HC Deb 10 June 1997 vol 295 cc937-8
8. Mr. Streeter

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what discussions he has had with his European colleagues on the introduction of the social chapter into the United Kingdom. [1165]

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Doug Henderson)

Incorporation of the social chapter into the main EC treaty and its extension to the United Kingdom are being considered within the intergovernmental conference. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and I have discussed the issue with a number of my European colleagues both in bilateral meetings and at IGC sessions.

Mr. Streeter

I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his post.

Given that future new directives under the social chapter can be introduced by qualified majority voting, what guarantee can the Minister give the House today that future new directives will not be imposed on the United Kingdom if they are harmful to its interests?

Mr. Henderson

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his initial kind remarks.

I remind the non. Gentleman that the previous Government participated in the initial discussions on the establishment of a social chapter and had the opportunity to become involved in the regulations that were drawn up at that time. As the hon. Gentleman knows, there are provisions for extension under qualified majority voting. One of the proposals currently under consideration concerns the burden of proof. I am pleased to tell the hon. Gentleman that our European partners are following Britain's example, principles and practice in that matter. That is an early sign of the positive contribution that Britain is making to the new climate in Europe.

Dr. Palmer

Is the Minister aware of the widespread astonishment in Europe that a national political party in Britain actually opposes the very limited rights laid down in the social chapter? Is he further aware that that astonishment is shared by my predecessor, the former Conservative Member for Broxstowe?

Mr. Henderson

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is interesting at European meetings when our partners ask why Britain failed to score any goals in the past. I am delighted to say that one could not expect anything else when they were not on the playing field in the first place.

Mr. David Davis

The Minister signally failed to answer the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Devon (Mr. Streeter). He has clearly forgotten that Labour proposed to sign the social chapter. If the proposal to extend the works council directive to firms of only 50 employees is carried by majority voting, will the Government implement the decision?

Mr. Henderson

The Government are bound by European treaties. There is no question of a British Government not complying with treaties. Due to the positive climate in Europe, we are able to insist among our colleagues that there be a full examination of all the issues and principles involved and that British organisations, such as the Institute of Directors, be invited to give evidence. When we have heard that evidence, we will come to conclusions.

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