HC Deb 29 January 1991 vol 184 cc775-6
2. Mr. John Marshall

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment when he last met Commissioner Papandreou to discuss the social charter.

Mr. Howard

I met Mrs. Papandreou on 14 January to discuss the Commission's social action programme and priorities for social affairs in the Community in 1991.

Mr. Marshall

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the social charter, by imposing similar obligations across the Community, guarantees greater unemployment among poorer member states? Is he aware that the Trojan horse that is the social charter will force nearly 2 million low-paid people in the United Kingdom to pay national insurance contributions for the first time?

Mr. Howard

My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to those aspects of the social action programme that would damage employment prospects and impose heavy and unacceptable burdens on employers in this country and elsewhere. That is why we are continuing to resist the proposals and our opposition is attracting increasing support from other member states.

Mr. Paice

Next time my right hon. and learned Friend meets Commissioner Papandreou, will he express the fact that, although many of us support strongly the Community's action in moving towards a single market, we greatly object to the way in which it is using that development to interfere in sectors of life that are far removed from anything to do with training matters and are properly the responsibility of the House?

Mr. Howard

There is a good deal of force in my hon. Friend's remarks—particularly his observation about the extent to which the Commission is attempting to use the treaty's single market provisions to promote proposals relating to other areas that should not be based on qualified majority voting. I have consistently made that point in the Social Affairs Council and that argument is gaining the increasing support of other member states.

Mr. Tony Lloyd

The Secretary of State cannot have it both ways. Obviously, he vehemently opposed the social charter in every jot. We now learn that he accepts half of it—and in particular that he is prepared to support the action programme for women. Survey after survey shows that the biggest handicap confronting women in the workplace is meeting their child care obligations and matching them to their work. Given that child care facilities in this country are as bad as anywhere in Europe, what will the Government do to promote adequate child care and flexible working hours so that the nation can benefit from the resource of women back at work?

Mr. Howard

We have always made it clear that we would examine all the proposals in the social action programme on their merits, and we have done so from the start. I am astonished to hear the hon. Gentleman ask for flexible working hours to help women who want to work, when Labour has adopted an entirely uncritical attitude to the programme, which includes proposals that would impose the most stringent limits on part-time working. That would prove much more burdensome for employers and sharply reduce the opportunities to work available to women. The hon. Gentleman should adopt a more consistent approach.

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