HC Deb 15 March 1994 vol 239 cc733-4
6. Mr. Jenkin

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what discussions he has had recently with the European Commission about the European works councils directive.

Mr. Michael Forsyth

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State restated the Government's firm opposition to the proposal when he met Commissioner Flynn on 28 February.

Mr. Jenkin

Will my hon. Friend confirm that under the Single European Act we had a veto over that directive and that under the Maastricht treaty we no longer have a veto, so the directive may proceed in the other 11 countries with damaging consequences for British jobs and British industry'' Does he agree that, given the fourth framework directive on social Europe and the continuing court judgments imposing social Europe on this country whether we like it or not, we need to address the issue of social Europe at the. intergovernmental conference in 1996 to protect British industry and jobs?

Mr. Forsyth

No, I do not agree with the first part of my hon. Friend's question. It is clear under the social protocol that agreements made by the Eleven will not apply to the United Kingdom. A text that appears to be rather ragged in that respect has been circulated for consultation, but the United Kingdom means to ensure that the terms of the protocol set out under the Maastricht treaty are observed. On the 1996 conference, I agree with my hon. Friend that the whole question of European competitiveness and the impact of some of the proposals that have been put forward as social measures will need to be addressed.

Mr. Grocott

May I give the Minister an opportunity to put to the test his eccentric theory that the lack of worker protection in Britain brings jobs to Britain? Will he make a firm prediction that, because of the lack of worker protection in Britain, the takeover of Rover by BMW will mean fewer jobs in Germany and more in Britain? If he believes that, he believes anything.

Mr. Forsyth

As the hon. Gentleman will know, Britain is getting the lion's share of inward investment from the United States and Japan into the Community because of the labour market policies that we have pursued and our general economic approach. He describes as eccentric the theory that excessive protection destroys jobs. He may like to read some of the speeches currently being made by Spain's socialist Prime Minister, who says that, in order to create more jobs, it will be necessary to remove some protection from the workers. So that eccentric theory is well understood by politicians across the political divide. Only the British Labour party is stuck in the time warp of the 1950s and 1960s.

Mr. Waterson

Does my hon. Friend agree that that is just the sort of petty bureaucratic regulation that is so favoured by Opposition Members and rightly opposed by British employers? Is it not simply an attempt to introduce the social chapter by the back door?

Mr. Forsyth

I agree with my hon. Friend. The Government favour worker involvement, participation and consultation. What we are against is their imposition by statute. If they are done voluntarily, they will work; if they are imposed by statute, as proposed in the European works council directive, they will be inflexible, destroy competitiveness, make it less easy for business to respond to market needs, and therefore destroy jobs.

Mr. Barron

If the Minister really believes that, will he explain why Germany, which has had workers' councils and workers' directives for decades, has a £20 billion surplus in world trade while we have a £13 billion deficit?

Mr. Forsyth

I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman has noticed it, but in Germany unemployment is going up. It has broken the 4 million barrier and is at its highest level since the Weimar republic. In Britain, unemployment is falling. We are unique in that respect and the hon. Gentleman should recognise that our policies have created the opportunity for unemployment to fall so quickly during a recovery.