The next meeting of the European Community's Economic and Finance Council is expected to be on 9 February. The agenda has not yet been decided.
May I ask my right hon. Friend—and also say what a pleasure it is to describe him thus —whether, given Her Majesty's Government's commitment to achieving a single European market by 1992, he will discuss with his European colleagues arrangements for the reduction and eventual elimination of all customs examination of passengers arid goods travelling between countries in the European Community?
My hon. Friend will recall that under the Single European Act we have retained control of our own border arrangements on drugs, terrorism and antiques. I think that my hon. Friend will recognise the continuing relevance of Customs and Excise to that task.
I am most grateful to him for his initial remark.
Will my right hon. Friend note that the Select Committee on European Legislation recently produced a report drawing attention to the grave danger of the EEC proposals on value added tax? Furthermore, will he note that we have absolutely no intention of agreeing to those proposals, any more than Pym and Hampden had of paying ship money back in the 17th century, and that we regard them as gravely detrimental to the powers of our Parliament and its right, and the right of the Government, to decide and allocate tax priorities in the interests of our people?
The Government are studying the proposals made by the Commission for indirect tax approximations, but have made it clear that we could not accept any proposals that would restrict the United Kingdom's right to use zero-rating. The United Kingdom is not alone in having difficulty with the proposals. Tax changes can be agreed only where there is unanimity.
When the meeting with the Finance Ministers takes place, will they be told of the pressure from the SDP and Liberal leaders for VAT to apply to children's clothing, food, fuel and newspapers? Will they also be told that, while the British Government's economic policies are increasingly discredited in this country, it seems that the leaders of the SDP and the Liberal party have nevertheless been converted to Thatcherism?
There are a number of non sequiturs in the hon. Gentleman's question, but I, too, have noted the interesting but courageous proposals put forward by the alliance yesterday.
When the Minister meets his European counterparts, will he raise with them the fact that the Kuwaitis are increasingly purchasing large blocks of shares in European companies? Is the Minister aware that, despite assurances given by the Chancellor to the House the other day, the Kuwaitis have now increased their holdings in British Petroleum, and are using London broking firms to do so? Will he act now, in the national interest?
Under the internal market, of which the Government are in favour, British newspapers are freely available throughout the Community. I have every confidence that my colleagues among Finance Ministers in the Community will have read of the developments concerning share purchasers to which the hon. Gentleman referred.
On the question of the EEC's VAT proposals, and notwithstanding the new proposals of the third party, the fourth party and the fifth party in British politics, does the Minister agree that, outside the alliance and Lord Cockfield, there is no public support for any attempt to impose VAT on vital necessities? Will he give us the assurance, which he has not yet given that the Government will implement none of Lord Cockfield's demands.
We have made a number of specific pledges concerning zero-rating, and the House would not expect me to add to them today.