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Temporary and Agency Workers (Equal Treatment) Bill


6th May 2008

Given the Government does not support this Bill, Jonathan Djanogly questions the cost implications of considering it further and the damage that will inflict on the UK's position on the EU agency workers directive currently being considered in Brussels.

Mr. Jonathan Djanogly (Huntingdon) (Con): The cost burden of any Bill is of utmost importance to the taxpayer. While I make it clear that the official Opposition oppose the Bill outright, and will take that position in Committee tomorrow, we thought it especially important to highlight the measure's huge cost implications, which, to date, have been overlooked by its promoters and the Government.

Although the Minister tackled various aspects of the Bill, he did not mention its cost implications, which the money resolution is supposed to tackle. I would therefore like to deal with several important points about expenditure.

First, the Bill is being introduced at the same time as an EU agency workers directive is considered in Brussels. Like us, the Government have opposed the EU directive. However, the Bill overlaps heavily with it, promoting the same message that temporary workers should have the same rights as permanent employees.

The cost implications of two possible legislative measures, covering much of the same territory and proceeding concurrently, could be huge. Apart from the damage that the Bill inflicts on our case in Brussels, it is a complete waste of taxpayers' money to allow it to proceed at the same time as a directive that deals with similar issues, which all parties have staunchly opposed.

Mr. Chope: Does my hon. Friend share my concern that our friends in the European Union will misinterpret our position if the Government are seen to oppose the Bill but support the money resolution? Is there not an inconsistency?

Mr. Djanogly: My hon. Friend makes an important point. The Labour Back Benchers' case is effectively blowing the Government's case out of the water in Brussels, gravely disadvantaging business in this country and our reputation in Brussels. The Government know that, but they are being forced into that position. That is not the subject of the resolution that we are considering, but the matter will be tackled in Committee.

If all that were not bad enough, the Government have kept digging. In a weak attempt to stall the unions and their own Back-Bench rebels, they have attempted to broker a deal on the Bill and the EU directive by proposing a UK commission made up of business and union nominees, although neither business nor the unions seems enthusiastic about the proposal. Having suggested the commission, why do the Government not want to wait to hear its proposals before allowing the Bill to proceed any further? Do not the cost implications alone merit more co-ordination than they have yet been able to muster? Who is leading the process-the Minister or those sitting behind him? Is it not yet another example of a dithering and indecisive Administration?

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman gives us an excellent illustration of what a Tory Government would be like. If there are any illusions about that among Labour Members-that is unlikely-the hon. Gentleman's comments explain to us in simple terms what a Tory Government would do against the working people of our country.

Mr. Djanogly: Perhaps some people have closed their ears in recent months, but my understanding was that the Government oppose the Bill and the European directive. Does the hon. Gentleman now claim that the Government give the measure their full support? If that is the case, it would have been nice of the Minister to give some indication in his earlier remarks.

Will the Minister please justify allowing the Bill to proceed any further, while the Government oppose a directive that legislates on the same issues, and before his proposed UK commission has had the chance to negotiate solutions to the problems of temporary and agency workers? Could it be because the Government are running scared of the unions, who ordered more than 140 Labour MPs to turn up and ram the Bill through on Second Reading, at the expense, it seems, of the British taxpayer? Does the Minister not realise the damage that the Bill could inflict on British business?

I have a number of concerns about the Bill regarding expenditure. The provision in the Bill that attempts to allow for different treatment of direct workers and agency workers lacks a lot of clarity. There is a no definition of "objective grounds", for instance. It is also unclear when an employer can lawfully pay an agency worker less than a comparable direct worker. I cannot see how, for instance, the agency and the employer are supposed to know without a tribunal ruling when it would be justified on objective grounds to pay an agency worker less than a permanent employee. That provision is being cited by many experts as meaning more time entangled in legal disputes and more money spent on unnecessary legal fees. Importantly for the purposes of the resolution, however, the tens of thousands of projected claims will clog up our tribunals and courts. Will the Minister please give an assessment of the cost to the taxpayer of that?

The Bill aims to give a definition of the comparable direct worker. Again, the provisions are vague and confusing. Will the Minister give some idea of both the cost implications for the state and the further pressures on our already overburdened employment tribunal system? I shall return to those issues in further depth tomorrow. However, I should point out now that clause 4 provides for the creation of a new regulatory regime for enforcing the Bill's equal treatment provisions. Again, that would be extremely costly, given the huge increases in the number of tribunals that would result if this vague and unclear Bill were to be enacted.

My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) will be pleased to know that we would very much have preferred to vote against the resolution for its content and implications. I agree with him that it is somewhat bizarre that a Government who are supposed to be opposing the Bill are supporting the resolution this evening. However, we also respect the convention that the Government should allow a money resolution to accompany the Second Reading success of a private Member's Bill, notwithstanding the fact that-or perhaps, should I say, not least because-the Bill was forced through by a Back-Bench Labour rebellion.

Mr. Chope: Far be it from me to challenge established conventions, but the resolution refers to expediency. How can it be expedient to risk a lot of taxpayers' money on something that both the Government and the official Opposition oppose?

Mr. Djanogly: My hon. Friend makes another excellent point and I fully agree with him. Frankly, we are all whistling in the dark. No one in the Chamber has any idea what the Bill's cost implications are, yet the Minister has come here to debate them. He shows up the fallacy of the Government's argument very well.

Although the debate on the merits of the Bill will wait until the Committee stage, which starts tomorrow, I see no reason why the Minister should thereby be let off having to set out now the reasons for the authorisation of Government expenditure on such a scale. The Minister has failed to set them out properly this evening; I invite him to do so now.

10.27 pm

...

LATER CONTRIBUTIONS TO THE SAME DEBATE

Mr. Djanogly: The Minister missed my point. I wanted him to explain the financial implications of the Bill, but that did not conflict at all with the fact that we oppose the Bill.

Mr. McFadden: The conflict lay in the hon. Gentleman's criticising the Government for facilitating a money resolution while also accepting that it was a convention of the House to do so.

The hon. Gentleman also asked about the assessment of costs. This relates particularly to clause 4 of the Bill, which provides for the establishment of a new body in the regulatory field. We can look at the examples of other bodies in this field, such as the agency standards inspectorate, which is part of the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, and has annual costs of about



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