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Mr. Christopher Gill (Ludlow): Will the Foreign Secretary concede that, with the Government's huge majority in Parliament, everything that he hopes will be delivered by the social chapter could have been passed by his Government? That would have been in the traditions of his party. Why does he want to abdicate responsibility for those matters to Europe?

Mr. Cook: As I said earlier, there has been a change of tone. We are no longer told that the social chapter will be damaging to Britain. The Conservatives, chastened by the experience of an electorate who want the social chapter, now suggest that we should do it ourselves. I shall return to the hon. Gentleman's comments later.

We need European legislation on some issues because we are dealing with companies that operate throughout Europe. That is why we need a European directive and European works councils. The only people who are likely to lose their jobs as a result of the social chapter are those Conservative Members of Parliament who told their electors that they would derive no benefits from the social chapter. Those Members of Parliament are free to join their former Conservative colleagues on the boards of the many British companies that have implemented the social chapter. Douglas Hurd, the former Foreign Secretary, is director of the NatWest bank.

Mr. Gill rose--

Mr. Cook: I have answered the hon. Gentleman and I must continue my speech. If he listens, he may find it interesting. The NatWest bank has a European works council under the social chapter. Lord Howe is director of

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BICC plc, which has a European works council under the social chapter. [Interruption.] There are some objections to the examples that I am giving. What about Lord Tebbit--surely no one could query his scepticism about Europe. Yet while Lord Tebbit was a director of BT, it introduced a European works council under the social chapter.

Richard Needham, Sir Geoffrey Pattie and Lord Prior are directors of General Electric Company plc--between the three of them, they must have at least a blocking minority. However, while they served on the board of GEC, it implemented the social chapter and introduced a European works council. Why should we take the Conservatives seriously when they tell us in this place that the social chapter is bad for companies and for employment, but do not take those comments seriously when they sit in company boardrooms?

Mr. Bernard Jenkin: I congratulate the Government on resisting the imposition of works councils for smaller businesses. How will the Foreign Secretary stop that occurring with qualified majority voting?

Mr. Cook: I think that the hon. Gentleman is referring to the consultation document that was released last week. It is aimed not at Governments but at the social partners. Because Britain is joining the social chapter, the Confederation of British Industry, the Institute of Directors and the Federation of Small Businesses have the opportunity to express their views. Ministers will then give their views. I assure the hon. Gentleman that we have the confidence to enter negotiations and express our views in order to achieve the desired outcome: fair rights for those in work and regulations that do not damage competitiveness.

The Opposition amendment also opposes the employment chapter. The employment chapter is a modest, sensible step, which requires the institutions of Europe to identify the employment consequences of any policy before adopting it. I am pleased to inform the House that, unlike the previous Administration, the new Labour Government have obtained an amendment to the first article of the employment chapter. It recognises the fact that, if we are to increase employment, we must improve employability and increase the flexibility of the labour market. Article 1 of the employment chapter now commits the European Union to promoting a skilled, trained and adaptable work force, and labour markets that are responsive to economic change.

Only a Conservative party that is wildly out of touch with popular opinion or the public's desperation about job insecurity could regard that modest objective as a threat to Britain's national interests. On the contrary, it meets one of the main concerns of the British people. That is why the new Labour Government will support it. Precisely because the Government are not shouting no to everything out of prejudice, we are listened to with respect when we do say no to issues that threaten Britain's national interests. This time, our fellow European leaders know that we really mean it. For that reason, we shall get a better deal at Amsterdam than the Conservatives could have done.

There are seven days of tough negotiations in front of us before the Amsterdam summit and there will be three days of hard bargaining at Amsterdam. I am confident

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that we have every opportunity of obtaining several objectives. The first is a legal basis beyond challenge in the European Court of Justice for Britain to maintain its external border controls, which the Conservative Government never secured in 18 years.

Secondly, we can secure measures that will create tougher provisions against fraud in other member states. I cheerfully concede that the proposals that we have tabled are based on qualified majority voting, for the simple reason that if every country had a veto, no country would ever suffer a penalty for fraud against the European budget. Will the former Prime Minister defend as a matter of principle the right of every country in Europe to retain a veto against penalties for allowing fraud in that country? Does he not recognise that the issue is a clear example of majority voting being in Britain's interests?

Thirdly, I believe that we can look forward with confidence to obtaining more votes for Britain and the larger countries from the Amsterdam summit. Enlargement could create the perverse outcome of the three largest nations, with a majority of the population of Europe, not having a blocking minority in the Council of Ministers. We have every reason to believe that we shall emerge from Amsterdam with an agreement that will give Britain greater weight in the Council of Ministers.

Finally, we are confident that we can emerge from Amsterdam with a text that will retain the national veto over issues of common foreign and security policy. We can return from Amsterdam not just having done a deal, not just having done a good deal for Britain, but having obtained a better deal for Britain than the previous Government could have hoped to achieve.

Our next debate on a forthcoming European summit will be six months from now, on the eve of the next British presidency of Europe, which starts in January. The main concern of that British presidency will be to get negotiations on the enlargement of Europe off to a flying start. One of the great ironies of the truculence of Conservative Members about Europe is that every other country in Europe is queuing up to get on a bus that Conservative Members often sound as though they want to get off. It is important to remember why other countries want to get in. They want to share in the prosperity that they can obtain from access to the largest single market in the world--larger than any in north America.

Mr. Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford and Woodford Green): Does the Foreign Secretary agree that one of the main reasons why so many countries are determined to try to get in reflects badly on the European Community, which has deliberately tried to block all access to trade for those countries for the past four or five years? That hard stick tactic has ensured that those countries have not had a chance to negotiate for reasonable and decent access, forcing them to come in regardless of the conditions.

Mr. Cook: The anxiety of those countries to enter the European Union goes back well beyond the past four or five years. I have some sympathy with the hon. Gentleman's point about the narrow negotiations on trade access, but he should be under no illusions. Even a more liberal approach to trade access would in no way have removed the anxiety of those countries to be a full part of the single market and participate in the decisions that

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shape that market. They want in because it is the largest single market in the world. That market is of great importance to Britain--a fact which the hon. Gentleman often overlooks.

Most of our exports go to the other member states of the European Union. Britain exports more to the Netherlands than it does to all the tiger economies of the far east. We export more to Denmark than we do to the whole of China. That is the scale of the European single market, and the countries of central Europe understand that full well even if Opposition Members do not. Secondly--

Mr. Duncan Smith: So what?

Mr. Cook: If the response to all that is, "So what?", the Conservative party has finally conceded any last claim to be a party that understands business.

Sir Peter Tapsell: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Cook: No. I have already said that I will not give way again. I have given way to the hon. Gentleman already.

Sir Peter Tapsell: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Cook: The hon. Gentleman can respond to his hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith) in the Tea Room. He does not need to do so during my speech, with the greatest respect.

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