HC Deb 16 February 1993 vol 219 cc119-20
5. Mr. Butler

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what current proposals the European Commission has to introduce, under other treaty provisions, measures within the scope of the social chapter.

Mr. Michael Forsyth

It is for the European Commission to decide what proposals it brings forward under the treaty or under the Maastricht agreement of Eleven on social policy.

Mr. Butler

May I reassure the excellent employers of Milton Keynes that the Secretary of State's fight against the working hours directive will continue and that no parts of the social chapter will be brought in under the guise of health and safety directives without a continued fight from the Government? Does my hon. Friend agree, as the employers in my constituency do, that Britain is, as Jacques Delors says, a paradise for foreign investment as a result of this Government's policies?

Mr. Forsyth

It is certainly true that Britain gets something like 40 per cent. of the inward investment coming into the European Community. My hon. Friend is right to point to the job-destroying effects of the social chapter measures. I was struck by the fact that the non-wage costs of employing Hoover workers in Dijon is five times the cost of employing the same workers in Cambuslang.

Mr. Galbraith

Does the Minister agree that the problem is not just about the legislation that is about to come from Europe? It is about the legislation which we already have but which has not yet been implemented by the Government—in particular, the acquired rights directive. Will the Minister confirm that the acquired rights directive applies to compulsory competitive tendering, that it has always applied to compulsory competitive tendering and that those individuals who have been disadvantaged by the Government's not applying it in the past can now seek compensation? When will the Government publicise those facts so that workers can obtain their democratic rights?

Mr. Forsyth

The question whether the acquired rights directive applies will depend upon each contract and the circumstances pertaining to it. If an undertaking has been transferred, the terms of the acquired rights directive will apply. For the hon. Gentleman to describe British workers as being denied rights because Britain refuses to have any part of the social chapter is nonsense. The fact is that British workers have the right to determine the terms and conditions of their employment alongside their employers. By transferring the right to decide that outside Britain, British workers are losing rights, not having their rights enhanced.

Mr. Rowe

Will my hon. Friend confirm that whatever the European Commission happens to bring forward, it is the Council of Ministers which makes the final decision on what should be accepted? Does my hon. Friend agree that if only we could make progress towards ratification of the Maastricht treaty, we could set about altering the institutions of the European Community and bringing them more into line with what the British Government would prefer?

Mr. Forsyth

My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the fact that these matters are ultimately decided by the Council of Ministers, although the point to which I think he drew attention was that matters were being brought forward under health and safety provisions which were determined on a majority vote—like working time, which would be damaging to jobs in this country. The Government will continue to fight those measures because we wish to have no part in making the European Community or Britain less competitive and putting more people on the dole as a result.

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