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United Kingdom Membership

Volume 892: debated on Wednesday 21 May 1975

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asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether any representative of any Commonwealth Government at the recent Commonwealth Conference expressed a wish for the United Kingdom to leave the EEC.

No, Sir. The Commonwealth Heads of Government unanimously placed on record their firm opinion that Commonwealth interests were in no way prejudiced by Britain's continued membership of the Community.

I congratulate the Foreign Secretary on a spell-binding performance this morning on "Referendum Call". Will he take the opportunity to dissociate himself totally from the reprehensible attempts being made by certain hon. Members to incite Commonwealth leaders into expressions of qualified disapproval of British membership of the Community?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for what he said. As regards inciting Commonwealth leaders to express their disapproval, my experience is that any such course is totally counter-productive. Because of this factor, a clear statement was made and their interests were not prejudiced.

Is not my right hon. Friend astonished by the amount of attention now paid to the views of Commonwealth leaders, compared with the little regard that we paid to their views before we went into the Market?

It is true that because the then Conservative Government negotiated in haste they did not take into sufficient account the position of New Zealand or of other Commonwealth countries. Because we have now got a satisfactory solution to the situation of New Zealand, the developing countries and the Commonwealth sugar-producing countries, I think that we can claim that this is the result of our renegotiation which, in turn, has led many Commonwealth countries to display an active wish for us to remain full members. They see the advantage to them of our staying in.

Why does the Foreign Secretary spoil it all by talking such nonsense about "our renegotiations"?

I was not trying to please the right hon. Gentleman; I was merely telling the truth. It is a great pity that the Conservative Government did not spend longer in settling some of these questions, for we would not then have needed to embark on some difficult renegotiations.