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Anne Picking: While we are on the subject of political parties and the trade union movement, should we not place on record that it was the trade union movement that created the Labour party? That is where the unions' allegiance has traditionally been bestowed, and where it should remain.

Judy Mallaber: I entirely agree. It is absurd and appalling that the objectives of a racist organisation can supersede in law the worthy objectives on which a union was founded, and which it seeks to pursue in the interests of its members.

I strongly support the Bill as a whole, although I hope that my comments on the possible extension of some of its provisions will be borne in mind. We want good relations in the workplace, not confrontation. I am appalled by the number of Opposition Members who oppose measures to help people obtain work and acquire skills. It is unbelievable that they oppose the new deal, one of the most positive employment programmes that has been introduced.

When I was a member of the Standing Committee considering the last employment Bill, I was stunned by the amount of time spent by Opposition Members in quizzing the Minister about our introduction of proper legislative backing for union learning representatives—one of the most positive and imaginative ways of encouraging people in the workplace to enhance their skills and learning. I should have thought that members of all parties would feel able to support that, but the Tories spent half a day in Committee trying to undermine the provision.

What we want is positive action, and I think we have it in the Bill, although, as I have said, I would like to see it extended. I am not surprised at the opposition

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expressed by Conservative Members; as for Labour Members, I am sure that they will seek to enhance and improve the Bill.

5.38 pm

Mr. Peter Atkinson (Hexham) (Con): It is a pleasure to speak in the debate, and to follow the hon. Member for Amber Valley (Judy Mallaber). Her speech was interesting, in that it encompassed the dilemmas that her party experiences in dealing with the modern age. She mentioned the closure of Coats Viyella, and also the dilemma that confronted Marks and Spencer when it wanted to close its continental stores and had to deal with legislation from the French Government.

One reason for the loss of half a million jobs in the textile industry, including many in my region of the north and north-east, is the simple fact that businesses have been moved abroad to lower-cost economies. The hon. Lady will recall that Marks and Spencer, under its own management, was one of the few major British retailers that took pride in sourcing many clothing items, such as shoes, from British manufacturers. As a result, the cost of those items to customers was much higher than in other high-street outlets which imported clothes and shoes from abroad. A financial crisis hit Marks and Spencer because no one bought its clothes and shoes. That nearly destroyed the company, and forced it to close its shops in continental Europe.

That is the reality of life these days. Ordinary families do not want to spend more money than they need to on necessities such as clothes. If they spend more money buying shoes made in the UK rather than shoes made in Morocco or Turkey, they will have less money to spend on other things. That is the basis of the capitalist society. It is a hard lesson but one that is inescapable. The Opposition are keen to do everything possible to avoid further burdens and costs being put on British industry to avoid the situation in which Marks and Spencer nearly ended up.

As I listened to the debate, I was, rather like my hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Derek Conway), transported to an earlier era. There was an unusually large turnout of Labour Members, many of whom, I suspect, would admit to being badged as good old Labour. It was nice to hear them. They were happily attacking Conservative Members as the lackeys of the boss class, wearing our pin-striped suits and wanting to bash the unions at every opportunity. In many ways, we are back on old-fashioned, pre-new Labour, familiar ground, when we all knew our place and our role. Unfortunately, times have changed, and as I said to the hon. Member for Amber Valley, when the factory hooter goes off, if it ever does, thousands of workers do not pour out of the factory gate to return home to the rows of terraced houses at the foot of the shipyard or industrial plant. The world has moved on.

If Members shop in stores such as IKEA, they will see the enormous amount of stuff manufactured in China. That is the inescapable conclusion of the modern world in which we live. That is why Conservative Members are so opposed to the Bill. Although it is not the end of human life as we know it—it will not individually be particularly damaging to British businesses—it is another example of the incessant meddling of the Government, which is eroding our productive base,

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which we must protect. It is an irony that European countries such as France and Germany are rowing back on such legislation to make their economies more competitive with countries outside the EU. If we do not want to export more and more jobs to the far east and other countries, we will have to take great care about the additional regulations that we introduce.

In my region, the north-east, where the old, basic industries are now long gone, we are beginning to replace them with new home-grown industries, which I am proud to say is the result of the vast investment in the region by the previous Conservative Government, who invested more money in the north-east of England than this Government have done in their six or seven years in power. Growth in small but technically advanced new businesses is taking place, and those businesses tell me on every occasion—they are small companies, but they are the future of our region—that the burden of red tape and regulation is weighing them down and making them less and less productive.

The hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris), who is no longer in his place, talked about how the Conservative party would abolish regulations. I would dearly love to abolish many regulations that have been introduced because that would help British industry and business. One problem is that we cannot do that any more, because regulations such as those that we are debating tonight are the result of European directives. The difficulty is that this Government threw away recklessly our opt-out on the social chapter and allowed such legislation to be introduced. We are not saying that we would abolish all the health and safety regulations—of course, we would not do that—but we want to abolish those parts of the regulations that are disproportionate and unrealistic. I shall give the House an example.

The company that runs the local train services, Tyne and Wear Metro, wanted to open on Boxing day, whereas the rest of the rail network was closed. Only one station in the entire network is run by a rail company: Sunderland station is run by Arriva Trains Northern, and the rest are run by Tyne and Wear Metro. Because of the health and safety regulations, in order to open that station on Boxing day a 48-page document had to be produced, which had to be submitted to the Strategic Rail Authority, Network Rail, the rail regulator and Arriva Trains Northern. It took months of negotiation and thousands of pounds in officers' time to open one station on one day. That is the result of the disproportionate use of regulation that companies complain about so greatly. The information and consultation directive that we are debating is a good example of a measure being propelled into our legislation because of an EU directive.

The hon. Member for Hamilton, South (Mr. Tynan) seemed to think that the Tory party is still funded by fat cat shareholders. The party treasurer would be grateful if it were, and I need not remind Labour Members that, as I understand it, new Labour is substantially funded by various industrialists, some of whose record in the steel industry and abroad is not something of which they ought to be terribly proud.

The hon. Gentleman said that the Bill will have no effect on good employers and companies that employ best practice, but it will. I can tell the House what will

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happen, as sure as day follows night—even to a company that consults and has good relations with its staff, and has its own proper systems. Clause 31 states:

regulations and rights. So companies will soon get letters from the Department of Trade and Industry or others, saying, "You have to make sure that your existing information and consultation system actually meets the requirements of the Government's legislation." Sure enough, a vast bureaucracy will be created, even for those companies that operate a good system.

Mr. Clapham: As the hon. Gentleman will have heard during today's debate, 85 per cent. of British companies have some form of consultation. He will also be aware that, where a company has conciliation procedures, it will take matters such as health and safety, to which there is a general approach, out of the collective bargaining machinery and subject them to consultation. Sophisticated consultation procedures are already in place to assist the move towards the European directive. The added burden that he talks of simply will not exist for the great majority of companies. He seems merely to be expressing antipathy towards a regulation that will in fact benefit industry.

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