Oral Answers to Questions — European Economic Community

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 18th April 1972.

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Photo of Mr Gilbert Longden Mr Gilbert Longden , South West Hertfordshire 12:00 am, 18th April 1972

asked the Prime Minister what discussions he has had with the Commonwealth Secretary General on how best the developing and developed countries of the Commonwealth can be associated with the European Economic Community after the United Kingdom is a member of it.

Photo of Mr Edward Heath Mr Edward Heath , Bexley

None, Sir, but the Community's offer of three options made in the enlargement negotiations extends to the 20 developing Commonwealth countries referred to in the Treaty of Accession. Separate arrangements have been made for the strengthening of trade relations between the developed Commonwealth countries and the Community, and the joint declaration of intent on the development of trade relations with the developing Asian Commonwealth countries expresses the will to extend and strengthen these relations by means of appropriate solutions.

Photo of Mr Gilbert Longden Mr Gilbert Longden , South West Hertfordshire

While thanking my right hon. Friend for that answer, may I ask him whether he is aware that there is no reason why the Commonwealth links should not be anything but strengthened by our joining the Community? Is he further aware that I am hopeful that he will do all in his power, in collaboration with the Commonwealth Secretary-General, to ensure that our partners in the Commonwealth make the most of the opportunities which will be available to them?

Photo of Mr Edward Heath Mr Edward Heath , Bexley

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. All except one of the Commonwealth countries will have a permanent relationship with the enlarged Community. The Secretary-General of the Commonwealth Secretariat chaired a meeting in London on 5th and 6th April which was attended by representatives of Commonwealth countries, who discussed the various arrangements open to them. We were represented at official level so that we could give any advice for which the Commonwealth countries asked. In this way the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth Secretariat can best handle the problem. This enables these countries to discuss the various options among themselves, as well as with the Secretary-General and with our own official advisers.

Photo of Mr Edward Milne Mr Edward Milne , Blyth

Is the Prime Minister aware that he is far too complacent on this issue, that during the negotiations with the Six too little was done to protect Commonwealth interests and that beyond the transitional period there is no protection and no guaranteed assistance to Commonwealth countries?

Photo of Mr Edward Heath Mr Edward Heath , Bexley

I cannot accept those statements, nor are they supported by the views of the Commonwealth Governments

Photo of Bernard Braine Bernard Braine , Essex South East

Does not my right hon. Friend agree that the decision of the 20 Commonwealth countries eligible for Common Market association to consult together on trade and to hold a ministerial conference later this year is a constructive approach which merits the fullest approval of and co-operation from the British Government? Does he also agree that the best service that the British Government can give to Commonwealth countries is by persuading our Common Market partners not to insist on reverse preferences as a means of carving out for themselves some special sphere of influence and thereby encouraging economic warfare between competing Power groups?

Photo of Mr Edward Heath Mr Edward Heath , Bexley

My hon. Friend is referring to the 20 developing countries. There are also arrangements for the other countries, which I mentioned in my answer. The question of reverse preferences, as my hon. Friend knows, is difficult and will have to be considered in the discussions on the third Yaoundé Convention, negotiations for which will start in 1973. I cannot give any undertaking on what the outcome of that conference will be on reverse preferences.

Photo of Mr Neil Marten Mr Neil Marten , Banbury

asked the Prime Minister if, in view of the Government's decision to hold a plebiscite in Northern Ireland, he will now agree to have one on entry into the Common Market.

Photo of Mr Arthur Lewis Mr Arthur Lewis , West Ham North

asked the Prime Minister whether, in view of the Government's intention to hold periodical plebiscites on matters connected with Northern Ireland, he will initiate a similar type of plebiscite for British citizens on issues connected with matters affecting British entry into the European Economic Community.

Photo of Mr Edward Heath Mr Edward Heath , Bexley

No, Sir. In the United Kingdom, we have a fully effective and representative parliamentary system—[Laughter.]—I am sorry that hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway should deride their own parliamentary system—for debating and deciding issues such as entry into the European Communities. It is precisely because in Northern Ireland there has not been the same confidence in all sections of the community in the parliamentary system that the Government have proposed regular plebiscites as a means of reaching a decision on the issue of the Border.

Photo of Mr Neil Marten Mr Neil Marten , Banbury

Although the Prime Minister might regard my supplementary question as marginal, hypothetically, if tonight or early tomorrow morning the House of Commons in its wisdom should approve a referendum, will the Prime Minister accept that and regard it as the consent of the people through the parliamentary machine?

Photo of Mr Edward Heath Mr Edward Heath , Bexley

The consent of the people has already been given through the parliamentary machine by a majority of 112 approving the policy of Her Majesty's Government. I never answer hypothetical questions from my hon. Friend, even if they are only marginal.

Photo of Mr Arthur Lewis Mr Arthur Lewis , West Ham North

Since the Prime Minister has agreed to periodical plebiscites in Northern Ireland, has already held a plebiscite in Gibraltar and appears to be imposing the equivalent of a plebiscite on the railway workers, will he ask the railway workers whether they agree to the 12½ per cent. increase and also to the 20 per cent. increase to the Chairman of the Railways Board and other higher-paid executives?

Photo of Mr Edward Heath Mr Edward Heath , Bexley

I think the House recognises that the problem in Northern Ireland is difficult because Northern Ireland politics for 50 years have been based on the question of the Border. Her Majesty's Government made this proposal in an endeavour to take that issue out of the normal daily politics of Northern Ireland, so that the two communities could live together more peaceably. As the hon. Gentleman's own leader said when he was Prime Minister, the situation in Gibraltar is entirely different, because Gibraltar does not have a parliamentary system such as that of the United Kingdom. In reply to the hon. Gentleman's question about railway workers, the Government have no power whatever to impose a ballot on any organisation.

Photo of Mr Frederic Bennett Mr Frederic Bennett , Torquay

Does the Prime Minister accept that many of his hon. Friends are completely convinced of the rightness of what he says on a Common Market referendum, as the issue has been debated through the normal parliamentary channels, but are not yet convinced of the effectiveness of a plebiscite in Northern Ireland?

Photo of Mr Edward Heath Mr Edward Heath , Bexley

Yes, Sir. Of course I am prepared to accept that. It has been well recognised that different points of view about this may be expressed in Northern Ireland, and certainly a different point of view has been expressed in the Republic of Ireland. This is a proposal which Her Majesty's Government put forward when I made the statement to the House of Commons.

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

As the Chancellor of the Exchequer seems to have hinted at an early General Election and the Prime Minister this afternoon has clearly ruled out a referendum, why do not the Government support the idea of a General Election so that the people can be consulted on our entry to the Common Market?

Photo of Mr Edward Heath Mr Edward Heath , Bexley

Parliament gave its decision on the question of principle on the Second Reading of the Bill. As the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Liberal Party recently pointed out to the House, at no time before the last General Election did any party say that it was necessary to have another General Election to deal with the successful outcome of the European negotiations.