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European Economic Community

Volume 885: debated on Monday 3 February 1975

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3.

asked the Secretary of State for Industry if he can give an estimate of the number of firms which have lost money because of United Kingdom entry to the EEC.

Information on which to base such an estimate is not available.

Does not my hon. Friend agree that it would be of benefit to the House if the information could be collected, particularly as the CBI continues to say that it is in the interests of British industry to stay in the Common Market, whereas it is obvious that it is not in the interest of many companies to do so?

It would be beneficial to the House and to the country as a whole if more information could be made available, no doubt on a sector-by-sector basis. The industrial case for entry was dependent on the positive dynamic effects which were to be achieved according to paragraph 53 of the 1970 White Paper, which depended on British industry's responding favourably to greater economies of scale, greater specialisation and a sharper competitive climate. As the House knows, the result is a very large increase in the balance of payments deficit, which has increased from £180 million in 1971 to £2,076 million in 1974.

Without commenting on the deliberate attempt to use the Question to knock the Common Market, may I ask the Under-Secretary of State whether he is aware that the overwhelming majority of British industry—including the nationalised sector—is strongly in favour of remaining in the European Community? Why, therefore, are he and his right hon. Friend anxious to get out of it? Will the hon. Gentleman also tell the House, on the authority of his right hon. Friend, whether he is answering in this matter on behalf of the Cabinet or on behalf of the anti-European minority, or whether he is speaking for himself?

I am not aware that giving simple facts about the experience of British entry into the EEC is in any way giving a one-sided view or distorting the question. I shall continue to give the facts. On the question of the responsibility for this view, the hon. Gentleman well knows that it has been the proper decision of the Government not to depend on the decisions of any particular group, whether it be the CBI or any other, but to take account of the fact that industry is considerably more than the board rooms, and to extend the decision fully to the people of this country in a democratic referendum.

18.

asked the Secretary of State for Industry what discussions he has held with representatives of industrial companies regarding the desirability of this country remaining a member of the European Economic Community.

25.

asked the Secretary of State for Industry what discussions he has had with leaders of British industry about British membership of the EEC.

I and my Department continue to receive views from both sides of industry and its representative bodies on a wide range of Community matters, including the question of membership.

Does the right hon. Gentleman recognise that whenever and wherever he speaks on the subject of EEC membership he does so as holder of the office of Secretary of State for Industry? Is it not therefore incumbent upon him, to avoid misleading and confusing the electorate, to make it clear that the views he expresses are not those of the majority of industrial management because, in the normal course of events, the very title that he bears might lead people to believe that that was so?

I had no idea that anybody assumed that as the Secretary of State for Industry I was the spokesman for the Confederation of British Industry. If that view prevails, I am glad to take this opportunity of establishing that it is not so. By providing for a referendum we ensure that everybody will have one vote —the hon. Gentleman, myself, the President of the CBI and every elector. This decision will not be made by the Government; it will be made by the British people. It would have been a lot better had the decision been made in that way in 1972.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that a survey recently conducted on behalf of the European Representation Fund showed that of 220 leading companies, 91 per cent. wished Britain to stay in the Common Market?

Yes, but the hon. Gentleman is in the terrible muddle of assuming that the only people in industry who matter are those who own it. We are providing for everyone to have a vote. Even if polls are accurate—who knows whether they are?—we are determined that this matter should be resolved through the ballot box in the proper way. Polls of this kind have very little bearing, except as part of the anticipation of the result.

When he speaks again on this subject will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that the so-called representatives of industry have been chronically mistaken on other crucial political issues before this country and that this is a subject on which no section of the electorate should have privilege compared with any other?

I recall that in 1967 the argument being put forward by industrialists was that if we applied to join the Common Market there would be a flood of sustained investment. That did not occur after 1967 and it did not occur after 1971. There was the biggest investment slump for some years in the periods immediately preceding and following Britain's being taken into the Common Market by the previous Government.

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for referring to industry's investment intentions. Coming back from the referendum to the question of industry, which is the subject today, the right hon. Gentleman will no doubt have seen the survey in the Financial Times this morning which shows investment at its lowest point ever, expectations of growth at the lowest point, and the forecasts for inflation and unemployment at the highest rate. Does he accept that uncertainty over Europe is one of the factors that is bringing about this disastrous state of affairs?

My comment to the hon. Gentleman is twofold. First on 8th February 1974—when the hon. Gentleman was in Government—the Financial Times reported that industrial confidence was at the lowest point for 16 years. [Interruption.] I have the cutting and shall give it to the hon. Gentleman. The rest of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question is a powerful endorsement of the need for the Government's new industrial policy.