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Commons Chamber

Volume 958: debated on Wednesday 22 November 1978

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House Of Commons

Wednesday 22nd November 1978

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Mr. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Private Business

Cunninghame District Council Order Confirmation Bill

Monklands District Council Order Confirmation Bill

The District Council Of Renfrew Order Confirmation Bill

Read the Third time and passed.

Oral Answers To Questions

Oral Answers To Questions

There are a number of Questions on the Order Paper that could well keep us going for a long time. However, we shall have to press on in the interests of those hon. Members who have Questions further down the Order Paper. Therefore, I appeal to hon. Members and to Ministers to keep supplementary questions and answers as brief as possible.

Foreign And Commonwealth Affairs



asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will now invite the four leaders of the transitional Government in Rhodesia to London.

No, Sir, but, as I made clear on 4th October, if there appeared to be overriding reasons for granting immunity from prosecution to one of the parties in the interests of achieving a negotiated settlement I would be prepared to put an Order in Council before the House to facilitate all the parties coming to this country.

Is not the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Rhodesia leaders' visit to America was a great success? Why will he not ask them to visit the United Kingdom? Is he frightened that they will appeal over the heads of the Government to the British people? Will he put pressure on his friends in the Patriotic Front to come to a conference which the transitional Government have already agreed to attend without any prequalifications?

It has been agreed by successive Governments—including the Conservative Government when they held office—that those who are closely associated with the illegal regime should not be offered facilities to enter this country. If they did so, they would be liable to prosecution. That is the legal situation. I cannot change that by executive decision. There would have to be a decision to change the law, and I have indicated the way in which that could be done.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, far from being a success, Mr. Smith's visit to the United States put back the cause of peace in Rhodesia by a long way, especially bearing in mind his attitude in the United States which was contradicted by the beastly action that he took in bombing Zambia?

I think that we all found it deeply regrettable that the decision was taken to make the raids into Zambia appear to coincide with the discussions—[Interruption.] I do not know whether the Conservative Opposition think that it was a good decision to raid Zambia. We consider it deeply regrettable. It has delayed the possibility of having an all-party conference, and it is certainly not something that should be encouraged by any part of the House.

The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that he and a number of his right hon. Friends have often pointed out in the House that we had to shake hands with Mr. Kenyatta and Archbishop Makarios. I did so with the Archbishop, with great pleasure. Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that Mr. Smith is in exactly the same position? Would it not be very much in the interests of achieving a settlement if Mr. Smith were allowed to come here not only to give his point of view but to be subjected to the expression of British public opinion towards him?

One of the first actions that I took in the early months of being Foreign Secretary was to go to Rhodesia to meet Mr. Smith. I met him first in Cape Town and later in Salisbury. I have throughout been ready to meet any of the parties to the dispute. I have been to Salisbury on three occasions to meet Mr. Smith. I am not saying that we should not speak to Mr. Smith. I think that in the search for a negotiated settlement we should speak to him and others associated with the regime. At the moment, I do not believe that it would contribute to a negotiated settlement to allow into this country Mr. Smith and others closely associated with the regime.

Is it not now clear, as I foretold when the matter was first discussed, that the internal agreement is a fraud and a failure?

One of the great myths is that the success or failure of the internal agreement will be determined by the attitude struck in this House. Its success or failure was a matter to be determined by what the people of Rhodesia thought of it, and particularly whether the initial claim, that the fighting would be reduced and that the liberation fighters would return, could be sustained. Events have tragically shown that the violence has increased. I think, therefore, that on one of the central problems, which is to bring about a cease-fire, there is as yet no alternative to an all-party conference.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that a meeting such as is envisaged in the Question would be very helpful in achieving the fifth principle?

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree also that the more talk there is between the British Government and all the parties, the more hope there is for a settlement? Will he say what progress he has made towards establishing a high-level mission in Salisbury?

There is another Question on the Order Paper dealing with the right hon. Gentleman's last point.

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that the more conversations there are between all the parties, the better. That is why I am not closing the door to the possibility that it might be wise to bring them together in the way suggested in the Question. What I am saying is that the time is not right.


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what further inquiry he proposes to set up into the role of Her Majesty's Government and the British oil companies with regard to the implementation of sanctions against Rhodesia.

The Government are giving careful consideration to the question of a further inquiry in the light of the views expressed when the issue was debated in this House on 7th and 8th November and in another place on 9th November.

Does the Foreign Secretary recall that that is almost exactly the answer that was given 10 days ago by his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, who said then that the Cabinet was "actively considering" this? I think that those were his words. I sympathise with the Foreign Secretary and his right hon. Friend in trying to get any kind of decision by the Cabinet, but does he recognise that the House will not easily tolerate a delay which takes place again and again for party political purposes? It is time that we had a decision.

I agree. It is important to reach a decision and the House expects that. But extremely complicated issues underlie this and it is far better to come to the House with a proposal which has been carefully worked out and will stand up to the critical scrutiny which hon. Members on both sides will wish to give it, rather than to come with an ill-worked-out proposal on this very difficult issue. As has been promised, we shall explain the position as soon as we can.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the important decision which is now required is one which will bring about the physical interruption of the flow of oil to Smith's war machine, and that this can only be accomplished by imposing an oil embargo against South Africa?

In strict logic, I am sure that that is true. The only other way in which this could occur would be if the South African Government themselves decided to make such a decision, but there is very little sign of that happening.

With his experience, does the Foreign Secretary agree that all sanctions are futile, and that Rhodesian sanctions are particularly futile? Instead of looking back in anger on this unfortunate episode, should we not look constructively to the future to see what can be done to help, in particular to help the interim regime in Rhodesia?

If the hon. Gentleman is suggesting, which I do not think he is, that we should look constructively at how sanctions can be made to be more effective, he has my full support. There is nothing which should give Opposition Members delight in the fact that the history of sanctions as they have been applied does not give the world confidence that they can be used as a substitute for violence. In consequence, we have seen far too much violence and an ineffective use of peaceful means to bring about an end to the dispute. I do not rejoice in that fact.


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he has any plans to visit Rhodesia.


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the situation in Rhodesia.


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a further statement about Rhodesia.


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will report on the current situation in Rhodesia.

Not at present, but I am in close touch with the United States Administration on how we can best achieve a successful all-party conference and will ensure that the House is given further information shortly.

Is the Foreign Secretary aware that every day that passes means that black and white Rhodesians are losing their lives because of terrorist activities? Will he reconsider his decision, go to Salisbury at an early date to hold a round-table conference with all the parties involved and establish in Salisbury a substantial mission to assist the interim Government, to get an electoral register prepared and to arrange for elections? This is vital to the future stability and peace of that wonderful country.

It is important to achieve not only an all-party conference to which all the parties actually come, but one which has a chance of success. That will be very difficult to achieve in the present atmosphere. I have not given up hope that it is possible to achieve, but it will need careful preparation.

I propose to call first those three hon. Members whose Questions are being answered with Question No. 10.

Now that the General Election date in Rhodesia has been postponed to 20th April, will the Foreign Secretary seize the opportunity that has been made available by the extra time to assist the Rhodesian Government to prepare properly an electoral register so that a fair test of public opinion may be made on 20th April, with the British Government's backing?

There is no doubt that if the Rhodesian Government wish to prepare an electoral register they have the means to do so. The problem that they face is that the level of fighting is such, with martial law covering 70 per cent. of the country, that it is extremely difficult to envisage an election that would be free and fair and would be a test acceptable to the people of Rhodesia as a whole. I do not rule it out, but at present it is hard to see it coming about.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that this wonderful new oportunity which Conservative Members have described is simply another example of Mr. Ian Smith defaulting even on the so-called internal settlement? Does he agree that that further discredits Mr. Smith's position at any all-party conference? Does he agree also that our own position as honest broker in this matter will vary inversely to the length of time that passes before we set up an inquiry into sanctions busting?

I agree that it is important that we should demonstrate our commitment to sanctions and our readiness to ensure that if mistakes have been made or if acts have been taken which have breached our own sanctions legislation, the people concerned should be brought to book.

On the central issue of how to achieve a conference in the present climate, I think that it will require patient preparation and a readiness on all sides to compromise, which at the moment they are not showing a willingness to do.

In view of the collapse of the Anglo-American initiative, what further consideration has the Foreign Secretary given to the constructive suggestions made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) during the debate on 7th November? My right hon. Friend called for a permanent mission in Rhodesia, further negotiations based on the internal settlement, a contact group and a conference to be chaired by the British Prime Minister.

On the question of the "collapse" of the Anglo-American proposals, the fact is that these still offer the best framework for achieving a settlement. They are not perfect, and they may need modification and change, but they still offer the best way of bringing all the parties together. What the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) advocates—basing negotiations on the internal settlement—will not even bring all the parties around the conference table, let alone into a measure of agreement.

On the other questions, in consultation with the United States we are looking carefully at the best way of keeping going the momentum for a negotiated settlement. We are considering all the factors that were raised in the debate.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that his influence in Rhodesia will be greatly enhanced if he quickly sets up a full inquiry into the Bingham report on sanctions busting? In setting up such an inquiry, will he resist the temptation to have a cosy little committee of Privy Councillors and judges and make sure instead that Back Bench opinion in this House is in the majority?

I promised that there would be no cover up and there will not be. I promised to listen to the House and I have listened very carefully. Some of the points that were made by my hon. Friend were made very forcefully on both sides of the House and we shall take them into account.

The Foreign Secretary gives the impression to everyone that he thinks that he has unlimited time. He has not. Is he aware that his current lethargic approach to the problem is being interpreted by an increasing number of people as a total lack of desire to obtain any settlement at all?

I do not think that we have unlimited time. But an example of playing for more time has been the postponement of the elections which were promised for December. Within weeks of the internal settlement we heard private reports of members of the regime touring around talking to civil servants and others behind closed doors and casting great doubt on whether the elections could ever be held in December. Eventually that information became public, and some of our newspapers even managed to print it, at least in some of their editions. The serious fact that must be faced is that from the very outset there have been doubts among many whites in Rhodesia about the sincerity of the regime's commitment to December elections.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the front-line States and the Patriotic Front believe that action by this Government in obtaining a settlement in Rhodesia is constrained by the political situation in this country and by the attitude of the Opposition, which is pro rebel Smith? Is there any way at all in which he can convince them that this Government, supported by the majority of the House, are in a position to make a real contribution towards a settlement in Rhodesia?

The best way to demonstrate that is by referring to the votes in this House: first to the vote on the Government's general strategy towards Rhodesia and then to the vote on sanctions. The motion on the first matter was defeated by a large majority. I thought that it was wrong to launch an initiative just to get through the sanctions debate. Too often, that has been done. I thought that it was necessary for the House to express its views and to vote, as it did. I regret any division along party lines which occurred on the first motion, but I accept that the sanctions vote was not a division along party lines. We are now taking our time to see how we can achieve a negotiated settlement. I know that time is not on our side, but there is only one card to play, and that is a conference that is successful. I doubt whether we can go through a whole series of conferences, and we want to avoid what happened in Geneva.

As it must be the Government's top priority to facilitate a test of acceptability, will the Secretary of State make it plain to Mr. Mugabe, by what-every means possible, that if he wishes to play a constructive role in the affairs of his own people he must immediately repudiate the reported statement by his party that it intends to assassinate no fewer than 50 internal African leaders in Rhodesia? Will he urge Mr. Mugabe to support the ballot box rather than the gun and to participate peacefully in a test of acceptability?

Mr. Mugabe has always said that he will accept elections. The statement that came from a press spokesman from ZANU was deeply abhorrent to all of us and I have made my views on that very clear. Furthermore, I have tried to establish the exact support for this idea. Mr. Mugabe is not in Mozambique at present and was not there when this statement was issued. No one would believe that that sort of statement would contribute to a negotiated settlement.

Republic Of Ireland


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether he will make a statement about relations with the Irish Republic.

Our relations with the Republic of Ireland are close and friendly. There are regular discussions with the Irish authorities at all levels on matters of common interest, and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will be meeting the Taoiseach on 27th November.

Since the Taoiseach's last visit, have not terrorist outrages in the Republic further demonstrated the need for common action against the common enemy? While acknowledging the improved police cooperation, may I ask whether the Prime Minister will be discussing with Mr. Lynch the frustration of law and order throughout Ireland by the refusal of extradition and also the failure of the Irish Republic to adhere to the European convention on the suppression of terrorism?

My right hon. Friend will be discussing the whole range of relations with our Irish friends and colleagues, but I can say from first-hand experience that there is every reason to believe that the Irish Government take the security question every bit as seriously as we do. We are anxious to maximise practical cooperation in every way that we can.

Will the hon. Gentleman give the House an assurance that the next time these talks take place strong representations will be made about the continual closing of the rail link between the North and the South, as armed terrorists from the South are continually closing this link? It is closed at the moment and this is hindering emergency supplies of cement coming to Northern Ireland to keep the construction industry in business.

We naturally regret the closure of communications between the North and the South. We shall do anything that we can together to ensure that they are kept open regularly in future.



asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what is his Department's current attitude concerning the sale of military equipment to China.


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on Anglo-Chinese relations following the recent visit of the Chinese Vice-Premier, including his policy on arms sales to that country.

Defence sales were among a wide range of political, economic and industrial issues which I and my colleagues discussed with Vice-Premier Wang Chen. The British Government are willing to consider selling defensive equipment, subject to consultations with our allies. We want a deeper relationship with China. Defence must form part of a balanced development of our relations, covering the political, trade, economic, scientific, technological and cultural fields.

Is the Foreign Secretary aware that it is now five years since I first went to the Foreign Office and saw my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Surrey (Sir A. Royle), who was there at that time, to impress upon him the need for the British Government to give the green light to go ahead with the sale of Harriers to China? With whom are these so-called consultations with our allies taking place, when it is well known that the only opposition to the sale of Harriers to China comes from the Soviet Union and the Tribune group? Will the Foreign Secretary stop allowing the Soviet Union to dictate British foreign policy?

The hon. Gentleman may be able to claim consistency, but many people on each side of the House might have wondered whether it would have been prudent to make that decision five years ago. Very welcome changes have taken place in China and it is now much easier for us to have a relationship with China in all these fields, which we wish to encourage. But we do not want a foreign policy which moves around from day to day. We want a steady development of balanced relations with China and with other major countries in the world.

Would not selling Harriers to China be as damaging to peace as the sale of non-military goods would be beneficial? Does my right hon. Friend recognise that this is bound to damage seriously the prospects for detente with the Soviet Union? [Interruption.] Conservative Members may think that that is of no importance, but it is important to me and to my children, and to the whole human race.

Secondly, does my right hon. Friend recognise that it would also damage the strategic arms limitation talks, whatever NATO may think about these sales, and NATO will think they are fine?

It is way outside the narrow confines of strategic arms, which is the subject of SALT, but, of course, it could have an impact on detente. But I do not think that it should be seen in those terms. We cannot always avoid how other people might wish to see it. What is important is how we view our foreign policy and how we express our intentions. Our intentions are quite clear. They are to have a continuation of detente with the Soviet Union, and continuing relations with the Soviet Union, but not to allow any third country or anyone to dictate the shape of our foreign policy.

Part of the independent national sovereignty of many countries is a wish to establish relations not merely on economic and trading matters but also covering defence. That is part of a balanced and mature relationship between countries. One cannot exclude defence without its often also damaging the development in other areas.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that we on the Conservative Benches are in full support of the policy to increase our trade with China? Concerning the specific sale of military equipment, will the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance to the House that the Government's judgment on this important matter will not be based primarily on domestic or political considerations, but primarily on strategic considerations?

It will be judged solely on overall political, strategic and economic issues. It will not be judged by pressures from any part of the country, either the active pressure of those who regard the only element in our relationship with China as whether the sale of a particular aircraft takes place, or criticisms that we should not in any circumstances sell arms to anyone. We have to achieve a balance in this, but we shall make our judgment solely on the basis of our own foreign policy considerations.



asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on British relations with Nicaragua.

Although we have diplomatic relations with Nicaragua, we have no resident ambassador. Our exports to Nicaragua in 1977 amounted to about £9 million, and our imports to about £1.4 million. We have a small technical cooperation programme of around £150,000 for this financial year.

Will my hon. Friend confirm that the Government wil give no support to the Somoza regime, that, in particular, there will be no military training here or advice given by us and that no arms of any kind will be made available to the Somoza regime?

I can most certainly confirm all the points that my hon. Friend has asked me to confirm concerning a regime which has abused in the most flagrant way the human rights of its own country.

Will my hon. Friend press this point of view on the United States Administration, which has not been entirely consistent in its opposition to the Somoza regime? Does my hon. Friend agree that it would not be possible for Somoza to survive if the United States ceased to give him any support?

We have close consultations with the United States on issues in Central America in particular. As my hon. Friend will know, the Americans have been endeavouring to get mediation going to try to bring some peace to that country and to re-establish human rights there.

Anglo-Soviet-Chinese Relations


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when he intends to talk with the Foreign Secretaries of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and China regarding improving Anglo-Soviet-Chinese relations.

I discussed British-Soviet relations with the Soviet Foreign Minister in New York on 25th September, and British-Chinese relations with the Chinese Foreign Minister during his visit to Britain in October.

I recognise my right hon. Friend's preference for peace instead of war, but will he confirm that the old imperial policies of divide and rule no longer dominate his Department? Will he make a special initiative to establish good Soviet-Chinese relations in order to improve East-West relations?

I agree with my hon. Friend. Good Soviet-Chinese relations are of crucial importance to the world. One of the problems has been the absence of any dialogue between the two countries for some years now. I hope that we shall see China taking a place in the committee on disarmament which has newly been formed. I hope that the Chinese will start, as they are starting in the United Nations and other international forums, to take a part and that that will extend into a dialogue between themselves and the Soviet Union.

Will the Foreign Secretary explain to his hon. Friends below the Gangway that if we now refuse to sell Harriers to the Chinese it will severely damage our prospects of selling them many civilian goods as well? Will not that be bad for our relations with China?

That is a question of judgment. I have often from this Dispatch Box had to defend various arms sales. I do not believe that one can totally dissociate them from one's overall relationships with a country and from economic and other matters. They are seen as an overall entity and are part of deepening relationships between countries. For instance, it is very rare to have close relationships with a country with whom one has a complete embargo on any defence relationship.

In his consultations with Britain's allies on the sale of defensive weapons to China, will my right hon. Friend undertake to do this on a bilateral basis rather than through reference to COCOM, which would raise formalities and a possible veto by the United States?

There are various ways of handling these problems. There is a combination of formal arrangements, which are COCOM, which are done at official level and tend to be technical, and there are bilateral consultations, which deal with sensitive political issues. I think that one uses a combination of both in these sorts of circumstances.

Yugoslavia (Pub Airport Incident)


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what representations he has made to the Yugoslav Government concerning the treatment of Miss Little at Pula airport; and what compensation is to be made.

Since the hon. Member wrote to my right hon. Friend about this case on 1st November, our consul general in Zagreb has raised it with the authorities at the airport who have explained that their refusal to allow Miss Little to enter Yugoslavia was because they did not consider her passport to be in order. In the circumstances, my right hon. Friend does not think there are grounds for compensation.

Is it not intolerable that a British subject travelling on a valid British passport should be returned on the next plane to England because the passport officer did not think that her photograph looked like her passport photograph? Is the hon. Gentleman aware that this might happen to many other people? Surely it is most unsatisfactory that, under those circumstances she was not allowed to get in touch with the British consul and was sent straight back to this country, to an airport from which she had not left, which cost her a great deal of money?

I have some sympathy with the hon. Gentleman's constituent, but I must correct him on one or two points of fact. It is not the case that she tried to get in touch with our consul in Zagreb. According to our information, there is no record that she made such an attempt. She was staying at a hotel from which she could quite easily have telephoned had she wanted to. Secondly, the hon. Gentleman said that she had a perfectly valid passport. I must inform him that the passport has been examined by our own passport authority since she returned and it agrees that there is evidence that it was tampered with. In those circumstances, I do not think that we would be justified in making a protest to the Yugoslav Government.

Despite that case, is the Minister aware that a similar situation took place with one of my constituents who was refused entry to Czechoslovakia—

Order. In that case I advise the hon. Gentleman to put down a Question about it.



asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what further initiative he proposes to resolve the problem of displaced persons in Cyprus.

A British contribution of £500,000 has recently been approved for refugee relief in Cyprus. The problem of displaced persons can only be finally resolved in the context of a political settlement.

Can my hon. Friend give some indication of the Government's response to the American proposals for a Cyprus settlement, which are reported in today's press? Can he also say something about the severely practical and immediate problem of tracing about 2,000 Greek-Cypriots who are missing but presumed still alive and whose plight is causing great distress to their relatives, both in Cyprus and in this country?

There is a later Question on the Order Paper about new initiatives, and I think that we should await that. As to the other part of my hon. Friend's supplementary question, I think that it is a disgrace that no progress has been made on the issue of missing people. There is great anguish among many people and I have witnessed it myself in Cyprus. I am sad that there has been no response to the proposals by the United Nations for a commission of inquiry which would set about the job of finding an answer to these questions.

Has the Minister given any thought to trying to persuade both the Turkish-Cypriots and the Greek-Cypriots to agree to the return of Famagusta, a city of about 40,000 people, to the South? Would not that be a positive step towards looking after the plight of displaced persons and a step towards a comprehensive settlement of this dispute?

Famagusta is a critical part of the overall problem. I know of the hon. Gentleman's long-standing interest in the whole subject of Cyprus, but I put it to him that we should now concentrate on finding an overall strategic solution. As I have said, a later Question on the Order Paper deals with this issue.

Meanwhile, can the Minister say what part the Government are playing in the Security Council discussions on Cyprus, and why?

Our approach in the Security Council, as elsewhere, is to do everything constructive and positive that we can to promote the resumption of intercommunal talks because we believe that progress will be made only when the two parties sit down and start talking directly together about their common interests in finding a solution.



asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he has any plans to visit Malta in the near future.

Is my hon. Friend aware that when the British Forces pull out of the island next March there will be a big formal ceremony of handing over to the civil authorities? In view of the valiant stand which the island made on our behalf during the war, would it not be diplomatic to have a member of the Royal Family there at the time of the ceremony? Many Heads of State have been to Malta, but never our Head of State. Does my hon. Friend realise that if a member of the Royal Family were to go it would cause great delight to the Prime Minister, the Government and the people of Malta?

Our respect for the people of Malta and the Maltese contribution during the war is as great as it has ever been. We look forward to having good and positive relationships with the Maltese people after the completion of the military withdrawal in March. I am sure that my hon. Friend's suggestion will be taken fully into account as one possible way of marking the significance of this new chapter.

Will the Minister indicate to the authorities in Malta that recent actions taken by them against British broadcasters and journalists are not conducive to having the best possible relationship between the two countries?

We are naturally sad that there have been these difficulties in our relationships with the Maltese Government. I am glad to report to the House, however, that after the Maltese Government had had talks with the BBC recently it was agreed that the corporation's journalists should return and, furthermore, that British Forces' broadcasting should go back on the air.

European Community

Council Of Ministers


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when he next plans to attend a meeting of the Council of Ministers.

The next Foreign Affairs Council takes place on 19th December in Brussels.

Will the Secretary of State give us an assurance that at the next meeting he will put forward on behalf of this country the proposition that in case of selective action against imports from developing countries there should be consultations with the exporting country concerned, but that there should be some annual review of the operation and performance of any safeguard clause?

I understand the hon. Gentleman's philosophy, which is shared in many parts of the House. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade attended the multilateral negotiations which were part of the Foreign Affairs Council agenda yesterday and made similar points strongly expressing his concern.

At the impending meeting of the Council of Ministers, if the subject matter of the enlargement of the Community to include Spain arises, will my right hon. Friend draw the attention of his colleagues to the regulations in that country applying to the repatriation of bodies, as evidenced by the circumstances surrounding my constituent? She was murdered on Monday night in Spain and her body was not to be repatriated to this country unless a large and disproportionate sum was paid immediately, a situation with which his office was unable to help.

I shall look into the circumstances of the individual case which is obviously causing concern to my hon. Friend. We have good relations with the Spanish Government, and I am certain that if there are any undue difficulties we ought to be able to make an arrangement.

When will the Government cease to act as such reluctant partners in the Community? Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that the Government's attitude in Europe has made it difficult, if not impossible, to secure a satisfactory negotiation on almost anything, and that if the Government worked in a more cooperative manner they might achieve more success?

The Government are a full member of the European Community, and they will argue their case accordingly. The Government's position would be greatly strengthened if, just occasionally, the Opposition would support us when we are arguing the national case in Brussels. It is usually left to a few of the right hon. Gentlemen's hon. Friends who are opposed to the European Community to support us in our negotiating stance. We would find it much more attractive if we were supported officially by the Opposition and if they did not fall for making the all too easy criticism that comes perpetually from them, dripping away the whole time.

Is the Foreign Secretary aware that his party always finds it convenient officially to support Europe when it is in government and to be officially against it when it is in opposition? Is he further aware that it falls ill from his mouth to criticise us on any questions that we may have raised about certain aspects of the European Community? Our commitment to the European Com- munity, like, I think, the Foreign Secretary's personal commitment, has been continuous. Is he aware that we on these Benches feel that the Government, by being so reluctant and so difficult, have alienated our partners in Europe and that that is why they are achieving so little success in the Community.

I do not accept that. The right hon. Gentleman has at least credited my position as being the same on this issue irrespective of which side of the House I sit. There is a serious problem in this country in that we do not recognise sufficiently that some of the fights that are taking place in Brussels are the natural fighting that takes place over conflicting interests of member States. It would be extremely rare, however, for a French Foreign Minister to return to the Assembly in France and be attacked by the Opposition for upholding a French national interest. Equally it would be very rare for him to be attacked by the French newspapers. Yet we are constantly attacked both by the Opposition and by the newspapers for upholding the British position.

European Assembly Members


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what is the Government's policy regarding the salary, expenses, and tax position of any directly elected Members of the European Assembly.

As I explained to the House on 15th November, we are determined that salaries should not be excessive, should be related to the salaries of national parliamentarians and should be subject to national taxation. Allowances should be related to necesary expenditure.

Will my hon. Friend give a clear assurance that he will continue his opposition to giving a green light to any Common Market gravy train for Euro MPs? Will he give a clear assurance that final agreement on these matters will be made by the end of this year? Or are we to assume that, if there is failure to reach an early agreement, there is a growing possibility that direct elections will not take place next June?

The Government have a very firm view that it is essential that this issue must be resolved before the elections so that those who stand and are elected know what the terms of service will be. That is a highly relevant factor to the whole future of the Assembly. Our view is that the responsibility for a final decision lies with Ministers in the Council of Ministers.

The Minister says that salaries should be related to this House, but does he realise that that is quite meaningless? Why does he not say that the salaries should be the same as those in this House and that after a year, if the Members are worth it, we will pay them a little more?

I endorse the objective that the principle should be that the salaries are the same in the sense that people will be going to the European Assembly as representatives of their country and of communities in their country. It seems right that their remuneration should be the same as that considered appropriate for being a Member of this House.

Will my hon. Friend answer the question put to him by my hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby (Mr. Madden)? By which final date do the Government feel agreement must be reached on this subject, after which their attitude would be that the elections were in jeopardy until agreement was reached?

We hope that significant progress can be made to finalising this matter by the end of this year. The Government believe that it would be wrong in principle to go into the election campaign before this issue was resolved.

Why should British Members of the European Parliament be peculiarly subject to the peculiar fiscal philosophy of the United Kingdom? Is it not appropriate that the remuneration of Members of the European Parliament should be wholly and exclusively the responsibility of that Parliament, in the same sense that this House would bitterly resent being told by county councils what Members here should be paid?

I think that on reflection the hon. Gentleman will realise that his view is in every sense a federal view of Europe. The Government have repeatedly explained that they do not hold that federal view. In that sense we see Members going to the European Assembly as representatives of the people of this country. In that capacity their taxation should be the same as that applied to those whom they seek to represent.

Does my hon. Friend recall sending a letter to all the existing British Members of the European Parliament which seemed to indicate that the Government had already made up their mind on these matters? Does he also recall that he suggested in that letter that we should propagate the idea of having a Members' declaration of interests as effective as the one that we have here? Will my hon. Friend, if it is not unparliamentary, care to give the House the contents of my reply to that letter?

We can certainly see about giving the House the contents of my hon. Friend's reply. It is clear that the declaration of interest is an issue of honour, whether in this House or in the European Assembly. My hon. Friend will recall that I said that it was appropriate that the question should be decided within the context of the Assembly itself.

Southern Africa


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what co-operation there has been between members of the EEC in seeking a solution to the problems of Southern Africa.

Southern African problems are regularly discussed by Foreign Ministers of the EEC member countries. The Nine have given active support to the Anglo-American proposals on Rhodesia and the five-power proposals for Namibia. They have also adopted the code of conduct on employment practices for companies with interests in South Africa.

I welcome my right hon. Friend's reply, but does he agree that one of the areas where the EEC could have the most influence is in helping to stop sanction busting as it applies to Rhodesia? Has there been any discussion in the Community about this? If not, will he institute such discussion?

It has been discussed informally. One of the actions of the Government on taking office in 1974 was to hold discussions on tightening up the sanctions. I am glad to say that the Community members now are adopting a much tougher policy than hitherto. One of the striking achievements of political co-operation is the great degree of support that there is for policies followed in Southern Africa and that is something that the Opposition should consider a little more carefully.

In seeking to co-ordinate Community policy on Southern Africa, does the right hon. Gentleman think it would be of great assistance to him and his colleagues if we were to establish, as a matter of urgency, a high-powered mission in Salisbury which could be the ears and eyes of the Government and which could also offer assistance to the internal settlement and the future legislative process in Rhodesia?

There is a Question on the Order Paper about that issue. The view of the Government, expressed on many occasions, is that at the right moment and in the right circumstances it would be helpful, and I will consider it.

Is my right hon. Friend satisfied that the attitude of his colleagues in the Community in opposing apartheid in South Africa is strong enough, because it is important that we should not make statements of good intent without following up what actually wants to be done, particularly in relation to multinational companies?

It must be clear to the House that some countries are tougher than we are about what action should be taken in Southern Africa. For example, the Danish and Dutch Governments have always consistently taken, in the United Nations and other forums, a tougher stance on sanctions. We have to balance the realities of the policy—whether it will be successful, whether it will be actually applied—and we have to take account also of our own economic involvement in Southern Africa. That is the reality that I have to face.

Will the right hon. Gentleman discuss with our European partners the forthcoming vote in the Security Council on mandatory oil sanctions against South Africa? Will he give an assurance that when that vote takes place we will not simply abstain, as we did in the Trusteeship Committee yesterday, but will vote against any such resolution?

The motion yesterday in the Trusteeship Committee was a comprehensive motion on a large number of African policies, and in our explanation of vote we made clear our position on sanctions. I am not prepared to give a categorical assurance that in no circumstances would we agree with a resolution involving sanctions on South Africa. What I am prepared to say is that we would not do so while we thought there was any serious possibility of negotiated settlement, particularly in relation to Namibia and Rhodesia, but South Africa cannot be given a blank cheque to pursue policies in Southern Africa, either internally or externally, which are in direct contravention of the United Nations Charter.

Economic And Social Committee (Consumer Protection)


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what steps he intends to take to improve the representation of consumer interests in the Economic and Social Committee of the EEC.

The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
(Mr. John Tomlinson)

Consumer interests are already very well represented by the inclusion in the British membership of the former deputy director of the Consumers Association and of a member of the National Consumer Council.

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply, but will he try to ensure that the Community takes rather more notice of the expertise and practical experience of the consumer movement in this country so that draft Community legislation on consumer issues is a little more realistic and gives more immediate help to the consumers than some that we have seen in the last few weeks?

I am sure that the whole House will agree with that view. I think that my hon. Friend will want to pay tribute to the efforts of some of the British Members of the European Assembly for the constructive efforts that they have made to draw the attention of the rest of Europe to the essential interests of consumers.

The interests of the consumer might benefit by the enlargement of the Community to include Spain, Portugal, Greece and Turkey, but is the hon. Gentleman aware that the long-term interests of the consumer might well suffer because of the great damage that could be done to our own horticulture and textile industries?

I am not aware of any such thing. The Government and the vast majority of Members of this House support the enlargement of the Community and think that the inclusion of Spain, Portugal and Greece is essential to buttress democracy in Southern Europe.

Does my hon. Friend recall that, in a Written Answer to me yesterday, whilst he was able to give the names of the members of the Economic and Social Committee nominated by this Parliament last year, he was unable to give the number of occasions on which they had attended the committee? Does he agree that if there is real consumer interest there should be available to the public in this country a list of those who attended? While we are on the matter of open government and consumer interest, can my hon. Friend say why the Chancellor of the Exchequer is not to tell us this afternoon about the meeting of the Council of Finance Ministers in Brussels?

That last matter is not for me. I am sure that others will have heard the hon. Gentleman's question, however. Members of the Economic and Social Committee are not appointed by Governments. They are appointed by the Council of Ministers on the basis of names proposed by Governments. The point my hon. Friend raises in relation to attendance is important and deserving of further consideration.

Will the hon. Gentleman take note of our debates last week on various EEC consumer measures and draw from them the strongly held view on both sides of the House that to proceed by draft directive is an obtuse way of trying to obtain reasonably harmonised practices? Will he consider the view of the chairman of the National Consumer Council that the Green Paper technique—a discussion document—would be much more appropriate?

The Government are prepared to listen to any helpful suggestion and I am sure that what the hon. Gentleman has said is worthy of further consideration.

Human Rights


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what progress the European Community is making, or the member countries jointly by political co-operation, in the promotion of human rights in the countries with which the Community has dealings.

Human rights are taken into consideration in the disbursement of Community aid, and the Community has made clear the importance it attaches to them in the current negotiations for a new EEC-ACP convention. In addition, the Nine, acting in political co-operation, have discussed human rights problems in a number of third countries, and have expressed their views in public statements or & marches to some of the Governments concerned.

Can my right hon. Friend say anything about any response that he gets to this from the countries of Eastern Europe?

This issue has been mainly dealt with in the Belgrade conference, when the Nine concerted their position and negotiated throughout very closely in touch. Many of the violations of human rights that we felt were a breach of the Helsinki final act were raised in specific terms with countries of Eastern Europe at the conference. I cannot claim that we had great success, but I published all the results and the follow-up documents to the House and will keep in close touch.

Since it is essential that the Community should not support, particularly through our taxation system, those regimes which show a gross abuse of fundamental human rights, will the Secretary of State insist that such an understanding should be incorporated in a renegotiated Lome convention when that comes about?

We are trying to negotiate it. It is difficult to say that we should insist on it. We have not as yet been able to persuade all the parties to the negotiation of the need for it. We have not shifted our position. We still believe that we need that provision in order not to put ourselves in a situation where we are acting illegally, and at present I do not believe that the convention gives us enough legal cover to take action to refuse aid under human rights criteria. But we need to do so. We have found the situation in Uganda and many other countries very difficult to cope with under the convention as it is currently drafted.

European Parliament


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he intends to visit the European Parliament in the near future.

My right hon. Friend has at present no plans to visit the European Assembly.

In the same way that the salary and expenses of Members of the European Assembly should be known well before the direct elections, would it not be good for the Government to press for the present nomadic existence of the Parliament to cease, since it is somewhat bizarre? Would not the best site be Luxembourg rather than Brussels?

A permanent site for the Assembly is a matter for decision by common accord of the Governments of the member States. That will not easily be reached.

Is my hon. Friend aware that more and more parties and States in Europe are making it clear that they believe that the European Assembly should not be given any extra powers? Will he spell that out to the House? Is he aware that the European Assembly's demand for more resources to be spent on the Regional Fund will lead to an increase in non-obligatory expenditure and therefore to an increase in the powers of the Assembly?

I am happy to reaffirm the view which I have expressed many times before, that I do not believe that direct elections will confer additional powers on the European Assembly. We all wish additional resources to be made available to implement the Community's regional policy. But that does not imply that greater power should be given to the Assembly for controlling those resources.

Rail Dispute (Southern Region)

( by Private Notice)

asked the Secretary of State for Transport whether he will make a statement on the rail dispute affecting the Southern region.

Train services for many suburban commuters were severely disrupted on the Southern region this morning when drivers did not report for duty. The depots affected are those in the London area of the South-Eastern division of the Southern region and the depots at Gillingham, Kent, and Wimbledon.

This course of events arises from the dissatisfaction with a recent recommendation of the Railways Staff National Tribunal rejecting ASLEF's claim for payments for footplate staff in parallel with a bonus payment for pay-train guards.

The industrial action is unofficial. It is not supported by the executive committee of the union. In these circumstances it is wholly unjustified, unfair to other railmen, damaging to the long-term prospects of the railways and inexcusable in the inconvenience that it is causing to the travelling public.

A meeting between the British Railways Board and the unions is in progress at this moment which will discuss the ASLEF complaint. I hope very much that common sense will prevail.

Is the Secretary of State aware that the Opposition endorse strongly his condemnation of this action? We hope that the whole House will do the same.

I wish to ask the Secretary of State three short questions. First, is he aware of the mounting anger of rail passengers over the disruption of the commuter services, particularly when they face substantial increases in fares? Does he agree that the only effect that the dispute will have is to drive passengers who have any choice off the railways altogether?

Secondly, is the Secretary of State aware that action of this kind wrecks not only the rail services but the efforts being made by British Rail to improve its financial position? Heavy losses are being sustained. Can the Secretary of State give an estimate of the loss in passenger revenue caused by the dispute?

Thirdly, the Secretary of State said that a crucial meeting is taking place this afternoon which could settle the question of whether the dispute is widened. May we have an undertaking that he will keep the House fully informed of developments and that if the dispute widens he will volunteer an immediate statement on the Floor of the House?

I am happy to give an undertaking in response to the latter part of the hon. Member's question. Should the situation become worse, I shall keep the House fully informed. It is a difficult matter of industrial relations and I am the last one to claim that I have an easy answer. Most of all, we need a solution.

I acknowledge that there is mounting anger among commuters. I agree that the strike can do no good to the livelihood of those who work on the railways, to the future of the railways, to the travelling public and to our wish to see more people rather than fewer travelling on the railways.

The House has on many occasions expressed concern about British Rail's finances. I estimate that today's events will lose British Rail about £250,000 in revenue.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the unofficial action on Southern region adds enormously to the difficulties of commuters who have already been saddled with swingeing fare increases? Will he resist the temptation to follow the Opposition into taking a negative attitude? Will he see whether he can make a contribution to finding a disputes procedure which is more effective and responsive to the men who are involved in the dispute?

I agree with my hon. Friend that such action adds enormously to the difficulties of the railways and of those who wish to use them. It is a matter which should be of concern to the House and to all those involved in the industrial action.

I shall bear in mind what my hon. Friend said about disputes procedures. I am sure that the British Railways Board and the unions are anxious that there should be a disputes procedure which really works. This is an extraordinary proceeding. Those involved are not striking aginst the British Railways Board or the Government. They are striking against a non-binding arbitration which nobody has yet discussed, let alone accepted. It is an unusual occasion. I hope that those concerned will go back to work.

Will the Secretary of State examine the position of the holders of season tickets? Is he aware that to commute 50 miles into and out of London costs nearly £700 a year? Is he aware that the commuter has no redress against British Rail when he has to use expensive alternatives to travel to and from work when British Rail fails to carry out its contract to move him? Is it not almost in the category of highway robbery that British Rail makes no arrangement to compensate those who have suffered financial loss because it has failed to carry out its contract?

We are all tempted to use intemperate expressions, but they do not help to solve the difficult problem. I recognise that those who have chosen to live outside London and to make long journeys each day are entitled to believe that they can make those journeys except when there are adverse, inescapable circumstances for which nobody can be blamed. One should not blame the British Railways Board. It would like to solve the dispute if it could, and it has been trying hard to do so.

I understand that weekly season ticket-holders will receive pro rata refunds because they have not been able to travel today. Holders of monthly or other season tickets will receive refunds or extensions of the validity of the tickets.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, even at the best of times when there are no industrial disputes, travelling in the rush hour from South or South-East London into London termini is an appalling experience? Is he aware that today has made matters worse?

Is my right hon. Friend further aware that in particular the South-East London network has for many years needed enormous investment to bring it up to the standards that exist for commuter traffic coming from other directions? When the dispute is settled, will the Secretary of State concentrate on that?

I am sure that commuters have appalling experiences. Those who travel in the rush hour often do. I appreciate what my hon. Friend has said about the state of the rolling stock in the South-East region. British Rail is aware of that. The problem is—the House has faced it before—that the railways must raise most of what they need in revenue or through grants, made with the approval of Parliament, out of the general taxation fund. There is no other way. If there is to be a great deal more investment in the rail system, we must choose the priorities—between the London and inter-city lines, for example—and we must decide precisely how it is to be financed.

Order. The House is aware that when I know that right hon. and hon. Members have direct constituency interests I do my utmost to help them to express their points of view. But it will help me if hon. Members will make their points as brief as possible.

Is the Secretary of State aware that an ASLEF member, a driver from Bournemouth, told me that as the miles increased from London, so the support for this strike waned, and that the familiar figure of Mr. Fullick at Waterloo was behind most of the trouble? If the right hon. Gentleman is looking for positive suggestions, will he therefore do what he can to enlist the support or the opinions of the majority of the members of ASLEF, if not all of them, somehow to get a ballot before these unofficial disputes take place so that we can try to avoid this disruption which he describes so well?

I am less expert in personalities than the hon. Member for Christchurch and Lymington (Mr. Adley), but I am prepared to believe that there are differences of opinion amongst those involved about the legitimacy of this strike. I wish that I could believe—but all experience shows the contrary—that problems of this kind could be solved easily by some formula. The British Railways Board has responsibilities here and is working very hard to solve them. Indi- vidual trade unions have responsibilities, too, to ensure that their own machinery is responsive but also effective in dealing with the grievances of their members.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that all three railway unions and the management are making very constructive attempts to settle this dispute? It can be settled only by them. It cannot be helped by statements such as the one by the hon. Member for Christchurch and Lymington (Mr. Adley), which will exacerbate the situation.

There is much wisdom in what my hon. Friend said. We must all wish that we could play a personal part in solving this problem. For the moment, however, we must rest, though I will not be euphoric about the possibilities, on the discussions now taking place at the headquarters of British Railways.

Does not the right hon. Gentleman think it a little odd that a large number of my constituents are being extremely inconvenienced, put to very considerable expense in getting to work and have no redress against anyone in the courts, even if they should wish to use it? Will he please bear in mind such matters when he conies to bring forward proposals for an increase in petrol tax, which will result in even more expense to those of my constituents who are unable to use the railways to commute?

The right hon. Member tempts me into some very interesting discussions, but I doubt whether this is the time or the place for them. I understand the sense of grievance which many commuters have and the very real problems that they face. I shall do all that I can to help.

I thank my right hon. Friend for the efforts that he has made so far in this very difficult situation. I do not think that we want to add to his difficulties here and now, but may I ask him to consult in order to discover the position of the servants of this House who provide us with literature, who sometimes come from great distances and who are dependent on the railways? May we be assured that some help will be given to them so that right hon. and hon. Members can be supplied adequately with the material that they need?

My hon. Friend raises very important matters which, I am sure, have been noted by those mainly responsible for them.

Does the Secretary of State appreciate that disruption of this kind each week is having a disastrous effect on people's employment? Will he make some arrangements to help to ease car parking restrictions in London in some way?

I am prepared to look at any suggestion of that kind. This is a very irritating state of affairs. I hope that it will not get worse. If it does, we must find a way, until the problem is solved, of minimising the consequences. But, as I said earlier, I shall report to the House if there are any developments of that kind.

I am sure that the House is very much obliged for the Secretary of State's condemnation of this action. However, condemnation is not quite enough. Unfortunately, Gillingham is a renowned ASLEF branch for these unofficial strikes. Will the right hon. Gentleman ask the British Railways Board to look very carefully into the circumstances at this depot to try to discover what motivates ASLEF members there and what the future is likely to be, because I understand that there are threats of further action in the weeks to come which will cause nothing but trouble and distress to commuters?

The British Railways Board is fully aware of the considerable difficulties involved in dealing with the problems of industrial relations generally. These problems are not new. As we know, some of them arise from the changes in the numbers of people working on the railways and the existence of three trade unions which sometimes see matters in different ways. I am sure that all these factors will be taken on board.

Will the Secretary of State reconsider his earlier answers and encourage the trade union concerned to introduce into its management procedures the use of a secret ballot to try to alleviate circumstances of this kind?

I do not think that it is my task to do so. I would not do so at present. I do not think that the results are quite as predictable as the hon. Member supposes.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is no monopoly of concern about this issue on the Opposition Benches and that many Government supporters who represent commuter constituencies are extremely concerned about the discomfort and inconvenience caused to our constituents this morning? However, does my right hon. Friend accept that attacks from the Opposition Benches imputing strange motives to the people involved do nothing to improve the position? Will he confirm that the way to sort out these recurring problems on British Railways is to look again at the disputes machinery and see whether we cannot involve in some better way the people at shop floor level?

My hon. Friend has many times expressed in the House his deep concern on behalf of the commuters whom he represents. I agree that there can be no monopoly of virtue in this respect. I should not like to impute motives. I would not try to do so. If anything can be done to improve the machinery for dealing with disputes, I am sure that it should be done.

As South-Eastern commuters have had to put up with excessive increases in fares as well as excessive disruptions in recent years, will the Secretary of State discuss with the chairman of British Rail the possibility of delaying the next increase in rail fares for a few weeks, or possibly even a month, in order to give hard-pressed commuters some compensation for the disruption which they face at the moment?

It is an ingenious idea, but I am not sure who would then foot the bill. It is only fair to say—although we are discussing problems of those who travel in London today—that many other people use the railways in other parts of the country. I do not think that they would want to pay more to finance the sort of gap which the hon. Member suggests.

Is the Secretary of State aware that many hundreds of my constituents have no choice but to use the train service to get to and from work, that they have been suffering for months from delays and cancellations and that today's events are the last straw? Will the right hon. Gentleman use his influence with the bodies concerned to impress upon them that their action, far from attracting public sympathy to such case as they may have, is having the reverse effect?

I agree with the hon. Member's final comment. This sort of action does not help anyone. The travelling public can sometimes be unreasonable, but equally they can be aggravated very understandably by circumstances of this kind. What worries me greatly is that this House has been trying to give a settled future to the railways. Action of this kind does not help in that direction.

What has the Secretary of State done in a positive manner, as urged by the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Corbett), to try to resolve disputes of this kind? Is he aware that the impression he has given in this instance is that the Government are standing by impotently, that management is standing by impotently, that the unions are standing by impotently and that nothing is being done? Will he at least give some assurance that he is giving his attention to trying to introduce an improved disputes procedure, perhaps with cooling-off periods and perhaps even harking back to the "In Place of Strife" proposals of his own party, so that passengers and the railways can look forward to a more settled future? Is he doing anything positive?

Ministers ought to have a sense of responsibility about what they can or cannot do. I am not one to claim in this House or elsewhere that Ministers should get involved in day-to-day matters with which they have not the experience or specialist knowledge to deal. This is a matter for British Rail. I am responsible for the appointment of the chairman and the board, and they are responsible for industrial relations. However, the hon. Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) and the House may take it that the chairman is very much aware of my concern, and, of course, he will be told of our exchanges in the House today.

I must tell the House that I intend to limit questions to those right hon. and hon. Members with con- stituency interests who have been rising throughout these exchanges.

The Secretary of State has failed to answer the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate). What precisely does he intend to do, bearing in mind that the various rail unions have threatened to continue their action over the next few months? The situation is already bad in Southern region areas, and I venture to suggest that if the right hon. Gentleman represented a Southern seat he would be using arguments very different from those he is postulating now. What does he intend to do over the next month or so to eliminate the suffering that is being caused to so many of our constituents in Southern England?

To say that I have a sense of proportion and reality is to beg a number of questions, but I am not trying to persuade the House that any rapid intervention of mine would immediately solve the problems. That is my message to the hon. Gentleman. If I judged that my intervention with those principally concerned would improve the situation, or, better still, solve the dispute, I would take that step. I do not believe that that is the right course today, particularly when discussions are taking place with a view to resolving the dispute.

Can the right hon. Gentleman justify to me and the many thousands of my constituents who travel to London every day discontentedly, but who have no option, the 10 per cent. increase in their fares from January if their wage increases are to be held down by the Government to 5 per cent.?

The hon. Gentleman has raised a separate and fascinating question which I should like to discuss at considerable length.

If the hon. Gentleman will wait, I may even attempt to do it now. Any increase in fares must be related to the increased cost of the railways. The labour costs of the railways are about 70 per cent. of the total, and the next fare increase must take account not only of any increase in wages from next April but of the increase that occurred in April this year. I should like to develop that theme, but this is not the moment to do so.

Though the Secretary of State clearly wishes to avoid intemperate expressions, he must accept that Southern region commuters are just about at the end of their tether when action of this sort comes on top of the habitually poor service they receive even when working is, as the railways say, normal. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that if this wildcat action continues it must call into question many of the assumptions on which our transport planning in the South-East has been based?

I do not agree w0069th the hon. Gentleman. It is a difficult and awkward situation which is infuriating for many people, but I see no reason to believe that our broad transport planning is wrong or that we are wrong in the importance we attach to supporting public transport, including the railways.

Statements By Ministers

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will be aware that on Monday and Tuesday of this week there were two extremely important Council of Ministers meetings in Europe. We are not getting statements in the House after those meetings.

Is there anything that you, Mr. Speaker, or I can do to press the Government to bring their reluctant and rather shy Ministers to the Dispatch Box?

The hon. Gentleman has done what he can, and I did what I can by allowing him to make his complaint under the guise of a point of order.

Pay Policy

I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 9, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely,

"the use of Government sanctions against Ford and other private sector employers who break the 5 per cent. guideline."
This matter must be clarified in the House. It is evidently specific. The Ford labour force is voting today on whether to accept a wage settlement of about 17 per cent. I understand that the men at Halewood and Southampton have already accepted, yet at the same time we learn from the press that a senior civil servant is now in the United States advising Ford of the intention of the Government to implement the full rigour of State sanctions against the company if it proceeds with the settlement. They know about it in Detroit, but we have not heard a word about it in Westminster.

The matter is evidently important. The Ford company is engaged in a £1,000 million four-year British investment programme which includes expansion in areas of high unemployment such as South Wales and Merseyside. If sanctions are imposed, Ford may well curtail that investment programme and expand elsewhere in Europe, with disastrous employment consequences for the United Kingdom.

The matter deserves urgent consideration as it is still in the melting pot. I believe that Back Benchers on both sides of the House would welcome the opportunity to debate the matter immediately in order to influence imminent Government decisions and that the debate should have preference over tomorrow's Second Reading of the Banking Bill, which could wait for a few days.

Sanctions do not have statutory backing. They are outside the law and are unconstitutional. It is surely right that the principle behind them should he debated in the House before their imposition on an important employer such as Ford. The Government have made fools of themselves over the 5 per cent. policy. The House has a duty to try to protect the country from the consequences of that folly.

The hon. Gentleman asks leave to move the Adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that he thinks should have urgent consideration, namely,

"the use of Government sanctions against Ford and other private sector employers who break the 5 per cent. guideline."
The hon. Gentleman was kind enough to give me notice before 12 o'clock this morning that he proposed to raise this matter. I listened with very great care to what he said. Although I have no doubt that the House will discuss the matter at some time, I have to rule that his submission does not fall within the provisions of the Standing Order, and I cannot, therefore, submit his application to the House.

National Enterprise Board

I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 9, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely,

"the refusal of the Government to allow the Comptroller and Auditor General to report to the Public Accounts Committee on the activities of the National Enterprise Board."
I could not give you notice of my application earlier, Mr. Speaker, because the Treasury minute was not published until 2.30 p.m. I gave you notice at the first opportunity and apologise for not having been able to do so earlier.

It is a specific matter because the NEB disposes of more than £1,000 million of taxpayers' money and, most important, the all-party Public Accounts Committee made clear in its last report that it does not feel that it can be as responsible as it should for accountability to Parliament if the Comptroller and Auditor General is not allowed to investigate and report on the various activities of the NEB.

The House, through the Public Accounts Committee, has expressed the clear view—there was no dissension among the hon. Members on the Committee—that the Comptroller and Auditor General should be allowed to go in and see what is going on. It is a specific and important matter. As the Public Accounts Committee has said, the NEB disposes of very large sums of public money, and if the Committee is to do its job properly it must know the facts.

I believe that the House will wish to debate the matter at the earliest opportunity. It has been raised on several occasions, and the Government and the NEB have shown an arrogant disregard of the wishes of Parliament to carry out its traditional duty of controlling the expenditure of taxpayers' money. I hope, therefore, that it will be possible for us to debate the matter at the earliest possible opportunity.

The hon. Gentleman did me the courtesy during Question Time of giving me notice that he would ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that he thinks should have urgent consideration, namely,

"the refusal of the Government to allow the Comptroller and Auditor General to report to the Public Accounts Committee on the activities of the National Enterprise Board."
The hon. Gentleman has raised an important question, but, as hon. Members know, I decide not whether the House will be able to debate the matter but merely whether it should debate it tonight or tomorrow. That is the only discretion allowed to me.

I listened carefully to what the hon. Gentleman said, but I have to rule that his submission does not fall within the provisions of the Standing Order, and I cannot, therefore, submit his application to the House.

Ballot For Notices Of Motions For Friday 8Th December

Members successful in the Ballot were:

  • Mrs. Lynda Chalker.
  • Mr. Malcolm Rifkind.
  • Mr. Neville Sandelson.

Bill Presented


Mrs. Secretary Williams, supported by Mr. Secretary Mason, Mr. Secretary Millan, Mr. Secretary Morris, Mr. Gordon Oakes and Miss Margaret Jackson presented a Bill to amend the law relating to education And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time tomorrow and to be printed. [Bill 14.]

Business Of The House

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Are you able to help me concerning the devolution referendum debate? Is it a fact that the orders dealing with Northern Ireland will be taken at about 1 a.m. tomorrow, if the two debates on the Scottish and Welsh referendum take their full limit of time?

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. The concern of Ulster is echoed by Welsh Members since it is clear that Scottish Members, if they so choose, could continue the Scottish debate until 11.30 p.m. This would leave Welsh Members with a miserable hour and a half of debating time, and Ulster Members would also suffer. If Scottish Members take up their full debating time, will there be any bar to hon. Members representing Welsh constituencies participating in the debate on the Scottish order? Although clearly nobody wants to enmesh the two topics, it would be helpful if some idea could be given to Scottish Members of the impatience felt on this matter by Welsh and Northern Irish Members who fear that they will have insufficient opportunity to voice their views.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Will the House note that half an hour of Scottish debating time has already been wasted on matters relating to the parochial affairs of the railway dispute in Southern England?

I was about to pay a compliment to the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues. The House is working on the basis that hon. Members will consider the position of those hon. Members who are due to follow them later in the evening. I am unable to change the business of the day, but I am sure that those who are fortunate enough to be called on the first order will be as considerate as possible about the interests of other hon. Members whose interest in these subjects is as great as theirs.

Scotland (Referendum)

4.5 p.m.

I beg to move,

That the draft Scotland Act 1978 (Referendum) Order 1978, which was laid before this House on 14th November, be approved.
The purpose of this order is to appoint 1st March 1979 as the day on which the devolution referendum will be held and to apply the statutory machinery through which the referendum is to be conducted. The order is made under paragraphs 1 and 4 of schedule 17 to the Scotland Act 1978. In addition to its substantive provisions, it applies all the relevant parts of the Representation of the People Acts, including the Parliamentary Elections Rules, the Returning Officers (Scotland) Act 1977 and, the Representation of the People Regulations. It follows substantially the precedent of the order made for conducting the EEC referendum held on 5th June 1975.

The referendum in Scotland will be conducted on the basis of regions and islands areas and the returning officers will be those who act in that capacity at regional and islands councils elections. I shall be appointing a chief counting officer, who will certify the overall result for Scotland. The chief counting officer will appoint counting officers at region and islands level who will be authorised by him to declare the area results locally.

The 1979 electoral register comes into operation on 16th February 1979. The decision to hold the referendum on Thursday 1st March 1979 therefore means that it will be conducted on the basis of an electoral register which is as up to date as possible. The latest statutory date for publication of the new register is 15th February 1979. In view of the proximity of that date to the date of the referendum, the electoral registration officers have indicated that they will do their best to arrange for copies of the registers to be made available as far in advance of 15th February as is practicable.

Eligibility to vote in the referendum is determined by paragraph 2 of schedule 17 to the Act and is not, therefore, a matter for this order. Those who will be able to vote in the referendum will in fact be all those who would be eligible to vote as electors in a parliamentary election in Scotland and those peers who would be eligible to vote in a local government election in Scotland. The canvass for the 1979 register has been undertaken and a draft is at present being prepared by the electoral registration officers. This draft of the 1979 register will be published on 28th November and will be open for public inspection and for notification of additions, changes and objections until 16th December 1978.

That is the general background of the order.

In view of the amendment passed by the House during the passage of the Scotland Bill, what will be the effect on this order and the holding of a referendum on 1st March in either of two circumstances—first, that a General Election could conceivably be called for 1st March, and secondly, that a General Election could be held on the Thursday before 1st March?

I am sure the right hon. Gentleman knows that in the event of a General Election there must be a three-month gap before the referendum. If the order is passed today, it will set the date of 1st March, but that could be set aside if Parliament were dissolved for a General Election. A delay would take place. That is the statutory position.

Let me deal with the order itself. The general principle has been to apply the normal electoral law for parliamentary elections, modified as necessary. A great number of the modifications are necessary simply because of the absence of candidates and the consequential need, for example, to make such substitutions as
"a particular result at the poll"
"the election of a candidate."
This means that a large number of amendments will be necessary to the normal regulations.

The order consists of seven substantive articles and two schedules. Article I provides that the order will come into operation as soon as it is made. Articles 2 and 3 deal with interpretation, application and construction. Article 4 fixes the date and the hours of polling, which are the same as for parliamentary elections. Article 5 provides for arrangements to be made for observers. Article 6 is of particular importance in that it provides that absent voting facilities will be as for parliamentary elections.

The main categories of persons who may vote by post if they can provide an address in the United Kingdom to which the ballot paper is to be sent are, first, those who no longer reside at an address in the regional electoral division for which they have been registered. I hope that Scottish Members will note that this now applies to regional electoral divisions. Secondly, the list includes Service voters, unless they have exercised their right to vote by proxy. Normal arrangements to vote by proxy will continue. Thirdly, it includes those who are prevented from going to the polling station by the general nature of their employment. Fourthly, it applies to the blind and physically incapacitated, including those in hospital.

The last date for the receipt of postal voting applications is 15th February 1979 —again, in accirdance with normal practice in parliamentary elections. In view of the importance of this vote, I very much hope that all those in Scotland who think that they will be entitled to a postal vote and wish to receive one will make sure that they apply to the electoral registration officer in good time.

I wonder whether my right hon. Friend would clarify the point that he has just made about those who have moved to another regional electoral area. It is important for the public at large. It means, of course, the area covered by a single regional councillor or ward area. It would be useful if it were further clarified, because there is a lot of confusion on that point.

I wanted to emphasise that matter because the rules have changed since the last General Election. I do not think that everyone in Scotland is completely aware of that. In fact, until it was drawn to my attention I had not realised that this significant rule had been changed. Postal voting, in terms of change of residence, rests on a change from one regional electoral area to another. In many places, including my constituency —Glasgow, Craigton—it will mean a more liberal application of postal voting rules, even within a single constituency. It is important to make that clear to all those who might be entitled to a postal vote.

I shall be happy to answer questions, but I hope that I shall not subsequently be accused of taking too long.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the arrangements made for voting by post or proxy will be the same as apply for a General Election? Will he also add an eighth article asking for good weather on the day of the referendum?

I wish that I could organise that. On the first point, it is the same as for parliamentary elections. The point I wish to make is that in one significant respect the rules have been changed since the last General Election and not every hon. Member is necessarily completely aware of that. However, the rules have been changed in a liberal direction, so postal votes for change of residence will be easier now than they were at the last election—at least, in most areas of Scotland.

I should now like to refer to the 40 per cent. rule, because I am sure that the House will expect me to do so. First, I should like to remind the House of the advisory nature of the referendum. The ballot paper itself makes this clear with its use of the words:
"Parliament has decided to consult the electorate".
Whatever the outcome of the referendum, Parliament will have to approve the next effective step. If I consider that the 40 per cent. hurdle has not been met, I must introduce a draft order under section 85 of the Scotland Act, but it will be for Parliament to decide whether to approve the order. If, as the Government believe, the 40 per cent. hurdle is easily overcome, I must still come to Parliament to seek approval for the first commencement order under section 83 of the Scotland Act.

In short, the final post-referendum judgment is to be made by Parliament alone. The outcome of the referendum determines only whether I have to lay an order under section 85. Obviously the House, as well as the Secretary of State, will take full account of the result of the referendum. Nevertheless, it is ultimately an advisory referendum in the sense that the House will make the final decision.

The 40 per cent. hurdle was not of the Government's choosing but was incorporated into the Scotland Act against our strong advice. Section 85(2) of the Act provides:
"If it appears to the Secretary of State that less than 40 per cent. of the persons entitled to vote in the referendum have voted" Yes"…he shall lay before Parliament the draft of an Order in Council for the repeal of this Act."
Before we can establish this 40 per cent. figure, we must first establish the number of persons who are entitled to vote in the referendum. It is the expression "entitled to vote" which creates problems, and I should like to explain in some detail how we propose to deal with them. I shall then leave it to the House to comment on what I have in mind as the best practicable course in the circumstances. The House will see that I shall not give a final view on what I think should be done on every matter that I mention.

To be entitled to vote on the referendum in Scotland on 1st March, people must be entered on the electoral register then operative in Scotland. Clearly, those whose names are not on the register will not be entitled to vote. But that does not mean in reverse that we can simply take the total number of names that appear on the register as being the number of people who are entitled to vote on any particular day. Entry on the register is certainly the basic qualification. Without it, there is no entitlement to vote. But, to obtain the number of those entitled to vote in the referendum on 1st March, it is necessary, for reasons which I shall explain, to make some deduction from the total number of names appearing on the register.

The main categories where deductions may arise are as follows, and I shall deal with them in turn. First, there are the people who attain the voting age of 18 after 1st March 1979. The register runs from mid-February to mid-February and includes the names of people who will not reach the age of 18 until mid-February 1980. Perhaps we could call those under 18 "attainers". These are the people whose names appear on the register as attaining the age of 18 within its period of currency but who will not be entitled to vote on the date of the referendum because they have not attained that age by that date.

That means that we must make a deduction of those who have not reached the age of 18 until after 1st March 1979. That is a comparatively simple deduction to make, because electoral registration officers will be able to provide the actual number involved, but they will not be able to count them until the 1979 registers are available. We cannot do it at the moment. However, I have had the order of magnitude of the deduction assessed for the 1978 register. It was just under 50,000. Therefore, I expect the figure for next year's register, which will be accurately counted, to be of the same order–50,000.

Secondly, there is the question of deaths. The names of people who were alive on 10th October 1978—the qualifying date for entry on the register—but who have died between then and the date of the referendum will normally appear on the register, because it is compiled by reference to the position as at the October qualifying date. Clearly, however, it would be wrong to include those people in a calculation of the number entitled to vote on 1st March 1979, so a deduction has to be made for these deaths in this period of rather more than four months.

The actual number of deaths in Scotland right up to the date of the referendum cannot be known until some time afterwards. Nor can we know whether all those concerned were on a Scottish electoral register or how many people who were on a Scottish register may have died outside Scotland in that period. Any attempt to check a nominal roll of deaths, even of those occurring in Scotland, against the electoral register would be impracticable. It could not begin until the registers were available and would not be complete until long after the referendum, and even then it would still be subject to error.

However, it will be possible to make a reasonable estimate of the deduction that should be made for the number of deaths of people aged 18 or over between 10th October 1978 and 28th February 1979. This deduction will be based on information held by the Registrar General for Scotland about actual deaths in Scot- land. For obvious reasons, an estimate relating to a referendum on 1st March cannot be made at this stage. I can, however, inform the House that if the referendum had been held on 1st March this year the deduction would have been about 26,000. I believe that this gives a reasonable guide to the deduction that might he made for deaths. By February, I shall have the actual number of deaths in Scotland up to the end of January. Estimation will therefore be confined to one month only. Rather more than three months' figures will be available. I hope that this helps the House.

Thirdly, people who are detained in a penal institution are legally incapable of voting. That means that there should be a deduction for convicted prisoners whose names are on the register. I shall not go into this in detail. An estimate poses some difficulties, but the evidence suggests that any deduction would be small compared with the deduction for 17year-olds and for deaths.

The most difficult category is that of multiple registration. That is the category of people whose names appear on more than one register in Scotland. Such people will be able to record only one vote in the referendum. They are entitled to vote at only one place, and their second registration is not an entitlement to a second vote. It is an offence for a person to vote more than once but not for a person to be registered at more than one address. There is no central check or facility for matching of names between registers. When registering a person for one address, an electoral registration officer cannot know whether that person has applied to another electoral registration officer elsewhere in respect of a second address.

Not every application to register would be successful. What constitutes "residence" for the purpose of registration is decided by the individual electoral registration officer on the facts of the circumstances. My officials have discussed the problem with the electoral registration officers. They consider that the largest categories of those who are likely to be registered for more than one address are students living away from home in term time and those living in residential accommodation at hospitals—nurses and young medical staff in particular.

The current figure for the number of students receiving an award through the Scottish Education Department and living outwith the parental home in Scotland is about 28,000. That excludes those living away from home but not living in Scotland. There are about 28,000 students receiving a higher level of grant and living outside their parents' homes within Scotland. This figure is likely to be a good estimate of the total number of students with two addresses in Scotland and could thus be taken to represent the upper limit of the number of students in Scotland who might be registered on more than one register.

What we do not know, and I want to look into this further, is the proportion of the total who are recorded on more than one register. To have two addresses is one thing; to be on two registers is another. The position is likely to differ between private lodgings, where the students are probably appoached directly by those compiling the registers, and, say, student halls of residence, where the number appearing on the registers might well depend on the diligence of the wardens in registering students and the political awareness of the students. These are matters which have to be taken into account and which I am considering further.

I turn now to hospital accommodation to give some idea of the scale of the problem there. The upper limit for those living in such accommodation whose names might appear on two registers is estimated to be about 5,000. That is the upper limit. The actual limit is more difficult to determine but it is obviously likely to be less.

I have received a considerable number of representations from student bodies, students and others drawing attention to multiple registration and to the effect that it might have on the application of the power in section 85(2) of the Scotland Act. Those representations bear out the advice of the electoral registration officers to us that double registration of students is fairly common.

There is a strongly held view in Scotland that some account should be taken of multiple registration. I am looking into this matter further. I would be grateful to hear the views of hon. Members on this problem and in particular to hear what the House might regard as a reasonable adjustment for multiple registration.

To sum up—

I did not intervene earlier because I thought that the right hon. Gentleman might be returning to this point. As he has clearly spelt out, it is essential for every vote to count in the referendum. Since the referendum conditions of counting are intended to reproduce as nearly as possible the conditions in a General Election, may I ask whether there will be scope for a Member of Parliament or some other authorised person present to ask for a recount of the votes in the area for which he is responsible if he suspects that it might be desirable?

Yes. The normal rules concerning recounting will apply. The hon. Gentleman will see that the order provides that the Member of Parliament is entitled to be present at the vote and at the polling stations in the area which he represents. There are difficulties about observers because this is not like an ordinary parliamentary election where the parties have their own nominees. That is provided for in the order. There will be observers. To answer the more general question, I intend that the chief counting officer should have discussions with the political parties in Scotland—at least, those represented in this House—about what would be satisfactory arrangements for observers at the counting of the votes.

While we are grateful to the Secretary of State and his officers for the work which they have done in counting up the under–18s, the dead and those who are doubly registered, may I ask him to say whether any consideration has been given to those members of the community who for religious reasons do not choose to exercise their vote? Has he approached the various religious sects to ask for the numbers within those sects who do not vote? If he were to receive that number, would he divide it among the North-East constituencies so as to make the result more accurate? Failing that, may I ask him to look at the results in the North-East constituencies over the past few elections and deduct from the average vote in Scotland the actual percentage vote in these constituencies and work out the proportion of non-voters in that way?

That is a point of detail. If people have conscientious objections to voting, in many cases they will not be on the roll because they will not have taken the trouble to register. In that case there is no problem. If they are on the roll, they are still entitled to vote. If they do decide not to vote, for conscientious reasons, boredom or whatever, there is no way in which I can make a deduction, because they are entitled to vote. It is not legally possible for me to make a deduction, because they are entitled to vote. I can make a deduction only in respect of those who for one reason or another cannot vote, such as the 17-yearolds. In the case of death, we obviously have to make a deduction. I shall make deductions in the other categories. There is nothing I can do about people who decide not to vote.

Would my right hon. Friend accept that the way in which he has outlined the approach to this issue completely refutes many of the arguments presented against the 40 per cent. proposal?

I do not accept that. Since I am summing up my speech, I do not want to get into that argument again. It was unfortunate that such a proposal was put into the Bill. I am trying to explain how it might be coped with.

I will not be in a position to make the deductions for the 1979 register until that register is available. I have, however, indicated—I hope that it has helped the House—what the deduction might have been for attainers—that is, those under 18—and deaths if the referendum had been held on 1st March 1978. These figures will give a fair indication of the order of deductions which might be made for these categories for a referendum on 1st March 1979.

The total number of names on the electoral registers published on 15th February 1978 was 3,809,212. From this there would have fallen to be deducted for the two categories I have mentioned—those on the registers but under the age of 18 and deaths—about 50,000 and 26,000 res- pectively. This would have given a total of 76,000, to which might have been added further deductions for the other two categories I have mentioned—convicted persons and multiple registration.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Wales and I will listen carefuly to any views which the House may wish to express on the question of how we propose to deal with the 40 per cent. test. Against that background and with that explanation, I commend the order to the House.

4.29 p.m.

I shall be advising my right hon. and hon. Friends that the order should have the support of the House. It is right that the people of Scotland should have the opportunity to express their views on the Government's proposals. Indeed, we made clear some time ago that we favoured holding the referendum as early as was feasible. We made clear that if there had been an election in October, as was widely expected, and we had won we should have gone ahead with the referendum.

The date chosen by the Government–1st March, St. David's Day—as far as I am aware has no particular significance for Scotland, except perhaps that it will be almost five years to the day since the Labour Government came to power and announced in the Queen's Speech their intention to
"Initiate discussions in Scotland…on the Report of the Royal Commission on the Constitution, and…bring forward proposals for consideration."
It is a matter for regret that there were no genuine discussions and that the Labour Government proposed, and went forward with, legislation of the kind that they did, because if they had consulted other parties they might have produced legislation that commanded much more widespread support in the House than the present legislation ever did. In those circumstances, it would perhaps not have been necessary for the Government to have a referendum at all.

In considering the order, it is relevant to consider the circumstances in which a referendum comes to be held. The referendum found no place in the original Scotland and Wales Bill. It was inserted in the Scotland Bill at the last minute only to fulfil the panic promise made to ensure that the Bill received a Second Reading. But now that we have the referendum there can, of course, be no opposition to the date, 1st March.

The date we suggested was 22nd March. which would have had certain advantages for those concerned, as I think we all should be, that the vote should be maximised. Clearly, the nights would be lighter and the chances of the weather being very bad would be that much less if the referendum were held those three weeks later. But clearly there is no objection on our part to holding it on 1st March.

I should also make clear that we on the Conservative Benches take the view that if there is a clear majority in the referendum in favour of the Government's proposals, in accordance with the requirements of the Act, we should think it right to advise Parliament to implement those proposals. We should think it right in those circumstances to do everything in our power to make the new arrangements for the government of Scotland work well for the people of Scotland and seek to do what we could to build a smooth-working relationship between the United Kingdom Government and Parliament and the Scottish Assembly and Executive.

But I also want to make it clear that during the referendum campaign we shall be recommending the people of Scotland to vote against the proposals. We regard them as ill-thought-out, illogical, cumbersome, expensive and amounting to a serious threat to the unity of the United Kingdom. They represent a recipe for conflict, especially in the financial provisions.

The division of powers in the Act is on no rational basis, and no solution is provided to the West Lothian question, which strikes at the very root of the proposals. In our view, the attempt to produce legislative devolution within the context of a unitary State will not meet with success as a result of these proposals. Nor do they take into account any thought to the weakening of the position of Scottish Members and the Secretary of State for Scotland if the proposals were accepted. In opposing the proposals during the referendum campaign, we shall not do so in a negative way. We are not asking the people of Scotland simply to endorse the status quo. If the proposals are rejected, we favour the setting up of an all-party conference to scrutinise alternative means of improving the government of Scotland. We have already published, on 10th September of this year, our draft submission to such a conference. We are entitled to ask the Government in laying the order before the House to answer the following question: what do they propose doing if the referendum rejects the advice given by the Government and if the people of Scotland decide that they do not want the proposals to be implemented? The Minister who is to reply to the debate should answer that question.

We do not reject the need for change; we do reject these proposals. The people of Scotland are entitled to something better than the divisive and illogical scheme conceived in political panic and foisted on a totally unconvinced Parliament by the sheer force of Government whipping.

Is the hon. and learned Gentleman saying that in view of his considerable experience in this matter 10 years ago Sir Alec Douglas-Home, as he then was, would be invited by the Conservative Party to do a repeat of the inquiry that was done for the party and was pigeonholed by the right hon. Member for Sid-cup (Mr. Heath) when he was Prime Minister?

I thought that the hon. Gentleman's sense of hearing was sufficiently clear for him to distinguish between what he said and what I have said about the all-party talks.

The view that I have just expressed is the one that we shall put forward in the referendum campaign. As to the conduct of the referendum, we are anxious that it should be a straightforward and fair test of the opinion of the people of Scotland. We do not favour the expenditure of public money and public resources to assist either side of the campaign.

We are glad that the Government have set their face against any attempt to set out the facts in a so-called objective way or to give money to either side in the campaign. But, in our view, the biggest threat to the fair conduct of the referendum is one that was not mentioned at all by the Secretary of State—the use of the Government's own publicity machine. Before the order is passed, the Minister should fill the gap left by the Secretary of State in explaining the Government's policy on the matter.

This is not a matter that can be new to the Secretary of State. Novelty will be no explanation for his silence, because during the debates on the Bill we made abundantly clear our anxieties on this score. All that we had from Ministers was bland statements that Ministers would speak in favour of Government policy but would give no money to any organisations or individuals or spend money in any other way. It is not as simple as that.

If it is the Government's genuine desire to persuade the people of Scotland and the House that the referendum is to be conducted fairly, it will be necessary for them to explain what money, if any, will be spent by the Government on research and back-up facilities and what money will be spent on promotional facilities in the presentation of the "Yes" side of the campaign by Ministers. Are civil servants to act as speech writers for Ministers in these matters? Are public relations officials within the Government machine to be used? These questions should be answered and we should have figures.

The Government may say that they will do exactly the same as in a General Election, but I do not believe that that solves the problem, because a General Election is quite a different matter. Limits are imposed on the expenditure of particular candidates. In the present situation, where there are no candidates, the Government are under a public duty to explain exactly how they propose to use the Government machine, to what extent and at what cost.

Surely the hon. and learned Gentleman must realise that the Government are not saying that they are neutral in the matter. They back the legislation. They have said so all along. Surely the hon. and learned Gentleman does not expect the Government at this stage to tell the Scottish people "We are not giving you every indication, before the referendum and during the referendum campaign, that we support this all the way". That includes spending money in order to put forward that point of view.

I am saying that the Government are entitled by their Ministers and supporters, if they can find any, to tell the people of Scotland that this is a good measure.

They have told the House repeatedly that they do not propose to spend public money advancing one side of the campaign or the other. If they have changed their mind and they think it is legitimate for public money to be spent in support of one side of the campaign rather than the other, they are entitled to take that view. In that event, they should tell the House that they have changed their mind and that they think they should spend public money in favour of the "Yes" campaign although no money will be available in support of the "No" campaign. They should say that they expect to spend a certain amount of public money in support of propaganda, a certain amount on speech writing, a certain amount on cars, and a certain amount in other directions. They should tell us what they expect the total to be. If they do that, the House will be in a position to decide whether that amounts to a fair conduct of the referendum.

I remind Labour Members that during a General Election the Government machine is not used to further the interests of any one party. The Government are entitled to take a view, but they should come clean with the House.

It is also worth asking why there is an important difference in the Government's conduct of the referendum compared with the EEC referendum. In the devolution referendum no dispensation is being granted to Ministers who do not favour the devolution legislation. It is no answer to say that it is Government policy. It is no answer to say—[Interruption.] The Secretary of State is muttering. If he will pay me the courtesy of listening to me as I listened to him, he will find that the House will hold him in greater respect.

I was merely wondering when the hon. and learned Gentleman would talk about the order.

That is a matter for the Chair rather than for the Secretary of State. I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman finds the arguments that I am advancing so uncomfortable that he has to resort to sedentary interventions. He would be better off listening to what I have to say.

We are talking about the conduct of the referendum, and it is highly relevant to ask why the Government are insisting on collective responsibility. After all, in the European referendum it was just as much a part of Government policy that there should be a "Yes" vote. Ministers who disagreed with that were granted a dispensation. That is a question that should be answered.

There is another more specific matter relating to the referendum that should be mentioned at this stage. It is not dealt with in the order, but it is highly relevant if the referendum is to be conducted fairly. I have in mind the conduct of broadcasting during the course of the campaign. It is crucial that there should be agreed ground rules. No amount of looking sulky or sullen on the part of the Secretary of State will provide an answer.

During a General Election there are agreed ground rules. They apply to party political broadcasts. They relate to how many such broadcasts will be made and the conduct of current affairs programmes during the campaign. It would be right for comparable rules to be agreed for the conduct of the referendum campaign.

If there are party political broadcasts during the course of the campaign, will they be allowed to include references to the referendum? If so, that will not necessarily amount to a fair use of broadcasting time if we consider the position of the various parties that are concerned.

How is the balance to be maintained for discussion programmes? Is the balance in political discussions to be between the various political parties or between those who are in favour of a "Yes" vote and those who are in favour of a "No" vote? These are important questions and the Minister should address his mind to them rather than merely looking grumpy.

Am I to understand that the Conservative Party is taking the view that in any allocation of time for broadcasts of any sort it is important that the usual channels are not used? It is acknowledged and recognised, for example, in Wales—doubtless it is the same in Scotland—that there is a large Labour electorate that wants to vote "No". Am I to understand that the Conservative Party, in any such discussions, would welcome the fact that representatives who speak for a Labour electorate saying "No" must participate and help to make the ground rules, which I readily agree are most necessary?