HC Deb 02 July 1962 vol 662 cc33-42
The Lord Privy Seal (Mr. Edward Heath)

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, I wish to make a statement on the progress of the Brussels negotiations.

A meeting of Ministers took place in Brussels from 27th to 30th June. On 27th June, the Ministers of the European Economic Community met among themselves, and on the other three days meetings between them and the United Kingdom delegation were interspersed with further meetings of the Ministers of the Community.

Ministers devoted most time to the treatment of imports of temperate foodstuffs from the Commonwealth. As I have told the House on previous occasions, this is probably the most difficult and complex of all the issues with which we are faced. In our consideration of long-term solutions, Ministers envisaged that the enlarged Community should negotiate agreements for suitable commodities on a broad international basis.

At the same time, Ministers recognised the need for making alternative arrange- merits for commodities where international agreements appeared impraticable or had not been concluded by the end of the transitional period.

We also considered what might be the objectives of price and production policies for temperate foodstuffs in an enlarged Community, and what arrangements might be made for the transitional period.

All these discussions have brought out more clearly the nature of our essential requirements in the field of temperate foodstuffs and their crucial importance in these negotiations. We have established some common ground between the Community and ourselves in these matters, and we have indicated to our deputies the lines on which further work should now proceed.

The other main question discussed at this meeting was that of association under Part IV of the Treaty of Rome in relation to both dependent territories and independent countries of the Commonwealth. The members of the European Economic Community have now made substantial progress in developing their own ideas and they will be discussing with the present associates the substance of a new Convention of Association this week.

As I have explained to the House on previous occasions, we have made known to the Community our own views on the content of an association arrangement and I was able to carry this further on this occasion. Ministers also discussed the procedure that might be adopted to enable independent Commonwealth countries to become associated if they so wish. The position of specific countries was not discussed.

Finally, the Ministers noted the provisional agreement recommended by the deputies on the tariff treatment to be accorded to a number of products for which we had requested a zero tariff.

It was agreed that an additional meeting of Ministers should take place on 18th, 19th, and possibly 20th July, primarily to consider the problems of British domestic agriculture, at which Ministers of Agriculture are invited to be present. This will be followed by a further meeting beginning on 24th July.

Mr. H. Wilson

In view of the Government's target of having a clear proposition by the end of this month, it is obvious that the negotiations are going very slowly indeed. Since the drift of these negotiations now seems to be away from getting any specific guarantees for Commonwealth imports into this country, and on to the basis of a rather vague commodity agreement, and on to the basis of negotiating once we get inside, can the right hon. Gentleman say whether this is now the basis on which the Government are negotiating?

If this is so, since so much depends on the issue of voting by qualified majority, where so much of this is settled, will the right hon. Gentleman say whether he has yet discussed the question of the voting procedure for qualified majorities and, if so, what success he has had, and whether in these negotiations he has borne in mind the clear warning from my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition and others on this side of the House about the need to get adequate figures agreed in relation to qualified majorities?

Mr. Heath

We have made considerable progress over a large field in these negotiations. As I told the House, most of this meeting was devoted to this very difficult problem of the temperate foodstuffs, and here we have made some progress, and certainly all the Governments have obtained a much clearer understanding of the problem. We have made considerable progress on the problem of India, Pakistan and Ceylon, and also on association, and, therefore, our objective remains to obtain the outline of a possible settlement by the end of July.

It is not true to say that we have moved away from specific arrangements for these temperate foodstuffs. We are in agreement, and certainly all the Commonwealth countries concerned are in agreement, with the objective of worldwide arrangements, or arrangements on a broad international basis, if they can be obtained, and it is, therefore, right that in these negotiations we should set out the objectives and means by which we hope they can be obtained. But the requirement for specific arrangements in the transitional period remains.

There has been no discussion during the negotiations about voting rights. I fully appreciate the points raised by the right hon. Gentleman, and their vital importance, but the time is not yet opportune to discuss them in the negotiations.

Mr. H. Wilson

Eleven-twelfths of the time have passed since we debated this last August. We made clear then the importance which we on this side of the House attached to this problem of the temperate zone foodstuffs. Now, after so much time has elapsed, are we to be told no more than that there is greater progress towards understanding one another's points of view and that we are trying to slide out of this very difficult situation in terms of, first, transitional arrangements which we all recognise are not adequate, and, secondly, long-term commodity agreements, which, (however welcome, will not solve this specific problem?

Is the right hon. Gentleman telling us that he is going to leave to the last hour of the last day this vital question of voting which, by its effect on the qualified majority procedure, will be of fundamental importance if the Government really are proposing that we should go in blind as to what we are signing and hope to influence everything from within?

Mr. Heath

The right hon. Gentleman is producing the most extraordinary series of exaggerations without any justification of any kind whatever. There is nothing in what I have said which shows that we are sliding out of our arrangements or the requirements that we have made for temperate foodstuffs. I always understood that the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends were some of the foremost protagonists of securing worldwide arrangements in these products if we could obtain them. There is no reason why the right hon. Gentleman should be so derisive on this matter.

At for the time, this is a most difficult and complex problem, and everybody has always recognised it. We have devoted a great deal of time and work to it. The deputies will continue to do so during this month, and we shall revert to it again at the Ministerial meeting beginning on 24th July.

As far as voting rights are concerned, the position is clearly understood. There is no question whatsoever of entering into the European Economic Community blindly and waiting to see how this will work out. The right hon. Gentleman has no justification for saying so.

Sir Richard Pilkington

Will my right hon. Friend dispel the illusion that in these negotiations we regard other members of the Commonwealth as complaining children?

Hon. Members: Answer.

Mr. Healey

Does the Lord Privy Seal feel that his task is assisted in any way by the sort of patronising sneer at the Commonwealth made by the Minister of Labour this weekend?

Will he answer an important question regarding African and West Indian countries in the Commonwealth? Can he say whether the Six have now agreed that it shall be open to these countries, if they so desire, to enjoy association with the Common Market on exactly the same terms as apply in the case of those countries associated similarly with France, Holland and Belgium?

Mr. Heath

As I am sure the House accepts, in these negotiations we are doing our utmost to find suitable arrangements concerning Commonwealth problems. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour would not wish to have said anything which could have been misunderstood, or which could in any way cause offence to the Commonwealth, because he has devoted a great deal of his political career to working for the Commonwealth. My right hon. Friend went on some of the tours before these negotiations began.

As for the question of association for the members of the Commonwealth, we have discussed the content of association. It remains still to be discussed by the Six with their associates. It is part of that arrangement that there shall be no discrimination between the present associates and the new associates from the Commonwealth.

Mr. Grimond

Can the Lord Privy Seal tell us a little more about the alternative arrangements which he has in mind for commodities which he says are not suitable for international agreement, and whether these arrangements are being discussed with the Commonwealth? Further, can he say whether there is any time limit to the talks due to begin on 24th of this month—whether they will go on into August, or whether, if agreement has not been reached, it is intended to break off discussions until the autumn?

Mr. Heath

We are in full consultation with each Commonwealth country affected in respect of each provision concerning temperate foodstuffs, and the various proposals put forward at the last meeting by the Six as a means of providing alternative arrangements to worldwide arrangements. They have put forward certain proposals concerned with the technical operation of a common agricultural policy, but these do not meet our requirements, and it was necessary for me to tell that to the members of the Community. The original arrangement was that the meeting should begin on 24th July and that it should be for four days, and we must persevere at that meeting in order to find an outline solution.

Mr. Fell

Surely my right hon. Friend, who has said clearly that all Commonwealth countries agree with his talks on worldwide trading arrangements, must also see that these arrangements cannot possibly be entered into, or act any rate cannot reach any conclusion, before the end of July. At least, I presume that is true. If it is true, how will it be possible for this House or, indeed, the Commonwealth Prime Ministers' conference, to came to any conclusion upon the agreements that the right hon. Gentleman reaches?

Mr. Heath

Perhaps I could make this matter clear to my hon. Friend. This is one part and one part only of the arrangements concerning the provisions for temperate foodstuffs. That is why we have put forward requirements for the transitional period up to 1st January, 1970, which will be overtaken by any worldwide arrangements which may be made by that time. We have also stated that if worldwide arrangements have not been obtained by that date further arrangements must be cleared in these negotiations.

Mr. Shinwell

Why should anyone complain about the statement of the Minister of Labour about the Commonwealth? Is not he an honest man, who has merely expressed the view of the Government as a whole, that the Commonwealth is now expendable? Is not that so? After these prolonged and protracted negotiations, can the right hon. Gentleman point to any specific guarantee that has been reached on any one of the items? Can he inform the House to that effect? Having had negotiations up to the end of July, does he propose to come to a decision during the Recess? Is that the intention? Ought not we to know?

Mr. Heath

The right hon. Gentleman is becoming very fond of coining phrases, such as "expendable Commonwealth" and "selling the Commonwealth down the river", which bear absolutely no relation to reality. We are negotiating—that is why we have been devoting our time and energies to this matter over the past nine months—to secure appropriate arrangements for the Commonwealth. These negotiations have not been long-drawn-out.

I have examined figures relating to various treaties Which have been joined in modern times. The Treaty of Rome took just on two years to negotiate. These negotiations have so far been going on for only nine months. We are carrying on with every expedition, and it is not an unduly long time for negotiations which, as I have told the House, affect 27 independent countries and 47 dependencies, and are the most complicated and complex of modern times.

Some hon. Friends of the right hon. Member are accusing us of undue haste. That is not the case, either. We are trying to carry on these negotiations with expedition combined with thoroughness.

Mr. Prior

Is my right hon. Friend aware that great surpluses of food are building up in this country, that greater pressures are being put upon our imports of food and upon our own market the whole time, that in the long run worldwide commodity arrangements might be of greater value to Commonwealth countries than the existing arrangements, and that we should do all we can to push these worldwide arrangements in the interests of agricultural producers throughout the world?

Mr. Heath

That is so. That is why the Commonwealth countries supported proposals of this kind at the Geneva Conference earlier in the year.

Mr. M. Foot

Can the right hon. Gentleman say at what stage in the negotiations he will be putting forward the proposals concerning the safeguards asked for by the T.U.C. in its memorandum today? Can he give an undertaking that the specific proposals for the alteration of the Rome Treaty put forward by the T.U.C. will be put forward by him on behalf of this country?

Mr. Heath

I am grateful to the T.U.C. for putting forward this memorandum. As the House knows, we have been in contact with the T.U.C. throughout the course of these negotiations, and its advice has been most valuable. We are now giving full consideration to its memorandum, and its views will be taken into account in the negotiations.

Sir H. Legge-Bourke

While those who know the Minister of Labour will at once accept that the remarks attributed to him over the week end were probably made in a jocular rather than derogatory vein, will my right hon. Friend nevertheless bear in mind that a very unfortunate inference could be drawn from those remarks—not least the possibility that Her Majesty's Government may be considering flouting the views of the Commonwealth Prime Ministers, were they to advise us not to go in? Can my right hon. Friend assure us on that matter?

Mr. Heath

On a number of occasions my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has given the House an assurance that the Commonwealth Prime Ministers, at the conference in September, will be able fully and frankly to express all their views, and that they will be taken fully into account by Her Majesty's Government.

Mr. Gaitskell

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that it would be better not to try merely to shrug off the remarks of the Minister of Labour? Is he aware that if he wishes to avoid the charge which has been thrown at the Government that they are getting ready to sell the Commonwealth down the river, he should restrain his right hon. Friend from making speeches of this kind? May I suggest that he invites the Minister of Labour to make a statement—if these remarks were not made seriously—in order to clear the matter up? The House of Commons is always prepared to be very generous to anybody who, in the heat of the moment—or the cool of the moment—has made an unfortunate remark. To leave the matter as it is is unsatisfactory.

I have two questions about the negotiations. First, has the stage now been reached, in negotiating with the Six, at which they are prepared to accept that no purely temporary arrangements will be satisfactory in respect of Commonwealth temperate food products, and that temporary arrangements will at any rate be continued unless and until world commodity agreements satisfactory to the Commonwealth countries are reached?

Secondly, is he expecting that, when the end of July comes and he produces his provisional outline of agreement, this will cover the point raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton (Mr. H. Wilson) about the voting rights in the Council of Ministers?

Mr. Heath

I will draw the attention of my right hon. Friend to the point which has been made by the right hon. Gentleman. For myself, I would say that throughout these negotiations in Brussels and in London, as we have been doing this past week, we have been literally in constant contact with Commonwealth representatives before each session and after each session.

We have now had the visit of the Prime Minister of Australia and of the Deputy Prime Minister of New Zealand and many other Commonwealth Ministers, and we are now looking forward to the visit of Mr. Desai, from India. I have on previous occasions paid tribute to the immense amount of help which they have given us by providing information and also their views. We are immensely grateful to them for that.

On the point of the temperate foodstuffs, it is now agreed that there must be a transitional period up to 1970. [An HON. MEMBER: "That was always agreed."] No, that was not always agreed, but it is now agreed. Various proposals for dealing with this have also been put forward, some of them at the last meeting by the Six, but we have not yet reached agreement about the content of the transitional period.

It is also agreed that, in the event of worldwide arrangements not having been obtained, or not being practicable, there must be arrangements after the transitional period ends in 1970, to continue after that. This, also, we have discussed, but have not yet agreed the content with the Six, who themselves have put forward proposals.

Mr. Gaitskell

Is it not a fact that this alternative arrangement will have to be negotiated before we commit ourselves to going into the Common Market?

Mr. Heath

Yes, Sir. This is what we have been discussing during the last four days, and we are continuing to discuss it.

On the point of the voting rights, I think that it may be possible for us to deal with this matter before the outline is obtained.