HL Deb 04 February 1971 vol 314 cc1389-94

4.36 p.m.


My Lords, just in time! May I repeat a Statement which is being made by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster in another place at this very moment? The Statement is as follows:

"With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, I would like to make a Statement on the Ministerial meeting of the Conference with the European Economic Communities on Tuesday of this week.

"The meeting recorded a number of agreements.

"The Community confirmed that the alternatives in their 1963 Declaration of Intent should be open not only to the nine African Commonwealth countries which I mentioned in my Statement to the House on the 10th of December but to Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland as well, subject, in their case, to certain special arrangements which may need to be settled at a later stage.

"The Community further confirmed their proposal to include Hong Kong in their scheme of generalised preferences from the date of its implementation. We accepted their proposals as settling the case of Hong Kong as raised by us in the framework of the negotiations for accession.

"We agreed upon the way in which the enlarged Community would approach the problems of the Asian Commonwealth countries, countries for whom association is not appropriate. The enlarged Community would continue to be inspired in its trade relations with these countries by the wish to extend and reinforce this relationship. It would be ready to examine with these countries, after enlargement, and taking account of the scope of the generalised preference scheme, the problems that might arise in the field of trade with a view to reaching appropriate solutions.

"It was agreed that the Anglo-French Condominium of the New Hebrides should be associated with the enlarged Community.

"I welcomed a statement made by the Community on transitional arrangements in the field of industrial tariffs, which we thought should broadly meet the aim we have had in mind, in making our own proposals, of promoting as rapidly as possible the dynamic effects of industrial integration. But this arrangement, it was made clear, cannot be regarded as definitive until agreement has also been reached on methods of transition in the agricultural field.

"There was an exchange of views on the question of Community finance. I cannot say any agreement was reached. But I hope that there is now a better understanding of the issues involved in this field, which is of course of crucial importance to the success of the negotiations. I left the Community in no doubt of this fact."

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Marquess for repeating this Statement, although perhaps it is somewhat anti-climatic after the exciting result of the last Statement. Nevertheless, it is a Statement of very considerable importance. I have one or two questions about it that I should like to ask the noble Marquess, but before doing so may I say that I welcome the news that the Declaration of Intent open to the nine African Commonwealth countries has now been extended to Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland. I should like to ask the noble Marquess whether the "certain special arrangements", to which he referred, that "may need to be settled at a later stage" will be the subject of consultation with those three territories before any final arrangements are concluded.

A similar question applies to the Statement in respect of Hong Kong. May I ask the noble Marquess whether, in arriving at this arrangement with the Community, Her Majesty's Government in fact consulted the Hong Kong Government; and whether they are content with the arrangement that has now been arrived at? I must confess to some feeling of confusion about the passage in the Statement which refers—if I heard the noble Marquess aright—to the enlarged Community being "inspired in its trade relations" with the Asian Commonwealth countries by "the wish to extend and reinforce this relationship". I must ask the noble Marquess exactly what that means, because at the moment it means very little to me. What is the relationship between the Community and the Asian Commonwealth countries; or what do they understand that relationship to be? It has always been my understanding that the common external tariff of the Community would supersede any Commonwealth preferential arrangements and agreements. Perhaps the noble Marquess could enlighten me on that point.

I welcome the news that the Anglo-French Condominium of the New Hebrides is to be associated with the enlarged Community, and I note also the statement about the industrial tariff. There remains the most important issue of the exchange of views on the question of Community finance, the new financial structure of the Community. The Minister says in the Statement: I cannot say any agreement was reached. This, of course, is not a very satisfactory situation. The noble Marquess will know that there are certain requirements which we on this side of the House would certainly regard as being crucial to the success of the negotiations; in the sense that any concession from them would be regarded by many of us as unacceptable. May I ask, therefore, for his assurance that Her Majesty's Government will remain firm, generally speaking, on the proposals put forward by his right honourable friend when he stated the British negotiating position?


My Lords, while welcoming this Statement, which obviously is good so far as it goes, may I just say that we on these Benches feel that nothing we say at this moment in time is likely to be of very great assistance to the excellent Mr. Rippon in what are clearly becoming the critical phases of these highly important negotiations? May I ask the noble Marquess whether Mr. Rippon has made it quite clear to the Six in the course of negotiation that almost everything we may contribute to the Central Agricultural Fund, over and above the very small amount that we should recover, would be pure gain for the French farmer, who, if agreement is not reached, will just be so much the poorer.


My Lords, may I thank the noble Lords, Lord Chalfont and Lord Gladwyn, for their remarks in welcoming this Statement? The noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, asked me quite a number of questions, some of which I shall try to answer. The first was whether there would be consultation with Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland. I can give an assurance that these countries will be consulted. The problems arise because of the fact that they have a Customs union with South Africa and that will have to be sorted out. I can also confirm that the Government of Hong Kong were very fully consulted in detail throughout the negotiations. They had certain reservations, I must tell the noble Lord, but they have accepted the situation as it stands. The noble Lord also raised a question about the Asian Commonwealth. I should like not to mislead him on this; and if I may I will let him know the precise meaning of this wording. I think that he is right in what he says about extending the preferences.

On the question of Community finance which, as both noble Lords have said, is really the crucial point, I can assure the noble Lord that the Government are quite firm about their initial bid. This was a perfectly sincere and genuine bid. There were, in fact, this week no real negotiations: two statements were made; but the real negotiations will come, we hope, at the next meeting in March. I cannot tell the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, whether my right honourable friend has made his point about the gains to French agriculture; but knowing him, I suspect that he has done so.


My Lords, may I ask whether the question of fishery limits was raised at the Brussels Conference?—because it is very important.


My Lords, I quite realise that it is a question of great importance, but I am afraid that I do not know whether it was raised on Tuesday. I rather think it was not, but I will let the noble Lord know.


My Lords, may I ask two questions? First, can we have an assurance that the Government will refuse to yield to the fantastic and extravagant demands made in the discussions that have recently taken place?—and this despite the blandishments of the pro-Common Marketeers who are trying to drive the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster into the Common Market whether he wants to go there or not. That is the first question. My second question is this. Can we have an assurance on the question asked by my noble friend Lord Boothby, who has been an ardent advocate of entry into the Common Market for a quarter of a century, over whether we can have an assurance that his apprehensions about the effects on the fishing industry will be taken note of by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.


Yes, my Lords, I can give the noble Lord an absolute assurance on both those points.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Marquess one question? Will the horticultural, fruit-growing and vegetable-growing farmers in this country be able to set off against their contributions to the Central Agricultural Fund, as compensation, the cost of any damage that they may suffer through our entry into E.E.C.?


My Lords, I shall certainly take note of what the noble Lord has said. I should not like to mislead noble Lords about something on which I am not quite sure. I will take note of what he has said and I will keep in touch.


My Lords, may I follow up the question asked by my noble friend Lord Shinwell and the answer given by the noble Marquess? Is the noble Marquess aware that the financing of the Common Agricultural Policy of the Community as a whole is now to be automatic after 1978, according to an agreement made among the Six? Is he therefore aware that what we are negotiating now are transitional arrangements? Will he repeat the assurance that I understood him to give to my noble friend Lord Shinwell that we shall remain firm on our present proposals which, in the view of many of us on this side of the House, are the least that we can accept in the form of arrangements that will not damage the economy of this country?


My Lords, I think that this is precisely the point that my right honourable friend the Chancellor was making in his statement in Brussels on Tuesday, when he said that he was going to remain firm on these matters. The Government have always taken the view that we are applying to join E.E.C. if the price is right.