HC Deb 28 November 1968 vol 774 cc722-4
Q6. Mr. Marten

asked the Prime Minister if he will invite the Common Market Prime Ministers to a conference in London.

The Prime Minister

I have no plans to do so at present.

Mr. Marten

But as the net cost to the United Kingdom balance of payments of applying the Common Market agricultural arrangements next year is likely to be in the nature of £350 million, can we really afford to go into the Common Market? As economic protectionism is the order of the day now in so many countries, is this not just the moment for the Prime Minister to gather together these people and to suggest a much wider free trade association?

The Prime Minister

I understand the hon. Gentleman's position on these matters. He has been very consistent in these questions—more than, indeed, have many of us—but the Government and the House have not accepted the force of these arguments. We have always recognised a great difficulty about financing the agricultural programme. There is a growth of agricultural protectionism on the part of the Common Market countries, which is causing concern here as well as elsewhere, and that must be dealt with. But I am not sure that a Common Market Prime Ministers' conference in London would be the right answer.

Sir G. de Freitas

Since the Foreign Secretary three weeks ago at The Hague was sympathetic to the idea of a very wide conference, will the Prime Minister consider a conference not just of the Six and us, but of the other applicants for entry into the Common Market, and take a wider European view?

The Prime Minister

Yes. We shall be happy to consider this. Indeed, we put forward this proposal in Vienna as long ago as 1965. W.E.U. provides an excellent forum for discussion between, at any rate, most of the E.F.T.A. countries and the Common Market countries, but up to now the W.E.U. forum has not been treated with the same urgency by the French as by other European countries. We should like to have a discussion of the kind that my right hon. Friend suggests.

Sir D. Walker-Smith

Will the Prime Minister ensure that in the event of any such conference, whatever the scope of those attending, room will be found on the agenda for a discussion on common agricultural policy and its financial implications as suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten)?

The Prime Minister

The absence of such a conference has not prevented us from raising the matter in a number of areas and places with Common Market countries. But since I have no plans to set up such a conference, as I said in answer to the original Question, it is obviously a little premature to start answering the right hon. Gentleman's question about what will be on the agenda of such a conference.

Mr. Jay

If the Prime Minister does not accept the estimate given by the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten) about the cost to the British balance of payments, may I ask whether he can give us the Government's latest official estimate?

The Prime Minister

We have not varied the estimate since the one drawn up in the Government of which my right hon. Friend was a Member.

Several Hon. Members rose——

Mr. Speaker

Order. I remind the House that we have two Private Notice Questions, business questions and a statement from the Minister of Defence for Administration before we come to the business of the day. I hope that the House will co-operate with me in getting through these various items fairly speedily.