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European Common Market

Volume 640: debated on Tuesday 16 May 1961

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asked the Prime Minister if he will order an examination by the Departments concerned of the effects on industry, agriculture and the Commonwealth of an entry by Great Britain into the Common Market.

These matters have been the subject of close study for a considerable time.

If that is so, could the result of these close studies be published in the form of a White Paper so that we may know what they are? As the studies have been going on for some time, can the right hon. Gentleman indicate when a decision will be reached? The more we have delay in this matter, the worse it will be for this country.

I am not sure about the truth of the second part of what the hon. Gentleman has said. With regard to the first part, I think that it would not be a very wise step to publish prior to any negotiation the whole of the problems which would arise in those negotiations.

Could the right hon. Gentleman clear up some confusion which has been created in many people's minds by his answers to questions on this subject last week, when he said that there was no question of our joining the Common Market, and that what the Government were considering was some form of association? Is that the Government's view this week?

I am afraid that I have been misquoted. I said that there was no question of joining the Common Market by just walking down the street and buying a ticket and joining a club regardless, but that what we were considering was whether we could join subject to protocol, which would give us the necessary conditions for the Commonwealth, British agriculture and other special considerations. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman if he has given me the opportunity of putting right any false impression. It has sometimes been said that we can simply walk in, ask to be elected and then join on payment of a subscription. I say that our position, with all the complications of agriculture, the Commonwealth and other things, is not that and that we must consider it in a much wider field.

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for at least stating Government policy on this matter again. Is he aware, however, that what he said last week was quite different? He talked then about association and said in so many words that it was not a question of joining the Common Market. "That is not the question", he said.

Has the Prime Minister noticed the amazing omission of the fishing industry from this Question by a Member who represents a fishing constituency? Will he see that in the inquiry, the fishing industry is not neglected?

The hon. and learned Member is quite right to point out that the Treaty of Rome covers fishing as well as agricultural questions.

Is the Prime Minister aware that his statement last week caused great consternation on the Continent, especially among the French, who at first were probably against the Treaty but who now suspect the Prime Minister of dragging his feet and finding reasons for not proceeding to investigate the problem further?

No, Sir. I do not think that there is any real misunderstanding. We are proceeding carefully in conjunction with all those to whom we owe great allegiance. We are also having bilateral talks among officials with the French, the Italians and the Germans. We are having a further meeting with our E.F.T.A. comrades and we are, of course, in close touch all the time with the Commonwealth. That is the position. I am not able to take it further today.

Will the Prime Minister, however, elucidate the matter a little further by answering this question: is it the principal object of Her Majesty's Government at present to try to seek some closer association with Europe which does not involve going into the Common Market, or is it their intention to try to find a way by which, while safeguarding the three major principles which the Prime Minister mentioned—agriculture, Commonwealth and the other E.F.T.A. countries—we nevertheless eventually enter what is called the Common Market?

It is not only a question of entering the Common Market, but of signing the Treaty of Rome, which is a little different. It is not really for us to say. What I hoped to do was that we would find a way in which—[Interruption.] We do not decide it ourselves. The Six also discuss it. What I had hoped was that it might be that the Treaty could be amended. That is asking a great deal. It may be that we can be admitted as full members subject to a protocol or a derogation of the full Treaty application in respect of certain considerations. In that sense, we would become full members.

It is not for us, however, to make that sole decision, because the other countries must decide first whether they are ready to give us these various conditions which we must have and, then, whether that is to be regarded, as I hope they may feel it regarded, as full membership, or whether it would be regarded as something less than full membership and merely association. That does not yet arise until we know whether the Treaty-can be amended or dealt with by a protocol attached to it.

May we take it from what the Prime Minister has just said that we are now willing to enter the Common Market if our difficulties can be successfully negotiated? Can the right hon. Gentleman also tell us who suggested that we could walk into this matter without negotiation?

Every day, I see suggestions that all we ought to do is immediately to sign the Treaty. That is what I was trying to repel. The ultimate object, whether membership or association, rests with the present members of the Treaty. What I hoped was that we would be able to form a partnership in Europe while fully carrying out our duties to the Commonwealth, to agriculture and, of course, to our partners in E.F.T.A.

Is the Prime Minister aware that there is a widespread view on the Continent, which has been frequently expressed by leading spokesmen of Continental Governments, that it is difficult for them to make up their minds what to do unless they get a clear statement of intention from Her Majesty's Government as to the sort of solution they desire, and that so long as Her Majesty's Government define their aims in contradictory terms almost every week it is difficult for anybody to take a decision?

It is for us to take the decision whether and under what terms we would suggest that a formal negotiation be opened. That is the situation. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman wishes to score party points on this matter or to make an attack on me. The whole House, I think, regards it as something of great importance for the future of our country and it is something on which there are a variety of shades of view in all parties. As I have said before, what I am anxious about is that we should not have, as we unfortunately had on the Free Trade Area negotiations, a formal negotiation which fails. That would be fatal for the future of Europe from many points of view and, indeed, of the whole alliance. Therefore, what we are trying to see is whether, by these preliminary contacts with, of course, a lot of people concerned—all the Commonwealth countries, European countries, the E.F.T.A. countries and our own agricultural interests—we could get near enough to propose a formal negotiation with a very good chance of its success. It would be a terrible mistake to have a formal negotiation which broke down.