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Lord Craig of Radley: I accept the thrust of the amendment. I do not know whether I can accept the precise wording, which needs to be looked at more closely, because it is not clear to me that an individual could assert with complete confidence that his re-employment was turned down by an employer on these particular grounds. However, this is a point on which it would be fairly easy to see whether there was an alternative reason for not accepting the individual.
Nevertheless, the amendment raises one important point--one to which I referred earlier when speaking to Clause 56. Just exactly who has the final authority for requiring an individual to attend for full-time service if he is recalled? My reasons for saying this have been
Earl Howe: I have listened with great care to the concerns expressed by the noble Lords and the noble and gallant Lord on this issue. I must stress that one of the aims of this Bill is to provide adequate safeguards for reservists and their employers. We have sought to do this, broadly, in two ways. First, we recognise that many employers are reluctant to face the loss of a valued employee for a period of some months for a period of call-out--the more so if the call-out occurs at an especially busy or important time for the employer. We have therefore introduced formal rights for employers to seek exemption or deferral of the call-out of their employees should this occur at a particularly critical juncture for their business. As your Lordships will be aware, the necessary powers are provided in Clauses 77-80.
Secondly, we recognise that there was concern that the effort of the employee called out needed to be replaced, and there are, correspondingly, powers under Clause 82 to 85 to provide financial assistance to employers whose employees are called out. For those dissatisfied with any claim, there is access to the new reserve forces appeals tribunals. All of these safeguards have been widely welcomed by employers and reservists alike. We know that some reservists have felt that their employers had some apprehension over their employees' membership of the volunteer reserve forces.
With these safeguards, we believe that we have removed most of the grounds on which an employer might reasonably raise objections to his employee joining the volunteer reserves. As the noble Baroness referred to it, I should add that reservists already have protection in the law in the Reserve Forces (Safeguard of Employment) Act 1985. In general terms it places a duty upon employers to reinstate the reservist employees after those employees have been released from a period of permanent service when called out or recalled. It also makes it a criminal offence for an employer to dismiss an employee on the ground that the employee concerned has a liability to call-out. Clause 121 effects various minor amendments to that Act so that reservists called out under the Bill will have the same protections as apply to those called out under the existing Act.
In the light of these safeguards, an anti-discrimination measure along the lines proposed by the noble Baroness is not appropriate for this Bill. Indeed, such a measure might well be counter-productive and make it more difficult, rather than less, for reservists to gain employment. We wish to work in co-operation with both individuals and employers. The Bill does provide a power for us to require the individual to attend when called out, and we would not wish to lose the ability to require that. That power is underpinned by Part X of the Bill covering offences.
I hope that in the light of what I have said the noble Baroness will feel sufficiently reassured to withdraw this amendment, although naturally I have taken on board the points she has made and, indeed, points made from all sides of the Committee.
Lord Williams of Elvel: The Minister should be aware that he has not really covered the major point in my noble friend's amendment about potential members of the reserves. He has surely received representation from the British Medical Association, for instance, which says quite categorically that:
There is nothing at present in the Bill, as I understand it, that would make such procedure illegal. There is also anecdotal evidence, according to the British Medical Association, that junior doctors are not prepared to join the reserves because they are fearful that attending training commitments may be held against their annual or study leave entitlement. It is these sorts of matters which the Bill has to address, and which indeed my noble friend's amendment does address because it would make such contracts as issued by some NHS trusts illegal.
Earl Howe: I take serious note of that particular point, and I am more than happy to undertake to speak to my right honourable or honourable friends in the Department of Health to investigate further this practice and the extent to which it is happening. Quite obviously, I take it very seriously, but the key point is one I made earlier, which is that one cannot force anyone into becoming a reservist and, indeed, one cannot force an employer into accepting employees as reservists. It is much better to have willing parties on all sides. Nevertheless, we wish to promote the reserve forces and to gain the support of as many employers as we can. That is why I believe, especially in the light of our earlier debate on Clause 56, that it is important that the NHS in particular is fully on board.
Lord Redesdale: I should like to follow up this point. Considering that the NHS, which is a government body, can undertake this, what is to stop the practice becoming widespread among many civilian employers?
Earl Howe: In theory, nothing at all. But as I say, it is our job and I believe the job of the associations, and indeed reservists themselves, to promote the value of the reserve forces, not only to the nation but to the employer. That is something that is often overlooked. The virtue of having employees on the payroll who also volunteer for service is one that can redound to the benefit of the organisation concerned by having better trained and better motivated employees.
Lord Redesdale: Perhaps I could take the point slightly further. We are really talking about the high-readiness reserve to a greater degree here and we are looking at very specialised skills--ones which are not easily replaceable and which will be of value. Obviously in certain situations, with certain conflicts, employers will look at the situation and say that this is obviously a dangerous area for losing employees and
Earl Howe: I have noted the many concerns expressed by noble Lords today. I would like further time to investigate the extent of this problem and to take legal advice and, in the light of that advice, consider what further action might be needed.
Baroness Turner of Camden: I am grateful to the Minister for taking so seriously the points that have been raised. I noted what he said about the various safeguards. If, despite all the safeguards, discrimination is still taking place, or at least threatened, discrimination, it seems to us that there is a need to write something further on the face of the Bill. Certainly it seems that the BMA has very real worries about this issue. I am pleased that the Minister has said that he will look into that. But, as the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, has said, it is not just the National Health Service; other employers might be tempted to follow suit. It goes much wider than the NHS. I would be very grateful if the Minister could also look at the wider implications of the clause.
As I said earlier when moving the amendment, we are not absolutely wedded to the wording. If it comes back with different wording but embodies the principles which we have all enunciated today, we would be very happy. Meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
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