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Adjournment (Spring)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 13th May 1975.

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Photo of Mr Cranley Onslow Mr Cranley Onslow , Woking 12:00 am, 13th May 1975

I had a moment or two to prepare a short speech, and I propose to be brief. I hope that the Leader of the House heard the remarks of the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) and that he will respond to them. I do not go so far as to say that the law is as the hon. Member described it. I doubt whether what he said is correct. But there is undoubtedly much public anxiety on the matter and the hon. Member did nothing to allay that—in fact, I suspect that he has inflamed it. In view of that the Lord President should take the opportunity of making a clear statement of the law. If he cannot do that in concise terms, he should assure the House that a statement of authority will be made by one of the Law Officers in order to eliminate doubt and misplaced or exaggerated anxiety.

I want to do what I do not normally do on these occasions and that is to argue that the recess is not long enough. I have no particular quarrel with the date on which it is to begin—it is essential that we should examine the economy in the debate planned for Thursday—but the Government, and the Leader of the House in particular, are expecting too much of us and of themselves in confining the recess to the relatively short period proposed in the motion.

The first and least important reason for my saying that is that I suspect that some hon. Members—perhaps even all hon. Members—will want to take an active part in the referendum campaign which will effectively be carried on during the recess. The hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing), who seems so fond of swinging from comma to comma in the Common Market regulations, will no doubt be taking an active part in the campaign. Other Members will no doubt be doing their best.

It will not be the kind of recess during which Cabinet Ministers will be able to refresh themselves in whatever way Cabinet Ministers in this Government carry out that practice. They will be hyperactive, I suspect, and they will not benefit from the recess in any way. They will be even more tired at the end of it than they are already—and some of them are fairly tired now.

The Leader of the House is not noted for his super-abundance of energy. The Government Chief Whip is so exhausted that he slumped down on the Opposition Front Bench just now before eventually finding his way back to his correct place. Of course, he has a lot to put up with. We are glad to see the Secretary of State for Employment back after a brief convalescence, but no doubt he could do with additional rest. Then there is the Secretary of State for Industry. Everyone would like to see him take a good rest.

The opportunity which should be taken by those who are running the country's affairs to recuperate from their exertions, recover their balance, see whether they can find their missing marbles, and do all the other things the recess gives them chance to do, will be denied them. The campaign for this unnecessary referendum will intrude into the recess, which should therefore be extended for a week. The Prime Minister, in particular, should have the opportunity to rest. The impression he left upon the country after his television appearance was that he was a tired man and that our affairs were not necessarily in the best hands so long as they were in the hands of a man so tired.

I see no reason to believe that the moment the referendum campaign is over the Prime Minister's troubles will be at an end. He may regard a referendum vote in favour of the Government's recommendations as a colossal vote of confidence in himself, and being the Prime Minister that probably is how he will regard it. But there is more to it than that, and more to the consequence of the vote than that. Whichever way the vote goes, there will have to be a change in the composition of this administration. Should the vote go against continued British membership of the EEC, the matter could be forced upon the Prime Minister by the unwillingness of some of his colleagues to remain in the Cabinet. That will give him a problem of reconstruction and reshuffle which Parliament and the country would be most reluctant to see arising from present circumstances.

If the vote goes the way the majority of us and most of the country hope it will, the Prime Minister will still not be relieved of the responsibility of making a change in his team. He may need a week or so to do that. There is therefore good reason for giving him that additional period of grace and for providing him with time to come to the House with a coherent set of plans prepared to deal with the situation which should have been dealt with so long ago.

The crisis of confidence in the pound will not be swept away by the debate on Thursday. To do that will need action, determination and resolution on the part of the country's leaders, and they will not muster those qualities in six months' of sitting on the Treasury bench listening to debate. It will take work which should have been started long since and which must be started now. If those efforts are to carry confidence they will need to be presented to the world as being carefully considered and carrying all the conviction of a logical, sensible and non-political reaction to the desperate plight of the country.

The Secretary of State for the Environment used the expression "the party is over". It might have been more to the point if he had made the remark at the Cabinet table, because the party is over for those who believe that this country can any longer afford the enormous inflationary pressures which are built into the Government's policies. There must be a change. The country needs leaders who will speak for Britain, and if an extra week's thought gets us any nearer that, as it could, the House should not begrudge itself the time for thinking.