§ The Minister of Labour (Mr. Edward Heath)
I beg to move, in page 2, line 25, at the end to insert:either by notice in writing given to the employed person or".It may be of convenience to the House if we discuss this Amendment with the following Amendment, in page 2, line 26, at end insert:(6) Any such request—
- (a) shall cease to have effect if, before the end of the period of fourteen days beginning with the day on which the notice containing the request is given, the employer gives to the employed person notice in writing that he refuses the request, and
- (b) in any other case, shall cease to have effect at the end of that period unless before the end thereof the employer has signified his agreement to the request as mentioned in the last preceding subsection.
§ Mr. Heath
In Committee, a number of very valuable suggestions were made with a view to improving the working machinery of the Bill. Some of those suggestions we were able to embody in the Bill. I undertook to consider the others and I think that, as a result of the Amendments which are now on the Notice Paper, we have been able to meet almost all of them, I hope to the satisfaction of the House, with the exception of one proposed by right hon. and hon. Members opposite and two on small points suggested by my hon. Friends.
When we drafted the Bill our endeavour was to make it as simple in its application as possible. Under Clause 1, 1344 a request has to me made in writing. We thought that such a request could be met by the employer making a payment or not making a payment in the way requested. It was pointed out in Committee that that means that there is an element of uncertainty for the workman, because he may not know whether the employer is refusing or whether the slip has gone astray. We have, therefore, put down these two Amendments, which, we hope, will meet the situation without necessarily complicating it and without demanding a large amount of paper work to deal with it.
It will be seen it the end of subsection (5) that the employer may signify agreement to the request either by notice in writing, which he sends back to the employed person, or by paying the wages in the way requested. By the second Amendment, the request shall cease to have effect at the end of 14 days. If the employer writes back refusing the request within that period, it ceases to have effect earlier than 14 days, but if he does not write back, then it shall cease to have effect at the end of 14 days.
But this does not mean that it must be implemented within 14 days. My hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) pointed out in Committee that with modern systems of computer payment, it might take longer than 14 days to implement the request. Under this arrangement the employer can write back within 14 days saying that he intends to implement it, and that meets the case. I hope that the House feels that we have introduced an element of certainty and made it quite clear to the person who makes his application what the situation is within 14 days.
§ Mr. Robens
Having looked at the Notice Paper, I was very appreciative of the way in which the Minister had undoubtedly gone into all the suggestions made in Committee and had found the right words, which perhaps we had been unable to find in Committee, to meet the constructive suggestions that were made. I am obliged to him, on behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends, for having done so much to meet our suggestions.
On behalf of my hon. Friends, I welcome these Amendments, which meet the point which was made in Committee 1345 and which was made sufficiently forcibly for it to be unnecessary for us to go into the matter again.
§ Mr. Graham Page
In the first Amendment the words used areeither by notice in writing given to the employed person or".If the employed person had asked for the notice to be given to his agent, for example, to the trade union which had negotiated the arrangement, would that be covered? I am not sure about that. Possibly a later Clause may provide for the situation where the employed person had asked for notice to be given in that form to his agent. It might mean a saving of a considerable amount of administrative work if the acceptance could be given to one person on behalf of a number.
It is worth drawing attention to the fact that under the second Amendment the employer will have quite a short time in which to consider a request and to give his answer. He will have 14 days. In a large firm it may need some consideration by the employer whether he will agree to the request and whether he can make the necessary organisation. I think that it is right that he should reply within 14 days, but it is also worth calling attention to the fact that he has to give immediate attention to the employee's request and to deal with it by means of an answer, even if it takes some weeks to implement the request.
§ 4.15 p.m.
§ Mr. J. T. Price (Westhoughton)
I was not a member of the Committee and I am not as familiar with the details of the discussions as are some of my hon. Friends.
I fully understand that in large establishments where a large number of workpeople are concerned it is desirable that any such change in the traditional method of paying wages should be made in consultation with the trade unions, for the purpose, which we all agree, of preserving good industrial relations. Nevertheless, I have always understood, in my working association with trade unions over many years, that in a legal sense—I must not fall into the pit into which the Parliamentary Secretary fell, of trying to give the House legal advice—matters of this sort can be transacted only on the basis of an individual contract of service. If 1346 an agreement were made in a big engineering factory to pay the wages of thousands of people by a certain method, subject to trade union agreement, I should have no objection, but if an employee were difficult about it, legal difficulties might arise if there were not an individual contract with him.
I raise this point for the special, and, I hope, valid, reason that we are always being criticised in our public work for the prevalence of unofficial strikes. None of us likes unofficial strikes, on whichever side of the fence we are in a party sense, but if we have a backlog of ill feeling over these transactions in changing the methods of paying wages, it might give rise to industrial unrest.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. In the interests of other hon. Members, I am bound to interrupt the hon. Member, because I am finding a little difficulty in bringing what he is saying within the realm of the Amendment, which affects the form of the notice to be given. I think that he is a little wide of that subject.
§ Mr. Price
With great respect, Mr. Speaker, I am glad that you pulled me back on to the rails. I understand that this is a very narrow point. Nevertheless, the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) raised the matter incidentally and I was merely following the theme which he had put to the House about the form in which the notice was given.
It would help to clarify the matter, without making heavy weather of it, if the Minister, in his reply, made it clear that, while we understand that this will largely be dealt with on a collective basis, nevertheless there ought to be safeguards to ensure that the individual contract of service remains the individual right of the employee.
§ Mr. Heath
I can assure the hon. Member that that is so. The whole basis of the Bill is that that request is made by the individual himself. We made provision in Clause 5, in Committee, for him to do it through an agent, and we emphasised that that could be a trade union official, but it remains an individual right.
My hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) is quite right in drawing attention to the fact that the request must be dealt with expeditiously by the employer. We 1347 thought it right that the matter ought not to be left in an indecisive phase for very long. My hon. Friend mentioned the notice being given to the agent. Throughout the Bill all notices from the employer are sent to the employee personally, in particular the statement of wages, and this refusal or acceptance would also go direct to the employee, who would be able at once to pass it to his agent so that his agent knew the position.
§ Mr. Arthur Skeffington (Hayes and Harlington)
We are grateful that this provision for a written notice has been incorporated into the Bill, because it makes for certainty. In Committee, the question was raised whether the employee, if the request were being accepted, could state the method by which payment was to be made. I have not sought to put down an Amendment about it, because it might make the procedure too cumbersome, but it is a point of some importance and I wonder whether it has been considered.
It is of great importance that under the second Amendment the original request comes to an end if there is no answer and that there is certainty that a request will not hang about unanswered for a long period. We ought to put on record our appreciation also of this provision.
§ Mr. Charles Mapp (Oldham, East)
The first Amendment provides that the employer shall indicate his agreement with the request by giving notice in writing or by paying the wages in the specified way. It was on that point that some of us, including myself, objected on Second Reading.
I have listened very carefully to what has been said from the Treasury Bench, but I still feel that the Amendment to line 26 is somewhat of a contradiction, having regard to the more emphatic statement in the first Amendment. I have no legal knowledge, but I think that I am gifted with the average commonsense of the average worker, who will be looking at these words when he applies them, and I should like the Minister to give us an assurance, so that there will be no uncertainty in the worker's mind that the employer must indicate in writing to the worker that he 1348 has either accepted his request or has refused it.
Though the employer has the intention to meeting the request, and is proceeding to implement it, three or four weeks may elapse before the change is made in the method of payment. What I seek to avoid in these circumstances is any uncertainty in the mind of the worker whether the request has been agreed to or not.
§ Mr. Heath
If I may, by leave of the House, I should like to reply to the point raised by the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Skeffington) as to the form which the employer would send back. The employee who is making the request specifies the way in which he wants the matter dealt with. I think it is all right. The employer will respond to that request.
May I reply to the point raised by the hon. Member for Oldham, East (Mr. Mapp)? The situation is that a request is made by the man to the employer, who meets the request by paying the wages in the way requested within a fortnight, in which case the employee will get a pay statement either before or at the time at which the wages are paid in the new way, which will show him how they are being paid. Alternatively, the employer can reply to the employee saying that he accepts the request and will implement it at such-and-such a time, if he requires longer than a fortnight. Alternatively, the employer can reply within the fortnight saying that he refuses the request, or, again at the end of the fortnight, if the employee had received no notice, he would know that his request had lapsed.
§ Amendment agreed to.
Further Amendment made: In line 26, at end insert:
(6) Any such request—