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Trade Balance Tables

Volume 889: debated on Monday 24 March 1975

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20.

asked the Secretary of State for Trade what information he has supplied to the EEC Commissioner for Trade, Mr. Gundelach, concerning Great Britain's balance of trade.

I have sent Mr. Gundelach a set of tables showing trade between the United Kingdom and the EEC over the years 1970 to 1974. These tables have formed the basis of replies made to earlier Questions and a copy is now available in the Library of the House.

Has my right hon. Friend done so in reply to the replies which Mr. Gundelach gave in the European Parliament on 19th February? Has his attention been drawn to Mr. Gundelach's statement there that the trade deficit with the EEC was only 32 per cent. of our total deficit and that he believed that membership of the EEC was not therefore disadvantageous to the United Kingdom?

I think that in his reply Mr. Gundelach confused the situation because he failed to make the simple distinction between total trade, including oil, and non-oil trade. It is that basic error which led him to conclusions which I think were false.

Will the Secretary of State undertake to put into the Vote Office the documents that underlie that error, as I think that there will be some doubt about the statement he has just made?

I think that the facts will emerge absolutely plainly from the set of tables. They are quite full and I recommend all hon. Members who are interested to study them carefully.

I accept that Mr. Gundelach's reply was misleading and that it referred to a proportion of the total deficit. However, is my right hon. Friend aware that even if one takes the non-oil deficit, as my right hon. Friend pointed out to me in a reply not very long ago, the proportion represented by our non-oil deficit to the EEC is lower today than it was in 1972, the last year before our entry?

I do not believe that to be so. The proportion of our non-oil deficit due to trade with the EEC in 1974 was more than 100 per cent. of our total non-oil trade deficit.

Did not the Secretary of State tell Mr. Gundelach that he had deliberately withheld judgment of whether our trade imbalance was the result of our membershsip of the EEC? Was that not totally inconsistent with an answer that he gave earlier today?

I did not say that to Mr. Gundelach. What I said was exactly what I told the House a short time ago, that is, that I have always taken the view —before we joined the EEC—that the trade effects would be unfavourable but that the extent of the deterioration would obviously bring in factors that were not readily identifiable and not easy to quantify.

Later

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In my supplementary question I attributed to the Secretary of State for Trade a remark concerning his view on the trade imbalance and EEC membership. I said that the right hon. Gentleman had remarked in reply to Mr. Gundelach, the EEC Commissioner:

"I have deliberately withheld judgment on the issue of whether our trade imbalance was the result of membership of the EEC."
That is a direct quotation from the Press statement issued by the Secretary of State, commenting upon Mr. Gundelach's re marks. That being so, it seems that, I am sure inadvertently, the Secretary of State has denied that he made a remark when clearly it was made and was obviously directed to Mr. Gundelach. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will clarify this.

It is true that in the Press release that I put out, commenting on Mr. Gundelach's address to the European Assembly, I said:

"I have deliberately withheld judgment on the issue of whether our trade imbalance was the result of membership of the EEC."
That has been my practice in answering questions until today. That is what I have said in the past. But in view of what I thought frankly was a very one-sided statement made by Mr. Gundelach of the figures, and his explanation of hem—[Interruption.] This is the explanation. I wrote to Mr. Gundelach on 20th March this year making the two points that I made to the House earlier today—that is, recalling that my view had been that there would be a deterioration in our trade before we joined but adding the point, which I emphasised in the House today. that the extent of the deterioration was a matter on which we could not at this stage hope to give any serious and final judgment.

Order. I am not prepared to allow this matter to be debated now. I allowed the hon. Gentleman to raise a point of order because I thought it might be that the Secretary of State wanted to change something he had said. As that is not so, this is not a matter for the Chair. It is not a matter of order.

With great respect, Mr. Speaker, I believe that it is a matter for the Chair. The Secretary of State has misunderstood the point I made. He said quite clearly at Question Time "I did not say that to Mr. Gundelach". I understand that he is now admitting that he did. I should have thought that he would feel it right to correct the record and that this would be a matter for you to arrange, Mr. Speaker.

It is not a matter for me at all. I have no responsibility for what the right hon. Gentleman says. It is a matter for him.