But first that controversial speech on the Common Market planned by Mr. Edward Du Cann, Chairman of the Tory Backbench 1922 Committee, and one of the most influential voices in the Conservative Party.
The speech itself won't be delivered until tonight when Mr. Du Cann addresses his Taunton constituents, but according to the text which he has already released, he will tell them that the Conservative Party is just as deeply divided over the Common Market as is the Labour Party.
The only reason the split had not been made public, he'll say, is that the Conservative Party is “naturally loyal to its leaders past and present.”
“Were this not so,” Mr. Du Cann will go on, “I have no doubt that at least as many Conservative Party members would be publicly seen to be against our remaining members of the EEC as are in favour. Perhaps there might even be a majority for withdrawal. For membership of the EEC is bound to offend against much of our history and the consequent attitude of the Conservative Party.” [end p1]
And Mr. Du Cann will argue, where the referendum is concerned, loyalty to the country is more important than loyalty to the party.
“The responsibility of members of the Conservative Party is for each to make his or her own decision for what is truly believed to be in the country's best interests at such a moment of national importance—no other loyalty counts or should be allowed to count.” [end p2]
The speech, with its clear implication that Conservatives should ignore what the Party leadership say when they vote the day after tomorrow is of course a big boost for the anti-marketeers. So not unnaturally, both its content and its timing have been attacked by Pro-Market MP's in the Conservative Party.
Mr. Nicholas Winterton, MP for Macclesfield, said that there had to be a good reason for Mr. Du Cann to make the speech, but he couldn't see what it was. He could only regret that Mr. DuCann had chosen this time to make the speech.
And Mr. Charles Irving, the Member for Cheltenham, said he was “astonished” that Mr. DuCann who had played such an important part in trying to keep the party together under the new leader, should come out with what he called “such disruptive suggestions” .
Well, the new leader, Mrs Thatcher, gave a press conference this morning on the Common Market. Afterwards Alexander Chancellor asked her, did she think the party was split? [end p3]
No, I don't think so, because just look at the voting figures when we last voted on the European question in the House of Commons. It was a free vote, no whips. Now we've got a total of 275 Conservative members of parliament. Of that 275, 249 voted yes to staying in Europe. Only 8 voted against, and the difference, 18, were away, and some of those in fact were in support. Mr. Du Cann was one of those who abstained, but it's pretty clear, 249 on a free vote voted for, 8 against, and 18 away.
Mr. Du Cann, however, does seem to believe himself that in the country at large there is a big split in the Conservative party, and a lot of people are going to vote no. Is that your impression?
Not from going round. I think that there has been a minority against Europe, and that minority's been getting steadily smaller, particularly since we've been in in the last 2½ years, a number of people have said, “Well, we're in, we've signed a treaty, the Commonwealth wants us to stay in, it's better for the peace and security of Europe if we stay in. Yes, we'll stay in.” I think there are two tests again that you can use; we've recently had a women's conference, and there was a motion on Europe, and there were very very few people against it then. The overwhelming majority for, and even in Scotland, we've just completed our Scottish Conservative conference, we had a motion on Europe; when it was put to the vote, there were only four Scottish Conservatives who voted against, and when I addressed the mass meeting there were over 3,000 people present, so I think that's a pretty good illustration of the feeling.
Mr. Du Cann is apparently going to ask Conservatives to put their country before their party, which I would have thought in this context could only really mean an appeal for a No vote in the referendum. Couldn't this be rather damaging to the party?
I think you're not being quite fair to Mr. Du Cann. He was saying you vote in accordance with what you believe. We have been doing that in the Conservative party. On the question of Europe, [end p4] as I pointed out, on a free vote, we supported the government of the day, rather more of us supported the government than of their own members. We did that because we believed it was in the best interests of the country to support the government on that issue. Again, we've consistently supported them on defence. More of us have supported the government on defence than have their own party, so the point is we're there doing what is right for the country according to our beliefs, we support them. Of course, there'll be a small minority who're against Europe. I pointed out that 8 in Parliament voted against, and we've known that Mr. Du Cann abstained, and we've known that he belongs to this small minority, and no-one has attempted to coerce them in any other way. It was a free vote.
Mrs. Thatcher, will you accept the verdict of the people in Thursday's referendum?
The referendum can only be advisory. It is up to Members of Parliament who are responsible to their own constituents, and you can't take that responsibility away by a referendum to decide in a free vote how they will vote in parliament afterwards. If it's a decisive yes, the issue would not, I believe, come up in Parliament again, because the only change that would need to be made would be the Labour party would then I believe, appoint their Members of Parliament to the European assembly, which they haven't done yet. If it were a No vote, then we should have to go through a whole mass of tangled legislation, and I think there would be many different votes during the course of that legislation, it's a horrific process to contemplate.
If it were a very decisive No vote, what would you as leader of the Conservative party recommend to your Members of Parliament?
Well, I'm not going to answer that. I don't believe it will be a decisive no vote, and I'd be misleading if I were to give the impression I did. I believe it will be a good decisive yes vote. [end p5] That is what I want, and I do urge Conservatives to turn out and support their previous leaders, Harold Macmillan, Alec Douglas-Home, Edward Heath, and also myself, in our efforts to see that Britain stays in Europe.