HC Deb 29 October 1998 vol 318 cc451-3
6. Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West)

What his Department estimates to be the cost of the social chapter's parental leave directive, works councils directive and part-time work directive to British business. [55056]

The Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Mr. Ian McCartney)

Compliance cost assessments were attached to the explanatory memorandums submitted to this House and another place on 28 October 1997 in relation to the parental leave and European works councils directives and on 17 March in relation to the part-time work directive. The Government are carrying out further work to update and refine those estimates.

Mr. Brady

I cannot thank the Minister for the detail of his reply because it was somewhat lacking. Given that Ministers have recently had the experience of BMW stating that it must cut jobs at Rover because of higher business and employment costs, does he accept in principle that the increased costs that he is applying to business will cost jobs and will he give some estimate of how many jobs the proposals will cost?

Mr. McCartney

If the hon. Gentleman had been doing his job over the summer, he would have read the documents set out in my answer. The Confederation of British Industry said, in the last year of the Conservative Government, that British industry lost £25 billion through unregulated absenteeism, a huge on-cost to business affecting its competitive advantage. Our proposals will help to cut such unregulated activity and ensure a better atmosphere in the workplace between employers and employees. On investment in this country, we have just had the biggest increase in inward investment in the past 20 years: more than 600 projects, including a new multi-million pound project in the car industry at Jaguar, which I was pleased and proud to have negotiated between Ford and the Government.

Mr. Jim Marshall (Leicester, South)

Do not those three directives represent a small increase in protection for people in the workplace? Could not that protection be better obtained by enhancing the role of trade unions in the workplace? Will my hon. Friend go a little further than the Secretary of State and confirm that there will be no significant alterations to the principles outlined in the "Fairness at Work" White Paper?

Mr. McCartney

There were very good discussions between my comrades in the Confederation of British Industry and the TUC. One could not put a trade union card between me and my right hon. Friend on those matters.

From day one, the Government have set out their stall regarding partnership in the workplace, including employment rights. Employment rights are about not whether workers are union members but the right to be treated properly in the workplace, irrespective of union membership. If a worker is a union member and wishes to be recognised as such, the legislation sets out the relevant proposals clearly and specifically. My right hon. Friend has confirmed today that the Government will proceed, as we promised, to set out a framework for partnership in the workplace, which includes trade union representation.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley)

Before the Minister slips up again and perhaps mentions the "socialist" word in the Chamber, will he tell us how many redundancies will occur and how many businesses will go to the wall before the Government conclude that it is not extra regulations and burdens that create jobs but deregulation and competitive conditions that allow businesses to create extra jobs?

Mr. McCartney

That is a bit rich coming from a member of a Government who cast regulation after regulation upon business.

Since Labour came to power, 400,000 new jobs have been created in the economy. We have put in place the biggest job investment and training package to help young people get off the scrapheap on to which they were thrown by Conservative Members. The hon. Gentleman knows full well—as one of the biggest offenders in his almost creeping defence of the previous Government in a failed attempt to serve on their Front Bench—that, when the Conservative Government could not hide the level of unemployment, they tried to fiddle their way out of it. That is why the Conservatives are in opposition and we are in government.

Mr. Bill Rammell (Harlow)

Do we not need those measures to restore some basic fairness in the workplace, and do we not also need a sensible and rational debate about what level and scale of social protection is compatible with the enterprise economy? In that light, does my hon. Friend agree that the simplistic party political posturing on this issue that we see from the Conservatives—who oppose any form of regulation, wherever it occurs, under whatever circumstances—is completely wrong and unhelpful to the debate?

Mr. McCartney

My hon. Friend is right. That is why the British business community and the Government are absolutely committed to the principle of achieving competitive advantage by not spiralling down wages and conditions but by investing in a trained and skilled work force that is dedicated to the enterprise and its success. Only Conservative Members maintain the principle that Britain can succeed only by becoming the sweatshop capital of Europe. We reject that principle, as do the British people and British business.