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European Community

Volume 890: debated on Monday 21 April 1975

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asked the Secretary of State for Industry if he will list the limitations which will be imposed on the Government's domestic policies for British industry by continued United Kingdom membership of the European Economic Community.

Our industrial policies would continue to be subject to the relevant provisions of the Rome Treaty, in particular the rules relating to competition which apply to undertakings and to State aids to industry. The Treaty of Paris would continue to apply to the coal and steel industries.

There is ample evidence that the public are terrified of the actions taken in respect of Government policies, including that for industry, and the Secretary of State's own extraordinary ideas about the future development of British industry. Should not the right hon. Gentleman keep quiet about this so-called disadvantage, lest millions of additional voters seize this as an additional reason to vote "Yes" in the referendum?

I do not know why the hon. Gentleman is interested in the referendum, since the Deputy Leader of the Conservative Party has made it clear that he and his party do not care a bit what the British public think if they vote to leave the Common Market.

Has my right hon. Friend seen the latest documents from Brussels concerning regional aid, which state that assistance to industries within central areas will be under the Commission's constant review? Does not the use of such a phrase suggest that the Commission would dissuade and eventually prohibit assistance from the State to industry if it went beyond the amount which the Commission agreed was desirable?

I do not think I can add to what the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and other Ministers have said about the reasons for the Government's decision. As for the rest, it is a matter upon which each of us must form his own view.

As the Minister responsible for industry in the House, will the right hon. Gentleman please tell the House how much quantification he can make of the limitations carried out by Brussels, since he has been responsible for British industrial policy?

I have given the best answer I can give. I gave a very full answer to the original Question. The hon. Gentleman will know well that any Government will formulate policies with treaty obligations in mind. Therefore, that does not bear on the question whether the treaty obligations should or should not be continued in operation. The hon. Gentleman had better make clear to the House now whether he is prepared to accept the view of the British people on this matter on 5th June. Until the House of Commons knows whether the hon. Gentleman is going to take any notice of the British people, his questions are an insult to the British electorate.


asked the Secretary of State for Industry what consultations he has had with leading British companies on the effect on their expansion programmes of withdrawal from the Common Market.

I and my Department have received views from many companies and bodies representative of British Indus- try on this and other matters relating to membership of the Common Market.

As the EEC takes 33 per cent. of our exports and we take only about 7 per cent. of it exports, is it not clear that our manufacturers rely far more heavily on EEC markets than they on us? Has the Secretary of State a shred of evidence that if we leave the EEC we will be able to negotiate a free trade agreement on terms anything like as good as those available to us as a member of the EEC?

This country is a very good market indeed for the other member countries of the EEC. I have yet to see a very good customer being kicked in the teeth by suppliers. It is quite fair that this argument should be discussed as part of the referendum campaign, on which the Government's view is quite clear.

Has my right hon. Friend tried to estimate the consequent job loss to areas of high unemployment like my own as a result of a down-turn in investment intentions following withdrawal from the EEC?

I certainly hope that whether we leave the EEC or stay in we shall do better, in investment terms, than we have in our first two years within the Community, and that, whether we come out or stay in, we should do a great deal better in our trade with other Community countries. If only it were possible to get the debate upon these matters set against a background of many years of industrial decline in Britain, some of the rather silly scare tactics that are being used by hon. Members opposite would not be relevant.

Will the Secretary of State now answer a direct question which he has been asked on several occasions this afternoon? Does he or does he not agree with his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister that investment will fall if we withdraw from the EEC?

The hon. Gentleman should not feign surprise or confusion. He knows very well that the Government and the Cabinet have agreed to differ in their assessment of this matter and that we believe that agreeing to differ on arguments, but being willing to accept the verdict of the people, is better than a monolithic unity and an absolute contempt for the opinions of the public.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that before we joined the Common Market we were told that it would be disastrous if we did not join, and that now we are in we are told that it would be disastrous if we left it? The two most disastrous years for British industry have been those while we have been in the Common Market.

Without being drawn into a wider discussion of this matter, I thank God that we have handed this matter to the British people, in whose common sense I have great confidence.

Is the right hon. Gentleman not aware that we fully understand that Ministers have agreed to disagree on the matter of the referendum? Is he further aware that arrangements have been made so that when Questions are put to a Minister and he is unable to give answers in terms of Government policy the Questions are transferred? Does he not agree that he has consistently refused to answer, or has given misleading answers by way of supplementary questions this afternoon, which has consistently frustrated the guidelines of the Prime Minister?

The Cabinet guidelines would not be best interpreted by the hon. Gentleman. He will notice that every one of my answers has faithfully reflected the Government's view that it would be in the interests of this country to remain within the Community as a result of the vote on 5th June. That has been made absolutely clear in all my answers. I would rather have an agreement to disagree on the merits than have a pledge to confront the British public, whatever they think on the Common Market.