§ The Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Wilson)
Mr. Speaker, I will, with permission, make a statement about the means by which the British people will decide the issue of our membership of the European Community.
It is the declared policy of the Government that, once the outcome of our renegotiation of the terms of membership is known, the British people should have the right to decide, through the ballot box, by means either of a General Election or of a referendum, whether Britain should continue in membership of the European Community or should withdraw.
The Government have decided that this should be done by means of a referendum.
1746 Prolonged uncertainty and delay on the decision of the British people are in the interests neither of Britain nor of other members of the Community. After 15 years of discussion and negotiation, it is an issue which all of us in this House and in the country want to see settled; and uncertainty about the future of British membership is inhibiting the work of the Community. The Government are committed to putting the issue to the people before 10th October this year. Provided that the outcome of renegotiation is known in time, we intend to hold the referendum before the summer holidays, which means in practice not later than the end of June. We shall, therefore, propose to the House arrangements which would make it possible to hold the referendum on that timetable, tight though it will be.
When the outcome of renegotiation is known, the Government will decide upon their own recommendation to the country, whether for continued membership of the Community on the basis of the renegotiated terms, or for withdrawal, and will announce their decision to the House in due course. That announcement will provide an opportunity for the House to debate the question of substance. That does not, of course, preclude debates at any earlier time, subject to the convenience of the House.
The circumstances of this referendum are unique, and the issue to be decided is one on which strong views have long been held which cross party lines. The Cabinet has, therefore, decided that, if when the time comes there are members of the Government, including members of the Cabinet, who do not feel able to accept and support the Government's recommendation; whatever it may be, they will, once the recommendation has been announced, be free to support and speak in favour of a different conclusion in the referendum campaign. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"]
As to the arrangements for the referendum, I told the House on Tuesday that the rules for the test of public opinion must be made by this House. The Government propose within a very few weeks to publish a White Paper on the rules and arrangements for conducting the referendum. The White Paper will set out the various possible courses on each issue and the Government's proposals on 1747 such matters as, for example, the information policy of the Government during the referendum campaign, broadcasting arrangements during the campaign, the question of expenditure by campaigning groups, the form in which the question is to be put to the British people, and arrangements for conducting the poll, the counting of the votes and the announcement of the result.
The Government will provide time for a debate on the White Paper on referendum procedure in this House before the Easter recess. That debate will, of course, be separate from, and will precede, the parliamentary debate which will be necessary on the outcome of the negotiations. The debate on the referendum White Paper will enable the Government to take full account of the views expressed by right hon. and hon. Members of this House, and by public opinion generally, in drafting the necessary legislation for the referendum.
The Government propose to introduce the legislation around Easter-time. We shall, of course, propose that all stages should be taken on the Floor of the House. If we are to be able to hold the referendum before the summer holiday, the Bill will need to complete its passage through both Houses and to receive Royal Assent by the end of May.
§ Mr. Heath
I thank the Prime Minister for making his long-foreseen and much-heralded statement. He will recognise that he has announced a major constitutional innovation but has told us little about the details of how the matter is to be dealt with. He told the House that in what he described—and many of us would agree—as a unique operation and a major question of our time the Government are not going to maintain collective responsibility.
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman certain questions? If his Government are not to maintain collective responsibility, how will the Government make their recommendation to the House over what the attitude should be towards the situation of the so-called renegotiation? Will the Government set out the number of members of the Cabinet who support the recommendation and those who are opposed to it? Will the Government publish the names of the members of the Cabinet who are on each side, or does he 1748 undertake to make a recommendation which will include freedom for them to decide to make no recommendation? Perhaps the Prime Minister will elaborate on the course he proposes to follow.
Secondly, the Prime Minister said nothing about the relationship of the referendum to Members of this House. Will he, therefore, confirm that the referendum, if it takes place, will be advisory and consultative and cannot be binding on Members of the House of Commons?
Thirdly, should not the details of the referendum be set out in a Green Paper rather than in a White Paper so that it is a consultative document on which Members of the House will be free to express their views and to influence the Government in debate—a matter which we welcome because it is essential?
Fourthly, will the right hon. Gentleman assure the House that if the referendum takes place the House will go into recess for a proper period to allow Members to express their views to constituents and to campaign up and down the country? It will not be enough to carry on that activity while the House is sitting.
May I remind the right hon. Gentleman that what he has announced is that the Government will be seeking power from Parliament to have a referendum? This is a major constitutional issue which we on this side of the House have always maintained is undesirable. Therefore, it rests with Parliament to decide whether this constitutional innovation should take place or not.
§ The Prime Minister
The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition is right to say that this is a major constitutional innovation, and it is right that we should both use the word "unique". It is a very special situation which I do not think anybody will take as a precedent.
The right hon. Gentleman referred to collective responsibility, which I shall come to in a moment.
The right hon. Gentleman asked how the decision of the Government would be recommended to the House and, through the House, to the country. The answer is that we shall state what our recommendation is in the light of the renegotiations—[Interruption.] We shall state—I shall 1749 state—the recommendations I hope that hon. Gentlemen will take these matters very seriously. I am prepared to make every allowance for the nervousness of those hon. Gentlemen. Other right hon. and hon. Members have more serious matters to attend to both in Government and in relation to this very important question. I am trying to answer a serious question from the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition. Perhaps his back benchers and supporters will allow it to be answered.
We shall state to the House the view of the Cabinet on this matter. When the right hon. Gentleman asked whether this would mean freedom to state that there will be no recommendation made to the House, I can assure him right away that there will be a recommendation to the House in the light of the renegotiations to say whether the Government advise the House and the country that we should stay in the Common Market on the terms renegotiated or come out of the Common Market on the terms renegotiated. I am sure that when the House comes to look at the legislation for the referendum it will see that people in the country will be given a chance of giving a clear decision "Yes" or "No" and that there will be an equally clear recommendation "Yes" or "No" in that respect.
The right hon. Gentleman was anxious to know whether the vote of the people should be binding. He no doubt has given his mind to this very carefully, and it is an important question. I cannot imagine that if the country votes clearly one way or the other "Yes" or "No" hon. Members would feel able to go against that decision and vote against—[Interruption.] That is my view. The right hon. Gentleman takes a different view, and he is entitled to do so. I am expressing my view and the view of most of us, I think, on this side of the House.
The right hon. Gentleman asked whether the document on the referendum could be in the form of a Green Paper rather than a White Paper. I do not believe that there should be much difficulty over what he has in mind. I made clear on the question of the White Paper that we should want to have a debate and to listen to the views of right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House before finalising the legislation. I 1750 hope also that it might be possible for informal talks to take place, through the usual channels or in any other way, between parties of the House and for all this to be set out before the legislation is finalised. In other words, the White Paper will have some green edges, and I am prepared to discuss with the Leader of the Opposition the basis on which we give advice to the House on the referendum. But in the last resort Parliament is sovereign in the matter of legislation which governs the holding of and all other arrangements connected with the referendum.
The right hon. Gentleman asked whether Parliament should go into recess during the campaign. That matter would have to be considered, although I would not feel it right that a very important and essential parliamentary timetable—which the whole country wants us to get through this year—should be held up on that account. But the right hon. Gentleman may have noticed, having done his calculations on the matter, that if there is an adequate degree of co-operation in getting the legislation through, combined, of course, with the thorough investigation of all the different parts of the legislative process which we usually have in this House, there might well be time during the Whitsun Recess for hon. Members who might otherwise go on holiday to campaign on the issue.
The right hon. Gentleman said that a major constitutional question had been raised by what I have announced. This matter has divided the country. People on both sides of the question hold their views very deeply, very sincerely and very strongly. That applies both in this House and in the country. Indeed, the Liberal Party has such a division as well. There is undoubtedly a very deep and serious division in this House. Contrary to the pledges which were given during the 1970 General Election campaign, the British people were not given the right to decide. We are repairing that omission; and in the circumstances, while there may be differences about the Common Market, there is no division on this side of the House, or in the Cabinet, on the major issue of the referendum. That is why I believe it right to take this step in this unique situation.
§ Mr. Heath
Will the Prime Minister clarify two points? Whatever he may 1751 judge the attitude of right hon. and hon. Members to be, will he confirm that a referendum cannot be constitutionally binding on any Member of this House, and that it remains for Parliament to decide, if it so wishes, after the referendum? Secondly, will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that, when he is announcing the Government's policy, he will tell us how many members of the Cabinet support the recommendation, how many oppose it, and who they are?
§ The Prime Minister
The right hon. Gentleman is, of course, right in the constitutional sense that no one can tell a Member of this House how to vote, although people may try sometimes to tell hon. Members on either side of the House how to vote. In that sense, the referendum could not be binding. But I perhaps pay more attention to the views of the people in the country than the right hon. Gentleman did, despite his promise, and I express the view that I could not imagine many hon. Members deciding to pit their own judgment in this matter against what has been the decision of the people of the country. That is just my view.
The second question related to what I should say when the recommendation is made to the House. I will consider the point raised by the right hon. Gentleman. I do not see much difficulty in it. The situation will become obvious very quickly anyway.
§ Mr. Thorpe
We welcome the fact that the Government are to make a recommendation in this matter, from which we assume that the Cabinet will make a collective decision from which individuals may subsequently deviate.
Is the Prime Minister aware that if it is the case that the Government are divided on the matter it is better that individual Cabinet Ministers should have freedom of expression rather than that they should be compelled to vote and speak against their convictions? Since Cabinet Ministers are no more than ordinary Members of Parliament, will the same facilities be given to Labour back benchers? It would be very odd to have a free vote of the British people and a whipped vote of their elected representatives.
Does the Prime Minister recall that last Tuesday he said that this was a matter 1752 to be decided by the Chief Whip? Is he aware that, such is the respect we have for the Chief Whip, we think he must be allowed to have his own views on these matters, and we should like to know what they are?
Is the Prime Minister suggesting that the Government would regard the refer-end urn decision as mandatory and that if the recommendation were rejected by the British people, they would feel compelled to have a Dissolution and go to the country? That is important.
Finally, if the Prime Minister is to allow a free vote—which would be a new democratic position for him to enter upon—would not he agree that for the sovereignty of Parliament, which I hope we all value, the best thing would be to have a free vote of this House and then ask the British people whether they agreed with that free vote, democratically arrived a by their sovereign Parliament, and if they did agree that would be the end of the matter, and, if not, there would be a Dissolution.
§ The Prime Minister
I hope that it will be the view of the House, and it will be our recommendation, that it should be a straight question—"in" or "out", "Yes" or "No"—and not a convoluted question. It will be a straight question.
The right hon. Gentleman not incorrectly summed up what I said about the decision of the Cabinet and the right to differ, although he used the word "deviate" The only precedent—a sound one—was devised by the Liberals in 1932.
§ The Prime Minister
Was it 1931? I think that the actual agreement to differ in the Cabinet was in 1932. I have studied this matter, as one of historical interest, in the Public Record Office, and I shall be glad to send the right hon. Gentleman a copy of the relevant document. But, whether it was 1931 or 1932, it was a Liberal precedent. That is why I am so glad that the right hon. Gentleman is supporting us today on this matter.
The right hon. Gentleman also raised the question of a free vote or of whipping on the matter.Every Government is entitled to ask its own supporters to support it on a major issue such as this.1753 Those words were used by the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) on this question when he was Prime Minister. He said, 10 days before the Common Market debate, that there would be no free vote. However, three days before the debate he changed his mind—it had to be dragged out of him—and for tactical reasons announced a free vote in the House. We will decide this issue nearer to the day, although perhaps much earlier than the right hon. Gentleman did.
§ Mr. Michael Stewart
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has said that, in his view, Members of this House will be, at any rate in some way, bound by the result of the referendum. Might not that be difficult if, as is possible, a considerable number of citizens feel that the matter ought to be decided by Parliament and that, therefore, they cannot vote in the referendum? Might it not, therefore, be wise to establish the principle that no result from the referendum can be regarded as effective unless it has the support of a clear majority of all those entitled to vote?
§ Mr. Stewart
My right hon. Friend has told us that when it comes to announcing the Government's recommendation it will be he who will express it to the House. Can he tell us who at that date will express the Opposition's point of view?
§ The Prime Minister
It depends on what we announce. It might well be the Leader of the Opposition for the time being who will express a view on that. [Interruption.] I refrain from rising to that one. It would be a little too easy in this situation. I am very anxious to protect the right hon. Gentleman. I have longer-term considerations in view so far as he is concerned.
As regards what my right hon. Friend said on the question of a percentage vote, we are studying what has been the position in other countries which have held referenda either on the Market or on other questions, and we shall in due course let the House know our views on this matter.
I have known and understood my right hon. Friend's position on this matter for very many years, certainly over the last 1754 10 years. My right hon. Friend was against joining Europe at the time of the first application by Mr. Macmillan's Government. Later he took the view that he was in favour, and that has been his view.
I have taken the view all along that it is right to be in if the terms are right, not if they are crippling. That is the position. [Interruption.] My right hon. Friend, however, speaks with all his authority, which is not added to by any praise from a small-timer like the hon. Member opposite.
My right hon. Friend has expressed his view this afternoon about whether it is appropriate to have a referendum rather than to debate the matter in Parliament. I remind my right hon. Friend that he, in common with all my right hon. and hon. Friends, fought the General Election on a manifesto which said precisely this.
§ Mr. Marten
I understood the Prime Minister to say that before the White Paper is published he will have conversations with the party political leaders, and so on. Will he also have consultations with the organisations outside the House which represent, rather more than the party political leaders possibly, the feeling in the country?
Secondly, the Labour Party has always said that it would leave the matter to the ballot box. I understand that the Prime Minister has now gone nap on a referendum. If, as one hears rumoured, the other place will block it, surely that will force the Prime Minister back to the ballot box by holding a General Election.
§ The Prime Minister
The last time, apart from 1974, when there were two General Elections in a year was precisely because of a challenge by the House along the corridor. I am quite certain that the whole trend of opinion has changed since those days, and I would not, and I am sure that the whole House would not, expect any problems of that kind.
The hon. Gentleman referred to organisations outside. Certainly my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will be prepared to have consultations with any organisations outside the House expressing any point of view about the Market, as well as parties inside the House.
1755 One of the things that we are looking at in relation to the White Paper that I have promised to publish is the question of how far the main campaigning groups—it is a straight "Yes" or "No" issue, so there cannot be more than two—if they can organise themselves in such a way that the Government and the Opposition and everyone else can consult them about the conduct of the referendum, can be recognised in the campaign in the sense that parties are recognised by the broadcasting authorities in a General Election.
These are all matters on which we have not formed any view. We shall consider them and inform the House of our views, and we shall expect to hear from the House whether it feels that what we are proposing is the right thing to do.
§ Mr. Atkinson
Would not my right hon. Friend agree that the supreme policy-making body within the Labour movement is the annual conference of its rank and file members? Therefore, will he accept that there will be great disappointment throughout the country that he has resorted to the idea of having a free vote by Cabinet members in order to pre-empt the necessity of an annual conference decision that would be binding upon all Members? Will he have another look at the request that he has made to the National Executive Committee of the Labour Party to abandon the idea of taking a vote at a specially convened conference of the party?
§ The Prime Minister
I have not made such a request. My hon. Friend is, of course, right to display his knowledge of the constitution of the Labour Party, which is a subject I have studied over many years. I have chaired the party and I have been on its National Executive Committee for many years. One day, no doubt, my hon. Friend will succeed finally in getting on to the National Executive Committee.
With regard to both the practice of the party and its constitution, my hon. Friend will find that the constitution of the party lays down that the party was set up to secure seats in Parliament, at which we have not done too badly over the years. It was not the purpose, having done that, to say that those who had been elected to Parliament should not be able to play their full part in the parliamentary sovereignty of this country. Parliamen- 1756 tary sovereignty is, in fact, one of the issues in question in the Common Market negotiations.
Therefore, while I have always paid the fullest attention to decisions whether of the conference or of the National Executive Committee, all of us in the House have been elected to take decisions and as long as I am Prime Minister there will be no derogation in this matter. There will always be the happiest and most comradely of relations with the National Executive Committee. No one has done more than I have for over 20 years to secure that, except my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary over the last year—[Laughter.]—and, of course, previously. I was referring to my right hon. Friend's year of chairmanship.
The Labour Government were elected on a manifesto which pledged us to this referendum. I have announced the referendum this afternoon. We shall put this matter to the country, and as far as this Government are concerned—let there be no doubt about this—we shall accept the verdict of the people.
§ Mr. Walters
If the Prime Minister is going to concede that members of the Cabinet should express diverse views on a collective issue, is he going to extend this principle to other issues as well—for instance, nationalisation?
§ The Prime Minister
I have said, as the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition said in a different context, that this is a unique matter. It is a unique matter. It is a matter which divides every party. It divides the whole country. We as a Government and as a party are a great deal more united on all the other major issues of the day than is the Conservative Party, because it has no policy on most of them. That is the problem.
I recognise, and I am right to recognise, that this is a matter on which my right hon. and hon. Friends feel very deeply even to the point—some of them, on one side or the other—of feeling that they would rather leave politics than accept something unacceptable. I respect that position. I believe that there are some hon. Members on the other side of the House who take the same view. Some have shown this. I think that it is right for us to show this respect. Whether it is right or not in the view of hon. Members opposite does not matter at the end of 1757 the day. This is a matter of fundamental importance. I believe that it is right to give this freedom to differ on this matter because we are so united on everything else.
§ Mr. Powell
In the House last week the Prime Minister reaffirmed the commitment to seek the whole-hearted consent of the British people to British membership of the European Economic Community. Will the White Paper which he has announced this afternoon that he intends to publish indicate how the results of a referendum will be evaluated in the light of that commitment?
§ The Prime Minister
I am not sure what the right hon. Gentleman means by "evaluated". If he means whether questions of counting, and so on, will be dealt with, I said that the White Paper will deal with them. It would be premature for me to forecast what we shall recommend to the House, and we shall take into account the House's views on this matter. If by "evaluated" the right hon. Gentleman was referring to the matter raised by a right hon. Gentleman on the benches opposite and by my right hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. Stewart) about how one should evaluate a hypothetical situation in which X per cent. of the people vote for and Y per cent. of the people vote against, I do not think that it is likely that we shall speculate about hypothetical questions of that kind. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will make plain what he wished me to answer.
§ Mr. Powell
I had assumed that a bare majority would be unlikely to be regarded as indicating the full-hearted consent of the people which leaders of both parties have regarded as the essential condition of continued British membership.
§ The Prime Minister
I think that this is a somewhat hypothetical question. Whenever I try to get guidance on this matter from people who feel strongly about it, I get the impression that they would be satisfied with a bare majority if it went their way but not if it went the other way.
§ Sir G. de Freitas
Is my right hon. Friend aware that it has been difficult to hear everything that he said about the nature of the White Paper? Will the 1758 White Paper be detailed enough to set out what the Government propose to do to ensure that the electors are presented clearly with the alternatives to membership?
§ The Prime Minister
The White Paper will be about the technical methods of taking the vote on the referendum. It will not deal with the issues. It will not deal with the case for or the case against or the alternatives. It will deal with the method of taking the referendum, which the House will have to decide. It will deal with the questions, for example, whether there should be unlimited expenditure by the various campaigning groups, whether paid canvassers will be allowed and whether people can buy broadcasting time. It will deal with the technical questions relating to something which is unprecedented and, by common consent of the House, unique; namely, a referendum. It will not deal with the arguments for and against staying in the Community.
§ Mr. Paul Dean
Will the right hon. Gentleman help us a little on the question of the legislation? Under the new doctrine of Cabinet responsibility, will it be in order for the Secretary of State for Industry to move amendments to the Government's referendum Bill? If so, will he do it from the Government Front Bench or the Government back benches?
§ The Prime Minister
I find it difficult to forecast which of my right hon. and hon. Friends will want to move amendments to the Bill, because I do not know, and nobody else knows, the outcome of the renegotiations. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman has it all sewn up. We have had that before and paid a big price for it. I do not know what the renegotiations will provide. All I know is that the terms must be a damned sight better—I am sorry, Mr. Speaker; a great deal better—than the lot we had before. The hon. Gentleman has put a very hypothetical question, but the position of individual members of the Cabinet will be decided at the time. The hon. Gentleman will recognise that when I referred to the possibility of what used to be an agreement to differ, I said that it will apply only if there is not complete unanimity in the Cabinet on this question. There may well be.
§ Mrs. Winifred Ewing
May I on behalf of my party congratulate the Prime Minister on his statement and particularly on the very clear-cut time scale? As he seems not to be entirely appreciated, may I offer him some crumbs of constitutional comfort from Scots law by which the supremacy of Parliament is less important than the sovereignty of the people?
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree with the view of the Secretary of State for Employment, as reported in The Times today, that the counting should be done on what he calls a regional basis lest the Government be accused of attempted concealment of the facts? Will the Prime Minister bear in mind that if there is an attempted concealment of the facts, of the vital statistics, from the people of Scotland, it will be reflected in an ever upward scale of support for my party?
§ The Prime Minister
I shall not enter into the question of vital statistics with the hon. Lady, but I undertake to consult the Lord Advocate about the matter of Scots law she mentioned and certain situations in which the will of the people is regarded as more important than Parliament, though I have never noticed that it has inhibited her or her hon. Friends in seeking election to this House.
I have seen the reports about the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment. I cannot confirm them. They were made at a private meeting of the National Executive Committee of the Labour Party, which always meets in private and in confidentiality. I was not present. All I can give is the position of the Cabinet in this matter; namely, that we shall issue a White Paper in which will be our recommendation to the House, which must decide whether the count shall be taken in this way or that way or in some other way.
§ Mr. English
Will my right hon. Friend congratulate all his colleagues on the unanimity with which they have carried out their pledges compared with the broken pledges of the former Prime Minister? Will he also direct their attention to the fair point made by the hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Johnston) on behalf of the Liberal Party a week or so ago when he pointed out that in Norway and Denmark substantial funds were 1760 allocated to each side so that the issue was divorced from the influence of more corrupt sources of money?
§ The Prime Minister
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the kind and unreserved compliment he paid to the Government.
We have been studying the practice in every other country. This is not necessarily a final decision, but I am sure that most right hon. and hon. Members would feel that the country should not be swamped with private money spent on a propaganda campaign, and it may well be that those who attempt it and have access to large sums will feel on consideration that such expenditure might be heavily counter-productive. One of the things to be decided is whether there should be any limitation. It would be difficult, unlike the position in a General Election, to have a financial limitation or amount. It may be that the House will want to consider a limitation on the types of expenditure which it would feel inappropriate in this kind of election campaign.
§ Mr. Maurice Macmillan
The Prime Minister talked about renegotiating substantially better—or, as he said, damned sight better—terms. Will he say what he meant and whether he is taking account of the considerable improvement of the original terms gained by the Conservative Government over a number of years in a constant process of negotiation?
§ The Prime Minister
I withdrew, with Mr. Speaker's permission, the word "damned". The question of what we meant about obtaining improved terms was set out in the Labour Party manifestos for the February and October elections and was spelt out with considerable force and at length and in detail by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when he opened the renegotiations with the Common Market last April. I recognise—and this is a very important matter in the test of opinion—that there have been changes in the Common Market irrespective of anything which any Government in this country might have requested. Some of these changes may be improving the situation; others perhaps are worsening it. They are very relevant.
1761 On the question of pressure by the previous Government, I did not see much sign of it, but I shall look into the question which the right hon. Gentleman has raised because I should like to know about it. The biggest problems which we have had to face have concerned beef and sugar. It was our insistence on going back to the system of deficiency payments for beef which made sense out of the situation, and we are pressing that on a longer-term basis. The sugar shortage and the high price of it are due entirely to the failure of the Conservative Government in 1971 to secure continued freedom of access for Commonwealth sugar. The tearing up by them of the Commonwealth Sugar Agreement is responsible for the shortage and high cost of sugar today. I shall study what the right hon. Gentleman has said and see whether I can find any better record for the Conservative Government.
§ Mr. Mackintosh
Recognising that this is a sad day, since this is the first historic time that a public announcement has been made that the House is fundamentally unfit to take a major decision affecting the country, if we arrive at a position where the referendum must be held will the Prime Minister consider publishing a second White Paper—we have argued the merits of entry for 15 years—explaining the costs of leaving the Common Market at this juncture?
§ The Prime Minister
With regard to the introduction to my hon. Friend's question, he knows perfectly well that I said nothing of the kind about the unfitness of this House. What I said was to make a reality of the principle on which my hon. Friend was elected to the House. Some hon. Members went to considerable lengths to get him back because we like to have him here. He is a very good colleague and comrade. The task was difficult and he was re-elected with a narrow majority. He might now ask himself whether he would have been elected if he had not fought on the manifesto which gave that pledge. It is fair to say as much to my hon. Friend, who has always been very frank, in his usual comradely way, about me on the radio and television.
With regard to the second part of the question, we shall consider what it is right for the Government to put out on all 1762 aspects of the choice facing the people and in what way these matters—the factual information, the arguments and so on—should be put out. We shall consider that. We are not rushing into it, because we do not yet know what the terms are.
§ Mr. Gwynfor Evans
Is the Prime Minister aware that it is desirable to ascertain the results of the referendum on a national basis—that is, not on a State basis, but on a basis of the nations of England, Scotland and Wales, so that we may know what is the judgment of the Welsh and Scottish nations?
§ The Prime Minister
The hon. Gentleman has no warrant for failing to mention Northern Ireland in this context.
I said that we were considering in our White Paper the question whether we should make a recommendation. We have not taken a decision. There are, broadly speaking, three main possibilities. The first would be for the counting to take place on a constituency basis. A second might be counting on a county or a wider than constituency basis, or regional basis, which would also mean that there would be separate figures for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and possibly for parts of them. The third possibility would be a national count in United Kingdom terms for all of those. Those are the possibilities. Naturally, we have started to look into them, but we have not taken any view on them which I can yet put to the House. However, I hope that we can do so before the White Paper is published and then hear the views of the House as a whole on this matter.
§ Mr. Whitehead
Will my right hon. Friend distinguish between the two decisions that must be taken; namely, the decision on the referendum and the form of the referendum, and the decision on the substantive terms renegotiated? Does not my right hon. Friend see that it is crucial for the House and many of our constituents, who wish to know the view of Parliament upon the terms on which they will now pronounce, that the second of those decisions should be taken on a free vote? The Prime Minister should announce that there will be a free vote of this House. If he delays until immediately before the debate takes place, 1763 he is open to the charge which was levelled against the former Prime Minister, that it was a tactical decision and not one of principle.
§ The Prime Minister
My colleagues and I will give consideration to that matter, recognising that the authority in these matters is with my right hon. Friend the Chief Whip. No one would ever seek to undermine his authority in these questions. Certainly it will be considered. At the right moment we shall make a statement. On the previous occasion, on Panorama, just before the big debate in the House, the Leader of the Opposition, then Prime Minister, was obviously taking the opposite point of view. Three or four days before the debate began he announced the decision to have a free vote, to put us on the spot. That was all there was to it. We shall try to decide the matter rather earlier, I think.
§ Mr. Rippon
As the Prime Minister has conceded that the referendum cannot be binding constitutionally on a sovereign Parliament, does he agree that a simple straight in-and-out question cannot be put? Does not he agree that we must put to the British people the question whether we should remain in on the basis of the terms renegotiated by the Government and approved by Parliament, or, alternatively, withdraw on terms which would then have to be negotiated and approved by Parliament, because a treaty is involved? In those circumstances, since Parliament would have to be consulted at every stage and would be affected by the referendum, is it not right that the public should know what Parliament thinks before the referendum—and on a free vote?
§ The Prime Minister
It is certainly the case that these matters arise in the taking of the decision by the British people. I do not say that anything the right hon. and learned Gentleman said is incompatible with a voting paper that asks "Yes" or "No". I should not like to see a voting paper drafted in the terms of the right hon. and learned Gentleman's supplementary question. I am sure that he will do everything in his power to bring his great clarity of mind and lack of bias on these matters to help the British people to understand what are the issues. I am sure that he will do so, before deciding what must be the decision as regards the Conservative Party, "Yes" or 1764 "No". Before that, Parliament will have debated this, perhaps more than once. We may want to debate these matters in the continuing process of renegotiation, as well as the late-night debates and so on.
I have answered the question on the free vote. That will be decided in due course at the proper time.