HC Deb 19 December 1974 vol 883 cc1811-3
Q6. Mr. George Gardiner

asked the Prime Minister if he will make a statement on the Common Market summit meeting.

The Prime Minister

I did so on 16th December, Sir.—[Vol. 883, c. 1121–24.]

Mr. Gardiner

Will the Prime Minister accept that it may be of some help to him in his negotiations, and of help to those on both sides of the Common Market argument, if we can have an early announcement from him of the form that his proposed consultation of the British people is to take? Is there any valid reason why an announcement of this should wait upon the conclusion of the negotiations and the Government's own decision upon them?

The Prime Minister

I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the importance of making this clear as quickly as possible. There is no requirement that the negotiations must be completed before a recommendation is discussed. We have still to discuss this matter, and I agree that it is important to make a statement to the House at the earliest possible moment so that the House can consider it.

Mr. Faulds

Once the Government resolve to recommend the renegotiated terms, will the Prime Minister revert to established practice and require of his Cabinet and ministerial colleagues either their acquiescence in collective responsibility or their resignations?

The Prime Minister

I shall consider these matters when the time comes, but I shall not expect any degree of consistency on any question from my hon. Friend.

Sir D. Walker-Smith

Will the Prime Minister say whether, during these discussions or at any time, the question has been gone into as to the matters arising on a determination of the Treaty of Accession at the insistence of one contracting party, and of the associated obligations involved?

The Prime Minister

If the right hon. and learned Gentleman is asking whether this matter has been discussed at the summit meeting or at other meetings, I can tell him that it was not discussed at the meeting I attended. I think that, almost certainly, the answer is that it has not been discussed at any time. We are negotiating with real intent to try to solve the problem in front of us. We have made some progress. We have not, obviously, started to discuss with our colleagues what would happen if the negotiations were to fail.

Mr. Bid well

Does my right hon. Friend accept that continued uncertainty on the question whether we are in or out of the Common Market—

Hon. Members

We are in.

Mr. Bidwell

The real mood of the people is that they wish to come to a decision much more rapidly than my right hon. Friend has said. Will he comment on the suggestion that the uncertainty has a distinct bearing on many of our economic difficulties at the present time?

The Prime Minister

I said on Monday, and I said in Paris, that it is in the highest possible interests of both this country and the eight other members that these matters be resolved as quickly as possible. It will be of great advantage to us all, but my hon. Friend, who in the course of two elections will no doubt have studied the manifesto on which we fought the elections, will realise that these are important questions for us. They also raise matters of great importance to the other members of the Common Market, and I am sure my hon. Friend would be the first to condemn us if we had a purely perfunctory discussion about them instead of going into them in the real depth in which they are being discussed at present.

Mr. Heath

Is the Prime Minister saying that collective Cabinet responsibility is merely a matter for consideration? The Prime Minister may not be able to support his own Chief Whip, but cannot he stand up for collective Cabinet responsibility?

The Prime Minister

Wherever else I should look for guidance about collective responsibility, it would not be to the right hon. Gentleman's Front Bench. I have just had to ask one of my hon. Friends whether half the people sitting around the right hon. Gentleman are themselves Members of Parliament, and I am assured they are.

I shall try not to follow the right hon. Gentleman's practice in these matters, as, for example, when the then Leader of the House said that the right hon. Gentleman was only joking when he said he was going to reduce prices at a stroke.

I shall make an announcement on these matters at the proper time. At the moment, we are concerned with the negotiations. At the end of the day, the position in any Cabinet is that if decisions taken by the Cabinet are not accepted it is a matter for decision by each member of the Cabinet. This was dealt with during the election by certain of my right hon. Friends, and the right hon. Gentleman made a great deal of it.

As to the recommendation that we shall put to the country, we shall decide this when the renegotiations are complete and the last person to whom I shall look for advice on this matter is the right hon. Gentleman, who, by packing his Cabinet with cronies who supported him, failed to represent the views even of his own party.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I think it is high time we went on to business questions.

Mr. Faulds

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I should like to put it on record, and I should like the House to realise, that I consider the Prime Minister's petulance to be a tribute to my only virtue, which is consistency, particularly on the European issue.