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Orders Of The Day

Volume 889: debated on Thursday 10 April 1975

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Referendum Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

3.52 p.m.

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons
(Mr. Edward Short)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

A Second Reading debate is concerned with the principles underlying she Bill—in this case, the principle of holding a referendum on our membership of the EEC. In the White Paper we set out the three reasons which made this issue uniquely appropriate for a referendum—namely, its fundamental implications for the future of this country, for the political relationship between the United Kingdom and the other member Governments of the Community and, most important of all, for the constitutional position of Parliament.

The Government attach great importance to the third of these reasons. In the White Paper of 1971 setting out the Conservative case for Europe, the constitutional implications of membership for Parliament were not specifically mentioned. It discussed the position of our legal system in the Community, but the derogation from the supreme law-making authority of our own United Kingdom Parliament was not discussed.

In contrast, one-quarter of the main text of the White Paper setting out the Government's recommendation on continued membership is devoted to this issue. Our White Paper made it clear that Parliament would remain the supreme law-making body in this country. Its ultimate sovereignty is unaffected by our membership. But it is obvious that the position of this House, because of the concept of directly applicable EEC legislation, has changed considerably. However, the Government have decided to recommend to the people of this country that they should accept the consequence of continued membership as an acceptable price to pay against
"the total background of the advantages and disadvantages of Community membership."
I realise that for many hon. Members and members of the public this is the most difficult aspect of the decision to be taken.

The right hon. Lady the Leader of the Opposition and the right hon. Member for Chipping Barnett (Mr. Maudling) claimed that the referendum is an attack on the authority and standing of this House. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is principally the very importance that we attach to the effect on Parliament of continue membership of the European Community which, in our view, makes it essential that the Government and this House consult the British people on the issue and accept the result of the referendum. In law, as the White Paper points out, cur continued membership of the Community can he reversed at any time by an Act of Parliament. In this sense our ultimate sovereignty is unaffected by membership. In practice, as I pointed out in the White Paper, the longer we are in Europe the more difficult it will be to withdraw. If the referendum goes in favour of continued membership, the electorate will be approving a change in the relationship with their elected representatives in this House. That is the basic reason why they, and not simply hon. Members of this House, should have a right to express an opinion.

The effect on Parliament is fundamental to our view that the issue should be put to the British people, yet those who oppose it attack the referendum on the ground that it undermines the authority of this House and the principle of representative government. But the representatives of the people have been considering over the past three days the critical issue of their own recommendation to the people. On an issue which rejects or confirms a changed relationship between this House and the electors, can we say that we should not seek the views of the electors, or that they are not competent to give a view? Is that really the view of those who now represent them in this House?

The right hon. Gentleman said that our staying in the Common Market makes a profound change in the relationship between people and Parliament. Does he not think that the holding of a referendum represents a profound and dangerous change?

Because the matter affects the relationship between the people and this House, the people have a right to be consulted about it. Do those who oppose a referendum really believe that our constitution is so fragile, so inflexible, so unable to adapt to fresh circumstances and changed needs that it cannot survive this exercise in democracy? I am really astonished at their lack of faith in a system which has survived the ups and downs and turbulence of centuries.

The hon. Member for Staffordshire, South-West (Mr. Cormack) asked about a General Election. This issue could hardly be decided satisfactorily by a General Election. The party system, with its many advantages, cannot on this one issue represent the choice to the people. Therefore, if in a referendum we seek the full-hearted consent of the people, without which our position in Europe must continue to be ambivalent and unsatisfactory, it is because it is the only means by which that consent can be affirmed or rejected.

The case for the referendum was clearly endorsed by the House last month, by a majority of 50, in the debate on the White Paper. The Bill before the House is based very closely on the arrangements set out in the White Paper, but, wherever possible, we have taken account of the views expressed in the debate and elsewhere.

As we have already had that debate, since we shall be taking the Committee stage of the Bill on the Floor of the House, and as I know that a large number of hon. Members wish to speak in this debate, I do not propose lo go through the Bill in detail. However, there are some major points to which I must draw the attention of hon. Members.

I should like first to deal with the date of the referendum. I promised to announce the date during today's debate, if possible. There is, I hope, widespread agreement that the referendum should be held as early as possible to keep to the minimum the period of uncertainty over our membership of the Community, to avoid an over-long campaign and to miss the holiday season, if that is possible.

There is, however, a problem in Scotland about a referendum early in June. The new Scottish regional authorities which were elected last year, and which will be responsible for the conduct of the poll there, do not formally take office until 16th May. I hope that they can overcome the difficulties which this will cause.

If they are able to do so, and provided that the Bill receives Royal Assent in time, it is our intention that the referendum should be held on Thursday 5th June, with the result on Sunday evening 8th June. Immediately after Royal Assent to the Bill, the House will be asked to approve a draft of the Order in Council specifying the date.

The date of 5th June has another advantage which will interest hon. Members. By arranging for the Whitsun Recess to run from 26th May until 6th June, we can then make it much easier for hon. Members to play a full part in the closing stages of the campaign.

The right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton), in the debate on the White Paper, made the point about allowing time for hon. Members to play a part in the campaign. If we are to hold the referendum on 5th June we need to obtain the Royal Assent to the Bill by about 8th May. That in turn means that we must aim, if at all possible, to complete all stages in this House in the week beginning 21st April. I realise that this is a very tight timetable, but I hope that the House will agree that it is well worth trying to achieve it, for the reasons I have given.

Will the Lord President of the Council give us an assurance that British nationals abroad will have a vote, as well as the British people on holiday?

If the hon. Gentleman will wait, I shall come to that point.

Next, I should like to say a word about Clause 1 and the question on the ballot paper. In the debate on the White Paper a number of hon. Members—including the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten), the hon. Member for Newport (Mr. Hughes), the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) and the hon. Member for Moray and Nairn (Mrs. Ewing)—argued that some people might be confused by the words "European Community" and would be more familiar with the term "Common Market". We have met their wishes by adding "Common Market" in brackets after the words "European Community" in the question. However, I see from the amendment put down by the Leader of the Liberal Party that I cannot please everybody. I hope that it will be generally accepted now, however, that the wording of the question is both clear and fair.

Will the Leader of the House explain why the expression used in the question is "European Community" while in the short title of the Bill and in the explanatory and financial memorandum it is "European Economic Community"? Surely one or the other must be provided for.

I think that both of them are correct.

I come now to a point which concerned many hon. Members in the debate and which has just been raised by the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Rost). I refer to the question of Service and other voters overseas. I have tabled two amendments making special arrangements for Service men and their wives to vote in person in their units.

The right hon. Gentleman said that he had tabled amendments to this Bill. Is it possible to do that?

I understand that an order was made enabling the Lord President to do just that.

That was done.

I tabled two amendments making special arrangements for Service men and their wives to vote in person in their units. Some 400,000 are entitled to be on the register, but, as the 1973 Speaker's Conference found, some 300,000 have not, in fact, registered, although they are entitled to do so. As things stand they would have no vote at all. We know that many of them are most concerned about that. I am glad to say that we have been able to make arrangements enabling Service men and their wives to vote in their units. I am sure that the whole House would agree that they should have this additional opportunity. The present proxy voting arrangements for Service men abroad will be cancelled, but those in this country will be able, if they prefer, to vote instead in person or by postal vote.

Secondly, I know that some hon. Members would also have liked other British people working abroad to have that opportunity. The right hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe), the right hon. Member for Yeovil and others argued their case in the debate on the White Paper. We have very carefully considered the case they made and looked at the problem. But I have to tell the House that we have not been able to find practicable ways of solving the major problems involved.

All civilians overseas who are registered will be able to vote by proxy. I am sure that the House will understand that to make special arrangements for them to vote in some other way would be a far more difficult problem than making such arrangements for the Services. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] Because in the case of the Services we are relying very heavily on the good administration and good discipline of the units to carry out this difficult exercise.

Will the right hon. Gentleman not consider a procedure whereby for two or three weeks before the poll British residents abroad, armed with passports, could register at their nearest embassy, consulate or high commission? What conceivable obstacle can there be to that machinery being set up and to those people having the vote?

We have looked very carefully into this but we find that it is administratively not possible to do that.

The hon. Gentleman will be able to make his own speech instead of sitting there, shouting his head off, as he usually does.

In any case, hon. Members' main concern was not for those who had failed to register but for those not at present entitled to register. To extend the franchise to cover them would raise major issues of principle. It would be far from easy to decide where to draw the line. Moreover, the setting up and validating of a supplementary register would be a formidable task, raising very difficult questions of nationality. There would be a serious risk of errors and a serious risk of bringing our electoral machinery into disrepute. The problems in doing that are insoluble. I assure the House that I have looked at these issues myself with very great care. We have therefore had to decide against this course.

Does not the Leader of the House agree that since the Immigration Act 1971 it is not difficult to decide which British subjects living abroad have a right of abode in this country, since most of them have it stamped in their passports? Is he aware of that? If not, will he please advise the House of what consultations he has had with either the Foreign Office or, more importantly, any of our embassies or high commissions abroad? Is he further aware that many countries do that? Offhand I could name a dozen countries where that is done automatically.

That matter has been examined with care by the Foreign Office and the Home Office by request. They assure me that the problems involved are insoluble.

So many hon. Members wish to speak that I cannot give way all the time. However, I do so in this case.

Will the Lord President explain why he is calmly proposing the most complicated nationally conducted referendum but at the same time cannot take care easily of the arrangements for United Kingdom civilians at our overseas missions?

I have had this matter looked at by experts over the past few weeks. The problems involved in it simply cannot be solved in the time. A number of issues of principle are raised which cannot be solved in time. British people living abroad who are registered can vote by proxy. I come now to Clauses 2 and 3—

This is a serious issue on which there is deep feeling on all sides of the House. The right hon. Gentleman has given us what I might call a short answer. He said that he was advised by different Departments that the procedure proposed was not practicable. I realise that many hon. Members wish to speak in the debate. However, I think that all hon. Members would indulge the Lord President with an extra five or ten minutes if he could explain to us in some detail what are the practical difficulties.

The practical difficulties are considerable. However, my hon. Friend the Minister of State will listen to the debate and reply to it. Perhaps the right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) will allow me to make my speech in my own way. I now come to the question of the central count. Clauses 2 and 3 make provision for the central counting of the votes.

The central count is a controversial element of these clauses. In our view, it is appropriate for a free vote to be taken in Committee on the amendment put down in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. MacFarquhar) which would allow voting by counties. I know that some of my hon. Friends have put down an amendment intended to achieve the same effect, but I have been advised that that amendment is defective on some points. So my right hon. Friend the Chief Whip has agreed that Government supporters should have a free vote as to whether we vote centrally or by counties.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it in order for the Leader of the House to say which amendment will be debated and voted upon before you have made your selection?

Strictly speaking, of course, the selection will be for the Chairman of Ways and Means and not for me. But, knowing my right hon. Friend the Deputy Speaker's wisdom in these matters, I should be extremely surprised if he did not select the amendment.

It was understood, of course, that that would be the position provided Mr. Deputy Speaker selected the amendment.

I myself remain totally convinced that hon. Members should vote for the provision for a central count. The case for the central count was, I think, extremely well made in the debate on the White Paper on the Referendum by my hon. Friend the Member for Bebington and Ellesmere Port (Mr. Bates).

First, the purpose of the referendum is to decide whether this country should remain a member of the European Community and not whether East Anglia should come out, the East Midlands stay in, Glasgow come out, and Edinburgh stay in. These are not real options.

In a General Election we vote in constituencies because as a constituency we return our Member of Parliament to this House. Constituencies and regions which vote one way or the other in this referendum will not be making any comparable decision. It is only the total result that will have any practical standing or significance.

There are, of course, as I said in the debate on the White Paper and as I have said previously, those who have their own reasons for wanting a count which allows the result in each region to be known. They wish under the guise of the referendum to promote a totally different cause—the separation of Scotland and Wales from the United Kingdom. But in every recent General Election this issue has been clearly presented to the people of Scotland and Wales, who have just as clearly rejected it. To ally this cause with the referendum is a very dangerous distortion of the issue and one which this House should not encourage.

The sensible alternative to a central count is a county count. It is on this option that we have decided to allow a free vote on our side in Committee.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Can you give me some guidance? Assuming that the Chairman of Ways and Means selects the amendment to which the right hon. Gentleman has referred and that it is agreed to, I am wondering where such a count might be held in respect of my own constituency, which, being a child of the estuarial concept, lies in the counties of Humberside and Lincoln.

I was saying that the sensible alternative is a county count, and that it is on this option that we have decided to allow a free vote on our side of the Committee. I personally reject this option, for all the reasons that I have given. I shall strongly recommend its rejection to the Committee. But, in spite of my firm view that it is right to count centrally, I recognise that there is another point of view. However, the decision will be for the House itself.

Hon. Members were concerned in the debate on the White Paper with the feasibility of the central count. They will have seen from the draft order published in White Paper form on Monday that the necessary changes in normal procedure have been provided for. We are confident of our ability to get the number of people necessary to do the count, and our estimates of the time that the whole exercise will take have been revised downwards as the planning has continued. We have consulted a number of returning officers through the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives, and we have taken their views into account.

The Bill provides for a national counting officer. As hon. Members will appreciate, the provisions of Clause 4 make this job all the more important. It must be handled by a person who commands respect from all sides, a person whose ability has been proved. I am glad to be able to tell the House that Sir Philip Allen, lately Permanent Under-Secretary of State at the Home Office, will be appointed as Counting Officer if the House approves these provisions in the Bill. I can also tell the House that, at the Government's request, Sir Philip Allen will be visiting Scotland in a few days. He will discuss with the Scottish Office and with the local authorities concerned how the problems arising from local government reorganisation, to which I have referred, might be overcome.

I turn now to the question of grants to the campaigning organisations. This is another point to which many hon. Members rightly attach much importance—the need for a fair balance in the presentation of the two sides of the issue. Agreement has now been reached with the two main campaigning organisations that each will prepare a short statement of its case. These will be printed at the Government's expense and delivered to every household in the last week of May—at the same time as the popular version of the White Paper on the renegotiated terms of our membership of the Community.

We also think it right to make grants of £125,000 to each of the two organisations. We think this is desirable if we are to achieve a fair balance between the two sides. I know that some Members, including my right hon. Friends the Member for Anglesey (Mr. Hughes) and the Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton), would have liked a larger sum; but, on the whole, we think this is probably about right. The conditions to be attached to the grants will include a requirement to disclose all income and expenditure for the whole period from the date of publication of the Bill.

If Clause 3 of the Bill is approved in Committee, I shall then make grants to the two organisations from the Civil Contingencies Fund until the necessary Supplementary Estimate can be approved.

My right hon. Friend said that he wished the expenditure of money to be voted. If, as the Press suggests, the popular version of the White Paper will cost Ell million of the taxpayers' money, it means that more than Eli million will be spent on one side but only £125,000 on the other. That represents a distortion of finance of 11 to 1 by the Government alone. Is that fair?

My hon. Friend the Minister of State will be saying something later tonight about the cost of these pamphlets.

An important question arises which requires urgent action before we proceed to the Committee stage. It concerns my right hon. Friend's earlier remark about the need for equity between the two sides. One side claims that money given to it by business firms will be eligible for tax relief. If that is right, it means that the taxpayer is paying for the pro-Market campaign. If it is not true, is there not some element of conspiracy to defraud the customers of those firms?

I cannot answer my hon. Friend's latter point, but I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will bear in mind his first point. In any event, all income must be declared from the date of publication of the Bill if either side avails itself of this grant from public funds.

Clause 4 excludes all possibility of challenging the result of the referendum in the courts, to force a recount or obtain a fresh poll because of alleged inadequacies or improprieties in the organisation of the poll. I believe that this clause is vital to prevent frivolous challenge or delay in reaching a decision on our membership, a delay which could have grave economic effects. We consider the exclusion of challenge through the courts essential, and, in view of the fact that any allegations against the Government can be pursued in Parliament where the result will be considered—the highest court in the land—we think it acceptable. It does not, of course, exempt anyone accused of an offence under the Act, or under the order made under the Act, from the normal legal processes.

In accepting that it is proper for the Leader of the House to wish to rule out frivolous litigation, which is totally conceded, may I ask whether it has occurred to him that it would be advisable for reserve powers to be held by the Attorney-General so that action could be taken if he were saisfied that there was a prima facie breach? This is a very wide power.

This will be a national result. Therefore, we feel that any challenge should be made in this House. We believe that this is the best way to do it. I repeat that it does not exempt anybody accused of an offence under the Act or under the order from normal legal processes.

It is an immensely important constitutional issue to exclude the courts on this matter when they have always been allowed to have a say in normal electoral proceedings. Would it not be advisable either to follow the suggestion made by the Leader of the Liberal Party or to leave reserve powers with the Director of Public Prosecutions in this regard?

The position of the courts is retained for normal breaches of electoral law. We are merely excluding the right of the courts to challenge the result and to demand a recount. We believe that any issue of that kind could better be raised and dealt with in this House.

The House will have seen that I have tabled an amendment providing that I, rather than my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, should be responsible for the order.

I will tell the House why if the hon. Gentleman will listen. This is because my right hon. Friend and I felt that it would be the more appropriate arrangement as I am dealing with the Bill and as he is President of the Britain in Europe campaign, though I doubt whether anyone seriously thinks that matters. After all, Home Secretaries have not notably been inhibited from playing a part in General Elections in the past. However, on consideration we feel that this is the best way to do it.

I began by saying that this referendum is fully justified by the fundamental implications of EEC membership for our country and by its far-reaching effects on our international relations and the position of Parliament, although I repeat that the ultimate sovereignty of Parliament as such is unaffected. This view has been endorsed by the electorate in two General Elections and we must now carry out what we have promised.

I hope that we all agree that, if we are to hold this referendum it is overwhelmingly in the interests of the country as well as of our EEC partners that it should be held as quickly as possible and should be conducted efficiently and with complete fairness. That is what the Bill seeks to provide, and I now commend it to the House.

4.23 p.m.

The Leader of the House will forgive me, I am sure, for saying that throughout his speech he did not give the impression of being a total enthusiast in his support for the measure that he has commended to the House. For that I think that we can all forgive him and, indeed, applaud his judgment.

The right hon. Gentleman started his speech by rehearsing some of the arguments in principle for the referendum. I do not wish to follow him in those arguments this afternoon, but I should like to take up one point that he emphasised. The right hon. Gentleman said that the referendum would do nothing to derogate from the authority of Parliament. I need hardly remind him that not all his hon. Friends agree with that. Some of them made their views very clear in their speeches in the debate on the White Paper.

I remind the right hon. Gentleman particularly that in July last year his hon. Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh)—I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will hoist these words in—said:
"I believe that this is the most serious blow that has been administered to the House of Commons in its history."
In our view the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian was much nearer the truth than was the right hon. Gentleman himself.

One particular point arises from the right hon. Gentleman's speech that I should like to take up immediately, namely, the proposed date of 5th June. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Sir M. Havers) and I were under the impression that the right hon. Gentleman said that that would mean that the House of Commons would have to finish with the Bill on 21st April. I think that we must have misheard or that the right hon. Gentleman made a slip of the tongue, because that leaves no days for the remaining stages. The right hon. Gentleman this afternoon announced that the debate on the Budget would be concluded on 21st April. Therefore, I cannot see how it will be possible for the House to discharge its duties on the Committee and Report stages by that time. Obviously, there is a misunderstanding. I should be grateful if the right hon. Gentleman would care to intervene now, or his right hon. Friend later in the debate—[Hon. Members: "Now."]—and indicate the amount of time that the Government think will be reasonable to accord to the Bill for Committee and Report stages.

I said that the commencing date would be 21st April. I have announced only the first day so far. There are four other days left in the week.

I was able to make that calculation myself, but I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman. It is always nice to be able to thank him for his assistance, and I do so most cordially. Before today's debate is concluded, we should like some idea from the Government of how long they think the remaining stages of the Bill will take.

We regard the Bill as a wretched little measure. I know that I shall please the House when I say that I do not think that it merits a long speech from me.—[Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."]—It is always embarrassing to have the approval of the Government Front Bench, but I take it that every now and again their judgment is right.

There must surely be a good deal of irony in the reflection, after last night's event, that this device or dodge of a referendum should have been dreamed up to preserve the unity of the Labour Party without too much concern about the consequences for either the country or Parliament. Those who value the European idea will find some difficulty in according to this measure the serious treatment that it must have if the underlying issue of our membership of the European Community is not to be infected with the triviality inherent in the measure and in the idea of a referendum.

I think that I should remind the House and the country that the question that will not be asked on the ballot paper but that we should all have in our minds is whether we keep our word when it has been solemnly affirmed by Parliament. I believe that a negative answer to the referendum would totally confound our friends and would do nothing but lasting damage to our reputation throughout the world.

There are a number of detailed points to which I wish to refer briefly today and leave for further discussion in Committee. The first concerns the franchise. My right hon. and hon. Friends have already indicated their dissatisfaction with the Bill as drafted. Although we certainly welcome the amendment by the right hon. Gentleman providing for a vote for Service men, we deplore the fact that the Government have been unable—presumably because of their lack of forethought and lack of prior consideration as to the difficulties inherent in such a procedure—to provide for votes for those who work overseas. I do not wish to distinguish between British subjects working in various parts of the world, for surely they are all entitled to take part in this process. But it must seem odd that those who are currently working in Europe now as servants of the Government in Brussels and who may lack a residential qualification will therefore be deprived of the right to vote.

I quite understand the right hon. Gentleman's point, but why did not his Government do something about the same people before the election of February 1974?

I hesitate to remind the hon. Gentleman, and I am well aware of the sharpness of his judgment, of the fact that we did not have a referendum and that this measure, designed by the Government very ill-advisedly, purports to deal with an exceptional problem. I am saying that the Opposition deplore the fact that the Government rushed into it without adequate preparation and now declare themselves sorrowfully unable to provide for the right of British subjects working overseas to vote on it.

On the second point of detail to which I would refer; I suppose that on balance the right hon. Gentleman is probably right in deciding that money must be given to finance the two bodies who are to take part in the campaign; but I believe that we should not part with the provision without taking note of the very serious precedent we are setting, and at least indicating to the Government that it would be desirable if the considerable powers given to the Lord President under Clause 3 were at least subject to effective review by Parliament.

I come now to perhaps the most astonishing two lines in the Bill, in Clause 4(b):
"The validity of anything done or purporting to be done under this Act or under any order made under this Act"
shall not be the subject of any proceedings before any court. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman can produce any precedent for this. I am advised that there is none.

I would draw the attention of the House to the description of the intention of Clause 4 in the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum. It is there stated that Clause 4 excludes the possibility of legal proceedings on the conduct of the referendum. That is not quite so sweeping as are the words of the clause itself. The right hon. Gentleman would be well advised to look again at this astonishing and unprecedented clause.

He said that it was vital to prevent frivolous challenge. On the whole, I think that I should be prepared to concede that, although who is to be the judge always of frivolity? I do not concede in any way that there can be any justification for allowing no possibility of serious challenge. That is the point and the right hon. Gentleman has to accept it, because we already have an amendment on this subject and I can tell him now that it will most certainly be pressed to a Division. I very much hope that it will commend itself to many of his right hon. Friends, who occasionally show some sense of what is right and just.

I am very much obliged to the hon. Gentleman. We look forward to giving him a special escort in the Lobby.

The right hon. Gentleman went on to say that any allegations against the Government as to the conduct of the referendum should be pursued in Parliament, an absolutely intolerable suggestion and one that shows the right hon. Gentleman's own lack of understanding of the constitution of his own country. It has always been the custom in our country for the courts to attempt to extract a degree of meaning out of the quite extraordinary measures that we sometimes pass and to arrive at what the intention of Parliament was.

It would be a very bad precedent, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will retract what he said, for Ministers to attempt to set up Parliament as the judge of what it had itself meant and how its meaning had been implemented. So I must tell the right hon. Gentleman that this point, upon which I am spending more time, is one that we take very seriously. We regard that as a vicious, nasty, unpleasant provision enshrined in a trivial little measure.

The further point upon which I will comment is the silence of the Bill upon the information process. A good deal was made of this in the White Paper. Now we are told nothing. I am bound to say that I have the impression that the Government have had a look at this problem, have found out just how difficult it is, and have turned away from it, hoping that nobody will mention it. The right hon. Gentleman has more experience than I of these matters and he knows just how lively can be the controversy about the unfair use of broadcasting time. He must be aware that there is something slightly fanciful and unreal about the suggestion that a postman is suddenly going to take round a communication to every citizen for every citizen to receive and read although it is not to be addressed to him.

We are all aware of the considerable difficulty of actually ensuring at the time of a General Election that our constituents receive a copy of an election address personally addressed to them. The idea that they are to receive automatically this two-sided, two-faced document explaining to them in 2,000 words the reasons for saying "Yes" and the reasons for saying "No" is slightly surprising. I have already referred to the number of days that the right hon. Gentleman and the Government consider necessary for the Committee stage.

I should not like to leave the Second Reading without reiterating—

This would seem to be an appropriate moment, before my hon. Friend leaves what Ile has described as this "trivial" measure, to say that he has not so far noted that the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House, despite pledges that he would deal with the matter, never touched on the subject of holiday voters. I would ask my hon. Friend to press him again on the matter before we leave the debate.

I am obliged to my right hon. Friend. I should perhaps have done so. It is a matter which will be raised in Committee and it is one to which we should invite the special attention of the right hon. Gentleman.

We regard this measure as a trivial one. We regard the whole idea of a referendum as damaging to Parliament, damaging to our country and damaging to the Labour Party—although I take the last point much less seriously. There is just that one provision in it to which we take the strongest exception. I must tell the right hon. Gentleman that he will be piling error upon error if he insists on pushing that through the House.

I hope that before he concludes the right hon. Gentleman will give his party's view on the central count. Would he also reflect the view of the Lord President that in the event of a vote it will be a free vote for his party as for the Government?

It is not for me to answer these questions now. I was always under the impression that the one thing that was really popular about Front Bench speeches was their conclusion. It is astonishing that the hon. Member should seek to prolong mine, but I am flattered.

Reverting to my final point; this is a bad measure, enshrining the thoroughly bad procedure of a referendum. I hope that the Government will go through such a nasty experience with it that they will never turn their hand to it again. Even more, I trust that they will never have the opportunity.

4.41 p.m.

We all knew when we embarked on this course of the referendum that it would be politically messy, but the more we look at it as we move from the theory of the White Paper to the Bill and then to the Committee stage, the more it is impressed upon us that it is constitutionally messy as well. It is obvious that when the idea was first floated as a sort of political safety belt its consequences had not been properly thought out by the Government. I agree with almost everything said by the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton). This measure is extremely cumbersome and defective at several points.

Moreover, particularly after last night's vote in the House, the whole exercise is a delusion of the public. It is not true that the public are deciding the question of Britain's membership. That was decided last night by a free vote of the House. Although I may accept—in fact I do accept—that there may be occasions—the border poll in Northern Ireland was a good example—when Governments might wish to use the process of a referendum to sound out public opinion on an issue before taking action, it is entirely different, once Parliament has decided a matter, then to pretend to the public at great expense and inconvenience that somehow the decision has been transferred to them. It clearly has not.

I would argue that there are many circumstances in which, even if the vote went against our membership, last night's decision would still stand. I do not believe that, for example, on a 50 per cent. vote of the people in the referendum with a half per cent. majority on one side, which is what the Government say they will accept, Parliament would reverse its decision last night. That is why I say that the whole exercise is a £9 million fraud on the British people—

As the hon. Member says, the bill should be paid for by Transport House.

My right hon. and hon. Friends and I have tabled some amendments already. That is an extraordinary procedure, but we are in peculiar waters throughout on this measure. I would argue particularly against one aspect which the right hon. Member for Yeovil did not mention at all—the centralised count. The more that one thinks of this, the nature of the operation of bringing ballot boxes to one place, piling them high in Earls Court and having them counted non-stop through three or four days, the more ludicrous the procedure seems.

While I sympathise with and used to accept the view that a constituency count would lay Members of Parliament open to improper pressures, that is the argument against a referendum at all. Once one has thrown away the principle and pretended that we are to have this new device for taking these decisions, there can be no case, in calm logic and practicality, for departing from the tried and proven procedures for casting and counting votes. That is the parliamentary constituency basis.

The Leader of the House touched on one particular difficulty which occurs in Scotland. I have had representations from the regional council in my area, which has not yet taken over—it does not assume statutory authority until 15th May—that it is unreasonable that within three weeks of coming into office a local authority should be expected to conduct a completely new operation of this kind. No doubt other hon. Members from Scotland will have had similar representations. This procedure is administratively far more difficult than the counting of the vote of those overseas which the Leader of the House has found so difficult.

I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will think again about our amendment, which asks that the existing parliamentary returning officers should be designated as the counting officers. If this is not accepted, I and my colleagues will support the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Goole (Dr. Marshall) in favour of a county or local count instead of a centralised one.

Is there not a dilemma for the House here, in that constitutional principle conflicts with administrative convenience? The constitutional principle, as the Leader of the House has said, is to try to bring out the fact that the people of the United Kingdom, as one constituency, have expressed an opinion. That produces the administrative inconvenience of holding an enormous central poll. As a good Liberal, is he going to allow administrative convenience to outweigh constitutional principle?

I accept that there is an inconvenience. The right hon. and learned Gentleman will understand that I do not like the whole idea anyway—

I did not get us into this mess in the first place, any more than the right hon. and learned Gentleman did, and we do face difficulties. But it is not at all unreasonable to add up the votes cast at local level and arrive at a national decision. That is not an unreasonable principle.

I have been following the hon. Member's argument carefully. He appeared to argue at one stage that there were great difficulties for the new Scottish regional authorities in organising a poll and went on to argue that therefore they should conduct a count as well. I am not sure that follow the logic.

No, I did not. The hon. Gentleman may not know it, but in Scotland the count is the responsibility of the sheriffs, not of the local authorities.

Turning to the question of overseas voters, even if we accept, again, that the referendum is not an election, and that those who work overseas are not entitled—this is the answer to the hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English)—to take part in a General Election, presumably because they cannot have a Member of Parliament, that principle does not apply in a referendum in which we shall not be choosing Members of Parliament. I do not believe that there is an argument in principle against allowing anyone who is a British citizen with a right of abode under the 1971 Immigration Act to register his vote at the local British consulate or embassy.

Another amendment of ours would provide that the polling day should be a public holiday. This is not a novel concept. It has been discussed before in relation to General Elections. But in General Elections there is a reasonable certainty that, whether the day is a holiday or no—it has not been up to now—there will be a large turn-out. But no one has any idea how enthusiastic or unenthusiastic the public will be about this exercise of the referendum.

I personally take the view that if we have to have this wretched referendum we had better engage in it properly and argue the case as widely as possible and make it as easy as possible for people to cast their votes. That is why we have tabled an amendment to urge a public holiday on the day and to make sure that the House will be adjourned for a period preceding that holiday so that Members of Parliament can participate in the campaign. I do not see how the Leader of the House will be able to tell us that we have a job here during the period of three weeks before the referendum, to continue the business of the House, while at the same time he is urging us to campaign for his referendum. The two propositions are not entirely consistent. An adjournment of the House is essential for a period of three weeks, as we have suggested in the amendment.

Lastly, I hope that the Leader of the House will clarify what he means by the conditions in Clause 3 attached to the grants to the umbrella organisations. I hope that he will undertake to have discussions with them on this matter. In my view, it would be wrong to go beyond the legal requirements which apply to General Elections and apply to political parties and companies giving money to political parties. Anything further than that ought to have the specific authority of this House. That is not provided for in the clause. The right hon. Gentleman has a totally free hand, and he ought to tell us what he has in mind.

I believe that in this whole exercise we are in uncharted waters and that we would do better not to proceed at all. A referendum cannot do anything that Parliament cannot do, and Parliament could reject everything that a referendum may do. We should bear that in mind if we proceed at all with the Bill.

4.52 p.m.

I should begin by declaring an interest. As the Bill involves the possible payment of money to two particular committees, I should state that I am one of the two Labour back benchers who sit, normally, on the National Referendum Campaign Committee. I suppose that in some sense that makes me slightly more representative of the majority on this side of the House after last night than my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Government Front Bench. That is one reason why I still object to the very silly preamble to the question. The very silly preamble to the question uses the phrase "The Government". The majority of the Government under the Cabinet are, in fact, anti-Marketeers, as was shown last night. [Interruption.] The majority last night of members of the Government in the House of Commons under the Cabinet voted against the majority of the Cabinet.

I remind the hon. Gentleman that in the House of Commons there are 635 Members and that the Prime Minister is Her Majesty's Prime Minister and he obtained a very substantial majority for his proposal last night.

I am perfectly well aware of that. I am also well aware that he is possibly the only Prime Minister—the only leader of a party—who has ever been in the very delicate situation that he is in at present.

Does not the hon. Gentleman consider that in that very delicate situation it would become those who are opposed to him and his Government to resign?

One could put it another way and say that the majority of the Cabinet does not reflect the majority of the party it is supposed to head. In other words, one could suggest that it should have a smaller proportion of pro-Marketeers than it has.

Opposition Members, I suggest, are merely expressing their political self-interest. I do not think that I could have been accused of that in my former remarks.

I want to make some comments upon my right hon. Friend's opening of the debate. Certainly all hon. Members on the Government side of the House support the principle of this referendum. At the last General Election there was only one person who stood as a candidate for the Labour Party who actually stated that he was against the principle of a referendum, and I am quite sure that nearly all my right hon. and hon. Friends who voted against the so-called Government last night will be voting for the referendum tonight. We support the principle of the Bill. I would go further and say that I support my right hon. Friend's remarks when he stated that he was trying as far as possible to conform to the normal electoral law. If we are to have a vote—I understand that some hon. Members object to referenda in principle, and I shall come to that shortly—what people in the country expect is to have a vote which, as far as possible, is done in the normal way in which they vote.

One does not change electoral law or voting law for a particular purpose, because there are immense dangers in doing that, and not only in connection with the referendum. I hope that the Opposition Members will realise that there is here a very substantial point that might involve them in the future. We are very careful about making changes in electoral law in this House. We have a Speaker's Conference an all-party conference at which all parties can put forward their views, and the process is quite lengthy and complex. The reason for that is simple. It is to safeguard the impartiality of electoral law. That is something which Opposition Members will realise is as important to them as it is to anyone on the Government side of the House.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way to me a second time. He is very courteous, and I appreciate that. However, surely there is all the difference in the world between an electoral law which is provided for the generality of elections, when people are elected to Parliament to represent constituencies, and the rules which the House is being asked to provide for a wholly exceptional measure of a referendum which will concern the whole future of the British people. If the whole of their future is affected by this referendum, the British people as a whole should have the vote, and that goes for those abroad as well as those at home.

The hon. and learned Gentleman has considerable experience of elections from both sides of the House, but I think he is wrong in this matter, nevertheless, because I am talking of those parts of the referendum and the electoral system which are similar—namely, the casting of votes. Protecting the impartiality of the way in which people cast votes is important, because any precedent created in that respect by this Bill might conceivably be used later in elections. We would not merely have created a precedent for anything that it put in the Bill or the order made under it but we might also create a precedent for altering electoral law suddenly, before occasions upon which people have to vote. That is what I think could conceivably—perhaps hon. Members opposite could think about this—be as undesirable to them, especially when my party is in government, as it could be undesirable to anyone in the Labour Party when it was in government.

That being said, I note that my right hon. Friend has agreed to one change—that in respect of the voting of Service men. There is precedent for this. That is the precedent of 1945. Perhaps that is the answer to the hon. and learned Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. Steel). There is a precedent for Service men voting there is no precedent for people abroad voting. I think that the hon. and learned Gentleman, as a good European, would agree that the question of constituencies is not the particular point, because on that point, eventually, if we stay in Europe—I think that this point has been raised by the European Commission—the answer to the question of people voting in different countries is that the European Communities must set up a system whereby people are entitled to vote, irrespective of their citizenship, in the countries in which they are resident at the time of an election. That proposal has been raised under the social clauses of the treaty by the Commission. I think that even the hon. Gentleman would agree that if we stay in Europe that is the ultimate answer to the point he raises.

Is it not extremely wrong and misleading of the hon. Gentleman to try to make a comparison between the precedent in 1945, when Service men were still with their units prior to demobilisation, in the special situation of the Second World War, and the Government now proposing to allow voting in respect of Service units stationed overseas, where-ever they may be, but not being prepared to make what is in many ways a relatively easier move of allowing United Kingdom civilians to register and vote at United Kingdom missions?

I am sorry; I did not intend to mislead the hon. Member. I said that I would support my right hon. Friend on anything which conformed to existing electoral law. I would be prepared to stretch a point and go further and support him on the question of Service men, which does not conform to present electoral law, because there is a precedent in electoral law here in 1945. However, if the hon. Member is saying that I am stretching a point too far, I would quite willingly concede it and vote against that proposal. If he will join me in the Lobby I shall be glad to be with him. That is fair, I believe.

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right in his basic principle that one does not change electoral law for particular purposes. It is a very dangerous thing to say that for particular purposes one would change the law under which people vote, and the dangers of that will be obvious even to the hon. Members most committed to the Market if they think about it.

I turn now to the general question of the fairness of the referendum. The whole debate in the first three days of the week illustrated what a large part of the Bill also reflects—the tremendous fear in some quarters of allowing people to vote at all on this issue. The debate illustrated the same sort of defeatism and fear. The right hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) made a much better briefed speech in that debate than on the previous debate when she dealt with the subject. During the course of it she virtually had only two arguments. First, we should join Europe because bigger is better. She was forgetting that Sweden, which is much smaller, has a higher standard of living than any other industrial country, and that Japan has a more rapidly rising rate of growth than either we or the EEC. She said that the EEC would be the world's biggest trading bloc. The same establishment of this country which is now telling us to join the EEC because it is the world's biggest trading bloc has for the last century been eroding our position, which was that of the world's biggest trading bloc a century ago. The same establishment which is saying we should join the EEC in order to be in the world's biggest trading bloc was the one which brought us to the situation where we were not. It is fairly clear that just being the world's biggest trading bloc is of no great importance if that bloc starts declining in the same way as ours declined from the nineteenth century until now.

The right hon. Lady's fear and defeatism were demonstrated when she said that Britain could not leave because it would be going into an unknown world. All political choices venture into the unknown. Once, years ago, when I was on a council I voted in favour of building several 22-storey blocks of flats. I do not know what the effect was on the people who lived in them, but fortunately, even after Ronan Point, they remained standing, whereas other blocks wanted a lot of money spent on them. All political choices involve the unknown. Even if one knew everything about the choice one makes, which one does not, because political judgments are not quantitative judgment but value judgments, one would never know what would have happened had one made the other choice.

If the country votes "No" in the referendum it will know the choice it is making because Britain will not only withdraw from the Treaty of Rome but will never be able to accede to it again on the same terms.

That is fairly obvious. Accession to the present Treaty of Rome was not something I wished, but in any case the present terms are those negotiated by the Conservative Government. We have not changed them at all. That is what some of my hon. Friends and I—indeed, the majority of us—object to.

I regret to say that this fear, which is one of the prime bases apparently of people wishing to stay in the European Community, the mere fear of what might happen if we left it, is reflected in the Bill and it has been reflected by those of my right hon. Friends who support the Common Market in the Cabinet. Let me give a simple illustration. It concerns the Prime Minister. I saw in The Guardian the other day that I was described as one of my right hon. Friend's personal friends. I am not so sure that that description was wholly accurate. My feelings towards him are friendly, but I am not sure how friendly his feelings are towards me at the moment.

My right hon. Friend very fairly put forward the suggestion in his statement on the referendum that there should be a limitation on advertising. In the White Paper that was dropped, and I entirely accept that it was dropped with the support of my anti-Market colleagues, for we agreed with the Prime Minister and his colleagues that it should be dropped. We agreed to do so because at the time my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House was talking, and indeed said to the Press in one of his Press conferences, in terms of grants to both sides of the order of £500,000. He denied another higher figure which was quoted.

In the Bill the figure has been sharply reduced to an amount which will not adequately cover advertising. I lay the blame for this not at the door of the Prime Minister or the Leader of the House but at the door of the majority of the Cabinet. It is a breach of faith in that they have denied the suggestions of the Lord President, and denied, too, the alternative suggestions by the Prime Minister. In both cases they have turned down what would otherwise have been a fairly-based referendum. I must therefore suggest that my hon. Friends and I will have to look once more in Committee at the question of the limitation of advertising under the Bill. It is quite clear, and has been clear to us all along, that these two things are not unconnected, and I regard what has happened as effectively a breach of faith on the part of certain people.

Does my hon. Friend wish to lay his hand on his heart and say that in the statement he has quoted the reference was not to the totality of financial assistance to each side, including the cost of printing, publishing and distributing leaflets describing the cases put forward by both sides? If that be the case, of course, the statement that he has made and the provisions in the Bill are perfectly compatible.

This is a new one on me, but I accept that I was not present at the Lobby conference in question. That was not the interpretation put upon it by the Press who were present. The interpretation by the Press was not denied, whereas a subsequent statement referring to £1¼ million divided between each side was denied by my right hon. Friend's office. By implication, therefore, the explanation which my hon. Friend has just given seems, in view of the lack of denial on the previous occasion, to have been just thought up.

We can go further than that in showing that the Bill is unfair in certain ways. It is unfair because the supposed Government—and I use the word "supposed"—are putting to the electorate a popular version of their White Paper. Incidentally, it is a White Paper that shows its own fear of the future by the extraordinary inaccuracies that it contains. I do not wish to quote the inaccuracies in detail, but one example is the first sentence of paragraph 132:
"The Government do not accept any commitment to any sort of federal structure in Europe."
"Structure" is the word that is used, not "State". The European Community is a federal structure. The authoritative work on federalism is K. H. Wheare's "Federal Government", and by his definition of federation it is a federal structure. It is not a federal State but it is certainly a federal structure.

Apparently, the Government have no commitment to the Common Market. It is an absolute nonsense statement. This sort of statement is to be popularised and put in a popular version of the White Paper. My hon. Friend will give the details in his closing speech, but according to Press comment, which is all we have to go by at present, it will he 16 pages in full colour costing £1¼ million. If it costs £l¼ million, I can only say that, compared with a grant of £125,000 to each side, the Government are biasing the case financially, with the taxpayers' money, to the tune of 11 to 1.

What is this Government? They are 16 people in a Cabinet whose fellow Ministers underneath them by a majority disagree with them; whose party underneath them by a majority disagree with them; and whose party conference will subsequently disagree with them. Sixteen people have decided to spend a vast sum of public money on one side of this campaign, and that is supposed to be fair.

When some Opposition Members challenged the principle of the referendum in the past, because of the possibility of its being biased in favour of the executive of the State in which it was used, I did not believe them. I thought that in this country, with all its traditions, it would be conducted fairly. However, quite clearly it is not intended to be conducted fairly. It is clear that it is the intention of the Government to bias it in their own favour if they can, to the tune of masses of taxpayers' money.

I accept that there is the balanced document, but in addition to the balanced 2,000 words there will be the unbalanced popular version of a Government White Paper that is not in some respects factually accurate.

However, I support my right hon. Friend on the principle of the Bill. The right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton), who led for the Opposition, made a perfectly good and valid point in relation to Clause 4, which deals with the exclusion of legal proceedings. I do not know why it is, but clauses that are numbered "4" invariably seem to cause trouble. My right hon. Friend should reconsider whether the clause needs to be so wide. Administratively, the limitation may have crept in because of the national count. I shall join my right hon. Friend in the Lobby in favour of a national count, although I am well aware that anti-Marketeers take wildly different views on the subject. But if there is a majority in favour of doing the count in a more decentralised way, as seems possible, it may be that this limitation on legal proceedings could be dropped.

The explanation given by my right hon. Friend, that such action might delay matters, is not acceptable. One can imagine the extension of that principle. For example, every time someone goes to court, the court proceedings take some time, but that is no reason to take away people's legal rights. It is a nuisance, but we try to ensure that justice is speedy to avoid that nuisance. We cannot take away people's rights just because it takes some time to go to the courts and enforce them. The hon. and learned Member for Wimbledon (Sir M. Havers), who is on the Opposition Front Bench, is a man trained and respected in the law, and I am sure that he will take that point.

Another important aspect is that it is far too wide a precedent. We have suggested various way of dealing with the matter, but I understand that under the draft order there are unnecessary exclusions of part of the Representation of the People Act and rules. For example, it is quite normal practice for total polls to he declared by polling stations in all elections. I understand that this is excluded. I hope that such exclusions will be removed. My right hon. Friend should keep as far as he can to normal electoral law. I hope he will.

I believe in this referendum. We have heard a lot of talk about its being a denial of parliamentary sovereignty. The European Economic Community is a denial of the sovereignty of this Parliament, and we all know that. I do not wish to go back over that ground. The most honest speech I heard this week was that of the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath), who, unlike some of his hon. Friends, believes that we are taking the first step towards a federal Europe. I do not agree with him, but I accept his honesty. His speech showed what I had long suspected, that all people speak better when they are not speaking from Press handouts, when they throw them away and make their own speech, especially upon issues they believe in.

That is the issue. The right hon. Gentleman is right. It is a political issue, the issue of whether we join a larger State in Western Europe or retain our own independence of decision. That is what it is really about. On an issue of that magnitude, the people of this country have the right—as the right hon. Gentleman once said, although he has tried to shade his meaning since, the absolute right—to give their full-hearted consent. Because our parliamentary and party systems have been so distorted by the issue, the only way in which the people can do that is by giving their individual, personal assent or dissent by their vote in the polling booths. That is why I shall support my right hon. Friend tonight.

I remind the House that many right hon. and hon. Members desire to take part in the debate, and reasonable brevity in speeches would be helpful. It is in hon. Members' own hands to decide this.

5.18 p.m.

I am in agreement with the last speaker on only two points—first, that the Treaty of Rome remains inviolate as a result of the Government renegotiation, and, secondly, that his party is clearly split about the Common Market.

I am grateful for having been called to speak in the debate, because I have sat through 14 hours of the Common Market debate longing to make a certain speech and I now find myself getting in on the second leg of this extraordinary spring double on Europe. When we had the debate on the White Paper on the Referendum I chose to abstain at the end, because I must admit that I am not in principle against the concept of the referendum. The referendum in Gibraltar and in Northern Ireland, on the border, have proved to be useful exercises. In both cases they cleared a political atmosphere which was building up and needed a definite answer from the people.

In the case of Gibraltar, the derisible vote given by those Gibraltarians who wished to link with Spain—namely, 44 out of the total population—made it abundantly clear to the Spaniards that Gibraltar wished to remain with Britain. By the same token, the considerable vote given by the Northern Irish to maintain Northern Ireland as an integral part of the United Kingdom established beyond a peradventure that the Northern Irish wished to remain British and to remain in union with London.

But there is a world of difference between asking the Gibraltarians whether they wish to join Spain, when the Spaniards are trying so hard to persuade everybody that that is their wish, or the Northern Irish whether they wish to be part of one Ireland, when the Government of the South are not averse to that concept, and asking the British public to make a similar decision about continuing membership of the European Economic Community.

Among other reasons I put forward for this major difference is that if the Bill we are debating is to become law it will have a profound effect upon the constitutional sovereignty of Parliament in a way that those two other referenda would not have had. In particular, we in Parliament are asking the British public, through the referendum, whether it is their wish that this Parliament and this Government should break a treaty to which we have acceded, with all that that involves. I find it a remarkable idea that tonight we shall be voting to give the British public the ability to break a treaty in our name.

Hon. Members, including the hon. Gentleman, have repeated that statement ad nauseam. The promise in the Labour Party election manifesto covered that point. The manifesto stated that should the referendum vote be "No" the Government would endeavour to renegotiate their way cut again. As the hon. Gentleman is well aware, there is no question of breaking a treaty if the other participants to it agree to a subsequent treaty reversing the treaty of accession. That is not a breach of any law. I think it hardly likely that our European colleagues would endeavour to prevent our withdrawing in such circumstances.

The hon. Gentleman must have his own interpretation of what effect a "No" vote would have on our signature to the Treaty of Rome But he will not find in the Labour Party manifesto the word "referendum" used in any so-called reference to the decision of the people on Europe being tested through the ballot box. The truth is that his own party was not sure what it meant by giving the people a chance to say what they wanted.

Now I want to consider the validity of the argument that the people have never been consulted about our membership of the EEC—never mind last night's vote in Parliament in which there was a 226 majority for our accepting the renegotiations. Are we really saying that the General Elections of February 1974 and October 1974, when votes were cast for parties whose leadership was clearly in favour of staying in Europe, meant nothing, and does not the hon. Gentleman recognise that the votes cast for the Conservative and Liberal Parties in both elections in total greatly outnumbered those cast for his party? Also, of course, there are many members of his own party who are pro-Marketeers, so that the overwhelming votes in two General Elections have been for remaining in Europe.

Or is the right hon. Gentleman going to tell us that the people voted on everything but the Common Market, that that one issue never entered into their calculations, that everything else in every party's manifesto counted, but not Europe? The hon. Gentleman knows, and I know, that that would be palpable nonsense. The British public have clearly said that they want us to stay in Europe, and I pray that that is what they will say in the referendum.

Having, I hope, dispensed with the fallacious argument that the British public's voice has not yet been heard, let us come down to the brass tacks of the referendum and recognise that the real reason why the public are being asked to jump through this new constitutional hoop is that the Prime Minister cannot carry the anti-Marketeer Left-wingers in his Cabinet unless he gives them this opportunity to renounce our signature to the Treaty of Rome, and that unless he gives them this extraordinary constitutional device he cannot hold together his Cabinet, let alone his party. If the British people have said that they want to stay in Europe through General Elections, that is not good enough; we have to have this device to persuade people in his own party to work with the Government of the day.

If I am right in my analysis, those same people are presenting a serious challenge to the whole concept of parliamentary government, of democracy and of the will of the people as expressed through Parliament. I was very taken by a remark made by the hon. Member for Fife. Central (Mr. Hamilton) in his short speech last night. He talked about each of us in the House borrowing the sovereignty of our constituents and exercising sovereignty on their behalf while we are in Parliament. He exactly summed up the role of a Member of Parliament. That is what we do, but now we are told that somehow sovereignty may be exercised by us on a whole range of subjects but not on the one issue of the Common Market, presumably because it runs counter to that small group, that political cabal which we watch every day of our lives seeking to change the policies of our nation not by a democratic majority but by the bargaining power that they now possess.

The simple truth is that the Prime Minister is having to give in to that cabal by once again going to the nation on this spurious referendum, to ask it to make a decision whether he and his Cabinet and Government may continue to follow the policy in which they believe, that or staying in Europe. I hope and pray that Tory, Liberal and Labour voters who believe in parliamentary democracy will stand together and give an overwhelming "Yes" vote in the referendum. Only by so doing shall we save not only our membership of Europe but the parliamentary democracy that I see so seriously threatened.

If there is a "No" vote I cannot see how the Government can continue in office. I cannot even see how this Parliament can continue if the Government's claim that their renegotiation is worthy of support is rejected and the country says. "We do not want it." In those circumstances how can the Government or Parliament claim any credibility?

Therefore, when I read in the White Paper that the Government will be bound by whatever decision the public reach, I wonder what they mean. How will they be bound? The Government are split, so which part of the Government will be bound by the referendum? Is Parliament to have no say in the matter? Is it now the Government and the people against Parliament? If so, we are indeed creating a constitutional precedent. That makes the referendum no trivial subject, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) described it, but a matter of the gravest concern for us all.

I turn to the details of the Bill. I rather agreed with the point made by the right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) when he asked why we talk about the European Community in some parts of the Bill and about the European Economic Community in others. I find it difficult to believe that we cannot have a single standardised description of the Common Market, if only for Parliament's benefit. In the schedule to the Bill and the proposed ballot paper the words "European Community" appear. I do not suggest that any attempt at deception has been made, but I should have thought that we could devise a more accurate description so that those who vote in the referendum will be absolutely clear about the matter.

The second point that I find strange about the proposed ballot paper—which clearly needs amending—is that nowhere in it is there reference to the renegotiations, to the Government's view, or to Parliament's attitude to the renegotiations. It simply says:
"The Government have announced the results of the renegotiation of the United Kingdom's terms of membership of the European Community."
Should not the Government even advise the people who will vote whether they think that the terms are worth something? Might it not be helpful if Parliament's decision also was known, or is this consideration thought to be likely to influence people to accept the will of Parliament and the advice of the Government? If so, the words "abdication of responsibility" ring horribly true.

Are the Government frightened that through this diminutive ballot paper they may offend somebody or some group, and, therefore, after this fantasy of a renegotiation, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Knutsford (Mr. Davies) described it, they are so ashamed that they have not succeeded in changing a single article of the Treaty of Rome that they are not even prepared to give advice to the people who are to make this momentous decision about our nation's future? I find that very strange.

I wish to say a few words about the question of overseas voters. One may argue that there is no reason why the referendum should be different from a General Election in terms of the people who may or may not vote. However, if we believe in the will of the people, and if we are to ask people to give their decision on one single question, we need to know that decision as clearly and in the most precise terms as possible. I should have thought that a special arrangement could have been worked out to make that possible.

By the same token, the question of Clause 4 is more important than has been suggested. Mr. Ross McWhirter's letter in the Daily Telegraph today made the point that if the referendum is to carry the importance that it must carry justice must not only be done but be seen to be done if someone suggests that there was corruption, or a miscount, or there were forged papers. To deny ourselves the right to look at the votes cast in the referendum if such charges are made is, from the word "go", to cast a measure of doubt upon its honesty which we cannot afford. Therefore, as Mr. McWhirter says, the omission of Rule 57 of Schedule 2 of the Representation of the People Act 1949 is a serious omission, and I should like the Government to restore it for this crucial vote.

I return to the point with which I started. The referendum, chosen, not after the House has discussed the question of referenda in general, which I should have thought was the right way to approach a major constitutional change, and not because it is in the Labour Party manifesto or because it was promised to the public at the last election, but as a device to hold the Labour Party together and to make the Labour Government a workable, or perhaps I should say a just workable, institution, is a wholly wrong departure for our nation. It will inevitably damage Parliament. It will damage the decisions which we make. Above all, it will cast doubt on every treaty which the British Government sign, because, in the last analysis, if the British public, through a referendum, are to be asked to decide which treaties signed by Britain are valid, the word of Britain will be in doubt, and that must be a very serious matter for all of us.

5.35 p.m.

In contrast to the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. McNair-Wilson), I give a very warm welcome to the Bill, and I should like to record my congratulations to my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council, his colleagues and advisers on the work which they are undertaking in preparing for the referendum. As the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. Steel) indicated, these are uncharted waters. There are legislative and administrative difficulties in approaching an unprecedented operation of this nature.

I count myself a total enthusiast for the referendum. I regard it as a wonderful opportunity for the free democratic expression of public opinion throughout the kingdom on this unique and momentous issue. Every person whose name is on the electoral register will be able to claim that he or she has had his or her say about whether this country should continue to be a member of the European Community. I therefore hope that every such person will grasp the opportunity and will respond by ensuring a high percentage poll in the referendum. Whatever the outcome, it is vital that there should be a high poll, as high as that in General Elections and possibly higher.

My desire to see a high poll in the referendum leads me to an argument which I believe counts against the proposition which my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council again put forward today; namely, that there should be a central count. If all the votes are to be collected at a central place and there is then a pause while we wait for them to be counted and two figures emerge almost out of the air, a lot of interest in the referendum will be taken away. There will be no local colour, no local excitement. This may well deter many people from exercising their franchise in the referendum. People like to know how their locality has voted, and with one national count there is a danger that the individual elector will feel lost and that his vote does not matter.

The second argument which I advance against the proposal for a central count concerns the time which the count will involve. It was said in the White Paper that such a count would take five days, but, clearly, from the dates given today by my right hon. Friend that has been shortened to three days. In any event, a central count must take considerably longer than counts held in various localities. There is every importance in the final decision being made known as quickly as possible after polling day and that the continuing uncertainty on this issue should not he prolonged even further by bringing all the ballot boxes together in one place.

Thirdly, such an operation will involve a considerable amount of inconvenience in going to and fro. It is estimated that there will be 50,000 ballot boxes coming from all parts of the United Kingdom—the furthest from Fermanagh, from Unst and from the Scilly Isles—to one central place, which it is rumoured will be Earls Court. This will need enormous transportation facilities. Some ballot boxes will come by air and some by road, and may possibly involve police convoys. It will be like the movement of an army at war.

After the count all the ballot boxes will have to be returned to the places whence they came so that they can be used again in local and parliamentary elections.

To have 50,000 ballot boxes at the central counting hall—and I presume at some stage that most of them will be there at the same time—will occupy about 80,000 cubic feet of space. Even at Earls Court that can put serious restriction on the freedom of movement of personnel who will be officiating at the count. It may be that special fork-lift trucks will be brought in, but even they will have to be quite gigantic in order to build up the mountain of ballot boxes. We can see the impractical nature of this proposal when we consider that picture.

If the count is to be achieved in three days rather than five, these practical problems will be magnified. Certainly more staff will be involved. In the White Paper it is estimated that for a five-day count 5,000 people would be needed. Presumably for a shorter count even more people will be required. Where will these people come from? One guess is that many of them may be recruited from the ranks of the Civil Service and from among the staff of Departments in London. There may be problems which might bring the work of Departments almost to a standstill while the counting of the referendum votes takes place. Will the count continue night and day over those three days or will the counters be able to go home at night? Will there be a security problem if the counters go home during the night? Will not the Press be ringing them up to ask how the count is progressing? There are practical problems involved in a central count which this country cannot afford in its counts by having a continuous count until the final result is known.

There are other dangers involved in a central count which, if the worst came to the worst, could lead to a complete fiasco. I refer to a letter by Mr. John K. Boynton published in The Times on 7th April. Mr. Boynton is the chief executive officer of Cheshire County Council and the president of the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives. Speaking on behalf of that society, he wrote:
"First we would emphasise that the present election arrangement and machinery are designed for local operation. It follows that the greater the degree of centralisation, the greater the problem of organisation and the risk of some mishap, perhaps of a serious nature."
Another difficulty which Mr. Boynton later described in his letter involves the use of official marks on the ballot papers. If these were all different in different districts througout the kingdom, it would not be easy for people counting at the central place to recognise those official marks.

Mr. Boynton uses those points to suggest that what is known as "the reconciling of the ballot paper account" should take place locally. I go further and say that these are arguments for having all the counts held locally. We do not need two lots of counting—a first stage, locally and a second stage nationally. That would give the worst of both sides of the argument.

A further reason which weighs heavily against having a central count is cost. My right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council, in reply to a Parliamentary Question, was unable to give me an isolated figure of cost for the holding of a central count. I have tried as best I can to deduce such a figure from other available statistics. My right hon. Friend was able to suggest in a Written Answer on the 27th March that the whole estimated cost of administration of the referendum, including having a central count, would be £6·5 million. I have tried to compare this figure with the total administrative cost of holding General Elections in this country. The most recent General Election for which figures are available is the 1970 election, when the total administrative cost was £2·7 million. If we update that in money terms, assuming that the value of the pound sterling has fallen by 40 per cent. since June 1970, we get an estimate for the cost of a General Election now of £4·5 million. There is a difference of £2 million between £4·5 million and £6·5 million, which would appear to be attributable largely to having a central count. That is additional expenditure which this country cannot afford in its present financial position.

We are told that the main argument in favour of a central count is that the constituency in the referendum is the whole kingdom. However, that argument applies to every country where referenda are held, as listed in Annex B of the White Paper. In not one of the countries listed are the votes in a referendum counted centrally. They are counted in local units, such as the Swiss communes and the United States precincts.

A strange argument has been propounded that for the referendum it would be harmful for particular parts of the United Kingdom to know that they have supported the minority viewpoint. However, at every General Election, the main purpose of which we recognise as the returning to power of either the existing Government or a new one, many areas of the country are known to be overwhelmingly opposed to the successful Government. There seems to be no harm in that.

It is one of the privileges of a democratic society that minorities can be recorded as dissentients with the later possibility of being able to turn round and say "I told you so".

To persist in a single central count will arouse widespread suspicion of a deliberate move to conceal marked geographical variations in the results. That suspicion may well be supported by evidence derived from opinion polls, whether official or unofficial.

For all of these reasons, I regard the proposal to hold one central count at the referendum as absurd in practical terms and rather dangerous in political terms. Together with several of my hon. Friends, I have tabled amendments to the Bill aimed at requiring counting on a more local basis. I note what my right hon. Friend said about the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. MacFarquhar). We shall have to look at this closely. I am sure that when the time comes there will be, in Committee, the opportunity for the arguments in favour of local counts to be put forward fully and, I hope, accepted by the Committee.

5.51 p.m.

It is, I believe, the normal duty of the Chair to seek to choose speakers who are directly opposed in their views. You could not have done better, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Member for Goole (Dr. Marshall) said in opening his speech that he was a total enthusiast for the referendum. I am a total opponent, and I say that unhesitatingly. I will not follow the hon. Gentleman in his arguments about that. Nor do I wish to follow him in the course of his interesting comments about the problems of a central count. If I am totally opposed to a referendum, I am opposed to any sort of count whatever. I will leave others to argue the point with him.

Unfortunately, I was unable to be present when the White Paper was debated, but I have read the debate with great care. I must say to the Lord President that I found his speech in opening that debate inadequate and unpersuasive. I found his speech today, if he will forgive my saying so, even more inadequate and totally unrelated to the serious nature of the measures he has put before us. In this I differ fundamentally from my right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton), who called it a trivial measure.

I do not call this a trivial measure at all. I call it a serious measure. Trivial in size, yes. Trivial in the attitude of the Government, perhaps. But not trivial in its impact upon this Parliament and the way in which we conduct our affairs. This is what I believe to be so fundamental, and this is why for a few minutes I wish to engage the time of the House. I felt that I could not remain silent on an issue of this kind in which I feel that the Government are making the most serious blunder of any Government for many years.

I doubt whether they realise the seriousness of this matter. This is what worries me. Over a period of 700 years the authority of this Parliament has been built up to a situation where it has a prestige unrivalled by that of any other Parliament anywhere in the world. There can be no question that the British parliamentary system has been the one which others have copied and others have envied. Never until now, although at times people have discussed and considered the possibility of referenda, has a serious proposition been put forward by a Government to provide for a referendum covering a matter of which Parliament is properly seized, covering the whole of the United Kingdom.

I know that there are exceptions which have been quoted, but never until now have we had one of such a sweeping nature. This is the fundamental danger to our system of government, and I am, therefore, totally opposed to it. There are times when I think there are some in this House who take too lightly the responsibility we have here for maintaining and, if possible, improving our system of representative government. There are occasions when some in this House would seek to decry and to work against laws which have actually been passed by a majority in the House. I totally deplore that.

Here we have a different situation altogether. We have a situation in which the Government have said that they wish to go to the people on an issue which has been debated and discussed in this House in the fullest way on at least three major occasions. The first occasion was in 1967, when there was a majority of 426 in favour of starting negotiations. When we came back in 1971 at the conclusion of negotiations, there was a majority of 112. Last night there was a majority of 226. Surely that is enough in itself to show that Members of this House are utterly content and decided that this is the right position for us to take up.

Hon. Members are not divorced from their constituents. They do understand the views of their constituents. In two elections within little more than 12 months they have had the opportunity to develop them.

The right hon. Gentleman asks "Did they?" I know his views on this matter. I say to him that there have been people who felt strongly on this, and there was an isolated number of candidates who put themselves forward as anti-Market candidates. In every case they failed miserably.

I was wondering whether perhaps, for example, the right hon. Gentleman made this one of the main points in his appeal to the electorate at the last two elections.

I have made my position abundantly clear about this. It appeared in my printed election material. I have never made any secret of my strong support for Europe. I have held a number of meetings in relation to it over the years. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that my constituents are absolutely clear about my views on this matter. I am content to believe that had they felt strongly they would not have valued me so highly that they would have refused to throw me out. If they had felt strongly on this they would not have sent me back to this House.

This matter has been tested and public opinion has had ample opportunity to show itself. In the previous debate the Lord President sought to convey the impression that there was no effect on the sovereignty of Parliament. After developing the argument he said:
"I do not, therefore, accept that the sovereignty of Parliament is affected in any way by the referendum."—[Official Report, 11th March 1975; Vol. 888, c. 293.]
Today he took a rather different line. At one stage he asked, "Is our constitution so fragile that it cannot stand up to this?" That was his phrase. That is the point I was commenting on when I was talking about the danger. Our constitution is not fragile, but it is harmed by action of this kind.

Unless there was some overriding reason, I would not have thought it was justifiable to bring this into effect. I do not accept that the reason is overriding, because the figures I have quoted show the strength of feeling in the House.

Another thing which worried me in the right hon. Gentleman's speech was his emphasis on this being a difficult issue for the public to comprehend. I would say that that is exactly why we ought not to inflict the referendum on the public. The public as a whole have obvious difficulty in hearing all the arguments and understanding all the points of view put forward. We in this House are immersed in them. We learn to assess the skills of various Members, for instance, in the selection of statistics. But some of those statistics which we hear bandied about on television and elsewhere can be extremely misleading if we do not know their source, or their basis, or the selectivity with which they have been chosen. It is this which makes it difficult for the public to judge an issue of this kind.

When we come down to it, the reason for the referendum, deplorable though it may be, appears to be based solely on the survival of the Government, on the position of the Government. It seems that the referendum, so far as we have gone, has done little to help the Government with regard to their cohesion. We have had some interesting figures given by the hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English). He gave us some strange figures about last night's vote. I am not interested in his difficulties; I am interested in the overwhelming support which the House as a whole gave. That is what matters. It will do no good to the Labour Party to fight out its battle in public, and the referendum will not help it in this respect.

My charge against the Government is that they are weakening Parliament for wholly inadequate reasons. That is the basic reason why I oppose the referendum, and I still hope, even at this late hour, that the Government will not get the authority of Parliament to go through with it. If they get authority it should be for a referendum to enable the people to decide whether they want a referendum on the Common Market. That at least they might understand readily.

There are other matters on which people may want referenda if we once establish the principle. Although the Bill is closely worded to prevent the repetition of referenda, it is nevertheless a precedent which no one can deny and must weaken resistance to later referenda. That can be damaging, embarrassing and wrong from the point of view of the principle of representative Government.

In carrying out this manoeuvre the Government are causing damage to our international relations. That is a matter which has not been adequately thought through. They have created a position of grave uncertainty which must continue until the referendum is over. To that extent, if we are to have a referendum an earlier date is helpful but, being opposed to it, my argument is that the Government should never have placed us in this grave situation of uncertainty which does harm to our standing in the world.

The effect of a "No" vote would be disastrous for many reasons, most of which have been put during the last three-day debate. Even a "Yes" vote will leave many scars which will remain after this long period of uncertainty. There are many economic and industrial decisions that will be held up pending knowledge of whether we are to be inside or outside the Community. That has a direct effect on industry and commerce, and on employment, and should have been thought of long before the proposal was made.

Although the Bill may be carefully worded to confine it to one referendum, it creates a precedent, and we shall all be faced with problems afterwards if the Bill unfortunately goes through. A referendum whose design is so obviously purely to paper over the differences within the Labour Party is unworthy of being brought before the House. I reject it absolutely and completely. I will have nothing to do with such a referendum being proposed but, if eventually one comes about, everyone who believes in the importance of our being a member of the Common Market will have to operate within the system determined by the House. That does not deter me from saying that we should do everything we can to prevent a referendum which is harmful and is not called for by the people of the country. I hope that it will be rejected.

6.2 p.m.

I disagree strongly with many of the arguments put by the right hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Godber). It is time someone said a few kind words for the Government and their proposal although that kindness will be tempered by criticism of the Government's incredible adherence to the proposal for a central count.

The idea of a referendum does not create the sense of fear and apprehension in people brought up in the constitutional freedom of Scotland that it appears to create in the people who have been brought up entirely in the system of the House. I am somewhat alarmed by the atmosphere of self-congratulation and complacency about the procedure of the House and of the system under which we operate. It is as though the House could not learn from other countries and could not absorb democratic experience which has been tested in other democratic States. It is this smugness and complacency—I go almost so far as to say arrogance—which could do great harm to the standing of the House in the eyes of the electorate.

If hon. Members continue to say that the people cannot understand, or be trusted to take a decision on, an issue because it is too complex for them, we shall be bringing about a situation in which the electorate lose confidence in us. In General Elections there is a multitude of issues, many of which are of great complexity.

The view in Scotland is different. I shall quote from one of Scotland's most distinguished judges, the late Lord President Cooper, in the case of MacCormick v. Lord Advocate, in 1953. The petitioner, the late Dr. John MacCormick, was the distinguished father of my hon. Friend the Member for Argyll (Mr. MacCormick). He was petitioning on the basis of Parliament's having abridged the rights of the Scottish people. In his judgment, Lord President Cooper said:
"The principle of the unlimited sovereignty of Parliament is a distinctively English principle which has no counterpart in Scottish constitutional law. It derives its origin from Coke and Blackstone, and was widely popularised during the nineteenth century by Bagehot and Dicey, the latter having stated the doctrine in its classic form in his Law of the Constitution. Considering that the Union legislation extinguished the Parliaments of Scotland and England and replaced them by a new Parliament"—
the Parliament of the United Kingdom—
"I have difficulty in seeing why it should have been supposed that the new Parliament of Great Britain must inherit all the peculiar characteristics"—
I think Lord Cooper was using the word in £ kindly sense—
"of the English Parliament but none of the Scottish Parliament, as if all that happened in 1707 was that Scottish Members were admitted to the Parliament of England. That is not what was done".
Lord President Cooper goes on to deal with the question of the sovereignty of Parliament and he says, finally:
"I have not found in the Union legislation any provision that the Parliament of Great Britain should be 'absolutely sovereign' in the sense that that Parliament should be free to alter the Treaty at will."
That is the Treaty of Union. We hear talk of the sovereignty of treaties and of words being broken, but there are few treaties which have been broken so often as the Treaty of Union between Scotland and England in the actions of Governments of various parties in the House.

Our view is that the sovereignty of the people is the overriding consideration in questions of constitutional change, and for that reason we applaud the Government's proposal to give the people the opportunity to take a decision one way or the other on the constitutional change that is mooted. If I may say so without giving offence, constitutional law is, perhaps, another branch of Scots law from which the House and lawyers in other parts of the kingdom may profitably learn and borrow.

The major matter which concerns us about the Bill is the incredible proposal for a central count. I agree almost entirely with the lucid and devastating comments on the central count made by the hon. Member for Goole (Dr. Marshall).

In the debate on the White Paper, the Lord President, who was gracious enough to allow me to intervene, made clear that he wanted a central count because he was somewhat nervous of the activities of myself, my hon. Friends and others of like mind in Wales. That is a gesture of confidence in us which comes well from him and which I appreciate, but he failed to take into account the practical reality that the vote will be discovered in any event by opinion polls or in some other way. Whatever the result, surely it is better that it should be discovered in the correct way, and in the accurate way in which people have actually cast their votes.

I find it incredible that the chief spokesman for the Conservative Party should find it impossible to state his party's view on the issue of the central count. It is impossible for him to say whether or not his party approves it and whether or not, as a party, it will allow a free vote, as the Government have done, when the matter is discussed in Committee. Perhaps that is one reason for the decline and fall of the Conservative Party in Scotland. It seems that it cannot come to a decision on a basic issue such as this. It seems that it has not come to the House in a position to be able to discuss the Bill.

I believe that it is crucial to the discussion that takes place within the House and in Committee that there is a listening to discussion of all kinds. It is following such discussion that the decision will be taken. I believe that it is appropriate to deny the accusation that the hon. Gentleman casts against the Conservative Party.

The hon. Gentleman must remember that we had a full discussion on this issue in the House when the White Paper was discussed. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] There was a full discussion, and the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton), who summed up for the Conservative Party, was challenged on the issue of the central count. The right hon. Gentleman failed to give an answer. I appreciate that the mills of God grind slow and that the thoughts of the Conservative Party take a long time to mature, but I would have thought that in the intervening period between the debate on the White Paper and the presentation of the Bill some chink of light could have been let in from behind the curtains to indicate where the Conservative Party stands on this issue.

I do not know whether any Scottish Conservative Members are present. I do not know their views on this matter. Perhaps they will stand up for the rights of the Scottish people. Perhaps they will support the central count. I shall give way to any Scottish Conservative Members who wish to intervene. Will they stand up for the rights of the Scottish people and vote in a way that will enable the Scottish people to know their decision?

The suggestion is that all the ballot boxes are to be trundled down to London. The question of space must be considered. Will there be enough space for people to get in among the ballot boxes to effect a count? I make two points about the count. One point relates to the placing of the mark and the checking that the mark is correctly identified, and the other to dealing with spoilt papers at the earliest possible moment. All of us who have been involved in elections appreciate the difficulties that arise at local level in ensuring that the democratic system is adhered to properly and adequately. I shudder to think what the consequences would be of 24 million, 27 million or 30 million ballot papers being mixed up in some main stream and flooding like confetti all over the place in Earls Court. I ask the Leader of the House carefully to consider the Government's view on the central count.

The democratic system is most important, and in that respect we must consider the scrutiny which is applied during the polling procedure. I have considered the regulations in the Bill and there is some doubt in my mind, which I hope will be removed later this evening, as to what inspection facilities will be made available to registered organisations or political parties in the polling stations, as are made during an election campaign, to ensure that the procedures are correctly carried out and that everything is seen to be done fairly.

Next, I turn to the scrutiny of the count. A central count would disenfranchise people from Scotland and from other parts of the United Kingdom from playing a part in the crucial final stage of ensuring that the votes are correctly counted. No one is casting aspersions on the people who will do the counting, any more than one would cast aspersions on the people who do the counting in General Elections. However, we are entitled, as a democratic right, to be present. We are entitled to check that the votes are being counted adequately. Someone from my constituency in northeast Scotland would have to pay the best part of £50 to be present and to act as a scrutineer during the count. To my mind that is a grave unfairness, and is totally unacceptable.

We need a count which will demonstrate the result of the vote in Scotland. We believe—I think it is a view that is shared by many people in Scotland who may not necessarily support my party—that Scotland transferred its sovereignty to this House in 1707 but that it did not give this House authority to transfer it permanently to a third party. A permanent transfer can be made only with the express consent of the Scottish people. Therefore, their right to a decision is essential.

I ask the Lord President to reconsider the whole question of the count. Britain will be the laughing stock of the world if it goes ahead with a central count. However, it is important for every Member of Parliament, whichever party he is in and whichever side he supports in this issue, to ensure that the referendum works properly. We must all encourage the people to cast their votes in the referendum. The Government have a great responsibility, I should like to see them advertising and urging the people to vote. I should like them not to urge the people to vote in the way that the Government are thinking but I should like to see them urging the people to vote. It will require a strong effort on the part of us all, whichever party we are in and whichever view we take, to ensure that the referendum is a success and that as many people as possible turn out to vote.

At the time of the Common Market referendum vote I think I am right in saying that in Denmark the poll was over 75 per cent. I believe that the position was the same in the referendum that took place in Norway. It would be a disgrace if we did not achieve a vote near to that proportion. I hope that every hon. Member will take it as a personal responsibility to campaign hard and to encourage the electorate to make the decision which we are entrusting to them.

6.18 p.m.

Quite properly concern has been voiced at the prospect that the sovereign power of this House should be eroded by the referendum. That is a concern that I would normally share, but in the circumstances I feel that the use of a referendum to enable the House to consult the nation has become a necessity. The major political parties, being divided on the issue, have been unable to approach the electorate in the normal way through a General Election.

Whether we in this House choose to be aware of it or not, it is obvious that there is concern in the country that high feelings have been aroused. It is an issue on which the people feel that they should be consulted. The Bill properly provides for public funds to be made available to enable both the pro- and the anti-market organisations to ensure that their views are known to the electorate. I maintain that it is an essential part of the referendum to ensure that the full facts are made available.

I consider that there is one essential element missing from the Bill. The referendum is basically an instrument to enable this sovereign Parliament to consult the electorate. Of course, the sovereign decision will remain with Parliament. It is clear that consultation is a two-way process. I urge the Government to make provision in the Bill for a Member of Parliament to make his views known to his constituents. I urge that the Government introduce into the Bill provision for a free post for Members to communicate their views to their constituents. I ask that a modest sum be made available for the printing of a letter in which Members can advise their constituents of their views on the important issues involved.

As the Bill is drafted at present, it appears that a Member of Parliament will have to join a pro-Market or an anti-Market organisation if he is to be assisted by public funds to make his views known. I consider this to be quite wrong. If Britain's membership of the EEC is to be decided outside the forum of this House, funds should be made available to enable hon. Members to advise their constituents of their views on the issues involved. The ability of a Member of Parliament to communicate with his constituents should not depend on his being a member of a pro-Market or an anti-Market organisation, or on whether the size of his personal purse will enable him to make such a communication.

I urge the Government to give serious consideration to making this facility available to hon. Members. If we are to have a referendum, it is an essential part of the two-way democratic consultation between Members and their constituents that provision should be made for Members of Parliament to communicate with those whom they represent.

I shall support the Bill, but I urge my right hon. Friend the Lord President to give careful consideration to this matter. I think that within our democratic constitutional machinery there is a fundamental right for individual Members of Parliament to be able to maintain their special relationship with their constituents and to play their full part in ensuring that their views are known to their constituents regardless of whether we belong to a pro-Market or an anti-Market organisation.

6.22 p.m.

I disagree with almost everything that the hon. Member for Peckham (Mr. Lamborn) said. I oppose this Bill because, in my view, it concerns an issue which should never have come before this House. It is a rotten Bill, and I have never heard the Lord President sound quite so uncomfortable as he did today when he moved its Second Reading.

The burden of the speech of the hon. Member for Peckham concerned the sovereignty of Parliament. The same matter has been raised by various other hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. Henderson), on behalf of the Scottish National Party.

It is perfectly true that the sovereignty of Parliament is being challenged by this affair of having a referendum, because what is really happening is that the Government have decided to go out of this House to ask the people what they think. That will cost the country enough as it is, and the very last thing that we want to do is to incur additional expenditure by making funds available to individual hon. Members so that they may write to all their constituents. If the hon. Member for Peckham wishes to communicate with his constituents, he can make speeches in his constituency. We have not heard from the Lord President what the total cost of this unnecessary operation is likely to be, but it will be considerable.e A figure was given in the White Paper, but it has probably escalated since then.

The hon. Member for Peckham said that Parliament's sovereignty was not affected by this Bill. I beg to differ. In my view, it is. We are denigrating our position by going out and asking the people to decide a matter which we in this House have decided three times by overwhelming majorities of 400, 112, and, last night, 226. We are, in effect, saying that we are not sufficiently competent to decide this issue for ourselves.

On the other hand, if Parliament is to take a decision after the result of the referendum is announced and this is merely to be a consultative referendum, it is very strange that the Lord President did not say what percentages he would consider as being of value. He did not say for example, whether he would consider 30 per cent., 20 per cent. or 40 per cent. a significant figure. We hope that there will be a high turnout, but there is no guarantee that there will be. It may be more like the level of voting at local government elections. What happens then? We heard from the Prime Minister that he would regard a majority of one as morally binding on him and his divided Cabinet, but it will not bind many people. Certainly it will not bind me.

In my view, we must say quite clearly that the sovereignty of Parliament will remain absolute. If there is a vote of less than 50 per cent. of the total electorate, and certainly if the percentage, no matter what the total vote is, is less than of a sizeable amount, I shall consider myself completely free, as I have always considered myself as a Member of this House, to decide for myself what is in the best interests of my constituents and in the best interests of my country.

We have debated this issue exhaustively in considering the White Paper, and we shall do so again during the Committee stage, which is to be taken on the Floor of the House. So I shall not dwell on detail.

I welcome the fact that Service men are to be allowed to vote in their units. However, it was not quite clear to me whether that applied only to Service men serving overseas. Will it also apply to Service men in units in this country and in Northern Ireland? Will they be allowed to vote in their units? Here, I ought, perhaps, to declare an interest, in that I have two sons serving in the Armed Forces. What happens in the case of men serving in a unit which has been moved back to this countrly only recently, especially if there has been some mess-up in the registration procedure whilst overseas or moving?

Another matter which the Lord President did not deal with concerns people who will be on holiday on referendum day.

The Lord President maintains, as do a number of Government supporters, that this is a unique occasion. That is the reason for having a referendum—apart from the need to hold the Labour Party together. It is like nothing else. It is not, as the Scottish National Party would pretend, a precedent for a referendum about whether Scotland should leave the United Kingdom. As the Lord President says, this is unique. But if that is so, I cannot see any reason why we should not have unique rules for it which enable people to vote if they are on holiday, to say nothing of the many thousands of British citizens who not only are working abroad in Luxembourg, Brussels and Strasbourg but serving in our embassies and high commissions throughout the world and in business or industry abroad.

It is not impossible for such people to register in their embassies. It is not impossible for checks to be made so that the validity of their passports is clearly defined and to ensure that there is no double voting. That position could be safeguarded by a provision that they must vote in person in the respective embassy or high commission, as the Americans do. We are, after all, not talking about people who have failed to register at home. I am anxious to protect the interests of those who are not resident in this country but who hold British passports. If this occasion is so unique, some provision along these lines should be made. If it is so important, all British people should take part in it; the Lord President cannot ignore that argument.

The last matter which I want to raise concerns the count. When I first thought about the referendum, it was my view that the counting should be done on a national basis. However, on deeper reflection I have come round to the view that it would be much better to have it done on a county basis. What is most important of all is the need to ensure that there is the highest possible vote. In my view, there would be more enthusiasm, for or against, if the counting were done on a county basis. The decision on the refendum will not be an easy one. No one is to be named on the ballot papers. People will be voting not for an individual but for an idea. It will make it difficult to focus people's minds on the issue involved. It could be done more easily on a county rather than on a national basis.

What made me hesitate on this matter was the speech of the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East, who wishes Scotland to be taken out of a national count. I would say that it should be done on a county basis and that Scotland should come in with England or be mixed up with votes elsewhere—perhaps with the Welsh—or something of that kind. But seriously, I still believe, on reflection, that it would be better for the counts to be carried out on a county basis, for the reasons I have given. It will certainly he a quicker process if carried out in that way.

We have debated this subject on four occasions this week. We spent three days on the White Paper and we are spending today debating the referendum. The Government have made a farce of things by putting us in the present position. It is a farce, because the House has decided three times, by vast majorities, that Britain should stay in the Community. We have now been in the Community for two and a half years. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith) said yesterday, there is no legal basis for breaking a treaty which has been solemnly entered into. Yet that is what the Prime Minister and his miserable Government are doing. They are asking people to decide whether or not we should break that treaty, and there is no legal basis whatever for taking such a course.

I deeply regret that fact that the Government have seen fit to bring this measure before the House for purely party purposes. We shall all live to regret that move if, unfortunately, the Bill is given a Second Reading tonight.

6.33 p.m.

Copious use of the word "fear" has been made in this debate. There have been accusations on that score from both sides of the House. I believe that there is a great deal of truth in the argument about people's fears. The demand for a national count is based on terror of knowing what the Scots, the Welsh, the cities and other regions feel about the Common Market. I am sorry to see my right hon. Friend the Lord President leaving the Chamber at this point of my speech, but I see that, at least, the Minister of State, Privy Council Office, is remaining to hear my remarks.

Opposition Members have certainly displayed terror about what people actually think. Underlying their views is a fear of the unknown. There is in this House a smugness and self-satisfaction that our democracy must be preserved at all costs and that in this cause we must prevent any innovation of any kind whatever. I do not hold any of those fears. I am an enthusiast for the referendum—and I do not say that because it happens to coincide with my views on the Common Market. I happen to be against the Common Market. I am an enthusiast for this referendum, and very much hope that it will prove to be an excellent precedent. I hope that it will lead to the holding of future referenda, on proper occasions. It is important that the views of hon. Members who feel this way should be heard in these debates.

It is said that the referendum will erode the authority and standing of the House. Perhaps it will. However, this charge comes curiously from the mouths of Euro-fanatics. Those who wish to join Europe admit that they are eroding the authority and standing of the House upwards, in an élitist, bureaucratic sense. But all we are doing in the referendum is eroding that authority and standing downwards, towards the grass roots and the people. That is quite reasonable. [An HON. MEMBER: "It is an erosion of democracy."] It is not an erosion of democracy. The truth is that democracy in this country is very much more important than simply the authority and sovereignty of the House of Commons.

We have a plurality of democratic institutions—in local government, the trade unions and many other areas. It has been shown in the last few years that when this House passes legislation which is an absolute affront to one or other of those democratic institutions the House has to turn round, with its tail between its legs, as on the Industrial Relations Act and the Housing Finance Act, and admit that it has made a mistake. For this reason I have always had a sneaking admiration for the people of Clay Cross. I know that in this House it has become common practice to deride them and hold them up as a great horror. I wrote a piece on the subject, entitled "Republican Clay Cross"—

Is the hon. Gentleman insinuating that he supports people who break laws made by this House?

It is not my habit to insinuate, and I am not insinuating anything. I am simply saying that when the history of democracy in Britain is finally written, Clay Cross will have a significant and important part in that history, and will take its place in the development of democracy in this House.

I see the referendum as one more addition to the plurality of democratic institutions in this House. I see it as an advance in democracy, even though to the purists in parliamentary democracy, who have been brought up on nineteenth century English history, it may appear to be the most terrible thing that has ever happened to this country.

I wish to make one or two specific criticisms of the Bill. I should first like to deal with the national count. That is the most absurd proposition ever put forward. I very much hope that the Government will change their minds on that matter. If they do not, I hope that they will have their minds changed for them in Committee.

The clumsiness of this system has already been emphasised by my hon. Friend the Member for Goole (Dr. Marshall). The cost will be at least £2 million. My hon. Friend calculated the figure of £2 million on the basis of a General Election. But a constituency General Election count is much more complicated than the referendum count will be. In terms of man-hours, the referendum count, if carried out on a constituency basis, would be over in an hour of two. It would be on the lines of General Election counts in Salford or Cheltenham. Almost every count would be quickly completed, because the vote in the referendum would be similar to a straight election involving only two candidates.

The Government, in their fears about the emergence of regional patterns, have made an enormous mountain out of a molehill. My party secretary in Lewisham feels that in my borough the count could easily be carried out on exactly the same basis as that on which constituency counts take place. I believe that a constituency count would be the most sensible and intelligent way of conducting the referendum, and I am sure it is the way in which our electors would expect the count to be carried out.

If we insist on a national count, it will take away from the lesson in democracy which I hope the referendum will give. It will clearly be a device to conceal how certain areas and certain parts of the United Kingdom are thinking. It will give the Government a reputation for secretiveness which will be undeserved, because in other respects the Government have attempted to produce more open government. It will be a serious blot on their reputation if they take that course, and I hope that they will think again.

I believe that the referendum could be an educational process in the cause of democracy. However, I have some sympathy with the criticism that the flow of literature into each household will be biased in favour of the pro-Europeans, since the White Paper, which is meant to be neutral, will be nothing of the sort. I do not worry about that. We have fought General Elections with the Press almost entirely against the Labour Party. We have come to rely on the native genius of the English people.

I am very keen on the English people, while perhaps the hon. Gentleman is keen on the Scots.

We have come to rely on the genius of the British people, to which the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) referred yesterday. That is a tool to decide the destiny of our country which is as reliable as the vote which took place yesterday in the House of Commons. Therefore, I support the referendum. I agree that, in origin, it was a political device to secure unity in the Labour Party. Some of the most cherished institutions in our political setup have come about through accidents of that kind. I hope that this will be the first of a long series of referenda, so that we shall be able to diffuse the aura of total sovereignty—an aura in which, in a smug and self-satisfied way, we like to bathe—and to extend democracy in many other ways.

6.42 p.m

I oppose referenda in principle. I regard a referendum as an affront to the sovereignty of Parliament. It is at variance with all the constiutional, legal and moral principles which should govern and define the responsibilities of Members of Parliament and our duty to those whom we have been elected to serve.

The hon. Member for Lewisham, West,(Mr. Price) argued in favour of a referen- dum, which he regarded as an admirable method of substituting demagogic for democratic government and as justifying the abandonment of the rule of law; this combination is the classic forerunner of tyranny. I do not wish to elaborate that argument, since my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hertford-shire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith) has already made plain that the question of the referendum is totally irrelevant to the question of making or breaking treaties as, indeed, is the question of sovereignty, which we discussed yesterday. I should like to raise two points of detail arising from the remarks made by my right hon. and learned Friend about the Bill, in case the House is foolish enough to pass it.

First, there is no mention in the schedule, which sets out the form of the ballot paper, of parliamentary sovereignty, of leaving the EEC, or of going back on our word. I accept that all this can be established in argument. Leaving aside the question of sovereignty, we shall have opportunities to assert or deny that leaving the Community mean going back on our word as a nation and failing to honour our international commitments. I had hoped that the matter could also be dealt with on the ballot paper, even if in a more neutral way. There should be some recognition on the ballot paper—on which the people will make their mark—that we as a nation have signed and ratified the treaty. Therefore, I think that the Government should ask "Should we leave the Community?" rather than "Should we stay in?".

As regards the terms of the Bill, I had hoped that we could have made explicit what has been admitted by the Government—namely, that the referendum is only consultative and in no way binds Parliament. The hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heller) said that the people would decide. It is true that they will vote, but Parliament will decide; they will decide only on our Parliamentary future according to our actions. For under our constitution, if the referendum says "No", only Parliament can pass the necessary legislation to put that advice from the people into action. If we do not make that clear on the ballot paper we shall be guilty of deceiving our people during the campaign, or we shall utterly deny the sovereignty of Parliament.

The Leader of the House said that the referendum was not an affront to Parliament. Even if he were right, it is certain that the use being made of the referendum by the Prime Minister and his colleagues is an insult to the House and to the people of this country, for they are using it as a shabby process to keep together a party and a Government that are deeply and obviously divided.

The Government and the Labour Party are deeply and obviously divided not only on this issue of the European Community but on other and equally important policies. The Government are deeply divided on the question of the future of the economy, and whether a mixed economy should continue. The division among Government supporters is not about the mix. The division concerns the question whether the free enterprise element in the mix is to survive. The Government and the Labour Party are divided on their whole way of looking at society and on the ways that are valid to change it. They are divided between the hard and soft Socialists, between the revolutionaries whether slow or fast.

In normal circumstances, these divisions would have led to the fall of the Prime Minister, if not of the Government. Last night 136 Members of the Labour Party voted in support of the White Paper, while 144 were against it, including members of the Cabinet and 30-odd other Ministers and Whips. When the late Mr. Chamberlain fell from office as Prime Minister he had a parliamentary majority which includes most of his party with 80 abstentions. That was enough to bring down the Government in the days when the back benchers dared to speak out; when they had some sense of responsibility to their constituents, some degree of independence, and were not, on the Government side, determined at all costs to support, by hook or by crook, a divided Government. If it had not in normal times led to a fall of the Government or of the Prime Minister it would have required a coalition one way or the other, to put forward policies supported by only part of such a divided Government and party.

When I ventured to suggest, 10 months ago, that to carry out policies which were essential in the national interest might require a Government of national unity, the whole idea was derided. But on this issue of the European Community the Prime Minister has been forced to rely on a de facto temporary coalition. The right hon. Gentleman has been forced to rely on the support of the Opposition parties. Even that is only possible, without a coalition and without giving way over some other matters, because he has allowed the open opposition of members of his own Government without seeking their resignation—unless they uttered their words of criticism in this House instead of confining them to speeches outside. That is immensely damaging to ministerial responsibility and accountability.

I agree that the ballot paper for the referendum cannot state that the Government recommend one thing or the other, because we do not know what the Government really are recommending. But surely there should be some mention of the fact that Parliament recommends that we remain in the Community. For, in whatever form they exist, whether for or against, Ministers are bound by and are accountable to Parliament.

One may well ask "Which?"—which Government and which Ministers? That is where so much damage is being done. For whose policies are the Ministers accountable? [Interruption.] This is not a question of little importance. It is a question of the accountability and responsibility of individual Ministers to the people through this House.

The hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton stuck to his principles—I praise him for it—and accepted the consequences of losing his job. The Prime Minister has abandoned any semblance of such principles which he may once have had, and relies on the Opposition to save him from having to accept the consequences. In that way he is able to keep in government those who disagree with him and support the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton but have had the tact not to do so in this Chamber, though continuing their opposition outside.

It is only the referendum that makes all this shabby trickery possible. This is the sole purpose of the referendum—not to consult the people but to allow this kind of division to continue without bringing down the Government as it should. That is what makes it such a disreputable device. It is damaging to the rule of law and it is an affront to Parliament. It verges on a disregard of the prerogative and is a threat to democracy. It is also a threat to the responsibility and accountability of Members of Parliament to the electors.

If the answer to the referendum were to be "No", how, as my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Mr. McNair-Wilson) pointed out, can the Government continue with any belief in themselves or the possibility that people abroad will believe in them? How will right hon. and hon. Members who last night voted for staying in the Common Market vote if a Bill is brought forward to take us out of Europe? Will they betray their trust to their constituents and change their minds? It is wrong that Members of Parliament should be put in a position in which their duty to their constituents is confounded and confused by an apparent, not real, duty to take note of a public view expressed in a referendum.

What if hon. Members on both sides of the House took the view—the view that I believe is right—that they still owed a duty to their constituents to vote according to their judgment of what was in the best interests of the nation, and Parliament therefore rejected the legislation? Even the Prime Minister's Houdini-like capacity to escape from awkward situations could not get him out of that one without a coalition or an election.

If we have a referendum and the answer, as I hope, is a resounding "Yes", will those Cabinet Ministers who oppose, not to speak of other Ministers, continue in office? Will the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton be restored? How will the other divisions within the Labour Party and the Government be reconciled? Can we look to a referendum on the Industry Bill, or a referendum asking the people whether the social contract is working?

Right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite cannot continue to rely on the Opposition to protect the Government and the Prime Minister against the extreme Left, in this House or outside, unless they start bringing in other policies which are really in the national interest. The Prime Minister cannot have a temporary coalition with us when it suits him and with the extreme Left for the rest of the time.

I do not think that anyone on the Opposition side of the House feels that it matters very much to anybody what difficulties the Prime Minister gets himself into, except to the right hon. Gentleman. What matters is that he has betrayed his high office by gambling with the country's future in order to maintain his own position in office, if not in any real power.

In this Bill the Government are seeking to put at risk the collective responsibility of the Government to Parliament, the accountability of individual Ministers to Parliament, the accountability of hon. Members to the electorate and the responsibility that the individual Member alone can have to represent the interests of all his constituents.

I beg the House to think on these things and to reject the Bill.

6.58 p.m.

I am not, and never have been, an enthusiastic supporter of the referendum. When the idea was first suggested, I viewed it, as did many hon. Members on both sides of the House, with utter distaste. I opposed it strongly. But, as time has gone by, I have had the opportunity of considering the whole matter more carefully than I did in my almost instart reflex action to the proposal that there should be a referendum.

I have come to the view that, like most things in life, the referendum, if it is not wholly good, is not wholly bad. I think that those of my hon. Friends and hon. Gentlemen opposite, as exemplified by the right hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Godber), who peremptorily reject the whole thing outright and discard it, might at least be guilty of overstating the case. All who have any experience in the art of persuasion in a democratic society know that the greatest mistake is to overstate one's case.

I believe that these gentlemen are overstating their case. They are taking too rigid a view of the parliamentary process. They are too purist. They are not allowing for the changes that have taken place, increasingly rapidly, in our society. I am not saying the British people's involvement in democracy is a kind of platonic involvement. I do not claim that at all. We have a long way to go if we are ever to achieve that goal. But I feel that I can at least claim that during the course of this century we have gone a long way on that road, and in one sense, however inelegant a step it might be, this referendum could be regarded as one fumbling step forward on the road to a kind of platonic democracy.

I was very interested to hear what the hon. Member for Aberdeen, East (Mr. Henderson) said about the tradition of the Scottish Parliament. It was very intriguing and interesting and at some time I would like to pursue it with him in private, because it raises all kinds of interesting theoretical speculation, relating to democracy. One other point I would like to put forward is that the fact that this country has never had a eferendum—except of the kind held in Northern Ireland, and the two in Wales on the comparatively trivial issue of hours of licensing on Sunday—on an issue such as this does not mean that our parliamentary democratic system is necessarily superior to that of countries which have had referenda. I put that as a point of principle.

Increasingly, as I have thought of the question, my opposition has become less one of principle and has become based much more on the practicalities—the kind of things of which the right hon. Member for Farnham (Mr. Macmillan) has spoken, namely, what we shall do if the consequence of the referendum is a small majority and what people who voted with the Government in one way will do if the result of the referendum goes the other way.

The practical difficulties seem to me to have become much more profound than the difficulties of principle, although it is interesting to note that in this debate the main objection from the Opposition side seems to be concerned with principle—on the question of parliamentary democracy and the sovereignty of Parliament. The referendum is, of course, a device which is alien to our system, but I do not think that that is in itself a sufficient objection to holding this one. I have come to the view that I am prepared to accept it for one reason only—a reason which I feel is an important one. In telescoping my reasoning into a very brief space I may be guilty of oversimplification, but I now support the referendum because it enables the Government to say, like the famous magician, "For my next trick, I shall perform the impossible".

To illustrate, it is the normal job of parliamentarians to reach compromises on all manner of controversial issues on behalf of all of us. This is the job of the politician. This is our daily task, and we all do it to the best of our ability, as mere mortals with all the wisdom, experience and expertise that we can lay our hands upon. But in the case of Europe the Labour Government and the Labour movement—and, if they are honest about it, the Opposition parties, with the possible exception of the Ulster Unionists, who have a very special position—are faced with the task of reconciling the irreconcilable.

On an issue which is nothing less than a date with destiny I claim that this is a genuinely unique situation. One can argue with some justification that there has been a failure of political leadership. I am not referring to individual leadership; I am speaking in terms of the political parties in this country, and I include myself as a bit player on the stage. One could claim that there has been a failure of political leadership, a lack of visionary inspiration, and absence of conviction and an inability even merely to point to the great peaks in the distance.

On this issue, however, I do not believe that even if the Archangel Gabriel himself had led, everyone would have followed, because the issue lies too deep in the marrow of the bone. When men say, as some have said to me quite simply, that they do not like Germans, Frenchmen or Italians, one must realise, however much one may deplore that kind of attitude, that it is a reality. It follows that the leaders, however gifted, are simply left stranded, and so by the very nature of the situation one comes to the referendum—"that instrument of demogogy", as Clement Attlee called it. That very phrase, interestingly enough, already has a very dated ring about it. In a matter of 30 brief years we have travelled so far along the road that I have mentioned that that phrase now seems to have a kind of hollowness and unreality about it—which, in one sense, is a very hopeful sign, that while we are not necessarily approaching a platonic democracy, or even a greater democracy, we are on the road to a lateral kind of society.

My sympathies, therefore, have come round to being with the Government, based on the general problem of democracy that the Government face, a problem of a kind not previously experienced, a problem arising, curiously enough, I claim, because we are that much more laterally structured than we were 20 or so years ago.

My sympathy with the Government is genuine, but it is tempered by the thought that there are considerable traces of speciousness about the whole exercise. It is a speciousness of two kinds—one is a political kind not to be discussed on the Floor of the House, connected with my party, but also, I suspect, there is a certain element of speciousness written into the Bill itself, and it is on this that I wish to spend my remaining moments.

Dealing first with the question of the count, on which my hon. Friend the Member for Goole (Dr. Marshall) spoke so convincingly, I was disappointed that the Leader of the House seemed to assume that all who wanted a constituency count wanted it for some perverse or Machiavellian purpose. I want it for no other purpose than that machinery exists in the constituency, and therefore, in the ordinary, normal course of events, one would have the count in the constituencies, add up the 635 totals and get a final total figure. Then, anyone who wants to obtain the figure for Scotland or Wales or for little England beyond Wales, in Pembroke, would be at liberty to do so and to draw whatever comfort he wished from particular results.

My reason for basing the referendum on the machinery that exists is really an attempt to make it demonstrably clear that there is no element of speciousness in it, because we are already politically in a very dangerous situation, with the cynicism with which people view politics increasingly apparent, so that we have to be increasingly on our guard. The more we can do things demonstrably openly, the better it will be for the very parliamentary democratic process about which some of those who are speaking so passionately are so concerned. I hope, therefore, that if the Government will not accept a count on a constituency basis they will at least accept the amendments on the Order Paper for proceeding on a county basis.

For the same reason, wanting openness, I welcome the decision to enable Service voters to vote. I was intrigued at the reference by the Leader of the House to discipline being sufficient in that case to enable them to vote. I only hope that the undisciplined civilians who have gone abroad to work will discipline themselves enough to demand their right to vote.

Again on the theme of fair play being seen to be done, I am in favour of the amendments which would provide a considerable increase in the sum allocated. There will then be no question of those in the anti-Market camp continuing to claim that they will be at a financial disadvantage. I hope that the upper limit of £500,000 will be accepted, so that we shall enter the contest, financially, at least, on equal terms.

7.11 p.m.

I am delighted to follow the hon. Member for Wrexham (Mr. Ellis). I am sure that he, like you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will know of the story of the late Professor Levi of University College, Aberystwyth, who used to start his lectures on constitutional law by telling his students to open their notebooks and take a note. He would say "The heading is 'The British Constitution'. The note is 'There is no such thing as a British constitution'. Close your books".

We are debating this Bill in some difficulty because of this lack of a constitution. People in these islands, particularly in this Chamber, take pride in the fact that we have no written constitution. That may have been a good thing when times were good. A constitution, after all, is not needed when everything is going well; it is required only in times of uncertainty and change. A system which may have been acceptable in the days of splendour and empire in the last century may be totally unacceptable as we enter the last quarter of the twentieth century, when we must change the structure and often the objective of government. Therefore, the background of this debate is the whole question of the constitution itself.

It has been said that we in Wales have experience of a referendum. We have indeed. We have one every seven years, and it is coming up this year. I believe that you yourself, Mr. Deputy Speaker, have a great interest in its outcome.

I was not certain, Sir, whether you had lost all your political potency since assuming the Chair.

Nevertheless, when the referendum was introduced in Wales, many people argued against the principle and said that the local option was against our method of government. Yet once it had taken place, apart from the variance in the results, which gave problems, the concept did not cause so much of a revolution.

Like the hon. Member for Wrexham, I have progressed during this discussion of the referendum, which has helped to clarify my mind. There are certainly times when a referendum is an appropriate and necessary means of government. There are three categories in which it can be said to be necessary. The first is in the case of an irreversible or substantial constitutional change, and it is into this category that the Common Market issue falls. Second, on social issues which may cut totally across party lines there may be a case for a referendum. The third category is significant issues which have developed since a recent General Election, when there may be a case for a referendum rather than another General Election.

The nub of the problem with which some hon. Members on this side have the greatest difficulty is sovereignty. I do not regard this as an absolute issue. I certainly do not accept the historical thesis that sovereignty has come from God through the Monarch to this place. If it has come from anywhere, it has come from the people. I am in this Chamber only because people have put me here. Whatever power I have in this Chamber has come from the people who have put me here. If the power is to go anywhere from my hands it must be to the people.

This is important in the context of a referendum. At the time of a General Election the people transfer their sovereign power to representatives to use that power on their behalf, but in a referendum, when the power reverts, by definition the Member of Parliament is not on that issue a representative: he becomes a delegate. For that reason, it is essential that the count in any referendum should be on a constituency basis and that it should be binding on Members of Parliament. At that point, a Member becomes a delegate for the people in that the power has reverted to them, from whom it came in the first place.

I realise that some hon. Members have a completely different concept of power, particularly on this side—that they believe that the power is given to them from the Monarch and will not go any further, that they will defend it through hell and high water. I refute that concept.

On the practical side of a central count, hon. Members on both sides have voiced considerable misgivings. I would add my own. I have heard from local government sources that about 4,000 people may be needed to work on the count. This is impractical. Where will they come from? Will local government employees be willing to come to London in those numbers? Will the work be done just by people in London? This is a significant problem which has not been thought out.

There has been reference to scrutineers. If people in all parts of these islands are to feel that the result is fair and if all political groupings are to feel the same, we need scrutineers—and not just people living in London. We need at least a certain number of people whom we can trust. This is not practical either on a central basis.

Another point which has not been thought out enough is the adjudication of spoilt papers. In my constituency, which is 85 per cent. Welsh-speaking, there will frequently be spoilt papers because something has been written across the paper in Welsh. Will adjudicators in London be able to know what has been written? If a phrase like Rheinallt Ty Coch has been written on the paper, will they know whether it is an abuse of the returning officer or the name of the person who has voted? If it is the voter's name, the paper will be invalid, whereas in other circumstances it may not. This is a critical and practical issue, and I hope that the Government will consider it.

Another problem with a central count is the question of what happens if, despite the provision that there will be no right to go to a court in a dispute, a genuine error is found in one area which means that the count has to be done again there? Would that mean that the whole United Kingdom would have to be counted again because all the papers might have been mixed up here in London? The Government have not faced that problem at all.

I want to know whet my constituents feel on this issue. As Members of Parliament, we spend most of our time trying to find out how our constituents feel, and on this issue above all I want to know.

I am following the hon. Member's points, particularly his statement that sovereignty rests ultimately with the people and his arguments about the mechanics of the referendum. However, I cannot follow him when I consider that last evening we had an important vote on the question of principle in which I believe he abstained. Does this in turn mean that he will abstain in the referendum?

The hon. Member will have to wait until the referendum to find out. [An HON. MEMBER: "He will not find out."] None of us will find out, I suppose.

The terms that have been negotiated by the Prime Minister are unsatisfactory as far as Wales is concerned. I do not want to follow up the whole issue. I should have liked to participate in the whole of the debate this week. In Wales we shall not get any direct voice in the mechanics of the Common Market. The Prime Minister may not accept that, but that is my criticism. Despite the fact that I have had considerable sympathy with the Europeam idea, I do not find that I can support the Prime Minister. Nevertheless, this issue will be followed up between now and the referendum.

Turning from the central count to the implications for Wales and Scotland, the argument has been put that because Wales and Scotland at present cannot make a decision that can be implemented now in their own right, there should not be a result for Wales and for Scotland. I cannot accept that on any basis. On the basis of that argument, at a General Election, when the result has been counted, it would be sufficient to announce merely the result that John Jones has been elected the Member of Parliament, without giving the score. The score is given because people are interested in it. On the same basis, information might not be disclosed on the votes in this Chamber, information about the people who voted for a Bill and what the majority has been. People are interested in these matters. I see no reason at all why Wales and Scotland, as communities—they are recognised as communities through the Welsh Office and the Scottish Office—should not have a separate result. The Welsh Office has direct links with Brussels. Why should we not know what Wales is feeling?

After all, the present Government are a body who believe so much in the disclosure of information. Much information is to be disclosed under the Industry Bill. It will be information upon which workers cannot act, but it is to be disclosed because it is of vital interest to them. The same is true of Wales. But on an even more practical matter, in the years to come, in the Government's legislative programme Welsh and Scottish Assemblies will be set up, and these may well, in the fulness of time, have direct links with Brussels. Indeed, a senior officer from the Commission, Gwyn Morgan, has said only recently that he looks to the day when there will be direct links between the Welsh National Assembly in Cardiff and the EEC organisation. That is why it is necessary for the people in Wales and in Brussels to know how Wales feels about the Common Market.

I wind up my speech with two small detailed points. The first is about the money allocation. What concerns me is not so much the size of the sum or whether it will facilitate any sort of campaign in Wales which can project this question in a Welsh context. In Wales there are specific arguments pertaining to Wales which may not pertain to other areas. The issue of steel—on which the Prime Minister admitted that he had reservations—is of paramount importance. The issue of agriculture is of greater importance. Regional policy is obviously of importance to Wales and Scotland probably to a much greater degree than it is to many parts of England. That is why we need a campaign geared to Wales. As far as I can see, the referendum is being geared centrally and the literature' being prepared is on too much of a central basis and does not permit discussion on a Welsh national basis.

Finally, on the subject of the literature, will the literature being distributed in Wales be related to Welsh issues specifically and will it be bilingual? That is something we await to see.

As a party and individually we welcome the referendum. We shall support the Government tonight because for our people it is important to get the referendum through quickly. But we do so only on the basis that in Committee there will be changes in the Bill which will facilitate a count which will enable us to have a Welsh result. If this is not forthcoming at a later stage in the Bill, we shall have to reconsider our position. However, the basic argument for all of us, however the count is done and however the referendum is worked, is that the power in this matter must rest with the people, and the people must have the final say.

7.24 p.m.

I find myself in some sympathy with the hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. Wigley) when he speaks about the need for some change in the arrangements put forward in the Bill for counting the votes when they have been cast. I find myself in some sympathy with his general approach to the whole concept of the referendum.

The vote in the House last night reminded us that almost all parties, including even Plaid Cymru, can be divided on the question of membership of the EEC. But, uniquely of all the great issues that have come before Parliament and the electors of this country, this has never been an issue between the parties at a General Election. Indeed, I first became interested in the idea of holding a referendum on this issue because there was too much unity within my constituency. It was argued in the early 1960s that this, perhaps, was the greatest political issue to arise since the end of the war. We discussed this at many public meetings. There was general agreement about it. I was broadly in favour of going into Europe. My Liberal opponent and my Labour opponent were broadly in favour of going into Europe. Therefore, if an elector believed that this was the great issue of our time, there was no way in my constituency in which he could cast a meaningful vote either for or against the idea. Over the years, therefore, I have advocated that we should have a referendum on this particular issue.

I should have thought that there was a possible alternative. An anti-Common Market candidate could have stood for election in my hon. Friend's constituency.

That may be so, but this would not have been a serious proposition. When fringe candidates of that sort stand for election, candidates concentrating solely on one issue, they tend to collect only a few hundred votes.

The Government have put forward a Bill which contains many details with which I do not agree. I should have thought it essential, if the referendum is to carry weight, that there should be the largest possible turn-out. Just over 110 years ago the Kingdom of Naples was carried into a united Italy by a plebiscite in which 19 per cent. of the eligible voters bothered to turn out to vote. It would be ludicrous if the British Government were to decide that they had a mandate to try to take this country out of the EEC if less than 50 per cent., say, of the electorate were to bother to vote. I should have thought, therefore, that the Government would make every effort to make it easy for people to vote.

I am delighted that the Government are making it easy for the Service voters to vote. It would have been ludicrous if less than half of the British Army of the Rhine—defending the EEC—had been entitled to vote in this important referendum. At the same time, I regret very much the fact that those who are working abroad, often for the Government, will not be eligible to vote. This morning I received a letter from a former constituent who is now advising the European Economic Commission at the Law of the Sea Conference at Geneva and will not be able to vote in the referendum if the present rules stand. It is perfectly possible to change the rules. The French have done it in their referenda, and there is no reason why we cannot do it.

At the same time, I thought it astonishing that the Leader of the House should make no reference in his speech to the enormous question of votes for those on holiday. It has been estimated that the number of people who will be on holiday in the early part of June will be almost as great as the entire electorate of Northern Ireland. It is ridiculous that all those people should be barred from casting their votes in this vital national poll.

It is regrettabe that there is in this Bill provision for the payment of £125,000) to both the "pro" and the "anti" organisations. It seems a bad precedent to hand out taxpayers' money to pay for political propaganda. I do not like it. As has been pointed out, the sum of £125,000 is ridiculous anyway. In Norway £8 million was spent, handed out from the central Government to the "pro" and "anti" organisations. It was found that the expenditure of this money did permanent harm to the party political structure in Norway. The idea is, I believe, wrong in principle, and the sum is so ludicrously small that it cannot have any serious effect on the conduct of the campaign in any event.

I am sad that so many of my right hon. and hon. Friends have talked this evening about the referendum being a major threat to the sovereignty of Parliament. I do not believe that is so. Parliamentary democracy in this country is under threat from many directions at the moment. There is the major threat from powerful unions which know that with impunity they can flout the wishes of a Government who are backed by a majority. It is a threat to parliamentary sovereignty when it is suggested that the economic affairs of this country can best be decided by bringing together the CBI, the TUC and a handful of consumers who, with Government representatives, will decide matters in a back room.

There is a major constitutional threat to the sovereignty of Parliament in having at one and the same time Assemblies for Scotland and Wales and, in addition to our Parliament, the establishment of a directly-elected European Parliament. I should like to see provision in future for another referendum if it were ever to be proposed that there should be a directly-elected European Parliament. At the same time I should like to see a referendum, and now one has been suggested, to ratify the results of the Constitutional Convention setting up an Assembly in Northern Ireland. We could have these as well as other referenda on the setting up of Assemblies in Scotland and Wales.

In 1911 the Conservative Party firmly believed that any measure which seriously altered the constitutional balance at that time should be submitted to a referendum. I believe that we were right then and we would be right to adopt that practice now. I believe that, properly used, a referendum could be a buttress and a safeguard for parliamentary democracy rather than its enemy.

7.34 p.m.

I assume that since I am apparently the last speaker from the Government back benches you will want me to speak for longer than usual, Mr. Deputy Speaker—

Order. If the hon. Member is the sort of person I think he is he will have some sympathy for other hon. Members who wish to speak.

I was about to say, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that if that were your wish I should have to disappoint you, because I intend to be relatively brief.

First, I agree with the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart). I, too, as I argued in the debate on the White Paper, believe that a referendum could be and should be used as an important constitutional device on very limited occasions. Having decided in principle in that debate that we would make use of the referendum device on this unique occasion, it is important that we now ensure that it is as perfect as we can make it.

I wish to comment briefly on a number of points. In spite of all the praiseworthy efforts of my right hon. and hon. Friends, this Bill is less than perfect, and, as someone who fully supported my right hon. and hon. Friends on the principle of the referendum in the debate on the White Paper, I trust that my remarks about it will be treated seriously and not as mere debating points.

It seems to me that the Bill fails to take any account of the possibility of a low poll, a point raised by the hon. Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Scott-Hopkins), with whose remarks I have some sympathy. The question is discussed in paragraphs 5 to 8 of the White Paper, but the Government end by stating blithely that, while they are concerned that the size of the poll should be adequate, they are confident that it will be so. It seems to me that that statement has no more validity than the confidence in victory expressed by any political party before a General Election.

We are told that this is a unique occasion, and I agree. For that reason I do not share the confidence of the Lord President that his Department is uniquely qualified to forecast an adequate poll. Anyway, what is an adequate poll? Is a 30 per cent. poll, regrettably so common in local elections, to be regarded as adequate? Is anything less than 50 per cent. to be regarded as adequate? I am prepared to accept the concept in the Bill of a simple majority, that one vote might decide the result. However, just because I am prepared to accept that, I do not want it to be one vote in what for a referendum on this issue would be a ridiculously low poll, especially since in such a poll the majority itself could be even more derisory.

The average turn-out in General Elections since the war has been just over 77 per cent. I do not propose that a poll of that magnitude should be regarded as the least acceptable, but I ask the Government seriously to consider whether a poll of perhaps below 60 per cent., and certainly below 50 per cent. should be considered as binding on the Government. I ask the Minister who is to reply to assure me that the Government might reconsider their decision to regard the referendum as being binding on them if the poll is below 50 per cent.

Secondly, there is also the question of the constitution of the electorate. The Government opted for the safe course—the ordinary General Election register plus peers. That is not good enough. In 1945 Service men abroad were given the vote even though they were not on any election register. It was recognised that to disfranchise precisely those people who had fought so that Britain should have more General Elections would have been flagrantly unjust. Today thousands of our citizens are working abroad just because Britain is in the Common Market. Their futures will be even more directly affected than those of the rest of us. It seems only just that they, too, should have the right to vote. I am glad that the Service men have the vote, but I think that people working abroad should have it, too. I believe that the Government, at least on this single occasion, should consider giving the vote to holiday makers. If this is a decisive issue for the British people, so unique that many other conventions of our political life have been put in cold storage, all the British people should have the right to decide on it.

It is not good enough for my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) on the one hand to agree with me that this is a unique occasion and on the other to assert that we must stick as closely as possible to the normal electoral practice. The only distinction being made by my right hon. Friend the Lord President between Service men and civilians abroad is one not of principle but of administrative convenience. My right hon. Friend said nothing to explain why when he is prepared to go to the extreme administrative inconvenience of having a central, national count, he cannot go to that superb instrument, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office—to the diplomats—to ensure that British civilians abroad get the vote.

Thirdly, I believe that the Government should abandon their desire to have a central count and a single United Kingdom result. In theory, I agree with the Government's position. I respect the belief of hon. Members on both sides of the House that a national result will contribute to national unity, and their fear that a locally counted result may be used by certain hon. Members to contribute to national disunity.

In my view, the opposing arguments are more compelling. My hon. Friend the Member for Goole (Dr. Marshall) has covered some great administrative problems, and I support his view. However, I stress far more the strong feeling in many parts of the country in favour of a local count. A count that reveals how regions vote is essential. It would be far better to have it honestly known than for the Scottish vote, which is obviously the key one, to be the subject of rumour and speculation. There would be allegations and counter-allegations, and enormous bitterness, which is precisely what we wish to avoid in the aftermath of the referendum.

I should like to see the hon. Member for Moray and Nairn (Mrs. Ewing) riding shotgun on the votes on the night train from Scotland. A tartan Western would be a refreshing change. However, I should be prepared to forgo that pleasure in the interests of national harmony. By way of qualification, I make the point that I do not believe in constituency declarations, as some hon. MemMembers do.

If there is a derisory or very low poll, which is possible, but which I do not think will happen, the ratifying vote in Parliament will be no formality. It is essential that hon. Members should feel free to make up their own minds without fear or favour. That is why I disagree with the amendment of the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. Steel) and his hon. Friends, but would be happy to have their support for my amendment.

I support the clause providing £125,000 for each of the two umbrella organisations. However, I reject the assertion in the White Paper that it would be "inappropriate" for the Government to launch an information campaign. The reason given is that the matter has been debated many times. If that is the case, what is the need to provide hundreds of thousands of pounds to the umbrella organisations to give out more information?

It is also suggested that the umbrella organisations, plus the media, will give all the information needed. That may be so, but they will not give it with the authority of the Government. The Government are committed to our staying in. If they believe that this issue is important, they must do more to put that point over than simply to send a pamphlet through the post. We know where that could well end up.

If the Government stay on the sidelines, there is a danger that this great issue will be seen as one to be decided by a vote between two totally free organisations unconnected with the Government. In my view, over and above the equal periods of time on television and radio which are expected for the two umbrella organisations, there should also be Ministerial broadcasts by the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and other Cabinet members supporting the Government on this issue. I know that some people regard these as perhaps of dubious efficacy, but in this case they will be important.

The hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. Henderson) wants to have it both ways. He wants the Government to publicise the fact that the referendum will take place, but not to publicise their views. I reject that. The Government are not a political eunuch. I agree with them that this is a unique occasion. That is why it is uniquely important for the Government to campaign, as a Government, for the result which is believed to be best in the interests of the British people.

7.45 p.m.

How many more times in this Session shall we have to suffer legislation which is destructive of the fabric of our society? I oppose the Bill because it is a squalid and bogus Labour Party political manoeuvre, like that other squalid, bogus Labour Party manoeuvre which is now in Committee, namely, the Housing Finance (Special Provisions) Bill.

The Bill with which we are dealing is bogus because the Government know that the issues before the country are very complex and will be little understood. Why else have they amended the question to be asked so that it reads:
"Do you think that the United Kingdom should stay in the European Economic Community (the Common Market)?"
They have amended it because people may not understand what "European Community" means. It is bogus because the country does not want to take the decision itself. It wants the decision to be taken by hon. Members whom it pays to study the complexities and to take the important decisions. It is bogus because it is well recognised by the Government that there is a danger that short-term considerations of emotion may have far more to do with the matter than taking the decision on its merits. We know from the experience of Norway that feelings can run extremely high in a referendum. We know from the way in which Hitler used to use the referendum exactly what it could lead to.

The Bill is squalid because members of the Government who now urge it were only a short time ago strongly against it in principle. In December 1969 a motion was moved under the Ten Minutes Rule asking that leave be given to bring in a Bill providing for a referendum on the EEC membership. It was defeated by 160 votes to 55. Amongst those who voted against it were the present Secretary of State for Employment, Secretary of State for Trade, Secretary of State for the Environment and Minister of State, Privy Council Office. Paragraph 104 of the White Paper on the EEC issued by the Labour Government in February 1970 made it unambiguously clear that after the outcome of the negotiations was clear
"it will then be for Parliament to decide".
In May 1970 the Prime Minister said:
"I think it is right that … Parliament should take that decision with a sense of full responsibility, with a sense that reflects national views and national interests."
In July 1971, the right hon. Gentleman, referring to the then Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath), said:
"The Prime Minister said that I oppose a referendum and I agree—I have always done so, as he has."—[Official Report, 8th July, 1971; Vol. 820, c. 1515.]
In those circumstances I found the speech of the Leader of the House today quite astonishing. He considered that it would be uniquely appropriate to have a referendum on whether we should stay in the EEC. In effect, he asked whether our constitution was so fragile and so inflexible that we could not have a referendum on this issue. Once again the Government have stood on their heads in a way which underlines the squalidity—if there be such a word—of this measure. It is squalid because we know that a Government Minister and other Labour Members have admitted on other occasions that it is no more than a political manoeuvre to hold the two wings of the Labour Party together in Government. It is squalid because it means that the British people are being invited to break a treaty obligation solemnly entered into in 1972 by a properly elected British Parliament, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Farnham (Mr. Macmillan) and others have made clear.

The Bill threatens the fabric of our parliamentary democracy far more than many hon. Members realise. It is not just that it will involve a change in the procedure of our law-making process. It is dangerous because it implies that Members of Parliament are unfit to decide the great political issues, or incapable of doing so. It is dangerous because that will eventually make Parliament unattractive and unimportant as a place for future generations of potential leaders. For power and influence they will want to go elsewhere.

It is dangerous because it will derogate from Cabinet responsibility, and has already done so. Let no one think that we on this side of the House rejoice because of the splits in Cabinet and ministerial responsibility in the Labour Government, because once splits begin to occur in Government they are dangerous not only for the party in power but for the parliamentary system as we know it.

The Bill is dangerous because it will be binding on the hitherto free will of many hon. Members, either because the majority party will whip its supporters into the Lobby demanded by the referendum—and they may very well change their minds from their vote yesterday, and will have good excuse for doing so—or because we should be living in a fools' paradise if we believed that, having gone directly to the electorate on a particular question, Members would be likely to refuse to accept their decision if the answer was not the one that was wanted. The vote will be binding—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."]—in reality, if not in law, a fetter on the free will of Parliament. I am heartened to know that many of my hon. Friends will not consider it to be binding, but many hon. Members, perhaps many on the Government benches, will consider it to be so.

If I am wrong, and if it would not be binding, this is nothing more than a cheap con trick on the British people, because they will consider that it will be binding and that Members of Parliament will respond in the way that the referendum decides. Did I say "a cheap con trick"? I meant "a very expensive con trick".

The Bill is dangerous, too, because it is the thin end of the wedge, or should I say "Wedgie"? It is true that it has been welcomed by my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart). Few of us on the Conservative benches ever conflict with the views he expresses on subjects of major importance, but on this issue he is very much a lone runner on this side of the House.

What guarantee can this or any other Government give that there will be no more referenda on other issues on which the Government wish to pass the buck? Scotland and Wales will want one on devolution, and the Government may well feel obliged to let them have it. Will there be a referendum on withdrawal of the troops from Northern Ireland? That would not please the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell). No more immigration, electoral reform, capital punishment, abolition of the grammar schools—

We have been told what an important constitutional departure it is to have a referendum. Should we not have a referendum on whether we are to have a referendum?

My hon. and learned Friend's point underlines the utter stupidity of the referendum system as it is now being introduced.

I could go on to talk about referenda on metrication, rates or taxes. If Labour Members say that referenda on such subjects are not likely to follow, that this is a one-off operation, I ask them, as they have changed their minds once, having said that there would be no referendum, what guarantees are there that they will not change their minds again? Once there is one breach in the dyke, the others will come thick and fast. We should be deluding ourselves if we thought that this was a one-off exercise. We may well find that it is far more than that.

There are glaring inadequacies in the Bill, which other hon. Members have made much of. I shall not repeat what they have said. The hon. Member for Belper (Mr. MacFarquhar) need have no fear about this elector of his. I live in his constituency, and I shall make sure that I vote there, no matter where the votes are counted. I shall do my best to ensure that those of my friends who also live in his division help to secure a high rather than a low poll.

Two parts of the Bill cause me particular concern. Clause 1 is disgraceful for its failure to provide an opportunity for British overseas residents to vote, other than those who are normally entitled to vote by proxy. It is patently simple for them to be allowed to register their votes at British embassies or consulates. An excellent reason is demanded for failure to allow that, but where was it? The Leader of the House said that he was not prepared with an explanation. He should have been. It was an obvious question for us to ask him. Perhaps there is no explanation. I join hon. Members who have said that we should take this opportunity to give the vote also to the British holiday maker.

Clause 4 causes me the greatest alarm. The Government often seek to rely on precedents, sometimes of the greatest tenuousness, for their outlandish legislation. Where is the precedent for this grotesque deprivation of the ordinary rights of citizens to have access to the courts? Clause 4 says:
"No court shall entertain any proceedings for questioning …
(b) the validity of anything done or purporting to be done under this Act or under any order made under this Act."
When in peacetime have we had measures that sweep so wide? A moment's thought will reveal that the House of Commons is hardly the forum to rule on a serious but particular challenge. What would be required—a special Bill? Would a Government find time in their crowded legislative programme for an adequate debate on such a matter?

If there were a central count, that would make the opportunities for challenge that much the smaller. I appreciate the need to avoid spurious and frivolous challenges, but the courts' power could be retained by other means. There could be a fiat in the power of the Attorney-General, or election commissioners could be appointed.

I ask that the Government give further anxious consideration to the clause, which clearly offends so many of us on both sides of the House. In particular, I commend consideration of the letter in today's Daily Telegraph by Mr. Ross McWhirter, who points out the value of the rule under the Representation of the People Act which allows for questioning an electoral count. I believe that he recommends an independent investigator, as provided for under the Election Commissioners Act 1949.

The Leader of the House said, in the context of the overseas vote, that that would be objected to because of the danger of the electoral machinery coming into disrepute. Nothing is more likely to bring the electoral machinery into disrepute than Clause 4.

The Bill stands for something which is bogus, squalid and terribly dangerous for parliamentary democracy. Its provisions are thoroughly unsatisfactory and grotesque. I can see no way in which the reputation of this place can be enhanced or the greatness of Britain be advanced by a measure which will contribute to the disintegration of our constitution as we know it. I shall, of course, vote against the Bill.

7.59 p.m.

I shall not speak for more than a few minutes because my views on this matter are, I think, well known.

This is a miserable, bastard, little Bill and the parent has not even attended a minute of the debate. I say no more than that, except that it shows all evidence of another shambles. Whoever devised the wording or the machinery should be locked up in a mental institution.

Let us consider the proposals for the count—a national count. Let Little-woods do the counting. They are expert at these pools things. If we want to decentralise, bring in Vernons, Hills, or Ladbrokes. It is inconceivable that anybody with an 10 above 80 should think of the idea of a national count at Wembley Stadium—I think that that was once proposed—with 120,000 spectators. It is the height of absurdity.

Let us consider the alternatives. I suppose that there is something to be said for a constituency vote. I should be attracted to that idea. We know how a constituency vote is counted. I shall certainly not be keeping my mouth shut in the referendum campaign. I am not made that way. My constituents well know my views on this matter. The constituency vote has its attractions. The county vote has its attractions. A vote in the new local government regions is a possible alternative. Then there is this mad idea which can have emanated only from the Leader of the House—the national count.

We could have separate votes in Northern Ireland, Wales, Scotland and England. Suppose we had a constituency vote and then a consolidated Scottish vote, and a constituency vote and a consolidated English vote. Suppose my constituency votes one way, Scotland as a whole votes the other way, and England takes one or other view. What view do I take in this House? I shall take my own view, and every hon. Member will do that. Therefore, in that sense, this is a massive confidence trick at great expense.

That brings me precisely to one of the provisions in the Bill—Clause 3, dealing with the question of cost. We are to give cash to two bodies of which I have never heard. I do not know anything about Britain in Europe. I have never attended one of its meetings. I know nothing about the National Referendum Campaign. Who elects these people? When the cash is given out, who will give what to whom? Let us suppose that I go to the Britain in Europe lot and say "I want to be one of your officers", and I then say to the Leader of the House "You are going to give us £125,000. I am the elected senior officer." Will the Leader of the House challenge me?

My hon. Friend the Minister of State, with his arrogance, had better watch himself. He has not been a Member all that long. Do not let him dare lecture me or anybody else on these matters, because I take them more seriously than he does and I have had a little more experience of the House than he has had. I am posing some genuine problems. He is dealing with public money. He is to give £125,000 to two organisations, neither of which is accountable to us.

It may sound frivolous, but I foresee a situation in which an organisation with officers says "We shall take the £125,000 and, for the duration of the referendum campaign, three or four of us will each have a salary of £10,000." What is to stop them from doing that? There is no overall control over this matter. What is to stop the National Front and the Communist Party from affiliating to these organizations—because Clause 3 provides that £125,000 shall be paid
"towards the expenses incurred by them or by organisations affiliated to them".
The National Front can affiliate to the anti-Market campaign. So can the Communist Party. Then, as bona fide affiliated organisations, they can claim part of the £125,000. So can the Scottish National Party. It will hang on to this provision and say "We demand the right to a share of this £125,000." Who is to decide that it shall not get it?

These organisations are not accountable to us. They can do anything with the money. They will present accounts afterwards, but there will be no recourse to the courts because Clause 4 provides that in no circumstances can there be recourse to the courts. In any case, it would be too late.

My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English), who has left the Chamber, talked about the fairness of spending and about the £1¼million of public money to be spent by the Government on the popular version of their White Paper. The Goverment are entitled to do that. The public have a right to know the official view of the bigger proportion of the Government. I should not object to that. At any rate, someone will be accountable for that in this House. But my hon. Friend went on to say that it was a matter of getting the full-hearted consent of the people, and yet hundreds of thousands of people overseas or on holiday will be excluded.

I have never thought that the argument for excluding holiday makers from the franchise was very good. My party always thought, and still feels, probably wrongly, that the person who is on holiday out of season tends to be a Tory voter. It has taken the view that people on holiday out of season during a General Election in perhaps March or October are generally wealthy people who are Conservative voters and, therefore, they must be disfranchised. But, whatever the merits of that argument—I do not think that it has many—they cannot be sustained on this matter because the Government are elevating it to a matter of high principle, saying that there must be as large a vote of the British people as possible—and many of them will be overseas.

I never intended going into politics—perhaps many people think it would have been better had I stayed out—but one of the attractions for me of fighting the 1945 General Election was that I was in the Army, loathing every minute of it, and the prospect of getting three weeks off to fight an election and another three weeks waiting for the votes to be counted, making six weeks out of the Army, was worth losing the election for. Therefore, if one can afford six weeks after a war to make sure that all Service men should have the right to express themselves—a right for which they fought—there is no reason why we should not go out of our way to ensure that every citizen who is entitled to the franchise in the referendum should have it.

But let us suppose that there was a vote of less than 50 per cent. I shall table amendments, if they have not already been tabled by somebody else, to the effect that if there is a vote of less than 50 per cent. the referendum shall be invalid. Supposing there was a vote of 50 per cent. or less, and it divided 25 per cent. to 24 per cent. Would anyone in his right mind think either that that was the full-hearted consent of the people or that this House would accept that vote as binding on it? Of course it would not. I need say no more. I am so disgusted that I shall shortly go home.

8.10 p.m.

I am delighted to echo all that the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) has said, except his aspersions against the newer Members of the House of Commons. I agree with him in his abomination of the Bill and its parentage.

Hon. Members will appreciate that we are debating a major constitutional innovation. It is deplorable that the Labour benches have been as bare as they have. They were, until a moment ago, flushed to the large number of seven. Earlier they dwindled to three, with one Front Bench representative and no Whip.

The referendum on our continued membership of the European Community—if it takes place, and I hope it will not—is a constitutional abomination, and will prove to be so for future generations. As the hon. Member for Belper (Mr. MacFarquhar) and other hon. Members have suggested, it is unique now. However, uniqueness, like virginity, once lost can never be regained, and although I do not intend to pursue that parallel, the temptation to use referenda in the future will inevitably prove to be irresistible.

The cohesion and proper operation of the executive, through collective Cabinet responsibility, in so far as it exists, is being cast aside—not by chance, as has happened so far, but by plan. I wonder how the Prime Minister could ever have conceived such a plan, when he is on record as saying clearly and sensibly, in the House, that a referendum is
"contrary to our traditions in this country … It is not a way in which we can do business."—[Official Report, 25th November 1960; Vol. 792, c. 199–200]
My hon. Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) gave other pertinent instances of members of the Government denying referenda by their votes in years not long gone by. Now, however, our Premier and our Lord President of the Council urge us to do busines by referendum. They find it impossible to include those people who live abroad or who are on holiday abroad, but who have the right to vote as citizens of this country. For some unstated reason, those people cannot be given that vote. In doing this the Government have cut at the very core of our constitutional system.

The constitutional consequences of a referendum were forgotten when the Prime Minister first suggested it. However, he had previously shown himself to be aware of them when, in a television programme on 28th May 1970, he referred to the decision whether to enter the EEC or not. He said:
"It is right that it is Parliament which should take that decision with a sense that reflects national views and national interests."
The Government now suggest that the representative parliamentary principle should be side-stepped. [Interruption.] From conversations now taking place on the Labour back benches, it seems that even those few Labour Members are not interested in the debate. It is not because of any new belief that a referendum would improve our method of government—as my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart) suggested—that the Government are in favour of a referendum. It is because it offers the only way in which the Premier can hold his party together, as has been so eloquently put by my right hon. Friend the Member for Farnham (Mr. Macmillan). Even this does not seem to be working as the Prime Minister hoped. As he attempts to lead a thoroughly disunited Government, he only shows how he is prepared to let Britain become a hostage to his own party's fortunes.

As Members of Parliament, we all believe in the British form of parliamentary representative democracy. As democratic representatives we must believe in the power of the Legislature to check the power of the executive. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Mr. McNair-Wilson) I suggest that by this referendum both democratic representation and the subtle checks and balances of our parliamentary system are jeopardised. That is why I cannot agree with the argument put forward by the hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price) either in its direct appeal or in its insinuations. I join with those hon. Members who have drawn attention to the specific jeopardy inherent in Clause 4, in excluding important legal checks, which some of my hon. and learned Friends have already reviewed in detail.

Our system of parliamentary government is, sadly, already feeling the strains—strains of a nature which it has not felt for many years, perhaps centuries. The strength of the institution of Parliament rests upon people's acceptance of it as the place where some form of national consensus can be struck and where a national leadership can be found. Both are now lacking. That does not and should not lead us to an acceptance of this thoroughly unacceptable Bill.

The question which must be decided this evening is whether the House of Commons can respond to the challenges of our time and provide the consensus and the leadership for which the nation yearns, or whether, of our own volition. we abdicate this responsibility by adopting choice by referendum and by encouraging worried electors to seek and to give too easy answers to our complex problems. I hope that this House will opt for the former and deny the latter. I shall be voting against the Second Reading of this disreputable Bill.

8.20 p.m.

When this debate opened four days ago the right hon. Lady the Leader of the Opposition certainly pulled out every stop in her efforts to strike fear into the heart of the nation. She referred to what would happen, in her opinion, if the referendum came down on the side of bringing the United Kingdom out of the Common Market. What struck me most forcibly about her remarks was that she did not seem to understand how business is run between one country and another.

In doing what she could to strike fear into the heart of the nation, of those who are to vote to decide whether Britain remains in the Community, the right hon. Lady frightened herself more than she frightened anyone else. I believe and hope that the people who will be asked to make a decision on their own behalf will understand.

My experience before we ever entered the Common Market was based upon a visit to European countries to find out where all this trade was waiting to be picked up. I met one of the largest and most influential industrialists in Europe, operating in one of the then six Common Market countries. I asked him if Britain joined the Community, what was waiting on the industrial front by way of orders for British industry and commerce? That gentleman replied "Where are all these orders? Who has had the cheek to tell British Members of Parliament that it is in the interests of British industry and the nation to join the EEC? If there are any orders to be picked up, that is what we are here for, that is what we have been working and investing for."

Order. I have not had my chance. The hon. Gentleman will address the hon. Gentleman by his constituency.

The hon. Gentleman has just spoken and I am sure that he has given the House the benefit of his knowledge on the matter. In view of your appeal, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I hope that right hon. and hon. Members will understand if I do not give way. I received a message a few minutes before catching Mr. Deputy Speaker's eye asking me to be brief. I have waited four days for the opportunity to speak and I have heard a number of right hon. and hon. Members speaking for well over 21 minutes. I hope that the House will bear with me and will not object if I take a few minutes over the odds. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not think that by refusing to give way to him I disregard what he might have intended to say. I have much to say myself.

So much for the information I was able to gain at first hand in Europe. Let us come to the firms in this country, firms for which most of us have great respect. When I tried to go to Europe the first country I wanted to visit was Holland. I had to wait four days before I could get a seat on one of the largest planes used for carrying pasengers between London Airport and Holland.

Upon asking why it was impossible to get a seat in less than four days I was told that the planes were loaded to capacity every morning and evening by British and European businessmen.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. While I appreciate that it is possible for hon. Members to range widely on Second Reading, is it not important that the subject matter should at least be relevant to what we are discussing?

I am afraid that the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin) is lengthening the debate. I believe that the hon. Member for St. Helens (Mr. Spriggs) is not far from his conclusion.

I warn those who would try to gag me that if they warm me up I shall speak much longer and will give them more detail, more of the stuff they do not want to hear.

One of the things I want to raise this evening is the subject of the Treaty of Rome.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I apologise if we are beginning to annoy you, but the hon. Member for St. Helens (Mr. Spriggs) had been in the Chamber for 10 minutes before he was called upon to speak. There are six or seven Conservative Members who wish to speak about the Referendum Bill—surprise, surprise! Could you therefore perhaps provide guidance for the hon. Member?

I can provide guidance. I am aware of the frustration but the hon. Member for St. Helens has been to this Chair for four days, like others. He went out for a meal. I do not usually join in explaining what has happened.

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for correcting the hon. Gentleman.

I have taken particular note of the articles in the Treaty of Rome. I refer to Title IV, which deals with transport. Articles 74 to 84 deal with this subject. This country has been a member of the Common Market for two-and-a-half years. One of the things that have undermined my confidence in the Community concerns the fact that these articles which were intended to help transport—railways, roads, inland waterways—have failed to protect the rates charged by, and the conditions of service of the transport undertakings of this country. I believe it is in the interests of Members of the House and the people of the country at large to understand what the treaty really means.

I very much regret that this part of the treaty has never been used to help develop transport in this country.

Heysham has been closed down. The Inter-City Services between Manchester and Belfast and Birmingham, London and Belfast have been closed down. Many appeals have been made by interested parties. People who were working in that port have now been given notice. It can be seen from this morning's Financial Times that the very system that started the run-down of the Heysham-Belfast service is being operated in the Holyhead service.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I realise that in the course of your duties you are preoccupied, but the hon. Member for St. Helens (Mr. Spriggs) is straying so wide of the subject in talking about the Heysham ferry and other problems of his constituency that I ask your protection for hon. Members who have been sitting here since 2.30 p.m.

There is anxiety among hon. Members who are anxious to speak. I know that the hon. Member for St. Helens is anxious to keep to the point. Perhaps he will do so.

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I know that you will keep all hon. Members in order, and I am doing my best to keep in order.

What I am talking about has something to do with the referendum. We are proposing to ask the nation to vote on whether Britain remains in the Common Market or is brought out, and I am saying why the people should vote in the referendum for bringing Britain out.

The articles in the Treaty of Rome which I mentioned are being used according to the whims and wishes of the Government in power. The Government who were in power at the time we signed the treaty—the Conservative Government—had responsibility for protecting every type of transport under the terms of the treaty, but took no action to do so.

Let us consider the people who are said to be in the most dangerous position if Britain is voted out of the Common Market. We are told that British trade will suffer. I asked the House of Commons Research and Statistical Department to look up the trade between the United Kingdom and the Eight and the rest of the world.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Surely this speech would have been appropriate on Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday of this week but cannot be related to the issue that the House is deciding tonight.

The hon. Member for St. Helens, I understand, is arguing that the referendum should be held and that people should vote to come out of Europe on the various grounds that are disturbing him. I appeal to the hon. Member to help us so that others may also put their point of view.

Yes, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I understand that that is the real object of the points of order. It is not that I am out of order. Opposition Members just want to gag me.

I appeal to the hon. Member. Many hon. Members have been waiting and have suffered the same frustration as he has.

Yes, but it is most important that the people who will take part in the referendum should understand why we who oppose Britain's remaining in the Community speak as we do.

Those firms which have been trading with European countries will not be barred from trading with the same countries even if Britain is voted out of the Common Market. Trade is not carried on in that way, as Opposition hon. and right hon. Members know. This country has been trading world-wide for as long as it has existed. In the event of Britain's being brought out of the Common Market, British business men will do business with the European countries as never before. In the even of import and export levies—

Order. I must ask the hon. Member to relate his argument to the Bill that is before the House rather than to the broader issue.

I am giving the reasons why the nation should vote against remaining in the Common Market.

This is a Second Reading debate. I do not need to be corrected by Opposition Members, especially those who have not been in the House two minutes. It is well beyond the capacity of Opposition Members to talk or shout me down. I have had too much experience in the country for that.

I wish to draw to the attention of the House some of the great reasons for membership of the Common Market being a threat to democracy. The gravest disadvantages are political. The rights of our people and the power of our Parliament will remain, at the end of the negotiations, subordinate to the non-elected Commission and the Council of Ministers. The Treaty of Rome, in the provisions of which Britain had no hand and which was designed to meet the needs of countries with different political and social traditions, continues to be the written constitution of the United Kingdom. The right to decide policies and to make laws over a wide and rapidly growing area of our affairs, which the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath), who was at the time in question the Prime Minister, and his right hon. Friends handed over to the Common Market three years ago, has not been restored to the British people. Nor have we taken back the Common Market's powers to levy taxes—

Order. The hon. Gentleman should relate his argument to the question of a referendum.

Yes, but those who support the retention of membership of the Common Market, and those who are arguing that the nation should vote to remain in the Common Market, should be given the necessary information before they vote. I shall give some statistical information for the record and for the nation to read before it votes. I start with 1970. Imports from Common Market countries amounted—

I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman is anticipating the campaign outside the House. We are here deciding whether the Bill shall have the approval of the House. I make a personal appeal to the hon. Gentleman not to give us all the arguments for and against the Common Market but to refer himself to the Bill.

At the moment the Bill is in the hands of the House. The nation will have its turn next. Right hon. and hon. Members on both sides have had their say over these past four days. If the truth of the matter is given to the electorate, those who are so cocksure that the nation will retain its membership of the Common Market will have a shock. The outcome of the referendum depends upon the information that is supplied by the House, Members of Parliament, libraries and other information media. I am not sure that we can rely upon the greater section of the national Press to give the facts to the nation. The nation is depending upon us to give it the truth.

Britain was dragged into the Common Market willy-nilly by a Conservative Government. They were prepared to drag the nation in at any price. It is up to us to give the nation the facts whilst we are in the Chamber. When we leave the House our turn will come to give further details. It should be the responsibility of every Member to give the case for both sides.

My right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs have done an exceedingly difficult job. Most of us understand why they returned from the Dublin meeting without any amendment to the Treaty of Rome. No member of the Common Market had any intention to amend or change the treaties. Nevertheless, let me give credit to the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary for the work they have done.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Member for St. Helens is abusing the rules of the House in an outrageous and disgraceful fashion and should be censured either by you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, or by the House as a whole. He has already received six admonitions to keep within order.

Order. The hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes) is himself in danger of abusing the rules of the House by his remarks. I have twice appealed to the hon. Member for St. Helens to relate his argument to whether there should be a referendum or how it should be conducted. He has now taken 22 minutes, and I shall be grateful if he will bring his remarks to a conclusion.

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for ruling the hon. Member for Harrow. East (Mr. Dykes) out of order. I am sure that the Chair will understand why it has been so difficult for me to try to keep in order and to keep my speech down to a few minutes' duration. Interventions in one's remarks every few minutes always tend to extend the length of an hon. Member's speech.

On behalf of the people of St. Helens, I wish to appeal to the nation to take note of the speeches made in this House, to attend referendum meetings wherever they may be, and to cast their votes to bring Britain out of the Common Market.

8.43 p.m.

Neither the occupant of the Chair nor the House itself need have the slightest fear that I shall comment on any of the remarks made by the hon. Member for St. Helens (Mr. Spriggs). I say that for two reasons. The first is that if I were to comment on anything he said I should be out of order. Secondly, if I were to take such a course, it would represent a gross abuse of the wishes of colleagues on both sides of the House who are still trying to get into the debate.

The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House, in opening the debate, said that in his view the referendum was the only method of ascertaining British public opinion and said that that was the reason why he supported this legislation. Some hon. Members have recalled what the Prime Minister and other Labour Party Members have said in the past about referenda, and I shall not weary the House by repeating their words. But the Leader of the House seems to have ignored the fact that it is only within the last few weeks that the Prime Minister has declared himself in favour of a referendum rather than of a General Election. Up to the present the Prime Minister has kept his options open. I am referring not to the period 1969 to 1971, but to the fact that in the period leading up to the last few weeks the Prime Minister was still keeping the House guessing whether we should have a referendum or a General Election. Even if the mind of the Leader of the House does not go back to 1969 he should at least read what the Prime Minister has been saying in the last few weeks.

I should like to refer to the situation of holiday voters, apart from overseas voters, as such. I do not regard this as a purely Committee point. For those living overseas who have no registered address in this country there are administrative arguments, and it is said that some difficulty could arise in enabling such people to vote. However, for those on holiday no such difficulties arise. I hope that the Leader of the House will consider this point. If, during a General Election, a man is away overseas or otherwise on business, he can go to the town hall, fill up the requisite form saying that "I shall be away on such-and-such a day on business and I should like to vote." It involves no constitutional or administrative innovation it merely involves dropping the demand that people have to make a statement that they will be away on business at a particular time. It is that, and nothing more. I hope that we shall revert to that question in Committee. The peroration in the speech of the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) compared very favourably with what came afterwards, since he made the point that when we are talking of this lofty matter of principle we should not make calculations whether holiday voters will vote in favour or against staying in the Common Market.

The general argument has been made that there must be a referendum rather than a General Election because this is a unique occasion. Uniqueness is always a matter of opinion. I have a profound dislike of the concept of the referendum, because once it has taken place there will be a demand for referenda on subjects whenever it is certain that there will be a favourable majority opinion. There is no point in Government supporters saying that a referendum was held concerning the Common Market because that was a unique matter. It is unique only because the proposal was put forward in Labour Party manifestos, after which two elections were won.

The talk about a unique occasion is bogus. In the past a referendum has been held in Wales with regard to the drinking of alcohol on Sundays. The referendum is held every seven years. In the past we were told that the situation was unique because of the attitude of the Welsh to Sunday drinking. I have never argued with that proposition, although I have taken part in several such votes. I shall not say which way I voted.

A plebiscite or referendum was also held in Gibraltar. I was told that the main reason why that was held was that the Government were sure of winning it, which they did. We were, however, told that it was not a great constitutional innovation. Another referendum has been held in Ulster.

Hence, this referendum will be the fourth in our history. It will not be the last. I appeal to the Government to drop this miserable measure. I do not know what the Government think they will achieve by it. The Prime Minister looks like someone who has trodden on a rake and received a hearty smack where he did not expect to get it. He has not introduced the referendum for a national reason. There was no possible ground for its introduction. He said earlier that a referendum would be a bad measure and later that he did not much mind whether the result was achieved by means of a referendum or a General Election.

This measure is introduced so that the Prime Minister can hold his party together. If that is so, it must be the greatest miscalculation of all time by any political leader. The holding of this referendum has done more to split the Labour Party than has any other measure Members of Parliament have witnessed in their political careers. Even now the Prime Minister should withdraw. He holds office today only because of the support he received last night from the Conservative Party. If he had not received that support he would have had to resign on a vote of confidence. Although it is almost impossible to induce this Prime Minister to resign, that should have been the result if last night's vote had been lost. He remains in office by courtesy of the tolerance of the Conservative Party, which has put the interests of the country before those of party.

If hon. Members are willing to make five-minute speeches, we have time for another four.

8.50 p.m.

I shall comply with your request to be brief. Mr. Deputy Speaker, because I know that a number of my hon. Friends are still hoping to contribute to the debate. I say "some of my hon. Friends", because the Government benches have been virtually empty for the greater part of the evening. The so-called Referendum Bill about which the Lord President is apparently so enthusiastic, although he never gives that impression about anything, is not supported morally or by their presence in the Chamber by any of his hon. Friends who are so addicted to this new constitutional departure—this blinding flash of reality that at long last a referendum on this unique occasion is an excellent way for the Labour Party to cement its traditional links with the people.

The British people will see through it, however. They have begun to see through it already. Opinion poll results show how people are beginning to feel collectively about the vital issue of the European Economic Community and Britain's continued membership. They see through the squalid measures for which the Lord President and the Prime Minister are responsible.

Whenever I listen to the Lord President I recall the famous circus which lost its human cannon ball in an accident. Afterwards, the ring master commented "It will take many years before we find another man of the same calibre". I do not say that in a personal sense. I make no reflection upon the right hon. Gentleman's intelligence. He is a highly intelligent man. That being so, it is even more depressing to see a great political party indulging in this miserable manoeuvre for its own internal party reasons. But even those are not working, as was shown by the vote last night. The majority of the Parliamentary Labour Party voted against the motion for continued membership on the renegotiated terms. Therefore, even that is falling apart in the hands of the Labour Party, and its members will live to regret it.

This wretched Bill should be rejected out of hand, and that is why two of my hon. Friends and I tabled a negative motion referring especially to Clause 4. That clause alone is an outrage of such magnitude that it will be tragic if it is not rejected or amended substantially in Committee, always assuming that the Bill receives a Second Reading. In my view, that in itself is reason enough for rejecting the Bill.

It is still not too late for the Lord President to restore to himself some kind of honour by having second thoughts about the whole Bill, especially about Clause 4. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider the implications of the clause and to consider also the situation that could arise, irrespective of whether there is to be a national count or a county count, if, say, in Sunderland during the night of the count anyone was seen to slip £250 or £500 to someone to cancel a ballot box of votes or to push a van-load of ballot boxes into the river. No legal action could be taken as a result.

The Lord President must deal with this matter to the satisfaction of the House. For that and for many other reasons which time does not permit me to mention, I am wholly opposed to the Bill.

8.54 p.m.

Not for the first time, I feel a little depressed and dismayed as I listen to speeches from Opposition Members. I am depressed and dismayed on this occasion because it is the first time in recent years that we have tried at least to introduce some kind of new democratic procedure and some updating of the way in which we establish the relationship which we, as Members of Parliament, have with the people whom we are supposed to represent.

Whenever a new proposal comes forward, it is easy to nitpick, to criticise, to argue, to suggest improvements and to ridicule. That has been the method of hon. Gentlemen opposite. Regrettably, they have made no attempt whatsoever, either now or during the years when they were in government, to try to update our democracy or to demonstrate how we can improve our relationship with the people we represent. The sole contribution that they may claim to have made to an extension, improvement or development of democracy in this country, is the now universally admitted disastrous Local Government Act 1972 which, far from extending democracy, produced fewer local councillors, less interest in local government and even less confidence in elected representatives.

We should consider any proposal or recommendation of this kind with a certain amount of modesty and a willingness to see it through and to try to improve and establish it in a way with which we can be pleased. I wish that hon. Gentlemen opposite would regard this proposal in that way.

We all know that a referendum has disadvantages and difficulties. Hon. Members on both sides have pointed out many of those difficulties. But our democratic system has remained substantially unchanged during the whole of this century. No innovations or modifications have been introduced. At the beginning of this century, how did we represent the people? We represented them with 630 MPs and a few thousand part-time councillors. What democratic method have we got in 1975? We have 635 Members of Parliament and rather fewer part-time councillors.

Do hon. Gentlemen opposite suggest that we have a perfect representative and democratic system? If so, they show a smugness which, even for them, is unusual. We should look for ways to improve and develop our democracy.

I have the greatest sympathy with some of the problems which have been encountered in drafting this legislation and with the tasks which have confronted my right hon. Friend, because no fundamental thinking has been done about having fair and democratic elections in this country. We have not thought to make General Elections in recent years fairer or more genuine contests between the two sides. Many of the problems which have been encountered in drafting the Bill have resulted because we have not updated our General Election machinery, and so on.

I suggest that hon. Members on both sides of the House should consider the financial relationships between parties and their outside supporting interests. Part of the Referendum Bill is concerned with ensuring that the two sides arc fairly treated and that there is a fair contest—at least from a financial point of view. Can we pretend that there is a fair contest from a financial point of view at General Elections when organisations like Aims of Industry chip in £500,000 to support one party?

Order. I remind the hon. Gentleman that I made an appeal for five-minute speeches.

Yes, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I shall certainly wind up as quickly as I can.

I suggest that the lessons of this Bill, the debate upon it and the conclusions that will be drawn from the Committee stage should not be forgotten when the referendum is concluded. I suggest that we should apply many of those lessons to our own system at General Elections in this country, so that when we next have a General Election we shall see that from a financial point of view there is a far greater balance between the two sides than there has been in the past, and that we shall ensure that there is a balance between the two sides in relation to advertising and the national Press, as well as on television.

We should try to look at this again, even at this late stage. Hon. Members should take a slightly less cynical view. We should do our best to see that we establish more democratic forms in this country and that we do not maintain quite the same smug view of our democracy that some people seem to have at the moment.

9.1 p.m.

Let us by all means examine new means to improve our democratic process, but in doing so let us consider their advantages and disadvantages and always reject those that would worsen rather than improve it. Once a decision had been taken to violate our delicately balanced system of representative government it was inevitable that the Prime Minister would have to resort to one desperate dodge after another. I want to draw attention, in a few minutes, to three or possibly four of them.

The first is that we have, in consequence, the unlovely spectacle of Ministers continuing to draw their salaries for advising the Queen while at the same time campaigning in the country to undermine the policy of the Queen's principal advisers. But to behave like this is to treat membership of the Queen's Government as a useful source of income and nothing less—unearned income, though hardly untaxed as such. They take the pay but they rat on the obligations. The Prime Minister who permits this within what he is still whimsically pleased to call his "Government" is just as guilty as those who work against him, for his sole purpose in permitting it is to remain in office himself. He has, of course, to face the possibility of a majority voting "No", and determination to stay in office drives him to the second of his expedients.

The Prime Minister will not resign and make way for those who agree with what the majority say in the referendum. Though there be a majority of only one, in a poll, however slender, against his Government's policy on this, the greatest issue of our time, he will yield everything except office. He will pursue policies he believes to be profoundly harmful and he will advise the Queen accordingly. Having turned his back on his objective and started to retreat, he will no doubt say he is soldiering on. But sometimes soldiers have to sacrifice themselves, and at this the Prime Minister draws the one line we may be confident he will never abandon.

Thirdly, having demeaned his own value as a Member of Parliament, let alone as a Prime Minister, he is, of course, driven to drag down with him every other Member of this House. In purporting to answer questions, he said on Tuesday, by clear implication, that each one of us ought to abide by the verdict of the referendum and that we should be arrogant if we did not.

I have been elected to Parliament on only two occasions, each time on a pro-European policy, the second time with an increased majority. I was not elected to rat on that policy and to vote for the opposite of what I think right as the automatic result of a referendum. I declined at the last General Election to promise to do so, and I do not propose to do so now. Any other position seems to me to be absolutely destructive of the value and meaning of Parliament. It would throw to the winds Edmund Burke's classic doctrine concerning our duties, to which I am attached by family piety as well as by profound conviction, and it would dishonour each one of us.

The last expedient to which the Prime Minister has been driven is to be found in Clause 4(b)—a legislative outrage. Has the Attorney-General been asked to advise on this clause, and, if so, what advice has he given? I hope we shall hear about that tonight, because not only the validity of any order but anything done by any official anywhere purporting to be done under the Act is excluded from the examination of the courts. None may test its validity, even though it is done in a bare-faced fashion. That is what the clause says, and that is how the clause will be interpreted. If the Prime Minister wants to talk about arrogance in this context, let him examine his own Bill and see whether it is exactly the distillation of executive humility.

I told my constituents that I did not propose to be bound by the Bill. I shall not plough the sands again, but this Bill represents exactly this Government's attitude to the rule of law. My constituents will have their remedy, if they wish to use it, at the next election. Meanwhile, I shall vote to preserve the function of the Parliament to which they sent me and the courts whose function it is to protect my constituents.

9.6 p.m.

The attack on parliamentary democracy took place in 1970, when the then Government took a major constitutional step without the issue having been debated at a General Election. Had a vote taken place on that basis at the 1970 election, had people been given a choice, there would have been no need for the referendum. The referendum was made necessary because a great constitutional step was taken without debates in the country and without any form of consultation. I will not use the expression "full-hearted consent of the people". If there had been the minimum of consultation, that would perhaps have avoided the need for the referendum, but there was not.

I believe that the Labour Party would not have adopted the policy of the referendum which it put to the people in February and October had there not been in 1970 such a feeling of repugnance in principle among those of us who supported the Market because the Government were acting against the wishes, as we saw them, of the British people at the time.

I want not to debate the referendum but only to raise three points with the Leader of the House. First, I should like to thank him for having the referendum before the start of the industrial holiday in North Staffordshire and Lancashire. We appreciate that he listened to our representations and took this decision to hold the referendum early.

Second, I appeal to the Government to consider seriously having county counts. I know that locally there is a great deal of concern that it is proposed that the count should be in London. There is a feeling that people will not trust a count in the same way if it is held in London. If they know the people attending the count, if they are aware locally who they are, it will be far better from the point of view of the acceptance of the justice and probity of the count if it is held at county level. I do not believe that counting at county level will create embarrassment for any hon. Member.

On my third point I must declare an interest. My union, the Post Office Engineering Union, was one of the first organisations to press for the referendum. However, it is not our members but the postmen who will carry the heavy burden of delivering the literature house by house. I should like to know what financial arrangements will be made with the Post Office for the delivery of that material and in what sort of period it will take place.

I promised to conclude in five minutes and I see that the Deputy Chief Whip is in his place to make sure I do. In conclusion, I welcome the Bill.

9.9 p.m.

There will be a whole number of right hon. and hon. Members who feel that they have been around this course before, as indeed we went around it just over a month ago. Some of the horses which ran then ran again today. Some fell then and are not present today. Perhaps the jumps are not so high, but the result, I fear, would probably be the same because, as far as I can see, the odds have not altered at all.

My hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Mr. McNair-Wilson) really went straight to the point in one of the very early speeches in the debate today. He raised the point that what was involved in the Bill was that the British public were being invited to break a treaty. He said that it was remarkable that the British people should be given the power to do that very thing. He pointed out—and it needs to be said at the very beginning of any winding-up speech—that the Prime Minister was unable to carry the anti-Marketeer Left-wingers in the Cabinet unless he gave them this extraordinary constitutional device.

We heard some frightening statistics from the hon. Member for Goole (Dr. Marshall) when he spoke of the ballot boxes requiring some 80,000 cubic feet of space and said that it would require 24 hours a day of work in order for the count to be declared on the Sunday. I hope very much that "unsocial hours" will apply to those who have to carry out the count. The hon. Gentleman made an important point when referring to Mr. Boynton's letter in The Times to the effect that a great deal of time could be saved if the preliminary formalities—that is, the checking of the ballot papers against the number in the ballot box—could be carried out in the constituencies. Ballot papers are kept face down. I suppose that so long as the confidentiality of the count could always be maintained in these occasions, Mr. Boynton's practical suggestion would cover some of the anxieties expressed by hon. Members today with regard to what might happen at a national count at, for example, Earls Court, where there would be difficulties in checking the ballot papers in a way that one would be able to check them in a particular constituency.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Grantham (Mr. Godber) asked the question which has raised itself time after time, not only today but in the debate a month ago—what is the overriding reason which makes this referendum necessary? Really, there has been no answer. Time after time the question is asked, but whenever one gets down to it we merely get the answer "This is a unique occasion." My right hon. Friend pointed out—I agree with him entirely in this—the danger of statistics the source of selectivity of which might be suspect being used, as they inevitably will be used, during the campaign. He reminded the House that this would be a dangerous precedent and it would, because of this, be difficult to resist referenda in the future.

My right hon. Friend also pointed out—only a few right hon. and hon. Members mentioned this in the course of this debate, though it arose during the debates earlier this week—that the very fact of having a delay caused by a referendum will lead to grave uncertainty not only in Europe but in the rest of the world, thus perhaps affecting sterling but certainly harming our standing in the world.

The hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. Henderson) made the point that a big vote was essential. I am sure that every hon. Member will agree with him. That was emphasised by my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Scott-Hopkins), who asked the question: what would happen if there was a low poll, and would the Government really feel themselves bound if there was perhaps a 30 per cent. turn-out? It may be that the Minister of State will give an indication of the Government's feeling as to what sort of figure they expect to be able to act confidently upon-20 per cent., 30 per cent., 40 per cent., or 50 per cent. Certainly, if it is to be a very low turnout it will make nonsense of the whole idea of the House being bound by the result.

The hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price), apparently confident in referenda, says that he is all for them and hopes for more. Perhaps I may sound a cautionary note to him and say that he might be disagreeably surprised by the results in referenda covering such subjects as capital punishment and indemnity for the Clay Cross councillors or the Shrewsbury pickets.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Farnham (Mr. Macmillan) suggested that the ballot paper should contain the question "Should we get out?" rather than the present proposed wording, and meet the point, which I think is a valid one and needs emphasising, that it must be made clear to the country that this is only a consultative referendum. If we do not make that point we shall either be deceiving the people or be making a mockery of Parliament. He also made the point, which was certainly considered by Mr. Ronald Butt in The Times today, about the question of ministerial responsibility and the damage that is done to that responsibility and even to ministerial accountability to the House. For whose policies are Ministers now accountable? This is a question which I suspect and fear will become more and more relevant over the next eight or 10 weeks, a question to which the Opposition have repeatedly sought an answer and have always been fobbed off.

The hon. Member for Wrexham (Mr. Ellis said that he used to be opposed to the referendum but that as time went by he had become converted to the idea. No doubt he will observe that very shortly there may be a vacancy, but I still advise him to move cautiously when he changes his mind in that way. The hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. Wigley) favoured a constituency count and said that in this situation a Member of Parliament was a delegate and was bound to vote according to the decision in his constituency. I totally disagree with that, but, much more, it demonstrates in the clearest possible way the danger that follows from a referendum. He added, as a reason for wanting a constituency count, that he wanted to know what his constituency felt. It is significant that he did not seem to want to let his constituency know what he feels since he apparently abstained last night.

My hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart), who has for a long time supported the idea of a referendum, pointed out, as has been pointed out by others, that it would be ludicrous for the Government to decide that they had a mandate to leave the EEC if less than 50 per cent. of the electorate had voted. I hope that the Minister of State will tell us what his views are on that matter. My hon. Friend pointed out that it was perfectly possible to change the rules to take account of voters overseas and that the French have provisions in their referenda to enable overseas voters to record their votes. He said that holidday votes should also be permitted because in the early part of June the proportion of the electorate away on holiday was probably almost equal to the entire electorate of Northern Ireland.

The hon. Member for Belper (Mr. MacFarquhar), said that the Bill was less than perfect. He took the view—and I agree with him—that it is a good thing for Service men to have the vote. I go further and say that so, too, should those who are working overseas, often for companies, and not only in Europe but in other parts of the world.

May I put the record straight on one matter? The French give representation to the French overseas in their General Elections as well.

I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend for that. I believe that the provisions are much more limited for General Elections and much more extensive for referenda.

My hon. Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) spoke of the splits in the Government arising out of this whole problem being dangerous to the parliamentary system. I add only that in these circumstances it is also probably, if not certainly, dangerous to Parliament as well.

We then had the remarkable speech, as we are now so often inclined to expect, from the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton), who reminded the House that the parent of this Bill had not attended the House from beginning to end of the debate.

I am not sure of the parentage of the Bill, but the parentage of the referendum principle was an amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten).

Right hon. and hon. Members can probably assign the parentage of the Bill more accurately than the hon. Gentleman can.

The hon. Member for Fife, Central went even further. I should not like to be quite so rude to parliamentary draftsmen, because it may be that they were overruled and that other influences were brought to bear on them, but the hon. Gentleman said that whoever drafted the Bill should be locked up in a mental institution. On certain passages, especially the second part of Clause 4, I support him entirely. He said that he would carry on taking his own view whatever happened. He said that the conclusion to be drawn was that the Bill was a massive confidence trick. That is right, unless we make it absolutely clear to the public that this is only a consultative document.

Then there was a speech, which I do not want to spend long on, by the hon. Member for St. Helens (Mr. Spriggs), who spent a very long time on it. It was significant that for the first part of his speech the only people present on the Government side were himself and the Minister who will wind up the debate. The hon. Gentleman seemed reluctant to address himself to the subject. He should have made his speech earlier this week. I doubt whether he would want his speech to be compulsory reading in his constituency.

My hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Sir F. Bennett) rightly spoke of the case with which those who are away on business can obtain votes, and asked why that should not apply to those on holiday. He reminded us—and we sometimes need to be reminded—that once we have a referendum it will not be the last.

Next there was a forceful and high-speed speech from my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Royal Tunbridge Wells (Mr. Mayhew), who put into the space of four minutes what many others failed to do in 20 minutes. He asked a question which I hope the Minister of State will be able to answer, especially since it falls exactly within his departmental responsibility: namely, did the Attorney-General advise upon Clause 4 before it was included in the Bill?

I should like to give a cautionary warning to the Leader of the House. I say "cautionary", because there is no question of the Opposition's filibustering or delaying the completion of the Committee stage. However, does the right hon. Gentleman realise that some 80 amendments have already been tabled and that there are major issues to be considered?

Will the count be a national one, a county one or a constituency one? How will it be announced? May I suggest that it might be announced in the House on the Monday rather than on television? How shall we deal with the reconciling of ballot papers? There will be questions and debates on the form of the question, on the ballot paper, whether there should be any control over broadcasting and advertising, and the extent of financial aid—whether it should be greater or less, or whether there should be any at all. There will be question and debates on the percentage of the vote which should be valid, whether there should be a public holiday, a recess or adjournment of the House, and, if so, for how long. There are also the questions of the franchise—which I envisage taking a considerable time—the holiday votes, the overseas electors, and, finally, Clause 4, which, if the Government persist in pressing it, will take hour after hour after hour. We shall fight to exclude it root and branch.

I warn the Leader of the House about this, because he spoke of the Bill's passage through the House being concluded, which would mean the Committee stage, Report and Third Reading, in the week beginning 21st April. That allows at the most four days, if we include the Friday. The Opposition do not intend to filibuster, but that is an extremely optimistic approach in view of the number of important matters of principle which will have to be deal with.

Two of these matters in particular worry me and have worried the Opposition. The question of overseas votes is fundamental. The Leader of the House has told us that there is a great issue of principle involved, which cannot be dealt with in the time. I am not sure whether he is saying that it is a great issue of principle and, therefore, should not be included, or that it is a great issue of principle but cannot be included because there is not enough time. This is described time after time as a unique occasion. If we are to have a referendum at all, it is a unique occasion affecting the whole of the British people. All Britons qualified to vote should be allowed to vote. That must include those who are overseas, many of them advancing the cause of this country, working for business companies. They will be as much affected as those staying at home. The result of the referendum will be felt for generations, not just for months or years.

If the right hon. Gentleman's objection is that there is not enough time, we must ask "Why not?" There has been plenty of time to plan the referendum. In the Labour Party manifesto in February 1974 there was a promise to consult the people through the ballot box. I suspect that no alternative to a referendum was ever thought out. Provisional plans could have been drawn up then. If that manifesto meant anything, that was the time, over 12 months ago, to have provisional plans ready.

If time does not allow United Kingdom citizens in Europe and other places overseas to register their vote by 5th June, let us have the referendum later, though not so much later that it must be in October. I accept that probably 19th June is the latest date before we run into deep trouble. Why not have it on 12th June or 19th June? Would the extra week or fortnight provide enough time?

The matter is not nearly as difficult as the right hon. Gentleman makes out. It could be dealt with quite well by allowing all those who wanted to vote to register at their local consulate or embassy. The onus would be entirely on the British citizens concerned. They could produce their passports, and, within the terms of our amendment, so long as they had the right of abode in the United Kingdom that fact could be registered and they could be given a ballot paper then or at a suitable time before polling day. The ballot papers would not have to be sent back to the United Kingdom. It is not like a constituency decision, for which each ballot paper would have to go to the constituency returning officer. The ambassador or a member of the embassy staff could do the count on polling day and telegraph the result to the United Kingdom.

I do not accept that the problem is insoluble, as the right hon. Gentleman told us. It may be ironic that the vote is given to citizens abroad by not only Sweden, New Zealand and Australia but Norway, whose referendum kept her out of Europe, and the United States, under a recent amendment.

Last night my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch and Lymington (Mr. Adley) produced a petition bearing about 10,000 names of Britons living abroad who wanted to be able to participate in this unique decision, as it has always been described in justification of the Bill, affecting the whole of this country and, therefore, affecting them. I very much hope that the Government will reconsider the matter, as I hope that they will reconsider the ridiculous provision in Clause 4(b), which, from my experience in Government, smacks of Home Office interference. I remind the House of it:
"No court shall entertain any proceedings for questioning … (b) the validity of anything done or purporting to be done under this Act or under any order made under this Act".
What does that mean? If somebody burns a ballot box—perhaps the returning officer—because he has had a breakdown and says "I am purporting to do this under the Act. I have committed no criminal offence", no court can interfere. I should like to know whether the Attorney-General has looked into this matter. This is an entirely unnecessary protection. Paragraph (a) of Clause 4 probably is sensible. On the question of the numbers, that is an instance where the editor's decision is final. But I cannot see how paragraph (b) can be justified or how the courts can be excluded in this way.

The result of the vote in the House last night was equivalent to a two-to-one vote in support of Europe. That tallied with the figures in support in the Cabinet but was slightly better than the figures for Ministers taken overall. But do not the figures show that the referendum is totally unnecessary? I hope that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Mr. Walden) will forgive me for repeating something that he said earlier this week, because it is apt to this debate:
"That is the reality of the situation. A die has been cast. A destiny has been determined. We can certainly try to undo it, but let nobody suppose that that is much the same thing as never having joined in the first place. It is supremely different—indeed, so different that a unique constitutional device has had to be contrived to try to circumvent the wishes of Parliament, a Parliament which not only voted to join in the first place, but which everybody knows will vote on Wednesday night even more decisively to stay in the Market."—[Official Report, 8th April 1975; Vol, 889, c. 1035.]
His forecast was right, just as it had been in October 1971.

This whole idea is not only a waste of time but a waste of taxpayers' money. Why are we to have a referendum? It is significant that just over two weeks ago the House set the evil precedent of indemnifying certain councillors who deliberately flouted the law, and in so doing the House damaged itself. Tonight, for, I suspect, the same reasons, because similar pressures exist, we are being asked to set a precedent which again must damage Parliament. Unique the circumstances may be, but they are unique for the wrong reasons, for short-term political advantage, and not because they are justified. The Prime Minister and the Government are guilty of what the Sunday Times called on 2nd March "a piece of thoughtless brokerage". They are doing this at the expense of our democratic system, which must in consequence be damaged.

I therefore invite the House to throw out the Bill when it votes tonight.

9.33 p.m.

This has been a very flat debate compared with our debate on the White Paper a few weeks ago. Some of the fervour, particularly of hon. Members opposite, has been spent. Certainly the Opposition do not appear to be in the state of euphoria at half-past nine tonight that they were in at half-past eleven on that occasion.

I have been asked many questions and I shall endeavour to answer as many of them as I can. The right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) asked how many days the Government propose to allow for the Committee, Report and Third Reading stages of the Bill. We hope that three days will be adequate for that purpose.

I notice that some Conservative Members suggest that we must be joking. Are they suggesting that the proceedings on this Bill should be so long delayed that the referendum should be held well into the holiday period? They are the people who say that we should make the utmost effort to ensure that all those enfranchised should vote. The right hon. Member for Yeovil also asked me whether we thought it was practicable to ensure a delivery of an unaddressed statement by each side in the Common Market campaign to every house when we entrusted delivery to the Post Office. I am a little disturbed at his lack of faith in the Post Office. However, I am even more disturbed at his lack of faith in his own party when it was in power. Two documents were delivered by the Post Office to each household, unaddressed, during the last Conservative administration. Sheets of paper folded into three were pushed through each letterbox. They were not personally addressed. Both emanated from the Home Office. One was on fire precaution and the other was on theft, and called, "Catch a Thief". It may be that the right hon. Gentleman considers that fire and theft are less important than the EEC. Nevertheless, he has no grounds for impugning the ability of the Post Office.

I hasten to assure the hon. Gentleman that I was not asking for his opinion on anything. I was expressing my own. He would do well to take to heart the advice given to him earlier by his hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton), who told him not to be so arrogant.

I note well the source from which that advice comes. I have noted what my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) has said and I also note his suggestion that hon. Members who were first Members of this House 10 years ago are new Members. Other hon. Members will want to note the content of that remark.

The right hon. Member for Yeovil also suggested that the Bill was a trivial one and that it dealt with a trivial matter. If that is true, it is a little hard to understand why there should be so much emotion on the Tory benches about votes for holiday makers, for those who live overseas, and about unique provisions for a unique occasion.

The hon. Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Scott-Hopkins) said that there should be unique rules for unique events and that there should be votes for those on holiday and for those working abroad. The hon. Member includes some odd doctrines in his speech because he said that the sovereignty of Parliament would remain absolute:
"certainly if there is a vote of less than 50 per cent."
I cannot understand how there can be a boundary of 50 per cent. on the sovereignty of Parliament.

If the hon. Gentleman wants to know why those of us who oppose the Bill are nevertheless trying to improve it, he should take note of the fact that some members of the Government and many of their supporters who opposed the Housing Finance Act and other legislation when in opposition still refused to operate the legislation after Parliament had given it a Second Reading. That is not the attitude that my party takes towards legislation which receives a Second Reading.

Many hon. Members have asked questions about votes for holiday makers and for those who work overseas. The right hon. Gentleman said that he would be quite happy if my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House were to take an extra 10 minutes on this subject. Perhaps he will forgive me if I spend some minutes on it.

If we aim at a June referendum, too great a burden will be imposed on electoral staff in registering all the postal votes of holiday makers which might be claimed. I say "which might be claimed", because if we permit votes for holiday makers there is no possibility of verifying holiday bookings. That proposal—

—amounts, in effect, to postal voting on demand. It is well known that some Conservative Members have long advocated postal voting, in effect on demand, in precisely that guise. That is no reason for introducing such a new principle, rejected by successive Speakers' Conferences, in the context of this referendum.