HC Deb 17 June 1999 vol 333 cc555-6
12. Mr. David Amess (Southend, West)

If he will make a statement about the impact on seasonal workers and employers of the working time directive. [86504]

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

There has been no specific assessment of the impact that the regulations will have on seasonal workers. A regulatory impact assessment of the costs and benefits resulting from the implementation of the working time regulations has been made, a copy of which is held in the Library of the House.

The regulations do provide flexibility, which takes account of the needs of those working in areas dictated by seasonal demands by setting a 13-week qualifying period in respect of the provision of the paid annual leave entitlement. The regulations also take into account those who employ staff in the short term.

Mr. Amess

After Southend's verdict last week that it wanted to be in Europe but not run by Europe, is the Minister aware that many businesses there are suffering as a result of the Government's policies? The problem is so bad that I shall meet the Minister for Small Firms, Trade and Industry shortly to try to secure assisted area status for Southend. The impact of the bureaucratic costs incurred by Southend businesses as a result of the hasty introduction of the directive means that many people are suffering. Will the Minister undertake to conduct a study into the effects of the working time directive on the viability of businesses in Southend?

Mr. McCartney

The hon. Gentleman is the most celebrated seasonal worker in Britain. He travels every day between Basildon and Southend.

The hon. Gentleman surprises me. He represents a constituency whose economy is based on people's ability to take holidays and visit places such as Southend. The directive gives 2.5 million of the lowest-paid workers in Britain the absolute right—for the first time—to three weeks' paid annual holidays, which they can spend this summer in Southend. By Christmas, the right will be to four weeks' annual paid holidays.

As well as being against the minimum wage, the Tory party is against low-paid workers having paid holiday breaks. The hon. Gentleman is mean-minded and tight-fisted. The measure will give people in Southend and in the hotel trade jobs and opportunities to expand the industry. This is one of the most popular policies that we have introduced. For the first time, everyone in Britain is entitled to a paid holiday.

Mr. Bill Rammell (Harlow)

I assure my hon. Friend the Minister that I have not met anyone—in Basildon, Southend or anywhere else—who opposes the principle of the working time directive. Is not the absolute principle that it is wrong to force people to work for more than 48 hours in a week one that any decent, civilised society should accept?

Mr. McCartney

I agree with my hon. Friend. Perhaps we should ask the hon. Gentleman, a part-time Tory MP running between Basildon and Southend, how many weeks' paid holiday he will take this summer. Business supports the Government in the introduction of the measure. The Government gave a commitment last year that the regulations would be allowed to bed down to ensure that they operate effectively. That is what we are doing and what we shall continue to do, but the fact remains that the Tories are opposed to paid holidays for workers in Britain.