HL Deb 20 December 1967 vol 287 cc1458-64

3.45 p.m.


My Lords, with permission, I should like to repeat a Statement about our application for membership of the European Communities. The Statement now being made by my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary in another place is as follows:

"Honourable Members will know of the events which took place in Brussels yesterday at the meeting of the Council of Ministers of the Six. In spite of strong insistence by the representatives of five of the Governments and the clear recommendation of the European Commission, the representative of one of them—France—refused to permit the opening of negotiations on our application. Here let me pay a tribute to those five Governments and to the Commission for the very considerable efforts they have made individually and collectively to bring this enterprise to a successful conclusion.

"My right honourable friend the Prime Minister said in this House some weeks ago that if, contrary to our hopes and the hopes of most people in Europe, a veto were to be imposed, we should still regard ourselves as commuted to our main purpose in Europe.

"We reaffirm that to-day. We continue to believe that the long-term interests of this country and of Europe require that we should become a member of the European Communities.

"The House will have seen the statement issued by the Foreign Office last night which set out our position. I will arrange for it to be included in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

"The communiqué which was issued after yesterday's meeting of the Community Council of Ministers made clear that our application, as well as those of the other countries, remains on the agenda of the Council of Ministers. We in turn confirm that our application stands. We do not intend to withdraw it.

"We now propose to enter into consultations with those five members of the European Community who supported the Commission's view that negotiations should be started at an early stage.

"We shall of course also be in the closest touch with the members of the European Free Trade Association and the Irish Republic. We are by no means the only country whose hopes of progress towards a genuine European unity have been temporarily disappointed.

"As regards the content of the consultations to which I have referred, and which will begin at once, we for our part want to see the links between us forged as strongly as possible. We cannot expose ourselves to any further vetoes on the part of President de Gaulle.

"As regards our relations with France, whilst we shall not indulge in any peevish or petty reaction to the present situation, it would be idle to pretend that what has happened is not a grave blow to our relationship. We think the attitude taken by the French Government represents a false view of the future of Europe. We think it contains a deplorable number of mistaken ideas about the realities of the various questions at issue. We question its motivation. But I think it important to stress that this is not an Anglo-French affair. It is a matter for Europe.

"We regret, of course, that Europe has been held back temporarily from achieving the unity which it now aspires to. But it is just because time and events in this technological age are running against Europe that we do not intend as a result of this temporary check to abandon all work along the road."

Following is the text of the Foreign Office Statement referred to:

"It is a matter of grave concern that the Government of France has been unable to accept the unanimous view of its partners that negotiations for Britain's accession to the European Communities should start at once. This can only delay the inevitable progress towards a united Europe including Britain, which is in the interest of Europe as a whole.

"There is no question of withdrawing Britain's application. Her Majesty's Government believe that, given the support of the five Governments and the overwhelming majority of opinion throughout western Europe, European unity is bound to be achieved.

"Her Majesty's Government will be consulting about the implications of the present situation with other European Governments who share Britain's views on the future of Europe."

3.49 p.m.


My Lords, I must apologise to the noble Lord for not being in my seat when he started reading his Statement. There was a failure of communications. I am sure that the Government are right in reaffirming their belief that the long-term interests of the country require that we should become a member of the E.E.C., and I wholeheartedly applaud that decision. I also share some of the sadness which the noble Lord expressed at what the French Government has done, what the French President has done, and I think perhaps your Lordships, or most of your Lordships, also share some of the sentiments we read in the newspapers which came from the noble Baroness, Lady Asquith of Yarnbury, who wrote about this matter in the Sunday newspapers.

I would ask the noble Lord three questions, if I may. First of all, I probably ought to know this, but does the French veto to the British application also apply to the applications lying on the table in the names of Denmark, Norway and Ireland? Secondly, may I ask the noble Lord what steps the Government are proposing to take in the meantime, before we can join the E.E.C., to bring our economy into line with that of the other five; and, in particular, have they any plans about our agricultural industry? Thirdly, may I ask the noble Lord whether the Government have any proposals about the Technological Community, about which we have heard a great deal?


My Lords, first let me say in connection with the noble Lord's apology that the failure of communication was entirely mine. So far as his questions are concerned, and dealing first with the French veto, I would say that in the report of yesterday's meeting reference is made only to the British application and to the view of the French Government that negotiations cannot open on the British application. However, I think it unlikely to the point almost of impossibility that the other three applications will be pressed in the absence of negotiations on the British application.

So far as the remaining two questions are concerned regarding the steps that we might take in our general economic structure, and particularly in our agricultural industry, and the steps that we might take to co-ordinate and further technological co-operation with European countries, I believe it would be wrong to pre-judge the discussions we shall now be instituting at once with the countries of what are sometimes called the "Friendly Five". Naturally, these matters will be very much in the front of our minds, and I hope your Lordships will be patient and allow us to conduct these discussions with the Five without revealing too much of our hand in advance.

3.52 p.m.


My Lords, speaking on behalf of noble Lords on these Benches, I need hardly say that we regard this as a sad, almost a tragic, day for this country, for Europe, and indeed also for France. May I say also that we entirely associate ourselves with the proposal of the Government that our application should remain firmly on the table, and also with their intention to enter into talks or negotiations, so far as is possible, with the Friendly Five.

May I also say that we share the view of the Government, which I think has been expressed elsewhere by the Prime Minister, that the so-called North Atlantic Free Trade Area is not a starter, any how for the foreseeable future, and that we also regard another favourite idea of the anti-marketeers, namely, that we should somehow unite the European Economic Community and EFTA, as being out of the question, if only because no member of the Community would agree to a scheme that would give British industry all the advantages of the Common Market and none of its obligations.

I should like to ask the Minister two questions. The first is whether the Government still believe that any form of delayed entry, which of course has nothing to do with a simple association, is even now not negotiable. On the face of it, this might provide a means of circumventing at any rate the economic reasons advanced against our early entry, and it reason, as opposed to emotion, is our guide, it would seem to be acceptable, provided we have the certainty of eventual entry and at least some influence over policy during the transitional period. Also, in regard to the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Merrivale, do the Government agree that there is now no point in pressing forward against the presumptive opposition of the French Government with any proposals for a political union which, if it is ever to come about, can be based only on a common desire to constitute a genuine political European authority?


My Lords, on behalf of the Government I should like to express my gratification that both the spokesmen of the Parties opposite have supported the general line of the Government on this sad day—sad for me especially.

As regards the North Atlantic Free Trade Area and other forms of association, I agree with the noble Lord that these are not starters so far as we are concerned. I think the same must apply to the proposal for delayed entry. I know this is an attractive proposition, but it has a number of obvious disadvantages, and I think the decisive ones are, first of all, in our view and on the information we have, that it is not available or negotiable. Secondly, even if it were, this would be dealing with a situation in which we would accept many of the obligations attaching to membership of the Common Market, and some of the most important of them, without the privileges of voting and the rights of full membership. This would mean that we should be accepting formally the obligations of the Community without having the influence of which the noble Lord spoke on its development, and then at the end of the period we might find ourselves committed to joining a Community which had changed considerably in nature from the one we began to join. I think this is something we could not ask the people of this country to support.


My Lords, would the noble Lord deal with my question about political union?


My Lords, I apologise. On the question of political union, I think again the problem of political consultation and the whole matter of the political development of Europe in the light of this latest French action will be the subject, or part of the subject, of the consultations we shall be having with the Five and which we shall be starting as quickly as possible.


My Lords, the noble Lord said he did not want to be pressed with regard to the immediate consultations to be held with the Five. We shall certainly not press him further than he wants now, but he has just said that one of the matters to be discussed will be the possibility of political union. Can he tell us whether those discussions will be concerned mainly with technological co-operation or with economic and fiscal co-operation, or with both?


My Lords, I think it right to say that every aspect of our relations with Europe, and our potential relations with the Common Market when we do join it, will be included in the discussions we shall now have with the Five.


My Lords, may I ask a question, for clarification? The Statement from the Foreign Office says that Her Majesty's Government will be having consultations with other European Governments sharing Britain's views on the future of Europe. The noble Lord referred to the Five members of the E.E.C., but if in fact there happen to be other members who share the views of the British Government—for instance, if ultimately the French Government came nearer to our point of view—are those other countries excluded from being consulted by Her Majesty's Government?


My Lords, I am not sure that I have entirely got the drift of the noble Lord's question. The con- sultations about which I was speaking are those we shall now have with the Five about the whole range of problems. We shall, of course, also consult with the countries of the European Free Trade Association, as I said when repeating the Statement. Does that answer the noble Lord's question?


To some extent, yes, my Lords.