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Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, perhaps I may reassure the House on this point. The new paragraph 10A of the Employment Tribunals Act 1996 relating to confidential information is simply a re-enactment of what is currently Section 10(2)(b) and (3) of that Act. That is the part which refers to the situation of the staff of the House of Commons and the staff of the House of Lords. We have simply repeated that. I would not want to hazard a guess as to why it was put in there in the first place. But it is there, and we are simply repeating it. I can assure my noble friend that the amendment represents a vast opening up of the rights of these staff to have their cases properly considered.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Sainsbury of Turville moved Amendment No. 142:

After Clause 33, insert the following new clause--


(" .--(1) This section applies where regulations under section 2(2) of the European Communities Act 1972 (general implementation of Treaties) make provision for the purpose of implementing, or for a purpose concerning, a Community obligation of the United Kingdom which relates to the treatment of employees on the transfer of an undertaking or business or part of an undertaking or business.

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(2) The Secretary of State may by regulations make the same or similar provision in relation to the treatment of employees in circumstances other than those to which the Community obligation applies (including circumstances in which there is no transfer, or no transfer to which the Community obligation applies).
(3) Regulations under this section shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.")

The noble Lord said: My Lords, your Lordships may recall that at the Committee stage the Government sought to introduce a new clause relating to the transfer of undertakings, but ultimately declined to move the amendment as the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee had indicated that it wished to have an opportunity for prior consideration. We undertook to return to the matter on Report, and are now doing so. Perhaps I may take this opportunity to offer my sincere thanks to the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee for its considered and helpful comments on this matter. I am grateful, too, for the alacrity with which it produced its report. We have of course been very pleased to take on board the points it raised and trust that the revised version of the amendment now before the House will meet with its full approval. I hope it will be helpful to your Lordships if I explain the background to this.

The Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 1981--commonly known as the TUPE regulations--implement the EC Acquired Rights Directive and safeguard employees' rights when the business in which they work changes hands between employers. The Government are committed to revising the regulations, which in their current form are operating less than effectively, leading to much unnecessary dispute and litigation. This will build on our success during the UK presidency last year in securing other member states' agreement to a revision of the directive itself.

Officials in my department are currently working up detailed proposals, in liaison with colleagues elsewhere in Whitehall and in informal discussions with the main employer and employee representative bodies and other outside interests, in line with social partnership principles. Our aim is to seek views on these proposals by way of a formal public consultation document to be published later in the year, accompanied by draft regulations, and to have the new requirements in place by next spring.

We have found a remarkable degree of consensus among the social partners and other interested parties as regards the main issues of substance to be addressed in the revision of the regulations. I pay tribute to the CBI, the TUC and other bodies--including the TUPE Forum, which represents all parties involved in public sector contracting--for the constructive approach they have taken on these issues and for the assistance they have given us in developing our proposals.

As this work has progressed, however, it has become clear to us that some of the changes we may decide to make could not be achieved under the existing powers in Section 2(2) of the European Communities Act 1972. In particular, extending the scope so as to give rights to individuals in situations where they would not have them under the directive could not be done under those

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existing powers. This limits the options available for tackling two major areas of uncertainty in the regulations: their application to contracting-out operations and their application to transfers involving public sector bodies. If we had to rely on the existing powers alone, this could prevent us from putting forward proposals to meet the widespread expectation, shared by employer and employee bodies alike, that the new regulations will apply comprehensively where changes occur in service contracting. Specifically, it could prevent our ensuring that the recontracting or bringing back in-house of a contracted-out service was covered in cases where the conditions in the directive were not met but where there was a wish to provide consistent treatment.

The existing powers would also be insufficient to allow us to apply the regulations to transfers of purely administrative functions between public administrative bodies, leaving it necessary for alternative administrative or legislative arrangements to be made in each case, as, indeed, has to be done at present. The amendment seeks to remove these technical obstacles so that we can be certain that we have sufficient powers to achieve what we are likely to be asked to achieve when we go out to formal public consultation.

I hope that I have succeeded in making clear what are some undoubtedly complex legal points. I commend the amendment to the House.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Sainsbury of Turville moved Amendment No. 143:

After Clause 33, insert the following new clause--


(".--(1) Information obtained by a revenue official in the course of carrying out a function of the Commissioners of Inland Revenue may be--
(a) supplied by the Commissioners of Inland Revenue to the Secretary of State for any purpose relating to the National Minimum Wage Act 1998;
(b) supplied by the Secretary of State with the authority of the Commissioners of Inland Revenue to any person acting under section 13(1)(b) of that Act;
(c) supplied by the Secretary of State with the authority of the Commissioners of Inland Revenue to an officer acting for the purposes of any of the agricultural wages legislation.
(2) In this section--
"revenue official" means an officer of the Commissioners of Inland Revenue appointed under section 4 of the Inland Revenue Regulation Act 1890 (appointment of collectors, officers and other persons), and
"the agricultural wages legislation" has the same meaning as in section 16 of the National Minimum Wage Act 1998 (agricultural wages officers).")

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 143, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 149 and 150. Amendment No. 143 will make enforcement of the minimum wage more effective while reducing the bureaucracy for business. As most noble Lords will know, the Inland Revenue has overall responsibility for enforcement of the national minimum wage. At present, if Revenue officers get information

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about someone paying below the national minimum wage while they are carrying out their tax and national insurance duties they cannot pass the information to their national minimum wage colleagues. It is not permitted, even if it might help them to identify employers paying below the national minimum wage.

This Bill offers us the opportunity to tidy up the matter in a way which allows the use of information so that Revenue officers can pass information obtained in respect of tax and national insurance contributions to their national minimum wage colleagues and others appointed under the National Minimum Wage Act where this would help them in their national minimum wage enforcement work. Of course, all other existing strict Revenue safeguards on the confidentiality and disclosure of information remain in place.

We are talking about commonsense arrangements to allow one part of a government department to exchange data with other parts of that department, and with other departments for national minimum wage purposes.

The clause simply allows our national minimum wage officers to access the Revenue's tax and national insurance contributions information to assist them in their national minimum wage enforcement work. It does not set a precedent for ever-widening exchange across government; it is limited and specific. It will mean the vast majority of employers are unlikely to be visited by national minimum wage officers. This is because we will only target those employers who are "high risk." This will be done by the use of a sophisticated risk assessment model. Using tax data will ensure those employers paying above national minimum wage are unlikely to receive a visit. The amendment allows for sensible administrative arrangements to be put in place. For example, the amendment will allow national minimum wage officers to be passed information held on Inland Revenue databases for tax and national insurance purposes when planning their targeted inspections of employers. And when the Revenue begin operating working families' tax credit in the autumn, there is clear scope for unearthing national minimum wage abuses through claims by workers for tax credits.

Employers, including the CBI, have always made clear they want the national minimum wage effectively enforced. The measure will ensure that this is achieved. It will also reduce bureaucracy for business. Noble Lords may be aware of the recent report by the Federation of Small Businesses which complained about the proliferation of different government inspectorates. This amendment is in the interests of good government, in the interests of low paid workers, and in the interests of legitimate businesses. I commend it to the House.

9.15 p.m.

Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords, the Minister said that these are sensible proposals that are good for the employees, employers, the collection systems and so on. I could not agree with him more. When the National Minimum Wage Bill came before your Lordships in 1998, we proposed an amendment to the effect that the records kept for the purposes of PAYE should be sufficient for the purposes of the Act. We also urged

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that if the Inland Revenue and the Benefits Agency were to be amalgamated this April they should be the enforcement body for the purposes of the national minimum wage. That amendment was rejected, and I cannot say that I do not approve of it now that it has been reintroduced in this form a year later.

I mentioned to the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, that I was going to rub the Ministers' noses in it, and the noble Lord said that he expected no less. However, I will not do so at this late hour. I am sure that the Ministers know exactly how I feel. I am glad that they have seen the light at long last because this is a very important matter.

I believe that slipping this amendment into a totally unconnected Bill gives rise to a further important criticism. An ordinary member of the public--who does not have access to specialised text books that have full annotations and are updated throughout the year--will not know that the copy of the Act that he looks up somewhere or other is incomplete because this provision is not where he would expect it to be. That is no way to produce legislation. Therefore, even if I do not rub the noble Lords' noses in anything, it is right that I record a strong protest about this slipshod method of legislating.

On that happy note, I must mention one important reservation of which the noble Lord is already aware and to which he referred in introducing the amendments. We agree that the amendment is necessary in order to break down the Chinese wall between the Inland Revenue and those responsible for carrying out the enforcement functions of the National Minimum Wage Act 1998. However, the Inland Revenue could pass information to the Secretary of State who could then pass that information to anyone he appoints to enforce the Act or to anyone involved with agricultural wages legislation. Secrecy about a taxpayer's affairs is normally regarded as sacrosanct by the Inland Revenue.

I know that there are some exceptions, which are understood and accepted. However, we seek the Minister's assurance that this is an exception--I believe that he has said that. I realise that the Minister cannot tie the hands of Parliament in any way--and I do not ask him to do so. However, I would like the Minister to give your Lordships another unequivocal assurance that this clause will not be treated as a precedent. If the Government are minded to seek similar powers for any other purpose, they must do what they have done in this instance and introduce primary legislation.

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