HC Deb 13 April 1961 vol 638 cc481-93
40 and 41. Dame Irene Ward

asked the Prime Minister (1) if he will make a statement on his conversations with President Kennedy on problems affecting British shipping;

(2) what progress he made in obtaining support from the President of the United States of America for admitting the Chinese People's Republic to the United Nations.

42. Mr. G. M. Thomson

asked the Prime Minister what talks he had in the West Indies regarding the question of immigration into the United Kingdom; and whether any agreement was reached.

44. Mr. Healey

asked the Prime Minister if he will make a statement on his talks with the President of the United States of America.

45. Mr. Marquand

asked the Prime Minister if he will make a statement on his talks with the Prime Minister of Canada.

46. Mr. N. Pannell

asked the Prime Minister what conversations he had with the Prime Minister of the West Indies Federation and with the Premiers of the component Colonies during his recent visit regarding immigration to this country; and if he will make a statement.

47. Mr. A. Henderson

asked the Prime Minister whether he will make a statement on his recent discussions with President Kennedy.

48. Mr. Swingler

asked the Prime Minister what steps he now proposes to take to reduce international tension, following his recent talks with President Kennedy.

49. Mr. Lipton

asked the Prime Minister what discussions he had in the West Indies and Canada about the problem of West Indian immigration.

50. Mr. McMaster

asked the Prime Minister what discussions took place with President Kennedy on the problems of flag discrimination and the encouragement given by the United States of America to ship owners whose ships sailed under flags of convenience; and if he will make a statement.

51. Mr. Fisher

asked the Prime Minister what discussions he had with President Kennedy and Mr. Diefenbaker about a future increase in the permitted number of West Indian immigrants to the United States of America and Canada, respectively; and if he will make a statement.

52. Mr. Prentice

asked the Prime Minister if he will make a statement on his discussions with the President of the United States of America on the problem of preventing the further spread of nuclear weapons.

53. Mr. Wyatt

asked the Prime Minister whether he will make a statement on his discussions with President Kennedy.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Macmillan)

As the House knows, when I first became Prime Minister four years ago I set myself the task of visiting all the independent countries of the Commonwealth. In pursuance of this aim, I thought it would be valuable to visit the Federation of The West Indies at this time, when it has so nearly achieved independence.

This visit gave me the opportunity for talks with the Prime Minister of the Federation, the Premiers of Barbados, Jamaica and Trinidad, Chief Ministers of various other islands, and many other Ministers and political leaders. We, naturally, discussed many matters of interest to the West Indies, including the prospects of independence for the Federation, its economic situation and the problems of migration. In addition, I was invited to address the Legislature of the Federation of The West Indies.

While I was in the western hemisphere, I paid two visits to the United States. The first of these was a meeting of a few hours, at the President's invitation, to confer upon the specific question of our policy in Laos. The next meetings, which had been arranged some time ago, covered some four days and many subjects were discussed. I had at these meetings the valuable help of my noble Friend the Foreign Secretary. I was very glad to have these opportunities to meet President Kennedy and other members of the new Administration. As indicated in the agreed statement issued at the end of our talks, we covered a great variety of subjects. We held a general review of current problems and policies in economic, financial, trade, defence and political matters; and, in addition, we discussed a number of specific subjects, including the progress of the Nuclear Tests Conference at Geneva, the difficulties of the shipping industry and the economic problems of the West Indies.

Since I was paying these visits at the beginning of the term of office of a new President, my chief purpose was to explain the point of view of Her Majesty's Government on a number of subjects and to ascertain the attitude of the new Administration. I found a welcome readiness to discuss our problems in a very frank and imaginative way, which gives good augury for the future.

Finally, I was glad to be able to end my trip in Ottawa and to hold consultations with Mr. Diefenbaker and his colleagues. These covered a general review of our problems, as well as some specific matters. As always, our talks were very friendly and useful.

Dame Irene Ward

I thank my right hon. Friend for his very comprehensive Answer on a variety of subjects, and I congratulate him on his great success on his journey, but has he not failed to answer two specific Questions which I put on the Order Paper? In view of the fact that we have had quite a lot of information given to us about what the President of the United States would like us to do in Europe, will my right hon. Friend please tell me whether the President of the United States would care to do something we should like him to do for us, for our shipping, and for our relations with the People's Republic of China? Will my right hon. Friend amplify his very interesting statement, because I am sure that, if he did, what he had to say would be of great interest to the House and to the world generally?

The Prime Minister

No, Sir; I would not propose to go beyond what I have said, or the agreed communiqué which I arranged with the President—[Interruption.]—it was in general agreed. That is a not uncommon practice of ordinary courtesy at these meetings.

With regard to the matter of shipping, as I said, I did raise this question with the President, and we had some conversation about it. I left him a most detailed memorandum on the matter. This is a subject which will continue to be discussed at the diplomatic and official level.

With regard to the general question of China, as my hon. Friend knows, it is a very complicated matter. Our views are well known, and I think that the American Administration is under no illusion as to what our opinions are.

Mr. G. M. Thomson

After the right hon. Gentleman's visit to the West Indies, would not he agree that by far the most important task there is the creation of a new Commonwealth country in the Caribbean in the shape of an independent West Indian Federation? Will he give an assurance that no action will be taken concerning immigration control which would imperil that important objective? Will he investigate the possibility of taking action in this country to encourage the dispersal of West Indian migrants more evenly throughout the United Kingdom?

The Prime Minister

I am in full sympathy with what the hon. Gentleman said in the first part of his supplementary question. It is of the greatest importance that federation should come into being. However, it is for the islands to decide and not for us to impose. We have done everything we can to encourage this movement. As the hon. Gentleman probably knows, there is first to be a conference at the beginning of next month between the islands themselves and their representatives, and then there will be the full conference in London where I hope that everything will go well.

Migration is one of their problems in the islands and between the islands. A great deal has been done, with the help of American and Canadian as well as British capital, to increase the opportunities for employment, and I hope that there will be as sympathetic a response as possible to the question of migration.

Mr. Healey

Is the Prime Minister aware that the statement which he has made to the House this afternoon is a good deal less specific than statements that he made to the Press in the United States and Canada? I do not feel that he is being fair to the House in giving as little information as he has given. No doubt the House will wish to debate the many issues raised by his visits at a convenient time.

I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman two specific questions. First, can he tell us whether he had any success in persuading the United States Administration to move closer to the view concerning the seating of China in the United Nations which is shared between Her Majesty's Government and Her Majesty's Opposition?

My second question concerns what he himself called a N.A.T.O. partnership in the nuclear field. He spoke very freely in Ottawa of United States policy in this regard, although it appears that some of his remarks were inaccurate and unauthorised. Could the right hon. Gentleman tell us something about Her Majesty's Government's policy? In particular, can he tell us whether his new belief in a N.A.T.O. nuclear partnership means that he has abandoned the dangerous view which he expressed only two months ago that a partnership with collective control of the alliance's deterrent force is neither desirable nor possible?

Thirdly, the Prime Minister will recall saying that we do not want our allies to feel that it is essential to their honour or safety to pour out their money in wasteful duplication. Does not he agree that the best way of persuading them accordingly is for Britain herself to act on the same assumptions?

The Prime Minister

Regarding the first part of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question concerning China, I would not wish to add to what I have said. I have said no more in any Press conference than I have said to the House today.

Regarding the second part of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question, I have not seen the reports of the Press conference that I held yesterday, because I was travelling yesterday. I think that there was some confusion. What I said was that I understood that the American Administration made it clear that they were not going to press the plan for the distribution of M.R.B.M.'s in different parts of Europe which was put up by the last Administration. It had no relation to the Polaris question. It had relation to the Continental distribution of M.R.B.M.'s—[Interruption.]—missiles on the land in different parts. This is not a question of submarines or the loaning of submarines to N.A.T.O. It is a separate issue.

Regarding the nuclear question generally, I posed certain problems in my speech at Boston which it seemed to me will have to be settled. There is the question of the third or fourth nuclear Power and the questions which will follow if, as I hope, a test agreement is reached at Geneva. There will have to be—I think that this is generally recognised—a review as to the position of our European allies, especially France, in relation to this matter.

I do not attempt to answer these questions; I pose them. It would be foolish for me to do so without further consultation with the Powers in question. But these matters must be answered. Meanwhile, of course, the British deterrent, together with the American deterrent, is the ultimate control, the ultimate weapon, which gives support to the whole N.A.T.O. Alliance.

Mr. N. Pannell

With regard to migration, is my right hon. Friend aware that last year nearly 50,000 immigrants, mostly destitute arrived in this country from the West Indies and that the figures up to the end of February this year are running at twice last year's rate, which implies that a total of 100,000 people will come from the West Indies this year? Can my right hon. Friend say whether he had any positive undertaking from the West Indies to restrict the flow of immigration into this country? If not, will he have regard to his responsibilities to the people of this country and take measures at this end?

The Prime Minister

I think that the Government of the West Indies are very conscious of our difficulties, as we are of theirs. I should not like to add, and I did not add in my discussions, to the position taken by Her Majesty's Government in our recent debate, which was made clear. It was that we were watching this situation with care and concern, but had not reached a firm decision.

Mr. Marquand

Did the Prime Minister discuss with Mr. Diefenbaker the problem of Canadian preferences with this country with special relationship to our possible adherence to the European Common Market? If so, would not he agree that this is primarily a problem of the disposal of farm products? Did they consider in their talks the possibility of disposing of Western European and Canadian surpluses to the underdeveloped areas of the world?

The Prime Minister

I am glad that that question has been asked. We discussed this problem in general terms—the attempt to make the economic unity of Europe and its effect on our Commonwealth commitments. There are two aspects to this matter. I am bound to say that the second did not arise, although it is important. The first is the question of manufactured goods from Canada. I think that the Canadian Government and people, like the rest of the Commonwealth, are considering this and will consider it in its broadest aspect: what is to the ultimate advantage of the Commonwealth and the world as a whole and what will tend to maximise their trade and wealth.

Mr. Gaitskell

Is the Prime Minister aware that this method of answering Questions is quite unsatisfactory? To make a single statement covering five or six totally different Questions does not give the House a fair opportunity of putting supplementary questions to the righ hon. Gentleman. May I ask him why he has chosen to do this instead of making a statement at the end of Questions or at least taking the Questions separately?

Since he has done so, may I ask him whether he would be prepared to make a separate statement on the question of West Indian immigration, for instance, which a number of hon. Members have raised; on flag discrimination and shipping problems, a totally different question; on the difficult but vital question of the spread of nuclear weapons; or on the problem of our relations with Canada? Cannot we have separate statements on these issues?

The Prime Minister

I will do whatever suits the House, particularly the right hon. Gentleman. But since the Questions are separate—as the right hon. Gentleman said, there are about six or seven separate Questions—even if I made a long statement after Questions they would still be separate Questions. I should have to take them separately. After seeing them, I thought that if I answered them separately we would not get beyond the first three or four. This seemed to me to be the most practical method. I am at the service of the House. If hon. Members table further Questions, I will do my best to answer them. It is not an attempt to evade the Questions. I do not think that I have ever shown any willingness to be frightened of the House of Commons or, especially, of the divided Front Bench opposite.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

Mr. Henderson.

The Prime Minister

I might add—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I think that some confusion has arisen. I called the right hon. Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton (Mr. A. Henderson).

Mr. A. Henderson rose

Mr. S. Silverman

On a point of order. A minute or two ago, the Prime Minister said that if hon. Members were not satisfied with the answers that he had given in this empty portmanteau fashion, they could put down further Questions. My question to you, Mr. Speaker, is this. Is the Prime Minister not inaccurate in saying that? If a Question were put down again on any of the matters which the right hon. Gentleman has purported, however unjustifiably, to have included in the Answer which he gave, would they not be refused as having been already answered? Is it not, therefore, unfair to do it in this way and not the best way of consulting the convenience of the House?

Mr. Speaker

In the sort of circumstances envisaged by the hon. Member, I should have to look to see whether it were true that the Question had been answered or not; but I am not proposing to rule hypothetically until I see the Question.

Mr. Silverman

Further to that point of order. Is it not perfectly clear that in so far as the Prime Minister has not answered any of the Questions on the Order Paper, in spite of his claim to have done so, the Questions would, therefore, be still in order and would be accepted by the Table if they were put down again?

Mr. Speaker

I am not ruling hypothetically. I have explained to the hon. Member the position as I believe it to be.

Mr. G. Brown

I well understand your saying, Mr. Speaker, that you do not want to rule hypothetically; I do not challenge that. [Interruption.] Further, however, to the point of order raised by my hon. Friend—[Interruption.] We on this side are getting used to this silly game on the benches opposite, in which Parliament does not matter. Somebody has to stand up for the rights of this place.

Mr. Speaker

I thought that the right hon. Gentleman had risen to address a point of order to me.

Mr. Brown

If I am allowed by you, Sir, to be shouted at from over there—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—I assure you that I shall answer those shouts. [Interruption.] Certainly, The point I wish to put in support of the point of order raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) is that we here have a set of Questions, some of which dealt with the West Indies and were peculiar to those territories, some of which dealt with shipping, some of which dealt with the quite unrelated and much wider question of the spread of nuclear weapons, some of which dealt with China and some of which dealt with the question of a N.A.T.O. defence organisation. They were all purported to be answered together in a statement which, clearly, did not deal with any of them.

I understand you to say, Mr. Speaker, that you do not want to rule hypothetically. The Prime Minister, however, clearly invited us to put down the Questions again. If we act on his invitation and cut short our supplementary questions today, it obviously is a matter of tremendous importance that we are not then ruled out by some other operation in the House. May I, therefore, suggest, Mr. Speaker, that my hon. Friend is entitled to a much clearer answer. The Prime Minister cheated this afternoon. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] He thinks that he is clever, and he is supported by these cheers behind him. But we on this side, representing a large part of the country, are entitled to a clearer answer to my hon. Friend's question.

Mr. Speaker

I can understand the submission that the right hon. Gentleman is making. Clearly, I cannot at this stage say aye or no, without studying precisely what has happened, whether some question in future to be put on the Order Paper could rightly be said to have been answered so as not to be put on the Order Paper again. I cannot reasonably do that when on my feet now without an analysis of every word which has been uttered so far, and I rather suppose that there will be some further supplementary questions. I hope that it is not unreasonable to take that view. I appreciate the difficulty, but I could not undertake the burden.

Mr. A. Henderson

In view of the fact that there was no reference in the joint statement to any discussion on general disarmament, may I ask the Prime Minister whether he discussed this important problem with President Kennedy and whether it was agreed that a new initiative should be taken with a view to securing a resumption of the disarmament negotiations?

The Prime Minister

I think that it had already been announced—I apologise to the right hon. and learned Gentleman—that an arrangement had been made by which there was to be some delay before the matter was to be taken up again in the United Nations. I think that the American Government said that they would be ready at the end of July and the Russian Government accepted that. We are, therefore, working to that end with a view to the resumption of the negotiations upon, I hope, a wide and constructive basis.

Mr. Swingler

Arising out of Question No. 48, may I ask the Prime Minister a question on the subject of his view on contacts between Heads of Governments? In the light of his actions and speeches in the last two years to try to bring about a Summit Conference, will the Prime Minister now say, on his own responsibility, what steps he concedes should be taken to try to come to grips between Heads of Governments on the general problem of ending the arms race and bringing about disarmament?

The Prime Minister

I find it difficult to follow whether the hon. Gentleman approves or disapproves of these meetings. What I have tried to do in recent years is to see whether we could make some advance, and we have made some. We have also had setbacks. I am hopeful that it will be possible to make an advance in the general détente in the world. The test cases at the moment are the Geneva discussions, which, if successful, would give a tremendous fillip, the disarmament question, which will come up later, and, perhaps I might add, the general attitude of the Soviet Government to the United Nations, its officials and its functions.

Mr. Lipton

In view of the Prime Minister's reply to the supplementary question put to him by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Kirkdale (Mr. N. Pannell), is it correct to assume that, in the light of the Prime Minister's discussions on the subject in the West Indies and in Canada, Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom do not contemplate any change in their policy as regards the immigration of Commonwealth citizens into the United Kingdom?

The Prime Minister

I made it perfectly clear that, as stated in the debate, this matter was one which caused us considerable anxiety and that both sides see the difficulties, but that at present we had reached no firm conclusion.

Mr. McMaster

While thanking my right hon. Friend for the assurance which he gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) a few minutes ago, I should like to ask him to continue to press the United Kingdom view with the United States Administration at the highest level. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it would not be in the best interests of the United States, either from a defence or a trading point of view, to pursue a course which might tend to weaken our Merchant Navy?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir. The United States Administration has been left in no doubt about Her Majesty's Government's concern on this matter. Representations at all levels—Ministerial, diplomatic and official—have been made over a considerable period and I repeated them myself in my discussions.

Mr. Fisher

Arising out of Question No. 51 on the subject of West Indian immigration, in view of the obvious difficulties of Canada with her own problem of high unemployment, of ourselves in taking what might become almost unlimited numbers of West Indian immigrants and of the West Indies in their explosive unemployment and overpopulation problem, would my right hon. Friend consider the possibility of raising this matter with Mr. Menzies and Mr. Holyoake, both of whose countries, Australia particularly, are not only taking immigrants, but also need immigrants to further their natural development? Could my right hon. Friend consider this possibility?

The Prime Minister

It is an aspect. We have to remember that although here we have what I think would technically be called, and what certainly is, absolutely full employment, in the United States and in Canada, as my hon. Friend says, there is very heavy unemployment. That adds to the problems with which those Governments are confronted and yet they are the very countries that are more accustomed to immigrants of this character than others.

Mr. Prentice

Will the right hon. Gentleman say something more in reply to Question No. 52 about the spread of nuclear weapons? Is he aware that his speech in Massachusetts was received with general disappointment, because he posed the problem there without giving any indication of his view on how it should be met? To what extent was the problem discussed when he met President Kennedy? Was the assumption that Britain would continue to be an independent Power, and what ideas, if any, were discussed on the spread of nuclear weapons throughout the world?

The Prime Minister

I should be happy to do so if I did not sometimes feel that premature discussion of possible solutions does not add to the chance of a settlement but rather destroys those opportunities.

Mr. Wyatt

Could the Prime Minister say whether his speech in Boston meant that President Kennedy had persuaded him that Britain ought to join the Common Market and, if so, could he say when this will happen? If it did not mean that, what arguments did the right hon. Gentleman offer to President Kennedy against our joining although the President wishes us to do so?

The Prime Minister

If the hon. Member does me the honour to read the speech which I made in Boston it will be clear to him—

Mr. G. Brown

That is one thing that it will not be.

The Prime Minister

I will say it softly to suit the right hon. Gentleman. I think that it will be clear that it was not one that could have been prepared on the aeroplane between Washington and Boston. Therefore, I had written it a considerable time before.

Mr. Wyatt

Will the Prime Minister say what it meant? Are we joining the Common Market or not? Will he answer the question?

Mr. Wade

Is the Prime Minister in a position to confirm the statement which he is reported to have made in a speech to the Canada Club that British people are very queer people, almost mad? Is that his considered opinion?

The Prime Minister

I do not think that I quite used those words but I said that I hoped that people, as I said in Boston, would not judge by the strange vagaries of English behaviour—that they might march about in the streets, sit outside the Ministry of Defence or pass ridiculous resolutions but that it should be remembered that whenever the call to duty came it had been responded to by all the young men in the country.