HL Deb 13 November 1962 vol 244 cc533-5

2.59 p.m.


My Lords, it was my misfortune, owing to pressing duties elsewhere, not to be in my place when the noble Earl, Lord Avon, in his speech last Thursday, referred to a speech I had made at Bristol. He said that he did not take any comfort from my assurance that we are not finally committed by what one Parliament does because another Parliament can undo it. Had I been here, I should have immediately intervened to tell your Lordships that the noble Earl had misrepresented, I am sure quite unintentionally, the purport of my speech. At Bristol I repeated what I had said on this important constitutional issue in this House on August 2.

I then stated the obvious truth that, under our Constitution, no one Parliament can bind the actions of a future Parliament. I must confess that I was somewhat surprised at the publicity this indisputable statement received. But I was at pains to make it clear that I was, if I may quote my own words [Official Report, Vol. 243 (No. 115), col. 421]: not implying that it would be right for us to repeal the Act applying the Treaties. I stressed that such a step could only be justified under International Law in exceptional circumstances and, as I said to your Lordships, to do so without such justification and without the approval of other member countries would be a breach of the international obligations assumed on entry into the Common Market. In my speech I placed great emphasis on the word "exceptional". Perhaps I should have made my meaning clearer if I had said "most exceptional." Your Lordships will see, therefore, that the purport of my speech was quite different from that ascribed to me by the noble Earl and later, I think, by the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury.

When I spoke in this House on August 2, I hope it was clear to your Lordships that I was not seeking to give aid and comfort either to those who would, or to those who would not, wish to see this country enter the Common Market. All that I was endeavouring to do, and all that I endeavoured to do at Bristol, was to state clearly the constitutional and legal position. I am grateful to your Lordships for allowing me this opportunity to make this correction.

3.2 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure that we are all extremely grateful to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor for the statement he has just made, clarifying earlier remarks of his. The noble and learned Lord mentioned me in this connection, and I may perhaps be allowed by your Lordships to say just a word. Your Lordships will remember that I never mentioned the Lord Chancellor by name in the remarks that I made, and I did that of set purpose, for I did not wish to be thought to be referring to a single speech but to a school of thought which undoubtedly exists.

I quite agree with the noble and learned Lord that his speech at Bristol does seem—or seemed to me—to come into the category which I have mentioned. I would add only this. Even now, having heard the noble and learned Lord's explanation, I am still not quite clear why he raised this hare at all, except to reassure his hearers. It is perfectly true that he made an express qualification, that this power of Parliament ought only to be used in exceptional—and I think he now says, most exceptional— circumstances. But what could be more exceptional than the question of whether this country should or should not enter into a political federation with the other nations of Central Europe? If, of course, he was making merely an academic constitutional disquisition on the subject—and a most interesting one—then I only say that we all should wish to accept that. But I still feel, after having heard him, that it was a fair point to raise.


My Lords, I am sorry that the noble Marquess feels that. If he will be good enough to read again the speech I made on August 2 I think he will recognise that those feelings are completely unjustified. I did not seek to raise any hare at all, either in this House or in Bristol. I reviewed the position, and this was just one passage taken out of a fairly lengthy speech at Bristol and, indeed, a passage repeating what I had said to your Lordships. I have raised no hare and have not sought to do so, nor have I sought to bring aid and comfort to either side. I am sorry to hear the noble Marquess coming back to suggest that my speech at Bristol had been of a different character from what it was.


My Lords, I said only what, as the noble and learned Lord probably knows, was widely understood in Europe. I would only add that, having heard the noble and learned Lord to-day, I entirely accept what he has said.


My Lords, perhaps I may be allowed to say this, although I was never in any doubt about what the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor meant by his speech on August 2. I was in Bristol on the day he spoke there and read his speech at first hand in the local paper. Although I did not like his making it very much, I do not think that in that speech the noble and learned Lord really veered away from the statement he had made in your Lordships House on August 2.

On the other hand, I should like to be allowed to point out that the amplification which the noble and learnd Lord has made to-day confirms me in the view which I expressed last Thursday about the possibilities of the Opposition, if it becomes the next Government, having to deal with the future effects of a Treaty, from which there is no escape, by giving notice, and which prejudices the sovereignty of Parliament with regard to amendment. If we were to refuse absolutely to proceed with the results of the Treaty, then we should be held up to opprobrium in the international sphere of diplomacy, and indeed possibly before the International Court.