HC Deb 29 November 1989 vol 162 cc719-66 3.50 pm
Mr. Speaker

I must announce to the House that I have selected the amendment in the name of the Leader of the Opposition. I remind the House that this is a three-hour debate. I also repeat that a great many hon. Members want to participate and I urge them and Front Bench spokesmen to make brief contributions so that as many hon. Members as possible may be called.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I apologise for taking time out of the debate, but, as you know, I am speaking as the Chairman of the Scrutiny Committee on European legislation about the first business on the Order Paper relating to the draft Commission charter of human rights. The Committee published our report on this matter—our 36th report, HC 15—on 1 November. It related to a draft submitted by the Commission of the European Communities in its document No. 8997/89, dated 1 October. The Government have issued an explanatory memorandum on that document and they also recently published a secondary explanatory memorandum dated 24 November. Attached to that memorandum, which is helpful, is another draft of the Community charter of human rights tabled by the current presidency, the President of the French Republic. That is referred to in the motion before us.

The presidency text is the one which will be referred to by the meeting of the European Council in Strasbourg on 8 and 9 December and not the original document tabled by the Commission, on which we have reported and on which most of the decisions and most of the consultations has taken place in the United Kingdom.

The Scrutiny Committee is meeting at 4 pm today and we intend to issue a report—I hope that it will be available before the end of the debate—on the significant differences between the original Commission proposal and those to be discussed at Strasbourg.

I do not complain, nor does the Committee, of the fact that it is the Strasbourg revision by the French presidency that is referred to in the motion before us. The more up to date the document can be the better. The reason for that, however, does not lie with Her Majesty's Government. Of all the 12 assemblies and parliaments of the European Community, this is the only one I know that debates before decision and consults the House about the way in which we deal with EC matters.

May I also refer to the third item on the Order Paper, relating to the shipping industry? Another presidency document, which we have not yet reported on, will be reported on later today and we shall, I hope, put another amendment in the Vote Office before that debate is reached.

Finally, Mr. Speaker, as a point of macro-order, if the debate tonight shows that there are matters that should be debated as a result of the presidency submission, the Leader of the House should at least give some consideration to holding another debate next week before the meeting in Strasbourg.

Mr. Speaker

I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving the House that information. I am aware that the position relating to the social charter is developing. I do not know whether his Committee will have completed its deliberations before the end of this three-hour debate, but it certainly will have done so before the shipping debate. If he or another member of his Committee wishes to participate I shall certainly give careful consideration to that.

3.54 pm
The Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Norman Fowler)

I beg to move, That this House takes note of European Community Document No. 8997/89 and the proposals described in the un-numbered Explanatory Memorandum submitted by the Department of Employment on 24th November on a Community Charter of Fundamental Social Rights; and endorses the Government's view that the key to increased prosperity and higher living standards is the adoption of policies which stimulate further economic growth and job creation. As the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) has just said, the purpose of this debate is to enable the House to consider the European Commission's draft social charter. I shall take up immediately what the hon. Gentleman said and seek to make my remarks short.

There are changes in the presidency revision of the charter when compared with the Commission's final version. The document covers the same 12 areas and its thrust is the same. The presidency version only became available as a public document on Monday 20 November in the form of a press release from the Commission of the European Communities. In submitting the unnumbered explanatory memorandum on 27 November we were concerned that the latest text of the charter should be I have the greatest sympathy with what the hon. Gentleman said. These things tend to be announced at press conferences and there is sometimes a delay of days or literally weeks before the final document is obtained. We are not the only country to suffer in this way. This issue will be raised at the meeting of Social Affairs Council tomorrow which I shall attend, and I shall ensure that the Commissioner knows about what the hon. Gentleman has said.

For the avoidance of doubt on the scrutiny debate on the social charter, I should say that I approach the debate from the position of someone who campaigned for Britain's entry into Europe, voted for our membership of the Community and remains enthusiastic for Europe and for Britain's membership of the Community.

As I listened to the Opposition spokesman on the radio this morning, I marvelled at his flexibility. The hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) was first elected to the House in 1983. At that time, the Labour manifesto said of Europe: Geography and history determine that Britain is part of Europe, and Labour wants to see Europe safe and prosperous. But the European Economic Community, which does not even include the whole of Western Europe, was never devised to suit us, and our experience as a member of it has made it more difficult for us to deal with our economic and industrial problems. I was glad to hear what the hon. Gentleman had to say. I am sure that he would wish to address himself to the fact that the election manifesto which brought him into the House only five or six years ago was a commitment to withdraw altogether from the European Community. Frankly, Conservative Members are not prepared and are not inclined to take lectures from the Opposition on the European Community.

Mr. Jeff Rooker (Birmingham, Perry Barr)

Some of us have long memories. The first legislative act of this Government in 1979 was to remove workers' rights on unfair dismissal. The charter would stop that happening because there could be no regression.

Mr. Fowler

We shall come to that point. I note that the hon. Gentleman does not deny the incontrovertible fact that the Opposition have gone through an entire change and transformation in relation to the social charter and the Community.

This debate is about the kind of Europe that we want to see. It is about the social charter's effects, particularly on the people of the Community, what should be done at Community level and national level.

Mr. Spencer Batiste (Elmet)


Mr. Fowler

I shall continue for the moment.

The debate is about what kind of social charter there should he and what respect there should be for different national traditions.

Our view is quite clear: there is certainly a social dimension to the European Community. There is no question about that and basically that social dimension is about the creation of new jobs and the reduction of unemployment. That is the crucial issue because there are now no fewer than 14 million unemployed people throughout the Community. No social issue is more important and nothing is socially more important than bringing down unemployment. That is not just the British Government's view. At the Madrid summit the Heads of Government unanimously agreed that job creation and development must have the "top priority" in the completion of the single market.

Our acid test for the social charter is whether in practice it will lead to more jobs and a fall in unemployment. On this issue we speak from a position of strength in Europe. There are now more than 26 million people at work in this country—more than ever before in our history. Since 1983, employment in Britain has grown by more than 2,750,000. Between 1983 and 1987, our rate of job growth was more than three times the average for the rest of the European Community and our growth in jobs nearly equalled that of the whole of the rest of the Community.

As a result, unemployment has fallen every month for more than three years; since the last general election, it has fallen by over 1,250,000, and long-term unemployment has fallen by 682,000. We do not say that that is enough, and that makes my point in this debate. We want to see the improvement sustained and to see it spread to every part of the country. Compared with the rest of the Community, we have nothing to apologise for. Our unemployment rate of about 6 per cent. is substantially below the average for the rest of the European Community, where the rate now stands at about 9 per cent. Britain has a lower rate of unemployment than France, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands and Denmark, and it is certainly lower than the rate in Spain, Ireland and Greece. The central point is that that has been achieved not by adding to restrictions, but by a policy of sweeping away unnecessary restrictions and regulations.

One lesson that we have learnt is that businesses create jobs. They cannot be created by regulations, and that has been established over the last few years. There is no doubt that no one in the Commission, least of all Commissioner Papandreou, believes or claims that the policies in the charter will create jobs. When Commissioner Papandreou gave evidence to the Select Committee on Employment on 17 October, she acknowledged that the charter would have "negative effects" which would increase the cost of production". She said: there is no doubt about that". Increasing costs inevitably damages employment prospects. The only question that Commissioner Papandreou left unanswered is the number of jobs that the charter will destroy. It is not a question of whether jobs will go but how many.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

The Secretary of State compared our unemployment rate with the rates in other European countries. Will he tell us the basis on which that comparison was made so that we can see whether his comparison is favourable? How many of the countries that he quoted have changed their way of collating unemployment statistics 19 times as we have done, to the extent that we do not know the true rate of unemployment?

Mr. Fowler

There is a recognised European comparison for unemployment. There is no question but that it represents the best comparison that is known of the unemployment rates of the countries in the Community. I have never heard that challenged. It is not a matter of looking at national figures and comparing unlike with unlike. The purpose is to try to bring them together and have a Euro-figure so that a good comparison can be made.

Mr. Batiste


Mr. Fowler

I give way to my hon. Friend, to whom I should have given way earlier.

Mr. Batiste

Can my right hon. Friend confirm at this early stage an important point? Are the Government opposed in principle to the concept of a social charter, or to some of the provisions in the current draft?

Mr. Fowler

I am glad to do that. I am not opposed in principle to a social charter, and I shall make that clear. However, I am opposed, and the Government are opposed, to the social charter as it stands, because the effect and impact of its proposals are likely, even certain, to lead to job losses when the whole purpose of policy should be to try to create employment.

Mr. Tony Blair (Sedgefield)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Fowler

Will the hon. Gentleman allow me to continue, as he has an opportunity to reply directly after me?

Mr. Ron Leighton (Newham, North-East)

I am certain that the Secretary of State does not want to mislead the House. Mrs. Papandreou did not say that the social charter would destroy jobs. She said that there was no evidence that it would destroy or create jobs. She admitted that there might be some increase in costs, for example as with health and safety provisions. She referred to the West German economy, which has the highest possible standards and is the most efficient possible. That is a fair summing up of what she said.

Mr. Fowler

If the hon. Gentleman checks what I said, he will see that that is precisely how I described it. I have the benefit of having listened to Commissioner Papandreou set out her case on this not just before the Select Committee but in Council meeting after Council meeting. There is nothing between us when she says that the social charter as it now stands will add to labour costs.

Mr. Blair

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Fowler

I should prefer to continue with my speech. You have asked for short speeches, Mr. Speaker, and I should like to give one. However, I shall give way if the hon. Gentleman insists.

Mr. Blair

I must insist. The right hon. Gentleman has repeated the allegation that Mrs. Papandreou has accepted that the social charter will put up costs. Let me correct him, becase I have her evidence here. She said that some of the proposals might put up costs and some might make them more effective. Overall, she said: I do not think that the implementation of the Charter is going to have negative effects on job creation. It is only the Government who think that fair employment practices and job creation are mutually inconsistent.

Mr. Fowler

If that is remotely her view, that represents a substantial change from the position that she has taken before. The hon. Gentleman must understand that not only have I read her evidence, but I have listened to her in many Council meetings which the hon. Gentleman has not attended. If he listens, he might understand what she is saying. She is saying what the proponents of the charter have been saying, which is that it will have a tendency to put up labour costs.

Mr. Blair

I rise because the Secretary of State must not continue to misrepresent Mrs. Papandreou. We are interested not in his interpretation of what she said, but what she actually said, which is down on the record. What she said is that it would not have a negative impact on job creation.

Mr. Fowler

I do not accept that. Neither do I accept —nor does any independent person or newspaper leader writer who has looked at this position—that this will reduce labour costs. It will increase labour costs and the impact and effect of that will be to increase unemployment.

Mr. Teddy Taylor (Southend, East)

Irrespective of what Mrs. Papandreou said or did not say, it is not the case that whether we vote for or against the social charter and whether the European Council votes for or against it, the European Commission is fully empowered to present to the Council of Ministers, under a majority vote, the full range of directives outlining the social charter, as it said on 22 October and as the Prime Minister confirmed on 26 July? What is the point of having this debate and vote?

Mr. Fowler

I shall direct myself to the point of the debate, certainly.

If my hon. Friend is saying that, irrespective of what decision is made on the charter, the Commission will have the power to bring forward directives and proposals, that is unanswerably the fact, but that does not invalidate the case for having a debate on the charter. Instead, it puts the entire issue in the context of the charter.

Even if we disagree about Commissioner Papandreou's view, I hope that we shall not disagree about the views of British business organisations such as the CBI, the chambers of commerce and the Institute of Directors. These organisations know substantially more about creating jobs than do Opposition Members. At its conference last week, the CBI came out solidly against the proposals that are set out in the social charter. The CBI is the largest, the best and the most powerful organisation of its sort in Britain.

Mr. Hugh Dykes (Harrow, East)

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Fowler

I shall not give way again. I apologise to my hon. Friend.

There are those who argue that the social charter as it stands is nothing more than a harmless declaration of aims. There are at least three reasons why that is not so. First, the charter is intended as a basis for action. It is accompanied by an action programme, and an ambitious one at that. It consists of 43 Community instruments, including 17 legally binding directives. The Commission's aim is for all these directives to be represented for agreement by the end of 1992. The action programme includes directives on hours of work and night work, holidays and rest periods, and part-time and temporary employment.

Secondly, the issues in the action programme are what the Commission proposes action on immediately. There are other issues on which directives are not proposed this day—I take the point of my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor) to some extent—but which are accepted as desirable objectives. These are issues such as minimum wages and compulsory schemes of worker participation. There are aims, therefore, with which we do not agree. We can accept general health and safety regulations and regulations covering other areas to which I shall come. If the aim, however, is to reduce unemployment, it is nonsense to sign up to measures that we all know will add to labour costs and will discourage and not encourage employment.

Thirdly, the effect of our accepting the charter as it stands would be to concede that the Community has competence to deal with these subjects and that it should take action in any event. That runs entirely counter to the principle of subsidiarity to which all Heads of Government subscribed at the Madrid summit. I am delighted that subsidiarity is now in the preamble. My complaint, however, is that that is not followed through. Subjects such as holidays and hours of work should not be regulated from Brussels. They are areas in which domestic decisions are the best way of proceeding.

Mr. Jonathan Aitken (Thanet, South)

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Fowler

I shall not give way.

One of the most positive developments of the 1980s has been the move to more flexible patterns of work. In many instances these are exactly what are needed in the sectors of growing employment. Even more important is the fact that more and more people want to work part time or at home, or for short periods, so that they can both do a job and look after a family. Surveys have shown that the majority of part time workers want to work part time. If employers are to draw more people into the labour market, they must be prepared to offer flexible patterns of work.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)

My right hon. Friend makes the point that I was trying to make. It is extremely important, particularly for women, that hours should be flexible, and that is something which Britain has achieved but which the continent has not achieved so well.

Mr. Fowler

That is exactly the point.

It is ridiculous and patronising for the Commission to describe the 6 million people in Britain who work part time as "atypical". That is the term used to describe part-time workers in the action programme. It is time for the Commission to wake up to the fact that, as my hon. Friend has just said, we are no longer living in a world where everyone works full time in a factory or office or when everyone starts work at the same time and goes home at the same time. When Commissioner Papandreou says that she does not believe that women want to work part time, she is denying the evidence of survey after survey in Britain.

Mr. Blair

The right hon. Gentleman alleges that the Commissioner responsible for people working part time says that people do not want to work part time. Where did she make that statement?

Mr. Fowler

She made it at the last Social Affairs Council. She suggested that that was not the wish of the vast majority of women in Britain. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to check with Commissioner Papandreou on that, I am perfectly happy that he should do so. But irrespective of whether that is the case—

Mr. Dykes

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Fowler

I will not give way again. [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. We shall make little progress if hon. Members persist in raising points when the Minister is not giving way.

Mr. Fowler

The social charter does not pay attention to the requirements that exist for part-time work and the proper importance that should be placed on part-time work in Britain.

Mr. Dykes

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Fowler

I will not give way.

What we do not want is a social charter that imposes on the rest of the Community a single blueprint based on arrangements that have been developed in one country.

Let us consider employee involvement. We believe strongly in the principle of employee involvement. Our disagreement with what the charter says on that issue does not mean that we are opposed to making progress on employee involvement—quite the contrary. We have recently set out what is happening in Britain in a document that we have published which I know has been well studied by the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell). We want to see those approaches carried forward and extended. That is why we will continue to resist attempts to impose on Britain forms of worker participation based on models that have been developed in other countries. We have no wish to impose our traditions on other member states, but we see no reason why their traditions should be imposed on Britain.

Above all, we do not want to see a set of regulations that will destroy jobs. If we are to create new jobs and reduce unemployment right across Europe—that, surely, must be the aim—the last thing that Europe needs is more rules and regulations. We remain consistent in wanting to see employment increase; we want to see sustained growth in the economics of Europe, not a damaging flood of new regulations and restrictions.

I support the EC and I have campaigned and consistently voted for it. The emphasis of the charter is not, as it should be, on job creation. The whole philosophy of the charter is static, not dynamic. It is preoccupied with regulating the working lives of people already in employment. It ignores the interests of those who have no job. The social charter, at least in its present form, is a recipe for job stagnation, not for job growth.

Mr. Dykes

Does my right hon. Friend agree that such matters can satisfactorily be negotiated between the member states? We can be guided by the more relaxed attitude of West Germany, say—which is the premier capitalist economy of Europe, having a coalition Government led by the German equivalent of the Conservative party that seems to be more enthusiastic about such matters than we are. How do the West Germans cope when we find it so difficult?

Mr. Fowler

I hope that progress can be made, for I am not seeking to deny that possibility. In a whole range of areas, such as health and safety, cross-qualifications between one country and another and other elements of co-operation that enable the Community to function are sensible. However, it is not sensible to seek to introduce regulations and directives in respect of matters that should be the subject of decisions taken at a domestic level. Areas such as hours of work, minimum pay and minimum holidays should properly be the subject of domestic decision-taking.

My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes) deceives himself if he believes that West Germany is driven simply and solely by a concept of social justice. West Germany is concerned about the concept of social dumping, fearing that people will enter Germany and work there under conditions that do not equate with the high wages and standard of conditions enjoyed by German workers. That is not how Germany created its economic miracle, but it is Germany's intention now to avoid social dumping.

The social charter raises issues for the future direction of the European Community. The most serious of them is whether the Community will seize the opportunity of the single market to strengthen the economies of Europe and to bring down barriers to future growth or will become preoccupied with the detailed regulation of the lives of its citizens and with imposing new restrictions on business. Will the Community look outwards and prepare itself to compete with the new, fast-growing economies of the far east and Pacific, or will it turn in on itself?

It will be a terrible irony if just when eastern Europe is breaking free from decades of bureaucratic regulation, the European Community turns in on itself and stifles the growth of business and jobs under a flood of new controls from Brussels. The single market represents an enormous opportunity for Europe to move forward and to become economically strong enough to play a major part in shaping the world of the 21st century. The greatest and most terrible irony would be if a set of proposals labelled "social charter" succeeded in destroying jobs, not creating them.

We believe in a social dimension for the European Community—of that there is no doubt. However, we believe also that that social dimension is about bringing down unemployment and creating jobs. We support all sensible measures to achieve that, and the Government's record shows that they have been successful in achieving that objective. The challenge inside the European Community is undoubted, for 14 million of its people are still unemployed. Nevertheless, I do not believe that the social charter as it stands achieves the great objective of creating jobs and reducing unemployment.

4.24 pm
Mr. Tony Blair (Sedgefield)

I beg to move, to leave out from "House" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof: 'calls upon the Government to accept and endorse the Draft Community Charter of Fundamental Social Rights.'. Our case is that the Government should endorse the social charter at the Strasbourg summit in December as that would represent an important first step for greater rights for employees within the European Community. The social charter is an indispensable part of securing the consent of the people of the Community to the wide-ranging changes introduced by 1992 and the single European market.

Our case against the Government is epitomised by the speech of the Secretary of State. The Government's refusal to countenance the basic social rights in the charter severely undermines the interests of British employees, and the irrational conduct and bad faith that characterises our isolation in Europe profoundly damage Britain's interests abroad. By their opposition to the social charter, far from assisting job creation, the Government will harm the long-term prospects for British employment.

The essential difference between ourselves and the Government is that they believe that fair employment practice and job creation are inconsistent and we believe that they go together.

As contempt for the Government's position grows in Europe and elsewhere, there has been some attempt to shift tactics. Today, the Secretary of State told us that it is all just a reasoned dispute about detail, and that a different social charter might be agreed to or even welcomed. That is simply so much humbug. The true reaction of the Prime Minister and thus, inevitably, of the Secretary of State, was her first reaction.

The draft social charter was barely in print before the Prime Minister granted an exclusive interview to the Daily Mail in May. She said that the social charter was a throwback to a Marxist period, a class struggle period". On the same day, in Prime Minister's Question Time, she went out of her way to condemn the social charter as more like a Socialist charter."—[Official Report, 18 May 1989; Vol. 153, c. 474.] We all know that there is no more profoundly meant insult in the Prime Minister's vocabulary.

The Secretary of State, the Prime Minister's ever-eager echo, said at a press conference on 21 June that the social charter was full of Socialist measures, stating: We do not believe then that the so-called social charter is sensible or necessary. His Minister of State backed him up in a reply on 28 July: The Government have made it clear that they see no point in the Commission's proposals for a Communitywide social charter."—[Official Report, 28 July 1989; Vol. 157, c. 1049.] He was referring not to this social charter but to a "Communitywide social charter".

Finally, the Minister of State said in a press release on 18 October: It is no secret that the United Kingdom Government have considerable reservations about the whole concept of a social charter.

Mr. Ian Taylor (Esher)

The hon. Gentleman must clarify to the House which version of the social charter he is criticising. He will be well aware that we are now into the third draft. The first draft contained an enormous amount of Socialist nonsense. Given that that has gone, can he reasonably accept the third draft?

Mr. Blair

In that case, we would assume that the Government would be rowing in support of the existing social charter, but they are still opposing it.

Mr. Batiste

Does the Labour party accept the principle of subsidiarity, and if it does, where does he draw the border line between that which should be determined in Britain and that which should be determined in Europe in the context of the current draft of the social charter?

Mr. Blair

With great respect to the hon. Gentleman, the principle of subsidiarity is set out quite clearly in the social charter. It is simple, plain common sense that there will be different spheres of influence between national Governments and European institutions. Only the Conservative party cannot understand that.

All that has happened between the Government's original position and now, when they attempt to present a gentler and kinder face, is that, in view of the growing astonishment and incredulity of the international community towards their hostility to any declaration of basic social rights, the Government have been driven to pretend that a divergence of principle is really only a difference over detail.

What are the rights which they oppose in the social charter? They are: freedom of movement, decent and fair pay for employees, freedom of association, a right to vocational training, equal treatment for men and women, rights for workers to be consulted and informed and to participate in the decisions affecting them, health and safety at work, protecting children against exploitation and proper regard—

Mr. Fowler

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Blair

In a moment—proper regard for the elderly and the disabled—

Mr. Fowler


Mr. Blair

These are the principles—

Mr. Fowler

The hon. Gentleman accused me of having misrepresented the position. He has now knowingly and entirely wilfully misrepresented the position. As he must have heard me say, the Government do not oppose measures relating to health and safety and a whole range of other issues. We are not opposed to the recognition of qualifications, or to the free movement of labour and equal opportunities. We should like many of those rights to be properly observed. Before the hon. Gentleman accuses me of misleading anybody, I hope that at least he will take on board exactly what is the Government's position. This is not the first time that it has been set out.

Mr. Blair

What I find interesting are the rights that the right hon. Gentleman has not endorsed: the rights of the elderly, the right to freedom of association and other rights. No wonder the rest of the European Community is aghast at our attitude. The charter could be adopted almost verbatim not merely by western Europe but by the millions who are struggling for freedom in eastern Europe. If they did, the Prime Minister would be the first to stand up and ask for support for the social charter.

Mr. Roger Gale (Thanet, North)

On the right to freedom of association, will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Blair


Let us consider the right to vocational training: Every European Community worker must have the opportunity to continue his vocational training throughout his working life. The public authorities, enterprises or, where appropriate, the two sides of industry, each within their own sphere of competence, must set up continuing and permanent training systems enabling every citizen to undergo retraining, more especially through leave for training purposes, to improve his skills or acquire new skills". That is the type of right that we are denied. Why should our employees be denied a right that is given to our competitors? How foolish to deny, by the Government's obstinacy, the very tools that would allow us to compete more effectively.

The Government say that the social charter will cost jobs. By implication, therefore, they assume that West Germany and all our other European Community partners which support the social charter are feckless enough to support it, even though it will cost jobs.

As for the right to training, is it West Germany, with its £9.2 billion trading surplus with Britain, which needs the right to training? Is it Italy—with its £2 billion trading surplus with Britain—that requires the right to training? Is it France with a £1.6 billion surplus, the Netherlands with a £4 billion surplus, Denmark with almost a £1 billion surplus and Belgium and Luxembourg combined with their £1 billion trading surplus with Britain that are most in need of the right to training? It is Britain, the country that needs the right to training most, that is almost alone in resisting it for its employees.

That is why the Government's position is so irrational. That is why, elsewhere in Europe, the social charter has so much support, from the Conservative Administrations of West Germany and Belgium to the Socialist Administrations of France and Spain. That is why Mr. Kohl, that great Marxist, has welcomed it and has also called for legally binding minimum social standards across the Community. That is why West German employers and trade unions have just issued a joint statement in these terms: They urge"— they do not merely support— a Community-wide formulation of minimum social standards and workers' rights on the basis of the treaties founding the European Communities. That is why Professor Becker, the president of the European Round Table and head of the 50 or so largest European companies, has gone out of his way to welcome the European company statute on staff representation.

That is why Mrs. Maij-Weggen, the Dutch leader of the European Christian Democrats, spoke in these terms in the European Parliament on 13 September: We must believe that this must not be simply a solemn declaration—and here we agree with the Socialists—but it must go hand in hand with a concrete programme of action. She went on to say: Mr. President, I agree with Mr. Ford"— the Labour leader— when he criticises Mrs. Thatcher so severely. Mrs. Thatcher does not want a social Europe but she has clearly lost the elections and a sensible politician must change policy when elections are lost. There speaks someone who is clearly not a very perceptive student of the Prime Minister's psychology.

Mr. Timothy Raison (Aylesbury)

Will the hon. Gentleman tell us the Labour party's view of one right in the charter—the right concerning professional organisations and trade unions: Every employer and every worker shall have the freedom to join or not to join such organisations without any personal or occupational damage being thereby suffered by him"? That would put an end to the closed shop. Is that the Labour party's position?

Mr. Blair

If it has that meaning, it also has the meaning that one has a right to be a member of a trade union. How the Government would justify their position on GCHQ, I do not know—[HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."] I can tell hon. Members that we shall have every opportunity to debate the matter when the Employment Bill is before the House. That is why the leader of the Christian Democrats said in the European Parliament—

Mr. Fowler

Does that mean that, if we meet the requirements that the hon. Gentleman has outlined, he will support the abolition of the pre-entry closed shop?

Mr. Blair

I will take lessons from the right hon. Gentleman on the pre-entry closed shop when he is prepared to restore rights to trade unionists at GCHQ.

Mr. David Shaw (Dover)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Surely the hon. Gentleman is speaking as an Opposition Front-Bench spokesman, not as a lawyer. We should be entitled—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)

Order. Bogus points of order do not help us to make progress.

Mr. Blair

That is why—

Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Blair

No, I shall not.

That is why the programme has been supported by all those people.

Mr. Wallace

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Blair

No, I am not giving way.

That is why such a programme was called for—

Mr. Wallace


Hon. Members

Give way.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I need to hear the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair). I hope that hon. Members will allow me to do so.

Mr. Blair

If I may say so, I have given way a darn sight more than the Secretary of State.

Mr. Fowler


Mr. Blair

That is why such a programme was called for not only by all the bodies to which I referred but by the economic and social committee of the Community, by a majority of 135 to 22, earlier this year. Which were the main components of the 22 in opposition? They were the United Kingdom and the wing of the French trade union movement dominated by pre-Gorbachev unreconstructed Communists—the ancient relics of Right and Left locked in an embrace of mutual irrelevance.

That, then, is the declaration of rights that we are resisting, and that is the vast body of opinion that we are alienating—not merely by the fact of our opposition to the social charter but by the manner of it. The document has been subject to a campaign by the Department of Employment—I say this advisedly—of such scurrilous misinformation that Orwell's Ministry of Truth, or perhaps even the chairman of the Tory party, whichever may be worse, could have learnt from it. We have been told that the charter would interfere with our rights as a sovereign nation. We were told that it would cost us hundreds of thousands of jobs and would be the ruin of British industry. Hardly a day has gone by without a fresh hue and cry being raised against the charter by the Department of Employment.

The campaign culminated in a briefing by the Department on 3 November, which was given widespread publicity in the newspapers on 4 November. The Daily Telegraph covered the matter in detail and the point was repeated subsequently in ministerial speeches. It was not simply an allegation about the social charter in general terms, it was very specific. Under the headline Social Charter threatens jobs of under-18s", the article stated: Paper rounds and evening performances of shows involving children will be threatened by a ban on night work for under 18s in the Common Market Social Charter the Employment Department said yesterday… This would rule out jobs for most of Britain's 300,000 paper boys and girls and present serious obstacles to the delivery of newspapers. It would also put an end to Saturday jobs held by thousands of school children. It would seem that the evil social charter is not simply unkind to young boys and girls, but will stop our morning papers. We can only imagine what "Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells" wrote about that.

Mr. David Shaw

It is very serious.

Mr. Blair

Exactly. That is why I checked the position with the Commission. The Commission said that four meetings were held about the charter before 30 October —before the newspaper articles appeared based on the Department of Employment briefing. United Kingdom officials attended those meetings and the point about newspaper deliveries was raised at one of them. The Commission specifically and in terms told Ministry officials that it is was no part of the Commission's plan to limit such work. The scare had no validity. However, a week later the Department of Employment briefing appeared—

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Blair

I believe that the Government's bad faith should be explored.

Even more extraordinary than the article in the Daily Telegraph was the speech by the Minister of State in the House on 15 November. He made a series of allegations about the social charter, most of which were complete nonsense. However, he made a particular allegation about Mrs. Papandreou which I want to raise with him. I will give way to the Minister of State if he can explain what he said. He said: What does the charter mean to British people? Mrs Papandreou said in London that she"— then he purports to quote— cannot believe that people would choose part-time work: In other words, she does not think that there is any value in part-time work."—[Official Report, 15 November 1989; Vol. 160, c. 445.] I do not know where that quote comes from. I cannot find it in any of Mrs. Papandreou's speeches. The very matter was raised in the Select Committee on Employment by a Conservative Member who put it to Mrs. Papandreou that she might be against part-time work and she replied: First of all, in principle I am not against part-time work. On the contrary, I think if workers have the luxury—because sometimes it is a luxury—to choose between full-time and part-time and they opt for part-time then it is up to them. What I am against is when part-time work is imposed on workers.

The Minister of State, Department of Employment (Mr. Tim Eggar)

Of course, Mrs. Papandreou went on to say: I do not know, and I find it very difficult to agree, that nine out of 10 women would like to have part-time work if they had the opportunity to have full-time work. I must tell the hon. Gentleman, as I told the Commission, that we have conducted a survey into that and the result was absolutely clear: nine out of the 10 part-time workers wanted to work part-time rather than full-time. Six million people in this country want to work part-time. Is the Labour party against those people? Would Labour rather they did not work part-time?

Mr. Blair

That was quite pathetic. The idea that the Minister's quote justifies his saying that Mrs. Papandreou does not believe that there is any value in part-time work is ridiculous.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Blair

Furthermore, the Minister has not told us where Mrs. Papandreou is alleged to have said that she cannot believe that people would choose part-time work. Instead of trying to justify what is plainly an unjustifiable allegation against her, he should apologise for misrepresenting her on the basis of something for which there is no evidence in the Select Committee report.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman


Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Lady must not persist when the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) is clearly not giving way.

Mr. Blair


Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman


Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I am sure that the hon. Lady heard me the first time. I hope that she will not persist in seeking to intervene when the hon. Gentleman clearly is not giving way.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

No point of order can arise on that.

Mr. Blair

This serious—

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman

On a point of order, Mr.Deputy Speaker. I was trying to point out that I was a member of the European committee on social affairs which discussed—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. That is not a point of order. I regret that the hon. Lady seeks to make her intervention under the guise of a bogus point of order. I hope that she will not persist.

Mr. Blair

The series of trumped-up allegations over a period of time by the Department of Employment is important. It shows the rank bad faith that characterises the Government's attitude to our EC partners. It also shows that the Government are forced to put false interpretations on the social charter and what it means.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman

Will the hon. Gentleman give way on this point?

Mr. Blair

I appreciate the desire of Conservative Members not to debate this subject properly. However, I believe that people outside this place would like us to debate it properly.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman


Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I very much hope that the hon. Lady the Member for Doncaster will not persist.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman

Mr. Deputy Speaker, you have given me your constituency.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I said Lancaster.

Mr. Blair

No, you said Doncaster.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I apologise both to the hon. Lady and to myself.

Mr. Blair

The Government are forced to put false interpretations on the social charter because they know that if people realised the truth, they might begin to ask why they cannot have the rights in it. They might ask why there is no right guaranteeing freedom of association and the protection of the low-paid and part-time workers. They might ask why no rights apply to children, the elderly and to training. In reality, the arguments about the detail of the charter are a smokescreen to conceal a rejection of its basic principles.

The Government are not against the present version of the social charter. They are in truth against any version which will lead to practical legislation to enforce basic minimum standards for employees throughout the Community.

Mr. Gale

Will the hon. Gentleman give way on the point about freedom of association?

Mr. Blair


The Government have always opposed legislation that advances employees' rights in Europe or here just as they opposed the directives on consultation of workers in large multinationals and on part-time workers' rights. They oppose it just as they opposed rights for casual or temporary workers, the reorganisation of working times and the directive on parental leave. The Government have also dragged their feet on every item of sex discrimination and equal pay legislation to come from the Community. They oppose those rights just as in June—as ever, alone—they opposed a proposal to establish a common poverty line for the Community to allow us to gauge the performance of member states in meeting the needs of our poorest citizens.

Just as they have opposed social progress in Brussels, the Government have opposed and thwarted it here in Westminster by abolishing the wages councils for young workers, restricting rights to claim unfair dismissal, removing safeguards on working hours, cutting the staff of the Health and Safety Executive and having one of the worst records on pensions and parental leave anywhere in the Community. That is the real reason for their opposition to the social charter. It is not merely their hysterical dislike of anything that is the product of co-operation rather than conflict between nations, and not simply because they are against social progress made in Brussels rather than in Westminster. They are against anything, whether here or abroad, that stands up for the rights and interests of people in Europe against the vested interests of wealth and power.

The Opposition believe in the social charter because it is just and fair. We believe in it because a just and fair Community will also be efficient. An internal market that is a free-for-all will lead, as markets that are unchecked and unbalanced by the public interest always have led, to greed, disorder and sometimes even chaos.

What about the arguments that the social charter will put people out of work, drive up industry's costs and mean unnecessary bureaucracy? Those have been the rallying cries of reactionaries against any form of social progress,from the legislation that stopped sending children down the mines to the present day, when a new world, East and West, opens up new challenges and opportunities. It is the ultimate vice of the Government that they are now so consumed by prejudice as to be opaque to reason. They cannot see that prosperity will no be built on injustice, that progress cannot be measured by short-term profit alone and that the rights of those who create the wealth should not be subservient to the market in which they created it. On that basis, the Opposition will divide the House tonight, confident of the support not merely of our colleagues in Europe but, increasingly, of the British people.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Before I call the first Back-Bench Member, I remind the House that this is a short debate and that short speeches will reduce the number of disappointments.

4.52 Pm

Mr. Ian Taylor (Esher)

The problems that the Labour party has got itself into on this issue were admirably encapsulated in the speech by the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair). He has clearly insufficiently read the latest and earlier drafts of the social charter. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment has pointed out, there are bits in it that the hon. Gentleman would not like. Clause 11 of the latest draft states: Every employer and every worker shall have the freedom to join or not to join such organisations (trade unions) without any personal or occupational damage being thereby suffered by him. On some interpretations, that would not only prevent a closed shop but would go much further than the legislation which has been envisaged by the Government. By way of intervention, my right hon. Friend said that, in effect, that means that the hon. Member will have to lead the Labour party into the Aye Lobby when the legislation to prevent the pre-entry closed shop comes before the House.

We cannot take lectures from Opposition Members, who were recently against the European Community concept of what should be the rights of people within the Community. It is self-evident nonsense that the Labour party, which is not certain even now of its conversion to the European cause, should hypocritically try to use some piece of legislation emanating from Brussels to cover the holes in its own policy as a result of attempting for years to fudge what it is trying to put forward, which is a regulation which would throttle British industry and deny British people jobs. The Labour party has a policy for unemployment, and that fact was laid bare this afternoon.

I shall make a few positive remarks about progress in the social dimension of the Community. About 90 per cent. of the 280 measures that the White Paper set forth as necessary to achieve the internal market have either reached the stage of negotiation or are already implemented. Therefore, the development of the internal market is already at an advanced stage. It is not surprising that many people in the Community believe that now the other part of the Single European Act—that is, that relating to the social dimension—should be looked at and fleshed out. It is interesting that much of the pressure for a social dimension to be given detail has come not just from the Commission but from member Governments and Ministers in Council.

My only mild criticism of the British Government in this context is that, knowing that we have such a good record in the social dimension, knowing that we have created more jobs than others in the Community have, and knowing that we have done it through deregulation, we should have taken the initiative earlier and put forward our own social charter rather than be forced now to nitpick about some of the measures in the draft social charter which came from a Greek Commissioner. That is unfortunate because we are effectively playing on someone else's playing field. We should learn a lesson from that weakness and not repeat it in future.

Labour Members were anxious to accept the first draft which contained many restrictive measures which would have created unemployment. They had an almost overwhelming desire to see institutionalised in Brussels the beer-and-sandwiches brigade upon which they fondly look back. I wish the nation to realise that the Labour party is attempting to support the social charter for reasons that are not in the best interests of employment in this country.

Mr. William Cash (Stafford)

Does my hon. Friend agree that, in respect of technical change, there is now a movement against the less skilled worker? Therefore, the iniquity of the Opposition's position is that they are condemning people in the less developed parts of the Community to a lower wage structure and, at the same time, condemning those in our country who are in a similar position as a result of the Labour Government's failure to do anything.

Mr. Taylor

My hon. Friend makes an interesting point. There should never be an agreement to any element of the social charter which would allow the high social costs in certain northern European countries to be spread throughout the Community, because that would have a damaging effect on employment and on certain regions of this country. No support that I give to the social charter would justify that aspect of it.

Mr. Austin Mitchell (Great Grimsby)

Is it a fact that the Government are opposed to the social charter because they see the destiny of this country as a cheapjack, low-wage, low-tax, deregulated Trojan horse for entry into the EEC?

Mr. Taylor

The hon. Gentleman has only to talk to one or two German business men about that. They are particularly concerned about their own protection. They realise that their social costs are high.

Inward investment in British industry has been dramatic under this Government, and that shows the strength of British manufacturing.

The importance of the advance of the internal market is that it is perfectly proper that workers' rights to circulate freely in the Community should lead to the expectation of similar treatment for themselves and their families as that of the people of the country in which they choose to work. That is an admirable objective for the single market and the freedom of movement which this country has strongly supported.

Mr. Teddy Taylor

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Taylor

Hon. Members have been urged by Mr. Deputy Speaker to keep their speeches as short as possible. Given that my hon. Friend is my namesake, of course I will give way.

Mr. Teddy Taylor

As the decent wage directive will not be an equal European decent wage or minimum wage, but will take account of the varying costs in each member state, who will decide what is a decent wage in each member state? Will the European Court or the Commission decide, or will the matter be left to each country?

Mr. Taylor

My hon. Friend is less than his usual accurate self, which shows that he has not looked at the latest draft of the social charter, or at the Commission's statement on the action programme. That statement clearly shows that member states will decide the definitions, with the Community merely setting a framework—

Mr. Teddy Taylor

Utter rubbish.

Mr. Taylor

It is not utter rubbish. My hon. Friend should read the document, where he will find that plainly stated.

Because of the Government's successful efforts, the third draft makes significant advances and due credit should be given to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. The draft is close to being acceptable to the Conservative party. It contains a clear statement on subsidiarity—the fact that the Community should operate at the lowest appropriate level. The draft and the statement on the action programme show respect for the plurality of cultures. The Commission will be bound by existing powers and there will be no extension of those powers. The draft stresses job creation, a point that came out of the Madrid summit. It leaves member Governments to define the minima that the Commission believes to be desirable.

There is no imposition of any rigid worker participation formula, which is especially welcome given the Government's efforts to encourage employee share ownership. Indeed, the statement on the action programme clearly states: Worker participation in company profits and share acquisition will also be the subject of a proposal for a Community instrument. That is a major move forward, which will gain further recognition as the discussions continue. There is now no question that British companies will need to adopt the form of worker participation at board level that is the case with German companies. When the European company statute draft is adjusted, they will not need to adopt that policy even if they opt for European company status.

Many aspects of the draft are acceptable to the Conservative party. Contrary to the suggestion of the hon. Member for Sedgefield, certain elements of the draft social charter have always been acceptable to Conservatives. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said: In support of the single market programme, we do need some general principles for the labour market: the free movement of labour; health and safety at work; equal treatment in employment for men and women, and avoidance of discrimination; improvements in training, and a system of qualifications which permits recognition of competence; freedom for nationals of member states to set up and manage undertakings anywhere in the Community. That is a long list of measures, to which the Government have always put their name. There is no opposition to the concept of a social charter in that context.

I hope that we can make further progress before the Strasbourg summit. The Conservative party has a proud record of social reform. During the past 150 years we have initiated changes and improvements in the working conditions of British people. Sometimes we have done that, because of the circumstances of the day, by introducing regulations; sometimes we have done it by freeing the market to create jobs, as has been evidenced during the past decade. No one, and certainly not the Opposition, could point a finger at the Conservative party and say that it does not have a social conscience.

We are not prepared to prostitute ourselves for the sake of some form of social charter, regardless of what is contains. That is why the Government have forcefully objected to certain aspects of it and why they have argued that aspects that would destroy jobs should be removed. Despite what the media have suggested, there is no doubt that our European colleagues have listened to us, and the third draft recognises many of our points.

I hope that there will be some change during the coming weeks so that, at the Strasbourg summit, the Government can willingly sign a social charter that symbolises the fact that there is a social element within the internal market. I hope that that will be only the beginning. There are many areas within the Community where there could be further declarations.

We must never forget that even the current draft refers to the two sides of industry. That is an antiquated view. If we include young children, more than 50 per cent. of the people in the Community do not work, let alone belong to a trade union. The membership of trade unions is declining. We need to adapt and embrace ideas that understand new technology, new working practices and the changing demography of Europe during the next 10 years. We need to adapt social criteria to environmental considerations. We need closely to consider effects on the family. We need to understand the social dimension for consumers. Those matters are justifiably discussed at Community level because they affect the working of the internal market throughout the Community. We strongly believe in and have been the prime force behind the creation of that internal market.

If we can do all those things, we can be positive about the meaning of a social charter and understand that it is not just about job creation but is intended to enable people in many countries within the Community to have something to which they can aspire, to give there confidence, to improve their performance at work, to improve their productivity and to improve the way that society itself creates stability. Those criteria are important at the Community level. The transmission of those broad objectives into legislation should, as the latest draft shows, be on the principle of subsidiarity and carried out in accordance with the traditions and cultures of the nation states so that all are acting to a common programme, but interpreting it each in his own way. That is a noble objective.

I hope that the Government will continue the fight arid that their success at Strasbourg will be signalled by their signing of an acceptable further revised draft of the social charter.

5.7 pm

Mr. Ron Leighton (Newham, North-East)

Why should there be a social charter, and what is its origin and purpose? It was thought necessary to offer it as an accompaniment to the single market. The single internal market is the business man's Europe, removing all restrictions on the movement of capital and goods. That will not be a benign development which will benefit all; it will be an area of fierce competition in which there will be winners and losers. Industry will be rationalised and restructured; there will be mergers, closures and redundancies. It is freedom for capital, tailormade for the multinationals.

We all recognise what is in that for big business, but what about the working people? To prevent the trade unions from opposing that development and to keep them on board, it was felt necessary to offer them a social dimension that would, allegedly, accompany the economic dimension. It was claimed that the two would go hand in hand. The charter was intended to reassure workers that their employment rights and conditions would not be undermined—at least, that is the story and the propaganda. However, once we examine it more closely the social charter appears less substantial and becomes something of a mirage.

The actual document is, of course, replete with grandiloquent declarations and high-flown aspirations. There is much talk of social consensus, of social rights, of employment being fairly remunerated, of improved working and living conditions, of adequate levels of social security, of the elderly having adequate means of subsistence, and of a minimum income. It talks of the right to belong to a union and the right to collective bargaining. It mentions the equality of men and women and refers to the right of workers to information, consultation and participation. There is much else, and the only thing missing is that which is of the essence—any mechanism or machinery to implement it. Instead, in every case there are get-outs and escape clauses. While the business man's Europe is being realised, I fear that the so-called people's Europe, the social Europe and the charter are no more than a smokescreen of verbiage.

As has been said, on 17 October—the day Parliament re-assembled—the Select Committee on Employment took evidence from Mrs. Vasso Papandreou, the European Commissioner responsible for the charter, to examine these matters in detail and establish the facts. It transpired that the social charter is based very largely on that of the Council of Europe. Asked how many of the member states had ratified it, she replied: not one of the member states has ratified all the conventions". So that was not a very hopeful start.

The EC social charter is full of phrases like social rights must be assured at appropriate levels", without saying what they are, and according to the circumstances within the member states or their constituent parts". Mrs. Papandreou told us: In the particular articles in the Charter there are always references to national law, collective agreements, even to practices which exist or are in force in the Member States, so we are not intending to impose a unified system in the Community". So the charter is pretty anodyne and toothless. She also told us: We are not going to propose directives, regulations or recommendations for all the issues in the Charter". So what is going to happen? We looked at some of the detail. First, we looked at the concept of a minimum wage, minimum income, and a "decent wage", because the charter refers to these. Indeed, because it refers to them, some people naively think that the charter will assure them throughout the Community. Unfortunately, that is not so.

Pressed on this, Mrs. Papandreou said: What is decent? It is different in Member States, it is even different within a Member State from region to region. We are not going to propose or decide what is not decent. It is up to Member States, up to the social partners either at national or local level, regional or industrial level, to decide what is a decent wage … in no way are we going to say in quantitative terms what is a decent wage. She even went on to say: So it is not up to us, even in qualitative terms, to say what is decent for the Member States. So much then for the minimum or decent wage. We will not get it from the social charter, that is clear.

What is the truth about the right to join a trade union? Some weeks ago I heard Glyn Ford, leader of the Labour Members of the European Parliament, say on the radio that the social charter would guarantee workers at Government communications headquarters the right to join a trade union. Again, unfortunately, that is not so.

Mrs. Papandreou made it clear that workers could join only unions that were what are called, "legally constituted" and that where member states disallowed or banned unions, they were not "legally constituted" and the charter would not affect that. She was asked: So legally constituted basically means depending on what the law of that particular Member State is? She replied: Yes. This applies to the Armed Forces and the police. Not only that, in some Member States others are not allowed to form unions. And of course, in this member state, among the "others" are the workers at GCHQ. The charter would give them no rights whatsoever.

The section on rights of workers to information, consultation and participation has now been watered down so much as to be meaningless. It talks of this being done in "due time", and in such a way as to take into account the laws, collective agreements and practices in force in the member states. In other words, it would leave things as they are.

Finally, the all-important thing is how any of this is to be implemented. Recently, the vice-president of the Commission, our former colleague Sir Leon Brittan, gave a lecture to the Institute of Personnel Management in which he said: If the Social Charter is to be worthy of support by all the heads of government of the European Community, it must be clear it is a statement of objectives and not a shorthand version of legislative programmes. It should be expressly agreed even though the objectives are shared, it does not follow that it is necessary and appropriate to seek to achieve them all by European Community legislation. So, as far as the vice-president of the European Commission is concerned, it is to be a mere statement of objectives.

At the Heads of Government meeting in December, they will be asked to accept the social charter as a "solemn declaration". What will that mean? What legal effect will that have? The answer is, none at all. Mrs. Papandreou explained: Of course legally it is not binding. This means if these rights are not implemented in the Member States the workers may not go to the Court of Justice". The House will notice the difference between the single internal market and the economic dimension on the one hand, and the social dimension on the other—between the business man's Europe, and the workers' Europe. The internal market, had first a White Paper, outlining 300 steps, then a treaty—the Single European Act—which gave it a legal basis and majority voting. The social dimension has no White Paper, no treaty, no legal basis and no majority voting—only plenty of vested interests capable of standing in its way, and nullifying it.

If the solemn declaration were adopted—although according to what the Secretary of State has said, it sounds as though Britain will veto it—the Commission would then have to go away and work out a whole number of draft regulations and directives, and that would take a long time. The draft regulations and directives would then have to go to the Council of Ministers where, on past experience, they would get stuck for years and be dealt with by unanimity. In other words, everyone would have a veto.

We have had the Vredeling proposals on worker participation and the Commission already has a draft directive on part-time work. However, they have been delayed in the Council of Ministers for almost 10 years, with little evidence of any change of heart. Mrs. Papandreou admitted all this, saying: You are right that most of this comes under unanimity, not majority, which means it is very difficult, and in some cases nearly impossible to get some proposals adopted by the Council. I notice that the Secretary of State does not mind doing things on health and safety, which is the one area that has a qualified majority, which therefore means that he has no choice. He has to make such moves whether he likes it or not. However, Mrs. Papandreou told us: On other issues—social security, equal opportunities, mobility of people—we need unanimity … most of the important issues come under unanimity, and this is a problem. She also said: There is no way to oblige the Council to take a decision; if they do not want to take a decision, it is very difficult to oblige them. Although Mrs. Papandreou said that she would take the proposals to the Council by the end of 1992, she also said: then it is up to the Council to decide and there is the problem, because we cannot impose a timetable on the Council and if there is unanimity, then some of these proposals may be delayed for years, as has happened already. In conclusion, the social charter is, alas, something of a non-event. It is an empty gesture, a slogan, a figleaf to cover the competitive free-for-all of 1992. So while the Labour party should support the social charter, it would be a self-delusion for us to expect too much from it. One thing is obvious—while the present Government remain in office, they can block the charter. When this Government are ejected from office, we will not need it, for we shall be able to legislate for workers' rights, here in Westminster. We need not waste too much time on the will-o'-the-wisp of Socialism through the back door; rather, let us work for a new Labour Government to legislate for Socialism through the front door.

Mr. Spearing

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Earlier, I raised a point of order relating to documents to be deposited in the Vote Office arising from the presidency text that will be dealt with in Strasbourg. This afternoon, the Select Committee on European Legislation has considered that text and its report is now available in the Vote Office.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I am sure that the House is grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who has been very helpful.

5.19 pm
Mr. Jonathan Aitken (Thanet, South)

As a result of listening to the past two speeches from the Labour Benches, I am a little confused about exactly what the Labour party's policy is on the social charter. The hon. Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Leighton) described the social charter as "anodyne" and a "non-event". However, the authentic voice of the yuppie tendency in the new model Labour party, the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) seemed to think that the social charter was the greatest thing since sliced bread. I was amazed by the sound of his barking up the wrong tree until we reached that magical moment when there was an intervention from my right hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison). As a result of that intervention it dawned on the hon. Member for Sedgefield that he might be championing a cause that would be unlawful under the social charter that he warmly endorsed. His incomprehension was visible. Suddenly he realised that the closed shop might be outlawed under the social charter that he was so enthusiastically endorsing. That thought had not dawned on him before.

A degree of incomprehension exists not only in the Labour party, but inside the Brussels Commission. I visited the Commission a few days ago and discovered some of the reasons why it completely fails to understand the depth of dislike for the social charter which exists on the Conservative Benches and which, once it is well understood, will exist in the country at large. That incomprehension stems not from an argument about what should or should not be part of the possible social dimension of the single European market, but from something far greater and far deeper. The divide is far wider.

The civil servants of Brussels are now so thrilled by the pace of their own momentum towards their chosen goal of a federalist united states of Europe that they simply no longer accept the legitimacy of the legislature, the sovereign parliament, of a member state. That is the great divide. We are discussing a series of issues that, a few years ago or even a few months ago, no one ever considered would be anything other than the sovereign preserve of the domestic legislature. Employment and industrial policies are the very gut issues upon which parliaments have always had, and still have, the sovereign right to decide. If we start handing over that part of our domestic agenda to the Commission we must take that step slowly and carefully.

The great divide is not whether we are good Europeans, but whether we should be bad parliamentarians. The question is whether we should hand to Brussels control over a vast swathe of our domestic policy or fight to keep it under the control of the House of Commons, whichever party is in power. Opposition Members who have so enthusiastically, but thoughtlessly, endorsed the social charter today may come to regret it when the boot is on the other foot, as it will be one day. When they want to introduce legislation to improve social rights or trade union rights they will find they are unable to do so because of the social charter.

After 10 years of hard work to try to unshackle British industry from a whole lot of restrictions and to get rid of trade union abuse of power it is understandable that Conservatives should be reluctant to see all that good work suddently destroyed by a social charter that imposes a whole lot of new restrictions and new trade union powers over the head of our domestic legislation.

Mr. Eddie Loyden (Liverpool, Garston)

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that minimum social policies are laid out in the social charter and that it would be the responsibility of an individual Government, a sovereign state, to build on those policies if it so desired? The Conservative Government are more concerned about any restrictions on the free market economy and that is why they are resisting the idea of a social charter for Europe.

Mr. Aitken

The hon. Gentleman will find that what he calls the "minimum" will be an expensive and much more far-reaching minimum than the mere terms of the social charter declaration. The hon. Member for Newham, North-East was right to say that the social charter has no legal status and, on the face of it, it is a fairly anodyne series of declarations. Those declarations, however, are declarations of principle which will open the floodgates to a mass of European legislation and EC directives that will completely change the face of British social and industrial policy.

One need only follow up some of the words of Mrs. Papandreou, who has been quite articulate on this matter, to appreciate the scope of the social charter. On 20 November she gave a press conference at which she outlined, in fairly menacing detail, the European Commission's programme of legislation that would follow the acceptance of the social charter and which would put it into practice. That programme of action consists of no fewer than 47 separate measures, some of them more than 100 pages long. That blueprint—in view of Mrs. Papandreou's well-known political affiliations, perhaps we should call it a redprint—was recently described by the New Statesman as The Holy Grail of the Left". That shows that that magazine knows what it is saying when it endorses a policy so popular with the Labour party.

Those 47 legislative measures and directives can be imposed on the House of Commons and on the British people by the majority voting mechanism in Europe, even though we may wish to object. They cover a wide range of issues, including working hours, health and safety at work, conditions for pregnant women, worker share ownership, equality of men and women and workers' participation. It is appropriate that those measures should be introduced by a Greek Socialist, as the social charter will be a Trojan horse of expenses for British industry. Mrs. Papandreou will go down in history as the face that launched a thousand British bankruptcies—if we get away with a thousand we will be lucky.

What will the directives mean to a small British business? Let us take the least controversial item on Mrs. Papandreou's shopping list, that relating to health and safety at work. It sounds admirable and we are all in favour of good health and safety at work measures—[HON. MEMBERS: "No, you are not."] Opposition Members may shout that, but the Government have a proud record of supporting health and safety at work legislation.

Mr. Bernie Grant (Tottenham)

Can the hon. Gentleman tell us how many young people have been killed or injured on youth training schemes introduced by the Government?

Mr Aitken

I am absolutely certain that the health and safety inspectorate has repeatedly endorsed our legislation as the best available health and safety at work legislation. Often, it was approved in this House with the support of both parties. All industrial accidents and injuries are tragic—there is no getting away from that—but the notion that Britain has a woefully inadequate set of health and safety laws is rubbish. Opposition Members know that that is rubbish as they often endorsed that very legislation.

Mr. Tony Lloyd (Stretford)

Does the hon. Gentleman accept there are two parts to health and safety legislation? The first relates to the legal framework and the second relates to the ability to enforce that framework. The number of factory inspectors has been cut by the Government and the number of deaths and injuries at work has increased. Does the hon. Gentleman accept or refute that?

Mr. Aitken

I simply do not accept that. Let us go a step further, as we are debating the social charter and not the minutiae of how many inspectors we have. The important question is to what extent the social charter will enhance health and safety at work legislation. I took the trouble to look up the EC draft legislation on health and safety at work, to be introduced once the social charter is implemented. It makes fascinating reading. First I was struck by the sheer scope of it—a 175-page document, which contains an absolutely amazing list of items. Paragraph 2:18:1 of the draft legislation states: Outdoor workers shall be protected against inclement weather conditions Tell that to the shepherds of the north of Scotland or the trawlermen on the North sea as the Euro-inspectors are called in to see that all outdoor workers are protected satisfactorily against all inclement weather conditions.

Paragraph 2:14:3 states: Appropriate measures for the protection of non smokers shall be taken in staff rest rooms. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] What has that to do with the single market? Hon. Gentlemen who say, "Hear, hear" should think of small businesses and employers who have to pay the bills for this social engineering, because they will have to bear heavy costs.

Many other hon. Members wish to speak, so I shall truncate this part of my speech. Time and again in the back-up documents to the social charter we find many items that are to do with social engineering and will cost employers a great deal of money. If Mrs. Papandreou or any of her successors supplements Britain's excellent existing health and safety at work legislation with these items, it will prove mighty expensive.

The social charter will do nothing for small businesses except make them more expensive and legalistic to run them. It will do nothing for Europe's 14 million unemployed except make it harder for them to find jobs. It will do nothing for young people except restrict under 18-year-olds from certain types of employment. If we check the text of the charter we can see that such restrictions exist. It will definitely hurt, for example, the paper boy and those young people under 18 who want to get jobs as kitchen hands in McDonalds restaurants serving Big Macs and so on. The social charter contains savage restrictions.

Who will it help if it does not help small businesses, the unemployed and young people? It will help the fat cats of Brussels; it will be a bonanza for the lawyers and bureaucrats who will be assisted by the social charter. It will not strengthen Britain's legislation for such social engineering to be brought in. However, if it is to be brought in, let it be done by the will of a sovereign Parliament and Members who have been elected by the public on a manifesto for that purpose. If that is what the Opposition achieve, good luck to them. That is British democracy, but to see it done through the back door—

Mr. Tony Lloyd

The Single European Act.

Mr. Aitken

The hon. Gentleman shouts, "Single European Act," but he should return to the question that was asked of his hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield who could not answer: what happens when, under the Single European Act and the social charter, the Labour party's cherished views on increasing trade unions' powers are made illegal even though Labour Members have been elected on a ticket saying that they will increase the rights of trade unions to run closed shops? Conservative Members may give three cheers that the social charter is doing a great job, but the Opposition who abdicated the rights of a sovereign Parliament will learn the hard way that, by endorsing the social charter, they are throwing away an important part of Britain's parliamentary history and tradition.

5.33 pm
Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland)

Hon. Members who have heard the previous two speeches might be confused. The Select Committee's distinguished chairman, the hon. Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Leighton) said that what we are debating today does not add up to much. The hon. Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken) said that it is about to herald a social revolution. People would have cause to be confused but for the fact that this debate, like so many of our European debates, contains some familiar landmarks.

The hon. Member for Thanet, South and some of his hon. Friends tabled an amendment which shows how much they cling to a disappearing mirage of national parliamentary sovereignty. Ministers have beaten their breasts about how pro-European they are and excused themselves by saying that everyone is out of step except them. The slight difference this time is that Labour Front-Bench spokesmen have given an almost warm embrace to the European proposals before us. We would not have seen that in the previous Parliament, and did not even see it last night when right hon. and hon. Members of the Labour party could not bring themselves to support the amendment of my right hon. and hon. Friends which called for an early commitment to enter the exchange rate mechanism of the EMS.

There is a familiarity about European debates. This one on the social charter is significant. The majority of our fellow citizens have by now heard of 1992 and the single market. While these developments are to our considerable advantage and to be welcomed, I suspect that most people are hazy about what will happen. No matter how much effort is made, there is still a feeling that the single market and 1992 are all about big businesses and financial institutions—a sphere of our community life to which many people do not relate. However, the social charter is widely seen as relevant to the lives of ordinary men and women.

Although the hon. Member for Newham, North-East said that the social charter was a figleaf, it is seen as symbolic. It is neither an abstract measure nor one of those European regulations that attracts headlines because of an excess of bureaucratic zeal which makes it ridiculous. It is seen as something with the potential, in the long term, of improving the lot of many ordinary people in a relevant and meaningful way.

Not surprisingly, the Government's response has been bitterly disappointing. Perhaps if they, like us, were more confident of their commitment to the European Community and the cause of greater European unity, they would be more willing to approach these matters in a constructive rather than destructive mode. To be pro-European does not imply a willingness to accept everything that the Commission proposes. If the social charter proposed, as it did originally, a European minimum wage, I would have opposed that aspect. However, its commitment is solely that those in employment should be remunerated at a level on which they can afford to live. That is—or at least should be—unexceptional.

Mr. Cash

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, with so much of this transnational acquisition taking place, it is by no means improbable that some companies will acquire factories in other low-wage countries, and find that, to achieve rationalisation within the multinational which they then have, they have to close the factories in the low-wage country? That will have a devastating effect on jobs, including those over here.

Mr. Wallace

I think that the hon. Gentleman meant it the other way round and was proposing closures in factories in high-wage countries.

Mr. John Marshall (Hendon, South)


Mr. Wallace

I shall answer the previous question.

Several factors influence investment decisions, of which wage costs are one. There are many others, including industrial relations. Is shall return to the argument that the social charter will lead to a loss of jobs. It seems to be at the core of the Government's opposition to the social charter; the Secretary of State said that it was the acid test.

The Secretary of State did not do the House a service when he tried to give the impression that Mrs. Papandreou said that the social charter would lead to job losses. The hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) quoted her statement on page 3 of her evidence to the Select Committee, when she said: I do not think that the implementation of the Charter is going to have negative effects on job creation. The Secretary of State countered that by saying that he had been at meetings with Mrs. Papandreou more often than had the hon. Member for Sedgefield. I have never been at a meeting with the lady. However, I noted that on page 7 of her evidence she repeated the point in different words but to the same effect. She said: There is nothing clear that this is going to decrease employment. It is a fallacy to say that jobs will automatically be lost and unemployment increased as a result of the social charter.

I accept that job creation is a major priority for the Community. It was agreed at Madrid that it was one of the Community's central objectives. Unemployment in the Community of almost 9 per cent. is far too high. There are other means open to the Community to promote employment and the generation of jobs. There are the regional and social funds. If the Government are so concerned about the generation of jobs, they might start applying the additionality principle in relation to spending from these funds. It is wrong to criticise these proposals by comparing them against a test which the proposals and those promoting them do not seek to put forward.

I do not accept that there is a contradiction between high employment, good health and safety practices and high wages. Often the opposite is true and where there are high wages there is also high employment. That is the case in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Gordon (Mr. Bruce). Scottish Members will know that the Aberdeen area has some of the highest wages in Scotland, yet Gordon has the lowest unemployment in Scotland—2.9 per cent. Other factors, such as the introduction of technology and a recognition of the importance of training, can help to promote productivity and competitiveness. In many cases employment is restricted by the shortage of adequate skills.

The social charter sets out the rights to vocational training throughout one's working life, especially by means of study leave. It gives people under the age of 18 a guarantee of training during working hours which in many ways can promote employment. Employment can be curtailed too, by things such as high interest rates. It is wholly bogus to say that the establishment of better working conditions and the right to training will lead to a diminution of employment opportunities.

The Government seem to have considerable reservations about the right of workers to information, consultation and participation in industry. It will be no surprise to the House to know that we consider such rights to be important. They have been at the core of Liberal policy since the yellow book of 1928 and are at the heart of the policies of the Liberal Democrats. [Laughter.] Conservative Members laugh, but in his speech the Secretary of State placed great emphasis on what the Government have done to promote profit-sharing and employee share ownership. If he had had the time he would have acknowledged the fact that it was during the Lib-Lab pact of 1978 that the initial measures for profit-sharing were introduced. To their credit, the Government have built upon those measures, but they have not gone far enough.

In a speech at a CBI seminar in November, the Secretary of State, speaking about the traditions of other European countries, said: Take employee involvement … their traditions are not ours. Ours is a voluntary system and, for us, successful employee involvement is best developed on the basis of voluntary agreement. This does not rule out the three models in the Commission list; but it does mean that list is not exclusive. I accept that there must be flexibility in working out the detail of employee councils at the place of work. We must provide opportunities for participation by employees at the top level. But there is a tremendous complacency which says that because our system is different it is by definition better. There would be some justification for saying that if our system of industrial relations was seen to work. However, over the past 10 years the Government have secured industrial peace through high unemployment. It is only now, when in some parts of the country unemployment has fallen, or where there is almost full employment, that industrial disruption is again beginning to raise its head. The Government have failed to address themselves to any proper system of industrial relations.

We should not dismiss what we can learn from our European partners. It was the British who gave the Germans a good system of industrial relations after the second world war. We should be looking to the successful West German economy.

Mr. Rooker

We also gave the Germans their electoral system.

Mr. Wallace

We gave them a federal system too, which we would do well to copy. West Germany has shown that the development of trade unionism and proper industrial relations can go hand in hand in a successful economy.

The Secretary of State talked about the opening up of eastern Europe. I suspect that, when the countries of eastern Europe look west to try to improve their economies, they will look not at the British model but at the West German model. We should do that too. The charter gives the Community an opportunity for a much-needed social dimension. If insularity and complacency again stop us playing our part in that, it will be a sad mistake. It is because the charter offers a social dimension that we shall support the Opposition amendment.

5.43 pm
Mr. Roger Gale (Thanet, North)

I welcome the opportunity to place on record a concern that has been expressed to me by my constituents and for which I have considerable sympathy. It is that nowhere in the social charter does the Community recognise its responsibility under God. Under charters such as the Magna Carta, the German charter and the charter of the Irish Republic, that fact is recognised.

In recent years, Parliament has enshrined in law provision to recognise conscience, especially in trade union law. I sought to raise that matter during the speech by the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair), but he did not see fit to give way to me. The hon. Gentleman made it abundantly plain after an intervention by one of my hon. Friends that the Opposition are still wedded to the idea of a closed shop and the compulsion which that entails.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken) said in his excellent speech, 47 measures are designed to spring as directives from the social charter. It is not an anodyne document or simply the basis for a talking shop, because it will lead to at least 47 separate action measures. Each of those can and may impinge upon the consciences of some of my constituents and the consciences of many people throughout the Community.

Mr. Allen McKay (Barnsley, West and Penistone)

There is a conscience clause in closed-shop agreements that allows a person not to be a member of a trade union but to pay contributions to a charity.

Mr. Gale

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I said that that principle was enshrined in the law of the United Kingdom. This debate is not about the law of the United Kingdom but about the law of Europe as it may be changed by European directives. That fact is of tremendous significance to many people throughout the Community who hold religious beliefs that the hon. Gentleman and I may not hold, and that is simply not recognised.

As has been suggested, the social charter as it stands will destroy jobs. It is not a social charter but worse, because it is a Socialist charter that may well lead to the denial throughout the European Community of religious freedoms that are passionately and deeply held by many people. There is no monopoly in the House on deeply held belief and we all know that beliefs are held as deeply on the Opposition side as they are on the Government side. It is important that any charter that the European Community might adopt should reflect the religious views of people throughout the Community. I hope that all hon. Members will insist upon that.

5.46 pm
Mr. Ken Eastham (Manchester, Blackley)

The fact that Ministers are in a state of panic is obvious from the distortion and hysteria that they are directing to the House. I assure the Government that some of us met Mrs. Papandreou when she appeared before the Select Committee. I can verify that the Secretary of State engaged in a great deal of distortion in his speech. The record is there to be read.

The more that I hear the Prime Minister, other Ministers, the CBI and big business ranting and raving about the social charter, the more I am in tune with those who say that there is something good in it for ordinary working people. The details of the charter have not been made clear to the mass of the people, and the more that those details are explained to them the more the ordinary people like the prospects held out by the social charter.

I used to think that there was not very much in the EC for the British people, and I remember some of the high costs that were incurred in agriculture and other matters. On those occasions there were no protests from the Government or from big business, because they thought that there were big profits to be made. [HON. MEMBERS: "Nonsense."] Conservative Members say, "Nonsense." I accept that there are some exceptions, but the number is small. Big business used all its efforts and its finance to make sure that we joined the EC. Suddenly it is dawning on big business and the Government that sometimes one or two good things can come from the EC. Consequently, they seem to be backing off and saying that we must be independent and see which way we are going. They say that we must he careful about all the dangers that arise from the social charter. If this happens, it will be one of the rare pluses of membership.

Whenever the Government start quoting the CBI and big business, we know that they are interested only in profit. The Government do not claim that the trade unions are opposed to the social charter, and I assure the House that the TUC and any trade union members to whom I explain the social charter are fully behind it and look forward to the day when it can he introduced to Britain.

Mr. Quentin Davies (Stamford and Spalding)

What about the closed shop?

Mr. Eastham

Tory Members keep talking about the closed shop. Usually they are people who have never worked in a factory and do not even know what the closed shop is about.

Mr. Davies

I am looking forward to hearing from the hon. Gentleman his explanation of his party's attitude towards the closed shop. We have been waiting all afternoon for an answer on this important point.

Mr. Eastham

I shall explain it again to the hon. Gentleman. Please watch my mouth. There is a conscience clause for people who find themselves in difficulties with the closed shop. Is that in plain enough English? It has been explained once before, although it is possible that the hon. Gentleman was not here.

Mr. Davies

Does the hon. Gentleman accept, on behalf of the Labour party, that if the social charter were accepted, it would make pre-entry closed shops illegal? Is he, on behalf of the Labour party, accepting that as a consequence of his support for the social charter?

Mr. Eastham

The document is not legally binding, but it would be encouraging if we were to honour and recognise some of the codes in it. I am sure that working people would overwhelmingly approve that. It is strange that of the 12 nations of the EC, 11 agree with the social charter and support it. Surprise, surprise, only Britain does not support it. Why is it that the economies of these countries are better than ours? They have lower interest rates, lower unemployment rates and better balances of payments than we do. However, they are all prepared to accept the social charter. That makes some of the empty arguments that we have heard today even more unconvincing.

On several occasions, the Government have said that if we have the social charter, we shall lose jobs. However, even without a social charter, over the past 10 years we have lost millions of jobs. At one time, 3 million people were unemployed and we had the worst unemployment figure in Europe. The Conservative Government are not bad at creating unemployment, with or without the social charter.

What is the charter all about? It is about rights of employment, training, discrimination, the right to withdraw labour, part-time working, low pay, health and safety. One or two hon. Members have spoken about health and safety and I assure the House that there is great concern about the growing number of industrial injuries. I am an engineer and yesterday I went with a deputation to meet the Secretary of State for Energy. We were concerned about the safety standards on offshore oil rigs. We told the Secretary of State that fatality rates on our oil rigs are one and a half times those of the world average. Furthermore, there has been no improvement in 25 years and these figures are twice those for the oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico.

Mr. Loyden

Earlier on, a Conservative Member referred to safety standards in Britain, but did not mention that 156 building workers died through accidents in the construction industry. Does that show that there are adequate safety measures in that industry?

Mr. Eastham

I am sure that many of my hon. Friends could give illustrations of this problem. However, as health and safety standards in the United Kingdom were spoken of as if everything were all right, I felt that this matter should be underlined.

Some of the engineers working on the oil rigs are on two-week contracts. If any of them dare to complain about safety risks and possible fatalities, not only are their contracts not renewed, but they are put on a blacklist. Some Conservative Members get emotional about the closed shop, but workers should have rights in relation to these blacklists. What about the activities of the Economic League? This secret service organisation is compiling lists of workers, is not answerable to anybody and is not even a Government body. It is a private organisation run by big business. It blacklists workers and denies them the right to work for the rest of their lives. We feel that some of these things should be put right.

Why do we have such a terrible strike record? For instance, in 1988, 3,702,000 days were lost through strikes.

Dame Elaine Kellet-Bowman

What about 1978?

Mr. Eastham

It is laying eggs. Now and again it happens. It was over there before, and it is over there now. She has just woken up.

I have some statistics that may be interesting when we consider labour relations and our appalling record on strikes. Workers in other European countries also have the right to strike, but the figures for these countries are much better. Per 1,000 workers, the United Kingdom lost 400 days, Denmark 250, France and Germany 50, and the Netherlands 10. It is no use the Prime Minister pontificating about other trade unions and other working groups in other countries, as she did when she went to Poland, when she demanded rights for the trade union workers, and then coming back here and, year after year, eroding the standards of working conditions for British workers. We now have the lowest paid worker groups in Europe—far worse than Germany, France or Italy.

These are some of the reasons why we believe that the social charter is a useful vehicle. It is not perfect, but at least it is a beginning. Regardless of the attitudes of a reactionary Government, we know that if the social charter is placed before the workers—[Interruption.] The Minister seems to think that this is a great joke. There is a smile all over his face. It is not a big joke to me. The Minister sneers and sniggers, but he will not do that when we enter the next general election. My right hon. and hon. Friends and I will draw attention to his behaviour when in office.

I believe that there is progress to be made. The Government cannot get away with everything for ever. The more that the people know about the social charter, the more they will support the Opposition.

6 pm

Mr. Peter Griffiths (Portsmouth, North)

It would be a great pity if the impression were given that we are debating a specific series of proposals rather like the constitution of the United States or a Bill of Rights—something clearly established which reflects the desire of people that it should be set down firmly and in writing.

We are not discussing inalienable rights that are seen as self-evident. Rather, we are talking about a moving target. The Opposition's amendment refers to "the" social charter. Even our annunciators refer to "the" social charter. We have, however, had at least three versions of it. When final decisions are made on the principle at Strasbourg, we shall be dealing with what is, in effect, the fourth version. It is important for us to recognise that we are trying to decide whether the House believes that there should be a social dimension to the political and economic changes that are being brought about in western Europe, which will reach a significant peak in 1992.

I disagree with my hon. Friends who say that there is little role for a social charter; I believe that there is. There must be a social dimension if we are to carry the people along with the concept of ever closer economic and political union. If we are to do that, there will have to be a social dimension.

I am worried because the debate has reflected the extreme views of those who say we should accept and endorse a social charter. It is surprising that the Opposition suggest in their amendment that they are prepared to take it lock, stock and barrel. Presumably, they are endorsing what has been said, what will be said and what will emerge from the action programme. The directives and recommendations that flow from that may not contain the wording that we wish.

The social charter as we see it now is very much a charter for social organisations. Perhaps that is why it is attractive to the Opposition. A social dimension should emphasise the right of labour as a social organisation and the rights of individuals and the family, on which our societies are founded. One of the tragedies is that Britain has not pressed the view that the foundation of society in western Europe should be the family rather than any social organisation that has arisen from the industrial revolution and later.

I hope that the Minister who replies will deal with the point that whether or not we decide to support the social charter, there will be a social charter in Europe. The real question is to what extent we shall have control. Shall we be able to make real decisions on the directives and recommendations that have been listed? We know already that some of them will be subject to unanimity while some will be subject to majority voting. What will happen if there is a majority vote carrying a proposal that we regard as profoundly unacceptable? I do not wish to take up the argument about the closed shop, but proposals could be contained in directives and recommendations which eventually would be just as objectionable to Opposition Members as to my right hon. and hon. Friends.

Mr. Martin Flannery (Sheffield, Hillsborough)

The hon. Gentleman said that the social charter does not embrace anything more than organisations. We would not dream of supporting something that was restricted to organisations. The social charter is concerned with equality of men and women and rights of individuals. It could concentrate on issues that would give the maximum benefit to the individual, who is often in organisations. The hon. Gentleman is wrong to say that the social charter relates only to organisations.

Mr. Griffiths

I profoundly disagree with the hon. Gentleman. The charter is concerned basically with social organisations that arise as a result of economic activity. It seems to regard people as factors of production, while I wish to see them as individuals and families. I trust that we shall make it clear tonight that we are embracing the concept of a social foundation for any movement towards greater harmonisation in Europe. I hope that we shall make it clear that we wish changes that are brought about following the acceptance of a social charter to emphasise the traditional social values—the individual and the family —which in this country predate the development of industrial society.

6.7 pm

Mr. John D. Taylor (Strangford)

Anyone listening to the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) might think that the House was debating conditions in the workplace, which would involve issues such as health provision, safety conditions, equality of opportunity, training, consultation, collective rights of workers and unemployment benefit. Instead, we are debating who will make the law that reflects social changes in the work place, and with what authority that responsibility shall be exercised. That is the key issue.

Mr. Seamus Mallon (Newry and Armagh)

We are also discussing who will obey this law. The Government's record of derogation from European law is unequalled within Europe. The right hon. Gentleman lives in the north of Ireland, and he knows that there is another Government who infringe the right of individuals to shop where they want to shop.

Mr. Taylor

For the first time in this place, to my memory, I welcome the hon. Gentleman's intervention and the strong admonition that he has directed to the Fianna Fail Government in the Republic of Ireland, who deny their citizens the right to shop in Northern Ireland. Yet they say that they are good Europeans.

The real issue is whether we want diversity of national practice to be accepted within the European Community or whether we want harmonisation in Europe—known as social integration. There must be consistency because we now have the Single European Act, which directs that in time there will be social integration throughout the European Community. I was a Member of the European Parliament for 10 years and the movement towards a federal Europe is almost unstoppable. There will be an integrated Europe. As the hon. Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken) said, there will be a United States of Europe.

The hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) was consistent with the European Single Act tonight. The Opposition are suggesting that the British people should surrender their right through elections to decide their social policy; and that the British people should abandon their right through their sovereign Parliament to enact social policy. That is consistent with the Single European Act. The Labour party has done a somersault. It has surrendered the right of the British people to pass legislation for workers on the shop floor. It is handing over power to a bureaucracy in Brussels, consistent with the European Act.

At least the Labour party is consistent. There is no consistency from the Government or Conservative Back Benchers. They are in disarray, fudging the issue and running away from what the Single European Act means to the United Kingdom. The Conservative party is about to have a leadership election—for a change—and one reason for that is the diversity of views on European issues on the Conservative Benches.

The time has come when the Conservative party must be consistent. Having supported the Single European Act, either they now implement it fully and abandon power to Brussels, or they think again and stand up for the rights of British workers in British industry.

6.11 pm
Mr. Teddy Taylor (Southend, East)

The right hon. Member for Strangford (Mr. Taylor) has been rather unfair to the Labour party. The Single European Act was debated late at night when, sadly, only one of his colleagues was present, and 20 Labour Members voted against it. Opposition Members have changed their minds dramatically, but it is unfair to describe them as changelings, because one or two of them voted against that shameful Act.

However, the right hon. Gentleman was right to say that the real issue that we are debating is not the social charter. The social charter may bring joy to the faces of some Socialists because it is written in such general terms that it can mean anything to anybody. It may say that it will bring freedom to workers and decent wages, that it will guarantee social rights, give a maximum duration of working hours, guarantee weekly rest periods, even for part-time workers, and encourage an appropriate degree of participation. But those are simply slogans.

If I were an elderly member of the Labour party or somebody who has battled in the trade union movement, that is the kind of thing that I would want. If a public opinion poll asked people whether they agreed with those slogans, the vast majority of people would say, "Yes, that's a grand idea." But the real issue is whether we as a Parliament are prepared to surrender a huge area of our sovereignty to a non-elected, non-democratic institution. We cannot deny that the Commission is unelected. It is not answerable to the people in any way. Acting by majority rule, the Council of Ministers is in no way democratic. Whether the words in the social charter are good or bad, whether we like the slogans or not, it means that we must surrender a massive degree of our sovereignty to make laws on trade unions, labour relations and health and safety.

Earlier today I asked my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary what we can still do ourselves without being subject to European control. He said that I would have to work that out for myself by looking at what powers we have already given to the European Parliament. It was encouraging to hear my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment, who has always been an enthusiast for the Common Market, say that the Government are opposed to some aspects of the social charter and will battle against them.

I enjoyed my right hon. Friend's speech. He talked wonderful common sense. But what on earth can the Government do? The social charter is a collection of slogans. It means nothing. It directs the Commission to produce directives. But my right hon. Friend is well aware that even if the social charter is not approved, even if we and the European Council tear it up, the Commission can, under the Single European Act, present all the directives and institute a massive amount by a majority vote. The Commission has already said that. The Socialists in the European Parliament say that, if no progress is made, they will work to rule whether that is lawful or not. I asked the Prime Minister, who is one of the most honest Prime Ministers that Britain has ever had, if the EEC Commission is now empowered to issue the social charter directives to the various Councils of Ministers in light of the majority vote".—[Official Report, 18 July 1989; Vol.157, c.141.] She said that, under the Single European Act, the Commission could go ahead with them.

I hope that when my hon. Friend the Minister replies he will tell the British people what we shall do if the directives go through by a majority vote and we find them unacceptable and wrong. That is the big issue that we must face up to tonight and in future. What shall we do if the EC insists on passing laws which we find utterly unacceptable?

Mr. Tony Banks

The hon. Gentleman is speaking as though the directives that might come from the EEC based on the social charter will be unacceptable to the great majority of people in Britain. Given the low level of protection in the workplace and in social matters, the great majority of people in Great Britain will be very much in favour of such directives.

Mr. Taylor

Yes, I am sure they will. On the other hand, if the directive is passed that makes the closed shop illegal, some members of the Labour party could object. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman, as a good parliamentarian—he is always here when the others are out there—will ask what a Labour Government would do if laws passed under the Single European Act were utterly unacceptable. The Government are facing a crisis. What are they to do, bearing in mind that the Common Market is going much further than we thought it would under the Single European Act?

There are several things that we can do. We can simply say that we will not apply the regulations. In a splendid article in The Sunday Telegraph, Professor Minford said that that was what the Government should do; that if laws were passed that we did not like, we should tell the Commission to get lost. That is a rather unusual proposal for a Conservative Government who believe that law and order should apply. It is the kind of thing that Ian Smith did and which we thought was wrong.

But we must stop kidding ourselves. Only a few weeks ago the Prime Minister said that we should forget about the previous budgetary restraints. We now have legally binding budgetary restraints. If cereal production went beyond 160 million tonnes, under the stabiliser farmers would see a cut in their prices. That figure has been exceeded this year, and last week, even though our Minister voted against it, the Commission agreed to disregard the extra above 160 million tonnes because it said that it would not be appropriate to do otherwise. Therefore, we can forget about that.

In the same way, we were told that the budgetary controls would work, but we found that because expenditure was going through the roof the Commission and the Councils decided to have a metric year of 10 months with 10 years' income and 12 months' expenditure. The same has happened time and again. Ministers say that all the refunds that we have had are wonderful, but they know that this year our net contribution is the highest that it has ever been, at more than £2 billion.

I hope that, following the excellent speech of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment in which he said that if regulations are unacceptable we will oppose them, he will tell us how we will oppose them. What powers do we have to oppose them? At the end of the day, we must make up our minds. I hope that the Government will soon realise that in a democracy in Britain, whether we have a Conservative or a Labour Government, a Liberal or a nationalist Government, the people want certain things to be done. They do not want them done by bureaucrats in Brussels, nor do they want them done without a democratic vote. In the same way, the people of Greece may want a different form of government and different trade union laws. That is what democracy is all about.

I hope that the time will soon come when the Government realise that it is a question not of a concept that attacks Toryism or Socialism but of one that attacks the basic democracy of our country. Power-hungry bureaucrats in Brussels are taking more and more power. At the end of the day, whether the social charter contains words that appeal to Socialists or to Tories, the real issue is whether democracy can continue and whether our Government are prepared to do anything to ensure that it does.

6.19 pm
Mr. Jeff Rooker (Birmingham, Perry Barr)

Tonight we are debating the idea that the economic and social cohesion of the single European market is crucial and that there cannot be one without the other. We are in danger of short-changing our citizens by not securing for them the full social and economic advantages that the single market offers. I do not see how the United Kingdom can opt out of ensuring decent pay and the right to an annual holiday—and no such right exists in our country—as well as rights for Britain's 6 million part-time workers.

As I said during business questions last week, I make no apology for changing my mind about the Common Market as I have witnessed the development of the European Community. I freely admit that, with many others, I voted no in the referendum on Britain's entry into the Common Market. However, tonight I am here with my right hon. and hon. Friends on a three-line Whip, because Labour is prepared to embrace the reality of the modern European Community. We are not debating now the same things that were on offer 10 or 15 years ago. The address given by Jacques Delors to the 1988 Trades Union Congress and the standing ovation given to the Socialist leader in the European Parliament at this year's Labour party conference would not have happened there a few years ago.

We take for granted the Prime Minister's abuse and her writing off of the charter when it was first published. The fact remains that, however the Government dress up their opposition—be it in the form of a choice line in abuse or preposterous claims about the social charter outlawing school pupils from delivering newspapers—what they really cannot stomach is that over a whole range of workers' rights, from fair play and social security to health and safety and training, the social charter will not allow any retrogression in respect of the status quo, so there can be no more backward steps. That is in itself a step forward and one that we should grab for our fellow citizens.

As I reminded the Secretary of State in an intervention early in his speech, the Conservative Government's first legislative action on taking power in 1979 was to remove workers' rights in respect of unfair dismissal. A charter of fundamental rights, let alone one of social rights, is long overdue. After the experience of the past 10 years it is hardly surprising that the British Labour and trade union movements at last recognise that acting in concert with other progressive democratic forces in Europe is to the overwhelming advantage of British workers as well as of our neighbours on the mainland of Europe.

We have only to look at the events that are occurring throughout eastern Europe to see that those who oppose the establishment of basic rights are living in a bygone age but where others move forward the Government become even more entrenched. The social charter is crucial at a time when capital is ignoring international frontiers. It is vital that social rights for workers, pensioners, the disabled and others covered by the social charter should become more entrenched. The social charter that emerges from future discussions must serve as the cornerstone of the plans to remove barriers between member states in 1992.

Anyone who examines the way that we organise ourselves in this country—particularly non-British nationals—can clearly see that the few individual rights that trickle down from those who rule under our system can easily dry up. Part of the idea behind the charter is to stop that happening. That is not to say that we knock democracy or Parliament. There is nothing wrong in adjusting one's view according to one's experience, and I believe now that in a democracy nothing should be irreversible. However—and this is the rub—major decisions that go against the grain of fundamental rights should not solely be the gift of a single body, be it one elected parliament, the judiciary, or a single Government. There must be a bedrock upon which we can test the laws that are brought before individual parliaments to ensure that they are fair.

I say without apology that I see the social charter, be it the first, second, third or fourth version, as the thin end of an extremely thick wedge and something upon which we can build up the rights of citizens in this country. We should not have to apologise for that.

6.25 pm
Mr. Tony Lloyd (Stretford)

The Opposition's view on developments in central Europe is that the concept of the level playing field of economics in Europe without a social charter to complement it is so unacceptable that we shall do all that we can to prevent it. The social charter is a minimum condition upon which future European developments must be based.

Under 10 years of Conservative Government there has been an annual erosion of workers' rights. As my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) said, the very first action of the Conservative Government in 1979 was to undermine the rights of workers in respect of unfair dismissal. It is hardly surprising that the Government should today, as on every other occasion, make clear their opposition to the social charter and that they will use every mechanism and means, however devious or dishonest, to undermine progress towards a social Europe.

The Government are worried about developments in Europe, and we should recognise the dishonesty that their campaign against the charter has already embodied. The Secretary of State for Employment and his Minister of State do not even seem able to get their act together. The Secretary of State has been quoted as saying that he would support a social charter, "but not this one", whereas only a few days earlier the Minister of State commented: It is no secret that the United Kingdom Government have reservations about the whole concept of a social charter. Indeed, our approach, our traditions, lead us to believe that one is not needed. When the Minister of State winds up the debate, perhaps he will say what the reality is. Is the Secretary of State correct in saying that there should be some form of social charter, albeit not the one proposed—as was said yesterday by the Foreign Secretary? Or is the Minister of State right when he says that there should be no social charter—which is also the view of the Prime Minister?

The result of that confusion has been a campaign of unparalleled dishonesty from the Department of Employment and its Ministers in recent months. Even the European Commissioner, Sir Leon Brittan, who was a former Conservative Member, has said that British attacks on the Commission's proposed social charter of workers' rights have misrepresented its contents. He went on evenhandedly to denounce Europhiles and Europhobes as "superannuated Sumo wrestlers" and accused Downing street of being out of date in respect of worker participation and the social charter.

Earlier, my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) pointed out how dishonest the Minister of State was in his remarks to the House two weeks ago, when he sought to misrepresent the comments of the European Commissioner, Mrs. Papandreou, and said that, in respect of worker involvement, the charter offered a choice between the German, the French or the Dutch models"—[0fficial Report, 15 November 1989; Vol. 160, c. 446.] That night I challenged the Minister to say where in the charter that was made explicit, but he did not respond to my challenge. I am sure that when I challenge him again tonight to say where in the charter or in the action programme his claims are substantiated, once again he will refuse.

We heard earlier, and those who listened to the "Today" programme this morning will have heard, the Secretary of State claiming that managers in Britain show no support for the social charter. I quote from a press release from the British Institute of Management—[Interruption.] I hope that the Secretary of State, who is grimacing, accepts that the British Institute of Management says: Managers are prepared to accept some form of legislation in this area. 76 per cent., responding to a recent British Institute of Management survey said that they would accept some legislation in the controversial area of employee participation. That means that three out of four managers agree with the Opposition and are a long way from the Government's stance.

Let us examine the Government's claims about the social charter. Their major claim is that we have had 10 years of employment growth under this Government, and the social charter will put all that at risk. Let us establish the reality of the Government's claims on employment by going back to 1979. In July this year, the former Under-Secretary of State for Employment revealed the interesting fact that over the 10 years the growth rate of civilian employment in the EC was 0.6 per cent., but in the United Kingdom we witnessed a decline in employment of 0.1 per cent. When the Secretary of State produces his selective statistics for when employment growth began, he should realise that the Opposition will accept no lectures from him on employment growth or what destroys employment. Government action has done more than any other factor to damage employment in Britain.

Mr. Iain Mills (Meriden)

Is the hon. Gentleman really saying that he believes that the social charter will increase employment opportunities? Mrs. Papandreou gave no such evidence to the Select Committee.

Mr. Lloyd

If the hon. Gentleman had been listening, he would have realised that that argument has run through the entire debate. When the Secretary of State sought to misrepresent Mrs. Papandreou's words and to claim that she had put forward an argument about job loss, his words were exposed as totally bogus. As he has now had the opportunity to study the verbatim report of her comments, I hope that the Secretary of State will accept that he was wrong. We shall continue to say that the Secretary of State misrepresented Mrs. Papandreou until he is prepared at least to do her the courtesy of reading what she said before the Select Committee.

Some years ago, when the Labour Government introduced the Equal Pay Acts, they were challenged by the Conservative Opposition who claimed that equal pay legislation would destroy jobs for women. Those Equal Pay Acts were implemented, and in the following years there was an increase of about 17 per cent. in women's employment. When we hear the bogus claims that the activities covered by the social charter will destroy jobs, we dismiss them with the same contempt as we dismissed Conservative claims about equal pay.

I have in front of me the explanatory memorandum in which the Minister of State states the Government's position: Some of the measures proposed in the Charter would put at risk the progress made in the United Kingdom in the last ten years to set the economy on the right track. The Minister of State knows how bogus those words are, as does every Conservative Member. He went on: The Government welcomes continuing progress by the Community in those areas currently within its competence. These include measures to promote freedom of movement, health and safety at work, equality of treatment between women and men and measures to assist the integration into society and working life of people with disabilities. Let me ask the Minister of State a simple question. Will he outline those parts of the Commission's proposals which will enhance the rights of employees in those specific areas? Will he outline those which the Government will seek to impose? We know very well that, although the Government pay lip service to the enhancement of people's rights at work, their record over 10 years has shown it to be an absolute lie.

On health and safety, this afternoon the Secretary of State claimed that the Government had a great interest in and great support for what the Commission was trying to achieve. The Government have an awful record on the health and safety of people at work, which led last year to 505 deaths and nearly 200,000 injuries in British industry. Yet under the present Government the numbers of people on the Health and Safety Executive and the number of factory inspectors have been cut consistently. We know that the factory inspectorate is not capable of properly monitoring safety in the workplace

When the British Government have been asked to consider proposals on health and safety at work from the European Community, they have managed to water them down. I refer specifically to the EC draft directive on noise at work which sought at first to adopt the West German limit of 85 dB. The British Government, prompted by the CBI, which the Secretary of State prayed in aid again today, successfully lobbied to have that limit increased to 90 dB. The implications are very serious. The recorded medical facts in the Health and Safety Commission report make it clear that workers who are exposed to noise levels of 90 dB consistently throughout their working lives stand a four in 10 chance of becoming deaf. That is what the British Government forced on the rest of the European Community.

Let us consider equal opportunities, where again the Secretary of State has told us that the Government are in the forefront of development. The Government have a disastrous record. They have been blocking the proposed directive on the burden of proof in equal opportunities employment disputes. The British Government have also been blocking the parental leave directive within the European Community.

Perhaps the Minister of State can say which parts of the action programme the Government are prepared to accept. If the Secretary of State is right that in Britain we are all in favour of equal opportunities, will he accept, for example, the directive on pregnant women at work? I hope that the Minister of State will pay attention and give me an answer. Will he accept the recommendations on child care which make provision for maternity and paternity leave to which the British Government have been firmly opposed in the past? Will the Government accept the recommendation for a code of conduct on the protection of pregnancy and maternity—again, issues which they have opposed in the past? Despite what the Secretary of State says, the Government's record has been highly damaging to the role of women at work. The women of this country recognise that and will judge the Government on their attitude to the social charter.

Mr. Fowler

Just to complete the hon. Gentleman's questions and answers, will the Opposition accept the abolition of the pre-entry closed shop?

Mr. Lloyd

The right hon. Gentleman has already been involved in that discussion. He and I know that it will come before the House very shortly. The real issue is whether the Government will accept under the social charter the rights of the people at GCHQ to join a trade union of their choice and to be represented at the work place in accordance with civilised opinion throughout Europe. Will the Minister of State answer that question about the social charter? I am sure that he will not.

We are aware of the splits in the Conservative party. We are aware of the leadership election and the division between the Europhiles and the Europhobes. By rejecting the charter the Government are not simply rejecting a vision of Europe; they are rejecting the right of the British people to be provided with minimum protection at work. A Labour Government will ensure that that protection is made available to the British people.

6.39 pm
The Minister of State, Department of Employment (Mr. Tim Eggar)

We have had a good debate. Let no hon. Member doubt that the Government are fully committed to the United Kingdom being an active member of the European Community. It is because of that commitment that we want agreements and arrangements that will work. The House and the country rightly expect us to look at new proposals from Brussels both critically and constructively. We have a duty to ask whether the social charter is good for Europe and for this country. If action needs to be taken over social issues, ought that action to be taken at Community level or should it be taken by this House?

The hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) asked my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and me about our attitude to the social charter. We do not believe that a social charter is essential, but we fully support the social dimension to the completion of the single market and believe that the key element of the social dimension must be to continue our efforts to bring down unemployment throughout the European Community.

We have never said that we shall never sign a social charter. If, however, we were to sign such a charter, it would have to be a short declaratory statement that set out broad objectives and took clear account of the Madrid conclusions, particularly the conclusion that gives priority to job creation. It would respect subsidiarity and would leave local agreements to be dealt with by national Governments. It would also take account of the diversity of national practices. It could, of course, easily include commitments to freedom of movement, to mutual recognition of qualifications throughout the Community, to freedom to engage in an occupation, to the equal treatment of men and women in employment and in training and to health and safety at work.

We are not prepared to commit ourselves in advance, but I do not think that we should have difficulty in agreeing to a number of the directives on health and safety. Only two days ago I said in public that we should welcome the establishment in this country of a European institute to monitor health and safety. Let nobody be in any doubt about our commitment to a place for health and safety in European Community directives. The hon. Member for Sedgefield must not continue to perpetuate a canard in that respect. Our view is that the social charter does not at present meet the criteria that I have outlined. Our concerns are confirmed by the new European directives that have been set out in the Commission's action programme.

The charter raises expectations. Conservative Members know that all the implied promises of longer holidays, shorter hours and minimum wages have to be paid for, but we can find no evidence of the Commission having established how those costs will be met. In reality, they can be absorbed only through job losses. Neither the Commission nor the commissioner argues that the social charter will create jobs. Those job losses will bear most heavily on the most vulnerable in our society: the young, the low paid, the unemployed who will not get jobs, the women who want to return to work but who will be forced to stay at home and the small businesses that will be unable to expand.

That is not just the Government's view. It is also the view of Professor Layard. In a recent article in the Financial Times, Professor Layard commented on article 5 of the charter, which implies that all member states will have to establish a minimum wage. He stressed that such a change could have a devastating effect on the employment of less skilled people. He pointed to the high levels of unemployment, especially of women and young people, in European Community countries such as Belgium, Holland, France and Spain that all have legally binding minimum wages.

It is no accident that the United Kingdom's unemployment rate among young people and women is less than half the Community average. I note that neither the hon. Member for Sedgefield nor the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Lloyd) has sought to deny for one moment the fully researched Government estimate of the cost of establishing a minimum wage, set at 50 per cent. of the national average wage. It would result in the loss of 750,000 jobs in this country. Do the hon. Members for Sedgefield and for Stretford want to be responsible for driving 750,000 people out of gainful employment?

The hon. Members for Sedgefield and for Stretford have been asked time and again whether they are in favour of the closed shop. If they are against it, I understand why they are prepared to sign article 11 of the social charter, but if they are sticking to their age-old policy of support for the closed shop, I hope that they will explain why they are in favour of both the closed shop and the social charter. The two policies are mutually contradictory. I am willing to give way to the hon. Member for Sedgefield. Come on.

The Opposition say that the social charter will have no impact on the employment of young people. In particular, they try to make a mockery of the fact that many newspaper boys run the risk of losing their jobs.

Mr. Tony Lloyd


Mr. Eggar

The hon. Member for Stretford should look at the proposals in the action programme and then consider a press report on 20 November. The hon. Gentleman should keep his feet on the ground.

Mr. Lloyd

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Eggar

I shall give way in a moment. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman should go to Wyatt's Newsagents, King's road, Stretford and talk to the four newspaper boys whom Mr. Wyatt employs. Perhaps he will explain to them why the European Commission is looking into the future of their jobs. When he has finished explaining that to the newspaper boys, perhaps he will go down the road, knock on people's doors and explain to his constituents why they will probably find, after the European Commission's investigation, that they have to pick up their newspapers instead of having them delivered. That is the policy to which the hon. Gentleman is committed.

Mr. Lloyd

Perhaps I should tell the Minister than. I went to school with Mr. Wyatt's son, and I know the shop well. The Commission has denied absolutely that there is any truth in the nonsensical story to which the Minister referred. Moreover, the Minister's press release hit the papers on 4 November, three days after the latest draft version of the charter was published. Significantly, the following words had been added to the charter: and subject to derogations limited to certain light work. Those derogations apply specifically to newspaper boys and to people working at McDonalds. That is the position of the Commission and of the Opposition; only the Minister does not understand what is in the charter.

Mr. Eggar

The hon. Member for Stretford is quite simply out of date. He should look at the press release in which the Commissioner described the action programme. Two derogations are referred to specifically: one is for family businesses and the other is for acting on the stage. Is the hon. Member for Stretford saying that according to the Commission Mr. Wyatt's son can work as a paper boy but others who are not related to Mr. Wyatt cannot? He may be right, but the important question is why the Commission should be involving itself in such details anyway. Such decisions are for this House and this country. If the Government want a minimum wage, and if the Opposition want a minimum wage, we decide. We decide working conditions and so on. There is no role for Brussels in that activity.

The Opposition made a number of observations about training. The Government have made it clear that we are committed to improve training during the 1990s. We have also made it clear that we shall achieve that aim flexibly, through local training and enterprise councils. [Interruption.] I wish the hon. Member for Sedgefield would pay attention. Our approach is the very opposite of that proposed by the Commission. Article 15 of the charter says that every EC worker must have access to vocational training and to undergo such training throughout his working life. That is not acceptable to us, and it is not acceptable to the Labour party.

Mr. Blair

indicated dissent.

Mr. Eggar

It is no good the hon. Member for Sedgefield shaking his head. He may not have had time to brief himself fully since his appointment, but he should at least have read the Labour party's policy review document.

Mr. Banks

Who has read that?

Mr. Eggar

The hon. Gentleman asks who has read the policy review; it is obvious that the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman has not read it. The policy review accepts that "excessive legalism" should be avoided, and that is a step in the right direction. The review also suggests that enterprises should be encouraged—I stress "encouraged"—to set a minimum number of training hours for each employee annually. In other words, the review says that there should not be a statutory right to training.

How can that be squared with the Commission's proposals? Does a statutory right to training suddenly become acceptable to the Labour party because it is imposed from Brussels, even though the Labour party rejected such a right in its own policy review? Is the Labour party prepared to study for years to produce a training policy, only to throw it out of the window because of a charter that comes down from Brussels? The hon. Member for Sedgefield cannot go on shaking his head. He should do his research and read his own policy review.

The Government have always said that we are fully committed to the social dimension of the single market, but that commitment does not debar us in some unique way from arguing our approach within Europe—

It being three hours after the motion was entered upon,

MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER put the Question, pursuant to Order [24 November], That the amendment be made:-

The House divided: Ayes 203, Noes 273.

Division No. 5] [6.54 pm
Abbott, Ms Diane Cryer, Bob
Adams, Allen (Paisley N) Cummings, John
Allen, Graham Cunliffe, Lawrence
Alton, David Cunningham, Dr John
Anderson, Donald Dalyell, Tam
Armstrong, Hilary Darling, Alistair
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)
Ashley, Rt Hon Jack Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'l)
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Dewar, Donald
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE) Dixon, Don
Barron, Kevin Dobson, Frank
Battle, John Douglas, Dick
Beckett, Margaret Duffy, A. E. P.
Bell, Stuart Dunnachie, Jimmy
Bermingham, Gerald Dunwoody, Hon Mrs Gwyneth
Bidwell, Sydney Eadie, Alexander
Blair, Tony Eastham, Ken
Blunkett, David Evans, John (St Helens N)
Boateng, Paul Ewing, Harry (Falkirk E)
Bradley, Keith Ewing, Mrs Margaret (Moray)
Bray, Dr Jeremy Fatchett, Derek
Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E) Faulds, Andrew
Brown, Ron (Edinburgh Leith) Fearn, Ronald
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) Field, Frank (Birkenhead)
Buchan, Norman Fields, Terry (L'pool B G'n)
Buckley, George J. Fisher, Mark
Caborn, Richard Flannery, Martin
Callaghan, Jim Flynn, Paul
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE) Foot, Rt Hon Michael
Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley) Foulkes, George
Campbell-Savours, D. N. Fraser, John
Clark, Dr David (S Shields) Fyfe, Maria
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W) Galloway, George
Clay, Bob Garrett, John (Norwich South)
Clelland, David Garrett, Ted (Wallsend)
Clwyd, Mrs Ann George, Bruce
Cohen, Harry Godman, Dr Norman A.
Coleman, Donald Golding, Mrs Llin
Cook, Robin (Livingston) Gordon, Mildred
Corbett, Robin Gould, Bryan
Corbyn, Jeremy Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)
Cousins, Jim Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Cox, Tom Grocott, Bruce
Crowther, Stan Hardy, Peter
Harman, Ms Harriet Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)
Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy Mowlam, Marjorie
Heffer, Eric S. Mullin, Chris
Henderson, Doug Murphy, Paul
Hinchliffe, David Nellist, Dave
Hoey, Ms Kate (Vauxhall) Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon
Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth) O'Brien, William
Home Robertson, John O'Neill, Martin
Hood, Jimmy Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
Howarth, George (Knowsley N) Owen, Rt Hon Dr David
Howell, Rt Hon D. (S'heath) Patchett, Terry
Howells, Geraint Pendry, Tom
Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd) Pike, Peter L.
Hoyle, Doug Powell, Ray (Ogmore)
Hughes, John (Coventry NE) Prescott, John
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Quin, Ms Joyce
Hughes, Roy (Newport E) Radice, Giles
Hughes, Simon (Southwark) Randall, Stuart
Ingram, Adam Redmond, Martin
Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside) Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn
Jones, leuan (Ynys Môn) Richardson, Jo
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S W) Rooker, Jeff
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald Rowlands, Ted
Kennedy, Charles Ruddock, Joan
Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil Sedgemore, Brian
Kirkwood, Archy Sheerman, Barry
Lambie, David Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Lamond, James Short, Clare
Leighton, Ron Skinner, Dennis
Lestor, Joan (Eccles) Smith, C. (Isl'ton & F'bury)
Lewis, Terry Smith, J. P. (Vale of Glam)
Litherland, Robert Snape, Peter
Livsey, Richard Soley, Clive
Lloyd, Tony (Stretford) Spearing, Nigel
Lofthouse, Geoffrey Steel, Rt Hon David
Loyden, Eddie Steinberg, Gerry
McAvoy, Thomas Stott, Roger
McKay, Allen (Barnsley West) Strang, Gavin
McKelvey, William Straw, Jack
McLeish, Henry Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Maclennan, Robert Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
McNamara, Kevin Thomas, Dr Dafydd Elis
McWilliam, John Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck)
Madden, Max Turner, Dennis
Marek, Dr John Vaz, Keith
Marshall, David (Shettleston) Wall, Pat
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S) Wallace, James
Martin, Michael J. (Springburn) Walley, Joan
Martlew, Eric Warden, Gareth (Gower)
Maxton, John Watson, Mike (Glasgow, C)
Meacher, Michael Welsh, Andrew (Angus E)
Meale, Alan Williams, Alan W. (Carm'then)
Michael, Alun Winnick, David
Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley) Worthington, Tony
Michie, Mrs Ray (Arg'l & Bute) Wray, Jimmy
Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby)
Moonie, Dr Lewis Tellers for the Ayes:
Morgan, Rhodri Mr. Frank Haynes and
Morley, Elliot Mr. John McFall.
Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)
Aitken, Jonathan Benyon, W.
Alexander, Richard Bevan, David Gilroy
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Bonsor, Sir Nicholas
Allason, Rupert Boswell, Tim
Amess, David Bowden, A (Brighton K'pto'n)
Amos, Alan Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)
Arbuthnot, James Bowis, John
Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove) Boyson, Rt Hon Dr Sir Rhodes
Ashby, David Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard
Aspinwall, Jack Brandon-Bravo, Martin
Atkins, Robert Brazier, Julian
Atkinson, David Bright, Graham
Baldry, Tony Brooke, Rt Hon Peter
Batiste, Spencer Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's)
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Browne, John (Winchester)
Beggs, Roy Bruce, Ian (Dorset South)
Bellingham, Henry Buck, Sir Antony
Bendall, Vivian Burns, Simon
Butler, Chris Hunter, Andrew
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas
Carrington, Matthew Irvine, Michael
Chapman, Sydney Jack, Michael
Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S) Jackson, Robert
Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe) Janman, Tim
Colvin, Michael Jessel, Toby
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest) Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey
Coombs, Simon (Swindon) Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Critchley, Julian Jones, Robert B (Herts W)
Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g) Jopling, Rt Hon Michael
Davis, David (Boothferry) Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine
Day, Stephen Key, Robert
Devlin, Tim Kilfedder, James
Dicks, Terry King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)
Dorrell, Stephen Kirkhope, Timothy
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Knapman, Roger
Dunn, Bob Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)
Durant, Tony Knowles, Michael
Eggar, Tim Knox, David
Emery, Sir Peter Lang, Ian
Evennett, David Latham, Michael
Fallon, Michael Lee, John (Pendle)
Favell, Tony Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark
Fenner, Dame Peggy Lilley, Peter
Field, Barry (Isle of Wight) Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)
Finsberg, Sir Geoffrey Lord, Michael
Fishburn, John Dudley Luce, Rt Hon Richard
Fookes, Dame Janet Lyell, Sir Nicholas
Forman, Nigel Macfarlane, Sir Neil
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling) MacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire)
Forsythe, Clifford (Antrim S) Maclean, David
Fowler, Rt Hon Norman McLoughlin, Patrick
Fox, Sir Marcus McNair-Wilson, Sir Michael
Franks, Cecil Madel, David
Gale, Roger Malins, Humfrey
Gardiner, George Mans, Keith
Garel-Jones, Tristan Maples, John
Gill, Christopher Marshall, John (Hendon S)
Goodlad, Alastair Marshall, Michael (Arundel)
Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles Martin, David (Portsmouth S)
Gow, Ian Mates, Michael
Grant, Sir Anthony (CambsSW) Maude, Hon Francis
Greenway, John (Ryedale) Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Gregory, Conal Mills, Iain
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N) Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Ground, Patrick Mitchell, Sir David
Grylls, Michael Moate, Roger
Hague, William Molyneaux, Rt Hon James
Hamilton, Hon Archie (Epsom) Monro, Sir Hector
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton) Montgomery, Sir Fergus
Hampson, Dr Keith Morrison, Sir Charles
Hanley, Jeremy Morrison, Rt Hon P (Chester)
Hannam, John Neale, Gerrard
Hargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr') Nelson, Anthony
Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn) Neubert, Michael
Harris, David Newton, Rt Hon Tony
Haselhurst, Alan Nicholls, Patrick
Hawkins, Christopher Nicholson, David (Taunton)
Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir Barney Nicholson, Emma (Devon West)
Hayward, Robert Norris, Steve
Heathcoat-Amory, David Onslow, Rt Hon Cranley
Heddle, John Oppenheim, Phillip
Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael Page, Richard
Hicks, Mrs Maureen (Wolv' NE) Paice, James
Hicks, Robert (Cornwall SE) Patnick, Irvine
Hill, James Patten, Rt Hon Chris (Bath)
Hind, Kenneth Patten, John (Oxford W)
Holt, Richard Pawsey, James
Hordern, Sir Peter Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Howard, Michael Porter, Barry (Wirral S)
Howarth, Alan (Strafd-on-A) Porter, David (Waveney)
Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd) Portillo, Michael
Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk) Powell, William (Corby)
Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W) Price, Sir David
Hunt, David (Wirral W) Raffan, Keith
Hunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne) Raison, Rt Hon Timothy
Redwood, John Summerson, Hugo
Renton, Rt Hon Tim Tapsell, Sir Peter
Rhodes James, Robert Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas Taylor, Rt Hon J. D. (S'ford)
Ridsdale, Sir Julian Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Roberts, Wyn (Conwy) Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Roe, Mrs Marion Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman
Ross, William (Londonderry E) Temple-Morris, Peter
Rossi, Sir Hugh Thatcher, Rt Hon Margaret
Rowe, Andrew Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Rumbold, Mrs Angela Thorne, Neil
Ryder, Richard Thornton, Malcolm
Sackville, Hon Tom Thurnham, Peter
Sainsbury, Hon Tim Townend, John (Bridlington)
Sayeed, Jonathan Tracey, Richard
Scott, Rt Hon Nicholas Tredinnick, David
Shaw, David (Dover) Trippier, David
Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey) Twinn, Dr Ian
Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb') Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Shelton, Sir William Waldegrave, Hon William
Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW) Walden, George
Shepherd, Colin (Hereford) Walker, A. Cecil (Belfast N)
Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge) Walker, Bill (T'side North)
Sims, Roger Waller, Gary
Skeet, Sir Trevor Ward, John
Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick) Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield) Warren, Kenneth
Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S) Watts, John
Soames, Hon Nicholas Widdecombe, Ann
Speed, Keith Wiggin, Jerry
Speller, Tony Wilkinson, John
Spicer, Sir Jim (Dorset W) Wilshire, David
Spicer, Michael (S Worcs) Winterton, Mrs Ann
Squire, Robin Winterton, Nicholas
Stanbrook, Ivor Wood, Timothy
Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John Woodcock, Dr. Mike
Steen, Anthony Yeo, Tim
Stevens, Lewis Young, Sir George (Acton)
Stewart, Allan (Eastwood) Younger, Rt Hon George
Stewart, Andy (Sherwood)
Stewart, Rt Hon Ian (Herts N) Tellers for the Noes:
Stokes, Sir John Mr. David Lightbown and
Stradling Thomas, Sir John Mr. Greg Knight.
Sumberg, David

Question accordingly negatived.

Main Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That this House takes note of European Community Document No. 8997/89 and the proposals described in the un-numbered Explanatory Memorandum submitted by the Department of Employment on 24th November on a Community Charter of Fundamental Social Rights; and endorses the Government's view that the key to increased prosperity and higher living standards is the adoption of policies which stimulate further economic growth and job creation.

Mr. Frank Haynes (Ashfield)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. After hon. Members have been through the Division Lobby, they are hanging around outside. I have had enough of it. People who want to get into the Lobby cannot do so, because there are too many bodies outside. Tonight one hon. Member failed to get through the door because of the crowd outside the No Lobby. That is not good enough. I want the Chair to do something about the problem because it happens far too often. Tonight in particular one of my colleagues could not get into the Lobby because of the crowd.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for pointing out that difficulty, which clearly is not seen from the Chair. I will see that the point is followed up.