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European Community (Economic Ministers)

Volume 933: debated on Monday 20 June 1977

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asked the Chan cellor of the Duchy of Lancaster when, in his rôle of economic adviser to Her Majesty's Government, he was last inconsultation with the Economic Ministersof the EEC.

asked the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster when, in his capacity as the Government's chief economic adviser, he next intends to meet his EEC colleagues.

I meet Economic Ministers from the Governments of other EEC countries from time to time. I hope that I shall have the opportunity to meet informally any who are visiting London for the European Council at the end of this month.

What are the right hon. Gentleman's views about the EEC's reported intention to raise large sums of money on its own account in international markets? If the Government remain openly and bitterly divided on the question of continuing EEC membership, to what extent will that damage Britain's chances of sharing in the disbursement of the moneys raised by the EEC?

I welcome the constructive achievements of the EEC, including the particular financial one to which the hon. Member referred. My Government are certainly not—[HON. MEMBERS: "My Government?"] The Government of which I have the privilege of being a member are certainly not divided on the question of retaining membership of the European Community. The expressions "bitterly" and "openly" are not apposite to the position of my Government in relation to the EEC. We shall continue as we have done throughout the period of this Government in encouraging all positive achievement that is for the advantage of this country and members of the Community.

At such discussions with the Council of Ministers, what positive plans were brought forward to deal with the question of unemployment in view of the high level of unemployment in the Common Market? Does my right hon. Friend accept that that level is a basic fault of the capitalist system that operates in the Common Market? What plans do he and the Government have to deal with that problem?

Unemployment is a world problem. The question that all of us in Europe have to ask ourselves is whether we would be better off in a state of anarchic, unilateral rat-racing than in a co-operative attempt to solve these problems. I welcome my hon. Friend's concern that we should tackle these problems co-operatively as a responsible member of the European Community.

In the right hon. Gentleman's rôle of economic adviser to the Government, does he reflect that as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster he represents a major agricultural, landowning interest? In that capacity, what advice has he offered the Government about the future of the Milk Marketing Board and the Potato Marketing Board within the European Community?

I was aware of the premise on which the hon. Member's question was based, but I had not, I confess, regarded these as areas of my specialist expertise on which to tender advice to the Government.

When my right hon. Friend meets the Economic Ministers of the EEC, will he tell them to proceed cautiously because of the massive groundswell of disillusionment which is spreading throughout Britain? Will he ask them to adjust their policies accordingly or allow us to get out?

My hon. Friend refers to a massive groundswell of disillusionment. That comes mainly from those who were never illusioned in the first place.

In that case, might I send to the right hon. Gentleman the results of the last few opinion polls, which show that opinion has reversed since the referendum? I turn to the Question on the Order Paper. One of the main aims of the Community surely must be convergence. Since we have joined, there has been nothing but economic divergence. What will be the right hon. Gentleman's advice to the Economic Ministers when he discusses this important question, if the Common Market is to succeed?

The hon. Member is right to say that we shall all benefit if we can increase the amount of economic and financial convergence in our activities. I should give the advice that they should learn from the past. It is no good setting unrealistic targets for advance. But I should tell them that they should not despair of advancing in a commonsense, constructive way. I should tell them that one of the advantages that they hope to get from our arrival is that good faith and common sense will be injected more strongly into the forces of the Community by reason of our arrival.

In these discussions, will my right hon. Friend tell his fellow Ministers about the importance of the stabilisation of international commodity prices and the value of the common fund as a mechanism to achieve this end?

I certainly take part in discussions about the way in which we can achieve greater security for the world on commodity prices. This question is being dealt with in many different places such as the United Nations, the CIEC and the Common Market. In so far as my hon. Friend is seeking to relate this matter to the Community, I believe that the Community has a constructive part to play in furthering the world judgments which would be useful in this area.

When the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster next meets the EEC Economic Ministers, will he take the opportunity of reaffirming that it is an essential element of the Government's economic strategy that there should be a substantial and continuous reduction in the share of resources required for the public sector?

Does my right hon. Friend appreciate that while it is true to say, as he did, that there are those of us who will never be content while we are inside the Common Market, many millions of other people have changed their minds? Is he aware that there is no better illustration than that of Grimsby, where the people were told that they would benefit most from membership because their port faced Europe?

Will he tell the European Ministers that we are propping up private industry by £10 million a day, whereas before we joined we were spending only £2 million a day on it? Will he tell them that the dole queue has doubled and that inflation is raging at three times the rate it was before we joined? Will he also tell them that we have a trading deficit of £2,000 million a year, which we did not have when we went in? Will he tell them that those of us on these Benches who are campaigning——

I readily accept that my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) will not be content as long as we remain inside the Common Market.

What is more open to discussion is whether he would be content even if we came out. In the long list of cumulative woe which my hon. Friend has enumerated, he has omitted the recent increase in wet weather and cold as late as mid-June. On a more cheerful note, my hon. Friend has also omitted the striking improvements in the balance of payments which have been occurring recently and the even greater ones which are now in prospect. None of these matters can be attributed exclusively to the Common Market. To those who are complaining, I can only say that all the more optimistic predictions made in relation to the Market have not been statistically justified and that for me the question is whether we would be better off out of the Market in the short or long term or better off in it. I have not the least doubt that we have been much better off in the short term through being in the Market and that our prospects of being better off in the future are immeasurably enhanced because of the new growing European unity cautiously advanced.