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Eec Membership

Volume 889: debated on Monday 24 March 1975

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asked the Secretary of State for Trade what recent representations he has received from representatives of British importers and British exporters about the effects on the United Kingdom's overseas trade of British membership of the EEC.

I continue to receive views from many sections of industry and trade and their representative bodies on a wide range of Community matters, including the effect of membership on our trade.

Is it not bogus for the Secretary of State to go on using the trade deficit as an argument for leaving the EEC while proposing a free trade area which would leave the deficit more or less unchanged? The right hon. Gentleman has already admitted that point as regards industrial goods. As regards foodstuffs, is he not aware that his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection said in the House last week that prices of food imports which might be lower if we shopped around outside are just about balanced by the prices of foods which are lower precisely because we are within the Community? Is not the whole argument, therefore, bogus?

I am inclined to say— and I shall say—that I have nothing to add to my previous reply.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that it is now possible to buy more cheaply outside the EEC not merely the beef, mutton, butter and cheese which he mentioned but also wheat, maize and most other grains as well?

This is an important matter, and that is what I was trying to establish in my replies on an earlier question. It is necessary to recognise that there has now been a considerable change in relative price levels as between European and world food prices. My right hon. Friend has very properly pointed out that the EEC levies on wheat and maize have again been reimposed. My personal view is that this will be the trend which we shall see unfold over the next two or three years. Obviously one cannot be certain that that view is correct, but if it is we shall have all the burdens of the Common Agricultural Policy while at the same time denying ourselves the possibility of cheaper food elsewhere.

Despite the Secretary of State's campaign and constant innuendo in the House about the trade deficit, did he not recently say that he deliberately withheld judgment on the issue of whether our trade imbalance was the result of our membership of the EEC? Will he withhold judgment until after the referendum, or will he eventually make up his mind before it?

As I said before—I say it again—my view, a view that the House heard many times in 1971 and 1972, was that the overall trade effect of our joining the Common Market would be detrimental to this country. That was my view then, and I have seen no evidence since to make me withdraw it. But what I have expressed surprise about is the enormous size of the adverse trade deficit.

Order. I remind the House that we are soon to have a two-day debate on these matters.