Orders of the Day — European Communities (Spanish and Portuguese Accession) Bill [Lords]

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:34 pm on 4th December 1985.

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Photo of Mr Peter Fry Mr Peter Fry , Wellingborough 6:34 pm, 4th December 1985

My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Forth) is not the only one in the Conservative party who has grave reservations about the treaty. His speech was the most impressive that we have had during the debate.

I listened to the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) with growing incredulity. He seemed to be welcoming the accession of Spain and Portugal as well as finding every reason that he could for objecting to it. If the Spanish and Portuguese Governments were right of centre, I wonder whether his enthusiasm for the accession of the two countries would be as great. To a certain extent, the Labour party is in a bit of a dilemma on the matter.

The right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell) said that, far from the economic Utopia that the EEC was supposed to have become, we have been going through an exceedingly difficult period, when there has been a great crisis of confidence in the future of the Community. As we have failed manifestly to solve the problem of the CAP and all the other problems related to the Community, to take in Spain and Portugal is rather like saying to a man who is deeply in debt, "Go and borrow a lot more money and that will get you out of your difficulties." From an economic point of view, the entry of Spain and Portugal will add considerably to the Community's difficulties.

I speak as one who, after much heart searching, originally voted against this country's accession to the EEC. Later I was persuaded that we should be better off inside it, but I have now come to the conclusion that first impulses are probably right. I think that my attitude is shared by many millions of people.

I do not wish to talk at length about Gibraltar because it is a highly specialised subject, but if we are talking about a so-called friendly power, I wonder how we define "friendly" when we see the way in which the Spanish Government have treated Gibraltar until comparatively recently. There are still problems with the use of the landing strip at Gibraltar and, hitherto, the Spanish Government have been obdurate in allowing flights into other Spanish cities —hardly the action of a so-called friendly power.

Furthermore, there is fear in Gibraltar that allowing Spain into the EEC is, in some people's minds, a roundabout way of getting rid of the Gibraltar problem and trying to help towards the absorption of the Rock and its people into Spain. I know that that is bitterly resented by the people of Gibraltar, who are very pro-British. I should not like the debate to conclude without putting that on record.

The effect of the accession on British industry worries me very much. If the Spanish Government had shown themselves to be broad-minded and that they had a liberal attitude towards world trade, I would have had greater confidence. I speak as the chairman of the all-party footwear group, and my constituency is probably the centre of men's shoe production. For years I have had complaints about the way in which the Spaniards have protected their industry.

It is interesting that only in March this year the Spanish Government passed an order saying that from 18 October all footwear must carry an incredibly detailed swing tag printed to unbelievably strict specifications, all in Spanish. Yet the Government were negotiating to join the EEC for the liberalisation of trade. Is it any wonder that footwear interests in this country concluded that that move can be interpreted only as a blatant attempt to obstruct the entry of footwear imports to the Community?

Therefore, because I doubt the actions of the Spanish Government in relation to trade, and know that the Spanish will be able to compete behind still substantial barriers for many years to come, I believe that the Governments of the EEC have given away all their powers before seeing the true spirit in which the Spaniards intend to enter the Community. I fear for the jobs of footwear workers in Britain, and I suspect that many other hon. Members will come to fear for the jobs of workers in other industries. It is right that that point of view should be expressed.

When the footwear industry representatives spoke to the British embassy in Madrid, the recommendation was to take the matter to Brussels through the British Footwear Manufacturers Federation. We know how long that path can be, and how empty the solutions when one eventually arrives. We must accept that there is a danger to many jobs in Britain. I am not satisfied that that aspect has been taken into account, so I cannot possibly agree to the treaty.