HC Deb 29 October 1957 vol 575 cc26-9
46. Mr. J. E. B. Hill

asked the Prime Minister whether, as a result of recent negotiations with the Organisation for European Economic Co-operation countries, he will now indicate the probable methods by which agricultural produce and foodstuffs will be excluded from the industrial provisions of the proposed Free Trade Area in Europe.

The Prime Minister

I would refer my hon. Friend to the text of the statement on the problems of agriculture made by my right hon. Friend the Paymaster-General to the Council of the Organisation for European Economic Co-operation and to the Resolutions of the Council on 17th October. For convenience, I am circulating both these in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

Mr. Hill

While thanking the Prime Minister for putting on record these important statements, may I ask him to confirm that, whatever international arrangements may be arrived at to promote an increase in the consumption of food, British domestic agricultural policy will remain directly and wholly within the control of Her Majesty's Government and will not be subject to short-term fluctuations?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir.

Extract from Paymaster-General's statement.

I come now to the problem of agriculture. There has been much public discussion on the question: should agriculture be included in the free trade area? This is a misleading question. So far as I know none of the countries represented here, with possibly one or two exceptions, would propose a system whereby their agriculture would be exposed to competition in the way that industrial production will be exposed in the free trade area. We all protect our agriculture in one way or another and intend to go on doing so.

I would point out that the United Kingdom is the largest importer of food in Europe. We take some pride in the fact that we have been in the van of the movement towards liberalisation in these matters, and we certainly have no intention of changing our policy in them.

The United Kingdom Government has always played a full part through the O.E.E.C. in European agricultural co-operation, and we recognise that there can be advantages in strengthening and developing that co-operation. We believe that we should now seek amongst ourselves agreement on such further co-operation, and I have some suggestions as to the basis of such agreement.

First, we want to have Rules of Trade in agricultural products, so that trade can be freer and fairer. Rules on this subject are already contained in the G.A.T.T. and the O.E.E.C., and we must study whether they can be improved.

We are all of us committed by international agreement to the progressive abolition of quotas, and we are ready to reaffirm that commitment, subject to the practical difficulties which arise for all of us in certain commodities, and whose solution we recognise to be a matter of great difficulty.

On tariffs our attitude is this. We cannot, for reasons that are well known, accept ourselves any obligation to abandon our tariff protection—but we should not oppose the inclusion within an agricultural agreement of a provision for the progressive abolition of tariffs between the member countries so long as the United Kingdom is granted a waiver.

We are prepared to discuss means of strengthening the present system whereby all our agricultural policies are subject to detailed scrutiny, examination, complaint and criticism, and where we are all of us called upon to justify our policies. Decisions would continue to be on the basis of unanimity, which is the O.E.E.C. practice. It is our desire in the working out of our agricultural policies to consult with our colleagues in Europe, and to be fully aware of their interests. We also envisage that these arrangements would provide an institutional framework whereby the members of O.E.E.C. could co-operate with the commodity arrangements of the European Economic Community as these are worked out. So far as the United Kingdom is concerned, our attitude would be that when details of these marketing arrangements are worked out, we will be prepared to consider the possibility of associating ourselves with individual schemes so long as this would in no way conflict with any of our existing obligations.

Resolution of the Council concerning an Inter-Governmental Committee on the establishment of a European Free Trade Area.

The Council

Having regard to the resolution of the Council of 17th October, 1957, on the European Free Trade Area and problems linked therewith

On the proposal of its Chairman:


1.—(a) An Inter-Governmental Committee at ministerial level shall be established under the auspices of the Organization and at its headquarters.

(b) The Chairman of the Council is instructed to convene the Committee.

(c) All member Governments and the European Coal and Steel Community shall be invited to take part in the Committee. So also shall the European Economic Community as soon as the Treaty of Rome enters into force.

(d) The Governments of Canada and the United States may be associated with the work of the Committee.

2. The Committee shall elect its officers, and determine its plan and methods of work.

3 The Chairman of the Committee may request any committee, board or other body of the organization to assist it in its work or to express views on any question relating to its task.

4. The Secretary-General shall assist the Chairman of the Committee in the discharge of his duties and shall be responsible for the Secretariat of the Committee.

5. The Committee may decide at a later stage to invite other Governments or international organizations to be represented at its meetings.

6. The Chairman of the Committee shall keep the Chairman of the Council informed of the progress of its work. A meeting of the Council will be convened to consider the results of its work at an appropriate time.

Resolution of the Council on the European Free Trade Area and problems linked therewith.

The Council

Having met at Ministerial level, considered the progress achieved hitherto and having taken account of the aims of the Organisation, of the interests of its individual member countries and of the need to find means of reinforcing the economic solidarity of the members of the Organisation for European Economic Co-operation:

Declares its determination to secure the establishment of a European Free Trade Area which would comprise all member countries of the Organisation—which would associate, on a multilateral basis, the European Economic Community, with the other member countries—and which, taking fully into consideration the objectives of the European Economic Community, would in practice take effect parallel with the Treaty of Rome:

Declares, also, its determination to reach agreement at the same time on methods of further co-operation between all member countries in agricultural matters with a view to assuring an expansion of trade in agricultural products:

Declares, equally, its determination in the establishment of the European Free Trade Area to take full account of the interests of the economically less developed member countries in the light of the reports of the Chairman or Working Party No. 23:

Decides, to these ends, to convene forthwith an inter-governmental committee at Ministerial level.