HC Deb 17 April 1975 vol 890 cc655-60
Q1. Mr. Gow

asked the Prime Minister how many letters he has received, since his statement to the House on 23rd January 1975, about his decision that the constitutional principle of collective Cabinet responsibility shall not apply to the Government's policy in regard to Great Britain's membership of the EEC.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Wilson)

Like my predecessor, I do not maintain a detailed statistical record of my correspondence, but, apart from a small number of letters from hon. Members, I have only traced one from the general public, namely, a letter which drew my attention to the 1932 precedent for the agreement to differ, which I had already studied in some detail.

Mr. Gow

Is the Prime Minister aware that, notwithstanding the respect which is felt for the former Minister of State, Department of Industry for the courageous stand he took last week, we on this side of the House support the right hon. Gentleman in his dismissal of that Minister? Is he further aware that the only way in which he will restore some semblance of credibility to the Government is by following that dismissal with the dismissal of all other Ministers in the Government and not replacing them?

The Prime Minister

I am deeply touched by the hon. Gentleman's reference to my hon. Friend. It has taken 13 months for the hon. Gentleman or any other Tory to say anything nice about the former Minister of State, which I have been doing all along. I do not regard the second part of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question as constructive. I have no intention of doing what the hon. Gentleman suggested in respect of their invoking the right of an agreement to differ, which is widely supported in the country as a reasonable decision in the unique circumstances of this referendum.

Mr. Bidwell

Does my right hon. Friend agree in retrospect that, since my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heller) was not party to the Cabinet decision and that kind of collective responsibility, in the circumstances of a national referendum and debate it seems absurd in some areas of public opinion that we should not have had a freer debate in Parliament which would, in consequence, have given greater freedom to junior Ministers? Does he realise that he has probably enhanced the value of my hon. Friend the Member for Walton in the elections for the Labour Party Executive and that he will probably oust the Chancellor in consequence?

The Prime Minister

It is not for me to comment on the various dreams of my hon. Friend. The decision was taken by my right hon. Friends as a clear directive to all Ministers. One thought which perhaps escaped my hon. Friend when he framed his supplementary question was that I should have felt it wrong for a considerable number of Ministers, speaking from either the back benches or the Front Bench, so to monopolise the time of the House that, even in a three-day debate, back benchers would not have had the opportunities which they so fully enjoyed.

Mr. Tapsell

Does the Prime Minister recall that, following the 1932 agreement to differ, the Ministers who chose to differ subsequently resigned from the Government?

The Prime Minister

This is true. It had nothing to do with the agreement to differ. It was that even they with their not very queasy stomachs found it impossible to live with the Tories for very long.

Q2. Mr. Norman Lamont

asked the Prime Minister whether he will place in the Library a copy of his public speech on the EEC in the Beach Ballroom, Aberdeen, on 22nd March.

Q5. Mr. Lawson

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

08. Mr. Wyn Roberts

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

The Prime Minister

I refer the hon. Members to the reply which I gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East (Mr. Thomas) on 15th April.

Mr. Lamont

May I ask about one aspect of the guidelines for Ministers which, in spite of the Prime Minister's previous reply, is still not quite clear? When he states that whenever necessary Questions will be transferred to another Minister, who has to make that decision? Is it the Minister, his private office or the Prime Minister?

The Prime Minister

That question does not arise out of the public speech I made on the EEC in the Beach Ballroom, Aberdeen—I did not know where it was—on 22nd March. The short answer, in view of the deep interest the hon. Member is taking in these matters, is that the Prime Minister will decide.

Mr. Canavan

Does my right hon. Friend remember the very courteous reception he received in Aberdeen while he was expressing his views on the Common Market even though the majority of delegates, including myself, disagreed with his views? Does he also remember that unfortunately he had to leave the Scottish conference early and did not have the chance to listen to the views of the anti-Marketeers? Will he therefore make a special effort to give more heed to the views of Labour's anti-Marketeers at the special conference a week on Saturday?

The Prime Minister

I think my hon. Friend and all others who listened with very great courtesy to what I said on that occasion, and with continued rounds of applause for some of my comments, appreciated that I had to return to London because of certain international developments of which the House has since become only too painfully aware. However, I think that I could have forecast fairly well what the anti-Marketeers and others would have said in the debate, and it was noteworthy that, although a number of trade union block votes had been committed in advance, the vote of the constituency parties was perhaps rather different from what my hon. Friend thought.

Mr. Lawson

Was the active participation of the Secretary of State for Trade in the anti-Market rally last Saturday, under the distinguished chairmanship of my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten), in full conformity with the guidelines laid down by the Prime Minister to his Cabinet colleagues? If not, what action does the right hon. Gentleman intend to take?

The Prime Minister

I can find no record of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade or the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten) speaking in the Beach Ballroom, Aberdeen—at least, not as yet. Of course, the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Lawson) and the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Lamont) have strained the Question for the sake of some previously prepared supplementary question. The answer to the hon. Gentleman's previously prepared supplementary question is that nothing said by my right hon. Friend on that occasion was in any way inconsonant with the guidelines.

Mr. Moonman

Those of us who were not at the Beach Ballroom, Aberdeen, and who are not obsessed with the question of the guidelines would like to welcome my right hon. Friend's speech at Cambridge last week when he stayed to the end of the conference and made a very stirring address in favour of the Market.

The Prime Minister

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon (Mr. Moonman), who is a Member of Parliament in part of the region from which many of the constituency parties present came. It was not, of course, in the Beach Ballroom, Aberdeen either. I thank my hon. Friend for what he said. Although there might have been a considerable number of delegates who took a different view from myself, they heard what I had to say with much more courtesy than I am getting from my hon. Friends here this afternoon.

Mr. Roberts

In his speech the Prime Minister said he would ensure that Ministers' attention and energies during the referendum campaign would not be diverted from the economic and social problems of the country. Will the right hon. Gentleman now consider doing a W-turn on that policy as it might help to reduce the borrowing requirements of £9 billion if certain Ministers had their attention and energies diverted from what the Chancellor of the Exchequer indirectly described as their Rake's Progress in office?

The Prime Minister

I am one who loves Conway, but that question was about as convoluted as any that have come from the hon. Member, and I regret having failed last year to dislodge him when I came and spoke on behalf of his opponent at the General Election. [Hon. Members: "Try again"] I shall come again. There were about a dozen marginals last year where I had to make two visits before we got in.

Conservative Members are a little inconsistent in these matters. They spend half their time complaining about what my right hon. Friends do in the course of official duties and then spend the rest of the time—

Mr. Roberts

Answer the question.

The Prime Minister

— complaining about what my right hon. Friends do when they are not on official duties. They had better sort these things out. Perhaps they could take the guidance of the Leader of the Opposition, who is very consistent on all matters.

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