HC Deb 20 May 1975 vol 892 cc1209-13
Q2. Mr. Bean

asked the Prime Minister what reaction he has received from the other Heads of Governments at the Commonwealth Conference in Jamaica to his initiative on commodities.

Q3. Mr. Dykes

asked the Prime Minister if he will make a statement on the outcome of the recent meeting of Commonwealth Heads of Government in Jamaica.

Q5. Mr. Gow

asked the Prime Minister what representations were made to him at the Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference about the continued membership of the United Kingdom of the European Economic Community.

Q8. Mr. Ward

asked the Prime Minister what response he has had from the other Heads of Government at the Commonwealth Conference in Jamaica to his initiative on commodities.

Q9. Mr. R. C. Mitchell

asked the Prime Minister if he will make a statement on Rhodesia following discussions at the Commonwealth Conference in Jamaica.

Q10. Mr. Kilroy-Silk

asked the Prime Minister whether, following the Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference, he will make a statement on Rhodesia.

The Prime Minister

I refer my hon. Friends and the hon. Members to the reply which I gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) on 13th May and to the text of the communiqué of the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting, which has been issued as a White Paper (Cmnd. 6066).

Mr. Bean

I read the final communiqué of the Commonwealth Conference with interest. I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the success of the commodity agreement. Does he agree that it is vital for the developing nations that there should be stable commodity prices but that it is also vital that there should be a policy to increase world food production? Does he agree that there is now an opportunity for Britain to take the lead in formulating a policy on increasing world food production and to develop a policy of controlling the distribution of fertilisers?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir. I believe that that was a successful initiative. It received wide support, although not the 100 per cent. support of those Commonwealth countries which seek big changes in all world commodity, trade and financial arrangements. However, it received wide support from a large number of developing countries. We expressed the view that there should be a shift of resources and wealth from the advanced industrial countries to the poorer developing countries. The agreement places great emphasis on the expansion of production, especially food production, following the World Food Council. That matter will be further explored at a special session of the United Nations in the autumn and also during the forthcoming meeting this month of OECD which will be chaired by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary on the first day and by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the second day.

Mr. Dykes

Since that other well-known Socialist Prime Minister, Mr. Gough Whitlam, like other Commonwealth leaders, positively endorsed our membership of the Community at the recent Commonwealth Conference, will the Prime Minister explain what his reaction was when Mr. Whitlam made the astonishing recent utterance that he had received private messages from the Secretary of State for Trade and other anti-EEC Ministers begging him to denounce our membership of the Community, which he had been obliged to reject?

The Prime Minister

It is certainly the case that Mr. Gough Whitlam, on his visit to Britain before Christmas and again at the conference, strongly pressed his hope that the British people would vote for Britain to stay in the Community. As far as I am aware, he made no statement on the lines indicated by the hon. Genteman. Although I had a long discussion with him, he never raised the matter with me.

Mr. Gow

Is the Prime Minister able to confirm that no single Commonwealth Government asked the British Government to withdraw from the European Community?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir. I spoke to practically all the Heads of Government there, and that was the strong reaction that I got. When the matter was raised by the Prime Minister of Guyana, supported by the Prime Ministers of Canada and New Zealand, the Commonwealth Conference agreed that staying in the Market would not prejudice any Commonwealth country. On the motion of the President of Tanzania, supported by others, the conference was asked to include in the statement that it was a positive advantage, and some leaders of the Commonwealth said to me that if Britain were to pull out they would feel a sense of being let down regarding their own national interests and the wider interests of the Commonwealth. The statement went on to say that they took Britain's membership, with what we have been able to achieve there, as a sign, which was pleasing to them, that the Common Market was more outward looking than some of them and some of us had feared.

Mr. MacFarquhar

If there is a "Yes" vote in the referendum, will my right hon. Friend undertake immediately thereafter to summon a meeting of the Heads of Government of the European Economic Community to discuss his initiative on commodities in the light of discussions at the Commonwealth Conference?

The Prime Minister

We have already put to the Heads of Government of the Community the proposals that we made on commodities and have discussed them with other friends and allies in other parts of the world. These matters will be further discussed—and I think that most, if not all, Community countries will be represented there—at the OECD meeting at the end of this month to which I have referred. I understand that proposals are being worked out for a meeting of Heads of Government of Community countries sometime in July.

Mr. Thorpe

Will the Prime Minister accept my apologies for not being here on 13th May to hear his original answer? Is he aware that I was commending to the steel workers of Ebbw Vale accept- ance of the Government's policies for remaining in the Common Market? Is he further aware that the local Member seems to have shifted somewhat in that direction?

May I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman—[HON. MEMBERS: "Question."] If one is allowed by his back benchers to congratulate the Prime Minister, may I first congratulate him [HON. MEMBERS: "Question."] I hope—

Mr. Speaker

Order. It must be in the interrogative.

Mr. Thorpe

May I ask the Prime Minister whether he is aware that the initiative he took on commodities at the Commonwealth Conference was widely welcomed in the developing world, not least in the Commonwealth, as a positive initiative which is greatly valued?

Secondly, and finally, may I ask the Prime Minister, arising from the Lomé Convention, whether he will take the initiative after the referendum to see that the Nine, of whom many of us hope we shall continue to be one, summon a conference of the Heads of Government of the Community?

The Prime Minister

I tried to recall the terms of the communiqué and the discussions. I cannot remember that the movements of the right hon. Gentleman on 13th May were in any way discussed or regarded as of any importance by the Commonwealth Conference. I note that the right hon. Gentleman went to Ebbw Vale. Obviously, since he spoke there, he did not go by helicopter or he would not have got there.

Mr. Thorpe

Yes, I did.

The Prime Minister

I am delighted that he has had final success there.

I welcome what the right hon. Gentleman said on commodities. This is a matter of great importance, as he said, not only to Commonwealth countries but to other developing countries, both those which are fairly rich as a result of high commodity prices and those which are still very poor and affected by commodity and oil prices.

The Lomé Convention was wholeheartedly welcomed by the Commonwealth Conference. The right hon. Gentleman will see the reference in paragraph 38 of the communiqué. We all said that we should now ask the Eight to join us in building on Lomé in relation to Commonwealth Asian and other Asian countries.

Mrs. Thatcher

As the Commonwealth wants us to stay in Europe, will the Prime Minister take the opportunity of repudiating the allegation by the Secretary of State for Industry that the trade link with Europe has been the cause of the loss of half a million jobs here?

The Prime Minister

I do not agree with those figures. The Commonwealth wants us to remain in the Community for all the reasons that the Commonwealth countries have stated and which I have recapitulated this afternoon. Certainly there would be serious economic problems for the Commonwealth as well as for this country if we did not stay in. It is a fact, as the right hon. Lady will know, that Commonwealth trade with Britain was seriously prejudiced by the terms of entry which were originally negotiated—notably the sugar agreement and New Zealand. The ending of the CSA was very costly to Britain last year. The Commonwealth has made other arrangements, but we have restored some of its rights, particularly regarding New Zealand and the sugar agreement countries, as a result of the renegotiations, which clearly the right hon. Lady will welcome.