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European Community

Volume 13: debated on Monday 16 November 1981

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10.

asked the Secretary of State for Trade if he will give the value of United Kingdom total exports to and imports from European Community countries during the last 12 months for which figures are available.

In 1980 the United Kingdom's visible exports to the Community were valued at £20·4 billion compared with imports of £19·7 billion.

I welcome that surplus, which is, presumably, greater if invisible trade is taken into account. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that trade with EEC countries has increased more than fivefold in the past eight years? In view of the supplementary questions by my hon. Friends the Members for Gosport (Mr. Viggers) and for Lincoln (Mr. Carlisle), have the Government made any estimate of how many jobs have been provided when exports have totalled £20,000 million?

My hon. Friend is correct in saying that there has been a rapid expansion in trade between Continental Community countries and ourselves. If that trade were to be interrupted by some system of mutual tariffs, I believe that it would to everyone's disadvantage. That is the refutation of the Bristol South-East economics, which are gradully being fastened on the Opposition Bench.

Does the Secretary of State agree that if Britain withdraws from the Common Market we shall obviously have to negotiate an association agreement? Whilst the pattern of trade with Europe has changed, is it not true that we could regain Commonwealth and other trading arrangements provided that this country were determined and prepared to go out and get them? Is it not clear that the Europeans will have to trade with us whether or not we are in the Common Market?

If we can narrow this controversy from the enticing widths of fantasy to the narrow paths of reality, it would be feasible for this country to negotiate with its European Community partners trading arrangements which observe free trade agreements which are mutally advantageous. But since we are told by the most eloquent advocates of the Labour Party—the new Cambridge school—that the whole purpose of the new economic policy is to erect trade barriers, we are entitled to argue that that is disadvantageous to Europe as a whole, and particularly to the United Kingdom.

Will my right hon. Friend be kind enough to comment on the recent remarks of the Leader of the Liberal Party—that in some of our manufacturing industries, particularly our less competitive industries, our balance of trade has shown such a large deficit with Community countries that we ought to think in terms of some form of restraint in trade between ourselves and the Community?

It is never kind to ask me to comment on the remarks of the Leader of the Liberal Party. However, if he wants the moral smugness of belonging to the Community whilst disavowing every discipline that that involves, all that I can say is that that is the historic standard of Liberal behaviour.

Is the Secretary of State aware—I hope that he is—that the references to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Liberal Party in the question that he has just been asked were a travesty of what my right hon. Friend said?

I note what the hon. Gentleman said. Doubtless we shall have many opportunities to finesse what Liberalism and Social Democracy stand for before we move from the era of the politics of protest to the essential moment of the politics of decision.