HC Deb 19 December 1967 vol 756 cc1082-5
Q2. Mr. Turton

asked the Prime Minister whether he will now withdraw Great Britain's application to join the Common Market.

Q3. Sir Knox Cunningham

asked the Prime Minister whether, in view of the discussions at the Council of the European Economic Community, he will make a statement about Great Britain's application to join the Six.

Q9 Mr. Boston

asked the Prime Minister (1) what reply he has received from the Council of Ministers of the European Economic Community to Great Britain's application for entry into the Community;

(2) what further steps he now proposes to take in connection with Great Britain's application to join the European Economic Community.

Q12. Mr. Wall

asked the1 Prime Minister if he will make a statement on Great Britain's application to join the European Economic Community; and if he will make a statement on the recent communications he has had with the Governments and Prime Ministers of the Six.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Wilson)

As the House knows, the Council of Ministers of the European Economic Community is at present meeting in Brussels. I understand that they are continuing their consideration of Britain's application, which of course we have no intention of withdrawing.

We have remained in close touch with the Six Governments and have left them in no doubt of our view that negotiations can and should begin soon.

Mr. Turton

When will the Prime Minister end this humiliation for Britain and face the realities of the situation? How, in our present economic difficulties, can we possibly afford an extra £600 million added to our balance of payments deficit? Will the right hon. Gentleman concentrate on putting the economy right and extending our trade with our traditional partners?

The Prime Minister

This is not a humiliation. We do not accept that because, so far, statements have been made by one of the Six, these represent the decision of the Six as a whole. So far as the economy is concerned, it is certainly the duty of any Government in this country, inside or outside the Common Market, to get it into the strongest possible position.

Sir Knox Cunningham

But if the Council decides to let the British application lie on the table, where the Prime Minister slammed it down, what is the next step for Britain, and what are the alternatives of which the Prime Minister has spoken?

The Prime Minister

That is a question which the hon. and learned Gentleman might well think of putting down if and when that hypothetical situation arises. As to alternatives, as the hon. and learned Gentleman knows, I have answered him a number of times on that question.

Mr. Boston

Would my right hon. Friend confirm that nothing short of full membership is contemplated and that this principle applies not only to the question of associate membership but also to the suggestion for Britain's possible entry by stages and to the French idea for a so-called "arrangement" while Britain fulfils the necessary conditions?

The Prime Minister

None of these ideas has been fully spelled out. I gave the position of the Government on the question of association or any vague kind of arrangement in a speech which I made in another part of the Palace of Westminster, a copy of which I placed in the Library, a fortnight ago.

Mr. Wall

As the French veto is almost certain, would the right hon. Gentleman seriously consider what looks like the only possible alternative—a North Atlantic Free Trade Area?

The Prime Minister

I have answered questions about the North Atlantic Free Trade Area on a number of occasions. I have said that it is not immediately or for the foreseeable future an available alternative. I have also said what our position is on the application which we have made.

Mr. Roebuck

But in view of the fact that these negotiations are not proceeding with pace and momentum, would my right hon. Friend consider convening a meeting of the Commonwealth Trade Ministers to see what can be done to boost trade in the Commonwealth? If he accepts that proposition, would he suggest that some of them might do a little more trade with us and a little less with those countries which are supplying arms to South Africa and helping the Rhodesians?

The Prime Minister

On pace and momentum, there is at least a great deal of activity in Brussels. What we are concerned to see is what direction this leads, and how far there can be agreement. We have had repeated consultations with Commonwealth Trade Ministers to see what can be done to increase the mutual flow of trade among Commonwealth countries.

Mr. Heath

If the Six reach a conclusion today, even though it be an agreement to differ, will the right hon. Gentleman make a statement before the House rises?

The Prime Minister

It would certainly be our intention to make a statement from this Box. There are a number of Questions down on Thursday. If a clear situation develops as a result of today's meeting, that would have to be dealt with in answer to those Questions.

Mr. Grimond

Is it the Prime Minister's intention still to maintain an office for Lord Chalfont in Brussels, when we already have three embassies in Belgium?

The Prime Minister

It was thought desirable to have a Minister in charge of negotiations, if negotiations are agreed to. We will, of course, review the situation in the light of today's decision.

Mr. Alfred Morris

Would not my right hon. Friend agree that we have had a very disappointing—one might say utterly negative—response? Would he further agree that the time may be very soon approaching when we shall have to say, "Enough is enough"?

The Prime Minister

I hope that my hon. Friend will restrain his impatience and enthusiasm for an outcome to these matters. As I said, our application is to the whole of the Six and it is from the Six that we are expecting an answer.

Mr. Maxwell

Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that even if France's point of view prevails temporarily, he will advise Her Majesty's Government to leave our application on the table? Will he further assure us that, unlike the former Administration, he will not permit Her Majesty's Government to indulge in petty anti-French actions?

The Prime Minister

I made it clear in my original Answer that we have no intention of withdrawing our application. We must, of course, wait to see the response of the Six as a whole to that application.