HC Deb 08 May 1962 vol 659 cc211-4
Q1. Mr. Stonehouse

asked the Prime Minister, if he will make a statement on his talks with President Kennedy and Mr. Diefenbaker; and to what extent he discussed the effects of Great Brtain joining the Common Market on the Atlantic Alliance, the Commonwealth and the prospects of the general lowering of tariff barriers.

Q2. Mr. Walker

asked the Prime Minister if, in his talks with Mr. Diefenbaker, he discussed the increase in Canadian imports from the United Kingdom during the period that Mr. Diefenbaker has been Prime Minister; and whether he discussed ways in which Anglo-Canadian trade can be further increased.

Q3. Mr. P. Williams

asked the Prime Minister what representations he made on behalf of the shipping industry to President Kennedy during his recent visit to the United States of America; and what were the results.

Q8. Mr. Rankin

asked the Prime Minister what consultations he had with President Kennedy during his recent visit on the admission of China to the United Nations.

Q17. Mr. Shinwell

asked the Prime Minister what further action is proposed following his talk with President Kennedy on the difficulties confronting British shipping.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Macmillan)

I would refer right hon. and hon. Members to the replies which I gave on 3rd May to Questions about my talks with President Kennedy and Mr. Diefenbaker.

Mr. Stonehouse

Is the Prime Minister aware that now that the House has had an opportunity of studying the two communiqués, it is quite obvious that they do not go beyond bland platitudes? Are not the House and the country entitled to more than this? Is he aware of the great concern in the country that Britain will be pushed into the Common Market before the public, and, indeed, the House of Commons, have had an opportunity adequately to consider the terms and conditions agreed? Will he at least indicate what were the details of those terms and conditions discussed in America?

The Prime Minister

No, Sir. I think the position about the Common Market negotiations is quite clear. Those negotiations are proceeding. We hope that they may be concluded in the course of the summer in which case, of course, the Government will be in a position to put their policy before the House of Commons.

Mr. Walker

Is my right hon. Friend aware that Mr. McEwen, Deputy Australian Prime Minister, has stated that in his talks in Washington he was unable to obtain from the Americans an assurance that they were not working towards the disappearance of Imperial Preference? May I ask if my right hon. Friend was more successful in obtaining such an assurance in his talks in Washington?

The Prime Minister

I put, of course, the British point of view and as a result of this negotiation we shall see where we get to.

Mr. P. Williams

As far as shipping matters are concerned, can my right hon. Friend agree that he and the Government regard British shipping as the economic jugular vein of this country which must not be tampered with, and must not be allowed to be tampered with, by any other country? Will he not agree that what has transpired from his conversations with President Kennedy appears to be remarkably unfortunate for British shipping? Will he take it—I suspect from both sides of the House—that there would be a general consensus of opinion that if the Government wish to take enabling powers to enable them to retaliate against any particular measure taken by the Americans, this would be welcomed?

The Prime Minister

Of course, the position is a serious one and, as I told the House, we are continuing to press our views as strongly as possible upon the American Administration.

Mr. Rankin

When the right hon. Gentleman was talking to President Kennedy did he not urge upon him to follow the wise course of the British Government and agree to the admission of China to the United Nations? Did he fail to do so because of the fact that it would appear that our military policies, our shipping policies, our trading policies are now becoming like our international policies, subordinate to the general policy of the United States?

The Prime Minister

No, Sir. I would not have thought that was true at all. We try as allies to co-ordinate our policies wherever possible. It is clear that our trading policies with China are different from those followed by the American Administration.

Mr. Shinwell

On this shipping matter, will the Prime Minister exclude from his mind any suggestion about retaliation, however tempting it may be, because of the dangerous repercussions which might flow from it? Is it not obvious now that, while he is under pressure from hon. Members on both sides of this House and shipping interests in the country, equally President Kennedy is under pressure the other way from interests in the United States? As it is obvious that both the right hon. Gentleman and President Kennedy can- not resolve this problem, would he suggest to the British Chamber of Shipping that it might now propose to enter into negotiations with the American maritime interests to try to solve the problem?

The Prime Minister

I think the right hon. Member has stated very fairly what are the many considerations we all have to keep in mind. The very high position of British shipping in the world makes any form of retaliation much more dangerous than if it held a less strong position, but in regard to trying to accommodate these questions, we shall use every means, both official and unofficial, for the purpose.

Mr. Peyton

Is my right hon. Friend aware how very welcome it was to many people in this country that the shipping problem was evidently so prominent in his mind, despite the existence of many others? Would he agree that it is very unlikely that this extremely complicated problem can be solved by anything other than at inter-governmental level? Could he do something to secure the co-operation of other maritime nations to put the Americans in their place and make them play fairer than this, because they are guilty of sharp practice?

The Prime Minister

I think we should be careful how we use those words, but we try to co-ordinate our activities with those of other maritime countries.

Mr. Gaitskell

May I take it that the Prime Minister's discussions with President Kennedy on shipping made particular reference to the demand of the United States Shipping Commission that British shippers should produce documents to the Commission? Can he tell us what advice the British Government are giving to the shipping companies in this matter?

The Prime Minister

My right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport has already dealt with the second part of the question. On the first part, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, the complications of the American constitutional setup are such that these matters are not wholly within the responsibility of the United States Administration, although its good offices may be of the greatest value to us.