HL Deb 31 July 1961 vol 234 cc23-36

3.38 p.m.


My Lords, I think it would be for the convenience of the House if 1 chose this moment to repeat in your Lordships' House a statement which has just been made in another place by the Prime Minister on the policy of Her Majesty's Government towards the European Economic Community. The statement is as follows:

"The future relations between the European Economic Community, the United Kingdom, the Commonwealth, and the rest of Europe, are clearly matters of capital importance in the life of our country, and, indeed, of all the countries of the Free World.

"This is a political, as well as an economic, issue. Although the Treaty of Rome is concerned with economic matters, it has an important political objective—namely, to promote unity and stability in Europe, which is so essential a factor in the struggle for freedom and progress throughout the world. In this modern world the tendency towards larger groups of nations acting together in the common interest leads to greater unity, and thus adds to our strength in the struggle for freedom. I believe it is both our duty and our interest to contribute towards that strength by securing the closest possible unity within Europe. At the same time, if a loser relationship between the United Kingdom and the countries of the European Economic Community were to disrupt the longstanding and historic ties between the United Kingdom and the other nations of the Commonwealth, the loss would be greater than the gain. The Commonwealth is a great source of stability and strength both to Western Europe and to the world as a whale, and I am sure that its value is fully appreciated by the member Governments of the European Economic Community. I do not think that Britain's contribution to the Commonwealth will be reduced if Europe unites. On the contrary, I think its value will be enhanced.

"On the economic side, a community comprising, as members or in association, the countries of Free Europe could have a very rapidly expanding economy supplying, as eventually it would, a single market of approaching 300 million people. This rapidly expanding economy could, in turn, lead to increased demand for the products of other parts of the world, and so help to expand world trade and improve the prospects of the less developed areas of the world.

"No British Government could join the European Economic Community without prior negotiation with a view to meeting the needs of the Commonwealth countries, of our European Free Trade Association partners and of British agriculture, consistently with the broad principles and purpose which have inspired the concept of European unity and which are embodied in the Rome Treaty.

"As the House knows, Ministers have recently visited Commonwealth countries to discuss the problems which would arise, if the British Government decided to negotiate for membership of the European Economic Community. We have explained to Commonwealth Governments the broad political and economic considerations which we have to take into account. They, for their part, told us their views and in some cases their anxieties about their essential interests. We have assured Commonwealth Governments that we shall keep in close consultation with them throughout any negotiations which might take place. Secondly, there is the European Free Trade Association. We have treaty and other obligations to our partners in this Association and my right honourable friends have just returned from a meeting of the European Free Trade Association Ministerial Council in Geneva, where all were agreed that they should work closely together throughout any negotiations. Finally, we are determined to continue to protect the standard of living of our agricultural community.

"During the past nine months, we have had useful and frank discussions with the European Economic Community Governments. We have now reached the stage where we cannot make further progress without entering into formal negotiations. I believe that the great majority in the House and in the country will feel that they cannot fairly judge whether it is possible for the United Kingdom to join the European Economic Community until there is a clearer picture before them of the conditions on which we could join and the extent to which these would meet our special needs.

"Article 237 of the Treaty of Rome envisages that the conditions of admission of a new member and the changes in the Treaty necessitated thereby should be the subject of an agreement. Negotiations must therefore be held in order to establish the conditions on which we might join. And in order to enter into these negotiations, it is necessary, under the Treaty, to make formal application to join the Community, although the ultimate decision whether to join or not must depend on the result of the negotiations. Therefore, after long and earnest consideration, Her Majesty's Government have come to the conclusion that it would be right for Britain to make a formal application under Article 237 of the Treaty for negotiations with a view to joining the Community, if satisfactory arrangements can be made to meet the special needs of the United Kingdom, of the Commonwealth and of the European Free Trade Association.

"If, as I earnestly hope, our offer to enter into negotiations with the European Economic Community is accepted, we shall spare no efforts to reach a satisfactory agreement. These negotiations must inevitably be of a detailed and technical character, covering a very large number of the most delicate and difficult matters. They may therefore be protracted and there can, of course, be no guarantee of success. When any negotiations are brought to a conclusion, then it will be the duty of the Government to recommend to the House what course we should pursue. No agreement will be entered into until it has been approved by the House after full consultation with other Commonwealth countries, by whatever procedure they may generally agree."

That is the conclusion of the statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister.

3.46 p.m.


My Lords, we are obliged to the noble Viscount the Leader of the House for giving us the Prime Minister's statement, which is now being made in another place. It is not easy to do much to-day, because we have agreed to have a full debate on Wednesday and Thursday. On the other hand, the statement clearly indicates that two decisions will be lying ahead of us: a decision by Parliament on whether the Government is to make this application to enter for the purpose of negotiation, and exactly the circumstances in which a final decision will be taken 'by Parliament, in conjunction with our associates in the European Free Trade Association and in the Commonwealth in particular.

Having these two things in mind, I should dike to ask the noble Viscount two questions, to see whether he can help me in this matter. From time to time, we have asked for a White Paper on this subject. I should particularly have liked to have a White Paper before the debate on Wednesday and Thursday, giving at least a summary of the views of all the constituent members of the Commonwealth, which we do not know. The passage in the statement referring to the Commonwealth is in very general language, though it is only fair to say that the Government have made it clear that some Commonwealth countries have anxieties about this matter. I think it would be better if we could have some more information before the debate takes place. In particular, we ought to know—if it cannot be stated to-day surely it should be stated at the opening of the debate—whether all the countries in the Commonwealth which have been consulted by Ministers have agreed to the course of action which the Government now propose to take. I do not know whether the noble Viscount could 'answer that straight away, without consultation with his colleagues; but we ought to have that information quite clearly on Wednesday, when the debate opens on the general proposition of the Government.

Secondly, the Government know that we have often pressed that, before we went so far as, according to the statement, we are apparently intending to go, there should be a Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference. This has never arrived. Therefore, I am a little unhappy about the final paragraph in the statement, which says: No agreement will be entered into until it has been approved by the House after full consultation with other Commonwealth countries, by whatever procedure they may generally agree. Should we not know what the procedure is going to be before we give final authority to the Government to make application for negotiation? At any rate, would it be possible to have an undertaking that the Government have offered to the whole Commonwealth the basis of a Prime Ministers' Conference to consider the recommendations they want to make when negotiations are begun? Perhaps the noble Viscount the Leader of the House will consider whether he can answer these questions now.


My Lords, we are to have a full debate on Wednesday and Thursday and naturally I do not want to go too far into details to-day. I have always had the greatest sympathy with demands for a White Paper, but I must say that I should not like to have the drafting of one. The more one thinks on this subject, the more difficult it is to put forward in objective language a summary of the issue on both sides. Indeed, when one states the issue, one is in the end taking some kind of side in the matter. A White Paper has to be purely factual and objective, and I rather question whether one is possible; and I do not think that one is anticipated for Wednesday or Thursday. I say that with some regret, because my sympathies, to some extent, are on the other side. But I think I am driven to the conclusion that, in a matter of this complexity, we should inevitably lose that objectivity which the public has a right to expect of a White Paper; and also it would be impossible to summarise, without losing accuracy, many of the questions which would have to be explored.

The negotiations with the Commonwealth were, of course, confidential. I know the noble Viscount would not expect us to attempt to state for indi- vidual members of the Commonwealth what they stated confidentially to us: that would be both a breach of confidence and to assume to ourselves a right to summarise their views, which they really can only summarise themselves. There will, of course, be day-to-day consultation with the Commonwealth throughout any negotiations, and there will also be many opportunities for discussion with Commonwealth Ministers while the negotiations continue. The noble Viscount, not unnaturally, raised the question of a Prime Ministers' Conference. All I can say to the noble Viscount on that subject to-day is that the question whether there should be a special conference of Commonwealth Prime Ministers before any agreement with the Six is entered into will be one which my right honourable friend will wish to discuss with the Commonwealth Prime Ministers themselves. Obviously, and as your Lordships will recognise, this is a matter which does not rest with us alone and must rest, among other things, upon the consensus of opinion.

The noble Viscount asked me also about the extent to which the Commonwealth Governments have accepted that the United Kingdom should apply to join the Community. The answer is that all Commonwealth and E.F.T.A. Governments accept that the decision to apply is one which ultimately must be made by the United Kingdom alone. In reaching it, as we have, we have had very much in mind the views both of our Commonwealth partners and of our partners in the European Free Trade Association. It is always a little difficult to know if one has covered the ground, but I think that answers all the questions put by the noble Viscount.


My Lords, am I quite clear on the last point: that in fact we have no assurances at this moment that all the Commonwealth countries consulted concurred in the application being made on the basis which is now submitted in this statement?


My Lords, what the noble Viscount is assured of is that they all agreed that that is a matter which we have to decide for ourselves.


My Lords, I should like to welcome the Government's expressed intention of making a formal application under Article 237 of the Rome Treaty, because, in my view, it is absolutely the right thing to do. May I ask the noble Viscount whether in the negotiations the Government will bear in mind the special needs of the colonial territories and, in particular, those territories like Mauritius which have a one-crop economy and are particularly dependent upon the market in this country?


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore. I do not know that I ought to give any special assurances, but I know that my right honourable friend would very much wish me to say that, we have in mind the position of the Colonies. The noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, will not have failed to notice that the Treaty itself provides for the original signatories a special position for their dependent territories, and naturally that is also something which we will have a mind to when we enter into negotiations ourselves.


My Lords, may I, in order to demonstrate in a friendly fashion that there may be some difference of opinion in the various Parties on this subject, and in order to bring the views of Commonwealth Ministers up to date, ask the noble Viscount the Leader of the House whether he has seen the statement (which, with the permission of the House, I will read) made by Mr. Menzies on July 26, in which he said: Negotiations with Britain as a separate independent, uninhibited Power would be impossible if she joins the Common Market. He went on: A decision on Common Market membership would be the most remarkable and crucial event in Commonwealth and Britain's history—outside war—this century. And, indeed, in The Times this morning come reports from Ministers in Ottawa and Adelaide bearing out in large measure what Mr. Menzies has said.

I subscribe warmly to those views. I would add that we should be loosening our ties with our Commonwealth friends, who have stood by us in the hours of our greatest perils, and creating inflexible bonds with nations who have been against us whenever it suited their purpose so to be. And national characteristics do not change overnight, as some people seem to think. This is the specific question which I should like to put to the Government. Seeing that no Minister at any election or at any time Chas foreshadowed the vast constitutional changes that entry into the Common Market would entail, will the Government give an assurance that before taking any active steps which would involve entry into the Common Market they will refer the issue to the country at a General Election?


My Lords, I think the noble Viscount was really anticipating the speech to which we all greatly look forward in the debate and which I am sure he will deliver once again to our great pleasure. He need not have assured us that there was a possibility of disagreement inside the Liberal Party on this issue, although we had hoped that this was one issue on which they spoke with one voice. With regard to his specific question, if the noble Viscount would look at the assurances my right honourable friend has made in his statement which I have read to the House he will see exactly how far I am prepared to go.


My Lords, while welcoming the very important statement which the noble Viscount has given in repeating the Prime Minister in another place, may I ask him one supplementary question which arises, I think, directly out of the question which the Leader of the Opposition has put to the Leader of the House? While fully appreciating the difficulties involved in producing a White Paper, would the noble Viscount consider also the difficulties which face the ordinary man in the street in making up his mind on this vastly important question, on which we are to have a debate in Parliament in the near future? Would the Government consider over the vacation issuing some form of popular White Paper, or some easily understood digest, of what is afoot, so that the man in the street might have an easier opportunity of making up his mind than he has at the moment, confused as he is with the mass of conflicting, difficult but vastly important data?


My Lords, I think I have already said to the House, and I say it again to my noble friend, that I have the greatest sympathy concerning these difficulties. I can assure him that the difficulties of the man in the street are nothing to my own in understanding this complex matter. I would add, with all sincerity, that I think the noble Lord underestimates the difficulties here. More than one of the popular newspapers have produced in their own way quite admirable summaries, but it would be idle to pretend that they are not controversial. The first thing to understand on this problem is that some of the Community itself has not yet been fully brought into being. It is provided by the Treaty that it should come into being over a transitional period of twelve years, which may or may not be extended slightly, from the signing of it, and the result is that the thing we are discussing is not entirely formulated and is changing and developing even as we discuss it.

The second thing is that it is impossible to understand some, at any rate, of the crucial matters until the negotiations have been brought to a conclusion, because the purpose of these negotiations is to discover exactly what it is we shall be putting our hands to. The question which the House and the country will have to make up their minds about at this stage is not what we shall agree to, but whether we shall try to agree to becoming a loyal member of this Community on any terms. For that purpose, I rather question—however attractive it may be to produce a popular White Paper—whether it is not really an impossibility that my noble friend is asking for. These are great issues of principle. White Papers cannot determine great issues of policy, and if there is any information which the noble Lord wants, or the country wants, I trust that the Ministers during the debate will be able to give it. It is my present intention that the debate should be opened by the Foreign Secretary and wound up by the Lord Chancellor, which means that we shall have very heavy metal to deal with any difficulties so far as they can be dealt with.

4.2 p.m.


My Lords, I hope that the Leader of the House will not mind if I intervene, as I raised this matter last time and asked far a more limited White Paper. I understood from what was said, I think, by the Foreign Secretary and by the Prime Minister in another place, that the publication of a White Paper of the kind I had suggested—and I think noble Lords in ail quarters of the House feel it would be helpful—was a matter to which he had not closed his mind, while pointing out, as the Leader of the House has done to-day (and I feel the force of his argument), the almost impossibility of presenting in a White Paper all the arguments for and against the proposal.

The point I should like to put to the noble Viscount is this. Questions are put in debate—we shall all, I hope, contribute what we can to the debate—end answers are given. But debates are not reported in the popular Press; and in any event people do not read them. The Leader of the House has said to-day that the European Community is rather in a state of flux; that it has not yet achieved the form and powers which it ultimately may achieve. I hope the -House will forgive me if I put this matter in a little detail, because it is so important. What we could have would be a summary farm—and I think they would get it reasonably accurate—of what the Treaty of Rome provides; what are the powers, and how far the parties to the Rome Treaty can go. I think that is very important.

Frankly, I do not know the answer to that question, and I have become more puzzled as a result of the debates. For instance, in a very lucid speech by the Foreign Secretary in this House, we were told that we need not worry too much—I paraphrase—about the constitutional obligations we should undertake if we went in. He said that whenever you make a treaty it is a contract, and it is to that extent a derogation from sovereignty; that is not at all a frightening position, and if we are really making a treaty, that is one thing.

On the other hand, we have the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, who is a great protagonist on the other side, who has said and written that we undertake the most formidable and far-reaching obligations if we go into it, and that the Treaty of Rome obliges us, whether the parties to the Treaty want it or not, to enforce upon anybody who enters the Treaty the most complete abdication of sovereignty. It is of very great importance to know which of those views is right. I am not asking the noble Viscount to anticipate what will be done—that we can find out only by negotiation. But we surely ought to know before this debate whether the Foreign Secretary, as I would shrewdly suspect, is right, or whether Lord Gladwyn is right and that we are making these colossal commitments in advance. Could we not have a White Paper which would at least clear up that sort of point?


My Lords, I should like to make it plain to my noble friend that this is a field in which I have laboured hard and long with the utmost goodwill. I did convey to my right honourable friend, as I promised to do, my noble friend's request which he made on the former occasion; he was, in fact, most sympathetic towards it. I can only say that I have not yet been successful in obtaining from the Government machine the promise of a White Paper, but I have been given a number of arguments, which personally I find formidable, about the difficulties of providing a White Paper within the limits of what is expected from a Government.

We used our Party organisation, which is much freer, of course—although we tried to make everything it said as accurate as possible, as I know all responsible Party organisations do—and not limited by the degree of objectivity that one must expect of a Government White Paper. We have tried to provide accurate information through that channel. There are two popular guides, both of which are accurate within their limits, issued by daily newspapers. On the question of sovereignty, it was precisely because of that issue, and because of its difficulty, that I was hoping to ask my noble and learned friend on the Woolsack to play a prominent part in the debate on Thursday. Personally, I think it is a very difficult question to make up one's mind about. I have read the Treaty, and I still should find it very difficult to answer this kind of question in answer to a debate. But I have noticed, for instance, that President de Gaulle, whose country is a prominent member of the Community, has a very strong idea of the sovereignty which it still retains.


My Lords, I am a little anxious about another point. I should like to say to the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, that I have great sympathy with the background of his question, but I do not want to go into the detail to-day. I am more anxious about the community such as was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft. We understand from the statement that these negotiations are likely to be quite protracted.

There is the point raised by the noble Viscount, Lord Elibank, as to whether there is sufficient mandate in the Government for the purpose of this very far-reaching change—perhaps constitutional—and its effects upon us, without reference to the country. May we have an assurance that the public, as well as Parliament—Parliament first, but the public at large—will he kept in touch with the essential points which come up in the negotiations that the Government will go into if they make this application as a result of Parliamentary decision this week? We really ought to be kept in touch. It may go on for months; things may get overlooked and forgotten, and all the rest of it.

This is so vital an issue on which you are asking the country to make a decision that if it is going the wrong way, in their view—and the trade unions are now beginning to give appearance of that in the motions put down for the Trades Union Congress next month—then I think it is essential that we should be given, as you go along, information as to what is going on. When we ask for information about what has happened with the Commonwealth all we are told is, "It is confidential ". I do not think the community can be left for month after month, with all these things being done which will tie them up in one way or the other, on the ground that it is completely confidential. I hope something can be done to keep them in touch.


My Lords, this is just title sort of question which I think can be explored in the debate on Wednesday and Thursday. I cannot, of course, say how long these negotiations are likely to last. I myself was thinking of them—perhaps this has leaked out in what I said—as somewhat protracted; but they may go better or worse than I was thinking. I was not intending to give any picture of what they would be. It is true that I myself think of them as being somewhat lengthy.

As regards the question of mandate, that is precisely What Parliament is here to protect and consider. My right honourable friend has given the assurance which I read out, and Parliament must be deemed to act in a responsible manner towards its constituents, particularly the other place to whom the assurance was given. As regards keeping the public informed, naturally we are most anxious to keep the public informed in every way. One of the main functions of the two Houses of Parliament is to extract information from the Government, but of course it is not necessarily the best way of conducting conversations, either with Commonwealth partners or with the Community with whom we are in negotiation, to tell the public from time to time how we are getting on and inviting public reaction to each stage in the negotiations. This is one method of diplomacy, but I am not sure it is the best.


My Lords, will the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack in his speech deal with the point raised by the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, as to whether the popular Foreign Secretary, Lord Home, is in agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn?


I am sure that my noble and learned friend has heard the noble Viscount's question and will pay to it the attention which he always does to suggestions by Members of this House.


My Lords, while welcoming the statement of the noble Viscount the Leader of the House but regretting the fact that it has not been possible to produce even what can be called a popular White Paper, and appreciating the difficulties in producing such a White Paper, could I make one suggestion to my noble Leader? He referred, I believe, to two publications on this complex matter, and I am wondering whether they would be of an exploratory or explanatory nature which would assist Members of your Lordships' House to understand the difficulties involved and whether these publications could be placed in the Library of the House. The only two I am aware of, (there are probably many others) is one which was produced by the Financial Times in November last year, called The Six and the Seven, and one more recently produced by the Daily Telegraph, called Britain, and the Common Market. But I wonder whether there may be others and whether these publications, which would assist many of us, could be placed in the Library.


My Lords, I am not sure what my position is in regard to the Library of the House, but I will take note of my noble friend's suggestion. I believe that the Foreign Secretary would like to add a word.


My Lords, I should not like it to be thought that there is necessarily a difference of opinion between the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, and myself. I am not at all sure that the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, is not right in a way and that I am not right in a way. But perhaps we can explore that a little later.