HC Deb 29 November 1989 vol 162 cc700-1
4. Mr. Rooker

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs which Ministers in his Department have participated in European Community discussions on the draft charter of fundamental social rights.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Francis Maude)

My right hon. Friend and I have discussed the charter with colleagues in the Community on several occasions.

Mr. Rooker

Will the Minister be good enough to share with the House exactly what parts of the charter are opposed by him and his colleagues? Do they oppose the right to annual holidays, to decent pay, to arbitration to settle disputes and to improve employee participation and health and safety, or do they oppose the fact that such rights as exist in member states cannot be lessened under the charter?

Mr. Maude

Our concern is straightforward. It is that the European Community should do what only it can do. By and large, the matters dealt with by the social charter are properly dealt with by member states themselves. It is surprising to hear the hon. Gentleman apparently supporting the extension of competence by the European Community to impose on member states matters that can properly be dealt with by those states. That shows that the hon. Gentleman wants a politicians' Europe, not a people's Europe.

Mr. Butler

Will my hon. Friend assure me that we will not accept any social charter which is Socialism by the back door?

Mr. Maude

We would strongly resist any such charter. The present draft has made some movement in our direction as a result of our standing firmly against the original draft. For the reasons that I have set out, it is still not acceptable to us and we shall continue to resist it.

Sir Russell Johnston

Does the Minister accept that if there is free movement of labour throughout the Community individual workers have a right to expect the same standard of treatment in each country?

Mr. Maude

That approach is unacceptable. Every member state in the Community is a democracy and it is for each country to establish for itself those conditions and principles that are appropriate to its history, background, relative prosperity and all other factors. A sort of identikit set of conditions should not be imposed from the centre regardless of whether they are appropriate in every country. Over-regulating in the way that the hon. Gentleman seems to suggest would price people out of jobs. That might lead to our present rate of unemployment, which is well below the Community average, rising to or beyond the average.

Mr. Rowe

Will my hon. Friend assure us that in his discussions he took into account the detailed and hard work of Members of the European Parliament? Does he agree that one of the best ways of controlling the Commission is to pay attention to what the Parliament has to say?

Mr. Maude

I discussed this matter with Members of the European Parliament and those discussions were useful. As the discussions proceeded and as more and more people looked at the fine print of the charter and the action programme that would follow its proposals, we found increasing sympathy for our view.

Mr. Anderson

Will the Minister honestly admit that in his discussions with our partners our negotiating tactics are much in question, and that the absolutist and strident rejection of the social charter by the Prime Minister has lost us much good will in the Community and has harmed British interests? Does he agree that far more constructive than that strident rejection would be a policy of, "Yes, but"? We should not have condemnation and rejection followed by grudging concessions.

Mr. Maude

The hon. Gentleman is wholly misguided. We have set out our specific objections in a reasonable and sensible way. As I said earlier, there has been some movement in our direction, which we welcome, but it is still not enough to enable us to sign the draft social charter. If the hon. Gentleman thinks that a sensible negotiating tactic in the European Community is simply to seek consensus on every occasion, it is lucky that he has never been a member of a Government.