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European Economic Community (Agriculture)

Volume 640: debated on Tuesday 9 May 1961

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asked the Prime Minister if his assurance to the hon. Member for Louth on 16th July, 1957, that the provisions of a free trade area in Europe would not whittle away the safeguards and protections enjoyed by British agriculture still holds good; and if he will make a statement.

As has been made quite clear, both in this House and outside, satisfactory arrangements in respect of the interests of British agriculture, our fellow members of the Commonwealth and our partners in the European Free Trade Association are a precondition of any closer association with the European Economic Community.

Does my right hon. Friend remember saying something even stronger to me about three years ago? He said:

"…the provisions of a Free Trade Area could not extend to agricultural products."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th July, 1957; Vol. 573, c. 943.]
Is he aware that the farmers in my constituency are getting rather nervous and fear that the bad old days of the 1930s are coming back again, and that they would be grateful to him for his reassurance that the protection which they have enjoyed will not be whittled away?

The negotiations then, of course, were about the European Free Trade Area, which specifically included agriculture. Those negotiations broke down. I want to make it quite clear that the interests of agriculture, the Commonwealth and of our partners in E.F.T.A. must be a precondition for any negotiations to be satisfactory.

Will the Prime Minister give an assurance that in any negotiations the principle of the tariff-free entry into this country of Commonwealth exports of raw material, as well as food, which is to the advantage of the British consumer as well as British agriculture, will be preserved by the Government?

Of course, all those matters will be fully taken into account, but we have not yet reached that point. We have had some preliminary discussions with officials to see whether there is a possibilty of negotiations being successful, taking into account what we regard as necessary preconditions.

Will my right hon. Friend comment on the statement, re ported in today's issue of The Times to have been made by Professor Hallstein in Hamburg yesterday, to the effect that President Kennedy had made it clear to my right hon. Friend that only full membership of the Community—

That is out of order. A Minister cannot be asked to comment on a statement for which he is not responsible.

Would not the Prime Minister agree that we may get the worst of both worlds by a continued state of uncertainty? Can he say when Her Majesty's Government can make any definite statement about whether it is the intention or wish of Britain to enter the Common Market and what proposals will be put forward with a view to bringing to an end the division of Europe into two separate economic blocs?

We are having these various discussions in order to see whether there is a basis for negotiation to be likely to be successful. As I have said very often, and I think it is generally accepted, nothing could be worse than to have a long negotiation which then broke down. It would be better to try to get a general idea of whether there is a possibility of agreement on acceptable lines.

The Prime Minister referred to the talks which have been taking place between the French and British officials. Can he say something about the outcome of those talks and what the next stage of the discussions is likely to be?

I understand that some progress was made and there is to be a fresh meeting.