Heath attacks Major on Maastricht and jobless

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JOHN MAJOR was wrong to have insisted on the Maastricht Social Chapter opt-out, wrong not to have pushed through the Bill ratifying the treaty, and wrong not to have used the Edinburgh summit to press for a European policy to fight unemployment, Sir Edward Heath, the former Conservative Prime Minister, said yesterday.

In a joint - and frank - radio interview with Lord Callaghan, the former Labour Prime Minister, the only issue on which Sir Edward appeared at one with the present incumbent was on his policy over the former Yugoslavia.

But while Mr Major was right to resist US pressure to intervene in 'old religious and racial feuds', he suffered from a hangover of Thatcherism. The 'misguided' decision to spend so much time on ratifying the Maastricht treaty had contributed to the downfall of the pound, Sir Edward said.

'People became doubtful as to whether we ever were going to ratify it and in that case were we going to leave the Community. That undermined sterling . . . The franc has held. One of the lessons of that was that the French have friends in the Community and alas, as a result of what's being going on, we've lost our friends.'

He said that when the Social Chapter question was put to the European Court 'they will say we've got to abide by it because what it means is in fact we are going for sweated labour'.

In the interview on BBC Radio 4's The World This Weekend, both former leaders were critical of high unemployment. Sir Edward was more trenchant: 'They (the Government) are beginning to recognise that the infrastructure, our roads and railways, have really got into an appalling state. The Government has got to look after the infrastructure and that means expenditure. They are beginning to say this. At the same time they are saying 'Oh no, expenditure must be reduced and kept down'. Now this is a hangover from Thatcherism.'

Sir Edward said he suspected the mishandling of pit closure plans was due to 'a general view that the miners were finished'.

Lord Callaghan said Mr Major had his priorities wrong, spending all his time talking about Maastricht instead of the 'cancer' of high unemployment.

Sir Edward said the Edinburgh summit had produced some useful results. 'But its main purpose ought to have been to formulate a European Community economic policy.'

The Government was yesterday warned of an outcry in the North of England following reports that parts of Britain may lose millions of pounds in aid to stem job losses in the South-east. A Department of Trade and Industry spokesman said no decisions had yet been taken on the first revision of development areas since 1984, but he did not rule out assisted areas for the South-east, where unemployment stands at 10.1 per cent. Peter Mandelson, Labour MP for Hartlepool, said: 'There will be fury . . . if this financial gerrymandering to boost flagging Tory support goes ahead.'