HC Deb 06 April 1967 vol 744 cc451-6
Q4. Mr. Bruce-Gardyne

asked the Prime Minister what study he has given to alternative courses of action open to Her Majesty's Government if membership of the European Economic Community proves impossible at the present time; and, in particular, what study he has given to the possibility of a form of association for a period of years.

The Prime Minister

I would refer the hon. Member to the speech of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary on 16th November, and to my Answer on 31st January to a Question by the hon Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr).—[Vol. 736, c. 446–57; Vol. 740, c. 244–7.]

Mr. Bruce-Gardyne

Does the Prime Minister agree that if, as some of us fear, full membership may not be possible to the present Government, some form of association might provide an acceptable second best, and have the Government made any examination of this possibility? Can he say whether it has been canvassed by him in any of the capitals of the Six?

The Prime Minister

As I said in answer to a Question in January, any alternative, compared with getting into the Community on the right terms, would be very much second best. I do not think that the question of association is one that the House will be very ready to contemplate. It means having to carry out all the rules of the Treaty of Rome without having any say about those rules, how regulations are drafted, and so on. Mr. Macmillan said in this House that Britain was hardly the sort of nation that could be a country member of a club of this kind.

Q6. Mr. Henig

asked the Prime Minister under which articles of the Treaty of Rome Her Majesty's Government intend to negotiate adjustments to facilitate British entry into the European Economic Community.

The Prime Minister

No decision has as yet been taken by Her Majesty's Government on whether or not to seek entry to the European Economic Community.

Mr. Henig

Is my right hon. Friend aware that only six Articles of the Treaty of Rome must be changed automatically on the entry of any new member; and that all I ask is whether, in fact, Her Majesty's Government will, in principle, ask that any of the remaining 242 Articles should be altered to help them?

The Prime Minister

I have said before in this House that, so far as the actual drafting of the Treaty of Rome is concerned, apart from those Articles automatically affected consequentially on entry of a new member under Article 237, the Treaty of Rome of itself, necessarily, need not be an impediment. We still have substantial difficulties to overcome, and I have never sought to disguise that. We are evaluating those difficulties and seeing what decisions we should take.

Q7. Mr. Henig

asked the Prime Minister if Her Majesty's Government will now make a formal application for membership of the European Economic Community under Article 237 of the Treaty of Rome.

Q9. Mr. Heffer

asked the Prime Minister whether he has further considered the question of making an application to join the European Economic Community; and if he will make a statement.

The Prime Minister

I have as yet nothing to add to the Answer I gave on 4th April to a supplementary question by my right hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Sir G. de Freitas).—[Vol. 744, c. 30.]

Mr. Henig

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the procedures of the European Community for dealing with applications for membership and association from non-members are extremely slow, and that it would be to the benefit of the country for the matter to be decided one way or the other as quickly as possible? Will he therefore, with his other right hon. Friends, give consideration to an early decision in the matter?

The Prime Minister

We are pushing on with this matter with the urgency that is required, and with the desire not to lose momentum, but this is a tremendously important decision affecting the interests of the country and the Commonwealth in a number of important degrees, and I believe that it is more important to get the answer right than to do it unnaturally quick. Of course, there may be long delays—one hopes that they will not be as long as on another occasion—if we decide to make application, but we have to study the best means if we decide to apply to go in on certain conditions.

Mr. Heffer

Would not the Prime Minister agree that the momentum built up as a result of his and his right hon. Friend's visits to the European capitals will be lost unless we make an early application? Would it not be better to make an application, certainly before May, which would give us an opportunity to get the thing settled within a reasonable time?

The Prime Minister

As I made clear, I am very concerned about the problem of momentum. As the House will know, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has been discussing these matters further with representatives of the Six who were at the W.E.U. meeting in Rome this week. I should not like to put a date on this. We shall come to a decision as quickly as possible. There are other consultations going on—the Kennedy Round, and other things—and we have to get the timing right. At the moment, it is the thoroughness of the inquiry that is taking the time.

Mr. Heath

Last Tuesday the Prime Minister said that he would consider publication of the information he and the Foreign Secretary had gathered from their visits to the capitals so that the whole House and the whole country could read it as well as could private party meetings. Can he say what proposals he has for publication?

The Prime Minister

Not yet. I will certainly go on considering that question. What we are concerned with is that, whether at private meetings or anywhere else, we do not breach confidences entrusted to us by expressing what was said by the six leaders of the Governments with whom we spoke. We are trying to decide in some way or another the form in which it would be suitable to make the information available.

Mr. Shinwell

Does not my right hon. Friend find it rather embarrassing to resist these repeated and impassioned appeals to pitchfork us into the Common Market? Does he not find it rather difficult not to give a definite reply? What is wrong? Can we not come clean about the matter? Where do we stand?

The Prime Minister

I am not in the slightest degree embarrassed, and I am sure that I am not in any way embarrassing my right hon. Friend with my replies, but since hardly any hon. Member now considers that we should think of joining unconditionally—that has never been our position—and since we have now, I think, identified the main points, we are considering how they can best be dealt with before coming to a decision.

Mr. Heath

We appreciate that the right hon. Gentleman will not breach confidence in regard to any information he gives party committees, but in this case is there any objection to giving information to the public in the form of a White Paper?

The Prime Minister

As I have said, I will certainly consider that, either by statement in the House or any other way. I am still in the process of deciding what may be said by my right hon. Friend and myself later in the day. We shall find out how meaningful it is and how it can be done without breaching confidence. I will certainly consider it.

Mr. Michael Foot

Can my right hon. Friend tell us yet whether one of the problems which has been identified by the Government is the problem of the theory and practice of central countries in the European Economic Community applied to assist development areas? Will he give an undertaking that before we ever consider any application, apart from all the other considerations we have said we shall insist on, he will give a report to the House on what has actually happened in the Community on these matters and how it would conform with the assistance which this Government give to the development areas?

The Prime Minister

Yes, this is one of the important questions. My own impression is that this is less of a worry than I thought it was going to be because of the practices which the Six countries permit themselves to take, which go in certain respects a great deal further than anything done in this country by any Government. If we add to that the so-called "Green Paper" published a few days ago, there are still some anxieties about that, but I feel more happy about it than when we started on the tour.

Mr. Longden

While it is true that no one in this House wants to join the Common Market absolutely unconditionally—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—why did the Commonwealth Secretary, when he was in New Zealand, tell his audience that it would be several years before we got in and that was confirmed to me by the Prime Minister as being Government policy?

The Prime Minister

He said it might be several years. We do not know how long the discussions, if we are to make an application, would take. On the last occasion they took a great deal longer than we or our friends in Europe would want. If an application is to be made, the House would want it to be a fairly straight basic application with three or four main issues to be dealt with in the negotiations and very many of the problems left for settlement after entry. But the biggest ones would have to be dealt with now.

Mr. Pavitt

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that a skilled man does not need momentum to maintain balance and that speed is a major cause of accidents?

The Prime Minister

It is getting a bit difficult. I used to find in the days when I rode an ordinary bicycle that it was easier to maintain balance at speed than when the bicycle was almost stalling.

Several Hon. Members rose—

Mr. Speaker

On that philosophic note we must pass on.

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