Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Cook: No one is asking my right hon. Friend or anyone else to accept a decision simply on the basis of a majority in the European Parliament. What co-decision making would require is that any directive would have first to gain a majority in the Council of Ministers, and then to gain a majority in the European Parliament. If hon. Members wish to reduce the number of directives coming from Europe, the best way of doing so is to ensure that a double rather than a single majority is required.

Mr. John D. Taylor (Strangford): Will the British people's wish for more powers in the European Parliament be measured by the turnout in today's by-election for that Parliament?

Mr. Cook: I am confident that that by-election will measure the British people's instinct in favour of a Labour representative in Strasbourg. I do not think that it will show the least scintilla of support for those Conservatives who wish to resist either the proper functions of the European Parliament or the advance of a Labour

12 Dec 1996 : Column 446

Government. I shall be extraordinarily surprised if any of the votes cast in Merseyside West give any comfort to those who come to the Chamber tonight to argue in favour of a different position on Europe.

The Foreign Secretary will go to Dublin, we understand, to object to powers relating to consumer protection. I gather that the one aspect of the European Union that Conservative Members support is the single market; yet, if we are to have a single market throughout Europe, what will be more important to the interests of the British people than ensuring high standards of consumer protection throughout that single market?

The Foreign Secretary will go to object to a new requirement in the treaty for non-discrimination against people with disabilities. He does not speak for anyone else in Britain on that. Hon. Members who have met members of organisations representing disabled people will know that every such organisation in Britain is in favour of a requirement that would oblige the Commission to have regard to the needs of disabled people when framing directives.

As he told the House, the Foreign Secretary will also go to object to an employment chapter. The employment chapter that will be proposed at Dublin is a modest, reasonable attempt to respond to what is certainly not a modest social problem--mass unemployment across Europe. It provides procedures by which other European Union policies can be assessed for their impact on employment. In fact, all it does is write into the treaty of the European Union the agreements on employment creation that, we understood, the Government agreed at the Essen summit, but now do not want turned into a treaty amendment.

As a result of the Maastricht treaty, the treaty of the European Union now contains precise targets on Government borrowing, national debt, interest rates and inflation. Why should not those demanding financial targets be balanced by a commitment to high employment? Why should we not take the measure to ensure that those monetary targets are not pursued at the expense of jobs?

Several hon. Members rose--

Mr. Cook: I will give way to the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Cash), without whom a debate on Europe would be like "Hamlet" without the first grave-digger.

Mr. Cash: First, has not the right hon. Gentleman noticed that article 2 of the treaty already contains a commitment to employment, so why is he now trying to amplify what is already there? Secondly, has he not noticed that the social chapter has led German companies to flee Germany in their droves and relocate here? They are aware that the policies that are being pursued by him and his crowd behind him are creating unemployment on a massive scale, which is leading to riots and disorder in France and to a critical position in Germany? He should be thinking far more about the effect of his policies on the working people of this country.

Mr. Cook: The hon. Gentleman lives in pure fantasy land if he imagines that the strikes in France are directed against the social chapter. If he really wants to reflect on the relative flow of investment, I suggest that he should

12 Dec 1996 : Column 447

consider two pieces of news. The first is the interesting statement by the head of BMW that its decision to make a major £500 million investment in Britain had absolutely nothing to do with the social chapter, and that Britain would eventually join the standards of the social chapter.

Secondly, the hon. Gentleman should consider the flow of investment. If he does, he will find that, since the social chapter was implemented on the continent, there has been record investment by British businesses in the European nations that have signed the social chapter. If he wants to preen himself on the relative employment record of his Government, he could call on Ministers to publish the report that it is delaying and that was prepared by the Training and Enterprise Councils Secretariat, which says:

I think that those years coincide with the Government's stewardship of our nation's economy--

    "civilian employment grew by 1.7 per cent. in France, 5.2 per cent. in West Germany--but less than 0.1 per cent. in the UK."

That is the truth of the comparison between the nations of Europe.

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough and Horncastle): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Cook: I will give way, but then I must move on to another matter.

Mr. Leigh: May I draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention to the convergence criteria? He will find in the documents provided to us by the Library that, in relation to general Government gross debt as a percentage of gross domestic product, only three out of the 15 nations pass: the percentage in Belgium is 130 per cent, for instance, and that in Italy is 123 per cent. In relation to general Government deficit as a percentage of GDP, only four pass. If it became clear in the next few months that most nations were not going to meet those criteria by any means, and if grotesque fudging and fiddling were going on, would a Labour Government--if there were one--rule out joining a single currency on those grounds?

Mr. Cook: We have repeatedly made it clear that we shall not join a single currency if there is grotesque fudging of the criteria anywhere. Those decisions can be taken only at the end of next year when we see the figures for next year, but if there is grotesque fudging, that plainly will not stand up to what we have promised the British people in our draft manifesto, which is a hard-headed assessment of the economic criteria for membership.

Finally on the issues that the Foreign Secretary goes to Dublin to object to, he goes famously to object to any extension of qualified majority voting--at any rate, that is what he says. I do not know whether my hon. Friends noticed the Prime Minister saying on Sunday that there might be something "hiding in the undergrowth" where QMV might be "worth while". I warn Conservative Members below the Gangway that, in that phrase, I detect the sound of the start of an equivocation.

The Minister of State, who is shaking his head, has thoroughly beaten about the bushes of the intergovernmental conference. There could be nothing hidden in the undergrowth on which he had not yet stubbed his toe. Does he know what the Prime Minister might have been talking about as a worthwhile extension

12 Dec 1996 : Column 448

of QMV? May I possibly help him and the Foreign Secretary in mentioning exactly one such worthwhile area, of which the Prime Minister might have been thinking?

The Danish Government have tabled a new proposal on fraud--

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire): Frog?

Mr. Cook: No, fraud. It would be distinctly anti-European to table a proposal on frog. I was about to say that fraud is a massive blot on the European Union's record, but, in view of that intervention, perhaps I should rephrase my sentence.

The European Union loses 1 billion ecu a year on fraud, half of it through the wasteful common agricultural policy. The Danish Government have tabled proposals to tighten up on fraud. New article 209 in the treaty offers tougher steps and sanctions against member states that fail to take those tougher steps.

Those new measures would of course work on QMV. They must do so because if everyone has a veto no one would ever suffer a sanction. What are the Government going to do when they are faced with that proposal? Are they really going to fight for the right of Italy to veto sanctions against countries that are soft on fraud? Do they really think that they will be taken seriously in Europe if they dogmatically object to any extension of majority voting, even when, as in this case, it would be in Britain's interests?

Of course our partners may ask why they should take seriously the Conservative Government's negotiating position at the IGC when the Government have already said that, whatever the outcome, they will veto the lot at the next summit out of pique at having to accept the 48-hour directive. We know the Government's position on that. They do not accept that excessive working hours have any effect on health and safety. They have gone to extraordinary lengths to maintain that position. In April the Department of Health reprinted an entire leaflet entitled "Mental Health and Stress in the Workplace". The original, unpublished report contained the sentence:

The eventual published report had that sentence removed.

Next Section

IndexHome Page