HL Deb 18 March 1971 vol 316 cc578-86

4.2 p.m.


My Lords, I should like, with permission, to repeat a Statement which my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster is making in another place. This is Mr. Rippon's Statement:

"With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, I should like to make a Statement on the meeting with the European Economic Community which I attended in Brussels on March 16.

"We noted the progress that continues to be made in meetings at the level of the Deputies, and in discussions with the Commission, on a number of questions such as capital movements, fiscal harmonisation, the modalities of British participation in the European Investment Bank, the method of agricultural transition, and the question of tariff quotas on certain commodities of importance to British industry. We noted also that exploratory contacts on the Community's common fisheries policy, which are without prejudice to our position generally on this issue, would continue between the Commission and the British Delegation.

"I reiterated to the meeting the importance of the problems of New Zealand and of sugar from the developing Commonwealth. On the latter I recalled the extent of the dependence of these countries on sugar; the impossibility of their being able to diversify their production in the foreseeable future; the fact that this is not only an economic but a human problem with alternative employment to that in the sugar industry difficult to find; the need for certainty about future markets in order to assure the necessary financial credits; and the need to ensure the economic and political stability of the countries concerned.

"On New Zealand I stressed that, as with sugar, we were not seeking special economic benefits for the United Kingdom but provisions for reasonable access by New Zealand for dairy products to the enlarged Community as a whole. Nor were we seeking permanent arrangements for New Zealand's dairy produce, but continuing arrangements subject to review. I emphasised the efficiency of the New Zealand industry, the extent of her dependence on those exports, and the difficulty in the way of diversification either of products or of markets.

"I felt certain that on both these questions an acceptable and equitable solution was essential, not least in the interest of the enlarged Community's relationships with the outside world.

"M. Schumann, speaking on behalf of the Community, said that it was accepted in principle that special arrangements needed to be made to deal with each of these problems.

"I noted that the Community had proposed for agricultural transition a period of somewhat over four years proceeding in five steps. I recalled that we had said we needed a full five years for this process. We shall have to revert to this question.

"I reminded the Community that we were still waiting for their proposals on the question of our contribution to the Community's budget.

"I suggested that it was entirely reasonable and possible that we should reach agreement on the main issues at or shortly after the next Ministerial meeting. It was agreed that the Ministerial meeting already scheduled for May 11 should be extended to include also the afternoon of May 12; and that a further Ministerial meeting might be arranged for later in May. Meetings of Deputies will in the meantime take place regularly to prepare the ground for these Ministerial meetings.

It was certainly disappointing that, in the absence of any proposals from the Community it was not possible to make progress at Tuesday's meeting. But I think the agreement that Ministers should meet for a longer period in May reflects the feeling of the Conference that real progress should be possible in that month, not only on the sort of issues I mentioned at the outset of this statement but on the major decisions which are crucial to the success of the negotiations.

"The House will know that earlier this month I visited Ottawa and Washington for discussions with the Canadian and United States Governments both of which have a close interest in our negotiations for entry into the Community.

"On March 5 I met Canadian Ministers, including the Secretary of State for External Affairs and the Minister of Industry and Trade and Commerce, and discussed with them the specific aspects of the negotiations which relate to Canada. In particular, we discussed the problem of the Caribbean. I emphasised our belief that an enlarged Community would be in the interest of all members of the Commonwealth, and our desire to work for liberal trading policies towards their countries.

"We also discussed agricultural questions, linked with the introduction of the interim levy scheme about which my right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture made a Statement to the House yesterday.

"On March 8 I met members of the United States Administration, including the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Agriculture and the Secretary of Commerce; and, at the White House, Dr. Kissinger and Mr. Peterson. In Washington my talks covered much the same ground as in Ottawa.

"I emphasised the need for satisfactory arrangements for the Commonwealth Caribbean countries in the event of our entry into the Community. I said that it seemed to me that association of these countries with an enlarged Community would be the best means of securing their interests, but that they should not, as I told the House on February 22, be obliged to choose in any way between Europe and the United States. The Americans are of course concerned about their trade with these countries, and I hope I succeeded in allaying some of their anxieties.

"As in Ottawa I discussed with the United States' Administration the Government's interim levy scheme. For the longer term we also discussed the possible commercial effects on the United States, especially in the agricultural field, of the enlargement of the Community.

"In Canada and the United States I found that both Governments reaffirmed their traditional support for our efforts to join the Community."

My Lords, that concludes Mr. Rippon's Statement.


My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Earl for giving us this Statement. I am glad that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster has been to the United States and to Canada, to discuss particularly the Caribbean problems which will arise on our entry into the Common Market. I am pleased, too, about the stress on the point that we should continue to ask for liberal trading policies between all the countries concerned. I am particularly pleased with the words of the Chancellor in relation to sugar and the dairy products of New Zealand. I hope that the debate we had in your Lordships' House will be of particular benefit to the Government in their negotiations. However, I cannot help feeling that the more salient words of this Statement are contained in the passage in which the Chancellor says it is disappointing that, in the absence of any proposals from the Community it was not possible to make progress at Tuesday's meeting. The Caribbean countries in particular were anxious about, and were looking forward to news of, Tuesday's meeting. Those countries will now have to wait without any knowledge at all about how negotiations will go until, at the very earliest, May next.

I hope that the Government will stress to our friends in the E.E.C. that in these negotiations time is neither on their side nor on ours, and that the British public are becoming slightly restive, in the sense that they feel that the E.E.C. countries do not wish us to enter, as perhaps some of us on this side of the House and noble Lords opposite feel that this country should enter, the Common Market. Therefore I hope that the noble Earl will stress that time is of very considerable importance. It appears to me that the day and a half that seems to have been allowed for the Ministerial meeting in the middle of May, with a possible further meeting at the end of May is utterly inadequate when one considers all the important matters that have to be considered and solutions arrived at. I think that Her Majesty's Government should make it clear to the Governments of the E.E.C. that time is not on our side, and that the month of May should be a period in which all the parties interested should concert and put all their efforts into finding a solution.


My Lords, before the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, intervenes, may I thank the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, for his reception of the Statement which I have just repeated. May I add that in very large part I share the views he has expressed about the need for seeing our way through these negotiations without any undue delay? I think there is uncertainty, not only in this country and the Commonwealth countries affected but also in the Six themselves. And the sooner we can bring this state of uncertainty to, I hope, a successful conclusion, the better it will be, I think, for everybody concerned.

Having said that, I would merely remind the noble Lord of something of which he is very well aware, and that is that the Brussels rhythm is traditionally a rather slow one. This is something of a fact of life, and it is not exceptionally surprising that as we move towards the heart of the negotiations on the three great issues of Community finance, New Zealand and sugar, progress at times should seem, if not be, rather slow. But I think the noble Lord slightly underestimated the importance of the time which has now been allotted in May. It may not be enough, but it is a great deal more than has been the pattern in the negotiations up until now. There will be the extra day at the end of May, and I would remind the noble Lord that, meanwhile, there will be meetings at the Deputy level and through all the bilateral channels which are open and which, I am confident, will be fully used during that period.

4.13 p.m.


My Lords, these periodic situation reports, as it were, by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster are very welcome, though we must confess that usually, if not always, they add hardly anything to our information beyond that which we have already read in the Press. So far as we can see (though I should be grateful if the noble Earl could confirm this), the Six, apparently on French insistence, have not so far come an inch to meeting us in regard to sugar or New Zealand exports. All that M. Schumann has stated, apparently, is that both these questions will have to be covered by special arrangements. But it may well be that the arrangements eventually proposed will be totally unacceptable. It also appears, from what we hear, that it is the French who are preventing the Six as a whole from putting forward any figure in relation to our contribution to the Central Agricultural Fund. This has naturally resulted in an impasse. Therefore, would the Government agree that this impasse can be ended only by some willingness on the part of the Six—and that is to say on the part of the French—to put forward some counter-proposal to ours for discussion?

Finally, would not the Government perhaps agree that it is high time for them to come out with some major statement of policy drawing attention to the need, in the general interest, of rising above the present rather sordid bargaining atmosphere and of concentrating on the real issue, which is, at any rate as we on these Benches think, the creation in Western Europe of some body, representative of the general will, that will, apart from favouring economic progress, also provide for a common foreign and defence policy? In other words, would it not soon be possible for the Prime Minister and the French President to try to get the whole debate on to a rather higher plane?


My Lords, in answer to the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, I think I should confine myself to saying (I do not think I would wish to go into the merits of the position of individual countries within the Six) that it is our hope, and our expectation, that between now and May we shall be learning what is the position of the Six on these three important issues. I very much hope that this will be the case. I personally share the view expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn: that it is important that all the countries of the Six, and also the countries who are wishing to negotiate their way into the enlarged Community, should constantly bear in mind the wider considerations which are at stake here. In saying that, I do not for one second underestimate the importance of the issues under negotiation, but there are—and here I am in full agreement with the noble Lord—underlying considerations of the very greatest importance. I hope very much that all of us will bear these in mind.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, whether he agrees that it is becoming increasingly obvious that on the outstanding issues of finance, Commonwealth sugar and New Zealand, the French, despite the smooth language of M. Pompidou and M. Schumann, are concerned primarily about the protection of French interests, which are contrary to United Kingdom and Commonwealth interests? In those circumstances, would not the noble Earl agree with me that if it is impossible to overcome the impasse which may well arise during the negotiations in May, it might be worth while deciding not to proceed any further? Would it not also be advisable, in view of the confusion, the misunderstandings, the equivocations, and so on, surrounding this very intricate problem of the negotiations, to tell the people of this country exactly what, in the opinion of Her Majesty's Government, would be regarded as acceptable terms which would justify British entry?


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, has spoken in such soft, mellifluous and honeyed terms that I might almost be tempted to agree with him. But knowing the noble Lord's opinions on this matter, I think I should go very carefully. What I should like to say in reply to him is that I think it is far too early yet to prejudge what the final French position in these negotiations is going to be; and I would dissent from his view that there is an essential clash of interests between the French and ourselves in this matter. Bearing in mind the wider considerations to which I have referred, I think that our interests here are parallel.


My Lords, in view of the paucity of Ministerial time devoted to these discussions, to which the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, has drawn attention, and which I think must be patent to all of us and a matter of great anxiety, may I ask whether it has been made clear to the representatives of the Six that British Ministers would be prepared to spend more time?


My Lords, in reply to the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, I would point out that it was at the request of my right honourable friend that the Ministers of the Six agreed—and I am very glad that they did agree—to allot a great deal more time to the May meetings than they have done in the case of earlier meetings. I am certain I can speak for my right honourable friend when I say that he is prepared to spend as much time as need be in order to bring these negotiations to a successful conclusion—which means a conclusion that is acceptable to us; and only one which is on fair and equitable terms is acceptable to us.


My Lords, we are grateful to the noble Earl for repeating this Statement to the House, but it contains nothing that we hitherto did not know. Therefore, may I ask him whether he and his colleagues in the Government think that this state of flux is doing the country any good during this difficult transition period? I hope he will believe me when I say that those of us who may be critical of entry into Europe are not adopting this position merely with a view of making carping criticisms, but that we are seeking the truth. It would help us if the Government told us the price which they think should be paid.

Finally, is the noble Earl aware that those of us who are interested in the tropical agricultural industry—such as that in Fiji which some of us, including my noble friend on the Front Bench, recently helped to get into the Commonwealth—feel that something must be done to create a positive sense of credibility for this Government and this country at the present moment? From the letters I am receiving, it appears that people are shattered at the progress of these talks. Could we not declare a moratorium on the whole damned thing for a couple of years, until the country gets strong and get down to the job of getting this country on its feet?


My Lords, it is our belief, as it was the belief of the previous Government, that it would be to the fundamental economic advantage of this country if these negotiations were successful. Because of that, I am not able to accept the noble Lord's suggestion.


My Lords, I speak as one who is desperately anxious that these negotiations should succeed, but it seems to me that we are working under a very considerable handicap—as my noble friend Lord Shepherd and the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, pointed out—if there is a specific time of a day and a half set aside for these discussions, in which we are expected to come to decisions. Ought not the matter to be left rather more open, so that enough time will be available to discuss these matters properly?


My Lords, I personally have a great deal of sympathy with the views which the noble Lord has expressed, but of course this does not depend upon Her Majesty's Government alone or Her Majesty's Ministers.