§ 3.8 p.m.
§ The Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Simon of Highbury)
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.
I am delighted to move this important Bill. It is a balanced series of proposals. It sets out a radical, forward-looking package of measures which will create a modern framework for employment relations fit for the next century. It delivers the Government's manifesto pledge to provide decent minimum standards for treatment at work and to develop family-friendly employment policies. It also modernises employment law in response to changes in working patterns; for example, more women than ever are working, the number of part-timers is increasing and more families are dependent on two earners.
The Bill will promote the best of modern employment practices in all our companies, encouraging a culture of fairness and trust in the workplace, coupled with clearer 965 definitions of rights and responsibilities. To achieve the prosperity we all want to see, the Government believe that there must be decent minimum rights for people at work, and the Bill will achieve those.
As noble Lords will be aware, the provisions of the Bill were foreshadowed in the White Paper, Fairness at Work, which was published in May last year. That White Paper was drawn up following consultations with the Confederation of British Industry and the Trades Union Congress on trade union recognition. All of the 29 proposals in the White Paper were subject thereafter to thorough consultation with both employer and worker organisations. Since the publication of the White Paper, the Government have been vigilant in consulting all interested parties. We believe that to improve the culture of employment relations for the next century it is important that we carry employers, employees, and their representatives with us when developing proposals.
Our objective is to create an understanding between employers and employees, managers and managed, that the value that people can add at their workplace is vital for all stakeholders. The ability to produce goods and services at low cost does not in itself guarantee industrial success, especially in our knowledge-based economy. Value-added and productivity are better tests of success in such an economy. As my right honourable friend the Prime Minister stated in the foreword to last year's Competitiveness White Paper, our success depends on how well we exploit our valuable assets of knowledge, skills and creativity.
Before considering the Bill in more detail, I remind noble Lords that the Government's economic policy is geared towards achieving sustainable prosperity. We see the implementation of the Bill as a major contribution towards achieving that policy. The Bill covers a variety of employment relations issues, individual rights, trade union recognition and family-friendly rights.
I hope that noble Lords have read the explanatory notes which give the purpose behind each of the provisions in the Bill. I intend today to explain the major elements of the Bill. They can be grouped into three themes: decent minimum standards for people at work; a new climate of co-operation in the workplace; and family-friendly employment rights.
The Government believe that all employees should be treated fairly so that they feel more trusted and valued. This will benefit the organisation through increased commitment and enhanced productivity.
Many good employers already provide decent employment standards for their employees. However, some do not, and the Government believe that fair minimum standards must be backed up by the law. We have done this already for working time and the national minimum wage. The Bill complements those measures and completes the package of reforms designed to restore an acceptable balance to the workplace.
The Bill contains a number of measures to ensure fair treatment in recruitment and employment. Clause 2 and Schedule 2 plug the loophole which currently permits employers to discriminate by omission on grounds of trade union membership, non-membership or activities. 966 For example, the denial of promotion to an individual on grounds of his trade union membership or activities, where a colleague is promoted who has agreed to give up union membership, could constitute an omission to act.
Clause 17 will ensure that part-time workers are treated no less favourably in respect of their terms and conditions of employment than their colleagues. This clause implements the European Part-Time Work Directive (Council Directive 97/81/EC) which covers employment conditions excluding pay. However, the Government believe that discrimination in respect of pay should be covered in the same way as other employment conditions. The clause therefore also covers pay.
We will also, through Clause 3, prohibit the compilation and use of blacklists recording individuals' trade union membership and activities with a view to use in recruitment. We will seek to ensure that employees do not suffer from detriment and dismissal arising from a refusal to accept a contract on terms which differ from those applicable to them under a collective agreement. Clause 15 will bring that into effect.
Secondly, we have sought a fair balance of rights and responsibilities in the workplace. Employers should not dismiss employees unfairly. We are not preventing employers from dismissing people where they have good reason and act reasonably in doing so, but we need to send a powerful message to employers that unfair dismissal is a serious matter. The Government's principle behind Clauses 28 to 32 is that people who have been unfairly dismissed should be entitled to receive adequate compensation to compensate for their economic loss.
Noble Lords will not have missed the media attention to the increase in the maximum limit for unfair dismissal compensatory awards to £50,000. However, these clauses will also simplify the existing system of additional and special awards and will link the limits on these awards to changes in the retail prices index. We will also remove the compensatory award limit in certain cases for those dismissed for "whistle-blowing"; that is, for drawing attention to health and safety problems or wrongdoings as set out in the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998.
There are four more provisions. Through Clauses 10 to 13, we will be creating a statutory right for individual workers to be accompanied either by a fellow employee or a trade union official during disciplinary and grievance hearings. We will further protect the interests of those using either employment agencies or employment businesses by amending the 1973 Employment Agencies Act. A consultation document proposing revised regulations under the Act will be issued soon. I hope to make copies available to noble Lords before the Bill is considered in Committee.
Clause 16 will prohibit the waiving of unfair dismissal rights in fixed term contracts.
The Government will, through Clause 20, empower the Secretary of State to rationalise and update the coverage of the existing body of employment rights by 967 conferring, by order, some or all of those rights on specified categories of individuals who may not or clearly cannot benefit from them at present but who are not genuinely self-employed. There will be full consultation on the draft regulations.
In business, co-operation and teamwork at all levels are conducive to success. My five years at the head of British Petroleum in a period of some pressure and change convinced me of the extraordinary power of the team. An organisation which does not encourage such co-operation between management and workers or their representatives risks missing out on the real prize, that is, enhanced employee commitment to the organisation, working towards shared goals—in the words of management consultants,"alignment".
The Government have always upheld the right of people to choose whether or not to join a union and, consequently, whether they wish to be represented by a union at the workplace. Clause 1 and Schedule 1 establish a new statutory procedure for the recognition of trade unions, if teat is the wish of a majority of the workforce, in organisations employing 21 or more workers. The procedure seeks to encourage voluntary agreements where possible but provides for the Central Arbitration Committee (CAC) to decide on applications for recognition if no agreement is reached.
If an employer agrees to recognise a union but a method for collective bargaining cannot be agreed, the CAC may impose a method. Schedule 1 includes procedures for changing the bargaining unit; that is, the group of workers who are covered by a recognition agreement. It also outlines procedures for derecognition of unions, including non-independent unions. It protects workers against detriment, financial or otherwise, or dismissal resulting from their supporting or failing to support recognition or derecognition.
The Bill also maces provisions in Clauses 22 to 25 to reflect changes necessary to the industrial relations institutions, in particular, the CAC and ACAS.
The Bill also simplifies and clarifies the existing law on industrial action, for example, by making clear that unions need not disclose to employers the names of their members they are balloting or calling on to take industrial action. Clause 4 and Schedule 3 will bring that into effect.
Clause 5 applies to workplaces where there is statutory union recognition and a bargaining procedure has been imposed by the CAC. It requires employers in those circumstances to consult recognised unions on training policy and practice relating to the workers represented by the union.
Clause 14 and Schedule 5 allow employees who take or have taken lawfully organised industrial action to complain of unfair dismissal if dismissed within the first eight weeks of such action. It will also be unfair to dismiss them thereafter if the employer has not taken reasonable procedural steps to resolve the dispute.
To underline the Government's commitment to improving co-operation in the workplace, Clause 26 authorises the Secretary of State to make funding 968 available to promote partnerships at work. The partnership fund will support innovative projects which develop the partnership approach in the workplace.
Finally, I turn to the support for family-friendly employment. The world of work is changing and, as I said, changing rapidly. For example, the number of mothers in work is increasing. Some employees have trouble combining their work and family responsibilities. The Bill therefore proposes new rights to parental leave. We believe organisations will benefit once these policies are in place. For example, there should be increased employee commitment and productivity and cost savings from reduced staff turnover and absenteeism.
The Bill, through Clauses 7 and 8 and Schedule 4, contains provisions dealing with leave for family and domestic reasons. It provides rights and regulation-making powers for the Secretary of State to replace most of the existing statutory provisions on maternity leave with simpler, clearer rights and to provide new rights to parental leave and to time off for domestic incidents in order to implement EU directives. I give way to the noble Lord.
§ Lord Tebbit
My Lords, I apologise for interrupting the Minister. However, on reading the Bill, I was not quite certain about a few aspects in this respect. As the Minister has rightly said, this provision will make it more possible, for example, for women to be at work because of the extra rights. Do those extra rights apply also to the nanny who is looking after the child of the woman who is at work?
§ Lord Simon of Highbury
No, my Lords. The rights of nannies are covered under that part of the Bill which I have already mentioned which sets out the changes in employment agency terms and the status of nannies in those circumstances, I give way to the noble Lord again.
§ Lord Tebbit
My Lords, with great respect to the Minister, I am not talking about an agency nanny. I have in mind a nanny who is employed full-time by the lady at work and who perhaps becomes pregnant or sees that there is some domestic crisis involved in her work. Does that nanny have the benefit of those rights as well as her employer?
§ Lord Simon of Highbury
My Lords, I believe that it depends entirely on the status of the nanny's contract. That is one of the issues we shall have to debate during the course of the proceedings on the Bill. Nevertheless, I take note of the noble Lord's question.
The new rights will include: a minimum of 18 weeks' maternity leave for all women in line with statutory maternity pay; the right to extended maternity leave of up to 40 weeks for women after one year's service, rather than two, as at present; three months' parental leave for mothers and fathers, including adoptive parents; guaranteed job back—or its equivalent—at the end of parental leave; clarification of the status of employment contracts during periods of family leave; time off to deal with family emergencies; and protection from victimisation for exercising any of these rights. My 969 department will ensure that there is full and thorough consultation with employer and worker organisations on the draft regulations.
Much has been said about the costs of the Bill. That is an important question. In drafting the Bill, we have taken great care to avoid imposing unnecessary burdens on business. But we should be clear about the costs and benefits.
The Bill gives statutory backing to rights which many workers already enjoy. By doing so, it gives greater certainty to the majority of workers and enhanced protection to those who do not currently enjoy these rights. It will make it easier for employees with family and other domestic commitments to continue to contribute productively in the workplace, making use of their training and experience.
Employers and society at large will benefit enormously from greater participation in the labour market, reduced staff turnover and a climate of greater commitment and trust in the workplace. Against that, our departmental economists estimate that, across the whole of British business, the Bill will cost some £60 million a year, mainly due to the new parental leave rights and the wider entitlement to additional maternity leave. On top of that, there will be some £1.7 million a year in one-off costs, mainly for the new recognition procedures. So the cost is about 5p a week per employee.
The Bill will not, as has been suggested in certain elements of the media, damage employment. If employers accept these measures and the spirit which underlies them, they will get more out of their employees. More productive businesses mean better paid, safer jobs, and, incidentally, higher tax revenues and sounder public finances.
In conclusion, the Bill is something to which the Government are wholeheartedly committed. There is now widespread recognition of the need for updating the existing framework of employment legislation to take account of new developments in working practices and the needs of a modern economy. Therefore, it is important that we get this piece of vital legislation right. We greatly respect the experience which some noble Lords have had in the field of industrial relations. The Government look forward to their contribution to this debate. I commend the Bill to the House.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.
§ (Lord Simon of Highbury.)
§ 3.27 p.m.
§ Baroness Miller of Hendon
My Lords, I should like, first, to thank the Minister for his explanation of this important Bill in his normal, very careful manner. I shall look forward to debating with him the points where we will most certainly take issue with the Government as the Bill progresses through your Lordships' House.
It is not difficult to see why the title of the Bill, the Employment Relations Bill, changed from the White Paper on which it is based—entitled, Fairness at Work —because, when you examine the provisions in the 970 Bill, there is nothing in it which is fair to employers. There is also certainly nothing fair to those employees who simply want to get on with their jobs without industrial unrest caused by trade unions seeking to reassert themselves in a way that they have not been able to do for the past 15 years or so. Indeed, there is nothing fair to those employers and employees alike who, together, want to get on with keeping going the businesses in which they are both interested, rather than being sunk by the stream of socialist theory which is making Europe increasingly uncompetitive—
§ Baroness Miller of Hendon
My Lords, noble Lords opposite may well laugh, but the truth is that our unemployment record has been very much better than that of many countries in Europe, with, as I said, their socialist policies.
In his speech in the other place on Second Reading of the Bill, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry spoke about,measures for partnership based on rights matched by responsibilities". —[Official Report, Commons, 9/2/99; col.130.]I invite noble Lords to look at all 38 clauses and eight schedules on all of the 94 pages of the Bill and show me one responsibility imposed either on employees or on the trade unions which this Bill can foist on the majority of employees by the wishes of a minority.
As to the so-called partnership, I believe there is just one item. I shall refer to Clause 26. The Minister referred to it, but he put an entirely different complexion on it to that which I shall put on it, based on what the clause actually says. To paraphrase, it permits the Secretary of State to provide money, taxpayers' money, on any terms that he thinks fit, including gift or loan, for the purpose of encouraging and helping employers and their representatives, and employees' and their representatives, in order to improve the way they work together, whatever that may mean.
The words "their representatives" are code words for trade unions. The clause is nothing less than a licence for the Government to hand out taxpayers' money to the trade unions, on the pretext that they are encouraging improvements in industrial relations. What can the employers expect in return? Perhaps a lollipop, in the form of a grant towards a day's outing to the seaside for the employees of one of the Prime Minister's industrialist chums.
In the other place the Government could offer no explanation of how the clause would operate, despite the fact that they were asked. The Under-Secretary of State for Small Firms, Trade and Industry claimed that the reason was, first, that it would be constraining and, secondly, that they were consulting the key parties. I must advise the noble Lord the Minister that the clause will need a great deal of attention when it reaches the Committee.
Even the present Title of the Bill,"Employment Relations", is misleading, because the Bill resembles a relationship based on a shotgun marriage. The Bill does nothing to foster good relations between employers and 971 employees. Rather, it revives the old Labour environment of "them and us" that pervaded until the reform of the unions that took place in the 1980s:steps were needed to correct the worst of trade union excesses". —[Official Report, Commons, 9/2/99; col.130.]Those are not my words, but are a direct quotation of what the Secretary of State admitted within the first two minutes of his speech on the Second Reading in the other place. At last there is an admission that the bitter rearguard action that the party opposite fought on every single trade union re form measure was mistaken, and this is just another Conservative policy that New Labour has now adopted.
The first and major problem that the Bill causes is the disruption and expense that will be inflicted on small businesses. It will bake them less competitive in the market alongside the major industrial concerns. I am not talking about the very small business with fewer than 21 employees, which is exempted from one of the worst excesses in the Bill—compulsory union recognition—although the fact is that in the next 10 years most new jobs will be created in companies with fewer than 21 employees. No, I am talking about all small businesses: ones that are struggling to start up; ones that are struggling to keep going, especially in the retail trades in the face of the mammoth out-of-town shopping parks; and small manufacturing businesses struggling to compete with the multinationals.
The Secretary of State regaled the other place with the story of what he described as a leading supermarket chain which has introduced maternity leave, paternity leave, child-care leave, adoption leave, shift-swap and bereavement leave. Despite all of this, the Minister says that the company is enjoying all sorts of commercial benefits. Needless to say, the chain is Asda, chaired by my honourable friend he Member for Tunbridge Wells. I trust that noble Loris opposite will as a reward patronise those shops instead of the Co-op, to which the Secretary of State was unable to give such a plug. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury, will not mind my having made that comment.
Just as there is no such thing as a free lunch, there is no such thing as a free social benefit. The fact is that all of the major supermarkets, not just Asda, can indulge in such generosity to their staff because probably all they have to do is to add an unnoticed penny on, say, a bag of sugar or forgo their profit on bottles of tomato ketchup for a couple of weeks. The same probably applies equally to the large department stores, DIY stores and the other chain stores and the suppliers of services in near-monopoly conditions.
The trouble is that this Government—and, I admit, perhaps all governments—fail to recognise that there is a vast difference between Sainsbury's and the Coronation Street corner shop. Only a few weeks ago the Prime Minister in a speech in Bristol complained to businessmen that many of the regulations coming out of Brussels were out of date and should be reviewed, and yet here are the Government piling on new ones in the Bill.
The Government are not just putting in new regulations, but, as ray honourable friend the Member for Daventry pointed out in Committee in the other place, are 972 going above and beyond even what the EC directives demand. This is gold-plating the directives as part of their pay off to the unions.
Before I turn to some of the specific matters in the Bill, I have one other general observation: once again the Government have produced a half-baked piece of legislation. It is an enabling Bill, a mere skeleton, with the details to be filled in by statutory instrument, rather like the ministerial decrees that pass for law-making in Russia. For, make no mistake, statutory instruments are no substitute for an Act of Parliament, which receives the scrutiny of the two Houses on three separate occasions, whereas a statutory instrument is considered only once and cannot be amended: take it or leave it. Parliament has to accept the bad provisions or throw the good ones out with them.
This is just another example of the present Government's marginalising Parliament and stealthily removing as many of its functions as possible. We have already seen the mess that the Government got into over the national minimum wage, because of the cases of au pairs, and the working time directive over the position of paper boys.
If that is not bad enough, in the Bill before us the Government have taken large matters of substance out of the body of the text and buried them in the schedules, all printed, as my honourable friend the Member for Daventry pointed out, in smaller print. A classic case in point arises under Clause 8, the substance of which is to be found in Part II of Schedule 4, 63 pages further on. It provides for time off for what are called "domestic incidents". The problem is that even the schedule does not define what is a domestic incident. That is to be left to the Secretary of State to announce when he gets round to it.
The Government have been in office for two years and have conducted 10 months of consultation, yet they cannot tell us what they mean by this provision. Perhaps the noble Lord the Minister will when he replies to this Second Reading debate at least give your Lordships an idea of the sort of events that might be regarded as "domestic incidents"—not a final list, but at least tell us what the Government currently have in mind. The Minister in the other place admitted that he could not offer a definition.
That is no basis for asking Parliament for permission to make statutory regulations that could cost employers tens of millions of pounds a year. If we are given some inkling, then when we reach the Committee stage at least we shall have an idea of what we and, more important, the Minister are talking about—that is assuming, of course, that the Government themselves know.
I suggest that in formulating their shopping list of domestic incidents the Government pay heed to the excellent advertising slogan of the Legal & General Assurance Company, and not make a drama out of a crisis.
Although the Bill is euphemistically described as the "Employment Relations Bill", what kind of relationship can there be if, when an employee asks for half a day off, he and his employer have to consult Part II of Schedule 4, containing a page and a half of gobbledegook? Part II is to be found on pages 67 and 68. Then one has to plough through four pages of consequential amendments to other 973 Acts in Part III. That is without our having seen a single syllable of the regulations which the Secretary of State is to unveil at some unspecified time in the future. I was very pleased to hear from the noble Lord the Minister that he was very hopeful that Members on this side of the House would have sight of those regulations before the Committee stage.
Of course, I have a certain sympathy with the Secretary of State over this. I have held my present brief a great deal longer than he has. He is the third Secretary of State in the short life of this Government. The first was moved after the first reshuffle, presumably without her department having worked out what a domestic crisis is. The second honourably felt obliged to resign, following a domestic crisis of his own about his house, without having produced his own minimum ideas on the subject. Now we find Secretary of State No.3 having to come to Parliament to ask for all sorts of blank cheques in this Bill, because, having been dropped in at the deep end, he has had to use his legislative slot, by doing something, however ill-prepared. Act first and think about it later!
Another example is Clause 27, which is just five words long. It states:Schedule 7 shall have effect".What does Schedule 7 say? It states that the Secretary of State can make regulations that can control employment agencies by restricting the services they perform, the way they do it and what they can charge: not the slightest indication of what the Government have in mind or why they think that these rigid regulations are needed. We shall expect the Minister to give us the courtesy of a full explanation of this clause before he asks this House to pass it.
Backtracking just a little, I should like to refer to Clause 1 on collective bargaining recognition. That is a coy euphemism for foisting compulsory trade recognition on unwilling employers and a possible unwilling majority of the workforce. It is contained in 40 pages of the unindexed Schedule 1: roughly one-half of the Bill if you take into account that the print is especially small.
That schedule was a mere 25 pages long when it was published in the other place, which seems to suggest that this Bill, which is to redeem one of the Labour Party's many IOUs to the unions, is making law on the hoof. It is now 40 pages long. It also explains why so much of it is to be the subject of secondary legislation. That is because the Government do not know how the Bill will work in practice or do not want Parliament to know until they have been given a blank cheque.
What a confusing mish-mash Schedule 1 is. Paragraph 6 of the schedule explains how to calculate the number of employees:All that is missing is the instruction to take away the number you first thought of!
- "(a) take the number of workers employed in each of the 13 weeks (including workers not employed for the whole of the week);
- "(b) aggregate the 13 numbers;
- "(c) divide the aggregate by 13".
On the subject of union recognition, the department has kindly (on page 7 of the Explanatory Notes) produced a diagram with arrows pointing in all different 974 directions. It is perhaps significant that the general direction of the arrows is downward. The chart resembles a cross between a demented game of snakes and ladders and a design by Heath Robinson. Having studied it carefully, I must confess I am none the wiser; and neither will be the employers and employees of a small business which is misguided enough to give work to 22 people, and which will then be affected by the provisions.
No doubt experts in the trade unions, and the lawyers employed by the larger companies will manage the paragraph, but I can see plenty of work for lawyers and a vastly expanded quango, the Central Arbitration Committee, which seems to be the son of ACAS. I wonder what ACAS thinks of its new child.
I shall not dwell further on this clause and schedule at the present moment. They occupy, as I have pointed out, over one-third of the Bill and we shall need to examine their provisions in some detail at the next stage.
We will also need to examine the provisions about maternity and paternity leave. Apart from the extra burden of expense that they place on an employer of whatever size, they are particularly harmful to smaller businesses. Not only has the employer to keep open the employee's job, possibly through a series of pregnancies—these things happen—but if the absence goes on for long enough, the ability to dispose of the locum because of the length of her or his supposedly temporary employment is lost.
Once again the Secretary of State demands the powers to make regulations as to the length of such maternity or paternity leave. In a process of what I consider to be disinformation, the Government have told us that the length is increased to 18 weeks. I do not think that that is correct, because what will be the new Section 71 (3)(a) of the Employment Rights Act 1996 provides that the regulations shall secure that,no ordinary maternity leave period is less than 18 weeks".So, the Secretary of State could make it 20 weeks, 26 weeks or whatever the unions demand; and that is even without the extensions that the Secretary of State can arbitrarily order under what will be new Section 73 of the 1996 Act. The same applies to parental leave, including when it may be taken. What about by the time the child reaches the age of 18?
Some of these arbitrary and far-reaching powers must be restricted, even before the regulations get the cursory examination that parliamentary procedures permit.
At the end of his Second Reading speech in the other place, the Secretary of State gave a catalogue of almost 13 million people whom he claims will benefit from the provisions of this Act. This is a figure arrived at by double and even treble-counting that even the Secretary of State's right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer might have hesitated from trying.
What the figures do not show is how many jobs will be lost by firms being driven out of business, or not even starting up because of the airy-fairy devices of dreamland socialist economics provided for in this Bill.
What these figures do not show is how many of the 6.5 million part-timers (who the Secretary of State claims will be protected from his idea of exploitation) 975 will not get a job at all, because if it is as expensive to employ a part-timer as a full-timer, many employers may well decide to employ a full-timer. So much for helping mothers on benefit get out of the poverty trap!
The Secretary of State also made extravagant claims about the so-called Benefits of this Bill. He said:it is a balanced package with a clear emphasis on partnership, not confrontation; fairness and trust, not insecurity and maltreatment; and rights coupled with responsibilities". —[Official Report, Commons, 9/2/99; col.141.]That stream of clichés and platitudes could have been taken straight from the "Old Comrades' Book of Speeches".
The fact is that, we believe that employers and employees should be left free to settle relationships between themselves, including, if that is what the employee desires, his union, but without outside complicated regulation from the Government—a government who reached the apogee of the nanny state by publishing earlier last month a pamphlet on how to employ a nanny.
What we do not want is to copy the German laws and regulations, which result in it having twice the unemployment rate of the UK. One of the reasons for BMW's heavy investment in the UK, according to its chairman, is that we do not have the legislation which is causing it and Mercedes Benz the trouble that is making them export so many of their jobs. Sony is transferring production from Germany to South Wales precisely because of Germany's oppressive and restrictive labour laws. They can just as easily transfer them back again.
What the Government have done, and are steadily continuing to do, is to push up the cost of employing people. The minimum wage, as the Deputy Prime Minister admitted, is going to cost jobs, as we shall soon see. The working time directive and all the additional costs that this is going to involve will add to industry's burden.
British Steel recently warned:The rate of job losses will accelerate given the extremely difficult trading conditions …it is imperative that the Government should do nothing to add to our costs and to undermine our competitiveness".I fear that that is a plea falling on deaf ears; and a rude awakening for those industrialists who were lulled into a sense of false security by the siren song of the Labour Party just prior to the last election when its spin doctors assured them that they were "business friendly".
In April 1997 the Chancellor of the Exchequer (then the Shadow Chancellor) said:we will not impose burdensome relations on business because we understand that successful businesses must bring costs down".On 25th November 1998, before his abrupt departure from the office of Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, the right honourable Member for Hartlepool told the other place:we have no intention of introducing any legislation that presents a burden on business and reduces the competitiveness of British firms". —[Official Report Commons.25/11/98; col.214.]Well, we all know what "we have no intention " means in government-speak; it means "not this week".
976 This Bill is designed to increase employment rights and will unquestionably raise costs and reduce competitiveness, and will fall particularly hard on small and medium-sized businesses.
In his speech on the Second Reading in the other place, the Secretary of State announced that,There will not be a continuous drip, drip of employment legislation throughout this Parliament". —[Official Report, Commons 9/2/99; col.134.]Thank goodness for that, because we have had more than enough already, and we have yet to be subjected to the regulations under this Bill, which are themselves legislation.
The Secretary of State then went on to say (also at col.134):We have no plans to bring forward further measures … for the remainder of this Parliament"—again the coded phrase,"We have no plans". Well, so long as that is that for this Parliament, then there is some hope that the damage caused by the Government's legislation to date may be limited, because I and my colleagues on this side of the House will do our very best to ensure that there is no second term during which the Labour Party can re-infect the country with what our competitors derisively called "the British disease", which the last Conservative government decisively cured.
§ 3.50 p.m.
§ Lord Razzall
My Lords, it will come as no surprise to the Minister and your Lordships that the Liberal Democrats broadly support the principles and purpose of this modest Bill. We support the increase in the rights of the individual enshrined in certain clauses of the Bill. We support the general principles of the improvements in collective rights and the family-friendly policies contained in it.
Having listened to the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, I stress that we regard this as a modest Bill. To those of us on this side of your Lordships' House it does not appear to have a great deal to do with socialism, red in tooth and claw Kremlin policies, the British disease or any of the other phrases which the noble Baroness used to warn us as regards all the pillars of government policy concerning the national minimum wage and the working time directive. It is a modest Bill in the sense that it simply brings best commercial practice into our legislative framework, as the noble Baroness recognised. As regards the position of the current chairman of Asda, that is likely to be the company which people will choose. That company is obviously an example of the best commercial practice. Whether it is able to pass on the cost to the unwitting consumer will be a matter for the Monopolies and Mergers Commission to consider in its review of the pricing of supermarkets.
It is also a modest Bill in the sense that it brings this country into line with our European competitors almost all of whom had much more successful economies over the 20 to 25-year period when most of them were run by right-wing governments. That is contrary to the idea that they were mostly Left-wing and imposing socialism 977 from Europe. Almost all the European countries which had protection for the workforce, as set out in this Bill, had been run by Right-wing parties for the past 15 to 20 years. I dissociate this Opposition party from the remarks made by the Conservative Party.
However, that is not to say that we regard the Bill as perfect. We shall need to probe a number of its provisions. As the Minister indicated, the Bill was preceded by the White Paper Fairness at Work There was inevitable publicity and debate in the public arena as regards the rights of trades unions and their recognition. As the Bill passes through this House I do not believe that we shall wish on this side to intrude in Labour Party private grief concerning the 40 per cent mechanisms. All the evidence was touched on by the Minister; namely, that such issues are best resolved by voluntary agreement. Under the previous Tory government when similar provisions were in place, I believe that ACAS indicated quite strongly at the time that the formal rules of recognition did not work and that almost all disputes of that kind had to be resolved by voluntary agreement. We hope that the complex schedule in the Bill will be put on to the back burner of most industrial disputes and that voluntary recognition and agreement will be the norm. If it is not, then no legislation will solve the problems.
§ Lord Clinton-Davis
My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that in anticipation of the Bill there is quite a strong body of evidence that on a voluntary basis employers are engaged in positive discussions with trades unions and that recognition is taking place in advance of the Bill itself?
§ Lord Razzall
My Lords, I hope the noble Lord is correct. I shall be delighted if that is the case. As the noble Lord will be aware, the tenet of my argument is that voluntary agreement and not legislative agreement' will solve the problems. But, as I say, I do not believe that from these Benches we shall intrude in the private grief of the Labour Party.
We shall probe the Government as regards a number of areas where we believe the Bill does not go far enough. I choose two major areas. One of them is likely to find favour in your Lordships' House; the other, less likely. The area which I anticipate will find favour is that of discrimination on grounds of age. The debate in the other place touched significantly on whether there is a gap in legislation of this nature to give legal rights to argue and claim discrimination on the grounds of age. In a Second Reading debate I do not need to give examples that many people have raised on the issue. As I understand it, the Government's position is that discrimination about age should not be dealt with by legislation but by a voluntary code of practice. I would not wish to embarrass the Government by indicating that when in opposition they took the opposite view. The then Tory government believed that age discrimination should be dealt with by a voluntary code of practice. The Labour Party at the time thought that unacceptable and considered that it should be dealt with by legislation. When we reach the Committee stage we 978 shall wish to push the point to ascertain whether or not issues concerning age discrimination should be covered by the Bill.
The area which is less likely to find favour with your Lordships is whether the Bill goes far enough as regards sexual discrimination. A number of examples of discrimination against employees on the grounds of sexual orientation have been well documented in the press. When the Bill reaches Committee stage we shall bring forward amendments. Whatever the view taken by your Lordships, the age of consent should be regarded as a separate issue. Hiring, firing and employment practice where there is evidence of discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation is quite different from the issue of lowering the age of consent.
In another place, the Government, although sympathetic, felt that there should be a different approach. Age discrimination, they indicated, should be dealt with through a voluntary code of practice. On the subject of sexual orientation they took the somewhat surprising view that it was not a matter for the Department of Trade and Industry, but for the Department for Education and Employment. In these days of "joined up" government, if we are considering legislation which affects employment practices in the workplace it is not an excuse to say that it is not a matter for the Department of Trade and Industry but for another department. When we reach the Committee stage I hope that that is a matter on which the Government will be able to adapt.
There are some areas of detail in the Bill on which we shall wish to probe the Government. The noble Baroness, Lady Miller, touched on one which has caused some considerable concern; namely, the "gold plating" of certain provisions which come from European directives. The obvious one is rights being given for time off in relation to a domestic incident. That has been fairly well documented. Those of your Lordships who have studied the Bill in detail will realise that the definition of such an incident will be left to regulation. If it is left to regulation by the Minister, undoubtedly time off for his son to watch Arsenal on a Tuesday afternoon is unlikely to be a domestic incident; it will be a domestic normality. There is clearly concern as to the exact meaning of "domestic incident". It is a gold plating of the European directive that goes further than many would have anticipated.
That leads me to the fundamental concern that we on these Benches have. From her remarks, I think our concern is shared by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller. Much of the Bill is left to be dealt with by regulation. There are very significant items in the Bill which the Government say will be the subject of consultation—we accept that—but the nuts and bolts will be implemented by regulation which, under the way our parliamentary democracy currently works, will never really be subject to proper parliamentary scrutiny. It is regrettable that the legislation has been drafted in that way. I hope that the Minister who responds will give strong undertakings to the House that, because the regulations will not be subjected to effective parliamentary scrutiny, there will 979 be an adequate consultation period during which the input of all sides of industry and of the House can be considered.
Finally, I wish to make a point which has not so far featured in the debate. All the surveys seem to indicate that there is considerable confusion among medium and small-sized companies as to the current status of the regulations and provisions to which they are subject. I know that the Department of Trade and Industry has spent time and money trying to give effective notice and information to businesses. However, businesses without significant corporate legal teams or central functional teams that can advise management are, according to the latest surveys, in considerable difficulty as to the impact of the national minimum wage regulations, the working time directive and the regulations that will flow from the Bill. To be fair to the Government, those regulations are constantly changing in the process of consultation. The national minimum wage regulations have been amended as we have gone along lo try to reflect consultations with the public.
The Minister says that this is the third and final pillar of the Government's employment legislation. It is absolutely paramount that an effective, proper and extensive information operation is mounted to ensure that particularly medium and small-sized companies know their obligations. I hope that the Minister can assure us that that will be done.
§ 4.3 p.m.
§ Lord Walker of Doncaster
My Lords, Westminster must be the only place where one can experience a second maidenhood. If I might muddle my metaphor, looking around the Chamber I feel that I am revisiting an old battlefield. 'When I first came to your Lordships' House I thought it sensible to follow the wise advice of the Procedure Committee to study the form before making one's first speech. Perhaps I have hesitated too long, but I must admit that I have been inhibited, if not intimidated, by my inability to rise to the standard of erudition and eloquence that often illuminates your Lordships' debates. However. I feel that I may have the credentials to make a brief contribution to our proceedings today.
One way or another, most of my adult life has been linked with the stuff of industrial relations. I am proud to declare an interest: for more than 50 years I have been a member, and I am still a member, of the engineering union—the AEU and now the AEEU, in common with some of my noble friends. I remember the long-gone days when I was a youthful shop steward, the days when almost the only way to seek remedy for a grievance at work was to take, or threaten to take, some form of militant industrial action. If a worker was sacked, otherwise victimised, or was ordered to carry out some excessively dangerous task, and if an employer behaved unreasonably, all too often the response was a collective action which damaged the interests of both employers and workers alike: loss of production for one; loss of earnings for the other.
It seemed so obvious then, all those years ago, that the sensible thing was to seek to provide some acceptable, reasonable method of resolving disputes or, 980 alternatively, to remove the underlying causes of the grievances that had caused the dispute in the first place. I rejoice that, despite some setbacks in recent years, that is the road that has been followed in these matters. During the past decade or so the number of days' production lost due to industrial action has greatly diminished and the number of industrial disputes has greatly declined.
No doubt there are many reasons for the decline—the restraints on the unions imposed by the previous government, as has been referred to, and the persistently high level of unemployment—but I am sure that a significant factor has been the beneficial influence of the legislation passed by Parliament over the past decades. I think particularly of the Equal Pay Act 1970, which was introduced by my noble friend Lady Castle of Blackburn and was one of her many achievements. On the other side, the noble Lord, Lord Can of Hadley, introduced the first statutory remedy for unfair dismissal. Those are the kind of measures that have not only contributed to a very great improvement in the statistics of industrial relations but have beneficially transformed relations in the workplace.
It seems to me that the Bill before us today marks a further step along that road. It is yet another move away from the old master and servant relationship to one where employees can feel that they are partners in the provision of goods and services. Promoting the rights and protections of workers is about not only modifying the social relationships of employment but also to do with industrial efficiency and productivity. Before I entered Parliament I spent part of my career in industrial management; I was for a period a work study engineer. I was convinced then, and I am convinced now, that one of the most significant contributions to high productivity is that the workforce should be confident and free of anxiety. If the workforce performs better, we as a country gain from it.
Finally, I wish to make reference to the welcome provisions in the Bill for the updating of the regulations relating to employment agencies. It fell to me in 1974 to produce the first regulations to give effect to the Employment Agencies Act, which was introduced by the late Kenneth Lewis. At that time the Federation of Personnel Services, the collective body representing the leading employment agencies, was the most fervent advocate of regulation, not least because it was being prejudiced by the activities of the cowboy agencies operating in that field. I am delighted with the success of the regulations over the years in eliminating some of the abuses and malpractice that were endemic in the employment agency field 25 years, a quarter of a century, ago. The time is ripe now to update those regulations, and I am pleased that there is provision in the Bill for that to be done.
I thank your Lordships for your forbearance and courtesy. I very much hope that the House will give the Bill the fair wind it deserves.
§ 4.8 p.m.
§ Lord Mayhew of Twysden
My Lords, there can be no more suitable subject than this for the noble Lord, 981 Lord Walker of Doncaster, to choose for his maiden speech. He is a deeply respected specialist in these matters. He has referred to revisiting an old battlefield. He will recall that he and I over several years in the 1970s were brought together on the Standing Committees of several Bills concerned with industrial relations and employment law in one way or another. We were brought together as opponents, but I like to think that we were turned into lasting friends. I know that the House will look forward to further contributions from him which will always have the acute approach, but also the genial and fair approach, that he demonstrated in his speech to us today. It is a great privilege for me to be the first to congratulate him on it. For his part, he will look forward to no longer having to be uncontroversial.
Perhaps I may be permitted a further personal reflection. The Bill generates for me a feeling of déjávu. My early years in the other place seemed to be dominated by industrial relations and the decline thereof, as well as the consequential and parallel decline of this country's economy between 1974 and 1979.
As the noble Lord, Lord Walker, will well remember, the flagship of the then Labour Government was the Trade Union and Labour Relations Bill, and perhaps the Employment Protection Bill. I watched in fascinated horror as immunities from legal process were conferred upon trade union leaders and massive privileges and undemocratic powers, as I thought, over their trade union members were conferred upon them, under the gleeful but ultimately catastrophic leadership of Mr. Michael Foot.
All that was done in the name of better industrial relations—a cause upon which all were agreed who were ranged against each other in the Standing Committees and on either side of the Chamber in the other place—but strikes became endemic. By 1979, when lost working days were running at nearly 27 million annually, the social and economic consequences brought the government down. Additionally, such burdens had been imposed on employers, particularly small employers, that many were prevented from remaining competitive and were obliged to throw their workforce out of employment.
I am afraid that—I do not doubt with the best intentions—the present Bill suggests to me that the Government are in some respects starting to return to their predecessors' thraldom to the trade union leaders. That thraldom had been progressively dispelled by and with the insistent support of working people on the shop floor. Otherwise it could not have been done in the years of Conservative government that followed. The shop-floor workers showed themselves, to an enormously impressive extent, sick of their enforced so-called representation by many of their trade union leaders. It was representation that they showed they did not want. Against their wishes, their leaders had exploited the ability to secure strike action, even by workforces that had no dispute with their employers.
In our Employment Bill 1980, during the passage of which I had the privilege to serve Jim Prior, now the noble Lord, Lord Prior, we set about, step by step—a phrase which had some significance in those days— 982 restoring democratic principles and resurrecting the rule of law in industrial relations. We did it by putting the effective provisions of our Bills on the face of the Bill, not—as is such a painful feature of the present Bill, already much remarked upon—leaving it to be worked out or at least specified in regulation after regulation.
Then and thereafter it was the shop-floor people who most clamantly told us,"Go on. You haven't gone far enough". So we took another step. The Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Prior, was followed by that of my noble friend Lord Tebbit. So it went on until, at the end of that lengthy process, not only had the annual toll of working days lost been reduced from about 27 million to under 1 million, but also unemployment had fallen markedly and British industry was restored to competitiveness. That was why we did it.
Towards the end of that period, or even long before it, strikes had come to seem as old-fashioned in the context of industrial relations as the application of leeches to a fevered patient had become old-fashioned and just about as unhelpful in the field of medicine.
Strangely, throughout that period—and this is why dèjávu afflicts me—step after step that we took at the demands of the shop floor was opposed by several noble Lords whose names appear on the list of speakers, and I look forward to their speeches: the noble Lords, Lord Wedderburn of Charlton, Lord McCarthy, Lord Clinton-Davis. Time and time again they were opponents of the measures. For some of them, it must have been a long winter.
I believe that towards the end of that period we got the balance about right. I speak of balance because we never wished to be against trade unions; we wished to be against the unreasonable imbalance of the powers of certain trade union leaders.
Now the clock is in part to be nudged back: compulsory recognition of trade unions is to be reintroduced. We had it from 1975 to 1980 and even if those who desire recognition in what is called an "agreed bargaining unit" fall short of a majority by 10 per cent, recognition will be enforced. Dismissing an employee within eight weeks of taking part in a strike in violation of a contract of employment is to be made unlawful, and so on. That will apply to all firms employing more than 20 employees. Virtually every business organisation that has been consulted on the question of the threshold—the Association of British Chambers of Commerce, the CBI, the Federation of Small Businesses, the Institute of Directors—pressed for the threshold to be markedly increased. Here I should declare an interest in that I am patron of the chamber of commerce for West Kent.
One of the representations made to the Government stated:Firms with fewer than 40 staff rarely have the resources to deal regularly with trade union representatives and this legislation will serve only as a further constraint on business growth and competitiveness".That makes a lot of sense. But more important, the business community thinks it makes a lot of sense.
983 I conclude with a very important point: legislative principle. Central to the operation of statutory trade union recognition will be the operation of the central arbitration committee. Yet we know nothing about how it will look, we know nothing about its procedures, we know nothing about how it will be composed. None of that is in the Bill. It will all be found in the secondary legislation. That point and the consequences flowing from it have already been powerfully made.
The object of the committee—though by whom it is committed I am not clear—is said to be:encouraging and promoting fair and efficient practices and arrangements in the workplace".One beneficiary of the Bill will be legal employment. Jobs for life will certainly increase. I hope that we shall see the damaging provisions of the Bill at least mitigated through debate in this House and that we shall see far more precision and more specific provisions on the face of the Bill when we finish with it.
§ 4.19 p.m.
§ Lord Clinton-Davis
My Lords, perhaps not surprisingly I dissent from some of the propositions advanced by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew of Twysden—although I strongly agree with his opening remarks about my noble friend Lord Walker of Doncaster. I gather that eulogies are not permitted these days but he was a fine example of a Deputy Speaker of distinction in the other place. Occasionally, he even called on both of us to speak. Rarely, but occasionally.
I declare my interest as president of the British Airline Pilots Association, which is a trade union of airline pilots of which the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, is not unfamiliar. I was vastly entertained by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Hendon. We are all very fond of the noble Baroness but her suggestion that the present government is a collection of the militant faction resurrected is somewhat far from the truth. I remind the noble Baroness that it is New Labour.
The extraordinary prejudice that was imported into the noble Baroness's speech and that of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, as to the current role of trade unions is rather mind boggling. I know that many of us are rather ancient but it is never too late to overcome prejudice. It is time to consider the present state of the trade unions.
I personally believe that there was a case for reform and that the role undertaken by trade unions during the winter of discontent was arrogant. It brought down the Labour government of which I was proud to be a member and that situation was intolerable. However, the Thatcher government went too far. The balance became unacceptable as well. For them, balance is a chip on both shoulders. It was manifestly plain at the last general election that the country had come to recognise that the last government had gone too far and that the power of irresponsible employers had replaced the irresponsibility of some trade unions.
One of the problems is not trade unions but unofficial action, which was often provoked by the very thing that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, spoke about—the rigidity of statutory provision and the inability to modify a position in light of experience. As 984 the noble and learned Lord well knows, it is not easy to gain parliamentary time to introduce yet another Bill—although it is true that the Conservatives had three employment Bills in their 18 years.
My noble friend Lord Simon of Highbury said that we are facing huge challenges in the demands that will be made of industry and hence of industrial relations as we move into the next millennium. We are still far behind France and Germany in terms of productivity, and that has something to do with building up a better, more harmonious relationship at work—where there is greater co-operation and each side seeks to understand the position of the other. It is enormously important that we are prepared to recognise the need to change the environment at the workplace. That is the purpose of the Bill and of a number of other measures. I was privileged to help the National Minimum Wage Bill through this House. Other measures include the possibility of enhancing employee share ownership. All such measures are designed to secure a better environment in the workplace.
I have no doubt that we will learn as we go along. That will not be easy. Attitudes must be changed. Hence the importance of the government provision in the Bill for training facilities for employers and employees alike, to be better able to face the challenges.
I do not imagine for one moment that we will be able to dispense with traditional dispute resolution. It would be folly to think that. But creating a better, more co-operative sense of partnership in industry will invade that area as well. True partnership involves a keener appreciation of the role of each other and the support that each side of industry can afford each other because their ambitions are the same.
The noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, will not share the argument that one of the great benefits of the European Union is that considerable action has been taken to achieve that end. The EU has decisively rejected the antediluvian view that there always has to be conflict between the two sides of industry. Bitterness, rancour and conflict were the hallmarks of so much of our late industrial past, including the period of Conservative government.
The Bill's provisions provide for dignity at the workplace, and that is the relevance of helping to promote family friendly employment practices. Those, together with the other measures, mirror the Government's ambition to proclaim an interdependent combination of laws and practices because each area of the Bill is dependent upon the other. The establishment of a fair, just and strong society is clearly to be preferred to the ideological approach taken by our predecessors and by some trade unionists in the past.
Frankly, I do not understand the Conservative case, but if the Opposition are saying that paternity leave, extended maternity leave and all the other things criticised by the noble Baroness are dangerous and damaging to industrial relations, is it the Conservatives' intention—if they return to power in 15 or 20 years—to repeal those provisions?
§ Baroness Miller of Hendon
My Lords, our complaint is that too much is not on the face of the Bill. 985 We do not know what it means. In many respects, we are not even sure that the Government know. We hope that the Government will clarify many points.
§ Lord Clinton-Davis
My Lords, I am sure that clarification will emerge. It always does in Committee and on Report. My noble friend has already alluded to that. Further consultation is required and it would be wrong to be too prescriptive at this stage.
It is essential to recognise—and the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, did not do service to this point—that the Bill has been the subject of intensive consultation. At the end of the day a package has been arrived at between the TUC and the CBI and there is broad agreement in principle. I see that the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, shakes his head, but what I have just said is completely accurate. He can shake his head as much as he likes.
§ Lord Cavendish of Furness
My Lords, is the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, aware that not all of us in manufacturing industry regard the CBI as the last word in consultation?
§ Lord Clinton-Davis
My Lords, that is another point. The noble Lord has his disagreements with the CBI. I mentioned the CBI specifically.
§ Lord Tebbit
My Lords, does the noble Lord suggest that if the Opposition table any amendments that the CBI should like to see made to this Bill the Government will accept them? Surely, that is the message that he gives.
§ Lord Clinton-Davis
My Lords, I have not been in a position to give any messages to the Government since the previous July. My views on that matter are hardly helpful. It is a matter for the Government to decide. However, the most extensive consultation took place, and I believe that it was right to undertake it. Consultation must go on, particularly in relation to the corpus of regulations that must be introduced. But the course that the Government have taken indicates an absence of the rigidity that marked the approach of their predecessors.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, spoke about the generosity of the previous government's views on trade unions. He forgot the appalling events at GCHQ and the scarring of industrial relationships on a far wider scale than simply the workers at that establishment. I am proud that as one of their first acts the Government have decided to put that right. The previous government did not favour trade unions. One hears from the lips of the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, that the Conservative Party is still visibly—sometimes eloquently—opposed to the very principle of trade unions. Trade unions do not exist simply to negotiate wages or conditions but to provide a major supportive role. They look after their members at times of accidents, provide legal support and give help when 986 their members are unwell and become old. I never hear members of the Conservative Party mention those important factors.
§ Baroness Miller of Hendon
My Lords, I am not sure that the noble Lord read my lips correctly. My lips did not say anything at that stage. As a matter of fact, the trade union legislation introduced by the previous Conservative government made the trade unions much easier to live with. We are talking here about the position of trade unions when this Bill and the regulations are brought into effect. One important point that the noble Lord has not answered is that made by my noble and learned friend Lord Mayhew. I believe my noble and learned friend said that in 1979, 27 million days—my brief makes reference to 29 million days—were lost through industrial action, and in 1996 only 1.3 million days were lost. That is the result of Conservative legislation.
§ Lord Clinton-Davis
My Lords, for one moment I thought that to read the lips of the noble Baroness would be a pleasurable experience. However, she now descends into the kind of speech that she made before. I shall not give way again.
I find it a little odd that a government who decimated manufacturing industry should claim responsibility for the benefits that have accrued to industry in this country. That government burdened industry with a massive number of regulations and now claim to be business-friendly. That is simply not in accord with reality.
I should like to raise two particular points relating to the Bill that have been brought to my attention. First, the use by employers of waiver clauses that remove their employees' rights to redundancy payments is a matter that gives rise to some concern. Under current employment law it is possible for employers to arrange for employees to sign away their rights relating to unfair dismissal and redundancy. I understand that while the Government have moved to prohibit the use of unfair dismissal waiver clauses, redundancy waiver clauses, remain untouched under the Bill. Perhaps my noble friend will allude to that when he comes to wind up.
Secondly, I refer to the draft proposal for a fixed term work directive from the European Commission. Its intention is to end differences in employment rights between fixed term and permanent employees. This matter has been the subject of widespread consultation by the social partners and has also been adopted by the European Parliament in both committee and plenary session. Do the Government have any objection to that proposal? If so, on what basis is that disagreement ventilated? I believe that this proposal is one that does and should enjoy widespread support. I do not believe that the Conservative Party speaks for the people of this country on this issue. The Conservative Party simply utters prejudices that it has held for years and years and shows no sign of reform whatever.
§ Lord Burlison
My Lords, before we move to the Statement on Kosovo, I should like to take the opportunity to remind the House that the Companion 987 indicates that discussion on a Statement should be confined to brief comments and questions for clarification. Peers who speak at length do so at the expense of other noble Lords.