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European Community

Volume 124: debated on Wednesday 16 December 1987

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To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when he last met the European Commissioner, Lord Cockfield; and what matters were discussed.

I last met Lord Cockfield on 18 November, when we discussed matters of current interest in the Community, notably the negotiations on the Community's financial situation.

Has the Secretary of State raised with Lord Cockfield the concern that many of us feel about the regional and social effects of his proposals concerning the internal market; in particular, proposals to open up public supply contracts and harmonise VAT rates? Will he give us an undertaking that he will not proceed further along this road of the internal market until a full assessment of the social and regional effects on the least well-off is published?

I should not be disposed to accept the hon. Lady's advice in that respect. The fulfilment of the internal market, which is one of the central objectives of the Community and has been so from the outset, is rightly recognised as an important objective. We have been making significant progress in that direction recently, for example, with the fulfilment of the internal air transport agreement. Of course, it is necessary for the Community's structural funds to continue to be operated in a fashion best designed to help those areas most entitled to support, but that is no reason for not securing early progress with the internal market.

Will not the single European market proposed for 1992 be enormously beneficial to this country, provided that British business is sufficiently alert to seize the opportunity that it will provide? Yesterday the president of the CBI made remarks about the low level of awareness of British business, which is about 5 per cent. compared with that of other countries, for example, France, where the figure is 80 per cent. Bearing that in mind, what consultations is my right hon. and learned Friend having with his colleagues about the means of improving British business awareness.

I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend. The single market does not just involve the establishment of common rules and the elimination of trade barriers. It involves persuading the leadership of British commerce and industry of the importance of that market and of the challenges and opportunities that it offers. It is for that reason that my right hon. and noble Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry is launching a campaign precisely of the sort that my right hon. Friend has in mind to help British industry increase and make the most of opportunities that will be offered by completion of the market by 1992.

Will the Foreign Secretary consider the fact that, since the Community was created, regional imbalances have increased and that, although the completion of the internal market may generate new economic activity within the Community, it will not benefit the regions unless the Government and other Community Governments take specific measures to ensure that? Why will he not make such a study? Is it because it would embarrass the Government?

No. The hon. Gentleman knows that, since before world war two, and throughout the decades which have governed our politics, regional policy has been the subject of almost continuous study and adjustment. It is still something which the Government study very closely as part of the wider components of Community regional policy embodied in the structural funds. Any such devices should be effective for the purpose for which they are advocated.

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that not only British business, but the British Government, stand to gain from the early achievement of the common market? Will he ensure that other Departments in Whitehall, besides the Foreign Office and the Department of Trade and Industry, are made aware that it concerns all of them?

My hon. Friend is right. It is one of the reasons why we have always adopted a structure of government in relation to the Community that is designed to enlist the interest and support of all Departments of State. It is right, for example, that the establishment of sufficient openness in the awarding of public sector contracts should be regarded as an obligation by all Government Departments. I endorse the point made by my hon. Friend.

Given that a number of MEPs have already raised the issue of the imprisonment of environmentalists and the suppression of their organisations in Malaysia, and that British and other European tourists have come under threat of similar treatment, to such an extent that some have been forced to leave Malaysia very precipitately—

What representations has the Foreign Secretary made to the EEC Commissioners, or what representations does he intend to make, on these issues?

So far as any representations are appropriate in respect of such matters, they will have been made direct to the Malaysian Government.