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European Economic Community

Volume 649: debated on Thursday 16 November 1961

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asked the Prime Minister which Minister is responsible for informing the Canadian Government of the progress being made in the negotiations on Britain's entry into the Common Market.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations is responsible for keeping Commonwealth Governments informed of aspects of British policy which are of concern to them. Both he and my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal, who is in direct charge of our negotiations with the European Economic Community, have been at great pains to ensure that Commonwealth Governments and their representatives in London and on the Continent are kept fully and promptly informed of the progress of those negotiations. In addition, I have myself exchanged certain messages with other Commonwealth Prime Ministers, and no doubt those exchanges will be repeated on appropriate occasions.

May I ask the Prime Minister two questions? First, is he aware of the publicly expressed concern of the Canadian Government at the failure of the Government to give them information with reference to the negotiations now proceeding about Britain's accession to the Rome Treaty? Is he also aware that the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations, in answering Question No. 11 today, spoke of the fear in those countries that there might be a leak if the information were given to all Commonwealth countries? Will he give the House a categorical assurance that he is not afraid that the Prime Ministers of Commonwealth countries will leak secret information given to them?

There is always a danger, when passing round documents to a wide circulation, that something comes out. That is different from the messages and communications which are made at a high level. I think that it is the passing of long and much duplicated documents which has certain dangers, and we try to restrict them.

The Prime Minister said that all Commonwealth Governments are kept fully informed. It depends on what one means by fully informed. If they are kept fully informed, does not that mean that they know precisely what is in these documents concerned in the negotiations between the Lord Privy Seal and the Six? If they are told precisely what is in them, there is no argument, but the argument has been that they have not in fact seen everything in these documents.

That is not the position. The object of holding meetings of Commonwealth High Commissioners is for the purpose which the hon. Gentleman has in mind, namely, to give them full information. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, in his speech in the foreign affairs debate, recognised that while they should be given the fullest possible information, there may be aspects of certain documents which could not be freely circulated.

That was referring to completely free publication. What this Question is about is keeping the Canadian Government properly informed. Is the Prime Minister aware that there is a good deal of concern about reports that the Canadian Government are extremely dissatisfied with the present arrangement? Will he give further thought to the best way of ensuring that the Commonwealth is continuously kept in consultation? Is he satisfied that meetings of the High Commissioners in London provides the best way of doing this? Cannot there he some body which could meet in Brussels or Paris during the negotiations which take place there?

I understand that that is exactly what is done. There are meetings both here and on the Continent.

Would it be a fair statement of the Government's position to say that consultation with the Commonwealth has been equally close or equally distant in respect of Common Market negotiations and the Commonwealth Immigrants Bill, and vice versa?

No, Sir. In reference to these negotiations, I see that the Prime Minister of Australia, and now the Prime Minister of Canada, have recognised in public speeches that we have tried, over the long period that this matter has been under discussion, to keep the fullest consultation and information with our Commonwealth friends.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that if any leaks take place they are much more likely to come from certain Continental sources than from Commonwealth sources?

Why have the Government, as the Lord Privy Seal said, refused to make available confidentially to the Commonwealth Governments the detailed statement of our proposals affecting Commonwealth trade which has been made available to all the six members of the European Community?

The Lord Privy Seal explained, I think on 23rd October, that he had made available in writing a full summary, but not the actual verbatim report, of his opening speech, and he has discussed it in full with the Commonwealth Governments.

What is the reason for the distinction? If we want to carry the Commonwealth with us in these negotiations, there must be no room for any lack of confidence between the Commonwealth representatives and the Lord Privy Seal. Why should not the Lord Privy Seal have given the representatives the full text of his speech?

I think he gave them exactly what he gave the others, and I think that he was perfectly correct. So far as I understand it, no objection was raised. As regards the more recent case, I understand that the High Commissioner has issued a statement denying that his absence from a particular meeting had any significance.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Owing to the unsatisfactory nature of that reply, I beg to give notice that I will raise this again at the earliest opportunity.