Employment Bill

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Mr. Prisk: By enhancing the benefits of Investors in People status from the employer's point of view, the joy of the amendment is that it can encourage and widen that status to employers who are not involved at present. That is the aim of the amendment.

John Healey: It may interest the hon. Gentleman to know that the amendment is not supported by Investors in People UK, which clearly does not see it in the terms that he does.

Mr. Prisk: Who are they?

John Healey: Investors in People UK are the people responsible for the IIP standard and its promotion elsewhere.

Arguably, there is more scope for union learning reps to achieve positive results where the employer is committed to training. For that reason, I see no logic for the exemption proposed in the amendment.

Mr. Hammond: As the Minister is citing Investors in People in support of his position, can we be clear who constitute the board of Investors in People and who appoints that board?

John Healey: Investors in People is a non-departmental public body. The appointments are made according to the due process of Government appointments. Its members clearly are the experts in the standard, its application, its promotion and its use by employers.

The amendment would also send a curious signal to unions. It would undermine their existing support for IIP initiatives. What incentive would there be for unions to co-operate and help employers to gain the

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IIP standard if their status as union learning reps were removed as a result? I encourage the hon. Gentleman to seek to withdraw his amendment.

Mr. Hammond: I sometimes feel as though I am banging my head against a brick wall. No one has suggested that union learning reps are less appropriate in an environment where the employer has Investors in People status. We are suggesting that the statutory imposition by the state of union learning reps is not necessary in an environment where everything is working well. That has been our consistent argument throughout the debate, coupled with the secondary argument that we do not believe that the benefits achieved in those better workplaces will be achieved in environments where things are not working well and where relationships are not good. All that we are proposing is: if it ain't broke, don't fix it. That is the bottom line.

There is no suggestion that there would not be union learning reps. It is common sense to say that if something is working well, there is no need to interfere by statute. In cases where all is not well, the organisation presumably would not have Investors in People status. If it is working, why fix it? The Minister's answer is that he wants the statutory right to appoint union learning reps, whether or not the situation is working well. Why does he want that right? It is because it is on the tick-the-box list drawn up by the Trades Union Congress for supporting the Labour Government with its muscle and its money at the general election.

The Minister made some good arguments, but his refusal to listen at the margin to our suggestions for sensible exclusions and modifications convinces me that the agenda of the Minister and the Government has been written elsewhere. He is not listening to anything that we are saying.

I shall not press the amendment to a Division; that would be wasting the Committee's time, because the Government have made their position perfectly clear. However, employers who have Investors in People status—more importantly, those who were considering investing substantial time, money and effort to attain it—will draw their own conclusion from the Minister's comments. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

11.30 am

Mr. Hammond: I beg to move amendment No. 227, in page 47, line 8, leave out subsection (6).

I hope that the Minister will deal quickly with the amendment and set our minds at rest. Subsection (6) invests extraordinary powers in the Secretary of State:

    ''The Secretary of State may by order amend section 168A for the purpose of changing the purposes for which an employee may take time off under that section.''

In other words, a section that allows an employee to take time off to perform union learning rep duties could, by order of the Secretary of State, be amended to allow the employee to take time off for something

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completely different. Taken at face value, subsection (6) gives the game away. It creates a new class of union official who may or may not be engaged in training.

Clearly, if the scheme is to have credibility, the people who are appointed must be engaged in training and its promotion, and nothing else. I hope that I misunderstood the clause and that the Minister can point us to some other part of the text that will reassure us that the powers cannot be used by the Secretary of State to change the fundamental purpose for which union learning reps are appointed.

John Healey: The amendment seeks to remove entirely the order-making power in subsection (6), which would allow, by order, for alteration to the definition of the union learning representative's functions. The power would not be used to change the definition or nature of the union learning rep in the way that the hon. Gentleman fears.

Let me explain the reason for the provision. Union learning reps, a relatively new creation, have developed over the past four years as unions have widened their activities in the workplace, their services to members and their contribution to the success of the businesses with which they work. As partnership in the workplace has increased under the Government, the range of responsibilities and functions that union learning reps undertake has become clearer and is well defined in section 168A(2). However, it is possible that their activities may evolve with experience and that they may change in ways that are outside the purposes of union learning representatives as defined in subsection (2).

I will give an example that may help settle the hon. Gentleman's concerns and indicate the provision that we are trying to make under subsection (6). Union learning representatives may become more involved in organising child care arrangements for workers who are being trained, and subsection (2) may not capture such an activity. That may be an important area, especially for single parents. If there is an increase in that or another unforeseen demand on union learning representative services, we want to be able to respond without having to resort to primary legislation.

Mr. Hammond: I understand the Minister's explanation, but will he confirm that nothing in the Bill would prevent the powers in subsection (6) from being used to include, in subsection (2)(a) for example, the purpose of promoting membership of the trade union, the general interests of the members of the trade union or collective bargaining with the employer?

John Healey: The clause could not be used to create an entitlement for a trade union to bargain collectively on training.

Mr. Hammond: Why not?

John Healey: The provisions would not permit that, as I explained, and I am happy to reiterate that. On the narrow question of the evolution of the functions of union learning representatives, it is prudent to introduce an order-making power that will give us the

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flexibility to deal with changes that we may need to make in the future. I ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the amendment.

Mr. Hammond: I thank the Minister for making it clear that the Government do not intend to have a sweeping power to change fundamentally the role of union learning representatives. I hope that the Minister will be aware of the sensitivity of employer organisations to training becoming a part of collective bargaining. That issue in particular has prompted the concern that the provision could be used to broaden the remit of union learning representatives and to make them a part of a bargaining team.

The Minister appears to be telling us that there may be matters ancillary to the carrying out of their proper duties as union learning representatives that are not sufficiently covered by subsection (2)(a), and that he wants to give himself a power to deal with that issue as it arises. As usual, the instinct seems to have been to reach for the largest possible sledgehammer rather than the daintiest chisel. There are better ways of dealing with the issue. An additional category relating to matters incidental to the carrying out of the principal activities could be included in subsection (2)(a), or subsection (6) could be limited to make it clear that the Secretary of State's power could be exercised only in a way that broadened the fundamental role without changing it completely. The Minister clearly does not favour our amendment. Given what he said, I hope to be able to work on an amendment for Report that even he would consider, so that the Government can tighten the clause to ensure that it remains crystal clear that trade union learning representatives will always have a role that deals primarily with learning and skills and that activities are added only when necessary for carrying out their principal activities. I have noticed that the Government tend to favour amendments on Report dreamt up by them rather than by the Opposition, even when the wording is identical. I therefore hope that the Minister will table such an amendment. If he does not, I will try to do so for him and to have this discussion again on Report. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Chairman, being of the opinion that the principle of the clause and any matters arising thereon had been adequately discussed in the course of debate on the amendments proposed thereto, forthwith put the Question, pursuant to Standing Orders Nos. 68 and 89, That the clause stand part of the Bill:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 13, Noes 4.

Division No. 5]

Cotter, Brian
Healey, John
Hughes, Mr. Kevin
Humble, Mrs. Joan
Johnson, Alan
Jones, Helen
Laxton, Mr. Bob
Mallaber, Judy
Marris, Rob
Pearson, Mr. Ian
Tami, Mark
Williams, Mrs. Betty
Williams, Hywel

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Hammond, Mr. Philip
Hendry, Mr. Charles
Osborne, Mr. George
Prisk, Mr. Mark

Question accordingly agreed to.

Clause 43 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

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