HC Deb 15 April 1975 vol 890 cc269-72
Q3. Mr. Mike Thomas

asked the Prime Minister if he will place in the Library a copy of his public speech of 22nd March on the EEC Referendum, given at the Scottish Labour Party Conference.

Q5. Mr. Tim Renton

asked the Prime Minister whether he will place in the Library a copy of his public speech on the EEC and related matters on 22nd March in Aberdeen.

Q6. Mr. Watkinson

asked the Prime Minister whether he will place in the Library a copy of his public speech at Aberdeen on the EEC and related matters on 22nd March.

Q7. Mr. Peter Morrison

asked the Prime Minister whether he will place in the Library a copy of his public speech in Aberdeen on the EEC and connected matters on Saturday 22nd March.

The Prime Minister

I did so, Sir, on 24th March.

Mr. Thomas

Is my right hon. Friend able to give any assurance to the House that he and my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House have been able to give further consideration to the question of voting in the referendum by those not resident at present in Britain? Does he not agree that it would be a grave injustice if those who have chosen to serve the country abroad in Community countries were unable to participate in the referendum on 5th June?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir, this is an extremely difficult problem. There are technical problems as well as other problems. I think that my hon. Friend is on a sound point when talking about people who have gone to work abroad on the instructions of their department or those who are working hard trying to get export orders for British products. I draw a distinction between those people and others who have permanently decided to seek tax havens abroad and who have severed their connections with Great Britain. We are looking urgently at this problem and no doubt this matter will be further debated in the Committee stage of the Referendum Bill.

Mr. Renton

Will the Prime Minister explain why, in his Aberdeen speech, he said that the Labour Party would come out of the referendum not weaker but stronger? Does that remark relate to the fact that having won the referendum vote he plans to sack the remaining anti-EEC Ministers, in which case the Labour Party will be stronger but smaller?

The Prime Minister

I regret to disappoint the hon. Gentleman but I must inform him that I have no such intentions. When I said that I believed the Labour Party would come out stronger, I meant that it would come out stronger because, despite the howls and wails of the Opposition about the referendum, there is a great deal of public support in the country for the idea of a referendum, for the recognition that political parties and other organisations are divided, and even stronger support for my decision that this should be a free vote in Parliament followed by a free vote of the British people.

Mr. Watkinson

Is my right hon. Friend aware of reports last weekend about criticisms emanating from Brussels concerning scrutiny procedures which exist in this House over EEC regulations? Will he convey to the Commission in Brussels the determination of those on all sides of the argument to maintain the limited opportunities we have to consider EEC regulations and the wish of this House to extend those opportunities?

The Prime Minister

I am not aware of any such criticism. I have seen some Press reports. These matters are well handled at regular meetings in the Council of Ministers and at summit conferences of Heads of Government. Should the Commission representatives who attend in an advisory capacity want to make these points, they will be robustly answered by myself and my right hon. Friends, who are all determined to preserve the rights of Parliament in this matter.

Mr. Morrison

In view of the Prime Minister's advice in his speech about a comradely debate on the EEC, will he say what is the difference between a junior Minister expressing his view in the House and getting sacked for doing so, and seven Cabinet Ministers doing the same thing in the same place by using their vote?

The Prime Minister

In January I made it clear to the House, and I have repeated many times since, that I thought it right that there should be freedom to campaign in the country on this unique matter. The guidelines to Ministers were approved by the Cabinet just before Easter. It was not even a piece of contumacy on my part since I was making an important visit to Belfast at the time. I agreed with the decision. [Interruption.] I hope hon. Members realise that Belfast is an important subject. On that occasion I fulfilled a long-standing engagement. The Opposition may laugh at the situation in Northern Ireland. After the murders of the past weekend, their conduct is excusable only because it is Budget Day and because of the state into which they get.

I agreed with the recommendation of the Cabinet. I hope it will be generally agreed that it would not have been helpful to what proved to be an excellent debate if a large number of Ministers had made their speeches from the back benches. That is the view of my colleagues and myself. I am sure that it is right.