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Lord Rotherwick: My Lords, we support any legislation that aims to stop abuse of the fixed-term contract system. To that end, we support the regulations.

It is interesting to note that the greatest offenders are in the public sector—the health service and the higher education sector. I am sure that many would

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agree that it is ridiculous that the Government have had to introduce legislation to enable themselves and the public sector to get their house in order. I also note that it may be the case that not all other EC member states have implemented the legislation. Will the Minister tell us which countries have not, to date, done so?

Lord Roper: On these Benches, we welcome these important regulations and the assistance to fixed-term employees, both full-time and part-time. We also welcome the Government's acceptance of their obligations under the Social Chapter. In particular, we welcome the fact that the Government have provided us with an extremely helpful transposition note on the EC Fixed-Term Work Directive, which enables us to see how the directive is being introduced. It is very interesting that Council directive 1999/70 EC of the 28th June was concluded initially among the social partners—one of the very remarkable ways in which the European Union works forward. It was a collaboration between the Europe TUC, UNICE and CEP, which led to this particular agreement.

Having said that, I associate myself with the two questions raised about the impact of this legislation on our competitiveness. One of the advantages of having a European directive is that, in principle, a level playing field is established so that all European countries are operating on the same basis. If that is the case, and if all our partners are introducing this, it ought not to affect our competitiveness adversely. Therefore, the question as to whether or not the other European Union countries are introducing this particular directive is of considerable importance. I shall be most interested to hear what the Minister has to say.

Looking through the terms and conditions of employment as regards the fixed-term employees' regulations, I was especially interested to see the provision in Regulation 15 for the staff of your Lordships' House. In such regulations, it is rather unusual to find mention of the House of Lords staff—a reference that gives them a particular position. In his response, perhaps the Minister can explain to those of us who are not as familiar with these matters as we might be why it is that the staff of this House have to be specifically referred to in such regulations.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, perhaps I may join my noble friend Lord Willoughby de Broke in failing to welcome these instruments. In doing so, I should declare an interest as chairman of what, I suppose, could be called a medium-sized enterprise—one which, from time to time, employs both part-time and fixed-term workers. I should be grateful if the Minister could confirm to the House whether these regulations are made under single market legislation, in which case they are the fault of the previous Conservative government, or whether they are made under the social chapter, which is my understanding. If the latter is the case, the fault lies fairly and squarely at the door of the present Labour Government.

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I should also like to know which way the Government went in these negotiations; for example, whether they attempted to avoid them or whether they welcomed them with the zest displayed in introducing them tonight. I should have thought that these regulations are very likely—indeed, in some cases, certain—to result in less fixed-term and part-time workers being employed, especially in medium and small-sized enterprises. I have in mind fixed-term and part-time workers who could eventually develop into full-time workers if they proved satisfactory, and, indeed, if they wished to do so. I understand that there is a small reverse of that coin to which the Minister referred. But I should have thought that the overriding effect will be to produce less employment.

As we are taking these two sets of regulations together, perhaps I may point out that in the Explanatory Memorandum of each instrument there is a regulatory impact statement, which, to say the least, is somewhat coy. Both say that the regulatory impact assessments were published some time ago and that they are available from,


    "Employment Market Analysis and Research, Room UG95, Department of Trade and Industry",

and so on. I regret to say that I have not had time to pursue that avenue. I simply ask the Minister: what is the Government's estimate of the cost to the economy of these two instruments? Above all, can he say what the cost will be to small and medium-sized enterprises?

Further, can the Minister say how the Government can pretend that they favour small and medium-sized industries when they nod through this sort of legislation, which, I suspect, will cost billions of pounds as time goes on, at this hour of night? Surely this is the very worst kind of European Union regulation, entirely consistent with the constant encroachment by the Union into our competitive position worldwide. On that I would take issue with the noble Lord, Lord Roper, when he remarked that it is "all right" because all the other countries of the European Union will go along with this nonsense and we shall not be disadvantaged.

But the United Kingdom is a global trading economy. What matters is how the regulations will destroy our competitive position worldwide, in particular against the Americans and the economies of the Far East, where of course the majority of our trade still lies. There cannot be any doubt that this kind of regulation compromises, has compromised and will continue to compromise inward investment and our global trading position.

I look forward to hearing the Minister's replies to the questions that have been put to him by my noble friend Lord Willoughby de Broke and myself. However, I have to say that I do not think that this kind of thing can be nodded through, given the immense damage that it will cause to the British economy and our worldwide position, in particular at this time of night.

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Midnight

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I am slightly surprised at the last comment made by the noble Lord, to the effect that the regulations are being "nodded through". They are being given proper parliamentary consideration. If the House has been keen on discussing its internal arrangements until a late hour, that is not the fault of the Government. We proposed a series of perfectly straightforward reforms to the working practices of the House which could and should have been agreed in a quarter of an hour. The fact that the reforms were debated for so long is not our responsibility.

No restriction has been placed on any noble Lord who wishes to take part in the debate. Indeed, I would have been glad to welcome a quarter of those noble Lords who took part in the navel-gazing in which we have indulged for the past eight hours to contribute to this debate. I shall attempt to put to rest the fears expressed by noble Lords.

I turn first to the issue of the European dimension of these regulations. As I made clear in my opening speech, the regulations implement a directive. I should confess straightaway that we should have implemented the directive by 10th July of this year; if anything, we are late. However, there is no question of us implementing the directive when others are not doing so. Germany transposed on 1st January 2001 and France transposed earlier this year. Almost all European countries have implemented, while one or two others are bringing forward legislation according to their own constitutional arrangements, as is the case for the UK Government.

I was asked whether the regulations are being implemented under the social chapter, which is the fault of the Labour Government, or under previous arrangements which were the fault of the Conservative government. They have been made under the social chapter. I make no apology for that. The fixed-term directive and the part-time directive were negotiated by the social partners, including representatives of UNICE; that is, the employers of Europe—of which the CBI is a member—as well as with representatives of European trade unions. That is a proper way for these matters to be negotiated in Europe. I should have thought that the Opposition would have welcomed those procedures.

The noble Lords, Lord Pearson and Lord Willoughby de Broke, appeared to suggest that enormous costs would attach to the regulations, in particular with regard to part-time workers. Our regulatory impact assessment indicates that the costs will be extremely small. The average costs to businesses are between 58 and 125 a year. That equates to between 1 and 2.40 a week. It is true that the main costs will fall on the public sector, which uses most fixed-term contract employees.

I neglected to say that the regulations are not imposed by qualified majority voting. We agreed to the part-time work directive. We believe that it will help promote equality, between men and women in

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particular. We certainly have no objection whatever to what has been done and we have no hesitation in implementing the regulations.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, on the question of costs, are the figures of 58 to 125 per employee per annum? What is the total cost to the economy and small business?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, that is the average to the employer. It includes a large number of small businesses. The cost to large businesses would be significantly more.

I wish to go further. It is being ignored that the use of both fixed-term and part-time contracts has been an attempt by some employers—including employers in the public sector—to evade the proper regulation and protection of workers in this country. I gave the example in my opening remarks about higher education. It is notorious that those entering an academic career suffer for many years a series of fixed-term contracts. It takes them a long time to get qualified in the first place; it takes them even longer to get out of fixed-term contracts, during which time they accumulate no pension rights or any of the other rights of permanent workers. That is an abuse. That is why it is restricted to a period of four years. If the Association of University Teachers were here I am sure that it would agree wholeheartedly with what I have said.


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