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European Economic Community

Volume 888: debated on Monday 17 March 1975

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asked the Secretary of State for Trade whether he will consult with the British Overseas Trade Board on the desirability of continued membership of the EEC; and if he will make a statement on such discussions.

Consultation, on the renegotiated terms, will take place with the nation as a whole, through the referendum. However, as its president, my right hon. Friend always welcomes discussion of issues of concern to the British Overseas Trade Board.

Would it not be right for the Secretary of State to consult the board on the vital issue of EEC membership, as the board was set up specifically to oversee the whole question of export promotion? Can it be that the Secretary of State is not consulting it because he is aware that it would give the answer "Stay in the EEC", which runs contrary to his predetermined prejudice to get out?

The board has made known to me, my right hon. Friend and others the importance which it attaches to markets in Western Europe as well as in other parts of the world. I share those views. However, renegotiation embraces issues beyond immediate commercial considerations.

Does the Minister agree that it is interesting not only that 30 per cent. of our total exports now go to the EEC but that 10 per cent. of the other member nations' exports come to us? Is not that a fantastically compelling trade argument for the future?

It is indeed an important trade argument for the future. Whether or not we remain in the EEC, Western Europe will continue to be a major area of concern and activity for British business.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the interpretations put on the balance of payments deficit figures are many and varied, even within the Cabinet, and that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs has a very different interpretation from that of my hon. Friend, because my right hon. Friend has been at the negotiating table in the past 12 months? If we get out of the Common Market, which we are all beginning to doubt, does my hon. Friend think that our trade with Europe will go up or down?

The figures of our trade with the Common Market are of great concern and import not only to the House but to business men and the people of this country. Whether or not we stay in, Western Europe will continue to be a major area for British trade. I am sure that it would be the aim of any Government of this country, whatever the circumstances, to ensure that we had a satisfactory trading relationship with Western Europe.

Do not the true interests of British exporters lie not so much in membership of the Common Market but in maximising free trade throughout the world? Has not more been achieved by past GATT negotiations, and, one hopes, the present GATT negotiations, than by the Common Market?

I should not like to offer an opinion on the question whether GATT has meant more for free trade than the Common Market, EFTA or any other regional grouping. This Government are dedicated to the principle of free trade, and I hope will long remain so.

As there is apparently no food price advantage from remaining in the Common Market, does my hon. Friend agree that with a £2,300 million-£2,400 million annual deficit, which my hon. Friend has just revealed, the conclusion is that we should get out of the market, especially when the power of this Parliament is being handed over to bureaucrats in Brussels? Will my hon. Friend confirm that trading arrangements will be able to continue, probably improved, through EFTA and GATT?

Future trading arrangements between Britain and the Common Market will be a matter for negotiation if the British people should vote "No" in the referendum. If they vote "Yes", our trading relationships will continue on the present pattern. Our interest after the referendum, if the referendum vote is affirmative, will be to ensure the freest possible trade between this country and the many growing markets throughout the world outside Western Europe.

In answering questions about the deficit with the EEC, will the hon. Gentleman make sure that he puts it in context, against the background of the deficit as a whole? Will he deplore the attempts of some Labour Members who are against membership of the EEC to fight a campaign by innuendo at Ques- tion Time, when the true issues should be set out clearly?

Having worked for a long time in industry, I am all in favour of using statistics in the appropriate context and not forcing them into an inappropriate context. The deficit with the Common Market must be seem in the context not only of our total trade deficit but of our total non-oil trading deficit, as the oil deficit greatly distorts our trading relationships with two-thirds of the world.