Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, my Answer was of course accurate, but I apologise for it appearing to be negative. The noble Lord is right: we want people to have caring responsibilities as well as being employees. My noble friend Lady Jay rightly said last week that women do not want to have to choose between being successful mothers or successful employees. It is not that we are against boards of directors considering these matters, but it is not for the Government now to intervene when we have a company law review which is proposing that firms, in their operating and financial review, should give an account of the company's key relationships with employees. This should include employment policies and practices, including disability policies, non-discrimination policies, employee involvement policies, compliance with international labour

17 May 2000 : Column 283

conventions and anti-discrimination law. There is much there worth considering, but it should be done in the context of the company law review.

Lord Trefgarne: My Lords, is there no end to the list of absurd propositions for directors of major companies? Would it not be better to reduce the list of things to which they have to adhere?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, if the noble Lord cares to look at the consultative document published by the Company Law Review last month, which I hasten to say is an independent document and not one published by the Government, he will find that most of it concerns improved financial reporting. I hope he will agree that that is entirely appropriate. In addition, it makes suggestions which, although they may be a slight burden on directors, certainly should be of great assistance to investors, shareholders and employees in understanding what trust they can put in the activities of the company.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford: My Lords, is the Minister aware that there is now considerable empirical evidence to suggest that shorter working hours and higher productivity go together? Is he further aware that a number of leading British companies, including Glaxo Wellcome and BT, are now encouraging their managers not to stay at work for long hours, to take their full leave entitlement and to spend more time with their families? Is he therefore certain that the Government are right to be quite so reluctant to implement the full spirit of the working time directive?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I do not think that the Government are reluctant. I was answering a Question about what should be said by plcs. I should add that plcs employ only just over one-third of the workforce in this country. However, the noble Baroness is entirely right. That is why the speech of my noble friend Lady Jay was made at the launch of a government review considering issues surrounding maternity pay and parental leave. Indeed, that is why in the past week we have had the Work/Life Balance initiative and the Work/Life Balance Week, which I hope the noble Baroness supports.

Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the introduction of Sunday trading, with over 1.5 million more people now being required to work on Sundays, bringing the total number to 9 million people working on Sundays each week, has had a disastrous effect on family life because it has prevented families from having time together? Does he particularly agree with some of the arguments currently being advanced by Ms Cherie Booth QC in regard to the time parents should be able to have off from work?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the case in which Ms Cherie Booth appeared yesterday is still sub judice so I am not in a position to comment on that.

17 May 2000 : Column 284

The noble Lord raised the issue of Sunday trading. He will recall that at the time of the passage of Sunday trading legislation very considerable protection was included for those employees who did not wish to work on Sundays. Against that one has to balance the fact that shopping and other family activities on Sundays are important additions to the cementing of family relationships.

Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords, will the Minister accept from me that we feel that he has perhaps been working just too hard, which has caused a strain on his voice? I am very sorry that he has to deal with all of these matters. We offer our great sympathy.

Does the noble Lord agree that if the Government were to accept the suggestion set out in the Question the floodgates would be opened and a precedent would be set? It might be legally necessary to put all kinds of other statements in the annual report--I have in mind sexual orientation, race, gender and so on--whereas the prime reason for the annual report is to discuss the financial health of the company and the behaviour of the directors.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the reason for my strained voice is a good deal less dramatic than that. I think that I have just caught a cold from my baby granddaughter. As to the wider issue, the Company Law Review from which I quoted will come to a conclusion some time next year. It will be open for consultation and the Government will consider their response. The Government are constantly aware of the necessity to avoid unnecessary burdens on business. At the same time, I stick to my answer to the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne. There is great value in having company reports which reflect to employees, shareholders and potential investors the true state of health of the company in its widest sense.

Climate Change Levy

3.4 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Croy ask Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they are still considering changes in the proposals for a climate change levy.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the Government have developed the climate change levy in an open and consultative way. The views expressed by business have helped to refine the design of the levy. Legislation underpinning the levy is included in the Finance Bill 2000, which is currently passing through Parliament. Indeed, it was before the Standing Committee yesterday. The levy will come into effect from April 2001. As with all measures in the Finance Bill, the Government will naturally listen to any views expressed by interested parties.

Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his reply. While some changes have been

17 May 2000 : Column 285

made, does the noble Lord accept that the present proposals would still damage certain manufacturing industries? As the Prime Minister confirmed last night that the Government are not prepared to try to alter the exchange rate for the euro and have left interest rates to the Bank of England, would not further changes in this levy be a timely way of assisting manufacturing in the face of an over-strong pound?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the climate change levy is being introduced in response to a legal obligation which is imposed on us under the Kyoto agreements. We have said that we will reduce emissions of six greenhouse gases by 12.5 per cent between 1990 and 2008-12. Since business is responsible for 40 per cent of the emission of those gases, clearly something has to be done about business. It cannot be left to other energy users. The climate change levy is economically neutral in the sense that it is balanced by a reduction in business national insurance contributions. We will listen to arguments in detail at any time, but I believe that the climate change levy is a necessary consequence of our legal international obligations.

Lord Ezra: My Lords, is the noble Lord aware of the serious concern about the decision so far of the Government not fully to exempt from the impact of the levy electricity generated from combined heat and power plants? Such electricity as goes into the grid has to pay the full levy. The effect of that is already that a number of major plants contemplated by such firms as British Sugar have been postponed and that NHS hospital trusts, which are increasingly reliant on combined heat and power, are now becoming reluctant to build more plant because of the cost of exporting a proportion of the electricity, which they cannot avoid.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, there is a derogation in favour of high quality combined heat and power plants. It has to be said that, although combined heat and power is generally advantageous, it is not necessarily advantageous in all circumstances. That is why we have restricted the derogation to high quality plants.

Lord Geddes: My Lords, whatever changes may or may not take place in the climate change levy, can the Minister assure the House that no burden--particularly no financial burden--will be imposed on sources of renewable energy, including hydro-electricity, relative to the climate change levy?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, it would be too simple to say that all forms of renewable energy are necessarily good and all forms of non-renewable energy are necessarily bad. There is a spectrum in these matters. We have sought, within the terms of our international obligations, to provide as much protection for industry as we can, consistent with keeping the energy savings. That is why we have an 80

17 May 2000 : Column 286

per cent discount for those companies with energy efficiency discount agreements and that is why we have a 50 per cent discount for horticulture.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, perhaps I may press the Minister on the point made by my noble friend Lord Geddes about hydro-power, which of course is pollution free and is the major source of renewable energy available now and is likely to be in the future. Is the noble Lord absolutely satisfied that nothing in the climate change levy inhibits the generators from either going into new hydro- schemes or carrying out modernisation and upgrading work on existing hydro-schemes in order to increase the amount of energy we get from this excellent and, I should have thought, climate-friendly source?

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page