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Social Policy Protocol (Confidencemotion)

Volume 229: debated on Friday 23 July 1993

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I have selected the amendment standing in the name of the Leader of the Opposition to today's main motion.

9.46 am

I beg to move, That this House has confidence in the policy of Her Majesty's Government on the adoption of the Protocol on Social Policy.

After yesterday's motion, the Cabinet thought it right to bring this motion immediately before the House. I said yesterday to the House that European policy had created a division in British politics for 20 years. We have seen the effects of that vividly over recent months. If asked, most people in the country would say that the House has spent most of its time in the past year doing nothing but debate the European Communities treaty. It has, indeed, been fully debated, but the House has done a great deal more. In one parliamentary Session, it has passed a large number of reforming Bills—on education, asylum, housing and urban renewal, trade union reform, and personal pensions. One third of our manifesto at the last election will have been enacted by the end of this parliamentary Session, and that is much to the advantage of the British nation.

Most of that will have been masked from public gaze by the disputes over European policy. Not only has that legislation been passed, but, over the same period, we have moved clearly from recession to growth. It is now clear that growth prospects for the year are likely to exceed earlier forecasts.

Those are some of the realities of what has occurred over the past year. Britain is now moving back into recovery, ready for significant sustained growth with low inflation. At the general election, that was the prescription which we promised and it is now becoming clearer day by day that that is what is being delivered to the British nation.

Against that background, it is in our national interest that we keep up the pace of reform and the pace of recovery. Parliament must put this stalemate over Europe behind it. I am not prepared to let it poison the political atmosphere any longer. The boil must be lanced, and it must be lanced today. Therefore, I shall set out in the clearest possible terms the implication for today's debate.

We have before us a motion of confidence in the Government, with all the implications that flow from that. Lest there be any doubt in the mind of any hon. Member, the issue of confidence also extends to the Opposition's amendment. No hon. Member should be under any misapprehension about that, even though its terms are intended to entrap the unwary. It is precisely the amendment that was defeated yesterday.

At the conclusion of this debate, either the Government will have won the vote of confidence and we can proceed with our policy, subject to one outstanding court case, or we shall have lost and I shall seek a dissolution of Parliament.

I shall give way to the right hon. Gentleman later. I want to make a little progress now.

This debate is about the Government's policy of rejecting the social chapter. I shall spell out the disadvantages so that no one can misunderstand me. Yesterday, the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) quoted from the social chapter. He made it sound innocuous, harmless and even benign. If he wants to keep his blinkers on, so be it—but let Conservative Members be in no doubt about the costs and the implications of the social chapter.

Measures that the Community has already brought forward, which abuse health and safety provisions, show us the scale of the costs likely to be involved in the social chapter's provisions. The working time directive orginally would have cost British industry £5 billion; by our efforts, that figure has been substantially reduced. The part-time directive orginally would have cost £1 billion; largely by our efforts, that directive has been stalled. The young workers directive would cost up to £150 million. Those are just three provisions, but they add up to more than £6 billion in potential costs. I could add to that (list. If the social chapter came into being, those costs would be added to for every single business in this country, with the inevitable effect on jobs.

Even the right hon. and learned Gentleman must realise that employers would have to meet those costs, and more, under the social chapter. There would be higher prices, lost jobs and less competitiveness. That is the policy which the right hon. and learned Gentleman espouses. He may wish to indulge himself by voting for the social chapter—he has the luxury of being able to strike attitudes—but we must deal in realities. He would not have to pay the price of his attitudes. The price would be paid by millions of men and women working hard to hold down jobs, bring up families and improve their working conditions.

At any time, the social chapter would be an unwarranted intrusion into British life; but now, just when recovery is beginning to emerge, it would put recovery at risk. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman does not want to take my word for it, perhaps he will take the word of the chairman of ICI—[Interruption.] Labour Members may choose to scoff and sneer at the chairman of ICI, but it is his company which provides jobs in their constituencies. It is the policy of Labour.Members which would cost their constituents those jobs.

What the chairman of ICI had to say—perhaps the Opposition would care to listen to and reflect upon it—was:
"Continental Europe is currently in deep recession while the UK has the beginnings of an economic recovery… It is…asbsolutely vital that business does not have imposed upon it additional costs which are unnecessary and which, in turn, could hinder the recovery."
Those are not my words, but the words of one of the most senior business men in this country.

Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman want to hinder the recovery, or does he think that he knows more about British industry than Sir Denys Henderson, who runs ICI? Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman really want to impose the social chapter and hazard the recovery now coming through, especially the five consecutive monthly falls in unemployment? It is self-evident that that is exactly what he wishes to do. The most fatuous comment this House has heard for months was his assertion yesterday that the social chapter would create jobs, not cost them. Only in the unemployment offices would it create jobs.

What does my right hon. Friend say in response to the argument put forward by many respectable business men that if we ratify this wretched treaty but we do not have the social chapter, things will be done through the social chapter by the other 11 countries which, through other aspects of the treaty, will then be imposed on the United Kingdom? If we are not there, we cannot control and restrain them.

I would say what many business men would have said to my hon. Friend had he asked them—that he is talking nonsense. The business men of this country have made it absolutely clear that they support ratification of the Maastricht treaty without the social chapter. I fail to understand why my hon. Friend wishes to impose extra costs on companies in his constituency of Northampton, North and put his constituents out of work. I hope that he can justify that to them.

I repeat that the Government cannot afford to, and will not, throw away the recovery. The social chapter is a risk which we will not take.

In making this debate a vote of confidence, the Prime Minister and other Ministers have said that if the Government lose there will be a general election. I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman a straightforward question: has he asked the Queen to grant a dissolution? Has she agreed to grant a dissolution? Has the right hon. Gentleman considered the possibility that—as has happened in the past—she might say, "It is only a new Parliament. There are other leaders who might take it on"? She might refuse a dissolution.

I have made it perfectly clear that if we lose the Division today I will seek a dissolution of Parliament. If the Government cannot carry their business, a dissolution of Parliament would undoubtedly be granted. The fact is that yesterday a disparate group of Members, voting for different interests on the same matter, chose to defeat the Government on a matter for which there is a genuine majority in the House. I repeat that the Government regard this as an issue of confidence and we will seek the dissolution of Parliament if we are defeated today.

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Is it in order for the Prime Minister, during proceedings in this House, to say that a dissolution would undoubtedly be granted, thereby appearing to put words in the mouth of the sovereign?

It is for all hon. Members and Ministers to make their own comments, not for the Speaker of this House to interpret them or comment upon them.

It is interesting to know in reality how unready the Liberal Democrates are for an election—[Interrupt ion.]

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. It is perfectly clear that the Prime Minister's speech, and his whole case, is based upon what he considers to be the evils that are contained in the social chapter—a document which was issued in 1989 and was referred to in the reply to yesterday's debate.

From the researches of my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing), it emerged yesterday in a written answer that he received from a Minister that the social charter has never been presented or published by Her Majesty's Government in Britain. Is it not the case that that charter, which is at the heart of this debate, has not been published by the Government, is not on the Table of the House, and is not in the Vote Office, so how can we proceed sensibly to consider this matter? Is it not the case that this whole debate is being conducted on hearsay and prejudice without the proper documentation being before the House?

We are proceeding today under an Act of Parliament that has already passed through this House.

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. You will recall that I spent nearly four years in the Whips Office—[Horn. MEMBERS: "Oh."] During that time, I was instructed not to apply any overt duress—[Laughter.] I will rephrase that, for the benefit of right hon. and hon. Members who are unable to follow the narrative. I was advised not to apply pressure or duress overtly in order to persuade my right hon. and hon. Friends to vote one way or another. I tried to obey that advice. Is not the Prime Minister's reference to the prospect of a general election creating improper pressure on the many Conservative Members whose seats are in jeopardy?

That is barely a point of order for me. I can tell the hon. Gentleman that I, too, was in the Whips Office, in support of a Government who did not have a majority—and I know all about duress.

The House is full of former Whips.

At this moment, Britain is uniquely placed in regard to the rest of Europe—a "paradise for investors", as M. Delors so kindly put it. There is no doubt that Britain—with low inflation, low interest rates, competitive labour costs and competitive interest rates—has the leading edge in the marketplace in Europe. The Government have no intention of throwing away those hard-won advantages, as the social chapter would compel us to do.

The obsession that some Opposition Members have with the social chapter is bizarre. They want more regulation and more social costs just as the rest of Europe is seeking to draw back from extra social costs. France is curbing spending on health and pensions. Holland is freezing social security benefits. Germany is cutting back unemployment assistance and job creation schemes. They are doing so because they realise that Europe must keep all its costs down to compete in the world.

Yesterday, the right hon. and learned Gentleman spoke about competitiveness in Europe, but Europe must compete with the United States and Japan as well. All across Europe people know that Europe is losing competitiveness at present. Twenty years ago, the unemployment rate across Europe was 60 per cent. of that in the United States. Today, it is 60 per cent. above the United States. That is largely because of the extra costs that we have placed on our businesses, running their competitiveness and damaging their employment prospects.

The Opposition may seek to make gestures and price people out of work, but the Government's job is to put them back in work—and that is the policy which we shall follow.

The Prime Minister is making another knocking speech against the social chapter. The reality is that he believes that he can politically survive today only if he threatens his entire party with self-destruction in a general election campaign. Will the right hon. Gentleman tell the House how often and how long such a tactic can be successfully employed?

The hon. Gentleman, with his curious voting pattern on Europe, represents a part of the United Kingdom which has done remarkably well out of inward investment because of our membership of the European Community—a membership which he would have done well to support in the Lobbies last night with the Government. The hon. Gentleman's constituents will have noted how he voted.

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. History shows that down the years sordid deals on the Floor of the House have cost the lives of countless people in the north of Ireland. Does not the Prime Minister have a duty today to tell the House what deal he did with the nine Ulster Unionists to buy their votes yesterday, contrary to their manifesto? Will you, Madam Speaker, also ask the Prime Minister to rule that the definition of an honest man is one who, once he has been bought, stays bought?

The hon. Gentleman knows that those matters are not for me but for debate.

I will clear up the matter for the hon. Gentleman so that he is left in no doubt. Nothing was asked for, nothing was offered, and nothing was given. So perhaps the hon. Gentleman would care to withdraw his remark. He might also bear in mind that unemployment in the part of the United Kingdom that he represents is very high, as he never ceases to remind the House. He, too, would make it higher, by the way that he cast his vote in the Divisions that we have had.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way—particularly, given his latter remarks, as I am wearing the Anglo-Irish tie. Further to his comments yesterday, which he has just repeated, does he agree that so severe has the recession become in the other European countries that, although no specific proposals for the social chapter have yet been made, when they are published in due course we shall find that they are milder than the social action programme that the Government already accept under the social dimension? May I therefore ask my right hon. Friend what all the fuss is about?

I will tell my hon. Friend what all the fuss is about. Once we adhere to the social protocol, it will be there for good—not just for the brief period in which our partners in Europe may be wary about bringing matters forward.

Given that the motion deals specifically with the adoption of the protocol on social policy, will my right hon. Friend tell me how we shall be able to go ahead with it when it is expressly excluded by the Act of Parliament that was passed last week but is included in the treaty that my right hon. Friend signed?

I think that my hon. Friend, despite his close study of the matter, has perhaps misunderstood the domestic legislation that we have been examining. If he cares to read it more carefully—perhaps he could take some time to do so before we vote this afternoon—he will understand the whole matter a little better.

The Government were elected just over a year ago with the largest popular vote in British history. It was a vote for policies for economic recovery, which we are now getting, for private enterprise, which we will sustain, and for individual freedom, which we are extending.

If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I have generously given way, and I wish to make some progress.

The social chapter would put much of that at risk. What the electors did not vote for at the last election was the right hon. and learned Gentleman's policies: increased inflation, corporatism and state intervention, a reverse of trade union reform, and craven compliance and abject surrender in the face of every regulation coming from Brussels. The right hon. and learned Gentleman and his colleagues are only too ready to advance socialism through Europe, never ready to stand up to battle for British ideas and British ideas in Europe.

One whiff of a new regulation, a new burden or a new cost from Europe and the right hon. and learned Gentleman yelps that he wants it too. No doubt as a small boy he was avid for measles and desperate for chicken pox as well. What is more, he says, without these new burdens Britain will become a sweatshop economy. It would be a great help if, during the recess, the right hon. and learned Gentleman would go out into industry and meet some of the people who run it.

What would the social chapter do to much of other parts of legislation? Gone, reluctantly and sadly in the minds of Opposition Members, are the days when the trade unions held such sway in this country. They held it to ransom month after month, year after year. Now all they hold is the right hon. and learned Gentleman to ransom, issue by issue—not the Leader of the Opposition, but the trade unions' glove puppet when it comes to policy. The social chapter would put much of that in reverse gear. The last thing we want is a Government committed to putting union bosses back in the boardroom, and I cannot believe that the House will vote for that.

Many countries in the European Community are now going into recession, and that is where the obsession with extra regulation would put us back as well, just as we have emerged from it. I cannot understand why the right hon. and learned Gentleman wants us to adopt the social chapter when other countries are beginning to realise its costs and burdens. As the president—

I have given way sufficiently.

As the president of the CBI said in The Times yesterday—[Interruption.] I know that the Opposition do not like these quotes from people who understand business but they are going to get them. He said:
"A Commons vote tonight leading to inclusion of the social chapter in the ratified Maastricht treaty would set back the cause of common sense and competitiveness in Europe by sevaral years."
The right hon. and learned Gentleman will shortly be the first Labour leader to speak to the CBI; perhaps before he goes he should start listening to the CBI, too.

Other countries around the world are beginning to realise the effect of excessive social costs. The chairmen of our leading banks yesterday may it perfectly clear that their concern—[Interruption.] The Opposition do not care. I am talking about the people who run industry and commerce, but the Opposition do not care. They do not mind how many people are unemployed if they can salve their consciences. The chairmen made it clear that people outside, European business men, are
"concerned about the costs and over-rigid labour and social benefit structures in their own countries, and see the social chapter as adding to this problem."
Only Opposition Members fail to be able to see that.

The choice because the House today could not be clearer. The Government have opened up new opportunities for people with low inflation and for union members to have more say in their affairs, more opportunities for home owners and more opportunities for business to compete abroad. By contrast, the Opposition offer policies of opportunism, not opportunity, at every level.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman said last year:
"I do not think we should oppose the Maastricht treaty",
yet that is exactly what he did last night. He claims to be an ardent European. He said:
"I have always believed that Britain's future lies in Europe, and that we must take a confident and leading role in the European Community."
So what has the ardent European done in the last year? He voted against Second Reading of the European Communities (Amendment) Bill. He voted against Maastricht in the paving debate; he voted against Maastricht last night. What did he do on Second Reading of the Single European Act, this ardent European? He abstained. What did he do on Second Reading of the Maastricht Bill, this ardent European? He abstained. On Third Reading, the ardent European abstained. Mr. Valiant-for-Abstention—the ardent European. Perhaps, out of sheer habit, he will abstain when we come to the vote this afternoon. Some European, and some principles! As Dr. Johnson said of a man with allegedly good principles, "He does not wear them out in practice"; and neither does the right hon. and learned Gentleman. He wears his principles lightly so that he may discard them whenever convenient.

This country cannot afford to let this stalemate on European policy continue. It is against the interests of government in this country to do so. This House must decide today whether it is prepared to sustain the Government in office or encourage me to seek a dissolution. We did not lightly bring this motion forward, but the matter could not have been left any longer. It has to be decided, and the only way to decide it is to reject the social chapter. If this country were to accept it, it would mean an end to recovery, a return to corporatism, and an end to competitiveness. That is not the way forward for this country, and I hope that the House will decisively reject it.

10.16 am

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.'.
Last night, the Prime Minister suffered a humiliating and crushing defeat. It was a defeat not only on a crucial plank of his European policy but on the single issue which is taken as the flagship of his Administration.

With no hint of modesty, and clearly no inkling—not even a clue—of the problems to come, the Prime Minister advertised his visit to Maastricht as game, set and match. Nineteen months later, after endless footfaults, double faults and mishits, he was struggling with a tie-break. Today, like some petulant tennis prima donna, he is threatening to take his racquet away. Perhaps, after his next negotiating triumph in Europe, the Prime Minister would be better advised to use cricketing metaphor—but, then again, perhaps not. After all, he was clean bowled yesterday and he has been forced to follow on today.

Today, in this debate and in this crucial vote, is the Prime Minister relying on the merits of his opt-out strategy, the force of his arguments and on the strength of his case? No, I fear not. He tried all that yesterday and look where it got him. The very centre of his case yesterday was that Britain had to opt in to Europe. He told us how crucial it was to be on the inside track, shaping events, defending Britain's interests, involved and influential in the councils of decision. In his portentous way, the Prime Minister warned us yesterday:
"If we wilfully throw away our capacity to defend our interests and promote our policies—this country will pay a dear price for that folly in the years to come."—[Official Report, 22 July 1993; Vol. 229, c. 522.]
He was in his "Britain at the heart of Europe" mode, but he appeared throughout it all, as he has today, to be totally unaware of the fundamental contradiction that is right at the heart of his own argument.

The more the Prime Minister argued for Britain to be involved with real influence in all aspects of the European Community, the more he exposed the sheer absurdity of an opt out from the social protocol, which would give this country no influence and no power over what he claimed to be matters of great concern to the Community and to this country. The Prime Minister's version of being at the heart of Europe, apparently, is to be required to leave the room when the Community considers crucial social policy decisions. The triumph of the ace negotiator is an empty chair for Britain in the Council of Ministers. The right hon. Gentleman, just as appears to be the case today, appeared to be totally incapable of comprehending the disordered logic of his own case, which simply amounts to the bizarre claim that in order to opt in, Britain, somehow, has to opt out.

Nor has the Prime Minister been able to explain the pertinent questions that were asked from the Opposition side of the House yesterday about why, if the social chapter is such a disaster for this country, that penetrating piece of wisdom has not penetrated the mind of Chancellor Kohl, Mr. Balladur, whom the Prime Minister will be meeting on Monday, and Mr. Lubbers, or the mind of members of any other European Community Governments with whom the Prime Minister seeks to have fraternal relations.

I thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman for giving way, unlike the Prime Minister who obviously does not want to answer questions that he thinks are going to be about Northern Ireland. I had hoped that I could put my question to the Prime Minister, so perhaps the right hon. and learned Gentleman will answer for him.

Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that there is a very serious contradiction in the position of this country, which is one of the major contributors to the European Community budget and which will be paying for this costly social chapter that the Prime Minister talked about, when ordinary working people will not be allowed to benefit from the social chapter and when the Prime Minister will not be allowed to sit round the table when the budget for the social chapter is being distributed? It is illogical.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. He has highlighted something that is becoming increasingly understood by the people of this country, as we now focus properly on the social protocol aspect of the debate. The people of this country do not understand why they have a Government who want to deny to them the social rights, the social opportunities and the social advantages which the whole Community wants for its citizens.


Furthermore, many sensible employers in this country understand that it would he very wise to have a level playing field of social responsibility which would stop companies and countries trying to drive each other down in order to get a fleeting competitive advantage. The whole of the European Community—parties and Governments—is in favour of the social chapter, except for two the Prime Minister and his party and Mr. Le Pen and his party. I am bound to say that I am more proud of the company that I keep than of the company that the Prime Minister keeps.

We know from the terms of the Government's motion today that the Prime Minister has abandoned his flawed arguments. He has been backed against the wall and forced, in order to survive, to threaten his own party with electoral suicide.

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give way?

I will certainly give way to one of the possible candidates for electoral suicide.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman has said the same thing in the last three elections and he lost each time, but I thank him for his courtesy, if that is the word, ih giving way. If labour market regulation is so good for workers, can he explain how it is that in Spain, which has some of the toughest employment laws in Europe and all the benefits of a socialist Government, there is 20 per cent. unemployment?

If Conservative economic policies for this country are so wise, I could ask the hon. Gentleman why it is that we have millions of unemployed people here. [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."] Quiet. It is time that some members of the Cabinet went on their holidays. They might come back a little calmer and a little quieter. They should not allow the prospect of electoral suicide to upset them in the way that, apparently, it is doing, but they sit there worrying about electoral suicide. [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."] The simple answer is that all other parties in Europe understand that economic progress and social progress go together. That is understood on the left in Europe and on the right in Europe. It is also understood in the centre of Europe. The only place where it is not comprehended is here, by these people who are temporarily in charge of this country.

It appears not to have occurred to the Prime Minister that his tactic of employing a quasi motion of confidence in Her Majesty's Government is not a sign of confidence but a display of weakness. The Prime Minister lost the argument in a House in which he has a clear overall majority on the most important aspect of his legislative programme—one which, moreover, he has stamped with his own personal design and authority. As a result of his failure, he has been forced to make a humiliating threat to his own party: that unless Conservative Members come into the Government Lobby today he will press the self-destruct button of a general election, which both he and they know would result in a massive defeat for this Government and in the loss of their seats.

I noticed that one of the rebels said on radio or television this morning or yesterday that a general election would result in the loss of possibly one third of the Conservative seats in this House of Commons—hardly a sign of confidence. It is hardly a symbol of authority to go to your own party and say, "If I can't drag you into the Lobby, I'll give your electors a chance to get rid of you." That is this man of confidence, this triumphant hero of the negotiating table, this self-confident leader of the Conservative party. Former leaders of the Conservative party will be turning in their graves when they think of what is being done in the name of the Conservative party today.

As a connoisseur of knock-about, I congratulate the right hon. and learned Gentleman, though knock-about is not very prime ministerial. [Interruption.] I invite the right hon. and learned Gentleman to come to my constituency, where I should like him to see whether he can find one group of business people who support the position that he takes. Why does he show such contempt for business people in my constituency? Will he come to my constituency and meet the business community? Not one of them agrees with him. They enjoy his knock-about, but they do not agree with his policies.

I should be happy to go to the hon. Gentleman's constituency during a general election, when the hon. Gentleman would have to face the business people in his constituency. I hope that he would also consult the working people in his constituency—the employees as well as the managing directors.

The Prime Minister gave us a list of industrialists and bankers. I am not astonished that the chairmen of banks signed a letter that the Prime Minister sent round to them. Bankers are not noted for refusing to sign letters from Prime Ministers when they are asked if they will kindly add their signature to help the Prime Minister out in a debate in the House of Commons. He might do better to rely on the strength of his arguments than on the fleeting support of some commercial banks.

We noticed throughout the debate constant references to managing directors, senior executives and the heads of employers' organisations. Why is no thought given to the millions of working people in this country and throughout the Community? The Conservative party no longer wants to represent people who work for a living. It no longer wants to represent working people. It is becoming the redoubt of the privileged and the elite—the people who, as wages fall for the poorest, are constantly increasing their wages, pensions, perks and benefits.

I thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman for giving way. Perhaps during the general election in four years' time he will come to my constituency, which has been on the list for Labour gain in the last four elections. For almost the past 20 years, the right hon. and learned Gentleman and his hon. Friends have promised to win the next election. Ordinary people in my constituency do not want them and will not have it.

I think that we should put the matter speedily to a test. It is within the power of every Conservative Member to join us in the Lobby today to ensure that a general election is called. After all, if the Government believe that they have the right policies and the support of the people, they have nothing to fear from a general election. The hon. Gentleman appears to have forgotten that they would be able to come back with the prospect not of three or four years in power, although that must be rather uncertain in the present situation, but with five years in power. Why do not they seize the advantage that they are being offered by the Opposition? What is troubling the Conservative party?

If the Maastricht treaty goes through, does the right hon. and learned Gentleman think that there will be many issues to talk about in general elections?

I think there will be quite a number of issues to discuss. If the hon. Gentleman asks his constituents, he will find that many of them would like to talk to him about the imposition of VAT on heating bills.

I worked on the social charter in Brussels on behalf of the House as a member of the Select Committee on Employment. Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that significant social benefits on health and safety flow from the Single European Act, which many other EC national states, such as Greece, have not implemented? Does not he believe, in all honesty, that it would be better properly to implement such measures, which will protect children, women and disabled people, than to pile Peleon on Ossa "and make the structure of the European Community's social policy so top heavy that it will bring everything down?

When the hon. Lady was taking part in these discussions in Europe she must have had daily contact with the other 11 nation states that take part in the deliberations of the Community. She must have met their Members of Parliament and leaders. She will know, as we all know in the House, that every one of them wants the social protocol to be included in the treaty. None of them appears to have the fears and worries that are expressed by the Conservative party.

It is interesting that the Conservative party has become so blinkered on this issue that it cannot comprehend that there is any other point of view; but there is and it sometimes comes from the Conservative Benches. The hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes) asked the Prime Minister today, "What is all the fuss about?" That view is held in the Conservative party. It is held by the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath). Speaking in one of our debates, he said:
"When it comes to the social chapter, I would ask my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and the Government to move with extreme caution. I do not accept the figures that have been given by the Government or, in particular, by the Secretary of State for Employment on the consequences of the social chapter, and nor does the majority of people in the Community."[Official Report, 20 May 1993; Vol. 225, c. 405.]
If the Prime Minister and his colleagues cannot even persuade a former Conservative Prime Minister not only of the strength of their argument but of the veracity of statistics, it is an extremely revealing insight into modern Conservative Government.

The Prime Minister must have contact with other leaders when he goes to these jolly gatherings of the European People's party. What was it that made Chancellor Kohl so disordered and confused that he has ended up being a socialist? He does not look much like a socialist to me. When Mr. Balladur comes to see the Prime Minister on Monday, will he say, "You did well, John, keeping Britain out of the social chapter"? Of course he will not. Will he say to the Prime Minister, "Good morning, comrade"? The right-wing Government of France will not withdraw from the social protocol of the European Community. The Government can issue a statement after Mr. Balladur's visit on Monday to clear the matter up. Chancellor Kohl told the German trade union conference that he would fight for the social chapter being kept in the European treaty. I wonder how he managed to do that.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman knows that there are 17 million unemployed people in Europe. The Prime Minister reminded us that employment in Europe used to be 60 per cent. less than in the United States; it is now 60 per cent. higher. My hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley (Mr. Oppenheim) reminded us that unemployment in Spain is 20 per cent. German employment is rising beyond our own. When my right hon. Friend goes to the Copenhagen summit, and when we go to Tokyo, people from Europe express concern about what they call the structural employment that has developed in Europe in the last 10 years.

If the right hon. and learned Gentleman does not think that everybody else in Europe is acutely aware of the heavy and excessive non-wage social costs that are being imposed on labour in the Community, he is very much mistaken. He would be in a minority of one in invoking all the stuff that he is now invoking and threatening to put more costs on employment if ever there were a Labour Government in this country.

I think that I can say this to the right hon. and learned Gentleman: his speech was a little more effective than the Prime Minister's. [HoN. MEMBERS: "Answer".] I will answer the right hon. and learned Gentleman very directly, but before I do let us reflect on what result he wants in the Lobby this afternoon. I think that I am indulging in the considerable art of generosity in letting all the aspirants make their speeches now.

The Chancellor is right to say that the people of Europe are concerned about the state of their economies. Who could be anything but concerned when employment is at its current level? However, other countries in the European Community do not see the social protocol as a reason for that employment. Apart from everything else, the issue of pay is not a part of the social protocol, as I said in yesterday's debate.

The Prime Minister's case is that other countries in Europe are seeking to follow the British Conservative party's fearless way forward. I see that the Secretary of State for Employment is nodding—no doubt he will give that message to the European People's party in his little office in Smith square—[Interruption.] I notice that the Secretary of State does not like to hear such references.

If the Government were winning supporters for their view, why did the communique at the Edinburgh summit affirm that the Community would proceed with all aspects of the social chapter? The Prime Minister and his colleagues sought to argue against it, but the whole of the rest of the Community reaffirmed its commitment to the treaty's social provisions as recently as the Edinburgh summit.

I shall give way to the hon. Lady. Conservative Members want me to make progress, but their hon. Friends keep interrupting.

I am listening with interest to what the right hon. and learned Gentleman has to say. He seems to be speaking for particular groups of people—our European partners and the politicians who represent various countries and policies. When will he speak for the people of this country?

I shall be delighted to speak to and for the people of this country in the next general election. We could all speak and make our case in the election campaign which may come. I keep being diverted from my case by irrelevant interruptions from Conservative Members. It was not I who tabled the motion of confidence; it was the Prime Minister.

The question that troubles more than the Prime Minister's rebels—it might even occur to some Cabinet Members who are sitting looking at me—is how the Prime Minister managed to get himself into this mess. After all, he must have known—as they must have known—that the House of Commons could not indefinitely be denied the opportunity to vote on whether the social chapter should be part of the treaty. The Prime Minister tried to duck and weave, to postpone and evade throughout the lengthy deliberations on the Bill—[Interruption.]

As the House knows, the Prime Minister was finally cornered when the Government had to accept new clause 74 of the Bill, which became section 7 of the Act under which we are debating the motion. That was an amendment presciently described by my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) as the ticking time bomb.

When the amendment was accepted by the Foreign Secretary on behalf of the Government, it was discounted in the usual dismissive tones of the Tory Whips and apologists—those brilliant managers of events. It was believed that with a bit more arm-twisting and a few more tearful encounters in the Whips Office, it would be all right on the night; but it was not. The ticking time bomb blew up, not only wiping the smug smiles off the faces of the Tory Whips, but destroying the Prime Minister's credibility and authority.

When it came to the crunch, the Prime Minister could not command the support of his own party. Yesterday we saw, as so often before, a Government prepared to do anything and say anything to get themselves out of their latest self-constructed humiliation. Yesterday, Government policy on the exchange rate mechanism changed between the Prime Minister's speech and the closing speech of the Secretary of State for Employment, for no other reason than to entice a Conservative Member of Parliament into the Lobby. I suppose one could say that at least that was done in the open. Who knows what shady deals were stitched up of which we do not yet know?

All those actions came from a Prime Minister who yesterday and today has had the gall to talk about cynical alliances. I sometimes think that when the Prime Minister selects a weapon, it is the boomerang which he finds most convenient.

What we witnessed yesterday and are participating in today is just the latest in the series of crisis after crisis which is the defining characteristic of this Administration. The Government are destroying our coal industry, causing chaos in schools, threatening our railway network and proposing to tax millions of families on the heating of their homes in order to pay for the feckless incompetence of the Government's economic policies. They are the very Government who threaten the public services on which millions of our fellow citizens depend. What is more, they constantly undermine our democracy by the constant arrogation of power unto themselves.

The Government have betrayed pledge after pledge and bungled policy after policy; they are now in disarray and defeat. Today, I hope that the House will vote for the Labour amendment which will give the British people the same rights and opportunities as are available throughout the rest of the European Community. By courtesy of the Prime Minister, we can do more than that. The House can express its lack of confidence in a Government who have no confidence and deserve none. I invite the House to do so.

10.47 am

I congratulate the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) on an extremely witty and entertaining speech. The House has had the privilege of hearing a distinguished advocate displaying his skills. It does not matter what the subject is, the right hon. and learned Gentleman has only to be given a brief and then, with a few jokes and the training which he has practised in many courts in the land, he can keep the jury amused and try not to let its members come too close to the argument.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman had an unparalleled advantage. There are many of us in the House who, having made our speech and sat down, then think of all the things that we wanted to say. The right hon. and learned Gentleman had the enviable advantage of being able to return the next day to make all the comments that he wished he had made the day before. As a result, he made a much more amusing speech today than he did yesterday. However, the big gap in his lawyer's brief which shone through yesterday and today was the unfortunate way in which, in seeking to appeal to the so-called employees, the workers, he brought out the worst elements among Opposition Members as they displayed their contempt for employers.

Looking at all the Opposition Members, I know that all of them would run to a company that said that it was hoping to bring another 100 jobs into their constituencies. Are not those Opposition Members the very people who, together with employers, lobby Ministers to try to get extra grants and establish new enterprises in their constituencies? Yet those same Opposition Members are here today lampooning the leaders of British industry and the people who bring the jobs. Without good employers, there is no employment and there are no employees.

To say that there is a competition or a war taking place between employers and employees is the old language of 20 and 30 years ago—the language surrounding the old class war. It is to those old ideas that the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East tries to appeal as he stands on top of the heaving mass of the Labour party —such an attempt does him no credit.

The most telling phrase in my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister's excellent speech was when he simply encouraged the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East to visit industry and to see industry for himself. I plead guilty to having worked all my life in industry before I came to the House. I do not make my next point to the discredit of lawyers, because there are probably one or two on the Government Benches at the moment. It is an honourable profession. However, the right hon. and learned Gentleman's speech reeked of the fact that he had a brief in his hand, that he was reading it and that he did not really understand it. The most unedifying episode yesterday was when he quoted the director-general of UNICE, whom the French, rather charmingly, would call a fonctionnaire. He tried to pray him in aid against all the leaders and active employers in Europe.

We are hopeful—I believe now confident—that we are seeing a return of economic growth in this country. However, it is noticeable that some hon. Members are now behaving as if that growth is guaranteed and as if we can be certain that it will continue. Every hon. Member knows that the fight to get to that position has been tough and that the pain has been very great. We shall try to continue that growth against the trend in France and against the trend in Germany, which is in the opposite direction. Those are two of our main markets. We should never forget that six of the eight top export markets for Britain are in the European Community and that the rest of the European Community is going into economic retreat. The present situation is fragile and anyone who takes risks with the chance of economic growth betrays their constituents.

Even Mr. Delors, to his credit, has now recognised that Europe faces a crisis of uncompetitiveness. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister brought out clearly, Europe used to be competitive with America, but we are now in the opposite position of being uncompetitive compared with the largest modern economy in the western world.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that we now have a Prime Minister who is more devoted to manufacturing industry than any Prime Minister has been in recent times? Is my right hon. Friend aware that our right hon. Friend intends to introduce a deregulation Bill in the next Session of Parliament which will help to improve our international competitiveness?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making two extremely important points. He and I share an interest in one particular manufacturing industry which we both represent in the House. I share his views on the matter.

Ten years ago, I was Secretary of State for Employment and I went to the Social Affairs Council. Europe then faced a crisis of rising unemployment. I shall remind the House who the other members of that Council were; many of the names will be familiar to hon. Members. There was Mr. Pierre Bérégovoy of France, socialist. There was Mr. Gianni De Michelis of Italy, socialist. There was Mr. Ruairi Quinn of Ireland, socialist. We had the German Minister of Labour, who was a trade unionist. We had Christian Democrats and myself, a Conservative Minister. When I first went to the Social Affairs Council, all the issues about which the House is now talking were on the table. There was paternity law, the Vredeling directive and the working hours directive. Initially my colleagues, certainly the socialist Ministers, were in favour of those proposals, but, as we discussed the matter further and as unemployment increased in their countries and across Europe, we all recognised—this was the view that we as Conservatives already took—that we simply could not afford to add extra costs to employers and that if we did, we would, in the words of the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East, betray the working people of Europe. It is no good making tub-thumping speeches as though employees will not have their interests best protected by worthy and responsible employers.

After I had listened to the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East yesterday, I left the Chamber. I had listened to him reading his brief about what was supposed to be the view of people in European industry. I advise him to leave now because he will not like the next bit when I tell him something about industry. I went to a meeting to discuss investment in this country. I talked to a Japanese and I talked to a British company that has investment in France where, sadly, with the fall in the economy and with the sharp recession, employers find that every redundancy costs them £25,000. Many might say that that is socially sensible and desirable. Many might think how wonderful it is that everyone who loses a job gets that amount. However, an employer starting a new business and wondering whether he can afford to take on an extra employee will know that he is putting his head into that noose. How will that encourage growth in employment?

Is my right hon. Friend aware that it is so difficult to make individuals redundant in France that, by contrast, people often have to close down the entire company, thus making unemployed people whom they would not otherwise wish to make unemployed? The net result is higher unemployment than we have in this country and unemployment that is rising rapidly.

In that one sentence, my hon. Friend has shown that she knows considerably more about employment problems in Europe than does the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East. What she has said is precisely correct. Sadly, in one case about which I heard yesterday, that is precisely what happened. The company has gone bankrupt since it cannot afford to keep the people it would like to keep because of the huge costs of redundancy for the people it is necessary to ask to leave to slim down the business. The reality is that the social charter would be a disaster at this time for our country. That is why in the interests not of employers, but of jobs and employment in this country, I strongly support the position of my right hon. Friend and the Government.

I shall address one word to those of my right hon. and hon. Friends who have serious reservations about the issue. They have made their point very clear in these debates. Some of them, tragically, made their views known in the Lobbies last night. That situation is now past. I listened to my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen) on the radio this morning, as other hon. Members may have done. The choice now is not the option of stopping Maastricht. The choice is clear, however much the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East may avoid coming directly to the point. I hope that the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) will deal with this when he winds up. Were, by any awful chance, the Government to lose the vote today, were Her Majesty to grant a dissolution and were, by some even more awful mischance, the Labour party to be elected, I take it that we could assume that Labour would then speed to the ratification of the Maastricht treaty with the social chapter.

The hon. Gentleman kindly nods his head. That shows clearly that there are now two choices before the House. The choice is either the Maastricht treaty with the social chapter or the Maastricht treaty without the social chapter. I emphasise the point again because in the noise, not all hon. Members may have heard it. I say again, in case any of my hon. Friends think that there is one last squeeze of the lemon in this situation, that the only choice is to vote on the amendment with the Government and on the main question with the Government. That is the only way in which we can protect our constituents and those in jobs, and that is the best chance for the economic recovery to go forward. That gives the best chance for good government and future stability for our country.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It is nearly 11 o'clock—under the rules governing our proceedings on a Friday, the point at which I must ask you, as I asked you at 9.35 am, whether. The Foreign Secretary has requested to make a statement on the important and sensitive negotiations that were concluded yesterday in Baghdad by Dr. Rolf Ekeus on behalf of the United Nations, which resulted in a compromise, and on whether such compromise would include any alleviation of sanctions.

I have received no request from a Minister to make a statement on anything.

11 am

It is always interesting to follow the right hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King), although I must say that I found the right hon. Gentleman's comments on bankruptcy somewhat odd coming from the mouth of someone who was for a long time a member of a Government who have presided over the highest level of bankruptcies that this nation has seen in the past half century. I also wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman has taken the trouble to read the social chapter, as most of his arguments about why we should not adopt it were completely irrelevant to its terms.

Ostensibly, we are here today to debate the social chapter. My party's position on the social chapter has been clear. It is the subject of a manifesto commitment. That position remains as I described it to the House yesterday, and I have no particular desire to repeat it today. The Government's attempt to build the social chapter up into a great socialist engine that will roll over the British economy and British jobs may convince Conservative Members but it will not convince anyone else.

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will allow me to make some progress first.

It is important that Britain should be aware of the kind of industrial base that we want to build—an industrial base that will produce quality goods in world markets, based on high investment, high value added and on a work force that is valued. That is the place for Europe and it is the place for Britain. The Government seem to want Britain to turn into a low-cost economy. I can tell them only that, if that happens, we shall be creating not a sweatshop economy—I do not go along with that assertion—but an economy that has to compete not with the best in the world but with other low-cost economies such as those emerging in eastern Europe and the far east. Those other low-cost economies will be far more effective than ours, and the result will be economic decline. That is not what I seek and it is not what is sought in the social chapter. Britain should value its work force; we should be engaged in the production of quality goods through a quality work force.

The hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes) was entirely right: the social chapter is no more than a series of broad aspirations. It represents little advance on the social chapter of the treaty of Rome as amended by the Single European Act under the premiership of Baroness Thatcher.

If we vote against the social chapter, we shall be excluding ourselves from the shaping of a European institution. The Prime Minister's arguments yesterday about Britain needing to be at the heart of Europe are belied by his requirement that we leave a European institution. To see what happens to European institutions that are shaped without British influence, the House need look no further than the common agricultural policy. We chose to be out of the CAP; it was shaped without us. Today, we pay the price for that. That is exactly what will happen with the social chapter.

I see that the Prime Minister has left once again, so I shall say this to the Foreign Secretary. The Foreign Secretary made it clear on the "Today" programme this morning—to be fair, he has made it clear on every occasion—that last night's vote was not, as the Prime Minister sought to claim yesterday, about ratification. The right hon. Gentleman said quite clearly that it was "about the social chapter". I quote his words precisely. He and the Prime Minister know beyond peradventure that, right from the start, the Liberal Democrats have said privately, as we have said publicly, that, although the Government may always count on our votes if ratification is at risk, they can never count on our votes in support of the social chapter opt-out.

In the light of those public statements, our manifesto commitment and private confirmation of that position given months ago, right at the start of the process, for the Prime Minister to pretend otherwise is a discreditable misrepresentation of what he knows to be the truth.

I think not. The right hon. Gentleman is not tackling the point that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister put to him. We understand that, following the right hon. Gentleman's fierce criticisms of the social chapter at the end of 1991, his views have undergone a sea change and he now supports it. Therefore, by his lights—which we think were mistaken—he was justified in voting for the Labour amendment yesterday. But when that amendment was defeated, the question was not whether the social chapter should be included—

No. The question then became whether we should be able to proceed to ratification. That was the essence of the second vote and, by his conduct in that vote, the right hon. Gentleman showed that his aim was neither the inclusion of the social chapter nor ratification but simply to embarrass the Government.

God forbid that I should ever seek to embarrass the Government. The Foreign Secretary is wrong, and he knows that he is wrong. Let me make it clear to him. I asked the Minister who was present during my speech to tell me what we were voting for in the first and second votes last night. I asked whether we were voting on the social chapter, as the Government were trying to persuade their rebels we were, or for ratification. Needless to say, the Minister completely failed to answer. Why? Because the Government's game throughout has been to send two different messages, on this question as on so much else. This goes to the heart of the fraudulence and weakness of their position. The Government sought to tell their own rebels that yesterday's debate was about the social chapter, while portraying it to us as about ratification. If it was about ratification, what are we doing discussing the social chapter today? It was not about ratification. The ratification of the Maastricht treaty was never at risk last night. What was at risk last night was our inclusion in the social chapter and the rights that it would provide for British citizens.

Does my right hon. Gentleman agree that the real test that should be applied to the Foreign Secretary's intervention is this: if, by two votes the other way, the Labour amendment had been carried last night and the substantive motion had been amended, would the Government have supported that motion and proceeded to implement it?

My hon. Friend asks whether, had the votes gone the other way, ratification would have been damaged. Of course it would not. We know that that is not the real reason why we are here this morning. The real reason is that the Prime Minister's strategy has totally failed. The Prime Minister has failed to provide a lead to his party and to the country. He has been more concerned to behave towards his party as a Government Whip than towards his nation as its Prime Minister and leader. That has been the Prime Minister's fatal mistake. In trying to send two different messages, the right hon. Gentleman has totally failed to portray Europe in all its positive aspects, which is what would have been necessary to enable him to carry the majority for Maastricht that exists in the House. He said one thing to his European partners, while pretending something totally different on his return to the House.

Time and again, the Prime Minister has ducked the issue and avoided the challenge. The issue of the social chapter need not have arisen now; he could have faced it months ago or weeks ago. But the Prime Minister delayed and delayed and has brought the matter before us at the very last moment. The only way that he can now get his way and get the treaty through is by staking his personal authority and the Government's survival. There you are, Mr. Deputy Speaker. That is what we now have. The triumph of the Prime Minister's return from Maastricht with the opt out turned into a crisis of his own authority. That is the ball and chain which started off as game, set and match. The Prime Minister's problem is that he will not provide a lead or say where he wants to go. He will not give the nation or his own party the lead that is necessary.

I am extremely grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. The serious point—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) should not throw stones if he is living in a glass house. I hope that his driving lessons are going well.

I have a serious point for the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) which I do not believe the Opposition Benches have addressed. Why is the right hon. Member for Yeovil so ready to reject the very serious objections to the social chapter by the CBI, the engineering employers and all the other employers? That is a very serious point. Why does the right hon. Gentleman reject those objections?

The answer to the hon. Gentleman's question is that I believe them to be wrong in this matter. It is as simple as that.

Let me explain this to the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Riddick). Throughout Europe, this issue is not seen in the terms in which the Government have persuaded some members of industry to see it. It is not seen as a threat to jobs. If it is such a threat to jobs, why is it that this country over the past four years, without any of those social provisions, experienced the highest unemployment in the European Community? Comments from the Conservative party about unemployment come ill when the Government have presided over the largest rise in unemployment that we have ever seen.

I will give way to the hon. Gentleman, but this will be the last time that I will give way until I have made some progress.

Which is the biggest threat to Westland —the social chapter or the 50 per cent. cut in defence expenditure advocated by the right hon. Gentleman's party?

As someone who has worked in Westland. who knows the company and lives among it, I can tell the hon. Gentleman that Westland has nothing to fear from the social chapter because Westland, as a good employer, already far exceeds the terms of the social chapter. That is one of the reasons why that firm and its products have been such a success.

We now see revealed the truth of this matter. The purpose of the opt out was, of course, nothing to do with Britain and everything to do with the divisions in the Conservative party. That is the truth which is now revealed. The Prime Minister returned from Europe with a piece of paper which he hoped would provide peace in his time in a party riven by civil war. However, the Prime Minister has learnt that appeasing those who oppose him only encourages them further. He now has a party which is so riven by civil war, so infected by its own internal enmities, that frankly it can no longer provide the effective united Government which this country needs.

Therefore, we are asked today to give the Government our confidence. We are asked to give them confidence when they have so comprehensively failed to provide leadership, not just to the country, but also to Europe in respect of the crucial issue of Bosnia. We are asked to give confidence to a Government who yesterday, from the mouth of the Prime Minister, said that they were not prepared to take action to prevent Sarajevo falling into the hands of the Serbs.

I dare say that what is happening in Bosnia today will have more effect on the shape of Europe than the entire Maastricht treaty which we have been negotiating for the past six months. The Government have totally failed to provide that leadership. We are asked to give confidence to a Government who have betrayed their election promises less than a year after they made them. We are asked to give confidence to a Government who have sought to close down the coal industry.

In addition, we are asked to give confidence to a Government who have been revealed as indulging in duplicity and deceit on a grand scale on the issue of Matrix Churchill. We are asked to give confidence to a Government over whom hangs the odour of decay and, I am bound to say, of sleaze. We are asked to give confidence to a Government who have damaged not only themselves and their own reputation, but the reputation of politics and the institution of our democracy.

Let the Prime Minister be under no illusions. When he forces his colleagues into the Division Lobby this afternoon to vote for his motion and for him, they will not be expressing confidence in him; they will be expressing no confidence in their capacity to hold their seats under his leadership. At the end of the day, that is the fact of this afternoon's vote and that is the fact which will return and, in the end, do for him.

11.15 am

It is intriguing that the support for the Liberal Democrats seems to come more from the extreme members of the Labour party than from anyone else—

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. May I ask you to rule on a Chairman of the Select Committee on Procedure who commenced his address to the House by speaking to the wall opposite and who then turned round, and spoke directly across the Floor of the House, neglecting the fact that you are presiding over these proceedings from the Chair—

Order. I need no help from the hon. Gentleman or from any hon. Member in respect of whom to call and how they address the Chair.

As you will know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I do not speak very often in the House. I speak only when there is someting that has to be said. What we have to say today is that the Government Benches absolutely and completely support the Prime Minister, the Prime Minister's Government and the Prime Minister's policies. That has to be said and clearly understood.

As it is perhaps the right thing to do according to the traditions of this House, I will refer to the speech made by the previous speaker, the leader of the Liberal Democratic party, the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown). The right hon. Gentleman suggested a criticism on Bosnia. I ask him directly across the Floor of the House now whether he is suggesting that we should today put troops into Bosnia to be shot at by all three sides and come back in British body bags. Is that what the right hon. Gentleman is suggesting?

The right hon. Gentleman may have overlooked the fact that he already has troops in Bosnia to be shot at by all three sides. They are being shot at by all three sides and, as the weeks and months pass, he will see that they will be in an increasingly dangerous position. I have said, and I continue to believe, that what we should have done and what we should now do, is put sufficient forces into Bosnia to make them capable of doing the job which I believe they should be there to do. They would be much safer if that were the case.

That means that the right hon. Gentleman would put British troops in to shoot at Serbs., Croats or anyone else who is behaving in a way of which the right hon. Gentleman does not approve. That is what he is really saying and the country should understand that properly.

In the same way, we need to understand from the speech made by the right hon. Member for Yeovil that he believes that the Westland aircraft company in his constituency would benefit from the social chapter. He referred to his experience with that company. However, I must tell him that that is not what the management says today. The right hon. Gentleman is out of date, as he always is, with regard to what is happening in the country as a whole.

The right hon. Member said that the social chapter does not seek economic decline. Of course that is right. However, the economic decline comes along because people are looking further than the immediate effect of the social chapter. It is not their wish for economic decline; it is because of some of the social structures that would have to be imposed on industry that that economic decline would come about.

We find it very strange that the leader of the Liberal Democrats suggests that he is still in favour of Maastricht when he had the simple opportunity last night to vote for a motion which would have ensured that Maastricht would go forward and be signed. He cannot in any way defend the situation that he tries to put forward in the debate today.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that one bonus that came out of yesterday's events is that the Union has been strengthened? The Ulster Unionists actually voted with the Conservatives on those two votes yesterday and will do so again. Is it not time that we stopped pandering to Dublin? Is it not time that we stopped pandering to the Social Democratic and Labour party, which, of course, always votes against us in the House? Is not that a real bonus for the Union as a whole?

I do not need to go further than make it absolutely clear that the Procedure Committee, under my chairmanship, has recommended for some time that Northern Ireland should have a Select Committee dealing with its affairs.

What is such a shame about today's debate is the knockabout speech from the Leader of the Opposition. He is able to make a much better speech than that which he made today. He treated the House to nothing but a series of jokes that were prepared last night while burning the midnight oil. They do not cure the problems that the House is dealing with—the social chapter and the effect on the economy.

I never expected that today's debate on the confidence motion would actually have to be brought by the action of some of my own colleagues. That is a depressing and despondent factor. I find it very strange I have seen some people on my side over the past months negotiating nearly in public with the Opposition Deputy Chief Whip in order to defeat the Government. That is something which I never expected to see from Conservative Members. That has to be recorded absolutely.

I have given way to the Liberal Democrats once, so the hon. Gentleman can let me get on.

What we have to see absolutely clearly in the House, and which cannot be repeated enough during today's debate, is that there are only two options that—

If the hon. Gentleman would like to sit down and let me finish the sentence, I might think about it.

What is clear beyond peradventure is that there can be one of only two outcomes: Maastricht without the social chapter or Maastricht with the social chapter. There is no alternative. My hon. Friends must understand that. If they cannot see that today's debate has only those two options, they cannot see anything about the problems that the House has to deal with.

It was a bit remiss of the right hon. Gentleman to link my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) and myself with the Liberal Democrats.

However, the serious matter is that the right hon. Gentleman has raised the matter of the Select Committee for Northern Ireland. As a distinguished Member and Chairman of the Procedure Committee, will the right hon. Gentleman tell the House where he obtained that information?

I have only repeated what is known fact which has been on the record on more than one occasion. The Procedure Committee has recommended a Select Committee for Northern Ireland.

That is not what I said. The hon. Gentleman must listen. I have said only that that is indeed what we have recommended.

I now turn to one aspect of the social chapter that has not been considered, and that is the effect on small industries. In my constituency, the vast majority of employment is provided by companies with fewer than 20 employees. It is those people who would be most affected by the regulations that would come from the social chapter. It is those smaller industries, which in time become big industries, which would most oppose the regulations in order to go forward in their own way.

It is interesting to record that the Leader of the Opposition said that no thought was given to working people. How wrong he was in that statement. It is in order to create jobs for working people that we are concerned with not having the social chapter, which works against the creation of jobs. It is to ensure that more jobs, not fewer, are available for the benefit of working people.

It is not, after all, just the industrialists. They, strangely enough, are the people who help to create jobs. They are the people who are likely to be able to provide employment. They are the people who are saying that the social chapter will not allow them to do what they want in creating expansion.

Therefore, it is also for working people to realise that the social chapter, although it might provide—let us be quite clear—some extra conditions in the long term for the benefit of people at work, will certainly not go further than the regulations that we already have. In most aspects, we are well ahead of most countries in Europe, and we see European countries backing off madly from their initial agreement to the social chapter. Let us make certain that we do not have an extra millstone or burden around the neck of small businesses and small industry.

As an aside, I was interested to hear one of my colleagues last night say that all this would not have happened and that it would have been all right if we could have had a referendum. I thought that that issue was dead. I thought that both Houses of Parliament had buried it some time ago. In my constituency, we have really had a referendum. At the election, there was a candidate who stood with only one policy, and that was that Maastricht should be defeated. I am delighted to tell the House that he not only lost his deposit but only just defeated the raving loony green giant candidate.

Other hon. Members want to speak, but I will give way to the hon. Gentleman.

Did not the right hon. Gentleman go around his constituency at the election telling people that he was opposed to a federal Europe? Did he not tell the listeners of Devon Air only this week that he is in favour of the Maastricht treaty precisely because it will create a federal Europe?

No, I did not. One has only to look at me to know that I am not in favour of a federal Europe, and the hon. Gentleman knows that as well as anybody else. [Laughter.] I am interesting, but many hon. Members want to speak.

The criticism of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister by the leader of the Liberal Democrats and the leader of the Labour party is unjust. We have seen firm decisions and firm decision making. We have seen a Prime Minister who has stood all the criticism that was made when we had to get inflation down. We must think of the criticism at the time that that policy should be abandoned—that policy which is now the launching pad for our growing economy at this moment at the end of recession. If there ever was a quick, sound and sensible decision, it was that which was made yesterday—when we did not obtain what was wanted—that we should discuss this motion today to get Maastricht settled and to go forward. This is a matter of sound, sensible and firm government from the Prime Minister, whom I am delighted to be able to support.

Today, it is necessary to ensure that we have a resounding vote in support of the Prime Minister's motion and a resounding defeat of the Labour party amendment. The Conservative party will then be able to leave for the summer recess with its tail up, in the knowledge that it is beginning to—[Laughter.] The Opposition may not like that. That is not what they want, of course. They do not want to see economic recovery that will bring success to this country, because that will lead to a success for the Conservative party.

We are set on a policy of success for the country—a success which will reflect properly on the success of the policy that the Prime Minister and the Government have pursued. I am proud to support it.

11.30 am

When the speech of the Prime Minister and that of the right hon. Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery) are read and considered for the study of history, they will rank with some of the greatest speeches ever made in the House.

For example, when a Bill was introduced to abolish the practice of sending boys up chimneys in the 19th century, exactly the same speeches as those from the right hon. Gentleman were made. It was claimed that the Bill would destroy employment for young boys, who were doing a very good job going up chimneys.

When Samuel Plimsoll, who was a Member of Parliament, introduced legislation to put an end to the coffin ships by introducing the Plimsoll line, the then Prime Minister could have quoted "The Shipping Gazette", which described Samuel Plimsoll as a terrorist. That was the word used by the employers about any suggestion that social provision should be introduced to try to prevent thousands of sailors from dying in unsafe ships.

One could argue that the social chapter began with the Lloyd George Budget, which introduced national insurance. That was seen as a direct threat to employers, and right-wing Conservatives said that they would not stick the stamps on their domestic servants' cards because that practice threatened the women who worked for them.

I am looking forward to studying with great care the speeches that have been made on this issue, because they will rank with some of the most reactionary statements ever made.

Although I am not here to talk about the merits of the matter, it never seems to have occurred to the Prime Minister that if people are paid better wages, they buy goods from other people and that creates jobs.

No, I will not give way. The right hon. Gentleman bumbled on so ineffectively that he must allow me to develop my argument.

One man's wage increase is another man's job. That is what improved conditions would provide.

If the Foreign Secretary is about to intervene, I look forward to another radical intervention in the best 18th century style.

I am not sure how far the right hon. Gentleman would carry his argument about chimney sweeps. Does he, for example, feel that it is all part of the righteous march of social progress to have a working time directive that would prevent boys from delivering newspapers in the morning? Would he regard that as an inexorable part of his objective?

The eight-hour day was introduced as a result of a campaign by the Trade Union Congress 100 years ago. By his casual intervention, the right hon. Gentleman has demonstrated that he is still living in the 19th century.

The TUC objective was eight hours for our work, eight hours for our sleep and eight hours for our recreation. Nowadays, it is thought that trade unionists must not, under any circumstances, have any role in deciding working conditions. We are told that we should listen to Sir Denys Henderson and all the employers of Europe telling us what to do. That is the most extraordinary example of the class war, but I will not go into it now because I am considering another issue today.

The issue before us is that if the House approves the motion, the Maastricht treaty will be ratified—for all I know, over the weekend. That will be achieved by telling certain Conservatives and others such as the leader of the Irish, the right hon. and devoted Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux), that if they do not go along with that, the Prime Minister will go to the Queen and destroy Parliament. There will then be an election.

I ask myself whether that is a credible threat. The Prime Minister boasted that he received the biggest popular vote of any general election. I do not know whether he is right, but I presume that he would not have said it if his officials had not given him the figures.

The Government are 15 months old. Does anyone really believe that the Queen would say to the Prime Minister that he could destroy Parliament because of a difference over the social chapter? Does anyone believe that? It is not a credible threat.

No, it is not. I shall cite some helpful examples in a moment because I have had a bit of experience of a Prime Minister who threatened to resign. Harold Wilson did just that, and I shall tell the House exactly what happens when a Prime Minister is so foolish as to threaten.

If the pro-federalists are right, we are discussing how we will be governed in Europe for hundreds of years to come. That will be decided on the question whether there will be an election on some marginal improvement in social conditions. I do not believe that the social chapter amounts to very much. The hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes) made that clear.

The Prime Minister is threatening the destruction of an elected Parliament—and I must now describe that right hon. Gentleman as a Euro rebel because he is rebelling against the vote of the House last night; the Euro rebel sits at No. 10—and threatens the destruction of his party to stop the social chapter getting through. The consequence will be that the European union will come into effect.

I do not want to offend anyone in my speech, and the point I want to concentrate on is whether the means adopted represents the right way to decide how Europe should develop. There are people who are passionately in favour of the Maastricht treaty and I respect their view. Some think that it represents a defence against socialism. Other colleagues in the Labour party believe that it might advance socialism. Some believe that the result will be a federal, centralised Europe, while others believe that subsidiarity will flow from it.

There are many different interpretations of the social chapter. Some are in favour of it; some are against it—all for different reasons. Some people do not like foreigners. I am a European. I was born a European and I will die a European. I do like foreigners. I could hardly do anything else. My wife is an American and my son has married a woman who is half Jewish and half Bengali. I have two little part Bengali grandchildren, so I find it difficult to take what one might call the "Wolverhampton" view that foreigners start at Dover and that some have already got a bit too close for comfort.

If I were a Frenchman, a Belgian or a German, I would be just as passionately opposed to the Maastricht treaty because it strips all of us, not just the people of this country, of the right to sack the people who make the laws. That is what it is all about. Why should Jacques Delors listen to a word that is said to him by anyone in Europe when he cannot be removed in a general election? That is the key issue.

I am a democrat. I have always seen this issue as a democratic issue, not a nationalist one. Having discussed for two years how Europe should be governed, is it not now clear that, today, we are discussing how Britain should be governed? I want to discuss the Maastricht treaty in terms of the light it has thrown on the way in which the British constitution works before we ratify that treaty.

What is the relationship between the people, Parliament and the prerogative? Those are the three ingredients in our constitution. People will be aware that the Queen in Parliament is sovereign. That is the jargon that we are still expected to accept. Let us examine what role Parliament and Government believe that the people should have. The answer is absolutely none.

At the time of the general election, the Maastricht treaty had not been published in English, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore) has told me that the social chapter has never been made widely available. There is a view—I am afraid that it is shared by those on my Front Bench, which I greatly regret—that the people have no right whatever to have anything to do with deciding whether we are governed in a new way under the European union.

I have asked many Ministers, including, quite properly, the Foreign Secretary, about the right of the people to decide. "Oh no," he said, "it is for Parliament to decide". Parliament did decide last night against the Government; otherwise we would not be having today's debate. The House knew full well that was at stake. Conservative Members who voted against the Government last night knew exactly what they were doing. But what has happened? When Parliament does decide, the Prime Minister pulls out his final weapon, the prerogative of dissolution. Not only have the people and Parliament been kept out of the decision-making process, but now the Queen has been wheeled out. I intend to say something about the Queen because she is part of our constitution. When people read today's Hansard, they will find that the jocular exchanges between Front-Bench speakers are not as interesting as those parts of the debate that explain to future generations how Britain went into a union.

The right hon. Gentleman is surely making the speech that he would have made if the House had come to a resolution last night and the Government had, in some way, decided to invoke the prerogative to overrule that or go against it. That is the thesis which he contests. But, of course, what happened last night was quite different. The House did not come to any conclusion.

Of course the House came to a decision. That was why the Cabinet met at 7 o'clock last night, to consider what would happen when the Government were defeated. Earlier this morning I quoted what the Prime Minister said in yesterday's debate. He said:

"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."—
There is no question about what section 7 says—
"Seventy-one separate votes in favour of the Bill should not be frustrated by one parliamentary motion expressing an opinion to the contrary."—[Official Report, 22 July 1993; Vol. 229, c. 526.]
The Prime Minister made it absolutely clear that if it all went wrong he would simply ratify. After the vote last night, in the traditional statement after a Government defeat, the Prime Minister announced a vote of confidence, which meant, "I will go to the Queen and ask the Queen to destroy the Parliament."

I am genuinely trying to illuminate rather than exacerbate the argument so that people reading Hansard may know how we got into this position. The answer is simple. The Maastricht treaty was signed under the royal prerogative. The Government decided to keep secret the treaty's provisions, which could have been distributed to every household, as they were in Denmark, during the election.

The Whips operate through the royal prerogative of patronage. My hon. Friends who were in the Whips Office know that there are Labour ways of twisting arms. In most Whips Offices it is clear, I understand—it never happened to me—that the prospect of promotion to the Front Bench is inhibited if one is not always in the Government Lobby. That is because of the royal prerogative of patronage. Older Members—again, not me—who are waiting for peerages are made to know that peerages are not so readily available to those who decline to support the Government.

Patronage is a cancer in our democratic society, and everybody knows it. Having got the Bill through the House of Commons, the Government sent it to the House of Lords, and everybody got there by the royal prerogative; one cannot be made a peer without letters patent. Then they brought in peers from foreign hideouts. Did anybody honestly think that a House made up like that would be in favour of elections or in favour of the social chapter? I believe that yesterday the Lords voted in much the same way as they voted on the chimney boys 100 years ago. They were not prepared to give their estate servants better conditions.

I am developing an argument and I should like to finish it. I shall give way to the hon. Lady in a moment with such pleasure that she will be suprised.

Another person whose authority comes from the royal prerogative is Lord Rees-Mogg, who has never been elected by anybody. He is a Conservative peer. He has decided to go to the judges. How did they get there? They got there by the royal prerogative. Lord Rees-Mogg rang me up, and. I hope that I am not breaking any confidences when I say that I have doubts about what he told me. He said, "I, Lord Rees-Mogg, am protecting Parliament from the prerogative." I hope that his call was not secret. If it was, I should apologise, but I doubt whether I will.

As I have said, after yesterday's vote the Prime Minister made the massive statement, "We are going to ratify." How do we ratify? We ratify by the royal prerogative. The Prime Minister has said, "If you don't do what we say we will dissolve Parliament by the royal prerogative." I shall complete my next sentence, and then the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie) can come in and muddy the waters and I shall do the best I can to clear them up.

This whole story has revealed not only the nature of the European union but the fundamentally undemocratic nature of the way that this country is governed by a Crown, a Prime Minister with Crown powers, a House that depends on Crown powers and on the patronage of those with Crown powers, and the threat of elections. If the hon. Lady understands that, I shall be happy to let her intervene.

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. As he knows, all treaties are signed and ratified by the royal prerogative. What does he think makes this treaty so different? The Ponsonby rules mean, and have done for the whole of this century, that treaties are not ratified until they are approved by the House. Many of the 70 votes that we have had on this have already done that, and today's vote will do the same.

If the right hon. Gentleman is so alarmed and concerned about privilege, how come he accepted the great honour of membership of Her Majesty's Privy Council and exercises the additional honour that that gives him in the House of being called in debate before the rest of us?

The hon. Lady might have considered that, as I am the longest serving Opposition Member, I may have caught the Speaker's eye. One of my grandchildren who saw "Jurassic Park" said to me, "What do you call a dinosaur with one eye?—Doyathinkhesaurus". That is the question that every hon. Member must consider when he looks towards the Chair. I asked to be excused from taking the Privy Councillor's oath, but when it was explained to me that if I did not I could not perform the function of Postmaster-General, I capitulated, as we all did.

When I took the oath at the beginning of this Parliament, I said, "As a dedicated republican, I solemnly swear…". My hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) said, "1 solemnly swear that I will bear true and faithful allegiance to the Queen when she pays her income tax." There are some concessions that we have to make, and everybody should know that.

Let us examine the final prerogative of dissolution. The Prime Minister was very careful not to say that the Queen had agreed. Perhaps the Foreign Secretary has had later news from "Buck Pal" than I have. The Prime Minister said that the Cabinet would decide to seek it. In 1969, when Harold Wilson was Prime Minister and "In Place of Strife" got into some difficulties, he announced that he would be off, like the present Prime Minister, to dissolve Parliament. There was some discussion in the parliamentary Labour party as to whether that was the final word. Douglas Houghton, who was the chairman of the parliamentary Labour party, said, "If Harold goes off to the palace, I will follow him in a taxi to say that we have another candidate." That was Jim Callaghan. When the news reached Harold that Douglas Houghton would be on his way, Harold decided not to go.

If the Prime Minister went to resign, what would the Queen say? She would say, "My dear Prime Minister, I read your speech with great interest. You had the greatest popular vote in the whole of history 14 months ago. Isn't there somebody who could take on the responsibilities that you regard as so burdensome? What about that nice man at No. 11? Wouldn't he be the man to take it on?" Many Conservatives, faced with suicide, would be in favour of the man from No. 11, not because they would prefer him, but because their future would depend on his forming a Government.

I shall give another example of dissolution because I have long experience of these matters. In January 1974, the whole shadow Cabinet was invited to lunch with the Iranian ambassador. That was before the Shah fell, so it was quite respectable, or so we were assured. I found myself sitting next to Sir Michael Adeane, the Queen's private secretary. This was during the miners' strike when nobody knew quite what was going to happen. I said to him, "You tell me what's going to happen. If the Prime Minister"—that was the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath)—"asks for a dissolution, does the Queen have to grant it?" Sir Michael Adeane, who, like all palace officials, was very naive, said, "That is an interesting question. We have been discussing it all morning at the palace." So I went home and began writing my election address because I knew that, if the palace was expecting it, the election was coming.

Therefore, I tell those who are doubtful about the treaty not to assume that there will necessarily be an election if they vote against the Government this afternoon. The Government could make another change. They could say, "We have thought about it again." After all, the Prime Minister is always thinking about things again. They could say that they would ratify with the social chapter or that they would have a referendum. They could decide not to ratify at all because Sir Denys Henderson has told them that that would be a pit of despair into which we would all fall. It does not follow that there will be an election.

The real question is the one to which I have referred when I have addressed the Speaker, twice now: what role does Parliament have in the scenario containing the royal prerogative? The answer is that we are just spectators. We have no role. If we vote against the Government, as we did last night—let us not forget that the Government have an overall majority—tomorrow the pistol will be at the head of those who disagree.

I will tell the House what I think, and I think it with great regret. I think that we are the witnesses of the death of democracy in Britain. We are witnessing that death because the House has lost the will to assert its authority as a legislative chamber. There are many advantages to being a Member of Parliament. One gets on "Newsnight" every now and again and one is treated with great respect at public dinners and so on. However, we do not want to exercise the power that we were elected to exercise. That applies to all parties.

Once we destroy democracy in Britain, we shall pave the way for the federal Europe because, if there is no effective democracy in Britain, Europe will say, "Look at the House of Commons! It didn't seem to care very much, so we'll run Britain." Then we shall be back to the Holy Roman Empire and all that.

I say that with regret because I am a passionate believer in the House. I may be one of the last few people who think that coming here is the greatest honour that one can have. Being in the House is a greater honour than a peerage, and I have proved that. When we get here, we must speak our mind—even if we upset the Front Bench or the Whips— without, I hope, discourtesy to anyone and, when we come to vote, we vote for what we think is right. That is my conviction. I believe that a House of Commons that did not have within it enough people to do that would become the handmaiden of the Prime Minister of the day and would be even more easily rolled over by the Commissioners and the central bankers.

People may think it strange that I have referred several times in the past few days to the 17th century and the Bill of Rights, but it is because the prerogative is now rampant again. We thought that we had dealt with that then, but it has come back because of Maastricht. Every law to which I adhered when I was on the Council of Ministers—I adhered to many of them—was by the royal prerogative. The royal prerogative takes precedence again.

I think that the House is dying. I know that that may seem a strange thing to say, but if we ratify that will be another nail in our coffin because, whatever we decide to do, even if we decided to defy a Government next time round, it would not be effective because the power would have passed to others.

That is my opinion. I put it forward, with respect, to the House. I presume that party loyalty is so strong that the government will get away with it and carry their bloodstained banner into the ratification chamber and will then say that Parliament had agreed with them. Parliament did not agree with them. Last night, without the threat of dissolution, Parliament turned them down and the Government will reverse that decision by improper pressure deriving from an undemocratic constitution—the use of the Queen to get their way over an elected House. That is a terrible tragedy for the Parliament in which we serve.

11.53 am

No one would deny that the speech of the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) was both entertaining and perceptive. I, for one, would not argue with him about dissolution, although he used the precedent of January 1974 when, as he pointed out, there was a dissolution. He went home and wrote his election address. and the Labour party went on to win the election. His theory that the Queen will not grant dissolution might be conceivable, but it is highly improbable. I would not advise my hon. Friends to bank on it, although it gave me some moments of pleasure when I thought of that possibility.

At the end of his speech, the right hon. Gentleman, quite understandably and rightly, turned it into an attack on the Maastricht treaty as a whole and we all know that he is among the most distinguished of those right hon. Members who are opposed to it. Yes, many people oppose it, but the House knows perfectly well that in reality there is a majority in favour of the treaty. That was clearly shown on both Second and Third Readings of the Bill and on many other occasions during its passage through the House.

The right hon. Member for Chesterfield is very much a democrat and I should have thought that he would accept the will of the House of Commons—

I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman will pay so much attention to the House of Lords, but that is his prerogative. Of course, he must not say that Lord Rees-Mogg is a Conservative Peer—he sits on the Cross Benches. I used to know Lord Rees-Mogg when he was a Conservative. Indeed, I appointed him chairman of the Arts Council. I thought that he was rather good. That is a royal prerogative—[Interruption.] The right hon. Member for Chesterfield and I must not make too much fuss about patronage. He has already had to make rather a lame defence of the privileges of a Privy Councillor. He was right about that, but not about much else.

It is clear that both Houses of Parliament are in favour of the Maastricht treaty. There was a question over whether or not Parliament was in favour of the social protocol. We experienced the most extraordinary events last night. The Government won the first vote either on Madam Speaker's casting vote or by a majority of one, depending on which mathematician counts the figures. In any event, the Labour party's amendment, which said that the Government
"should not deposit the Articles of Ratification of the Treaty of European Union … until … it intends to adopt the Protocol on Social Policy"
was defeated. The House then voted down the Government's motion, which merely asked:
"That this House, in compliance with 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."
Everyone knows that section 7 provides that until some resolution has been adopted, the Government cannot ratify the treaty. With respect to the Liberal Democrats and their leader, the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown), who spoke earlier, it was wrong for him to imply that that motion had nothing to do with ratification—it had everything to do with ratification. He knew that if he voted against that motion the Government could not ratify the treaty. The Liberal Democrats keep telling us that they are keen on Maastricht and also on the social chapter. However, the reality of their position last night was that they prevented the Government from ratifying the treaty. The Liberal Democrats know that and they knew it last night. With respect to the right hon. Gentleman, it was disingenuous of him to pretend otherwise.

Surely the right hon. Gentleman accepts that the Liberal Democrats have always supported the concept of the Maastricht treaty and that only the problem of linkage has prevented us from voting in the Lobby with him. By linking yesterday's vote to the social chapter—which the hon. Gentleman knows we have consistently supported—and by linking today's vote to the question of confidence, makes it untenable and impossible for Liberal Democrats to vote with the right hon. Gentleman. If there were a motion before the House today merely dealing with the issue of ratification, he knows that my party would be voting with his.

With respect to the hon. Gentleman, that is not the 'exact position, as my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary pointed out during an intervention. The question whether we should adopt the social protocol was disposed of when the Labour amendment was defeated. The House was then asked to decide, one way or another, on the simple motion:

"That this House…notes the policy of Her Majesty's Government on the adoption of the Protocol on Social Policy."
The Liberal Democrats voted against that, as they are entitled to do. It was their decision. However, they are not entitled to say that they are going all out to ratify the Maastricht treaty, because when they had the opportunity to achieve that major, objective last night, for narrow party reasons they chose to vote down the Government's motion.

The House faces two issues this morning. The first relates to the merits of the case for the social chapter and the second to the political realities facing the House and, in particular, the Conservative party. I sometimes wish that our old friend Lord Archer were back in this House. He would find it difficult to write a thriller more amazing than the events of the last few months. Who could have imagined that we would have seen last night those Euro-sceptics who are most against ratification of the treaty join, in a way, the Labour party, in voting for an amendment to incorporate the social protocol that nearly all of them are against? I must be careful, because that is not true of them all. It is only fair to point out that one or two hon. Friends who are distinguished members of the group that opposes ratification do not think that the social chapter matters very much. I believe that I am right in saying that most of them are very much against the adoption of the social protocol. I therefore find it extraordinary that they voted in the way that they did.

As to the merits of the case, I choose to accept what was said yesterday by my right hon. Friends on the Front Bench, and in particular in the winding-up speech by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment, who demonstrated exactly what the social chapter would entail for the people of this country. On the merits of the case, we are on strong ground.

But let us assume for a moment that the social chapter does not matter very much. The right hon. Member for Chesterfield and some of my hon. Friends—including my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes)—said that the social chapter does not matter too much and would not make much difference. If the Government's motion is passed this afternoon, the Government will survive and presumably they will ratify the treaty without the social chapter.

The consequences if the House does -not support the Government this afternoon were best summed up by my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen) on television last night. He said that the dilemma that he faced was either Maastricht being ratified by a Conservative Government without the social chapter, or a general election that, in his view—and I hope that he is wrong—would bring a Conservative defeat and the return of a Labour Government who would ratify the treaty anyway, with the social chapter. Where is the merit in that for those of my hon. Friends who are against both ratification and the social chapter? That would be the worst conceivable result.

My own view is that the Maastricht treaty is not very exciting. I am not mad keen on what is proposed, but it is not as bad as all that. I take the same view of the treaty as my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East takes on the social chapter. So although the treaty is not as bad as all that, it is not something to make us throw our hats over the moon with pleasure.

I remember that when my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister brought the treaty back to the House, it was thought on these Benches that he had achieved a great triumph. I have been known to tease my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor) by pointing out that on that occasion, so impressed was he by my right hon. Friend's arguments that he supported the Government. He may since have regretted doing so, because he has taken quite a different line ever since.

I accept, of course, that we have moved on from there. I admire my hon. Friends' campaign against the Bill. They are a small group, but they have fought an historic campaign which will go down in the history books. It was a remarkable way of proceeding. I am not sure that if I had been one of their number, I would have approved of voting against procedural motions and generally messing up Government business, but who knows? I do not criticise my hon. Friends for that. There is no doubt that they exposed the issues in a fashion for which the House should in some ways be grateful.

Now we come down to the basics. On what course do we want to set the country after this afternoon? That is in the hands of some of my hon. Friends in the Chamber this morning, and in the hands of others who are outside now but who I am sure will be present later.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the campaign run by the Tory rebels was cynical? They voted for something in which none of them believes.

I do not entirely agree. To be fair to my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East, he has always said the social chapter does not matter. He might even be mildly in favour of it, but I think I am right in saying that he is not strongly opposed to it. That is true of a number of my hon. Friends, but my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Dr. Spink) is probably right to say that the majority are against it.

I think that some of my hon. Friends misunderstood the motion, which was not about the social chapter but about the protocol on social policy. I regret to say that my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Dr. Spink) did not know the difference between the two.

I hope and believe that I know the difference. I have the motion in front of me. However, I do not want to bandy words with my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Mr. Cash).

As the hon. Gentleman is an expert from the Whips Office, I give way to him.

I must tell the House that I am not an expert—to be an "ex" is to be a has-been and to be a "spurt" is to be a drip under pressure. I admit to neither of those propensities. Far be it from me to try to staunch the spiritual haemorrhage that is taking place in internecine fashion among the Conservatives but, if it is so treacherous for a Tory to vote for an amendment for motives other than those apparent from the Order Paper, is it not just as treacherous for the Government to seek the support of a party in exchange for an undeclared advantage that it might get at some future date?

I certainly have not used the word "treacherous". The hon. Gentleman is referring to the fact that the Ulster Unionists voted with us last night. It is up to them to say why they did so. I think that, if I were an Ulster Unionist, I should be appalled by the idea of the proposals by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) coming into effect. I should be inclined to vote with any party that was likely to stop it happening. That strikes me as nothing more than common sense. The Ulster Unionists must speak for themselves, but it seems a reasonable and understandable point of view.

I do not want to detain the House too long. We have come back to basics. If the motion is not carried today, and in spite of what the right hon. Member for Chesterfield said, it is highly probable—if not virtually certain—that Parliament will be dissolved. Do my right hon. and hon. Friends believe that that is desirable at the moment? On what course do we want to set the country?

The Conservatives won an extraordinarily large victory last year although it was not rewarded by as many seats as we might have expected. [Interruption.] The economy is beginning to improve. Prospects are beginning—

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for a member of the Opposition from a sedentary position repeatedly to accuse my right hon. Friend of lying?

I did not hear any such thing, but if the hon. Member involved said it, I am sure that he will want to withdraw it.

I did not say that the right hon. Gentleman was a liar; I said that the Government told lies during the election.

I do not want to fight the last election again. I do not think that I told a single lie during the campaign. I see no point in fighting the battles of the last election again. Indeed, I hope that we shall not have to fight those of the next election too soon.

As the economy improves, and as people realise that conditions in this country are getting better, in stark contrast to those in most of the rest of the European Community—[Interruption.] Rightly or wrongly, I happen to believe that the economy is improving. I believe that the figures bear me out. We shall discover who is right in a few months' time.

Does my right hon. Friend not think that Britain has perhaps benefited hugely from the immediate impact of our withdrawal from the exchange rate mechanism whereas other countries in Europe are still suffering in terms of jobs and expenditure?

I am extremely glad that my hon. Friend has mentioned the ERM. He mentions it often to me in private, and I am glad that he has mentioned it in public. Perhaps unusually, I have always been against the ERM. I was against it when I was a member of the Government and I am delighted that we came out. I hope that we shall not rejoin, and certainly not for a considerable time.

This Government's fate now rests in the hands of some of my hon. Friends. I put it to them that in the long-term interests of the country it would be a disaster if they were to set us on the course of a general election, whose outcome would be uncertain, at a time when conditions are improving and when, in a few years' time, we shall be able to show the people of this country the prosperity that we have created. By then, our reforms will have had a chance to work. The battle of Maastricht is, I believe, now over—

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

No, I shall not give way as I am corning to the end of my speech.

The battle of Maastricht is now over. I hope that my hon. Friends will consider carefully the course of action that they intend to take this afternoon. I believe that the national interest requires there to be a Conservative Government for the next few years in order that we can put straight some of the many difficulties that face this country.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The assisted area status map has now been published and is available in the Vote Office. May we have a statement from the Government in which the excellent news for Dover and Deal, that they have been granted assisted area status, can be—

Order. That has nothing whatsover to do with the debate. No doubt the Minister will have heard what has been said.

12.10 pm

I shall begin by using what I believe is a Yorkshire phrase —that there is nowt queerer than folk. I suspect that many people outside Parliament say that there is nowt queerer than the parliamentary procedure that we observe here.

It seems to me that the pantomime season has started early. People outside the House of Commons are rapidly losing confidence and faith not only in a faded Prime Minister but in Parliament and a failed Government. This system is seen by the people outside as farcical. We are far too removed from the reality of everyday life for the people whom we are supposed to represent. They have seen unholy alliances, backwards and forwards, through this Chamber. We see people theoretically voting in one direction when, in fact, they are voting in a different direction. The whole system is a shambles and is bringing politics and politicians into disrepute.

The right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) made an interesting speech on the constitution. I know that he will wish to listen to the few remarks that I want to make on constitutional matters. Twice this week, the right hon. Gentleman invoked the Bill of Rights, article 1 and article 9. The Bill of Rights is not applicable to the Scottish people or to the Scottish nation. We had our own Claim of Right in 1688, which spelt out clearly the sovereignty of the Scottish people. It is a tradition in our constitutional law, which stretches back many centuries before that. The Declaration of Arbroath of 1320 contains a clear definition of the sovereignty of the people.

The hon. Lady knows that I am only half English. My mother is a Scot. I share entirely the importance that she attaches to the Declaration of Arbroath and the Claim of Right. The hon. Lady will also know that the sovereignty of the people was asserted during the English Revolution and that it was reversed only in 1688. I should regret having to go back to the Bill of Rights. I have never believed that democracy began in Britain when William and Mary arrived. It was a coup d'état by a corrupt Establishment that wanted to get rid of the Catholics. The hon. Lady will therefore excuse me if, as we live in medieval times, I turn to medieval safeguards—

Yes, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but it was a very interesting intervention, in the sense that the right hon. Gentleman and I both claim that the important aspect of constitutional law must be the sovereignty of the people themselves. It is not parliamentary sovereignty. It is the right of the people themselves to declare where they wish to go in terms of Europe and in terms of the development of any political institution.

We do not even need to go as far back as the Declaration of Arbroath. All we need to do is to consider points made by previous Members of Parliament.
"The House of Commons allows itself to be led but does not like to be driven and is apt to turn on those who attempt to drive it."
That was said by the third Viscount Palmerston in a letter to William Gladstone in 1861, indicating that this House of Commons must assert itself if its Members are to represent the views of the people who send them to this Chamber. Public opinion sets bounds on every Government and is the real sovereign in every free Government and every free country.

Those are the issues which are important in this debate, and it is from that viewpoint that my party and my colleagues approach today's decision. We will, of course, vote against the Govenrment, because we have no confidence in them, but not solely because of their mishandling of the issue of Europe, which is a very important issue. I believe in the European ideal. I want to see Europe developed, but I do not believe that the way in which the Government have handled the European debate has enhanced the reputation of themselves or of Europe among our people.

We believe that there should have been a referendum. The Government could have prevented this shambolic mess if they had based their attitude on the right of people to speak on the issue. A referendum could have been held in which people were asked, "Do you want Maastricht, with or without the social chapter?" The people could have decided that. We tabled an amendment to that effect, but, unfortunately, collusion between the two Front Benches meant that the idea of a referendum was not carried.

We saw the spectacle last week of the backwoodsmen and backwoodswomen coming in to deny our people the right to speak on Maastricht and the social chapter. In any democracy, the will of the people is paramount, not the survival of politicians, many of whom reached their expiry date long ago. This is not about saving the skins of politicians but about the will of the people.

I believe that the Government were wrong constantly to postpone a decision on the social chapter. They prolonged the agony for people and for everyone in the country. Maastricht and Europe are not perfect, but we want to enhance and improve them. We shall do so only if people have a right to make their decision about how they want such developments to go ahead.

Many people would welcome the opportunity of a referendum on Europe, which might improve the standard of debate, because they would then address the issues of the Maastricht treaty and the European Community, whether it be an enlarged Community or a Community as exists at the moment. They would address the issues that are likely to affect not only their lives and our children's lives but those of many generations hence. The development of Europe is very important and I believe that we should have an enhanced debate.

The hon. Lady and I have not always seen eye to eye on referendums, but does she accept that referendums often turn out to be about what they do not purport to be about, and that many other issues are introduced into them? Would not a referendum in Scotland be about a lot of other things?

Perhaps the difficulty is that there is no proviso within the constitution for regular referendums. In other countries where referendums are held on specific subjects, people address the issues and it was partly our fault that referendums in, for example, the 1970s became mixed up with other issues. Had the Labour Government not been as unpopular as they were in 1979, not only would the people of Scotland have said yes, as they did to the referendum, but they might have overcome the hurdle of the 40 per cent. rule—that most invidious rule which was imposed to try to ensure that the people of Scotland did not have a Scottish Parliament. All of us who are interested in Europe would wish to conduct a referendum on the subject, because we would have an enhanced, enlightened debate throughout the length and breadth of the United Kingdom which would allow people to cast their votes appropriately.

I understand that the Cabinet has given the Prime Minister full approval to depart to the palace should either vote go against him this afternoon. The prospect of a general election does not frighten the Scottish national party or the Welsh national party. We should be delighted to go to the country. I believe that people wish to see a change, not only of Government, but of the system of government. In Scotland, we have an opportunity not to continue with the farce, but to build a better system of government by holding out the prospect of self-determination for the people of Scotland, allowing them to participate as equals in the European Community.

12.20 pm

I agree with the hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing) on a number of issues. We are all conscious that we are here because of the people, and that the Chamber's authority derives from the people. Therefore, it is beholden on Governments and Opposition to be mindful that, when they come together on a great policy, they should not be satisfied with the tests that they set to that great policy, but should ensure that they have canvassed the views of the nation on it. The corruption in the apple that has diminished. Parliament is that, for too many years, the Government and the Opposition have been satisfied to seek merely acquiescence, not consent.

The old, old principles brought the House together and formed its authority. Those principles have been diminished by our casualness. In the great debate over Maastricht, the single most powerful argument raised across the country was that it was boring. By trying to stuff our ears with the idea that something so fundamental to the concept of democracy—the very essence of democracy—was boring, we perhaps lost the central intent behind our reason for being here.

The Opposition Front-Bench team marched to support the Government on their policy. That policy was not debated in an election, whereby the people of this country could have expressed their view on the transference of their powers—the base of the authority through which we are here—to unelected bureaucrats and unaccountable Ministers in the European Council of Ministers. It was a profound and absolute matter, but we dismissed it as boring. The great commentators took that line. The House took that line, my colleagues busied themselves outside and took that line. However, as a result of that line being taken, today we see a Government before us who are shaking because there may be an election and they have lost the confidence of the House. There is no threat in that. If we believe in the people, we must believe in their judgment. The Prime Minister is right to hold out to the nation the prospect of being able to judge on those issues.

We cannot continue as we have been acting—that applies to all parties. We have refreshment only from the authority of the people, but we deny that because we believe that we can take away that authority and give it into the hands of others who are not accountable to the people. That is why the House is in the greatest danger apparently over the technicalities of a social protocol which touch on a piece of social legislation. For 200 years, the business of the House has been to improve and correct social legislation. Any Government who have the confidence of the people may introduce measures to achieve that end. The right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) reminded us of some of the ways in which the House has moved to accomplish those ends.

Can a motion dealing with legislation that effects the well-being of our people bring the Government to their knees so that they have to table a confidence motion? Of course not—the motion is not, in essence, about that. The debate and the sustenance of the so-called rebellion among Conservative Members has come about—as Labour Members know—because the people of this country are deeply uncertain and uneasy about something that they do not understand and which politicians - have not been prepared to explain. It lies in our hands to explain it, and we can do so simply.

It is often been said in the House, "My goodness, the issues affecting a general election are of themselves so complex." They touch on the exchange rate mechanism, on monetary policy and on myriad aspects of public life. Yet the electorate can return an answer, and so it can with Maastricht. If we ask the people, we have to explain to them why it is so important to expunge some of the very reasons for the existence of this House—not our vanity, but their powers to reject or to endorse the great issues of our day, and the shape of the social and political fabric of this nation. The Government eschewed it. The Opposition eschewed it. In the end, this House eschewed it.

I was in the House of Lords when the question was put to an undemocratic and unaccountable Chamber, "Should we have a referendum?" If I had turned off the electricity for three minutes, three quarters of the Lords would not be here today. On that check and balance within our constitution rested our freedom and our right.

The Government still have a chance. They should honour those who brought them to office. Those who have risen through the Whips Office, those who have been the servants of central office and those who have come to control a great and dignified party are the servants of that party. They are not at the moment well fitted for that when they discharge their responsibilities in this manner. That is true across the House. We have become so puffed up with the importance of this Chamber in relation to the people outside. We will change our ways and we will master our approach to the electorate because we are the servants of the electorate.

The motion, as I have said, is not about social policy. Behind it is the survival of a Government. More importantly, no one will ever reconcile me to the vote for Maastricht without the request that the people consent to the transference of their powers. I shall vote for the Government. I shall do so for the reasons that I have adduced, and the House well understands those reasons. However, the House must know that people like me will attest to this: this Government will be a fine Government. They will be a Government one day who are worthy of this party and worthy of this country.

12.26 pm

When the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) speaks, the House has come to listen, not least when he speaks with such passion. When he says that we cannot go on as a House of Commons as we have been doing, many agree.

As many of my colleagues wish to have their say, I shall restrict myself to one question, albeit a long and rather convoluted question, which I hope will be addressed when the Minister winds up. It is this. Is it not important that we are on the inside track? Ministers have constantly lectured us about the importance of being in on the decision-making and in the inside track or, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) said in a memorable speech, "in the room." I am baffled about why, having been lectured endlessly over many hours about the importance of being inside Europe, in the decision-making and in the room, we shall be asked to leave the room when social policy is discussed. I have not heard any answer given by any Minister that addresses the question why that principle should not apply to the social chapter.

I tell the Minister that I am a passionate and unreconstructed pro-European. The Opposition Whips were very sweet about that. The Opposition Whips are very charming people of great civilisation, humanity and delicacy. However, they were not wholly enchanted when, quite frequently, I—rightly or wrongly—voted in the Government Lobby during the passage of Maastricht. Along with the Labour party conference and various other people, I want the Maastricht Bill. So I ask the House not to question my impeccable European credentials. But one inevitably asks why on earth we cannot have the same approach to the social chapter.

Some of us believe that the social chapter is an integral part of that to which we have signed up. People have been asked, "Are you prepared to put Maastricht at risk?" Yes, I am prepared—and other impeccable Europeans like my hon. Friend the Member for Durham, North (Mr. Radice) are prepared—to put Maastricht at risk if we cannot get what we regard as an integral part of the treaty. The social chapter is extremely important to us. It really is.

The Foreign Office has documents from a man called Robin Das, who is based in Moehlin and has written giving numerous cuttings of advertisements in the Swiss and French press, which say, "Come to Britain and you will find cheaper labour." That is a very humiliating advertisement for our country. I do not like being humiliated in that way. The Foreign Office has copies of those advertisements, but there has been no proper reply about what we should say when faced with such humiliation. What is the Government's thinking on this matter? Is it that we shall repeat time and again the advantage that Cambuslang secured? I am very much in favour of employment in Cambuslang, as my hon. Friends the Members for Glasgow, Rutherglen (Mr. McAvoy) and for Paisley, South (Mr. McMaster) know, but the circumstances of the factory in question moving from Dijon to Cambuslang cannot be repeated very happily if we are to be on the inside track of decision making in the Community.

What is the Government's policy? What will happen when we are asked to leave the room on the social chapter? And what do they think that that will do for our influence inside the Community? The truth is that if, over the months and years, we do not agree to the social chapter, many of the criticisms of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore) and other honourable critics of the Community will be proved to be very near the bone. Either we are in the Community fully and influential or we are out of it. That is what those on the Government Front Bench have repeatedly said.

My hon. Friend will remember that, 20 years ago when the pro-Europeans were campaigning vigorously for us to stay in Europe, one of the arguments that they used most often to encourage people to vote for Europe is that it would improve social conditions. At the time, I was working at Rolls-Royce in Hillington. It was argued that staying in Europe would mean better holidays, better pay and conditions and so on. If the Government get their way, many of the folk who voted to stay in Europe at that time will have been conned.

My hon. Friend puts his finger on it. Our arguments, at endless meetings, up and down the country, in favour of membership of the Community may turn out to have been fraudulent if we do not secure the social chapter. My hon. Friend asks a legitimate question. People will say, "You persuaded us on the basis of a social chapter and better working conditions and on the basis of employment. If that is to be taken away, how do the arguments with which you persuaded us hold water?" What is an embarrassed pro-European supposed to say to those whom one has persuaded to support one's position on Europe when one cannot produce the goods—the social chapter? I hope that that question will be addressed in the Minister's reply.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You will know that there was considerable speculation that a statement was to be made in the House at I I am on the assisted areas. That has—

The point that I wish to make is that the matter has now been dealt with by means of a parliamentary written answer. Many areas, including my own, have lost assisted area status. That will make our efforts to attract jobs and to rebuild our economies very much more difficult. Have you had any request from the Government for a statement to be made on Monday so that hon. Members can ask the Minister why those grave decisions have been taken, as they will make it much harder for us to rebuild the local communities in cities like mine?

At the present time, there has been no such request from the Government.

12.35 pm

I shall support the Government in the Lobby this afternoon as I have supported them on all the 74 votes that we have had so far on the European Communities (Amendment) Bill and associated legislation. I am proud to be able to do that.

If I understood my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary correctly when I heard him on Radio 4 this morning, the Maastricht treaty will be ratified. The Act of Parliament that enables that to happen has received Royal Assent. I hope that we will today ensure that we obtain the Government's motion on the social chapter and the social protocol which will complete that process.

We face two questions. The first is whether that process will be completed with or without the social chapter. I must say to the House, and I have said this elsewhere and on radio and on television, that I do not share quite the frantic panic about the social chapter in all its ramifications that some of my right hon. and hon. Friends feel.

If I may indulge in a little wishful thinking, I wish that we had felt able to say that the part of the original social chapter that refers to health and safety legislation was not only welcome in this country, but was largely already enacted in this country. We have a proud and substantial record of putting health and safety legislation on to the statute book and of ensuring that it is adhered to and kept, in the interests of all our constituents. We should be proud of that record and we should have been able to say that we were content in respect of that part of the social chapter.

I want to put on the record today a point that I have made on numerous occasions to Ministers. I would dearly like to see better rights for part-time workers, most of whom are women. I would particularly like to see it made compulsory, at some stage in this country, that women who work in part-time jobs should have pension rights and that their employers should contribute towards those pensions.

I fully accept that that cannot be achieved overnight and that it might have to be phased in. However, the net result of the present system is that millions of part-time workers in this country, including women who work part time for many years, may reach the end of their working lives after 20, 30 or 40 years working part time and not be entitled to a pension. When they retire, they may well find that their entitlement to a state pension, based on their husband's contributions, does not fulfil their expectations. Indeed, if they are divorced, separated or abandoned women, they will receive no pension whatsoever. They are then a charge on the state and the social security system. That is costing this country a great deal of money.

Will my hon. Friend acknowledge that Britain has the best health and safety and occupational pensions records in Europe? That can be extended to women without the social chapter. We also have the best social policies in Europe for creating jobs. Therefore, we do not need the social chapter.

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend and I will continue to argue that women should have pensions, that they should pay into pensions and that we should abandon the married women's reduced national insurance contributions. If we women want equality, we will jolly well have to pay for it. I hope that my right hon. and hon. Friends can take that point on board at some stage. We should have made that response to at least part of the proposals on the social chapter.

The point on which we in this country rightly dig in our heels is one of the most fundamental—how to encourage or discourage employment. It is a question not just for this country but for the whole of Europe. Indeed, it is a question for the whole of western society. We so long to give social benefits to the people who return us to Parliament, and we genuinely so long to share with them—most of us—the benefits of having a wealthy, prosperous and secure society that we can sometimes be blinded to the fact that we have to compete with the rest of the world, which does not always take on board the social costs which some hon. Members regard as essential.

If my hon. Friend believes in equality between men and women, does she think that women should draw their pensions at 65, as men do?

Yes, women should draw their pensions at 65, as men do. However, I do not think that we should introduce that overnight, because that would be very unfair indeed on people who are expecting to retire shortly.

No, I will not give way again on this matter. We will have many opportunities to debate the rights of women in this country, and I invite the active support of male hon. Members when we. do so.

The part that we should be concerned about and the part that our right hon. and hon. Friends fought hard about at Maastricht, and the part that our colleagues in the Community should have set on one side—which should be a matter of subsidiarity and a matter for each country to decide for itself what it can afford and what it cannot afford—is the relationship between trade unions, Government and management and to what extent collective bargaining should be written into the law of the land.

We have thought our way through that matter in this country. I am not in the least surprised that the views expressed by UNICE, the European employers' organisations, have been somewhat equivocal and contradictory. Part of the social chapter would write into law that if UNICE and the European Trades Union Congress came to an agreement, the Commission and the Council of Ministers would have to consider that agreement, and it would be writ large on the face of 340 million people throughout the Community.

UNICE represents a lot of people, but it does not represent most employers and most employees in the European Community. It certainly does not represent most of them or even many of them in my constituency. The European TUC represents barely 20 per cent. of the work force. What about the other 80 per cent? When I hear Opposition Members talking about working people, I wonder which working people they are talking about. They are talking about the National Association of Local Government Officers, the National Union of Public Employees and the Transport and General Workers' Union. They are not talking about the ordinary working people in my constituency who choose not to belong to trade unions, and they are not talking about the ordinary working people in my constituency who do not have jobs, who wish to have jobs and who want to keep trade union collective bargaining out of interfering with any possibility of their obtaining jobs.

My hon. Friend's point is interesting and valid. Once again, the Labour party is sidling up to union barons, preparing to hand over power to them, and concentrating on the small number of powerful trade unions who do not represent anybody. Does my hon. Friend agree that we must be careful when we assert the prospect of making agreements which can be legally binding, because exactly the same provision appears in section 3B of the Single European Act? It includes a provision for making legally binding agreements between unions and employers if they so wish without the official institutions being involved.

I think that I understand my hon. Friend's point that if a union and a company make an agreement it should be possible for that agreement to be enforced. Most of us would regard it as axiomatic that, if two groups make an agreement, in normal circumstances it is not for the House to interfere with the enforcement of it. I take that point on board. My hon. Friend knows that I am extremely wary of any suggestion that negotiations between national and international bodies which are deeply unrepresentative of the bulk of the people of this community should be enforced on the rest of the community. It seems a recipe for disaster.

I speak from my experience of such things, for more than 10 years, in my constituency of South Derbyshire.

I will give way in a moment.

I speak from the vantage point of having represented my South Derbyshire constituency for 10 years. I have always taken the view that if we push up the cost of employing people we should not be surprised if we find it more difficult to employ them. We would then have to explain to our constituents why unemployment is high and rising.

We should accept and recognise the view of many international businesses that they wish to employ people at the highest possible levels of training and investment. We have one of the greatest companies in the world in my constituency, Toyota, and I am very proud that we have it. Many other people in my constituency, however, do not work for Toyota and are never likely to. They are not well qualified and will never have the opportunity to rise to that level. Nevertheless, their employment also matters. What also matters to the companies who wish to take them on is whether they can do so on the basis of the costs that they can afford.

The unemployment rate in my constituency is only 6·6 per cent. and falling. It is not only Toyota that is responsible for that; it is the wise and sensible application of policies of employment throughout the constituency by businesses of every kind, from businesses that employ 1,000 people to businesses that employ two people, to those that employ full-time workers, or self-employed people, and those that employ part-time workers. I want to see those workers as well protected as they possibly can be, but first of all I want to see them employed. That is what the social chapter will destroy.

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving way. Can she tell me why the Government abolished the wage councils, which effectively withdrew protection from 2·5 million part-time, female workers? I did not hear the hon. Lady raise her voice at that time to fight for women in part-time work.

As I said to my constituents at the time, and I will continue to do so, I believe the greatest social benefit is having a job.

It is for individuals to decide. In my constituency, we have a large number of small businesses; many of them are brand new. Between 1987 and 1992, we have had 11,000 new businesses registered for VAT. Most of those businesses have survived. Most are small businesses, run by ordinary men and women. It is not for the Government to tell them what they should pay their workers.

I am flattered, but the answer is no. Sit down. I am anxious not to detain the House much longer because I know that other hon. Members want to speak.

I said at the beginning of my speech that the treaty will be ratified and that there are only two questions to be decided today. One is whether it will be ratified with or without the social chapter, and I have made my views clear about that. The motion that we have to debate relates to section 7 of the European Communities (Amendment) Act 1993, which says that a motion on the social chapter has to be put down by a Minister of the Government.

The other question is: which Government will put down the motion? If this motion is defeated, there will be a general election. Whatever my Derbyshire colleague, the right hon. scion of an aristocratic and noble family, the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) may say, there will be a general election.

The only remaining question is which Government will put down the motion to ensure ratification. That matter is entirely in the hands of the House. I shall be proud to go into the Lobby with my right hon. and hon. Friends, and I hope that the motion gets the very big positive majority that it deserves.

12.49 pm

This is a parliamentary occasion, and in debates on such occasions we move quickly from the sublime to the ridiculous. My right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) and the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) made sublime speeches. We then heard the ridiculous speech by the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie). She made one significant point when she praised the Government's social record and said that it was in line with the social chapter. We have consistently said that there is nothing in the social chapter that is not already on the statute book.

We have spoken about the protection of workers, their rights in the workplace, information and modest proposals to extend social provision. Those are all part of the social dimension about which we heard a great deal yesterday from the Government. The hon. Member for Derbyshire, South aspires to the European Parliament. When she is exposed to the variety of ideas in Europe, she will change her views about workers.

Europe has no future without a social dimension. People cannot be turned into robots. A social dimension must be applied to those who invest their lives in gainful employment. The hon. Member for Esher (Mr. Taylor) understands that, and that is evident from his employee share option schemes. The only people who do not understand that are the Government. The right hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King) explained the reason for that when he spoke about squeezing lemons, which were squeezed from the day the Maastricht treaty was signed.

When the Prime Minister opted out, as he thought, of the social chapter, and when he sought to opt out of the development of a European currency, he was trying to squeeze Tory lemons—those who were anti-European and did not believe in the futher developments of Europe. Then the Prime Minister tried to assuage them. At that time, the Government had a majority of 100 and the Prime Minister latched on to the social chapter. He said, "I will opt out of the social chapter and offer that to the Tory lemons and they will come into line." They did not come into line then, they did not do so last night, and they have not done so today.

As my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield said, last night's vote was the clear view of the House that without the social chapter there should not be a Maastricht. treaty. Today's motion is linked to last night's vote. That is a corrupt misuse of parliamentary procedures, and it is the sort of corruption about which the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills spoke.

In parliamentary terms, it would have been appropriate for the Government to accept last night's vote and ask for a straight vote of confidence today and not one linked to the social chapter. That corruption worries the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills, and it worries the rest of us, because from the time that the Maastricht treaty was signed we have been living from one game, set and match sound bite to another.

The Government have shown a clear lack of direction in their handling of the treaty. The first question was whether the royal prerogative should have been used, because the treaty could have been signed and ratified under that prerogative. The Government forgot about the royal prerogative until they ran into difficulties. The Government then brought in the Attorney-General, who said that the treaty could be ratified under the royal prerogative and that the Bill did not matter. When we came to section 7, the Foreign Secretary said that it did not matter, and it could be left.

Then the matter got to the courts and the Government gave in again and said that the High Court could go ahead with the judicial review. They did not even stand up for the privileges of the House before a court of law, never mind standing up in the House on what the position should have been and over the honesty of their position. The Prime Minister knows full well, as he knew when he signed the Maastrict treaty, that the social chapter is no more than a simple extension of the social dimension.

We have heard about Edouard Balladur, who is coming on Monday—my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the Opposition made great play of that. However, there is no way that a French right-wing Government will walk away from the social chapter, because they understand the need for the social dimension, and they understand that that dimension is significant for the future of Europe.

The right hon. Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery) spoke of small businesses. Time and again, we are told that regulations come from Brussels. However, most of them are the result of 13 years of Tory government. Through their laws, they have introduced masses of regulations. Not long ago, I was at a dinner with the President of the Board of Trade, who said that of the 7,000 regulations on the books, half had been cut immediately because they were duplicates. But the Government had introduced them in the first place.

My hon. Friends tried to intervene in the speech of the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South, when she was speaking of how Toyota came to her constituency. She did not mention the fact that that was brought about by Labour-controlled Derbyshire county council. Brussels is blamed for regulations when they actually come from the Government.

It might help the hon. Gentleman to know that, when Toyota was having a good look at a number of sites, on of the questions that was put to me in great puzzlement by one of its advisers was, "How come, of all the sites that we are looking at, only one has a Conservative Member of Parliament?" My answer was, "Because my constituents have their heads screwed on."

The hon. Lady will take her flippancy to the European Parliament, and I hope that it enjoys it more than we do. Nissan came to Wearside, which is represented entirely by Labour Members of Parliament, and I presume that the same point could be made of Nissan as she has made of Toyota.

Senior managers of multinationals that have invested in my constituency have told me over and over again that they are perfectly willing to pay reasonable wages and offer decent terms and conditions of employment in return for highly skilled labour. IBM has a plant in my constituency which has survived much better than IBM plants elsewhere because of the fine skills of its work force. For those inward investors, the social chapter presents no problems because they are willing to offer decent terms and conditions of employment.

My hon. Friend is right.

What does an employer want? We have heard a great deal about the CBI and about ICI. My hon. Friend the Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook), who is not in the Chamber at the moment, made one point clear yesterday. ICI is an international company. When Sir John Harvey-Jones took the decision some years ago to expand into Europe, he did not feel that the European obligations for a social dimension were too great. He said, "This is the future market and we're getting into it." We saw the prospects of ICI investing here diminishing as a result.

Every employer wants his work force to have the best possible conditions, for the simple reason that if conditions are good and the workplace is homogenous, they will be better workers and will have better productivity rates.

The Government talk about productivity and of how the social chapter will attack Britain's productivity. However, we know from figures from the Department of Trade and Industry that in the OECD league of productivity, which covers the European states, we are 18th out of 24. Our productivity without the social chapter is well behind that of Germany and France. There are criticisms of Europe and the 17 million unemployed, but we must realise that as we do not even have the social chapter in Europe it cannot be creating such massive unemployment.

We all know the real reason for that high unemployment—and the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath) knows it better than most: it is the policy of the Bundesbank. However, when it suits the Government, they move the blame from the Bundesbank to the social chapter.

I agree with much of what my hon. Friend says. I only wish that every employer was committed to better conditions for his employees. My experience is that that is not always the case.

Can my hon. Friend clarify a point made by the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie) about part-time female workers who do not have the luxury of being employed by Nissan or Toyota? As I understood the hon. Lady's argument—which was not entirely clear to me—the first half was an absolute commitment to increasing the right of part-time female workers to better pensions, including increased employers' contributions. The second half was an absolute commitment to push down all labour costs. How can those two aims be reconciled?

The hon. Member for Derbyshire, South is not a lawyer, but she will understand the term "mutually exclusive". When she relates her speech to what the Government are saying, she will realise that they are mutually exclusive and she may well find herself looking even more towards a seat in the European Parliament.

The hon. Gentleman rightly speaks about regulation. Of course, the Government are having to deregulate to reduce the number of unnecessary regulations that impact on industry's competitiveness. The acid test is whether regulations impact upon both competitiveness and cost. The cost figures produced by Eurostat for 1990—the latest available—show that indirect costs in the United Kingdom, excluding direct pay, are, as a proportion of labour costs, the second lowest in the Community. They are about 12·7 per cent., next to Denmark's 2·9 per cent.—but that country has other impediments on wages. The figures for France and Italy are as high as 31 per cent. and 29 per cent. respectively, which is one reason why their economies are so sclerotic and uncompetitive.

Those economies are not as uncompetitive as our economy. The OECD table published by the DTI's competitiveness unit shows that. The figures are an embarrassment to the Government. However, I shall leave the matter there as I know that other hon. Members wish to speak.

No. I want to end my speech as quickly as possible.

It was said of the great Italian statesman Mr. Cavour that he was a reed of iron. The Prime Minister is certainly a reed, but we do not see any iron. Instead, we see a Prime Minister who, for the first time in 14 years of Conservative government, has no steady line. The great difficulty that he has with Europe is that on the one hand he wants to be a free trader and he believes that Europe should be a free trade area, but on the other he believes in the Foreign Office line that we should be part of the European Community. He has never been able to resolve that difficulty in his own mind. He cannot decide whether he wants to be in the free trade business or genuinely wants Europe to develop in a cohesive way. Until he gets rid of that dichotomy in his thinking, he will never be at peace with himself.

I have to tell the right hon. Gentleman that Europe, as an issue for the Conservative party, will not go away. Maastricht is not the end; it may only be the beginning. As we saw last night, the Prime Minister has lost his majority.

I quote Shakespeare:
"If it were done when 'tis done, then `twere well It were done quickly".
It is time that the Prime Minister took the Maastricht question and his handling of the economy to the British people, one year after the event. Those who believe in our democracy and that Parliament and our people are sovereign will vote for that conclusion today. If they do not, we will have three to four years of a lingering, running down and indecisive Tory Government looking for a change of leadership.

The question was asked why the Prime Minister would seek a dissolution. He was clever to bring his whole Cabinet together after last night's vote, to get their agreement, so that if the Queen were to ask, "Who else could form a Government?" the right hon. Gentleman could reply, "None of us. They all agree with me. They are all behind me."

Yes, they are. There is no little bus from the Chief Whip, as there was in the time of a Labour Government, because the Chief Whip is in the same pot as the Prime Minister.

Courage and conviction must be shown in the House this afternoon by Conservative Members, such as the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Cash), whom I am glad to see in his place, who have gone down a particular road according to their principles and consciences so that this country may have a fresh, clean start. That is what the British public want.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The Assisted Areas Order 1993 has been laid today, three sitting days before the recess. Can you confirm that the remaining 37 days allowed for objections to be lodged before the order comes before Parliament will be available when the House resumes, and that a prayer for consideration by the House may be tabled at any time during the 40 days allowed? Will that still be permitted, despite the shoddy way in which that order has been laid, towards the end of the Session? My constituency is excluded from the order, so that makes it an important issue for me. Can you confirm that debate of that important order, which could mean the loss of jobs for Bradford, will not be prevented?

1.8 pm

I find myself following the somewhat convoluted views of the hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bell), but today a vote of confidence has clearly been laid. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has shown courage, confidence and commitment in ensuring that the issue is resolved in the way that the House would want—and in the way for which the House has voted time and again. We should proceed to put the matter right in the fastest possible time.

I must comment on the moving speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd), who has left the Chamber. He always brings deep conviction to his views. I am glad that, although he has considerable reservations about what is afoot, he will be supporting my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in the Lobby.

We are grateful to have such an exponent of the royal prerogative and of the rules of precedence as the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn). I am glad that he was able to make his point in his own inimitable way. The right hon. Gentleman has a rather twisted view of the role of the royal prerogative, but he is entitled to that view because he no doubt reflects the twisted spire of Chesterfield in everything that he does. He certainly produced some extremely effective thoughts.

One reason for this debate is to deal with the practicalities of resolving the Maastricht question, which failed to reach a resolution last night, and another is that we should always examine European developments in considerable depth and with considerable anxiety. I am not one of those who are hell bent on joining everything that the Community or Brussels happens to offer—far from it. It is healthy to exhibit a degree of scepticism towards the rate at which the influence of Brussels has pervaded so much of this country's activities.

One of the Maastricht treaty's major contributions was the fact that it offered the prospect of reversing that thrust and that concentration of power for the first time. The commitment that powers should be devolved from the centre and then absorbed into the national political system of each member state has for the moment been put on hold. If ratification of the treaty brings the possibility of true subsidiarity, we shall for the first time be shifting back the pendulum of power to where the House rightly believes it should lie. That is one of the cardinal advantages of what my right hon. Friend and his colleagues negotiated at Maastricht.

The time that has elapsed since those negotiations has passed in vigorous exposé and discussion—and, yes, boredom and tedium—of what is in the treaty, how it affects the United Kingdom and which clauses are acceptable and which are not. We cannot say that the House has failed to examine the issue or that we have taken no notice of it. The treaty has absorbed the totality of this place for probably far too long. Our constituents are worried not about the boredom of not knowing what the heck the Maastricht saga is all about but about more important issues that affect them directly. They are worried about unemployment, law and order, schools and housing.

I do not want to get involved in the fine detail of the opt out, unlike the hon. Member for Middlesbrough who holds his brief well. However, it is distortion to believe that the United Kingdom offers cheap labour and that we gather investment only because we have low labour costs. The opposite is true. Nissan has come to Wearside and, by gosh, I am glad that it has. Toyota has come to Derbyshire, which I am sure deserves it. The fact that Japanese investment in this country is greater than in any other European nation state has nothing to do with labour rates and everything to do with the fact that the United Kingdom is a committed partner in the Community.

The Japanese have been able to work on the fact that we have a manufacturing culture that can provide high levels of skill and the greatest competitiveness in terms of cost of any outside plant that the Japanese have located anywhere in the world. I have had the privilege of visiting Honda in Japan. Nissan, Toyota and Honda regard the United Kingdom as a centre of excellence in terms of quality of production and competitive pricing. If we lose that advantage, we shall lose the jobs that have been brought to this country by investors such as the Japanese. In this fragile state of economic development, we must be careful not to lose those competitive international initiatives.

There is some doubt—let us put it no more strongly than that—about whether the implementation of the social chapter would tilt the balance against us in terms of cost. There is no future for British manufacturing industry unless profits generate investment to enable competitive products to be produced and unless costs are contained in an economy that does not inflate by virtue of having additional costs placed on it from extraneous sources.

We already have most of the social and employment benefits, as my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie) said. We do not, however, necessarily have the same latitude as other countries to absorb further costs in relation to the prices of goods and services that we must export.

The hon. Gentleman talks about Britain being a committed partner. He has serious negotiating experience in the European Community. How can we be seen as a committed partner if we are asked to leave the proverbial room when vital issues are being discussed? What the heck would our European partners think of us for having opted out from crucial discussions? The hon. Gentleman knows what happens with people who, unlike us, have been brought up in adversarial and hemispherical politics—they will take it ill if we opt out of an important aspect. The hon. Gentleman must know that from his experience.

I do not think that they would see it like that. I think that they would say that the United Kingdom has, rather rarely, stood up for its own particular interests —just like the French, the Dutch, the Danes and the Italians.

I shall give the hon. Gentleman an example. I well remember negotiating in the Industry Council, on which I was the United Kingdom Government's representative for a time, on shipbuilding, a matter of huge importance to a number of Opposition Members and to me. I was astonished at the negotiating tactics of other countries. The Italians sent two Ministers, because one Minister from the coalition Government would not trust another Minister in the same coalition Government, so the. Minister with responsibility for marine matters and the Minister for industry both arrived at the negotiating table. They had lots of devious thoughts when it came to the negotiation and implementation of European policy. There is no straight road through European negotiations. It is full of twists and curves. The G-factor is always there.

The other important fact about the current European situation is that we are suffering as a result of the far too easy implementation of European Community directives that have been developed in Brussels. We have an automatic system—almost unique in the Community—of implementing all the European Community directives and bringing them within our basic United Kingdom law almost overnight. Thus we get ourselves hooked on implementing directives in a way that other nation states within the Community certainly do not.

Let us consider the absurdity of the drinking water directive and the urban waste water treatment directive. If we go to Italy, Greece, Portugal or Spain, we see that not one of them has implemented those directives as fully as we have. Unless we can grapple with that problem and eliminate this insidious process, which weakens our capacity to run our own economy and industrial system in the way that we want, we shall be at a severe disadvantage.

As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said, the way to eliminate the problem is to make sure that we get right into the European Community and become a committed partner. Then we shall be able to influence the way that the Community develops. Originally, it was a free trade area. First, there was the Coal and Steel Community. Then we passed the Single European Act. Since then the single market has been established. We are removing barriers to trade.

We have an enormous capacity for trade within the Community. All that we have gained, but what we have not yet gained is a sufficient grip on Brussels. We cannot yet prevent it from generating