HC Deb 04 December 1969 vol 792 cc1695-703
Q1. Mr. John Fraser

asked the Prime Minister when he intends to hold an official meeting with the Chancellor of Federal Germany.

Q6. Mr. Winnick

asked the Prime Minister what consultations he has with the Heads of the Common Market countries with regard to the British application to join the European Economic Community.

Q11. Mr. Barnes

asked the Prime Minister what plans he has to meet Heads of Government of the European Economic Community countries following the outcome of their Summit meeting at The Hague.

Q12. Sir G. de Freitas

asked the Prime Minister what communications he has received during the last week from the Heads of Government of the countries of the European Economic Community regarding the United Kingdom's application to join the European Economic Community; and what replies he has sent.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Wilson)

We are in regular and close contact with the Governments of the Six through the normal channels. We welcome the agreement reached by the Six at their meeting at The Hague earlier this week to open negotiations between the Community and the applicants for membership and we are ready for negotiations to begin as soon as the Six are ready.

On my meeting with Herr Brandt I would refer to what I said in the House on 25th November. There are no arrangements at present for a meeting with other Heads of Government of the Six.—[Vol. 792, c. 194.]

Mr. Fraser

When the Prime Minister meets Herr Brandt again, will he congratulate him on bringing a breath of fresh air into European politics? Will he seek from Herr Brandt, and indeed from other leaders, subscription to the moral and philosophical objectives in the declaration by the Italian President on such matters as overseas aid and democratisation of European institutions?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir. I think the House will be encouraged by Herr Brandt's line on a number of issues since his assumption of the Chancellorship and by what he is reported in the Press as having said in The Hague this week. With regard to the declaration mentioned by my hon. Friend, I am sure the whole House will endorse, as will Herr Brandt, the aspirations mentioned by my hon. Friend.

Mr. Winnick

Is it the Government's intention that there should be some reasonable chance of success before the negotiations begin, say, next July? Is there a possibility that at the end of or during the negotiations the British Government will come to the conclusion that the cost could be too high and therefore decide not to go any further?

The Prime Minister

The best chance of assessing the prospect of success is to "have a go". I do not think that it is possible to form a clear view of what terms will be available to us except by entering into negotiations. If those terms are possible, if they make it open to us to accede to the Community, that is one thing. If the terms involve too high a price, I am sure that we should all agree that it would be wrong to accept them.

Mr. Barnes

Would the Prime Minister agree that, following the very encouraging outcome of The Hague summit, many people hope that the Government will make a wholehearted statement of our will to complete these negotiations successfully? Would it not be dangerous to this country to approach negotiations on a "take-us-or-leave-us" basis?

The Prime Minister

I do not think there is any question of a "take-us-or-leave-us" basis. I have expressed the view that Europe needs Britain at least as much as Britain needs Europe. This is a fair approach. But as to the whole-heartedness of our application, this has been made clear on a number of occasions in 1967 and again this autumn. Obviously one cannot forecast what particular terms will be made available to us. I hope that these negotiations could be over in a much shorter time scale than that indicated by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition in his broadcast last Sunday.

Sir G. de Freitas

Will my right hon. Friend agree that not only is it encouraging that there is agreement to open negotiations, but also that there is agreement to look at the agricultural front and study the ridiculous surpluses and the equally ridiculous budgetary burdens?

The Prime Minister

My right hon. Friend speaks with all the authority of a former President of the Council of Europe and is expressing a view that is widely held in Europe as well as in this country. But the whole House will agree that in discussions, whatever our attitude in debates in this House, it is the common agricultural policy and what will be required of us which is the crunch of the issue as regards prices and the cost of living, budgetary contributions and the balance of payments. I see some en- couragement in some of the speeches reported in the summit talks this week both as regards budgetary contributions and, if I read them aright, as regards a matter of great importance to this country, namely the question of production grants as we would call them, hill farming grants and the rest, which might be treated in a different way in the future as compared with the way in which they have been treated in the past.

Mrs. Renée Short

On a point of order. Did I mishear, Mr. Speaker, or did my right hon. Friend say that he was taking Question No. Q16 with this batch of Questions?

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Lady did mishear.

The Prime Minister

As you say, Mr. Speaker, my hon. Friend misheard. As we all know, this is always a very difficult problem. I have run into trouble with the House sometimes for grouping too many Questions. What I tried to do on this occasion, and what I thought was fair, was to group those Questions put down on the same day three weeks ago, but not to group with them a large number which have been put down since then, because it means interfering with later Questions.

Mr. Thorpe

Does the Prime Minister agree that one of the hopeful aspects of The Hague communiqué is that should negotiations start in July between Britain, the other applicants, and the Six, by then we shall know what will be the general level of agricultural prices, and the general monetary policy to pursue, and therefore our position can be assessed on the basis of a realistic, known future for this country, and not on the basis, as with so many opponents of the Common Market, of wild and usually totally inaccurate statistics?

The Prime Minister

I hope that it will be possible at any rate to know the background of the C.A.P. in relation to which we negotiate. Obviously, we cannot know what derogations, what changes, will be available through the negotiations. The problem the right hon. Gentleman mentioned is the big problem that we have in preparing our White Paper on assumptions. We are choosing a wide range of assumptions, some of which might become unrealistic by the time the negotiations are well advanced. We shall still go ahead with the White Paper, even though that is so.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

Does the Prime Minister agree that apart from his own sustained enthusiasm for entry the most important thing is to have an early negotiation on a limited number of major economic and political issues?

The Prime Minister

I think that the hon. Gentleman is right in saying that. Certainly I hope that the negotiations might start before what was set at the Summit as the latest date. I hope that they will be reasonably speedy, and that there will be a desire in Europe as in this country and in this House that we do not have long tedious negotiations about a lot of small matters.

Mr. Roy Roebuck (Harrow, East)

Kangaroo meat.

The Prime Minister

I have heard that mentioned before. I hope that we should not have long negotiations about smaller matters, many of which are capable of solution after entry if we get the right terms for entry. In our negotiations we should concentrate on the main issues, and there are some very serious issues between us and the Common Market countries. Therefore, I hope, as the hon. Gentleman hopes, that the talks will be reasonably short but directed to the main strategic questions.

Mr. Shinwell

While my right hon. Friend cannot be held responsible for statements made by the Leader of the Opposition, has he noted that the right hon. Gentleman has stated that we are unlikely to enter the Common Market before 1973 or 1974? Does not that damp down my right hon. Friend's enthusiasm a little?

The Prime Minister

No, Sir. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition must take responsibility for his own statements. I hope that what he said will not be taken in Europe as any weakening of his will or the will of anyone else in the House in this matter. There is no need for it to take as long as he said. It may be that he thinks that they should wait for him, in which case they will have to wait a very long time.

Mr. John Page

In view of the known time scale, does not the Prime Minister think that it would be much fairer to the British people if serious negotiations were not started until after the next General Election?

The Prime Minister

Hon. Members can make their own assessment of the various unknowns in the equation the hon. Gentleman is trying to discuss, both as to the starting date, the length of negotiations, and the timing of the General Election. On none of those three am I in any position to help the House at present. But the hon. Gentleman will know that his own Government in 1959 went into a General Election with most categorical statements about why they could not enter into negotiations, and in that Parliament they started negotiations.

Mrs. Renée Short

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that our relationships, both political and trading, with Eastern Europe are of tremendous importance to this country and should not be allowed to be interfered with by any attempts to enter the Common Market? Will he bear in mind Early Day Motion No. 52—"Relations with the German Democratic Republic"—when he meets Herr Brandt?

The Prime Minister

I do not think that there are many hon. Members keener on trade with Eastern Europe than I am, or have been more involved with it over many years. There are six countries in the Common Market just as keen on maintaining and developing links with Eastern Europe in the matter of trade as we are.

Mr. Maudling

As the Prime Minister has commented a little on my right hon. Friend's estimate of the timing, would he care to make his own estimate of possible timing for British entry into the Common Market, and say whether he would regard harmonisation on a value-added tax as part of the things to be negotiated?

The Prime Minister

I was only very slightly critical of the right hon. Gentleman's broadcast—very slightly. I could do much better if he were here, but I do not think that I should in his absence. It is very unusual that he is absent, and I am sorry that he is not here. But he must take responsibility for that forecast. I do not think that it is for me to give another one, but I do not accept that the timetable need be anything like as long as he said.

With regard to the second part of the right hon. Gentleman's question, obviously all regulations and decisions made under the Treaty of Rome are matters for the negotiations, including not only the value added tax but other aspects of prices and agricultural policy. Where the right hon. Gentleman and his party seem to indulge in so much masochism for themselves and putatively for the country is that they want to inflict these very big increases in costs and taxation on the country without even obtaining the gains of joining the Common Market.

Mr. Milne

Is my right hon. Friend aware that while he talks about Britain needing Europe and Europe needing Britain, E.F.T.A. still represents our major foothold in Europe, that improvements in European unity began only when a Social Democrat Government were returned in Germany, and that possibly prospects for reconciliation between Eastern and Western Europe are our best indications at present?

The Prime Minister

Nobody in this House would under-rate the importance of E.F.T.A. in this connection. When E.F.T.A. was put forward by the right hon. Member for Barnet (Mr. Maudling)—[Interruption.]—when the hon. Gentleman has had time to brief his leader, perhaps I could continue with my answer. When E.F.T.A. was put forward by the right hon. Member for Barnet it was widely applauded in this House, not merely as an alternative or a forcing move against the Common Market but as something right in itself, and so it has proved. But, on the question of E.F.T.A. in relation to the Common Market, my hon. Friend will have noticed the declaration agreed to in 1967, when our application was made, and that still stands.

Mr. Shinwell

On a point of order. In view of the arrival of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, Mr. Speaker, may I ask my question again?

Mr. Speaker

Order. In no circumstances. Sir Harry Legge-Bourke—

Mr. Faulds

On a point of order.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I remind the hon. Gentleman that he is cutting into Question Time.

Mr. Faulds

That is the point I wish to raise, Mr. Speaker. We have now had 13 minutes on one Question, which seems to me highly unreasonable.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman is factually wrong in any case.

Mr. Faulds

Fourteen minutes.

Sir H. Legge-Bourke

In view of the Prime Minister's disagreement with my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition over the length of time the negotiations are likely to take, does this mean that he will simply go on from where my right hon. Friend left off, having achieved considerable agreement before the negotiations broke down as a result of the French veto, or is he starting all over again?

The Prime Minister

The position that we should take up in connection with the negotiations was made clear in the statement of my right hon. Friend the then Foreign Secretary to W.E.U. at The Hague in July, 1967. That set out the basis of our negotiations, and I have said already that it is my hope that they could be related to a relatively small number of strategic issues. A great deal of ground was covered in the early negotiations and, if that is still agreeable to our colleagues in the Six, nothing agreed then need be the subject of prolonged negotiation again.

Mr. Edelman

Will my right hon. Friend discourage premature optimism about British entry into the Common Market and read the small print in the communiqué and Monsieur Pompidou's gloss on it which makes no mention of a time schedule for negotiating Britain's entry?

The Prime Minister

I hope that I have said nothing to encourage excessive optimism in this matter. I regard the summit conclusions in the spirit of "so far, so good". They represent a step forward. But we must all be watchful against any dragging of feet, especially against any excessive hardening of the position on other issues in the period between now and the opening of negotiations which might make negotiations more difficult. This is no reason for anyone who is keen for Britain to get into the Common Market to become overexcited. Certainly it is no reason why those who are not keen to get in should take any view except that we are ready to go into negotiations, the door is now opening, we will see how they go, and then put a proposition to the House.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. Mr. Heath. Business Question.