HL Deb 09 February 1995 vol 561 cc301-3

3.2 p.m.

Lord McCarthy asked Her Majesty's Government:

When they intend to implement the judgment of the European Court of Justice concerning redundancies and the transfer of undertakings.

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, the relevant legislation on all but one of the points covered by the judgments was amended by the Trade Union Reform and Employment Rights Act 1993. The Government are presently considering what action needs to be taken on the remaining issue concerning consultation with employees' representatives.

Lord McCarthy

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that unsatisfactory reply; perhaps he will go a little further. Will he accept that this is another example of the Government refusing to take at face value the spirit of the directives and what is clearly being said? Does he accept that as a result since the mid-1970s workers have been denied simple rights? The Government cannot go on saying that the employer will decide where consultation shall lie. It is clear that that is unlawful. Will the Government say when they intend to publish their views on this matter? Will they also say whether their attention has yet been drawn by the Commission to their own attitudes and whether they have had a letter from the Commission along those lines?

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, asks a number of questions. The important point about the decisions in the two judgments is that it is for the employees to determine who their representatives will be. As the noble Lord will know, the judgments and the law in this area are far from straightforward. We are anxious to make sure that we consider the matter properly. Subsequently we shall discuss our ideas before bringing proposals forward. In this area of the law it is instructive to look back to when the original directives came into effect. In one instance it was four years after the directive came into effect that British legislation was put on the statute book. In the other instance it also took a long time to make sure that we had got it right.

As to the more general question of workers' rights, it is relevant that it was put on record by the noble Lord himself in your Lordships' House that the opposition party's proposals for implementing the acquired rights directive had it won the general election in 1979 would have broken the terms of the directive.

Lord Gladwin of Clee

My Lords, perhaps I may press the Minister in connection with his last answer. Am I to understand that when he talks about discussions on introducing what remains of the judgment of last June the intention is that there will be discussions with employees' representatives? This is a very complex issue. Will there also be discussions with employers' representatives?

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, I understand that the matter has already been broached between the Government and the Trades Union Congress and that in addition there will be discussions with employers.

Earl Russell

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the judgments have the force of law because in the European Communities Act 1972 Parliament, in the exercise of its sovereignty, so decided? Will he further agree that the only question can be about how and not whether we implement them?

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, the noble Earl, Lord Russell, is absolutely correct in his analysis of the constitutional position. I can confirm that he is correct that it is not a matter of whether but how these matters are dealt with.

Baroness Turner of Camden

My Lords, can the Minister say why the Government always adopt such a minimalist approach to these matters? After all, they had to amend their position relating to trade union reform and employment rights legislation and change the TUPE regulations because they were not adequate. There had to be a statement by the Attorney-General spelling out rights in relation to pensions as regards TUPE. Why can the Government not get it right first time instead of having constantly to come back with amending legislation?

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, I should like to make two points. The first concerns what the noble Baroness describes rather grudgingly as a minimalist approach. Each member state has discretion as to how it implements directives. We wish to exercise that discretion in the manner we think most suitable for our country.

My second point concerns the nature of amendments to regulations and legislation. It is relevant that in this instance the major problem with which the two judgments were concerned was not identified by anyone in this country but by the European Commission. It is accepted on all sides that this branch of the law is extremely complicated. As I have mentioned, the original legislation that was put in place by the party opposite when in power had to be amended because it was defective.

Lord McCarthy

My Lords, the noble Lord says that I asked many questions. I asked two questions. I think he will agree that he answered neither of them. He throws dust in our eyes. I ask that the next time he wants to insinuate that I said something which I cannot remember and he does not cite he gives me advance notice of the so-called statements I am supposed to have made. Will he even now say whether the Government have had any communication from the Commission and when the Government are likely to decide this question?

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, in response to the points made by the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, I am not aware of the most recent communications between the Commission and the Government about this matter. The remarks of the noble Lord to which I alluded were those he made in this House on 10th December 1981, reported in Hansard at col. 1486.