HC Deb 18 January 1972 vol 829 cc207-9
Ql. Mr. St. John-Stevas

asked the Prime Minister whether he can now give a date when Great Britain will sign the treaty of accession to the European Economic Community.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Edward Heath)

On 22nd January, Sir.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I thank my right hon. Friend for that information. Will he confirm that it is normal diplomatic usage to publish the text of treaties after signature so that any amendment may be made before ratification? Therefore, is not the Motion tabled by the Leader of the Opposition based upon a constitutional fallacy and designed, like the Treaty of Gastein, to paper over the cracks between himself and his enemies?

The Prime Minister

The procedure described by my hon. Friend is correct except in the case of a treaty which becomes operative immediately on signature. The procedure which the Government are following is that which I outlined to the House in full on 17th June last, which was then welcomed.

Mr. Michael Foot

Does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that this question is to be debated in the House on Thursday, and will he give an undertaking that he will accept the decision of the House of Commons on the matter?

The Prime Minister

I commend to the hon. Gentleman, to his right hon. Friend, the Leader of the Opposition and to their colleagues the words of Mr. Herbert Morrison, as he then was, on 10th March, 1949. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh"] The late Morrison was accepted as one of the great constitutional experts on procedure in the House of Commons. He then said: We shall follow the customary British Parliamentary practice. The provisional signature of the document is the responsibility of the Government. As I have said before, there follows, however, the responsibility of the House of Commons to ratify or not to ratify, and that will give an appropriate opportunity for Debate."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th March, 1949; Vol. 462, c. 1400.]

Mr. Harold Wilson

Is it not a fact that in that particular case it involved a treaty which, though important, was not as important as this one? Does not the Prime Minister agree that on that occasion a White Paper was published setting out the text of the treaty to be signed two or three weeks later?

The Prime Minister

The Leader of the House at that time refused a debate on the matter and the reason the N.A.T.O. treaty was published was that no information had been given about it beforehand because it was a military treaty.

Mr. Foot

Would not the right hon. Gentleman agree that there has been no refusal of a debate on this question, since the matter is to be discussed in the House on Thursday, when he and his right hon. and hon. Friends will have a chance to put their case? All I am asking is, will he give an undertaking to the House and the country that he will accept the view of the House on this matter?

The Prime Minister

We as Her Majesty's Government will follow the British constitutional procedure of acting under the Royal Prerogative to sign the Treaty of Accession on Saturday, 22nd January.

Mr. Foot


Mr. Speaker

Order. We must not anticipate Thursday's debate.