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Understandably, the issue of tips and how they relate to the minimum wage was raised by a number of colleagues. I strongly agree with the view of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform that tipping is an important issue. I want to assure hon. Members that we are looking carefully at finding a solution. I, like so many others
who have spoken, feel that when a tip is given to a waiter in a restaurant or catering establishment, that tip should go to the waiter or waitress and not to the boss or the national company involved.
Mr. Russell Brown: In view of the fact that the Minister is saying that the Department is considering the subject, even at this early stagealthough some of us believe that it is somewhat late in comingcan the Department make it known to those out there who are abusing the system that their days are numbered?
Malcolm Wicks: My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has made his views clear and we have had direct contact with the hospitality industry about that important issue.
In addition to cracking down on the underpayment of agency workers, we determined that they should be properly protected from abuse. The Bill will allow an appropriate sanction to deal with the small minority of agencies that deliberately flout the law. No business should be allowed to get away with unfairly undercutting legitimate operators by underpaying workers or exploiting vulnerable agency staff. The Recruitment and Employment Confederation, a key industry body, said:
We welcome this Bill as it aims to crack down on those employers and agencies that are cutting corners and mistreating workers.
I turn to dispute regulation. I listened carefully to the remarks of the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mrs. Dorries) on the subject. Alongside tougher enforcement the Bill promotes greater flexibility and reduces burdens on business. The hon. Lady asked me directly whether the Bill reduces regulation. Equally directly, I say yes it does. The reforms to workplace dispute resolution contained in clauses 1 to 7 will encourage employers and employees to find ways that make sense to them to sort out their disputes. In place of rigid statutory requirements that cost employers more than £100 million a year, the ACAS code on discipline and grievance will provide guidance both to employers and employees on the principles of natural justice that enable disputes to be resolved effectively.
Our reforms enable ACAS conciliation to be even more effective by removing time limitations on when the service can offer help to parties in dispute. To support ACAS, we are investing up to £37 million over the next three years to promote more early conciliation and to improve the ACAS advice line. That will help many people to resolve disputes without the stress and expense of a tribunal hearing.
My hon. Friend the Member for North Ayrshire and Arran spoke about trade union law, and the hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mr. Walker)a fellow member of the trade union Unitespoke movingly of his experience of harassment by the foul BNP. All of us who heard his speech were impressed by it. Clause 18 is the only clause in the Bill which deals with trade union law. It appears in the Bill because we are obliged as a matter of policy to amend our law as soon as possible to comply with judgments of the European Court of Human Rights. In other words, it is not an option for us to do nothing and leave the law as it is.
It was predictable that the clause would attract a lot of attention in our debate. The same happened when the Bill was debated in the other place. As Members
know, the clause, as originally drafted, provoked great concern from both sides of that House, including from Lord Morris of Handsworth, former general secretary of the Transport and General Workers Union. We amended the clause to deal with those concerns. The amendments were heavily influenced by the views expressed by the Joint Committee on Human Rights.
Clause 18 deals with the way that the law balances conflicting human rightsphilosophically and legally a difficult and complex matterprincipally the rights of freedom of association and the right to freedom of political belief. This is difficult territory, and involves some delicate judgments.
Paul Farrelly: I recognise that the territory is difficult, but does my hon. Friend recognise that the TUC still has some concerns about the drafting that has come from the House of Lords? It is concerned that unions are still over-regulated in that respect, so will my hon. Friend be amenable to sensible amendments in Committee?
Malcolm Wicks: We know of the TUCs concerns and no doubt those matters will be discussed in Committee.
Clause 18 aims to strike a new balance in the law relating to exclusion and expulsion from trade unions on grounds of political party membership. The net effect is to create greater freedom for trade unions to set and apply their own membership rules. However, that greater freedom is qualified by the creation of safeguards to prevent potential abuse. We believe that those safeguards are workable, clear and fully compatible with the way that trade unions run their internal affairs. The safeguards should not, therefore, give rise to mischievous litigation, as the TUC fears. We are also clear that the clause will ensure compliance with the European Courts judgment.
Mr. Walker: I agree that people have the right to be members of the BNP; but likewise, unions must have the right to tell members of the BNP, You are not going to be part of our organisation.
Malcolm Wicks: Absolutely right; I agree with the hon. Gentleman. We are concerned that removing reference to former membership of a political party would provide an avenue by which individuals with extreme political views could infiltrate a trade union. For example, a BNP member could resign his or her party membership on learning of the unions intention to expel him or her, only to rejoin once the threat of expulsion had passed. The process could continue indefinitely, thus imposing considerable administrative costs on the union and undermining its rights, as determined by the European courts.
Lorely Burt: I understand the point that the Minister is making about trade unions and people who have been past members of an organisation that is incompatible with the aims and objectives of a trade union. However, as I understand the Bill, if someone had been a member of such an organisation in years past, that would prevent them from ever joining a trade union. I find that a little worrying. I do not know what the answer is, and I wonder whether the Minister has an idea.
Malcolm Wicks: I understand the point, but there will be safeguards to ensure that that eventuality does not arise, and common sense will apply. I would also trust in the good sense of a trade union if someone wanted to join who had been a member of one those parties 20 years ago when he or she was a 17-year-old.
The hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald) made a thoughtful speech, drawing on his own experience, and asked about the tripartite nature of tribunals. I simply but sincerely want to assure him about the Governments commitment to the three-member panel in all cases where the reasonableness of behaviour is an important element of the tribunals consideration. Parliament has accepted for many years the case for tribunal chairs to sit alone in certain jurisdictions where that is not a key concern. I hope that we can reassure the hon. Gentleman on that point.
I turn, towards the end of this address[Hon. Members: Hear, hear.] I am encouraged to go further, but I will try to draw my remarks to a conclusion. Again, I return to the speech made by the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire. She talked about her early experience of being supported by her trade unionthe Royal College of Nursingso that, in those dark days, she was able to eat. Nevertheless, she now seems rather sceptical about the legislation that supports the rights of female employees. She did so on the basis of over-burdens, but I noted her concerns. Many hon. Members would say that of course we need to get the balance right, but such things constitute one of the great developments in this country, alongside the move back towards full employment that we have seen.
Let us not forget that employment is still at a record level in Great Britain. That includes a great advance in female employment, with proper balances, so that people can have the right work-life and work-family balances. An interesting statistic shows that that is now being accepted by women and many employers: the proportion of mothers who change their employer when returning to work has fallen dramatically from 41 per cent. in 2002 to only 14 per cent. in 2007. That shows an acceptance by both the employer and the employee that we are getting the balance right, and it shows that more and more employers are doing the sensible thing of welcoming back, not just for legal reasons, valued female members of staff after they have had their babies.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington said that the Bill should give time-off rights to union environmental representatives. As the Minister for Energy, I am aware of that, but this is a fairly new development. The TUC has received support from the union modernisation fund for that purpose.
John McDonnell: Will the Minister give way?
Malcolm Wicks: No, I do not think so.
I might not have been able to cover all the detailed points that hon. Members have raised because, sadly, time has not allowed me to do so. However, I commend the Bill to the House.
Bill accordingly read a Second time.
Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 83A(7) (Programme motions),
That the following provisions shall apply to the Employment Bill [ Lords]:
1. The Bill shall be committed to a Public Bill Committee.
Proceedings in Public Bill Committee
2. Proceedings in the Public Bill Committee shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion on Thursday 23rd October 2008.
3. The Public Bill Committee shall have leave to sit twice on the first day on which it meets.
Consideration and Third Reading
4. Proceedings on consideration shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour before the moment of interruption on the day on which those proceedings are commenced.
5. Proceedings on Third Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the moment of interruption on that day.
6. Standing Order No. 83B (Programming committees) shall not apply to proceedings on consideration and Third Reading.
7. Any other proceedings on the Bill (including any proceedings on consideration of any message from the Lords) may be programmed. [Mark Tami.]
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