HC Deb 24 April 1975 vol 890 cc1834-77

8.0 p.m.

Mr. Maurice Macmillan (Farnham)

I beg to move amendment No. 15, in page 5, leave out line 3 and insert: 'The United Kingdom is at present a member of the European Community in accordance with treaties ratified by Parliament, which has now approved the results of the Government's renegotiation '.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this amendment we are to take the following amendments: No. 16, in page 5, leave out lines 3 to 5.

No. 17, in page 5, line 3, leave out from 'announced' to 'COMMUNITY' in line 7 and insert: 'that, as a result of their re-negotiation of the UK's terms of membership of the European Economic Community, they consider Britain should remain a member of the EEC. Parliament has approved that decision.


Mr. Macmillan

My amendment, which is also in the name of two Liberal Members, is to alter the preamble to the question on the ballot paper. The purpose is to make the United Kingdom's situation at the time of the referendum clear on the ballot paper.

The first fact that I wish to bring out is that the United Kingdom is presently a member of the European Community, and that if nothing is done it will remain so, that to stay in requires no action by the Government or Parliament, but that to leave the Community does.

My first attempt to achieve that objective was to alter the wording of the question, asking Do you think that the United Kingdom should now ignore its treaty obligations and leave the European Community?". That was inspired by a speech of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith), in which he spoke so eloquently and accurately about the United Kingdom's legal and treaty position in relation not to the referendum but to the facts of our membership. On looking at it again, I realised that this new version had certain disadvantages. It was an accurate and fair description of the situation, but in the current climate of opinion in the Labour Party that degree of accuracy and fairness was likely to be judged in itself as being biased.

There was also the practical problem that it was too late to rephrase the question in that way, suggesting that positive action was required to leave the Community. To ask "Do you think we should leave the European Community?" rather than "Do you think we should stay in?" would have been more accurate, but I accept that the phraseology of the White Paper had gained such wide currency that to reverse it would merely confuse people. But I still think there should be a minimum statement of facts on the ballot paper.

These points can be developed by hon. Members and others in the course of the campaign. The preamble on the ballot paper will not affect those who go into the polling booth firmly committed one way or the other. But there will be people who will have found the arguments fine, who will have found it difficult to come to a decision, and who will perhaps be uncertain as they enter the polling booth. They may find it difficult to remember some of the arguments. They, in particular, are entitled to have a ballot paper that helps them in a factual way, as the ballot paper does in a General Election.

For many years ballot papers at elections carried no indication of party affiliation. They were neutral ballot papers. But over the years it came to be recognised that, perhaps particularly in local government elections, with many names on the ballot paper, this was confusing to the electorate. Therefore, the names of the parties to which the candidates belonged were added.

There should be on the ballot paper for the referendum a statement that the United Kingdom is a member of the Community, that—as is already said on the ballot paper—the Government have re-negotiated the terms of membership, and that the House of Commons has approved the Government's recommendations that it should accept those terms.

At that stage in my thinking I tried to add to what was on the ballot paper one sentence at the beginning, that the United Kingdom is a member of the European Community in accordance with treaties duly ratified by Parliament. I then continued with the words already there, adding a third sentence stating that the House of Commons had approved the Government's recommendation to continue the United Kingdom's membership on those terms. I then went on to the question as it now is.

I thought that that was a reasonable and sensible way of meeting the point. Clearly, the Liberal Party had the same thought, as Liberal Members tabled a similar amendment altering the first sentence of the preamble to read "Parliament has approved the results of the Government's renegotiation" and so on, then following the words already there. This brought in the fact of parliamentary approval, but left out the point of the existing membership of the Community. My amendment adds that. The only part of my original concept which is omitted is the fact that the Government recommended to the House the acceptance of the terms they had renegotiated and our continuing membership of the Community.

I do not now seek to put that in, because I hope that its omission will make it easier for the Lord President to accept the amendment. In the light of the disagreements which the Government have accepted within their own ranks and their own party I do not think it reasonable to expect the fact of the Government's recommendation to the House to appear on the ballot paper. But I think it right that the fact that the House has approved the terms should be shown there.

We now have the minimum for a proper preamble to the question. There is a good deal to be said for the case which the right hon. Member for Down. South (Mr. Powell) will no doubt argue for having no preamble, for having a preamble. If there is to be a straight question, it should contain the fact of United Kingdom membership, the fact that that membership is due to the treaties having been ratified by Parliament, and the fact that Parliament has approved the result of the present Government's renegotiations. The Leader of the House should feel able to accept this.

The present form reflects, entirely accurately, the total lack of leadership given by the Prime Minister and the Government on this matter, despite the fact that it is officially Government policy that Britain should remain a member of the EEC. The people have come to expect this lack of leadership from the Government and the Prime Minister, but they are entitled to expect something better from Parliament. They are entitled to a statement giving the view of the House of Commons on the ballot paper when they come to register their votes. They are entitled to know how a majority of those whom they elected nation-wide to represent them have voted on the issue on which they are now being asked to vote. Otherwise there would be an even greater abdication of parliamentary responsibility than the referendum implies. That is the reason why I have moved the amendment.

Mr. Powell

Towards the end of the speech of the right hon. Member for Farnham (Mr. Macmillan) I thought that there could be no common ground between us whatever. Then I was astonished, as I was delighted, to hear him declare that he would be happy, supposing his own proposal were not agreeable, to fall in with mine.

I was surprised, because the two proposals seem to set out from entirely different assumptions about the purpose of a ballot paper. Let me state my assumption. I believe that a ballot paper should be as neutral as it can possibly be made and that, therefore, we must eschew every avoidable addition to the ballot paper, since all words have some kind of colour. Therefore, the more words that are put on to the ballot paper the more danger there is that for some, at any rate, of those people who are confronted with it, they will import a bias one way or the other inconsistent with the principle of neutrality.

The right hon. Gentleman suggested that there was some analogy with our recent practice, on the parliamentary ballot paper, of inserting the party affiliations of the respective candidates. In this case the analogue to the party affiliation is already on the ballot paper, in the form of the words "Yes" and "No". Those are the equivalent of the words "Conservative" or "Labour", or whatever it may be, on the parliamentary ballot paper. Therefore, so far as guidance to the elector is concerned, as to which slot is the one which corresponds with his intentions, that is totally carried out by the words "Yes" and "No", following the question itself.

I ask what possible advantage there can be in the sentence in smaller type in lines 3 to 5? As the right hon. Gentleman has said, it is hardly a bracing and stirring summons to vote one way or the other, or even to vote at all. It conveys no information which could be useful to the elector, even in deciding, at any rate rationally, in which of the two boxes to put his cross.

8.15 p.m.

If that were all, perhaps it would not be so serious for those three lines to remain on the ballot paper, but I would argue that they do import prejudice, not intentionally of course, but unavoidably. In one respect, at any rate, they are not even objectively factual, for many hon. Members—hon. Members who take opposite views on the question "Yes" or "No"—would not agree that there has been a renegotiation. Many hon. Members would argue that in the natural sense of the term "renegotiation", such a renegotiation has not taken place at all. However, the mere fact that the sentence beginning with the words "The Government" stands on the ballot paper is, I submit, in itself a cause of bias. and it produces a potential effect upon the mind of the elector reading the ballot paper.

We are, Bagehot assured us, a deferential nation. At any rate, some of us are defferential. To any elector with a notion of the rule of law, of law and order and obedience to lawfully constituted authority who starts reading his ballot paper, the very fact that it starts with a statement that the Government have done this or that is an implication that the Government expect of him, in what he is doing—as the Government, and not just as a partisan in this matter—that he should take one choice rather than the other. There would be little doubt, if he got so far, which choice he would think was associated with the authority and with the establishment of government itself. Proceeding to read, he would conclude that if the Government had announced the results of their renegotiation, the Government regarded the renegotiation as satisfactory or, at any rate, as in some sense complete.

This is the Government's proposition, but I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman would agree that it is not the intention to put upon the ballot paper anything which conveys a particle of the case which it is the business of the two parties to the dispute to argue. As much information as possible must be brought to the attention of the voters, and all kinds of arrangements by the Government themselves and unofficially are being made to maximise the information available to voters. Of course, the tendentious arguments ought to be put, as in any other political context, to the electorate. I have no objection to that, to put it mildly. But we would all be agreed that the one place where no particle of that should appear is on the ballot paper.

My submission is that despite the apparently antiseptic phraseology in which the sentence is couched, the fact of its being there and the whole series of words which occur in that sentence are such as unmistakably to exercise an influence one way or the other.

I want to put a proposition to the right hon. Gentleman the Lord President. In doing so, I must say that I am fortified by the concluding words of the right hon. Member for Farnham, because if he and I can converge from such different stand-points it may well be that there is force in the contention. I put this to the Lord President with the more encouragement, because he has shown, and has greatly endeared himself to the House by showing, that he is prepared right to the last stage of the enactment of this Bill to go on thinking about it in order to get the process as near perfect as we can make it.

The proposition that I put to him is simply that the sentence to which I have referred performs no necessary function—point one. No one would be deterred from voting, no one would be interfered with in voting, if that sentence were not there. It is superfluous.

The second proposition I put to the right hon. Gentleman is that it is not only superfluous but it is capable, for some electors, of importing a bias which would be in one direction rather than the other.

If I can carry the right hon. Gentleman with me on those two propositions I think that he will, in all sincerity, address his mind to the third—which is whether, even at this stage, we would not be succeeding in our intention of rendering this as neutral a ballot paper as possible—and therefore the referendum as free from objection and cavil as possible—if, at a later stage, after due consideration, he were prepared to simplify the ballot paper by removing this sentence altogether.

Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson (Newbury)

I shall not rehearse the various arguments advanced by my right hon. Friend the Member for Farnham (Mr. Macmillan), except to say that I agree with virtually everything he said.

By the same token, I do not find myself very much in agreement with the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell), because I think he works on a premise that somehow this referendum is not the precedent that it is in our parliamentary life. Therefore, if it is that precedent, none of the rules which have applied to other ballot papers or other elections hold good.

What is more, the right hon. Gentleman used—no doubt it was a slip of the tongue—the expression "the electors". But we are not asking the British people as electors to make their decision in this referendum. We are asking them as voters to make a political decision which will, if it is passed in a negative form, turn the history of our country back by over two years.

Therefore, it is reasonable to say that what the Government have renegotiated—if they have, in fact, renegotiated the terms of our entry—and where they stand now are more or less the same as when the Conservative Party succeeded in winning our entry into Europe in 1972.

If that is so, it surely follows that this referendum has the curious ability to destroy an Act of Parliament, of two Governments, and therefore not to reinforce a status quo or to take a progressive step forward but to reverse a policy of our nation, a policy that we have pursued for two and a half years. That is, by anybody's token, a fairly grave step, and it involves—we all know this—the dishonouring of our signature on the Treaty of Rome.

Mr. Powell


Mr. McNair-Wilson

The right hon. Gentleman can disagree if he will, but that is my reading of it and I hold to my view. In those circumstances, when we are asking the people, as never before, to make a decision about the future of their country, we have the right—indeed, the duty—to tell the people, right up to the moment when they cast their vote, exactly where the Government of their country stand on this issue and where the Parliament of their country stands on it. [Interruption.] I say this to the hon. Member for Gravesend (Mr. Ovenden), who has intervened from a sedentary position: I do not want to influence the British public to do other than they wish to do, but I believe that I have the right as an elected representative for at least part of this country to tell them what the Government—leaving aside party matters —and their Parliament have decided as being in the best interests of this country.

If I put those two facts, as I suggest in my amendment, before the British electorate and they still decide to vote "No", so be it. But they should at least know what their Government and Parliament think. That is what parliamentary leadership is all about.

Mr. Ovenden

Has the hon. Gentleman forgotten that the Government are to send a mini-version of their White Paper to everyone? Whatever is included on the ballot paper will not influence a person until he actually gets to the polling station. The hon. Gentleman must admit that he is attempting to influence people at the last possible moment. If that is what he wants he should tell us. He is entitled to try.

Mr. McNair-Wilson

It is our responsibility to tell the people because we are asking them an important question which will decide the future of our country.

The second part of my amended wording would replace "Do you think" with "Do you want". The very choice of the words "Do you think" implies that we do not want the people to make a statement which is a binding statement upon Parliament or Government. That is interesting in view of the debate we had this afternoon about how binding the referendum shall be.

If, as the Government say, it is binding, why do they ask the people just to express an opinion rather than to state a purpose? This is a point which comes from the anti-Marketeers in my constituency. I believe that they are right to demand a purpose from this referendum. We have the right to tell the people up to the last minute what the major issues are and what are the views of the Government and the parties. We have the same right to ask the people to express a purpose and not simply an opinion.

Mr. Jay

I strongly support the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) and disagree with the right hon. Member for Farnham (Mr. Macmillan) and the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. McNair-Wilson). I take the view that this preamble ought to be omitted from the ballot paper.

I have two reasons for believing that. The first is that I believe the ballot paper should contain only a question and not statements. That is because any statement on a ballot paper must necesssarily be tendentious, since the inclusion of one statement necessarily implies that that statement has been selected and other possible statements have been omitted. Any selection of that kind is inevitably tendentious.

I object to the preamble because it contains the extraordinary expression "European Community". It is one of the odd and indefensible anomalies of this Bill for which we have had no rational defence that on page I we twice find the words "European Economic Community" but when we turn to the schedule we twice have the words "European Community". One or the other is right. There cannot be any justification for using one phrase in one part of the Bill and the other phrase in another part.

There is no such thing as the European Community. There is a European Economic Community and there are the European Economic Communities, all three of them, including the European Economic Community. There is no such thing and no such legal expression as the "European Community." The Minister produced no defence for having one phrase on one page and a different phrase on another. He did however produce an extraordinary excuse for the phrase "European Community".

The excuse was that that was a colloquial expression and the Minister thought he was justified in using it. If we are to be correct, as I believe we should be, the phrase should be "European Economic Community" as it is at the beginning of the Bill. If, on the other hand, we are not to be correct but we are to be colloquial we had better call it the Common Market, which is what everybody calls it. I compliment the Government upon at least having inserted that phrase in brackets.

There is no member of the British public—at least not one in a thousand—who colloquially refers to this organisation as the "European Community".

8.30 p.m.

Since, therefore, it is neither correct nor colloquial, and since it is different from the phrase which occurs on page 1, I ask my right hon. Friend, whatever else he does about this preamble, to think again about the inclusion—and this is important since it occurs in the question itself—of this inadmissable and meaningless phrase "the European Community". My right hon. Friend has admitted today that it is possible to amend the Bill in the House of Lords. This phrase is not merely slovenly but, like the preamble itself, could be misleading. Some people could take the European Community to mean simply the European comity of nations, and nobody would wish this country to cease to be part of the European comity of nations.

I hope that no one in the Government has deliberately inserted this phrase for that reason. There is, clearly, no justification for it, and I ask my right hon. Friend to think again about its inclusion in the preamble.

Mr. Ivor Clemitson (Luton, East)

We have on offer three possible preambles—the one in the Bill and the two amendments—and we could go on cooking up thousands of others. Even if we assume, for the sake of argument, that the three on offer are all statements of fact, we could produce many other statements of fact. If we are talking about the Common Market, it might be apposite, just before someone casts his vote, to remind him that last year the United Kingdom had a trade deficit of £2,000 million with the Common Market. That is a statement of fact which could hardly be doubted.

To say that is to draw attention to the obvious point that everything depends on who is doing the choosing of the preamble. Must we have a preamble at all? The onus of proof must be on those who want it. The rule for a ballot paper should be the maximum possible simplicity and the minimum number of words.

There can be only two reasons for having a preamble. The first is to try to influence the voter. The proper way to influence the voter is not through the ballot paper but through the literature, speeches, and so on, of the respective protagonists, which people hear, read and receive in the weeks preceding the referendum.

The second possible reason is to remind the people what the referendum is about. That seems to be a piece of great arrogance. Surely people know that this is a referendum about our membership of the Common Market. To have a preamble at all seems to be to be equivalent, at a General Election, to having a poster stuck up in the polling booth with a picture of one of the candidates on it.

The referendum is about people making a decision on a major principle. We entrust the people with that decision. Surely we can entrust them with knowing that this is a referendum about our membership of the Common Market.

Mr. Edward Short

Before I discuss the amendments to the schedule I should like to explain briefly why the Government have proposed the form of words on the ballot paper set out in the Bill.

First, we want it to be as simple as possible and in a form which is familiar to voters from their experience of elections. We want the ballot paper to look as much as possible like the normal ballot paper to which people are accustomed. That excludes complicated preambles, and it excludes also involved questions and a variety of alternative answers.

The second requirement is that it must be fair. Let me remind the House that at the time when we published the White Paper on the referendum at the end of February we did not know what the Government's recommendation was going to be. As long ago as that we proposed a form of words which, except in one respect—about which I shall say something in a moment, and to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) referred—was identical with the form now before the House.

There has not been and there must not be any attempt to load the wording one way or another. The purpose of the Government throughout has been to he scrupulously fair in this matter; for, if the wording is not generally regarded as fair, the result of the referendum could well be less widely accepted. I have said throughout the whole of our discussions that our purpose must be to secure the widest possible acceptance of the result. whatever it is. I believe that we have got the wording about right.

I now turn to the amendments. For the convenience of the Committee I shall deal with them in the order in which they impinge on the proposed wording on the ballot paper. First, the Liberal Party and the right hon. Member for Farnham (Mr. Macmillan) want to include in the preamble references to treaty obligations and to the verdict of Parliament on the Government's renegotiation. That, in my judgment, would be patently unfair. The verdict of Parliament is only one fact that might be brought to the voters' attention, and it is not of unique importance. I remind the House that Parliament has indicated its support for our membership on at least four major occasions in the last 10 years, but, in spite of that, the country has remained deeply divided. That is why we are now seeking the views of the people.

The amendment also refers to Parliament's ratification of the treaties providing for our membership of the EEC. As I said yesterday, Parliament retains, and Parliament will always retain—I hope—sovereignty to take our country out of the Community. I hope that there is no dispute about that.

I am sorry that the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. McNair-Wilson) talked about dishonouring our signature on the treaty. Surely he agrees that inherent in our constitution there is the right of this Parliament to take the country out of the Community if we wish to do so.

Sir Derek Walker-Smith (Hertfordshire, East)

Is not the right hon. Gentleman overlooking the fact that, whatever may apply in the domestic law of this country —undoubtedly Parliament has a right to abrogate the European Communities Act 1972 and thereby do away with the mechanism for enabling the country to perform its treaty obligations—there is no doubt that in international law it would be a breach of our treaty obligations even if Parliament here so decreed?

Mr. Short

If Parliament here decreed that we should come out of the Community, we would come out of the Community, and the directly applicable law of the Community would no longer apply to the law of this country if Parliament so decided. We could come out of the Community. There is no dispute about that, I hope.

Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson

My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith) has made a very important point. I do not think that we can allow it to be passed off by the Lord President's saying that we can come out of the Community if we like, and that we shall not have broken treaty obligations. Clearly we shall be in breach of international law. That point needs clearing up.

Mr. Short

The whole premise on which the referendum is based is that if the country so decides the Government will immediately negotiate with the Community our withdrawal. That will be done. It is in the interests neither of our partners nor of ourselves that we should stay in as unwilling partners. If it were the wish of the country that we should come out, we should negotiate our withdrawal, so I see no need to include this wording in the preamble. Indeed, I believe that it could be positively misleading.

I appreciate the courteous way in which the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) made his case. He wants to omit the preamble altogether. Surely it is right to remind the voters in neutral language that the terms of our membership have been renegotiated and that the choice before them is not the same as it was two years ago.

The hon. Member for Newbury has an amendment to the preamble the effect of which is similar to that of the Liberal Party amendment. He also proposes the insertion of "Economic" in the wording of the question. My hon. Friend the Minister of State dealt with this point last night. He explained that in framing the question we wished to combine the greatest possible accuracy with the greatest possible comprehensibility, and that we felt that the wording we have used—"European Community (The Common Market)"—met this requirement. I believe that we have satisfied the two criteria of simplicity and fairness. We have just about got it right. Therefore, I recommend the House to reject the amendment.

Mr. Jay

Will my right hon. Friend tell me why we have a different phrase here from that used on page 1 in the Bill, and why the phrase "the European Community", which has no correctness or authority whatever, should be used in the Bill? Will he not seriously reconsider this?

Mr. Short

"The European Community" was the form in which it first appeared. It was put in for simplicity. We believe that it is understood. However, having been requested to do so, I agreed to add the words "The Common Market". We now have "The European Community (The Common Market)". I do not believe that any elector in the country will now misunderstand this. Therefore, I believe that it is perfectly acceptable.

Amendment negatived.

Mr. Jay

On a point of order, Mr. Thomas. Some of my hon. Friends are slightly puzzled as to why no Division was possible on the amendment in the name of the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell). Is it is not possible to have a Division?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

It is not possible now. I know of no request for a Division on that amendment. Mr. Speaker selected the amendment in the name of the right hon. Member for Farnham (Mr. Macmillan). There was no indication of any other Division. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will understand.

8.44 p.m.

Mr. Edward Short

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

I should like to say a few words before we part with the Bill to another place.

In both General Elections last year we promised that if we were returned we would give the people of this country a chance to decide our membership of the European Community. That promise is now being kept. I hope that this referendum will settle the bitter and protracted disputes which have divided the country, the House and the political parties for a decade.

In framing the legislation we had two objectives. The first, which I mentioned a moment ago, was to secure the widest possible acceptance of the result. For that reason we believed, as I have said on a number of occasions during the debate, that we should stick as closely as possible to normal electoral procedures, except where those procedures were not conducive to this objective. It was for that reason that I resisted the attempts made to extend the franchise. I believe that the Bill is not the occasion to extend the franchise. I resisted extending the franchise, first, to an unknown number of people in Europe, and secondly, to people on holiday. Those were attemtps to extend the franchise, and I resisted then because they were a fundamental departure from our normal law.

On the other hand, I readily agreed to enabling 300,000 Service voters and their spouses to vote. Let me emphasise that that action did not constitute an extension of the franchise. I was simply giving more opportunity for people in the Forces and their wives or husbands to vote. Our first objective was to secure the widest possible acceptance of the result. For that reason we have stuck very closely to normal electoral procedure.

The second objective in framing the legislation was to secure a fair campaign. In order to do so we made three innovations—two of them in the Bill. First, there was the innovation of granting £125,000 of public money to each of the two sides. This is a new departure, and I admit at once that the amounts are modest. I resisted the attempt to increase the amounts. It was said yesterday that it was an arbitrary figure. It was not arbitrary. I discussed it privately with all parties in the House, with almost all parties outside and with the two umbrella organisations. It was not a consensus, but it was the nearest I could get to a concensus.

The second innovation is the distribution at public expense of the case of each of the two campaigning organisations. Those two documents are prepared, are being printed, and will shortly be distributed to every household in the country.

The third innovation to which I should perhaps briefly refer which is not in the Bill is that Cabinet Ministers who do not agree with the Government's recommendation were allowed to dissent. Those are three innovations which we have introduced so as to produce a fair campaign. We are also distributing to every household a shortened version of the Government's White Paper.

I make no apology for this. The Government are not going round apologising for their existence. The Government have a right, indeed a duty to make a recommendation to the country and to try to persuade people to accept that recommendation. Having done that, we are also using public money to put the two other points of view. Taking the cost of the two pamphlets and adding to that the £125,000 to each side, we are giving more than £600,000 to each side, in one case to campaign against the Government's recommendation. Nothing could be fairer than that.

I recognised from the beginning that there were two points of view on the count. I held one view and my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan) held another.

Mr. Buchan

My right hon. Friend says that there are two views. That is precisely what we have been arguing. Precisely because there are two views there should be only two documents to be distributed. My right hon. Friend makes our case.

Mr. Short

If my hon. Friend is saying that the British Government do not have a right to make a recommendation to the country and to try to persuade people to accept that recommendation, his concept of Government is a little different from mine.

I have said from the beginning that I recognised that there were two sincerely held views on the count. I hold one and the majority in the House apparently holds a different view. I have tried to meet the views of the House by agreeing to a local count and a local declaration.

We have tried to be fair on the ballot paper. We have tried to keep it simple. I had the widest consultations and discussed the form of the question and the form of the ballot paper with all the parties and the two campaigning organisations. The Government published the White Paper with the proposal for the ballot paper before deciding what would be their recommendation.

Here again, I accepted the view put in the House that "European Community" was inadequate and perhaps misleading to some people. I therefore agreed to insert "(the Common Market)".

In conclusion, the whole issue of British membership of the European Community has caused deep divisions on both sides of the House and outside the House. Because of that I am all the more grateful for the restrained and constructive way in which we have conducted our discussions over the last three days. Long debates and cross-party divisions were inevitable on a matter of this kind. The very tight timetable I asked the House to try to meet has been met, and I hope that the restrained objectivity that has been shown in the debate will be extended to the campaign and that when the result is announced after 5th June all of us here and in the country will accept it.

8.50 p.m.

Mr. Ian Gilmour (Chesham and Amersham)

I am bound to say that I think the Lord President was a bit complacent about the quality of the debates on the Bill and a bit complacent about the Bill itself. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, the Opposition have been opposed to the Bill from the start. We maintain that opposition, but I shall not weary the House by deploying the case any further.

I welcome the fact that the right hon. Gentleman gave way on the question of a county count, but we still think it deplorable, as do many people in the country, that it should appear to be the object of the right hon. Gentleman and most of the Labour Party to cut down rather than to increase the number of people who will be able to vote in the referendum. That seems to go against the purposes of referenda, whatever they may be. It seems that that will be held, quite rightly, against the right hon. Gentleman.

The whole tenor of the right hon. Gentleman's remarks over the past two or three days has been to try to stop the people voting. I refer to people abroad and to people on holiday. It would have been quite possible substantially to have increased the number of people able to vote. I am pleased that the Ministry of Defence has shown a much more accommodating spirit than any other Ministry within the Government. I am not at all surprised about that.

Apart from the question of the Service voters, I think that the right hon. Gentleman's attitude has been deplorable and thoroughly in keeping with a very shabby measure. We all know the genesis of this measure. I believe that it has done no credit to the Labour Party. It is a thoroughly undesirable constitutional precedent and I am sure that the Labour Party will live to regret it.

8.52 p.m.

Mr. Jay

My right hon. Friend the Lord President said that there were to be three innovations in this exercise. Unfortunately, three documents and not two will be addressed to the electorate. I regret that the amendment was not called which would have enabled us to have had a short debate on the Government's extraordinary proposal to send out to every household in the country, at the taxpayer's expense, an argumentative mini-White Paper and not just a statement of the facts at the Government's expense.

Last night mention was made of information papers in 1948. I think that reference was made to the subject of fire prevention. It so happens that in 1948, as Financial Secretary, I was responsible for Government information. In those days a firm principle was laid down—which both Herbert Morrison and Stafford Cripps always insisted upon scrupulously —that public money should not be used for propaganda on any subject about which there was major controversy in the country. Major controversy was confined to controversy not between parties but between any major section of public opinion. I believe that the Father of the House, my right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss), will agree with me in recalling that practice.

Over and above ministerial speeches and normal White Papers the Government used public money only on issues such as national savings, public health or road safety, in respect of which there was no serious controversy of any kind. That was a good principle, as it maintained a high standard in controlling public expenditure and in conducting our political system. The principle was maintained not merely through the Attlee Government but throughout Governments headed by Sir Winston Churchill, Sir Anthony Eden and Mr. Harold Macmillan.

The breakdown in the principle came during the Government headed by the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath). During that Government we had a White Paper on the Common Market. I wholly agreed with that, as it was a perfectly reasonable procedure. The White Paper set out the Government's policy. We then had a mini-White Paper arguing the case, which was distributed, at the public's expense, to every post office in the country. Everyone in the then Labour Opposition protested against that mini-White Paper, as a wrong use of public money and an abuse of political principles which had always been followed hitherto.

I regret to find that the Government have not merely followed that practice but, on this occasion, have gone further. The mini-White Paper is not merely to be left in post offices, from where I imagine a large part of the population would not trouble to pick it up; it is to be conveyed to every household by being pushed through letter boxes.

My right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council said that the Government should be allowed to state their case, but he well knows that it is one thing for a Government to state their case through the recognised channels and a quite different matter for them to spend considerable amounts of public money by circulating every household. My right hon. Friend would not argue that in a General Election a Government would be justified in distributing to every household, at public expense, a propaganda leaflet stating their policy against the Opposition. Nobody has ever suggested that such a course would be desirable, or that it should be pursued.

I hope that the Lord President will take action on that matter. If, in addition to the preamble and the curious phrasing of the question, we are to have this tendentious pamphlet, distributed in its millions at the taxpayers'expense, it will affect people's opinion on the question whether the referendum is fair. I hope that my right hon. Friend will reconsider this important issue.

What parliamentary authority have the Government for expending public money on the distribution of this threatened "popular" White Paper? I understood from a Government spokesman last night that such expenditure would be authorised by Clause 5, which refers to Any administrative expenses incurred by a Minister of the Crown for the purposes of this Act … shall be defrayed out of moneys provided by Parliament. It does not seem to me that that, in itself, would authorise the Government to spend money in the way I have described. It cannot be argued that the distribution of a propaganda leaflet is an administrative expense incurred by a Minister of the Crown for the purposes of this legislation. There is nothing in the Bill about the distribution of propaganda leaflets by the Government.

I hope that my right hon. Friend will say what parliamentary authority there is for such expenditure, and I appeal to him once again to desist from what I regard as a disreputable practice.

8.58 p.m.

Mr. Maurice Macmillan

The right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) has just made the very point which I myself was about to make—in other words, that in their whole conduct of the referendum the Government have shown a total abdication of their responsibilities. They have used their majority in the House to force Members of Parliament to neglect their duty to constituents and to join in this abdication of parliamentary responsibility.

I found the Lord President's speech in moving the Third Reading of this shabby little Bill contradictory, self-righteous, prim and rather unctuous. He said that Parliament at any time it liked could ensure that the country left the Communities. On the other hand, despite the claim about parliamentary sovereignty, he dismissed in cavalier fashion the fact that it was Parliament which ratified the treaties—and he did so as though that factor were of no importance whatever.

I find it odd that the Government are to use public funds to finance the two self-appointed umbrella organisations. The Government apparently have agreed these matters with interested parties and no doubt regard that situation as adequate, but they have taken no account of the views of this House about that type of public expenditure.

I do not feel as strongly about the White Paper as the right hon. Gentleman. The former Conservative Government issued a White Paper in similar circumstances, although not for the purpose of influencing a vote. That White Paper was issued for the information of the public. In that case the vote was a matter for this House.

It is fair to say that the Government having recommended to the House of Commons a policy expressed in a White Paper, and the House of Commons having accepted that policy by a considerable majority, the Government are entitled to use public money to inform the people of that fact. It is Government policy that the United Kingdom should remain a member of the European Communities. That is the view of the House of Commons. It is not a grave sin to express those facts in a White Paper and to distribute copies of it to the people, showing the arguments which led the Parliament to take that view.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Keighley)

Would the right hon. Member for Farnham (Mr. Macmillan) approve if six months before a General Election the Labour Government issued a White Paper containing its policy—approved by a majority, which a majority party could obtain—free to every voter in the country?

Mr. Macmillan

A contentious document setting out controversial policies was issued not too long before the General Election. I am not sure whether I would not welcome an official version of what the Labour Government were committed to and intended to do as opposed to the somewhat emasculated manifesto which they put before the electorate. I am not sure whether Government supporters representing constituencies in the Midlands would have done quite so well had their constituents realised the full extent of the Government's nationalisation programme in the motor car industry. It is a matter of judgment whether the Government should use public money to distribute the White Paper without regard to the views of the House or of the umbrella organisations.

I find unattractive the self-righteous way in which the Leader of the House prided himself on having given in, with great tact and care, to the will of the House. He did nothing of the sort. The change was made to the Bill as a result of a vote in which the House of Commons defeated the Government by a simple majority. It is extremely complacent of the Leader of the House to claim that as an example of his tolerance and concern.

The Leader of the House and his colleagues showed themselves to have little regard for the realities of international law. They have little concern for the concept of the sovereignty of Parliament. Their contempt for Parliament and for the judgment of the people was demonstrated by the way in which they tried to confine the scope of that vote as narrowly as possible.

9.5 p.m.

Mr. English

The sad thing about the Bill is the decline in public morality which it illustrates on behalf of the Government. My right hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) illustrated how that morality was interpreted in relation to documents sent out by a former Labour Government. This is no longer so.

Last night I referred to the five Members who should not really be in the Cabineth. One might call them the frightened five, because five is the difference between the 16 Members of the majority of the Cabinet and 11, which would be their due proportion of the Cabinet, if they reflected the Government underneath or the party behind them.

Mr. Gerry Fowler

So that we may be clear, will my hon. Friend repeat that incredibly tortuous argument?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I hope not, because, although I could not quite follow it, I do not want to hear it again.

Mr. English

For the benefit of my hon. Friend—it is perfectly simple—the Cabinet includes 16 pro-Market Ministers. the Government underneath have a majority of anti-Marketeers, and the party to which they belong has a majority of anti-Marketeers. Therefore, there should be a minority of II pro-Marketeers in the Cabinet if they represented the party to which they belonged or the Government which serves under them. To call themselves "the Government" is a statement which may in some tortuous, technical sense be true, but they do not in fact represent the members of the Government who serve under them.

It makes one think that this country would be better served if it did what is done in Australia, where the majority party elects the members of the Cabinet.

Mr. Tim Rathbone (Lewes)

Or, alternatively, another Government.

Mr. English

Another illustration which one may take from Australia is the 2,000—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. We are now on Third Reading, which relates to the contents of the Bill.

Mr. English

I am precisely on that point, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The Bill, as my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House stated, includes provision for the cases for both sides to be sent out. That was originally suggested by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, who started with high hopes that the Bill would be fair and whose statement included such matters as the limitation of advertising and the 2,000 words from each side, which was taken from the Australian Referendum Acts. The 2,000 words from each side are still there. That is the only matter that is.

My right hon. Friend asked what could be fairer than what is proposed by this so-called Government. What could be fairer is what is done by Australian Governments—the very example from which the idea was taken. That is what could be fairer. The Australian Government are one of the 2,000-word cases. The Australian Opposition usually produce the opposite case.

The Leader of the Opposition said that the Government are sending out their own cases and "the other two cases". What other two? There is one other, and one which is exactly the same.

For example, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will be participating in this small clique of 16 Cabinet Ministers sending out the Government's case, and at the same time, in his capacity as President of Britain in Europe, sending out an identical case on behalf of that organisation. It is two to one.

Mr. Tim Renton

I think that the hon. Gentleman is drawing his analogy with Australia rather wide. As he is so impressed by Australian voting practices, he will know that voting at General Elections in Australia is compulsory. Does he think that we should introduce that practice in this country?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I can see that the hon. Gentleman realises that he will be straying out of order if he answers that question.

Mr. English

Thank you Mr. Deputy Speaker. Let us take another example of bias which has been admitted by the Government Front Bench. It was never suggested originally that the referendum should be conducted in any way other than like a General Election, except that there would be no candidates—only two cases. We heard only last night from the Parliamentary Secretary that the COI, which closes down during elections, will not be closing down for the referendum. It will be functioning at full blast to produce an additional Government case on top of the one being prepared outside the Government but on the Government's behalf.

There is another unheard-of development. Civil servants will be engaging in politics which will involve millions of voters. They will operate a special information unit under the command of—guess who? It will be my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, head of the only Department that really has a vested interest, in terms of jobs, in staying in Europe. It is "jobs for the boys" providing a special information unit giving some very special information. It would be dealing not merely with factual material but with, as the White Paper puts it, interpretations of the Government's case. Does anyone think that bringing civil servants into controversial politics in this way is not a dangerous precedent to set in this or any other country, which has not been used to that practice? It is a practice culled from authoritarian countries, but introducing such practices is much easier than getting rid of them.

All this shows fright, because the Government would have a better case, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister realised, whatever the result of the referendum, if they could have said that they were absolutely and scrupulously fair in the way in which we endeavour to conduct General Elections in this country. The Bill was unfair when it was presented. Only two things have happened to it since, and one of those does not matter so far as opinion on each side is concerned. The vote will be counted and declared in counties. That will have remarkable effects. For example, London, which has a greater population than the whole of Scotland, will be one single declaration, whereas Scotland will be split up into smaller areas. But it makes no difference as far as opinion is concerned.

The other concession concerns the extension of the vote to Service men. My right hon. Friend the Minister of State and the Parliamentary Secretary could not bring themselves to move that amendment, because they realised that this was a deliberate deviation from the normal electoral franchise, brought in just for the purpose—again by a Minister who is a member of one of the Britain in Europe Committees—of attempting to bias the case in favour of the Government side of the argument—or, should I say, the 16-men side of the argument, the-little-clique-in-the-Government side of the argument. I hope that all those Service men who will now have the vote will be reflecting upon the fact that if they vote "Yes" and Britain remains in the Community they will not be serving a country which devotes 5.8 per cent. of its gross national product to defence but will be in Western Europe where the nine on average spend only 3½ per cent. of their GNP on defence. The future of these Service men is dismal if the country votes "Yes".

Mr. Rathbone

This point may again be ruled out of order, but it is absolutely irrelevant to our membership of the European Community to consider what the other members of the Community spend on defence.

Mr. English

Like so many pro-Marketeers, the hon. Member does not seem to realise that the Community's target is political union by 1980. There is no State in the world which is politically united which does not include defence as one of its federal powers.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I know that the hon. Member will now keep to the question of the referendum.

Mr. English

The point at issue is that the referendum could have been fairly conducted. I think that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister wished it to be fairly conducted. His statement was much fairer than the White Paper, which was in many respects fairer than the Bill. The only major change in the Bill is the addition of another little item of bias in favour of the "Yes" case—the pro-Market case.

That can only be the result of fear—fear of the result of a democratic process. A clique of 16 that was not frightened that the country in its millions might vote against it would not need to try to bias the matter in its favour. It has to do so because it is frightened that the result will go against it, just as the result in its own party went against it and the result in its own Government under the Cabinet went against it, somewhat to its surprise.

Bias is introduced for a purpose. It is introduced only if one thinks that one has a cause for doing so, and here that cause is fear of the result. This country has a reputation for fairness in its electoral process. It is because of fear that a Government, or a clique of 16 people in the Government, think that they must distort the electoral process in this way.

Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East)

Is not my hon. Friend's motive for raising these points about unfairness the fact that he now scents the smell of defeat? If the Government had wanted to bias the result unfairly in favour of their recommendation, surely they would have sought to extend the franchise to overseas residents?

Mr. English

My hon. Friend cannot even comprehend that there are hon. Members who believe in the fair conduct of voting processes. He says that I point these matters out only because the smell of defeat is in my nostrils. I point them out because I happen to believe passionately in democracy. That is why I believe in a referendum, but I believe in one fairly conducted.

Mr. Anderson

What about overseas residents?

Mr. English

They do not vote in our elections, and one does not normally change the franchise for a specific purpose. One does so only if one is engaged in a fiddle, or because one is thinking about the franchise in general. In the latter case, it is best done when a General Election or a referendum is not immediately in prospect. One can then consider whether it is justifiable to give Service men or overseas residents the vote. It should not be done in the speedy passage of this Bill, with its enforced timetable, on a particular argument which was not even mentioned in the White Paper published only a few weeks ago.

The provision was shoved in at the last minute, so much so that my right hon. Friend the Lord President and his colleagues would not even move it themselves—and I do not blame them.

Mr. Gerry Fowler

My hon. Friend is becoming a little extreme. Throughout the passage of the Bill my right hon. Friend and I have resolutely resisted any extension of the franchise, or the entitlement to vote, partly on the grounds that it might be seen as bias. I hope that my hon. Friend recognises that.

Mr. English

I do, indeed. I was pointing out that the one breach of that rule is one that neither my hon. Friend nor his colleagues wished to move. I was not criticising my right hon. Friend the Lord President or my hon. Friend the Minister of State on that ground, and I think that my hon. Friend well knows that I was not. What I was criticising is the nature of bias introduced in this way—

Mr. Anderson

By whom?

Mr. English

By the clique of 16 that arrogates to itself the title of "Government".

The Government have resisted every amendment moved by my hon. Friends or by Opposition Members designed to make sure that expenditure was fair, that the processes on both sides were fair, or that money was declared if it was spent by people other than the two umbrella organisations. Every amendment designed to ensure that an element of greater fairness was introduced into the Bill—for example, in respect of advertising expenditure—has been resisted.

We are told that the Government have done a great service by giving £125,000 to each umbrella organisation and that this will enable them to work wonders. That sum would not even cover the cost of the most modest advertising campaign. This degree of unfairness compared, for example, to the £1 million cost of the popular version of the White Paper, is unnecessary unless people are frightened, and it is that fright and that bias to which I object and find sad.

9.21 p.m

Mr. Emery

It might be thought that during the past three days the House of Commons has had opportunities to hear some of my views on the Bill. I intend to say one thing only. The referendum is a tragedy for this country. The Bill is a tragedy for this country.

Mr. Cryer

Well, said; sit down.

Mr. Emery

The Bill started out as a tragedy, it is a unique tragedy as it leaves the House, and it will continue to be a unique tragedy as it operates in the weeks ahead. The House will rue the introduction of the Bill, because it will continue for a long time as more and more people demand more and more referenda during the years ahead.

I oppose the Bill absolutely, and will oppose it on Third Reading.

9.23 p.m.

Mr. Buchan

I shall take the example of the hon. Member for Honiton (Mr. Emery) and be brief. We may say of the last speech "May God be blessed" because it has been in great contrast to the speeches of the past two or three days.

The right hon. Member for Farnham (Mr. Macmillan) complained about some hon. Members apparently ignoring the fact that the treaties had been ratified by Parliament and that, therefore, there was a contempt for Parliament and parliamentary sovereignty in the attitude to the referendum. This is a curious argument coming in opposition to a Bill which seeks to take Parliament back to the people so that on a new venture we can renew the mandate given to Parliament. It is an extension of securing the wholehearted co-operation and the full-hearted approval of people with Parliament.

Throughout the passage of the Treaty of Accession and the Act of accession what were we told? When we deplored, for example, the surrender of powers under Section 2 of that Act, we were told that we had nothing to worry about because the sovereignty of our Parliament remained untouched, for, after all, no Parliament could bind its successor and, therefore, we could unratify the treaty at any time we chose.

Having done that, we are accused, apparently, of breaking faith, but it was on that basis that the infamous Section 2 of the original Act was pushed through. We do not take these criticisms from Conservative Members.

The majority of Labour Members and Ministers welcome the referendum. Our criticisms are directed not at a referendum but at aspects of the Bill which implements the referendum and which we regard as being unfair. We accept that the referendum is an extension of our democracy. We must insist that the Bill which implements the referendum should justify itself in its fairness.

I want to talk about the things which have emerged from this. My right hon. Friend referred to there being only two views involved. He is absolutely right. There are not only merely two views involved; there are only two words involved. It is the simplest of all questions that have been posed—"Yes" or "No". It is against that background of only two views and two answers that we must look at the question of the three documents. What is now being proposed is not that each case should be advocated fairly and equally but that each case should be advocated by the protagonists of each side—myself on the one side and the right hon. Member for Farnham, no doubt, on the other side—and then along come the Government. Precisely because it is the third paper that they produce, it is apparently in a middle position, an authoritative position and an objective position.

Why this is particularly evil is that it has this apparent objectivity. It is like me having an election in which a broadsheet or an election address is issued on my behalf, and another on behalf of my Tory opponent, and then another one comes along to say "On behalf of the people of West Renfrewshire, we think you should vote for the Labour candidate." That is what is intolerable about this. Even at this late hour I ask the Government to say that we shall either have one address issued jointly by the Government and the pro-Market forces outside, or that it be issued only by the Government. Only in this way can we get the first fairness principle into it.

Mr. Evan Luard (Oxford)

Does not my hon. Friend accept that there is a distinction between a view expressed by one of the two organisations which have been set up to propound particular view-points, a view which is of great relevance to every elector, and the view of the Gov- ernment of the day? The Government have been spending many months renegotiating and have reached a view. I think that most electors would want to know that view.

Mr. Buchan

There are two ways of doing that. This would be solved if there were four papers—that is, if there were a majority view of the Government. Incidentally, the majority view of the Government would be against the Common Market if one counted the Ministers. But if one accepts the Government as being the Cabinet, why not a majority view of the Cabinet and a minority view? We could have four papers. I should welcome that. That would be one solution if we want fairness.

Mr. Emery


Mr. Buchan

I shall not give way. I have listened to the hon. Gentleman too much.

The second unfairness is on the question of expenditure. I gave example after example about this. I appeal to the Government on this matter. There is still time to try to prevent the grave abuses taking place—the airlifts to Brussels, the utilisation of civil servants, the utilisation of not only the British Civil servants but of the European civil service and the Commission, and the fact that the Commission itself is organising this. I have been approached by journalists who say "What are you all getting up to?" I ask "What do you mean?" The reply is "I cannot even get off the ground". I am told that a newspaper office in Fleet Street is getting invitations week after week to be wined and dined in Brussels. Where the hell shall I wine and dine them? In Paisley? That is what is going on. I regard this as a form of corruption. If it took place during a General Election campaign it would be a form of corruption and would be punishable by law. There is no question about that.

Mr. Cryer

Will my hon. Friend assure the Government side of the House that when this Bill has become law all the very impressive evidence that he produced last night of the sort of thing that is going on will be sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions so that proper action can be taken?

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

I have sent mine.

Mr. Buchan

On one aspect of that I am awaiting a reply from the European Movement. I have written to the Chancellor. It may yet have to go to a court case. However, I would hope that it would issue a statement withdrawing its declaration that any donations given to the European Movement would qualify for tax relief, because it is coming very close to conspiracy to defraud. I would hope that it would make a voluntary action of withdrawing this.

I agree with the Lord President that it would set a good example if it would admit what has been happening over the last few months, return the moneys to those who have given them in the belief that they would get tax relief, which the Chancellor makes quite clear that they would be very unlikely to get, and avoid any unpleasant court cases.

I believe that it is misplaced enthusiasm rather than any intention to defraud. I hope that tomorrow I shall receive a reply from the European Movement saying that it accepts the point and has withdrawn the statement and so notified local groups which could run into all sorts of trouble. The sponsors of this organisation include many distinguished members of the Labour Party.

These are the main points that have to be brought out. There is still time in another place to make it clear that there will be two documents and that we are putting a clamp on ostentatious and unjust expenditure. I appeal to all hon. Members to remember that we have a case to deploy. I hope that we shall not hear some of the smears we heard in a short debate on the subject last night.

9.31 p.m.

Mr. Goodhart

During the past three days many of my right hon. and hon. Friends have criticised the Prime Minister for seizing on the referendum as a tortuous device to bridge the gap between the "maxi" Government and the "mini" Government. I do not share that view. I believe that the Prime Minister has shown considerable imagination and ingenuity in the face of an exceptionally difficult situation within his own party.

No one can accuse the Lord President of having shown imagination or ingenuity in dealing with the arguments put forward in the past three days. He said that he hoped that the passage of the Bill would lead to the widest possible acceptance of the referendum result. The rejection of an attempt to let those vote who are working for the Crown and community abroad will not help us. The loss of votes by 2 million people on holiday will not lead to the widest acceptance of the result.

The turning down of our attempt to enfranchise holiday makers is the result of arid administration coupled with a lurking fear in the subconsciousness of Ministers that people who go on holiday in June must somehow be anti-Socialists.

I share some of the fears expressed by some Labour Members about the distribution of the "mini" White Paper. This is a potentially dangerous precedent. I am sorry that the Government rejected late last night our attempt to get a parliamentary check on the text of the White Paper before it is sent out. I am sorry that some Labour Members below the Gangway who this afternoon have been criticising the distribution of this White Paper did not back their criticism with their votes last night. Perhaps the best commentary on the Government's handling of this Bill is that at the end of it all we still find that the European Economic Community cannot be given its proper title on the ballot paper. I hope that the other place will do better than we have done in the past three days.

9.34 p.m.

Mr. loan Evans (Aberdare)

I will be brief, because for two parliamentary days we have sat into the early hours of the morning to debate this Bill. I realise that over 200 Labour Members have been here until those early hours, as well as about a dozen Conservative Members. I tell the hon. Member for Honiton (Mr. Emery), whom we have heard on numerous occasions, that the Third Reading of this Bill is not tragedy but a triumph. It is a triumph for the British people, because this issue was put before the electorate at the last election. We in the Labour Party fought the election and said that we would renegotiate the terms, and when that was done would put them before the British people. I know that a majority of hon. Members on the Government benches do not believe that the renegotiated terms are satisfactory, but the terms have been renegotiated to the satisfaction of the majority of the Cabinet and the matter is to be put before the country.

I find it strange that the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mr. Gilmour) should accuse us of denying people the right to participate in this referendum. That statement comes ill from the Conservative Party, bearing in mind that it denied that right to every elector in the country. The Conservative Government did not hold a referendum. The right hon. Member for Farnham (Mr. Macmillan) talked about contempt of Parliament, but the Conservative Party has contempt for the people.

Four countries applied to join the Common Market. Ireland sought to join, and the people of Ireland were given the right to decide whether they should go in. Denmark applied to join and the people of that country decided to go in. They held a referendum, and they are in, but they will probably hold another one to decide whether they should stay in. The people of Norway were given the right to have a referendum, and they voted to stay out. That is another story and I shall not go into it, but the people of Norway have gone from strength to strength by staying out.

Four countries applied to join, and three were given the right to hold a referendum. The only people who were denied that right were the British people, and that was the action of the Conservative Government. That is what we should realise, and that is why I say it is a triumph and not a tragedy that the British people are to have the chance of this referendum, because what we are now deciding is not whether the terms are satisfactory but whether the British people want to stay in the Market or come out of it.

Mr. Ian Gow Eastbourne)

We listen to the hon. Gentleman's Welsh eloquence with great admiration. If there is so much intrinsic merit in the principle of a referendum, why was not that principle spelled out—which it was not—in the manifesto on which he fought the last election?

Mr. Evans

The hon. Gentleman has not read the Labour Party manifesto.

Mr. Gow

I have.

Mr. Evans

Which one—February or October?

Mr. Gow

I have taken the precaution of having here the manifesto upon which the hon. Gentleman fought the October election. I do not know whether he has read it. It says: The Labour Party pledges that within twelve months of this election we will give the British people the final say … through the ballot box". There is nothing there about a referendum. I make this point in all seriousness. If the referendum is so brilliant a concept, why was it not spelled out in the manifesto?



Mr. Speaker

Order. I do not think that the Labour Party manifesto is in the Bill. What we are discussing is what is in the Bill.

Mr. Evans

With respect, Mr. Speaker, I hope that I may answer the point made by the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow). The manifesto says that it will be done through the ballot box, and there are two ways of doing that. One is by a referendum, and the other is by a General Election. Those were the alternatives in the manifesto. If the hon. Gentleman is saying that we should have a General Election, why did he not put down an amendment to that effect? I have not heard any demand for a General Election on this issue. We might, of course, come to that. I recall the hon. Gentleman's words. He wanted to have a General Election, but it is a referendum that we are to have.

I mentioned that four countries applied to join the Common Market and that in three of them a referendum had been held, but the position is worse than that. The people of France held a referendum on whether Britain should join the Common Market.

Mr. Speaker

Order. This is a Third Reading debate. There is nothing in the Bill about the French referendum.

Mr. Evans

We have not had referendum Bills before. This is a unique occasion. However, I bow to your ruling, Mr. Speaker. This is a triumph for us. We committed ourselves to a referendum. It will be for the British people to decide. I know that there are those in favour and those against on both sides of the House.

Mr. Gwilym Roberts (Cannock)

Not only have the Opposition denied the British people the opportunity of choosing by the use of the ballot box; they are going even further. Many of them have spent a large part of the debate, including some of those on the Opposition Front Bench, making it quite clear that if the decision of the people is contrary to what they, with their peculiar ways, believe, they will disregard the decision of the people.

Mr. Evans

That is an important point. The Opposition are not quite sure of their position. They have held the British people in contempt and denied them the right to choose. If the British people decide to come out, I believe that the Opposition will have second thoughts.

Mr. Gwilym Roberts

Let us hope so.

Mr. Evans

Let us not prejudge them. I said at the beginning that we should welcome the Third Reading of the Bill. I hope that it will have a speedy passage through the other place and soon become law and that the British people will be encouraged to turn out en masse to decide the issue. I hope that, despite the massive forces which will seek to persuade the people that Britain should stay in the Market, the British people, in their wisdom, will look at what has happened in the past two years and that on referendum day they will make a declaration of British independence.

9.42 p.m.

Mr. Ian Gow (Eastbourne)

The Bill is extremely misleading. It is one of the essential principles of any Bill that its consquences should be spelt out clearly for all to see. All that this Bill does is to state that there will be a referendum, but the consequence of that referendum is nowhere spelt out in the Bill. On the contrary, it is left to the White Paper —Cmnd. 5925—which in paragraph 6 makes a statement of the Government's intention. The contents of the White Paper will not be enacted if the Bill should not receive the Royal Assent.

Paragraph 6 of the White Paper says: The Government have agreed to he bound by the verdict of the British people, as expressed in the referendum result. Whatever the result of the referendum may be, it cannot be binding on the House of Commons. There is a principle of the utmost importance here which is violated by the Bill in two ways—first, because the Bill does not spell out what the consequence of the referendum will be, and, secondly, because no Act of Parliament can affect the right and, as I think, the duty of Members of the House to exercise their judgment. That is my first criticism of the Bill.

My second criticism arises from the intervention I made in the speech of the hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. Evans). I do not believe that the Labour Party believes in the principle of the referendum either. If it believed in it, it would have appeared in the manifesto from which I quoted earlier. There is no mention of the word "referendum" in the manifesto on which the Labour Party fought the October election.

Mr. loan Evans

The February one.

Mr. Gow

No, the October one. If the hon. Gentleman has in his hands a copy of the Labour Party October manifesto which mentions the word "referendum", I will gladly give way.

Mr. Ioan Evans


Mr. Speaker

Order. We are not debating the Labour Party manifesto. We are debating the Third Reading of the Bill.

Mr. Gow

I apologise, Mr. Speaker. I wish to draw two further pieces of evidence to the attention of the House, about the lack of enthusiasm on the Government side for the whole principle of the referendum. On 10th April 1972 two members of the Cabinet wrote to the then Leader of the Labour Party, who is now the Prime Minister. The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster said to his right hon. Friend: I am firmly opposed to the principle of the referendum. Its advocacy, let alone its implementation, is likely to damage seriously our Parliamentary system. I agree wholeheartedly with the views of the Chancellor of the Duchy as expressed in his letter.

However, the Chancellor of the Duchy was not alone. The Home Secretary also wrote a letter on the same day to his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. The Home Secretary said: This"— that is, the issue on which he resigned from the Shadow Cabinet— raises the wider issue of whether a referendum on this or any other subject is intended to encourage the public to express its view purely on the merits of the question without the attempts to mobilise party loyalties. I doubt"— these are the words I wish to emphasise— if this would ever work in practice, although if it did the result would be a very substantial undermining of the existing system of parliamentary responsibility. Governments would find it still more difficult to carry out coherent and consistent policies. I wish to emphasise those words of the present Home Secretary when he criticised the referendum concept.

The cost to the taxpayer is £9 million to get the Labour Party out of its own predicament. An extremely dangerous precedent is being created by the Bill. It has also led to an event which I believe is even more damaging, namely, the abandonment of the principle of collective Cabinet responsibility.

I fundamentally oppose the Bill. I believe that if it becomes law we shall regret it. I hope that all of my hon. Friends will oppose its Third Reading tonight.

9.47 p.m.

Mr. Rathbone

We have been debating a Bill which is unique, special and which sets dangerous precedents. I believe that it is obnoxious and an abominable innovation. It seeks to obtain from the country a simple answer to an immensely complicated question. In doing so it is full of innovations as the Lord President of the Council pointed out. It is sad that it cannot include at least the additional innovation of votes for those holidaying abroad and votes for those living abroad, often helping this country to earn valuable foreign revenue.

I cannot believe that it is beyond the power of this Government or the power of the best Civil Service in the world to be able to work out a way to bring that about. There has been much talk of Government rights. I believe that it is a Government right to recommend. The Bill allows the Government that right. Much more, it is a Government's duty to lead. It is there that the referendum Bill falls down because it is an abdication of this duty to lead. It is an abdication of the pure principle of the operations of parliamentary democracy.

Mr. Martin Flannery (Sheffield, Hillsborough)

I know that many Opposition Members have fought the Bill root and branch, hip and thigh. Am I mistaken in thinking that many of them wanted to enlarge the area of franchise within the Bill which they condemn so determinedly? I have the general impression that they condemn this referendum as a major sin and having done that they want to enlarge the area of sinning. The stand which they have taken is of condemnation and at the same time a wish to enlarge the area of franchise. I do not understand that. I should like someone to explain it to me.

Mr. Rathbone

I am sorry that my speech must, of necessity, be drawn out by a minute in order to explain to the hon. Gentleman that the fact that an instrument is obnoxious and abominable is no reason to make it less obnoxious and less abominable. That is what the Opposition and some Government supporters have been trying to bring about during the last two or three days.

In summary, this is a sad and tragic day. It is a historical day, in its most horrible sense. The Bill is too short; it is a foul Bill and a pricey Bill, and I hope that the House will not give it a Third Reading.

9.50 p.m.

Mr.Ivan Lawrence (Burton)

As the debate draws to its conclusion I place on record that I have enjoyed much of the debate to which I have had the privilege of listening. I have enjoyed the speeches of many hon. Members on both sides of the House that have ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous. As a party politician I have enjoyed the spectacle of the Right wing, the Left wing, the middle, the inside right and the inside left of the Government side all arguing with themselves, losing little opportunity to attack the Government and the leaders of the Labour Party.

I have enjoyed the spectacle of the Government trying to reconcile the irreconcilable. They have been arguing that the British people should decide, but not all the British people. They have been arguing that Parliament should remain sovereign, but that Members of Parliament are not fit to judge and take a decision. They have been arguing that the uniqueness of this referendum means that the ordinary constitutional rules should be set aside, but that we must try to fit them within the rules of the Representation of the People Act 1949. All these matters of enjoyment have consistently occurred throughout these three days, but the question will remain at the end: has the Bill achieved what it was intended to achieve? Has it brought together the two warring wings of the Labour Party? Has it patched over the rifts that exist within that movement? I do not know. Perhaps we shall find out in the coming weeks.

What I am sure of is that the essence of the Bill has not changed during the three days we have debated it. It is still a shoddy, bogus, party political manoeuvre and, on the last page of the Bill, the Government have had to maintain the words "The Common Market", so that the great, all-knowing British people shall really understand what the words "European Community" mean.

I shall vote against the Third Reading of the Bill, and I hope that never again does this Parliament have to put up with legislation of this kind. When the Bill becomes law, as it undoubtedly will, I shall fight to the last ounce of my power in my constituency to make sure that the argument that was really behind those who wanted the referendum shall be defeated and that this country stays in the Common Market where it deserves to be and where it must be for the future greatness of this country.

9.53 p.m.

Mr. Gerry Fowler

This has been a fascinating three days. I am sorry that the Third Reading debate has taken the form of many Third Reading debates. After a great deal of worthy debate on detail we have had some rather poor rhetoric on Third Reading.

The right hon. Member for Farnham (Mr. Macmillan) informed the House at considerable length that the Conservative Party thought it proper to distribute a White Paper provided that there was no chance for the people to vote on the information it contained. We on the Government benches prefer to use a White Paper and the information that we provide to the public to better ends.

On the other hand, my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) delivered what I can only take to be one of the first shots of the referendum campaign. I only hope that the referendum campaign will be conducted at a somewhat higher level than that. If it is not, even I may come to regret the Bill. [HON. MEMBERS: "You will."] The hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) appeared to adduce an argument that the judgment of Members of Parliament would be best exercised in ignorance of the views of the electorate, which I take it is the basic argument against the referendum.

Finally, we had a forensic address from the hon. Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence). We on this side of the court found him and his hon. Friends guilty of deception in those years when they promised that we should not enter Europe without the wholehearted consent of the British Parliament and the people.

The only worthy contribution to this Third Reading debate was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdare (Mr. Evans). As my hon. Friend rightly said, the Bill is a triumph for British democracy as it marks the honouring of a pledge and a new development in our democratic system. I commend the Bill to the House.

9.56 p.m.

Mr. Tim Renton

The hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. Evans) in his eloquent speech mentioned "contempt for the people" Surely it is that contempt of the people that Ministers have shown throughout this debate. They have never asked the people whether they want the referendum. My hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) referred to conscious ambiguity on the part of the Labour Party. In the Labour Party's last General Election manifesto there was reference to the ballot box and a display of conscious evasiveness in that no reference was made to the word "referendum ".

I gain the impression from my constituents and from my correspondence that more and more people wish to see this decision taken by Parliament. I am asked "Why do you not take this decision? Why should we, who have not had all the information made available to us, have this decision thrust upon us? "The people have not been asked whether they wish to spend £10 million to save the political skin of the Prime Minister. The real contempt of the people that the Minister of State and the Lord President have shown throughout these three days of debate has been in their rejection time and again of our amendments, in which we have sought to extend the franchise for this unique occasion.

I believe that this Bill will see a lessening of effective democracy in this country.

Referenda always echo the voice of the majority only. The rights of minorities will be less protected. It is particularly to look after those minorities that Members of Parliament sit in the House. I shall vote against the Bill. It was conceived in ambiguity and born out of a desperate desire to stop the Labour Party tearing itself apart. It is now christened with cynicism and boredom.

Question put, That the Bill be now read the Third time:

The House divided. Ayes 180, Noes 41.

Division No. 190.] AYES [10.0 p.m.
Anderson, Donald Flannery, Martin Millan, Bruce
Archer, Peter Ford, Ben Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbrlde)
Armstrong, Ernest Forrester, John Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)
Ashley, Jack Fowler, Gerald (The Wrekin) Murray, Rt Hon Ronald King
Atkinson, Norman Freeson, Reginald Oakes, Gordon
Barnett, Rt Hon Joel (Heywood) George, Bruce Ogden, Eric
Bates, Alf Gilbert, Dr John O'Halloran, Michael
Bean, R. E. Ginsburg, David Ovenden, John
Benn, Rt Hon Anthony Wedgwood Grant, John (Islington C) Palmer, Arthur
Bidwell, Sydney Grocott, Bruce Parker, John
Blenkinsop, Arthur Hardy, Peter Parry, Robert
Body, Richard Harper, Joseph Peart, Rt Hon Fred
Booth, Albert Harrison, Walter (Wakefield) Perry, Ernest
Boothroyd, Miss Betty Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy Powell, Rt Hon J. Enoch
Bottomley, Rt Hon Arthur Hatton, Frank Price, C. (Lewisham W)
Bradley, Tom Hayman, Mrs Helene Price, William (Rugby)
Bray, Dr Jeremy Heffer, Eric S. Reid, George
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan) Hooley, Frank Richardson. Miss Jo
Buchan, Norman Hoyle, Doug (Nelson) Roberts, Gwilym (Cannock)
Buchanan, Richard Huckfield, Les Robertson, John (Paisley)
Butler, Mrs Joyce (Wood Green) Hughes, Rt Hon C. (Anglesey) Roderick, Caerwyn
Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P) Hughes, Mark (Durham) Rodgers, George (Chorley)
Campbell, Ian Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Rodgers, William (Stockton)
Canavan, Dennis Hughes, Roy (Newport) Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
Cant, R. B. Hunter, Adam Ross, Rt Hon W. (Kilmarnock)
Carter-Jones, Lewis Irvine, Rt Hon Sir A. (Edge Hill) Rowlands, Ted
Cartwright, John Jackson, Colin (Brighouse) Ryman, John
Clemitson, Ivor Jackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln) Sandelson, Neville
Cocks, Michael (Bristol S) Janner, Greville Sedgemore, Brian
Cook, Robin F. (Edin C) Jay, Rt Hon Douglas Selby, Harry
Corbett, Robin Jenkins, Rt Hon Roy (Stechford) Sheldon, Robert (Ashton-u-Lyne)
Cox, Thomas (Tooting) John, Brynmor Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Craigen, J. M. (Maryhill) Johnson, James (Hull West) Short, Rt Hon E. (Newcastle C)
Crawehaw, Richard Johnson, Walter (Derby S) Short, Mrs Renée (Wolv NE)
Cronin, John Jones, Alec (Rhondda) Silkin, Rt Hon John (Deptford)
Cryer, Bob Jones, Barry (East Flint) Silkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich)
Cunningham, G. (Islington S) Jones, Dan (Burnley) Silverman, Julius
Davidson, Arthur Judd, Frank Skinner, Dennis
Davies, Bryan (Enfield N) Kaufman, Gerald Small, William
Davies, Denzil (Llanelli) Kilroy-Silk, Robert Smith, John (N Lanarkshire)
Davis, Clinton (Hackney C) Lamborn, Harry Spearing, Nigel
Deakins, Eric Lamond, James Spriggs, Leslie
Dean, Joseph (Leeds West) Lestor, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough) Stallard, A. W.
de Freitas, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Litterick, Tom Stoddart, David
Dell, Rt Hon Edmund Lomas, Kenneth Strang, Gavin
Doig, Peter Luard, Evan Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)
Dormand, J. D. MacFarquhar, Roderick Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)
Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth McGuire, Michael (Ince) Thompson, George
Edge, Geoff Mackenzie, Gregor Tinn, James
Ellis, John (Bragg & Scun) McMillan, Tom (Glasgow C) Tomlinson, John
Ellis, Tom (Wrexham) McNamara, Kevin Torney, Tom
English, Michael Madden, Max Varley, Rt Hon Eric G.
Evans, Gwynfor (Carmarthen) Magee, Bryan Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne V)
Evans, Ioan (Aberdare) Mahon, Simon Walker, Harold (Doncaster)
Evans, John (Newton) Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole) Walker, Terry (Kingswood)
Ewing, Harry (Stirling) Meacher, Michael Ward, Michael
Fernyhough, Rt Hon E. Mellish, Rt Hon Robert Watkins, David
Watt, Hamish Wilson, Gordon (Dundee E) Young, David (Bolton E)
Weetch, Ken Wilson, William (Coventry SE)
White, James (Pollok) Wise, Mrs Audrey TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Williams, Alan (Swansea W) Woodall, Alec Mr. James Hamilton and
Williams, Alan Lee (Hornch'ch) Woof, Robert Mr. James A. Dunn.
Biffen, John Hurd, Douglas Roberts, Michael (Cardiff NW)
Brittan, Leon Lawrence, Ivan Sainsbury, Tim
Brotherton, Michael Macmillan, Rt Hon M. (Farnham) Shaw, Michael (Scarborough)
Carlisle, Mark McNair-Wilson, M. (Newbury) Spicer, Jim (W Dorset)
Chalker, Mrs Lynda Madel, David Steel, David (Roxburgh)
Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe) Mayhew, Patrick Stradling Thomas, J.
Corrie, John Monro, Hector Taylor, R. (Croydon NW)
Davies, Rt Hon J. (Knutsford) Montgomery, Fergus Thorpe, Rt Hon Jeremy (N Devon)
Emery, Peter Morgan, Geraint Viggers, Peter
Fookes, Miss Janet Morris, Michael (Northampton S) Wiggin, Jerry
Fowler, Norman (Sutton C'f'd) Morrison, Charles (Devizes) Winterton, Nicholas
Goodhew, Victor Normanton, Tom
Gow, Ian (Eastbourne) Rees, Peter (Dover & Deal) TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Hayhoe, Barney Rees-Davies, W. R. Mr. Tim Rathbone and
Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk) Ridley, Hon Nicholas Mr. Tim Renton.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill read the Third time and passed.

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