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New Clause 6 --

Handling of redundancies

No order shall be made under section 1 of this Act which includes any provision amending or repealing any provision of Chapter II of Part IV of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 (Procedure for handling redundancies) and "enactment" for the purposes of Chapter 1 of this Act shall be construed accordingly.'.-- [Mr. Nigel Griffiths.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Nigel Griffiths (Edinburgh, South) : I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes) : With this, it will be convenient to consider the following amendments : No. 7, in page 23, clause 27, leave out lines 14 to 21.

No. 15, in page 109, schedule 14, leave out lines 13 to 17. No. 17, in page 2, line 43, clause 1, after (6)', insert and section ( Handling of redundancies ) below'.

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Mr. Griffiths : I am pleased to recommend the new clause and the amendments for a number of reasons, not least because in the past 15 years workers have been left with precious few employment rights. The new clause and the amendments will ensure that what little protection they have is consolidated and extended.

The new clause would prevent the Government from amending or repealing any of the provisions in chapter II of part IV of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 through a deregulation order under the Bill.

Present legislation requires employers to consult recognised trade unions if they are contemplating large-scale redundancies. If 100 or more employees are to be dismissed in 90 days or less, consultations must take place at least 90 days in advance. If between 10 and 99 employees are to be dismissed in 30 days or less, under the present law, consultations must take place at least 30 days in advance. Failure to comply with the legislation can result in large protective awards. Employers are also required to notify the Secretary of State for Employment within equivalent periods if they are proposing to make 10 or more employees redundant.

Chapter II of the 1992 Act provides some moderate protection to employees. There are four modest reasons for moving the new clause to ensure that that protection continues. Under the present legislation, the employer has to inform the union of the reasons for the redundancies, the numbers and descriptions of the employees involved, the proposed selection criteria and method of carrying out dismissals, with due regard to any agreed procedures, and the period within which they will take place.

We want to ensure that those four provisions contained in present law are enshrined beyond the implementation of the Bill. They are essential to prevent a return to the Victorian days that we have heard about from the Conservatives. Gone are the days when employees had to touch their caps to employers or grovel for work and take whatever was handed out--or so we thought until we saw the Bill. This excellent new clause will ensure that employees at least have the right in law to be consulted and informed when redundancies are to take place.

We know what would happen if such protection were not enshrined in the Deregulation and Contracting Out Bill. In April, about 1,400 Swan Hunter workers lost their jobs and their colleagues took the shipyard's managers to court for failing to go through agreed procedures. They won substantial compensation settlements--many hundreds of thousands of pounds. Other large firms have gone into receivership--it has been common under this Government --for example, Ferranti and Leyland DAF, whose employees were dismissed at short notice and seemingly arbitrarily, in contravention of their legal rights. That comes as little surprise from the Conservative party, which as we know has gone soft on law and order.

Workers are entitled to that protection and we are determined to ensure that it continues through this clause. That is why we want to write the clause on the face of the Bill so that no zealot Tory Minister can try to come through the back door of the House of Commons to remove such protection, under the guise of deregulation. It is very important for the new clause to be carried.

The amendments touch on clause 27, which does two things. It removes workers' protection against unfair redundancy and allows selection for dismissal without any regard to customary procedures or even to procedures

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agreed with workers and their trade unions. The Government have again fallen foul of the law. They have failed to adhere to laws which came from Europe and which they accepted.

This year they have already been carpeted by an advisory ruling on 2 March in infraction proceedings that the European Commission brought against the United Kingdom for failing fully to implement laws safeguarding the rights of employees. If those laws do not touch on redundancy, they certainly touch on the rights of workers' representatives to be involved in consultations when a business changes hands and they entitle workers and their representatives to be consulted about collective redundancies. The Government never learn where the law is concerned.

In those cases, the law did not relate to businesses but to worker protection. It is important to remove clause 27 from the Bill so that we can ensure that workers remain fully protected under section 59 of the Employment Protection (Consolidation) Act 1978. The Government have clearly overlooked important cases. During the past week, there was a case in which people were selected for redundancy for the most pernicious of reasons-- age. Thirty workers over the age of 59 were weeded out and selected for redundancy, in contravention of any common decency and despite the value that we place on experience, if not in actual contravention of the law. In that case, the industrial tribunal found in favour of the workers.

It is very sad that we do not have a law to protect workers and other people against age discrimination, as other countries do, but we saw what happened in the House last Friday. A law to protect disabled people was sabotaged by a Minister who first denied it and was then forced at last to tell part of the truth, although the whole truth has yet to come out. Given that they pick on the disabled, it would hardly be surprising if they stooped to picking on elderly people as well.

The amendments and the new clause will ensure that protection for employees is not only enhanced in the Bill, but extended to those who serve under the Crown. It is vitally important that the rights for which workers have fought during many decades, indeed centuries, are not arbitrarily scrapped by the Government in a Bill which contains many other measures--as has been demonstrated here and in Committee--which do so much harm to the rights of consumers, workers and others. We shall certainly press the new clause and the amendments to a vote.

8 pm

Mr. Miller : During the early 1980s, when I had industrial responsibility for parts of south Liverpool, I found myself dealing on a daily basis with the pain of people being made redundant. The official notifications--form HR 1 from the Department of Employment--came in so thick and fast from employers that I could have papered my office walls with those terrible notices. It was a period of great industrial change in the area, with the loss of major employers.

Nobody can doubt the pain that is associated with redundancy. Dr. Beal from Wiltshire carried out some important research, following the work by Harvey Brenner in the United States, illustrating beyond any doubt the connection between ill health and unemployment, based on

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the closure of one factory. The pain associated with unemployment and redundancy must be considered in the context of these important amendments.

The legislation that my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, South (Mr. Griffiths) has described so well is effective, but it is weak, even now. If we allow the Government's position to prevail, we shall further weaken the legislation and take away from people who have customary arrangements within their workplaces the one small grain of comfort they have--that if redundancy occurs in a workplace where there is a customary procedure, at least that customary procedure will be followed and discussions will take place around it. In view of the number of people wishing to speak on this clause and others, I shall not repeat the arguments that were made in Committee, but it was clear that some Conservative Members did not understand the value of such customary procedures in the practical management of redundancy in any workplace. On that basis alone, simply to maintain the small amount of stability in what is undoubtedly, through proven medical research, a most painful period for any employee, I plead with the House to think most carefully and to support the amendments.

Mr. Geoffrey Dickens (Littleborough and Saddleworth) : I shall be brief. Many of my constituents in Oldham are employed by Ferranti and I have seen the pain and anguish of people who have worked there nearly all their lives suddenly being made redundant at a few hours' notice. It is a terrible thing. However, we have to strike a balance.

What do we want ? Do we want to force receivers to carry on the head count for longer than they could reasonably be expected to do so because of human considerations, or do we want them to shed labour quickly and give confidence to customers and suppliers so that the components and materials keep flowing into the factory and the business is saved, as in the case of Leyland DAF ? That company is now flourishing, but it had to drop labour rapidly.

Mr. Miller : I hope that the hon. Gentleman will acknowledge that the process by which labour was dropped in that company was in accordance with agreed procedures--and according to his own logic, the agreed procedures demonstrably worked.

Mr. Dickens : The workers I have spoken to in Ferranti

Mr. Miller : I was referring to Leyland DAF.

Mr. Dickens : Of course. The workers at Ferranti did not think that the procedures had been followed and it was painful for many of my constituents. I went to Ferranti and met the receivers, the trade unions and the management. A decision had to be made whether to save the company by some rapid action or to go through normal procedures--which sometimes take a long time, until no one would supply the company with components or materials and the entire company would fold with the loss of hundreds more jobs.

I have listened carefully to the Opposition. There has to be a balance. If there are grievances, the tribunal system has been used quite successfully. We have to be extremely careful before adopting the Opposition amendments. At the

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end of the day, we are looking at saving entire businesses so that our constituents can enjoy having those factories there, paying charges to the local authority and taxes and so on, so that we benefit from their existence. Although there is merit in what the Opposition say, for the reasons that I have given, we should not support the amendments.

Mr. Galloway : I shall be brief so as to allow my colleagues a chance to speak, but we are dealing with a sensitive and potentially devastating issue in this clause--sudden and often unexpected redundancy. I have never had the experience of being made redundant, but as a Member of Parliament I have had to deal with it several times, not least in the case of Leyland DAF, which has a plant in my constituency.

Mr. William Cash (Stafford) : The hon. Gentleman has come damned close.

Mr. Galloway : No, I have never come close to it, damned or otherwise. As a partisan jibe has been made, I shall say this. When a shiver of fear went along the Government Front Bench looking for a spine to run up after Thursday's election, no doubt a number of Conservative Members as well as Ministers had their minds concentrated on the issue of redundancy. They will no doubt be hoping for more than 90 days' notice of their impending demise as workers. We have all had the experience of small or large-scale redundancies. I was in the Committee corridor when the hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Duncan-Smith) was assiduously--desperately, even- -trying to deal with the consequences of the sudden huge redundancy at the London Rubber Company in his constituency. I could sense from the expression on his face the upset and dread which must have been present in the hearts of his constituents. We have all had that experience.

In my own family, before the law laid down the 90-day requirement, I remember my father, having worked for 20 years at the National Cash Register company as a proud engineering worker, coming home crushed by the news that the factory was to make substantial lay-offs, and that he was one of those to be made redundant. We have all had that experience and we know how awesome the axe of sudden redundancy can be. The 90-day period of notice required under current law gives at least some opportunity to make some psychological adjustment, as well as for work force representatives and employers to argue across the table. When the blow ultimately falls at the end of that period, it is often not so bad as it might have been if the decision had been made at the beginning.

The Albion plant of Leyland DAF in my constituency is one of the oldest manufacturing operations in the Clyde area. I was at the factory gates when men who had worked there--for 32 years in one case--were told at nine o'clock in the morning that they must clear their lockers and be out of the plant by midday. They were crushed, dejected, even tearful, and the pitiful experience of watching that happen in such a proud industrial plant was extremely harrowing for me as a constituency Member of Parliament.

All that the new clause asks is that the Government do not use the device of a deregulation Bill to sweep away the little protection that workers have from such sudden and arbitrary redundancies. It is not asking too much of even this Government that they seriously consider that point.

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Mr. George Stevenson (Stoke-on-Trent, South) : The Government have made great play of the alleged reduction in unemployment, but every Member of the House knows that there is still a great fear of unemployment and the knock on the door that says, "You're out of a job."

The Government's proposal will make that fear much worse. It will hit morale and make people feel that the Government have embarked on a course which, step by step, will remove the protection that they have at the workplace. Serious though they are, we are not discussing health and safety at work or a regulation which may help to prevent a serious tragedy such as a fire. We are discussing some measure of protection for people who are to lose their livelihoods after decades of work, service, commitment and dedication.

In those circumstances, I cannot for the life of me see how the Government can resist the new clause. If they really believe in the rights of individuals, what can be more basic than a provision that agreed procedures will be applied and proper notification given when an individual's livelihood and the welfare of his family is to be taken away ? That individual may not find further employment. We all know that the prospects of people over 40 or 45 finding a job are extremely bleak.

In reply to a debate on an earlier amendment, the Minister said that we should not scaremonger because the Government were not about to demolish all the necessary protections and regulations. In attempting to assuage our fears, he said that the Government were simply removing anything that overlapped, was unnecessary or smacked of duplication. Those were the justifications that he gave for the Bill. How in the world can proper notification and adherence to agreed procedures fit into those categories when we are considering people losing their livelihoods ? I challenge the Minister to convince us that the new clause would contravene those objectives in any way.

8.15 pm

Anyone listening to the hon. Member for Littleborough and Saddleworth (Mr. Dickens) talk about the need for brevity in sacking people so that a phoenix could rise from the ashes would scarcely believe that, sadly, hundreds of thousands--perhaps millions--of people had been made redundant in the past 15 years. If the hon. Gentleman argues that business and industry need to be able to sack people more quickly--I do not accept that argument--what has happened in the past 15 years provides plenty of evidence that, even with the present protections, it has not been difficult.

Even on the Government's own criteria, the Minister's stated objectives for the Bill and the events of the past 15 years, the Government can put forward no reasonable objection to the new clause. Even if the Minister is not convinced about the practicalities and necessities, he must be convinced about the humanity of the new clause. When people are about to lose their jobs, they have the basic right to know about it, a right which exists under the protections provided by current law.

Mr. Burden : The reason for the new clause is illustrated by clause 27. Many of us suspected that the Bill, like so many of the Government's other proposals, would be a cowboys' charter. Nowhere else is that more evident than in clause 27, which sanctions unreasonable behaviour by bad employers. Without clause 27, an employer was required simply to abide by agreements and procedures

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which he had knowingly entered into with his work force. Even then, if an employer wanted to depart from those procedures, he could do so provided that he was prepared to test the matter at an industrial tribunal. The Government seem to believe that even that is too onerous for an employer. Interestingly, they do not adopt the same approach and standards on the rights of employers, but that is the logic behind clause 27.

Despite the arguments which Opposition Members put forward in Committee, the Government said that they were not prepared to remove or amend the clause. That is why we need the new clause. If they say that it is okay for an employer selecting employees for redundancy to break the rules and depart from procedures which they knowingly entered into, why would it be unreasonable, according to the Government's logic, to expect an employer to abide by basic time limits ? Why would it be unreasonable to expect an employer not to sack someone under the guise of redundancy, when the real reason is because his face does not fit, he has been troublesome, an active trade unionist or whatever ?

Under the first four clauses of the Bill, the Government could introduce legislation that would specify those factors, and the evidence in clause 27 is that they could well try precisely that, unless they are once again prepared to come to the House and say that their fine words about not wishing to remove necessary protection mean something.

All we are asking for in the new clause is that basic rules of fairness apply on redundancy, selection, time limits, discussions and talking. For goodness' sake, all we are asking the Government to do is guarantee that they will not use the powers that they are taking to themselves under the Bill to sanction an employer who refuses to talk to his employees in that painful situation of redundancy, to which my hon. Friends have referred. What is so difficult about that ? It seems to me that the only difficulty for the Government is their ideological dogma--they are not prepared to lay down any basic standards or rules if they apply to employees rather than employers. The hon. Member for Littleborough and Saddleworth (Mr. Dickens) was wrong when he said that, if an employer departed from the rules on redundancy, the employee could always go to an industrial tribunal. Clause 27 will remove that power. An employer could sack someone and select someone for redundancy quite unreasonably, but if clause 27 stays on the face of the Bill, the employee, on the basis of redundancy legislation, could not take that complaint forward and would have to go through a different route. We had that argument in Committee.

The Minister shook his head in response to what I said earlier, but I have a challenge for the Government. If he believes that what I have said is wrong, let him insert on the face of the Bill a clause, as we are suggesting, that says that Ministers and Conservative Members, or, indeed, hon. Members in any other part of the House, will not use the powers that the Bill will give them to take away redundancy procedures and standards that the House debated, discussed and arrived at, which are by no means as generous as those in many other parts of Europe, but which at least lay down some basic elements of protection.

The hon. Member for Littleborough and Saddleworth mentioned Leyland DAF. I do not want to go into it in detail, but I feel quite strongly about it, coming from the midlands. The argument about Leyland DAF was not about

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how the selections for redundancy took place. The reason why it got into difficulty needs to be traced back far before that.

There are some arguments and lessons for the Government in the way in which they support manufacturing industry. What is relevant to the debate is the spectacle that one saw in Birmingham and elsewhere of brown paper envelopes being given out, with virtually a moment's notice, to say, "You are selected for redundancy," and "You are not." That is not a civilised way to go about things.

Unfortunately, our new clause will not put that one right, but it will at least lay down the basic principles of fairness of discussion of time limits, which existing legislation provides. I hope that even this Government will not find it too difficult to uphold those principles by accepting the new clause.

Dr. Tony Wright (Cannock and Burntwood) : My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galloway) spoke movingly about his own experience and that of his father, who, he said, had been crushed by redundancy. Although I wanted to say something about the constitutional importance of the measure, my hon. Friend's speech took me back to think of my own family experience.

My father came out of the RAF after the war--he had stayed in it for a while--then had a job at Stewart and Lloyds steel works in Corby. He would cycle 10 miles there and 10 miles back. He did shift work around the clock. One day, in the early 1960s, he was told that he was not wanted any more-- just like that. Not only had his job finished, but in a sense his life. It was before the Labour Government of the 1960s had brought in the redundancy payments provisions, so there were no payments, either.

I thought that we had moved on, not just in a party sense but a social and political sense. I thought that, in terms of developing basic protections for workers, we had moved from one era into a different kind, as was said in the debate on the previous new clause, in health and safety, too. I thought that there had been a kind of growth, a cumulative process, that we had added on, not taken away. The Government have changed all that. They said that we are not all together on that any more, that we are not all pulling together to improve standards, increase protections and guarantee securities. We have started a new process of chipping away, of erosion, of creating insecurities where previously there were securities. We do not have the time now, but I warn the Government that that will produce consequences for society of which they have the merest inkling at the moment.

Let me focus on the new clause, because it tests the good faith of the Government. It is asking, as the previous one did, whether the Government are prepared to set any parameters around the order-making power that is being claimed for Ministers in the Bill. Is everything possible, or are there parameters ? Are some things no-go areas ? I put it like that because in Committee we put various outrageous suggestions to the Minister about what those order-making powers might be used for. On the whole, his response was one of relish, that of course he could use them for that. The clause at least puts some parameters of decency around the Bill.

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Let us say that the order-making powers that are being claimed in the first part of the Bill should not be against some of the things that define the kind of society that we were. One of those parameters is how we treat people when they are made redundant--a fairly basic parameter of decency. Let us say that, if the Government might want-- perhaps they do--to erode those provisions, they should at least come to the House with primary legislation and argue it through. They should have to get that legislation through the House.

Instead, they are saying that they want an order-making power to repeal any legislation that they want to repeal, simply on some kind of spurious test of protection and burden. If the Government and the House are allowed to do that, they will be changing their mind not only about that but about how legislation should happen. That is the crucial point.

That is why I said just now that the new clause is a test of good faith. The test is to say on the face of the Bill that there are parameters beyond which the order-making power will not be used. In the case of the new clause, one of those parameters relates to the treatment of people when they are made redundant. If they fail that test, the conclusion will be of the direst kind. It will be conspicuous and the one that everybody who looks at our proceedings will draw.

Mr. Neil Hamilton : The debate has been in marked contrast to the previous one. It has been an excellent debate, and the speeches have, at times, been very moving. They were certainly eloquent and, in all cases, very sincere. I congratulate hon. Members on both sides of the House on this occasion, because of the intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Littleborough and Saddleworth (Mr. Dickens). Hon. Members have done themselves credit. Even so, the fears of Opposition Members are misplaced, for reasons that I shall explain.

The proposal in new clause 6 relates to procedures for redundancies. I agree that this is a hugely significant sector involving vital elements of protection, and I well understand the anxieties expressed by hon. Members. However, as I have made clear many times, the deregulation order-making power that we seek could be used if, in a particular case, its use would not remove any necessary protection.

I know that we debated the precise meaning of that phrase in Committee, and I do not intend to repeat what I said then. I hope, however, that the circumstances in which the order-making power ought to be used will be clear to hon. Members from a combination of the measures that appear on the face of the Bill--in respect of which the powers do not apply--the illustrative list of measures that we have published separately from the Bill, to which they would apply, and the assurances that I have given in previous debates. There are further protections, with which I shall deal in a moment.

8.30 pm

Mr. Stevenson : I hope that the Minister will forgive me for intervening, as I was not a member of the Standing Committee. When he refers to "necessary protection" in the context of the new clause, is he telling us that protection under the relevant sections of the Act referred to is a necessary protection ?

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Mr. Hamilton : It clearly could be, but I cannot commit myself without examining a specific case.

Let me proceed to the second limb of my argument, which concerns a separate constitutional protection that ought to please hon. Members. We have built in a variety of other safeguards to ensure that use of the power could not be abused. First, consultation is required with representatives of those likely to be substantially affected. A detailed memorandum must then be submitted to Parliament, and an additional period is provided for parliamentary scrutiny, during which the special deregulation committee will consider the proposals--line by line, if appropriate. We shall debate those matters tomorrow night when we discuss the report of the Procedure Committee.

Even if, following those stages, the Government present an order under the power, it will have to be passed under the affirmative resolution procedure, which means that it will require the positive approval of both Houses of Parliament. Hon. Members will have extensive opportunities to participate in debate. Indeed, in some respects the scrutiny procedures recommended by the Procedure Committee would frequently offer more practical opportunities to debate the proposals than are available when we debate primary legislation.

All hon. Members will recall occasions when vast rafts of amendments have been tabled--especially on Report--and there is very little discussion of them because it is late at night and everyone is champing at the bit to go home. In my experience, the procedures laid down as constitutional protections in the passing of Bills are far from being as effective as Opposition Members like to think. I prefer to rest my case on what I consider to be extensive protections. Amendments Nos. 7, 13 and 15 to clause 27 also seem to be based on a misapprehension. Opposition Members appear mistakenly to believe that the clause will remove fundamental protection from those facing redundancy. They have described circumstances in which employees would be left at the mercy and whim of employers. As I said in Committee, that will not happen. Employees will remain protected against unfair treatment and employers will still be free to reach agreements with trade unions over redundancy procedures if they so wish. The clause simply removes out-of-date and unnecessary legislation whose principal effect is to prevent employers who have to make redundancies from taking the most sensible action to meet the needs of their business and its employees.

I cannot believe that Opposition Members would consider it preferable for an employer who thought it vital to the viability of his business for him to select one employee rather than another to be precluded from doing so by customary rules, with the result that the business foundered and all the employees lost their jobs. The removal of that outdated requirement was suggested by the deregulation task forces, which pointed out that the requirements of section 59(1)(b) of the Employment Protection (Consolidation) Act 1978 were an inflexible legacy of times now past, hampering employers in selecting for redundancy according to their modern business needs. The requirements also lead to uncertainty, while doing little to ensure that the individual concerned was selected fairly.

Those inflexible arrangements persist because of voluntary agreements that employers may have reached with trade unions many years ago about redundancy selection procedures. Such agreements--a common one

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being to select on a "last in, first out" basis--may be entirely inappropriate to current circumstances. As I have said, the very viability of a business might well depend on the skills of its work force, which do not necessarily equate to long service. I fully take the point made by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Mr. Griffiths) about agism : constituency cases that I handle from time to time suggest that it operates in pernicious way. The points that he made, however, were rather wide of the subject that we are debating.

When the agreements to which I have referred have been entered into voluntarily, employers may find that, if they attempt to withdraw from them and introduce alternative selection methods, they fall foul of the statutory requirement to follow "customary arrangements". They may have little certainty that an industrial tribunal would agree that their business needs constituted a special reason justifying such action. Such employers could find themselves compelled to make redundant the very workers whom they most need, just at the time when they most need them. Clearly it is in no one's interests for employers faced with no alternative but to make redundancies to be hampered by additional difficulties presented by the provisions. It is important to understand that removal of the special requirement will not leave employees unprotected. That leads me to the observations of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. Burden). The ordinary unfair dismissal provisions, on which employees would still be able to rely, require employers to follow fair procedures. In deciding what is a fair procedure, the tribunal will take into account all the circumstances of the case.

Mr. Miller : Does not the statute as currently written have a rider requiring the employer to take a series of steps having due regard to the circumstances ? Does the Minister agree that, in the exceptional cases that he has described--let us say that a major order collapses and there is urgent pressure on the business--an employer can have due regard to the circumstances and carry out a redundancy exercise without using the legislation ?

Mr. Hamilton : I said a moment ago that an uncertainty was involved in the current arrangement, which would not necessarily produce the result that the hon. Gentleman predicts. Among other matters, however, the tribunal will consider whether the ACAS code of practice has been followed. Employers will normally need to warn employees and consult them about the proposals. They will be expected to consider whether redeployment would be a viable alternative, and will need to have a fair basis for selecting those redeployed. Furthermore, if employees' individual contractual rights are not adhered to, the tribunal will want to be satisfied that that is justified. I believe that the protections about which Opposition Members are so concerned would survive, but in a form that would not prejudice the viability of a business in the circumstances that I have described. The aim of our proposal is to introduce greater flexibility and to enable a business to survive when it might otherwise not do so, thus maximising the number of jobs that might be saved. My hon. Friend the Member for Littleborough and Saddleworth made much of that in his speech.

Our proposal does not give employers carte blanche to act indiscriminately, it does not leave employees unprotected against unfair treatment, it does not tear up

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voluntary agreements that both sides voluntarily wish to retain and it does not affect any contractual arrangements that an employer may have with his individual employees. Hon. Members may be forgiven for thinking that, in the end, it may not do very much, but what it does do at the margin--I emphasise this--is provide a vital extra measure of flexibility in an already difficult employment situation in order to save the business.

In the past few years, we have lived through a pretty terrible recession and I should have thought that all hon. Members would wish to do as much as possible to ensure that, should such circumstances ever occur again, the maximum number of businesses should have the maximum amount of flexibility to save the maximum number of jobs. I rest my case on that explanation and commend the Government's proposals to the House. If the Opposition press the new clause to a vote, I hope that my hon. Friends will resist it.

Mr. Nigel Griffiths : The Minister has raised more concerns about employment issues in his summing up than were raised during a whole Committee sitting. In Committee we did not have the Government's response to the fourth report of the Select Committee on Procedure which covered the scrutiny of deregulation orders to which the Minister has just referred. If anything was going to give us cause for concern, it would be their response to the 17 recommendations made in that report. The Government felt able to accept only five unreservedly, and their reservations make worrying reading. The Select Committee suggested :

"if the Deregulation Committee reports that the order-making power should not be used in respect of a specific deregulation proposal, no . . . order should be laid before the House in respect of that proposal."

I do not have to remind the House that the Government would form the majority on the committee and if a deregulation measure were to be opposed, some of the individuals forming part of that majority would have to agree with the Opposition. The decision could be unanimous, but that, in any case, would mean taking a determined stance against a foolish measure introduced by the Government. What is the Government's response ? They state :

"The Government has made it clear that an adverse recommendation from the Deregulation Committee in respect of the deregulation proposal would be treated by Ministers with the utmost seriousness." We all know what that means--it will be ignored.

Let us consider another example, which appears in paragraph 40 of the Government's response. The Select Committee had recommended that, for serious deregulation matters, Ministers could be summoned before the deregulation committee. The Government responded by saying that that would be "unprecedented", so the safeguards that the Minister mentioned specifically in his defence of the Government's position are not in the very document that he hoped to use to bolster his case.

Some powerful arguments were advanced by hon. Members other than the Minister and myself, and none was more powerful than that of the hon. Member for Littleborough and Saddleworth (Mr. Dickens). His contribution was the most persuasive that he has made in the House while I have been here. He made clear his concerns for employees in his constituency and they were

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graphically illustrated by my hon. Friends the Members for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galloway) and for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Stevenson). I think that I am quoting the hon. Member for Littleborough and Saddleworth correctly when I say that he believes that the tribunal system has been successful. Indeed, he conceded the merits of the case that we had advanced.

My fear is that, without the protection that we seek to incorporate in the Bill, any future deregulation could be put before the committee and, even if the committee unanimously rejected the Government's proposals, the Minister and his successor could ignore that fact. We wish to strike out clause 27 and introduce new clause 6 in order to ensure that proper protection for workers is guaranteed in the future, beyond the life of this Minister and this Government. Motion made, and Question put, That the clause be read a Second time :

The House divided : Ayes 245, Noes 276.

Division No. 235] [8.45 pm


Abbott, Ms Diane

Ainger, Nick

Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)

Allen, Graham

Anderson, Donald (Swansea E)

Anderson, Ms Janet (Ros'dale)

Armstrong, Hilary

Ashton, Joe

Austin-Walker, John

Banks, Tony (Newham NW)

Barnes, Harry

Barron, Kevin

Battle, John

Bayley, Hugh

Beckett, Rt Hon Margaret

Beggs, Roy

Beith, Rt Hon A. J.

Bell, Stuart

Benn, Rt Hon Tony

Bennett, Andrew F.

Benton, Joe

Bermingham, Gerald

Berry, Roger

Betts, Clive

Blair, Tony

Blunkett, David

Boyes, Roland

Bradley, Keith

Bray, Dr Jeremy

Brown, N. (N'c'tle upon Tyne E)

Burden, Richard

Byers, Stephen

Callaghan, Jim

Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)

Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)

Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)

Campbell-Savours, D. N.

Canavan, Dennis

Cann, Jamie

Carlile, Alexander (Montgomry)

Chisholm, Malcolm

Clapham, Michael

Clark, Dr David (South Shields)

Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)

Clelland, David

Clwyd, Mrs Ann

Coffey, Ann

Cohen, Harry

Connarty, Michael

Cook, Robin (Livingston)

Corbett, Robin

Corbyn, Jeremy

Corston, Ms Jean

Cousins, Jim

Cummings, John

Cunliffe, Lawrence

Cunningham, Jim (Covy SE)

Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr John

Dafis, Cynog

Dalyell, Tam

Darling, Alistair

Davidson, Ian

Davies, Bryan (Oldham C'tral)

Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)

Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)

Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'dge H'l)

Dewar, Donald

Dixon, Don

Dobson, Frank

Donohoe, Brian H.

Dowd, Jim

Eagle, Ms Angela

Eastham, Ken

Enright, Derek

Etherington, Bill

Evans, John (St Helens N)

Fatchett, Derek

Fisher, Mark

Flynn, Paul

Foster, Rt Hon Derek

Foulkes, George

Fraser, John

Fyfe, Maria

Galbraith, Sam

Galloway, George

Gapes, Mike

Garrett, John

George, Bruce

Gerrard, Neil

Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John

Godsiff, Roger

Golding, Mrs Llin

Graham, Thomas

Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)

Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)

Grocott, Bruce

Gunnell, John

Hain, Peter

Hall, Mike

Hanson, David

Hardy, Peter

Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy

Henderson, Doug

Heppell, John

Hill, Keith (Streatham)

Hinchliffe, David

Hoey, Kate

Home Robertson, John

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