HC Deb 14 January 1975 vol 884 cc182-7
Q1. Mr. Hurd

asked the Prime Minister whether he will place in the Library a copy of his public speech on 7th December to a meeting of London Labour mayors about British policy towards the EEC.

Q2. Mr. Blaker

asked the Prime Minister if he will place in the Library a copy of his public speech in London on 7th December about Great Britain and the EEC.

Q4. Mr. Norman Lamont

asked the Prime Minister whether he will place in the Library a copy of his public speech to the Labour mayors in London on Saturday 7th December on the renegotiations with the EEC.

Q7. Mr. Wyn Roberts

asked the Prime Minister if he will place in the Library a copy of his public speech on EEC matters to London Labour mayors on 7th December.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Wilson)

I did so on 9th December, Sir.

Mr. Hurd

Does the Prime Minister recall that in that speech he said that if the terms were right he personally would recommend them to the British public? If we are still a parliamentary democracy, is there not another necessary step? Will the right hon. Gentleman now give the assurance, which he side-stepped before Christmas, that at the right time and before any referendum the Leader of the House will arrange for a full debate in this House so that we can pass a judgment on the terms after that debate, on a free vote?

The Prime Minister

This was not side-stepped before Christmas. I dealt with some of the questions put at that time including that one. If there is to be a referendum it will require legislation by the House with all the necessary debate surrounding that matter.

Mr. William Hamilton

Further to that point, can my right hon. Friend tell the House what time-scale he has in mind? Can he give us any indication of when he or the other members of the Community think that negotiations will be concluded? Can he then say when he expects the legislation to be laid before the House? Would he agree that if it is not laid very soon it will be impossible to fulfil the time-scale he had in mind in his original idea of getting the consent of the British people within 12 months of the last election?

The Prime Minister

The last part is a commitment of the Government. It is not possible for me to give any firm forecasts about the timetable because this is a matter for negotiation between nine nations and not a matter for one. I am sure that it is the desire not only of the Government but of the whole House, as it is of our colleagues involved in the negotiations, that we should proceed with all possible speed to reach a conclusion on this matter. I know that it is the hope and expectation of many that we shall be able to do that before Easter.

Mr. Blaker

The Prime Minister will agree that the tenor of his speech was that everything depends on the result of the negotiations. Is he aware that the tenor of the letter written recently to constituents by the Secretary of State for Industry is entirely different and contradicts his speech? What impression does the right hon. Gentleman think is given to our partners in the Community when the Prime Minister is flatly contradicted by one of his own Ministers?

The Prime Minister

In his letter to his constituents at the turn of the year my right hon. Friend made it quite clear that he was not anticipating the consequences of the negotiations or the terms that would result. He was expressing his analysis of certain constitutional aspects. The negotiations are being conducted within the EEC by my right hon. Friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary who is speaking for the whole Government. Each quarter there are summit meetings of the European Council. On those occasions my right hon. Friend is joined by myself. We are negotiating strictly within the terms of the manifesto we put to the country, which was twice endorsed by the country last year.

Mr. Raphael Tuck

Can my right hon. Friend say whether he expects the referendum to be fair when, with perhaps the exception of the Morning Star, the whole of the mass media is attempting to brainwash the public by insidious propaganda in favour of staying in the Common Market?

The Prime Minister

May I first express my regret that my hon. Friend is shortly to go into hospital? We very much regret the circumstances.

If the Government decide on a referendum and the legislation is put before the House, it will be a matter for the House to decide the circumstances in which any test of public opinion is taken, including questions of expenditure and the question of fair presentation of the case by both sides.

Mr. Lamont

Is it not remarkable that although in his open letter the Secretary of State for Industry dwelt at great length on the constitutional traditions of the country he ignored one important tradition, that of collective responsibility? Is it not the Government's policy that if the terms are right we stay in, and is it not the policy of the Secretary of State for Industry that we do not stay in on any terms?

The Prime Minister

No, Sir, I do not accept that interpretation. The constitutional matters with which my right hon. Friend was concerned related to the authority of the House. I think it is the common view of all hon. Members that the House should retain the maximum authority in all matters affecting the welfare of our people.

Mr. Wyn Roberts

What do the Government propose to do about our trade deficit with the EEC? Is not the Prime Minister aware that the deficit is being, and will be, used by the Secretary of State for Trade, among others, as a rather facile argument for withdrawal?

The Prime Minister

Figures of this magnitude cannot be regarded as in any sense facile. It was generally recognised by both sides of the House that for a few years there would be an adverse deficit. That was never in question. If Britain was in the EEC on the right terms it was generally recognised that it would take time for our exports to be geared up to the challenge we faced. What has happened so far is extremely disappointing. This is a matter for export policy and the efforts of exporters. So far, some of the more extreme hopes both in relation to exports and in relation to massive investment to make exports possible—for which the Leader of the Opposition called in Guildhall in 1970—have not been realised, but if the terms are right the whole Honse will hope that they are realised.

Mr. Gwilym Roberts

Does my right hon. Friend accept, however, that a critical factor shaping any of the recommendations which he or the Cabinet might make on the Common Market must be the decisions which are arrived at at the special Labour Party conference called on this matter?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir, of course. I answered a question about that from, I think, my hon. Friend the Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds)—

Mr. Faulds

Yes, Sir.

The Prime Minister

—on 19th December last.

Mr. Heath

The Prime Minister emphasised that the Foreign Secretary speaks for the whole Government and acknowledged that the Secretary of State for Industry speaks for himself. Will he confirm that the whole Government will be bound by the recommendation which the Government make?

Secondly, will the right hon. Gentleman accept that a debate on legislation for the referendum is not a debate on whatever may be the result of the so-called renegotiation, and that the House will insist on having a full debate, on which it takes its own decision, before the referendum is put to the country? In 1972 no one was more enthusiastic for a debate than was the present Prime Minister, and we had a six-day debate. He was also enthusiastic that there should not be a referendum.

Thirdly, on the timing of the referendum, an important part of any legislation must undoubtedly be the form of the question which is put to the electorate. How can that be settled until the Prime Minister has reported to the House the result of the so-called renegotiation?

The Prime Minister

In reply to his first supplementary question, perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will allow me to wish him a Happy New Year before I answer his further questions.

What the right hon. Gentleman said in the main part of his supplementary question is perfectly fair. We shall certainly be prepared to have discussions through the usual channels about the form of the debate on the merits of the case as opposed to legislation. That is absolutely right. As we are committed to seeking, and are now proposing to seek, the full-hearted consent of the British people—on which the right hon. Gentleman once made a pledge—it is important that Parliament's lead in this matter should also be fully debated.

The right hon. Gentleman began by referring to my right hon. Friend's letter and by suggesting that I said he was speaking only for himself. I did not say that. My right hon. Friend, as part of the general debate, was dealing with an important question to which I am sure the whole House attaches importance. He was not dealing with the terms which will result from renegotiation. That is a matter which is set out in our manifesto, and it is on that basis that we are negotiating.

On the right hon. Gentleman's last point, which is again of great importance, I agree that the form of the question must be absolutely clear. That will be within the control of Parliament. The right hon. Gentleman sponsored legislation for Northern Ireland in which the House was asked to approve the actual terms of the question which was included in the schedule to the Bill. That must be the situation in any legislation we bring before the House. My own answer to this must be perrfectly clear. [Interruption.] If anyone thinks it is not, let him get up and say so when I sit down. The form of ballot paper which we envisage would be a clear answer to the question "In?" or "Out?" answered by "Yes" or "No".