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Mr. Sutcliffe: I know.

Mr. Doran: I know that the Minister knows, because I have told him often enough. But I want to put on record the fact that virtually all onshore employment legislation applies offshore, but that for some reason the existing TUPE regulations do not. That creates major

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difficulties. Will the Minister, in introducing the relevant legislation, recognise that the offshore oil and gas industry needs consistency, and that it needs such legislation to be implemented?

2.42 pm

Virginia Bottomley (South-West Surrey) (Con): I appreciate the opportunity to speak in this debate, and I want to begin by commenting on what the hon. Member for Aberdeen, Central (Mr. Doran) has just said about the nature of the relationship between the previous Conservative Government and the trade union movement. I understand that selective or distorted memory is par for the course in this place, but in my time in government I remember having a great many meetings with the health unions in my offices and elsewhere. Indeed, I remember going to the Trades Union Congress with he with whom I live closely, my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing, West (Peter Bottomley), the former MP for Eltham. That he chose to meet the TUC representatives in their offices, rather than their coming to visit him—as is usually the wont with Ministers—caused some consternation among his civil service staff.

Mr. Doran: I accept the point that the right hon. Lady is making in respect of the hon. Member for Worthing, West (Peter Bottomley). I know that he is a long-standing member of the Transport and General Workers Union; indeed, he is the only Tory Member who is a member of the union. However, my point concerned not individual unions but official contact between the trade union negotiating body, which is the TUC, and the Government.

Virginia Bottomley: I accept the hon. Gentleman's point.

I declare an interest, as listed in the Register of Members' Interests: I am a partner of an executive search firm, a member of the supervisory board of a Dutch multinational, and a board member of the Prince of Wales International Business Leaders Forum. I want to make it clear at the outset that I am second to none in believing that enlightened employment practices, good communication and treating people fairly are essential to business success. That goes without saying, but I should point out that the Bill constitutes an entirely inappropriate use of parliamentary time, and in that regard I cannot endorse strongly enough the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury (Mr. O'Brien).

I am concerned about the Government's choosing this issue as a legislative priority. The welcome for the Bill, such as it was, seems to have come from those with an interest, who are delighted that it did not go further and that it is as restricted and restrained as it is. Although I am not saying that the Bill is gravely damaging, it does send the signal that the Government want to tilt the balance of power towards the trade union movement once again, making it more difficult for people to be entrepreneurial and to create the wealth that is essential if we are to deliver the welfare services that matter so much to us all.

In many ways, for me the Bill constitutes a trip down memory lane. In my first job, working for the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) at the Child

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Poverty Action Group, I began a campaign to try to save the family allowance. The great issue was that we should try to persuade the Transport and General Workers Union to support our campaign, by pointing out that family allowance, which was paid to the woman, was an essential element in relieving poverty. Of course, we could not secure its support at that stage, because the trade unions were dominated by the principle of helping their members, which at that time were almost exclusively white men in work. So a benefit payment made to women at home, who were outside the union movement, was certainly not part of their agenda.

I recognise that a great deal has changed since then. I heard the Secretary of State say that the Government want to make it clear that work pays, but back in those days, a previous Member of this place, Sir Keith Joseph, introduced the family income supplement for precisely that purpose—to make work pay. So in a sense, there is no exclusivity of commitment to finding a way to treat people fairly, while at the same time making working worth their while. But in introducing a second Bill on employment and trade unions, the Government seem to be trying to satisfy those people who were described by a former General Secretary as "unacceptable family relations". The size of the Chamber's population today suggests that for many Labour Members, their relationship with the trade union—whatever it may be, and in whatever way it may help to fund the constituency party or to control the nomination, selection or de-selection of the Member concerned—is extremely important.

I am disappointed that the Government did not see that the need for mental health legislation is a much more pressing priority. If Labour Members are concerned about what unions are facing, I am only sorry that they could not give priority to a civil service Bill. Many in the civil service are now under a great deal of pressure thanks to a Government dominated by spin, and the degree of bullying of public sector workers is entirely unacceptable. A civil service Bill would certainly have enjoyed my wholehearted support, as would a mental health Bill.

It is very sad to see the Government consistently giving away the competitive advantage for which my colleagues argued so effectively for many years. The Government's immediately conceding the social chapter opt-out in 1997 has of course opened the floodgates to regulation and red tape, and to a Brussels-dominated approach. I am certainly not one of those Members who think that we should leave the EU, but I passionately believe, on the basis of my constituency work, that this centralisation and avalanche of red tape is inappropriate, ineffective and costly.

In his excellent speech, my hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury pointed out that more than 14 new regulations have come into force every working day since this Government came to power, thereby adding £20 billion to UK business costs. In keeping with the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow), in addition to the problems of red tape and regulation, firms in my constituency complain to me time and again about being treated as an

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unpaid tax collector and social security payment office. Such work costs them a great deal of additional time and effort.

That is often fine for big businesses, but very difficult indeed for small businesses.

The Government are deluded about how they are perceived. On Friday I shall attend my business forum in Farnham with local entrepreneurs and business men and women. When I have an open discussion with them, the key issues are always red tape, regulation and centralisation. They wonder why the Department of Trade and Industry cannot help to create enterprise, innovation, wealth and jobs. They ask why the Department is always trying to turn the clock back, impose the rule book and centralise again. It is extraordinary that there is such a misperception about how many people in business view the Government.

I know how difficult it is to resist much of the regulation. I recall a time when I had the unenviable task of saying that we would not introduce compulsory paternity leave. As a family-friendly person, I think that fathers being with their children is an excellent idea when their partner has had a baby, but should it be a matter on which the Government instruct people?

I have done some difficult radio interviews, and I visited a factory in my constituency that made do-it-yourself wallpaper-stripping machines. [Interruption.] I talked through the issues with the managing director and he said, "Absolutely right. In my firm, when the orders are coming in, I don't mind if people have had quins: nobody can have paternity leave, because we have to get the orders out on time." However, he said that when there were no orders coming in, the staff could all have paternity leave, irrespective of whether they were men or women or whether they had children. He said that the reality was that, if people wanted to keep their jobs, there had to be flexible labour markets so that business could deliver.

Mr. Michael Jabez Foster: Did the right hon. Lady have the opportunity to ask the managing director whether he took time off when his wife had children?

Virginia Bottomley: The point on which we agreed—and on which I felt strongly in my role with the health service—is that good employment practice and treating people fairly are essential. The crucial issue is whether it should be coercive or best practice. Where the Government dictate, it changes the culture. In the International Business Leaders Forum, the work is all about promoting best practice.

I have some advice, if I may humbly put it, for the Secretary of State. She identified many of the key issues in leadership, management and motivating people, so why do the Government fail to apply them across the public sector? Why is there such a bullying, centralising lack of communication to people in the public sector? Why are there all the think-tanks, taskforces and tsars imposing targets willy-nilly on people who feel that they have no ownership, no participation and no contribution to make?

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