HC Deb 24 February 1969 vol 778 cc1088-107

3.45 p.m.

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Michael Stewart)

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, I should like to make a statement.

During a conversation which General de Gaulle had with Her Majesty's Ambassador in Paris on 4th February, General de Gaulle outlined his ideas for the future organisation of Europe. He said that he would welcome talks between Britain and France and that he would like Her Majesty's Government to suggest that such talks should take place.

On 6th February Her Majesty's Ambassador in Paris gave a copy of the record which he had made of this conversation to a member of General de Gaulle's staff. He was told on 8th February by the French Foreign Minister that General de Gaulle had seen the account and that there was nothing in it with which he disagreed.

Her Majesty's Ambassador told the French Government on 12th February that we were prepared to have discussions with them. I have today reiterated that readiness in a communication to the French Foreign Minister.

But General de Gaulle made clear to our Ambassador that he wanted to see a Europe completely independent of the United States, which would result in the disappearance of N.A.T.O. as we know it; and that he would like to see the European Communities changed into a looser form of free trade area with arrangements by each country to exchange agricultural produce, and a small inner council of a European political association consisting of France, Britain, Germany and Italy.

This view on N.A.T.O. runs counter to the declared policy of Her Majesty's Government.

As to any changes in the European Communities, this is clearly a matter which affects all the members of those Communities and those countries which wish to join them. Her Majesty's Government's policy is to seek membership of the Communities. If the French Government believe that there is another and better way to achieve European unity, they will have to convince not only us but the other countries concerned.

Since these ideas affect the vital interests of other European countries who are our allies, a proposal for talks of this kind should not and could not remain a secret between Britain and France. We felt it right to tell our other allies in Western European Union what was proposed. These are major problems which cannot be settled between Britain and France alone.

We therefore made it clear in our reply to the French Government that we rejected their views on N.A.T.O. and maintained our position on entry into the European Economic Community. It was on these understandings that we were prepared to have discussions with them provided that our partners were fully in the picture.

The first public versions of this conversation appeared in the press in Paris, in Figaro and France-Soir, on Friday morning. We therefore corrected these accounts.

I deeply regret the differences which persist between France and her European allies. We are ready at any time to talk to the French Government, provided that they understand where we stand on the essentials of security and European unity. But none of us can accept a position in which France tries to put a veto on all progress in Europe. And none of us can accept that issues of this magnitude, affecting the future of our allies, can be settled without them.

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

I think that the Foreign Secretary will be glad that he had this opportunity to make this statement this afternoon, because, as everyone knows, there has been a lot of trouble over the weekend and it has not finished yet. May I therefore ask him some questions, questions of fact which were not quite covered by his statement, as that is necessary for a fair judgment of these events?

First, was there or was there not an understanding with the French Government that the talks between the British Ambassador and the French President should be confidential to each Government?

The second question is: what was shown to either Government? Was it the Ambassador's record of the conversation, or was it a version edited, of course, by the Foreign Office and approved by the Foreign Secretary? If, as seems probable, the document disclosed just another incursion into the future of N.A.T.O. and Europe which many of us have heard many times from the General, what was the reason for the urgent and precipitate action that was taken? Could there not have been better timing?

Finally, if there was something new and important in this document and in the General's ideas, was it not possible to pursue these matters by much more carefully planned diplomatic moves involving the British, French and Allied Governments in due course, when something of substance to discuss actually arose?

Mr. Stewart

On the first point, it was, of course, understood between the French Government and ourselves that these conversations were confidential from the public at large, but we never entered into, nor would we have thought it right to enter into, any undertaking to conceal from our allies and partners in Europe—to whom we have recently pledged ourselves in Luxembourg to consult about matters of concern—to conceal these things from them, whose interests were so vitally concerned. What was conveyed to them was not the Ambassador's full record of the conversation, but it was in no sense misleading or a distortion——

Mr. Hugh Fraser

Says you !

Mr. Stewart

The right hon. Gentleman has a habit of making allegations in the House for which he knows he has no support at all in the facts. What I have said is, in fact, what occurred.

Thirdly, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Sir Alec Douglas-Home) suggested—I hope I report him correctly—that substantially there was nothing very new in what was proposed and could we not, therefore, have handled this less precipitately? It is true that General de Gaulle's remarks reflected some views which he had expressed before, but the preference for the disappearance of the European Communities, the mention of the inner political council and the suggestion that Her Majesty's Government should propose talks on this basis, was new. I know that it has been suggested elsewhere that there was nothing new. At the same time, it has been suggested that it was somehow a breach of confidence to discuss it. Of course, those two propositions are not mutually compatible. Part of it was familiar, but the parts which I have just mentioned were at the very least a new and importantly new emphasis.

As to what the right hon. Gentleman referred to as precipitate action, he will remember that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was at this period in conversation with Dr. Kiesinger in Germany. I think that it would have been entirely improper to have allowed those conversations with Dr. Kiesinger to conclude without Dr. Kiesinger being made aware of what had happened.

Sir G. de Freitas

In view of what my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary said, will he continue to try to use W.E.U. for multilateral political discussions, since it is obviously in the present climate most undesirable that there should be discussions between any two members of W.E.U. which concern the others? Will he say whether, in view of the newspaper attacks in France on our Ambassador, he supports him in what he did?

Mr. Stewart

I know that there have been attacks in France on the competence, skill and even the candour of our Ambassador. I want to make perfectly clear that there is no support whatever for those criticisms and that Her Majesty's Government are fully satisfied with the way in which he handled this matter.

As to Western European Union, it is certainly our view that the revised Brussels Treaty, which governs Western European Union, should mean what it says; that one of the purposes of that organisation is the increasing integration of Europe. That means steady concentration on matters of foreign policy by all the members of Western European Union. That is what we have sought to achieve. The fact that France has been absent from some of those discussions is her decision alone and it is regretted by every other member of the organisation.

Mr. Sandys

I understand that the French Government have delivered a formal protest today. Could the Foreign Secretary say precisely what that protest is about? Is it that they are complaining that the British Government reported this conversation to other European Governments, or that they have given confidential information to the Press? Will the Foreign Secretary also say whether the W.E.U. meeting scheduled for next Wednesday is going ahead?

Mr. Stewart

I cannot answer the second question off hand. The substance of the Note, which has only very recently been received, is an objection to our informing other Governments of this matter.

Mr. Wyatt

Is the Foreign Secretary aware that millions of people on the Continent and in this country are delighted that he is now at last explaining to the General in courteous but firm tones that he is not the emperor of Europe? Will my right hon. Friend please continue his excellent constructive policy in W.E.U. and elsewhere as opposed to the General's arid nihilism and offer to Europe a way forward instead of a way backward?

Mr. Stewart

I am obliged to my hon. Friend. I believe that what we are trying to do in Western European Union is the right policy both for this country and Europe while we are still unable to enter the European Economic Community.

As to our relations with France and the form in which our differences are expressed, I think that it must be clear to everyone that there are serious differences of policy between our two Governments which no amount of skill or patience could gloss over, nor would it be right to pretend that those differences do not exist when they do. But I shall endeavour so to conduct affairs that the differences between us are no more than are warranted by the sheer facts of the situation and are not unnecessarily exacerbated.

I repeat that I have reiterated to the French Foreign Minister our willingness to enter into talks with them.

Mr. Thorpe

Is the Foreign Secretary aware that in view of the grave damage which could be caused to our national interests by the disclosure of inaccurate reports emanating from France of what happened on 4th February, the Government had no alternative but to take their allies fully into their confidence on the basis that one does not make new friends by selling old ones?

Taking his last remarks, would the Foreign Secretary agree that the lesson of the attitude of the past few weeks, which has been comparable to our own bloody-mindedness in the 'fifties, is that those who want to get on with reunification of Europe must do so and leave old men or middle-aged men to become converted to a more enlightened view?

Mr. Stewart

I am obliged. The right hon. Gentleman will not want me to pursue the second part of his question.

The first part was related to W.E.U. I say again that we must go ahead on these lines. While we are unable to enter the E.E.C. it is important that that Community should not be regarded as the only possible focus in Europe in which there can be any discussion about anything. That is the importance of using W.E.U. for this purpose and with this we shall resolutely persist.

Mr. Shinwell

Does my right hon. Friend realise the essential distinction between the defence of Europe against possible aggression—namely, military security—and the British application to enter the Common Market? These are two distinct issues. Is he further aware that many of us are delighted that the veil of secrecy has been lifted about our entry into the Common Market?

There has been far too much whispering going on and too much secret diplomacy, with neither the House of Commons nor the public being informed of what has been going on.

Where do we go from here? Are we still going on with this farce of applying for membership when we know that there are insuperable obstacles—personal, political, economic and otherwise—to prevent that happening?

Mr. Stewart

It is, of course, true that the defence of Europe and our arrangements in N.A.T.O., on the one hand, and this country's application to join the E.E.C., on the other, are two distinct issues. They are obviously related, but they are distinct. It is possible for people to agree on one to disagree on the other. I do not think that I have ever said anything to suggest to the contrary.

But these conversations concerned both matters and we had to make clear, first of all, that we could not sympathise with any proposals that involved the weakening of N.A.T.O. and that, secondly, if the French Government were proposing some very considerable changes in the whole nature of the Economic Communities, whatever one might think about them they were clearly ideas which should be discussed by all those who were concerned.

I cannot accept my right hon. Friend's suggestion that we have concealed what the Government's position is on this matter. We have made it plain over and over again that we persist in our application to join the Communities and that, in the meanwhile, we seek European cooperation in whatever other forms are possible with whoever will work with us to that end. I do not believe that this is farcical. If my right hon. Friend doubts that, I ask him to pay attention to the overwhelming view among the public of all the other countries which are members of the E.E.C.

Mr. Turton

Did the Prime Minister warn President de Gaulle that he was going to disclose his proposals to the German Chancellor before he did so?

Mr. Stewart

I will tell the House exactly what happened. We sent instructions, of course, to all our ambassadors in the countries concerned and, in the case of Germany, since the Prime Minister was there, the information was conveyed by him personally. The information to the French Government that we were doing this occurred after the communication had been made to Dr. Kiesinger but before it was made to some other Governments because, as hon. Members know, the exact hour when a communication is made depends partly upon when appointments can be made.

We handled the matter this way because it would not have been right to put ourselves in the position where we were in any sense appearing to ask permission to inform our allies of something they had a right to know.

Mr. Cronin

Will my right hon. Friend accept the reality of the situation—that there is no hope of useful association between Britain and Western Europe until the difficulties between the British and the French Governments have been resolved? Will he not, therefore, irrespective of the preliminary position of the French Government, continue to pursue, after a suitable cooling-off interval, bilateral discussions? Is there any reason why they should not be confidential provided that the other countries of the E.E.C. and E.F.T.A. are aware that they are taking place?

Mr. Stewart

It would be difficult to think in terms of discussions affecting the future of the European Communities to which the members of those Communities were not a party. I would see great difficulties about a proposition of that kind. But, on the first part of my hon. Friend's question, I would say that we have already made it clear very recently to the French Government that we are willing to enter into talks with them, subject to the conditions I mentioned in my original statement.

I realise very well—I think we all do—that the unity of Europe is bound up with agreement between Britain and France, but I do not believe that we can solve this problem by pretending that differences of view do not exist when, in fact, they do. While that remains, I think that our job is to state our view as patiently and steadily and, I hope, as courteously as we can.

Sir A. V. Harvey

Did the Government inform the United States as a member of N.A.T.O. and, if so, when?

Mr. Stewart

The United States was informed after we had informed our European allies, but, of course, before the matter became public.

Mr. Henig

Since other countries have bilateral talks—France and Germany, for example under the Franco-German Treaty—can my right hon. Friend confirm that it is not the Government's intention that all the other West European countries should have a veto individually on the British Government having talks with the French Government? Are we now saying that Britain is prepared to have talks with the French Government on a bilateral basis with an unconditional agenda?

Mr. Stewart

Our objection was not to having talks, but we felt that there were two points we must make before they occurred. Since the suggestion for talks had been made at the same time as certain views had been expressed about N.A.T.O. and the future of Europe, we felt that we had to make it clear that we did not share these views, so that there should not be any misunderstanding afterwards.

Of course, if it were proposed that we should have bilateral talks with any Government on matters which were genuinely bilateral, there would be no need for wider consultation or information. But the point here was that the subject of the talks was something which affected the security and prosperity of our friends and allies.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

Looking into the future, after all these leaks and blunders, since the Common Market is in agricultural chaos, and since President Nixon wants the Europeans to do more in their own defence, should not the ideas of the British Government and of the French President be urgently discussed?

Mr. Stewart

The hon. Gentleman must make one thing clear first. He said, "leaks and blunders". He was not precise enough to say whether he was accusing Her Majesty's Government of either of these.

Mr. Biggs-Davison


Mr. Stewart

If so, I think that he might have stated more clearly what the nature of his criticism was.

Mr. Biggs-Davison


Mr. Stewart

One moment.

As to leaks, I make it clear that it was only when it was apparent that versions of what had happened were already appearing in French newspapers that we felt it necessary to correct those accounts. As to "blunders"—it would not have been right for us to have accepted the proposal for talks without the conditions which I have already mentioned.

In answer to the third part of the hon. Gentleman's question, I can see that a case can be made on the lines suggested by President de Gaulle about the future of the Communities, but it would have been totally wrong for us to have started discussing that behind the backs of the other members of the Communities.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

On a point of order. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that while these reports certainly appeared in the newspapers, these ideas, as he said, are not new and, indeed, have been discussed in this country——

Mr. Speaker

Order. We cannot have a second argument on this point. I thought that there was some point of misunderstanding which the hon. Member wished to raise.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

If the right hon. Gentleman wants it, yes, I do accuse Her Majesty's Government of making a leak without giving fair warning to the French.

Mr. Stewart

I must say that is rather a feeble tail piece to the original rather general statement.

I must say again to the House that this proposal was made to us—a proposal which, if we had not promptly consulted our allies, might afterwards have been used with great disadvantage to our relations with them—at a time when my right hon. Friend was engaged in conversations with Germany. I do not believe that we ought to have acted in any other way than the way we did act.

As to the accusation about leaks, I repeat that not until inaccurate versions were appearing in the French papers did we put out the correct version. If the hon. Gentleman thinks that that was a wrong thing to do, I do not think that he will find that many people will agree with him.

Mr. Alfred Morris

Can my right hon. Friend confirm or correct an explicit statement in yesterday's Observer that the Netherlands Government were informed of the Foreign Secretary's proposal two days before Dr. Kiesinger was informed? When was this information conveyed to Dr. Luns? Were the Netherlands Government informed of this before our E.F.T.A. partners?

Mr. Stewart

If the Netherlands Government were informed at that early date, it was certainly not by us. If the report is true, it was certainly not by us and I cannot tell the hon. Member from what source they could have obtained such information if, indeed, they did obtain it.

Mr. Hugh Fraser

Would the right hon. Gentleman arrange for a fairly short debate in the immediate future on the conduct of the Foreign Secretary in these matters? Is he aware that if he is not prepared to discuss these proposals with the French Government, the House would like to discuss them here?

Mr. Stewart

That is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. If there ever is a debate on these matters I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will produce, if he can, some evidence for the grossly offensive and untrue statement that he made earlier.

Mr. Anderson

Accepting that my right hon. Friend has acted with complete propriety in this matter, if the dispute is about the contents of the conversations, will he say whether or not it would be right for him to suggest to our French allies that they should publish their own version of the conversations?

Mr. Stewart

I do not really think that there will be any serious attempt to maintain the proposition that our Ambassador's account and the account that we gave to our allies was, in fact, incorrect.

Mr. Marten

Could the right hon. Gentleman say, when he first saw these agreed proposals which had been cleared by our Ambassador, whether he recognised that this was a very serious document and whether he got French agreement to it in writing? Secondly, can he say why the Prime Minister was speaking to Dr. Kiesinger about this without President de Gaulle's agreement? We want to know why.

Mr. Stewart

The first part of that question, I think, was answered in my statement. This was not an agreement in writing. May I repeat the relevant part of my statement: Her Majesty's Ambassador gave a copy of the record he had made of this conversation to a member of General de Gaulle's staff. He was told on 8th February by the French Foreign Minister that General de Gaulle had seen the account and that there was nothing in it with which he disagreed. I should have thought that was good enough. I would have hoped so.

I think that I have already answered the second part of the hon. Member's question. We did not think that we ought to put ourselves in the position of asking—or that it should be suggested at all that it was necessary for us to ask—pennission to disclose something that was in our allies' interest.

Mr. Mackintosh

While accepting, as most of us do on this side of the House, the entire propriety of the actions of Her Majesty's Ambassador and of the Government in this matter, may I ask whether it is not the case that the French Foreign Minister has impugned the veracity of this statement of French aims as revealed by the British Government? In this case, is it not better that the authentic document should be published so that we can judge the candour of the French Government in making these proposals although pretending that they did not?

Mr. Stewart

Such a publication would be, as the House realises, an unusual step. As I said in answer to an earlier question, I do not believe that the proposition that our Ambassador made an incorrect record, or that the record we communicated to our allies was incorrect—though that proposition has been thrown out at one stage—would be seriously maintained. If it were seriously challenged, that would be another matter.

Mr. Dodds-Parker

In view of the delicacy of this matter, will the right hon. Gentleman explain why the normal diplomatic procedure was not followed of ensuring the agreement of the French before this was disclosed to other countries?

Mr. Stewart

No, I do not think that we can say that, because proposals were made to us suggesting that we should propose talks on matters vitally affecting our allies' interests. We had to ask ourselves this question: if we had not promptly informed our allies, what version might have reached them and with what damaging effect on our relations with them?

Mr. John Mendelson

Will the Foreign Secretary accept that there will be widespread support in the country for the Government's firm rejection of the proposal to set up a new European military and foreign policy directorate which would involve inevitably the setting up of a third nuclear command to which the Government and the majority of this House are opposed and which would inevitably include Germany as a full partner in the nuclear directorate?

Will the Government, beyond the niceties of diplomacy, accept my firm assurance that there are many hon. Members who will fully support the Government if they go from there to the setting up of a European security conference, instead of having an exclusive alliance based only on Western Europe?

Mr. Stewart

We have already made it clear that this idea—to use the exact words—of an inner political council was not welcome to us, though not necessarily for the reason that my hon. Friend suggests. But, in any case, it was not welcome to us.

As to the possibility of a European security conference, if one looks, I fear, a long way into the future, one might see so fundamental a change in relations between East and West Europe that one might be able to think of alliances being no longer necessary. But that is a totally different question.

Until there is such a fundamental change—I fear that one cannot foresee it at all easily—it seems to me that the alliance which holds together Western Europe and the United States is something that no sensible person ought to want to weaken in any way.

Sir J. Rodgers

Does not the Foreign Secretary agree that it is not true that the only choice for the British Government is to keep quiet about conversations between Her Majesty's Ambassador and the French President or else to reveal them to our allies in Europe? Would he not agree that it was obligatory on him to inform the French of our intention to do so and, since he did not do so, the Prime Minister, in revealing it to Dr. Kiesinger, behaved outrageously?

Mr. Stewart

It looks to me as if the hon. Member is desperately casting round for some way to discredit the behaviour of his own Government. I do not accept this. It is not open to any Government to come to another with proposals to talk with them on matters which could gravely affect the welfare of other countries and bind them in advance not to tell the other countries about it.

Mr. Winnick

Will not the Foreign Secretary agree that the French Government have engaged in some mischief-making at our expense, and will not he also agree that, if the French Government stopped their anti-British policy, there would be a lot to be said for looking seriously at the suggestion of a free trade zone in Western Europe if the French Government meant it seriously, which seems to be very doubtful?

Mr. Stewart

My hon. Friend will forgive me, but I do not want to use words like "mischief-making". I have tried to avoid making speculations about anyone's motives and to concentrate on the fact that there were solid aspects of policy which were the basis of our unfortunate disagreement with the French Government. In so far as it is a disagreement, we must try to keep it a disagreement on real things and not based on accusations, on false motives and the deliberate desire to make mischief.

In reply to the second part of my hon. Friend's question, I said that a number of people have suggested changes in the form of the European Economic Community, and there have been many speculations as to the best form of European economic and political collaboration. We were not saying that there could never be any thought or discussion at all on these matters. We were insisting, however, that it must be together with the others concerned.

Most of the countries in the Euopean Economic Community regard it as an extremely important institution; it is, after all, something solid that exists, by comparison with more vaguely suggested possibilities. Quite rightly, they would not want to see something solid and real, which is important to them, jeopardised unless they knew a great deal more about what was suggested in exchange.

Sir H. Legge-Bourke

Has the Foreign Secretary realised that one of the most extraordinary things about his statement this afternoon has been the omission of any reference to the fact that President Nixon is now touring Europe? Will the Foreign Secretary say whether the visit of the President to Europe was known as being likely to happen before the first contact between General de Gaulle and the British Ambassador in Paris? If not, at what stage was it known that the President was likely to be coming to Europe, and what steps did the Government then take in the light of that?

Mr. Stewart

I should have to check my memory to be certain that I was answering accurately, but to the best of my recollection it would have been known when the first conversation was held that the President intended to visit Europe. I must check that, and if I am wrong I will apologise in advance. But it seems to me that, whether that visit was about to occur or not, we had no choice, in our own interests and in good faith with our allies, to act otherwise than we did.

It has been commented that it is to be regretted that at the time of President Nixon's visit the disagreements that there are in Europe should be so plainly spelt out. I understand that feeling, but we ought to notice that the disagreements, the difficulties over policy, were already there. The President, at the end of his visit, will want to know exactly what the European position is, and not to go away with either an over-pessimistic view or with an impression that serious difficulties do not exist when, in fact, they do.

Mr. Milne

Is my right hon. Friend aware that our membership of E.F.T.A. still represents our strongest foothold in Europe and that, as he himself said, there are more roads towards European unity than membership of E.E.C.? Will he now consider the feasibility of withdrawing our application for membership of E.E.C. and exploring other roads and other methods towards European unity?

Mr. Stewart

No, Sir. I do not think that that would be practicable or sensible. One will never get anywhere in an approach to Euroipe if the moment one finds a difficulty in one place on switches off that and gives up hope. Moreover, we must notice, as I suggested earlier, that the E.E.C. is there as a solid fact, that its members attach great importance to it, and that to give the impression that this could be casually traded for some ideas which have not yet been at all thought out would not encourage confidence in us.

Sir D. Walker-Smith

Would it not be well to take this opportunity, in order to reduce the area of disagreement with France and to assist generally, to indicate that, while Britain could not have any part in the suggestion involving the dissolution or diminution of N.A.T.O., the other suggestion for a revised and less rigidly supra-national structure for the Community would be much more in accord with British need and tradition?

Mr. Stewart

The farthest I can go towards answering that is to ask the right hon. and learned Member to look at the section of my statement where I drew a very definite distinction between our attitude to General de Gaulle's ideas about N.A.T.O. and our attitude to this other proposal.

Mr. Edelman

Will my right hon. Friend continue to discourage the escalation of Anglo-French recriminations, bearing in mind that the only beneficiaries are the enemies of the West?

Mr. Stewart

Yes, Sir. I repeat, we made it clear in our first reply to the French Government that, while we had these important reservations, we were willing to enter into talks with them, and we have repeated that. I repeat that, while it is no good glossing over differences of view, we must always endeavour to do this in a manner that does not add unnecessarily to the difficulties between us.

Mr. Tapsell

Would it not have safeguarded our future relations with our other allies, without at the same time exacerbating those with France, if our reply had been that we found the General's proposals unacceptable as a basis for discussion for the two particular reasons which the right hon. Gentleman has given, while not breaching the General's confidence without his prior consent?

Mr. Stewart

I remind the hon. Member of what I said earlier. We had to bear in mind, having in mind a previous occasion, what the situation might have been if knowledge of this suggestion had reached our allies from sources other than ourselves.

Mr. John Hynd

Does not this show the dangers of a continually divided Western Europe, and does not the Foreign Secretary agree that the only solution to this situation getting worse is the development of a wider Europe with a genuine, integrated, political authority and a genuine European Parliament?

Mr. Stewart

My hon. Friend is carrying us some distance ahead. I believe in the broadest sense that the unity of Western Europe is important, is a goal that we should seek, and that the wider goal of better understanding between East and West will itself be promoted if Western Europe can speak with a more united voice.

Mr. Longden

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that I, for one, accept his version of the events of the last few days and congratulate Her Majesty's Government on their attitude to what I am afraid I can only regard as the latest of many attempts by the French President to do as much damage to his N.A.T.O. allies as he can?

Has not the time long since come when the Western European allies must co-ordinate their defence and foreign policies even if, for the time being it must be without France?

Mr. Stewart

We are endeavouring to seek harmonisation of foreign policy through W.E.U. consultations. As I say, we would very much wish that France would take part in that, but we do not feel that its absence could nullify conversations.

To answer the hon. Gentleman's question about defence, the view which France has taken about N.A.T.O. has for some time obliged the other European countries, members of the alliance, to go on without France, again to our regret.

Sir E. Fletcher

Would my right hon. Friend say whether, in the conversations between our Ambassador and General de Gaulle, it was ever suggested by the General that we should keep the conversations secret from our allies?

Mr. Stewart

I do not think that any requirement of that kind was made. I want to be as careful as I can about this. In terms, that requirement was not made. It may have been, and I think that it probably was, the view of the General that we could keep it to ourselves—indeed, that we should keep it to ourselves—but, for the reasons I have explained to the House, I do not believe that it would have been either right or prudent for us to have done so.

Mr. Peel

Since the latest crisis hangs together somewhat with that of Luxembourg previously, and in view of the German reactions which appear to be coming out as a result of that, can the right hon. Gentleman say what the possibilities now are and what the reactions of the other Five are to further meetings of the Council of W.E.U. in future and when they might take place?

Mr. Stewart

I will be in a better position to answer that a little later. This matter is still under discussion among the members of W.E.U.

Mr. S. C. Silkin

Is my right hon. Friend aware that at the meeting of the Assembly of W.E.U. last week there was almost overwhelming majority support for the view that the British initiative should be pursued? Will my right hon. Friend therefore take encouragement from that and pursue the initiative at W.E.U. and at any other suitable organisations in Europe?

Mr. Stewart

Yes, Sir. I have noticed what happened there and I have been greatly encouraged by it.

Mrs. Knight

Can the right hon. Gentleman be more specific about precisely when the American Government were informed? Is it a fact that they were not informed until Friday, after versions had been appearing in the French newspapers?

Mr. Stewart

No, Sir. I answered previously that it was before the matter became public, but shortly after our European allies were informed.

Mr. Molloy

When my right hon. Friend speaks of "our European allies" I am sure that he means it in a much broader context than those in the Common Market. If so, is it not about time that we sought a much more broader concept of a united Europe? Leading from that, would he agree that we should initiate a conference of all European Powers, East and West, to try to get some sense into a world which is going crazy and which might plunge into wars over silly little issues such as that which we have discussed today?

Mr. Stewart

I have been using the term "our European allies" in the context of referring to those who are our allies both in N.A.T.O. and as members of the W.E.U. It has been made clear to the House that we, of course, have other allies in Europe who are not members of W.E.U. I share my hon. Friend's desire to see a general reconciliation throughout Europe, East and West. One of the reasons we were making progress in this sphere was the existence of N.A.T.O.; and at the Reykjavik conference, where proposals were made for mutual force reductions, I had hoped that we were on the way. Unhappily, the invasion of Czechoslovakia has set that back. Although it has set it back, I believe that this is a search for reconciliation between East and West which we want to resume and which we will never resume with success if the West is divided.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. We must move on.

Mr. Hastings

On a point of order. I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 9, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely, General de Gaulle's latest proposals to Her Majesty's Government, the reactions of Her Majesty's Government and the resulting state of Anglo-French relations". I should apologise to you at the outset, Mr. Speaker, for my inability to give you notice of my intention to seek leave to move the Adjournment.

I submit that anyone who has read the newspapers over the weekend and who has listened to the Foreign Secretary's statement today must recognise that this matter is most certainly definite. Secondly, since the defence of the West and N.A.T.O. are at stake as well as the future unity of Europe, there can be no doubt of the public importance of this matter. Thirdly, I submit that because of President Nixon's forthcoming inaugural visit to this country, the House of Commons should urgently have an immediate opportunity of debating this matter fully.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Gentleman asks leave to move the Adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that he thinks should have urgent consideration, namely, General de Gaulle's latest proposals to Her Majesty's Government, the reactions of Her Majesty's Government and the resulting state of Anglo-French relations". I am satisfied that the matter raised by the hon. Gentleman is proper to be discussed under Standing Order No. 9. Does the hon. Gentleman have the leave of the House?

The leave of the House having been given

Mr. Speaker

The Motion for the Adjournment of the House will now stand over until the commencement of Public Business tomorrow, when a debate on the matter will take place for three hours. This is as provided for under the terms of the revised Standing Order No. 9.

The Motion stood over under Standing Order No. 9 (Adjournment on specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration) until the commencement of public business tomorrow.

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