§ 2.44 p.m.
§ The LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time. On 12th March the House debated the Government White Paper setting out proposals for a referendum on the issue of whether the United Kingdom is to remain a member of the Community. It was, as always in your Lordships' House, an informed and wide-ranging debate. Your Lordships made a number of suggestions which the Government have considered in framing this legislation, but some of which, regretfully, we have been unable to accept.
This Second Reading debate is about the principles underlying the proposals for this referendum. At the last Election the Government undertook that the British people would be able to take, through the ballot box. a decision on our membership of the Community. This Bill fulfils that pledge. The White Paper states that the Government have chosen the referendum as an appropriate means of reaching a decision on this issue because of the fundamental implications for the future of this country, for the political relationship between the United Kingdom and the other Governments of the Community, and for the constitutional position of Parliament.
We discussed last week the renegotiated terms and their implications for this country, and we considered at length the question of sovereignty and the place and powers of the Parliament of this country within the Common Market. I do not propose to reopen that debate today. A referendum will enable the public to give a clear answer on the general issue, and the Government have said they will abide by the consequences of the referendum, whether to stay in Europe or to negotiate our way out.
I accept the importance of looking carefully at the legislation now proposed. We must, so far as we can, satisfy ourselves that this constitutional innovation—as, of 1190 course, it is in this country—is made efficiently, fairly and smoothly. It is of cardinal importance to heal the divisions which the sometimes bitter debate over membership of the Community has caused this country for the last 10 years, although it has been reassuring to note that no bitterness has attended your Lordships' discussions of the matter. The Bill before us is designed to produce a conclusive decision. In order to ensure that it really is conclusive, the public must feel that they have been fairly dealt with in exercising their vote, in assessing the arguments of each side and in airing their own views. I feel sure that we are united on these objectives.
Our timetable, I fear, is not over long, but I think that is, perhaps, a good thing. The Government plan to hold the poll on 5th June this year. They have chosen this date for several reasons. First, it is highly desirable to minimise the present uncertainty. The sooner the question is settled, the better. The debate has been going on for a long time and people need to plan their future, whether it is personal, commercial or political, without any avoidable lack of knowledge on this matter. On the other hand, we must not curtail the scope for both sides of the argument to be deployed in the most effective manner possible. We have therefore, in deciding the date, to steer a middle course between too early a date, which could jeopardise proper electoral arrangements and prevent electors from having the opportunity to understand the issue on which their opinion is being asked, and too late a date, which would prolong uncertainty and possibly lose the interest of the electorate.
For all these reasons, 5th June seems the most suitable date. It has the additional advantage of being at the end of the Whitsun Recess, so that your Lordships and members of another place who wish to do so will have an opportunity of campaigning in the matter without being tied by attendance at Sittings of Parliament. To enable this date to be met, your Lordships will have to consider whether, after the Second Reading today, you can—as I hope will be the case—complete the Committee stage of the Bill next Monday, May 5, with Report and Third Reading on May 6. This timetable will enable the Bill to be considered in another place on May 7, so that it is hoped for the 1191 Royal Assent to be given on May 8. Following Royal Assent, the necessary Order in Council will be made to enable the necessary machinery to be put into operation. I am aware that this time-table is not generous, but I hope your Lordships will think it sufficient to give us the opportunity of examining the Bill adequately.
I turn now to some major aspects of the Bill which your Lordships may wish to discuss in principle during today's debate. I wish particularly to draw attention to changes in the Bill from the proposals in the White Paper and from the Bill as introduced in another place. There are some, but not many, such changes. In essence the proposals are very like those which were discussed by your Lordships on 12th March.
Clause 1 of the Bill provides for having a referendum. It also deals with the questions of entitlement to vote. Your Lordships will notice that there has been no change in the provision enabling Peers to vote in the referendum. The Government have, however, in response to representations from many quarters, introduced an Amendment in another place which permits special arrangments to be made for Servicemen and their wives (or Service women and their husbands) to vote. The position is that some 400,000 members of the Armed Forces and their spouses are entitled to be on the current register of Parliamentary electors, but some 300,000 have not registered. As matters stand they would have no vote at all, which would clearly be a matter of concern. I am sure your Lordships will be glad that we have been able to make arrangements enabling them to vote, and to vote in their own Service units.
Some of your Lordships in the debate on the White Paper made reference to the need for British citizens abroad to vote. There have been many representations to this effect to the Government, which have been the subject of long discussion and consideration in another place. We have looked exhaustively at the problems involved. In making the various provisions the Government's principle has been not to extend the franchise beyond those entitled to be registered to vote. Your Lordships will understand that to give the vote to Servicemen and their wives who 1192 will vote within their Service units is one thing. One can rely in this case on the organisation of the units and the voters concerned. Extending the vote to Peers is not something with which your Lordships will, I apprehend, be disposed to quarrel. It is, however, a quite different exercise and much more difficult to make proper arrangements for people living abroad to vote other than by the normal proxy vote. One would have to examine their credentials and determine whether they were entitled to vote or whether or not they were registered already. There would be a serious risk of error. These additional tasks could not be properly carried out in the time available to achieve the holding of the referendum on 5th June, a date which now commands overwhelming support.
Another change in Clause 1 to which I should draw your Lordships' attention is that the Order fixing the date of the referendum and making other provisions for the necessary arrangements will now be an Order-in-Council and not an Order made by the Home Secretary. The Order will be laid in draft immediately after Royal Assent and will be subject to approval by both Houses of Parliament.
I now come to the conduct of the referendum and in particular the arrangements for the count. I should like to inform the House first that Sir Philip Allen, recently, as your Lordships will know, Permanent Under-Secretary of State at the Home Office, will be appointed as Counting Officer if these provisions are approved. He has been acting as designate already. One question here which concerned your Lordships in the debate on 12th March was whether the votes should be counted centrally, by constituencies, by regions, by counties, or in some other geographical way. On the one hand we had the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester arguing for a separate count for Scotland, and, on the other hand, the noble Lord, Lord Gore-Booth, supported a central count. Originally the Bill as introduced provided for a central count here in London at Earls Court and for a central national declaration of the votes cast for the two sides. An Amendment was made after long discussion in another place which had the effect of requiring a declaration of the outcome by counties and regions. But it was still left open whether the 1193 actual counting of the votes should be done locally or centrally. It was decided finally that the counting should be local. The Government have undertaken to make the necessary changes in the Bill to enable this to happen and I shall shortly be putting down Amendments for your Lordships to discuss. The Order containing the detailed arrangements will be as full as possible, but at the same time it may be necessary to give powers to the Counting Officer to enable him to give directions about the detailed arrangements to deal with unforeseen problems in these rather special circumstances.
Another point of interest to your Lordships was whether the result of the vote should be decided by a simple majority or whether something more than that should be required. The Government considered the suggestions made by the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester that only a minimum majority of a quarter of a million votes would be regarded as binding. But, as was said in that debate, there are some perplexing choices to be made if we depart from the concept of a simple majority, and the choices appear to lead to as much difficulty as the simple majority suggestion. I will reiterate what my noble friend the Leader of the House said on that occasion. Simple majorities with no special conditions on the size of the poll are well understood in this country; they are, for instance, the familiar form for Parliamentary Elections.
It will be impossible to get agreement on any minimum size of poll or size of majority. Moreover, any new arrangements as suggested could make the public feel pressurised and therefore perhaps unwilling to vote. One might even have an abstention lobby springing up, which would not be what we want at all since it would reduce the turnout of voters. There is a further danger in a requirement for a specified majority. If the specified majority were not achieved we could then well have a situation where the partisans on each side would claim victory. There could also be a demand for a second referendum—a prospect which I venture to think no man would face with equanimity. What is essential is to make the arrangements conclusive. This country cannot afford, nor could it live with, an inconclusive answer. For 1194 these reasons, therefore, in the view of the Government it would be best to follow what is normal electoral practice in this country and accept that the referendum result should rest on a simple majority without qualifications or conditions of any kind.
I turn now to Clause 3. This is concerned with the airing of views by both sides and has as its objectives to make it possible for the two "campaigning organisations" to put their arguments across. The arrangements are very much on the lines proposed in the White Paper. The clause provides for grants of £125,000 to be made to the two "umbrella" organisations towards the expenses incurred in the campaign. These grants are now being made subject to conditions laid down by the Lord President and accepted by both sides, including the keeping of accounts which will be audited by the Comptroller and Auditor General and published. In addition to this, the Government have developed the proposals in the White Paper for the publication of documents setting out both sides of the case. It proved unacceptable to the two organisations to produce one joint document with answers to a set of questions, so what we have done is to produce two separate documents, one for each organisation, of 1,500 words, with the same type of cover. These two documents together with a popular version of the Government White Paper—when I use the word "popular" I mean that in its restricted sense—will be distributed to households at the end of May. In addition, further copies will be made available at post offices for people to take. The printing and distribution of these documents is at Government expense.
I come now to Clause 4. Since its introduction this has been amended so as to restrict the original rather sweeping exemptions from proceedings in a court of law. The Bill now provides only that the results of the referendum may not be challenged in the courts to force a recount, which will be a matter for the Counting Officer, or obtain a fresh poll. We believe this clause is vital to prevent frivolous challenges which would delay reaching a decision on our membership, a delay which could have serious economic disadvantages. We consider the proposed limited exclusion of challenge through the courts to be essential. Your 1195 Lordships will know that any allegations against the Government about the handling of the poll can be pursued in Parliament. The clause does not, of course, exempt anyone accused of an offence under the relevant Representation of the People Act, or under the Order made under this Act, from the normal legal processes.
Finally, there is the Schedule which sets out the form of the ballot paper and the question to be asked. We believe that we have chosen a form of words that is both simple and fair. I am sure that in considering this Bill your Lordships will bear in mind that if we are to have a referendum on this issue it should be conducted fairly, efficiently and speedily, in the best traditions of this country's democracy. This Bill is intended to achieve that purpose. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.— (The Lord Chancellor.)
§ 3.2 p.m.
§ Lord BALNIEL
My Lords, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, had hoped to be able to open the debate on behalf of those on these Benches, but unfortunately he has been detained in a Judicial Sitting. Therefore, before it becomes too apparent to the House, I had better begin by regretting any lack of preparation which might mark my own speech. I am bound to say that it requires only the most superficial and cursory examination of this Bill to see that we are looking at a very unhappy and a rather discreditable creature. Parliament should be discussing the national interest. The referendum has got singularly little to do with the national interest, but it has got a great deal to do with Party political interest. In debating the Bill, one almost feels embarrassed at staring for too long and too intently at the private griefs of the Government Party. These are their own internal affairs and it is unkind to indulge ourselves for too long on those matters.
When I looked at the Report of the debate which was held in another place, I felt that the more the defenders clothed the defence of this Bill in grandiose words about the fundamental importance of our membership of the European Economic Community, or about the immense importance of the sovereignty of the Parlia- 1196 mentary system in this country, and the more they pretended that this Bill had been introduced for good, democratic reasons, the more we should remember the original reasons for the introduction of the Bill. It seems to me that no grandiose words can hide the fact that the one and only purpose of the referendum was to try to bring together the warring factions of the Party opposite. I think that the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack is to be congratulated, both on his wisdom and on his good taste, in concentrating his remarks upon an explanation of the details of the Bill rather than showing excessive enthusiasm for the principle of the Bill.
In substance, I have only three things to say about the Bill. The first is that the referendum which it proposes is an abomination. The second is that I believe that it is the duty of the House to allow it to pass with the least possible delay. The third is that these two propositions, which might seem to be inconsistent, are not, in fact, inconsistent. Although we certainly have the constitutional power to delay matters of which we do not particularly approve, in this instance the consequences of delay or the consequences of doubt about our continued membership of the European Economic Community would create for this country and for our people exceedingly serious problems. This is an evil which, in my opinion, outweighs the advantage which could be gained by delaying or, indeed, stopping the passage of this Bill.
We have already had a full day's debate on the referendum; therefore it is not necessary at any great length to rehearse the arguments yet once again. As a device, the referendum has been condemned by speaker after speaker. In the past, there has been a whole sequence of statements by political leaders of all the major political Parties in this country condemning the system of a referendum as being an attack on the elected representative system of this country; and not the least eloquent of the condemnations has in fact come from the present Prime Minister.
If anyone wants to know why this Bill is being introduced, I would refer him to the words of the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection who, in People and Politics, said:The Government would have broken up if it was not decided to hold a referendum".1197 As a device, the referendum is subversive of Cabinet responsibility. We see the extraordinary contortions whereby Ministers are held to Cabinet responsibility in Parliament itself but are freed from it the moment they leave the building. Here, in the Parliamentary system, which in many ways over the generations noble Lords will feel has been one of the great defenders of free speech in the world, the anti-Market Ministers are bound to mouth the Government briefs which are put before them, even if they do not believe them, but at weekends they can go off to Party Conferences, or at seven o'clock they can scamper away from the Houses of Parliament to political meetings, and say the exact opposite of what they have been saying during the course of a day in Parliament. It is outside Parliament, not inside Parliament, that they state their true views as to what they believe to be in the national interest. Although this is a device which has been chosen by the Government, I think that the old doctrine—that if in Cabinet you could not carry the majority of your colleagues with you, you resigned —was a rather healthier solution to a political dispute. It may have been strict; it may have been uncomfortable; but it was upright and it was clear-cut, and it upheld that system—upheld what I believe has proved to be a source of strength to the country over many years; namely, the principle of Cabinet responsibility.
Perhaps the most telling criticism of this abandonment of Cabinet responsibility is that it has already failed in its purpose. It has inflicted upon the Prime Minister who proposed it one of the most devastating humiliations that has ever been inflicted by a Party Conference on its Leader. A referendum is subversive of Cabinet responsibility. It is harmful to our concept of representative Government. Although this is no more than an estimate, I think it will probably prove to be damaging to the unity of the United Kingdom. It is certainly manifestly absurd to say that this is a unique occasion which will never arise again. In fact, it will be a precedent which will be quoted time and time again. It will always be called for by contenders in an argument, who believe that an appeal away from Parliament will be in their own interest. I can think of nothing more damaging to the 1198 standing and status of elected Members of Parliament than that kind of appeal.
But even if—which it is not—the referendum is a device which is tolerable, the question which the British people are being asked to answer is discreditable in itself. The Government are asking the British people, through the referendum, whether a treaty shall be broken—a treaty to which this country is bound; a treaty which has been signed by the British Government on behalf of this country; a treaty which has been ratified by Parliament and a treaty which, through the expressed voting of Parliament on several occasions, clearly expresses the wishes of Parliament by large majorities. When one realises that this extraordinary Constitutional device has been introduced because the Prime Minister was unable to carry with him a number of his Cabinet colleagues, and when one also realises the reality of the question which the Briitsh public is being asked to answer in the referendum, I think one sees that it is a pretty sad moment in the political history of this country. Nevertheless, as I said at the opening of my remarks, I do not regard it as paradoxical to say that we shall allow this Bill to pass and to leave this House as soon as possible. Our duty is to look at the broad interests of the country.
Constitutional arguments are heaped up in piles against this Bill; political arguments are piled against this referendum. The country will regret the referendum because it will be a precedent which is called into service time and time again. I suspect, indeed, that the sponsors of the referendum already regret its introduction as a system. But, in the broadest sense of the national interest, the quicker we are finished with this wretched affair the better. Our currency is highly vulnerable and every day of doubt and delay weakens it still further. Our supreme effort in this country should be devoted to the fight against inflation, and delay in deciding our economic future, uncertainty whether we are going to cut off from this country the largest and richest market in the world—all this weakens us in our struggle to ward off economic collapse in this country.
Our membership of the European Community lies at the very heart of our foreign policy and while the beat of that heart is weak, as it is at the moment, our 1199 foreign policy is almost impotent in world affairs. If noble Lords are proud of this Bill which they are introducing, I think we should let them have it and we, for our part, should do our utmost to ensure that the outcome of the referendum is favourable. We should do our utmost to ensure that the British people know the real issues, so that they can defend the treaty obligations which the Government are so lamentably ignoring with this Bill.
§ 3.14 p.m.
§ The Earl of KIMBERLEY
My Lords, despite the factual and admirable way in which the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack put the case for the referendum, I must associate myself 100 per cent. with what the noble Lord, Lord Balniel, has said. Whether or not we like the referendum, we seem to be saddled with it, but before the curtain is rung down on this whole farcical pantomime we may be well advised to consider the damage and harm that the referendum has done to Norway. The Norwegians had a referendum in 1972. On a poll of 78 per cent., 47 per cent. were for the Market and 53 per cent. were against. Ever since then Norway has been a divided country, region against region, village against village and even family against family. This unhappy state of affairs could so easily happen here, particularly if the majority in our referendum—whichever way it may go— is very small. The referendum is a golden opportunity presented to the Left and the subversive and extremist elements to wreak havoc with our Parliamentary sovereignty and democracy. This opportunity has, alas!, been given to them by the Labour Party in trying to keep itself in one piece. The false and spurious message of the Left is quite clear: the E.E.C. is bad for Britain. The truth, however, is that the E.E.C. is bad for the Left. Let us in the next few vital weeks bring the truth to the electorate.
I was amazed the other day when the Lord President of the Council had the cheek to describe the 150,000 English people working abroad in Europe as "Lotus eaters and layabouts". These English people are living in Europe and are mainly involved in helping British exports, and, thereby, they help to guarantee union jobs at home.
§ Lord MAYBRAY-KING
My Lords, if the noble Earl will excuse me, in defence of the Lord President of the Council, is it not fair to say that he distinguished between those British citizens who are working in Europe and the others who are indeed layabouts?
§ The Earl of KIMBERLEY
My Lords, from what I was led to understand by reading The Times and the Daily Telegraph that was not the way I intepreted it.
§ Several Noble Lords: Hear, hear!
§ The Earl of KIMBERLEY
My Lords, the argument that these exiles, including holiday-makers, should not have a vote, due to the lack of time to arrange this before the referendum, is surely totally fallacious. The Government have known for months that they were to have a referendum and, as a result, they have had all the time in the world to make the necessary arrangements. One can only assume that, to pacify the Left Wing, the Government decided long ago never to consider these disenfranchised voters. Europe has been ravaged and devastated by two wars, one in my lifetime but two in the lifetimes of some of your Lordships. This must never be allowed to happen again, and one very good way of permanently preventing a third European war is the European Economic Community. Today we are faced with a peril almost as great as that of 1940. At least then we knew and could recognise our enemy, whereas today our enemy is largely camouflaged and only now and then shows himself, although he is patently obvious in several other unfortunate countries.
We must remember another conclusion from studying previous referenda, even if the principle of the referendum is admitted as being democratic; that is, that the referendum is open to opportunities for every kind of manipulation. We must beware of those who are anti-Market flocking to the polls, while the pro-Marketeers and many others, who are perhaps not so firmly convinced, may more readily abstain from voting. As my godfather, the late Sir Winston Churchill said:We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight in the fields; we shall fight in the streets and we shall fight in the hills.1201 Therefore, my Lords, we must—as we did in our Chamber last week by showing an enormous majority in favour of the EEC —get out into the towns and the country-side and show the flag. I repeat: we must carry this message to our people to turn out in strength and vote in favour of remaining in the Market. In this way, and in this way only, will the referendum not be a disaster of unparalleled magnitude; once more Britain will be justified in calling herself "Great".
§ 3.20 p.m.
§ Lord PANNELL
My Lords, the noble Lord who has just spoken seemed to direct his attack mostly at those people whom he called "Left Wingers". I do not know whether he knows the meaning of the term. The late Lord Morrison used to say that Left Wingers are like the middle class and the intellectuals; these are the kind of people who like to think they are good, and in the context of the Labour Party that is probably true. I have always defined a "Left Winger" as one who believed in dynamism and change, and if that is true, I am as good a Left Winger as anybody.
The noble Lord, Lord Balniel, was bound to rest his case on the Party issue. Were we speaking from the Opposition Benches, this is what we would seize on. But the noble Lord is wasting his oratory in directing his feelings against people on this side of the House. Immediately in front of me is the noble Lord, Lord Gordon-Walker, and the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, has just gone out. We were among those who, in 1971, voted for going into Europe. To try to treat this matter in isolation, which stands as a great issue, an issue so serious as to be short only of war, seems to me to lower the currency of the debate.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord George-Brown, in what some people thought a notable speech last week, had this to say. He said:A few of us know—and I mean know and not suspect—the manoeuvres that went on in order to solve the temporary political problem, know how wrong it is to inflict this referendum on a nation for all time, just because it was thought an easier way of accommodating a few people whom one could have met head-on and demolished without overly much trouble." —[Official Report, 22/4/75; col. 803.]That statement is just not true. I was at the core of the Labour Party at the 1202 time. I can say only that had the present Prime Minister met that trouble head-on, and had the Government used their time, we would not have been in the field at all for the Common Market. I do not think it is ignoble to try to keep this country talking about the issue of the Common Market, and to preserve a united Party at the same time. Those are not ignoble ends.
The destruction of one of the great political Parties of the State would not be a good thing, either. The Labour Party needs to be preserved. I would have thought that the present Prime Minister would have been less than him-self, faced with the issue as he was when he was defeated in 1970, if he had not looked around for a solution. Let it be said, and noble Lords must take it from me, that there is nothing to be said against the referendum that has not been said by me in other places in the teeth of the bitter wind—and, if I may say so, said by me far more effectively. I do not like the referendum, nor do any of my friends. What brought us to it? I would not be so vain as to ask noble Lords to read the speech I made last Monday, because that came at 10 o'clock in the evening, but I tried to explain the matter then.
My Lords, the fact was that in 1970, when the right honourable gentleman the Prime Minister was defeated, negotiation was not open to him. Negotiation passed to the right honourable gentleman Mr. Heath. He had to face an issue of a Party reinforced by tremendous block votes and set against the Market. Even if the then Prime Minister had won the Election and achieved marginally better terms, the Labour Party Conference of that year would not have accepted the Market. Noble Lords can say that it is a weakness of the set-up of our Party Constitution with these great block votes, but they are not achieved in quite the way that some of the popular newspapers would have us believe. I have served on a trade union delegation, and have argued as to the course of action that the delegation will take. It is part of the constitution of the Labour Party, which goes back before the time when the workers of this country had the vote. Consequently, these are the defences of the trade union movement, and they do not give them up lightly.
1203 The ex-Prime Minister, Mr. Heath, must bear a great deal of responsibility for this referendum. He went to the country on the issue in 1970, but not just on this issue. I can tell honourable gentlemen of Conservative candidates up and down the country who never even mentioned it in their Election addresses. He came back, but what was his priority at the time? If Mr. Heath was going to attempt to bring us peacefully into Europe, he would not have brought in the Industrial Relations Act. He set the whole trade union movement against him—
§ A NOBLE LORD: Left wingers!
§ Lord PANNELL
My Lords, why docs the noble Lord keep calling out "Left wingers"? Perhaps he will present us with a definition. The Common Market is not entirely a Left wing issue. I can rattle off a whole string of names in the Labour movement and in the Conservative Party, all of whom oppose entry into Europe. I do not think they are lesser men than I; I just think they are more muddle-headed. But there is no point at all in trying to argue on those terms.
My Lords, the right honourable gentleman Mr. Heath said—and this is a famous phrase—that we could go into Europe only with the wholehearted consent of the British people. I am afraid the British people were not consulted in that way. I was a Member of the other place. This matter was not taken line by line, clause by clause. The honourable gentleman was there. What Amendments were permitted in the other place? What was looked at on its merits in the other place? It was the same as with the Industrial Relations Bill, which should have been five Bills. Many clauses went through "on the nod", and then the guillotine was brought in. That is not democracy as I understand it. After all, this is something that has troubled the political Parties for a long time.
Having said all this, I still say that I regret the referendum as much as anybody here. Nobody can accuse me of not preaching in and out of the Labour Party the paramountcy of the Parliamentary Party. I stood by Hugh Gaitskell in the time when it was necessary, and stood 1204 up to his own constituency Party on this issue. Noble Lords usually speak with the flowing tide; they do not speak in the teeth of the bitter wind on these matters. Everyone has said this is a political matter. Party politics is carrying on with the wholehearted consent not only of the British people, but with the flowing tide of the Labour voters. The only way to take this matter away from the Parties and over the head of the Party conference—and nobody thinks that the Party conference last week is more useless than I do—is to put it in the hands of the voters on 5th June, and they will decide whether they agree. But I should tell honourable gentlemen not to be too sure.
I have read a lot of articles coming out of Norway. The whole of the political establishment in Norway believed they should go into the Common Market, but there was a backlash and they have stayed out. I have not yet written off the referendum as a winner from my point of view. Instead of indicating their agreement or disagreement, honourable gentlemen opposite had better get on to the doorstep and do a little propaganda themselves to make sure of the result. I am sure that the people who are against the Common Market will be working hard for their cause. We will have to try to match it. Consequently, I agree on one point with the honourable gentleman—
§ Several Noble Lords: The noble Lord!
§ Lord PANNELL
My Lords, I said the other day that people can be gentlemen as well as Lords. I agree with him that the only way now left for the country is by means of the referendum, which will take the matter right out of the Party cockpit. I think it becomes no affront to the Commons, when they have done this thing. The present Prime Minister is not a man who faces his problems head on, but if at the end of the day he brings us around to a positive vote for going into Europe, he will certainly acquire a reputation even superior to that of Lloyd-George.
I have recognised the need to go into Europe, as an engineer who served his time and earned his living in the engineering trade until he came into the House. I was quite appalled by the statement we heard last week about British Leyland. I wonder what future there is for this 1205 scheme that we heard about unless Europe is open to our markets; it does not make sense, unless we go into Europe, to pour out all that money. I happen to believe that the motor car industry is too big in the context of the nation's economy. Representing Leeds, I know that many of the traditional skills have been drained off in the engineering trade in order to put people into work in the Midlands—I do not necessarily think it is useful work at all—and Europe will have to be open to us.
There is another point, too. The pound fell, as I heard on television last night, because of the Labour Party's decision on Saturday. The pound would fall still further if we did not decide to go into Europe. This is now a factor. We are wasting our breath, in condemning the instrument that we will vote for at the end of the day, by going over old battles. We will certainly not be serving our country very well if the referendum is indefinitely postponed. There were voices raised last week when people said that they might go into the Lobby if they could get enough people with them. I noticed the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, drew a distinction. He spoke about the position if "No" was the answer, whether your Lordships might have to consider your position. But you would have to consider your position with the Commons if that happened. Most of this idea of the referendum is based on the belief that the answer will be "Yes".
So I come to this conclusion. I could match the honourable gentleman in words condemning the referendum as an affront to Parliament as I know it. I could match him in any ridicule he poured upon it. I could even quote Charles James Fox on the subject of necessity being either an evil or a benefit according to which way you look at it. But on balance if this referendum, this strange device, takes this country into Europe and seals up this matter which has brooded over politics for over 40 years, and over which statesmen of all Parties have dragged their feet, and allows us to concentrate on other issues, it will not necessarily go down in history as an evil thing.
§ 3.35 p.m.
The Earl of LYTTON
My Lords, I will try to pour a little cold water on troubled oil. I have the same sort of difficulty as the noble Lord, Lord Balniel, 1206 in that I normally speak in the 20s; I was 27th the last time I spoke. I do not compose my speech until six or seven other speakers have spoken. Today I am fifth, and although I have no objection to being regarded for a few minutes as a Front Bencher, I have not composed anything. I have listened to the speeches and made a few mental notes. I am obliged to say at the start that I was very much jarred by most of what the noble Lord, Lord Balniel, said. Had he been saying it on an occasion when it was suitable to divide the House, and said that he was going to divide it, I would have given him cheer after cheer. But today I am saddened that so far an opportunity seems to have been missed.
I sympathise with the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Pannell. I am convinced, first, that it would be no advantage to this country if one of the two leading Parties broke up—I think those were the words the noble Lord, Lord Balniel, used—if there were no referendum. But I go further than that. My belief is that had the Conservative Party been able to force another General Election, which would have been the only way out of the difficulty, the electorate would once more have returned the broken fragments of the Labour Party with a majority. That is my suspicion. We should have been back to square one once more, with the increasing risk that everybody would be so dissatisfied with the Establishment on both sides that that alone would give the extreme Left the great opportunity which at present it is being denied.
I also agree with the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Pannell, about not denouncing this as a device playing into the hands of the extreme Left. I have, for example, two sisters a little younger than I am. We are very devoted. We live in separate buildings, and I have a great regard for both. In politics each one is substantially to the Right of Mr. Heath. One is for remaining in the Common Market; the other for coming out. Naturally, I do not use the kind of language to the dissident one, as I call her, that the noble Lord, Lord Balniel, has been using to the other side. One has to coax and persuade, and that is surely the great task before us. In this connection, I seem to note a great gap in what it is being proposed to hand out to the 1207 electorate. Surely we should have a booklet and a poster making perfectly clear Parliament's opinion. Surely what we have now is a de facto coalition for going in or staying in. It is a coalition. Why not acknowledge the fact, instead of going on flogging a dead horse and producing the maximum stink up to the last minute? Let us get together and plan what is best, as most of us want to stay in. For that purpose, Parliament's position should surely be made clear by a poster, a document, in which Parliament's verdict is clearly stated, with the portraits of the three Leaders at the head of it. It will then be clear to all, especially those who deal only in visual signs, that the three Leaders of the three Parties are behind our going in.
That is my contribution. I think that if I were to add anything else I should be going over the same ground again. I sincerely hope that at the end of the debate it will be possible for the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, where I have been pouring cold water, perhaps to pour a little oil on troubled waters.
§ 3.40 p.m.
My Lords, I am very pleased to have the opportunity of joining in this debate because I have always been against the principle of referenda. In fact, in Philip Goodhart's book on the subject, which can be found in the Library, he mentions that, so far as he can find out, I am the only Member of either House who has definitely so stated. This was concerning the West Indies Bill, and as a result of that referendum we know that the Federation of the West Indies was finished. Regrettably, most people vote against things. When you fight a General Election they do not necessarily vote for you. You may get a few votes, but the voting is against the principle of the other people rather than for yours. They vote against things and not for them, and this is one matter that I am frightened about in a referendum.
I do not know whether I am in order here, but if it can be done in this House, I should like to discuss the Bill rather than generalities. I have read fully the debates on the Second Reading in the other House and in the Committee stage, and I should like particularly to refer to 1208 Clause 1(5) in regard to Service voters. As the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor stated, over 400,000 Servicemen are entitled to be on the register. But of course the 1973 Speaker's Conference found that 300,000 were not registered; in other words, 25 per cent. were registered.
In an adjournment debate which took place on 25th April, and in answer to a Parliamentary Question, the Government were asked whether they were happy about the existing arrangements—were they really satisfactory. The reply was:Not entirely, but we take steps to ensure that Service families know and can take advantage of the existing facilities for Service registration.That was on February 11th, at column 188 of Volume 886.
There was a recommendation made jointly to the last Speaker's Conference and the Home Office, and they largely accepted that the Service vote should be implemented. Personally, having had the honour for 19 years of representing an area in which there were a great many members of the three Services, I can say that of course it does not work at all as it stands at the present time. On 25th April it was stated again that the number of men entitled to a Service vote was 340,000, and there were 55,000 women, so the total now is approximately 400,000. I wonder whether there is a chance under this clause that they really can be dealt with. I should like to know, when the noble Lord winds up, how the arrangements are intended to be made. How are the widely scattered Services going to get the literature in time so that they can make up their minds? How are they going to get the necessary documents?
As your Lordships may remember, in the General Election of 1945 there was a three week delay in counting the votes, thus ensuring that men and women could be certain of taking part. Previous to 1965 there were arrangements for continuous registration for members of the Forces and their wives, and this was implemented in part only by Section 2 of the Representation of the People Act 1969. Unfortunately, this Act does not require commanding officers to ensure that members of Her Majesty's Forces and their wives should register, and they have not done so. Every October a great many people do not fill in their form, and when 1209 an Election comes they are without a vote. Often officers do not tell the members of their units of their rights. They themselves may not even be aware of them. Perhaps they put a notice on the board, and consider that that is enough. I have found that a great many junior members do not like going to the adjutant's office to get their forms.
In this coming referendum, how are people to gain knowledge of the facts in, say, Hong Kong, Belize or Cyprus about what they are going to vote for? It is known that in General Elections candidates send out their addresses at least ten days before the coming Election so that they can be posted to outlying people. Prior to 1969 there was a register, and once you had joined the Services it was on a once for all basis. I hope that as a result of this Bill today we may go back to the much better system before 1969. Then 60 per cent. of the men registered, as opposed to 25 per cent. now.
The Speaker's Conference of 1973 made four recommendations which would be implemented in this clause. One was that there should be a once for all registration. Another was that in future Service wives should be registered with their husbands. Perhaps the noble Lord who is to answer this debate today can give me some of the answers in regard to whether the necessary literature will be available and accessible to all those Servicemen who have a chance of voting. Further, will they vote on the same day as the voting is done in Britain?
I asked in a previous debate about the question of languages, which arises in Clause 1(7) in regard to the Welsh language. I suggested that there were a great many immigrants in this country who cannot read English, although they may be able to speak it after a fashion. Is there to be any literature printed so that immigrants can understand everything when they go to vote? Otherwise, I fear they may be got hold of by people who want them to vote one way or the other, If they are going to vote, they should have the opportunity of giving the matter some consideration and making up their own minds. It has been announced quite recently that there are 2 million people in this country who cannot read. I do not know whether that figure also includes the immigrants.
1210 In regard to Clause 2, I should like to know whether there are to be any polling cards. Those of us who have had the opportunity in the past of fighting elections know what a great deal of thought, consideration and feeling there is about polling cards. Quite a number of people think that they cannot go to the polls to vote if they do not have a card. This is of course quite wrong, but this feeling has grown up and I should like to know whether there are to be any polling cards. I should also like to say—and, regrettably, I do not have a very helpful alternative suggestion to put forward—that I certainly do not like the form of the ballot paper. It says that the Government have announced the results of the renegotiation of the United Kingdom terms of membership of the European Community, but how many people know about these terms?
I should have thought what was said might have been more definite than that, considering the documents presented to us and what the Prime Minister has said. I do not know whether it would be considered ultra vires or wrong to state that the Government have announced the results of the "satisfactory" renegotiation. After all, we should not be having a referendum at all if the renegotiation had not been considered satisfactory by the Government. It is a negative way of putting it on paper, and I should like to have this aspect considered.
Finally, I think it should be impressed upon people that if we come out of the European Community we are leaving not just the European Community but also the European Coal and Steel Community. This is a very precious membership for us, because this Community has, for example, 150 million tons of raw steel, one-fifth of the world's total, and 260 million tons of coal, in regard to which we are fourth behind Russia, China and America. I think that the economic side ought to be stressed more. It is interesting to note that 200 years ago George Washington said:Some day, taking its pattern from the United States of America, there will be founded a United States of Europe.I hope that following this referendum there will be a successful beginning of a United States of Europe.
§ 3.50 p.m.
§ Lord HOUGHTON of SOWERBY
My Lords, a week ago the noble Lord, Lord Balniel, made a distinguished speech on our entry into the EEC. I looked forward to his speech today hoping that it would match the statesmanship and wisdom of his speech a week ago, but I was disappointed. Not even the brevity of his speech concealed his political ignorance this afternoon. He showed complete failure to grasp the real political significance of the issue before the House. He spoke of the referendum as being an abomination. As my noble friend Lord Pannell just said, do not abuse something which you are about to accept. This was an instance of making to wound but being afraid to strike. Indeed, I wondered whether at the end of his speech the noble Lord would cry aloud, "Where is my noble friend Lord George-Brown—we need him so much"? After all, the noble Lord, Lord George-Brown, had said that, if he could muster enough opposition to the referendum in this House, he would lead the cause for its rejection. I really thought that the noble Lord, Lord Balniel, this afternoon was about to join the ranks of the noble Lord, Lord George-Brown. But, No; where is my noble friend Lord George-Brown this afternoon? Where are his marshalled forces to condemn, to oppose and to reject this "abomination"? Where are they?
The noble Lord also said that if a Cabinet cannot command a majority of their supporters, they should resign. But Mr. Heath could not command a majority of his supporters at the time of the Common Market debate in the House of Commons. He did not resign. What did he do? He called for a free vote on 21st October 1971, when Labour votes helped to carry the cause of the Common Market in the House of Commons.
§ Lord HOUGHTON of SOWERBY
The noble Lord has not said anything about throwing out this Bill because he knows it would be a catastrophe to do so, and, however innocent is the noble Lord, he is not so irresponsible as to urge the House to bring about not only a political crisis but an economic crisis and a crisis of foreign policy which would flow from the rejection of this Bill. To delay the Bill would delay a decision which is now 1212 needed so urgently on the vital issue of whether Britain is to remain a member of the Community.
If we were to reject the Bill this afternoon the world would give us up for being crazy. They would fail to understand where the wisdom and the stability of British politics had gone. I believe that this uncertainty should be ended at the earliest possible moment and that it is our duty to co-operate with another place in bringing about the agency through which that final decision can be taken. Besides, who are we in your Lordships' House to oppose, on constitutional or on any other grounds, the will of the elected Chamber to consult the electorate by ballot? What qualifications have we to pontificate about the constitutional propriety of consulting the people by ballot? We may think it unwise or even wrong to introduce this novelty into our political affairs. I do not like it, either. We can all be old-fashioned, especially in this House. But we cannot say that it is against the Constitution. We cannot say that it is undemocratic, and we had better be careful not to say that the people cannot be trusted to vote on a complicated issue.
I know that many electors will vote on the "small change" of the Common Market question, while many others will act on their prejudices, and some will even be prompted by their visions. But at least they will not be driven into the Lobby on a three line whip. I know there is plenty to be said against a referendum as part of our system of Parliamentary government, and if this were a Bill to provide for more referenda as a permanent feature of our system of government, I think we should all be justified in going into it much more deeply to consider its full significance as a permanent part of our institutions. But that is not the proposal. Indeed, this referendum is a referendum to end all referenda. I do not believe with the noble Lord, Lord Balniel, that we will hear more and more about referenda. I doubt whether we shall hear any more about referenda as a means of settling issues which are normally and historically within the competence of Parliament.
But someone said—I think it may have been the Prime Minister—that this is a very unique occasion. At this time I 1213 believe it is inevitable—and, indeed, indispensable—that this referendum should be held. I do not believe that any noble Lord in his noble senses can for a moment think that we can dispense with the referendum on this matter at this stage. I know that, if we lie awake at night and think of all the possible consequences of this referendum, we can probably have a sleepless night, but if anyone knows of a better way of settling this issue at this time, then I think we ought to know what it is.
Whether or not we like it, Parliament, with all its traditional authority, could not at the present time give the country a final decision. Parliament, as the expression of the wholehearted consent of the British people, is not, I regret to say, a credible voice. Let us face this most unpleasant fact. Members of Parliament themselves have fostered this disbelief in the representativeness of Parliament on this matter. Members of Parliament began to tear the clothes of Parliament, and politics and prejudice between them have since stripped them off completely. Never before has Parliament stood so naked before the people as being incompetent to settle a great issue of national policy. Parliament is now in need of the people. It cannot by itself reach a decision that will stick.
Those who say that this referendum should never have happened, need never have happened and that it is unnecessary and wasteful, do not, perhaps, understand how and why it came about. The noble Lord, Lord Balniel, is obviously in ignorance of the real problems which beset not only the Labour Party but the then Government of the day, a Conservative Government, while these matters were under discussion during the last three years. This is not the outcome solely of the internal difficulties of the Labour Party. Mr. Heath handed the referendum to the anti-Marketeers on a plate by losing the Election in February 1974. Had Mr. Wilson not forced all Labour's opposition to the EEC by getting consultation by ballot after re-negotiation adopted as Party policy before Mr. Heath's Government fell, I have not the slightest doubt where the Labour Government would be standing at this moment. They would be committed to coming out. I endorse completely what 1214 my noble friend Lord Pannell said a few moments ago.
At the beginning of this long drawn-out controversy there were few advocates of the referendum. The Shadow Cabinet, of which I was a member, rejected it completely. The National Executive Committee of the Labour Party brushed it aside. The Labour Party Conference showed little interest, much less support for the idea. It looked to be a non-starter. It was not being seriously considered. But then Britain's opposition, or at least the opposition in the Labour Party in Britain, to entry in principle gained ground rapidly. It was the unpopularity of the Heath Administration which accelerated the opposition of the Labour Party to entry into the Common Market. The policies of the Heath Government in relation to the trade unions, the wages policy, the economic poiicy and the rest deepened the conflict between the Labour Movement and the Government of the day, and all this was reflected in the attitudes of the Labour Party towards the idea of entry in principle. Tory policies became wrong, even when Mr. Heath succeeded in gaining entry to the Common Market, which the Labour Party had failed to do. When Mr. Heath gained entry the Tory terms were wrong; everything was wrong about the Tory Government in the estimation of large numbers of the Labour Party, and the fact that Mr. Heath could not carry Britain into the Common Market without the assistance of Labour M.P.s deepened the bitterness within the Parliamentary Labour Party and outside.
This was a period of acute discontent in the Labour Movement. Labour's own policy for entry into the European Community if the terms were right, which had been fostered by Mr. Wilson, began to run into serious trouble, and outright opposition to entry on any terms gained ground in the Labour Movement. Mr. Wilson realised that the only way to stave off a decisive Conference vote against entry was to put the decision beyond the Conference, and my noble friend Lord Pannell described this situation. Mr. Wilson said, "The people shall decide, not the Labour Party Conference." And throughout the boisterous months that followed the Labour 1215 leadership clung tenaciously to the policy of renegotiation and the terms to be balloted upon by the British people. I believe that the promise of consultation through the ballot box saved the Labour Party and the Labour Government from being committed to leaving the EEC.
I have heard it said that the referendum is the price the country is having to pay for Mr. Wilson's policy of keeping the Labour Party together. The noble Lord, Lord Balniel, suggested that and my noble friend Lord Pannell denied it, and I deny it, too. Of course it was one of the aims of Mr. Wilson to try to keep the Labour Party together. It could be a tragedy for the country if one of the principal political Parties was fragmented and made impotent in the political life of the country, and that would apply to the Tory Party just as much as to the Labour Party. But Mr. Wilson wanted to go far beyond that. He could not help becoming Prime Minister in February, 1974. Mr. Heath could have helped it, but did not. Mr. Wilson became Prime Minister rather sooner than he expected.
But supposing, when he became Prime Minister in February, 1974, the Labour Party was not then firmly committed to renegotiation and submitting the terms to a ballot of the people; supposing Mr. Wilson had come in in February, 1974, with a definite instruction from the Labour Party Conference that Labour should pull out of the Common Market. It would have been dreadful if, on arriving at No. 10, the new Labour Prime Minister had had to declare that the policy of his Government would be to abrogate the Treaty on Accession. What-ever one may think of the man and his political technique, it must be conceded that Mr. Heath gambled on power and lost and that Mr. Wilson came in with a mandate to renegotiate the terms and put them to a ballot. That not only saved the Labour Party but held Britain's place inside the EEC and made this referendum possible.
I hope that the result of this referendum will show that Mr. Wilson made the future of Britain safe and secure inside the Common Market. Mr. Heath had not done it and Mr. Wilson did his best on the ruins of the Tory policies to achieve that purpose. What a mess it 1216 would have been had the circumstances and facts been otherwise! We can now hope for a final decision one way or the other. Most of us hope for a decision in favour of remaining in the EEC. This possibility—what I hope is a probability; what I hope in a week or two's time will be a certainty—has been brought about by the determination and skill of Prime Minister Mr. Wilson to steer the Labour Party through this labyrinth of difficulty and dissent in order to allow the country eventually to decide this issue in the way this Bill proposes.
Looking back on the period when I was in the centre of Labour's preoccupation with this problem, I feel that this opportunity is one which some months ago looked improbable. When one considers that the Prime Minister at the present time does not carry a majority of the Parliamentary Labour Party, a majority of the National Executive Committee and a majority of the Labour Conference, if, as a result of this referendum, his policy is endorsed, it will be one of the most remarkable political achievements of history, as my noble friend Lord Pannell said. Those who come to scorn should remain to pray that the result of this referendum will give the answer that so many of us want. If the answer is "No", then I, for one, make no predictions on the course of the wrath to come and the political chaos which may result.
My final word is that there is much more at stake in this Bill than the unity of the Labour Party. There is much more at stake than the decision on the Common Market. There are deep political forces at work underneath the Common Market issue in Britain today and they are wrapped up with the decision which the people will be asked to take on the 5th of June. If the vote is "Yes", then probably some of those forces which might lead to disruption and serious disturbance of our political stability will be vanquished. I hope that they will. But if we fail to get the answer "Yes", then confusion will become worse confounded. I hope I have done a little, however imperfectly, to explain the real problem of the Labour Party and of Mr. Wilson's personal position and to dispel the notion that all we have been engaged in is a domestic internal squabble and that the referendum is the way of getting out of it. This has made it possible for this Bill to come 1217 before this House. I hope it will be approved without a Division and that those who have been criticising it as an abomination will be a little ashamed of themselves, because they have not had the responsibility of carrying the country to this critical point.
§ 4.9 p.m.
§ Lord WIGG
My Lords, I had my name down to speak on this Bill and I have been in attendance this afternoon because I thought I should have the opportunity of voting in favour of the Bill. Like my noble friend Lord Houghton of Sowerby, I listened to the words of my noble friend Lord George-Brown, who said that if he could get somebody to go into the Lobby with him he would divide the House. He was in much the same position as I was when I opposed the Motion before your Lordships' House a week ago. I stand in a completely different position, an opposite position, to that of my noble friend Lord Houghton and my noble friend Lord Pannell, but I find myself in a wide measure of agreement with much of what they have said.
During my political life I worked in close association at one time with the present Prime Minister. He said twice recently—and I would commend it to your Lordships' House as the basis upon which our broken national unity can be restored—that whether we are in the Common Market or out of the Common Market, no one is going to save us but ourselves. This is one of the wisest things he has said. That I believe from the bottom of my heart.
That is why I deplore the juvenile performance of the noble Lord, Lord Balniel. The noble Lord, Lord Houghton, said that his speech today was bad. Yes, it was terrible; but it was much better than on the previous occasion, because that touched absolute bottom. He does not even make an attempt to do any homework. How can he come to this House and talk about democracy in relation to the European Communities Bill? It was forced through without a single word, without a single comma being turned into a semicolon, or vice versa, it was forced through to satisfy the naive political ambitions of Mr. Heath. If there is any justice in this world, that justice has already been carried out, because, as I said last week, Mr. Heath is now back 1218 in the place from which he should never have emerged; he is back on the Back-Benches. He is the first person to pay the price and he will not be the last one. That is my view about the Common Market.
The speech of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor last week commended itself to me very deeply because he made it perfectly clear that whether we went into the Common Market or stayed out did not matter tuppence. He annunciated three points which I will repeat. The first was economic and monetary union—a bad dream gone. Secondly, the Market itself had changed; now it was the veto of the Member State. Thirdly, what has been negotiated, as I know and as my noble friend Lord George-Brown knew, are exactly the same terms as the terms which could have been obtained in 1967. So, my Lords, what is it all about? It is about a free trade area which has been elevated to the level of a religion. But, my Lords, who did it? It was Mr. Heath. If Mr. Heath wanted to go into the Common Market in 1970 he should have realised that the issue above all issues required for its implementation was a sound basis of political unity in this country. If mistakes were to be made, they had to be understood by the British people.
Here I come to a political belief of my own political life. In my mind it is obvious that all government is by consent. The issue is how the consent is obtained. It was obtained in autocracies by extreme methods, the abrogation of personal freedom. In a society such as ours, whether we like it or not, agreement and unity can only be obtained through educating public opinion, and to educate public opinion first of all you have to educate yourself. So at a General Election the decision of casting your vote for this candidate or for that candidate, or for this Party or that Party, is by the way: what matters is that in the three weeks or a month leading up to polling day there is a heightened interest in politics as a whole. Contrary to M. Lardinois and some Tory speakers, the British public are not bloody fools. They may not be able to express themselves in the erudite terms of the noble Lord, Lord Balniel, but they know what it is all about. They have a shrewd suspicion that in this referendum they are being taken for a ride; that the motive 1219 force here is fear. The behaviour of the media, with no honourable exceptions, is little short of a national disgrace. Here was a chance for the noble Lords, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, Lord Pannell, Lord Paget, and others, from two different points of view, to educate public opinion regarding what the reality was about.
One thing in politics is absolutely certain: things will turn out very differently from the way you think they will turn out. Let me give an example. One of the more childish utterances of the noble Lord, Lord Balniel, was to talk about our foreign policy. What foreign policy? What foreign policy in the face of M. Giscard d'Estaing? If M. Giscard d'Estaing was an Englishman I should be in the forefront of those who want a Common Market, because I know what M. Giscard d'Estaing would do with the people on the opposite side of the Channel. He would be putting British interests first. But what is he doing now? Never mind the Americans coming out of Vietnam, he is there; they have come out of Cambodia, he is there. Last week the Conference on Energy broke up in disorder. But who was chairing it and who was manoeuvring it? It was M. Giscard d'Estaing. If he can do that, what he will do with the Balniels or the Heaths of this world is nobody's business.
This brings me back to my major worry: Mr. Wilson did not succeed in getting agreement to go into the Common Market; Mr. Heath did. What was it that Mr. Heath agreed with M. Pompidou which Mr. Wilson, because of the nature of the Labour Party, could not agree? That is why I press again today for the publication of the history of the negotiations which are in the files of the Common Market and which, in 30 years' time, will be released. Only then will the truth emerge. What under-the-counter deal has been done? There is another factor. There are a number within the Labour Party who have dreams. They would like to get rid of Mr. Wilson; they never wanted him there to start with. They think there is a possibility that, if Mr. Wilson runs into difficulties over the referendum, a chance will come to form a national Government, or call it what you like. This is foredoomed to failure because it will break on the realities of the political situation.
1220 I am afraid that the most precious of our national possessions, national unity, has already been eroded almost to breaking point. If the Common Market referendum goes the way in which the noble Lords, Lord Houghton and Lord Pannell, want it to go, the way the media, the BBC, the Press, The Times and all the rest of them want it to go, and there is a victory for, "Yes" and it is obtained by, first of all, calling it an abomination, saying that it is a waste of time, doing everything possible to conceal the truth, using every atom of fear that can be engendered, and then, as events turn out, the Common Market is not all it promises to be—and it will have to be very good to meet all the promises that have been made on its behalf—there will be a revulsion of feeling. I forecast this many years ago. That feeling may smash the Labour Party and the Tory Party, too.
If I had to make a forecast based on form—the same kind of reasoning I apply, I hope successfully from time to time, in other fields—if I have to make a guess and a bet, one of the prices which is to be paid for the way the Common Market campaign has been run, and the way this country was taken into the Common Market, and held in the Common Market, the way the referendum has been organised, the way fears have been exploited, is that within a measurable period of time Britain will share with other Common Market countries the largest, the most militant and the most powerful Communist Party in Europe. This is because there will be a complete failure to deliver the goods.
All your money, my Lords, has been put on the fact that the Common Market will do it for you. That is why I welcome what Mr. Wilson has said. It was a mark of real courage and true statesmanship. He said it in his wind-up speech in another place and he said it again on Saturday. But the Common Market will not save him. It is a rope to hang him. The only thing that will save the British people—and the only thing that deserves to save us—is our own effort and it is that effort that will really count. For that reason, I shall support the Common Market, but I completely reject everything that the noble Lord, Lord Balniel, has said on behalf 1221 of the Tory Party. I always have and I always shall.
§ 4.21 p.m.
§ Lord MONSON
My Lords, even if Mr. Heath had not pledged that Britain would not be taken into the EEC without the full-hearted consent of Parliament and people—a phrase which most people, including myself, always took to mean exactly what it said—I should still be strongly in favour of this referendum because of what the White Paper rightly calls the "unique nature of the issue". It is unique, in that entry into the Community implies the most revolutionary change in our Constitution for nearly 300 years. The word "revolutionary" is not my own. Speaking on 14th November, 1972, no less an authority than Sir Con O'Neill himself told his audience that,the way in which membership of the Community would impinge upon and diminish the unique powers of our Parliament is indeed the most revolutionary consequence of our entry.The argument that the Treaty of Rome is no more restrictive upon Britain's freedom of action than any other more conventional treaty has been successfully demolished several times, but rarely more lucidly than by the distinguished political editor of the Financial Times, Mr. David Watt, last Saturday. I commend his article to your Lordships, and I need hardly say that the Financial Times is very far indeed from being an anti-Common Market newspaper.
I find it strange that so many Conservatives are violently opposed to the referendum, in view of their Party's Northern Ireland policy when in Office. The political objectives of that policy were an elected Assembly, from which an executive was to be selected to operate on an enforced power-sharing basis. This was to be combined with a ten-yearly Border plebiscite: the specific intention being to enable the electorate to vote one way on economic and social matters and in an entirely different way—if it so chose —on the question of national identity or, in other words, of sovereignty. It seems illogical that a privilege which is granted to part of the United Kingdom should be denied to the whole.
Mr. Brian Walden, in a much-praised speech in another place, attacked what he held to be inconsistencies in the anti- 1222 Market, pro-referendum argument on the grounds that the referendum itself was an affront to Parliamentary sovereignty. With respect, I believe that Mr. Walden was "barking up the wrong tree". We tend to imagine that the general public is as concerned as we are to maintain Parliamentary conventions, traditions, rights and privileges. I fear that the reality is almost certainly different and that what really concerns the public is not Parliamentary sovereignty in the narrow sense, but British sovereignty— something which was more aptly defined by Mr. Powell in the Spectator recently as the right of self government. Essentially, the public see Parliament as the vehicle through which the broad general will can—with many provisos and exceptions—be transmuted into action. Its secondary function is as the guardian of our liberties. If Parliament decides to abandon its watching brief over those liberties and, more importantly, wishes to delegate some of its lawmaking and tax-levying powers to an external authority, it seems to me to be correct and, indeed, essential that the people should be consulted.
My Lords, those who oppose the referendum because they fear its results in voting, as opposed to ideological, terms have little cause to worry in my opinion. For many months now—and long before the recent spate of opinion polls—I have been forecasting that the "stayins" would win by a majority of approximately two to one. Nothing which has happened recently has caused me to revise my estimate downwards. How could it be otherwise, when the leaders of all three of the main political Parties and virtually the entire national Press, except for two small-circulation weeklies, are in favour of our staying in? Indeed, with such panicinducing headlines as one which your Lordships may have seen in a mass circulation Sunday newspaper a few days ago saying, "Will you be voting for a Russian take-over?" I should be very surprised if the majority is not more like 70 per cent. to 30 per cent.
I believe that the majority—though of course not all—of those who vote "Yes" will be doing so without enthusiasm. The noble Earl, Lord Kimberley, quoted Sir Winston Churchill, and I should like to do the same. Twenty-two years ago, on 1223 11th May, 1953, Mr. Churchill declared in the House of Commons,We are with Europe, but not of it. We are linked, but not comprised. We are associated, but not absorbed. Should ' European' statesmen address us and say, ' Shall we speak for thee? ' we should reply, ' Nay, sir, for we dwell among our own people.'I doubt whether fundamental sentiment has changed much today.
In the Sunday Telegraph—another pro-Market paper—a political commentator had the following to say last Sunday:They—that is to say, the British people— see something in Europe that they instinctively react against, a way of life that they like to enjoy on holiday but a way of government that they distrust, a code of law that conflicts deeply with our own and a supranational bureaucracy of Commissioners in Brussels seeking to impose its Diktat upon the most minute details of life and, under no really effective democratic control, issuing directions that Westminster has no right to reject.I believe that people will be voting "Yes", but for mainly economic reasons. They will see it as the lesser of two evils, and it is for that reason that they will resign themselves to voting to stay in. Though I am convinced that the referendum is highly unlikely to produce the result that we in the anti-Market camp wish, I feel that one great benefit will flow from it. It will wonderfully concentrate the mind of the electorate upon the qualities of leadership and inspiration offered by what is loosely termed "the establishment" in general, and the two political Parties which have ruled the country for the past 20 years in particular. They have brought about the situation in which Britain—unlike the majority of industrialised countries, and unlike 93 per cent. of the countries who make up the membership of the United Nations—has had to sacrifice her rights of self-determination and self-government in order to survive economically.
§ 4.28 p.m.
Lord PAGET of NORTHAMPTON
My Lords, I dislike the idea of a referendum on principle. I rather agree with the noble Lord, Lord Balniel, that it is a constitutional abortion. The British contribution to the art of government has been the idea of representational government, of the representative who is responsible for the decisions which he takes and has the guts to take them, and of the Parlia- 1224 ments which consist of those representatives and which, themselves being representative, have the courage to decide. A referendum is an avoidance of that responsibility, None the less, in the circumstances, I believe that a referendum is the lesser evil today. Those circumstances are not circumstances which have been created by the present Government. They have been created by the late Government. Our Constitution is a growing thing. The conventions of the Constitution are added gradually, as generations go by, by precedent and experience. Among those conventions has emerged the idea of the mandate.
That idea was given its first full recognition by Mr. Baldwin in 1923, when he said that it would be wrong without a mandate to do something which involved a fundamental change in the way of government of the country, that is, to impose food taxes. If that principle of a mandate applies to an economic change of that kind, how much more does it apply to a fundamental change in our Constitution? But, my Lords, there was no mandate for going into Europe. In the 1970 Election, the Conservative Party was determined, quite ruthlessly, to run it on prices all the way through. Conservative candidates were being questioned at Election meetings throughout the country because it was then generally believed that the Common Market was unpopular, and they were saying again and again: "A vote for the Conservative Party does not mean going into Europe. That is something which would require a mandate." Literally hundreds of Conservative candidates were saying that throughout the country; and nobody said it more effectively that Mr. Heath himself, the leader.
When efforts were made to bring the Common Market into the Election—from our point of view nothing could have suited us better than to bring it into the Election—Mr. Heath was determined that it should not be brought into the Election. That is how those words came. They were the reassurance given to the people: "You need not worry about the Common Market; you are not going to get that by voting for me. We would not go in without the full-hearted support of the British Parliament and people."
My Lords, that did not mean, and it was not intended to mean, "We shall not go in 1225 unless I can get a majority in Parliament ". That would have applied to every single measure he was producing. He could not introduce anything unless he could get a majority in Parliament. Everybody knew that. The full and wholehearted support of Parliament and the people, at that point, meant quite simply this: "I accept that this is something that requires a mandate, unless, of course, the Parties consent". If the major Parties agree, then the people agree, and you have "the full and the wholehearted consent" in the sense in which he was using those words. Unless "the full and the wholehearted consent of the British people" meant that, it meant nothing at all. Mr. Heath did not use words to mean nothing at all. Keep it out. It is not an issue in this Election. It would not arise unless both Parties agreed. That undertaking, I think, and the introduction and the hammering through—and they were hammered through—of the Bills to bring us into Europe was not only a damned dishonest thing to do; it was also an unconstitutional thing to do. And having made that mess, something had to be done to get us out of it.
The next Constitutional problem he brought up against us was the sanctity of treaties, the principle that, where a Government, acting on behalf of the British people, enter into a treaty or a commitment with another country, that act, even if it does not have the agreement, has the consent of the Opposition, and the Opposition, when they become a Government, will give effect to those international undertakings. This action, for which he had no mandate—against which he was effectively pledged, or certainly pledged, in the minds of a great many people in this country—was put into force by a treaty in which he knew he not merely had not the agreement but also had not the consent of the Opposition, the alternative Government, who pledged themselves to revoke that treaty, and to revoke it unilaterally if entered into.
I do not think that there is any real breach of faith with the other signatories. At the time they chose to take Mr. Heath's signature they knew that signature was a very limited authority. They were given the fullest possible notice that the alternative Government did not accept it and would not carry on with it if they were successful in the following Election. But 1226 to enter into it at all, in those circumstances, was an injury to our Constitution.
Therefore, while I accept—with great reluctance—the introduction of a referendum into our Constitution, the whole blame for that rests upon the unconstitutional conduct of the late Government. With regard to the result, many people have taken very much the same view as I have. Of course, we shall have to await the answer. I hope the answer will be "No". I am not hopeless at all. There are certain very sound instincts in the English people and, when all the Press lords think that something will be good for them, the British people, on all previous occasions, have had enough wit to know that it will not be good for them. And so motions which have had the universal support of the media have nearly always been rejected by the vote. I hope that that will happen on this occasion. Among my reasons for saying this—and here I very much agree with the noble Lord, Lord Wigg—is that if this passes, and if we stay in Europe, the Communist threat—the Fifth Column in our country—which we have previously almost entirely excluded, will become the real alternative.
As the Common Market becomes more and more unpopular, as people resent the things which come from Europe, the things which we do not like and which we have to accept—the economic problems which tend to go wrong, and whether or not it is the fault of the Common Market, the Common Market will be blamed—the only alternative to that, the only opposition, becomes the Communist Party. The ingenious management described by my noble friend Lord Houghton of Sowerby will leave the Left of the Labour Party with a strong sense that they have been swindled. Their inclination to make common cause with those who hate the Market—with the people who have been right all the way through on this issue—will mount. Therefore, for the safety and security of this country, I profoundly hope that the answer, when it comes, is "No".
§ 4.38 p.m.
§ Lord WIGODER
My Lords, as the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor reminded us, this proposal for a referendum was contained in the last 1227 Manifesto of the Labour Party. It received the enthusiastic endorsement of no less than 28 per cent. of the electorate and, therefore I suppose that in the current political jargon it is to be regarded as itself having the fullhearted consent of the British people. It is a proposal to consult the electorate on a particular issue. As a Bill it has now passed through all its stages in the elected House. In those circumstances my noble friends on these Benches feel that with the worst will in the world it would not be appropriate for an unelected House to succumb to the temptation of throwing out this Bill in its entirety at this stage.
My Lords, that does not mean that we approve of it. Certainly, I have heard nothing this afternoon to persuade me that it is anything other than—indeed, it has never been anything other than— a shoddy and devious Party political manoeuvre. The noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, asked what alternative there was to holding a referendum. I know that the Liberal Party consists entirely of political innocents. I recognise that it would be perhaps naive to suggest to the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, that an elected Government might make up their own mind, form their own conclusions, and get on with the job of governing. In this situation, what your Lordships now have to consider is what attitude this House should take to this Bill.
I would suggest there are two main considerations. First, we can see whether at a later stage we can to some small extent diminish the mockery, which it is, of representative government. That means seeking to avoid the inconclusive result which the noble and learned Lord who sits on the Woolsack mentioned; that means seeking to increase the electorate for the referendum to the greatest practicable extent. Your Lordships might think that at a later stage it would be possible to consider two classes of people in particular. First, there are those who are on the electoral register and who happen to be on holiday in this country, the temporary lotus eaters on the sands of Blackpool. The other class of voters who might be considered are those who are temporarily abroad and who are earning an honest living and seeking to act in the interests of this country in doing 1228 so. I accept that there are perhaps rather more difficulties in relation to that latter category than there are in relation to those who are in this country, who have merely the misfortune, for electoral purposes at any rate, of being on holiday at the relevant date.
There is a third matter which I venture to raise at this stage. We on these Benches welcome the fact that there is no longer to be a national count; it is to proceed by areas. I should be grateful if the Minister when he comes to reply will indicate whether the area counts are in themselves to be regarded as having significance as results, to the extent that if there happens to a close result in any area the local returning officer is to have the power to order a recount, or whether it is only the national results which are of significance and therefore the national returning officer can order a recount presumably in every area if the occasion arises. That is one consideration that might affect your Lordships: whether we can increase the efficiency of this measure.
The other consideration is one which has already been referred to by both the noble and learned Lord who sits on the Woolsack and the noble Lord, Lord Balniel; that is, that nothing should be done in this House to cause any possible delay to the date of the holding of the referendum—not only because, as the noble Lord, Lord Balniel, said, there is already vast political, financial and economic uncertainty in the country and much depends on the result of the referendum, but also because the longterm democratic stability of this country is being put in danger by the sorry spectacle we see at the moment of one of the great Parties of State publicly tearing itself to pieces in the course of this debate. That spectacle gives no pleasure to noble Lords on these Benches and the sooner it is ended the better for our democratic institutions.
Any delay now in the holding of the referendum is bound to lower still further the reputation of this country in Western Europe. I say that with regret, but the fact is that the antics of the Labour Party over the last few years, the somersaults, the refusal to send a delegation to Strasbourg, the renegotiation under rather childish threats of, "We shall walk out unless you give way", have brought 1229 upon the heads of this country and the Government of this country the scorn and derision of the ordinary people of Europe. I believe that if Mr. Wilson and Mr. Callaghan had met some of those people instead of only talking to their opposite numbers as they vent around Europe, they would realise the real danger that we are about to become not only the sick man of Europe but the sick joke of Europe.
It is, in the view of my noble friends on these Benches, now essential that this wretched measure should be got out of the way as quickly as possible; that it should be held on the appointed date; that there should be a vote which echoes the vote in this House last week. What the consequences will be politically, economically and constitutionally if the vote is inconclusive one shudders to think. One hopes that the vote will be a conclusive one in favour of staying in Europe and that for the first time our Labour Government can thereafter begin to take their proper place as a responsible and outward-looking partner in the European Community.
§ 4.45 p.m.
My Lords. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, and with my noble friend Lord Baluiel who said at the outset that we should be wholly wrong if we tried to discharge this Bill after it had gone through another place and had had approval there. Considering its importance, the Bill is a remarkably short one and one that I believe this country as a whole will come to regret. The noble Earl, Lord Lytton, said that he hoped I would pour oil on troubled waters. I do not know whether I will be able to do that, because the waters are fairly troubled. I do not want to exacerbate them; but I am bound to spell out my doubts that I hold personally, apart from any reasons for speaking from this Dispatch Box.
In a few sentences the Bill alters fundamentally our Constitution and, I venture to suggest, the authority of Parliament. I know that there are many people who hold very strong views about our membership of the Common Market, both in favour of us being in it and in favour of us not being in it. That cuts across all Party lines. What amazes me—and I think it should be a cause of major concern—is that everyone's eyes, thoughts 1230 and considerations are at present centred on winning the referendum and remarkable little concern is exerted on the justification for or the effects of the referendum itself. This House, for example, last week had a debate on the European Community. No less than 53 noble Lords took part and explained why they thought that we should or should not remain in. Today, only 13 people are concerned to speak on whether there should be a referendum at all. To a large extent it is taken for granted. The observations of the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, in the European Community debate last week were, I believe, symptomatic of the attitude taken by many people, when he said:I think we should acknowledge that the referendum is with us … and go for it and make it a splendid success."—[Official Report, 21/4/75; col. 722.]I believe that the national acceptance of the unacceptable is a very dangerous trait and a growing one.
Ten years ago in the days of the National Plan when a 3½ per cent. inflation rate was regarded as frightening, inflation rates of 20 per cent. and wage rates of 33 per cent. were beyond belief. Now we have sunk into a numbed tolerance of them. Equally, 10 years ago the idea of a referendum would have vitiated against the minds of constitutional scholars and against the considerations of ordinary people. Even in those days, when capital punishment was a burning issue, a non-Party and personal one at that, when Parliament was acknowledged by both Parties to the argument to be taking a line contrary to that considered to be held in the country, no one seriously suggested or considered a referendum. It would have been unthinkable and, in my judgment, rightly so. Now we accept it and all its consequences almost un-challenged, just as if we were swallowing an aspirin.
I believe this attitude to be extremely dangerous, both in general terms of the national attitude accepting the unacceptable, and, in particular, in the acceptance of a referendum itself. I venture to suggest that at present the nation is concerning itself to such a degree over the Common Market argument that it fails to recognise the dangers of adding the principle of a referendum to the Constitution. It is like a person, who finds 1231 himself in a room which is getting warmer, going to the window to let in some air without realising that the floor below is on fire.
It has been a cardinal part of our Constitution that power resides in Parliament; indeed, it was on this very issue that Charles I lost his head some 300 years ago. And for all its anomalies—for nothing is perfect—Parliament has been the place where decisions have been made. Now that is to be changed, not because the principle was wrong, not because the Constitution needed changing, not because the Constitution would be better if it were changed, but simply because of Party political advantage. I do not wish to be controversial, but I am bound to state the facts as I see them. The Prime Minister was against a referendum, and he said so. He said:I oppose a referendum. I have always done so.It was only when the Labour Party was in Opposition and there were some who were, quite understandably and perfectly justifiably, against membership of the Community, that the idea of a referendum was conceived in order to retain Party unity. It was as a result of arguments put forward by the Left of the Labour Party, led by Mr. Wedgwood Benn, that in April 1972 the Labour Party decided to adopt the referendum as part of their policy. This so horrified Mr. Roy Jenkins, who was then Deputy Leader of the Party, that he resigned his position. Mr. George Thomson and Mr. Harold Lever both resigned from the Shadow Cabinet as well. In Mr. Lever's resignation letter to Mr. Wilson on 10th April, 1972, he said:I am firmly opposed to the principle of the referendum. Its advocacy—let alone its implementation—is likely to damage seriously our Parliamentary system.I admire Mr. Lever for saying that, and I think he was absolutely right. But it was the power of the Left of the Labour Party which made the Labour Party change its policy. I do not quarrel with that at all. All Parties may hold differing views and different policies, but it is for the Parties themselves to determine which of those views they will adopt as their policy. What is wrong, I venture to suggest—and perhaps this is not fully 1232 appreciated—is the fact that it was the power of the Left of the Labour Party which not only has altered Labour Party policy, but also is responsible for altering the present Constitution by this Bill.
The noble Lord, Lord Pannell, did his best to justify the principle, which he generously admitted he disliked, by saying that if the referendum resulted in an overwhelming vote to stay in, it was well justified. I venture to take the contrary view. I think it is far from certain that the referendum will result in a decision to stay in, and I am amazed by those who take it for granted. And what if it does not? The noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, said that he would not care to predict the political chaos that would result. I agree with him. In either event, the risk to the Constitution is vast and unjustifiable. The noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, said there was much more behind this Bill than the referendum itself, and I entirely agree with him. But I would go further and say that what is behind this Bill is also, in my judgment, the cause of such a referendum, which will produce a whole host of problems to which the Constitution should not be subjected.
The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor referred to some of the problems caused by this Bill and "perplexing choices"—I believe that was his phrase —but I consider some of them to be considerably more than that. What happens if there is a majority of one or one hundred? Is that to be considered to be the view of the people? And if that majority of one is on a 40 per cent. poll and is against our continued membership of the Community, so that only 20 per cent. of those entitled to vote actually have voted for coming out, will that be enough to make the Government break all their Treaty obligations to the Community and come out of it? Even if the majority against membership is overwhelming, and on a large poll, so that the Government feel obliged to bring in a Bill to take us out of the Community, what happens if it is then thrown out of another place?—because it was only two weeks ago that the other place voted overwhelmingly for staying in. What happens if the people say."No" to the Community and Parliament says "Yes" to it? Who wins—Parliament or the people?
§ LordWIGG: The people!
They used to be considered one and the same thing and I venture to suggest that was a very strong partnership; but what is happening in this Bill is that they are allowed to be differentiated and precipitated out; and the bond between Parliament and people can only thereby be the weaker. It does not take a great imagination to visualise the appalling political row that would occur if the result of the referendum was an overwhelming majority against the Community and yet a Bill to take it out is not accepted by another place. I believe it is an affront to the Constitution and to Parliament that the people should be subjected to these dangerous pressures. What will be the position of elected representatives who are now to know— and I think this is a terrible mistake— exactly how their counties and areas have voted? Is it right that their judgments and utterances should be coloured or adjusted, as they inevitably may be, by what they know, and everyone else knows, to be merely a mathematical answer to one specific question? I believe the Government were right in wanting a central count. The method of counting now proposed will result not in a clearcut, harmonious decision, but in a fragmented one, with all the bitterness that that will inevitably create.
My Lords, what of the future? My noble friend Lord Home of the Hirsel, has said that precedent is the politician's strongest card. I find it hard to believe that anyone really thinks that this will be the only occasion on which a referendum will be called, and certainly not the only one on which one will be demanded. I venture to suggest that it may be like a temptation. The first time you submit (and in their pastoral capacity I am sure the right reverend Prelates will agree with this) to a temptation is the most difficult and the most traumatic. The second and subsequent occasions are far easier, but you are not necessarily the better person for having done it.
Apart from any view one may have as to the outcome of the referendum, I think the imposition of a referendum is a shocking Constitutional risk which should never have been introduced. It was introduced for bad reasons. It will do no Party any good; it will do the country no good, and it will do the Constitution no good. 1234 Already we have heard of it as a unique occasion; yet we are told that some hundreds of thousands of people who live abroad and may work in business, in embassies and in the Commission, who have exactly the same right to have their opinions recorded as anyone else and are just as British as anyone else, are to be disenfranchised because it is electorally convenient to do so, or, as the Lord President of the Council was reported only the other day as saying, that "giving the vote to people overseas would be interpreted as pro-Market fanaticism". I was interested to hear the remarks of the noble and learned Lord on this matter today. If he will forgive me for saying so, I found them wholly unconvincing. Already we have seen the casehardened principle of Cabinet collective responsibility being abrogated, and have experienced the indelicate sight of Cabinet Ministers going for each other on public platforms. Already we have seen Government Ministers being obliged to say one thing in Parliament and being permitted to say another thing outside. My Lords, I believe this Bill will do no good and I, for one, consider that it should never have been introduced.
§ 5.0 p.m.
§ The MINISTER of STATE, HOME OFFICE (Lord Harris of Greenwich)
My Lords, I can begin with a statement which I hope will secure fairly widespread approval, namely, that, given the character of the debate, I can make a speech which will be mercifully short. I do not propose to go into my own views on the virtue of Common Market membership. The case for it is decisive and I hope that the people of this country give a clear and resounding "Yes" in the referendum on 5th June. I will come in a few moments to certain wider questions than are involved in this Bill. Nor do I propose to deal at length with the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Balniel, who opened from the Front Bench. I think that my noble friends Lord Pannell and Lord Houghton of Sowerby replied to him in vigorous terms and I could not, even if I were to attempt to do so, achieve as much as they did.
Before coming to the substance of the matter I would say this. I have noticed one rather interesting phenomenon in this debate. I have noticed a certain weary 1235 distaste concerning Party unity. I noticed it in the most marked form from the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, who gave us to understand that he could hardly sleep at night, so anxious was he about the disunity in the Labour Party. I was moved by his statement. I am sure it was as sincere as he indicated it was, and on behalf of those on these Benches I hope that he will be able to sleep more soundly at night after 5th June. The noble Lord, Lord Balniel, and the noble Earl who has just sat down also shared this distaste concerning Party unity. I am bound to say that in recent months the Party opposite have taken that particular view fairly strongly. However, it was only a few months ago that they were plunged into some of the most savage Party in-fighting it has been the misfortune of any of us to see.
My Lords, coming, as I am sure the House will be delighted to hear, to the substance of the Bill, I recognise that the majority of the House are opposed to the holding of a referendum, and indeed this referendum. I am well aware of the views of noble Lords opposite on this matter and know that they are shared by a number of my noble friends—Lord Pannell, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, and Lord Paget of Northampton, who takes a different view on the merits of membership of the European Community. Yet, as my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor indicated in his opening speech, the House will be aware that the Labour Party made a specific commitment on this issue at the last General Election. I propose to quote the Manifesto at the last Election. I am, of course, well aware that the issue was also referred to in the Manifesto of the February Election of last year, as my noble friend points out.
The Manifesto for the autumn Election of last year declared:The Labour Government pledges that within 12 months of this Election we will give the British people the final say, which will be binding on the Government—through the ballot box—on whether we accept the terms and stay in or reject the terms and come out.So the choice in the light of that, so far as the Government were concerned, was between a General Election and a referendum. I do not believe that there will be many among your Lordships who will believe that it would be sensible to con- 1236 sult the British people by means of a General Election—first, because with a Government with an adequate working majority in another place, and after two General Elections in a little over a year, it would be little short of frivolous in our present national situation to dissolve Parliament and call a third General Election.
There is of course a second reason for taking this view. It would be exceedingly difficult in any event to consult the people meaningfully on this issue by the device of a General Election. How would the pro-EEC Conservative voter indicate his support for continued British membership of the European Community in constituencies such as Banbury, where the Conservative candidate is a well-known and indeed leading opponent of the EEC? How would the anti-EEC Labour voter be able to express his opinion in the seats of the majority of the Cabinet who support continued British membership of the Community? For these considerations I do not believe that in present political circumstances a General Election would be a serious alternative to a referendum.
The House will be aware that this Bill secured a majority of 64 on Second Reading in another place. We are therefore discussing the Bill this evening in the knowledge both that the Government have a clear Manifesto commitment to introduce it and that there is a substantial majority in another place in favour of the Bill. In these circumstances I join, certainly for the first time in my speech, with the noble Lord, Lord Balniel, in hoping that this Bill will secure rapid passage to the Statute Book. Indeed —the point has been made by a number of noble Lords in their speeches—the present economic situation facing the country is of such a character that a speedy and decisive decision is now clearly and manifestly in the national interest. The present period of uncertainty must now be brought to an end. This is crucially important in terms of the vital investment questions awaiting decision in the boardrooms of British industry, but also because of the crucial question of our relationship with our partners in Europe. In recent months they have gone to considerable lengths to ensure that the renegotiations should be a success—as they have been—and it is for that reason even more essential to 1237 come to a quick and clear resolution of the matter.
I turn now to one or two points of detail raised by noble Lords on the Bill. Perhaps before doing so I should inform the House, as this particular point comes up in the Bill, that I am a member of the Policy Steering Group of Britain in Europe, the umbrella all-Party organisation which favours continued British membership of the European Community. This organisation, like the anti-Market National Referendum Campaign, is mentioned in Clause 3(1) of the Bill. It is proposed that it should receive a grant not exceeding £125,000 from public funds in order to conduct its activities during the campaign, and certain obligations are as a result imposed upon it. In those circumstances, I thought it was appropriate for me to inform the House of my membership of this committee.
Now may I come to a number of detailed points which were made during the course of the debate. First of all, I would come to a point which was raised by the noble Earl, Lord Kimberley, and, in the latter stages of the debate, by the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder. This is the overseas vote, the vote of people who come from this country and are working outside the United Kingdom. I would say two things about this matter. First, it would not be wholly right to regard what we are doing as "disenfranchising" these people. That term implies that they are in some way having their vote removed from them. In the past they have not had the opportunity of voting at either a local or a Parliamentary Election. Nevertheless, I take the point. I am well aware of the fact that many of these people are anxious to have a vote in this referendum, but I must tell the House, quite frankly, that if we wish to reach a speedy decision on this matter it would, in my view, be wholly impossible to provide for that and to have the referendum on 5th June, which is what the Government are now recommending to Parliament. In the light of that, I fear there is no possibile Way in which this matter can be handled as I know many of our fellow citizens would like it to be handled.
My Lords, while the noble Lord is on that point may I ask him this? As the Government have been 1238 working up to this referendum for the last 12 months, could not steps have been taken to provide for it?
§ Lord HARRIS of GREENWICH
My Lords, no doubt they could, but this question has arisen on a number of occasions, at Speaker's Conferences I may say, including the period when the Party opposite was in Office, and in the past it has not been felt appropriate to make this concession. If the matter is on a wider basis and should be reconsidered, no doubt it can be at a Speaker's Conference. What I am saying is that in the context of this referendum it is impossible to make this concession and to have a vote on 5th June. It is quite a complicated matter. It has been considered in substantial detail by Home Office officials and by others. I fear that for the reasons I have indicated we cannot make this concession.
The noble Baroness, Lady Vickers, raised the question of Service voters. She asked a number of questions concerning them. First, she asked whether steps would be taken to ensure that Service personnel receive the campaign literature. The answer is, Yes; action is being taken to ensure that they receive the campaign literature. Each Serviceman and his spouse will have the opportunity of having the Government's popular version of the White Paper and also the two campaign organisations' statements. Arrangements are being made to ensure that that is done. Secondly, the noble Baroness asked what action is being taken to ensure that the commanding officers of units know the details. The answer to her question is that a special unit has been set up in the Ministry of Defence to draw the attention of commanding officers to the details of this referendum, to the way in which the ballot will be conducted at unit level and to their obligations which will arise therefrom. Therefore, I think that that particular point is met. The last point the noble Baroness raised was whether poll cards will be used. The answer is, Yes.
As I indicated at the outset, I recognise that many Members of your Lordships' House have deep anxieties about the principle of this referendum. However, I ask them to accept that, for the reasons which I gave at the outset of my speech, in the present situation a 1239 referendum has become politically unavoidable. This country now urgently needs a clear and speedy verdict on this matter by the British people. I hope that by a decisive majority they will decide to vote for continued British membership of the European Economic Community. I believe that such a victory would give to our people the opportunity to open a new and hopeful chapter in our Island's history.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.