HC Deb 20 June 1967 vol 748 cc1418-27
The Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Wilson)

With permission, I will now answer Questions Nos. Q8, Q9 and Q11.

During our lengthy discussions yesterday and this morning, President de Gaulle and I had, as we had planned, a most useful and wide-ranging exchange of views about the world situation as a whole. In particular, we discussed the Middle East and considered how best we could work together to promote a lasting and just solution to the Arab-Israel problem. We agreed to work closely together on this and to keep in close and continuing personal touch.

As regards the British application to join the European Communities, President de Gaulle further explained to me the views which he had expressed at our meeting in January of this year and at his Press conference on 16th May. I told him why we do not believe that any of the problems arising out of our application are in any sense insoluble, why we do not intend to take no for an answer, and I emphasised the added compulsion we saw, in the light of recent events, for urgent action to strengthen and unify Europe in an industrial and technological sense, as a prior condition of greater political strength and influence.

In particular, we dealt fully with prospects for technological co-operation in the electronic and computer field, and in research and development generally, and with the possibilities of promoting closer co-operation and partnership in the civil application of nuclear energy on a European scale.

This morning, we reviewed the Middle East and world situation in the light of yesterday's and overnight developments.

Sir Knox Cunningham

What was the suggestion made by the President of France about an apprenticeship period before the United Kingdom joined the European Economic Community? Is such a suggestion acceptable to us for our entry?

The Prime Minister

It was not, in fact, raised at all in discussions generally. The position of Her Majesty's Government on association has been made clear to the House on a previous occasion.

Mr. Marten

Did the Prime Minister get any indication about the solutions to the various problems which he unearthed during his probe; and, if so, what were they?

The Prime Minister

I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman is talking about world problems or the particular problems of the Common Market.

On world problems, we had an extremely full discussion, which we were not able to have in January—on the problems of the Far East, including defence policy, on the problems of the Middle East, which took the greatest part of our discussions, and on the problems of Africa and elsewhere. I think that the two Governments now much more fully understand each other on these problems, and that on some of them, at any rate, we were closer together than we thought we were before yesterday.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

What impression did the Prime Minister form of General de Gaulle's enthusiasm for collaboration with Britain in the defence field, particularly in respect of nuclear weapons? What evidence has the Prime Minister that there may now be closer co-ordination between British and French policies in the third world, in particular in the Middle East?

The Prime Minister

We discussed world defence issues, naturally. The question of nuclear defence policy, for example, in the European context, was not raised at all by the President and was not discussed. Both of us, I think, felt that there were very great opportunities for collaboration on the civil aspects of nuclear policy, where we have a great deal to contribute to Europe, as, indeed, has France.

As regards co-operation, we have arranged to keep in very close touch about the Middle Eastern problem. In past years, I think that we have approached the problem fairly closely together. We discussed some of the differences which have arisen. We shall keep in very close touch indeed, especially about progress in the United Nations.

Sir G. de Freitas

Whatever was said in the discussions with the President of France, will my right hon. Friend now point out to the Governments of the Six the great advantages there would be to all parties if, at the next meeting of the Council of Ministers, there was present a British representative who was perpared to ask and answer questions?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir; I fully agree with that. I made this clear yesterday—that, if not at this first meeting, at any rate at an early meeting, Britain ought to be there so that we can answer some of the difficulties which have been raised, many of them, I feel, unreal difficulties which I did something to get rid of in my argument yesterday.

Mr. Alfred Morris

Having regard to the cost of applying arising from the effect of the active consideration now being given to diversify their trade by many of our present trading associates, can, my right hon. Friend tell us what the President's reaction was to our policy that we shall not accept "No" for an answer? Is there any time limit on this policy?

The Prime Minister

I did not think it right to put a time limit on this policy, but I made it very plain to the President that if, as I think we all of us in the House felt—or most of us—it was very urgent two or three weeks ago, it is even more urgent now. I gave the President many reasons why this was urgent and why failure to act quickly could lead to the development of other things in world affairs which would be inimical to the progress and unity of Europe.

The question of diversification, mentioned by my hon. Friend, is a thing which has been going on progressively for a number of years. It is one more reason why we are approaching this with a full sense of urgency.

Mr. Mendelson

During these talks with the President of France, covering the Far East, was my right hon. Friend able to discuss with him a new initiative to bring the war in Vietnam to an end? As such, a joint approach might make it easier for the parties concerned, particularly for the United States, to give a positive reception.

The Prime Minister

Obviously, we discussed the Vietnam issue very fully indeed. I think that it would be right to say that one of the big issues poisoning world affairs, and which has made the Middle Eastern situation that much more dangerous and difficult, is the continuing problem of Vietnam and the poisoning of relations, particularly between the United States and the Soviet Union.

We discussed all the possibilities here, though I end as I began with the conclusion that, if there were any sign on the part of Hanoi of a willingness to come to the conference table, I believe that we could get this peace very quickly indeed. Hanoi is now saying—this was one of the points we discussed yesterday —that it wants an assurance that America would quit South Vietnam quickly after the talks. In fact, this assurance has been given on a number of occasions by the President of the United States.

Mr. Awdry

The Prime Minister keeps telling us what he told the President of France. Will he now tell us what the President of France said to him?

The Prime Minister

I am not sure to which issue the hon. Gentleman is directing his question.

Mr. Awdry

On the Common Market.

The Prime Minister

On the Common Market, I would not want to suggest to the House that the President is more enthusiastic about British entry than he has been at any other time. I think that his greatest anxiety still is about the change in the shape of the Market if a number of new countries come in, a matter which is greatly worrying him, and one which he feels, understandably, has got to be discussed among the Six themselves.

I think that I was probably successful in answering some of the anxieties which the President has had about a number of issues which he raised in his Press conference. For example, I think that he would feel now, remembering the serious effect on the previous discussions of the Nassau Agreement, that our present posture in these matters would make entry a great deal easier for Britain. But he still has his basic underlying anxieties.

Mr. Thorpe

Will the Prime Minister sharpen it a little and say whether, on the Common Market, his impression is that the President's reply will be "Oui", "Non" or "Peutêtre"?

The Prime Minister

I think that there are other possible alternatives going through his mind, including "Oui, mais", and several other variants on that theme. I do not think that it would be helpful at this moment to start speculating on which answer he would give. The important thing was to stress—and I think that he understands this—the sense of urgency about it, whatever his anxieties.

Mr. Speaker

As a matter of order, and for the record, the questions were about "Yes", "No" and "Perhaps".

Mr. Shinwell

Is my right hon. Friend aware that some of us on this side, and probably on the other side of the House as well, are quite satisfied with the result of his conversations with General de Gaulle on the Common Market; but, now that this is done with, now that my right hon. Friend, quite rightly, has had the opportunity of a few days in Paris—we all hope that he enjoyed himself—may we have an assurance that this country, the Government, the House, the industrialists and the workers, will now concentrate on the need to build up our economy, putting our hearts into the job and pulling up our socks?

The Prime Minister

I was in Paris for little more than 24 hours, not for a few days. I am well aware of what my right hon. Friend says on his own behalf and that of others, but these matters were very fully debated and the House took a decision on them more than a month ago.

I certainly agree with the last part of what my right hon. Friend said. There is no question that, whatever the prospect, this country can achieve the objectives which are common to the whole House only by the efforts of this country, whether inside the Common Market or outside it or in any other grouping. There is no alternative to that. What we can argue about is what is the best grouping within which these efforts can achieve the most successful result.

Sir A. V. Harvey

Did the Prime Minister discuss with the President the present closure of the Suez Canal? Bearing in mind that the present situation is delaying the flow of grain to starving millions in India and, perhaps, to refugees in the Middle East, why are not the Government, together with other leading Powers, taking up this problem more in order to get the canal cleared and open to world shipping?

The Prime Minister

This is one of the central factors in our thoughts. The hon. Gentleman is right to stress the effect which it is having on starving millions in India and elsewhere, and also on the economic position of Egypt as well as of the user countries. I think that we are more likely to get something done by patient work at the diplomatic level than by striking postures or by taking action which might lead to still more difficulties regarding the Suez Canal.

Mr. Edelman

Whatever the enthusiasm of the President of France for British entry into the Common Market, did my right hon. Friend have time to notice the rising tide of enthusiasm among ordinary French men and women for British entry into the Common Market?

The Prime Minister

I understand that that is the position. It was not a subject which we discussed at any length. I hope that I have not given the House —my hon. Friend referred to the President's "enthusiasm"—an exaggerated idea of the President's enthusiasm at this point of time.

Sir C. Osborne

The right hon. Gentleman will recall that the Foreign Secretary, in answer to a question from me some time ago, said that we had a 50–50 chance of getting into the Common Market. After his discussions yesterday, does the Prime Minister think that that 50–50 chance has been materially improved?

The Prime Minister

I have always thought, and, indeed, some pronouncements of President de Gaulle recently would suggest, that the figure might be rather higher. I think that the question is not about estimates of ultimate likelihood, but about the speed which it can be done, because President de Gaulle has said publicly on a number of occasions that there is no question of Britain not getting into the Common Market at the right time. We have something of a difference about the urgency with which it should be approached.

Mr. Manuel

In his discussions on the Common Market, I take it that my right hon. Friend gave prior place to the five conditions laid down by the annual conference of the Labour Party. If so, what was General de Gaulle's reaction to these five conditions?

The Prime Minister

I think that the President is as well informed on our activities and decisions at the Labour Party conference in Brighton in 1962 as he is about the statements made by the Government on 2nd May and the decision adopted by the House as a whole by a very large majority.

Mr. Heath

To the public eye, there have been considerable differences of view between the Prime Minister and the President of France on both the Middle East and the Far East. Can the Prime Minister now be more specific about those places where they found themselves, apparently, in agreement, and, in particular, about the measures which ought now to be pursued in the Middle East?

Second, on Europe, the Prime Minister has just said that there was a difference of timing. This is true. Ever since 1960 General de Gaulle has said that Britain will come into the Common Market at the right time. Can the right hon. Gentleman now be more explicit about this? He himself has spoken of negotiations before Christmas, to be concluded before Christmas. Is the President of France thinking of a slightly longer time, or in years, perhaps many years?

The Prime Minister

In the quotation to which the right hon. Gentleman refers I did not speak of negotiations to be concluded by Christmas. I said that, in our view, they ought to open before the summer and we ought to know where we stand by Christmas; in other words, whether it looks like being negotiation to a solution, or whether there is likely to be an indefinite period of hanging about. That is what I meant. I am still in no clearer position about the answer to that. The important thing was to make clear to the President, in what I think were favourable circumstances, our sense of urgency and the reasons why it is as much for France to show a sense of urgency as it is for us.

On the first part of what the right hon. Gentleman said, I think that there have been some differences, perhaps more of emphasis and of public posture, in recent weeks on the Middle East. What we were concentrating on now was trying to see how far we could agree about the way to go forward. I think that the President would accept that, for the next day or two and, perhaps, the next week or two, there is not much that can be done in the way of following up his initiative for four-Power talks, which we very strongly support.

On the Far East, the President takes a line more in favour of total withdrawal by European Powers from that area than we do, but, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, we shall be making a statement on our conclusions on that matter during the course of the next few weeks.

Our talks on Africa were, I think, very constructive. The record of the French in decolonisation, like that of this country under successive Governments, has been a remarkable one. There are still one or two outstanding problems, and we tried to apply ourselves to how they could be overcome.

Mr. Roebuck

Did my right hon. Friend seize the opportunity to discuss with the President of France the appalling events of last Saturday in China? Did he form the view that the President was likely to urge all people to sign a nonproliferation treaty? If this matter was not discussed, has my right hon. Friend any plans for discussing it with the President?

The Prime Minister

It was discussed, and it lent an additional sense of urgency to our discussions on a number of issues. I have stressed the importance of a non-proliferation agreement, and this has been immensely underlined by the events of last Saturday. There is the danger of other Powers now saying that they must rush to become nuclear Powers, with all the dangers that that represents. I have, naturally, asked for the fullest co-operation from our European friends and partners on the matter. It is of the highest importance, and it was recognised to be such yesterday.

Mr. Peyton

Is the Prime Minister aware that he has not given us a lot of information, and that his answers really amount to a sort of soliloquy by a rather run-down Hamlet?

The Prime Minister

The hon. Gentleman can have his bit of fun if that is how he likes to feel about it. If these talks were to be rewarding and productive they must be on the basis that they would be confidential. If I am to be asked everything that the President of France said on every issue it might cause great entertainment in the House and great interest, and it might be the subject of many newspaper articles, but it would be completely counter-productive to all the purposes that most of us in the House have in mind—whatever the Second Gravedigger opposite may think.

Mr. Blackburn

Did my right hon. Friend make it clear to the President of France that not all of us are wildly enthusiastic about the Common Market, that some of us find it humiliating to go begging, and that some of us would be very happy if he continued to say, "Non"?

The Prime Minister

I think that the President of France is well aware of the division of feeling in the House and the country on this matter. He is perfectly capable of studying the Division records of the House—in a quantitative sense and not necessarily the sense of how each hon. Member voted. But he will be aware that the majority in the House on 10th May was very, very much greater than the majority in the French Parliament some years ago.

There was no question of begging in my posture yesterday. What we were trying to point out to the President— and I think that this rang a bell up to a point—was what we can contribute not only to the future development of France and Europe but to European unity and Europe's world influence.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

We must proceed.

Sir Harmar Nicholls

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. For the sake of the accuracy of the record, is it not right at this early stage that we should have some explanation of the contradiction in that the Prime Minister told my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Eldon Griffiths) that there had been no nuclear discussions but later said that he had discussed the Chinese bomb and the Nassau Agreement?

Mr. Speaker

I think that the hon. Gentleman can be assured that the record will have clear whatever is said in the House. It is not unknown for right hon. and hon. Members to make statements which seem to be at variance with each other.