HC Deb 06 February 1964 vol 688 cc1356-98

4.8 p.m.

The Prime Minister (Sir Alec Douglas-Home)

I beg to move, That this House approves the action taken by Her Majesty's Government to promote the development of the Commonwealth through the provision of technical assistance and development aid on an increasing scale, the strengthening of educational and cultural links, and the pursuit, in co-operation with other Commonwealth countries, of the policies for expanding trade endorsed at the meeting of the Commonwealth Economic Consultative Council in May 1963, and welcomes the intention of Her Majesty's Government to press forward vigorously with these and other measures to reinforce the bonds between the Governments and peoples of the Commonwealth. The House will recall the passage in the Queen's Speech in which Her Majesty's Government stated their intention to strengthen the link between Britain and the Commonwealth countries. I thought that it would be useful to have a debate now in which my right hon. Friend could give the House a comprehensive picture of how we propose to develop and expand that link and in which hon. Members could contribute any ideas which might help towards this end.

I think that the debate is timely in two ways. Everyone is conscious of the dangers of the horizontal division of the world into the Southern half, broadly speaking, which is poor, and the Northern half, which is rich, dangers which will become much more acute should that division harden, as it could, on racial lines. The modern Commonwealth, if it can make itself into a working co-operative society, is the best guarantee against any such development, which would be a horror worse than anything the world has seen.

The debate is also timely because recent events overseas are fresh in our minds. I hope that we have demonstrated beyond doubt and with complete conviction to all the Commonwealth countries how much we in this country care for the Commonwealth and its newest members and their independence. When we gave independence to our Colonial Territories, we meant them to keep it, and we mean them to keep it and to be given a fair chance to preserve their independence, their own identity and their own way of life.

We have responded five times in the last two weeks to appeals from Commonwealth partners whose life and independence have been threatened. In Malaysia, we are there to prevent a Commonwealth country being dismembered by subversion and by force. In Cyprus, we are there to prevent a very unhappy people suffering from civil war in the island and to try to prevent Greece and Turkey from being drawn into a war. In Kenya, Uganda and Tanganyika, we are there in response to requests from their Governments to prevent illegal take-overs by mutinous elements who would overthrow the elected Governments who are only a few months, or, indeed, a few weeks, old.

I hope that if there were any doubts anywhere in the Commonwealth about Britain's motives towards the newer Commonwealth countries they have been removed by the rapid decisions which we took to help them and by the efficient executon of those decisions by our Armed Forces, who were able to be in their countries to assist them in a matter of hours. I hope, therefore, that the Commonwealth countries understand that when the chips are down, the Commonwealth can rely on Britain.

I should like to point a contrast. Hon. Members may have seen—and I hope that the Leader of the Opposition, who is to follow me, saw this, too—a statement by Mr. Chou En-lai on leaving Africa, where he was the guest of independent African countries, countries independent in their own right, members of the United Nations. He said, on leaving the Continent: Revolutionary prospects are excellent throughout the whole Continent of Africa. I cannot imagine a more cynical declaration and I hope that the people of Africa, in particular the Commonwealth countries of Africa and the new countries in Africa who are now represented in the United Nations, will realise from now on who their real friends are.

I should like our African Commonwealth partners to know—and this, I think, would be the feeling of the whole House—that we want to take our troops out of their countries as soon as they feel that it is safe for us to do so. We have no other motive to be there except to help them to keep order. We look forward to discussing with them ways and means of helping them in any way they can suggest which would help them to maintain stable conditions in their countries for the future.

It is, therefore, against such a background and facing such a future that we believe that the Commonwealth should come together to forge all the political, economic and social links that it can. I should like to consider for a few moments under various headings the various possibilities open to the Commonwealth and to Britain as a leading partner in it.

I take, first, trade and development. If we are to find the right machinery so that inter-Commonwealth trade can expand to the maximum in volume and in value have to start by recognising that the economic needs of the Commonwealth have changed very much from the time of the Ottawa Conference, or, indeed, from the time of the Montreal Conference in 1957. At the time of the Ottawa Conference, the number of members of the Commonwealth was small and we were able to draw at that time the clear distinction between, on the one hand, Commonwealth countries that produced food and raw materials for the British market—and the British market at that time was far the greatest market in which they were interested. I am happy to say that it still is. At that time, however, they thought of practically no other markets. We, on the other hand, exported the manufactured goods that the producers of raw materials and food needed.

One other thing which we should bear in mind and which is worth noting is that the Ottawa agreements were an answer to conditions of depression and slump. Conditions now are very different. Many of the Commonwealth countries have become industrialised and it is the legitimate ambition of almost every Commonwealth country so to do. The change has accounted to some extent for the erosion of our preferences.

The world economic situation is different. The economic problems of today arise from the problems of surpluses of food produced in the industrial countries and the emphasis, instead of being upon slump and depression, is upon the conscious organisation and expansion of multilateral trade. There is no possible complaint from this country that any Commonwealth country should seek to industrialise itself—certainly not—or that the Commonwealth countries should seek markets elsewhere, as Australia is seeking them in Japan. It is natural and right that they should do so.

It is, on our side, natural and right that Britain, faced with surpluses of food and keeping an open market, should seek to secure reasonable living conditions for her own farmers so as to be able to keep stability of price and a share of the growth of the market for our own producers. On either side, therefore, whether one takes industrialisation in Commonwealth countries or the condition of our country, in which we want to maintain a prospering agriculture, there cannot be any complaints either from us or from them. Therefore, what we have to do if we have to live up to the spirit of the Montreal Declaration, in which I remember—because I was at the conference—we all pledged ourselves to add to the volume and the value of Commonwealth trade and consciously to try to provide each other with the maximum opportunities of trade in each other's markets.

In considering how best to do that, we have to recognise certain things. We have to recognise that the Commonwealth countries do not want any sort of closed shop arrangement. It has been emphasised at every meeting at which I have been present, as Commonwealth Secretary and, during the last three years, with Commonwealth Prime Ministers, that Commonwealth countries wish to retain complete freedom to make bilateral agreements with other countries and, indeed, to trade in a worldwide market. That is why, during the Common Market negotiations last year, we tried so hard to preserve the interests of all the Commonwealth countries in what we judged to be one of the most expanding and important markets of the world.

Those negotiations failed; they are no longer a live issue. Therefore, we have to get together with all our Commonwealth partners to see what we can make of the next opportunity, which is the Kennedy Round, and to see whether we can continue with our Commonwealth partners to make the largest possible cuts in external tariffs. The Commonwealth countries look, in particular, to success in the Kennedy Round, because every Commonwealth country sees in the success of the Kennedy Round negotiations the best chance for increasing the volume and value of Commonwealth trade. To prepare for the Kennedy Round we shall use the machinery of the Commonwealth Economic Consultative Council.

When, therefore, we are considering how to increase the volume and value of inter-Commonwealth trade and how to increase British exports to Commonwealth countries, there are two questions one must try to answer. The first is whether any new machinery is necessary to stimulate either process. I think that the House is broadly familiar with the present set-up. There is the Commonwealth Economic Committee, which sits in Marlborough House, is financed by the whole Commonwealth and has as chairman a member drawn from a Commonwealth country. Until recently the Chairman was the late Mr. Ikramullah. That Committee assesses and makes available information about Commonwealth resources and opportunities for development in different Commonwealth countries. We would like to see this service increasingly used. Indeed, it has been increasingly used in recent years.

At the Montreal Economic Conference, when I was there with Lord Amory, then Chancellor of the Exchequer, we put forward a proposal for a Commonwealth Economic Development Council, with a secretariat. I thought that a good idea then and I still think it a good idea, and we have returned to it several times. But the furthest that the Commonwealth countries have been able to go was in a communiquéafter the meeting last September, in which they said they would examine this and similar propositions.

Up to now, the Commonwealth countries have always insisted on the machinery being consultative and not in any way executive. Therefore, the present machinery that we have and which, unless there is a change in attitude in the Commonwealth, will remain, is the Commonwealth Economic Consultative Council, which meets twice a year at official level and once a year at ministerial level. Of course, it can be used more often at either level should the situation so require.

We should not underestimate the value of these meetings. Nevertheless, the machinery remains consultative and the idea of an Economic Development Council, with a secretariat, cannot really take shape unless there is more enthusiasm for it from the other Commonwealth countries. Until there is evidence of that, little progress can be made. Her Majesty's Government put that proposal forward and we will accept it or any variant of it should the other Commonwealth countries come to the conclusion that such an idea would be worth pursuing.

My right hon. Friend will speak in more detail about the salesmanship of British goods in Commonwealth countries, but it is worth remembering now that the modern Commonwealth is not one market but many, each differing a great deal from the other. Our experience so far shows that the best results are gained by a concentration of effort on one country or on one group of countries with similar requirements.

For instance, we are now in the middle of an 18-month campaign being run jointly by Government and industry in Australia, and the chambers of commerce have also reorganised themselves and are very active with their Australian opposite numbers. The Canadian Minister of Trade is coming here to see my right hon. Friend and they will discuss the possibility of a similar operation to try to increase Anglo-Canadian trade and we will very much have an eye on the Federal Centenary in 1965.

My hon. Friend the Minister of State at the Board of Trade has just returned from starting off a similar operation in the Caribbean. In West Africa, there are, I think, good opportunities for increased trade and in this and other areas of the Commonwealth we think that the most effective way to stimulate interest is by using and assisting the Federation of Commonwealth Chambers of Commerce. Again, that body has reorganised itself for this purpose so that it will be lit to meet the needs of the modern Commonwealth, which is now world wide.

I can, therefore, at least give the pledge that my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State and the President of the Board a Trade will put their whole drive behind such operations to try to increase our share of Commonwealth trade, and that I myself shall not for one moment lose sight of this, because it is immensely important that we should pursue it with the utmost energy.

Mr. Harold Wilson (Huyton)

What have the Government done?

The Prime Minister

I shall tell the right hon. Gentleman in a moment.

It is tempting to think in terms of institutionalising the Commonwealth, but that can be overdone. The main strength of the links between the Commonwealth countries is probably outside the institutions. We are willing to consider any new organisation which will get results, but we think that the most intensive trade drive is best conducted in partnership between industry and the Government working on agreed plans in the different Commonwealth regions.

Mr. Douglas Jay (Battersea, North)

Is it not a fact that the right hon. Gentleman is not announcing any change at all in Government machinery?

The Prime Minister

We have the Commonwealth Economic Committee and the Consultative Council and we have made the proposal that these should be turned into an Economic Development Council, with a secretariat. That has not so far received support from other Commonwealth countries. I think that our export trade is best conducted as I have described.

Mr. E. Shinwell (Easington)

The Prime Minister speaks of the need for a drive by the Board of Trade and the Commonwealth Relations Office, and that we would applaud and encourage. But what is the use of talking about a drive unless we consider it jointly with other Commonwealth countries? It should be done not unilaterally, but multilaterally.

The Prime Minister

The multilateral consideration of all these matters takes place twice a year at official level and at least once a year at ministerial level, and this gives opportunity to review and give new direction, if necessary, to any effort being made. But the particular drive about which I am talking is into individual markets like Australia or Canada, or groups of markets like those presented by West Africa and the West Indies.

Commodity agreements are very important in the Commonwealth context.

Mr. H. Wilson

Hear, hear.

The Prime Minister

The right hon. Gentleman applauds and agrees. The United Kingdom is a party to three agreements—the Tin, Sugar and International Wheat Agreements—and we would like to see more, but there is no one solution, as the right hon. Gentleman knows well from his own experience. For instance, he knows the difficulties of reaching a rubber agreement.

We have always been anxious to see such an agreement, but synthetic rubber production has so far defeated all opportunities and chances of getting one. We are in touch with Commonwealth countries about this matter and it will be discussed at the United Nations Conference on Trade shortly. We will help other Commonwealth countries to run commodity agreements if we possibly can.

I should like now to turn to the other links between Britain and the Commonwealth, and in doing so I can completely disprove the rather vague generalities of the Opposition Amendment, in which right hon. Gentlemen opposite condemn the Government for doing so little, as they put it. I take, first, investment, which is the great need of the developing Commonwealth countries. There is a very creditable story to tell. Private investment in Commonwealth countries is running at £150 million a year. Under the Montreal Conference system of Commonwealth loans—I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues know about this—since 1957 we have committed £300 million to 14 Commonwealth countries. British aid to Commonwealth countries is running at £120 million a year, and we have put £80 million of international funds at their disposal in five years. We have supported the recent proposal that the activities and the funds of the International Development Association should be increased, and this is a good thing.

Our ability to do more in all these loans and investments and credits and aid depends directly on our ability as a country to increase our earnings and keep our prices competitive. They are now competitive and there should be a good opportunity of increasing our national wealth. If that is so, we can apply more to these activities in the Commonwealth. My only other comment about investment is that there must be a response from the Commonwealth countries, who must create a climate of confidence. Otherwise, the investment will go elsewhere.

I now turn to technical assistance, one of the most effective ways in which Britain can assist the Commonwealth countries. Under the various technical assistance schemes, we now have 18,000 officers in 39 Commonwealth countries, and these officers are assisted in one way or another by the British Government. [An HON. MEMBER: "What do they do?"] They give every kind of technical assistance—health, education, agriculture and engineering, and so on. I can tell the hon. Member that in 1962, the last year for which I have figures, 1,637 new appointments were made and, for the benefit of the hon. Member I will break them up and tell him, because he is evidently interested, what they were. Of these appointments, 542 went into education, 254 into engineering, 219 into health and 97 into agriculture. This total of 18,000, and the annual increase which we are making, is a significant contribution to Commonwealth co-operation.

I now turn to technical co-operation. The House may know that there are 42,000 students from Commonwealth countries in our universities and colleges and that about 5,000 of them are assisted in one way or another by British Government funds. At the Montreal Conference, in 1957, we started the Commonwealth Scholarships Plan, which is working very well, and 1,000 scholars have held awards in this country alone since then. Each year, 400 teachers from developing Commonwealth countries are given training here, and, in spite of our own shortage, last year 600 teachers went to Commonwealth countries for the same purpose of training teachers for these developing countries.

The Commonwealth Education Conference meets again this year in Montreal and the United Kingdom delegation there will put forward proposals for the expansion of and improvements in that scheme. There are several ways in which it could be improved and extended. I cannot give them to the House now, because we want to make them to the conference when it assembles. The scheme has already been of enormous assistance to the Commonwealth, as I have shown, and it was British initiative at the time of which we can be justly proud.

The House knows that there are many voluntary organisations operating in the Commonwealth and, in particular, that these voluntary associations send young men and women overseas. Young men and women from this country are very anxious to give service in this way in the under-developed or developing countries and this year 800 volunteers are going abroad, assisted by the Government through the voluntary associations. The Government have decided that this number should be increased because of the great advantage to the receiving countries, ourselves and to the young people who go. My right hon. Friend the Secretary for Technical Co-operation will be making a statement very shortly on the scale and scope of the organisation as we see it of these voluntary services in the years ahead. Meanwhile, I am very glad to know, and the House will be glad to know, that the Duke of Edinburgh has agreed to be associated with this movement.

There is also the way in which Britain can project herself in Commonwealth countries. I have always taken a great interest in this and when I was Commonwealth Secretary we were able to help a great deal in this way. With my right hon. Friends, I have decided that additional resources should be made available for the British information services in Commonwealth countries. There will be a considerable expansion and an increase of expenditure of £1¼ million in 1964–65.

The things we have in mind in particular are to improve and extend the teaching of English, using the latest techniques, for we believe that English ought to be the language of communication for the world in future; increasing the overseas Press service; and the supply of books, which is now making rapid progress but which ought to be extended. We also intend, and I am sure that this is right, a greatly increased use of television in Commonwealth countries. I am certain that it is necessary to improve upon what the B.B.C. and I.T.A. are now able to do in Commonwealth countries.

Then there are the professions and the great number of professional contracts between this country and the Commonwealth. I obviously cannot enumerate them today and I will say only that they ought to be encouraged in every possible way. The House will remember that we were able to confer Privy Councillorships on New Zealand and Australian judges making them eligible to sit on the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. There is to be a third Commonwealth and Empire Law Convention in 1965 and the Lord Chancellor is to lead and field—if that is the right word—a very strong team. That might be the occasion on which the conference could well reconsider the proposal for a Commonwealth Court, which has been considered before and which would be immensely valuable.

I cannot end a speech on Commonwealth links without a reference to the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. Hon. Members on both sides of the House know how much that does to assist closer relations with Commonwealth countries. We were able to give additional help to the Association last year and the Government intend to continue to assist it.

I have made a rather longer speech than I usually do, because I wanted to give the facts of the progress which has been made in maintaining and developing Commonwealth links which will completely dispose of and disprove the vague charges in the Amendment. I cannot believe that after what I have said the right hon. Gentleman can move that Amendment with very much heart in him. He and his hon. Friends removed a Motion on the Commonwealth from the Order Paper the other day and did not put it hack, so I thought that we had better stimulate them into showing a little more interest in the Commonwealth than they do.

I hope that I have said enough to show that we are acting both in the spirit and letter of the sentence on Commonwealth development which was used in the Gracious Speech from the Throne.

4.50 p.m.

Mr. Harold Wilson (Huyton)

I beg to move, to leave out from "House" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof: regrets the continuing failure of Her Majesty's Government to take any constructive steps for the expansion of Commonwealth trade; deplores the damage done to economic relations with the Commonwealth by recent Government policies; and calls on Her Majesty's Ministers to prepare, as a matter of urgency, an effective plan for the development of Commonwealth production and trade". Having listened to the Prime Minister's speech, no words of mine could be more eloquent in support of our Amendment than the ones to which we have just listened. I am bound to say that we are ourselves to some extent at fault here, because when we put into our Amendment words about asking the Government "… to prepare, as a matter of urgency …" we did not realise sufficiently, perhaps, until we heard the right hon. Gentleman, that the Government have no sense of urgency at all in this matter.

For an inspiring and challenging subject such as this is—and we have had some very challenging and inspiring debates about this in past years—the right hon. Gentleman's speech was completely flat and dispirited. So far as I could tell, he said only three things: first, that there had been some Privy Councillorships for judges in Australia and New Zealand; and we welcome it; secondly, that there were to be improved relations between our chambers of commerce and the Commonwealth chambers of commerce, and thirdly, that there would be increased provision for technical aid and the exchange of young people, teachers and others, with the Commonwealth. On that, we very much welcome the announcement that has been made of the highly distinguished patronage that this scheme is to have. Most of us read about it in the Press this morning, but that does not in any way diminish our pleasure that His Royal Highness is to head the scheme. Had we been consulted about this—and it was quite incorrectly stated in the Press that we had—the only point we would have made is that, if His Royal Highness is to preside over it, it would have been fitting that we should have had a much more imaginative and dynamic scheme and not the tuppenny ha'penny one which the right hon. Gentleman has just announced.

The right hon. Gentleman showed by his speech—and here he has been to some extent consistent—that he had not much hope of increasing Commonwealth trade; he gave up the ghost years ago. Before I deal with some of the facts of the Commonwealth trade situation which he failed to present to the House, I would remind him of some words that he uttered in another place two and a half years ago, on 21st June, 1961, in a debate on the Commonwealth and the Common Market. It will be remembered by the House that at that time the then Prime Minister kept telling us that the Cabinet had not taken any decision about entering into the Common Market.

That was not taken until 31st July, but the then Foreign Secretary had made up his own mind. He was out on his own. I should like to quote a few words to show the faint praise in the past with which he has examined the possibilities of Commonwealth trade: Therefore, my Lords, on this economic side of the problem,"— it will be understood that I am quoting— which we are discussing, if we are to maintain our standard of living and consumption—and, of course, the ability of the United Kingdom citizen to consume has a direct impact on Commonwealth trade—and if we are to be in a position to export the capital for which the Commonwealth is hungry today, then we must ask ourselves—and the Commonwealth, too, must join in asking this question most seriously—whether we can afford to be excluded from this European market which is expanding so rapidly and offering so many opportunities. The right hon. Gentleman then went on to discuss the change which has taken place in the nature of Commonwealth trade, a point which he made again this afternoon. He said: … a study of the trends and prospects leads me to the conclusion that we should be very unwise to turn our backs on the European Market, which is showing so much vitality Because even if we succeed in expanding Commonwealth trade, we shall want the additional earnings that we could earn in European markets if we are to fulfil our duty to the Commonwealth … Therefore, I would conclude that while we should maximise our Commonwealth trade in every way we can—and I would commend to my Commonwealth colleagues and partners that they should study again the results of the Montreal Conference—at the same time, we should increase our earnings in Europe. It would be difficult to do that unless we were inside the Community."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, House of Lords, 21st June, 1961; Vol. 232, c. 624 and 626.] The right hon. Gentleman's argument at that time—and I believe that it is still at the back of his mind—is that we were not going to get very much out of increased Commonwealth trade and that, for the reasons that he gave and the careful analysis that he gave in another place, we had better hopes in the Common Market, and if we were there we should be able to do more for the Commonwealth.

The Prime Minister

The right hon. Gentleman has quoted extensively from a speech which seems to be very consistent with what I have said today. I would just mention that I do not see what he is getting at. I said that we wanted to maximise Commonwealth trade as far as we possibly could.

Mr. Wilson

I said that I thought that the speech which the right hon. Gentleman made then was consistent with the speech which he made today. That was the whole point that I was trying to make. At that time, he was extremely defeatist about Commonwealth trade, and he was very defeatist about it today. At that time, his argument was that we could not do very much unless we were in the Common Market, and of course I must inform the right hon. Gentleman that we did not get into the Common Market. Despite the fact of the Government's capitulation on issue after issue affecting our ability to maintain imports from the Commonwealth—despite that—we did not get in.

I propose to return to the Common Market issue, because I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not continue to evade certain questions which I have put to him recently on this subject.

First, let us talk about the record. Our position on Commonwealth trade is on the record. It is on the record in Government and it is on the record in Opposition. Hon. Members opposite sometimes said during the Common Market debate that the Labour Party's support of Commonwealth trade was of recent origin. I refute that. I refute it by reference to our own record in Government, from 1945 to 1951, when Commonwealth trade as a proportion of our total trade was at an all-time record; and this did not happen by accident. It happened through purposively planned long-term contracts with Commonwealth countries. I refute it again by oar refusal to sacrifice Commonwealth preferences. I myself, in April, 1951 at the Torquay Tariff Conference, broke up that Conference at three o'clock in the morning on one issue—our refusal to give way to the American demand to dismantle Commonwealth preferences.

At the same time I stated on behalf of His Majesty's then Government that if G.A.T.T., which was then an interim agreement and due to disappear, was to become permanent, we should insist on removing the clause about new or extended preferences. It was also the Labour Government, through the mouth of Sir Stafford Cripps and Ernest Bevin and others, that publicly announced our willingness to enter a free trade area for the Commonwealth, and equally support of Commonwealth trade has been our consistent policy in over 12 years of opposition. It was we who opposed the Government's surrender to the clamorous demands they were facing for the restoration of speculative commodity markets when they scrapped the long-term contracts which had done so much for Commonwealth trade.

It was we who over this period—not over the last few months—called for international commodity agreements which we as a Government had made a central feature of the Havana Charter. And when the Government consistently rejected the idea of international commodity agreements—and they were rejected with monotonous regularity—and they were still voting against commodity agreements at Geneva as recently as January, 1962—when this was happening, I would refer hon. Members to the attacks that we were making on them. I do not want to go too far back over past speeches, but I would refer the right hon. Gentleman, because I know he is interested in this subject, to look at the debate as long ago as 3rd February, 1953, 11 years ago. It was on that occasion that we put forward from this Box a comprehensive plan for Commonwealth trade, Commonwealth development and commodity agreements; a plan that was turned down by the Government because they were more interested in commodity speculation.

Again, I refer to our defence of the Commonwealth interest throughout the Common Market negotiations when right hon. Gentleman opposite—and we have made this statement before—were, quite honestly, breaking pledges which had been solemnly given to this House and to the electorate about Commonwealth trade.

Mr. Nicholas Ridley (Cirencester and Tewkesbury)

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he would always put Commonwealth preference before joining the Common Market at any stage in the future? Does he realise that that would mean that a Labour Government could never join Europe if there ever were to be one?

Mr. Wilson

I shall deal with the Common Market position at the end, and perhaps when I have dealt with it I might put the same question to the right hon. Gentleman and see what his answer is. I shall deal with the question of preferences.

Despite that diversion, I shall not be distracted from reminding the House that in successive debates on the Common Market—the right hon. Gentleman was not here but he can read HANSARD—on 7th-8th November, 1952, I quoted in full the particular pledges given by the then Prime Minister, the present Chancellor of the Exchequer, and the present Minister of Defence, over all the years that there would be no interference with Commonwealth trade. Those pledges are very much on the record. I do not want to weary the House by repeating them today, but if anyone denies that they were made I have them here ready to read them again.

The right hon. Gentleman referred to the Kennedy Round and its vital importance for the Commonwealth. I agree very sincerley indeed with thet right hon. Gentleman, and during all the Common Market negotiations we kept on saying that this was the thing the Government should be aware of. We said that the Lord Privy Seal's hand would be much strengthened if they did not feel in Europe that we had to get in at all costs. We said that instead of the picture that was being built up of a Common Market including Britain on one side of the table and the United States on the other, why should not we look forward, if the Common Market negotiations became intolerable, as they did, to a situation where we had Britain, the United States, the Commonwealth and E.F.T.A. on one side of the table and the Six on the other? But right hon. Gentlemen were in such a rush to get into the Common Market at all costs that they rejected that. This is all on the record, and I do not want to weary the House by quoting debates and what we said and the Government's rejection of what we said, but in the debate of 11th February last year, after the Brussels breakdown, we stated clearly our line about the Commonwealth and about the Kennedy Round. Therefore, from 1945, nearly 20 years ago, we at least can claim a consistent record in this matter.

I still have not quite understood the right hon. Gentleman's motive in this afternoon's performance—whether it was to try to restore his party's tattered Commonwealth image or to get up and announce a conversion. There was not much sign of conversion. We do not need to come to the Box and announce a conversion. Our consistency over 19 years in Government and opposition is a sufficient test of our sincerity.

But let us now look at the figures. If hon. Gentlemen opposite want to snigger about Commonwealth trade, let them snigger at the figures. The Government's Motion begins with the words "Commonwealth trade". We thought that we might hear something about it from the right hon. Gentleman, but we heard so very little. I thought that he might have looked at the figures and given them to the House. I shall do so instead. Prewar our imports from the Commonwealth were 35 per cent. of our total trade. Under a Labour Government, as a result of deliberate planning, they rose to 44 per cent. By 1962 they had fallen to 31 per cent. That was under the right hon. Gentlemen opposite. If we consider exports to the Commonwealth, we see that before the war 35 per cent. of our total exports were to the Commonwealth. Under a Labour Government, 44 per cent. of our exports were to the Commonwealth. In 1962 they had fallen to 31 per cent., and last year, 1963, they fell to 30 per cent.

Of course, the Government have always excused themselves with the argument that from the trade point of view the Commonwealth is a declining asset, that there is an inevitable, inexorable, secular, downward trend. That was the theme of the Prime Minister's speech to which I referred. It was certainly the argument of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the debate of August 1961 on the Government's decision to seek entry into the E.E.C. The decline in Commonwealth trade, the then President of the Board of Trade, now Chancellor of the Exchequer, said was due to what he called historical reasons.

What were those historical reasons? One, of course, was the then President of the Board of Trade and his predecessors. Another was the then Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations and his predecessors, and of course, as the Prime Minister reminded us, he himself was Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations for about five years, I think it was from 1955 to 1960, and he might like to know—perhaps he did know at the time and has forgotten—that during that period imports from the Commonwealth as a percentage of total imports fell from 43 per cent. to 36 per cent. That happened in the five years when he was charged with the stewardship of Commonwealth relations. He might like to know that over that period the total imports of this country rose by £680 million, while imports from the Commonwealth actually fell by £22 million—a pretty proud record!

This doctrine of the inevitability of Commonwealth decline has become part of the tribal mythology of the party opposite. The argument—though I do not think that it would deceive anybody who studies the figures—is that the Commonwealth—whether the developing countries or the advanced countries—is making such progress in manufactures that we cannot hope to sell manufactured goods—even developmental capital—there any more, and so we must concentrate on Europe and the United States, whose manufacturing industries are far more developed than those of the Commonwealth.

If it is true that the growth of indigenous industries in the Commonwealth makes it impossible to increase our trade there, why is it that other industrial countries, the United States, Germany, Japan and Sweden, have had such spectacular successes in Commonwealth markets in the past 12 years? Does the fault lie with the Commonwealth, or with ourselves? Why has our trade with the Commonwealth shown this comparative decline? What are these historical factors? I think that there are two. First, the Government's action, or failure to take act on, both in overseas trade policy—that was never mentioned this afternoon—and in their external economic policy; secondly, and with a few honourable exceptions, the mediocre record of wide sectors of British industry in the matter of seizing opportunities that are there and which more enterprising and vigorous manufacturers from other countries have seized despite the preferential advantages that we enjoy, even today.

I dislike wearying the House with figures, but I felt that in preparing his speech the right hon. Gentleman had not given a great deal of study to the relevant statistics. One did not see evidence that he had spent many hours on it, so I hope that the House will bear with me while I go through the figures with him. From 1953 to 1962 total Commonwealth imports—that is all Commonwealth countries excluding the United Kingdom, Ireland and South Africa the last-named I have excluded throughout—from all countries over the past nine years has risen from £7,608 million to £11,102 million, an increase of 46 per cent.; that is, the total of imports coiling into all Commonwealth countries, other than Britain, has risen by 46 per cent., so there has been a rapidly rising market. But their imports from the United Kingdom rose only from £1,076 million to £1,208 million—an increase of only 12 per cent., despite preferences.

Put in another way—while the imports of our Commonwealth partners have risen in total, over those nine years, by nearly £3,500 million, their imports from us have risen only by £132 million. We have, in fact, achieved one-fourtieth of this large increase.

Mr. John Harvey (Walthamstow, East)

We were there already.

Mr. Wilson

It is no use saying that we were there already.

Let us take the figures for each country. Only in Hong Kong have we maintained our share of the export market. In Canada, where some effort has been made as part of the dollar drive, imports from all sources rose by 36 per cent., and from Britain by 20 per cent.; Australia's imports from all sources rose by 75 per cent. and from us by 8 per cent.; Ghana's imports from all sources rose by 62 per cent., and from us they dropped by 1 per cent.; India's imports from all sources rose by 85 per cent. and from us by only 2 per cent.; Malaya and Singapore's imports from all sources rose by 43 per cent. and from us by 12 per cent.; New Zealand's imports from ail sources rose by 42 per cent., and from us by 8 per cent.; Nigeria's imports from all sources rose by 87 per cent., and from us by 17 per cent., and Pakistan's imports from all sources rose by 101 per cent. and from us by 31 per cent.

Hon. Members may say that perhaps they were importing raw materials. In that case, let us take manufactured goods alone. Here I will take two separate periods—1954–60 and 1961–62. In the period from 1954–60 Commonwealth imports of manufactured goods from all sources of production rose by 50 per cent.—by half—and from us by only 13 per cent. In 1961–62—the last year for which figures are available—Commonwealth imports from all countries rose by 5.4 per cent., whereas from Britain they were down by 5.1 per cent.

If we take all the main groups of exports—chemicals, textiles, metals and miscellaneous metal manufactures, non-electric machinery, electric machinery, transport equipment and "other manufactures"—in every group, taking the period 1954–60 or the period 1961–62, our increase is less than that of all the other countries and, in most cases, very much less. Some of these are in sectors of industry where not long ago we led the world. I have the figures. They were published by the right hon. Gentleman's Department in a very interesting survey last September.

Taking all the separate figures for particular types of engineering equipment, we find an appalling comparison between our own export record and those of most other exporters to the Commonwealth.

Mr. J. Harvey

The right hon. Gentleman has said that he does not want to worry the House with figures. He should guard against misleading the House with figures. Will he address himself to this question: he suggested that in India 80 per cent. of the increase in trade has gone to other countries. Will he also tell the House how much of the fixed investment in India, made in years gone by, is British investment? Does it not follow that we cannot go on contributing at the same rate?

Mr. Wilson

That was a very helpful intervention, showing exactly what is wrong with the party opposite. They spend their time living in the past and thinking that in these economic matters the world owes us a living because of what we did in the 19th century. I can give the House a lot of figures. But I give the hon. Member this point—which he did not make—in respect of the Indian figures. I agree that those figures were affected by the substantial tied American aid which caused an increase in American exports. But that is not true of most of the other countries or the other figures that I have given. The fault lies not in a failure of Commonwealth markets to expand but in our own failure to hold our share of those markets. We have been losing ground to our competitors.

I want to give one final set of figures. They are dollar trade figures. I take two of our principal competitors—the United States and Japan. In 1954, between them they supplied 1,010 million dollars worth of manufactured goods to the overseas sterling area, while we supplied 2,907 million dollars worth. That means that in manufactured goods supplied by the three leading countries in this regard—Britain, United States and Japan—we accounted for nearly three-quarters of the total trade. That was as recently as 1954, before the right hon. Gentleman became Secretary of State. In 1962 the figure for the United States and Japan together had risen from 1,010 million dollars to 2,511 million dollars, while ours had risen only from 2,907 million dollars to 2,981 million dollars. Theirs increased by 1,500 million dollars, or 150 per cent., and ours by 74 million dollars, or 2½ per cent. If we put it in another way, we had three-quarters of the trade and they had one-quarter in 1954, but in 1962—eight years later—they had nearly half. Of the increased trade we have managed to obtain just one-twentieth, compared with the nineteen-twentieths of the United States and Japan.

Put in yet another way, over those eight years United States exports to the Commonwealth rose by 901 million dollars; E.E.C.'s by 774 million dollars; Japan's by 600 million dollars, and Britain's by 74 million dollars.

Is the right hon. Gentleman proud of that record? Would not he have done better to address himself to these figures and to say what he will do to try to reverse these trends? Why has this happened? First, Government policy has consistently worked against the expansion of Anglo-Commonwealth trade. As I have said, in their doctrinaire rush to reopen speculative commodity markets they cancelled most of the 52 long-term contracts that were in force with Commonwealth countries in 1951. In other ways their commercial policy drove Common wealth countries into the arms of other suppliers—as when they dismantled a number of important preferences which Australia had enjoyed in our markets. They consistently opposed the negotiation of international commodity agreements which, more than anything else, would have helped to maintain the purchasing power of Commonwealth countries for our exports.

In fact, time and time again they claimed credit for the fall in the purchasing power of these countries for British exports. How often has the Chancellor claimed credit for the improvement in the terms of trade? This is what he means. What else could he mean? The Government's stop-go policy has had a devastating effect on demand for Commonwealth raw materials. The Chancellor always tells us these days how successful he is being in taking up the slack in our industrial system—but who let the slack develop? More correctly—to give discredit where discredit is due—who, by their crash policies in 1957 and 1961, deliberately, and with intent, caused this slack to develop? What did they think this meant in terms of the demand for Commonwealth goods, and hence in the power of the Commonwealth to buy from us? Idle factories, or factories on short-time, provide a very poor demand for Commonwealth raw materials.

Without at this point going into the Common Market argument, no one can deny that the deal that they were not only ready but avid to negotiate with Europe, and the undignified political enthusiasm that they showed at their Llandudno Conference could have no other effect than persuade Commonwealth countries, almost without exception, that the Government were ready to turn their back on the Commonwealth in favour of their new love.

We made it clear all along that our view is that preferences as such are a much less important asset in inter-Commonwealth trade, and we were not prepared to sacrifice trade with the Commonwealth in order to get into the Common Market. That was our position and it is our position, and before the debate ends we want to know whether it is the Government's position.

That was the theme of the last Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference, when Commonwealth objections were brusquely over-ridden by the Government, and when the Secretary of State for Common wealth Relations used to the full his not inconsiderable talents with the Press, even to the point of direct personal attacks on at least one Commonwealth Prime Minister. The impression they created has remained. This Government's policies have, in a greater or lesser degree, diminished the ability, or even, marginally, the willingness of Commonwealth countries to buy their expanding import requirements from us. But there has been another factor at work. Our ability to supply their needs has been diminished because of the Government's economic policy, which has had the effect of building up in this country a soft-centre economy as opposed to the hard-centre economy needed to produce the machinery, transport equipment, and other equipment which the Commonwealth needs.

A policy which holds down the expansion of our basic industries for three years in every four and then embarks on a frantic consumer goods boom—such as the hire-purchase boom of 1959—creates an economic structure incapable of meeting the requirements of Commonwealth markets or meeting the ruthless competition of our rivals who have been building up their hard-centre economy, their metal-using industries, over these years. If we seek a symbol of our decline in exporting to the Commonwealth—the right hon. Gentleman never began to get near this point—we need not look beyond the Government's creation of a "candy-floss" economy in this country.

Thirdlly, we have the indifferent effort of so many manufacturers. With a soft home market, they said, "Why bother?" When producing consumer goods it was easier for them to concentrate on Western Europe. We must ask: what single thing have the Government done in 12 years to encourage direct exports to the Commonwealth? Not even exhortation, though we had a bit this afternoon. In the past, we have had hortatory speeches, many of them very good, about exports to the United States and to Western Europe. But hardly ever about exports to the Commonwealth.

We have had a Dollar Exports Council, which I set up. It is now the Western Hemisphere Exports Council. Why not have a Commonwealth Exports Council? If one-tenth of the effort which the Government and industry put into exports to the dollar area or to Europe—a very necessary effort—had been put into a Commonwealth trade drive as well, I should not have been in a position this afternoon to quote the dismal figures which I have been quoting. I hope that before the end of the debate we shall be told that the Prime Minister has thought again and that he now proposes to ask the Board of Trade to encourage the establishment of a really powerful, hard-hitting Council for Exports to the Commonwealth—

Mr. Ridley

Why did not you set it up?

Mr. Wilson

At that time we were exporting so much to the Commonwealth that our problem, almost, was to have to hold back. I have given the figures. Hon. Members should look at the agreements with other countries. After the war we were extremely short of industrial capacity in steel and chemicals. We had to hold down the export of certain basic chemicals and steel to the Commonwealth so as to meet our obligations to some other countries.

What do we propose? I will answer that briefly. It is on the record. I am not standing here to announce a belated conversion. I could refer hon. Members to 30 or 40 speeches, but I shall not do so. But I welcome the conversion of the right hon. Gentleman to the wider concept of a political and economic community bringing in the Commonwealth and E.F.T.A. That is to be welcomed. I remember that in November, 1961, when the Clayton-Herter Report was published, I said in Leeds that that was the sort of line on which we should be going rather than the narrow line of the Lord Privy Seal. Last May I summarised our own policy in a 10-point plan. I will stick to the headlines, because many of the things have been argued in detail.

One. Arrangements should be made for regular meetings to work through the development and capital investment programmes of each Commonwealth country. We should ask for a specific preference in awarding contracts to Britain—exactly as the United States does in its defence and Buy American Act programmes—from the Commonwealth. I believe that we could get it. I remember that when I was in Canada, the principal utilities, the Ontario Hydro-Electric Scheme, the Toronto subways, and the rest of them, slanted purchasing programmes in the direction of Britain. One province, Saskatchewan, has written into its legislation a "Buy British" Act awarding preference to Britain, providing that prices are not more than 5 per cent. or 10 per cent. above prices from other areas. I think that instead of tariff preferences we should have preferences in the way of capital contracts and apply to take part in Commonwealth development.

Two. In return, we should undertake to provide guaranteed markets for Commonwealth primary produce in this country—never mind the more speculative markets. This would provide assurance and economic stability in the Commonwealth and ensure that our Commonwealth partners were able to afford to maintain and expand their purchases from us.

Three. To fulfil Commonwealth requirements for developmental capital we should agree to expand those sections of our industrial system where existing capacity is inadequate to meet Commonwealth needs—both by incentives to private enterprise and by creating new publicly-owned industrial establishments.

Four. We should agree to work jointly for worldwide commodity agreements to stabilise primary prices. The Prime Minister was more forthcoming this afternoon than the Government have been over the last 12 years. He must realise that all the aid supplied by Western countries from 1953 to the present time—all of them, bilaterally and through the United Nations; it has been a considerable figure—has been more than offset by the fall in primary prices over the last 10 years.

Five. We should agree to take the initiative with the United States and other friendly countries to expand the volume of world liquidity for financing world trade, with particular emphasis on schemes linking the creation of new credit to the needs of under-developed countries and our productive capacity here and in other advanced countries.

Six. I have referred to our programme, a Commonwealth programme, of higher education, which the right hon. Gentleman rightly dealt with this afternoon.

Seven. We should arrange for a fuller exchange of scientific information between countries. I do not think that this has gone anything like far enough.

Eight. We should agree to establish in each advanced country a scheme whereby cities and towns, churches and voluntary organisations should adopt towns and villages in under-developed countries to help them with the provision of industrial and agricultural equipment, school and hospital buildings, and staff, and we should be prepared—make no bones about this—to provide a Government contribution proportionate to the funds raised by voluntary effort.

Nine. We should work towards the creation of a pensionable career service for work in the Commonwealth, irrespective for whom people were working, and provide by legislation that professional and technical experts who take short-service posts in Commonwealth countries should have their pension rights maintained and safeguarded.

Ten. We have exchanged a few words on this matter this afternoon. We should aim to enlist the enthusiasm of young people in a service dedicated to aiding Commonwealth economic and social development.

I wish to refer briefly to one or two points which the Prime Minister made outside the sphere of trade. He referred to aid. I was surprised that he did not give figures for the last year or two. I wonder whether it would be a surprise to him to know that in the first six months of this financial year compared with the first six months of the previous year, according to the figures published by the Government, aid to the Colonies is actually down, and aid to the independent Commonwealth countries is down even more. I hope that we shall hear that this figure is picking up in the second part of the year.

The Prime Minister referred to technical assistance, and we welcome very much what he said about education. Useful work is being done in a limited direction. But, in total, we are playing with it. Let me tell the right hon. Gentleman what we need. A full-scale Ministry of Overseas Development, under a Minister of Cabinet rank, to take over all responsibility for all Commonwealth and other overseas development to assist and co-operate with voluntary effort in this country—War on want, Oxfam, Freedom from Hunger, and the rest—and to take responsibility for our representation on the U.N. specialised agencies—F.A.O., W.H.O., and the rest—instead of leaving them as spare-time departments for the Ministeries of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Education and Health.

One of the jobs of this Ministry should be to mobilise the unused capacity of this country. What about railway workshops? Would not it make sense to make use of one or two that we are closing down? Many of the older workers are not being reabsorbed in expanding industry. They are going on the dole. Knowing that so many overseas countries are facing a big bottleneck over transport equipment, would not it make sense to turn over one or two of these railway workshops and one or two of the redundant Royal Ordnance factories to this sort of job?

Besides aid in money, what about aid in kind? Would it not be a good idea to work out a few development schemes in which we signed an agreement to supply to these countries 100,000 tons of ingot steel every year in addition to what we are doing for them in finance?

Then, what about scientific research? I hope that particularly as a result of our new university programme we shall find a lot more of our research effort going into the kind of developmental equipment which is designed to help world development. I wonder how many research contracts with universities, colleges of advanced technology, private and public, the Minister for Science has placed for the specific purpose of developing new products of special relevance to food production and the needs of developing countries. We shall not speed the development of hungry countries with the overspill of the affluent society. We may in this country develop a wonderful system of colour television and win export markets for it in advanced countries. Fine, we need those exports, but we need research, also, on all the tools of development which our highly sophisticated civilisation has left behind.

I wonder when research was last done on some of the more primitive instruments used in agriculture. Why should not some of our new universities and colleges of advanced technology, in particular, be encouraged to do some of this research and their agricultural departments stimulated into vital life-giving work on plant-breeding, seed-cropping, soil science ecology, and the rest, to raise agricultural productivity? I hope that we shall hear more about that tonight.

The Prime Minister referred to the export of capital and gave some figures. Of course, he did not say for what purposes some of that capital was going. A considerable part of the figures related to oil investment. He is right to say that how much we send abroad depends on the balance of payments position—which at the moment is deteriorating—and on our economic strength, but what we export in the way of investment in the Commonwealth should be more purposefully channelled than it is today. There is trouble in Tanganyika. The Prime Minister has been talking to America about it. I remember crossing swords with the then Chancellor of the Exchequer four years ago about the miserably inadequate aid we were then proposing to send to Tanganyika.

I remember drawing attention to the fact that we seemed to have plenty of capital in this country for property speculation in Manhattan. Some of it has proved singularly unsuccessful and costly to this country, but, successful or not, I was not myself under the impression that the United States was a capital-hungry country, and whatever words one chooses to describe Manhattan one cannot call it an under-developed area. I suggest that we shall not get this purposeful channelling of aid where it is needed in the Commonwealth unless we have much more purposeful control of our overseas investment including—I am not burking the phrase—controls on the export of British capital which we can ill spare for the purposes of speculation in the United States of America.

The Prime Minister referred to troop movements in East Africa. Of course, in relation to what has happened there we have fully supported the decision to take up this restrospective "white man's burden". We fully echo the tributes to the forces who have fulfilled their task with admirable efficiency and restraint, but our decision to supply their needs has extended still further the stretched resources of our manpower. We had to send troops to four additional Commonwealth countries which none of us even mentioned as possibly requiring to have troops sent to them when we had the defence debate only three weeks ago. If the Prime Minister will permit what I am sure he thinks is an indelicate observation, in Borneo, Cyprus and the East African countries we have seen the total irrelevance of the Government's obsession with the thermo-nuclear question. At least it is not totally irrelevant save in one sense—that our expenditure on it has sharply diminished our strength in conventional resources.

The Prime Minister said that there is little purpose in going today into questions of Commonwealth machinery, and I agree. The Leader of the House, in his brief period on his ex-Ministerial Elba, had some bright thoughts about a Commonwealth Development Council such as we had in mind in the first of our 10 points. We welcomed what he said, but it is a pity that it seems to have been lost sight of. Frankly, in Commonwealth affairs it is the will and purpose that matter much more than the machinery, and in our view it is the will and purpose that have been lacking.

We are appalled at the fact that we have not had the Commonwealth Prime Ministers' conference for three years. In saying that I am trying to forget the disastrous gathering in September, 1962, which came near to breaking up the entire Commonwealth relationship. Whatever good had come from all the previous conferences—and I have attended a number and the right hon. Gentleman has attended more—was just about dissipated at that one.

Last November we suggested in the debate on the Address that a Commonwealth Prime Ministers' conference should be held quickly and that one of its purposes should be a Commonwealth discussion of Southern Rhodesia. Even the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations flirted with the idea, and no one would ever accuse him of being obsessional about the Commonwealth. I suspect that last week, when the Prime Minister met Mr. Winston Field, he was wishing that he had taken our advice and made this a Commonwealth responsibility. I know that when I met Mr. Field that thought was uppermost in my mind.

I have one other suggestion which the House might consider—it is for the House, not for the Government or the Opposition Front Bench. The right hon. Gentleman rightly paid tribute to the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. I wonder whether we could apply all this and go further. We have had many years' valuable experience of the Council of Europe. Could we not do as much for the Commonwealth idea as Strasbourg has done for the European idea if we were to discuss with our partners in the Commonwealth the idea of a Commonwealth Consultative Assembly, leading to a full Council of the Commonwealth?

Finally, I turn to the relations between the Commonwealth and Common Market in future. The House knows where we stand on this question. It was set out in many debates. It was set out unforgettably in that last speech by Hugh Gaitskell, at Brighton. It was set out in our conference statement and carried by our conference with an overwhelming majority. We said then, and we say now, that we are prepared to resume negotiations for entry into the Common Market if, and only if, we can get the five conditions we then laid down. That position stands.

I repeat, as we said—and supported our statements with our votes in the Lobby—in the debate on 7th and 8th November, 1962, that the package deal which the I resident of the Board of Trade, who was then Lord Privy Seal, was in process of completing, did not, in our view, fulfil those five conditions, particularly the one relating to the Commonwealth, when we insisted on Strong and binding safeguards for the trade and other interests of our friends and partners in the Commonwealth.

Mr. Ridley


Hon. Members

Sit down.

Mr. Wilson

We have stated very clearly where we stand and with a little patience I hope to state even more clearly where we stand on this matter.

What we should like is a statement of equal frankness from the Government. I will gladly give way to the Prime Minister if he will answer the question I shall put. I stress particularly that the development since the breakdown of the Common Market talks on the Common Market agricultural policy, with its penal import levies on imports from third countries, including the Commonwealth, reinforces all the anxieties we expressed in the debate of 7th and 8th November, 1962, and the debate of 13th December of the same year.

Now I come to the remarkable performance of the Prime Minister on this question. First, we had the singular wording of the Prorogation speech: My Government deeply regretted the interruption of the negotiations for the accession of the United Kingdom to the Treaties of paris and Rome."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 24th October, 1963; Vol. 682, c. 978.] The word "interruption" suggested to some people that not only did the Government deeply regret what had happened, but that they were looking forward to a resumption at the earliest possible moment of negotiations, presumably on the same basis as before.

On 26th October, speaking in Wales, I invited the Prime Minister to say clearly whether he would insist on our five safeguards as a condition for further negotiations about entry. So good were the communications between Pwllheli and Kinross that the Prime Minister answered this challenge the same evening. I was grateful to him. I felt that his elegantly worded reply was certainly in the very highest tradition of British pantomime. I will read it now and see whether the House does not agree with me. He said this: The Common Market opens up an enormous single market on our doorstep. And it is in the interests of our progressive industry and our farmers that we should be a part of this market. But we should only go in if the political and economic terms are suitable. When we applied for entry the terms were not suitable and we stayed out. I do not know if circumstances will arise in which we can open the question again, but if we do we shall still demand the right terms for our entry. The report goes on in this way: Sir Alec added with a smile: 'If Mr. Wilson's questions are so easy as that I am going to send him a telegram and ask him to come round the by-election meetings with me.' It is a pity he did not.

That was his view of what happened in Brussels— the terms were not suitable and we stayed out. Is that what he really thinks? He was Foreign Secretary at the time. Did not they tell him anything, either? Did not they tell him about General de Gaulle? I had better explain to him. It was not the Government who said "No" at Brussels. We were all ready to say "Yes", falling over ourselves, apparently, to say "Yes".

The Prime Minister's account is totally different from that of his right hon. Friend's, because the then Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan)), on 11th February, during the inquest into the Brussels breakdown, said this: The negotiations did not break down, as they might have done, on a long-drawn-out series of detailed bargains. If the European vision has been obscured it has not been by a minor obstruction on one side or the other. It was brought to an end by a dramatic, if somewhat brutal, stroke of policy. As I said in my broadcast the next day, the end did not come because the discussions were menaced with failure. On the contrary, it was because they threatened to succeed."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th February, 1963; Vol. 671, c. 954.] That was the statement of the then Prime Minister.

The then Lord Privy Seal, now President of the Board of Trade and Secretary of State for heaven knows what, said this on 12th February: The Prime Minister said yesterday, and I said in Brussels, that we were on the point of reaching a conclusion to the negotiations … with the intervention of the French Foreign Minister, we came to the end of these negotiations."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th February, 1963; Vol. 671, cc. 1145–46.] I think that that was a pretty fair account of what happened. The Lord Privy Seal was there and he got it about right, but nobody thought of telling the then Foreign Secretary. No; in the dream world that he was living in— the terms were not suitable and we stayed out, I will say this. A few days later the right hon. Gentleman had another go at it and evolved a form of words to which he stuck right through his by-election. I think that he said this seven times, which shows very considerable consistency: There is no question of getting into the Common Market before there is a General Election. He said—[Laughter]. No, that is really not fair, because he said something more: If the possibility ever occurred in the future it would be for Parliament to decide whether we entered or not. All right. We accept that it is not likely to come up in this Parliament. But suppose that by a ghastly mischance he and his right hon. Friends get back at the next General Election. I want to ask him this, and to ask him this does not imply that I think that he will get back. It does not imply any morbid preoccupations on my part. The Prime Minister spends half his time going round the country asking me what we are going to do if we win. I am not aware that he regards these questions as conceding the election. Of course, he has not conceded it yet. However, he does get some very full answers from me. The last two questions he put to me got speeches to a total length of 130 minutes at Swansea, for which I apologise.

Now it is my turn. The Prime Minister's answer was that it is a matter for Parliament. What does he propose—a free vote? Is that his idea, that if we get a Conservative Government the decision whether to enter will be taken on a free vote with the Whips off? They were not prepared to do that in 1962. Why, even delegates to their party conference had their arms twisted by a battery of prominent Ministers on the Llandudno Promenade. I read dramatic accounts of it the next day.

I think that we should point out to the right hon. Gentleman that it is usual—he himself may regret it—nowadays, in matters of national importance, for the Government of the day to give a lead to Parliament on these questions and not leave them all to a free vote. Indeed, I may tell him that it is not unknown for the Patronage Secretary to go to work, for three-line Whips to be issued, and all that sort of thing. Are the Government proposing a free vote on resale price maintenance? Of course not. The Whips will be at work.

So the right hon. Gentleman's answer in Kinross was a complete equivocation. That is why at Birmingham, on 20th January, I gave him another chance to justify his poster-claim of straight talk. I had a reason for doing this at Birmingham on 20th January, because that day, in the Sunday Telegraph, I had read these words, written by its diplomatic correspondent: Sir Alec Douglas-Home assured Dr. Erhard, the West German Chancellor, in London last week that if the Conservatives win this year's elections his Government would immediately resume its efforts to 'go into Europe'. That was what the Sunday Telegraph said.

The following Friday the Daily Telegraph said this: Mr. Butler, Foreign Secretary, yesterday gave Ministers of the six Common Market countries a strongly worded reminder that Britain is determined to join the Common Market and to take an active part in discussions on a European political union. I personally regard the Sunday Telegraph and the Daily Telegraph as respectable newspapers—on the news side, anyway. They do not, like some evening newspapers I could think of, dress up some phantasm of one of their political writers and state categorically that a thing has happened, or that something has been decided, when, in fact, it has not. If the Sunday Telegraph says that the Prime Minister said something to Dr. Erhard, or if the Daily Telegraph says that the Foreign Secretary said something at W.E.U., I believe that they honestly believe it to be true and have substantial grounds for saying it.

So, now, can the House of Commons be told the facts on these things? We had the extraordinary circumstances of the Foreign Secretary at Question Time the other day Many hon. Members, and at least two leading newspapers, got the idea that he said that there was no question of going into the Common Market. We are used to the Foreign Secretary's statements being interpreted by two different people in two different ways, but not to people hearing them in two different ways. It is extraordinary to see the different recordings of the speech one got in different newspapers. However, we checked in HANSARD and found that no bones had been broken. All he said was that no question had arisen of our going into Europe.

There is a great deal of confusion about where the Government stand on this matter. The right hon. Gentleman, plainly, has evaded every question put to him on this, but he cannot go on evading it.

Mr. Ridley


Mr. Wilson

The Prime Minister does not need the hon. Gentleman's protection. He is quite capable of rising and giving us an answer himself. I will gladly give way when he does.

Conscious that perhaps no one has yet told him what my question was, I will repeat it now, across the Table, "Will he give a pledge that no Government of which he is the head will consider entry into the Common Market on any terms which would reduce Britain's existing freedom to trade with the Commonwealth?"

On behalf of my party, I give that pledge. I put that question to the right hon. Gentleman. The House, and, I believe, the country, will expect an answer.

5.41 p.m.

Sir Derek Walker-Smith (Hertfordshire, East)

I welcome this debate on the Commonwealth and the opportunity to make a contribution to it. I am glad that the debate has taken place on the Motion of the Government and that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, by moving the Motion himself, has testified, early in his term of office, his interest and belief in the Commonwealth.

I wish to begin by making four general propositions which, in my view, constitute the background against which we must assess the practicability of constructive and effective proposals for Commonwealth co-operation.

First, the Commonwealth can make a contribution to the contemporary world far greater than the mere measure of its material resources. Secondly, the capacity and strength of the Commonwealth is nevertheless considerably conditioned by the range and vitality of its economic co-operation. It follows, at all times, that there is, thirdly, a continuing need to review, revise and invigorate Commonwealth co-operation, and, in particular, economic co-operation. That is particularly so in the aftermath of the Common Market negotiations. Fourthly, to do that successfully depends in large degree on the exercise of British initiative.

History, tradition, custom and circumstance have joined to make it so; and, compared with other Commonwealth countries, this country has consequently a special opportunity—matched, of course, by a heightened responsibility. This last proposition is not, perhaps, a very easy one for citizens of this country to make. So I prefer to put it forward in the words of a great Australian statesman.

This is what Lord Casey said in his recent book, The Future of the Commonwealth: Any effort to create greater Commonwealth cohesion has, therefore, to come from Britain in the first place. If Britain does not take the initiative no other Commonwealth country will; but if she does and if she vigorously seeks the co-operation of other Commonwealth countries I believe it will be forthcoming. The British Government should overcome any hesitancy about taking the initiative, following the end of the Common Market negotiations. It was possible to argue at that time that the importance of the Commonwealth connection was diminished by the prospect of an equal and active participation in the European Economic Community. As the House knows, I never took that view, but I have at all times respected the sincerity of advocates of entry into the Common Market, from whichever side of the House they came.

I have no desire to exhume that controversy, because in present circumstances it does not arise. The circumstances are different; and it could not be properly or plausibly argued today that it could conceivably promote the interest or dignity of this country to loiter in the outer courtyards of the Common Market, awaiting an invitation that may never come, rather than press on vigorously in quest of enhanced Commonwealth co-operation.

The choice today is not between Commonwealth and Common Market, but between Commonwealth and a decline in the prestige, prosperity and power of the British people. I hold it to be axiomatic, therefore, that there is now an urgent and imperative need to take steps to achieve closer Commonwealth co-operation, primarily but by no means solely in the economic sphere.

As I said in the debate after the end of the Common Market negotiations—about this time last year—the main formal links of Commonwealth co-operation are necessarily economic. Strengthen these and we strengthen the whole. Strengthen these and we strengthen the great purposes we seek to serve. There is clear scope for expansion of Commonwealth trade. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition referred to the tribal mythology of the doctrine of the inevitable decline in Commonwealth trade. With respect to him, it was a view which I have heard and contested from various quarters during the course of a controversy which, he well knows, cut across party frontiers.

It is true that in the last decade or so the terms of trade have run obstinately against primary products and it is a fact that the Commonwealth countries are mainly primary producers. Despite these circumstances, the Commonwealth remains our best customer and, apart from sentimental and traditional aspects, the Commonwealth countries have economies most naturally complementary to ours.

We have today this position. There has been an advancing Commonwealth trade as a whole, with a considerable potential for expansion; but that does not give us in this country any inherent right or sure expectation of securing our full share in the growth of the whole. It is achieving that which constitutes a challenge to us—a challenge to British industry and statesmanship alike. We can see the trend and, perhaps, take encouragement from the fact that such trends are by no means irreversible.

In the 'twenties our Commonwealth trade declined considerably and the position was sharply reversed by the initiative of the Ottawa Agreements. Today, we need much more than a revision of preferential arrangements, important though they may be. We need a whole complex of action to strengthen our position at every point. I have been giving consideration to this matter for some time and, with my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker), we published our proposals two years ago in A Call to the Commonwealth. It was not a very fashionable thing to do at that time, because many people took the view that by 1963 we would be in the Common Market and that there would be consequential inhibitions on further Commonwealth co-operation.

Time has somewhat changed that and proposals have come in from various quarters. They are not all identical in detail or emphasis, but they do have a broad common denominator. I welcome this because there is, or should be, no copyright in constructive proposals and no jealous pride of authorship. The aim of these proposals is the same; to stimulate thought and discussion on these important matters, and to suggest action to those in a position to take it.

The proposals put forward by my hon. Friend and myself fall into three main categories: first, the review and revision of our trade and tariff agreements to bring them up to date; secondly, the central core of our proposals in the economic field, research and trade promotion on a Commonwealth basis for the expans on of markets and investment; thirdly, proposals which, while having economic implications, are primarily social in their connotation.

On the first of those matters, I propose to say nothing today, not because I do not think that it is important, but because I addressed myself to it in the debate last February, and again on 26th April, and my hon. Friend the Member for Wembley, South (Sir R. Russell), who speaks on this subject with much more expertise than I could claim, has also spoken on it in the debate on the Address.

I want to come to the central core of our economic proposals. If we want co-operation and co-ordination, I think that we must have better Commonwealth machinery for doing it. Purpose and good will, on which the right hon. Gentleman relies, are very good, but machinery is also necessary. We cannot, of course, in the looser structure of the Commonwealth—the less institutionalised structure—quite duplicate the work done by the Commission in the European Economic Community; but we certainly need an organisation that is executive as well as merely consultative.

We took the view that the existing Consultative Council should be an executive body, and thereby give substance to its present somewhat shadowy existence. In doing that, we had in mind that there are various important functions that could be performed under its aegis—market research on a country and commodities basis, with the possibility of a Commonwealth Marketing Board—action in regard to price stabilisation and the appropriate disposal of surpluses; investigation and correlation of energy and fuel requirements; research into investment and economic growth; a raw materials survey on the lines of the Paley Report in the United States; measures for the encouragement and protection of capital investment and, in particular, a Commonwealth agreement on the treatment of capital, with a Commonwealth Capital Guarantee Department to do in that field what the E.C.G.D. does for exports.

That is not, of course, an exhaustive list. There is the possibility of a Commonwealth Payments Union, and a whole range of actions we can take in this country, independently of Commonwealth participation, such as the setting up of a Commonwealth Exports Council to help promote exports to the Commonwealth from this country. I submit that all this needs effective machinery—whatever name it has—effective staff, defined functions and a high and determined sense of purpose.

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said that we must await enthusiasm from the Commonwealth. I think that we in this country, following what Lord Casey has said, must try to generate that enthusiasm in the Commonwealth. It is no good our waiting for the Commonwealth countries, because they are waiting for us; otherwise, we get into the ludicrous position of the Earl of Chatham and Sir Richard Strachan: Great Chatham with his sabre drawn Stood waiting for Sir Richard Strachan, Sir Richard, longing to be at 'em, Stood waiting for the Earl of Chatham. We have to take the initiative, and we must get out of the way of thinking that the initial disagreement of any one Commonwealth country on any constructive proposal is the end of the matter. We have to see what we think should be done, take the initiative, as Lord Casey has said, and bring to the matter all the persuasion, advocacy, and tenacity of purpose we can command.

I should like now to refer to the third category of our proposals—the social aspect the other links, as my right hon. Friend has called them. We proposed the possibility of a Commonwealth Employment Bureau, a Commonwealth Population Board, a Commonwealth technical training scheme, Commonwealth studies in management and business and, last but not least, the possibility of a Commonwealth university system on a regional basis—a project that is also endorsed by the high authority of Lord Casey.

I want to add only two further points at this stage. First, the Commonwealth is noted for its diversity—the diversity of race and culture which is one of its strengths and one of its virtues. But the diversity is not confined to that. There is also a great disparity of income and resources, and that is a virtue in a more qualified sense because it reflects the conditions of the world as they are today and shows the possibility of harmonious co-operation between rich and poor, developed and undeveloped.

But it is, of course, only a virtue in so far as efforts are being made to narrow the margin and bring the two sections together. Therefore, in A Call to the Commonwealth, we wrote these words: In the 19th century Disraeli warned the country of the danger involved in the existence of two nations, one rich and one poor. He advocated and introduced a policy of social reform to alleviate the dangers of a divided nation. In the conditions of today, with the world living ever closer together, there may be danger involved in the existence of two Commonwealths, one rich and one poor, and we advocate a policy of Commonwealth social reform to eliminate the dangers of a divided Commonwealth. That, again, requires a British initiative and effort, and it requires, perhaps, sacrifice by the richer and more developed nations.

That brings me to my second point on this aspect. If people are to make that effort and sacrifice, they must be convinced that it is in a fully worthy cause. They must be convinced that it is serving an ideal in which they believe. The diversity to which I have referred is only one characteristic of the Commonwealth; the other necessary characteristic is unity. The diversity of race and culture with the unity of constitutional belief and practice—that is what will enable the Commonwealth to give an example to the world of an association of independent nations, diverse and multiracial, all practising the great principles of parliamentary democracy and the rule of law.

We tend to take these things for granted in the Commonwealth; but they are not automatic, and effort is needed to keep them. I have referred to Parliamentary democracy and the rule of law—Dicey's two great pillars of the Constitution. Logically, however, I should perhaps put them in the other order, because, although you may have the form of Parliamentary democracy, without the rule of law you cannot have its reality. Genuine Parliamentary democracy is based on the rule of law, and we in this country, with our long traditions, have a great responsibility to do all we can to ensure the strengthening and survival of these two great principles in the Commonwealth.

We should ask ourselves whether we are doing all that we can. To take one example that I have previously commended to the House, are we doing all we can to promote the possibility of a Commonwealth Court of Appeal? The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, to which my right hon. Friend referred, has done, and continues to do, work of great value, but there has been a substantial secession from it. Canada, India, Pakistan, Ghana, Cyprus have all seceded from the jurisdiction of the Judicial Committee, and Tanganyika is to go this year.

I do not think that we can hope to re-attract them back on the basis of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council as it stands. It is too narrow a base. We would have to broaden the base and widen the range of membership; and we have very fine judges in the Commonwealth, trained in the discipline and the principles of the English law. The Court would no doubt need some form of a circuit system. I do not want to go into details. I know that there are difficulties, but this is no narrow matter, merely for lawyers, no arid or academic thing. It is a way of providing a great guarantor of the rule of law and an outward and visible sign of its universal and unifying acceptance within the Commonwealth.

I have used my speech to put forward economic and social proposals, most of which I have elaborated in more detail elsewhere. We are to have, I suppose, a Division tonight. I fear that my speech has been sadly deficient in party polemics, for which, I suppose, I ought to apologise, especially in this election year. But I have never been able to regard these matters of Commonwealth policy and co-operation as falling naturally into the field of party controversy and conflict. I believe, rather, that they are part of the mission of the British people as a whole, a clear duty and a great opportunity. I cordially welcome the fact that my right hon. Friends acknowledge that duty and recognise that opportunity and I devoutly hope that their endeavours will match the greatness of the theme.

6.2 p.m.

Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)

I have a feeling that the enthusiasm with which his party greeted the closing passages of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition was not primarily due to the notable debating qualities of that speech, but was enthusiasm for the statement—because it was a statement—that under no conceivable circumstances would we negotiate again to go into Europe.

I cannot but find it sad, and I find it also alarming, that a potential alternative Government should be blind to what is happening just across the Channel and should again and again seem to stress, possibly unintentionally, though I doubt it, a tinge of anti-Europeanism. [HON. MEMBERS: 'NO."] Hon. Members say "No." I am very glad to hear it, but this is undoubtedly the impression given, and given, I may say—

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