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Commonwealth Countries

Volume 886: debated on Monday 17 February 1975

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asked the Secretary of State for Trade what was the crude trade balance between the United Kingdom and our other Commonwealth trading partners in each of the years 1970 to 1974, respectively.


asked the Secretary of State for Trade what is the trade surplus or deficit with the Commonwealth for 1974 to the latest convenient date; and what is the comparable figure for 1973.

The "crude" trade deficits—that is, the difference between exports valued fob and imports valued cif—with the Commonwealth in each year between 1970 and 1974 were £468 million, £174 million, £312 million, £637 million and £580 million respectively.

Why is the right hon. Gentleman getting so worked up when on those figures, particularly in the latter years, there has been a deterioration in our trade with the Commonwealth which proportionately has been much worse than the effects of our trade with the EEC? Does he now suggest that we should leave the Commonwealth?

The hon. Gentleman is entitled to put whatever interpretation he wants on the figures, but they seem to me in a sense to show a certain stability. They begin in 1970 with a deficit of £468 million. Last year there was a deficit of £580 million. There has been some up-and-down movement in the middle. That does not indicate any great change. I would point out that there is a component of oil in the 1974 figure. Presumably that relates most of all to our trade with Nigeria.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the selection of figures for periods relating to Commonwealth and EEC trade does not help the great argument? Is he aware that there will be a feeling abroad that the persistent argument that we are hearing for remaining within the EEC seems to suggest that it was some sort of miracle that Britain existed at all before the EEC was created? Does he agree that the logic of that thinking that the protagonists of the EEC should bear in mind is that, for the miracle to continue, the sooner we get out the better?

I agree with my hon. Friend that the figures should be treated with the most scrupulous care. I entirely agree with his other remark. One of the most disagreeable features of the whole debate about the EEC is that the protagonists of entry on any terms are constantly seeking to denigrate this country and to create a mood of gloom and doom about our national future.