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9.19 pm

Ms Joyce Quin (Gateshead, East): This has been a good debate, in which many thoughtful and thought- provoking speeches obviously derived from strong and sincerely held convictions were made. I should like to think that the debate will be as fully reported as it deserves to be but, sadly, I fear that it will not be. Press and media interest in our Thursday evening activities on Adjournment motions is depressingly and discouragingly low.

My hon. Friend the Member for Clydesdale (Mr. Hood), who is Chairman of the Select Committee on European Legislation, rightly referred to the importance of scrutiny procedures in the House of Commons. I should like to pay tribute to him and his colleagues on the Select Committee for the work that they do. I know that many of us follow their work closely and find it extremely useful.

I very much agreed, as did other Labour Front Benchers, with the Select Committee's desire for the single currency documents to be fully debated on the Floor of the House. I know that the Committee has frequently been frustrated because its recommendations for debates on the Floor of the House have been ignored by the Government. The incident involving the single currency documents was not a one-off, but the culmination of several examples of the Government ignoring the Select Committee's recommendations.

We are having this debate on a motion for the Adjournment. A couple of weeks ago at business questions, the Leader of the House said that it had been the practice for some years to have such debates on a motion for the Adjournment. His interpretation was slightly imaginative as, two years ago, the Government changed their policy and introduced the Adjournment procedure for such debates. We know that two years ago the Government were so badly divided on such issues that they found it convenient to deal with them in that form.

I agree with the points made about improved scrutiny in the House of Commons. I endorse the comments of my right hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) about the importance of scrutiny work in the European Parliament as well as in the House of Commons. We believe that the two systems can work in a complementary way. We rejoice in the fact that the Labour party fully expects the number of its Members of the European

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Parliament to be swollen by the election today of the talented and well-respected Richard Corbett in Merseyside West.

In opening the debate, the Foreign Secretary said much with which I agreed. I particularly agreed with what he said about defence co-operation within the European Union and its limits and the need to retain the intergovernmental pillar structure for common foreign and security policy and for justice and home affairs issues.

I was glad that the Foreign Secretary reminded us of some of the history and background of the present situation. He also reminded us, as did many other hon. Members, including my hon. Friends the Members for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) and for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) and the right hon. Member for Enfield, North (Mr. Eggar), that what we joined in the 1970s was not simply an organisation that dealt with free trade but one with certain important political, economic and even social commitments.

In the 1970s the contrast was frequently made between the two choices: belonging to the European Economic Community, which represented some form of deeper co-operation, and belonging to EFTA, which was simply a free trade area. I am rather surprised that Sir James Goldsmith, who was around at the time, seems to be particularly guilty of rewriting history in that respect in the drafting of his referendum question.

Sir Patrick Cormack: He was guilty of rewriting other things as well.

Ms Quin: Indeed. Sir James Goldsmith seems to have conveniently forgotten the terms of the debate that most of us remember being held in the 1970s.

The terms of our entry into the European Economic Community in the 1970s are in danger of being rewritten, and the Government are in danger of rewriting the history of the European social dimension. The right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler) seemed to be particularly guilty in that respect when he talked about the working time directive. I remind him that the legal base for that directive is the Single European Act 1986, which contained health and safety provisions and which was steam-rollered through the House of Commons. It also contained a massive extension of qualified majority voting and it was the responsibility of Baroness Thatcher and her Government. We need to remember these things.

The social opt-out that the Foreign Secretary and others in the Government secured in negotiating the Maastricht treaty does not destroy or nullify previous treaty bases on social policy. It is not a way of getting Britain out of all social obligations; it is a mechanism that allows the other countries to go ahead if they wish to do so. It does not undermine important commitments such as that in article 119 of the treaty of Rome, for example, relating to equal pay of men and women, which has been the basis of helpful European legislation. I stress that there has always been a social dimension.

The social chapter has also been mentioned--in intemperate terms by the Foreign Secretary in particular, who once again called it the "job-destroying social chapter". I am never sure which of the two modest measures--that on works councils or the voluntary agreement on parental leave--is responsible for destroying jobs. It seems to me that both help rather than hinder competitiveness.

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I endorse what my right hon. Friend the Member for Livingston said about inward investors and why they chose our country. He quoted the example of BMW and I could also cite Siemens and Nissan in my part of the country, for whom the social chapter holds no terrors. Both have identified one of the important reasons why firms locate here: the English language. Not only do we allow access to the European market, which is tremendously important, but we have good links, which in no way I would want to undermine, with the English-speaking world. Those are important assets about which we ought to be pleased.

I agreed with much of the Foreign Secretary's speech, but his attack on Labour for being a pushover and a soft touch in Europe was particularly silly. I cannot think of any Governments in the European Union who unquestioningly sign directives proposed by the European Commission without examining the small print.

Before I entered the House, I was a Member of the European Parliament, which it was not always popular to admit. It was very much concerned with the examination of written texts--directives, draft directives and resolutions. I realised that one has to look at every written line and every clause in a resolution. One has to get down to clause 127(e) and ensure that one is not signing up to something that is not in one's interests. It is simply puerile and insulting to suggest that Labour would act otherwise in that respect.

I accept that there are differences of views on both sides of the House, as the debate has shown, but I must agree with the description of the different nature of divisions given by my hon. Friends the Members for Swansea, East, for Brent, East and for Durham, North (Mr. Radice). As European spokesperson for my party, I visit constituency Labour parties throughout the country, and I am always struck by the depth and extent of the constructive approach to Europe. Labour candidates in the forthcoming general election take a similar approach.

Mr. Donald Anderson: One crucial difference between us is not always mentioned: whereas the shadow Cabinet is united, the Cabinet is fundamentally split.

Ms Quin: Indeed. Yesterday, we witnessed some of the divisions between Ministers, especially when, in his closing speech, the Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury appeared directly to contradict what the Chancellor had said earlier.

Some Conservative Members' speeches showed how worried they are about the bitterness and deep divisions in the Conservative party. The regrettable barracking and heckling of the Chancellor yesterday has been mentioned by many Conservative Members--especially the right hon. Member for Enfield, North and the hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack)--in dramatic tones.

Obviously, there is great concern about what happened yesterday and the bitterness that those exchanges revealed. My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) mentioned that. My right hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon) said that it reminded him of some of the turbulent times that the Labour party experienced in the early 1980s, which tempted me to add that at least we had

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the good grace to be in opposition during that time of turmoil and not inflict it on the country, as is happening at present.

Sir Patrick Cormack: You were deliberately in opposition, were you?

Mr. Mackinlay: Parties that are divided lose elections.

Ms Quin: We have learnt the lesson of history, as Conservative Members will realise when a Labour Government are elected in May.

Despite those divisions, it is possible, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Livingston said, that the Conservatives will be tempted to adopt a pseudo-patriotism and run an anti-Brussels general election campaign. I hope that they will not, not because I am fearful of that but because it would be a completely discreditable approach. It would work. As evidenced by the debate tonight, it might provoke some Tory pro-Europeans beyond endurance, and it would greatly alarm large sections of British industry, including some of the inward investors to whom reference has been made. That would not work with the British people.

I was heartened to read an opinion poll in The Daily Telegraph on 9 December, which showed a 37-point difference in positive support for Labour on the European issue. Whereas Labour apparently lagged 20 percentage points behind the Government on that issue in the 1992 general election campaign, it is now 17 points ahead. It was the biggest change recorded in that opinion poll.

We must not forget that the electorate are concerned about other important political issues. When I take part in European debates in the House and in Committee, sometimes I am half--only half--persuaded by hon. Members such as the hon. Members for Stafford (Mr. Cash) and for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman) that the country is up in arms about Europe and is demanding referendums every couple of minutes, yet my constituency mailbag seems to be full of cases about the Child Support Agency, the jobseeker's allowance or education, health and other issues. Fear of crime outweighs fear of Brussels by 1,000:1.

Labour, if in power at the time of the conclusion of the intergovernmental conference, will adopt a constructive approach but will not be a pushover. What will be our priorities? We shall adopt a positive approach to the employment chapter, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Livingston said. When that employment chapter was originally proposed by the Swedish Government, the British Government rubbished it and said that no one else wanted it. Now it appears that the majority of countries want it, and a Labour Government would enable that balance to be tipped decisively. We shall sign the social chapter, partly for the reason that I have given--that the social dimension has been part of the European process from the start. We shall urge the completion of the single market--I welcome what the Foreign Secretary said in that respect--in areas that will be important for British industry, such as telecommunications.

We shall take a constructive approach to environmental policy and to regional policy. We welcome the fact that so many of our local authorities have developed links with Brussels and are making their views felt as well as being the recipients of European regional aid.

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We shall take a positive approach to intergovernmental co-operation on the common foreign and security policy. We should particularly like the foreign policy secretariat to analyse and evaluate trends in Europe so that we can get into conflict prevention and perhaps learn some of the lessons of Bosnia and, more recently and tragically, of Rwanda and Zaire.

Next year will be the European year against racism. A Labour Government would do their best to ensure that that was not simply a slogan but involved positive activities and programmes. We are keen that the European Union should work in an open and democratic way and we support various reforms of other Governments in that respect. If the institutions were more open, that would help greatly the cause that we all hold dear--giving the public as much information as possible about what is going on in the European Union.

I endorse the comments made by, among others, my hon. Friends the Members for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay) and for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr. Davis) on the importance of enlargement. That issue has tended to be common ground among hon. Members on both sides of the House. It is an exciting prospect and we should try to enthuse the public about it. We are creating a new political, economic and cultural relationship with countries from which we were formerly separated by the iron curtain. That is an important and exciting opportunity that we should work towards.

We are also keen on reforming the common agricultural policy and I pay tribute to the work that the shadow Agriculture Minister has done in producing a document that gives details of the Labour party's approach to reforming the CAP. It also outlines the ideas that we would like to put to the intergovernmental conference. We would try to ensure a much better approach to agriculture in the future. We believe that the CAP should rely less on price support and should not get swallowed by fraud, but should help those in rural areas who need it. It should work much more fairly in terms of world markets and the agricultural needs of developing countries. We also want to reform the common fisheries policy.

The right hon. Member for City of London and Westminster, South (Mr. Brooke) talked about the frustration that Britain experienced through not having been a negotiator at the very beginning when the agriculture and, later, the fisheries policies were being decided. I endorse what he said. He made some telling points, which showed how difficult it is to try to reframe the rules if one is not part of the negotiation process from the outset.

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