On a point of order. As this will be the first of several occasions on which the Prime Minister will wish to report on his foreign tour, may I seek your guidance, Mr. Speaker, in view of the fact that answering so many Questions together must be inconvenient at Question Time. Would it not be more convenient for the right hon. Gentleman to answer them at the end of Questions?
Further to that point of order. As the House will be aware, Mr. Speaker, difficulties arise when so many Questions on the same subject appear on the Order Paper—difficulties for the Chair and difficulties from the point of view of how many Questions should be grouped together. We would be grateful for your guidance, Mr. Speaker, about the question of supplementary questions, in view of the possible interference with the rest of Question Time. I do not think that it would be appropriate for me to make a statement on each of the separate visits after Questions.
The Prime Minister indicated that he wishes to answer 15 Questions, many of them couched in nearly the same terms, together. The Committee on Procedure recommended in 1965 that the Chair should be selective in calling supplementaries on such occasions. I must be selective now. I am afraid, therefore, that some hon. Members who have Questions down will be disappointed, but I propose to try this as an experiment.
Further to that point of order. Would it not obviate this difficulty if the Prime Minister dealt with this matter by way of statement after Questions, as is the accustomed practice, thus leaving longer time for supplementary questions and so avoiding embarrassment to you and hardship to hon. Members?
I hope that any points of order on this important issue will be raised after the precious quarter of an hour which remains for Questions and which is ticking away. Mr. Marten.
With permission, I will answer this Question and the others I have numbered together.
From 23rd to 25th January, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and I visited Paris for discussions with the President of the French Republic, the French Prime Minister, M. Pompidou and the French Foreign Minister, M. Couve de Murville. This, as the House will know, was the second in the series of visits to all the capitals of the six Community countries, during the course of which my right hon. Friend and I are exploring whether or not conditions exist for fruitful negotiations leading to British membership of the European Economic Community. The discussions covered political, economic and financial questions arising in the context of eventual British membership of the Community.
I think that following these talks, which in many ways went very well, we got to grips with a number of questions. The French Government will now, both among themselves and with their colleagues in the Six, have to consider their attitude, separately and collectively, to the points that were raised.
What has certainly caused one of the difficulties for them is the way in which they see—not the way in which we see—the functioning of the sterling area, which they tend to look upon in institutional terms. We spent a great deal of time explaining to them the functioning of the sterling area and some of the problems which they felt existed. I believe that we have given them a great deal to think about on this question.
In regard to the hon. Gentleman's second point, about dissociation from America. I should tell the House that I believe that this played a very much smaller part in the discussions than many hon. Members on both sides of the House, to judge from the last debate, would have expected.
Would my right hon. Friend accept that no doubt hon. Members in all parts of the House welcome the obvious improvement that has taken place in Anglo-French relations as the result of my right hon. Friend's visit? Would he say to what extent East-West relations formed a part of those discussions and whether developing East-West relations is likely to form a part of any future agreement on E.E.C.?
Yes, Sir. That was one of the main subjects in our discussions. I believe that both sides felt very strongly that if the other difficulties can be overcome—and I do not underrate how formidable they are—the position that a Europe more united and more industrially strong could take in improving East-West relations, first within Europe—the concept of the wider Europe which so many hon. Members have supported, as well as the French and British Governments—but also easing East-West relations in a wider area than Europe itself, that this would be one of the strongest arguments for attempting to reach a solution of our difficulties.
The right hon. Gentleman did not refer to the specific point raised in Question No. 13 in regard to the possible amendment of the Treaty of Rome. Is it too early for him to say whether it is proposed to accept the Treaty of Rome altogether or whether Her Majesty's Government are going to seek any amendment, especially to modify some of the supranational and bureaucratic provisions of the Treaty which do not have regard to the special position and needs of this country?
It is too early to give the general Government position on many of these issues, which we shall be discussing with the Heads of the Governments of the Six. So far we have made only two of the six visits. In regard to the Treaty of Rome, I stated the position of Her Majesty's Government in answer to a supplementary question put by the right hon. Gentleman the then Leader of the Liberal Party on 10th November. That is still our position. That is the position on which we have been discussing this matter in the two visits we have so far had.
Assuming that the talks proceed as happily as they appear to have proceeded at the last two meetings, would my right hon. Friend say whether or not he is giving any thought to the possibility of making application this year for the opening of formal negotiations on the Treaty?
That is a question with which I dealt in that supplementary answer on 10th November, when I said that the purpose of our visit was to ascertain whether conditions existed or did not exist for us to take a more formal decision than was possible in the absence of this information. Certainly I would feel that the first two visits have gone reasonably well—in some respects better than might have been expected. I certainly feel, regarding the discussions which we had in Paris, that the atmosphere is now very different than it was three years ago.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is general agreement that his first two visits have made good progress. [Interruption.] Is he aware that great satisfaction has been caused on the Continent by the emphasis which he has placed on Britain's readiness to play her part not only in the economic unification but also in the political unification of Europe?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman and while it is no secret that he and I do not see eye to eye on all questions—and certainly I do not always agree with all of his speeches—I welcomed the tone of his speech at Strasbourg on Tuesday.
May I congratulate the Prime Minister on his speech at Strasbourg, when he spoke for the entire nation, and may I ask him now to scale the heights of statesmanship further by making it quite clear that Britain intends to sign the Treaty of Rome, subject only to the necessary mechanical adjustments that have to be made and the transitional arrangements?
I do not think it is necessary for me to go beyond what I said about the Treaty of Rome in my answer to that supplementary question on 10th November and in the speech I made at Strasbourg on Monday, in which I dealt with this question in some detail.
As to our final attitude, we must await the result of the further four visits, after which we shall be able to look at the situation following the six visits as a whole, and when the Six have had a chance of discussing it among themselves. We can then see how British, European and world interests can best be served.
Can the Prime Minister say what area of agreement was found to exist between himself and President de Gaulle on the political organisation of an enlarged Community and any defence arrangements to go with it? Secondly, is the Prime Minister seeking to ensure that there are clear solutions to such problems as he mentioned, like the sterling area and international indebtedness, before he decides to embark on negotiations?
On the latter question of the sterling area, I think I should say that there was a very clear attitude on the part of the French Government about the question of sterling and the parity of sterling which helps to clear up a lot of misunderstandings about the French position of last year. So far as that is concerned, most of the issues raised are matters for the I.M.F. and the Group of Ten and for discussion in other directions.
I felt, however, and I was not surprised to find, that there were feelings which, I think, are based on misunderstandings about what the sterling area is about, what sterling balances are and the position of sterling as a trading currency. We did everything we could in the time to help to reassure French doubts about, as they would perhaps feel, the irreconcilability of sterling as an international currency with what we were talking about, namely, Britain's relationship to Europe.
As to political questions, it is certainly the case that in Paris political matters on both sides were stressed at least as fully, and possibly more fully, in the very widest sense, than purely economic matters. It was not considered appropriate, I think the House would agree, to discuss at this stage the question of the future political structure of Europe in relation to things like the Fouchet plan, and so on. That might be a matter for discussion in or even after the negotiations, and we want to be in on that.
Defence played very little part, a much smaller part than perhaps some of us, on both sides, had expected in the debate in November.
While recognising that these talks were purely explanatory in nature—[HON. MEMBERS: "Exploratory."]—and exploratory, may I ask the Prime Minister what measures he proposes to take to consolidate any gains made in Rome and Paris? Would he, for example, consider the appointment of a roving ambassador in Europe charged specifically — [Interruption.] — accepting that the task of any Liberal is more to bring about conversion in this country than in Europe to the idea of going into the Common Market? Alternatively, would the Prime Minister consider the appointment of a specific official in our embassies in the countries of the Six who would be particularly charged with Common Market matters?
The hon. Member is right in saying that these talks have been both exploratory and explanatory. So far as roving is concerned and visiting the capitals of the Six, my right hon. Friend and I have been treating this matter with very great urgency. I very much doubt whether an individual ambassador to go round the Six in the next few months would add to what we have been able to do.
We want to keep the political momentum of this approach but, of course, we shall have to consider our whole deployment in terms of Ministers, ambassadors and officials if and when we get into direct negotiations.