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Noble Lords: Time!

Lord Livsey of Talgarth: My Lords, I realise that I have only 10 minutes. I am just finishing.

In fact, "Salmon at Sea" was the title. The symposium focused on the decline of survival of smolts, crossbreeding with farm salmon, and the 900,000 smolts that are caught by mackerel fishers. All governments should co-operate on the Atlantic coast. There should be a closure of the mixed stock netting that goes on and we must establish a right to protect Atlantic salmon. As Wilfred Carter said at that meeting:


Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, before the noble Duke speaks, I should explain that an error was made on the speakers' list. Both the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, and the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, should have been allocated 10 minutes each.

7.38 p.m.

The Duke of Montrose: My Lords, I start by thanking my noble friend Lord Forsyth for introducing this telling and essential debate. It is with some trepidation that I attempt to wind up from these Benches, in the face of so much expertise from around the House.

If nothing else today, we are correcting an omission. The noble Lord, Lord Nickson, has already pointed out that the Floor of this House has not seen a debate on major salmon and fresh water issues since he presented his report of the Scottish salmon fisheries taskforce, on 30th July 1997. In the meantime, the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries Review Group's

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Warren report was brought out in March 2000. The Government's response came out in February 2001. Neither has been the subject of anything more than a few preliminary questions by persistent fishermen such as the noble Lord, Lord Moran.

When we get back to the old question of man's impact on nature, it is always interesting to see, as my noble friend Lord Lindsay said, how the same old arguments repeat themselves—and, if I am not much mistaken, by many of the same characters who appeared in the debate in 1997.

I must declare an interest as owner of part of a salmon fishery in Scotland. However, unlike the noble and learned Lord, Lord Cameron, my knowledge does not go back to the Hunter reports.

The publication in 1997 of the Nickson report and the debate that followed it provide a useful benchmark. Given the nature of salmon, the report had to take into account the whole fishery of the British Isles. It is interesting to assess what progress has been made since the report's conclusions were drawn.

On the questions surrounding land management, the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, mentioned that there are now polices that discourage riparian grazing and allow the establishment of buffer zones along rivers. Much work has also taken place in forestry management to avoid the release of silt from new drainage and to remove conifers from around river margins, where they can contribute to acidification.

On pollution, we now have much stronger regulation of both point source pollution and diffuse source pollution, such as is being introduced under the nitrate vulnerable zone legislation. This factor may contribute to an improvement in the rivers of Wales mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas.

On water extraction from rivers and other sources, we are to see, for the first time, comprehensive centralised control on extraction following the passage of the Water Bill which is presently before this House. Also to come is the implementation of the EU Water Framework Directive, which, despite the fact that water is still a government-controlled industry in Scotland, has already been introduced in Scotland by primary legislation.

Perhaps I may express one worry in that regard. At the moment, there appears to be a further threat to capital investment in many west coast Scottish rivers—mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Nickson. But in this case it is due to the uncertainty introduced through the Scottish land Bill and the crofting community's right to buy. I know that this is not an issue for the Minister in this House, but it underlines the fact that, if we value salmon fishing, adequate long-term finance is required. As the noble Lord, Lord Nickson, emphasised, we ignore that point at our peril.

One of the recommendations of the Warren review was that there should be an accelerated procedure in emergencies for making by-laws. In their response, the

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Government promised to give that further consideration. Will the Minister tell the House what progress has been made?

On the question of primary legislation, mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Moran, and the noble Baroness, Lady Golding, perhaps I may remind the Minister that the Nickson report recommended in 1997 that a Bill to consolidate salmon fisheries legislation should be presented to Parliament as soon as possible. The matter was raised again in the Warren review. Even in a Written Answer in another place on 16th December 2002, the Minister stated the Government's intention to introduce new proposals for salmon and freshwater fisheries to implement the agreed changes. Will the Minister give the House an insight into when we are likely to see a White Paper or some indication of what the Government propose?

I must pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Monro for his work over the years on drift netting and on so many other aspects of fishing. As many speakers have said, drift netting remains a major bone of contention. It has been the subject of a campaign for 40 years.

The UK has four areas in which drift netting has taken place. It is now banned in Scotland—and has been since 1962—and the ban has been extended to trawls and gill nets. Northern Ireland is now subject to a buy-out programme which, according to a report in the Belfast Telegraph last November, had achieved a 60 per cent buy-out for a cost of £2 million in compensation, with the hope that it will finally reach 80 per cent.

My noble friend Lord Forsyth and the noble Lord, Lord Nickson, gave an up-to-date picture of the situation in the North East of England. In their response to the Warren review, the Government said that they would introduce a power to,


    "restrict the numbers of net licences for economic and social reasons",

but,


    "it should not be used to deprive netsmen solely and mainly dependent on fishing for their livelihood".

In conjunction with what the noble Lord, Lord Nickson, has told us, implementation has been held up for want of other funding, with considerable blame being directed, even in this House, at the Scottish Executive. I ask the Minister: how many licences have been surrendered in that fishery since the report in 2000, and is the ultimate target of the Environment Agency in this area total closure or a reduction to 17, as was mentioned by one of my noble friends earlier; and is that considered adequate?

The biggest issue, as so many speakers have said, remains the west coast Irish drift net fishermen. The efforts of the Irish Government to reduce catches have so far resulted in a reduction of only 8 per cent. This and other frustrations are probably behind the effort that is being made to apply the EU habitats directive, where Atlantic salmon is listed in Annex 2, relating to the conservation of species, to this fishery.

When the directive was considered at the time of the Nickson report, it was thought to apply only while salmon were in fresh water. Do the Government have

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any evidence that this can now be used in the marine situation? As my noble friend Lord Monro so ably put it, can they see their way to taking this issue forward?

The majority of speakers have highlighted another area where considerable damage is being done by Russian pelagic fishing-boats and the by-catch which has to be thrown away. It may help the noble Baroness, Lady Golding, if I tell her that the Scottish Executive has taken this matter up with the Russian Federation. Do the Government have any plans to assist in solving this problem? It is an area where the UK Government could exert some influence.

I look forward to hearing the Minister's reply to what has been at times a sharp and incisive debate.

7.46 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Whitty): My Lords, if the noble Duke felt trepidation in replying to the debate, I must say that I do.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth of Drumlean, for raising this subject for debate. Both the preparation and the debate itself have certainly informed me. Frankly, until that point my knowledge of salmon fishing was virtually nil. I have never fished, and am never likely to—I have neither the patience nor the masochism! However, I recognise that it does, in practice, give a large number of people an enormous amount of enjoyment, as it does to many noble Lords who are present. It is also the case that I have no direct responsibility for fisheries. Tributes have rightly been paid to Elliot Morley, who has done much in this field over recent years, as did many of his predecessors.

I have an additional problem, in that I shall not be tempted by the noble Lord, Lord Monro—or even by my noble friend Lord Sewel—to override the devolved powers of the Scottish Executive and shall have to disappoint him if he expects me to do so.

On the other hand, in my ramblings in England, Scotland and Ireland, I have seen the salmon run, and leap, in both natural and artificial surroundings. It is a magnificent creature. It would undoubtedly be a tragedy for us all if this fish disappeared. The figures for the long-run decline indicate that we are faced with a serious problem. I can assure noble Lords that Her Majesty's Government are determined to do something about that where they can.

This is a complex issue. As my noble friend Lord Sewel said—as did the noble Lord, Lord Livsey—there are at least 27 causes for the decline in the numbers of salmon. Some of the culprits have been identified in the debate. I did not list all 27, but I noted: fish farms; nets; sand eels; seals; the Irish; and cormorants. There are quite a lot of factors involved.

Some other factors, which are not clear culprits—such as climate change and the total management of estuaries—are at least as important as these identifiable causes. That is one of the reasons why it is not all doom and gloom. Salmon fisheries in some of our rivers have improved significantly, as the noble Lord,

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Lord Thomas, indicated. While his noble friend Lord Livsey bemoans the situation on the Wye, there are other Welsh rivers which have improved. Indeed, it has recently been announced that on the Tweed—mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, in his opening remarks—rod catches for 2002 were the highest for a decade. Stocks are also increasing on many other rivers. I understand that 20 per cent of last year's rod catch in England and Wales came from rivers that did not support salmon fisheries 40 years ago. So there is hope when we manage our resources effectively. Salmon have even passed by this Chamber, which would certainly not have been possible 40 years ago.

Nevertheless, this is an extremely serious problem and a number of measures are needed to deal with it. In 1998, ICES advised that the Atlantic salmon were in decline throughout their range and that extreme caution should be exercised in their management. Consequently, in England and Wales, the Environment Agency has advertised a package of measures to help conserve salmon stocks, particularly spring run fish. These so-called "national salmon by-laws" were confirmed by Ministers and came into effect in April 1999. The measures include delaying the start of the salmon netting season, restricting the use of certain baits and methods and the mandatory release of all salmon caught by rod and line before 15th June—which happens to be my birthday—each year.

Further local restrictions have been introduced where necessary and the Environment Agency is to carry out a review of the effectiveness of these national measures. So a lot has been done internally in terms of river management. Additionally, as the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, and the noble Duke said, various other measures to restrict the pollution of our rivers will help.

More widely, there are considerable problems with drift nets to which various noble Lords referred, particularly in relation to the drift net fisheries on the north-east coast and especially as they affect fish returning to Scottish waters. The UK Government have long acknowledged those problems. I shall return to the point.

However, the Government's overall approach to salmon fisheries has been very much informed by the Warren report, to which my noble friend Lady Golding and others referred. It recommended that the Government should provide pump-priming funding to launch compensation arrangements to accelerate the voluntary phase-out of fisheries such as those in the North East. The recommendation was accepted and the Government are providing substantial funds for the objective. The noble Lord, Lord Nickson, updated us on the rather difficult negotiations. I tell the noble Duke that the fishery is subject to measures that are designed eventually to reduce the number of netsmen to zero. Since the phase-out began in 1992 it has been reduced from 142 to 69.

The discussions on the voluntary buy-out are, as I said, continuing. The issue of further funding is doubtless due to be considered by others in the context of the latest information which we received today. I

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shall not comment further on the responsibilities or otherwise of the Scottish Executive in these matters, but no doubt they will take note of your Lordships' debate and of developments.

The Irish are the other group affected by the target. Of course many other salmon net fisheries operate in UK waters, including those of the Russians, but it is widely accepted that the Irish drift net fishery takes salmon from English and Welsh as well as Irish rivers. The issue is therefore of concern to the Irish and the British Governments. The British Government have been in discussions with the Irish, and it is true that the Irish experts largely agree with us. However, the politics of fisheries in Ireland has hitherto prevented the Irish Government from taking effective measures. Nevertheless, we continue to approach them in that respect. As for the other governments, including the Russian Government, I shall have to write to the noble Duke. I am not aware of the precise situation in relation to Russia.

As I said, the framework of our policy on the management of salmon and fresh water fisheries was set by the Warren report—which made almost 200 recommendations, all but five of which the Government fully or largely accepted. Many of the recommendations have been taken forward by the Environment Agency and the relevant government departments. Although it recommends action for application in England and Wales, the recommendations also apply elsewhere. Among the many issues which the review report highlighted was the need to continue and improve communication and collaboration between governments and the industry on fisheries management.

The majority of the recommendations can be and are being carried through without primary legislation. I appreciate that a number of noble Lords have expressed disappointment that we have not yet had a salmon and fresh waters fisheries Bill to introduce some of these measures. Discussions on the programme to be announced in the Queen's Speech are never revealed in advance, but I can assure your Lordships that DEFRA remains committed to such legislation.

As for the Scottish position, a similar review carried out by the noble Lord, Lord Nickson, has meant that most of the recommendations have been implemented. Implementation of some of the measures in Scotland has not required primary legislation, but others will not be implemented without it.

It is clear that many of the more complex problems cannot be resolved locally, nationally or by national legislation but demand a collective awareness and agreement at a wider, international level. That is where NASCO—the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organisation—has a vital role to play. Although its only regulatory role is to establish quotas for salmon fisheries off Greenland and the Faroe Islands, it is also a very important source of co-ordination for international research and provides a very useful forum for discussion of matters such as the effects of fish farming and the potential impact of genetically modified organisms.

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The noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, raised particular concerns about the proposed salmon farm on the River Ettrick. Although I recognise the significance of that case, I would, even in an English planning decision, be prevented by my lawyers from commenting. I am also subject to a constitutional bar on commenting on matters in the planning system in Scotland. However, I think that the tone of this debate recognises that the Ettrick situation could have implications for salmon fisheries which need to be taken into account.

Generally, it is clear that fish farming—or aquaculture—has many advantages, not least the relatively cheap supply of fish to consumers in the United Kingdom and abroad. We are also aware of some of the downsides of aquaculture. It is important to recognise that the decline of the North Atlantic salmon began long before the start of significant levels of fish farming in this country. Fish farming therefore cannot be recognised as the main or initial cause of the salmon decline. Indeed, fish farming—albeit not sea fish farming—has been a well-established feature of the British landscape for many years. However, the Government recognise the concerns. There is a significant problem with escapes—400,000 is the usually accepted figure—on which, to minimise them, sea fish farmers need proper advice. The prevalence of sea lice and other fish parasites and diseases also cause significant problems particularly for young salmon.

It is necessary to maintain a balance between the advantages of aquaculture and fish farming and the need, as the noble Earl, Lord Lindsay, said, to improve it. I understand that the Scottish Executive has safeguards in place to protect the marine environment and that they are constantly revising them.

There are other threats to salmon. My noble friend Lady Golding mentioned the parasite, whose Latin name I shall not attempt to pronounce. I shall simply refer to it as GS. That parasite originated in the Baltic and spread to Norway, where it wiped out salmon stocks in more than 20 rivers. It has also been found on the Continent. It is already a notifiable disease here but would be a serious problem were it to break out here. We need to ensure that precautions are taken. There is a need for the public, and especially those involved in recreational fishing both here and abroad, to recognise the problem.

Although GS cannot survive in seawater, it can survive for several days in damp freshwater conditions. Therefore, it could be brought here in plastic bags, fishing equipment and so on. It is important that those who engage in recreational fishing are aware of that. In April last year DEFRA and SEERAD published a code of practice to raise awareness of that problem and to avoid the introduction of GS to Great Britain. The code gives detailed information about the activities that could potentially result in the introduction of that parasite. We expect soon to issue a new leaflet in the series, Keep Fish Diseases Out which gives more guidance on preventive measures. We intend to give the leaflet wide publicity.

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Another threat mentioned by my noble friend Lord Mason and, in some detail, by the noble Lord, Lord Moran, was that of genetically modified salmon. There is considerable concern about that matter. Research activity has been carried out in the United States. No genetically modified salmon is farmed in the UK and any application to do so would have to go through a very extensive and rigorous review process. There is no sign of that even beginning to happen. I have corresponded with the noble Lord, Lord Moran, on the situation in the United States in that regard. The latest situation is that the applications to farm such salmon in the United States have not been processed. Therefore, the potential problem is no greater than it was a few months ago.

As regards marine fish farming in Scotland, I understand that legislation in Scotland now allows Scottish Ministers to make orders enabling planning authorities to discharge planning functions in relation to marine fish farming developments up to the three mile limit. That is an important extension of their powers.

The Government are providing some £9.8 million grant-in-aid in England and Wales to help the Environment Agency's fisheries function achieve its key aims and objectives.

As my noble friend Lady Golding said, the creation of DEFRA brought within the ambit of one government department responsibility for most of the key functions affecting freshwater fisheries, including water quality, agriculture and other matters which affect the management of fisheries and of rivers. That is an important development. We are still in the process of bringing that together.

I probably have time to discuss one or two other threats to salmon mentioned by a number of noble Lords. The noble Lord, Lord Monro, and others mentioned birds that predate on fish, in particular cormorants. The noble Lord, Lord Kimball, also mentioned that matter. We are aware that cormorants have extended their range and now overwinter and feed at many inland water sites. But although the population has increased, the indications are that it is now stabilising. But it can nevertheless have a very serious localised effect. It may be helpful to explain the legal position on licensing of ways to deal with such predators.

Fishery managers may apply for licences under the provisions of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 to shoot piscivorous birds on a local basis and for a limited period of time. I stress that where licences are issued, this is done primarily to aid scaring rather than culling and to provide point defence for fish at particular locations and during vulnerable times in their life history. These licences are not permanent but are available in certain circumstances.

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I say to the noble Lord, Lord Kimball, that angling is a sport that is clearly enjoyed not only by a large number of your Lordships but also by many millions of citizens. I regret in a sense that the matter has been raised again but I understand why it has been. I reiterate Her Majesty's Government's support for angling and for the wider issues of freshwater fishery management. I make it absolutely clear that we have no intention whatever of introducing legislation to restrict or ban angling. I hope that your Lordships, particularly those who have spoken in the debate, enjoy many years of fishing, in particular fishing for salmon. I once again thank the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, for initiating the debate and thank other noble Lords who participated in it. I thank them for the information they provided.

8.6 p.m.

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: My Lords, I confess that when I tabled the Motion and was successful in the ballot I panicked because I wondered whether anyone would speak on the subject. I could not have dreamt that there would be such an array of talent, knowledge and expertise. Indeed, I am embarrassed that so many of the contributions, to which I cannot refer individually, came from noble Lords who have made it their life's work to try to do something about the decline of salmon stocks.

I sympathise with the Minister's plight in responding to the debate but I hope that he will take away three points from it. First, there is consensus across this House in all parties and on the Cross Benches on the need for action. Secondly, there is frustration at the inability to move forward on legislation in England and Wales following the work that was carried out. The noble Baroness, Lady Golding, made a tremendous plea for action in that respect, to which I am sure the Minister will feel able to respond.

Thirdly, I refer to the urgency of action on drift netting. I appreciate the Minister's difficulty in respect of devolution. But devolution was never intended to prevent our acting on an issue which affects the whole of the United Kingdom. That message has come out loud and clear. Therefore, I hope that the Minister will discuss that matter with his colleagues, reflect on his new-found knowledge and recognise that that is an urgent and important matter.

The Minister said that he did not have the patience to be a fisherman. However, he is a Minister.

If he listens to the speeches he will realise that the patience of fishermen has run out. He as a Minister can do his country, and indeed the international community, a singular service if he focuses on the arguments put forward tonight. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

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Code of Practice on Time Off for Trade Union Duties and Activities 2003

8.8 p.m.

Lord Davies of Oldham rose to move, That the draft code of practice laid before the House on 10th February be approved [15th Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the code was first introduced in 1978. It has been revised several times since then to reflect changes to trade union law and to employment practices more generally. ACAS has produced this latest version of the code in response to the Employment Act 2002. Section 43 of that Act provides rights to union learning representatives—ULRs—to "reasonable" time off with pay to carry out their functions and to undergo training. The Act also gives the right to "reasonable" time off without pay to union members wishing to access the services of ULRs.

Union learning representatives are lay union representatives. Their main function is to advise union members about their training and educational and developmental needs. They are particularly effective at raising interest in training and development, especially among the lowest skilled workers and those with literacy and numeracy problems.

Unions have had a long-standing interest in training matters, but ULRs are a new phenomenon. Just six years ago, there were very few of them indeed. Now, I am glad to say, their numbers have grown to more than 4,500.

The Act specifies that either ACAS or the Secretary of State may produce a code containing practical guidance in two areas: first, the time off entitlements to ULRs and, secondly, what training should be sufficient for ULRs to begin carrying out their functions. In the event, the Government thought that it was more appropriate for ACAS, with its wealth of employment relations experience, to produce the code. ACAS issued an initial draft last year for consultation. Fifty responses were received, the majority of which were generally supportive.

The bulk of the draft code before us incorporates guidance contained in the existing code. Much of the wording is therefore unaltered. However, some minor changes were made to update the text. For example, paragraph 11 states that unions and employers might wish to negotiate about "family friendly policies". Another small change at paragraph 16 relates to the entitlement of lay representatives to time off to accompany workers to disciplinary and grievance hearings. That right was introduced in the Employment Relations Act 1999 and came into effect in September 2000.

As I said earlier, the most significant changes to the code concern the addition of guidance about ULRs. Paragraphs 13 and 14 cover their time off entitlements. Those paragraphs, together with Section 4 of the code, give guidance on what factors or circumstances should be taken into account when assessing whether time off for ULRs would be "reasonable".

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The second strand of the code's guidance relates to the application of the "training condition". The Act requires ULRs to be sufficiently trained to carry out their duties either at the time they begin functioning as a ULR or within six months of that date. That latter time limit provides for individuals to receive paid time off to receive the initial ULR training.

The code of practice gives guidance at paragraphs 22 to 26 on what may constitute "sufficient training" in practice. Useful examples are given on how employees could demonstrate that they have received sufficient training. They include attendance at a training course or the shadowing of an experienced ULR. Relevant previous experience may also help to demonstrate that that condition is met.

We did not want the training condition to be restrictive or narrow. That is why we did not want it to be tied to any specific qualification. People learn in different ways. Formal learning leading to a qualification suits some people but not others.

Noble Lords may be aware that the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments made a number of observations on the code. Those observations relate to Section 199(3) of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992, which provides that the code must contain guidance on time off for trade union activities that are connected with industrial action.

The committee recognised that the code's wording is sufficient to meet the requirements of Section 199(3). However, it reported that the code did not specifically refer to those parts of the text that fulfil the requirement under that section. The committee considered that an explicit cross-reference to Section 199(3) would make matters clearer. We are grateful to the committee for its views, which we take extremely seriously. The code is designed to provide practical guidance to trade unionists, employers and individuals when they apply the ULR entitlements at the workplace. It is therefore written in a style which is accessible to the practitioner audience. The absence of a cross-reference does not significantly weaken the purpose of the code. However, the Government will certainly draw the committee's observations to the attention of ACAS and invite it to give them due consideration when the code is next revised.

ACAS has drawn on its rich pool of knowledge of employment regulations to revise the code. The text is based heavily on the existing code, which has worked very well and given helpful advice to many thousands of practitioners. I am confident that the latest version will maintain that excellent record and that it will prove invaluable guidance to all concerned. Therefore, I strongly commend the code to the House for approval.

Moved, That the draft code of practice laid before the House on 10th February be approved [15th Report from the Joint Committee].—(Lord Davies of Oldham.)

8.15 p.m.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, the House will be grateful to the Minister for explaining the code. It

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received a fairly full discussion in another place and a number of questions arose from that. I want to reinforce one or two of those matters and add one or two myself.

First, I want to refer to a point which I do not believe was made in another place. The noble Lord referred to there having been 50 responses. It seems to me that, when one thinks of the number of employers, that level of response is fairly pathetic, especially if the CBI, which is responsible for companies employing very large numbers of people across the country, is counted as one of the 50. By and large, the CBI does represent larger companies. Often when burdens are placed on industry, the larger companies are far better able than medium and small-sized companies to meet the costs involved. I do not know whether, in responding to the debate, the noble Lord will be able to say what the department thinks of the level of response. On the basis of 50 responses, I believe it is difficult to determine how the code was received by employers.

Next, I turn to the report of the Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation. I refer to the first column of the report—col. 3—where the committee discusses the number of ULRs. My understanding is that the number will rise substantially to 22,000 union learning representatives. I quote from the report:


    "We believe that with the new statutory rights there could be more than 22,000 ULRs in place by 2010 supporting as many as 250,000 workers".—[Official Report, Commons Sixth Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation, 2/4/03; col. 3.]

That is one ULR per 11 workers. Is that really what the noble Lord is advocating? What would the cost of that be to industry and what is the impact assessment to employers expected to be in 2010, particularly for medium-sized and smaller employers? That seems to me to be an enormously high ratio.

On the general point of education, I do not want to say anything that would argue against the importance of people continuing to improve their skills. Whatever the level of skills, there should always be an opportunity to go to the next level. But the predominant talk about the kind of skills addressed by the ULRs is that they are mainly basic skills. That predominantly forms the work of ULRs. If one looks across the piece in education, there are further education colleges, a university for industry, learndirect and learning and skills councils, not to mention the fact that the skills mostly referred to are basic skills, which frankly should have been mastered when the young people were at school.

Therefore, one wonders why there needs to be another complete layer of people who are concerned with improving skills in the workplace. Of course, there is a responsibility on employers, and one recognises that. But the Adult Literacy Basic Skills Unit—I believe that it has a new name these days—also deals with adult literacy and numeracy and basic skills. I wonder whether the noble Lord is able to comment on that.

On reading partly the code and partly the report of the debate in another place, I found it difficult to know exactly who these people are and what they are. What

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is their job description? Do they have a full-time job description? Does the work form part of their normal work? Are they normal employees of companies who take on the work as an extra duty? If they do, what is the minimum qualification required to undertake the whole business of addressing the education and skills needs of other employees? It seems to me that, if they are in that position, they should be fairly skilled themselves, but I am not sure whether they need a minimum level of qualification.

The other point is that peppered throughout the code is the word "reasonable". In another place the Minister was not able to throw much light on what that meant. It seemed that if a challenge was made it would presumably be left to tribunals to determine what was reasonable. But I believe that it is incumbent on someone to have a view about what would be a reasonable action on the part of employers, what would be unreasonable, and whether "reasonable" takes into account the size of a company, its ability to meet the training needs of its workforce and the inability of some very small firms to do so. I believe that more than 90 per cent of companies in this country employ fewer than 50 employees. So you are talking about large numbers of companies with small numbers of employees.

Another question for the Minister is on the compulsory nature of the code. Why can we not leave it to the good will of the employers, co-operating with the unions? The Minister in another place spoke of the high level of co-operation between unions and employers. If that is the case, why do they need a compulsory code? A compulsory code smacks of "You must do this or else", and the "or else" is judged by the standard of reasonableness. As we do not know what "reasonableness" means, it seems to be a difficult proposition for employers.

My final point is on burdens. Whenever we receive a code or a regulation or a statutory instrument from the Government that will have an impact on employers—usually the impact is one of cost and time but it is taken in isolation. One considers this to be a laudable activity; it concerns improving the skills of the workforce, with which it is hard to argue. But putting this code alongside all the other regulations on employers means that for many it will add up to a burden that they simply cannot absorb. If this is a compulsory activity for employers, they will have no choice. They either comply or they go to court, or, worse, they go out of business altogether. We know that that has been the case and that some have gone out of business simply because of the weight of regulation.

The code means time off for the union learning representatives, for union members and for their representatives and it means time off for part-timers for trade union activities. It will also increase the burden on business, so it would be helpful if the Minister could let the House know the cost of the so-called predicted 22,000 ULRs—I notice that there could be more than 22,000—who will serve only 250,000 workers, a fraction of the workers in this country. What will be the impact on the employers

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who will have to meet their proportion of the costs, and what will it mean for a workforce, where a substitute workforce will be required to cover for those taking time off? If we are to pass a code of practice like this in Parliament, we owe employers and employees an explanation.


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