HC Deb 30 November 1989 vol 162 cc821-2
1. Mr. Adley

To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer when he next intends to meet his European Economic Community counterparts; and what he expects to discuss.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. John Major)

The next meeting of the Council of Economic and Finance Ministers will be held in Brussels on 18 December 1989. Its agenda has not yet been determined.

Mr. Adley

Is my right hon. Friend aware that everyone in the House will wish to congratulate him on this, his first appearance at the Dispatch Box at Question Time? All Conservative Members wish him 100 per cent. success in what he sets out to achieve.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that within the Finance Ministries of the EEC countries different criteria are used to assess rail investment proposals in their state railway systems? Is he aware that our Treasury demands a higher rate of return yet pays lower regard to environmental and congestion factors than any other Finance Ministry in Europe? Is he aware, for example, that France spends twice as much as us on its railways and West Germany three times as much? Will he therefore, in concert with his colleagues, prepare a report so that we can factually assess railway investment decisions?

Mr. Major

I am grateful for my hon. Friend's opening remarks. Our rail investment programme is large, as he knows. The required rate of return is 8 per cent. in the United Kingdom, and it certainly varies in different parts of Europe, but the precise details of EEC countries' rates of requirement are unknown to me. I should need to check them and write to my hon. Friend.

Mr. Allen

The Chancellor will be aware that Members on all sides of the House, and the public, are concerned about war widows' pensions. When he meets his counterparts in Europe, will he take time to discuss with them their arrangements for war widows' pensions? Without committing himself today, will he listen to them with an open mind and bring before this House proposals for fair pensions for all war widows?

Mr. Major

I admire the hon. Gentleman's ingenuity in raising that important matter on this question. I discuss a large number of matters with my Finance Minister colleagues in Europe, but the issue to which he referred is more a matter for discussion within the Government.

Mr. Tim Smith

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the CBI favours early membership of the exchange rate mechanism of the European monetary system because it believes that that will lead to more stable exchange rates and lower interest rates? Does my right hon. Friend share my hope that the two conditions that the Government have laid down—lower inflation and the abolition of exchange controls within the Community—will have been met in a year's time?

Mr. Major

Quite apart from the two conditions that my hon. Friend mentioned, other important matters need to be determined before we think it right for sterling to enter the exchange rate mechanism. I certainly hope to see lower inflation in this country and throughout Europe in a year's time.

Mrs. Beckett

When the Chancellor next meets his counterparts in Europe I suppose that he may discuss with them what his exchange rate policy is. Will he therefore tell the House what it is today?

Mr. Major

First, I welcome the hon. Lady to her first Question Time in her new position.

I shall continue to take account of the exchange rate, along with other monetary indicators, when setting interest rates. That has been and remains our policy.

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