HL Deb 10 November 1999 vol 606 cc1401-15

5.56 p.m.

The Minister for Science, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Sainsbury of Turville) rose to move, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 27th July be approved [28th Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I am proud to introduce these regulations. The Government believe that everyone in the workplace has a right to be protected by fair and minimum standards. This has been a long-standing commitment and is the foundation stone of our employment legislative programme. As we approach the end of the century, it is right that business moves away from the long hours culture and respects the needs of staff. The Government want to encourage competitive markets. At the same time, we are mindful of the need to ensure that workers' employment conditions are not eroded by unscrupulous employers.

Since their introduction a year ago, the working time regulations have represented a significant step in achieving the Government's wider goal of promoting family-friendly employment. Should there be any doubt, perhaps I may remind your Lordships that the regulations provide: that no worker can be forced to work more than 48 hours on average; a right to paid annual leave, rising from three to four weeks later this month; rest breaks during the working day; rest periods from work, including the right to a day off per week; special protection for night workers, including the right to health assessments; special protections for adolescent workers; and protection from unfair dismissal/detriment for asserting these rights.

Obviously, it is important to recognise that it is business which needs to operate these regulations. In this respect, it has been the Government's policy to maximise flexibility where possible while maintaining the protection which the directive provides for workers. The regulations, therefore, encourage employers and workers to adapt many of the measures by mutual agreement, thus encouraging a partnership culture and ensuring that business can remain flexible to meet the needs of customers.

As with any new legislation, the Government have been keen to monitor how effectively the regulations have been adopted. The feedback that we have received has generally been positive from both sides of industry, and independent surveys that have been undertaken this year support this view. It has always been our intention to have another look at the regulations once the dust has settled. It has, in particular, become apparent that there was scope to help business to administer the regulations without weakening the new protections that had been extended to workers.

On 7th July, the Secretary of State announced two proposed changes to the regulations, easing the regulatory burden for employers and workers alike. The first amendment dispenses with the requirement to maintain detailed records for those who have voluntarily opted out of the working time limits. This will be replaced with a simple requirement to keep a list of those who have signed an opt-out agreement.

The Government believe that it is possible to protect the health and safety of workers without employers maintaining detailed records of staff who have decided of their own volition to work longer hours. Workers are obviously covered by the working time limit, unless they choose otherwise. If, having opted out, they have a change of heart, they can choose to be covered by the working time limits again at any stage.

Of course, we recognise that health and safety protection should still be applicable to those who have opted out of the working time limit. In this respect, if someone is considered to be at risk, the health and safety authorities will be able to obtain any further information, including the keeping of records necessary to protect the health and safety of workers through the use of existing safety law.

The second amendment relates to the "unmeasured working time" derogation, which disapplies the working time limits for so-called "autonomous workers" for whom the duration of working time is not measured or predetermined, or can be determined by the worker himself. The intention of the amendment is to allow the derogation to apply to workers who have some of their working time predetermined (for example, by contract), but choose to work longer of their own volition.

The amendment would not exclude workers from the entitlements to daily and weekly rest periods, rest breaks or paid annual leave, but would have the effect of disregarding some of a worker's time in respect of the working time limits. These workers will continue to be subject to the weekly working time limit in respect of time that they are required to work. No one can be forced into working long hours or signing away their working time protections. Even if they do decide to opt out, they can choose to opt back again at any time, without fear of reproach from the employer.

The amendments apply to those who freely work more hours than their employer requires of them. If the worker is paid or required to work additional hours because of the demands of the job, the amendment would not apply. Workers' rights have not been eroded. The safeguards that were introduced a year ago are still in place, unless the worker chooses otherwise.

The new measure sets a test which should leave no doubt as to its application. The derogation will apply, if the specific characteristics of the job are such that, without being required to do so by their employer, the worker may also do work the duration of which is not measured or pre-determined or can be determined by the worker himself". It could be that all or part of a worker's time meets this test. Any time that does fall into this category will not count towards the 48-hour weekly working time limit. Therefore, unless the worker has voluntarily decided to put in extra hours, the amendment would not apply.

Industry and enforcement bodies, including the TUC, CBI and the Health and Safety Commission were consulted before the Secretary of State laid the draft amendments before Parliament on 19th October. We welcomed the opinions expressed from both sides and, as a result of our discussions, we have decided to issue statutory guidance on the amendments. This will dispel any possible danger of ambiguity. We shall, of course, be actively consulting with the industry and enforcement bodies again on the proposed statutory guidance.

In conclusion, I must stress that the Government are fully committed to the working time regulations. We believe that the regulations are already effective but have recognised and intend to take action to make them even better. I see this as a positive step. The Government are not tampering, but ensuring that the regulations evolve into a range of measures that can easily be embraced by employers and workers alike. I commend the regulations to the House.

Moved, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 27th July be approved [28th Report from the Joint Committee].—(Lord Sainsbury of Turville.)

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, I am sure that we are all grateful to the Minister for the elegant way in which he admitted that last year the Government got it wrong when they brought in the original regulations. However, I prefer the letter written by the right honourable Mr Stephen Byers, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, to John Monks at the TUC on 7th July. He said that: We have become concerned about the effect the Regulations are having on business and believe there to be scope to relieve some of the administrative burdens that are imposed on employers". It might have been worth considering that a few months before the Government brought in the regulations.

When on 2nd November the other place debated the regulations in a committee, other events were happening in the economy. First, there was news from all around the country of huge job haemorrhaging. Furthermore, the Prime Minister was addressing the CBI. On the job losses, on Wednesday 3rd November the Scotsman newspaper reported it thus: DAKS-Simpson, which makes trousers, jackets and skirts for the company, [Marks and Spencer] employs 1,500 workers at its Scottish factories, including 800 on the M&S contract which will end next spring. Less than two weeks ago M&S said it was terminating its 30-year supply contract with William Baird, the clothing manufacturer, putting 800 jobs at risk at factories in Grangemouth, Stirlingshire and Polmadie, Glasgow. The latest jobs blow came as the Prudential Insurance Group, BAT, the tobacco giant, and Cooper Menvier, a leading electrical company, announced more than 2,500 job losses across the UK". On the same day, the Prime Minister was visiting the CBI. In its customary brisk language, the Sun reported the following day: Tony Blair yesterday vowed to slash red tape throttling British firms after furious bosses blamed HIS policies. The Prime Minister admitted Labour measures risked holding back industry as he answered a blistering assault from the Confederation of British Industry. As thousands of workers were dumped on the dole yesterday, CBI president Sir Clive Thompson produced a list of 22 rules brought in by Mr Blair which have hit business. And in a bitter attack he told Mr Blair: 'We hear the Government frequently state that they believe in entrepreneurship and that individuals should reap the rewards of their success. But the Government"'—

Lord Lea of Crondall

My Lords, is the noble Lord suggesting that if a Conservative administration were in office at the moment, they would not introduce these regulations? The history behind the regulations is that the Conservative government, having signed the Single European Act, which obliged them to introduce the regulations, prevaricated and took the case to the European Court. Quite predictably, they were roundly and unambiguously defeated in the Court. Furthermore, they caused the delays in consultation. For those reasons, there have been a few hiccups in introducing the regulations. Is the noble Lord saying that, if a Conservative government had been reelected, they would not now have been introducing these regulations?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, I appreciate the noble Lord's irritation when hearing the words of his own Prime Minister being quoted to him. I cannot do better than the Prime Minister when he made his remarks and admitted that red tape was throttling British industry. Perhaps I may continue with the quotes—I know it discomforts the noble Lord, but he will have to get used to it—and I shall answer his question in time.

I quote Sir Clive Thompson's words in the Sun: 'But the Government imposes regulations and burdens on business, increasing our costs and lowering our flexibility to respond in fast-changing markets'". I can say to the noble Lord who intervened that Conservatives would most certainly not do that. At every turn we attempted to prevent that kind of red tape being inflicted on British industry.

Perhaps the staider words of the Daily Telegraph will appeal more to the noble Lord and his noble friends. The article reiterates the point made by the Prime Minister himself. Who am I to argue with the Prime Minister? Who indeed are the noble Lords sitting on the other side of the Chamber to argue with the Prime Minister? The Daily Telegraph reported that the Prime Minister, Addressing the Confederation of British Industry conference in Birmingham … acknowledged business concerns that the Government had imposed too much red tape and bureaucracy on industry since coming to power two and a half years ago… Mr Blair underlined Labour's pro-business approach by siding with the CBI over the need to water down the European Union's Working Time Directive no wonder the noble Lord who intervened approves of that— despite a strong protest from one of the country's leading trade union leaders". I have two preliminary questions to ask the Government. First, are our businesses going abroad for their sourcing—outwith the EU indeed, like Marks and Spencer—because at home our industry is being made less and less competitive by one government regulation after another? Secondly, do I take it from what the Prime Minister had to say to the Confederation of British Industry, especially the part about the need to water down the European Union's working time directive, that we actually likely to see another set of regulations in the future, further reducing the damaging impact of the original 1998 working time directive? That is the implication of what the Prime Minister said; and I presume that we are expected to believe the Prime Minister when he says something like that.

The regulations have had a damaging impact. Indeed, the Prime Minister himself has admitted it. By bringing forward this puny little set of regulations, the Minister has admitted it too, as he is toning down in a very minor way the original regulations introduced last summer. The damage is enormous. The estimated extra cost to British industry is £2 billion a year. The Institute of Directors was fully justified when, following the introduction of the original regulations in October last year, it said that: the Working Time regulations represent yet more costs and burdens on business. They restrict labour flexibility and impose costly new obligations on companies … The Working Time regulations are entirely unnecessary and can only damage competitiveness at a time when industry is being exhorted by the Government to be more competitive". A survey by the IoD found that about half of the respondents to its questionnaire said that their overall business would be damaged by the imposition of the working time directive; a mere 3 per cent said that it would be helped. That is the background.

The regulations are very complex. The original ones are, as are the ones we have before us today. I doubt whether many small businessmen in particular have the time, and the number of cold towels needed to put round the forehead, to study the regulations or indeed the guide to the regulations.

We are discussing unmeasured time. Perhaps I may draw your Lordships' attention to what the Guide to Working Time Regulations says about unmeasured working time. Paragraph 2.2.2 states: It is not possible to specify a complete list of the cases which would fall into the relevant category. The Regulations cite as examples 'managing executives or other persons with autonomous decision-taking powers, family workers or workers officiating at religious ceremonies in churches and religious communities'. However, it is important to note that these are for illustration only. It is the characteristics of a worker's activity that will determine whether the limit may be excluded". Can the Minister help us by explaining what is meant by, the characteristics of a worker's activity", showing that he might be excluded under the unmeasured working time? I thought that all time was measured, but I suppose that one must believe government documents that there is some unmeasured time.

Paragraph 2.5 of the Guide to Working Time Regulations deals with the records which employers have to keep. It states: The employer would need to ensure that their means of monitoring workers' working time would be adequate to highlight instances of workers working in excess of the standard working hours. The employer may need to monitor the hours worked by such workers more closely … The records must be kept for two years". I wonder how that squares with a speech made by the Secretary of State in June. He said: The vast majority of individuals do not need to keep a specific record of the hours they work". Whom do we believe: the Secretary of State or the guide?

I could depress your Lordships for the rest of the evening, if many of your Lordships are not already sufficiently depressed by the dreary affair that is happening in the other place, but I probably should not do that. However, I should like to draw your Lordships' attention to one other part of the guide, because I can remember once being teased mercilessly by the Opposition about a similar kind of arrangement. I refer to the calculation of night work. Here we come to algebra, so the employer will need to have higher algebra as well. The equation is: A/B-C Where A is the number of hours during the applicable reference period which are normal working hours for that worker; B is the number of days during the applicable reference period; and C is the number of hours of weekly rest to which a worker is entitled under the Regulations (i.e. 24 hours for each seven days) divided by 24. (It should be noted that this is not the total amount of hours that the worker is at rest in each week. Only the hours making up the weekly rest period that the worker is entitled to under the Regulations are counted.) It really is crystal clear, is it not?

That is the original. I now come to an example from the draft guidance. I could read out others but I shall read out only one of them. It relates to Worker E as explained in the draft guidance. I want your Lordships to listen carefully because I shall say this only once. The guidance states: Worker E is keen to be promoted and is working longer hours. If E is working these extra hours because he thinks it will get him promotion, then the additional time will fall within the scope of the proposed amendment as he is choosing to work the additional time. However, if it is established at E's workplace that to get promoted, one must work longer hours, the additional time would not fall within the scope of the proposed amendment because it is an implicit requirement to work longer hours". It seems to me that E would be a fairly stupid individual if he worked extra hours to get promotion if he had absolutely no evidence that it would be of some help to him in gaining that promotion. So I wonder what all that means. What exactly does, if it is established at E's workplace", mean? Does it mean that it is to be put on the notice board; does it mean that it is to be whispered around the office; what does it mean? It seems to be fairly fertile ground for a disgruntled employee who does not get promotion. When will employers get a new, preferably clearer, guide to the regulations? When will we see the next tranche of damaging limitation regulations, as was clearly promised by the Prime Minister to the CBI?

When I was coming in on the Tube this morning I noticed a headline that must have brought joy to the spin doctors of Downing Street. It said: "Tax breaks for risk takers who show enterprise". When will we see the headline: "Red tape breaks for risk takers who show enterprise"? There is absolutely no evidence that this Government will look at—or even want—that kind of headline. But that is what British industry wants.

In so far as the regulations reduce by the tiniest fraction—that tiny fraction is a saving of some £13 million on costs of £2 billion—the burden, the uncertainty and the confusion in the Government's original regulations, they are welcome, but the Government have a long way to go before they merit even one cheer on the deregulation stakes. Action is what British business needs; not kind word from the Prime Minister at the CBI conference. Weighing down commerce and industry with regulation upon regulation is no way to run a competitive European Union; it is no way to run a competitive country; it may even not be a way to run a competitive supermarket.

Lord Razzall

My Lords, having listened to the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, it is manifestly clear that he is going for promotion! It will come as no surprise to noble Lords and to the Minister that on these Benches we disagree both with the tone and with the content of what the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, said. For those of us who follow debates on the economy and trade and industry in this House and in another place, one remarkable point is the air of significant depression that always comes from the Tory Benches. Last year I remember being told by the noble Lord and by his colleagues here and in another place that as a result of government action and the poor performance of the economy, the economy was going into deep recession. I remember being told that by the noble Lord on a number of occasions. But that did not happen.

The latest depressive canard that comes from the Tory Party is that the regulations which the Government have indicated are the cornerstone of their policy for employment will produce significant unemployment in this country. I hazard a prediction that that depressive indictment of the regulations will be no more true than was last year's depressive indictment from the Conservative Party that the economy was moving into recession. To that extent, I entirely disagree with the tone and substance of the noble Lord's remarks.

However, one aspect deserves a serious answer from the Minister. Over the past year, the Government have imposed an enormous number of procedures by means of regulations and directives on the employment structure of this country. I do not say that that is not right or that the measures were not required to regulate the employment position of many workers. However, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, when he says that he doubts very much whether the average director of a small or medium-sized business really understands the obligations that his or her business is now under. I have made this point many times when debating these issues. Will the Minister indicate the steps that the Government intend to take to make sure that the content of these and other regulations is disseminated with a clear explanation to small and medium-sized businesses in this country?

Lord Hives

My Lords, I should like to thank the Minister for allowing me the opportunity to speak in this debate. As one of the younger members of this House, it is a great privilege to be able to make my maiden speech—probably the last by an hereditary Peer—before I leave this place, where both my grandfather, who received the title for the work of Rolls-Royce during the Second World War, and my uncle, who was rewarded with a CBE for his services in this House, have sat before me.

The Working Time Regulations have been in place for just one year and, although the sentiment of setting a reasonable working week and holiday entitlement is important, it must be balanced against the need for the regulations to be clear and understandable to all those who are tasked with applying them. Like my grandfather, I am an engineer. Some areas within my industry have found that the regulations offer businesses the opportunity to improve employee efficiency and safety by reducing the overall hours worked. However, for the majority of other businesses, the burden of records and the responsibility for part-time employees engaged in other work has been very confusing.

I hope that with the introduction of this updated statutory instrument the Government will take the opportunity to provide clearer guidance for the operation of these regulations and the clearest lead in their implementation in smaller businesses, so that the spirit of improving business efficiency as well as improvement in health and safety for greater worker satisfaction can be met. I hope that the Minister will bear those issues in mind in regard to the draft guidance for business.

Earl Attlee

My Lords, I have listened with interest to the excellent maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Hives. The noble Lord has a similar background to my own. I am a hands-on technical man and began my time in this House sitting on the Cross-Benches. The noble Lord is an engineer. By that, I expect he means a professional engineer, which I cannot claim to be. He has wisely chosen to sit on the Cross-Benches, where much wisdom and guidance are to be found.

Where we have fallen down in the UK is that we have not properly recognised or rewarded our engineers. It is a problem that lies within the Minister's portfolio. I am sure that this country would be in an even better state if we did so. In normal circumstances, I should say that we look forward to further contributions from the noble Lord, drawing on his expertise in the engineering industry. Unfortunately, that will not be possible. When we look across to the Cross-Benches, we see four relatively young Peers. Sadly, only two of them will be able to sit in this House next week. Whether that is modernisation or improvement I shall leave to your Lordships' judgment.

My noble friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish spoke with his usual skill. He identified genuine difficulties with the Working Time Directive, particularly in regard to the regulation that is before the House. I shall be more specific as to my concerns. Before doing so, perhaps I may remind the House that I currently command a TA REME company and the issues that I shall raise directly affect my unit. However, these issues affect all TA units, and I should surely have been briefed and should be speaking on them even if I were no longer serving in the TA.

I first raised this matter by means of a Starred Question on 18th October. The Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, admitted that the problem has not yet been solved. The Working Time Directive will affect the regular Armed Forces, but perhaps not too adversely. Operations and training are excluded and other routine work and administration are extremely unlikely to exceed 48 hours per week over a 17-week period. Moreover, there is no requirement to keep records, so there will be no extra administrative burden.

The situation is rather different for the TA and other reserve forces. As shorthand for the volunteer reserve forces I shall merely use the term "TA". My understanding is that the DTI has told the MoD that the Working Time Directive will apply to the TA. The difficulty is that a TA volunteer may already work, say, 40 hours a week for his civilian employer. His TA duties may easily take him over 48 hours per week.

The Minister may pray in aid the regulation—I believe it is Regulation 18—that exempts training and operations from the WTD calculations. However, with the TA it is extremely difficult to differentiate between training, operations and administration. That is one minor reason why the Reserve Forces Act 1996 was so desirable. Certainly when planning TA activities it would be highly undesirable to have carefully to consider the nature of the activity and its impact on the WTD.

The Minister may remind the House that the Armed Forces do not have to keep records. The problem is that if the WTD is to affect TA personnel, some records will have to be kept, and to some extent they will to have to be made available to the employer. That is obviously undesirable. It is true that employers might possibly be able to comply with their own WTD obligations by means of amendments to their payroll IT system, if they can understand the regulations. No doubt the IT companies will offer software upgrades at some cost. However, they are unlikely easily to accommodate TA training as data input. That could make the TA volunteer very unpopular with his civilian employer's management.

The problems with implementing the WTD are very serious for the TA, and there is clearly not much "joined up" government as regards the relationship between the DTI and the MoD. The solution currently proposed to the problem that I have described is for the TA volunteer to opt out of his employer's WTD arrangements. I must tell your Lordships that that is a completely unworkable arrangement.

First, many TA volunteers cannot afford to tell their employers that they are in the TA. That can often be because TA service could conflict with the ethos of their employer or because the volunteer's motivation might be misunderstood by his civilian colleagues.

Secondly, junior members of the TA generally communicate with their employers at a very low level, typically their immediate superior who may only be a junior supervisor. In addition, the public now has very little understanding of military matters and this is reflected in another place. A junior supervisor may not be aware that his company chairman has enthusiastically signed up with the TA National Employers Liaison Committee. Thus, the junior supervisor may regard the TA volunteer as a nuisance and so discriminate against the TA.

Thirdly, there is the obvious question of how long the Government will maintain the opt-out provisions. Is there a time-limit envisaged?

Finally, Ministers promoting the WTD have said that most employers will have no difficulty in accommodating the WTD. I have just touched on how they might achieve that with IT systems. That being the case, many responsible employers may develop a policy of not allowing any of their employees to opt out of the WTD. Can the Minister say what will happen to the TA soldier who finds he cannot opt out of his employer's WTD for the reasons that I have suggested? Can the Minister say whether the WTD should already have been implemented in respect of the TA according to the current regulations? In other words, is the TA being operated illegally or outside the spirit of the law?

6.30 p.m.

Lord Lea of Crondall

My Lords, we heard a wide-ranging attack on the principle of the Working Time Regulations from the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish. I asked him whether the position was that any Conservative government would not introduce the regulations to implement the directive. He said that he would reply later in his speech, but I did not hear that reply. The answer is clear: any government in Britain, if they did not want to tear up and renege on the Single European Act, would have introduced these regulations. It would be nice if occasionally we could have something agreed on the matter.

Things have moved a long way since the debates of a couple of years ago about the Social Chapter. But if this had been done under the Social Chapter, it would have been preferable because the social partners would have been able, as we have done on such matters as fixed-term contracts and maternity leave, to have a much broader-based framework. There could have been scope for more flexibility in implementation.

However, we have had these legal battles; we have been to the European Court of Justice and it found unanimously in favour of it being a health and safety measure. So we are implementing it.

I should like to make a point about health and safety, as the matter is being discussed as a question of fundamentals. All surveys of popular workplace opinion at the moment show that working time and stress levels are at the top of most workplace agenda—not pay or any of the other matters that used to be at the top. Working time and stress are an important matter in industry and the public services at present. This measure will be widely popular. No doubt it will take a little time to settle down, but on 23rd November, when the four weeks' holiday comes in, that will be the first time many millions of workers in the country will have had four weeks' holiday, from construction sites through to many areas of retail business and so on. It will be widely popular. I do not want to make a political speech like that of the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, but time will tell who reflects the popular mood in the country on the matter.

In conclusion, although there have been difficulties in implementation to get us where we are, they were almost entirely due to the prevarication and legal challenge made by the previous government to the European Court of Justice. It has been a difficult process of consultation and I hope that noble Lords can appreciate that unless we tear up the Single European Act and leave Europe altogether, this is the road down which we are going, and we want to make a success of it.

Lord Monson

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, perhaps I may put a question to him. He said that the four weeks' holiday will be widely popular. I do not doubt that. But what on earth has it to do with health and safety?

Lord Lea of Crondall

My Lords, if one is to have any regulation on working time, it must specify a number of matters such as night work, rest periods and a minimum period of holiday. I should have thought that was self-evident.

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, first, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Hives, on his short and excellent maiden speech. His brevity was a model for us all. The House of Lords' loss will surely be the gain of the engineering profession. As Minister for Science, I look forward to seeing him have a highly successful career in that vitally important part of our national economy.

When the Working Time Regulations came into force over a year ago, the majority of employers were already providing at least the minimum protections and entitlements. What the regulations have done, however, is provide protection from unscrupulous employers who were able to undercut the competition by exploiting their staff.

We believe that all workers have a right to expect decent minimum standards in their terms and conditions of employment. Similarly, businesses should be able effectively to market their product without fear of being undercut by unscrupulous competition. That is why the Government are fully committed to the regulations and why we have taken action to ensure that they can be administered in the most effective way possible.

In line with the common sense of the House, I hoped that we could avoid the kind of attitude that one day says that we ought to monitor legislation to ensure that it is practical and flexible in effect, and the next day, when action is taken, says that it shows that the original legislation was totally flawed. I do not think that that is a practical, sensible way to approach legislation.

At the CBI, the Prime Minister was absolutely clear that he was referring to the amendments before us today, and no further review of the regulations is planned at present.

I was delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, welcomed the amendments. We know of his disapproval of the basic working time directive and I am glad that he welcomed the amendments. In the 12 months that the regulations have been in force, contrary to predictions by the Opposition, the earth has not stopped turning; the universe has not disintegrated; and we have not witnessed the end of civilisation as we know it. Indeed, we have made a small contribution to civilisation by helping to end the exploitation of British workers which the previous government ignored; nor has the working time directive destroyed jobs. In the 12 months since October 1998, unemployment has continued to fall, and it has fallen by over 50 per cent since the election.

I was amazed that the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, chose to take as his example of job losses a clear piece of restructuring which is taking place in the textile industry. It is common knowledge throughout the whole of industry that that relates to a redirection of policy by one major retailer in the clothing industry. It has nothing to do with this legislation and it is wrong to say that it has. It has everything to do with the industrial restructuring of that retailer.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for giving way. Does he agree that it has everything to do with competitiveness? That is why the company is going to countries outwith the EU to obtain supplies.

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, as I am sure the noble Lord knows, the process whereby underdeveloped countries with low wage costs have been competing effectively with the textile industry has gone on for 15 years. The retailer involved has stood out against the trend but now, under pressure on its profits, it must restructure. However, that has nothing to do with this legislation. No one who knows the industry would claim that that it had.

The aim of the amendments is not to save large sums of money, but to make the regulations simpler and more effective in administration. Anyone can read out employment law and make it sound amusing, and that is a happy, common pastime. If there was a piece of employment law which had the clarity of the Gettysburg address, we would all like to see it, but that is not the way of the world. The noble Lord referred to particular cases where the whole matter is complicated and difficult. I do not believe that that is so. He mentioned the question of specific records and the point made by the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. One does not have to keep specific records if other material provides that information. Surely, that is a sensible, pragmatic point.

The noble Lord said that employees would find it difficult to understand the situation. It is not difficult to understand that if one is required to work two hours every evening to get promotion, that is different from choosing to work at home to brush up on a presentation to be given the next day. I do not believe that that is complicated or difficult to understand.

As to the clarity of the legislation, we recognise the importance of making guidance as clear and informative as possible. To date, in the region of 1 million copies of the guidance on the Working Time Regulations have been distributed. While this document remains factually correct, we believe that the time is right to produce an up-to-date version that addresses concerns that have been raised since the regulations came into force. We shall do that as soon as possible. In response to the noble Lord, Lord Razzall, we shall also consult further with the social partners once the regulations are made. That will enable us to finalise the statutory guidance, which is a central part of this, before the end of the year.

I turn next to the points raised by the noble Earl, Lord Attlee. He referred to the Working Time Regulations in the context of the Territorial Army. I assure the noble Earl that the Government are acting in a joined-up way in this matter. The Ministry of Defence was fully involved in the drafting of the Working Time Regulations, and concerns about their application to the service were taken into consideration. A TA soldier can agree to opt out of the regulations as far as the TA is concerned. Such soldiers are covered by the regulations because they are deemed to be employed by the Territorial Army for the purposes of the regulations. As the Territorial Army stands as their employer, they can agree to opt out with the Territorial Army. Whether or not they tell their main employer is a matter for them, and that is a continuation of the present situation.

The Territorial Army should comply with the regulations. I cannot comment on whether it does so at the moment; I have insufficient information on that matter. However, the amendments before us can only make the situation easier for the TA. If the clarification that I have sought to give has not totally answered the noble Earl, my noble friend Lady Symons will be happy to have a meeting with him to deal with any issues that the noble Earl believes remain outstanding.

Earl Attlee

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. The real question is: what happens if a TA soldier is unable for one reason or another to opt out of his employer's arrangements under the Working Time Directive?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, my noble friend Lady Symons is happy to discuss that matter with the noble Earl. If the soldier works for another employer and serves with the TA on a voluntary basis, he can opt out of these particular regulations. That is how the situation is dealt with. However, I am aware that my noble friend is happy to discuss the matter further with the noble Earl, if necessary.

In essence, the Working Time Regulations are about providing fair and decent minimum standards and entitlements for all workers, and in this respect they have been extremely effective. These amendments will not weaken the measures but improve their application. The important point to remember is that those who want to be covered by the regulations can still be so covered. This is merely common sense and reduces the burdens on employers without impacting on the right of workers to be protected by the regulations. I commend the regulations to the House.

On Question, Motion agreed to.