HC Deb 20 April 1967 vol 745 cc800-4
Q5. Mr. Marten

asked the Prime Minister to what extent he discussed on his recent tour of the Six the question of sharing Great Britain's overseas defence burden.

The Prime Minister

I have nothing to add to the reports of the discussions in the capitals of the Six which I have already given the House.

Mr. Marten

From the Prime Minister's deep knowledge of the Common Market talks, can he say whether the Six showed any willingness to share our overseas defence obligations, or did they imply that if we shed some of these obligations our entry into the Market would be that much easier?

The Prime Minister

No, Sir, neither of those points was made by any one of the Six with whom we had discussions, either that they would be willing to share the obligations, or that we ought to shed them. It is a fact that this country is bearing a much higher proporion of the burden of defence in relation to various alliances than the countries of the Six, but that is a separate problem which was not thought relevant to the discussions we were having.

Mr. Frank Allaun

Does my right hon. Friend, with his remarkable memory, recall that the Labour Party conference decided, not on sharing Britain's defence burden, but on drastically reducing it?

The Prime Minister

It does not take much of a feat of memory to remember that occasion, but my hon. Friend will realise that what lies behind his question has been very fully dealt with on a number of occasions during the past few weeks by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence, and in a number of answers which I have given about the review currently going on about overseas defence expenditure.

Q6. Mr. Marquand

asked the Prime Minister whether the Government will now make an application to join the European Economic Community; and whether he will make a statement.

The Prime Minister

As I told the House on 11th April, 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 Ketting (Sir G. de Freitas).—[Vol. 744, c. 30]

Mr. Marquand

I accept that my right hon. Friend cannot make any announcement at this point, but will he agree that vital decisions for the future of Europe will he taken in the Common Market at the end of this decade and that if we are going to be effective members of the E.E.C. it is essential for us to take part in making those decisions, and in view of the time which our application is bound to take before it is fully operative there is nothing to be said for delay at this point?

The Prime Minister

I think that the points made by my hon. Friend are among the very important considerations which are obviously in the Government's mind in the deep consideration which we are giving to this problem. Certainly we recognise the need for urgency in taking a decision. We also recognise the need to take the right decision. This is why it is being examined so fully, but I assure the House that a statement will be made to the House at the very earliest opportunity.

Mr. Heath

Can the Prime Minister now say precisely how and when he proposes to give both Parliament and the country the information about the European policy so that both can have the great debate on Europe for which the right hon. Gentleman has called?

The Prime Minister

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, the full statement made by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has been made available to hon. Members—[Interruption.] I suggest that the hon. Gentleman applies to his own Whips' Office where he will find copies. It has also been made available to the Press. Next week I hope to make an equally full statement dealing with many of the other issues which are forming part of the great debate, and this will be made similarly available. We are also beginning work on much fuller information for the presentation to Parliament and the country of a White Paper, or possibly a series of White Papers. With regard to the timing of that in relation to the timing of an announcement about the Government's decision, I would not at this moment like to be tied down.

Mr. Molloy

Will my right hon. Friend acknowledge that there are other communities in Europe and in other Continents, linked in many instances with the British Commonwealth of Nations, and that it would be extremely foodhardy for this country to ignore them and give precedence to going into the E.E.C.?

The Prime Minister

No one is more aware of the importance of the Commonwealth connections, both politically and economically, than I am, and it is certainly the case that very many Commonwealth countries actively desire Britain's entry into the Community. One significant change from three or four years ago, one historical development, is that a considerable number of Commonwealth African countries, as well as non-African countries, have now applied for association.

Mr. Turton

Is it not important that before the Government reach a decision on this matter the country should have the White Paper which the Prime Minister has promised? After the decision it will be too late.

The Prime Minister

I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will recognise that it will be right for the Government to make a full statement to Parliament after which it will, I think, be equally fully agreed that there must be a full debate by Parliament and it is in relation to that and succeeding Parliamentary debates that I am considering in what way we can best make the information available. Work is going on with the idea of giving Parliament and the country as full information as is possible in the way of White Papers, Green Papers, or any other colour of papers, but as I am not in a position to indicate the date of the announcement, or the date of the White Papers, I had better not make any statement about the order in which they will appear.

Mr. Whitaker

If the country has to choose, as many French people say it must, between entry into Europe and continuing our rôle east of Suez, which course would my right hon. Friend recommend to the House?

The Prime Minister

I think that that is an extremely hypothetical question. Despite the intense interest in the subject in this House by my hon. Friend, and, I think, by hon. Members in other parts, this was not a question which was put to me on our tours round Europe, and I think I am therefore entitled to regard it as hypothetical.

Lord Balneil

Is the speech which the Foreign Secretary made to the Parliamentary Labour Party, and which is now available in the Conservative Whips' Office, a verbatim report?

The Prime Minister

As far as possible, yes, except that I would not want hon. Gentlemen opposite to deter me from my general aim of giving as much information as possible to the House, because I think that this went further than was done by the previous Government in these matters. Before any decision as to application, the Government are making as much information available to hon. Members of other parties as they are to hon. Members of their own party. My right hon. Friend spoke partly from notes, and partly from a full text, and the text now available is, as accurately as is possible, an exact portrayal of what he said to the meeting.

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