HC Deb 19 January 1967 vol 739 cc643-7
Q1. Mr. Marten

asked the Prime Minister if he will make a statement about his visit to Rome.

Q12. Mr. Archer

asked the Prime Minister if he will make a statement on his recent visit to Rome.

Q14. Mr. Rankin

asked the Prime Minister if he will make a statement on his recent discussions with the Italian Government.

22. Mr. St. John-Stevas

asked the Prime Minister whether he will make a statement about his recent talks in Rome with the Prime Minister of Italy and other representatives of the Italian Government.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Wilson)

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and I visited Rome from 15th to 17th January for talks with Signor Moro, President of the Council of Ministers of Italy, Signor Nenni, Vice President of the Council, and Signor Fanfani, the Italian Foreign Minister. Our visit was the first of the round of visits to Heads of Government of the Six in which, as I explained to the House in my statement of 10th November, my right hon. Friend and I will be exploring whether the conditions exist for fruitful negotiations leading to British membership of the European Economic Community. We are most grateful to the Italian Ministers for having enabled us to discuss with them the problems that will be faced in any eventual negotiations. I think our visit was a successful one.

Mr. Marten

While recognising that the Prime Minister clearly does not want to lay Britain's negotiating cards on the table face upwards at this stage, nevertheless may I ask him to tell the House what political and economic concessions the Italian Government thought might be entailed by our joining the E.E.C.?

The Prime Minister

What the hon. Gentleman said at the beginning of his Question is important. We were not in a negotiating posture and there was no suggestion by them of any political or economic concessions that would be necessary. But we went very fully over the ground of the principal difficulties

Mr. Archer

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there will be a very warm welcome in the country for what The Guardian today called a new pattern of open discussion, without commitment on either side? While there are clear benefits to be derived from this, will he take care to avoid a situation where the House is not kept fully informed of developments which are going beyond discussions?

The Prime Minister

I agree about the phrase, without commitments on either side. I am a little worried about the word "open" being taken too literally.

Mr. Rankin

Can my right hon. Friend say, after his training spell in Rome, that he is now fitter for his tougher time in Paris? Can he tell us whether the decisions reached at Rome will prove helpful in discussions with General de Gaulle?

The Prime Minister

The discussions in Rome were a very useful start and will be of great assistance to our discussions in all of the other five capitals. No decisions as such were taken in Rome because I have undertaken to report back to this House on any decision that the Government take after they review the results of these visits.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

At the Press conference in Rome the Prime Minister was reported as saying that he was against the domination of European industrial life by United States business. Was that intended to be taken seriously, and if so, what precise proposals does the Prime Minister have in mind to avoid this situation?

The Prime Minister

What I said in Rome I said two years ago and have said a number of times since. I said that our loyal membership of N.A.T.O. does not mean that we for our part think it right that vital sectors particularly of the technological industries of Europe should be overrun and dominated by American firms. I had very much in mind—indeed I said a few words to show that I had—the specific factors of the Chrysler-Rootes situation in which there had been a total breakdown of management and where there was no question of selling out a technological industry. The Government have shown that they mean business about this by the way in which we have saved our own computer industry, unlike others in Europe, from the predatory actions of certain American firms.

Mr. Thorpe

Is the Prime Minister aware that there will be great satisfaction with the apparently warm reception of the British approach in Rome? May I ask him how detailed the discussions were—whether there was, for example, any discussion about the transitional phase required for British agriculture? Secondly, since he is going to Paris on Monday, I understand, would he agree that the £650 million swing-wing aircraft agreement augurs well for those discussions? Is he aware that almost all the House hopes that his talks in Paris will be as successful as those in Rome?

The Prime Minister

I hope that I should not be too far out of order if I were to offer the hon. Gentleman the congratulations of the whole House on his election yesterday and to express the confident hope that with him as leader of the Liberal Party, as with his predecessor, the relations between the party leaders in the House will continue to be as friendly as they always have been. I know that I speak also for the Leader of the Opposition.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for what he said about the visit to Rome. Certainly the agreement with the French Government on what really means the integration of our aircraft industries for the production of the main weapons of the Royal Air Force and French Air Force for the later 1970s is. I believe, a very important step, not only to what we are trying to achieve in Paris, but as further proof of what I said in answer to the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr St. John-Stevas).

Mr. Heath

While acknowledging that discussions of this kind are bound to be confidential to a considerable degree, may I ask the Prime Minister whether he recognises that the House would like to have rather fuller information after each visit than he felt able to give today in his main Answer to these Questions? After all, after each meeting the Press is given a considerable amount of information. I should have thought that the House of Commons was entitled to at least the same amount of information as was given to the Press.

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman two questions. First, there have been confusing reports about what was said to the Italian Government about a common agricultural policy and the Government's attitude to it. One said that the Government told the Italians that they accepted it. The other said that there had to be major adjustments. Would the right hon. Gentleman say which report was correct? Secondly, could he say whether the British Government and Italian Government were in agreement about the future political development of Europe?

The Prime Minister

I will certainly consider what can be done to say more to the House about these talks after each meeting. I am conscious that I failed to answer the question about what topics were discussed. There was a very full discussion about agriculture—it took, I should think, something like half the time we were there—and we stressed the very great difficulties, not least—this is what I said to the Press—the problem of the levy system with particular reference to the fact that it would mean a big change in the pattern within Europe, because, unlike the Six, we are a major food importer and it would mean a very big transfer across the exchanges. This was fully understood.

With regard to the Press reports, it is not my job normally to confirm or deny them, but certainly one of those Press stories—the suggestion that we accept in full, without any question of amendment, adaptation, transitional provisions or anything else, the common agricultural programme—was inaccurate.

We had a very good and friendly discussion about political developments. We said—and I think that this was welcomed, and I shall be dealing with this subject in a speech next week in Strasbourg —that we regard one of the major arguments to be not only the economic advantages to us and Europe but also greater political unity, and we shall cooperate to the full in anything which can be done to achieve greater political unity if we enter the Common Market.