§ Mr. David Evans
To ask the Secretary of State for Employment, if he will make a statement on the outcome of the EC Social Affairs Council held on 27 March. 
§ Mr. Portillo
I attended the Social Affairs Council on 27 March in Brussels. I was accompanied by my hon. Friend the Minister of State. The principal items on the agenda were the draft directive on posted workers, a draft decision on the programme to combat social exclusion, draft resolutions on the balanced participation of women and men in decision-making and on implementation of community social legislation, a Presidency memorandum on the social dimension of international trade and discussion of follow-up to the discussion of employment issues at the Essen European Council on 9 and 10 December 1994.
Discussion of the draft directive on posted workers was once again inconclusive. The UK has considerable and long-standing difficulties of both principle and detail. A number of other member states also had significant difficulties with various aspects of the proposal, which the Presidency referred back to COREPER for further work.
There was, in the event, no discussion of the social exclusion programme. The resolutions on the balanced participation of women and men in decision-making and on the implementation of directives in the social field were unanimously agreed with little discussion.
There was a tour de table on the Presidency memorandum on the social dimension of international trade. I said that the UK was strongly opposed to child and forced labour and that developing countries needed help and encouragement to eliminate such practices. I emphasised the importance of free trade in promoting both economic and social development in the third world and that trade sanctions would hold back rather than encourage social progress. No Council conclusions were reached, though the Presidency drew some conclusions of its own.
There was a discussion of the role of the Social Affairs Council in the follow-up to the conclusions of the Essen European Council on employment. The Commission reported briefly on progress on establishing the European Health and Safety Agency and on action it was taking under the social protocol.