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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 Harold Lever Mr Harold Lever , Manchester Cheetham 12:00 am, 13th July 1972

The House has just listened to a maiden speech as thoughtful as it was charming in expression. I liked the note struck by the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Norman Lamont) in emphasising that there is no serious disagreement in principle between either side of the House on the issue before us. On that judgment certainly he kept well within the rule of non-controversial maiden speeches.

The hon. Gentleman has succeeded Lord Boyd-Carpenter, who was much respected in the House and whose services we greatly miss, but I am sure that he, too, in his turn, although it will be some time ahead, will grow grey in the service of the House. In the promising manner in which he made his debut this afternoon, the House can rest content that his constituency, for all that it is not yet persuaded to the views of my party, granted the confines of its political traditions, has sent a very worthy representative to succeed the very distinguished right hon. Gentleman.

All of us, whatever our views on entry into the Community, must be grateful to those of our colleagues who undertook the arduous duties of scrutiny in Committee. On the strength of that, although we did not get any Amendments carried, in the tradition of the House we are entitled to expect that the many valuable points which have been made on the question of parliamentary surveillance, points which are neutral to the belief in entry or not, will be respected and given effect to, not necessarily within the confines of the Bill but at some stage before our effective entry into the Community.

I will leave the House in no doubt that I fully support those criticisms which are genuinely directed to improving the surveillance that the House can exercise over our activities in the Community and in particular in supervising the assimilation of law, an assimilation of law which I welcome and about which I have no anxieties if the House performs its appropriate duty of surveillance.

I begin by expressing gratitude to those who have undertaken this task. I marvel at their fortitude and willingness to hear and approve each other's opinions throughout these long debates. We are sincerely grateful to them and no words of mine, now or on any other occasion, should be taken as underestimating my gratitude to those zealous Members.

This is a Bill on which opinion has been divided within parties and across parties. This division has expressed itself sometimes in votes, sometimes in words, and sometimes in abstentions. Each right hon. and hon. Gentleman must make up his mind on how he sees the difficult conflicts which have occurred throughout the Bill between party loyalties and their beliefs on this issue. I have particularly in mind the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell), who has been passionately keen to keep his Government in power and to do no injury to the Prime Minister or any of his Ministers. One can easily sense the tormented situation which he has faced. We respect his courage and the way in which he has resolved this difficulty.

Other right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House have had to take difficult decisions. They have, I accept, made their decisions honourably in a desire to do the best for their constituents, their party and the public. It is not always easy to bring all these matters into focus by one simple enthusiastic vote. We have done our best, and we have not all found the same solution.

I hope that the strong and even bitter feelings aroused by the Bill across the Floor and within parties will not alter the fact that we need in this House those who are prepared to defy the authority of their party Whips and those who are prepared to carry their conviction, when they think it right, into the Lobby at the risk of their Government or, in the case of hon. Members on this side, at the risk of keeping in power a Government whom they detest. This is a difficult and balanced question. The House must recognise that the dissidents on both sides have displayed great courage in discharging their difficult duties on this Bill.

I cannot hope to engage the House with any novel arguments at this Third Reading stage of the Bill. The areas involved in the Bill have been widely covered. Therefore, if I say a few words I hope that hon. Members will treat them with forbearance. They are intended to be my firm salute of welcome to the great venture on which we are about to engage by going into the community of Europe. It is a difficult venture and there are tremendous problems and anxieties ahead.

I fully understand those who do not go ahead with uncritical enthusiasm and those who hesitate and feel that there are dangers involved. Sometimes these anxieties and difficulties have been expressed in a form which I have found to be somewhat exaggerated.