Newsletter from Europe Issue 8/2003
Bashir Khanbhai MEP
(Norfolk and Suffolk)





A number of constituents have been filling my post bag with concerns about the future of reduced Valued Added Tax on church repairs.


In his 2001 Budget, Gordon Brown promised to cut taxes on church repairs from 17.5% to 5%. He falsely raised the hopes of church groups across the country with this announcement since firstly, he had to seek the endorsement of the European Commission.


As an interim measure, Mr. Brown established the Listed Places of Worship Grant Scheme, which returns in grant aid the difference between 5% and 17.5% of the VAT spent on eligible repairs and maintenance to listed places of worship.


The European Commission has been undertaking a review of all VAT levels across Member States. In July this year, it deemed Mr. Brown's tax cut on church repairs illegal. It would now take a unanimous decision by European Union finance ministers to change the law and allow Mr Brown to implement the cut he pledged.


After his failure to convince the Commission, Brown must now decide between continuing to fund the VAT reduction via the grant scheme, or reneging on the promises he made. But the Government will not commit itself to assurances that the grant scheme will continue.


The Commission's review on VAT rates is designed to improve the functioning of the internal market and avoid potential distortions of competition. The Commission proposals will now be discussed by European finance leaders in the


Council of Ministers. Mr Brown will be able to secure the reduction if he can persuade other finance ministers to accept it.


Churches are a very significant part of the heritage of Britain, in particular East Anglia, and I would expect Mr. Brown to deliver the promise he made in his 2001 Budget. I will be pressing him to ensure that he secures a reduced rate of VAT on repairs to churches.


Until such a time, I will also be campaigning vigorously to ensure Mr. Brown honours his commitment by continuing to meet the cost of the 12.5% difference between the reduced and full rate of VAT offered under the grant scheme.




Scientists advising the European Union on fish quotas have recommended a complete ban on cod fishing in the North Sea.


The latest report from the scientists at the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (Ices) calls for the European Commission to implement zero catches in order to rebuild stocks.


The threat to our fishing industry is very real. Last year, Ices advised a ban on fishing for North Sea cod and in December, the EU responded with a devastating 45 per cent cut in cod fishing quotas.


These new findings of Ices will bring our fishing industry to its knees. It is yet another bitter blow from the Common Fisheries Policy (CPF). Ices maintains that the minimum recommended stock size for cod in the North Sea is 150,000 tonnes but the estimated size is 52,000. They propose no more catches until stocks reach 70,000.

Their findings contrast those of the Foundation for Ocean Science which last month confirmed that over-fishing was not the only cause for a decline in fish stocks in the North Sea. The Foundation discovered that record sea temperatures, as a result of global warming, are destroying the plankton which underpin the entire marine food chain. Cold-water species of plankton have been driven north to colder waters and been replaced by smaller, warm-water species which are less nutritious.



Fishing is clearly not the only contributor to falling fish stocks and it is time the EU stopped penalising our fishermen and the communities which depend on the industry along Britain's east coast.


The decision on whether to implement Ices' recommendations will be taken at several meetings of EU fisheries ministers in the lead-up to Christmas. The EU will call for drastic action to be taken but will our Labour Government sell us out?


Conservatives have pledged to take the UK out of the Common Fisheries Policy and to repatriate fisheries control to Westminster. The only way to save Britain's precious fishing heritage is to renegotiate our treaty obligations.




In October, the European Commission presented its plans for a new European chemicals policy.  The legislation has been scaled down from the original proposals, but will still cost the industry billions of pounds.


The legislation would oblige chemical companies to subject each chemical substance, used in everything from fertilisers to cosmetics, to official screenings before they can be licensed for use.


1.7 million people are currently employed in the chemical industry in Europe.  If adopted, these proposals will severely disadvantage EU companies in the global market. The cost to industry has been estimated at  £6 billion which would lead to huge job losses as companies would quit the EU for more business friendly climes. It is irrational as we would still import finished goods containing untested chemicals from outside the EU.  

The testing of these chemicals will also lead to the unnecessary suffering of up to 10 million laboratory animals as some of the proposals include specific requirements for animal tests.


The majority of chemicals are safe and beneficial - the Commission should be prioritising its testing programme to ensure that it focuses on those that could be dangerous and hazardous to human health. As they stand, these proposals could lead to more bureaucracy rather than additional protection.




This month I hosted a visit from a group of young Norfolk school children to the European Parliament in Brussels.


The group was made up of twenty pupils, aged 14 to 15, from a range of schools across Norfolk. The aim of the visit was to learn more about the work of the EU and its institutions.


I arranged the visit on behalf of the Active Citizenship initiative from Norfolk County Council and Norfolk Youth and Community Service, which supports young people as active citizens and helps them express an opinion about the decisions taken for them.


During their visit, the group met with cross party Eastern Region MEPs and representatives from the European Commission.


I was delighted to welcome such a bright and articulate group of young people to the European Parliament. They have gained a great deal from this experience and will be taking a positive message of the EU back to their friends and families in the UK.




5 Nov   Industry & Parliamt Trust Conf, Brussels

6 Nov   Visitors group of Norfolk School children

6 Nov   SME Union debate on Entrepreneurship

14 Nov Thorpe St. Andrew engagement

24 Nov Multicultural Conference, Luton

25 Nov Bury St. Edmunds CPF

26 Nov Hemel Hempstead CWC

27 Nov Commission Conf on Sustainable Energy

28 Nov  Huntingdon Winter Ball


 Please email us at:  and register to receive my “In Touch” and other news.


 Promoted & Printed by Conservative MEPs in the EPP-ED Group in the European Parliament, Brussels: Khanbhai, Sturdy, Beazley & Van Orden