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House of Lords

Thursday, 3rd December 1998.

The House met at three of the clock (Prayers having been read earlier at the Judicial Sitting by the Lord Bishop of Lincoln.): The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Civil Servants: Working Time Directive

Lord Campbell of Croy asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What are the circumstances in which civil servants in press and private offices can be exempted from the rules governing the 48-hour working week.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, civil servants in the press and private offices, like any other worker, can choose to work more than an average of 48 hours a week where they have agreed to do so voluntarily. As with any other worker, they can change their mind subsequently at any time.

Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his reply. Is the report in the press correct that civil servants in these appointments have individually to sign agreements that they are not affected by the 48-hour rule? If so, will share fishermen be able to do the same? They still face an EU working directive which threatens seriously to damage their livelihood.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the noble Lord's first question is not quite right. It is not that they sign that they are not affected. They sign that they voluntarily agree to work more than 48 hours a week on average. As regards share fishermen, we and the European Commission understand the difficulty because they are not paid in the same way as anyone else. It has proved impossible, for example, to use the working time directive to give them four weeks' paid holiday. But the Commission is seeking to reduce the number of exclusions from the directive. It will have to do so with our agreement; and our agreement will come only after detailed consultation with the fishing industry.

Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that I am sympathetic to the situation of the civil servants? I was assigned by the Foreign Office to work for two years for the Prime Minister, then Mr. Churchill. The number of staff at Number 10 and the Cabinet Office was very small compared with today. Incidentally, I was succeeded in that position by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Tanworth, whom I am glad to see in his place. I should add that I also worked very long hours for Mr. Ernest Bevin and other Labour Foreign Office Ministers but I was happy to do so.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I should be sad to think that the noble Lord worked harder for Labour Ministers than for Conservative Ministers. He may like to know that the detailed inquiries we have

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been able to make indicate that workers in press offices do not normally work longer than 48 hours. It is not a problem for them. Duty press officers are on for a limited part of the time. There is a problem in the DTI where private office staff work on average 40 hours a week. That is being addressed, as indeed it is being addressed for the staff of your Lordships' House.

Lord Ewing of Kirkford: My Lords, were the press officers working longer hours yesterday?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I thought it was Conservative spin doctors and control freaks who were working overtime yesterday.


3.4 p.m.

Lord Moynihan asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is their current assessment of relations between the United Kingdom and Malaysia.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): My Lords, Malaysia is an important economic partner for the United Kingdom, with strong historical links and shared membership of the Commonwealth. But this has not inhibited us from instituting a frank dialogue on human rights issues, including the treatment of Anwar Ibrahim.

Lord Moynihan: My Lords, what specific action have the Government taken to satisfy themselves that in the case of the former Deputy Prime Minister, Mr. Anwar Ibrahim, international standards for fair trial, including the presumption of innocence of the accused, are being observed, that the Malaysian law is being applied all the time in accordance with the basic human rights principles, and that the law is not being misused to detain or imprison him solely for the non-violent expression of his political views?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, Her Majesty's Government have been following the case closely. We have taken every opportunity to raise our concerns bilaterally. The Secretary of State raised the case with the Malaysian Prime Minister on 21st September, and with the Malaysian Foreign Minister on 24th September. We have also raised our concerns through our High Commission in Kuala Lumpur. Moreover, the presidency issued a declaration on 2nd October expressing deep concern about the reports of physical mistreatment of Anwar Ibrahim and calling on the Malaysian authorities to guarantee the rule of law and to respect human rights.

The latest EU statement was only last week on 27th November. That expressed concern that the Malaysian authorities still have not published the results

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of the investigation. The EU urged them to do so. There has also been an observer from the Bar Council, Mr. Charles Flint, QC.

Lord Shore of Stepney: My Lords, the Minister's action will certainly win the approval of this House. Does my noble friend think that it might be helpful to engage the Commonwealth Secretariat and the Commonwealth Secretary in making, if possible, similar representations, in particular now that, since the Harare Declaration, the Commonwealth is committed to democracy and human rights?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, the members of the Commonwealth are expected to adhere to the principles of the Harare Declaration, as my noble friend indicates. But it is for the Commonwealth Heads of Government to set that agenda. This was discussed by the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group only last month. I regret to say that there was no consensus at that meeting. The next Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting is in November 1999. That will be an opportunity to discuss the issue if the situation in Malaysia has not improved in the intervening months.

Lord Goodhart: My Lords, will the Government also take an active interest in the case of Mr. Param Cumaraswamy, the UN special rapporteur on the independence of the judiciary, who is being sued for libel in the courts of Malaysia in circumstances which certainly look as though they are intended to silence him?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, the EU has raised our concern about Mr. Cumaraswamy's case relating to his right of immunity as a UN rapporteur, as the noble Lord indicates. We have raised those concerns with the Government of Malaysia. The UK also made a statement on Mr. Cumaraswamy's case at the UN, expressing regret that the Government of Malaysia had taken such actions. Malaysians can be in no doubt that problems of this kind do not help their international reputation.

Lord Tebbit: My Lords, I think that we would all agree that it is right that the Government and the European Union should take actions in any way they can in support of democracy and human rights in Malaysia. Will the Minister confirm that it would be the view of the British Government that no third country could exert extra-territorial criminal jurisdiction over actions which are committed in Malaysia?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, extra-territorial jurisdictions vary enormously from country to country and I am sure the noble Lord will understand why, at the moment, it would be improper for me to go any further on that issue.

Lord Renton of Mount Harry: My Lords, will the noble Baroness take into account a rather different side of the coin? There are many thousands of Malaysian

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students in this country who are already in considerable difficulties because of the great fall in the value of their local currency against sterling in recent months. Many of those students are here under the aegis of the British Council, of whose board I am a member. Many of them will become extremely important citizens in Malaysia in the future. Will the Minister take all possible action to ensure that the natural outcry against Malaysia for its human rights abuses does not impinge on the future of those students in this country? Will she ensure that everything possible is done to help them financially?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, the noble Lord is quite right. Britain and Malaysia co-operate extremely closely in the field of education. The largest overseas student contingent in the United Kingdom is Malaysian. We have seen as many as 20,000 students in the United Kingdom at any one time. It is enormously important that relationships for the future are properly fostered and nurtured in the way that the noble Lord suggests.

Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, does the Minister have any information about the frigates under construction in the Yarrow yard, which I understand should have been delivered to the Malaysian Navy in 1996?

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