HC Deb 02 May 1974 vol 872 cc1304-6
11. Mr. Marten

asked the chancellor of the Exchequer when he will next be attending the Council of Ministers in the Common Market.

Mr. Healey

I expect to attend the next Council of Finance Ministers meeting on 20th May.

Mr. Marten

As this is the last Question Time before that meeting, will the right hon. Gentleman give us his view on economic and monetary union, the second stage of which should have been achieved by 1st January of this year? Further, will he express a view on the Italian action of imposing a 50 per cent. import surcharge? Does he agree that that action seems to make nonsense of the Common Market? Does that explain why Sir Christopher Soames is now applying—so we hear—for the safe Conservative seat of Chichester?

Mr. Healey

I can think of at least one other reason why Sir Christopher Soames might be applying for that seat—if, indeed, he is doing so. I have no doubt that the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition is equally aware of that possible reason.

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that I have never regarded the commitment to achieve a European economic and monetary union by 1980 as being in any sense conceivable or possible. I find that that is the view of most of my colleagues among the European Finance Ministers.

I regret the recent action of the Italian Government, although I can understand why that Government felt that they had no alternative. All hon. Members, whatever their views on the Common Market, should know that it is possible for a Common Market Government to take such action and to remain a member of the Common Market, in spite of the principles to which it has given its name.

Mr. Norman Lamont

Will the right hon. Gentleman clarify the conflicting reports that appeared in the Press following the last meeting of the Council of Ministers and state his views on the rôle of gold in the international monetary system? Does he agree that it is now absurd that gold should be kept in countries' reserves at one-quarter the price that is available on the free market?

Mr. Healey

All my colleagues among the European Finance Ministers, and even more strongly my colleagues among the Finance Ministers outside Europe, are strongly committed to the view that gold should be phased out of the international monetary system and be replaced by something in the nature of SDRs. We agreed at the Zeist meeting the other day to find out whether Finance Ministers outside Europe—especially the Finance Minister of the United States—were prepared to consider whether monetary authorities should have the ability to buy and sell gold from one another. Whether the other Finance Ministers of the world will accept that suggestion is still unclear.

Mr. Jay

Does my right hon. Friend's answer about Italy mean that the great advantage of being in the Common Market, which we have all been seeking, is that members can break the rules whenever they wish?

Mr. Healey

I do not wish to quantify the advantages of the Common Market, least of all in answer to my right hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay). However, there is something in what he says.

Mr. Higgins

Will the right hon. Gentleman give the House an assurance that when the sixth directive on value added tax comes up before the Council of Ministers he will ensure that it enables us to retain zero rating permanently?

Mr. Healey

I have made that clear already to my colleagues in the Council of Ministers.