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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

In a sense, that has been answered already. The first point is that an enormous enlargement of the area of the transfer of decision-making has taken place in the intervening period, including the right to tax the British people which was not even mentioned in the 1967 White Paper. These are very big matters. I am in no way convinced that the degree of transfer of authority, of law-making, in the Bill matches the requirements of establishing a customs union in Western Europe.

I return to my point that the transfer of control is large and growing. When we voted on Clause 2(1) we approved in those five short lines nine-tenths of the 42 volumes of Community law which Brussels has so far enacted. No one in Britain had seen those laws before February this year. Very few Members of Parliament, including Ministers, let alone the people who are expected to obey them, have had the opportunity to read and study them in the past few weeks during which they have been available. The area over which under the treaties European institutions will be able to make our future law is largely undefined, and is certain to grow. It already includes not only a general capacity to make laws but now a substantial capacity to raise taxes. Indeed, for the first time since the Stuarts we are to be taxed without the consent of Parliament. What is so deeply unacceptable is that we have no right to repeal, to change, to amend the laws to which we are about to become subject—no right, that is, unless we breach the treaty itself. That is the dilemma with which we are faced. So what it comes to is this: the Bill will create, from the moment it takes effect, a large "no-go" area for British democracy, an area in which Community jurisdiction will apply and Community laws will have to be obeyed. That is the truth of the matter.

Many arguments have been advanced to justify this. I must confess that the one that disturbs me most is that put forward by those who have convinced themselves that Parliamentary democracy here is just a charade; that Parliament does not control Government; that the people do not control Parliament; and, still more, that Britain no longer significantly controls its own fortunes in the world. For people who hold these views there is, of course, neither democracy nor sovereignty to abandon. This I have come to believe is the most powerful of the many influences that have operated in this whole debate. It has seldom been there in the front line of the argument but it has been the shaping thought, the inarticulate major premise in too many minds.

This view seems to have an almost equal attraction for those who somehow believe that if we can attach the British engine, as it were, to the European carriage we shall be able to pull it whichever way we wish, and for those who are never content until they have demonstrated not only that we have ceased to be a world power, even a second-rate power, but that we have ceased to be a power at all. This view appears to have a great fascination for many minds on both sides of the House. All I can say is that I do not share this view. I take a much more realistic view about our influence and our position.

I also believe that the great events and happenings in the world require collective and international action by nation States. Of course there is no single nation State, however powerful, that can command completely events outside its territories, or indeed insulate itself from what happens elsewhere. We know that, but that is the case for developing, as we have, international agencies and joint endeavours in which we all believe. It is not an excuse for snuffing out a substantial part of our democracy and independence, which this Bill and these treaties would do.

Are we to believe that the 50-odd million people in this country, with a very high standard of living and very great national wealth, with the very considerable power and the much greater influence that we possess, have nothing further to gain from the exercise of the right of self-government? If that is so, how odd it is that over 100 States all over the world, so much poorer, so much weaker, facing so many infinitely more serious problems in relation to their resources than we, insist on maintaining their self-government and their freedom of action—things which apparently some people at any rate in the House have come to believe are no longer of value to ourselves. Even if they were right, even if this view were the correct view, it has not been put to the British people; much less have the British people been persuaded by it.

This is, of course, the fundamental error that the Government have committed throughout the Bill, and in all that has happened since the end of the negotiations. All they want to do in this Bill and in the treaties, in spite of all that we have said against them, all those things they could do provided they had won first the consent, full-hearted, of Parliament and people. But they have not got that consent, and this is the heart of the matter.

I believe that when the Prime Minister used those now notorious words in, I think, May, 1970, he was not intending to deceive at all. I think he believed that the outcome of the negotiations would be such as to win the support of the Opposition Party, and I think, too, that he hoped and believed that the British people, in spite of their initial doubts, would be won over in a clear majority for the European enterprise. Those, I think, were his genuine expectations in May 1970.

But they have both been disappointed. The people are hostile. Their opposition is as strong today as it was a year ago, or indeed two years, ago. [HON. MEMBERS: "Stronger."] And the Opposition, in spite of the views of a minority within it, is resolutely opposed to the Treaties of Accession and to this Bill. In these circumstances, what the right hon. Gentleman should have done, the proper thing for him to have done, the constitutional and democratic course, was to hold a General Election.

We have not got a written constitution to instruct us, but there are conventions that should guide us. Governments do no make major changes in the workings of Parliament or the power of Parliament, if these are opposed by Her Majesty's Opposition, without the authority of a General Election. Again, Governments do not enter into major treaties with other countries unless here, too, they have the support of the Opposition. Both these unwritten rules have been broken, even though we were ready, quite exceptionally, to allow the matter to be decided not by a General Election, which we would have preferred, but by a referendum.

The consequences of this are bound to be very serious. The Prime Minister will go to the summit this autumn, if President Pompidou agrees, in a very unenviable position. He will go knowing that he does not represent the wishes of the British people in this enterprise; and, equally important, the other European leaders will know this, too. Therefore a great doubt and a great question mark will hang over all their discussions, over the future of the agreements that they have reached so fax, over the existence of an enlarged Community. And if the leaders of the Six have followed our debates they will know just how unsettled and open this issue is. They will have heard, as the Solicitor-General reminded us, from him and with his authority, that: …the position is that the ultimate supremacy of Parliament will not be affected. They will have heard him reaffirm Lord Diplock's words on 1st December last year that: If the Queen in Parliament were to make laws which were in conflict with this country's obligations under the Treaty of Rome, those laws, and not the conflicting provisions of the Treaty, would be given effect to as the domestic law of the United Kingdom."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th July, 1972; Vol. 840, c. 627–9.] There can be no doubt that the next Parliament will have the right to take back what this Parliament has ceded.

Then they will know that Her Majesty's Opposition has stated on many occasions, and as recently as last week, that it does not consider itself to be bound by these treaties; that in the special circumstances that have surrounded their approval and enactment they do not feel the normal obligation that they would recognise, and would wish to recognise, in international treaties of a major kind. They will know, too, not only from our formal policy statements but from the strategy of Amendments to the Bill which we have pursued, that we reject and have voted against major parts of the whole treaty complex; that we rejected the Treaty of Luxembourg of April, 1970, which gives authority for the taxation and expenditures of the Community; that we voted against the economic and monetary union proposal; that we made clear our opposition to the common agricultural policy. These are among the matters which we say must be renegotiated.

That is not all. The Opposition have pledged themselves at the end of any further negotiations to consult the British people and to enable them to make the final decision on entry. The Six must take account, not just of the position stated by the Opposition but also of the views of the British people and how they are likely to develop over the months ahead.

Dr. Mansholt has told us that in his view the matter is closed and that the Six are not prepared to negotiate on any of the matters concerning us. The German Chancellor has said similar things.