Parliament and Politics: Maastricht 'opt-out' appeal by minister

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(First Edition)

TRISTAN GAREL-JONES, Minister of State at the Foreign Office, last night sought to avert the possibility of a government defeat on the European union legislation by appealing to Liberal Democrat and pro-EC Labour MPs to vote against an Opposition move to reverse the Government's opt-out from the social chapter of the Maastricht treaty.

'If I am right, then the consequences will be very serious indeed, not just for Britain but for the whole of the European Community,' he said as MPs began the eighth day of the Committee Stage of the European Communities (Amendment) Bill. Tory rebels cheered last week when the minister said it would not be possible to ratify the treaty if the Labour amendment reversing the opt-out was carried. It will not be voted on for a month or more.

Jack Cunningham, Labour's foreign affairs spokesman, said the minister was talking 'complete and utter claptrap'. Labour claims that if the opt-out was reversed, the other 11 EC states would be happy to fold the social chapter into the treaty. He said he had just had discussions with German ministers who would be 'delighted to see Britain reverse its decision on the social chapter'.

Accusing Mr Garel-Jones of raising a red herring, Mr Cunningham said it would not mean re-opening the treaty. But Mr Garel-Jones insisted there would have to be an inter-governmental conference, even if of only 30 seconds, and the member states would not allow one for fear of what might be opened up.