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Dr. Tony Wright (Cannock and Burntwood) : My hon. Friend spoke about the inadequacies of the Bill's protection for workers. Has he considered that the Deregulation and Contracting Out Bill will not only abolish weekday restrictions but enable the Secretary of State to make orders to abolish or amend anything in the Sunday Trading Bill ? Is that not the greatest outrage ?
Mr. Purchase : My hon. Friend raises a wide and difficult question about the nature of our parliamentary democracy. I speak for many when I say that there is a considerable battle to be waged over that particular insult to the democratic process. My hon. Friend reinforces the need for as much packing, padding and support for workers' rights as we can devise in their favour.
In present market conditions, demand for labour is much less than its supply. I remind right hon. and hon. Members that wages councils were needed because even in times of relative balance between labour supply and demand, shop workers in particular were exceedingly vulnerable to low pay, poor conditions and little in the way of benefits. Nothing has changed.
It is selfish of people to demand that others work on Sunday just to meet their wants.
Mr. Ray Powell : Is my hon. Friend aware that I am at a loss to understand why some of my hon. Friends--particularly on the Front Bench-- and trade union leaders delude themselves that the Government, having abolished wages councils for low-paid workers, will correct any mistakes that they made when preparing the Bill and will include any form of employment protection ?
Mr. Purchase : I understand that the precursor to making corrections is an apology--and it is not in the Government's nature to apologise. They never apologise for anything, however much harm is done to people. I suspect that my hon. Friend is right in thinking that no corrections will be made.
How do we make a plea to our trade union colleagues ? Most Opposition Members have been trade unionists for many years. In my case, I am proud to say that I have been a union member for 35 years. I have seen many union leaders come and go. There is acute pressure on USDAW officials to--dare I use the term ?--cave in to the major stores lobby.
Mr. Lord : Although it may be difficult sometimes to accept this, right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House care deeply about workers, particularly in respect of this issue. As constituency Members of Parliament, we have evidence already of pressure being brought to bear on shop workers over Sunday trading. Sometimes it is anecdotal, and sometimes the people who write to us ask for their identities not to be revealed. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that if a employee wants to object to Sunday working, it is difficult to do so without in some way jeopardising his or her employment ? We cannot make a fair assessment of the situation, so the only satisfactory solution is for stores to remain shut.
Mr. Purchase : I am conscious of the situation to which the hon. Gentleman refers. A newspaper article published on 15 January reported a spokesman for a Peterborough-based store saying : "Mrs. Love was not sacked for refusing to work on a Sunday but because she refused to move to another store under the terms of her contract."
That is just the kind of situation that we must make watertight. An employer might say, "You are perfectly within your rights not to work on Sunday, but we shall want you to move to another store 25 or 30 miles from your home. You must be there half-an-hour earlier."
Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East) : Is it not significant that such examples of discrimination are coming to light at a time when the stores are clearly on their best behaviour, because they know that they are being watched and scrutinised, and that any examples of discrimination will be publicised ? What will happen when, having made a massive investment in Sunday trading, stores are able to do precisely as they want--as the Government imply that they will ? What will happen then to the touching faith of USDAW and others, who imagine that a Government who got rid of wages councils will look after workers' interests ?
Mr. Purchase : I thank my hon. Friend for his timely intervention. Although trade unions represent 250,000, 300,000 or 400,000 employees, 1.5 million others look to the House for protection. I give ground to no one in terms of my trade union membership, the union work that I have done and the workers for whom I have been responsible. I have an honourable record, if I say so myself. The House is given the task of being the trade union for the 1.5 million workers who do not have direct protection. We cannot give that job away, and we cannot duck responsibility for looking after those people.
Whatever the Minister says, I do not believe that the Bill will look after those 1.5 million people. The right hon. Gentleman may argue that new clause 4 would not do so, but at least it attempts to set in concrete the punishments that could be imposed by a tribunal.
Rev. William McCrea : Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the Bill would not be before the House in its present form had members of the Government and Opposition Front Benches not joined in trying to thwart the will of the people of this country ?
I ask the House to acknowledge the importance of right hon. and hon. Members acting as the shop stewards of the 1.5 million workers not covered by the deals, which I believe were the result of collusion, entered into by major traders and, foolishly in my estimation, trade unions. I shall not go further, because it would not help the cause one little bit to do so. There has been collusion. Our duty is to ensure that those 1.5 million for whom we must act take control of our conscience so that we vote in favour of worker protection. If we cannot get that protection, which is so vital to their cause, we should vote against the Bill.
Column 309in the House. It is a belt-and-braces new clause and--no doubt the Minister will say this--reinforces a principle that purportedly is in the Bill anyway.
The truth is, as the hon. Gentleman has told us, that the employment protection provisions in the Bill are limited. As the hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell) said, there is so much concern among workers in this country about the systematic erosion of their rights that the latest proposed legislation comes as a further blow to them. They are right to be apprehensive and concerned about the erosion of their rights.
The new clause seeks to ensure that nothing that is in the scope of the Bill can be written out of it by an employer forcing a new contract with an employee. The new clause is worth while, because it will add a double safeguard to people working in the big shops. The hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East cited the infamous Crick case involving Tesco. I want to return to that briefly, because it is important, as the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) intimated earlier, that the House should understand, if that is happening now, how much worse it will be when the Bill has been enacted and the great stores and shops know that their actions cannot then be put under the microscope by the Chamber. Fears that Sunday trading will have a ripple effect will then increase.
Eighty workers staged a lightning 24-hour walkout at Tesco's warehouse at Crick, near Daventry, in protest. They say that it was about new working arrangements and being lied to by the company. In a changeover to a system of working based on annualised hours, workers asked repeatedly whether Sunday work was included. They were told categorically that it was not.
Ten days ago, workers from Crick rang to tell me what had happened to them. I advised them to speak to The Guardian and other newspapers, where the report to which the hon. Gentleman referred has subsequently appeared. It is right that the public and the House should know in detail what has already happened as a result of the proposed legislation, and the assumptions that are already being made by major employers.
Shift cycles recently issued to those workers show that they would have to work three Sundays in a new seven-week working cycle. If they want overtime, it could be four Sundays. The annual hours proposal was rejected initially, with only seven of the workers at Crick voting for it and 1,550 against. A Tesco worker subsequently commented :
"I need family time, and I need the money premium pay brought me when I could work extra hours during the week"
not on Sundays.
"When am I going to see my kids ? How can I get away on holiday ?"
The workers say that they need their premium pay. Their present pay, as we have heard, is about £4.23 per hour. Tesco has also increased the length of shift work in some cases from eight to 10 hours. How, then, can those men and women live a reasonably normal life ? It is not fair that low -paid night workers should lose a further measure of their freedom. That is why I remain extremely concerned about the lack of employee protection available for Sunday workers, which, under the Bill, includes only shopworkers, not workers in warehouses, in transport or in distribution.
Column 310Let the House recall, as it considers the worth of the new clause, that legal aid is not available for industrial tribunal applications, that the current industrial tribunal system is heavily biased towards the employer, that remedies that are awarded are always totally inadequate, and that applications to industrial tribunals are subject to delay.
The burden of proof of discrimination for refusing to work on Sundays lies with the employee, and it is extremely difficult to satisfy. That is why we need to add as much as we possibly can to the Bill, which takes away so much that workers expect to have as their right--not to have to work on a Sunday. For that reason, I hope that this belt-and-braces new clause, moved so well by the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East, will be accepted by the House.
This is something of a lengthy reprise of what was a short debate in Committee on the same new clause. I promised to consider the issue carefully with expert legal advice. I have done so. I am confident that the hon. Gentleman's general fear, as indicated in the wording of his new clause rather than the animadversions that he made on it, that an employee might be bribed, cozened or persuaded to contract out of his rights under the Bill, particularly under schedule 3, are groundless. The wording of the schedule is proof against that. 5.45 pm
The hon. Gentleman raised a particular case--if I follow him correctly, I think I know the one--about Tesco and transport workers. That is not covered by the Bill and the schedule. We debated that kind of question on the last day of the Committee of the whole House.
When the hon. Gentleman spoke to the new clause before and then withdrew it, I said that I hoped that he would come to see me with any loopholes that he thought might exist and that might have to be closed were those rights to be absolutely assured. He did not come to see me, so I presumed that he did not have any, and that it was only a general worry.
I understand the general worry, but I have now taken legal advice. It does not exist in the form that the hon. Gentleman expects. People cannot give up their rights under the proposed legislation, most particularly under schedule 3, by signing documents that would then enable them to be dismissed, where otherwise they would have been able to opt out of Sunday working.
However, it seems to me that there may be one potential difficulty with the right not to suffer detriment under paragraph 10 of the schedule. It is a complicated point. I have not yet managed to find suitable words and have them drafted. I should like to have done so by this stage.
The hon. Gentleman's new clause does not meet the point. It covers only what is covered already. It misses the bit that I think is exposed. I hope that he will accept that on this issue at least--the inalienability of the rights under schedule 3 and the Bill--we are of like mind. I want to be quite sure that the full rights are there and cannot be lost by any particular agreement.
I can give the hon. Gentleman and the House an assurance that the Government intend to table a suitable amendment in another place to cover the point that I think
Column 311is exposed, and any other point that he can convince me--or get others to convince me--exists that I have not yet seen and which can be covered in another place.
Mr. Alton : The Minister adverted a moment ago to the omission of transport workers, warehouse workers and others from the employment protection provisions in the Bill. Is it his intention to widen the scope at any stage to include those workers ?
Mr. Lloyd : We discussed that. It covers shopworkers--people whose job is in or about a shop. We had a considerable debate on an amendment moved by the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms Ruddock) on that issue. I remain of the view that it is a broad protection for those who work in or about a shop, but it does not extend to workers beyond that.
Mr. Donald Anderson : The Minister has been generous in saying that he will seek to remove any ambiguity in respect of the ability of an employee to barter away his rights. I press him in respect of the narrow definition of a shopworker. It is clear that a number of people whose livelihood is directly concerned in shop working are likely to have their position adversely affected as a result of the provisions of the Bill.
Will he therefore be prepared to consider, although he said that it has been canvassed to some extent in Committee, giving a somewhat broader definition of "shopworker" to cover those who will certainly be penalised if the Bill goes through ?
We discussed the matter at length in Committee ; we did not merely touch on it. Such action would not be practicable, even if it were desirable--and I do not think it would be either desirable or right.
Mr. Cryer : What amendment does the Minister intend to table in the other place to deal with the omission that he perceives in the schedule to which he referred ? In what way would that amendment differ from, and be superior to, new clause 4 ? If new clause 4 merely spells out what is implied in other parts of the Bill, why should it not be included ? It could improve the Bill, rather than detracting from it.
Mr. Lloyd : I see no point in inserting in a Bill verbiage that gives no extra protection, power or authority ; that only confuses the position. In this instance, I said that I thought a loophole existed--a small loophole, which the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East had not had in mind, and which was not covered by his new clause.
I have undertaken to introduce, in another place, amendments or new clauses that fill that loophole and any others that may be identified between then and now. I will not, however, undertake to introduce belts where we already have perfectly adequate braces.
Dr. Wright : Is not the greatest loophole of all the fact that, under the deregulation proposals that the House is now considering, a Minister--having established that the Bill's provisions for worker protection, inadequate though they are, constitute a burden on business-- can make an order and sweep away all those provisions ? He can sweep away, for instance, the six-hour provisions, by means of
Column 312the power to make orders that the Deregulation and Contracting Out Bill provides. If the Minister is prepared to confirm that, will he also assure the House that that order-making power will not be used in relation to this Bill ?
Mr. Lloyd : I certainly do not intend any order-making power to be used to diminish the rights that we have carefully and laboriously put into this Bill. The deregulation Bill has begun its passage through the House ; I cannot tell the hon. Gentleman, and he cannot tell me, in what shape it will end up and how far its powers will extend. I am certain, however, that if it is to be used to alter other legislation, it will have to go through the processes already outlined in it.
I cannot tell the hon. Gentleman how much of this Bill could be changed by the use of processes in the deregulation Bill, because I have not the expertise. I can tell him, however, that we intend the rights that we are including in the Bill to be there--that is why we are including them--and to remain there. I want to ensure that they are completely effective and contain no loopholes.
Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North) : Perhaps the Minister will explain what he has just said about the failure of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mr. Purchase) to recognise the loophole. Are we dealing with the issue that the hon. Gentleman has presented to the House or not ? Are we dealing with another issue, which the Minister is convinced is a loophole ? We need to know that.
Moreover, if--as the hon. Member for Cannock and Burntwood (Dr. Wright) suggested--a Minister has the power, by means of an order, to destroy existing provisions almost with the stroke of a pen, what good is that to workers ? Are the Government going to bluff them, saying, "You have safeguards," although a Minister need only sign an order for those safeguards to be ended ?
Mr. Lloyd : If the hon. Gentleman cares, at his leisure, to read schedule 3(10), he will see the area where I believe a loophole may exist. It may be possible to make arrangements where an individual suffers detriment through deciding that he does not want to work on Sundays. There is no question about the existence of his right to opt in or out, and to avoid dismissal ; the issue of detriment, however, is complicated and, for that reason, I have not yet secured wording that I consider deals with it satisfactorily.
I have exposed to the House a problem that may well exist, before examining it closely and producing a solution. I have, however, told the House that, if there is indeed a problem--as I believe there is--I intend to find a solution.
Mr. Donald Anderson : Does the Minister conceive that my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock and Burntwood (Dr. Wright) has raised an extraordinarily important point ? If the protections provided by the Government--however inadequate we consider them--can be removed as easily as my hon. Friend suggests, is that not important ? As the Minister is dealing with this point, can he not find out speedily whether, under the current provisions of the Deregulation and Contracting Out Bill, a Minister can remove the protection in this Bill ?
Column 313freely, on his own. The hon. Gentleman, however, has asked a reasonable question. As I have explained, I am familiar in general terms with the deregulation Bill. In answer to the hon. Gentleman's specific point, I think--with the advice of the Chair particularly in mind--that it may be possible to return to the matter on a later group of amendments, when I may be better informed.
Dr. Wright : I well understand why the Minister should seem surprised and shocked by the suggestion that a Minister, simply by order, could sweep away the Bill's provisions. That, however, is precisely the power being claimed for Ministers in the deregulation Bill.
Mr. Lloyd : That is right--[ Laughter. ]--but the hon. Gentleman said it. The order must come before the House, and the protection must be construed as other than necessary protection. I regard this as necessary protection. The definition of necessary protection makes me a little reluctant to be drawn to the extent that I should like by interventions about another Bill that I do not manage. I am being entirely frank with the House. I can only say that it would be more sensible if I returned to the matter later in the debate. As for the specific rights that the Bill gives employees, I want them to be completely watertight in the terms of the Bill, so that they cannot be accidentally lost through an agreement unwisely made by an employee, or through some other act on the part of that employee or his employer leading unintentionally to that result--or, indeed, doing so intentionally. The rights, as contained in the Bill, cannot be given away even if it is the intention of both parties at the time to do so.
Rev. Ian Paisley : Will the Minister give an assurance that only an affirmative resolution will be involved ? He has said that Ministers cannot take such action, but we in Northern Ireland have a sad history of what Ministers can do. They can change, change and change. We also know what happens to prayers in the House. I am glad that prayers to the Almighty are more effective than prayers in the House ; otherwise, I would be permanently out of business.
Mr. Lloyd : The hon. Gentleman knows that I cannot give assurances about the final outcome of a Bill that is only just beginning its passage through the House--a Bill, moreover, that I do not sponsor, and with whose policy my Department does not deal. However, as I have said, I hope to be able to tell the House rather more later this evening.
Mr. Ray Powell : I support new clause 4. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mr. Purchase) did not mention industrial tribunals in depth and detail because he had many other matters to mention.
It is necessary to refer to a report on the Sunday Trading Bill by S.F. Deakin, fellow of Peterhouse college and lecturer in law at the university of Cambridge, and K.D. Ewing, professor of public law at King's college, university of London. They say :
"The sanctions available to employees who are unfairly victimised for refusing Sunday work are inadequate for a number of reasons.
Column 314(a) The Bill would replace criminal sanctions (fines against retailers who open in breach of the law) with weaker civil sanctions (damages and re-employment) administered by industrial tribunals. (b) The onus will be on employees themselves to assert employment protection rights before industrial tribunals ; these rights will be very difficult to enforce for the following reasons."
In order to put them on the record, I must read out the five different sections. The most important is as follows :
"(i) Legal aid is not available before industrial tribunals, while legal representation is not, in practice, available to most employees who do not have access to trade union support ;
(ii) There are significant delays in the hearing of industrial tribunal cases which will discourage many workers from making claims, and the Bill makes no provision for this point to be met by the availability of interim relief to employees whose rights are infringed ;
(iii) The burden of proving that the reason for a dismissal or other detriment is the employee's refusal to do Sunday work will rest throughout on the employee, and will be difficult to overcome."
Mr. Peter Lloyd : That is absolutely and completely wrong. The burden of proof lies on the employer. The Bill refers to the Employment Protection (Consolidation) Act 1978, which was put on the statute book by a Labour Government, makes it perfectly clear that the employee has to show only that he is dismissed ; it is for the employer to show why he was dismissed and to show that that reason was a fair reason for dismissal. The document from which the hon. Gentleman quotes is wrong. I understand that it is his bible in these matters, but it is not accurate.
Mr. Donald Anderson : I noticed that the Minister did not intervene in respect of the other advice of the learned professors : that, as a result of the ability of the employer--the respondent--to prolong proceedings, which in any event take quite a long time, by adjournment and otherwise, it is likely that, as a result of the disproportion of power between the employee, or former employee, and the employer, the employee will be frightened away long before the end of the process. As the Government well know, the protection that they purport to give is, in practice, nugatory.
Mr. Peter Lloyd : I think that that remark was directed at me. I do not intervene every time that the hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell) gets something wrong, because I think that other hon. Members should get a word in edgeways sometimes. However, most cases of unfair dismissal and unfair treatment of that type do not reach the tribunal, simply because two thirds of them are settled well beforehand by the employer, who, knowing that he is wrong, would prefer them not to go to the tribunal. It is therefore simply not true that the law is ineffective.
Representation will be similar in such a case to representation in any other case that goes to a tribunal.
Mr. Donald Anderson rose
"(iv) On the evidence of current practice, an industrial tribunal is hardly ever likely to order the re-employment of an employee who has been unfairly dismissed ;
(v) Where an industrial tribunal orders compensation, current practice indicates that damages will not be set at a level designed to deter employers from taking similar action in the future ; damages will most likely be a small fraction of the legal maximum which an industrial tribunal is empowered to award to an unfairly dismissed employee ;
(vi) An industrial tribunal will have no power to order the promotion of a worker who has been subjected to a detriment by being denied promotion for refusing Sunday work."
I hope that if the Minister has not listened to what I have said, he will read it and perhaps give an explanation. All Members of the House are fully aware that even if a worker wants to protest and go to an industrial tribunal, the provision gives him or her no chances of emerging financially better off or protected in any way, shape or form.
There is no provision for legal aid. How much legal advice could a shopworker, earning about £2 an hour, afford for an appearance before an industrial tribunal ? The chances of affording that and winning the case are remote.
My hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) referred to employment protection, which is a very important part of new clause 4. Many promises were made to us in Committee. We are now told that we will not have an answer tonight, but that an answer might be forthcoming when the Bill goes to another place, if it goes to another place. The Minister is pushing it off, but he is not prepared to give a definite answer about how he will protect those workers on a Sunday.
The new clause would do much to assist. My hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East referred to an article in The Guardian . I do not want to repeat what he said, but I think that it is time to consider carefully what is happening. We speak about sleazy deals in Government circles ; I do not know whether those sleazy deals are now flowing over into the trade union movement. Some trade union leaders will be as renowned in the 1990s as Jimmy Thomas was for his role in the 1930s.
I know the feelings that Torvill and Dean must experience, having performed with honesty and hard work and finding the contest rigged. The 22 million people who viewed the skating on television this week have reached their verdict of indignation, and that is what will happen tonight. Hon. Members will show their contempt for the sleazy deals of those people who enjoy champagne and caviare breakfasts and lunches or Savoy dinners.
We could give details of what has happened during the past couple of months. If that is what trade union leaders believe to be the answer, after 15 years of Thatcherism, I have no wish to identify myself with their contemptuous, phoney deals.
I say that because the role of the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers has been mentioned in great depth and detail. USDAW has been committed to the Keep Sunday Special campaign since 1985, and it was committed to the campaign in the 1986 Shops Bill debate. I have been a member of USDAW since I was a shopworker at the age of 16. I have always respected the union and worked for it. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East, I have always been
Column 316committed to the trade union movement. I have been sponsored by USDAW for the past 15 years, and am now a senior member of it. However, the union's executive council recently took a decision that was not the decision of its 300,000 members--who, in May last year, decided unanimously to support the Keep Sunday Special campaign and my Bill. It was referred to as the Powell Bill, but it was sponsored and supported by Keep Sunday Special and, indeed, by USDAW. Without consulting the hon. Members who are sponsored by USDAW, the annual delegates' meeting or anyone else, the executive council took a decision. Therefore, Conservative Members were correct to attach the defeat of the Keep Sunday Special proposals to USDAW, because USDAW had a responsibility for that defeat.
We have to wonder what is happening when we see the sleazy deals that were done only last week between trade union leaders and Tesco workers. I also wonder whether a Bailey bridge was erected over the rift between the usual channels in respect of the Sunday Trading Bill. What happened has been passing strange, to say the least. I spent 10 years in the Whips office and this is the first time to my knowledge that there is to be a three-line Whip on Report but a free vote on Third Reading. It does not make sense, and I am sure
Members of all parties will appreciate that the support that we are receiving from this side of the House for certain issues is a farce, and perhaps a rigged farce. I shall conclude my remarks, and I know that you will be relieved to hear that, Mr. Deputy Speaker. In The Guardian on 7 December 1993, Hugo Young referred to "Sunday Trading Bill Tests." He wrote :
"How many Labour MPs have had their brains so addled by years of defeat that they will surrender to one of the least convincing promises ever made by Capital to Labour ?"
I am sure that that applies to some of our trade union leaders, too.