In craving the customary indulgence of the House for a maiden speaker I am conscious that this occasion reminds me slightly of an experience which I had some nine years ago when I had to follow Sir Anthony Eden, as he then was, at an open air meeting on Wandsworth Common. The circumstances, as you can well imagine, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, were very different and the surroundings were very different, but there is a similarity in the massive departure of my audience.
I am also conscious that my predecessor as Member for Westbury spent a long and devoted period in the House and, for the last three of his many years here, served the House with great distinction as Deputy-Chairman of Ways and Means. I now have the honour to represent the constituency which he served so well and in which so many sides and aspects of British life are reflected, a constituency which is one of the most beautiful in England and which I am very proud to serve.
Wiltshire people are outward-looking in their attitudes and feelings and I believe that they would approve of the fact that practically my first remarks in the House should be devoted to foreign affairs. They are aware that the security and prosperity of Britain depends on the national situation and upon this being handled skilfully and wisely. One of the most valuable inheritances which the present Government have received from previous Conservative Administrations is their record of continuous and successful efforts to work for peace and for the reduction of world tension. People in this country have come to recognise that one has to work for peace continuously, that one needs patience and vision, and, moreover, one cannot buy peace by easy and lazy compromises. Britain, which has contributed so much to the world, must continue to assess and reassess how, given the changed and changing world power structure, her influence should best he used and most effectively exercised. In this connection, hoping that the House will bear with me, I should like to make three points.
The first is with regard to our relations with France. Some people are somehow trying to pretend that France does not exist. Because they cannot agree with certain aspects of French policy they conceive of Europe or the world without major French influence. This is not possible, indeed, it is nonsense. In making our future arrangements with Europe it is essential to remember that, geographically, France is the heart-land of the Western European system. Neither in terms of defence, of trade and industry, of political organisation, nor of the international exchange of ideas can we make Europe work or establish our own relationship with Europe unless we can establish our relationship with France.
No one would pretend that President de Gaulle is an easy man to deal with, no one worth dealing with is easy. But if Britain approaches President de Gaulle with an understanding of his character and sense of history we may find that we have more agreement on policy than we have yet realised, particularly in the resemblance between his idea of an "Europe des patries" and the British desire for a united but not a federal Europe. I hope that this point will be made in any negotiations on the political future of Europe which may take place, and which I hope will take place.
My second point concerns the reduction of our forces in Germany. There are, of course, many valid reasons why one should wish to cut down our strength there. Keeping 55,000 soldiers bottled up in Germany is a great waste of man- power in a world situation where, as the outlook look in Europe becomes more secure, the outlook in the Middle East and the Far East becomes visibly more hazardous and uncertain. At the same time, any considerable thinning out should be logically accompanied by a new demarche to the Soviet Union, and this does not seem an appropriate time for such an initiative. There is as yet inadequate information about the new Russian leadership, and, moreover, such action would tend to strengthen those elements in Germany which are unsympathetic to the Atlantic concept at a time when we are approaching the German elections. Any initiative of ours in this field must have the understanding and support of Germany.
My third and last point is with regard to our immediate relations with Europe. I lope that the Government, and, in- deed, the Opposition, where they have the opportunity, will make the maximum and most effective use of our existing bridgeheads in Europe—E.F.T.A., W.E.U., the Council of Europe and the O.E.D.C.— in order to build up our relations and restore the confidence of Europe in Britain's intentions and sincerity in wanting the maximum co-operation at a time when such confidence has been badly shaken since the present Government came into power.
In this respect I trust that the recent economic crisis may have been instructive to the Government for, as everyone knows, it was our European and American allies who came to our help and lent us the money necessary to tide us over the crisis. In my view, this should have brought home better than most academic arguments the fallacy of the theory of self-sufficiency in the 1960s. And it dramatised a fact which should never be forgotten, namely, that Britain is part of Europe and that Europe, in turn, can only fulfil its world rôle within the Atlantic partnership.