HC Deb 20 November 1985 vol 87 cc269-70
16. Mr. Allen McKay

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the importance which the Government attach to the draft directives currently under discussion in the EC, with particular reference to those in the social field.

Mr. Rifkind

Our attitude depends on whether a proposal would implement the objectives of the European Community treaty, whether adequate measures already exist in the individual member states and on the regulatory burden which would result from the adoption of a Community instrument.

Mr. McKay

That is a disappointing reply. Can the Minister explain why the Government intend to veto the already watered-down draft directive on parental leave and why, in the case of directives on workers' information and consultation and part-time working, the United Kingdom always appears to put up the blocks?

Mr. Rifkind

The Government believe, as a general rule, that such matters are best arranged voluntarily between employees and employers. In addition, there is no advantage in Governments imposing additional burdens on employers that could act contrary to the interests of creating jobs and maintaining employment.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

Have the Government any information on whether the South African Government have access to nuclear weapons technology, and will the Minister make a statement?

Mr. Speaker

Order. This question is about the EC.

Sir Geoffrey Finsberg

Will my hon. and learned Friend be robust in maintaining the point that he has just made so that he does not allow these strange social measures to creep in and make us even less competitive than we are now?

Mr. Rifkind

My hon. Friend is correct. One initiative taken by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is to achieve greater deregulation in the Community to reduce the existing burden, especially on smaller businesses and firms with few employees. The last thing that we would wish to do would be to introduce or support measures that would increase the burden at this difficult time.

Mr. Foulkes

Will the Minister abandon all this gobbledegook and Eurospeak? Will he admit that the Government have accepted directive after directive in all other areas—including one to ensure that the temperature at the centre of frozen peas is uniform throughout Europe—but have systematically opposed all directives on progressive social legislation and workers' rights? Has it been caused by a directive from the new, unelected Secretary of State for Employment, or is it merely the result of the Government's well-known dogma?

Mr. Rifkind

I am delighted and slightly amused by the fact that the Labour party has suddenly been converted to the desirability of European action imposed throughout the Community. We have not previously heard such a view from Opposition Front Bench spokesmen. We are indeed selective. Unlike the hon. Gentleman, we consider each proposal on its merits.

Mr. Wallace

Will the Minister confirm that there is under consideration a directive to give assistance to agricultural projects in the peripheral areas of the Community, including the Scottish islands? Will he confirm that the United Kingdom Government will not seek to reduce the amount of money that will go into such projects?

Mr. Rifkind

Obviously the United Kingdom Government wish to ensure that the maximum resources from Community proposals and projects should come to the United Kingdom. Clearly that is an objective that any British Government would be anxious to pursue. We will take that into account as one of the factors when considering any proposals put before us.

Forward to