HC Deb 13 July 2004 vol 423 cc1245-7
6. Mr. Win Griffiths (Bridgend) (Lab)

Whether he plans to discuss the constitutional treaty for the European Union with members of the Trades Union Congress.[183360]

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Jack Straw)

Yes, on Wednesday 21 July, when I shall meet the TUC executive committee.

Mr. Griffiths

Can my right hon. Friend confirm that he will encourage trade unionists to vote for the constitutional treaty when we have a referendum because it will provide a sound legal framework to enable trade unions to pursue their members' interests within the law in a beneficial manner?

Mr. Straw

Yes, indeed I will. That is one of the many reasons why I shall urge the TUC executive committee and the trade union movement more generally to support the constitution for the European Union when it is put forward in a referendum.

Angus Robertson (Moray) (SNP)

Many thousands of workers in the onshore and offshore fisheries industries are gravely concerned by the incorporation of the common fisheries policy as an exclusive competence of the European Union. Many of them are trade union members who are worried that we will see the continuing decline of our coastal communities. Will the Foreign Secretary tell them whether he believes that that failed policy will lead to more or fewer jobs in the fishery industry in the future?

Mr. Straw

I think that members of the fishing industry are more concerned about the unconvincing dissembling of members of the Scottish National party over the issue, for which it received a disastrous result in the European parliamentary elections in June. As the erstwhile leader of the Scottish National party admitted to me, it is quite wrong for it to pretend that the conservation of marine biological resources is, for the first time, to become an exclusive competence under the constitution. It has been an exclusive competence ever since the European Union was established. The hon. Member for Moray (Angus Robertson) knows that, and he needs to spell it out to Scottish fishermen.

Mr. Peter Mandelson (Hartlepool) (Lab)

Would my right hon. Friend accept that many of us regard the Government's achievement on the constitutional treaty as a considerable political and diplomatic coup in British interests? In that context, it was right for the Government to apply belt and braces to the charter of fundamental rights, but does he accept that by doing so, they gave the impression of giving too little weight to the social dimension in Europe? I think that that is an impression rather than a fact but, none the less, the Government would do well to redress it in the coming weeks and months.

Mr. Straw

I accept the compliments that my right hon. Friend offered in the first part of his question, and I understand the point that he makes. During my discussions with the Trades Union Congress next Wednesday—and in many other ways—we will certainly emphasise the benefits to British people and British trade unionists that have arisen over the past seven years and more of a Labour Government as a result of signing up to the social chapter. We shall continue with the agenda of social Europe.

On the issue of the charter, a bit of belt and braces was necessary to ensure that it remained for the British Parliament to determine our industrial relations laws, not the European Union. We have done that, but British trade unionists, especially, celebrate all the benefits that they have received as a result of our decision to sign up to the social chapter, including proper guaranteed holidays and parental leave. The previous Conservative Government denied all such things—they would deny them again—and we will certainly emphasise those points in the campaign for a yes vote to the constitution.

Mr. Richard Spring (West Suffolk) (Con)

Given that the charter of fundamental rights in the constitution will assuredly, according to legal counsel and the European Commission itself, lead to the European Court of Justice overriding our asylum laws and make it easier for trade unions to call strikes, why on earth do we need it?

Mr. Straw

Were it true, there would be cause for worry, but both points that the hon. Gentleman raises are nonsense. He will be aware that, under an existing article of the treaties, issues concerning negotiation of pay and the right to strike are specifically excluded from the European Union's competence and are a matter for national Governments and Parliaments.

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