HC Deb 28 February 1967 vol 742 cc267-71
The Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Wilson)

With permission, I will now answer Question No. Q7 and Question No. Q11.

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and I visited The Hague on 26th and 27th February for talks with the Netherlands Prime Minister and Foreign Minister.

This was the fifth of the series of visits to Heads of Government of the Six in which my right hon. Friend and I have been exploring whether the conditions exist—or do not exist—for fruitful negotiations leading to British membership of the European Economic Community.

After my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary returned to London yesterday to attend the House, I was joined by my right hon. Friend the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs.

Our discussions revealed close agreement on the problems which arise in the context of eventual British entry to the Community. I found the visit encouraging and my right hon. Friends and I are most grateful to the Netherlands Ministers for the helpful and co-operative spirit they showed throughout. We covered a range of questions, economic and financial, with which the House will by now be familiar.

Mr. Marten

If and when at the end of the Prime Minister's round tour the Government decide to apply to join the Common Market, could the Prime Minister then tell the House the conditions upon which we shall enter, in the light of his speech at Bristol before the General Election?

The Prime Minister

That is an entirely hypothetical question at this point. It would be impossible for me to forecast a decision, but, whatever the decision is, it will, of course, be communicated to the House and the reasons given for it.

Mr. Wall

Can the Prime Minister confirm that our Dutch friends advised him to make an immediate application to join the Common Market based on the Treaty of Rome and, after that, to have further discussions about specific British problems?

The Prime Minister

I do not think that it would help if I gave details of what our Dutch friends advised. They were particularly concerned to knock down the stupid story which they had read yesterday morning saying that they had shut the door to us. They were very angry about that suggestion. We had some discussion with them about the next step when the six visits were over and that, of course, is one of the options open if we are satisfied that we can overcome the still very formidable difficulties which remain before us.

Mr. Dalyell

In view especially of the unique contribution to the Dutch economy which is made by Philips of Eindhoven, with their technical experience, did my right hon. Friend discuss the concept of a European technological community during his visit to The Hague?

The Prime Minister

Without necessarily taking part in my hon. Friend's commercial, we discussed the question of a technological community at considerable length and we were agreed about the very great importance of this concept and the contribution which both Britain and the Netherlands could make to it.

Mr. Bellenger

As the purpose of my right hon. Friend's visits to Europe have been to ascertain what sort of terms this country could get if we decided to enter the Common Market, he must by now have a fairly good idea of what those terms are, irrespective of what Luxembourg may say. Can he not take the House into his confidence?

The Prime Minister

I think that we should wait to consider all the results of all six discussions when they are completed, as they nearly are. There has been no negotiation. I do not think that our hosts have been saying that we could go in on this or that term, but we have been able to narrow down the difficulties and some which seemed formidable seem less in the light of current Community practice rather than Community law, as it might be called, while others remain formidable. Our friends have been helpful in offering one method or another by which some of the difficulties could be overcome.

Lord Balniel

By now the Prime Minister must have reached a strategic decision about the timing of the announcement. Does he intend to make the announcement after his visit to Luxembourg and before the E.E.C. summit meeting?

The Prime Minister

The noble Lord is wrong to think that my right hon. Friend and I have reached a strategic decision. We have a great deal to consider in the light of our visits and a vast amount of information has been gleaned, not all of it completely consistent with things which have been said in different capitals. It will be necessary for the Government to examine all this very carefully indeed as soon as possible, and when we are able to make a decision, we shall, of course, tell the House.

Mr. Alfred Morris

Is my right hon. Friend aware that he has been reported in the international Press as saying in The Hague that the gap was now very narrow? Can he tell the House just how narrow the gap is?

The Prime Minister

What I said at the Press conference last night—and, as usual, I am prepared to make the full text available to the House and not an inevitably compressed report—is that there are still three or four formidable problems. It is still too early to say whether essential British and Commonwealth interests can be safeguarded, but on some of the problems which had looked difficult the gap is very narrow.

Mrs Ian Gilmour

As the Government's nuclear policy is utterly at variance with their policy of trying to get into the Common Market, and as their financial policy is utterly at variance with both, would not these visits have been more fruitful if before undertaking them the Prime Minister had concerted Government policy?

The Prime Minister

If the hon. Gentleman is saying that we ought not to push ahead with this vital treaty for nonproliferation because of his belief, which is not mine, that it affects the conditions on which we can go into the Common Market, then that is one of the most dangerous suggestions which I have heard in the House. When he comes to consider it, the hon. Gentleman will recognise the vital importance of a treaty to stop the spread of nuclear weapons.

As I explained last week, these are two entirely different subjects. The anxieties are not about weapons, but about inspection and the civil development of nuclear energy. On this, there is a great deal that we can do to help, if we can get the Community on the right terms, because of what we can do to make a greater reality of Euratom.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

Among the range of subjects which my right hon. Friend discussed with the Netherlands Prime Minister, did they touch on the question whether the Netherlands was any worse off because it had given up all pretensions to being a great imperialist Power and did not have an east of Suez policy?

The Prime Minister

No, Sir. As a matter of fact, we did not touch upon that subject.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

May we hope that the Prime Minister's visit to The Hague has rendered him less vague? May we hope that he will take the advice of his Dutch hosts not to lose momentum and to make his application to join the Common Market at the earliest possible moment?

The Prime Minister

From the very outset of our talks in The Hague, both in the private discussions on Sunday and in the more formal discussions yesterday, our Dutch hosts agreed with us and with what I have said in the House, and put as the first prerequisite, that we must not lose the momentum which has been gained and that, equally, we must not get into a situation which could lead to a premature road block or anything interfering with our getting in, if we can get the right conditions for entry.

Mr. Woodburn

After his visit to The Hague, is it not possible for the Prime Minister to say something which would assuage the genuine apprehensions of my right hon. Friend the Member for Easing-ton (Mr. Shinwell) and others, apprehensions which are preventing them from giving their wholehearted enthusiasm to our joining the Common Market?

The Prime Minister

I did not think that there was any doubt about the wholehearted enthusiasm of my right hon. Friend and my hon. Friends as expressed in the Motion, which so many of them have signed, quoting the statement which I made on 10th November, including the phrase about the safeguarding of essential British and Commonwealth interests.

Mr. Lubbock

The Prime Minister has mentioned that there are several formidable difficulties which have still to be ironed out. Does he have in mind as two of them the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) and his right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade?

The Prime Minister

No, Sir. The hon. Member normally treats this subject in a slightly less garish way. The difficulties as we see them were set out in the speech which I made in Strasbourg and by my right hon. Friends in the debate in the House and by the speech of my right hon. Friend at the Albert Hall. There are three or four formidable difficulties and we are trying to narrow them down to see whether there is a way of getting round them.