HC Deb 01 November 1966 vol 735 cc249-53
Q9. Mr. Palmer

asked the Prime Minister if he will now make a further statement on the Government's position in relation to British entry into the European Common Market.

Q16. Mr. Sandys

asked the Prime Minister what further steps he is taking to secure Great Britain's early entry into the European Economic Community; and whether he will make a statement about the results of the exploratory talks on this subject between the British Government and the governments of the Community.

The Prime Minister

I have nothing at this stage to add to the speech made by my right hon. Friend the then Foreign Secretary in the foreign affairs debate on 11th July [Vol. 731, c. 996–1016.]

Mr. Palmer

Would not my right hon. Friend agree that a fairly early statement on the Government's intentions in relation to the Common Market would be of use to those in British industry who should be planning ahead for expansion when present troubles are overcome?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir. I certainly agree with my hon. Friend and that will be our intention. As the House will know, we are studying this matter very fully in very great depth and I hope that we shall be able to make a statement in the not-too-distant future.

Mr. Sandys

How much longer will the Prime Minister go on studying this question and having soundings on the Continent and Chequers weekends? Has not the Prime Minister ascertained by now what is negotiable and what is not, and can he not make a statement quite clearly on whether or not he intends to apply for membership of the Community?

The Prime Minister

The right hon. Gentleman will realise that we must be warned by his experience, that it is vital in this matter that we do not rush into a panic decision as happened in 1961, which was completely ill-considered and ill-thought-out, placing the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition in the weakest possible position in his negotiations. Equally, we should be very careful to avoid treating the Commonwealth as the right hon. Gentleman did both on his tour of the Commonwealth and in his reprehensible handling of the Commonwealth Conference.

Mr. Woodburn

Is my right hon. Friend aware that this country would never forgive any Government who opened themselves to a rebuff such as was suffered by the Government in 1961 and that, before we enter the Common Market, these matters must be quite clear? But will he in the meantime encourage industry to form as many attachments, engagements and arrangements as possible with the other countries?

The Prime Minister

Many of our industries have done so, and I think that the House will applaud the fine initiative taken by the C.B.I. in its visit to France last week and the successful discussions held between the C.B.I. and the Patronat. But I certainly feel, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, Central (Mr. Palmer) suggested earlier, that in order that industry may make its plans it is important that we reach clarity about the position and about the likely terms which we could secure.

Mr. Grimond

The Prime Minister said earlier that there will be certain difficulties over the agricultural policy of the Common Market especially and in the strain which it might impose on our balance of payments. Since this policy has been well known for many months, what suggestion will the right hon. Gentleman make to the Common Market for the adjustment of this policy in a way which he considers might be satisfactory?

The Prime Minister

This is one of the central matters we have to inquire into, and when I am able to make a statement to the House I shall, obviously, deal with it. I prefer not to deal with it at this stage before I have a more general statement to make.

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

In the context of the Prime Minister's reply to my right hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys), does not the Prime Minister realise that, while there are very real problems to be settled in respect of New Zealand's requirements, there is not another Commonwealth country which does not realise now that membership of the Common Market by Britain would be of great advantage to all of them?

The Prime Minister

Very many Commonwealth countries see the advantage that could follow, but I do not think that they would take that argument so far as to say that we should just go into the Common Market asking them to pay a levy of 65 per cent. on all the wheat we buy from Australia and Canada.

Mr. Shinwell

Is my right hon. Friend aware that those who are trying to push this country into the Common Market unconditionally are wasting their time and that it would be very many years before the British public would accept what the Opposition want, namely, to destroy the sovereignty of Great Britain?

Mr. Blaker rose


Hon. Members


The Prime Minister

Frankly, I do not think that the real issue, as I said in the House when we first debated these matters in 1961, is the issue of sovereignty. We have voluntarily surrendered a great deal of sovereignty over many years, by membership of the United Nations, the International Court and many other bodies. This has been a progress towards civilisation in international relationships. As I said then, and I say again now, the question is: to whom does one surrender one's sovereignty, for what purpose, and on what conditions?

Mr. Blaker

Will the Prime Minister take this opportunity to put the record straight regarding a reply which he gave to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition on an earlier Question this afternoon? Is it not a fact that in his Bristol speech he said that we must be free to go on as we have for a hundred years, buying our food and raw materials in the cheapest markets, and that he did not refer to the Commonwealth?

The Prime Minister

I have not got the statement with me, but I shall be very glad to deal with that the next time we have Questions on it and I shall quote the exact words I used. Certainly, the context in which I spoke—I speak here from memory—related to the cheap food we import from the Commonwealth because it is from the Commonwealth that we import it.

Mr. Anderson

In order that the country may know the facts in this debate, will my right hon. Friend publish a White Paper on the implications for agriculture which he said earlier that he was considering?

The Prime Minister

When I am ready to make a statement we shall then have to consider what can be done in the way of publishing all relevant information; but it will be clear—this is relevant to what was asked by the right hon. Member for Streatham—that for us to publish information of this kind does not tell us what conditions certain other countries would wish to apply in relation to joining.

Sir G. de Freitas

Is my right hon. Friend aware that I bet £5 sterling against five French francs that within a year we should be negotiating for entry into the Six? In view of our balance of payments problem, will he do what he can to ensure that I win my five francs?

The Prime Minister

It is not for me to underwrite my hon. Friend's wagers, having just won five dollars from the Prime Minister of Canada on who would win the World Cup, thereby improving our balance of payments.