Oral Answers to Questions — European Economic Community

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 13th April 1967.

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Photo of Mr Frank Judd Mr Frank Judd , Portsmouth West 12:00 am, 13th April 1967

asked the Prime Minister what steps have now been taken to keep Commonwealth leaders fully informed on the negotiations about possible entry by Great Britain to the European Economic Community.

Photo of Mr Harold Wilson Mr Harold Wilson , Huyton

I would refer my hon. Friend to the answer I gave on 4th April to a Question by my hon. Friend the Member for Reading (Mr. John Lee).—[Vol. 744, c. 20.]

Photo of Mr Frank Judd Mr Frank Judd , Portsmouth West

Would my hon. Friend agree that there are certain suspicions, well founded or not, that after our entry into the European Economic Community, if it comes about, there may be the emergence of a new power bloc in the international situation and we should now take steps to reassure the Commonwealth that this is totally unlikely?

Photo of Mr Harold Wilson Mr Harold Wilson , Huyton

I do not know about the suspicions referred to by my hon. Friend, but we are all well aware, and have been for many years, that entry into the E.E.C. would cause certain economic difficulties for many Commonwealth countries, above all New Zealand. It is right that this should be fully discussed, but I have outlined to the House on a previous occasion the arrangements that we are making for discussions and consultations with Commonwealth leaders.

Photo of Mr Edward Heath Mr Edward Heath , Bexley

Is the Prime Minister aware that it is now about five weeks since he first told the House that he would consider the publication of a White Paper containing non-confidential information which he and the Foreign Secretary obtained during their tour of the capitals? Can he tell the House when he will reach a decision about that?

Photo of Mr Harold Wilson Mr Harold Wilson , Huyton

I have said that I will consider that. The question arose on the part of the right hon. Gentleman because it was known that my right hon. Friend and I would be making statements to a meeting upstairs. The most convenient thing at this stage would be if the statement made by my right hon. Friend to a private meeting were now made available in full to all hon. Members, and more generally, and when the series of meetings end and I make a statement, my speech on that occasion should also be made available. The right hon. Gentleman can then be assured—which was his concern—that nothing was said at the private meeting which was not made available to all hon. Members and to the public. I will consider, immediately after that, the question whether a fuller White Paper is necessary.

Photo of Mr Edward Heath Mr Edward Heath , Bexley

We have become accustomed to the Prime Minister and his colleagues publishing statements they make at private party meetings, but is it not an unusual procedure that the House should be informed of the contents of such important discussions as the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have had on the vital issue of our time by later publication of statements which have been made at private party meetings? Is it not more in line with the customs of the House and constitutional Government for the Government to publish a full White Paper at the beginning?

Photo of Mr Harold Wilson Mr Harold Wilson , Huyton

It might have been interesting if the right hon. Gentleman and other Leaders of the Conservative Party had published to the House the statements they made to their private party meetings, both on this and other issues. Since the right hon. Gentleman wants to know what was said at a private meeting—and it is suspected that more may have been said there than here—I have arranged to make everything said there available to the House. I have said that if at the conclusion of those discussions and when the Cabinet have taken their inquiries further it is felt that a White Paper is necessary, we shall not hestitate to publish one.

Photo of Mr Edward Heath Mr Edward Heath , Bexley

I must press the right hon. Gentleman further. On the question of past history, there was no occasion at which I spoke to a private party meeting. We always published White Papers and had debates in the House before negotiations began and throughout the negotiations. We published White Papers even when the House was not sitting. I am pressing the Prime Minister to make available the full contents of his discussions—which he agreed could be published because they were not confidential—in the form of a White Paper for the information of the House, the country, the Commonwealth, E.F.T.A. and all those affected.

Photo of Mr Harold Wilson Mr Harold Wilson , Huyton

I said that our impressions from the tour should be made available publicly, and I have undertaken to do this. I said at the time that it would be wrong for us to publish what was said to us by the Heads of the Governments of the Six, because they were confidential discussions. I think that our distillation of what we learned there should be made available. The right hon. Gentleman's memory seems to be slipping. He may recall that in respect of one of the most important pronouncements ever made by a British Minister—his opening statement in the negotiations—he refused time after time to make it available to the House of Commons as a White Paper. It was only several months later, when it was leaked in Europe, that we dragged it out of him as a White Paper.

Photo of Mr Edward Heath Mr Edward Heath , Bexley

As a matter of fact that White Paper was not published at the time for the reason that the Prime Minister is stating, namely, that these were confidential negotiations. At the same time, the contents were not made available to any party meeting upstairs.

Photo of Mr Harold Wilson Mr Harold Wilson , Huyton

The right hon. Gentleman is throwing away his whole case. What I said was that I have no objection to making known our impressions from the talks on the key issues here. I said that I did not feel free to publish what was said to the British representatives by our friends in Europe. In the case of the White Paper to which the right hon. Gentleman referred—the non-publication of which he defends on the ground that it was confidential—that was a statement made by a British Minister.

Photo of Mr Emanuel Shinwell Mr Emanuel Shinwell , Easington

Do I understand my right hon. Friend to have offered to publish and make available to all hon. Members the speech made by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary at a private meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party? If so, will he also undertake to make available to all hon. Members the critical speeches made at that party meeting against entry into the Common Market except on certain stipulated conditions?

Photo of Mr Harold Wilson Mr Harold Wilson , Huyton

Whatever may be the de jure position, my impression is that the de facto situation is that critical speeches command wide publicity, but that it is not always the case that the more factual speeches, such as that of my right hon. Friend, get such an accurate showing in the Press.