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Standing Committee Debates
Employment Bill

Employment Bill

Column Number: 471

Standing Committee F

Thursday 17 January 2002


[Mr. Derek Conway in the Chair]

Employment Bill

2.30 pm

Mr. Ian Pearson (Dudley, South): On a point of order, Mr. Conway. It may be of convenience to the Committee to know that, following discussions through the usual channels, the Government propose to allow extra time for consideration of the Bill. We propose a further sitting next Thursday morning, and a motion to that effect will be tabled today and will be subject to parliamentary approval, which we hope will be received on Monday.

The Chairman: Thank you. I am sure that that news will be welcome to Members who want to consider matters further. Before we move on to the amendment that was previously under discussion, I should make it clear that I am aware that the previous occupant of the Chair said that he was minded not to allow a clause stand part debate, because the Committee had ranged widely in its discussions of the amendments. In the spirit of solidarity that has taken up so much of the Committee's time, I concur with that judgment. When debating the amendments, hon. Members should bear in mind that we will not have a clause stand part debate.

Clause 43

Union learning representatives

Amendment proposed [this day]: No. 216, in page 45, line 8, leave out—

    'permit an employee of his'—

and insert—

    ', in respect of each establishment or bargaining unit (whichever is the smaller) in which he has employees, permit one employee'.—[Mr. Hammond.]

    Question again proposed, That the amendment be made.

The Chairman: I remind the Committee that with this we are taking amendment No. 198, in page 45, line 8, leave out 'an employee of his' and insert—

    'one employee of his per bargaining unit or establishment whichever is the smaller.'.

Mr. Kevin Hughes (Doncaster, North): I am grateful for your remarks, Mr. Conway. We have indeed had a wide-ranging debate on the two amendments, which I rise to oppose. The Committee may recall that in the sittings since Christmas, up until this morning, we have heard little from the Opposition Back Benchers. They have been a bit dumb and have had very little to say on important issues—

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Mr. George Osborne (Tatton): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Hughes: Let me get started. I did not say that the Committee had heard nothing from the Conservative Back Benchers; I said that we had heard very little. However, a scent of the old class war has brought them out in force. We have seen this morning the last remnants of the stone age-type management that was prevalent in the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s and early 1980s. That thinking was characterised by a determination to keep the working classes under-educated and under-skilled. That is the type of attitude that we have heard from Conservative Members. It is a pity that we did not hear more from them when we were debating new rights, but that was a 21st century debate and I suppose that it was a bit too modern for them.

Mr. Osborne: I seem to remember that the only contribution that the hon. Gentleman has made to the Committee was when he rescued the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris) when he had inadvertently started supporting the amendments that we had tabled.

Mr. Hughes: If the hon. Gentleman reads the Official Report for previous sittings, he will find that I actually rescued the hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Mr. Hammond). That hon. Gentleman has made sterling efforts. I admire the way in which he has conducted himself during the Committee's proceedings. He has been a one-man show, because he has had no support from his colleagues. He has had some on this set of amendments, but not on the others. At least the amendments that I tabled earlier gave him a bit of a breather.

The amendment needs defeating, and the spirit of the clause needs to be supported. It represents the type of forward thinking that we need. New businesses with forward-thinking and innovative management will welcome this type of initiative.

Mr. Philip Hammond (Runnymede and Weybridge): Will the hon. Gentleman create for the Committee a logical scenario in which a forward-thinking, innovative employer would welcome something imposed by statute, and which such an employer could easily make available to his employees and the trade unions that represented them if he believed that it would work? That is precisely the question that my hon. Friends and I have asked. We have nothing against learning representatives and strongly support training, but no provisions should be imposed on the unwilling by statute.

Mr. Hughes: Unfortunately, that was not the impression that I was given this morning. Forward-thinking, innovative management that operates in this century will want to improve its business, and it will welcome the provisions as an opportunity to do so. It will recognise that they will lead to a highly skilled and educated work force across industry as a whole.

Trade union representatives have always believed in education and training. I dare say that if it were not for such thinking in the trade union movement years ago, I

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would not be in Committee. I was encouraged by trade union representatives to gain education and training in skills further afield than those required in my industry.

Mr. Hammond: Was the hon. Gentleman encouraged to do so in the light of statutory requirements on the trade union to encourage people?

Mr. Hughes: Of course, yes, but I worked for a state industry, the National Coal Board, which was pretty forward thinking in such matters. It had agreed with the National Union of Mineworkers—at the time it was a great union—that between them they would organise day-release courses at Sheffield and Leeds universities for people who were interested in management and trade union activities. The result was that many students from those courses went into what is now called human resources, but in those days was called personnel management. Others got involved further in the trade union movement and politics, as I did. Some went into higher education and took degrees, and others left the industry. People's skills and education were upgraded, and the benefits were felt around British industry.

Mr. Mark Prisk (Hertford and Stortford): It is clear from what the hon. Gentleman has said that that measure was an excellent example of the type of agreement that all members of the Committee would support. However, we should consider compulsion and how best to encourage such agreements. Does he agree with the Industrial Society's presentation to the Committee about how the promotion of voluntary agreements is often the best way forward, rather than heavy-handed legislation?

Mr. Hughes: No. Some companies are always more forward thinking and innovative, and will become involved in such schemes anyway. Companies with stone-age management, for want of better terminology, may need a little more encouragement. That is why I believe that the provisions will be useful.

Mr. Hammond: I want to pick up on the hon. Gentleman's point about stone-age management. Does he acknowledge that trade unions can differ from one to another? Some have shown themselves forward thinking and innovative, and employers generally are happy and find it relatively easy to collaborate with them. Others are not so forward thinking, and they typically operate in state-controlled or state-dominated industries. It is with those that we have grave doubts about whether the provisions will deliver the goods.

Mr. Hughes: I do not disagree with the hon. Gentleman too much, but the Bill will bring both employers and trade unions into the modern world of management. I have always believed that the more educated and skilled trade union negotiators are, the better will be the relationships and deals that they make for their members and businesses. That is why the role that we are discussing will be especially useful. I see it as that of a facilitator. This morning, some

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Opposition Members gave the impression that the people who undertook further education and training would get time off work, but it is the facilitator who will do so, unless the employees train for their specific companies or industries.

If I were an employer, I would want to encourage people whom I was paying to train to do so in subjects specific to my business. I would have no objections to extra education and training, and might encourage people to take part in it in their own time. I might help to facilitate it.

Mr. Mark Simmonds (Boston and Skegness): We are concerned about the point that the hon. Gentleman makes about the number of trade union learning representatives who will be allowed at any one time. The point is dealt with in one of the amendments. Before we adjourned, the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West used an example that I had given. I prefixed it with ''hypothetical''. It is not unfair to use extreme examples to make a point, although they have not been used regularly in Committee and I accept that the situation is unlikely.

I would like the hon. Member for Doncaster, North (Mr. Hughes) to defend the Minister's lack of willingness to allow a per capita ceiling to be placed on the number of trade union learning representatives in a business unit. I was not satisfied with the Minister's answer.

Mr. Hughes: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. As I listened to Opposition Members this morning, I became a little concerned about how many learning reps there might be in a work force. I was trying to think about why there should be more than one or two in any workplace. Where I came from, we had one branch secretary, one branch delegate and one branch chairman, and I was trying to think why more than one learning rep would be needed.

Then my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills made a good case as to why more than one learning rep might be needed in a business facility. I chatted to colleagues over lunch who have experience of where there has been more than one, and was told that the reps tend to specialise in specific forms of training and education.


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