Social Chapter 'cannot be resisted': Labour discussion paper puts Europe at 'heart of its policies'. Patricia Wynn Davies reports

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The Independent Online
THE Government will be powerless to resist pressure to implement the Social Chapter of the Maastricht treaty in Britain, a paper to be examined by the first meeting of Labour's National Policy Forum next weekend predicts.

The paper, which says Europe is 'at the heart' of Labour's policies and 'central to its actions', restates the party's commitment to the treaty, in the wake of renewed criticism over the potentially lethal effect of the new amendment two to the Report Stage of the Maastricht ratification Bill.

As Betty Boothroyd, the Speaker, was preparing to announce today whether she would allow a vote on the amendment, George Robertson, Labour's European affairs spokesman, strongly denied that the move, if successful, would wreck the Bill and the treaty.

Amendment two is modelled on Labour's earlier amendment 27, but is now an all-party proposal backed by almost 300 MPs across the political spectrum, including Tory rebels. It removes from the Bill the Social Chapter opt-out negotiated by John Major at Maastricht. If allowed by Miss Bothroyd, the vote could end in an embarrassing defeat for the Government tomorrow.

The policy forum paper, drawn up by Labour's international committee, argues that the Government's resistance to the chapter's provisions, which guarantee minimum rights at work, is futile. It says: 'It will be possible for Britain to sign up at any time to the Social Chapter, given a change of government or of policy . . . furthermore there will also be strong pressure to consolidate the chapter in the treaty in 1996 when the EC governments will discuss further treaty revisions. It is difficult to believe that the Government will want to remain so completely isolated from the determination of what is such a central policy in the certain knowledge that at some future date it will apply . . . in the UK.'

Pressure on Miss Boothroyd to allow MPs to vote on amendment two intensified yesterday as Jack Cunningham, the shadow Foreign Secretary, said: 'To deny the Opposition a vote on an issue of this kind is without any precedent.'

The vexed debate dates from the dispute over the legal advice proffered by the Government on the earlier Committee Stage amendment 27. Michael Morris, the Deputy Speaker, allowed a debate on that, but later refused a vote, provoking uproar and accusations that MPs were irrelevant to the ratification process. But a motion of no confidence in Mr Morris was heavily defeated.

Bill Cash, the leading Tory rebel, said yesterday that Miss Boothroyd 'need feel no inhibition' about allowing the vote. It was clear after that controversy that MPs did not back the no-confidence motion, he said.

But the self-same MPs - in a 'unique' agreement between all the main opposition parties - had made it abundantly clear that they wanted a vote. While the Government insists that, legally, the amendment, if successful, would not block ratification or change its policy on the opt- out, it appears to have gone to extraordinary lengths to prevent MPs having a say over whether it should be added to the Bill.