HC Deb 17 June 1971 vol 819 cc633-7
Q2. Mr, Fell

asked the Prime Minister what recent discussions he has had with the Heads of Government of countries whose Governments have made application to join the European Economic Community.

The Prime Minister

I have had no such discussions recently, but my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster maintains regular contacts with Ministers in the Governments of Denmark, Norway and the Irish Republic.

Mr. Fell

Is my right hon. Friend aware that in Eire the decision on whether to enter the Common Market is subject to a mandatory referendum; that in Denmark it was subject to a five-sixths majority, and is now, I believe, subject to a mandatory referendum; and that in Norway it is subject to a three-quarters majority in Parliament and now to an advisory referendum? Would it not be a compliment to the British people, who were not faced with the issue as a major issue at the last General Election, to hold an advisory referendum to see what their wishes are in the matter?

The Prime Minister

I am aware of the position in the other three applicant countries which my hon. Friend described. But they have their own constitutional practices, and I think that I am right in saying that all three have written constitutions. As far as I am aware, this country has never used the referendum to decide major issues. We have our own parliamentary procedures, and as the head of the Government I propose to adhere to them.

Mr. Grimond

Does the Prime Minister agree that those countries which are applicants to joint the E.E.C. have certain problems in common, such as regional development, transport, hill farming, fishing and so on, and that it would be valuable to have preliminary conversations with the other countries about the policies we should pursue if we were to join the Market?

The Prime Minister

There have been continual conversations and discussions with those countries about the problems involved in the negotiations. I am not sure that we have as many in common as the right hon. Gentleman suggested. The problem of agriculture in Denmark is quite different from that in Norway and Britain. Certainly, we have tried to keep in the closest touch with them on every aspect of the negotiations.

Mr. Selwyn Gummer

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is odd that those people who do not like our taking over the practices at present followed in Europe on any other matter are very concerned to bring into this country the alien idea of a referendum?

The Prime Minister

That thought had occurred to me, like the similar thought that those who say that they know least about the European Economic Community and the negotiations are the first to demand that they should express their personal views through a referendum.

Mr. Michael Foot

Does the Prime Minister's reply mean that he thinks that the last occasion on which the British people should have had a right to express themselves on the matter was the last General Election? If he is comparing practices in this country, will he compare the situation with the Parliament Bill in 1910, and the Reform Bill itself, when reference was made to the people of this country about such a major decision affecting their future?

The Prime Minister

It is true that on previous occasions there have been General Elections upon specific issues. I was dealing with the question of a referendum. The hon. Gentleman's point is different. At the last General Election we sought a mandate to negotiate, and we said that we believed it right that if the proper arrangements could be made, Britain should become a member of the E.E.C. If one enters into a negotiation as part of a policy stated at a General Election, one cannot commit oneself to the outcome before the negotiation is finished. That must be self-evident. Therefore, the hon. Gentleman wishes to argue that on every occasion when there is a negotiation by the Government there must be a General Election as soon as the negotiation is finished. That I cannot accept.

Mr. Fell

On a point of order. Owing to the unsatisfactory nature of the reply, I beg to give notice that I shall seek to raise the matter on the Adjournment at the earliest opportunity.

Q7. Miss Lestor

asked the Prime Minister what consultations he has now had with the Commonwealth Prime Ministers regarding the position of Commonwealth workers in this country and their eligibility for acceptance as community workers within the European Economic Community.

The Prime Minister

We have consulted closely with Commonwealth Governments throughout the negotiations, but this issue is not one which they have raised with us.

Miss Lestor

Is the Prime Minister aware that some of us are exceedingly concerned about the lack of information that is coming to this House about the position of Commonwealth workers in this country and that some of us have been trying to get an answer to this question for many months? When he is negotiating on this issue would he look into the situation in France whereby immigrant children in this country cannot join their colleagues on day trips to France because the arrangements which France makes for people in this country, born in Britain, to go to France, are not applied to children who were not born in Britain, so that at the moment Commonwealth children find it difficult to be accepted?

The Prime Minister

On that point which the hon. Lady has brought to my notice, I am prepared to have inquiries made into this problem, which exists quite separately from any question of negotiations with the European Community. On the other matter, I am only too anxious that the fullest information should be given to the House as soon as discussions on this point, which will clarify the situation, are completed. Then we shall be able to give the information.

Mr. Orme

Is the Prime Minister aware that this issue of Commonwealth and British citizens and the movement of labour was raised in the House last night? Can he tell us what discussions about nationality are taking place with the Common Market countries? Is he aware that many people want more information about this issue of free movement of labour and want to know how it will affect coloured citizens in this country?

The Prime Minister

I think that people wish to know not only how it affects immigrants who have come to this country—there is a difference between those who have British nationality as a result of having been here and those who have not yet qualified—but also about this as a general question. As soon as my right hon. and learned Friend is able to give the information, the House will have it.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

On the question raised by the hon. Lady about a differentiation between children from British schools who go on trips abroad, is my right hon. Friend aware that this problem has been raised in the House before and that presumably inquiries were set in train before today? Will he put some steam behind the inquiries which he now says he will have made, because this is not a nice thing to happen to children in the same British school?

The Prime Minister

I must make it clear that I understand that inquiries have been made into this but that decisions have not yet been reached.

Mr. Merlyn Rees

Is there not, inevitably, bound to be a citizenship problem in any discussions about entering the Common Market? In this respect, and in a wider respect, would it not be a good idea to have discussions with the Commonwealth Prime Ministers about citizenship as a whole in preparation for the end of the British Nationality Act, 1948, which is now well out of date?

The Prime Minister

From his past Ministerial experience the hon. Member will know exactly how difficult a problem this is. It has been the general wish of the members of the Commonwealth that it should not be discussed at a Commonwealth Conference as such. That, I think, was the experience of my predecessor, and it was certainly my own experience. What they would prefer is that if we have any proposals to make, we should carry on unilateral discussions with each of the members insofar as they are affected. Because of the complexity of this subject it has not yet been possible to do that.

Mr. Callaghan

Are the Government to take the position with the E.E.C. that Commonwealth citizens who are nonpatrial will be free to leave this country and to work or live in Europe with their families? Is not that the essential point?

The Prime Minister

I quite agree with the right hon. Gentleman. This is one of the important points being discussed at the moment by my right hon. and learned Friend.

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