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Treaty Of Maastricht (Social Protocol)

Volume 229: debated on Thursday 22 July 1993

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

Before we move to today's motion, I must tell the House that I have been made aware of an interest in the possible application of the House's sub judice rules to today's debate. The rule operates subject to the discretion of the Chair. It is by no means clear that any current case is directly relevant to today's proceedings, but to avoid any uncertainty, I wish to announce at the outset that I have decided not to apply the sub judice rule today.

A number of hon. Members want to take part in the debate, so there is a time limit on speeches between 6 pm and 8 pm of 10 minutes. I have selected the amendment standing in the name of the Leader of the Opposition.

4.11 pm

I beg to move,

That this House, in compliance with the requirements of section 7 of the European Communities (Amendment) Act 1993, notes the policy of Her Majesty's Government on the adoption of the Protocol on Social Policy.
The debate we have in the House this afternoon is without precedent. After months of discussion, Parliament has passed the European Communities (Amendment) Act with huge majorities. In this House, there was a majority of over 240 on Second Reading and of 180 on Third Reading. In the other place, there was a majority of well over 100 on Third Reading and of 269 in the showpiece vote over a referendum. Rarely in recent history has Parliament shown its will so effectively. Today's debate is an attempt to frustrate that will.

I believe that ratification of the Maastricht treaty is in the interests of this country. I negotiated the treaty because I believed that it was in the interests of this country, and that is why I signed it. That is why I refused to ditch it or to change it, even though there was plenty of opportunity to do so over the past year. Let me set out to the House the reasons why I regard it as vital for this country, for the reasons do not just relate to what is within the treaty itself, but go wider than the treaty and relate to the general position in the European Community.

We took the decision to join the Community—the right decision, I believe—over 20 years ago. From the day we took the decision, across both sides of the House, it has often been a matter of controversy. Sometimes it has been bitter, sometimes it has flared up, and at other times, for a while, it has been quiescent. Always that schism between the parties has rested there, and it has damaged the influence that this country has been able to exercise within the European Community.

Too often, as a result of those divisions within this House and sometimes beyond it, this country under successive Governments—I make no party point—has allowed itself and its interests to be sidelined. If it had not been for those disputes, and if we had been able to play the full part in the Community that I believe we should have done, it might not have developed in the way it has., and many of the concerns that some hon. Members have might well have been dealt with.

In that period, we have had many successes in the Community. The British rebate was a great negotiating success. The single market was one of the greatest changes in the EC since its conception. The reform of the common agricultural policy, the enlargement of the EC—each and every one, in its own way, is a big issue that has affected every aspect of the EC. All of them were British successes. It shows that we can win the arguments at the European table. Despite that, we have still not exercised the influence that we should have, or shaped the EC in the fashion that was possible.

If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I wish to deal with serious matters rather than frivolous interruptions at the moment.

Too often over the years, the dominant political attitude has been to object to the ways others have wanted to develop the EC, rather than to set out our plans, our prospects and our hopes and then fight for them to deliver the type of community that is right for this country.

Many hon. Members are right in their opposition to the way in which the EC operates. Some of the ways that it operates need to be changed—I strongly support that. I want to see the EC reformed, as do my hon. Friends and many Opposition Members, but if we are to reform the EC, Britain must have influence in the EC. We will not have influence if we do not ratify the treaty that we have agreed after consultations in the House.

I did not initiate the negotiations. I have made it clear that I thought that they were premature, and I said so to our partners during our negotiations. I did seek to negotiate what I believed to be the best outcome for Britain. I did so within a remit I had obtained from the House, and after seeking the views of Parliament and negotiating within them.

I believe that, as a result of that discussion and debate within the House, it was right for me to decline to accept the social chapter—and the single currency without the express will of the House.

I believe that the events which have followed the conclusion of the negotiations have proved that judgment to be correct. As I have told the House before, in my judgment Europe is not yet remotely ready for a single currency, and the present economic circumstances across Europe mean that it cannot afford the ambitions of the social chapter.

The House and the Government must accept the obligations we entered into and that Parliament approved in the European Communities (Amendment) Act. There is a straightforward self-interested reason for this country why we must do that. If we fail to do that, no British Government will have influence in Europe for many years.

Europe is a market of vital interest to our companies, and to this country's future prosperity and future employment. If we wilfully throw away our capacity to defend our interests and promote our policies in that market, I believe that this country will pay a dear price for that folly in the years to come. I would ask every hon. Member—including some of my hon. Friends—to reflect deeply on that point before they vote this evening.

I am grateful to the Prime Minister for giving way. He has forcefully and clearly made the argument for our remaining within the EC in order to argue our case and develop our position. Surely the same argument exactly applies to the development of social policy. How can this country influence the development of European social policy by opting out?

The hon. Gentleman knows that the Government accept that there is a social dimension to the EC. We have the best implementation of the social dimension of any European country. Perhaps if Opposition Members were better informed, they would not talk such rubbish so much of the time.

I know the hon. Gentleman's affection for Europe, but I say to him that a good European does not accept every piece of nonsense from Brussels just because it has a European label. If we believe that the social chapter is bad for employment—and I do believe that—then it is right for us to argue against it, and to try to persuade our partners to argue against it also.

I believe that that is what we are doing, and increasingly in Europe, businesses and employers are saying what we have said in this country and what I have said from the outset—the charter will destroy jobs across the EC.

I should like to make a little progress. I shall give way to the right hon. Gentleman later.

For the first time in 20 years, we are beginning to see a material move in the European Community agenda in the direction that Britain has long sought. It would be absurd for us to throw away our influence in the Community at this moment. We are seeing enlargement. We are seeing increasing moves towards the repatriation of responsibilities in this country—I hope for concrete progress on that in December. We are seeing proper budget control both within the Commission and right the way across the Community.

The European Community will continue to develop, whatever else may happen. But we need to influence the way of that development and to see that it moves in a way that is congenial to the British interest.

I want a wider European Community. I regard the present Community as but a fragment of Europe. That is why I wish to see the European Free Trade Association countries join, and a little later, our old friends in central and eastern Europe. The wider that we can spread the European Community, with a free market concept not only in economic terms but in military and security terms, the more we shall be able to hand a glorious bonus to the next generation that we should not throw away.

So I want that wider Community—a free-market Community, a Europe with the minimum necessary centralisation, a Europe that exercises more powers through the elected Governments of its member states and fewer powers through unelected commissioners, a Europe in which national Governments exercise undiluted control over genuine domestic policy matters from national elections to our education system, from health care to religion. That is the sort of Community that has been our agenda for a long time, and we are beginning to make progess in encouraging others to support the development of that sort of Community.

We seek a Community that emphasises co-operation between Governments, not imposition from the centre. We seek a Community where member states freely decide the agenda and the outcome. We seek a Community which limits common rules and the jurisdiction of the Court of Justice to matters such as free trade and free competition, where they are genuinely necessary for any level playing field to be established. That is the Community that we seek to develop and shape.

However, we can do that only from the inside. If we are inside the Community fighting for that with allies elsewhere in the Community, we can build properly in the interests of our future. It is a process that we can take much further as a fully committed member of real influence.

I have listened intently to the Prime Minister. Has it occurred to him that he can do the things of which he speaks only if he carries the full-hearted consent of the British people? He has the power through the House of Lords and the House of Commons, with a majority, to force the treaty through and ratify by the prerogative, but he has absolutely failed to tell the British people that they have any role in the matter, any interest in the matter or any right to determine the matter. As a result, he is carrying into the Community the establishment of Britain but not the British people. He will pay a heavy price for that, and so will the Community.

The right hon. Gentleman has been a passionate opponent of much of the Community for many years. He has not changed his views, and I respect him for that. He spoke in the House the other day of the rights of Parliament in this House. We are a parliamentary democracy. Decisions such as that to which the right hon. Gentleman refers should properly be taken in the House, and are taken in the House.

I do not want to see either a centralist or a federalist Europe. I mean federalist in the sense in which we refer to it, not in the sense in which other countries refer to it. They mean something different by it. Yet when I say that to some hon. Members, including some of my hon. Friends, they are apt to say to me, "What about this country or that? There are federalist countries in the Community." That is true. There are. That is why we need influence and allies in Europe to build the sort of European Community we want.

What is the alternative to that approach? To leave the Community? Very few right hon. or hon. Members would go into the Lobby for that proposition, today or any other day. What is the other alternative? To stand aside and let other people run the Community in a way of which we would not approve? That is hardly the right way to exercise influence in the Community.

I have never understood why so many people who claim to be the most pro-British—whichever party is in government—have the least faith in our arguments and our capacity to prevail in the European argument.

This is not a frivolous point. One of the threads of the Prime Minister's argument is that, unless we become enmeshed more deeply in Europe through the Maastricht treaty, we will not have any influence, and that the differences between political parties are inhibiting that influence.

On one matter there has been consent between all the political parties—the common agricultural policy. It is wasteful, costly and out of control. That has not changed. The reforms that the Government have instituted are costing more. The food mountains are growing; they are imposed on world food markets and are damaging developing nations. We have not done a thing to change it, and we cannot.

The hon. Gentleman may say that we have not yet gone far enough, and I share that view; I think that there are further reforms to be made to the common agricultural policy. Which way are we most likely to get them? By standing on the sidelines and throwing stones at the Community, or by being inside, seeking allies in other countries?

There is only one way in which we could find ourselves with the centralist, federalist Europe that we do not want, and that would be to sideline ourselves, through our own efforts, and let other nations determine the future development of the Community. That would be a folly of historic proportions for the country and the House. That is why we need to seek allies in the Community, and why we need to honour our obligations and to ratify the treaty that Parliament has approved.

The right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) and I do not differ on the importance of the treaty, if he stands by what he said some time ago. The right hon. and learned Gentleman said:
"I do not think we should oppose the Maastricht Treaty."
We have seen what the right hon. Gentleman has done over recent months, and what he will seek to do this evening. But it is a matter of huge importance to this country that we honour the obligation that we entered into after consulting the House, and then continue to build the Community that we wish to see.

The Prime Minister emphasised a moment ago that we are a parliamentary democracy. Notwithstanding his own feelings and those of his Cabinet on the social chapter, if the House decides to support the Opposition amendment in favour of the social chapter, will the Prime Minister, as a democrat, accept that resolution and implement it?

I expect that the will of the House will be to support the Government. If by some mischance that were not to be the case, we would make our position clear at the conclusion of today's business.

My right hon. Friend knows that, for many years, I have opposed the social chapter because of the effect that it would have on companies such as ICI in Stowmarket, which is in my constituency. I urge the Prime Minister to continue to oppose the social chapter as strongly as he can. I will be voting against the social chapter and in support of the Government in the Lobby tonight. [Interruption.]

I hope that the gesture of the hon. Member for Durham, North (Mr. Radice) is intended to indicate that we have one hon. Member on our side, and nothing else.

My hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Central (Mr. Lord) referred to ICI. ICI is one of the biggest employers in the country—[Interruption.]—and provides jobs in the constituencies of many of the hon. Members who are shouting at me. Its chairman, Sir Denys Henderson, has said:
"The Prime Minister is right to seek ratification of the Maastricht Treaty and, equally, it is vital that he continues to insist on the Social opt-out provision which he successfully negotiated last year."
That is the view of a business man whose company will employ many thousands of people in the constituencies of many hon. Members who are contemplating voting for the amendment.

I should like to make a little progress, if the hon. Gentleman will forgive me.

The Opposition amendment seeks to impose the social chapter on us. I believe that it would be profoundly damaging to jobs and growth in this country, as do business men—although, having quoted Sir Denys Henderson, I will not detain the House with a large number of other quotes that I could offer to that effect.

There is no true majority for the social chapter in the House. It is wholly opposed by those who understand the economic damage that it would cause. There is an alliance of Members, for differing reasons, who may seek to come together and vote for the amendment, but it is not an alliance based on any conviction whatever.

My hon. Friends are aware of the deficiencies of the social chapter, yet I know that some of them are tempted to vote for the Labour amendment or against the substantive motion. They do not believe in it, but they have convinced themselves that it will prevent ratification of the Act.

Other hon. Members may have considered voting in a similar way. They, too, know and understand in many cases the damage of the amendment. They do not want more unemployment and they do not want a more centralist Community. I hope that those Members will reflect again on the cynicism of such a vote, and on the damage that it will do to this country.

Parliament is no longer debating the merits of the Maastricht Bill. The Bill is now an Act and, in due course, the treaty will be ratified. What Parliament is debating is whether we should negotiate a new treaty to add Britain to the social agreement. The treaty in the Maastricht Bill—the European Communities (Amendment) Bill—is now law, as the House well understands. Royal Assent has been given to the Act, so the treaty will be ratified. Seventy-one separate votes in favour of the Bill should not be frustrated by one parliamentary motion expressing an opinion to the contrary.

The House knows that to vote for the Labour amendment today is a cynical and unscrupulous vote which does not represent the true will of the House. It is an alliance of different parties with different interests, voting for the same amendment for different purposes. In any genuine free-standing vote in the House, the social chapter would be defeated, as any Member of the House knows. As the right hon. Gentleman the leader of the Liberal Democrat party has said:
"The social chapter opens the way to European-wide collective bargaining arrangements. They are wrong for this country's future and contrary to the Liberal party's belief in decentralising wage bargaining. It is an approach that failed in the 1970s and one that could not work in the 1990s. It is too costly, too inflexible and too rigid"—
and the right hon. Gentleman proposes to vote for it tonight.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way. Perhaps he would like to know the facts that made me change my mind and support the Government tonight. A manufacturing company in my constituency has interests in Europe but is now considering closing down those interests because the costs imposed by the social chapter, and will be bringing those jobs back into this country and into my constituency. On that basis, my right hon. Friend will appreciate that there was no way that I could support the treaty chapter.

May I congratulate the Prime Minister on his latest convert?

I am always delighted to accept a sinner returning home. I am delighted to see my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North (Mr. Carlisle) back supporting the Government.

The Opposition amendment is a stratagem by an Opposition who have lost their principled concern for the Community. They are seeking solely to embarrass the Government, and a small number of Back Benchers want to obstruct the treaty. Anyone who is concerned with the interests of this country would regard the attitude of the official Opposition as incomprehensible, and that of the Liberal party, given its previous statements, as, frankly, contemptible.

Since the Prime Minister has for, if I recall, the third or fourth time quoted my words—incidentally, quoted words that were uttered before the treaty was signed—may I say to him that his speech so far has been a most passionate and, if I may say so, effective statement about why it is important to be inside European institutions helping to shape them, not outside suffering from them.

I do not understand how the speech that he has given so far, which is about being included in European institutions, can be used to justify an opt-out from European institutions. It is entirely true that my party and I have reservations about the social chapter, just as the Prime Minister has reservations about the Maastricht treaty, but he has argued that it is in our country's interests to be inside the treaty changing them, not outside complaining about them.

What applies to the Maastricht treaty also applies to the social chapter. If the Prime Minister genuinely believes that Britain's interests are served by being within Europe shaping its institutions, why is he recommending to the House that we should be outside complaining and suffering from them?

I recall going fishing many years ago when somebody caught an eel. "My," they said, "look how it wriggles." Wriggle though the right hon. Gentleman may, the quotes that I have used support my case and not his—as, since the right hon. Gentleman tempts me, does this one:

"The action Labour is taking will prolong Britain's uncertainties about Europe, delay inward investment, delay sterling recovery … and lose jobs. I am not going to vote for Labour for one night of fun at the Government's expense and ask the British people to pay in more lost jobs."
Does the right hon. Gentleman still believe that or not?

Yes, the right hon. Gentleman, and his party, believe that. I remind the Prime Minister that, were it not for the votes of our party, there would be no Maastricht treaty before the House. I remind him that our position was then, as it is today, that, if it is a question of ratification of the treaty, there is no doubt where our votes stand, but this is a question of whether Britain shall be inside the social chapter of the treaty or outside. Our view consistently has been that we should be inside, and we shall express that view tonight.

The right hon. Gentleman has just made a statement of immense significance, for he and his party were asking earlier about the will of the House. If the Labour amendment is defeated and the main motion is now laid before the House, the only conclusion from what the right hon. Gentleman has just said is that he will be in the Government Lobby on the main motion. That is what the right hon. Gentleman has just said, and I invite him to intervene again if he wants to corrrect me.

Let me make it clear to the Prime Minister that, if the circumstances he describes arrive tonight, we shall continue to vote to express our wish that the social chapter should provide benefits to Britain and to Britain's work force, which has nothing to do with ratification of the Maastricht treaty, as the Prime Minister knows full well.

The right hon. Gentleman becomes more ludicrous by the intervention. By that time, the amendment will have been lost. The party that talks about the will of the House, within seconds of having seen that amendment lost, would seek not to vote with the logic of its argument. How like a Liberal. Usually it takes a day for them to change their minds; this time it is rather quicker.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. If he thinks back to the story of the young boy fishing, does he recall that not only is an eel "one that wriggles", but that eels are excessively slippery? [Laughter.]

Does my hon. Friend agree that, notwithstanding what might happen if we were to adopt the social chapter, this country's experience with the European Community has taught us that it has many ways of destroying jobs? That is shown by the fishing industry, which is practically on its knees, and by the meat processing industry—the latest to be decimated by European regulations.

During all the years that I have run a small business and other firms have come to me with their problems, European regulations have consistently destroyed jobs in this country. The idea that we will be able to control the European Community's imposition of those regulations on employers in this country is pie in the sky, and the triumph of hope over experience.

In that case, my hon. Friend should be in the Lobby against the social chapter this evening. As a small business woman, my hon. Friend will know that 60 per cent. of our exports go to the European Community, and that a massive amount of inward investment comes to every part of this country partly because of our membership of the European Community.

Let me turn directly to the social chapter. Through qualified majority voting—not unanimity—the Community would have the power to determine social and working conditions. The social chapter would allow the Community to restrict part-time work, whether or not we agreed in this House. It could set a rigid framework for rules and conditions of employment, which would replace the rules developed in this country, and few areas, if any, would be exempt. Trade unions across Europe could forge deals and translate them into Community law, over the heads of individual workers and without the involvement of the British Parliament.

I will spare the House another quotation from the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown).

Above all, the social chapter would mean that many who are now employed would be likely to become unemployed. Many without jobs would stay without jobs. The main right that workers would get would be the right to become unemployed.

I strongly support our membership of the Community, but I support a Community which does not intrude into areas that are properly the domain of the member states. That, I believe, is what the social chapter does. There is already concern across the House, not just on the Conservative Benches, at the Commission's attempts to use health and safety powers for social legislation. We will oppose any abuse of those powers. We shall, if necessary, challenge the Commission's legal base—as we are doing over the working time directive.

In the social protocol, through the opt-out that I negotiated with the consent of the House and a massive majority to do so, I have preserved the right of the House to decide. Yet, in the amendment to the Government's motion, the Opposition seek to remove that right. They are supported by the Liberal Democrats. On the social chapter, as on defence, value added tax and much else, the Liberal Democrats say one thing and do another. They change their principles from doorstep to doorstep, week to week and issue to issue.

This week, the hon. Members for Holborn and. St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) and for Truro (Mr. Taylor) were both parroting the facile proposition that, without the social chapter, Britain would have a sweatshop economy. Good slogan; rotten argument. The Labour party says it. So does the Liberal party, naturally. That is nothing surprising—they are usually indistinguishable, and usually both wrong.

The truth is that Britain has the best health and safety record in Europe, the best occupational pension scheme in Europe and the best system for caring for vulnerable people in Europe. Rather than talking such nonsense, the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras should talk to business and learn what he is talking about.

Business knows that the Community must compete or contract. If we add to social costs, we will not compete and we shall contract. We shall lose jobs in the short term and the long term. The one certain impact of the social chapter is that jobs will be lost and unemployment will be worse. That is what is at stake.

Is it worth it? Go and ask our industrialists. Will it help them to grow? Will it pay high wages? Will it guarantee jobs? Ask good investors whether the social chapter will attract them to Britain. Listen to the Confederation of British Industry, the Engineering Employers Federation, the British chambers of commerce and the Institute of Directors—every single British organisation. They know that playing games on the social chapter is a dangerous game with the British economy. Everyone knows, except Opposition Members who would impose those burdens on British industry and the British work force.

Uncertainty about Britain's commitment to the Community is damaging to the country. It would undermine our standing, our influence and our national interests. That uncertainty undoubtedly will arise if Parliament does not now implement the Act that we have approved in Parliament. It must clear the way for the treaty that I signed at Maastricht. I believe that the treaty embodies the genuine will of a parliamentary majority, not the will of a coalition of disparate minorities simply to obstruct.

As the right hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) said:
"we should not consort with"
"who … are just completely, fundamentally anti the European Community."
I hope that he stands by that.

During the past few years, Britain has had an increasingly strong voice in the Community. As never before, we have influenced its future direction. So long as we remain a fully committed member, we can have an even stronger voice in the future.

That does not mean accepting everything wanted by our partners. It means being in there in the Community; arguing, debating, shaping the future of our Community and carrying alliances with us. Europe is beginning to move in our direction. In France, in Germany and in Britain, a large majority looks not to a super-state, not to a united states of Europe, but to a Europe of nation states. Those states co-operate closely and enjoy a single market embracing 340 million people, but they retain their identity and sovereignty.

My right hon. Friend will know of my strong opposition to and reservations about the Maastricht treaty. I have been greatly encouraged by what he has said about how he envisages Europe's future and the influence that he can bring to bear on Europe from within Europe. In his speech this afternoon, will my right hon. Friend help me by assuring the House and me that this country will not move towards a single currency and return to the exchange rate mechanism as long as he is in power? Will he assure us that we in this country, who are proud of our sovereignty, integrity and place in the world, will be able to continue to have control over our foreign and security policies?

I have repeatedly said to the House on a number of occasions that I do not envisage that we shall be able to move towards a single currency—a matter on which the House makes the decisions—in anything remotely like the time scale previously set out. That is increasingly becoming the view of other people. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor has said on several occasions, there is no prospect of our returning to the exchange rate mechanism in the near future, as the conditions are simply not right. I do not envisage that they will be right for some considerable period of time.

Britain's interests demand that we play a leading part in the Community. Common sense demands that we retain the freedom of action which I secured in signing the social protocol. That is why the Government are determined to ratify the treaty I signed and to oppose last-ditch efforts to delay or distort it. It is a matter of national interest that we proceed in that fashion, and it is upon that basis that I ask the House to put aside and reject the Opposition amendment, and to adopt the motion.

4.54 pm

I beg to move, to leave out from 'That' to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:

"in the opinion of this House, Her Majesty's Government should not deposit the Articles of Ratification of the Treaty of European Union with the Government of the Italian Republic until such time as it has given notification to the European Community that it intends to adopt the Agreement attached to the Protocol on Social Policy.'.
The Prime Minister made a curious start to the debate when he complained about the fact that we were debating the resolution and the amendment at all today. We are having the debate because of section 7 of the very Act to which he drew attention. He claims that the Act has been passed by both Houses of Parliament, which is certainly true—it has received Royal Assent. Section 7 makes it clear that the Act cannot come into force until the House of Commons comes to a resolution.

The Prime Minister described the debate as if it were an irritation to the Government—a devious ploy by the Opposition. However, the debate is a requirement of the Act of Parliament which he used to justify most of what he said. In addition, when discussing the Bill in Committee, the Foreign Secretary said that the Government had no difficulty in accepting new clause 74—which became section 7 of the Act. The Foreign Secretary said that the Government accepted the challenge presented by the proposals contained in the new clause. On 22 April he said:
"It is reasonable that the House should want the opportunity to vote on the principle of the social protocol." —[Official Report, 22 April 1993; Vol. 223, c. 548.]
I have discovered why the Foreign Secretary is not winding up today's debate. It would be too inconvenient to have a Government apologist who had agreed to the procedure which we are now adopting speaking alongside a Prime Minister who is seeking to condemn it. It is nothing other than a requirement of the Act which both Houses of Parliament have passed, but it gives the House the opportunity which the Government sought to avoid in Committee—a vote on whether we should have the social chapter and the social protocol as part of the British version of the treaty.

It took the Prime Minister a little while to get round to it, but once again he today advanced the startling proposition that measures of social protection which are thought to be desirable by all 11 of our partner nations in the European Community are in some curious way a threat to British prosperity. As the argument has continued throughout the Bill's consideration, the Government have persistently sought to misrepresent the content and effect of the social chapter provisions. A deliberate campaign of misrepresentation by the Government has reached new peaks of exaggeration as each day passes.

Therefore, it is vital for the House to consider what the social protocol is and what it is not. The other 11 states have agreed that there should be a modest extension of the Community's competence in social affairs—matters such as the protection of the health, safety and working conditions of people at work, workers' rights to information and consultation, and equality for men and women in relation to work opportunities and treatment at the workplace. The argument is all about those sectors where qualified majority voting applies.

There are other extensions of competence to social security and social protection where unanimity would still be required. There are sectors—which the Government have consistently failed to acknowledge—which are specifically excluded from the agreement. They include pay, the right of association and the right to strike.

I know that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is a man who is concerned about unemployment—he has often told the House that. Will he tell us straight that he is convinced that the social chapter will not cost a single British job? If so, can he give the calculations on which his belief is based?

I am wholly convinced that adopting the social chapter in this country will improve, rather than undermine, employment opportunities. What is more, I shall develop the argument as I proceed with my speech.

I shall remind the House just what the social protocol is about. I do not make any enormous claims for its proposals, which are fairly modest. But the Government say that the proposals are a sinister threat to our economic future, a deadly plot by the Brussels bureaucrats to destroy jobs and economic growth from which, in the nick of time, our heroic Prime Minister has rescued us all.

The irony of the Prime Minister posing as a job protector will not be lost on the millions of people who have been victims of the economic policies for which he has been responsible as Chancellor and Prime Minister. That self-styled saviour of jobs and growth has the worst record on jobs and growth of any British Prime Minister since the war.

It is when one examines the provisions of the social protocol that the absurdity of the Government's claims is revealed. In what sense and in what way does the improvement of the working environment to protect workers' health and safety or the improvement of working conditions impede economic growth? How on earth can equality between men and women in labour market opportunities and treatment at work be considered economically harmful in a civilised, modern state?

I shall not give way.

It becomes even more absurd when one appreciates that the purpose of the agreement is to have similar rights and opportunities in every Community country to create a level playing field of social opportunity. We hear much about level playing fields from Conservative Members who mention them nearly every day in the Chamber. It is odd that they will not adopt that concept in relation to the rights of working people, and men and women.

That concept is fully understood by the rest of the Community, which is why all the other 11 member states readily agreed to the social charter of 1989 and the social action programme that flowed from it. It is why they have consistently resisted British Conservatives' attempts to prevent further progress in the social sphere. They agreed to the protocol because they all understand what the British Conservative party is incapable of appreciating—that economic success and social progress go hand in hand.

I think that the hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Gallie) is going to become a nuisance, so I shall give way to him now.

I realise that it is a long time, if ever, since the right hon. and learned Gentleman participated in the industrial scene. Will he therefore take it from me, as one who has recently come from industry, that the health and safety issue is a preoccupation of British industrialists these days and is already considered to be of prime importance?

I had not, I must confess, envisaged the hon. Gentleman as a British industrialist. [HON. MEMBERS: "Cheap."] Nor do I think that he was. Can the hon. Gentleman tell us why industrialists in every other Community country do not understand it in precisely the same way? I should like to know—

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give way?

Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will allow me to finish this point.

I should like to know why the hon. Member for Ayr only ever talks about employers. Why does he never talk about emloyees?

Earlier this month the director general of the Confederation of British Industry said—I hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will concede this—that

"Every single employer group, like the CBI, in Europe, in Germany and in France are against the social chapter and only our Government has actually had the courage to say that we don't want any part of it."

It will come as a matter of total astonishment to this House to hear that a bunch of Tory business men say that they are on the side of the employers. [Interruption.] What is more, if the Secretary of State for Employment wants us to have the evidence from Europe, why does he not quote what was said by the general secretary of UNICE, the employers' organisation in Europe, which wants the social chapter to be incorporated?

Perhaps I can help the right hon. and learned Gentleman. The chairman of the European Employers Federation, Mr. Ferrer, who comes from a socialist country that believes in the social chapter, like the right hon. and learned Gentleman, but that has an unemployment rate of 23 per cent., turned up at the last European Social Affairs Council and begged Ministers not to go on introducing legislation of this kind which destroys jobs.

I shall quote to the right hon. Gentleman the precise remarks of the general secretary of UNICE, the employers' organisation, on precisely this subject. [Interruption.] I hope that we are not going to disregard the general secretary, who was appointed by UNICE. The right hon. Gentleman wants to pick the remarks that he agrees with and ignore all the others.

We should make more progress if Conservative Members were to calm down a little. They get very excited when remarks of the employers are quoted, but they never think of consulting the employees about any of their rights. The general secretary said:

"If we look at the costs of employment only or social costs only, we're looking at one very small part of the picture … So it's … really … gross over simplification to reduce the whole thing to the costs of labour."
He is right. That is the view of UNICE, just as it is the view of the European TUC.

If the Conservative party is so right on this subject, why is it that the only political party in the rest of the Community that supports it is Mr. Le Pen's National Front? [Interruption.] Why is it that even right-wing Governments do not perceive the menaces and the threats which the Prime Minister and his colleagues see on all sides? Can it really be true—

Order. It is about time that hon. Members settled down —[Interruption.]—in all parts of the House. [Interruption.]Order. If hon. Members do not want to hear what is being said, I do.

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Am I correct in believing that when a Member seeks to address the Chamber for a second time during a sitting, he or she is able to do so only with the permission of the House?

Opposition Members are not going to stop us putting the record straight. Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman accept that I quote from the opening statement of Mr. Carlos Ferrer, speaking on behalf of UNICE—

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. The Secretary of State for Employment is misleading the House. He has—[Interruption.]

Order. Let us have a little calmness. No one is misleading the House. If, however, the hon. Gentleman has a point of order, I shall be pleased to hear it.

The point of order is this: as we try to listen to the debate, the intervention by the Secretary of State for Employment is not an intervention by him but the result of information acquired from civil servants sitting in the Box—from panic-stricken people, who are running up and down. Why do not Ministers come to the House with their own arguments?

As far as I am concerned, there is a Minister at the Dispatch Box who is speaking on behalf of the Government and responding to the Leader of the Opposition.

The Leader of the Opposition purported to voice the views of UNICE. I quote from the opening statement of Mr. Carlos Ferrer, at an informal meeting of employment and social affairs Ministers, speaking on behalf of UNICE. I ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman to consider this:

"I want to finish my statement with an urgent call for negative action. This is an appeal from the heart on behalf of the millions of companies which UNICE represents. Governments and the Community expect those companies to produce wealth to invest and to create jobs."
He concluded with these words —[Interruption.]

Order. If the House will come to order, it will hear what is being said—[Interruption.]— and what is said will be over with quickly.

I am quoting from a statement made on behalf of UNICE. I finish with the general secretary's words—

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Since you have been in the Chair, I have often heard you rightly tell us that interventions should be interventions, not speeches. This is almost a wind-up speech by the Secretary of State for Employment. I hope that you will correct him, just as you have corrected many Back Benchers.

It is true that interventions should be short and to the point. [Interruption.] Order. When the House has settled down, I shall speak again. The point that I made earlier was that if hon. Members did not shout so much, whoever was intervening would be able to make his point quickly.

I do not know why Opposition Members are trying to destroy the Leader of the Opposition's speech. I shall quote directly from the statement made on behalf of UNICE. The president—[Interruption.]

Order. I shall wait until everyone is finished. This is now becoming very repetitive. We know what is being quoted; may we have a direct quotation now?

The president said to the Council of Ministers:

"Then please stop taking measures"—

Order. I am waiting for the House to settle down. We cannot make progress unless the House settles down. I ask the Secretary of State to come to his conclusion.

He said:

"Then please stop taking measures which unnecessarily destroy jobs."
Will the Leader of the Opposition now withdraw his earlier comment?

If the right hon. Gentleman, and those making noisy interventions on his behalf, was not seeking to destroy a speech, it is hard to work out what he was trying to do. I quoted exactly and precisely what the general secretary of UNICE said. [Interruption.] He said it in answer to a question on a BBC programme called "Analysis" on 6 June 1993, just a month ago. It was not a good point that hon. Members shouted at me.

I also remind the Secretary of State that UNICE is actively involved not only in the social protocol but in the machinery to implement it. It is in a special arrangement with the trade unions, about which I think the Prime Minister complained, but it can hardly be against the social chapter when it is in the middle of it, helping to operate it and make it work.

The fundamental point is why, if the employers were so compelling in their arguments, they have not been able to persuade Chancellor Kohl, Mr. Balladur and Mr. Lubbers, the right-wing Conservative figures in Europe, to listen to them. It passes belief that these people are involved in a nefarious plot to destroy their own prosperity. Are these right-wing Conservative leaders so muddled and confused that they have become socialists by accident? Do we really believe that, when the Prime Minister goes to meet these colleagues at meetings of the European People's party and other such gatherings, he bangs the table in his commanding style and warns them that they are closet socialists?

Is it not passing strange that 11 Governments of many and different political complexions are all incapable of discerning the weaknesses in the social protocol? Why is it that not one of the four countries seeking entry into the European Community wants to opt out of the social chapter? Fifteen countries in Europe—those in the Community and those wanting to join—are all of one opinion; only one party and one country is on the other side—all out of step except our John. The Prime Minister must believe that they are all deluded.

Surely the truth is that it is the Prime Minister who is deluded about the nature and effect of the social chapter which elsewhere finds such widespread favour. After all—

I have given way generously. I do not think that the Conservative party deserves very much indulgence from me in terms of giving way, in view of the behaviour of the Secretary of State for Employment.

Order. The Leader of the Opposition has made it clear that he is not giving way.

After all, it requires quite an acute form of delusion to claim a triumph of negotiating skill in getting one's country isolated and excluded from a decision-making process of great importance to the Community and, inevitably, of importance to this country. What kind of success is it to have engineered a situation in which, when social affairs are on the Community's agenda, British Ministers have to leave the room, bereft—

I have already given way to the right hon. Gentleman.

British Ministers will be bereft of influence over legislation which many believe will come to apply in Britain as a result of decisions by the Court of Justice, whether or not there is an opt-out.

I have already given way to the right hon. Gentleman.

Only in the Walter Mitty world that the Prime Minister increasingly inhabits could such nonsense be thought to be an achievement. Of course, we know that the Prime Minister wants the country to believe that, whatever the mess at home, he is really an ace negotiator abroad. Like the comic strip hero, Clark Kent, as soon as he leaves our shores behind, the Prime Minister is transformed into a diplomatic megastar. There he is, Britain's diplomatic megastar, his Superman shirt tucked neatly into his underpants; there he is, a very special kind of hero, shaping the very destiny of Europe, clutching his Maastricht optout as his colleagues gently take him to the door marked "Sortie".

What the Prime Minister does not understand—[Interruption.] I do not think that the Conservative party will gain very much by making rowdy noises throughout my speech. [Interruption.]

Conservative Members sometimes forget that there is a wider audience for our proceedings than that in the House.

The Prime Minister and the Government do not understand that their opt-out is Britain's lockout—a lockout from decisions. I could not understand how the Prime Minister could argue that we had to be involved in decision making in the Community while also arguing the justification for an opt-out. Once again, decisions will be arrived at and policies forged in Britain's absence.

Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman recall what was said in the press when my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister returned from his negotiations? In France, it was said:

"Holding his own"—

It was said:

"Holding his own against his eleven partners, the Prime Minister can show that he has fought a tenacious battle and resisted the interference of socialist Brussels technocrats and demonstrated his devotion to economic liberalism."
That was said in Liberation in France.

I do not think that I can congratulate the hon. Lady on her delicacy. As for the details of her intervention, I think that it would be wiser if I simply moved on.

In an interesting article in The Times—a few years ago, admittedly—that point was made forcefully. The author wrote:
"We paid a heavy price when others designed the Common Agricultural Policy. It would be unforgivable to repeat the mistake in industrial and financial policies…The same argument applies to the Social Charter. Britain has legislation in virtually all the relevant fields already. The issue is whether new policies come here by the back door following mergers and takeovers and designed by our competitors, or whether the Government battles to get the original proposals brought more into line with British initiatives and practice. I prefer the latter, as it will suit many in Europe as well."
That was the considered opinion of the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine). He is now President of the Board of Trade, but in 1989 he was free to say what he thought. How many Conservative Members are there who, given the freedom to do so, would gladly vote for the social chapter tonight? I am genuinely sorry that the President of the Board of Trade cannot take part in the debate; he is representative of many other Conservative Members who share his point of view.

I doubt whether the hon. Gentleman is one of them, but out of many years of affection for him I shall be happy to give way.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman was talking about the back door. Has he thought how good industrial relations now are in this country, where, instead of confrontation, teamwork between work force and management is working well? Does he not think that the social chapter would undermine the Thatcher years, during which we rolled back the frontiers? Would it not mean that the trade unions would control the nation again?

I should be happy to argue with the hon. Gentleman about all those matters, but I must remind him, as I sought to do at the beginning of my speech—other hon. Members, too, might bear the fact in mind—that pay, the right of association, the right to strike and the right to impose lock-outs are not included in the social protocol, so they are not relevant to our discussion.

One should not be surprised to hear that the views that I have quoted were expressed by the President of the Board of Trade. One also hears them from Conservative Members of the European Parliament. In a debate in the European Parliament on 27 May this year, Sir Christopher Prout, whom I understand to be the leader of the Conservative MEPs, could not have put matters more plainly. What he said is on the record of the European Parliament:
"The Conservative Party is in favour of the social dimension"—
[Interruption.] I thought that Conservative Members might all agree with that, and I hope that they will also agree with what Sir Christopher said next. He added, for good measure:
"We all hope once Maastricht is ratified that a suitable intergovernmental agreement can be reached on this matter which will include all Member States."
The Conservatives will come back to the subject. I am sure that some hon. Members will have spotted their tactic. I find it fascinating that Sir Christopher Prout seems more determined to opt in than to opt out.

It may assist the right hon. and learned Gentleman to know that Mr. Bill Newton Dunn is the leader of the Conservatives in the European Parliament and that many of us have no problem with the social dimension; it is the details of the protocol that we dislike and wish to vote against.

I hear what the hon. Lady says, but I wish that she would weigh in the balance the comments that I read in newspapers such as The Sunday Telegraph. Last week that newspaper quoted a Dutch Christian Democrat, Jean Penders, on the attitudes of Tory MEPs.

Mr. Penders said that at first he was doubtful about his new British colleagues in the European People's party, but that now he is full of praise:
"Oh, they all believe in the Social Chapter, all of them."
[HON. MEMBERS: "Who?"] The Tory MEPs.

The article, by the Brussels correspondent of The Sunday Telegraph, went on to discuss the dilemma over the manifesto being drafted by the European People's party for the European elections next year, in which I believe the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie) hopes to stand. Will the British Tories be bound by it? According to the European People's party, the manifesto will be based on its policies and positions and the British Tories will have to defend every word. It seems that quite a lot of talking will have to take place.

The problem for the Tories is that the European People's party has not been reticent about its views on federalism and the social chapter. I shall quote from the Athens declaration of the ninth congress of the European People's party—[Laughter.] Conservative Members should not mock their continental confederates in that way. The declaration, approved in Athens in November last year, comes straight to the point:
"The main political aim of the European People's Party is European unity. The party advocates European unification on the basis of democracy"—
So far, so good. I can see the Tories looking at me. But the declaration adds the words "and federalism." Even worse, federalism is described as "the ideal for Europe."

But it is when dealing with social policies that the European People's party, the Tories' new friend in Europe, really gets motoring. It says:
"the European People's party declares its support for the implementation of the European Social Charter, the introduction of minimum standards for working conditions and social benefits, and workers' participation in decision making and company profits."
Few of us could have put that better than the European People's party did.

Let no one tell me that the EPP is not having a positively beneficial influence on the Conservative party. I know that it has friends and admirers in the highest reaches of that party, because of a speech made earlier this month by the Secretary of State for Employment, in which he declared himself glad to be a Christian Democrat. He said:
"My own background in politics is a very European one, and I have always, willingly, described myself as a Christian Democrat as well as a Conservative … As the Union between the peoples of Europe, inch by questioning inch, grows ever closer, we will need to look for new alliances … I believe that political and ideological alliances between like-minded parties from different countries will soon come to complement—or supplant—old national rivalries and friendships … Our admittance"—
he means the Conservative party's admittance—
"to the European People's Party in the European Parliament puts that scenario into perspective."
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for having said so clearly where the Conservatives stand. Revealingly, he also said:
"There is already far more common ground than people imagine".
Hon. Members may wish to ask him more about that when he speaks later and makes his second intervention in the debate.

Lest there be any doubt about the increasing influence of the European People's party on the Conservative party, the Secretary of State for Employment drove his point home by saying:
"There is even now, an EPP office at Smith square."
Gosh. That must be where Conservative Members can get their personal copies of the Athens declaration. But for the convenience of those attending the meeting of the 1922 Committee tonight, I have caused a copy to be placed in the Library. They can pick it up on their way.

Precisely. It was a document for which wide circulation was not desired. However, it is now in the Library and hon. Members can obtain it. When they read it they will find out how much they have signed up to in Europe. It is a case not so much of socialism by the back door as of federalism by the front door—the front door of Tory central office.

At the heart of the debate is a profound difference about the kind of policies that Britain needs if we are to succeed and to hold our own in a competitive world. The Conservative party, as the Prime Minister's speech confirmed, wants to persist with the failed policies of the 1980s, for which the people of Britain are paying such a heavy price today. It wants to persist with those policies despite the accumulating evidence of their failure.

For example, the World Economic Forum recently published its world competitiveness report on the countries of the OECD, which showed that over the past five years the United Kingdom has fallen down the league. That is the sharpest deterioration in competitiveness of any EC country. The truth which must someday dawn on this Government is that their policies simply have not worked. Even the expurgated version of the Government's own Department of Trade and Industry report shows that Britain is still 25 per cent. below France and Germany in terms of productivity.

The evidence shows that the member states which embraced the social chapter when Britain rejected it have more impressive records of competitiveness and productivity. The Conservatives fail to understand that low wages, inadequate skills and persistent under-investment are the real drag anchors on Britain's economic performance. We have no future as the sweatshop of Europe. If we persist in the policies of social devaluation which lie behind the opt-out from the social chapter, I fear that our relative decline will continue. Indeed, it will accelerate.

Warburg's briefing last week on competitiveness among the leading industrial countries stated:
"Despite having the lowest labour costs per working hour, Britain struggles with the highest unit labour costs."
That is proof surely, if it were needed, that having the lowest wages does not, as the opt-out merchants maintain, lead necessarily to competitive advantage. That is the answer to the question that I was asked at the beginning of this debate.

The Warburg study shows—sensible people know this —that improvement in productivity depends critically on capital investment, the pace of innovation and the quality of the labour force. That is the new economic agenda which Britain and Europe must embrace—not the bargain-basement techniques of wage cuts and skills depression. That is how we can best achieve the competitive edge which is vital to our economic success.

There is another view, the view adopted by British Conservatives, that by depressing wages and undermining the conditions of the work force, a relative advantage can be obtained. We have seen a grotesque example of that in the destruction of the wages councils which, for decades, offered protection to the lowest-paid workers in this country—the people at the greatest risk of exploitation.

The wages councils legislation was introduced at the turn of the century by Winston Churchill to protect the low-paid worker and the good employer. It has been swept aside by the mean-minded men and women of this Administration. Winston Churchill put the point forcefully to the House in 1909; feel free to remind the House of his comments, as it has seldom been put better:
"Where you have … no organisation, no parity of bargaining, the good employer … is undercut by the worst … where those conditions prevail you have not a condition of progress. but a condition of progressive degeneration." —[Official report, 28 April 1909; Vol. IV, c. 388.]
What a contrast that is with today, when a British Government actually place adverts in the German business press advertising Britain as a low-wage economy. Not for our skills, technology or productivity are we to be recommended—we are to be recommended just for our low wages.

There are low wages in a society in which income equality has dramatically widened over 14 Conservative years. Let me just remind the Prime Minister—[Interruption.] He may want to look at my notes and I hope that he will listen carefully to what I am going to say. I want to remind him of the wages that are actually being paid in the Britain of which he is Prime Minister today. A 28-year-old care assistant working in a private nursing home works 60 hours for £1·33 an hour. A coach driver works 60 hours a week for £2·10 an hour. A forecourt attendant in a petrol station works 70 hours a week for £1·40 an hour. That is the philosophy of the Conservative party and that is how it affects real people in the real world.

How many Conservative Ministers would contemplate accepting those rates of pay for themselves or for their families? If it is not acceptable to them, why should it be thought acceptable for anyone else? What makes it even harder to stomach is the constant rise in salaries, pensions and perks for the highest-paid executives at the same time as the exploitation of vulnerable people proceeds and the Government walk away from their responsibilities to those people. It is that weird Tory double standard on incentives: poor people can be motivated only by the thought of even greater poverty, but the rich are to be inspired by the lure of even greater wealth.

The Government's approach to international competition is just as crude. It is to compete against Taiwan on wages rather than against Germany on skills. The Government say that if our competitors pay low wages, we must follow them down. If there is no employment protection in countries against which we compete, such protection apparently cannot be afforded here either.

We in the Labour party believe that that approach is wholly flawed. Not only is it totally unjust to our people, it is not related in any way to the dynamics and realities of today's world economy. Investors at home and abroad today are seeking skills, technology and a highly motivated and self-confident work force. We hear a lot from the Government about inward investment and how that investment would be afraid to come near us if we were to sign up to the social protocol.

How strange that, in a recent study carried out by Arthur Andersen of Japanese inward investment, wages and social costs are not mentioned by Japanese companies as a factor determining decisions to invest in Britain. The problem which is highlighted and described as most important by Japanese enterprise is
"the difficulty in recruiting skilled or qualified employees."
The Nissan director of personnel gave evidence the other day to the Select Committee on Employment. He dismissed the social chapter as a significant factor in respect of inward investment.

It is also highly revealing that many Japanese firms in Britain bring with them much better working practices than are common in British firms and which far exceed anything that would he required by the social chapter. A recent survey—[Interruption.] It would benefit Ministers to listen to some of this evidence instead of, like the Chancellor of the Exchequer, rudely interrupting from a sedentary position.

I was merely provoked by the logic of the right hon. and learned Gentleman's position. Having used a 1909 quotation and 1909 sentiments, he went on to describe the attractions to this country now of Japanese investment, to a deregulated economy which is outside the social chapter. He illustrates that the Japanese are not creating a sweatshop economy here. It is a modern, thriving economy, and the Japanese are coming here because we are attractive outside the social chapter.

I am surprised at the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Surely the point about the 1909 quotation is that it is astonishing that someone in 1909 understood something which members of the Conservative party have not yet realised in the 1990s. Churchill said that when he was a Liberal. Apparently Conservatives only pay attention to what Churchill said when he was a Conservative, such is the narrow and partisan view of history and reality adopted by the Conservative party.

What the Chancellor of the Exchequer should understand—[Interruption.]—I hope that he will listen carefully to this—is that a recent survey of the pay and employment conditions in eight major Japanese-owned companies employing 15,000 people in the United Kingdom found that wages, maternity and paternity leave and fringe benefits in those companies were far more generous than those in Britain—[HON. MEMBERS: "What is the point?"] I hope that the Chancellor of the Exchequer will finally get the point that companies as progressive as that are not worried about a social chapter because they will easily be able to comply with its provisions.

I hope that some British companies will copy Nissan, which recently agreed two-year pay deal increases with maternity pay of up to 100 per cent. of average earnings for up to a maximum of 18 weeks. Maternity leave has been extended to 40 weeks after birth with existing rights of return to work maintained. Matsushita Electric, Sony and Komatsu have introduced parternity leave for their workers. Although Conservative Members often jeer at that, what in some ways is the most successful economic country in the world is showing us a better way forward in terms of social provision. Far from being put off by the social chapter, the Japanese are ahead of it.

In the real world, the new economic agenda requires a new approach—a positive combination of skills development, decent standards, humane standards, and ever-widening employment opportunities. That must mean giving greater opportunities at work for women on the basis of equal rights and adequate provision for maternity leave and child care—not just because that is their right, but because our economy needs the indispensable contribution that women can make to our future prosperity.

I see the Chancellor of the Exchequer nodding. That is why I find it odd that the Government should object to a social chapter which provides for
"equality between men and women with regard to labour market opportunities and treatment at work."
In rejecting that provision, what message is the Conservative party giving to the women of this country? That is why the Conservative party is seen as socially the most backward in Europe, even by its own party colleagues.

It is now entirely clear that the whole of this argument about opting out of the social dimension of the treaty is not about Britain's national interest or our future prosperity. It is much more about the internal politics of the Conservative party and increasingly about the tattered reputation of a discredited Prime Minister. One day he tells us that Britain must be at the heart of Europe—that is to keep his Chancellor and his Employment Secretary on board. On another day he warns of the insidious socialist threats inherent in the European scheme—words to please his Home Secretary and his Secretary of State for Social Security. One thing to the 1922 Committee; no doubt something else to the European People's party.

We are, of course, accustomed to and indeed sometimes entertained by the right hon. Gentleman's increasingly desperate games with his own party, but, at the end of the day, that must be a matter for them. What is an entirely different matter is the Prime Minister's attitude to Parliament. It must be a matter of astonishment that he has not readily accepted that the decision on the social chapter is for this House to take. Throughout our deliberations on the European Communities (Amendment) Act, the Government sought to avoid the House coming to a decision and agreed to section 7 of the Act, under which this resolution is debated, only when they faced the prospect of inevitable defeat if they did otherwise.

Over the Conservative years we have seen the checks and balances of our system of government being persistently undermined in favour of the power of the central state. We see that, for example, in the deliberate diminishment of local government and in the creation of ministerially dominated quangos on an unprecedented scale. But I warn the Prime Minister that, if he seeks to take it even further and seeks to defy the will of the House, he will have exceeded the power of his office.

I urge the House to vote for the social chapter. It is our responsibility in this House to make the decision and, when we have made the decision, it is the unavoidable responsibility of the Government to accept and to implement what the House has decided.

5.42 pm

The right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) shows astonishing naivety or forgetfulness if he thinks that there is a natural majority in the House in favour of the social chapter. Has the right hon. and learned Member forgotten that a reasoned amendment was debated on Second Reading, on 25 May 1992, declining to give a Second Reading to the Maastricht Bill because it did not accord with the social protocol? The motion was defeated by 360 to 261 votes—a natural majority of 99 against the social chapter. That situation has not changed.

Today, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows, we are again debating the social chapter not because, in any sense, there is a majority in favour of it, but for two contradictory reasons. The first is that the Labour party and the Liberal Democrats still believe, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman has shown, that we should sign up to the social chapter, despite all commentators being against it. Evidently, the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East does not read the Financial Times. He does not read The Times. He does not read the paper published today by the Confederation of British Industry on behalf of all businesses, large and small, in which its members argue very strongly against our acceptance of the social chapter.

As the right hon. and learned Gentleman got into the business of quoting European leaders against my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, I remind him of what the German Economics Minister, Gunther Rexrodt, said in Brussels on 29 June after presenting a 10-point plan designed to put Germany back on its feet. He is reported as commenting:
"The plan is likely to undermine EC 'solidarity' in economic growth and related social policy matters."
When it was suggested to one of Mr. Rexrodt's aides that he appeared to be opting for the United Kingdom's approach to these issues, he commented, "What's wrong with that?"

The mood in the Community over the past 12 months has clearly been towards increasing concern about the social chapter, simply because it is now seen that, on average, wage costs in western Europe are 20 per cent. higher than those in the Pacific rim countries, and unemployment in western Europe remains constantly higher than in the United States, where the social costs of employing labour are much lower.

If we continued in that direction—the social chapter would emphasise it—jobs would continue to haemorrhage away from all western European countries towards south-east Asia, the Pacific rim and eastern European countries which are now newly competitive and, of course, interested in joining the Common Market, with lower labour costs.

I shall be very brief. As there has been much talk about the importance of the social chapter and as my right hon. Friend has talked about the loss of jobs, will he give us an indication of what kind of directives could be made under the social chapter which cannot already be made under the Single European Act and article 101 of the treaty of Rome? I have asked that question six times during our long debates, and I am afraid that I have not had an answer.

My hon. Friend will know very well that to implement many of the suggestions in the social chapter would need directives which could come forward to this House for approval. But such directives, if they did not require a statutory instrument here, could go through in Brussels on qualified majority voting alone. That is where our problem arises. That deals with my hon. Friend's point. Although the social chapter is a relatively vague declaration—I agree with my hon. Friend, if that is what he is saying—it could be followed by specific measures which could slip through on qualified majority voting. That would be against the employment interests not only of this country but of other western European countries as well.

I wish to revert to the point that I was making to the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East. This debate is happening not because it is in the natural course of events that we should have another debate on the social chapter—that suggestion was defeated in May last year by 99 votes—but, as I have said, for two very contradictory reasons. One is the continuing blind attachment of the Labour party and the Liberal Democrats to the measure, which can only lead to higher unemployment for western Europe if it is adopted and implemented by directives. The other reason is that a handful of my right hon. and hon. Friends, who do not believe in the social chapter for one second, nevertheless believe, as they might believe that the earth is flat, that by voting for the social chapter tonight they may somehow be able to scupper the Maastricht treaty. There is no possibility of that.

I am sure that the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) will make his own speech in his own good time. I suspect that if he catches your eye, Madam Speaker, he will make it very soon.

No. I wish to make progress. I do not want to delay the House.

It was emphasised by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in his opening remarks that, whatever happened about the social chapter, we would certainly go forward and ratify the Maastricht treaty. Whether that is before or after Lord Rees-Mogg's action will doubtless depend to some extent on the way in which the judges carefully consider Madam Speaker's important ruling in the House yesterday.

I believe that I carry the right hon. Member for Yeovil with me when I say that we must ratify the Maastricht treaty. It cannot be right for this country to go on putting brakes on the development of the European Community. As an extremely powerful trading bloc, it is now far and away our most important partner in the trade which forms such a large part of our livelihood in this country.

As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has constantly said, we wish to be in the forefront of the discussions which lie immediately ahead on the widening of the European Community—on the joining of the four, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Austria, all of whom should join quite quickly in the months ahead. We also need to be party to the discussions within the Community about the attitude of the EC to the still unfinished GATT round.

Hon. Members on both sides of the House should remember that the next governmental conference is only three years away. There is a great deal of preparatory work to be done for that conference to continue the task of widening the Community. If we do not ratify the treaty, how can we be at the forefront in those important negotiations?

I hope that this will be the last time the House indulges in antics of the sort that we have seen in recent months while discussing this European treaty. I use the word, "antics" advisedly, and I suggest that the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East should listen for a moment, because perhaps he will agree with me. I shall not mince my words. I regard the unattractive alliance between Labour and Liberal and a handful of my hon. Friends on the Conservative Benches to force through a commitment to the social chapter as parliamentary horseplay.

I listened to the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson), and I am sorry that he is no longer present. He and I were in a short television debate this morning. He used high-minded language about the sanctity of Parliament and the huge constitutional issues involved in this debate today—talk that was echoed by the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East in his closing remarks. I do not think that the unsavoury alliance that I have described does any credit to the mother of Parliaments—to me, it is much more reminiscent of a Whitehall farce in which Brian Rix might play a part.

Yesterday Madam Speaker gave a ruling of very great importance, which was basically a warning to the courts not to interfere in the legislative process of the House of Commons. The ruling emphasised again the supreme position in law-making of this House. I find it very hard to understand how that ruling is compatible in moral terms with the short-sighted politicking that we are seeing in connection with the social chapter.

The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) said during Business questions today that the Government should concentrate on providing jobs. I could not agree with him more, but at the heart of my argument is my belief that if the majority of the House is against the social chapter it is simply because it is an engine of unemployment. The hon. Member for Bolsover may be a surprising ally, but I hope that on that basis he will join me in the Lobby tonight in voting against the social chapter.

The reason why I talk about jobs is that, in the period the Government have been in office, about 3 million people have been thrown out of work, social chapter or no social chapter. Every pit in my constituency has been closed. The shipyards have been closed. The fishing fleets have been almost destroyed. The industrial base has been decimated. That is why I talk about jobs. The Tory Government are responsible.

It is a great pity that I gave way to the hon. Member for Bolsover, because he has not said anything to do with the social chapter or with the European Community.

My last point is a somewhat personal postscript. In recent days and weeks, as someone who was Chief Whip during Lady Thatcher's last year of government, I have often been asked for my comments on the whipping of Members in relation to this Act, as it now is, on the Maastricht treaty. I know that the job of Chief Whip is a lonely one, and I have very great sympathy with my right hon. Friend the present Patronage Secretary. As I have said in answer to those questions, however, the problem facing the Chief Whip and the Government Whips Office in the past few weeks is unique in my experience of nearly 20 years in the House.

Not long ago, Lord Pym—our Chief Whip during the passage of the European Communities Act 1972—told me how, during the passage of that Act, he and Neil Marten, who led the dissidents on the Tory side, met regularly to talk about tactics and how to handle the business. There was never any question of the dissidents, for example, voting against Government motions on time, or voting for business to go on after 10 o'clock. There was certainly never any question of the dissidents voting for additions to the European Communities Bill in which they did not believe, and which they would not have been honest in supporting, simply in order to embarrass the Government.

It is impossible for me to find an exact analogy, therefore, to the problems that we have seen in the last few weeks. I can only think, with a good deal of sorrow, of the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact of 1940, when those who were against communism joined those who were for communism in a very dishonourable alliance. That pact proved disastrous. The implacable enemies became partners. It was a pact based on wholly dishonest considerations.

Any pact forged today which resulted in the House, against its better judgment and against its natural majority, voting for the social chapter would similarly lead to disaster—disaster, above all, for this country, because it would lead not to more jobs on low wages but to higher unemployment on no wage and total dependence on social security benefits.

5.56 pm

I am sorry that the right hon. Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Renton) did not give way, because he gave the lie to, and showed the fraudulent nature of, the argument that lay at the heart of the Prime Minister's speech. It is the Prime Minister's weakness in this matter that has led him to the position that he is now in. He has never, throughout the passage of the Act, been prepared to articulate a single message. He has always played the part of the Whip, not the Prime Minister. That is exactly what he is doing in this debate, and, having spent so much time in his speech attacking me, he could at least, I believe, have been here now to listen to what I have to say.

As usual, our Prime Minister, who ought to be giving a lead to the nation, is telling two different parts of the House two different things. To his hon. Friends he says that this is a debate about the social chapter; but to us on this side of the House he says that this is a debate about ratification. Nothing could have made it more clear.

Since the Prime Minister is not in his seat now, perhaps the Minister would like to tell us what we will be voting on tonight. His hon. Friends would like to know. The Prime Minister has told them that we are voting tonight for the social chapter, but he told me that we would be voting for ratification. The right hon. Member for Mid-Sussex made it quite clear what he thought: he thought that we would be voting for the social chapter.

I will happily give way to the Minister, who represents the Prime Minister. Will he tell us, when we vote tonight, shall we be voting for the social chapter or for ratification?

As the right hon. Gentleman is aware, there will be two votes at the conclusion of this debate. The first vote will be on an amendment, which I understand he supports, that would impose the social protocol, which he has criticised on so many occasions. The second vote will then be in accordance with the motion on the Order Paper. As I understand it, there is a motion on the Order Paper provided the amendment is defeated.

The question which the Prime Minister put to the right hon. Gentleman, and which he had not yet answered—[Interruption.] No. I am just putting the point to the right hon. Gentleman—

Order, Interventions should be exceedingly short.

The House and the nation will have noticed, of course, that the Minister has not answered the question. We know perfectly well that both the motion and the amendment tonight are about the social chapter. We know beyond peradventure that the debate is not about ratification because Ministers—from the Foreign Secretary to the Prime Minister—have told us that. They have told us bluntly that, whatever the House does, they will go ahead and ratify anyway, so this is about the social chapter. That is why it is consistent to vote in the second Division in the same way as we vote in the first one, and so we shall do. We will vote on every occasion that we get—

I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will forgive me. I am in the 10-minute Bill, so I would be grateful if the right hon. Gentleman will forgive me.

The 10-minute rule.

We will vote tonight, and on every subsequent occasion, to give Britain the best opportunity to have the benefits of the social chapter for our economy and our work force. That is what we will do tonight.

It should come as no surprise to the Government that we will do that. We made a manifesto commitment, which has been repeated in speeches made by my hon. Friend the Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber (Sir R. Johnston). I have made it clear to the Prime Minister and Ministers in private that that is our position.

The Prime Minister has no right to say—as he said recently—that he is bewildered about our position. That is a misrepresentation and he knows it. There are all sorts of reasons why our Prime Minister might be bewildered, but he cannot be bewildered about our position, and we will vote tonight consistent with that.

The right hon. Gentleman will speak in a moment. I have only 10 minutes, so I hope that he will forgive me.

I would prefer to vote for our amendment. Voting for the amendment in the name of the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) is our only way of expressing our commitment to the social chapter and reincorporation.

That does not mean that we do not have some reservations about the social chapter. I do not resile from a single word that I have said. We have reservations about articles 4 and 2·4, which seem to provide a mechanism to bypass democratic institutions of the European Community. We have reservations about all sorts of European legislation. We have reservations about Maastricht, just as the Prime Minister has.

But the whole point—as the Prime Minister clearly said with as much passion as he was able to summon—is that it is important that we are in the social institutions and shaping them, not outside. His speech made a wonderful statement about how it is important to be in Europe. It did not seem to be a speech that much supported the idea of opt-outs from Europe.

As a result of the way in which this matter has been portrayed by both the Government and the Labour party, we have made the social chapter into something that, frankly, it is not. It is not the great new monster of socialism stalking across Europe which the Government try to persuade us to believe it is. Nor is it the archangel of socialism about to return us to the 1970s, as the Labour party would have us believe. It is an anodyne statement of broad intent. Those who examine the social chapter in the treaty of Rome, to which we subscribe, aided and strengthened by Baroness Thatcher with the Single European Act, will see that there is remarkably little difference between the two.

The social chapter simply codifies the established best practices of most modern British firms and almost all successful ones. Therefore, we take the view that on balance it is good for the country and our work force. If there is a move to a better understanding of the dangers of corporatism in Europe among the Germans—as there is —the French and the Portuguese, that is no reason to be outside it, as the Prime Minister argued. It is a reason to be inside it, helping to mobilise that movement and reshape the social chapter.

The Government have two reasons why they should not be in the social chapter. The first reason—the Prime Minister laboured this point—is that it would make Britain uncompetitive. However, most of our firms, certainly all the successful ones, already exceed the terms of the social chapter. They already go further than the social chapter in the way in which they treat their work force.

The Prime Minister invited us to talk to business. I did. Three weeks ago, I went to Toyota, which has made a massive investment near Derby. I asked about the secret of its success. Toyota is the most successful car manufacturer in the world. I asked the managing director, who took me round, "What is the secret of your success?" He said, "The secret of our success is that we value our work force. We recognise that our work force are our most important asset. We invest in our work force. We provide them with terms and conditions that will keep them. Those terms and conditions far exceed the terms of the social chapter." I asked, "Why do you succeed in the market place?" He said, "Because we provide quality goods. It is quality that wins in the market place. You cannot produce quality goods unless you have a quality work force." That is what the social chapter is all about. This is not inimical to success; it is the secret of success.

There are only two ways for this country to go. We may choose to become a low wage, low investment, low skill and low technology industry. That is what we may choose as our industrial base. I warn the Prime Minister that, if that is what he wants our country to be, we will have miserable years ahead. If we go in that direction, many emerging countries in eastern Europe and elsewhere will do it better and cheaper than us. That is the way to poverty in this nation.

Alternatively, we may choose to go down the other route. We may choose to be a high value-added, high skill, high investment and high wage economy. There is no way that the country will assure its future prosperity other than by taking that route. That is what the social chapter is about.

The second part of the Government's case is that we cannot afford to give our workers decent standards. The Government could not have revealed the poverty of their aspirations more powerfully than by telling British workers that they cannot afford to provide the terms and conditions that will be enjoyed by workers in Greece and Portugal. Is that what we are saying to the people of our country? is that what we are saying the Government will create? They will create an economy in which our workers will not even have the rights of workers in Greece and Portugal. God forbid if that is where we are going.

The reality of this is clear. It has nothing to do with the good of British industry and British jobs; it has everything to do with the divisions in the Conservative party. The Prime Minister had to return from Europe with a piece of paper in his hand that he could wave at Conservative Back Benchers. This is what it was all about: game, set and match in an attempt to unite the Conservative party, but lose, lose and lose for the country. The Prime Minister is more a Whip than a leader. He is more concerned about uniting his divided party than in providing the country with a stable basis for future prosperity.

Workers who have lost their jobs, their businesses and their homes as a result of the Government's recession must now lose their rights because of the divisions in the Conservative party. That is what it boils down to in the end. We will vote for the social chapter as the best way of ensuring that Britain and British workers have the rights, the abilities and the advantages of it.

There is a majority in the House for the Maastricht treaty, and there is a majority in the House for the social chapter. It takes a Government of this bungling ineptitude never to be able to mobilise the treaty or the social chapter. That is the reason why the Prime Minister and the Government are in the mess that they are in tonight. I hope that the vote is carried. If it is carried, we expect the Prime Minister to obey it.

Order. Madam Speaker has ruled that speeches from now until 8 pm shall last for 10 minutes only.

6.8 pm

I shall not follow the leader of the Liberal party, the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown), in his by-electioneering speech. because there is not enough time to go into it.

I am convinced by the right hon. Gentleman's reliance on Toyota as a typical example of the problems now faced by British industrialists. To pick out an international company, which was established here on a green-field site and which negotiates successful deals with its work force, and claim that its position is similar to that of Rolls-Royce, GKN or any other major British company competing in the world market, distorts the truth. The Leader of the Opposition also distorted the truth with his reliance on the example of Nissan.

If what the right hon. Member for Yeovil and the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) say is true, how do they account for the fact that the Confederation of British Industry, the Institute of Directors and all employers who have appeared before the Select Committee on Trade and Industry have been unanimous in their belief that the costs that the social chapter would impose upon their businesses would be ruinous to our search for competitiveness in Europe or elsewhere?

We must judge British industry on the basis of international competition. We must recognise that we face the fiercest competition that we have yet to encounter from the far east and the Pacific rim. The trend in Europe is to make European industry less competitive. I believe that that experience will show the the Europeans, through their enforcement of the social chapter, are in grave danger of saddling themselves with costs that will make them progressively less and less competitive.

What also impressed me in the speech of the Leader of the Opposition was his apparent belief that the social chapter would be good for employment prospects. I do not know what particular section of industry or work force are likely to benefit if we do as the Opposition amendment obliges us to do.

I appreciate that the enforcement of the social chapter may lead to more employment for bureaucrats and trade union negotiators. It might also give a lot more employment to lawyers, and I can see that that must be dear to the right hon. and learned Gentleman's heart. However, I cannot see any way in which the social chapter will increase productive employment. We do not need to give it such a boost, given the improvements to working practice that are constantly being achieved in our efficient industries.

I do not find either of the cases deployed by the Opposition parties particularly convincing. I do not see how the amendment, were it to be carried tonight, could have the effect that it claims. There is certainly a majority in this House and in the other place in favour of the Maastricht treaty. We have the figures to prove that, and they have been quoted more than once.

The House has only given my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister the power to ratify the treaty that he signed. If he were required by the House to seek to amend it, he would be unable to do so. A new treaty would have to be negotiated, and the House of Commons would have to give my right hon. Friend new powers.

What makes today's debate such a curiosity is that, in practical terms, it does nothing. It does not empower the Prime Minister to import the social chapter into our law. The House of Commons alone can do that. I am fairly sure —I believe that all my colleagues on the Conservative Benches would probably agree with me—that, if a Bill were brought before the House to impose a new social chapter treaty, it would be defeated on its Second Reading.

The debate is becoming increasingly irrelevant. The only possible explanation of the position in which we find ourselves today is that an unholy alliance, on the part of some of my hon. Friends, is seeking to wreck the Maastricht treaty and prevent its ratification. I regret that. If they said that that was not part of their intention, their words would be believed. Should they join the Opposition in the Lobby tonight, however, I doubt that they could possibly say that there is no intention to wreck the Maastricht treaty. I see no sign of dissent from my view.

I am only too delighted to intervene on my right hon. Friend. Does he agree that the Labour amendment does not in any way impose the social chapter upon the United Kingdom? Furthermore, under the wording of that amendment, it is merely a question of whether the Government were to notify their intention, which they clearly would not do.

I am sorry that I gave way, because I knew that my hon. Friend would be long-winded. [Interruption.] If my hon. Friend reads the amendment, he will see that it states that the Government should not ratify the treaty unless and until they have done what is stipulated under the amendment. If the Opposition amendment is not a wrecking one, I do not know a wrecking amendment when I see one. The objectives that my hon. Friends seek to achieve are, similarly, wrecking objectives. I believe that they intend to leave the House without a resolution tonight, which would be thoroughly—

That would be cynical and unscrupulous. It is clear from my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor) that that is their intention.

That takes me back to the real point at issue. There is a majority in the House in favour of the treaty. If the majority in the House goes against the Government, the stipulation in the treaty will make it impossible—

That Act of Parliament makes it impossible for the Government to seek to ratify the treaty, because no resolution has been reached.

The whole purpose of the unholy alliance into which my hon. Friends have entered is simply to wreck the ratification of the treaty.

No, I am bound by the time constraint.

I do not believe that Parliament should allow itself to be abused and twisted in this way. The simple facts are straight. There is a majority in the House in favour of the treaty—

The power to ratify that treaty has been given to the Government by the House. That is what we need and that is what we should do. There should be no further messing about.

6.15 pm

Two issues will be decided tonight: a minor one and a major one.

The minor issue is the social chapter, and the major one is the entire Maastricht treaty. More precisely, the minor issue is whether the agreement attached to the protocol on social policy should be adopted or rejected. The major issue is whether the European Communities (Amendment) Act 1993, which enacts most of the Maastricht treaty—the treaty of union—should come into force.

The social chapter is the minor issue, for a number of reasons. I fully understand why, however, those on both sides of the House who have spoken have tended to exaggerate its effects. The Prime Minister made it very clear that it would ruin British industry and destroy jobs. I am afraid that some in the Labour party would have people believe that vast benefits will be bestowed upon working people in Britain as a result of the social chapter. Not so. It will do neither.

The social chapter will have a barely discernible effect, for three reasons. First, let us consider the most direct item of cost—wages and salaries. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the Opposition pointed out, wages, salaries and benefits are explicitly excluded from the social chapter. They will not be affected one iota by it.

There will be no effect on the right of association, the right to strike, and the right to impose lock-outs—all of which could significantly affect collective bargaining and therefore pay, wages and salaries. Those issues will not be affected by the social chapter, because they are excluded from it.

Secondly, one may ask about non-wage cash benefits. Social security payments, national insurance contributions, social protection of workers generally, redundancy pay and compensation for the termination of contracts need not cause any worries. Any change to any of them would require unanimity of voting and that is subject to the veto.

Thirdly, what about indirect costs? Those costs include control over working hours, night-time working, paid holidays, leave and pay for pregnant women, and the employment of children and young workers under the age of 18. They are important matters, but the social chapter does not deal with them. They are neither included nor excluded, because they are already enacted under article 118A of the European Communities Act 1972, as amended by the Single European Act. They are already imposed in full or in part on the United Kingdom by qualified majority voting.

The costs and benefits proposed in the social chapter are minimal.

The other non-work force factors that influence productivity and unit costs that my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the Opposition mentioned—Management efficiency, innovation, the quality of products and capacity utilisation—are so small that what can be done under the social chapter defies measurement.

There was once a fairly plausible case against the social chapter: that any increase in costs might affect a country whose productivity was very low. However, that possible effect was under a fixed exchange rate system. Since 14 September 1992, when the pound floated free, there has been no problem whatever of competitiveness arising out of the social chapter.

The argument on the grounds that it would impose crippling costs on British industry is entirely bogus. Equally bogus is the argument that it would provide measurable benefits for people at work in Britain. It is what The Guardian in its leader column yesterday called "a waffling irrelevance", which applies to both sides of the argument.

We all know why the Government, and to some extent my right hon. Friends, have attached so much importance to the social chapter. We well know that the Government have not had an easy time with the Maastricht treaty. There are many things in the treaty that Conservative Members find it difficult to swallow. Therefore, the social chapter was brought back as a great prize, not only because we opted out, but, I regret to say, to appeal to the more primitive instincts of the Conservative party. It was waved about as a banner.

The Maastricht treaty is not very popular with Labour Members and among those who have read it and understood it. Labour party members and our supporters have not yet understood that what is proposed, which the Front-Bench spokesmen of my party have accepted, is that it entails the handover of the powers of economic decision-making to unelected bodies in Europe. They have not yet understood that it will allow those bodies to decide the Chancellor's Budget and his borrowing requirement, it will abolish the Bank of England as a nationalised industry and hand it over to a totally independent European central bank that will decide the interest rates and exchange rates of our country.

The Labour party Front-Bench spokesmen and our shadow Chancellor need to offer something in return to the British people. That is why they too have given such exaggerated importance to the social chapter; a little something, a little bit of sugar to cover the bitter pill of the surrender of serious economic powers.

So much for the minor issue, now for the major one: the treaty itself. I read Madam Speaker's splendid ruling yesterday when she dealt with the possible challenge by the courts to the supremacy of Parliament. She quoted the words of the Bill of Rights.:
"freedom of speech and debates or proceedings in Parliament ought not to be impeached or questioned in any court or place out of Parliament."
I agree with every word. I repeat the words:
"proceedings … ought not to be impeached or questioned … in any court or place out of Parliament."
The British courts or Whitehall is not the primary threat to Parliament. That threat is massively present in the treaties of the European Community that proclaim the supremacy of Community law over British law, and in its courts of justice that can and do strike down and render nugatory any Act of this Parliament that conflicts with European law. Through the Maastricht treaty, it will massively extend its powers to large new areas of policies, including the ultimate power of imposing fines on this country if its rulers dared to pursue policies contrary to those imposed by the European Community.

All this and more is at the heart of the Maastricht treaty. That is the major matter, and to resist that further encroachment of powers should be the aim of all hon. Members who cast their votes tonight.

6.24 pm

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made many excellent points in his powerful opening speech, but he never spoke a truer word than when he said that, since the time of the signing of the Maastricht treaty, the argument has changed throughout Europe. He is completely right to say that many of the issues considered at the time of the signing of the treaty as British eccentricities and doubts have how become universally agreed and actively supported by the policy makers of Europe as they face totally new conditions.

In many ways, the doubters of Maastricht—heaven knows, that included the British Government throughout the 1980s and even at the signing and the negotiating of the treaty—have won the argument. We have listened over long nights and weeks to my hon. Friends the so-called "Tory rebels". They have shown courage, and they have fought the good fight in their corner, and I respect that.

In a way they have won the argument, not to their desired extent of stopping the ratification of the treaty, but in having validly and accurately pointed out the absurdities of the high, complete Maastricht doctrine and its dangers. Yesterday's editorial of the Wall Street Journal said that the old taboos of European union—the gobbledegook and the Euro-speak—have been smashed.

It is curious, although my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister cannot say it himself, that he has been one of the most effective Euro-rebels. His vision and that of my right hon. Friends on the Front Bench, proposed against a storm of sneers and opposition from the party opposite and many others in Europe at the time of the Maastricht treaty, has gained ground.

Now every banker says that monetary union will not come about and that it is an absurd idea, but they did not say it then. Now every commentator says that the Maastricht treaty has many over-centralising elements and that we must decentralise. The great idea of subsidiarity was dragged up somehow to counteract the trends of Maastricht, but the over-centralising elements were not noted at the time, either. Further summits were needed to establish a completely new mood.

It would be comical if it were not tragic to see the great British Labour party once again climbing too late on the bandwagon of yesterday's causes. It brought the whole Maastricht package, and that is now out of date. Europe is facing completely different problems.

We all know perfectly well—this is the main reason why I want to see the treaty ratified and to get on with things —that, as soon as the treaty is ratified, we shall move on to new ground. We shall not merely seek amendments to the Maastricht treaty, or merely wait until 1996—that is much too long—but we shall look for amendments to the Single European Act, as the Maastricht treaty itself does, and for amendments to the treaty of Rome.

I do not have time, although I respect my hon. Friend's view.

Many of the issues that have recently been debated will form the basis for a new agenda and new treaties that will begin to head Europe in the right direction. That is what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister saw months and years ago. He has led the way, and that has been the growing theme throughout the rest of Europe.

We know that the vision of Europe resting on the nation states, with a huge return of powers from the Community machinery and institutions to the nation states, with far tighter controls on the central machinery, such as the Council of Ministers and the Commission, and with the entrenchment of the rights of nation states with carefully circumscribed power only to the central authorities needed to run the common, free and open market, are now the common aspirations and the mood of more and more Europeans. We know that, in the larger Europe that is coming, more Europeans will welcome the great European confederation of nation states which replaces the old-fashioned centralised ideas which were too prevalent at Maastricht.

I should like to see the Government not sitting around and saying that they have reached a point where it is all too difficult, and that we must wait until 1996. I should like to see all hon. Members, and certainly my right hon. Friends, visit present and future members of the enlarged Community and bring home to them the new agenda for which we intend to push and gain agreement right through Europe, with more decentralisation—a confederal commonwealth of Europe based on the nation state.

Although my hon. Friends, the famous rebels, fight on, theirs is in a sense yesterday's battle. They would be ill advised to ignore the advice of many wise people outside this House; they should not listen only to other Members of Parliament. They should see where they should now stand and how they should consolidate what they have gained. They should help to build the better Europe that we all want to see, instead of the old, centralised Europe.

There is some glorious confusion about social policy, which was shown especially in the speech by the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith). He does not understand that social policy at European level is based on two legislative origins. It is based on the social chapter, which is the social provisions in the treaty of Rome, which have been largely accepted. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has signed up to them.

Britain is the leading country in implementing those provisions. From the list supplied by the European Commission, it can be seen that we are the only country that has applied all the EC social directives since we joined the European Community. Every other country, including Belgium, which is always lecturing us on these matters, and Germany, which tells us that we are dumbheads and do not understand the social dimension, has noncompliance written against its name. Britain is the only country of the 12 that has complied in all circumstances, except in two in which the appropriateness of compliance is being questioned. Every other country is a non-complier.

We have accepted the social chapter; that is not an argument. The social chapter covers a range of important issues concerned with health and safety at work, the equal treatment of men and women, rights at work, the free movement of workers and a variety of important social issues. We accept all that, although it is absurd that it should be done from so remote and central a place as Brussels.

What we question is something quite different, which the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East did not seem to understand. We question the social charter, which was put together in December 1989 and which formed the basis of the protocol which is now in the Maastricht treaty. More and more people in Europe are realising that that great move on from the normal social provisions in the Rome treaty and in the Single European Act is largely unnecessary, and increasingly out of date.

My right hon. and hon. Friends need no lectures from anybody about the implementation of either European social policy or of national social policy. We are entitled to lecture in return that the case for social policy being dictated centrally and uniformly is absurdly out of date. The whole mood now is for more flexibility, and for more differentiation and variety between the nation states.

The real problem of Europe which the policy makers now face is not the social protocol, which is an out-of-date and unnecessary concept. The real problem is competitiveness, which is draining away throughout Europe, to the point where we are finding it difficult to sustain our living standards, let alone improve them. The real problem is the 19 million unemployed throughout Europe, half of whom have been unemployed for more than a year.

The social protocol thinking and the detail of it are not wrong because they do not sound good. Of course the social protocol sounds good, and it appeals to Opposition Members. It is wrong not because low wages are good and because we want to make this a low-wage economy. It is wrong because lower overheads are essential throughout Europe if we are to begin to compete and to enable our present social standards to be maintained.

I read a document produced by the Labour-supported Commission for Social Justice, which began with a call for Britain to wake up in social matters. Opposition Members should listen to that message. This nation should wake up if we are to maintain, let alone to advance, our capacity to provide social provision and a high-wage economy.

High wages must be earned by much harder work, by a much tighter control of social overheads, and by moving away from the placid idea that the whole of Europe can have long weekends while Asia does not have weekends at all. We have to have far tougher schooling, we have to work longer hours and we must now move in the 1990s into a far more dedicated and hard-working environment if we are to maintain our existing social entitlements, let alone have all the fat, generous layer of entitlements which are promised but cannot be delivered by the social protocol.

Japanese children are told in school, right from the beginning, when they are three or four years old, that no one owes them a living. They are told that they must save, encourage investment and work extremely hard because no one in the world owes them a living. They are told that they must compete.

That is the social and compassionate message that should come from those concerned with jobs, with employment and with the prosperity of the people of Europe, especially the people of this island. That is the message that we should hear instead of the out-of-date absurdity of a social protocol that belongs to yesterday.

6.34 pm

The major aspect of the social dimension is the scale of unemployment that we are experiencing in Europe. It is a major problem, and action is needed if we are not to impair our competitiveness as we move into the 21st century, with the burden of 16 million or 17 million unemployed people, and if we are not to damage the fabric of our society.

The challenge is to be able to maintain a balance between improving our society through our social policy and social fabric, and retaining the competitiveness of our industries. The social chapter provides a framework for creating social policies. There are no rules that one cannot sack people or change wages under the social policy as it is written. The social chapter also extends majority voting.

To arrive at new policies that will determine what costs there will he on industry and the sort of social fabric we have involves a long consultative process. However, the decisions will be made by the Council of Ministers. There is nothing in Maastricht that will increase the overhead costs of business, as some hon. Members have claimed. They will be determined later through the Council of Ministers.

I have a little confidence in the Council of Ministers. I believe that it will take into account the changes that have emanated throughout Europe since the treaty was written. We have had the recession. Unemployment has gone up since the treaty was written. The target dates for economic and monetary union must have changed. There is now a Conservative Government in France and a right-wing Government in Italy.

We also have the Commission's document, "Community-Wide Framework for Employment" which was sent by the Commission to the Social Affairs Committee. That document drew unfavourable comparisons between EC growth and employment and growth and employment in the United States and in Japan. The latest statement from the European Convention in Copenhagen made some comments on that. All hon. Members must take that into account if we are being realistic. All the changes are creating an atmosphere among member states. They realise that they have to be a bit more wary, and that they must not be wild about social policy or wild in other ways, because of the costs involved.

I will not give way, because I do not have time.

The key to our competitiveness is to reduce the burden of unemployment and to create jobs in high-tech areas. I welcome the Commission's proposals to do that, whereas I find the Government's approach of just reducing labour costs rather pathetic. The Commission's proposals for reducing unemployment are comprehensive and very good. They contrast markedly with the way in which the Government are going about the matter.

What are the implications of signing the social chapter? Signing does not in itself commit us to any change in our employment legislation or to any measures that could, even theoretically, reduce our competitiveness. That contrasts strongly with the line put by the right hon. Member for Woking (Sir C. Onslow) who gave no specific example of how costs would be raised.

All that would do is extend areas of the EC labour laws where the EC already has competence, and extend areas that can be decided by majority vote. The new powers will depend ultimately on the Council of Ministers and the direction that member states collectively decide they should follow in the future. I have sensed a changing mood from certain people to whom I have spoken. The panic from the Government, who think that everything must be screwed down, and that we must go back to low tech and low wages, is absurd. The mood within the EC is that we must be more wary.

There are reasons why the signing of the social chapter may not have the dire impact on competitiveness that some have predicted. The social chapter covers areas where decisions are made by qualified majority voting Those areas involve safety, working conditions, information and consultation with workers, equality for men and women and matters of labour market inequalities. I have spent 25 years in business and in industry, and no business man would be afraid of that. To all intents and purposes, it would have a nil effect.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore) referred to social security, the social protection of workers and the termination of employment contracts and the representation and collective defence of the interests of workers when they are unemployed. There is a long list, which I cannot go through.

I believe that many of those areas would undoubtedly increase industrial costs if we were to go wild in Europe. I do not believe that we will go wild, but if we did, the Government could have a veto. The Government's opt-out may have lost that influence, and I regret that. Other issues, such as pay, the right of association, the right to strike and the right to impose a lock-out are not even included in the social legislation.

Another reason why signing the social chapter may not make much difference is that many of its powers already exist under the treaty of Rome, and were extended by the Single European Act. Those are social powers that have been agreed within the Conservative party and the Government, and all the major decisions have been taken.

For example, the EC directive on the protection of pregnant women was opposed by the Government, as it supposed to increase costs. That is absurd, and has now been included in the Trade Union Reform and Employment Rights Act 1993. The draft directive on the working time limit of 48 hours will probably become legislation, contrary to what the Minister has said. Both the examples have nothing to do with the social chapter. The fact that both measures were opposed shows the rather pathetic priorities of the Government.

The Prime Minister played on the argument that, if Britain is within the social dimension, we will be in a position to be involved in the drafting of social chapter measures. The Government will not be in that position now. If one looks at the 1989 social action programme, however, one can see that it did work as far as the Government's priorities were concerned. The pregnant women directive reduced the measure from full pay to sick pay, and changes will also occur in the legislation for the 48-hour working week. The Government can do it if they want. I see no reason why Conservative Members are afraid of the social chapter, which will have little impact.

I should like the Minister to respond to another point made by the Prime Minister, who said emphatically that we must be in the heart of Europe to be able to influence things. I know of certain United Kingdom multinational companies which have pointed out that, without the United Kingdom influence which will now be lost because of the opt-out, social policy will be determined by the other 11 member states.

That policy will be implemented in the branches of those companies on the continent. In practice, however, the United Kingdom will have to carry out the policy that has been agreed by the other 11. There must be some uniformity within a company. I refer to multinationals, which are large companies.

6.46 pm

It is a great pleasure for me that you have called me, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I am grateful. It is 22 years ago this week that I had the pleasure of resigning from a Conservative Government to oppose this country joining the EC. I know that you were still at school at the time, but it is interesting to look back 22 years to see what I was saying. I was, of course, regarded as mad by most people.

I said that our joining the EC would have an adverse ect on trade. We have had a deficit in our trade with rope since then of £100,000 million. I thought that our joining would mean, unfortunately, that we would not be able to solve the problem of food prices, and that the poor would be hit. We know that the common agricultural policy is now wholly out of control, and no one can do anything about it.

I thought that our joining would destroy the Anglo-American alliance. We can see how our friendship and co-operation with the USA has been undermined almost every day. I said that our joining would destroy jobs, and we can see that Europe's share of world trade is going down and down. Jobs are being destroyed, and people are suffering. Finally, of course, I said that our democracy would be undermined. It has been, largely by the treaty of Rome, and it will be more so if the Maastricht treaty goes through.

As one of the few remaining rebels, I shall not be voting for the amendment, because I am in favour of the social chapter. The amendment does not say that, but rather that it will not be possible to ratify the treaty until the Government say that they want to sign the social chapter. Should I worry? Far from it. We had the clearest statement from the Chancellor during the Budget speech that Britain would never sign the social chapter.

The Government—I am sure that those on the Front Bench, including the Secretary of State for Employment will agree—are never to sign the social chapter, and the amendment says that there can be no ratification until the Government say they are to agree to the social chapter. Is not that the ideal thing for someone to vote for who does not like the Maastricht treaty?

In fairness, I do not see why everyone is so worried about the social chapter. I have heard hon. Members say that it would cost us millions, and that it would put up costs because there would be a 48-hour working week. As has been found throughout the treaty, that is a load of rubbish. There is hardly anything in the social chapter whatsoever. The only new provision relates to social security, and it is subject to unanimity. There are three small items, one relating to men and women, that are already covered by the court through the majority voting.

If any hon. Member is worried about majority voting, he should look at the Maastricht treaty. There he would see massive areas such as visas, youth training, trans-European networks, telecommunications, distortion of competition, health, education, culture, third-world development, consumer protection and cohesion. For all those, majority voting will be introduced. If the Minister, who seems to be happy, is worried about majority voting, let him worry about all of it that is contained in the Maastricht treaty, which is destroying the basis of our democracy.

The sad fact is that, on the social chapter, there has been flag-waving between the parties. The Conservatives have been saying that it is a dreadful thing, and were not we glad that they had got us out of it? Labour said that, because the Conservatives had got us out of it. it must somehow be a good thing. I wish there had been some honesty in debate.

Both sides should have accepted that there is precious little in the social chapter at all. The only new thing relates to social security and is subject to unanimity, and a small extension of majority voting. Even in those areas, I believe that the EC will use the powers contained in the Single European Act.

You must be fed up hearing my speeches, Mr. Deputy Speaker, although you are a patient man. I remind you that, during debates on the Bill, I asked the Government six times to tell me anything that could be brought in under the social chapter that could not have already been brought in under the Single Europe Act or the treaty of Rome. I have not had an answer. It is clear, however, that some hon. Members—despite assurances from me, and although they have not had the pleasure of reading the Maastricht treaty—are worried about the social chapter. If they are worried about the social chapter and if, by a remote chance, we are successful in carrying the amendment—I and possibly one other rebel remain—they should join me in voting the main motion down. I shall be glad to do it because, as the Government have said so often, they are worried about the social chapter.

We should worry more about ratification. That is what the amendment is about. We should ask ourselves what right we have to say that ratification should go ahead when the treaty surrenders vast powers of our democracy. We hear the Labour party and the Conservative party shouting at election time about their economic policy. If Maastricht is ratified, the same thing will happen even if the Communist party or the National Front wins the next election. Economic policy will be laid down by central institutions, and there will be nothing that we can do about it.

Some people, particularly people in the Whips Office, are hopeful. People say, "We know that it has gone wrong. We know that is is a mess. But we now have a new Administration who will change things." I appeal to them to ask themselves how the Government can change things. We know that half the member states of the European Community receive a great deal of money from it. Only a small number, including Britain, put money in. Where is the incentive for change?

Even if people doubt me and remain hopeful because the people in Europe are all nice people who want to do nice things, I ask them to consider where the progress is on the common agricultural policy. Time and time again in the House, I have heard Agriculture Ministers say that they have achieved a new formula, new arrangements and reform. They say that things will be better. Every single year it gets worse and worse. Today, the food mountains are the highest that they have ever been. The expenditure next year will be about £6 billion more than it was last year.

Sadly, the consumers and the poor people—the people we should worry about—face extra costs of £20 a week. If we believe that reform is possible, why has it not happened with the CAP? I ask those who say that we can reform the Community why we should pass over all the power and extra money to the EC without stopping to think.

The tragedy of the treaty and of the debate tonight is that the parties have grown apart from the people. If one asks people whether they believe that Maastricht will do good or harm, the majority will probably say that they do not like it, and that they want a referendum. I believe that it will undermine our country and our democracy if we shove through a massive new transfer of power and money without asking the people what they think.

I appeal to hon. Members on both sides of the House to remember the issue at stake. Let us not have silly, squalid arguments about the social chapter. The social chapter is basically meaningless compared with what we have already handed over. The real issue is that we simply not have the right to hand over huge freedoms and ntrols to boards, commissions and councils without asking the people first. That is the issue for tonight. That is why I shall vote for the amendment, in the firm and secure knowledge that the Government do not want the social chapter. Let us all vote for an amendment which proposes no ratification without the social chapter.

The Maastricht treaty will increase protectionism. It will be bad for jobs and bad for people. It will increase the amount of money that we hand over to Europe. It will be bad for poor people and for employees. It will increase the costs of production in Britain. That will destroy jobs. Having listened to all the debates on the treaty, we should stop and think. The right thing for us to do is vote for the amendment and then vote against the motion, as amended. We should spend the summer period rethinking. The Government may say that they want to go ahead. They may do some deal with someone. That is a matter for them.

The Maastricht treaty is going through at a time of economic hardship for Britain and Europe. The EC seems to be getting worse in every possible way. At such a time, we should stop and think. After we have stopped and thought, we should ask the people. Let us remember that the power and freedom do not belong to us. They do not belong to thin or fat, old or young politicians. They belong to the people of Britain.

That is why we should vote for the amendment tonight. Let us remember that we have no right whatever to ratify or approve anything which involves a transfer of power unless we ask the people first. Let that be our intention tonight. Let us ask the people. Let us seek their views, and remember that the country belongs to them.

6.54 pm

Today's debate has obviously and understandably attracted a great deal of attention. The forecast that the vote will be close has focused attention on the smaller parties in the House and in particular on my honourable colleagues from Northern Ireland. It has been suggested that the Government may attempt to purchase their votes. I hope that my colleagues will be wise enough—as I know that they are—to recognise that if one is bought on Thursday, one can be sold on Monday. If the Government are prepared to engage in such unprincipled behaviour, they would not step back from doing so again on a future occasion.

However, I have been assured by Ministers that they are principled and that no offers of any description have been made to my honourable colleagues. It would be a serious mistake to deal with serious problems in my part of the world in that way. The only way in which we shall resolve those problems is to reach agreement on how we can respect our differences and work together for our common interests, which are considerable.

The debate this evening has great significance for my part of the world. As other hon. Members have said, the debate is not only about the social chapter but about European union. I am a strong supporter of the steady evolution towards European union. I should have thought that everyone in the Chamber wanted to see not only a united Europe but a united world and recognised that a united world was not a uniform world and a united Europe was not a uniform Europe. It is noticeable that those who oppose the steady evolution of European union have uniform minds and wish to impose their uniformity on society.

It is interesting to look at the people across Europe who join the so-called sceptics. They include the National Front in France, the neo-Nazis in Germany and the extreme communists. Those people believe in imposing their will on the rest of the people. That is the mind-set that created two world wars and imperialism. The world is still suffering from both. European union is emerging from that. It is a difficult process, but one that we should all pursue steadily.

When I speak about European union, I often ask people to cast their minds back 50 years. For the second time in a century, bombs were falling everywhere across Europe and 35 million people lay dead. If someone had said then, "Don't worry—in 50 years we shall be in this Chamber voting for European union among those peoples," people would have said that that person should be locked up. The fact that we are moving towards European union is one of the great achievements of human history.

Conflict has been ended by the adoption of the simple principle that difference does not threaten us but enriches us. The answer to difference is not conflict or war. Nor is it to impose one's view on other people. It is acceptance and accommodation of difference. That is not an easy task. The peoples of eastern Europe are suffering severely today as a result of the mentality of uniformity which seeks to impose on them a certain view.

I find the Government's case on the social chapter difficult to understand. They have said that the approach to European union of staying out of the Community was a mistake. Now they propose staying out of the social chapter, leaving us behind again. That is something of a contradiction. I do not understand it.

Britain is one of the biggest contributors to the European Community. Britain has bought a first-class ticket, but asks that the poorer people of this land should not take full advantage of it. By rejecting the social chapter, the Government are telling people to buy a first-class ticket but to travel in the luggage compartment. The Government tell us that we suffered because we were not in the Community at the start. Shall we not suffer from not being included in the social chapter at the start, shaping the whole thing? We are told that by staying out of it we shall be more competitive. My part of the world has the lowest wage rates in the United Kingdom; it also has the highest unemployment. If we provide minimum wage rates for our working people, there is no logic in suggesting that that will create higher unemployment. The lowest wage rates and highest unemployment in my part of the world were there before the troubles started, so that argument does not stand up at all.

A more fundamental point is that in this day and age we are living through the greatest economic revolution in the history of the world—the technological revolution. It is the biggest since the industrial revolution, and it is making a fundamental change in our whole way of life. In the industrial revolution, the real wealth was created by the labour and sweat of people; in today's technological revolution, wealth is being created by fewer and fewer people.

As a result, the role of the state in looking after the welfare of its people must totally change. At the end of the ty, if there is all the money and land in the world but no human beings, then it will all blow away. We should care for human beings at every level of society. Unfortunately, the Government, with their Reaganomics and Thatcherism, are going in the direction of the law of the jungle and the survival of the fittest, rather than going in the direction that we should be going, where the state takes much more responsibility for the welfare of all its people.

The social chapter is about ensuring that there are minimum wage levels, and that we care for the employed, the unemployed, the elderly and the sick. The whole concept of European union is that humanity transcends nationality, and that we have moved beyond the nation state and are living in an interdependent world. Unless we are in there at all levels, shaping that interdependent world, we shall lose out.

7.1 pm

I hope that the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume)—for whom I have great affection, not least because he is my parliamentary pair —will forgive me if I do not go down the line that he has taken.

In reply to the hon. Gentleman's criticism of my hon. Friends and myself—the so-called Euro-sceptics—I should make it clear that we have no connection whatever with right-wing or far-left organisations in Europe, and we resent that accusation.

I hope the hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I do not.

It is interesting to note that, as usual, most Conservative Members who are present are those of us who are suspicious of and opposed to the treaty. We have always attended in great numbers, and it is good to see so many here this evening.

I owe it to my hon. Friends and to the House to explain why I have decided to support the Government, and I do so with some pride. I was not bullied by the Whips; they did not delve into what is, after all, a pretty bland past to try to persuade me. I had an invitation from my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to attend at No. 10; I asked him to save the gin and tonic for later, because I had already decided to support the Government.

I remain totally opposed to the Maastricht treaty. I only wish that opportunities were still available for the House to reject the treaty. It appears at this stage that we are now virtually at the end of the road. It is perhaps not apt for us to vote for the social chapter purely on the basis of trying to postpone ratification of the treaty—which is not, of course, inevitable.

I admire my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor), but when he says that we are not voting for the social chapter, I know that if he were presented with an early-day motion by colleagues and asked to sign it, and the words of that early-day motion were the words on the Labour amendment, he would totally reject it. I cannot put my name to the amendment, or follow the Opposition into the Lobby.

My opposition to the treaty is know in the House and has been consistent. I was one of those hon. Members who declined to vote for the Single European Act, on both Second and Third Reading. There are people in the so-called sceptic mould who voted for that Act. That was probably the start of our troubles, let alone the wretched treaty that the House has considered over the past few months.

I was critical of the Government, the ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Prime Minister on their monetary line, the effect that that had on jobs in my constituency and the effect that the whole treaty will have on jobs and prospects in my constituency. My opposition to the treaty remains, and will remain throughout my parliamentary career, and I am representing the views of my constituents on that basis.

A wag asked me earlier whether I feel like Judas Iscariot at this particular time. I have received no pieces of silver, but if my body is found floating down the Thames at 10.15, so be it—although the Whips were anxious to make sure that it was 10.15 and not 9.15, so that I could be here to vote for the Government.

My main reason for supporting the Government and rejecting the social chapter is based on constituency experience and what the social chapter would do to businesses in my constituency. The classic case is the one that I cited earlier when my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister allowed me to intervene. It is the case of a company that manufactures in my constituency but is so worried about its European set-up, and the manufacturing going on there, that it is seriously considering either closing down or withdrawing part of that manufacturing base in Europe because conditions and productivity in the United Kingdom were improving so much.

I am sorry; there is not enough time.

General Motors is the principal employer in my constituency. Earlier this week one of its executives told me about the cost of production and wages. I am sorry that the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) is not here to listen to this. The company's production and wages costs in Germany are $24·9 per hour; in the United Kingdom, they are $18·9 an hour. Before Opposition Members jump up and say that that is because we have sweated labour, let me add that the cost of production in the United States is $13·9 an hour. But the production lines in the United Kingdom are doing far better than both those major competitors.

If we adopt the social chapter tonight, by whatever means, it will be a devastating effect on a company like that in terms of increased costs, which we would then have to bear because of the social benefits that would have to be brought in under the terms of the social chapter—[Interruption.] It is unique for me to be barracked by my hon. Friends, who are some of my closest colleagues. I hope they will remain so after 10 o'clock. I remind them that, if the social chapter was adopted, this country would have a voice only by majority voting. As for social benefits, they will be brought in by those with their own interests at heart rather than the interests of the United Kingdom.

As to tactics, I understand my hon. Friends' intention, but I think that at this stage they are wrong. I apologise immediately to my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Mr Cash) for describing it as futile—that was perhaps a little too strong$but in any parliamentary, policy or business argument, one can go so far and no further.

I feel that at this stage the ratification of the treaty ems almost inevitable; I bitterly regret that. As the Prime Minister rightly said, there have been votes here and in another place and the Bill has been given Royal Assent. The Governmenet rightly assume that, even if Labour's amendment were passed—I sincerely hope that it is not —they could proceed with the treaty without the social chapter, and I support that. I do not want them to go ahead with the treaty, but if they must do so, it must be without the social chapter. They are entitled so to proceed as article 7 asks only for a resolution of the House.

I regret that there is no other way in which we can express our opposition to the treaty. I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow) that the time has come to question our credibility as colleagues in this place, but I believe that we can take some pride and honour in the way in which we have changed the Government's mind.

In his speech to the 1922 Committee tonight, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister acknowledged that we have come a long way and that we have fired many warnings shots across the Government, warning them that we must not again embark on such an exercise without the full-hearted consent of the Conservative Benches or the people.

Tonight's debate is purely on the social chapter. Those are the words on the Order Paper, which I believe will be voted on at 10 o'clock tonight and I want to reject them.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The use of the word "rat" in this House is surely out of order.

7.10 pm

The saddest feature of the debate has been Conservative Members' lack of idealism and vision, which was typified by the hon. Member for Luton, North (Mr. Carlisle). What is this vision of Europe? What are we doing? We are having a penny arcade that pays no regard to ordinary human beings—to those who are essentially the citizens of Europe.

What is the social chapter that we have been debating this afternoon? I certainly did not recognise it. The Prime Minister once stigmatised it as socialism by the back door. It has been suggested that it is the means by which the bureaucracy in Brussels can get into our system and do terrible things. That completely fails to recognise the continental tradition of a proper relationship with workers.

I shall quote from 1891, from a document that the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Cash) certainly knows very well indeed, Rerum novarum. He is talking about hours that are too long to work, about wages that are too low, about the necessity to consult workers to see how things can be resolved, about the just wage and how families should be supported.

Forty years on, we have similar quotes. I shall quote from Quadragesimo anno:
"In the first place, the worker must be paid a wage sufficient to support him and his family … But to abuse the years of childhood and the limited strength of women is grossly wrong … It is intolerable abuse, and to be abolished at all cost … Every effort must therefore be made that fathers of families receive a wage large enough to meet ordinary family needs adequately."
That is the whole spirit of two encyclicals. It is the whole spirit of the Christian Democratic Union, which has been joined by left-wing Conservative Members of the European Parliament. They feel extremely strongly about the matter and have said time and again that it is crucial that we should stay in the social chapter.

It is quite true that the social chapter, as it exists, is not nearly as strong as we would like. Certainly, relatively few costs are entailed in it. Any firm that cannot absorb those costs is not worth its salt.

One of the big problems with British industry, which has not been mentioned today, is the quality of management. The quality of far too much management is extremely poor and something must be done about it. Management courses are often almost like a catapult: they are not properly thought out. For real training in management, people must go to the continent or the United States. Nothing will be done about quality of management as long as managers are allowed to get away with their lackadaisical way of treating workers.

The Prime Minister talked about labour costs. That showed his attitude. Apparently, it is not human beings, men and women, who are trying to provide decently for their family: it is labour costs. He says that labour costs must be kept down, which is precisely the same as saying that we must keep the workers down. That simply will not do.

We undoubtedly need a minimum wage, and I have no qualms in talking about it. I talked about it in the last election. I well remember the manager of a factory who said, "You bring in a minimum wage when you get in in 10 days and I will have to close down." Only three months after the Government were returned, that factory closed down because it went bankrupt under the financial policies that were being followed.

I do not have time to give way; the hon. Lady will be allowed to speak later.

If we do not have the minimum wage because it is unaffordable, what do we have? It has been announced today that chairmen and directors of water boards are allowed to take a huge number of £1 shares and then sell them tomorrow for £3. That is £2 for no productivity whatever, which is a scandal. We are informed that that means that almost £2 million, which is totally unaccounted for, will go into the pockets of directors of water boards without any work being done for it, yet we cannot afford the social chapter. Is not that the veriest nonsense?

What are the freedoms for which the Government are fighting? What are those firms being allowed to do? They will be allowed to sack pregnant women. The minute a woman becomes pregnant, a firm will be able to sack her. Without the social chapter we will not be able to do anything to stop such behaviour. We know that it goes on and that it is widespread. Families will he paid starvation wages. Kiddies will be allowed to grow up in poverty and therefore in crime.

Those are the freedoms for which the Government are fighting. Their most famous victory was in securing the no-holidays provision. The right hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell) said that people had to start working seven days a week. When all car dealers start to work seven days a week, that will indeed be the day. An agreed maximum week of 48 hours is not too much to ask for.

I well recall a strike against compulsory overtime in a liquorice allsorts factory in your constituency, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because my mother led it. She worked there to ensure that we had an education, because, as a railwayman, my father was not paid enough. She refused to work compulsory overtime and leave families outside —the majority of workers there were women. We are debating such social conditions. Unless we have the social dimension to Europe, Europe itself will perish.

We have talked a lot about the democratic deficit, but we are concentrating on the social deficit, and it is entirely correct that we do so. There is a social deficit in Europe which we must plug. We must not plug it only by this safety net. That is all it is, a sort of safety net, which is happily accepted by those who agree with the social market. Frankly, it is happily accepted by a large number of Conservative Members who want a free vote and would vote for the social chapter. There are no two ways about it, because one can hear the European Movement happily expressing it.

There is a social deficit in Europe, but above all there is one in this country. Of course there has been internal investment and investment has come into the country, but hon. Members fail to mention that three times as much investment has gone to the continent instead of coming here, and that is a serious problem which should be properly analysed.

Twenty per cent. of those who are classified as poor in the Community live in this country. That is not a cause for complacency or contentment while the Government are talking about deregulation, and getting rid of regulations here, there and everywhere—if they were only red tape I would be entirely in favour. The Government are pushing the poor further down. They are deregulating the entire catering industry so that they can burn and poison people and get away with it. That is a disgrace.

7.21 pm

I respect the views of the hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. Enright) on Britain's place in Europe, and largely share them. I was especially dismayed, therefore, by his backward-looking speech. It reflected that of the Leader of the Opposition, who took us back to 1909, whereas the hon. Gentleman took us back to 1891. I did not recognise the Dickensian portrayal of the so-called social deficit that he alleged exists between this country and the rest of the continent of Europe. As he well knows, that is completely misleading.

The House and the other place have debated in great detail the Maastricht treaty as negotiated, successfully and skilfully, by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, and time and again they have approved those provisions. No Chamber in the European Community has given the treaty anything like the detailed examination to which it has been subjected here. It is right, therefore, that we should have proceeded to approve the treaty, and I welcome the fact that it has now been given the Royal Assent. It is right that the motion as laid down in the treaty and passed by the House, and the motion standing in the name of the Government, should be approved.

It would, however, he wrong for the House to accept the amendment tabled in the name of the Labour party. That would first require a complete revision of the treaty, because it would be materially changed. Much more important than that procedural fact is the fact that it would seriously damage the interests of United Kingdom workers. Most of those who advocate adherence to the social chapter have recourse to the sort of Dickensian rhetoric that we have just heard from the hon. Member for Hemsworth. We have heard the usual cliché, to which the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith), the leader of the Labour party, descended—talk of Britain becoming the sweatshop of Europe. Everyone knows, in the Chamber and outside, that there is no question of Britain being the sweat shop of Europe. On the contrary, to put it as kindly as possible, anyone who suggests that is being disingenuous.

We must ensure that the workers are protected from losing their jobs and from the damaging implications of the introduction of the social chapter, which have been pointed out by every employers' organisation in the country. They are the people who know. The fascinating exchange between the Leader of the Opposition and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment demonstrated that European employers share the same view. That was game, set and match to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment.

My hon. Friend knows that I have only the time limit allowed to me. I hope that she will forgive me for not giving way.

My hon. Friends who have shown some inclination to vote for Labour's amendment, such as my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor), who is not in his place at the moment, recognise—possibly even more than some of the rest of us do—the enormous damage that the social chapter would do to jobs and employees in this country, but seem determined to follow that unwise course because of their deep dislike of the Maastricht treaty.

I can only believe that that dislike is based, contrary to what they insist, on a fundamental misunderstanding of what was achieved in the negotiation of that treaty and what has developed and been worked into the system since it was negotiated in Maastricht. Virtually all the developments since then have been in the direction of the sort of Europe that the vast majority of us on both sides of the House wish to achieve: a Europe where national identities are respected, a Europe of allies where the national interests of national states can be protected but the benefits of union developed. That is the treaty that they resolutely refused to recognise.

For six weary months, as we all painfully know, those hon. Members allowed their anxieties to be displayed in Committee in the Chamber. It is worth remarking, that there were about 240 words in the European Communities (Amendment) Bill as first drafted, but it spent six months in Committee—one month per 40 words. However important those words are—I yield to no one in accepting their great importance—it does not take six months to negotiate a Bill of 240 words. Indeed, some of my hon. Friends felt so strongly about particular amendments that it took them two or even three hours to explain their objections to or support for them.

The normal reaction to a performance of that nature would be dismay at the lack of clarity and powers of expression of the hon. Member who was speaking. Sadly, it has led to loss of the Chamber's prestige, and everyone outside the House now has a poor view of its capacity to deal with important issues. The irony is that the very hon. Members who profess to be deeply concerned about the dignity and power of the Chamber have contributed to that loss of status, and it is a loss to us all.

It is especially ironic that hon. Members who have used the parliamentary procedures that we are all privileged to enjoy have been at the forefront of that charge. In the past day or two they have been helped in seeking further delay by the person whom I might call the "Lord of lost causes", the noble Lord Rees-Mogg, who has so long been a prophet of doom. He is an espouser of hopeless quests and the gentleman who, in a notable article in The Times in May, suggested that he knew what happened on doorsteps, which those of us who know him had some difficulty in accepting.

That noble Lord and his offshore billionaire supporters seem determined to exercise their influence on the United Kingdom's right to develop an important relationship with the European Community, and are trying to get the courts to frustrate the strongly expressed will of Parliament. Were the issue not so vital, it would be hilarious for a former editor of The Times to have made himself a suitable subject for the fourth leader of that newspaper, rather than performing the distinguished role that he ought to be playing.

A fog was created around the Maastricht treaty, but that fog has now cleared and the issues are clear. The first of those issues is that the Maastricht treaty, as negotiated by the Prime Minister and his colleagues, is good for Britain. The second is that the social chapter, as now on offer, is potentially bad for Britain and British workers. Therefore, it is clear that all hon. Members should support the Government motion and resist the Labour party's amendment in the Lobby tonight.

7.32 pm

The hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. Whitney) has failed to explain the central problem that confronts the Government he supports: how can the Government, who claim to be at the heart of Europe, exercise influence by opting out of basic and fundamental policies? Conservative Members have consistently claimed that the social chapter opt-out was a negotiating triumph for the Prime Minister at Maastricht. They also say that it is not only in Britain's interests, but those of the whole Community, to resist the social chapter.

The Conservatives claim that the opt-out protects Britain from the alleged costs of the social chapter, but no proper statistical evidence of those costs has ever been presented. We have had some back-of-the-cigar-packet figures from the Chancellor of the Exchequer. However, there has been no evidence to explain why, when at Maastricht the Prime Minister refused to agree to the social protocol, the other 11 countries went to extraordinary legal lengths to ensure that they could pass European legislation to give effect to the provisions of the social chapter.

At previous intergovernmental conferences, negotiations have generally continued until agreement is reached, with countries recognising that the resulting compromise contains elements with which they are happy and items that they oppose. They were content with compromise, viewing it as the only means of making progress. The social policy opt-out was a significant departure from that process. Unlike a parallel agreement allowing the British Government to opt out of economic and monetary union, the social policy opt-out emerged only during the negotiations at Maastricht. That opt-out appears to have been no more than a convenient political fix—a political solution without regard to the complex constitutional questions that it created.

The immediate consequence of the opt-out was an agreement by the other 11 member states on the social protocol. That addition to the treaty was necessary to allow the remainder of the 11 member states to have the opportunity of passing European legislation to give full effect to the social chapter. The fact that the other 11 countries were prepared to go to such lengths to achieve their objective demonstrates their determination to implement the social chapter and nails the lie that Britain is leading the way in Europe.

Britain's refusal to accept the social chapter gave any other country in the Community that had doubts about the social chapter a perfect opportunity to opt out as well. I recognise that such action would have killed the idea of protecting social rights in the Community. The opportunity was available to them, but what happened? Governments of the left and of the right and coalition Governments of the centre rejected that opportunity unanimously. Every one of the other 11 countries was determined that killing the idea of protecting social rights should not happen—they preferred to agree the social protocol among themselves rather than allow the British Government's intransigence to frustrate their social policy plans.

The first constitutional consequence of the social chapter opt-out means that Britain's people will be less well protected in the Community and under European law than are their continental and Irish counterparts. It follows that there will be a development of a separate legal system in the community. That system will apply to the 11 member states that have adopted the social protocol and have agreed laws under its provisions, while Britain will once again be on the outside, looking in. That will inevitably cause confusion in the legal system of the Community. It will mean that, instead of having a single system of European law, with the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg applying it, the Court will be forced to interpret directives made under the social protocol in a different way from those made with the unanimous approval of all 12 member states.

What will be the effect of the decisions? Will they apply to all 12 countries, to the British Government who have opted out of the social protocol or simply to the 11 countries that have agreed to the protocol? There will be an absurd state of affairs brought about by the deliberate policy of the British Government. How could they claim to be at the heart of Europe and the European Community when their decisions had destroyed a basic legal and constitutional principle of the European Community—that a single system of law should apply equally to all is citizens?

It appears inevitable that, at some stage, the opt-out will be challenged by the European Court of Justice. It follows from that—perhaps in the light of the Court's decision on the proposals for a European economic area —that the European Court of Justice will state that the opt-out cannot stand constitutionally. Therefore, either directly or indirectly, the United Kingdom will be forced to accept the social protocol and the social chapter. The social policy opt-out will then be revealed as no more than the cheap political fix that I described and not a negotiated triumph.

If the legal and constitutional arguments at the European level appear remote, similar issues undoubtedly apply in the context of our constitution. British citizens who work for Ford or ICI in this country will enjoy different standards of social policy protection from their continental counterparts who work for the same organisations elsewhere. Should a continental country fall short of the standards set out in a directive which passed under the social protocol, continental and Irish citizens will be able to appeal to their own courts and, ultimately, to the European Court of Justice. The same process will not be available to British citizens, who will be denied rights before the British courts and, ultimately, in European law, before the European Court of Justice. They will be denied basic rights available to every other citizen in the European Community.

That is why it is crucial for the House of Commons to signal clearly its determination to carry the Labour amendment. It requires the British Government to show their willingness to adopt the social protocol. Such a clear statement by the House of Commons appears, sadly, to have caused further constitutional difficulties for the Government. In the past few weeks we have seen a series of briefings and statements attributed to the usual anonymous Government sources suggesting that, even if the House of Commons recommends the adoption of the social protocol before ratification, the Government will ignore that recommendation.

In so doing, the Government would strike at the very heart of our unwritten constitution; they would strike at the basic principle set out by the leading constitutional authority, Professor Dicey. He said:
"The one essential principle of the constitution is obedience by all persons to the deliberately expressed will of the House of Commons in the first instance, and ultimately to the will of the nation as expressed through Parliament."
That applies to the Government, the Prime Minister, the Cabinet and everyone else in this country who supports our constitution.

But the Government lawyers have apparently advised the Prime Minister that he can proceed to ratification whatever the view or opinion of the House of Commons. Not for the first time, the Government appear to be relying on conveniently timed legal advice to get them off the painful Maastricht hook. Such advice in only a partial account of a complicated legal picture.

It is clear that treaty-making in this country is subject to what is known as the Ponsonby rule—a practice introduced by a Labour Government in April 1924 to require the Government to lay treaties before Parliament for 21 days before they could be ratified. The primary purpose of that rule was to ensure publicity and to end any risk of a Government using the royal prerogative to conclude secret treaties. It may appear ironic that such a rule should apply to the Maastricht treaty, which has perhaps received more publicity than any other treaty in our history.

The Ponsonby rule is relevant because it has always been assumed that, during the 21 days, it would be open to the House of Commons to object to a treaty, even though it had been made under the prerogative. That is the closest that the British constitution comes to the constitutional arrangements available in most other countries. Elsewhere, treaties can be ratified only after a parliamentary process which allows for a democratic vote either to approve or reject the treaties. In the past, Parliament has specifically been invited to approve important treaties such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation in 1949 and the 1954 agreement, which brought Germany into NATO and the Western European Union.

It is inconceivable that the Government could have gone ahead without parliamentary support on those occasions. That reinforces the view that the ultimate purpose of the approach is to obtain the approval of Parliament for a treaty and that, without such specific approval, the Government of the day should not proceed to ratification.

The relevance of the Ponsonby rule to the Maastricht social chapter is clear. If Parliament has the power to approve or disapprove ratification of a treaty, it must have the power to approve ratification subject to a condition —in this case, the acceptance of the social chapter. That issue goes to the heart of our constitution. We have no written constitution against which the actions of our Government can be measured and, where appropriate, tested before the courts. In those circumstances, it has always been left to the good sense of Ministers to behave within the basic principles of our constitution—above all else, giving effect to the wishes of Parliament and the House of Commons. If our Government fail to follow that principle, our parliamentary democracy will be put at risk.

7.39 pm

Yesterday Madam Speaker gave us a ruling. As an Ulsterman, I am glad that tonight I am speaking under the freedom of the Williamite revolution settlement. Some people in Northern Ireland will smile when they think of the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) enjoying that liberty, too, under the Williamite revolution settlement. It puts this debate into a European context.

Those who oppose the Maastricht treaty cannot be blamed for the fact that this debate is taking place. A lot of blame has been spoken of, as though those who oppose the treaty are responsible for it. That is completely untrue and must be nailed immediately as a falsehood.

The Prime Minister is responsible for our being here tonight. When he could not manipulate a majority for the Bill when it was before the House, the Whips had the clever idea that a special provision should be included in the Bill: that the Act should come into force only when each House of Parliament had come to a resolution on a motion tabled by a Minister of the Crown concerning the adoption of the protocol on social policy.

We found next that the Government questioned the morality of those who voted against them. The Prime Minister and his Whips examined the souls of each Member going into the Lobby and said, "But he is going into the Lobby because he is against the treaty, not because he is against the social chapter, so he should not be included. That is not really a majority against us."

I have sat in this House for many years and have vigorously disagreed with various people. They, even more vigorously, disagreed with me, but we went into the same Lobby because of particular issues. No man has the right to say to a Member of this House, "You have no right to vote the way you intend to vote tonight because of certain things you dislike in an amendment." Those of us who are against the treaty have the right to say that the Act cannot come into force because each House has to come to a resolution. Do the Government think that those who oppose the treaty can be forced into the Lobby? Therefore, my colleague and I will vote against the treaty being implemented. That is why we are here.

Much has been said about the social chapter. It is a pity that more hon. Members were not in the Chamber to listen to the interesting speech of the right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore). Not one of the points that he made has been challenged. He explained just what the social chapter really means and what its limitations are. Many hon. Members would be far happier if there were many more safeguards for employees than those that are to be found in the social chapter, but that is not the issue that those who oppose the treaty are here for tonight.

People may say to us, "Why do you oppose the treaty?" We believe that it strikes at the very heart of our democracy. I am here tonight because the people of the south of Ireland said, in a referendum, "You must have the treaty." If they had said no, the treaty would have been killed. I am here tonight because the people of France voted in a referendum. The result was poor, but there was a majority for the treaty. They did not examine the morality of their souls. Their souls were all right, so long as they voted the right way. Denmark had a referendum. The people of Denmark voted against the treaty, so they had to have another chew at the cherry. They were given certain concessions.

That is why we are here tonight. Those who have taken part in the debates are entitled to take as long as they want to discuss this issue.

I do not agree that our House has been debased. I am a Member of the European Parliament. My European colleagues say, "That's a great Parliament you have over there. You really go into matters. In our local parliaments we would never be given the opportunity to examine Bills in the way that you examine them." So I think that this Parliament has enhanced itself. People realised that we were taking this issue seriously.

Under the Act that we were told by Madam Speaker is the foundation of Parliament's authority, the freedom of speech and debates and of proceedings in Parliament should not be impeached or questioned in any court or place outside Parliament. However, the long hand of the European Court comes into this nation. The long hand of the European Court says, "We don't like what you did at Westminster. We do not approve of what you are doing and we have the power not only to question but to overrule what you are doing." That is at the very heart of the argument.

If the people of the Republic of Ireland, France and Denmark had the right to say yea or nay to the treaty, the people of the United Kingdom should be given the same privilege and the same opportunity to say whether they want it or not.

I am afraid that fear of the people hangs over the Government. That is why they are not prepared to go to the people. I do not believe that they would get a majority. Therefore, they are using every means to oppose a referendum. I, as a Member of this House, resent the fact that the Government have not told us what, if they do not get approval for their motion, they intend to do. They should be duty bound to say, "We cannot ratify." They should obey their own Act. If the Government are hoist by their own petard, there they will have to hang.

The Government have tried in many ways to flout the wishes of the House of Commons. It is all very well to talk about majorities at other stages of the Bill. I was here for the Second Reading of the original common market Bill. I know what happened. There was a tremendous fight in the House. I saw the then leader of the Liberal party beaten over the head by a Labour Member until he was nearly flattened into his seat. I was approached and offered all things by the Government, if I would change the way I voted. I was threatened that if I did not change the way I voted, the Government might resign and we might have a Labour Government. No Government could be more terrible for Northern Ireland than the Tory Government who brought in the Anglo-Irish Agreement. Even the Labour party could do no worse than that.

The Government have not approached me. I have no links with them. My party has a policy on this issue and we shall stand by it. I hope that tonight the Maastricht treaty will sink, not swim.

7.48 pm

The hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) was right to say that we are having this debate because the Government themselves accepted the need for it. If the Government had felt that there was no need for it, they should have opposed the amendments at the time that they were proposed in Committee. It is utterly disingenuous, therefore, although typically in character, for the Government to claim that the debate is a red herring and that it is inappropriate for the House to discuss issues concerning the protocol on social policy.

My right hon. and hon. Friends and I do not take that view. It is entirely appropriate that Members of the House should have the opportunity to express their collective view and opinion about the merits, or otherwise, of the social protocol. It is one of the issues that we must discuss during this debate. Many hon. Members in all parts of the House have concentrated to a large extent on that issue, to which I shall return later.

The debate also raises other important issues. As my hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield (Mr. Hoon) said, one of those issues is the right and power of the House to assert its authority over the Executive. It is very important, especially after 14 years of one-party rule, that Members of Parliament assert their sovereignty and their right to tell the Executive that we have a collective opinion and that it is our opinion that counts. I am therefore astonished that the Prime Minister has felt unable to say that to the House and that he will not necessarily accept the view of the House of Commons. It raises profound constitutional issues relating to the sovereignty of Parliament and the rights of hon. Members.

Hon. Members are elected to speak on behalf of our constituents and, on occasions, to use our collective power to express our opinion to the Government of the day. We have a right to expect the Government of the day to honour a majority decision in the House.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield also drew the House's attention to Professor Dicey's seminal work on constitutional law. It is a sign of the times that, when my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the Opposition referred to Professor Dicey earlier in the week, Conservative Members laughed. Clearly, they no longer read books. If they had read Professor Dicey's work, they would have understood exactly what my right hon. and learned Friend was saying. It is not appropriate for the Government of the day to refuse to accept the collective will and wisdom of the House of Commons.

There cannot be any doubt, in terms of the constitutional legality, that we have the right to direct the Government as to how they exercise the royal prerogative. It has been resolved in constitutional law and is not an issue. If, as I hope, the House expresses the wish that it wants the social protocol to form part of the Maastricht treaty, and for it then to be implemented in United Kingdom law, the Government are duty bound to accept it. In that sense, the will and authority of the House to exert its power over the Executive should perhaps be the issue that is uppermost on hon. Members' minds and the focus of our debate. I hope that we make that judgment later, not only for the substantive issues raised by the social protocol but for the status of the House.

The debate has rightly and perhaps inevitably focused on the merits or otherwise of the social protocol. I have listened to most of the contributions to the debate and have been dismayed by the lack of honesty revealed by Conservative Members. It is wholly bogus, and rather silly and sad, for Conservative Members to claim that the social protocol will somehow price British workers out of work. It is pathetic and absurd to hear them say that it is the Government's duty to protect British workers from the benefits of improved social and employment protection. There is no doubt that British workers need and deserve improved social and working conditions. The benefits of the social protocol are widely accepted around Europe by Governments of all political persuasions—Christian Democrat, Conservative, Liberal and Socialist; only this reactionary and rather bigoted Government have refused to accept the primary need for the protocol.

The case for the social protocol is simple. We all know that Europe is undergoing fundamental and profound changes. European business under the single European market and the convulsions that are taking place during the reorganisation of Europe's industrial base make the case strongly for a social dimension to accompany any changes. It is inappropriate for hon. Members to concentrate exclusively on the notion that Europe is all about markets. It is not only about markets; it is a community of people and the common interests of those people in making valuable and sustainable social progress. That is the case for the social protocol. It is regrettable that the case against it has been so flagrantly exaggerated and over-egged by Conservative Members.

The terms of the social protocol are elementary and straightforward. They offer basic employment protection measures which will improve the working environment of and the terms on which people are employed and will advance equality between the men and women who are in employment. It is distasteful that, in the last few years of the 20th century, the House still seems locked in the Dickensian attitude that it is inappropriate for us to extend any measure that will improve the social and employment conditions of British workers. It is contemptible and those outside who are listening to our debate will also find it so.

We can conclude only that the social protocol has become a totem pole around which the Government are making their case in favour of the Maastricht treaty. The Government are telling the right wing of their party that they are standing firm against the European bureaucratic bandwagon whereas, in reality, they have already conceded huge chunks of sovereignty, jurisdiction and competence to the European Commission, rightly so in my opinion.

However, they are arguing simultaneously, that by accepting the Maastricht treaty, subject to the removal of the social protocol, they are remaining at the heart of Europe. That is not and cannot be true. We cannot be at the heart of Europe and go in the direction that the Community is taking when we have deliberately absented ourselves from matters relating to social policy, one of the key aspects of the Community's development in the 21st century.

It is naive for Conservative Members to pretend that the social protocol is out of date and represents yesterday's thinking. The right hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell) tried to create that impression, but, in fact, the social protocol is tomorrow's thinking. It is ridiculous for Conservative Members to continue to believe that social issues related to the construction of a new Europe are going to go away and that it is inappropriate for Members of the European Parliament, the Commission, the Council and the domestic Parliaments of member states to have a say in how social progress can be maintained and developed. The issue will not go away. If we are truly to play a full and integral role in the development of the Community in the coming years, we need to wake up to the reality.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield raised interesting questions about the legality of Britain staying out of the social protocol. Such questions undermine the Government's case. There will be substantive legal difficulties ahead if the Government refuse to adopt and embrace the social protocol. I name only two.

First, will our continued opt-out be unconstitutional under the treaty of Rome because it offends the principle of non-discrimination against European Community workers? It will be a running battle that the Government will fight and lose, as they have always lost such battles. Secondly, there is a case for saying that the opt-out will infringe the treaty's provisions relating to competition policy. Again, it is naive of the Government to think that they can escape the looming legal battles. There will be arguments and I hope that, if we cannot persuade Conservative Members of the strength and logic of our case, they will at least be forced kicking and screaming, as they often are, into the right way of thinking by other member states.

There is something absurd about the notion that the Government are playing a full integral role in developing the shape of the Community. They are not. How can they argue that when, every time the social protocol surfaces in the Council of Ministers., Ministers representing the United Kingdom have to absent themselves from the proceedings? It is absurd.

The logic and strength of the case in favour of the social protocol is overwhelming and self-evident. It is only because of an outdated and clapped-out faith in their own argument that the Government manage to believe that they have won. In fact, they have lost the argument about the need for the social protocol. We have won it and I hope that, having won it, we shall go on to win the vote this evening.

7.58 pm

I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for allowing me the opportunity to explain my reasons for voting Aye in the first vote and for voting against the motion as amended in the second vote. I owe this explanation to my hon. Friends and, in particular, to my right hon. and true Friend the Prime Minister.

I make it clear that I have always believed that it is possible to be against the Maastricht treaty but in favour of a different and better Europe. I shared the dream that everyone had in the 1970s. I was assured that there would be no loss of sovereignty as we opted for a free trade area. I also shared the dreams of our fathers who said that they did not want their children to fight in another European war.

I assert those things tonight, too, but retrospection is a great harbinger of wisdom. I think that if we examine Europe's economic record we shall in time come to the view that the salad days of Europe, the days of great concepts and economic initiatives, were already coming to an end by about 1980. As our continent's competitiveness has fallen, our share of world exports has declined by one fifth since 1980. Worse, there is a widening deficit in high-technology goods—in semiconductors, for example, which are the building blocks of virtually every industrial and commercial process in the western world today. Between 1982 and 1990 high-tech exports from Europe went up by the tiny margin of 2 per cent., yet imports increased by 7·7 per cent. per year.

The worst factor of all, and that which we in the House dread most—the reason why, in terms of social policy, we are here—is the rate of employment in our country and in our continent. In western Europe, unemployment is now 10 per cent., in the United States it is 7 per cent. and in Japan 2·3 per cent.

I fear that, if the methodology and the psychology in the treaty are perpetuated, there will be an inexorable drift towards protectionism, probably with France in the vanguard, with allies in Spain and, if Germany's difficulties continue, perhaps with allies even there, too, in the medium term.

I shall not give way if there is still a 10-minute time limit on speeches. I do not know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if the rule is still in force.

Does my hon. Friend feel that in supporting the social contract he is doing anything for the people of Coventry and the rest of the west midlands, part of which I represent? By voting as he says he intends to vote, will he be doing anything for the industrialists who want to produce our goods in the most competitive way?

The short answer to my hon. Friend's second question is yes. I grew up in the high-tech industries and I am proud of my continuing connections with them. If the 48-hour rule were brought in, it would not damage the so-called sweatshop industries as much as the high-tech industries. My hon. Friend would find that systems analysts, programmers, installation engineers and the people who commission huge electronic systems in our companies, who have to work all day and all night to tight deadlines, would be the class of people whose efficiency would be impaired.

I must also tell my hon. Friend that my vote tonight will not be in favour of the social chapter. My second vote will be against the social chapter; that is what the motions say, if we read them properly. I believe that in recording a vote against the social chapter I may do a little bit to delay the implementation of the treaty. If we do not want the social chapter, let us wipe the protocol out by wiping out the treaty. That protocol would advise the European Court of Justice on the ways in which it could bring in the social chapter by the back door to our industries and our companies, especially our high-tech manufacturing sector.

I have thought deeply both about the social chapter and about the future of the treaty itself. I am bound to say that there is a hint of arrogance in this Parliament. There is one French philosopher with whom I agree—a chap called Rousseau—who once said:
"the first prerequisite for learning is humility".
We must learn from our recent history. We must not assume that we in the House and in Europe are the sole controllers of events. Others have powerful views that contradict ours. If we do not mind their views and do not try to assess the future for Europe in the light of the consensus that will emerge there, we shall have failed ourselves, failed the House and perhaps failed the people of this country.

I believe that I have visited the heart of Europe. If we plot the geo-economic centre of Europe we find a little town that I know well, called Pirmasens. It is, literally, a small town in Germany. The people there do not hate the British, nor do they necessarily love us. I suppose that they get on with their own lives, and take notice of us only if we start to compete and to damage the competitiveness of their local companies. Their view of us can be summed up thus: "Where are your products?" That is their view of the British and that is the question that they ask.

I do not believe that the Maastricht treaty will deliver the level playing field that our successful industries require. I shall sit down later tonight having demonstrated that I am an optimist about our economic and industrial prospects. It is because I am an optimist that I do not want to see Europe dissolve into some dirigiste row, with the jockeying for position and the horse trading that takes place in a market that is no longer free.

The Germans have a concept that they give a typically German name—"das gesamtkonzept". Typically, they have a system and a methodology that they apply. Their political classes, using the gesamtkonzept, which is in contradiction to our own, say that there will be a federal Europe with strong systems. It will be interventionist and free trade will more or less govern its external relationships. The Gesamtkonzept holds stronger sway at the moment than does our concept of freely trading nations behind a common tariff barrier.

In France, too, there is a view described as "la préférence européene". That is an elegant phrase, but what it really means is protectionism and protectionism not only for France but for the continent as a whole, if it finds the competitive climate too difficult for it and can find no other means of protecting the well-being of the people of France. I fear that if Germany's economic and political difficulties continue, it may move from a camp more or less allied to ours over to the French position of la préférence européene.

In Spain, too, there is a concept called "la cohesion" —cohesion. The Spaniards speak for the poorer nations of southern Europe and they wish to see central funds directed towards those countries to make up for their inability to compete in truly open free trade. La cohesion means grants and handouts for the poorer countries. That is another concept against which our Prime Minister will have to struggle. But although those concepts are embraced by the political classes of Europe, they are not necessarily shared by the peoples of Europe. A recent huge Europewide Euro-barometer poll found that only two in five Europeans were positively in favour of Maastricht.

If we are to amend the treaty of Rome and the Single European Act—I am in favour of doing so—this is not the way to do it. Some of my hon. Friends who may not count themselves as cynics or sceptics may prefer the term Euro-realists. I ask them to examine the treaty, because large chunks of it could have been incorporated into the Labour party manifesto at the general election and we would have fought it tooth and nail. We live in strange times.

Tonight there will be many ghosts in the Division Lobby, some friendly but some, shall we say, atavistic in their attitude to life. I believe that if events in Germany and Britain unhinge the Maastricht treaty there will be a rethink about how to amend those two earlier treaties. There will be, dare I say, a fresh start.

We should not be so unambitious as to believe that, if we voted against the treaty, we should somehow be sidelined. We will provoke a rethink. The terms under which all nations agreed to ratify the treaty were that, if one country, perhaps Germany—and, of course, no longer Denmark or Britain—were to go against the general trend, they would have to go back to the drawing board. That would be no bad thing given the figures that I outlined earlier.

However, I return to the ghosts and to my difficulty in saying to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister that I remain his hon. Friend in every sense of the word. I ask him and the House to consider who will be in the Division Lobby with us tonight. The ghosts of past Europeans will be there.

My Conservative Friends will be sharing the No Lobby with the ghost of Colbert, the man who invented the methodology of the Maastricht treaty all those centuries ago. They will be sharing that Lobby with the rather clammy ghost of Richelieu, the man who thought that he could be the great arbiter of things European. but who ultimately failed. Perhaps we see his reincarnation in today's French President. They will also be sharing that Lobby with the ghost of Bismarck. As I am an admirer of A. J. P. Taylor's history, I ask all my hon. Friends to reread their dusty university books which were written by A. J. P. Taylor.

Bismarck knew that, when he created the Zollverein, that was the beginning of a political union. However, he did that for his country and his countrymen to unite the various German peoples. We want a Zollverein in Europe, but we do not want a Europe united in the way that Bismark envisaged. In due course, nor will the German people.

As I share the Lobby with the live bodies of many Labour Members, I will comfort myself with the thought that there will be two ghosts with me. One will be the greatest Scotsman who ever lived. He was a man who won all the arguments and wrote in elegant prose. Although he is accepted throughout the world, he is still a prophet who has not been accepted in his own country. I am referring of course, to Adam Smith, who wrote "The Wealth of Nations". The title referred to the plural—to "nations", not to a single "nation". I hope that he will pat me on the back as I walk through to record my vote tonight.

I pay tribute to another ghost who will be with me tonight—an Anglo-Irishman called Edmund Burke. As I put my head on my pillow tonight, I will say to him, "I did my little bit when they tried to put the lights out," and I shall sleep well.

8.12 pm

I do not share the judgment of the hon. Member for Coventry, South-West (Mr. Butcher) about the Maastricht treaty, nor do I share in his eulogy to Adam Smith. However, we can all agree that the hon. Gentleman spoke with great sincerity and honesty as he expressed his views tonight. I pay him that tribute.

However, the speech of the hon. Member for Coventry, South-West marked him out from the contributions made by many of his hon. Friends. In particular, his speech marked him out in respect of that made by the Prime Minister, who showed himself utterly contemptuous of public opinion.

It is worth remembering that public opinion, by any measure of that opinion, is overwhelmingly in favour of the social protection, measures and benefits set in the social chapter. The Prime Minister showed himself to be almost as contemptuous of public opinion as he seems to be in danger of being in respect of parliamentary sovereignty and of our will tonight. That remains to be seen.

The Prime Minister's speech also revealed his abject lack of vision about Europe's future development. His speech was more barren and shallow than the kind of vision that we used to hear from Mrs. Thatcher. At least she had an idea of what she wanted to do in Europe. She at least had an idea about her destination, even though I and many of my hon. Friends profoundly disagreed with it. On the basis of his speech this afternoon, the same cannot be said of the present Prime Minister.

Probably the most important point to be revealed in the speeches made so far by Conservative Members relates to their views on the long-term future of the British economy and how we are to succeed in building real economic strength. Conservative Members are profoundly out of touch with reality, so much so that it is hard to believe that many of them speak to people who work in business or industry. It is hard to imagine that they even bother to read the many reports produced by Government Departments.

Did not the Department of Trade and Industry's competitiveness unit reveal only last week that our competitive position is so weak that Britain is now 18th of 24 countries in terms of national income per head? We are behind Finland, Iceland and Italy. We are falling to the levels of Spain and Portugal in many of the ways, and for many of the reasons, described by the hon. Member for Coventry, South-West. We are so unproductive that, according to a survey carried out by the London Business School and IBM, only 2 per cent. of United Kingdom companies achieve world-class standards of performance.

Yet the Prime Minister's argument against the social chapter today was that we are doing so well that we must not spoil our success by implementing the social chapter. He said that the social chapter would somehow ruin all the Government's good work in sorting out the problems of British manufacturing.

Given the relative industrial performance of Britain in relation to other EC member states, does not the Prime Minister think that there is a lesson that we can learn from the fact that the more successful countries have embraced the social chapter and have been practising its ideas arid methods of social support and protection for many years? In contrast, over the bulk of the past decade, we in this country have been experiencing a laboratory-controlled experiment of a labour market operating without rules. If the Government's case was right and lack of employment rights and standards produced greater or equal success, we should be economically booming by now. Manifestly, we are not.

Whatever incipient recovery may be beginning now, during the years of Britain's deregulated labour market, we have had the highest rising unemployment, the lowest levels of investment and the lowest growth anywhere in Europe. That is the testimony to the Government's failed policies for industry, in relation to employment and at the workplace. That is why the Government's approach to the social chapter and all its provisions is so wrong.

The hon. Gentleman's points are very interesting. Very close to my constituency, a port is rapidly growing which will be the second largest container port in Britain. That port will compete with Rotterdam. That investment was impossible to make while the dock labour scheme existed. Much of that kind of investment was chocked off by socialist proposals which it took a long time to get rid of under this Government.

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on the success of his constituents in attracting that investment. However, I hope that he is not suggesting that the national dock labour scheme is among the horrors, in the hon. Gentleman's terms, which are threatening to return to this country as a result of the social chapter. That is not the case, like so much else that Conservative Members claim.

In a moment.

The hon. Member for Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe) has come in right on cue, because it suits the Government's case to exaggerate widly and to falsify the consequences of adopting the social chapter. At one time, Ministers said time and again that the social chapter would wipe out 750,000—they then changed it to 500,000—jobs at a stroke. They even claimed that 300,000 boys and girls would no longer be able to deliver newspapers as a result of the introduction of the social chapter in this country.

Their arguments became so ridiculous that at times our very future as a trading nation, not to mention the future of western civilisation as we knew it, seemed to be at stake. How expedient and convenient it has been throughout all the hyperbole that has beens—

Is not the real answer to the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe) that if we are concerned about the social chapter—the point was made by the leader of the Liberal Democrats —if we are there, we can prevent what we might think are dreadful things from happening, but if we are not there they will happen, because they will be decided by the other 11 and be forced on us by other parts of the treaty?

The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. He will acknowledge that other treaty provisions are already in place which will enable those measures to be introduced via other routes.

It is very important to nail again many of the lies that have come—no doubt unwittingly—from Conservative Members tonight. An enormous amount of disinformation is purposely being pumped out by the Government —aided and abetted, I am sorry to say, by branches of the media, including the BBC in recent days.

The social chapter is a framework of ideas and goals. It is not a set of detailed obligatory rules. That is its advantage over the original social charter and the social action programme. The social chapter has had built into it the very flexibility and principles of subsidiarity which are apparently so favoured by the Government. The social chapter explicitly says that national laws and practices must be respected in applying the social chapter, particularly in respect of contractual relationships. It cannot be used in any way connected with laws relating to strikes and unions, despite what we have heard from many Conservative Members.

The fact that the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow) and I have mentioned—I stress it again following my response to him—is that the treaty of Rome and the Single European Act, regardless of the Maastricht treaty, have articles which present a series of open doors through which the social chapter's intentions can and will be implemented in this country. Whatever the outcome of our vote on the social chapter and the Maastricht treaty, the treaty of Rome and the Single European Act, all the relevant articles are already in place, agreed by Ministers in the previous Government under Mrs. Thatcher and under the present Prime Minister.

The crucial difference, however, is that, without our signing up to the social chapter, Britain will not be able to influence the implementation of the social chapter in this country. We shall not be at the table to determine how, when and on what terms the social chapter will be implemented if we continue this futile and self-defeating opt-out. What on earth could possibly be the sense of that?

Of all the baseless arguments that I have heard, not only in this debate but throughout the Committee proceedings in which I was an active participant, probably the least defensible is the claim by some that, by adopting the social chapter, we shall harm inward investment. What frightens business people looking to locate in Britain is not that we might start to act and perform like the rest of Europe, but that we are so far on the fringe of Europe that Nye are becoming too little part of Europe. That is what frightens potential inward investors from Japan who want to invest in Europe and in Britain. They want to invest in a Britain which is clearly part of the wider European Community.

What will put off potential inward investors is not that we observe elementary standards of social protection and benefits but that we fail abysmally to invest in the skills, talents and motivation of our work force. In the north-east, we have attracted Nissan and Fujitsu, and Stadium in my constituency, not because those companies are looking for a downtrodden, exploited, untrained, low-wage work force, but because they take seriously the need to put a lot into their work force if they are to get high motivation, high productivity and high skill back.

That is precisely the philosophy at the heart of the social chapter. The Government are grossly out of step and out of tune in rejecting it. They are out of step not least with business people in this country as well as potential inward investors.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that one of the reasons why those wonderful Japanese companies came to Britain was because, if they did not come, the EC would deliberately make it more and more difficult for Japanese cars to come into this country? Although we welcome them, let us not forget that one reason why they came was that the EC is becoming more protectionist every day and it was keeping out Japanese cars and restricting the numbers more and more.

If that is true, it is precisely why we should continue to be a full and active participant in the European Community.

The industrial culture that I have described and the resulting enterprise that we need are absolutely vital if we are to succeed economically in Britain. That is how others have done it and are doing it in Europe and also in many emerging economies. People often describe the emerging economies of Asia, the Pacific rim and the far east as though they were mere sweatshop economies employing sweatshop labour. In fact, many of those countries are investing hugely in the education, training and development of their work forces.

That is what is so vital to success in the modern world, and that is what we must do if we are to get ahead and prosper again. That is why Labour's amendment should be strongly supported in the Lobby tonight.

8.27 pm

Much has happened since the paving debate in the autumn that created such a close finish in the voting. Tonight I have heard many of the arguments that were deployed then. I particularly enjoyed the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South-West (Mr. Butcher). He spoke very well, and made some tremendous contributions to the debate. I shall not be with him in the Lobby tonight, but I think that he and I have thought very much along the same lines during most of these difficult months.

I have sat through almost all the debates in the House and in Committee, and I have made the odd contribution. No one is more opposed to the concept of the Maastricht treaty than I am, and no one is keener on the idea of a referendum. I believe that to impose this treaty on the people of this country without asking them first whether they want this amount of power transferred from this House of Commons is something that we shall all live to regret.

In the referendum debate, I said that I believed that my vote that night would probably be the most important vote that I would ever cast as long as I was a Member of the House of Commons. I still believe that, no matter how important the vote tonight. I believe that my vote that night on a referendum to ask the British people about what we are doing was probably the most important vote that I would ever cast. So it is with enormous sadness that I am reluctantly forced to accept that the Bill for the Maastricht treaty has received Royal Assent and is now an Act. In fact, it has now received Royal Assent and is an Act.

I also believe very much that the social chapter issue is a separate matter altogether. I appreciate that, in terms of tonight's debate, it is linked to the Bill, but, if we are all honest with ourselves, there are two fundamentally separate issues before us. One is the Maastricht treaty and the other is the social chapter.

I simply cannot bring myself to vote for the social chapter, no matter how much of a purely political device it may be. Despite all that has been said tonight, I believe that it will damage British industry. It is clear from the debate that the social chapter, like so many of these things, can mean to any one of us what we want it to mean. Some people think that it is the end of the world; some people think that it is so trivial that they do not know why we are bothering with it. But I believe that it will have an influence on business life in this country.

This is one of the problems with the whole European idea. Some countries that have developed their industrial systems over centuries, whose industrial relations have been built up over a long time, all in individual and separate ways; and suddenly it is proposed that a uniform framework should be planted on all 12 nations. I cannot see how that can fail to bring in restrictions and create a great deal of harm. In an earlier intervention, I mentioned the effect that it would have on companies such as ICI in my constituency. I really believe that it will be damaging if we vote for the social chapter.

Apart from that, we may think tonight that it is only a technicality, but we must remember the signals that that gives to people both in our own country and in the rest of Europe. There is no doubt at all that, when the dust settles, a vote for the social chapter here tonight will be seen as just that. We may try to explain that we hoped that something else would result, and that, as a result of that result, yet something else would happen. But it gets very convoluted and, if we are not careful, we will lose ourselves in the maze of technicalities.

I have thought very carefully about what this vote would mean, and I believe that it would be a vote for the social chapter. I believe that that is how my constituents, and indeed most of the country, would see it, and I am not prepared to go down that road.

I have sought to impede as much as possible the passage of the Maastricht treaty Bill through the House, but I honestly do not believe that voting for the social chapter will do any particular damage to the Maastricht treaty. I believe that, very sadly, as I have said, it will now be ratified. I believe that a vote for the social chapter tonight would do a great deal of damage both to our Prime Minister and to our Government. I really believe that, and it is time that the House acknowledged it.

I will not urge colleagues to follow my example in the Lobbies; there has been far too much urging of one kind or another over recent months. They obviously must, and will, decide for themselves what they will do. But I am quite sure that the European issue will not go away. There will be other battles to be fought, and I very much hope that on this side of the House we will fight them as a more united party.

I believe that my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South-West is right: many things are happening in Europe, and we will see great changes. He used the words "fresh start". I believe that a huge rethink is needed, and I hope that, as a country and as a party, we will take the lead in that fresh thinking.

One national newspaper started one of its articles today with the simple words:
"It is time to start talking about things other than Maastricht."
I believe that to be true. Huge problems face both our country and the world at the moment. We must, as a Government, get on with them. To prolong this process further will not merely damage the Government more, but damage its ability to govern.

That is why I shall support the Government in the Lobby tonight against the social chapter.

8.33 pm

I have sat throughout the debate and listened intently to all the contributions. I have scribbled a few notes, and I would like to give the House the benefit of them this evening.

I speak as one who campaigned to come out of the Common Market at the time of the national referendum, but also as someone who realised over the years that it was unrealistic to maintain that stance. We have been in too long, and we have become embedded too deeply, to change now.

I suppose, too, that I was attracted by the improved conditions common throughout Europe that appear to be beneficial to European citizens. I visited Holland and Germany, I appreciated the measurably higher standards of living in those two countries, which their citizens attributed to membership of the European Community, and I thought that perhaps we could get a piece of that improvement here.

When we talk about the Common Market, what does "common" mean? We, of all hon. Members, ought to appreciate that it means equal. We insist on equality, do we not? We refer to it, with regard to Europe, as a level playing field—level in terms of trade, commerce and marketing—but if a level playing field is desirable for the captains of industry, why do we reject it for the players on the field? Why do we penalise the people who invest their whole lives in the industry of this country and create the wealth of the nation?

The social chapter is not the penal imposition of on-costs that the Government imply. The majority of respected companies in the United Kingdom already provide standards of pay, conditions and protection that clearly exceed European requirements, so what threat is there to companies such as ICI in my constituency?

We have just heard the hon. Member for Suffolk, Central (Mr. Lord) pleading the case for ICI and talking about the threat that the social protocol would pose to that corporation. I did not see the same hon. Member in the vanguard protecting ICI from the threats of a noble Lord in the other place when he was trying to buy up shares in that corporation. Now, for some reason, he seems to think that the social protocol would be a great threat to it. I know ICI as well as anybody, and its standards already exceed any requirement that the social protocol would impose.

The Prime Minister went further. He quoted Sir Denys Henderson as saying that Her Majesty's Government should ratify the treaty. I can accept that, but he then went on to report that Sir Denys said:
"Equally important, the Prime Minister should sustain the opt-out from the social chapter which he gained last year."
That, I am afraid, I cannot swallow. I cannot believe that Sir Denys could be so incredibly callow, and I will tell the House why.

ICI already operates throughout Europe in numerous countries. I cannot believe that Sir Denys would paint himself into a corner by seeking an environment in which he could deliver his British work force conditions substantially poorer than those that he was required to provide in other European states. It just does not make sense. I do not believe that Sir Denys would be so stupid as to provoke his British work force by making such a crass comment. But I shall find out, and I can promise the House that so will his work force, because I shall see that they do.

Since the Prime Minister is so keen to quote Sir Denys Henderson, he might like to note the same gentleman's assessment of the annual cost to his corporation of European transactions—not the amount of trade, not the value of sales, but the simple cost of changing money to make commercial transactions possible. Sir Denys estimated, 15 months ago, that the annual figure stood at £90 million: an annual added on cost of £90 million, without any kind of ensuing production promise. What price a single European currency under those conditions?

My right hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore) asserts that the added costs of the social protocol are minuscule. The Government disagree, and say that the added costs are prohibitive. If the Government are right, the European transnationals will have one level of on-costs in this country and another for operations elsewhere throughout Europe. That is not a saving; it is a recipe for industrial unrest for all European transnationals throughout the United Kingdom.

The Prime Minister said that membership of the common agricultural policy would enable us to work for change from within, yet he rejects the same logic with regard to the social chapter. Does that mean that he will be content to stay outside discussions, or does he expect his European counterparts to allow him to contribute like some cuckoo in the nest? What price the Common Market then?

This week, two reports have highlighted the widening gap between the rich and the poor in the United Kingdom. The opt-out promotes a climate that will cause that gap to widen even further. The Government's unheeding, doctrinaire proposals have become a party fetish, a sightless totem clearly displaying their readiness—no, their eagerness—to put profit before people.

Their objective seems to be simply a penny-pinching, cost-cutting sweatshop economy. Their attitude is that British workers should be worked long and hard, sold cheap, and employed in dangerous conditions. The people of this country will never forgive such disloyalty, nor should they ever forget it.

8.40 pm

Hon. Members have stated their positions, so I should say immediately that I am not a Euro-sceptic or a Euro-fanatic. However, I was perhaps one of the earliest Euro-sceptics—I hereby make my confession—because, as long ago as 1961, at the Conservative party conference, I made an important speech against our entry into the Common Market. I was pulled up short by a most powerful speech in favour of our entry from none other than my right hon. Friend the Member for Shropshire, North (Mr. Biffen). He was so persuasive that I was largely converted by the speech. It would be presumptuous of me to suggest that my speech had the reverse effect on him.

At that time, I argued the old-fashioned case for the Commonwealth. That was before Mr. Enoch Powell described the Commonwealth as having
"nothing in common and very little wealth".
I did not go as far as that, but I recognised that it had long since gone as an alternative to the European Community. I did not believe that we should retire into our shell. I was entirely opposed to the parish-pump, little-England nationalism that we heard in those days. Since my conversion on the road to Damascus—perhaps I should say on the road to the conference centre in Brighton—I have constantly supported our membership of the Community.

In that speech, I certainly opposed federalism, and I still do. I do not envisage a united states of Europe, nor does my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, as he has made clear repeatedly. However, we want to influence the development of Europe. In that powerful speech so long ago, my right hon. Friend the Member for Shropshire, North said:
"If we go into Europe, it is not in the spirit of defeat, despair or disillusionment. It is in the determination to lead and to form and to shape the policies of a really strong and resourceful West."
Those are fine words, which I wholly endorse today, even if my right hon. Friend does not.

We shape such policies by working with allies in the European Community and playing in the team, not squawking on the touchline. Some say, thus far and no further. That is to treat the Community as a dead thing. It certainly is not a dead thing: it is a live and moving organism. It brings forward or moves back. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister wants it to move forward, but in the right direction. That is why he negotiated so skilfully and successfully at Maastricht, avoiding some of the nonsense that prevailed at that time.

One such nonsense is the issue that concerns us tonight —the social chapter. For years, I have been concerned about unemployment. When I was in the Government, unemployment in this country rose to 1 million, and all hell was let loose. We then took certain initiatives and it went down to 700,000—we are still cursed about that. We then lost office, and it went up again under the succeeding Labour Government, as it inevitably does.

Unemployment is one of the greatest curses on our country and it will continue. It is a problem in the whole of Europe and, indeed, in many other parts of the world. It will not be solved by the expansion of great companies, because so many of them have adapted their affairs and made structural changes. The only way to solve unemployment is through the growth of small and medium-sized firms in Britain and Europe.

Small firms have always been a cause dear to my heart. It seems absolutely ridiculous and wholly contrary to the battle to reduce unemployment to put further burdens on them. We should be reducing the burdens on people who are expanding their firms, rather than putting more burdens on them.

Although Labour Members may argue that it is not as bad as all that, the plain fact is that people who run those firms and those who work to make them develop believe that we should not impose on them the burden of the social chapter. That is the basic economic reason why it is right —and the Prime Minister was absolutely right—to opt out of the social chapter.

The small and medium-sized firms about which the hon. Gentleman is rightly concerned are specifically excluded from the operation of the social chapter.

The whole point is that small firms do not stay small; they grow and develop, and must take on more employees. The undesirability of the social chapter was well illustrated by the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown), who said that the social chapter provides for an expansion of treaty-based Community competence into areas of wage bargaining and social security that should rightly remain with member states or individual firms and citizens. I entirely agree. The right hon. Gentleman said that after the Prime Minister negotiated the treaty, so I cannot understand why he is now standing on his head.

The Confederation of Business Industry made its position clear when it said:
"Good employee involvement. for example, is the product of the individual company, the individual workplace—not of EC directives."
The decision to reject the social chapter is absolutely right, and should be supported tonight.

People are immensely bored with our activities in the House, and the rest of the world is completely mystified. People want us to get on with restoring our economy and our prosperity. They want us to deal with matters such as the reform of our criminal justice system. They know that this issue has been debated almost interminably. It has been voted on repeatedly and has always been passed by this House and another place.

People regard the court case that is taking place as absolutely preposterous, as I do. In my parliamentary life, I have always opposed most strongly Parliament interfering with the work of the courts. It is equally preposterous that the courts should interfere with the workings of Parliament, so I disregard that ludicrous performance.

My hon. Friends who are sceptics and rebels are my hon. Friends, and will remain so in every way. They have shown considerable courage, and I respect them greatly for that. Although my hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Central (Mr. Lord) is right and my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South-West (Mr. Butcher) is wrong, I respect them for their views and the courage that they have shown.

However, they have been fighting past battles. In 1972, we had a great battle over entry into the Common Market. We had a tremendous battle over the Single European Act, which was whipped through the House with great ferocity. Those are past battles.

We have had endless debates on the Maastricht treaty, but now the battles are over. Despite the courage of my hon. Friends, I would ask them not to fight this fight. They should not repeat Custer's last stand—we all know what happened to him. We do not want Cash's last stand to take place.

Before my hon. Friends decide to vote with the Labour party, they should reflect on my final observation. I suppose that I am one of the few hon. Members who is old enough to have just known action in the far east at the tail end of the war. The House will recall that everyone admired the immense courage of the kamikaze pilots. I do not recall, however, that, in any of their exploits, kamikaze pilots crashed themselves into their own ships.

8.50 pm

Our role in this House is essentially to enact social provision. We may have different views about how that should be done and how wealth should be created and distributed, but the condition of the people is, or should be, our prime concern, because we represent the people. The policies we adopt should reflect that responsibility.

As a number of hon. Members have pointed out, the problem with the social protocol is that its areas of responsibility are limited. We should not have any illusions about it being the means by which a great deal of social provision can be enacted. At best, that protocol is like a set of hooks, on which we can hang different forms of social provision. We must, however, obtain the agreed regulations and directives from the various insititutions of the European Community to hang upon those hooks. That prototocol does not instigate a programme of massive social reform and improvement. I wish that it did.

The Prime Minister has said that the social chapter is a tool for socialism. I rather favour socialism, and I am all for the means by which socialist ideas could be expounded and social provision made. The social chapter is not, however, an encyclical written by Karl Marx. We are not trying to get in on the act, because the social protocol is subject to many limitations.

As the hon. Member for Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor) said, even if we opt out, there is sufficient in the Maastricht treaty to achieve the things that are laid down within the social protocol. That may not be done as easily and as readily as it would be if the social chapter was in place, but we know that the EC is an ever-changing institution. It will grow and develop because of the Maastricht treaty, and its competence will extend considerably to cover social provision.

The opt-out is likely to run up against other provisions of the treaty of Rome and the Maastricht treaty. Article 101 of the treaty of Rome may be used to contain the operation of the opt-out. If the opt-out did work, however, and if it had some fantastic impact—after all, we are talking about a significant piece of legislation—I do not believe that it would save jobs. I believe that it would have the opposite effect.

We must consider how multinationals will operate in the future. If we choose to opt out of the social chapter, those multinationals that must occasionally rationalise their activities will choose to do so in the United Kingdom. It will be easier for them to do so because, in other European countries, the social provisions of the social chapter will hem in the way in which capital can act and work.

I do not believe that the Maastricht treaty represents the best means of extending social provision. The best way in which to do that is through the development of democracy—to follow the pattern established in the House. Various people have fought for democratic provisions. A statue in the Members Lobby commemorates Disraeli, who was involved in the introduction of the Reform Act 1867. Shortly after that, under a new Parliament, Forster's Education Act of 1870 initiated the general provision of education. Forster said that it was time to educate the masters, because the people had begun to have a say and a vote.

Another statue in the Members Lobby commemorates Lloyd George, who introduced the people's Budgets of 1909 and 1910, and pension provisions. A statue of Attlee is also out in the Lobby; the welfare state was established when he was Prime Minister of the 1945–51 Labour Government.

Once people have been given democratic provisions, they can use them to press for social provisions. We need arrangements in Europe to extend democratic provision. We need to abandon Maastricht and go back to the drawing board. We need to put in place a fully fledged, federal, democratic system, because that will enable legislation on social welfare and social provision to be introduced.

The Maastricht treaty will lead us towards bureaucratic centralism and will develop still further the institutions of the Community. Many of them operate secretly. The procedures of the Council of Ministers are still not open to scrutiny. The real parliament that exists within the Community is the Council of Ministers, but its meetings are held in secret. We are provided with no decent details of its voting record. Those details are beginning to be nudged out in this Parliament because I have pursued a campaign to obtain that information from parliamentary questions.

Within the Community, there is no means by which the European Parliament can learn about the votes within the Council of Ministers. The Edinburgh summit was supposed to represent a great advance in democratic accountability, but it has not meant that the key institution of the Community, the Council of Ministers, is now open to scrutiny. Subsidiarity has done nothing to break the centralising nature of the Maastricht treaty.

If the opt-out provisions work—I do not believe that they are significant enough to work—they would hit the island of Ireland hard. Northern Ireland would be subject to the opt-out, but Ireland would be subject to subsequent social provisions. How does that affect the supposed arrangements under Anglo-Irish provisions that say that there should be some common developments in that area? Northern Ireland has been used in a quite outrageous way in tonight's debate. Things that involve Northern Ireland have nothing to do with Maastricht.

The hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) argued some of those points, but time is running out, and I know that other hon. Members wish to speak. I feel strongly that, whether talking of Select Committees, improved procedures or proper local government, Northern Ireland should be dealt with in its own right and there should be no attempt to use Northern Irish Members as Lobby fodder in the debate.

8.59 pm

Since we all begin with confessions, I am a Conservative who is not as anxious about the social protocol as some of my colleagues. I would certainly prefer to have the Maastricht treaty with the social chapter than to have no Maastricht treaty at all, but that is not the real point. In politics, important messages must often be reduced to simple terms if they are to get through at all. The message that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and his colleagues have sought to get through is that the European Community is already dangerously uncompetitive, but I shall return to that.

Through a long succession of debates and eventual success of negotiations, my right hon. Friend secured a complete reversal of the European Community's attitudes towards competition and its own competitiveness.

Last summer, I went to Bordeaux to meet a French politician and friend. When I got there, I discovered, to my amazement, that he was helping to organise the no vote in the French referendum. He was totally clear why he was doing so. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister had achieved a much better deal for the United Kingdom than the French negotiators had achieved for France, my friend was determined to shipwreck the entire treaty to try to regain the competitive position that he felt France had lost.

In one sense, it hardly matters how the vote goes tonight, because the European Community has so absorbed the message that my right hon. Friend was trying to get across that, even if the social chapter were to be incorporated into United Kingdom legislation, the European Community would be wary about imposing most of the obligations under the social chapter, for fear of losing out to the rest of the world.

We are indeed uncompetitive. One of the most striking features of the debate is that little has been made of the extraordinary rise in the competitiveness of the Asian-Pacific rim, to name but one section of the world. The growth of the European Community and its share of visible exports is shrinking, and we are outpaced by China, Malaysia and other Asian-Pacific nations.

It is rich of the Labour party to berate the Government for having such enormous unemployment. All of us are distressed by that, but how does the Labour party explain the fact that, of all the countries in the European Community, ours has the second highest percentage of its working-age population in employment?

It is rich of the Labour party to berate us for low productivity and low investment. As I pointed out in an intervention, it is exactly because of the legacy of the socialist Government that such things as the dock labour scheme—which took many years finally to eradicate—totally discouraged the sort of investment which Labour now blames us for not having increased more quickly.

I was delighted to hear the Leader of the Opposition make it so clear that he has totally reversed the Labour party's attitudes to alien employers. Indeed, I am struck by the fact that the Japanese, whom he was so keen to praise, have made it clear that they are not prepared to accept the traditional attitudes to unions in the workplace.

I share the view held by many Opposition Members and by many of my hon. Friends that the United Kingdom's future does not lie in being a low-wage economy. Just as I believe that the United Kingdom should welcome the move away from national wage bargaining within this country, so I believe that it is barmy to try to determine centrally in the European Community the conditions of employment in all the countries of the Community.

The ratios of wage-related costs are as follows: in Germany, the figure is approximately 50, in the United Kingdom, the figure is 30, and in China, the figure is five. That is such a huge difference that United Kingdom employers will be bound to take much of their manufacturing work abroad. They will export British jobs to keep British firms in business.

We need high-tech, high-skill employment. That is why I welcome the fact that, in the past five years, there has been an increase in the British work force of over 2 million people who have an A-level or equivalent. I am delighted that the Department of Education has set a target that one third of 18-year-olds should be in higher education in the year 2000.

If we secure an economy of high-skill and high-tech employment, it is inconceivable that employers, whether large or small, will be able to compete with one another for rare skills by driving down the levels of working conditions. It is perfectly clear that, in such an economy, employers will find themselves, through force of competition, driving up the levels of conditions without any imposition from the European Community.

I accept that there will be fierce arguments within the European Community, for as far ahead as any of of us in the Chamber can see, on organisation, on policies and on the aspirations of the European Community. After all—none of its members is present in the Chamber at the moment—there are fierce arguments between the Scottish National party and the rest of the United Kingdom, despite almost 300 years of the Union of the Crowns.

The competition between different parts of the United Kingdom can hardly have been better illustrated than by the recent argument between Devonport and Rosyth. The European Community will never become the Community that we want it to be unless arguments between different parts of the Community are conducted in the spirit in which we have arguments within the United Kindom.

I remain convinced that the outcome of such debates will be infinitely preferable to the ways in which we resolved our disputes throughout this century. We were reminded earlier that, throughout this century, we have tried to resolve disputes between different parts of what is now the Europen Community by plunging the whole world into war. I strongly believe that the Government are right in their view, and I am happy to vote with them this evening.

9.8 pm

This afternoon, the Prime Minister staked his future and the Government's future on the social opt-out. I suspect that he is staking his future on something that few have read. When we debated the social opt-out in Committee, I read out the social protocol. Conservative Members looked at me with astonishment because none of them had understood what was in it. It is an extremely mild declaration of principles and it lays down a mechanism by which those principles can be achieved. The main advance of the measure is that it extends majority voting beyond health and safety to working conditions, the information and consultation of workers, equal opportunities and integration of persons excluded from the labour market. How many Conservative Members are against those things? I suspect that the answer is, not many. At least, they are not saying that to their constituents.

The measure also gives the EC competence in social security, in social protection and in other areas. But those areas are subject to veto and the issues of pay, the right of association, the right to strike, the right to impose lock-outs are specifically excluded from the social protocol. Article 2 says that directives must take into account the needs of small and medium-sized businesses. It says also that the measures must take account of the different forms of national employment practices and the need to maintain the competitiveness of the EC economy.

The document is mild, and the economic arguments against it are thin indeed. The arguments are purely political. The social opt-out exists because it was used to buy the support of the Thatcherites at the time of Maastricht. The Conservative Government were offered a weaker version and, because of the pressure from the former Secretary of State for Employment, did not take the opportunity. As a result of that decision, we are where we are today.

The Prime Minister says that there is not a majority for the social protocol. I believe that he is wrong—there is a majority. There are many Conservative Members, including the hon. Member for Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe), who are in favour of the social protocol. There are other Conservative Members who would support the protocol, rather than see ratification blocked.

If the Labour amendment is carried, and if the amended motion is carried tonight, the Government should accept the decision. They cannot hide behind the outdated doctrine of the royal prerogative. Parliament's will should prevail. I support ratification and the social protocol, and I hope that tonight we will achieve it.

9.13 pm

I should begin by apologising to the House for the state of my voice, from which it will be obvious that I will not be shouting in the debate. In view of the treatment that was given to my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the Opposition during his speech, however, I will not be shouted down.

The debate has taken place exactly because of the success of the Labour party in securing the inclusion of section 7 in the European Communities (Amendment) Act 1993. Throughout the long drawn-out process, our aim was always to secure the adoption of the social chapter for the benefit of the people of Britain and our economy generally. That was, and remains, our consistent view.

Two other issues have emerged subsequently—the attempt to use the courts to circumvent the decisions of the House of Commons, and the apparent unwillingness of the Government to accept decisions taken in the Chamber. Both represent fundamental challenges to democratic government and to the authority of the House of Commons.

It is important to deal with those matters in addition to the merits of the social chapter. First, I must congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Durham, North (Mr. Radice) on his speech. He is my Member of Parliament, and I am delighted to have his support in the Chamber this evening. I also wish to congratulate my hon. Friends the Members for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson), for Ashfield (Mr. Hoon), for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Randall), for Hemsworth (Mr. Enright), for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes) and for Barrow and Furness (Mr. Hutton), together with the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume), on their speeches.

The House is having the debate because the Government, in the person of the right hon. Gentleman the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary, accepted the Labour new clause 74—now section 7 of the Act. He said at that time:
"If new clause 74 is accepted, we shall abide by it."
There was no hint there that the Government would not accept the result of the debate which would ensue.

The Foreign Secretary also said:
"We have no difficulty in accepting the challenge with which the proposers of new clause 74 present us."
Indeed, he implied in that speech that the vote tonight would be the definitive decision of the House, as we intended it to be. He said:
"That will enable the House to vote on the merits of the social protocol itself."—[Official Report, 22 April 1993; Vol. 223, c. 548–49.]
Throughout the proceedings, the Foreign Secretary has repeatedly asserted that the House of Commons was the place where decisions should legitimately be made indeed, had to be made. He said:
"As Parliament is sovereign it is clear that it could decide … we owe our constituents our judgment, and if we decline to exercise that judgment we are to some extent damaging the authority of Parliament."
In respect of the third stage of economic and monetary union, the Foreign Secretary said:
"the Government have specifically and successfully reserved the decision for the House of Commons … Governments are elected to govern and, in this case, to propose, just as parliaments in the United Kingdom are elected to decide and, indeed, to dispose … The decision for Britain lies where it belongs—in the hands of the British Parliament."—[Official Report, 21 April 1993; Vol. 223, c. 453 and 458.]
So, throughout our proceedings, the right hon. Gentleman made it abundantly clear that he expected the House of Commons to take the decisions. That is the real reason why he is not here tonight and why he will not reply to the debate. What the Foreign Secretary said destroys the argument that the Prime Minister put to the House of Commons earlier today. The Prime Minister said that the debate was some sort of device and that the House had no business moving the amendment provided for in the Act of Parliament.

So the House is having the debate. However, no hint that the Government would not accept the result was given until it became apparent that the Government were in trouble. That is the reality. We agreed with what the Foreign Secretary had to say in his various speeches. Both Houses of Parliament agreed with him on the specific issue of the referendum. But now the Government are apparently saying, "We did not want a referendum. We did not want the people to decide, but now we shall not accept the decision of the House of Commons either."

In other words, the Government do not want anyone to decide but themselves. What duplicity. What hypocrisy. What a reneging on their fundamental position that parliamentary scrutiny and debate, and decisions in this Chamber, were the proper way and the only way to make decisions about the Maastricht treaty. Now that the Government have gone back on their word, I am not surprised that the Foreign Secretary is not with us tonight.

Like many others, on Tuesday I observed the Prime Minister wriggling under questions from my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the Opposition. The Prime Minister was unwilling to give a straight answer to a straight question. Earlier we witnessed his dreadful evasions when he was questioned by the BBC's Jonathan Dimbleby. It was pass after pass: clearly, the Prime Minister could never be a candidate for "Mastermind". It is as well for him that his Government have not yet abolished the right to silence. The Prime Minister seems determined to die in the last ditch of prevarication on this matter.

But now an entirely novel concept of parliamentary democracy has emerged. It is, apparently, that the Government need not accept a decision of the House of Commons because of the nature and quality of the majority. We know that the European Community already has qualified majority voting, but this is a new and ridiculous argument. It seems that, if this was a boxing match, we would have to knock the Government out to get a draw.

The theory has great flexibility. Governments need not accept defeat because there were too many Scots in the Lobby, or too many Irish, or too many Welsh people, or too many women, or too many people who write with their left hand. The possibilities are endless.

Perhaps I ought to remind the Prime Minister and his right hon. and hon. Friends that it was a Tory, Winston Churchill—and he was a Tory at the time—who said "One is enough." If we win the votes tonight, we shall expect the Government to accede to the wishes of the House of Commons.

The Government's argument on that issue—like their case against the social chapter—is bogus. Where were these people and arguments in November 1992? The Government did not care then who joined them in the Lobby, or how they got them there: all they cared about was a majority of the House of Commons.

Is this the same Prime Minister who said to my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) in June 1992:
"common consent in this country is exercised through a parliamentary democracy and through the voices and words of Members of Parliament in this House."?—[Official Report, 3 June 1992; Vol. 208, c. 832.]
Or is it, more accurately, really the kind of Government described by Disraeli, who said:
"A Conservative Government is an organised hypocrisy"?
This is dangerous and unacceptable behaviour. If the Prime Minister and the Government ride roughshod over the decisions of the House of Commons, how can they call upon the people to accept other decisions of the House? The authority of this place would be seriously undermined. The reputation of the House is already too precarious for us to accept any further serious damage to it.

Is it not the inevitable outcome of the Government's position that other tangled webs of wealthy people, whether living in Britain or abroad, would seek to circumvent or undermine in the courts the decisions of the House? Would they not always be able to produce sanctimonious dupes such as Lord Rees-Mogg to give a superficial but threadbare respectability to their plans?

We should not accept these developments, Madam Speaker. Your ruling yesterday, in response to the important questions raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield, is of fundamental importance to the House, the nature of our democratic decision making and its future well-being. You deserve the thanks and support of everyone here—and, more important, of our constituents.

Rarely in my experience have a Government used such bogus arguments to avoid defeat on such a bogus case. The Tory case against the social chapter is a ragbag of half-truths, deceptions and downright fabrications. The dishonesty of the Government's case has been completely exposed in this as in earlier debates on the subject.

At Maastricht, the Prime Minister erected the social chapter as a threat to Britain and Europe. He was isolated —no one else agreed—and he planned the opt-out as a political insurance policy to ease the passage of the legislation. He failed. Even a superficial examination of the social chapter demonstrates that the claim that it is a charter for industrial unrest is completely untrue.

Article 2.6 of the chapter says:
"The provisions of this Article shall not apply to pay, the right of association, the right to strike or the right to impose lock-outs."
It applies to working conditions, information and consultation of workers on the basis of qualified majority voting. It applies also to social security, protection from dismissal, collective bargaining, employment conditions and job creation, but on the basis of unanimity.

The social chapter includes the novel provisions drafted by unions and employers, including the TUC and the CBI, enabling flexibility to be built in by collective agreements, replacing or complementing legislation. As we have all pointed out again and again, pay, the right to strike or impose lock-outs are explicitly excluded from legislation agreed under the social chapter.

As yet there is not even an action programme of legislation for the social chapter. The Commission is currently putting together a Green Paper on the future of social policy. All Governments are invited to make submissions. Perhaps the most interesting question will be how far the legislative route will be used and how much use will be made of the more flexible procedure, leaving those involved—unions and employers—to reach agreement on common standards.

What is clear is that the British Government will be excluded from those deliberations. British Commissioners, Members of the European Parliament, trade unionists and employers, as members of the economic and social committee, will have a formal role, but Britain's Government will be excluded from all the deliberations.

The only people who oppose the social chapter are the British Conservatives and the French neo-fascists: by their friends shall ye know them. Try as they might to dupe the British people or garner support for their reactionary views, the Government have totally failed. The European summit in Edinburgh at the end of the British presidency reaffirmed the commitment to the social chapter and urged Britain to join. That remains the unanimous view of It partners in spite of ministerial allegations, including those to the contrary from the Foreign Secretary.

Tories in Britain want Europe to be simply a big business club. We want a Europe with a continuously developing social dimension in the interests of greater efficiency and social cohesion. Our view is supported by industrialists such as Mr. Peter Wickens and others at Nissan who gave evidence to the Select Committee on Employment earlier this year. In March, he said:
"all I know is that any company that seeks to pay low wages ends up receiving low-quality, low-calibre employees. What we have got to do, in this country … is to be high-wage with a high-quality workforce, achieving high productivity and high quality products; that is the equation that we need, not low wage, low quality, low productivity. That is the route that is doomed to failure and disaster".
The House should also know that, when taking evidence in Japan, the Select Committee received exactly the same opinion from Aiwa, Fujitsu, Komatsu, Nissan, NSK and the Sony Corporation.

Another myth is that small businesses would be hit by the social chapter, yet article 2.2 of the social chapter specifically says:
"To this end, the Council may adopt, by means of directives, minimum requirements for gradual implementation, having regard to the conditions and technical rules obtaining in each of the Member States. Such directives shall avoid imposing administrative, financial and legal constraints in a way which would hold back the creation and development of small and medium-sized undertakings."
The social chapter specifically recognises
"the need to maintain the competitiveness of the Community";
and Labour certainly wants to see a successful, efficient, productive Community.

The truth is that the Government do not want, as the Prime Minister claims, a nation at ease with itself. Unlike us, the Government do not want more equalities in British society. They want to return to an era where there was little social protection for millions of British workers, but they are not supported by Britain's best employers in that aim. My hon. Friend the Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook) in particular exploded the myth that British companies such as ICI would be badly affected if the social chapter was implemented.

The Government want a labour market that exploits young people, women and ethnic communities in particular—in short, a deregulated labour market. But Britain can never succeed on that basis. Hong Kong has labour costs only 25 per cent. of those in Britain, and the figure for Taiwan is 35 per cent. and for Korea 35 per cent. They will always undercut our labour costs. Our failure is on unit labour costs compared with the United States of America, Japan, Germany and France. Our failing is because of low skills, low investment and low productivity.

As ever, the Tory party emerges from these debates as what it always has been—the party of exploitation of ordinary people. It is the party that always wants to pay those at the top more, to to give those at the top more power and more security to make them perform better, but those at the bottom are denied support and protection: they must be paid less, trained less, protected less and made less secure to make them perform better.

So we ask the House to join us in the Lobby tonight to give British people the advantages, the support, of the social chapter and to ensure the British people the support of a House of Commons that protects them, upholds its decisions and requires Governments to act upon them.

9.32 pm

This has been a debate without precedent. It is not a debate about the European Communities (Amendment) Bill, which is now an Act. It is a debate about the fundamental aspect of the Maastricht treaty, which was signed by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. In doing so, he secured an opt out from a protocol relating to an agreement for social policy.

Several hon. Members have misunderstood the differences between the social protocol, the social agreement, the social chapter and the social charter. Fortunately, my right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell) spelt out exactly what we are talking about. This debate is about the effect that the protocol would have on jobs in the United Kingdom and indeed, were it to come into effect, the very damaging impact that it would have on business.

I took the side of the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith)—if he is paying attention to the debate. When he is ready, I will, if I may, refer to his speech. I wanted to reply to a point that he made. The right hon. and learned Member depicted the social contract that he described between employers and unions, in the form of the protocol relating to social policy, as a matter of considerable importance. He was not in the House to listen to his right hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore), who described the social protocol as a matter of comparatively little importance. My hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor) also described the social protocol as something that did not really matter. I must therefore return the debate to the words of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister at the outset, when he set the agenda by describing the damaging effect that the social protocol would have upon business and jobs.

I do not have to do anything other than to refer the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Randall) to the words of the president of the Confederation of British Industry. The hon. Member said a few moments ago that the social protocol was something of which no business man should be afraid. The president of the CBI said:
"Community interference in such social policies is far more likely to destroy jobs than enhance their quality".
There are about 18 million unemployed people in the Community. The president of the CBI went on to say on behalf of the CBI:
"A Common vote tonight, leading to the inclusion of the social chapter in the ratified Maastricht treaty would set back the cause of common sense and competitiveness in Europe by several