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European Economic Community

Volume 649: debated on Thursday 23 November 1961

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asked the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations what are the Government's reasons for refusing to supply confidentially to Commonwealth Governments the full text of the proposals affecting Commonwealth trade which he addressed to representatives of the European Economic Community in Paris on 10th October.


asked the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations why he has again refused to let the Canadian Government see the full text of the statement which the Lord Privy Seal made at the opening of the British negotiations with the Common Market in Paris on 10th October.

The reasons have been fully explained to the House on several occasions.

Does the right hon. Gentle-realise that to withhold from Commonwealth Governments even the confidential supply of details of the proposals we are making about Commonwealth trade is both insulting to the Commonwealth and a disgrace to this Government? Does he not understand that, in view of the Resolution passed by the House last August, the Government have no mandate whatever to conduct these negotiations in that shabby and discreditable fashion?

Those strong words do not properly reflect what is going on. It has been explained to the House that, when these negotiations started, we and the Governments of the six countries of the Community had to consider certain matters of procedure. One was whether confidential conference documents should be circulated to Governments not directly taking part in the negotiations.

In view of the large number of Governments who would have to receive these documents, it was decided that, on balance—we had our hesitations about it—it was better to restrict our communications to the Commonwealth on these matters to summaries of the documents and not allow a general distribution, all round Europe and to the many other parts of the world which would be concerned, of documents which we should want to distribute to the Commonwealth.

Who took the initiative that the documents should be restricted? Did we take the initiative or did a country of Europe or the Six as a whole take the initiative in restricting the documents? If they took the initiative and said that they thought that the documents ought to be restricted, did we put up a fight so that they should not be restricted and kept from the Commonwealth?

It was a general decision taken by the conference as a whole. Of course, we did not put up a fight because we do not think that it is very desirable that these documents should have a very wide circulation. There are all the E.F.T.A. countries. There are other countries which may be concerned. For instance, the Argentine might say that it was directly affected.

The United States might well say that it had a direct interest. As for the general statement, I admit that it would probably not have done anybody any harm to have it published in the newspapers; but it is a precedent, and, when we come down to detailed discussions of particular commodities, which affect business interests all round the world, it is desirable to have the documents kept confidential.

Does the right hon. Gentleman, as the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations, make no distinction at all between Canada and Argentina? Does not he recall that the Resolution proposed by the Government to this House on 3rd August and approved by the House read in part as follows:

"…after full consultation with other Commonwealth countries, by whatever procedure they may generally agree."
Can he possibly pretend that he is honourably carrying out that Resolution?

The answer to the last part of that supplementary question is "Yes". With regard to the first part, it is not a question of whether we make a distinction between certain countries. The moment that we distribute these documents to all the countries of the Commonwealth, we cannot ignore that the other Six all have their different friends who, they think, may be interested in this thing, and there is a very wide circle.