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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 Hon. Nicholas Ridley Hon. Nicholas Ridley , Cirencester and Tewkesbury 12:00 am, 13th July 1972

I am speaking of all parties and of all hon. Members. It is strange that these things happen. What I do not like—I say this because I believe it to be a menace—are the stories to be heard of hon. Members opposite whose constituency parties have been deliberately penetrated by their opponents, when all that those hon. Members were doing was trying to continue to exercise their right to stand on the policy on which they fought the last election.

The hon. and learned Member for Lincoln (Mr. Taverne) has suffered a threat of which we should all be aware. I hope that from having the courage of his convictions the hon. and learned Gentleman does not find that he has anything but honour and an honourable future.

The majority of 112 Members who were in favour of the principle behind the Bill—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."]—has been diminished by pressure to a majority of as low as eight. It is wrong to rest one's case that there is opposition to the Bill—indeed a strong faction against the Bill—on the wafer-thin majority argument which the right hon. Member for Stepney (Mr. Shore) advanced this afternoon. The majority was not wafer thin and would not be wafer thin if pressures which we all understand and know about had not been brought to bear on hon. Members who know in their heart of hearts that Britain should join the Community.

I pay great tribute to those hon. Members on the other side who would like Britain to join the Community but have been prevented from expressing their votes as they would wish by the perfectly natural internal pressures of the Labour Party. I have seen those hon. Members at conferences in Europe trying to persuade the Europeans that their party will eventually come through to supporting the great international ideals of which its members used to boast. I very much hope that Europe will listen to them instead of to the weasel words that we keep hearing about the Community.

I do not think that much will happen at once. The Community is very embryonic. I do not think that food prices will rocket on 1st January. I do not think that British industry will have a new dynamism on 1st January as the result of what we are doing now. I do not think that the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) will find suddenly an improvement in his French. I do not think that there will be much change in the everyday life of Britain.

Before we leave the Bill it is worth our while to wonder whether we could not make a great deal more of the opportunity than we have so far thought about. Our parliamentary system is not quite as perfect as many of the opponents of the Bill have suggested. We do not control expenditure in detail, as my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Norman Lamont) has said. We must legislate if we wish to appoint one more member to the Northern Ireland Coal Consumers' Council, but we can devalue the pound without reference to the House. Many of the vast and important administrative actions of government are taken without reference to Parliament. Yet so much detail goes through the House and we can spend hours and nights mulling over nothing with sham opposition and filibuster.

Yet hon. Members opposite hold up the House as the model of parliamentary democracy and as the instrument by which the people control the Executive. We know that this is not true. Let us rid ourselves of this imaginary paradise and see, as the hon. Member for Inverness said, how best we can develop the new instruments of control.

The European Parliament has been described as too weak and as lacking in control of the Executive. The pressures in the European Parliament are not to control the Commission. They are to egg the Commission on to be bolder in creating Europe. The negative body is the Council of Ministers. The positive body is the European Parliament. Indeed, people in Europe are saying that the Council of Ministers is stopping progress, is ossifying the move towards a new Europe.

I want to give more powers to the European Parliament. The House should recognise that if the European Parliament had more powers the progress towards integration and unity would be greater and not less.

Another point to which we must pay more attention is how we shall from the House control the representative of the Government who goes to the Council of Ministers; not in the purely negative sense about which hon. Gentlemen have been talking—stopping him from agreeing to things which might be damaging to our interests—but much more in the positive sense of urging him to agree to things which, though they may have temporary and short-term disadvantages for us, may have long-term advantages for the future of Europe. I hope to see much more being done along those lines.

I urge the opponents of the Bill not to leave Europe in suspense. A parliamentary majority of the sovereign Parliament which my hon. Friends and hon. Members opposite profess to love has voted this Measure in the principle by a majority of 112. [HON. MEMBERS: "Not the Bill."] The Bill merely enacts the principle. By the very system which the opponents of the Bill claim that they want to see preserved at all costs, they must, on the passage of the Bill through the House and another place, when it receives the Royal Assent, accept the majority of the Parliament which they claim to love and to serve, and they must not try to fight this battle over and over again.

The way ahead now, by sovereign decision of the House, is to build up the institutions of Europe, the control of the Executive, the strengthening of democracy—the very things which lie at the heart of what the debate has been about.

I therefore hope that the Bill will receive a Third Reading which will reflect the fact—which we all know—that there is a majority of 112 for the principle underlying our entry into Europe.