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Mr. Malcolm Bruce: The Foreign Secretary said that if Britain decides to join the first wave the evaluation will take place next spring. If the Government decide not to go ahead, does the Chief Secretary appreciate that business needs to know how long a lead time it will be given to make the necessary investment? Can he undertake that the Government will say what minimum lead time they will give for a positive decision?

Mr. Darling: The hon. Gentleman is quite right that business and others need time to plan. The Government will carry out an evaluation as to whether the Cabinet will recommend joining the single currency, so our decision will become known at that time. Business will then know its own precise position. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman appreciates that business is aware of the general discussions taking place, although the Government's view will be made known subsequently.

It is important to co-operate when it is in our interest to do so. It is in our interests that the single market should be expanded and made a reality, for example, in telecommunications and the financial services industry. Britain excels in those sectors by competing on quality and excellence. During our presidency, we intend to push to make that market work.

The social chapter is another example of something that is not just in the interests of those directly affected by it but in the interests of British firms. We must sign up to it because those firms are already affected by it. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary referred to many large firms that deal with the social chapter day in, day out. They want a British Government who are not only committed to the ideal behind the social chapter but argue against proposals that would affect the competitiveness of Europe and those companies in particular. We intend to do that.

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The Leader of the Opposition asked some questions about whether qualified majority voting would apply to aspects of the social chapter. As I am sure he is well aware, it does in relation to health and safety, working conditions and information to and consultation with workers, but it does not in terms of social security, trade union rights and other areas. We have always made it clear--before, during and now after the election--that we will do nothing that adversely affects the competitive position of British firms.

As my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has made clear today at the ECOFIN meeting, it is important that Europe recognises that, in years to come, competition will not just be between the traditional markets of America, Japan and so on, but with emerging economies that have developed in a way that we could not have imagined in the past few years.

Mr. Michael Howard (Folkestone and Hythe): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Darling: In a moment.

It is important that Britain and Europe remain competitive against the world. I will do the right hon. and learned Gentleman perhaps a favour as he is clearly out to impress those who sit behind him before they go to the polls tomorrow.

Mr. Howard: Surely the right hon. Gentleman would agree that if the Government sign the social chapter they can argue against measures which would imperil the competitiveness of British business and plead with our partners not to imperil it, but they cannot do anything to stop them because they will be agreed by qualified majority voting. The only way to stop that is not to join the social chapter.

Mr. Darling: I wish the right hon. and learned Gentleman every success tomorrow morning. He must accept, however, that people elected a Government to stick up for British interests, firms and individuals. We intend to do that by signing the social chapter. In other areas, it is clearly not in Britain's interest to entertain qualified majority voting. Those areas are taxation, defence and foreign policy. On issues such as fraud, increasing co-operation is clearly important.

The difference between the Government and the Conservative party, the denuded Opposition, is that the climate of opinion has changed, not just in this country but in Europe. People do not expect a British Government simply to agree with what is proposed in Europe. They are looking for a Government who are prepared to argue their corner and to be genuine partners with others in the European Union. That is why my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Foreign Secretary have laid so much weight on re-engaging the European institutions with the people that they are there to serve.

For many people, the sometimes arcane debates about institutions and changes mean absolutely nothing. They want policies that the European Union can facilitate and which will benefit them and provide opportunities for jobs and sustainable economic growth.

We have the opportunity to set out our agenda for growth, not as my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd) said, an opportunity to lecture our

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European partners; we must show a positive lead and emphasise the importance of employability as well as employment. We must import employability, help flexibility and have an adaptable labour force. Those matters are fundamental because, in a world where capital is increasingly mobile, the skills, training and motivation of the work force here and in Europe will mark us out as a place in which to invest.

Mr. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Darling: No I will not, because the hon. Gentleman has not been here for most of the evening.

Unlike the defeated Conservative party, we recognise that while the role of Government is different from what it was in the past, we still have the key role of helping to equip individuals and companies for the future. We need to build skills and invest in infrastructure, and we must help small businesses and create the right, stable, economic basis to encourage sustainable long-term growth.

Mr. Blunt: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Darling: I will not, if the hon. Gentleman does not mind.

The modern market economy is based on knowledge and ideas, technology, creativity and adaptability. Those are what the Government and all modern Governments ought to provide, and it is the job of the European Union to foster the climate for that creation. That is the way to tackle high unemployment in Europe and the obstacles to job creation, and it will encourage employability and therefore employment. Europe must cut unnecessary bureaucracy for small firms and build to completion a single market. It must promote welfare to work opportunities and initiatives, as we are doing.

The people want a Government who are committed to serving their interests not just in Europe but throughout the world in the context of crime prevention, the environment and employment.

Mrs. Margaret Ewing (Moray): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Darling: If the hon. Lady does not mind, I will not.

The Conservative party has learned nothing from its defeat. It seems to be increasingly determined to march out into the wilderness. It has nothing to say to the country and it certainly has nothing to say to Europe. That may be a matter of regret to the body politic, but I do not think that it is regretted by many people. By contrast, we are prepared to play a positive role in Europe. We take a practical and pragmatic approach to Europe and its institutions because it is fundamental to re-engage Europe with the people that it is supposed to represent. People must feel the real benefit of being part of the European Union. The Government have already started on that process and we are committed to that in a way that the Conservative party could never be because it is paralysed by its own divisions.

The Government will play a full part in a Europe of employment and opportunity. That is the role which people wanted their Government to play when they

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elected the new Labour Government on 1 May. They wanted change in Britain and we have already shown how we will deliver that change. People also wanted a change in attitude to Europe. The country believed that the carping and complaining by Conservative Members were selling out the country's interests. They said that they had had enough of that and that they wanted a change.

As my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has made clear, we have already started to make a change. There is a changing attitude in Europe. There are changing opinions in Europe. We intend to build on that and to show the lead for which this country has been crying out for years.

Question put, That the amendment be made:--

The House proceeded to a Division.

Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley) (seated and covered): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Since we returned following the general election, and the rewiring has been carried out, a number of the Division Bells no longer function. Along the Committee Corridor North, there are now no audible Bells at all, and, unless the televisions are switched to one particular channel, there is no audible sign that a Division is taking place. I am sure that you will be concerned about that, Madam Speaker.

Madam Speaker: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising the matter with me, and I will certainly have it checked out as soon as I leave the Chair.

The House having divided: Ayes 151, Noes 404.

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