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3 July 2007 : Column GC91

3 July 2007 : Column GC91

Grand Committee

Tuesday, 3 July 2007.

The Committee met at half-past three.

[The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Viscount Ullswater) in the Chair.]

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Viscount Ullswater): Before the Minister moves that the first order be considered, I remind noble Lords that in the case of each order the Motion before the Committee will be that the Committee consider the order in question. The Motion to approve the order will be moved in the Chamber in the usual way. If there is a Division in the House, the Committee will adjourn for 12 minutes rather than 10 because the House has now given itself 11 minutes to get into the Lobbies.

Working Time (Amendment) Regulations 2007

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting rose to move, That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the Working Time (Amendment) Regulations 2007.

The noble Lord said: Over the past decade the Government have put in place a framework of employment rights that provides decent minimum standards in the workplace while ensuring labour market flexibility and competitiveness. In 1998, we introduced a statutory entitlement to four weeks’ paid holiday for the first time, yet we are aware that some employers count time off for bank and public holidays against that four-week entitlement. We believe that that is unfair, and in our 2005 election manifesto we proposed to address this anomaly by increasing the current four-week entitlement to 5.6 weeks—from 20 days to 28 days—for those working full time and pro rata for part-time staff.

These proposals will be good news for the 6 million workers who will benefit from increased holiday as a result, particularly the low-paid, women and part-time workers who currently receive the least holiday. The benefits of holidays are clear: time away from the workplace reduces stress, increases quality of life and supports family life. However, we recognise that proposals that benefit so many will impose additional costs on businesses that currently give the bare minimum holiday entitlement. We have proposed a number of measures to help employers adjust their practices to comply with these regulations. First, we propose that the increase will be introduced in two phases with a holiday entitlement rising to 24 days this October and to 28 days from April 2009. We had intended to introduce all the additional holiday by October 2008, but on further consideration of the costs, particularly for the health and social care sector, we have delayed it until April 2009.

We are aware that some employers, particularly in the social care sector, face challenges in recruiting and training staff and are required by statute to maintain

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certain staffing levels. The increase in holiday entitlement may place particular strain on employers and staff in providing cover for the additional holiday, and we therefore propose a transitional period until April 2009 during which time payment in lieu of the additional holiday will be permitted. From April 2009, workers must be able to take their holiday as holiday, as our intention is to enable people to have more time away from the workplace rather than to receive additional payment instead.

Most employers already give their staff 28 or more days’ holiday a year. During the extensive consultation process on these changes, such employers expressed concern that they would face uncertainty and administrative costs as a result of these regulations, even though they may already comply. We are clear that we want to support such good employers while protecting vulnerable workers. We have therefore proposed an exclusion to these regulations. Where employers already provide staff with 28 days holiday, pro rata for part-timers, they will be excluded from the regulations. This incentive for early compliance will remove an uncertainty or administrative burden from good employers resulting from this regulation, while ensuring that vulnerable workers get the benefit of the increased entitlement.

In developing these proposals, we have consulted widely with employers and workers. These measures, along with the detailed guidance we will be providing for employers and workers shortly, balance the demands of workers for a better quality of life with the needs of business for a productive and motivated workforce. The proposals have been welcomed by the TUC and employer organisations such as the CBI, the Institute of Directors, the British Chambers of Commerce and the Engineering Employers’ Federation. A modern economy can thrive only by adopting employment practices that recognise the central contribution made by individual workers in the business’s success and rewarding their efforts in such a way that demonstrates that they are valued and respected.

These proposals deliver further fairness at work while advancing our economic competitiveness. I commend the regulations to the Committee.

Moved, That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the Working Time (Amendment) Regulations 2007. 20th report from the Statutory Instruments Committee.—(Lord Evans of Temple Guiting.)

Baroness Wilcox: We generally welcome the regulations, as we have heard that they amend the Working Time Regulations 1998 to introduce a statutory entitlement to eight days’ additional paid annual leave, in addition to the four weeks’ annual leave entitlement already provided by the regulations, subject to a maximum statutory entitlement of 28 days. As my honourable friend in another place has already said, striking the right balance between family and working life is vital to the interests of the employer and the employee. In families where, often, partners are both working, holiday time is essential for people not only to recharge their batteries, but to have quality time with their children. For employers,

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staff are often the most important asset. Therefore, ensuring that staff are properly rested makes good business sense. We have seen in the regulatory impact assessment that stress is one of the critical drivers of sickness-related leave in this country. I suspect that we could debate the cause and effect between this measure and reducing such leave, but anything that helps to reduce sickness-related leave and boost productivity has to be welcome.

Working hours are generally a matter to be agreed between employers and employees. Britain must retain its opt-out from the working time directive. To put it on the record, employers across the UK should see and take advantage of the benefits of offering flexible employment. Government should not be regulating to require flexibility but, rather, deregulating to permit it.

Lord Razzall: Like the noble Baroness, I welcome the regulations. As somebody who has sat through the debates on working time and related matters since I first took this opposition job in 1997, I must comment on the remarkable change in the atmosphere of these debates. It is to the credit of the Government that they have changed the culture, with an acceptance by all three political parties that these changes and the protections given to workers are essential.

Reading the Committee deliberations in another place—which, as we all know, tends to be much more confrontational than this House—I thought that the way that all three political parties, particularly the Conservative Party, have now completely changed their attitude to these issues was quite remarkable. That is welcome for the good of the country, and the Government need to be congratulated on sticking to their guns in this area.

The regulations, which provide for four weeks holiday, amend the 1998 regulations. When they were brought in, no one assumed that employers would take the view that bank holidays should be included in the holiday entitlement, particularly for low-paid workers. I have seen an estimate that roughly 6 million workers—particularly the lower paid—suffer having bank holidays deducted from their statutory requirement for holiday. For that reason alone the regulations are welcome. By comparison with most of our competitors, we do not have as many bank holidays: we have eight days, whereas many of our competitor countries have 14 or 15. Indeed, the United States of America will have a major holiday tomorrow. So that provision is welcome.

I also welcome the fact that it will be made more difficult for employers to force employees to take payment in lieu of holiday, which is another reform in the regulations on which the Government should be congratulated. I very much support the regulations.

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: I am most grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, and the noble Lord, Lord Razzall, for their support and enthusiasm for the regulations.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

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Companies (Political Expenditure Exemption) Order 2007

3.41 pm

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting rose to move, That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the Companies (Political Expenditure Exemption) Order 2007.

The noble Lord said: As part of the implementation of the Companies Act 2006 the Government have laid the draft Companies (Political Expenditure Exemption) Order to replace the existing order, SI 2001/445. This order is drafted in simpler language to correspond with the simpler format and drafting of the 2006 Act. It is being made under Section 377 of the Companies Act 2006, and its content was debated in a previous form in this House in 2001 in a very short debate. I am hoping that we will be able to follow the same form today.

I make it absolutely clear that this is not an order relating to party funding or party governance. It relates to corporate governance and how companies manage their affairs between the shareholders and the directors. Under Section 366 of the Companies Act 2006, companies must seek prior authorisation from their shareholders for political expenditure. This draft order exempts companies such as newspapers and other companies whose ordinary business includes the preparation, publication or dissemination of news material from having to seek authorisation. The only substantive change from the existing order is to extend the exemption to independent election candidates. Political expenditure under the 2006 Act is defined as any expenditure incurred on any publicity material or activities that may be intended to affect public support. This now includes public support for independent election candidates as well as political parties and political organisations. The exemption applies only to political expenditure. Companies that fall under this exemption will remain subject to the full requirements of the Act in respect of political donations.

The Companies Act 2006 has simplified and modernised company law. It has substantially rewritten company law to make it easier to understand and more flexible, especially for small businesses. This exemption order supports the objective of the Act, which is to pursue the principles of better regulation. It would be impractical to expect companies involved in journalism and news to pass resolutions to publish editorials or comment of a political nature. This draft order maintains a framework of company law that is proportionate and does not impose unnecessary burdens on business. As was also highlighted several times in the debates held on the existing order in 2001, the draft order supports the important principle of press freedom enjoyed in British public life. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the Companies (Political Expenditure Exemption) Order 2007. 20th report from the Statutory Instruments Committee.—(Lord Evans of Temple Guiting.)

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Baroness Wilcox: I got quite excited about this order. I thought that I was going to get up and save the unions, as it were, but then I discovered that it did not apply to them at all. So I can only agree that this is an administrative measure, designed to replace the Companies (EU Political Expenditure) Exemption Order 2001 with one relating to the Companies Act. As such, we have no substantive points to make and I am happy to sit down.

Lord Razzall: Having heard my intervention on a question from the noble Baroness in the Chamber on the previous occasion, the Minister might not have expected me to have another swipe at those who will benefit from this change. If we were being awkward, we might well ask why we should not make it more difficult for quoted newspaper groups to influence voters in a referendum on European matters, which would of course be the effect of the order not being passed. As I understand it, were there to be a referendum on the treaty, which it does not look as though there will be, then the quoted newspaper groups—I think that there are probably two whose editorials on the referenda we could write—would have constraints imposed on them under the Companies Act 2006. Having said that, that is probably not the way to constrain what I like to refer to as the foreign-controlled press, but I should be interested to know the genesis of this order. Who has complained? Who has said that there is a problem? Reading the previous legislation, one would assume that it was covered anyway. Therefore, is this a case of people gearing themselves up for a campaign on issues where we would probably disagree with them, and have the Government been lobbied to bring in this order to that effect?

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: I am advised that the order is very similar to the one passed in 2001. We brought it forward again due to changes in the Act. I absolutely take on board the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Razzall. When I was being briefed, I thought about the role of book publishers in this regard, because they publish political books. Would it be sensible to go to the shareholders every time you published Peter Mandelson on the Blair revolution? The answer is no. For me, the bottom line is freedom of the press. Going back to the earlier question in the Chamber, one may not like what the papers say but it is essential that they have the right to say it.

Lord Razzall: The noble Lord has not specifically answered my question, so perhaps I may rephrase it. Is this simply regarded by his officials as a tidying-up exercise which should have happened earlier or have organisations been lobbying on this point?

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: I gather that there has been no lobbying and that this is a tidying-up exercise.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

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Regulatory Reform (Game) Order 2007

3.49 pm

Lord Rooker rose to move, That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the Regulatory Reform (Game) Order 2007.

The noble Lord said: This draft order will deregulate archaic legislation that dates back to the 19th century legislation. In fact, today I am introducing the policy that was announced by Michael Howard in 1994; it has taken that long to get this through. After that, the Better Regulation Task Force established by the noble Lord, Lord Haskins, and the Cabinet Office’s Better Regulation Team have considered this an area long overdue for reform.

I understand this draft order is not controversial and has been warmly welcomed by relevant industry bodies that represent game dealers and retailers, and also by those who shoot game. Indeed, last July at the president’s lunch at the Game Fair, I announced that we were going to do this, and I shall go back later this month and say that I have delivered in one year something that took 17 years to get through.

Noble Lords: Hear, hear!

Lord Rooker: Full and proper consultation on this draft order took place in 2006, and respondents overwhelmingly supported the three proposals for change to game licensing. The draft order applies to England and Wales only. In broad terms, it will reduce bureaucracy for those shooting or dealing in game and will prevent unnecessary restriction of their otherwise lawful activities. It will also save central government resources, which are currently being put into the administration of a licensing system which is not serving any useful purpose whatever.

The three key changes that the draft order will introduce are as follows: it will remove the requirement to hold a game licence in order to take or kill game; remove the requirement to hold a local authority licence and an excise licence, commonly known as “dealing licences”, in order to deal in game; and remove the restrictions on dealing in game birds and venison during the close season, permitting game to be sold by everyone all year round, providing that the game was lawfully killed.

The draft order will also ensure that necessary protections are retained. For example, it will make it a criminal offence to sell game birds which you know or have reason to believe have been unlawfully killed or taken. The new offence is necessary to maintain the protection afforded to game birds during the close season while allowing the sale of game lawfully taken during the open season to be sold all year round. That was brought about by refrigeration—we are just catching up. Noble Lords should be reassured that protections for wildlife during close seasons are not linked to the requirement for a game licence and these protections will be retained. Provisions relating to poaching game and shooting it outside the relevant open season will also be retained.

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These new regulations will make the selling and dealing of game less bureaucratic and will benefit consumers, retailers and game shoots. Game shooting interests will also gain as there will no longer be a licence required to kill or take game. The original intention of the licence to kill or take game was probably to limit hunting to those who were able to pay a significant amount for an annual game licence—and in those days it was a significant annual amount, which is no longer the case. Game shooting is now enjoyed by people from a cross-section of society. Some 480,000 people shoot game, which is an incredible number, creating some 70,000 full-time jobs and bringing to the economy some £1.6 billion. Two million hectares of land are preserved for game, so it is a big business in that sense, but it is also very costly in terms of regulating licences. Some local authorities do not charge in terms of dealers, while others charge a large amount. The game licence itself costs between £2 and £6. If that had been raised in line with inflation from when it was introduced, the cost would be £1,600, which shows how out of date it is.

For the avoidance of doubt, the Crown post offices, which issue the main licence, will not really lose out, as they do not make any profit or get income from the licences. We pay them some £300,000. In fact, abolishing this will probably save the post offices money rather than make them lose out. The rural or sub-postmasters are not involved in this process anyway, so there will be no effect there. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the Regulatory Reform (Game) Order 2007. 11th report from the Regulatory Reform Committee.—(Lord Rooker.)

Baroness Byford: We came to this business a little quicker than I thought that we would, and I apologise to the Minister for not being here for his opening words. We support this game order which, as he said, catches up with the commitment that was made. I have one or two questions on it, but in the first place I shall make one or two general points.

Refrigeration has made a difference. It will mean that game will be able to be sold commercially, which we welcome. Hitherto it has been restricted to a certain season. The Minister also said that 480,000 people are employed in game and that it is a very important part of the rural community.

I recognise the role which the various shooting organisations play in the conservation of wildlife. It seems strange that we always talk about killing animals, when those organisations help to conserve and protect other species of wildlife. We put on record all too infrequently our thanks to all those who are involved. If my noble friend Lord Peel were not occupied with his duties as Lord Chamberlain, he would certainly have participated in this debate, because he has reflected over many years the enormous contribution that gamekeepers in particular have made on moorland—the Yorkshire Moors, for example—and in many other places.

I think that all Members of the Committee will welcome the removal of burdens and red tape. Why

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does the order refer only to England and Wales? It is perhaps because Scotland is devolved, but it will surely raise issues in cross-Border territories. If one is domiciled in England, the English law will apply, but it might be that one shoots in Scotland.

I understand the reason for retaining the provisions for those likely to be involved in poaching; that is, unlawfully taking game when they are not entitled so to do.

It may be that Sundays are already covered in the Act and I have missed it, but does the order cover six days or seven? While certain members of the community would welcome it covering seven days a week, there may be others who consider Sundays to be precious.

In recognising the contribution that those involved in the shooting of game have made to the broader conservation of wildlife, I thank the Minister for introducing the order.

Lord Redesdale: We on these Benches also support the deregulation introduced by the order. It will be sad to go into a shop selling game and not see the provisions of the 1831 Act prominently displayed on the wall, but that is part of the deregulation and follows on from what the Minister said in the House the other day about removing regulations.

Regulation 5 discusses the sale of game birds. Will the burden of proof be on those who transport game birds to say where they obtained the birds, because that might be problematic? Perhaps the onus will be on the police to prove where the birds originated, because, in many cases, there will not be a bill of sale on such birds.

Lord Geddes: I, too, warmly welcome and support the regulation. I thank the Minister for the speed with which he replied to my Question for Written Answer and for his subsequent short correspondence with me.

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