North Atlantic Free Trade Area

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 26th July 1968.

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Photo of Mr Robin Turton Mr Robin Turton , Thirsk and Malton 12:00 am, 26th July 1968

My right hon. Friend the Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. Hugh Fraser) and the hon. Member for Faversham (Mr. Boston) have put the case so clearly and cogently that I need concentrate on only one aspect. I have been feeling for many months that, whatever the advantages or disadvantages of Britain being placed under the control of a European Commission, the posture of a rejected suppliant in the ante-chamber of Brussels is damaging this nation economically, spiritually and morally. That is the main point.

My views on this subject represent, I know, minority views in my party and minority views in the House, but not, I believe, in the nation. But I do not believe that there is any right hon. or hon. Member in this House who can honestly say that he expects, in the lifetime of this Parliament, that France will allow the negotiations to begin.

What will happen in the meantime? While we allow our application to lie on the Table, our relations with E.F.T.A., the Commonwealth and the United States continue slowly to deteriorate. Time does not stand still either in politics or in economics. Therefore, our stationary posture is damaging the whole of our sense of purpose as a nation. That sense of purpose is becoming atrophied.

Let us admit that there are limits to our power today, but let us never admit that our influence is subjected to equal limits. We should take Mr. Dean Acheson's advice and look at Britain's rôle today. I believe that our rôle in the world must be to bring together the ageing European civilisation and the young developing civilisation in other continents, to narrow the gap between the rich industrial countries and the poor developing countries, and to secure, by our defence policies, the arteries of our trade, both visible and invisible.

It so happens that this is the area of the trade of this great industrial nation. That is why I believe that now is the moment to work out means of extending the European free trade area to the countries of the Commonwealth and to other countries, such as the United States, which may wish to join. The fulfilment of this concept will take time. It is long term. The details must at the moment be imprecise. However, I want the country and the Government to realise that in Canada, Australia, the United States and Scandinavia there are men who are looking for this.

I would remind the House of what Sir Robert Menzies said only last year: If, as appears to be the case, the consideration of the British application is indefinitely postponed, what is the most important task for the future? It seems to me that, in the period ahead, serious consultations should be put in hand by Britain, the Commonwealth, and the United States, to determine whether special economic arrangements cannot be established. That is why we are pressing the Government for a feasibility study to be started now, just as the Americans are doing. What is the Government's reply? They say that they conducted one before they changed their mind to apply for entry into the Common Market. If that is so, will they publish it so that we can read it? Or do they not want to publish the study because it may appear to damage their suppliant posture in the antechamber and may be misconstrued by those on the other side of the closed door? Or is it perhaps that they are frightened that other parties in the House may deride them and claim that they are being guilty of another change of policy?

This matter is something tar above party politics. It is an issue that affects the whole nation. I believe that the men who do not undertake such a feasibility study will be condemned by the nation for subjecting it to purposeless stagnation.