HC Deb 04 December 1996 vol 286 cc1028-9
5. Dr. Goodson-Wickes

To ask the President of the Board of Trade what consultations he has had over health and safety aspects of the working time directive. [5784]

Mr. John M. Taylor

I continue to believe that the measures in that directive are mainly about terms and conditions of employment and not about health and safety, but my Department will be initiating a thorough consultation process very shortly.

Dr. Goodson-Wickes

Will my hon. Friend confirm that the working time directive, which is causing much concern to successful businesses in my constituency. was adopted as a health and safety measure? In the light of this country's admirable record on health and safety, is it not ridiculous that social engineering is being introduced under the emotive guise of health and safety? Will my hon. Friend assure the House that the Government, at the intergovernmental conference, will defend vigorously our admirable opt-out and do away with that most unwelcome measure?

Mr. Taylor

I give that assurance. My hon. Friend has a great deal of experience in these matters. He is correct to say that that directive is wrong in law, has the wrong treaty base and is wrong in practice. Moreover, these things should be decided here, not in Brussels, and should be decided here between employer and employee.

Mr. Clapham

If the Minister believes that the directive is not related to health and safety, will he tell the House why there are more accidents at the end of a long shift than at the beginning?

Mr. Taylor

I think it is pertinent to recognise that in this country, we have the widest spread of working hours in Europe. Our average working hours are pretty much the same as those in the rest of Europe: some people work shorter hours in this country; some work longer. It is part of the flexibility of our labour market.