Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Clark of Kempston: My Lords, does my noble and learned friend agree that this directive is a misinterpretation of the opt-out clause? Consequently, it means that this is not a health and safety directive but a directive about unemployment, as the noble Lord, Lord Peston, has said.

Lord Peston: My Lords, the noble Lord may wish to get his facts right. I merely tried to be reasonable by suggesting that both sides could argue that point. I did not say that it was a matter of employment but said that that argument could be made.

Lord Clark of Kempston: My Lords, I was merely endorsing what the noble Lord had said. Does my noble and learned friend agree that the voluntary aspect of the directive will be considerably diluted because of trade union interference in the matter? Further, does he agree that there is bound to be a loss of jobs? Some small businesses cannot possibly survive if they have to take on extra workers. Does he agree that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister is quite correct in saying that the Government will do all they can to reverse this decision? Finally, does he agree that this court ruling places an additional burden on business and industry and affects our competitive position? Is it not better that the Court of Auditors should concentrate on looking at the profligate waste of money in the Common Market?

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for the powerful support that he offers the Prime Minister in the position that he has adopted. If he cares to look at the judgment of the European Court of Justice he will find, as I do, that it is very difficult to discover what is not included within the term "safety and health". As the noble Baroness indicated earlier, a definition has been adopted from the World Health Organisation which appears to be all-embracing. The only curiosity about the judgment is that religious belief is excluded from the term "safety and health" because Sunday cannot be singled out as a particular day for rest according to the European Court of Justice.

My noble friend is absolutely right when he speaks of the possible consequences for the United Kingdom economy if this matter carries on indefinitely and we are not able to reverse it, as we are determined to do. Although he is absolutely right to single out the possible effects on small firms, those are not the only ones to be affected. Today I saw on television, and I have also met around the country, workers who dearly enjoy the opportunity to work night shifts because they wish to pursue such innocent interests as fishing during daytime hours. The noble Lord opposite may shake his head. What he did not appear to appreciate

12 Nov 1996 : Column 893

earlier was that the night working provisions within the directive were not wholly optional but would have a measure of compulsion about them.

Beyond the issue of the small firms to which my noble friend has referred, what troubles me as much as anything is that some of the major inward investment successes that the United Kingdom has had recently have been achieved because it has been able to construct semi-conductor factories, for instance, at a speed far greater than is achievable anywhere else in Europe. If an investment of, say, £1.5 billion can be brought to the point of production seven or eight months faster than anywhere else in Europe because these provisions do not apply in this country, it is not surprising that the United Kingdom is more attractive than many others. Nor is it surprising that there is concern that if these matters have to be implemented in full there will be a real effect on employment.

Lord Gladwin of Clee: My Lords, I should like to press the Minister on the effect on the public sector. My understanding is that emanations of the state are directly affected by the directive. Can the Minister indicate the timetable for the consultative process to which the Statement refers? Will he also give an indication as to when he anticipates that legislation will be introduced into Parliament? Finally, I am a little puzzled by the Statement. Is it the intention that at the same time as legislation is introduced--because it has to be--the Government will seek to repeal that very legislation?

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie: My Lords, dealing with the first technical point raised by the noble Lord, in broad terms employees of emanations of the state (which I believe is the language that the court likes to use) can claim from their employers rights and protection within the directive providing they are sufficiently clear, precise and unconditional in the directive itself. I hazard to guess whether they will find that any of those qualities are met when they look to the directive itself. There may be a requirement for legislation, but we need to reserve judgment on whether primary legislation will be necessary if it is to be implemented or whether it can be achieved under Section 2(2) of the 1972 Act. That remains to be seen. In part, it will depend on the outcome of the consultative process, on which we shall begin work as soon as we can. Clearly, in a matter as complicated as this it will take some time to achieve that.

I make it absolutely clear to all noble Lords that even if we do go forward with consultation and legislation to ensure that we obey the law the Government are determined to do everything at the intergovernmental conference to ensure not only that this decision is reversed to exclude the United Kingdom but that in future there is no risk of any other social engineering activity being imposed upon the United Kingdom.

12 Nov 1996 : Column 894

Transfer of Crofting Estates (Scotland) Bill [H.L.]

4.49 p.m.

Second Reading debate resumed.

The Earl of Kintore: My Lords, I also thank the noble Earl for introducing this Bill so clearly. What is proposed is certainly a way forward for the crofting estates, but there can be no universal solution. Each area, possibly broken down as in Annex A of the Scottish Office consultation paper, will require its own solution. I note that if the Bill receives a Second Reading it will be committed to a Scottish Select Committee. That committee will be required, among other matters, to look into the viability of each transfer; the relationship of each crofter to the crofting trust and whether all crofters in an area will have to become members of the crofting trust. I see that at Assynt 130 of a potential 140 crofters are members of that trust. It would interesting to know the status of the other 10 crofters.

Crofters must be no worse off after transfer to a trust than they were before. It would be interesting to know what protection an individual crofter has if his trust fails for, say, financial reasons. Are the trusts to provide annual accounts for any period when they continue to receive financial support from the Scottish Office? Is there a time limit for the transfer? What is to happen if a whole area rather than an individual crofter does not want to be transferred into a trust? I imagine that the Secretary of State for Scotland is regarded as a pretty good landlord.

It is right that mineral rights follow the land that they are on or under, but as any mining would probably be opencast there would be a vast hole somewhere on the land, and noise and dust, before any great wealth was produced. Some sporting rights are probably under current leases which will need to be honoured or renegotiated but then should revert to the land they are on. Sporting rights, if properly managed, are a valuable asset. The Scottish Secretary at present receives almost half as much rent again from the sporting rights on 18 estates as he receives for the crofting lets on 55 estates.

The crofters in three townships on the Armadale estate in Sutherland are to pilot a government scheme to transfer state-owned crofting estates into community-led trusts to see whether the trusts can go it alone. I hope that they can. I hope that we give the Bill a Second Reading this evening.

4.53 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Lindsay for his clear introduction of the Bill. The intentions in the Bill are highly commendable. I wish it well. I hope that it will lead to a substantial transfer of the Secretary of State's estate. I venture to speak (briefly) because I have been associated with some of the past proposals and changes in the crofting system. The most recent was the piloting

12 Nov 1996 : Column 895

through this House in 1991 of a Private Member's Bill which became the Crofter Forestry (Scotland) Act. It enabled crofters to plant and manage trees on their land.

My home is 10 miles from Inverness but is not in the crofting area of the Highlands. I would remind your Lordships that crofting tenure is unique and operates only in what were the crofting counties in the Highlands. In areas where land is not fertile or easy to cultivate, small communities can, and have for years, had their special arrangements. The crofters are usually engaged in more than one occupation, dividing their time between them. One man, for example, may be a part-time farmer, with a few sheep or cattle, and a part-time sea fisherman, probably fishing for lobsters, other crustaceans or shellfish with a small boat in one of the firths or sea inlets.

In recent years the crofter has also often offered tourist accommodation facilities and sold the products of local crafts and materials. As a versatile all-rounder, the crofter can make a living, though not a rich one, from land which would not support normal agriculture or the same number of people otherwise engaged.

Twenty five years ago, during the four years when I was Secretary of State for Scotland, I made what I think were the first moves in planning to transfer crofting land owned by the Government to the crofters themselves. I learnt that, as Secretary of State, I was the largest landowner (in area of land) in the whole of the UK. I was very ready to part with some of it in a manner which would be acceptable to all concerned and beneficial to the public interest. Of course, I must make it clear that in my private capacity I am only a small landowner in northern Scotland--the land around my home.

My recollection is that it was difficult to produce a scheme about which crofters' representatives felt happy. Crofting tenure had traditionally become familiar to them and ingrained in their way of life. They seemed to sense insecurity and uncertainty in any proposed major changes or in a new system. That is why I congratulate my noble friend Lord Lindsay and my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, Mr. Michael Forsyth.

What I was able to do in 1972 and 1973 was to reach general agreement on reforms to the crofting system. I introduced in the other place a Bill which had a Second Reading just before the February 1974 general election. At least one Scottish Labour MP, now a Liberal Democrat, made an intemperate, polemical speech, claiming that that Bill would be grossly damaging to the crofting communities. That surprised everyone, including his colleagues and the Scottish Office.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page