HC Deb 28 November 1957 vol 578 cc1281-4

The following Question stood upon the Order Paper:


To ask the Prime Minister what subjects he discussed with the French Prime Minister at the Paris meeting.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Macmillan)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I will answer Question No. 55.

The hon. Gentleman will have studied the communique which was published on Tuesday, 26th November. The main topics which my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary and I discussed with the French Prime Minister were the situation in North Africa, including the supply of arms to Tunisia, the forthcoming meeting of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, and the European Free Trade Area.

On the position in Algeria, we found Monsieur Gaillard determined to ask for the passage of the loi cadre and, as the hon. Gentleman knows, the debate on this important measure is in progress in Paris. We believe that a solution for the Algerian problem must be found and that responsibility for this must rest with France. The Foreign Secretary and I were glad to reaffirm our belief that France should continue to discharge her special responsibilities in North Africa.

We had a very full discussion of the question of arms for Tunisia and agreed to work out together arrangements designed to avoid the recurrence of difficulties such as those which have recently occurred. We shall continue to consult with the French Government on this subject.

I was able to give Monsieur Gaillard an account of my recent meeting with President Eisenhower and to reach agreement on the broad objectives for the forthcoming North Atlantic Treaty Organisation meeting which we hope will still take place at heads of Government level, in spite of the illness of President Eisenhower which we all. I know, so deeply regret.

Mr. Hughes

Will the Prime Minister explain why he was met by demonstrators carrying placards, "To the gallows with Macmillan"? Does he not think that this was going rather too far? Can he say whether any definite arrangement was reached to stop shipments of arms to Tunisia?

The Prime Minister

I was unfortunate in never seeing any crowds in the streets, or a demonstration of any sort. They can, perhaps, be called "slightly exaggerated by reports".

I have described precisely what talks we had and the conclusions which we came to, which were set out in the communiqué. While the British Government could not give an absolute undertaking that they would not give arms to Tunisia we recognised the need of the Government of Tunisia to acquire arms for internal security and legitimate self-defence. At the same time, we expressed the hope that such arms would normally be supplied to the point that was reasonable by France as in the past and we confirmed that no further arms would be sent from the United Kingdom to Tunisia without continued consultation with the French Government. But I did not give, and I did not feel it right to give, any absolute guarantee on our part.

Mr. Gaitskell

On behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends, we would wish to associate ourselves with the Prime Minister's reference to President Eisenhower and the hopes for his speedy recovery.

Generally speaking, I think that we would agree with the line taken by the Prime Minister and support his refusal to give any firm and definite undertaking not to supply arms in future should the occasion make it necessary. At the same time, we also agree that it would be desirable to consult with the French Government first.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

While we are much obliged to my right hon. Friend for his statement, and wish the Tunisian people well, may I ask whether every opportunity will be taken of reaffirming the vital importance to Britain, the Commonwealth and Europe of Britain's alliance with France? Did my right hon. Friend make known in Paris that there are many in this House and many more outside it who remember with deep gratitude the nation and the soldiers who stood staunchly at our side, not for the first time, a year ago?

The Prime Minister

I think that the phrase in the communiqué describes—I hope, correctly—the general feeling of the House: In a spirit of solidarity between their two countries both Prime Ministers expressed their conviction that France should continue to discharge her special responsibilities in North Africa, where she traditionally possesses a pre-eminent position and makes an indispensable contribution to the common defence of the free world. On the more general question, while problems and difficulties may arise between Governments, especially, perhaps, in the circumstances of the last difficulty, with a French Government not being in office during a major part of the time and the present Government having only recently come into office, I am sure that we want to make the link and the strength of the old Anglo-French alliance the greatest we can. It has stood for fifty years through bad times and through good and I trust that it will stand for many generations to come.

Mr. Grimond

While I do not dissent from what the Prime Minister has said, does this incident not show the impossibility of any European nation treating its relationships with the Arab nations or with ex-colonial peoples in the area of the Mediterranean or Near East as exclusively its own affairs? Is it not important that we should impress upon N.A.T.O. that there should be a common policy in areas like Algeria and Cyprus, that it is not an exclusively French or British problem and, above all, that we should put to the Russians that we cannot afford an arms race in the area and that disarmament, and not rearmament, is the right solution?

The Prime Minister

These problems are very easy to pose. They are not quite so easy to solve. I think that the result of our work in Paris is certain to bring the two Governments much closer together and more determined than ever to try to solve their problems in co-operation.