Employment Bill

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Mr. Hammond: The hon. Gentleman is right. It is impossible to anchor people. Once they are trained, they may well go and work for another employer. My point was merely that training should be relevant to the workplace. That does not preclude a person who has gained the relevant skill or qualification from moving to another employer.

Brian Cotter: That point is well made and well taken. If an employee working in a certain industry asks the employer for training in a totally different industry, clearly the employer would not be happy about that.

There is concern that the Bill implies a right to appoint an unlimited number of learning representatives. By any standards, that would not be satisfactory. The hon. Gentleman suggested that they might increase from the current 3,000 to 22,000. The figure could be even more—who is to say? The amendment is intended to tease out the issue. We cannot have an unlimited increase. It would be of no use to employees or employers if great numbers of people were involved in training or advising on training.

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Mr. Osborne: There is an extraordinary aspect of the partial regulatory impact assessment produced by the Department. It states:

    ''Plainly, there is scope under these proposals for the number of ULRs to expand significantly. However, there is no reason to believe that a sharp increase in their numbers would actually occur.''

It then quotes the TUC estimate that suggests that there will be a rise from 3,000 to 22,387 in eight years, which implies a massive explosion in their numbers.

Brian Cotter: Yes. Clearly the Minister has something to address.

Learning representatives do not have a right to bargain with the employer effectively or an assurance that the Bill intends to assign any new rights to bargain over the contents of training. That is a departure from the previous situation. Telephone canvassing has been referred to, and there is certainly a case for proper training in that regard. At the general election, some erroneous statements were made in the course of telephone canvassing about myself and many others, but I shall gloss over that before I invite any comments. Training is necessary in all fields of activity. We could say that it is necessary for Members of Parliament, but it is best not to get into that argument either.

We are all concerned about training, and partnership is vital. I shall be interested to hear what the Minister has to say.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills (John Healey): It is a pleasure to contribute to the scrutiny and passage of the Bill, having followed it for so long. My hon. Friend the

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Minister for Employment and the Regions has ably led the Committee's proceedings so far.

It is a pleasure for me, as a long-standing member of the GMB union and the National Union of Journalists and a former employee of the TUC, to be able to deal with a clause that reinforces the positive role that trade unions play in the work force to increase training and to encourage employees to take advantage of it.

Mr. Hammond: As a former employee of the TUC, will the Minister confirm the accuracy of the statement in the TUC briefing that it was the TUC's proposal to put union learning representatives on a statutory footing?

John Healey: I am delighted to do so. It is the Government's proposal, and was set out in our manifesto in June 2001. The TUC is one of the interest groups that is keen for it to be implemented, although it is not content with all aspects of our proposals.

I was disappointed to hear the hon. Gentleman say that this is one of the most controversial parts of the Bill, and even more disappointed—although not surprised—to hear his hon. Friends turn a serious subject into a ridiculous debate. I was also disappointed to hear that Conservative Members are opposed in principle to the clause. The hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge was right to say that training is one of the collaborative success stories of United Kingdom industry and workplaces of recent years.

Mr. Osborne: On a point of order, Mr. Amess. Do hon. Members in constituency parties that receive sponsorship from trade unions need to declare an interest before they speak?

The Chairman: It is up to individual hon. Members to decide what they do.

John Healey: As I was saying, training is one of the collaborative success stories of UK industry. The proposals will reinforce those efforts, while the amendments will undermine them.

Mr. Tony Lloyd (Manchester, Central): Will my hon. Friend reflect on the tone of the debate? He is making a sensible speech that emphasises the need for co-operation and partnership in industry. He knows that I am somewhat critical of industry for its failure to train; we still have a long way to go. However, the problem is no longer with employers, who accept the need for partnership, but with the modern Conservative party, which wants to paint the unions as a hostile force. Is not their contribution an astonishing introduction of conscience into the debate?

John Healey: My hon. Friend makes a telling point from a position of great experience and interest. I can only point out that Conservative Members are taking a position to the extreme right of even the Institute of Directors.

Mr. Hammond: I am grateful to the Minister because this is important. I have just quoted the TUC brief, which claims that the proposal was a TUC proposal, but the Minister has told me that that is wrong and that it is a Government proposal. He has

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said that our position is out of line with the IOD, so can I ask him about the EEF brief? That states:

    ''This proposal has been opposed by all employer bodies''.

Is the Minister saying that that brief is incorrect?

John Healey: The EEF brief is incorrect. The hon. Gentleman asked me whether the proposal was the TUC's policy. It is not. The proposal has been discussed with the TUC, but it is the Government's policy and the Government are introducing it. The Labour party set it out at the June election, after which the second term of Labour Government began, as he will vividly remember.

The hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Brian Cotter) said that he supported the arguments of the hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge. It is therefore unclear whether the Liberals, too, are opposed in principle to the measures in the clause. Amendment No. 198 has an effect similar to that of the amendment moved by the hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge. It would undermine the aim of clause, and it is completely unclear where the Liberals stand, which should surprise none of us.

Brian Cotter: My intervention actually supported the comments made by the hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge on the importance of training. The hon. Member for Manchester, Central (Mr. Lloyd) has a teased out an important point. It is perfectly clear where we stand: we want clarification, and we see both sides of industry playing a part. The hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge said that management has a very strong part to play and does not always come up to the mark. We are considering the matter in a reasonable, balanced way and would like answers and clarification.

John Healey: As usual, that is as clear as mud. In contrast, my hon. Friends can see the value of the Government's proposals.

Judy Mallaber (Amber Valley): Does my hon. Friend agree that Opposition Members would take a different view if, like me, they had been involved in trade union education and in encouraging education of people in the workplace? I was recently involved in awarding certificates to members of my own union who had made great achievements on education courses in the east midlands, and previously in Northern Ireland. Opposition Members might take a different view if they understood the difficulties involved, the work that union representatives must do with employers to organise the courses and the amount of work needed to motivate people at the workplace to take part in education. They might take a different view if they had first-hand experience from talking to some of the employees who had benefited from those courses.

John Healey: My hon. Friend speaks from her great experience before and since being elected to the House.

I shall respond first to some of the general points made by the hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge and then turn to the specifics. The first general point was his last, when he seemed to suggest the possibility, if the Bill is passed, of a huge increase in the number of union learning reps, a point echoed

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by the Liberals, who described it as an unlimited increase. The hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Osborne) looked forward to what he described as a massive explosion of union learning reps. The regulatory impact assessment expects there to be just over 22,000 union learning reps after eight years from a current base of 3,250. That is a gradual development over eight years. It may help to put matters in perspective for hon. Members if I say that unions are recognised in about 80,000 workplaces, so even after eight years, only one in four is likely to have union learning reps recognised and active. The suggestion that a hugely exploited clause could produce a huge explosion of new trade union learning reps is far from the mark. If anything, once we pass the Bill we shall need to consider how to boost and reinforce that gradual development.

Mr. Osborne: The figures that the Minister has just given represent an increase of 700 per cent. in union learning representatives. When Opposition Members talk about a substantial or huge increase, they are right.

John Healey: Perhaps the hon. Gentleman is not aware that union learning reps are relatively new in Britain's workplaces. The first were appointed and started working only about four years ago, so the base is low, and figures of the sort that he offers are not helpful. One can cut the figures any way one likes. One could describe matters as the hon. Gentleman has, but the impact assessment suggests that, even after eight years, only one in four of the workplaces where unions are recognised is likely to have an operational union learning rep.

The hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare was concerned that the clause would create new rights for trade unions to bargain over training. I suggest that he reads, if he has not done so already, the consultation document that we published last year. We made it clear in that document, we have made it clear in policy statements since and we have deliberately drafted the clause to make it clear that the provision creates no new rights for trade unions to bargain over training. We may return to that point in later debates, but I hope that that is clear.

The hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge asked about the consultation and the responses to it. There were 89 responses. The split was as follows: 16 were from employers or employer representative organisations, 46 were from representative bodies, including unions and employer bodies, nine were from union learning reps themselves, five were from employees and 13 were from others, such as learning and skills councils. The hon. Gentleman might wish to refer to those results, which we have published and placed in the House of Commons Library.

10.45 am

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