HC Deb 02 May 1968 vol 763 cc1285-7
Q2. Mr. Marten

asked the Prime Minister when the next Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference will be held.

The Prime Minister

I have as yet nothing to add to the Answer I gave on 4th April to a Question by the hon. and learned Member for Antrim, South (Sir Knox Cunningham).—[Vol. 762, c. 600.]

Mr. Marten

Is the Prime Minister aware that all of us who have profound regard for the Commonwealth are beginning to feel a little uneasy about the delay in getting this conference date fixed, particularly as there are so many problems facing the Commonwealth at present? Has the Commonwealth Secretary-General told him the reasons for the delay? If so, can the right hon. Gentleman tell some of them to us?

The Prime Minister

I assure the hon. Gentleman that I am as concerned as he is about this, but I do not think that there is any ground for his anxiety. The Secretary-General has been in touch with a considerable number of Commonwealth Prime Ministers. It is a question of getting agreement and fixing a date. The talks are very well advanced and I hope that the Secretary-General will be able to announce something in the near future. As soon as he does, I shall inform the House.

Mr. Brian Parkyn

When my right hon. Friend and the other Commonwealth Prime Ministers decide on another conference, will he carefully consider the possibility of holding it in Canberra rather than in London?

The Prime Minister

The convenience of all the Commonwealth Prime Ministers is, of course, considered. At one point, Ottawa was very much favoured for the meeting and I expressed our warm willingness to go there. But it is now rather more difficult for agreement to be reached on Ottawa for reasons which are the fault of no one in Canada. Canberra has not been much favoured, partly on travel grounds, and not all Commonwealth countries are represented there. One advantage of London is that all the Commonwealth countries are represented and have their own channels of communication here.

Mr. Heath

What progress has been made in the consultations about the question of Commonwealth citizens being an item on the agenda? Are these being carried on in the Secretariat? If the conference is to be in London in October, as has been widely suggested, will the Prime Minister ensure, in the interests of right hon. and hon. Members on both sides who would like the opportunity to meet leaders of the Commonwealth, that it is not held during either of the party conferences?

The Prime Minister

I have heard no suggestion of a final date and, of course, I agree that it is extremely important that members of all parties should have the chance of meeting delegates to the conference. If the experience of the last two, and probably three, conferences is a guide, this one will spread over a week, which will provide adequate time, whatever date is chosen. As to the first part of the right hon. Gentleman's supplementary question, I am not in a position to talk about the agenda. It has to be agreed but it is inconceivable, as I have said before, that this subject should not be on it.