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Column 904Benches. They will be pleased to know that I shall end with some constructive proposals and suggestions for the Government. First, the Government should examine the French legislation, which obliges firms to spend a certain amount on training--currently 1.4 per cent. of turnover. Firms' accounts are examined and if they have spent the money, that is fine, but if they have not it is taken in tax. The attraction for the Government is that they can get companies to spend on training without setting up bureaucracy to do so. I hope that the Secretary of State will look at what the French are doing. Secondly, the Secretary of State should look at an educational maintenance allowance to encourage youngsters to stay on at school. Thirdly, employers should be required to release all 16 and 17-year-olds for training at least one day a week.
The hon. Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Lester) was the Minister dealing with the first Employment Bill on whose Committee I served. My right hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) discerned a slight difference between that Minister of State and the current incumbent of that position. My fourth suggestion is rather similar to his. It is that all workers should have a passport--he called it a voucher--giving them an annual entitlement to a certain amount of training throughout their lives. Lastly, companies should have training committees in the same way that they have safety committees. What is required is a partnership between all concerned, not freezing out the unions and leaving it all to employers.
Mr. Andrew Rowe (Mid-Kent) : After that wide-ranging survey of the state of the British economy and many other matters from the hon. Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Leighton), I shall drearily confine myself merely to the Bill. I shall start with the employment of women.
One of the many talents among the constellation of talents that is my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is his ability to act where others posture. We have heard from two Opposition Members the predictable neanderthal voice about the employment of women. In a way, that is surprising, because as I understand it, most neanderthal men lived underground, and would probably have been glad of female companionship. However, by obliterating the prohibition on women going underground should they so wish, we have sent a clear message that there should be no no-go areas in equal opportunity. No-go areas simply perpetuate the opportunities for the malign or the careless to continue discrimination against women.
Where others go on posturing, the Government act. For example, they have removed the extraordinary and anachronistic system of taxing married people, after years of talk.
Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse (Pontefract and Castleford) : Does the hon. Gentleman have any experience of what it is like to work down a coal mine in hostile conditions? Coal mines should be no-go areas for females. There are no adequate toilet facilities on coal faces. It is hard work lifting coal, and a female would not be able to cope with it, although I have seen in America women who work in coal mines. I support women's rights, but I have never come across a women's rights organisation--I ask whether he has- -who wanted its members to be able to work as coalminers.
The intervention by the hon. Member for Pontefract and Castleford (Mr. Lofthouse) demonstrates the extraordinary obtuseness of those who believe, in the teeth of the evidence, that women are somehow frailer and less robust than men. All the evidence, whether it is longevity, the ability to handle more than one job or whatever, suggests that, on the whole, women are better equipped than men for a number of jobs in difficult circumstances. It has already been mentioned that a significant number of opportunities in high-technology employment in mining and similar occupations are now open to women as a result of the Bill. Without it, they would not have been available to them.
I believe that it is a scandal that it has taken so long to recognise the abilities of women at the highest level. The proportion of women on company boards, holding senior posts in businesses or in this place is still disgracefully low. Now, there is an unstoppable tide towards change. It is extremely appropriate that that change should be backed by demographic pressures. It is an insult, however, for the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) to suggest that, somehow, women should be used merely to plug the gaps in the labour market. That has been the traditional Labour party view for far too long.
We are already aware of the existence of the 300 Club, the British Association of Women Entrepreneurs and the new campaign, Women into Business, which is supported by American Express among others and which was dreamed up by the long-established Small Business Bureau. Those organisations are practical and they are achieving a great deal more than the posturing rhetoric of the Opposition Benches. More women than men are now establishing their own businesses. If capable, women should be at the top in their own right and it would be surprising to discover how many would reach the top if given the opportunity.
Existing statistics demonstrate that we cannot do without women. Some 80 per cent.of those needed to make up the short fall in school leavers will need to be women.-- [Laughter.] It is interesting that this is a source of derision for Opposition Members, considering that they constantly talk about opportunities for women.
Great changes must be made in working arrangements and they must be made quickly. Some changes have already taken place. Dixons, for example, has started to offer jobs to married women in term times only. That is a flexible response to the changing nature of the labour market and it should be emulated by others.
Job sharing has taken off far too slowly because of the blind prejudice of many employers. My right hon. Friend is aware of a constituent of mine who, for the past two years, has been participating in a highly successful job share, which has been praised by the employers. When the job-sharing partners decided to apply for a promotion within the National Health Service they each received a telephone call from the management of their health authority to ask them whether they would be prepared to apply as an individual for the post. My constituent was told that if she applied as part of a job share she would be at a serious disadvantage. That type of reaction to a perfectly satisfactory method of fitting into the working environment is wholly unacceptable and must be changed.
Column 906More and more we need to talk to people around the globe whose work takes place outside the conventional hours and to those firms whose machinery operates throughout the 24 hours. The ordinary working arrangements in this country are simply not good enough.
The right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) derided the employment figures because he said that they contained so many part-time jobs. Those people who were working when he was a boy would describe the current working week as equivalent to a part-time job. We do not need to argue any more about hours because the concept of the normal working week is on its way to the cemetery. We need to create working packages that, to a hitherto unparalleled extent, fit the lives of workers. That change from fitting the worker to the job to fitting the job to the worker is the revolution to which the Bill makes a modest contribution, but if it is to succeed much more must be done.
What is involved goes to the heart of one of the great dilemmas facing British society. How do we create conditions that allow for greater family stability and cohesion while simultaneously allowing for equal opportunities for men and women to work where they want? In the end we can only provide the opportunities and leave it to those who have two wage packets to make satisfactory arrangements for child care. Such arrangements must increasingly rely upon husbands taking their full share of the responsibilities. Until there is a greater acceptance of such arrangements child care arrangements at work must be expanded.
Private companies are beginning to meet that need, and I do not believe that such arrangements should be widely subsidised. In the short term, however, more help is needed for low-income couples and for the single parent, male or female. I hope that we can decide upon a sensible provision so that it is possible to give those on the edge of the labour market and those for whom it is only marginally worth going to work if they must provide their own child care, the incentive to take work. I hope that my right hon. Friend will consider that. I look forward to the report on women that will emerge from the inter-ministerial group.
I am encouraged to learn that the upper limit for applications for a place on ET is not set in concrete. The over-50s are the most deprived and the most discriminated against group in today's labour market. I do not believe that to suggest that for a member of that group to get a place on ET is somehow exceptional, is the best way to promote that scheme. The scheme should be marketed in a different way to appeal to that group.
I do not believe that we should discourage applicants who believe that they have a genuine grievance from going to a tribunal and I hope that we can rely on the Secretary of State's assurances about that. I believe that the Bill plays a useful part in sending a signal to the labour market that there are no no-go areas for women any more, and that they should be encouraged to play their full part in that market.
Mr. Ken Eastham (Manchester, Blackley) : It is fascinating to hear Tory Ministers introduce Bills such as this. They use such glowing terms. We are told that the measure will widen opportunities for women and young people, and some Conservative Members are in raptures at
Column 907the thought of women working down the pits. I predict that, if we do see women down the mines, they will not be the wives and daughters of Conservatives.
The Department of Employment has issued a glossy document describing the proposals in the Bill. This is the season for glossy documents. Hon. Members are being bombarded with glossy brochures from employers pleading for special treatment from the Chancellor in his coming Budget. They think that they should be given special consideration. Glossy brochures are never produced urging a better deal for poorly paid workers.
Mr. Janman : The hon. Gentleman has spoken of receiving glossy brochures from companies pleading for consideration in the Budget and he implied that ordinary working people should benefit from Conservative Budgets. Is he aware that in the last Budget working people benefited greatly from the tax cuts? Why, then, did his party oppose those tax cuts and would it undoubtedly oppose other cuts that the Chancellor might wish to make in future Budgets?
Mr. Eastham : I have never heard such rubbish in all my life. I wish that some of the remarks made by Conservative Members were reported in the newspapers so that the general public might understand their degree of ignorance. Is the hon. Gentleman really comparing the tax concessions made to ordinary working people with the mountain of refunds made available in various ways to the boss class?
Mr. Eastham : That is correct, and since then my hon. Friends and I have been describing the suffering that working people have endured as a result, for example, of declining standards in the National Health Service. That 2p would have been better spent on improving the quality of life for our people.
I served on the Standing Committee which examined the last measure of this type, the Employment Act 1988. Indeed, there have been half a dozen pieces of legislation of this kind since 1979. When the legislation is being prepared, the civil servants, acting on behalf of the Government, describe in fancy terms what is proposed. It is all sweetness and light, as if the Government are doing working people a favour. But when we read the small print we find that some villains are operating in the Government, depriving working people of their rights and entitlements. The erosion has gone on throughout the last 10 years.
This measure virtually does away with protection for women and young workers. It permits unrestricted hours of work, and various complications are likely to arise over hours of work and split shifts. We shall see people going to work in the morning, being sent away in the middle of the day and returning in the evening to make up their time. There will not be any straightforward arrangements ; all sorts of conditions--night shifts and the like--will be introduced as part of new working conditions.
Restrictions will also be imposed on trade unions, and redundancy entitlements will be curbed. The Bill is completely flawed because it does nothing to ensure that
Column 908employers take action to improve production, to enhance the prosperity of the nation and to create fairness and justice for the people.
Let us not forget that there are two sides to society. We do not want an us -and-them situation. I fear that that state of affairs is applauded by the Government, who take a brutal attitude towards ordinary working people. This state of affairs does not exist in other countries. Employers in Sweden, Japan and Germany adopt a different philosophy from the view in Tory Britain. We should learn some lessons from them. After all, they have been far more successful than us.
The word "barriers" crops up in, among other places, the Department of Employment's glossy document. The Tories imply that these so-called barriers are creating problems for working people, and they want to relieve them of these barriers. We in the Opposition do not regard some of them as barriers. We claim that they are protecting decent working conditions. It is clearly a matter of interpretation whether something is a barrier or a protection.
Rates of pay can be described as a regular old favourite of the Tories. We are witnessing the final throw in their efforts to abolish wages councils. Those councils affect 2.5 million low-paid workers, people receiving from £74.44 to £92.82 a week. It is clear that, in the view of Conservative Members, those rates are too high, so they are removing any protection the low paid have received through wages councils.
Are Conservative Members concerned at all about the pay received by employers? There seems to be no limit to or shame about what one section of the community can get, even though it might be excessively greedy. Consider what some newspapers have said on this issue recently :
"Bosses hit the jackpot with big pay rises".
"Britain's bosses accept a pay bonanza in 1987".
"Top pay up 30 per cent."
The Times reported in December :
"Perks help lift executive pay by 30 per cent."
The Guardian reported :
"Top executives' pay up by nearly a third."
That newspaper revealed :
"Executives' pay shot up by more than 30 per cent. during the past year, dwarfing the 3.8 per cent. average increase for ordinary workers."
Despite that, the Government are not satisfied. They remain determined to remove any protection given to the low-paid, people receiving £70 or £90 a week. The newspapers seem to applaud people whose greed gains them rises of 30 per cent. or more. Conservative Members seem to think it respectable that they should be allowed to do that.
An article in one newspaper last month described
"How Britain's bosses fuel the wages fire."
It said :
"Fifty per cent of executives that get a performance related bonus are taking an extra 21 per cent. of their salary in a cash lump sum, according to a report from pay consultants Noble Lowndes. Not only have these top employees benefited from a reduction in the highest rate of tax--cut by a third in the last Budget--but they are also getting more and more perks."
At the same time, there is ever increasing poverty. Last week I attended a meeting in Manchester on the grave problem of poverty. We were told that one third of the city's population live in poverty. In the Greater Manchester area, 48 per cent. of workers receive less than the European decency threshold. That is the wealth that
Column 909the workers are enjoying. In spite of that, the Government are not satisfied. They are hellbent on reducing rates of pay even more in the name of the so-called free market economy.
If we are talking about barriers, let us examine the barriers facing working people. Let us take the problem of equal pay for women, who are still paid about 72 per cent. of men's wages. It is believed that they will not achieve parity until the year 2086, assuming that they continue to make progress. It takes up to four years to settle the claims of women who have a grievance. The burdensome procedure entails 15 different stages ; that is what women must go through to pursue their quest for equal pay.
Women face other barriers, too. They have to cope with young children, but employers do not provide support for them. If we are to sweep away the barriers, as the Government say they want to do, children must be looked after. I have seen in Sweden that providing for the protection and care of the children of married women workers is a practical proposition, and it has not made that nation bankrupt. The Swedish economy is one of the most successful in the world, and unemployment there is 1.7 per cent.
The other day I picked up a Department of Employment notice, from which I want to quote a sentence that refers to the Employment Act 1988 :
"It ensures that union members have rights which they both want, and are fully entitled to expect in a free society."
The Government are always harping on the word "free". Increasingly, people are becoming worried about this so-called free society. I cite the example of the Economic League in the context of taking away workers' rights. The league is a private secret service, not answerable to anyone, which does away with the rights of men, women and families to a job. There should be an inquiry into the barriers erected by the Economic League. There may be resistance in the Select Committee on Employment to such an investigation, but there should be one. The league has been exposed on television and in the newspapers. We may have to wait for an inquiry, but we shall hold one when the Labour party is returned to power-- [Laughter.] Conservative Members are laughing because they are not interested in people's rights. These sinister organisations are being encouraged, and the Conservative party is not prepared to do anything about that. Conservative Members sneer about the Economic League. I want to read an excerpt from a letter sent to me by a constituent. After they have heard it perhaps they will not find it so funny :
"Having gone through the Burma Campaign during the war and on receipt of the Burma Star--1939-45 Star--the defence medal and the 1939-1945 medal, on my return to the UK having done my stint against Fascism I thought I had earned the right to democratic free expression.
You can imagine my dismay when I got a phone call from a journalist informing me that my name and my daughter's name, along with many others, is on a Black List held by the Economic League and has been for some years.
Since my return from the Far East at the end of the war I have committed no crimes, Rape, Murder, Robbery. I have, however, been guilty of fighting for peace, against the Vietnam war, for democratic rights in Iraq, representing my union at all levels both locally and nationally and as shop steward convenor fighting to improve the wages and conditions of the workers in industry. For these activities I am not ashamed. At the moment I am working with the most deprived section, the unemployed, in a voluntary capacity"
Column 910[Interruption.] --I heard a Conservative Member call out, "Communist." That shows the sort of people who sit on the Conservative Benches. It shows what is going through the minds of some of the young Tories who have just arrived in the House, at a time when people are expressing concern about freedom in Britain and about totalitarianism.
Barriers face handicapped people as well. Again, I quote : "Six million people in Britain suffer from some form of disability. Disabled people constitute 12 per cent. of the working population many have valuable skills. Their job prospects depend, however, not so much on their abilities and performance as on the good will and farsightedness of their employers."
That sort of barrier is not mentioned in the glossy documents, in which there is no balance. That is what upsets us about them. Another barrier facing working people is created by the continued lowering of standards of health and safety. Some of my hon. Friends have already mentioned this problem. The Employment Gazette for January 1989 says that there were 500 fatal accidents and 33,000 serious injuries at work in a 12-month period. There were probably more, but they were not all reported.
Trade union representation has been further curtailed, and that ties in with the question of health and safety. It is important that there should be trade union representation for workers.
A working man seeking compensation for injury can usually go only to his trade union. He cannot go through the courts and get barristers to represent him. Another curtailment is the Government's further restrictions on the trade unions.
I should like to suggest what we might do, if we are sincere, to improve the industrial performance of Britain. We could introduce cheaper loans for industrial investment. Interest rates are going through the ceiling. Britain has the highest rates in Europe. When I was in Japan with the Select Committee on Employment I learned that the rate of interest on bank loans was 4er cent. That gave an incentive to improve productivity and to make industry competitive. In Britain the interest rate is probably 16 or 18 per cent. now. How can we compete when we have such high rates?
When I was in Japan I found that the philosophy there was quite different. It seems to be that the employers do not buy labour and workers do not sell it. They all join the company and their total philosophy is different from ours. We must get over the idea of "us and them". I shall return to the theme of brutality, the brutal attitude that seems to be encouraged by the Government, the "smash-all" thing. They tell everybody to knock the workers about and they call it progress. It is not progress ; it is a disaster and will continue to be a disaster.
One of the threads in the debate is skill training . We ought to consider better skill training. Over the past 10 years the Government have done many things to destroy training. They have abolished most of the industrial training boards and two or three years ago they closed skill centres. The Minister boasted that we presently have more than 100,000 people in training. Two or three years ago the Select Committee on Employment received a firm promise that over 300, 000 people would be in training. Lord Young made that promise, but at that time he was running the Manpower Services Commission. The Minister boasts that
Column 911100,000 people in training is a great achievement, but it is one third of what the Government prophesied three years ago.
The Financial Times in November 1988 contained an article about skill training. It said :
"In electrical skills, France trained 32,000 young people to craft level in 1984, compared with 7,000 in Britain ; 13,000 to craft/technician level compared with 7,000 in Britain, and 14,000 to technician/higher technician standard, while Britain trained 9,000 to that standard."
If we are honest with ourselves, those are the comparisons that we must make. Even The Daily Telegraph, which cannot be said to be a great supporter of the Opposition, said last month :
"If evidence were needed, we need only point to the chilling differentials between the levels of British training and those of our most successful competitors. In Japan 95 per cent. of young people are in full-time education up to the age of 18, compared with 32 per cent. in England. Thirty-eight per cent. of Japanses enter higher education and 48 per cent. of north Americans, against only 15 per cent. of Britons."
Surely there are some lessons to be learned. We keep on telling the Government that, but they keep on fooling themselves, like the king with his suit of clothes, and nobody seems to recognise that fact. Until there is more honesty and proper reports that will show us the kind of scientific balance that exists between employers and workers and investment and banking, we will never see any real progress or prosperity.
We shall not make progress by making working conditions worse. If we want examples of the truth of that we should look at what is happening in Germany, Sweden and Japan. We compare very badly with other industrialised nations. When it comes to the crunch, we are probably near the bottom of the pile. Governments are elected to serve all the people and not just the privileged few. Regrettably, over the past 10 years that has been the Conservative's philosophy. Several Hon. Members rose--
Mr. Deputy Speaker : Several hon. Members are seeking to catch my eye. I understand that the Front Bench speakers will seek to reply to the debate in 55 minutes. The arithmetic is obvious, and I am afraid that unless speeches are much shorter some hon. Members will be disappointed.
Mr. Tim Janman (Thurrock) : I support the Bill and welcome it as, I hope, a first step to future major deregulation of the labour market. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is to be congratulated on sweeping away outdated regulations and restrictions that impair opportunities for women in various parts of the labour market and form barriers to young people.
Given the Opposition's philosophy of life, one can understand their attitude to some parts of the Bill. Their reaction to this part of the Bill and their ranting and raving is quite laughable. To hear them going on one would think that the Government were about to round up women at gunpoint and force them down the mines. Clearly, that is not the case and the British people will see right through the political posturing of the Opposition over this part of the Bill. I welcome the amendments to the employment protection legislation of the 1970s but I fear that they do not go far enough. I remind my hon. Friends and the Secretary of State that we still have a huge plethora of
Column 912legislation that interferes with the way in which companies recruit, dismiss and pay their employees. Even after the Bill becomes law we will still have sex discrimination legislation, race relations and equal pay legislation and wage councils and many parts of the Employment Protection Act 1975 remaining on the statute book. It is disconcerting that even this Government will bring forward in Northern Ireland a Bill, the Fair Employment (Northern Ireland) Bill, that will add to the huge plethora of regulations that employers have to put up with in that part of the United Kingdom. However, the Government have recognised this problem. The 1986 White Paper entitled "Building Business Not Barriers" said :
"Regrettably, it is those regulations designed to offer security of employment that have done most to persuade employers that they should not recruit unless absolutely essential."
Although I criticise the existence of much of the legislation that I have mentioned, or major components of much of it, I agree that much of the legislation is well intentioned. In certain instances it will genuinely help some employers in the short-term. However, when one takes the picture as a whole one sees that this legislation which was brought upon us layer upon layer in the 1970s, reduces the willingness of firms to risk recruiting and impedes their ability to react quickly to market conditions and to labour market conditions specifically. It creates the need for unnecessary staff and therefore extra costs and management overheads.
In the 1970s unemployment under the Labour Government was going up, but one junction within industry that was continuing to recruit and expand were personnel departments because companies had to take on many extra professsional staff to keep up with the layer upon layer of legislation that was hitting them, telling them who they could recruit, how they recruit them and many other things.
Obviously, those increases in overheads and management costs reduce companies' cost-effectiveness and, therefore, their competitiveness both in domestic and world markets. That reduces their ability to sell their goods and services to those markets, which in turn reduces their turnover and their profit. That in turn undermines job security for employees in the company and reduces companies tax contributions to the Chancellor. In other words, this impedes wealth creation and, although in some instances much of the legislation may be in the interests of some employees, it is clearly not in the national interest because it impedes wealth creation and the flow of revenue to the Chancellor.
Time is short this evening and I wish to make some brief comments about three other parts of the Bill--training, paid time off for union officials and industrial tribunals. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is right to bring forward his proposals that relate to industrial tribunals. Some people--they may well be in a minority--bring cases out of pure spite or just to cause trouble. It is interesting to note--I believe that I am right in saying this--that the area of employment protection legislation and industrial tribunals is the only area of the law where the accused person is guilty until proven innocent. That is the basis from which a company starts. In the rest of our legal system, a person is innocent until proved guilty.
It is right to introduce at the chairman's discretion the maximum £150 deposit, which will act as a deterrent against people bringing cases unless they have a good and
Column 913genuine case under employment protection legislation. I have worked in personnel and I know that companies take industrial tribunals seriously because, clearly, it is not good for a company's PR image if it is found wanting in this area and to have treated one or more of its employees unfavourably. This measure will protect companies so that their time is not wasted by individuals who act irresponsibly. The current regime whereby some trade union officials have a licence to go round stirring up trouble at their workplace or at other people's workplaces and being paid for doing so by the employers for whom they are supposed to be working is clearly ridiculous. Again, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is right to bring forward proposals that will tighten this up. My only fear is that the tightening up will not be quite tight enough, but it is a start and a step in the right direction.
I welcome the abolition of the Training Commission. Centralised bodies are not the answer. The hon. Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Leighton) said earlier that, 100 years ago, Germany was having to have to catch up with this country in respect of the level of training. One hundred years ago, there was not that much state interference or centralised bureaucratic control in the way that training was delivered in this country. Tonight, we have heard Opposition Members admit that this country was very much in the lead in these matters at that time.
The responsibility for training must ultimately lie with the employers. There are many reasons why it is in the employers' interest to acknowledge and implement that responsibility. The new training and enterprise councils will catalyse a return to such a way of operating with regard to training.
One of our weaknesses in many instances is the inability of technical colleges to adapt to the training needs of companies in the locality. My hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Lester) spoke about training vouchers. It is worth considering a voucher system for individuals and companies vis-a-vis technical colleges so that, rather than simply offering what is convenient for them to offer to local companies, they have a financial incentive to offer training courses to those companies that are relevant to their needs in a modern, thriving economy.
The Bill will go some way to relieving small firms of unnecessary regulations and it will, in some small degree, liberalise the labour market. The Government believe in the free market. I hope that the Bill is only the first step down the road of a deregulated labour market which is, of course, a major and fundamental component of the wider free market.
Mr. Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) : Employment Bills should be about creating the climate and conditions for employment. They should be carefully drafted measures designed to define the rights of the employed, to enhance and clarify them and to support good industrial relations and, in so doing, to aid national prosperity. By those criteria, this Bill fails miserably, eroding rights, restricting the advances of a century of experience, eroding good industrial relations and undermining them, not helping them.
Column 914The Government's hypocrisy--they pretend to care for the young and promise legislation to prevent child abuse yet propose to pass legislation that is, in effect, a charter for the abuse of young people by wicked employers--is clear for all of us to see, sweeping away a century of protective rights for young people, giving a green light to the greedy employer and allowing the exploiter to excel. I started work when I was 16, exactly 16 years ago. I had to go out to work because one of my parents had died. I worked in a shop from the age of 16 until the age of 21 to help my mother pay her mortgage. I did not know that these rights existed and that this protection was given, but, looking back, I and millions of young people are grateful for the fact that we have this protection.
The Government are now proposing that we go back to the 19th century. The Bill proposes the removal of virtually all protection of young persons against long hours of work, shift work and night work. The Government are to do away with statutory meal and rest breaks for youngsters and rights to holidays and days off. The Minister is to give himself wider powers to repeal any other protective legislation, including laws protecting children under school-leaving age. Coupled with the proposed abolition of wages councils and the Government's blind eye to abuses of the YTS and similar courses, it is obvious that these proposals are made solely to help unscrupulous employers exploit young workers without hindrance or concern for health, safety and welfare.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) pointed out, the Bill ignores the recommendations made to the Government by the Health and Safety Commission. The hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Evennett) said that Opposition Members glory in the level of unemployment. As he is not present in the Chamber, I say to other Conservative Members that, if we glory in unemployment, they glory in the death and injury of so many young people under the YTS and other schemes. The Health and Safety Commission accident figures show that 16 to 24-year-olds are more at risk of accidents than older workers. That is partly due to inexperience and immaturity. Young people need more protection. The Government have accepted that in other aspects of policy, but not in employment. The proposal to abolish restrictions on night working set out in the Employment of Women, Young Persons, and Children Act 1920 would be a clear breach of article 7(8) of the European social charter. The Bill is about removing rights. The Government's aim is to make life as difficult as possible for those who leave their employment for whatever reason. That is why they are raising the qualification period for a written statement of reasons for dismissal. It is obvious that employees who do not have a written statement will find it very difficult to obtain further employment.
Yesterday one of my constituents telephoned me to tell me that she had been dismissed from her employment, having worked there for six months. She asked her employer to provide reasons for her dismissal. He refused, and when she went to press him again he called the police.
In some cases young people will not be entitled to benefit because there will be an allegation that they have been dismissed for misconduct. The Government's proposal removes the right to a written statement from an estimated 5 million workers. In 1986, 44 per cent. of all cases arising under jurisdictions other than unfair
Column 915dismissal and discrimination received by the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service concerned the employer's failure to provide a written statement on dismissal.
The Bill is about undermining trade union rights. The Government claim that current legislation can result in employers having to pay lay union officials to take time off for activities unrelated to the terms on which the employer recognises the union. There is absolutely no evidence to suggest that time off for trade union duties adversely affects employers. The duties of an official may require him or her to participate in the planning of strategy as well as negotiating sessions where groups of workers other than those he represents are involved. Under the Bill, shop stewards would not be given time off to attend those meetings.
The removal of the requirement for companies with fewer than 20 employees to provide written disciplinary procedures is absurd. Why should a distinction between different responsibilities be placed on different sized establishments? Employees do not learn the procedures any better because their workplace is smaller. It is in the interests of employees and employers to ensure that there are clear grievance procedures to allow everyone to understand the position.
The Minister justifies his proposal by claiming that, in small firms, employees clearly know their roles and responsibilities. That view contrasts sharply with that of ACAS. In November 1985, ACAS produced a consultative document which argued for a new draft code of practice on disciplinary and other procedures in employment. It argued that
"in every organisation there should be clearly understood procedures, however simple, which are consistent with the general principles and intentions of the code."
Before I was elected to this House, I worked as a solicitor for a law centre in Leicester. I had to advise many people about taking claims to an industrial tribunal. The introduction of the deposit order for industrial tribunals will be a major obstacle for an employee seeking justice. Industrial tribunals were set up in 1964. Since then, through complex legislation, their work has grown enormously. It is now very difficult for employees to understand the complexity of the law.
In this Bill the Government should have ensured that there was ready access to industrial tribunals. Instead, they want to deter potential applicants. Although under the terms of this Bill employees can request deposit orders, in practice that is highly unlikely. Between 1986 and 1987 there were 594 applications for industrial tribunal pre-hearing assessments from employers, as against only 15 from employees. The sifting mechanism of the ACAS conciliation stage already exists which, in 1986-87, resulted in 11,129 ACAS conciliated settlements out of 39,000 industrial tribunal applications. In the same year, a further 14,149 cases were settled privately or withdrawn after the conciliation stage.
The deposit requirement will have a disproportionate impact on unemployed and low-paid litigants. Seventy-five per cent. of claims before industrial tribunals come from unemployed people who simply cannot afford to pay the £150 deposit which might be ordered by the chairman of the tribunal. Once the deposit is ordered, it prejudges the outcome of the case. The Government should have ensured that legal aid was available at industrial tribunals so that people could be properly assisted.