HC Deb 04 February 1958 vol 581 cc969-71
33. Dame Irene Ward

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether he will examine the needs industry by industry to make them competitive in the European Common Market; and whether he will ask each industry to advise him of any policy alterations they require in the coming Budget.

The Paymaster-General (Mr. Reginald Maudling)

My right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade and I are and will remain in close touch with industry. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer is always ready to receive representations in connection with the Budget.

Dame Irene Ward

I thank my right hon. Friend for that very helpful answer. Has he seen the furniture trade, which is interested in transport? Will he make some inquiries to see whether the people who are to provide proper transport are as interested in the European Common Market as we are? Does my right hon. Friend's answer also imply that the situation in the refrigeration industry—which wants a reduction of Purchase Tax in order to stimulate its home market and so get into the export trade—is going to be looked into?

Mr. Mandling

I have not seen the furniture trade myself, but I am sure that my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade will be glad to consider any such suggestion. As for Purchase Tax, I can only repeat in a minor key what my right hon. Friend has already said so often.

Mr. Wilson

In view of the difficulties of many industries, including those mentioned by the hon. Member, would the right hon. Gentleman now give consideration to the request which we have made many times that the Government should publish a White Paper to show how discussions are going on in relation to the European Free Trade Area? We have had no information from the Government at all since the debate on 26th November, 1956, about what has happened, and the House and the country would like to know more about it.

Mr. Maudling

There has already been a White Paper, published some time ago, and the position of the Government remains as stated. I am always available to answer questions from right hon. and hon. Members on aspects of our policy, but it should be clearly understood here, as it is understood in all 17 countries, that when negotiations of this kind are going on publication of the state of the negotiations at stages half-way or three-quarters of the way through them would be bound to be misleading.

Mr. Wilson

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, while we understand and appreciate that, the former Chancellor of the Exchequer suggested that we should press for a debate, using a Supply Day for the purpose? Could not we have information to make that possible? We recognise the difficulty about negotiations, but is not the right hon. Gentleman aware that in the meetings in October in O.E.E.C. full briefings and statements were given to the British Press representatives? If information can be given to the Press, cannot it be given to the House of Commons after four months?

Mr. Maudling

The right hon. Gentleman should consult the columns of HANSARD for last October and November, where he will find a good deal of information. I am also at the disposal of the House to answer Questions on the policy of Her Majesty's Government.