European Community

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:57 pm on 18th December 1980.

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Photo of Mr Hugh Dykes Mr Hugh Dykes , Harrow East 5:57 pm, 18th December 1980

I suppose that it would be possible for hon. Members on both sides of the House to conjure up even more arguments for and against the total trade picture to try to prove anything, depending on one's basic attitude to our membership of the EEC. That has been done fully by the right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay). However, we know from his reputation that he thinks carefully about his arguments and that he is generally concerned with the other side of the coin, which is the build-up of our trade with the rest of the world. But that concern is common to all hon. Members, whatever their basic views on the Common Market.

Since we went into the Community, the trend—of course, too slow for my liking—-has been for our trade with the other member States to build up. This country, by characteristic definition and behaviour, has always tended to have a deficit in trading terms with other advanced areas of the world. Therefore, the fact that we have a deficit with the other member States—pro rata now a diminishing one, but agreeably so from our point of view—does not prove much, because that has been the picture vis-a-vis other advanced areas of the world. We have tended to have surpluses only with underdeveloped areas, excluding the oil producers.

Again, we see our membership of the EEC as being more fundamental than that, but I am glad that one of the original reasons for going in—to develop a strong and cohesive Common Market—has occurred, despite all the difficulties and the sombre fact that we joined in 1973 when the basic world economic scene changed because of the oil crisis. That was bad luck not only for us but for the rest of Europe. However, that is why it is important for us to develop as a robust and proud oil country in the Community, to offer the other member States on a proper commercial basis even more quantities of oil in future and to build up our oil trade. Therefore. the speech of the right hon. Member for Battersea, North was much better, as usual, than the speech of the right hon. Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies). The right hon. Gentleman has now left the Chamber, so I suppose that I had better reduce slightly the comments that I had intended to make.

I can place scarcely any reliance on anything that the right hon. Gentleman says, because he is only now, for the first time, summoning up courage to state loudly and clearly that he is a withdrawalist, too, which we did not hear before when he was a member of the Government who were in office until May 1979. That attitude is beginning to poison feelings among other Labour Members and they are all beginning to jump on the bandwagon, believing that there is medium-term popularity in it. It is not only that. There is also the chilling fact that one of the Labour Party 's principal financial spokesmen—and by my definition it does not have many, since finance is not one of its hot subjects—in the debate on 2 July on the European Community budget made an astonishing statement. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman astonished more hon. Members than just myself, although it was late at night and hon. Members may not have been carefully attending to the debate.

The right hon. Gentleman stated in reference to agriculture in Europe: That is why France"— which is the right hon. Gentleman's favourite bête-noire, as it is of most of his hon. Friends— with 30 per cent. of its people employed in agriculture receives a large sum of money from the CAP and we receive nothing."— [Official Report, 2 July 1980; Vol. 987, c. 1682.] That was an official statistic, given by one of Labour's financial spokesmen, for the number of people employed in agriculture in France. As we know, the figure is about 8½ or 9 per cent. It has come down over the years, although that has slowed down since unemployment has risen in France as well. That statement renders out of court and totally unreliable virtually all the other remarks that the right hon. Gentleman makes on this or any other occasion. If Opposition Members base their deep antipathy and hostility to the Community on statistics that are not only shaky and unreliable but downright wrong and inaccurate, how can we listen to them with any care?

As a result of the continuing atmosphere of basic hostility to the EEC that colours the statements of Opposition Members and also, regretfully, one or two of the statements of my hon. Friends, I am coming to the reluctant conclusion, which may sound undemocratic, that it would be preferable if we did not have scrutiny debates on the Floor of the House. This is a kind of scrutiny debate. It is part of the regular programme of considering the six-monthly White Papers. Although I am sad to have to say this, it would probably he preferable if the House carried out its scrutiny more and more in Committee upstairs. These debates should be occasions for constructive consideration of EEC policies instead of the increasingly ritualistic and depressing exhortation of withdrawal. We should be getting down to the details of EEC policy, which would help this nation and the House to deal much more constructively and positively with our membership.