HC Deb 21 November 1967 vol 754 cc1130-5
Q1. Mr. Marten

asked the Prime Minister what further White Papers will be published concerning the implications of Great Britain joining the Common Market.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Wilson)

None, Sir.

Mr. Marten

Why not? Does the Prime Minister recall that we were promised a great debate on the subject? Is he aware that the ex-President of the Board of Trade, who was in the Board of Trade only a matter of weeks ago, has estimated the balance of payments deficit if we join the Common Market as being about £600 million? Is it not up to the Government to be just as honest and publish those figures, as the ex-President of the Board of Trade did?

The Prime Minister

We had a great debate in the House, and it reached a conclusion. We have had four White Papers and a Central Office of Information booklet, and I do not think that at this stage any more information is needed for the great debate in the country. I dealt with the particular point about the balance of payments at very considerable length in that debate.

Mr. Shinwell

Does my right hon. Friend still maintain that by going into the Common Market the standard of living would rise by at least 3 per cent.? In view of his additional statement that devaluation would increase the cost of living by 3 per cent., does he think that we can afford 6 per cent.?

The Prime Minister

I do not think that my right hon. Friend needs White Papers to help him to make up his mind on this important question. By a slip of the tongue he said "standard of living" when he meant "cost of living". He will have calculated that a rise in food prices caused by the measures of last Saturday does not mean a further increase to assimilate prices on going into the Common Market.

Q2. Mr. Winnick

asked the Prime Minister if he will make a statement on the progress of Great Britain's application to join the European Economic Community.

Q6. Mr. Barnes

asked the Prime Minister if he will make a statement on Great Britain's application to join the European Community following the latest meeting of the Council of Ministers.

The Prime Minister

The European Economic Council of Ministers resumed their consideration of Britain's application for membership of the European Communities at their meeting in Brussels yesterday. I understand that the discussion by the Foreign Ministers was adjourned until 18th December.

Mr. Winnick

Whilst I recognise that we were right to make the application, is it not obvious that everything will be done by France to stop up becoming a member of the Community in the foreseeable future? If a serious offer is made by the Six, would we consider associate membership?

The Prime Minister

We made clear our position on association many times in the House, and this has not changed in any way. So far as yesterday's meeting was concerned, I can understand that there was a new situation that had to be considered, and therefore the operative meeting is now in December. But I cannot accept that we should take the view that there will be a rejection of our application.

Mr. Ronald Bell

Does the Prime Minister still think that we could stand the burden on our balance of payments which he described in his speech during the first five years after joining the Common Market? If he does not think so, will he now withdraw our application to join?

The Prime Minister

The answer is that we are certainly in a much stronger position to withstand the immediate impact of joining the Common Market. Some of those in this country, and perhaps even more abroad, who believe that the position of sterling was an impediment to joining may now be thinking again.

Mr. Heffer

In view of the recent developments, will my right hon. Friend indicate whether the Government will now make a personal approach to General de Gaulle to discuss the new—[Interruption.] I wish the anti-Common Marketeers would shut up for a minute. [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. I want to hear the Question.

Mr. Heffer

Can my right hon. Friend say whether, in view of the new developments, the Government will now make a personal approach to General de Gaulle in order precisely to ascertain the situation of the French Government in this matter and see whether we should continue with any further discussions?

The Prime Minister

I think that my hon. Friend, who knows the situation extremely well and has been involved in these matters for many years, will recognise that under the Treaty of Rome our dealings are with the Six and not with individual members of the Six once the application has been put in. The application is in, and I think we should see what the next step is going to be. My hon. Friend will know that I discussed these matters at great length with General de Gaulle in June.

Mr. Longden

Is it true that what really worries General de Gaulle is the awful prospect that the policies of the Labour Government will soon result in our money becoming worth less than the paper it is written on?

The Prime Minister

It is not for me to answer in this House what General de Gaulle or the French Government think, but from what General de Gaulle has said to me and also publicly, what still worries him is that we have still not got out of the Nassau mess which caused a sudden break on the last occasion. Despite what hon. Gentlemen opposite said in the last General Election, this was, as my right hon. Friend and I have found, exactly the issue which had upset General de Gaulle.

Q5. Mr. Elystan Morgan

asked the Prime Minister at what point in time he will formally withdraw Great Britain's application for entry into the European Economic Community uness negotiations for entry have been commenced or there is reasonable prospect for negotiations.

The Prime Minister

I have nothing to add to my speech in the debate on the Address on 31st October.—[Vol. 753, c. 38–40.]

Mr. Morgan

Would not my right hon. Friend concede that the worst possible thing we could do in this situation would be to scratch inconclusively outside the gate of E.E.C. for a long time, such as Austria has done for 4½ years?

The Prime Minister

There is no question of scratching away at the gate. We learnt that lesson from last time. The European leaders with whom my right hon. Friend and I have talked are well aware of the need for urgency, and there is a preponderant but not yet unanimous feeling among the Six that the negotiations must start early and be speedily concluded.

Mr. Sandys

As the Prime Minister said a moment ago that the Nassau Agreement was one of the obstacles to our entry, can he say how he is getting on with the renegotiation of it?

The Prime Minister

I did not say that the Nassau Agreement today was the problem. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh".] I said that it was the treatment of General de Gaulle by the then Government over the Nassau Agreement. I stand by the words that I used in the General Election, which were—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. I want to hear the answer.

The Prime Minister

—objected to by right hon. Gentlemen at that time. What the General is still, I think, not clear about in his own mind after what happened on that occasion is whether we are unduly dependent on the United States for our defences.

Mr. Ridley

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. As the question which has just been touched upon—Nassau—is one of extreme importance to the House, and as it has introduced a new factor and a very important element, would it be possible for you to allow further supplementary questions?

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Gentleman must leave the difficult matter of supplementary questions to the Chair.

The Prime Minister

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. If the hon. Gentleman will put that down as a substantive Question I will answer it. The hon. Gentleman is never backward in getting his Questions down, and I congratulate him on getting ahead of the Order Paper again.

Q8. Mr. Macdonald

asked the Prime Minister if he will publish a White Paper on the alternatives open to this country in the event of the failure of Great Britain's negotiations to enter the European communities.

The Prime Minister

No, Sir.

Mr. Macdonald

Do we infer that my right hon. Friend has no other plans and that he is staking everything on this one throw?

The Prime Minister

No, Sir. I have said many times that there are alternatives if this application should, unhappily, be rejected or should founder as a result of excessively long drawn out negotiations and discussions. I have said as many times that the alternatives which are available to us are, in the view of the Government, very much in the nature of second best. I think that it would be wrong, therefore, either to publish a White Paper or to start canvassing alternatives. We should get on with the job already started by our application to join the E.E.C.