HC Deb 21 October 1987 vol 120 cc712-4
9. Sir Russell Johnston

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when he last met the President of the European Commission.

Mrs. Chalker

My right hon. and learned Friend and I met Monsieur Delors at the Foreign Affairs Council, which ended yesterday.

Sir Russell Johnston

Does the Minister agree that the achievement of the internal market has, for very good political and social reasons, to be balanced by an increase in the resources of the European regional fund? Did she convey that view to Jacques Delors, bearing in mind that large areas of Scotland, Wales and the north-east of England are likely to lose all European regional development fund assistance if there is no increase in resources for the regional fund?

Mrs. Chalker

I did not speak to President Delors yesterday about that particular issue, but, as I said in answer to a previous question, I think the hon. Gentleman knows very well that we have to put the finances of the European Community in order before we can start to talk about increasing the structural funds. However, I think he will be glad to know that we consider that it is early days yet to condemn what the Commission may put forward in terms of lists of regions. That has not yet occurred. We shall argue strongly that the most assisted areas in the United Kingdom should be eligible for support under the category that is concerned with industrially declining regions. The hon. Gentleman may or may not be glad to know that I have already discussed this matter, particularly the highlands and islands, with the member of the European Community who is responsible for that area.

Mr. Watts

Did my right hon. Friend make it clear to the President that the current Commission proposals for the harmonisation of VAT on food, construction and other zero-rated items remain completely unacceptable to the United Kingdom?

Mrs. Chalker

I do not think that there is any doubt in the European Community that the proposals to do away with zero rating will not be accepted by the United Kingdom. I remind my hon. Friend that decisions on all Community tax measures require unanimity, and, because they require unanimity, I am confident that we shall not accept any proposals that restrict our ability to use zero rating. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has said, we shall continue the zero rating of food. We have no intention of putting VAT on electricity, gas, fuel and children's clothes and shoes. That would never he agreed by this House.

Mr. Tony Banks

When the Minister met the President the other day, did she make it clear to him that her views on the African National Council differ radically from the views of the Boers' friend at No. 10?

Mrs. Chalker

The hon. Gentleman and the whole House know that we are opposed to violence, wherever that may arise. There is no difference in attitude. We believe in trying to establish a dialogue between all the peoples of South Africa. What we do to that end must be in the sense of bringing about the speediest possible end to apartheid. There is certainly no difference of opinion, and we shall continue with our wide range of contacts.

Mr. John Marshall

Did my right hon. Friend point out to the President that over 50 per cent. of British exports now go to our partners in the Community, which fact underlines the irresponsibility of those in the Labour party who wish to take us out of this job-creating Community?

Mrs. Chalker

What my hon. Friend says is absolutely right. Many of our exports now go to the internal Community and much of our economy is tightly bound up with the European Community. It is little surprise, therefore, that eventually, after all these years, the Labour party is beginning to change its tune, however grudgingly. It is in the interests of the country at large, and it is also in the interests of Europe, that we should continue to export widely within the free internal market. That is what we are working for in 1992.

Mr. Kaufman

Since the right hon. Lady, on behalf of the Government, denounces violence from whatever quarter it comes, will she denounce the violence of the Contra terrorists in Nicaragua, and will she advise them to lay down their arms so that they can negotiate under the terms of the Guatemala accord?

Mr. Speaker

Order. The Question must be in the context of the European Community.

Mrs. Chalker

I do not know what relationship that subject has to these questions. We shall continue to work for a peaceful solution in Central America.