HL Deb 13 May 1975 vol 360 cc691-708

6.53 p.m.

Lord SHINWELL rose to ask the Leader of the House whether the allegations about opponents of the EEC contained in a speech by the Earl of Bessborough as reported in the Daily Telegraph of 6th May are in accordance with the traditions of the House and whether he will make a Statement. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which appears in my name on the Order Paper. It is an Unstarred Question and, on the assumption that some Members of your Lordships' House may not have the Order Paper in their possession, I ask permission to read the Unstarred Question, which is as follows: To ask the Leader of the House whether the allegations about opponents of the EEC contained in a speech by the Earl of Bess-borough as reported in the Daily Telegraph of 6th May are in accordance with the traditions of the House and whether he will make a Statement. On the 6th May the Daily Telegraph reported a speech by the noble Earl, Lord Bessborough, which contained certain references to those who are in opposition to continued membership of the EEC. When I read this report I considered that the references, to put it mildly, were offensive. For the purposes of accuracy I will read what appeared in the Daily Telegraph. This is the heading: EEC Opponents 'Ragbag of fanatics'". Then it proceeds: Lord Bessborough, British Vice-President of the European Parliament, said last night that the opponents of membership of the EEC were 'allied on the one hand to the most extreme Marxists in the country and, on the other hand, to a neo-Fascist National Front.' Speaking at the opening of the Arundel branch of the Keep Britain in Europe' campaign, he asked: 'How could you vote for such a disreputable ragbag of fanatics? There can be no doubt that we shall have greater power and influence within the Community than without.' Perhaps in order to ventilate my generosity, I will read the latter part of the report. I quote from the noble Earl, Lord Bessborough: There is no question of our sovereignty being in danger within the EEC since, through the Select Committees, Members of the British Parliament are informed of Commission proposals before the Council meets to take any final decisions.

If a report of this character had indicated the views of some person outside your Lordships' House, perhaps somebody of little consequence, I should probably have ignored the references. After all, we Parliamentarians, particularly those of extensive and prolonged experience, are accustomed to criticism, and frequently indulge in criticism. This is not uncommon. We give our knocks and we must be ready to accept them. But coming from the noble Earl, Lord Bess-borough, who is described in the report as the Vice-President of the European Parliament—presumably the European Assembly, but let us not make heavy weather of that—a man with a disciplined intellect, a person of stature and a prominent Member of your Lordships' House, not some unknown person outside this Assembly but somebody speaking with authority and with all the accompanying dignity of his position in the European Parliament and in this House, one could not possibly brush it aside.

It occurred to me when I read the report that I could either put down an Unstarred Question, which subsequently I did, or regard it as a breach of privilege of your Lordships' House. Indeed, I consulted the Chairman of Committees to ascertain whether one could raise a matter of privilege in this House as is possible in another place, and I was assured that that was possible; and in order to endorse and fortify what I was told I read rather more meticulously than usual the Standing Orders of your Lordships' House. It occurred to me that an Unstarred Question which relates to a statement, whether fair or unfair, made not by somebody outside this House but by a Member of it, could not ordinarily be a matter for an Unstarred Question and subsequent debate. But eventually I decided to adopt that course instead of making it a matter of privilege, which might have led to complications; it could have been somewhat prolonged, and when one has to refer to another Member of your Lordships' House it is essential that the matter be disposed of summarily. Hence the Unstarred Question.

It may be that the noble Earl, Lord Bessborough, spoke in general terms, in global terms embracing every person in the United Kingdom who, for valid or other reasons, dislikes the whole conception of the EEC and in any event prefers that we should withdraw, and at the same time may have particularised, made reference to other persons whom he would not regard as disreputable or Marxian. That is a possibility. But if the noble Earl, Lord Bessborough, were generalising and embracing the whole, and particularised by making rather more favourable references to others—for example, to myself or to those of my colleagues in your Lordships' House who in a recent debate decided to be in the minority; a foregone conclusion—then they found themselves according to expectations geographically.

Some of the references are rather peculiar but before I deal with them I should like to refer to some of the Members of your Lordships' House who come under attack; for example—and I regret that he is not in his place—the noble Lord, Lord Tranmire, formerly known as Robin Turton, the Father of the other place, one of the most highly respected of men, and I think that that reference will be acceptable to every Member of your Lordships' House who has even a nodding acquaintance with the noble Lord, Lord Tranmire. Yet he is described as a Marxian. I have heard many of his delightful speeches and I have never heard him make the slightest reference to dialectical materialism. As for the theory of value, I can put it even more accurately and refer to the social labour which makes up the content of production. Members of your Lordships' House must have read Das Kapital and will be familiar with the subject, but certainly not my noble friend—and I call him a friend because we were very friendly in another place—Lord Tranmire. To describe him as a fanatic and a "ragbag", was, I thought with great respect to Members of your Lordships' House, going a bit too far.

Then there was my noble friend Lord Soper, a Christian gentleman and a real gentleman. He may be acquainted with Das Kapital, though I would not swear to it because I should have thought he was more evangelical than Marxian, but he is included in this category. When I reflected on some of the others who were brought into this embrace, I wondered what the noble Earl, Lord Bessborough, was thinking about. What did I do about it? Apart from putting down an Unstarred Question, I wrote to the noble Earl directing his attention to the report in the Daily Telegraph, and suggested—


My Lords, I do not recall receiving the noble Lord's letter.


My Lords, I wrote to the noble Earl and I have a copy of the letter with me. I addressed it to him at Hyde Park Gate and perhaps I had better give the number in case I got it wrong.


I do not think that will be necessary, my Lords. I did not receive it.


My Lords, I am sorry that the letter did not reach him. It is wise to be accurate about these matters, so perhaps I had better read the letter. It was dated 6th May, the day I read the report in the Daily Telegraph. The letter was very short, as my letters usually are these days. This is essential because I receive so many and I am left without a secretary. I wrote: You are reported in the Daily Telegraph today as saying that the opponents of membership of the EEC were ' allied on the one hand to the most extreme Marxists in the country and, on the other hand, to a neo-Fascist National Front' and you added, ' How could you vote for such a disreputable ragbag of fanatics? ' As this is a serious reflection on myself and other Members of the House of Lords, may I ask if you are prepared to repeat this slander in the House? For it is a slander. I do not know whether the noble Earl received the letter.




The noble Earl shakes his head. But I do not know why he did not receive it. Are we to raise this with the Post Office? I assure him that I put a first class stamp on the letter. It is no use the noble Earl submitting an alibi. That will not work. I dismiss the Marxist allegation, but another accusation associates the anti-Market group with the National Front. Lord Soper and the National Front? And who are the others round about? It will not do.

If I may say so, again with respect, this was a sneer associated with—and I shall use jargon which is not original—character assassination. That is what it is. Why the noble Earl did this sort of thing, I do not know. It may well be that, in the course of his observations, he said something favourable about those who, for valid reasons and with the utmost sincerity, dislike the concept of the EEC and would like to withdraw. It may be so but, if it is so, what have we to say about the Daily Telegraph? Are we to assume that it received the report and decided—freedom of the Press, which is a principle we all accept—to be completely impartial and to report all the nasty things about the opponents of continued membership of the EEC and deliberately to exclude all the favourable references which occurred to the noble Earl in the course of his observations?

What have we to say about the Daily Telegraph? We have a case. How to proceed with that case is a matter for consideration but, meanwhile—and this is all I want to say further about the matter—it is no use making a song and dance about it. I intensely dislike what appeared in the Press. I am not associated with a "ragbag of fanatics ". If I may digress for a moment, on this question of the Common Market I have taken a stand ever since Harold Macmillan made his announcement in another place in 1960. I have never changed my mind, and I believe that I am on good ground when I say I do not want to reintroduce the subject of the Common Market.

The point of real substance which I want to make is that we in this Assembly are told that we must avoid acrimony, and must treat each other courteously, must speak without fear or favour but sincerely and honestly. That is in the Parliamentary Companion and I am only seeking to carry out the rules of the club. If any Member of your Lordships' House transgresses, it is for the Leader of the House to express an opinion, so my Question was addressed to him. Unfortunately, he has accompanied Her Majesty on a visit to the Far East. One cannot blame him for that. Probably he deserved a holiday, but he was not available to reply to my Question. But it is for the Leader of the House, or for whoever is representing him on the Government Front Bench, to say quite explicitly and without any ambiguity what he thinks about the statement made by the noble Earl.

On the other hand, if the noble Earl feels that he has transgressed and, as an honest man—and I am not discussing his views on the Common Market—feels that he ought to apologise for having made a reference which, at any rate by implication if not directly, referred to some of his colleagues in this Assembly, the matter can rest there so far as I am concerned. But to have allowed the matter to go by default would never have done. That is the purpose of my Question. I have sat here since half past two today. I have not had a drink or a bite, and I have hardly had a smoke. I have been patient almost beyond endurance. I have had to listen to questions by Members on the Opposition Front Bench which reminded me of my youthful days in another place, many long years ago when I indulged in filibustering. I am not accusing noble Lords of filibustering, but I did think that they were trying to prevent me from making a speech. However, I have managed to make a speech and I have done it with the utmost restraint and with no malice in my heart, but only with a desire to ensure that, when Members of your Lordships' House make reference to their colleagues, they do it with accuracy, honesty, justice and fairness.

7.18 p.m.


My Lords, I am truly grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, for whom all in this House have great affection and respect, for giving me an opportunity to comment on the Press report to which his Question refers. Although I recognise the problems of space in a newspaper, I regret the habit which the Press sometimes has of selecting a few sentences out of a serious 25-minute speech on the workings of the Community and isolating one or two remarks. I might add at this point that there were extremists of both the Left and the Right at the meeting in question who interrupted my remarks. What I regret is that no mention was made in the report of my subsequent answers to questions, in which I said that in the middle of the spectrum of the anti-Market movement there were certainly moderate and patriotic people and, I would add, evangelicals, whose sincere views I respected, even if I felt that they were misguided. I made it clear that, in my view, not all were fanatics. I might add, as the noble Lord raised the point, that I received a few letters from people connected with the National Front who say that their organisation is not Fascist, If that is the case, I should certainly withdraw the adjective. None the less, we must be realistic and we must recognise that members of the National Front and Marxists—if not all Communists—do support the campaign to quit the Community.

I was interested to read that, speaking in Manchester on Saturday, the Home Secretary, Mr. Roy Jenkins, also attacked the extremists of both Left and Right who oppose our entry into the EEC. It is indeed they who would make the economic situation in this country even more serious than it already is and result in the rest of the world losing confidence in us altogether. We know that the whole world, including the Commonwealth, wishes us to stay in—with the exception of the USSR and General Amin in Uganda. It would be a disaster if we do not stay. As The Times says today, on page 5, the very warmth of the Soviet endorsement of anti-EEC arguments should serve as a caveat.

I will not take longer than 30 more seconds, my Lords. With regard to the question of sovereignty, which is also mentioned in the newspaper report, I can only repeat what I have said in many speeches up and down the country: there is no question of the sovereignty of our own Parliament being in danger, since through the Select Committees Members of both Houses are informed of the Commission's proposals before the Council takes final decisions, so that any proposals unacceptable to the British Parliament can be vetoed by a British Minister in the appropriate Council of Ministers. I hope that the noble Lord will accept these remarks in the spirit in which they have been made.

7.21 p.m.


My Lords, I was hoping that the noble Earl, Lord. Bessborough, would inform us that he had been grossly misreported in the Daily Telegraph. What he has said by way of half apology is that he made it quite clear that there were certain people of moderate conviction who were quite respectable and patriotic citizens, who for their own reasons believed that it would be best if we stayed out of the Common Market. I know full well that in political life one must give and take, and very often some quite severe remarks are passed about one both in another place and here. But, my Lords, we are not talking purely about Members of your Lordships' House, or for that matter Members of another place. The noble Earl, Lord Bessborough, was talking about—and he has not corrected the statement he made—tens of thousands of ordinary citizens who, for perfectly good and patriotic reasons, believe that it would be disastrous for this country to stay within the Common Market.

One of the two versions is truthful. If the noble Earl, Lord Bessborough, was dissatisfied with the report that appeared in the Daily Telegraph, the opportunity was open to him to write a letter in correction to the editor, sayin: "You have not exactly got my meaning here, because you have not been quite fair to the people with whose views I disagree." But the noble Earl has not done that at all. In fact, had he done that—in probably slightly more generous terms than those that he admitted today—there would have been little cause for complaint. I assume that the noble Earl read the report of his speech and that, apparently, he was perfectly satisfied with it—


My Lords, if he will forgive me, I must interrupt the noble Lord for just a moment. I said in my earlier remarks that the words I spoke were about those who were genuine, patriotic, and I even added, for the benefit of the noble Lord, Lord Soper," evangelical" people. I said they were true people and that they held these views sincerely. Perhaps the noble Lord was not listening to my speech at that moment, but I said that very positively.


Yes, my Lords. So now we are left with the question of how to undo the damage which has been caused? The question is, how does the truth catch up with the lie? Unfortunately, for reasons that at the moment are a little obscure to me, the proceedings in your Lordships' House are possibly not adequately reported in the national Press. Indeed, I was surprised the other day when a speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, in the course of the debate on the economic situation did not even merit a mention in the national Press. How, therefore, is the position to be corrected? If the noble Earl, after having purused tomorrow's report of this debate, says that his remarks have not been given sufficient prominence to correct the impression he has created, can we have his undertaking that he will write to the Press himself and repeat the words that he has said today? It is only in that way that the impression can be corrected.

When the referendum campaign started my right honourable friend the Prime Minister gave his advice as to how the campaign should be carried out. He said he hoped that personalities would not be involved, that the argument would be a calm one, and that both sides would put forward a reasoned case to the people at large. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister has honoured that obligation, and so indeed, I might say, has my right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture, Mr. Peart, whose remarks I heard on television last night and who, I thought, presented a very moderate case.

But, my Lords, the position in the referendum campaign is rapidly becoming like this: precisely because some of the pro-Marketeers cannot refute the factual arguments being put forward by those who do not believe in the Market, there is a tendency—widely reported in a national Press that supports the pro-Market case throughout—for many personal denunciations to take place. I quote Mr. Heath, who only the other day said that we were "telling lies". My right honourable friend the Home Secretary accused us of truth bending. It would be far better if the debate were to be carried out in a calm way without the necessity for these personal insinuations.

I know perfectly well that those concerned with land, property, finance, as well as industrialists, the Establishment, the national Press, and some of my noble friends, are in favour of the Common Market. That ought to give them con- fidence. If it gives them confidence, there is no real necessity for them to proceed on the lines upon which the noble Earl, Lord Bessborough, was reported to have proceeded and which have been followed in other quarters. I hope that there will be a temperate debate, because when all this is over the British people have to work together, whether we are in or out of the Market. I sincerely hope that the people who are conducting this debate behave in a manner that makes that unity possible when the debate is concluded.

7.29 p.m.


My Lords, I thought that the noble Earl, Lord Bessborough, gave a complete answer to my noble friend Lord Shinwell. What Lord Bessborough says in Arundel is not my business and, with respect, it is not the business of this House. As long as that rule applies to the noble Earl, Lord Bessborough, and applies equally to George Wigg, then I have no complaint. What is said in this House is answerable to this House. What we say outside is answerable in the courts of the land; and if what the noble Earl, Lord Bessborough, said in Arundel had been associated with my name, he would have had a writ with the speed of lightning. But having exculpated him on the grounds that he made a speech, that he was subjected to interruption and that the Daily Telegraph distorted what he said, that seems to be a complete answer, because all of us who are engaged in public life at some time or the other have had similar treatment. You balance the swings against the roundabouts. I hope that I make myself clear on that issue. I think also, if my noble friend Lord Bruce will allow me to say so, that it borders on impertinence to tell the noble Earl, Lord Bessborough, what he should or should not do in relation to the Daily Telegraph. If he is not satisfied with the report in the Daily Telegraph, that is entirely a matter for him and he does not need me to teach him any lessons on that.

I want to teach him a lesson in another direction. I think it rather silly, holding the position he does as Vice-President of the British delegation to Strasbourg, to equate the foreign policy of the Soviet Union with General Amin. We live in a world in which power matters. If the noble Earl, Lord Bessborough, does not know it, then I will assure him that you cannot say that of course the Soviet Union is opposed to the EEC without reflecting for a moment, why? This is where I come in. I have never believed that the Common Market is an argument about a free trade area, an argument about the price of food. This argument and that of the control of industry leaves me absolutely cold; because if one looks at the statements made in this House recently it is clear that we have elevated a discussion about a free trade area into a theological dispute. To my mind—and I have held the view, as my noble friend Lord Shinwell knows, for very many years since I was his PPS—what matters is the power position in the world. There are very few of your Lordships who have come to recognise one fact; that the power struggle in the world has left Europe and has gone East and South. Whether we like it or whether we do not like it—I do not happen to like it, but I recognise the fact—we are no longer at the races; Humpty Dumpty has fallen off the wall.

The Soviet Union objects to the EEC. I wonder why. Here, again, I have been influenced by the writings and thinkings of Mr. Heath. It is obvious that Mr. Heath got from M. Pompidou an acquiescence that was denied by de Gaulle to Macmillan and which Mr. Wilson could not get agreement about. Yet we have in Mr. Heath's Godkin lectures, repeated in 1970, his discussions with M. Pompidou about the provision of a European nuclear deterrent. It is my view that the day that the Germans—not Europe, for there are only nine countries—but if ever the day comes when there is a nuclear deterrent, held, as Mr. Heath put it, in trust for Europe, then on that day the Third World War starts. I say that for a very simple reason. The conflict between the Teutons and the Slavs has lasted for a thousand years. In the First World War it cost the Russian people complete destruction and 20 million casualties. In the Second World War, the destruction was even more complete and there were another 20 million casualties. No Soviet leader is ever again going to allow the Soviet Union to be put at risk because of some ephemeral (or what looks to be ephemeral) agreement which may grow into a hydra-headed monster; and what they will do if they have any sense, is what we should have done, what the Conservative Government should have done if they had had the guts; that is, to stamp on it before it starts. That is what it is all about.

The noble Earl, Lord Bessborough, I cannot understand. He is the expert on the Common Market, not me. He talked the most unqualified, unmitigated nonsense on the issue of sovereignty that man has ever spoken or written. The argument is not about Parliamentary sovereignty. It is about the sovereignty of the British people. It is nonsense to say of the orders made in Brussels that, because they are passed to a Select Committee of this House or of the other place, that deals with the question of sovereignty. Does he not know that the veto does not apply in the Commission, that matters come before them and that the Commission's views on matters are absolute? The only way they can be upset is not by the exercise of the veto but by the Court in Luxembourg. Therefore, you cannot talk about sovereignty in relation to the sovereignty of this House, without realising what is fundamentally at issue. What irks is the fact that we have at the present time M. Giscard d'Estaing—

The Earl of ONSLOW

My Lords—

Several Noble Lords



We have M. Giscard d'Estaing acting as he should. One of the things I regret is that M. Giscard d'Estaing is not an Englishman. He acts wholly in accordance with the interests of France. Recently there was a conference in Paris in which he took the Chair. Who was Britain represented by? It was by one of the other eight through the means of an official. The running on this matter was made by M. Giscard d'Estaing, not in the interests of the Common Market but in the interests of France. Therefore, to talk about sovereignty in the sense that the noble Earl talked about it tonight seems to me complete nonsense. Now I will give way.

The Earl of ONSLOW

My Lords, I was only going to ask the noble Lord what, peradventure, this has to do with the Unstarred Question on the Order Paper?


My Lords, that is an asinine interruption—because what I am doing with the matter on the Order Paper is answering the speech made by the noble Earl, Lord Bessborough. I would have been willing to get up and say that Lord Bessborough is right; but he went on—he introduced the Soviet Union and General Amin, not me. If he introduced it, then I can answer it. Or is it again the old story that there is one set of rules for the Tory Party and another for everybody else? I am not playing that game. If the noble Earl, Lord Bessborough, in his defence introduced the Soviet Union and Amin and the issue of sovereignty, then I will do the same; unless there is a rule that there is one set of rules for the Tory Party and another for somebody else. That, as far as I am concerned, you can get stuffed on! I am not playing it.

I want to come on to another point made by the noble Lord, Lord Bruce. I do not happen to agree with the Prime Minister about the point he made in his broadcast, that on June 5th everything is going to be over and we are all going to sit down and live happily ever after. No noble Lord believes that—because, in addition to saying some pretty tough things about Marxists and neo-Fascists and so on. Mr. Jenkins in Manchester last night said something else. All sorts of promises were made: so that after June 6th the promissory notes will come to be presented. If anyone thinks that on some of those promises which have been made—the abolition of inflation, full employment, the increase in the standard of living, the great market that all are going to be in—if noble Lords think people like me (whether we are Marxists, neo-Fascists or what the hell we are) are going to belt up on that, then they have made another mistake. In the months ahead we are running into difficult times. The one thing we want—and the Prime Minister understands this: he has said it in another place, and in a broadcast—is that when it is all over the only people who can save Britain are the British people. If you want the British people to unite, you will not use the language which the noble Earl, Lord Bessborough, is reported to have used.

This is what I do not understand about the Tory Party. The foundation upon which they have built their Party, and which has enabled them—wrongly, I think—to exercise political power has been that they are a national Party, that they speak for all sections of the community. You should not start off by saying that 40 per cent. are fanatics; you may think it, but if you have any political sense you will not say it. It is now said in the newspapers, on television and on radio, and people come to believe it. If that is what you think of myself and others like me, do not come along afterwards and think you are going to get our co-operation, because you will not do so.

7.41 p.m.


My Lords, I wonder whether I may make some brief remarks. I must confess to your Lordships, with shame, that I have now been a Member of this House for 30 years. It has struck me that there are three things about it: first of all, we try to keep a sense of proportion about things and we do not, as a rule, get too upset. Everybody in this debate, with the exception, if I may say so, of the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, has kept a sense of proportion about it. Unfortunately, I missed a lot of what the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, said, but I am sure he kept a sense of proportion. He knows as well as most of us that on a public platform one sometimes gets excited and says things which in a considered way one would not say. I seem to remember when the noble Lord was in another place, that in electioneering he said things which now he would think rather extravagant. But we all do it, and I do not think we want to take it too seriously.

Secondly, it has always seemed to me that we in this House are fairly courteous to each other and we do not worry too much about the niceties of procedure in another place. We have no Speaker. If we had a Speaker we would be continually rising with points of order; but we have to keep order ourselves, and as a result we are courteous to each other. On the whole, it works out very well. When people say nasty things about us, whether inside or outside the House, we do not worry too much. We may hear it said that all hereditary Peers are idiots, or that all noble Lords who have come up from another place are export rejects, or whatever it might be; but we do not mind about that. We know we are none of these things, but that we are good and sensible people.

I do not always agree with the noble Lord, Lord Wigg; I remember him castigating this House, saying it was contemptible, contained members of the Fifth Column, and all the rest of it. I do not agree with him, but he is perfectly entitled to say these things. It is his opinion, but do not let us get too excited. What my noble friend Lord Bessborough said is reasonable. He acknowledges, as I do, that there are people who disagree with him, who are not extremists or fools. The noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, is one of them, the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, is another, and the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, is another. I hope, having aired this matter, we might really let it die in peace and all go home.

7.44 p.m.


My Lords, I accept the spirit of what the noble Lord has said. I will not join in the discussion about the virtues or otherwise of remaining in the Common Market. I appreciate the frankness with which the noble Earl, Lord Bessborough, addressed the House tonight. I was impressed that he had the good sense to do this, but he reverted to a technique we all know, which is to lambast the Press, and in his case a paper which is on his side, for its selectivity. We all know the danger of selectivity in news. We know the way in which newspapers are produced and the great speed which has to be used in selection. But newspapermen and newspapers are not the only people who are guilty of the sin of selectivity.

I was impressed of course by the noble Earl's quotation from The Times today. You will remember it was as follows: The very warmth of the Soviet endorsement of their arguments and activities might serve British anti-Marketeers as a caveat." What the noble Earl did not do was to read the next paragraph, which I will now do. It has the dateline, Hong Kong, 12th May, and it reads: China wants a strong and united Europe and is greatly interested in the issue of Britain's EEC Membership. China will establish official relations with the … EEC. Who said that? Not one of your extremists, but Sir Christopher Soames, an employee of the Commission who has the laudible ambition of becoming Leader of the Tory Party. What, in effect, he was saying, and what, in effect, this story says is, "Yes, one part of the Communist world is in favour of our going into the EEC, and that is the extreme part of the Communist world, the Maoists, but the more or less sober denizens of Moscow want us to come out ". In fairness to the House, having scolded the Press for its selectivity, the noble Earl should have been more careful in his own quotations.

7.47 p.m.


My Lords, I have two brief points. First, I agree very much with what I thought was the strictly relevant part of my noble friend Lord Wigg's remarks. The question raised by my noble friend Lord Shinwell seems to have nothing to do with the traditions of the House, or indeed with privilege. It was a speech made outside the House; it mentioned no noble Lord by name or by implication. It seems to me a bad precedent to put this Question down on the Order Paper. Everyone can play at this game; all of us could raise this Question, if any noble Lord, including my noble friend Lord Shinwell—who has quite a rough edge to his tongue—says anything unpleasant or strong or possibly grouping us with someone else. It would be awful if we always put this Question on the Order Paper in future and I hope that your Lordships will not take my noble friend Lord Shinwell's action as a precedent to follow. I am sure none of them will take this Question at all seriously.

7.49 p.m.


My Lords, I answer the Question in my capacity as Deputy Leader of the House, or Acting Leader of the House, but I could have answered it as one of those in the "ragbag" to which the noble Earl. Lord Bessborough, referred. But although I was in the same lobby as my noble friend, I did not take the same exception to the words. I had a look to see what was meant by this word "fanatic". I found that it was a word invented during the Civil War to describe a nonconformist—and a better description of my noble friend I find it difficult to discover.

My Lords, I agree with what has been said, that we must have regard to the rules of the House, and my noble friend asked me if I would say whether the speech was in accordance with the traditions of the House. May I read out to you part of Standing Order No. 31: That all personal, sharp, or taxing speeches be forborn, and whosoever answereth another man's speech shall apply his answer to the matter without wrong to the person: and as nothing offensive is to be spoken, so nothing is to be ill taken,… Then Standing Order No. 32 goes on to say: For avoiding of all mistakes, unkindnesses, or other differences which may grow to quarrels, tending to the breach of peace, it is ordered, that if any Lord shall conceive him self to have received any affront or injury from any other Member of the House, either in the Parliament House, or at any Committee, or in any of the rooms belonging to the Lords House of Parliament, he shall appeal to the Lords in Parliament for his reparation. The fact of the matter is that Arundel is not included in the list of places, so I think that while we can all say that trivialising and personalising arguments in the EEC debate is to be avoided, what was said by the noble Earl is to be taken as his contribution and we should leave it at that.

I would just make one other point before sitting down, which is this. The noble Earl himself has said that he spoke for a matter of 25 minutes, yet in the Daily Telegraph there is a quotation which possibly took between 40 seconds and one minute to say. I do not accept what was said by my noble friend Lord Castle about the Press as against the selectivity of the noble Earl, Lord Bessborough. I think there is a growing and dangerous tendency on the part of the Press today to distort argument, to select things from speeches and so to sour our public life that it could well bring about the very disunity that we were decrying in a debate the other day.

We had an example of this in that debate to which perhaps I might call attention. The noble Viscount, Lord Watkinson, came along here to move a Motion appealing for unity. He made a speech which I thought was moderate in tone and which I supported in the spirit in which I thought it was made. Then the Press generally picked out one portion of that speech, and we had headlines appearing like the following: "Bosses want Benn tamed"; "Watkinson flexes his muscles for the CBI"; "CBI chieftain issues threat of rebellion"; and so on. That speech of the noble Viscount, as it was reported, was an extremely dangerous speech. It added to a dangerous situation—


Would my noble friend give way?


My Lords, I am about to finish. It added to what was a dangerous situation, and I think that while we can say, as I have said, that between us we want to avoid trivialising and personalising this argument, with the best will in the world it is sometimes difficult to mount a debate which will really inform the public when we have the kind of reporting that we see today.


My Lords, would my noble friend bear with me for one second? The speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Watkinson, may have sounded very moderate, but before he made it in this House he took the unprecedented step of delivering the speech on the one o'clock News, and it was repeated again at five o'clock. This was all part of a well-planned exercise. The speech was moderate here, yes. But, outside, its impact was deliberately vicious. That was not the fault of the Press; that was the fault of the noble Viscount, Lord Watkinson.