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In reply to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Eccles, we will be in a position to move as
soon as possible. We can do so quickly on some matters, but we will probably have to assess others, which may be more complicated, when we receive the submissions. Publishing our consultative document gives a clear sign that we want to move domestically. There is no doubt about that.
Helen Jones (Warrington, North) (Lab): I was listening carefully to my hon. Friends answer. He still has not provided a time scale for when, if there is no progress in Europe, the Government intend to introduce legislation. When will that happenin this Session, or the next, or next year? Will he give us a general idea of the time scale?
Jim Fitzpatrick: My hon. Friend has been a Member for long enough to knowforgive me, I am not being at all patronisingthat there will be an assessment when we finish the consultative exercise. We might then be able to deal with some issues by regulation and some by statutory instrument. Some issues might require legislation. She knows the bidding process for legislative time. I cannot give an indication of whether or not that will happen in this Session. I will be very surprised if we cannot deal quite quickly with some of the more simple issues that will become clear to us as a result of the consultative exercise.
Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich) (Lab): My hon. Friend knows that I always like to help. If the Government were prepared to allow the Bill to be considered in Committee, not only could they rehearse the arguments and find the solutions, but they would certainly be well on the way to being able to move very fast once agreement had been reached in Brussels.
Jim Fitzpatrick: My hon. Friend makes a very good point. It is very much our view that we can move quickly on some of the issues that are detailed in our consultative document, but we will not be able to do so with other issues. I had discussions with my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme and others on Wednesday this week, and the core principle of the Bill is equal treatment on day one. We are not able to do that and we do not agree with it, because there should be a qualifying period. That is one of the key stumbling blocks in respect of the directive.
As I have said, there are other areas where we can take action and where we are prepared to take action. We have demonstrated that with the minimum standards in the workplace that we have already introduced for temporary and agency workersthe minimum wage, health and safety, paid time off and holiday leaveand many of them will be the principal beneficiaries of the extra public holidays that we will introduce later this year. Again, that proposal is out for its final period of consultation. We can move, and we will be able to demonstrate that quite quickly.
Jim Fitzpatrick: The point that I was making when my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) intervened on me was about where we are within Europe. That addresses the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme has been making. Notwithstanding that we and officials have been trying to ensure that we make progress in Brussels this week, that is naturally a matter for the Commission and the German presidency. I understand that the Portuguese, who will assume the presidency in July this year, are interested in moving forward, but I know from my limited time as Employment Relations Minister that European negotiations can be slow.
The UK presidency, the Austrians and the Finns clearly worked very hard on the working time directive, but there are additional complexities as a result of now having 27 member states. The Commissions view on the working time directive was that, after the European Court of Justice judgment on SiMAP and Jaegar, some 23 of the 25 states were not in compliance with it. As a result, the agency workers directive has suffered because of the time and effort in trying to get a deal and an understanding on the working time directive.
Mr. Sadiq Khan (Tooting) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend accept that millions of workers will suffer hardship in the time between the consultations ending and proposals being made, while community cohesion continues to get worse because of the perception that agency workers get less wages, fewer sickness rights and fewer holidays? The community cohesion problem continues to get worse because of our failure to introduce such legislation sooner rather than later.
Jim Fitzpatrick: With the greatest respect to my hon. Friend, for whom I have great regard, I do not agree with him. There are not millions of such workers. The temporary and agency worker quota of the British economy is 6 per cent. There are 1.6 million such workers, of whom 52 per cent. say that they are entirely happy with the way that they conduct themselves and the job that they do and 26 per cent. say that they do not want permanent jobs and that they prefer the jobs that they have. I agree with him that thousands of workers are being taken advantage of, as my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme said in quoting a number of cases this week. The intention of the intervention is to suggest that we need to protect those people, and I accept that we need to do so, which is why we have issued the consultative document and demonstrated that we are prepared to do something about it as soon as possible.
Several honourable colleagues have referred to the 2005 manifesto. We gave a commitment to our party, which was reflected via the Warwick agreement in the 2005 manifesto, on which we were elected, that we would consider what might be done domestically by legislation if progress was not forthcoming in Europe. My right hon. and hon. Friends know that the Warwick commitment is for the duration of this Parliament, which is not due to finish until 2010. We are 50 per cent. of the way through the manifesto commitments that we made at the Warwick meeting, and 20 to 30 per cent. of the other commitments are under way. We are in discussion about the other 20 per
cent. with interested trade unions, the party and the trade union liaison organisation to make sure that Departments and Ministers fulfil the commitments made at Warwick. The Prime Minister and the Chancellor have both given commitments to implement the Warwick agreement.
Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab): I do hope that the Minister is not under instructions to talk the measure out. I imagine that every Labour Member in the Chamber wants the opportunity to support the Bill on Second Reading. I have a great deal of respect for my hon. Friend, and I do hope that he will sit down before half-past 2.
Jim Fitzpatrick: I am doing what I can to respond to the opening comments. I will then outline the Governments position in respect of the private Members Bill brought forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme.
Mr. Dai Havard (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney) (Lab): I take that answer to mean no. I am interested in when proposals might be introduced. The Minister has suggested that European Union presidencies, particularly the Portuguese presidency, might be important. We have a three-month consultation period, followed by some internal gestation period, followed by consultations with the Portuguese. That probably takes us past the next Queens Speech. As we are coming towards the end of the period to which the manifesto applies, and proposals are to be introduced before we get to that point, when will they be introduced? If they are not to be in the next Queens Speech, in which one will they be?
Jim Fitzpatrick: As my hon. Friend knows, the content of the Queens Speech is a matter of discussion in the Cabinet and with the parliamentary Labour party. Opposition Members were able to make bids for legislation, and a full and open discussion is ongoing. The manifesto commitments and undertakings given at Warwick to the party, and the manifesto on which we were elected, will be fulfilled. Both the Prime Minister and the Chancellor have said at the Dispatch Box and outside the House that the Warwick commitment will be fulfilled.
Jim Fitzpatrick: I am grateful for the opportunity to put on record what the Government have done, and are about to do, on the question of temporary and agency workers, and the background to our position vis-Ã -vis the Bill.
We recently published our consultation document, of which Members will be aware, entitled, Consultation on measures to protect vulnerable agency workers.
The issue of the openness of that consultation has been raised. The documents states, at page 24, section E:
The Government considers it has identified the key abuses requiring action in this document. However, where respondents can identify further measureslegislative or otherwise...we will consider addressing those as well when we take this consultation forward.
We are also aware that the TUC is establishing a commission on vulnerable employment, which will complement and support the Governments determination to ensure that those who are vulnerable get a fair deal. Links have been established, and the various worthy individuals who have agreed to sit on that commission will be able to help us formulate legislation.
Jim Fitzpatrick: The third strand and pillar of our protection for vulnerable agency and migrant workers is that the Department of Trade and Industry is spending about £1 million to establish two vulnerable worker pilots, one in Birmingham and one in London in the City and east end. The London one is led by the south-east region of the TUC. The Birmingham one is led by Birmingham Forward. We will take evidence from local government, charities, trade unions and voluntary organisations to ensure that we are in a position to understand exactly the nature of the abuse and the advantage that has been taken of vulnerable workers. That will allow us to move forward to protect them in the workplace.
Mr. Dismore: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is there any way of recording in Hansard that dozens of Labour Members came today to support the Bill, that we decided not to stand to make a speech to make sure that it had a reasonable chance of getting a Second Reading, and that we are extremely dismayed and ashamed of the fact that our Front-Bench colleagues have not acceded to the request of so many
Daniel Kawczynski (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (Con): I am pleased to have secured this debate on congestion charging, as my constituency of Shrewsbury is one of only 10 areas in the country that have been selected for the possibilityI will not say opportunity because it is not an opportunityof having congestion charging.
Tony Blair admitted last night that it would be kamikaze politics to force through road pricing amid massive public opposition.
The Prime Minister said he had learned lessons from the poll tax in 1989 and 1990, when Margaret Thatchers government was forced into a...climbdown.
As I have said, Shrewsbury is one of only 10 towns selected for congestion charging. We have what I perceive to be a Government quango, the transport innovation fund, which is linking vital transport infrastructure with congestion charging. Basically, we are being told as a community that, if we want the north-west relief road to be built, which is the last remaining link in the ring road around Shrewsbury, we will have to have congestion charging as part of the package.
That is wrong. I believe that that is getting Shrewsbury residents to pay for road building and other transport schemes by charging them to come into their own town centre. Transport schemes and improvements to transport infrastructure should come from the Government and from central funds, rather than imposing that new stealth tax on the community.
In Shrewsbury, we are trying to promote our beautiful county town and her development. We are pleased that, after a long and fraught campaign, we finally have a sign on the M6 to show where Shrewsbury isdown the M54 towards Wales. That was part of a long campaign by the Shrewsbury Chronicle and others to ensure that the Department for Transport gave us our own sign. Congestion charging is one thing in Londonin fact, I think that it works quite well in Londonbut it is a different thing in an historic county town such as Shrewsbury.
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