HC Deb 29 November 1995 vol 267 cc1181-2
4. Mr. Betts

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he intends to publish a White Paper outlining Her Majesty's Government's priorities for the 1996 intergovernmental conference of the European Union. [854]

Mr. Rifkind

This is still under consideration.

Mr. Betts

If there is to be no White Paper—we have had no guarantee today—will the Secretary of State explain how the House is to hold Ministers accountable until the negotiations begin? Is the Foreign Secretary effectively saying that he cannot produce a White Paper because to produce anything at all would split the Conservative party down the middle? Will not the interests of the British people and the House have to take second place to the interests of the fragile unity within the Conservative party?

Mr. Rifkind

The hon. Gentleman's comments are pretty absurd. Tomorrow, I shall give evidence to the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs precisely on the intergovernmental conference and our policy with regard to it. So there are many opportunities, which have been used in the past and will continue to be available, to ensure that the House is kept informed. We have not excluded the possibility of a White Paper, but I regard that as one of a number of ways of ensuring that the House is fully informed and able to contribute to our deliberations.

Mr. Fabricant

Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that, if he were to publish a White Paper, one thing that he would not say is that we would give up our regional, environmental, social and industrial privileges—our veto? Does he agree that any thought of giving up our veto would have a damaging effect on jobs? Is he as amazed as I am that the Labour party is suggesting just that?

Mr. Rifkind

Labour Members are suggesting that, and have committed themselves to it. Curiously, however, the Leader of the Opposition omitted to mention that point in his speech to the Confederation of British Industry on the social chapter. If he wanted to win industry to the Labour party's point of view, he could at least have come clean about the Labour party's current policy, which would make the social chapter subject to qualified majority voting.

Mr. Robin Cook

Can the Foreign Secretary confirm that Britain is alone among the countries of Europe in resisting a common policy on racism as part of the revision of the treaty? We have the largest ethnic minority population in Europe. Why do the British Government oppose measures that would protect members of our ethnic minority population from discrimination when they travel in Europe? Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman not understand that, by opposing a European commitment against racism, the Government are opposing the interest of British residents and damaging Britain's standing among our European partners? Is that not just another case in which the Government are sacrificing British interests and British influence to please the right wing of the Conservative party?

Mr. Rifkind

That simply is not true. As the hon. Gentleman well knows, this country has the most effective race relations legislation in western Europe. There is no qualification with regard to our commitment to eradicating racism in all its forms. The Home Secretary made it clear not that he was opposed to ensuring the eradication of racism but that this is a genuine and open discussion on the best way to achieve that objective.