Skip to main content

European Community (Membership)

Volume 893: debated on Monday 9 June 1975

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement.

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

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

It is now almost 14 years since the British Government first applied in July 1961 for negotiations to join the Community.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is the Prime Minister aware that we join him in rejoicing over this excellent result, which confirmed the earlier parliamentary decision? We are particularly pleased with the number of people who came out to vote for Britain's staying in the EEC and also with the strong "Yes" from each of the four parts of the United Kingdom, which confirmed the strength of the British ties which unite us.

Secondly, I do not wish to enter into the controversy over the referendum, but is the Prime Minister aware that there have been lessons to learn from putting a single issue to the people, particularly a single issue in foreign affairs? I hope it will be the end to the time when people feel that most of the issues which interest the British people are domestic issues. This occasion has shown that the British people are fully aware of the importance to them of what happens in other countries and of the importance of Britain taking a full part in those affairs and having a clear voice in them.

Thirdly, is the Prime Minister aware that all of us on this side of the House, and many on the other, would wish to hand the campaign honours to my right hon. Friend the Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) and the parliamentary honours to my hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. Kirk), who, with his team of Conservative Members, has represented Britain in the European Assembly and has added greatly to that Assembly?

Also, one cannot let this occasion pass without paying tribute to the vision of Sir Winston Churchill and the courage of Harold Macmillan, who made the original application.

As we have supported the Prime Minister throughout on the European issue, it would hardly seem an occasion for controversy between him and our Front Bench—the controversy may be pursued elsewhere—but we regard it as vital now that he takes the necessary steps to restore business confidence and to deal with our economic problems, and we expect to hear more about that in the future.

I thank the right hon. Lady for what she said. [An HON. MEMBER: "What did she say?"] She said that the vote last Thursday confirmed Parliament's vote. That is so, but for the first time throughout these many years of controversy we have now had the full-hearted consent of the whole of the British people.

I noted—or at least I think I noted—what the right hon. Lady said about the meaning of the referendum. She will forgive me if I say that what she tried to convey was a little obscure. I shall need time and perhaps a little éclaircissentent to understand fully what she said because I recall that she argued strongly against and voted against the referendum. But when I have had time to study her statement I shall give close thought to it.

I shall obviously not comment on her fraternal or sororial comments on the activities of her right hon. Friend the Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath), but I was very touched that she felt able to say that. In answer to the challenge from the Shadow Leader of the House, I should like to go along with it and endorse it.

With regard to what the right hon. Lady said about confidence in the economic situation, she is right, and that is what I was saying in the concluding words of my statement. She will recall with enthusiasm, I think, the economic debate that we had on the eve of the Whitsun Recess.

Is the Prime Minister aware that we should like to welcome his statement? Is he further aware that some would like to agree with the right hon. Lady the Leader of the Opposition that the contribution of the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) amongst Conservatives has been outstanding as to both quality and quantity? Some of us believe that there have been others as well who played some part in the campaign, both for and against. Sometimes those against have been as much help as those who have been for.

Would the Prime Minister agree that this is a clear indication that the British people want this country to play its full part in the European Community, and is he satisfied that the members of the team that will be taking part in the day-to-day business of Europe will all be total in their commitment both to membership and to the policies, whatever they may have thought a week ago?

While I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on improving on his Oxford Union speech, I agree, if he will allow me to say so, with what he said about the fact that in the referendum campaign there were some right hon. and hon. Members on both sides who contributed greatly to the support for their cause, and there were some about whom my own views on counter-productivity certainly applied, on both sides of the campaign. [HON. MEMBERS: "Name them."] Not at this moment. As for the right hon. Gentleman's speculations about the future, these are matters for me. In due course, when I have anything to say on the matter, I will say it.

In fairness, would not my right hon. Friend agree that, although one debate is over, inevitably a new one begins? Would he not agree that the full purpose of the Common Market is economic and monetary union? What are his views about that?

My hon. Friend is always right, that when one debate ends another begins. I have noticed that he often starts the new debate before the old one is over. He has taken a different view about this matter. As for EMU, I have nothing to add to what I said in the debate on 8th April or the statement that I made on 18th March when we reported the results of the renegotiations. Both my hon. Friend and I were elected on a manifesto which said:

"if these two tests are passed, a successful renegotiation and the expressed approval of the majority of the British people, then we shall be ready to play our full part in developing a new and wider Europe."
Since those two tests have been passed, I look forward to my hon. Friend showing the same enthusiasm as the rest of us in fulfilling the manifesto.

While of course one accepts the result of the vote in the referendum, would the Prime Minister, as the constitutional leader of the "Yes" campaign, formally reaffirm the basis on which the "Yes" vote was clearly obtained—namely, that the Government would oppose any move towards a federal State? Can we have a clear answer to that, please?

Since I have been asked by right hon. Members opposite to pay tribute to one distinguished campaigner sitting below the Gangway, I am sure that I am expressing the views of the whole House when I say that the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten), although he expressed views different from those that I was expressing, conducted his campaign with great dignity during the referendum. With regard to political unity, I have nothing to add to what we said in the campaign, including particularly the statement by my right hon. Friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary, who said that he thought that the matter which the hon. Gentleman raises was one for our children and our children's children.

While one would congratulate my right hon. Friend and the Foreign Secretary and the other Ministers—particularly the Home Secretary on the significant part which he played in the pro-Europe campaign—will he make it clear that the Labour Members who may go to the European Parliament will become full members of the Socialist group?

As I have said, this is now a matter for consideration by the Parliamentary Labour Party. I do not intend to give directions to it; indeed, I have no power to do so. I hope that the Liaison Committee, representing both the Government and the Parliamentary Labour Party, will consider this matter. I hope that there will be a delegation to the European Assembly, and I hope that that delegation will be fully representative of the party and not consist just of one point of view. I believe, if I may say so, that the Conservative Party showed great wisdom in including in its delegation a minority who had taken a different view from the majority view. As to joining the Socialist grouping in the Assembly, this must obviously be a matter for the Members and for the Parliamentary Labour Party. I hope that they will do so. I know that every Socialist in the Assembly and the Socialist-led Governments in the Community very much hope that this will be so.

While not particularly happy with the result of the referendum and feeling that it would be honest to admit it right from the outset, I think it would be churlish not to offer some commendation to the Prime Minister on the success of his policies. But will he note, in so doing, that the Scottish people in their vote were less enthusiastically for the Market, that for over 42 per cent. of the Scottish people the Market will be on trial in future in what it does or seeks to do? Finally, as the pro-Marketeers fought the campaign in Scotland under the slogan "Scotland in Europe" rather than "Britain in Europe", will he seek to give substance to that claim by ensuring that when he brings forward proposals for the establishment of a Scottish Assembly he will give it powers to enable it to be represented directly by Scottish Ministers at the Council of Ministers? Will he also agree that many people in many parties apart from mine will agree with that policy?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his honest and frank admission and for his generous reference. The vote in Scotland must be a matter for interpretation—not, I think, by me. Everyone will make his own interpretation, and some may be different from mine. One of course recognises that there were dissociatory votes in the Shetlands and the Western Isles. My interpretation is that they were dissociating less from Europe and the United Kingdom than from certain politicians in Scotland.

Does my right hon. Friend recollect that many of us said that even if the "Yes" vote was no more than 43 per cent. of the electorate we would accept it, and that that is the position today? Does he also recollect that we agreed to put off until after the referendum the whole question of how Parliament delegates authority to a Minister to use a veto in the Council of Ministers, which, because of the fifth-rate democracy which still exists in the Community, is the one way Parliament decided that we could make our influence felt and be able to understand the decisions to be taken by an attending Minister at the Council of Ministers? Therefore, will he not now give some indication as to how Parliament can delegate authority to a Minister to use a veto in certain circumstances authorised by this Parliament?

My hon. Friend has been absolutely fair in what he has said this afternoon in recalling what he said on past occasions before the referendum about the acceptance of certain decisions in the referendum. Many of us saw him on television on Thursday. I particularly welcomed what he said early in the day, quite spontaneously—that it would be his view that the Parliamentary Labour Party should be represented in the Assembly, although I think that it was equally his view that that should be a representative delegation, as I said, and not just one representing the national majority.

With regard to parliamentary scrutiny, whether in respect of decisions taken or in respect of decisions still to be taken—where, of course, as some of us have argued, the political power in the Council of Ministers has become much clearer in terms of national interest, and also, as a result of the summits, in the summit meetings—the Government certainly intend, with the good will of the House, to develop the scrutiny arrangements to make them more effective. I trust that there will be an early debate on the recent Report of the Procedure Committee on European Secondary Legislation.

While one congratulates the Prime Minister on the result, will he keep to his determination not to repeat the constitutional experiment of the referendum? Second, since it is almost universally agreed that the outcome of the referendum was not only a vote to stay in Europe but a vote against extremism and abuses of power in this country, will he now make changes both in the policies and in the composition of his Government to meet the deeply-held desires of the majority of our people?

I certainly give the right hon. Member for Bournemouth, West (Sir J. Eden) the assurance he seeks in his first question. I regard this as a unique situation, necessary in the light of 14 years of disagreement in this country, which cuts across parties. The Government's insistence on going ahead with the referendum has been justified by the result and by the clear decision that has been taken. I would not read anything more into the decision than that it is a decision of the British people, having heard all the arguments, read the documents by both campaigning organisations and having had the report from the Government. It was limited to a clear view that Britain should remain in the Community. It was not a vote for anything else, nor were the questions put about anything else. I certainly would pot regard the right hon. Gentleman as the best judge of which side of the House is the side that generates more extremism as opposed to more consensus.

As it is agreed on all hands that in the Government's words:

"Continuing British membership must depend upon the continuing assent of Parliament"
is it not clear, whether anyone likes the deduction or not, that this result can be no more final than that of any single General Election?

I saw the right hon. Gentleman on television and I heard him put exactly that point of view. Of course, it is a fact and it has been laid down by constitutional authorities at all levels, including by the former Lord Chancellor, Lord Hailsham, that no Par- liament can bind its successor. That is true. The right hon. Gentleman would be the first to agree that the decision this time was not based on the shifting of parliamentary votes or on any vote in the House before or after General Elections. This was a first—and I hope it will not be necessary to have another—and total decision of the British people, where every vote counted as one—even more than they do at General Elections where there are safe seats one way or the other—where everyone had the right to vote or abstain and where there was a massive endorsement of the proposition put forward by the Government.

Although I agree with the Prime Minister that this was, indeed, a famous victory—and I congratulate him and all those who took part—I was glad that the right hon. Gentleman read the section which said:

"play a full part in the future life of the Community".
Would my right hon. Friend ask his right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to look into the question of direct election to the European Parliament, in the hope that this country can accept the same agreement as the other members to try to achieve this by 1978?

I welcome the kind words of my hon. Friend about the result of a referendum which he totally opposed from start to finish, but nevertheless in which he played a distinguished part. The question of the future development of the Assembly is a matter for progressive consideration by all parties in this House and by every right hon. and hon. Member. I have said that this House should be fully represented there. There will be plenty of time—certainly there is no urgency about it at all and it was not an issue in the referendum—to consider the future methods of selecting those who take part in the work of the Assembly.

Would the right hon. Gentleman give consideration to the possibility of raising with the Council of Ministers the implementation of a suggestion which I had previously made both in this House and in the European Parliament; namely, that where the Council is engaged in a strictly legislative function as distinct from a merely consultative one, it should deliberate in public?

Certainly we shall consider the right hon. and learned Gentleman's proposal. He will note that I had him in mind when I referred earlier to the fact that the Conservative Party had the wisdom to include in its delegation to the Assembly certain of those who had not been over-enthusiastic about entry. This is a matter that needs to be considered. The Council of Ministers has become a much more significant part of the Community institutions. It is now functioning much better because of the recognition by each member of the ministerial Council that they have to give full effect to the political concerns and anxieties of their colleagues. This is reinforced by the precedent set by President Giscard d'Estaing, which is now a regular part of the functioning, of having three summit meetings a year. Whether these meetings would gain by being in public, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman said, is something I should like to think about. We made great progress in Paris in December and in the summit in Dublin in the spring. I doubt if we should have made the same progress if the television cameras had been on us.

Does the Prime Minister recall that at the Paris summit the Heads of Government requested Mr. Tindemans to undertake a mission to each member State to review the views of various members as to further progress to union? Does he also recall saying to me in a Written Answer that Mr. Tindemans will be coming later this summer if the British people so wish? Does he realise that there are many people in institutions in Britain who, although loyally accepting the burden and the existing obligations of membership, would not wish to go further towards union? Can the Prime Minister tell the House whether Mr. Tindemans is coming, what arrangements he has made for his visit and whether those persons and institutions will be able to make their views known to him?

I should like to thank my hon. Friend, knowing the strong line has has taken, about the way in which has has wholeheartedly accepted the result. We look forward to a visit by Mr. Tindemans in the near future. He will be coming within a week or two. I should like to consider with my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, and in the light of the practice Mr. Tindemans has followed in other countries he has visited, whether he should receive representations from all sectors of opinion or whether he will deal with the Government.

In welcoming the Prime Minister's statement and further to the question by the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh), may I ask whether the Prime Minister will urge his eight colleagues in the Community towards an early implementation of Article 138 paragraph 3 of the Treaty of Rome, which calls for direct elections by universal suffrage, because of the importance of this to Scotland? It will mean Scotland electing men and women direct to the European Parliament instead of them being selected for us by the Westminster administration.

I note that point. I have already answered it by saying that these are matters that we shall have to consider in this House.

Perhaps, Mr. Speaker, I might pick up a point from an earlier question by my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing). I should have said that although Mr. Tindemans will be dealing with the British Government direct, I am sure he will be meeting other parties. When the Tindemans' proposal was first aired, my right hon. Friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary and I when welcoming it in Paris said that we hoped he would make it his business to feel free to receive representations, for example, from industry and commerce and the trades union movement, and to visit Wales and Scotland as well as London. On the point about Mr. Tindemans listening to views from those who took a different point of view in the campaign, this must be a matter for him to consider.

Can my right hon. Friend say anything about the effect of the vote last week on the Government's proposals on devolution? Will the Government be going through with their proposals on that matter, and will they be doing that without any inhibition placed on them by Brussels or elsewhere?

There is no change whatever in what we announced to the House about the devolution proposals. Whatever the various interpretations placed upon voting in Scotland or in Wales, I am not aware that anything was decided last week which in any way calls upon the Government to reconsider their proposals on devolution. I have made it clear, and so have my right hon. Friends, that so far as the Commission and the organisation of the European Community is concerned this has no bearing at all on the freedom of this House to decide its policy in relation to devolution.

Is not one of the clear lessons of the referendum result that those trade union leaders who, at the Labour Party conference, cast massive block votes against British membership were entirely unrepresentative of the views of most of their members?

The country was asked to decide, and the country decided. Everyone can form a view about how persuasive any particular person or voter was—even how persuasive the hon. Gentleman was. The situation is that this was put for a decision to the whole British people and the whole British people responded with singular unanimity, area by area, on the propositions put to them. What I am proud and pleased about is that there has been this free debate in the country, in the Conservative Party, in our own party and certainly in the trade union movement. But the hon. Gentleman, who no doubt followed the proceedings of our party conference with great interest—as some of us sometimes follow the proceedings of his party's conference, which I think is held in his constituency—will have noticed, nevertheless, that the backcloth to the platform said "Conference advises—the people decide." The people have decided.

In his statement to the House after the Dublin summit and in his Glasgow speech a week ago, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister referred to the need to open negotiations with the other Common Market countries on the need to reassert governmental control over the steel industry. Can my right hon. Friend now give us an assurance that these renegotiations will proceed with all possible speed?

Yes, Sir. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this matter. He will recall that he intervened during my speech on 8th April, and I gave way to him because he was the Member for Newport, though I thought that he was about to raise a Newport question. What I then told him will be followed up. We have expressed anxieties about steel. We have outlined the basis on which we intend to follow it up. This could not be done while the referendum campaign was in progress. I am not sure whether my hon. Friend was at my meeting in Cardiff last Wednesday. He may have been otherwise engaged. I hope that he will study what I said in Cardiff on the steel industry of South Wales and the very full answer I then gave to my hon. Friend's question even before he put it.

If the Prime Minister recognises that the European cause and the cause of the Commonwealth go together, may I ask him whether Her Majesty's Government are exploring the aim of Mr. Trudeau, the Canadian Prime Minister, expressed in the City of London for a contractual link between Canada and the Community?

Yes, Sir, certainly. I was in communication with the Canadian Prime Minister on that matter several months ago—indeed, almost a year ago. I discussed it on his recent visit. We discussed it at the Commonwealth conference. I discussed it with him in Ottawa in January and again, more recently, in Brussels a couple of weeks ago. Certainly we are very much concerned in pursuing these and similar arrangements between other Commonwealth countries. The hon. Gentleman will, I think, be aware of the wholehearted support of the Commonwealth for Britain's remaining in the Community.

May I assure my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, from very recent contacts with European parliamentarians, with what delight and relief this final resolution of the matter will have been greeted in Europe? May I congratulate him—wily old wizard that he is—after a a few false fits and starts, on a quite considerable political achievement, with which should be coupled the contribution, not inconsiderable, of the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath)? Does not my right hon. Friend agree that the result of this can only be enormously to enhance Britain's future prospects?

As an old student of R. D. Blackmore, I always take tributes from Carver Doone in the spirit in which they are intended. My hon. Friend, who I think was very active in a different sense on the Market some years ago, will know that from 1962 onwards—indeed, that was in the time of the leadership of Hugh Gaitskell—the party conference has always said it was prepared to support whole-heartedly the European effort with Britain inside it on certain conditions, but also it believed that we should not be in it if the terms were not right. That has been the position of every conference since then, saying "Never out on principle; never in on principle. It depends on the terms and whether it is best for Britain." The country has now decided that it is best for Britain, the Commonwealth, Europe and the wider world.

Following the referendum, will the right hon. Gentleman say whether he intends to appoint a special full-time Minister of Cabinet rank, under his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, to concentrate on European affairs and attend the Council of Ministers?

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs will remain in complete charge of our relations with the Community, and he will have appropriate assistance in the form of Ministers of State as he has had up to now.

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the fact that, while many of us are naturally very disappointed—we would not be honest if we did not say that—at the decision of the people in relation to continuing in the Common Market, we nevertheless accept that decision without any question? However, will my right hon. Friend now put to the Home Secretary and those who were pro-Marketeers in the accepted sense of the word and who fought strongly over the years on the argument that it is better for Socialism to be in the Common Market, that they should, together with us all, now formulate a very important Socialist programme, such as control of the multinationals, the extension of public ownership on a Community scale, the building of a national health service, and in this sense that we now get down to a full-blooded Socialist programme for Europe as a whole?

My hon. Friend is clearly on to a very important point. He is aware, I think—as was argued in the last two or three weeks; rather against him, I think—that of all the nine Governments there, six are either Labour Governments or Socialist Governments or of Socialist leadership under a coalition Government, or a Socialist minority participation. Then there is, of course, Italy, where the Socialist parties have supported a Government with no Socialist representation. I am sure that what my hon. Friend has said will bear fruit and be fully considered, not only by Her Majesty's Government but by all the others. Certainly there is very great interest not only among the Socialist parties of Western Europe but others, about the whole problem of multinationals in Europe.

The Prime Minister said that this was the end of the argument. Does he agree that it must be the beginning of a new chapter of more effective British influence within the Community? To that end, may I ask him to give two undertakings? First, will he undertake now to work—perhaps with a little more personal enthusiasm than he has sometimes shown in the past—to make the Community the success it was originally set up to become? Secondly—nearer home, and with that end in view—will he now ensure that Her Majesty's Government are composed of Ministers who wholeheartedly consent to the future developments of the European Community?

The hon. Gentleman is right that this is the beginning of a new stage. Of course, he probably underrates—because he may not have been following these things—the extent to which the ongoing work in the Community has been going on and has been helped by the positive contributions of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, who has made a real success of agriculture negotiations in place of the shambles which characterised European agriculture when we took over the responsibility. When he talks about the situation nearer home, and refers to Her Majesty's Government, of course I have the responsibility always of considering changes in these matters. I do not propose to learn from anyone who is responsible for appointing the kind of panorama that I see on the Opposition Front Bench, including the hon. Gentleman. We have a far more purposeful and united Government than we have ever seen from those who now occupy the Opposition Front Bench.