HL Deb 26 February 1991 vol 526 cc904-30

5.46 p.m.

Baroness Lockwood rose to move, That this House takes note of the Report of the European Communities Committee on Part-time and Temporary Employment [2nd Report, 1990–91, HL paper 7].

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I should like to thank the Members of Sub-Committee C for their help and co-operation in conducting this inquiry. In particular, I thank the clerk to the committee, Dr. Phillipa Tudor, for her invaluable assistance both in the drafting of the report and in guiding the committee through the complications of the three directives involved. I also thank the Government for their help during the course of the inquiry and for their considerable response. The noble Viscount has had the response to my Written Question placed in the Library for the information of your Lordships. I hope that it has been of assistance to those intending to take part in this debate today.

Before dealing with the substance of the report, I first refer to the difficulty encountered by the committee relating to the Commission's timetable which is given on page 22, paragraph 94 of the report. It is also referred to in the Government's response. Following the Commission's adoption of the social charter and the publishing of the action programme, Sub-Committee C had been anticipating the arrival of the draft directives as it was expected that they would appear on the agenda of the Council of Ministers before the end of 1990.

The three draft directives were adopted by the Commission on 29th June 1990, which was somewhat later than expected, but the official English text was not published until 28th August. The draft directives, together with the Government's explanatory memorandum, were not available until 25th September when the House was still in recess, giving the sub-committee very little time in which to inquire into a subject of such importance.

The committee is of the opinion that if there is to be proper parliamentary scrutiny of European legislation then adequate time must be built into the Commission's programme. If the committee was unfair to the Department of Employment in expressing its concern at the delay I apologise to the Minister and, through him, to the department. The three draft directives are on non-standard or atypical work. These were among the first of the social action proposals to be published by the Commission.

The first draft directive contains a large number of proposals governing the working conditions of part-time and temporary workers in the European Community. Its provisions exclude those who work on average fewer than eight hours a week, but cover other part-time workers, temporary staff, including people working via employment agencies, those on fixed-term contracts and unseasonal workers. Part-time and temporary workers employed for eight hours or more a week would be entitled to vocational training and social services, including benefits in cash and kind, on a pro rata basis.

The second draft directive requires member states to ensure that part-time employees have the same entitlements to social security, annual holidays, dismissal allowances and seniority allowances as full-time employees in proportion to the total hours worked. It also places restrictions on temporary employment contracts.

The third draft directive aims to ensure that temporary workers enjoy the same general level of health and safety protection as other workers in the place where the temporary workers work. Temporary workers should be banned from work requiring special medical supervision over a long period, except for exceptional cases.

These draft directives should be seen in the light of changing employment patterns and of demographic factors within the countries of the Community. This is outlined in Part 2 of the report on pages 9 to 11. The tables on page 9 are taken from an EC labour force sample survey quoted in Commission Document 8072/90. Table 1 indicates that in 1988 part-time employees accounted for 22.8 per cent. of all employees in the UK, though Mr. Forth, the Minister appearing before the committee, put the figure at 19 per cent. This would appear to be confirmed in the memorandum from the Department of Employment which indicated that there are some 5.5 million part-time and temporary workers in the United Kingdom, representing 25 per cent. of the total number of employees. Of the part-time employees, 89 per cent. are women and of the temporary employees 63 per cent. are women. So these directives are very much about women.

The United Kingdom has for some years had one of the highest percentages of part-time employees in Europe, a position it now shares with the Netherlands and Denmark. Other European countries have not had these same high percentages. But as table 2 indicates, the growth rate of part-time employment between 1983 and 1988 has been higher in the majority of member countries than in the UK itself. On the other hand, the UK has the third lowest percentage of temporary employees, whereas Spain, Portugal and Greece have very high percentages. Because of this substantial proportion of part-time and temporary employees in most member states—a proportion set to increase under demographic pressures—the committee was not enamoured of the terms "atypical" and "non-standard" used by the Commission. Your Lordships will note that the report stresses that "non-standard" employees are not "sub-standard" employees but are a large and vitally important sector of the workforce.

Of the three draft directives, the third, aiming to ensure that temporary workers receive the same health and safety protection as full-time employees, is the least controversial. In the UK this provision already exists but the committee had evidence that in some other countries there is a higher incidence of failure to protect temporary workers than full-time employees. With the exception of one or two minor points, the Government appear to have little difficulty with this directive and the committee agrees with the Government's reservations. Subject to that, we recommend the adoption of this directive.

The other two directives are much more controversial, as the evidence indicates. The Government take the view shared by most employer organisations that the cost of implementing the directives would deter employers from taking on part-time and temporary workers and would therefore work against the interests of those whom the directives are intended to help most; namely, married women and the disabled. The Equal Opportunities Commission and other organisations do not share that view. Nor is the committee convinced that the directives would have a significant effect on employment opportunities. The committee considers that general economic conditions are likely to have a far greater effect than the current draft directives on the employment of part-time and temporary workers.

The committee agrees with much of the evidence about the vagueness of the Commission's definition and is strongly of the view that the draft directives fail to distinguish clearly between the different categories of non-standard workers. The committee believes that a clear distinction should be made between the employment protection needs of part-time workers, who are employed on a regular basis, and temporary workers. While it is desirable in the view of the committee that relevant social benefits should, so far as is possible, be provided to all workers on a pro rata basis, the committee accepts that this may not be possible in all cases. The ultimate aim must be to provide fair employment conditions for all workers throughout the Community. Therefore, the committee supports the Commission's proposals to extend employment protection to part-time workers. Part-time workers should enjoy access to state and occupational pension schemes and should have pro rata entitlements to annual holidays, redundancy pay and seniority allowances.

On training, the committee agrees that both part-time and temporary workers should have access to vocational training, with the caveat, which the Commission itself recognised, that the duration of the work and the nature of the tasks involved would need to be taken into account. Many of the other provisions which, in the view of the committee, come under the heading of good practice could not be objected to in principle.

I regret that the Government's response makes it clear that they still do not share the committee's view. The committee recognises that some increase in cost will be involved and that there might be difficulty for some small and medium size businesses. But the committee did not find convincing some of the estimates supplied by government and by some companies. In a supplementary memorandum on pages 33 to 45, the Government provide a breakdown of their costings. It is a very comprehensive breakdown. Incidentally, the memorandum covers five directives, two of which, although they were referred to in the evidence to the committee, are not covered by this report; that is, the directives on working time and on the protection of pregnant women.

The committee is not challenging the Government's figures on the basis of their assumptions, though these are strongly contested by the TUC evidence in the supplementary memorandum on page 53. The committee is instead suggesting that other considerations which were put to it in evidence should also be taken into account. Those considerations include the following. First, it should be possible to restructure the national insurance scheme in such a way that both hours of work and earnings would be covered. Such a combination would ensure the continued contributions from high earners based on only a few hours of work. As regards the low earners, contributions could either be credited or the sliding scale adjusted to start at the very low threshold. Those views were put not only by supporters of the directives but also by some opponents.

Secondly, if part-timers were treated in the same way as full-time workers they could become a more stable element in the labour force, leading to compensating economies in staff turnover. We are all aware of the high cost of recruitment and training of new employees which employers have to face. It would also help women to build part-time work into their life career structure.

Thirdly, part-timers can often be more productive than full-time workers. At paragraph 2.7 on page 2 of the evidence the EOC gives interesting information on that aspect. Fourthly, an increasing number of companies are providing pro rata benefits for part-time workers, apparently without reducing their competitiveness.

Fifthly, domestic law is continually being challenged—often successfully—under European equality legislation. At paragraph 93 on page 22 of the report the committee expressed the view that, progress through the uncertain development of case law can never be as satisfactory as comprehensive legislation". The committee agrees with the legal bases chosen by the Commission for the first and third directives. However, it considers that the second directive relates to the rights and interests of employed persons and cannot therefore properly be based on Article 100A. The committee considered that the legal basis should be Article 100. Unlike the Government, the committee believes that the Council not only has the competence but that it also has the duty to legislate in that area.

The Commission originally requested the Council of Ministers to take a decision on the first proposal and to adopt its common position on the second and third proposals before the end of the year—that is, 1990—but in the event that did not happen. The Council of Ministers held a preliminary discussion on the proposals on 26th November when objections were raised by a number of member states. Several member states disagreed with the treaty base chosen by the Commission for the second directive, which allows qualified majority voting. The Commission has subsequently published minor amendments to its proposals, but these have not yet been adopted. Therefore, the subject covered by the three draft directives is still open to debate and consultation. I hope that today's debate on the report will make a constructive contribution to that process. I beg to move.

Moved, That this House takes note of the Report of the European Communities Committee on Part-time and Temporary Employment [2nd Report, 1990–91, HL paper 7].—(Baroness Lockwood.)

6.5 p.m.

Lord Rochester

My Lords, I am sure that the House will be grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, for the clear way in which she introduced the report. I was not a member of Sub-Committee C at the time it conducted the inquiry but from these Benches I am happy generally to support its findings. Until I read the background information given in Part 2 of the report, I had not fully appreciated the extent to which part-time and temporary employees now form so large a part—about one quarter—of the employed workforce; nor, for that matter, had I realised that in the case of those employed on a part-time basis as many as 90 per cent. are women.

As the report indicates, the incidence of part-time working is likely to grow further in the 1990s as a result of demographic changes which will bring a decline in the number of school-leavers. Therefore, employers will be increasingly obliged to retain, or attract back to work, people who have retired, or parents—again, mostly women —who will wish to work on a part-time basis.

There is also evidence to suggest that there will continue to be an increase in the number of employees who have more than one job. That will apply especially to people who have skills that are in short supply. I understand that there are already about 1 million people who have two or more jobs. The basic question posed by the draft directives is how far part-time and temporary workers should receive pro rata equality of treatment with other workers. Except in a few instances—for example, in the case of promotion opportunities—I believe that part-time workers should be so treated.

Supervision is a special case. It demands a degree of commitment that most part-timers are not in a position to offer. On the other hand, increasing use of part-time employees will mean that in some cases the pool of full-time staff from which promotions can be made may reduce to the point where making supervisory posts part-time will have to be considered, perhaps by the system of job sharing. I understand that there is already an example of this in London. It appears that two women are joint general managers of a community health unit controlling a budget of £15 million. It is possible that such examples will increase to the extent that, even in the case of supervisory posts, basic equality of treatment between full-timers and part-timers will prove to be realistic.

Justification for the view that part-timers should, in general, receive the same rewards and benefits on a pro rata basis as full-time employees was perhaps best summed up by the Institute of Personnel Management in its written evidence to the House of Commons Select Committee on Employment nearly two years ago. The institute stated: Good personnel practice is, in our view, indivisible. If it is felt that employees need a level of legal rights and protections, then it does not appear logical to argue that these rights and protections should be restricted only to those who work above an arbitrary number of hours per week. The complexities of working arrangements nowadays do not allow for such simplistic rules". For at least the past 10 years, my noble friend Lady Seear and I have constantly argued that case, especially when debating the Government's approach to legislation affecting employment protection.

It is true that many of the more obvious discriminations against part-timers have been removed as a result of case law deriving from the Sex Discrimination Act; but that is not an altogether satisfactory way in which to achieve equality of treatment between full and part-timers as it has clearly not been planned or structured for that purpose. What are the arguments against taking further steps in that direction? The noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, has already referred to them in general terms and to the committee's response, but perhaps I may be allowed to add to what she has said.

In their evidence to Sub-committee C the Government expressed concern about the additional cost to employers of implementing the draft directives in the employment sectors most involved. The committee recognised the fact that some increase in cost could occur but was not convinced of the accuracy of the sum on the evidence supplied to it. The Government's estimates were based upon the assumption that there would be no change in the system of national insurance contributions, but the committee took the view that that system had been changed in the past and could, if necessary, be changed again.

The CBI said that the additional costs involved in providing pro rata terms and conditions would make part-time workers less attractive to some employers. The Government also believed that implementation of the directives would reduce total employment opportunities. However, the CBI acknowledged that many companies already applied pro rata terms to part-timers. I share the view expressed by the committee that general economic conditions are likely to have a greater effect than the directives upon the employment of part-time workers.

In evidence to the committee much was made of a survey of women currently outside the labour market because of their family responsibilities. Of those who said that they would like to return to work at some time within the next five years, up to 80 per cent. are said to have expressed a preference for some form of part-time work. It is therefore claimed that there is no need for legislation to improve their conditions. I take the contrary view: demographic trends and the need for organisational flexibility suggest that the overall effect of implementing the directives would not significantly change recruitment policy for part-time and temporary staff, the use of whom should be encouraged as a response to labour shortages.

There is one important proviso I should like to make about the advisability of introducing European Community legislation to regulate the employment of part-time and, to some extent, temporary employees. I sought to stress that point in our recent debate on health and safety at work. In my view, it applies equally to the draft directives: it is that existing legislation should concentrate on setting broad objectives rather than presenting detailed regulations, thus avoiding the creation of unnecessary obstacles to the development of those forms of employment.

I should now like to deal with a specific matter arising out of the report: vocational training, a subject your Lordships debated only recently. Like the committee, I agree with the proposals that part-time and temporary employees should have access to vocational training on the same basis as full-time employees, account being taken of the duration of the work and the nature of the tasks to be carried out. From these Benches, we have long argued that expenditure on training should be regarded as an essential long-term investment on which the so-called skills revolution vitally depends. Here is a glorious opportunity to expand the field in which training can be given, and we cannot afford to ignore it.

The means of achieving that aim are already available in the shape of TECs. There must be a strong case for earmarking a certain proportion of the funds available to them for training part-time staff. Such an approach might evoke more interest in the training of part-timers, especially for the large numbers of companies not making sufficient provision to enable part-timers to function as effectively as they could. The report puts the point well when it says: In the case of part-time employees vocational training is an essential investment as it may provide a means of low-paid employees in low-grade jobs reaching their full potential". In that connection, I was much struck by an article in last year's annual review of St. George's House, Windsor, a place for which I have great respect, written by Mr. Peter Ashby, its employment studies fellow. He wrote: Training, just like education, is concerned with the growth and development of the individual, and the capacity of the individual to contribute more to society, and to gain more in return through a fuller sense of contribution. Self-betterment, enhanced capacity to give and to grow—these are what training is about". On the draft directive concerning the safety and health at work of temporary employees, I have little to add to what I said a few weeks ago in the debate initiated by the noble Baroness, Lady Turner. The committee agreed with the principle that temporary employees should have the same health and safety protection as full-time employees. As the report says: It should be unthinkable for any employer not to exercise due care over the health and safety of any employee, whether they are employed for a single day or 40 years". Further legislation in that field may well be unnecessary in the United Kingdom, but evidence of inadequate provision in other member states surely justifies the draft directive. It is gratifying to know that our Secretary of State has now joined his opposite numbers in the Community in reaching a common position upon it. I hope that European employment Ministers will in due course reach a similar consensus on other proposals coming forward under the Social Charter Action Programme.

6.18 p.m.

Lord Hunter of Newington

My Lords, our chairman, the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, has clearly outlined the case in her report to us. She did that with the same skill as that with which she controlled a large and individually minded committee. At first sight, the medical aspects of the issue appear straightforward. There is clear agreement that all part-time and temporary workers should have the same health and safety protection as full-time employees. There is a temptation which we deplore, acceded to in some member states, to provide inadequate health and safety provision for temporary employees.

We also agree that full information should be made available to all employees, and that temporary workers should not be employed on work requiring special medical supervision. However the evidence we received as to what is damaging to health varied substantially. Some of those giving evidence were worried that occupational stress syndrome was a health hazard, not fully covered by the normal responsibilities of the Health and Safety Executive under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act. They also suggested that health could be damaged by the sick building syndrome.

Mr. Donald McIntosh, the head of a leading firm of insurance lawyers, recently predicted a rapid growth of claims through work-related injuries in the next five years. The key to this is the importance of employers giving all employees full information of known risks arising from their work.

A suppressed warning to British Rail about the danger of deafness made it easy for thousands who brought claims against the company when that matter emerged through litigation. The hearing loss could have been avoided by providing protection costing one shilling and threepence per person in 1951 when that warning was suppressed.

Company doctors have an important role. It is urged that there should be a change in the law to encourage the disclosure of health and safety information and to protect company doctors against dismissal and damages if they make a disclosure in the public interest.

How does one spread this real life situation? How does one spread this message through the Community? Much of it is concerned simply with good practice. And how can this be applied to part-time or temporary workers?

We have made the important distinction that temporary workers should not be used in certain types of work. What should the training opportunities be? My view is that the case has become clearer as our investigations have proceeded. There may be occasions when every facility, including training, should be available to temporary workers, and I have no doubt that those capable and willing to do part-time work should have priority.

Much has been said in the report and by speakers in this and in an earlier debate about the future of part-time employees. Of prime importance is the orientation courses for people such as married women wishing to return to work. One must spell out to them the opportunities before training so that they have some idea of what is offered and of the skilled part-time jobs which are suitable and which can be fitted in with other responsibilities. A proper use of women returning to part-time work could fill a substantial shortage in some posts in the future.

There is a further point which has nothing to do with today's debate and is not suitable for discussion today. But I wonder whether during a recession skilled staff could be used on a part-time basis to train others, thereby increasing skilled full-time staff for when the recession is over. That might be a matter for consideration in the future.

6.24 p.m.

Baroness David

My Lords, I should like to thank my noble friend Lady Lockwood for her comprehensive description of the report that we are discussing tonight. This subject is a difficult and complicated one to put over, and she did it extremely well. I should also like to thank her for her chairing of the committee.

I wish to concentrate on one aspect, but to my mind it is a very important one—that is, the question of equal opportunities. That means equal opportunities for men, women and the disabled, but I shall focus on women.

Of the total workforce in the United Kingdom of over 27 million, 19 per cent. work part-time, and 89 per cent. of those working part-time are women. Eight per cent. of part-timers are disabled, and of those, 6.9 per cent. are women. Half a million women work for less than eight hours a week, 1½ million for between eight and 15 hours, and 81 million for over 16 hours. Those figures justify paying particular attention to the position of women. It is expected that any increase in the labour force in the 1990s will be largely accounted for by more women in the 25 to 40 year-old age group. By the year 2000 it is estimated that women will represent 47 per cent. of the workforce. I hope that that sets the scene.

There was considerable discussion in the course of our inquiry about whether increasing the rights of part-time workers as proposed in the directives would prevent or discourage employers from using part-timers. The Equal Opportunities Commission and the Low Pay Unit were firm in discounting that suggestion, saying that similar arguments had been used when other Acts—for instance, the Equal Pay Act—had been implemented, and had been proved to be without foundation. As I have just said, the increase predicted in the numbers of women in the workforce by the year 2000 would also seem to disprove that possibility. Women are needed, and they want to work.

In its evidence to us, the TUC referred to a study commissioned for the Department of Employment in 1988 in which fewer than 1 per cent. of employers gave as a reason for employing part-timers the fact that they had fewer rights. In general, employers liked the flexibility that part-time staff gave them.

The TUC believed that there was no correlation between levels of employment protection for part-time workers and levels of unemployment among women workers. In Germany, Portugal, Luxembourg and the United Kingdom female unemployment is at a low level compared with other member states. As each of those four states has different levels of employment protection, it is difficult to sustain the argument that employment protection is directly linked to female unemployment, though I realise that the Government cite France as an exception here. The popularity of part-time work for women was confirmed by a Gallup survey for the CBI in 1988, when 400 women not working were interviewed. Of those who wanted to return to work some time in the next five years, over 80 per cent. wanted part-time work.

The EOC accepted that, while many women preferred to stay at home to look after their young children, there were many who did not. The Women at Work survey showed that a quarter of mothers at home with young children cited lack of available child care as the main reason for their not returning to work. A lack of child care for the under-fives, but more particularly for the five to 13 year-olds out of school hours, forces millions of women to work part-time when they return to work.

In answer to a question from the noble Lord, Lord Brain, who asked where we stood in the European league as regards child care facilities—were we bottom, below standard or average?—Mrs. Byrne White of the EOC said, "A quick answer is that we are at the bottom of the league, along with Ireland". That is nothing to be particularly proud of.

About 50 per cent. of women in employment in the United Kingdom who have become pregnant are not eligible for maternity leave as of right; nor do they have the right to return to their jobs after pregnancy. The result is that many women drop out of employment for some time and are forced to work part-time on their return even if they would have preferred to work full-time.

Another problem is the need to look after elderly relatives. This usually means reducing from full-time to part-time work. The EOC had had complaints from men who wished to do so but whose requests had been refused by employers. Increased status, pay and protection for part-timers is likely to have the effect that adults of both sexes may choose to work part-time at different stages of the family cycle.

The committee recognises that there are examples of good practice among employers, but these are not general. It is unlikely that good practice will increase or improve while terms and conditions remain a matter of negotiation between employer and employee. Legislation is necessary.

The EOC believes that improvement in the pay, employment entitlements and status of part-time work can have a powerful impact on equality of opportunity in the 1990s and beyond, and that failure to provide it will exacerbate future problems of female dependency and poverty in old age.

I hope that the case is made that women are a necessary part of the workforce and that to give them greater rights of protection in employment will neither lessen their opportunities nor discourage employers from recruiting them, as the Government and the CBI seem to fear. The Government made a good deal of this in their response to our report, and today I received correspondence from the Institute of Directors and the British Chamber of Commerce, which are clearly worried and are pressing their point of view. I suggest that economic conditions are likely to have a far greater effect than the directive we are discussing.

I have not yet mentioned vocational training, but others have dealt with it. The right of access to this training should be available to part-time workers, as it is or should be for permanent employees. In our previous report on vocational training, we emphasised the need for a much more skilled workforce. There is no reason why there should not be part-time training opportunities for those preparing for or returning to work, as distinct from those actually in work. The noble Lord, Lord Hunter, made that point.

I hope that the Minister will be able to reassure us in his reply that the TECs can take on this new responsibility, making opportunities much more available and better than at the moment. The Department of Employment research showed that 6 million women of working age are not in employment. Two million are in full-time education, but that still leaves 4 million not in work; 1 million of them have A-levels or a degree level qualification. What an opportunity is being lost if we do not make use of these able people, who could easily be trained if the right training were made available.

In paragraph 93 of the section on the opinion of the committee, we make the point that, although European Court decisions have began to influence the elimination of discrimination, they can act only where there is an element of sex discrimination in the adverse treatment of part-time or temporary workers and progress through the uncertain development of case law can never be as satisfactory as comprehensive legislation". I hope that the Government will be willing to bring forward the necessary legislation. It seems to me to be rather humiliating so often to be found at fault by the European Court, as has happened.

The evidence we produced is overwhelming. As part-time workers employed for less than 16 hours a week receive no job protection for the first five years during which they are employed, they are effectively of the same status as temporary employees. They, and their colleagues who work more than 16 hours, are considered peripheral to the workforce. The EOC believes that their contribution is in most, if not all, cases integral to the work performed by full-time workers and should be protected on the same basis. It is only fair to say that some companies, especially in banking, finance, and retail industries, offer all benefits on a pro rata basis.

I wish to touch on one other aspect: promotion for those working part-time. There is plenty of evidence that differences in treatment between part-time and full-time workers create artificial rigidities in employment, discouraging the development of part-time work opportunities in the higher status and better paid jobs. It is generally accepted that there are far too few women obtaining top jobs in the professions, in the academic world, in law, in business, in the Civil Service, in Parliament.

The Hansard Society commissioned an investigation into the barriers women face in public life called Women at the Top. It was published in January last year. The commission was chaired by Lady Howe and had a distinguished membership. It made a number of excellent recommendations. The report makes the point that 80 per cent. of new workers in the next five years will be women, most of whom will have family responsibilities. This, it says, may mean that the best man for the job in the 1990s may well be a woman. However, the Hansard Society states that unless existing barriers are dismantled, women will continue to be denied access to positions of influence and authority. To achieve promotion to senior jobs, women too often have to be better than the men. Work, especially at senior levels, is often organised on the unquestioned assumption that it can only be done full time. This disqualifies many women. For some jobs, full-time work is necessary, but many jobs at senior level could perfectly well be shared or part-time, given sufficient imagination and flexibility on the part of management. The Hansard Society's report points out that men in senior positions are often part-time workers when they combine their main job with another activity such as serving on boards, commissions and tribunals.

I hope that the Government have taken note of the Hansard Society's report and that its findings will encourage them to legislate so that we comply with the directives we discuss in our report. There can be no doubt that better conditions of work for part-timers, together with far better child care facilities, could markedly increase and encourage the availability of women and, with the training they should receive, make them an even more useful addition to the workforce than they are now, as well as opening far greater opportunities to them.

I hope that the built-in prejudices preventing women from reaching the top will, with time and education, evaporate. The Government could, of course, improve matters quickly here in the House of Lords, where there are only 75 women in the total of 1,115 Peers.

6.35 p.m.

Lady Kinloss

My Lords, I wish to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, for her skill and kindness as chairman of the sub-committee and for the clarity with which she explained the report. I also wish to thank her for her kindness in answering my many questions outside the committee. Of course I agree with the substance of the report and its findings on part-time and temporary employment, especially the commission's proposals to extend the employment protection afforded to part-time workers.

I should like to take up one point which should be brought to your Lordships' special attention. On page 75 of the written evidence, the Institute of Directors brought up the fact that increasingly employees are requesting to work on a part-time and temporary basis because it suits their abilities and circumstances. This is not only for the personal circumstances of women but for the disabled of both sexes. When we mention the disabled, we speak of persons who have a basket of disabilities and abilities and who can benefit the community as well as themselves. However, for one reason or another they are not able to engage in full employment. Some in this group may need additional support in the workplace. They should be allowed to contribute their skills and abilities and receive an appropriate wage for the work.

It seems to me that clear distinctions should be drawn between the two following categories of women who need part-time employment: women with older children, especially during the school holidays, and those who have elderly or disabled persons to look after. For these categories, part-time or temporary employment can be very necessary. It is interesting to note that the Commission is conscious of the needs of disabled people, as shown by its report of 15th December 1988: Report on the Employment of Disabled People in the Community. It gives percentages and I quote some. In Germany 6 per cent. are employed where there is a minimum of 15 employees; in Greece, it is 3 per cent.; in France 6 per cent. in 1991 where there are 20 employees or more; in the United Kingdom it is 3 per cent. where there are 20 or more employees. This is in both the private and the public sectors.

RADAR and other organisations for disabled people would like to see the principle of the levy system as used in Germany introduced into this country. It would be a more effective method of enforcing our quota system. The levy system is an automatic fine where employers fail to fulfil their quota obligations. However, that is where individuals are available to fill the quota.

I have spoken of the disabled and we cannot afford to deny ourselves the contribution they can make as part-timers, nor can we deny to them the opportunities for work which they desire.

6.40 p.m.

Baroness Turner of Camden

My Lords, I speak as a member of your Lordships' Select Committee and therefore from the Back-Benches in accordance with what I believe to be the traditions of the House. I also wish to thank our chairman, the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, for the clarity with which she introduced the report and for the kindness and consideration she showed in chairing our often quite difficult sessions. I commend our report to your Lordships. As will be seen, we did not have an easy remit. We did not think that we had been allowed sufficient time to do justice to the subject because of the programme that was imposed upon us. The noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, has referred to that fact. Nevertheless, I do not believe that had we been able to see more witnesses and spend more time looking at evidence our conclusions would have been very much different.

To begin with we experienced a problem in relation to the terms of the three directives which seek to apply the same conditions to both temporary and part-time employees. The draft directive excludes those who work less than an average of eight hours a week but includes all other part-time and temporary staff, including seasonal workers and those on short-term contracts. That situation presented us with a difficulty.

Whereas it seemed to us quite sensible to apply pro rata the same conditions for part-time staff, who are employed on a continuous basis, as for full-time staff, we felt that problems would arise in the case of seasonal workers; for instance, people undertaking work in the holidays or in the absence of full-time staff or students doing fill-in jobs. They are in an entirely different category. The same situation applies to people on short-term contracts, although it must be said that the committee recognised that there was a need to ensure that such people are not exploited. It seems wrong, for example, that people can be employed on short-term contracts which exclude them from normal employee protection, particularly since such contracts when renewed over a period of time can result in people working continuously for the same employer over a period of years. The committee felt that it was not reasonable or helpful to lump all such types of employment together, as the directives do. For example, it would be difficult to include some temporary workers, seasonal workers or students doing fill-in work, in occupational pension schemes. That would be a result of the unamended provisions of the draft directives.

We have made it clear that those categories of employees should be separately dealt with, except in regard to health and safety where we say that the employer has a duty to ensure adequate protection for all employees, however employed. I think that the Government probably agree with that.

In relation to part-time employees we came to conclusions that are broadly in support of the directive. It has been stated that we have a higher proportion of part-time employees in the UK than in many other member states of the Community. It has been held, particularly by the Government, that that indicates that women often prefer to work part-time and would not take full-time work even if it were available. That may be true in some cases. But it cannot be overlooked that in the United Kingdom there is a much lower level of child care provision than in many other countries. The Equal Opportunities Commission believes that if better child care arrangements were available, more women might wish to work full time. As it is, the only employment available is often part-time work which all too frequently is of low status and low paid.

At the same time the flexibility offered by part-time employment is of value to many employers. In a number of industries, notably retailing, there has been a large expansion of part-time employment. I spoke recently to the chief executive of a large retailing consortium. He told me that a substantial part of his workforce now consists of part-timers and that they are almost all women. Incidentally, he had no problem in arranging for his part-timers to have pro rata employee benefits.

During the examination of witnesses I asked the CBI why part-time employment was popular with many employers. Was it, I asked, because such workers were cheaper? The answer was that they could be said to be cheaper in some regard. The main reason, however, was the flexibility that such employment provided for employers.

As will be seen from our report, the Government, according to the evidence that we heard, are not in favour of the directives even if they are limited to regular part-time employees. The reason given for that view was the one advanced during discussion of the social charter: more regulation in the field of employment will result in fewer jobs, and the Government's priority is job creation. That argument did not find a great deal of favour with the committee. Some of us were prompted to ask whether the kind of job mattered. Did we wish to condone the creation of sweat shops? Should there be minimum standards to protect the exploitation of the poor and the vulnerable? We did not think that the Government had proved their case since other countries, Sweden in particular, have not found that regulations to protect employees inhibit job creation.

I remind your Lordships that the Government have no qualms about imposing burdens upon employers when it suits their purposes. The Statutory Sick Pay Bill, recently before your Lordships, which was opposed on all sides, is evidence of that fact. However, when it comes to some minimal protection for employees, it is apparently a different story.

The draft directive does not entail a great deal; it simply states that employee benefits should be provided on a pro rata basis to part-time employees. That would entail access to occupational pension schemes. However, that is virtually a requirement in any event, particularly in the light of recent European court decisions. As the Trades Union Congress stated to us in its evidence, it may be necessary for there to be some adjustment with regard to national insurance provisions and contributions. However, the regulations are not written in stone and have been amended in the past. In our view they could be amended again.

The proposals concerning training opportunities should be supported. Many women return to the workforce after a break for child caring and do so on a part-time basis. They would welcome the opportunity to train for more skilled work, thus enabling them to be appointed to skilled full-time work when circumstances permit. Many good employers are already doing what the draft directive proposes for part-time employees.

In recent years the unions have developed policies that are designed to recruit and look after members who work part time. My own union has a system of reduced contribution rates and actively pursues interests on behalf of part-time members. However, there are many industries and services where there is little trade union organisation and where there are bad employers who will not take such steps unless compelled to do so by legislative requirements. There is an obligation to ensure that employees in such circumstances have minimal protection against exploitation.

For those reasons I believe that the report that we have produced is worthy of support. I hope that on reflection the Government will accept it and proceed accordingly.

6.50 p.m.

Lord Northbourne

My Lords, I apologise to the House and to the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, that I was not present to hear her opening speech because your Lordships appear to have galloped through the earlier business of the day.

I was proud to be a member of the committee and to be responsible for the report, although I do not entirely agree with its findings. I disagree even more with some of the views that have been expressed by noble Lords.

It appears to me that the Commission's proposals are curiously angled to ignore the specific situations that exist in this country. As I have the privilege of sitting on sub-committees, it seems to me more and more that the UK interest is not adequately represented at officer level in the Commission. Perhaps the Government can consider providing more or higher grade officers who can be seconded to the Commission so that the point of view which is relevant to the economy and to the problems of this country can be better digested and discussed before proposals come into print and into public review.

The most important criticism of the proposals that I should like to put forward relates to the fact that it is essential to treat part-time and temporary employment as quite different subjects. The attitude which prevails in the report is that in some curious way full-time employment is normal, good, virtuous and moral and that part-time and temporary employment are irregular, wrong and bad. I reject that proposition. I believe that the flexibility that is given by part-time and temporary employment is essential in our labour economy today. For example, flexi-time has become more and more popular in industrial production. In paragraph A6 of its evidence the Department of Employment stated that: A recent survey showed that the great majority of part-time workers preferred part-time work to full-time work; and that only 7 per cent worked part-time because they could not find full-time jobs". I should like to give a practical example. I am privileged to be a director of a company which provides short-break holidays in holiday villages. Our guests arrive on Mondays and Fridays. Therefore, on those days we have a requirement for a substantial number of cleaners. These people dress in smart tracksuits and clean the villas to a very high standard. One of the villages concerned is located in an area of very high employment and I do not believe that our staff could not find full-time employment if they wanted it. Provided they are well looked after—and in this case they are—it suits people to work part-time.

I suggest that we should cast out the rather outmoded perceptions that full-time employment is somehow good and part-time employment is somehow bad. As the report emphasised, we should not equate non-standard working conditions with substandard working conditions.

I should like to suggest one or two examples of the wide variety of situations which exist in part-time work and in temporary work. I share the Government's view that these matters will become fossilised if they become the subject of legislation. In the case of part-time workers there are regular part-time workers—people like the ladies and gentlemen I described, who work every Monday and Friday but only on those days. I call those regular part-time workers. There are also casual part-time workers. This afternoon I met a bricklayer who will turn out when the weather is nice but, because he is a pensioner, will not work when it is frosty. There are other people who do not have to work if little Jimmy has measles or they want to do the shopping. They do not have to work on a particular day or in a particular week. That is casual part-time work. I mentioned a pensioner, but there are also children who do part-time work—for example, those who have newspaper rounds. They are not regular part-time workers.

In the case of temporary workers, they may be students, doctors, consultants or visiting professors. As a previous speaker mentioned, there are workers who cover for those who are on maternity or sick leave. Those are all specific situations. Any legislation which must deal with such an enormous variety of situations will have to be unduly complex and in practice will almost certainly lead to injustice.

I agree that there is a need for a minimum level of protection to ensure that people are not exploited. I agree entirely that there is a need for legislation covering matters connected with health and safety. Beyond that, I cannot help wondering whether such matters could not be better dealt with by codes of practice, guidance notes, good advice and the setting of standards which could be cited by employees who felt that they were not being properly treated. We must not fossilise the pattern of our employment when variety is what is wanted, not only by employers but also by employees.

6.55 p.m.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, as my noble friend Lord Rochester has already said, we on these Benches support the directive in general and the modifications to the directive which have been suggested in the report.

We have long advocated the case for better pro rata conditions for part-time workers. I go along with the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, about the distinction that has to be drawn between temporary workers and part-time workers. They are different categories and have different needs. They should not be lumped together as if they could be dealt with in one way which is appropriate for all. However, this evening I do not want to elaborate on the case that has already been made very effectively for improved protection for part-time workers and for treating them on a pro rata basis.

In this country we have developed a tradition of part-time work over a longer period of time and to a much greater extent than most other European countries, the vast majority of it being done by women workers. In the past the attitude towards part-time work—which has been shared by employers and to a considerable extent by employees—has been that it is unskilled work, that they are ghetto jobs and that they are only taken by people who do not have the opportunity to get full-time work. That is one reason why it is overwhelmingly women who are part-time workers.

It is that attitude that I want to challenge this evening, elaborating on the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne. We have got it into our heads—and there are good historical reasons why that is so—that proper work is full-time work. That is defined, or used to be in my youth, as 48 hours a week. It then came down to 40 hours a week and I see that some people are now assuming that it is 35 hours. Good luck to them if they can get away with it!That is regarded as proper work and anything else is regarded as marginal work which does not count for very much. That is part-time work. The labour market of the future is not going to be like that; indeed, it is not like that now. The sooner we wake up to the fact the better.

Professor Handy of the London Business School has repeatedly made the point—one does not have to agree with him but he has made a strong case—that the labour market of the future will consist of a relatively small core of people in any given enterprise who are permanent members of the staff. In addition, because of totally changing labour market conditions, and irrespective of the case for justice for the part-time worker, there will be a very large number of people who will work part-time. They will be peripatetic and, as has been said by previous speakers, they may do more than one job or even more than two jobs using the special skills in which they have been trained. Those will be skills which are in very great demand and which they will be able to market with great success to the highest bidder because they are in very great demand.

That will be the economic labour market of the future. We need a large number of well-trained part-time workers who will be as flexible as possible and in a position to command very good pay and conditions because they will be very much in demand in the market.

Leaving aside for one moment the needs and rights of the part-time workers, in our own economic interest we want to develop that kind of labour force. Therefore, I put very special emphasis on the importance of providing good training opportunities for people who do not work standard hours. We ought to be going out of our way to encourage that. It ought to be given high priority among the TECs to encourage such people. Not all of them will be women. If Professor Handy is right, it is bound to be the case that a great many people who work on that basis will be men. They will be men with very high levels of skills.

We need to get rid of the ridiculous idea that part-time jobs are inferior jobs and part-time workers are inferior people who are not worth training and investing in; that they will come and go and, in some cases, the sooner they go the better.

We need to have a policy for the development of highly skilled, highly supported part-time workers. If the result of our debate is that we can get rid of the extremely out-of-date ideas concerning part-time workers and what part-time work is all about, it will have done a great deal of good. In the process we accept what is required, in terms of protection, by the directive with the modifications that the committee put forward. However, by far the most important issue to get clear in the future is that the separation of full-time from part-time work is an anachronism and that we ought to be training to meet that kind of labour market in the future.

7.1 p.m.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, first let me say that we welcome the report of the Select Committee on the EC draft directive on non-standard employment. In particular we support the way in which the committee addressed its remit. It has done an excellent job. With other noble Lords who have spoken, I join in paying tribute to the way in which the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, as chairperson, introduced the debate and explained the report so lucidly. I am sure that I have the support of other noble Lords when I offer her our congratulations on that exercise.

The committee concluded that in United Kingdom conditions it is appropriate to deal with part-time and temporary employment as separate categories. What seems equitable and right for people employed continually in part-time employment may not be appropriate for employees on temporary or short-time contracts. The committee clearly believes that all such employees should have protection against exploitation and various noble Lords who have spoken indicated their support for protection on a pro rata basis.

In the United Kingdom a high number of people are employed in part-time work, more than in many other member countries of the EC. As stated by previous speakers, many part-time employees are women. It was maintained by some of the committee's witnesses that that shows that women prefer part-time employment. My noble friend Lady Turner referred to that fact. However, the Equal Opportunities Commission in its evidence averred that that could well be because the United Kingdom does not have a very high standard of childcare.

According to a recent survey, only 2 per cent. of children under the age of two and less than half of all three and four year-olds have publicly funded pre-school provision. Only Luxembourg and Ireland have worse provision for the under-twos and only Portugal rates worse for the younger than three and four year-olds. In those circumstances, it is hardly surprising that in the United Kingdom women look to part-time employment. It is quite possible that if arrangments for childcare and support services were generally improved, more women would seek full-time employment.

The Select Committee supports the directive that is proposed to extend employment protection to part-time workers. The committee believes that such employees should have access to pension schemes and pro rata entitlement to other employee benefits such as allowances, redundancy pay and so on. More than one speaker has referred to that matter tonight.

There seems to be no reason at all why employees who for whatever reason need to work part-time should be in a position in which they may be exploited and given less good conditions than if they worked the standard hours required. The committee rightly makes the point that non-standard workers are not substandard workers and should not be treated in a substandard way. It is noteworthy that a number of good employers already act in line with the proposals for part-time workers and some unions have succeeded in negotiating access to pension schemes and pro rata conditions in a number of companies. That is a continuing tendency.

However, the Government oppose the directive on the grounds that more regulation will inhibit employment opportunities. That is a strange conclusion to draw, bearing in mind that this Government have introduced more legislation to deal with employment conditions than probably any other government in history. They have done so on the basis that it helps to keep people in work and by reducing the power of the unions will make more jobs available. It seems strange that that has happened, and yet despite those measures once again we appear to be heading for record unemployment. There is little evidence to support their claim.

As I said, we now face increasing unemployment. That cannot possibly be attributed to too much regulation and employment protection. I do not believe that argument for one moment. There is now less statutory protection for employees than ever. Successive employment Acts that have passed through this House have eroded the protection that existed. However we still have increasing unemployment. Indeed, the committee makes the point that Sweden and France have already extended employment protection legislation to part-time employees with no apparent effect whatsoever on employment.

Both the CBI and the Government believe that the additional cost involved in affording pro rata terms and conditions will make part-timers less attractive to some employers. I do not believe that that possibility warrants any great measure of support at all. It is noted from the evidence that representatives of the employers allege that the main reason for the growth in part-time work is that many employers like the flexibility of employing such staff. It suits them and in many cases the employees also. Therefore costs appear to be a subsidiary factor. On the other hand, the TUC feels that with the exception of people earning less than £46 a week and working more than eight hours the cost implications seem relatively slight.

The committee recognised that some increasing cost would be involved but was sceptical about the estimates supplied by the Government and companies. It recognised that in order to give effect to the proposals some changes in the system of national insurance contributions might be required. But the system has been changed before, and there seems no reason why it could not be changed again to suit the different situation. In any event, surely it is desirable that the large numbers of employees who for whatever reason work part-time or undertake temporary work should be protected from exploitation. As I said, some good employers already do that. However, we maintain that regulations are required to raise the number and make the provisions obligatory on those whom one would deem to be bad employers.

There is reference in the report to the need for vocational training to be provided for part-time workers on the same basis as for full-time employees. That is particularly important in the case of women who may be rejoining the workforce after a break for maternity leave. It will assist them to secure equal opportunities with male colleagues who have not had such a career break. In any event there is agreement on all sides on the need to develop a training culture in this country. Therefore it makes sense to ensure that training opportunities are made available to employees who work part-time and who may wish to take advantage of vacancies on the full-time staff but can do so only if they are appropriately trained to fill those jobs. It goes without saying that all employees should have the same health and safety protection and training. We know from our discussions in this House on the social charter that the Commission believes that the benefit of the single market should be spread among all its citizens. Hence we have a series of directives designed to ensure that minimum standards are observed throughout the Community.

I believe that the Select Committee has performed a useful and important task in analysing the latest draft directives and in presenting a report that is reasonable and sensible. I hope that the Government will accept the recommendations that the Select Committee has made.

I should like to take on board the point made by the noble Lady, Lady Kinloss, about the disabled. With the number of unemployed people escalating, it is usually disabled people whose opportunities diminish. The noble Lady made a strong case on behalf of the disabled.

My noble friend and colleague Lady Turner referred to sweatshops. I recall discussion in this Chamber two or three years ago on trade union legislation. We spoke of the conditions under which people worked in those sweatshops. I quoted an example within living memory when seven young women were burnt to death in a factory in the centre of Manchester because of the conditions in which they worked. That is one facet that we must keep under observation to ensure that such an event becomes a relic of the past.

We support the report placed before us by the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, on behalf of the committee. I hope that the Government will accept the report on the EC draft directives.

7.12 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Employment (Viscount Ullswater)

My Lords, the Motion invites us to take note of the report of the European Communities Committee on part-time and temporary work. The report gives the view of the Select Committee on three draft directives which the European Commission published last year as part of its action programme to implement the social charter.

I am most grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, for introducing the report to us today. As she told us, the Government replied formally to the Select Committee on 14th January of this year. As I announced in a Written Reply to the noble Baroness on 23rd January, I have arranged with her agreement for a copy of the Government's response to the committee's report to be placed in the Library for the information of Members of the House.

At the outset, perhaps I may thank the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, for withdrawing her criticism of the department in the report for the delay in submitting the explanatory memorandum. I am happy to accept the apology in the words that she used. Of course I shall pass her remarks on to my department.

The three draft directives which were the subject of the committee's report amount to a package of measures covering part-time and temporary work—what the European Commission, rather unhappily in my view, calls "atypical" or "non-standard" work.

I think that we can deal with one of the draft directives quite quickly. It is the one concerned with the health and safety of temporary workers, the so called Article 118a directive. The reason is that progress has been made on this directive. It reached common position at the Labour and Social Affairs Council on 18th December last. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Hunter of Newington, will be pleased that we have been able to move so quickly on the matter.

The Government have always supported the principle behind the Article 118a directive and agreed with the comments made on it by the committee. However, the Government were concerned that two of its provisions, on written information and a ban on temporary workers working in certain jobs, were unnecessarily inflexible. Successful negotiation led to those worries being taken into account in drawing up the common position. That common position will now be considered by the European Parliament. If it approves the common position or fails to report on it within three months the directive will automatically be adopted.

However, the other two draft directives pose great problems. We believe them to be misguided. These are the directives which deal with working conditions, the so-called Article 100 directive, and with distortions of competition, the "Article 100a" directive.

With much of what the committee says about the directives we agree. We certainly agree, for example, with the committee's final recommendation that the directives raise important questions to which the attention of this House should be drawn. It is obviously right that we should have this debate.

We also agree with some of the specific points made by the committee. For example, we agree with the committee's view that the directives do not sufficiently distinguish between regular part-time employees and temporary employees. We agree with the committee that it is unnecessary for temporary employment contracts to specify the reason for their temporary nature and that oral explanations are in many circumstances sufficient. We agree also with the committee's view that the legal base chosen by the European Commission for the Article 100a directive is incorrect.

All those are positive points on which we have found the committee's analysis and views helpful. But there are some points on which we find ourselves in disagreement with the committee. Our chief point of disagreement concerns the assessment of the likely effect of the directives on jobs and employers' costs. The committee supports the Commission's proposals to extend the employment protection afforded to part-time workers and its report says that the directives are a step in the right direction towards creating equal opportunities for women. The committee recognises that the directives would involve some increase in cost to employers, but it was unconvinced of the accuracy of some of the estimates supplied by both the Government and by companies.

On that point the Government's view differs from that of the committee, as our formal response to the report made clear. Our view is that the Commission's proposals would greatly increase the costs of employing part-time and temporary workers. They would significantly reduce the number of jobs and thereby damage not only our own industrial competitiveness but also that of the European Community as a whole. In doing so, the directives offend against one of the most important criteria unanimously agreed for action in the social area at the Madrid summit of June 1989—that directives in the social area should give top priority to job creation and development.

The noble Baroness, Lady Turner of Camden, queried whether that is the prime concern of government. My Lords, yes. I confirm that it is still an overriding principle.

The committee draws attention in its report to the relatively high proportion of part-time workers in the employed workforce in the United Kingdom. It also notes the great expansion in part-time work since 1983. We believe that the Commission's approach to part-time and temporary work, which it seems to see as somehow second-best to full-time work—and some Members of this House have agreed with that—would put at risk all those desirable developments.

The effect of the Commission's proposals would, in our view, clearly make part-time and temporary work more expensive for employers and more difficult for them to organise. There can be only one result of this—fewer opportunities for part-time work. Since so many part-time workers are women, the proposals would have a disproportionate effect on the employment of women. That would certainly not improve equality of opportunity.

Despite the committee's comments in its report about the accuracy of our cost estimates, I have to say that the Government stick by those estimates. The committee concedes that small and medium-sized companies and individual employers may be affected by increased costs. But the committee goes on to say that many large companies have already incorporated the extended benefits envisaged in the directives into their system so that such companies will not be involved in any extra cost as a result of the directives.

The department's estimates already take account of that factor as far as it is possible to do so. Our economists have looked at the available information about the actual benefits provided by employers in the field covered by the draft directives. They have calculated how much it would cost employers to raise their benefits from those existing levels of provision to the levels which would be required by the directives. For example, where employers are already providing benefits equivalent to those envisaged in the directives our estimates assume no extra cost to such employers of complying with the directives. Wherever possible the department's estimates measure the cost of moving from existing benefits to the level of benefits required by the directives.

It should also be noted that the department's estimates assume only that companies increase their provision to the new minimum required by the directives. As we pointed out in our response to the committee's report, it may be that some companies which currently provide more than the statutory requirement will continue to do so after implementation of the directives, perhaps in order to attract more skilled workers. In that case the cost of complying with the directives could well be higher. Furthermore, the departmental cost estimates take no account of restructuring the national insurance system, which has been mentioned more than once, which may well be necessary if the directives are agreed.

We are not alone in our views. We consulted widely on the Commission's proposals. Almost every response from UK employers saw the potential in the proposals for costs to increase and the inevitable consequences for their ability to create jobs. Perhaps I may quote what the Association of British Chambers of Commerce said when we consulted it. It stated: We have very serious concerns about these initiatives and fully support the stance taken by the UK Government in opposing the current drafts". Nor are we on our own in Europe, as is sometimes suggested. It was clear, for example, from the meeting of the Social Affairs Council on 26th November last that other member states shared the UK's doubts and reservations about some of the Commission's proposals. The directives have made no progress since then.

I am pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, welcomed the fact that part-timers should be positively encouraged. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, will agree with that. The Government thoroughly concur with the view that part-time work suits many people who do not want full-time work. Among others the noble Lords, Lord Rochester and Lord Dean of Beswick, and the noble Baroness, Lady David, spoke of vocational training and the requirement that part-time workers should also receive such training. The Government's aim is to facilitate access to relevant training and education throughout working life for every member of the workforce. But burdening employers with legal requirements would not achieve that. Therefore, the Government believe that access to training is generally best dealt with on a voluntary basis between employers and individual employees or their representatives. That will be the strength of the TECs because they will be best placed to meet the local needs of full-time, part-time and temporary workers.

The noble Baroness, Lady David, asked about promotion. As they stand the directives do not contain any requirements concerning the rights to promotion for part-time or temporary workers. Again she made a useful point. The noble Baroness was also anxious about equal opportunities for women. As I said earlier, and it is worth repeating, the Government consider that because employers' costs would increase as a result of the directives their likely response would be to reduce the number of part-time and temporary workers. Women make up the vast majority of such employees and therefore would suffer most as a result of the directives. The Government believe that the principle of equal opportunities is already guaranteed by the Equal Pay Act 1970, the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 and the European equal pay and equal treatment directives which provide protection against unjustifiable discrimination on the grounds of sex.

The noble Lady, Lady Kinloss, stressed the importance of part-time employment for disabled people and for those who care for disabled people. That is an important issue. She mentioned the quota system which is at present being reviewed. It is a complex subject, not least because many people prefer not to register as being disabled. However, the noble Lady is right in saying that part-time work is important for that sector of the workforce.

The noble Baronesses, Lady David and Lady Turner, commented on the requirements for the provision of child care. The Government's view is that it is a matter for employers to deal with on a voluntary basis and not a matter for the law. The enormous growth in part-time work since 1983 does not suggest that child care is a serious problem. There is nothing specific about child care in the directives.

The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, pointed out many difficulties in describing the various categories of part-time and temporary workers. The Government agree that the legislation required to cope with such complexities and differences would be complex and too restricting.

The noble Baroness, Lady Seear, gave an interesting view of her concept of future employment patterns and stressed the requirement of training. I have already stressed the importance that the Government attach to the training of full-time, part-time and temporary employees but on a voluntary basis rather than on a statutory basis.

I wish to conclude by commenting on our commitment to the European Community. Contrary to what is sometimes suggested there can be no doubt about that commitment. I suggest that the true criterion for commitment is the extent to which countries have implemented and put into effect measures to which the Community has already agreed.

On that criterion, our record of commitment is outstanding. In fact, we have the best record.

According to a report presented to the Social Affairs Council on 26th November by Commissioner Papandreou, we are the only country to have implemented all 18 existing social affairs directives. We are ahead of Germany and France, which have implemented only nine. That record must surely show that the UK is not half-hearted about these matters, as is sometimes suggested; quite the reverse, in fact. Our approach is to take a full part in discussions, weighing up the costs and the benefits before deciding whether or not we can vote in favour of a proposal.

Clear thinking is vital if the Community is to adopt a constructive role in social affairs. We believe strongly that the Community should be very clear about the areas where harmonisation and common Community standards are really essential. If we burden Europe's businesses with new and unnecessary regulation in the name of the social dimension, we shall negate the single market and undermine the jobs and living standards of all citizens of the Community.

We take the Commission's proposals seriously because the decisions which the Community will take will affect employment practices, employers' costs, competitiveness and jobs throughout the Community. We shall continue to play a constructive role, judging each proposal on its merits according to the three criteria agreed at the Madrid summit of June 1989 and reaffirmed at the Rome summit last December: first, will the proposal encourage the creation of jobs for the people of Europe; secondly, if it passes that test, is action necessary at Community level; and finally, if such action is shown to be necessary, does the proposal respect the different national traditions and practices which exist in the Community? I believe that that is a constructive and realistic approach. I commend it to the House.

7.32 p.m.

Baroness Lockwood

My Lords, I should like to thank those noble Lords who have contributed to the debate. A number of different points have been raised which are covered in the report before us. I am grateful also to the Minister for his reply to the debate, given in his usual courteous manner. I do not believe that it has added any new information on the subject. However, we did not expect that because we had the full report earlier from the Government.

There are one or two points which I should like to raise. First, the Minister said—and I believe that this is also in the Government's response—that equal opportunities are guaranteed by the equal pay and sex discrimination legislation and by European directives. I believe that that is rather exaggerating the situation, given the fact that the United Kingdom has already had to change some of its laws as a consequence of equal pay and sex discrimination cases taken to the European Court. A number of such cases are still pending. In addition, the Equal Opportunities Commission—a statutory body responsible for overseeing the implementation of the equal pay and sex discrimination legislation—is seeking a judicial review on whether or not that legislation complies with European requirements. Therefore, I believe that the Minister was rather exaggerating.

Secondly, I was rather surprised—and this is not in the response—when the Minister said that he did not believe that child care had posed any specific problems between 1983 and the present because part-time employment had increased at such a pace. Most women who still want to give their children special care, whether they be small children or grown-up teenagers, would agree that child care is still a real problem which deters many women from going out to work.

Thirdly, I wish to make it absolutely clear—I hoped that I had done so in my introduction—that the report does not in any way indicate that the committee felt that part-time employment was second best. The committee recognised the importance of flexibility in that area. However, the committee wanted to establish that part-time and temporary employment are not sub-standard employments. I believe that one of the best answers to the concept which many people have that part-time work is sub-standard is to ensure that part-time workers have the same terms and conditions of employment as full-time workers. I am sorry that the Government do not accept that argument but we cannot pursue that further this evening.

On Question, Motion agreed to.