HC Deb 24 May 1971 vol 818 cc31-49
The Prime Minister (Mr. Edward Heath)

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, I should like to make a statement about the visit which I made to Paris last week.

I should like first to tell the House of the warmth of the welcome which I received from the President of the French Republic and from the Prime Minister and his colleagues. I was impressed by their unmistakable desire for a renewal of friendship and co-operation between Britain and France, as an essential element in the growing unity of Europe.

My talks with President Pompidou extended altogether over a period of something like eleven hours. Except for a short time at the end of the talks when we were joined by the Prime Minister of France, we were accompanied during this time only by interpreters. This enabled us to deal with the wide range of subjects covered in the communiqué issued at the end of the talks, which I will with permission circulate in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

Our main area of discussion was the whole field of European policy. It was heartening to discover how close are the views of the French and British Governments on the development of Europe and its rôle in the world.

Our talks showed that both Governments wish to bring about the development of a united Europe through an enlarged European Community. We do not intend this as a defensive alliance against external threat. We see it as certainly the best means and probably the only means, in the world of today, of guaranteeing peace within Europe, providing prosperity for her peoples, and restoring to Europe that political, economic and cultural influence in the world that her traditions and her potential justify.

We also found an identity of view on the rôle which a united Europe can play in relation to the problems which face us in other parts of the world, and particularly in relation to the developing countries, where there is so much that an enlarged community which included Britain and France could contribute.

We discussed the development of the European Community and the working of its institutions. We agreed in particular that the identity of national states should be maintained in the framework of the developing Community. This means, of course, that, though the European Commission has made and will continue to make a valuable contribution, the Council of Ministers should continue to be the forum in which important decisions are taken, and that the processes of harmonisation should not override essential national interests. We were in agreement that the maintenance and strengthening of the fabric of co-operation in such a Community requires that decisions should in practice be taken by unanimous agreement when vital national interests of any one or more members are at stake.

This is indeed entirely in accordance with the views which I have long held. It provides a clear assurance, just as the history of the Community provides clear evidence, that joining the Community does not entail a loss of national identity or an erosion of essential national sovereignty.

As to the means by which greater unity and co-operation could be achieved, our primary concern was with the development of common economic policies, in the context of the British application for entry into the European Communities. But we both saw this as the basis for closer political collaboration, if the negotiations for enlargement of the Communities could be brought to a successful conclusion. We had only a brief discussion of defence questions, recognising that these were matters for the future, after enlargement.

We reviewed the progress made in the Community towards economic and monetary union, following the meeting of the six Heads of Government in The Hague in December 1969. I told President Pompidou that Britain looked forward wholeheartedly to joining in the economic and monetary development of the Community, if negotiations for British accession could be satisfactorily concluded. We both arrived at a clearer understanding of each other's anxieties and objectives in this field; and I was able to dispel any reservations which the French Government might have felt about the British Government's willingness, which my right hon. Friends the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster have often expressed, to accept the consequences of this development for its own policies.

We agreed upon the need to negotiate suitable arrangements for those members of E.F.T.A. who are not applying for membership of the enlarged Community, and thus to avoid the re-erection of trade barriers between them and the Community.

We discussed the problems which would arise as a result of enlargement of the Communities, when the time came to renew the Yaoundé Convention. The House will have noted that our agreement on the need to safeguard the existing rights of present associations under the Convention was matched by our agreement on the need to safeguard the interests of future associates under a new Convention and particularly of those who would depend largely on exports to the enlarged Community of sugar or other primary products.

Finally, the President and I reviewed the progress of the enlargement negotiations. We did not attempt to reach definite conclusions on issues which fall to be considered within the negotiating conference in Brussels and Luxembourg. But the President emphasised the importance he attached to the system of Community preference and his welcome for Britain's acceptance of this principle immediately upon entry into the Community which had been agreed upon at the last Brussels meeting. I went over the main issues involved in a settlement of Britain's contribution to the Community budget in the years leading up to the full implementation of the Community's system of financing its expenditure. And I emphasised to President Pompidou the importance of reaching satisfactory arrangements for New Zealand. I also explained the difficulties presented for us by the existing fisheries regulation. On all these points, though we did not seek to arrive at final conclusions, President Pompidou's attitude was positive and constructive.

The results of our exchanges on these matters are best demonstrated in our joint conclusion that it is desirable and possible to reach early agreement in the negotiations between Britain and the Community. The President and I both felt able to say after our talks that we were confident that the main issues could be settled before the end of June.

There are still important questions to resolve, and there is still much hard work to be done before Her Majesty's Government will be in a position to come to Parliament with an account of the arrangements on which our entry into the European Communities can be negotiated. But this I can say today as a result of my talks with the President of the French Republic. I am confident that the divisions and suspicions which have so hampered relations between Britain and France in recent years have now been removed. We have established that the views of the two Governments are very close over the whole range of European policies. The French President has shown his clear desire to proceed with the building of a united Europe on the basis of an enlarged Community, with Britain as a member. We can therefore approach both the final phase of our negotiations for entry into the Communities and, if they go well, the development of Europe thereafter, in a spirit of confidence and partnership. I believe that this opens the prospect of a degree of unity, and thus of peace and prosperity, in Western Europe which our continent has never seen before, and which would be of profound significance for Britain, for Europe and for the whole world.

Mr. Harold Wilson

While thanking the right hon. Gentleman for his statement, which was inevitably, and, rightly, somewhat lengthy, could I ask him if he would be good enough to confirm that no defence questions were raised in these talks and that there was no issue at any time in the private discussions of any future Anglo-French joint nuclear arrangements or of any future defence proposals other than those which fit foursquare into the Western alliance?

Secondly, in view of the reports, which appear to be authoritative, that limits in the discussions were set to the terms both in regard to the period of years and quantities, and that a settlement of the New Zealand question could be negotiated at Brussels, would the right hon. Gentleman say, in the light of what he has just told the House, whether President Pompidou as a result of those discussions has now withdrawn the term he used three times in a B.B.C. broadcast when he said that there must be a rupture of our own food import arrangements from New Zealand?

Thirdly, with regard to the budgetary contribution which the right hon. Gentleman has just mentioned, having regard to the inevitably disproportionate burden on Britain which would result from food levies—as I think the whole House has recognised from the outset—would the right hon. Gentleman now say whether he feels, following these talks, that the likely budgetary contribution to be negotiated will be one which will not place an undue burden on this country and, in particular, force this country into a continuing period of devaluation to maintain our balance of payments over the first difficult years?

Finally, would the right hon. Gentleman confirm the impression which I think the House got from the answers given us by the Leader of the House two weeks ago about parliamentary debate and stated, I think, quite specifically by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster a week ago, that when the terms are known there will be published to the House a White Paper which the House will be able to debate, and have adequate time to debate, without being asked at that time to take a yes or no decision on the terms, and that subsequently, when the country equally has had time to absorb and consider these vitally important issues, as we all recognise them to be, then, in the autumn, we will be asked to take the decision?

The Prime Minister

I have told the House that the amount of time which we devoted to the discussion of defence was very small indeed. We both accepted that the position of Britain, within N.A.T.O., and that of France, which is a member of the alliance but has withdrawn from N.A.T.O., is different. If when the Community is enlarged Europe is, in accordance with its other policies, to develop a defence policy, these matters will have to be discussed at that time, but there could have been no discussion last week at our meeting. As far as nuclear questions are concerned, both France and Britain are nuclear Powers, and there was no discussion of any arrangement. I was not asked for any offer; I made no offer; and the matter was left exactly where it stands today.

On the question of New Zealand, this is a matter which has to be settled in Brussels. The President was, quite rightly, adamant that the negotiations must be continued with the Six. In exactly the same way as in my talks with Chancellor Brandt, there has been no attempt to reach a settlement of individual problems, and the same was true in Paris.

As for our future relationship with New Zealand on trade, as with other countries, there may be changes in trading patterns, but so far as the continuation of trade is concerned, it will continue, and the form will be negotiated in Brussels.

We shall, of course, wish to publish a White Paper as soon as we can set out the conclusions on the main problems, which both the President and I believed could be settled in June. We are considering the form in which the House will wish to debate this and the amount of time which will be required. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will be having discussions through the usual channels with the right hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Harold Wilson

The right hon. Gentleman inadvertently did not answer my question about budgetary contributions. Before he does so, I thank him for his other answers, but do I understand that there is now no question of an Anglo-French nuclear deal of the kind which the right hon. Gentleman used to advocate from this bench? That is how I take his answer, and I hope that he will confirm that is the case. On New Zealand, I welcome what the right hon. Gentleman has said as representing the viewpoint put by Her Majesty's Government, but did he make clear for his part that we cannot accept any proposals involving a rupture of Anglo-New Zealand trade?

The Prime Minister

I discussed with the President the new proposals on Community financing put forward at the last Brussels meeting. I said that I thought these would help to remove any suggestion that we were not accepting the full system of Community financing which had, after all, been accepted by both administrations. I said that the arrangements for it should not be such as would appear at the end of the period to be too great a burden for us to assume so that there might be a desire to try to change the whole system. It was agreed that the actual arrangements, to be satisfactory, must not place an unbearable burden on the balance of payments or across the exchanges, and that was accepted.

On New Zealand, I did not enter into a discussion about the actual words used on television. I discussed the nature of the arrangements which can be made to produce a satisfactory arrangement for New Zealand, but this will be dealt with in Brussels—[HON. MEMBERS: "Why not now?"]—because they have to be settled with all the members of the Community. As it has been known that the French negotiators have hitherto taken a certain negotiating position on New Zealand, what satisfied me was that the President's response was positive in respect of obtain- ing a satisfactory arrangement for New Zealand—[HON. MEMBERS: "What?"]—I am not going to answer questions about details which will be settled in Brussels.

As I have already told the right hon. Gentleman, no agreement of any kind was reached between us on any aspect of defence. What was agreed was that if, in the context of the enlarged Community, Europe wishes to move towards its own defence policy, that is a matter to be settled by the European members at the time that they consider it.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

Will my right hon. Friend say whether in the course of these discussions the President indicated an understanding of the moral obligations of this country towards New Zealand, and of the effect on New Zealand of British entry without proper special provision for her?

The Prime Minister

Yes Sir, the President showed a full understanding of the position of New Zealand, its relationship to this country and the possibilities of dealing with these problems in the negotiations in Brussels to produce a satisfactory answer.

Mr. Shore

Has the Prime Minister simply accepted the French view of the future of Europe and, in particular, the French President's conception of a European Republic which was spelt out on British television three days before the talks began? Will he tell us whether he has also accepted the French ideas as to what are the correct terms of entry? If he has not, will he indicate any important area of negotiation where the French position has become closer to ours rather than the reverse?

The Prime Minister

In reply to the first part of the question, we reached agreement about the sort of Europe we want to see. This has not been exclusively a French view over the past 20 years, but a view which has been put forward by members of consecutive administrations, by many right hon. and hon. Gentlemen in this House and broadly held in this country. It is a Europe which, by its unity, will be of a size and nature and in an equal position with the United States, Japan or the Soviet Union, to enter into international trading arrangements and international financial arrangements and to use its influence in the world. On this the French and British Governments find themselves in agreement.

On the question of institutions, those who have followed European policy closely will know that I for one have always believed that countries in the Community would not be able to overrule another member's vital interests. It is not a question of creating the United States of America from a country which has been newly settled. It is a question of a community of six ancient European States, well-established in themselves. Therefore, the way in which we have to develop in Europe is by harmonising policies while at the same time acknowledging the vital interests of individual countries.

The right hon. Gentleman asked me for details about the negotiations. These will be carried on in Luxembourg on 7th June and on 21st and 22nd June. Their objective now is based on the fact that the French President wants to see Britain in the European Economic Community. That is the fundamental change, surely, over the last 15 years, and it is basic to the whole negotiating position. Therefore, we shall be able, I believe, in the coming month of June to reach agreements between ourselves and the Five as to what those arrangements should be.

Mr. Dodds-Parker

I congratulate the Prime Minister on the success of the discussions, which I hope will lead to a successful conclusion of the negotiations in Brussels next month. I urge him to emphasise that the European Economic Community is not just an end in itself but is there to support in broad terms the political and defence purposes of an ever more closely united Europe.

The Prime Minister

The European Economic Community is there to ensure the prosperity of its peoples, which it has been successful in doing since its foundation, to lead to a closer unity in international finance, in monetary fields and in the co-ordination of economic policies, and then to be able to exert political influence and, if it so desires, to consider, as the European members of N.A.T.O., with the exception of France, are doing, how Europe can best contribute to its own defence. There is the well-known difference of view in this House on whether or not Britain should become a member of the Community, but I hope that everyone here will agree that it is good for this country and good for Europe that the cloud of mutual suspicion between Britain and France which has hung over us for the last 20 years is being dispelled and we can now build a better relationship.

Mr. Thorpe

I welcome the outcome of these talks, which appear to have removed the possibility of a European veto. I recognise that there are still matters to be negotiated in Brussels, but, leaving aside the genuine opposition to Europe, which I respect, and the opposition for political tactical reasons, which I do not respect, does the Prime Minister agree that the main task now is to convince the people of this country of the undoubted economic and political advantages of uniting Europe for the first time in its history?

The Prime Minister

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his welcome. I believe that the people of this country who have been worried about the possibility of the French Government maintaining their veto will now see that this is no longer the case and that they can consider the arrangements which it is possible to make for British entry into the Community. As the President of France said in his speech to the Press conference on Friday evening, for so long there have been those who believed that Britain's only purpose was to try to get into the Community in order to wreck it, for so long there have been those who have believed that France's only purpose was to veto Britain's joining the Community to which she had a right to belong, and before that gathering there were two men with heavy responsibilities who have now acknowledged openly that neither of those things was true.

Mr. Turton

Did my right hon. Friend explain to M. Pompidou that at present 59 per cent. of the British people are opposed to entry of the Common Market and only 23 per cent. are in favour? Did he inform the French President of the steps he proposes to take to ascertain whether the British people support any terms which are negotiated?

The Prime Minister

I have always made it plain that it is Parliament's responsibility to decide——

Hon. Members


The Prime Minister

—this issue, as it is to decide every other issue of international relations [Interruption.] If hon. Members do not wish to accept their responsibilities, that is a matter for them. I have always taken the view, as a Member of Parliament, that it is my responsibility fully to report on these matters to my constituents and to consult them, but I have always taken the view of Burke, who represented the constituency of the right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn), that one owes them one's judgment as well as one's energy.

Mr. Maclennan

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept, whatever is to be the outcome of the negotiations to join the E.E.C., that the apparent accord and reasonableness of approach of the French Government on this occasion will be widely welcomed on all sides? Does he expect that all the difficult outstanding issues will have been fully thrashed out in Brussels and Luxembourg, so that the House will be in possession of the facts on which to make up its mind before the Summer Recess?

The Prime Minister

We both believe that it is desirable and possible, in the work between now and the next meeting in Luxembourg on 7th June and then the meeting in Luxembourg on 21st and 22nd June, to prepare the ground sufficiently for the Ministers to take the decisions on the major items outstanding by that time. It would then be the wish of the Government to present a White Paper to Parliament setting out the whole position.

Sir H. Legge-Bourke

Would my right hon. Friend accept that it was obvious that this meeting had to take place and that, having taken place, its success has been considerable? With regard to the arrangements through the usual channels for debating the White Paper, will he recognise clearly that it is not just a question for the House of Commons: that this really is a matter in which all of us in this House must be given adequate time to propound to our constituents what is contained in the White Paper? Therefore, may I express the hope that when the White Paper is published, we shall have a "take-note" debate on that and then an opportunity to discuss it with our constituents?

The Prime Minister

I have said that the debate is a matter which we are considering. We would want to give the House the fullest possible White Paper at the earliest opportunity and then to have discussions about how the debate should take place, when it will take place, its length and its form. On my hon. Friend's first remarks, I am not one of those people who believe in the inevitability of casuality. There was nothing inevitable about this meeting. It was the result of a great deal of long and hard work and very careful preparation. I believe that that is the key to its success. I thank my hon. Friend for his congratulations.

Mr. Jay

Does the Prime Minister deny that his party election manifesto of last summer said: Our sole commitment is to negotiate—no more and no less"? If that is so, would it not be indefensible to try to force through this drastic constitutional change without a further appeal to the electorate?

The Prime Minister

I am afraid that I cannot accept that conclusion. Her Majesty's Government are not trying to force through a decision. What we are doing is preparing to give to Parliament the fullest information, which Parliament can debate—and Parliament will take the decision.

Mr. Longden

Would my right hon. Friend be good enough to confirm and underline two points arising from his statement? Is it the case that the French President accepts the view that major decisions affecting the Community must be taken by the Council of Ministers and not by the Commission, whose members, however able, are not responsible to an electorate? Second, would he confirm that decisions upon questions which are considered of vital importance to members must be taken unanimously?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir. The view of the French President—it is one with which Her Majesty's Government agree—is that it is the Council of Ministers in Brussels who rightly take the decision. There are certain administrative arrangements which are handled by the Commission and which are clearly defined in the Treaty of Rome, and they cannot go beyond their powers. But our view is that it is the Council of Ministers, representing member countries, who must take the decisions.

On the second part of that question, where a country considers that an item is of major national interest to it, a decision should be taken unanimously—in other words, the member countries should not attempt to over-rule a single country in something which it considers to be of vital national interest.

Mr. Healey

Could I return to the question which many hon. Members have put to the Prime Minister and to which we really have not yet had a reply? Would he accept that on both sides of the House—among those who favour entry of the Community and those who oppose it—there is a deep and strong feeling that sufficient time should be given between the publication of the terms and the House being required to take a decision—not only for hon. Members to be able to read the White Paper, but also to consult their constituents and those others for whom they speak, and that if the Government were to attempt to bounce a decision through the House before the Recess the consequences for the purpose which they hope to serve could well be disastrous?

The Prime Minister

I have said that we fully accept the need to discuss through the usual channels with Her Majesty's Opposition the way in which this matter should be handled on the Floor of the House. I have undertaken—[Interruption.] There is no need for hon. Members to become so excited about this matter. Both parties recognise that there is a difference of view in each party, and that therefore there must be proper time in which all hon. Gentlemen can consider the White Paper. We have also to discuss the length of time for the debate, when it can best take place and the form and structure of the debate, and that we will do.

Mr. Marten

Could my right hon. Friend clear up one small point? He said that the Council of Ministers should continue to be the forum, when, at the banquet at the Guildhall in July, 1969, he said that Britain would be the first to press for democratic and parliamentary control of the Community. Chancellor Brandt when he was in London said that there should be a European Government in the end. Surely, if Europe is to speak with one voice, as we are told, can it not speak with one voice on this somewhat important matter before we start?

The Prime Minister

My hon. Friend began by saying that that was a small point and ended by saying that it was a very important matter. I agree with his last remark rather than his first—it is a very important matter. When I urged that there should be democratic control, I had in mind that Ministers are the representatives of their Governments and they are the ones who take the decisions. They are responsible to their own democracies. But I have also never hidden my view that, were Britain to be a member of the Community, it would be Members of this House who would contribute most towards the development of satisfactory parliamentary institutions in Europe.

Mr. Harold Lever

Could not the Prime Minister clear up the anxieties which are manifest on both sides of the House, in both sections of opinion on this question, about the opportunity which the House will have to decide the matter after a suitable interval? It is clear that there is great feeling in the House that this time should extend until after the Summer Recess. Would the right hon. Gentleman not give the assurance now which it is clear the House wants on this point?

Second, would he clarify somewhat the oblique reference to sterling which he made in his statement? What are our intentions on sterling? Could he also clarify whether any question of the parities and fixed parities was decided upon or discussed with the President? Or is that a matter to be left until after we get into the Community?

Finally, may I express—I am sure on behalf of all hon. Members—a deep personal gratitude to the Prime Minister for the way in which, at some personal sacrifice, he gave in person to the French people and Government a warning of the dire consequences which will follow from excessive insistence on the need to preserve linguistic balance—[Laughter.]—by extending universally the use of the French language on all these Community matters?

The Prime Minister

On the subject of sterling, there was no discussion of parities or items of that kind. It was accepted that this matter only arises in the context of co-ordination of currencies inside an enlarged Community, if we become a member, and is obviously concerned with what progress is made on the co-ordination of policies.

As for the French language, our position has not changed over the past 10 years. When required to do so, the British delegation has always been able to carry on business in European congresses in the French language. That will remain our position, and English becomes an official language, like those of the other member countries, and is added to the list. I make no claim to mastery of the French language. What I tried to contribute was not meant to be reproduced in this country.

As for the treatment of this matter, I ask the right hon. Gentleman to allow it to be discussed in the usual way. I cannot give any undertaking at this time as to the exact date on which the White Paper will be published, the exact amount of time for the debate, the exact timing or the form of it. Nor can I give any undertaking about whether the House will be asked to reach a decision at that time——

Mrs. Castle


The Prime Minister

Because it is a matter that we ourselves wish to consider carefully. We also wish to discuss it with the Leader of the Opposition and his colleagues. It is a matter, therefore, to which we ourselves wish to give the utmost attention.

Mr. Harold Wilson

I must press the right hon. Gentleman on this. Is he aware that there has been a widespread feeling—it did not come from this side of the House—that there would be a "take note" debate before the Summer Recess, assuming that the right hon. Gen- tleman could get out the White Paper by the end of June or early July, that not only hon. Members but the country would have time to make up their minds on the issues and, above all, the terms, which we have not before us now and cannot know until the White Paper is published? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that it was the clear impression of most hon. Members from exchanges with two Ministers, the Leader of the House and the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, that that would be the position when it was being discussed in the House, and that it was not until we saw a rather orchestrated statement in the Press this weekend that there seemed to be any doubt? Will the right hon. Gentleman recognise that opinion in both major parties is divided, that it is sharply divided in the country, that the country has a right to consider these issues not in the middle of its summer holidays but when these matters can be debated, and, what is more, that every hon. Member has the right to know where his constituency party stands? Does not that mean the autumn?

The Prime Minister

I am not prepared to give an undertaking at this stage—[HON. MEMBERS: "Shame."] I am prepared to discuss in the usual way with the Leader of the Opposition what is the best way of handling this matter and, with my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House and the Cabinet, to take into account the different points of view in this House. I hope that the Leader of the Opposition will take the opportunity of considering the position quietly when we are able to provide a White Paper, so that he can then come to a conclusion as to the best way of handling the matter. It is not reasonable to ask me to give a decision at this stage of the proceedings about what is to happen before the Summer Recess.—[Interruption.] It is unworthy of the former Leader of the House to suggest that I intend to "bounce" this House. In all the 20 years in which I have been dealing with European policy, for nearly 15 of them as a Minister, I have always been at immense pains to give the fullest information to the House and to take the opportunity of discussing it. That is where the matter had better be left.

Mr. Harold Wilson

It is right that this vastly important matter should be decided in a calm atmosphere. It is right that there should be discussions between the two sides. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the reason for our anxiety, which was not allayed by the terms or the tone of his last answer—[Interruption.] I am trying to give the right hon. Gentleman time to get back to a calm atmosphere. Is he aware that the reason for this anxiety today is that the House had the impression from his colleagues and from what was being said quite authoritatively in wide sections of the Press—and it does not get there by accident—that there would be adequate time for this matter to be debated? Will the right hon. Gentleman agree to leave it there now? Will he agree that there should be immediate discussions this week between the two Front Benches so that we can get fully the views of backbench hon. Members on both sides and those of the Liberal Party, and then see what will be of the greatest convenience in this matter? It would be wrong to wait until the White Paper comes out, perhaps in the middle of July, and then "bounce" it through when most of the country cannot make its views articulate.

The Prime Minister

The right hon. Gentleman is not justified in reaching conclusions along the lines that the White Paper will not be published until the middle of July and that there will be an attempt to "bounce" it through. I shall see when it is possible to publish the White Paper. We shall then discuss when a debate can be held, how long it will be, and what form it will take. That is the normal way of conducting our business. Over the weekend, I read the exchanges with my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House last Thursday, and he has pointed out that what he said was in response to a request for a debate before the negotiations continued. That is a different situation from the one that I am discussing, which is the publication of a White Paper at the end of June after the major items, we hope, have been settled. If the Leader of the Opposition wants a discussion about that part of the proceedings this week, we shall be prepared to discuss it with him.

Several Hon. Members rose——

Mr. Speaker

Order. The topic for debate today is the steel industry. I do not think that we should proceed further with this matter.

Mr. Molloy

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I wish to point out that, although many back benchers understand it is quite impossible for you to call every hon. Member to comment on the Prime Minister's statement, particularly since that particular statement and the Prime Minister's visit to France qualifies for the dictum by Burke as an event on which it is difficult to speak and impossible to be silent, nevertheless some of us would like to have questioned the Prime Minister. Back benchers such as myself would ask you to note, Mr. Speaker, that the same Privy Councillors who were called on an earlier occasion to put Questions to the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster were called to question the Prime Minister this afternoon. Since the question of whether Britain wishes to join the Common Market is one of the gravest in our history, we now believe that the rule of giving Privy Councillors precedence should be dropped. We are of the opinion that the constituents of Ealing or Rugby are just as interested in this extremely important matter as are the constituents of Huyton, Bexley or the constituents of any other Privy Councillor. Therefore, we would beg you to consider this matter of precedence carefully so that the views of our constituents are given ample opportunity of expression in this House.

Mr. Speaker

I have great sympathy with what the hon. Member has said. I try to do my best, and this is one of the most difficult tasks I have to perform. I had hoped to give an opportunity to as many hon. Members as I could, but there was a rush of questions from the Opposition Front Bench, and as a result I was unable to call as many back benchers on the Opposition side as I had hoped. However, I will bear in mind what the hon. Member has said.

The following is the communiqué: The President of the French Republic and the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom held discussions en tête à tête in Paris on 20th and 21st May, 1971. Mr. Heath also called upon Monsieur Chaban-Delmas on 20th May. On the rôle of Europe following the enlargement of the European Economic Community the President of the Republic and the British Prime Minister had a thorough exchange which showed that their views were very close. They expressed in particular their determination to contribute through the enlarged and deepened Community to increasing European co-operation and to the development of distinctively European policies, in the first instance principally in economic matters and progressively in other fields. The discussion led to a complete identity of view on the working and the development of the Community. The President of the Republic and the British Prime Minister considered the range of economic, financial and monetary problems which could arise as a result of enlargement. They also discussed the progress of the European Community towards economic and monetary union, and its implications for existing financial relationships. The Prime Minister reaffirmed the readiness of Britain to participate fully and in a European spirit in this development. These discussions produced a useful clarification of views which will provide a firm basis for the future. The President of the Republic and the British Prime Minister took note with satisfaction of the agreements recently reached at the Ministerial meeting between the Community and the United Kingdom on 11th and 12th May on agricultural and industrial matters, and particularly on the application of community preference in the agricultural field. The President of the Republic and the British Prime Minister considered that it was desirable and possible to reach early agreement on the main outstanding issues in the negotiations for British entry particularly the problems relating to New Zealand and the British contribution to the Community budget. The President of the Republic and the British Prime Minister expressed their joint desire to resolve the problems which will arise from the renewal of the Yaounde Convention in a positive spirit and having regard to existing rights. It would equally be necessary to take account of the need to safeguard the interests of the countries who are, or will have the opportunity to become, signatories of that Convention and who are largely dependent upon the markets of the enlarged Community for their exports of sugar or other primary products.