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Baroness Hollis of Heigham: Yes, my Lords. On the first part of the supplementary question, about 44 per cent of young lone parents who come forward and who come on to the New Deal have children under the age of five. We are responding to that pressure.
The noble Lord is right as regards the second part of the question. I was happy to be present at the launch of the National Parenting Institute yesterday. Research shows that one in two people thinks Britain does not encourage parenting skills. One in three parents would not know where to go for help with family problems. That is why we are launching the National Parenting Institute and following the path suggested by the noble Lord.
Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, what direct evidence do the Government have for their claim that the New Deal is responsible for helping lone parents to work rather than the strong economy inherited from the previous Conservative administration?
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, the lone parents on the New Deal tell us that the New Deal has turned their life around. Of those who come for interview, about 85 to 90 per cent join the programme. One quarter of those have already gone into unsubsidised jobs; others are on training programmes. New lone parents tell us that the New Deal matches their needs. I suggest to the noble Lord that his question is a bit rich, coming from a party which would apparently require lone parents, with children from the age of 11, to go into work or lose benefit, a party opposed to the New Deal, which offers training
Lord Hylton: My Lords, will the Minister take note of a scheme pioneered by voluntary bodies within the City of Westminster? Through it, unsupported mothers can bring their children to a creche while they learn childcare skills which will make them employable. Could that scheme be multiplied throughout the country?
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, any lone parent who comes into the New Deal not only has a personal adviser but access to training up to NVQ1 and NVQ2. NVQ2 is approximately equivalent to A-level. While they are in the New Deal and receive training across local government they are entitled to free child care and access to those courses. Therefore, the City of Westminster scheme is broadly replicated across the country.
The Minister for Science, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Sainsbury of Turville): My Lords, comments made by the Prime Minister at the CBI conference were in respect of the amendments to the regulations laid before Parliament on 19th October. The amendments address the requirement to keep records for workers who have opted out of the working time limit and extend the scope of the unmeasured working time exemption. The amendments have been approved by both Houses of Parliament and will come into force the day after they have been affirmed by the Secretary of State. At present there are no plans for a review or for any other changes to the Working Time Regulations.
Baroness Turner of Camden: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that response. Is my noble friend aware that many unions, including my own (the MSF)--I hereby declare an interest--believe that the Government's amendments weaken any impact that the regulatory authorities might have and place workers under pressure to volunteer for work, even where the employer has not sought prior agreement to exceed the 48-hour limit? Is my noble friend also aware that it is well within the powers of the Commission to insist on the amendment to the regulations in line with its policy?
Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, I do not believe that these two amendments in any way weaken the essential thrust of the legislation. The legislation gives workers clear rights and it is up to them to take advantage of them. The amendments apply only to those who freely work more hours than their employers require of them. Anyone can change his mind at any time and opt back into the directive. I do not believe that this weakens the legislation in any way.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, is the Minister aware that it will come as a great surprise to people at the CBI conference who heard the Prime Minister speak that his speech about far too many regulations referred only to the rather paltry amendment which was being taken through the House at the time? Does the Minister agree that the audience at the CBI conference was rather led up the garden path by the Prime Minister who seemed to be making a much more robust attack on over-regulation than the picture which the noble Lord now attempts to paint?
Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, it was quite clear that on that occasion the Prime Minister was referring to these amendments. Therefore, it is up to the members of the CBI to judge his remarks in that context.
Lord Razzall: My Lords, does the Minister accept that, although the many changes made continuously to the panoply of fairness-at-work regulations may well be desirable, there is a significant problem particularly for small and medium-sized enterprises in knowing exactly the current state of regulation? What steps will the Government take in that regard?
Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, it was part of the regulations that statutory guidance would be given following their introduction. We shall produce a new version of the booklet. The booklet is still factually correct, but in the light of comments that we have received we believe that we can make a better job of it.
Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, the Government have already taken action to support the industry by forming the Oil and Gas Task Force which carried out an unparalleled consultation exercise involving all parts of the industry, union and government, and reported recently. Already many recommendations have been implemented, including capital gains rollover relief on asset transfers. All of this is aimed at making the United Kingdom
The Earl of Caithness: My Lords, given that many of us recall the fuss made by the Labour Party in opposition when the smelter at Invergordon was closed, demanding that the Conservative government take their responsibilities seriously--as they did--will the present Government take their responsibilities seriously in relation to what are far greater job losses and do more than simply set up a task force? The Government are now presiding over the biggest ever clearance of workers in the Highlands.
Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, it should be understood that there is more involved than the setting up of a task force. The task force has worked very closely with the industry and has produced a whole series of recommendations. Those recommendations include work on supply chain management, which may lead to savings of as much as £1 billion a year; help in improving exports; a new website to promote licensed trading; and a change to the tax regime. Those are very substantial measures which go to the heart of the problem; namely, that if this industry is to maintain its current level of operation it must do two things--deliver cost-effective facilities for smaller fields and look at overseas markets and build on its success in areas like exports. Last year it exported nearly 30 per cent of its output.
Lord Hardy of Wath: My Lords, while recognising that the task force can be extremely helpful, does my noble friend consider that the increase in oil prices in recent months may well stimulate the level of extraction that is required if the fields are to be properly harvested? Does my noble friend believe that the increase in prices together with the task force may lead the oil companies to reconsider their investment policies?
Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, obviously lower oil prices had a very adverse effect on investment plans. It is greatly to be hoped that with increased oil prices we shall see a return of confidence in the industry. It will take time for that confidence to return, but we hope that together with the oil price the measures we have taken will help.
Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that these yards have served well both the offshore industry and Scotland? I was the Secretary of State who in the early 1970s assisted in their creation by enabling accelerated planning permission to be given. That meant that the Forties field, the first in the British sector, was not delayed as might otherwise have been the case. Since then there have been lean periods with few orders but governments have been able to help. Will the present Government make a special effort now?
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