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Commonwealth Trade

Volume 656: debated on Thursday 29 March 1962

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asked the Prime Minister if he will now initiate a Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference to discuss increasing Commonwealth trade.

The future of Commonwealth trade which is of the greatest importance to the economic future of all members of the Commonwealth will certainly be discussed at the next meeting of Commonwealth Prime Ministers. As to the timing of that Conference, I have nothing at present to add to what I said in answer to a supplementary question by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition on 6th February.

Does not the Prime Minister agree that there are two possibilities about the Common Market—first, that Britain may go in, and, secondly and preferably, that she will stay out? In either case, is it not of immense importance that Commonwealth trade should be increased and strengthened? Therefore, should not the Prime Minister now take action to strengthen our bargaining position with Europe and strengthen the fundament of our trade, which is Commonwealth trade?

I hope that the negotiations at Brussels will be brought to a satisfactory and equitable solution. I believe that that is the wish of the great majority of the country. Machinery to increase Commonwealth trade was set up at the Montreal Conference in 1958, and for that reason we have in permanent being the Commonwealth Economic Consultative Council and its various organisations. That work will be appropriately reviewed, should it be the wish of the other Prime Ministers, at the Prime Ministers' Conference.

Would the Prime Minister clarify the position by assuring us that the Government will not reach a final decision on this matter until he himself has proposed that a Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference should take place to consider the whole situation?

I am hoping very shortly—I hope next week—to make a statement about the Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference; but these matters take a little arranging.