HC Deb 04 May 1970 vol 801 cc11-7
5. Mr. William Hamilton

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will now state the date of the commencement of formal negotiations on entry into the European Economic Community.

8. Mr. Cronin

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the present situation with regard to Great Britain's application to join the European Economic Community.

17. Mr. St. John-Stevas

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether he will make a further statement on the state of the negotiations for Great Britain to join the European Economic Community.

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. George Thomson)

We have said that we want to start negotiations as soon as possible. I have now completed my consultations in the capitals of the Six and I find good prospects of an early start to negotiations.

Mr. Hamilton

Will my right hon. Friend confirm or deny the report which was published in The Guardian on 22nd April to the effect that he had said in Strasbourg that three-quarters of the British population regarded our entry into the E.E.C. as inevitable, and will he say where that statistic came from? Secondly, does he not believe that the British economy is now sufficiently strong to enable us to dictate the terms under which we would go into the E.E.C.?

Mr. Thomson

In reply to the latter part of my hon. Friend's supplementary question, the negotiating position of the Government is infinitely stronger than it has been at any time in the past, as a result of the success of the Government's economic policies.

In reply to the first part of my hon. Friend's supplementary question, I was correctly quoted in respect of that particular public opinion poll, which was as I said it was. I was also careful to explain to the journalists who asked me this the facts arising out of other public opinion polls in which scepticism had been expressed by the British people. I gave a fair overall impression, but, as often happens, the newspaper reporting was partial.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

Will the Minister continue to resist the siren voice of the hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton), and, if he cannot give a date. will he assure the House that the Government's policy is to negotiate on as few major issues as possible and to get the negotiations over as quickly as possible?

Mr. Thomson

Yes, Sir.

Mr. Shinwell

As my right hon. Friend represents a Scottish constituency, has he taken note of a decision of the overwhelming majority of the Scottish Trade Union Congress not to proceed with negotiations, and can he afford to ignore a decision by that body?

Mr. Thomson

I do not accept my right hon. Friend's description of the proceedings of the Scottish T.U.C. I do not think I am under any illusions about the general state of public opinion in this country on the matter, and I have certainly explained this on my tours around the European capitals. As I have said to the House many times, once the negotiations have begun and are showing signs of progress and success, I think this will be reflected in public opinion in this country.

Sir B. Craddock

Has the right hon. Gentleman had an opportunity of reading the April issue of the Journal of the European Community, with particular reference to the article entitled "A political community is on the way", and do he and his colleagues subscribe to the view expressed therein?

Mr. Thomson

I have not had the opportunity to read the article referred to by the hon. Gentleman, but the Government have always made it clear that they thought that one of the great prizes that could emerge from negotiating satisfactory terms for economic integration would be the strengthening of the political voice of the members of the enlarged European Community.

Mr. Alfred Morris

Does not my right hon. Friend think it would be churlish to pursue the application now that so many people in Common Market countries are coming to Britain to buy cheaper food and other commodities? Does not my right hon. Friend agree that it would be interpreted as letting down some of our greatest admirers in Western Europe if we were to close this escape hatch for lower prices?

Mr. Thomson

I had always understood that my hon. Friend was in favour of putting this matter to the test in negotiations although he had his personal doubts about the outcome of the negotiations. We welcome the people who come to purchase household goods in our shops, their contribution to our balance of payments is very acceptable, and I see no reason why British membership of the European Communities should make any difference to that.

Mr. Wood

Will the right hon. Gentleman say whether, in his opinion, the agreement which was reached recently by the Six on economic and monetary unity by the end of the 1970s constitutes an obstacle to British membership of the Community?

Mr. Thomson

No, Sir; it constitutes no obstacle. We have looked at these developments with great interest, we see no difficulty in principle about them, and we are ready to discuss with the members of the European Community how these matters might develop.

Mr. Henig

Has my right hon. Friend seen reports that the favoured method of negotiation by the British Government once negotiations start will be similar to that used rather ineffectually by the Conservative Government between 1961 and 1963. Would not he rather use the method of negotiation advocated by the Commission in Brussels, which would be much more favourable to Britain and lead to the desired result?

Mr. Thomson

The actual procedure for negotiation is a matter for the Community itself. The Community must decide whom it will put in to bat for it. Our own interest is in getting the negotiations begun and having them as flexible as possible for making progress.

Mr. Sandys

Would not it be as well for those who have doubts to wait to see what comes out of the negotiations before making up their minds?

Mr. Thomson

Yes, Sir. I have always assumed that that was the view of the overwhelming majority on both sides of the House.

26. Mr. Judd

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether he will make a progress report on consultations with Commonwealth Governments on Great Britain's Common Market negotiations.

Mr. George Thomson

Commonwealth consultation on this, as on other subjects, is a continuing process. Her Majesty's Government have in recent months had the opportunity to exchange views at Ministerial level with a number of Commonwealth Governments.—[Vol. 796, c. 186.]

Mr. Judd

While thanking my right hon. Friend for that reply, may I ask whether he does not agree that there is a difference between keeping Commonwealth countries informed about progress and full consultation? Does he not further agree that, because of the degree to which the economies of many Commonwealth countries are deeply involved in our negotiations, there is an urgent need for formal procedures to be laid down for full consultation as distinct from merely keeping Commonwealth Governments informed about progress?

Mr. Thomson

I accept the distinction which my hon. Friend draws between information and consultation. It is consultation that we are committed to, and we will fulfil that commitment. At the moment, we are in the process of giving earnest consideration to the best method of doing this with our Commonwealth partners, and we will be in touch with them about these arrangements shortly.

Mr. Marten

As the Government have been in touch with the Common Market for almost a year over the forthcoming negotiations, can the right hon. Gentleman say what is the Common Market view about New Zealand and the Commonwealth Sugar Agreement? Surely he has some idea about this?

Mr. Thomson

These matters must await the beginning of negotiations. One of the reasons for wishing negotiations to begin is to enable these matters to come to an issue so that we can make up our minds about what progress is possible.

34. Mr. Milne

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what negotiations have taken place with the Norwegian Government concerning British entry to the European Economic Community.

Mr. George Thomson

My right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade visited Oslo on 17th and 18th February, and he and I will be attending the Ministerial Meeting of E.F.T.A. at Geneva on 14th and 15th May, when I hope to discuss these matters with Norwegian Ministers.

Mr. Milne

Will my right hon. Friend take note when he meets the representatives of the other E.F.T.A. countries that E.F.T.A. has just concluded a very successful ten years of existence and that it has managed to do it on the basis of a staff of fewer than 100? When he starts negotiations for our entry into the Common Market, will he contrast this with the way in which the bureaucracy in Brussels has grown?

Mr. Thomson

Yes, Sir. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his tribute to the E.F.T.A. organisation, which I heartily endorse; but I do not wholly support the conclusions he draws from that tribute.

43. Mr. Mayhew

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when he now expects negotiations to begin on Great Britain's application to join the European Economic Community.

58. Mr Shinwell

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when the negotiations on the proposed British entry into the European Economic Community will begin.

Mr. George Thomson

I would refer to the reply which I gave earlier to my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) and other hon. Members.

Mr. Mayhew

What are the Government doing to bring to the attention of the man-in-the-street the very large rise in living standards which we forfeited through not joining the Common Market earlier?

Mr. Thomson

It is our view that all the issues appertaining to our application to join the European Communities—both the cost and the benefits—ought to be fully and democratically debated in this country.

Mr. Shinwell

Are we to understand that the Government are going to enter into negotiations without having the faintest idea of what is to be the basis of negotiations and their details? Does my right hon. Friend recognise that this afternoon he was asked a Question about whether the negotiations will consider the New Zealand difficulty, the sugar difficulty and so on, and that apparently he has got no idea about it? What is it intended to talk about when we get there?

Mr. Thomson

My right hon. Friend is showing less than his usual sense of fairness here. The Government have set out in a series of White Papers since 1967 their views on various aspects of the negotiations. In respect of New Zealand we said in 1967, and we have gone on saying since, that safeguards for the New Zealand dairy industry will be one of the central objectives that we shall seek. As I said earlier, until we get round the negotiating table it is impossible to report with any sort of authenticity what the attitude on the other side of the negotiating table will turn out to be.

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