HC Deb 14 November 1974 vol 881 cc587-90
Q3. Mr. Ridley

asked the Prime Minister which Minister will be responsible for the legislation to make lawful a referendum on Great Britain's membership of the Common Market.

Q6. Mr. Marten

asked the Prime Minister when he estimates that a referendum will be held on the Common Market.

Q8. Mr. Beith

asked the Prime Minister what arrangements he has made for the organisation of a referendum on British membership of the EEC; and to which Minister he has entrusted responsibility for these arrangements.

>The Prime Minister

No decision has yet been taken on the method and procedure to be adopted for consulting the British people.

Mr. Ridley

If, however, there is a referendum, will the Prime Minister give the assurance that the Committee stage of the necessary legislation will be on the Floor of the House? Second, will he facilitate the situation of all those Members of his Government who are opposed to the referendum and who said so during the debates in 1972 by releasing them from office in good time for them to take part in those debates on the Floor of the House?

The Prime Minister

While the hon. Gentleman's first question is a hypothetical one, I would certainly agree with what I think he has in mind—that any question of such great constitutional importance, if it became non-hypothetical, should be taken through all its stages on the Floor of the House. On the second part of his question, which I do not believe is for me to answer now, perhaps he missed in the heat of the election—we were all very busy—the fact that a number of my right hon. Friends who had taken a line on that question made their position clear during the election. Therefore, what he is asking no longer arises.

Mr. William Hamilton

Does my right hon. Friend recollect that the late Dick Crossman once suggested that we should have a pre-legislation Select Committee on matters such as this which cut across party boundaries? Will he therefore consider that, if there is to be a referendum on the Common Market, he should set up such a Select Committee and that I should be the chairman of it?

The Prime Minister

Since that proposal comes from so impartial a source with no interest in the matter, I will certainly give it the fullest consideraion.

Mr. Marten

As there are so many preparations to be made before we have a referendum—no doubt the Government will consider the Conservative Government's precedent over the Northern Irish referendum—will the Prime Minister announce as soon as possible whether we are to have a referendum or not? Second, will he consider having consultations with the various shades of opinion, regardless of party, throughout the House on this most important matter before he brings forward legislation?

The Prime Minister

Should this particular procedure be resorted to—I repeat that there has been no decision—I agree that it would be a matter of very great constitutional importance. I think I would agree with the hon. Gentleman—I should like to consider it—that it should be a matter for general consultation throughout the House.

Mr. Ashton

Will my right hon. Friend give an assurance that as a referendum is included in the Labour manifesto there will be a three-line Whip on it on the Government side of the House?

The Prime Minister

I owe my long survival rate in this office to the fact that I never interfere with the Chief Whip.

Mr. Beith

If there is to be a referendum on British membership of the EEC, will the Prime Minister ensure that the verdict of the British people is also sought on such other major constitutional issues as electoral reform and parliaments for Scotland and Wales?

The Prime Minister

Concerning the latter part of that question, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House and I have said exactly what will be the procedure to be followed. I would take the view—I hope that right hon. and hon. Members in many parts of the House would also take it—that the question of membership of the Common Market is a very special case, particularly as the terms on which we entered were so much a matter of controversy and, indeed, have proved in certain respects so disastrous, and I should certainly not seek to extend that principle to any other subject.

Mr. Faulds

What will be my right hon. Friend's position if after the renegotiations the House votes to remain in Europe, if the verdict of the referendum is that we should remain in Europe and if the Labour Party Conference is still opposed to it?

The Prime Minister

I shall flatter my hon. Friend by suggesting that he is too intelligent really to believe the kind of nonsense which inspired that question. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I will, nevertheless, answer the question. Those of us who have taken the view—my hon. Friend was elected on the issue too, in two elections this year—that the decision should be taken freely by the British people through the ballot box, and who take the view also that whatever that decision is it must be accepted—whether or not any one of us likes it—I myself or any other members of the Government or anyone else—will accept that that is the decision of the British people. I hope, therefore, that my hon. Friend, on his own particular hypothetical question, is also prepared to tell the House that, whatever the decision, he will accept it.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I think that this is now the moment to move on to the business for next week.