Oral Answers to Questions — National Finance – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 7th May 1959.
asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer, arising out of the Resolution passed at Strasbourg at a meeting of the Council of Europe's Consultative Assembly calling on the member Governments to form an association guaranteeing free trade in Europe, what proposals Her Majesty's Government has for setting up an organising body for the purpose of implementing this Resolution; and whether he will make a statement.
This Resolution did not call upon Her Majesty's Government to take action of the kind suggested by the hon. Member. The Government do, however, welcome the continued interest shown by the Consultative Assembly in the problem of maintaining European economic cooperation and of associating the European Economic Community with other members of O.E.E.C. on a multilateral basis.
Nevertheless, does not the Resolution indicate that there is a considerable feeling among the European nations that the Free Trade Area proposal and, presumably, Her Majesty's Government's proposals should be reconsidered? Will the right hon. Gentleman take some action to bring this into prominent discussion?
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that the Resolution shows what a wide measure of support there has always been for the Free Trade Area idea, but, of course, in these matters one cannot move without, in effect, unanimity.
asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer what consultations between the Commonwealth Governments and Her Majesty's Government are taking place with a view to formulating proposals for a European Free Trade Area when negotiations are resumed with the Common Market nations.
We continue to keep in close touch with Commonwealth Governments about economic developments in Europe.
Is that all the right hon. Gentleman has to tell the House? Has he seen the two articles written by his right hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (Mr. P. Thorneycroft) who, with other prominent individuals, went to New Zealand recently and found that there was considerable agreement among Commonwealth nations for participation in a European Free Trade Area? Will the right hon. Gentleman, therefore, not lag behind his right hon. Friend?
I do not think that any Commonwealth Government would contemplate being associated in a European Free Trade Area. As regards coordination with the Commonwealth, there are official level talks going on at this moment in London.
Nevertheless, will my right hon. Friend think it worth while having some form of Commonwealth conference, as the situation has so much altered since the problem was discussed previously? Would it not be wise to ascertain the up-to-date views of our partners in the Commonwealth?
Is it not dangerous to let this whole matter drift much longer? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, quite apart from anything else, American industry is showing an increasing tendency to develop productive capacity on the continent of Europe rather than in the United Kingdom?
I quite agree about the danger in letting matters drift, and the Government are well aware of that.
Is it not a fact that the Common Market countries are already making direct approaches to other members of the Commonwealth, and, therefore, if we do not try to make some coordinated approach between ourselves, will not Britain end by being out of both?
asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer what imports from the Commonwealth were most adversely affected by the terms proposed for United Kingdom membership of the European Common Market; and what was the total value of such imports, item by item, in the latest year for which figures are available.
I am not clear what my hon. Friend has in mind, since United Kingdom membership of the European Common Market has never been proposed.
If the figures for the most important Commonwealth imports which would be affected by our joining the Common Market are known—I presume they must be known to my right hon. Friend—do they not show that the real core of the problem is a comparatively small percentage of our total Commonwealth trade? Therefore, is not the problem, in the end, nothing like as big as it appears to be at first sight?
No, Sir; I am sorry to say that they show nothing of the sort. In fact, throughout the discussions, what has been one of the greatest difficulties is that the United Kingdom could not possibly accept a common commercial policy settled by a majority in Europe. where we are in a minority, which would settle our commercial relations with the Commonwealth.
Mr. H. Wilson:
I fully support what the right hon. Gentleman has just said, but will he say whether, in connection with the Question asked by his hon. Friend the Member for Somerset, North (Mr. Leather), the Government have given close study to the proposal made from these benches by my right hon. Friend the Member for Brighouse and Spenborough (Mr. J. Edwards) in the debate on 12th February last about associating Commonwealth trade with Common Market items by groups of commodities rather than looking at the thing right along the line? Has that been studied?
I can assure the right hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friend that all these possibilities are being studied. One of the main topics in the current series of Commonwealth consultations now taking place in London is the whole question of our relation with Europe.