Temporary and Agency Workers (Equal Treatment) Bill

– in a Public Bill Committee at on 7 May 2008.

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[Mr. Mike Hancock in the Chair]

Photo of Mike Hancock Mike Hancock Liberal Democrat, Portsmouth South 9:30, 7 May 2008

Before we begin, I wish to say for the comfort of hon. Members that if anyone wishes to take off their jacket, please do so. Will they also ensure that mobile phones are on vibrate or silent? I remind the Committee that, as a general rule, adequate notice has to be given of amendments. I do not intend to call starred amendments.

Photo of Andrew Miller Andrew Miller Chair, Regulatory Reform Committee, Chair, Regulatory Reform Committee

I beg to move,

That, if proceedings on the Temporary and Agency Workers (Equal Treatment) Bill are not completed at this day’s sitting, the Committee do meet on Wednesdays (except for Wednesday 4th June) when the House is sitting at half-past Nine o’clock.

This is the second time that I have served under your chairmanship, Mr. Hancock, and the first when I have been leading on a Bill. You and I go back rather a long way.

Photo of Andrew Miller Andrew Miller Chair, Regulatory Reform Committee, Chair, Regulatory Reform Committee

Too long, but no doubt we agree wholeheartedly that any attempt to amend the sittings motion so that the Committee sits on 17 May should be regarded as out of order, given that there is an important match on that day.

It is something of an unusual sittings motion for a private Member’s Bill, given that we are sitting on Wednesday mornings with the exception of 4 June. The Regulatory Reform Committee of which I am Chairman is undertaking a small study that will result in the hon. Member for Solihull and I being out of the country on that day. That is the reason for the exception.

With your indulgence, Mr. Hancock, and that of your fellow Chairman, Mr. Martlew, I shall at an appropriate time come back to the Committee with an amendment to the sittings motion to enable us to complete our business, but several events make that inappropriate at present. My hon. Friend the Minister for Employment Relations and Postal Affairs and the hon. Member for Huntingdon referred to such matters last night in the debate on the money resolution.

A discussion is being held outside this place to address a matter that all members of the Committee believe needs to be resolved at the earliest date. It concerns a proper mechanism and whether the solution lies with the Bill or with a different process that no doubt my hon. Friend the Minister will explain in some detail. It is appropriate that the Committee is appraised of the progress that has been made in discussions. That will be particularly helpful because it will set the tenor of how we progress through the Bill and identify the fundamental  divisions between the parties. That started to show itself yesterday evening when we were discussing the money resolution.

Of course, the vote on the money resolution has yet to take place. If it is negatived or if we get to clause 4 today—I doubt that we will—we will be in a slightly difficult position. If the vote on the money resolution is negatived this afternoon, I propose to come forward with amendments to remove the necessity for a money resolution. However, that would not give the kind of flexibility that I think the current Minister and future Ministers would need to create the right mechanism to address the problem before us.

You will chastise me, Mr. Hancock, if I go into too much detail on the substance of the Bill, but suffice it to say its core aim is to create equal treatment for a class of workers who are currently in a disadvantaged position. I would have thought that in this day and age there would be no difference of opinion across the political parties on the need to address such an issue.

Photo of Mike Hancock Mike Hancock Liberal Democrat, Portsmouth South

Order. I have to interrupt you, Mr. Miller, as you are inviting chastisement if you continue down that line. We are talking about the sittings motion and you have got as far as you can on that.

Photo of Andrew Miller Andrew Miller Chair, Regulatory Reform Committee, Chair, Regulatory Reform Committee

I spotted where I was going and was gradually bringing the sentence back round to be in order. The purpose of the approach that I am adopting with the sittings motion is to create the maximum opportunity for the discussions that are going on outside this place to come to a conclusion so that we will, I hope, be in a position either to invite the Committee to amend the Bill further or consider a different approach, depending on where the Government get to in those discussions.

Because of the constraints of the sittings motion and the need to keep in order, I will stop my remarks there, but I hope that you will agree with me, Mr. Hancock, that it would be extremely helpful to the Committee in facilitating its plans if Her Majesty’s Government could give us a clear picture on where those discussions have got to.

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Chair, Procedure Committee

I apologise for missing the beginning of the hon. Gentleman’s opening remarks. He might have covered this point, but could he explain, if for no one else’s benefit but mine, why he does not want to sit on the 4 June if we do not complete matters today.

Photo of Andrew Miller Andrew Miller Chair, Regulatory Reform Committee, Chair, Regulatory Reform Committee

I explained that, and it is on the record. It is simply because I will be out of the country on Select Committee business, as will the Liberal Democrat spokesman.

Photo of Mike Hancock Mike Hancock Liberal Democrat, Portsmouth South

It is slightly out of the ordinary but to facilitate the working of the Committee, it would be helpful if the Minister could make a brief statement. I discussed that with the Opposition and with the Liberal Democrats and it will be a brief statement that is open to challenge if Members so choose.

Photo of Pat McFadden Pat McFadden Minister of State (Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform) (Employment Relations and Postal Affairs), Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

May I welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Hancock? I should begin by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston on his success in bringing the Bill to Committee stage. On Second Reading, I stated that the Government’s position was that we do not support the Bill, but share many of the overall aspirations of its promoter and its other supporters. It is not the best vehicle for achieving such aims, but I will say something about the Government’s view on these issues.

The backdrop to the measure begins with the draft European directive on temporary and agency workers, which has been under discussion for some time in Europe. The Government are engaged with the Commission and other member states in trying to seek agreement on the directive. That route is the best mechanism for dealing with the issue of temporary and agency working. If we legislate through the Bill or something similar, the danger is that such legislation would be subject to change in the relatively near future, should the directive become law.

Part of the impetus behind the Bill has been the view that the directive is unlikely to become law, and therefore we should legislate domestically. However, at the meeting of the European Employment Council in December, the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform made it clear that the UK would continue to work with the European Commission and other member states to try to reach agreement on the directive.

A number of issues in the directive remain open for discussion with regard to the extent of equal treatment and where and how it should apply. We have made it clear that from the Government’s point of view, the current text on some of those issues is not satisfactory. Our proposal tries to deal with those issues and to square this circle. The directive is not only about the equal treatment of agency workers, but about the liberalisation of the agency sector—something on which the Bill is silent. That is an important part of the package at European level.

The Government’s proposal tries to take the issue forward. The backdrop is a draft directive that allows flexibility for other member states with different types of labour markets and different traditions of engagement between unions, business organisations and social partners on such matters. That includes draft derogations for certain member states with specific institutions that relate to payment between assignments, or the fixing of basic working and employment conditions by collective bargaining for member states who use that labour market model. The Government proposal is a carefully drawn alternative measure underpinned by a bottom-line requirement to ensure an adequate level of protection for workers. We seek to bring social partners together to consult at a national level and to discuss basic working and employment conditions to achieve the directive’s goal of fair treatment for agency workers. That is important because it relates both to UK conditions and European measures.

Photo of Mike Hancock Mike Hancock Liberal Democrat, Portsmouth South

Order. When I suggested a brief statement, I implied that it should be brief. We have now embarked on to what could be considered a Second Reading speech.

Photo of Mike Hancock Mike Hancock Liberal Democrat, Portsmouth South

Yes, it will.

I urge you to draw your remarks to a conclusion, Mr. McFadden, now that you have described what has gone on. I will then invite members of the Committee to comment. One or two Members have suggested that this has nothing to do with the sittings motion, but I was endeavouring to help the Committee get a feel for where the Government were going on the issue in order to enable the debate to move forward in what I hope will be a progressive manner. Mr. McFadden, I invite you to bring your remarks to an end.

Photo of Pat McFadden Pat McFadden Minister of State (Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform) (Employment Relations and Postal Affairs), Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee 9:45, 7 May 2008

I appreciate your guidance, Mr. Hancock. You have been extremely helpful in guiding me and the Committee. The point I am trying to make is that the Government have introduced a proposal to consider the issue of agency workers at a UK level in a way that would fit with the directive and obviate the need for us to legislate on the issue twice, which is the danger.

On the sittings motion, I believe that we are meeting in Committee at the same time as discussions are taking place. A conclusion has not yet been reached, and our social partners have not yet agreed to take part in the process. The Government see significant potential in the kind of process that I have set out. It would involve our social partners and would have the advantage of our not having to return to legislate on the same issue after these deliberations have concluded.

Photo of Jonathan Djanogly Jonathan Djanogly Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Solicitor General, Shadow Minister (Justice), Shadow Solicitor General

I shall want to speak later to the sittings motion, Mr. Hancock, but on this point, if that is the case, why do the Government not suggest that, or table a motion to the effect that, the Committee adjourn until such time as the discussions in Europe have been completed?

Photo of Pat McFadden Pat McFadden Minister of State (Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform) (Employment Relations and Postal Affairs), Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

The sittings motion is in the hands of my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston, but I point out to the Committee that the danger of our reaching a conclusion on a domestic Bill such as this is that we would have to return to the issue. That is why the Government believe that a UK proposal that reflects the directive is the best way to deal with the matter.

Photo of Adam Price Adam Price Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government; Culture, Media and Sport; Defence; Transport; Ministry of Justice)

The Minister mentioned the discussions happening at EU level. Could he say a little about the discussions happening in the UK between trade unions and the Government? To what extent do they have a bearing on the issue?

Photo of Mike Hancock Mike Hancock Liberal Democrat, Portsmouth South

Order. We must be careful not to resurrect the Second Reading debate and go back over old ground. I understand the question, Mr. Price, and I hope that the Minister will briefly answer it. Then we will move on quickly to other Members who want to comment on the sittings motion and on what the Minister  has said. To be fair to the Bill, we need to do it in that way. The hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston, who is presenting the Bill, has to think long and hard about what has been said by Members, which might not be unhelpful.

Photo of Pat McFadden Pat McFadden Minister of State (Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform) (Employment Relations and Postal Affairs), Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

Thank you, Mr. Hancock; again, I take your guidance. The discussions are ongoing. They are active, but they have not reached a conclusion.

I do not need to detain the Committee further. I have set out the Government’s broad proposal, which I reassure the Committee is a live proposal. We believe that it is the best way to deal with the issue. I have spoken about it today to inform members of the Committee about it before we begin consideration of the Bill.

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Chair, Procedure Committee

On a point of order, Mr. Hancock. I do not think I have ever served on a Bill Committee where the Minister has been so critical of the sittings motion. It appears that the Committee has a dilemma. The sittings motion has been moved, yet the Minister says that it would be better to delay our deliberations. Moreover, in the light of the fact that the House has not yet determined the money resolution, would you be prepared to accept a manuscript amendment to the sittings motion, Mr. Hancock, to deal with the difficulties that have arisen during the debate?

Photo of Mike Hancock Mike Hancock Liberal Democrat, Portsmouth South

It is up to the Committee to decide how to deal with the sittings motion. Members should think long and hard about what has been said and the advice that has been given. I do not believe that it would be right for the Chairman to accept a manuscript amendment at this stage; that is the advice that I am getting.

We must now discuss the sittings motion and the implications of what the Minister has said. I urge the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston to think long and hard about the matter.

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Chair, Procedure Committee

Further to that point of order, Mr. Hancock. Will you advise the Committee where it would leave us if we negatived the sittings motion and the Bill therefore had before it no sittings motion?

Photo of Mike Hancock Mike Hancock Liberal Democrat, Portsmouth South

Were that to happen today, the Member in charge would have to facilitate a further meeting of the Committee to enable a further sittings motion. That is in the hands of the Committee. It is a bit messy, I am sorry to say, but an inevitability of that would be that we would have to find another date, set the Committee again, and the Member would have to come forward with a further sittings motion.

Photo of John Heppell John Heppell Labour, Nottingham East

Further to that point of order, Mr. Hancock. If the sittings motion is agreed to today, would it be possible to amend it at a future meeting?

Photo of Mike Hancock Mike Hancock Liberal Democrat, Portsmouth South

Yes, that would be in order. I now call Mr. Djanogly.

Photo of Jonathan Djanogly Jonathan Djanogly Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Solicitor General, Shadow Minister (Justice), Shadow Solicitor General

Thank you, Mr. Hancock, and good morning. I appreciate that this has been a tough one for you because in some ways, we are continuing a conversation that started rather late last night, as you have probably  gathered by now. We addressed this issue then—or, more to the point, I addressed it. I pointed out clearly the dilemma and the contradictions in the Government’s position on the timing of the negotiations on the directive in Brussels, the ongoing negotiations with various parties to the Bill, and the Government’s rather weak and failing earlier attempt at a compromise—setting up a commission between the unions and business, which seems to have been going rather pear-shaped. The net effect is that three different processes are running.

I am pleased that the timing implications are now at least being admitted by the Government, which I do not think they were by the Minister last night on the Floor of the House. At least this morning he admits that this process is undermining the Government process that is running in Brussels, and that we need to address that. I am not entirely sure that the debate so far has addressed that. In some ways, the situation is looking even more confusing than ever. The only rational outcome that I can see of what the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston and the Minister had to say is that we defer the Committee until we know what is going on in Europe, and until the Government have heard from the committee they set up to take soundings on this issue. Until that happens, I think that we must oppose the motion. I hope that the Government see sense on this and support us. Yes, we will discuss this issue, but we do not want contradictory Bills running through the House. If anything, that would create a huge headache for the Government.

There is a difference between the positions of various Government Members. The Minister made a case for what is happening in Europe, and talked about some key issues for employment in this country. If anything, the Government should make a statement on the Floor of the House, not an aside in a sittings motion debate in a Committee. He may therefore wish to consider whether he should make such a statement on what is a very important issue for British business. On the other hand, the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston seems to be using this as leverage for the union rebels’ position, keeping it hanging over the Government’s head just in case. Given the seriousness of the issues we are discussing, that is unacceptable and I ask him to reconsider. Let us face it—all parties are in agreement that the Bill should not be passed. I therefore ask that he reconsider and that the Committee be adjourned.

Photo of Lorely Burt Lorely Burt Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills), Chair of the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Party

I welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Hancock.

I find myself in agreement with the hon. Member for Huntingdon. Given what we have heard so far, it would be best on all sides if we deferred the Committee stage. I understand the strength of feeling among Members on the Labour Benches who have striven for a long time for this Bill, which they consider would rectify an inequality that exists for agency workers. It is important that they have their say, even though I and Conservative members of the Committee will not necessarily subscribe to the view that it is an inequality. However and as the Minister said, all three parties, in the main, do not support the Bill. The Government are engaged on European legislation that duplicates the work of the Committee, and on Second Reading on 22 February the Minister said that he would create a commission with the TUC and the CBI to take the issue forward. We are not trying to ditch the Committee stage, but it would help if we applied a  more appropriate time frame to the Bill. That is why deferment of consideration would be appropriate at this stage, and for the benefit of all.

K

And this is what the Liberal Democrats say in the European Union, via Liz Lynne MEP: http://www.webcitation.org/5ed9IEUwm

Submitted by Kaihsu Tai

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Chair, Procedure Committee

I join others in welcoming you to the Chair, Mr. Hancock. I make no criticism of the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston for exempting 4 June; I was grateful for his explanation, and one can understand why he does not want the Committee to sit on that date. However, I found it bizarre that he went on reveal that if the House took a negative view of the money resolution, our deliberations today might be in vain because he would have substantially to amend the Bill. For that reason alone, we should not proceed with today’s sitting. The Minister then gave other, perhaps even more weighty reasons for doing so when he referred to discussions taking place elsewhere.

I understand the attitude of the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston—the Bill is his baby and he wants to get on with it—but it is incumbent on the Committee to take a more objective view and to ask, “What is the best way to proceed?” I do not want to deny the hon. Gentleman a Committee stage, but I would prefer it to take place after we know the view of the House on the money resolution and after the Minister has concluded at least some of the negotiations that are taking place, so that he can tell us what the position is, which hopefully will crystallise in the near future. The more that I hear the promoter of the Bill and the Minister, the more there is an overwhelming case for not proceeding today.

Photo of Mike Hancock Mike Hancock Liberal Democrat, Portsmouth South

In the absence of anyone else indicating a wish to speak, I invite the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston to respond.

Photo of Andrew Miller Andrew Miller Chair, Regulatory Reform Committee, Chair, Regulatory Reform Committee

The difference between us is somewhat academic. The Conservatives indicated, I think, last night that they intend to oppose the Bill hook, line and sinker.

Photo of Andrew Miller Andrew Miller Chair, Regulatory Reform Committee, Chair, Regulatory Reform Committee

So I am correct on that. I intend to get the Bill to Report and Third Reading stages by the fifth of the six Fridays available for private Members’ Bills. The right hon. Member for East Yorkshire knows the score on that well.

We could conduct the debates slowly and steadily through the various clauses, with the possibility that an agreement is reached between the Government and the social partners prior to the Bill coming back to the House from the Lords, and that we are in a position to say that we do not need it. Alternatively, the Bill could come back from the Lords with no agreement having been reached—then, the position would be that the express will of the House on Second Reading was that we need the Bill. That is the logic of the position that I have adopted.

I am hopeful that we can make progress. The hon. Member for Huntingdon is absolutely right that three processes are on the go simultaneously. Whatever happens with the discussions in Europe, there has to be domestic legislation—either a directive emerges, or the Government simply abide by their commitment to addressing the  problem. If I have understood the hon. Gentleman’s position, he will oppose such legislation, full stop, so we know where we stand.

Photo of Jonathan Djanogly Jonathan Djanogly Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Solicitor General, Shadow Minister (Justice), Shadow Solicitor General 10:00, 7 May 2008

We will look at the legislation as put before the House at the time. We are now addressing the hon. Gentleman’s Bill, which we will oppose.

Photo of Andrew Miller Andrew Miller Chair, Regulatory Reform Committee, Chair, Regulatory Reform Committee

I hear what the hon. Gentleman says. He is clearly on the record as being opposed to agreeing to equal treatment of that class of workers.

Photo of Jonathan Djanogly Jonathan Djanogly Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Solicitor General, Shadow Minister (Justice), Shadow Solicitor General

The hon. Gentleman must be careful about putting words in my mouth. I will say that the Conservative party is against the proposed European directive in its current form.

Photo of Andrew Miller Andrew Miller Chair, Regulatory Reform Committee, Chair, Regulatory Reform Committee

I do not seek to put words in the hon. Gentleman’s mouth, but he ought to reflect on what he said last night.

Our position is that changes could occur, because of changes in Government and in the strategy being adopted elsewhere in Europe. However, the Government are committed to addressing the problem—with or without Brussels.

Photo of Adam Price Adam Price Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government; Culture, Media and Sport; Defence; Transport; Ministry of Justice)

The draft directive has been there for four years. Does the hon. Gentleman not agree that if we wait for agreement at European level, we may be waiting for ever? That is why his motion is so important, and why the Committee should get on with the work of putting something on the statute book.

Photo of Andrew Miller Andrew Miller Chair, Regulatory Reform Committee, Chair, Regulatory Reform Committee

I agree entirely with that view. The delay in delivering the necessary change—the Government have been blamed for some of the reasons for that, and other Governments have been blamed for others—resulted in my introducing the Bill. It is a perfectly modest Bill, which falls within the scope of private Members’ legislation. It is not seeking to rewrite all employment law and affects only a small group of workers, who, nevertheless, constitute a vulnerable group; exactly who we will discuss as the Bill progresses.

With those observations in mind, I ask the Committee to support the sittings motion as it stands.

Question put:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 7, Noes 6.

Division number 1 Nimrod Review — Statement — Schedule 2

Aye: 7 MPs

No: 6 MPs

Aye: A-Z by last name

No: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly agreed to.

Resolved,

That, if proceedings on the Temporary and Agency Workers (Equal Treatment) Bill are not completed at this day’s sitting, the Committee do meet on Wednesdays (except for Wednesday 4th June) when the House is sitting at half-past Nine o’clock.