HL Deb 24 January 1963 vol 246 cc167-74

3.38 p.m.


My Lords, I do not know Whether your Lordships would like me to make now the statement on the Brussels negotiations, which my noble friend indicated I would. With your Lordships' permission, I will repeat a statement being made now in another place by my right honourable friend The Lord Privy Seal on the progress of the Brussels negotiations:

A meeting of Ministers took place in Brussels from January 14 to 18. Monsieur Fayat, the Belgian Chairman, opened the meeting by urging the Conference to bring the present negotiations to a successful conclusion. In his reply, my right honourable friend agreed that the decisions which remained to be taken covered a limited field. These were: transitional arrangements for British Agriculture and supplementary proposals for the Common Market period; the outstanding tariff items; the completion of agreement on temperate foodstuffs, including arrangements for New Zealand; institutional arrangements; one or two smaller—but still important—questions, of which the most substantial is perhaps Hong Kong. Although these decisions were among the more difficult, the facts and background affecting each one were now known. If all delegations were prepared to contribute towards the solutions, the substance of the negotiations could be speedily concluded.

The Conference agreed that the Commission and the Secretariat should form a working group, with assistance from the British delegation, to examine methods of drafting legal texts.

The Chairman then replied to the statement of December 19 about institutional questions. Monsieur Fayat said that the Community agreed that British participation in the institutions of the Community should be of the same order as that established for other member States of comparable size; that Great Britain's voting rights in the Council of Ministers should have the same weighting as the vote of other comparable member States; that the English language should be one of the official languages of the Community; that the terms of the statement relating to financial contributions under the Treaty were acceptable though certain questions in this field still remained to be discussed; that the broad principle of a two-thirds majority as reflected in Article 148 of the Treaty of Rome should be retained; and that other new members should participate in the institutions and obligations of the Community on a fair basis.

I now turn to the further discussion of British agriculture. The Ministerial fact finding Study Group under the chairmanship of Dr. Mansholt completed its report in the early hours of January 15. The report covered cereals, pigment, poultry and eggs and concluded with a section on the length of the transitional period.

Dr. Mansholt introduced this report at the Ministerial Meeting on January 15. Monsieur Spaak, the Belgian Foreign Minister, suggested that the delegations should examine the problems set out in it and make specific proposals commodity by commodity, to which my right honourable friend agreed. Monsieur Spaak went on to suggest that if the United Kingdom could accept that the transitional period should end on December 31, 1969, the transitional arrangements could be based on more far-reaching compromises. In reply the Lord Privy Seal recognised the link between the length of the transitional period and the nature of the transitional arrangements. He said he was prepared to agree that the difficulties we saw about the date for the conclusion of the transitional period would be eased if it, were possible to find the right kind of arrangements for it. If such arrangements could be found, it might be possible to accept December 31, 1969, as the end of the transitional period for the commodities covered by, the Mansholt Report. This was warmly welcomed by many of the Ministers present, who said that they considered it provided a good basis for further consideration of the transitional problems.

The third major question before the Conference related to outstanding tariff items. At the meeting on January 16, the Lord Privy Seal made a comprehensive statement putting forward new and revised proposals on the twenty-six tariff items remaining to be settled. The delegations of the Community then began an examination of these proposals.

The greater part of the remainder of the Ministerial, meeting was devoted at the request of Monsieur Couve de Murville, the French Minister for Foreign Affairs, to consideration by the Ministers of the Community of the future programme of work of the Conference.

At the conclusion of these discussions the Ministers of the seven countries met again and agreed the following statement: The French delegation has requested that the negotiations with Great Britain should be suspended. The five other delegations of the European Economic Community and the British delegation have opposed this. Discussion of this question will be continued in the course of the next session of the Conference which has been set for January 28, 1963. Discussions at Working Party or Deputy level in the negotiations with the European Economic Community, the European Coal and Steel Community and Euratom are taking place this week before the Ministerial Conference resumes next Monday.

3.44 p.m.


My Lords, we are obliged to the noble Earl for giving us this copy of the Lord Privy Seals statement in another place. There are one or two outstanding points in it on which Mr. Heath seems to have made some agreement; but, by and large, the statement gives the House very little detailed information as to progress in relation to the wide interests here in this country and in the Commonwealth at large. So far as the general public is concerned, we still hardly know where we are and it is almost impossible to comment in detail without getting some further discussions from that point of view.

Nevertheless, I believe myself that there is a feeling in the country that we have lost a great deal of the customary respect and dignity in which this country was held for centuries, by, say, such comments as have emanated from the United States as a result of this situation. Even the Prime Minister himself a few days ago said, among other reasons he gave—some, perhaps, not so sound—that the present high level of unemployment was an effect of the long delay in these discussions as to whether or not we were going into the Common Market in relation to investment and production. And I must say that many Of us are very concerned about this position of our country being held at a distance, as it were, outside this and outside that, not only waiting for decisions affecting, particular trades and interests but by the kind of regulatory practice in the Common Market. This is bound to have very important effects on social life in general, conditions of workers, conditions of this, conditions of that, on the effect of which we can at present form no real judgment at all.

I think it would be only fair to the House, in these so early days after the demise of our lamented Leader of the Labour Party, to think a little about the conclusions to which he was obviously being pressed; and I think, from that point of view, it would be right for us to remind the Government at this time of conclusions which were arrived at in the annual conference of the Labour Party, only two or three months ago. Far they set forth quite clearly the five conditions which would all have to be fulfilled before we could possibly agree to entry. If all five were fulfilled, then there would be, in principle, agreement to entry. I think I had better remind the House of what they were, because they have never been mentioned in this House before.

First, there must be real safeguards in regard to the Commonwealth—safeguards for the trade and for the other interests of our friends and our partners in the Commonwealth. Secondly, there must be complete and entire freedom for this country in the conduct of our own foreign policy. That may be said by some people to be irrelevant to the first, but it is not. You have only to look at the comments of the world's Press about England's present position to see how essential that point would be. Thirdly, there must be a complete fulfilment of the pledges of this country to the European Free Trade Association countries. The fourth point was that there must be acceptable safeguards for British agriculture and its general position. The fifth (I hesitated a little because I wanted to be quite sure about the fifth point) was the right of this country to control its own economic policy. That is vastly important. From what I said earlier on, there is some doubt about whether conformity to the decisions of another body entirely outside the sovereignty of the British Parliament might not interfere with our own Parliament controlling the entire economy of our own country.

I would beg your Lordships to remember that, at the same Conference the late Mr. Hugh Gaitskell said that if all those five points were fully met to the satisfaction of the interests concerned there was a case for entering the Common Market, but there were certain conditions that had to be seriously considered. He recalled to the Conference that in 1923 the late Earl Baldwin (then Mr. Stanley Baldwin), having convinced himself that only the protection of industry could help the country to free itself from the great burden of unemployment at that time, decided that there must be a General Election, which was duly carried out. And Mr. Gaitskell said that he hoped that we should see the same honesty with the British electorate on this question of the Common Market. I will not say that support for this idea was unanimous, but there was a strong feeling that, because of the importance of the taxation of food which would result from E.E.C. policy, the whole issue should be put to the country.

Of course, we shall have to see what further results there are from the dis- cussions on the Continent beginning next week. We have already seen that the differing views of General de Gaulle and Mr. Monnet have created an unhappy position for many concerned in the negotiations. We do not yet know what will come out of them, but I feel certain that the Government will have to give urgent attention to the effect of their policy on the country as a whole and on the rights of the British electorate.


My Lords, perhaps the noble Viscount would like me to make a brief acknowledgement of his comments. I agree with his first observation, that it is difficult to discuss questions in detail when the details have not been revealed. As the details are still under discussion, that would clearly not be possible. My right honourable friend the Lord Privy Seal has thought it better to make a full statement about what has happened, showing that the details are still being considered in committee, rather than run the risk of appearing to conceal anything.

The noble Viscount will not expect me to agree with his next point, that the present position of the British Government is an undignified one. I think that our attitude has been very well and fully explained, in a most modest and dignified manner, by the Prime Minister in his recent speeches on the subject. As to the noble Viscount's remarks about the effect of this on unemployment and so on, I think it is probably true to say that uncertainty might have held up certain kinds of private investment in projects of industrial expansion. On his concluding remarks about the conditions under which we can enter, I think that all I ought to say in reply to him at this moment is that we still fully adhere to ail the pledges we have given—which were fully repeated in our last full debate on this subject—in regard to the Commonwealth, to agriculture and to our EFTA partners.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Earl whether the Government will be quite sure not to withdraw from the negotiations until the Six finally decide what they wish to do in this matter? May I suggest to him that there is no loss of prestige whatsoever, either in America or here, as a result of the Government's actions; and may I thank Mr. Heath and his civil servants for the patience and skill they have shown in Brussels? Finally, may I ask him whether it is not a fact that, if the French ensure that Britain does not become a member of E.E.C., it not merely will be a blow to us but will also wreck E.E.C. itself?


My Lords, I am obliged to the noble Lord. I think the only piece of information that arises out of his questions is whether we are withdrawing. We do not intend to withdraw. The conference is going to meet again on January 28, with all seven Governments represented. Of course, we cannot predict the course of events thereafter. No doubt much will depend on the wishes of the other five, if the French decided to absent themselves from subsequent meetings. The noble Lord's final question was perhaps a hypothetical one and I do not think I ought to enter into it, except to say that our belief is that lit would be a very tragic thing for Europe if it were to be divided.


My Lords, the last point reminds me of a point that I intended to make—that is, that my Party at its Conference also wished the Government to consider having a proper economic and political conference between our country, the countries of the Commonwealth and the members of EFTA, in order to decide what policy is to be pursued, whatever the end of these negotiations may be and whether or not we find ourselves out of the Common Market. I think that should be done at once.


My Lords, I am much obliged to the noble Viscount for his suggestion. I think we had better wait until we see what happens when the conference is resumed on January 28.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Earl two questions, purely for the purpose of clarification? At the end of his statement he referred to the Coal and Steel Community. Am I right in believing that now that agreement has been reached between the experts of the five countries and ourselves—that is, not including France, because they did not send a delegate—this would mean a curtailment to sonic extent of the powers of the National Coal Board? Has the noble Earl any indication of the extent to which those powers would be curtailed? Secondly, may I ask whether Dr. Hallstein has been officially approached with regard to producing a report on the exact state of the negotiations? I believe that his Commission might be asked to make a report on the state of the negotiations. He would then have consultations and would be in a position to make recommendations as to the way in which further negotiations could be speedily concluded.


My Lords, with regard to the first question asked by the noble Lord, I do not think I should add anything to what I said, or what the Lord Privy Seal has just said—namely, that discussions at Working Party or Deputy level with the European Coal and Steel Community and Euratom are! taking place this week before the Ministerial Conference next Monday. Neither can I add anything about Dr. Hallstein's Report. My right honourable friend stated that he had recently made a report on agriculture, which I have described. I do not think I have anything to add about a possible report on the state of the negotiations which could or could not be an expedient for preventing them from being broken off.