HC Deb 05 March 2003 vol 400 cc891-903

'.—(1) No employee whose employer is a local authority or local authority company shall be required to work at any time on both a Saturday and a Sunday in the same week if that person has the care and control of a schoolage child.

(2) Any adult with whom a schoolage child customarily lives as part of his or her family has the care and control of that schoolage child and where more than one adult qualifies under this test each of them has the care and control.

(3) In this section: employee" and "employer"—

  1. (a) in relation to England and Wales, and Scotland, have the same meaning as in the Employment Rights Act 1996, and
  2. (b) in relation to Northern Ireland have the same meaning as in the Employment Rights (Northern Ireland) Order 1996;
local authority" means a local authority in any part of the United Kingdom, including the Common Council of the City of London but excluding a parish or community council. local authority company" means a company through which is exercised a power conferred under section 95. week" means a period of seven consecutive days ending on a Sunday. schoolage child" means a person who has attained the age of five but has not attained the age of eighteen.'.—[Andrew Selous.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Andrew Selous

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

It is a great pleasure to move this new clause, which has support in all parts of the House. It is a modest but necessary measure as far as local authority employees are concerned. As I said, there is something in this clause that all Members should feel able to support.

The new clause will ensure that the children of local authority employees do not have parentless weekends. The new clause would mean that local authorities would not be able to force their employees with school-age children to work on both a Saturday and a Sunday. Our constituents would be amazed to learn that legislation is not already in place to prevent that from happening.

The evidence showing the need to do something about the problem comes from many sources, not least from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation/National Centre for Social Research report that was published in December 2002 entitled "Happy Families? Atypical Work and Its Influence on Family Life". Among other things, it showed that 20 per cent. of working parents with dependent children work on both Saturday and Sunday and that three quarters of them wish that they did not have to work at weekends.

I am, of course, aware that local authorities have to provide many vital services seven days a week. Local authority care homes immediately spring to mind, and tidy tips, some libraries and leisure centres seek to open seven days a week. There is nothing whatever in the new clause that would prevent local authorities from running services seven days a week. It would not put a barrier in the way of a local authority asking any of its staff to work on either a Saturday or a Sunday. However, it is entirely reasonable not to allow local authorities to force their employees with children at school to work on both Saturday and Sunday. If authorities were allowed to do that, the children would not see their parents at the weekend.

I have spoken to local authorities in my area and to the East of England Local Government Conference. They have told me that they do not believe that the new clause would create a serious problem for the running of authorities and that it would have only a minimal impact. However, it is necessary, given that 3 million parents work on both Saturday and Sunday. We know from recent events in Stoke-on-Trent, where plans to provide refuse services on Saturday and Sunday were withdrawn by the council, and in Richmond, which recently ran into difficulties with the provision of library services because of the way in which it imposed on its staff, that we need to address the issue.

Alistair Burt (North-East Bedfordshire)

I have listened to my hon. Friend's argument with interest. Does he not agree that it is a curious feature of modern life that, whereas the many enjoy much more choice, they occasionally do so at the expense of the few? Does he share my hope that, if this modest measure were adopted, private enterprise might see the lesson and introduce, of its own volition, similar provisions to ensure that people in the private sector who work on Saturday and Sunday and whose children endure parentless weekends might enjoy a freedom similar to the one that he is suggesting?

Andrew Selous

This new clause relates to local authorities, but I am sympathetic to the general point that my hon. Friend makes. He made the valid point that we need to be aware of the costs imposed on the employees who provide the services that we expect from local authorities on Saturday and Sunday. I am fully conscious of the fact that many local authority services have to be provided seven days a week, but this modest but necessary measure would provide some protection to local authority employees and prevent them from being pressed to work on both Saturday and Sunday.

Mr. Paul Goodman (Wycombe)

Has my hon. Friend received support from Labour Members for his proposal given that trade unions must be extremely concerned about the problems that he so eloquently describes?

5 pm

Andrew Selous

As I said, the new clause is supported by all parties and hon. Members on both sides of the House. I should have thought that a Labour Government would want to be associated with it. Indeed, there is an onus on anyone who opposes it to justify why local authority employees with children, whom they would not otherwise see, should be forced to work on both Saturday and Sunday. I hope that the Minister will address that. Although it is up to me to make the argument for the new clause, it is up to the Government to justify the forced working of parents of school-age children on Saturdays and Sundays.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)

Would it not be strange for the House, which voted for family-friendly hours and mid-term breaks to allow us to be with our children, to vote against the proposal? It is not even limited to the nuclear family, but covers the broader spectrum of family life in which children need adults and adults need children.

Andrew Selous

The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point and is right. People outside this place look at the conditions that we grant ourselves. Those who work for local authorities are entitled to request and require us to extend the same protections and principles to them in their important work.

David Cairns (Greenock and Inverclyde)

As a non-parent, I have some sympathy with the new clause, although I suspect that more formal consultation will be needed before the Government accept it. However, I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say. I am genuinely curious to know why the hon. Gentleman has limited the new clause to children of school age. In developmental psychological terms, surely the forming of the bond between parent and child is most important in the years up to the age of seven.

Andrew Selous

I understand that point. It is not that I think that the time that parents and young children spend together is unimportant, but those children who attend primary and secondary schools have fixed hours when they have to be in school. Their only opportunity to see their parents is on a Saturday or Sunday. If the House and the Government intend to deny those children and parents the time to be together as a family on one day a week, that is a sorry state of affairs. I look to the Minister to give us some comfort on that.

Matthew Green

We support the new clause. It will be interesting to hear the reasons against it. Frankly, we have a 24/7 society and, unfortunately, some people have to work at weekends so that the rest of us can enjoy the ability to make choices on Saturday and Sunday. The House would never consider sitting through the weekend. We can all choose what we want to do. No doubt many of us hold our surgeries and carry out constituency work, but we can choose whether to see our children. I am delighted to be the father of a six-week-old child, although I unfortunately missed the chance to serve on the Committee because I wanted to spend time with my child immediately after the birth.

Mr. Clifton-Brown

Paternity leave.

Matthew Green


It is important for the development of children that their parents should have the right to spend—awful word—quality time with them during the week, not just a snatched half hour in the evening when children are tired and their parents probably are too. The new clause is worthy of support. As the hon. Member for South-West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) made clear, Members who oppose it will have to come up with interesting reasons for doing so, as most of us would struggle to argue with its worthwhile aims.

David Cairns

Briefly, I have a great deal of sympathy with the underlying aim of the new clause, and I look forward to the Minister's response. Although the hon. Member for South-West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) has researched the matter through contact with his own local authority, other local authorities may not have its flexibility, and their safety critical provisions could be affected by the new clause. That is only a surmise, but perhaps the Minister will tell us whether the Government have undertaken a survey.

At the risk of straying from the narrow confines of the new clause, I should point out that I am currently trying to steer a private Member's Bill through the House that would stop Sunday working being obligatory for shop workers in Scotland, a legal protection enjoyed by constituents of hon. Members who represent English and Welsh constituencies. When legal protection on Sunday working was given to shop workers in England and Wales, Labour's home affairs spokesperson–now the Prime Minister—said freedom to shop on Sunday must go hand in hand with the right not to have to work on Sunday. Shop workers should not suffer so that others can enjoy those freedoms. Surely, then, our freedom to enjoy non-essential council services must go hand in hand with the rights of those who are working to provide those services.

Most council services, including the more flexible ones, are not provided on Sundays. Those that are provided tend to be essential. When I was a councillor in London, councils adopted more flexible working practices in, for example, the delivery of meals on wheels. People did not have to go out on Sunday, as clients were provided with microwave ovens, steamers and so on. Under the current regulations, it is possible for councils to order their working week so that people are not required to work on Sunday. People staffing certain council facilities may be required to work at times when they would otherwise not have to work if the local authority had a more enlightened attitude as an employer. In the absence of such an attitude, legislation may be necessary, so the hon. Member for South-West Bedfordshire could well be on to something in his new clause.

I am looking forward to the response to a wide-ranging consultation that the Secretary of State for Scotland is undertaking with businesses throughout Scotland, which will affect my Bill in Committee. A consultation of local authorities to assess the impact of weekend working may not have been conducted. If so, I may not be able to support the hon. Member for South-West Bedfordshire if he pushes his new clause to a vote, but I am strongly sympathetic to his aims.

Mr. Gary Streeter (South-West Devon)

I, too, shall make a short contribution. Someone famously said that you could not buck the market. It is also true that you cannot buck nature. No one can sustain a working pattern of seven hours a day, seven days a week. Families cannot survive unless there is an opportunity outside work for parents and children to spend quality or quantity time together and learn from another. I strongly support the modest measure proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous), as it sends an important signal.

We enact laws in this place not just for the benefit that the law will bring, but also for the signal that it sends to the wider community. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt) that although the new clause is a modest measure limited to local government and local government companies by the nature of the Bill, it sends a signal to the wider community. I hope that it sets an example to many private sector companies that want to be good employers and want to learn best practice. It might encourage them to put parents of school-age children at the centre of their thinking when they plan their rotas. For large companies and large organisations such as local councils, that might be a little inconvenient, but they could cope with it. The benefits would be immense.

We must recognise that family life is under pressure. We all sit in our surgeries and listen to case after case linked to the Child Support Agency, welfare benefits and so on. We think about the children involved in some of those cases, who are denied time with their parents or are subject to some other pressure. For people like me, who had the advantage of growing up in a secure family setting, spending time with parents and learning right from wrong, even if we did not always agree—we all have our moments—it is horrifying to think that so many children today are denied the consistency of parental input. The new clause is an important attempt to put that right.

We heard, I think, that 20 per cent. of parents work on both Saturdays and Sundays. Will my hon. Friend confirm that that was the statistic that he gave?

Andrew Selous

My hon. Friend is right. According to the Joseph Rowntree study, 20 per cent. of parents of school-age children work on both Saturdays and Sundays, and three quarters of them wish they did not have to do so.

Mr. Streeter

I find that a terrifying figure. If it is right, when do those school-age children spend time with their parents? We know that children watch a lot of television—I do not criticise that—listen to a lot of music, and spend time with their peer groups. They are getting their values and standards from somewhere, and surely that should be primarily from their parents.

On quality time as opposed to quantity of time, I am fortunate that both of my children are adults and therefore off our hands.

Mr. Syms

My hon. Friend does not look old enough.

Mr. Streeter

I know; say it again. I remember a classic example of when my son was a teenager of 15 or 16 and going through some of the things that teenagers go through.

Mr. Leslie

Bored with his father.

Mr. Streeter

I hope those comments are being picked up byHansard. They do not always reflect well on those who make them.

My son was working on his computer in our front room. I was lying on the floor reading something or other, and for several hours there was little interaction between us, but after a while, because we were in the same room together, he suddenly piped up and wanted to discuss something that had been troubling him. That would not have happened if we had not spent time together in the same room, even though we were not interacting. Time together is important for parents and children. It is not a touchy-feely thing; it matters.

The measure proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Bedfordshire is an important improvement to the current law, and I hope the Government will respond positively to it.

Mr. Steve Webb (Northavon)

Most of that which needs to be said has been said, so I shall be brief. I welcome the new clause and commend the hon. Member for South-West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) on moving a modest, limited clause that could do some families sonic good. So often, because we cannot do everything that we would want to do, many of us fail to do anything. I hope it will not be patronising to say that although the hon. Gentleman has been in the House for a relatively short period, he is putting to shame some of us who could have done the same thing, and I commend him for his initiative in doing so and for his well researched argument in support of his case.

The hon. Member for Greenock and Inverclyde (David Cairns), who has his own private Member's Bill dealing with weekend working, observed that many council services are not provided on a Sunday, but there may well be pressure for that. The hon. Gentleman cited examples of councils that were looking to expand weekend services. We need to put the safeguards in place now, not when the expansion has already taken place and we cannot get the genie back in the bottle.

I also commend the fact that the hon. Gentleman is concerned about all sorts of families. Essentially, the new clause deals with the welfare of children. Whether children and parents are in lone-parent families, two-parent families or families of any shape or size, it is in their interests to spend time together. This modest new clause would help to achieve that.

5.15 pm

A question was properly raised about children of preschool age and their need to spend time with parents. I am aware from experience in my area that bodies such as Ofsted report that children starting at primary school show all the hallmarks of not spending time with parents. The hon. Gentleman is right that those are important and formative years. In a world in which children are increasingly starved of parental attention, often because both parents are working simply to meet the cost of their mortgage, the sort of protections that he is trying to introduce are entirely appropriate. If anything, they are more needed today than ever before.

I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman tabled the new clause. Should there be an opportunity now or in future to support it in a Division, I shall be very pleased to do so.

Mr. Goodman

I should also like to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) on tabling the new clause. I know from serving with him on the Select Committee on Work and Pensions that he takes a serious and informed interest in issues of social exclusion.

I want briefly to make a suggestion to the Minister that he may find helpful. I suspect that he is about to tell us that, as matters stand, he cannot accept the new clause. I suspect that one of the reasons that he will give is that the Government cannot single out local authority workers as the new clause suggests. My first suggestion is that he should take up the idea of the hon. Member for Greenock and Inverclyde (David Cairns) and try to see how local authorities would respond to the measure on a wider basis than that which my hon. Friend has so far had a chance to investigate.

Secondly, if the Minister is going to argue that the Government are unwilling to single out local authority workers, it would be helpful to give some hint of whether they are considering more widely the problem about which my hon. Friend so eloquently spoke with regard to parents and children. Since the Labour party tends to regard the vulnerable and those on low wages as its special property—I profoundly believe that that is an error on its part—he may want to spell out a little more fully how he might give workers generally the protection that my hon. Friend is seeking for local authority workers. I am sure that my hon. Friend would also want the measure to be more widely extended.

Mr. Clifton-Brown

I think that my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) has done his constituents who are local authority employees a great service today. Indeed, he has done all our constituents who are such employees a service. I suspect that this will be one of those landmark occasions in the House when the Minister may not accept a proposal—in this case, the new clause—but the idea that it contains will be like a seed, as it will germinate and put down roots and everyone will suddenly become convinced of its merits.

Mr. Tim Boswell (Daventry)

In anticipation of the Minister's possible response, does my hon. Friend agree that it may be necessary to give thought to circumstances in which there might be an override? For example, a particular emergency might require the services of people with family responsibilities. One looks to the Minister not merely to respond that difficulties in respect of one emergency invalidate the important principle that is being floated and established today, and welcomed from the Opposition Front Bench.

Mr. Clifton-Brown

My hon. Friend, who has great experience in these matters, makes a prescient point, as he alludes to a part of my speech to which I was about to come.

My hon. Friends the Members for South-West Devon (Mr. Streeter) and for North-East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt) and others sitting behind me, including my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr. Goodman), have spoken very eloquently about the need for a more family friendly atmosphere. My children are now in their later teens, but when they were at a more formative age, time spent with them at the weekend, especially over Sunday lunch, was extremely valuable. Even as a Member of Parliament, one was able to make time to spend with one's family. Nowadays, too many children grow up without spending enough time with their parents. They do not have that prime time in which to interact and learn from their parents.

Mr. Swayne

Does my hon. Friend agree that time at the weekend is even more important for children who have divorced parents?

Mr. Clifton-Brown

My hon. Friend makes an important point. Perhaps if they spend more time with their parents, they will be able to form better relationships. The Minister should take that into account.

Why is it necessary for local authority employees to work on Saturdays and Sundays? Of course, some emergencies, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Mr. Boswell) alluded, such as flooding, require local authority employees to work. That also applies to some enforcement functions, such as trading standards, some public information services and some payment collection services, such as council tax collection. However, local authorities should generally be able to organise their functions so that employees are not "required." That is a key word in the new clause.

It is different if employees volunteer to work at the weekend. When they volunteer, and even when they are required, they generally get time off in lieu. However, such time off is not especially satisfactory for people who are required to work, because it is likely to be given during the week when children of school age are at school.

What research has been conducted on the matter? How many local authority employees work on a Saturday and Sunday? I doubt whether comprehensive research has been conducted, but it would be interesting to know whether, as a result of the new clause that my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Bedfordshire tabled, it could be undertaken to ascertain the answer to important questions. How many local authority employees who work on Saturdays or Sundays have children of a school age? What would alternative arrangements cost each local authority?

I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Bedfordshire will cause the Government to consider the matter seriously. Perhaps local authorities can set a trend that other employers will follow.

Mr. Raynsford

Our debate has been useful and I understand the entirely proper concern, not only of the hon. Member for South-West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous), but of all other hon. Members who spoke, about ensuring family-friendly employment policies. However, I cannot accept the new clause.

The hon. Member for South-West Bedfordshire called for more protection for workers against being required to work on Sundays so that families can have one shared day a week when they do together what they please. I assume that the new clause intends to further the campaign, but I am unclear about the reasons for singling out the local government sector for special treatment.

There is no special local government case for such a provision. Existing employment law fully protects local authority workers. Local authorities are generally ahead of the game in promoting flexible working. The Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions conducted research and produced a report, "Work-Life Balance—A Survey of Local Authorities" in 2001. It found that 94 per cent. of authorities operate job sharing, 95 per cent. operate flexitime and 64 per cent. provide more maternity pay than the law requires. I could cite many other examples.

In local government, circumstances will always arise in which people need to work at weekends. That would regularly apply to, for example, residential care homes, where care needs to be provided 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Similarly, local authority leisure facilities such as swimming pools, sports centres and parks need to be open at weekends if they are to provide for the leisure needs of local residents, including families who will want to be able to go out to a park or to go swimming together. It would be perverse to deny people that option given that we are trying to encourage family-friendly policies. In less regular circumstances, similar considerations apply to, for example, emergency services, which the hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) mentioned. To take a recently topical issue, road gritting in adverse weather conditions or other environmental and security emergencies require staff to be able to work at weekends, often at short notice.

Alistair Burt

The Minister's argument is taking a curious turn. Neither my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) nor any other hon. Member suggests that services should be denied. We suggest that it should be possible to change rosters or other arrangements so that, where two parents are involved in working, their children should not be prevented from seeing them. No one is suggesting that any service should be denied, so that is not a good reason to reject the new clause.

Mr. Raynsford

If that argument is valid—I can see some force behind it—any provision would have to apply to the whole work force and there would be no particular case for singling out local authorities. That is not within my remit; it would be a matter to press with my colleagues in the Department of Trade and Industry. It is important to recognise that some local authority services require substantial attendance because weekends are the times when they are busiest—I particularly singled out leisure-time activities. It might be difficult in some cases to operate a roster that guaranteed such provision.

Mr. Streeter

The new clause relates to local government and local government companies because we are discussing a local government Bill. As many hon. Members have said, it is to be hoped that it could be the forerunner to a wider application of the law that would in due course protect employees in every sector.

Mr. Raynsford

I fully understand why the new clause has been framed in such a way as to apply only to local government: it would otherwise be out of order. That does not in any way change the logic that there is no case for singling out local government for differential treatment, especially given that the available evidence suggests that, on the whole, local authorities are ahead of the game in adopting family-friendly policies.

Mr. Goodman

The Minister is following the line of argument that I anticipated. Can he therefore give any assurance that the Government are investigating generally the problem that the new clause seeks to address?

Mr. Raynsford

I intend to come on to some of the measures that the Government are taking to promote family-friendly policies.

Matthew Green

The Minister's argument is a little perverse. He argues that the measure is unnecessary because local authorities are good employers anyway, but then says that it would put a burden on them. It must be one or the other—it cannot be both.

Mr. Raynsford

The hon. Gentleman is getting excited about his observation, but I am afraid that, in the usual way of the Liberal Democrats, it is wrong. The case for imposing special obligations uniquely on local authorities, rather than on any other employers, would possibly be justified if they were not operating good policies. However, given the evidence that they are probably ahead of the game, it is extremely odd—although Liberal Democrat Members perhaps do not recognise that—to single them out to impose more onerous obligations on them than on other employers.

Rev. Martin Smyth

The Minister will remember that, when we dealt with Sunday trading, provision was made on a specific issue, although it has not always been kept to. Does not the same argument apply now: we are dealing with local government, so we want to secure protection for local government workers? We should also bear in mind the perverse attitude of some employers, who may say to people who work in shops, or in local government if we go down that road, "We can't employ you if you aren't prepared to work every Sunday."

Mr. Raynsford

I want to avoid widening the debate too far, because we shall be out of order. This is specifically about local government. I reiterate that I know of no evidence to suggest that local authorities are unusually unsympathetic to the aspirations of employees who have family responsibilities that would justify the implementation of a special measure in the Bill that did not apply more generally.

5.30 pm
Mr. Calum MacDonald (Western Isles)

We are all sympathetic to the aims of this new clause, but regardless of our views on its merits, should not such provisions be left to local government, rather than being imposed by central Government? For example, my local authority does not open any leisure facilities on Sundays; it takes a policy decision not to do so, and other local authorities are undoubtedly equally free to take such a decision. Is it not curious that the Liberal Democrats and the Tories, who advocate local decision making, want to be centralist in this particular respect?

Mr. Raynsford

My hon. Friend makes an extremely good point, which I was about to come to. Throughout consideration of this Bill, we have heard repeated complaints from the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats about the Government imposing unreasonable, centralising obligations on local government. Here we have a classic illustration of their being wholly inconsistent, and yet they look pained when such inconsistency is pointed out to them. When it suits them, they say, "Liberalise, and give more freedom to local government", but when the latest issue reaches their ears, they say, "No—we must legislate to impose an obligation." Then they look outraged when they are reminded that they are being inconsistent. That is absolutely typical of the Liberal Democrats, who never know which way they are pointing, unless they get an indication as to which way electors are likely to vote. Then, they say what they think will please electors.

The Government are keen to promote family-friendly policies, and we have a commitment to helping to support working parents. On 6 April 2003, a series of new rights specifically for parents will be introduced. They include a new right for parents with children under six, or for parents with disabled children under 18, to ask their employers for flexible working arrangements. The law will place a duty on employers to consider such requests seriously, and the Employment Act 2002 specifies only eight business grounds on which such requests can be refused. So there are measures—along with others that are the responsibility of my colleagues in other Departments—to help promote family-friendly policies. That is the right way forward, rather than trying to single out local government for special treatment. I therefore urge the hon. Member for South-West Bedfordshire to withdraw the new clause.

Andrew Selous

I am extremely grateful to those hon. Members who have made contributions on this new clause. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Ludlow (Matthew Green) for his support, and I noted with interest the suggestion of my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Mr. Boswell) that we could usefully have emergency override provisions where a local authority had a specific need to bring them into effect. I am also grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) for his response. He, like other Members, called for a period of consultation on the full effects of the provision; indeed, the hon. Member for Greenock and Inverclyde (David Cairns) said that his private Member's Bill made a similar undertaking. I would be sympathetic to having such consultation before we make further progress.

I have to say that I was extremely disappointed with the Minister's reply. He pointed out that local authorities operate seven-days-a-week services, but so did I when I moved the new clause. There is nothing in it that would prevent local authorities from providing such services. All that this modest measure would do is to prevent local authority employees from having to work on a Saturday and a Sunday. For the Minister to say that playgrounds and leisure services would be denied to the broad mass of the population within a local authority area—

Mr. Raynsford

indicated dissent.

Andrew Selous

The Minister was getting quite close to doing so.

Mr. Raynsford

I hope that the hon. Gentleman recognises that I did not say that, and that he accepts that that is a misrepresentation of the position that I adopted.

Andrew Selous

I apologise if I misrepresented the Minister—I was trying to listen carefully to his argument. Of course, all of us in this House want leisure services to be open seven days a week, and I very much include myself in that. I am simply asking the House to agree that we should extend the same right to local authority employees themselves, who would perhaps like to go to a local park or to a playground with their children on a Saturday or Sunday and spend time with them. Some of them cannot for want of a clause such as new clause 13. I do not think that that is overstating the case.

Mr. Clifton-Brown

If the Minister had said that local authorities should voluntarily adopt working rosters so that people with children of school age would not be required to work on a Saturday or Sunday unless it was absolutely necessary, it would at least have been a start. Does my hon. Friend think that we could have expected that from the Minister?

Andrew Selous

Of course, I would have welcomed encouraging remarks from the Minister.

I want to take up the point raised by the hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. MacDonald). He asked why we could not leave these matters to local authority discretion. He comes from a part of the country with a long cultural tradition under which such matters are taken very seriously. I quite understand the decision of his local authority; I respect and applaud it. However, he will acknowledge that many of us come from parts of the country without such traditions. This Parliament must deal with matters on a national basis.

Mr. Edward Davey

I endorse what the hon. Member for South-West Bedfordshire has said. Employment law is national and has never, under any party, been decentralised to local authorities. The Liberal Democrats would never wish to decentralise employment law to local authorities. There have to be minimum standards and the hon. Gentleman's proposals are along those lines.

Andrew Selous

The hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey) has summed up the situation fairly and accurately.

Mr. MacDonald

This is not an employment Bill but a local government Bill. We are changing local government law. My point is still valid. If my local authority wanted to carry on doing what it does and close leisure facilities on a Sunday, and this House passed a law that said, "No—you have to open leisure facilities on a Sunday, for the benefit of the rest of the public," the hon. Gentleman would be the first to object. The issue is between centralising principles and local democracy.

Andrew Selous

I will come on to the point about local authorities, but the example that the hon. Gentleman raises is not one that would come under the new clause. The new clause is not about forcing local authorities to open particular services; it is merely about giving some protection to local authority employees so that they too can enjoy those services.

The Minister asked, "Why local authorities?" and then answered the question himself: this is a local authority Bill. I see absolutely no reason why local authorities could not lead the way in this area, setting an example to other employers.

I understand that my noble Friends in the other place, with support from other noble Lords of all parties, will seek to reintroduce a similar amendment.

Mr. Streeter

Does my hon. Friend agree that it was not only the words of the Minister's reply that were disappointing but their tone? It seems that he has misunderstood the spirit of this debate. Here we are, trying to do our best for parents, children and families—the very people the Government say that they want to support—but the Minister has not taken up that spirit. Does my hon. Friend share my hope that the Minister, who is a reasonable man, will reflect on this debate and perhaps encourage his noble Friends in the other place to be more gracious in their response to this proposal?

Andrew Selous

My hon. Friend has made a fair point and has just reminded me that the new family-friendly measures to which the Minister referred do not, as far as I am aware, address the specific points that would have been remedied by the new clause. Those points are significant and the Minister did not address them.

I will seek leave to withdraw the new clause, but I serve notice to the Minister that this will not be the last time that the Government hear about this matter. My noble Friends, with support from noble Lords of all parties, will seek to revisit this matter in the other place. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.

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