HC Deb 05 May 1975 vol 891 cc996-7
6. Mr. Shepherd

asked the Secretary of State for Trade what recent official consultations he has had with the Governments of the members of EFTA.

12. Mr. Hurd

asked the Secretary of State for Trade what recent meetings he has had with Ministers of Trade of EFTA countries.

Mr. Shore

I visited Sweden and Finland officially in January, where I had talks with the Prime Ministers of each country and with the other Ministers and senior officials most closely concerned with foreign trade.

Mr. Shepherd

Will the right hon. Gentleman explain what advantages not produced by EEC membership a free trade agreement with the other eight countries would provide for our trade balance with other EEC countries?

Mr. Shore

I am surprised at the hon. Gentleman. I think that I have answered that question on other occasions. To many people, the obvious attraction of a free trade agreement as distinct from membership of the Common Market is that most free trade agreements are limited to industrial goods. That for Britain, as the major food-importing country of Western Europe, has certain obvious advantages.

Mr. Hurd

Does the Secretary of State recall putting his name to a document not long ago in which he suggested that within six months of breaking our treaty with the Community we would be able to negotiate with the Common Market a new free trade arrangement which would give us all the benefits of membership without having to accept any of the infringements on sovereignty which Norway, Sweden, and other EFTA countries have had to accept? The right hon. Gentleman must have had some evidence for that rather strange assertion. Will he tell us what it was?

Mr. Shore

I think that in negotiating with the EEC after 5th June there will inevitably be an element of uncertainty. Nobody would deny that. We were putting forward what appeared to us to be a reasonable timetable which would allow us to negotiate alternative arrangements and to unscramble the omelette over a period and in a reasonable way—that is, between June and 1st January 1976.

Mr. Flannery

Does my right hon. Friend agree that when the referendum eventually takes us out of the Common Market we shall be able to trade freely with both the EEC and EFTA countries, to the benefit of us all?

Mr. Shore

I have no question in my mind but that that will be the aim and purpose of the denegotiation which we shall start should the British people vote "No" on 5th June.