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Lord Elton: My Lords, it would be most helpful if the noble Lord could explain the effect therefore of Regulation 11(2) which states,

the choice is with the employer--

    "two uninterrupted rest periods each of not less than 24 hours in each 14-day period ... or one uninterrupted rest period of not less than 48 hours in each such 14-day period".
It is that which causes anxiety.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, that has to be taken in context with the whole of the rest of the regulations which concern agreement. This flexibility for a period of two days in 14 days rather than one day in seven days was introduced with the encouragement of employers who wanted that degree of extra flexibility to avoid unnecessary burdens on business.

We are talking about a new right and about something which could indeed force people under certain circumstances to work on Sundays, but that is in place of the free-for-all which exists at the moment. As regards rights under the Sunday Trading Act and the Deregulation and Contracting Out Act for workers in betting shops, I can give the House an unqualified assurance that the protection introduced in that legislation is not taken away by these regulations. There is no question of any rights being taken away from workers. Those rights exist as they did before 1st October.

Therefore nothing is lost. No sixpence has been lost and a pound has been found. When noble Lords mention Sundays I am bound to remind them that the original European Community directive in 1993 stated in Article 5 that the day of rest should in principle include Sunday. Why do the regulations not include Sunday? That is because the Conservative government challenged that provision in the European Court of Justice and had it struck out. At their behest the European Court of Justice determined that Sunday was no different from any other day. Under those circumstances I think noble Lords opposite should be a little cautious about accusing this Government--

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie: My Lords, if the noble Lord wishes to protract the debate at this stage and wishes to introduce a discordant note of that nature I am perfectly prepared to "mix it" with him for as long as he likes. He may care to reflect that I did not mention Sunday at all in what I had to say for the very good reason that it seemed to me a proper approach to this matter would be to respect the religious convictions of

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other groups in our society. Sunday may not be the day they would necessarily focus upon. If the noble Lord wishes to bring this debate to a reasonable and early conclusion I hope he will reflect on what he has just said.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, from the history I have recounted, I understand why the noble and learned Lord did not refer to that matter. In a more emollient mode, perhaps I may say that we do indeed hope that employers will look sympathetically at the possibility of matching the rest day with Sunday or whatever other day is appropriate--whether it is a Saturday for those of the Jewish faith or a Friday for Moslems--for those with religious beliefs. I accept the noble and learned Lord's rebuke that I was to some extent acerbic. I was taking advantage of an opportunity which it was a little difficult to resist.

In the same mode, let me say that I think it is always unfortunate if an order is introduced at the end of the summer Session and brought into force before the House reassembles. In defence, I would say only that these regulations have been in the pipeline since 1993; that there have been not one but two exhaustive consultations, one by the previous government and one by this Government; and that the regulations should have been implemented in November 1996 were it not for the legal challenge--I am sorry!--by the Conservative Government. No one can say, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Fraser, said, that they have been rushed forward. They have been given a very thorough debate. I was asked whether they had been debated by your Lordships' European Communities Committee. There was a report by a committee chaired by my noble friend Lady Lockwood in 1990 on this subject, but in all candour I must say that the committee concluded that it was open to question how far there should be a rigid approach to the issue of working time. There has been adequate consultation and consideration of these regulations.

I am conscious of the time. My noble friend Lord Monkswell made a point about young workers and Regulation 10. The exceptions from the 12 hours' rest requirement for young workers are in very strict circumstances. For adults flexibility is laid down in Regulations 20 to 23.

My noble friend also asked about the exemptions, and the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, made the point that they apply very widely. The exemptions are under review by the Commission and we await its views with considerable interest.

We believe that the regulations provide minimum fair standards of protection for workers exploited by unscrupulous employers. The introduction of these regulations is long overdue and I hope that your Lordships will not accept the Prayer against them.

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9.11 p.m.

Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, has gone out of his way to address a number of the issues raised during the debate and I welcome the spirit in which he has done that. As a matter of historical record, I disagree with him on two points. First, he laid all the blame for the fact that the regulations do not include Sunday at the door of the previous Conservative government. I would remind him that Mr. Tony Blair, the then home affairs spokesman in another place, voted against my own successful amendment to the Sunday trading legislation to exclude Christmas Day and Easter Day and that from the Front Bench of the Labour Party there was consistent support for the deregulation of Sunday.

Secondly, although I am familiar with the literature he mentioned and I would perhaps add Tressle's Ragged Trousered Philanthropist to the list of books that influenced me, too, I would say in fairness to the Conservative Party that it was, after all, Lord Shaftesbury who pioneered the reforms that stopped children from being exploited. Perhaps there is less of a partisan issue here than we sometimes make out.

Without going too far into the recesses of history, I believe that this has been a useful debate. I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, about it being cynical scaremongering. It is surely our duty to scrutinise these matters. There was no debate in another place and no debate here on these matters. As I made clear in my opening remarks, I strongly welcome what the Government have done. This protection is long overdue. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Coity, that two out of three of the workers in this country are not even in a trade union, and it is they who are most adversely affected by many of the issues that we have been debating here tonight. His colleague and comrade in these causes, Ray Powell, was an ally of mine in another place during those battles. We worked strongly together on his Private Member's Bill--I served on the Standing Committee--and on the Bill that subsequently followed. I was disappointed when USDAW changed its view, though he did not change his, during the course of that legislation. It is the repeal of the Shops Act 1950 which has led us to the position where workers can be so badly exploited. And many already have been. So, far from being cynical scaremongering, we have only to look at those examples of workers who are given no choice under the so-called conscience clause, who are told to "take it or leave it" and, "If you don't work, then there won't be a job here for you". We all know that it is those bad employment practices that we must try to root out.

Never mind the sixpence or the pound; in this regulation here is one item which could undermine much of the good that is in the regulations. If we had had a considered debate on this matter we could have moved an amendment, the provision could have been removed and there could have been consensus across the Floor of the House. So, far from cynical scaremongering, it is proper and is the duty of this place to scrutinise measures such as this. Where we

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believe that there are weaknesses, we should try to have changes made to the regulations and Bills that are laid before us.

The debate has allowed us to air those concerns and to place our reservations on the record. Given the spirit in which the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, has dealt with the remarks made, and his promise to keep these questions under review, to watch these issues as

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they develop and, I hope, to be prepared to come back with amendments if necessary if it is felt that there has been the widespread abuse that some of us fear may follow, on that basis I thank noble Lords who participated in the debate and I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

        House adjourned at a quarter past nine o'clock.

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