HL Deb 30 July 1962 vol 243 cc33-8

4.12 p.m.


My Lords, with the permission of the House I should like to repeat a statement being made in another place by the Lord Privy Seal on the progress of the Brussels negotiations.

"A meeting of Ministers took place in Brussels from July 24 to 28. At the first session on July 24 they resumed discussion of problems arising for British domestic agriculture. They considered the extent to which the Community's arrangements for two commodities—pigmeat and eggs—give producers an assurance of an adequate return. Problems which would arise for these commodities during the transitional stage were also considered. The Working Party on pigmeat was instructed to continue its work on the basis of the ministerial discussion. They will resume their discussion on both these products at a later meeting.

"Ministers also had an initial discussion on the transitional arrangements for horticulture.

"The major part of the meeting—from July 25 to 28—was devoted to the problem of imports of foodstuffs, mainly cereals, meat and dairy products and sugar, from the Commonwealth. As I have already told the House, all seven Governments have agreed, in the context of an enlarged Community, to take an early initiative to secure long-term agreements on a broad international basis for the principal agricultural products. At the same time the members of the Community have accepted the importance of reaching an understanding on the purposes of such agreements and on the points to be covered in them. We also considered together the question of price and production policy in an enlarged Community, which would have a major influence on the volume of imports.

"They discussed the position which would anise if these wide international agreements did not prove practicable. The Six Governments have stated their readiness to conclude agreements, with the same purposes, on a common basis with those countries who wish to do so, in particular the Commonwealth countries. The consideration of arrangements for the transitional period continued.

"As the House knows, the problems which arise in this sector of foodstuffs are the most difficult in the negotiations. They are complicated by the fact that the Community's price policies are still in the course of development. We must seek to strike a balance between the interests of farmers in an enlarged Community, including our own, and the interests of traditional exporters, in particular the Commonwealth. In so doing we must recognise that patterns of trade cannot and will not remain static, but that the arrangements reached must promise to work out fairly and must not damage the essential interests of all concerned.

"In the intensive discussions that have taken place during the past week we have made some progress in each of the sectors I have just mentioned. They did not however reach agreement, and the discussions will be continued at a further Ministerial meeting this week, beginning on Wednesday, August 1."


My Lords, I am much obliged to the noble Earl for repeating this statement which has been produced in another place. But it tells us so little that we have the same complaint all the time. I was most interested to read the replies by Mr. Soames, the Minister of Agriculture, to oral Questions in another place on the 25th, when he said, I think three or four times, that we made a statement at the beginning but we are not declaring any policy while negotiations are going on—no policy at all. It seems to me that the country is being led up the garden, and we are not being advised properly as we go along so that the country is in a state of mind to come to a decision. I regret it very much.


My Lords, I should like, on the other hand, to welcome what the noble Earl has said. I think the noble Viscount who leads the Opposition knows that, unfortunately, we do not see eye to eye with him on this matter, and we should like to wish the Lord Privy Seal well. Towards the end the statement says that patterns of trade cannot and will not remain static. Bearing that in mind, I hope that the Lord Privy Seal will not have too much pressure brought upon him by one section of the community which may see some disadvantages in the immediate future, when those of us who support the Common Market think those circumstances will come out in the end to everybody's advantage.


My Lords, towards the end of the statement the noble Earl told us that the parties have not reached agreement. That statement has apparently been anticipated in the week-end Press and we are told that there is a grave danger of the whole of the negotiations breaking down. I should be most grateful if the noble Earl could give us some assurance as to whether or not that is likely to happen. Evidently, this disagreement has been known ever since last Saturday, and the inference which most of the Press have drawn from that is that negotiations are likely to break down towards the end of the week.


My Lords, your Lordships are going to have a two-day debate on this subject, but may I ask one supplementary question, because it appears as if the issue of priority for the Commonwealth or priority for Europe is one which will have to be decided positively. My question is: Can the Minister give an assurance that our negotiators will not in any way depart from, or whittle down, the pledges which have been given as to what must constitute unacceptable terms for this country? Can we have an assurance that there will be no alteration in the general pledges which have already been given in that particular direction?


My Lords, I am sure your Lordships will realise that I am anxious not to say anything which might add to the difficulties of my right honourable friend the Lord Privy Seal when these negotiations are resumed on Wednesday. The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, has referred to prognostications in the Press that the negotiations are likely to break down. I have perhaps an advantage (or it may be a disadvantage) compared with him, in that, having been in the Scottish Highlands for the last week-end, I have not seen these prognostications in the Press.


I can give the newspapers quite categorically—the Sunday Times, the Observer and, this morning, the Daily Express.


My Lords, I prefer to stick to what has actually been done by the Lord Privy Seal than to speculate, or join in newspaper speculation. The Lord Privy Seal and his colleagues spent most of their time last week on the most important question of finding a solution in respect of temporary agricultural products from Commonwealth countries which will, on the one hand, safeguard, both in the immediate future and in the long term, the essential interests of those countries; and, on the other, meet with the requirements of the European Community that the solution should be compatible with the principles of the common agricultural policy of the community.

In reply to my noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye, the Government abide by their undertaking which was given nearly a year ago, on August 3, 1961, in another place, that no agreement will be entered into until it has been approved by Parliament after full consultation with other Commonwealth countries.


My Lords, I should like to express my appreciation of the skill and the patience of the Lord Privy Seal and the expert staff who are advising him in Brussels. They deserve all our gratitude. May I ask the noble Earl this question? Is he aware that New Zealand is making a tremendous sales drive at the moment to find a new market for her products in South-East Asia, and will it not be a very good thing for the people of South-East Asia to get some of the products that Europe has in plenty?


My Lords, may I ask a question, or perhaps put a point? We have all been looking forward to the debate that will take place on Wednesday and Thursday, rather on the assumption that the Government would be able to give the House a great deal of positive information on which noble Lords would be able to express an opinion, without the House being invited to give any formal approval to a policy which, obviously, they cannot be asked to approve until the policy is finalised in accordance with the Government's undertaking that any proposed agreement is brought before Parliament. But at the moment the whole negotiations are, as it were, upon a knife edge. If you are dead against the Common Market, you would want to encourage everything to break down; if you think we have to go into the Common Market at any price, then you can always make that kind of speech. But if the middle-of-the-road opinion is taken up (as I feel is the position of the vast majority of the people, of all Parties, who are extremely anxious to get an agreement, if such an agreement is possible consistent with our central policy and our undertakings), might it not be better that the debate which is to take place should, in present circumstances, when it seems it can hardly serve any useful purpose, be curtailed as much as possible until we are in a position to have a great deal more positive information upon which we can usefully express an opinion, without prejudice?


My Lords, I have great sympathy with what the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, has just said, but this must ultimately rest with the House. I do not know what the right answer is. As I say, I have a great deal of sympathy with the noble Earl's point of view, and I will explore through the usual channels exactly what we can do about it. I will say, quite frankly, that hitherto I have always taken the view that this is an unavoidable debate, although there are dangers to which the noble Earl has drawn attention, which I am sure individual noble Lords will be anxious to minimise. But if there is a general view to the contrary, I shall be very receptive to any suggestions made.


My Lords, I think I ought to point out that the Opposition, which I have the honour to lead, has been very co-operative in delaying and delaying this debate on the Common Market. There has been no full debate on the Common Market in this House such as there has been in the other place. Finally, we agreed to the two last days of this Session so that we could discuss it properly. It is no fault of ours that we have not had the debate we ought to have had, and that fact must be taken into consideration. The noble Earl, Lord Swinton, is quite entitled to make the point he made, and I am not complaining about it; but there are other people to be considered, the people in the Commonwealth. I think they ought to know something about what we feel, whichever way we are thinking—whether we are in the middle-of-the-road position, as the noble Earl said; whether we are in the position of thinking that we should enter the Common Market at any price, or whether we are seeking to stand upon the pledges given to the Commonwealth. They are entitled to know this, and I think we are entitled to put that position to the public and to the Commonwealth at large in this House, as has been arranged.


My Lords, I hope I did not give the impression that I was in any way criticising the Opposition, or any other section of the House, when I replied to my noble friend. I was simply saying that I sympathised with the point of view he was putting forward, but that the matter is one for the House; because the Government could not curtail debate nor would they desire to do so. At the same time, the considerations which my noble friend put forward are considerations which would naturally occur to the Opposition, as well as to the Government. Indeed, I would think that even those who were opposed to entering into the Common Market would be very anxious that, whatever else could be said about their attitude while negotiations are in progress, it should not be said against them hereafter that what they had said had prejudiced the negotiations, until they had reached a stage at which they could usefully be discussed.

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