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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 Russell Johnston Mr Russell Johnston , Inverness 12:00 am, 13th July 1972

That is as may be. I simply wished to introduce the few words I shall address to the House by referring to the attitudes of the main debaters. As one who has been present during most of the debates, although not all, I think that, apart from those whom I have mentioned who have contributed most particularly, I remember those against the Bill, oddly enough, better, I suppose because they were more often present and more vocal. The hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Selwyn Gummer) was an exception and made some very constructive comments. But then one came back to the disarming decency of the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten), and the resonant sounds beat behind me of the right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) and many others.

However, it is not my intention to deliver a vote of thanks. I want as a Liberal to say categorically, definitely and proudly that I am proud of my party and what it has done in the course of these debates. There have been six occasions during the passage of the Bill when the Liberal Party, by voting against the Government, could have defeated it, but we did not do so. I am proud of the fact that we did not do so because for us this Bill, which I believe we shall carry on Third Reading tonight, is the culmination of more than a quarter of a century of advocacy on our part in which we have seen our intent, if not our total concept, persuading the two great parties of this country. As recently as the 1959 General Election they poured scorn on the very case which the Chancellor of the Duchy and the Prime Minister made in this Parliament and the present Leader of the Opposition as Prime Minister and Lord George-Brown and others made in the last Parliament.

I could fill many columns of HANSARD with references, but I do not propose to embark upon doing so. I believe that we can say that as a party we have held unflinchingly to the belief that Britain's future lies in Europe, and had we been listened to earlier the economic and political strength of this country in Europe would be more soundly based. Even if one goes back to 1945, one finds that there were Liberal conference resolutions calling for entry to Europe.

I will make only one quotation. We had a debate in February, 1959, on the Command Paper dealing with EFTA. This is relevant to our attitude to this Bill. At that time we were considering negotiations to enter EFTA and Mr. Mark Bonham Carter, then Liberal Member for Torrington, said: It is, therefore, the view of the Liberal Party that the Government should state that they are willing to consider joining the Common Market and that, with that end in view, they are initiating conversations at once with the Commonwealth and the O.E.E.C. countries. That is the line that we should like the Government to take."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th February, 1959; Vol. 599, c. 1430–31.] That is the line we have consistently followed.