Employment Bill

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Mr. Osborne: Is my hon. Friend aware that the Department for Education and Skills effectively applies the amendment because, as can be seen from the copy of the Minister's letter, it has Investors in People status? The letter also states that there are no formally designated or accredited union learning representatives in the Department.

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Mr. Hammond: There we are; the Minister's conduct as an investor in people is so excellent that he has no need of learning reps. That is obviously his conclusion, because he has not appointed learning reps voluntarily in his Department.

John Healey: May I ask the hon. Gentleman what he understands about whose job it is to appoint union learning reps? Surely it is the union's job, not the Department's or the management's. It is a fundamental misunderstanding to assert otherwise.

11.15 am

Mr. Hammond: It is not a fundamental misunderstanding, but a slip of the tongue. What I meant to say was that, as I understand it, the Department for Education and whatever it is—it changes its name every few weeks—has not introduced a voluntary scheme offering union learning reps paid time off work. Perhaps the Minister will tell me that it has offered such a scheme and that the unions declined to take it up, but that seems unlikely and would call into question what the Minister proposes to do through the legislation.

The point is a serious one. We recognise that not all employers are best practice employers where training is concerned, although we still have doubts about whether imposing the statutory model will deliver any benefits even with non-best practice employers. Clearly, however, it cannot be helpful to impose a statutory model on someone who is already performing in that area and is recognised officially as doing so. I invite the Minister to think about the underlying substance, and not to dwell too long on the imperfections of the amendment.

Mr. Prisk: I favour the amendment, especially as it highlights the benefits of the Investors in People programme. I am sure that various Committee members have had experience of that in the business world, as have I, both directly and indirectly. In a sense, the Investors in People programme typifies the best practice that there can be in industry, and raises the question of whether the statutory approach with which the Government are trying to proceed is necessary and being imposed in the right way.

Investors in People is popular because it allows individuals to learn and go on learning, with an ethos of continuous learning essential for all individuals at various levels. It also encourages firms to create teams. The creation of a real sense of teamwork is at the heart of the IIP programme. IIP contrasts with the Government approach because it is about collaboration between employer and employee, which we should promote if we can. A joy of the programme is that it allows individuals and firms to go at their own pace. The Minister's Department clearly understands that, because it is involved in the programme. The stages in the programme allow organisations, public and private, to move at their own pace. That is essential. For example, manufacturing is deep in recession and the many firms that wish to pursue IIP

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are able to do so at a pace that suits them. If market conditions are difficult, the scheme allows them to reflect those conditions.

The great joy of the amendment is that it would give that programme a tangible boost. It would be a real advantage to many organisations—especially those that the Minister wants to encourage to become involved in training and learning—to give IIP a status with tangible benefits. It could be a real boost to the programme. Given that the Minister's Department and others are involved, why does the Minister believe that it needs to be promoted and supported? Why does he feel the need to take the statutory, imposed approach? I worry that that will cut across the real benefits of IIP.

John Healey: I shall start with my own Department. We are proud to have the Investors in People standard. We have found that it contributes enormously to our ability to manage and develop our work force effectively. It is a good tool, encouraging best management practice and good organisational development. We are, in policy terms, strongly behind the promotion and expansion of IIP. It happens to be a policy area that is my responsibility.

The question of union learning reps in my Department was raised on Thursday. What the hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge described as a slip of the tongue in fact betrayed a misunderstanding of proper relations in the workplace and the operation of union learning reps. It is the union that decides the appointment, development and deployment of union learning reps.

In my Department, the principal union is the Public and Commercial Services union. It has more than 200 accredited learning reps throughout the civil service, and I understand that its priority has been to concentrate development of its union learning rep network on Departments with large field-operations staff, rather than those, such as the DFES, that have a relatively small headquarters staff. I hope that the factual information that I have provided in my letter is useful.

The question posed to me is certainly useful. Union learning reps work with employers. They are not the creature of employers and it is not an employer's role and responsibility to see them appointed. It is the proper responsibility and right of a union to do so. The hon. Gentleman may say that his remark was a slip of the tongue, but I see it as a fundamental misunderstanding by the Opposition of the nature of trade unions and relations in the workplace in Britain today.

Mr. Hammond: The Minister is making a ridiculous meal out of this light snack. Surely the point is—and there would be no point to the legislation if the Minister did not agree with me—that the employer, under a voluntary system, has to make paid time off available before the appointment of a union learning rep who can operate in working hours becomes a reality. What I should have referred to was not the

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appointment of union learning reps by his Department, but whether it had made available paid time off to facilitate that.

John Healey: Making paid time off available for union learning reps is, of course, the fundamental purpose of the clause. Evidence shows that, under entirely voluntary systems, there are real barriers to union learning reps being able to do their job effectively. They do not all get a right to time off to undertake their duties or the initial training that will make them effective.

Mr. Osborne: In his letter, the Minister states that more than half of all trade unionists are employed in the public sector, but that only 37 per cent of union learning reps work in the public sector workplace. Does that suggest that public sector employers and Government Departments are less good than many private sector employers at providing time for union learning reps to work with them in a voluntary way? Should not the Government put their own house in order before imposing rules on the rest of society?

John Healey: Neither the hon. Gentleman nor I can explain precisely the reason for that pattern. I can only say that he should pose his question to the unions. As I explained earlier in response to the hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge, the unions decide where they want to prioritise the development and deployment of union learning reps. In the first three or four years of the operation of union learning reps, those places happen to be where unions have developed the network most strongly.

Mr. Hammond: There seems to be a real issue here. Perhaps I am wrong, but my understanding is that under the present voluntary regime, the question is not where the unions decide that they want to prioritise, but where employers agree voluntarily to make paid time off available. That is the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Mr. Osborne) made. Are we to deduce from the figures that the availability of paid time off offered by employers on a voluntary basis has been less forthcoming in the public than in the private sector?

John Healey: The figures relate to the number of union learning reps and where they are deployed in British workplaces. They do not relate to where those union reps also have a right to time off, voluntarily ceded by employers. I have already explained the problems that many reps experience in gaining those, which is the reason for the clause.

As the hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge has explained, amendment No. 228 seeks to exempt employers with Investors in People status from the scope of clause 43. IIP is a status sign. It is a sign that employers have reached an important standard in respect of training and work force development. The hon. Gentleman rightly described them as leading-edge employers. The hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Prisk) gave an eloquent and cogent explanation of the value of IIP. IIP is a sign that employers have procedures and practices in place that allow for training and learning issues to be

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regularly reviewed and developed continuously throughout an organisation. Anyone who has been a manager, as I have, of an organisation that has sought IIP status will know that it is about achieving and then sustaining that status. It is not a one-off effort.

Many companies with IIP status are unionised. Indeed, unions are usually very much engaged with those employers in helping them to attain and then retain IIP status. The CBI, in its response to the consultation, took the trouble to confirm that employers believe that union learning reps can be particularly helpful in supporting business training and development strategy and, in particular, can help to gain staff co-operation and help for initiatives such as Investors in People. It is therefore a somewhat bizarre idea that union learning reps should be less appropriate in such organisations than in those where the commitment to training is less pronounced. Indeed, the opposite is the case. In our experience, union learning reps help to reinforce the training message throughout an organisation, can improve the training performance of all organisations—the good, the bad and the indifferent—and can bring the poor up to a reasonable standard. All organisations, including those with IIP status, can improve.

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