HC Deb 02 May 1967 vol 746 cc310-32
The Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Wilson)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement.

Her Majesty's Government have today decided to make an application under Article 237 of the Treaty of Rome for membership of the European Economic Community and parallel applications for membership of the European Coal and Steel Community and Euratom.

As the House will recall, I stated on 10th November last that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and I would embark on a series of discussions with each of the Heads of Government of the Six, for the purpose of establishing whether it appears likely that essential British and Commonwealth interests could be safeguarded if Britain were to accept the Treaty of Rome and join E.E.C. These discussions took place between January and March. Since then, the Government have carried out an exhaustive examination of all the issues involved, resulting in the decision I have just announced.

The reports I have made to the House have made it clear that during the discussions in the Six capitals we were not engaged in negotiations. But my right hon. Friend and I, and indeed the House, have reason to be grateful to our hosts for the very frank exchanges which preceded today's decision.

These exchanges have enabled us to identify the major issues which we, for our part, shall wish to see settled in the negotiations.

On the Treaty of Rome itself, as I informed the House on 10th November, we have throughout our discussions taken the view that, as I then said, … the Treaty of Rome is not in itself or necessarily an impediment. There are anxieties … but the Treaty need not be an obstacle if our problems can be dealt with satisfactorily, whether through adaptations of the arrangements made under the Treaty or in any other acceptable manner. In short, again to quote, as I said then, the Government would be prepared to accept the Treaty of Rome, subject to the necessary adjustments consequent upon the accession of a new member and provided that we receive satisfaction on the points about which we see difficulty."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th November, 1966; Vol. 735, c. 1540–46.] Our discussions in the capitals of the Six have confirmed the validity of this approach in terms of the practical working of the Community and its institutions.

It is in this spirit that the Government intend to embark on the negotiations which must precede entry. The House will, I am sure, agree that they ought not to be unnecessarily complicated with lesser issues, many of which can be best dealt with after entry. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] It is our hope that the negotiations will be followed through swiftly, and will relate to the small number of really important issues which have been identified through our recent discussions, issues on which agreement should be reached if the House and the country are to be satisfied that essential British and Commonwealth interests will be safeguarded. This is the spirit in which the original partners to the Community conducted their own negotiations over 10 years ago. Our recent meeting with our E.F.T.A. partners has confirmed that they, too, view the matter in the same light. They will, we hope, also be making their approaches to E.E.C.

I turn now to the major issues which it must be our purpose to resolve during the negotiations.

First, there are the problems associated with the operation of the common agricultural policy of the Community—the problems of its potential effects on the cost of living and on the structure and well-being of British agriculture; problems of the budgetary and balance of payments implications of its system of financing; and certain Commonwealth problems with which I will deal in a moment.

As I have already made clear publicly, we must be realistic and recognise that the Community's agricultural policy is an integral part of the Community; we must come to terms with it. But the Government recognise that this policy would involve far-reaching changes in the structure of British agriculture. This will require suitable arrangements, including an adequate transitional period, to enable the necessary adjustments to be made.

It is also the Government's view that the financial arrangements which have been devised to meet the requirements of the Community's agricultural policy as it exists today would, if applied to Britain as they now stand, involve an inequitable sharing of the financial cost and impose on our balance of payments an additional burden which we should not in fairness be asked to carry.

There are also highly important Commonwealth interests, mainly in the field of agriculture, for which it is our duty to seek safeguards in the negotiations. These include, in particular, the special problems of New Zealand and of Commonwealth sugar-producing countries, whose needs are at present safeguarded by the Commonwealth Sugar Agreement. We have, as the House knows, been in touch with all our Commonwealth partners, and will make special arrangements to keep in close consultation with them, as with our E.F.T.A. partners, throughout the negotiations.

Again, as the House knows, capital movements raise questions of special importance. Our discussions suggest that these can be dealt with by suitable arrangements.

Another important issue is the question of regional policies. Here, too, we had to satisfy ourselves that we should be able, as members of the Community, to continue to take the necessary steps to ensure the industrial and social development of those areas of the country with which this House is always and rightly especially concerned. Our discussions with the Heads of the Governments of the Community, not least the information we were given about the policies currently being pursued by member countries, have reassured us on this score.

As I have said, these are major and important issues, but I can tell the House that the Government believe that there is nothing either in the Treaty of Rome or in the practical working of the Community which need make them insoluble.

Mr. Speaker, I have gone into some detail about certain specific economic issues, on which hon. Members on both sides of the House are rightly concerned. But the Government's decision has been motivated by broader considerations of economic policy and still wider arguments to which I will turn later. On the economic arguments, each hon. Member will make his own judgment of the effect on exports and imports, on industrial productivity and investment. Equally, every hon. Member must make his own assessment of the economic consequences of not going into the Community and, in an age of wider economic groupings, of seeking to achieve and maintain viability outside.

But all of us are aware of the long-term potential for Europe, and, therefore, for Britain, of the creation of a single market of approaching 300 million people, with all the scope and incentive which this will provide for British industry, and of the enormous possibilities which an integrated strategy for technology, on a truly Continental scale, can create. I am glad to say that my right hon. Friend and I found that this concept has made a great impact throughout Europe.

But whatever the economic arguments, the House will realise that, as I have repeatedly made clear, the Government's purpose derives, above all, from our recognition that Europe is now faced with the opportunity of a great move forward in political unity and that we can—and indeed must—play our full part in it.

We do not see European unity as something narrow or inward-looking. Britain has her own vital links through the Commonwealth, and in other ways, with other continents. So have other European countries. Together, we can ensure that Europe plays in world affairs the part which the Europe of today is not at present playing. For a Europe that fails to put forward its full economic strength will never have the political influence which I believe it could and should exert within the United Nations, within the Western Alliance, and as a means for effecting a lasting détente between East and West; and equally contributing in ever fuller measure to the solution of the world's North-South problem, to the needs of the developing world.

It is for all these reasons that we intend to pursue our application for membership with all the vigour and determination at our command.

The House will, of course, wish to debate this decision at the earliest opportunity and arrangements will be made for a three-day debate next week, when the House will be invited to pass a Motion approving this present statement, which will be presented as a White Paper. We shall seek to meet the requirements of Parliament for the fullest possible information over the coming weeks. A first paper dealing with agriculture will be available later this week and we shall take the opportunity of the debate, and of further White Papers which will be laid, to enable Parliament, and public opinion generally, to form a full, fair and informed judgment of the great issues involved.

For all of us realise that this is a historic decision which could well determine the future of Britain, of Europe, and, indeed, of the world, for decades to come.

Mr. Heath

We warmly welcome the fact that the Prime Minister and the Government have now decided to take this further step, which, we hope, will lead to membership of the European Economic Community. I and many on this side have long put forward and supported the arguments of both a political and an economic nature which the right hon. Gentleman has outlined today, and I wholeheartedly support them now.

Also, we welcome the debate which the Government are offering the House at an early opportunity. We hope that this will give the Prime Minister and his colleagues the opportunity to explain a number of points which, obviously, must still remain unspoken today, in particular, the reasons for making the application at this time, what assurances the Prime Minister has had from all the member countries of the Six that Britain's membership on the terms he has outlined will be welcome, and what solutions he proposes now to the problems which he and the Foreign Secretary have outlined.

I have three questions to put to the right hon. Gentleman at this stage. First, does his statement mean that he now accepts the Treaty of Rome and the common agricultural policy, with the exception of the financial regulation which he has described?

Secondly, is the position now, as a result of the last E.F.T.A. conference, that Britain can become a member even though other E.F.T.A. countries are kept out?

Thirdly, as it is necessary, as the Prime Minister rightly said, to negotiate all the transitional arrangements and the special arrangements for the Commonwealth, can the right hon. Gentleman give the House an idea of the timetable which he and the Government have in mind?

The Prime Minister

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his opening words, both about the announcement and about the arrangements which we have proposed for a debate, which, of course, will be finalised through the usual channels. As the right hon. Gentleman suggested, some of the questions which the House will want to go into in more detail will be best dealt with in the debate.

I come now to the specific questions which the right hon. Gentleman put. First, as regards acceptance of the Treaty of Rome, I stated the Government's position on this in November, and I have repeated it today. The answer is "Yes".

I said in my statement last week, and I repeated again today, that, if we are realistic, we must accept that the common agricultural policy is an integral part of the working of the Community, and that we have to come to terms with it. How we come to terms with it, and the particular aspects of it, is a matter for the negotiations. I dealt with that in my statement.

The House will have seen the communiqué from the E.F.T.A. conference which my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and others of my right hon. Friends attended last Friday. It was published in the OFFICIAL REPORT yesterday. The position is that we have stated our common purpose, on behalf of all the E.F.T.A. countries, to do our best to ensure that E.F.T.A. countries which want to be associated in one way or another with the Community shall achieve their objective. The right hon. Gentleman's interpretation on the particular point that he raised is correct.

The question of the timetable is not exclusively, or, perhaps, mainly, within our hands. It raises, also, one of the questions of which the right hon. Gentleman gave notice for the debate, the attitude of other countries. We have had to take this decision with no clear view on the part of all the countries as to what their attitude will be. I think that the House understands that. For the same reason, I cannot give any estimate about the timetable except to say that Her Majesty's Government will do everything in their power to secure a satisfactory solution at the earliest possible date. I repeat that, if we do not succeed, the House will, I think, be able to judge at the end of the day that it was not our fault.

Mr. Thorpe

May I applaud the Prime Minister's decision to apply for membership of the Community, congratulating him on his conversion to the viewpoint which we at least on this bench have consistently advocated. I express the hope that, unlike that of his predecessors, the Prime Minister's conversion will not come too late to yield fruitful results.

I have two questions to put. First, will the Prime Minister say what he has in mind in the light of the transitional arrangements for agriculture? Secondly, apart from the formal application, presumably, to the Council of Ministers under Article 237, what will be the nature of the delegation which will argue our case before the Commission, who will compose it, and when is it likely to go to Brussels?

The Prime Minister

I shall not follow the right hon. Gentleman in his pre-ambular words. The question of the agricultural policy and the nature of the transitional, post-transitional or other arrangements to which I referred must be a matter for the negotiations, though the House will, no doubt, wish to exchange views on the precise forms of arrangement when we debate the matter next week.

It is too early at this stage for me to say anything about the arrangements for the negotiating machinery. We shall not intend to put in our application until the statement I have made today has been endorsed by the House. We shall do so as quickly as possible thereafter. But we shall have to have a clearer idea of the reaction of our friends in Europe to the form of the negotiations before it will be possible to say exactly how they will be handled.

Mr. Dickens

Is the Prime Minister aware that a large and growing body of opinion in the House and the country is opposed to our entering the Common Market, certainly on anything less than the full acceptance by the Six of the five conditions accepted by the Labour Party? Will my right hon. Friend state the Government's position on two of the five conditions which he has not mentioned so far, namely, those concerned with national economic planning and with foreign policy, and will he give an assurance that the five conditions as a whole will be upheld in the forthcoming negotiations?

The Prime Minister

I have answered a number of Questions in the House about the five conditions, and I have indicated the extent to which they have to some extent been eroded by time, for example, the one in relation to E.F.T.A., the first one on the list. My hon. Friend will, no doubt, wish to give very close study to my statement and form his own view—I have formed mine—of the extent to which what I have said today is in fulfilment of the conditions which were laid down some years ago.

As regards national economic planning, my right hon. Friend and I and the Government take the view, after our discussions, that we shall be able to carry out our economic policy in the way which seems best suited to the needs of this country. In addition, we shall have the enormous advantages, to which I have drawn attention, of the wider market and the growth of the technological community.

As regards foreign policy, I have made clear—last Thursday was the most recent occasion—that I do not think that many hon. and right hon. Members—there are some federalists whose views we respect—would feel that an application under Article 237 in any way involves for a very long time ahead any considerations of that particular kind. Certainly, we believe that our foreign policy could become more effective and our influence much greater if we were within a Europe which is growing stronger and more united.

Mr. Sandys

While expressing my unqualified delight at the Prime Minister's—[Laughter.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. The House must not delight itself in unqualified regret.

Mr. Sandys

While expressing my unqualified delight at the Prime Minister's momentous decision, may I wish him all good luck in the crucial negotiations which will lie ahead?

The Prime Minister

I thank the right hon. Gentleman, and I hope that he will allow me to refer back to the occasion of the previous announcement when I told the House of the tour of my right hon. Friend and myself. The right hon. Gentleman asked us to do everything possible to maintain the momentum, and I then said that we should do so. I hope that he will feel that that answer has been fully carried out.

Mr. Shinwell

In view of the unqualified approval expressed by right hon. Gentlemen opposite, may I assure my right hon. Friend, with all the force of which I am capable, even by myself, that I shall give him the most relentless and ruthless opposition? I had better be frank about it. He will need all the support he gets from the other side.

I have two questions to put to my right hon. Friend. First, he will recall that, when the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition was engaged in negotiations, some years ago, and we asked questions about the process of negotiations, he always replied that these were confidential. In the process of negotiations which will ensue after my right hon. Friend has made formal application for membership of the E.E.C., will he inform the House from time to time in detail of the process of negotiations so that we may follow the course he proposes to take?

Secondly, will my right hon. Friend include in the White Paper which is to be debated and voted on next week the regulations which have been presented by the Commission responsible for the administration of the Treaty of Rome, regulations which interpret many of the Treaty provisions? As he knows, the interpretations by regulation of the Treaty provisions are much harsher in their effects than the Treaty itself.

The Prime Minister

On my right hon. Friend's first question, I certainly take note of his intention to ensure, what will be my wish, that this great debate will be carried forward over the months with vigour, ability and the very great sincerity and strength of feeling which I know my right hon. Friend has on this subject. Whenever possible, statements on the progress of the negotiations will be made. I think that the procedure followed by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, of making a statement after each major phase in the negotiations, is the right one, and that this should be continued. We shall, of course, steadily make available to the House all the information we feel will help it in forming a continuing view of this problem.

The White Paper which will be tabled later this week will embody the statement I have made this afternoon—this follows many precedents—and the House will be asked to come to a decision about it. We shall also make available a series of Papers, starting this week with one on agriculture, which covers a considerable area of the problems the House faces. This will, as far as humanly possible, be completely up to date on the working of the Community and not merely on regulations made. We shall do what we can in successive weeks, during the Recess and afterwards, to bring out further Papers, whether White Papers or some other form of Papers, to keep the House fully informed.

I do not, however, accept the implications of my right hon. Friend's concluding words, when he suggested that the working of the Community was in all cases harsher than the regulations which have been operated. One reason for the confidence of my right hon. Friend and myself is that in so many aspects of questions of vital importance to this House the actual working is a great deal more relaxed than the wording of the regulations may suggest.

Mr. Turton

Can the Prime Minister explain his condition of safeguarding essential Commonwealth interests? Does he envisage transitional arrangements, or will he aim for something like the annex to the Treaty of Rome which covered the overseas territories of the Six and was a permanent arrangement?

The Prime Minister

The particular form will be a matter for the negotiations, and what the right hon. Gentleman has suggested is certainly one possibility. There are others, as he knows. In my statement, I laid particular emphasis on New Zealand, the problem of which is widely understood in Europe, and I think that there is a wide desire there to deal with the problem adequately. I stressed the Commonwealth Sugar Agreement. Commonwealth interests are concerned. The right hon. Gentleman will know the wide range of methods which have already been used within the Community for protecting the essential interests of countries in Africa, Asia and elsewhere which were previously associated with member countries of the Six.

Mr. John Hynd

Will my right hon. Friend realise that this declaration will not only be received with enthusiasm throughout the country, as evidenced by the latest public opinion polls, but also with great relief and enthusiasm throughout Western Europe, not least by the trade unions and social democratic parties of Western Europe, who will recognise that this is a step towards that world government which we all seek and which can only be reached by dismantling all national barriers; and that the decision will be regarded as a further rebuff to xenophobia and nationalism, which we sometimes see in this country as well as elsewhere?

Mr. Speaker

Order. Hon. Members should ask elucidatory questions briefly.

The Prime Minister

My hon. Friend was certainly correct in what he said about the views of the trade union movement, not only in this country but far more widely, and about social democratic parties, in which I know large numbers of my hon. Friends are concerned.

Sir J. Eden

While I congratulate the Prime Minister on his statement, in view of his earlier opposition to Britain's entry into the Common Market, may I ask whether he will say what were the principal reasons for his change of approach? Will he now immediately introduce changes, especially in taxation, which will be designed to help rather than handicap British industry?

The Prime Minister

A large number of right hon. Members have expressed different views at different times. I remember the mandate on which the party opposite won the 1959 General Election, for example. In 1960, I was very critical of the fact that the then Government were not approaching the European problem with enough sense of the European dynamic that was being created. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] If the hon. Member wishes to make it a party matter he can get it back, but this is a matter that has divided both parties and at one stage even all three parties. [An HON. MEMBER: "It still does."] Certainly, it still does. Many right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House have changed their views. [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."] I am answering the beginning of the question. I know the hon. Gentleman too well to let that go past.

As I explained in November, I think that my best short answer to what the hon. Member said is that my experience of the working of the Community, the actual practical working, and what we have learned in our discussions about its working, render unfounded the fears and anxieties which I certainly had and very fully expressed, based on a literal reading of the Treaty of Rome and regulations made under it.

Mr. Alfred Morris

My right hon. Friend's statement is a defeat for those who have argued for unconditional entry into the Common Market and have argued, like the Leader of the Opposition, that there is nothing to negotiate about. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Commonwealth Sugar Agreement is a matter of crucial importance, and that there can be no question of its being phased out?

Secondly, does he agree that there can be no question, if the Leader of the Opposition is right in saying that the price of British entry will be nuclear sharing with France, that Britain cannot pay that price?

Thirdly, will he agree that we have had a "mini-debate" so far and now want to see the start of the great debate?

The Prime Minister

I hope that nobody will say that this announcement and any action which will follow is a victory or defeat for anybody. I hope that it will not be regarded as mainly a question for party battling in the House, because I have said that all parties consist of Members with different views. Every hon. Member has a very great responsibility in this mattter to form his own judgment for or against what the statement has said, and there is no simple key to the answer. I fully recognise that the House is not even capable of being divided simply into the categories of Left and Right, as many of my hon. Friends know.

On the question of the Commonwealth Sugar Agreement, my hon. Friend will recall that in my statement and in a supplementary answer I stressed its very great importance for a large number of Commonwealth countries whose interests are at present protected by it, and said that this is certainly one of the major issues which it will be our duty to try to resolve in the negotiations.

Finally, there is the question of nuclear sharing. There has been no suggestion that an application to join the Treaty of Rome raises any questions affecting nuclear defence. I am sure that the House itself would not wish this to be involved in any way or any commitments in that respect to be assumed from my statement.

Mr. Jennings

The Prime Minister outlined five main issues which would be negotiated on application for entry. He then went on to say that there were lesser issues which could be dealt with after entry. Would he now specify in similar detail what those lesser issues are on which this House will be asked to sign a blank cheque? Secondly, he said that each right hon. and hon. Member would be asked to make his own estimate of the consequences of entry. Does that mean that he will approve a free vote on each side of the House so that we can register our own estimates in the Lobbies?

The Prime Minister

I did refer in my statement to lesser issues. There are a large number which can be best settled after entry. We will take the opportunity of next week's debate to go into that problem more fully. My own view—and hon. Members may agree or disagree—is that the negotiations for entry should be concentrated on the really major issues and that we should not get bogged down in consideration of questions affecting a thousand different items of the lower groceries type.

Mr. Jennings

What about constitutional issues?

The Prime Minister

I will come to that.

As I was saying, we do not want to get bogged down in considering a large number of lesser issues. That is my view and the view also of others who have great experience of this problem. We feel that these issues can be better settled after entry.

Of course, the question of the constitutional issues is of fundamental importance to the House. I hope to deal with it next week and that we shall be able to issue a highly authoritative, lengthy and detailed Paper on all the issues affecting constitutional and juridical matters.

Finally, there is the question of a free vote. The question of the advice which my right hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury will give to his right hon. and hon. Friends, like the advice which the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw) gives to his right hon. and hon. Friends, is a matter for those concerned. This is a major decision of Government policy and will be put to the House as such next week. It is recognised, with the tolerance shown in our party and, I am sure, in the party opposite, that this is a matter on which hon. Members may feel that very deep issues are involved. It is not for me to dictate to hon. Members the conclusions which they may reach.

Mr. Barnett

Does not my right hon. Friend agree that the economic and political consequences of our not going into Europe are likely to be worse than pursuing the policy of escapism advocated by some right hon. and hon. Members? Will he consider setting out those consequences in the White Paper?

The Prime Minister

The cost of the economic consequences of going in are hard enough to quantify. The cost of the consequences of staying out are equally hard to quantify. But we are not approaching this problem on the basis that we must go in or perish—certainly not. There are alternatives—including the alternative of staying out. Our approach to this question is that while there are alternatives, and that this country can get along very well if we fail—we shall not whine about it, as I said last week—we believe that the alternatives provide a second-best compared with the results of a successful application. We believe that we shall benefit ourselves and Europe, both politically and economically, if our application is successful.

Mr. Godber

The Prime Minister said that he would issue a White Paper not only on the general issues, but also a White Paper on agriculture. When will the White Paper on agriculture be available? Will it cover the aspects of the producer, the housewife and the balance of payments and go into the problems of commodities? Or will it be in general terms only?

Sir G. Nabarro

What about horticulture and the Vale of Evesham?

The Prime Minister

If the right hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Godber) will forgive me—I did not say that. I said there will be a White Paper embodying the statement I have made today, that there will be successive Papers on individual issues and that, this week—by Thursday, I hope; we shall do our best—there will be a Paper on agriculture which will be wide-ranging. The right hon. Gentleman will no doubt wish to wait for that and to study it before the debate.

Naturally, my right hon. Friends and I hope to give, in the debate, as much information as we can to the House in addition to what is in the White Paper on agriculture. But I remind the House that it has traditionally never debated only on White Papers. It sometimes takes account of speeches.

Mr. Michael Foot

Can my right hon. Friend say why he considers that the French Government may have changed their mind on British entry into the Common Market since 1963? Since he has always said that we would not wish to crawl into the Common Market, can he undertake to publish a White Paper on the Government's alternative proposals for dealing with the economic situation if the French Government continue to hold the same view?

My right hon. Friend, earlier, made a reply about defence and nuclear matters. Is he really telling the House that these matters have not entered into the discussions in the same breath as he tells us that political unity of Europe is the central matter which concerns him?

The Prime Minister

It is not for me to assess the adjudgments which will be applied to our application by any of the six Governments to which it will be addressed. After the talks in which my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and I took part, it was argued whether we should make the application; and the Government believe it right to do so. There is no question of crawling in. That has been made plain.

The possible alternatives were dealt with in the debate last November and I shall be surprised if the House does not go further into them in the debate next week. As I have said, there are viable alternatives. It is our view, however, that, while they are viable, they are less satisfactory for Britain herself, and for Europe., economically and politically and, therefore, less satisfactory to an area wider than Europe itself.

The question of nuclear sharing and defence matters was never mentioned in our discussions. It is not an issue. I should be very surprised if I thought that it was the view of my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) that political unity could be expressed only in terms of nuclear and military arrangements. This matter has not been discussed, because, so far as I am aware, there is no proposition for any joint nuclear arrangements between Britain and a European country, apart from the discussions going on in N.A.T.O., and these, of course, have been going on for some time.

It is possible, I believe, to get much greater political unity in Europe without either advancing towards a federal control of foreign policy or the creation of a European defence policy. Our view is that the right place for defence policy is within the Western Alliance and not by any means in the creation of a separate nuclear force in Europe.

Sir D. Walker-Smith

Does not the Prime Minister think that the information which he proposes to lay before the House in advance of the debate in which it is to be asked to approve the decision—information apparently restricted to a reprint of his statement today, plus some agricultural information—is grossly inadequate, casts grave doubt on the sincerity of his desire for a great debate, and constitutes a disrespect to this House?

Secondly, does he really think that no single amendment of substance is required for the interests of this country either in the Treaty of Rome or in the conduct of the Common Market, in neither of which this country has participated in formulation or operation?

The Prime Minister

I think that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is pretty cool. He calls it disrespect to the House to have a three-day debate without the Government laying before it all the technical information that it is possible to amass. The Government of which he was a senior member—we did not complain then and I do not complain now—made their announcement about entering Europe on 31st July, 1961. [HON. MEMBERS: "He had resigned by then."] Apparently the right hon. and learned Gentleman had resigned by then. I apologise to him.

Sir D. Walker-Smith

Not only was I not a member of the Government in July, 1961, but I am on record as making the same protest then as I am making now.

The Prime Minister

I certainly withdraw my statement that the right hon. and learned Gentleman was a member of the Government at the time.

But that Government announced their decision on 31st July and, without any White Paper or technical information, we had a debate on 2nd and 3rd August. It was an extremely good debate. I did not find the House of Commons in any way inhibited, because most right hon. and hon. Members had already even then been studying the matter for some time.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman very much underrates his own very great knowledge of this subject if he suggests that he will be incapable of making a highly-informed speech next week if he does not have all these Papers available. We could, of course, have waited to have a debate after the Recess and sought to get out other Papers, but I thought it right that the House should have an immediate opportunity of debating the matter before the Recess. I hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will not take a churlish view of our decision to give the House the earliest opportunity of a full debate. There will be other opportunities afterwards in the light of the information which we shall be making available in that debate.

I think that the right hon. and learned Gentleman also asked whether changes had been made in the constitutional——

Sir D. Walker-Smith

The second part of the question was whether there was no single amendment of substance, either in the Treaty or in the actual operation of the Community, which the right hon. Gentleman believed to be required in the interests of this country.

The Prime Minister

It is our view that no definitive amendment to the Treaty, apart from those consequential on the accession of a new member which would come up in the ordinary way of negotiation, is necessary, because we are concerned with the practical working of the Community as opposed to the anxieties which the right hon. and learned Gentleman and I both had about the terms of the Treaty.

Mr. Bagier

My right hon. Friend said that he had received a reassurance about the Government's regional policy. Was he satisfied with the assurance which he received, and will entry lead to a reduction of the help which the regions may have or may need?

The Prime Minister

My right hon. Friend and I are fully reassured not only by what was said to us by our hosts on these visits, but also by the actual practices which they themselves are carrying out in regional policy. Everything which we are doing and anything more which we may need to do is fully consonant with the present practice of the Community. My hon. Friend may have seen a very interesting study, for example, in the Economist last week, about what is already done in regional policy by one of the countries particularly concerned.

Mr. Kirk

I welcome the Prime Minister's announcement, and particularly its political content. Is this a totally fresh application, which would give him the advantage of a clean sheet, or a revival of the old application, which would give him the advantage of the considerable detailed work done by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bexley (Mr. Heath) at that time?

The Prime Minister

In fact, it is a new one. We considered the point made by the hon. Gentleman. If, when we approach the Six, they say that from their point of view it would be more convenient for them to revive the dormant application which was adjourned at the last meeting in January, 1963, of course we would be prepared to go along with that, but we feel that all the arguments are in favour of making a new and clean application.

Of course, a great deal of the work which went on before will be very helpful in doing what I said earlier we hoped to do, which is to speed the negotiations without too much preoccupation with detail.

Mr. Heffer

As my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) said that my right hon. Friend would be pursued with relentless opposition on this matter, is my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister aware that many of his hon. Friends who, in the past, have pursued him with a certain amount of opposition on other issues are, nevertheless, in full support of the Government on this and welcome the decision which they have taken today? Is he also aware that we hope that he will not take too much notice of the Ancient Britons in the House?

The Prime Minister

I hope that my hon. Friend will not get into as much trouble for using the words "Ancient Britons" across the Floor of the House, in this very context, as I got into in the debate in August, 1961, again speaking to certain hon. Members who are now on this side. I shall, of course, welcome the ruthless and relentless support of my hon. Friend with the same enthusiasm with which I shall welcome the ruthless and relentless opposition of my right hon. Friend.

Sir Harmar Nicholls

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that that part of his statement which causes most apprehension is that which says that many items will be left for settlement after we have signed the Treaty of Rome and that the context in which he said that was such that many of the things which we believe to be fundamental could be left over until the contract is signed? On balance, it would seem that we want a clearer statement from the Prime Minister than we have had that the fundamental questions which he has raised will be settled, which may well mean asking for an amendment of the Treaty of Rome itself.

The Prime Minister

I hope that in the three-day debate next week and subsequently we shall be able to go into all these matters. The hon. Gentleman perhaps tends to underrate the power of a Government when it is a member of the Economic Community to influence decisions on matters both of detail and even more fundamental. I draw to his attention what was said in Luxembourg last year.

Perhaps I can correct one thing which I said to the hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. Kirk). He asked whether the application was a revival of the application last time. Technically, what happened last time was not an application in that form. It was a letter to the Heads of Governments, including a statement of the Resolution of the House of Commons at that time. That is one reason why the Community would probably prefer a straight, clean application to a revival of what was done on the last occasion.

Mr. Manuel

Is the Prime Minister aware that, while there is a general agricultural problem arising from the application for entry, there are important implications for Scottish agriculture, especially for upland farming and crofting areas which are floating on heavy Government subsidy? Will that subsidy continue, or be ruthlessly swept away in those areas as uneconomic?

The Prime Minister

Some of the problems affecting British agriculture—I am here referring to structure and farm working as opposed to balance of payments questions—are particularly highlighted in some upland areas of Scotland and Wales and parts of England itself, and the problems in other areas are still more serious. This is a matter for the negotiations, but my hon. Friend should not too readily assume that, under the flow-back of levy money from the central fund for the purposes of aiding structural adaptation and improving rural facilities and improving agricultural production, we should not be able to lay claim to pretty heavy amounts for the very purposes which my hon. Friend has in mind.

Sir D. Renton

In answer to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, the Prime Minister used the word "associated" with regard to the future of the E.F.T.A. countries. Would he confirm that he was not using it in the narrow technical sense, but in a broader sense? Secondly, will our immigration laws be the subject of negotiation before or after entry?

The Prime Minister

I confirm that I was using the word "association" in the wider and more general sense, "association" with a small "a" and not "Association" under Article 238 of the Treaty of Rome. We know that some E.F.T.A. countries will apply for full membership and some may apply for Article 238 Association, or connection in some other way. I meant some kind of association and not just the 238 type. Immigration and the free movement of workers is a difficult problem which will have to come up in the negotiations. There are difficulties for us in view of our present policies and the problem of Commonwealth versus European workers, but, at the same time, there will be some difficulties on the other side. I do not want to stress them too much. These must be matters for negotiation.

Mr. Kenneth Lewis

On a point of order. As we have spent so long on Europe, can we now get on to Brierley Hill?

Mr. Speaker

I think that the hon. Member ought to let the Chair conduct the proceedings.

Mr. Anderson

Now that we have crossed this major Rubicon and are marching steadily towards Rome, does my right hon. Friend agree that it would be helpful at this stage to be a little more precise about our political commitments? In particular, can he say that we will not provide an obstacle to qualified majority voting in the Council of Ministers, nor to a democratic development within the European Parliament, and that we shall not act as a brake upon some political developments?

The Prime Minister

We said in Europe, and I said again last week, in my hon. Friend's hearing I think, that we shall accept the same obligations as our prospective partners in Europe, no more and no less.

Sir Knox Cunningham

Can the Prime Minister say, after his conversations with the Prime Minister of Eire, whether Eire will make an application to join at the same time as the United Kingdom and, should we fail in our application, whether Eire will withdraw hers?

The Prime Minister

This must be a matter for the Government of the Republic of Ireland. We had discussions yesterday. I do not know whether the hon. and learned Gentleman saw the statement made by the Taoiseach after the discussions. It is not for me to interpret the position of the Government of the Republic of Ireland to the hon. and learned Gentleman.

Several Hon. Members rose——

Mr. Speaker

Order. This is difficult. This is an historic occasion. Over 200 hon. Members wished to put questions. I have had to let it run. Mr. George Thomson. Statement.