Oral Answers to Questions — European Economic Community

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 6th March 1969.

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Photo of Mr Gwilym Roberts Mr Gwilym Roberts , Bedfordshire South 12:00 am, 6th March 1969

asked the Prime Minister if, arising from his talks in Bonn, he will make a further statement on Her Majesty's Government's application for the United Kingdom to join the Common Market.

Photo of Mr Neil Marten Mr Neil Marten , Banbury

asked the Prime Minister if he will call a conference of the Common Market Prime Ministers to discuss drawing up a revised version of the Treaty of Rome.

Photo of Mr Jock Bruce-Gardyne Mr Jock Bruce-Gardyne , South Angus

asked the Prime Minister if he will call a meeting of European Heads of Governments to consider the proposals put to the British Ambassador by the President of France on 4th February.

Photo of Mr Harold Wilson Mr Harold Wilson , Huyton

Our policy remains to seek full membership of the European Communities, and our application is before the Council of Ministers of the Six. The joint declaration issued after my visit to Bonn shows the Federal German Government's support for our application.

On the question of calling a meeting of Common Market Prime Ministers or European Heads of Governments, I have no plans to do so, Sir.

Photo of Mr Gwilym Roberts Mr Gwilym Roberts , Bedfordshire South

Does not my right hon. Friend agree that it may again be time to ask what Parliament's views on the issue are? Does he accept that many of us on this side of the House who initially supported the application now feel that it might be better for Britain to stay sitting at the back of the hall until, with her increasing economic strength, she is called to return to the Common Market stage?

Photo of Mr Harold Wilson Mr Harold Wilson , Huyton

I have no reason to think that more than a small number of hon. Members have changed their view since their vote of May——

Hon. Members:


Photo of Mr Harold Wilson Mr Harold Wilson , Huyton

Those who shout "Oh!" voted against it, so I do not think that they count in this respect. I said that I have no reason to think that more than a small number have changed their views. If my hon. Friend has, I would advise him not to be faint-hearted or weary of well-doing in these matters.

I think that the whole House agrees that in or out of the Common Market we need the maxium economic strength.

Photo of Mr Neil Marten Mr Neil Marten , Banbury

Perhaps the Prime Minister should try a free vote in the House on this question.

Does he recall saying in the debate on the Common Market on 8th May, 1967, that the federal momentum towards supra-nationality had, for the time being at least, died away? How does he reconcile that with his other statement on 6th February this year that he was against federalism and supra-nationality? If he really believes what he says, does not that surely mean that Articles 137 to 148 must be revised?

Photo of Mr Harold Wilson Mr Harold Wilson , Huyton

No, Sir. With regard to a free vote, I do not recall that the Government of which the hon. Gentleman was a member entrusted this matter to free votes.

With regard to the hon. Gentleman's second question about my references to supra-nationality and federalism, I referred to political federalism and political supra-nationality. In the speech to which the hon. Gentleman referred, I said that of course we accept the principles of the Treaty of Rome, which deals with purely economic matters. I do not believe that there are many in the House, though there may be a few, and I do not believe there are all that number in Europe, who are in favour of political federation, particularly affecting defence matters.

Photo of Mr Jock Bruce-Gardyne Mr Jock Bruce-Gardyne , South Angus

Would not a meeting with the Head of the French Government enable the Prime Minister to clear up a few misunderstandings on this matter? For instance, the West German Government spokesman has said that it was the German Government who encouraged him to have discussions with the French, whereas the right hon. Gentleman said in the House on Tuesday that this was completely untrue.

Photo of Mr Harold Wilson Mr Harold Wilson , Huyton

The position is that I informed the Head of the West German Government—and this was the first he had heard of it—that it was our intention to say that we were willing to pursue talks with the French Government and were saying so to President de Gaulle. Dr. Kiesinger welcomed that, but it was not he who suggested to me that we should do it.

Photo of Mr Eric Heffer Mr Eric Heffer , Liverpool, Walton

Does not my right hon. Friend agree that forward-looking and progressive opinion in this House and elsewhere is still in favour of Britain joining the E.E.C.? Would he not also agree that, in view of the difficulties we have run into, it is important to have consultation with the Head of the French Government at the earliest possible moment? Will he not, therefore, reconsider the answer he gave me the other day to the effect that such an arrangement is not being considered in the near future?

Photo of Mr Harold Wilson Mr Harold Wilson , Huyton

I have always been ready to concede that, in the matter of forward-looking and progressive opinion on this question, my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) was forward and progressive-looking before I was. I grant him that right away. That is all the more reason why I should regret any failing spirit on his part, such as he has shown in a previous. Question a few days ago and in the supplementary question he has just put. I do not believe that what he suggests is the right way to achieve what he, with his forward look, has always felt it right to seek.

Photo of Sir Harmar Nicholls Sir Harmar Nicholls , Peterborough

Do we understand from the Prime Minister's answer and the manner in which he has given it that he is not looking at any possible alternatives—that here we are, knowing that we cannot get into the Common Market, however desirable some may think that is, but not looking into alternatives? Have we to remain in limbo?

Photo of Mr Harold Wilson Mr Harold Wilson , Huyton

We are not in limbo. I have said on a number of occasions that we have studied the alternatives very carefully. But the fact that there is a clear, obvious and definable road block on the way to British entry to the Common Market does not mean that we should be beguiled into entering attractive-looking bridle paths which may not lead anywhere in the matter of European unity.

Photo of Sir Alec Douglas-Home Sir Alec Douglas-Home , Kinross and West Perthshire

Is not our position comparatively sensible and at least honourable? Is it not that we leave our application to join the Common Market on the table, with these two provisos—that we do not go in as supplicants and are free meanwhile to make any trading arrangements, bilateral or multilateral, which should turn out to our advantage?

Photo of Mr Harold Wilson Mr Harold Wilson , Huyton

Yes, Sir. The right hon. Gentleman's provisos, as well as the earlier part of the supplementary question, are perfectly correct. That is our position. In addition, as the right hon. Gentleman has noted and commented on, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary is taking every opportunity to increase facilities for improved European co-operation and unity in political matters through Western European Union.

Photo of Mr Emanuel Shinwell Mr Emanuel Shinwell , Easington

If, after the next General Election, my right hon. Friend is returned to power, as I expect he will be, will he give an assurance that the rank and file on this side of the House—and not what are regarded, although I have never used that description myself, as the "pay-roll Members"—will have an opportunity of voting and expressing their opinion against entry into the Common Market?

Photo of Mr Harold Wilson Mr Harold Wilson , Huyton

I am not sure whether my right hon. Friend puts himself in that classification. Of course, it is a matter of regret that, despite his perceptive forecast of the result of the next General Election, we shall not have the pleasure of his membership of the House, according to a recent announcement he made. But my right hon. Friend will recall that he not only had an opportunity to vote but did vote in this House in May, 1967, on this question, and that the matter has been successively debated and voted on at the Labour Party conference.

Photo of Mr Cyril Osborne Mr Cyril Osborne , Louth Borough

asked the Prime Minister what conditions the French Government have advised him they will seek to impose upon Great Britain before they agree to Great Britain being allowed to join the European Common Market.

Photo of Mr Harold Wilson Mr Harold Wilson , Huyton

The French Government have not advised Her Majesty's Government of conditions in the sense of the hon. Member's Question. The hon. Member will be aware of public statements made by the French Government indicating their opposition to British entry, but the reasons given have appeared to vary from time to time.

Photo of Mr Cyril Osborne Mr Cyril Osborne , Louth Borough

The Prime Minister will remember that on Tuesday he said that .. the French Government have been told …

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

Order. No quotations can be made in supplementary questions.

Photo of Mr Cyril Osborne Mr Cyril Osborne , Louth Borough

The Prime Minister said that the French Government had been told of our willingness to enter into negotiations and that that willingness has been repeated since the Soames affair. What sort of response has been received from the French Government to that British initiative?

Photo of Mr Harold Wilson Mr Harold Wilson , Huyton

No response as yet has been received. Our position all along—and we have stated it from time to time to the French Government—has been clear. The French Government have said that we were not ready to go into Europe, mentioning economic factors, including the number of strikes in Britain. This surprised me because the number of strikes here has been far less than the number of strikes in France over the last ten years. Other economic questions have been raised as well. But I think most right hon. and hon. Members will have concluded that the true objection is political and a rather general one in that it has been stated by the French Government that British entry would mean changing the Common Market into something very different from what it is today. That is the general position that the French Government have taken up, and we have no reason to think after recent exchanges that they have changed their views.

Photo of Mr Douglas Jay Mr Douglas Jay , Battersea North

Does my right hon. Friend think that the Government's recent policies have been successful in promoting unity in Europe?

Photo of Mr Harold Wilson Mr Harold Wilson , Huyton

Our policy is directed to achieving unity in Europe. This matter has been full debated in the House recently. We shall not achieve unity in Europe on the basis of appearing to enter into discussions which are based on statements that this country and almost no one in this House could ever accept. Nor could we enter into bilateral discussions without the fullest consultation with our other partners in Europe. We should not achieve unity in Europe on that basis either.

Photo of Mr Derek Walker-Smith Mr Derek Walker-Smith , Hertfordshire East

Since the supranational structure of the E.E.C. is due primarily to the chronological accident that the Treaty of Rome was concluded shortly before the General's advent to power in France, would it not obviously be sensible, once the dust of the "affaire Soames" is settled, to enter into discussions with France to see whether we cannot get a revised and less supranational structure for the Community much more to the liking of France and in the interests of Britain?

Photo of Mr Harold Wilson Mr Harold Wilson , Huyton

All these matters could be discussed between us, and we are willing to discuss them, but there can be no question of entering into a private deal with France behind the backs of the Five. British entry must require the agreement of the Six as a whole. Some of these questions might well come up in negotiations for entry if the Six as a whole agreed to our entry.

Photo of Mr Robert Maxwell Mr Robert Maxwell , Buckingham

Does not my right hon. Friend regret the appalling effect on Anglo-French relations which the Soames affair has had? Would he be willing to agree, in the light of President Nixon's conviction that President de Gaulle is a person with whom we must do business, that Her Majesty's Government were wrong in deciding to have an all-out war with the French President?

Photo of Mr Harold Wilson Mr Harold Wilson , Huyton

I do not accept any of the phrases in my hon. Friend's supplementary question. We have said that we want to do business with President de Gaulle. We have done business with him on many occasions. But the business cannot be a one-sided affair, with our acceptance of many ideas which my hon. Friend would not, I am sure, be prepared to accept. Nor could our business be bilateral, secret or without consultation with our other European partners.

Photo of Mr John Rodgers Mr John Rodgers , Sevenoaks

While agreeing that we all know where the road block is which prevents our entry at the moment, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he does not agree that to put ourselves in the position where we appear to be ganging up with the other Five against France is the worst possible way to remove it?

Photo of Mr Harold Wilson Mr Harold Wilson , Huyton

It would be if true, but we are not in the least ganging up with the other Five members against France. We have stated our position, and we stand by it. Many right hon. and hon. Members agree with it. Certainly we should do nothing to advance the cause of unity or of British entry if we started doing deals behind the backs of the other Five and presented them with a fait accompli. We might then have five road blocks instead of one.

Photo of Mr Joel Barnett Mr Joel Barnett , Heywood and Royton

Most people would agree with the forward-looking remarks of my right hon. Friend, but does he not agree that it would be more realistic to recognise that while President de Gaulle is around there is no likelihood of British entry and that we might avoid further affairs like the recent one if we simply left our application on the table until such time as that particular gentleman is no longer around?

Photo of Mr Harold Wilson Mr Harold Wilson , Huyton

That does not sound very forward-looking to me. Our application is on the table. As the right hon. Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Sir Alec Douglas-Home) has said, it is right to leave it there. We are not supplicants or crawling for entry. We are not surrendering vital positions of national interest in these matters, and, of course, it is right that we should talk with all our friends in Europe, including the French Government, wherever this is possible.

Photo of Mr Jeremy Thorpe Mr Jeremy Thorpe , North Devon

Is not the evidence of the past few weeks that at least five members of the Community are increasingly enthusiastic about co-operation with this country and that it is the Republic of France, not the United Kingdom, which is becoming increasingly isolated from European moods?

Photo of Mr Harold Wilson Mr Harold Wilson , Huyton

The right hon. Gentleman has successfully identified the road block to which I referred a few minutes ago. It is not for me to express an opinion about the relations between the Government of France and the Five. Certainly I feel, and I said so publicly in Bonn, that continued delay of the kind we are having, continued frustration and obstruction of the kind that is going on, is not only bad for the ultimate unity of Europe and for British entry, but also extremely bad for the forward movement of the Six within the existing Common Market.