HL Deb 09 June 1975 vol 361 cc34-42

4.7 p.m.


My Lords, with the permission of the House, I will repeat the Statement which has just been made in another place by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister. I will use his own words:

"As the House knows, last Thursday the British people voted to stay in the European Community.

"What has impressed all of us, and no less our friends in Europe, the Commonwealth and more widely, has been not only the high turn-out and the clear and unmistakeable nature of the decision, but also the consistent pattern of positive voting over almost every county and region of the United Kingdom.

"It is now almost fourteen years since the British Government first applied in July 1961 for negotiations to join the Community.

"The issue of membership has cut across Party lines, and the Government recognise the deep sincerity with which views have been held on both sides. The debate is now over. The two tests set out in our Manifesto of successful renegotiation and the expressed approval of the majority of the British people have been met. The historic decision has been made. I hope that this House and the country as a whole will follow the lead which the Government intend to give in placing past divisions behind us, and in working together to play a full and constructive part in all Community policies and activities.

"I am well aware that the period of renegotiation and the referendum has been difficult for other members of the Community. I pay tribute again to the constructive spirit in which they have dealt with our renegotiation proposals. In his statement to the Council of Ministers in Luxembourg on 1st April last year, at the outset of renegotiation, my right honourable friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary said that, if we were successful, there would be 'a firm basis for continuing British membership of a strengthened Community'. I now say to our partners in the Community that we look forward to continuing to work with them in promoting the Community's wider interests and in fostering a greater sense of purpose among the Member States.

"I would also wish to say to our friends and allies in the Commonwealth who made clear their hope that we would remain within the Community—and to all the developing countries—that we shall hope to bring even more to our relationship with them following the clear decision of the British electorate last Thursday.

"I have already made clear the Government's general approach to Community policies. But it also follows from the decision to remain in the Community that this country should be fully represented in all the Community's institutions. I have said that if renegotiation succeeded and if our recommendation was endorsed by the country we should feel it right that this House"—

that means both Houses—

"should be fully represented in the European Assembly. A recommendation to this end will now be made to the Parliamentary Labour Party.

"The House will have noted the statements by the General Secretary of the TUC and the Chairman of the TUC International Committee making clear that the TUC is now likely to enter fully into the work of the Economic and Social Committee of EEC and to work with the European Industrial Labour Movement in a way which can only mean strengthening the trade union movement throughout the Community and here in Britain.

"What we can achieve both in our attack on the economic problems we face at home, and wider world economic problems, depends basically on the efforts which we make ourselves. But with the uncertainty over our membership of the European Community at an end, we can continue our efforts with greater confidence to find solutions to the great problems, both domestic and international, which confront us.

"The decision will also, I am sure, give confidence to those overseas who have been considering plans for investment in Britain. There are signs that this is already happening.

"The improvement of our own economic situation and our contribution to a more equitable world economic order can best be made from a settled position within the Community. We now have that settled position and are determined to make a success of it. But our future will continue to depend on what we are prepared to do by our own efforts, skill, our technology—and our restraint, a restraint which demonstrates our concern for the interests of those members of our national community least able to help themselves."

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

4.12 p.m.


My Lords, this is, certainly for me, not an occasion for criticism or grudging praise or for making Party points. So far as I am concerned it is a day of rejoicing, and I rejoice. The British people voted on a national issue—an issue of foreign affairs, not just a bread and butter issue. They voted in great number, and it is a matter so far as I am concerned for congratulation that the people voted in almost exactly the same proportion as Members of Parliament voted in another place, though it must be admitted that your Lordships may have been a trifle more enthusiastic. I suppose it could be argued another time—certainly not today—that that means that there was no need for a referendum. But two things were certain, and two things have resulted. First, that referendum has shown that Scotland, Wales and England are all in favour of continued membership, and that is important for our national future. Secondly, I think and I hope that the referendum has put this issue to bed forever. I hope that the opponents, and the sincere opponents, of the Common Market will accept the verdict of the British people and of their Parliament and that we shall now concentrate, as indeed the Prime Minister's Statement has said, on making a positive contribution to the Market. I am very glad that the Prime Minister has said that the Labour Party will now join in the work of the European Assembly. Perhaps we can now get on with the business, which is just as important, of ensuring the economic survival of this country.

Just one final word which I hope will not be considered out of place. Perhaps I might be allowed to congratulate those members of the "Britain in Europe" movement who took it upon their shoulders to organise the campaign and who worked so hard, and, perhaps particularly because he is in your Lordships' House, the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, who did so much.

4.14 p.m.


My Lords, on these Benches we are certainly delighted at the overwhelming support which has been given in the referendum for Britain to stay in Europe. We welcome most sincerely the decision on the part of the Labour Party and the Trades Union Congress to play a full part in the institutions of the EEC. We want to put the past behind us as much as anyone, but may I ask what plans the Government have for ensuring from now on that the conduct of the day-to-day business with the Commission is carried on by Ministers who have not expressed themselves forcefully and with hostility against Britain's membership of the EEC and the general aim of the Community itself? We ask this with great sincerity because we want to make a fresh start and want to see Britain playing a full part in the outward-looking development of a Community which is vitally important to us and the rest of the world. We will want assurance on this point within a very short time indeed—certainly not today, hut we must have it within a short time.


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, was right in that last Friday and today are days of rejoicing, not only on the decision that was made but on the manner in which the decision was made by the British people. It was decisive. It represented the view of all the country except for two far-distant counties; but I gather there may be some local reasons for a different view being taken in the Shetlands compared to the rest of Scotland. I think, too, in the light of some speeches that have recently been made in your Lordships' House (and I intend to say this in the debate on Wednesday) that the referendum, whether or not it was wise to have it, proved one thing: that the people of this country are sound, sane, sensible, responsible people and they are governable. For them to go out, without any Party machine, without depending upon the Party motor-car to get them to the poll, and to vote very closely to the vote we achieved with great effort at a General Election, is a great credit to the British people. I share the view of the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, that this matter has been dividing the country and the political Parties for far too long. There are very major issues for this country to solve, and to have this issue out of the way can only make that task a good deal easier, although, Heaven knows! it will be difficult enough.

Trust the noble Lord, Lord Byers, to put his foot in on a happy occasion. I would say only this to him.


The foot belongs to you, not to us.


Throughout the renegotiations there were a number of Ministers who took, and retained to the very end, a dissenting view. But they negotiated with the European Community with great sincerity, dedication and persistence. I have no idea what their future will be. I myself hope that they will remain to use their own expertise and knowledge. But it would be quite wrong to question the integrity of Ministers in a matter of this kind where in the past, a recent past, they have exercised, and have clearly shown they exercised, responsibility in their negotiations with the European Community.


My Lords, may I make a personal explanation? I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, did not intend to misrepresent me by speaking about the integrity of Ministers. The point I am making is that up to now we have had to renegotiate our own terms of entry. From now onwards is a new start to develop the whole Community, all of us working together, not just for the British interest but in the interest of the Community as a whole. I want to make that clear.


My Lords, I accept that from the noble Lord, but I am sure he will take it from me that if we are to consider sending Members of your Lordships' House to the European Assembly we should not confine the representation to the pro-Market horse.

4.19 p.m.


My Lords, is my noble friend aware that I have no wish to resume the debate which apparently the noble Lord, Lord Byers, is anxious to continue with variations on a theme? Is he also aware that I have no desire in any form to weaken the euphoria that naturally emerges from the decision recently taken by the British electorate? But during the campaign he may recall that some prominent politicians, some of them members of the Government, stated as plainly as could be, because they objected to the referendum in particular, that if the decision taken by the British public happened to be in the negative they would reserve their right to continue the pro-Common Market campaign in order to stay in Europe.

In those circumstances, along with others who regard the decision as disagreeable, may I be permitted to have the right to do precisely what those on the other side wish to do: namely, to continue my criticism of our entry into, and our remaining in, the Common. Market and to raise the question from time to time, since it might lead to a reversal of the decision? Will the Minister understand that I demand that right, in view of the fact that promiment politicians and members of his Government wish to reserve that right for themselves?


My Lords, the noble Lord demands a right that he knows as well as I do he already has as a Member of your Lordships' House and as a member of the British democratic society. Nothing would prevail upon him to remain silent on this issue. Therefore, if the noble Lord intervenes we shall listen, as we have listened in the past, with the greatest possible interest to what he has to say.


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that on this important day this House wishes to congratulate the former Prime Minister, Edward Heath, on the skill and patience that he showed throughout the years in negotiating our entry into the Common Market, and the present Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, on his skill and patience in maintaining our presence in this great European institution.


My Lords, in the light of the noble Lord's congratulations to the latter, I naturally agree about the former! Perhaps with some exceptions, I think that the referendum campaign was conducted by both sides at a very high standard. I do not believe anybody could complain that the issue was not fairly debated. However, it has now been decided by the people, and I hope that we shall make the European Economic Community a great success not only for the countries within it, but for all those who may have relations with it.


My Lords, I noticed that my noble friend Lord Carrington specifically omitted Northern Ireland, for which I shall duly exercise retribution! I feel that the decision of Northern Ireland to support the decision to remain within the Constitution of the European Economic Community is very remarkable. I do not believe that there are many areas of the United Kingdom which, having suffered such casualties and also having had seven elections within a very short period, could have exercised, without Party organisation and cars, such a sane vote to remain within the Community. I feel sure that at a later date support for the EEC will be absolute.


My Lords, I shall leave the noble Viscount's correction on the Record without adding further to it.


My Lords, may I say that, with the noble Lord, Lord Inchyra, I was one of the people responsible for officially supporting our first application for membership of the EEC, and many of us on these Benches welcome the Statement which has been made by the Prime Minister. Over the years, importance on many grounds has been given to the terms of our entry. These grounds are not only the immediate self-interest of the United Kingdom, but also the very honourable recognition of our obligations to our trading and political partners in the Commonwealth. All that is now a thing of the past. Everything has been sealed and finally delivered. May I say, therefore, how greatly I welcome that part of the Prime Minister's Statement, and the subsequent remarks made by the noble Lord the Leader of the House, to the effect that the task now is to develop the Community with Britain's full-hearted support, and in order to give that full-hearted support we must get down to the very serious task of making Britain's voice powerful by being strong at home.


My Lords, is my noble friend aware that many of us on this side of the House, and, indeed, elsewhere, who have considered it to be our public duty to conduct the argument against Britain entering the Common Market are now prepared to accept the verdict of the electorate which has been so decisively delivered? May I also be permitted to say that, particularly in the long transitional period that lies ahead, many of us will feel that it is necessary to give as much emphasis to British interests as our colleagues on the Continent give to their own countries?


My Lords, quite clearly, within the European Community all of the member countries have a direct responsibility to their own people, and in this country Parliament and the Government have that responsibility. If I may say so, I particularly welcome what my noble friend said at the outset, that irrespective of the feelings which some of my friends and others may have had, the decision has been taken democratically and we must now put into force what the people clearly wish to see.


My Lords, as an ex-anti-Marketeer, may I ask my noble friend to bear in mind that many of us would feel it was outrageous if distinguished Ministers of the Crown were not regarded as suitable to represent us in European affairs?