HC Deb 23 July 1970 vol 804 cc784-99
The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. Anthony Barber)

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, I should like, as promised, to make a brief report on the meeting at Ministerial level between the United Kingdom and the European Communities, which was held in Brussels on 21st July.

At the invitation of the Communities, I went through the list of questions which we wished to see covered in the negotiations, but my immediate objective at this meeting was to have put in hand by the Conference certain fact-finding work which, I believed, in the interest of both the Communities and ourselves, should form the basis for much of the negotiations for our entry into the Communities.

I therefore put forward specific proposals for fact-finding work in the following fields:

  1. (1) agriculture and agricultural finance;
  2. (2) dairy products including New Zealand's vital interest in this sector;
  3. 785
  4. (3) Commonwealth sugar;
  5. (4) the Common External Tariff;
  6. (5) the complex task of agreeing authoritative translations of Community legislation, and certain related matters;
  7. (6) the European Coal and Steel Community; and
  8. (7) Euratom.
By the end of the meeting it was agreed that work should be put in hand on all these subjects with the single exception of Euratom. On most of these subjects we shall be in close and continuing touch with the Commission, which has been entrusted with the task, on the Community side, of conducting with us many of these fact-finding exercises. I hope that we shall then be able to establish certain objectively agreed factual data on which the negotiation of solutions can be based.

Bearing in mind the proposals which I had put forward and the decisions which were taken, the outcome of the meeting was very satisfactory—[Interruption.]

MR. SPEAKER pursuant to Standing Order No. 26 (Power of Mr. Speaker to adjourn House or suspend sitting), suspended the Sitting of the House.

Sitting suspended at twenty-five minutes to Five o'clock and resumed at half-past Six o'clock.

Mr. Speaker

I have to inform the House that a man was taken into custody by the Serjeant at Arms in connection with the recent incident. I have directed that he be given into the custody of the civil police.

Mr. Barber

After that incident, which I understand had nothing whatever to do with the subject matter of the statement that I was making, I think it would probably be for the convenience of the House if I were to start again at the beginning.

I was making a brief report on the meeting at Ministerial level between the United Kingdom and the European Communities which was held in Brussels on 21st July.

At the invitation of the Communities, I went through the list of questions which we wished to see covered in the negotiations, but my immediate objective at this meeting was to have put in hand by the Conference certain fact-finding work which, I believed, in the interests of both the Communities and ourselves, should form the basis for much of the negotiations for our entry into the Communities.

I therefore put forward specific proposals for fact-finding work in the following fields:

  1. (1) agriculture and agricultural finance;
  2. (2) dairy products including New Zealand's vital interests in this sector;
  3. (3) Commonwealth sugar;
  4. (4) the Common External Tariff;
  5. (5) the complex task of agreeing authoritative translations of Community legislation, and certain related matters;
  6. (6) the European Coal and Steel Community; and
  7. (7) Euratom.
By the end of the meeting it was agreed that work should be put in hand on all these subjects with the single exception of Euratom. On most of these subjects we shall be in close and continuing touch with the Commission, which has been entrusted with the task, on the Community side, of conducting with us many of these fact-finding exercises. I hope that we shall then be able to establish certain objectively agreed factual data on which the negotiation of solutions can be based.

Bearing in mind the proposals which I had put forward and the decisions which were taken, the outcome of the meeting was very satisfactory. I should like to pay tribute to the helpful and constructive way in which the Conference was guided by Herr Scheel, the Federal German Foreign Minister, who, as President of the Council of Ministers of the Six, acted as its spokesman.

Mr. Healey

First, I thank the right hon. Gentleman for giving us this report. I trust that in future he will give regular reports on his negotiations. As I understand it, the process at the moment between Her Majesty's Government and members of the Common Market is essentially to find out the facts.

Would the right hon. Gentleman tell the House whether he accepts that the estimate made by his right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture on the cost of the common agricultural policy alone might be as high as £670 million a year? If so, we would all on both sides of the House regard it as totally intolerable.

Secondly, we noted that yesterday the right hon. Gentleman had the disagreeable experience of waiting for some hours in an anteroom while Common Market members sought agreement with one another on a point of procedure. Does the fact that he will be exploring the facts with the Commission rather than with the representatives of the six Common Market Governments mean that he is liable to continual repetition of experiences of this nature while the Six try to reach agreement among themselves on what the facts are before he is able to enter into discussion with them?

Finally, on the question of the negotiations themselves, can the right hon. Gentleman say when he expects that the negotiations on matters of substance will begin, bearing in mind again what the Minister of Agriculture said about our need to know by early summer next year what the chances are of getting in, and that a long negotiation would be quite unacceptable?

Mr. Barber

The right hon. Gentleman raises four questions. First, he rightly anticipated that, as I am sure my predecessor in the previous Government would have done, I shall be reporting regularly to the House after ministerial meetings.

On the right hon. Gentleman's second point, about the figure of £670 million to which he referred, he will recall that that was the figure stated in the previous Government's White Paper, the economic assessment, as the contribution which might have to be made by the United Kingdom under the present Community financial arrangements. This is without any alleviation of any kind. But, as the White Paper made clear, it was a theoretical upper limit to our contribution. The White Paper went on to explain that, in practice, our contribution would be fixed within narrower limits. Again, the House will recall that the White Paper set out no terms for British entry. It was only an estimate of theoretical cost based on a variety of assumptions.

As for the waiting time during the negotiations which took place on Tuesday, I think that it was only reasonable that the Six should have the opportunity of considering among themselves the seven detailed and specific suggestions which I made for work to proceed during the summer and beyond. This was the first ministerial meeting. The future arrangements for carrying out our work had not been settled. We had not attempted to settle them. This was the first working meeting. Consequently, I believe that in future a great deal of preparatory work will be done by officials fom the United Kingdom and by the Commission. On this occasion, it was reasonable that they should wish to consider among themselves what I had proposed.

I come back to the point which I made a moment ago. It was a very satisfactory outcome, certainly from our point of view, that six of the seven proposals that I put forward were, at the end of the day, found to be acceptable by the Communities.

On the final point raised by the right hon. Gentleman, I hope that when we 'meet again in the autumn and thereafter we shall be able to start negotiations on matters of substance.

Sir D. Walker-Smith

May I ask my right hon. Friend two questions? The first concerns his reference to this being a fact-finding exercise. Is he aware that in all too many of these matters, particularly the agricultural levy and suchlike, the point is not that the facts are unclear but that they are unpalatable? Can he therefore say what indication there is from the Six that they are willing to undertake any radical revision of these matters? Secondly, are we to take it from the absence of any reference to political discussion in what he said that he is not participating in and is not informed about the deliberations of the Six in regard to what they call political unity?

Mr. Barber

On the first point, I stated that the Government were prepared to adopt the common agricultural policy subject to the points which I had made clear, for example, that we would want to discuss certain practical problems which might arise connected with subjects such as milk, pig meat and eggs, and problems concerning our hill farmers, and so on. The previous Government also made plain that they were prepared to accept the common agricultural policy. Indeed, neither the previous Government nor ourselves would have been realistic if we had thought that we could enter these negotiations on any other basis. But this does not mean that, in a variety of other spheres, there is not a great deal to be discussed.

My right hon. and learned Friend said that some aspects of Community policy are unpalatable. We have never sought to disguise the fact that there will be certain short-term disadvantages. But it is also the case that were we able to join on reasonable terms this would enable us to improve our growth rate and, as a result, our standard of living would rise at a faster rate than would otherwise be the case. I remind my right hon. and learned Friend that when the Common Market was formed output per head in the United Kingdom was higher than in any of the Six countries, except Luxembourg. Today output per head in the United Kingdom is lower than in any of the Six countries, except Italy.

Mr. Latham

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I may be raising a matter which more senior Members than myself should be raising. However, as no one has raised the point, I intend to make it.

It may be that I am less resilient than some hon. Members, but there are those of us—I am one—who find it extremely difficult to cope with the conditions in the Chamber at this point. Some hon. Members have already left the Chamber because they find the conditions too difficult. There may be some who are more allergic to this noxious substance than others. It seems unsatisfactory that some hon. Members should feel unable to stay in the Chamber for that reason. I ask you, Mr. Speaker, whether it is reasonable to have a further period of suspension in the hope that conditions might get better, or whether there is any possibility of alternative accommodation. I do not know what difficulties there may be, but the Lords are not sitting. I submit that it is unfair and unjust that some hon. Members should be unable to stay in the Chamber. I will stay with the rest if we must, but many have felt compelled to leave.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Gentleman in his last sentence said what most of us are feeling, that we will stay if we must. We have business to transact. We are conducting the business under conditions which are not exactly what they were before the incident happened. We had to strike a compromise and find a point at which we might be uncomfortable but still efficient.

Mr. Grimond

I should like to ask about two matters which are omitted from the list of subjects to be investigated. One is the fishing industry and the other is regional policy, on which I should think there are many facts to be ascertained about the methods of helping what are sometimes called the underdeveloped regions and how far this can be done under Community regulations.

Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that, although these subjects are left out of the list, they are to be taken into account in the negotiations?

Mr. Barber

Yes, indeed. In my opening statement at Luxembourg I referred to the fisheries policy. But the right hon. Gentleman will know that the Six have not yet agreed on a common fisheries policy.

We shall most certainly also want to consider regional policy. I found that a good deal of work had been done by the Commission on regional policy and that it knows a good deal about the way that our regional policy works.

The list is by no means exclusive. It was simply that we thought it desirable to propose that certain work should be put in hand on a number of matters, some of major consequence on which it wil take quite a long time for the exercise to be completed, and others on which it will be easier, concerning fact-finding, to reach conclusions. However, it is by no means exclusive.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his safe return from the perils of foreign travel to the comparative safety of this House and also on his skilful and determined opening of negotiations on Britain's behalf.

May I ask whether the Commissions have been given a deadline by which they must report so that we may know when the negotiations of substance are likely to begin?

Mr. Barber

No deadline was agreed upon at the meeting of Ministers, but obviously we shall be following closely the work which is taking place and certainly I shall wish to contact my opposite number in the Six if it looks as though this work is not proceeding at a reasonable rate. I think I ought to say that, quite apart from this work, officials from the United Kingdom will be in continuous touch with officials from the Commission. Consequently I hope and believe that we shall make reasonable progress although obviously some reports on these various matters will come to Ministers earlier than others because some will be simpler than others.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

The right hon. Gentleman referred to a fact-finding mission that has been set up. Did he explain to the Common Market countries that neither this Government nor the previous Government ever had a mandate from the people to commence negotiations, and neither has this House of Commons had an opportunity of passing a judgment on whether negotiations should or should not commence, or even continue? Will he explain that to them when he gets back next time?

Mr. Barber

What I made clear in some of the conversations I had with the Ministers and others was that all three parties, I understand, at the last General Election included in their manifestos a proposal to open negotiations in the hope that reasonable terms could be found. I also made quite clear to them in my opening speech at Luxembourg that none of us at this stage could know whether the negotiations would succeed and that there were obvious limits beyond which no United Kingdom Government could go. It is reasonable to start with this fact-finding exercise. Perhaps I should tell the House that on a notice board in the Press room, which held well over 100 Pressmen, after I had been telling about this fact-finding exercise there appeared a notice saying. "If anyone should find any facts in this building, please return them to the British delegation."

Sir R. Russell

What plans has my right hon. Friend for fact-finding for products other than sugar and produce by New Zealand?

Mr. Barber

The fact-finding has been limited to the two very important dairy products, including New Zealand's produce and we thought it reasonable to start with these.

Mr. Barnett

I wish the right hon. Gentleman success in these negotiations. Will he confirm that when he states that he accepts the agricultural policy with certain exceptions, that does not necessarily mean that he accepts that we shall have to make a contribution to the agricultural fund of the size set out in the February White Paper? While one welcomes the fact that he comes here and tells us what he has done in the negotiations, will he deal with the question which I put to him on Monday, that it was reported that his right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary had agreed with the French Foreign Secretary that we would agree with their policy on exchange rate variations? In view of the fact that there could be nearly two years further negotiations, surely this would bring an outrageous commitment to accept. Would he deny that that has been done?

Mr. Barber

I made the position absolutely clear over the agricultural policy and, as I said, it would be wholly unrealistic to have entered negotiations unless one was prepared to adopt the common agricultural policy. On the second point, no proposals have been put to the British Government on the question of exchange rates. I see from what I have read in the Press that there have been certain discussions, but all I know is that there are no proposals put forward by the Six which in any way conflict with our obligations to the International Monetary Fund.

Mr. Marten

Following that decision, is it not up to this Government, as the question of European currency is a very important question, to ask about it and to find what is going on to be in a position to tell the House? On the second point, on the fact finding can my right hon. Friend say whether those doing the fact finding are going out into the world to find the facts, for example, about the Commonwealth Sugar Agreement? Will they visit places like Fiji where the Commonwealth Sugar Agreement is so vitally important and see this matter on the ground, rather than just working on papers?

Mr. Barber

We shall have the opportunity, as would be only reasonable, of submitting in connection with the fact-finding exercise our own assessment of the facts and of the consequences of joining. Perhaps I should make clear, as there may be some misunderstanding about it, that the facts—which we hope will be agreed—in all these sectors, and certainly in the important sector of Commonwealth sugar, are the facts which would apply in the event of a British Government being given no alleviation and no transitional periods whatever. It is only reasonable, therefore, I should have thought, to set to work on actual negotiations when we know the facts. In so far as they are known, one hopes that they will be agreed. It may not be possible to agree all the facts, but we shall then at least know the area of difference.

On the question of international money matters, and exchange rate flexibility in particular, the fact is—I do not think I can be more frank with the House than this—that Her Majesty's Government have received no approaches from the European Economic Community on this subject. We are, as will be appreciated, in close touch on such matters with Community Governments and with those of other countries in bodies such as the International Monetary Fund and the Group of Ten. All I can say is that, on the information we have at the moment, we see no incompatibility between the aims of the International Monetary Fund in these fields and those of the European Economic Community.

Mr. Alfred Morris

I thank the Minister for his help in making this statement, but is he aware of the widespread feeling that he was treated with gross discourtesy and suffered some indignity in Brussels? Does he realise that the people of this country do not want British Ministers to be waiting behind locked doors, and they want an end of grovelling? Further, can he say whether there has been any talk with the French, between the Foreign Secretary and M. Schumann, about Anglo-French nuclear sharing in this context?

Mr. Barber

On the first matter, all I can say is that the hon. Gentleman is talking absolute nonsense. No one in his right mind, if I may say so with great respect, would suggest that we were kept behind locked doors. Perhaps I can put this also to the hon. Gentleman. If the Governments of the Six through their spokesmen had put to me the seven important proposals which I put to them, the first thing that I should most certainly have done would have been to ask for an adjournment so that I could consider them with my officials. I consider that it was wholly reasonable that they should wish to do so. Indeed, I anticipated it. One consequence of the adjournment was that, while they were considering these matters, I saw a number of the Foreign Ministers privately, bilaterally, and also various other members of the delegation who were concerned with these matters, and had some very useful exchanges.

I add this word to the hon. Gentleman, and I say it with deliberation. If he thinks that, on matters as complex as this, negotiations should always take place without any adjournments for either side to consider proposals which are made, he just does not understand; he would never reach the end of the negotiations.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

One recognises that the Community has not stood still since the earlier negotiations conducted by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. May we take it in general terms that the concessions which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister obtained for Commonwealth countries, although not for Australia and New Zealand, are there; or do we have to start all over again?

Mr. Barber

I hope that the fruits of those negotiations and much of the work conducted on behalf of Her Majesty's Government by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in fields such as, for example, independent Commonwealth countries and certain dependent territories outside the categories of what one might call the sugar countries and New Zealand, will enable us on this occasion to cut down the amount of negotiation which would otherwise be necessary.

Mr. Alfred Morris

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I raised a specific point with the right hon. Gentleman about Anglo-French nuclear sharing. The right hon. Gentleman did not answer me, though I recognise that this may have been a slip.

Mr. Barber

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs dealt with this in the statement he made on his return from Paris. Matters of defence form no part of the negotiations in which I am concerned.

Mr. Jay

Did the Chancellor of the Duchy have the authority of the Cabinet for apparently accepting on behalf of Britain the general substance of the common agricultural policy, because he certainly has no authority for it from the House and it means surrendering major British interests before the negotiations start?

Mr. Barber

I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that it is not the custom to say that some decision is or is not a Cabinet decision. This is the policy of Her Majesty's Government. What is more, it was stated quite clearly by the present Prime Minister before the last election.

Mr. Biffen

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there will be widespread recognition that to give any credibility at all to the negotiations he would have to accept the principle of the common agricultural policy? Will the fact-finding committee which will be dealing with this subject be used by Her Majesty's Government to indicate to our prospective partners the determination of this Government to increase United Kingdom agricultural output to that our own prospective partners will know that the available United Kingdom market for their surpluses is a good deal less than is popularly supposed?

Mr. Barber

I certainly hope that as a result of our negotiations the output of agriculture in Britain will increase. This is certainly our intention. It is the intention of our right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. I saw somewhere a suggestion that in some way we were to be pressed to curtail or diminish the output of British agriculture. No. such suggestion has been made.

Mr. English

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that if we were in the Common Market we could not be cross-questioning him as we are now or, for example, cross-questioning the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food?

Amongst his points why did not the right hon. Gentleman raise the possibility that the Common Market might have a democratic assembly where such questioning of Ministers would be permissible?

Mr. Barber

I do not accept the points made by the hon. Gentleman. Joining the Common Market would certainly not preclude the cross-examination of Ministers in this Parliament.

Mr. Farr

Will my right hon. Friend be seeking to safeguard the vital interests of certain Commonwealth primary producers by seeking to have their needs embodied in a form of treaty similar to the Yaoundé Convention with similar privileges conferred on the signatories?

Mr. Barber

We certainly hope that some countries will be able to have an association with the Community on the basis of a renegotiated Yaoundé Convention.

Mr. Palmer

If I understood the right hon. Gentleman correctly, Euratom is left out of immediate consideration. Is not that surprising in view of the great commitment of Britain to nuclear science and technology?

Mr. Barber

I should have liked all of the seven sectors to be included in the fact-finding exercise, but as after consideration the Chairman of the Council of Ministers, the Foreign Minister of the Federal Republic of Germany, announced that they were content to accept fact-finding exercises in six of the seven areas that I put forward I did not feel that it would have been reasonable at that stage to have pressed for an immediate investigation into Euratom.

Mr. Scott-Hopkins

While welcoming my right hon. Friend's statement concerning the common agricultural policy and accepting the principles of it, may I ask him to confirm that the method and the percentages of the payments into the Common Agricultural Fund will be open to negotiation when the fact-finding Commissions have finished their reporting and work on negotiating commences?

Mr. Barber

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this point. Obviously the question of agricultural finance, which is the largest aspect of the Community budget, is of major importance—indeed, of crucial importance—to Britain. The fact-finding which will now proceed under the authority of this Ministerial conference will certainly include the question of agricultural finance.

Mr. Sheldon

Has any undertaking been given by the Government that will limit our taking advantage of any widening of exchange rates that may be authorised by the I.M.F.?

Mr. Barber

I thought that I had made the position clear. No approach has been made to Her Majesty's Government about exchange rates.

Sir H. d'Avigdor-Goldsmid

Will my right hon. Friend accept it from me that, despite the tenor of the questions that have been thrown at him this evening, a very large element of thinking people in this country welcome this start to these negotiations?

Mr. Barber

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Perhaps I should say that I take it for eranted that when one makes a statement of this or any other kind in the House it is only natural that it should be those who are particularly concerned about certain aspects who put questions. The mere fact that the majority of questions which have been put to me on this matter this evening have been questions which, by implication, may have been somewhat critical, does not lead me to believe that there is not an overwhelming majority of hon. Members who appreciate that if we are able to join the Common Market on reasonable terms—and that is what we are determined to get—it will mean a considerable improvement in the standard of living of the British people.

Mr. Robert Hughes

Will the right hon. Gentleman make clear to me something which so far has not been made clear to me? Are these negotiations and the fact-finding commissions organised on the basis of whether we shall be modifying all our existing institutions to suit the Common Market, or is there any genuine possibility of the Common Market commissions changing some and even major parts of their way of life to suit the way of life in this country, or are we simply negotiating the terms how long and how much will have to be paid to get in?

Mr. Barber

Obviously, what we are to negotiate about is finding solutions to the problems, solutions which are acceptable both to the Six and the United Kingdom. As for transitional periods, I made it clear at the meeting on Tuesday that I was not prepared to accept the view that the only means of solving these problems was necessarily to be by means of transitional provisions. In other words, I pointed out that at this stage I preferred to keep open the possibility that by further discussion and by mutual agreement we might in certain areas come to the conclusion together that a solution might be found in whole or in part by means other than simply transitional arrangements.

Mr. John Davies

Can my right hon. Friend tell us anything of the plans of the Community for negotiation with the African countries and the impact that these negotiations may have on our relationships within the European Free Trade Area?

Mr. Barber

I said that I hoped that we would be able to make satisfactory arrangements with the African countries and also the countries in the Caribbean for which, too, we have some responsibility.

As for E.F.T.A.; the arrangements which I have made are that after each of the Ministerial meetings—and this happened on this occasion—I will brief the E.F.T.A. ambassadors in Brussels and the Commonwealth ambassadors separately and the Irish ambassador separately. I did this on this occasion.

Our hope is that the two members of E.F.T.A., the Danes and the Norwegians, and the Irish, who are applying for full membership, as we are, will be successful with us in achieving full membership on reasonable terms. If so, we hope that arrangements could also be made for the non-applicant E.F.T.A. countries, so that at the end of the day we would hope that there would still remain free trade. However, this of course, is a consideration which can be discussed only when we have made some progress and the other two E.F.T.A. countries and Ireland have also made some progress in the negotiations.

Mr. Carter

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster cited as evidence to support the negotiations the higher growth rate in the Common Market countries and the higher output per head. What evidence has he to support the view that this was brought about by the signing of the Rome Treaty? Second, what evidence has he that Britain's growth rate and output per man would go up should we enter? I ask this simply because a large economic unit like the United States has a lower output per head than any other country in Europe, apart from Britain.

Mr. Barber

I do not accept the alleged fact which the hon. Gentleman has just stated. He must make up his own mind. I believe that in an enlarged market of over 200 million people our major industries and many of our minor industries would have a much better chance of growing than they would have in the smaller market which now exists. I happen to believe that this larger market will lead to faster economic growth and that this in its turn will lead to a quickening of the rising standards of living of the British people.

Mr. Carter

On a point of order—

Mr. Speaker

Order. When the hon. Gentleman wants to raise a point of order he does not have to point to Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Carter

On a point of order. My argument was neither on one side nor the other. I wanted to elicit from the right hon. Gentleman evidence to support his statement, and he has not given the evidence.

Mr. Speaker

Order. That often happens to a Member in this House.

Mr. Benn

Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us what arrangements are being made to allow both sides of industry, notably the C.B.I. and T.U.C., to be associated with the fact-finding so that the considerations he will be dealing with will also be reviewed by those likely to be affected?

Mr. Barber

That is a very important and valid point. I have taken steps, as I know my predecessor would also have done, to keep in close touch with the views of Britsh industry and the T.U.C. I hope to be seeing Mr. Victor Feather, and I think perhaps one or two people with him next week, all being well, if we can fix up a time.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I must protect the business of the House.