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European Community (Industry Ministers)

Volume 893: debated on Monday 9 June 1975

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asked the Secretary of State for Industry when he next expects to meet other Ministers for Industry within the EEC.


asked the Secretary of State for Industry what plans he has to meet his opposite numbers in the other EEC countries' Governments in the near future.

I hope to meet the Ministers with industrial responsibilities in all the Common Market countries as soon as possible.

What do the industry Ministers of the Eight think of the view of the Secretary of State that Britain's membership of the Community has cost us 500,000 jobs, and will cost us another 500,000? If the right hon. Gentleman still holds that view, how can he with any honour remain a member of this administration?

The hon. Gentleman may somewhat misunderstand the process of the referendum. The degradation and humiliation of members of the present Government who took the view that I took ends with the people's vote. It does not begin with it. The thing that was hardest to take was to be a member of the Community on the diktat of a Prime Minister of a previous Government without the assent of the British people.

I have already this morning telephoned Mr. Spinelli, the industrial Commissioner in Brussels. He has suggested that he comes to London on Thursday for talks—a suggestion which I greatly welcome. I have already made informal contacts with the TUC and the CBI, because many people in this country are anxious about unemployment and will expect a British Government, now put into the Community by the British people, to work for the safeguarding of employment prospects and their interests within the Community.

Will my right hon. Friend now give an unqualified and unreserved assurance to the House that he will work unremittingly with our friends in Europe to ensure the success of our continued membership of the Common Market?

As I have just told the House, I have made contact with Mr. Spinelli. I have also written letters to my colleagues in the other Common Market countries. I do not require lessons in political morality from an hon. Member who regularly signs the oath of allegiance and continually snipes at the Royal Family.

Even if the Secretary of State wishes to dodge giving an exact and clear answer to the first supplementary question, will he at least explain to the other EEC industry Ministers, when he next sees them, why he thinks the British public overwhelmingly and decisively rejected his ludicrous assertion that unemployment of half a million was due to our membership of the EEC?

I do not believe that this is the right place to refight the referendum campaign, but I do not apologise to the House for putting forward views that were honestly held in a referendum which I had played some part in bringing about. Having said that, the British people have invited the British Government to work constructively within the Community to safeguard their interests, to safeguard their jobs, to see that the policy of the present Government is implemented, and to work constructively within the Community. I shall do my best to do those things.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the right hon. Gentleman's reply I beg to give notice that I shall seek to raise the matter on the Adjournment as soon as possible.

In view of the many statements that were made during the referendum campaign to the effect that staying in the Market would safeguard industrial jobs inside the United Kingdom, will the right hon. Gentleman, at his first meeting with the EEC industry Ministers, discuss the possibilities of increasing investment to help extend the manufacturing base in Dundee, in view of the loss of 800 manufacturing jobs in NCR plants in Dundee, notice being given on polling day? Will the right hon. Gentleman make an early statement on this matter?

The hon. Gentleman's anxiety about jobs is shared widely throughout the United Kingdom, but it may well be that this anxiety is one that I shall need most carefully to assess and express. I am happy that I shall have an opportunity to do so. I have already made initial contact with the chairman of the Finance Committee of the TUC. I shall take the opportunity of discussing these problems not only with the British trade union movement but with trade unions in all other countries in the Community.

Does my right hon. Friend concur that most of his duties are involved in discussions with trade unionists and not with Ministers in the EEC? As my right hon. Friend has established excellent relations with trade unions, will he note that many of us would strongly resent any removal of him from his present post and any appeasement of City gentlemen who are clamouring for his head on a plate? It is said that if that does not take place the City will not play. I quote Mr. Horace Cutler.

It is my intention—this is why I spoke to Jack Jones in this sense—that my contacts, which have been close, with the trade unions in this country should be extended to link with the trade union movements of other countries. Having said that, if the Opposition want my head on a charger the leader of the Conservative Party will have to be a lot more seductive as a Salome than she has been so far.