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The Minister has been most convincing. He used the magic phrase that always makes me sit up and pay attention"taxpayers' money". We discussed that matter in Committee on many occasions. I consider the Conservative party to be the guardian of taxpayers' money, but the Government often want to spend so much of it, and it is up to the Opposition to defend the taxpayer. So I am quite persuaded by the Minister's argument, but it is even more pleasing that he says that he accepts the principle of what I have said about the effect of new clause 3.
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Of course, the hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Khan) has his job to do as well. It is quite astonishing that, because I am saying something in 2006 that is broadly in agreement with what the Minister and the Government are saying, he must hark back to what the Conservative party said five years ago. Not so long ago, the Labour party was in favour of the common ownership of the means of production, but I do not hark back to that all the time to try to find something on which we disagree. What we said five years ago is not relevant; what we say now is relevant, and I am saying now that we are in favour of statutory paternity leave.
Mark Tami: The problem is that Labour Members find it very difficult to know what "now" means, because the concept seems to get shorter and shorter: the Opposition's policies change by the second, not even by the minute.
Mrs. Laing: No, the problem is that Labour Members are very worried about the rising popularity of the Conservative party, but I appreciate that we cannot debate that matter within the terms of new clause 3. So I will take that no further, but I notice that the hon. Gentleman loyally echoes the words of the Prime Minister earlier today. If political parties could not review their polices in light of a changing world and a changing society, what is the point of political parties and what is the point of Parliament as a place to propose ideas and to have debates and arguments? That is what Parliament is all about. I am pleased to say that that is what we are doing effectively this afternoon, and the Minister has done it so effectively that he has persuaded me: I am happy with his assurances that he will return to the House and that we will have such an opportunity in future.
The hon. Member for Angus (Mr. Weir) is right to say that exactly one year is perhaps too soon. Perhaps we need rather more flexibility in the way in which the Government come back to the House to review their legislation. However, I can assure the House that, if the Minister does not return to the House to report on a review of the way in which the legislation is working, the Opposition will ensure that the matter is debated in a year or so, thus ensuring that the House has the opportunity to consider not just the effectiveness of regulations that we hope to pass today, but their effect, as the hon. Member for Angus rightly saysthere is no better education than that of a Scottish lawyerso I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.
The amendment reflects the fact that holiday entitlements and rates of pay for agricultural workers in Scotland are devolved to the Scottish Parliament. The minor technical amendment ensures that the current limited devolution is preserved.
Mr. Alan Reid: The Minister is quite right that the matter is devolved to the Scottish Parliament. The Scottish Agricultural Wages Board sets the minimum wage as well as holiday entitlement. It is obliged to set a minimum wage that is above the national minimum wage and a holiday entitlement that is greater than that laid down in the Working Time Regulations 1998. Will the Minister assure the House that the future holiday entitlement of agricultural workers in Scotland will not lag behind that laid down in UK or European regulations?
Mr. Russell Brown (Dumfries and Galloway) (Lab): While I appreciate that my hon. Friend the Minister indicated that the amendment is technical, I share the concerns of the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mr. Reid). I regret to say that although we have a national minimum wage in this country, there are all too often some who would like to attack the protection that is offered through the Scottish Agricultural Wages Board. Like the hon. Gentleman, I merely say to my good friend the Minister that I hope that the amendment will offer protection to agricultural workers in Scotland and that they will not be worse off in any shape or form compared with workers in other parts of the country.
Mr. Weir: I had not intended to speak to the technical amendment, but I have been interested by what hon. Members have said. As the Scottish Agricultural Wages Board is a devolved body, it is up to it to decide what to set. I would hope that members of the board, being good Scots, would set rates that were higher than those in other parts of the country, although I accept that there is no guarantee that that will happen. However, as an independent body, it would have the right to set such rates.
The number of people working in agriculture in Scotland has declined steadily over the years. Many people who work in agriculture, especially those who are seasonal workers, come from eastern Europe to work for short periods. Will the Minister confirm that they are covered by regulations on the national minimum wage, rather than the Scottish Agricultural Wages Board, and that the amendment thus covers people who are permanently engaged in agriculture, rather than seasonal workers?
Mrs. Laing: I also realise that the amendment is technical, so I do not intend to speak for long. Devolution is complicated, so we can forgive the Government for not getting the drafting perfectly right from the beginning and thus having to table the amendment. It is much better for technical amendments to be considered on Report than for us to have to spend hours and hours upstairs considering statutory instruments to make devolution work. We all want devolution to work, so we welcome the amendment.
I am pleased that hon. Members' contributions show that we were right to table the
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amendment. This is a matter for the Scottish Parliament. It will be guided by the Low Pay Commission on the national minimum wage and by the European Union on the working time directive and hours. I am sure that the Scottish Parliament will note what hon. Members have said.
This amendment will support employers in managing the new entitlement to additional paternity leave. The Government recognise that employers are concerned about their position when they take on a new employee to cover a woman's absence on maternity leave. Those concerns were raised on Second Reading. They were also discussed in Committee during debate on an amendment tabled by the hon. Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb). We recognise that the same issues will be of concern to employers taking on new staff to cover an absence due to additional paternity leave.
An employee with 52 weeks' service is, of course, protected from being unfairly dismissed. It is right that employees are protected in that way; the Government reduced the qualifying service from two years to one in 1999. However, we recognise that it is also right that we make the management of maternity, adoption and additional paternity leave as straightforward as we can for employers, and that includes making the management of employees they take on to cover maternity, adoption or additional paternity leave as straightforward as we can.
Section 106 of the Employment Rights Act 1996 provides that where an employee is taken on to cover an absence caused by pregnancy, childbirth or adoption leave and is dismissed because the original employee returns from the absence, they will be treated as having been dismissed for a substantial reason which would mean that the dismissal was not unfair, provided that the employer had acted reasonably.
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