HC Deb 09 June 1971 vol 818 cc1043-63
The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. Geoffrey Rippon)

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, I should like to make a statement about the meeting with the European Community which I attended in Luxembourg on 7th June.

This meeting recorded agreement on three important matters and made useful progress in discussion of a number of other outstanding questions.

First, exports of sugar from the developing Commonwealth countries. The House will recall that when I reported on the previous Ministerial meeting with the European Community on 17th May I said that the Community had made a proposal regarding the developing Commonwealth countries whose interests are at present covered by the Commonwealth Sugar Agreement. I made it clear then to the Community that Her Majesty's Government would need to consult the other Commonwealth Governments concerned before replying to the Community's proposal. A meeting of the Commonwealth Governments concerned was held accordingly in London on 2nd and 3rd June. I was able to explain to them that the firm assurance which the Community had proposed met their anxieties and interests, and the meeting agreed on a communique, which, with permission, I will circulate in the OFFICIAL REPORT. On the basis of the statement included in the communique, the Commonwealth representatives agreed to accept the Community's proposal.

I informed the Community accordingly in Luxembourg on 7th June. At the same time, the Community made clear its position regarding imports of sugar from India, which is a party to the Commonwealth Sugar Agreement, and whose interests will be covered under the arrangements agreed earlier for Commonwealth developing countries in Asia.

These exchanges mean that the essential question of sugar from developing Commonwealth countries has been satisfactorily resolved. This represents a very substantial and satisfactory achievement.

Secondly, the House will recall that I reported on 17th May that agreement had been reached on satisfactory arrangements for the continued import of certain important raw materials for British industry. The problem of alumina was the only one left outstanding. This has now been settled. With permission, I will circulate the details in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

The third question on which agreement was reached was monetary matters. The future of sterling is not strictly speaking an issue in the negotiations The Six have, however, expressed interest in the problems which would arise from the inclusion of a major reserve currency in an enlarged Community progressing towards closer economic and monetary union. We on our side have made clear our readiness to envisage an orderly and gradual reduction of official sterling balances after our accession, but we have also made clear that three conditions would need to be satisfied. First, any proposal would have to be acceptable to official holders of sterling, who would need an alternative reserve asset. Secondly, it should not impose an unacceptable burden on our own resources and balance of payments. Third, it should promote the stability of the international monetary system.

In my statement in Luxembourg I reiterated that we were prepared to envisage an orderly and gradual run-down of official sterling balances after our accession. I undertook that after our accession we should be ready to discuss what measures might be appropriate to achieve a progressive alignment of the external characteristics of, and practices in relation to, sterling with those of other currencies in the Community in the context of progress towards economic and monetary union in the enlarged Community. I said that we were confident that official sterling could be handled in a way which would enable us to take our full part in that progress. I also said that in the meantime we should manage our policies with a view to stabalising the official balances in a way which would be consistent with these longer-term objectives.

The Community took note of my statement with satisfaction and expressed their acceptance of our suggestions about the way in which this matter should be handled. It is, therefore, no longer an issue between us. In addition to these matters on which agreement was reached on 7th June, I took the opportunity to explain to the Community the very great importance which we attached to a satisfactory agreement regarding fisheries. What we have asked for is a categoric statement that the present common fisheries policy would be modified after enlargement to meet the circumstances and needs of a Community of Ten. In addition we want a clear understanding from the start that there would be adequate protection for our inshore fishing grounds in particular. We have proposed that this could be secured by reserving exclusive fishing rights within six-mile limits—drawn from the base lines that were agreed at the 1964 European Fisheries Convention—together with an establishment clause which would be worked out to ensure that only vessels genuinely based on our ports and fishing from them could operate within these limits.

We consider this to be a safe and reasonable approach given our existing position and that of the Six, who already possess historic fishing rights of one sort or another round our coast line within the six to 12 mile zone. The really important thing to remember is the base lines agreed in 1964 from which the six-mile limit would be drawn, as this means protection of such important areas as the Minches, Moray Firth, Clyde, Cardigan Bay, Morecambe Bay, Solway Firth and the Wash.

The Conference agreed on procedures for considering this question.

Finally, I drew attention to the need to agree on machinery for the new member countries, if they were to join the Communities, to be closely associated with all aspects of Community development and activity in the period, which could cover a number of months, between the signature of an accession treaty and its entry into force. It is clear that all concerned have an interest in making satisfactory provision for this period, since both existing and prospective members of the Community will wish to ensure that the development of the Community's policies during this period will proceed in a manner acceptable to all.

We confirmed that the next meeting with the Community at Ministerial level would take place on 21st to 22nd June.

Mr. Harold Lever

I think the right hon. and learned Gentleman will be aware that while we welcome his reserving the fisheries problem we will treat this as a fairly interim statement and will expect a full report to the House on the further details. In the meantime, will he keep in mind the exchanges yesterday on the question of the six and 12 miles limits as relevant to this problem?

So far as the sterling area is concerned, the right hon. and learned Gentleman has eventually got round to conceding that this will have to be discussed and cleared up before the negotiations can be put out of the way. Though he has done this belatedly, there is very little in his statement which appears to give information to the House about what he really has in mind. May I now ask him what are the suggestions referred to in his statement which he had made about the way in which the matter should be handled and in relation to which the Community took note of his statement with satisfaction? Could the House know what the suggestions were so that it can express its satisfaction or dissatisfaction?

In particular, too, could he tell us what relevance his statement has about his willingness to undertake "an orderly and gradual run-down of sterling balances"? Does this mean that there will be an annual run-down or a rundown at regular intervals in the sterling balances? If so, how does he reconcile that with the condition which he makes that these matters should be dealt with in a way which would "not impose an unacceptable burden on our own resources and balance of payments"? Could we have those points cleared up?

Mr. Rippon

As far as the fisheries policy is concerned, I will, of course, report further in the light of the progress we make in the negotiations.

I think that what I have said about sterling is clear and in line with what we have said before. We have no preconceived ideas. All these matters are for discussion after our accession in the light of developments.

Mr. Albu

Can the right hon. and learned Gentleman say whether the members of the Six recognise that a reserve currency can be a considerable burden and should be more widely shared? Can he say whether any time limit was discussed for the running down of sterling balances?

Mr. Rippon

No—none of these matters.

Mr. William Clark

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that there is a growing feeling in the country that the negotiations are becoming rather meaningless? Is he aware that public opinion is that the Government, at the end of the day, intend to recommend entry? Would it not be better for the Government to reaffirm clearly to the country that in no circumstances will they recommend entry unless it is to the advantage of this country?

Mr. Rippon

We certainly would not recommend entry unless it was to the advantage of this country. That has been the purpose of both this Government and the last in the negotiations. My hon. Friend is being less than fair on this. There would have been great criticism in the House if I had not been able to make the firm and clear statement I have made today.

Mr. Harold Wilson

I have three questions. The first concerns sugar. Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman tell us whether the Community accepted the statement which he made to the Commonwealth countries concerned, which accepted it in turn? If not, does he agree that at the conference with the Commonwealth countries there was a bilateral British Government assurance? Will he tell us whether he interprets this as meaning that if the Six do not deliver on the lines expected and hoped for the British Government will then insist on maintaining the safeguards under the Commonwealth Sugar Agreement?

Secondly, the right hon. and learned Gentleman has no doubt read the article in the Guardian this morning about steel. Can he repudiate that article and give an assurance that the Community has not demanded that there should be no further expansion or modernisation of the assets and scale of the British Steel Corporation? If there have been statements of this kind, will he tell us when he last informed the House about them?

Thirdly, there is the question of sterling. The right hon. and learned Gentleman has said very little about this, although the Press has had a great deal of comment—I do not know whether it arose from briefing in Brussels by the Six or whether through introspection. The suggestion has been made that what is in the minds of the Six, if not in the right hon. and learned Gentleman's mind, is that there should be a funding of our formidable sterling balances which should then be paid off over a period of years out of our surpluses. If that is so, would not this place a heavy burden on our balance of payments, even forcing deflationary policies over the years? Will he confirm that this has not been discussed or put forward as a means of reaching agreement? If he has not got an idea in his head—to use his phrase—will the Chancellor of the Exchequer make a statement to the House next week?

Mr. Rippon

As I promised the Commonwealth Sugar Conference, I communicated the text of the communiqué to the Community and they received it. That was all that was necessary. The Six have given a very firm assurance.

I have not read the article about steel in The Guardian today. It is news to me.

That aspect of the quesion of sterling did not arise, and if the right hon. Gentleman has any questions about what may happen in future or in the light of developments, these are really for my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Mr. Harold Wilson

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman answer my last two questions? Obviously he has not had time to read the article in The Guardian. Will he do so and make a statement as to whether these matters have been discussed with him and with the Coal and Steel Community and whether any commitments have been asked for or given, and, if so, why the House has not been told in earlier reports? If the right hon. and learned Gentleman is able to give a total repudiation of the story, which seems to have some degree of authenticity on the face of it, we will naturally accept his assurance. These are statements referring to alleged discussions between him and the Community. On the question of sterling, will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give an assurance that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who must have been consulted in this matter, will make a statement to the House at the earliest opportunity?

Mr. Rippon

I have said that there are matters for my right hon. Friend which he will deal with. My statement today has dealt simply with how we have handled the matter in the negotiations and I have said that we have not been tied down in this way in the negotiations. I have not read the article, which is news to me. I have given no commitment of that kind. When dealing with the question of arrangements with the Coal and Steel Community, I will, of course, report to the House.

Several Hon. Members rose——

Mr. Speaker

Order. The Chair is in a difficult position. So many right hon. and hon. Members wish to ask supplementary questions. I intend to give preference to those I did not call on the occasions of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster's last statement and of the Prime Minister's statement a week later. I may make mistakes but I will do my best.

Mr. W. H. K. Baker

Can my right hon. and learned Friend tell us what circumstances have altered since 1964, when the then Conservative Government put on a 12-mile fishing limit? Secondly, can he say why it is that he will not say categorically, either here or in Brussels, that the whole of the E.E.C. fishing policy is unacceptable to our inshore fishing industry? Will not he say now that we must get the terms negotiated before and not after entry?

Mr. Rippon

I ask my hon. Friend to await the outcome of our discussions at the next meeting. I do not think that anyone has said necessarily that the whole fisheries policy is unacceptable. In so far as it relates to marketing or conservation, there may be parts that we welcome and that are more in line with our own practice in any event. There has been some misunderstanding about conditions within the Six in relation to the 12-mile limit. I do not think that we can ask for an actual improvement in our present position. When we introduced the 12-mile limit, it had to do with historical rights. We would not envisage this being extended.

Mr. Raphael Tuck

Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that I am lost in wonderment and admiration at the way he is embarking on this act of faith? Does not his vague statement, about satisfactory arrangements, decisions on safeguards, reserving Britain's position on one important issue after the other, really mean that he is saying to the British people, "Let us jump into the water blindfold, boys, and hope that it is not too cold or too deep"?

Mr. Rippon

It is not like that at all. What is important to the House and the country is that we should not be committed to policies on which we may wish to express a view until we are a member. When we are a member, all these problems can be dealt with by us as a member. Therefore, there will be no commitment of any kind as far as we are concerned in respect of matters which are for discussion and decision after entry.

Mr. Raphael Tuck

Too late.

Mr. Hordern

Will my right hon. and learned Friend say more about the sterling balances? Will he say precisely what he means by a gradual, orderly rundown of the sterling balances within the context of economic and monetary integration, which, as he knows, the E.E.C. is at present planning to do by 1980? Is it supposed that the sterling balances should be reduced by a strict timetable by that date? Will he also undertake to include in the White Paper, which we understand to be forthcoming, reference to the procedure by which the sterling balances will be dealt with?

Mr. Rippon

No particular procedure has been laid down or commitment of that kind made. Whatever is done will be done in relation to the three criteria to which I referred in my statement. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made clear in his statement of 20th May, all these questions really arise within the context of co-ordination of policies after our entry.

Mr. Prentice

The right hon. and learned Gentleman said that he communicated to the Six the text of the agreement reached with the Commonwealth leaders on sugar. Will he explain the significance of the fact that he did not even attempt to get the Six to accept that interpretation?

Mr. Rippon

What I did was to tell the Community what had happened, as I explained at my last meeting I would do after consultation with the Commonwealth sugar producing countries. I communicated the results to the Six and circulated the text. Part of the statement made by the conference which I had with Commonwealth Governments said: The British Government and other Commonwealth Governments participating regard this offer as a firm assurance of a secure and continuing market in the enlarged Community on fair terms for the quantities of sugar covered by the Commonwealth Sugar Agreement in respect of all its existing developing member countries. The developing Commonwealth countries will continue to plan their future production on this basis. That is what I told the Community.

Mr. Ian Lloyd

As some doubt has been cast by some hon. Members opposite on the authenticity and validity of the Community's endorsement of what my right hon. and learned Friend has achieved, would he not agree that it is most important that the House and the country should know that at its special meeting yesterday the European Parliament, jointly with the Assembly of the Council of Europe, agreed that he had made outstanding and very welcome progress? This fact appears to have been completely ignored by the British Press, but it should be known and it is a matter of the greatest encouragement to us all.

Mr. Rippon

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that comment. Whatever view people may take of these negotiations as a whole, I would have thought that no hon. Member would not welcome the firm safeguards for the developing countries of the Commonwealth for what they have already, and also the safeguards, which those countries warmly welcome, of association or trade agreements which will give them further opportunities to raise their standards of living by access to a market of 300 million people.

Mr. John Mendelson

With reference to the right hon. and learned Gentleman's reading into the record the agreement that he reached with the developing countries' representatives, will he now report to the House that shortly afterwards, after it had been said by the representatives of the Six that they noted what he said, a spokesman for the Commission said that this, of course, was binding on the British Government only? He has not yet reported that to the House today.

Secondly, will the right hon. and learned Gentleman now accept that the French Government, as authoritatively reported from Paris, have already informed the other Five that in the discussion on New Zealand's position on 22nd June they intend to insist that they will allow an extension of the transitional period by one or at the most two years only on condition that the United Kingdom Government bind themselves to no further expansion of the market for New Zealand in this country after the seven years are over? Will he now give a categorical assurance that in no circumstances will he accept these views when they are put to him on 22nd June?

Mr. Rippon

As usual, the hon. Gentleman's sources of information are carefully and inaccurately selected.

Mr. Biffen

In relation to what my right hon. and learned Friend said about progress towards monetary union, could he say whether he made it clear to our prospective partners in the discussions at Brussels that we retain for ourselves the option of floating sterling should that be thought desirable?

Mr. Rippon

That did not arise at all.

Mr. Milne

Is Britain's chief negotiator aware that from his travels to Luxembourg and Brussels he has probably brought back less than he would have done by staying at home? Two points need to be clarified. They are the question of Commonwealth sugar and the question of the agreement with the Community negotiators on this matter. Did negotiations take place, or did he report that he had got the Commonwealth countries to accept his interpretation of the agreement? Is it not the case that he promised us at the outset of the negotiations that there would be safeguards and guarantees but that on each occasion he has reported from Brussels there has been evidence of neither?

Mr. Rippon

The hon. Gentleman's opening sentence indicates that he does not approach this matter in a wholly unbiassed way. I cannot help it if he persistently refuses to accept the firm assurances of the Community reached in negotiations and endorsed by the developing countries which are most concerned when he is not.

Mr. Blaker

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that there will be a wide welcome for the improved atmosphere of confidence and trust which is evident in the negotiations which owes a great deal to the visit of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to the French President and to my right hon. and learned Friend's efforts in Brussels? Is he satisfied that the Six countries understand how important it is from the point of view of public opinion in Britain that there should be a satisfactory and fair solution of the remaining problems?

Mr. Rippon

Yes, Sir.

Mr. Ronald King Murray

The right hon. and learned Gentleman has said nothing about regional policy, and I cannot recall him saying anything significant about it on an earlier occasion. May we take it that this is yet another of his throw-away lines?

Mr. Rippon

No. Obviously the hon. and learned Gentleman has not read what has been said on earlier occasions.

Mr. Warren

While I welcome my right hon. and learned Friend's statement on the progress concerning fishing, may I ask him to take the negotiation discussions a stage further by trying to get the Common Market countries to recognise that we have about a six-year lead in conservation in fishing in this country and that this is something to which they should accede rather than that we should try to trade with them?

Mr. Rippon

We shall in no circumstances change our conservation policy.

Mr. Kelley

Can the right hon. and learned Gentleman give an assurance that there has been no agreement to accept the ratio production quotas on steel and coal? Will he tell the House exactly what is implied for steel and coal in the agreement that has been reached?

Mr. Rippon

Agreement on our accession to the European Coal and Steel Community has not been reached. I will report to the House when it has.

Mr. Ronald Bell

Is it not only a couple of months since the Government said that the position of sterling formed no part of the negotiations? Why, then, since the Elysée meeting have we suddenly come to this abject and humiliating surrender? Have the Government reached the point of commitment when no price is too high to pay and every broken-winded collapse is represented as a major break-through.

Mr. Rippon

I think that on reflection, much as he may regret it, my hon. and learned Friend will find that that is not true. Our position has been fully safeguarded in the matters with which I have been dealing. We have always made it clear that there were certain matters which arose in the context of the negotiations, and there were other matters concerning sterling which were for discussion, and we have had some discussion.

Mr. Roy Jenkins

May I pursue the matter of sterling? Clearly an important change in the rôle of sterling was envisaged. I believe that this can well be very beneficial to this country and, on the whole, may even be more welcome to many of my hon. Friends, whatever their view about the E.E.C., than perhaps to some hon. Members opposite. But what he does, I regret to say—[HON. MEMBERS: "Question."] If the House will allow me to continue for a moment. What the right hon. and learned Gentleman does. I regret to say, is to cloak the matter in a combination of carelessness and mysteriousness, I am sure by accident. I therefore hope that he and his right hon. Friends will consider very carefully—and this should be kept separate from the negotiations as such—whether a fuller statement should be made to the House by him, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, or the Prime Minister, on how they foresee the future of sterling in the new circumstances?

Mr. Rippon

I recognise the right hon. Gentleman's difficulties in this matter. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I am not being difficult. [HON. MEMBERS: "Cheap."] I recognise the right hon. Gentleman's difficulties in this matter. I hope that he will accept that if I have not made the matter clear it was by accident. It is a difficult and complex subject which we discussed on 20th and 21st January and on which successive Chancellors of the Exchequer have expressed opinions. All I can say today—and I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will understand this—is what happened in Brussels and that we have no preconceived ideas on this matter. If further details about the handling of these matters in future in the light of what developments may take place can be given, that is a matter for the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Mr. Bruce-Gardyne

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that many of us on this side of the House do not share the atavistic views of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. Ronald Bell) on the subject of sterling and congratulate him on the admirable settlements he has reached on sterling and sugar? However, is he aware that it is not altogether easy to understand why the Foreign Office chose to abandon the 12-mile fisheries limit before the negotiations were even joined? Does he agree that the fisheries position announced by the Foreign Office spokesman last week is the extreme limit of negotiation on this point?

Mr. Rippon

I think that we have made our position clear. As I explained, there never was an absolute right to a 12-mile limit because of the historic rights. But it will be understood when the matter is finally dealt with that we have had that point very much in mind and that we intend to seek arrangements which will safeguard the inshore fishing interests.

Mr. Hugh Jenkins

Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that the suspicion is beginning to form in many minds that when he is unable to obtain what he asks for in the negotiations the tactic is that a form of words is agreed and it is said that the matter will be settled after the event, which means that we have conceded the point before the event? Is not this bound to cause considerable dissatisfaction on both sides of the House? Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that the House will want something very different before he comes before us with his White Paper?

Mr. Rippon

It means the exact opposite of what the hon. Gentleman has suggested.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

Acknowledging what my right hon. and learned Friend has endeavoured to do for what he described as the 3 million Europeans in New Zealand, may I ask him whether the position of Australia and Canada has been considered? Is it simply proposed immediately to substitute Community preference for Commonwealth preference, or would an enlarged Community make special trade arrangements with these other European countries?

Mr. Rippon

There has been a lot of discussion on matters which affect Canada and Australia, particularly in the context of the import of raw materials from Canada and Australia. Australia is very much affected by the agreement announced today on the subject of alumina. On other matters, we have, in the context of the transitional arrangements for agriculture, agreed with the Community that if difficulties should arise there is machinery for dealing with them. Concerning third country suppliers, we have been concerned to safeguard the interests of traditional suppliers, notably those to which my hon. Friend has referred—Canada and Australia.

Mr. David Clark

Can the right hon. and learned Gentleman indicate what guarantee he can offer the Australian sugar producers, 20 per cent. of whose production is exported to this country, after 1974?

Mr. Rippon

There was special reference to Australia in the Commonwealth Sugar Agreement, with different arrangements for dealing with the quota of sugar from Australia. We have fully preserved the contractual rights of Australia until 1974, and thereafter consideration will have to be given to the position in the light of the transitional arrangements. The Commonwealth Sugar Conference recorded what would be our view—that regard will have to be paid to the renegotiation of the International Sugar Agreement, which runs out in 1973.

Sir F. Bennett

Reverting, without apology, to the question of fisheries, I wonder whether my right hon. and learned Friend can confirm one thing. I think that most of us accept that we cannot possibly do better than get agreement on the six to twelve mile limit. Can my right hon. and learned Friend say categorically that we shall not go below the six-mile limit? If he can, I think that he would put a lot of minds at rest. Secondly, on another topic about which I asked him on a previous occasion when he promised to say something the next time he spoke in the House, can he say something about the Channel Islands, which are not represented in the House but which deserve to have their interests aired here?

Mr. Rippon

We have always accepted that the question of the Channel Islands will have to be raised. I will report to the House in due course. I have been in consultation with the interests concerned from time to time. I think that I have made it clear that we put forward our position on fisheries on the basis of the position today.

Dr. Gilbert

In the light of the Prime Minister's assurance that the conclusion of the negotiations would not result in the reintroduction of trade barriers anywhere in Europe, could the right hon. and learned Gentleman, for the benefit of the House, make a comparison concerning the position of the E.F.T.A. countries which are not parties to the present negotiations and which would, if no trade barriers are raised, presumably have free access to the industrial markets of the Community and vice versa? What advantages might accrue to this country over and above those which would accrue to the E.F.T.A. countries which are not parties to the negotiations? Would the right hon. and learned Gentleman compare that with the costs which we are incurring when they are getting these benefits for nothing?

Mr. Rippon

That is not a correct statement of the position. I reported to the House on 17th May, not only about my meeting with the Council of Ministers in Brussels but about my subsequent meeting with the E.F.T.A. Ministers in Reykjavik, where they all expressed satisfaction with the progress we were making in the negotiations. We reached agreement about how we should proceed together. Some of us are working for full membership, some for various forms of association in the context of neutrality. All these things are going forward, and we are in very close consultation.

Mr. John E. B. Hill

Looking forward to the next Ministerial meeting, can my right hon. and learned Friend say to what extent the French Government, together with the other members of the Six, have come to accept that New Zealand is a European country in the Southern Hemisphere and that therefore a European and lasting solution is required for what is a European problem?

Mr. Rippon

We have lost no opportunity of explaining the position of New Zealand and the importance of the problems which we have to consider. The Community has accepted that New Zealand is a special case for which special solutions must be found.

Mr. Alfred Morris

Has the right hon. and learned Gentleman seen the deeply anguished statement by the Prime Minister of Queensland about the progress of the negotiations? Does he agree that it is disquieting that there should be a deep sense of impending betrayal among so many representative Australians? Does he agree that we must safeguard our trade with Australia, as with other countries, which he has not mentioned in the negotiations?

Mr. Rippon

When I visited Australia I found no deep sense of impending betrayal. We indicated then the way in which we would seek to safeguard Australian interests, and that is the policy which I have consistently pursued.

Mr. Clark Hutchison

Has my right hon. and learned Friend had any conversations with the Australian and other Commonwealth Governments on the question of sterling? Secondly, the Conservative position was that we would look after Commonwealth interests, and it is not good enough to say that Queensland sugar can look after itself after 1974.

Mr. Rippon

It has always been made clear that, whenever the interests of sterling area countries are affected, they will be consulted.

Mr. Jay

If the Minister really believes that the Six accept his interpretation of the sugar agreement, why did he not ask them to confirm this?

Mr. Rippon

It would have been rather an insult—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—to ask them to put a gloss on a firm assurance that we have all understood and which is part of the negotiation proper. Otherwise, one would never end putting up various propositions which people would ask one to interpret.

Mr. Sandys

Following upon a point raised by the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Stechford (Mr. Roy Jenkins), is it not a fact that the large sterling balances which have exposed the £ to abnormal international speculation have over the years proved quite as much a liability as an asset? Is it not, therefore, quite apart from the Common Market negotiations, to our advantage to consider the gradual phasing out of the reserve rôle of sterling?

Mr. Rippon

That is certainly a view which has been advanced on both sides of the House from time to time.

Mr. W. T. Price

If the right hon. and learned Gentleman's latest report is a fair indication of what the House might expect to emerge as the final package deal, would it not be better if he stayed at home in future? Has he become so punch drunk by his many visits to Europe in recent months as to become insensitive to the deep and growing concern on both sides of this honourable House that this policy is mainly one of creep, crawl and surrender? Not only are there sufficient of us in this House to make this policy unacceptable, but outside the House there are millions of our fellow citizens who will never be ridden by this package deal which the Government have in mind.

Mr. Rippon

I have the impression that the hon. Gentleman would say that whatever statement I made to the House. I ask the hon. Gentleman to read the statement made by his right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition on 2nd May, 1967, on which these negotiations are based.

Mr. Turton

Does my right hon. and learned Friend realise that he owes a duty to the House to give the details of what he offered on sterling? In particular, has he agreed to surrender the privileged position of Australia and New Zealand in raising money on the London market, and if so, from what date?

Mr. Rippon

No, Sir, we did not discuss details of this kind. I have not misled the House in any way. In my statement on the future of sterling I made it clear in the context of what I said that these will all be matters for discussion after our entry and in the context of progress towards co-ordination of our policies in the longer term.

Mr. Shore

Among all the mysteries of the afternoon, is it not at least clear that the orderly and progressive rundown of the sterling balances to which the Minister referred must entail an additional burden on the balance of payments on top of all the other burdens which we already know will be heaped? Secondly, is it not clear that the Minister has again accepted the French view that the continuation of the sterling system and the sterling obligations is not compatible with the French view of a European Europe? Finally, will he give an assurance that no secret agreements have been entered into between the Prime Minister and the President, or whoever it may be, concerning the rate at which we might be asked to run down the sterling balances?

Mr. Rippon

There has been no agreement of a secret nature of any kind. I have made it clear that no method has been suggested for the run-down of the sterling balances and that this is a matter for discussion after accession. I remind the House that we have also made it clear that three conditions would need to be satisfied even then. The first is that any proposal would have to be acceptable to official holders of sterling who would need an alternative reserve asset; secondly, it should not impose an unacceptable burden on our resources and balance of payments; and thirdly, it should promote stability of the international monetary system. Our view is still the view expressed by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition when he spoke at Guildhall on 29th July last year. Two years ago I made it clear that we were prepared to discuss—it was indeed in Luxembourg—to discuss and of course in a meaningful sense, progress in currency matters, not excluding as an ultimate aim a common European currency. That may be very far in the future, but all these matters will be discussed after accession in the context of what progress we are able to make towards economic and monetary union.

Mr. Harold Wilson

The right hon. and learned Gentleman has twice quoted me. I do not recall saying either at Guildhall or anywhere else that we would discuss all these matters after entry. While the right hon. and learned Gentleman has repeatedly given the impression to the House that nothing whatsoever has been agreed about sterling, is he quite sure that the French have the same idea?

Mr. Rippon

Yes, Sir. I do not suppose that there is any difference of opinion about this. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister reported to the House, a clear understanding was reached between himself and President Pompidou. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman must understand that the position I have reserved for us in dealing with these matters after entry must be much stronger than anything we could do before entry.

Mr. Harold Wilson

The right hon. and learned Gentleman, no doubt through my own fault, misunderstood me. I was not referring to the statement made by the French after the talks at the Elysée; I was talking about the categorical statement by the French Minister of Finance after the Luxembourg talks. Is the right hon. Gentleman satisfied that what he has told the House today is 100 per cent. four square with what the French Minister of Finance gave as his understanding about sterling?

Mr. Rippon

We were clear in our understanding in Luxembourg, that is certain; I do not know what the French Minister may have said thereafter.

The following are the Communiqué and the details of the treatment of alumina:

Communiqué issued after consultations with the developing member countries of the Commonwealth Sugar Agreement, 2nd-3rd June.

Representatives of the Governments of the United Kingdom, Antigua, Barbados, Fiji, Guyana, India, Jamaica, Kenya, Mauritius, Swaziland, Trinidad and Tobago, Uganda, St. Kitts-Nevis-Anguilla, British Honduras, and of the East African Community and the Caribbean Free Trade Association met at Lancaster House from 2nd to 3rd June, 1971. In the light of consultations that took place, Commonwealth Ministers agreed on the following statement: The Governments represented expressed their satisfaction at the Community's readiness to offer the Governments concerned a choice of forms of association or a trading agreement; and also at the readiness to recognise the United Kingdom's contractual commitments to all the C.S.A. member countries up to the end of 1974. They noted that, in negotiations with the enlarged Community on association or trading agreements, it would be open to the Governments concerned to act individually or collectively. They further noted that the negotiations were due to be concluded by 1975, and that pending conclusion their existing patterns of trade with the United Kingdom would be maintained. There was a full discussion of the Community's offer made on sugar after 1974. The British Delegation assured other delegations that the Community's proposals constituted a specific and moral commitment by the enlarged Community, of which the United Kingdom would be a part. The British Government and other Commonwealth Governments participating regard this offer as a firm assurance of a secure and continuing market in the enlarged Community on fair terms for the quantities of sugar covered by the Commonwealth Sugar Agreement in respect of all its existing developing member countries. The developing Commonwealth countries will continue to plan their future on this basis. On this basis, Commonwealth Ministers agreed to accept the Community's proposal and stated that they would proceed accordingly, it being further agreed that Mr. Rippon would so inform the Council of Ministers of the European Community at their forthcoming Ministerial meeting with the United Kingdom, and would communicate to the Community the text of the agreed statement. In the course of the meeting, Mr. Rippon gave the assurance that it would be the firm policy of the British Government to ensure that the proposall of the Community would be implemented in accordance with the statement recorded above in the event of the United Kingdom joining the European Community. While recognising that the present meeting was concerned with the arrangements to apply to the developing Commonwealth sugar producers after Britain's entry into an enlarged Community, the Government Representatives stressed the importance of a continuing and viable international sugar agreement to all sugar producing countries. They expressed the hope that the enlarged Community would participate actively to this end.

  2. c1063
  3. NEW MEMBERS 37 words