HC Deb 25 April 1961 vol 639 cc232-6
42. Mr. Donnelly

asked the Prime Minister whether, in view of his conversations with President Kennedy, he will undertake a new initiative to resolve the differences between the Free Trade Area and the Common Market.

46. Mr. Wyatt

asked the Prime Minister whether he will invite the Prime Ministers of the member countries of the European Economic Community to join him in examining the possibilities of British entry to the European Economic Community and of closer association between the members of the European Free Trade Area and of the European Economic Community.

49. Mr. Grimond

asked the Prime Minister what steps he is taking, as a result of his talks with President Kennedy, to negotiate the entry of Britain into the Common Market.

The Prime Minister

I do not consider that this is a problem to be tackled by formal discussion at the level of Prime Ministers at this stage. We are actively engaged in seeking a solution of the differences between the European Free Trade Association and the European Economic Community.

I was encouraged by my exchange of views with President Kennedy and we certainly shall not slacken our efforts. The problems are not simple. We have to reconcile the interests of our own agricultural industry, our fellow members of the Commonwealth and our partners in the European Free Trade Association.

Mr. Donnelly

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that his Boston speech was one of the most obscure speeches about integration by a Prime Minister since Mr. Ramsay Macdonald? Could he say precisely what he meant by "integration"?

The Prime Minister

I do not think I used that word.

Mr. Wyatt

Is it not clear that the danger to Britain grows daily by our not joining the Common Market? Is it not also clear that a great change of policy has taken place since the Prime Minister's conversations with President Kennedy? Would it not be a good opportunity, when France is in such great trouble as she is today, to make clear to her that we stand very firmly with her and that we seek to encourage her by making a gesture, by initiating talks, to show our interest in the Common Market?

The Prime Minister

I should not have thought that this was a very good moment to try to initiate very detailed negotiations.

We must not over-simplify the problem—I do not think that most people do—by talking of joining the Common Market like joining a club, paying the subscription, and that is all there is to it. It is a very difficult, complicated matter. We have very great interests to consider, in honour and duty—our obligations to the Commonwealth, which date from very long-standing arrangements, our obligations to our own agriculture, and, of course, our obligations to our partners in E.F.T.A. I have always felt that we should pursue, at least for the time being, the kind of informal discussions which are going on, because, as I have previously said in the House, I should be very unhappy if formal negotiations were started which led to no result. That would have a very bad effect in Europe as a whole.

Mr. Grimond

Would not the Prime Minister agree that the first step before anyone joins a club is for the would-be member to make up his mind whether he wants to join the club or not? After that, he may be black-balled, or find the conditions unacceptable. That is the first step. Have the Government taken it? As the Prime Minister was saying in America that the split in Europe is extremely serious, does he not realise that the people primarily responsible for it are the British Government?

The Prime Minister

No, Sir. I think that we all recognise that derogations or special arrangements would have to be made if we are to keep our honour and obligations. The problem is: can they be reconciled with the institutions and the operation of the Common Market under the Rome Treaty? It is not an easy problem. I admit that it is of immense importance. I do not think that we ought to rush it. I do not think that we ought to ask the country to take a decision until the whole of the scheme, in the light of other movements which may be made to co-ordinate the efforts of the free world, can be considered as a whole.

Mr. Nabarro

Would not my right hon. Friend agree that British industrialists in the last few years, in the face of all the difficulties to which he has referred, have not been standing still and have been meeting the situation by investing British funds in the Common Market countries, which is at least as good as exporting from this country to the Common Market countries?

The Prime Minister

I appreciate that there are advantages and dangers, but I think that this confirms how difficult the problem is. I have never disguised this. I think that it is one of the most difficult we have. I still feel that the approach that we are making is on the right lines. I might add, since it was mentioned in the communiqué, that I felt that with this advance with the new American Administration they would be prepared to accept what would be a greater degree of discrimination which would follow the merging of the Six and the Seven because of the general advantages in world stability. That is a big change, and it may help.

Mr. Gaitskell

I recognise the complexities of this problem and the need to reconcile, as the Prime Minister has rightly said, the points of view of the Commonwealth, E.F.T.A., ourselves and the rest of Europe. Would the right hon. Gentleman say a little more about the procedure which he thinks should be followed in this matter? Is he contemplating that there should simply be a continuation of detailed technical negotiations on individual products, which do not appear to be getting very far, or does he contemplate some rather broader approach by which, for instance, we and our partners of E.F.T.A. might agree to accept the principles of the Rome Treaty while making it plain that we must negotiate particular issues, such as, in our case, free entry for Commonwealth products?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir; that is a possible approach. There are, of course, three obligations. There is the obligation to enter into a single agricultural system for Europe. That has not gone very far yet in the Rome Treaty. There are advantages in going in early and perhaps guiding in the way we would want. It is a great difficulty. There are also the Commonwealth obligation and the E.F.T.A. one. I do not want to say anything here which would injure what I hope we may be able to achieve.

Frankly, I have thought that there were two aspects to this—economic technical problems to which the right hon. Gentleman has referred, and something rather different, whether there is really the will to bring this about. I have felt that if there is, and if that could be arranged on the political basis, somehow or other we would find a way through the difficulties.

Mr. Gaitskell

May I take it from that that the right hon. Gentleman contemplates direct negotiations with the French Government on this second question of the political implications and what he calls the will for us to join together?

The Prime Minister

No, Sir; not necessarily immediately, and certainly not at this moment. I think that it has to be cleared up at the top level whether there is a chance of making an arrangement on this kind of basis, and then we should proceed to what would be the very long and complicated negotiation on the details. I will not go further than that. I appreciate that there are different views, but I know that the House as a whole realises the importance to this country and the whole free world of the right approach to the matter in the right way and at the right time.

Mr. H. Wilson

While it is clear that after these Washington discussions and before very long fundamental decisions will have to be taken, is the Prime Minister aware that many of us will welcome the statement that he has made that Her Majesty's Government intend to proceed with this matter with very great care, so that the right decision can be taken, and that we particularly welcome what he has said about the safeguarding of the three interests which he has mentioned? Will the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that it is the intention of the Government to proceed only in agreement with our partners in the Commonwealth and in E.F.T.A., and that in any final solution that may be reached the economic interests of those countries which, for one reason or another, cannot join the Common Market will be fully safeguarded?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir; all those considerations have to be borne in mind. Might I put it this way? I do not believe that all this could be brought about perhaps with a purpose which might lie even further beyond extending Europe to a still wider sphere without some losses and without somebody being hurt somewhere. Of course, nothing can ever be done without that happening. The question is: is the theme large enough and are the gains big enough for all the countries concerned to show that it is worth doing and that it ought to proceed? That is the kind of political decision that will ultimately have to be made by all the Governments concerned.