HL Deb 12 March 1975 vol 358 cc316-92

4.9 p.m.

Debate resumed.


My Lords, I should like to join with those who have congratulated my noble friend Lord Balniel on what was, in effect, his maiden speech, and a very distinguished one, too. Having had the chance to serve with him in another place and at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, one came to expect speeches of great ability and strength such as we had today from my noble friend. I should particularly like to congratulate him on having tackled a controversial subject in a non-provocative way-an example which I shall try to follow.

Both my noble friend and the noble Lord, Lord Byers, expressed very real concern about the constitutional implications of the Referendum. I would say to the noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal that there are many people in this country of all political Parties and of none who are very uneasy about the constitutional consequences of the Referendum. I share this view. However, subject to legislation, a Referendum is now inevitable. Therefore, I do not intend to discuss the constitutional issues, except in one respect which I cannot resist.

The White Paper tells us that the issue is of a unique nature. I would only ask noble Lords: is it really unique? For example, if certain electoral consequences took place and there was a demand for a real transfer of power to Scotland, this would also mean, in the terms of the preface to the White Paper, " fundamental implications for the future of this country", and " for the constitutional position of Parliament". Once having started what even the noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal himself called this novel procedure for Britain, I suggest that it will be very difficult to deny its use on other matters of major importance. But if a Referendum is to be, then there is certainly great advantage in trying to end the uncertainty as soon as possible.

As the Prime Minister said in Annex A on page 10 of the White Paper: Uncertainty about the future of British membership is inhibiting the work of the Community. It also means that the United Kingdom cannot expect to wield much influence while the uncertainty remains. Surely we should pay tribute to our eight partners in the Community for their long patience and constructive forbearance throughout these negotiations and, perhaps most of all, for their sensitive feel about the political situation in this country.

I was lucky enough to go to Brussels with the Chairman of the Select Committee on European Legislation in another place. We were received with great courtesy everywhere, but without doubt there was deep anxiety that the decision on the United Kingdom's future should be made one way or the other as soon as possible. I gained the impression that there was still a genuine desire that we should remain members. There was also real interest in the work of the Select Committee and a wish to improve our links with the Community. Above all, there was a longing to reach the end of renegotiation so that we could work together on the enormous problems that confront us all.

It looks, from the Statement which the noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal has just made, that all that took place at the Dublin Summit will enable the Government to recommend continued membership of the Community. Therefore, if a Referendum is to be held, I consider that the White Paper has tried to achieve a just balance. I should like to examine some of its provisions. If one takes the poll, even if the Government consider themselves bound by the result of the Referendum, it has been accepted every-where that Parliament cannot be so bound. If there were a low poll and a small majority, Parliament would surely assume its authority again. But if there were a large majority and a large poll, then I submit that it would inhibit the sovereignty of Parliament.

As described in paragraph 7 of the White Paper, some countries which have held Referenda have laid down certain conditions, such as a poll of a minimum size, or have said that a majority should exceed a specific proportion of the electorate. The Government's comment on these arrangements in the White Paper is interesting: Some countries have applied conditions of this kind to their referenda, although they are usually intended to make it impossible for constitutional change to be introduced too easily or by a minority of the electorate. My Lords, our Referendum will also be about profound constitutional change, and I suggest that without safeguards this procedure emphasises the advisory or consultative nature of the poll. I hope that when he winds up the debate the noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal will try to define for us what is meant in the White Paper by the term " an adequate poll". This is very important.

When we come to the Question to be put to the electorate, it seems to me that the Question on page 4 is fair. It is right to refer to the "United Kingdom and it is right to use the words " stay in " the European Community, because there is a great deal of difference between taking a decision two years after membership, and the original decision whether or not to go in. Indeed, one of my noble friends said in this House the other day that, having been a convinced anti-Marketeer, after this period of time he was now in favour of our membership. I also think it is right to refer to the European Community and not to the Common Market or the EEC, and I support the preamble about the renegotiation.

When it comes to counting the votes, I quite understand why a national basis is proposed, because this is a United Kingdom Referendum. I feel, however, that there is much to be said for having the votes counted by constituency, which is familiar and less costly and which tries to carry out the desire of the Government that, as far as possible, this novel procedure should be on familiar lines. If I were still a Member of the other place, I would welcome it. I do not think there should be separate counts for Scotland and Wales, because we are all part of the United Kingdom.

My Lords, I return to the question of information which I raised in a previous debate. I notice that there will be two main documents, a White Paper with the Government's recommendations, and the documents with answers given by each side to the same sets of questions. There will also be a Government information unit. Perhaps the noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal will tell us how much it will spend and whether it will tackle issues beyond renegotiation. This is important. For example, it has already been said that the campaign before the Referendum will in some cases not be just on the terms of renegotiation but on, for example, the major issue of sovereignty.

It is often said that the Community sends out thousands of Regulations about which we at Westminster can do nothing. Yet the two Select Committees of both Houses have, according to the present Foreign Secretary, given Parliament considerable power. Mr. Callaghan said in December: … in some ways we are encompassing the Government with a greater degree of control by Parliament as a result of the transference of these powers than would otherwise be the case."—[Official Report, Commons, 19/12/74; col. 1914.] As noble Lords know, with a domestic Statutory Instrument we cannot amend it but can only accept or reject it as a whole. With a Community proposal for legislation, we are able to influence our Ministers at the pre-legislative stage. In any case, Ministers have the last power of all to ensure that no decisions are taken against a vital national interest.

One cannot, of course, prove whether both Houses have had any infleunce on Ministers at all. But one likes to think that, as in Parliamentary Questions or in debate, the hearing of evidence from Departments has the effect of Departments defining their case, justifying it and perhaps sometimes giving fresh thought to the actions which they propose. I thank them for their work and help and I thank the Government for what they have tried to do while we are all really feeling our way. As Chairman of the Select Committee, I can say how much this House owes to the many noble Lords who work so hard on their behalf. There is an immense amount of knowledge and experience freely given from all quarters of your Lordships' House. I have myself found the Select Committee an education in the working of the Community, but it is a complex matter and I do not see how the public can easily understand this unfamiliar gathering of nations and the political need that inspires them to unite in common cause.

I think that the Government bear very great responsibility to inform and interest the electorate on every aspect of the European Community, not only now, but steadily if we remain a member. A true European Community—not just a Common Market—cannot be built without the support of its citizens; nor can a true European Community be built on ignorance or indifference. For example, I think that much more should be known about the influence of the European Parliament, which, as some members of the Select Committee and myself found out in a recent visit to Strasbourg, works very closely with the Commission. We hope that the delegation will, after June, be truly representative of Britain by attendance of Members from all Parties. It is being said that one day the European Parliament will be not only directly elected, but will have true legislative power which will take this power away from the Westminster Parliament. It is thought that there may be direct elections in 1978—although many think it will be in 1980—but the transference of true legislative power will come only slowly as the Community evolves, I believe that if Britain remains a member, with her long Parliamentary experience, she has much to give in ensuring that the process is right in the end.

My Lords, I think we need to know as a country the thinking of the Government on the alternative to membership. Where is Britain to turn? What are we to do? There must surely be an understanding that no Government of any country in the modern world has full independence of action. We cannot act in isolation without taking into account the views of our allies. Indeed, the genius of the British people has always lain in their ability to work with, or through, alliances across the world. We cannot on our own overcome the energy crisis, or meet the monetary or economic dangers that challenge us all. Therefore, surely our strength lies in our ability to influence events which we are best able to do in the company of other nations bent on the same goal. Therefore, my Lords, I hope, if the decision is made to recommend that the United Kingdom should stay within the European Community, that the Prime Minister and his colleagues will campaign to support their judgment with energy and total conviction.

4.23 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to be the first speaker from this side to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Balniel, on what we all thought was a most excellent speech, and if it would not be presumptuous for a Back-Bencher—but I was in another place with him—may I say that it seems to me to be a very great gift to be able to give such strong and controversial views in a maiden speech without anyone feeling that the noble Lord is trading on the customary indulgence; and I think that nobody felt that. I was very relieved when the noble Lord said that one of his chief interests in this was the green edges to this White Paper, because I am hoping that my noble friend the Leader of the House will be able to give me a little indulgence on the matter of the green edges. I feel a little more cheerful now than I did at the beginning of the debate, because my noble friend Lord Shepherd was so reasonable and put such a constrained case that I felt myself being constricted more and more into a narrow straitjacket as to what would be acceptable to say. But he went on to state that this cuts across normal Party lines. I do not in the least think that this is a Party debate.

My Lords, the one thing I should like to say to my noble friend Lord Shepherd is that I do not feel that we can really separate the mechanics of this Referendum from the merit of a Referendum itself, and I feel encouraged by the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Byers, and I think all the preceding speakers, have spoken along those lines. I have a suggestion to put forward at the end, and it would be no use waiting for the Bill for me to submit it. May I say that it happens to be the same suggestion as that which the noble Lord, Lord Byers, has put forward, and so, if he will allow me, I feel I am in good company, and perhaps we will get an answer to it—




My noble friend says " dubious ", but no, I am going to say " good company ". My Lords, I said that I did not think that this was a Party political debate. I think it is about something much more serious and much more important than any political Parties. I think it is about Parliament. That, I submit, is much more important. The House knows my views on the European Community. I think it would be a disaster if we came out, but that is not what I want to talk about today. I realise that the Government have a right to ask for this Referendum because the proposition was included in the Manifestoes for the two General Elections which we won. However, while I admit this right, it is to me deplorable and something I could not support. I wondered when looking at my notes whether I should soften the word " deplorable" and say, instead, " regrettable "; but I really feel that it is deplorable, and I do not think it is much use for leaders to have members of their Parties who are afraid to stand up and say what they think. That renders a service to nobody. I feel that this is deplorable. Even though I admit the right, I think it is a mistake and, my Lords, like other speakers, I am not concerned here with the subject or the result. To me this puts responsibility where it does not belong and removes it from where it does; in other words, Parliament. As every other speaker has said today— except, possibly, my noble friend the Leader of the House—I do not believe that this would be the Referendum to end all Referenda. Too many special and unique cases are becoming general today both in the economic and political fields.

If it were possible to include the question mentioned in paragraph 9 of the White Paper, asking if voters would prefer to leave the issue to Parliament, I venture to think that the answer would probably be " Yes ". People just do not understand the details—I am sure that many of us do not—and really who can blame them? They listen to propaganda and statements totally at variance one with the other. It is their belief—and in my opinion a correct one—that they elected Parliament to decide these matters for them. I believe that if we begin to take away, or even to erode, the authority and standing of Parliament we begin a very dangerous process; I think that we begin the undermining of parliamentary democracy. Being perhaps provocative, it is obvious that the Government have got themselves embedded on a hook. To anyone who was present in another place on 23rd January last, when the Prime Minister made his Statement which is included in the White Paper, this was even more obvious, in spite of his very great Parliamentary skill which we all enjoyed.

However, like the noble Baroness, Lady Tweedsmuir of Belhelvie, I want to suggest that, as we are to have a Referendum—and I assume we are—we make it an advisory one, so that when Parliament knew the overall result Parliament could decide. Surely it is for Members of Parliament to interpret the thoughts and wishes of their constituents, and to act accordingly? Is it really intended that the result of this Referendum shall be mandatory on Parliament? I think that my noble friend Lord Shepherd at the beginning said that this was not so intended; he did answer that point. But I find no actual reference to this in the White Paper, and I am quite convinced that the British public believe that this Referendum is legally binding on Parliament. I should have thought that here we are all agreed that Parliament makes the laws and that Parliament is sovereign.

My Lords, going back some little time, we had a large Parliamentary majority on the subject of EEC membership, the subject of this Referendum. This was not acceptable; and yet I should repeat that it was a large one in both Houses. What kind of majority, what size of majority, is to be acceptable in this Referendum? I listened to what the noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal said, and I accept the difficulties; but the majority which emerges out of this Referendum could be smaller than either or both of those in Parliament. Theoretically, as we know, it could be a majority of one; but would that be adequate? Would that be the full-hearted consent of the British people? It does not seem to stand up. And what about the size of the poll?—which was a question asked, I think, by the noble Baroness, Lady Tweedsmuir. Will the percentage of the voters taking part be anything like the percentage of those voting in both Houses of Parliament? There was a very high turn out in both of those. However small the percentage of the poll and however derisory it might be, is that to be acceptable? Can the noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal tell us anything about that when he comes to wind up? I do not think that this is grass roots democracy; I think that it is an act with long-term dangers to our Constitutional practice.

My Lords, the House does not need me to list other matters which people could raise in future as being so out-standingly important that a Referendum became vital to the cause of democracy. Many have been canvassed already; I have none to put forward. I think that, obviously, the matter will not end there. I should like to ask the House this. Is that what we really and truly want? Is that what we stand for? Do we in the British Parliament want to open the door to Referenda on all sorts of things in this country? I am not arguing on the subject of the Referendum; but on the holding of one and on the suggesting of one in the first place. I should not have thought there was a Member of either House of Parliament who would not sub-scribe to the belief that it is for the public to make known to Members of Parliament their feelings on vital matters. It is then for the MP to decide his attitude, bearing in mind those feelings. He then reports back on what he has done. Many of us here are familiar with the procedure and I think that many of us, equally, have got into trouble when we have reported back to our constituents when we have not felt able to take the advice tendered. That is certainly something which we all accept.

During these past months many of us must have spoken to a lot of people about the EEC. I am quite sure that on many occasisons we have asked their views without stating our own. Those whom I asked just did not know. They thought it was the job of Parliament to decide. In fact, many of them thought that that was what MPs were paid for. At the moment we have an economic crisis, we have unemployment and we have raging inflation. We are about to have Cabinet Ministers embarking openly to campaign on different sides, with the blessing of the Cabinet, and it is estimated that we shall spend upwards of £5 million (which I gather is around the cost of a General Election) on this exercise. It seems to me to be a rather lamentable case. The Prime Minister himself on 25th November, 1969, said that a Referendum was contrary to our traditions in this country, and he went on to say at columns 199–200): It is not a way in which we can do business. These are matters on which honourable Members are elected to the House and they have been free to express their opinions, as they were in the debates in the House, and as they will be again when we are offered terms for joining the Common Market." [Official Report.] I find it hard to believe that the Prime Minister has changed his mind on so fundamental a Constitutional issue. I find it hard to believe that this Government would wish to erode Parliamentary democracy. I am asking the noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal whether the Government would not find it possible to keep their promise of a Referendum, which I accept, but to make it advisory in character.

4.35 p.m.


My Lords, after 45 years of controversial speaking in the House of Commons, clearly I am faced with considerable difficulties, which my noble friend got over earlier today in a most brilliant maiden speech. I shall promise to try to avoid excessive provocation; but a debate without controversy is very much like the proverbial white of an egg without salt. If any noble Lord is unable to contain his disagreement, I hope that he will not hesitate to interrupt me, bearing in mind that quite clearly I will have failed in my endeavours if he feels unable to contain himself.

I have for some time been very concerned about the attitude to Parliament of the average citizen. He has felt remote from his rulers; he has complained that his views and interests were not being cared for; and at times he has come to question the motives of those who reach Parliamentary decisions. Therefore, for some time I have felt that proposals for Constitutional change should, if possible, be put to the people by Referenda before they are enacted. Otherwise, I do not see how you can possibly get the full-hearted support of the British people. I took that view in December 1969 when, in another place, Mr. Bruce Campbell tried to introduce a Bill for a Referendum. Unfortunately, that proposal was voted down. Although that Bill was never printed—which must be a great misfortune to the present Government because they would then have had some copy to use when drafting their Bill— it is interesting to note that many of those prominent today in Her Majesty's Government voted against our proposal to have such a Bill printed. I held that view then, and I hold it today.

My Lords, what has worried me about this debate has been this great argument from these Benches that this is a Parliamentary innovation. In my time in Parliament there have been two Conservatives who, to me, stood out as great Parliamentarians. They were Stanley Baldwin and Sir Winston Churchill. Stanley Baldwin advocated a Referendum in 1930 on Empire free trade; Winston Churchill advocated a Referendum in 1945 on the extension of the life of Parliament. Professor Dicey, who is regarded as the greatest Constitutional lawyer in recent times, has described the Referendum as the "People's Veto". Although I was not in Parliament in those days, in 1911 Arthur Balfour said: In the Referendum lies our hope of getting the sort of Constitutional security which every other country but our own enjoys. In my time in the other place we, as Parliament, legislated for Referenda in India, in Singapore, in Central Africa, in the West Indies, in Gibraltar, in British Togoland, in Malta, in Wales and in Northern Ireland.

So it is not all that new for Parliament to be legislating for a Referendum. When one looks at the situation now that we are in the European Community, it is apparent that all the other new entrants got in only after a Referendum. In France and Italy, Referenda are common; perhaps rather too common. Speaking of our own Commonwealth, Australia and Canada have a great belief in Parliamentary traditions, and they frequently use Referenda. So does New Zealand. So I would ask my noble friends to think again on this argument of Parliamentary innovation. Quite clearly, if we remain in the Community, this will not be the last Referendum we shall have.

For that reason, whatever view one holds—and I have, as some of your Lord-ships may know, rather decided views— as to whether or not we were wise to enter the Community, I hope that this question of the Referendum and the White Paper can be accepted by all people holding different views and that we can concentrate on making this the greatest possible success, and, perhaps I may also add, doing it in the quickest and most economical way.

There will be other opportunities to discuss the details of Referenda, but today I should like to concentrate on two points. Quite clearly, the Government have selected the most complicated way possible of counting the votes. It will undoubtedly mean delay in discovering the result of the voting. It will be a more expensive operation in this way than it would have been under a less centralised system; and, of course, if one or two ballot boxes are lost in transit—as does happen even with first-class mail today— the consequent confusion will be very considerable. I appreciate the point behind this centralising proposal and see disadvantages in a method of constituency counting, but I regard this method as carrying centralisation too far. The 1972 Local Government Act decentralised powers for electoral legislation and the conduct of elections down to districts and boroughs. I should have thought—looking at this matter and having been a member of three Speaker's Conferences in the other place on this subject—that, since the counting of votes is now being computerised and many boroughs pride them- selves on the skill of their computers, it would have been wise to look at this from a local government angle and not from a centralised or " Earls Court" angle. It might have been wise to decentralise this down to a region, a county or a borough basis, after the reorganisation of local government. I hope the Government will think again about this proposal, for I believe that speed is of great importance, and I agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Byers, said about the uncertainty of the five days' gap.

Finally, I should like to refer to a point on which the noble Baroness, Lady Burton of Coventry, laid stress; the advisory nature of this Referendum. Of course, Parliament will have the last say. All we know from the Government's announcement is that the Cabinet have contracted out, but Parliament will have the last say. Parliament, when the votes are in, will look at the matter and judge whether or not this is a representative view of the nation. If they think it is not, then by voting the Government down, they can take the very considerable risk of a consequent Election. Parliament is rightly supreme.

4.46 p.m.


My Lords, I shall not detain your Lordships for long this afternoon. Indeed, I feel I have only two functions to perform in intervening. The first one, which is a privileged function, is to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Tranmire, on his first speech in your Lordships' House. No one listening to the noble Lord would regard this as strictly a maiden speech. He speaks quite evidently with long experience of Parliamentary practice and has revealed him-self as a skilful debater. He has taken a line which is quite distinctive from other speakers before him in this debate —I would hesitate to call it " controversial "—and, because of his experience and possessing a courage which I still do not possess, having less Parliamentary experience, he has spoken without notes. We all look forward to hearing the noble Lord on many occasions in the future. I should also like to add briefly my congratulations to those of others which have been given to the noble Lord, Lord Balniel, on his first speech in your Lord-ships' House. It was powerful, persuasive and delivered with the eloquent charm for which, I am sure, he already has a great reputation. We shall also look forward to his contributions in the future.

My second function, though I do not claim it will be of benefit to your Lordships, is simply to speak as one individual from these independent Cross-Benches— I am glad that I am not the only one speaking from these Benches—on the principle of Referenda in general and the resort to the proposed Referendum on a particular issue. I start from the premise of the noble Baroness, Lady Burton of Coventry—I like to call her " my noble friend ", since she was one of my sponsors when I was introduced into your Lordships' House—that consultation was a Government pledge. It is their right to fulfil that pledge, and I respect their intention to do so. What we are concerned with is the method of consultation to be used.

Having said that, I should like to join with other noble Lords in expressing my strong opposition to the principle of national Referenda associated with our Parliamentary democratic process and organised at the instance of Parliament. On the other hand, I am not opposed on purely pragmatic grounds to this Referendum. Indeed, I would go further and say that I believe that, in the peculiar circumstances in which it has arisen, it is in the interests of Parliament and of the European Community that it should be held. On the matter of principle, I may be going over ground already covered, but let me briefly say that, as I see it, resort to national Referenda as a normal practice is the negation, indeed the abnegation, of representative Parliamentary Government. In practice it is dangerous—perhaps I should be better advised to say " unwise "—not because all of us and all other people, as individual citizens, are not free to discuss sensibly great issues up and down the country, but simply because in the final analysis the decisions must be taken as the outcome of debate in the national forum.

My Lords, a concerted public expression of opinion contrived by a Referendum, which is necessarily the sum of individual, local and therefore fragmented opinions and debates, is no substitute for central debate and decision-making in Parliament—and this has already been said. What is more, the findings of a Referendum could prejudice the independence and the detachment of those debates and decisions to be made in Parliament. What I find disturbing is that the Government have already said on this issue that they have bound themselves, in advance of Parliamentary debate. I only hope that the Parliamentary debates which will succeed the Referendum will remain completely independent of its findings.

On the pragmatic side of the question, in 1970—or was it 1971, or both?—we had debates in Parliament on the terms of entry. But what was wrong was that there was no real attempt—and here I join with the noble Lord, Lord Tranmire —to find out through local consultation and debate how the public felt about those terms. As a result, it is my contention that, in a certain measure, confidence in Parliament suffered. This is a vitally important point. The situation now, four years on, is at once the same, and different. It is different in the sense that we are in Europe and that the terms have been altered considerably and significantly, and presumably for the better from our point of view. But it is the same, in that a continuing doubt and uncertainty remains concerning how the British people have felt about being taken into Europe in the first instance; and how they now feel about the present terms. Those doubts and that uncertainty must be removed. They must be removed as a matter of retaining, or more importantly, perhaps, restoring confidence by the public in Parliament; and, secondly, they must be removed as a condition of the confidence in Europe in regard to British support for, and co-operation of the British people in, the European Community.

These are pragmatic reasons for departing from a principle. And having said that, and having emphasised my support on pragmatic grounds, I remain anxious. I devoutly trust that pragmatism on this occasion will not be exploited as a precedent for the future. This must be a " one-off" once-for-all occasion in our constitutional history. In the circumstances in which it has arisen, I believe that it can and should be regarded as unique.

4.53 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to add my congratulations on the maiden speeches of the noble Lords, Lord Balniel and Lord Tranmire, who are opponents from another place. The reasons for our position remain the same. Indeed, so far as I am concerned, they have hardened. I would however draw your Lordships' attention to the marked difference, which comes from service in another place, between the noble Lords to whom I have referred and the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, who of course has never won an election in his life but who managed by his obstinacy last year to serve the Labour Party very well by persuading the then Prime Minister to fight an Election which he could not possibly win—but, may I say, to my great financial advantage. Once I knew that Lord Carrington was supporting it, I went into it up to my neck, and it is the biggest win I have ever had in my life, including backing Derby winners at 50 to 1.

The views of noble Lords on this Referendum depend on where they start. As I have referred to my winnings over the Tory debacle in February of last year, I would add that I would lay long odds, 10 to 1, that if I took a symposium of all the noble Lords in this House at the present time and asked them to say when the term " Common Market" was first used in a political sense, there is not one noble Lord who could name it. It is very interesting, but it was of course a Foreign Office device when it was up to its dirty tricks again over Suez. In the communiqué which was issued following the visit of the present Speaker of the House of Commons, the then Foreign Secretary, to Paris they had to find a reason other than the real reason for his conversation with the French Foreign Minister. So the communiqué contained the words that there were discussions about the Common Market. The story has continued from that time. It depends exactly where one starts. For the noble Lord, Lord Balniel, and others it starts when Mr. Wilson is in great political difficulties coming up to a General Election and has to unite his Party. But, my Lords, it did not in fact start there.

I have with me something I have brought along for your Lordships' inspection, which is an historic document: it is the Economist of 22nd October 1966. So Mr. Wilson told me, it was perusing this copy of the Economist in the train travel- ling to a meeting in Wigan that caused him to change his views on the Common Market. I am on record in writing as having said that there has been no conversion like this since St. Paul's conversion on the road to Damascus—but of course with one fundamental difference, as I understand it, in that St. Paul's conversion was sincere. Mr. Wilson was in acute political difficulties in the autumn of 1966, and he had to find a way out. He went on a tour de raison around the European capitals—and I protested as hard as I could, " Look! If you go, don"t think when you come back things are going to be as when you left. You are once again wandering into an association with Europe and with France without thinking out the consequences."

I am old enough to have served in the First War. It is indelibly impressed upon my mind. I have read the history. I have studied the history on my feet. I know that this country's pre-eminence in the world, plus a million dead, was caused by the Foreign Office entering into a commitment without consulting the General Staffs, because there were not any, that we would put six divisions in on the French left—six divisions when we had not got them. And so Mons, Marne, the destruction of the Regular Army at Ypres were foregone conclusions, because the Foreign Office had made a fundamental mistake. Seeing our weakening position, they had entered into conversations with the French and come to an agreement, which were never disclosed to Parliament. When the news broke in 1914, into it we went.

That was not the last example. Can noble Lords examine with care the relations between this country and countries of the Middle East and not come to the irrefutable conclusion that an empire was thrown away? Suez was only the last step of many, if one likes, which started with the imprisonment of Zaghlul and the rebuffing of every Egyptian leader who gave any signs of wanting to reorganise his country, right down to Mahommed Neguib and to Nasser. But that is not all the story. Think again of the last war. What was wrong with our policy before the war? I referred to it recently in a Question. A writer on the Guardian, Mr. Mark Arnold Foster, has published a book The World at War. He has studied the documents after 30 years and what does he find? The Foreign Office had taken the view that the Polish army was so strong that it could take on the Wehrmacht single handed. It could not. And Mr. Mark Arnold Foster offered the judgment—it is not mine—that that made the war a certainty. I doubt that judgment; I think it would have come in any case. But he goes on to say that it was fought in conditions which took this country perilously close to defeat. And once again we are involved in a Foreign Office exercise because, bankrupt of any ideas, they are staging an operation. Having got us into the Common Market, they want to keep us there.

When the noble Lord, Lord Balniel, talks about Mr. Wilson's difficulties, he skates over thin ice. Every speaker in this debate has skated over thin ice. Mr. Heath did not expect to win the 1970 Election; therefore, the Common Market was not the issue it should have been in that Election. That is where Mr. Wilson went wrong. That is where Mr. Wilson was playing Party politics, if he ever played them at all. During the 1970 Election Mr. Heath promised the country that he would not take this country into the Common Market except with its full-hearted consent. When the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, replies, may I invite him to tell the House this: if the Conservative Parly reject the Referendum, how can Mr. Heath, or any other Conservative spokesman, ever hope to ascertain the full-hearted consent of the British people? If we do not have a Referendum, we shall not take the issue to a General Election. In February 1974, I put all the energies that I possessed into arguing just this point.

On a couple of occasions I have been " twitted " about my views. My views have not changed: all options are open, including entry into the Common Market, but nobody in Britain today can govern without the full-hearted consent and acceptance of the trade unions. This is a fact which must be recognised. The trade unions are against entry. Why are they against it?

The noble Lord the Leader of the House must note that the negotiations which were concluded yesterday included no reference whatsoever to the breaking of Articles 52, 92 and 93 of the Treaty of Rome. The simple fact is that the Party opposite are out of date. They are a laissez-faire Party. They hate planning. Any attempt whatever that interferes with their privileges and their economic well-being stands condemned. The Common Market is based upon the out-of-date concept that modern industrial estates can be run on the basis of free competition. That is quite impossible.

I will pose to the noble Lord the question that I posed to Mr. Wedgwood Benn when I went to see him the other evening with Mr. Jack Jones and others. Yesterday, I posed the same question on radio. I sat as Member of Parliament for a Midlands constituency. I still live in the Midlands, and I am acutely aware of the fact that, through under-investment in the past, the Midlands is rapidly deteriorating into an industrial slum. Its prosperity depends upon the motor car industry and upon the ancillary trades associated with it. British Leyland have proposed the reorganisation and reconstruction of the motor car industry. Proposals come to the Government and they frank them; if you like, they are franked under Sections 9 and 10 of the Industry Bill. What will happen? Once we are in the Common Market, will the authority of the Government be sufficient to enable them to carry the proposals of British Leyland into effect? They cannot do so. Under Article 92, those proposals must go to the Commission.

What will the Commission say? The Commission will view these problems neither in terms of Ministerial responsibility nor in terms of veto. The Commission is composed of nationals who must forgo their national allegiance when considering these problems. Therefore they will ask this question: " You tell tell us that you want to reconstruct British Leyland; but how will it affect Fiat, how will it affect Renault, how will it affect Citroen, how will it affect Opel?" If they say that they recognise that these are excellent proposals, that of course we are quite right to reorganise the motor car industry and the ancillary industries and that an injection of capital is needed, then they will say that we are interfering with our competitors and that therefore we cannot do it. There is no veto, so where does it go next? It goes next to the Court in Luxembourg. The High Court of Parliament no longer exists.

I was amused beyond measure by the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Tranmire. The noble Lord said that Parliament is sovereign. My Lords, Parliament is not sovereign. Sovereignty rests with the British people. At a General Election they transfer that sovereignty for the duration of that Election, but it must be returned to them intact. My complaint about the Common Market is that Britain is being treated as a subjugated Power. It is interesting to note that apart from Britain, every other country in the Common Market has been occupied and defeated in war. Britain is being imposed upon and treated now as if it were Westphalia, or Hanover, or Normandy. That is the Britain of the future, although it will be said that in the last resort Parliament is sovereign.

We suffer from the gross inefficiency, not to say partisanship, of the entire media. Let me give an example. On 4th February, by virtue of Article 32 of the Treaty of Accession, Import Order No. 5 was put into operation in discharge of the Community obligation. It was carried through by Customs and Excise. There was a Prayer against it, and the Prayer was carried by 35 votes to none; but since it did not attain 40 votes, it was defeated. However, no Parliamentary journalist, nor any Member of your Lordships' House, has stopped to think that if five more votes had been cast, had that Order been carried and the Import Order annulled, the position next morning would have been that it would have been unlawful for Customs and Excise to collect the revenue. They would have lacked the authority to do so. However, Article 32 of the Treaty of Accession says that in discharge of a Community obligation we must do so. Therefore somebody could have taken them to a British court and obtained a declaration from that court that the High Court of Parliament had behaved unlawfully.

There is a complete turn-round in the relations between Parliament as a High Court of Parliament and the British Press. I am not a lawyer and I make no pretence to be one, but I read what competent lawyers say. Lord Justice Denning has said that the Common Market is like the tide coming up an estuary; it comes in imperceptibly, but eventually it goes into every creek and culvert. Lord Justice Scarman talked about the revolution of the Common Market and its effect upon British law. As I understand the position, it is the task of judges, not the Court in Luxembourg, to interpret British law and to uphold the Common Law. Not only are they interpreters but they are law-makers, and the sovereignty vested by the British people in Parliament has been taken away from them; it has been taken to the Continent.

But I go further than that. My objections are these. I do not believe that the British people can overcome their present difficulties, great though they are, unless they understand the nature of those difficulties. Having left school at an early age, I am no historian, as is my noble friend Lord Shinwell, but I have learned that if the institutions of this country are to survive they must be indigenous. It may be that this is due to our insularity; perhaps it is due to our short-sightedness. How-ever, anybody who thinks that they can pick up institutions of any kind, bring them to this country and make them work is living in Cloud Cuckoo-land. They just will not work. If your Lordships think that by anything they do they are maintaining the sovereignty of Parliament, there is nobody in these Islands who has less right to complain about the abrogation of the sovereignty of Parliament than your Lordships' House.

My Lords, just stop and think about this. Throughout this century the claim has been made that there must be a second Chamber to act as a revising and delaying instrument. That is a view that I accept and support, but I also say something else; namely, that your Lordships' House during the whole of my life has existed for one purpose, and one purpose only, that is, to protect the class interest of those who comprise the Conservative Party. So when the Common Market came up, if ever there was a case for delay; if there ever was a case for saying, " Yes, we must have the full-hearted consent; let us end the doubt, let us put it to the British people ", the power rested with your Lord-ships. But once again you obeyed your class interest and you said: "Oh, well, of course this is special".

I remember the arguments only too well: "We must get in as early as possible so that we can get that great flow of investment to reinvigorate British industry". I accept that I am on record as saying: "If your Lordships are right, I am hopelessly and completely wrong and I will acknowledge it ". But who was right— your Lordships or me? We were roughly in balance: we are now running a deficit with the other members of the Common Market of over £2,000 million a year. The patriots who subscribe so heavily to the "Keep Britain In" movement and the Tory Party—and they are one and the same—know a good thing when they want it; that is the nature of capitalism. With all its waving of the Union Jack and its protestations about patriotism, it goes for the quickest profit, in the safest market. So they thought there were pickings in Europe—never mind the Midlands, never mind the depressed areas—and, my Lords, the depressed areas will become more depressed because the power here has been given away.

I want to make only one or two more points. First, I want to repeat what I said on the radio yesterday in relation to the performance in Dublin. I expressed the view that I did not know where the performance should be put on. I was not quite sure whether it should be the Abbey Theatre or the Palladium, because quite clearly it was all about peanuts and the decisions had all been taken before they got there.

Therefore we had to have this facade. Although the noble Lord the Leader of the House does not know about it, I can assure him that when I spoke to Dublin this morning everyone was talking about it, and I regret that the Government sank to the level of using a great national institution, Reuters, for a Party political purpose. They put out a story, and I said on the one o'clock news bulletin yesterday that I was sure it was going to happen. The Foreign Office has no new tricks; they are the old tricks dressed up. Disraeli ordered the train at the Berlin Conference; I said, "I cannot order a train, I shall have to order a boat, but I am quite sure that the decision tonight will be delayed; it will be strung out until after dinner". At six o'clock last night the message was put out from that quarter of the Foreign Office (which of course never leaks, it only gives guidance) that they were in a state of crisis and Mr. Wilson was packing his bags and going home. Absolute bolony! Of course the negotiations were not honest; this is a political swindle. This is part of a "con" operation and many people have told me—and one or two have telephoned me—saying that Harold last night at his conference made them squirm because he cannot juggle enough to get away with that one.

The truth is that you can have your Referendum but both Parties are caught in a dilemma because both are committed up to the hilt only to act provided they get the full-hearted consent. So the Government do what they started to do, to play it down, to hold the Referendum on a Monday, to have the counting on a national basis so that the enthusiasm is kept down. Those of us who have fought a few elections know all the tricks; we have done them ourselves and you cannot teach old dogs new tricks.

The other Party, from their point of view, having exploited it are now in difficulties. They run it as a complaint, but if the Referendum result is 30 per cent. for staying in and 10 per cent. for coming out, does the 30 per cent. represent full-hearted consent? The Government here have got to demonstrate—and so has the Party opposite, because it is the joint policy of both Parties—that regardless of the consequences we must at any price go into the Common Market and stay there because they have not got the guts to face the alternative. But in the ultimate the decisions will be taken not by Parliament but by the British people. I have written all this before and said it all before, and I say it now to those who think that I say one thing now and another thing as the years go by. The tide was running so hard and so fast that Mr. Heath had to pay any price to go in, But having got in, sooner or later, despite all the machinations of the Press and despite all the guidance given by the Foreign Office, the workers in the Midlands are going to find out, through a curtailment of overtime, through the loss of jobs, through the fall in the standard of life, that those who are responsible are on those two Front Benches.

The consequences will have to be faced, and when they are faced a great deal more than the fortunes of the Tory Party or the Labour Party will be broken. I have held the belief, ever since the end of the War, that politics day by day on a Party basis—where Party divisions are drawn—are, to a large extent, a little phoney, because the Parties interlock. There will be a realignment of the Parties of this country. When that realignment comes about, it will consist of those who are so numerous on the Bench opposite and quite a few on this Bench who, ideologically and philosophically take their place beside Petain who said, when faced with the challenge of the Wehrmacht, "Let us take the easy way". In just the same way, there is the challenge now by existing Powers and by the economic forces which we not only cannot control but which we only dimly apprehend. Once again we say, "Oh, well, we cannot solve it; leave it to the gentlemen in Brussels". I am English—not British but English—and I believe that English nationalism has been dormant for a very long time. But I believe that under the impact of events it may well revive itself. I should deplore that, but when it does revive itself, when it does express itself in some form, if it takes an unpleasant form, then this Administration and the last will bear the responsibility.


My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, may I ask him to elucidate a sweeping statement he has made that everybody on this side of the House votes against anything which affects their privilege. I should like to know what privilege he considers I enjoy which he does not enjoy.


My Lords, I do not know what the noble Baroness is talking about. I never said anything like it. I said that the Conservative Party and the House of Lords exist, and always have existed, for the protection of class privileges, and I also used the word "economic", in regard to the privileges of the Party opposite. If the noble Baroness wants to know about this, whether or not she is sitting on the Liberal Benches, she should start reading some history from the Parliament Act onwards.


My Lords, if the noble Lord looks at Hansard tomorrow he will find that that is not what he said.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord about something arising out of his speech, to which I listened with great interest. He said that sovereignty was granted by the British people to Parliament; I was under the impression that it was entirely the other way around and that supreme sovereignty rested with the British Crown —and before that the Scots and the English Crowns—and that it was wrested from the Crown by Parliament.


My Lords, I am sorry but that is complete fiction. The Crown exists now on sufferance, provided it carries out the will of the Government of the day. Ever since the end of the 17th Century, and certainly since 1688, sovereignty has rested with the people and they delegate that sovereignty at a General Election. The point which the noble Lord does not quite appreciate is that that sovereignty must be returned intact to the people and they renew it at the next Election. That sovereignty can be breached only by defeat in war, and that is exactly what is happening: we are being treated as if we had been defeated in war, and we have not been.

5.20 p.m.


My Lords, sometimes, when the extraordinarily soporific quality of your Lordships' Chamber causes me to nod off even for a few seconds, I dream I am back in the House of Commons of the 'fifties. When I wake up, my first impression convinces me that I am. I did not nod off during any of the speeches which have been made today, but the impression I would have had, had I wakened from a sleep of that sort would, I think, have been far more enhanced than on any previous occasion, not only with regard to the speeches and the speakers, but to some of the interventions as well. To have the pleasure this afternoon of listening to the maiden speeches of my noble friends Lord Balniel and Lord Tranmire, is to call to mind the distinguished roles which both have played in another place; my noble friend Lord Balniel as a courteous and able Government Minister, and my noble friend Lord Tranmire as a fearless and independent-minded private Member. Both represent the great access of experience and wisdom to your Lordships' House, where courtesy and independence are both greatly valued.

My Lords, I may traverse some of the ground already traversed in previous speeches, but it seems to me that the issue we have to decide when the Referendum Bill comes to this House for Second Reading is not really whether the method of holding a Referendum, or the framing of the questions asked, or the organisation of the voting in the country is acceptable, but whether referenda as such should be added to the British Constitution. I suggest to your Lordships that in constitutional matters, this House has some special responsibilities. Quite irrespective of the merits of the EEC controversy, and irrespective of the formula evolved by the late Lord Salisbury, we should consider when that Second Reading debate takes place whether it would not be right either to vote against a Second Reading if, as I do, we deplore the introduction of the Referendum into the Parliamentary process, or, alternatively, whether we should not seek an opportunity to tack on a resolution to make it clear that in the event of any subsequent Government persuading the House of Commons to vote in favour of a Referendum, this House will feel completely free to reject it on Second Reading, if sufficient Peers are prepared to go into the Lobby for that purpose.

My Lords, I have no doubt that the Referendum is contrary to the spirit and practice of the British Constitution. I also have a quotation from Professor Dicey in his Law of the Constitution. He wrote: From the legal point of view, Parliament is neither the agent of the electors nor in any sense a trustee for its constituents. It is legally the sovereign power of the State. Ever since Cromwell's time, only at election time has sovereign power reverted to the people. The strength and effectiveness of our system of Parliamentary Government has derived, in peace and war, from the fact that once Parliament is elected, it possesses the sovereign power of the State until a dissolution for a new election returns it, for a brief interval, to the people. I think the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, would agree with my reading of the situation.




My Lords, under the Referendum system, sovereignty can be withdrawn from Parliament at any time, and returned to the people without the Executive having to face the ordeal of a General Election. As a consequence, it removes the checks on the decisions of the Executive which a strong Opposition provides. It eliminates protection for minority interests and points of view, which are built in to our Parliamentary form of government. I submit to your Lordships that it undermines the whole fabric of this Parliamentary system, which already has been weakened by the growth of the power of the Executive and of non-Parliamentary power groupings such, for instance, as the trades unions. I found it fascinating, when the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, was discussing the question of the British people, because he appeared to me to be speaking not in the context of the whole nation but of the power of the trade unions to use their economic power to frustrate or change policies of which we have had an example at a very recent date.

My Lords, if by 1984, let us say, a majority Party in Parliament were to hold a Referendum on whether or not Britain should become a one-Party State, a majority of a single vote—under the formula, for which I think the right honourable gentleman the Prime Minister is responsible, and represented by what was said by the noble Lord the Leader of the House—could destroy the whole constitutional structure, and sweep away the present Parliamentary safeguards for the individual citizens, and for minorities, which are so important. It could expose us to the danger of a single Party or, indeed, an individual, dictatorship, which is something we have always in this country attempted to avoid. The danger I speak of might seem very far away, and your Lordships may quite properly, for all I know, accuse me of political doom-watching. I merely remark that the last period when ideas about the exercise of sovereignty by the people were fashionable—that is, the exercise of sovereignty by the people continuously rather than only during the intervals between the dissolution of Parliament and the next General Election—was the years immediately before the establishment of a one-Party dictatorship by the Lord Protector Cromwell.

As I listened to the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, as I always do—seldom with agreement but always with interest—I felt there was a reincarnation of a Cromwellian major-general. I hope the noble Lord does not feel I am insulting him by that description, which seemed to me to fit exactly what he had to say. I only remind the noble Lord that many of the Cromwellian major-generals suffered a very unattractive fate indeed!

Why has all this come about? In their speeches, noble Lords have outlined it very clearly already. The real reason—and I think this is one of the points where I agree entirely with the noble Lord, Lord Wigg—is that the present pattern of Party affiliation no longer represents the real differences of opinion in this country on major issues. Perhaps I may interpolate one point. At an election, it can be assumed that, where a Party has put a manifesto before the country, and where it has obtained a convincing majority, not just a marginal one, that is the equivalent of the wholehearted support of the country. One can get wholehearted support from the country through a General Election without going to a Referendum. My argument is that regardless of whether we have had two, ten or twenty elections during the last year, we should already have decided this great issue at an election, but as we have not and it is still to be decided, it should be decided at an election to be held within the period immediately ahead of us.

My Lords, why have these issues never been decided with regard to our entry into Europe? Both the Labour and Conservative Parties have been split on that issue for years. Neither has dared, during the last three General Elections, to make the issue of entry into Europe, or its rejection, a major plank in its platform. The result is that we have now to embark on a hazardous constitutional experiment, setting a precedent which I believe very sincerely indeed Governments of all Parties will assuredly live to regret. I think it would be right to make one comment in passing. I have sometimes agreed, and many times disagreed, with Mr. Enoch Powell, but, with that extraordinary clear logic that he has in his approach to political issues, his action in leaving the Conservative Party and telling people to vote Labour was because he believed that the Conservative Party were pro-European, and he was against it, and the Labour Party were against Europe, and therefore he suggested that people should vote for them. He was trying to bring the issue into the electoral field, which is where it should have been. That he made a number of misjudgments which followed, and indeed, I think, preceded, is, at any rate in my view, immaterial. All that I am doing is trying to illustrate what I believe to be the kernel of the problem.


My Lords, can I testify to the absolute truth of that statement. I spoke on much the same lines as Mr. Enoch Powell during the February Election, and in June of last year I shared a platform with him and with Mr. Jack Jones, the General Secretary of the Transport and General Workers' Union. Neither of us had consulted the other about what we were going to say. We did not agree who would speak first until we got to the meeting. We found that the three of us were all speaking on exactly the same theme along the lines mentioned by the noble Lord.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his intervention. As I was saying, the central issue of these last two General Elections in 1974 which the people should have been asked to decide was whether Britain should stay in the EEC. Instead—and I think this is the responsibility of both Parties—they were presented with a whole series of issues, largely concerned to attract votes, but without getting down to the kernel of the problem with which this country is faced.

My Lords, the only argument I can see in favour of the Referendum—and here the noble Lord is illustrating and has illustrated my point—is that it will force the pro- and anti-Europeans of all Parties to join together respectively, to speak on the same platforms, as the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, has said, to support each other against the harassment of members of their own present Parties who differ from them, and thus, as I believe is essential to the political health of this country, the present Party mould will be broken and the present system brought up to date. Whichever way the Referendum goes, I cannot see that the Labour Party and the present Labour Government can remain intact, and it may well be that the divisions within the Conservative Party will operate to split it as well.

It is possible, therefore, that this Referendum will be the catalyst which brings into being a new political dispensation in this country, and it may well be that the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, and the right honourable Member for South Down and Mr. Jack Jones will be in one Party and I will be in a different one. But I think it will be a very much clearer and closer assimilation to the real issues and loyalties and points of view than exists at the present time. I would say in passing that I would welcome very much the trades union leadership coming forward —not using the Labour Party, as at present, as camouflage for its political ambitions, but coming forward and taking political responsibilities to match the power which they have achieved—and taking them within the Constitution.

Let me add, by way of personal explanation, that if Mr. Short allows me to vote in this Referendum I shall vote for continuing to stay in, not with any great enthusiasm but because I am quite clear in my own mind that the instability for Europe, and perhaps for the rest of the world, which would result from our withdrawal would be of very great damage to our future. I am, therefore, in these two minds. If I see some advantages in holding the Referendum on the one side, I can also see overwhelming objections to allowing the Referendum as such to become an established feature of the British Constitution.

On the one hand, I see Parliament being progressively weakened by the artificiality and irrelevance of the present Party line-up. On the other hand, I see the danger of all Parliamentary authority being destroyed by the unscrupulous use of the Referendum expedient. It is the age-old dilemma that all of us have to face from time to time between the requirements of the short-term and those of the long-term. I confess that I have reached an age when the imperatives of the short-term carry more conviction than those of the long and, therefore, from my own point of view, my approach to the Referendum and its advisability or otherwise—provided that the safeguards I mentioned earlier are put in to prevent its recurrence—is to remember the dictum of the late Lord Keynes that, "In the long run we are all dead."

The Lord Bishop of LEICESTER

My Lords, I shall find it very difficult to better, or indeed very much to vary from, the words which have greeted the two maiden speeches, and my own thoughts were most admirably expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt. But as a slight variation it might be suitable for me to offer them both a fatherly blessing of welcome to the list of speakers in this House. If the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, can quote St. Paul, I can certainly give a blessing. I also have to begin by declaring a very marginal interest— because in spite of the speech by the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, I think this was intended to be a debate not about the virtues or otherwise of our remaining in the Common Market, but only about the Referendum. However, it just happens that I am the representative of the most reverend Primate at the so-called Commission of Churches which meets in Brussels twice a year. I mention that because when one is in the habit of visiting those buildings and meeting some of the leaders of the Community it affects one's tone when one speaks, even about a Referendum that is intended to decide whether or not we stay in.

It seems to me that a Referendum can be either a reversion to a very primitive and simple form of democracy, or an education leading towards political maturity. I give two examples of what is really the Referendum principle, one from ancient history and one from modem times. In the Greek cities such as Athens, final power rested in an assembly of all the qualified citizens and as many as 30,000 would gather on the pnyx just a little way from the Parthenon, and there great decisions would be taken. Nobody quite knows how they could hear what was said, but in some way or other they managed to conduct their business. But as their constitution developed they left more and more power to the council and to the courts, which I think was a significant development. In modern times in one or two of the Swiss cantons, notably the canton of Appenzell, all the male citizens gather for the annual Parliament and they can all be accommodated in the market square. Those are examples of what one might call "instant referenda". The question is whether modern communications through the media have reduced our country to such a small and coherent community that it is possible to treat it like a city state, and from time to time to collect the votes and voices of all the people on specific issues such as that which we are now discussing.

It has been our tradition, as many noble Lords have mentioned this afternoon, that our country should be governed by a system different from that, by a system of representatives who are qualified, who increase in experience, and who are able to handle questions far beyond the range of the average citizen of the land. This was never expressed better than by Edmund Burke in his address to the electors of Bristol, when he said that a Member of Parliament should be in the closest contact with his constituents, and should listen to their views and understand their problems. But he added, His unbiased opinions, his mature judgment and his enlightened conscience he should sacrifice to no man ". That is the principle on which Parliamentary Government has been based.

Like many other speakers, I should have been much happier if matters had not so developed that a Referendum appeared imminent. But from every point of view we have to face the fact that it is coming, and that being so we must so guide affairs and attitudes that its results are beneficial and not harmful to the whole body politic. We shall do that only if we are aware of the inherent dangers in the Referendum system. We can see its advantages, but let us also note its dangers. One danger is that all Referenda lead towards a gross oversimplification of issues. I have often felt unhappy, when driving about France at the time of one of their campaigns, to see the propaganda simply reduced to two words, "Oui", or"Non". Those words are painted on every railway siding or bridge as one drives about the country. There are very few issues that can be helpfully summed up in monosyllables, and that is one danger that we have to face.

But I see no alternative to the Question that the Government have framed. I do not want to criticise it, as I do not think it could be improved upon. But in all Referenda there is this temptation to over-simplify the great issues, and to allow emotional and hysterical attitudes to gather round the decision which people have to make. Another difficulty in this Referendum—and perhaps I can speak from these Benches in a way which is not easy for all in this House—is that there is a peculiarly complicated political situation here. If we just assume for a moment—and I know that this is by no means yet certain, but it is a possibility —that the Government recommend to the people that we should stay in the Common Market on the new terms they have at the same time to present their recommendation in such a way that it will not weaken their own political strength in the country. I am assuming that everything goes on as it normally does.

It would be an act of generosity and statesmanship, provided they wished to recommend acceptance if her Majesty's Government said, frankly, "The Conservative Government were right in taking us into the Common Market, but we have been able to make our contribution in improving the terms, so we hope you will endorse their decision and ours by saying "Yes" in the Referendum". If the Conservatives are going to rise to the height of this great argument, they will have to say, "We were right. We still believe we were right to take Britain into the Common Market. We believe that Parliament was an adequate representation of the will and purpose of the nation. But the present Government, under the threat of leaving the Market, have been able to improve the terms. So please vote "Yes" and support what was right in our contribution and what is beneficial in the contribution of the present Government". The Liberal Party are, I believe, in a slightly less embarrassing position, because they have not been fully involved in a Government decision on this matter, and I am sure they are wise enough to decide what they should say.

What I am trying to suggest to your Lordships, and to those who represent and lead the great Parties of our nation, is that this might be an opportunity for us to rise above the level of partisanship which normally serves us well. I say that because although it is a way of ensuring that both sides of an argument in the country are heard and understood, we are in a position where the ordinary ding-dong process of Party political controversy will be quite out of place if all three of the leading Parties recommend adherence to the Common Market.

There are one or two other points which I wish briefly to make. One is about the size of the majority. I think that the noble Lord the Leader of the House made a good case for the simple majority, but, as I understand it, an inadequate case. Just remember, my Lords, that if in an ordinary local election there is a majority of, shall I say, fewer than 50, there is invariably a recount, or several recounts, in which the votes generally come out different every time, or very nearly so. Is it conceivable, then, that in this extreme case the nation could accept a majority of one? Is it conceivable that in a vote of about 30 million— if it should be a large vote—an issue of this sort should be decided by such an extremely doubtful calculation? You would certainly need a recount at the very first stage of the whole operation.

I should like to throw into the pool for discussion some idea such as this. If the majority is less than a certain agreed figure—my own guess would be a quarter of a million; that would be a reasonable proportion with an electorate of this size, although it could easily be a matter for discussion—the final decision will be made by Parliament, treating the Referendum figures as indicative of feeling but not necessarily decisive in the binding way for which the Government appear at the moment to have opted. I was convinced that the idea of one central count was right, but I now see a danger in it because it might be that if the feeling in Scotland or Wales was very strong—and they are feeling aggrieved because of what they consider to be a deprivation of some kind of national right—they could vote against whatever the Government were recommending, either for the Community or against, just to assert their independence in a rather unwise and, as I think, hysterical way. It might not be a helpful contribution to the final result.

We should be aware of the danger of hysteria. We are throwing enormous hostages to fortune in opening this subject to a Referendum decision, because with the use of modern media feeling can be swayed very rapidly. The modern public may be clever, but it is certainly very volatile and emotional. I can well imagine a demagogue giving a speech on television very close to the day of the Referendum that might sway feeling either for or against the European Community. I expect your Lordships can guess who is the demagogue whom I have in mind, and what he would be likely to say. I can well imagine such a speech having a bearing on the result which is out of all proportion to the reality of the issues being discussed.

In some of the other Referenda that have been held, notably in Norway, there was something of this element in them. Something of the same spirit that came into our own country at the time of Dunkirk entered a country like Norway at the time of its Referendum—a sudden feeling of "We are a small country, but we are a band of brothers and we will stand together come the world against us if it may". This is not a true analysis of the situation, but it may have an enormous emotional effect on the country. I think a very sustained effort will be necessary if we are to keep the discussion of this issue on a responsible level.

I think Her Majesty's Government are trying very hard to be fair in the presentation of the issues, but this, again, is a very difficult question because we have never before had a situation where a Government were standing for a policy and recommending it, but, at the same time, being in some way responsible for the presentation of the opposition. This is a new and unusual situation, and I think it will call for all the statesmanship and the generosity we can command if we are to turn this Referendum into something positive and useful and not a disaster.


My Lords, before the right reverend Prelate sits down, may I ask one question, with the leave of the House? In asking it, I should like to offer an introductory congratulation to the right reverend Prelate on his reference to the manner in which the Labour Party and the Conservative Party should present the matters during the course of this Referendum. He also mentioned the Liberal Party. Would he not agree that the public should be informed, in the course of what he put forward as an objective historical approach to this matter, that it was the Liberal Party which in 1959 in the other place moved a Motion that we should join the EEC? That Motion was defeated by the joint vote of the Conservative and Labour Parties. Secondly, would he not agree that we would not be in the Common Market now, had it not been for the Liberal votes in the House of Commons regarding the Treaty of Accession? I hesitate to introduce an acrid atmosphere of Party controversy. I am asking these questions in the objective manner in which the right reverend Prelate put his advice to this House this afternoon.

The Lord Bishop of LEICESTER

My Lords, I gladly accept whatever correction comes from that carefully worded—


With great respect, my Lords, it was not a correction; it was an addition to his address.

The Lord Bishop of LEICESTER

My Lords, I am sure that what the noble Lord said is true. I hope that all honour will be given to everybody who deserves honour in this matter.

5.56 p.m.

The Earl of ONSLOW

My Lords, I do not think it too odd, in your Lordships' House anyway, for a Tory to praise the Labour Party. It might be considered a little odd, even in your Lordships' House, for a Tory to say that Mr. Wilson may go down in history as a good Prime Minister. But I am going to say both of those things. The Labour Party is essential for the health of the British body politic. It has contributed greatly to this country; it has successfully— admittedly with outside help—de-revolutionised a large and discontented section of the population; it has been part-architect of a mixed economy. As a Tory, of course, I have been able to, and have done and will, criticise what it has done, is doing and is about to do.

Mr. Wilson, as a Prime Minister, will go down as quite a good one—I think it would be stretching charity or judgment too far to say that he will go down as a very good one—if he manages to keep the Labour Party united as a social democratic force and keeps Britain within the EEC. But I am a youngish man and I would be horrified if he did this at the expense of our Constitution. Europe represents the future and, to a certain extent, its age and conservatism are nobly represented by the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, on one side, and its youth and pro-gressiveness—I hesitate to say they are represented by myself—are representd by large numbers of the younger people in this country. They are the people who want us to remain in the EEC.

If Mr. Wilson derogates from our Constitution and from the sovereignty of Parliament, all that praise will be undeserved and all the good works he will have done will be turned to ashes. I, too, will quote Burke. This is what Burke had to say on our Constitution: We are Members (of Parliament) for a free country and surely we all know that the machine of a free Constitution is no simple thing, but is as intricate and as delicate as it is valuable. The Referendum is likely to upset this valuable intricacy. Our Constitution has obviously grown more intricate since 1775. It has, however, been the guardian of the freest people on earth. That freedom is so very precious. We have a Constitution unwritten, but older than anyone else's. The French Constitution dates from 1958; the German from 1949; the Italian from 1946. We are Members of a House of Parliament which dates from 1271. Its roots go back even further. This Parliamentary liberty is so precious that it must not be jeopardised. In my opinion, this is what the Referendum will do.

The noble Lord, Lord Byers, put the case against the Referendum so well that I have torn up at least three-quarters of what I was going to say. It does not need restating, it just needs underlining. Some will say, as has the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, that accession to the EEC will derogate from that sovereignty of Queen and Parliament. I must remind your Lordships that that same sovereign Parliament can pass an Act of Parliament taking us out of the EEC. Penultimately, my Lords, let us remember that Bonaparte was a great fan of Referenda, but he was not a great fan of personal liberty. Napoleon III also used Referenda, and he will not go down in history as a great liberty-loving constitutional monarch. Referenda have been used by dictators and demagogues for a very long time. But it is also worth remembering that, when General de Gaulle narrowly lost his Referendum, he resigned, but then he was a great man. Mr. Wilson said that he will not resign.

Lastly, my Lords, what happens if the people vote in the Referendum against the Cabinet's advice, in a situation where the Cabinet says, "Come out of Europe!" and the people say, "Stay in!". That is a fascinating point. That situation sums up the difficulties which Referenda produce. I hold our liberties too dear not to be deeply concerned about this alien contraption.

6.2 p.m.


My Lords, may I start by adding my tribute to those paid by other noble Lords to the debut of the noble Lord, Lord Balniel. He addressed us not only with knowledge but with that great thing which one calls style, and your Lordships will remember the famous French proverb that 'style is the man himself.' That will be a great contribution to our future debates. May I also welcome, and pay my tribute to the maiden speech in this House of the noble Lord, Lord Tranmire. We shall certainly enjoy listening to him and, since he comes to us as the "Father" of another place, I have been trying to think what title would be suitable for him in this House. I suppose that he could be the "grandfather", but, presumably, the one thing we must not call him is the "godfather".

For obvious reasons, I usually refrain from arguing with the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, but I must just say a word because the gramophone record—if I may paraphrase the noble Lord, Lord Carrington —reached a point where I think the needle got stuck. I noticed that the Foreign Office was accorded a mention no fewer than six times. I should like to disclaim, with some embarrassment, the enormous power attributed to that great and efficient organisation. I do this in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Avon, the late Mr. Ernest Bevin, the Speaker of the House of Commons, as well as Mr. Michael Stewart and the noble Lord, Lord George-Brown, all of whom as members of the Cabinet knew quite well how to take charge of the organisation which they represented in Parliament. I should also like to mention that, if the journey of St. Paul to Damascus is used in any connection with our present Prime Minister, it is worth remembering that on that journey his eyes were opened.

May I now comment on a few precise points in the Green and White Paper. It is an idea that has a pleasant Irish flavour about it. First, may I say how much I was impressed by the clarity and simplicity of language which has been employed throughout this Paper. If 1 may say so, it is highly commendable that such care has been taken in an official document not to use "officialese" but to talk to people in straightforward and clear English, so much so that the Paper does not even say "remain"; it says "stay". This is a great merit. I should also like to thank the noble Lord the Leader of the House for the equally practical and straightforward exposition of the Paper which he gave us.

In regard to the presentation of the question to the public, I should like to express my wholehearted agreement with what was said on the subject by the noble Baroness, Lady Tweedsmuir of Belhelvie. It seems to me that this presentation is factual, fair and clear, and is precisely right. It says enough, but not too much. It represents the exact situation and gives people a perfectly fair opportunity to put their "Yes" or their "No".

Paragraph 12 refers to the qualification to vote. As I asked the first question in this House about that, I am delighted to see that your Lordships are entitled to vote. If I may step for one moment off the "straight and narrow", may I associate myself with the question asked a day or two ago by the noble Lord, Lord Royle, and say that I hope this will also remind the Government that they have told us that your Lordships might receive the general franchise when an opportunity came. In my experience, if one wants an opportunity one can find it, and I hope the Government will go about finding it.

In paragraph 21 we come to a point of considerable and sincere argument; the question of the universal or general vote, or, as an alternative, regional, local or constituency voting of a different kind. I think I am expressing a minority opinion at the moment in this House when I attribute the greatest importance to the vote being general and centrally organised and announced. I know that there are difficulties of expenditure in this way of doing it. I suppose there are difficulties about the state of emotion generally during the interval when votes are being counted. But, after all, there are great intervals in the two ballots at least under which French Presidents are elected, and the franc does not disappear beneath the ground on that account. I feel certain that, while that is a point which the Government will do well to consider, it is not fatal to the central vote.

It seems to me that the decisive point is one which emerged in the debate in another place on the question of the degree of future autonomy to be enjoyed by Scotland and Wales. Honourable gentlemen seeking to be elected have naturally paid great deference to the various forms of autonomy. But when this question came to be considered in another place in the context of the unity of the United Kingdom, there was no doubt what the expressed and unexpressed feeling of that place was; namely, that nothing must be done to interfere with the basic unity of the United Kingdom. This, if ever anything was, is a United Kingdom question. The advocates of the Referendum say that it is for the British people, and I have the strongest feeling that the only healthy way to express the result is to express it in terms of the whole people of the United Kingdom. In doing this, there should be every care to associate personalities from Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales with the process. But I am equally certain that no good service will be done to the cause of the essential unity of this Kingdom if there is a suggestion that we must yield to the imagined fears of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and that, in some way, a central result would derogate from the degree of autonomy which they will surely be receiving.

I come to paragraphs 29 and 30 which deal with the presentation of the arguments to the people of this country. On that, I would say only that the one job in this world which I would refuse, however much I was offered, would be to be the editor of these papers which will have to answer the answers given to the answers! But I see no alternative and I can only wish the Government and the editor well in producing something intelligible and fair. It will simply have to be attempted.

My Lords, I next come to paragraphs 35 to 39 and, here, I must inflict upon your Lordships again what I shall call the "wealth / power syndrome". No doubt the Government were right to consider the question of the control of private finance operating in this field. I think that they were also right to speak in terms of no control in advance and only of possibly reviewing the amount expended when the Referendum was over. The difficulty about this is that—as a later paragraph suggests—there is also the temptation to misuse not only money but also power.

One cannot adjust or reckon power by statistics, but things will be done here and there through the application of power in its most generalised form to try to induce people to vote in a particular way. I think that the only way in which that can be controlled is through frankness on the part of the media. If there is ever any pressure of a kind which is wrong, they will have to regard it as their duty, to expose it, so that it is effectively discouraged. I do not think that the Government can do very much about it, but it is a point which should not be absent from Ministers' discussions before they lay down the eventual rules.

I tend to agree—though again I feel that there is nothing much which can be done about it—with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester that there will be a danger of the issue being "fuzzed" by the excessive application of personality. However, I feel that this is something that we shall simply have to learn to live with. Again, it will be an obligation on the media to do their best to give straight and sober statements of the arguments on each side, and not rely totally on shouting matches between the more emotional advocates of each cause, because they only confuse and alienate. I believe that the public will have to accept that there must be a certain limited amount of slightly longer than usual, sober exposition of points of view on the "box" and on the radio.

My Lords, those are my individual points. I have not hitherto mentioned the Referendum. I have not done so because I think that I agree with all the strictures that have been directed towards this way of handling the case. One knows perfectly well the reason it has come about, and I think it is simply the case that the Government have felt compelled to do something which cannot help but depreciate the standing of Parliament. There is no avoiding this and, as many noble Lords have said, it is no good calling this decision unique. If I were desirous of being difficult, I should say that every decision was "unique", but other noble Lords have cited decisions of equal pitch and moment, and that defence is really not one that can be sustained. At the same time— while I should like to encourage the idea of a consultative Referendum—I wonder, from the practical point of view, whether it would be tolerable to public opinion for people to be instructed and urged to gird themselves for a Referendum, to go through all this trouble and learn the rules simply for the purpose of giving advice. I very much wonder whether that would be tolerable, though in theory it would be a very good idea. I realise that, in expressing these doubts, I have left untidy a situation in which a small majority one way or the other existed, and in which the other place wished to take the contrary decision. I do not feel called on to settle that matter, even in my own mind. But I simply wish to put it before your Lordships as an additional difficulty which the Referendum idea has caused.

Finally, my Lords, I have also not expressed a view about the result of the Referendum, largely because my own view of what it should be is extremely well known. However, as one or two noble Lords have expressed their views on that point, may I just conclude with a re-statement of my wish that the British people will decide in favour of enterprise and the future.

6.15 p.m.


My Lords, somebody said to me at tea just now that he could not imagine that there was anything new left to be said in this debate. I contradicted him, and I hope that your Lord-ships will agree that I have something new to say. However, I also hope that your Lordships will forgive me if I indulge in a run-up, and of course the beginning of the run-up must be to congratulate the maiden speakers. One of these was Lord Tranmire, whom I congratulate for his audible and eloquent speech and for bringing to this House his years of experience. Then there was my noble friend Lord Balniel, whom I congratulate for his competent, also audible—and that is not always the case with speeches from the Front Bench on this side of the House for those behind—and elegant speech. I hope —indeed I am sure—that we shall hear more from him. I know that your Lord-ships will agree with me when I say I am delighted that he has beaten the gun, and I hope that he has done so by many years.

My Lords, as I said, I shall not add to the stream of criticism of the constitutional aspects of this issue, except to say that I agree wholeheartedly with the attacks that have been made on the whole conception of the Referendum from a constitutional point of view. It happened that yesterday I was able to hear most of the speech of the right honourable lady the Leader of the Opposition in another place, when she pilloried the Government for their renunciation of the doctrine of collective responsibility. Other Members on different sides of the House also did so, and it is a matter for real regret and really rather shocking that copies of the Official Report are not available to us today so that we can see what was said in those speeches which many of us did not hear. I think that it is terrible that the bully-boys of today have denied Parliament this facility; it interferes with our business. I was sorry that the noble Lord the Leader of the House took me up when I asked about postal copies of Hansard, because he had said in the Statement that copies of the Statement would be circulated with the Official Report. If it is not coming out by post, it will be ages before we get it. Be that as it may, had we had yesterday's Official Report I could have seen what was said by the representatives in the other place of the Scottish National Party.

Speaking for myself, I cannot conceal a recognition of the skill of the Prime Minister in outwitting Parliament, the Opposition and his own dissidents by the way in which this plan has been laid and carried through. At the same time, I recognise that in reaching a decision to have a Referendum—and I am assuming that we shall have to have a Referendum —he has delivered a blow at our Constitution and at Parliament the injury of which can never be concealed or eliminated. Our Constitution will never again be the same.

There is, however, one particular aspect of the White Paper to which I wish to make special reference, in which connection I said that I thought I had something new to contribute to the debate over and above what has already been said. As I say, I regret that I did not hear the speeches of the Scottish National Party Members in the other place, but I believe that this White Paper contains a very prudent decision. That is the decision that the counting of the voting should be carried out centrally. I was pleased to hear what the noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal said about the mind of the Government not being closed to suggestions. I suggest that to have the votes counted and recorded other than centrally might lead some people to reach irrelevant and confusing conclusions and that such a thing would be entirely unacceptable.

As a Scotsman, my thoughts turn at once to the contention of the Scottish National Party that the figures for Scotland should be separately publicised. If that were to happen—and the SNP claim that there is a clamour for it to happen —it would be disadvantageous to the United Kingdom as a whole. The SNP claim that they represent the true feeling of Scotland, but that is not so. I regret that the noble Lord, Lord Belhaven and Stenton, is not in his place. I confidently expected when I left Scotland yesterday that he would be here, and if he were he would pick me up if I said anything out of order, so to speak. I contend that the SNP are not entitled to arrogate to themselves the right to speak for Scotsmen as a whole. At the last Election the SNP received only 25 per cent. of the votes cast, but there are far more Scotsmen resident or working outwith Scotland —in England, Wales, Europe, all over the world—than the 850,000 who cast their votes for the SNP.

Speaking in the other place, the Leader of the Liberal Party dwelt on the fact that there are many people outwith the United Kingdom, living and working abroad, and he went so far as to say that the fact that they are abroad probably means that they are "voting with their feet". It would be impossible to count people like that who are not on the voting list or registered in this country, and I am not suggesting that such a task should be undertaken; but I contend that for Scotland this is a factor which must weigh with the Government should they ever think of departing from their contention in paragraph 21 of the White Paper that the votes should be counted centrally.

Many members of the SNP are all for breaking the Union of 1707 and demand an independent Scotland. I know I am right in saying that the noble Lord, Lord Belhaven and Stenton, does not go as far as that. Nevertheless, this is the claim that is being made, and on this point, which we have to fear, I quote from an article which was written by the noble Lord, Lord Home of the Hirsel, in last month's edition of Life and Work not about whether or not the votes should be counted centrally, but about devolution. He warned about the feelings of the SNP in connection with Scotland's link with the rest of the United Kingdom and said: At the last General Election, Conservatives, Socialists and Liberals were specific; devolution had to be within the framework of unity. The SNP were equivocal. Some campaigned for separation from England—some for a federal set-up and some for some kind of customs union. But definition in such an important matter cannot be fluffed. A Scotland which is totally independent and a Scotland which enjoys devolved powers as part of a United Kingdom are two entirely different constitutional conceptions. Note the words "cannot be fluffed". This is the point I, too, stress, and this is why I feel that the Government have been wise to resist any question of counting Scottish votes separately.

Here I admit that I differ from my noble friend Lord Balniel, on whose maiden speech I have remarked. I think that the noble Baroness, Lady Tweedsmuir of Belhelvie, also said that she would not mind them being counted separately. It is clear to me that if the Government were to surrender to the clamour for separate counting grave misunderstanding could arise. Rather let them consider an extension of paragraph 14 to include British subjects abroad who may not be on the voters' roll. I appreciate that there is not time to do that on this occasion, but I hope that if we ever have other Referenda every possible step will be taken to see that postal and proxy votes are encouraged, which is in line with what the White Paper says. I remind your Lordships that I spent more than 30 years working abroad. I was the chairman of the Caledonian Society in the city in which I lived and, perhaps because of my age, I get irritable when my fellow countrymen imply that because I am a Unionist I am not a dedicated and devoted Scotsman. This is something the SNP should bear in mind.

In paragraph 12 of the White Paper is discussed the question of Peers voting in the Referendum. The noble Lord, Lord Tranmire, pointed out in his maiden speech that Parliament will ultimately have to decide. We are in Parliament and we have votes here, and that is why we do not have a vote in parliamentary elections—not because we are lunatic, bankrupt or convicted felons, but because we have votes here. I wonder whether the reference in the White Paper is not a bit of a dig at your Lordships' House by people who would rather like us to go elsewhere?

The noble Lord, Lord Wigg, asked where this all began. So far as I am concerned, it began for me when, having been a Member of your Lordships' House for a good many years, I came, still with an open mind about the Common Market, to our debate, in January 1971. We had a two-day debate on the subject and it was not Conservative persuasion that swayed me—and, remember, my Lords, we were then on the other side of the House—but the remarks that were made by noble Lords who were then on this side, in opposition. The noble Lords, Lord Diamond, Lord Shackleton, Lord George-Brown, Lord Gladwyn and others, convinced me utterly that we should be in the Common Market. I assure the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, that it was the remarks of his colleagues that persuaded me that this was the only course open to us.

My Lords, that is all I have to say. I should like to close with a reverberation of the fact that this Referendum is, in my view, a fundamental departure from our accepted traditions. However, we must wait to see what the Bill says, and though I have been responsible for dividing this House against the Second Reading of a Bill from the other place, I do not suggest that this would be at all a wise move in this case. I believe that we can look forward with the greatest interest to the legislation when it reaches the Table.

6.30 p.m.


My Lords, I can certainly agree with the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, that not much which is new remains to be said in the debate, and in any event I can be brief because what I have to say is only a pale shadow of part of the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Burton of Coventry, who can state a case so much better than I can.

I did not think that we would get very far into this debate without hearing that famous phrase, "The full-hearted consent of the people", the great taunt of the Government against the Conservatives. I should like to ask the Government whether they are really so sure that the course they propose has the full-hearted consent of the people? I am quite sure that already many people in this country would not favour their own chances of arriving at the right answer to this difficult question, and who would much prefer to leave the matter to be decided by Parliament. But I do not believe that those people in any way approach the number who will take that view of the situation after they have been bombarded from various quarters with propaganda offering conflicting advice, as the day of the great Referendum approaches. I believe that on the eve of that day a great groan will come out from people saying: "My goodness! how I wish that this question did not have to be decided by me, but that it could be decided by Parliament".

I know that the Government can claim that they have a mandate for taking this course, but such claims can be strong or weak claims, according to various circumstances, and in this case circumstances such as the following: How prominently did this issue figure in the Party Manifesto, giving rise to this claim to a mandate? How large was the majority by which the Election was won upon that Manifesto? I am bound to say in passing that I think that the Government's proposed course would be on very much stronger ground if as many people had voted Labour at the last General Election as voted against Labour. Another question is, how long an interval has passed since the Election Manifesto was published? What opportunities have arisen in the meantime for public opinion to change upon the issue in question, the Common Market issue? Whatever one may say about a Referendum, one thing is certain about it—that a Referendum provides a golden opportunity to find out whether people in fact, want a Referendum. All that it is necessary to do in a Referendum is to have two simple questions, instead of one simple question. The first question should be: Do you want this issue to be decided (a) by Referendum or (b) by Parliament? The second question should be: If by Referendum, do you want us to stay in or to come out?

Paragraph 9 of the Government White Paper recognises that this suggestion has been made, but it makes no attempt whatever to give any reasons for rejecting the suggestion. All that paragraph 9 says is that … the Prime Minister has made it clear … that the referendum will ask. for a simple ' Yes' or ' No ' … and the Government believe that the advantage lies with simplicity. I, too, believe that the advantage lies with simplicity. When I think of the form filling which ordinary people have to indulge in, with regard to their income tax affairs, and in making claims for pensions and allowances, in licensing their cars and so on, what could be simpler than being confronted with a piece of paper which says: "1. Do you want a referendum or not? 2. If you want a referendum, what is your answer to the main question?" I hope that the Government will think again about this and will produce something rather more substantial than paragraph 9 of the White Paper, if they are to reject this suggestion again, because if they leave Question 1 off the Referendum form how do they know that they are going into a Referendum which has the full-hearted consent of the people?

6.35 p.m.


My Lords, one of the disadvantages of speaking late in the list, preceded by distinguished speakers, is that, rather like my noble friend Lord Onslow, I find that practically everything I wanted to say has already been said. I thought that I was still safe but, no, the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, made a suggestion which had not previously been made and which was on my list. I hope that I shall not trespass on your Lordships' time for too long in repeating arguments which have been made against the principle of a Referendum in our Constitution.

The noble Lord, Lord Byers, put his argument very forcefully indeed, and I can only say that I find myself in whole-hearted agreement with his remarks. For a start, of necessity, the Referendum undermines the authority of Parliament, and it has no place—and never has had any place—in our Constitution. Further-more, on this question of membership of the European Common Market, I believe that it is totally unfair to ask the man in the street such a difficult question. However simply it might be put, it is, none the less, a very complicated and difficult matter.

Why, I ask myself, do we hire a dog and then do the barking ourselves? By that I mean that the people of this country elect their Members of Parliament to decide issues of this kind. Members of Parliament are—or, if they are not, they should be—qualified to judge for themselves on questions of this sort. That is what they are there for. Why, therefore, go back to the people again virtually to say, "Please can we have your endorsement? This is what we believe in, and it is what we think you ought to do. Will you please agree?" Members of Parliament would look very stupid, and we might look very stupid, if it were recommended to the country that we should continue in the Community—which I believe we should—and the people of the country replied, "No, we don't like it, because on a personal basis it probably hits our pockets." They may not understand the deep-rooted problems involved.

My Lords, as several noble Lords have already said, MPs are elected by their constituents who know the principles for which prospective MPs stand. If constituents know that a prospective MP is in favour of Britain's staying in the Common Market, I cannot see how they can complain if that MP subsequently votes accordingly. Therefore, there can be no question of need for a Referendum. The Government have been elected to govern, and the Prime Minister now finds himself probably committed to recommending, quite rightly, the renegotiated terms of entry.

If, by chance, the electorate were to say, "No", surely the consequences would be quite ludicrous. Either we would be faced with withdrawal, and all the political and financial consequences that that would involve, or the Government would have to ignore the verdict. I think it is a very dangerous journey on which to embark. The noble Lord, Lord Alport, referred to the possibility of this House considering turning down the proposed legislation at Second Reading. I think this is a very far-reaching and serious suggestion; but surely it has some merit because, as he rightly said, we are the guardians of our Constitution. Would it not be appropriate, perhaps, if the Government were to consider having a Referendum on the principle of whether Referenda are to form part of our Constitution in the future? If the answer to that were. "Yes, we should like it", then we should be in no position at all to oppose any form of legislation which enabled Referenda to take place.

But if the answer from the people of the country were, "No, we do not want Referenda. We want our Parliament and our MPs to decide what is best for us; that is what we elect them for", then if we found ourselves in a position where another place passed legislation to introduce Referenda—and by that time this House was aware of the feeling in the country that the people did not want Referenda—we should be obliged to take note of their decision. I should like to suggest that consideration be given to having an initial Referendum on the principle of whether Referenda should from now on form part of our Constitution.


My Lords, will the noble Viscount tell us whether he considers the level of intelligence of the people is sufficient to be able to judge even that question that he put to the House; that is, whether the country should have a Referendum? Or is that too complex a question to be put to the people of the country? If it is not sufficient, how else would the noble Viscount do it?


My Lords, I do not think it is beyond the intelligence of anybody to decide whether or not he wants to be ruled by Referenda or by Parliament. If anyone asked that question, the answer would be simple to decide. It is a totally different question from deciding the economic and political consequences of joining the EEC, which I must say I for one—and I am sure that there are many of us—am not capable of making up my mind about. I would say that the people of the country would be quite capable of deciding that question of Referenda.

My Lords, to sum up I think we ought to have a Referendum on the principle of whether these are to play a part in our Constitution; because if we have a Referendum on the Common Market then, as sure as night follows day, the people will be crying out for Referenda on various other subjects. If we have a Referendum on the EEC, then Parliament must arrive at some means whereby Referenda can be called for to decide on other matters in some satisfactory way. But, better still, I consider that we ought to have no Referendum at all. If we do not have one, no delay will be caused in confirming our continued membership of the EEC—instead of which, as the noble Lord, Lord Byers, has said, we shall have continued uncertainty on this matter at least until June.

6.45 p.m.


My Lords, I should first like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Balniel, on his maiden speech from the Dispatch Box this afternoon. I did not have the pleasure of being with him in another place, but I trust that his political reputation will not take too great a knock if I say that what the other place has lost we have gained. I should like also to congratulate an old friend of mine in the House of Commons, the noble Lord, Lord Tranmire, with whom I had the honour of serving in another place and who I am pleased to see in the House today. I congratulate him on his speech, because it was made from a position of isolation, a position which I myself feel to some extent this afternoon. But in the case of Lord Tranmire, his was a speech of great courage and I sincerely hope that the House will hear from him many times again. I speak with some trepidation, because I am a new Member of your Lordships' House, but I cannot forbear to express the opinion that the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, insofar as it referred to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, fell rather lower than the standard of courtesy which I have had the pleasure of being accorded in this House so far.

Our reason for discussing the White Paper this afternoon is a very clear one. It is because the then Leader of the Conservative Party undertook not to take the country into the Common Market without the full-hearted consent of the British people. Nobody has ever argued about this; and the facts are on the record. Moreover, in the Election campaign of 1970 when the Conservative Party, had it so wished, could have entered into a commitment to consult the people, they contented themselves in their Manifesto with saying, "Our sole commitment is to negotiate. No more, no less." Despite that pledge, and despite the words of the Leader of the Conservative Party, this country was taken into the Common Market without the full-hearted consent of the British people in any sense that could be understood by the ordinary interpretation of words. Hence the necessity for the Referendum today.

Why is the Liberal Party in this House, and why is the Conservative Party in this House, so terrified—or apparently so—of a Referendum? After all, they have the bulk of the ordinary Press behind them; they have the great media mostly behind them; they certainly have the great bulk of the Civil Service machine, both in this country and in Brussels, behind them. They have illustrious Commissioners, some of them with links with the Conservative Party. All are on their side. What makes them so nervous about this Referendum?


My Lords, in my speech I made it absolutely clear that it is not the result of the Referendum that worries me; it is the importation of the Referendum as a constitutional tool into our Parliamentary procedure.


My Lords, I accept that the noble Lord is possibly more concerned with the result than with the Referendum; but I query whether his Party is wholly in support of the Referendum itself. Certainly, the Conservative Party is very much concerned with the Referendum. I ask myself, "Why?" Why should they be so afraid? They have all the power on their side. I think it is because, not-withstanding the words that have fallen from the lips of some noble Lords, they are a little afraid that the people of this country will vote for a Referendum.

Objections have been made to the Referendum on two main grounds. It was the last ground, that raised by the noble Viscount, Lord Mountgarret, that ultimately impelled me to get to my feet. This is the objection that has been voiced not only by the noble Viscount but by the noble Baroness, Lady Burton, that some-how the people of this country are not capable of coming to a rational decision on this matter. This is the most superb arrogance. I can tell the noble Viscount that there are miners in South Wales working at menial tasks who, as a result of their spare-time studies in their own libraries, are far more knowledgeable about these and other affairs than is probably the noble Viscount.

Viscount AMORY

My Lords, I apologise for interrupting the noble Lord, but perhaps I might take this opportunity of saying personally what a great pleasure it is to see him here. He and I were colleagues on opposite sides in another place many years ago. I am sure the noble Lord does not want to be unfair. I have listened to nearly all the speeches made today, and I should have thought that their main theme for objecting to the Referendum was not on the grounds that the noble Lord has just mentioned, but it was the fear, amounting almost to a certainty, that the adoption of the Referendum as part of our constitutional processes would involve the depreciation of Parliament.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Viscount. I do not want to prolong my speech unduly, but I can tell the noble Viscount that I was coming to precisely that point later in my remarks. I must pursue the question as to whether the ordinary people of Britain are capable of making up their minds on this matter. Every five years, or even less, the electorate—the ordinary people in the little streets of Britain—are invited to elect their Members of Parliament to the House of Commons. They get a whole series of complicated issues presented to them, some of them far more complex than the comparatively simple issues involved in the European Common Market. And they make up their minds on those issues and return their Members of Parliament. Of course, when they return a Conservative Government, it is the wisdom of the people that has spoken. This is the wisdom that everybody praises. Everybody says how wise they are to take this sage course and how very well informed they must be. So this horse really will not run; and there is something rather dangerous, I think, about democrats, or people who call themselves so, professing lack of confidence in the people. This is the first step that is taken in ignoring the wishes of the people they are supposed to represent. The other objection—


My Lords, would my noble friend pardon me. It is no part of my role to defend the Conservative Party, but would he bear in mind that this theme of the ordinary people being unable to understand complex arguments is an importation. M. Lardinois, a European Commissioner, has said it over and over again, and of course it is echoed over on those Benches, and it is slightly anachronistic so far as they are concerned, because they believe it.


My Lords, I am obliged to the noble Lord. I do not think that the Party opposite capable of sufficient original thinking to have thought up the whole thing themselves. But I am dealing now with the question of what is called" the constitutional propriety" of the Referendum, as to whether or not it impinges on the British Constitution, or whether it is "un-British" or is going to lead to all kinds of undesirable precedents. Noble Lords opposite should be a little wary about how they pursue this argument. They have been so busy denouncing the Referendum as something essentially alien to the British tradition and likely to lead to all kinds of catastrophes that they forget that the Referendum is also operative in the EEC. Why are they inviting us to stay in Europe, where Constitutions in many cases are dominated by the Referendum? They should therefore pursue this argument with considerable caution.

What is a Referendum? It is often said that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. A Referendum, in essence, is a secret ballot. That is really all it is. You can call it a Referendum and dress it up with all kinds of mystique, but in fact it is a secret ballot held in order to determine either one objective or a series of objectives, to provide an answer to a certain question or to certain specific questions. Shorn of the name "Referendum", that is all it is. If a Referendum were suggested as a permanent constitutional instrument in this country, the results of which automatically became statutory, I should be one of the first persons to object to it. I believe in the Referendum as a means of enabling the Executive, and indeed the country as a whole, to be apprised of people's opinions on certain matters. But the obligation as to whether any Government should be bound by the results of a Referendum is a matter entirely for themselves. At no point has it been proved, though it has many times been suggested, that the holding of a Referendum, as such, will have any impact on Parliament or on Parliament's powers at all.

Nobody has been able to show that the kind of Referendum which is proposed in the White Paper has the slightest effect on any of our Parliamentary institutions. All it does is to announce numerically a result; and in this particular instance, and in this instance only, the Government have announced that they will accept the result. But there is no obligation on Parliament as a whole to accept the result. The powers of Parliament remain exactly as they were and therefore all this argument about the Referendum being somehow a blow to the British Constitution shows a lack of understanding of the British Constitution and the effects of the Referendum which would almost disqualify those uttering these inanities from taking part in a Referendum, on their own say-so. In fact, the Conservative Party here is fighting a completely sham battle. Of course, it believes in the secret ballot— which is what the Referendum is—and it believes wholeheartedly in it. Indeed, if one remembers the ill-fated Industrial Relations Act, your Lordships will find on referring to Sections 15, 16 and 49 that this wicked principle of a Referendum, a secret ballot, is enshrined in that legislation.

This, my Lords, is what we were told at the time by none other than the noble Lord, Lord Drumablyn, when he was discussing the particular aspect of the secret ballot. He said this at column 796 on 10th May, 1971 : If the employer is resisting and the union believes it has the full support of the workers, it will go to the Industrial Relations Court and ask for a ballot"— a ballot, my Lords! Fie on your Lord-ships!— to see whether the majority supports the idea. So either way the will of the majority will prevail. Then the noble Lord continued : Is not this a very democratic and British way of doing things? And for good measure, and in order to give distinction to it, he continued: I do not know whether anywhere else things are done exactly like this. It is not exactly comparable with the United States. There are differences particularly in the right of the individual not to belong to a union if he chooses."—(col. 796.) But, my Lords, the principle is precisely the same. The holding of a secret ballot, which is a Referendum, within many trade unions in this country has been long established—in the case of NATSOPA since 1889. It goes further back into history than that. When noble Lords opposite sought to import a secret ballot into their Industrial Relations Act 1971 they knew perfectly well that the unions were already under the executive control of their own general secretaries and their own executives. If they disbelieve in a Referendum or a secret ballot, which are precisely the same, why did they import it into that Bill?

The answer is that the battle from the Conservative Benches today is a charade. The only reason that there has been participation is purely to ventilate certain differences that undoubtedly exist on these Benches. The sole reason even for initiating the debate is purely to cause political embarrassment to the Government. Well, they may of course succeed in that. But, my Lords, I would warn them that in the passage of time they are the ones who will ultimately be embarrassed.

7.2 p.m.

The Earl of LYTTON

My Lords, may I be allowed to offer my congratulations to the two maiden speakers, the noble Lords, Lord Balniel and Lord Tranmire. Not only did they speak with a wonderful sequence of logical expression, but they did so, apparently, without even the fragment of notes such as I wave about in front of my face, and they did it in a manner which I have not seen before: they did it as a duet. The noble Lord, Lord Balniel, asked that his speech should be considered in conjunction with the other maiden. Had it not been for that, I should have felt that, although people had said the noble Lord, Lord Balniel, was not provocative, he unlifted the veil of Party schism on the other side in a way which in a normal speech would have certainly produced an Enoch out of the hat, but for the fact that the noble Lord was speaking a maiden. Also, he got up a considerable head of steam with great ability. Then I thought that his colleague maiden turned the tap and let all the steam out. In that way the second maiden entirely compensated for what-ever provocations were made by the first.

I should like to comment on the irony of history. I was commanding a company as a young officer in Ship Street Barracks and providing the guards for Dublin Castle in the last days, in the bastion, of the unity of the United Kingdom. I witnessed to my sorrow the destruction of the unity of the United Kingdom in Dublin Castle in 1920. It is therefore refreshing to find that in this very Dublin Castle, the scene of a disaster, as I can never fail to regard it, the Irish have been at pains by every possible device to preserve the rest of the United Kingdom in that new unity in which they and we take part. They have taken a great deal of trouble to try to prevent that unity from breaking down. It is a pleasant reflection that after 55 years some of the damage of 1922 seems to be on the way to being repaired.

Listening to the merits of the Referendum as argued one is obliged to feel that in some respects on both sides a dead horse has been flogged with tremendous vigour. It is a dead horse because it has been decided, and nobody questions, that there is going to be a Referendum. If I may dwell on the matter of sovereignty, I am a dedicated supporter of the sovereignty of Parliament, and particularly of the primacy of the other place. Notwithstanding the fact that the supremacy of authority rested with this House for a thousand years and has only recently passed to the other, I am an upholder.

But what I see, again to my regret, is that authority has passed from the other place. The authority of a Government rests on one-third only of the electorate, and that regardless of whether the Labour Party or the Conservative Party is in power. It appears—and it was said all last week—that power has passed to the trade unions. But if one examines that contention it is found to be equally, even more, untrue. The trade unions incorporate in their membership only one-half of the labour force, according to Donovan I think it was; only one-tenth of that one-half ever attend a meeting. There-fore, the authority of the trade unions rests on one-twentieth of the labour force, and of Parliament on one-third of the electorate. It is those two elements with which a fragile concordat has been made and described as the Social Contract.

The point I want to make is that power is getting away from the elected representatives of the people. We heard all last week how the passing of laws is unsuitable—"We can no longer control them; it will not work." It was said again and again. It was said notably by the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, I think yesterday or the day before: "Do not try to apply the law because it will not work." The supreme figure at the head of our legal system, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, himself discouraged the use of law, which is legislation, to control a very difficult situation. I do not like the idea of a Referendum on a subject so complicated, with all due respect to the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, whose vigour I always much enjoy following.

People come to me and say "What do you think? This is a very complicated subject"—very intelligent people. I hand them Hansard of the other place or of this place when we have had a most intelligent debate on the subject, and they come back afterwards and say: "I am worse off than I was before. What would you do?" Without presuming any special ignorance on the part of the people, it is a most complicated subject on which to have chosen to have the first Referendum. Nevertheless, I feel it is inevitable, and in view of the situation I do not mind regarding an appeal to the people as the lesser evil.

There are one or two things which I feel ought to be done in order to make it, if possible, a great success instead of what everybody seems to be predicting— the risk of enormous failure. First, I think that much depends upon the ballot paper. Personally, I do not think that the term "the European Community" is right. In the year 800, an ancestor of mine formed a society called the Holy Roman Empire. More recently than that, the late Lord Alexander of Hillsborough asked me—admittedly, by means of a duplicated sheet—to attend a meeting of protest of good Protestants, since this was unquestionably a Popish plot to obtain control of Europe by a treaty called the Treaty of Rome. I always take the most favourable view of the invitations which I receive. I assumed that the invitation was no accident and that my well-known impartiality on the Cross-Benches was the reason why I, a Papist, was invited to this Protestant meeting of protest!

I wonder whether it is fair to eliminate the word "Economic" from the title. It is an incorrect title. Either it is "The European Communities", of which there are three, or it is "The Treaty of Rome", which is the EEC. It is not correct to call it a European Community, thus giving it a political connotation, when it is a common market, a customs union with political overtones, which is much more like the Hanseatic League of the 13th century and for five centuries following, than the Holy Roman Empire. Therefore, I think that the title is a little wrong.

I wonder whether the facts of life in connection with this matter could be added to the form—that we are members of "the Nine". I wonder also whether a map could be put on the back of the form. People are very hazy about their geography. They do not listen even when it is dinned in. I remember an American at Athens airport lining up to get an aeroplane which was going to Budapest. When he got near to the aeroplane they examined his documents and said, "This plane is going to Bucharest, not Budapest". "Never mind", he said, "it's all the same to me". There are people like that who do not know their geography. At the last minute they will not know their geography. Therefore, I think that a map on the back of the form would be most helpful. Having said that, is it not proper to say also on the paper that Parliament has voted either to remain in or to resign, and that the advice of the Government is to remain in or to resign? These are the facts—never mind how they influence the matter—which people should know.

My Lords, I am nearing the end of my speech. I think that every effort should be made to remove the words, "Out" and, "No" from the paper. The word "Out" is a shout; it has tremendous force in what is called mob propaganda. The word, "No" is a favourite word. "Are we downhearted? No!", that is the force of the word. We cannot win with such a thin word as "In". These are psychological factors which might be borne in mind. May I end with the map? If nothing else, surely there ought to be a map. I am hopeful that this Referendum will be a great success.

7.14 p.m.


My Lords, I apologise for the fact that a very longstanding engagement led me to miss the opening speeches in this debate. However, even at this late hour I hope to be able to break new ground and to suggest an alternative procedure of consultation which is different from a Referendum. I was prompted to do so by reading the memoirs of a Member of your Lordships' House—the memoirs of the noble Lord, Lord Caradon. He wrote about his service in Nigeria and described the process of transition from a central bureaucracy to a federal democracy, and about the creation of a federal representative government by devolution from the centre.

To my mind, this is exactly the opposite of the great European experiment which involves the pooling of sovereignty and the creation of Continental decision-making processes, while preserving the character, the individuality and the genius of each component State. In Nigeria, there was national consultation. The opinions of the people were sounded and they were expressed in many different ways. Nowhere in the process was there a Referendum. On the contrary, there was an awakening of political awareness. As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester put it, there was education in political maturity. The right reverend Prelate and other Members of your Lordships' House will know that in the Second Vatican Council it was possible for members of that assembly not only to vote for or against a measure but also to vote placet juxta modum which I believe means, "Yes, with reservations".

The question which arises is this: how should the people of Britain best be consulted? That is the question, if one accepts that it is necessary to crystalise some 15 years of debate and if one accepts that a question, which Parliament had, as we thought, settled once and for all, should now be reopened. All this is being done to satisfy the expectations aroused by a few lines in a Party Manifesto, a Manifesto which was approved by a minority of the total votes cast. It arises because the Prime Minister is perhaps not willing to stake his political future on so important a decision.

I agree with many previous speakers that a Referendum is a constitutional monstrosity. I agree particularly with what the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, and my noble friend Lord Alport have said about the Constitution. A Referendum is the negation of representative government; it flies in the face of the tradition stemming from the Anglo-Saxon moot. A moot is a meeting of people, an occasion for persuasion and for the face-to-face weighing of arguments. I ask myself what is the nature of the people whom we wish to consult in this country? I believe that the British people are "clubbable", that they constantly meet in groups and that they normally work in organisations. We have three levels of local government. We have a network of trade unions. We have industrial, commercial or professional associations. We have a multiplicity of religious groups, men's and women's organisations, a fantastic wealth of voluntary bodies. In addition, we have political Parties and pressure groups. These exist not only at national level but also at regional and local level.

I venture to suggest that the right way of going about consulting a country of this kind is first to ask each unit of local government to express its opinion and, secondly, to say to all the other organisations, bodies and groups, "You can have one or two months to meet, to discuss among yourselves and to send in your recommendations". In both cases the opinions expressed would be advisory and would not be binding in any way upon Parliament.

If we cast our minds back a few years to events such as World Refugee Year and the Freedom from Hunger campaign and ask ourselves why these enterprises had the success that they did, I believe that the answer is to be found in the fact that the natural existing groups in the country were consulted and were used right down to branch level—to the level of Women's Institutes and Parish councils. If we can have a consultation of this kind on this issue, we shall be asserting the importance of Parliament, we shall be respecting the genius of the people and the spirit of our unwritten Constitution. I agreed wholeheartedly with my noble and learned friend Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone when, in the debate on subversion, he suggested that it is our duty to cherish our well-loved traditional institutions. If we can consult them in the way I suggest, I believe we should be doing just this, and I hope that the conclusion or the message of this debate will be a firm "No" to Referenda and "Yes" to consultation.

7.20 p.m.


My Lords, my first and very pleasant duty is to congratulate both my noble friends on the maiden speeches which they made this afternoon. I am sure that all noble Lords will agree with me if I say that the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Balniel, was delightful both in its tone and in its presentation. I cannot hope to emulate him at this Dispatch Box, but certainly I shall endeavour to try in the future.

My second pleasant duty is to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, on his absolutely splendid speech. It is fair to say that it had absolutely nothing to do with the matter which we are discussing here this afternoon. It was equally obvious that the noble Lord had not read the Order Paper, or he might have realised that this was a Government Wednesday, and even that the perpetrator of the evil upon your Lordships' time this afternoon was none other than the Lord Privy Seal. If I were not a naive and ingenuous fellow, I might have been tempted into the belief that by his remarks the noble Lord was staking a claim to his own Front Bench.


My Lords, it might come yet!


My Lords, I am almost tempted to ask the Lord Privy Seal to give the noble Lord a job as Whip on the Front Bench so that we do not hear him any more. But certainly, my Lords, we hope to hear him frequently in the House in future. Perhaps the Whips could put him nearer in the "batting order" to the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, so that we may enjoy them both together or even, as we are talking of constitutional innovations, they might both speak together! That would be entertaining.

There is one matter that I must clear up. When the noble Lord was brave enough to make references to my noble friend Lord Carrington, I would point out that anything my noble friend said about the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, was not in the course of this debate and, as I have discovered, and as the noble Lord will discover when he celebrates two months of being in your Lordships' House as opposed to the present six weeks, he, the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, is perfectly able to look after himself.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Burton of Coventry, said in what, if I may presume to comment upon it, I thought was a most interesting and indeed valuable contribution to the debate, this matter started off perhaps with a nuance of a Party political flavour and thereafter for some time at any rate it rose above those questions and I had assumed, perhaps in my ignorance and again naivety, that what the Government wanted was help in seeing how they were to go about the question of a Referendum, if indeed we are to have one. Other noble Lords have pointed out the difficulties and the dangers of the system of referenda and I want to say, on behalf I hope of noble Lords on this side of the House, that we instinctively feel that a Referendum is an unsuitable method for the expression of democratic opinion in the country, not for the reasons given by the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, but because above all we have an unwritten Constitution. All the countries which are set out at the back of the White Paper, with the possible exception of New Zealand, have a written Constitution. The checks and balances on the power of the Executive as opposed to the power of the Legislature are indeed set out on paper. We do not have these checks and balances, and if one is going to impose referenda upon our Constitution then an entirely new form of democratic expression is revealed.

If I paraphrase his remarks correctly, the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, said that this must be a "one off" operation. I hope I have quoted him correctly. That, it most certainly will not be. If we have one Referendum, I cannot foresee in the future how we can avoid having them again and again and again. What the Government are doing in this operation, if they are doing nothing else, is to open a Pandora's box, and what flies out of it we none of us will know. It is in fact a feature of our national life that the business of the country is conducted by Parliament with an Executive which carries on the business of the country unless and until at a General Election the balance in Parliament is disturbed. In fact we have referenda in Scotland in certain local areas: the locals in a parish are entitled to vote at fairly frequent intervals on whether they want to be wet or dry, but that is another matter.

I come to this, my Lords. I do not wish the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, to think that I am being too offensive—or certainly not more than I have to be— but it is not a question of an arrogant view of the British electorate. From a hasty look at Who's Who on the Table I understand that the noble Lord is an accountant and therefore a thoroughly educated and qualified man. This business of the Community is an extremely complicated one, with many ramifications. I spent nearly two years in the European Parliament, living on a day-to-day basis with these problems, and no doubt because of my stupidity I would be very hard pushed to write an essay now, if I were suddenly told to explain shortly the reasons for going in or staying out. I could do it, but it would take my poor brain some thinking. I hope the noble Baroness, Lady Tweedsmuir, will agree—and she has recently spent a great deal of time in considering these problems.

The ramifications of the European Community and all it stands for and the possible advantages and disadvantages to the citizens within the countries of the Nine, bearing in mind the vast geographical spread, the different ways in which they seek their livings, the different ways in which they are governed, present a formidable problem of understanding. The noble Baroness, Lady Tweedsmuir, nods her head, and I am grateful to her for that. It is not a question of arrogance; it is a question of asking people to vote upon something which requires a great study in depth before one can understand it. It is so different, as I respectfully urge upon the noble Lord, asking people whether they want to drink or whether they want to have legalised buggery or whether they want to have the death penalty. We are asking them, in a Referendum such as this, to declare for the future, for their sake and for their children's sake, what is going to happen for all eternity, because if we do anything in this Referendum we must bring the debate on our membership of the Community to a close. I am sure all noble Lords will agree upon that.

If I may now come to the Lord Privy Seal, I have one or two questions and perhaps one or two comments, actually upon the White Paper. If I may say so, I regard the wording of the proposed Question as entirely felicitous. It is perfectly easy to understand. We do not need the nuances which the advertising media seek to place upon it. I must say I would be very tempted to put in as an Amendment: "Question 2: Irrespective of your answer to Question 1, would you prefer that this matter should be dealt with by Parliament?" I anticipate that such an Amendment, or something like it, may be moved in another place, if not in your Lordships' House. In what I hope is a reasonably constructive way, I ask the Government to think about it now. I think that would take the sting out of this referendum, because at least if people wanted to leave it to Parliament, Parliament would get on and do its task.

My Lords, the next matter, which I must say I have pondered very long, is the method of counting. So far as I can see, the Government are on the horns of a dilemma. Whatever they do, there will be immense trouble. If the Government decide that the count shall be a national one, then for all eternity the Scottish Nationalists and others like them will say, "We wuz robbed". There will be inspired leaks as to what the national vote was, and there will be a feeling of bitterness that the Scots, the Welsh, the Cornwallians, or whoever, were not able to give democratic expression to their opinion.

On the other hand, if the count is organised on a constituency, or even a national or regional basis, then on the present evidence—and the Scottish Nationalists will, if I may use an un-parliamentary expression, "do their damnedest" to see it happens—there will be a majority against which, if England then, as I personally hope it does, confirms that we shall stay in the Community, will have a grave effect on the unity of the United Kingdom. Whatever in this Chamber divides us, I think most of us are confirmed Unionists. We may not all be Conservatives, but I think we are Unionists. I confess, and I am being as constructive as I can, that this is a difficult one. I am tempted to suggest to the noble Lord that the count should be on a regional basis, in the sense of the new Scottish regions, because most of them embrace at least two or three constituencies—and the unwelcome Strathclyde embraces many more than that.

My Lords, I was very impressed by the speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester. It will be a matter of astonishment if the five days are completed without leaks, which may or may not be inspired, and some of which will almost certainly be malicious. The horror of a recount is something which is too awful to contemplate, but when the right honourable gentleman the Prime Minister says a majority of one will suffice, who is going to accept that one without a recount?

My Lords, when I say the Government are in a dilemma, and have put themselves there, I hope that is not an uncharitable observation. Somehow, the Government have to come a little further off the fence. In my submission, the Government should say that a majority of a quarter of a million, or something like that number, they at any rate will regard as binding, otherwise a ludicrous situation may arise. Supposing there is a very small majority. The Government accept it, and eventually produce some sort of legislation to get us out of the Community. I would not care to be the Government Chief Whip when he tries to get his Party through the Lobby.

Several Noble Lords: She!


In referring to the other place, we do not know what they are going to do there. When the Bill comes to your Lordships' House on a majority of, say, 50, bearing in mind what happened when your Lordships gave an expression of approval to what the then Government were doing, if we failed to give a Second Reading to the denegotiation Bill, or whatever it will be called, who could say that we were defying the will of the people? Fifty votes! There are difficulties which will have to be faced.

My Lords, I would like to ask the noble Lord the Leader of the House a question on the postal vote. There are many people who are now working away from these shores, mostly in Europe. Some of their work takes them there because of our membership of the Community. I submit it would be unfair if they were to be deprived of a vote. I submit, further, that the people who go to Europe, either on a temporary basis or possibly who are working there on a semi-permanent basis, are just the sort of votes we need because they, above all, are the people who can say, "No, nothing should keep us in this Community". Alternatively, they may say it is a good idea. I have not given much thought to this. May I suggest to the Government that possibly there might be some registration by local consuls? I have tried to think of a way in which such people could be sifted. They would have to be British citizens with British passports. I rather incline to the view that to establish a claim they would have to produce evidence that they were either resident or ordinarily resident for the purposes of the income tax Acts. But I am the first to admit that that may not be a satisfactory definition. However, I urge the noble Lord the Leader of the House to consider it.


My Lords, would the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, include in that suggestion the need for the postal vote for people of this kind?


My Lords, there must be a postal vote. The White Paper in paragraph 14 at least gives the proposals of the Government … to ensure that the postal and proxy voting facilities which are available for General Elections are also available for the referendum poll. My plea went a little further; it is for people who, in the ordinary course of events, would not be entitled to a postal vote.

Before I sit down I would seek to answer the question put to me by the noble Lord, Lord Wigg. It is certainly not my duty, but it is my pleasure, to answer questions put to me by the noble Lord, especially when he refers to me by name. With the indulgence of your Lordships' House, I shall seek to do just that. I have taken down as my note of what he said that, "Heath did not expect to win the 1970 Election". That is now in the pages of history. "If the Conservatives reject a Referendum, how did Heath ever expect to get the full-hearted consent of the British people?" That is going backwards and forwards in time to a delightful extent. But I want to lay this canard once and for all, if I may. I had a premonition that somehow it might come up, and I have come prepared.

On 5th May, 1970, Mr. Heath said that the Community's enlargement should only take place, with the fullhearted consent of the Parliaments and peoples of the new member countries. On 2nd June, 1970, at a televised news conference—that is to say, before the 1970 General Election—Mr. Heath explained that the consent of the British people would be handled through the Parliamentary system". In my submission, therefore, he made it as plain as a pikestaff that the matter was to be decided by Parliament. When the matter came before the House of Commons on 28th October, 1971, the other place voted by 356 votes to 244 in favour of British entry into the Community. On that occasion the Conservatives had a free vote, the Labour Party had a 3-line Whip; sixty-nine Labour Members of Parliament defied it. That will not stop the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, once and for all, but there it is on the Record.

The other matter which I want to come to is sovereignty, something which both the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, and the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, talked about. As I understand it, their argument is that the British people give sovereignty to Parliament, or at any rate to the House of Commons, for five years, and then, rather like a gas meter when the gas runs out, there is a click and everything goes out until another General Election. The fallacy of that argument is contained in every on-going treaty—that is a terrible phrase —every permanent treaty that has ever been signed by this country. In 1948 there was the Treaty of Brussels, which obliges us to go to war without any consultation should any one of the other signatories be attacked. I should hope that nobody will suggest that that Treaty was a derogation of sovereignty any more than any other treaty is.


My Lords, I am much obliged to the noble Earl for allowing me to intervene, I must not start the debate again. But we are really going back to our ABC again. First of all, he does not get away with the quotations about Mr. Heath. It is absolutely on the record, and Mr. Heath himself has not run away from it. The noble Earl is a lawyer and, after all, he is exercising semantics. Mr. Heath said, and meant, that the condition upon which the British people should be taken into the Common Market was with their full-hearted consent. The fact is that he took the British people in without their full-hearted consent. He just drove hard at it.

When we come to the question of treaties—forgive me, my Lords, for saying this, and I say it with great respect— this is slightly juvenile. Of course, when we entered into NATO and the Brussels Treaty—an on-going treaty, as the noble Earl described it—that carried an obligation, but we can also come out. The noble Earl himself said at an earlier stage that he hopes this is decided for ever, for eternity. This is the difference. The parallel is between the occupation of a conquering army, as, for example, in France by the Wehrmacht, when the decision was taken that France was sub-ordinate to Germany. Here we are permanently subordinate to the Court in Brussels and we cannot get out, whereas we can get out of Brussels and we can get out of NATO.


My Lords, the noble Lord cannot blame his lack of logic on my professional occupation. It is on the record, as the noble Lord said, and I suggest that we now change it. I do not want to take up any more of your Lordships' time. May I conclude with this point. A second White Paper is envisaged in which, as I understand it, the issues upon which the Government are to ask us to vole will be placed. This may be the last time we can discuss the next White Paper before it comes. Although it is not strictly germane to the Motion before us today, what I would urge upon the Government is this—and it is a matter which I urged at an earlier stage, although I did not really expect an answer, and I did not get it. Someone, somehow, has to tell the British people objectively, truthfully and honestly, what are the alternatives if we decide to come out of the Community. It will be done, I have no doubt, by all those who will campaign for us to stay in, and no doubt they will do it as objectively and honestly as possible. But in my respectful submission, it is up to the Government when the moment is ripe—and I appreciate that when I last raised this subject the moment was not ripe, because they were only in the middle of renegotiations which are now, as I understand it, triumphantly concluded—to say how we are going to live, how we are going to pay for our food and whom we are going to call our economic allies if we come out. I was talking —and I will end on this note—to a Scottish Nationalist the other day. I asked, "What will you do if we come out?" He replied, 'We will turn to our kith and kin in the Colonies." I said, "I suppose you mean Rhodesia, because it is the only one left." He had nothing more to say.

The Earl of ONSLOW

My Lords, before the noble Earl sits down, could he, as a lawyer, explain to the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, that Parliament in its sovereignty could pass an Act which would take us out of the EEC.


My Lords, I do not like giving legal advice without being paid for it, and I am not going to do so now.

7.47 p.m.


My Lords, if I may say so, that remark by the noble Earl has some relevance to the last point but one that he made, when he said that he did not think what would be in the White Paper, about the terms and conditions of remaining in or coming out, was very germane to the debate, as it was speculation. It was as germane, if I may say so, as much of this debate this afternoon, and I have particular recollection and enjoyment of the speech of my noble friend Lord Wigg. I was wondering when he was going to come around to the Paper that was before your Lord-ships' House. Obviously, he intends to fight the EEC campaign in every corner; therefore, he decided that since we had a debate today he would take the opportunity. I do not make any complaint.

We have had two maiden speeches, one from the noble Lord, Lord Balniel, which was a speech of very great quality. May I say that as a potential Hereditary Peer he had all the hallmarks of your Lordships' House, but we hope it will be a very long time before he becomes a Hereditary Peer. To the noble Lord, Lord Tranmire, I would say that I was never in another place, but I have been in the Gallery on many occasions and seen Robin Turton in full throat. I am glad he is here. He will be a slight balancing act for some of the characters I have behind me. Some of my misery—not misery, but some of my problems at least—will be shared by the Front Bench opposite.

In some respects I was disappointed with the debate. I had been hoping that we would spend a good deal more time on the White Paper, because, whether or not, we agree with it, the Referendum, provided Parliament agrees, will take place. I agree so much with the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, that if we are to have a Referendum it should be a successful one and there should be a clear, conclusive decision taken by those who have the right to vote. Very little time was spent on the details. It seemed to me that those who dealt with them broadly agreed with the proposals of the Government. There did not seem to be any criticism of the proposals as to the ballot paper. Some noble Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, and some of my noble friends behind me, felt that in the ballot paper the electorate should be allowed to say, instead of voting, Yes, or, No. "Let us leave it to the Houses of Parliament." It is an interesting thought, but I wonder whether those who made the suggestion have really considered what could be the result.

I am sure all of us wish the final decision on remaining in or coming out of the Common Market to be made quickly and to be made decisively so that there can be no more argument. If we are to remain in we can then become full partners within the Community, and if we come out we shall have to make fresh arrangements. But in my view there must be a clear decision. Is there not a risk that if you put another question on the ballot paper you will confuse the electorate and you may not get the result which we all want—neither a result on whether we stay in or come out, nor a vote clear enough as to whether Parliament itself should make the decision? I am interested in this argument, but I have little sympathy for it. However, I will draw my colleagues' attention to it, but I would not hold out much hope, because I do not think it would help us in the direction that we wish to go.

In regard to the second question about the arrangements for the Referendum, little if anything was said on this aspect except on the question of the counting of the votes—whether it should be done centrally, or regionally as the noble Earl suggested. This matter will be considered by the Government, but, as I explained in my speech, it was a difficult decision to make. There are balances and advantages one way or another and I take particularly the point of the noble Lord, Lord Byers, about the genuine risks that can arise during this period of the count and the possibility of leaks. It will be necessary to consider this aspect.


My Lords, may I ask a question in that connection? The noble Lord said that the counting would take a week, but is it beyond the scope of mechanical ingenuity to arrange that the votes are so mixed up that there are no leaks as regards their geographical distribution?


My Lords, all these points have been considered. They all have certain difficulties. We have even considered whether one should have a ballot sheet that has some metal part to it so that bank scanners could be used and it could be done without individuals being involved. Also, it was suggested in the debate that we might make use of computers. We looked at this possibility, and I think we were right to fall back on the well-tried processes of election counts and the use of counters. But we will study this question again. What we propose here is not immutable.

The noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, asked about postal voting. This matter is being looked at, but I think we need to be careful that we do not really go beyond what we normally have in General Elections. There are considerable difficulties. If you have postal votes, you could have a large number of envelopes lying in an hotel in Exmoor or Bournemouth being picked up by people who were not entitled to them and being marked and returned. This is a genuine problem, but it is being examined.

In regard to overseas registration, this again was considered. There are difficulties and anomalies, and I accept that there are also some hardships. But if you have an overseas reister, as the noble Earl suggested, you could well have the situation that you may have some-one who lives in Rhodesia, who goes to Pretoria, registers and votes, whereas you can have someone who has worked for five or ten years in Kenya, who is a British citizen and has the same rights to vote but who is home in this country on leave and is not on the electoral register. These are difficulties which we must try to balance.


My Lords, will the noble Lord confirm that the Armed Forces overseas will be allowed to vote and that the necessary arrangements will be made?


My Lords, this is a matter which is also being considered. If they are Servicemen overseas and they are on the register at home, then, of course, there is no difficulty, because they can have a proxy vote, But, of course, if they are not on a register then undoubtedly a difficulty arises. The noble Earl also raised the question of regional areas. Again, this comes within the point that I made about counting. The third and most important point, I thought, in the White Paper, was that about the information services. There was no criticism of what the Government have in mind. The noble Baroness, Lady Tweedsmuir of Belhelvie, asked about the information unit and what was its likely cost. At this moment, I could not say what its cost is likely to be, but we have in mind that it should be staffed by about four to six senior civil servants at Assistant Secretary level, with the necessary back-up. The extent of the information service is to provide factual information concerning the whole EEC, not solely related to the area of renegotiation. That information will be available to the media—Press, radio and television—and also to the general public.

Baroness VICKERS

My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord a question? Concerning the information services, a great many people in this country need other languages than English. In the General Elections they have election addresses printed in Urdu and Hindustani. Is there any thought about having this information given in that form?


My Lords, I could not say offhand whether that is so, but I expect it has been considered. If it is not the case, I will certainly see that it is dealt with, because this is an important matter in certain areas of the country. Certainly, in Wales the ballot papers will have English and Welsh, but I gather I must be careful with the Scots, since Gaelic is not covered by the Welsh Language Act and I fear they will have to put up with English.


My Lords, I had not understood that the noble Lord was going into details about the working of the information unit, but if it is to give information right across the board on all aspects of EEC work and activities, I hope that, to some extent, it will be retrospective, and, for example, will explain to the British people how they have been robbed by decimalisation. That is essential information, showing that 2½d. is reduced to the value of 1p. It needs to be explained how that came about.


My Lords, I am sure the resources of this unit will be stretched, but I hope it will not be stretched quite so far as the noble Lord indicated.


It is "Wiggery"!


Yes, it is "Wiggery". I think I can take from the debate that the general proposals in the White Paper are acceptable, and that, in itself, is helpful. I now come to the issue about the sovereignty of Parliament. I have never had any doubt that Parliament is sovereign and that no Parliament can bind another. That is very important. I do not believe that the fact that this Parliament will agree—as I hope it will— to a Referendum necessarily binds this Parliament, or any future Parliament, to a Referendum.

If I were to speak personally, I would say that I am not genuinely attracted to the system of referenda. There are advantages; I see in many of the democratic countries of Western Europe referenda as a regular part of their Constitution. They are as democratic as we are in this country and, in some respects, perhaps more open in their form of government. I would say to my noble friend Lady Burton that one of the reasons why I am opposed to referenda is that they always seem to produce conservative results. The women of Switzerland would have had a vote very many years ago if it had not been for the Referendum.

I am saying that I am not personally attracted to the Referendum; but as I said in my speech, we undertook to consult the British people, and we are doing exactly what Mr. Heath undertook to do; we are going to consult the British people and we want their full-hearted consent. I do not believe anyone would wish to see a third Election—certainly not noble Lords opposite. Therefore, if we are to consult the people it seems to me it has to be by way of a Referendum. My noble friend Lady Burton, and others, asked whether this could be an advisory Referendum. The only people who are committed to this Referendum result are the Government. The Government have said that they will be bound by the decision of the Referendum, but Parliament is not. So to that extent I can say that so far as Parliament is concerned, and if Parliament is sovereign— and that is what is most important—then it naturally follows that the Referendum is an advisory one.

A Noble Lord: Cunning!


I am not cunning at all. I am just speaking logic; but it is true. So, my Lords, I hope that my noble friend will feel that I have answered her to her satisfaction.


My Lords, I think my noble Leader is doing splendidly. But, if there should be such things as Referenda in the future, would it not be a dangerous precedent if the Cabinet had decided it would be bound by the opinion of the people; whereas if the Referenda were purely advisory they would not be so bound?


My Lords, I am speaking on behalf of Her Majesty's Government of the day; I cannot speak for a future Government. I can say only that, so far as the British Parliament arc concerned, this Referendum is clearly an advisory one, since the sovereignty remains with Parliament. The other question that I should like to deal with is whether the system of the Referendum undermines our Constitution. I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, who said we must not do injury to our Constitution. As I said earlier, Referenda take place regularly in some of the most democratic of societies in Western Europe. On that basis, I think we could have grounds to believe that this exercise, this experiment of consultation, should not harm our Constitution.

I have listened to a number of debates in the past week or so in your Lordships' House about our society, and one would gather from this august atmosphere that our society is in danger. Clearly, we should always be on our guard. But I cannot help feeling that those who talk about our democratic rights being dependent upon Parliament are wrong. They are not looking at what is the real root of our democratic society. I have never regarded Members of Parliament or Members of your Lordships' House as the real guardians of our democracy. Those are to be found among the grass roots, among the men and women who knock on the doors and ask the public to come out and vote; the men and women who get no pay and receive no honour but work as honorary secretaries or honorary treasurers on the committees of little local parties that have never been known, never make any record in history. They are the bedrock of our democratic society.

I have no reason to believe, whatever doubts there may be in Westminster about the future of democracy, that there is any question of doubt in the minds of those people who work for the various political Parties and other voluntary organisations that make up our general State. And so I can see problems, I can see questions in terms of this experiment, but I cannot believe that this is going to shake the rock upon which our democratic society is based. I would only say to the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, with all his vast experience as a Member of the European Parliament—I must not call it that. I was in trouble yesterday! I should call it the European Assembly because it is not yet a Parliament, the Members of it have only been nominated—that the British people are not fools, they are not ignorant; they may not be able to understand exactly the various nuances or facts and figures, but they have a damned good instinct on what is right or wrong. They will also take the advice that is given from all quarters during this debate on the Referendum. I believe that to whatever decision they come—and I must be careful what I say with my noble friend Lord Wigg in his place—it will be the right decision. I have no doubt at all about that. I hope when we have the Bill we will deal with it with the greatest of expedition and that we will fight the campaign. My final words are to the noble Earl, Lord Lytton. I hope we have a great campaign; I hope there is a very high vote and a decisive result. Then we can get on with whatever task lies ahead of us, in the conviction that the British people were consulted and had made up their own minds.

On Question, Motion agreed to.