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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 Peter Shore Mr Peter Shore , Stepney 12:00 am, 13th July 1972

I do not think we have time to discuss these matters further.

In the face of all the evidence I should have thought it irrefutable that we are dealing with a Government in France, or perhaps I should say "a régime", that is not—I use a rather British understatement—all that friendly to this country, and that whatever the right description of our relationship with France is, we should be unwise to expect consideration, foolish to expect generosity, and ludicrous if we thought of it as having anything to do with community.

So, while we have debated the Bill, two of the major reasons for joining the Common Market—improved prospects for our prosperity and alleged additional strength from a community of friends—have steadily weakened. On this, as on other matters, the arguments of the protagonists on entry have ebbed. It is this increasing awareness of the realities of membership that explains the stubborn and continued hostility of British opinion to entry.

It is a remarkable thing. Opinion in this country has had no encouragement from the newspapers in the past few months. Our discussions here have barely been mentioned by the BBC. Yet on all the evidence a clear majority of our people do not wish to enter the European Community. I believe there is now less conviction, less certainty, among the pro-Marketeers than at any stage since this long debate began. There are many people who are not only convinced that the arrangement is not for us but who increasingly doubt whether the EEC itself can long survive.

To all this must be added the Bill. It has strengthened opposition by adding to our large objections to the contents of the treaties new and strong objections to the manner in which they are to be given legal effect and to the great and harmful consequences the arrangements will have on the future of our parliamentary democracy.

We heard the Solicitor-General's apologia for the presentation, form and handling of the Bill. I shall say little about it except that it is wrong for the Government to have presented in a single and compressed Bill what should have been at least two separate Measures. There should have been a constitutional Bill in its own right, a Bill of unprecedented importance, and at least one very substantial harmonisation Measure to bring our laws and the many policy areas involved into line with those of the Community. I believe that to be a serious and widely accepted criticism of the method involved.

The second error which the Government may well come to rue, as I think they may now rue what happened to an earlier Bill which was guillotined last year, was to subject the Bill to the guillotine, and certainly to do so at the very point when we were debating the meaning for our future, for our constitution, for our Parliament, of the transfer of legislative power under Clause 2(1). The Government's third error was to compound the other two by refusing to accept any Amendment. I do not accept what the Solicitor-General said about that, as I believe it to have been a basic political decision.

The Solicitor-General accepted today, as he did in the last debate in Committee, full responsibility for his part in the framing and shaping of the Bill, but I would not want him to become the scapegoat for what is essentially a Cabinet and above all a Prime Ministerial decision. To force through the House so crucial a Measure, to limit and curtail discussion, to insist that not a dot or comma must be changed, to do it with a wafer-thin parliamentary majority, in the teeth of the sentiment of our people, may be thought by some to show determination and even courage, but to others it will seem nothing more than an arrogant abuse of power.

But the real damage is not in the method of the Bill but in the matter itself. For what the Bill seeks to do is to change the whole course of our parliamentary history. The power to make the laws of England is being deliberately transferred by the Bill to authorities outside our own land, responsible to no one in it. We shall not even be worried—that is the answer I myself gave to why we shall not be bothered with an overuse of statutory instruments under Clause 2(2)—by the flow of new laws from Brussels. Our processes will not be clogged or our time consumed by discussion of Euro-law, because we, the House of Commons, are to have no part in it. Henceforth, this House, which at least is responsible to the people who elect it, will have only such control as indirectly we can exert upon a British Minister, one of 10 sitting with his European colleagues in the Council of Ministers in Brussels. No doubt we shall do our best to influence whoever it may be, and no doubt he in turn will do his best in Brussels. But this is an entirely new decision-making, law-making procedure, one which is far from the real controls and influences that we are accustomed to exerting in this House.