HC Deb 19 April 1994 vol 241 cc726-7
4. Mrs. Helen Jackson

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment if he will make a statement on the implications of the recent House of Lords ruling on part-time workers for United Kingdom employment legislation.

Miss Widdecombe

The Government are carefully considering the judgment to ascertain its full implications, and will make an announcement as soon as possible.

Mrs. Jackson

Does the Minister recognise that that is the answer which she gave on 11 March and on 23 March in European Standing Committee B? Is it good enough for the Minister to continue to say that the Government are taking legal advice and that when they have heard it they will make a statement? Is it not time to tell the millions of part-time workers, who want to hear when they are to know whether they are to have their rights to sickness benefit, holidays and redundancy pay recognised by the Government?

Miss Widdecombe

I am glad that the hon. Lady recognises the consistency of my answers. Let me make it clear to the House. We shall respond and make an announcement when—and only when—all our investigations, all our proper consultation, and all our deliberations are complete. The difference between the Government and Labour Members is that we take these things responsibly while they make cheap political points out of them.

Mr. Nicholls

Will my hon. Friend confirm my impression that if we accept the ruling in all its rigour, the effect would be to reduce employment opportunities for a great number of people who are on the margins of the job market? That will increase unemployment, not decrease it, and is exactly the sort of thing that is on offer to us from Europe if that is how the country votes in the European elections.

Miss Widdecombe

I do not intend to speculate on the effects of the judgment until our deliberations are complete, but it has always been a priority of the Government to limit as far as possible the burdens on business. That is why we have one of the highest levels of employment in Europe, that is why we have falling unemployment, that is why we have good part-time opportunities, that is why we have inward investment, and that is why we are carrying on with the policy.

Ms Short

Will the Minister explain how she can possibly stand there and say that the Government are not obliged to give part-time women workers equal rights with full-time workers when a House of Lords judgment which interprets European law says that the Government are obliged to do so? She is obliged to say that the Government accept the judgment and will implement it; that is the rule of law. In the debate on sex discrimination, two Tory Members said that the finding of the House of Lords should not be obeyed. The thing that the Minister and no one in her party seems to understand—[Interruption.] Does the Minister appreciate that women who want part-time work do not want second-rate work? They do not want low pay and lack of access to training; they want holiday entitlements and protection from unfair dismissal. Will the Minister accord to women the right to full-time rights for part-time workers?

Miss Widdecombe

The hon. Lady is under a complete misapprehension. Some 69 per cent. of all those who work already qualify for full protection rights. Of the remainder, only 3 per cent. fail to qualify solely on the grounds of the hours they work.