HC Deb 31 July 1961 vol 645 cc928-42
The Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Macmillan)

With permission, I wish to make a statement on the policy of Her Majesty's Government towards the European Economic Community.

The future relations between the European Economic Community, the United Kingdom, the Commonwealth and the rest of Europe are clearly matters of capital importance in the life of our country and, indeed, of all the countries of the free world.

This is a political as well as an economic issue. Although the Treaty of Rome is concerned with economic matters it has an important political objective, namely, to promote unity and stability in Europe which is so essential a factor in the struggle for freedom and progress throughout the world. In this modern world the tendency towards larger groups of nations acting together in the common interest leads to greater unity and thus adds to our strength in the struggle for freedom.

I believe that it is both our duty and our interest to contribute towards that strength by securing the closest possible unity within Europe. At the same time, if a closer relationship between the United Kingdom and the countries of the European Economic Community were to disrupt the long-standing and historic ties between the United Kingdom and the other nations of the Commonwealth the loss would be greater than the gain. The Commonwealth is a great source of stability and strength both to Western Europe and to the world as a whole, and I am sure that its value is fully appreciated by the member Governments of the European Economic Community I do not think that Britain's contribution to the Commonwealth will be reduced if Europe unites. On the contrary, I think that its value will be enhanced.

On the economic side, a community comprising, as members or in association, the countries of free Europe, could have a very rapidly expanding economy supplying, as eventually it would, a single market of approaching 300 million people. This rapidly expanding economy could, in turn, lead to an increased demand for products from other parts of the world and so help to expand world trade and improve the prospects of the less developed areas of the world.

No British Government could join the European Economic Community without prior negotiation with a view to meeting the needs of the Commonwealth countries, of our European Free Trade Association partners, and of British agriculture consistently with the broad principles and purpose which have inspired the concept of European unity and which are embodied in the Rome Treaty.

As the House knows, Ministers have recently visited Commonwealth countries to discuss the problems which would arise if the British Government decided to negotiate for membership of the European Economic Community. We have explained to Commonwealth Governments the broad political and economic considerations which we have to take into account. They, for their part, told us their views and, in some cases, their anxieties about their essential interests. We have assured Commonwealth Governments that we shall keep in close consultation with them throughout any negotiations which might take place.

Secondly, there is the European Free Trade Association. We have treaty and other obligations to our partners in this Association and my right hon. Friends have just returned from a meeting of the European Free Trade Association Ministerial Council, in Geneva, where all were agreed that they should work closely together throughout any negotiations. Finally, we are determined to continue to protect the standard of living of our agricultural community.

During the past nine months, we have had useful and frank discussions with the European Economic Community Governments. We have now reached the stage where we cannot make further progress without entering into formal negotiations I believe that the great majority in the House and in the country will feel that they cannot fairly judge whether it is possible for the United Kingdom to join the European Economic Community until there is a clearer picture before them of the conditions on which we could join and the extent to which these could meet our special needs.

Article 237 of the Treaty of Rome envisages that the conditions of admission of a new member and the changes in the Treaty necessitated thereby should be the subject of an agreement. Negotiations must, therefore, be held in order to establish the conditions on which we might join. In order to enter into these negotiations it is necessary, under the Treaty, to make formal application to join the Community, although the ultimate decision whether to join or not must depend on the result of the negotiations.

Therefore, after long and earnest consideration, Her Majesty's Government have come to the conclusion that it would be right for Britain to make a formal application under Article 237 of the Treaty for negotiations with a view to joining the Community if satisfactory arrangements can be made to meet the special needs of the United Kingdom, of the Commonwealth and of the European Free Trade Association.

If, as I earnestly hope, our offer to enter into negotiations with the European Economic Community is accepted we shall spare no efforts to reach a satisfactory agreement. These negotiations must inevitably be of a detailed and technical character, covering a very large number of the most delicate and difficult matters. They may, therefore, be protracted and there can, of course, be no guarantee of success. When any negotiations are brought to a conclusion then it will be the duty of the Government to recommend to the House what course we should pursue.

No agreement will be entered into until it has been approved by the House after full consultation with other Commonwealth countries by whatever procedure they may generally agree.

Mr. Gaitskell

No doubt, the full implications of the Prime Minister's statement can be more conveniently discussed on Wednesday and Thursday. The Prime Minister has, however, made it perfectly plain that what is now proposed is not any decision to join the Common Market, but the start of negotiations to establish the conditions on which we might join. I should like to address my questions to the procedure which will be followed in these negotiations and the arrangements for consultation to which the Prime Minister has referred.

First, on procedure, am I right in supposing that the European Economic Community Ministerial Council is not likely to meet until late in September to consider the formal application by the United Kingdom and that negotiations are unlikely to begin until October?

Secondly, are they to be negotiations between the United Kingdom, on the one side, and the Six, on the other, or will our E.F.T.A. partners be associated directly in the negotiations? Is the Prime Minister aware that we have given a very firm undertaking to the E.F.T.A. partners that we will continue with them, which means that we will not join the Common Market till satisfactory arrangements"— I am quoting from the communiqué of 28th June— have been worked out in negotiations to meet the various legitimate interests of all members of E.F.T.A. and thus enable them all to participate from the same date in an integrated European market"? So far as the first part of that commitment is concerned, would it not be as well for the Prime Minister to give a similar undertaking in respect of the Commonwealth? Is there really any reason why the Government should not give a firm pledge that they will not enter the Common Market till satisfactory arrangements have been worked out in negotiations to meet the various legitimate interests on the Commonwealth?

Finally, may I ask the Prime Minister, since the question of whether these terms and conditions are or are not satisfactory is a matter on which, obviously, the Commonwealth Governments must have an opportunity of expressing a view, whether he will give a pledge that before any final decision is taken on this there will definitely be a Commonwealth Prime Ministers' conference?

The Prime Minister

That is a rather complicated number of questions. The right hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I try to group them.

The first is, how and when will negotiations take place? If, on Thursday, the House approves a Motion which the Government will put before it, it will then be the duty of the Government to propose a negotiation. How it will take place, or when it will take place, is a matter for discussion between the two groups. The right hon. Gentleman said it is not likely to take place in September. That is because August is a hallowed month in all countries and, no doubt, there will be not much work done then. As I say, therefore, I have no doubt that the negotiations will not probably begin till towards the end of August or the beginning of September.

The second point is, who will be involved in these negotiations? We shall keep in the closest touch with our E.F.T.A. partners. Some of them will wish to negotiate direct at the same time with us. Some will wish for other reasons to negotiate not so much membership as association in any new group to unite Europe which may be formed. I think that that is the first question, how and when will negotiation be carried on? As soon as reasonably possible and in conjunction with our E.F.T.A. partners.

The third question is, what will be the position of the Commonwealth? I will explain this in greater detail in the debate. We have been in the closest touch all through, and we shall, of course, continue to be in touch. If any negotiations get beyond the first contact and into really close and detailed discussion, then, if all should go well, there might be a question of conclusion of the negotiation. At every point the Commonwealth will be consulted.

I have made it quite clear, and so have my right hon. Friends: if, at some point, it were thought desirable to have a meeting of Commonwealth Prime Ministers, at the right moment, probably when the negotiations had reached a certain stage, before any final decision were put before Parliament and this country, then I can only say that I would be the first to welcome such a meeting.

Mr. Gaitskell

I must press the Prime Minister a little further on this. I read out the terms of the pledge given to the E.F.T.A. partners, which was—I repeat it—that there would be no joining of the Common Market by Great Britain till satisfactory arrangements have been worked out in negotiations to meet the various legitimate interests of all members". Is the Prime Minister prepared to say that the same pledge will apply to the Commonwealth countries?

The Prime Minister

Of course, we have always made it clear that unless we can get terms satisfactory to British agriculture, satisfactory to our E.F.T.A. partners, and serving the interests of the Commonwealth—

Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas


The Prime Minister

—satisfactory to the Commonwealth interests, well, then, this agreement cannot be made. But we have to recognise what will be the state of the world if this agreement cannot he made. What we are to do is to enter into a negotiation, to keep in the closest touch with all those most closely concerned; and, finally, it will be the duty of the Government to put any agreement before the House of Commons for its ratification. But that will not be done without the closest association and consultation with all our partners.

Mr. Turton

Will my right hon. Friend explain why he has chosen this procedure under the Rome Treaty, with all its risk of abrogation of sovereignty and of weakening of the Commonwealth, rather than the method under Article 238 on association with other trading areas?

The Prime Minister

I will try to deal with that in the debate. The answer is very simple. If we were to apply to be an associate member under Article 238 we should have all the same economic difficulties for the Commonwealth—not one single one of them would be made easier—and we would have no influence in Europe.

Mr. Shinwell

Since the right hon. Gentleman has made a declaration that this is a matter of vital importance not only for the people of this country, but for the free world, and that he proposes to consult E.F.T.A., proposes to consult the Commonwealth and all interested parties, can we have an assurance from him that before he comes to a final conclusion after negotiations, assuming he goes into negotiations and finds everything satisfactory from that angle, he will then consult the electors of this country?

Hon. Members


The Prime Minister

My duty in putting forward any plan is to put it forward to the House of Commons and to Parliament—

Mr. Shinwell

With the Whips on?

The Prime Minister

—and I have no doubt that if we proceed, as I hope we shall be able, after Thursday, to proceed, to see what progress can be made, one of two things will happen.

Let us be clear about it. It may be that the six countries of Europe will say, "All your derogations, everything you ask for British agriculture, for the Commonwealth, for your E.F.T.A. partners, is quite out of the question", in which case the negotiations will end very quickly. It may be that they will say, "We do accept"—[HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."] I am going to answer in my own way. This is a grave issue.

It may be, therefore, that the negotiation will fall to the ground within a few weeks. There will be very grave effects for the life of Europe if that happens. It may be that it will proceed in a very detailed way, over a great number of details, commodity by commodity. Then it will be put to Parliament—[HoN. MEMBERS: "With the Whips on?"]—it will be put to Parliament, and when it will be my duty to ask Her Majesty to give me the right to confirm that opinion of Parliament will be a matter for the Government to decide.

Mr. Fell

Is the Prime Minister aware that he has made a shocking statement, full of political double-talk? [HON. MEMBERS: "Nonsense."] Is he aware that at last it has had the effect on one former supporter that he now thinks that the Prime Minister is a national disaster?

The Prime Minister rose

Mr. Fell

No. I can be told to sit down by Mr. Speaker, but I cannot be told to sit down by the Prime Minister.

Is the Prime Minister aware that this decision to gamble with British sovereignty in Europe, when 650 million people of the British Commonwealth depend upon his faith and his leadership, is the most disastrous thing that any Prime Minister has done for many generations past? I would say to the Prime Minister — [HON. MEMBERS: "Sit down."] I would ask the Prime Minister to believe, despite his laughs and smirks and the smirks of other right hon. Gentlemen on the Government Front Bench, that there are those British people who believe that it is impossible under the Treaty of Rome, except an entirely new Treaty of Rome, an entirely scrapped Treaty of Rome, to protect British sovereignty, British agriculture, the British Commonwealth and the E.F.T.A. countries? Therefore, for these reasons, I suggest that the best service that the Prime Minister could do to the country would be to resign.

The Prime Minister

The hon. Gentleman has stated a point of view which he will, no doubt, repeat in debate. Meanwhile, I can only say that I think he has quite loyally maximised his support in this decision.

Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. Would the House be kind enough to make a little less noise, otherwise I have to shout in calling hon. Members and I do not like it?

Mr. Grimond

May I, on the contrary, congratulate the Prime Minister on his conversion to the policy which we on these benches have long urged upon him in the interests not only of this country and of Europe, but of the Commonwealth? May I ask the right hon. Gentleman this question? When, in much more favourable times, we urged him to do exactly what he is proceeding to do now, that is, to negotiate under Article 237, he said that this was not possible. One of the reasons was that there was such a grave risk of failure. Do I understand that today the Prime Minister is confident of success when we go into these negotiations?

The Prime Minister

No, Sir. I am not confident, but I am hopeful.

Mr. Longden

May I ask my right hon. Friend whether he is aware that everyone who has not got to be dragged kicking and screaming into the second half of the twentieth century will welcome this belated decision to negotiate terms upon which this country can enter the European Economic Community and will wish the Government well in their efforts to obtain terms which are to the mutual benefit of this country, the Commonwealth, the Seven and the Atlantic Alliance?

Mr. Bowles

May I ask the Prime Minister to give an undertaking that he will not agree to anything that might prevent a future British Socialist Government from establishing Socialism here?

The Prime Minister

I think that that is the best question I have had so far.

Sir D. Walker-Smith

Is my right hon. Friend able to tell the House—and I hope that he will be able to do so—that his object in negotiation will be to get a basic modification of the Treaty so as to remove the possibility of any surrender of sovereignty on a significant scale by this country? If that be his object, does he think that it is possible to achieve that under Article 237, having regard to the fact that the wording of that Article appears to contemplate only procedural or consequential adaptations as distinct from basic modification?

The Prime Minister

All these questions, of course, we will discuss in our two-day debate. I hope that we may be able to negotiate an arrangement which will be acceptable to this country and accepted by the Commonwealth and by the rest of Europe. It may well be that we shall fail, but I want to suggest to the House that the risk and dangers of failure are very great.

Mr. Shinwell

Running away, that is all the right hon. Gentleman does.

The Prime Minister

We can debate this in detail, but if right hon. and hon. Members were to face the kind of problems which Her Majesty's Government have to face in Europe and in the free world today—the enormous monolithic strength of Soviet power and the divided groups of other countries—I would say that there are great risks from failure and great opportunities to be gained by success.

Mr. A. Henderson

In view of the widespread misapprehensions that exist in certain quarters, may I ask the Prime Minister whether he would make clear that these particular negotiations will not of themselves involve this country in any definite commitments in respect of foreign affairs or defence?

The Prime Minister

No, Sir. Of course, we are far more committed by our present commitments in N.A.T.O. and W.E.U. than we are under this, which is a purely economic and trading negotiation and not a political and foreign policy negotiation.

Sir H. Legge-Bourke

While I believe that the majority of people in this country want some arrangement with the Common Market countries, the Commonwealth and E.F.T.A., and I fully support that desire, may I ask my right hon. Friend whether he is aware that what gives us most cause for anxiety is the federal, political aspect? While I see the force of my right hon. Friend's reply to my right hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Tunton), nevertheless there are great anxieties in this. Will my right hon. Friend give us this assurance? If, having been made, the application does not result in our getting the concessions that we require, will my right hon. Friend give us his solemn undertaking that we shall not then be asked in this House not to press the Government to withdraw the application, in the interest of the unity of Europe? That, indeed, would be a very invidious position for the House to be put in.

The Prime Minister

That is a very fair question. If we cannot succeed in bringing this negotiation to a satisfactory conclusion, we, of course, will not abandon the obligations that we have both internally and externally, but if it fails then I think that we ought to be quite clear ourselves, and perhaps the countries with which we are to negotiate ought to be quite dear, that quite a lot of things will happen and quite major changes may have to be made in the foreign policy and the commitments of Great Britain.

Mr. Healey

The Prime Minister has stressed again, as he has often stressed in the House, to our general agreement, the great danger of entering into formal negotiations with the Six without a fair assurance that they will succeed. The right hon. Gentleman has also stated this afternoon that the aim of this negotiation will be to establish the conditions on which Britain might join the Six.

There is a question which I should like to put to the right hon. Gentleman and which, I am sure, other right hon. and hon. Members would like to put. President de Gaulle has recently said that Britain would be welcome in the Common Market only without conditions. Is it not extremely dangerous for this country to enter formal negotiations with the Six without first having an assurance that this is not the final decision of the French Government?

The Prime Minister

Of course, there are dangers on all sides. There are three things that we could do, and in this we are all linked together. It is not really a party matter. We can enter into negotiations now and see Whether we can reach a satisfactory conclusion. We can call them off and say "We will have nothing to do with it; it is finished", or we can postpone it until the autumn, or the winter, or next year. I have considered those three courses and I think that, great as the risks are, it is far better to bring this matter to an issue.

Sir C. Osborne

My right hon. Friend will remember that twice in the House he said that it would be a tragedy to enter into formal negotiations if they broke down once more. Can we assume, therefore, that by entering negotiations again the Prime Minister has a very reasonable hope that they will not break down? Secondly, is my right hon. Friend aware that the bulk of the people in this country and all on this side of the House who support him will heartily repudiate the attack which was made upon him by the hon. Member for Yarmouth (Mr. Fell)?

The Prime Minister

In reply to the first part of the supplementary question, I am hopeful; I cannot be certain. But after doing all that we can by informal discussions at different levels, by negotiations of different kinds, I felt certain that it would be far better for everybody to bring this matter to an issue and not to allow it to drag on indefinitely. I am sure that that is right. I am hopeful that we shall succeed. I am sure that if I did not, I would not want to enter the negotiations. But I am sure that we have now roadbed a point where merely going on with uncertainty would injure rather than benefit the life and strength of the free world.

Mr. S. Silverman

The right hon. Gentleman has explained his reasons for making his proposal under Article 237 instead of under the other Article which would have permitted a looser association than a formal application to become a full member. Would he explain this to the House? Is it correct that if we apply under Article 237, negotiations do not immediately follow the application and cannot commence until the application has been accepted, so that not until the application has been made and accepted is there the possibility of negotiation under Article 237? If the right hon. and learned Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith) is right in thinking that Article 237 does not contemplate amendments of principle, but only matters of adaptation and amendment designed to provide for another member, is he not putting himself and this country in the position of giving a blank cheque on the understanding that he will not honour it if they fill it in for too much?

The Prime Minister

I think that that is a tenable position, but I have thought it over very carefully and I am sure that it is better to apply under Article 237 rather than Article 238, because to become an associate member would involve all the same difficulties on the economic side for the Commonwealth just as much as becoming a full member.

As regards the other part of what the hon. Gentleman has said, I think, if I may say so without offence, that he is degrading great international problems to rather a lower level of huckstering than I think will, in fact, apply. These great nations have to face each other with great decisions. How they will make them I do not know, but they must not make them on a miserable, small, huckstering matter about this or that Article. They must face the realities that underly them.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

I am the servant of the House in this as in all else, but the House is to have two days in which to debate this matter. Hon. Members may well think that it would be better debated than pursued by way of question and answer.

Mr. S. Silverman

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You were kind enough to permit me to ask a supplementary question. There was a personal diatribe from the Prime Minister immediately after it. Am I not entitled to an answer to the question which you were good enough to permit me to ask?

Mr. Speaker

No, I cannot make Ministers answer questions.

Sir T. Moore

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. As there is very little chance of most of us who want to speak getting into the two-day debate, would it perhaps not clarify our thoughts and enable us perhaps to make up our minds definitely if we could ask one or two more questions of the Prime Minister?

Mr. Speaker

I have to consider the interests of all hon. Members, including those who wish to catch my eye today, and I venture to invite the House to take the view that we would really do better to debate this matter in the two days which are available.

Mr. P. Williams

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Could you give us your guidance, because the debate which is to take place on this subject is of momentous import to both sides of the House and to countless people outside both in the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth? Is there any possibility at all of, first, reducing the time of individual speeches—and I take as a precedent for this the economic debate last week; and, secondly, restricting to two the leading speeches from the two Front Benches, for in the past there has been a myriad of argument from the two Front Benches with very little chance of controversy coming from behind?

I should have thought that it would be to the service of the House if the two Front Bench speakers were to deploy their arguments at the beginning of the debate and, if there are any left, to deploy them again at the end, and that the winding-up on the first day and the opening on the second day should be left to back bench speakers rather than to provoked and prepared party speeches from the Front Benches.

Mr. Speaker

If that is addressed to me as a point of order, surely the hon. Gentleman realises, as does the House, that he is going rather outside the sphere of the Chair. I do not conceal from the House that I am an enthusiastic supporter of short speeches and the inclusion in a debate of as many as possible speakers from the back benches.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

May I respectfully point out to you, Mr. Speaker, that no Member from Scotland on this side of the House has had an opportunity of questioning the Prime Minister on the widespread apprehension that exists among the farming community whom we represent, and I should like to know whether we will have an opportunity of participating in the debate?

Mr. Speaker

It is very difficult to secure that all kinds of views are presented in debate, particularly where views are cross-party in a sense, as I suspect they are on this issue. I take the view that we ought to leave the matter to debate.

Mr. Rankin

Mr. Speaker, may I have your guidance on this point? Will those who failed to catch your eye today have a better chance tomorrow?

Mr. Speaker

It is desirable even for the Chair to have its secrets.

Mr. Greenwood

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You yourself said that this issue cuts across ordinary party lines and the Prime Minister said that this is not a party matter. May I ask the Prime Minister whether it is the intention to leave the decision to a free vote of the House?

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Gentleman rose to a point of order. Asking whether or no he might ask a question of a Minister is not, on the face of it, related to a point of order. I will hear him on a point of order, but he ought, in the interests of others, to phrase his point differently.

Mr. Farey-Jones

On a point of order. We have listened to the Prime Minister making the most momentous statement for hundreds of years. Is it in order, in the course of the remainder of the business for today, which concerns Berlin, for us to discuss our approach to the Common Market, on the basis of the Prime Minister's statement? In view of the spiritual ties which bind this country and the Commonwealth, and the fact that we are faced with the grave possibility of this island standing alone again in Europe, we cannot afford to lose the good will of the Dominions. Therefore, shall we be allowed to refer to it in the course of today's debate?

Mr. Speaker

Should an hon. Member catch my eye and make a speech I will rule as he is doing so at what point he gets out of order. I cannot help noticing when the House in particular wants to discuss foreign affairs, but if I happen to know that an hon. Member wants to discuss something quite different this might cause me slight blindness for a moment.

Mr. Lipton

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Would it not be for the convenience of the House if arrangements could be made for the time limit to be suspended indefinitely on the first day of the debate on the Common Market?

Mr. Speaker

That is not a matter for me.