HC Deb 11 March 1965 vol 708 cc620-32
Q3. Mr. Kershaw

asked the Prime Minister whether he will make a statement about his recent visit to Bonn.

Q7. Mr. Blaker

asked the Prime Minister if he will make a statement on his visit to Germany.

10. Mr. Chataway

asked the Prime Minister whether he discussed the possibilities of European political union in his recent talks with European leaders; and to what extent these discussions were based on a policy that Great Britain wished to be a member of such a union.

11. Mr. Fletcher-Cooke

asked the Prime Minister whether, during his discussions with the Chancellor of the Federal German Republic he discussed his proposal for an Atlantic Nuclear Force; and what views were expressed by the Chancellor on the subject.

Q15. Mr. Wingfield Digby

asked the Prime Minister if he will make a statement on his visit to Bonn and Berlin.

Q17 Mr. Bruce-Gardyne

asked the Prime Minister (1) during the course of his recent visit to Bonn, what arrangements he made for savings in the exchange costs of the British Army of the Rhine;

(2) during his recent visit to Bonn, what discussions he had with the Federal German Chancellor on the possibility of an organisational link between the Common Market and the European Free Trade Association.

Q20. Mr. Ennals

asked the Prime Minister whether he will make a statement on his visit to Bonn.

Q21. Mr. Jackson

asked the Prime Minister whether he will make a statement about his visit to Bonn.

Q23. Sir T. Beamish

asked the Prime Minister if he will make a statement about his discussions in Bonn.

Q25. Mr. Heffer

asked the Prime Minister whether he will make a statement on his recent visit to West Germany; and what discussions took place on the proposal for a nuclear-free zone for Central Europe.

Q26. Mr. Wall

asked the Prime Minister if he will make a statement on h s talks with the West German Government.

Q28. Mr. Emrys Hughes

asked the Prime Minister if he will make a statement on his recent visit to Germany.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Wilson)

With permission, I will answer Question No. Q3 and Questions Nos. Q7, Q10. Q11, Q15, Q17, Q18, Q20, Q21, Q23, Q25, Q26 and Q28 together.

Sir T. Beamish

On a point of order. In view of the fact that there are about a dozen Questions on the same subject a Id in view of the very wide interest in this matter, would it not be much more convenient for the House if a statement were made after Question Time?

Mr. Speaker

I think that the hon. and gallant Gentleman realises that that is not a matter for me.

The Prime Minister

The Answer is quite short.

I would refer hon. Members to the joint communiqué issued after our talks. I will, with permission, circulate it in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

Mr. Kershaw

Is the Prime Minister aware that we have had previous undertakings about support costs which have not borne fruit? What reason is there for supposing that the recent expressions of hopefulness will give more solid results?

The Prime Minister

The hon. Gentleman should realise that one of the difficulties which my hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury and I faced in this respect was that there was this two-year agreement negotiated last year and which so far has proved very disappointing in practice. Various indications were made that we should now get better results, but we have left the German Government in no doubt at all that if, when my hon. Friend goes to Bonn in a few weeks, we have not got quite firm guarantees about an adequate proportion of our foreign exchange costs being met by orders of this kind, we shall certainly reserve our right to alter the Agreement, to bring it to an end and negotiate a new one.

Mr. Chataway

Further to my Question about European political union, does the Prime Minister think it reasonable for Her Majesty's Government to ask to be a party to the talks on political union when they show no enthusiasm for European economic union, to which Britain should be a party?

The Prime Minister

I think that it was a reasonable proposition of the previous Government, and of the present Government, to ask in these talks on political union that we should be present. This has been pressed again, although the hon. Gentleman knows that we have not been successful in getting acceptance of this proposition. With regard to economic union, without going into all the arguments which have been adduced in the House on this question, I think that both the last Government and the present one have shown their desire to do anything possible to break down the division that has occured between the two groupings in Europe, and, indeed, the talks with Dr. Erhard this week were quite useful in airing a number of ideas to that end.

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

If the right hon. Gentleman was not satisfied with the Agreement made by the previous Government, why did he not propose to the German Ministers any alteration or amendment of that Agreement? Secondly, he will remember, will he not, the exchange which he had with my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) only a few days ago in which I understood, although I did not see this in HANSARD, that he accused my right hon. Friend of negligence because he came back with an Agreement based only on an honourable understanding with the German Government? Has not the right hon. Gentleman come back with exactly the same thing, and no more?

The Prime Minister

The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition not only did not hear what I announced in my Answer a few minutes ago but has also obviously not studied the communiqué. I pointed out that our position was utterly prejudiced by the fact that we are in the middle of a two-year Agreement on which very little has been done; an Agreement signed by the previous Government and still binding on us. We have now informed the German Government that if we do not get the rapid progress in the next few weeks which we expect, and of which they held out some hopes, we reserve our right to denounce the existing Agreement, to start a new Agreement for the next two years beginning in April of this year and, as far we are concerned, it would be a very different one.

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

The right hon. Gentleman has not answered my Question. If he was so dissatisfied with this Agreement why did he not try to amend or alter it? He has apparently acquiesced in it and there is no guarantee that he will get any better results.

The Prime Minister

Because the particular form of the Agreement, for which the right hon. Gentleman must himself bear some share of responsibility, had no provision in it for either amendment or alteration in any form. It is an unsatisfactory Agreement. It is working in a disappointing way. We have served notice on the German Government that if, in the next few weeks, the hopes held out to us of rapid improvement in the implementation of it following the directive given by Dr. Erhard are not fulfilled, we shall denounce it and negotiate a new one.

Mr. Blaker

Is not the Prime Minister aware that there is nothing in the Agreement which need have prevented him from pinning the Germans down to a fixed sum of purchases at this time? In view of what he has said in the past about this Agreement, is he aware that there is widespread disappointment in the House and the country—[Interruption.]

The Prime Minister

The hon. Gentleman could have saved himself a few words there. There is nothing in the Agreement at all which has any value in getting assurances or certainties about these purchases. Now, as a result of the very strong pressure put on this week—indeed, I think I can fairly say of their awareness of the strong feelings in all parts of the House about this question—there is a new sense of urgency and drive about increasing these purchases. We want to see results and we shall be discussing this again with them in the spring. If we do not get results we have warned them that we entirely reserve our position in regard to our course of action.

Mr. Ennals

Will my right hon. Friend accept the congratulations of the House on the success of his visit—[Interruption.]—and on the firm line he has taken? Would he say whether, in the discussions he had with the German Chancellor on the question of German reunification, he put forward the view that there was little possibility of progress in this sphere until the German Government took a firm decision on their Eastern frontiers?

The Prime Minister

I stated in the House on 9th February, in answer to Questions, what is the line I think all of us take about the question of reunification. We support the ultimate reunification of Germany. All of us recognise that it will be a very long job requiring a lot of patience and a certain initiative. While none of us had hopes of any rapid progress, we thought it right to make certain proposals for at any rate getting the machinery straight for a start on this problem. It is, therefore, to be hoped and, indeed, we have agreed in discussions among the Western allies, to discuss what should now be put forward to the Soviet Government.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

In view of the right hon. Gentleman's comments on the Agreement of last summer, is he aware that the communiqué issued at the end of his meeting, to which he referred the House, contained as its operative part on this point the statement that the German Chancellor repeated the intention to go on with this Agreement and to fulfil it? As his own achievement was no more than to secure a repetition of assurances originally given to the previous Government, does it lie in his mouth to be so critical of it?

The Prime Minister

I think that the right hon. Gentleman had better realize—I felt this before I went and I came back much more confirmed in this view—that had he not signed the Agreement but left things as they were until we had a change of Government, we would then have had much more bargaining power to get a better Agreement.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. There are a lot of hon. Gentlemen with Questions on the Order Paper. Mr. Boyd-Carpenter.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

Is the Prime Minister aware—

Mr. William Hamilton

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I think that it is in the recollection of the House that the Prime Minister chose to answer several Questions together. Many hon. Gentlemen who have Questions down have not yet had the opportunity to put a supplementary question, and the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) has been given a second opportunity to ask a supplementary question before other hon. Gentlemen have had the chance to put one. Do you, Mr. Speaker, think that this is a fair treatment of back benchers who have put Questions on the Order Paper on this matter?

Mr. Speaker

The question of who is called to ask questions is entirely a matter for the Chair. I do not welcome the idea that it should be put into anyone else's hands. I think that it would create friction and trouble. Mr. Boyd-Carpenter.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

Is the Prime Minister aware that if we had taken his advice and had signed no Agreement last summer, there would have been no expressions of intent obtained from the German Government, and as the right hon. Gentleman's only achievement has been to obtain a repetition of these expressions of intent, ought he not to be grateful for the efforts we made in a situation whose difficulty he is now, perhaps for the first time, beginning to appreciate?

The Prime Minister

I do not think that the best course of all would have been to have had no Agreement. I think that would have been better than the one we got. The best course would have been for the right hon. Gentleman to have used his persuasive powers, which we all know in this House, to have got in the negotiations an Agreement that would have enabled us to get a real contribution to our support costs. In default of that, I think that it would have been better to have had no Agreement, and to have left us a free field.

Mr. Jackson

If I may return to a serious point, may I ask the Prime Minister whether he considers that one aspect of ameliorating the balance of payments problem would be for the West German Government to increase their facilities for the developing territories to purchase goods from Britain in marks?

The Prime Minister

That was one of the things we discussed at considerable length, and there was general agreement on using this as one of the means of helping to deal with this foreign exchange problem. One specific proposal was discussed between us, and we had a concrete suggestion from the German Government—and a substantial one. We are now examining it in detail to see whether it provides the hope that it appears to. There are, to my mind, one or two snags in it that we are examining carefully.

Mr. Grimond

If, as the Prime Minister says, there is no provision in the agreement for renegotiation of the Agreement but that in certain circumstances the Government would denounce it, does that mean that they would denounce it unilaterally? If that is so, will it not be disastrous, or have the German Government given the impression that if things do not improve they are willing to renegotiate it themselves?

The Prime Minister

I was asked by the Leader of the Opposition why we had not amended it. We could not get agreement to amend it, nor did we seek to amend it because, partly, it was felt by the German Government that as a result of some of the new ideas we proposed, and certain examinations now going on, they might be able to improve their performance. We made it clear, since we have now agreed with them that we need an Agreement going a further year ahead, if we cannot get any decision when we meet on the present situation, we shall then have a new two-year Agreement. That is what we have said is our intention, and we say also that if we are to bring into the picture now the proposal made by my hon. Friend the Member for Brighouse and Spenborough (Mr. Jackson) about joint action on development projects overseas, as we discussed, this will, in any case, need an amendment of the Agreement and, therefore, a new Agreement.

Mr. Heffer

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the communiqué on his visit to Bonn is widely welcomed on this side of the House, but will he indicate whether there is any possibility of advancing discussions with the East European countries and West Germany with the object of arms limitation as a first step towards disarmament?

The Prime Minister

This was discussed at considerable length, and I also referred to it in Press conferences both in Berlin and Bonn. I indicated to the German Government our view about this and about the progress that should be made subject to the conditions that I stated in Germany—the conditions I had previously stated here in this House on 9th February.

Mr. Bruce-Gardyne

Can the Prime Minister confirm or deny whether the proposals that the German Government are considering over support costs merely amount to a maximum of 50 per cent. of existing support costs? If so, is not this totally inadequate? Can he also tell us whether he made any specific proposals to the German Government for a link between E.F.T.A. and the Common Market?

The Prime Minister

With regard to the proposals, there were in the British Press over the weekend a number of suggestions, which appeared to be very strongly-based suggestions, of particular figures of £90 million, and so on. These figures were never mentioned at any point in the discussions, and must have been based by the British Press concerned on some misunderstanding—[HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"]—because what we were trying to do was to reactivate the whole basis of the Agreement in terms of individual projects.

I should say also that some of the hopes we had gone with of their buying the P1127 are, perhaps, not so bright as we had hoped at the begininng because, owing to the long delay in our putting the P1127 into production after successfully developing it, the Germans, of course, have now entered into arrangements with the Italians for an alternative version, which is extremely unfortunate.

With regard to a link between the E.E.C. and E.F.T.A., the problem there was that neither I nor Dr. Erhard was empowered by E.F.T.A. or the E.E.C. respectively to put forward proposals on behalf of the other grouping. What we did was to discuss fairly thoroughly possible ways in which we might make an advance. I have my own feeling that there are ways in which advance can be made which we should discuss in E.F.T.A., and I know that Dr. Erhard will be discussing some of his proposals with the E.E.C.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

Can my right hon. Friend tell us whether Dr. Erhard, as one economist to another, expressed delight that he was not Prime Minister of Great Britain, and therefore did not have to clear up the economic mess left to my right hon. Friend?

The Prime Minister

Dr. Erhard was well aware that the situation is not vacant, and is not likely to become vacant.

Sir T. Beamish

On the subject of German reunification, the Prime Minister told one of his hon. Friends that as a result of the new proposals he made there will now be, I quote his exact words, "discussions with our allies". Surely, the House is not to understand that the Prime Minister made some new proposals without having first agreed the details with our N.A.T.O. allies and, in particular, the United States and France?

The Prime Minister

The hon. and gallant Gentleman should be perfectly well aware—I think that he is aware—that this matter has been discussed for quite a long time, through diplomatic channels, with France, with the United States and with Germany, and that it had been left for us to consider, since we were meeting together, what further steps could be proposed. We agreed on certain further steps, which we are now putting to our allies.

Mr. Shinwell

Is my right hon. Friend aware that it is within the recollection of hon. Members who were here before the last General Election that for the past 12 years I have been asking questions on this subject of successive Chancellors of the Exchequer and successive Ministers of Defence, and that throughout that whole period, because of lack of courage on the part of hon. and right hon. Members opposite, the situation has constantly deteriorated? My right hon. Friend now has to tackle this problem afresh, and I believe that he has more courage than the whole lot of them put together. May I add that I congratulate the Prime Minister on his birthday?

The Prime Minister

I thank my right hon. Friend, on whose recent birthday I had the opportunity to congratulate him. With regard to his admonitions over the 12 years, this has, of course, throughout been, and is, a difficult problem. I agree with my right hon. Friend that not enough progress has been made, but I was there only two days, and two days in which to reverse the trend of 12 years is rather a little time.

Mr. Wall

Is the Prime Minister aware that in answer to one supplementary question he gave the impression that he was prepared in certain circumstances to denounce the existing Agreement on support costs and, in answer to another supplementary question, he gave the impression that if things did not improve, the German Government had agreed to negotiate a new Agreement? Does he not think that there is some conflict between those two answers?

The Prime Minister

There is this complication, that the existing Agreement expires in April, 1966. In the first year of the Agreement, which is now nearly up, very little has been done—the percentage is running at well below 30 of our foreign exchange costs. We gave warning that if by the time we came again the progress was still inadequate and unsatisfactory, we would regard the basis of the Agreement as wrong, and would say that we must have a new Agreement going to 1967. They have met us to this extent. They have now agreed that, when we meet, there will be an agreement extending to 1967. Whether we shall in fact cut out the first year of it as an unhappy chapter on which we want to turn our backs, or whether we shall make it one year more as part of a three-year agreement, is a matter we shall have to negotiate, depending on the results achieved by the time we get there.

Sir G. de Freitas

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many of those who attended the Parliamentary defence meeting organised by W.E.U. in Paris this week were depressed to find how many continental Members of Parliament were not at all aware of the heavy defence burden that we bore in Germany, at a time when Germany was actually reducing her expenditure? Will the Prime Minister do everything he can to stress this fact constantly?

The Prime Minister

Yes. I think that one of the things which made an impression in Bonn—this was a point I tried to make in the defence debate last week—was that when some of our friends, our allies and, indeed, our creditors, talk about our balance of payments, it should be realised what a formidable part of that balance of payments deficit is caused by our overseas military expenditure, including, of course, the £90 million or so across the exchanges in our expenditure in Germany.

Sir W. Bromley-Davenport

Can the right hon. Gentleman say—

Hon. Members

Speak up.

Sir W. Bromley-Davenport

This one has top spin on it. Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether the account of his visit as given on the B.B.C.2 late news, I think two nights ago, will count as a party political broadcast?

The Prime Minister

I am very glad that the hon. and gallant Gentleman warned me about the top spin, for I might not have realised how subtle it was. Unfortunately, I did not see this particular broadcast, but, if the hon. and gallant Gentleman will table a Question, I should be very glad to consider the point which is at present troubling him.

Mr. Speaker

Mr. Crossman, answer to Question No. 91.

Mr. A. Henderson

On a point of order. Mr. Speaker, is it not without precedent since arrangements were made for the Prime Minister to answer Questions between 3.15 and 3.30 that as man as 13 Questions on the same subject have been addressed to the Prime Minister? Does it not make a farce of these Questions, in view of the fact that there are 30 Questions on the Order Paper addressed to the Prime Minister and 13 of them are on the same subject?

Mr. Speaker

I do not know whether it is without a precedent or not, without looking. If the House found it inconvenient, it would be a matter for the House to think about. It does not actually raise any sort of point of order. I am rather gratified if we get any considerable number of Questions answered, whether on the same point or no.

Mr. Shinwell

Further to that point of order. Is it not obvious that, if a number of hon. Members table similar Questions—say, a score of Questions—they deprive the House of hearing the Prime Minister answering other Questions which are put on to the Order Paper? I always understood that, if one went to the Table with a Question, usually the hon. Member was asked whether it was not repetitive. In the past, repetitive Questions were not permitted at the Table. I am not quite sure whether it is within your discretion, Sir, but, if it is, perhaps this submission can be made to you. Could not this be referred to the Select Committee on Procedure?

Mr. Selwyn Lloyd

Further to that point of order. Are you aware, Sir, that there is considerable anxiety on both sides of the House with regard to this matter? I think that a definite abuse is creeping in. I hope that you will give the matter consideration.

Mr. Speaker

Of course I will. I do not know whether the Select Committee will require any evidence of me, but I imagine that the Committee will be on the topic of Questions soon. I do not know what the Committee is doing. I cannot know. No doubt all that has been said about this—and I realise the difficulty—would clearly come within the Committee's province when it is busy with Questions. I would think that perhaps the best way to deal with the matter would be to let the Committee consider it first.

Communiqué issued in Bonn on Tuesday, 9th March, 1965, following talks between Dr. Erhard, Federal German Chancellor, and Mr. Harold Wilson, the British Prime Minister. At the invitation of the Federal German Government, the British Prime Minister, Mr. Harold Wilson, the Foreign Secretary, Mr. Michael Stewart, and the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Mr. John Diamond, visited Bonn from 7th to 9th March, 1965. The Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary had previously visited Berlin on 6th and 7th March where they reaffirmed the determination of the United Kingdom to defend, together with their allies, the freedom of the city. The Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary were received by the Federal President, Dr. hc. Lübke, on 8th March. The Chancellor and the Prime Minister, assisted by other Ministers as appropriate, had cordial and wide-ranging discussions on matters of common concern to their Governments. There were also separate discussions between Foreign Minister Dr. Schröder, the Defence Minister Herr von Hassel and the Foreign Secretary Mr. Stewart. The Minister of Finance, Dr. Dahlgrün and the Minister of Economics, Herr Schmücker, also had a separate meeting with the Chief Secretary to the Treasury. The Chancellor and the Prime Minister affirmed the importance which their Governments attached to maintaining and strengthening the good relations between their countries. In this connection the Chancellor expressed the great pleasure with which the Federal German Government and the German people look forward to the forthcoming State Visit to Germany of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth. The Chancellor and the Prime Minister discussed the reunification of Germany. The Prime Minister confirmed the position of the British Government that the Federal Government is the only legitimately constituted German Government entitled to speak for the whole German people. The Chancellor and the Prime Minister therefore reaffirmed that it must be their common aim to work for conditions in which the peaceful reunification of Germany can be brought about through the exercise by the German people of their inalienable right of self-determination on the basis of free elections. It was agreed that the two Governments should now consider, jointly with their American and French allies, how progress to this end might most effectively be made by means of renewed proposals to the Soviet Government. The Chancellor and the Prime Minister also discussed European security, including possible measures to promote progress towards general and controlled disarmament. They agreed that any measures for this purpose must be subject to effective inspection and control and must not alter the balance of military strength to the disadvantage of the West. They also discussed the nuclear organisation of the Western Alliance. They declared the readiness of their Governments to carry forward in the Paris Working Group, together with all interested Governments, the discussions on the multilateral organisation of nuclear forces within the Alliance in the light both of the work already done in Paris and of the British proposals which have subsequently been made. The Chancellor and the Prime Minister also considered the question of off-setting the foreign exchange costs which the British Government have to meet for the maintenance of the British forces in Germany. A series of proposals designed to improve and accelerate the implementation of the current Anglo-German off-set Agreement was examined. The Chancellor and the Prime Minister agreed that the problem of off-setting the costs in question had a special political and economic importance and that every possible effort must therefore be made in order to arrive at a solution. The Chancellor repeated the intention of the Federal Government to find means of fulfilling the Agreement. The Chancellor and the Prime Minister gave a directive to the Ministries concerned to intensify work on all possible ways of increasing off-set payments under the Agreement. It was also agreed that the Federal Finance Minister and the Chief Secretary would meet again in the spring in order to take further stock of progress and to negotiate improved arrangements for the period ending April, 1967. The Chancellor and the Prime Minister also discussed current European questions. They agreed that both Governments should work towards strengthening the links between the E.E.C. and E.F.T.A. and preventing the further division of Europe. They also reaffirmed their determination to seek to promote a successful conclusion of the Kennedy-Round in the interests of the expansion of world trade. They emphasised the need for the solidarity of the countries concerned for securing international monetary stability, as exemplified by the international arrangements which were recently organised for the support of sterling. The Chancellor and the Prime Minister agreed that it would be important to pursue, at a further meeting as soon as possible, the various issues which they had discussed. The Prime Minister extended to the Chancellor a warm invitation to visit London at a convenient date to be arranged; and the Chancellor expressed his pleasure in accepting this invitation.