North Atlantic Free Trade Area

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

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr Ivor Richard Mr Ivor Richard , Barons Court 12:00 am, 26th July 1968

I am obliged for the opportunity to take part in the debate. I am more than obliged to the right hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) for taking such a short time.

I would not wish anybody reading this debate in HANSARD to assume that the House of Commons had suddenly become wholly united and that all speakers in the debate were in favour of some kind of alternative association to the European Economic Community. I regard N.A.F.T.A. at best as an irrelevance and at worst as a diversion. It would be asking too much to hope to convince everybody in this Chamber at the moment about those sentiments, but perhaps I may convince our Front Bench spokesman.

I was more than interested when the right hon. Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. Hugh Fraser) said that he saw N.A.F.T.A. as another option. I do not see N.A.F.T.A. as an option to the European Economic Community. One is not comparing like with like. N.A.F.T.A., even on the most optimistic description we have had today and taking it as if it were established and in existence, is nothing more than a loose non-institutional, non-existent, undefined customs-free economic association. Moreover, it is an association which is capable of the uttermost flexibility. It starts off as the North Atlantic Free Trade Association. Someone mentions Japan, so N.A.F.T.A. becomes P.A.F.T.A., and we have not a N.A.F.T.A. but a P.A.F.T.A. type of association. But one should no longer use the words N.A.F.T.A. and P.A.F.T.A. either together or in association, the one with the other; one should now start talking of something being called M.U.F.T.A., a multilateral free trade association. The proponents of N.A.F.T.A. should make up their minds whether they are proposing machinery for the greater liberalisation of world trade or something, which they should propose in a sensible coherent way, as a real alternative to the European Economic Community. If it is the first, by all means let us examine it, but let us examine it in conjunction with those nations with whom we have cast in our lot, namely, the European Economic Community. If the proposal is for Britain to enter into discussions with the E.E.C. so that we might ascertain whether we could have greater liberalisation of trade across the Atlantic, I, and others on this side, and I hope on the other side, would be prepared to accept it. But I fancy that is not precisely what is in the minds of those right hon. and hon. Gentlemen who are proposing this type of association. It seems that we are being asked to examine something, first, which is clearly non-existent, and, secondly, which is so ill-defined as almost to defy analysis, let alone a detailed examination.

On the other hand, we have the European Economic Community. That at least exists. It is an established organisation, it is a developing organisation, and it has centralised machinery for economic decision making. It is not solely confined to a customs union. It has enormous political content. There is an organisation which is a step towards the greater unification of our continent —and, after all, Europe is our continent. I see no way in which Europe will be united other than on the basis of extension of the European Economic Community. Therefore, those who propose N.A.F.T.A.—and looking around this morning I see a number who would propose it—would not be in favour of a greater degree of unity in Europe.

If the arguments in favour of N.A.F.T.A. are that we do not believe in European unity, and are proposing this as an alternative then at least I understand the argument, although I utterly and totally reject it. One cannot, at one and the same time, approbate and reprobate Europeanism. One cannot go to the Continent of Europe and say, as we have done, that we are part of this continent and want to play a greater part in its affairs, we want a greater influence over what goes on, and in the affairs most directly affecting us and on the other hand turn round and say that we do not think that the E.E.C. is good for us, but would like to look at an Anglo-Saxon type of alternative, the effect of which in Europe, would only be to weaken the credibility of our expressed Europeanism.

This is the greatest danger in this proposal. There are those who say that they want to weaken it and, while I appreciate that point of view, I disagree with it. It is important to emphasise that an attempt by Britain, even of the most elementary and sketchy type, to make overtures towards the United States, towards P.A.F.T.A. or M.U.F.T.A. would only and could only be construed in Europe as a step away from Europe by Britain and a change of direction in the moves towards Europe which this country has been making. As the whole history of Europe since the end of the last war has been one in which national boundaries have disappeared and the nations in Europe have been trying to come together, this step by us would tend, not to hasten unity, but to delay it and therefore I am against the proposal.