HC Deb 27 November 1961 vol 650 cc29-43

Mr. Gaitskell (by Private Notice) asked the Prime Minister whether he will make a statement about the Government's decision to release the full text of the statement: which he made on 10th October regarding Britain's negotiations with the Common Market countries.

The Lord Privy Seal (Mr. Edward Heath)

I have been asked to reply. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman and the House will forgive me if the Answer is rather long, as I promised that it should be a full one.

It was agreed late in September that negotiations between the United Kingdom and the Governments of the European Economic Community would open in Paris on 10th October, 1961. Before the negotiations began I held a number of discussions with individual representatives of the Governments of the Community and the Commission about a variety of administrative arrangements, including those governing the security of the proceedings throughout the negotiations.

It is in accordance with international practice for the proceedings and the working documents in negotiations of this kind between Governments to be confidential to those taking part in the negotiations. This was the first example of a negotiation between the member Governments of the European Economic Community and another Government, and I was anxious to establish the procedures to be followed and the manner in which they would be carried out.

The view of Her Majesty's Government was that it was essential that the customary international procedure should be followed. In particular, the range and complexity of the negotiations, the number and variety of interests involved, and the need for flexibility in finding solutions, all made it necessary to try to ensure proper security if the negotiations were to be brought to a successful conclusion.

Moreover, it was apparent that, at various stages of the negotiations, there would be detailed discussions affecting particular commodities and individual industries. Furthermore, information given to Her Majesty's Government by an individual Commonwealth Government is sometimes confidential between the two Governments and cannot be made known to others.

These arrangements are, therefore, equally in the interests of those who are involved directly in the negotiations and those who may be affected by them. I put this view to the members of the other six Governments and the Commission, who accepted it. At the same time, I pointed out to them and the Commission that Her Majesty's Government intended to carry out full consultation with members of Commonwealth Governments and those of the E.F.T.A. throughout the course of the negotiations and that this would be done by both Ministers and officials in a variety of ways.

The individual Governments and the Commission agreed that the proceedings and the documents should be confidential and entirely accepted that full consultation would be maintained with the Commonwealth and with the E.F.T.A. Governments. A statement to this effect was made by the Chairman of the Council of Ministers at the opening meeting.

When the negotiations began in Paris, on 10th October, I made a statement on behalf of Her Majesty's Government. At the conclusion of this a verbatim text was made available in five languages to the six member Governments and the Commission of the European Economic Community. This document was marked "Secret".

In accordance with the arrangements agreed with those taking part in the negotiations and in order to take account of the differing interests covered by different sections of the statement, the following procedure was followed. A substantial portion of the statement dealt with United Kingdom domestic affairs. A detailed written summary of the parts affecting the Commonwealth was communicated to Commonwealth Governments shortly before I made my speech.

At the same time, a detailed written summary of the parts affecting members of E.F.T.A. was communicated to their Governments. The normal method which we have developed of informing Commonwealth and E.F.T.A. Governments on European matters was then followed. At the conclusion of the meeting in Paris I gave orally an account of the contents of my whole speech to both the Commonwealth and the E.F.T.A. Ambassadors in Paris, and on my return to London to the High Commissioners in London, on a confidential basis. In addition, officials gave an account to officials in the Commonwealth Missions in London.

At the end of last week there were persistent reports that the full text of my statement had come into the possession of some Governments which are not parties to the negotiations. Her Majesty's Government passed no copies of the text of the statement to Governments other than those taking part in the negotiations.

It was, therefore, decided on Saturday, after consultation with representatives of the six Governments and the Commission in Brussels that, as an exception to the arrangement that working documents should be confidential to the seven Governments taking part in the negotiations and the Commission of the E.E.C., a verbatim text of my statement should be made available in confidence to members of Commonwealth countries and to members of E.F.T.A. Copies have accordingly been sent today to the Commonwealth High Commissioners in London and to the Ambassadors in London of E.F.T.A. countries.

Late this morning an agency tape started publication of what appears to be the full text of my speech in Paris, which, it stated, became available today through private sources in Brussels The full text will, therefore, become public knowledge. In these circumstances, the House will no doubt wish the statement to be published as a White Paper and I am informing Governments of the E.E.C. and the Commission accordingly.

I deeply deplore the breach which has occurred in the security arrangements for these negotiations. There has at no time been any indication or suggestion that British sources are responsible. I have every confidence in the discretion and integrity of the members of the United Kingdom Delegation in Brussels and those who have handled this document in this country. Nevertheless, I am having careful inquiries made. I shall also ask those taking part in the negotiations to re-emphasise the need to preserve their confidential nature. This action was, in fact, taken recently at the conclusion of the round of discussions at the official level which has just ended.

I wish now to deal with the question of consultation during these negotiations. In their communiqué, published at the end of their meeting in Geneva last Tuesday, the E.F.T.A. countries expressed satisfaction with the way in which member Governments were keeping each other informed As far as the Commonwealth is concerned, it has been alleged that because of the confidential nature of these negotiations Commonwealth countries have not been fully consulted.

There is no justification whatever for this allegation. Since August, 1960, when my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister visited Bonn and arranged with Dr. Adenauer for informal and exploratory talks to take place between British and German officials on possible arrangements between the United Kingdom and the European Economic Community, Commonwealth and E.F.T.A. Governments have been kept fully informed at every stage, first, during the informal talks and later when negotiations proper began in Paris and Brussels.

This matter was raised and fully discussed at the meeting of Commonwealth Finance Ministers in London in September, 1960. At that meeting the problems were explained in detail and Commonwealth Governments were asked to prepare their views on a variety of points put to them. There was a full discussion between United Kingdom and Commonwealth officials in London in May, 1961, at another meeting of the Commonwealth Economic Consultative Council.

During the Prime Ministers' Conference in London later that month a meeting was arranged with my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer and other Ministers concerned and myself for members of all Governments of the Commonwealth who wished to take advantage of it.

These matters were discussed fully with individual members of the Commonwealth by my right hon. Friends and myself who visited the countries of the Commonwealth in July, and they were further discussed at the meeting of Commonwealth Finance Ministers in Accra, in September. In the second half of September officials from seven Commonwealth countries assembled in London to discuss the forthcoming negotiations in preparation for the statement I was to make in Paris.

These talks between officials lasted for a fortnight. Some Governments were unable to send officials to London and preferred that consultations should be carried on in their own capitals. In addition to these full and formal discussions over fifteen months, detailed reports have always been made to Commonwealth Ambassadors and High Commissioners after each meeting between myself and Governments of European countries. In addition, officials have discussed these visits with their opposite numbers at varying levels and our own High Commissioners in Commonwealth capitals have been instructed to keep Commonwealth Governments informed.

Since August, 1960, I have paid visits and eight lots of talks have been held between our officials and those of European Governments. Full reports have been made on each occasion. There have also been constant interchanges of messages between Ministers and officials in Whitehall and in Commonwealth countries.

I have already described the full consultation which took place in Paris after the opening meeting. Following the first meeting in Brussels, I saw the Commonwealth Ambassadors there and on my return to London the Commonwealth High Commissioners. In addition, the Commonwealth Relations Office representative in the Delegation saw Commonwealth officials. During the official talks during the past week in Brussels there has been almost daily contact between members of the Delegation and Commonwealth representatives. There has been similar consultation with representatives of the E.F.T.A. Governments. Her Majesty's Government intend to maintain this full consultation.

Mr. Gaitskell

I suppose that it is some solace to us that we shall be able to read the speech which the right hon. Gentleman made in Paris, but will he agree that this would not have been possible, nor would it have been shown to the Commonwealth Governments, had it not been for the leakage to the United States Government? Is not this a profoundly unsatisfactory state of affairs? Would he not agree, in all the circumstances, that the best way of handling these negotiations is to tell the Commonwealth Governments exactly what is happening, and what is said at every stage? Will he tell us what is the difficulty in the way of doing this, and why he continues to say, on the one hand, that the Commonwealth Governments are kept informed, and, on the other, that the proceedings of the negotiations must be kept secret?

Mr. Heath

I do not see anything to give satisfaction to anybody in this House, that the security of negotiations of this kind, which are of the greatest importance to this country, to the Commonwealth, and to E.F.T.A. countries, as well as to many industries and individuals, should have been breached and, therefore, shown not to be confidential. This, surely, is most unsatisfactory in any negotiation. I would have thought that we could have agreed about that, and would do everything to try to make them more confidential.

I hoped that I had explained at the end of my statement the extent to which we had carried Commonwealth consultation on these matters. The right hon. Gentleman asked why I cannot explain why the Commonwealth should not be told everything. This matter has arisen over the verbatim text of the opening speech. I have explained why these documents and working papers are kept confidential to those taking part in the negotiations. We have given the fullest information to the Commonwealth, and I believe in so doing. When they read the full verbatim account of my speech they will find that they have learnt everything in it affecting the Commonwealth.

There are other sections in the speech which are not the direct concern of the Commonwealth and which, in the course of these negotiations, will also not be the direct concern of all Commonwealth countries, and will from time to time be the direct concern only of particular Commonwealth countries. It is not, therefore, possible to establish a precedent that the whole of every document should be given to the Commonwealth. What we have done is to carry out the fullest consultation with them.

Mr. Gaitskell

Will the right hon. Gentleman simply explain this? What is wrong with informing the Commonwealth Governments of what is going on? [HON. MEMBERS: "That is what he is doing."] That is exactly what he is refusing to do. Does not the right hon. Gentleman realise that if he refuses to inform the Commonwealth Governments, on whose behalf he is negotiating, of the text of his own speech he is bound to create the impression that he does not trust the Commonwealth to keep these things secret? Does not he realise that if he is really hoping to carry the Commonwealth with him in these negotiations it is far better to trust them?

Mr. Heath

I trust the Commonwealth, and we have been giving them the fullest information, and the whole delegation is working to its utmost in the interests of the Commonwealth. Does not the right hon. Gentleman realise that if information affecting other countries is given to bodies outside themselves, they have a perfect right to ask why that should be done? In exactly the same way, the Commonwealth would not expect me to pass information concerning them to E.F.T.A. countries, nor particular individual Commonwealth countries seeking a particular arrangement to other Commonwealth countries. Therefore, we are doing our utmost to maintain the trust of the Commonwealth and to give them all the information we can.

Mr. Gaitskell

Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that he is in a very special—[Interruption.] Hon. Gentlemen opposite may not care about the Commonwealth, but we do. Does not the right hon. Gentleman realise that in these negotiations he is not merely negotiating about Commonwealth trade, but on behalf of the Commonwealth as a whole, and that in those circumstances it is essential that he should carry the Commonwealth with him? Will he deny that one important Commonwealth country at least, namely, Canada, is profundly dissatisfied with these arrangements? Why does not he tell the Commonwealth everything that is going on in these negotiations?

Mr. Heath

I can only repeat what the greater part of the House accepts, that we are telling the Commonwealth everything.

Mr. Birch

Will my right hon. Friend agree that the words used by the Leader of the Opposition are mischievous, dishonest and—

Hon. Members


Mr. Healey

Will the right hon. Gentleman also publish a summary of his remarks he circulated to the Commonwealth countries earlier, so that the House may have a chance to judge for itself of its adequacy and completeness?

Mr. C. Pannell

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Will you please rule whether "mischievous" and "dishonest" are words which are banned from use in the House?

Mr. Speaker

"Mischievous", for this purpose in this context, I think innocuous. "Dishonest", wrong if applied in the personal sense, but not in a political sense, to some description of a political activity. I think that that is right.

Mr. Pannell

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. As only the Leader of the Opposition had replied to the statement at that stage, the word "dishonest" was directed at him, and I ask for a withdrawal.

Mr. Speaker

I do not think that I was drawing wrongly on that distinction then. It goes to the political occupation of asking that question. As far as I remember, the right hon. Member used an expression like "words".

Mr. V. Yates

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. The right hon. Gentleman said that the remarks of my right hon. Friend were dishonest. Is not that a personal accusation, and not a political one?

Mr. Speaker

I think that the right way to deal with the situation is this. We are still, in theory, at Question Time and that kind of introduction of an adjectival imputation at Question Time is out of order at that moment, and on that ground I call on the right hon. Member to withdraw the word "dishonest".

Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

It may well be that the right hon. Member did, or did not, withdraw, but I could not hear.

Mr. Birch

Does the word "dishonest"—[HON. MEMBERS: "Withdraw."] I have heard it used in the House before, but if you rule it out of order, Mr. Speaker, I withdraw it.

Mr. Ridsdale

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I suggest that for "dishonest" one should substitute "hypocritical".

Mr. Speaker

The point on which I required withdrawal was that it was at this time. I was not bothering about the quality of the word.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

Will not some good come out of this miserable affair if it be established once and for all that our kinsmen and partners in the Commonwealth are not to be less trusted with British secrets than the foreign Governments on the Continent of Europe? Will not my right hon. Friend agree that, whatever the niceties of the procedure, the fullest understanding with the Commonwealth is essential if the right arrangements between the nations of the Commonwealth and the nations of Europe are to be established?

Mr. Heath

I thoroughly agree. I hope that the understanding may be extended from both sides.

Mr. Bowles

Does not the right hon. Gentleman realise that the way in which the Government are treating the Governments of the Commonwealth is the way in which Lord Curzon treated Elinor Glyn?

Mr. Heath

I have to confess my ignorance of what Lord Curzon did to Elinor Glyn.

Mr. Jennings

On a point of order. Is it in order to ask you, Mr. Speaker, how Lord Curzon treated Elinor Glyn?

Mr. Speaker

What is most emphatically a nuisance—and I ask the House to remember it—is the practice, which is, unfortunately, growing, of rising to points of order which it is difficult to believe the hon. Members rising believe to be points of order. One of the previous occupants of the Chair, with extreme accuracy, referred to the practice as cheating—and cheating it is, because the Chair cannot protect the House against an abuse in such circumstances, because it must listen to what is said before it can decide whether or not a point of order is involved. I do not wish to pounce upon any hon. Member or right hon. Member, because many have sinned in this direction lately, but I ask the House to help me put a stop to the practice.

Mr. Jennings

I apologise to you, Mr. Speaker, for seeming to be facetious.

Mr. Turton

Will my right hon. Friend remember that many people in this country are worried about the danger of strained relations with the Commonwealth during this period of negotiations? Will he bear in mind that on 31st July the Prime Minister, speaking about the procedure for consultation after the negotiations, offered to accept any procedure that was generally agreed to by the Commonwealth? Will he take steps with his right hon. Friend to work out a system of consultation on this matter of working documents with the Commonwealth Prime Ministers at this time, so that we may not have a repetition of the strained relations that we have had lately with the Canadian Government?

Mr. Heath

We have done our utmost to avoid strained relations with the countries of the Commonwealth. We have at Brussels representatives of the Commonwealth countries, with whom our delegation is dealing almost daily, as I said, and this is working, as we understand, to the satisfaction of Commonwealth countries.

Mr. Wade

Speaking as one who is in favour of Britain's negotiating entry into the Common Market, may I ask the Lord Privy Seal whether he agrees that it is of the utmost importance that Britain should not create the impression that she is endeavouring to enter the Common Market for her own economic interests, and is prepared to sacrifice the Commonwealth in the process? Has it been the Minister's policy to decide what shall be disclosed to Commonwealth countries and what shall not be disclosed? Is it still his intention to disclose parts and not other parts? If so, will not that inevitably create some feeling of distress in Commonwealth countries?

Mr. Heath

Everything which is of concern to the Commonwealth will be told and is being told to Commonwealth Governments. If the hon. Member had an opportunity of consulting the member Governments of the Community they would be able to tell him the full extent to which this country is defending the interests of the Commonwealth.

Mr. Paget

Is not the right hon. Gentleman's trouble really that unless he assures the Six that it is Britain's intention to join a United States of Europe they will not have him in and that unless he assures the Conservative Party that it is not our intention to join a United States of Europe it will not let him go in, and that poor security in Belgium and in the 1922 Committee has enabled people to compare statements?

Mr. Heath

There is no truth whatever in that statement, nor is it the position of the Six that we should join a United States of Europe.

Viscount Hinchingbrooke

Have not the Government accepted the principle, from the start, that they would withdraw from the negotiations or not conclude treaties with the European Economic Community if the interests of the Commonwealth were damaged? Does not that mean, in fact, that the Commonwealth is sitting on the right hon. Gentleman's shoulder while he is negotiating? In those circumstances, will not he at least concede that those working documents which affect individual members of the Commonwealth should be declared to them in full?

Mr. Heath

We have already made the necessary arrangements for individual Commonwealth Governments to be informed about their individual affairs in full.

Mr. Dugdale

Since the Government obviously mistrust the sense of security of Commonwealth countries, will he state whether similar leakages have ever occurred from conferences of Commonwealth Prime Ministers? If the answer is "No", will not he give the Commonwealth all the information necessary to it at this conference, in respect of which its own interests are so vitally affected?

Mr. Heath

In the negotiations I have refrained entirely from making any comment about the behaviour of any other Commonwealth countries and I intend to go on doing so.

Mr. Kershaw

Is it not clear that the leakage has damaged the negotiations? Has my right hon. Friend been able to make any inquiries in Brussels as to how it came about? If so, what assurances for the future has he received?

Mr. Heath

There has not been time to do that. I had consultations late on Friday with the other Governments on the question of handing this to the Commonwealth and E.F.T.A. Governments on a confidential basis. There has not yet been time to discuss the other matter with them.

Mr. Jay

Will not the right hon. Gentleman now admit frankly that it was not at the request of the Six that these documents were withheld from the Commonwealth, but by his own decision?

Mr. Heath

It has never been said that it was at the request of the Six. I explained in the opening part of my statement that we discussed with them these security matters, in my opinion quite rightly, because I think that the confidential nature of the negotiations is important. I have explained my point of view to them and my reasons for it, and they accepted them at the meeting.

Mr. Gaitskell

Does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that this is a profoundly unsatisfactory situation? Does he not further agree that the discontent of Canada is perfectly evident, and that these leakages are extremely disturbing? Will not he consider calling the Commonwealth representatives together and discussing with them some way by which they can feel they are fully taken into consultation on this matter, and then agree that procedure subsequently with the Common Market countries.

Mr. Heath

I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman now agrees that breaches of security are unsatisfactory. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] That was not the tone of his opening question. Of course we shall do everything possible to see that security is improved, and we shall consider the situation which thus faces us. As for consultations with the Commonwealth, my right hon. Friend and I are prepared to consider at all times ways and means of doing that, but I cannot disguise the fact that many Commonwealth countries have expressed themselves as satisfied with the means of keeping them informed.

Mr. Gaitskell

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that I was trying to reach a satisfactory conclusion on this extremely important matter? Is he further aware that it is perfectly obvious that the present arrangements are not satisfactory to all Commonwealth countries? They have made their position perfectly clear. In these circumstances, would not it be better to reopen the discussions with the Common Market about the question of who should obtain information about these negotiations, and arrange for the Commonwealth to be kept informed of everything that is going on?

Mr. Heath

I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman wants to try to find a solution to this matter, because it is a most important one. We have been anxious from the beginning to do this. That is why we have taken so much trouble about it. As for consultation with the Commonwealth, the complaint has been about this one document, which was my opening speech. I know of no complaints other than that. We are certainly prepared to discuss with the Commonwealth representatives in London, and through them, their Governments, any ways of improving consultation. I hope that that meets the point raised by the right hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Gaitskell

It meets it up to a point, but does not the Lord Privy Seal agree that it is extremely important to secure the agreement of the Commonwealth countries on the methods of consultation? He has not done that so far. Will he now do it?

Mr. Heath

As I understand it, we have agreement with the Commonwealth about the methods of consultation. [HON. MEMBERS: "Canada."] Canada has a representative in Brussels who carries on consultations on her behalf. That is the system that we are operating with the delegation and with the Canadian officials. In London, there is the High Commissioner and his office, and consultations are carried on through that. That is the machinery by which it is carried out.

The request of Canada was for a copy of the opening speech. That is a matter with which I have dealt. If the machinery needs to be changed, we are quite prepared to change it, but we have discussed it with them on a number of occasions. We have always understood from the Commonwealth countries that the double system of representation in Brussels in contact with the delegation, the High Commissioners themselves and the High Commissioners' officials in London, working through the machinery we have always had, is the proper means of consultation, and we shall exercise that to the full.

Several Hon. Members rose—

Mr. Speaker

Order. We cannot continue this discussion now.

Mr. Fell

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I do not in any way wish to question your right to call whoever you like at any stage. To that, I bow completely. But I have risen on every possible occasion during the questions on this statement, and I have, as you know, put down four Questions on this subject during the past fortnight. I had a Question down this morning on this very subject. I think that my interest is known. I do not see that the Leader of the Opposition is seven times the man I am, or that he should have seven supplementary questions to my none.

Mr. Speaker

If the hon. Member desires to criticise my selection, he must take the appropriate steps.