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Eec Heads Of Government

Volume 884: debated on Tuesday 21 January 1975

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asked the Prime Minister what further talks he intends to have with the Heads of State of EEC Governments before the decision is taken to make a recommendation to the British people on the United Kingdom's future in or out of the Common Market.


asked the Prime Miinster when he next plans to have an official meeting with EEC Heads of Government.


asked the Prime Minister whether he plans to invite the Heads of EEC Governments to meet him in London.


asked the Prime Minister when he next intends to meet the other EEC Heads of Government.

I expect to meet other Heads of Government at the next meeting of the European Council, which, as I explained to my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Huckfield) on 17th December, is for the Irish Government to convene.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is important that he should explain to the other Heads of State that he speaks for the Government, in view of the conflicting statements which have been made by Cabinet Ministers on British membership of the Common Market? Will my right hon. Friend make clear that the almost neurotic speech made by the Secretary of State for Trade in Brighton on Friday and the apparently deliberate misuse of figures produced by his Department do not represent the official policy of the Government?

I do not accept my hon. Friend's strictures on these statistics, or the misuse of them, but I accept that our partners in Europe are well aware, in all negotiations, that my right hon. Friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary—who is our representative on the Council of Ministers—and I speak for the Government, and I shall do so at the next meeting of the Heads of Government.

Does not the Secretary of State for Trade, as a member of the Cabinet, have a collective responsibility for the Government's attitude towards the renegotiation? As the Secretary of State has declared himself as having no confidence in our future within the EEC, should not the Prime Minister ask for his resignation?

No, Sir. I read the speech very carefully. It contains a number of statistics from which my right hon. Friend drew conclusions, as he had the right to do—[Interruption.]—as he had the right to do. My experience of Common Market debates both within parties and between them from 1961 onwards is that in statistical matters on the Common Market truth is many-sided—[Interruption.]

Order. Last week complaints were made about the few Questions that the Prime Minister was able to answer. It would be much easier to get on if there were less noise.

We are concerned with renegotiating, in accordance with our manifesto, the terms entered into by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite, and that we shall do.

Will my right hon. Friend discuss with his colleagues our adverse trade balances with other countries in the Common Market, including £800 million with West Germany, £600 million with the Netherlands, £400 million with France and £200 million with Italy? Is my right hon. Friend satisfied that we have sufficient freedom within the Common Market to take the corrective action necessary to remedy these adverse balances?

I answered that question last week. Certainly we have taken up these questions. They are very serious. That is what my right hon. Friend was talking about at the weekend.

Is the Prime Minister aware that his hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) has a great deal more courage than the Prime Minister himself and that the Heads of Government in the EEC and millions of people in this country are crying out for leadership from him on this and on other issues? Is there any chance that, sooner or later, the Prime Minister will start to do what he believes to be right with the nation rather than what he hopes will be popular with his party?

On this question I shall, unlike my predecessor, fight for British interests in these negotiations.

Will the Prime Minister promise the Heads of State when he meets them that in initiating the results of the referendum he will establish a clear position on the question whether the people of Scotland have either supported it or, as is more likely, rejected it and the consequences thereof?

I cannot anticipate the votes of any part of the United Kingdom when the decision is taken. I assure the hon. Lady that I intend to make a statement on Thursday on all relevant aspects of the test of British public opinion on this matter. The arrangements which we are proposing will be subject to the final authority of this House in the matter of legislation.

Will my right hon. Friend make clear to the Heads of State when he meets them that he has no intention of attempting to gag or remove any Minister who is trying, in his own sincere way, to advocate party policy, and that if he attempted to do so it would invoke a great deal of anger?

I agree with my right hon. Friend. The difference between the Labour Government and their Conservative predecessors is that we are not a Cabinet of cronies.

Order. I had already called the right hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe).

I have always backed the idea that on this issue there should be a free vote, unlike the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister, who is moving in that direction, which I welcome. Will he say whether, if it be a fact that the Government are negotiating in good faith with the hope that they may reach a solution which they will be able to recommend to the British people, they will find the speeches made by the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Trade and the Secretary of State for Industry—who are pathological, if not congenial, in their hatred of the Common Market—hopeful or helpful to the negotiations, or whether they are treated by our European colleagues as irrelevant?

I do not accept the strictures which have been made, as I made clear to my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton). The right hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe) talks of a free vote. I must tell him that the Labour Government will get, without support from his or any other Opposition Party, a free vote of the whole British people. I should make an exception, because the hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. Smith), when speaking in the election, said that he supported a referendum on this matter—[Interruption.] Yes, he said so at the time. But the right hon. Gentleman fought the two recent elections opposing the right of a free vote of the British people.

In the public debate for which the Prime Minister called yesterday—which has been going on for 15 years—will he recognise that the important element is the debate in this House and that this House should have the opportunity of coming to its own conclusion again—and should do so this time on a free vote of the whole House? Will he give an undertaking that as he has not the political courage to enforce collective responsibility in his Cabinet, at least he will have the political wisdom, this time, to give a free vote to everybody on his own side of the House?

I have already said that I shall be making a statement on this matter on Thursday. Traditionally, the question of a free vote is a matter of advice by the Chief Whips of any party. [Interruption.] I can remember this having been said many times by Mr. Macmillan when he was Leader of the Conservative Party. Since he is looked back on with great nostalgia, I thought I would remind the House of that fact. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition referred to the public debate for which I called yesterday. I think that he and I may be in agreement on that matter. I said that in regard to the test of public opinion later this year the rules must be made by this House and that we not only intend to have a debate on the result of the renegotiations for which the right hon. Gentleman asked today and last week but also, when we have put forward our proposals for a test of opinion, that it would probably be right, after consultation through the usual channels, to have a debate on the general rules for the test of public opinion by the free vote of the British people, which the right hon. Gentleman, when Prime Minister, refused to give them.