HC Deb 23 April 1975 vol 890 cc1661-3

12.45 a.m.

Mr. Gerry Fowler

I beg to move Amendment No. 69, in page 3, leave out lines 20 to 22.

The Deputy Chairman

With this we are taking the following amendments: No. 70, in page 3, line 22, at end add 'unless such proceedings have been commenced within thirty days of the date on which the referendum is held'. No. 71, in page 3, line 22, at end add 'unless such proceedings were commenced within a period of thirty days commencing with the date of the certificate of the counting officer under section 2(3) of this Act'. No. 72, in page 3, line 22, at end add 'unless such proceedings shall have been commenced within 28 days of the result of the referendum being certified by the Counting Officer'.

Mr. Fowler

The purpose of the amendment is to restrict the exclusion of legal proceedings effected by the clause. Having listened carefully to the Second Reading debate, we decided to accede to what was the clear wish of the Committee to remove paragraph (b).

The end result is that we have decided that it is sufficient to confine the exclusion of legal proceedings to the certification of the result by the accounting officer, which is effected by paragraph (a). In any event, proceedings which would have been excluded by paragraph (b) would have been of little effect, since, whatever their outcome, they could not have had any consequence on the referendum as a whole.

Sir Michael Havers

During the course of the Second Reading debate it was clearly expressed by my right hon. Friend and myself that paragraph (b) achieved nothing, and that it went much too far. I am delighted that the Government have taken this view.

When I was looking at the list of amendments and saw the Lord President's name against the amendment, I thought that this was another mistake, because I had understood that the Labour Party had made a mistake in an early-day motion earlier this week and I thought that this was a repetition.

I must tell my hon. Friends that this amendment should be supported. A conversion, however late, is always welcome.

The Deputy Chairman

The Question is—

Mr. Emery


The Deputy Chairman

The hon. Member for Honiton (Mr. Emery) is showing signs of tiredness. He should have been on his feet more quickly.

Mr. Emery

I welcome this amendment from the Government. It illustrates—as the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) pointed out earlier—the completely nonsensical position into which the Government have got themselves when considering the whole of the referendum issue.

That the Government at any time considered that the validity of anything done or purported to be done under this measure or under any order made under this measure could not be referred to the courts shows a degree of dominance and a lack of respect of the law which—thank goodness—we in the Opposition have been able to remedy by means of the Second Reading debate and some pressure behind the scenes.

It should and must be pointed out that the Government initially were quite happy to go forward with the Bill as published. Only because of pressure from the Opposition have they brought in this amendment. I find it discouraging that the Government should have been in the position they were in at the start.

That fact needs to be brought home quite clearly.

Amendment agreed to.

Clause 4, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

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