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Column 876My principal remarks are concerned with the dissolution of the Training Commission, which has had a short but not particularly merry life. I admit, having been involved in the business of training and industry since the 1960s, that we have been on a treadmill-- that, despite the steps forward and all the Government cash that has been put into it since the 1960s, we still face the problem of our chronic inability to achieve a satisfactory training mechanism. Relative to our major competitors, we still have not improved.
The Secretary of State has now resumed responsibility for training. We have witnessed the country going through the full gamut of levies, training boards, the Manpower Services Commission, which we have modified, and now the new system proposed in the White Paper. We now have what is really a system of local delivery based on the German principle. That has had a base of at least 100 years of acceptance in Germany. We have a long way to go before we reach that stage. What worries me is that the problems and pitfalls remain the same. The first is the whole range of management, management training and management recognition. If we had as high a level of management training and management qualifications as do our competitor countries, management in Britain would be well aware that development and training are an important element in the success of any business at all levels.
I was talking at lunchtime today at a meeting of the all-party management group to representatives of a chemical company which accepted that policy four years ago. They told me that it had worked incredibly well--that from the top of the management structure down through the firm, there was a successful system of recognising ability, of training and of moving people into areas of higher responsibility.
While many companies follow this type of policy successfully, unfortunately many do not. My right hon. Friend and his predecessors have constantly exhorted employers to play a bigger role. I hope that with the local delivery system they will not only be required to play but will be seen to play a more important role in delivering the right level of skills.
The second problem is the freeloader. Such people have been around since the 1960s ; they believe not in training but in poaching specialised skilled workers because they think that it is cheaper than involving themselves in proper training. They think it is cheaper to inflate wage demands and to put up costs by poaching skills when they require them. Part of the problem of wages at the moment, particularly in industries in which skills are at a premium, is caused by poaching.
In my area, I know of a company that is short of up to 300 skilled engineering operators. The only way to get them is by trying to recruit in parts of the north-east in which there have been shipyard closures, or to retrain, or to poach. The company in question is successful and has a full order book, but because of its lack of skilled workers it cannot deliver its orders on time and to the required quality. That is a serious problem and it brings me to my third point, about a local scheme--
Mr. Holt : Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the problems which the Government must face, and which they have so far failed to face, is that there are enormous numbers of vacancies in different parts of the country but that it is difficult to get companies to move to areas such
Column 877as mine, however many inducements are offered? That fundamental must be grasped ; it will be, perhaps, when we build houses in the right areas so that unskilled people can be trained and moved to them. Equally, the atmosphere in parts of north-east England must be changed. We have shown with Nissan that we can do that. Until those two fundamentals come together, all the fine words will mean nothing.
Mr. Lester : Yes, and there has been comment about the wage settlement that Nissan has given its workers. The 15 per cent. is on top of a much lower base than the general base paid in the midlands. The percentages make it seem like Nissan has broken the guidelines, but the net sums appear different.
Under a local scheme of delivery, who will pay for and provide the high- level costly skills that we are critically short of? The value takes a long time to be added. Of course one can provide basic skills through employment training and the YTS, but long-term engineering and construction skills which are so essential and of which there is a shortage are a different matter. I had a great deal to do with the development of the YOP. I hope that my right hon. Friends will take great care over the continued provision of YTS and ensure that, with the pressure of demand for hands, we do not return to the bad old days, thereby losing the whole purpose of YTS and its two-year development. By the bad old days I mean early recruitment from school, partial training and rejection as soon as young people become capable of earning adult wages.
Those of us who developed the youth training scheme saw it as a permanent measure to assist young people in the transition from school to work and, as the television advertisement shows, to help them find the right future career. It is essential that Conservatives reinforce our commitment to YTS and what it stands for in the context of our future skill needs--
Mr. Nellist : Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the true originator of the YTS was Sir John Hoskyns, who is now director general of the Institute of Directors and who wrote the position paper when he worked for the Prime Minister's policy unit? His words were that the aim of YTS was
"to increase the differential between youth and adult wages". If not £28 or £35 a week, how much does the hon. Gentleman think these young people should be paid?
Mr. Lester : I do not know where the hon. Gentleman gets his information, but when I was a Minister at the Department of Employment under the then Secretary of State, now Lord Prior, the position papers that we worked on were not prepared by Sir John Hoskyns. They were prepared in exactly the way that I have described. Some who are listening and who worked at the Department at that time will be able to endorse what I am saying. Obviously, the pay during the training period must be continually reviewed, but the hon. Gentleman must recognise that it is not only the cash at the ages of 16 or 17 which is important, but the potential of unskilled lives. Part of the problem is that young people who were in YOP and did not get into YTS or a job have no skills and little to offer at 25, 26 and 27--
Column 878Mr. Nellist rose --
Mr. Lester : My penultimate point concerns the importance of national standards and systems of accreditation. I noted with some concern that the work and experience of training boards were dismissed in one sentence in the White Paper. That might not have been meant, but that was how it read. In the course of any changes, we should not throw away the experience and depth of knowledge about the major sectors of manufacturing industry that training boards possess. I am thinking especially of the construction and engineering training boards.
I know that there have been non-statutory successors to some of the training boards and I look forward to reading how they have operated. In this legislation we should give training boards the freedom to develop the marketability of their knowledge and skills commercially. That would be one of the most significant ways in which their talent and inherent knowledge, which have accumulated nationally, could prove themselves. I hope that my right hon. Friend will consider that during the passage of the Bill.
Finally, I turn to the function of employment training now given to the training and enterprise councils. I listened carefully to yesterday's debate. I understand the regional variations that have given rise to the suggestion that people must prove that they are actively seeking work. In most of the regions that I visit there is less work than in the south-east. I know from long constituency experience that there is a real bias against people who have been unemployed for a long time--who have slipped through the three-month net. Many people in personnel departments screen them out and do not even interview them.
We should do a survey of the personnel practices of companies, many of which are dismissive of people who are seeking work. The letters that they send out are cold, almost un-Christian. They do not recognise how important it is to a person seeking work to know that he has been properly considered. I am a keen supporter of the employment training initiative and I recognise benefit-plus as being one of the ways of giving security to people who have become disillusioned because they have tried to find work so often. Some of my constituents have come to my surgery with 50 letters of rejection in a carrier bag--I am not joking.
Mr. Lester : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for reinforcing my point. The problem is certainly widespread. My point is--my right hon. Friend has mentioned the over-45s, women and the long-term unemployed--that recruitment must include the long-term unemployed. When Sainsbury's opened a branch in my constituency which needed 400 people, it was only because the jobcentre negotiated with the store that it was willing to take 10 per cent. of the 400 from the register--40 people. If the jobcentre had not negotiated that agreement, all 400 would have been recruited from among people in work who were not on the register.
I ask my right hon. Friends to consider the scheme put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Sir P. Goodhart) and myself, which used training vouchers for the long-term unemployed as a way of
Column 879motivating them and giving them back a sense of purpose. In addition to retaining the security of social security, they had a training voucher which could be used in a responsible training establishment to gain a qualification. The voucher was theirs and so was the responsibility to use it. We need a transfer of dignity to the person who is seeking training and work rather than a sense of being directed or sent to a suitable place. I am sure that my right hon. Friend, who will want to go down in history as the Minister who at long last got it right, will look again at this imaginative idea. My last plea is directed to the Opposition, because they have a role and responsibility. If they constantly undermine and denigrate every measure that the Government put forward, it will create uncertainty. Our international position on training and in the skills league is critical and 22 per cent. of companies report skill shortage problems. I have described some of them. We cannot keep pulling up the turnip to see if it is growing. If we are to implement this system we need a period of stability and as much certainty as can ever be guaranteed in this world. Unless we give it a chance to take root and operate we shall not begin to solve this persistent, pervasive national hangover of our inability to train.
Mr. Michael Foot (Blaenau Gwent) : When he presented his Bill, the Minister pretended that it was a long-term measure and looked forward to the state of the labour market over many years. He told us that that was the kind of spacious outlook that we should adopt when considering the Bill. Of course it is right that the House and the country should consider not only the immediate situation but the situation five or ten years hence. For reasons that I shall seek to underline, the Bill is gravely inadequate for that purpose. The hon. Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Lester) made an appeal for general backing for intelligent measures to deal with this new situation. If that is what is required, the Minister would have been much wiser not to have studded the Bill with measures that he must have known would be highly objectionable in many quarters. Of course the Bill is objectionable to the trade unions and to many other bodies. It is objectionable to many of the youth organisations, to citizens advice bureaux and to the National Council for Civil Liberties. The Bill is riddled with provisions to which those bodies object, and they have made their objections in consultations. However, the Minister swept them away.
It will not be easy for the Secretary of State to say, "Let us have an all- nation and an all-party approach to these problems." We all hope that there has been a major change in employment. Not today but on previous occasions the Minister and the Prime Minister have spoken about the new employment position. They try to conceal the fact that unemployment is still extremely serious, especially in many of the regions. But the Prime Minister has said once or twice--no doubt she got it from the Minister's Department--that the number of employed people is higher today than ever before. That is the Government's claim. It is an interesting claim because it means--and it is only in the last few weeks that they have said it--that the total number of employed people has now got back to just over what it was in 1979. We can all remember that that was the year in which the Conservatives came back to
Column 880power by saying, "Labour isn't working." That was the year in which there were more people in employment than ever before.
Of course there are many differences between the employment situation in 1979 and the present situation. There are many more people unemployed today, and in calculating the number of people in employment the Minister and the Government count people in part-time jobs as if they were in full- time jobs--and that includes many women.
Mr. Spencer Batiste (Elmet) : Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that one of the most significant differences between now and 1979 is that in 1979 the productivity levels of the work force were much lower than they are today?
Mr. Foot : If many people are put out of jobs, productivity can be increased in certain cases. That is what the Government have done. I am saying that, on the Government's own test of the total number of people in employment, they have just got back to the total number of people employed in 1979--that is, if the Government figures are correct. For those of us who remember the contest of that election, this is a matter of some interest.
My hon. Friends on the Front Bench will deal with the question of women much more fully than I can. It is absolutely necessary that over the next five or 10 years the Government, of whichever party, should have a plan to make the fullest possible use of women's labour and women's work. The Bill does not do that in any major field. It merely does what I think is the minimum required by European legislation and tries to put that into our legislation. It has no vision of going any further than that and does not deal with the major question of how we should enlarge the opportunities for women in better paid jobs. The Government do not deal with that, although they could have done so if they had wanted to do so.
An imaginative plan would have foreseen that in the next five or 10 years not only will there be as many women in employment as there are today, but that many more women will be able to get into better paid jobs. One way in which that will have to be done is by protecting the lowest paid workers. That has been the experience in many European countries. Instead of doing that, the Government have done the exact opposite and have attacked lower paid workers, whether they are women or young workers. The Government close their mind to the idea that, if the general standard of wages is to be raised, they must do something about the low paid. Practically all the measures that the Government have taken have injured the position of the low paid rather than improved it.
I come to the major way in which the Government have approached this problem in exactly the wrong spirit using the wrong method. They have said that they will lift some of the so-called restrictions that injure the employment of young workers. In doing so, they have interfered with some of the rights of young workers. There is no point in the Minister pretending that, if he increases the number of hours that young people may work during the week or during the day or detracts from the other protections that they enjoy, it will not affect their health and safety. The Minister is approaching the matter in quite the wrong way.
If the Minister thinks that he is putting forward measures that do not touch on these problems, he should
Column 881listen to the advice from the Health and Safety Commission. It sets out how these regulations should be altered, if they have to be altered :
"the restrictions may be unnecessarily detailed and elaborate, although not an apparent burden on industry".
It was talking about the present restrictions.
"they should not be replaced without some form of control of young persons' hours of work in order to safeguard their welfare and opportunities for education, training, and social development." That was the advice of the Health and Safety Commission, but that advice has been pushed aside. On other occasions when commenting about the Government's proposals the commission and the Health and Safety Executive, which I am glad to say still exercises some independence in these issues, put their views to the Government. However, the Government have gone about matters in entirely the wrong way. They could have introduced a great reform in this Bill if they had said what they would do in the next 10, 12 or 15 years to protect and extend the health and safety legislation, the activities of the commission and the effectiveness of its inspectors, not only for young workers, but for workers throughout industry.
As the Minister responsible for introducing the original legislation in 1975, I have some interest in the subject. That legislation was placed on the statute book in times of great difficulty, but we carried it through because we believed that it was essential, particularly in a technological age with new industries growing up in different fields, such as chemicals, to have a new range of health and safety provisions for all workers, including women and young people.
After 10 or 12 years' operation of that Act, it should be reviewed. We should not have to argue about these miserable, squalid, little provisions that will injure the safety protections of many young workers. We should be arguing about how we shall extend the protections for all workers in the hazardous decade that lies ahead of us. If the Minister thinks that there is anything wrong with that, he should read the report of the Health and Safety Commission. I dare say that he has read it, but he has not acted upon it in the Bill. The headline of the January supplement of the Employment Gazette --I am glad to see that its contents have not been suppressed--reads : "Unsatisfactory year for industrial health and safety". The Minister has been directly responsible for that. That was the conclusion of the committee that reported to the Department. The article in Employment Gazette stated :
"Poor safety management in construction, agriculture and quarrying, as well as several major disasters made 1987-88 an unsatisfactory year for industrial health and safety' ".
Unsatisfactory is putting it mildly ; it was the worst year for 10 years.
At the same time, the health and safety people, who know what they are talking about, criticise the Government's figures because they say that they do not tell the full story. If the Minister reads his Department's report, as quoted in Employment Gazette, he will see that it claims that the full figures have not been given. We want to have the chance to see those full figures. It has been an unsatisfactory year for industrial health and safety and the full story has not been told to the country.
People are becoming far more interested in these matters than the Government appear to realise, partly
Column 882because of the appalling tragic disasters that have occurred and partly because of the comments of the apologists for those disasters, such as Sir Jeffrey Sterling, the chairman of P and O, who says that such accidents have nothing to do with him. In fact, they have plenty to do with him and his management because poor safety management, as the HSC says, is partly responsible for these accidents.
The nation's attention is attracted to those terrible tragedies. We must learn from them, although we appear to take a long time to do so. That is another reason for extending health and safety measures. If the Government had had the nerve to introduce such measures, we could have discussed these matters, as they are very topical. It is not only a question of tragedies, crashes and rail disasters. In the construction industry, for example, appalling accidents take place day after day, week after week. More people are killed or maimed in such accidents than in those terrible tragedies.
I was especially interested to see the reference to agriculture in the HSC's report. I remember trying to push such a measure through Parliament in 1975. We introduced a special clause referring to agriculture because we believed that it was essential that agricultural workers should be protected at a time when agriculture was becoming much more mechanised. However, that measure was thrown out of the House of Lords which mobilised about 500 landowners from the backwoods. That was the largest attendance in the House of Lords prior to the attendance in the move to throw out the measure designed to protect blind and deaf people.
As the accident rate in agriculture is now much higher than had ever been estimated, it is all the more necessary for the Government to introduce a comprehensive measure to transform the work possibilities of the HSC. The HSC has been manned from the beginning by people who are devoted to the task. It was set up on the advice of the man who had been the inspector of factories for many years. His life was devoted to the idea of transforming all his knowledge and that of his inspectors into legislation for the future. We increased the number of people covered by health and safety provisions from about 1 million to about 5 million, but that process has not been carried through on the necessary scale. Successive Ministers at the Department have not fought the Treasury to obtain the money to enable the inspectorate to do its job. The independent inspectorate is essential for the HSC to do its job. If the Minister was worth his salt, he would fight for that every day and would bring adequate provisions before the House.
There would have been a very different atmosphere in which to deal with these problems if, instead of having to argue the case about health and safety in the 1990s on the basis in the Bill--for example, whether protections will be withdrawn from young people--we could have learned from our accumulated experience over the past 10 years. We could therefore make the next 10 years the very best years for health and safety welfare legislation and so be ahead of any other country. That is what any decent Government would have done.
I could deal with the other measures, but this is the most far-reaching. The Government do not have the grace to say that what they are doing is wrong, but I plead with them to come forward in the next Session with a full-scale measure for doing what should be done. We cannot prophesy exactly, but no one imagines that these tragic events will suddenly stop. The number of industrial
Column 883accidents involving people in dangerous jobs will increase again in the next 10 years. What will the Government do about that? Will they say, "We dealt with that in the special 1989 Bill, which took away the rights of young workers who had been protected. That was the Bill which said that people had to cough up £150 if they claimed that they were being denied the right to go to an industrial tribunal." This is a squalid little measure. It does not deal with the major questions. I shall not refer to all the matters raised by the hon. Member for Broxtowe, particularly in respect of training, but, if what he said is even one quarter true, with regard to what is happening to the long-term unemployed in this country--how they have to fight to get a chance of a job, have to deal with denial after denial and write letters which receive no reply-- this measure will link with the one introduced yesterday in an especially malignant manner. They are linked because they will put pressure on the unemployed. The Secretary of State knows all about this. He described what was happening to some of the long-term unemployed. He should have produced a very different Bill. No Conservative Member will be proud to support this Bill tonight.
I plead with the Government to lift their eyes above this squalid measure. Can we not have a decent, long-term measure to provide genuine training in the decade ahead? Can we not have a long-term measure to ensure that the real risks to health and safety are dealt with, and can we have a Minister who will say to the Treasury that such a measure would not cost the earth? A few hundred million pounds will make all the difference and might stop the tragic accidents. I plead with the Government even now to incorporate some of those measures in this wretched Bill. That might help the House to regain some respect.
Several Hon. Members rose --
I want first to refer to the changes in the law on sexual discrimination to bring it into line with European legislation. I listened with great interest to the speech of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment and that made by the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher). I wonder whether the hon. Member for Oldham, West has read the Bill in full. He seems only to have read the clause which deals with mines. I also wonder whether he understands the relevance of Europe in our deliberations. We must recognise that dealing with sexual discrimination is as much a matter of changing attitudes as it is a matter of legislation. I used to employ as many women as men in positions of responsibility in management. I have a great admiration of women's competence and ability to do any job that they are asked to do. I recognise that value. A similar experience by businesses will lead to true equality in the employment stakes.
The case is not helped by the bra-less harridans who have been espoused by the Labour party in whatever
Column 884activity they undertake, be that sexual discrimination, Greenham Common, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament or the campaign for homosexual rights.
Mr. Paice : Such behaviour has damaged the true cause of sexual equality to a great extent. The vast majority of women are highly competent and despise the activities which have brought ridicule to the true case for sexual equality.
The hon. Member for Oldham, West also referred to women going down mines. I listened very carefully to him to discover whether he would substantiate his original statement which was referred to by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State or whether the hon. Member would distance himself from it. However, I listened in vain. As is so often the case, the hon. Gentleman is finding it difficult to make up his mind. It is hypocritical for the Labour party, which has espoused the case for sexual equality, to say that we cannot have it where we do not want it, down the mines. It is difficult to understand that.
Of course there are physical and practical implications involved in mines, as the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) explained. However, we must still deal with the question of discrimination and the fact that, if women want to work in mines--there is no question of sending them there-- they should have the right to do so.
Ms. Abbott : Perhaps I can enlighten the hon. Member. Sexual equality involves raising standards, not lowering them. We would not enhance the status of children if we sent them down mines, and similarly we will not enhance women's status if we did that. The organisations which the hon. Gentleman described as "bra-less harridans", such as the Equal Opportunities Commission, the National Council for Civil Liberties and the professional women's organisations which have studied sexual equality for many years, are concerned with raising standards, wages and opportunities for women. They do not want to bring back the conditions of the 19th century.
Mr. Paice : That intervention underlines the lack of understanding. We are not talking about lowering standards. We are talking about increasing opportunities. No one has said anything about sending anyone anywhere. There is no question of children going down the mines as the hon. Lady suggested. I suspect that the reality is a desire to maintain the image of macho man the miner instead of appealing for genuine opportunities for women.
The right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) expressed a desire to see a long-term plan for training. I endorse that, and the view of my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Lester) : that is the right approach. The demise of the Training Commission was inevitable following the disastrous decision at the TUC conference. However, it would be wrong not to pay tribute to the work of the Training Commission and the Manpower Services Commission. The Training Commission did much to pioneer and improve training programmes, specifically with the youth training scheme. It also developed a range of techniques for assessment and monitoring. I am sure
Column 885that many of the staff from the Training Commission will continue that work under the guise of the Training Agency or will be seconded to the training and enterprise councils.
Despite all our efforts across a whole range of activities to stimulate training, industry is still not responding fully. We must understand that there is a great need to encourage employers to control and fund training to a much greater extent. I am sure that TECs will play a major role in that. However, we must ensure that the TECs are truly representative of the businesses in the areas that they serve. I represent a large rural constituency with a massive range of businesses including agriculture, high technology and medical research. It is essential that the TECs represent the full range and do not become the preserve of a small clique.
I am satisfied with the White Paper's proposal that training contracts should be more based on payment by results in terms of jobs gained and skills gained. That is a useful step forward which I am sure was gleaned by my right hon Friend the Secretary of State for Employment during his visit to the United States of America last year.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Broxstowe, I am concerned about the future of the youth training scheme and specifically about Government funding for the scheme. A few years ago research showed that business funding for training in the best cases represented 4 per cent. of the payroll. The average was about 2 per cent., and that causes great anxiety because many businesses were spending little or nothing on training.
The Government set out to encourage businesses to spend more on training and that has been happening through YTS as grants have been held at cash levels. However, I believe that it would be wrong for the Government to consider its long-term policy to be a withdrawal of funding of the YTS. YTS must remain a broad national foundation for 16 to 18-year-olds on which employers can build future training and on which the employee can build career changes by obtaining the necessary training.
If the Government pull out of funding the YTS, there is a risk that its framework will disappear and the scheme will become too narrow for the long -term benefit of the people and businesses that it serves. I hope that my right hon. Friend will be able to give me some hope that the Government do not intend ultimately fully to pull out of YTS funding.
I have one further regret to express. It concerns an omission from the Bill. I hope that, even at this stage, my right hon. Friend will rectify it by an amendment at a later stage. I refer to the matter of the pre-entry closed shop. Since 1979, the Government have, by a series of staged changes in employment legislation, shifted the balance of power away from the organisation and to the individual. That is the correct and sensible way to progress and it is a change that I have consistently supported. However, we are left with one great anachronism in the form of the pre-entry closed shop. If we are honest, we may suspect that that is because many employers like it. However, that does not make it right, and the House should recognise that the pre-entry closed shop is wrong and is an infringement of the individual's rights.
I make my case by citing one example. The Select Committee on Employment is currently investigating
Column 886employment prospects for older workers. One of the organisations from which the Select Committee took both written and oral evidence was Tesco. That company has consciously set out to employ people aged over 50, which is entirely admirable and something that the House will respect. There are three Tesco superstores in my constituency and a fourth just over the boundary. Therefore, Tesco constitutes a major employer in the area.
One of my constituents, in his fifties and without work, decided to take advantage of Tesco's enlightened approach and applied for a job. Right hon. and hon. Members can imagine his surprise when he found that the company's job application form included, as an integral part, an application form also for membership of USDAW. More importantly, it incorporated the statement :
"It is a condition of your employment that you become and remain a member of the union."
There may be good and sound reasons why Tesco and other organisations want their employees to join a union. Certainly it is entirely sensible of people to want union membership so that they may benefit from the services and opportunities that it provides. For employers, it means convenience and greater tidiness. However, my constituent simply wanted a job. As a man in his fifties, he did not want to be told that he was obliged to join a trade union. When he telephoned ACAS, he was advised to join USDAW but, having got the job, then to resign, and that if Tesco dismissed him for that reason he should fight the company through the courts. Why on earth should my constituent be compelled to take such action? Needless to say, he declined ACAS's suggestion and is still looking for a job. It is for that reason that he asked me not to divulge his identity, but I have all the facts of the case.
Opposition Members have, rightly, expressed concern--as have my right hon. and hon. Friends--about the difficulties faced by the older person seeking employment. My hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe spoke of the long-term unemployed and of the increasing difficulties resulting from employers' attitudes towards them. I doubt whether even the hon. Member for Oldham, West, with his inventive rhetoric, will be able to justify to my constituent why he should be compelled to join a trade union in order to be given a job. Joining a trade union is not wrong, but making union membership compulsory in order to get a job is wrong. Where are the employee's rights in that? This afternoon we have heard much said about the rights of the employee, but where are his rights when he is compelled to apply for trade union membership before he can be considered for a job? I hope that even at this stage my right hon. Friend will consider adding to the Bill the necessary clauses to outlaw a system that destroys a fundamental human right. It is a right that we on the Government Benches have espoused for the past 10 years--the right of choice. I support the Bill but I hope that it will be amended in the way that I have suggested.
Mr. David Blunkett (Sheffield, Brightside) : I follow my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) in clearly spelling out the real dangers posed to young people not only by the implementation of clause 8 in what the Government describe as deregulation--but which most of us describe as the removal of decent protections--but linking it with the clause removing the
Column 887training commission and establishing the training and enterprise councils and the agency arrangements, which my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West described in terms of the lack of responsibility and accountability resting with the Secretary of State and, subsequently, with the House.
The hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, South-East (Mr. Paice) would do better to turn his mind to the real dangers that already confront 16 and 17-year- olds, which will be magnified with the introduction of the Bill, rather than debating whether people should have the rightful protection of a trade union to ensure that their interests are safeguarded and that employers carry out their responsibilities dutifully.
I illustrate that point with the case of Derek Cain, who was killed while participating in a youth opportunity scheme on 20 December 1982. His case was pursued by his father, Richard, who is one of my constituents, with the help of my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Michie) and other hon. Friends representing Sheffield constituencies, as well as by my predecessor, Miss Joan Maynard. They gave every possible assistance to a man who displayed remarkable tenacity against the establishment and the indifference of the Department of Employment and the former Manpower Services Commission. Mr. Richard Cain used the whole of his redundancy pay to pursue the matter for six years, despite being advised that a case against a Government Department and the Manpower Services Commission would never be successful. Yet he was indeed successful, and in the High Court on 21 December 1988 the Department of Employment was found responsible in lieu of the MSC and the Training Commission. That case showed that existing arrangements and procedures for protecting young people are already inadequate. Today's statements by the Secretary of State for Employment are not only woefully inadequate but a negation of his responsibility in suggesting that existing health and safety regulations, together with the proposals outlined in clause 8, are sufficient to protect 16 and 17-year- olds from the fate that befell Derek Cain.
I shall explain why. Derek Cain's case showed that Manpower Services Commission staff were not trained to understand the Factories Act 1961 and the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974. They did not comprehend either that a factory had to be registered, or the existing regulations concerning dangerous machinery to which the Secretary of State referred when he told the House today that they would not be affected by the Bill. The company itself, which was non-unionised, was in breach of most of what we would describe as basic safety requirements.
The court found that the placement officer had not checked and did not know that the firm should be registered, and that the officer above him responsible for safety in the Manpower Services Commission had not visited the premises, but had checked on the phone that the management believed that the dangerous machinery in the paper mill conformed adequately with safety requirements for a youth opportunities placement.
What has really angered Mr. Cain, and should anger every Member of Parliament--and what should not only direct the Secretary of State's attention to removing clause 8, a provision which would increase the dangers to young people, but encourage him to bring forward genuine safety requirements for 16 and 17-year-olds--is this. From that day onwards, despite the indifference shown to Mr. Cain's
Column 888draconian efforts to draw public attention to what had happened, he has been vindicated by the tragic fact--spelt out already today--that the dangers for those on the youth training scheme have more than doubled. But when the scheme was introduced, Ministers said in the House that it would remove the dangers illustrated by the death of Derek Cain.
Incidentally, Derek Cain lay undiscovered for two hours after his accident with a baling machine. When the case was heard in the coroner's court, it was discovered that his father had been denied death benefit because Derek had not been an employee, and denied death grant. That was later found to be a further error by departmental civil servants.
It is not the individuals who are culpable--it is a system that puts deregulation and profit before the protection of young people who cannot protect themselves. They cannot do what a representative of the Institute of Directors suggested earlier this week in a BBC broadcast and get themselves into another job if they consider themselves at risk. If they leave their jobs they will be disqualified from receiving benefit ; if they are sacked, under the Bill they will no longer be told why they were sacked, and will lose both their benefit and their credibility when seeking other employment. But they have no redress other than the protection of the courts, and--as was proved by Mr. Cain's six years of dedicated struggle with no one to help him and faced with the indifference of the Department of Employment and the Manpower Services Commission--it is a long and thankless task. Only someone with the tenacity of a Richard Cain would have followed it through.
That is why we should not only reject the Bill as it is drafted, but demand from the Secretary of State a statement on how he sees the protection that he described earlier being applied--not only to people like Derek Cain but to the thousands of young people who are currently at risk from what Winston Churchill described in 1909 as the irresponsibility of the bad employer that could be matched only by the irresponsibility of the worst. That is the message that we should put across tonight.
Mr. Nellist : Shortly after the tragic death of Derek Cain, I worked closely in the House with his father Richard to produce a private Member's Bill putting forward his suggestions that the MSC should become more accountable for the health and safety of young people on the youth training scheme. Is not another factor in the truths that my hon. Friend has spoken tonight that the tragic deaths of nearly 50 other youngsters since Derek's death are testimony that the Department ignored all that Richard said?
Mr. Blunkett : Regrettably, my hon. Friend is right. The increase of over 100 per cent. in fatal and serious injuries is a tragic testament to that. Procedures are needed for which we as elected Members of Parliament are accountable, so that some redress is available outside the expensive and difficult court system--before and not after the tragic deaths of youngsters like Derek Cain. If such procedures are to come about, the Secretary of State must take on board both the recommendations drawn up after Derek's death and the suggestions made in the High Court judgment.
There ought to be proper liaison between the careers departments and the new training and enterprise councils.
Column 889There ought to be independent monitoring, training for staff in basic safety requirements and protection for youngsters--the sons and daughters of all of us--who would expect us, as responsible Members of Parliament accountable to those whom we represent, to have the honesty to admit that employers will not do the job for us and that young people cannot do it on their own. This is our responsibility. If the Secretary of State ducks it he will, tragically, be responsible for further incidents in the future.
Mr. David Evennett (Erith and Crayford) : I am pleased to be able to contribute to the debate, as I served on Standing Committees considering two employment measures in this and the last Parliament and fully supported both. The vast majority in the country also supported them--as, it should be noted, did the majority of trade union members. I believe that this Bill, when enacted, will likewise command widespread support across the political spectrum, in industry and in the trade unions.
The speech by the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) was a total disappointment : it was negative and patronising to the young people of this country. So, too, I regret to say, was the speech of the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot). Conservative Members need no lectures from a former Employment Secretary whose tenure of office was such an unmitigated disaster.