HC Deb 16 November 1959 vol 613 cc799-804
The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd)

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, I will make a short statement about my visit to Paris last week.

The importance of Anglo-French relations is recognised on both sides of the House and I thought it timely to discuss with the French Government the state of those relations and our political objectives in Europe and elsewhere.

I had a series of conversations with M. Couve de Murville, the French Foreign Minister. On 12th November, I was received by President de Gaulle and earlier that day I met M. Debré, the Prime Minister. We discussed the timing of a Summit meeting.

I welcomed the fact that the date of Mr. Khrushchev's visit to France has been fixed. As the House knows, it will begin on 15th March. We agreed that the Summit Meeting should take place, if other Governments agreed, as soon as practicable after Mr. Khrushchev's visit to France. We reviewed the topics for discussion at that meeting.

On European affairs, I indicated our welcome for arrangements designed to bring the Six countries of the European Economic Community closer together. I was assured that those arrangements were not designed to be exclusive. In this connection, we discussed greater political and military co-operation in Western European Union, of course, within the general N.A.T.O. framework. I was assured that it is the intention of the Six to pursue liberal trade policies. This fact, although we recognise that there were difficult trade problems to be solved, should make satisfactory arrangements between the Six and other groupings easier to attain.

We also discussed a number of other topics. I believe that our talks fulfilled a useful function and will help to keep the policies of the two Governments in harmony. I was encouraged by the warmth of my welcome and by the use made of the occasion of my visit in the French Press and elsewhere to show friendliness towards this country.

Mr. Bevan

Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that we on this side of the House will study his statement microscopically to discover anything of significance in it? We might even call in an authority on semantics to help us.

First, is the right hon. and learned Gentleman able to tell the House whether he discussed with General de Gaulle whether there will be even a second Western Summit Conference before the Summit Conference itself is held?

Secondly, did the right hon. and learned Gentleman discuss with the President of France his statement at the Press conference that even if agreement is reached between Russia, the United States and ourselves about the cessation and control of H-bomb tests, France would still go on?

Thirdly, is it not a fact now that General de Gaulle has succeeded by these tactics in delaying the holding of the Summit Conference until April or May or even June next year?

Mr. Lloyd

Our position with regard to the French tests was stated by my right hon. Friend the Minister of State in two speeches in the United Nations, and I have nothing to add.

I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman raised the question of a second Western Summit. I saw in one newspaper—I think that it was the Daily Herald—that there would be three Western meetings before the Summit at which Mr. Khrushchev would be present. I understand that the idea is that immediately before the meeting with Mr. Khrushchev there should be a short meeting between the Western leaders. That, I think, has always been envisaged. Anyhow, this matter will be discussed at the meeting in December.

On the question of delay, I would only say to the right hon. Gentleman that the purpose is not to have a Summit Meeting just for the sake of having a Summit Meeting. The purpose of a Summit Meeting is to try to increase the détente which is taking place in world affairs and to try to lessen tension. I think that a significant factor in the reduction in tension is the visit that Mr. Khrushchev is to pay to France in March. This is exactly the pattern of personal contacts of which the example was set by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister.

Mr. Bevan

Is there not a cynical comparison between the statement made by the right hon. and learned Gentleman today about the possibility of holding a Summit Conference after March of next year and the statement made during the General Election, by the Prime Minister, that he expected news of the date of the Summit Conference within a few days? How is the right hon. and learned Gentleman able to reconcile those two statements?

Also, has not General de Gaulle's statement about the follow-up to an agreement at Geneva about hydrogen bomb tests alarmed the whole world, because it reveals that there is no policy at all at present among the Western Powers to prevent the spread of the possession of hydrogen bombs among other Powers?

Mr. Lloyd

That is not so. The right hon. Gentleman must have some regard to the nature of the French test when making that point.

With regard to the difference between what is to happen and what my right hon. Friend anticipated would happen—

Mr. Bevan

Said would happen.

Mr. Lloyd

What my right hon. Friend said he thought would happen—the right hon. Gentleman knows full well that the policy of Her Majesty's Government throughout has been to have a Summit Meeting as soon as practicable. We have said it again and again, and I always thought that we had with us the support of right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite.

Mr. Wade

Will the Foreign Secretary go so far as to say whether he discussed the proposed tests in the Sahara? If so, did he obtain any indication whether those tests would be deferred while the Geneva Conference was in progress?

Mr. Lloyd

I gained no such impression.

Mr. Paget

The right hon. and learned Gentleman said that it had always been the wish of the Government that a Summit Conference should take place as soon as possible. Does that not illustrate that the Government have sunk the prestige of the country to such a point that their wishes have become a minus quantity?

Mr. Lloyd

The hon. and learned Gentleman is a good judge of sinking the prestige of this country.

Mr. Driberg

The right hon. and learned Gentleman said that he gained no impression that the French tests in the Sahara would even be postponed temporarily. Did he make any representations about that? Did he congratulate General de Gaulle on pressing on with them, or what?

Mr. Lloyd

As the hon. Gentleman knows, I have said that we have made our position regarding these tests perfectly clear in the speeches at the United Nations. Our purpose is to get a comprehensive suspension of tests. We believe that the first step in that is to try to get agreement between the three. The French Government have said that it is their intention to carry out a test. That is a matter for them.

Mr. McAdden

Can my right hon. and learned Friend tell me whether, as right hon. Gentlemen opposite have said, these tests in the Sahara are to be hydrogen bomb tests? Is it the proposal to test a hydrogen bomb? Is not the weapon which the French propose to test a nuclear weapon, rather similar to those which were tested in the time when right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite were in power?

Mr. Lloyd

I think that my hon. Friend is perfectly right. If he will study the speech made by M. Jules Moch at the United Nations, he will see the nature of the test described. I think that the figure given was that it might produce 3/l,000ths of the amount of radioactivity produced by other tests last year.

Mr. Healey

Leaving aside the question of the possible French tests—in February, I think—can the Foreign Secretary say whether he discussed with President de Gaulle the possibility of French accession to an agreement, between Britain, the United States and the Soviet Union, on banning nuclear tests? Can he say, in particular, whether he discussed the President's remarks on this issue at his Press conference last Tuesday, remarks of which the Minister of State and the Under-Secretary seemed to be unaware on Wednesday?

Mr. Lloyd

In my talks with General de Gaulle I did not discuss that matter. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] During my talks with the French Foreign Minister we discussed the nature of the debate taking place in the United Nations and the meaning of the United Kingdom resolution.

Mr. Bevan

Is it not absolutely vital that we should try to get the accession of France to any agreement which is made at Geneva? If that is done, will it not be of very great importance indeed? If it is not done, and France goes ahead, will not the ultimate effect of the French not acceding to that agreement at Geneva be to undermine the agreement itself?

Mr. Lloyd

Of course, we want France to accede to the agreement. We want all countries to accede to the agreement. But before that can happen, we must get an agreement to which they can accede.

Dame Irene Ward

Is it not a fact that in spite of all the difficulties which face this country—and I am speaking from a national and not a party point of view—the country preferred to leave all these complicated matters in the hands of a Conservative Government rather than in the hands of hon. Gentlemen opposite?

Mr. Lipton

Did the Foreign Secretary disagree with anything that General de Gaulle said to him?

Mr. Lloyd

The hon. Gentleman will be disappointed to learn that General de Gaulle and I found ourselves substantially in agreement on the matters which we discussed.

Several Hon. Membersrose

Mr. Speaker

Order. We cannot debate this matter now. There is no Question before the House.