BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Wednesday, 6 February 2008, 07:57 GMT
UK's treaty 'safeguards' attacked
EU flag
The treaty aims to replace the failed EU constitution
The government has said the new EU treaty will make human rights central to being part of Europe - amid attacks from both Tory and Labour MPs.

Some Labour MPs were angry about a UK protocol which aims to block changes to British labour laws - suggesting it was aimed at "keeping the CBI sweet".

The Tories said the treaty's Charter of Fundamental Rights could allow European courts to overrule UK law.

But the government won a vote approving the provisions by 363 to 168 votes.

A Conservative motion opposing the government's approach because of "incoherence and inconsistency" was rejected by 362 votes to 170.

Legally binding

MPs are holding topic-by-topic debates on the Lisbon Treaty - signed by Gordon Brown in December but which has yet to be ratified by all parliaments across the EU.

The Charter of Fundamental Rights is included in the treaty and will become legally binding if it is ratified.

If it is to do with keeping the CBI sweet, I simply have to say to my front bench that that, I think, is not the job of a Labour government
Michael Meacher
Labour MP

It enshrines employment protection, including trade union rights, but the UK has negotiated a protocol to stop it forcing changes to British labour laws - this states that the charter does not create "justiciable rights applicable to the United Kingdom".

During the debate on Tuesday, Labour MP Jon Trickett said promises made to him privately "appear to have been dishonoured" and said the protocol amounted to a "lockdown on the rights of workers."

'Excessive working'

Former Labour minister Michael Meacher asked whether ministers were "adamantly opposed" to the charter because it "might ban excessive working hours when the British worker already works longer hours per week than anyone else in Europe".

He added: "If it is to do with keeping the CBI (Confederation of British Industry) sweet, I simply have to say to my front bench that that, I think, is not the job of a Labour government."

We have negotiated an extensive package of safeguards
Jack Straw
Justice Secretary

The Conservatives asked why the government had bothered with a protocol at all if they were convinced the charter was nothing more than a "declaratory statement" of rights that already existed.

They argued that the charter could still allow European Court of Justice rulings to replace UK domestic laws.

Tory MP David Lidington said: "The government has come forward with no plausible argument that the UK can avoid our law being changed as a result of decisions about the charter being made in respect of other countries."

'Great story'

But Justice Minister Jack Straw told MPs: "We pledged that nothing in the Charter of Fundamental Rights would give our national or European courts any new powers to strike down or re-interpret United Kingdom law, including with regard to labour or social legislation.

"That is what we have delivered, we have negotiated an extensive package of safeguards."

He said: "It's right that we collectively take further steps to make the promotion of human rights integral to being part of Europe."

Ed Davey, for the Lib Dems, added: "I think there is a great story to tell about the European Union's role in human rights and I hope the government will join with us telling it loud and clear."

The Conservatives and some backbench Labour MPs want the government to hold a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty - arguing they had promised one on the failed EU Constitution, which the treaty replaces.

The government says it is not needed because the treaty is a different document with mostly minor and procedural changes.

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific