HC Deb 07 February 1996 vol 271 cc314-5
3. Mr. Sheerman

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs from which organisations he will invite representations in advance of the publication of Her Majesty's Government's White Paper on Europe. [12345]

Mr. Rifkind

We welcome representations on the inter governmental conference from any organisation with an interest in it.

Mr. Sheerman

Will the Foreign Secretary listen to more views than those of the Euro-sceptic right wing? Does he realise that many hon. Members on both sides of the House are broadly pro-Europe, although we see many faults that must be rectified and many improvements that must be made to the European Union? We are all sick of the increasingly vulgar and dangerous nationalism that emanates from members of the Foreign Secretary's party, both inside and outside Government.

Mr. Rifkind

That would have been more convincing if it had not come from a member of a party that fought several general elections on the basis that it was trying to take us out of the European Union.

Mr. David Howell

The proposal to publish a White Paper is welcome and robust. I fully understand that my right hon. and learned Friend will not wish to give details about the negotiating position, but may I ask him not to hesitate in setting out a strong anti-centralist, anti-collectivist approach to the European Union in the IGC? In particular, will he focus critically and practically—I am sure that he will—on such nebulous concepts as a common foreign and security policy for Europe, and other ideas that those who are less critical of Brussels are all too ready to accept?

Mr. Rifkind

I agree that, on matters such as a common foreign and security policy, it is crucial for Europe—if it wishes to speak in the name of Europe— to do so because of a genuine identity of view, rather than, through artificial means, seeking to impose a consensus against the vital interests of individual member states. If there is genuine agreement on important issues, we can advance British interests by allowing the European Union to speak for the proposals involved; but, when British interests—or the interests of other countries—are at variance with those of the majority, that must be respected if the European Union is to be true to its basic democratic values.

Mr. Robin Cook

Will the Foreign Secretary consider inviting representations for the White Paper from GKN, which has just implemented the social chapter for its British work force by setting up a works council? Is he aware that its current newsletter describes that as a positive approach? If the Government cannot carry with them even such a generous supporter of Tory funds as GKN, why do they not drop their lonely opposition to the social chapter? Will they never recognise that it is impossible to build up competitiveness by keeping the work force in the dark, and that British citizens are entitled to the same right to know about the future of their companies as citizens of the continent?

Mr. Rifkind

There is an important difference between my position and that of the hon. Gentleman. In my view, the question is not whether it is desirable for GKN to introduce a works council; the question is whether that decision should be made by employers and employees in the company, or imposed by the Government or the European Union. The hon. Gentleman represents a party that wishes to ignore the views of employers and employees in British companies, and seeks to impose a rigid structure throughout Europe, regardless of the damage that that would do to British jobs and prosperity. He cannot escape responsibility for that view.

Mr. Forman

As well as welcoming representations on those important matters, is my right hon. and learned Friend prepared to look again at the need for fuller public information on such questions? These are complicated issues and many of us on the Conservative Benches feel that there is a need for the British Government to take more of a lead in that respect.

Mr. Rifkind

Yes, and that is one reason why we were happy to respond to the views of three Select Committees, both of this House and of another place, and have agreed to publish a White Paper setting out the Government's approach to the intergovernmental conference, which I believe will respond to the reasonable point raised by my hon. Friend.