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Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, first, I shall certainly investigate the noble Lord's complaint about the availability of the conclusions to a certain newspaper before either he or I had seen them. Perhaps I may write to him. It is perfectly clear that draft conclusions have been floating about the European ether for some weeks if not months. I am not entirely clear whether, in fact, a certain newspaper had access to a final version of the conclusions before the noble Lord or I saw them.

So far as the legality of the European ban on British beef exports is concerned, I am advised that there is a reasonable legal basis for what the Commission has done. However, as your Lordships will be aware, different lawyers often have different views on these matters. Her Majesty's Government are examining the true worth of that legal basis with some expedition. I do not want to raise the hopes of the noble Lord too high because the advice we received comes from eminent sources.

In relation to the access to universal services, it is no secret that there are some countries among our European partners who feel that there should be a social and national element involved in the provision of services from utilities. It is perfectly clear from the record of Her Majesty's Government in that respect that the standard of services provided by utilities and, indeed, the price of those services in the first instant has gone up and in the second has gone down as a result of the policies we pursued which have had rather more of a commercial edge. It seems to us that--how can I put it without offending the noble Lord too much?--the rather more socialist traditions of some partners is not always in the best interests of the consumer, which is what we are pursuing.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, perhaps I can draw out my noble friend on one matter which he mentioned; that is, enlargement. That is generally regarded to be a good thing. My noble friend referred to practical mechanics being necessary. Do the Government accept that for enlargement, reform of the common agricultural policy will be necessary? If so, are they mindful of the fact that of the 87 votes which exist in the Council, only 26 constitute a blocking minority? Further, in relation to the mechanics of the treaty, the communique says that,

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    "the implementation of the convergence criteria for the achievement of the economic and monetary union [is necessary]. However, supplementary coordinated action is necessary".
Does my noble friend agree that if the convergence criteria slip, that will give Her Majesty's Government the opportunity to use Article N of the treaty and prevent any further monetary union unless we get back most of the things that we want from our European partners?

Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, I am conscious that our time is up. However, we feel strongly that CAP reform should lie high on the agenda, not only for reasons allied to our hope for enlargement of the Community, but also for reasons of good sense in relation to the administration of the CAP. My right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture issued a glossy document some months ago which set out some of our initial thoughts on the subject.

With regard to the second point of my noble friend, he is pursuing a matter raised by the noble Lord, Lord Richard. I refer him to the answer I gave.

Housing Grants, Construction and Regeneration Bill [H.L.]

4.53 p.m.

House again in Committee.

Clause 112 agreed to.

Clause 113 [Reckoning periods of time]:

Lord Howie of Troon moved Amendment No. 198:

Page 64, line 6, at end insert ("together with all days forming part of a customary holiday period within the industry in question").

The noble Lord said: We can move from the general and important to the particular and no less important. We have almost reached the end of Part II of the Bill which deals with the construction industry, a part with which I felt, from time to time, that the Government were not entirely comfortable, though many others found the whole thing plain sailing. Amendment No. 198 is a simple amendment and I hope that the Government accept it without any undue alarm or despondency. It is a detailed contractual matter relating to periods of time and calculation.

As the Bill stands, it allows for the period of time to exclude such days as Christmas Day, Good Friday or Bank Holidays in England and Wales and, indeed, Scotland. The amendment seeks to extend that exclusion to include what are the natural and usual customary holidays in the area where the contract is carried out. By that I mean such things as Wakes Week in the north of England, the Glasgow Fair in the west of Scotland or similar traditional holidays. I have nothing further to say on the matter except that I expect the Government to agree with what I say and I hope that in his reply the noble Earl will make that clear. I beg to move.

Lord Williams of Elvel: My noble friend Lord Howie has a point. It is difficult in timetabling simply to concentrate on what is statutory time rather than what is conventional time within the industry with which we are dealing. Though I accept that it may be difficult to

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include my noble friend's amendment in the Bill immediately, I hope that the Government will accept that there are arrangements within the industry which are generally acknowledged and which would make the timetable specified in the Bill difficult for them to meet on certain occasions.

Earl Ferrers: The noble Lord, Lord Howie, says that this is a simple amendment and he is sure that the Government will be able to accept it. But the noble Lord, Lord Williams, sees a difficulty. In fact, so do I.

I have a lot of sympathy with the suggestion that customary holidays should be discounted from the time periods mentioned in the Bill. But I wonder how practical that would be. It may vary from place to place or even from site to site. The last thing we want to create is a source of dispute about the precise timing of deadlines.

It may be that some builders take two weeks off over Christmas or during the summer so that everyone can go on holiday at the same time. It would be difficult and, indeed, unfair to take that into account in that the payee may have to wait an extra two weeks for his money. Many of the time periods mentioned in the Bill concern payment or the transmission of information. I suggest to the noble Lord, Lord Howie, that, so long as the banks are operating and postal services are working, there is little justification in discounting certain special days. It would not be fair that a small businessman had to wait for his money because his employer had gone on holiday.

As it is written in the Bill, obvious days such as Bank Holidays, Good Friday, Christmas Day and Easter Day are all taken account of. It would be inappropriate to widen that scope.

Lord Howie of Troon: I have known the noble Earl for the best part of 30 years and I notice that he has an unerring aim for difficulties which nobody else can see. Of course, that is part of his job.

As I read the Bill--I may be mistaken and no doubt the noble Earl will correct me in due course--"reckoning periods of time" relates to a variety of things. There are periods of time for payment to any contract involving extensions of time and things of that nature. But there are traditions with which the noble Earl may not be wholly aware.

I can remember when my father worked in Troon Shipyard. They had a local custom which was continual and traditional. They had two days off at new year--the 1st and 2nd January--and then on 3rd January the workers congregated near the shipyard and threw a brick into the air. If the brick stayed up, they went into work; if it came down again, they had a third day off. This was a traditional holiday and I have no doubt that others have similar traditions. More seriously, there are certain traditional holidays. I mentioned Wakes weeks and the Glasgow fair, both of which last two weeks or so and have great significance, especially in relation to extensions of time.

If the noble Earl can convince me that this part of the Bill relates entirely to time in relation to payments, I may well be satisfied that he is right. But if, on the

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other hand, he does not do that and leaves hanging in the air, as it were, such matters as extensions of time--I shall try to keep talking until the noble Earl's colleague returns from his advisers--which are rather more important because they have knock-on effects in terms of such operations as follow after the extensions of time, I shall not be satisfied. An extension of time, which extends the whole contract period and impinges upon the operations of sub-contractors, other contractors and ancillary contractors, is totally different from something which is merely a matter of accountancy. I think I can probably stop now because I see that the noble Earl's colleague has returned. I should like a reply from the noble Earl.

5 p.m.

Earl Ferrers: The noble Lord, Lord Howie, said that he has known me for 30 years. He has indeed; he is a very lucky chap. He said that I have an erring aim for difficulties.

Lord Howie of Troon: An unerring aim.

Earl Ferrers: That is even worse. The curious thing is that, as far as I can see, the encroaches of senility make me seem to find everything simple. I would not want to pick an argument with anyone--least of all the noble Lord, Lord Howie. The noble Lord gave as a reason for his argument the fact that up in Scotland when they want a day off they throw a brick into the air and if it comes down they take it. That is a curious analogy to use in support of one's argument, because I do not suppose many of the bricks stay up in the air, unless it happens in Scotland where they do have very curious habits.

The time limits in the Bill refer to payment. They also refer to other things as well. I really do not think it possible to take these other curious, if I may so describe them, occasions, which are not national occasions or statutory occasions, and build them into the Bill because they will have different effects in different parts of the country. It seems unreasonable to tell people who are expecting money, and may be expecting some money on, say, 15th August, that everyone has gone on holiday for two weeks and they have to wait for two weeks for their money. After all, this is a case of making payments when payments are known to be expected and payments are due. I should have thought that it is perfectly reasonable to say in those circumstances that only the statutory holidays should be taken into account.

I hope that I have been able to persuade the noble Lord because, very curiously, he said that he was open to persuasion. That is an unusual facet of the noble Lord's character. I hope that I have managed to persuade him that it is better to leave the provision as it is.

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