HC Deb 13 May 1996 vol 277 cc624-5
6. Mr. MacShane

To ask the Deputy Prime Minister what new initiatives he is planning to promote Government policy on Europe. [27669]

The Deputy Prime Minister

The Government have recently published a very clear statement of their policy on Europe in the White Paper on the intergovernmental conference, "A Partnership of Nations". I commend it to the hon. Member.

Mr. MacShane

The tiredness of that reply and the feebleness of the previous one show exactly the extent to which the Deputy Prime Minister no longer puts real energy behind any of the Government's policies. His party is now a sick joke over Europe. As a strong European and a man who has given many years of service to his party, does he not feel that the time may have come to retire and enjoy a few years of peace, leaving the party fight to the rabble behind him?

The Deputy Prime Minister


Mr. Anthony Coombs

As the Labour party so cravenly does not want to be isolated on Europe, and as the Liberal Democrats want a European federal state, will my right hon. Friend confirm that the Conservative party is the only one that wants to see the competencies of the European Union repatriated to this country in the forthcoming intergovernmental conference?

The Deputy Prime Minister

My hon. Friend gives me the opportunity to state quite clearly that the real difference between the Government and the Opposition side is that we wish to have a Europe based on the nation state whereas they wish to have a Europe to which they are prepared to move critical powers, the effect of which would be to undermine the competitiveness of the British economy. Nowhere is that more clear than in their willingness to accept the social chapter and the minimum wage, the effect of which would be to deter investment in this country and to create more unemployment than is in any way justified. My authority for that last statement is the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott), who has made it absolutely clear that the minimum wage, "as any fool knows", to quote his words, will cause a loss of jobs.

Mr. Beith

Will the Deputy Prime Minister clarify whether the Government see the European Court of Justice as a necessary body to which the Government must have recourse if other European countries take action that distorts markets or prevents free competition, as in the case of beef, or as an unwelcome intrusion into the private affairs of member states? Surely it has to be one or the other.

The Deputy Prime Minister

No, it does not have to be one or the other at all. There cannot be a single market without rules and there cannot be rules without someone to enforce them. Therefore, there has to be a European Court of Justice. In the Government's view, that does not mean that all its decisions are right, or that some of its powers cannot be improved. As we propose in the White Paper, we intend to address those issues and we shall certainly do so at the intergovernmental conference.

Mr. Caborn

Will the Deputy Prime Minister tell the House how he intends to promote the new policy on competitiveness that was outlined by the President of the Board of Trade in a speech last week? It cuts across the two White Papers on competitiveness and has left them in total disarray. How will the right hon. Gentleman communicate that?

The Deputy Prime Minister

If I had a problem of that sort I would address it, but as there is no such problem I have not had to put my mind to it.