HL Deb 16 November 1967 vol 286 cc844-7

3.19 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what practical steps have so far been taken to initiate the "urgent multilateral discussions designed to create a new dynamic in European Technology" advocated by the Prime Minister at the Guildhall banquet on November 13, and whether any proposals have been made to discuss this matter with any industrial or scientific organisations in Europe.]


My Lords, in the second of the seven proposals in his Guildhall speech the Prime Minister indicated that we are ready to embark on urgent multilateral discussions with our European partners, designed to create a new dynamic in European technology. This proposal has been conveyed to our European partners, not only in the speech, but also through diplomatic channels. This is the first and most practical step to initiate the discussions contemplated. The noble Earl will have seen that the Prime Minister's proposals have been welcomed in a number of European countries. The form and nature of the discussions remain to be agreed with our European partners.

With regard to the second part of the noble Earl's Question, the Prime Minister discussed this question with the C.B.J who have warmly welcomed his proposal and will, I understand, be meeting with their sister organisations in Europe to decide on their course of action. It will have been noted from the Prime Minister's speech that this new drive for a European technology must go ahead simultaneously with negotiations for British entry to the European Economic Community.


My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his Answer, and I am very glad to hear of the steps which are being taken to promote discussions for greater technical co-operation. Could the noble Lord say whether any proposals are being submitted to representatives of electronics industries or computer industries, or the European Steel Community or any group of industrialists in Germany or Benelux, or France or Italy? If these discussions are urgent, as I am sure they are, ought not the Government to be able to say more precisely who is being asked to talk to whom, and when?


My Lords, I think this is an interesting topic, which might well be a subject we could discuss on an Unstarred Question. But, very simply, the Prime Minister in his speech said he was ready to talk bilaterally—or, at least, this country was—with any European partner in the field of computers, electronics and the civil application of nuclear energy. But, of course, a major part of the proposal is the development of the European Institute of Technology—I have a feeling that "Technology" in certain respects is a slightly misleading word; it is almost a European Industrial Institute—which will provide the focus for discussions in which industry will be able more easily to participate with their collaborators.

So far as approaches to particular groups such as he has mentioned in this country are concerned, I cannot say whether they have taken place, but it would be entirely consistent with the measures that are being taken, which I assure the noble Earl are energetic.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord whether the responsibility has been clearly defined as between the Ministry of Technology and the Foreign Office for master-minding this idea?


My Lords, this is one of those subjects which involve more than one Department. Clearly the Foreign Office are the proper channel for communication with foreign Governments; but I happen to know that the Ministry of Technology and the Foreign Office are working very closely on this particular subject. In certain areas it may even involve other Departments.


My Lords, could the noble Lord say whether the Industrial Reorganisation Corpora tion will play a part in these mergers, in the same way as they are doing in Britain?


My Lords, that is an interesting point. There is the germ of such an idea in the European Institute of Technology. But we have not yet reached that sort of stage, although one could see that if this progressed—I certainly speak without any authority to say that this will happen—it could develop in that kind of way, with a view to developing the sort of mergers we generally may think desirable in this country.


My Lords, would not my noble friend agree that the Prime Minister's proposals constitute striking evidence of the great contribution that this country could make in technological advancement in Western Europe, if and when we join the Common Market; and, therefore, are they not to be warmly welcomed by all of us?


My Lords, I appreciate my noble friend's point, which is perfectly true. We have all along taken the view that we have a major contribution to make to Europe in the technological field. But we are going ahead with this simultaneously, and of course it is not exclusive only to the European Economic Community. Countries like Norway may well participate.


My Lords, could my noble friend tell us what a European partner is, and how many countries in Western Europe are not European partners?


My Lords, a partner is somebody with whom somebody works. I will leave it to the noble Lord to decide which countries we do not work with.


My Lords, may I ask the Minister three questions? Is he aware of the strong support given to the idea of technological co-operation between the Six and the United Kingdom which is in the Report of July 1, 1966, of the European Parliament, which was produced by the rapporteur, Mr. Diomède Catroux, who is an influential member of the U.N.R. Party? Also, can the Minister say what reaction there has been in Gaullist Parliamentary circles and French Government circles to the Prime Minister's proposals of last Monday? And, finally, may I ask the noble Lord whether this offer is a conditional offer; and if it is a conditional offer, does he not think in effect it will lose some of its weight and influence?


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, whose interest we know. He always brings fresh information, particularly from France. Although this matter was, as he correctly said, discussed by the Council of Europe, there have been a number of other discussions along these lines by a number of international bodies. Indeed, one might have thought there was almost a multiplicity of them. But this is a new initiative, trying to translate certain ideas into active technological development. I am afraid I cannot answer—and if I could I think I should prefer not to answer—his question about Gaullist circles. But generally I can say that those countries which we approached directly have clearly welcomed the approach.


My Lords, may I press the noble Lord? This is, I feel, a very important point. Is this a conditional offer, or not a conditional offer?


No, my Lords, it is not a conditional offer. I may also tell him that we have been welcomed by the Governments of Germany, the Netherlands, Italy and Belgium—which partly, by exclusion, answers one of his questions. This is not a conditional offer.


My Lords, could the noble Lord give an assurance that nothing will be done to separate our technological development from that of the United States, who have helped us so much in developing our technology in recent years?


My Lords, I think that that raises rather wider questions than the original Question. But it has always been our view that our developing co-operation in Europe—and possibly our membership, as we hope, of the European Economic Community—should not be of such a kind as to sever the highly important links we all value with the United States.