HC Deb 22 May 1969 vol 784 cc652-4
Q1. Mr. Turton

asked the Prime Minister what progress he has made in his discussions with the leaders of the Common Market countries on the proposals of the former President of France for a free trade area in Europe.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Wilson)

Her Majesty's Government's position on General de Gaulle's ideas on this subject was made clear by my right hon. Friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary in his statement to the House on 24th February and in his subsequent replies to Questions.—[Vol. 778, c. 1088–9, 1101–3.]

Mr. Turton

Is the right hon. Gentleman not aware that the expansion of the European Free Trade Area to include other countries in Europe, countries across the Atlantic and the more developed countries of the Commonwealth, would command far wider support among the British people than the proposals of Herr Strauss that Britain should be absorbed into a West European federation?

The Prime Minister

In this matter the former President of France did not envisage the extension to the N.A.F.T.A. countries that the right hon. Gentleman has in mind, and which he has previously raised in this House. It was an attempt to provide—as we always felt—a very inadequate substitute for our application to join the Common Market. I very much doubt in present circumstances whether we shall hear very much more of the proposals that President de Gaulle put forward on that occasion.

Sir G. de Freitas

Will my right hon. Friend continue to resist these attempts to divert this country into a flabby trading association, turning its back on the building-up of a really stronger and wider European community?

The Prime Minister

I agree with the objective which the right hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) has in mind, and that is the widest possible area of freer trade within the world, or parts of the world which are prepared to trade. We believe that the best way to lead to that would be, first of all, to widen the economic community in Europe including Britain and the E.F.T.A. countries, and to use that as a bastion from which to challenge protectionist nations in other parts of the world.

Mr. Crouch

Is the Prime Minister prepared to say that with the same clarity of mind, the same sort of sentiments as were expressed early this week by Dr. Strauss when he spoke about a European community, not just a European Free Trade Area, when he spoke about the need for a meeting of nations in Europe, thinking as one, facing the problems of defence, foreign policy and trade as one?

The Prime Minister

Those parts of Herr Franz Joseph Strauss's statement, with which all of us would agree, have been expressed with equal clarity on a number of occasions by my right hon. Friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary, not least when he talked about the need for greater political understanding in Europe, not only on European questions but on world problems. There is a European community. The trouble is that it is tempted to become too narrow and inward-looking because of the veto placed on its expansion, as provided for in the Treaty of Rome.

Mr. John Mendelson

Will my right hon. Friend make it clear that he is totally opposed to the main idea advanced by Herr Strauss, that of having a separate nuclear command within N.A.T.O. and with eventual German participation, with all the dangers incumbent upon such a development? Will he reaffirm his own statement in the last Common Market debate that the Government oppose all such plans?

The Prime Minister

We have always been opposed to this proposal. Practically every hon. Member of this House has always been, and always will be, opposed to such a proposal in the circumstances, in terms of a European nuclear group of this kind. As to co-operation in nuclear matters, this is a matter for N.A.T.O. and the Government have taken useful initiatives here for European conventional defence, and with the Nuclear Planning Group. These are the right answers to this problem although I understand my hon. Friend's anxieties.

Sir R. Russell

Does not the Prime Minister agree that the trade associations we have with the Commonwealth and E.F.T.A. countries are not flabby as the right hon. Member for Kettering (Sir G. de Freitas) suggested, but are very active? Will he do his best to encourage them?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir. That has been one of the leading items in our discussions with the Commonwealth Prime Ministers, including the useful discussions at the conference earlier this year upon which I reported to the House. When my right hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Sir G. de Freitas) used the word "flabby", he meant somewhat ill-thought-out and ill-digested proposals which are not likely to become reality for many years to come.

Mr. Jay

Will my right hon. Friend repeat the assurance he gave the House three weeks ago that it is not the policy of the Government to bring the United Kingdom into any sort of European federal State?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir. Not only I but many others said this in the debate in the House on the Common Market which led the House to express an opinion on that question. Whatever the long distant future may hold, this is not a reality and nor is it what we are asking for.