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Orders of the Day — European Communities Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 13th July 1972.

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Photo of Mr Geoffrey Howe Mr Geoffrey Howe , Reigate 12:00 am, 13th July 1972

The right hon. Gentleman may have an opportunity of intervening later.

Many hon. Members, on both sides of the House, along with many people in this country, along with many friends of Britain outside this country, will be hoping that the House will reach its decision today in a mood that is a deal less sullen, a deal less bitter and a deal less fearful than that which has been heard so often in our debates during the last six months.

Many people outside this House and, as we all know, a clear majority within the House will be hoping that we can today reaffirm, without doubt, that our country is taking this decisive step not in a mood of misery and mutual recrimination but in a mood of strength and confidence.

Of course the changes in prospect are momentous. Of course those changes, if they are sustained by success, will have a far-reaching effect on the quality and standard of life of our people. Of course—and I emphasise this—these changes have not been, and cannot possibly be described as having been, taken in hand unadvisedly, lightly or wantonly. Of course there have been, still are in some respects—and one acknowledges it readily—reservations, and it is entirely right that these reservations and other views should have been expressed in our debates in the House. But most people have found it difficult to understand how it has been possible for some hon. Gentlemen opposite to express and maintain their anxiety and reservations with such sustained gloom and with such unrelieved lack of confidence in the people and institutions of this country.

It is time to put into perspective the dismal and positively apocalyptic fears which have been so often expressed by hon. Gentlemen opposite in recent months. It is time to remind the British people that it was not always thus and it will not always be so. People would do well to remember that several of today's prophets of doom have until recently found it possible to support the arguments which have commended themselves to a majority of this House. People would do well to remember that the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, for example, was in no doubt in 1967 of the great prize that was to be won for the people of this country when he made his opening statement in the debate on 8th May of that year. He made it clear—and this is the foundation of it—that the Government's purpose was to raise above all our recognition that Europe is now faced with an opportunity of a great move forward in political unity and we could indeed and must play our full part in it. He went on to say that for these reasons the Government intended to table their application for membership with all the vigour at their command. Whatever may have been said about the terms thereafter there is no gainsaying or getting away from the fundamental sense of purpose in that declaration at that time, and it sits unhappily alongside the subsequent attitude of some hon. and right hon. Members opposite.

Nor for many years was my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) in doubt about the wisdom of our accession to the Community. Those of us who have heard him throughout the last six months expounding the unacceptable consequences of such a course find it hard to understand how he could ever have found it possible to support such a proposal. For in terms in which he has analysed them the consequences—in terms of sovereignty for example—are in every essential the same today as they were in 1967 when he voted in support of the last Government's application.

My right hon. Friend identified them quite clearly as long ago as 1964 when he told his electorate in Wolver-hampton: The fault is not ours if the economic unity with Britain which most of Europe desired has not yet been achieved. But it will come. The imperatives of that kind have by no means disappeared today. On the contrary, that which was once so white cannot now in the view of any reasonable observer have become by any means so black. For this same reason many supporters of the European movement in this country and so many supporters of Socialism in Europe have viewed with so much sadness the performance during the last two years of the Labour Party. I do not in any sense challenge their right to scrutinise the terms negotiated. Vigilant scrutiny of the terms we were certainly entitled to expect. Vigilant scrutiny of the legislation still before the House we were entitled to expect. What we were not entitled to expect, I suggest, was the blank totality of the opposition that we have seen expressed in this House. We were not entitled to expect the almost total abandonment of the basic European zeal, the high European sense of purpose, which right hon. Members opposite once expressed in compelling terms.