can legitimately command general support.
We shall quite properly vote on the new clause because one of the main issues is whether we should have a referendum. At a later stage we shall be able to consider the other amendments that have been tabled by many of my hon. Friends about whether there should be a second question.
Those hon. Members who have followed these proceedings will agree that we have attempted to secure the proper support of the Committee. We have sought to secure a method which everyone will be able to say is fair.
I accept that many of my hon. Friends will wish to examine what is already on the Amendment Paper and will wish to see what will be there later. I am not asking hon. Members to give support to something which has not been put down in writing. We are not asking the Committee to do anything outside the normal way in which it approaches these matters. We are asking hon. Members to support the general principle of a referendum in the context of the Bill. After we have secured support for that general principle, we can go on to consider some of the details that we propose. It is on that basis that I ask the Committee to support our proposal.
On a point of order, Mr Godman Irvine. I apologise to my hon. Friend the Member for Cleveland and Whitby (Mr. Brittan) for intervening just when he wants to make his speech from the Opposition Front Bench. I seek your advise about what will happen after my hon. Friend has spoken. The Leader of the House, in his last few remarks, said that he was not sure at what time a vote would be taken on this matter. This is a vital matter to those who are interested in the referendum. Some of us, who are not Privy Councillors, and who are not from Scotland or Wales, feel very deeply about the precedent which will be established by the new clause.
On a point of order, Mr. Godman Irvine. I detect from certain remarks which have been made that we are about to see a repeat of what has already taken place three or four times—namely, that the closure is likely to be moved after my hon. Friend the Member for Cleveland and Whitby (Mr. Brittan) has made his speech. I suggest that on the Committee stage of a Bill of such importance as this, when a great many hon. Members have sat here since 4 o'clock this afternoon, not even leaving the Chamber to have a meal, and many on both sides are still waiting to take part in the debate, it would be unusual to allow the closure to be moved at this early hour. I ask you to bear that in mind if the Deputy Chief Whip seeks to move the closure after my hon. Friend has made his speech.
Order. I shall deal with one point of order at a time. In reply to the point made by the hon. Member for Surbiton (Sir N. Fisher), I shall have to see what happens.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Godman Irvine. In considering what my hon. Friend the Member for Surbiton (Sir N. Fisher) has submitted, will you also take into account, before accepting any closure motion which might be moved, that we have been debating this matter for just over eight hours, but that two hours and 58 minutes of that time have been taken by speeches from the two Front Benches, most of it from the Government Front Bench? Will you therefore bear in mind the limited period that Back Benchers have had in the debate so far?
On a point of order, Mr. Godman Irvine. I am not interested in any remonstrances from the Front Bench or anywhere else—except from you. I have listened to long speeches from hon. Members—mainly from the Government side, but not so much from this side.
In rising now I make it quite clear that my right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) and I are both looking forward in eager anticipation to the speeches from our hon. Friends who have been waiting for many hours, and who are anxious to speak in the debate.
Out of 350 minutes of debate so far on the new clause, only 102 have been taken up by Conservative Members, and in addition, as has already been pointed out, only a limited amount of time has been taken by Back Benchers. Other speeches are still needed to reflect the magnitude of the issue before the House. I do not believe that anyone would deny that magnitude. If the Lord President does seek a closure after I have finished my remarks, he will do a great deal to dissipate the good will that he may have acquired as a result of his acquiescence with the proposals put forward by my right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire.
We do have a genuine sense of gratitude to the Lord President for his acceptance of some of the major points put forward by my right hon. Friend last Thursday. Of course, we welcome the fact that the Government have accepted that the referendum should be a consultative one, and that the question as originally posed by the Government was tendentious and highly unsatisfactory.
The Lord President cannot avoid our pointing out that the Government's position has shifted dizzily from point to point during these debates. It is very difficult, after that procedure, for the Government to have any credibility of for anyone to believe that the Government have any sincere or durable view on the problem of devolution at all. In the words of the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham), who knows what the Government will stand behind tomorrow? As the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) said, the effect of what the Government have done is to make a confused Bill still more confused. First of all the Government were against referendums altogether. Then they bought support for the Second Reading by coming out in favour of referendums. Then they supported mandatory referendums, and now it is consultative referendums. The conclusion one is driven to is that these constant shifts—almost weekly, and now coming close to daily—are a consequence of producing a scheme which is ill-thought out, unstable and cannot by shifts of this kind be made viable to the House or the nation.
It seems inconceivable that every week some new blow hits the Bill, and each blow is more devastating than the last. That is what has happened with the referendum that was designed to rescue the Bill from a premature but welcome close. The Bill is a stricken doe. But our complaint of the Government's conduct tonight is that they seem to be totally unprepared to take the doe to the vet, and when we offer them our vet they are most reluctant to offer his services.
The Government have made a major change in their proposals on the referendum today. They no longer support the clause that we are debating. Yet in spite of the suggestion by my right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire earlier this evening, they are insisting on a vote tonight on the clause as it stands and as they no longer support it. They have adopted an illogical and unsupportable position, and they will certainly get no support from my right hon. and hon. Friends.
The Government have failed to answer the question of what happens after such a vote, if such a vote takes place. What is to happen to the amendments which would be put down? Are we to be put in the position of putting down amendments to a new clause that the government no longer support? What greater waste of parliamentary time could there be? How are the Government to deal with the problem?
My right hon. Friend put forward an entirely reasonable proposition. It was that we should conclude these proceedings on the clause tonight without a vote and there might then be time for the Government to put forward their amended proposals for the Committee to consider. That proposal has been rejected by the Government for no credible reason.
If the Government do not want to do that, there is an alternative open to them. They have told us that they are putting down amendments altering the form of the question and the preamble. They also want to deal with the question of altering the referendum from one of a mandatory nature to one of a consultative nature. But there are already amendments on the Order Paper, tabled by my right hon. and hon. Friends, which deal exactly with this point. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will cast a condescending eye at the minutiae of the Bill as well as at the grand sweep of pseudo oratory. He will then see Amendments (kk), (ll) and (mm) and Amendment No. 756 to Clause 14 which the Leader of the House now accepts is necessary, namely to convert the referendum from a mandatory to a consultative nature.
But if that does not satisfy the Government and they want to devise procedures of their own rather than accept those that we have suggested, surely they should be doing that at this stage rather than going on tomorrow with a fruitless debate on amendments to a clause which they no longer support. That could be done without wasting a moment of parliamentary time. It would be perfectly possible for the right hon. Gentleman to put down a new procedure motion which would enable the House not to waste a moment of time but to continue and debate Clause 4 and onwards. These clauses will have to be debated at some time, or at least one assumes that they will have to be. We could return to the referendum clause as and when the Government have put their tackle in order and decided which amendments they consider necessary for the purpose of putting the Bill into an acceptable form.
There is no respectable reason for not doing that. It is not a question of wasting time. It is a question of the Government obstinately refusing to accept the consequences of their own concession. If the Government expect us to go down on bended knees in gratitude for a concession given so ungraciously in order to buy support—a concession not followed up by its logical consequences—they have another think coming about that.
The Government have put the House in an impossible position when there are several alternative remedies open to them. It is in that spirit that, quite unnecessarily, a note of acrimony entered into the preceding stages of the debate. I hope that as the debate goes on the Government will be able to yield on some of these points and restore the more amicable spirit with which the proceedings commenced this afternoon.
On the general question about whether there should be a referendum, I should be interpreting the views of my right hon. Friends and hon. Friends generally—though not totally—correctly if I said that we accept the proposition of a referendum but without any enthusiasm whatsoever. There are those who are totally opposed to a referendum. I am temperamentally and spiritually in that company, but I do not seek to advise my hon. Friends to oppose the referendum.
We think, as was said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire, that it would be far preferable to have a separate Bill putting forward the referendum proposals. We also think that there is a great deal in what was said by the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland to the effect that if one is going to have referendums, the criteria by which they will be held should be clearly set out, and that one should not proceed on an ad hoc basis from position to position.
If we are to have a referendum it is surely of prime importance to consider whether it should be consultative. There is a point that I want to take up with the Leader of the House. He has accepted the principle of a consultative referendum, but I noticed that when he began the debate he said, in response to questions from the SNP, that the Government will feel bound by the outcome. If the Government will feel bound by the outcome, what sort of consultative referendum will that be? Surely for the referendum to be consultative the Government must envisage a situation in which the House will have an opportunity, if there is a narrow vote and a small ballot, to reject the view put forward in the referendum and to take the view of the House. Unless the Government accept that as a real possibility it will not be a consultative referendum at all.
Will my hon. Friend address his mind to the proposition that the Leader of the House has not answered? Should not the Leader of the House tell us what the parliamentary process will be at the conclusion of the referendum? Will my hon. Friend press the Leader of the House to tell us—even if the Government cannot put down the exact amendments tonight—whether he envisages that at the end of the referendum there will be an Order in Council, or a Bill or whatever? Until we know the answer to that, it is impossible for the House to express a satisfactory opinion about the advisability of the referendum.
I absolutely agree. The Leader of the House referred to the acceptance of a consultative referendum as if the word "consultative" explained everything and left nothing to doubt. Beyond that, no answer—never mind about drafting—has been given on that point. The House is entitled to an answer from the Leader of the House before considering what to do about the new clause in its present form.
I want to turn to one or two points that were raised in the debate about the nature of the referendum. The point was raised whether there should be another question, in addition to the one proposed, about independence for Scotland and Wales. That argument was put forward most powerfully by the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan). The hon. Gentleman said that it was right that the Assemblies should start in a framework of acceptance. I prefer the view of my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind) who pointed out that to include an independence question would be to legitimise the independence option and would not dispose of the question with any finality. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire that if there is to be such an independence question, the right time for it to be posed is not now but if and when the SNP achieves a far greater degree of electoral success so as to require us to consider that question, which is at present no more than a theoretical eventuality and which we hope will never arise.
I have said no such thing. I said that if there is any time when independence should be put to the people of Scotland, it is not now. It might be when the SNP achieves far greater electoral success, but the hon. Gentleman can construct no such policy from what I said.
If I followed that argument now, I should incur a great deal of ire from all sorts of people. I shall not be tempted in that direction, If we had a referendum on proportional representation, which I have heard suggested, we should surely engage in a circular argument about whether that vote should be held on the basis of proportional representation.
The question who should vote is obviously crucial. Whatever the Government propose, there will be amendments to be debated. It has been suggested that the people of England should be able to vote and that expatriate Scots and Welsh people should also have a vote. The problem there is not so much one of principle because I do not believe that allowing people with a Scottish or Welsh connection to vote on a matter which intimately affect Scotland and Wales involves a racist concept as has been suggested. That is not a fair accusation. The difficulty is not one of principle but a genuine one of administration. When these amendments are reached, they should be heard sympathetically, though I recognise that it would be difficult to devise a scheme which would not be either cumbersome or costly—or both.
It seems to us that attempting to describe objectively in the preamble to the question exactly what the Bill does is attempting the impossible. Numerous attempts have been made, and they have been denounced as tending to point the voter in the "Yes" or the "No" direction. It is an insult to the voter to expect him, even with the assistance of a market research organisation as suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Mr. Rathbone), to be influenced by the words in the preamble. And if he is to be influenced by the campaign before the vote, what is the point of having such words at all? Surely the correct course is simply to ask the question and leave it to the campaigners to pose the points of the issue during the campaign. But if they are to pose the questions in an effective way much rests on who is to do the campaigning and who is to finance it.
The question of the use of Government money in support of the "Yes" campaign is important, and the Government have not yet answered it. It would not be a genuinely democratic and fair campaign if the entire resources of the Government machine, with the countless public relations officers of the various Departments pulling out the stops, were used in favour of the "Yes" campaign if no money or resources were provided for those who campaign against the Bill. That would be a travesty of democracy.
A number of hon. Members believe that the idea of a referendum itself is a travesty of democracy. I have listened carefully to my hon. Friends on the Front Bench but I have not heard an argument which shows that we should have a referendum in principle. Will my hon. Friend explain why he feels that we should not oppose a referendum?
I am not a supporter of referendums. I have put it no higher than to say that I do not think that it should be opposed on this occasion because expectations have arisen in Scotland and Wales that this is only a consultative referendum. It would be wrong to oppose it on this occasion. I am not speaking in favour of referendums. However, if we are to have a referendum, the campaign must be fairly weighed. It cannot be fairly weighed unless both sides are given resources. It is also of great importance that broadcasting time be divided equally between the supporters of the Bill and its opponents.
Those are general views. By far the most important matter to be considered at this state is how we proceed from here. I urge my hon. Friends to consider the total absence of any indication from the Government of a satisfactory way of dealing with the mess in which they have handed themselves. They have accepted the principle without being ready to put forward their own amendments for dealing with it or agreeing to vary the order in which the Committee is to consider the Bill so that they can put forward the right proposals in the correct form. That is the unsatisfactory nature of the way in which the Government are proposing to deal with the matter.
If we proceed to a vote tonight—after my. hon. Friends have spoken—we shall be faced with an impossible situation tomorrow. I say to the Government that they will end up wasting more time than they save because the House will not take that lying down. I hope that after my hon. Friends have spoken the Lord President will consider an alternative procedure and that he will not put the matter to a vote tonight.
In Hugh Dalton's "High Tide and After" he records that Aneurin Bevan repeated to him one day someone else's saying about Ernest Bevin. What Aneurin Bevan said was,
He's a big bumble bee caught in a web, and he thinks he's the spider.
Indeed, in volume 2 of his great biography of Aneurin Bevan, my right hon. Friend the Lord President quotes this bumble-bee description of Ernest Bevin and says
He is enmeshed in makeshifts.
Well, we seem to have come a full circle. Since Nye Bevan's biographer, like Ernie Bevin, is the second most important man in the Government, like
Ernie Bevin he is now enmeshed in makeshifts, and though he is far too unpompous to see himself as the spider, at least he is in the unenviable position of that unfortunate bumble bee caught in the web.
The web on this occasion is not spun by the Opposition, and still less by my hon. Friends on the Back Benches behind my right hon. Friend.
The web is spun by the situation itself. It is spun by the fact, as some of us said on Second Reading, that Ministers are trying to construct an edifice not on rock but on sand; by the fact that the blueprint itself for devolution is fundamentally unsound; by the fact that one cannot have a meaningful and subordinate Parliament in part, though only part, of a unitary State.
Running, ramming and bulldozing this through the House of Commons, by hook or by crook, by carrot or by stick, by promise in this direction or suggestion in that direction, has become a matter of pride.
Not at this moment.
The House of Commons, when it wants, can be an awkward and cussed mule.
When there is a growing sense right around Westminster and up and down Whitehall that a major proposition is a false nonsense, the long debates in this Chamber—I have listened to virtually every speech, and there have been only two excessively long speeches and neither of those was filibustering; they may have reflected a bit on the loquacity of those who made them, but they were not filibustering—are exposing the real problem, which is in the nature of what is on the devolutionary table.
I say this to my right hon. Friend. This is no longer a matter of parliamentary arithmetic—whether so many dissidents or rebels here and there will vote in this or that Lobby. If there had been a general feeling that the House of Commons had wanted it, neither an individual Member nor a group of Members could possibly have tried to stop it.
They come from a former occupant of the Chair, so, as throughout these debates, I shall waste no time. I do not take any liberties with the Chair. If you hint to me, Mr. Godman Irvine, that I am going rather wide, I shall come to the very narrow.
Therefore, in detail, I refer to the speech made by my hon. Friend the Minister of State at the beginning of the debate last Thursday. What he said was,
My final point about the clause is that the referendums are, by implication, once-for-all affairs. There is no provision in the clause for a re-run if a country says 'No'.
In one sense I can see that my hon. Friend is right. I suppose that a referendum on this measure is a once-for-all affair.
But, in another sense, some of us would say, at a deeper level, that a referendum is not a once-for-all affair. The argument goes on and the referendum solves little or nothing. This is not just a question of a slick slogan in the preamble.
The fact is that on the third Bench opposite, and I do not mention them disparagingly, there is an institutionalised political party, the SNP, dedicated to changing the result of a referendum if it is unfavourable to it.
In column 1800 of the Official Report my hon. Friend the Minister of State makes a false proposition.
We come to column 1802 in which he says:
Our country is a United Kingdom, and any major new constitutional relationship within it is naturally of some concern to all parts. But it may not, and the present concept does not, concern them all equally directly, or in the same degree. It is a cardinal principle underlying the Bill, plainly enunciated in last year's White Paper, that the Government pro-
pose the devolution only of 'those areas of activity where decisions affect primarily people living in Scotland and Wales'.
A minor point. The Scottish Press has recently raised the question of Berwick. In a sense that highlights the falsity of this proposition. The Berwick people are very much affected by any of the proposals we put forward. But there is a major criticism of the Minister's views on this issue. It is not the parts of the country we should be talking about as geographical entities, it is the people.
This brings me back to the basis of the ethnic argument which my hon. Friends the Members for Walton (Mr. Heffer) and Penistone (Mr. Mendelson) and others have repeatedly used, namely whether it is possible to have a meaningful referendum when all the Scots are not in Scotland and all the English are not in England. We are an intermixed and interwoven people. [Interruption.] Some of us feel, from the torrent of letters we are receiving—does my hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy (Mr. Gourlay) wish to intervene?
That puts a number of people in great difficulty. I say to my hon. Friend that he had better tell that to the Secretary of State for Scotland, because he cannot vote in the referendum. My hon. Friend might as well tell it to my right hon. Friend the Member for Lanark (Mrs. Hart) who had so much to do with all this and has not appeared to take part in these debates.
He had better tell it to my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) and see what kind of an answer he gets. Are all of these people to be denied any say in this referendum?
I refer to column 1806 in which the Minister of State says:
it is our firm conclusion that to include such a question would be unhelpful and out of place."—[Official Report, 10th February 1977; Vol. 925, c. 1800–06]
My hon. Friend was referring to the question raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan). Unhelpful to whom? In the same column, when challenged by my hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) he said that, of course,
there was some doubt about any "firm" commitment on this issue.
This is precisely the difficulty we get into, a difficulty that was predictable and predicted from the word "go". The words "quagmire" and "bog" were used. In my case this stems from at least January 1975 and probably a good deal earlier.
The Government were repeatedly warned that these were precisely the difficulties they would get into. There are only three options. One is the federal option, but that is acceptable only if there are to be subordinate Parliaments in Birmingham, Bristol, Norwich, Manchester, Leeds and Newcastle, and I do not think that the English are exactly hellbent on having a subordinate parliament responsible for Mercia or Wessex.
Yes, the GLC is on the move. That leaves two options. The first is that of the SNP, which is honourable—a completely separate State—and the other is the kind of view I have often put—and one sees from The Guardian of yesterday that it is the view, apparently, in general of the constituency Labour Party of my hon. Friend the Minister of State.
So in Scotland opinions are changing.
That is no disgrace, because as soon as a thing comes to the top of an in tray, people know a little more about it, and surely they are entitled to change their minds. The fact is that in Scotland, as this proposition comes to the top of the in tray of the doctors they change their minds and come out against it. When it comes to the top of the in tray of the Edinburgh division of the AUEW—the second biggest in Scotland—it unanimously passes a resolution asking the national conference of the AUEW to urge the Government to withdraw the Bill. And the chambers of commerce. And the farmers. And so on.
Some of us look forward to the Labour Party Conference this year and to the AUEW conference to see what happens, because when that kind of resolution comes to national conference, and the people of Tyneside have their say, and the people who are organising the great conference on Merseyside on 4th March have their say, I think that the AUEW may well change its opinion now that it knows a bit more about what devolution really means.
My hon. Friend the Minister of State said:
We see no ground for creating the impression either at home or abroad that the break-up of the United Kingdom is a serious item on the political agenda of the British people.
At home, many of us fear that we could drift by default into that position if we have this inevitably gurning Assembly. Abroad? I do not make much of it, but yesterday I had a working lunch in Brussels with the German, Dr. Schuster, Director of Energy in the EEC, the Italian, Professor Villani, Director for Nuclear Matters, and the Frenchman, Dr. Dinkelspieler, Director of Ispra. All three were emphatic, unprompted by me, that they saw the issue of devolution as an all-too-possible prelude to the break-up of the United Kingdom.
The situation is not like the position in Italy or the Federal Republic of Germany. Whatever my hon. Friend the Minister of State says, the fact is that informed people in Europe are clear, through the Frankfurter Allgemeiner and Le Monde and endless people who have given interviews, that the issue is the break-up of the United Kingdom.
If I may say so, Mr. Godman Irvine, I am doing my hon. Friend the Minister of State the courtesy of going through the speech with which he opened the debate, taking the quotations in full, not distorting them, and commenting on them. If the Minister of State makes a proper speech, surely it is right for others to comment in detail on it.
I return to c. 1807 of Hansard. My hon. Friend said:
We see no ground for dignifying the nationalist minority parties by presenting them
with a ready-made platform to seize the limelight for their extremist theories …"—[Official Report, 10th February 1977; Vol. 925, c. 1807.]
Personally, my interest is to let them have all the limelight possible for their extremist theories.
It is about time that not only the Scottish people but the rest of the people of the United Kingdom knew precisely what they were up to.
Can I be forgiven for chuckling that Ministers should wax eloquent about the need not to dignify the nationalist minority parties, as they put it, because everyone of us knows full well that had it not been for those minorities we would not have been discussing this Bill or any Bill remotely like it?
If anything dignifies the nationalist minorities, it is the bringing forward of a Bill which will take more time on the Floor of the House than any measure since the India Act in the 1930s.
Would not the hon. Gentleman agree that the only person seeking the limelight is himself, since he has now made 11 speeches on this subject and no fewer than 107 interventions and has raised 14 points of order?
The hon. Member does me a great injustice. I have made far more than 11 speeches, all worth study.
In column 1807, on the question of public subvention, the Minister of State fairly said that the matter was open to question.
If we were to go back to Scotland and say that we were going to spend hundreds of thousands of pounds—one figure that I have heard is £3 million—not on a mandatory referendum but on a consultative one, on the very day that the Scottish Grand Committee has been discussing basically a shortage of money which may lead to the closure of some training colleges, at a time when the ratepayers are angrier than ever before because of shortage of money. I can imagine what the Scottish people would say. Derision.
A consultative referendum would lay the House of Commons open to a charge which is being levelled more and more. It is being asked of Members of Parliament "What are you paid for except to make up your minds on these difficult decisions?" [HON. MEMBERS: "You signed the motion."] Of course I did. There is a respectable case for a mandatory referendum. A consultative referendum will be seen as something totally different. It will be seen simply as a case of the House of Commons being unable to make up its mind on this issue.
If there is to be a consultative referendum, one question that I want in it is, "Do you think that the House of Commons and Members of Parliament should by their vote make up their own minds on this thorny issue?" That is a legitimate question, to which many people would answer, "Yes."
In column 1808, the Minister of State said:
… there is a clear difference between the present situation and the Common Market referendum.. This is a Bill produced by the Government to which the administration gives its full support. There is no question of there being any difference of opinion when it comes to campaigning."—[Official Report, 10th February 1977; Vol. 925, c. 1808]
In any referendum both Members and Ministers should vote and speak as they think. That is the condition of a referendum.
I should regard it as an act of crowning cynicism if the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Cheetham (Mr. Lever), to name but one, were asked to support the Bill in a referendum campaign. We could go down the list of many Ministers on that issue.
In any referendum, Ministers and Members should vote and speak as they privately think rather than on any public attitude.
One can understand the principle behind Cabinet solidarity, but matters are different in a referendum.
This referendum must be like the Common Market referendum, when the anti-Market members of the Cabinet, as well as those who supported the Government's policy, were allowed to have their say.
As reported in column 1808, my hon. Friend the Minister of State also raised the issue of slanted questions. I can think of many slanted questions. One that I and many other people in Scotland would like to put in is along these lines: "At a time when the Prime Minister tells us rightly that as a matter of priority we should devote resources to manufacturing and productive industry, do you want as a priority an expensive upset in the form of government?"
That is quite as legitimate as most other questions that people can think of if we are on the subject of slanted questions.
It is quite as good a question as my hon. Friends have suggested.
Next we read:
We believe that the preamble is factual. It states what the Bill does."—[Official Report, 10th February 1977; Vo. 925, c. 1809.]
I do not want to go on too long. Much has been said on this matter of what is or is not factual, but any preamble that pretends that this is not a first step, a launching pad, a one-way street, a moving escalator towards an independent separate Scottish State is not a full preamble.
Indeed, to use the words of a famous editor of The Guardian, it would be a preamble that "economised on the truth."
Because I know that a number of my hon. Friends who have also been here throughout the day wish to speak, I should like to concentrate on what this Second Reading debate should be about, and that is the principle of the referendum.
It seems to me that the events of the last two days' debate on the Bill are such that they raise matters of great constitutional importance and great dangers to our constitutional system and parliamentary democracy. I hope that, as the Leader of the House indicated earlier, we shall have an opportunity to debate the Early-Day Motion in the name of my right hon. Friend the Member for Farnham (Mr. Macmillan) and others.
I want not to go over that ground but rather to concentrate on the principle of the referendum. I am very disappointed, as I sought to indicate in an intervention in the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Cleveland and Whitby (Mr. Brittan), that we have not had an adequate analysis from either Front Bench of the actual principles involved. That is what I would like to give.
I wish to stress also that in my view the points raised in the new clause are of much greater importance in many ways than the Bill into which the Government are seeking to incorporate it. Although I am strongly opposed to the Bill—and I think that that is true of many hon. Members on both sides of the Committee—if it got through all its stages in the House of Commons, went to the Lords and then received the Royal Assent, I would much prefer it then to go forward than be frustrated by a referendum which went the other way. My reason is that there are dangers in the Commons, the Lords and the Queen assenting to a measure and then the Government decision being overturned, however much individual hon. Members may have objected to it. That is the first, and in some ways one of the most important of the points that I would like to make.
I have already indicated to the Leader of the House that it was a great mistake that the matter was not put in a separate Bill. I am not sure that he will not come to regret that it was not, because, if this Bill fails to get through, the referendum will also fail to get through, and he will still be unable to hold a referendum on the subject in advance of some other measure that he may introduce.
I want to concentrate on the principle. It seems to me that this strikes at the very basis of democracy as outlined by Edmund Burke when he said quite clearly that Members of this House were representatives and not delegates. That is what the issue of the referendum is about. We do not come here as surrogate calculators, voting as we would if on all the various issues before us we could do a head count in our constituencies, saying "A majority of my constituents are for that measure. Therefore, I shall vote for it." That is not what we are here to do. We are not surrogate calculators of that sort. There are good reasons that we should not act in that way. I believe that it is our duty not to do so. The idea that in some sense a referendum removes our responsibilities and means that we can avoid them, and that if the head count produces this or that result we must go along with it, is not consistent with our views on parliamentary democracy. If there were to be a consultative referendum, I should not feel it right to be bound to go along with whatever the result might be. I should certainly not feel bound to go along with it if it were to take place in only a part of the United Kingdom.
We have to make up our minds. Having done so, and the Bill having gone through all its stages and become an Act, it would be absurd that we should then say "We are prepared to change our views on the issues as a result of a head count in a certain part of the United Kingdom." That is not what Burke envisaged our duty to be in this place, and in my view that is not what our duty in this place is.
Will my hon. Friend consider the point that whereas in the good-old bad-old days when Burke pronounced his principles, with which I would have entirely agreed, the country was reasonably divided between Whigs and Tories, that the same situation does not exist now and that different considerations should be brought to bear? Whether that should draw us to the conclusion that there should be a referendum is a different matter, but will my hon. Friend comment on the point I put to him?
I agree entirely with my hon. Friend although the Leader of the House appears to be dissenting. The party structure has changed. However, that does not alter the fact that we are not merely concerned with head counting. Our duty is to weigh the arguments. If I receive letters from my constituents, I am influenced not by the number I receive that put forward a particular argument but with the argument itself. It is our duty to weigh arguments, to appraise them against counter-arguments and to listen to views in the House of Commons. We have a duty to go into the matter as thoroughly as possible, to make our decision and to vote as we believe our constituents would vote, taking into account all the arguments that we have heard and voting in the interests of the country as a whole. That interest necessarily requires us to take account of the protection of minorities. That is not something that a referendum does. Indeed, a referendum that covers the whole country inevitably becomes, in a sense, a dictatorship of the majority that takes no account of minority interests as we do in the House of Commons.
In this case we have got into a stranger paradox because we have a partial referendum that does not cover the entire country. Therefore, the danger is not a dictatorship of the majority but a majority interest sacrificed to the influence of a minority.
That brings us to the question whether the matter is to be mandatory or merely consultative. We find ourselves in a strange position. We are to debate the principle of the new clause—certainly there is the principle whether we should have a referendum—and it is a little more than a mere detail, as the Leader of the House seemed to suggest, whether it is a mandatory referendum or a consultative referendum.
The principle on which we started the debate of a mandatory referendum has been transformed in some sense by the speech made by the Leader of the House at the beginning of our discussions, but it is still the case that we have before us a new clause which is mandatory—the principle of it is mandatory—although the right hon. Gentleman now says that he does not propose to support it. At least, that is what I understand him to say. If he supports it or if he does not, it is still the position that a number of Members will vote in favour of it remaining mandatory. Therefore, we have to consider the mandatory possibility and the consultative possibility.
On the mandatory possibility, I simply say that it would seem to me that if we were to have a mandatory referendum after an Act of Parliament has received the Royal Assent it would be in every sense of the word an abdication of responsibility by this House of Commons. We should be giving away to an unrepresentative part of the United Kingdom the power that over the centuries we have had and saying that that part will take the decision, and not the House of Commons. We should be giving it the right to decide whether or not an Act of Parliament comes into operation. On the mandatory point, there is little more to be said.
I therefore turn to the question whether we should have a consultative referendum. Here again, it seems to me that the principle is wrong. It is still simply a head-counting exercise. It does not analyse the issues. I suppose one can say that we should have a consultative referendum on every subject in this House and decide accordingly. If we did that we should get some very curious responses to some of the Finance Bill clauses—and it would be rather expensive, as one of my hon. Friends remarks.
Apparently we would say that if it is a minor issue it is something that we should decide, as representatives of our constituents, but if it is a major issue we should let them decide. Has the Leader of the House considered whether the form of the question proposed, namely, "Do you or do you not accept the Act as it stands?" is a sensible way of proceeding? We are being asked to agree a form of question, namely, whether one agrees to what is in the measure, when we have only reached Clause 3 and we do not know what will be in the Act.
To suppose that when we put this question to the people of Scotland and Wales they will have studied the Act itself and, having done so, will have understood it, is to take an absurd view of what the comprehension of the average person who votes is likely to be. It is our responsibility to take a decision on that matter, not theirs.
I believe that the precedent that would be reinforced by accepting the referendum would be very dangerous. Indeed, it is not right for the Government to have a referendum of either the mandatory or consultative kind. As the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) said, in one of his 17 excellent speeches on the Bill, it is the case that the Government are proposing to say "We shall accept the result of a consultative referendum." If that is the case, it is fairly difficult to distinguish it—but not entirely impossible to distinguish it—from a mandatory referendum.
It may be that the outcome is so obscure that the Government still do not know what to do in the circumstances, but we should be clear that we ought not to accept the principle of a referendum in either the mandatory or the consul- tative sense, and if the Government persist in this action we should reserve our right to maintain the view that we have taken and put the point when the Act receives the Royal Assent.
Since this seems to be a major objection of principle, and since the Leader of the House says that he does not support the mandatory aspect of the new clause, I hope that many of my hon. Friends this evening will be prepared to vote against the clause. I hope that they will take a stand on what is the most important point of principle that it is possible to raise in the House and will support me in the Lobby.
Unlike the hon. Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins), I support the principle of a referendum. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House for the concession that he has made today in respect of a consultative referendum.
I have two initial points to make. I accept the contention of the Leader of the House that today we are dealing just with the principle of the referendum. However, it appears that there is something absurd in suggesting that we are being invited to give our consent to an amendment as drafted by the Government the very substratum of which has been disavowed by the Government themselves.
I turn to the speech of the hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. Wigley) which struck me as being made in a very non-partisan way. That has been a feature of the large number of debates throughout. The issues have been canvassed fairly objectively by hon. Members on all sides. The divisions are clearly not divisions between parties. They are genuinely held divisions among all parts of the Committee.
Since the divisions are so widespread, and are not channelled within the parties, I would ask whether we should try to ensure that the same spirit is carried over into the referendum campaign. We know that there are deeply held divisions even within the Government on this issue. As my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) has asked, can we argue that the doctrine of collective Cabinet responsibility is appropriate as we move up to the referendum?
When we have a major constitutional issue of this sort, and if we are to put the issue as clearly and objectively as we can and canvass every possible point of view in what is an educative process, are we going to restrict members of the Government by this inappropriate doctrine of collective Cabinet responsibility? If the true views of those Members do not come across to the country, it will only increase the feeling of cynicism about politicians as such because party divisions are being artificially imposed. For me that has become a major feature of this debate.
If we are to put this issue to the country squarely the Government should take the Whips off and allow members of the Government—as happened in the EEC referendum—to speak their mind as fiercely as possible. They should not be dragooned on to platforms to speak in a way that is not their own real view.
In coming on to the discussion on the referendum in principle, and before I come on to the details of the motion put forward by my right hon. Friend, I am bound to pose the question, "Why are we discussing the issue of devolution in the first place"?
Indeed, a quick survey of the devolution debate over the past decade is a sad reflection on the decision-making process in the United Kingdom as a whole and certainly as applied in the Welsh context.
There has been a creeping commitment characterised by the divisions between the parties at different times and characterised by panic reaction to nationalist successes, whether in Caernarvon or Hamilton, which in no way reflects the real views of the people of the country or deals with the issue relating to the constitutional future of this country.
In Wales we have seen that creeping commitment, which a decade ago was a limited proposal for an elected council with very restricted powers, turn into an elected Assembly with extensive powers. When there was no popular demand for it the zealots were beavering away in the background. While the attention of the public, and most politicians, was diverted over the past five years by the Industrial Relations Act, the Housing Finance Act, Europe and other financial matters, the zealots were beavering away at party conferences and other organisations getting motions through until suddenly we are told that there is a commitment—a creeping commitment—which has never been faced squarely by politicians at any time.
I welcome the referendum in principle. I welcome it also as a potential means of getting the Government off a most dangerous hook on which they have impaled themselves.
I do not accept the thesis of my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) who said that the Government's concession on the issue of a referendum was an admission that they did not have a mandate for this major change—the small print in the election manifesto, as he put it. I believe that he was excessively charitable to the Government on this concession. I suggest that this concession was not generously granted as a result of an objective appraisal of the issues. We all know why the concession was granted. It was granted because the Government could not do their sums. They realised, as they were approaching that Thursday, that they did not have the votes for Second Reading. They realised that, unless they could sugar the pill by making the concession, they would not be able to divert into the "Aye" Lobby Members who otherwise would have gone into the "No" Lobby. The brute language of votes, not an objective appraisal of the issues, counted in the debate.
As a historian and noted progressive, I have in general been reluctant about supporting referendums, because the Bonapartes of this world have used referendums to bypass representative assemblies. That has been the pattern of history from the Bonapartist tradition which was similarly accepted by de Gaulle and others.
Another major objection in principle is that there is a capricious element about a referendum because the result will depend in part on the manner in which the question is posed. The most capricious element is that it will depend on the precise timing. For example, the two to one majority on the EEC issue would not be reproduced if there were a referendum on it today. I say that as one who is a convinced European and was when it was not popular to be such within the Labour Party. I concede that the timing is an important element.
During the currency of the Kilbrandon opinion polls it appeared that there was a potential majority in Wales in favour of such a measure, but today it is clear that there is no such majority. Indeed, so far as one can judge by the shift of opinion within trade unions—for example, the National Union of Teachers, as my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool pointed out—there is a substantial tide flowing strongly against the Government's proposals. The matter depends on timing and a whole series of extraneous factors.
A number of Opposition Members posed the important question: if we accept the need for a referendum, where do we stop? On what kind of issues do we draw the line?
That matter was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool. Given the kind of measures which he has bravely and courageously introduced over the last decade—as a Welsh puritan, I do not share his views on certain matters—one wonders whether he would have succeeded on those issues had there been referendums, consultative or mandatory. If, in the not too distant future, he were to consider introducing a Sexual Offences (No. 3) Bill, one wonders whether such a Bill would receive popular support in a referendum.
There is an easily definable limit on issues which are appropriate for referendums. They concern issues which alter the very rules of the game. They concern basic constitutional issues. Clearly the EEC referendum was highly appropriate on this definition. An internal constitutional change relating to devolution is a similarly appropriate matter for a referendum, as opposed to the detailed political issues in a manifesto. It is not difficult to distinguish between such basic constitutional issues and the more formal political issues.
With all the difficulties and objections in principle to a referendum, I support it because I believe that a grand debate will be provoked, as was the case with EEC membership. This debate will not just be among the elite but among the people who will count when they decide their own constitutional future.
Earlier the Government claimed that devolution proposals would have no effect on any of the existing structures; on local government; on the representation of Wales and Scotland in this House, or on the weight of representation which the Scottish and Welsh Secretaries of State had in the Cabinet. I think that most of these claims have been exploded by the debates in the House and by the cogent points made here. These points will be reproduced during the referendum campaign.
No longer can the Government claim that devolution can be considered in a restricted, narrow way as if it did not have a rippling effect on the whole constitution. Also, the absurdity of calling this the Scotland and Wales Bill is exposed, when it has the most profound implications for the British constitution as a whole.
I have already said that I welcome the concessions of my right hon. Friend the Lord President. I salute him for his willingness to sit here for long hours listening to the debate. No one can criticise him for his absence—he has listened conscientiously to our discussions and has made a number of concessions. The major concession made today was that the referendum should be consultative, not mandatory. This meets the points of substance made in the debates last Thursday relating to the sovereignty of Parliament. I welcome it for that reason.
In fact, the referendum will, in practice, be mandatory because it is inconceivable that if there were a decisive result anyone in this House would reject it. This is an argument for having a referendum at an early stage because if we knew whether there was a decisive view one way or the other in Scotland and Wales on devolution, it would mean that many of those who have criticised the measure would be more muted in their criticisms.
Apart from preserving the parliamentary sovereignty element, we must take account of the possibility of a low turn out. I was somewhat sceptical about the turn out for the EEC referendum, and I must say that I was surprised when I was proved wrong. But we must face the danger of a small turn out and the fact that it would be wrong for the House to be bound if that occurred, or if there were a very small majority either way. The message to the House in either of those cases would be that the public generally had no decisive views about the issue, and the ball would be thrown back fairly and squarely into our court.
So I accept equally the concession that the Government have made on that score. I thought that my right hon. Friend the Lord President was accepting, at least in principle, that the wording on the ballot paper should be manifestly fair. That is why there has been such justified criticism of the wording which states that Wales would remain a part of the United Kingdom.
This is perhaps the most arguable part of it. In an absurd intervention the Lord President, answering one of my hon. Friends who had argued that we were on the slippery slope and that the Bill was the halfway house to separation, said that that was nonsense, that Clause 1 stated that the Bill had nothing to do with the break-up of the United Kingdom. Many of us have argued that there is a dynamic in this measure, that expectations will be fostered and that the movement could be in only one direction. Let me quote from Spencer words which were used recently in the correspondence columns of The Times in which Spencer condemned the politician:
into whose mind there enters no thought of such a thing as political momentum, still less of a political momentum which, instead of diminishing or remaining constant, increases. The theory on which he daily proceeds is that the change caused by his measure will stop where he intends it to stop.
He contemplates intently the things his act will achieve but thinks little of the remoter issues of the movement his act sets up, and still less its collateral issues.
Those of us who are concerned with the deep constitutional issues here like to look not just to the immediate future, not just to the next General Election, but to the next five or 10 years, and to the direction in which our constitution is proceeding. This slippery slope argument is basic to the whole discussion, and to put this contentious issue in the preamble begs all sorts of questions about the fairness of the issue as a whole.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) has tabled a rather tongue-in-cheek amendment suggesting that if it is held that the referendum has nothing to do with the unity of the United Kingdom there should also be inserted in the preamble the fact that the Government estimate that the number of civil servants in Scotland will increase by about 750 over forecast levels, but that most commentators think that this is an absurdly low estimate. If one is to balance a contentious argument on one side with a contentious argument from the other that would seem to be an appropriate course of action.
As the hon. Member for Cleveland and Whitby (Mr. Brittan) has argued, we might as well leave out the preamble altogether because the alert electorate will know by the end of the referendum campaign what are the major issues. The preamble by its very nature is almost certain to be contentious and misleading. We want the simple question, "Do you want the Bill, or do you not want the Bill?" The whole preamble in that context is probably otiose.
On the point of fairness, there is the question of the amount of money and of public funds that will be available to both sides in the campaign. I support the hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. Wigley) on this, and the sum of money that he has suggested is fair. Certainly, at the moment, those in Wales who pray for devolution have all the cash on their side. They have been able to afford those large, expensive advertisements in the Welsh Press. Those who are against devolution are the paupers in the debate. In order to be fair and to be seen to be fair, there must be an equality of finance, with an upper limit on expenditure, and an equality of broadcasting time.
I have already mentioned the point about the ministerial intervention in the debate. There have been enough shifts already among Ministers. We have been marched to the top of the hill and marched down again. Matters that were issues of principle one day were not issues of principle the next day. One day one is against the referendum and the next one accepts it. One day one is for a mandatory referendum and the next for a consultative referendum. There are differences of judgment on this, and they should be given full scope in the freedom allowed to Ministers during the referendum debate. It would be absurd if the real divisions on the issue—they are not between parties but between different views held by hon. Members including members of the Government—were not given full scope during the referendum campaign.
I shall be brief and, in spite of prompting from my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson) who wants more, I shall draw my remarks to a close by saying that I am for a referendum. The issue of the referendum certainly affects Wales and Britain as a whole more than the EEC referendum did. It is certainly far more important than the issue of Sunday opening upon which our opinion was canvassed. The precedent has been set by the referendum on the EEC—another constitutional issue—but the referendum to be held in the autumn of this year must be seen to be fair by all sides.
I shall be brief, as is my wont. Given the hours that I have sat here, the percentage of time that I shall speak will be minimal.
I refer to the question of the principle of the referendum because I was one of those who opposed a referendum on the EEC. The arguments put up by many of us then were that it would be impossible to hold a referendum as a one-off job. We were told that the EEC was a completely different issue and that nothing like it could ever occur again. Yet here we are, within a couple of years, with another issue that appears at the moment to be equally important and off we go again into the referendum strata. We could well be reduced to continual referendums. In another couple of years another issue may appear to be as important.
Why are we having the referendum? I suggest that it is possibly for two reasons. One is that the Government might want to get a guillotine and they are convinced that the only way to get it is by making the offer of a referendum. There are other rumours going around about direct elections to the European Parliament and that might have a bearing on the length of time being taken by this Bill. But there is possibly another reason, and that is that the Bill is a bad Bill. It is not because of some high-thinking gesture that the people of Scotland are to be given a chance to vote, but because the Government want to shuffle off responsibility for a bad Bill on to the electorate rather than take the decision themselves.
The whole question whether the referendum should be consultative or mandatory is a bit of a smokescreen. If there is a large majority one way or the other, does it matter whether the referendum is called consultative or mandatory? The Government will have to take the same action whatever they call it. We have also talked about who should vote in the referendum. I cannot see that problem. That must be based on the electorate in Scotland and Wales. We are far more concerned with Englishmen living in Scotland than with Scotsmen living in England.
Surely under the contract in the Act of Union our English friends should have a say in this matter? One does not break a contract unless both sides are agreed. Our English friends should certainly have a say.
I am not concerned with the nationality of the voter but rather with the electoral registers in Scotland and Wales. It does not matter whether the people on the register are Scots, French, German, Irish or Greek.
There is a danger in a referendum throughout the United Kingdom that has not yet been mentioned. If we were to get different results in Scotland and England—and I am not suggesting what they might be—we should land ourselves with a difficult problem.
The more we get into the Bill, the more unworkable the scheme becomes. Thinking back over the minimal proposals of Sir Alec Douglas-Home up to the maximum proposals of the Liberal Party and their tax-raising suggestions, I have to agree at one point, strangely enough, with the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) that, academically and intellectually, there are only three possible positions—the status quo, a quasi-federal solution with a Bill of Rights and a written constitution or the break up of the United Kingdom. I can see no other possibility, and that is why I say that the more we consider a referendum and the more that we see the seriousness of what is being done, the more we must demand that this vital constitutional issue is considered by an all-party committee or conference because that is the only way that Parliament will ever resolve this subject. It cannot be done by one party alone.
The continuation of our debate on New Clause 40 which was first pronounced upon last Thursday has not altered very much the concern expressed by hon. Members on both sides within the context of, as they thought, a mandatory referendum. The Government are shambling from one frustration to another. No hon. Member can have experienced so much shifting of feet by a Government before we reached Clause 4 of a Bill.
Some hon. Members support the Bill for a variety of reasons, though I have yet to hear them pronounce upon whether it is right or needed. It is generally supported for reasons of political expediency, and I have not found within that approach even the semblance of a response to the overwhelming expressions of opinion against the Bill.
There has never been a situation where so many hon. Members on both sides have said to the Government that a Bill will not work. In a short period of time the Government went from not wanting a referendum to wanting a referendum and then, over the weekend, they changed the nature of the referendum. Many members of the Government do not want the Bill. I have not met one Minister who, in private conversation, has said to me that the Bill is something in which he believes. I must make that clear.
I must also make clear another fundamental fact. The Leader of the House, who deserves respect from both sides of the House, cannot, within the hurly burly of debate, remove himself from his own diktat in the Common Market debate that there will be no guillotine when a constitutional issue is at stake.
To spend our time talking about what questions to ask in the referendum does no tackle the ques- tion that really matters—why is the matter before us? There is only one reason for New Clause 40—changed as it will be since we debated it on Thursday. It is because the Government realise that they do not have the votes to carry the proposal through, that they will therefore not get the Bill and that the only way of getting it is by force feeding the House with some sort of offer on the referendum. Nevertheless, the Government knew that without that force feeding there was not a cat in hell's chance of persuading some of us to support them in the Lobby on a guillotine.
The arguments about collective opinion are political exercises. If we have doubts about what will happen to the electorate in Scotland, let me make an assertion about the attempt to deal with hon. Members of the House. Last Friday the Minister made a speech near my constituency. He has not refuted the newspaper report which claims that he said:
If there is any further revolt on this issue this could lead to an early general election and a Tory Government for the next 20 years".
Some Conservative Members would not bite that carrot in the hope of getting control for the next 40 years. There are Opposition Members who are not prepared to override the constitutional and related matters that arise from the Bill. There are hon. Members on both sides of the Committee who are not prepared to barter their political futures, because they believe sincerely that there is a major principle involved here in the invitation to break up the United Kingdom and the sovereignty of Parliament. We heard today from SNP Members, in answer to an intervention from me, that their sole objective is to have independence. Is that not sufficient warning to both sides of the Committee?
On 10th February, my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson) had this to say to the Minister of State:
But would he therefore agree not to make large statements about it
—that was the question of confidentiality, which the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) had just raised—
being so self-evident that all members of the Government must campaign in favour of a 'Yes' vote?"—[Official Report, 10th February 1977; Vol. 925, c. 1812.]
That was a very important matter during the debate last Thursday. The right. hon. Member for Down, South had pointed out that there was a great difference between this referendum and the referendum on the Common Market, because in the latter case the Government were not involved with any state of collective responsibility, but on this question the Government are so involved.
Once the House of Commons knows that within the Cabinet there are responsible Ministers who personally feel strongly against the Bill, it is within that context that the House of Commons has a right to ask, in pursuit of the referendum question, whether these Ministers will be tied by their state of confidentiality—last Thursday we were talking about a mandatory referendum—and whether in that context there would be a collusion between an opinion expressed in mandatory referendum terms and a position held by the collective responsibility of the Government? That was a major issue.
Within a few days we have learned that the Government have decided that they should move from that dangerous situation into having a consultative referendum. However, as hon. Members have said, what on earth is the corollary of a consultative referendum other than, if not a legalistic form of a mandate, a consensus, nevertheless, and a total acceptance that this is a firm opinion, which is conducive to the notion that it is not dissimilar in practice from a mandatory situation?
Last week the Minister tried very hard to deal with this problem. I accept that the Government have sought to unravel it and to respond to the temper of the House. However, that does not take away from the Committee the consequences that I have tried to describe, and what is laid upon Ministers who have differences of opinion on where they must stand if we get involved with the referendums on a consultative basis and what they will be doing while that process is in motion. Will they be free to go to the people and talk, as they were free to do in the Common Market referendum, or will they be tied down by their collective responsibility?
In his speech on 10th February, the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) quite rightly pointed out the grave constitutional consequences which would flow from this matter. There is no division of opinion on either side of the Committee on these major matters. The Government must take something else into account, too. While they are trying to deal with matters here they cannot have failed to note that the more information that comes out of this place the more clearly is opinion in Scotland and Wales changing. Opinion is now crystallising. The people as a whole are increasingly becoming more conscious than the Government of the intrinsic values of one nation and the sovereignty of Parliament—an institution which has led this country through great difficulties over the decades.
I warn the Government that if they seek to give an Assembly to a minority party because of a calculation over the number of seats in the House of Commons they will find that it will be a miscalculation. No party would be worthy of its place in the House if it did such a thing. There are others of us who have a clearer view of the consequences. It was a recommendation of Kilbrandon—and it was in the mind of the Government—that the number of Welsh and Scottish seats should be reduced. If by a fortuitous—
If, by using the device of a referendum, the Government persuade people to fall in with their short-term moves, carried out for political advantage, they will find that there will be a long-term disadvantage for the United Kingdom. There will be that fragmentation about which we are all so worried. The short-term submissions of the Government are not unrelated to General Election issues. The short-term calculation is anybody's guess because the electorate deals with different issues in the short-term. If we go over the brink and impose this Bill upon the people, the long-term situation will cause irrevocable damage to the House of Commons. There will be little left for the House to do. Hon. Members will not have much say and the people will not place much reliance upon their word because power will have shifted elsewhere.
I am serious and I do not want to hear such silly remarks from my hon. Friend or any other hon. Member. I have been a Member of this House for 30 years and I have always understood that when a matter has been debated for a long time—and this new clause has been debated for 10½ hours—[Interruption.] I find the action of the Chair incredible—
If you will hear me through Mr. Costain, you will understand my point of view. After one-and-a-half hours the Chair decided, in its wisdom, to accept a motion to report progress, which, in itself, was extraordinary because there had hardly been any progress. That was the decision of the Chair. We had a vote hours ago on that motion to report progress. Since then, there has been a 10-hour debate on a subject. [Interruption.] Hon. Members opposite do not bother me. I do not care what they think of me or my views. I am putting a matter to the Chair.
In a matter of this kind, Mr. Costain, what is the mind of the Chair? I have a right to ask that. What does it consider is the limit of time before a motion, "That the Question be now put", can be received? I ask that from 30 years' experience in the House of dealing with the behaviour of the Chair in matters of this kind. When are we to have a decision? There must be some limit. Are we to go on with this until tomorrow afternoon? What is the view of the Chair? May I have an indication of what the Chair thinks is enough?
Further to that point of order, Mr. Costain. I was aware that you are not competent—[HON. MEMBERS: "Withdraw."] I will not withdraw. You, Mr. Costain, have said that you are not competent to take a closure motion and you added, in an extraordinary way—it was clever of you to say it—that after 30 years here I should have known it. I was aware of it. No doubt you will see that these remarks are recorded for those who are competent. I believe that you may think of doing that. What your judgment is on that, we shall see.
But Back Benchers also have rights, and in dealing with the Chair, from Mr. Speaker downwards, Back Benchers, if they feel aggrieved, have a right to put down a motion in which they criticise the action of the Chair. Recognising your powerlessness and that you are a boy in these matters—[Interruption.]—I am angry about this—I ask you to convey to those who are your lords and masters that some of us have had just about enough of this long debate and the Chair's conduct in this—
Order. The right hon. Gentleman will appreciate that, boy or no boy, I can have only the powers that the House gives me. It is wrong that he should criticise the Chair in the way he does. He has his own remedy by putting a motion down.
I am glad to have the opportunity of addressing my remarks to the Committee and not trying to make a point of order. But I, too, have been raising points of order with the Chair in the last two days of debate. I have waited 14 hours to get in and I am going to make my speech now, and the right hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) can go home for all I care, much as I am fond of him and respect him. It is not for me to criticise him for raising a point of order—he has every right to do so. But to seek to terminate the debate at this stage is quite wrong. It is not my purpose—[Interruption.]
It is not my purpose to be contentious, Mr. Costain. Your predecessor in the Chair, Mr. Godman Irvine, chose to let the debate continue after two Front Bench speeches. We then heard speeches of considerable value from the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) and from my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins) in particular. They contributed with great advantage to our perception of what is entailed in the Government's proposal for referendums. None of us should feel that we have wasted our time in the small hours of the morning. We are considering a major constitutional change, which has been revealed to the Committee in much more detail than before.
In the last few days the Government have changed the rules to bring in the new clause. The Leader of the House said last Thursday that he had done so in response to overwhelming demand, as represented by 140 or 150 hon. Members who signed the motion in the name of the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) before this matter came before the Committee. As I said to the right hon. Gentleman at the time, 140 or 150 hon. Members are hardly a majority. But the Government wanted to show that they were willing to accede to the wishes of hon. Members.
Or did they want something else? Did they hope that by lifting the Bill out of the hands of hon. Members and offering it direct to the public they could stifle hon. Members' complaints altogether? Is that what they were seeking to achieve by this sudden constitutional change? After all, in the four weeks that we have been debating the Bill, the Government have shown precious little regard for the complaints made and amendments moved so far. As far as I can see, all we have gained is a concession on Orkney and Shetland.
When they have pushed through the provision for a referendum the Government may feel that they have armed themselves with the democratic strength of the people's voice behind the Bill and that all further protest in Parliament will be of little consequence. That is why we are here in the small hours—because some of us are not prepared to see Parliament regarded as of little consequence in these debates.
What worries me is the feeling that Parliament is being bypassed. Perhaps I am naive. Perhaps I should accept the idea of referendums in a much more liberal and generous spirit, as a new institution in our democratic parliamentary system. Perhaps I am too old-fashioned to accept that we shall have to live with this new institution in this place, week after week, month after month and Bill after Bill in the years ahead, until Parliament has ceased to mean what it means today and has meant in the past, until Parliament is of little consequence any longer.
That is what worries me. I know that many hon. Members want to go home to bed, as I certainly do, but I believe that it is worth staying up just to consider whether Parliament is still of consequence.
We do not know the full extent of the Bill. We have considered only some of the 400 amendments, and now there are many more amendments to the new clause and new schedule. Whether we shall have enough time to consider them all in proper detail remains to be seen. Now we are asked to pass a new clause and new schedule that provide that the Bill will go before the public in Scotland and Wales, though we do not know the shape of the Bill.
What sort of Parliament is that this, that we say that because we cannot make up our minds we shall pass the Bill to the public to decide? They will not know what they are being asked to decide. The question will require a "Yes" or "No" answer—"Yes" or "No" to what?
I am anxious about the Bill. I have been asked to keep my cool in the past two or three days of debate. I must apologise for having found it hard to do so. I have not been worked up about the Bill until now, but I have been in the past few days, since I have come to realise what is happening. We are witnessing a force majeure. Parliament is being pushed aside. Because something must be done to satisfy the Government's desire to get the Bill on the statute book, the Government will present a Bill to the people of Scotland and Wales, whatever it says.
I cannot understand why the Leader of the House, the defender of the faith of democracy for so long, should be doing this. I watch him day after day and cannot believe that he is telling us to do these things—not this man, who used to sit on the Back Benches and tell us what he stood for and what we in Parliament stood for. As the days go by, I can hardly believe what is happening.
It is not the question of devolution to Scotland and Wales that really matters: it is the question of the denigration of Parliament by the man who is the leader of us all, who should be listening to voices in the farthest corner of the Chamber and should be guiding the most timid Member, let alone the strongest and wisest. The right hon. Gentleman is leading us down the wrong road.
It is not the wrong road to devolution. The Leader of the House knows that I was in favour of the Bill. I did not like all its parts, but I was prepared not to vote it down. I did not vote against it; I abstained. But as the weeks have gone by I have been worried, because I have not seen the concessions that were promised by the Lord President. On Second Reading, when I still believed in him. he convinced me. He said that we should debate the Bill for many weeks, for perhaps three months, and that during that period he wanted to listen to hon. Members of all parties. But the right hon. Gentleman has not listened. Rather, to be fair, as he has hardly been absent from the debates, he has listened, but nothing has happened as a result.
I believe that the Leader of the House is in chains in the Cabinet these days. I only wish that he would release himself and speak as he should, giving us a lead as the Leader of the House should.
I do not want to get too worked up.
I consider the new clause to be unconstitutional, as I have tried to demonstrate, and if it is followed by the imposition of the guillotine I consider that that will be undemocratic. [Interruption.] Do hon. Members think that the guillotine, on a constitutional matter, is a laughing matter? I tell them that they will rue the day that they laughed about it.
The debate on devolution to Scotland and Wales has become a shambles. I feel guilty for having given it my support. After four weeks we have got nowhere. The Government are not wholly to blame. They have been delayed by the Bill's opponents. I am sorry about that, but I am not blaming my hon. Friends and Labour Members who have deliberately sought to delay the Bill. They are entitled to put forward their arguments. They are entitled to be heard and they are entitled to delay the Bill if they feel strongly about it. They should not be stifled. As the weeks have passed I have come to respect many of the arguments that I have heard. I have to come to see the point of view of others. Is that so wrong? Is it so wrong that we should listen and be moved to change our views? Very few Members do so, because we are dragooned into the Lobbies one way or the other by our Whips.
I agree, Mr. Costain. I am apt to get carried away. I have waited so long to speak that I have forgotten what clause we are on.
This is not a perfect Bill, and it is not made perfect by the introduction of the new clause. The Government, and certainly many on the Government Benches, would agree that it is not perfect. But there has been no sign of the Government seeking to meet the opposition to the Bill—to concede a point or to find a way out of the impasse. All that they have done is to seek to put the matter to the people at the eleventh hour by means of the new clause. It is surely the eleventh hour in terms of the Bill being considered. It is the eleventh hour in parliamentary time and in Government time.
It seems to be said "If Parliament cannot decide what to do, let the matter be put to the people. Let the people decide." In effect, for the first time in the history of Parliament the people will be told that Members are stuck, bogged down and unable to make up their minds. They do not want to use the guillotine. They have decided to pass the issue to the people untried and unknown.
That is a dangerous road on which to tread for the future. I believe that it creates a most dangerous precedent. The Government seem hell-bent on getting their way at any cost, even at the cost of weakening the position of Parliament, perhaps for ever. I no longer believe that they want the Bill for the honest purpose of a major measure of devolution and Home Rule for Scotland, and possibly for Wales. It now seems that they are determined to push the Bill through for party political gain and little else.
I still believe in devolution. I still believe in home rule for Scotland and for Wales if the Welsh people want it in any measure. It makes sense to me to remove much of the decision making away from Whitehall and Westminster. I do not believe that it need weaken the unity of the United Kingdom. I believe that it could ultimately strengthen it by recognising the wishes of the Scots and the Welsh to have a more real democratic say in their own affairs.
I hope that my hon. Friend will forgive me if I do not give way. My speech is like a one act opera, it must be heard complete because there is a climax at the end. It is a sort of Cavalleria Rusticana.
I return to devolution. I am still prepared to see devolution extended into the regions of England as well. These are such important decisions that it is vital that we get them right. Our debates have revealed too much concern for them to be ignored. There is real concern about the effect of the Bill in England, particularly in the vulnerable industrial areas of the North—
I recognise and under stand that, Mr. Costain. A referendum will not get rid of the problems that I have described. The Bill has been revealed in all its weaknesses. It is a hotch-potch of the old and the new. I believe that it is bad law. A referendum will not alter that. All it will do is to foist bad law on Scotland and Wales. They deserve better of us. To use the referendum to save the Government's face and their majority will be a disaster for Parliament and a disaster for democracy.
The Government have changed the rules to bring in the new clause. I have changed my mind. I believe that I was wrong to give the Bill my support. I believed that, for once, our debates would have been taken account of and the Bill modified. I was wrong to support the idea of a referendum. I was one of the 140 who voted for the Bill—or, rather, signed for it. I did not vote for it; I signed for it. I was wrong to do so before I knew what the Bill would entail.
I reject the new clause for those reasons. I reject the Bill, but I have not changed my view on the need for real devolution for Scotland and Wales. We should scrap the Bill and start again, on an all-party basis. There is still time to create real unity in the House and to produce the sort of devolution that the Scots and Welsh will understand.
The views that I hold are closely akin to those expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch), but I believe that I shall draw a conclusion that he did not reach. He asked "What sort of House is this, which cannot make decisions and which cannot make up its mind on the great affairs of State?". I suppose that I may be called a defeatist, but I think that I am a realist. I think that this House is in a condition in which it is not capable of making up its mind, given the situation that it faces today.
I cannot resist deriving a certain malicious pleasure from the debate, because it is clear that the referendum proposals that the Government have put before us today amount to an acceptance by them of the view that the House cannot do what it exists to do. In fact, the Government have worked themselves into a position that is increasingly untenable. They have worked themselves into a position in which they are attempting to push through a Bill that is bound to increase the desire for separatism in Scotland, should it ever become an Act of Parliament, and yet, on the other hand, they are now proposing a referendum as an expedient to cope with the situation that exists in the House, without regard to what is happening outside. What does a referendum do? A referendum is a constitutional mechanism that is almost sure to produce, in answer to any question, a reply that will ensure that we maintain the status quo. Yet if the status quo is maintained in Scotland or Wales as a result of the referendum it will not reduce the demands for devolution; rather, it is likely to increase them.
Having said that, I welcome the fact that the Lord President has listened to the representations that have been put to him and, as a consequence, the Government have changed the referendum from a mandatory, binding one to a consultative one. Of course, there might be a case for a binding referendum, but if there is a case it should be debated at length and on its merits. There is no case for the introduction of new constitutional precedents or principles as an ad hoc measure solely to soften the opposition to the Bill and to a guillotine.
I regret that there even has to be a consultative referendum, but I shall not oppose it. I regret it because it will be an admission—the second one in a short time—that this House cannot do what it is elected to do, namely, to represent and speak for the British people. If, in the Government's view, we cannot do that, what on earth are we here to do? It is all very well for the Government to say that the circumstances are exceptional. They were before. This is the second time in three years that the circumstances have been exceptional. How long will it be before the exception becomes the rule?
I wish to refer to two points concerning the way in which the referendum will be dealt with. A number of hon. Members have suggested that there should be more than one question. Perhaps there should. If the referendum had continued to be binding I would have concluded that one question was enough, but I believe there is a stronger case for more than one question, given the Government's new intention of having a consultative refrendum.
If there is to be more than one question, there is a great deal of strength in the argument that the credibility of the referendum will depend on the turnout. On that basis, my conclusion is that even though this is a consultative referendum we should stick to one question. My opinion—it is based on nothing more than a hunch—is that the more questions there are the more muddled people will be and the less likely they are to vote.
I believe that the credibility of the referendum will largely depend on the turnout. It may be argued that in other parts of the world, particularly in the United States, where the electors vote on a ticket, there is nothing unusual about voting on a number of questions. However, the turnout in many of those places is much lower than we would find acceptable in this country. I therefore believe that when the Lord President is considering the amendments that he proposes to bring forward he should have some regard to the credibility of the referendum and bring forward amendments that refer to the turnout at the referendum.
I cannot believe that it is the right hon. Gentleman's intention that a consultative referendum should have any credibility if, for example, it involves only half, or an even lower proportion, of the voters. Therefore, it is important and would be more honest to put this point to the people of both Scotland and Wales. If the referendum is to have any meaning whatsoever, that meaning will depend largely on the turnout of voters.
I refer again to the point that I made earlier: is there anything in the Government's implied admission that the House of Commons cannot do what it is elected to do? It would be only too easy to say "No", but there may be something in that admission.
If we look beyond the House of Commons, to the general public, we discover that a large majority of them probably have less respect for this place nowadays than at any time in modern history. Their lack of respect may stem in part from the anachronistic procedure of the House and in part from the inefficiency of our legislative processes. But that is not all; I believe that their lack of respect stems not least from the fact that the House seems to do little of what the majority approve.
Why? Because we have a Government who started with the support of only 29 per cent. of the electorate. In no recent times have there been Governments who commanded the support, at the outset of their career, of even 50 per cent. of the electorate, yet Governments behave as though they have the whole-hearted support of a clear majority. They do not have that support. Therefore, they often do the opposite of what the majority of the British people want.
What is to be done? Earlier, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton) said that he believed that a referendum was a means whereby the silent majority could express their opinion. I understand his point of view. But that is not the only means by which the silent majority can express their opinion. Indeed, if this place is to have a reasonable future, it is important to bring power back to it.
I do not think that anything of value can be done within our present electoral system. Until we have a system that reflects more accurately the opinion of the electorate it will be difficult to make progress. If there is no progress, Governments will resort more and more to referendums. The House of Commons will not have enough confidence—as I believe it will not have tonight—in its own opinion to reject the Government's
|Division No. 72.]||AYES||[12.59 a.m.|
|Allaun, Frank||Cryer, Bob||Grant, John (Islington C)|
|Archer, Peter||Cunningham, Dr J. (Whiteh)||Grocott, Bruce|
|Armstrong, Ernest||Davidson, Arthur||Hamilton, James (Bothwell)|
|Atkins, Ronald (Preston N)||Davies, Bryan (Enfield N)||Harper, Joseph|
|Atkinson, Norman||Davies, Denzil (Llanelli)||Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)|
|Bagier, Gordon A. T.||Davies, Ifor (Gower)||Healey, Rt Hon Denis|
|Bain, Mrs Margaret||Davis, Clinton (Hackney C)||Heffer, Eric S.|
|Barnett, Guy (Greenwich)||Deakins, Eric||Hooley, Frank|
|Barrett, Rt Hon Joel (Heywood)||Dell, Rt Hon Edmund||Horam, John|
|Bates, Alf||Dempsey, James||Howell, Rt Hon Denis (B'ham, Sm H)|
|Bean, R. E.||Doig, Peter||Howells, Geraint (Cardigan)|
|Benn, Rt Hon Anthony Wedgwood||Dormand, J. D.||Hoyle, Doug (Nelson)|
|Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N)||Douglas-Mann, Bruce||Huckfield, Les|
|Bidwell, Sydney||Duffy, A. E. P.||Hughes, Rt Hon C. (Anglesey)|
|Bishop, E. S.||Dunn, James A.||Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)|
|Blenkinsop, Arthur||Dunnett, Jack||Hughes, Roy (Newport)|
|Booth, Rt Hon Albert||Eadie, Alex||Hunter, Adam|
|Boyden, James (Bish Auck)||Ellis, John (Brigg & Scun)||Irving, Rt Hon S. (Dartford)|
|Bray, Dr Jeremy||Ellis, Tom (Wrexham)||Jackson, Colin (Brighouse)|
|Brown, Hugh D. (Proven)||English, Michael||Jackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln)|
|Brown, Robert C. (Newcastle W)||Ennals, David||Janner, Greville|
|Buchan, Norman||Evans, Ioan (Aberdare)||John, Brynmor|
|Buchanan, Richard||Ewing, Harry (Stirling)||Johnson, James (Hull West)|
|Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P)||Ewing, Mrs Winifred (Moray)||Jones, Alec (Rhondda)|
|Campbell, Ian||Fernyhough, Rt Hon E.||Jones, Barry (East Flint)|
|Canavan, Dennis||Flannery, Martin||Jones, Dan (Burnley)|
|Cant, R. B.||Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)||Judd, Frank|
|Carmichael, Neil||Foot, Rt Hon Michael||Kaufman, Gerald|
|Carter-Jones, Lewis||Forrester, John||Kerr, Russell|
|Cartwright, John||Fowler, Gerald (The Wrekin)||Lambie, David|
|Castle, Rt Hon Barbara||Fraser, John (Lambeth, N'w'd)||Lamborn, Harry|
|Clemitson, Ivor||Freeson, Reginald||Latham, Arthur (Paddington)|
|Cocks, Rt Hon Michael||Freud, Clement||Leadbitter, Ted|
|Cohen, Stanley||Garrett, John (Norwich S)||Lestor, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough)|
|Concannon, J. D.||George, Bruce||Lewis, Arthur (Newham N)|
|Cooke, Robert (Bristol W)||Gilbert, Dr John||Litterick, Tom|
|Corbett, Robin||Ginsburg, David||Loyden, Eddie|
|Cox, Thomas (Tooting)||Golding, John||Luard, Evan|
|Craigen, Jim (Maryhill)||Gould, Bryan||Lyon, Alexander (York)|
|Crawford, Douglas||Gourlay, Harry||Lyons, Edward (Bradford W)|
|Cronin, John||Graham, Ted||Mabon, Rt Hon Dr J. Dickson|
|McCartney, Hugh||Price, William (Rugby)||Thomas, Mike (Newcastle E)|
|MacCormick, Iain||Radice, Giles||Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)|
|McDonald, Dr Oonagh||Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn (Leeds S)||Thompson, George|
|MacFarquhar, Roderick||Reid, George||Thorne, Stan (Preston South)|
|McGuire, Michael (Ince)||Richardson, Miss Jo||Tinn, James|
|MacKenzie, Gregor||Roberts, Albert (Normanton)||Tomlinson, John|
|McMillan, Tom (Glasgow C)||Roberts, Gwilym (Cannock)||Torney, Tom|
|Madden, Max||Robinson, Geoffrey||Varley, Rt Hon Eric G.|
|Magee, Bryan||Roderick, Caerwyn||Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne V)|
|Mallalieu, J. P. W.||Rodgers, George (Chorley)||Walden, Brian (B'ham, L'dyw'd)|
|Marks, Kenneth||Rodgers, Rt Hon William||Walker, Harold (Doncaster)|
|Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)||Rooker, J. W.||Walker, Terry (Kingswood)|
|Maynard, Miss Joan||Roper, John||Ward, Michael|
|Meacher, Michael||Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)||Watkins, David|
|Mellish, Rt Hon Robert||Ross, Rt Hon W. (Kilmarnock)||Watt, Hamish|
|Mikardo, Ian||Sandelson, Neville||Weetch, Ken|
|Millan, Rt Hon Bruce||Sedgemore, Brian||Welsh, Andrew|
|Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)||Shaw, Arnold (Ilford South)||White, Frank R. (Bury)|
|Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)||Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert||White, James (Pollok)|
|Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)||Shore, Rt Hon Peter||Whitlock, William|
|Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)||Silkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich)||Wigley, Dafydd|
|Moyle, Roland||Sillars, James||Willey, Rt Hon Frederick|
|Murray, Rt Hon Ronald King||Silverman, Julius||Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)|
|Newens, Stanley||Skinner, Dennis||Williams, Alan Lee (Hornch'ch)|
|Noble, Mike||Small, William||Williams, Rt Hon Shirley (Hertford)|
|Oakes, Gordon||Smith, John (N Lanarkshre)||Williams, Sir Thomas (Warrington)|
|Ogden, Eric||Snape, Peter||Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)|
|O'Halloran, Michael||Spearing, Nigel||Wilson, Gordon (Dundee E)|
|Orbach, Maurice||Spriggs, Leslie||Wilson, Rt Hon Sir Harold (Huyton)|
|Orme, Rt Hon Stanley||Stallard, A. W.||Wilson, William (Coventry SE)|
|Owen, Rt Hon Dr David||Stoddart, David||Wise, Mrs Audrey|
|Palmer, Arthur||Stott, Roger||Woof, Robert|
|Park, George||Strauss, Rt Hon G. R.||Wrigglesworth, Ian|
|Parry, Robert||Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley|
|Pavitt, Laurie||Swain, Thomas||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Pendry, Tom||Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)||Mr. Joseph Ashton and|
|Price, C. (Lewisham W)||Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)||Mr. Donald Coleman.|
|Boscawen, Hon Robert||Goodhew, Victor||Morrison, Charles (Devizes)|
|Channon, Paul||Griffiths, Eldon||Newton, Tony|
|Cooke, Robert (Bristol W)||Grist, Ian||Penhaligon, David|
|Craig, Rt Hon W. (Belfast E)||Harvie Anderson, Rt Hon Miss||Rathbone, Tim|
|Crouch, David||Hutchison, Michael Clark||Rees, Peter (Dover & Deal)|
|Cunningham, G. (Islington S)||Lamond, James||Sproat, Iain|
|Dalyell, Tam||Latham, Michael (Melton)||Wiggin, Jerry|
|Emery, Peter||MacGregor, John||Winterton, Nicholas|
|Fairgrieve, Russell||Macmillan, Rt Hon M. (Farnham)|
|Fisher, Sir Nigel||Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Gardiner, George (Reigate)||Mayhew, Patrick||Mr. Nick Budgen and|
|Glyn, Dr Alan||Meyer, Sir Anthony||Mr. Terence Higgins.|
|Division No. 73.]||AYES||[1.10 a.m.|
|Allaun, Frank||Buchan, Norman||Cunningham, Dr J. (Whiteh)|
|Anderson, Donald||Buchanan, Richard||Dalyell, Tam|
|Archer, Peter||Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P)||Davidson, Arthur|
|Armstrong, Ernest||Campbell, Ian||Davies, Bryan (Enfield N)|
|Ashton, Joe||Canavan, Dennis||Davies, Denzil (Llanelli)|
|Atkins, Ronald (Preston N)||Cant, R. B.||Davies, Ifor (Gower)|
|Atkinson, Norman||Carmichael, Neil||Davis, Clinton (Hackney C)|
|Bagier, Gordon A. T.||Carter-Jones, Lewis||Deakins, Eric|
|Bain, Mrs Margaret||Cartwright, John||Dell, Rt Hon Edmund|
|Barnett, Guy (Greenwich)||Castle, Rt Hon Barbara||Dempsey, James|
|Barnett, Rt Hon Joel (Heywood)||Clemitson, Ivor||Doig, Peter|
|Bean, R. E.||Cocks, Rt Hon Michael||Dormand, J. D.|
|Benn, Rt Hon Anthony Wedgwood||Cohen, Stanley||Douglas-Mann, Bruce|
|Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N)||Coleman, Donald||Duffy, A. E. P.|
|Bidwell, Sydney||Concannon, J. D.||Dunn, James A.|
|Bishop, E. S.||Cook, Robin F. (Edin C)||Dunnett, Jack|
|Blenkinsop, Arthur||Corbett, Robin||Eadie, Alex|
|Booth, Rt Hon Albert||Craig, Rt Hon W. (Belfast E)||Ellis, John (Brigg & Scun)|
|Boyden, James (Bish Auck)||Craigen, Jim (Maryhill)||Ellis, Tom (Wrexham)|
|Bray, Dr Jeremy||Crawford, Douglas||English, Michael|
|Brown, Hugh D. (Proven)||Cronin, John||Ennals, David|
|Brown, Robert C. (Newcastle W)||Cryer, Bob||Evans, Ioan (Aberdare)|
|Ewing, Harry (Stirling)||Luard, Evan||Sandelson, Neville|
|Ewing, Mrs Winifred (Moray)||Lyon, Alexander (York)||Sedgemore, Brian|
|Fernyhough, Rt Hon E.||Lyons, Edward (Bradford W)||Shaw, Arnold (Ilford South)|
|Flannery, Martin||Mabon, Rt Hon Dr J. Dickson||Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert|
|Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)||MacCormick, Iain||Shore, Rt Hon Peter|
|Foot, Rt Hon Michael||McDonald, Dr Oonagh||Silkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich)|
|Forrester, John||MacFarquhar, Roderick||Silverman, Julius|
|Fowler, Gerald (The Wrekin)||McGuire, Michael Ince)||Skinner, Dennis|
|Fraser, John (Lambeth, N'w'd)||MacKenzie, Gregor||Small, William|
|Freeson, Reginald||McMillan, Tom (Glasgow C)||Smith, John (N Lanarkshire)|
|Freud, Clement||Madden, Max||Snape, Peter|
|Garrett, John (Norwich S)||Magee, Bryan||Spriggs, Leslie|
|George, Bruce||Malialieu, J. P. W.||Stallard, A. W.|
|Gilbert, Dr John||Marks, Kenneth||Stoddart, David|
|Ginsburg, David||Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)||Stott, Roger|
|Golding, John||Maynard, Miss Joan||Strauss, Rt Hon G. R.|
|Gould, Bryan||Meacher, Michael||Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley|
|Gourlay, Harry||Mellish, Rt Hon Robert||Swain, Thomas|
|Graham, Ted||Meyer, Sir Anthony||Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)|
|Grant, John (Islington C)||Mikardo, Ian||Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)|
|Grocott, Bruce||Millan, Rt Hon Bruce||Thomas, Mike (Newcastle E)|
|Hamilton, James (Bothwell)||Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)||Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)|
|Harper, Joseph||Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)||Thompson, George|
|Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)||Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)||Thorne, Stan (Preston South)|
|Hart, Rt Hon Judith||Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)||Tinn, James|
|Healey, Rt Hon Denis||Moyle, Roland||Tomlinson, John|
|Heffer, Eric S.||Murray, Rt Hon Ronald King||Torney, Tom|
|Hooley, Frank||Newens, Stanley||Varley, Rt Hon Eric G.|
|Horam, John||Noble, Mike||Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne V)|
|Howell, Rt Hon Denis (B'ham, Sm H)||Oakes, Gordon||Walden, Brian (B'ham, L'dyw'd)|
|Howells, Geraint (Cardigan)||Ogden, Eric||Walker, Harold (Doncaster)|
|Hoyle, Doug (Nelson)||O'Halloran, Michael||Walker, Terry (Kingswood)|
|Huckfield, Les||Orbach, Maurice||Ward, Michael|
|Hughes, Rt Hon C. (Anglesey)||Orme, Rt Hon Stanley||Watkins, David|
|Hughes, Roy (Newport)||Owen, Rt Hon Dr David||Watt, Hamish|
|Hunter, Adam||Park, George||Weetch, Ken|
|Irving, Rt Hon S. (Dartford)||Parry, Robert||Welsh, Andrew|
|Jackson, Colin (Brighouse)||Pavitt, Laurie||White, Frank R. (Bury)|
|Jackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln)||Pendry, Tom||White, James (Pollok)|
|Janner, Greville||Penhaligon, David||Whitlock, William|
|John, Brynmor||Price, C. (Lewisham W)||Wigley, Dafydd|
|Johnson, James (Hull West)||Price, William (Rugby)||Willey, Rt Hon Frederick|
|Jones, Alec (Rhondda)||Radice, Giles||Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)|
|Jones, Barry (East Flint)||Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn (Leeds S)||Williams, Alan Lee (Hornch'ch)|
|Jones, Dan (Burnley)||Reid, George||Williams, Rt Hon Shirley (Hertford)|
|Judd, Frank||Richardson, Miss Jo||Williams, Sir Thomas (Warrington)|
|Kaufman, Gerald||Roberts, Albert (Normanton)||Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)|
|Kerr, Russell||Roberts, Gwilym (Cannock)||Wilson, Gordon (Dundee E)|
|Kinnock, Neil||Robinson, Geoffrey||Wilson, Rt Hon Sir Harold (Huyton)|
|Lambie, David||Roderick, Caerwyn||Wilson, William (Coventry SE)|
|Lamborn, Harry||Rodgers, George (Chorley)||Wise, Mrs Audrey|
|Latham, Arthur (Paddington)||Rodgers, Rt Hon William||Woof, Robert|
|Lestor, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough)||Rooker, J. W.||Wrigglesworth, Ian|
|Lewis, Arthur (Newham N)||Roper, John|
|Litterick, Tom||Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Loyden, Eddie||Ross, Rt Hon W. (Kilmarnock)||Mr. Thomas Cox and|
|Mr. Alf Bates.|
|Boscawen, Hon Robert||Harvie Anderson, Rt Hon Miss||Sillars, James|
|Channon, Paul||Hutchison, Michael Clark||Sproat, Iain|
|Cooke, Robert (Bristol W)||Lamond, James||Wiggin, Jerry|
|Crouch, David||Latham, Michael (Melton)||Winterton, Nicholas|
|Emery, Peter||MacGregor, John|
|Fairgrieve, Russell||Macmillan, Rt Hon M. (Farnham)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Gardiner, George (Reigate)||Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin||Mr. Terence Higgins and|
|Glyn, Dr Alan||Mayhew, Patrick||Mr. Nick Budges.|
|Goodhew, Victor||Newton, Tony|
|Griffiths, Eldon||Rathbone, Tim|
Question put and agreed to.
Not many hon. Members are likely to complain about that motion at this time in the morning, but it is interesting and significant that the Government have decided to move the motion at this stage. They have obtained their Second Reading on the referendum clause but it would have been wise to complete the debate without Question put, in view of the amendments that are likely to be tabled by the Government.
I should like to put one or two questions to the Lord President. That is fair, because, in the light of the helpful concessions that the Government have indicated, we must know how we shall now proceed. We have before us a new clause that has received its Second Reading notwithstanding that the Government have said that they will alter its character in some respects. Has the Leader of the House considered the possibility of not proceeding with the amendments to the new clause tomorrow but postponing them until a later stage and continuing with Clauses 4, 5 and 6. That would allow time for hon. Members to look at the amendments that have been tabled and to consider their own amendments to the Government amendments.
It is right for me to raise this now, because the matter was raised during the debate. It has been shown that there would be no difficulty about that suggestion, but I can see difficulties, when we come to the amendments, about the selection and all the issues surrounding that. Difficulties could arise over the referendum being consultative rather than mandatory and because some hon. Members might not want to leave their existing amendments on the Order Paper. Time is also needed for hon. Members to alter their amendments and put down new ones. There will be other problems arising in connection with the finance for the referendum campaign, which has caused much anxiety in various parts of the House.
However, the position seems to be that the new clause has, in a kind of way, been treated like a new Bill, in that we have had a Second Reading today, and when we came to the Second Reading, in the middle of that debate we had an announcement that the "Bill" would be altered in some substantial respects and that the Government would be tabling some amendments. That has undoubtedly led to the complications that we have had today. It was only for that reason that I ventured to suggest earlier today that it might be for the general convenience of the Committee and the general progress of the Bill through the House of Commons that we should handle it in the alternative way that I have suggested.
I therefore ask the Lord President for his views on the matter.
A suggestion was made earlier in the proceedings that we should have a procedure motion tomorrow in order to carry out some of the alterations in the timing of taking different amendments which the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) has suggested. I referred to this matter in my reply to the debate on the new clause, or in an intervention in someone else's speech—I forget which it was—saying that I did not think that it was a good idea that we should start tomorrow's proceedings with another procedure motion. We had a procedure motion at an earlier stage. It took us a very long time. If that can be avoided, so much the better.
Moreover, we have looked at the next amendments that are to be considered. We see no difficulty in the Committee's proceeding to discuss them. One of them discusses the independence question. Another amendment discusses another matter that can be taken by itself. I therefore see no difficulty in which the Committee will be placed tomorrow—just as I do not believe that what we have proposed to the Committee in the whole conduct of this matter has really caused any trouble.
At the beginning of the debate on the new clause it was suggested—I am sure by those who genuinely believed that it could happen—that we would get into difficulties because of the way in which we had proceeded, but as the debate went ahead it was quite evident that we were able to have a full debate on the clause. I hope that the same thing will occur tomorrow. Therefore, I suggest that we meet tomorrow and proceed to get ahead with the Bill. If there are any difficulties, I am sure that we shall do our best to overcome them.
I am amazed at what has been said today. I am not prepared to let the nonsense that we have had today go through. Last week we were told that we must have a mandatory referendum. Many hours were spent on that. Today, however, we have been told exactly the opposite. That does not make sense to me.
I am not prepared to have any part of this rotten Bill. All that I want to do is to throw it out. I am prepared to vote against the motion and to vote against the Bill on every other conceivable occasion that I can, to get rid of it.