HC Deb 14 December 1961 vol 651 cc621-3
Q1. Mr. Turton

asked the Prime Minister whether, in view of the assurance he gave the House on 31st July, 1961, that no agreement would be entered into with the European Economic Community until after approval by this House and full consultation with the Commonwealth, he will seek to convene at an early date a Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference to discuss the progress of the negotiations.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Macmillan)

I would remind my right hon. Friend that in the debate on 31st July I said that, if it were thought desirable to have a meeting of Commonwealth Prime Ministers at the right moment, when the negotiations had reached a certain stage before any final decision were put before Parliament, I would be the first to welcome such a meeting. The negotiations have not reached a point at which it would be useful to suggest a meeting of Prime Ministers. But of course we are, and shall remain, in the closest touch with other Commonwealth Governments.

Mr. Turton

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is considerable apprehension lest we slip into the Common Market without having adequate time for consideration both by the Commonwealth and by the British electorate? Can he give an assurance that the interval between the end of the negotiations and the entry into the Common Market will be at least six months?

The Prime Minister

No, Sir. I could not give that precise assurance. But on this question which is asked, I repeat that at the right moment, if there is a general wish—that is what I said—it would be quite desirable to have a meeting of Commonwealth Prime Ministers. On the first part of my right hon. Friend's supplementary question, I think that he rather exaggerates the ease with which one can slip into the Common Market.

Mr. Gaitskell

Is it not clear that there is a powerful case for convening a Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference in the spring? Is it not the case that quite frequently such conferences do take place, and that in 1962, quite apart from the Common Market, there are other issues of immense importance to the Commonwealth—the immigration question and the question of the Congo—which it is most desirable that the Commonwealth Ministers should discuss together?

The Prime Minister

That is quite another question. We have always in mind the question of when it is possible to arrange a conference. The right hon. Gentleman will recognise that we have now to try to suit the convenience of quite a large number of Prime Ministers.

Mr. Gaitskell

I appreciate that. Nevertheless, is it not desirable that Her Majesty's Government should now take soundings among the Prime Ministers of the Commonwealth with a view to a conference of the kind suggested taking place, say, in the spring of next year?

The Prime Minister

That was a general proposition. On the point to which this Question relates, I think that it must depend on the state of the negotiations.

Sir C. Osborne

Will my right hon. Friend ask the Commonwealth Governments who fear our joining the Common Market whether they will reduce their tariffs against our goods so as to provide for us a Commonwealth Common Market?

The Prime Minister

That hardly arises on this Question. I repeat that if such a conference were to be valuable, it could be so only when the negotiations had reached a certain stage.

Mr. Bellenger

Will the Prime Minister, while consulting the Commonwealth countries at all points in these negotiations, bear in mind that the ultimate decision is for the British Parliament of this country?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir.