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European Common Market

Volume 649: debated on Thursday 16 November 1961

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asked the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations what requests he has refused from Commonwealth countries to see documents or reports of negotiations concerning Britain's application to join the Common Market.

We are keeping Commonwealth Governments very closely informed of the progress of the negotiations. It would be contrary to our well-established practice for me to refer to confidential communications between Commonwealth Governments. However, I can assure the House that close contact is being maintained. Meetings were held with officials from most Commonwealth Governments in London in September. In the case of Governments which did not send representatives, consultations took place through our High Commissioners in the capitals concerned.

Since the negotiations have started my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal has, after each of the first two meetings with the Six, given a detailed account of the proceedings to Commonwealth High Commissioners in London. In addition, I have sent messages to Commonwealth Ministers telling them of our views about the progress of negotiations.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that that answer has put me in some confusion? I was expecting to be able to congratulate him on giving a very short and straight answer, which would have been "None", but in his long answer, which was satisfactory as far as it went, he has not said that no request by any Commonwealth Government for information has been refused. Has it?

I think that I answered my hon. Friend to this extent, that we try to keep the Commonwealth Governments in the closest possible consultation on these matters. I think that what my hon. Friend is referring to is a point which has already been dealt with in the House by my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal. Perhaps my hon. Friend will look up what he said. That is the question of circulating a verbatim report of my right hon. Friend's speech at the opening meeting. These delicate negotiations could be very easily prejudiced if there were a leakage of documents from the conference. For that reason we have agreed that none of the six Governments nor ourselves will circulate the official documents of the conference outside the Governments concerned. I am sure that that will be of advantage to all. On the other hand, we give the Commonwealth Governments summaries of all matters which are of concern to them. In addition, we have had confidential talks, and confidential messages are passing between us all the time. I think that the Commonwealth Governments are very well informed about what is going on.