HC Deb 13 March 1961 vol 636 cc981-2
46. Mr. Healey

asked the Lord Privy Seal why he did not inform the leader of the French delegation to the recent talks in London on European economic problems of his new proposals for British association with the Common Market.

Mr. Heath

My statement to the Western European Union Ministerial Meeting on 27th February did not contain anything on this subject which had not been said in the talks with German and Italian officials, and reported by German officials to the French officials. Information about my speech was given to the leader of the French delegation himself at the beginning of the talks with the French officials on the same day.

Mr. Healey

In view of the absolutely decisive importance of the French Government's position on these issues, is it not really the greatest blunder that the French Government delegation were not acquainted with these proposals in time to have a serious discussion on them in London? Even if the right hon. Gentleman is not interested in keeping his right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade in full touch with the proposals, surely the French Government are in a most important position here.

Mr. Heath

The French Government are in a most important position and everything possible was done to keep them informed. As I have said, the leader of the French delegation was told and the French Government realised, as we both did, when the date was fixed for the visit of the French officials, that it was the same as that for the W.E.U. meeting.

Mr. E. L. Mallalieu

Is it not time that the Government stopped shilly-shallying and came out with a statement that we desire to negotiate entry into Europe?

Mr. Heath

The Government have not in any way shilly-shallied. They are exploring the possibilities with other Governments of finding a basis of settlement. With a problem as complex and difficult as this, that is bound to take some time, but it is better that we should do it in this way than that we should risk failure in negotiations by starting without preparation.

Mr. Nabarro

Is my right hon. Friend aware that one of the difficulties that private Members of the House, particularly on the Government benches, have on this complex topic is that we have no knowledge of the attitude of Commonwealth Governments to the latest British suggestions for association with the Common Market? Will my right hon. Friend cease to regard that aspect of matters as entirely confidential and publish statements from time to time about the prevailing attitude of Commonwealth countries in this matter?

Mr. Heath

It is for the Commonwealth Governments themselves to express their views about any proposals which might be made. From time to time some Commonwealth Ministers have done so. Recently two have expressed their views in their own countries.