HC Deb 24 July 1990 vol 177 cc288-9
11. Mr. Michael Brown

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what assessment he has made of the impact upon those in low-paid employment of the European Commission's draft directives on part-time and temporary work.

Mr. Howard

The draft directives would require an extra 1.75 million low-paid employees to pay national insurance contributions. I shall shortly be issuing a consultative document asking for comments on the proposals. A copy of the document will be placed in the Library.

Mr. Brown

In the light of my right hon. and learned Friend's answer, is not it clearly the Government's duty to do everything possible to ensure that the draft directive in its present form does not become European law?

Mr. Howard

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I hope that Opposition Members, who are so quick to leap to the defence of the low paid, will join us in ensuring that they will not be docked a significant proportion of their income as a consequence of that directive.

Mr. John Evans

Will the Secretary of State confirm that while it is the European Commission's policy to try to increase the wages of the low paid, it is the Tory Government's policy—especially through the privatisation programme—to reduce those wages?

Mr. Howard

The hon. Gentleman is wrong. The result of this and other draft directives emanating from the Commission would be to destroy jobs. We have an unrivalled record of job creation during the past few years, and we do not intend to have it put at risk by directives from the Commission or any other source.

Mrs. Currie

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that many businesses such as those in the retail sector which rely heavily on part-time labour, especially women, are already giving pro-rata benefits, including pensions? Does he agree that that is a most welcome development which should be encouraged as it will mean that, in future, such staff will not be dependent on the public purse for pensions and other benefits when they retire?

Mr. Howard

As usual, there is a great deal of substance in my hon. Friend's point. These matters are best left to the workers and the employers. It is not appropriate for burdens to be imposed on employers that they may not be able to meet and which will lead to a fall in the number of jobs available.

Mr. Blair

So that the Secretary of State does not mislead the House, can he tell us the Government's policy towards the proposal that part-time workers should be given the same rights of maternity leave, so that more women can return to work as part-time employees?

Mr. Howard

That directive has not yet been published. We shall consider its text as and when it becomes available, and regard it on its merits, as we regard all the other directives that emanate from the Commission.

Mr. Bill Walker

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that in the rural parts of Scotland, where part-time and temporary work are an essential part of the local economy, there could be a devastating effect if anything was done to put such jobs in jeopardy?

Mr. Howard

My hon. Friend is right, which is why we have approached these matters with such care and caution—apparently in contrast to the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair), who is prepared to give a warm welcome to directives that have not yet been published, and to sign a blank cheque to the Commission without knowing what costs are involved.