I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
I think that this will be the last of my private Members’ Bills to which I shall have the privilege of speaking in this Parliament. It is the 11th of my presentation Bills in this Session that we have had the opportunity to debate, albeit briefly in this case. I thank all the officials of the House for their assistance, and one in particular, who will know who she is, for her indulgence in helping me with the preparation and introduction of those Bills.
Clause 1 of this Bill would remove requirements under European working time regulation, so far as that applies to the United Kingdom, from
“any employee who with the agreement of the employer has chosen to opt out of the provisions of the”
working time directive and the European Working Time Regulations 1998. It would also provide that the directive and the regulations would not apply to
“doctors and other health professionals”.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol North West (Charlotte Leslie) has been a great campaigner on that issue, and the Government have often said that they want to sort out the absurdity of doctors and other health professionals having to work rigid hours, and therefore not being able to do the best for their patients. The requirement causes a particular problem for trainees. Something needs to be sorted out, but that will not happen unless our own Parliament takes control of the situation.
The clause would also provide that the directive and the regulations would not apply to
“any time spent by an employee on call and not working”
“the calculation of entitlements to holiday and holiday pay, bonuses and overtime”.
I have had the privilege of discussing recent court cases relating to that situation with the Minister and others, and she concedes that the current position will cost British industry tens of millions of pounds. The Government do not want that to happen, but what are we going to do about it? The Bill would allow us to disapply the working time directive from such calculations so that we could go back to having holiday pay, bonuses and overtime calculated on the basis of privity of contract between employer and employee.
The Bill contains much more material than we will be able to do justice to in the next couple of minutes, but I hope that I have put down a marker showing why it deserves to make further progress. The Government need to do something, instead of just sitting back and saying, “We’re terribly worried about all this.”
I rise briefly for two reasons, the first of which is that we have only 90 seconds left. Secondly, I speak as someone who was an employment Minister in the previous Labour Government between 2006 and 2007. During that time, one of the tasks that I was given by Downing street was to defend the working time directive opt-out, which was under threat from European states that were jealous about how Britain organised its working arrangements for staff. We were keen that people who, for a variety of reasons, wished to exceed the 48 hours that would be regulated as their working time were not prevented from doing so. We thought that people should not be prevented from working overtime or taking the opportunities that their employer provided because of some European regulation.
When I was defending the opt-out, my first port of call, to the surprise of my civil servants, was Paris. They thought that that was the wrong place to begin because it was the French Government who were the most insistent that the opt-out should be withdrawn. I thought that it was only courteous to speak to the French to let them know that we were in dispute about what they were trying to impose on British workers, and that we wanted to ensure that British people had the chance to make their own—
The debate stood adjourned (Standing Order No. 11(2)).
Ordered, That the debate be resumed on Friday 27 February.