Orders of the Day — European Communities

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:17 pm on 31st July 1980.

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Photo of Mr Julius Silverman Mr Julius Silverman , Birmingham, Erdington 6:17 pm, 31st July 1980

As chairman of the Scrutiny Committee, and having sat on that committee since its inception, I know that it has a unique position from which it can view certain of the Community's activities. I have always been impressed by the astonishing dichotomy between the two sides of the Common Market: on the one hand the Commission, and, on the other members States and the Council of Ministers. The Commission consists of committed federalists who sometimes go beyond the desire for federalism and direct their activities towards the attainment of a unitary State. The member States, as exhibited in the Council of Ministers, pursue their own naked self-interest. That is a remarkable dichotomy.

The Commission introduces various directives and legislation, some of which are intended to facilitate trade. Some of those measures are intended, under the cloak of harmony, to spread common legislation among the member States. Some of the measures have nothing to do with harmony and are just pieces of legislation that many of us think should solely affect member States, and should be administered by themselves.

Only recently, there was the question of doorstep selling. I do not know why the regulation of doorstep selling has anything to do with the Community. It is not as if French salesmen will operate in Britain, or British salesmen will operate in Venice. But in matters such as this the Commission is trying to extend its empire and influence in order to proceed towards a federal State. Some of the proposals are well-intentioned, others are even useful. But some are half-baked and most should remain within the competence of member States themselves.

The member State, on the other hand, are pursuing their own interests, in most cases blatantly. Sometimes it is done by horse trading and sometimes by defiance of Community regulations. In international affairs anyone who is realistic can expect nothing else, because that is how nations behave. The only thing that we can hope is that while we are in the Common Market we should behave in the same way and act in our own interests.

We have a £4,000 million deficit in our balance of payments with the Community in manufactured goods, and this is a very serious matter. I am surprised that the Government take it so lightly. I know the difficulties in a Community that believes in free trade, at any rate in some respects. The message is difficult to drive home, but £4,000 millon worth of excess imports means so much unemployment in this country. A good deal of our unemployment and much of the crisis in our motor car industry, for example, is due to this £4,000 million deficit in the balance of payments. This is a matter which the Government must take seriously. If the Community is to continue, this issue must be taken seriously and there must be some method of dealing with it.

It is said that this is just a matter of competition, but I wonder whether it is. We had one instance the other day when some of us saw a Minister about the Brassfounders Association, which deals with the sale of taps and bath equipment, in which market there is enormous Italian penetration. The association says that it cannot prove that there is a concealed Government subsidy in Italy, but it does not understand how Italian manufacturers, with the same labour costs, largely the same machinery and the same prices of raw materials, which are decided by international markets and organisations, can sell their goods in this country at less than half price. The association says that it does not know how that is done. It is like a conjuring trick. One knows that there is a deception, but one does not know how it is done. This matter is duplicated in other areas. I do not think that the Government should overlook this and say that we are not competitive enough. After all, we sell about £20,000 million worth of manufactured goods to the rest of the world. Our goods cannot be so bad or uncompetitive.