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Cabinet (Collective Responsibility)

Volume 886: debated on Thursday 20 February 1975

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asked the Prime Minister whether he will make a statement on the official policy of the Government on the principle of collective Cabinet responsibility.


asked the Prime Minister if he will make a statement on the official policy of the Government on the principle of collective Cabinet responsibility.


asked the Prime Minister if he will make a statement on the official policy of the Government on the principle of collective Cabinet responsibility.

I would refer the hon. Members to the reply which I gave to the hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Mr. Stanley) on 26th November last. This remains the position, with the sole exception of the contingency mentioned in my statement in the House on 23rd January.

Which is now the collective view of the Cabinet—the view of the Chancellor of the Exchequer that wages are the main cause of inflation, or the view of the Secretary of State for Industry that they are not?

What will happen in this House when there is no longer collective responsibility for Europe? Is the Prime Minister to allow different Cabinet Ministers to come to the Dispatch Box day by day and week by week, to confuse us by giving completely contradictory accounts of Government policy?

I would not wish in any way to add to the state of confusion among Conservative Members in any respect. As for relative freedom, if there is a disagreement in the Cabinet on final recommendations—which is a contingency to which I referred—this is a matter for any campaigning which may take place in the country. But the Government's view will be stated, and will be stated in this House.

When does this period when Ministers are to have freedom to dissent from the official Government line on the EEC begin, or has it begun already with some Ministers and not others?

No, Sir. But as an old-fashioned traditionalist, not to say conservative student, in respect of this subject, I have been very interested, in the past week or two, to note the new thinking on the Opposition benches on the question of collective responsibility. I had always understood that collective responsibility in a particular Cabinet does not cease when that Cabinet no longer holds office. Either one dissociates oneself from the policy at the time, with all that that implies, including resignation, or one collectively defends one's actions in the years that follow. That does not seem to be happening.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that if the British people say "Yes, we should remain in Europe", there will be no British Cabinet responsibility for anything, because they will be denied that right? Furthermore, does he further agree that if the British people say "Yes" to our remaining in the Common Market, there will follow a joint party delegation to Europe, and that on that basis we can say goodbye to any collective responsibility for any of the decisions, since power will be transferred to Brussels permanently?

On the question of Cabinet responsibility, if, following renegotiation, a situation arises where the Cabinet can recommend our remaining in the Common Market, I do not accept that that destroys or diminishes Cabinet responsibility to this House. When my hon. Friend spoke about a joint parliamentary delegation to the Common Market, I take it that he was referring to the European Parliament.

We have not yet taken part in the proceedings of the European Parliament, but we have made clear that this matter will be determined at the end of the negotiations. We take the view that if the country decides to stay in the Common Market the normal Community implications in respect of the European Assembly would follow.

Will the Prime Minister say whether he has suspended collective Cabinet responsibility on the terms of entry only, or on the principle of entry?

What I made clear on 23rd January—I said it then and I repeat it now—was that in the contingency, which is by no means certain, that there might be two views in the Cabinet—members of the Cabinet will be free then to campaign on the question whether to advise the country to vote "Yes" or "No" to our staying in the Common Market. That will raise all the questions about the terms which we regard as important. The right hon. Lady the Leader of the Opposition and her party, when they had full collective responsibility, gave them away. Everybody in the country who campaigns and who votes will be concerned not only with the terms but also with the broader issues which have developed over the years during our membership.