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European Economic Community (Agriculture)

Volume 640: debated on Wednesday 10 May 1961

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asked the Prime Minister whether the speech made on Saturday, 6th May, in Essex by the Secretary of State for the Home Department on agriculture and the Common Market represents Government policy.

I have been asked to reply.

Yes, Sir.

In view of the contradictory statements being made by Ministers on this important matter, and in view of the fact that they are causing a great deal of confusion in the agricultural community, is it not time that the Prime Minister co-ordinated the Home Secretary, the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, the President of the Board of Trade and the Foreign Office Ministers so that a sensible and definite statement could be made, after the rather contradictory ones that have been made?

There is no contradiction at all. If the hon. Member will look at column 220 in yesterday's HANSARD he will see that the Prime Minister said:

"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."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th May, 1961; Vol. 640, c. 220.]
That is exactly the same line as I took in Essex.

Can my right hon. Friend assure me that in any eventual arrangements which are made with Europe there will be no damage whatsoever to Commonwealth trader? Will he remember that the Commonwealth is much more important to us than Europe is or ever was?

The point about the Commonwealth is covered by the Prime Minister's statement yesterday and by the same observations that I made in Essex. It is a precondition for the consideration of our future action in this matter that our relations with the Commonwealth, with agriculture and with E.F.T.A. are all properly taken into account.

Is the Home Secretary aware that the most serious contradictions in relation to this matter are those which occur in the statements made by the Prime Minister himself, on different occasions in different places? Will he use his influence with the Prime Minister to try to get him to come clean on this matter and not adopt different forms of words in different places according to what he thinks is best calculated to win approval?

As is usual, the Prime Minister is defending the interests which are chiefly at stake in this very important matter while preserving the obvious advantage of examining the future with a constructive attitude.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Prime Minister gave me the exact assurance yesterday that he gave me in 1957 with regard to agriculture, and that for that assurance—in which there is no contradiction—the farmers and my constituents are very grateful?

Why on earth are the Government only now examining this matter, when it has been quite apparent that the Common Market has been growing for years? Should not the Government long ago have made up their mind and commenced these negotiations?

The Government entered into negotiations with a view to obtaining a rather different arrangement with Europe, which would have excluded agriculture and saved us the embarrassment of the present situation. That proved unacceptable, and we are now looking at the matter again with a view to seeing whether the same interests can be protected in a different way.

Has my right hon. Friend been able to conclude what the Opposition really think about this question?

I read an article in the Sunday Express, written by an hon. Member opposite who takes a great interest in foreign affairs, and I thought that the article seemed to express a negative point of view.