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Lord Hives: My Lords, I should like to thank the Minister for allowing me the opportunity to speak in this debate. As one of the younger members of this House, it is a great privilege to be able to make my maiden speech--probably the last by an hereditary Peer--before I leave this place, where both my grandfather, who received the title for the work of Rolls-Royce during the Second World War, and my uncle, who was rewarded with a CBE for his services in this House, have sat before me.
The Working Time Regulations have been in place for just one year and, although the sentiment of setting a reasonable working week and holiday entitlement is important, it must be balanced against the need for the
I hope that with the introduction of this updated statutory instrument the Government will take the opportunity to provide clearer guidance for the operation of these regulations and the clearest lead in their implementation in smaller businesses, so that the spirit of improving business efficiency as well as improvement in health and safety for greater worker satisfaction can be met. I hope that the Minister will bear those issues in mind in regard to the draft guidance for business.
Earl Attlee: My Lords, I have listened with interest to the excellent maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Hives. The noble Lord has a similar background to my own. I am a hands-on technical man and began my time in this House sitting on the Cross-Benches. The noble Lord is an engineer. By that, I expect he means a professional engineer, which I cannot claim to be. He has wisely chosen to sit on the Cross-Benches, where much wisdom and guidance are to be found.
Where we have fallen down in the UK is that we have not properly recognised or rewarded our engineers. It is a problem that lies within the Minister's portfolio. I am sure that this country would be in an even better state if we did so. In normal circumstances, I should say that we look forward to further contributions from the noble Lord, drawing on his expertise in the engineering industry. Unfortunately, that will not be possible. When we look across to the Cross-Benches, we see four relatively young Peers. Sadly, only two of them will be able to sit in this House next week. Whether that is modernisation or improvement I shall leave to your Lordships' judgment.
My noble friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish spoke with his usual skill. He identified genuine difficulties with the Working Time Directive, particularly in regard to the regulation that is before the House. I shall be more specific as to my concerns. Before doing so, perhaps I may remind the House that I currently command a TA REME company and the issues that I shall raise directly affect my unit. However, these issues affect all TA units, and I should surely have been briefed and should be speaking on them even if I were no longer serving in the TA.
I first raised this matter by means of a Starred Question on 18th October. The Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, admitted that the problem has not yet been solved. The Working Time Directive will affect the regular Armed Forces, but perhaps not too adversely. Operations and training are excluded and other routine work and administration are
The situation is rather different for the TA and other reserve forces. As shorthand for the volunteer reserve forces I shall merely use the term "TA". My understanding is that the DTI has told the MoD that the Working Time Directive will apply to the TA. The difficulty is that a TA volunteer may already work, say, 40 hours a week for his civilian employer. His TA duties may easily take him over 48 hours per week.
The Minister may pray in aid the regulation--I believe it is Regulation 18--that exempts training and operations from the WTD calculations. However, with the TA it is extremely difficult to differentiate between training, operations and administration. That is one minor reason why the Reserve Forces Act 1996 was so desirable. Certainly when planning TA activities it would be highly undesirable to have carefully to consider the nature of the activity and its impact on the WTD.
The Minister may remind the House that the Armed Forces do not have to keep records. The problem is that if the WTD is to affect TA personnel, some records will have to be kept, and to some extent they will to have to be made available to the employer. That is obviously undesirable. It is true that employers might possibly be able to comply with their own WTD obligations by means of amendments to their payroll IT system, if they can understand the regulations. No doubt the IT companies will offer software upgrades at some cost. However, they are unlikely easily to accommodate TA training as data input. That could make the TA volunteer very unpopular with his civilian employer's management.
The problems with implementing the WTD are very serious for the TA, and there is clearly not much "joined up" government as regards the relationship between the DTI and the MoD. The solution currently proposed to the problem that I have described is for the TA volunteer to opt out of his employer's WTD arrangements. I must tell your Lordships that that is a completely unworkable arrangement.
First, many TA volunteers cannot afford to tell their employers that they are in the TA. That can often be because TA service could conflict with the ethos of their employer or because the volunteer's motivation might be misunderstood by his civilian colleagues.
Secondly, junior members of the TA generally communicate with their employers at a very low level, typically their immediate superior who may only be a junior supervisor. In addition, the public now has very little understanding of military matters and this is reflected in another place. A junior supervisor may not be aware that his company chairman has enthusiastically signed up with the TA National Employers Liaison Committee. Thus, the junior supervisor may regard the TA volunteer as a nuisance and so discriminate against the TA.
Finally, Ministers promoting the WTD have said that most employers will have no difficulty in accommodating the WTD. I have just touched on how they might achieve that with IT systems. That being the case, many responsible employers may develop a policy of not allowing any of their employees to opt out of the WTD. Can the Minister say what will happen to the TA soldier who finds he cannot opt out of his employer's WTD for the reasons that I have suggested? Can the Minister say whether the WTD should already have been implemented in respect of the TA according to the current regulations? In other words, is the TA being operated illegally or outside the spirit of the law?
Lord Lea of Crondall: My Lords, we heard a wide-ranging attack on the principle of the Working Time Regulations from the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish. I asked him whether the position was that any Conservative government would not introduce the regulations to implement the directive. He said that he would reply later in his speech, but I did not hear that reply. The answer is clear: any government in Britain, if they did not want to tear up and renege on the Single European Act, would have introduced these regulations. It would be nice if occasionally we could have something agreed on the matter.
Things have moved a long way since the debates of a couple of years ago about the Social Chapter. But if this had been done under the Social Chapter, it would have been preferable because the social partners would have been able, as we have done on such matters as fixed-term contracts and maternity leave, to have a much broader-based framework. There could have been scope for more flexibility in implementation.
I should like to make a point about health and safety, as the matter is being discussed as a question of fundamentals. All surveys of popular workplace opinion at the moment show that working time and stress levels are at the top of most workplace agenda--not pay or any of the other matters that used to be at the top. Working time and stress are an important matter in industry and the public services at present. This measure will be widely popular. No doubt it will take a little time to settle down, but on 23rd November, when the four weeks' holiday comes in, that will be the first time many millions of workers in the country will have had four weeks' holiday, from construction sites through to many areas of retail business and so on. It will be widely popular. I do not want to make a political speech like that of the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, but time will tell who reflects the popular mood in the country on the matter.
In conclusion, although there have been difficulties in implementation to get us where we are, they were almost entirely due to the prevarication and legal challenge made by the previous government to the European Court of Justice. It has been a difficult process of consultation and I hope that noble Lords can appreciate that unless we tear up the Single European Act and leave Europe altogether, this is the road down which we are going, and we want to make a success of it.
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