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Mr. Christopher Gill (Ludlow) : When my hon. Friend the Minister opened the debate he pointed out that such occasions were used to examine the possibilities and the prospects for the future in Europe, and many right hon. and hon. Members have used the debate to talk about the future-- quite naturally, because of the exciting times in which we live.

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The hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber (Sir R. Johnston) expressed some concern that there had not been much excitement and enthusiasm in the House this evening. I am most enthusiastic about the events that are unfolding in Europe. We cannot fail to ignore the fact that so many people in eastern Europe are rejecting totalitarianism. We have to ensure that we make it easy for eastern Europe to form closer and firmer links with the European Community. As my hon. Friend the Minister pointed out, we must extend the hand of friendship. We must not in any way make it difficult for those people ; we must make it easier for them. We have to remove the obstacles of centralism and interventionism, and just about every hon. Member knows what I mean, because as a nation we have foundered on those rocks in terms of our wholehearted commitment to Europe. Hon. Members have referred to the obstacles presented by Delors stages 2 and 3, but there is a more urgent need than ever before to stake out the common ground, not as Socialists, Liberals, Democrats or Conservatives but as Britons, Poles, French or Germans working together in a united and peaceful Europe.

Surely we can agree on matters affecting our environment, because so many of those matters transcend frontiers and are pan-European. We can agree on removing barriers, the physical, technical and financial barriers which obstruct the free movement of goods and services in Europe. We can agree on standards--not on prescriptions or recipes but on parameters. We can agree on security. President Gorbachev said that Europe is at the crossroads, and I agree with that. We are faced with a series of choices between a wider or a deeper Europe. I should like to think that we shall choose the wider Europe, capable of accommodating not only the 12 nations of the European Community but the six nations of the European Free Trade Association and the nations of eastern Europe, where the ideologies of the past are being rejected in a dramatic and unprecedented way. We want to create a Europe that, in the words of my hon. Friend the Minister, is "founded on freedom and building on prosperity".

The United Kingdom must weigh up carefully whether it sees Europe as a threat or an opportunity. Do we see it as a threat to our livelihoods because we are reluctant to increase our productivity to the best levels of Europe? Do we fear that we cannot improve our competitiveness so that we are as competitive as any other nation in Europe? Do we fear a threat to our national identity? I suggest that that is doubtful. Paragraph 4.4 of the report shows that we have hung on to our national identity. The fact that we have hung on to the pint, the mile and the acre shows that we are not prepared to submerge our national identity and that we shall continue to fight for it.

Let us consider the opportunities not only of the bigger domestic market but those for London to become the banking and commercial centre of Europe and for the United Kingdom to influence the debate and decisions on the course of European unity and to establish the traditional values that are so readily accepted in Britain of liberty and individual freedom as the central ethos for the European Community.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Marshall) said, there are no panaceas for Britain. We must not think that the bigger market will solve problems.

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It will be of benefit to us only if we exploit it. Similarly, the exchange rate mechanism is not a passport to lower interest rates or a guarantee of sound money. None of those things will do for us what we are not prepared to do for ourselves. In that context, to establish sound money, stable exchange rates and lower interest rates, we might as a Government and as a nation look hard at what we could do for ourselves by restoring the independent status of the Bank of England and freeing it from its current political control. There are other and more varied ways in which we can take steps to do for ourselves--things which, I suspect, hon. Members and certain sections of the British public are looking for Europe to do for us, which is totally unrealistic.

In the final analysis, we have a further choice. We have a choice to do so many things sooner rather than later ; sooner while the spirit moves throughout Europe ; sooner while the portents are good and our neighbours are beckoning for British leadership ; and sooner while the opportunity exists as it never existed before. The hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) referred to the opportunity as "breathtaking". Does it not behove us to do those things sooner rather than later? Let it never be said that we did them later because we lacked the confidence, motivation or will to take the opportunity of this floodtide in European history.

8.53 pm

Mr. Michael Irvine (Ipswich) : Paragraph 15.3 of the White Paper records that the Select Committee on European Legislation considered 468 European Community documents between January and June 1989. In the event, seven debates covering 12 of those documents took place in Standing Committee and 22 debates covering 40 documents took place on the Floor of the House.

What the White Paper does not say is that the majority of those debates on the Floor took place after 10 pm, that they were poorly attended and that, in many cases, the documents under discussion were made available only a short time before the debate. Furthermore, the House was invariably faced with a fait accompli. All too often we found ourselves doing no more than taking note of what had already been formulated by the European Commission and decided some time beforehand behind closed doors by the Council of Ministers. We were not even rubber-stamping the legislation because it did not need our rubber stamp. It did not matter whether we rubber-stamped it or not because it had already been decided. As a House, we were only taking note.

I would go so far as to say that the ineffective way in which we deal with European Community legislation should be a matter of shame for the House. When we allow European legislation that is of much importance to the citizens of this country to pass into law without proper scrutiny, we are not merely failing to do our job properly but being false to the traditions and obligations of the House. How can we put this right? First, we can do so by allocating more time to the scrutiny of European Community legislation. Hon. Members should compare the time that we spend scrutinising Community legislation month by month with the time that we spend scrutinising domestic legislation. Earlier this year, I spent 160 hours on the Standing Committee of the Self-Governing Schools etc. (Scotland) Bill.

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Mr. Sillars : Serves you right.

Mr. Irvine : I was glad to do so. The Bill was interesting and was of great importance. It deserved much scrutiny, and it got it.

Mr. Sillars : When we Scots depart from here and return north of the border to an independent Scotland within Europe, the hon. Gentleman will have bags of time to consider European legislation.

Mr. Irvine : Quite a few Scots, such as myself, have come south and are doing very well here, thank you.

Leaving aside that interruption of questionable merit, the point remains that, although domestic legislation is important, European Community legislation is just as important, and sometimes more so. Both kinds of legislation need proper scrutiny. At the moment, the balance is wrong. If we are to exert maximum influence over European legislation, we must correct the imbalance.

Mr. Janman : I am genuinely interested in why my hon. Friend thinks that it is worth while spending much more time scrutinising European legislation, given that, because of the Single European Act amendments to the treaty of Rome, if we do not do what we are told, we will be taken to the European Court anyway. Why will spending all this extra time be worth while?

Mr. Irvine : My hon. Friend brings me to the second point which I wish to make about our scrutiny of European legislation. The other great weakness is the point of time at which we consider European legislation. At present, time after time we consider it when everything has already been decided. I hope that we will reform our procedures so as to address European legislation after it has been formulated by the European Commission but before it reaches the Council of Ministers. As my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Mr. Janman) pointed out, that does not mean that we can determine which way the legislation will go, but it will enable us to exert maximum influence.

It is fair to say that we have some influence. I was interested in the point made by my hon. Friend the Minister of State about the effect of last week's debate on European monetary union and the exchange rate mechanism on our partners in the European Community. He said that the strong cross-party feeling expressed in the House against stages 2 and 3 of the Delors proposals had had an impact on our partners' thinking. That powerfully reinforces my point. It shows that, if the House bestirs itself and we make our views known clearly at the right point, we can hope to influence our partners in the European Community and also the Council of Ministers.

Mr. Lord : I am following my hon. Friend's comments carefully. I think that he is saying that it is necessary for the parliamentary cycle in Britain to be fitted in with the European parliamentary cycle on all these issues, so that these debates can take place at the proper time.

Mr. Irvine : Precisely. We must tailor our procedures and practices to give proper scrutiny to European legislation. The present structure of the European legislative process is highly convenient to bureaucrats and is not without its advantages to certain statesmen, but it is profoundly undemocratic. There are dangers here for the European Community. Unless the institutions of the Community and of individual member countries are

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adapted to provide proper scrutiny of Community legislation and proper accountability to Parliament, somewhere along the line there will be trouble for the Community. There will be a reaction by the peoples of member states against the Community's autocratic tendencies.

Parliaments are always inconvenient to bureaucrats, but they are essential to democracy. The House has a particular part to play in developing Community institutions and parliamentary scrutiny. After all, the House of Commons developed the traditions of parliamentary democracy that won control first over the monarch and then over the Executive. We must now bestir ourselves and do the same in a European context. If we do that effectively, we will do a signal service for not only the nation and the House but our partners in the Community. 9.3 pm

Mr. Tim Janman (Thurrock) : Earlier in the debate my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Marshall) implied that I might seek to raise the issue of whether Britain should be in the European Community. Although I do not wish to raise that issue tonight, I thought that his speech gave a long catalogue of reasons that could put that thought in one's mind. He listed many of the major problems that Britain faces as a result of its being in the European Community and I believe that, unless there is a rather sudden and dramatic sea change in the politics of the Community, this Government--and I suspect any future Government of either political persuasion--will be continually tussling with the European Community over matters that should be purely for the consideration of the national Government, as opposed to being matters that can be interfered with by the European Community as a consequence of the passing of the Single European Act.

I want to mention briefly three major developments in the Community which were documented in the White Paper and to spend far more time on a fourth. The Madrid meeting of the European Council in June and the Delors report on economic and monetary union are important, and I shall come back to them in detail. I want to put on record the other three developments in the White Paper which are of significance. First, there are the on-going general agreement on tariffs and trade negotiations between the European Community and the United States. I must say to my hon. Friend the Minister that it is important that we continue to exert the maximum pressure possible on the European Commission and the Community through the Council of Ministers not to pursue a protectionist philosophy vis-a-vis our relationship with our great ally the United States. If we pursue such a policy, they will retaliate and we shall strengthen the seeds of protectionism on the other side of the Atlantic as well. We must continue to pursue a free trade approach from the European Community.

Secondly, I note that progress has been made in eliminating trade barriers with the European Free Trade Association countries. In view of the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South, I cannot resist the temptation to observe that if we continue to be in conflict with the European Community over which issues are sovereign and which are pan- sovereign and if the EFTA nations continue to win an increasingly good relationship with the European Community, we could eventually

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receive most of the trade benefits by being outside the Community, without the constitutional and political hassles that come from being in it.

Thirdly, I agree with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister that the draft Community charter on fundamental social rights is essentially a Marxist document. It goes completely against the policies and philosophy of the past 10 years in this country, which have resulted in a most dramatic fall in unemployment. We have virtually the lowest unemployment rate in Europe. France, for example, has an unemployment rate twice as great and there is no real sign or hope of that rate coming down.

I want to concentrate on economic and monetary union, and the European exchange rate mechanism. There are two key aspects. The first is the economic aspect, and the second is the more insidious and subversive political aspect. Should we join the exchange rate mechanism now or at a future date? Joining the ERM now would be an unmitigated disaster. It would lock us into a corporatist system of stage managing currencies which would institutionalise our current large trade deficit for the foreseeable future, given the current exchange rates. Interest rates would go up and down like a yo-yo to keep our currency from being revalued and to maintain its staying in the right band. Membership of the ERM would not bring any stability, and if the Confederation of British Industry and other large business interests think that it would, they would receive a rather nasty shock. We would lose our right to decide our domestic monetary policy and inevitably we would effectively lose the right to decide our public spending policies, which are a ramification of the political policies that the Government of the day wish to pursue.

An exchange rate is a value put on a currency vis-a-vis that country's economic and social performance in relation to its peers. The European exchange rate mechanism is corporatist, if not Socialist, as it attempts to prevent the market mechanism from working. I thought that as Conservative Members we believed in markets and the price mechanism. Membership of the European exchange rate mechanism, followed by one currency--the second stage of the Delors report--followed by a central bank could lead to high inflation. The Delors report does not recommend separating the money supply from politicians and does not propose legal sanctions against the proposed central bank should it not maintain its objective of price stability, which the Delors report lays down.

The hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber (Sir R. Johnston) and the right hon. Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies) mentioned Germany. The reason why Germany has been so successful is that in 1949 it separated monetary policy from the politicians. That has enabled Germany to enjoy 20 years with inflation never going above 5 per cent. The result has been much better labour relations and much reduced strike activity because there have been stable prices and no political meddling or pressure on the money supply. The Delors report failed to propose that we go in that direction. The exchange rate mechanism and stages 2 and 3 of Delors are certainly no guarantee of low inflation.

It would be better to have competing currencies with the exchange rate mechanism being joined by Britain when

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certain conditions are met. Those conditions are equitable inflation throughout Europe, the abolition of exchange controls, the completion of all other aspects of the single market--the free movement of goods and services--the abolition of industrial subsidies across the Community, and the removal of legal requirements in the member nation states that pension funds and insurance companies keep their investment at home.

Finally, let me deal with the political aspects of the exchange rate mechanism and monetary union. Jacques Delors wants economic and monetary union because he wants one currency, one monetary policy, one fiscal and one budgetary policy, one macro-economic policy, one Europe--one federal Europe--with one Government in Brussels. The spirit of the treaty of Rome has been hijacked by a new Napoleon--a dirigiste, corporatist, interventionist Napoleon in the best French tradition. The spirit of the treaty must be regained before we join the European exchange rate mechanism. We want a free trade Europe, not a protectionist and dirigiste Europe. We want a Europe in which there is free movement of goods and services, not silly harmonisation. We have to reassert, through our Ministers in the Council of Ministers, the view that we want less government in the European Community, not more government. We want a Europe that is not federal or centralist but a Europe based on the fine thoughts of my hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Mr. Gill) in which the nation states can make positive contributions towards the creation of the single market while co-operating on issues such as pollution which affect us all. 9.12 pm

Mr. Tony Lloyd (Stretford) : The debate has properly concentrated on the wider European scene--inevitably so, given the events in eastern Europe in recent months and particularly in recent days. I hope that I shall not disappoint hon. Members by moving to matters that may seem more prosaic, but it is important to place on record the importance of the role of the social charter in the development of the European Community.

I was interested to note the arrogance of some Conservative Members, who seem still to believe that under the present Government Britain is widely regarded as being at the centre of the intellectual decision-making process in Europe. They are so out of touch with the reality in western Europe and, to a lesser extent, in eastern Europe that they bring our debates into disrepute.

For a long time, the Prime Minister has been determined to place herself at odds with the rest of the Community. Her concept of any new thinking in the Community is so lacking that she can describe the European social charter as being inspired by the values of Marxism and the class struggle. As the Minister of State moves between the class struggle and the role of newspaper boy, I hope that he will tell us whether he believes that Chancellor Kohl and the other heads of European Governments in the Community are inspired by those values. Is it the Goverment's view and that held by the Foreign Office, that Chancellor Kohl is some kind of crypto- Marxist? Do they believe that the German Democratic Republic is inspired by secret yearnings towards Moscow?

That kind of nonsense from the Prime Minister has left Britain completely isolated, particularly with regard to the

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social charter. There are 11 Governments in the European Community on one side of the equation and only one, inevitably Britain, on the other side.

Historically, the Prime Minister might have looked towards the West Germans for support within the Community. However, the Germans are actively leading a quest for another nine specific areas of concern to be added to the social charter. They want these areas to be brought forward in terms of EC legislation. Those issues include the right of all workers to have four weeks paid holiday and all workers to be allowed paid public holidays and 14 weeks paid maternity leave. They also include free Government job placement services and minimum security protection in the workplace. That agenda is not being set by the Socialists or the Marxists involved in class struggle in western Europe ; it is being set by Chancellor Kohl and the Christian Democrat Governments that surround him geographically and politically.

It is little wonder that the Christian Democrats in Europe have lost all confidence in the Prime Minister. It is little wonder that when the Prime Minister agreed that the Conservative group within the European Parliament should snuggle up to the Christian Democrats, having lost all its other supporters, the Christian Democrats said that they were not terribly interested in that proposition because they did not see any great future in it.

Lord Bethell, the MEP for London, North-West, wrote in The Times recently of his great shock when the Christian Democrats decided "neither to accept us into their group as members, nor even to broaden co-operation with us Yet they prefer to cold-shoulder us, to kick us when we are down".

That sums up the shock and horror of one Conservative MEP. He gave away the game a little when he said :

"They resent the self-confident vigour with which the Prime Minister, representing a country with decades of mediocre economic performance, chides countries like Germany for corporatism and lack of enterprise."

Mrs. Gorman : Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Lloyd : No. I do not have much time left and the hon. Lady has not been here for most of the debate.

Inevitably, the Prime Minister is now almost completely isolated within Europe on so many issues. The Department of Employment has spent months doing little other than issue press releases on the infamies of the social charter. These have stated that the social charter points in the wrong direction, that it could destroy enterprise and that it is out of tune with Community objectives. Perhaps we should reflect on what the Minister of State has said about the social charter. He waxed eloquent about the damage that it would do to employment within western Europe. It is odd that only Britain feels that employment would be under such tremendous pressure. That view is not held by the Portuguese, the Italians, the Spanish, the Greeks, or the Danes. The Minister of State said : "The proposed regulation of working hours, weekend working and shift work would destroy the flexibility which businesses, particularly small businesses, need in order to be competitive and take advantage of the opportunities opened up by 1992."

The Minister obviously had in mind certain classifications of small businesses when he made that point. He went on to say :

"Why should Brussels, for example, make it impossible for youngsters under 16 to do paper rounds?"

The Minister has demonstrated his grasp of the fundamentals of the British economy and of small firms.

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The threat from Brussels is that, once and for all, the newspaper rounds of Britain will be abolished and cast into the dustbin of history. That comment is extremely silly. Clearly, had the Minister and his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister been prepared to take part in dialogue and in the process of developing a consensus approach to the social charter, the idea that the newspaper rounds of Britain have been threatened would have been as ludicrous to those in Brussels as it is to the Opposition. That is an example of the Government's reluctance to take part in a dialogue. That is why the rest of Europe and the Opposition are totally mystified by the Government's position.

Mr. Marlow : Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Lloyd : I will not give way, as time is extremely short. The social charter is accepted by virtually all informed bodies within the European Community.

Mr. Marlow : The Opposition may take a different view on the content of the social charter from the Government. They are entitled to do that. One of the things that we are concerned about on this side is that a social charter, whatever its status appears to be, will actually give more power to European institutions--the European Court and the Brussels Commission-- to initiate policies in areas where they cannot currently initiate policies. Does that not worry the hon. Gentleman as well?

Mr. Lloyd : If the hon. Gentleman will bear with me, I will refer to that point when I discuss the Single European Act and the role of majority and unanimous voting. [Interruption.] The answer is simple. The Minister may find it difficult to understand, but the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow) will probably be able to keep up with me.

The social charter is well accepted throughout Europe. The Minister gave the game away when he had to pray in aid the European Round Table as one of only two bodies which feel even remotely akin to the British Government on this issue. The British Government accepted that there is a role for social legislation when they signed the treaty for the Single European Act. The preamble to the Single European Act states :

"Determined to work together to promote democracy on the basis of the fundamental rights recognised in the constitutions and laws of the Member States, in the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, and the European social charter, notably freedom, equality and social justice."

Social justice was accepted as central to the Single European Act. Social justice can occur only if, along with the single European market, we are prepared to put forward serious proposals to allow for the development of an even playing field in social matters.

Mrs. Gorman : Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Lloyd : I will not give way. The hon. Lady must recognise that I do not have time to do so.

Mrs. Gorman : The hon. Gentleman is a chauvinist. He allowed my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow) to intervene and refused me twice.

Mr. Lloyd : I have been accused of many things, but chauvinism is not one of them.

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The Government are prepared to accept their own social charter. The Secretary of State for Employment is on record as saying that the Government want a social charter. The Secretary of State's social charter apparently accepts that the Government are committed to making progress in employee involvement, but his involvement is the narrowest possible. He claims some great move forward through share ownership by the population. The Secretary of State for Employment said :

"Let me take one example. The British Government is fully committed to making progress on employee involvement. But we believe there is no more effective way of involving employees in the running of their company than for those employees to own shares in their company." That may be an arguable point, but the number of share owners in this country is slightly lower than the number of people who by any definition are in low-paid work. If the Secretary of State is saying that share ownership is open to the many millions of people whom the Government have cast into low pay, he sadly fails to understand the mechanics of our economy and our society.

It is precisely for this reason that the European Community is right to put forward proposals for a social charter which includes provisions for employment and pay. Britain has a horrendous record on pay. We know that, since the abolition of the wages councils' protection of young people, the number of young people paid less than the former wage councils rate is as high as 75 per cent. of the young work force, and the percentage has increased during the past 12 months. When the Government claim that young peoples' earnings have not plummeted but continued to rise, that claim is at odds with the evidence. The number of people on low pay in this country has increased from 38 per cent. to 47 per cent. of the work force during the past 10 years, so it is no surprise when a demand comes for some form of minimum wage protection.

The Government claim that Germans can afford to suffer some over-regulation in their economy because of its strength. One aspect of the social charter relates specifically to the importance of training in the economies of Britain and Germany. Any comparison between the British economy and, not just the German economy, but other western European economies, shows that the British economy continues to lag behind. When the Secretary of State and the Minister tell the House that we have a credible record on training, that view is not shared, not only by those on YTS and ET schemes, but by many in industry who reject those schemes and compare the position in Britain with that in the Federal Republic of Germany, where spending on training every year is three times that in Britain. That is why there is a demand from many quarters in Britain for a social charter to guarantee adequate and proper training throughout the working life of those involved, particularly throughout the non-working life of those whom the Government still maintain in unemployment. The social charter inevitably brings forward the debate into which the hon. Member for Northampton, North invited me a few moments ago. It involves a question which I want to pose to the Minister. We have heard many times that it is the Government's intention to take this matter to the European Court if necessary. The social

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charter contains a number of issues which would not go to the European Court because, under the Single European Act, they can be decided by a simple qualified majority.

I should be pleased if the Minister would comment on these issues, including health and safety legislation which, under the treaty, falls outside the unanimous decision system. There are other issues such as information, consultation and participation which, if the Commission decides to move in a certain direction, could well be put through under the qualified majority voting system. It is important for the Minister to tell the House whether the Government intend to press strongly for those to be decided unanimously and how they intend to insist on that.

In answer to the hon. Member for Northampton, North, the important point is a simple one. The Opposition have always made it clear that we do not want an extension of qualified majority voting. We have made it clear that we believe that the way forward lies in consensus. I shall remind the hon. Gentleman of one central point. As things stand, there is an 11 : 1 majority in favour of the implementation of the social charter. Eleven states within the European Community are prepared to search for that consensus. The one state which stands alone is the one represented by the Minister.

If a Labour Government were in power in Britain the voting would be unanimous. A Labour Government would search for the sort of consensus to allow us to make progress on the issues worrying the hon. Member for Northampton, North and Opposition Members. That search for consensus is lacking under this Government, but would be available to us, even at the level of looking after newspaper boys. More importantly--this is the thrust of the hon. Gentleman's point--it would be available to us when we come to the concept of subsidiarity. At that point, it would be up to the British Government to negotiate with our Community partners.

We should be clear about this because the Minister of State himself referred to the level of control of the social charter. The reality is that, of itself, the social charter implements nothing. Nothing will come into practice automatically. Every provision will have to be turned into some form of action under the action programme and directives from the Commission. At every stage a Government in Britain who are prepared to co- operate with our Community partners, prepared to look for consensus and to accept the need for a social charter to provide workers as well as employers with a level playing field, would allow a consensus to emerge--

Mr. Marlow rose --

Mr. Lloyd : The hon. Gentleman will have to forgive me : I cannot give way because of the shortage of time.

Mr. Janman rose --

Mr. Lloyd : The hon. Gentleman will have to accept that I do not have the time.

Mr. Janman rose --

Mr. Speaker : Order.

Mr. Lloyd : A Labour Government committed to that kind of co- operation in Europe would be in a position to ensure a role for Britain in that debate; indeed, that debate could lead to a conclusion that was to the benefit of the United Kingdom.

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Mr. Marlow rose --

Mr. Janman rose --

Mr. Lloyd : I give way to the hon. Member for Northampton, North.

Mrs. Gorman : That is very nice.

Mr. Marlow : The hon. Gentleman has said that if the social charter were passed through, a Labour Government would argue and negotiate for subsidiarity under that social charter. The hon. Gentleman seems to be saying that he therefore believes that if the social charter were agreed, it would pass power to other European institutions. That point should be noted by the House.

Mr. Lloyd : The hon. Gentleman has failed to understand what the social charter is. Of itself, the social charter passes no powers to any other European body. It is a declaration of intent--

Mr. Marlow : The hon. Gentleman must be wet behind the ears.

Mr. Lloyd : Well, the hon. Gentleman may think that I am wet, but he will have to accept that even the Government are arguing that the time to prevent action is under the action programme. As I understand it, that is why the action programme was today delayed in Brussels and has not moved further on. That is the time at which the proper interests of Britain must be protected as far as the provisions directly affect our citizens. That is the time when a Labour Government, involved in those negotiations, would be in a position to obtain the maximum benefit for the United Kingdom.

Mr. Maude : That would be signing a blank cheque.

Mr. Lloyd : The Minister says that that would be signing a blank cheque. His point allows me to return to the question that I posed to his colleague the Minister of State at the Department of Employment. Will the Minister of State tell us whether any blank cheques have already been signed under the Single European Act? Will the hon. Gentleman make it clear from the Dispatch Box tonight whether he and his colleagues take the view that no part of the social charter can be forced on this country under the qualified majority voting system of the Single European Act?

If the Minister of State ducks that question, it will not be the Opposition, but the Government, who are accepting that they have already signed a blank cheque. The Minister of State at the Foreign Office may feel that blank cheques are a prerogative of the Opposition, but we want to know --and the nation is entitled to know--whether those blank cheques have already been signed. The signing of a blank cheque may well have taken place when we concurred with the Single European Act, but their continuation and the guarantee that they could be cashed for any amount took place when this Government made a decision--when the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister made a decision--that they would take no role whatsover in trying to reach a consensus with other Governments in the European Community. That is what makes Britain's position now so stupid and so out of step with everybody else.

It is important that the Minister of State addresses that question. I ask him again, will he answer specifically whether any areas of the social charter will be brought into

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operation under the qualified majority voting system? That is not a trivial point ; it is an important point to which he should respond. I finish by saying that the mood within the rest of the European Community is clear. It has been summarised already. Under their presidency of the European Council, the French have attempted to make a compromise available to the British Government. However, each time the French have done so, the British Government have rejected the approach. Each time there has been an amendment to the social charter--because there have been amendments and I was sorry to see them emerge--the British Government have spurned those approaches. At every stage, the British Government have made it clear that they want little or nothing to do with the social charter.

Mr. Jean Pierre Cot, the leader of the Socialist group in the European Parliament, spoke for the majority in that Parliament when he said :

"We want 11 signatures on the proposal we have rather than 12 on something that is watered down."

I must make it clear that that is the Opposition's view. 9.35 pm

The Minister of State, Department of Employment (Mr. Tim Eggar) : We have had a good debate, which has spread across a broad canvas, as we would have expected after the events of last weekend.

I have taken careful note of the remarks made by right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House about the need to consider the scrutiny procedures.

I listened carefully to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Corby (Mr. Powell), and I know that my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord President of the Council is in touch with the Scrutiny and Procedure Select Committees about improving arrangements. Scrutiny is important in the House. My hon. Friend the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and other right hon. and hon. Friends who have been in Europe recently, have explained to their EC colleagues that, for example, in the debate on the European monetary union, there was no dissent in the House about the view which the Government put forward in that debate, when they expressed considerable concern about stages 2 and 3 of the Delors plan. We want that kind of scrutiny and it is the kind that carries weight in the European Community.

There are few of us who did not associate the division of Europe with the epic photograph of an East German border guard jumping over the wire as the wall was built up, some 20 years ago. That was the image which many of us had of a divided Europe.

The image that will remain with many of us of a Europe which is changing dramatically is that of youngsters on top of the Berlin wall and of the people flooding through the gaps in the wall. I shall also remember the interviews with young East Germans, who had been to the West for the first time, and were deliberately returning to their country. They were saying publicly that they had the chance of freedom and that they were positive that they would be able to enjoy it in the future. Therefore, they were returning to East Germany to make a success of their country within the new horizons that had opened up. The events of the weekend were truly dramatic and the images are strong.

Right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House have talked about the reunification of Germany.

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