HC Deb 21 March 1967 vol 743 cc1442-3
Q7. Mr. Ridley

asked the Prime Minister if he will make a statement on Her Majesty's Government's policy with regard to a possible North Atlantic Free Trade Area.

The Prime Minister

I have nothing to add to what my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary said in the debate on the European Economic Community on 16th November, 1966.—[Vol. 736, c. 446.]

Mr. Ridley

Would not the Prime Minister agree that even if we do not succeed in entering the Common Market—and the majority of us hope that we shall succeed—a North Atlantic Free Trade Association is not a conceivable alternative solution to the major problems which this country faces?

The Prime Minister

As my right hon. Friend said in the House, having reviewed the various alternatives, we certainly feel that, on the right terms and given the right terms, entry into the Common Market would be most advantageous for this country—that is, given the right terms. We cannot guarantee that we will get the right terms, and it would be prudent on this occasion, unlike the last occasion, to have in mind what the alternatives should be if we cannot get entry on the right terms.

Mr. Heffer

Is it not clear to my right hon. Friend that if we do not get into the E.E.C., then to agree to such a North Atlantic Free Trade Area would, in effect, lead us into an even more subservient position to the United States, and that that should not be our position?

The Prime Minister

I do not think that my hon. Friend should go to extremes on this question. I have said that, if we can get the right terms, I believe that entry into the Common Market is by far the most advantageous for this country—but, of course, one of the problems about a proposed North Atlantic Free Trade Area is that it is not in any sense in being and might never be in being. It is, to some extent, a visionary concept at this time. The E.E.C., on the other hand, is a reality. As for my hon. Friend's question, I cannot go as far as he did and talk about subservience, either in one area or the other.

Mr. Walters

As the Prime Minister, at the end of every visit he has made to Common Market countries, has made very optimistic statements about the success of those visits, what is actually preventing him from making an application now?

The Prime Minister

The hon. Gentleman could not have heard the exchange a few minutes ago. I did not make any optimistic statements about the success of the visits. I said that they had all been very helpful and encouraging in terms of the vast amount of information that we had been able to get. If there was success, it was in narrowing down the difficulties involved in safeguarding British and Commonwealth interests to three or four main issues. However, the difficulties are still formidable and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would want the Government to take time to evaluate them before coming to a decision.