Mr. Tynan: I have two points. First, the only person who pays my wages is the same person in the pay office who pays the hon. Lady's wages. Secondly, if there are bad employers, employees are suffering. Does she not think that protecting them by introducing legislation such as this is a price worth paying?
Labour Members know that our party has no problem with the minimum wage and that we would not try to abolish it, although we might try to cut the number of pages in the manual on its implementation. Labour Members must also accept that they introduced the minimum wage at a much lower rate than the TUC would have liked. That level has not caused significant problems for the economy. Anyone on the minimum wage today would also have to claim benefitwhether family credit under the previous Government or working families tax credit now. Under a Labour Government, one cannot earn enough on the minimum wage to live in high-price Britain. We approve of the minimum wage, but we realise that it does not represent a sort of Valhalla, as some Labour Members appear to believe. I urge Labour Members to consider carefully before trying to introduce the minimum wage for young people of 16 and 17. Many young people would gain more from simply having a job than from having to be employed on the minimum wage that the Labour Government set.
Judy Mallaber (Amber Valley) (Lab): I am a member of Unison, which contributes to my constituency party, not to me. The hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Miss Kirkbride) referred to constituency interest. My constituency interest, which makes me feel so passionately that this measure is important, is that of Coats Viyella workers, whom the hon. Lady would perhaps like to meet. They were treated disgracefully by their employers, and I shall return to that subject later. My constituency interest is therefore that of workers who are not members of my union.
Many points have been made about the Labour Government's advances in modernising our industrial relations system and getting rid of some of the Tory Government's worst excesses, which had nothing to do with enhancing co-operation between employers and employees. Indeed, the reverse was true. Many of the basic rights and protections that we have given workers take account of modern working conditions. We especially wanted to consider a proper work-life balance and provide the flexibility that recognises changing working patterns and the need to combine work and home life. I welcome provisions to give greater protection to those who want flexibility. The hon. Member for Bromsgrove said that the Bill contained nothing about that, but we are providing greater protection to people who use the rights in the previous employment Act to seek flexible working patterns.
I was an employer in a small organisation before becoming a Member of Parliament. We had better relations and communication when my staff got together and had decent representation in their union. I therefore know from personal experience that it can be helpful to be encouraged into proper bargaining relationships. The extension of union recognition rights was important in enhancing industrial relations, and measures to improve that are welcome.
I want to highlight a few provisions and make suggestions for further consideration. Some of what I say will support points that others have already made. Those who oppose Labour's improvements to our industrial relations system want to take us backwards. At the beginning of the debate, it was said that the introduction of the minimum wage had been described as a potential disaster for the economy. Nothing could be further from the truth, as shown by the creation of an extra 1.7 million jobs since Labour came to power.
Whatever Conservative Members say now, I shall not forget the bitter opposition that they expressed when they were not prepared to help the low-paid workers, especially women, who have benefited so much from the minimum wage legislation. Earlier, the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) said that he was wrong, but I shall not forget that he kept me up hour after hour through the night when we discussed the minimum wage in Committee, telling us that it was wrong and that we should not introduce it. I shall not forget that, even though in my recent Adjournment debate on equal pay, he said mea culpa. The minimum wage legislation has helped with equal pay, but a large gender gap in pay rates remains.
Conservative Members opposed our efforts to bring justice to those on poverty wages. I therefore welcome the provisions that make it easier to implement the minimum wage legislation, but I want to reiterate three points that were made earlier.
First, we should consider extending protection to 16 and 17-year-olds; secondly, I support what my hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk, East (Mr. Connarty) said about tips; and thirdly, I very much endorse the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, Central (Mr. Doran) on the employee-worker definition. I have raised those points in the past with predecessors of my hon. Friend the Minister in relation to part-time workers and the implementation of the minimum wage legislation.
Returning to where I began, the part of the Bill with which I am most pleased is the introduction, at last, of provisions on information and disclosure, on which we have seen Victorian practices and a return to the past. Some 5,000 textiles jobs have been lost in the east midlands in Coats Viyella plants, many hundreds of them in my constituency. I emphasise, however, that during the Tory years, 500,000 jobs were lost in the textiles and clothing industry. At Coats Viyella there was no consultation or information. It is not acceptable for a person to learn that they are losing their job over the internet because it has to be announced on the stock exchange first. It is not acceptable to hear in the factory that 200 jobs are being lost, only to have that contradicted two hours later in a press release. There was uncertainty for weeks, and the Government were kept in the dark. The Coats Viyella officials told the Department of Trade and Industry that they were
My parliamentary neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Derbyshire (Mr. Barnes), referred earlier to the outrageous behaviour of Saint-Gobain at the Biwater pipe manufacturing company at Clay Cross. The company was closed not because the firm was doing badly, but in an asset-stripping exercise to wipe out the opposition. The employees were told that their future was safe, only to hear the announcement of the firm's closure within minutes of the takeover. In April 2001, when Marks and Spencer announced that it would close stores in continental Europe, the French courts forced it to suspend the closures because it had failed to abide by French law and consult employees. It is very important that we introduce such measures, and I hope that we can extend them to lower levels of employment, and take account of other issues raised by my hon. Friends, which I shall not go into now.
I emphasise that we want to stop the appalling practices in companies such as Coats Viyella, Biwater, Vauxhall and Ford. However, it is also important that we consider the Bill as a positive measure. The most authoritative workplace study, done in 1998, showed that fewer than one fifth of workers reported that they were regularly consulted about workplace change. That is just ridiculous if we want to harness the information, ideas and experience of the people in those workplaces. They ought to be consulted. I hope that we will look more positively at how to implement this legislation, and examine how workers in workplaces can have a say, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) suggested.
I have mentioned flexible working patterns, and I welcome the proposals on those in the Bill. I have previously given the example of nurses. We are desperately crying out for more nurses, but many have left work in the national health service. In spite of encouragement being given throughout the health service, from the top down, I can give examples of nurses with children having to leave because management could not find ways of enabling them to work flexibly. That is a tragic waste. Anything that can help to encourage flexible working is to be welcomed.
I support any measures that will make it easier to implement the law on industrial action, but there might be other areas that my hon. Friend the Minister should consider, such as the definition of a trade dispute. That definition makes it difficult, or impossible, for unions to take action over terms and conditions when their employer is being restructured, perhaps following a TUPE transfer, and their future employer will be differentfollowing a private finance initiative deal, for example. That happened when my union, Unison, found itself in court over workers seeking to take protective action at University College hospital. It is important for my hon. Friend the Minister to look into that matter, and perhaps others.
Let me say something about a matter that has not been raised for a while today: the importance of preventing the infiltration of unions by the British National party and other ultra-right-wing and fascist organisations. I was pleased to hear that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State was determined to include that in the Bill. At present, even if a BNP member is acting against the aims and objectives of the union as set out in its rule book, he or she can be protected from exclusion if there is any suggestion that the actions involved are linked with membership of a political party. That still obtains even if the party is despicable and its objectives are racist, and it can take precedence over the worthy aims in the union's rule book.