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House of Lords

Wednesday, 17th March 1999.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Norwich.

Working Time Directive

Lord Campbell of Croy asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they are still negotiating with the European Commission on implementation in the United Kingdom of the working time directive and possible exemptions from it.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Sainsbury of Turville): My Lords, the working time regulations, which implemented the European working time directive, came into force on 1st October 1998. The European Commission announced final proposals on 18th November 1998 to extend the working time directive to the currently excluded sectors. We are seeking to ensure through negotiation that any new measures are balanced, sensible, accommodate our concerns and do not adversely affect the competitiveness of industry or the delivery of healthcare within the National Health Service.

Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. The Commissioners have now interrupted their own working time--some may be granted a continuous exemption--but has progress been made in the case of share fishermen, who do not fit into any regular patterns of hours or of employment?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, perhaps I may give the position before the current events interrupted. The vast majority of the 20,000 fishermen in this country are share fishermen. Those who are genuinely self-employed will not be covered by the proposals as the directive applies only to workers. Perhaps I should say, in this context, "workers who are employed" is the legal interpretation. The directive also contains more flexible provisions for mobile workers, which will apply to fishermen who are employed. The proposals provide a large degree of flexibility for these workers. The limits on hours are annual limits. The night work limits, rights to daily, weekly and rest breaks are replaced with a right to adequate rest. That is likely to be defined in a specific directive for sea fishing, which the Commission has said it will publish later in 1999. The right to paid annual leave will not apply to employed share fishermen. The Danes have recently put forward proposals that will provide greater flexibility for sea fishermen's working time, and we are currently considering those proposals.

Lord Razzall: My Lords, does the Minister accept that the introduction of the regulations on 1st October caused

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a problem because of the speed with which they were introduced particularly as neither House was sitting at the time and therefore proper scrutiny of the regulations by Parliament was not possible? Will he undertake that that problem will not arise in respect of any future extension or amendment of the regulations?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, a considerable amount of time was given for the introduction of the regulations. There has been extensive consultation on them and it will be some time before they are implemented.

Lord Elton: My Lords, the noble Lord has spoken of negotiations with the Commission. Presumably the people with whom representatives of Her Majesty's Government are negotiating have some authority. Given that those in command are no longer in position, at what level is that authority? Is there anyone at the Commission in a position to give a ruling on something with which a future Commissioner may disagree and with which the present Commissioners have no powers to disagree?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, I appreciate that this is a good moment to make such a point, but, in terms of the serious negotiations, I cannot see that the present situation will lead to any serious interruption.

Lord Elton: My Lords, perhaps I may ask the noble Lord whether he does not recognise the abolition of the fount of all authority within the Commission as a serious matter--not a debating point--which will have serious effects on the negotiations he has described. Can the Minister tell the House what those effects will be?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, one has to make a distinction between the current situation, in which there is clearly a limit on the authority of the Commission, and negotiations which are not due to be concluded for many months to come. I cannot believe that in those circumstances there is any serious point concerning these negotiations.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: My Lords, I am sure it was inadvertent, but can the Minister reply to the question of the noble Lord, Lord Razzall, who asked whether any future amendment of these regulations will be brought before Parliament and not while we are not in Session? I fear that in the course of conflict the Minister forgot to answer that question.

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, I confess that I am not certain whether the regulations would have to be brought back. I will write to the noble Lord and confirm the situation.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, does the noble Lord accept that what he said was not readily intelligible in the form in which it was stated? This is part of the problem. There was a reference to "these workers". There are at least three categories of workers. With respect to the noble Lord, it was not a wholly intelligible answer.

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, if the noble Lord's question concerns fishermen, the distinction I was

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making was between the self-employed, to whom I referred earlier, and people who are employed. In that context I referred to them as workers. If that was not clear at the time, I regret it.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, the noble Lord will be aware that fishermen, whether they are employees or employers, are extremely concerned that they have not been properly consulted on the common fisheries policy, and indeed on the working time directive. Will the noble Lord give an assurance that both sides of the industry will be properly consulted before any further agreements are made?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, there has been extensive consultation. However, if fishermen want to make further representations, I am certain that we would be delighted to hear them.

Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords, does the Minister agree that, on the one hand, the regulations are ambiguous and, on other hand, according to Adair Turner, they represent European legislation at its absolute worst? Can he explain how it is possible that in the matter of paper boys and paper rounds the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry said categorically that the regulations do not apply to people of compulsory school age but at the same time the European Commission, which was in control at the time, said that they do apply?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, at this point we are talking about the negotiations that are taking place. As far as concerns the previous regulations, those have come forward with a fair degree of understanding on all sides. To the extent that they have not, there are some key questions, and we shall be issuing further documents to answer those questions and clarify any points. But I think that the regulations have come in well. The noble Baroness asked about paper boys. We have said clearly that the regulations do not apply to those under the age of 16 but they do apply to anyone over that age. In our view, that is the correct interpretation of them.

Iraq: Sanctions

2.45 p.m.

Lord Judd asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is their latest assessment of the effectiveness of sanctions against Iraq.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): My Lords, sanctions against Iraq have contained a brutal dictator and are a key tool in coercing Iraq into compliance with its obligations under Security Council resolutions. We reject the propaganda which suggests that sanctions are responsible for the suffering of the Iraqi people. It is the government in Baghdad which ensures that over

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275 million dollars worth of medical supplies lie undistributed in warehouses and that food produced locally is sold to neighbouring countries rather than feeding the Iraqi people. We are putting forward ideas to the UN assessment panel currently addressing the humanitarian situation in Iraq.

Lord Judd: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that it is precisely because the Saddam regime is one of the most cold-blooded, ruthless and oppressive in history that we should do everything possible to protect the innocent and to deny that regime any propaganda advantage? Can my noble friend assure us that the thinking which the Government have been doing on the application of sanctions can be rapidly applied to the Iraqi situation so that sanctions are targeted on those upon whom they should be targeted so that suffering can be relieved? Does my noble friend further agree that the ultimate test of all we are doing on sanctions is our clear long-term objective for security in the region as a whole?

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