HC Deb 10 April 1975 vol 889 cc1547-56

Queen's Recommendation having been, signified

Motion made, and Question proposed,

That, for the purposes of any Act of the present Session to provide for the holding of a referendum on the United Kingdom's membership of the European Economic Community, it is expedient to authorise the payment out of moneys provided by Parliament of—

  1. (a) grants towards the expenses incurred by organisations for the purposes of the referendum;
  2. (b) the remuneration of any person appointed to conduct the counting of votes and of persons appointed to assist him; and
  3. (c) any administrative expenses incurred by a Minister of the Crown.—[Mr. James Hamilton.]

10.15 p.m.

Mr. Michael English (Nottingham, West)

I simply wish at this stage, Mr. Speaker, to reply to the points made by my hon. Friend—[Interruption.]

Mr. Russell Kerr (Feltham and Heston)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. This is a very important matter that my hon. Friend is raising and the House ought to give him the courtesy of at least hearing him.

Mr. Speaker

As always, I am grate-full to the hon. Member for his help. I do hope that hon. Members who want to continue these conversations will do outside the Chamber.

Mr. English

My hon. Friend the Minister of State said that I was referring of £l¼million which was not the £1¼ million to which I was referring. In my original speech in the debate I mentioned a Press statement that the popular version of the Government's White Paper would run to 16 pages in full colour and would cost £1¼ million. I did not accept that that necessarily was the cost but I asked my hon. Friend what the cost would be, since clearly the cost of that popular White Paper, whatever that may be, is to be added to one side of the bill. I concede that under the terms of this Money Resolution any administrative expenses of a Minister of the Government would be covered. Although I asked my hon. Friend what the cost would be he did not answer, but assumed that I was referring to the £1¼ million mentioned by the Lord President's office, on which there was a denial.

I also criticised the hon. Member for the fact that the amount of some £500,000, originally mentioned by my right hon. Friend, had been cut down in this Bill. I accept that the terms of this Money Resolution are quite wide. I would like, therefore, an assurance, from whoever may be answering on this point of the amount that can be granted to an organisation, that we shall be able during the course of the Bill to discuss the amount.

10.17 p.m.

Mr. James Scott-Hopkins (Derbyshire, West)

I asked a question during the debate on Second Reading but, unfortunately, I did not get an answer, perhaps understandably. Possibly at this stage the Financial Secretary will let us know the present estimate of the cost of this farcical operation. We know the cost of item (a) of the Money Resolution, as that has already been stated, but can the Minister, or whichever right hon. Gentleman is to reply, state what is to be the cost of items (b) and (c) of the resolution? That depends a great deal on how it is intended that this should be done, but I feel we should know the cost. At a later stage we shall be discussing particularly the basis on which the count is to be made, whether at county level or nationally. There could be a cost variation, and the House should know what estimates the Goverment have made.

Mr. Speaker

I have already asked hon. Members to have their conversations outside the Chamber. My request had moderate effect, but not as much as I would have liked. Would hon. Members keep quiet, except, of course, the hon. Member who was speaking.

Mr. Scott-Hopkins

I shall be keeping quiet in a very few minutes, Mr. Speaker. We cannot let this Money Resolution go without getting a little more information from the Minister who is to reply. The hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) raised some points with which I do not agree, but nevertheless we must hear what the total overall cost of the operation is to be, and what scale of fees the Government propose for those who are to supervise or to transport, and so on, be the operation on a national or county scale.

Sir Paul Bryan (Howden)

There is also the question of a recount. Can there he a recount, and if so, what will it cost?

10.20 p.m.

Mr. Robert Adley (Christchurch and Lymington)

In an excellent though short speech earlier today, the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. Steel) suggested that £9 million was a large sum for the British taxpayer to pay for an exercise on behalf of the Labour Party. What, if any, estimate has been made of the cost which would be incurred if British citizens overseas were to be given the vote—in other words, in sending ballot papers abroad and bringing or telegraphing them back? If no exercise has been done, could it be done?

Second, if the Government are unwilling to accept the Opposition amendment and the Opposition cannot persuade the House to accept it, is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the British Chambers of Commerce in Europe have said that they will seriously consider funding the printing of ballot papers and distributing them to British citizens in Europe, thus allowing them to vote so that at least we in this House who care what they think may know what they think? So, if our amendment is not accepted, will the right hon. Gentleman consider allowing the additional printing of ballot papers simultaneously with the printing of the national ballot papers, so that an onward run of 100,000 or 500,000 can be printed to give an idea of what is involved to those who are prepared to pay for this out of their own pockets?

10.22 p.m.

Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles (Winchester)

Will there be any provision under paragraph (c), dealing with administrative expenses, for expenses in connection with television? So many people still say that they do not know enough about this problem that it will probably be decided by what is said on television. What will the arrangements be for the allocation of time between one side and another, as at General Election time? After all, anything that we may say here or may do by stuffing pieces of paper through letter boxes will be as nothing compared to the effect of television.

10.23 p.m.

Mr. Ian Gow (Eastbourne)

The Money Resolution differs in one important respect from the Bill. Clause 3 of the Bill provides that there are two organisations only to which a grant may be made by the Lord President. The Money Resolution, however, contains no such restriction. This discrepancy should be explained.

What expenditure does the Lord President envisage if the resolution is passed? The Explanatory Memorandum to the Bill tells us that the total cost of the referendum is expected to be £9 million—as some of us think, solely to save the face of the Prime Minister. It is important that we know the total expenditure envisaged under the Money Resolution.

Finally, we are asked to approve expenditure in relation to administrative expenses incurred by a Minister of the Crown. Which Ministers will incur expenditure, and what is the estimate of the total expenditure involved? It is timely to ask this question with the Chancellor of the Exchequer sitting on the Treasury Bench and to remind him, as he prepares his Budget, that the House will be extremely jealous about the expenditure of public money on this extravaganza of a referendum.

10.25 p.m.

Mr. Norman Tebbit (Chingford)

I wonder whether the Minister of State can tell the House whether there is any provision in these moneys, or whether it would be possible to have such a provision, to ensure that citizens of the Republic of Ireland who are resident in Britain do not vote in this referendum? As the hon. Gentleman knows, they are normally on the electoral register, but of course he will also know that they are already citizens of the Common Market and established there, with no doubt about their country's future there. It would seem proper that they should not vote in this unique referendum, not only for the normal reasons but because the British citizen who happens to be resident in the Republic will not, apparently, be given a similar facility.

10.26 p.m.

The Minister of State, Privy Council Office (Mr. Gerry Fowler)

Perhaps I may deal with all these points briefly, taking the last one first. I have been asked whether money can be provided to exclude those Irish citizens who are registered on our normal electoral registers. The answer is "No, Sir"—for the simple reason that it would be virtually impossible to determine which persons, recorded on a normal electoral register, were citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies, citizens of the Irish Republic, or citizens of both, as some people are. That would be an impossible task.

I was asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) why only £125,000 was being offered to each of the umbrella organisations. I understand that no larger sum was ever promised. I do not want to become involved in a dispute about the composition of £1¼ million and which £1¼ million is the same as or different from another. In essence, the Government have not changed their view on this matter from the outset. I was unable to understand, earlier, my hon. Friend's suggestion that the sums allocated were 11 to 1—I think that was the phrase he used—in favour of one side. I simply cannot make out that arithmetic.

Mr. English

I very carefully said that we did not know the cost of the popular version of the White Paper. Press comment has said that that cost is £1¼ million. If so, that is obviously on one side of the case. A short while ago I asked my lion. Friend to say what was the cost of the popular version of the White Paper.

Mr. Fowler

The cost of the popular version of the White Paper is about £1 million.

I was asked by the hon. Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Scott-Hopkins) what was the total cost of the elements set out at paragraphs (b) and (c) of the Money Resolution. The total cost of those elements is roughly the sum set out in the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum to the Bill, minus the provision made in Clause 3. We can say very broadly that our present estimate is that the total overall cost of the referendum will be £9 million to £10 million.

The hon. Member for Christchurch and Lymington (Mr. Adley) asked whether we had costed the possible arrangements for giving the vote to those who were resident abroad and, if we had not, whether we would be prepared to accept, in effect, private assistance towards the cost of printing ballot papers. We have not costed this for the simple reason—perhaps this also answers the second point—that cost is not the deterrent here. One is not concerned with cost—though I must correct the figure suggested by the hon. Gentleman for those who might be eligible. I said on Second Reading that there could well be about 3 million people. But cost is not the argument here.

Mr. Adley

Is the Minister aware that this mythical figure of 3 million includes Hong Kong Chinese and East African Asians? These people are simply not able to be included under the Opposition's amendment, which includes the words having the right of abode in the United Kingdom. These people are British passport holders. They do not have the right of abode in the United Kingdom.

Mr. Fowler

I suspect that this might be better discussed in Committee, when we come to that amendment. It would be quite inapposite to discuss this at length on the Money Resolution.

I was asked by the hon. and gallant Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles) whether there was any provision for television in the sums here set aside. The answer is "No, Sir." There will be referendum programmes on television, but there will be no cost to the Government or to the umbrella organisations. It is our understanding that the national television organisations are determined to observe the normal rules applicable at a General Election—mutatismutandis—so that there will be an equal amount of time for those putting the case on each side.

Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles

This is a point of some importance. At General Elections parties have a larger or smaller amount of time allocated to them. Surely it is not reasonable, in view of last night's vote in the House, that a similar amount of time should be given to both sides.

Mr. Fowler

That is not a view that we can accept. We want not only to be fair but to be seen to be fair in the referendum, and it is important that both sides should have equal time. As the hon. and gallant Gentleman said, television is perhaps the most important medium in this respect, and it would be quite unfair if one side were to get substantially more time than the other.

I was asked which Ministers would incur expenditure under the Bill. Broadly, it will be my right hon. Friends the Home Secretary, the Lord President, the Secretary of State for Defence and perhaps, in some degree, my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Civil Service Department.

Mr. Gow

Will the Minister of State deal with the point about the discrepancy between the wording of the order and the wording of the Bill? Will he confirm that no payment will be made except to organisations set out in Clause 3(1)(a) and (b)?

Mr. Fowler

I confirm that willingly. This matter is absolutely clear. The Minister will be bound by the wording of the Bill when it becomes law.

Mr. English

Are the provisions on grants to organisations drafted widely enough to permit discussion of the amount in Committee?

Mr. Fowler

I think that the wording is wide enough to cover discussion of the amount. I hope that that discussion will not be as prolonged as some of the discussion on detailed points in the House today.

Question put and agreed to.


That, for the purposes of any Act of the present Session to provide for the holding of a referendum on the United Kingdom's membership of the European Economic Community, it is expedient to authorise the payment out of moneys provided by Parliament of—

  1. (a) grants towards the expenses incurred by organisations for the purposes of the referendum;
  2. (b) the remuneration of any person appointed to conduct the counting of votes and of persons appointed to assist him; and
  3. (c) any administrative expenses incurred by a Minister of the Crown.