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Volume 889: debated on Tuesday 25 March 1975

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asked the Prime Minister if he will make an official visit to Southend.

I have been asked to reply.

My right hon. Friend has at present no plans to do so, Sir

If the Prime Minister should go to Southend, would my right hon. Friend ask him to visit the headquarters of the VAT administration? In the conditions which Her Majesty's Government have negotiated, we are told that they will not place value added tax on essentials should we remain in the Common Market. Is my right hon. Friend aware, however, that five of the nine members of the EEC put VAT on food, fuel and travel? If, in the convergency of the economies, we are to avoid that, what extra and additional costs must we pay and how will my right hon. Friend guarantee that we shall not have to fall into line?

May I repeat what the Prime Minister said on 18th March? He said:

"The proposals now being discussed in the Community are concerned with agreeing a uniform assessment base for VAT. They provide for our system of zero rating. We will be able to resist any proposals which are unacceptable to us."—[Official Report, 18th March 1975; Vol. 888, c. 1464.]

Accepting the view of the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) that we retain our own discretion in fixing the rates of VAT which is open to all the Nine, is the right hon. Gentleman aware that we are delighted that there is therefore no occasion for the Prime Minister to go to Southend on this matter? Is he also aware that since the Prime Minister is a busy man and has successfully renegotiated all the matters in the manifesto—at least, that was the collective view of the Cabinet at 3.30 last Tuesday—there is no need for him to go to Brussels either, so that we applaud both those decisions? Would the right hon. Gentleman suggest that, if a visit to Southend cannot be arranged, it would be instructive to the British people if the seven defecting Cabinet Ministers went to Brussels or Southend for a television con- frontation with those in Europe who know the facts?

That is a very good idea, although I hope that they do not go by hovercraft.

While we all share the disappointment of the worthy citizens of Southend that the Prime Minister is not to visit them, may I ask my right hon. Friend to note that the Prime Minister is also being invited to Newcastle-under-Lyme, Glasgow, Hunterston, the Isle of Ely and St. Albans? If he visits all those places, who will look after the shop?

The shop is looked after quite effectively, I can assure my hon. Friend. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has a tremendous capacity for getting around the place, and I am sure that he will get to those places.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. As the Prime Minister was invited to visit my constituency, may I put a supplementary question?

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that if he or the Prime Minister visit my constituency they will be very welcome? If, however, they are to visit the VAT offices, will the right hon. Gentleman give an absolute assurance that they will not take that opportunity to introduce multi-rate VAT, which would be extremely damaging to the shopkeepers and other business men in my constituency and elsewhere?

The hon. Gentleman knows that all we have done is to ask for study to be carried out on that.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. As it will be impossible for the Prime Minister to visit Southend without passing through South-East Essex—

Order. We all know the delights of Southend, but there is urgent business awaiting us, and unless it is a very serious point of order—

I am much obliged to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You will know that anything touching upon South-East Essex and Southend is of the highest importance. It will be physically impossible for the Prime Minister to reach Southend unless—