HC Deb 06 May 1969 vol 783 cc262-4
Q2. Mr. Henig

asked the Prime Minister if he will make an official visit to Paris in the near future.

Q7. Mr. Eldon Griffiths

asked the Prime Minister what plans he has to pay an official visit to Paris.

Q8. Mr. Edward M. Taylor

asked the Prime Minister if he will arrange an early meeting with the President of France to discuss matters of mutual interest and if he will make a statement.

Q9. Mr. Winnick

asked the Prime Minister if he will make an official visit to Paris in the near future.

The Prime Minister

I have no immediate plans to do so, Sir.

Mr. Henig

Would my right hon. Friend place high on his agenda, some time during July when the new French President will have been elected, a meeting with his opposite number? Will he start afresh? [Interruption.] Does he not think that this is a good moment to reaffirm the fact that the—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. Last week the Opposition complained of noise during Question Time from the Government. We must be fair to each other and listen to each other.

Mr. Henig

Does my right hon. Friend not think that this would be a good moment to reaffirm that, in the view of Her Majesty's Government, Britain's political and economic future lies in our rapid entry into the European Economic Community?

The Prime Minister

Obviously the question of further discussions with the French Government must await the result of the French elections, as my hon. Friend has said. With regard to the second part of the question, I dealt with that at some length in a speech at the Council of Europe celebrations yesterday, which I think was heard by a number of hon. Members. A copy of what I said is being placed in the Library.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

While doubting that the change, even of the French President, can dissolve overnight such difficulties as the common agricultural policy and the position of the Commission, would the Prime Minister not agree that the wind may be set fairer for negotiations? Would he therefore say that it remains his policy, as soon as possible, to open up negotiations under Article 237, and in the meantime will he avoid any of those dramatic personal forays which will simply make it more difficult for my hon. and right hon. Friends to lead this country into Europe after the next election?

The Prime Minister

I agree with the first three-quarters of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question. He is right to show a certain degree of caution in this matter at this time. After all, there is no reason to suppose—the election is not a matter for us but for the French people—at this time that there is any withdrawal of the embargo or veto which has been so frustrating to so many of us for so long. We must await the situation following the election.

The hon. Gentleman is also right to stress the fact that as and when negotiations do begin there are still enormous difficulties. He is right in saying, as I indicated last week, that the agricultural policy problem has become more difficult within the Six than it was when the House took its decision in May, 1967. He is right to be cautious about this. He is equally right to suggest, as I did yesterday, that we must make clear that our application remains on the table and that, if there is a fairer wind, we shall take advantage of it.

Mr. Edward M. Taylor

When in Paris would the Prime Minister take the opportunity of inquiring about the excellent procedure they seem to have there whereby, under the previous President, they took regular opportunities of seeing whether the Government still enjoyed the confidence of the people?

The Prime Minister

I thought that the basis of the French Constitution was that the Government was elected for a period of seven years at a time. In this country we have a practice that a Government might go the whole of the five years. It has happened only once and that was under right hon. Gentlemen opposite, in 1964.

Mr. Winnick

Is my right hon. Friend aware that a number of people who are not opposed in principle to joining the Common Market do not wish to see this country humiliated a third time through being refused membership, upon any conditions whatsoever?

The Prime Minister

What I said about caution, and what was indicated in the Questions of the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Eldon Griffiths) and my hon. Friend, suggests that we must take this matter fairly slowly, fairly coolly, until we see what the situation there is. I think that all of us would agree that nothing that has happened in the last month calls for any reversal of Her Majesty's Government's policy. Indeed, what we have done during the very dark days of the veto has been abundantly justified by events, over which we have no control, of the last fortnight.

Mr. E. L. Mallalieu

Before making an official visit to France, would it not be the path of discretion to await an official invitation?

The Prime Minister

I always do.