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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

I do not think that even the hon. Member's tendency to stretch logic can succeed in connecting the two things.

I was about to say that it was with that record in mind that we were slightly amused rather than annoyed by the castigations of the Opposition Chief Whip after the Second Reading.

Four arguments stood out during debates on the Bill. There was the question of the degree to which the British people approve this step, the question of sovereignty, the price, and then the implications of the Bill. Many people have said in different words—I cannot give an exact quotation, but I am sure that the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) would not object if I suggested that he in turn like others, suggested it—that in passing this Bill we are betraying the British people. Equally, at the same time we have the Labour Party Executive, which has now committed itself to an election or a referendum, or something of that sort, and certainly re-negotiation of terms if and when they are re-elected. I think it odd of the Labour Party, which, one remembers, was elected on a minority vote in 1945 which did not prevent it from embarking on a very large programme of public ownership, which has never demonstrated much interested in elecoral reform and whose Leader as recently as 1970 poured scorn on this the very idea of referendum. However, there it is. I simply say that I reject the argument.

The Prime Minister's words were perhaps ill-chosen. I do not propose to refer to his rhetoric—perhaps it was an unwise choice of words—but I think that in a way there is very little that any Government introduce into this House which is ever carried with the full-hearted consent of the people. The sort of process by which a Government operate is that they introduce legislation which succeeds provided that there is not full-hearted opposition to it. If the Prime Minister had said that we could not enter Europe in the face of full-hearted opposition of the people of this country, I think that would be true, but I do not think that full-hearted opposition has manifested itself with vigour and force either outside or inside this House.

Then there is the question of sovereignty which many hon. Members have remarked on. We have gone over the arguments many times, and I do not wish to repeat them, but I accept that the nature of sovereignty will change. I think that our attitude towards it will change as well and we shall look upon it in a different way. I wish that hon. and right hon. Members, mainly in the Opposition, who have dwelt on this question so often would not lay so much stress on the right to take a decision as on the nature of the decisions themselves.

On many of the fears which have been expressed about our potentialloss of sovereignty—and I go along with the Solicitor-General, who argued this afternoon that we are gaining rather than losing—if we fear that we shall lose, this obviously means that we are afraid of certain decisions which are liable to be taken which will adversely affect this country in future if we join the Community. I do not think that is the right way to enter this grouping. If we enter it in that spirit, I do not think we shall be successful. It would, perhaps, have been better for us to spend rather more of our time looking at methods of participation within this country and the Community to enable people at all levels to have some say in what happens. That is why Liberals have, all along, argued at one and the same time for a Community in Europe and for self-Government for Scotland, Wales and the regions of England and France. Indeed, one sees evidence of the success of this in Germany already.

Then there is the price. Again, I begin to think that this question of the price has become almost like a theological argument. Depending on the side on which one happens to be, one calls up the demons or appeals to the angels. It all depends upon which side one's particular economist happens to be. There is a balance of advantage and disadvantage, and there is a conclusion which is laid upon those balances before one.

The right hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton, supported by Professor Hooper, came down very firmly on one side. It would be tedious to go over a long list of economists in Europe who take a different view. As a layman and no economist, I find myself almost as intimidated by economists as I am by lawyers. Certainly the greatest number of the economists in the country seem at any one time to be in the pay of the current Government, which never seems to improve economic policy very much.

Bluntly, I do not accept the argument of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition or that of the Labour Party, that the terms are a sell-out. They are, after all, the terms negotiated by Britain, negotiated by the same people who would have been doing the negotiations under either Government, and they are not immutable. Nothing is immutable. If in any sector, such as fishing or agriculture, they are found to be intolerable, then they will change if the Community is to live at all. Yet the other side of that coin is equally true that if any one member of the Community unreasonably insists on too much, the whole structure could collapse. We must learn not only to demand fairness from others but ourselves to be fair.

Finally there are the implications of the Bill in terms of the future structure of Europe. I am a federalist.