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Commons Chamber

Volume 226: debated on Wednesday 16 June 1993

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House Of Commons

Wednesday 16 June 1993

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[MADAM SPEAKER in the Chair]

Oral Answers To Questions

Foreign And Commonwealth Affairs

Resident Diplomats


To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if he will make a statement on the value of locally resident diplomatic representation.

Our diplomatic representatives provide access and influence in order to further the United Kingdom's interests in the political, commercial, economic and other fields. They enhance the security and prosperity of this country and provide a wide-ranging service to British citizens abroad.

Following the successful development of co-ordination between the Department of Trade and Industry and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in supporting British exporters, would not it be extremely unfortunate and counter-productive to reduce the number of our missions abroad, particularly when we are having to put such effort into increasing British exports?

It is increasingly clear to those who follow these matters that diplomacy, the work that I have just described, and trade promotion are intertwined and that, in more and more of our markets, Governments set the rules and, in many cases, award the contracts, so orders are not obtained without knowing the politics and the politicians—and that is not achieved with a fax machine.

Does the Foreign Secretary agree that British businesses and expatriates in Nigeria need the protection of the Nigerian high commission under the excellent leadership of Sir Christopher MacRae? I hope that that praise will not prejudice Sir Christopher's career prospects. One of the commission's officials accompanied four Members of Parliament to observe the presidential elections on Saturday, the results of which I hope will be upheld as they were, by and large, free and fair.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend— [Interruption.]—the hon. Gentleman. He was so polite that my tongue slipped. That exercise went well and I am glad that the high commission was able to give some help. Nigeria will remain a huge market. It illustrates the point that I have just made. During the past year, British exports have increased by 22 per cent. and I hope that a smooth movement back to civilian rule will help them, too.

Will my right hon. Friend acknowledge that probably the most important diplomatic representatives that Britain has abroad at this difficult time in international affairs is our permanent representative at the United Nations? Will he take this opportunity to pay tribute to Sir David Hannay for the work that he does and confirm that it is extremely important that the United Kingdom retains its seat as a permanent member of the Security Council?

That is our intention. Sir David Hannay sets a vigorous lead in all that he does at the United Nations.

Is not the Secretary of State being a little economical with the facts in his answer? Is not it true that not only are the number of missions being cut but the Treasury has instructed the Foreign Office to cut the number of staff in embassies? In some important embassies —for instance, in north America—the number of staff dealing with trade and exports is being cut, while staff who deal with media and presentation are being retained. Is not that another example of the Government's policy of being all presentation and no substance?

I have had no instructions from the Treasury in these matters. We are just entering discussions on the public expenditure round. We have had to open posts in many of the 20 new countries that have come into being in the past two or three years and that has meant retrenching in other places. This is a matter of setting priorities.

I accept that it is necessary to have as comprehensive a representation around the world as possible, for the excellent growth reasons which were given by my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham (Mr. Arnold) and reinforced by my right hon. Friend's answer. Does not my right hon. Friend agree, however, that it is better to concentrate rather more on farther-flung places than on the EEC? In that context, will he reconsider the withdrawal of British defence attachées from Quito and Manila who play an important role in addition to the commercially and locally recruited personnel?

Defence attaches are not a matter for me, but we do review the size of staff at bigger embassies. In the past few years, we have cut the size of staff by seven in Paris, six in Bonn and 17 in Washington. Diplomacy inside the Community is crucial. For example, our representatives in Community posts are currently preparing for the Copenhagen summit—warding off developments that we would not like and encouraging developments that we do like. That exercise is important for the summit's success.

East Timor


To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what action he is taking to protect human rights in East Timor.

Together with our European Community partners and bilaterally, we maintain a regular dialogue on human rights with the Indonesian authorities and raise particular issues— including East Timor—with them as necessary. European Community partners co-sponsored a resolution on East Timor at the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in Geneva earlier this year.

Fine words, but since the invasion and occupation of East Timor in 1979, one in three of its population has died and Indonesia has been in breach of two Security Council resolutions and eight General Assembly resolutions. Is not it wholly unacceptable for the Foreign Secretary and the Secretary of State for Defence to visit Indonesia and to give both political and material support to a regime whose record is on a par with that of Pol Pot in Cambodia?

Neither my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Defence nor my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs has visited East Timor. Maintaining good relations with Indonesia, which is the chairman of the non-aligned movement and an important member of the Association of South-East Asian Nations, is much the best way of increasing its observance of human rights.

Whatever may have been Indonesia's human rights record over the years, it has improved a great deal—but instead of the regime being given credit for that, wildly exaggerated attacks are made by Opposition Members. Instead of indulging in the wild exaggeration that we have just heard from the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Kilfoyle), would not the interests of the people of Indonesia and of this country be better served if the regime were given credit for the real steps that it is taking to improve the situation?

My hon. Friend makes some extremely valid points. As I said, our best chance of helping to improve human rights in Indonesia and for many in East Timor is through the processes that we undertake.



To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent discussions he has held in the Foreign Affairs Council concerning Angola.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
(Mr. Mark Lennox-Boyd)

Angola was discussed at the Development Council on 25 May.

I am sure that the Minister is well aware that more than 1 million Angolans have been displaced as a result of the war in that country and that the Angolan Government have bent over backwards to bring Dr. Savimbi into the Government, yet he continues to terrorise Angola in the way that the former Yugoslavia is being terrorised. Will the Minister, with all possible haste and urgency, stress on the Council the need for a course of immediate action to assist the Angolan Government—possibly involving the four other Lusophone countries?

I join the hon. Gentleman in condemning UN1TA's action in rejecting the result of the election last September, which was judged by the United Nations special representative, Miss Margaret Anstee, as being generally free and fair. I give the hon. Gentleman an assurance that the European Council will discuss at next week's meeting in Copenhagen the problems of Angola, which are firmly on the agenda.

Will the Minister be a little forthcoming? Since last year's elections, upwards of 20,000 people have been killed and—as my hon. Friend the Member for Hemsworth (Mr. Enright) said, more than 1 million have lost their homes. The situation in Angola poses a real threat to the international community as well as being a tragedy for Angola's people. Does the Minister acknowledge that UNITA is in breach of Security Council resolution 785, which clearly states that any party that fails to abide by the peace agreement will be rejected and isolated by the international community? What steps is he taking through the international community to ensure that UNITA is diplomatically and militarily isolated?

Clearly, the hon. Gentleman is right. We must all put pressure on UNITA, and this afternoon the House is providing the opportunity to do precisely that. The fact remains, however, that a resolution of the problems in Angola must involve a dialogue between UNITA and the Angolan Government. There is no other way in which peace can be brought to end the dreadful problem.

Exports Promotion


To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs how his Department contributes to promotion of British exports overseas.

The overseas trade services jointly provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department of Trade and Industry offer a comprehensive range of expert advice and support to British exporters through commercial sections in 196 posts world wide.

Bearing in mind the Government's declared support for a major export drive, which must be sustained to ensure continuing recovery, and the apparent lack of interest shown in the subject by the Opposition —when only one of their members was able to attend a full-scale debate on the subject on 21 May—will my right hon. Friend assure the House that sufficient priority, expertise and resources will be given by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to posts overseas to meet the export challenge?

British exporters have told us unequivocally, and in public, that they value highly the commercial work which is undertaken by the diplomatic service and to which my hon. Friend alludes so graphically and accurately. That is, of course, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office's largest single activity overseas. It is our aim to ensure that the service continues to have the resources necessary to enable heads of mission and their staff to maintain their commercially proactive role and to meet the demands made on them by exporters, directly and via the enhanced overseas trade services in this country.

How many embassies use their own property to entertain or to present exhibitions of British manufacturing and exporters' interests, as happened quite successfully a few years ago in Paris?

I think that practically all of them carry out those functions. The British embassy in Paris is using its premises to launch the new Rover model this year. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that that is an extremely important use for our overseas estate.

Would my right hon. Friend be willing to carry out a special inquiry into the failure of his Department and other agencies to match exports to the European Community with imports? Will he bear it very much in mind that this month we have broken the barrier of the £1 billion deficit since our membership? Is not that a chronic failure which is doing great damage to the l3ritish economy and to jobs and prosperity?

The export services to which I referred have made an enormous contribution to ensuring that our exports to the European Community have been as healthy as they have.



To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement about the implementation of Security Council resolution 808 on a war crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.

United Nations Security Council resolution 827, which was adopted unanimously on 25 May, gave effect to the earlier decision in the resolution referred to in the question—808—to establish an international tribunal for former Yugoslavia. The latest resolution asks the Secretary-General to make practical arrangements for the effective functioning of the tribunal as soon as possible. We support that.

What further practical measures will the Government take to support the work of the war crimes tribunal? In particular, might any person convicted of war crimes by the tribunal eventually be detained in British gaols? Will the right hon Gentleman also confirm that the jurisdiction of the war crimes tribunal will apply to everyone within the territories of the former Yugoslavia, including the military and civilian leaders of all the warring groups in that country?

The answer to the last question is yes, and the answer to the second question about British prisons is that I do not believe that we are likely to make such an offer. However, we shall support the Secretary-General in establishing the three chambers of the tribunal and working out where they should sit, which I hope and think will be in The Hague. We shall also give him general support.

I thank my right hon. Friend for the support that the British Government have given to resolution 827 and to the measures that preceded it, which have led to the establishment of the tribunal. Is he aware that the nature of the evidence that could be presented against any potential defendant is likely to be driven by witnesses rather than by a paper chase through the archives and that it is therefore essential for a special prosecutor to be established as quickly as possible, so that the evidence that could be presented to a court is not lost through further delay? Will my right hon. Friend support the Secretary-General if he chooses to accept the advice given to him by nearly every member of the United Nations and recommends Professor Cherif Bassiouni as the special prosecutor? My right hon. Friend will recall that I took Professor Bassiouni to see my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State at the Foreign Office a fortnight ago.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his expert interest in the matter. I will pursue his point about the individual, and I agree that it is necessary to establish a special prosecutor as soon as possible. Meanwhile, as my hon. Friend certainly knows, there is already a commission of experts siting evidence, and that will continue at least until a special prosecutor is established.

Does the Foreign Secretary accept that if, despite what he has told the House, those who have been responsible for the terrible crimes against humanity in former Yugoslavia are not brought to justice, that will encourage the continuation of such crimes and atrocities time and again? Does he also accept that the framework established at Nuremburg after the second world war is a good framework within which to try people held responsible for such crimes against humanity?

We now have a new framework, and it is for the Secretary-General to fill in the details. That will not be easy for him, and the House should not underestimate the difficulties, but the reason for the exercise is that which the hon. Gentleman stated in the first part of his question.

Middle East


To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what progress has been made in the search for a peace settlement in the middle east.

Another round of bilateral negotiations between the parties is beginning in Washington this week. There were some encouraging signs at the end of the last round in May that the Israelis and Palestinians were beginning to discuss detail and substance. We continue to urge all parties to work for further progress.

Does my right hon. Friend not agree that the Arab states are holding up the search for peace by refusing to accede to his request at the Group of Seven conference in London that they stop the iniquitous Arab trade boycott? As the Government's attitude was that if there were a consensus for Community legislation, we should not oppose that and, as France, Holland and Germany have now initiated legislation against the boycott, will my right hon. Friend kindly consider taking more active steps to stop companies such as ICI cravenly obeying the boycott?

I do not think that the experience of national legislation in other countries suggests that it has a powerful effect. It is largely declaratory and is difficult to enforce, so our course is the right one. Rather than legislating in this country, we seek to urge the Arabs to wind up the boycott. There has been some progress in the Gulf countries in that respect, as my hon. Friend knows —not enough progress, but the Kuwaitis, for example, have reportedly announced the abandonment of the application of the boycott to third countries. We will pursue the matter. The boycott is not the only obstacle to peace, but it is one.

I am sure that the Secretary of State would agree that the greatest obstacle to peace at the moment is the weight of the occupation on the Palestinian population now locked up in Gaza and the west bank as a result of decisions by the Israeli Government. It does not really help to talk about a trade boycott when the producers in Gaza and the west bank cannot sell what they produce in their factories or on their land. If the hon. and learned Member for Burton (Sir I. Lawrence) really wanted to help, he would urge that those barriers, and some of the other repressive measures currently "enjoyed" by—or rather, pressed on—the Palestinians, be lifted. That would be a significant boost to the peace talks.

I sometimes think that it would be an excellent thing if people such as the hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Ross), who favour the Palestinian cause, would occasionally condemn the boycott, and people such as my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton, who usually put questions from the other point of view, would urge the Israelis to do something to ease the burdens of the occupation. If the partisans—or rather, as that is a pejorative word, the advocates—of each cause occasionally used their influence and talents to urge better action on those whom they generally support, we might make more progress. Both those steps are needed.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that two of the barriers to peace in the middle east are the refusal of Arab states to recognise Israel and the refusal of the Arab captors to release Israeli hostages who have been held for many years, such as Ron Arad?

That is another fair point, but it needs to be balanced by the handling of the deportee question by the Israeli Government. The Arab countries that are still technically at war with Israel are not far off negotiating a change, but I doubt whether they will conclude peace with Israel until there is a settlement between the Israelis and the Palestinians. That is the most difficult aspect of those negotiations, but it can be helped by confidence-building measures, such as an end to the Arab boycott and the easing of the conditions of occupation.

The Foreign Secretary is right to urge people to play the role of forming a bridge in the difficult negotiations for peace in the middle east, Israel and the occupied territories. I certainly support him in that appeal. Since Britain has a somewhat peripheral role in those matters, may I urge the right hon. Gentleman to make it clear to the United States of America that it, too, should be evenhanded in the conduct of the current peace talks in Washington? Is not it rather depressing that the talks have recommenced on the basis of bilateral discussions rather than all the parties being around the table together? Has the right hon. Gentleman received any approaches from the Israeli Government or the Palestinians, either directly or through the European Community, for Europe to play a part in the economic reconstruction and rehabilitation of the occupied territories; if so, what response has been made? If the right hon. Gentleman has had such an approach, will he seek an initiative of that nature?

We take a part, through the Community, in the multilateral side of the negotiations, which is precisely concerned with matters such as water and economic development.

On the right hon. Gentleman's first point, there have to be bilateral negotiations between Arab countries and Israel, between Palestine and Israel and so forth. We had a good run through the subject with the American Secretary of State in Luxembourg last week and I believe that the United States Administration are pressing ahead with the negotiations in the right way.

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right in his insistence on the need for evenhandedness, but does he agree that evenhandedness has not been achieved under the Arab boycott, because at the 1991 conference the issue of the boycott was linked to the issue of Israel freezing settlements? Although Israel has made progress on that, substantial equivalent progress has not been made on the Arab side.

There has been progress in ending settlements. My hon. Friend chose his word rightly—it is progress, not an end to the building of settlements, which are still going up in some places. We believe that that should be ended and the occupation eased. Equally, we shall continue to press hard for an ending of the Arab boycott.



To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement about British relations with Cuba.

Relations with Cuba are correct.

The Under-Secretary of State was good enough to give me an encouraging answer to a written question on the subject on 27 April, at column 363, in which he said that the American boycott of trade with Cuba would not have any practical effect on British emergency aid to Cuba. Will the Government take that a step further? They will know that the combination of severe storms and the American blockade is causing severe distress in Cuba. They may not know that Cuban schools and colleges are pleading with Britain for books in English and for other educational aids. Will the Government use their good offices to pressurise the American Government to lift what the hon. and learned Member for Burton (Sir 1. Lawrence) called an iniquitous trade boycott?

We gave some emergency aid to Cuba earlier this year following the storms and the delivery of that aid was not hindered in any practical way by the United States embargo. The Cuban economy is on the verge of ruin not because of the American embargo but because of 30 years of imposed state communism.

My hon. Friend must accept that that is not good enough. The Government must strive to establish and maintain more open and fruitful relations with countries such as Cuba and North Korea, so that more people may be made aware of the glowing achievements of those remaining—although admittedly beleaguered—beacons of socialism and central planning. Would not that at least make more people aware that, although free market systems may not be perfect, they are a hell of a lot less imperfect than the central planning and socialism in countries such as Cuba?

My hon. Friend makes a fair point. Cuba provides a laboratory example of a socialist state gone wrong. We maintain diplomatic and trading links with Cuba, but our relations can improve only if the Cubans hold free and fair elections and respect human rights.

Western Sahara


To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what representations he has made to the UN concerning the preparations for a referendum on the future of Western Sahara.

We maintain regular contact with the United Nations Secretary-General through our permanent representative concerning the implementation of the UN settlement plan.

Is the Minister aware that, for a long time, the Sahrawi people have been denied the right to live peacefully on their own land? Methods employed by the Moroccan Government in attempting to impose an electorate in advance of a UN-sponsored referendum would guarantee an outcome favourable to King Hassan. Is not it time for this country and others to stand up in support of UN resolutions 658 and 690 to ensure that the Sahrawi people get a free and unfettered voice in a referendum and not one dominated by the Moroccan military? Failure to do so will lead to a reopening of hostilities, a terrible loss of life and a further blow to the prestige of the UN. Will the Government act to ensure that those people have a free voice?

We very much wish to see the referendum take place. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the UN Secretary-General has just visited Morocco and Western Sahara and we are awaiting his report which is expected in the next few weeks. We believe that he will address the resolution of some of the problems of representation in the referendum. I expect that the Government will he supporting the Secretary-General when we have read the terms of his report.

Does the Minister agree that there have at least been some tentative signs of compromise between the Polisario and the Moroccan Government? Should not we, as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, encourage that and, for that reason, will the Foreign Office lift the ban on Ministers meeting the Polisario? We were late to do so in the cases of the African National Congress and the Palestine Liberation Organisation—let us not be too late again.

The way forward is to support the Secretary-General. The Polisario and the Moroccan representative will be in Vienna during the world human rights conference and will be meeting the Secretary-General. Our best contact with the Polisario is in that way rather than by ministerial contact, because we shall be supporting the Secretary-General's recommendations.

Why are the Government in favour of a referendum in Africa but not in Great Britain?

My hon. Friend knows full well that the situation in the Western Sahara is compeletely different. It involves the resolution of an ancient problem in which we wish to see the representation of people who have no Parliament.



To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent discussions he has had about the situation in Kashmir; and if he will make a statement.


To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what discussions he has had with the Indian Government on the present position in Kashmir; and if he will make a statement.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs most recently discussed Kashmir with the Indian Vice-President on 25 May during his visit to London.

More than 20,000 Kashmiris have been killed and thousands more imprisoned and tortured by Indian forces over the past three years. Will the Government use their influence, particularly through the Commonwealth and the United Nations, to try to get the Indian and Pakistani Governments to reach an agreement whereby more respect is given to the human rights of the people of Kashmir? That agreement could also give the Kashmiri people the right to self-determination, leading possibly to the establishment of an independent state of Kashmir if that is what the people want.

I can certainly agree that the resolution of that ancient and difficult problem must require dialogue between India and the Pakistan Government—that we urge. We wish to be as helpful as we can. We have certainly made it absolutely clear to the Indians that we are concerned about human rights. In fact, the Indians have initiated legislation to set up an independent human rights commission. But the way forward must be by dialogue between the two factions.

The Minister referred to a meeting. What was the response of the Indian Minister to allowing an all-party group of hon. Members to visit the occupied area of Kashmir? In view of the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Mr. Cunningham), will the Minister give an indication of what progress the Prime Minister is making? In a letter to me in April, he clearly indicated that he would welcome Kashmir being on the agenda of the Commonwealth Heads of Government conference in Cyprus later this year, because Pakistan and India would be at that conference.

As for visiting Kashmir, the hon. Gentleman must take up his case with the Indian high commissioner. For my part, I believe that it is helpful that there should be visits to that part of the world. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister raised the problems of Kashmir with the Indian Prime Minister in January and with the Indian Vice-President when he visited Britain in May. My right hon. Friend made his views quite clear on both occasions and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I do so as well.

My hon. Friend will know that there is great concern among hon. Members about human rights in Indian-held Kashmir. Will he confirm that the solution to that long-standing problem must arise from negotiations between the two countries concerned, India and Pakistan, under the Simla agreement? Will he continue to bring to the attention of those countries, in particular India, our concern about human rights and the fact that the United Kingdom will be available to help both countries should they so wish such assistance?

Should both countries seek our support, we will always be willing and ready to give it. An important point that should be made when discussing the human rights problem in Kashmir is that the criticism that is expressed in the House is often mirrored—indeed initiated—by criticism in the Indian Parliament, from the Indian press and, of course, from Indian human rights organisations, all of which express their concern as well.

Will my hon. Friend confirm that the Simla agreement which India and Pakistan signed involves a commitment to start talking about Kashmir, which unfortunately at present the Indian Government appear to be unwilling to commit themselves to doing? Will my hon. Friend use every opportunity to reiterate to the Indian Government that it is unreasonable to exclude from Jammu and Kashmir independent observers such as British Members of Parliament and representatives of Amnesty International and that, short of such acceptance of independent visitors, India's reputation for human rights must be subject to the deepest scrutiny?

My hon. Friend has expressed his opinion. Obviously, contact between the Indian Prime Minister and the Pakistan Prime Minister is highly desirable. They last met at the non-aligned summit in Dhaka in April this year and I hope that they will have future meetings.

Will the Minister press the Indian Government to publish the names of the 52,000 people held in India, including Kashmir, without trial? Will he also advise his counterparts at the Home Office that, in view of India's appalling human rights record and the numbers held in detention without trial, now is not the time to invite the British House of Commons to pass orders approving the extradition treaty between Britain and India?

I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman is suggesting that we should not have proper arrangements for the extradition of terrorist offenders. There will be the usual safeguards in the extradition treaty provisions which are presented to the House of Commons and the House of Lords. The person in question will have to be brought before Bow Street magistrates court. The court must be satisfied that he will not be prejudiced because of his political opinions. The Home Secretary makes the final decision, which is subject to judicial review. Therefore, there is a great deal of protection for anyone who is brought into the proceedings.



To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what discussions he has had with Mr. Slobodan Milosevic regarding Bosnia.

I have had no discussion with President Milosevic on Bosnia since the London conference in August 1992. However, we ensure that he is kept fully abreast of our views.

Will my right hon. Friend join me in condemning the vicious and brutal attack ordered by Mr. Milosevic on the Serbian opposition leader, Mr. Vuk Draskovic, during the anti-Government demonstrations in Belgrade? Is he aware that there is serious concern about the health of Mr. Draskovic, who is now in prison? He has suffered a broken jaw and a broken arm and has serious head injuries and he can neither walk nor speak. I urge my right hon. Friend to seek his immediate release. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that is another example of the loathsome character of Mr. Milosevic, who seeks to promote ethnic cleansing in Bosnia, and another example of a fascist dictator?

The Prime Minister, responding to the sort of anxiety expressed by my hon. Friend, sent a strong message to President Milosevic impressing on him the need for the release of Mr. Draskovic and his wife and for them to be given full access to visitors and medical treatment in the meantime. My hon. Friend is right—this is a cruel step backwards in the wrong direction so far as Serbia is concerned.

In any future conversations with this leading war criminal Milosevic, what will the right hon. Gentleman suggest as to the practicality of the restoration of the territorial integrity of Bosnia, which has clearly been abandoned in the Washington agreement to which he shamefully put his name and that of this country?

The hon. Gentleman cannot have read the agreement as it specifically refers to the need for Serb withdrawal from the territories that they have seized.

In view of the increasingly dangerous situation in Bosnia, will my right hon. Friend ensure that British troops are withdrawn if circumstances become so impossible that they are unable to carry on with their humanitarian aid?

Yes. At the moment, our troops, as well as French, Spanish and other troops in different parts of Bosnia, are helping to keep people alive in two ways: by escorting convoys which continue to deliver supplies and, by their presence, averting the sort of massacre that would probably follow if they were withdrawn. So long as that is true and there is no undue risk to them, they should stay. But my hon. Friend is right—if the situation deteriorated further to the point at which we and others felt that the risk had become undue, they would have to be withdrawn. The steps that the Ministry of Defence announced last week to the House were formulated in that context.

Is not the Washington agreement on Bosnia deeply flawed? Did not it give, intentionally or otherwise, a clear signal to the Serbs that their aggression would be rewarded with extra territory? Has not President Milosevic been emboldened by continuing weakness on the part of the European Community and did not that result in the imprisonment and torture of Mr. Draskovic and his wife Danica? Is not it time for the European Community and our other allies to say once and for all that we will take whatever action is required to ensure that the decisions of the Security Council of the United Nations and the Community are upheld in Bosnia?

The advice "Something must be done" is the least useful that can be given in these circumstances. The right hon. Gentleman paraphrased that advice and made it a bit longer. but that is really what he said. The hon. Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds) alleged that the Washington statement accepted Serb aggression. I pointed out that that was not so. The pressures for reversing that aggression are political, economic and financial. Those who believe that it would be right to send our troops and other troops to enforce a military solution should say so, not take refuge in the sort of rhetoric which is an obstacle to reality.

Nato Information Budget


To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what is the current United Kingdom contribution to the NATO information budget; and if he will make a statement.

The information budget of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation for this year amounts to about £4 million, of which the United Kingdom contributes 18 per cent.—currently about £750,000.

Does my hon. Friend agree that it is clear that, despite the ending of the cold war, NATO has a continuing, perhaps increasing, role? What is being done to explain that role more widely?

I agree that NATO is a successful collective security pact and we shall not throw it away in what is still a dangerous world. Its role is changing following the end of the cold war. It is developing a new role and it is important that it should explain that role to the public, not just in this country, but in the former Warsaw pact countries, which are keen that the stability that we have enjoyed in western Europe under NATO should be extended to them.

Was not NATO established because of an alleged threat from the east, led by the Soviet Union? Now that that threat has disappeared, even among Tory imaginations, is not it time that we abandoned the massive expenditure on NATO and worked towards its break-up to equate with the ending of the Warsaw pact? Surely that would be a step towards peace. To maintain NATO on the ridiculous presumption that there is some danger somewhere is a waste of money and the maintenance of a useless and outdated empire.

That threat to western Europe was real, even if the dinosaurs on the Labour Benches never recognised it. As I said in my first response, NATO's role is changing and there are opportunities for NATO troops to help with peacekeeping operations. We have seen NATO planes enforcing the no-fly zone in Bosnia. Just because the cold war has ended does not mean that NATO's role is less important.



To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what plans he has to consider legislation passed since 1986 for possible amendment or repeal on the grounds of subsidiarity and unsuitability for the United Kingdom, after the Brussels European Council of December 1993.

We are discussing with the Commission and member states action to ensure that subsidiarity is made to work in practice and that legislation is amended or repealed where necessary. The Commission has been instructed to present the outcome of its review on the subject at Brussels in December.

Will my hon. Friend undertake to double and redouble his efforts to apply subsidiarity not only prospectively but retrospectively after the Brussels summit? If he finds difficulty in applying the principle retrospectively because there is no mechanism to do so, will my hon. Friend work with his European colleagues to try to find such a mechanism?

As a matter of law, the subsidiarity clause in the Maastricht treaty is not retrospective—the House respects that principle in its own legislation. But the Edinburgh Council agreed that the Commission should examine existing legislation with a view to amending or repealing it if it conflicted with the principle of subsidiarity or minimum interference, as it should perhaps be called. As a Government, we are looking at the European statute book with the same end in mind.

If the Government like what the European Community is doing they say that it is in line with the principle of subsidiarity. If they dislike what is being done they claim that it contravenes the principle of subsidiarity and that matters should be determined at national level. Therefore, the principle means anything that anybody wants it to. Would not it be better to have greater control over the activities of the Council of Ministers, which is supposed to decide whether subsidiary operates? It would help the House if the voting records of the Council of Ministers were systematically printed in Hansard when reports are made of Council meetings. In response to me, the Prime Minister said that that would be done, but it is not being done. Can we ensure that all Departments act on that issue in future? In fact, there are never any votes taken in Council meetings because, even when matters are to be decided by qualified majority voting, they are always passed on the nod.

The principle of subsidiarity applies to all the institutions of the EC—not just to the Commission and the Parliament, but to the Council of Ministers. Under Maastricht, it will be a legally binding principle, ultimately 'enforceable at law. But in order to make it a binding principle we first need to ratify the treaty. I should be grateful if the hon. Gentleman would assist us with that process.

Is my hon. Friend aware that we welcome his cautious approach as outlined in response to the original question? As the 1986 legislation was mostly to do with the implementation of the single market, based on majority voting, and pursued for the most part by this Government, the question of subsidiarity did not arise as much as people might now think. Does he agree that the amount of legislation coming from the Commission is in any case much less than hitherto?

Even before the treaty has been ratified the Commission is respecting the principle of subsidiarity. That has led to a noticeable reduction in the number of instruments that it proposes. But we are also anxious to look back at existing legislation because, despite what my hon. Friend says, there have been some breaches of the principle in that legislation and we wish to amend or appeal it as appropriate.

May I take this opportunity of welcoming the new Minister to the Dispatch Box? He is the 24th Foreign Office Minister whom I have sat opposite, so I advise him not to get too comfortable or he will go the same way as the rest of them did.

Does not the distinct smell of deceit and hypocrisy come from the Government when they talk about subsidiarity, openness and transparency? What they champion is usually the precise opposite of what they practise. For instance, why, last week, did the new Minister go along with the deliberate decision by the Council of Ministers not to publish voting figures for Council meetings? That was not only in breach of what my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes) was told in a parliamentary answer, but in direct breach of what the Danish people were told. This new Minister actually proposed that the European ombudsman should not have access to correspondence between the Council of Ministers and the European Commission, thereby undermining the principle of openness.

Is not it a fact that the Minister, who was the Deputy Chief Whip, is taking into Europe the same old bad habits of that secret society, the Tory Whips Office, when what the people of Europe want is an open, accountable Community?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind welcome. I was indeed privileged to be in the Whips Office for the past year, where I tried to rescue the Maastricht treaty from the political manoeuvrings of the hon. Gentleman—culminating in that heroic abstention on Third Reading.

I entirely reject the idea that the Government take the view that proceedings should be anything less than open and helpful. The hon. Gentleman entirely misunderstands what happened last week in Luxembourg. We said, and we received support from all other member states, that the powers of the future European ombudsman should, in this respect, be the same as those of our own ombudsman—powers which work well in respect of access to secret and confidential documents.

It was a matter of great regret that the European Parliament used that excuse not to agree to extend the subsidiarity principle to its own proceedings.



To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on relations between the United Kingdom and the republic of Macedonia.

We gave full support to the admission of the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia to the United Nations on 8 April, thereby implicitly recognising the country as an independent foreign state. We now have a British presence in Skopje. I visited the country on 4 June and held talks with President Gligorov and acting Foreign Minister Crvenkovski.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. Will he join me in welcoming the reported decision by the United States to deploy American troops on the frontiers between Macedonia and her neighbours to try to prevent border incursions? Does he agree that it might be a good idea if one or two European countries that have declined to contribute their troops to the humanitarian effort in Bosnia and have instead chosen to carp from the sidelines considered following that American example?

The Americans were following the European example in this respect. A Nordic battalion—Swedes, Norwegians and, I think, Finns and Danes—is already established in Macedonia. I hope that the mandates of both the Scandinavians and the Americans now joining can be interpreted or enlarged in such a way that they will be able to help the Macedonians to enforce sanctions. There is no doubt that the main breach of sanctions is now taking place through Macedonia. For the reasons that have already been discussed, it is extremely important that the economic and financial pressures on Serbia should be made effective.

Will the Foreign Secretary, in his discussions with all the people concerned with these matters, remind them that they had better not take a blind bit of notice of what the Liberal Democrats and their leader say on the subject? Three months ago the leader of the Liberal Democrats wanted to bomb the hell out of Serbia and to send in more troops, yet, to a thin House last Friday morning, he said that the troops should be pulled out.

I have read in Hansard the hon. Gentleman's remarks about what the leader of the Liberal Democratic party said last Friday and I agree with them. Will he please continue to monitor the right hon. Gentleman?

While we must all hope that the bloodshed in Bosnia will not spill over into Macedonia, may I ask my right hon. Friend whether Her Majesty's Government will ensure that we do not see in Macedonia a repetition of the declaration of safe havens which has been so disastrous in the case of Bosnia, where there was no evident United Nations determination to deploy forces to make areas safe? Have not these safe havens been just a cruel deception, which has undermined the authority of the United Nations?

Safe havens are an attempt to save people's lives. We started with humanitarian convoys. Then we moved on, despite considerable scepticism. Some European countries provided troops to escort the convoys and enable them to get through. We are seeking to move to the stage of making places safe, but that depends on a Security Council resolution—there is such a resolution—on a degree of local agreement and on the provision of more troops. What is necessary cannot be done without more troops. We are doing our bit, as are the French. Success relies on more countries coming forward in response to the Secretary-General's appeal and some countries are coming forward. Some Scandinavian countries are responding and the Secretary-General is now putting the list together. The greater the number of troops that can be brought in, the safer the areas will become and the more likely it will be that some reality will emerge from the rhetoric of which my hon. Friend complains.

Does the Secretary of State realise how ironic it is that he should be talking about Macedonia in the same terms as about Bosnia? We recognise Bosnia. Is not everyone worried that when Croatia and Serbia have carved up Bosnia, they will turn to other targets? The shame that we shall have to wade through will be similar to what we have done in Bosnia and what is happening in Croatia. In fact, we may find ourselves throwing paper at the antagonists, as the right hon. Gentleman says has been done in the case of the Washington agreement. We should be talking about putting together a peace-making force to guarantee Macedonia's boarders. At the moment, all that we have is a few troops from a few countries.

The position in Macedonia is different. The hon. Gentleman will agree that the great majority—about 90 per cent.—of those fighting in Bosnia are Bosnians. They are helped and encouraged from outside, particularly from Serbia. There is no substantial Serb minority in Macedonia.

However, the hon. Gentleman is the only one I have heard who is in favour of sending a military expedition into Bosnia to impose a solution. I respect the honesty of his views, although I do not share them.

Hong Kong


To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what plans he has to visit Hong Kong to discuss Sino-British relations; and if he will make a statement.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs has at present no plans to do so, but I visited Hong Kong from 29 May to I June. Talks are continuing between Britain and China on electoral arrangements in Hong Kong. We are working for an early and successful conclusion in time for us to hold elections in Hong Kong in 1994 and 1995 which are fair, open and acceptable to the people of Hong Kong.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that pushing ahead with the new airport in Hong Kong is crucial to maintaining confidence for the future there, especially among the commercial community? Can he give some hope of progress in the relatively near future in the discussions with the Chinese authorities about the financing arrangements for that airport?

My hon. Friend is correct: everybody agrees that Hong Kong needs a new airport if it is to remain an international trade and financial centre. We have done our best to take account of Chinese problems with financing arrangements and further discussions on those arrangements are taking place. I hope that they will lead to an agreement. Our view remains that if the problems were dealt with on their merits they could be quickly solved and that would certainly be a great boost to confidence. In the meantime, we are maintaining momentum on the airport to avoid expensive cost increases and slippages.

Does the Minister envisage any circumstances in which the Government might renege on the 1997 agreement to withdraw from Hong Kong?

Points Of Order

3.30 pm

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. A few weeks ago, during the debate on the White Paper about the coal industry, you along with the rest of us heard the President of the Board of Trade and others speak about saving so many pits. We wanted to save all 31, and the Minister said that they would save a few. The news has now reached us that one of the pits that the President of the Board of Trade said would be saved, not shut—Rufford, in the east midlands—is due for closure this weekend.

Have you, Madam Speaker, at any time received from the President of the Board of Trade an application to make a statement to the House so that we can ensure we have not been hoodwinked by the President—because it looks very much like it?

If any Minister had sought to make a statement today, it would have appeared on the Annunciator and we would all know about it.

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. It arises from my request to you earlier today for a private notice question—

Order. The hon. Gentleman should understand that once I have made a decision he cannot raise the issue with me.

I seek your advice and help in protecting the interests of my constituents, and I do so as a result of a matter that I discovered subsequent to my request to you this morning.

I now realise that on 9 June the Department of Transport published air accident report No. 3/93, briefed the press upon it and gave copies to the press. The report reveals matters of grave importance to my constituents. It shows that a pilot suffered structural damage to his aircraft but failed to declare an emergency although there was one. He asked leave to land at Heathrow airport, in my constituency, but was asked to go to Stansted. He assumed that that request was made because he would overfly—

Order. I cannot interest myself in the argument. The hon. Gentleman must put a clear point of order. Does the matter affect our Standing Orders or procedures?

I apologise, Madam Speaker. As you will appreciate, I do not often raise points of order, so I hope that you will allow a minimum amount of latitude.

The facts that I have given are essential to an understanding that my constituents, who suffered from the crash at Staines, are desperately worried.

I am able to tell you all this, Madam Speaker, only because of the media. I made inquiries and discovered that no local Member of Parliament was told by the Department of Transport and that no copy of the report has been deposited in the House. Is this something that you can look into to ensure that such matters are reported to the House?

It is a matter for the hon. Gentleman himself. As he knows, there are various procedures by which he can seek the information that he requires. He can seek to ask questions or apply for an Adjournment debate. Perhaps on reflection he will explore one of those avenues with a view to obtaining the information that he wants.

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Have you had a request from the Home Secretary to come to the House to make a statement about his announcement, which most Conservative Members welcome, to the media concerning the introduction of the expandable side-handled police baton?

Bill Presented

Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) (Northern Ireland)

Mr. Alfred Morris, supported by Mr. James Molyneaux, Rev. Martin Smyth, Sir James Kilfedder, Dr. Joe Hendron, Rev. Ian Paisley, Mr. William Ross, Mr. Ken Maginnis, Mr. Eddie McGrady, Rev. William McCrea, Mr. Roy Beggs and Mr. Clifford Forsythe, presented a Bill to prohibit, in Northern Ireland, discrimination against disabled people on the ground of their disability; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time,; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 2 July 1993, and to be printed. [Bill 210.]

Funding Of Political Parties

3.34 pm

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to regulate the funding of political parties, and for connected purposes.
Let me make it clear that it is not about state funding for political parties; it is principally about regulating outside donations.

The Bill has three main aims: first, to prohibit donations by foreign nationals not normally resident in this country, and by overseas companies and overseas Governments; secondly, to ensure the recording and publication of donations above a certain limit, probably about £1,000; thirdly, to require political parties to publish income and expenditure accounts, in the same way as companies and trade unions do.

I am sure that such measures would be welcomed, not only by the Opposition but by many Conservatives, particularly those who support the Charter movement and who are demanding openness in their own party. I hope that the chairman of the Conservative party will be able to enlighten the Home Affairs Committee about many of these matters later today.

The House passed a resolution as far back as December 1949 that
"political parties, and all other organisations having political action as one of their aims, should publish annually full and adequate statements of their accounts."
Perhaps 40 years is enough time for even the Tory party to catch up.

Why is party funding, particularly funding of the Conservative party, such a relevant issue today? After all, the brewers have been involved in Tory politics for centuries; even today their influence is fairly substantial. Various shadowy organisations, such as British United Industrialists, have been funnelling money into Tory coffers for years. It is nearly 50 years since the so-called River companies were set up as a secret conduit for funds for the Tory party which it wanted to keep hidden from public gaze.

It has also been clear for many years, to put it delicately, that there has been a strong statistical link between donations from companies and the chances of their bosses getting knighthoods and peerages. I am sure that that is a matter of coincidence. It has also been a long-running scandal that the Conservative party does not publish proper accounts, even for its own members.

Recent events—particularly the case of Mr. Asil Nadir —have made this a major and burning public issue. We are talking about some very big money. Donations to the central Tory party came to an estimated £7·5 million in 1989, £7·9 million in 1990, £15·8 million in 1991, and a whopping £20·7 million in 1992. Donations from constituency associations and published donations in company accounts came to only a small percentage of this. So where is the rest coming from? It has become increasingly clear that it comes from extremely wealthy individuals, both at home and abroad.

I am not sure whether Asil Nadir should be regarded as a domestic or overseas donor in this context. We have an estimate of his donation, admitted by the Tory party, of £400,000. The press has reported figures ranging up to £1·5 million. It has also been reported that moneys were being accepted from him when it was clear that his business was in a shaky state. We do not know whether the money came out of his own pocket or from his company without even being legally reported. I am sure that his creditors will be most interested in knowing that. We hope that the chairman of the Conservative party will shed some light on the matter.

British pension funds—and that means, in real terms, ordinary British pensioners—lost some £2 billion when Polly Peck crashed. We know that Asil Nadir received considerable support. What the public want to know about Asil Nadir and others is, what did they pay and what did they get for it? We know what Asil Nadir got. He did not get his knighthood, but he got seven Tory Members of Parliament, including Ministers, to press his case.

What did the others get and what did they pay? What of some of the other dubious donors whose names have been linked with Tory funding?

I am very pleased to hear that the Bill has all-party support. It shows that there is a great demand for it and it is extremely helpful to know that it is widely supported, even from such a dubious source.

What about Mr. Gerald Ronson, who was briefly a guest of Her Majesty's Government, who is alleged to have made donations through companies, possibly in the Virgin Islands? Jack Lyons was convicted of fraud and stripped of his knighthood and Nazmu Virani is now facing fraud charges regarding false loans from BCCI.

It is said that one of the benefits to donors was a tax break for foreign business men who are given tax exemptions equalled only in Switzerland, the Channel Islands and Luxembourg. How much is that costing the taxpayer? Is it not ironic that, when the Secretary of State for Social Security, the mad axeman of the Government, is prepared to savage the welfare state, the Government are forgoing substantial tax income from people who already have more money than they need? It is even reported that the Prime Minister hosted a fund-raising dinner for some of them.

One alleged beneficiary is John Latsis, who was extremely friendly with the Greek colonels. Another is Mr. Li Ka Shing, a Hong Kong billionaire who is well connected in Beijing. He is alleged to have given about half a million pounds.

It is ironic that the Tories made so much fuss about money going from Moscow to the Communist party. It seems that Communist-connected money is acceptable from Beijing but not from Moscow. It is also said that the Prime Minister dropped off for a special dinner in Hong Kong. We want to know the facts, and so do the public.

Why should overseas plutocrats take such an interest in our affairs to the tune of an estimated £7 million in 1991–92 alone? It is not just a question of foreign business men; it is believed that foreign Governments are also involved. The Governments of Brunei, Malaysia and Saudi Arabia have all been mentioned in articles. Is the British Government's foreign policy up for sale? What is the truth and how many others are there? The public have a right to know.

The United States have sensibly banned foreign donations and we should follow that example. It is an outrage that the Tory party should be wrapped up in such secrecy and be dependent on excessively large donations or loans from those who are not prepared to be publicly identified.

More than 100 years ago, in 1883, Lord Randolph Churchill told the Tory party conference in Birmingham:
"When you allow secret expenditure, you will certainly have corrupt expenditure."
It is equally absurd that the Government are not prepared to provide proper accounts showing where the money goes and the level of their debts. It is only when we get a revelation like the spending on the legal bill of the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Thames (Mr. Lamont) that the facts come out. The response of the Tory donors was drastic: half a million pounds was the estimate from the current vice-chairman of the Tory party.

Perhaps that is why the Government are so reticent, but, as Professor Keith Ewing said in evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee,
"Those who have nothing to hide have nothing to fear".
The Select Committee may come up with other measures. All I am hoping to do is to enable light to be shed on the dark and sleazy world of Tory political finance which has been hidden from the public gaze for too long.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. John Spellar, Mrs. Barbara Roche, Mr. Mike O'Brien, Mr. David Winnick, Ms Angela Eagle, Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours, Mr. Andrew Mackinlay and Mr. Gordon McMaster.

Funding Of Political Parties

Mr. John Spellar accordingly presented a Bill to regulate the funding of political parties: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 2 July, and to be printed. [Bill 211.]

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. You will have noticed that my hon. Friend's ten-minute Bill had overwhelming and unanimous support from the House; there was no opposition to it. One or two Conservative Members made noises, which is all that some of them seem capable of doing, but no voices were raised in objection to the Bill. It clearly has the unanimous support of the House, and I am sure that it has strong support in the country.

May I have your advice, please, Madam Speaker? Given the unanimous support for the Bill, are there any swift procedures whereby it can be enacted? It is clearly what the House wants and what the country needs.

There is no easy way to success in this House. I am afraid that it is uphill all the way.

Orders Of The Day

Trade Union Reform And Employment Rights Bill

Lords amendments further considered.

Lords amendments Nos. 9 to 23 agreed to.

Clause 22

Right To Maternity Leave And Right To Return To Work

Lords amendment: No. 24, in page 40, leave out lines 40 to 44.

3.45 pm

The Minister of State, Department of Employment (Mr. Michael Forsyth): I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.

With this, it will be convenient to consider Lords amendments Nos. 25 and 26.

The amendments fulfil an undertaking given by my noble Friend Viscount Ullswater to Lord Mottistone in Committee in another place. Lord Mottistone had raised a particular concern of employers about a woman who comes back from maternity leave early, without telling her employer of her intentions. Employers have pointed out that if they are unable to plan for that eventuality, the person whom they have taken on to replace the employee during her maternity leave will still be in post. The employer will be liable to give the replacement at least a week's notice and will end up having to pay for two people to do one job—the woman and her replacement.

I do not expect that such a situation will arise often. Most women will probably choose to take their full 14 weeks' statutory entitlement and those who do not will, in the main, be in touch with their employer anyway and will want to let him or her know their date of return so that preparations can be made for it. Only a very small minority of employees are likely to behave otherwise. However, the Government agree with employers that it would not be reasonable for them to be put to trouble and expense by such thoughtless behaviour.

The main amendment therefore provides that, in the rare case where a woman seeks to arrive back at work early without giving her employer a week's warning, he or she will be able to send her away again to continue her maternity leave until the seven days have expired—or until the end of the statutory period of leave, if that is earlier. That will enable the temporary replacement to be given the proper week's notice to which he or she is entitled, at the end of which the woman on maternity leave can return to work.

The other amendments in the group are mainly consequential and ensure that employees are able to choose whichever is the more favourable of their contractual or statutory rights in any particular aspect. The provisions ensure that the position is equivalent—in respect of the new right to maternity leave—to the current situation regarding maternity absence.

I commend the amendments to the House.

I have listened carefully to the Minister. We are disappointed that the maternity provisions of the Bill have come back largely unchanged from the other place and that we shall consider only this rather modest amendment. We are therefore left with a highly unsatisfactory package of measures covering pregnant women at work and women who wish to return to work after having a baby. It is a pity that the new intake at the Department of Employment has not been prepared, even at this late stage, to take a fresh, positive look at the maternity provisions in the Bill.

The new Secretary of State is in his place. His reputation was referred to yesterday. He is also reputed to be a pro-European. It seems a great shame that, the day after being appointed to his new post, he should find himself in a minority of one in the European Community —seeming to embark on a route that would not endear him to his European colleagues, with whom we thought that he would work closely and have a great deal in common.

I am also disappointed that our amendments to Lords amendment No. 25 were not selected and were deemed to be technically incorrect; they would have given us a chance to vote on improvements to a very unsatisfactory situation.

The Minister explained that the amendment stemmed from a suggestion by one of his noble Friends who felt that it would help employers, although the suggestion does not seem to have been researched in any depth. I was reminded of a comment made yesterday by my hon. Friend the Member for Strathkelvin and Bearsden (Mr. Galbraith) when winding up the debate. He said that the minute that there seemed to be any conflict between the interests of employer and employee, the Government immediately jumped in without further examination and decided that the employer must be right in all circumstances. My hon. Friend said that that seemed to be some law of nature for the Government. I would go further and say that it saddens me that the Government always seem to be on the side of the had employer rather than the good one. It is a great pity that they seem to react in a knee-jerk manner.

Good employers already give better maternity benefits than those in the Bill, which is a weak translation of the relevant European Community directive. Only bad employers wish to deny employees rights and are fe]:t to be normal and natural elsewhere. It is they who cause us difficulties in that regard. Such employers exploit the good will of their work force. That seems to be why the amendment was introduced.

The Minister seemed to feel that not many women, employees or firms would be affected by the amendment, but how widely has he consulted? He has not had much time to consult about the amendment and the wisdom of altering the situation, adding greater complexity to an already complex set of arrangements which govern maternity provision.

The hon. Lady is usually extremely generous in her comments. However, is it not a little churlish to complain that no further amendments have come from the other place when, on Report, at her request and behest, we accepted two important amendments extending maternity rights? Does it not add insult to injury for her to complain that we did not consult fully before making amendments when she made no such complaints while urging the Government on Report to accept the changes in respect of entitlement to choose between sick leave and maternity leave, for example?

I am sorry if the Minister feels that I am being churlish, but having looked at the report of the proceedings of the Bill in another place I was impressed by the number and quality of the amendments put forward, in particular by Baroness Lockwood and Baroness Turner. I t is those amendments that I am disappointed the Government have not seen fit to accept.

I welcome the fact that in Committee the Government accepted some of the Opposition's suggestions, but to a certain extent consultation was not necessary as all members of the Committee had received wide representation from many people about the particular matter that the Government decided to take on board.

The Minister can correct me if I am wrong, but there does not seem to have been wide consultation or a wide measure of representation on this amendment. It seems to have resulted from a comment made in the other place, to which the Minister referred. Apart from that, I know of no other representations that were made. Perhaps the Minister will enlighten us if there were a large number of representations. The fact that he remains silent suggests that he has not been written to by a large number of firms on this issue.

In many ways the amendment is rather difficult to object to in detail, but we wish to vote against it as it is a symptom of the Government's willingness to see only one side of an argument and to introduce a further element of complexity which makes an already difficult position a great deal worse.

The Minister commented vaguely on the number of firms and individuals likely to be affected. It is a pity that he is unable to give further information. Certain women who are not well off may feel a compulsion to return to work even before 14 weeks, despite that being inadequate maternity leave. I have seen no figures on the number of women who might want to do that.

The hon. Lady is being extremely unfair on the Government. She suggests that we have been one-sided in respect of our response to representations on the amendment from the Confederation of British Industry. Equally, the CBI made representations that were not favourable to the amendment that the hon. Lady tabled at an earlier stage in the Bill's consideration, to give women the right to an extra four weeks' absence where they have a doctor's certificate indicating sickness arising from their pregnancy.

It is wrong of the hon. Lady to suggest that we have considered only one side of the argument. In this case, we responded to reasonable concerns expressed by business. I explained that it would be unlikely for notice not to be given, because most people will be courteous and have an arrangement with their employer, to ensure that such a thing would be done anyway.

I accept that the Minister listened to the CBI's point of view, but responded to a different one—although I do not believe that a particular point of view one way or the other was overwhelmingly held by employers.

The Government were dragged kicking and screaming into accepting the terms of the EC directive. They did not positively vote in favour of it, but attempted to weaken it at many stages in its progress through the Community. When the Minister and I recently crossed swords in a European Standing Committee, the hon. Gentleman seemed to suggest that the Community should not bother itself with the whole range of social issues. He said that most robustly, and is now nodding his head, even though those social issues, as many members of the Committee forcefully pointed out, do not stem from the Maastricht treaty but from even further back than the treaty of Rome —to the treaty setting up the European Coal and Steel Community, when there was an obvious detailed and firm commitment to a social dimension in European institutions.

The Government's overall record on implementing that particular directive is far from distinguished. In nearly all cases, the Government have tended to back a narrow-minded employer's point of view.

The health and safety of the baby is paramount, and the amendment—which relates to the 14 weeks' maternity leave, which we feel is too short—encourages a system that is not in the interests of many mothers or their babies. Although it may be true that some employers like to receive notice if new mothers intend to return to work early, many employers disagree with the Government's overall view and would prefer to see longer rather than shorter maternity leave. They take that view in fairness to the employee and in terms of the ease of finding a replacement for the absent employee.

The shorter the period of maternity leave, the more difficult it can often be for an employer to obtain a replacement. A strong argument can be made for 18 weeks, plus the period of the right to return to work which many subject to employment protection currently enjoy but which the women who particularly concern us, at the end of the scale, do not enjoy. They are important points which the Government should bear in mind.

4 pm

Underlying the amendment is the argument that the Government have used many times. They do not want extra costs or administrative burdens to be placed on business. Behind that is the wider argument, which the Government persist in pursuing despite evidence to the contrary, that employment protection measures destroy jobs. That is the over-simplified view with which we have had to contend many times during our debates. In dealing with the argument about costs in another place, Viscount Ullswater did not provide detailed figures of how the costs break down in this and related matters.

I beg the Government to reconsider the question of costs. I recently came across an interesting publication produced by Business in the Community and the Institute of Personnel Management. It is entitled "Corporate Culture and Caring" and talks of what it calls the business case for family-friendly provision. Pages 59 and 62 show clearly that for many companies it is cheaper to give women generous maternity leave rather than to encourage women to leave their jobs or even to sack those who do not have employment protection because companies then have to bear the costs associated with starting and training a replacement. In the example cited, the company was saving about £250,000 by giving its employees generous maternity provision and generous help with child care and by following other family-friendly policies. I urge the Government to study the publication because a respectable case can be made for stating that employers can save money by offering proper employment protection, especially for women leaving work to have a baby.

The Government's costings were not very well received in another place. Indeed, they have been challenged there in the report of the Committee that scrutinises European legislation. It was found that the costs referred to by the Government could be offset by other considerations.

Although the amendment in itself is not substantial, it is nevertheless a symptom of the way in which the Government approach the issue. They have missed the opportunity provided by the Bill to give a fair deal to pregnant women and women who wish to return to work after having a baby. They have also, tragically, missed the opportunity to bring our standards up to those of many other countries in the European Community.

The Government seem to regard European legislation as a ceiling rather than a floor. In fact, it is meant to be only a floor of protection, and it is up to individual countries to provide extra protection if they wish. Unfortunately, the Government want to get away with the minimum, whereas we believe that they should go for the maximum in terms of benefits and employment rights for working women, which is the fair deal that they deserve.

This part of the Bill, which confers a number of extremely limited new rights on employees protected by law, reveals the Government at their most schizophrenic. The Minister of State in particular and the Government in general believe that any statutory protection for people at work is somehow a burden on business, merely a cost and something which should be reduced to the absolute minimum. Now, however, they are biting their tongue while introducing legislation to give minimum new rights to people who previously did not have them. In this case, it is to pregnant women who do not qualify for the existing right to maternity leave because they have not been working in the same job for long enough.

What is happening? As has already been said, I believe that the Government have been forced by European directives against their will to introduce rights with which they do not agree. They have therefore tried to introduce them as reluctantly as possible, in the most complex possible way, so that although women will be allowed to take them up, in practical terms it will be extremely difficult to claim them. The maternity provisions in the Bill provide a prime example of the Government in that schizophrenic state.

I hate to ruin the hon. Lady's theory, but may I draw her attention to the fact that all Conservative Members stood on a manifesto commitment to introduce those rights? The notion that we were forced to do so by the European Community is absurd.

Secondly, were it not for the British presidency the combination of the antics of the European Parliament and those of the Italians would have prevented the directive from coming into force at all. It was thanks to the efforts of my right hon. Friend the former Secretary of State, now the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, in her role as president of the Social Affairs Council, that we were able to secure the directive, and the rights that accrue from it, within the Community.

I am touched that the Government seem so concerned about their manifesto commitments, although they have spent the past few months reneging on most of them in the Budget—but I do not want to go into that.

My hon. Friend may agree that if there were any praise to be allocated for managing to get the directive through the European Community, it should go to Christine Crawley, the Member of the European Parliament for Birmingham, East, who moved heaven and earth in the EC to ensure that the directive got through, against the usual obnoxious and ludicrous obstruction by the British Government.

I agree with my hon. Friend. The Minister will not be surprised to know that that is also my interpretation of the shenanigans that went on in Europe while the maternity directive was going through the procedures there. Simply examining the record proves that the Government consistently opposed the directive, watered it down and delayed it as much as they could. In the end they could not find it in their heart to vote for it, so they abstained. That makes the case that they are reluctant converts to putting any legal protection for employees on to the statute book.

Two minor amendments have come from the House of Lords and, ironically, they put obligations on employees rather than on employers. That, too, illustrates the Government's priorities. One of the new provisions; is that a woman has to give seven days' notice if she intends to return early. Nobody could strongly disagree with that, but it is disappointing that the Government have not seen fit to use the Lords stage of the Bill to clarify further some of the practical difficulties concerning the length of maternity leave proposed, which is 14 weeks.

Many women start their maternity leave with 11 weeks of their pregnancy to go. That leaves them a mere three weeks after giving birth not only to get the child home and start caring for it but to recover and then to think about the practicalities of going back to work and making provision for the care of such a young baby. Even that assumes that women are so mechanical that the date of conception can be precisely pinpointed and that the date of birth will be precisely nine months after conception, so that it will all fit neatly into the 14 weeks. Any mother, and any doctor, will tell us that there is no precise science and that the dates are simply estimates.

We discussed in Committee the fact that the absurd situation could arise, albeit in only a few cases, when the 14 weeks have passed and the baby has still not been born. We dealt with that problem to some extent in Committee, but, according to Maternity Alliance, 48 per cent. of women still take their maternity leave at a time that they think is about 11 weeks before the birth. That leaves them only three weeks to deal with all the practicalities that arise afterwards.

The trouble stems not from the fact that women may suddenly descend on their employers without warning and cause practical problems, but that 14 weeks is too short a time and presents practical difficulties, both to the woman and the child, which may affect the child's health. I would have preferred the Lords to consider that, rather than trying to impose more duties on employees.

There are all kinds of reasons why a woman who has given birth may not be in a position to return to work and leave the baby at home well and settled in a mere three weeks. For example, 5 to 7 per cent. of live births in Britain are premature. Depending on how premature the babies are, they may need special care and they may have to stay in hospital, which causes practical problems for new mothers ensuring that their children are okay and that they can visit them. All those possible problems militate against a mother trying to return to work before the baby is thriving and settled.

One per cent. of babies are extremely premature and that can lead to months of hospital treatment before the baby is allowed home. The existing law and the proposed change in the law says nothing about what a mother in such a situation is meant to do when contemplating returning to work. As premature births occur in a small percentage of cases, the Lords amendment should have considered the practical problems that a minority of women must face having given birth prematurely, with the problems that arise thereafter.

Ten per cent. of newborn babies have problems requiring special or intensive care, which can last for several weeks. It means that not only are those mothers unable to return to work early but they are not even in a position to return to work after their 14 weeks' maternity leave. Those mothers then have the choice of giving up their jobs or trying to negotiate an unpaid period of leave. Just when mothers are incurring all kinds of costs after having a baby, they must contemplate taking unpaid leave and losing their earning power altogether.

With multiple births—as a twin, I speak with some feeling, and 30 in every 1,000 live births are now triplets or more—birth weights are lower and it takes longer for those children to reach the stage when they are stable and thriving. There are also practical problems suddenly facing a mother who, with many young children, has the organisational task of getting her home into some sort of equilibrium so that she can contemplate returning to work.

Caesarean deliveries require a longer period of recuperation for the mother than for the baby. Again there are only three weeks in which the new mother is meant to have sorted out all the practical difficulties and found herself back at work. The problem is not the employer's of having a woman decide that she is going to return to work early and giving a week's notice. The problems are all on the side of the mother and baby. Why have the Government decided to move Lords amendment No. 24, after one comment in the Lords on that relatively trivial matter, and to ignore serious, practical problems that occur day in, day out for new mothers?

Other issues such as the health of baby must be considered. It is thought that 14 weeks is inadequate to establish breast-feeding—as encouraged by the Government and especially the Department of Health. The number of the mothers who breast-feed is declining, which is a health threat to new babies. It should have been in the Government's mind to ensure that, before having to return to work, a mother was able to establish adequate breast-feeding arrangements for her new baby so that she could protect its health to the best possible extent.

The timetable for the immunisation of babies is more suited to the old system of maternity benefit than the new 14-week rule. The Department of Employment seems to have given little consideration to these matters, despite the fact that the Department of Health is extremely concerned about them.

I should have liked the Lords amendments to give some recognition of those factors, yet once again the other place has not seen fit to make amendments to deal with such practical problems.

The Government are concerned about what they call "costs to business", but seemingly are not concerned about practical measures to ensure the health of mothers and babies and therefore the next generation.

4.15 pm

Lords amendment No. 25, rather than attempting to tackle the complex nature of the old system, new statutory provision and extra provisions that employers may make in some cases for the female work force, merely says that women can take the best provision that is available to them. Why on earth does not it simplify and consolidate maternity provision so that employers and mothers-to-be could simply work out the entitlement from a leaflet and plan for the birth of the baby?

Instead, we have three complex and convoluted systems working in tandem. Nobody is sure how they work together or what provisions a mother may be entitled to. The Lords amendment says that she can have the system that is best for her. Lords amendments Nos. 24 and 25 address the wrong problems. They are too obsessed with disbenefits to the employer rather than practical help to the mother.

Maternity leave should be seen as a right and not as a cost. If the Government were committed to sensible maternity provision of which Britain could be proud they would have considered it in that light rather than being so churlish about the new rights that they have introduced. Maternity leave is vital to ensure reasonable equal opportunities. It is a starting point for dealing with the many other matters necessary to ensure that women can take their rightful place in the economic life of the nation and in society in general.

There is a practical and moral case for women to be given provision that they and employers understand and that can be triggered easily. For those reasons, the Lords amendments address the wrong issues. They are too modest and they do not solve the serious problems that have resulted from the Government's seeming unwillingness to provide a simple, easy system of maternity provision that women can look forward to receiving.

I was staggered by the Minister of State's sedentary remark that the British Government saved the pregnant women at work directive. We have spent many hours discussing that, in Committee and in the Chamber, but clearly it has not sunk in with the Minister of State. Therefore, let us again examine how the British Government allegedly saved the directive.

When the directive was first proposed by the Commission, it suggested that any woman working since the beginning of her pregnancy, whether full or part-time, would be eligible for a minimum maternity leave entitlement of 14 weeks on full pay, with the flexibility of further time on 80 per cent. of pay.

I should like to ask the Minister of State whether the Government now support that. If he was in the Chamber, he would be able to give me an answer, but I shall return to it when he comes back.

The directive would apply to all companies, irrespective of size. Do the Government now support that? There would be two weeks' compulsory rest on full pay before the birth. Is the Minister now saying that the Government support that? Women would not lose pay for ante-natal appointments during working time. I understand that the Government support that principle—they just did not want it in the Bill because they said that it was self-evident, despite the fact that several industrial tribunal and other cases have shown that the matter is far from simple in practice. Periods of sickness during pregnancy could not be deducted from maternity leave. The Government have a rather ambiguous position on that matter, and I would like them to clarify it.

All work-related rights would be maintained during pregnancy. Dismissals linked to pregnancy would be outlawed. Employers would be required to improve conditions at work and find alternative jobs or an improved environment for pregnant and breast-feeding women should that be necessary. There must be a real alternative to night work for pregnant women, for at least eight weeks before the birth. That was the original draft directive introduced in 1990.

The final directive was approved two years later. It took two years, because the original proposals were watered down and blocked. The state that had more to do with that blocking process than any other was Britain. If the Minister is saying that the directive was saved by the Government, he has an obligation to say whether the draft directive containing real improvements for working women is now acceptable to the Government. If it is not, his statement that the Government saved the directive is no more than fluff.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle) said, if anyone saved that directive and is responsible for ensuring that some modest improvements have been adopted in European and now also in British law, it is probably Christine Crawley, the MEP for Birmingham, East. Organisations such as Maternity Alliance, the National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux and the Equal Opportunities Commission should be thanked for the good work they have done. We have nothing for which to thank the Government. They have given every concession with a bad grace, and have had to be pushed and shoved into doing so.

I am sure that Miss Crawley is a perfectly splendid person, but will the hon. Gentleman explain what role she played in ending the difficulties resulting from a conflict with the European Parliament? I had the impression that my right hon. Friend the then Secretary of State was responsible for bringing that to a conclusion. I would be more than fascinated if the hon. Gentleman could explain the role played by Miss Crawley in that.

Christine Crawley was the chair of the Committee on Women's Rights at the European Parliament. That Committee, more than any other body, was responsible for bringing the various parties together to ensure that the views expressed by the British Government and others did not wreck the directive. That ensured a successful outcome of sorts.

If the Minister is saying that the Government were in favour of that directive, why did they object to the specific provisions suggested by the European Commission and the European Parliament? Why was it that, in the final vote during a Fisheries meeting, Britain could not even bring itself to vote for the directive, but only abstained? It is odd to claim credit for a piece of legislation by saying that one abstained when it came up for a vote. That is an astonishing statement.

The amendment has been tabled by the Government because, without it, the Bill would be inconvenient. It would not be particularly inconvenient for women, but it would be inconvenient for employers, because a woman could return to work early after having a baby and not give notice. Taken in isolation, that point might be reasonable. But of course the legislation does not exist in isolation; it exists in the round.

If we want to ensure that the legislation is as convenient as possible for all concerned—mothers and employers—would it not be rather more useful for the Government to listen to the advice that they received from the Maternity Alliance, Opposition Members and all kinds of experts who suggested that the way that the legislation could be most simplified and made most effective and most convenient would be to extend the period of minimum maternity leave to 18 weeks—indeed, to extend it to the levels that were envisaged in the European directive in the first place?

If the Government consider that the welfare of the mother and the baby is important, let me give them some examples. Some have already been given by my hon. Friends. Under the Bill, even though there is some statutory protection for a woman from coming back to work before she is ready because of illness, there is very little or no protection if the baby is ill. Extending the period of statutory maternity leave in the way that we have been urging would not overcome that problem, but it would help. The Government have refused to help in that way.

We have already heard that the Government—indeed many Governments—encourage breast feeding, yet a woman will be required to go back to work perhaps just three weeks after she has had a baby. How on earth does that fit with a Government who claim to encourage breast feeding? The timing of the vaccination and inoculation programme that is recommended for babies these days just does not fit with the insistence that women should go back to work after just 14 weeks.

It has been proved that the chances of finding a child minder in the vital early weeks after birth are much more difficult. That position would be improved if the Government had seen fit to increase the period to 18 weeks. Those are real conveniences that the Government could have offered to employers and women, but they have not done so. Why not? They say that it is because of cost.

Cost has been mentioned time and again in respect of this aspect of the Bill. It is time that the point was answered. Ministers have thrown out figures and mentioned an alleged cost of £200 million if the maternity leave period is extended to 18 weeks. They have never stated the reasons or the basis for that calculation, but they have said that it would cost about £200 million and that it would be a burden on employers' costs. Two points arise.

I am not aware that the Government have ever said that. We have estimated the cost of the additional four weeks at £50 million. But £200 million is a big number and £50 million is also a big number, particularly when employers are obviously fighting to maintain employment and improve employment prospects for those who are unemployed.

I am grateful for that intervention. I find it interesting that the figure has apparently been revised downwards. I do not have to hand the Hansard reference showing where the £200 million comes from, but the reference exists. If the figure is now said to be £50 million and that it is a big cost, in terms of how much money the Minister and I have, it is a lot of money.

I would not say that £50 million, even if the amount were that much, was a great deal of money for a Government to spend to ensure that working women had decent maternity rights. When we compare £50 million with the £1 billion that was lost in one day in order to maintain the fig leaf over the Chancellor's economic policies, it does not seem a great deal.

Some information which I did not have available during our earlier deliberations on this subject reinforces my hon. Friend's point. A letter from the Federation of Small Businesses to the previous Secretary of State for Employment states very clearly:

"From the point of view of small businesses, this increase"—
that is, the extension from 14 weeks to 18 weeks—
"would make little difference and we would have no objection to the proposed amendment."
The federation says that costs are incurred at an earlier stage and can stay in place for an extra four weeks without any problem at all, and that extending the leave to 18 weeks would simplify the system and make it easier for small employers who find the present set-up, like the set-up proposed in the Bill, a real headache.

4.30 pm

My hon. Friend makes an exceptionally valid point. Ministers manage to talk at two levels when they refer to the costs involved. They are not always over-specific about who they expect to stand which cost. They say that the cost will be a burden on employers. However, if the state was prepared to extend the period of statutory paid maternity leave to 18 weeks, the cost would not fall on employers—it would fall on us as a society. But is it too much to expect society to give working women the same sort of rights that women in other countries get?

My hon. Friend made an especially valid point about the cost to employers. If a woman is on maternity leave and an employer appoints a temporary replacement, costs have been incurred, and increasing the period to 18 weeks would make virtually no difference. Indeed, it may be that employers' costs are reduced in the medium and longer term because the consequence of having inadequate maternity leave and not seriously addressing the issue of a baby being ill or the mother not being ready to come back to work, and the problems of breast feeding and finding a child minder, is often to force working women to leave their jobs. The result is that the employer must pay the cost of advertising, finding a replacement and so on. It would be much better if decent maternity leave was given in the first place.

I apologise for interrupting the hon. Gentleman again. I suspect that the figure that he has in mind of £200 million probably relates to the compliance cost assessment of between £100 million and £250 million that we produced, a copy of which is in the Library. If he is right about no costs being involved, and if the hon. Member for Gateshead, East (Ms Quin) is right about the assessment of the Federation of Small Businesses that there is no cost in extending the period from 14 weeks to 18 weeks, there is nothing to prevent them from doing so. They are free to extend it. Employers can agree that the leave will be longer if they so wish. That is a contractual matter between employers and employees.

If the hon. Gentleman is right about all the advantages to business, we do not need to pass legislation to compel employers to do what he says is in their economic interests. However, our assessment is that it would add a cost of £50 million, which would create difficulties for employment in the future, especially for women.

It is precisely because enlightened employers understand that decent maternity leave provisions are in their interests, as well as in the interests of the mother, that so many of them offer maternity leave provisions that are well above the statutory minimum. The importance of having a statutory minimum is not to force enlightened or forward-looking employers to do what they see is in their interests and in the interests of the mother.

The importance of having a statutory minimum is to ensure that there is protection against bad employers, short-sighted employers or employers who have a narrow view of working women's rights, the interests of their enterprise and how they should operate in a civilised society, just as the importance of having wages councils has always been to ensure that pay does not fall below a minimum level.

The ridiculous thing about the Government's approach to this matter and the argument by the Minister, which underlies their proposal to abolish wages councils, will not make much difference as far as good employers are concerned. However, it will ensure that bad employers and bad employment practices are given statutory sanction. That is the tragedy of the Government's approach to employment legislation.

The amendment was not introduced when the matter was discussed in this place, but it was felt to be so important that it was introduced in another place. It was felt that, if the worst came to the worst and an unreasonable mother gave no notice to her employers but simply returned to work earlier than expected and demanded her work back—I cannot imagine many women doing that—the employer might have to bear an extra cost for a few days. That possibility is seen as so significant that it requires not only an amendment in another place but a debate here today.

Does it not reveal that the Government have an odd set of priorities when that possibility is seen as significant, but a mother's rights to decent child care, to breast-feed her baby for a reasonable period and to have a decent period of maternity leave are not seen to be important? It is not considered important to introduce legislation to ensure that bad employers are encouraged to become good employers. It seems that the Government, as so often, have their priorities wrong.

The statements that have been made about why it is unnecessary to legislate reveal the attitude that was displayed during the debates in Europe. I am pleased with the legislation as far as it goes. It is a small step forward, but does not go far enough. Instead of introducing one-sided amendments that benefit only the employer, it would be better if, for once, the Government started listening to working women, and introduced amendments to benefit them and guarantee decent maternity rights in this country.

I am surprised to see that a Conservative Member wants to speak at this late stage in our debate. I was beginning to think that no Conservative Members held a view on the important issues raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead, East (Ms Quin) and others. As my hon. Friend said, in yesterday's debate reference was continually made to the employer's need and rights. I hope that the Government will relax their guard a little and talk about the interests of the child. If they do not, they will go down as being the Government who favoured bosses before babies. I hope that that does not prove to be the case. Children should be given the highest priority.

Throughout the debates, both in Committee and in the other place, the Opposition have sought to improve on the Government's position. Some interesting exchanges have suggested that the Government are still in a rut and apparently listen more patiently to employers' organisations than organisations representing and supporting women of child-bearing age. That is an extraordinary position.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle) referred, with the benefit of some personal knowledge, to the problems associated with multiple births. Knowing her sister as I do, I must say that if—or should I say when —she joins us in this place, it will present you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, with an enormous problem. I cannot tell the two women apart and I look forward to seeing the Speaker being foxed over that.

I am not sure.

My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. Burden) mentioned an important aspect of the debate—the availability of child care for parents of young babies. It is undoubtedly extremely difficult to find child care for young babies. A recent Equal Opportunities Commission report states that fewer than 10 per cent. of children between birth and the age of four have places in non-family child care. Recent Government child care regulations require one worker for every three babies in day nurseries and other collective child care arrangements. Although that is welcome as a measure to improve the quality of care, it restricts the number of places for babies in some nurseries.

I hope, therefore, that the Government will have fresh thoughts as we see how the legislation proceeds. Thirty-six per cent. of mothers returning to full-time work rely heavily on child minders for care, but many child minders are reluctant to care for children under the age of six months. The National Child minding Association has commented that the nature of the care required for young babies is particularly intensive. That is likely to reduce the number of minders willing to look after them. Caring for a small baby can make it impossible for a child minder to look after any other child and can reduce her income significantly. The 53 per cent. of working mothers who rely on relatives for care may also find them unwilling to care for babies who are as young as three weeks.

The Select Committee on Health recently commented on the EC directive on the protection of pregnant women at work—a subject on which we have just heard an interesting exchange between the Minister of State and my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield. The Committee says in its second report that the United Kingdom Government have
"laid itself open to the accusation that it is only interested in the effects the Directive would have on employers and on the Treasury."
That underlines my point about the Government putting bosses before babies. Perhaps the Minister will try to refute that and adopt a more flexible approach to the legislation.

The maternity provisions of the Bill fail to give sufficient priority to the needs of the child. The legislation is wholly unsatisfactory, and I hope that the Government will give it another careful look.

The speeches by the hon. Members for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. Burden) and for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Mr. Miller) were classic examples of the Opposition's casual approach to placing burdens on business. They seem to discuss the issue as if it could be divided into two separate, unrelated boxes,. They seem to think that the burden on the employer is wholly unrelated to the situation of the mother and the child. The fact is that placing too many burdens on employers jeopardises chances of employment as well as the position of mother and child. The two issues are linked at every stage.

That was precisely the argument used before a Labour Government passed the equal pay legislation. It was said that, if women were granted equal pay, it would represent an extra cost and would militate against women being employed. Since then, there has, of course, been a huge growth in the employment of women.

4.45 pm

I prefer to stick to the point in hand. I maintain that the Opposition treat burdens on employers casually. Their attempts to sidetrack me from the issue do not detract from the point that I am trying to make.

Our 14-week statutory period has been pooh-poohed by the Opposition, but Germany, Ireland and the two countries of the Iberian peninsula all have similar periods. It is a perfectly respectable period, and children and mothers can deal with it. It is accepted as a compromise.

I support Lord Ullswater's amendment. It was his proposal on 6 May that led to the suggestion that employers should be protected from mothers who come back at no notice to reclaim their jobs. This sensible amendment merely attempts to give employers seven days—

The hon. Gentleman will be reassured to learn that I do not intend to take up his phrase about protecting employers from mothers. I would, however, like to ask him about his international comparisons. I am sure that he would agree that it is important to compare like with like. Is he, for instance, aware that Germany gives 14 weeks on 100 per cent. of salary and Ireland gives 14 weeks on 70 per cent. of salary? One of the criticisms of the legislation is that it guarantees nothing about pay. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that that is a major omission from the Bill?

Pay is a matter for the DSS. I was only comparing the periods involved, and I do not want to widen the debate to other issues.

I support the Lords amendment because I think that we should prevent more burdens from being placed on employers. It would seem sensible of the Government to support that idea. That does not turn our party into a party that is against children or mothers—a ridiculous suggestion. The amendment prevents an additional burden from being imposed and allows for the smooth running of the workplace. Sudden events in the workplace cause friction and a great deal of trouble.

We have had an interesting debate. When my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mr. Booth) said that we should remove burdens, I thought that he was referring to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. Burden). Having heard his speech, I can see why my hon. Friend was provoked to adopt such an undemocratic view.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley about the importance of striking a balance between employment rights and costs. Compared with our European partners, we in Britain can be proud of the much higher proportion of our labour force that is in employment and the larger percentage of women who work. Apart from Denmark, which has about the same number of women at work, we have the highest proportion in Europe. In common with Denmark, we have a deregulated labour market. We may have different views about social provision, but we take a similar approach in respect of regulation in the labour market.

The socialist paradises that Opposition Members draw to our attention seem to find it difficult to provide employment opportunities for as large a proportion of their work forces—and especially for women—as we in Britain are able to provide. In the debates that are now taking place in the Social Affairs Council and elsewhere, it is evident that our European partners are coming to recognise the importance of regulation in the destruction of job opportunities—a recognition that is singularly absent from the contributions of Opposition Members.

Hon. Members cannot say, on the one hand, that they wish to see more opportunities for women to work and thereby contribute to our economy and, on the other hand, that they are prepared for whatever burdens on business are involved in the employment of those women. What they propose would deprive women of opportunity, just as has happened in Europe. It is no coincidence that the countries cited as examples to be followed have not been able to achieve the employment and job opportunities that Britain has achieved.

The Minister may have given the wrong

impression about Denmark, which has a Government whose views have much more in common with those of the Labour party than with those of the British Government. The current Danish presidency of the European Community particularly wants progress to be made on many of the social directives that the British Government say will put additional burdens on business; thus, it is hardly right for the Minister to claim Denmark as an ally.

I was not claiming Denmark as an ally; I was merely making the point that the Danish labour market is not regulated to the extent that the hon. Lady advocates. If she is saying that the Danish Government are about to embark on that course, I make a prediction: Denmark will not be alongside Britain at the top of the league in terms of the provision of employment opportunities for people of both sexes. The policies that Opposition Members advocate would destroy jobs—a fact that is becoming increasingly understood throughout the Community.

Does the Minister agree that, in almost all cases one can think of, men too are responsible for the birth of children? A woman' capacity to give birth should not be regarded as some kind of extra cost that she takes into the workplace—a cost that makes firms disinclined to employ her. Reasonable maternity provision should be associated with extended paternity provision; in that way, the costs could be shared between the genders, within the family, and employers would not be encouraged to regard the woman as a walking womb that imposes extra costs.

I agree with the hon. Lady on her biological points, but not on her labour market points. She must understand that it is not discriminatory to say that we must be careful about the costs that are imposed on employers. The hon. Lady's solution would involve more costs through the provision of paternity leave, but those costs would have to be borne by employers. Employers make their money by selling goods and services. If their goods and services are no longer competitively priced, employment opportunities are destroyed. There is a balance to be struck.

In suggesting that the Government are putting business before babies, the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Mr. Miller) ruined the quite good reputation that I thought he was building up following his service on the Standing Committee, where he seemed to be a thoughtful person who added a great deal to our debates. His description of a measure that provides a right to 14 weeks' maternity leave, with entitlement to all the normal benefits of contracts of employment, apart from wages or salary, as well as comprehensive protection against dismissal or unfair selection for redundancy on maternity-related grounds and new rights for women who have to be suspended from work on maternity-related health and safety grounds, is absurd. To say that this is putting bosses before babies is so ridiculous that I can only imagine that the hon. Gentleman does not really think it but put it in a press release to his local newspaper—or perhaps there is some other, equally fatuous, reason for his coming out with such nonsense.

I am grateful to the Minister for giving me an idea. I have not yet put this in a press release, but I think I shall now do so.

If the Government had listened more carefully to the advice of many professional organisation—particularly the Maternity Alliance—they could have gone much further without imposing any significant additional costs on employers. My hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead, East (Ms Quin) made the point in the context of the Federation of Small Businesses. Against that background, the Minister's remarks are churlish.

I should not be at all concerned if the hon. Gentleman were to issue such a silly press release. It might help to achieve the result that we should have had at the polls last year—the election of Mr. Andrew Pearce. A few more daft statements of that type will see the hon. Gentleman on his way out of the House.

I should like to press the Minister on the issue of costs. I shall try to avoid using the word "burden", but I may not succeed. The hon. Gentleman prayed Denmark in aid with regard to regulation. He probably knows that Denmark offers 28 weeks' maternity leave on 90 per cent. of salary. If the Minister regards that as a deregulated market, his view is different from mine. If he wishes to avoid the imposition of an excessive "burden" —I have used the word—on businesses but accepts the need to ensure decent maternity rights, he must accept also that the state should ensure decent levels of statutory provision. Would not that be better than cutting provision for working women?

The hon. Gentleman is getting frightfully muddled. He is confusing regulation of the labour market with benefits. We are not dicussing benefits, which are a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security. What the hon. Gentleman has said about the provision of welfare services in Denmark is quite right. That is why Denmark has very high levels of taxation.

I was not making the point that Denmark is an ally; I was simply pointing out something that Opposition Members do not seem to recognise—that, comparatively speaking, a very high proportion of our population are in work. Let hon. Members consider countries—such as Spain, whose unemployment percentage is almost twice ours—that have embraced the minimum wage and all the other social protection policies so beloved of Opposition Members.

Of course Conservatives are committed to the provision of a fair deal for employees, but they are not prepared to accept advice that would put people on the dole. If people were unemployed, they would not have the benefit of the legislation that we have brought before the House over the past 14 years.

The hon. Members for Northfield and for Wallasey (Ms Eagle) said some very odd things. The hon. Lady said that no one could disagree with seven days' notice, yet the hon. Member for Gateshead began her speech by telling us that Opposition Members would vote against the amendment. As the hon. Lady has said that she could not possibly disagree with that, I expect to see her vote with the Government in the Division Lobby. The hon. Member for Northfield said that he did not imagine that anyone would not give notice; presumably he will be in the Division Lobby with us as well.

If the Minister had listened more carefully to the overall thrust of my remarks, he would not be quoting half-sentences out of context and he might have picked up that I said that the amendment dealt with a fairly trivial matter that happened on only a few occasions. Other matters affecting the health of mothers and babies are more serious and much more common, but the Government have seen fit not to deal with those. The thrust of my speech was that we should spend more time addressing the real issues rather than spend time on relatively trivial matters.

The hon. Lady has not added to what I have said. She said that the matter was trivial and that no one could disagree with seven days' notice. Now she says that she will vote against what she agrees is a reasonable provision because it is not something else. That is an extraordinary basis on which to vote down a perfectly sensible amendment.

The hon. Lady says that it is tactical. Her constituents will be astonished if they find that her voting record on amendments or other legislation is based not on what is in them but on what she thinks should be in them. That is absurd. If that is the hon. Lady's best argument to justify her speeches, she had better get herself a new research assistant.

5 pm

I shall intervene before the Minister gets too carried away by what he perceives to be Opposition contradictions. In Committee, Conservative Members voted against amendments to ensure that women had clear rights not to be subjected to action by employers if they sought time off for ante-natal care and relaxation classes. Those hon. Members said that that happens anyway, but there is clear evidence from tribunal decisions that it does not. Conservative Members are throwing stones from glass houses.

I did not entirely understand the hon. Gentleman's point. My assessment of what he said is that he could not imagine that anyone would not give notice and that he would support the amendment.

I said that I could not imagine many women not giving notice. I then gave the hypothetical situation of a woman who does not give notice to her employer but returns unannounced to work, demanding her job from that moment. The net cost of that to the employer would be a few days' pay while the temporary employee was still there. I contrasted the Government's concern for the cost of that few days' pay with the extent to which they are prepared to amend the Bill to show a lack of concern for women who are denied access to decent child care, are unable to breast-feed their babies for long enough and face all the other problems associated with the fact that there is no maternity leave of 18 weeks.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his explanation. He disagrees with the Government about the extent to which the protection should be extended. However, if he votes against the amendment, he will look ridiculous, because the amendment says that there should be seven days' notice. The hon. Gentleman gaily writes off a week's pay for a temporary worker as it if were of little consequence. That betrays the fact that he has never had to run a company or a small business and does not realise that such sums are often the difference between profit and loss. They also make a difference to growth of employment and employment opportunities. As we say in Scotland, "Many a mickle maks a muckle." The hon. Gentleman should be more careful with other people's money.

I should not like the Minister to misunderstand our reason for voting against the amendment. As I have explained, the amendment adds a rule, an extra complexity, to an already complex system. From the beginning, we have argued for a comprehensive overhaul and simplification of the system of maternity leave. We are using the amendment as an example of the complexities that we have argued against all along.

The Minister has done little to justify the amendment. He has not said how many people will be affected by it, nor has he spoken about the number of people who were consulted before the amendment was tabled. If he could give us more information about that and say that he will look at the overall system of maternity leave with a view to making it much more simple, along the lines that we have suggested, that would be something else.

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for contradicting her hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey, who said that no one could disagree with seven days' notice. She was clearly wrong, because the hon. Member for Gateshead, East obviously disagrees with it. She says that it unnecessarily complicates the legislation. Following a commitment to the hon. Member for Gateshead, East, we tabled an amendment on Report to give women the choice of sick leave rather than maternity leave if they were absent between the 11th and the sixth week of the expected week of childbirth.

Again at the hon. Lady's request, I tabled an amendment to provide four weeks' extra protection against maternity-related dismissal in cases where a medically certified sickness prevents women from returning to work at the end of maternity leave. The hon. Lady did not urge me not to do that on the ground that it complicated the provisions, as it does. However, it is not a question of whether it complicates the provisions. We want a system that is workable. The legislation may be complex, but the position of the employer and the employee will be perfectly straightforward.

The hon. Member for Gateshead, East seems to apply one argument when it suits her and another when it suits people who are making representations. When the hon. Lady pressed me to table the amendments, she did not urge me to rush out and consult everybody. She wanted me to agree in Committee to consider the matter and table amendments at an early stage. She urged us to make those amendments in respect of the additional month after the end of the period that would be available for someone who was suffering from pregnancy-related sickness.

The CBI and others expressed reservations about those amendments. I have tabled a perfectly reasonable amendment, and the hon. Lady's colleagues have said that no one could disagree with it. However, because it has come from the CBI and is subject to exactly the same process as her amendments, she criticises us for not conducting proper consultation.

We are a listening Government. We listened to the arguments and tabled amendments in the light of discussions at every stage. The amendments will result in substantial extra benefits for women who become pregnant while they are still at work. Opposition Members cannot bring themselves to acknowledge that it is a good measure and fulfils the Government's manifesto commitment.

The hon. Members for Northfield and for Wallasey said that the Government had abstained on the vote on the European directive. We abstained because we thought that it was being issued on an inappropriate treaty base. It is extraordinary that Opposition Members should question our enthusiasm for the directive as adopted because we abstained on the issue of the treaty base. My right hon.

Friend the then Secretary of State for Employment moved heaven and earth in the presidency to conclude the Council's deliberations following the intervention of the European Parliament. That Parliament tried to overturn an agreed position by the Council of Ministers, thus risking the destruction of the directive itself. It was thanks to the Government's efforts in the presidency that the directive was brought into force. Opposition Members suggested that the Labour party in the European Parliament carried the day; in fact, it was the European Parliament, and the conflict that arose between it and the Council of Ministers, that put the directive at risk.

The Minister has just explained why the Government chose to abstain, although they really agreed with all the directive's provisions. Was that a tactical decision?

If the hon. Lady follows such matters closely, she will know that we abstained on the working time directive. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made clear, we did not accept the treaty base, and we shall be challenging the directive in the European Court. When we believe that the treaty base is wrong, we shall abstain. The hon. Lady clearly does not pay careful attention to these matters.

The position on the EC pregnant workers directive was made clear. A common position text was agreed in December last year; it was originally produced by the Dutch presidency, because the Commission's original proposal was unacceptable to the great majority of member states. The treaty base, which we challenged, provided for qualified majority voting, not unanimity, and the United Kingdom was never in a position to threaten a veto—if that is what the hon. Member for Wallasey was implying. Ultimately, the United Kingdom secured agreement through its presidency; that is why the directive applies throughout Europe. The legislation is before the House because we had made a manifesto commitment to present such measures. We have been as good as our manifesto commitment and we were elected to implement it.

Can we be clear about the nature of the disagreements that we are discussing?

Order. Not unless they are related to the amendment.

I am sure that they are, Mr. Deputy Speaker, on the ground that the Minister has been referring to them himself—

I apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was misled by Opposition Members, who made scurrilous remarks about the Government while you were not in the Chair, and thus unable to remind them of the matter under discussion. I hasten to add that I am making no criticism of Madam Speaker.

Rather than proceeding further with my speech, I invite the House to endorse the amendment. It is perfectly reasonable, as Opposition Members have said. I look forward to seeing the hon. Members for Northfield and for Wallasey in the Aye Lobby.

Question put and agreed to.

Lords amendment: No. 25, in page 42, line 40, at end insert—

("Requirement to inform employer of return during maternity leave period.

.—(1) An employee who intends to return to work earlier than the end of her maternity leave period shall give to her employer not less than seven days notice of the date on which she intends to return.

(2) If an employee returns to work as mentioned in subsection (I) without notifying her employer of her intention to do so or without giving him the notice required by that subsection her employer shall be entitled to postpone her return to a date such as will secure, subject to subsection (3), that he has seven days notice of her return.

(3) An employer is not entitled under subsection (2) to postpone an employee's return to work to a date after the end of her maternity leave period.

(4) If an employee who has been notified under subsection (2) that she is not to return to work before the date specified by her employer does return to work before that date the employer shall be under no contractual obligation to pay her remuneration until the date specified by him as the date on which she may return.")— [Mr. Michael Forsyth.]

Motion made, and Question put, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment:—

The House divided: Ayes 282, Noes 238.

Division No. 298]

[5.13 pm


Ainsworth, Peter (East Surrey)Churchill, Mr
Aitken, JonathanClappison, James
Alexander, RichardClark, Dr Michael (Rochford)
Alison, Rt Hon Michael (Selby)Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Ruclif)
Allason, Rupert (Torbay)Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey
Amess, DavidCoe, Sebastian
Arbuthnot, JamesColvin, Michael
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)Congdon, David
Arnold, Sir Thomas (Hazel Grv)Conway, Derek
Ashby, DavidCoombs, Simon (Swindon)
Atkins, RobertCope, Rt Hon Sir John
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)Cormack, Patrick
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset North)Couchman, James
Baldry, TonyCran, James
Banks, Matthew (Southport)Currie, Mrs Edwina (S D'by'ire)
Banks, Robert (Harrogate)Curry, David (Skipton & Ripon)
Bates, MichaelDavies, Quentin (Stamford)
Batiste, SpencerDavis, David (Boothferry)
Bellingham, HenryDay, Stephen
Bendall, VivianDeva, Nirj Joseph
Beresford, Sir PaulDevlin, Tim
Biffen, Rt Hon JohnDickens, Geoffrey
Blackburn, Dr John G.Dicks, Terry
Body, Sir RichardDorrell, Stephen
Bonsor, Sir NicholasDouglas-Hamilton, Lord James
Booth, HartleyDover, Den
Boswell, TimDuncan, Alan
Bottomley, Peter (Eltham)Duncan-Smith, Iain
Bottomley, Rt Hon VirginiaDunn, Bob
Bowis, JohnDurant, Sir Anthony
Boyson, Rt Hon Sir RhodesDykes, Hugh
Brandreth, GylesEggar, Tim
Brazier, JulianElletson, Harold
Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thorpes)Evans, David (Welwyn Hatfield)
Browning, Mrs. AngelaEvans, Jonathan (Brecon)
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset)Evans, Roger (Monmouth)
Budgen, NicholasEvennett, David
Burns, SimonFaber, David
Burt, AlistairFabricant, Michael
Butler, PeterField, Barry (Isle of Wight)
Butterfill, JohnFishburn, Dudley
Carlisle, John (Luton North)Forman, Nigel
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)
Carrington, MatthewForth, Eric
Carttiss, MichaelFowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman
Cash, WilliamFox, Dr Liam (Woodspring)
Channon, Rt Hon PaulFox, Sir Marcus (Shipley)
Chapman, SydneyFreeman, Rt Hon Roger

French, DouglasMarshall, Sir Michael (Arundel)
Gale, RogerMartin, David (Portsmouth S)
Gallie, PhilMawhinney, Dr Brian
Gardiner, Sir GeorgeMayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick
Garel-Jones, Rt Hon TristanMerchant, Piers
Garnier, EdwardMilligan, Stephen
Gillan, CherylMills, Iain
Goodlad, Rt Hon AlastairMitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Goodson-Wickes, Dr CharlesMoate, Sir Roger
Gorman, Mrs TeresaMontgomery, Sir Fergus
Gorst, JohnMoss, Malcolm
Grant, Sir Anthony (Cambs SW)Needham, Richard
Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)Nelson, Anthony
Greenway, John (Ryedale)Neubert, Sir Michael
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth, N)Newton, Rt Hon Tony
Grylls, Sir MichaelNicholls, Patrick
Gummer, Rt Hon John SelwynNicholson, David (Taunton)
Hague, WilliamNicholson, Emma (Devon West)
Hamilton, Rt Hon Archie (Epsom)Norris, Steve
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)Onslow, Rt Hon Sir Cranley
Hampson, Dr KeithOppenheim, Phillip
Hannam, Sir JohnOttaway, Richard
Hargreaves, AndrewPage, Richard
Harris, DavidPaice, James
Haselhurst, AlanPatten, Rt Hon John
Hawkins, NickPattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Hawksley, WarrenPawsey, James
Hayes, JerryPickles, Eric
Heald, OliverPorter, David (Waveney)
Heathcoat-Amory, DavidPortillo, Rt Hon Michael
Heseltine, Rt Hon MichaelPowell, William (Corby)
Hicks, RobertRedwood, Rt Hon John
Higgins, Rt Hon Sir Terence L.Renton, Rt Hon Tim
Hill, James (Southampton Test)Richards, Rod
Horam, JohnRiddick, Graham
Hordern, Rt Hon Sir PeterRifkind, Rt Hon. Malcolm
Howarth, Alan (Strat'rd-on-A)Robathan, Andrew
Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford)Roberts, Rt Hon Sir Wyn
Howell, Sir Ralph (N Norfolk)Robertson, Raymond (Ab'd'n S)
Hughes Robert G. (Harrow W)Robinson, Mark (Somerton)
Hunt, Rt Hon David (Wirral W)Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)
Hunter, AndrewRowe, Andrew (Mid Kent)
Jack, MichaelRumbold, Rt Hon Dame Angela
Jackson, Robert (Wantage)Ryder, Rt Hon Richard
Jenkin, BernardSackville, Tom
Johnson Smith, Sir GeoffreyScott, Rt Hon Nicholas
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)Shaw, David (Dover)
Jones, Robert B. (W Hertfdshr)Shephard, Rt Hon Gillian
Jopling, Rt Hon MichaelShepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Key, RobertShepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
Kilfedder, Sir JamesShersby, Michael
Kirkhope, TimothySims, Roger
Knapman, RogerSkeet, Sir Trevor
Knight, Mrs Angela (Erewash)Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Knight, Greg (Derby N)Soames, Nicholas
Knight, Dame Jill (Bir'm E'st'n)Spencer, Sir Derek
Kynoch, George (Kincardine)Spicer, Sir James (W Dorset)
Lait, Mrs JacquiSpicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Lang, Rt Hon IanSpink, Dr Robert
Lawrence, Sir IvanSpring, Richard
Legg, BarrySproat, Iain
Leigh, EdwardSquire, Robin (Hornchurch)
Lennox-Boyd, MarkStanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Lidington, DavidSteen, Anthony
Lightbown, DavidStephen, Michael
Lilley, Rt Hon PeterStern, Michael
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)Stewart, Allan
Lord, MichaelStreeter, Gary
Luff, PeterSumberg, David
Lyell, Rt Hon Sir NicholasSweeney, Walter
MacGregor, Rt Hon JohnSykes, John
MacKay, AndrewTapsell, Sir Peter
Maclean, DavidTaylor, Ian (Esher)
McNair-Wilson, Sir PatrickTaylor, John M. (Solihull)
Madel, DavidTaylor, Sir Teddy (Southend, E)
Maitland, Lady OlgaTemple-Morris, Peter
Malone, GeraldThomason, Roy
Mans, KeithThompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Marlow, TonyThornton, Sir Malcolm
Marshall, John (Hendon S)Thurnham, Peter

Townend, John (Bridlington)Wheeler, Rt Hon Sir John
Townsend, Cyril D. (Bexl'yh'th)Whitney, Ray
Tracey, RichardWhittingdale, John
Trend, MichaelWiddecombe, Ann
Trotter, NevilleWilletts, David
Twinn, Dr IanWilshire, David
Vaughan, Sir GerardWinterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Viggers, PeterWinterton, Nicholas (Macc'f'ld)
Waldegrave, Rt Hon WilliamWolfson, Mark
Walden, GeorgeYeo, Tim
Waller, GaryYoung, Rt Hon Sir George
Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Waterson, Nigel

Tellers for the Ayes:

Watts, John

Mr. Irvine Patnick and

Wells, Bowen

Mr. Timothy Wood.


Abbott, Ms DianeDewar, Donald
Adams, Mrs IreneDixon, Don
Ainger, NickDobson, Frank
Allen, GrahamDonohoe, Brian H.
Alton, DavidDowd, Jim
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E)Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth
Anderson, Ms Janet (Ros'dale)Eagle, Ms Angela
Armstrong, HilaryEastham, Ken
Ashdown, Rt Hon PaddyEnright, Derek
Ashton, JoeEtherington, Bill
Austin-Walker, JohnEvans, John (St Helens N)
Barnes, HarryFatchett, Derek
Barron, KevinFaulds, Andrew
Battle, JohnField, Frank (Birkenhead)
Bayley, HughFisher, Mark
Beckett, Rt Hon MargaretFlynn, Paul
Beggs, RoyForsythe, Clifford (Antrim S)
Bell, StuartFoster, Rt Hon Derek
Bennett, Andrew F.Foster, Don (Bath)
Benton, JoeFoulkes, George
Bermingham, GeraldFyfe, Maria
Berry, Dr. RogerGalbraith, Sam
Blair, TonyGalloway, George
Blunkett, DavidGapes, Mike
Boyce, JimmyGarrett, John
Boyes, RolandGeorge, Bruce
Bradley, KeithGerrard, Neil
Bray, Dr JeremyGodsiff, Roger
Brown, Gordon (Dunfermline E)Golding, Mrs Llin
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)Gordon, Mildred
Burden, RichardGould, Bryan
Byers, StephenGraham, Thomas
Caborn, RichardGrant, Bernie (Tottenham)
Callaghan, JimGriffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)Grocott, Bruce
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)Gunnell, John
Campbell-Savours, D. N.Hain, Peter
Canavan, DennisHall, Mike
Cann, JamieHanson, David
Carlile, Alexander (Montgomry)Henderson, Doug
Chisholm, MalcolmHeppell, John
Clapham, MichaelHill, Keith (Streatham)
Clark, Dr David (South Shields)Hoey, Kate
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)Home Robertson, John
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)Hood, Jimmy
Clelland, DavidHoon, Geoffrey
Clwyd, Mrs AnnHowarth, George (Knowsley N)
Coffey, AnnHowells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd)
Connarty, MichaelHoyle, Doug
Cook, Frank (Stockton N)Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Cook, Robin (Livingston)Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Corbett RobinHughes, Roy (Newport E)
Corbyn, JeremyHughes, Simon (Southwark)
Cousins, JimHutton, John
Cryer, BobIllsley, Eric
Cunningham, Jim (Covy SE)Ingram, Adam
Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr JohnJackson, Glenda (H'stead)
Dafis, CynogJackson, Helen (Shef'ld, H)
Darling, AlistairJamieson, David
Davidson, IanJanner, Greville
Davies, Bryan (Oldham C'tral)Jones, Ieuan Wyn (Ynys Môn)
Denham, JohnJones, Lynne (B'ham S O)

Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)Primarolo, Dawn
Jowell, TessaPurchase, Ken
Kaufman, Rt Hon GeraldQuin, Ms Joyce
Keen, AlanRadice, Giles
Kennedy, Charles (Ross,C&S)Randall, Stuart
Kennedy, Jane (Lpool Brdgn)Raynsford, Nick
Khabra, Piara S.Reid, Dr John
Kilfoyle, PeterRendel, David
Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil (Islwyn)Robertson, George (Hamilton)
Kirkwood, ArchyRoche, Mrs. Barbara
Leighton, RonRogers, Allan
Litherland, RobertRooker, Jeff
Livingstone, KenRooney, Terry
Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Llwyd, ElfynRowlands, Ted
Loyden, EddieRuddock, Joan
Lynne, Ms LizSalrnond, Alex
McAllion, JohnSedgemore, Brian
McAvoy, ThomasSheerman, Barry
McCartney, IanSheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Macdonald, CalumShore, Rt Hon Peter
McKelvey, WilliamShort, Clare
Mackinlay, AndrewSimpson, Alan
McLeish, HenrySkinner, Dennis
Maclennan, RobertSmith, Andrew (Oxford E)
McNamara, KevinSmith, C. (Isl'ton S & F'sbury)
McWilliam, JohnSmith, Rt Hon John (M'kl'ds E)
Madden, MaxSmith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Mahon, AliceSmyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)
Mandelson, PeterSoley, Clive
Marek, Dr JohnSpearing, Nigel
Marshall, David (Shettleston)Spellar, John
Martin, Michael J. (Springburn)Steel, Rt Hon Sir David
Martlew, EricSteinberg, Gerry
Maxton, JohnStevenson, George
Meacher, MichaelStott, Roger
Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)Strang, Dr. Gavin
Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll Bute)Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Milburn, AlanTaylor, Matthew (Truro)
Miller, AndrewTipping, Paddy
Mitchell, Austin (Gt Grimsby)Trimble, David
Moonie, Dr LewisTurner, Dennis
Morgan, RhodriTyler, Paul
Morris, Rt Hon A. (Wy'nshawe)Vaz, Keith
Morris, Estelle (B'ham Yardley)Wallace, James
Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)Walley, Joan
Mowlam, MarjorieWardell, Gareth (Gower)
Mudie, GeorgeWareing, Robert N
Mullin, ChrisWelsh, Andrew
Murphy, PaulWicks, Malcolm
Oakes, Rt Hon GordonWigley, Dafydd
O'Brien, Michael (N W'kshire)Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Sw'n W)
O'Brien, William (Normanton)Williams, Alan W (Carmarthen)
O'Hara, EdwardWinnick, David
Olner, WilliamWise, Audrey
O'Neill, MartinWorthington, Tony
Orme, Rt Hon StanleyWray, Jimmy
Patchett, TerryWright, Dr Tony
Pike, Peter L.Young, David (Bolton SE)
Pope, Greg
Powell, Ray (Ogmore)

Tellers for the Noes:

Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lew'm E)

Mr. Cordon McMaster and

Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)

Mr. Jon Owen Jones.

Prescott, John

Question accordingly agreed to.

Lords amendments Nos. 26 to 28 agreed to.

New Clause

Lords amendment: No. 29— Entitlement to itemised pay settlement

(". After section 146(4) of the 1978 Act (provisions disapplied in relation to employment below minimum number of hours weekly) there shall be inserted—

"(4A) Subject to subsection (4B), subsection (4) shall have effect as respects section 8 subject to the following modifications, namely—

  • (a) the substitution of a reference to eight hours weekly for the reference to sixteen hours weekly, and
  • (b) the omission of the words "Subject to subsection (5), (6) and (7)",
  • (4B) Subsection (4A) shall not apply in relation to employment if, at the relevant date, the number of employees employed by the employer, added to the number employed by any associated employer, is less than twenty.

    (4C) For the purposes of subsection (4B) "relevant date" means the date on which any payment of wages or salary is made to an employee in respect of which he would, apart from subsection (4B), have the right to an itemised pay statement."")

    Read a Second time.

    With this it will be convenient also to discuss Lords amendment No. 41.

    I beg to move, as an amendment to the Lords amendment, amendment (a) leave out subsection (4B).

    This is an important amendment and we will seek to divide the House on it, as it seeks to establish an important right for many part-time workers who will not otherwise be covered by the welcome concession by the Government.

    The amendment concerns the right of employees to receive an itemised pay statement. Many of us feel that that is a basic right for all people in employment. However, until the Government agree to amend the Bill, employees who work for between eight hours and 16 hours a week have to work for the same employer for five years before they have the right to an itemised pay statement. We find it quite amazing that some people have to work for one employer for that length of time before they can enjoy what most of us would consider a basic and necessary right.

    We are glad that, in order to respond to concerns expressed by hon. Members on both sides of the House, the Government have agreed to extend the right to an itemised pay statement to many part-time workers who work for between eight and 16 hours per week. The Lords amendment excludes part-time workers working between eight and 16 hours in firms with fewer than 20 employees. We feel strongly that that rather large derogation from the new rule is unjustified, so we have tabled our amendment to do away with it.

    The arguments advanced by the Minister in the other place in favour of the amendment were similar to those that I would put forward in favour of our amendment, which extends that right even further. In the other place, the Minister said that employees should have the right to know how their pay is made up, with which I am sure my hon. Friends agree strongly. But we do not see why that right should be denied to workers in firms with fewer than 20 employees.

    5.30 pm

    Does the hon. Lady agree that the majority of difficult contractual disputes between employers and employees arise in smaller firms, particularly those with half a dozen to a dozen employees, where the hours of work may not be fully noted and where the conditions may not be fully recorded because they vary from time to time? Does she further agree that the Lords amendment will remove a necessary protection from a large number of workers if the figure is as high as 20?

    I agree with the points made by the hon. and learned Gentleman, to which I shall come later. The evidence available to us suggests that what the hon. and learned Gentleman says is right and that the greatest difficulties have arisen for workers in small firms who have wanted itemised pay statements but have been unable to obtain them.

    Unfortunately, there is much evidence that the denial of itemised pay statements to employees is part and parcel of an attempt by employers criminally to defraud the Treasury by not registering employees properly for national insurance purposes. Therefore, they have been happy to deny their employees this right. Unless employees caught in that situation have written evidence of deductions from their pay, they might even be thought to be colluding with the employer in such frauds and malpractices. That is another important reason why we want to extend the right to an itemised pay statement as widely as possible.

    There is no doubt that having the right to an itemised pay statement would simplify the process of resolving disputes over pay and deductions which can arise, causing problems for employers and employees. In addition, the right to an itemised pay statement can be crucial to an employee's attempt to gain benefits to which he is entitled. Without such written proof in the form of an itemised pay statement, an employee may have great difficulty in proving his entitlement to benefits which may enable him to make ends meet. We are talking not about something theoretical, but about something that is of immense practical help to people if the system is made to work properly.

    It is also important for employees to have written proof of their pay—and conditions—if they transfer to another employer who asks for such information. I should also mention the value of such a system to the Child Support Agency that the Government have set up. There again, a person may need proof of his or her financial situation in the form of an itemised pay statement in order to support his or her case.

    It is odd that the Government should be so keen to ensure that the check-off arrangement should be spelt out in seemingly endless detail, as they clearly were in the early parts of the Bill, but are not prepared to allow every employee the basic right to an itemised pay statement. Surely, if the Government are so keen on allowing employees to see what deductions are made for trade union subscriptions, they should also be keen for employers to show employees the state of their pay and the full range of deductions.

    Those are important matters, to which, to be fair to the Government, the Minister in another place referred, but, having made those important points, he agreed, surprisingly, to deny so many people the right to an itemised pay statement.

    The Government have come out with some curious arguments for not wishing to extend that right to all people, even in small companies. The argument about costs has been put forward, but I do not know whether the Government will be able to persuade us today any more easily than the Minister in the other place was able to persuade the Members there. He singularly failed to convince them of what he was saying about costs. The cost of giving employees an itemised statement may be slight. The Minister in the other place agreed that various standard proformas were available, making it easy for employers to complete such requirement.

    During the discussion on the previous set of amendments, the hon. Lady criticised me for bringing forward an amendment without having consulted widely. Does she not think that it would be right for the Government, having consulted on this matter, to take account of the representations that we have received from organisations such as the Forum of Private Business?

    I hope that the Minister will consider the information and evidence available to him from all quarters. We have received interesting information from the National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux and organisations such as the Fawcett Society. They have talked to employers in some detail in order to try to work out the costs involved.

    They concluded that many employers can produce itemised pay statements without any difficulty whatever, that they can be absorbed into existing administrative costs and that the booklets of proforma statements, which can be easily completed, would make that an easy job for small businesses. I hope that the Minister will address that evidence, as well as other representations made to him. I can only go on the representations that have been made to us, which have all been in favour of extending that right to many, if not all, employees.

    It is not only Opposition Members who are concerned about that issue. In Committee, the hon. Member for Tiverton (Mrs. Browning) spoke first about extending that right to part-time workers—those who work between eight and 16 hours per week. We agreed strongly with the points that she made, and it was partly as a result of her representations that the Government tabled this amendment. However, I am not sure that the hon. Lady would support the Minister in this derogation for companies with fewer than 20 employees.

    The Minister is nodding. In that case I am disappointed with the hon. Lady, because it goes against many of the arguments that she advanced in Committee, where she spoke of the individuals about whom we are concerned in this amendment—those working in small companies that may exploit them by not giving them this information.

    I well remember the Minister in Committee making one of his revealing jokes. He said that there seemed to be cross-party agreement about the amendment, which probably meant that it was wrong. That tells us something about the Minister's attitude. I urge him to take into consideration the comments made not only from this side of the House but by Conservative Members in Committee, as well as the wealth of opinion from the Fawcett Society and the National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux, to which I pay tribute for its work on that issue.

    I refer also to the views of organisations such as the townswomen's guilds, the National Federation of Women's Institutes and the United Kingdom Federation of Business and Professional Women, which all support the argument that we are advancing today. Those organisations carry considerable weight, not least in Conservative constituencies. The Minister ought to take that into account, consult those organisations, and learn their views. They feel strongly that many employees are being denied a basic right that most people would consider normal and natural in a civilised society.

    I referred to evidence collected by various organisations that some employers who are trying to defraud the authorities deny employees the right to an itemised pay statement. NACAB states that many employers do not issue employees with itemised pay statements, and that there is often doubt whether the employer is paying tax and national insurance contributions on behalf of the employee.

    A CAB in Essex reported that employees at one establishment were paid in cash, and handed back an amount to cover their tax and national insurance—but had no evidence whether those moneys were being passed on to the appropriate authorities. No itemised pay statement was issued, and the employer "turned nasty" when asked for one. The CAB's client found another job and asked for her P45. Instead of receiving an updated P45, that which she had originally given the first employer was returned to her—which seems to prove that that employer was trying to defraud the system and to avoid the regulations covering both employers and employees.

    A CAB in Warwickshire reported a client whose wages were paid partly by cheque and partly in cash, to enable the employer to default on national insurance and PAYE. The bureau explained that, as the client lived in a tied cottage, she was very reluctant to complain, because obviously not only her job but also her home was at risk.

    A CAB in Shropshire commented:
    "It is often only when employees leave their employment that they discover that their employer has not been deducting or paying over PAYE, income tax and national insurance contributions."
    It is extremely important for the right to an itemised pay statement to be widely available, so that attempted fraud can be overcome.

    The right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) mentioned the number of people who might be affected. The Government are excluding many by the derogation that the amendment introduces. Figures supplied by the Library suggest that 7 million employees work in businesses having fewer than 20 employees—about 31 per cent. of all those in work. A number work for only between eight and 16 hours a week. I do not have Government figures, but I believe that hundreds of thousands of workers would be affected by the Government's proposal. I should be grateful for any figures that the Minister can give.

    I understand that about 780,000 people work more than eight hours but fewer than 16 hours a week in companies employing fewer than 20 people. That substantial figure represents the number who will fall foul of the Government's amendment. We ask the Minister to consider those 780,000 people and their right to an itemised pay statement.

    5.45 pm

    The Minister may argue that there is nothing to stop employers issuing itemised pay statements. That is true, but we are concerned about employers who do not observe that practice. If many firms are already able to issue such statements, we see no reason why others should not he able similarly to comply.

    We are concerned also about employees who work fewer than eight hours a week. Although we have not tabled an amendment on that specific issue, it touches on the Government amendment under consideration. We see no justification for the eight-hour cut-off limit. In Committee, the Minister said that it would be inconvenient for employers to issue pay statements to those who only work two or three hours a week, but I ask the Minister to view the matter from the employee's point of view.

    An employee may work fewer than eight hours in one job but additional hours in another job. He or she may need to prove total entitlement to certain benefits, want to transfer to another employer, or meet all the other possible scenarios that I mentioned earlier.

    Many people in Britain today work in unsatisfactory part-time jobs. Sometimes, they have two or three such jobs—and may ultimately find it difficult to claim pension or other entitlements if they are unable to prove that they have worked as many hours as they have.

    The hon. Lady suggests that anyone in Britain who employs a cleaning lady, gardener, or someone else to do the odd job should be required—regardless of the amount of time worked—to produce an itemised pay statement as a matter of law. Is that her proposal?

    Employees, no matter in what capacity they work, should receive an itemised pay statement if they want one. Under the Government's rules, they will have no such entitlement. The Government do not understand the difficulties confronting many people in Britain today who have been casualised by Government employment policies. They work week in, week out in unsatisfactory conditions of employment, and then discover that the hours worked count for very little in respect of their benefits and pension rights, and that there is little to which to look forward in the future. They are therefore twice handicapped.

    I beg the Minister to examine more carefully than he seems prepared to do some of the dire working conditions that obtain in Britain today, of which the denial of an itemised pay statement is part and parcel. It may seem a small part, but it is an important element in an unsatisfactory equation.

    By removing the derogation for firms employing 20 or fewer employees and the time limit, the Minister will take a small but significant step towards improving the lot of part-time and temporary workers.

    We are concerned that part-time workers appear to have such a bad deal. In order to be entitled to many employment rights, they have to work for one employer for five years, which, in effect, denies about two thirds of part-time workers any employment rights at all. It is an absolute scandal.

    Other European countries do not make the same rigid distinctions between full-time and part-time workers; nor do they distinguish between different types of part-time work. For example; they do not distinguish between part-time work lasting 16 hours or eight hours, a distinction which is so unfavourable for many part-time workers in Britain.

    The Government should consider far more seriously extending full-time employment rights to part-time workers. They sometimes accuse us of being anti part-time workers. We are not, but we are anti part-time work in appalling conditions. We want part-time work to be a tremendous opportunity for women and men, but unfortunately it is not: it is merely a way of exploiting them and giving them fewer employment rights than their full-time counterparts. We are not opposed to part-time work—we are very much in favour of it—but we do not want it to be used to penalise people for the rest of their working lives, which is what appears to be happening under the system approved by the Government.

    I refer the Minister of State to the excellent report produced some time ago by the Committee which considers European legislation in another place. It is a very good report, which pours cold water on the Government's claims about the extra costs incurred in extending many employment rights to part-time workers. If the Minister studies the information in detail, he will see that a very impressive case was made for extending such rights to part-time workers.

    Indeed, a survey referred to in the Committee's report showed that less than 1 per cent. of firms which were contacted quoted poorer employment rights as the reason for employing part-time workers. Generally, there seemed to be a great lack of conviction in the Government's case that extending even basic rights to part-time workers would cost the earth. The evidence for the Government's argument is patchy, but the evidence that British part-time workers are getting a poor deal is not patchy but overwhelming.

    I urge the Minister to do what he has often said he favours, and encourage quality part-time work by accepting the ideas that we have proposed in all the debates. As a modest beginning, he could welcome the amendment and thus allow those who want an itemised pay statement to have it. It is a basic right, which should no longer be denied.

    My comments relate to the 20-employee limit. I am surprised that the Government have chosen such a high figure. It is almost inconceivable that an employer who has 19, 15 or even a dozen employees could remain in business if he was incapable of filling in a small form setting out the items that comprise an employee's pay. It does not require sophisticated machinery, a chartered accountant or a qualified bookkeeper to do so; it requires only a duplicate pad on which the employer's bookkeeper—who is often not qualified—jots down for the benefit of the employee the number of hours worked, the hourly rate for the work, any overtime, and any other items which make up his pay. If an employer is not capable of carrying out such rudimentary book work, it is unlikely that he will stay in business very long.

    As I am sire the Government have learnt in the past three years in particular, it is often small firms which go bankrupt or into liquidation because they are incapable of completing their books properly. The resulting debt is often crippling for the victims. All hon. Members are aware of small businesses in their constituencies whose proprietors have faced bankruptcy or near-bankruptcy because of the inefficiency of other small firms and organisations purchasing from them.

    I would suggest that modest bookkeeping requirements, including the provision of itemised pay statements, help towards the necessary measure of efficiency. I do not suggest that the requirement should be placed on the very smallest employers, those employing two, three, or perhaps fewer than half a dozen employees. In that respect, I take a slightly different view from the Labour party, but an employer who employs more than half a dozen people can be regarded as significant in an employment market where such a large proportion of working people are employed in small firms.

    I hear what the hon. and learned Gentleman is saying. He agrees with the Government that there should be an exemption for small firms, but says that it should apply to those employing six rather than 20 people. The Liberal party has not tabled an amendment to reflect that view. I should have thought that, if the hon. and learned Gentleman believed that the figure should be six rather than 20, he would have been able to make a case for that idea and tabled an amendment. What does he expect the Government to do in response to his representations, given the fact that we have reached this stage in our consideration of the Bill?

    I do not harbour the illusion that the hon. Gentleman would have urged his right hon. and hon. Friends to vote for such an amendment had I tabled it. It is for the Government to make the regulations. They are well aware of representations that have been made. [ Interruption.] If the Minister will listen for a moment, I repeat that the Government are well aware of the all-party representations made on this issue in Committee.

    As we have been reminded, it was the hon. Member for Tiverton (Mrs. Browning), who is sitting behind the Minister, who urged on the Committee—indeed, who assisted Labour Members in urging on the Committee—an amendment that was incorporated in part in Lords amendment No. 29. It is somewhat surprising that the hon. Lady now seems to accept that the 20-employee limit is appropriate. When the Government fix an appropriate level, they should act in the interests of both employers and employees.

    In an intervention, the Minister of State mentioned the Forum of Private Business. I have considerable regard for that organisation, which provides useful information to hon. Members, enabling us to keep abreast of the requirements and concerns of small employers in particular. However, the organisation is not always right. Of course, the way in which it collects its material is founded on the sending of questionnaires for which it devises the questions.

    Mr. Michael Forsyth