HC Deb 19 January 1993 vol 217 cc244-5
2. Sir Teddy Taylor

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment if she will refer to the European Court the decision of the Council of Ministers to consider the 48-hour week directive on the basis of the Single European Act; and if she will make a statement.

Mr. Michael Forsyth

A challenge cannot be made unless the directive is adopted. We are continuing to argue strongly against its adoption. We have already made it clear that we will challenge the legal base of the directive should it be adopted in its present form.

Sir Teddy Taylor

Does the Minister agree that as the Government failed to challenge the directive on the first reading, which they could have done by not allowing a unanimous decision, they have shown that most of the phoney row between the two Front-Bench teams about the social chapter is basically artificial? Will he at least give me the simple assurance that there is no way in which the Government will allow the vital social chapter amendment to be considered halfway through the night by a bunch of sleepy-heads when the rest of the world is asleep?

Mr. Forsyth

The timing of consideration of business in the House is not a matter for me, I am pleased to say. My hon. Friend is wrong to imply that it would have been possible for the Government to challenge the legal base of the working time directive before it was agreed. A challenge can be made only after a directive is agreed and my right hon. Friend has had considerable success in ensuring that that has not happened. The Government remain opposed to the working time directive and we shall continue to oppose it. I give my hon. Friend an absolute assurance that if the directive is agreed in its present form, we shall challenge its legal base.

Mr. Grocott

Is not it a fact that after 14 years of having a Conservative Government in power, workers in Britain work for longer hours each week and have lower annual leave entitlements and fewer statutory bank holidays than almost any of our European competitors? Does not that represent a further savage indictment of the Government's economic incompetence?

Mr. Forsyth

What is a fact is that we have a far higher proportion of our population in work than almost any other European country. If we took the hon. Gentleman's advice employment opportunities in Britain would be reduced at a time of high unemployment. The Government, who are committed to reducing unemployment, would not be so foolish as to put socialism before the jobs of our fellow citizens.

Mr. Sykes

Does my hon. Friend agree that the social chapter and the 48-hour week would have a devastating impact on jobs and prospects at a time when Britain is about to emerge from the recession?

Mr. Forsyth

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. I find it amazing that anyone could believe that it is a proper role for the Government to say how long people should work in the workplace. That is for agreement between employees and employers. Only very foolish politicians on the Opposition Benches would go along with the proposition that someone should be prevented from working overtime by decisions taken in the House, the European Commission or the Council of Ministers.