Parliament and Politics: Smith accused of 'nit-picking' on EC summit

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Indy Politics
JOHN MAJOR yesterday contrasted the praise he said the outcome of the Edinburgh summit had drawn from other European Community leaders with the 'nit-picking' of his critics in the House of Commons.

John Smith, the Labour leader, accused the Prime Minister of failing to meet the challenge of unemployment at the summit or during the British presidency, while Tory opponents of the Maastricht treaty questioned the status of the special deal for Denmark.

Nicholas Budgen, Conservative MP for Wolverhampton SW, said the Danish agreement was 'truly remarkable'. The treaty was to be amended in a manner which was legally enforceable but which did not need further ratification.

'Will the Prime Minister confirm that if this House votes to amend the treaty in any manner, he will ensure that that vote gives rise to an amendment which is legally enforceable but which does not require ratification?'

Mr Major repeated his assertion that the Danish solution was legally binding but ruled out any similar concessions to critics of the treaty in the Commons during the passage of the European Communities (Amendment) Bill.

'I do not myself anticipate there will be amendments to the treaty in this House,' he told MPs after making a statement on the summit. The Danish agreement was between governments. If necessary the arbiter would be the International Court of Justice at The Hague, not the European Court. 'I believe the majority of people in this country want us to make a success of our membership of the European Community,' Mr Major said. 'That is not a matter of idealism, it is a matter of hard-headed self-interest. Anyone who looks objectively at what has been agreed under the British presidency, and at this European Council in particular, can take pride in Britain's achievement.

'The Community has reached decisions on issues which many thought were insoluble. It has come together again as 12 member states with a common purpose.'

Mr Smith welcomed the accommodation for Denmark and moves to enlarge the EC, but said the people of Europe regarded action against unemployment as the most important test of the Community's relevance to their lives. 'It remains a matter of regret that this dimension has been so consistently down-graded throughout the whole of the British presidency.' He said the economic measures taken at Edinburgh had to be judged against the scale of the problem throughout Europe but which were most acute in Britain. While the lending facility for the European Investment Bank and the establishment of a European Investment Fund was welcome, the extra pounds 6bn for the Community as a whole was less than 0.01 per cent of total EC output.

'The highly optimistic forecast of pounds 24bn of new investment which might conceivably be generated is put sharply in focus by the Commission's own forecast that investment in the EC will be pounds 32bn below normal next year. Given that at very best there is likely to be an pounds 8bn investment gap, how can there be any belief that the economic challenge has been met?'

Mr Major said the economic proposals devised by Norman Lamont had been warmly welcomed by the heads of government. 'There is no doubt that they believe this is the right package and it is only those who seek to nit-pick here who criticise it.'

The majority of Tory backbenchers who spoke praised Mr Major for his 'extraordinary mastery and grasp' at Edinburgh, for his 'great success' and for his 'tough but flexible' approach. Several urged him to speed up the passage of Maastricht Bill.

For the Liberal Democrats, Sir Russell Johnston congratulated the Prime Minister on the positive outcome of the summit - 'consolidating progress towards European union'.