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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 John Mackintosh Mr John Mackintosh , Berwickshire and East Lothian 12:00 am, 13th July 1972

It is a pleasure to be called immediately after a speech of the right hon. Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. Hugh Fraser), and perhaps his stance is more truly Conservative, in that it is nationalistic, anti-change and backward-looking than that of many members of his party. I accept that this is the normal position in which the right hon. Gentleman finds himself. I shall take up his detailed points a little more in a moment.

I should have liked to follow almost every speaker, because this has been an apt and challenging debate. I should have liked especially to be called after the contribution that we heard from the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell). He made an extremely powerful debating speech. I was glad that, as a strong parliamentarian, he did not talk of a referendum. He talked primarily of parliamentary government and of the decision of this House.

I wish to take up the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West, and almost every other hon. Member who has spoken on one point. It concerns the size of the majorities in this House. The majority for entry last October was 112. Many people have pointed a finger at the diminution in majorities during the Bill's Committee stage to four, eight and 12. There has been a considerable amount of huffing and puffing on this score. The hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) suggested that pressure had been brought to bear on pro-Marketeers on this side of the House. I wish to put forward what I think is the correct interpretation. The reason why the vote of 28th October has not been reproduced again and again is not that the pro-Europeans have changed their minds. I know of no single pro-European who voted for entry on 28th October who is now opposed to the principles on which we are joining the Community. This is evident, and everyone whom I know on the anti-side agrees with me, as can be seen from the way they point the finger at all the people whom they still label "pro-Europeans".

The reason for the decline in the majorities is the one which was given to me from a different point of view by my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot), and I am sure that he will not mind if I quote him. He said: "If there is a repetition of that vote with 69 Labour Members voting the other way, we shall survive if it happens once. If it happens two, three, four or five times it will smash our party to pieces".

The point is that those of us who are in favour of entry have also to consider what we wish the Labour Party to be like in the next decade and whether we wish it to exist in the form that we have known in the past. It would have been easy to smash the party. It is fragile enough now. We do not wish to do that. It is because we think that we must have a viable Opposition to replace the Government at the next General Election that many of my right hon. and hon. Friends intend to vote against this Third Reading, even though they do not believe in that for which they are voting. They still want the Bill to be passed. It may be said that this is a sorry situation. But it must be remembered that we wish to enter Europe. I believe that the Bill will be passed. However, we wish also to enter Europe with a parliamentary Government, with a viable two party system and with an alternative Government.

There is nothing disreputable in attempting to preserve the unity of a political party during an extremely difficult period. I hope that we shall have no more of the suggestion that right hon. and hon. Members on this side of the House who are among the pro-Europeans have changed their minds. Were this to be a simple vote on whether we believed that we should go in, without the consequence of party disruption, the majority would still be more than 100. I believe that many people in Europe understand that, and I am glad that they do.

There is one other point about the party's problems. In the party manifesto there is a reference to "renegotiation". It is a very muddled passage. In one passage it apparently means that we shall remain a member while using our bargaining power to move the Common Market as far as posible in a direction which will be in this country's interests. My comment on this is that I hope that we shall always pursue our interests legitimately inside the Community. After all our purpose is to enhance the interests of this country. Secondly, if we pursue this policy, many aspects of the treaty will not come up for discussion because they are subsumed in the present arrangements under which the Community operates. Thirdly, we shall never reach an end point where we are in a position to say that we have concluded a renegotiation and that it is then possible to have a referendum or a General Election. There will be no point at which we shall be able to say that the common agricultural policy is not what it was in the 1950s or 1960s and that we have concluded the process of renegotiation. There will be constant adaptation as the social and agricultural structure of Europe changes. In other words, if "renegotiation" means staying in and fighting for this country's interests, we shall stay in and nothing further will happen to alter the situation.

If "renegotiation" means something more decisive, which is that we pull out for all practical purposes almost as de Gaulle did with the "policy of the empty chair" in 1965, saying that we shall not come back and participate until we have a new round of negotiations, involving a new set of negotiations, a new treaty and a new Bill—that is what is implied by some of my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench—then Mr. Mansholt is correct: any of the nine other members can veto our demand, and they will do so because they do not feel that the terms are unfair. They will permit the normal process of bargaining and negotiation but we cannot demand a unilaterally total renegotiation. So in that sense renegotiation is out of the question.

I suggest that the word should not be probed too carefully. It exists to paper over acute divisions in the Opposition. It can mean more or less anything to anyone taking it up, and the most tactful and decent course of action will be to leave it there. One of our leaders has said "I hope that people do not talk about renegotiation too much, otherwise I shall have to invent another word".

Moreover after 18 months or two years in the Common Market, if there is a General Election and a change of Government, the argument for coming out will be more serious and difficult even than the one we have had for going in. I cannot believe that any serious Government would regard it as being in our interests, having cut off our connections to some extent with the Commonwealth and having cut off our connections with our former EFTA partners, then to break up with our partners in the Common Market saying that we shall have no part of it. I cannot seriously contemplate that as a policy for this country. I should like to put this point on record as well as the more ominous predictions we heard from my right hon. Friend the Member for Stepney (Mr. Shore).

I turn now to the major theme of sovereignty which has so occupied the debates in this House. The great difference in the argument is between people who are mostly interested in what we have the right to do and those who are interested in what we have the power to do. This Parliament has the right to do more or less anything. People are correct in saying that if we join the Market some of the right will go to a European organisation. My concern, as one who values the power of this House, is what we can in fact do and what our actual influence is. It makes little difference to me as a Parliamentarian to be told that we cannot alter commercial policy because whereas at the present it is decided within GATT, the Kennedy Round, or with some other international organisation, it is now to be settled within the framework of the Common Market. In both cases, international pressures on this country are things which the House can talk about, debate, and press the Government on, but we cannot pretend that they will arise for the first time when we join the EEC.

In addition, we have failed to notice that this Parliament has lost power inside this country to the Executive and to pressure groups. I listened to the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West produce the traditional text-book account of our powers: the right to tax, the right to legislate and the right to settle all major issues. They exist as rights, but not as powers. We do not in this sense legislate. Now we talk about laws which are brought to us by the Executive. Shall we be able in the same way to talk about laws and regulations brought to us when we are members of the Common Market? That is a serious issue, to which I shall return, but it is quite misleading to suggest that we are losing a fundamental power to legislate in this House. The same applies to taxation.

In view of my constant concern for the powers of this House, having worked to try to enhance them for 6½ years as a member of the Select Committee on Procedure, I have been alarmed that, when the Select Committee on Procedure has said "Let us investigate and draw up plans for changes in the Standing Orders and procedures of this House so that we shall have the maximum possibility of scrutiny and discussion of any regulations coming from the Common Market", we have been turned down. We have been turned down again and again by the two Front Benches, who have said that it is not apposite or suitable, the usual channels are clogged, and we cannot look at it. This is a disaster.