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Efta Countries (Foreign Ministers)

Volume 889: debated on Wednesday 9 April 1975

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1.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he has any plans to meet the Foreign Ministers of EFTA countries.

13.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will arrange to meet the Foreign Ministers of the EFTA countries.

14.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what plans he has to meet the Foreign Ministers of the European Free Trade Area.

I met the then Foreign Minister for Portugal on 6th and 7th February and I hope to meet his successor and the Foreign Minister for Norway at a meeting of the NATO countries on 29th-30th May. I have at present no plans to meet the others.

From the soundings which the Foreign Secretary doubtless has already undertaken among Free Trade Area Ministers, has he any reason to suppose that if Britain were to leave the Common Market the EFTA countries would not continue to support the concept of industrial free trade between EFTA countries and Britain and the EEC?

I have not taken soundings on this matter because I have been trying to make a success of renegotiations. Therefore, my opinion can be only hypothetical. I assume that the EFTA countries would welcome the continuation of the partnership which we have had for many years. We can always solve some difficulties at the expense of creating greater ones.

Since the case for the United Kingdom's staying in the Common Market must rest almost exclusively on the inability to obtain an agreeable free trade area and since The Times and the Economist now take the view that a free trade area would be reasonably possible if we were to leave the Community, does the Foreign Secretary not agree with his right hon. Friend the Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, who made the same sort of remark on television some weeks ago?

I remember nothing about that.

Unfortunately, since my right hon. Friend the Minister of State says that he cannot remember the remark he made, I am in no position to say whether I agree with him. Basically, I do not see that it would be of any great advantage to the United Kingdom to exchange a partnership of 200 million people for a partnership of 40 million people.

Is it not unlikely that if we were to leave the EEC the EFTA countries would be anxious to extend to us treaty facilities, remembering that we would have just broken other treaty facilities? Is it not wise to remember that the preponderance of our trade is with Europe and that a greater partnership with EFTA is in no way a substitute for the EEC? Are not my hon. Friends chasing a will-o'-the-wisp?

I do not wish to intervene in any quarrels in the Conservative Party—I have plenty of my own—but certainly I do not regard EFTA as an alternative to the EEC, and never have done.

Does my right hon. Friend not agree that instead of his speaking about partnerships of 200 million or 40 million people, Europe would be better served if this country's policy were aimed at uniting everybody, and if we were to act as a catalyst in that respect?

I think it would be a good idea, but if we were to come out of the Community it would not help us to achieve that aim.

Does the Foreign Secretary agree that when EFTA countries trade with the Community they have to observe its directives and regulations?

In a great many cases that is so. I am sorry that there were not more hon. Members present in the House last night to hear my right hon. Friend the Paymaster-General talk about the trade agreement made between Sweden and the EEC. Under that agreement Sweden has had to accept, as part of the conditions, Articles 90 to 92 of the Treaty of Rome—provisions which cause so much difficulty to a number of hon. Members, but not to me personally. In those circumstances, in the argument which we shall be conducting in the country we should beware of believing that we can escape from the policies of the EEC by contracting out. Its influence is broader than that.