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Mr. Tom Cox (Tooting) : The new clause has opened up the heart of the debate. The Minister's speech and the way in which he dealt with interventions from members of all parties made it clear that he has not done his homework. He could not deal satisfactorily with any of the points made by, among others, my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North- East (Mr. Purchase) who moved the new clause. Hon. Members know that the matters of the greatest concern are the rights and protection of workers. We know from day-to-day contact with our constituents that the people who work in the retail trade are invariably the most vulnerable. I listened with interest to the contribution of the hon. Member for Suffolk, Central (Mr. Lord) who touched on an important matter. If I understood him correctly, he was saying that if a worker was not happy with his terms and conditions of employment, and if the employer believed that the worker was going to become a little
Column 317difficult, it would not be long before the employer would be advising the worker what he should do because he--the employer--did not intend to change the working patterns.
Comments have been made about the abolition of the wages councils. I shall not deal with that issue in detail, but there are already reports about the effect of that abolition, which took place only a few months ago. We know what is happening, but Ministers are making no attempt to reconsider. They are not saying that they were perhaps too hasty and did not consider the issue in the necessary depth or that they should seek to reintroduce protection for workers. It is to the credit of many Conservative Members that they are as worried as Labour Members about the lack of protection for working people. 6.15 pm
I shall cite an example to highlight the problem and perhaps the Minister will respond to it. A lady constituent came to see me. She has worked full time for a firm for seven years and is quite happy to continue working for that firm. As my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) said, the big companies are behaving themselves at the moment because they do not want any more adverse publicity than is already surfacing. The woman to whom I referred assumed that the company was also happy for her to continue in its employ, but she was called into the manager's office one day and told that the working patterns were being changed. She was offered part-time employment or redundancy, neither of which she wanted. Where is her protection as a worker? She is being forced to work part time or leave the firm altogether. That is but one example of the type of cases that are worrying many hon. Members.
The Minister did not respond in any way to many of the issues that were raised. My hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell) referred to industrial tribunals. There are any amount of tribunals, but, even if people receive legal aid, they are rarely satisfied with the outcome. Those of us who represent constituencies in the big cities know that people who believe that they are being forced to pay extortionate rent increases by rent assessment officers rarely win the cases that they take to the tribunal, even though they have a legal framework in which to present them. The Minister has not dealt satisfactorily with the issues raised by hon. Members, irrespective of party.
Mr. Peter Lloyd : We have debated tribunals at least twice during our consideration of the Bill. Tribunals can be most effective when employees make use of them and, clearly, Labour Members believe that when it suits their purpose. The hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell), who described tribunals as wholly useless, has tabled a later amendment on premium pay, which relies on industrial tribunals to reinforce it.
Does the hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) think that his hon. Friend is being absurd, ridiculous and stupid in trying to have his amendment made effective by that route or does it suit Opposition Members to condemn tribunals when they do not like the rule and to applaud them when they do?
Mr. Cox : That is an interesting point and my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore will be able to deal with it himself when he speaks to his amendment. It is regrettable that the Minister should seek to introduce a party slant
Column 318because, as he knows, while we have been debating the new clause, hon. Members on both sides of the House have expressed concern about the lack of protection for working people.
Of course there should be tribunals and of course the people who go to them sometimes win, but in the vast majority of cases the person loses, because the odds are stacked against him or her. Whether such people get legal aid is obviously important, but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore said, that will not apply in the cases that we are discussing.
We are entitled to expect from the Minister, not at some distant future date or in the other place but tonight, before Third Reading, a suitable and acceptable reply to what my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East said about new clause 4.
Ms Glenda Jackson : I shall speak briefly to the new clause because it appears in my name as well as that of my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mr. Purchase). It has become clear from the debate that hon. Members on both sides of the House are concerned about the lack of worker protection on the face of the Bill. That is the central issue.
Major changes are being imposed on the lives of millions of working people in this country because of Sunday trading. As my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East tellingly pointed out, most people who work in shops are represented in any possible dispute with their employers by no one other than Members of Parliament. It is our responsibility to speak for those who are not in a position to speak for themselves as a uniform or united group. It is our
responsibility--indeed, our duty--to strengthen with the will of the House people in such confrontations, who are inevitably weak because they are individuals.
I sincerely hope that hon. Members on both sides of the House will find it in their hearts to support new clause 4.
Mr. Donald Anderson : Like the leadership of the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers, I believe in the essential goodness of human nature. Like them, I believe that the vast expenditure by the stores on cars and on lunches at the Dorchester was all incurred in the public interest, and because the stores have the interests of the workers at heart. Scarcely a moment of the day passes without the senior management of Tesco and Sainsbury saying to themselves, "What can we do now for our workers, poor chaps?"
If, perchance, my faith in human nature is not borne out in practice, I shall be reminded of the poor Scottish pastor in a story that our good friends from Northern Ireland probably know already. After his death, rather to his surprise, the pastor found himself not in heaven but in hell, with the flames licking round him. He looked up to the good Lord and said "O Lord, I didnae ken, I didnae ken." and the good Lord, in his infinite wisdom and mercy said, "Ye ken the noo." I expect that a little while after the shops have been given the powers granted in the Bill, our good friends in USDAW will make their plea to the House, saying, "We did not know, we did not know ; our confidence was misplaced."
Initially, the Government did not wish to introduce any measure of employee protection--that was their main agenda--but, as a result of the concern expressed, they introduced what they claimed was some protection for
Column 319workers. However, anyone who practises in industrial tribunals, as I have done on both sides, knows that the protection afforded is small indeed. Many shop workers will not be protected by their trade unions in any event, and they will be somewhat intimidated by the procedures, which can be spun out over a long period by wealthy employers who are usually legally represented and who know all the rules.
The poor litigant in person will lose heart as he sees the time slipping away, even if that person has sufficient commitment and is sufficiently gifted to take and continue his case--or, as is more likely, her case. As we are speaking of shop workers it is more likely to be a woman who goes to the tribunal, and she is more likely to be overawed and intimidated
Mr. Anderson : I am sorry. If I unintentionally made a remark that proved offensive to the hon. Lady, I unreservedly withdraw it. We know that the amount of compensation likely to be awarded by industrial tribunals is relatively small, and only in the rarest of cases will a tribunal reinstate a worker in the job from which he or she was dismissed. Therefore, there will be an enormous temptation for major stores, for whom the compensation likely to be awarded is small change, to get rid of any worker they think is being difficult and to go for an easygoing and complacement work force. I therefore reject as wholly inadequate the gift that the Government offer. As we say in some parts of Swansea, "Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes." Furthermore, we should consider not only the Government's relatively last- minute insertion of the so-called employee protection provisions, but their attitude in other areas. I am thinking not of the wages councils, which some of my hon. Friends have already mentioned, but of the spirit and practice of the Deregulation and Contracting Out Bill, which is making a bonfire of controls. It would surely be consistent with the spirit of that Bill to remove the unfair burden that weighs upon employers.
With all due respect to the Minister, I should have thought that he would know what the Government seek to do in the deregulation Bill, and would realise the direct potential relevance of that Bill to what the Government seek to give in the Bill before us. Clearly if he were doing his job properly he would have been briefed about the potential relevance of the other Bill, so that he could tell us whether even the minor protection that the Government purport to give here is likely to be wholly illusory in practice, because what they give in this Bill they can easily take away tomorrow by using one of the orders under the deregulation Bill.
The Minister was wrong not to come here adequately briefed, but I hope that by the end of the debate he will be able to tell us clearly not only about the Government's current intention--that will probably disappear in smoke as soon as the Bill is passed--but that in no way can orders
Column 320under the deregulation Bill be applied to the Bill before us in such a way as to allow the Government to take away later what they are offering now.
Rev. William McCrea : Many hon Members on both sides of the House have expressed genuine and deep concern about the protection of workers. It cannot be said that one side is more concerned than the other. I listened carefully to the Minister's remarks. He asked us to reject new clause 4, saying that in another place the Government may introduce a provision to close a loophole in paragraph 10 of schedule 3. However, he gave us no indication of the substance of such an amendment. He is therefore asking us to throw aside the substance of new clause 4 for something about which we do not have a clue. The Minister said that it was not desirable, at the stroke of a pen, to cast existing provisions aside. I do not doubt the hon. Gentleman's good faith, but, as he knows, his promise will not bind his successors. We should not be carried away by such a promise. 6.30 pm
I should like to refer to a matter that puzzles me. The Minister probably approaches this problem with a perspective and a philosophy different from those of other hon. Members, including Opposition Members. On the question of the protection of workers, I should like someone to explain what happens to an Opposition Member when he or she moves from the Back Benches to the Front Bench. The attitude of such people seems to change. They become willing to give Ministers the nod and to accept undesirable legislation. It seems that something dramatic happens : there is a road to Damascus conversion. The people of the United Kingdom deserve to be told why Opposition Front-Bench Members nod when a Minister gives them an assurance. If they were still on the Back Benches they would raise many of the matters that still trouble ordinary people.
Mr. Pike : The hon. Gentleman should be careful what he says. Many Opposition Front-Bench Members have consistently voted against this legislation and in favour of worker protection. My colleagues and I have done so and will continue to do so on Third Reading.
Ms Ruddock : It should not be necessary to remind the hon. Gentleman that the decision was taken by the whole House, with extraordinary attendance, on a free vote. This was not a Labour Front-Bench decision, and I deeply resent the hon. Gentleman's suggestion that there has been collusion between Labour Front-Bench Members and the Government. I responded positively to the Minister's new clauses 1 and 2 because they were introduced as a result of points that we raised in Committee. It was most appropriate that I should acknowledge the Minister's positive response.
Rev. William McCrea : Yes, on a free vote. But this matter goes to the very heart of the industrial life of the community and of workers' rights. It is not good enough for us to tell the people that we are really concerned about workers' rights, but, at the same time, to support legislation that will remove many of those rights. The pious pleading from the Opposition Front Bench cannot be accepted. Several hon. Members rose --
Mr. Kevin Barron (Rother Valley) : The hon. Gentleman's uncalled-for charge will be refuted from the Opposition Front Bench, with very good reason. There is no reason for such an allegation, from whatever part of the House. Can the hon. Gentleman tell us how often in the past 10 years he has gone through the Lobbies to keep that lot afloat?
Rev. William McCrea : I can assure the House that I shall use every opportunity for a free vote in the best interests of the people who sent me here. That is very different from the attitude of Opposition Members. The Bill strikes at the very heart of workers' rights. A basic right stems from the fact that the Lord's day is a special day. The hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms Ruddock) should be defending people's rights.
Ms Glenda Jackson : Every amendment put forward in Committee for the purpose of protecting workers' rights and wages came from the Opposition, and when our proposals were voted on Members on the Government side voted categorically, totally and in unison against them.
Rev. William McCrea : As I was not a member of the Standing Committee, I shall accept what the hon. Lady says. However, Sunday trading is the basic problem, and these other matters are peripheral. Many hon. Members from all parts of the House have stood side by side in support of Sunday trading. Some of them ought to know better.
Madam Deputy Speaker : Order. I remind the House that we are dealing specifically with new clause 4. It seems to me that the debate is becoming very wide indeed. Hon. Members are doing re-runs on who voted and why. Let us return to the new clause.
Rev. Ian Paisley : The hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron) has made an absurd allegation about how Ulster Democratic Unionist party Members vote. The hon. Gentleman would do well to consult Hansard to discover how we voted on questions concerning the miners and on matters of confidence--
Rev. William McCrea : I do not propose to go down that road, but the hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron) should examine the voting record of my hon. Friends and me. It is one of which we are rightly proud. Others will have to answer for their decisions. I shall certainly speak for myself and answer to my constituents for my votes on this legislation.
Mr. Alton : I support the hon. Gentleman's case. In the Standing Committee I represented the minority parties. After consultation with the other minority parties, I tabled amendments on employment protection. Those parties have overwhelmingly supported the new clause now before the House. I hope that all their hon. Members will go through the Lobby in support of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mr. Purchase).
In conclusion, new clause 4 is important and it is worthy of our consideration. I do not believe that we should withdraw it on the promise that something may be done in another place. The House should support it tonight.
Mr. Purchase : In the light of events. I am not satisfied with the assurances given by the Minister. I apologise to him for not attending the meeting that he kindly offered. I assure him that that was entirely due to a misunderstanding between me and the Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen. However, I do not think that if I had gone to see him I would have been reassured on the substantive points that he wished me to bring to him. Just a few days ago, you assured me that there were no loopholes. Today, a few days later, you come and say that there may be one. I feel that belt and braces--
Mr. Purchase : I apologise for not using the correct terminology, Madam Deputy Speaker. I will finish the point and then conclude. I apologise to the Minister for not attending the meeting, but it would not have been possible for me to be reassured on any of the substantive points that he asked me to bring to him. I am not a lawyer, but instinctively, intuitively and from my industrial experience I know that all employers find ways of minimising costs in the face of any law that this Government or any Government introduce. I therefore intend to press the new clause to a Division.
Mr. Peter Lloyd : Of course I accept the hon. Gentleman's apology. I should have liked to talk matters over with him. It would have been useful to go through several of the matters that he raised which troubled him. I did not promise him last time that there was no loophole. I said that I saw no loophole, but that I was taking legal advice. We have found a loophole in paragraph 10 of schedule 3. The hon. Gentleman's new clause does not cover it. That is why I offered to bring back suitable wordings in another place. I still intend to do that. Meanwhile, I hope that the House will reject the hon. Gentleman's new clause because it does not do what needs to be done. Question put , That the clause be read a Second time :
The Committee divided : Ayes 276, Noes 312.
Column 323Division No. 140] [6.41 pm
Adams, Mrs Irene
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E)
Anderson, Ms Janet (Ros'dale)
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy
Banks, Tony (Newham NW)
Beckett, Rt Hon Margaret
Beith, Rt Hon A. J.
Benn, Rt Hon Tony
Bennett, Andrew F.
Berry, Dr. Roger
Bray, Dr Jeremy
Brown, Gordon (Dunfermline E)
Brown, N. (N'c'tle upon Tyne E)
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)
Campbell-Savours, D. N.
Clark, Dr David (South Shields)
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)
Clwyd, Mrs Ann
Cook, Frank (Stockton N)
Cook, Robin (Livingston)
Corston, Ms Jean
Cunningham, Jim (Covy SE)
Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr John
Davies, Bryan (Oldham C'tral)
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)
Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'dge H'l)
Donohoe, Brian H.
Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth
Eagle, Ms Angela
Evans, John (St Helens N)
Field, Frank (Birkenhead)
Forsythe, Clifford (Antrim S)
Foster, Rt Hon Derek
Foster, Don (Bath)
Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John
Godman, Dr Norman A.
Golding, Mrs Llin
Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Harman, Ms Harriet
Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy
Hill, Keith (Streatham)
Home Robertson, John
Howarth, George (Knowsley N)
Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd)
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Hughes, Roy (Newport E)
Hughes, Simon (Southwark)
Jackson, Helen (Shef'ld, H)
Johnston, Sir Russell
Jones, Barry (Alyn and D'side)
Jones, Ieuan Wyn (Ynys Mo n)
Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)
Jones, Lynne (B'ham S O)
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd, SW)
Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Kennedy, Jane (Lpool Brdgn)
Khabra, Piara S.
Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil (Islwyn)
Lestor, Joan (Eccles)