HC Deb 27 July 1971 vol 822 cc510-29

7.39 a.m.

Mr. John Mendelson (Penistone)

I ought to do the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs the courtesy of bidding the time of the morning to you, Mr. Speaker, to the hon. Member for Barkston Ash (Mr. Alison) and, last but not least, to the gentleman who guards our proceedings from beyond the Bar of the House, because the Under-Secretary has been away from the Chamber for only a moment, as many of us might have been, and is already, I see, on his way back. Therefore, I assure the Minister that he has missed nothing of the case I hope to put to him.

The matter I wish to raise is of considerable constitutional importance. I shall have to adduce a fair amount of evidence and a number of supporting reasons to buttress my main case. I tried to raise the matter on an earlier occasion, as soon as the large-scale circulation of this Government pamphlet started. I have since had correspondence from people wholly unknown to me, including some whose political leanings I am in no position to judge. One, writing from Birmingham, told me that he has also written to the Leader of the House. I do not represent Birmingham, nor have I any particular influence there. Birmingham is not known to be represented by people opposed to our entry into the Common Market. This gentleman says that it is because he regards it as a matter of considerable constitutional importance that he has written to the Leader of the House, pointing out to him that he completely missed the point when I tried to raise the matter on an earlier occasion. He ends by saying: Would you continue on this as soon as you can, because it is of very great importance? That is one of the reasons that moved me to seek to raise the matter in this debate.

I very much regret the absence of the Leader of the House. I am not raising a Foreign Office policy matter; there are other occasions for that. I want to put on record my profound disapproval of the absence of the right hon. Gentleman. I have only kindly feelings for the Minister, as I think I showed only a few minutes ago, and as he has known over the years. I always welcome his presence, and I would have been pleased to see him sitting next to the Leader of the House, perhaps holding his hand intellectually and whispering in his ear occasionally. But the right hon. Gentleman's absence is a grave constitutional act of negligence, which I will raise again when the House is rather more fully attended on another suitable occasion. I know that I shall have the support of other hon. Members when I do.

The absence of the Leader of the House, who is responsible for Government propaganda and for co-ordination of arrangements for publications such as we are considering, is regrettable. I told him of my view the other day when the Prime Minister was sitting next to him. Therefore, it is not a new point that I am trying to make. It is clear that he was very much concerned. The matter was raised with him not only by me from the back benches but by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, who speaks for at least half the country, and, if Bromsgrove is anything to go by, for well over half the country. It is a serious dereliction of duty, no matter what the hour, for the Leader of the House not to be in his place to reply to this debate.

My second point concerns the Government's generally shifty attitude on the matter. They have evaded every opportunity to engage in debate on the subject. They have made no effort to give a full and detailed explanation on what is re- garded, as I shall seek to prove from independent sources, as a grave departure from our normal constitutional procedure.

I now submit my main case. I believe it is unlawful for the Government to have engaged in the distribution of a political propaganda pamphlet through Her Majesty's Post Office. I believe it is against the decisive precedents, some of which were rehearsed the other day by the Leader of the Opposition. I do not want to weary the House by repeating them, but the Minister will have been briefed on the matter and will know the precedents to which I refer. But beyond that I believe that this pamphlet is quite different in kind from all the pamphlets and Government publications which were debated the other day between the Leader of the Opposition and members of the Treasury Bench. I wish to indicate the difference I have in mind by talking about categories of Government publications.

There is the very large category of publications on our welfare schemes, which includes information about the entitlement of ordinary people. I dare say that, with safety regulations and the implementation of various Home Office Acts, announcements on welfare schemes form the bulk of Government publications. These can never be a matter of dispute because the intention is very simple, namely, to bring home to the citizen something which Parliament has decided, for which the money has been voted by this House which cannot be voted by any other authority. Therefore, naturally, publications to bring to the notice of individuals things to which they are entitled form a large category of Government publications.

Then there are publications on what I call safety and security regulations dealing with poisonous drugs, and so on. They are an absolute necessity and cannot form, except in individual cases when medical opinion may differ, a subject for controversy. All these Government publications are published in ordinary garb and their drafting is left to people in the Departments concerned. I dare say that Departments or Ministers call in a public relations officer or two to change the language to make it more lively, although I have no great taste for the language normally used by public relations specialists. I much prefer the more staid language of the members of the Civil Service. But if the Government want to liven it up a bit and in fact do so, nobody utters any dissent.

The pamphlet which I am talking about, "Britain and Europe: A short version of the Government's White Paper" says under the headline "The Historic Decision" on page 2, "A Message from the Prime Minister". He is the kind of public relations officer not normally called in by a Government Department to write a preface to a Government publication. It is a rather unusual course for a Government Department to take. The message from the Prime Minister is a propaganda statement made in terms he is quite entitled to use both as head of the Government and as leader of the Conservative Party. The only difference is that he should pay for it himself. He must find the financial resources to pay for it.

I say seriously that there will be other major occasions on which senior Cabinet Ministers, including the Prime Minister, who have been responsible for this departure from our traditions, will be held financially responsible for what they have done. I have no doubt that this will be the outcome of what will be a very big case of great constitutional importance.

The Prime Minister, talking of the shortened version of the White Paper, says in that preface: Finally, it explains why the Government firmly believes that the terms for British entry into the European Community are fair and reasonable. That is a highly partisan point of view. Anybody who has listened in this House to the Common Market four-day debate will have heard the opinions of those fortunate enough to be called. And if they know a little about the opinions of those who sat here throughout the debate and were not fortunate enough to be called and who hope to speak in October, they will know that many hon. Members hold diametrically contrary views to that expressed in that preface by the Prime Minister. Nobody can disagree with that statement of fact.

We do not know what will be the figures in any vote in this House. We read reports of arm-twisting, of secret messages and of corridor interviews with Whips—and probably scorpions as well. It is no good the hon. Member for North Fylde (Mr. Clegg) shaking his head. I do not expect him to confide in me what he thinks about his own Members. The Party to which I belong was in Government for six years, so I know a little about the kind of work the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends do in Government. He will not persuade me that what I am saying is not true.

A great battle is taking place at the moment for the minds and feet of hon. Members to direct them into the kind of Lobby the hon. Gentleman wants to see them enter. He has no certainty about the number of Conservative Members he will be able to dragoon into the Lobby in support of the Prime Minister's preface. Hon. Members on his own side, to my certain knowledge, have not yet finally made up their minds. He cannot contradict any point I have made.

This political process is being gone through with great seriousness and the entire political career of many hon. Members is at stake. I do not say this lightly because there is news this morning in the Press of the resignation of one Member on this important issue of entry into the Common Market, into which the propagandists are trying to lead us. If I am not right about that resignation, perhaps the Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, or his colleague will deny the story.

The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Anthony Royle)

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way, but I wished to say a word about his earlier point before he left the subject of Whips. Having spent three years in the Conservative Whips' Office, I think that the hon. Gentleman is confusing the way in which his party Whips contact him and his experience of them with the way in which the Whips of the Conservative Party behave.

Mr. Mendelson

That is the most barefaced statement that I have heard in the whole of my time in this House. If the hon. Gentleman wants to know, I was not referring to my own experience. My own Whips have always treated me with great politeness. But, of course, not every hon. Member has been here as long as I have, and younger Members sometimes get different treatment.

The decision which has to be taken by hon. Members in all parts of the House is quite unprecedented in the history of this House. Therefore, what the hon. Gentleman says is without foundation. There is a great deal of arm-twisting. People are concerned about their political futures. It is a highly controversial matter.

The other day, over the heads of right hon. and hon. Members opposite, the Prime Minister appealed to the assembled agents, chairmen and vice-chairmen of Conservative Associations. It is well known that the right hon. Gentleman is preparing a vote on a three-line Whip, and using every means to get some constituency chairmen to put pressure on individual Members.

Press publicity has been given to a case in which a Member was told by his constituency chairman that, if he addressed people attending a garden fête organised by the local Conservative Association, he must keep off the Common Market. One might well talk about playing Hamlet without the Prince of Denmark. How can a Conservative Member of Parliament address a meeting of his political supporters today without saying a word about the Common Market? Right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite will be laughed out of court if they carry on like this.

The country will say that the Government are spending large sums of public money on propaganda, when their own Members are muzzled by their party bigwigs and prevented from referring to the subject if they happen to be called upon to address a Conservative fete. The more the hon. Gentleman keeps quiet and the less he provokes me into giving further details, the better it will be for his party.

I return to the main subject, not without some regret, because the matter to which I have just referred is also of some importance. In his preface, under the heading, "The historic decision", the Prime Minister is using public money to try to sell what is now a strictly partisan political case to which no approval has been given by the House of Commons. He is using money which has never been voted by this House for the purpose.

That brings me to my second main point. It is established constitutional doctrine that only this House can grant supply. Down the ages, the House has always been jealous about what is done once supply has been granted. We know that more than one grave constitutional crisis has arisen over the misuse of money granted for one purpose and used for an altogether different purpose. This has always been regarded as exclusively a matter for the concern of those who grant and control supply.

A Government which acts unconstitutionally and unlawfully in this respect acts unconstitutionally and unlawfully on a matter on which the House of Commons has been built up. From a recently published book by an authority on the House of Commons in the eighteenth century, what clearly emerges, if nothing else does, is that it has always been held that, even when the other place had a share in deciding financial matters, the decisive power rested finally with the House of Commons.

When we take constituents round the House of Commons we usually take them to one of the genuinely oldest parts in Westminster Hall where, in 1397, a Parliament sat. We have knowledge of that Parliament, because one of our finest historians in the last 70 years, Professor Helen Cam, of Cambridge University, wrote a paper on it. Fragments of what a Member used to report to his constituents, having come away from that Parliament, have been preserved. The two most important points in that early tradition are supply and grievances. That is how it all started, that is how it has continued, and we are now on supply.

If it were thought for a moment that this was a matter which concerned only Members of Parliament, who, after all, are politically committed to one view or another, I would call in aid an opinion published in the Daily Telegraph of 20th July, 1971, which the Minister, or those who brief him, must have seen. That newspaper is not known as a supporter of many of the causes which I normally support, except that both the editor and I are against sin. Beyond that, I think that there are few causes on which we agree.

The Daily Telegraph has the great journalistic advantage of often publishing in its columns things which contradict what it says in its leading articles. That is a sign of good journalism. However much I disagree with its leading articles, I find that newspaper, as a newspaper, indispensable.

I first tried to raise this matter on Monday, 19th July. On the next day, 20th July, the Daily Telegraph published this article, which I want to read into the record of the House of Commons. Under the headline, Government limits on its publicity", it states: Sir Fife Clark, Director-General of the Central Office of Information since 1954 under three Governments, has probably the most authoritative judgment to offer on whether or not the Government are 'off side' in publishing a free popular guide on Europe before Parliament passes the terms. The subject provoked another storm in the House yesterday. Sir Fife, of course, can hardly be expected to comment as a public servant. But last year, expecting to retire at the end of 1970, he wrote a book in the new Whitehall series about the Central Office of Information. I come to the most important part of the quotation: Accepting, he says, that the Government has a duty to undertake campaigns for public information, a line must be drawn between advocacy and factual presentation. In practice, deliberate informational activities paid for out of public funds cannot be carried out in an atmosphere of prolonged controversy … He goes on to state a basic Central Office of Information convention: It is that while legislation is in progress no money is spent on publicity material; but as soon as a new scheme has become the law of the land … the Government has a duty to make its details widely known. That ends the quotation from Sir Fife Clark. The Daily Telegraph puts in this concluding line: On that, strictly, C.O.I. find H.M.S.O. out of bounds. That is a mild sporting way of putting it. It is what I prefer to call unlawful action and unlawful expenditure of public money for party political propaganda purposes by the Government—by the executive. Many battles have been fought on the very question of the rights of the executive without authority to spend such public money.

I come to the third main point of my submission in which I want to put a few precise questions to the Government. Although the Leader of the House, who ought to have been in his place and whose duty it is to reply to this debate, is not in his place, I hope that the Under-Secretary has been given answers to these questions.

Mr. Anthony Royle

I have the utmost admiration for the hon. Member, but I regret his intemperate attacks upon my right hon. Friend the Lord President. My right hon. Friend is, indeed, as the hon. Gentleman said, responsible for the coordination of Government information policy, but he has asked me to reply, as the Foreign and Commonwealth Office sponsors the funds involved. Therefore, we are involved and it is perfectly proper that I should be here this morning.

Mr. Mendelson

I am making no personal or intemperate attack upon the Lord President. I am making the constitutional point that, although I would have found it perfectly normal for the hon. Gentleman, as a Foreign Office Minister, to sit next to the Lord President, the man responsible for the coordination of Government information policy is the Lord President, and in a case of this importance it was his duty, having been involved in the controversy, to be in his place to answer the debate.

I fully accept that in Adjournment debates matters such as road blocks in constituencies, which are matters of just as great importance to those who live in the street concerned as is this matter, are delegated by the senior departmental Minister to one of his junior Ministers. That is not what we are discussing. We are discussing a decision made by the Lord President with his authority which has not been made by the Under-Secretary, because he has no authority to take such a decision. The matter has been handed down to him; it has been decided somewhere else. It is a matter of Cabinet consideration. I put on record again my profound complaint that the Lord President is not in his place to answer the debate. It is a dereliction of duty of a most serious kind.

I return to the questions that I wish to put to the Minister. I hope that he has the answers. If he has not, it will underline my point that the Lord President should have been here. First, several sums of money have been mentioned in the Press. I want an accurate Government statement today in reply to the debate as to the sums involved. The sum of £800,000 has been mentioned as already having been committed by the Government for this purpose and it has further been suggested in reputable publications that £2 million is about to be spent between now and 28th October. I want the Minister to say what these sums are, how much has already been spent, and how much public money is being committed between now and 28th October.

The Government have said they do not like the state of public opinion over entry into the E.E.C. and therefore they are going to reverse public opinion. Any Government or political party is entitled to do that. It was the Opposition's view that we did not like the trend of public opinion on 18th June, 1970 so we have set to work to reverse that trend. But we are spending our own money on it. We do not have all that much but we spend what we can.

We won the Bromsgrove by-election—a safe Conservative seat. We are eagerly waiting to go into Macclesfield, which is being deprived of parliamentary representation because the Government are afraid they will lose it as they lost Bromsgrove. It will be interpreted as an adverse vote on the Prime Minister's proposal to enter the E.E.C. The Prime Minister does not wish to hold a referendum, and I agree with him. I support a General Election because people have to be heard before the final decision, but the Prime Minister does not agree with that idea. Here is a golden opportunity to consult a section of the electorate who are, if recent years are anything to go by, mostly Conservative inclined.

The Prime Minister has no intention of submitting his views to the electorate at Macclesfield but he is expecting the Post Office employees there to distribute his party political propaganda. It is an unlawful act which should be stopped.

If it were once to be accepted that before the House of Commons had given its approval, in contradiction of the convention outlined by Sir Fife Clark, the Government have a right to proceed to a political propaganda campaign and use public money, then we might be on a most dangerous road. This is twice so because of the grave importance of the issue involved. Members of the executive will be able to claim, on matters equally political but not as important as entry of the Common Market—virtually no matters in the years to come will be as important, so the field is wide—that this Government got away with it, so the door is open to any other Government.

If I were not so much of a constitutionalist or so much concerned that the democratic process should not be interfered with, I might look forward to wonderful days in future. My hon. Friends will be in power and we may wish to proceed—I will urge this upon them—with the public ownership of the insurance companies and the control of a great deal of our national investment. Taking the precedent of the Minister's conduct, that Socialist Government would be able to print ten million pamphlets making the case long before it had been approved by the House of Commons, giving a lurid picture of nefarious restricting influence of privately-owned insurance companies on investment, making a partisan political case—and they could have it distributed freely to everyone by means of civil servants, employees of the Post Office. I await with great interest the views which would then be expressed by hon. Members opposite in Yorkshire, where there are some very eloquent Conservative Members.

We should be perfectly entitled to do it, but I hope that we shall not, because I hope that we shall be able to stop the present Government from pursuing this course. That is far more important. That is why this correspondent, who gives no indication of political party, has written to me that the Lord President did not see the point. This is far more serious and important than any political proposals which either party might produce. What is involved is the belief of the ordinary citizen in the propriety of our political processes. This is all the more so at a time when many people are already gravely doubtful about the procedure that the Government are adopting on the main issue.

In a Gallup Poll the other day, people were asked two questions. To the first— "Are you in favour of Great Britain joining the Common Market?" —57 per cent. said that they were opposed. To the second, "But what do you believe will actually happen?"—87 per cent. said, "We shall go in anyhow," It is a very dangerous state of affairs that 87 per cent. of the people in the foremost Parliamentary democracy in the world should be convinced that, no matter what the views of the majority, the Government, somehow or other, decide for them. Many people already have grave doubts about how this process is being conducted.

This is not simply an argument between pro-and anti-Marketeers. There was a special feature article in The Scotsman yesterday morning. The writer of that article, a feature article, says that there seems to be no possible way of consulting the electorate. I disagree with his conclusions, but there is a newspaper basically in favour of what the Government propose to do yet coming to that conclusion.

What the Government are doing now twice aggravates the offence. While there are already as many as 87 per cent. of the people convinced that, no matter what their views, they will not be able to take part effectively in the decision-making, the Government are using public money in a vast publicity campaign to push their own case. Plainly, those who are concerned beyond this particular decision for our Parliamentary institutions have grave cause for concern. As has been said on both sides—the Prime Minister has said it himself more than once—to take the British people into this new institution without their willing support would in itself be a grave offence against democracy and would endanger the whole enterprise on which the Government are engaged. To use the time between now and 28th October, when a decision has to be made, to spend large sums of Government money on a one-sided argument aggravates the offence twice over.

If the Government persist in their present course, they are in duty bound to offer equal facilities and equal money to those who take a contrary view. This is one reason why I want to know what the sums of money are, and I hope that the Under-Secretary of State will give the House and the country accurate figures. In the absence of such facilities afforded to those who take a contrary view, there is only one honourable course for the Government to take. If the hon. Gentleman cannot do it today—this is one of the reasons why I regret the absence of the Lord President of the Council—then this afternoon or tomorrow the Government should announce that they have stopped the operation until further consideration, that they accept the authoritative view of Sir Fife Clark and others who have spoken on the matter with their experience and knowledge, and that they bow to the opinion expressed throughout the country by pro-Marketeers as well as anti-Marketeers that they have been acting wrongly and unlawfully.

If the Government are not prepared to make such an announcement, I promise them that all my right hon. and hon. Friends, together with a great many people in the country, will not leave the matter there. We shall call the Government to account again and again, so that the nation may clearly understand what they are doing, and that they are doing it in the teeth of determined opposition from this side of the House.

8.23 a.m.

Miss Joan Hall (Keighley)

In response to the remarks of the hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. John Mendelson) about Conservative Whips, I can only say that I have always received courtesy and consideration from the Conservative Whips, just as I have, of course, from the Chair.

There are a number of us on this side who do not feel altogether happy about the precedent which has been set in the matter of the pamphlet because, from now on, the situation will be somewhat different. I can well understand those who are strongly in favour of the Common Market taking one view, and those who are strongly opposed to our entry taking another. But a number of us find ourselves in something of a dilemma. I am full of admiration for those who have strong views on the subject one way or the other.

In being in a dilemma I am in good company. Like a great many people I am in favour of the Common Market economically speaking but am not at all happy about it politically speaking. Those of us in this situation have been subjected to a certain amount of abuse and sarcasm from those who have decided views. It should be remembered that ours is a position representing that of a large number of people. One of the problems in talking about the Common Market is allying it to the daily lives of those whom we represent.

The two situations are often somewhat different. Figures have been quoted by those in favour and those against about the Common Market until I have become statistically drunk. Figures have lost meaning. Good as they may be, the time has come when we should say "No more."

Talking of pamphlets, I am not sure that we should not have a pamphlet on the Treaty of Rome. Having looked at that Treaty in some detail I have to say that I find it difficult to understand. When I put my signature to something I like to know what it is I am signing, and I cannot feel happy about putting my signature to the Treaty of Rome. No doubt a legally trained person would understand it a little better, but it is very difficult for the ordinary layman to follow.

There has been this talk about our being "Europeans". I am not quite sure what a European looks like or feels like. When I go overseas I carry a British passport and I usually get on a great deal better with someone who speaks my own language and with whom I have a common background. Geographically speaking, we are within the European orbit so I presume that we are Europeans. This question is a red herring.

A number of people talk about the long-term advantages and short-term disadvantages of joining the Market. In saying that there are short-term disadvantages, Market supporters are saying to a lot of people, "Sorry, chum, you have had it." The Chancellor talked about pensioners being protected, but this is not enough. We want something much more concrete for these elderly people in the community who have often suffered over the years. It is to them that we owe the fact that we live in a comparatively free, happy and prosperous nation. As to the long-term advantages, it is often said by those in favour of joining that they are so long term that they are difficult to quantify.

Again, this is not good enough for me, I want a little more detail. I want to know what I am in for in the short and long term. There must be some short-term advantages and we should know more about them. It must be borne in mind that something which is large is not automatically the best. Distance does not always lend enchantment to the view. I know that in my part of the West Riding, although communications are today much easier, London appears to be further away and more difficult to reach. The seat of power seems to have less consideration for those in the provinces than ever before. I hope that the question of a Parliament in Europe will not remove it further from us than is the case with Westminster.

When I spoke about being——

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Lady is getting very general. This is a debate on a rather specific issue.

Miss Hall

I am sorry. I will try to return to the specific question. The right hon. Member for Stepney (Mr. Shore) mentioned a tariff barrier of 7½ per cent. not being important. I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman is not here, because I should have liked to tell him that there is a great difference between a tariff barrier of 7½ per cent. and a tariff barrier of 0 per cent., for it is the difference between having a market because one is competitive and having no market at all because one cannot sell competitively, and a tariff barrier of 7½ per cent. is therefore a great disadvantage to this country, as is any tariff barrier anywhere.

The Common Market will plainly have to have a European Parliament. A number of people have expressed better than I can the problems of electing a European Parliament and deciding for what it will be responsible and for what Westminster will be responsible. We have had far too much vagueness about this, and we ought to have much more detail. The pamphlet says very little about the responsibilities of a European Parliament and nothing about the civil servants.

If there is one thing that will be important in the Common Market it is the British civil servants who will be representing the interests of this country. It has been said that our civil servants will be Eurocrats, but we are told that the French are no less French for being in the Common Market, and I hope that the civil servants who represent this country will be more pro-British than anybody else has ever been, because if they are not prepared to look after our interests, we are sunk. I hope that they will be the most fanatically pro-British of any civil servants.

Those of us who are not happy about the political aspects of the Common Market have these doubts. I hope that my hon. Friend will explain why the pamphlet says so little about these matters and that he will be able to set our minds at rest.

8.32 a.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Anthony Royle)

I should like to say how glad I am to see the hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. John Mendelson) at this early hour of the day. He is one of the more active and more articulate of one's colleagues in the House and it is always interesting to hear his views, even if it is so seldom that I am able to agree with him. He has raised an important issue and I am glad of the opportunity to reply on behalf of the Government. For the second time this morning, I must take issue with the hon. Member about his attacks on my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council. The Votes referred to are the main Supply Estimates, which is why I am replying to the debate.

The hon. Member has quoted at length from a gentleman called Sir Fife Clark. I should like to quote from Fife Clark's book on the C.O.I.: For administrative purposes it is responsible to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and Treasury Ministers deal in Parliament with any questions about finance, staffing, efficiency. But the Ministers whose departments it serves take responsibility for the work carried out on their behalf and answer for this in Parliament. That is why I am answering this debate—because of the specific nature of this forum. I know that the hon. Member knows that and I absolutely accept that in what he says he is not throwing darts at me. However, I should like to get that on the record and I am sure that he appreciates that it is right that I should.

I should like to say how much I appreciated the few remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Miss Joan Hall). She cheers us all up in the early morning by being here and we are always glad to hear her. Many of us will remember her very good maiden speech. Although I cannot answer in detail all the issues she raised, many were covered by the debate which we have been having for the last several days in the House, and I am sure that she will therefore forgive me.

Much of what the hon. Member for Penistone said has been covered in question and answer in the House over the last few weeks, but I should like to run over one or two points again and to try to answer some of the questions which he put to me. The hon. Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Arthur Lewis) was also to have introduced this subject, but he is not in his place this morning, a matter of regret to hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber. This subject covered almost the whole spectrum of official publications. It would not be profitable to deal with the matter on so wide a front this morning. Indeed, the hon. Gentleman made it plain that he did not wish to cover the very wide spectrum. On the narrow front exposed in the hon. Gentleman's speech, however, I would like to make the following few remarks.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned specifically the publications issued in connection with Britain's application to join the European Communities. He particularly mentioned the short version of the Government's White Paper. There have been issued not only the short version of the Government's White Paper but also the factsheets. The present Government, like their predecessors in 1962 and 1967, have issued free throughout the country the leaflets known as factsheets. Their purpose is purely informative. The House may also like to recall that booklets on Britain and the European Communities were also issued for sale by previous Governments.

I would like to say a few words about the short version of the White Paper. Before deciding to embark on the production of information publications in connection with the Common Market negotiations, the Government naturally considered previous instances. Some were from the time of previous Administrations when it had been found necessary to make available information on important public issues, and from these cases the Government concluded that there was ample justification from past practice.

The ample justification was, first, for giving the country clearly and simply the information which has been in wide demand. The hon. Member will, I think, admit that there has been a wide demand for information from the general public on the application to enter the E.E.C. The second justification was for reporting the outcome of the negotiations which were initiated by a decision supported by an overwhelming majority of the House of Commons. Just over five million copies have been distributed, mainly to post offices. Their stock has had to be doubled during the past fortnight because of public demand.

Among the many cases considered by the Government as having a bearing on the question of precedents were the following, which I would like to repeat. The first is a free pamphlet in wallchart form called "Upswing". This was mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council when answering questions following his statement in the House on 19th July. It was one of a series published by the Department of Economic Affairs and sent to industrial firms, trade unions and other recipients in July, 1967, following publication of the Government's statement on application to the European Economic Communities, Cmnd. 3345. It is an attractive and well-designed document.

A second precedent for a short version is the White Paper on Fuel Policy, Cmnd. 3438, published in November, 1967, of which 240,000 copies were given free to the National Coal Board for distribution within the industry, and a short version of the Geddes Report on the shipbuilding industry, Cmnd. 2937, published in March, 1966. Altogether, 100,000 copies were sent to all those in the shipbuilding industry. The Shipbuilding Industry Act was enacted in June, 1967.

Mr. John Mendelson

The hon. Gentleman talks about giving information, he has not dealt with the paragraph from the Prime Minister's preface which I have quoted and which is purely political propaganda. It says that the Government firmly believe that the terms of British entry into the E.E.C. are fair and reasonable; but the House has not yet decided that. Being a reasonable man, how can the hon. Gentleman compare 240,000 leaflets on a subject such as he has described with the distribution of 10 million of these propaganda leaflets?

Mr. Royle

I will come presently to the point about the introduction by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister if the hon. Member will allow me to make my speech in the way I intend. As for comparison, while we would all agree that the shipbuilding industry is vitally important to the country, I think the hon. Gentleman would be the first to agree that the application to join the E.E.C. is of even greater importance.

In addition to those I have mentioned, between 1950 and 1967—and this is very important, and has not been brought out before—Budget posters were issued annually as soon as possible after Budget day and before the passing of the Finance Bill. Copies were made available for display in post offices, and were sent to local authorities, industry, educational institutions and political parties. I underline those dates—between 1950 and 1967. I have some copies of the posters here.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the Prime Minister's introductory message for the short version of the White Paper. It seems to me and to Her Majesty's Government that it is perfectly natural that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister should contribute an introductory message to it. His endorsement of the terms simply echoes the conclusions contained in the White Paper itself to which he himself referred in his statement to the House on 7th July introducing the White Paper.

I should like now to make a few observations on the conventions. The hon. Gentleman quite rightly said that I would prefer to call them conventions—there are no rules. First, however, I would like to answer his other main question, which was on costing. The total cost of the present programme, including present plans, would amount to £647,550. This figure includes a sum of £191,000 for the production and distribution of the short version of the White Paper. This is the present situation. There are no plans at present for further initiatives. I think that that statement covers the hon. Gentleman's question. Any detailed breaking down of what we are spending he can get from the various replies, which have been published in HANSARD.

Mr. John Mendelson

Is the Minister now, on behalf of the Government, giving the House and the country an assurance that no further money, beyond this £647,000 already committed, will be spent between now and 28th October on further pamphlets or any type of Government propaganda in favour of one partisan case?

Mr. Royle

I think that I made the position quite plain, but I will repeat what I have said, because it is important, and worth repeating. The total cost of the present programme, including present plans, would amount to £647,550, including £191,000 for production and distribution of the short version of the White Paper. There are no plans at present for further initiatives. I do not think I can go further than that at the moment.

We feel that the convention which has generally been observed since the early 'fifties, though it has not invariably been the case, as I have already indicated, was broadly set out in two publications, "The Government Explains", by the Royal Institute of Public Administration, and the Whitehall book on the Central Office of Information. This convention amounts to the following: if legislation is not in progress, or immediately in prospect, a short version of the White Paper may be made available to the public.

It is perhaps worth repeating that there have been only 5½ million copies of the short edition of the White Paper—not the five to ten million implied by the hon. Gentleman. The decision taken by the Government was based on past practice, but it also took account of the exceptional circumstances—wide, longstanding and continuing demand by the public for information on the subject, and the need to report on the outcome of the negotiations which were initiated by the previous Government and were supported by a massive majority of this House.

Mr. John Mendelson

Does the hon. Gentleman reject the case made by Sir Fife Clark, which I read into the record of the House, or does he accept it?

Mr. Royle

I cannot make any comment, and I do not think that the hon. Gentleman would expect me to make comment, on a report in a newspaper, which is what the hon. Gentleman read out.