§ 6. Mr. Tony Banks
To ask the Secretary of State for Employment if he will make a statement on progress towards the implementation of the social charter.
§ The Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Michael Howard)
The social charter signed by the 11 other member states was only declaratory and has no legal effect. The European Commission has to date published 21 legislative and other proposals under its social action programme. Of those, five have been agreed so far. The United Kingdom continues to play a full and active part in the discussions. For example, at yesterday's informal meeting of European Community Employment Ministers, I put forward a five-point initiative designed to increase effective employee involvement, including a European Community recommendation on best practice. There was useful discussion of that issue, and it was agreed that consideration of my proposal should continue in the months ahead.
§ Mr. Banks
It is obvious that the Secretary of State is speaking and acting far more moderately, in this post-Finchley age, in respect of the social charter. Does he accept the importance of the social dimension as a factor in the Single European Act? Will he persuade the Council of Ministers and the Commission to become actively involved in renegotiating the Council of Europe's social charter, and the Commission to accede to the Council of Europe's charter—to which our country is a major signatory?
§ Mr. Howard
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will allow me to allay his anxieties. There has been no change whatsoever in the attitude adopted by the United Kingdom Government in the Social Affairs Council of Ministers during the whole of the period in which I have had the honour to represent this country at that Council. The hon. Gentleman is right to draw attention to the importance of the social dimension of the Single European Act programme. Its most important aspect, bearing in mind the fact that 15.5 million people are without jobs in the Community, is the creation of employment. My main task at the Council of Ministers is to do all I can to ensure that the Community does nothing to place extra burdens on British employers, which would destroy jobs in this country and in other Community states.
§ Mr. Grylls
Will my right hon. and learned Friend be wary of any proposals from the Social Affairs Council of Ministers, which seems to be caught in a 1960s time warp in believing that its policies would help to create jobs, when the reverse is true—they would help to destroy them? Will my right hon. and learned Friend be particularly careful about any further bureaucractic proposals from the Commission affecting temporary or part-time workers? If they are tied up in more red tape, there will be fewer and fewer jobs for them.
§ Mr. Howard
I entirely agree, and I am happy to tell my hon. Friend that the proposed directive relating to 611 part-time work was not even discussed at yesterday's informal meeting of the Council. I shall continue to keep uppermost in my representations to the Council the need to encourage and enhance employment, reduce regulation, and avoid damaging measures that would increase the number of unemployed in the Community.
§ Mr. Tony Lloyd
Will the Secretary of State confirm that among the Government's reasons for opposing the social charter is that it would necessitate freedom of association—in other words, because people would be allowed to join the trade union of their choice? That would force the Government to reconsider their decision not only to destroy jobs at GCHQ but to undermine the civil liberties of those who worked there and who were sacked for the crime of joining a trade union. Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman further confirm that the Government have already acknowledged that right by international treaty, through their support of International Labour Organisation conventions and of the United Nations declaration on human rights? How does the Secretary of State intend to respond to the latest criticism made by ILO experts that Britain is again in the wrong in its attitude to the social charter? Will he now allow the people employed at GCHQ to become members of a free trade union?
§ Mr. Howard
I am absolutely astonished that the hon. Gentleman and the Labour party should have the gall to come to the House and talk about restrictions on people joining the trade unions of their choice. What is the hon. Gentleman's attitude, and that of the Labour party, to the Bridlington agreement? How dare the hon. Gentleman come to the House and pretend, with his party, to be the protector of people wishing to join the trade union of their choice?