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Lord Burnham: My Lords, as a member of the committee on smoking, in which context I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, on the way in which he chaired that committee, can the Chairman of Committees confirm that the fact that his figures amount to more than 100 per cent makes sense in the context of what the questions were? Is it not the case also that there was scarcely anywhere where there was anything like a majority for a reduction in smoking?

The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Burnham, is correct in relation to the figures adding up to more than 100 per cent. It was open to respondents to the questionnaire to opt for more than one of the questions being asked and to refer to more than one of the options. That is not uncommon in answering questionnaires, but I should add that I am always full of admiration at the ingenuity of your Lordships.

Baroness David: My Lords, can the Chairman of Committees confirm that the Commons is a good deal more strict than we are? The idea that people like the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, can escape there means that they are not going to escape to a very happy atmosphere.

The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, without going into detail on the Commons restrictions, so as not to take up too much of your Lordships' time, I will make them available to those noble Lords who are interested in what another place does. To some extent, though not to a very great extent, there are more restrictions in another place.

Lord Mackie of Benshie: My Lords--

Noble Lords: Next Question!

The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Jay of Paddington): My Lords, we have allowed extra time on this Question, as there was obvious interest in it throughout the Chamber and we felt perhaps more time should be spent on it. However, we have now reached within five minutes of the time allotted for Questions and we should move on.

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Peers' Guests: Parking Facilities

3.2 p.m.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley asked the Chairman of Committees:

    What facilities are available for the parking of bicycles ridden by Peers' guests arriving at the Peers' Entrance.

The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, the House does not provide parking facilities of any kind for Peers' guests. However, the House authorities are aware of the problem of bicycle parking near the Palace of Westminster. Some years ago representations were made to Westminster City Council. As a result, there are now 15 bicycle parking spaces in the Abingdon Street car park which are available for anyone to use free of charge.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that reply, though it is not entirely satisfactory. Should not there be facilities for bicycles seeing that the Government are trying to encourage their use instead of cars and that Peers' guests who arrive are not, unlike those who arrive by car, taking up an enormous amount of space? Is the noble Lord aware that a fortnight ago a guest of mine arrived and when she asked where she could park her bicycle was told "Nowhere"? When she asked what she should do if she came as the guest of a Peer, she was told that she should not come by bicycle. I am sure that the noble Lord is aware that that is against government policy. Should we not show that we support government policy and encourage as many bicycles as possible to be parked in front of your Lordships' House?

The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, while many noble Lords will be sympathetic to the general point of the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, I do not feel that I should be drawn into questions of government policy on these matters; nor are they matters for your Lordships' committees. I am sorry to hear of the experience which the noble Lord's guest suffered. I shall ensure that that point is brought to the attention of those concerned and that, where there is a query of this kind, the 15 spaces available--very few of which are ever taken up--will be drawn to the person's attention. Abingdon Street is very conveniently placed of course.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede: My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that in April 1988 expenses were introduced for Peers who wished to ride their bicycle to this House? Since then only two Peers have claimed those expenses and the reason for that is that they have to originate their journey outside Greater London. Will the noble Lord undertake to look into the expenses system for Peers who wish to ride their bicycle to this House so that all Peers, both those inside and those outside Greater London, are entitled to claim bicycle expenses?

The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, I am advised, though I shall need to write to the noble Lord,

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Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, with the details, that what he said is not entirely accurate. However, I can confirm that there has recently been an increase in the bicycle mileage allowance along with other annual increases. I cannot promise that a vast amount of money is being saved by those who kindly and generously fail to claim their allowance.

Lord Rotherwick: My Lords, does the Chairman of Committees agree with me that, as we are making available bicycle spaces in the Abingdon Street car park, it would be right also to make spaces available for powered two-wheelers as well?

The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, I understand that some accommodation is available. I shall look into the point. If anything needs to be done, I shall seek to ensure that it is done.


3.7 p.m.

Lord Carter: My Lords, at a convenient moment after 4.30 p.m. my noble friend Lady Symons of Vernham Dean will, with the leave of the House, repeat a Statement being made in another place on Kosovo.

Breeding and Sale of Dogs (Welfare) Bill

Brought from the Commons; read a first time, and to be printed.

Company and Business Names (Chamber of Commerce, etc) Bill

Brought from the Commons; read a first time, and to be printed.

Employment Relations Bill

3.8 p.m.

The Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Simon of Highbury): My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

I am delighted to move this important Bill. It is a balanced series of proposals. It sets out a radical, forward-looking package of measures which will create a modern framework for employment relations fit for the next century. It delivers the Government's manifesto pledge to provide decent minimum standards for treatment at work and to develop family-friendly employment policies. It also modernises employment law in response to changes in working patterns; for example, more women than ever are working, the number of part-timers is increasing and more families are dependent on two earners.

The Bill will promote the best of modern employment practices in all our companies, encouraging a culture of fairness and trust in the workplace, coupled with clearer

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definitions of rights and responsibilities. To achieve the prosperity we all want to see, the Government believe that there must be decent minimum rights for people at work, and the Bill will achieve those.

As noble Lords will be aware, the provisions of the Bill were foreshadowed in the White Paper, Fairness at Work, which was published in May last year. That White Paper was drawn up following consultations with the Confederation of British Industry and the Trades Union Congress on trade union recognition. All of the 29 proposals in the White Paper were subject thereafter to thorough consultation with both employer and worker organisations. Since the publication of the White Paper, the Government have been vigilant in consulting all interested parties. We believe that to improve the culture of employment relations for the next century it is important that we carry employers, employees, and their representatives with us when developing proposals.

Our objective is to create an understanding between employers and employees, managers and managed, that the value that people can add at their workplace is vital for all stakeholders. The ability to produce goods and services at low cost does not in itself guarantee industrial success, especially in our knowledge-based economy. Value-added and productivity are better tests of success in such an economy. As my right honourable friend the Prime Minister stated in the foreword to last year's Competitiveness White Paper, our success depends on how well we exploit our valuable assets of knowledge, skills and creativity.

Before considering the Bill in more detail, I remind noble Lords that the Government's economic policy is geared towards achieving sustainable prosperity. We see the implementation of the Bill as a major contribution towards achieving that policy. The Bill covers a variety of employment relations issues, individual rights, trade union recognition and family-friendly rights.

I hope that noble Lords have read the explanatory notes which give the purpose behind each of the provisions in the Bill. I intend today to explain the major elements of the Bill. They can be grouped into three themes: decent minimum standards for people at work; a new climate of co-operation in the workplace; and family-friendly employment rights.

The Government believe that all employees should be treated fairly so that they feel more trusted and valued. This will benefit the organisation through increased commitment and enhanced productivity.

Many good employers already provide decent employment standards for their employees. However, some do not, and the Government believe that fair minimum standards must be backed up by the law. We have done this already for working time and the national minimum wage. The Bill complements those measures and completes the package of reforms designed to restore an acceptable balance to the workplace.

The Bill contains a number of measures to ensure fair treatment in recruitment and employment. Clause 2 and Schedule 2 plug the loophole which currently permits employers to discriminate by omission on grounds of trade union membership, non-membership or activities.

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For example, the denial of promotion to an individual on grounds of his trade union membership or activities, where a colleague is promoted who has agreed to give up union membership, could constitute an omission to act.

Clause 17 will ensure that part-time workers are treated no less favourably in respect of their terms and conditions of employment than their colleagues. This clause implements the European Part-Time Work Directive (Council Directive 97/81/EC) which covers employment conditions excluding pay. However, the Government believe that discrimination in respect of pay should be covered in the same way as other employment conditions. The clause therefore also covers pay.

We will also, through Clause 3, prohibit the compilation and use of blacklists recording individuals' trade union membership and activities with a view to use in recruitment. We will seek to ensure that employees do not suffer from detriment and dismissal arising from a refusal to accept a contract on terms which differ from those applicable to them under a collective agreement. Clause 15 will bring that into effect.

Secondly, we have sought a fair balance of rights and responsibilities in the workplace. Employers should not dismiss employees unfairly. We are not preventing employers from dismissing people where they have good reason and act reasonably in doing so, but we need to send a powerful message to employers that unfair dismissal is a serious matter. The Government's principle behind Clauses 28 to 32 is that people who have been unfairly dismissed should be entitled to receive adequate compensation to compensate for their economic loss.

Noble Lords will not have missed the media attention to the increase in the maximum limit for unfair dismissal compensatory awards to £50,000. However, these clauses will also simplify the existing system of additional and special awards and will link the limits on these awards to changes in the retail prices index. We will also remove the compensatory award limit in certain cases for those dismissed for "whistle-blowing"; that is, for drawing attention to health and safety problems or wrongdoings as set out in the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998.

There are four more provisions. Through Clauses 10 to 13, we will be creating a statutory right for individual workers to be accompanied either by a fellow employee or a trade union official during disciplinary and grievance hearings. We will further protect the interests of those using either employment agencies or employment businesses by amending the 1973 Employment Agencies Act. A consultation document proposing revised regulations under the Act will be issued soon. I hope to make copies available to noble Lords before the Bill is considered in Committee.

Clause 16 will prohibit the waiving of unfair dismissal rights in fixed term contracts.

The Government will, through Clause 20, empower the Secretary of State to rationalise and update the coverage of the existing body of employment rights by

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conferring, by order, some or all of those rights on specified categories of individuals who may not or clearly cannot benefit from them at present but who are not genuinely self-employed. There will be full consultation on the draft regulations.

In business, co-operation and teamwork at all levels are conducive to success. My five years at the head of British Petroleum in a period of some pressure and change convinced me of the extraordinary power of the team. An organisation which does not encourage such co-operation between management and workers or their representatives risks missing out on the real prize, that is, enhanced employee commitment to the organisation, working towards shared goals--in the words of management consultants, "alignment".

The Government have always upheld the right of people to choose whether or not to join a union and, consequently, whether they wish to be represented by a union at the workplace. Clause 1 and Schedule 1 establish a new statutory procedure for the recognition of trade unions, if that is the wish of a majority of the workforce, in organisations employing 21 or more workers. The procedure seeks to encourage voluntary agreements where possible but provides for the Central Arbitration Committee (CAC) to decide on applications for recognition if no agreement is reached.

If an employer agrees to recognise a union but a method for collective bargaining cannot be agreed, the CAC may impose a method. Schedule 1 includes procedures for changing the bargaining unit; that is, the group of workers who are covered by a recognition agreement. It also outlines procedures for derecognition of unions, including non-independent unions. It protects workers against detriment, financial or otherwise, or dismissal resulting from their supporting or failing to support recognition or derecognition.

The Bill also makes provisions in Clauses 22 to 25 to reflect changes necessary to the industrial relations institutions, in particular, the CAC and ACAS.

The Bill also simplifies and clarifies the existing law on industrial action, for example, by making clear that unions need not disclose to employers the names of their members they are balloting or calling on to take industrial action. Clause 4 and Schedule 3 will bring that into effect.

Clause 5 applies to workplaces where there is statutory union recognition and a bargaining procedure has been imposed by the CAC. It requires employers in those circumstances to consult recognised unions on training policy and practice relating to the workers represented by the union.

Clause 14 and Schedule 5 allow employees who take or have taken lawfully organised industrial action to complain of unfair dismissal if dismissed within the first eight weeks of such action. It will also be unfair to dismiss them thereafter if the employer has not taken reasonable procedural steps to resolve the dispute.

To underline the Government's commitment to improving co-operation in the workplace, Clause 26 authorises the Secretary of State to make funding

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available to promote partnerships at work. The partnership fund will support innovative projects which develop the partnership approach in the workplace.

Finally, I turn to the support for family-friendly employment. The world of work is changing and, as I said, changing rapidly. For example, the number of mothers in work is increasing. Some employees have trouble combining their work and family responsibilities. The Bill therefore proposes new rights to parental leave. We believe organisations will benefit once these policies are in place. For example, there should be increased employee commitment and productivity and cost savings from reduced staff turnover and absenteeism.

The Bill, through Clauses 7 and 8 and Schedule 4, contains provisions dealing with leave for family and domestic reasons. It provides rights and regulation-making powers for the Secretary of State to replace most of the existing statutory provisions on maternity leave with simpler, clearer rights and to provide new rights to parental leave and to time off for domestic incidents in order to implement EU directives. I give way to the noble Lord.

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