HC Deb 05 June 1962 vol 661 cc202-5
Q7. Mr. Rankin

asked the Prime Minister if he will make a statement on the outcome of his consultations with President de Gaulle.

The Prime Minister

I would refer the hon. Member to the joint communiqué issue after our talks.

Mr. Rankin

Has the right hon. Gentleman found time this morning to refresh his recollection of what happened when he was with President de Gaulle in regard to the various arrangements Which have been made? Will he say whether it is true that he is now so keen on entering the Common Market that he is prepared to abandon Commonwealth preferences and Commonwealth ties and also to make no claim to any special relations with Washington?

The Prime Minister

A communiqué was issued. The talks were private and no one was present except President de Gaulle and myself and our two private secretaries. When meetings of this kind take place and a communiqué is issued, it is not wise or even courteous, I think, to go beyond what is agreed to be said. What was said was that we felt that the broad spirit of close unity of purpose between France and Britain should animate the discussions and negotiations which have to continue during the next two or three months at Brussels.

Mr. Ridsdale

Could the Prime Minister say whether he met in France at the weekend the same attitude as some of us met in Western Germany, namely, "Why should we listen to a great deal about what is being said about the Commonwealth when, after all, many people in the by-elections are voting Liberal, and do not Liberals want to go into the Common Market at any price"?

The Prime Minister

The President of the French Republic, with his long experience, recognises, as we all do, the enormous importance of the Commonwealth and of maintaining the strength of the Commonwealth as one of the strengths of the free world. The problem is whether we can or cannot reconcile these two purposes, the strength of the Commonwealth and the entry of Britain into special arrangements with European countries.

Mr. H. Wilson

As the House will be debating the Common Market for two days, and since the attitude of President de Gaulle to this matter is recognised to be of almost fundamental importance at the present time, will the Prime Minister go a little beyond some of the clichés he has been using and inform the House whether he is in fact now satisfied about President de Gaulle's attitude to Britain's application for entry and whether it is true, as has been widely stated, that we have been told that, if we just sign the Treaty of Rome, we can go in, but there will be no special facilities for the Commonwealth? Will he tell the House also whether he took the opportunity of expressing to President de Gaulle the view shared, I think, on both sides of the House that it would be advantageous to European and world peace if France would now cease the effort to became a major nuclear Power?

The Prime Minister

These are very disconnected subjects. I do not think that it would be proper far me to discuss or express my view upon the last point the right hon. Gentleman raised. We have our attitude towards our own defence, which successive British Governments have followed. The French Government have theirs.

What we try to do, with some success, I think—we are very old friends; we have been together as comrades in very difficult times—is to discuss very frankly and freely the problems which we face and the desire, on the one hand, that Britain should be more closely associated with the countries of Europe, which I believe to be wise both economically and politically, and, on the other hand, the absolute importance of maintaining the strength and unity of the Commonwealth.

Mr. Wilson

Does not the Prime Minister recognise the need for the House of Commons to debate frankly and freely the issues we face? [HoN. MEMBERS: "Wait till tomorrow."] I have already said that we are to debate the matter tomorrow. The whole House knows that, unless we have fuller information about these talks, it will be impossible to debate some of these issues frankly and freely. In the circumstances, will the Prime Minister, if he cannot make a statement now, consider whether he can authorise his right hon. Friend to tell us a good deal more about the content of these talks? Further, is he aware that, according Ito the Guardian, the Prime Minister of France, or one of his officials, has been telephoning British representatives of British newspapers giving what may be, for all we know, a very slanted account of the talks and the British Prime Minister's attitude? Will the right hon. Gentleman say something to counter that?

The Prime Minister

I have had some experience of these discussions with foreign statesmen. I think that it is much better to rest upon the communique when there is one and for the principals concerned to recognise that the whole purpose of such conversations is that they should be confidential, carried out on a very free and frank basis, and that far the best final comment is whether or not this helps to the solution of the problem.