§ Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am sure that you, and all Members, will have been inundated with queries from constituents asking about the working time regulations. I was amazed to discover not only that the regulations were brought into force at a time when the House was not sitting, but that apparently only an hour and a half was available for us to debate 43 clauses and two schedules of what would constitute a major Bill.
Is there no way in which the House can protect itself and the constituents whom we have been sent here to represent by ensuring that the regulations are properly debated, and that the Government have a chance to amend any part of a measure that will otherwise cause enormous problems to all our constituents, including employers?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael J. Martin)
I am guided by the rules of the House, according to which everything is in order.
§ Mr. John Gummer (Suffolk, Coastal)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for the Government to spend large sums advertising the fact that rural persons—meant to be shepherds—will be affected by the measure even before it has been passed?
§ Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham)
I beg to move,That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Working Time Regulations 1998 (S.I., 1998, No. 1833), dated 30th July 1998, a copy of which was laid before this House on 30th July, be annulled.At last we have been allowed a debate on massively important regulations that will cost business £2,000 million a year, may well cost many people their jobs, and are yet another reason why business in this country will be less competitive and less successful.
The House will know that I have declared interests in the Register of Members' Interests; but I do not speak on behalf of any narrow sectional interest tonight. I speak on behalf of all who want more jobs, more economic success, more flexibility, more opportunity and more choice. My right hon. and hon. Friends have exposed the hollowness of the new deal, and the fact that so few people have been able to take advantage of that scheme and go on to find jobs. Tonight we are debating the way in which the Government are heaping regulation on regulation, making it much more difficult for people to find jobs in the normal course of market business.
Where is the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry? Did he discover that he had already done his work in time for this week, and decide to absent himself? Does he not realise that Ministers are not subject to regulation of this kind, and that we expect them to come to the House and answer when they are imposing such massive costs on business and making such differences to our economy?
Why did the Secretary of State allow no debate during the parliamentary year, up to the summer recess? We all knew that the work had to be done; we all knew that there 214 were contentious issues in regard to how the Brussels directive was to be implemented. We wanted a debate to ensure that it was implemented in the least intrusive and damaging way possible, but we were offered absolutely no debate.
We then discovered that the measure had been sneaked out in the summer recess. The Government hoped to get away with it, with absolutely no debate and practically no publicity. Business had to obey all the rules from 1 October; yet business was not to be properly informed, and the public and business were not to be given the opportunity, through Her Majesty's Opposition, to express their view on how the measure could be implemented in a less damaging way.
§ Mr. Gummer
Is not my right hon. Friend being a little unkind to the right hon. Gentleman who should be present—the Secretary of State? When this issue hit the headlines, the right hon. Gentleman made it his business to appear on as many television programmes, and as widely, as was possible, to explain his position to the rest of the country. Is it not odd that he has not made it his business to come here tonight? Perhaps he feels that other issues will dominate the television headlines today.
§ Mr. Redwood
I am not sure what my right hon. Friend meant by that last remark, but I think it is often the case that the present Secretary of State prefers spinning to working, and perhaps tonight he is spinning away. What he should understand, however, is that this is the place that should have the news first. This is the place where he should come, so that we can cross-examine him. This is the place where he should defend and enormously complicated set of rules and regulations. This is the place where he should try to explain to us why we must have one costly and cumbersome set of regulations to tackle the issue of working time now, and why, next spring, we must have another set of equally cumbersome and complex regulations that do not mesh with the system to control the minimum wage.
Would it not have been more sensible for the Secretary of State to put the two pieces of work together, with the aim of minimising the cost to business of record keeping and bureaucracy? Would it not have been common courtesy for him to come to the House to support his Minister of State, and to answer the questions himself? So often, the Minister of State has been left—by both the present Secretary of State and his predecessor—to answer difficult questions.
Obviously, the former President of the Board of Trade and the new Secretary of State know that their policies do not add up. They know that they are part of the problem that faces manufacturing, which is now in a state of crisis. So they leave the poor Minister of State on his own to try to deal with all our sensible and important queries.
§ Maria Eagle (Liverpool, Garston)
Is the right hon. Gentleman really suggesting that those who are losing their jobs in manufacturing are doing so because they have three weeks' paid annual leave and are entitled to rest breaks and decent terms and conditions?
§ Mr. Redwood
I am about to argue that the reason why British business is becoming so uncompetitive and so many manufacturers are closing factories and sacking 215 their employees is that the Government have heaped too many costs and burdens on them; it is not one individual imposition. Of course we want decent terms and conditions of employment, but, if we take all the regulations and all the tax increases that the Government have hurled at British businesses, we get an insupportable burden, which has led many of them to close, and will lead to many more closing.
All too often now, I read in correspondence or in newspaper reports of companies that are not merely closing here, but opening an equivalent facility in more lightly taxed and regulated countries. It is a sign that the Government have turned the UK, in less than two years, from being people's first choice for new investment locations when running a global business, to being their first choice for closure, so badly have the Government damaged the environment in which companies trade.
§ Mr. Redwood
I will in just one minute, when I have developed my argument a little further.
I wonder whether the Government are aware that one job is being lost every 10 minutes. I wonder whether they realise that, on recent independent analysis, they have already, in the first two years of office, including the minimum wage next spring, pushed up the cost to business by 40 per cent. through additional regulation. Do they know that their own compliance cost assessment says that it is going to be more than £2,000 million a year to pay for working time? Does the hon. Member for Liverpool, Garston (Maria Eagle) realise that the extra money will come out of business, which means less investment and less employment? [Interruption.] We are all delighted to see that the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry now realises that he should have been here all along to hear our arguments. I am sure that he did not enjoy going belatedly to his constituency to see why factories were closing there. If he stays for the rest of the debate, I and my right hon. and hon. Friends may be able to make him a little wiser about why it is that, under this Government, Britain has deteriorated so rapidly, and is now people's least preferred choice for new investment.
On top of the £2 billion working time regulations cost, we have an estimated £2.9 billion minimum wage cost coming in this spring, yet another reason why less profit and less revenue will be left in business coffers to pay for new jobs and new investment.
I have received evidence from those who are responsible for hiring temporary workers, a flexibility that some employees themselves like, as well as some companies. I am told that this regulation on its own imposes an 8 per cent. additional levy on the payroll cost of employing a temporary worker. Even the Secretary of State must realise that that will mean that fewer workers are employed.
I do not like that fact of economic life. I would like to be able to tell my constituents that there are going to be even more jobs, at ever higher rates of pay, with ever additional regulatory protection. We would all like to live in that world, but the Secretary of State must get real. He is always lecturing British business about the need to be more productive and more competitive. Every 8 per cent. 216 additional burden on payroll means fewer people employed and less successful business operations in the United Kingdom.
When this Government came to office, we were told that they had three priorities: education, education, education. I do not know whether the needle had stuck or they had just got lost in making the soundbite more interesting, but let me play one back to them. After 18 months in office, they have shown that their priority is not education, education, education—because they have been destroying great schools and doing a lot of damage, as my right hon. and hon. Friends have been pointing out—but regulation, regulation, regulation. It is that which will do so much damage to job prospects and opportunities in the United Kingdom.
This Government are making it too dear to do business in Britain. They are making it too dear to make things in Britain. That is the common theme behind the tragedy at Rover, the closure of Siemens, the closure of Fujitsu, the closure of Grove Cranes—behind that long list of factory closures and job losses that we have helped to chronicle and expressed our regret over—but it was an entirely predictable result of this Government's policies of sticking up sterling, interest rates and business taxes and increasing regulation. Cost after cost has been placed on business.
I am sure that the Secretary of State would tell us, were he to speak, that sterling is beginning to devalue, but does he not understand that the damage has been done by 12 or 15 months of very high sterling and by the persistence of extremely high interest rates—more than double the level of interest rates of our main competitors on the continent? It is this Government who have made it too dear to make things in Britain.
§ Mr. Chidgey
I apologise to the right hon. Gentleman in advance for interrupting the flow of his argument, but a few moments ago he said that companies were relocating to other countries, rather than into Britain. I wonder whether he could help the House by giving us some examples of the countries to which companies are relocating on the basis of labour costs, rather than staying in the UK.
§ Mr. Redwood
Companies are relocating to Asian and American locations. Even within the European Union, where there are tax differences, companies are relocating. Rank Xerox, for example, has recently announced the cessation of 500 jobs in the forest of Dean. They are going to the Republic of Ireland, where there is a huge tax advantage. I have made it clear that we have to look at tax and labour costs together—that this Government have imposed many additional burdens on business here, which causes the problems.
§ Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)
I am sure that the whole House will agree with my right hon. Friend that it is welcome news that the nomad has returned. The Secretary of State is making a half effort at listening, and is feverishly taking notes, but does my right hon. Friend not think that it would be useful if the Secretary of State felt able at the conclusion of the debate to deliver a half-competent response to it?
§ Mr. Redwood
My hon. Friend has made his own strong point in his inimitable way.
217 We want to know: why is it that the Government have chosen for the minimum wage different time periods and different record keeping from the working time regulations? We want to know why the two cannot be made compatible and be brought together. We wish to have some of the complexity explained through this House to the country at large.
Why, for example, have the Government chosen the particular formula on page 10 to calculate entitlement to leave? It would be too boring to read out the whole thing, but(A x B)-CwhereA is the period of leave to which the worker is entitled under regulation 13(1);B is the proportion of the worker's leave year which expired before the termination date"—and so forth is not easy for someone who is running their small business, and is worried about where the next sales are coming from and how to renegotiate the overdraft against the background of this Government's difficult monetary policy. There is much complexity and lack of clarity in the proposals.
I have had a lot of correspondence from throughout the country complaining about the opacity of the regulations and the lack of helpfulness of the ministerial team at the Department of Trade and Industry in making them clearer to business. For example, a nursing home owner wrote to me saying:These regulations have been brought in with no notice to small business. The first we heard of them was when a member of staff brought in an article from the Sunday Telegraph.On speaking to the DTI they seemed totally confused and offered not a great deal of assistance, seeming to know virtually nothing about the subject.That is one of several that I could quote from people who have not recognised that this was coming because we did not have the proper parliamentary debate and the normal publicity that relates to it. When the DTI realised that it needed to do something about publicity, people found that there were not enough copies of the guide, and that the 74-page guide was not clear anyway.
The guide warned people that it was not authoritative, and that it might even be wrong. It said that there could be court cases that undermined what the guide said, so the DTI and Secretary of State were saying to business, "Go to expensive lawyers. Ask for their advice, because our 74-page guide cannot reassure you. If you must, try to read these opaque and complex regulations."
§ Mr. Ian Bruce
Has my right hon. Friend seen the cartoon on the front of the regulations, which shows a British worker effectively sawing off his own job, and trying to indicate that the Government have got themselves in a mess? I wonder whether the Minister really understood what message he was conveying to people.
§ Mr. Redwood
Yes, I saw that and I assumed that Ministers had neither checked the cartoon nor read the text inside, as otherwise they would have seen what an own goal it was in its apparent portrayal of the Government cutting themselves off by sawing the wrong 218 piece of wood on which they were precariously perched. The 74-page guide has made life more difficult, and the burden of DTI advice seems to be that people must go off to lawyers because they cannot be sure.
What extra financial provision is to be made throughout the public services to meet the extra cost? We know that that cost will be more than £2 billion a year, and that quite a bit of it will fall on service provision through public finance. Some nursing homes, for example, will have considerable extra costs. Those who have written to me say that the social services in their local authority have had no extra money, and that, if they try to put up their charges, they will doubtless be told that social services will have to buy fewer places.
Vulnerable people seem to be at risk unless the Government are prepared to route extra money into those social services funds, so that the same level of service can be provided and the public sector share of the £2 billion-plus cost of the regulations can be met. The Government should reassure all those people who may be at risk and tell them how much extra money will be put in to meet that cost in important public services. Over what period does the Secretary of State envisage that nursing homes, for example, will be allowed to put up their prices to cover the great additional cost and reassure all the people who need it that the care will continue to be provided?
The situation seemed to descend into farce when I read in the newspaper the other day that the Jubilee line completion date was gravely threatened because the work force wanted extra compensation in light of the regulations, and there was a threat of industrial action. It is a crowning irony for the Secretary of State, who prides himself on being able to see the dome through to a successful conclusion, that his own regulations, which he pushed through so casually in the summer recess, hoping that no one would notice, should have caused such industrial disruption to the construction of the Jubilee line, the timely completion of which is crucial to the dome project.
We want to know more about the exceptions. I am sure that many Labour Members would prefer the minimum of exceptions, because they believe that one can legislate for higher standards rather than working to achieve them in an enterprise economy. Why, then, are there so many exemptions? Why are all those working inair, rail, road, sea, inland waterway and lake transport … sea fishing … other work at sea; or … doctors in trainingexempted, but not others who might feel that their industry or activity warranted an exemption?
§ The Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Mr. Ian McCartney)
I want to help the right hon. Gentleman. Perhaps he has forgotten that, when he was a member of the previous Government, it was negotiated with the European Commission that those sectors would be dealt with separately because of their specific needs. That is exactly what is happening, and consultation is taking place. He made the point to attack the Government, but in fact he is attacking the previous Government, of which he was a member.
§ Mr. Redwood
I am not attacking the previous Government, who did not want any of these regulations, but were unable to persuade our European partners 219 through the courts. We would have been forced into implementing the regulations, but we would have done so in a far less damaging and costly way.
It is for the Minister to explain why, given that he is a believer in such regulation, he is exempting all those groups. There is nothing to stop him including everyone in the regulations, if he thinks that they are such a good idea. Why are those groups, representing a substantial chunk of the economy, left out of a protection that he considers valuable? If the answer is that they need the extra flexibility to have a successful industry with good labour relations, why does that not apply to other groups? Why does he not go back to Brussels with another list of groups that need similar treatment?
We were told that the Government would pride themselves on having a lot of influence in Brussels. I would not mind betting that they have not tried to renegotiate anything in the regulations, and that they have not returned to Brussels after the court case, as we would have done, to say that they were still not happy and wanted to negotiate something better. I do not suppose that they have expressed any interest in the subject around the ministerial table in Brussels. I take the grins on Ministers' faces as confirmation of that.
The Secretary of State is very good at asking people to work longer hours. He asked the Conran shop to stay open longer than normal so that he could complete his shopping, and when 1 visited the Birmingham motor show on Friday, I learned that he had asked for it to open early on Wednesday so that he could get back in time for a private lunch that he thought was very important.
It is ironic that the right hon. Gentleman, who, whether with a talking or with a silent part, has come to propose the regulations to the House, should himself have encouraged workers to break, or to get dangerously close to breaking, them for his own convenience. He is an important and influential man, but he is not yet royalty, and there must be limits to what he can expect of those in shops and motor shows.
Will the Minister confirm that Members of Parliament are exempt? Many of us would find it difficult to carry out all our functions in a 48-hour week. I believe that there is some doubt about the position of the Speaker. That should be clarified: is there any special circumstance in which someone working loyally for the service of the House as a whole could be in a different category from those of us who, I trust, are assumed to be more independent and are exempt from the regulations?
It is widely agreed by independent commentators, as well as by Conservative Members, that the incoming Government received a very fine economic legacy. It was a golden legacy, with low inflation; reasonable growth; reducing unemployment; a flexible work force; and living standards and real wages rising at a pace that the economy could sustain, in the context of a successful enterprise economy.
Eighteen months on, there is growing evidence of a downturn made in Downing street, with closure after closure, job loss after job loss and problem after problem. The Minister must answer on that general issue as it applies to this debate. Will not he concede that every such regulation, reducing flexibility and imposing additional costs, makes it more difficult for the enterprise economy to work and for us to achieve the improvement in living standards and in terms and conditions that always comes when an economy is growing or flourishing?
220 The paradox may be that, through the regulations, more people will lose their jobs and fewer will have decent living standards and quality of employment, because the regulations are part of the process by which the golden economic legacy is being squandered.
We have some positive recommendations, should the Minister be interested. We should like him to take away the regulations and come back with an improved version. He has to do something, as we know that he will not negotiate the cessation of the regulations from Brussels. We want him to consider whether more exemptions would be sensible, and to come up with less onerous record keeping. Much of the cost will be in record keeping, not improving people's jobs, but creating a lot of bureaucracy. That is simply throwing money down the drain. The Minister should reconsider the record keeping, in the light of the equally onerous record keeping that he is soon to demand for the minimum wage.
We should like the Minister to offer, even at this late stage, a better guide for businesses: 74 pages offering no guarantees is not satisfactory, and the language of the regulations is not clear for the normal entrepreneur running a small or medium business, who has better things to do than wade through this kind of stuff in the afternoon or late at night.
We definitely want clarification from the Secretary of State and his colleagues about how the public sector is to handle the large share of the cost that will fall on public services. We desperately need to know that those in nursing homes, for example, will continue to get their care, and that adequate extra money will be provided to pay for the costs that will fall on that sector.
Above all—from a Government who say that they are about creating jobs and opportunities—we want a proper statement of the impact of all that cost on jobs. Why is there no impact statement on jobs? The Department must have done work on that matter, and knows that every extra £ billion of business cost results in less investment and fewer jobs. Will Ministers spell it out for us today, and honestly tell the nation what the cost will be? How many more factories? How many more times will I turn on my television or Ceefax in the morning and have to learn of another factory closing because the costs are simply too great?
The Government are wrecking the business bottom line. Wrecking the business bottom line means that there will be less business in Britain. Businesses will go elsewhere; they will shut down here. Will Ministers listen before it is too late, and before the Secretary of State is known and remembered only as the Minister for recession?
§ Mr. Alan Johnson (Hull, West and Hessle)
I speak in this debate more in sorrow than in anger, and as one who argued for many years in the trade union movement—it was not always an easy argument—that the movement should undergo a sea change by moving away from legal immunities and always depending on free collective bargaining, and towards positive rights and minimum standards. I argued that, if we did that in the United Kingdom, since no mainstream political party could oppose basic minimum standards, we would prevent exploitation and safeguard the rights of the most vulnerable. I argued that no political party entering government would ever dare to interfere with those minimum standards.
221 Although it is arguable whether the Conservatives are any longer a mainstream party, it is sad that a once great political institution should be demeaning itself by opposing such modest steps to prevent the exploitation of British workers. Conservative Members' opposition to such provisions is sad and makes them unique, even among the centre right parties on the continent.
Conservative Members have had a difficult time with the issue of working time regulations. First, they humiliated the United Kingdom by trying to evade the law and losing, hands down, at the European Court of Justice. Ultimately, they humiliated themselves. All they achieved—belonging, as they do, to the party of Church and the family—was the removal from the regulations the principle that Sunday should be the statutory day off.
Conservative Members then went to the country in a general election. I have a document—it is not easy to find a copy—published before the general election that is known as the Conservative party manifesto. It is perhaps known also as the shortest suicide note in history. It states:We will insist at the Intergovernmental Conference in Amsterdam that our opt-out is honoured and that Britain is exempted from the Working Time Directive".There were not many specific pledges in that document, but that was one, and it was emphatically rejected at the general election by the British people.
Conservative Members deluded themselves into believing that they could continue to fool the British work force by making the essentially unpatriotic argument that it would somehow be good for people working in British factories for our country to be the exploitation capital of Europe. The British people emphatically rejected that attempt.
After the views of the Conservative party were rejected on 1 May 1997, the Labour Government went to Amsterdam and re-engaged in the process of civilised and mature politics. I honestly thought that, after their devastating defeat, Conservative Members would listen and learn from their experience. I really thought that they would realise that there had been a change not only in the United Kingdom but in the thinking of the trade union movement on how we should proceed in ensuring basic minimum standards at work. Conservative Members' motion on today's Order Paper shows that they are simply wallowing in their humiliation.
§ Mr. Johnson
No; there is no time to give way. It is a short debate, and other hon. Members wish to speak.
Once again, Conservative Members are spouting their basically unpatriotic argument. They say that the issue is one of burdens on business. An example of a burden on business was the passage of legislation insisting that, every three years, employers had to approach workers to discover whether they were still happy to pay their union dues out of their pay each week, through check-off. Moreover, every time union dues were increased, the legislation required employers to write to every employee to discover whether he or she was still keen to continue doing what he or she had done for years. That is a burden on business.
222 On the principle of not imposing burdens on business, Conservative Members oppose passing regulations that will ensure basic, decent workplace standards. The regulations will not affect the practices of the vast majority of good British employers, but will help to tackle exploitation.
I have been a member of the Trade and Industry Committee for only a short time. However, shortly after the general election, because of Conservative Members' arguments that companies would make inward investment in the United Kingdom only if we opted out of the social chapter, we conducted an investigation into inward investment, and quizzed everyone to whom we spoke on the matter. As the evidence shows, the issue of the United Kingdom opting out of the social chapter did not crop up once among the firms to which we spoke about inward investment. The issues that they cared about most were training, skills and local facilities. Not once was the social chapter raised.
The Opposition have always opposed decent standards—whether in health and safety, equal opportunities or maternity rights—on the basis that providing decent standards would be a burden on British business. I think that British business understands that we now have a Government who subscribe to principles that are very different from those of the Opposition. I am happy for that difference in principles to define the difference between the Government and the Opposition. I hope that the House will reject the Conservative motion and pass the regulations.
§ Mr. Christopher Gill (Ludlow)
This is a very short debate, and I shall therefore make my speech a very brief one. The hon. Member for Hull, West and Hessle (Mr. Johnson) said that he was speaking in this debate more in sorrow than in anger. I speak in the debate in anger. I am very angry, on three counts—not least of which is the fact that the Government did not give the House an opportunity to debate the regulations before they came into effect on 1 October 1998.
Before I tabled early-day motion 1637, on 30 July 1998—effectively the last full working day before the summer recess—I checked with the Table Office to obtain a copy of the regulations. By mid-afternoon on that day, the regulations were still not available, although there was a hint that they might be available the following Friday morning. Such a situation is simply unacceptable. We are dealing not with run-of-the-mill regulations but with a very significant and expensive measure indeed.
The Government have acted disgracefully on the regulations. They could have made parliamentary time available to debate the regulations if they had wanted to. They failed to do so, and have thus shown their contempt for Parliament.
The second point that makes me angry is the fact that the Government, because of their handling of the regulations, have gratuitously imposed a huge cost burden on British industry. The hon. Member for Hull, West and Hessle has his own perspective on the matter, but that perspective is not shared by employers who are trying to run businesses in an increasingly competitive world.
I remind the hon. Member for Hull, West and Hessle of the new costs that will be imposed on British business. In the first full year, the costs will be £1.9 billion. In 12 223 months' time—because of the additional week's paid leave coming into effect—that £1.9 billion will increase to £2.3 billion. But the costs will not end there. According to the cost compliance statement, at paragraph 3.26 of annexe E3 of the consultation paper:It is assumed that the total cost of enforcing the Working Time Regulations could fall in the range £63.5-£6.3 million.That cost deals only with enforcing the regulations.
Paragraph 3.27 states:It is assumed that the enforcement of the Working Time Regulations could increase the industrial tribunals workload by an additional 3,000–6,000 industrial tribunal cases per annum.It goes on:It is estimated that the enforcement of the Working Time Regulations could increase the workload of the HSE"—the Health and Safety Executive—by between 10 and 25 per cent.The Government must be aware of all those factors. They must be aware of the huge burden of cost and bureaucracy that they are imposing on employers. Conservatives are certainly acutely conscious of those things, and we are determined to do all that we can to help employers remain competitive by opposing the regulations.
The effect of the regulations on this nation's competitive edge will be devastating. It is all very well for the Secretary of State, who is no longer in his place, to tell British industry to sharpen up its act and improve productivity. I can tell him that what British industry needs is help, not hectoring.
I shall give just one example from the real world of trade and industry to illustrate my point. The sawmilling industry is facing a grave crisis. In England and Wales, 22 mills have between them shed 485 workers. In the harvesting industry, approximately—
§ Mr. Alan Johnson
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I understand that the hon. Member for Ludlow (Mr. Gill) has registered shareholdings in a company but has not declared that fact in the debate; surely he should have done so at the beginning of his contribution.
§ Mr. Gill
My interests are well known, and they are of course declared in the Register of Members' Interests.
My point is that 22 companies in the timber industry in England and Wales have shed 485 jobs, which is leading to a further 100 job losses in the harvesting industry. The hon. Member for Hull, West and Hessle (Mr. Johnson) should know that that is because we are competing with countries that can provide us with timber very much more competitively. In Latvia, which is providing so much of that timber and putting British sawmills out of business, 224 wages are not £3.60 an hour, or the minimum wage, but £2 a day. What are we doing in the face of that competition?
§ Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham)
My hon. Friend said that there were three reasons for his anger, and he was just about to tell us the third. I suggest that there is a fourth reason, which is the lack of clarity in the regulations themselves, especially with regard to the definition of working time and whether it extends to long travel periods. If people travel to the far east on their employers' business, does that fall within the definition of working time? Does my hon. Friend agree that that is simply not clear from the documentation?
§ Mr. Gill
My right hon. and learned Friend draws attention to a very important point. Industry feels that all these matters should have been clarified in advance of the publication of the regulations. The point that I was making, with which I am sure my right hon. and learned Friend agrees, was that the regulations were not available before they were implemented. As he knows, they came into effect on 1 October, but only now do we have an opportunity to debate how they might affect our industries. The Government's view is that cases such as that which my right hon. and learned Friend instanced will have to be tested in the courts.
The third reason why I am angry is that the Government went to Amsterdam and simply caved in over the regulations. Before the election, the Conservative Government had challenged the legal base of the working time directive in the European Court of Justice, arguing that it was not a genuine health and safety measure. The Court ruled against the United Kingdom on 12 November 1996. My right hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) then sought a reversal of that decision at the intergovernmental conference that led up to Amsterdam, and threatened not to sign the treaty unless that was agreed. That is an example of the Conservative Government trying to get the best possible deal out of the European Union. What have this Government done? As soon as they were elected, they went to Amsterdam, caved in and accepted the regulations in toto.
I promised to be brief, so I conclude by saying—to the Minister of State, the hon. Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney) in particular—that we need answers to three questions. Why did not the Government provide an 225 opportunity for Parliament to debate the measures before they were put into effect? Does he not understand the devastating effect of placing a huge burden of overhead costs on British industry? Finally, why did the Government go belly up? Why did they cave in in Europe instead of getting a quid pro quo for their acquiescence to the regulations before us?
§ Maria Eagle (Liverpool, Garston)
I am glad to have the opportunity that the hon. Member for Ludlow (Mr. Gill) would not give me to respond to what he said. He cited the example of the timber industry in Latvia—I do not know whether he is involved in that industry—to show that our competitors are paying workers in the saw mills as little as £2 a day. Is he suggesting that the only way that industry in this country can compete is by paying such wages? That is what he seems to be suggesting.
§ Mr. Gill
The hon. Lady knows perfectly well that that is not what I was suggesting. I was telling the House, especially Labour Members, that, if the Government continue to load British industry with overhead costs that are avoidable, they will make British business uncompetitive. My concern, although it might not be the hon. Lady's, is that that will put British people out of work.
§ Maria Eagle
I am grateful for that clarification, but the hon. Gentleman does not seem to understand the logic of his own argument. If employers in this country are paying massive wages, as he seemed to suggest, and if our competitors are paying their workers only £ a day, it does not matter what other burdens businesses endure. The Opposition's argument is that we should be competing on the basis of the lowest possible wages and the worst possible conditions.
I congratulate the Government on implementing the working time directive. We are talking about decent minimum standards at work. We are not talking about giving people 10 or 12 weeks' holiday but about giving them three weeks' paid leave. That is not an excessive amount of leave to expect in a working year. We are talking about rest breaks that guarantee 20 minutes' rest, not one or two hours, if people work more than six hours. We are talking about the right not to work more than 48 hours a week unless one agrees to do so. We are also talking about people having the right to one day off a week.
Those provisions are not excessive, and I have not met one business man in my constituency—I talk to many regularly—who thinks that they are. It is clear from the regulations that there are derogations, and opportunities for people who wish to work longer hours to agree to do so. However, we are talking about the basic minimum standards at work which people should expect in a civilised society.
The right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) cited the example of a nursing home. Does he not think that care workers will be ground down by their job if they do not have holidays and the right to a day off?
§ Mr. Redwood
My question on the nursing home was whether, given that what the hon. Lady regards as a 226 desirable improvement will be introduced, the Government will pay for it. They must, or people will not get the care they need.
§ Maria Eagle
People will not get the care they need if the work force who are providing that care do not have holidays, cannot afford to take any time off and are being ground into stress-related illness. What are the costs of that? The right hon. Gentleman has made no reference to that.
What we have heard from Opposition Members tonight are further symptoms of their Gradgrind approach to industrial relations. They think that employees can be motivated to work for a living only by threats and big sticks such as fear of dismissal and lousy conditions at work. Anyone who has ever worked in the private sector, as I have, knows that the best way to motivate people at work is to lead by example and have team working and fair treatment. We are talking about basic decency—nobody should object to that.
I have a number of world-class companies in my constituency, including Glaxo Wellcome, Eli Lilley, Medeva Pharma and Ford Jaguar. I regularly meet their representatives, and I often ask them what is the most important reason for their success. Pharmaceutical companies in my constituency were in desperate trouble in the 1980s and almost closed. Unlike 25 per cent. of manufacturing industry in Liverpool, which closed in the first 18 months of Tory government—from 1979 to 1981—those companies managed to stay afloat. When I asked them how they did so, they said that it depended overwhelmingly on the commitment, time and effort of their staff. They accept, as does any decent employer, that one gets those results from people not by grinding their noses into the dirt but by treating them well, taking account of what they think, motivating them and having team working. That is the way of the future, but the Tories have not yet accepted that.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Hull, West and Hessle (Mr. Johnson), who has extensive experience in this field. He said that the Conservatives are living in the past. The Tory legacy shows why the regulations are needed. There are 2.5 million working people in this country who have fewer than three weeks' paid leave a year, an amount which is a basic decency. There are 2.7 million employees who usually work more than 48 hours a week. People cannot do that for long periods without suffering an impact on their health.
§ Mr. Phil Hope (Corby)
I draw my hon. Friend's attention to the fact that we shall need to be very vigilant when implementing the working time directive. I have information concerning an unscrupulous employment agency operating in my constituency. One of the people employed by the agency has been advised that, if she does not sign an agreement, she will lose her job. That is clearly an attempt by an unscrupulous agency to bypass the regulations, which are designed to protect workers' rights. We must be ceaselessly vigilant to ensure that such agencies are brought to book.
§ Maria Eagle
My hon. Friend is right. There are examples in other industries of people who have been put under duress to sign opt-outs. Once the regulations have been implemented and the Government have had an opportunity to monitor their implementation, they should 227 consider whether duress is being placed on workers to make them opt out. If there is evidence of duress, the Government should ensure that it does not continue.
The sawmill sector has already been referred to. I have an interest in the print trade because my father used to work in it. There are examples in that, trade of federations of employers, such as the Paper Federation and the Corrugated Packaging Federation, amicably reaching agreements with the Graphical, Paper and Media Union for implementing the regulations. That is the way forward. Good employers recognise, as do good employees, that the regulations set basic minimum standards. We should congratulate the Government on implementing them, and we should make sure that bad employers who do not implement them are pursued.
§ 8.3 pm
§ Mr. David Chidgey (Eastleigh)
I shall be brief because I know that other hon. Members want to contribute to the debate. My colleagues and I support the principles behind the working time regulations because we believe that sensible, well-designed regulations that preserve individual choice and guarantee minimum working conditions are an essential part of a modern industrial democracy.
We disagree with the Government on the manner in which the regulations have been introduced. These ground-breaking regulations are controversial in some sectors of the economy. Industry, commerce and the unions have concerns and fears about the way in which they will be implemented. All those issues could have been dealt with in a proper debate in Parliament at the right time. That is why I introduced early-day motion 1601 not at the end of the Session, but on 23 July 1998, with a full week left before the recess. Sadly, there was no response from the Government.
I have always understood that statutory instruments are used when it is necessary to introduce non-controversial legislation that does not require full debate in Parliament. We know that these regulations are controversial and that industry and commerce have concerns about them. The Government should have made the effort to have a proper debate in Parliament before the regulations were introduced. Many of the problems highlighted by industry and commerce could have been dealt with, and Ministers could have provided clarification in the proper forum. That would have helped the implementation of the regulations to proceed more smoothly.
Officials in the Department of Trade and Industry are still unable to answer basic questions about how the regulations should be implemented. What is working time? What is travel time? The classic example is when one is asked to go from London to a meeting in Edinburgh. If one takes the overnight sleeper to arrive in Edinburgh for a morning meeting, is the travelling part of working time or is it one's own time?
§ Mr. Chidgey
There is little time left and I must continue.
Another example is when one is asked to take a client out for lunch or dinner. Is that entertainment in one's own time or is it working time? I hope that the Minister can clarify those issues. He must be aware of them. I am sure 228 that many people have taken him out for lunch and asked him whether they are working or entertaining him. I mean that in the nicest possible way; I do not want to comment on his figure—perhaps there is another reason for that.
The hon. Member for Corby (Mr. Hope) said that agency workers were exploited and told that they would lose their jobs. There is now an obligation on agencies to provide their workers with paid holidays. I agree with that measure, but it has a knock-on effect. Are employers who currently take on agency workers on long-term contracts prepared to recognise the additional costs that the agencies will have to bear through fixed-price contracts? Will they renegotiate? My worry is that Government Departments that use agency workers are reluctant to accommodate the increased costs faced by bona fide good agencies.
I shall give some examples of concerns in my constituency related to whether industries are able to claim exemptions. Eastleigh has three major bakeries serving the region. The baking industry has a long tradition of night working. I am told that it is essential, in order to keep the baking process running on a 24-hour basis to produce the goods that serve the community. I add that night workers in my constituency are not being exploited or coerced into working night shifts, which are well established. Eastleigh has only 3 per cent. unemployment, which, statistically, is zero unemployment, so people are not being forced into those jobs. Will the baking industry be exempt?
§ Mrs. Ray Michie (Argyll and Bute)
My hon. Friend has referred to bakeries, but very little has been said about the fishing industry. We have established that the industry has exemptions, but the Minister said that they were negotiated separately. We need clarification about whether those negotiations have been completed and whether it is absolutely certain that self-employed share fishermen will be exempt. They cannot stick to inflexible working hours when they are doing dangerous fishing work and competing with the elements.
§ Mr. Chidgey
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. I am sure that the Minister will respond to it.
Those who want to be able not to work on Sundays are concerned that the 14-day contract laws will weaken their position. Perhaps the Minister will clarify that.
There is confusion among those who will have to work and abide by the regulations. Apart from the need for clarification, the main concern is that unscrupulous employers have the opportunity to find loopholes in the legislation. We have already heard some examples. I have heard of employees being threatened that their contracts will be reviewed and their pay and conditions changed if they do not sign up to an exemption from the 48-hour rule. Many people are employed on conditions that say that they will work for more than 48 hours a week. What will happen to them if they sign up to working 48 hours? Will pay cuts be imposed on them? That is not what we want.
I know of one employer who has suddenly changed the calendar. As far as he is concerned, his employees now work on a 54-week year. That is a neat way of reducing the hours worked per week to less than 48.
There is muddle, confusion and ambiguity. I do not want the regulations to create a field day for lawyers. We have already heard predictions of a spate of 229 industrial tribunal cases. We do not know how tribunals will react. I am concerned that many firms legitimately trying to operate the regulations correctly could find that they have unintentionally broken the law. We support sensible, clear working time regulations, but the Government have a long way to go to address the genuine concerns of those who will have to operate them.
I would appreciate more guidance from the Minister on how the regulations should be implemented and how the concerns will be addressed. If he cannot do that tonight, I should like a commitment to providing additional information to help people to follow the law.
§ Mr. Bill Rammell (Harlow)
The working time directive is an important step in creating a fairer, safer and more productive workplace, based on partnership rather than conflict and exploitation. In that spirit of partnership, it is important to make it clear that employees have the right to work beyond 48 hours if they want. We have heard tosh and nonsense from the shadow Secretary of State about the hours that the Speakers or Members of Parliament work. That is an erroneous point.
I am not a dewy-eyed romantic who believes that workers and trade unionists are never wrong. Before the election, I was a senior manager in the public sector and had direct responsibility for some low-paid employees. I understand the frustration caused by the need for adaptability and flexibility in the workplace. However, that adaptability and flexibility needs to be underpinned by a shared commitment and enthusiasm.
In government, the Conservatives rejected that balance and fairness. Their track record in the 1980s was one of dismantling legislation that provided protection for working people, particularly on working hours. The message this evening from the Conservatives is that in no circumstances can social costs borne by an employer to comply with legislation be justified, yet even the Tory party acknowledges that in certain circumstances, employment legislation is necessary—on health and safety and the right to go to an industrial tribunal.
If the principle that there are circumstances in which it is legitimate to have employment legislation is accepted, the issue at stake is how much legal protection for employees is compatible with the need for flexibility, greater productivity and the desire to create jobs. That should be the subject of a mature debate, not the knockabout party posturing that we have heard in the House this evening. The Conservatives are saying that any regulation in the workplace is wrong.
I am not saying that we should return to some of the restrictive practices of the past. However, the pendulum swung too far in favour of the employer against the needs of the employee in the 1980s.
§ Mr. John Smith (Vale of Glamorgan)
Does my hon. Friend recognise that that pendulum swung back further in some regions than in others? The terms and conditions of employment in Wales are among the worst in the United Kingdom. The proposal will be welcome in the Principality.
§ Mr. Rammell
Some regions suffered more than others, and the measure will be welcome. 230 The working time directive must be judged on the balance between the need for the measure and the extent to which it may have adverse consequences. There is certainly a need. Britain works the longest hours in Europe. There is evidence from the CBI that absenteeism in the workplace costs £25 billion a year. The health risks of long working hours are well documented. There are many costs to family life and other factors that need to be taken into account.
Given all those adverse consequences, we have to ask whether long hours bring higher productivity. The answer is emphatically no. We work the longest hours in Europe, yet our productivity levels are far worse than those of Japan, the USA, France and Germany. There is evidence from the engineering industry in the early 1980s that a negotiated reduction in working hours can lead to higher productivity and the creation of further jobs.
Finally, I should like to deal briefly with some of the arguments by the Conservatives this evening. We have been accused of sneaking the legislation out. How can we sneak out a measure that we said explicitly in our manifesto that we intended to deliver? We are accused of caving in to the European Commission. How can we cave in on a measure that we have advocated and said that we intend to implement? That is nonsense. The Conservatives have put forward a series of contradictions. It is just party posturing. We have heard a lot about job losses. If the shadow Secretary of State has any evidence that any of the job losses that we have heard about recently are directly attributable to the 48-hour working week, he should stand up now and justify his comments. He cannot, because he has no evidence.
The measure is about fairness, partnership and creating the conditions for higher productivity. I welcome the fact that the Government are bringing it forward.
§ Mr. John Gummer Suffolk, Coastal)
When such a change is proposed, it is first reasonable to ask that the House should have time to discuss it before it is put into operation. I do not find many of the extreme arguments about the measure persuasive, but our ability to discuss the issue is important.
Secondly, if we are to have such legislation, it should be introduced in as user-friendly a way as possible. As hon. Members on both sides know, many people around the country have found the way in which the legislation is being implemented confusing and less user-friendly than it could have been.
Thirdly, while I am not suggesting that the Government should change their view—they fought an election on the issue—I wonder whether they could have argued in the European Community for lighter regulation, even in the areas in which there might have been disagreement between us.
Fourthly, I wonder whether the Government have betrayed their cause. They say that the legislation will not be as onerous as the Conservatives have suggested, because, just as the minimum wage is so low that it has caused great criticism outside, they have made sure that the working time directive has many exemptions. What have we heard from the Liberals? They have asked for exemptions for group after group. If the principle is right, it is extremely difficult to understand why we must rush in to stipulate this exemption or that exemption.
231 In general, I do not find any objections to the working time proposals; they are perfectly reasonable. I object to the fact that they are enshrined in legislation and regulations that will impose considerable extra cost on business. I do not worry too much about extra costs that result in people getting a better deal. I worry about the extra costs that the Government impose; they are expensive.
Such extra costs are being imposed in areas where there is no possibility of recompense. My right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) referred to local authorities. He was—I hope, not purposely—misunderstood by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Garston (Maria Eagle). He was saying that, if costs rise as a result of the directive, for reasons with which the hon. Lady would be happy, the local authority that has to pay the extra cost of placing old and vulnerable people in nursing homes must either receive more money from the Government or be able to place fewer old and vulnerable people. There may well be a very good answer to this problem; I am sure that the Minister will give it.
I do not understand why we have not had a proper debate before now, so that the reasonable worries and criticisms of people like myself, who are perfectly moderate on the issue, have no antagonism toward the European Union and think that, in general, such directives are not quite as dreadful as they sometimes seem, can be met. It is another example of the House being bypassed—as it has been on almost every issue. That is why I intervened on the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry when he was in the Chamber for a short period. The Government think that the way in which to do business is to speak to the press and not to Parliament. In that way, the view given to the public is not the one that Parliament has debated, but the one that is spun to the press.
We are a parliamentary democracy. Those of us who believe in parliamentary democracy, even if we are not overwhelmed by this subject, must stand up time and again to demand that the House debates such questions, so that it takes the decisions and is able to help the Government to be a better Government. The press will not help this Government to be a better Government, but the Opposition can if there are debates rather than periods of an hour and a half in which the matter is not sufficiently discussed.
§ The Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Mr. Ian McCartney)
I shall try my best in the time available to answer the questions of right hon. and hon. Members. I give a commitment that I will write to them on the specific points that I do not answer in my speech.
I shall first deal with the question of the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mrs. Michie) about share fishermen. The issue will be the subject of consultation with the industry. We shall make submissions based on the appropriateness of any measure to specific industries. We did of course exempt share fishermen from the national minimum wage on the basis that they are self-employed. I hope that that assists the hon. Lady. Following consultation on all possible excluded sectors, the Government will make proposals in a way that meets the needs of particular industries.
232 If the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Mr. Chidgey), who raised the issue of bakers, does not mind my saying so, he cannot have his cake and eat it. He cannot on the one hand say that he supports the proposals and on the other say that he wants this or that to be excluded. The baking industry is covered by the regulations.
The right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) raised questions in respect of the House and its staff. His comments about the Speaker seemed flippant, given that the holder of that office is not covered by a contract of employment. The staff of both Houses of Parliament are covered by the proposals.
The right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) raised questions about parliamentary scrutiny. As a member of the previous Government, he will know that, in 1972, the then Conservative Government passed the European Communities Act, which provides for European directives to be implemented by statutory instrument. All directives, including this one, have been scrutinised by the Select Committee on European Legislation. There has been public consultation on implementation—of two directives, if the previous consultation conducted by the Conservative Administration counts. [Interruption.] I am not running away from the debate. Indeed, 1 am absolutely delighted that we can debate these issues.
§ Mr. McCartney:
The Government are very proud of the fact that, within 18 months of coming to power, they have ensured that 3 million workers in Britain who did not get a holiday will receive one. Protection is being introduced.
The speech of the right hon. Member for Wokingham was hysterical. It was mostly trivia, and came from a member of a previous Government under whom a business went bust every three minutes, and 10 million people in England alone were unemployed at least once. Yet now he comes to the Dispatch Box and tries to trivialise issues around fairness in the workplace. The debate, and his 25-minute tirade, explain why Labour Members sit on the Government Benches and the Tories are in opposition.
§ Mr. McCartney
Listen first of all!
The debate has highlighted the different values of the parties: exploitation versus fairness, no respect versus respect, hire-and-fire culture versus partnership, bad employers versus good employers. The right hon. Gentleman used to work for Baroness Thatcher, who once coined the phrase that there was no such thing as community. He has coined another phrase: there is no such thing as fairness in the workplace. He said clearly that the Conservative party is on the side of poor employment practice. He should answer whether, at the next election, his party would remove the rights that this directive provides for many millions of British workers.
§ Mr. Redwood
I made it very clear that the Conservative party wants rising standards at work and 233 better quality of employment. We have our ways of achieving that, which happen to be different from those of the Government. I repeat the question that the Minister does not want to answer. Given that better standards of work in nursing homes will cost money, will the Government pay for those better standards or throw old people on the street?
§ Mr. McCartney
The Government have put £21 billion extra into health and social care, which were underfunded by the previous Government, who created a crisis in both public and private sector community care. The right hon. Gentleman argues that vulnerable elderly people, disabled people and young children with special needs should be looked after by a work force who are falling on their knees through tiredness from working excessive hours. What a scandal!
§ Mr. McCartney
No, I will not give way. The right hon. Gentleman had 25 minutes to speak. He berates the Government but he cannot take the truth when we set it out. The argument he put before the House is quite clear: he would support employers in the care sector who exploit their workers to the point that proper medical and social care needs are put at risk.
This Government believe in fairness. We believe that workers should enjoy basic protection against exploitation by unscrupulous employers. We recognise the fundamental imbalance in the relationship between worker and employer in the workplace where, on some occasions, workers need support. I thank my hon. Friends who have participated in the debate. In their short speeches, they have set out clearly why the legislation is necessary.
We recognise that providing such protection is not necessary for the majority of employees, but that such protection must apply to workers equally. It is important that good employers should not be undercut by bad ones who profit by exploiting their workers. That is not good for competitiveness or the United Kingdom in the long run.
In government, Conservative Members tried to create a Britain that was the sweatshop capital of Europe. We want to be the investment and production centre of Europe, based on high standards. We are therefore committed to creating a flexible labour market that is underpinned by fair minimum standards. The first step was the national minimum wage legislation; implementation of the proposals in the White Paper "Fairness at Work" will follow. Implementation of the working time directive represents another major stepping stone.
The regulations provide seven new rights. No worker can be forced to work more than an average of 48 hours a week. There is a right to paid annual leave of three weeks, rising to four weeks. Would the right hon. Member for Wokingham and his colleagues withdraw that right from the 3 million workers who will benefit from it for the first time? Will there be a wage cut under the Tories, as they withdraw the minimum wage and paid holidays?
234 There are rights to rest breaks during the working day. There are rights to rest periods from work, including the right to a day off a week. My God, who would object to someone having a day off a week? [HON. MEMBERS: "They would."] Only the Conservatives. There is special protection for night workers, including a right to health assessments. There is special protection for young workers. Moreover, there is protection from unfair dismissal or detriment for asserting those rights.
The Working Time Regulations 1998 provide protection for the most vulnerable workers and enable them to enjoy rights similar to those that the majority of workers in the United Kingdom and the rest of Europe already have. About 90 per cent. of workers in this country already have paid annual leave. Why are the Tories campaigning to prevent the other 10 per cent. having the same rights?
It takes the biscuit when the right hon. Member for Wokingham argues for 25 minutes against the proposals when he has had, typically, 16 weeks leave this year, paid for by the British taxpayer.
§ Mr. McCartney
I shall take some examples of cases of the type that the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues believe should not be helped. A lady writes to me:My husband works for a large medical company and has for the past 2 years worked on average 51 hours a week. During this period he has been off sick twice through stress and exploitation".A contract cleaner in Oxford wrote to the Prime Minister:I would like in due course, if it's within your power, that we should all have at least two weeks fully paid holiday a year"We have given her that commitment.
A lady from Sussex wrote to me about her daughter, who must work long hours and double shifts without proper breaks and is subjected to abuse by the manager. The regulations will combat such exploitation.
§ Mr. McCartney
The right hon. Gentleman does not like to hear the truth. As someone who was a member of a Government who could not tell the truth, he does not like to hear it.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Lord)
Order. The Minister has indicated that he will not give way at the moment.
§ Mr. McCartney
Oh, I can take it, all right; I am enjoying myself.
235 For the first time in a long time, we have a Government who are prepared to stand up for workers' rights against Conservative Members' bully-boy tactics. As we reach the end of the century, we cannot continue the long hours culture—long hours, low pay, low esteem. Employers do not want it; we do not want it. The only employers who want it are the employers who side with the Conservatives—those who want to exploit their work force for an advantage in the marketplace against other employers. This is not just a social issue; there is a strong business case for these proposals.
The right hon. Member for Wokingham spoke about costs. In the last year of the Conservative Government, the Confederation of British Industry estimated that £25 billion was lost to the economy as a result of unregulated absenteeism because of the sweatshop economy that the Conservatives controlled. Another £1.8 billion was lost as a result of high staff turnover—in sectors where the greatest number of jobs is lost due to low status and low morale.
The proposals before us will cut that huge loss to the British economy, and allow employers to compete on quality, but not by pursuing a downward spiral of wages and conditions. The Government are not the only ones who hold that opinion. The consultation was interesting. I quote the views of some employers.The Institute of Personnel and Development believes that the current proposals represent a significant improvement on those contained in the consultation document issued by the last Government. In many areas, the new document takes account of comments made …on issues that are important to the practicality of the Directive's provisions and their acceptability to both employers and employees.Manpower, a big agency employer, said:Most notable for us has been Peter Mandelson's recent arrangement concerning the Government's intentions to respect temporary workers. Giving them the minimum pay, the working time regulations and 'Fairness at Work' achieves a major step forward in establishing minimum standards across the UK work force.I could go on and on and on, quoting employers who support the proposals.
§ Mr. McCartney
No; I am not giving way.
Following the consultation, small business employers telephoned the Department, expressing their pleasure that at last they would compete on a level playing field, instead of against employers who undercut them by exploiting their work force. Good employers in this country overwhelmingly support the proposals.
The right hon. Member for Wokingham spoke about record keeping. There are no over-burdensome bureaucratic record-keeping requirements. Employers need not keep records for entitlements to paid annual leave, rest breaks, daily rest or weekly rest. They need not monitor and record every hour that a worker works. They merely have to be able to show that they have complied with the limits, and how they do so is up to them. [Laughter.] Many employers[Interruption.] Hon. Members should listen. Many employers already have records showing the hours that their workers have worked, and that relates to their normal business practice.
236 The Health and Safety Executive has said that, in other circumstances, it would be sufficient to have robust management systems that can show when workers are in danger of working close to the limit, and so take steps to monitor those workers more closely.
§ Mr. McCartney
There is a slight anomaly—a requirement of the directive that hourly records be kept for workers who have agreed to work in excess of the 48-hour weekly working time limit. However, I make it perfectly clear that that is the result of the previous Government's woeful and bungled negotiations in 1993. If anyone is responsible for imposing unnecessary red tape on business, it is the Conservative party, because the Conservatives carried out the negotiations before the general election.
§ Mr. McCartney
I shall make a few points on the timing of implementation of the regulations. Some recent comments—
§ Mr. Ian Bruce
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Clearly, the Minister is concerned about the time limits that have been artificially set on the debate. Our normal working time in the House continues until 10 o'clock. Do you have any power, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to allow the debate to continue until 10 o'clock, so that we may vote at our usual time, and so that the Minister may give way in the usual fashion?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
The length of the debate is regulated by Standing Order. The hon. Gentleman is only wasting more time.
§ Mr. McCartney
The hon. Gentleman also took up time at the start of the debate in fruitless points of order.
I should like to make a few points in relation to the timing of the implementation. Some recent comments make me wonder whether some Conservative Members have been asleep for the past 18 months. The working time directive is no secret that has been sprung on an unsuspecting world. The directive was agreed under the previous Government in 1993. It was due to be implemented by November 1996. However, all the previous Government did was try to buy time, leaving business uncertain, and spending taxpayers' money on futile attempts in the European Court to prevent the implementation of the directive.
What were the Tories preventing being implemented? Basic minimum standards for 3 million workers in Britain to have the right occasionally to say to their employer, "I am not working 80 or 90 hours a week. I want a break; I want a rest. I think that I am entitled, at the end of the century, to some holiday pay." That is what the previous Government tried to prevent by using taxpayers' money in a court case.
237 Belatedly, at the end of 1996, forced and humiliated by the European Court, the previous Government issued a vague consultation document that made the situation no clearer. It has been left to the present Government to sort out the mess that they left us. We said in our manifesto that we would implement the directive. The timetable for implementation was announced to Parliament in February. We consulted on detailed proposals, including draft regulations, in April. The finalised regulations were laid before Parliament on 30 July, and came into force on 1 October.
It should be remembered that the implementation directive is already two years overdue because of the incompetence of the previous Government. We all know that the Conservatives, as has been confirmed tonight, do not want people in Britain to be rewarded with proper rest and paid holidays. During the debate, an Opposition Member advocated pay of £2 a day to replace the national minimum wage.
As a legacy of the previous Government, there are workers in Britain who must work 100 hours a week for minimal rates of pay. The working time directive, alongside the national minimum wage, will start to end the cycle of deprivation and exploitation in the work force. The Government are committed to a positive relationship with Europe and take their treaty responsibilities seriously. It has been necessary to take prompt action to rectify the neglect of the previous Administration.
There has recently been correspondence from hon. Members expressing concern about the so-called 12-day working week. I shall clarify the matter now. It is totally misleading to suggest that the regulations diminish the rights of workers or place them in a more vulnerable position in terms of "Sunday Special" arrangements. The regulations include a right to a day off a week, which may be averaged over a period of two weeks. That is a new right. Workers had no such right to a day off until 1 October this year. Therefore, I fail to see how the arrangement could do anything but improve the lot of workers
The right to a day off may be averaged over a period of two weeks to allow flexibility and avoid unnecessary burdens on business. In most cases, rest will be taken on a weekly basis, but certain industries require differing and fluctuating work patterns that are not conducive to such a standardised arrangement. That flexible approach received widespread support in the responses to the consultation on the draft regulations.
The Government believe that the regulations provide minimum fair standards of protection for workers exploited by unscrupulous employers. Such rights have been denied to workers in this country for far too long. That is due to the Opposition, who continue to try to deny others the rights that they enjoy, such as paid leave. here has been ample time for consideration of the measure. I hope that the House will support me in opposing the motion.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
The hour and a half is very nearly up. If the mover of the motion had chosen to 238 respond at the end of the debate, that would be in order. The Minister has responded to the debate and I am about to put the Question.
§ Mr. Redwood
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I allowed my hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset (Mr. Bruce) to intervene. He has been present for the entire debate and had important points to make, but he has been squeezed out by the Minister. I would regard it as a great courtesy if he were able to make his points.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
I have already pointed out that it must be the mover of the motion who responds to the debate on that motion.
§ Question put:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 129, Noes 358.241
|Division No. 368]||[8.43 pm|
|Amess, David||Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman|
|Ancram, Rt Hon Michael||Fox, Dr Liam|
|Arbuthnot, Rt Hon James||Gale, Roger|
|Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)||Garnier, Edward|
|Bercow, John||Gibb, Nick|
|Beresford, Sir Paul||Gill, Christopher|
|Blunt, Crispin||Gillan, Mrs Cheryl|
|Body, Sir Richard||Gorman, Mrs Teresa|
|Boswell, Tim||Gray, James|
|Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W)||Green, Damian|
|Bottomley, Rt Hon Mrs Virginia||Greenway, John|
|Brady, Graham||Grieve, Dominic|
|Brazier, Julian||Gummer, Rt Hon John|
|Brooke, Rt Hon Peter||Hammond, Philip|
|Browning, Mrs Angela||Hawkins, Nick|
|Bruce, Ian (S Dorset)||Hayes, John|
|Burns, Simon||Heald, Oliver|
|Butterfill, John||Heathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon David|
|Cash, William||Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas|
|Chapman, Sir Sydney (Chipping Barnet)||Horam, John|
|Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot)|
|Chope, Christopher||Hunter, Andrew|
|Clappison, James||Jack, Rt Hon Michael|
|Clark, Dr Michael (Rayleigh)||Jenkin, Bernard|
|Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey||Johnson Smith, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey|
|Colvin, Michael||Key, Robert|
|Cormack, Sir Patrick||King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)|
|Cran, James||Laing, Mrs Eleanor|
|Curry, Rt Hon David||Lait, Mrs Jacqui|
|Davies, Quentin (Grantham)||Lansley, Andrew|
|Day, Stephen||Leigh, Edward|
|Duncan, Alan||Letwin, Oliver|
|Duncan Smith, Iain||Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E)|
|Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter||Lidington, David|
|Evans, Nigel||Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)|
|Faber, David||Loughton, Tim|
|Fabricant, Michael||Luff, Peter|
|Flight, Howard||MacGregor, Rt Hon John|
|Forth, Rt Hon Eric||McIntosh, Miss Anne|
|Maclean, Rt Hon David||Steen, Anthony|
|McLoughlin, Patrick||Streeter, Gary|
|Major, Rt Hon John||Swayne, Desmond|
|Malins, Humfrey||Syms, Robert|
|Mawhinney, Rt Hon Sir Brian||Tapsell, Sir Peter|
|May, Mrs Theresa||Taylor, Ian (Esher & Walton)|
|Moss, Malcolm||Taylor, John M (Solihull)|
|Nicholls, Patrick||Taylor, Sir Teddy|
|Norman, Archie||Townend, John|
|Ottaway, Richard||Tredinnick, David|
|Page, Richard||Trend, Michael|
|Paice, James||Tyrie, Andrew|
|Paterson, Owen||Walter, Robert|
|Pickles, Eric||Waterson, Nigel|
|Prior, David||Whitney, Sir Raymond|
|Randall, John||Widdecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann|
|Redwood, Rt Hon John||Wilkinson, John|
|Robathan, Andrew||Willetts, David|
|Robertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry)||Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)|
|Rowe, Andrew (Faversham)||Winterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)|
|Ruffley, David||Woodward, Shaun|
|St Aubyn, Nick||Yeo, Tim|
|Shephard, Rt Hon Mrs Gillian||Young, Rt Hon Sir George|
|Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)|
|Spicer, Sir Michael||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Spring, Richard||Sir David Madel and Mrs. Caroline Spelman.|
|Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John|
|Abbott, Ms Diane||Caborn, Richard|
|Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley N)||Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth)|
|Ainger, Nick||Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)|
|Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)||Campbell, Menzies (NE Fife)|
|Alexander, Douglas||Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)|
|Allan, Richard||Campbell-Savours, Dale|
|Allen, Graham||Canavan, Dennis|
|Anderson, Janet (Rossendale)||Caplin, Ivor|
|Armstrong, Ms Hilary||Casale, Roger|
|Ashton, Joe||Caton, Martin|
|Atkins, Charlotte||Chaytor, David|
|Austin, John||Chidgey, David|
|Baker, Norman||Chisholm, Malcolm|
|Banks, Tony||Clapham, Michael|
|Barnes, Harry||Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields)|
|Barron, Kevin||Clark, Dr Lynda|
|Bayley, Hugh||(Edinburgh Pentlands)|
|Beard, Nigel||Clark, Paul (Gillingham)|
|Begg, Miss Anne||Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)|
|Beggs, Roy||Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge)|
|Beith, Rt Hon A J||Clelland, David|
|Bell, Martin (Tatton)||Clwyd, Ann|
|Bell, Stuart (Middlesbrough)||Coaker, Vernon|
|Benn, Rt Hon Tony||Coffey, Ms Ann|
|Bennett, Andrew F||Cohen, Harry|
|Benton, Joe||Coleman, Iain|
|Bermingham, Gerald||Colman, Tony|
|Berry, Roger||Connarty, Michael|
|Best, Harold||Cook, Frank (Stockton N)|
|Betts, Clive||Cook, Rt Hon Robin (Livingston)|
|Blears, Ms Hazel||Cooper, Yvette|
|Blizzard, Bob||Corbett, Robin|
|Boateng, Paul||Cotter, Brian|
|Borrow, David||Cousins, Jim|
|Bradley, Keith (Withington)||Cranston, Ross|
|Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin)||Crausby, David|
|Bradshaw, Ben||Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley)|
|Brand, Dr Peter||Cryer, John (Hornchurch)|
|Brinton, Mrs Helen||Cummings, John|
|Brown, Rt Hon Nick (Newcastle E)||Cunliffe, Lawrence|
|Brown, Russell (Dumfries)||Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr Jack (Copeland)|
|Buck, Ms Karen||Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)|
|Burden, Richard||Cunningham, Ms Roseanna (Perth)|
|Butler, Mrs Christine|
|Byers, Rt Hon Stephen||Dalyell, Tam|
|Darvill, Keith||Jenkins, Brian|
|Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)||Johnson, Alan (Hull W& Hessle)|
|Davidson, Ian||Johnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield)|
|Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)|
|Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H)||Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)|
|Dawson, Hilton||Jones, Mrs Fiona (Newark)|
|Dean, Mrs Janet||Jones, Helen (Warrington N)|
|Dismore, Andrew||Jones, Ms Jenny (Wolverh'ton SW)|
|Donohoe, Brian H|
|Doran, Frank||Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)|
|Dowd, Jim||Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak)|
|Drew, David||Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)|
|Drown, Ms Julia||Jowell, Ms Tessa|
|Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)||Keeble, Ms Sally|
|Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)||Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston)|
|Edwards, Huw||Keen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth)|
|Efford, Clive||Keetch, Paul|
|Ellman, Mrs Louise||Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree)|
|Ennis, Jeff||Khabra, Piara S|
|Ewing, Mrs Margaret||Kidney, David|
|Fatchett, Derek||Kilfoyle, Peter|
|Fearn, Ronnie||King, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green)|
|Field, Rt Hon Frank||Kingham, Ms Tess|
|Fitzpatrick, Jim||Kumar, Dr Ashok|
|Fitzsimons, Lorna||Ladyman, Dr Stephen|
|Flint, Caroline||Lawrence, Ms Jackie|
|Follett, Barbara||Laxton, Bob|
|Foster, Rt Hon Derek||Lepper, David|
|Foster, Michael J (Worcester)||Leslie, Christopher|
|Foulkes, George||Levitt, Tom|
|Fyfe, Maria||Lewis, Ivan (Bury S)|
|Galloway, George||Lewis, Terry (Worsley)|
|Gapes, Mike||Linton, Martin|
|Gardiner, Barry||Livingstone, Ken|
|Gerrard, Neil||Livsey, Richard|
|Gilroy, Mrs Linda||Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C)|
|Godman, Dr Norman A||Llwyd, Elfyn|
|Goggins, Paul||Lock, David|
|Golding, Mrs Llin||McAllion, John|
|Gordon, Mrs Eileen||McAvoy, Thomas|
|Gorrie, Donald||McCabe, Steve|
|Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)||McCafferty, Ms Chris|
|Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)||McCartney, Ian (Makerfield)|
|Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)||McDonagh, Siobhain|
|Grocott, Bruce||Macdonald, Calum|
|Gunnell, John||McDonnell, John|
|Hain, Peter||McGuire, Mrs Anne|
|Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)||McIsaac, Shona|
|Hall, Patrick (Bedford)||McKenna, Mrs Rosemary|
|Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)||Mackinlay, Andrew|
|Hanson, David||McLeish, Henry|
|Heal, Mrs Sylvia||McNamara, Kevin|
|Healey, John||McNulty, Tony|
|Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)||MacShane, Denis|
|Hepburn, Stephen||Mactaggart, Fiona|
|Heppell, John||McWalter, Tony|
|Hesford, Stephen||McWilliam, John|
|Hewitt, Ms Patricia||Mahon, Mrs Alice|
|Hinchliffe, David||Mandelson, Rt Hon Peter|
|Hodge, Ms Margaret||Marek, Dr John|
|Hoey, Kate||Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)|
|Hood, Jimmy||Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)|
|Hope, Phil||Marshall-Andrews, Robert|
|Hopkins, Kelvin||Martlew, Eric|
|Howarth, George (Knowsley N)||Maxton, John|
|Howells, Dr Kim||Meale, Alan|
|Hoyle, Lindsay||Merron, Gillian|
|Hughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford)||Michael, Alun|
|Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)||Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley)|
|Hughes, Simon (Southwark N)||Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute)|
|Hurst, Alan||Miller, Andrew|
|Hutton, John||Mitchell, Austin|
|Iddon, Dr Brian||Moonie, Dr Lewis|
|Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead)||Moore, Michael|
|Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)||Moran, Ms Margaret|
|Jamieson, David||Morgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N)|
|Morgan, Rhodri (Cardiff W)||Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)|
|Morley, Elliot||Smith, John (Glamorgan)|
|Morris, Rt Hon John (Aberavon)||Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)|
|Mountford, Kali||Snape, Peter|
|Mowlam, Rt Hon Marjorie||Soley, Clive|
|Mullin, Chris||Southworth, Ms Helen|
|Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)||Spellar, John|
|Naysmith, Dr Doug||Squire, Ms Rachel|
|Norris, Dan||Steinberg, Gerry|
|O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)||Stevenson, George|
|O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)||Stewart, David (Inverness E)|
|O'Hara, Eddie||Stewart, Ian (Eccles)|
|Olner, Bill||Stinchcombe, Paul|
|O'Neill, Martin||Stoate, Dr Howard|
|Öpik, Lembit||Stringer, Graham|
|Osborne, Ms Sandra||Stuart, Ms Gisela|
|Palmer, Dr Nick||Sutcliffe, Gerry|
|Pearson, Ian||Swinney, John|
|Perham, Ms Linda||Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)|
|Pike, Peter L||Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)|
|Plaskitt, James||Taylor, David (NW Leics)|
|Pollard, Kerry||Temple-Morris, Peter|
|Pound, Stephen||Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)|
|Powell, Sir Raymond||Timms, Stephen|
|Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)||Tipping, Paddy|
|Prescott, Rt Hon John||Todd, Mark|
|Primarolo, Dawn||Touhig, Don|
|Prosser, Gwyn||Trickett, Jon|
|Purchase, Ken||Truswell, Paul|
|Quin, Ms Joyce||Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)|
|Quinn, Lawrie||Twigg, Derek (Halton)|
|Rammell, Bill||Vaz, Keith|
|Rapson, Syd||Vis, Dr Rudi|
|Raynsford, Nick||Wallace, James|
|Reed, Andrew (Loughborough)||Walley, Ms Joan|
|Reid, Rt Hon Dr John (Hamilton N)||Ward, Ms Claire|
|Roche, Mrs Barbara||Wareing, Robert N|
|Rogers, Allan||Watts, David|
|Rooker, Jeff||Webb, Steve|
|Rooney, Terry||White, Brian|
|Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)||Whitehead, Dr Alan|
|Roy, Frank||Wicks, Malcolm|
|Ruddock, Ms Joan||Wigley, Rt Hon Dafydd|
|Russell, Bob (Colchester)||Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)|
|Russell, Ms Christine (Chester)|
|Ryan, Ms Joan||Williams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)|
|Salter, Martin||Willis, Phil|
|Sanders, Adrian||Wilson, Brian|
|Sarwar, Mohammad||Winnick, David|
|Savidge, Malcolm||Winterton, Ms Rosie (DoncasterC)|
|Sawford, Phil||Wise, Audrey|
|Sedgemore, Brian||Wood, Mike|
|Shaw, Jonathan||Woolas, Phil|
|Sheerman, Barry||Worthington, Tony|
|Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert||Wray, James|
|Shipley, Ms Debra||Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)|
|Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)||Wright, Dr Tony (Cannock)|
|Singh, Marsha||Wyatt, Derek|
|Smith, Angela (Basildon)||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Smith, Miss Geraldine (Morecambe & Lunesdale)||Mr. Greg Pope and Mr. Keith Hill.|
§ Question accordingly negatived.