Previous Section Index Home Page

9.41 pm

Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills) (Con): I, too, am in some difficulty, in the sense that when one weighs up a Bill, as amended, on Third Reading, one has to reflect on the processes by which we have arrived at the Bill as amended.

I was pleased to hear the tribute that the Minister paid to the right hon. Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney). I am also delighted to hear that he is pleased to see the right hon. Gentleman anytime for a cup of tea and a discussion about important issues. That no doubt includes new clauses 12 and 13, which were not reached and which concern matters to which the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) alluded in a point of order.

We are in a difficult position. Do I believe that the process by which we have arrived at the Bill as amended is right? If the House cannot debate whole areas of a Bill, how can I attest that it has been properly constructed? The guillotine, over which we have no control, was designed in such a way that matters that pertain directly to the Bill, such as open justice on tribunal cases, were never debated in Committee or even reached here, because of the constraints of the guillotine motion on Report. That is why I have to weigh up whether the process is sufficiently legitimate to enable me to support the Bill.

There will be many people outside the Chamber who will not understand how we cannot discuss matters that relate directly to the contents of a Bill. Tribunals being open and their processes being known are fundamental principles of English justice. The Government—or rather, the preceding Department—wiped that out with a statutory instrument.

The right hon. Member for Makerfield said that the Minister had invited him to tea when he was the lead Minister on those parts of employment law that relate to public interest disclosure. He said that it was crucial to put in the public domain things that would otherwise have remained secret—that was about corporate governance, employment and the protection of people. None of that was allowed to be debated, however, because of a guillotine.

In the past four weeks the House has conducted hardly any business, because the Government entirely control the timetable and the nature of the business that
4 Nov 2008 : Column 225
comes before us. They presented the House with a glorious opportunity to look at key issues of employment law, but that opportunity has now gone. What we needed, at least on Third Reading, was some form of undertaking that justice should be open. The retreat from open justice by this Government is becoming a scandal.

I will not oppose the Bill, because I believe that there is sufficient provision in it to justify supporting it, but I regret deeply that we cannot discuss matters that are relevant to all our constituents, from wherever we come. That is shaming to the House.

9.45 pm

Simon Hughes: This is an important area of legislation and, as the hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Djanogly) said, there has been a huge amount of legislation on these matters. I want to follow on from where the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) left off. There are five areas of importance in the Bill, and we had some debate on all of them on Report. Those who were privileged to serve on the Committee were able to explore them in more detail but, as is always the case, that involved only a minority of Members. Over the years, many of us have taken an interest in many of the matters that have been touched on in the Bill.

Some of the outcomes of the deliberations in the House of Lords, and in the Commons so far, have been good, but I have to share the frustration that the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills has just expressed, and which I ventilated when I raised a point of order earlier, that there has been no opportunity to explore some of the matters in the Bill or to test whether they are as valid as they could have been. I want to concentrate on two of those areas.

The first area, which covers the first seven clauses of the Bill, deals with dispute resolution. I have had a meeting with the Minister on this matter, for which I was grateful. He knows that I have taken an interest in this, and I have also raised the matter in Adjournment debates in the House. I am concerned that the Bill, as it stands, still does not deal with one of the areas in which the worker often feels that he or she does not get a fair shout. Changes to the dispute resolution procedure are proposed in clauses 1 to 6. Variations have been made over the years—these proposals undo the changes we made four years ago—as to how much should be optional, how much should be procedural, and the extent to which complying with the procedure should make a dismissal unlawful. However, there is still no automatic right to a dispute resolution procedure for someone who is dismissed summarily. There are many people up and down the land, in small and large firms, who, as a result of this legislation, will still be able to go to work and find themselves dismissed with no right to any dispute resolution procedure in the workplace. They can take their case to an industrial tribunal but, in four fifths of the cases that get to a tribunal, the employee does not succeed. Furthermore, in many cases, the tribunals and the higher courts will say that such cases fall within the band of a reasonable decision taken by the employer.

Many workers do not feel that they are getting a fair deal yet. It is disappointing that, when the Government looked at the statutory dispute resolution procedures and introduced the changes in clauses 1, 2 and 3, they
4 Nov 2008 : Column 226
did not consider going back to the beginning of the procedure and providing for access to the statutory dispute resolution procedures from the beginning of the process.

Clause 3 allows the awards that can be granted to be varied and provides for a financial penalty. Bluntly, however, a financial penalty is not much use if, at the end of the day, the person loses their job. If someone is dismissed, the chance of getting back to work is very small, certainly reduced, and the person might be out of work for a long time.

Clause 5 provides for conciliation before the bringing of proceedings, but it is clear that we have moved from having a set of obligatory procedures to an optional procedure—from “shall act” to

Conciliation officers do a good job. ACAS, based in my constituency, does a good job; it has been lauded on both sides of the House, and everyone is glad that it is there. It takes many disputes away from the headlines and improves many people’s lives. It would be preferable, however, if the Government recognised that significant injustices are not yet dealt with.

Today’s deliberations and the fact that Parliament has been able to debate less than half of what it wanted to debate will mean, as the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) said, that we will have to return to these matters—and soon. Only part of the opportunity has been taken; sadly, part of it has been significantly missed.

I end where the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills started: unless we change our procedures so that Parliament, not the Government, determines the business, we will never be able to do our constituents the proper service that they expect us to do. Parliament, not the Government, should decide Parliament’s business; we need to change that in order to get the balance right.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed, with amendments.


Violence Against Women

9.51 pm

Mr. Edward Timpson (Crewe and Nantwich) (Con): I wish to present a petition on behalf of members of the Cheshire federation of the women’s institute concerning violence against women across the UK. Each year, 3 million women across the UK experience rape, domestic violence, forced marriage, stalking, sexual exploiting, trafficking or other forms of violence. The women’s institute is concerned that there is vision for eliminating violence against women, as there appears to be an assumption that the abuse of women and girls is “a fact of life”.

The petitioners attracted the support of 14 signatures and the petition was co-ordinated by the members of the Cheshire federation of the women’s institute. It reads:

4 Nov 2008 : Column 227

Following is the full text of the petition:

[ The Petition of members of the C heshire f ederation of the w omen’ s i nstitute, declares that violence against women is a cause and consequence of women's inequality and that the Government is not doing enough to prevent violence against women from occurring; and further declares that there seems to be a mentality that abuse of women and girls is a fact of life .

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to stand by the UK's commitment to afford women and girls their basic human right to live free from violence, and its threat, by taking steps to eliminate violence against women .

And the Petitioners remain, etc. ]


4 Nov 2008 : Column 228

Gatwick Airport Security

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn. —[Helen Goodman.]

9.52 pm

Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab): Even though the facts that led to my request for this debate are personal, I am bringing it to the attention of the House as their implications deserve wider attention. Let me begin by outlining those facts.

On Sunday 3 August, I went through security at Gatwick airport at around 3.30 am. I was going on holiday to Corsica. One suitcase was checked in and I carried one bag on to the plane. The bag I carried with me went through security checks; it was the first shift of the day and it was not very busy when I went through. When I arrived in Corsica, two things happened, which I want to talk about in turn, as the two are separate as well as related.

First, my suitcase did not arrive in Corsica. Secondly, when I got to the hotel and unpacked my hand luggage, I discovered that in the side pocket of a shopping bag that I had brought with me for use as a beach bag there was a fruit knife. It had been left in the bag some time ago, and I had not spotted it when I was packing. The knife is a small kitchen knife, its total length is 7 in, with a 3 in blade. Let me make it quite clear that I do not habitually walk around carrying knives and I certainly had no idea that this particular knife was in my bag, so I was not conducting a test case to check the security.

However, first thing on Monday morning, I asked my office manager in Birmingham to get in touch with Gatwick airport to tell it that it had a problem, because the knife surely should have been spotted as the hand luggage was screened. My instincts were that someone had made a mistake and Gatwick security should be made aware of it so that they could put it right. I would have been content to leave it at that but it took a number of phone calls to establish the appropriate person to contact. In the end, my office e-mailed July Spellward and Fiona Carleton at BAA outlining the events. There was no response other than being told that Fiona Carleton, the aviation security manager, would be out of the office until 11 August. So the security manager at Gatwick airport is out of the office for the second week in August!

On 11 August, my office contacted Gatwick again for a response. We received a response from Wendy Leigh, personal assistant to Andy Flower, who informed us that Andy Flower was away on annual leave but that she would forward our e-mail to the customer service department for it to respond direct, which it did not do.

When I returned to Gatwick on 17 August two things happened. First, the suitcase that I had lost on the way out and of which I had heard nothing for two weeks mysteriously reappeared and was on the luggage belt. It had returned with me and I just picked it up. Secondly, I went to the BAA information desk where I told my story and asked whether there was anybody I could speak to. I was given the card of July Spellward. At this point I discovered that she is the traveller insight manager. I left my mobile number, as I wanted to pass on some insights, and was assured that she would call me first thing on Monday morning, which she did not—nor did she do so at any other time.

4 Nov 2008 : Column 229

However, on Monday 18 August the commercial director, Mike Luddy, contacted me in a letter to discuss the problems that I had encountered—of course, I thought that BAA had the problems, but he clearly thought that I had them. On 18 August he said—he was very precise about this:

So two weeks later, BAA has something from security and is asking for a photograph to look into the matter further. I responded that I found those answers unsatisfactory and put a number of questions to Mr. Luddy. I also had a phone call from Scott Colvin, head of group public affairs, on Thursday 21 August who began by telling me that a letter resolving the open questions had been sent, but later apologised when he realised that the letter he had in mind had nothing to do with my problem.

I confess that at this point I ran out of patience and contacted The Mail on Sunday. Curiously, once a journalist got involved and started to ask questions, what had started out as a question of public relations suddenly became a matter of national security, which Mr. Luddy told me prevented him from discussing security standards and individual incidents any further.

To illustrate why I have absolutely no confidence in anything that BAA told me, I shall quote two statements from the same day. On 22 August, Mr. Luddy told me that

However, I also have an e-mail from him dated the same day in which he says:

In addition, he says that

In other words, the entire team has not been on duty from 3 August to 22 August.

On 29 August, Mike Luddy sent an e-mail that in order to “close this issue” he was telling me that the crew had been retrained and were now back at work, and that new procedures were in place to deal with complaints. I told him that I did not regard it as closed and said that once the House returned from its summer recess I would try to get an Adjournment debate on the subject. I am indeed grateful to have the debate. I am also grateful that my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley (Laura Moffatt), whose constituency covers Gatwick airport, is in the Chamber because I want to reassure her that I am confident that the many people who work hard at Gatwick airport, often for long hours and not good pay, are doing their very best. What is happening is that they are being let down by incompetent management.

Laura Moffatt (Crawley) (Lab): I am deeply grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. I make no apology either for the incident or for the subsequent events, but I think it right that she gives proper recognition to those
4 Nov 2008 : Column 230
people’s work. I have spent a lot of time with them, and I know that their work is very difficult. I was very glad to hear her recognise that.

It being Ten o’clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn. — [Chris Mole.]

Ms Stuart: Just as I had entered the phase of thinking that perhaps this was just my problem and I should let it rest, I was surprised—or, more to the point, not surprised—to read in the 19 October edition of The Sunday Times that

Next Section Index Home Page