HC Deb 22 April 1987 vol 114 cc653-4
2. Mr. Spearing

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make it his policy to present to Parliament a revised text of the Treaty of Rome, incorporating the amendments contained in the Single European Act treaty.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mrs. Lynda Chalker)

Yes, Sir.

Mr. Spearing

I am grateful for that reply. Now that there has to be a referendum in Eire, what is the earliest date at which it will be known whether the Single European Act treaty will be confirmed? Secondly, while incorporating these amendments, would it not be desirable to print, in the same volume, those articles of the Single European Act which do not amend the Treaty of Rome but which nevertheless are still binding on this country?

Mrs. Chalker

The answer to the hon. Gentleman's second question is yes. The answer to his first question is that the Single European Act will come into effect on the first day of the month following the last ratification, which will presumably be some weeks after the referendum—if it goes as the Irish Government hope.

Sir Anthony Meyer

Is it not now clear that if a 12-member Community is not to relapse into total immobility some advance towards qualified majority voting, as it is contained in the Single European Act, is absolutely essential?

Mrs. Chalker

It is necessary and it has, of course, already occurred on a number of articles under the Act. The Single European Act will extend that process and will assist us in completing the internal market by 1992.

Sir Russell Johnston

Does the Minister not think that it is much more important that article 138 of the Treaty of Rome be put into effect and that we have a common electoral system by the time of the next European elections? The Minister smiles, but would she not regard it as pretty disgraceful if, as is perfectly possible under the present system, a party obtained 30 per cent. of votes, but gained no representation?

Mrs. Chalker

I know that the hon. Gentleman is looking for help from any quarter. I do not believe that changing the electoral system will necessarily help him in the way that he persists in thinking it will.

Mr. Teddy Taylor

Is my hon. Friend not at all worried about the commitment in the Single European Act for the harmonisation of value added tax? That offers us the prospect of value added tax on food, new house building, electricity, gas and newspapers. Will my hon. Friend at least give us the assurance that she will seek to use the refusal of the Irish courts to ratify this Act to delay the EEC in imposing value added tax where we do not want it?

Mrs. Chalker

I must tell my hon. Friend that, first, all decisions on Community tax measures, if put forward, would require unanimity. No such Commission proposals have been put forward. With regard to any ideas on VAT or on tax approximation, whether on food or other items, the British Government would decide what we would do and any changes would require unanimity. No proposals have been put forward, and I do not believe that the Commission would make proposals that would increase burdens on traders at the very time when we are seeking to open up the internal market.

Mr. Robertson

When the Minister was pushing through the Single European Act last year she told us that it was all in aid of a new, relevant European unity. Perhaps the Minister will now tell us why, that before the ink is even dry on the new treaty, the British Government are sabotaging the Community's new high technology research programme? As that programme is probably the single most useful, most necessary and most effective way of Europe getting together, why is this stubborn, Luddite Government endangering hundreds of Community-financed research projects in Britain by being the last obstacle to agreement?

Mrs. Chalker

The hon. Gentleman has surpassed himself in hyperbole today. Let me tell him the facts. First, the United Kingdom believes and has always believed that Community research has an important part to play in promoting competitiveness within European industry. At all times we have sought to ensure and we will continue to do so, that the resources are targeted on that objective — in other words the competitiveness of European industry, and not the large, across-the-board increases that have been proposed by the Commission. The Belgian presidency's latest proposals are still on the table and are still being examined. The hon. Gentleman should get this matter into proportion. The Commission's R and D programme accounts for just 2 per cent. of the total R and D effort across all member states. We are not blocking that programme; we are seeking to ensure that every penny of the money is properly targeted on where in can result in an increase in competitiveness in European industry.