HC Deb 24 January 1963 vol 670 cc288-98
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 Brussels negotiations.

A meeting of Ministers took place in Brussels from 14th to 18th January. M. Fayat, the Belgian Chairman, opened the meeting by urging the conference to bring the negotiations to a successful conclusion.

In my reply I said that the decisions which remained to be taken covered a limited field. These were: transitional arrangements for British agriculture and supplementary proposals for the Common Market period; the outstanding tariff items; the completion of the agreement on temperate foodstuffs in relation to the Commonwealth, including arrangements for New Zealand; institutional arrangements; one or two smaller—but still important—questions of which the most substantial is, perhaps, Hong Kong.

Although the decisions were among the more difficult, the facts and background affecting each one were now known. If all delegations were prepared to contribute towards the solutions, the substance of the negotiations could be speedily concluded.

The Conference first agreed that the Commission and the Secretariat should form a working group, with assistance from the British delegation, to examine methods of drafting legal texts.

The Chairman then replied to my statement of 19th December about institutional questions. M. Fayat said that the Community agreed that British participation in the institutions of the Community should be of the same order as that established for other member States of comparable size; that Great Britain's voting rights in the Council of Ministers should have the same weighting as the vote of other comparable member States; that the English language should be one of the official languages of the Community; that the terms of my statement relating to financial contributions under the Treaty were acceptable though certain questions in this field still remained to be discussed; that the broad principle of a two-thirds majority as reflected in Article 148 of the Treaty of Rome should be retained; and that other new members should participate in the institutions and obligations of the Community on a fair basis.

I now turn to the further discussion which took place on British agriculture. The ministerial fact-finding Study Group, under the chairmanship of Dr. Mansholt, which was attended by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, completed its report in the early hours of 15th January. The report covered cereals, pigmeat, poultry and eggs and concluded with a section on the length of the transitional period.

Dr. Mansholt introduced this report at the ministerial meeting on 15th January M. Spaak, the Belgian Foreign Minister, proposed that the delegations should examine the problems set out in it and make specific proposals commodity by commodity, to which I agreed. M. Spaak went on to suggest that if the United Kingdom could accept that the transitional period should end on 31st December, 1969, the transitional arrangements could be based on more far-reaching compromises.

In reply, I recognised the link between the length of the transitional period and the nature of the transitional arrangements. I said that I was prepared to agree that the difficulties we foresaw about the date mentioned for the conclusion of the transitional period would be eased if it were possible to find the right kind of arrangements for it. If such arrangements could be found, it might be possible to accept 31st December, 1969, as the end of the transitional period for the Commodities covered by the Mansholt Report.

This was warmly welcomed by many of the Ministers present, who said that they considered it provided a good basis for further consideration of the transitional problems.

The third major question before the conference related to outstanding tariff items. At the meeting on 16th January, I made a comprehensive statement putting forward new and revised proposals on the 26 tariff items remaining to be settled. The delegations of the Community then began an examination of these proposals.

The greater part of the remainder of the ministerial meeting was devoted, at the request of M. Couve de Murville, the French Minister for Foreign Affairs, to the consideration by the Ministers of the Community of the future programme of work of the conference.

At the conclusion of these discussions the Ministers of the seven countries met again and agreed the following statement: The French Delegation has requested that the negotiations with Great Britain should be suspended. The five other Delegations of the European Economic Community and the British Delegation have opposed this. Discussion of this question will be continued in the course of the next session of the Conference which has been set for the 28th January, 1963. Discussions at working party or deputy level in the negotiations with the European Economic Community, the European Coal and Steel Community and Euratom are taking place this week before the ministerial conference resumes next Monday.

Mr. H. Wilson

It would be unprofitable to remind the right hon. Gentleman of all the warnings that we on this side have given about the state of affairs in the negotiations, but, since he is going back to Brussels next week, and in view of the intervention by the French, which, I may say, no one on either side of the House condones or welcomes—we want these negotiations to be discussed on their merits—is he aware that it would not be very helpful today to go into tremendous detail on some of the questions that have been discussed, such as the progressive sell-out on agricultural matters and the agreement on voting rights which the right hon. Gentleman has come to, apparently without discussion, and which, frankly, he will realise we cannot regard as acceptable?

May I put this to the right hon. Gentleman, in view of the emergency which has arisen in these negotiations? Whatever the final outcome and whatever the pressure put on the French by the other members of the Six, does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that the time is now urgent and, indeed, overdue for the Government to start working on proposals for an Atlantic partnership, both in the economic and the political field, embracing the United States, the Six, E.F.T.A., and the Commonwealth countries? Does not the right hon. Gentleman feel that that would strengthen his hand in the very difficult months to come?

Is not there a danger in the right hon. Gentleman's mind that the vision of Atlantic partnership which all of us, whatever may be our views on the Six, hope will be the ultimate result is being imperilled by these long-drawn-out negotiations on agricultural details which have resulted from his originally accepting an agricultural system which simply cannot work as far as this country is concerned?

Finally, will the right hon. Gentleman—

Sir K. Pickthorn

On a point of order. Are other hon. Members to be allowed the same length of argumentative scope as is allowed to the right hon. Gentleman?

Mr. Speaker

I am permitted to allow a few questions on the statement made and nothing else. However, in the rather exceptional circumstances of these interim reports on complicated negotiations, we have been rather disposed to show a little toleration.

Mr. Wilson

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I was about to finish. The Lord Privy Seal has made a long and very important statement.

Finally, when the right hon. Gentleman has dealt with the question of talks on an Atlantic basis, does he feel that there is still a chance for a really new break-through, even on European political unity, on an inter-governmental basis if we can get away from all this agricultural detail and have discussions with our friends in Europe—the Seven as well as the Six—not only on the political questions, not on a supranational or federal basis, but on all the questions of interest to Europe and the free world?

Mr. Heath

I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that I am quite prepared to deal with any questions which he likes to put to me. He has complained of long-drawn-out negotiations on agricultural matters. On every previous occasion he and his hon. Friends have urged me in no circumstances to rush these negotiations and that they wish to see every detail considered fully.

There is no question of a progressive sell-out of agriculture. What we said in the Paris statement of 10th October, 1961, when the negotiations began, was that where we could make a change-over from our system in a particular commodity in less time than the transitional period we would do so. If our agriculture is efficient enough to make a change-over within a limited period, why should it not do so?

The length of the transitional period is of great importance to the Community and is recognised as such. To achieve a satisfactory compromise we made this move during the last week and that was in itself a demonstration of our determination to try to bring the negotiations to a satisfactory conclusion.

As far as institutional questions are concerned, I do not understand why these arrangements should be criticised. Britain will have the same standing in all respects as the other major Powers in the Community.

Mr. Wilson


Mr. Heath

The right hon. Gentleman refers to the veto. Our power of veto is not in any way different from that of any other Power in the Community. As far as the two-thirds majority is concerned, that is the existing position. For qualified voting, there is a two-thirds majority or a simple majority, and we propose to maintain that if the negotiations are successful.

On the question of making an arrangement on an Atlantic basis involving the Six and the Seven, ourselves and the United States of America and other countries, we have always made it plain that we would wish to take a full part in the Kennedy round negotiations, and that we would wish to do this in the enlarged Community if the negotiations were successful. That is still our decision and, in the meantime, at the meeting next week, we shall do our best to see that the negotiations are continued.

Mr. Wilson

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is nothing about a two-thirds majority on the qualified voting at present? There is set out the number of votes, and that sets out the size of the veto. There is no mention of two-thirds at all. My right hon. Friend the former Leader of the Opposition has made this plain on a number of occasions. The right hon. Gentleman must not seek refuge in saying that a two-thirds majority is required.

Secondly, does not the right hon. Gentleman think that he should be working out arrangements for Atlantic discussions on this basis, whether or not Britain gets into the Common Market?

Mr. Heath

Mr. Herter himself is coming to Europe this week to have talks about the preliminary discussions for just such talks.

Mr. Turton

Would the right hon. Gentleman give the House details of the offer made by the French for a Free Trade Area, referred to in General de Gaulle's speech of 14th January? Would he explain to the House in what way this is different from Her Majesty's Government's policy of two years ago, and for what reason he has turned it down?

Mr. Heath

No such offer has ever been made to Her Majesty's Government by the French Government, nor is any one Government in the Community in a position to make such an offer. When General de Gaulle mentioned alternatives in his Press conference he was referring to a form of association and not to a Free Trade Area.

Mr. Grimond

We are grateful to the Lord Privy Seal for this statement and for all the work which he has done. Personally, I hope that the negotiations will be continued, but he will be only too well aware that his statement is an account of the plot of Hamlet without mentioning the Prince, and that it is obvious that it is a question not about the details of the negotiation but about fundamental questions in the mind of the President of France. As that is now the real consideration, should not the Government consider putting forward more clearly their political views about this? As there seems to be some doubt in the minds of the French as to whether we are sincere, could we not make this much clearer and then put forward proposals?

Mr. Heath

We have made our views on future political development clear on many occasions, notably in my statement on 10th April last year to the Western European Union, on behalf of Her Majesty's Government. Moreover, at the meeting in Brussels last week it was demonstrated quite clearly that the views which we have put forward with regard to the future political developments of Europe are in accord with the five other countries of the Community who, throughout those 48 hours, strongly maintained the view that negotiations should be continued, and that progress had already been made, and that they could be concluded successfully.

Sir Derek Walker-Smith

Could the right hon. Gentleman make it clear, on behalf of Her Majesty's Government, to each of the Governments of the Six that a condition of our continuation in the negotiations is that we continue within the framework of the pledges given to this House, and that, whatever pressures are put upon Her Majesty's Government as the price of continuing negotiations, Her Majesty's Government will not consent to depart at all from the assurances given?

Mr. Heath

Yes, Sir; they are all fully aware of that.

Mr. G. Brown

The Minister may be aware that the newspapers which are now available carry a story that the French Government have met this morning and decided to endorse President de Gaulle's request that the negotiations should be suspended. In that situation does not the Minister feel that it is beginning to put us in a most undignified position, Which cannot be doing us much good in the world, to seem to be waiting in the ante-chamber all the time for somebody else to make a decision affecting us? Would not his hand be strengthened if the Government now took specific steps such as, for instance, calling a Commonwealth economic conference, or calling E.F.T.A. together, as well as the suggestion by my right hon. Friend to show that we are prepared to deal with the problems which inevitably arise, without any longer just sitting around and waiting for Godot?

Mr. Heath

I know that the right hon. Gentleman wishes to be helpful, but there is no question of sitting around waiting for something to happen in these negotiations. This was a most important statement by the French Foreign Minister that he wished the negotiations to be suspended. As these negotiations with us are negotiations by the whole Community, it is essential that the Community should decide what its view is towards the request of the French Government.

I therefore have absolutely no exception if the Ministers of the Community take whatever time is necessary for them to discuss such a critical issue for the future of Europe and, at the same time, keep me fully informed, as they have done. The Chairman of the Six was authorised by his colleagues to keep me fully informed at every stage of their discussion and I was grateful to him for doing so. At the end of the discussion, when they had reached a position, I was then able to discuss it with them.

As to the other matters which the right hon. Gentleman mentioned, when the position is clearer next week the Government can make any necessary statement about it. There is, in any event, a meeting of the Ministers of the E.F.T.A. countries on 18th and 19th February and we are, of course, in the closest touch, both in Brussels and in London, throughout these meetings as well as in the intervals in between, with the ambassadors of the E.F.T.A. countries, the ambassadors of the Commonwealth in Brussels and the High Commissioners in London.

Mr. Stonehouse

Is the right hon. Gentleman not aware that although he has contrived to give the impression of great firmness and strength in the negotiations, he has capitulated at each important stage and that although he now states that the agricultural terms are acceptable, the National Farmers' Union unanimously rejects them? How long does the Lord Privy Seal think that he can continue to swim against the tide of public opinion in this country, which is now flowing against Britain going into theE.E.C. on these humiliating terms?

With reference to the Answers given by the right hon. Gentleman to a few Questions of mine on Tuesday, is he not in agreement that the impression that arises from those Answers is that he is prepared to give a great deal of attention to shrimps, lobsters and kangaroo meat, but hardly any attention to important questions affecting the sovereignty of the United Kingdom if we were to join E.E.C.?

Mr. Heath

If the hon. Member puts down nearly 90 Questions about shrimps, crayfish, crabs and other things, he must expect to get Answers dealing with those points. The Answers which I gave the hon. Member to the institutional points were very full and I have made another statement about the matter today. All these matters have received attention. In fact, when I made my statement about the institutional matters, the members of the Community found that they were in agreement with it and, therefore, it did not need prolonged negotiation.

Mr. Healey

In view of the importance which the Government have always attached to getting British industry inside the common external tariff of the Six, can the right hon. Gentleman assure the House that the Government will not turn down out of hand proposals which may come from the Six for some sort of industrial free trade area simply because they do not also give us all the political advantages which the Government originally hoped for from entering the Common Market?

Mr. Heath

We entered into these negotiations for full membership because the Government wished to take their part in the political developments in Europe. This is still the position in the negotiations. There has been no such offer of assocation from the members of the Community, nor of a free trade area, nor is it logical to expect that such an offer would be made. The last Free Trade Area negotiations were not successful, we were told at the time, because there was no political element and because they did not include agriculture. If the difficulties now are about political or agricultural matters, it does not seem to be logical to expect that the answer should be a free trade area which was not acceptable two or four years ago. This matter must rest until we see the outcome next week in Brussels.

Sir H. Legge-Bourke

While I appreciate that for tactical reasons my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal may have felt it inadvisable to indicate to the Six that we had a possible alternative policy, would he not now agree that the time may have come to change that view on tactical grounds and seriously to consider whether he would not be better advised to try to use the O.E.C.D., possibly enlarged to include Argentina, Australia and New Zealand, who are traditional suppliers of food to Europe, rather than go on banging his head against a brick wall? Nobody is more sympathetic with my right hon. Friend in having to do that than I am.

Mr. Heath

I have no statement to make today about the matters raised by my hon. Friend.

Mrs. Castle

Has not General de Gaulle's intervention obscured the fact that the right hon. Gentleman has merely been arguing about the transitional arrangements for agriculture and that he has conceded the whole case of the Six on the long-term policy for agriculture? As the National Farmers' Union has made it abundantly clear that this is totally unacceptable to that body, do we not face the fact that even if General de Gaulle were to withdraw his opposition there is every likelihood that the right hon. Gentleman's terms would be rejected by this House and by the country? In view of that, ought we not to be making alternative plans immediately?

Mr. Heath

As to the long-term policy for agriculture, we have accepted the common agricultural policy, at the same time putting forward proposals for additions to that policy which we believe to be necessary. That remains our position. It is for Parliament to judge the final arrangements. I do not, however, share the hon. Lady's views.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. The time has come when we really must move on.