HC Deb 28 November 1967 vol 755 cc234-42
Q2. Mr. Winnick

asked the Prime Minister if he will take steps to withdraw the British application to join the European Economic Community; and if he will make a statement.

The Prime Minister

No, Sir. My hon. Friend will have seen the statement issued by the Foreign Office last night.

Mr. Winnick

Is it not now obvious that the chances of our getting in are virtually nil following the speech by the French President yesterday? Would it not be better to accept the inevitable with great reluctance and decide on other alternatives to joining the E.E.C.?

The Prime Minister

My hon. Friend will be aware that the application was made by us with the support of this House and that, as was made clear in the Foreign Office statement last night, the application was to the Six as a whole. The Council of Ministers of the Community, who have their responsibility for carrying out Article 237 of the Treaty of Rome, are due to meet next month.

Mr. Ian Lloyd

Would the Prime Minister seize this opportunity of reminding the French people that the present apparent disagreement between our two Governments does not diminish the affection and regard that the British people have for the people of France? Would he remind General de Gaulle of Nelson's prayer at the Battle of Trafalgar in which he asked for a victory for Europe and not for Britain? Further, would he suggest to the General that such a victory today can only be won by agreement at the council table?

The Prime Minister

On the first point, which I thought was extremely helpful, I am sure that we all agree with the sentiments expressed by the hon. Gentleman. On the second point, in my dealings with General de Gaulle, I have not always found that quotations from the period of Trafalgar and Waterloo are necessarily productive, and he has been very tactful about the Battle of Hastings. With regard to the final part of the hon. Gentleman's question, unfortunately I missed the last few words of what he said.

Mr. Ian Lloyd rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. We have a lot of Questions.

Mr. Alfred Morris

While sympathising with my right hon. Friend following the cold brutality of what was said in Paris yesterday, for how long shall we defy the consensus of public opinion in this country in refusing to take "no" for an answer?

The Prime Minister

The application, as I have said, was a decision by this House. I do not believe that it was meant to be a fair-weather or short-run decision. It represented the position that I think we must follow. I said then that there may be disappointments and there may be rebuffs. It would be wrong completely to change direction on this issue because of the statements made yesterday

Mr. Heath

I believe that the Prime Minister is right to wait until after the meeting of the Council of Ministers so that the Government should know the view of the Six as a whole to our application.

Would he also agree that the arguments which he has been putting forward over the past months for membership still remain valid? If this is the case, whatever may happen to our present application, will the Government continue to pursue policies which will enable Britain to work closely with Europe ready for the day when any obstacles that there may now be disappear? Meantime, would he not also agree that the duty of the Government is to enable this country to use all its resources and energies on making itself strong by its own efforts?

The Prime Minister

Yes. emphatically agree with the last few words of the right hon. Gentleman. I think that the arguments which have been used, not only by myself but by many others in all parts of the House, remain valid.

When I say that time is on our side, in one sense it is. It is not on the side of those in Europe who are anxious about the growing technological gap between Europe and the United States. Therefore, action, if such were to follow yesterday's statement, delaying the beginning of an attack on this technological problem would be harmful to Britain and Europe.

Mr. Blackburn

Will the Prime Minister bear in mind his own words: that we are a proud people; consequently we do not take kindly to humiliation? Will he, therefore, withdraw our application and put the onus on the other side and state that if they put forward an offer to us to join we will give consideration to it?

The Prime Minister

Saying that we are a proud people does not involve saying it is a humiliation to be rejected, if that was what yesterday was about, on the basis of arguments which will not hold water. I think it is our duty to make clear that some of the misstatements of yesterday are at the proper time answered—and they will be.

Mr. Sandys

Will the right hon. Gentleman agree that it would be wrong to assume that the voice of de Gaulle is the voice of Europe? It is more than doubtful that he speaks for the French people.

The Prime Minister

I think that we are all realistic about this. Certainly there is no doubt that he expresses the views of the French Government. The French Government is one of the Six, and the, unanimity rule applies; but Article 237 of the Treaty of Rome also applies. This is a reason for waiting until the Six as a whole can consider the application.

Mr. Shinwell

Surely my right hon. Friend realises that it is possible to have co-operation with the countries of the Six ever, in technological matters without joining the E.E.C. Should the Council of Ministers decide to reject the British application, will my right hon. Friend realise that a large section of the British public--possibly the majority—would not worry about it; they are tired of the whole business?

The Prime Minister

It is, of course, possible to have bilateral and, indeed, multilateral European technological co-operation without being members of the Common Market. But in the world in which sue live, with the enormous costs of research and development, I do not believe that the technological advance that we want for Europe as a whole is possible, except on the basis of a unified market. The purpose of my Guildhall speech was to get things moving ahead of that.

Mr. Thorpe

Will the Prime Minister confirm that, whatever the immediate and not unexpected difficulties, it is the intention of this country to become a full member of the European Economic Community, and that our immediate objective is to improve our economy and so adapt and improve our institutions as to make our ultimate access to the Community assured?

The Prime Minister

Our application is for full membership. I have stated on a number of occasions, but most recently last Thursday, the arguments why the vague suggestions about association do not have any meaning in the context of our application.

Mr. Orme

Would my right hon. Friend not agree that his Guildhall speech gave the impression that we could have this technological co-operation with Europe without joining the E.E.C.? Does he not agree that by dilly-dallying at the moment we are affecting our whole attitude to industry and development and that our trading partners will be taking advantage of this.

The Prime Minister

No, I do not accept the concluding words of my hon. Friend's supplementary question. If he will reread what I said at Guildhall, he will see that I said we could now, without waiting for the time of negotiations, start on the creation of a technological community, but it could only come to fruition if there was a unified market.

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

Is it not true that membership of the Common Market never has been an alibi which would excuse us from equipping ourselves to compete in world markets? Had we not better get on with the job as soon as we can?

The Prime Minister

Certainly it has never been an alibi. This has been the view of all successive Governments faced with this situation. The right hon. Gentleman will be glad to know that we are not reacting to yesterday's statement as he did in 1963.

Mr. S. C. Silkin

Now that the General has driven the wedge between France and the Five, which my right hon. Friend rightly said we would never attempt to drive, would he consider negotiating with the Five alone?

The Prime Minister

We have friendly contacts with each member of the Six. But our application is, as it must be under the Treaty of Rome, to the Six as a whole. There is no provision in the Treaty of Rome for negotiations with five, four, or any lesser number.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

Will the Prime Minister make it clear that full membership of the Community is still the Government's objective, and that any form of association less than that would not be acceptable to the Government nor to the British people?

The Prime Minister

I thought I had made that clear in answer to the question by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Liberal Party. In case it was not clear, I repeat it again.

Mrs. Renée Short

Is my right hon. Friend aware that this continued suggestion that we could go on knocking on the door is both ludicrous and rather humiliating to the British people? Is he also aware that an enormous amount of time and energy is wasted on this matter that ought to be spent on getting into markets in Europe, South America and elsewhere? Is he aware, too, that our trading competitors are getting into these markets while we are messing about trying to get into the Common Market?

The Prime Minister

All hon. Members will use their own metaphors to describe the situation. I do not agree that we are knocking on the door and being humiliated. We have slammed down our application on the table. There it is, and there it remains.

On the second part of my hon. Friend's question, referring to other markets, this Government—indeed all of us—have been very active in trying to stimulate our sales drive in markets in Eastern Europe, where I know my hon. Friend is concerned that we should be successful. No one has worked harder than my colleagues and myself over a period of many years to open up the Eastern European market.

Mr. Kirk

Is it not plain that Article 237 provides that the Treaty is open to any member who is prepared to accept its provisions? Have we not accepted its provisions, and, therefore, are not the French Government in breach of the Treaty in refusing acceptance of our application?

The Prime Minister

The answer to the first two parts of the question is, Yes, that is what the Treaty says; Yes, we have accepted its provisions in our application. As to the responsibility of the French Government as a member country under the Treaty, I think that must be a matter for the French Government and their colleagues of the Six. It is not for me to interpret their responsibility in this matter.

Mr. Wyatt

Would the Prime Minister accept that his conduct of our application could not have been better, but would he now consider challenging General de Gaulle—[HON. MEMBERS: "To a duel?"]—to spell out what he means by associate status? Does it have a time-expiry limit at which we become a full member? Does it mean that we would have the advantages of the common tariff without the disadvantages of the agricultural system?

The Prime Minister

I think that it is extremely difficult to see what General de Gaulle did have in mind in relation to association. There was certainly no suggestion at all that he was proposing an association with an automatic entry into the Common Market at the end of a given period. There was no such suggestion. My anxiety would be—apart from our general opposition—that an association of this kind would lead to far longer negotiations, because while we are negotiating under the Treaty of Rome there are rules, but there are no rules for the kind of association which he appears to have in mind. Indeed, it has been clear right from the outset that he would reject an industrial free trade area, and would not want us to have the industrial advantages without paying the agricultural price.

Sir Harmar Nicholls

The Prime Minister said that we must face this realistically. Will he allow his realism to see that in not accepting "No" for an answer we are delaying in a way which may well injure our being able to build up alternatives, which he has said are available?

The Prime Minister

I have said that there are possible alternatives in the future. They are not there now. We have often been over this ground. I spent much time on it during the debate, and I shall send the hon. Gentleman a copy of it.

Sir Harmar Nicholls

I am much obliged.

The Prime Minister

Everyone who understands it will remember what I said in the debate, so it is not right for me to waste Question Time by repeating it, but these are not present alternatives. I think that it would be very much counter to the plan approved by the House if we were now to go off in any other direction looking for non-existent alternatives.

Mr. Pavitt

Will my right hon. Friend now turn his mind, irrespective of the outcome in December, to the prospects of a new initiative in a wider Europe and in the Commonwealth and for this purpose reorganising and streamlining the arrangements which at present fall between the Board of Trade, the Commonwealth Office, and the Foreign Office?

The Prime Minister

Trade is a matter, appropriately, for the Board of Trade, irrespective of whether it is Commonwealth, Common Market, or any other part of the world. Valuable help is given by the offices of the Commonwealth Office in Commonwealth countries, and by the Foreign Office in foreign countries, and certainly nothing that is happening will blunt our intention to push trade in all markets, and our exporters now have a far better opportunity than they had before.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

Will the Prime Minister give an assurance that during the period for which we may be temporarily excluded from Europe we shall keep faith with those members of the Six and the large majority of Europeans who wish to see British entry? Will he also, in this period, give careful thought to extending and strengthening N.A.T.O. so as to create the advantage of keeping Britain, Europe and America under the same roof?

The Prime Minister

We shall maintain our closest relationship with the Five, which I think the hon. Gentleman has in mind, and indeed the best possible relationship with France as well. There must be no peevish reaction, or any action which would imperil our otherwise good relations with France.

N.A.T.O. and other treaties are unaffected, and would be unaffected, by anything that happened yesterday at the General's Press Conference.

Mr. Heffer

Is not my right hon. Friend aware that if one constantly holds out the olive branch and gets kicked in the teeth there comes a time when one has to drop the olive branch and turn to other directions? Is it not time that we began to develop alternatives along the lines of strengthening the E.F.T.A. Secretariat and developing our trade with Eastern European countries and underdeveloped countries?

The Prime Minister

We have maintained the strongest connection with E.F.T.A. throughout this period, and a majority of the E.F.T.A. countries are anxious for a successful outcome of the negotiations. Certainly we shall do nothing to weaken E.F.T.A. during the period to which the hon. Gentleman refers.

On the question of trade with Eastern Europe, I refer the hon. Gentleman to the efforts made by the Government in bilateral talks with Mr. Kosygin, and at every other level, and to the highly successful visit of British industrialists to Moscow as recently as last week. The same is true of our trade with the Commonwealth.

Sir A. V. Harvey

If it is possible, will the Prime Minister try to restrain his colleague the former President of the Board of Trade from handing out calculated insults to the French people, bearing in mind that the relationship between Britain and France has deteriorated rapidly in recent weeks?

The Prime Minister

I have never had anything but courtesy from General de Gaulle in all my dealings with him. I do not think that the present situation will be helped by any insults, direct or indirect, across the Channel. However, I feel that where there have been misstatements of fact, or wrong deductions based on a rather out-of-date approach to some of the problems of the modern world, these should be answered, so that in the great debate which will continue in Europe some of these misconceptions can be dealt with once and for all.