HC Deb 11 July 1961 vol 644 cc188-92
16. Mr. A. Henderson

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he will make a statement on the recent Conference of Ministers of the European Free Trade Association.

Mr. Maudling

The Ministerial Council of E.F.T.A. held the fourth of its regular meetings on 27th and 28th June at Lancaster House. In the course of this meeting Ministers examined the prospect of making progress towards their goal of a single European market embracing all the members of E.F.T.A. They concluded that it was premature to judge whether any negotiation for membership of or association with the European Economic Community was possible or likely to be successful and decided to re-examine this question at their next meeting. They also agreed that if negotiation should then appear possible the members of E.F.T.A. should co-ordinate their actions and remain united throughout the negotiations. Ministers agreed that there would be advantage in a further acceleration of the timetable for dismantling tariffs within E.F.T.A. They also welcomed the recent entry into force of the Association Agreement with Finland.

I am circulating in the OFFICIAL REPORT the full text of the Council's communiqué.

Mr. Henderson

Can the Minister say whether the reference in the communiqué to the seven E.F.T.A. Governments remaining united in any subsequent negotiations with the Six means that they will seek to negotiate as a group? If so, would that mean that if the Foreign Secretary takes part in the proposed talks with the Six on 1st August he will represent the other E.F.T..4. Governments? Further, is the right hon. Gentleman's reference to the economic integration of the whole of Europe to be held also to imply, so far as Her Majesty's Government are concerned, an integrated Europe plus an offer to integrate the British Commonwealth of Nations with that integrated Europe?

Mr. Maudling

The form that any negotiations with the Six take must be left until they start. It is impossible to anticipate the form they may take. Our purpose is to try to make it clear to the world that we are partners and friends, and will work as friend's. As for the association of the Commonwealth, that matter was not discussed at E.F.T.A., and therefore I am afraid it does not arise on this Question.

Sir C. Osborne

Were the British Government able to give the E.F.T.A. conference members any assurance that General de Gaulle, either verbally or in writing, had promised to consider the request we were making to alter his point of view so that we could enter the Common Market—or has there been no adjustment of the French point of view on our entry to the Common Market?

Mr. Maudling

We gave the E.F.T.A. countries an account of the various discussions in which we have been engaged in recent months, but no specific question of that type was discussed.

Mr. Healey

I welcome the right hon. Gentleman's statement, which will settle some of the concern raised by the statements of other British Ministers on the subject, but can he confirm reports appearing in the Press that if bilateral negotiations took place between the E.F.T.A. countries and the Common Market no such negotiations would be finally concluded until all the members of E.F.T.A. had concluded their negotiations for membership of or association with the Common Market? If so, does the Minister agree that Her Majesty's Government should give the British Commonwealth countries at least equal influence in their decisions on this issue?

Mr. Maudling

We have kept the E.F.T.A. countries fully informed about any bilateral discussions, and they have done the same for us. We worded our communiqué carefully. We have agreed that we must remain united throughout the negotiations. In a sense, the position of the Commonwealth is different, in that we are talking in terms of a single European market, which clearly would not be a market of which Commonwealth countries could be members, however they might be associated with it.

Mr. Healey

Can the Minister answer the first part of my supplementary question and state whether it is true, as reported in many newspapers—

Mr. Speaker

Order. In order to save time I did not stop the hon. Member before, but the Minister cannot be asked to confirm or deny reports which have appeared in the Press.

Mr. Henderson

Will the Minister clarify his statement about remaining united? Are we to understand that in any subsequent negotiations E.F.T.A. will negotiate as a group, or that each of the Seven will have its own bilateral negotiations, provided there is reasonable co-ordination?

Mr. Maudling

I do not want to anticipate the form of the negotiations. We all realise that the E.F.T.A. countries have rather differing problems, and we all want to see our partners satisfied. Therefore, we will remain united throughout the negotiations. Whether they will be bilateral or as a group it is too early to say at the moment.

Mr. Jay

If we are having this general conference of E.F.T.A., would not a similar general conference of the Commonwealth countries be better, rather than a series of separate negotiations which now looks like straining loyalty in the Commonwealth?

Mr. Maudling

I do not accept the right hon. Gentleman's premise. In any case, the meeting of E.F.T.A. was a regular Council meeting.

Following is the communiqué:


The Council of the European Free Trade Association met at Ministerial level in London from 27th to 28th June, 1961, under the chairmanship of the President of the Board, the right hon. Reginald Maudling.

The aim of the European Free Trade Association has been from the outset, not only to create a free market between its Members, but ultimately also to achieve the economic integration of Europe as a whole, in the form of a single European market comprising 300 million consumers, following Liberal policies towards the outside world. This purpose is stated in the Stockholm Convention and has been re-affirmed at every Ministerial Meeting since July, 1959. Ministers agreed that a generally increased awareness of the dangers of the present split in Europe has led to signs of willingness to make a new effort to bring to an end the division which, during recent years, has become an obstacle to European economic co-operation. An ending of this division would enable the European countries to give their full attention to the serious problems of economic relations between Europe and the rest of the world, and in particular the relationship between Western Europe as an industrialised region, and the developing countries of other Continents. A new effort to bring to an end this European division will necessitate a readiness to make some modification of policy on all sides, but it must respect the basic political positions not only of the several States of Europe, but also of the European Economic Community. Experience gained in recent years has provided a basis for a re-examination of the problems of European integration. This re-examination has shown that while some E.F.T.A. countries could not accept obligations of a political nature, all Members of E.F.T.A. are willing to undertake, in order to achieve an integrated European market, obligations which go beyond those which they have accepted among themselves in the Stockholm Convention.

Ministers agreed that the aim of any solution must be to promote unity and solidarity in Europe; to strengthen the European economy and to build an integrated market upon solid and permanent foundations. To this end, Ministers agreed that there must be effective institutions to supervise the implemention of undertakings necessary to achieve a solution acceptable to all parties.

Ministers considered whether their common objective—a single European market embracing all the members of E.F.T.A.—could be achieved by way of negotiation for membership of, or association with the European Economic Community. They concluded that it was premature to judge whether this was possible or was likely to be successful; they decided to re-examine the question at their next meeting.

Ministers agreed that if such a course should then appear possible, the members of E.F.T.A. should co-ordinate their actions and remain united throughout the negotiations. Ministers resolved that the European Free Trade Association, the obligations created by the Convention between the members, and the momentum towards integration within the Association, would be maintained at least until satisfactory arrangements have been worked out in negotiations to meet the various legitimate interests of all members of E.F.T.A., and thus enable them all to participate from the same date in an integrated European market. They agreed that a partial solution which created new economic division within Western Europe could not in any circumstances be regarded as satisfactory.

Ministers recalled their discussion at the Geneva Meeting of the Council from 14th to 16th February, 1961, and their decision to advance the date for the next 10 per cent. reduction of import duties from 1st January, 1962 to 1st July, 1961. They agreed that there would be advantage in a further acceleration of the timetable for the dismantling of tariff protection within E.F.T.A., and decided to consider the matter further at their next meeting.

During the course of their meeting the E.F.T.A. Ministers received the Finnish Ambassador in London, His Excellency Leo Tuominen, representing the Finnish Government. The Chairman of the E.F.T.A. Council expressed the pleasure of all the E.F.T.A. Ministers at the recent entry into force of the Association Agreement with Finland, and the prospect of fruitful economic co-operation which it held out.

The Finnish Ambassador declared in reply that his Government felt great satisfaction at the link now created between Finland and the E.F.T.A. countries by the new Agreement which was of the utmost importance for his country.

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