HL Deb 02 July 2004 vol 663 cc481-506

1.40 p.m.

Lord Williamson of Horton rose to move, That this House takes note of the report of the European Union Committee on The Working Time Directive: A Response to the European Commission's Review (9th Report, HL Paper 67).

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I should like to say at the outset that the Select Committee on the European Union and, in particular, its sub-committee on social and consumer affairs, which I have the honour to chair, considers that this report is important in substance and also well timed. It makes a clear contribution to that review and indicates where we must avoid dangerous consequences for working practices in the United Kingdom and, in particular, for healthcare. We received a very substantial amount of evidence on these points, on which I shall comment further.

I should also like to say at the outset to the Minister that as the debate has developed there has proved to be a good deal of common ground between the Select Committee and the Government. The Government's response has in many respects been very positively viewed by the committee, although the solution to some of the problems is not yet apparent.

In presenting the report to the House today and in commenting on the Government's response, I shall divide my speech into two parts: on the one hand, the question of the individual opt out from the 48-hour week and the linked issues, and on the other hand the effect of two judgments of the European Court of Justice, the Jaeger and SiMAP judgments, in particular on the organisation of our hospitals and healthcare.

The European Working Time Directive dates from 1993. It is a health and safety measure, although comment about it extends to other related issues such as the most efficient use of labour or the need for a general improvement in work/life balance. The directive deals with entitlements to rest breaks and annual leave, limits on night work and health assessments for night workers, and, most importantly in the context of this inquiry, it sets a working time limit of 48 hours over seven days averaged over a reference period of not more than four months or, in the case of collective agreements, and only in that case, averaged over a reference period of up to 52 weeks.

There are some exceptions to the application of the 48-hour limit, notably self-employed persons and family workers, persons with "autonomous decision-making powers" and individual workers who agree to a voluntary opt-out. The United Kingdom transposed the directive into United Kingdom law by regulations in 1998, including the voluntary opt out. The UK regulations were amended in 1999 bringing them strictly into line with the directive.

Why has all this come up now? The reason is that the directive requires the council to re-examine both the derogation from the reference period through collective agreements and also the individual opt-out on the basis of an appraisal and proposal by the European Commission. The European Commission has published a communication covering these points and also two important judgments of the European Court of Justice, the SiMAP and Jaeger judgments, which affect in particular the health sector, and I shall come back to that. The Commission has launched a consultation, and this is where we come in. We have made our views known in this report and we believe that our views will be helpful to those most directly concerned; that is, employers and workers, and doctors, nurses and patients, and will also strengthen the Government's hand in the consultation.

As I have indicated, the directive provides for different ways of allowing for a working week of more than 48 hours, necessary in some circumstances to respond to the nature of a business or occupation, including, for example, seasonal variations. The three main ways are, first, the use of a long reference period by collective agreement. That is used in continental countries where collective agreements are much more widespread than in the United Kingdom. Here in the private sector we have only about 22 per cent of employment covered by collective agreements.

Secondly, there is the exemption for persons with autonomous decision-making powers. The evidence we received indicated that there are differences of interpretation about this phrase, which may extend the coverage of the provision substantially. The CBI told us that the Netherlands, for example, considers that all workers earning more than three times the minimum wage are automatically exempted. There are already some differences of substance and of classification between member states. For example, about 11.2 per cent of UK workers are considered to be self-employed but about 31.6 per cent in Greece, including, typically, waiters, if they have time off from celebrating their football win yesterday.

Thirdly, there is the individual opt-out. Although the large majority of UK workers, about 80 per cent, do not work 48 hours or more, the individual opt out is quite widely used here to provide the flexibility necessary for business practice and because some workers wish to have the corresponding benefits of payment for overtime working.

The Commission's review has concentrated rather heavily on the individual opt-out. Our report and the substantial volume of evidence submitted to us have done the same. It appeared probable that the Commission would propose the end of the individual opt out, and the European Parliament, following an extreme report from its Employment and Social Affairs Committee, has recommended that it should be phased out as soon as possible. The Commission commissioned a report on the operation of the opt-out in the United Kingdom. That report, by Professor Catherine Barnard of Cambridge University, provides some useful information about its practical operation. Your Lordships' Select Committee was particularly keen to ensure that the individual opt-out was genuinely voluntary, which is required by the directive and is the quid pro quo for its continuation.

Turning now to the substance of the argument, should the individual opt-out from the 48-hour working week continue? The sub-committee looked at the issue of health and safety and not surprisingly different views were expressed on that point, in particular from the TUC and the CBI. Common sense suggests that working very long hours over a period of time can damage health and increase stress but we did not find evidence of any particular relationship between the voluntary individual opt out and adverse health and safety consequences. More generally, we agree with the Government in their response that: The problem with working long hours is with the workplace culture, which we want to change, and not with the lack of laws".

The sub-committee also examined the question of competitiveness, flexibility and efficiency, the CBI, the British Chambers of Commerce and the Federation of Small Businesses all arguing strongly in favour of the retention of the opt-out on these grounds, while the TUC argued that removal of the opt-out would give an incentive to achieve flexibility by other changes in management and organisation.

The committee's conclusion is that the voluntary opt-out should be retained because the flexibility it offers is an important element in preserving competitiveness and is particularly suitable for the United Kingdom. It also preserves the right of those who want or need to work overtime.

We are glad that the Government have endorsed this broad conclusion and note that, contrary to the earlier position, it now appears that the Commission is moving towards retention of the opt-out, at least for a period. But we were concerned about the practical application of the opt out. The individual opt-out must be a genuinely voluntary decision by the person concerned and the committee is firmly of the view that employees must be properly protected and not subject to coercion, whether explicit or implicit.

We have suggested a number of safeguards; in particular, that a document requesting agreement to an opt-out from the 48-hour week should not be included with the contract of employment offered to an applicant for a job and should not be presented at the same time. There must also be a clear statement of the voluntary nature of the opt-out and the right of an employee to revoke it. Generally speaking, full transparency on all these issues is best.

The Minister will no doubt explain the Government's position at the end of the debate. That position is in two documents: the Government's response to the Commission's review and the Government's response to the committee—our report. We broadly welcome that response, particularly in relation to the opt-out.

The Government have stated that they are committed to retaining the flexibility which the opt-out provides, as well as tackling the long hours culture by other national initiatives, such as the DTI's Challenge Fund on work/life balance. On the application of the opt-out, the Government go a long way in the direction indicated by your Lordships' committee, pointing out that if problems are identified they would consider a requirement to separate the opt-out from a contract of employment, the possibility of making opt-outs time-limited and explaining that workers can withdraw consent.

I turn now to the effects of the two European Court of Justice judgments—SiMAP and Jaeger. Those judgments have given rise to even more comment than the review of the directive itself, because they risk putting some of the work of hospitals in the United Kingdom, and indeed elsewhere in the European Union, into disarray and at least pose a risk to healthcare.

We summarised the effect of those two judgments in our report. With a slight risk of over-simplification, we stated succinctly that one judgment requires that all on-call time should be treated as working time, even when the doctors are able to sleep. The other judgment requires that doctors are entitled to immediate compensatory rest after resident on-call duties, even if they have been able to rest while on call.

The effect of the judgments is to reduce the availability of doctors or nurses for hospital duty, compared with the present pattern of work. This is particularly important for the United Kingdom because we have a long-standing practice of very long, probably excessive, hours for junior doctors in hospitals. We are already bringing that down and phasing in the application of the directive to junior doctors, with rest and break requirements coming into effect from 1 August this year, and a 58-hour maximum week being reduced by stages to 48 hours in 2009.

Thus the effects of the two European Court of Justice judgments come on top of changes—good changes—which are being made with some difficulty in the running of our hospitals and healthcare. That is not only a UK problem; for example, Germany estimated the cost of the judgments to its health sector at 1.75 billion euros. France and Spain are responding by applying the individual opt-out for use in the health sector, and a number of the new member states may do the same.

However, we have perhaps a more marked problem in the United Kingdom because of our relative shortage of doctors, the big difference in the ratio of junior to senior doctors and our system of delivering training to doctors by a wide dispersal of doctors in training in many hospitals, whereas some member states concentrate training in fewer centres.

Considerable progress is being made on pilot schemes and other initiatives—the Government described that as "a compendium of solutions"—to change some working practices in hospitals, for example on a new "Hospital at Night" model. None the less, the evidence we received, in particular from the British Medical Association, the NHS Confederation, the Royal Colleges of Physicians, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and the Royal College of Nursing made it quite clear to us that it will be impossible for the NHS to comply with the extension of the directive to junior hospital doctors by August of this year if the ECJ rulings are applied as they stand.

We conclude that the serious practical implications of the judgments are such that rapid and effective action through an amendment of the directive is required. We are glad that the Government recognise that action at European level is needed, whether by treating separately the inactive part of on-call time or by other means. I hope that the Minister will reply specifically on this point as the sands of time are running out, bearing in mind the strength of the representations by the BMA, the NHS Confederation and others that sizeable numbers of UK hospitals could not comply with the directive on 1 August because of the judgments.

We take the view that action in the interim is necessary. I hope that in replying the Minister will not only deal with the longer-term perspective, but also with the problem of the interim period, since the evidence, indeed, supported by the Government in their response, is that certain specialities and types of organisation will face very significant challenges. The committee's view is quite simple: healthcare must come first. These judgments have some repercussions in other sectors—care homes and outside healthcare—and the Government will also no doubt pay attention to that. I commend the report to the House.

Moved, that this House takes note of the report of the EU Committee on The Working Time Directive: a Response to the European Commission's Review (9th report, HL Paper 67).—(Lord Williamson of Horton.)

1.56 p.m.

Lord Harrison: My Lords, this is the first report of new Sub-Committee G. I say at the outset how agreeable my fellow members have been; that an expert secretariat helped the work of our new committee; and how capably we have been chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Williamson of Horton, whose exposition of the problem illustrates why he was the quiet expertise as Secretary-General of the European Commission for over 10 years.

I take the opportunity to welcome and look forward to the maiden speeches of my noble friend Lord Snape—and to welcome a new recruit from the northwest—and that of my noble friend Lord Truscott, who served in the European Parliament with me. We look forward to his expertise not only on this matter, but also on Russia and development in Eastern Europe. I note that we have a quartet of new Labour Lords on my left and that there is a quintet of former Members of the European Parliament in the Chamber today.

When I was a Member of the European Parliament some 12 years ago, I received a worrying phone call from a junior doctor working in a hospital within my constituency on the Wirral. He asked me when the Working Time Directive, which he had just heard about, was going to come into effect. He illustrated from his work his concerns and worries about the imposition of very long hours on junior house doctors like himself; and the dangers represented not only to him as a worker but also potentially to patients under his guard.

I believe that the Working Time Directive now in place has been yet another triumph of the European Union. It has begun the task of ensuring that there are common high standards of health and safety at work, not only in the United Kingdom, but throughout the European Union. It has also added to the better functioning of the single market, so that I am reminded of Winston Churchill's concept and phrase that the Scrooge-like employer is not allowed to undercut or drive out the good employer by having the bad employer not look after his workforce. That is as current today as it was when Winston Churchill talked about it many years ago.

As the noble Lord, Lord Williamson of Horton, has said, the time is ripe for a Commission review: there are problems associated with the Working Time Directive. But one of the by-products of the kind of examination carried out by your Lordships' committee is the recognition that a stimulus to change is brought about by European legislation. As we have a problem with junior house doctors' hours in the United Kingdom, the committee, through the evidence that it received, learnt of the pilot studies for reordering hospital doctors' time, called Hospital at Night programmes. That is fascinating in itself, but I put the following question to the Minister: if these reforms can take place to the benefit of, in this case, the National Health Service, what other reforms should be implemented, with or without the stimulus of a directive, and in what other industries—it does not remain exclusively the purview of the National Health Service?

I agree with all but one of the committee's main conclusions, the most urgent of which was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Williamson: the problem confronting us this August, when we shall welcome the reduction in hours as suggested but recognise that it will put an intolerable strain on the provision of hospital doctors. Of course the Government must incite neither complacency nor panic, but how will they respond? One of the committee's witnesses, James Johnson, the chairman of the BMA, said in response to the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, who I am pleased to see in her place: We have been trying to alert the Department of Health to the scale of the impending disaster for at least three years, as has a number of other bodies. The Department of Health's version is that one month ago they discovered there was a problem. The difference is as stark as that. It is very difficult to enter into negotiations with a body which refuses to admit that there is a problem, although they do now admit that there is a problem".

I hope that the Minister can assure us that we are guided by neither panic nor complacency.

The virtue of these reports—and, again, of European Union integration—is that we learn so much from other European Union countries about their practices in industry and health services. The noble Lord, Lord Williamson, mentioned that there are considerable differences between NHS practice and healthcare provision in other countries. The shortage of doctors in the United Kingdom is clear, despite this Labour Government's progress in expanding the service. The noble Lord, Lord Williamson, mentioned a hugely important ratio. Whereas four senior doctors mind one junior doctor in most European Union countries, in the United Kingdom the ratio is 1.4 senior doctors to one junior doctor. I hope that exposure of that situation helps us to promote reform to ensure that we have the very best NHS.

I will not dwell on the SiMAP and Jaeger judgments, which were dealt with so adequately by the committee chairman. I shall deal with the question of long hours. I think that my committee colleagues shared my surprise because when we asked for evidence about the adverse effect on workers of long hours, especially from our colleagues in the TUC, there was clearly a lack of evidence, even though intuitively we thought that long hours meant problems for workers. I repeat to the Minister my hope that in the UK or, more preferably, at European level more research can be carried out to establish the correlation that most of us believe must exist between long hours and an impoverishment of workers and their ability to do jobs.

The issue of long hours is difficult to adjudicate on. Long hours are healthy for some—I think, for example, of colleagues assembled in this Chamber. Most politicians work long hours and seem to thrive on them. Many industry managers, especially people who run small businesses, devote a long time to their work. If the work is interesting, it can be a stimulus. The bench-mark should be that no one should be obliged to work long hours because of poor pay or a threat to the job.

I associate myself with the committee chairman in the view that we should consider the Dutch approach. As I understand it, in the Netherlands the rules do not apply to those earning three times the minimum wage. Perhaps that could be discussed in Brussels. Allied to that is the need for a better definition of "autonomous worker".

As well as long hours, the committee wanted to examine the concept of flexibility, on which there is similar ambiguity. We concluded that we wanted to support the opt-out; that has been a major finding of our report. In some senses, practice in the UK differs from that in other European Union countries because it retains the opt-out, which may have been a key to success in British industry. But flexibility is not just for the employer; it is also advisable for employees. The Commission has asked us to look particularly at employees' work-life balance. They, too, require better opportunities for flexibility. Sometimes those needs might conflict with the flexibility required by industry managers; the issue must be resolved. The committee concluded that many other factors lead to the vibrant and healthy nature of industry, not the least of which is productivity. There, too, the comparisons between the United Kingdom and the rest of the European Union are very interesting.

The committee decided to keep the voluntary opt-out, the British way; that is good. We need to guard against abuse. For instance, we were not certain whether this is widespread, but there is a danger that a new employee can be confronted with a job contract and be asked to sign the opt-out at the same time. That is a potentially bad practice. There perhaps ought to be a 48-hour gap between the signing of both those items, plus there could be a cooling-off period where the employee has the ability to change his or her mind.

I indicated earlier that I agree with all the Committee's conclusions except one; the proposition that we might turn the opt-out round into an opt-in. That was put forward by the Federation of Small Businesses. It would be undesirable, and I hope that we can abandon it. I notice that time is flying. We also found that some of the provisions were being misapplied, possibly because they had been misunderstood. Is it possible for the Government with the CBI, the unions and the representatives of small businesses to illustrate and better publicise what the Working Time Directive promises?

With those comments, I say once again that it has been a good first report by Sub-Committee G, and I welcome the Government's interim response to the report and to the Commission's proposals. I look forward to hearing the Minister's reply.

2.10 p.m.

Lord Truscott: My Lords, in rising to make my maiden speech in this House, I thank your Lordships and all the staff for being so welcoming in my first 10 days here. That sentiment will be shared by all new Peers in the House today. I also give a special mention in despatches to my noble friend Lady Thornton, who has been showing me the ropes in my first few days. It is a particular pleasure to have the noble Lord, Lord Williamson of Horton, open this important debate today, not least because he was a distinguished Secretary-General of the European Commission at a time that overlapped with my time as an MEP. He and I are also members of Exeter College, Oxford, and share Exeter College as our alma mater.

I commend him and the European Committee on the excellent report before us today. The Committee's work on European issues and its scrutinising role is rightly renowned both in the UK and abroad. This House includes many Members who have served with distinction in the institutions of the European Union, ranging from former commissioners and civil servants to ex-MEPs from all parties. On the Benches opposite, MEPs have included the noble Lord, Lord Plumb, still regarded as one of the finest chairs of the European Parliament; and the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper. The noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson, still serves in Brussels and Strasbourg.

I remind your Lordships that there is now a gang of five Labour MEPs on this side of the House who served with me in the European Parliament between 1994 and 1999. My noble friend Lord Harrison is a stalwart of the EU Social Policy and Consumer Affairs Sub-Committee, he numbers among the gang of five, and he was well-respected as a highly diligent and knowledgeable MEP. As he said, four of us present in the House today were part of that group, including my noble friends Lady Billingham and Lord Tomlinson.

Before turning to the debate in hand, I mention my two lasting impressions of the European Parliament. The first was the brevity of the speeches, which rarely exceeded five minutes.

Noble Lords: Oh!

Lord Truscott: My Lords, my noble friend Lord Tomlinson, another former MEP, was once permitted a speech of almost Gladstonian proportions on the EU's multi-billion euro budget—a full 12 minutes. My second lasting impression was the unnerving effect that the delay for translation could have when a Member tried to tell a joke. Sometimes, 30-odd seconds would elapse as the audience sat in stony silence, only to burst out laughing when the speaker had moved on to a more serious part of his or her speech.

The new EU working time directive has been with us since 1993, as the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, said. I recall that when it was first mooted, colleagues on the centre-left opposed it because many countries were already working an average of less than 48 hours a week, which is the limit outlined in Article 6 of the directive. Britain, after all, still has the longest working hours in Europe. The committee wisely recommends that government, business and trade unions actively pursue other ways of improving competitiveness, so reducing dependence on long working hours whenever possible. The committee's report says: Common sense suggests that very long hours working over a sustained period of time could damage the health of workers".

The request for additional research is most welcome, a point that was reinforced by my noble friend Lord Harrison.

At the risk of being controversial, I agree that the voluntary individual opt-out under Article 18 should remain, even if the UK is the only country in the EU to exercise it. According to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, 70 per cent of those surveyed did not feel under employer pressure to work long hours, and 79 per cent signed the opt-out voluntarily. However, other evidence suggests that a minority—about one in five—felt that they did so under employer compulsion. That case is made forcefully by the trade unions, and I am pleased that the committee, the CBI and the Government are committed to tackle abuses of the opt-out to ensure that employees are given a real choice and that the longer hours worked are truly voluntary. Opt-out agreements must be in writing; they should be time-limited; and they should be accompanied by material explaining that workers have the right to withdraw consent. As the committee suggests, there should be a cooling-off period.

The House should be content that the Government have shown willingness to examine all the suggestions, combined with consideration of additional enforcement and a publicity campaign for the working time regulations. Awareness of employee rights seems to lie at the core of the issue. If employees are more aware that they have the freedom to choose whether to opt out in the first place, it will make abuse and coercion less likely. For that reason, the Government should give that aspect priority attention, supported by adequate resources to do the job. I look forward to the Minister's comments on that point.

The committee's report rightly stresses the importance of the Government's continuing to develop family-friendly policies, including more flexible working time arrangements that accord with the European Commission's social policy agenda. Important strides have already been made: improved opportunities for women, better childcare, help with career breaks and help with caring for the elderly and disabled.

I do not propose to dwell on the controversial intricacies of the SiMAP and Jaeger decisions by the European Court of Justice. I am not a lawyer, and I am sure that it would not be awfully interesting to go into the details of the legal cases. However, important principles are involved. Suffice it to say that I hope that a compromise can be found that improves doctors' working conditions, protects standards of patient care and enhances Britain's excellent record of medical training.

The Government have announced that nearly 95 per cent of doctors in training work for an average of 56 hours or fewer. Since September 2003, there have been over 7,000 more doctors in training than in 1997. That is all welcome. As someone who was resuscitated by an NHS doctor 30 years ago, after a road traffic accident, I assure the House that I would rather be operated on by a doctor who was not suffering from fatigue and over-work.

The Government have acknowledged that implementing the Working Time Directive in the NHS by the deadline of 1 August may be problematic. A solution may lie in the evolution of current rotas and working patterns; a further boost from increased staffing levels; and a clearer Commission definition of inactive on-call time and compensatory rest. All of us, regardless of political persuasion, would like to see the National Health Service able to provide a first-class service to its patients, whatever the demands placed upon it.

I note that we are now in a period of negotiation with the social partners, including UNICE, the European employers' federation; ETUC, the European employees' organisation; and CEEP, the public sector employers' organisation. Stavros Dimas, the EU's employment commissioner, is hopeful of an agreement. In the absence of consensus, the Commission is expected to put forward legislative proposals by September 2004. I remain optimistic that agreement on the future of the Working Time Directive can be reached.

Without straying into controversy, I must say that, for me, the European Union is about mutually beneficial and peaceful co-operation between sovereign states. Whatever the views on the European Union held in the House, none can wish for a return to the bloody European conflicts of the past few hundred years or the last two world wars. "Jaw-jaw", in Churchill's phrase, is preferable to "war-war". My grandfather died of TB, after being held as a prisoner in the First World War; and my wife's grandfather died on the eastern front in the Second World War, fighting the Nazis. As with millions of Russians, his body was never found. Set in context, a little disagreement over the Working Time Directive between friends should not be insurmountable.

2.20 p.m.

Baroness Greengross: My Lords, it gives me enormous pleasure to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Truscott, on his excellent maiden speech. As an unashamed pro-European, it is also a great pleasure for me to note that the numbers of the gang of pro-Europeans and Members experienced in Europe in this House are rising. That is excellent news.

Today we welcome an experienced speaker, as was very obvious from the noble Lord's speech. He brings both skill and knowledge to this House. An author and political analyst, the noble Lord is an Associate Research Fellow at the Institute for Public Policy Research. He has been involved with the Labour Party at the local level. From 1994 to 1999 he was an MEP, and the Labour spokesperson on foreign affairs and defence; a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee and the Economic, Monetary and Industrial Policy Committee. He has also recently published a book entitled Putin's Progress, which I am looking forward very much to reading. Someone with his depth of knowledge of Russia and eastern Europe, along with defence matters, will be particularly welcome in this House.

I shall now take another lesson from the words of the noble Lord and follow his example of brevity. I do so because we have heard already many eloquent speeches on the committee's report. It was a privilege to serve on the committee, excellently chaired by my noble friend Lord Williamson of Horton and ably assisted by our Clerk and staff, who did a tremendous job. Aside from being very interesting, the report is valuable because, apart from its conclusions, it has highlighted several areas where our knowledge and the data are insufficient. A call was made for us to get the information we need.

All members were agreed that exhaustion arising from long hours at work is a bad thing and can be dangerous. But we have to bear in mind that the culture of the workplace in this country is such that many people, rightly or wrongly, bank on overtime to make ends meet. They are quite willing to work longer hours and it will take time to change that culture. However, I think that change is coming about fairly quickly. The flexible hours and family-friendly polices in which we are now all involved will help to strike a better balance in the future.

The unanimous agreement of the committee was important in that we all felt that any abuse of the voluntary individual opt out plans that we want to retain is something that needs to be tackled. Although the evidence did not suggest that there is a great deal of abuse, we thought it important to get rid of any that might arise immediately.

There was a question about whether the health and safety basis of the report was the best approach, along with queries about the strength of the link between health and safety and the voluntary individual opt out. Again, that is an area where we need more information because the evidence was not particularly strong. If it can be shown to be strong, all would agree that the optout must be revised in order to bring about a safe culture that promotes healthy living.

I am pleased to see that the Commission has now conceded that the voluntary individual opt out may be retained. However, I agree with other speakers that the widely varying definitions of what is an "autonomous worker" need to be looked at closely if they are to be taken seriously. I am less than impressed at the way some member states have got around the problem by naming as "autonomous workers" those they want to be able to opt out. The UK's approach—on an individual basis—is more straightforward and honest.

This area, too, needs more research.

We must always remember that this country—which I am sure some of our neighbours across the water still call "perfidious Albion"—remains a nation of small businesses. The right practice for our small businesses is different, and individual agreements are very frequent in this country. Small businesses cannot always have collective agreements, as is so often the case on the mainland of Europe.

As stated in the report, we all agree that a balance needs to be found between flexible, competitive business practices and the right of workers to healthy, safe and unstressful working conditions. If the report represents one step towards encouraging that kind of better practice, it will have done a good job.

Most of our witnesses came to the conclusion, as other speakers have confirmed, that the voluntary individual opt-out from the 48-hour week should be kept. It will help to maintain the flexible working patterns in this country; to meet the competitive challenge highlighted by the Minister when she gave evidence to us; and it will meet the right of individuals to have some say in the way they work.

I shall not go into detail about the two recent judgments—SiMAP and Jaeger—but everyone felt strongly that it would be impossible to bring them into play by August of this year; compromise of some kind is essential.

As regards the health service, our appalling ratio compared with some other European countries—not only of senior doctors to junior doctors but of doctors overall to patients—is a historical fact. We have enormous strengths in the health services; but also we have some weaknesses—and that is one. This work is a call to action and, through the commission which initiated it, to do something as quickly as we can.

I agree that the Government have gone a long way by injecting resources into the training of more doctors and improving matters, but it will take a long time. I, for one, would not like to see doctors' training reduced too much because there are dangers involved in the rush to comply with the directive which—and this is my only criticism of their response—the Government did not highlight enough. I am worried that encouraging other staff, other nursing and allied professionals, to take over some of the roles that doctors now perform could be a risk to patients if we do not get it right—and getting it right means a substantial amount of additional training, especially in fields such as diagnosis. I am very worried about that.

At the moment, it will be impossible for the health service to comply with the immediate rest period that the Jaeger judgment suggests we must introduce; it is perverse, it is impossible, and it must be changed. We know that France and Spain have already implemented their own opt-outs in the health sector. I hope very much that, as other countries—including Austria and the Netherlands—plan to do the same, the Commission will realise that it must do something about this.

We obviously need time to adjust our practices. If the Working Time Directive and the impact of SiMAP and Jaeger cannot be dealt with properly, we shall put at severe risk not only patients but some of our most vulnerable people. If we do not have fully qualified people to deal with those who are vulnerable, ill, sick, frail and at risk, the whole thrust of the report—and, indeed, the Commission's intentions, which are wholly admirable—will go wrong. We must make sure that our health service is not put at risk, as are other industries, through rushing into practices we can ill afford at the moment.

2.30 p.m.

Lord Snape: My Lords, I join my noble friend Lord Truscott in acknowledging the welcome that I and other new boys have received from all parts of this House. Even as a somewhat recycled and battered new boy, I have found it heartening that so many noble Lords from all parts of this House have been so welcoming. As far as the staff of this place are concerned, noble Lords are extremely fortunate to be supported by people of such quality and calibre. I will long remember the enthusiasm and desire to help of every member of staff that I have met. I know that I speak for all the new boys and girls in saying how delighted we are at the warmth of our reception.

Having represented parts of the towns of West Bromwich and Wednesbury in the other place for some 27 years, I do not quite qualify these days as somebody from the north-west, as my noble friend described me. I hail from that part of the world originally and I must confess to a lifelong and probably fruitless relationship with Stockport County Football Club. All I could possibly say about that is that it perhaps beats stamp and engine number collecting, but not by very much.

I welcome most of the provisions of the directive. I congratulate those members of the European Union Committee who laboured long and hard on producing their conclusions. As the towns that I previously represented in the West Midlands still have a considerable number of small businesses. I welcome the fact that the directive offers them some flexibility. If a big order comes in at a small engineering company of six, eight or 10 people, it is essential that all hands are put to the pumps. As I have indicated, some flexibility to meet the surge in demand is essential.

It is interesting to see the diversity of views between those two great organisations, the CBI and the TUC, on these matters. In its document on the Working Time Directive and the individual opt-out, the CBI states: There is little evidence that links the individual opt-out with an increase in workplace accidents or that use of the opt-out presents a health and safety risk… The CBI believes that ultimately it should be left for individuals to make these choices".

So say all of us, but I would like some assurances from the Minister that proper monitoring will take place, so that individuals have genuine choices about the opt-out.

The CBI view is not shared by its counterparts across the way at the TUC. It stated in a press release last September: A new TUC poll finds that one in four people who have signed an opt out from working time rules were given no choice about opting out; two in three people who work more than 48 hours a week have not been asked to sign an opt out; and that only one employee in three even knows there is a 48 hour limit on the average working week".

If that is true, we really need to tackle not only a long-hours culture, but a lack-of-information culture that means that so many people are not aware of their rights under the directive.

Before being elected to another place, I spent my working life in the railway industry, so I cannot claim to have the same kind of expertise as previous speakers. I am afraid that the rarefied atmosphere of the railway industry does not quite equal toiling in the vineyards of Strasbourg and Brussels, but one does one's best. If there is any one industry where long working hours are endemic, it is the railway industry. Some of the sillier trade union leaders will say that that is an example of wicked railway management forcing poor railwaymen into work when they do not really wish to go. As someone who at one time had the responsibility of rostering train crews, I can affirm that that is not quite true. Noble Lords will be aware that certain shifts in the industry are paid at premium rates. At one time, it was my responsibility to post the Sunday roster. When the Sunday roster was posted, an audience would carefully gather in the enginemen's lobby, with all the reverence of the audience that one sees outside the Vatican on Easter Sunday. Woe betide a train crew supervisor or roster clerk who left off that roster, at time and three-quarters, a driver, fireman or guard who felt that it was his time to work on Sunday. For a train crew to work 72 hours a week was by no means unusual in those days. They were hardly family-friendly hours, although, having been on the sharp end of the tongues of some of those workers, perhaps they were family-friendly, because they kept them away from home for as long as possible.

There is a culture of long working hours in the United Kingdom, especially in some industries. I suspect that that is no good thing. The committee laboured but could not find evidence that long hours were particularly dangerous. However, I remind your Lordships of the Clapham Junction accident of 1998, when the unfortunate signal technician held responsible had actually worked for months on end without a day off, because of the pressures of the modernisation of the former London and south-west railway line. Obviously, the long hours that he worked had an enormous impact. Sir Anthony Hidden QC, who conducted the inquiry into the Clapham accident, was quite scathing about the impact that those long hours had had on that particular individual, and how the hours that he worked led to that tragic mistake that caused so many deaths.

Similarly, it is not by accident that airline crews are heavily restricted in the number of hours that they work every month. I cannot think that any of us would be particularly sanguine about taking our seat, whether business class to Brussels or to Strasbourg or elsewhere, in an aeroplane whose pilot had exceeded his working hours for that particular day, week or month. Much play has been made, and rightly so, of the situation within the National Health Service, with the enormously long hours that doctors—particularly junior doctors—are working, and the difficulties that will be caused to the health service when those hours are, quite properly, curtailed.

A colleague of mine in the other place, Dr Maurice Miller, was himself a GP who used to dispense advice to his colleagues—invariably over a rather unhealthy late-night drink, I fear—that they should never be ill enough to go into hospital. So say all of us—but that is not always advice that one can follow. He also said that if they did have to go into hospital, they should never go in on Sunday night or Monday morning, because the consultant who saw you would have been awake since about four o'clock on Friday afternoon. That was 30 years ago, and it does not look as though things have improved very much since. I do not entirely lay the blame for that situation on the shoulders of my noble friend the Minister, because I do not think that his ministerial salary is worth that much. However, we must tackle the problem of the long working hours of doctors, as we do in various other professions.

I conclude on this note. Of course, individual choice has a part to play in the number of hours that people spend at work, but proper monitoring—and enabling those who do not wish to work long hours not to do so—is something that the Government should consider. I look forward to reassurances from my noble friend on those points.

2.38 p.m.

Lord Shutt of Greetland: My Lords, we do not get maiden speeches that often and then, lo and behold, we get two at once. First, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Truscott, on his maiden speech. He struck lucky that within 10 days, as a former MEP, he got a European debate. I congratulate him on that. He said he was going to be brief, and he was relatively brief, so let us say that we look forward to many brief speeches in future, and that the noble Lord's wisdom will be with us.

The noble Lord, Lord Snape, did not need to strike lucky. With his warmth and humour, it would not have mattered on which debate he chose to make his maiden speech. I spotted that he was brought up in the north-west, but he has clearly had his being in the West Midlands. He has clearly been steeped in transport. In terms of the latest set of recruits to your Lordships' House, transport is doing quite well and I am delighted that there is someone else able to speak on such matters. He mentioned the word "roster". I have heard several of his colleagues use the word "roster" and I think that it has another meaning in this place. We very much look forward to further contributions from the noble Lord, Lord Snape.

Sub-Committee G, chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, has done a very good piece of work. A few weeks ago, I said that one of the problems of our European committees and the reports they produce is that when they are debated on the Floor of the House, it is usually the noble Lords who wrote the reports who come to debate them. That is not the case today when a majority of the speakers has not been involved in producing this piece of work. I think that it is good that we have got some outside assessors to look at the work that has been done. It is very interesting indeed.

On these occasions, when winding up, I have often referred to every speaker. I do not think that it would be right to do that on this occasion because each noble Lord has chosen a little piece from the report and has highlighted what has been important to him. I shall highlight those matters that surprised me. First, I was surprised that the definitive view of hours and rest is far from clear. I do not know how many definitions of work there are, but I have written down three: monotonous work, tiring work and interesting work. I suspect that the hours it is possible to work depend on the category into which the work comes. In your Lordships' House, work is always interesting and we can keep going on whatever subject it may be.

Secondly, I was very surprised about the definition—or non-definition—of the autonomous worker. It seems so very surprising that there is no clear definition. It cannot be right that someone who gets three times the national average in wages or salary is therefore autonomous. Surely, it is to do with the type of work that the person is doing and not the pay scale. Therefore, I find the definition surprising.

The third thing that I find surprising is the Barnard report, which has been mentioned. The authors of the Barnard report were questioned by the committee. Yet the committee does not feel able to reproduce the Barnard report in the back of its report because it is a private report to Europe. It beggars belief that the European Commission produced a report that is not public property. It does not mention individuals. It is a document that quite properly ought to be public property.

There have been all sorts of concerns about opt-outs and opt-ins and how "voluntary" is voluntary, but the one issue about which people are particularly concerned is that we are now in July and next month is August. The concern is about how the NHS is going to cope in terms of junior doctors from August. It is something to which I hope the Minister will return and give us comfort.

As I said, in this place there are always interesting things to do and interesting things to learn. I noticed in the document, for example, the word aliquot, which I had not come across before. It is certainly not in common usage in Greetland. However, I looked it up in the dictionary. I have come to the conclusion that the aliquot of time that I had allocated myself is now over.

2.45 p.m.

Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords, before I begin, I should like seriously to apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Williamson of Horton, for not coming in to the Chamber until he had been speaking for two minutes. I could give the House a long excuse, but that would not be appropriate as noble Lords would find it boring and I would perhaps be trying to lessen my fault. I just did not notice the time on the annunciator. I am, however, grateful that the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, saw me much earlier in the day so that he knew that I was here. I am most grateful to my noble friend Lady Byford, who made a note of the first few items on which the noble Lord commented.

I join other noble Lords in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Williamson of Horton, and all the other committee members for their most excellent report. It was not only very interesting; it was a very easy report to read. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Shutt, that I did not notice the word he mentioned. But I find that I am much better educated after hearing his contribution.

I should also like to say how much I enjoyed the two maiden speeches, of the noble Lords, Lord Truscott and Lord Snape. I had a few words with the noble Lord, Lord Truscott, earlier, and I said that if a noble Lord says in following a noble Lord's maiden speech that, "It was very interesting and we look forward to hearing more interesting speeches from him", it probably means that he did not agree with much of the speech. That is about the kindest thing that one can say in such circumstances. In fact, however, both maiden speeches today were excellent. I shall say no more about them because the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, and the noble Lord, Lord Shutt, have already spoken so well about them.

I should like to remind your Lordships why we in the United Kingdom are discussing the Working Time Directive at all today. The origins of the concept are in the Social Chapter, to which John Major, on behalf of our country, declined to subscribe. However, in order to circumvent that, the project was moved out of the Social Chapter and into the zone of health and safety. Of course we did not have any veto over that.

I suppose that it is correct to say that the powerful German trade unions and the militant French unions both have their own national reasons for wanting to keep things exactly as they are. However, I was interested to hear both the noble Lords, Lord Truscott and Lord Harrison, and the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, point out that in this country the culture is somewhat different. It may very well be that it is gradually dawning on both Germany and France that talk about a 35-hour or 32-hour week is probably damaging their economy and possibly hurting their competitiveness and job prospects—matters in which we are doing really very well. I say that only in passing.

A very large proportion of British society, employers and employees alike, are ambitious to own their own homes, as distinct from renting them, as is more the norm on the continent. That is another, slightly different aspect of the debate. Motor cars full of electronic gadgetry and holidays abroad are all part of the huge national shopping list, a list that is sometimes fuelled by a very large mortgage and credit card debt that has just reached the staggering total of £1 trillion. However one looks at it, all of that will have to be paid for. If people want to engage in that way, at some stage they will have to pay for it.

In a free society there is no reason why those with personal ambition to progress in their field of work or to acquire more for themselves and their families, or for whatever reason, should be prevented from doing so. I was very interested to hear the noble Lord, Lord Snape, talk of his experience of rostering on a Sunday when he left some employees out who became very uptight as they wanted to work to earn more money. It was not a question of a dreadful employer making employees work those hours but of a choice to do so on the part of those employees.

I have not yet discussed hospital working hours but I must say how lucky we are in this House that the noble Lord, Lord Truscott, was resuscitated by a doctor who was not too tired to do the job efficiently thereby enabling us to benefit from the experience gained during his long career.

I turn to the first question that I hope the Minister will be able to answer today. My honourable friend the Member for Eddisbury, the shadow Secretary of State for Industry, has been unable to obtain an unequivocal reply from the Secretary of State. Why do the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister refuse—perhaps that is too harsh a word—or decline to comment on their own Labour MEPs who have not once, but twice, voted to scrap Britain's opt-out, which on the DTI's own estimates would cost British business £9 billion a year? The Labour MEPs' vote in the European Parliament to scrap the opt-out was decisive in passing the Motion, which in turn is a significant influence on the deliberations of the Commission as it reviews the status of the United Kingdom's derogation.

Your Lordships my be enlightened to know—indeed, I was as I did not know it—that the philosophy of the Labour MEPs is unashamedly set out on their website where they hail the 48-hour week as, the number one reason to back Europe".

It is interesting to note that that is what they put at the top of their list.

I hope that we shall hear the Minister say in replying to the debate that the Government unequivocally support the opt-out and that they will not allow it to be further eroded or chipped away one slice at a time. In short, I hope that we shall hear from the Minister that the Government accept the first and key issue identified in the excellent report of the noble Lord, Lord Williamson. I do not apologise for quoting it in full. It states: The voluntary individual opt-out from the 48-hour working week … should be kept: it offers the flexibility which employers need in meeting global competitive challenges, and it is particularly suitable for British circumstances. It also preserves the right of those who want or need to work overtime".

There is one major problem as regards working time that is indeed difficult to resolve. I refer to the two European Court judgments that have already been mentioned, and which the report discusses in detail, affecting hospital doctors. The SiMAP case, which originated in Spain, ruled that resident hospital doctors' time on call even when they are able to sleep—noble Lords should note that—nevertheless should be treated as working time, as the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, mentioned in introducing the debate. To comply with that ruling by this August—just two months away—would clearly be totally impossible for the National Health Service. What is the Government's solution? Of course, it is nice to know—but this is not a solution—that about 6,030 students entered medical school last autumn, but they will not be qualified for another six years.

The Department of Health in a letter to the noble Lord, Lord Williamson of Horton, while claiming that, some Trusts have already achieved compliance", admitted that, a small number of specialities and certain types of organisation face very significant challenges".

How many specialities and what types of organisation are involved? How many such organisations are involved?

In response to the judgment the committee stated in the baldest possible terms: We say more time is needed to work out a common-sense compromise that improves doctors' working conditions without putting standards of patient care at risk or harming medical training".

All noble Lords who have spoken have said something along those lines. I realise that "common-sense" is a phrase that the Lord Chancellor's Department now deprecates vis-a-vis magistrates, in the interest of political correctness, but what is the Government's attitude to the strong recommendation? What, if anything, are the Government going to do about it?

The other relevant European Court decision is in the case of a German doctor, Norbert Jaeger. The Court ruled that doctors were entitled to immediate compensatory rest after resident on-call duties, even if they had been resting. The committee of the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, called that interpretation "perverse and completely impractical". It could hardly have been blunter than that. It called on the Government for urgent action to get the ruling changed, as do we. What are the Government going to do about it?

I return to the broader aspect of the directive. It is reported that: Last minute lobbying by Neil Kinnock, a European Commission Vice President, and John Monks, former head of the TUC and currently head of the European Trade Union Confederation, forced officials to put the more radical option into a draft document from the Commission's Employment Directorate".

On the other hand, the Secretary of State recently said: Some people want to get rid of the opt-out. We are not prepared to do that … it would be bad for business and bad for hard working families".

I hope that the Minister will make it clear who speaks for Britain on the issue. Is it the Secretary of State or Neil Kinnock, the vice-president of the Commission? Is it Mr Monks, a strong and influential Labour supporter, or the 24 Labour MEPs, who twice did not vote in favour of Britain's opt-out in the crucial vote in the European Parliament? It would be nice if the Minister could tell us but, from looking at him, I am not too sure whether he will be able to.

The abolition, or even the whittling-away, of our opt-out would seriously damage British labour-market flexibility and competitiveness. The cost would be, as I have said previously, and as the Government admit, at least £9 billion. The majority of British workers and employers are in favour of retaining the opt-out. A limit—any limit—might deny people the freedom to choose their own working patterns. It would prevent millions of people who wished to do so earning overtime pay. The Labour Government say that they are the friend of British business, but two of their most prominent supporters and Labour's contingent of MEPs reveal another picture. For the sake of British jobs, it is time that the Government bring their MEPs into line before they do further damage.

The committee said in its conclusions, the flexibility offered by the voluntary individual opt-out is an important element in preserving competitiveness".

The last paragraph of the report's recommendations said that, we reiterate our conclusion that the voluntary individual opt-out should be retained".

I do not need to rehearse every conclusion that the committee reached, because the noble Lord, Lord Williamson of Horton, covered them all so well when he introduced this short debate. However, I hope that your Lordships will take careful note of what he and others have said, and that the Government will act on the excellent advice that they have been given.

It is time that the Government did more than pay lip service to maintaining the opt-out, fully and completely. This is the opportunity for the Government unequivocally to demonstrate their support for the opt-out by accepting the report, without reservation.

2.59 p.m.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, it has been a most interesting and stimulating debate. The quality of the introduction by the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, and the plaudits that he has already received from other members of the sub-committee for its work, reflect his work as its chairman. We do not always have debates of such high calibre on Friday afternoons, and I congratulate the noble Lord on attracting to it two maiden speakers who contributed many significant points that needed to be made on what we all recognise is a complex range of issues.

My noble friend Lord Truscott gave an erudite introduction to those issues. He speaks against a background of very considerable experience in the European Parliament and we are grateful that we shall have the benefit of that experience in future debates. As for my old and noble friend Lord Snape, I heard his first maiden speech 30 years ago in the other place. I assure your Lordships that his style has not changed at all. His wit and humour were prevalent then and I am delighted to see that they have survived the years of trials and tribulations that we have all been through. It will also be recognised that there is authority in the important points that he makes in debate; they have not all been added by the years, because I remember him making some very important points 30 years ago. Nevertheless, the House will benefit from his experience, too, and we will certainly benefit from his wit, humour and contributions.

As the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, indicated, the Government have already substantially presented their position in response to the report and, as he was kind enough to indicate, the Government agree on the most salient and significant points. On crucial issues regarding opt-outs, on which I have been pressed on every side, not least by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, perhaps I may reassure her on one matter. She may produce the longest list of significant bodies and names who are on one side of an argument that she wishes, but the Government are the Government. Secretaries of State exercise power as elected members of the Cabinet on behalf of the Government. She may trawl around any other opinions that she wishes—and in a democratic society it would be amazing if there were not a range of opinions on such a significant topic—but I speak on behalf of the Government who are united in their position on these matters.

First, I shall deal with more general issues, although I will spend a little time on the SiMAP and Jaeger judgments, because they are of particular significance to the health service, as the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, indicated. His committee had looked at those with some care and they have presented difficulties for all of us. I wish to make it absolutely clear that the Government's primary objective with regard to the health service is to provide the highest possible quality of healthcare. All else is subordinate to that. Nevertheless we recognise that there are issues regarding the question of working hours and these particular European Court judgments.

Noble Lords will recognise that the Commission is still consulting on the operation of the Working Time Directive and, as yet, has not produced any formal legislative proposals. They will follow from the consultation process this September. I wish to emphasise the timeliness of the report. As the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, indicated, it is bang on time in terms of presenting an important perspective on these matters and giving the Government the opportunity to reply to that perspective. This debate takes those issues a little further.

In our response to the committee's report we confirmed our commitment to retaining the flexibility that the opt-out provides, while at the same time recognising that there is an issue about tackling the long-hours culture in the British workplace. We are determined that the opt-out should not be abused. It must be truly voluntary to be legal under existing UK law. I can reassure my noble friends and others who were anxious that workers would not have total freedom on this. We are looking at ways in which we will, eventually, enshrine in law that necessary right of workers to ensure that the voluntary aspect of the issue is confirmed. We made clear in our response to the committee that we are prepared to look at a number of ways to examine how it is being used.

That links to our commitment to reduce working hours in the United Kingdom. To help us reach a better understanding on the nature of long hours' working within the UK, we recently published a preliminary consultation. It invites views on how we can ensure that workers have real choice about working long hours; how we can protect their health, which several noble Lords have indicated to be important, while they work long hours; and how we can raise people's awareness of their rights. The only way in which people can defend their rights is by being aware of them, particularly in employment where we recognise that the position of the individual is of great importance.

I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, that one distinguishing feature of our economy is the vast range of small businesses. In contrast with many of our continental partners in the EU, we recognise that this raises for workers and their rights particular issues on how they are to articulate and defend them and how we can protect those small businesses and their success. We all recognise that a great deal of the success of the UK economy is based upon the flexibility that we have enjoyed over the years.

There is one point I want to emphasise to the House before turning to the significant issues of the judgments on health. This Government have been very concerned to reduce the hours of doctors and those practising in the health service. We have all taken significant action to limit the hours of junior doctors. There are problems consequent on these two judgments as regards certain aspects of health service work and I shall comment on those in detail. However, I want to put on record the obvious point about the considerable progress we have made in reducing working hours.

Our commitment to that is a reflection of the substantial resources that we have committed to the health service, enabling us to increase the number of doctors in order to tackle some of these issues. We want to provide better care for patients and we need more doctors to provide that adequate care. We also recognise that without additional doctors we cannot purport to tackle the issue of successfully reducing hours. I want those aspects of the Government's achievement, which predates this discussion of the report and the problems in respect of the judgments, to be considered a reflection of our commitment to making progress in this area.

The noble Lord, Lord Williamson, indicated that his committee was aptly timed to play its full part in the second stage of the Commission's consultation process. On the basis of the report, our responses to it and the considerable amount of consultation in which we have been involved in this country, we will be seeking to persuade the Commission and other member states of the importance of the individual opt-out to the UK economy. That exercise will be carried out with great force over the next few weeks.

The issue which I have indicated causes us some difficulties was reflected in the speeches of my noble friends who made their maiden contributions to the work of this House. Although I shall talk a great deal about the formal issues surrounding working hours, perhaps, in passing, I may remind my noble friends that I am Deputy Chief Whip. Therefore, any suggestion that they should pray in aid any outside agency to limit their hours is not on. We have a broad understanding that, whatever obtains anywhere else, this place is a law unto itself, and I have no doubt that they signed on the dotted line when they happily joined us.

As has been reflected in a number of contributions to the debate, the judgments in the SiMAP and Jaeger rulings mean that time spent on call residentially and at work in, for example, hospitals is now classed in its entirety as "working time". The noble Baroness, Lady Miller, also made that point. The Jaeger judgment further complicated matters by ruling that compensatory rests due after a period of work should be taken immediately after that period of work. That creates enormous difficulties for doctors who are called out overnight. Their interrupted rest means that they are due compensatory rest but, if they are scheduled to work the following day, it is obvious that patients will suffer from cancellations. That is why we must introduce some flexibility.

I am grateful for today's debate and I am grateful, in particular, to the committee because it identified this issue and helped us in our response. I noticed that the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, was also concerned to emphasise that point, and we are also grateful for her work with the committee. Although we do not shy away from our responsibilities both to reduce hours in the health service and to ensure that we increase the service to patients, it is clear that those judgments raise issues on which we are involved in substantial consultation.

We are also grateful for the pilot studies that have taken place. I want to reassure my noble friend Lord Harrison, who suggested that the Government might be indulging in either panic or complacency with regard to these issues. Neither is the case. He knows well enough that the Government will pursue a steady course in dealing with a tricky and difficult problem and that they will handle it on the basis of a coherent strategy. Therefore, we have pilot studies on these issues to see how we can make progress so far as concerns hospitals. In fact, my noble friend referred favourably to the Hospital at Night model. It is an important guide to the way in which we need to tackle the issue of the availability of doctors. I reassure the House that the Government are fully cognisant of the significance of carrying out effective action in that area.

New ways of working are key to implementing the directive in the health service. I emphasise the Government's commitment to ensuring that we have the resources available for it. More than 7,000 doctors are in training. I accept that the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, indicated that it takes some time before doctors in training are on-stream. However, I notice how the Opposition berate us because doctors are not available immediately but only in training. But when it comes to the problem of the inadequate number of dentists—

Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. I most certainly did not berate the Minister. He should know that I never berate anyone. I was simply making the point that we still have to deal with this problem because doctors take six years to train. That was a compliment to the Minister because the Government have ensured that more students are entering medical school.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the noble Baroness has a more generous spirit than I gave her credit for, and I apologise on this occasion. I thought that she was chiding us about the number of doctors that we were providing, and I am aware that her colleagues are not quite so generous in their judgment on this Government. Perhaps I may take the obvious area: they are forever—I use the word again—berating us about the inadequacy of dental services when it was the inadequacy of the provision of dentists in training a decade ago, when they were in power, that caused the problem. However, I shall desist from pursuing these issues any further and respect very much the terms in which the noble Baroness presented the issues at this point.

I emphasise that we are very aware of and active in tackling both the existing and potential problems in these two contentious areas relating to the judgments. We are committed to maintaining labour market flexibility, to which the individual opt-out is certainly the key, while ensuring that individual workers are protected. We shall continue to press the Commission and other member states for its retention over the coming weeks and we intend to deliver on that front.

We shall continue to seek an urgent legislative change to the directive in the light of the SiMAP and Jaeger judgments to provide more flexibility in the provision of healthcare. Good progress continues to be made with implementation of the Working Time Directive across the health service. We recognise the two particular difficulties, which are causing us to consider certain issues with great care, but I want to assure the House that the health service is in the very good hands of a government that are committed to pushing enormously significant additional resources into it.

As far as the Working Time Directive is concerned, I can reassure the House that the Government responded to the very forceful arguments put by the committee chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Williamson. We are in favour of and will pursue the process of continuing the opt-out.

Lord Williamson of Horton: My Lords, not many movers of Motions have the privilege and pleasure of two excellent maiden speeches. I thank the noble Lords, Lord Truscott and Lord Snape, for their speeches. In the words of the directive, they have demonstrated their autonomous decision-making powers and an excellent presentation of their views.

On the substance of the debate, there is a large measure of common ground, which is welcome. There is one point on which we know we are in fairly choppy water, which is the result of the two judgments on the health service in the near future. We may be in choppy water, but at least we are rowing in the same direction.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House adjourned at seventeen minutes past three o'clock.