asked the Secretary of State for Trade what meetings he has had with members of the European Commission.
I have had frequent meetings, both formal and informal, with members of the European Commission.
Does the right hon. Gentleman appreciate that when, after each of these meetings, he goes out of his way to make clear that it is his hope and intention that we should leave the EEC, it is directly discouraging to the mounting of the export drive towards Europe which he says is needed, and that he is contributing to the collapse of industrial investment and rising unemployment? We recognise the sincerity and strength of the right hon. Gentleman's views, but may I ask whether he finds this attitude possible to reconcile with his responsibilities as sponsoring Minister for trade and his need to give confidence to industry in a time of crisis?
I am, along with my colleagues, embarked upon a fundamental renegotiation of our terms of entry to the EEC, and the matter is to be put to our own people for decision. That, if you like, brings an element of uncertainty about the future of the formal relationship between Britain and the EEC. As long as the present Government—who have every intention of living up to their word—are in power the decision will be for the British people. If that causes uncertainty to British industry I can do nothing about it, but I say—as I say on all possible occasions—that whether we are in or out we shall have a very substantial continuing trading relationship with the EEC. I shall, therefore, find no difficulty in urging British industry to bend every possible effort to improving its trading performance with the EEC.
Is it not patently obvious, since we were trading much better with the EEC as it existed before we entered, that it would be far better if we got out, so that we could restore our trading position with those countries? In view of the October deadline and the serious economic situation facing this country, would it not be better if my right hon. Friend had a word with his Cabinet colleagues, perhaps this week, and suggested that we should hurry the matter along by several months—perhaps getting the Leader of the House to organise an all-night sitting, as was done on the Prevention of Terrorism Bill—so that we could get out quickly?
The issue whether it is better to get out is not to be judged solely in terms of the trading context. There are wider considerations, and I think it right that the whole business should be brought together and presented to our people for their decision. As for hurrying it along, I assure my hon. Friend that there will be no delay on our side, and I do not believe that there is now any wish to delay on the side of the EEC, either. I am, therefore, very hopeful that we shall be able to resolve the matter soon—certainly before the summer.