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European Free Trade Area

Volume 595: debated on Tuesday 11 November 1958

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50.

asked the Prime Minister whether he will arrange to meet Dr. Adenauer and General de Gaulle to discuss the future of the Free Trade Area.

51.

asked the Prime Minister whether he will make a statement on future British Government policy towards the forthcoming establishment of the European Free Trade Area.

The Government attach the same importance as hitherto to a Free Trade Area as a complement to the European Economic Community. The negotiations for a Free Trade Area are still proceeding, though serious differences of view persist. Whilst not excluding any suggestion that may hold out prospects of solving outstanding differences, I do not think that this is the time for a meeting such as the hon. Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. Chetwynd) has in mind.

Could the Prime Minister say what he would consider the right time for such a conference, as the weeks are running by and the Common Market will soon be in operation? If the deadlock remains, is there not a real danger to both the political and economic unity of Western Europe and is not the need for a statement by the Prime Minister on this matter becoming more and more urgent?

I realise all the difficulties and dangers, but in any intervention of this kind, or any discussion of the kind suggested, we must try to have it, if it takes place, in conditions where it has the greatest hope of success; and the timing in relation to all the considerations, external and internal, of the different countries is quite an important matter.

In view of the very grave situation likely to arise on 1st January when the Common Market comes into force, what advice does the Prime Minister give to British industry to get ready to meet the situation which may arise on that date?

We are, of course, in the closest touch with British industry and we shall hope that it will be possible, either in the course of the negotiations which are continuing in this month of November or at a later date, to reach a solution which will be of a satisfactory character. I shall certainly not abandon that task. I know its importance, but I think it is equally important to try to handle it in such a way as may most likely lead to the resolution of the problem which now remains.

is my right hon. Friend aware that there is general support on both sides of industry for the Government's stand on the necessity of arranging certain matters in any proposed Free Trade Area not by the unanimity rule? Will the British Government stand on that position which they first defined in a White Paper of February, 1957?

That is one of the matters in dispute, but it is not the only one. If the others could be settled, I should not necessarily regard it as vital. What is important is to try to find a solution which meets the needs of all the countries concerned. Although it is very difficult, I, for one, have certainly not given up hope that we shall find some form of accommodation which will allow the movement for the economic strength of Europe as a whole to continue and to be as widely spread over all the countries of Europe as we can possibly achieve.

We all share the Prime Minister's hope that negotiations for the setting up of a Free Trade Area will yet be successful. However, will he consider the desirability of making some kind of statement indicating clearly the alternatives which would be forced upon Her Majesty's Government if the negotiations failed? Would not it be desirable to confront those countries taking part in the Common Market with the stark dangers of dividing Europe and possibly of action which we and other countries would be compelled to take to counter discriminatory action on their side?

The fact that the right hon. Gentleman has called attention to the dangers is helpful. At the same time, at this stage of the negotiations one has to judge how best to try to play this hand. Many of these matters can well be represented privately and do not necessarily have the effect which one wants if they are made too much in the nature of a threat. I am not thinking in terms of a threat so much as of the interests of this country and other countries. I am trying to point out how tragic may be the result upon the growth of Europe as a whole.