HL Deb 01 December 1999 vol 607 cc811-2

2.49 p.m.

Baroness Turner of Camden asked Her Majesty's Government:

What they intend in regard to the Working Time Regulations review, announced at the conference of the Confederation of British Industry.

The Minister for Science, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Sainsbury of Turville)

My Lords, comments made by the Prime Minister at the CBI conference were in respect of the amendments to the regulations laid before Parliament on 19th October. The amendments address the requirement to keep records for workers who have opted out of the working time limit and extend the scope of the unmeasured working time exemption. The amendments have been approved by both Houses of Parliament and will come into force the day after they have been affirmed by the Secretary of State. At present there are no plans for a review or for any other changes to the Working Time Regulations.

Baroness Turner of Camden

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that response. Is my noble friend aware that many unions, including my own (the MSF)—I hereby declare an interest—believe that the Government's amendments weaken any impact that the regulatory authorities might have and place workers under pressure to volunteer for work, even where the employer has not sought prior agreement to exceed the 48-hour limit? Is my noble friend also aware that it is well within the powers of the Commission to insist on the amendment to the regulations in line with its policy?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, I do not believe that these two amendments in any way weaken the essential thrust of the legislation. The legislation gives workers clear rights and it is up to them to take advantage of them. The amendments apply only to those who freely work more hours than their employers require of them. Anyone can change his mind at any time and opt back into the directive. I do not believe that this weakens the legislation in any way.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, is the Minister aware that it will come as a great surprise to people at the CBI conference who heard the Prime Minister speak that his speech about far too many regulations referred only to the rather paltry amendment which was being taken through the House at the time? Does the Minister agree that the audience at the CBI conference was rather led up the garden path by the Prime Minister who seemed to be making a much more robust attack on over-regulation than the picture which the noble Lord now attempts to paint?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, it was quite clear that on that occasion the Prime Minister was referring to these amendments. Therefore, it is up to the members of the CBI to judge his remarks in that context.

Lord Razzall

My Lords, does the Minister accept that, although the many changes made continuously to the panoply of fairness-at-work regulations may well be desirable, there is a significant problem particularly for small and medium-sized enterprises in knowing exactly the current state of regulation? What steps will the Government take in that regard?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, it was part of the regulations that statutory guidance would be given following their introduction. We shall produce a new version of the booklet. The booklet is still factually correct, but in the light of comments that we have received we believe that we can make a better job of it.