HC Deb 12 December 1990 vol 182 cc1051-76
Mr. Speaker

I ask hon. Members to leave the Chamber quietly if they are not remaining for this debate. I should announce to the House that I have selected the amendment in the name of the Leader of the Opposition.

10.15 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Eric Forth)

I beg to move, That this House takes note of European Community Documents Nos. 8072/90 and 9601/90 on non-standard work; and endorses the Government's view that, in the light of the 1.6 million new part-time jobs created in the United Kingdom since March 1983 and the overwhelming preference of part-time workers for part-time rather than full-time work, the Government should not accept proposals which would greatly increase the cost of employing part-time and temporary workers and would significantly reduce the number of jobs, thereby damaging the competitiveness of our industry, and that of the European Community.

I begin by apologising to the Scrutiny Committee for the fact that it has had very little time to consider the new explanatory memoranda on the revised versions of these directives. As I am sure hon. Members will appreciate, the new documents were received only at the end of last month, just in time for the Social Affairs Council on 26 November.

This debate is timely, as it allows me to outline the Government position in the run-up to the next Social Affairs Council on 18 December, where these three directives will again be considered.

The motion concerns three proposed directives which the European Commission published earlier this year as part of the social action programme to implement the social charter.

I should like to make a few general points which will, I hope, help to put this debate into context. The Government believe that what the Community does must pass the test of three criteria—those for Community action which were unanimously agreed at the Madrid European Council in June 1989. This implies looking at each Commission proposal on its merits and asking the following three questions. First, will the proposal encourage the creation of jobs for the people of Europe? Secondly, if the proposal passes this test, is action necessary at Community level? Finally, if such action is shown to be necessary, does the proposal respect the different national traditions and practices which exist in the Community?

The social action programme contains nearly 50 proposals which the Commission has committed itself to bringing forward by the end of next year. About half the proposals are for legally binding directives. That represents a significant volume of new regulation of employment and social affairs. Overall, we hope to be able to accept most of the Commission's proposals, especially on health and safety. Others pose great problems for the United Kingdom and at least two of the three directives referred to in the Government motion fall into that category.

Before getting on to the detail of the motion, I should like to say a word about our commitment to the European Community. The true criterion for commitment is the extent to which countries have implemented and put into effect measures that the Community has already agreed. On that criterion, our record of commitment is outstanding.

Let me give some figures. Of the 107 measures due for implementation by March of this year under the single market programme, the United Kingdom had failed to implement only 18. That is an excellent record. There is a yawning gap between our performance and that of those at the bottom of the league. For example, Italy still must implement no fewer than 62 single market measures.

Our record in the social area is even better. At the last Social Affairs Council in November the Commission produced a report on implementation of existing EC social legislation throughout the Community. According to the Commission's own figures, the United Kingdom leads all other member states; and of the 18 existing directives in the social field, we are the only member state to have implemented all of them.

It is also worth looking at the extent to which countries take rapid action to comply with judgments of the European Court of Justice when legislation to enact measures approved by the Community is held to be deficient. We have only one judgment outstanding. Germany has 12 and Italy 37. Those are figures in which we can justifiably take pride. In my view, they are not sufficiently well known or understood, but they illustrate and underline our commitment to the Community.

The three draft directives referred to in the motion amount to a package of measures covering part-time and temporary work—what the Commission, rather unhappily, calls "atypical" or "non-standard" work.

The first directive deals with certain employment relationships with regard to working conditions", to use the Commission's wording. We normally refer to it for convenience as the article 100 directive, referring to the fact that the Commission has put it forward under article 100 of the treaty of Rome. The directive contains a large number of proposals governing the working conditions of part-time and temporary workers, excluding those who work an average of less than eight hours a week, but including temporary staff working through employment businesses and also those on fixed-term contracts.

The second directive concerns certain employment relationships with regard to distortions of competition", again to use the Commission's own wording. For convenience, we normally refer to that as the article 100A directive, to distinguish it from the other two, which are put forward on different legal bases. This draft directive contains a number of provisions intended to remove alleged distortions of competition caused by different rules in member states governing the employment of part-time and temporary workers. It is subject to the same exclusion and inclusion which I have just mentioned on the article 100 directive.

I say in parenthesis at this point that the Commission has produced no evidence to substantiate its allegations about "distortion of competition". Many part-timers are in fact employed in the non-trading sector where competitiveness is unlikely to be affected by differences in their treatment. Furthermore, any competitive distortion of this kind is insignificant compared with the much greater differences in labour costs resulting from differences in pay levels and overall social security provision.

Finally, the third draft directive deals with the health and safety of temporary workers.

Mr. Teddy Taylor (Southend, East)

Before my hon. Friend the Minister moves on from the article 100A directive, can he tell us whether the Government believe that 100A is the appropriate article, bearing in mind that these very expensive and silly regulations can now be imposed on the United Kingdom, whether we like it or not? Do the Government accept article 100A? How can all this be happening when apparently we have not even signed the social charter?

Mr. Forth

As usual, my hon. Friend has made a telling point. Indeed we did not sign the social charter and this programme flows from it. We have taken to ourselves the right, as a member state, to examine each element in the programme on its merits and to apply to it the tests to which I have just referred to see whether the measures are appropriate or worthwhile. As I have said, we believe that some of the measures, particularly with regard to health and safety, are defensible and desirable and they will have our support. However, as I was about to say, we do not believe that the other measures on atypical work deserve our support, certainly not in their present form. The truth is that we do not accept that the legal base is sound and we have indicated our unhappiness and dissatisfaction about that. That is a cause of continuing discussion in the Council of Ministers. I hope that I can satisfy my hon. Friend more fully later in my speech, although I doubt it.

I was about to refer to the directive known in shorthand as the article 118A directive. I should make it clear at the outset that the Government support the principle of the article 118 directive on the health and safety of temporary workers. A broad measure of agreement has been reached in official discussions on this proposal. While some important points of detail still need to be resolved—for example, we need, in particular, to ensure a flexible requirement that does not impose unnecessary burdens on industry—I am sure that the Council of Ministers could move fairly quickly to a common position on this directive.

However, the other two draft directives pose great problems and are in our view misguided. Our view is that the Commission's proposals would greatly increase the costs of employing part-time and temporary workers. They would significantly reduce the number of jobs and thereby damage not only our industrial competitiveness, but that of the European Community as a whole.

It may help if I set the scene on part-time and temporary work in the Community as a whole before referring to the position in the United Kingdom.

Throughout Europe, employers are having to find new and more flexible forms of work to attract into jobs the peope whom they need for their businesses. The number of part-time and temporary jobs in the Community has grown rapidly in recent years, and there are now 14 million part-time employees, and 10 million temporary workers throughout the Community.

Community labour markets are extremely diverse. For example, part-time work is unusual in Italy, Portugal and Greece. But in Denmark, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom more than one in five jobs are part-time. As far as temporary workers are concerned, in some countries, such as Spain, Portugal and Greece, about one in five employees are employed on a temporary basis. By contrast, in Italy, Belgium and the United Kingdom only about one in 20 jobs fall into that category. It is worth noting that in Italy temporary work is very strictly controlled.

But all the signs are that employers will need to create more flexible job opportunities in response to changes in industries and occupations and the nature of work itself. The demographic changes that are taking place throughout Europe mean that employers will increasingly need to take on women and older workers. Moreover, there will be increasing demand for part-time and other flexible opportunities.

What is the Commission's response to that? There is a clear signal in its description of part-time and temporary work as "non-standard" or "atypical". It appears to think of part-time and temporary work as in some way second-rate and unpopular with employees.

That is certainly not the experience of the United Kingdom. Nor does it square with the experience in other Community countries, where the unsatisfied demand for part-time work is such that there are many applications for every part-time vacancy advertised.

In the United Kingdom, almost a quarter of our employed work force is part-time—about 6.5 million people. Clearly, there is nothing "atypical" about part-time work here. Well over 1.5 million new part-time jobs have been created since 1983 and there is clear evidence that the demand for part-time jobs will continue to increase.

Moreover—this point is crucial—there is no doubt that part-time work is popular with employees in this country, as well as with employers. People who work part time in Britain do not think that they are second-best to those who work full time. They work part time because they want to.

The most recent labour force survey shows that fewer than one in 14 work part time because they cannot find a full-time job. Part-time work is particularly popular with women. Only 6 per cent. of women with part-time jobs took them because they could not find a full-time job. A survey commissioned by the CBI in the spring of 1990 showed that 80 per cent. of women in Britain who want to return to work in the next five years will be looking for part-time work.

The Commission's approach to part-time and temporary work would put at risk all those desirable developments. The effect of this proposal would clearly be to make part-time and temporary work more expensive for employers and more difficult for them to organise. There can be only one result of that—fewer opportunities for part-time work.

My Department's economists have estimated that the direct impact costs of the Commission's proposals to employers in the United Kingdom would be about £1 billion. The figure does not include the increased burden of regulation associated with the directives. Therefore, the implementation of those directives in the United Kingdom would imperil thousands of jobs.

The social security aspects of those proposals would also have a direct effect on the pay of many employees. For those 1.75 million employees in Britain who work part time and earn less than £46 per week, the proposals would actually have the effect of reducing their take-home pay by making them liable to pay national insurance contribu-ions for the first time.

We are not alone in our views. Unlike most other member states, we consulted widely on the Commission's proposals. Almost every response from United Kingdom employers saw the potential in the proposals for costs to increase and the inevitable consequences for their ability to create jobs.

The general approach of the Government to these matters is to encourage employers to create part-time and flexible job opportunities. That is good for efficiency and it is what gives choice to employees. It means avoiding the unnecessary regulation of employment, which would add to employers' costs and make it harder for them to create jobs, while maintaining a strong framework of essential employment protection.

Mrs. Audrey Wise (Preston)

The Minister mentioned consultation and employers. Who else did he consult? Specifically, did he consult trade unions?

Mr. Forth

Yes, indeed. We consulted several hundred organisations and companies and undertakings. Overwhelmingly, the response from employers who create wealth and provide job opportunities was hostile to the directives.

Perhaps surprisingly, the trade unions generally support the measures. That confirms my long-held belief that the trade unions are no longer interested in employment and jobs. They might be interested in providing misguided protection for those relatively few of their members who are left, but they are not interested in providing increased job opportunities for people who tend not to be trade union members. The response from the trade unions is revealing and damaging.

Mr. Tony Lloyd (Stretford)

Given that the Institute of Personnel Management has made the same kind of welcoming noises to the directives, does the Minister also believe that that institute is not interested in employment and jobs?

Mr. Forth

The hon. Gentleman is wrong. The institute welcomed some elements of the directives, but, equally, it thought that some others would be damaging. I think that it would be fair to characterise its response as somewhat mixed. Although the hon. Gentleman is entitled to take a selective view of what one body said——

Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West)

The Minister is also being selective.

Mr. Forth

I did not mention the Institute of Personnel Management; I am simply responding to the question. I want to ensure that the House is not misguided by what the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Lloyd) said.

Mr. Tim Janman (Thurrock)

My hon. Friend has rightly described how the British Government have consulted with employers and paid heed to their valuable contribution. It might be more positive if the Governments of Germany and Portugal took more note of what their employers have said. The Select Committee on Employment recently visited those countries and we were pleasantly surprised at the degree of scepticism and, in some instances, the sheer opposition of employers' organisations to the directives issued as a result of the social charter. They are are opposed for the very reasons that my hon. Friend has expertly advanced tonight.

Mr Forth

My hon. Friend has made an important and striking point.

Although we make efforts to consult widely on such matters—such efforts are also made by other Departments such as the Department of Trade and Industry—it is noticeable that most of the other member states do not have the mechanism, or the will, so to consult. That explains why politicians from the continent can come to the Council of Ministers and support such measures, which can damage employment prospects. Apparently they are unwilling to acknowledge those potentially damaging effects because they have failed to consult their employers—their wealth creators—or other represen-tatives. That is damaging not only to those member states, but to the Community.

Mr. William Cash (Stafford)


Mr. Forth

I gladly give way to the newly elected chairman of the Back-Bench European affairs committee.

Mr. Cash

Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the problems is that the other EC member states do not scrutinise the legislation properly? Although we may have to improve our methods of scrutiny, those countries have an absolute requirement to do so. Many things are not sorted out at the appropriate level in the Community because other member states do not go through the stuff in the right manner, while we are trying to do it even better.

Mr. Forth

That is correct.

Often measures before the Council of Ministers have hardly been scrutinised in the sense that the House would understand the meaning of that word. Often we have to force other countries to undertake such scrutiny and that leads to allegations of unhelpfulness, when the reverse is true. We are trying to make things workable and effective, but our attempts are often misconstrued as being negative.

Mr. John Butterfill (Bournemouth, West)

Is not it true that the Italian president of the Social Affairs Council, Sr. Donat Cattin, admitted that people did not realise what they had signed up to under the social charter?

Mr. Forth

My hon. Friend has demonstrated his usual perception.

The presidency has been disappointed to note that, now that we have got to the detail behind the measures contained in the social action programme, many member states that had rushed quickly to sign up to the social charter are now beginning to wonder whether those measures are what they bargained for. That explains the change in attitude in the Council of Ministers as we reach the later stages of the development of the social action programme.

Mr. Flynn

I hate to interrupt the chorus of self-adulation among Conservative Members, but I must point out that the Government are highly selective in the way that they treat the representations that they receive. They recently consulted on statutory sick pay. Every trade union and organisation of employees and of employers said that it was opposed to the changes in SSP, because they would rob industry of jobs and hence of its ability to employ people. The Government wholly ignored that consultation, yet tonight they pretend to be responding to consultation. When they disagree with the results of consultation, they ignore it.

Mr. Forth

The hon. Gentleman is entitled to his own interpretation. I was not responsible for the DSS consultation on SSP, but I am sure that it was comprehensive and detailed. In my experience, once changes of the sort mentioned by the hon. Gentleman have been carefully explained to those affected by them, they see them in a more positive light. I have found when dealing with small business, for which I am responsible, that, once people have the true nature of the changes explained to them, they respond more positively. That gives the lie to the hon. Gentleman's suggestion. But as we are not debating statutory sick pay this evening, I do not want to use up any more time——

Mr. Flynn


Mr. Forth

I really must get on. The hon. Gentleman has introduced a red herring to the debate, and we should now allow it to rest.

The Commission's proposals on part-time and temporary work deal with matters that are best left to individual member states to decide. In other words, the proposals offend against the Commission's own principle of subsidiarity—the principle that action should not be taken at Community level unless the objective can be achieved only by action at that level; and that such action should go no further than is necessary to achieve the objective.

The proposals are costly. They are unnecessary. They are also counter-productive because they would harm the interests of the very people whom they seek to protect. The result would be a loss of jobs throughout the Community.

The effect on employers would be equally disastrous. They would face restrictions on their ability to organise and to afford the flexible working patterns that they and their employees need. At the same time, businesses throughout the European Community must continue to compete with businesses in countries such as the United States of America and Japan, to say nothing of the newly industrialised countries, which do not have similar restrictions. It is significant that in the 15 years between 1973 and 1988 total employment in the Community grew by only 5 per cent. Over the same period employment in the United States of America grew by 35 per cent.

The Commission takes no notice of all this. It has not even entered its head. For example, it is astonishing that it has put forward its proposals without making any assessment of the impact that the proposals would have on employers' costs and on jobs in the Community.

It is often suggested that we are on our own in having doubts about the Commission's proposals on part-time and temporary work. That is quite wrong. It was clear from the last meeting of the Social Affairs Council on 26 November—my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West (Mr. Butterfill) made this point—that other member states shared a number of the United Kingdom's doubts and reservations about the Commission's proposals, both on the legal base and on the substance. That Council meeting showed that when the Community gets down to discussing the reality of actual proposals, our priorities and our concerns are shared widely throughout the rest of the Community. I welcome the realism and pragmatism of that approach.

We will continue to challenge the need for these directives, while playing a full and constructive part in discussions on them. During the negotiations we will urge our Community partners to ensure that whatever we do at Community level will help, instead of hinder, employers in every Community country to create the part-time and other job opportunities which the people of Europe want and which employers need.

Mr. Teddy Taylor

Will the Minister give way? He promised to answer a specific point.

Mr. Forth

indicated dissent.

Mr. Taylor

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)

Order. Is the Minister giving way?

Mr. Forth


Mr. Taylor

That is unfair.

10.39 pm
Mr. Tony Lloyd (Stretford)

I beg to move, as an amendment to the motion, to leave out from "work" to the end of the Question, and to insert instead thereof: recognises the significant increase in the numbers and proportion of people in the United Kingdom labour force engaged in part-time and temporary work; is aware that many people, including a high percentage of women workers, rely on such work in the absence of full-time employment or to fit in with other demands on their time; is conscious of the important economic contribution of such workers; believes that measures designed to put the working conditions of such people on the same footing as full-time employees is in itself socially desirable and would reduce any artificial incentive for employers to create part-time rather than full-time work.".

I shall leave Conservative Members to continue their internal row while the Opposition continue to speak for the interests of the nation and for the interests of those people, mainly women, who are engaged in part-time work. I am pleased to be accompanied by the Opposition spokesman on women's issues, my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Ms. Richardson). I contrast that with the attitude of the Prime Minister, who failed to appoint a woman to his Cabinet.

We are debating the social charter, about which the Minister and his hon. Friends have become quite excited. The debate is important because, as the Minister has said, it is the first debate on the substance of the social charter. It is a great shame that Conservative Members talk about consultation and the demerits of Europe's devious Foreign Ministers. The Council of Ministers had already met to discuss the directives before the House had an opportunity to debate them.

The Minister shows contempt for our democratic processes by complaining about consultation by other bodies, when it is obvious that the Government did not make a meaningful attempt to bring about consultation. Conservative Members who read the Government's consultation document might be surprised to find that the Government's consultation offer was couched in a way that would lead a casual reader to conclusions warranted only by the premises in that so-called consultation document. It answered its own questions, and as an exercise in consultation it was nothing more than a hollow joke.

Mr. Janman

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Lloyd


Mr. Janman

The hon. Gentleman is frightened to give way.

Mr. Lloyd

We are debating not only progressive measures from the European Commission but also the way in which the Government are prepared to sabotage the interests of our working people. By their stupid and crass approach to European matters, the Government are jeopardising not only the position of part-time workers but their own position. I shall develop that matter later.

Mr. Janman

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. It proves that he is not frightened. Why does the hon. Gentleman think that the Government are sabotaging the interests of working people? I emphasise the word "working". If the Government were to support the directive on part-time working and some of the other European Commission directives, there would be a substantial reduction in the number of people in work.

Mr. Lloyd

I invite the hon. Gentleman to listen carefully to my speech. I hope that I can set his mind at rest and that he will have the intellectual honesty to vote with the Opposition on this matter. By being alarmist, the Government may please Conservative Members, but such an approach serves no useful purposes to employers or to employees.

The Minister has said that, throughout Europe, there are about 14 million part-time workers and about 10 million temporary workers. In Britain there are well over 5 million part-time workers. The Minister says 6 million, but we are not here to quibble over the exact figure or to deny that part-time work plays an important part in our economy. Our amendment makes it clear that we value the contribution of part-time workers and recognise their importance and the importance of such work as a means of offering flexibility to employers and employees. In so far as the relationship is acceptable to both parties, the Opposition are as determined as anybody to make sure that part-time work remains a useful and successful part of the national working and economic scenes.

Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South)

Will the hon. Gentleman also recognise that there is a difference between temporary and part-time work, and that both are equally important?

Mr. Lloyd

I agree, and the Labour party has no objection to temporary work. Many employers are beginning to employ part-time and temporary workers on contracts equivalent to those offered to full-time workers. The Incomes Data Service found in its study of June of this year that, out of a sample of 32 companies, all but five had made improvements to the conditions of part-time workers over the past five years, and had moved them more into line with full-time workers. We know from evidence given to the Select Committee on Employment that Unilever feels that it gets a 9 per cent. productivity advantage by employing part-time workers. Many firms in banking, finance and retail are beginning to bring part-time conditions into line with those for full-time workers. Ford has recently announced that it intends to employ part-time workers so as to get over problems of absenteeism.

Government Departments, such as the Treasury and the Customs and Excise, have moved some way towards approximating conditions for both full and part-time workers. In none of those companies and Departments has the cry gone up that they are either jeopardising employment or introducing an unnecessary financial burden. The House must understand that many enlightened employers already recognise that it is in their interests, both in moral and productivity terms, to make sure that this happens. In some cases, this is because both local or national skill shortages, or demographic changes, have meant that employers have had to take into account the need to provide flexible employment conditions so as to attract into work people who would not otherwise be available.

Mr. Butterfill

I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way; he has been most generous in doing so. Does he accept that the principle of subsidiarity is important, and, if so, does he accept that a directive such as this should be introduced only if there is serious distortion of competition arising out of it that needs to be corrected? Does he also accept that the Commission has given no evidence that there is any such distortion?

Mr. Lloyd

While we understand the concept of subsidiarity, and in some circumstances would accept it as a rationale for national decision making, the Opposition accept the social charter as a necessary parallel to the single market process. We not only believe that the charter is social justice, but demand that employees should be given social conditions comparable to the best in Europe. That is important, and because of the Government's failure to do anything to protect the employment rights and conditions of part-time workers, we insist that the Community brings in these directives to do so instead. That does not violate the principle of subsidiarity, but rightly means that, where a Government fail to behave acceptably, the Commission has an obligation to protect the people of the country.

The Minister did not address the downside of part-time work. While national and local skill shortages and demographic change may lead to employers needing to offer flexible employment, the Opposition are not content to rely on those factors as the guarantor of acceptable working conditions for millions of lower paid, part-time workers, the majority of whom are women.

More than four in five part-time workers are low-paid on any normal definition of that term. We are not prepared to accept the lack of training opportunities for the low-paid. This country and Ireland alone in the Community have legal systems that actively discriminate against part-time and temporary workers, allowing their employment conditions to be worse than those of people in full-time work. The Opposition find that morally objectionable and economically unjustifiable.

I am conscious of the challenge put to me by the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Janman). The existence of legal discrimination against part-time workers is tantamount to indirect discrimination against women, and runs contrary to article 119 of the treaty. No one looks to the present Government to do anything practical about those problems. We welcome the decision made by the courts in the Bilka-Kaufhas case, which made it clear that less favourable pensions for part-time workers ran contrary to article 119 and effectively amounted to unlawful discrimination against women. I want to place on record our strong support for the recent decision by the Equal Opportunities Commission to take the Government to court on the issue of indirect discrimination against part-time workers who work too few hours to qualify for protection against unfair dismissal, and who lose out on redundancy compensation.

We applaud the EOC's decision, but will the Minister quash once and for all the rumour that the Government intend to extract a penalty from the EOC for its temerity in taking them to court? It is important that the Minister should place it on record that there will be no retribution.

There is no doubt that our legislation directly discriminates against women, and as such it has no role in the kind of society that we want to build, although it is entirely consistent with the policies of a Government who have abandoned any pretence of making available adequate child care provision and the concept of allowing women to go back to work.

The Minister cited his own study. I propose to quote from the EOC's study: The two disincentives to women working longer hours, or in some cases going out to work at all, are the lack of affordable quality child care while children are young and the absence of attractive employment prospects. The provision of adequate child care is in the Government's hands; they do nothing about it and therefore condemn many women to part-time work. The lack of acceptable work for women is central to the part of the directive dealing with training.

Will the Minister explain why the Government oppose —or have made no positive noises about—that part of directive 100 which would give part-time workers access to training on an equivalent basis to full-time workers? Without that, he knows that he condemns many women to continue in part-time work when they would benefit from the training that would allow them to move into a different kind of employment when their circumstances allow it.

Mr. Janman

The hon. Gentleman is discussing part-time workers, the way in which Britain goes about things and the opposition to the directives. He says that we are discriminating against women in some way. That is complete and utter piffle. Only 6 per cent. of women in part-time work in Britain are in part-time work because they cannot find full-time work. More than nine in 10 are in part-time work because that is what they want and because part-time working fits in with their other responsibilities, such as looking after their families.

We have a good record in the European Community when it comes to providing part-time jobs in the marketplace. How can the hon. Gentleman seriously allege that, in standing up to the Commission on the directives, we are acting against women's interests, given that we merely seek to protect part-time jobs which more than 94 per cent. of part-time women workers want?

Mr. Lloyd

That was an inordinately long intervention. The Government survey is nonsense. Those 94 per cent. of women do not seek part-time work: they work part-time because in many cases child care facilities are not available to enable them to work longer hours. The hon. Gentleman has little experience of these matters. I invite him to come and talk to many women—my wife is an example—[Laughter.] I am amazed that the Government Whip, the hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. Knight), should find it a source of mirth that the spouse of an hon. Member should be denied access to better working conditions because of inadequate child care facilities.

Mrs. Edwina Curries (Derbyshire, South)

May I suggest that the hon. Gentleman shuts up and sits down, and allows somebody on the Conservative Benches to put the case better?

Mr. Lloyd

The hon. Lady is never shy to put forward the virtues of her arguments. If she will allow me, I shall make my case in my own way. I shall listen with interest to what she has to say when she makes her speech.

There is discrimination against women in the workplace because of the discriminatory nature of legislation. It is important to contrast the position in Britain with that in other countries. The Minister made great play with the position elsewhere and mentioned that there is a higher proportion of people in part-time work in the Netherlands and in Denmark than there is in Britain. They have greater regulation—[Interruption.] The Minister disagrees. Can he give any examples of comparable discriminatory legislation against part-time workers in those countries? Such legislation does not exist in those countries, but it certainly exists in Britain.

I know that Sweden is not a member of the EEC, and as such will not be bound by the directives, but it already has conditions that apply to part-time workers that are more stringent than those that would apply under these directives, but it found that there was no diminution in part-time work.

France is probably a better example. In 1982, it introduced provisions that are much tighter than those contained in the directives. Between 1983 and 1988—a period that the Government often use as a basis for jobs growth—the increase of part-time work in Britain was about 26 per cent., but in France it was 36.6 per cent. Despite all the onerous regulations on part-time work in France, there was a much greater increase than in Britain —[Interruption.] The figures are in front of hon. Members, and it is for them to draw the interpretation from them that I draw.

There has been a greater growth in the proportion of part-time work in France than in Britain, despite the Minister's claim that regulations would destroy jobs. There is no evidence for that. I have read the methodology of the Department of Employment; the Minister should be ashamed to pray that in aid, because it is a shoddy piece of work.

Even if the figure of £1 billion that the Minister said would be the cost of the directives was accurate, is not that a little less than the costs imposed on business through the uniform business rate? Can the Minister draw any conclusions about the relative impact of the two? Will the cost of the uniform business rate destroy jobs in the way that the Minister claims the cost of the directives will do? If cost is central, the Government have already cost business more by the one move to the unified business rate than the directives will cost.

The Minister spoke about removing barriers, but that is a myth that the Government have perpetuated for many years. It is nonsense to say that the so-called barriers would act as a disincentive to employment. Survey after survey shows that only a small proportion of employers are deterred from employing people because of onerous employment rights.

According to a survey undertaken by Wood and Smith in 1988 for the Department of Employment, less than 1 per cent. of employers gave as a reason for employing part-timers the fact that they have fewer rights under employment protection law. The idea that a lack of employment rights is an incentive to employ is nonsense.

Three quarters of employers said that they used part-time workers to carry out tasks that are done for a limited number of hours, 30 per cent. to match staffing levels to peaks in demand, 33 per cent. because applicants wanted part-time work and 21 per cent. in order to keep staff who no longer wished to work full-time. There was no suggestion that removing the barriers would, as the Government claim, have any real effect on the location of employment.

Mr. Butterfill

Is not the hon. Gentleman saying that, because grass is green, everything that is green is grass? What he is saying is a non sequitur. If he is saying that employers do not choose to employ part-time workers because they cost less, that does not mean that they choose them for that reason. It does not mean that they would not be deterred if there were these impositions. He is surely putting the matter the wrong way round.

Mr. Lloyd

The hon. Gentleman has to understand that the position cannot be tested and I cannot give empirical evidence of what would happen were the directive in force, because the situation has not arisen. I have given examples of what happens in other countries and the view of employers, and that is as far as I can go. The hon. Gentleman can speculate, and his ideology insists that he speculate in a particular direction. All I can say is that the evidence does not support the views that he puts forward.

The same arguments have been put forward in the past, when other social legislation affecting employment terms and conditions has been introduced. I can remember Conservative Members arguing that equal pay would lead to lack of work for women. It did not. We saw a growth of employment for women in the period that followed. Whenever social legislation offers protection to workers, the Conservative party says that it will destroy jobs. It does not in Europe and it does not in Britain, but hon. Members want to believe it, because it fits in with their ideology and with the myth that protecting people at work harms jobs. It gives their economic and social arguments a veneer of respectability.

Mr. Quentin Davies (Stamford and Spalding)

Is the hon. Gentleman denying the proposition that an increase in the price of anything reduces demand for it—a proposition which applies equally to labour as to any other commodity? If he is denying that, he is altering the basic rules of economics, as well as, I am afraid, denying the rules of common sense.

Mr. Lloyd

The hon. Gentleman has a weak understanding of economics, because there is something called derived demand and if he consults elementary text books he will discover that that can account for exactly that situation. The hon. Gentleman will forgive me if, rather than engaging in a debate about elementary economics, I press on with the more important matter of the directives.

It is significant that the Minister talked hardly at all about specifics. He said nothing about the Government's insistence on denying part-time workers access to training. That beggars belief, given the Government's claimed commitment to high quality training. The Opposition do not believe their claims, and we are reinforced in our lack of belief by the Government's action on the directive.

Do the Government still believe the nonsense peddled some time ago in the press that people on high incomes working fewer than eight hours would automatically be exempt from national insurance contributions as a result of one of the directives? It is important that the Minister should face up to the truth rather than continue to peddle that nonsense.

The Government's approach is dangerous, because, if the Minister is right, those on low pay could find themselves in difficulty. Lawyers would need to resolve the matter, but I can understand why the Minister argues as he does. But rather than risking a situation in which the French and Germans, having resolved their difficulties, accepted the directive and thus the situation that the Minister claims he is trying to defend us from, surely he would be better to negotiate seriously and not simply try to disrupt the whole basis on which the Commission and the Council of Ministers are proceeding—a much more important debate than the one in which the Minister wishes to engage. We should be in there; a Labour Government would be in there.

Mr. Forth

Can the hon. Gentleman explain this term that his party is so fond of using and abusing—"in there negotiating"? Officials from my Department spend days and days each month negotiating, and my fellow Ministers and I spend hours and hours, days and days, negotiating in the Council of Ministers. Where does the hon. Gentleman get the impression that all the Departments of Her Majesty's Government are not "in there negotiating" in the European Community?

Mr. Lloyd

I will tell the Minister precisely what I mean by that term. It comes up when Ministers make their frequent comments in the press—for example, when the now departed Secretary of State said that the Government would launch a crusade against the social charter, sounding like a latter-day Richard Coeur de Lion; when the Secretary of State told the press earlier this year, when the proposals were first drafted, that the Government intended to oppose them fundamentally; even when the Minister left the Council of Ministers meeting a couple of weeks ago and said that he felt that some long and tough negotiations would take place. It came up when the Minister told the TUC not so long ago that the Government were not prepared to accept anything in the first two directives, and would accept only a little in the third.

That is why we believe that the Government are not negotiating, and have no intention of giving part-time workers decent working conditions. That is why the Opposition disagree fundamentally with their position. We should be in there negotiating: we should be protecting the interests of part-time workers, and, where there is a legitimate national interest to defend, we should be defending it. What we should not be doing is what the Government are doing. They are using their own internal war as a justification for a war in Europe, and using divisions within the party as a reason to continue to play the European card to promote dissension—although, in so doing, they jeopardise that legitimate national interest, and the interests of workers.

In general, the Opposition welcome the directives—although parts of them should be subject to negotiation —and will do what we can, certainly when we are in government, to pursue them unilaterally if needs be.

Mr. Jonathan Aitken (Thanet, South)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I fear that we are suffering the effects of a conspiracy of elongated boredom on the part of the two Front Benches. The hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Lloyd) has now bored the House for 28 minutes, with much less excuse than my hon. Friend the Minister, who had the Government's point of view to present—and he took 24 minutes.

In a 90-minute debate, with many distinguished former Ministers, Back Benchers and other hon. Members on both sides of the House wishing to contribute, this really is a disgrace. It is yet another example of how the procedures of the House simply cannot work in 90-minute debates that take place late at night.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)

I understand the point that the hon. Gentleman is making. It is true that the debate must end at 11.45 pm. I have the strong impression that the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Lloyd) is approaching the conclusion of his speech.

Mr. Lloyd

I was, Mr. Deputy Speaker; but let me remind the House that I will make my own speech in my own time, on behalf of the Opposition.

I agree with the hon. Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken) on one point: it is ridiculous that a Minister should return from a Council of Ministers meeting, and we should have a debate after that. Nevertheless, I am not prepared to fail to make the Opposition's case—and, more important, that of the people of this country—for the sake of those whom my hon. Friend the Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn) rightly describes as the "Bruges loonies" on the Conservative Benches.

This issue is far too important for us to let the Minister pursue his own ideological fantasies. People expect better of the Government, but they will not get it. They therefore look to the European Community to bring in the directives, and they will have the Opposition's support.

11.10 pm
Mrs. Edwina Currie (Derbyshire, South)

I am not very happy about the wording of the motion. If we had tabled a motion to take note, or a motion that supported our Ministers in active negotiations to achieve whatever is best for the work force of this country, I should have felt very much happier. The wording of the motion is somewhat dismissive of part-time workers, the majority of whom, as the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Lloyd) said, are women.

The economics are probably wrong. Jobs in this country will not disappear in the 1990s. On the contrary, the demographic time bomb to which the Department of Employment drew our attention means that we shall be short of recruits in the 1990s. We shall not be short of jobs. Much of what has been said by the Minister flies in the face of all our efforts during the last 11 years to improve pensions and to ensure that people make an investment in their own future, with businesses being encouraged to help them to do so. It will cost us a lot more money if we do not pick up the point about pensions for part-time workers.

The Government are right to emphasise that the overall package is far too expensive and that to impose it on every business would be a mistake. To impose it overnight on business would also cause great problems. I shall restrict my remarks, therefore, to pensions for part-time workers.

The politics are wrong. If we asked women part-time workers whether they would like to have pensions as part of their part-time work, pro rata with their salaries, I think that they would be thrilled to bits. It is already good practice in this country; it is the policy of the very best employers and the practice is increasing year by year.

Who are we talking about? In 1989, 72 per cent. of all women of working age had paid jobs of one kind or another and 29 per cent. of them were part time. It is complacent nonsense to suggest that the reason they are part time is that they all passionately want to be part time. The reason that they are part time is that they are looking after children. In many ways that has to be in the public interest. It is certainly the policy on this side of the House that women should have such a choice. Twenty-nine per cent. of women with children under five are working part time; 49 per cent. of those with children between the ages of five and nine are working part time; 43 per cent. of those with children between the ages of 10 and 16 are working part time; but only 22 per cent. are working part time once their children reach the age of 16. Then they switch to full-time work. By that stage we are close to having eight out of 10 women in this country in paid work. Therefore, we are referring to millions upon millions of women for whom the preference for part time work is a matter of having no choice. We want them to be part time and we want to encourage them to do part-time work.

Even those women who are in full-time work in this country enjoy far fewer benefits, particularly with regard to pensions. The OPCS monitor of the general household survey for 1989, published on 30 October, showed that 80 per cent. of male full-time workers are in a pension scheme, whereas only 66 per cent. of female full-time workers are in a pension scheme. We do not yet have the 1989 figures for part-time workers in pension schemes, but they are mostly women and most of them do not stand a whisker's chance of being in a pension scheme unless they are employed by one of the most thoughtful and enlightened employers.

Let me pursue the question about loss of jobs. The Department of Employment says that by the end of the 1990s there will be 1 million new jobs. Conditions in the 1990s will not be the same as those that we experienced in the 1980s. There was a glut of young people in the 1980s. We had to find 1 million additional jobs just to keep unemployment below the 3 million mark. That will not happen now. The Department of Employment's own figures show that the number of 16 to 19-year-olds coming into the jobs market during the next few years will drop by 23 per cent. By the end of the century the number of people of working age under the age of 25 will have dropped from around the 8 million mark, where it is now, to about 6 million. So 2 million people will simply disappear. The Department of Employment has been hammering away, trying to persuade employers to take this fact on board and to be realistic about it.

What that will mean is more women workers. Again, the Department of Employment has said that, of the 1 million new jobs between now and the end of the century, 90 per cent. will have to go to women because there will be no fellas to do them. In particular, there will be no young workers to do them. On the one hand, the Department says that 90 per cent. of the new jobs will go to women workers. On the other hand, it says, suddenly, that all those jobs will vanish. Frankly, I doubt it. I do not think that they will vanish. I am not sure that the hon. Member for Stretford made a very good case, but the economics are all there and the figures are all there.

However, my main concern and the reason why I shall not support the Opposition in the Lobby is that an important point of public policy has been completely missed. What do most businesses and working people in this country complain about? The answer is tax. If we add up the amount of tax that the average working man with a family is now paying, including income tax and VAT and all the other bits and bobs, one finds that a higher proportion of his income is taxed now than when this tax-cutting Government came into office in 1979. Most businesses would prefer to pay less corporation tax and less VAT.

It costs us a fortune to assist people who do not have a pension. What is the largest burden on businesses? Tax. What is the largest departmental budget? Social security. What is the largest single item in the social security budget? Pay-as-you-go pensions, and the second largest item is income support. I would like to bet that if the Department of Employment carried out a careful analysis of the social security statistics, it would find that many of those who are claiming income support and who have no contributions towards their pensions are people who worked part time —mostly women—or women whose husbands did not have a pension scheme or whose pension scheme did not have an allowance for survivors.

Three and a quarter million women of pensionable age live alone in this country. They are—they do not wish to be—a considerable burden on the public purse. What bothers me is that if we continue to be so negative about notions of encouraging pensions for part-time workers, that will increase. It is the one budget that will not shrink. In the interests of keeping public expenditure under control and of bearing down on inflation, on which we do not have the best record in Europe, I believe that there is a strong public policy case for looking once more at the question of pensions.

We should begin to require employers to work towards having a decent pension scheme for every employee. That should be done gradually, over a long period. We could exempt smaller businesses, as we do from many other burdens, and ensure that the costs were kept under control for them. The pension should be pro rata to the employee's salary, as is the case in Marks and Spencer, Sainsbury and many other businesses. The costs should be shared between the worker, the employer and the Government —in the sense of tax relief, which is how we could encourage the development of the pension scheme.

That would mean that in years to come fewer people would be dependent on the pay-as-you-go pension, fewer people would need to draw social security and there would be more people proudly having invested in their own pensions with the encouragement and the contributions of their employers. That fits mightily with everything that this Government have tried to do since 1979.

11.17 pm
Mr. David Bellotti (Eastbourne)

Early in his speech the Minister quoted figures relating to our colleagues in the European Community and the directives that they had implemented. That was a weak argument with which to begin, because surely the purpose of the European Community is to encourage good practices across all the countries in the Community. We and other countries should be setting an example. To compare this country with those that do nothing is a very poor argument.

The Minister then quoted only the employers and said that they were not in favour of the directives. He gave us a whole string of reasons for that, but his quotations seemed selective. Is he aware that the Confederation of British Industry gave evidence stating that cost savings are not significant factors on most employers' decisions to employ part-time staff"? It is interesting that the Minister chose to ignore that evidence from the CBI and did not share it with us, while trying to convince us that all employers are against the directives.

Perhaps I can help the Minister a little more. If he had done some further reading, he would have found that a Department of Employment report on "Labour Use Strategies" concluded: The main reasons given for using part-time staff were to carry out tasks that only need to be done for a limited number of hours a day or to meet peaks in demand". If the Minister had looked further, he would have found even more compelling reasons to move from the policies that he has advanced. He quoted some companies, but is he aware of the practices of that great company, Marks and Spencer, which has equal rights for its part-time workers across a variety of personnel practices? I wonder whether he is aware of the policy of the Halifax building society which offers equal rights for all employees. If the Minister took evidence from all employers, he would conclude that the views which he put to the House are not complete.

I suspect that the Minister's views are more concerned with supporting Government policy on a variety of matters. I do not believe for one moment that he is trying to be fair and just to people in terms of employment. When he looks at the Government's training policy, he might like to consider why their employment training programme discriminates against part-time training. Why is there legislation that states that a person who moves to employee status has to continue to work for 30 hours a week to get the training allowances? That is interesting, coming from a Government who believe that part-time work and part-time training are valuable.

The pressures of Government policy on local authorities have led to a reduction in the pay and conditions of part-time staff. Supply teachers employed by my local education authority are no longer paid pro rata or enjoy working conditions pro rata. That is a direct result of the Government's policy of curbing local expenditure. Supply teachers are doubly hit—they cannot work during the holidays because schools are not open, so they cannot get allowances.

The Government's policy in requiring local authorities to carry out competitive tendering has led to a reduction in the pay and conditions of part-time staff. In my county of East Sussex, many part-time staff, particularly cleaners, no longer enjoy the pension rights that they enjoyed before the authority was forced to carry out competitive tendering. The Minister said that he welcomed the health and safety aspects of the directive. Does he accept that the competitive tendering policies that he is forcing local authorities to undertake put some of those aspects at risk, because people try to rush their work?

Part-time youth workers are discriminated against, but the directives would help them if the Government accepted them warmly. The Government's curbs on local authority spending have led, in local authority after local authority, to a reduction in the pay and conditions of part-time youth and community workers. Those who work for 10 per cent. of a full week do not get 10 per cent. of the pay, benefits, holiday or pension contributions of full-time workers, despite their being equally qualified. If the Minister says that he supports the large numbers of part-time workers, why will he not do more to help part-time youth workers?

The hon. Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie) referred to women. She was right in everything that she said. Part-time women workers are disproportionately affected in terms of working conditions compared with men. Child care provision is perhaps the greatest concern. Not long ago, the Government had the power to do a great deal but did little. Extending the tax relief proposals to cover all women with children in child care would be an enormous help for part-time women workers.

It is a question of what principle the House wants to adopt. We should adopt a fair standard in terms of pay, training, holidays, pensions and health and safety—whether a person works part time or full time. The Government's attitude to non-standard work is to support the small number of mean-minded employers who do not want to meet the costs that they should meet. The Labour amendment does not go far enough, but we will support it. There is much for the Minister to answer, and I hope that he will address some of the issues which I raised.

11.25 pm
Mr. Ian Bruce (Dorset, South)

I declare an interest that is directed more to knowledge than to pecuniary advantage. I was an employment agent in Yorkshire for more than 10 years and I still own a technical employment agency, although it is not active.

It is always surprising to hear hon. Members say how much they support an EC directive or draft directive. They do not say that EC directives have changed enormously since the Labour and Liberal parties rushed forward to say that the social charter was a wonderful idea. They seem to think, or suggest, that the EC directives of today are the same as those which came before us years ago. It was clear from the earlier directives that the European Community was against part-time and temporary work. It is now saying, however, that those employment relationships cannot be called into question in any circumstances. Over two decades, the Commission has produced documentation in which it has attempted to persuade us that part-time and temporary work is damaging and needs to be brushed away. It has suggested that regulations should be introduced to stop people being part-time or temporary employees for a long period.

I was surprised to hear what my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie) had to say about part-time employees. Any private employment agency will say that the relationship between part-time or temporary work and employers is such that an employer will prefer to take on permanent staff. In general, an employer will prefer to take on full-time staff rather than part-time staff. Unless that is understood, the relevant arguments will be turned on their head. It is necessary almost to persuade employers that there is some market advantage in giving part-time workers full rein and allowing them to do what they want in their employment.

The average employment agency will have filing cabinets full of details of people who want part-time work. The women among them are not saying, "If I could get child care for my children for this number of hours or that number, I would do full-time work." In general, women who have young children try to ensure that they are with their children for as long as possible. Against that background, they try to find part-time work.

Mrs. Currie

My hon. Friend is right, but if employers want full-time workers and they appoint part-time workers, they do so because those are the only workers they can get. That does not rule out an obligation on both sides to ensure that, when part-time workers end their working lives, they are entitled to some sort of pension.

Mr. Bruce

I understand what my hon. Friend says, but I believe that this is the wrong debate in which to advance the views that she has outlined. I do not think that she believes that the EC should frame a set of directives to ensure that all employees should have equal conditions.

I give an extreme example. Let us suppose that an employment agency is telephoned on a Monday and told, "My employee has not turned up for work and I want a part-time or temporary employee." Let us suppose also that the employer wants especially a temporary employee. The documents are aimed at ensuring that the person who is told to rush to Smith Brothers because someone has not turned up for work is paid the same wages as the comparable staff in the organisation, has had the same training, is a member of the same pension scheme and is entitled to the same national insurance.

The market determines that the people that employment agencies send to employers to fill gaps are paid more money than full-time employees, especially in London. In other areas, where perhaps there are plenty of people available to do the work, temporary employees will be paid less money than full-time employees. The employer who takes in a temporary employee from an agency will almost always pay more money per hour for him or her than he would normally pay his own employee to do the same work. The relationship is complex. To suggest that everyone must have the same conditions is nonsense.

Mrs. Maria Fyfe (Glasgow, Maryhill)

Will the hon. Gentleman clear from his mind for a moment his hostile feelings towards the Community in general and concentrate on the principle? Is he saying that in some parts of Britain, because there is a surplus of available part-time labour, employers should get away with paying less than the rate per hour that they would have to pay full-time workers? Does he agree that that would be a great injustice to those workers, who are mostly women, who have to work part time because of other responsibilities?

Mr. Bruce

I am sorry that the hon. Lady has never been in the real world. In the real world, people earn money on the basis of the demand for their particular skills. That happens in every job—except perhaps being a Member of Parliament, as hon. Members seem to get paid the same amount of money whether or not they have any knowledge of a subject. We are all paid the same.

Mrs. Fyfe

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Bruce

No; I have answered the hon. Lady's point.

Some points were made earlier about trade union hostility. There is indeed a great deal of such hostility to temporary employees. I am certain that that stems from the fact that trade unions do not like the thought of temporary employees not paying trade union dues. I have evidence to support that. The Manpower organisation found an easy way of ensuring that it had no bother from the trade unions when it supplied drivers to certain companies. Manpower had an agreement with the area office of the trade union involved that the company would collect the equivalent in trade union dues for every day that someone worked and ship it off to the trade union. The union got its money, although it did not know who the heck was supposed to be part of its membership. The union told the company that it could enter any of the union's closed shop areas because it was collecting union dues.

With regard to health and safety, it is right that people should have the same safety conditions whether or not they are employed on a part-time or temporary basis. We must ensure that the conditions are reasonable, because some earlier draft legislation tended to suggest that a temporary employee might have to be given one or two weeks' worth of safety training before he or she was allowed to start work. I believe that temporary employees tend to be placed in the least hazardous jobs and in those that do not require as much training. Clearly that is best for a worker who has been taken on for only a short period. I will support the Government in the Lobby.

11.32 pm
Mrs. Maria Fyfe (Glasgow, Maryhill)

I was surprised to hear the Minister decry the consultation efforts of our opposite numbers in the Community. He recently admitted in a letter to me that, when consulting British organisations about maternity rates, he had not thought to consult—of all people—the Royal College of Midwives, and nor had he consulted a large number of women's organisations. He does of course consult employers, and he then presents their views as the consensus of British opinion.

The Minister compounded the offence by quoting a poll of the opinions of women in Britain, saying that only 6 per cent. want to work full time. That is hardly surprising when we consider that, by 1991, there will be more than 9 million people over 65 in the United Kingdom and 11 million children under 14. That amounts to more than 20 million people. When we consider that the responsibility for caring for the elderly and for young children lies mostly with women, then of course they will want to look for part-time work—if they feel able to look for work at all.

We must ask women what they would like for their life style if child care were provided. With the exception of Ireland, Britain has the worst record of child care among EC countries. If we did not have the disgraceful state of community care in this country, many more women would welcome the chance to work full time. The Government are bandying nonsensical figures about and taking no account of women's wishes; they are using their hostility to the EC as an excuse for permitting some unscrupulous employers to get away with paying part time women workers disgracefully low pay.

Mrs. Audrey Wise (Preston)

Does my hon. Friend agree that, whether or not women want to work full time or part time, they should have equal conditions and not be exploited? Is she familar with the Department of Employment's statement that acknowledges that part timers and temporary workers are treated worse and states that that is the price that women are prepared to pay? Women are not asked whether they are prepared to pay that price. They should have the right to decent conditions, whether they work full time or part time.

Mrs. Fyfe

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I pay tribute to her great record of work on behalf of working women, in particular low-paid, part time working women. Many thousands of working women in this country work for disgracefully low rates. The bunch opposite argue that employers should get the benefit because that is what the market demands. An hon. Member said that the dearer a commodity is the harder it is to sell it. That kind of thinking sent seven-year-olds into the mills during the last century, and there is absolutely no excuse for it.

I have still to hear why Conservative Members think that it is acceptable to pay part-time workers lower rates of pay and put them in worse conditions than those in full-time jobs. All their criticisms of EC regulations do not justify their views. If any Conservative Member would like to interrupt me to explain why he thinks that a part-time worker should have less pay per hour or worse working conditions, I should be glad to hear from him. No Conservative Member is rising to his feet to intervene. The debate is about letting greedy and selfish employers get away with it.

11.37 pm
Mr. James Paice (Cambridgeshire, South-East)

Many of the points that I wanted to make have already been excellently made by my hon. Friend the Minister, but certain factors need to be brought to the attention of the House, not least the hollowness of the Opposition's amendment. It specifically states that many people, including a high percentage of women workers, rely on part-time work in the absence of full-time employment. The Opposition have produced no evidence to justify that statement, which is the meat of their amendment. My hon. Friend the Minister made it clear that all the evidence is exactly the opposite. Not only the labour force survey but the Select Committee on Employment, on which I served until a year ago, have made it abundantly clear that there is no evidence that any more than a tiny proportion of part-time workers have any ambition to do anything other than part-time work. That destroys the Opposition's amendment.

The hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Lloyd) stressed that a number of businesses are now providing good terms for their part-time workers—equivalent or even better than those for their full-time workers. They are providing the pensions that my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie) mentioned, and all the perks that workers want. However, the hon. Gentleman failed to recognise that they are voluntarily providing them. Those business are able to assess, first, whether it is necessary to provide such terms to recruit part-time staff and, secondly, whether they are in a position to provide those opportunities.

The important thing that one must understand—it goes over the Opposition's head no matter how many times we say it—is that any business can pay its work force only that which it can afford. If it cannot afford to pay, the result may be a smaller work force, if one at all.

Mr. Peter Bottomley (Eltham)

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Paice

I know that the Minister wants to respond to the debate, so my hon. Friend must forgive me for not giving way.

I agree with the Minister that the directives would affect the availability of jobs. In my constituency, in common with that of my hon. Friend the Member for Stamford and Spalding (Mr. Davies), many people are involved in field-scale vegetable production. Large arable farms employ hundreds, and in one case thousands, of people for seasonal, casual work. That work attracts people from all over the country.

Recently we concluded lengthy negotiations with the Inland Revenue about oppressive regulations that it wanted to impose on employers in relation to the employment of part-time workers. Those negotiations forced the representatives of the pre-packing and processed vegetable industry to examine all aspects of the employment of their work force. They discovered that they were reliant on their freedom to meet the market for labour and for their produce. If extra restrictions had been imposed, thousands of jobs would have been lost. That would have been a disaster for my constituents who rely on such work, particularly in the summer when they are happy to be outside.

It would be equally disastrous if the directives went through unamended. I support the Government's stand.

11.41 pm
Mr. Jonathan Aitken (Thanet, South)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I seek your ruling about the possible violation of Standing Order No. 14, which states: if Mr. Speaker shall be of the opinion that, because of the importance of the subject matter of the motion, the time for debate has not been adequate, he shall, instead of putting the question as aforesaid, interrupt the business, and the debate shall stand adjourned till the next sitting".

In support of my case, I cite the fact that the Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Lloyd), took up no less than 30 minutes of the debate. That represented one third of the time allocated. I believe that it was Disraeli who said of Gladstone that he was inebriated with the exuberance of his own verbosity. Tonight, the hon. Member for Stretford anaesthetised the House with his own boredom. It was an amazing performance given the short time allocated.

Even my hon. Friend the Minister is not entirely without blame as he took 24 minutes. I admit that there were many interruptions in his speech and he had to deploy the Government's case, so I cheerfully acquit him. Nevertheless, we need a voice from the Chair to stop such abuse of our procedures, which destroys the ability of Back-Bench Members to contribute. Many of my hon. Friends either walked out because they were unable to speak or they truncated their remarks to an unreasonable degree. Debates late at night cannot go on like this if the Front-Bench spokesmen take up such a large percentage of the time allocated for the debate.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)

I understand the hon. Gentleman's point and he has put it on the record. I must inform him and the House that I am not prepared, in all the circumstances, to adjourn the debate under Standing Order No. 14(1)(b).

11.43 pm
Mr. Forth

I apologise to my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken) and to the House for the length of my opening speech. I wanted to set out the Government's case, and this was the first opportunity that we had to do it. I also took nearly all the interventions that were made.

In the brief time left, I want to answer my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor), who left the Chamber because he was dissatisfied by my failure to answer him, although I thought that I had. My officials wrote me this answer, so it is pukka. We do not accept that article 100A is the correct legal basis and we have made our views known to the Commission and other member states, some of which share our view. These matters should be dealt with on the basis of unanimity. I hope that that satisfies my hon. Friend.

The debate has been about deciding between imposition and choice—about deciding whether we shall have a certain policy imposed on us by the Community or whether we shall leave the choice to employers. If, as a result of these measures, we risk ending up with fewer jobs and fewer part-time jobs, especially for women——

It being one and a half hours after the commencement of proceedings on the motion, MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER proceeded, pursuant to Standing Order No. 14 (Exempted business), to put the Questions necessary to dispose of them.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 112, Noes 153.

Division No. 28] [11.45 pm
Abbott, Ms Diane Cunliffe, Lawrence
Adams, Mrs. Katherine Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'l)
Allen, Graham Dixon, Don
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Evans, John (St Helens N)
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy Fields, Terry (L'pool B G'n)
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE) Flynn, Paul
Barron, Kevin Foster, Derek
Beith, A. J. Foulkes, George
Bell, Stuart Fyfe, Maria
Bellotti, David George, Bruce
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Godman, Dr Norman A.
Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish) Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Benton, Joseph Harman, Ms Harriet
Bermingham, Gerald Hinchliffe, David
Bradley, Keith Hood, Jimmy
Bray, Dr Jeremy Howarth, George (Knowsley N)
Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E) Howells, Geraint
Brown, Ron (Edinburgh Leith) Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd)
Caborn, Richard Hoyle, Doug
Callaghan, Jim Hughes, John (Coventry NE)
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE) Hughes, Simon (Southwark)
Clark, Dr David (S Shields) Illsley, Eric
Clay, Bob Ingram, Adam
Clelland, David Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)
Cohen, Harry Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S W)
Cousins, Jim Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil
Cox, Tom Kirkwood, Archy
Cryer, Bob Lamond, James
Leadbitter, Ted Pike, Peter L.
Livsey, Richard Powell, Ray (Ogmore)
Lloyd, Tony (Stretford) Quin, Ms Joyce
Lofthouse, Geoffrey Reid, Dr John
McAllion, John Richardson, Jo
McAvoy, Thomas Rogers, Allan
McCartney, Ian Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Macdonald, Calum A. Rowlands, Ted
McFall, John Short, Clare
McKay, Allen (Barnsley West) Skinner, Dennis
McKelvey, William Smith, C. (Isl'ton & F'bury)
McLeish, Henry Smith, Rt Hon J. (Monk'ds E)
McMasfer, Gordon Smith, J. P. (Vale of Glam)
Madden, Max Soley, Clive
Mahon, Mrs Alice Spearing, Nigel
Marek, Dr John Steinberg, Gerry
Martin, Michael J. (Springburn) Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Martlew, Eric Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck)
Meale, Alan Turner, Dennis
Michael, Alun Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley) Wareing, Robert N.
Moonie, Dr Lewis Welsh, Andrew (Angus E)
Morgan, Rhodri Welsh, Michael (Doncaster N)
Morley, Elliot Williams, Alan W. (Carm'then)
Murphy, Paul Wise, Mrs Audrey
Nellist, Dave
O'Hara, Edward Tellers for the Ayes:
O'Neill, Martin Mr. Frank Haynes and
Patchett, Terry Mrs. Llin Golding.
Pendry, Tom
Aitken, Jonathan Davis, David (Boothferry)
Alexander, Richard Day, Stephen
Allason, Rupert Devlin, Tim
Amess, David Dunn, Bob
Amos, Alan Eggar, Tim
Arbuthnot, James Evennett, David
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Fallon, Michael
Ashby, David Favell, Tony
Aspinwall, Jack Fishburn, John Dudley
Atkinson, David Forman, Nigel
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N) Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)
Beggs, Roy Forth, Eric
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke) Fox, Sir Marcus
Bevan, David Gilroy Franks, Cecil
Blackburn, Dr John G. Freeman, Roger
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter Gale, Roger
Boswell, Tim Glyn, Dr Sir Alan
Bottomley, Peter Goodhart, Sir Philip
Bowis, John Goodlad, Alastair
Brazier, Julian Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles
Bright, Graham Greenway, John (Ryedale)
Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's) Gregory, Conal
Bruce, Ian (Dorset South) Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)
Buck, Sir Antony Hague, William
Burt, Alistair Hamilton, Hon Archie (Epsom)
Butcher, John Hampson, Dr Keith
Butler, Chris Hanley, Jeremy
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn)
Carrington, Matthew Harris, David
Chalker, Rt Hon Mrs Lynda Haselhurst, Alan
Chapman, Sydney Hawkins, Christopher
Chope, Christopher Hayes, Jerry
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest) Hayward, Robert
Coombs, Simon (Swindon) Hicks, Mrs Maureen (Wolv' NE)
Cope, Rt Hon John Hind, Kenneth
Cormack, Patrick Howard, Rt Hon Michael
Couchman, James Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd)
Cran, James Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk)
Currie, Mrs Edwina Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)
Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g) Hunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne)
Hunter, Andrew Powell, William (Corby)
Irvine, Michael Raffan, Keith
Jack, Michael Redwood, John
Janman, Tim Rhodes James, Robert
Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey Riddick, Graham
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N) Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas
Key, Robert Rumbold, Mrs Angela
Kilfedder, James Ryder, Richard
Kirkhope, Timothy Sackville, Hon Tom
Knapman, Roger Shaw, David (Dover)
Knight, Greg (Derby North) Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW)
Knox, David Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Lawrence, Ivan Speed, Keith
Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark Speller, Tony
Lester, Jim (Broxtowe) Spicer, Sir Jim (Dorset W)
Lightbown, David Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham) Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas Stern, Michael
MacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire) Stevens, Lewis
Maclean, David Stewart, Andy (Sherwood)
McLoughlin, Patrick Summerson, Hugo
Malins, Humfrey Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Mans, Keith Taylor, Rt Hon J. D. (S'ford)
Mates, Michael Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Mawhinney, Dr Brian Temple-Morris, Peter
Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick Thompson, D. (Calder Valley)
Miller, Sir Hal Thurnham, Peter
Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling) Tredinnick, David
Molyneaux, Rt Hon James Warren, Kenneth
Montgomery, Sir Fergus Widdecombe, Ann
Moynihan, Hon Colin Wiggin, Jerry
Neubert, Michael Wilshire, David
Nicholls, Patrick Winterton, Mrs Ann
Nicholson, David (Taunton) Winterton, Nicholas
Norris, Steve
Oppenheim, Phillip Tellers for the Noes:
Paice, James Mr. Neil Hamilton and
Patnick, Irvine Mr. Timothy Wood.
Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth

Question accordingly negatived.

Main Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That this House takes note of European Community Documents Nos. 8072/90 and 9601/90 on non-standard work; and endorses the Government's view that, in the light of the 1–6 million new part-time jobs created in the United Kingdom since March 1983 and the overwhelming preference of part-time workers for part-time rather than full-time work, the Government should not accept proposals which would greatly increase the cost of employing part-time and temporary workers and would significantly reduce the number of jobs, thereby damaging the competitiveness of our industry, and that of the European Community.

11.55 pm
Mr. Peter Bottomley (Eltham)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Following on the point of order made by my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken), it should be put on record that the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Lloyd), fairly and courteously, gave way many times in his speech. I hope that my hon. Friend's point of order will be interpreted as a stricture on the time limits imposed on the debate rather than on the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)

That is not a point of order, but the hon. Gentleman has got his point on the record.