HC Deb 22 June 1971 vol 819 cc1190-3
Q3. Mr. Skinner

asked the Prime Minister if he will make a Ministerial broadcast following the conclusion of the Common Market negotiations.

Q11. Mr. Deakins

asked the Prime Minister if he will make a Ministerial broadcast after the next round of negotiations with the European Economic Community.

The Prime Minister

If I decide to make a Ministerial broadcast on these negotiations, an announcement will be made at the appropriate time.

Mr. Skinner

If and when the Prime Minister makes a Ministerial broadcast, will he ensure that no member of the Conservative Party is invited to act as interviewer? He might even take along Prince Philip to speak on behalf of the farmers. Does the right hon. Gentleman appreciate that the House will understand very readily if David Dimbleby is not enlisted to act as interviewer and to ask personal, provocative questions such as where the right hon. Gentleman got his money to buy his yacht?

The Prime Minister

The custom of Ministerial broadcasts, long hallowed through different Administrations, is that the broadcast is made by the Minister alone.

Mr. Deakins

If the right hon. Gentleman makes such a broadcast, will he ensure that he covers the disadvantages as well as the alleged advantages of entry?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir. I should endeavour to set out as fair a balance as I can. If I were to make a Ministerial broadcast, under present arrangements, it would be open to the Leader of the Opposition also to ask to make a broadcast in order to set out his views and to strike a similar balance.

Sir Harmar Nicholls

Before any such broadcast can take place, we shall have a White Paper. Will my right hon. Friend make sure that the White Paper envisaged takes into account the White Paper issued by the previous Government only last year, since they must be complementary to each other? It is to be hoped that the second White Paper does not intend to gloss over what was in the first one by failing to answer the questions posed in it, since that would result in the value of future White Papers being suspect.

The Prime Minister

I assure my hon. Friend that there is no desire to gloss over any aspects of this matter. What the Government wish to do is to set out all the facts of the situation and the arrangements made during the negotiations. When the White Paper was produced by the last Administration, the present Leader of the Opposition, then Prime Minister, made it plain that before the negotiations began it was not possible to set out specific details of what the consequences would be. For that reason, the procedure was adopted of setting out the brackets within which various arrangements might be made. When the negotiations on major items are concluded, we shall be in a better position to indicate the consequences in more detail.

Q4. Mr. Raphael Tuck

asked the Prime Minister how many letters he has received making representations against his refusal to hold a referendum before taking Great Britain into the Common Market.

The Prime Minister

Precise figures are not available but a number of the letters I receive on the Common Market refer to the possibility of a referendum.

Mr. Tuck

Is the Prime Minister old enough to remember that Mr. Baldwin went to the country in 1924 merely on the question of tariff reform because he had not a mandate from the people, even though the decision was revocable? In view of the fact that, as yet, the Prime Minister has no mandate from the British people to enter the Common Market, and in view of the fact that he stated categorically before the General Election that it was unthinkable that Britain should enter the Common Market unless the majority of the British people were in favour of entry, is not the right hon. Gentleman in honour bound to test the opinion of the electorate before embarking on what will be the most tremendous and irrevocable step in Britain's history—or is he afraid to do so?

The Prime Minister

I must confess that I am not old enough to remember the incident in 1924 which the hon. Gentleman recalls. But my reading of history has shown me that in fact it occurred in 1923.

Mr. Woodhouse

Will not my right hon. Friend agree that one of the strongest arguments against a referendum is that it is impossible to consult the overwhelming majority of British people who will be affected by the decision, since they are not yet born?

The Prime Minister

My hon. Friend is putting emphasis on the importance for the future of any decision that the House may take. I prefer simply to operate through our normal parliamentary means, which I think the great majority of the House will accept. They have been tried and proved over the centuries. I think that the House will be wise to adhere to them. I also note that many of those who ask for a referendum have been most critical when the system has been operated in other countries. We have seen the difficulties which arise from the way in which questions in a referendum are put to those who vote. This is one of the main reasons why, except in small local issues, we have not resorted to referenda.

Mr. Tuck

Let us have a General Election.