HC Deb 29 November 1995 vol 267 cc1191-3
14. Mr. Hain

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on progress made by the reflections group in preparing the agenda for next year's intergovernmental conference. [867]

Mr. David Davis

I expect the study group to present its final report to the Madrid European Council in December.

Mr. Hain

Is not one of the greatest threats to Europe and its competitiveness the huge burden of mass unemployment? Should not one of our major objectives be to get Europe back to work? At next year's intergovernmental conference, will the Government therefore support a proposal to amend the treaty on European union to include in its objectives a commitment to full employment?

Mr. Davis

I noticed that the hon. Gentleman moved from the Whips Bench before he asked his question, and now I can see why. The greatest threat to employment in Europe is Europe's inability to compete. The leader of the Labour party knows that, which is why he made his disingenuous speech to the Confederation of British Industry a little while ago. The right hon. Gentleman was trying to represent Labour policy as the ability to pick and choose between which parts of the social chapter it would take. He ignored the fact that most of the social chapter is decided by qualified majority voting, so he would not have a choice, and that the part that is not decided by such voting would be given over to it by Labour policy. He was trying to put a disingenuous fig leaf in front of the greatest threat to Britain's ability to compete—Labour policy.

Mr. Wilkinson

Is not the single greatest deficiency in the process of European construction the fact that, for the British people, it does not have popular support? To win back that support, can my hon. Friend say whether the Government will press for restitution of the superiority of British law over European law at the forthcoming intergovernmental conference and, in particular, for the need to do something about the European Court's ability to impose retrospective judgments?

Mr. Davis

My hon. Friend is certainly right in respect of the need to rebuild popular support for the union. Prior to the intergovernmental conference, we presented to the reflections group of the European Union a paper that tackles that very issue—unpredictable and highly expensive judgments that have major retrospective consequences on Governments who try to carry out European law in good faith, as the British Government always do.

Mr. Skinner

Just to make sure that everyone understands what has happened since 1971, can we get it on the record that on 28 October of that year the Tory Government took us into the Common Market? In the next decade, Lady Thatcher passed the Single European Act. She forced it through on a guillotine and gagged Tory Members of Parliament who wanted to oppose it—every Labour Member opposed it. Then, in the 1990s, another Tory Government decided to sign the Maastricht treaty. Once again, we opposed it. Let us get it on the record that it is the Tory Government who have got this European issue round the necks of the British people.

Mr. Davis

The people who have most to worry about as a result of what the hon. Gentleman says are those on the Labour Front Bench. He just condemned them out of his own mouth. Let us get on the record the fact that enlargement of the European Union, the social opt-out, the single market, competitiveness and deregulation and our record on inward investment are all things of which we are proud in our policy on the European Union.

Mr. Gill

Is it not a fact that the Labour party not only wants to make us uncompetitive by adopting the social chapter, but wants to make us doubly uncompetitive by returning to fixed exchange rates?

Mr. Davis

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. One of the things which Labour tried to cover up at its party conference was the part of its conference document which said that it would not stand for any permanent opt-outs. That means that, whatever it said about European monetary union, it has decided now that at some point it will join.

Ms Quin

If, as the Minister claims, European social policies are economically damaging, how is it that several European countries, such as Denmark, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany and Italy, which accept the social chapter, are not only higher up the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development world prosperity league than us but have improved their position since 1979, whereas we have dropped from 13th to 18th?

Mr. Davis

I am very surprised at the hon. Lady. I should have thought that the Labour party would concern itself first and foremost with employment. When it comes to employment, we are top of the major country league in Europe—above Germany, above France, above Italy and above Spain.