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European Economic Community (Council Of Ministers)

Volume 980: debated on Monday 3 March 1980

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asked the Secretary of State for Trade when he expects to meet his European Economic Community colleagues.

The next meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council will be on 17–18 March and either my hon. Friend or I will attend.

When the Minister attends the meeting with his EEC colleagues, will he explain to them that the arguments in favour of protecting certain key British industries by means of selective import controls are growing apace? Will he emphasise that unless those arguments are recognised, grave consequences will follow that will affect the future of the EEC?

The arguments for selective import controls are not growing apace, although the demand may be increasing.

When my right hon. Friend sees his colleagues in the Community, will he mention the unfairness that arises from Britain's contribution to the European development fund? Will he bear in mind that Britain contributes 18 per cent. of the fund in return for 7 per cent. of the contracts, while the French contribute 18 per cent. but succeed in obtaining more than 30 per cent. of the contracts.

I think that perhaps that question should be answered by my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office. However, I shall endeavour to answer it. The distribution of the European development fund is very unsatisfactory. We receive about half of the amount that we put in. The French receive double, and the Germans come out about neutral. I am unhappy about the way in which the funds are deployed. However, in the last resort British industry must bid for those funds as part of its export effort. I agree with the sentiments behind my hon. Friend's remark.

Has the Secretary of State noticed that even The Guardian, with its liberal traditions, has come out more or less in favour of some form of import control for manufacturing industry? Is it not true that if there is to be any long-term future for our manufacturing base some form of selective import control is vital?

I would not necessarily define the sentiments expressed by The Guardian as "liberal". Some of its sentiments are illiberal. To a certain extent liberalism stems from the Manchester school I am not sure that all the attitudes expressed by The Guardian stem from that. Selective import controls do not have anything to offer this country. About one-third of our GNP is derived from exports. We should not follow the route of selective import controls.

When my right hon. Friend meets his European colleagues, will he bear in mind the incontestable fact that in 1970 we had a surplus of £150 million in trade on manufactured goods, but that last year we had a deficit of £2½ billion? Does he not agree that whoever may be benefiting from this trade, it certainly is not us?

I assume that my hon. Friend is referring to the European Community. We expanded our exports to the EEC last year at approximately double the rate at which we expanded exports to the rest of the world. That is a useful achievement. Trade is multilateral. Of course, we shall have deficits with some parts of the world and surpluses with others. We must improve our performance with our trading partners in the EEC.