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Brian Cotter: There was much talk about tents earlier. On this occasion, we are in need of a tent; indeed, we have our own very large tent that is expanding by the day. People are flocking into it because we have our own view on all these issues. When the Government have been correct, we have supported them. Otherwise, we have taken an alternative view.

The Minister will recollect that, in Committee, I suggested that we should be able to incorporate the concept of worker into the Bill. To put us into line with the EU directive, it was not unreasonable for us to do so. I shall not rehearse our discussion in Committee of the various examples of people who are workers but are not covered by the fair social requirements of the Bill. I am worried that the Conservatives' new clause would not merely allow the Government's review of employment status to decide this issue, but put in its way blocks such as the requirement to prepare and publish reasons for the action and an assessment of additional costs in relation to it.

This issue must be addressed to put us in line with other countries, and I expect the Government to do that sooner rather than later. I look forward to them addressing it as soon as possible.

Ms Walley: Before my hon. Friend the Minister replies, I want to express my concerns about this issue. I did not have the dubious distinction of serving on the Committee that considered the Bill, so I was not party to the shorthand that has been used to describe employees and workers. Clause 45 is about fixed-term work and I hope that he will take full account of the views expressed.

The hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Mr. Hammond) referred to dinosaurs in the trade union movement and to scandals of various kinds. However, I remind him of the scandal of workers whose employers classify them as such not for reasons of flexibility but because they want to deny them basic employment rights. That cannot be right, especially when we come to interpret important European directives.

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I flagged up this issue on Second Reading, and I have corresponded with the Minister on it since then. I am grateful to him for considering the points that I have made and I am fully aware that a review is under way. However, the regulations on part-time workers apply to the broader category of workers. The directive that gives effect to the part-time workers regulations and that which gives effect to the fixed-term work regulations contain an identical definition of worker. Therein lies the problem.

Clearly, the Government will not accept the new clause, but it refers to the distinction in relation to considering future definitions. On logical grounds—and perhaps legal ones—it is unsatisfactory for the proposed fixed-term work regulations to have a restricted application. That will give rise to uncertainty and confusion for workers and employers. Part-time workers will have protection under the part-time workers regulations, but fixed-term workers will not have protection under the fixed-term work regulations. However, part-time fixed-term workers will have protection under the part-time workers regulations. That is an anomaly.

The representations made by the TUC in respect of establishing consistency on how to define workers and employees should be addressed as quickly as possible. I would not like the House to accept a new clause that would further prevent the Government from considering the distinction between workers and employees. They need to resolve the matter quickly, especially in view of constituents such as mine who are not receiving their fair employment rights because of the failure to resolve the issue.

Alan Johnson: I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Central (Mr. Lloyd) that it is a shame that the new Tory veneer of the hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Mr. Hammond) has faded away and that the old Tory is revealed in the claim that these policies are dictated to us by the trade union movement. It is water off a duck's back.

7 pm

The hon. Gentleman alleges that contributions to the Labour party have influenced its policy. We would love to know who contributed to the Conservative party when it was in government between 1979 and 1997. That would be fascinating to hear, because it might enable us to draw the same conclusions and to make the same cheap points. The truth is, however, that we do not know because it is a secret. We do not know who contributed a penny of the considerable funds that went to the Conservative party up to 1997. Labour party funding is open, transparent and governed by law. We introduced the legislation that insists on all political parties being similarly frank about the money that they receive. Before we are criticised, we deserve to know who funded the Conservative party in their 18 years in government.

Llew Smith (Blaenau Gwent): The Labour party was born from the trade union movement. Why should we apologise for that or refuse to recognise that we are influenced by it?

Alan Johnson: My hon. Friend is right; we have nothing to apologise for. It is interesting to note that the trade union movement in many other countries donates

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money to mainstream right-of-centre political parties. We have the curious anomaly in this country that no one would consider donating money to a party that, alone among the mainstream right-of-centre political parties, until recently opposed the provision of decent and civilised standards for people at work. Conservative Members should think about that extraordinary paradox.

Mr. Kevan Jones: Does my hon. Friend agree that, unlike company shareholders, who have no say in donating money to the Conservative party, individual trade union members have a right not only to opt out, but to vote on the union's affiliation to the Labour party and on donations?

Alan Johnson: Another important point. Were we to have a transparent debate on who funded the political parties that have been in government over—to pluck a figure out of the air—the past 23 years, the Conservatives would regret the day they moved on to this territory. It was unworthy of the hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge to suggest that the trade union movement donates funds on any basis other than the desire to have a properly funded party that is broadly sympathetic to free and independent trade unionism. If he doubts that, he should accompany me when I meet my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Central to discuss what policies the trade union movement proposes.

The hon. Gentleman is also mistaken in thinking that we need primary legislation because of the employment status review. We already have similar powers to extend a wide range of employment rights to non-employees by using the order-making power in section 23 of the Employment Relations Act 1999. That has been in effect since October 1999 without creating the problems that he foresees. We have to take additional order-making powers in the three main clauses because they do not relate to employment rights per se, so we cannot rely on section 23 to extend their coverage to non-employees.

On the substance of the new clause, I am happy to reaffirm that we will review employment status in relation to statutory employment rights under section 23. The mechanics of the review have commenced. We hope to publish the consultation document in late spring, when we intend to set out a radical approach. I assure the hon. Gentleman that we do not intend to use powers contained in the clauses in advance of that comprehensive review.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome): The hon. Member for Manchester, Central (Mr. Lloyd) mentioned the problem in the higher education sector. It is crucial that we sort that out effectively and I hope that it will be a priority. The current situation is untenable for lecturers and for the interests of academic work. It needs urgent attention.

Alan Johnson: We will consider that and other aspects of the employee versus worker issue.

The fixed-term work directive is incorporated in the Bill and covers pay and pensions. I can tell my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Ms Walley) that we discussed that directive in Committee. Unlike the part-time workers directive, it is

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not clear that the term "employee" causes a problem by leaving groups of workers outside the embrace of the fixed-term work directive. People have mentioned agricultural casual workers, but we established that they have a contract and are employees for the purposes of the Bill. It would not be possible to walk through a Post Office sorting office without tripping over a sociology student from Sheffield university who is employed as a casual worker by a contract of employment and is, therefore, covered by the fixed-term work directive. Incidentally, part-time people on fixed-term contracts are covered by virtue of the fact that the part-time workers directive covers workers and employees.

The biggest problem that we discussed in Committee related to employment agency staff. The social partners who signed the fixed-term work directive specifically excluded agency staff because they decided to have a directive that was aimed purely at agency staff, one of the three groups of atypical workers. It would be ludicrous to extend the Bill to cover employment agency staff in advance of the review under section 23 and of the directive, which the Commission is now producing since the social partnership broke down. That is why the fixed-term work directive should not be extended to cover workers at this stage. We could consider the issue in the review.

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman was not daft enough to think that I would accept his new clause, and I hope that I have reassured him on that fundamental point.


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