HC Deb 07 July 1971 vol 820 cc1338-41
The Prime Minister (Mr. Edward Heath)

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, I should like to make a statement on the subject of the European Communities.

The White Paper which I promised in my statement on 17th June is being presented to Parliament and published this afternoon. Copies will be available in the Vote Office at the conclusion of this statement. It is a comprehensive and detailed document, and inevitably long. The Government have therefore decided also to publish a short version next Monday.

The White Paper records the Government's conclusions as follows:

  1. (1) The Government are convinced that our country will be more secure, our ability to maintain peace and promote development in the world greater, our economy stronger, and our industries and peoples more prosperous, if 1339 we join the European Communities than if we remain outside them;
  2. (2) the Government are satisfied that the arrangements for our entry agreed in the negotiations will enable us to adjust satisfactorily to our new position as a member of the Communities and thus to reap the full benefits of membership;
  3. (3) the Government will therefore seek the approval of Parliament in the autumn for a decision of principle to take up full membership of the Communities on the basis of the arrangements which have been negotiated with them.

Mr. Harold Wilson

While thanking the right hon. Gentleman for his statement, may I also express the thanks of hon. Members in all parts of the House for the arrangement that he has made that, in addition to the White Paper which hon. Members will want to study, extra copies will be available for hon. Members to disseminate to constituents and others that they may take part in the debate?

The right hon. Gentleman did not, as I hoped that he might, intimate to the House the arrangements for the debate. No doubt he will arrange for his right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to do that, perhaps tomorrow. On my understanding, the arrangements proposed for the debate are generous and will be acceptable to hon. Members, both as regards the "take note" debate this month and the definitive debate in October. Will the right hon. Gentleman arrange for the House to be given full details of those proposals?

The right hon. Gentleman said that the White Paper was long, detailed and would take a lot of deep study by hon. Members in all parts of the House. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will agree that, from that moment, we in this House and the country can have the great debate based on substance for which we have all called. It is a debate which could not really get off the ground until the terms of entry were known. Since we shall now be able to argue on the basis of facts which were not, and could not be, available until today—[HON. MEMBERS: "Come off it."] If hon. Members oppo- site do not agree, perhaps I might point out that I am quoting from the last issue of the Conservative Weekly News. Whatever views some hon. Members may have, I am sure that the Prime Minister wants to see a great debate on this issue and that he agrees with those wise words in the Conservative Weekly News.

The Prime Minister

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his opening remarks. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will be prepared to make a statement tomorrow about details of the forthcoming debate, and the House will see that proper time is being allowed before the debate for study of the White Paper. There will be full opportunity for this exploratory debate before the House rises for the Summer Recess. I agree that it is right that the great debate should begin. The Government have endeavoured to set out as clearly as possible in the White Paper all the details of the arrangements negotiated in Brussels and our assessment of them.

Mr. Sandys

Is not it clear that the arrangements which have been negotiated are as favourable as any which this Government or their predecessors could possibly have hoped to obtain and, therefore, that no one who previously supported Britain's entry into the Common Market can now reasonably justify a change of mind on the grounds that the terms are unsatisfactory?

The Prime Minister

Those who have been able to follow the details of the negotiations stage by stage as they have been announced to the House by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster will agree that the arrangements that have been made are favourable. What the White Paper does is to enable the House and the public to look at these arrangements together as one piece. It will then be for every hon. Member to make up his mind about his attitude to them.

Mr. Thorpe

Is the Prime Minister aware that the House will be grateful for this very detailed White Paper? Whatever view is taken on the merits of the case, since this is one of the greatest decisions that Parliament will have had to take for a very long time, will the right hon. Gentleman not rule out the possibility of a free vote in the autumn when this matter is discussed?

Can the Prime Minister say whether, during the negotiations to safeguard essential British interests, the approach of Her Majesty's Government differed in any material particular from that of their predecessors?

Is the Prime Minister aware that he will be supported by those who have consistently favoured entry into Europe if, to quote the words of the former Prime Minister on 2nd May, 1967, he carries on … with all the vigour and determination at our command to ensure our entry into Europe?

The Prime Minister

Certainly I am prepared to do that. I think that I have dealt with the right hon. Gentleman's first question previously in the House. What I have done today is to announce a very clear decision of the Government on this great matter. The Government, therefore, are fully entitled to ask their supporters to support the decision that they have taken. This is the constitutional position which the House will respect.

As for the actual arrangements, as is well known and is also stated frankly in the White Paper, when we came to power the first meeting for negotiations had been arranged by the previous Administration. They had stated what they considered to be the major problems. The present Government took over from that point, accepting that statement of the problems, and have negotiated on them since. Most commentators in this country, in Europe, in North America, and throughout the Commonwealth are agreed that the arrangements which have been negotiated are rather more favourable than were originally expected by those observing the scene.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. There is a long White Paper to be read. A long debate is awaited. I am told that there will be a liberal allocation of time for it. In the circumstances, I think that we must move on to the next business.