HC Deb 31 January 1963 vol 670 cc1122-4
Q2. Mr. Stonehouse

asked the Prime Minister if he will now call a Commonwealth Prime Minister's conference, in view of the state of the negotiations with regard to Great Britain's application to join the European Economic Community, with a view to agreeing an alternative economic policy for Great Britain in cooperation with the Commonwealth.

The Prime Minister

Commonwealth trade has throughout been a major factor in our economic policy and ought not to be looked on as an alternative to membership of the European Economic Community. We shall certainly continue to keep in closest touch with the other Commonwealth Governments while working out our policies.

Mr. Stonehouse

Is the Prime Minister aware that that evasive reply is not in tune with his broadcast last night? Why the delay? Why not call the Commonwealth Prime Ministers together and try to repair the incredible damage already done to the Commonwealth as a result of his persistence in pursuing an application to join the Common Market on such humiliating terms?

The Prime Minister

I cannot accept the premise of that supplementary question and therefore I cannot necessarily accept the conclusion.

Mr. Kershaw

Would it not be graceful if those who have been accusing the Government of selling the Commonwealth down the river withdrew the allegation now that it is plainly shown that they have done nothing of the sort?

Mr. Healey

Is the Prime Minister and his hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Kershaw) aware that in fact there was no sale because there was no buyer, not because there was no offer? Is the Prime Minister further aware that many of us feel that his recent remarks, especially on television last night, suggest that he has not yet learnt the lesson of recent events in Brussels? Can he assure us that he will not allow his obsession with British entry to the Common Market to inhibit him from vigorous action to restore the strength of our links with old friends in the Commonwealth?

The Prime Minister

I understand that this matter is to be debated. I tried to state last night what I thought was a fair and reasonable view. I have sent messages to all the Commonwealth Prime Ministers and at this stage I think that it would be right to keep our exchanges confidential.

Mr. Fletcher

Can the Prime Minister say whether at the last Commonwealth Prime Ministers' conference any proposals were put forward for increasing trade with the Commonwealth in the event of negotiations for entry into the Common Market not succeeding?

The Prime Minister

Proposals for increasing Commonwealth trade are being made all the time. What we could not find was any organisation of the Commonwealth as a whole with common tariffs, free trade between peoples, similar in any way to the Community. There were very different approaches. We shall continue our Commonwealth efforts as we have done before and as we shall do in the future.

Mr. B. Harrison

Will my right hon Friend undertake that he will not call a Commonwealth conference as a panacea unless adequate preparations have been made and consultations have been held previously to ensure its success?

The Prime Minister

That is a very important point. We have to consider very carefully the best means of obtaining our purpose.

Mr. Mason

Can the Prime Minister say whether there is any possibility during the term of his Government of the door being reopened to entry by this country into Europe?

The Prime Minister

Does the hon. Member mean in this Parliament, or in the next Administration which I hope to form?

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