HC Deb 08 July 1952 vol 503 cc1091-4
48. Mr. Beswick

asked the Prime Minister, in view of the mutual difficulties created by members of the British Commonwealth endeavouring each to preserve its own separate balance of payments, if he will suggest to the other free and equal members of the Commonwealth that there should be placed on the agenda of the forthcoming Economic Conference a proposal for the economic federation of the Commonwealth, involving one customs union, one currency and one external balance of payments account.

The Prime Minister

No, Sir. I do not regard the hon. Member's proposals as practicable

Mr. Beswick

But does not the Prime Minister agree that it is quite intolerable that different people, including himself, should at different times have considered it practicable to federate with almost all states of this globe save with those with people of our own flesh and blood and who speak our own language; and if economic stability and political influence is what we seek, does he not think it is time that we discussed the difficulties and advantages of this proposition?

The Prime Minister

I have never considered federation with approval, as far as I am concerned personally. Many other forms of unity and of association are possible and valuable, but an economic federation of the Commonwealth would not be possible without a political federation, and would involve the surrender by every Commonwealth Government, including the United Kingdom Government, of such a wide range of economic powers that every member of the Commonwealth would cease to be a sovereign State. Even if the United Kingdom were prepared to face this possibility, it is clear that other Governments of the Commonwealth would not.

Mr. Usborne

While it may be admitted that the Governments of these countries are at present opposed to the concept of federation, has the Prime Minister any reason to suppose that the peoples of these countries would not in fact welcome this form of political integration, which would be greatly to their advantage?

The Prime Minister

I am sure that the closer we come to each other by natural processes the better, but I should think it would be a very great danger to try to set up an economic and political federation of all the Commonwealth, and I believe quite impracticable, at any rate in any period which I should be likely to be concerned with.

Mr. H. Morrison

Are we to take it that the right hon. Gentleman is opposed to the principle of federalism in relation to the Commonwealth but is in favour of it so far as Western Europe is concerned?

The Prime Minister

I do not myself conceive that federalism is immediately possible within the Commonwealth. I have never been in favour of it in Europe, and I am astonished that the right hon. Gentleman when he visited Strasbourg, and was such a distinguished success there, did not notice some of the fundamental facts.

Mr. Beswick

When the Prime Minister talks of natural processes, does he not think the natural process within the Commonwealth should now be towards a tighter association of the type I have indicated; and does he not appreciate that the very looseness of the association of which we are so proud can lead in the future as easily towards disintegration as it has lead to development in the past?

The Prime Minister

I think we might just as easily do harm by trying to proceed to rigid formal measures of unity before opinion was ripe enough for that as do harm by proceeding with caution.

Mr. I. O. Thomas

Would the Prime Minister give some indication of what he means when he uses the term "natural processes," on which he seems to depend for the closer integration which is desired?

The Prime Minister

I think the English speaking parts of the Commonwealth are drawing steadily together with every year that passes, and we hope that similar beneficial reactions will gradually occur more outside those limits.

Mr. Gordon Walker

Does the right hon. Gentleman's answer mean that the parts of "Britain Strong and Free," which set out Conservative Party policy on the Commonwealth in the Election has now been abandoned?

The Prime Minister

Nothing that we set out in our statement of policy before the Election has been abandoned, and we all look forward to the moment when we shall be able to ram red meat down the throats of hon. Members opposite.

Mr. Shinwell

On a point of order. Is it in order for the right hon. Gentleman to threaten violence to hon. Members?

Mr. Speaker

I understand that the violence was metaphorical.