HC Deb 11 April 1972 vol 834 cc1020-2
Q5. Mr. William Hamilton

asked the Prime Minister whether, in view of the fact that all other new applicants for entry into the European Economic Community are to hold referenda on the matter, and that France has now made a similar decision, he will now reconsider this method of consulting the British people on this issue.

The Prime Minister

No, Sir.

Mr. Hamilton

Does the Prime Minister realise that the answer will not be regarded by many of us on this side of the House as discouraging? Does not he agree with a former Leader of the Labour Party that the referendum is the instrument of dictators, demagogues and reactionaries? Nevertheless, will he give an undertaking that, before this critical decision is taken on British entry into the E.E.C., he will implement his election promise to take us into Europe not only with the full consent of Parliament but with the full consent of the British people as a whole and therefore hold a general election on the matter? The right hon. Gentleman made a distinction between the full consent of Parliament and the full consent of the British people as a whole.

The Prime Minister

I have never made that distinction and the hon. Gentleman cannot point to any speech in which I made it. I have, in fact, stated the reverse. I have always said that our constitutional process is carried out through Parliament and by that means alone. That is the view to which I have always adhered.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for the first half of his remarks. I thought that he would be sympathetic to my answer because, on 27th March, he said in the House to my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Dutchy of Lancaster: Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that the last Labour Party conference came out decisively against a referendum and that it is the commonly accepted view on this side of the House that we should obey party conference decision?"—[Official Report, 27th March, 1972; Vol. 834, c. 22.]

Mr. Blaker

Should not the advocates of a referendum on the Common Market, if they are to be logical and consistent, be proposing, first, that we should have a referendum on the question whether we should make such a substantial change in our constitutional practice?

The Prime Minister

I do not believe that even that would be a suitable subject for a referendum.

Mr. John Mendelson

Will the Prime Minister at least address himself to the traditional process of consulting the people in a General Election, bearing in mind that the conditions negotiated for entry could not have been known to the electorate in June, 1970, and that an examination of election addresses of Conservative candidates will show that none of them put these conditions before the British people? Is it not therefore the right hon. Gentleman's duty to call a General Election before he finally takes this country into Europe?

The Prime Minister

That is not a constitutional doctrine either. We made it clear in our election manifesto that we wanted to join if the terms were right and that we would negotiate. Having negotiated terms, we put them to Parliament and the House gave a majority of 112 in favour.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

Does not my right hon. Friend agree that, however little there is to be said for a referendum in Britain, it has had the beneficial effect that it has shown that there are right hon. and hon. Members prepared to put principle before expediency and to put the national interest first.

Mr. Thorpe

So that there may be no misunderstanding abroad, will the Prime Minister confirm that at the last election each party made its position on Europe clear and that at no stage did any of them say that, when the terms were known, there would have to be a General Election before we finally decided to join?

The Prime Minister

As is well known, that is the case with all three parties.

Mr. Marks

Will the Prime Minister publish a list of Conservative candidates who urged a referendum in their election addresses at the last General Election?

The Prime Minister

That, certainly on this side of the House, is a matter for each individual Member.

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