HC Deb 28 April 1967 vol 745 cc2006-77

Amendment made: No. 7, in page 2, line 8, leave out 'or authorisation'.—[Mr. Hugh Jenkins.]

Mr. Michael Heseltine

I beg to move, Amendment No. 8, in page 2, line 12, to leave out from 'allow' to the end of line 15.

This Clause has two quite distinct parts The first part refers to applications for licences or authorisations, and makes it clear that such applications shall be made in a prescribed manner and that attached to the applications there shall be prescribed particulars. The Clause provides that the application shall be submitted within a prescribed time, or such longer time as the Minister may allow. This is quite reasonable. If we are to introduce a Measure of this sort we should lay down the prescribed manner in which applicants should conform to the law. I do not quarrel with that part of the Clause.

It is from the moment that we move into the second part of the Clause that my anxieties lead me to believe that there is a need for amendment. This part of the Clause increases the power of the Minister in a totally unprescribed way. The first part of the Clause is quite precise, but the second part more or less provides that the Minister can tack on any conditions that he wishes. This is not the sort of legislation that the House should allow to go through unconsidered.

We are in effect handing over the power in respect of unprescribed conditions which might be made for these applications which we were not prepared to do on the first part of the Clause. In other words, we are giving the Minister the direct power to impose any conditions over and above those prescribed and to ask for any unspecified information. It is incumbent on the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins) to tell us what additional unprescribed information the Minister might require. I do not know, but this adds strength to what I am saying.

A national inspectorate is to be set up under the Bill. At the moment, such inspection as there is is done by local authorities with local experience who have inspectors who know the locality and the people. But this will all go and a national inspectorate answerable only to the Minister will be established. If the Minister is to have this power, in practice it will be exercised by his inspectors. We want to know what questions these inspectors, who might be anonymous civil servants from London, are likely to ask.

We should also like more detail on the meaning of the word "reasonable" in these circumstances. This seems a sop to the employment agent in the first resort, but it could be argued that the Minister could reasonably ask for conditions which we would think were unreasonable. The difficulty is that we do not know what conditions will be added to the prescribed conditions. What does the hon. Member think they are likely to be? What would be reasonable in the circumstances which he has illustrated? We are frightened to hand over this power without at least some general explanation.

We are concerned that, in the practical application of the Bill, these additional powers could be the subject of delay. An applicant for a licence might put in prescribed details in the prescribed manner and time with reasonable grounds for thinking that he had obeyed the law, but, hidden behind this, is the Minister's ability to ask for more information, which would impose greater delays on the applicant than are apparent in the Bill.

The House should be sure that the Minister is doing only the job that he should do and protecting the public by asking for further information. This blanket power is a real danger to applicants. I would give two examples. Anyone intending to set up as an employment agent must negotiate for premises, which I am told by my friends in the trade is the key to a successful agency. If such a person found the right premises, under the first part of the Clause he would know what conditions he should comply with and whether he had done so. He would then be able to enter a commitment to take on the premises.

However, under the Bill as now drawn, he could not do this with certainty as he would not know what additional conditions the Minister might require before giving a licence. This could be a serious deterrent to such people.

Another argument is that the Minister's ability to ask for additional and unprescribed information must perpetuate the large and well-established agencies. If an opportunity came up to acquire the share capital or partnership rights of a small provincial agency, a large agency could come to the town and say, "We have already established ourselves and have licences and know that we conform with all the Minister's conditions. Therefore, you should accept our offer."

If a small man who had not been in the business before wanted to make an equal or even better offer, the vendor could say, "You cannot be certain that you would get a licence." The small man could not say that he knew that he fulfilled all the conditions and could provide evidence that he would get a licence, but would have to say, "I comply with the prescribed conditions, but do not know what others the Minister may want." This can only tend to perpetuate and protect the large agencies, and I am not in favour of that. I believe that the small man should have an equal chance and that these wide powers prevent this.

The hon. Member has no reason to reject the Amendment. The Minister has power to prescribe detailed conditions already. We do not object to them, except in one or two instances; we ask the hon. Gentleman only to remove the Bill's vagueness.

Under the second part of the introduction to Clause 2, additional conditions might also be applied to the renewal of a licence. The hon. Member might not intend that they should. If this is the case someone who had fulfilled the prescribed conditions and received a licence might discover on applying for renewal at the end of the first year that the Minister had a new range of conditions.

Not only the Minister but his local inspectorate will want conditions. The inspector might want to probe more deeply the running of an agency once it had been established and could persuade the Ministry that new details should be asked for when reconsidering the grant of a licence. This would not of course prejudice the licence. Until the Minister had decided, the licence would not lapse, but it is wrong that more detailed questions than were asked when the licence was issued could be asked when an application was made for its renewal.

Nor does the Clause provide that the questions should be standard to the employment agency business. They could be questions about an individual agent and could be varied to apply to local areas. This is not the sort of variation which should be allowed without consideration by the House.

12 noon.

I ask the hon. Member for Putney to accept the Amendment. It would not detract from the powers in the Bill. It would introduce an element of precision, which is the function of the House in its legislation, so that the person who goes into this profession knows precisely the conditions on which he entered it and there is no element of vagueness depending on the whim of a local inspector or perhaps on the political prejudices of the Minister of Labour which might not conform with the desires of the House, from whichever party he came. The hon. Gentleman could give way on the Amendment without detracting from the powers in the Bill.

Sir H. Legge-Bourke

Like my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Darwen Mr. Fletcher-Cooke), I come new to the Bill. I find it a little difficult to comprehend it, bearing in mind that the original Bill, which I had hoped I grasped, is virtually unrecognisable from the present Bill.

I support the Amendment very strongly. As I understand it, the categories which are to be caught by the Bill are divisible into certainly three groups. There are agents who charge an employee a fee there are agents who charge an employer a fee but never charge the employee; and there are agents for management or specialist consultants who charge the employer a fee and whose work is utterly different from that undertaken by the other two types of agent.

It is hard to understand from the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins) why he has introduced the third category. If he must introduce it, then if the prescribed particulars are to be related to what is laid down in Clause 5 as being the general regulations, obviously access will be given to the inspector acting on behalf of the Minister to an enormous amount of highly confidential information given in good faith, probably during a protracted series of interviews which hitherto have been carried out on the basis of good faith.

We always pride ourselves in this country, quite properly, on having perhaps a higher sense of public rectitude in our Civil Service and inspectorates than any other country. In what I say I hope that no one will think that I am seeking to detract from the integrity of the Minister's inspectorate.

Mr. Speaker

I hesitate to interrupt a fellow Chairman, but the points which the hon. Gentleman is making would be appropriate in a debate on an Amendment to Clause 5. The Amendment we are discussing seeks to prevent the Minister from having power to ask for more information than is prescribed.

Sir H. Legge Bourke

But, as my hon. Friend the Member for Tavistock (Mr. Michael Heseltine) said, it is very uncertain what is meant by such information in addition to the prescribed particulars as the Minister may reasonably require". If we knew that what the Minister was to ask for was based solely on what may be done under Clause 5, we should not have nearly as much anxiety.

If the words which my hon. Friend proposes to leave out are left in the Bill, the Minister or his inspector will be entitled to obtain information which is not necessarily related to Clause 5. The very wide scope which is given makes me wonder whether the hon. Member for Putney has fully considered the potential power of the Clause and the very great difficulties which may arise from giving this power in preserving the confidentiality which should exist, particularly as it affects the third category of agency to which I referred, namely, the agency dealing with management or specialist consultants.

We must try to avoid exaggeration, but at the same time it would be utterly wrong if we were not to highlight a potential risk. The other day, when we were discussing the Criminal Justice Bill, we heard it said that no longer is a reasonable opinion that of the men on the Clapham bus. I had always assumed that the definition of "reasonable" was what the man on the Clapham bus thought, if he were a member of a jury, was probably maintainable as being reasonable. That definition is now in a state of flux.

We are sometimes given assurances, with the best will in the world, that powers of a rather indefinite and wide scope will always be used reasonably. But they can be misused too easily. For this reason, I hope that the hon. Member for Putney will accept the Amendment. It is absolutely vital if we want the high standard of management consultancy which is essential in the interests of the economy.

Captain W. Elliot

Industry and business have to provide an enormous amount of information for various purposes, not least for Government purposes. I suppose that, somewhat wearily, they carry out their task. Probably it is absolutely right that they should do so. The information is probably absolutely essential, and it is likely that more is needed. Subsection (1) of the Clause calls for more information from a certain class of business undertaking. But it is a different matter when we come to subsection (2). Not only might more information be called for, but the implication is that refusal of a licence may follow on an application.

This may lead to endless correspondence. The authority might call for certain information which would be provided. That would encourage the authority to call for more information. The correspondence would go back and forth ad infinitum until the applicant, in despair, gives up, as so often happens in other matters.

It is vital that the authority should be seen to act with a perfectly fair and impartial approach. With certain Governments, we get certain policies. That is fair and proper as long as we know what they are. We may oppose them, but if we know what they are all is well. But the Clause is most imprecise. The powers given to the authority are not only wide but limitless. That is wrong in principle. It could lead to abuse, favouritism and other undesirable effects. I do not think for a moment that a Minister of the Crown would descend to any of those things, whatever his party. But a Minister can see only a very small part of the vast amount of paperwork which there is in a Department, and I very much doubt whether he would ever see the many applications which might be made. It is important, therefore, that this legislation should be precise. The people concerned may not like it, but as long as it seems to be fair to us, that is the least we can do and I trust, therefore, that the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins) will accept the Amendment.

Mr. Hugh Jenkins

I suggest that the Clause is drawn rather more tightly than hon. Gentlemen opposite think. Subsection (1) states: … and the applicant shall give the Minister such information in addition to the prescribed particulars as the Minister may reasonably require for enabling him to come to a decision on the application. In other words, it must be reasonable and solely for the purpose of enabling the Minister to reach a decision about an application. That, I suggest, is quite enough. As much as I would like, in the interests of completing this stage, to accept the Amendment, the consequences of doing so would be other than that which hon. Gentlemen opposite have in mind.

The Minister is enabled to ask for additional information. He might wish to do so because in certain cases the facts might appear, among the prescribed particulars, to need further elucidation. He can seek only … such information … as the Minister may reasonably require … to come to a decision … This is likely to benefit the applicant because the Minister may, as a result of obtaining this additional information, grant a licence which, on the original information supplied, he might have had to refuse. I hope that, on consideration, and with these assurances, the Amendment will not be pressed.

Mr. Michael Heseltine

Would not the hon. Gentleman agree that the information about which he is talking would be part of the prescribed particulars?

Mr. Jenkins

Not necessarily. It is possible that, having obtained the prescribed particulars, the Minister would want further information about, for example, the nature of the agency. It is difficult to forecast what might happen in certain circumstances or what sort of information the Minister may require. If the Minister is deprived of the power to make further inquiries—the result which the Amendment would achieve—there would be created a situation which, far from benefiting the applicant, might do him an injury.

I accept that any power conferred on a Minister could be used or abused. I also appreciate that when a Minister is given power to ask for something that is reasonable, there may be different opinions about what is reasonable. However, the use of the word "reasonable" in the Clause is important, because if the Minister does not interpret his powers reasonably hon. Members will have the right to haul him before the House and say, "You have not been carrying out the reasonable powers given to you by the Bill."

Mr. Michael Heseltine


Mr. Jenkins

I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman is keenly interested in this matter and I want him to have an opportunity to question me.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Member for Tavistock (Mr. Michael Heseltine) has not exhausted his right to speak.

Mr. Jenkins

I hope that, for the reasons I have given, the hon. Member for Tavistock will not feel it necessary to press the Amendment. I remind him that an Amendment which raised similar considerations was moved by the hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) in Committee and that, having been given similar assurances, he withdrew it. I hope that the hon. Member for Tavistock will act similarly.

Captain W. Elliot

The hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins) considers that the Minister might need to require amplification of the prescribed particulars. Would it not be better, instead of using the words at present in the Clause—which would give the Minister limitless power to ask for virtually anything—to insert different words, perhaps along these lines—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman cannot, by intervention after a Minister has sat down, propose an Amendment to an Amendment.

Sir Stephen McAdden (Southend, East)

I apologise for not being here earlier and I promise not to detain the House for more than a few moments. When people apply for licences they should be able to obtain a document showing the form of particulars required by the Minister and, provided they meet those requirements, it should not be necessary for the Minister to have the wide powers contained in the Clause.

Parliament has decided to appoint a Parliamentary Commissioner. His duties are limited and he cannot act in any matter in which a Minister has discretionary powers. If, in this case, an applicant felt aggrieved, the Parliamentary Commissioner could not intervene on his behalf because the Minister's discretion in respect of further particulars would be involved. I hope that the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins) will reconsider this matter, since it is our desire that those who apply for licences should be treated fairly and justly and should not be at the whim of the discretion of a Minister, against which there will be no redress.

Mr. Ridley

My hon. Friend the Member for Tavistock (Mr. Michael Heseltine) made a strong case in favour of the Amendment and pointed to the extraordinary detail into which the Clause would enable the Minister to go. We believe that it would be sufficiently drastic to allow the Minister to prescribe whatever he may consider he needs before the applicant begins to apply for a licence. When one goes beyond that, and permits the Minister to ask for any further information he desires—beyond the regulations he has already prescribed —one is taking the administration of the law a long way from the control of Parliament through legislation.

If an applicant were to go to the Minister this morning with the desire to set up an agency at Brierley Hill, it would be possible, under the Clause as drafted, for the Minister, in a fit of pique, to ask all sorts of questions. One might understand his motives in asking them, but those questions might not be strictly relevant to whether or not a licence should be granted. He could ask the applicant if, for example, he was in the habit of beating his wife.

Mr. Hugh Jenkins

The hon. Gentleman is overlooking the inclusion of the word "reasonable" in the provision.

Mr. Ridley

We do not want the Minister to pry into every aspect of a person's business or private life. The hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins) believes that the Clause is tightly drawn. He may think it tight, but it allows plenty of scope for the Minister to ask for a lot of information which would be totally unnecessary and irrelevant.

Many examples could be given. An applicant could be asked, "How much do you intend to spend on advertising?" It might be the policy of the Minister to restrict the amount of money spent on advertising. Indeed, it is the policy of the present Government to do just that, as we have seen in the action they have taken over detergents. It would be in order for the Minister to ask, although it is no business of his, how much an employment agent intended to spent on advertising or on anything else, or even how he intended to run his business.

I am certain that my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Sir S. McAdden) put his finger right on the point. Parliament must lay down the rules under which people have to operate and if, later, people break the rules they may be prosecuted or otherwise dealt with but to give Ministers power to ask for any information they may think necessary to enable them to come to a decision is something that I do not believe the House should allow. It is getting back to snooping. It is asking people quite unnecessary questions.

This sort of thing should be done at arm's length. There should be a well known standard of information to be supplied, and standard conditions, so that anyone wishing to apply to go into the business of an employment agency can know exactly where he stands at the outset. As it is, the mind boggles at the thought of the barrage of questions that could meet an applicant if this Clause is left as it is. I do not believe that these words are necessary, and the hon. Member for Putney has not answered the point made from this side. The onus is on him to prove that he really must have these words, but he has not given one instance of the kind of information for which the Minister might ask in relation to the regulations which the Minister will have already made.

Unless the hon. Gentleman can supply more arguments in favour of the words in the Bill, I must say that the case my hon. Friends have put up is vital and correct. I do not know whether it would be worth detaining the House by carrying the Amendment to a Division—we would all prefer to make progress—but in the light of what has been said and of the very strong arguments put to him, I hope that he will have second thoughts and agree that these words could be removed without in any way weakening the Bill.

Mr. Heseltine

This matter was discussed in Committee, when the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins) advanced substantially the same arguments as he has this morning to justify this sort of Clause. His argument seems to be that in wanting to permit the Minister to ask these supplementary questions, he seeks only to protect the applicant, but let me put the practical application.

Does the hon. Member seriously envisage that where an applicant has submitted, in the prescribed form, the information required, and the Ministry then makes an inquiry based upon further explanation of those details, the applicant will raise any complaint at all? In practice, the applicant would not do so, because he would know precisely what the Ministry was trying to do. He would know that it was trying to help him to get his licence, and he would, therefore, in every way co-operate to ensure this elucidation of the information. That is the practical application.

If I thought for one moment that for some technical reason—simply because someone at the Ministry rang up an applicant and told him that he had not dotted this "i" or crossed that "t" and that further information was wanted—it would prejudice the application, I would understand what the hon. Gentleman was talking about, but the fact is that it would have no effect at all, because the applicant would not complain.

The hon. Member must understand that we are determined to protect applicants from a whole range of extra questions, and we are a little concerned because throughout his speech the hon. Gentleman did not make any reference to the sort of questions we are frightened might be asked. That is why we are becoming suspicious, not only of the Clause but of the Bill. We are as anxious as he is to bring a code of good practice into this profession, and it is because the hon. Gentleman has been stubborn to the point of difficulty

throughout that we are fighting on this point.

The hon. Gentleman could have his Bill now without disagreement if he would meet us on this point of clarification. We think that he is taking the matter far beyond what is needed for good practice in employment agencies. We are frightened that there is more behind this provision than we know, and which he has not explained does not exist. That is why we have taken this line of action. We will not lightly hand over to a Minister powers that are imprecise and not fully understood, and about which the hon. Member will not tell us. That is not the purpose of the House of Commons.

I should be glad if the hon. Gentleman would appreciate that we are genuinely only trying to help, and agree to accept our Amendment. If he does not do so, I must advise my hon. Friends to vote for the Amendment.

Question put; That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Bill:—

The House proceeded to a Division

12.30 p.m.

Mr. Speaker

Order. When the Division began I announced the names of the Tellers and the names of the Tellers for the Ayes as the hon. Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Ellis) and the hon. Member for Bury and Radcliffe (Mr. Ensor). I now understand that some other hon. Member has been acting as a Teller in the Division. This is most irregular. I propose, therefore, to put the Question again.

Question put, That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Bill:—

The House divided: Ayes 54, Noes 10.

Division No. 327.] AYES [12.35 p.m.
Bacon, Rt. Hn. Alice Fernyhough, E. McKay, Mrs. Margaret
Beaney, Alan Harper, Joseph Mackenzie, Alasdair(Ross & Crom'ty)
Bidwell, Sydney Houghton, Rt. Hn. Douglas Mackie, John
Booth, Albert Huckfield, L. Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)
Boston, Terence Jenkins, Hugh (Putney) Mellish, Robert
Bottomley, Rt. Hn. Arthur Johnson, Carol (Lewisham, S.) Mikardo, Ian
Boyden, James Johnston, Russell (Inverness) Molloy, William
Dalyell, Tarn Kerr, Russell (Feltham) Moyle, Roland
Davidson, James (Aberdeenshire, W.) Lestor, Miss Joan O'Malrey, Brian
Davies, Robert (Cambridge) Lipton, Marcus Rees, Merlyn
Dickens, James Loughlin, Charles Reynolds, G. W.
Driberg, Tom Luard, Evan Robinson, W. O. J. (Walth'stow, E.)
Dunwoody, Mrs. Gwyneth (Exeter) Lubbock, Erie Roebuck, Roy
Ellis, John Lyons, Edward (Bradford, E.) Shaw, Arnold (Itford, S.)
English, Michael McBride, Neil Skeffington, Arthur
Ensor, David MacDermot, Niall Swingler, Stephen
Wellbeloved, James Williams, Alan Lee (Hornchurch) TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Whitaker, Ben Williams, Mrs. Shirley (Hitchin) Mr. Arthur Lewis and
Whitlock, William Winnick, David Mr. Victor Yates.
Bell, Ronald Legge-Bourke, Sir Harry
Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton) McAdden, Sir Stephen TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Eyre, Reginald Ridley, Hn. Nicholas Mr. John Page and
Fletcher-Cooke, Charles Russell, Sir Ronald Mr. Michael Heseltine.
Grant, Anthony Smith, John
Mr. Hugh Jenkins

I beg to move Amendment No. 11, in page 2, line 20, to leave out from 'person' to 'is' in line 22.

Perhaps we can take with this Amendment Amendment No. 121, in page 13, leave out line 41.

Mr. Speaker

That is convenient.

Mr. Jenkins

These Amendments fulfil the undertaking I gave in Committee in response to representations made by hon. Members opposite to delete from the Bill the Minister's power to prescribe qualifications for an employment agent.

After consideration, we— I say "we" because I involve my hon. Friends the Joint Parliamentary Secretary and the Minister in this—now take the view that the Minister's powers in the Clause to obtain such information as he reasonably requires and to refuse a licence to an applicant who is unsuitable should be sufficient to ensure that licences are granted only to suitable applicants.

12.45 p.m.

Mr. Michael Heseltine

The object of the Amendment is to remove the power to demand qualifications as a test for holding a licence. In Committee, we on this side pressed that this was another rather vague phrase. I welcome the fact that it is to be deleted. However, there is a need for the House to be aware of the existence of appropriate qualifications which could be considered as those which should apply for the test which the Amendment seeks to remove from the Bill. The Employment Agents' Federation has been much exercised in recent years to set up an appropriate professional organisation to have a qualification obtainable by examination, possession of which qualification would evidence the ability and expertise of those entering the profession. Has the hon. Gentleman been in consultation with the professional body concerned? Does he not consider that the qualifications it has established could have applied if the Clause had been allowed to stand?

Where there is only a very general qualification, there is a case for not putting it into the Bill. However, where a professional organisation has gone to great trouble to introduce a suitable qualification, the hon. Gentleman should be careful before metaphorically slapping the organisation in the face by saying that its qualification is not good enough to be the arbiter of standards.

What conversations has the hon. Gentleman had with the Institute of Employment Agents and Consultants, which was established four years ago for the express purpose of conducting examinations and issuing qualifications? There are two examinations every year in London and in Birmingham. There is a correspondence course for those who are not able to attend at those centres to take the examination.

I am not against the deletion of the provision relating to qualifications, but it is incumbent upon the hon. Gentleman to explain exactly why the qualification I have described has not been adopted as the standard. He should also explain what conversations he has had with the Institute to reassure it that the good work it has done over the years is not being dismissed and disregarded by the removal of this provision from the Bill.

Mr. Ridley

I thank the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins) for having tabled the Amendment in response to pressure from me in Committee. I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Tavistock (Mr. Michael Heseltine) that, although qualifications might be necessary, they are matters which, on the whole, should be left to the professional bodies concerned and not enshrined in legislation. It would be wrong for the Minister to have power to prescribe qualifications; and it is, therefore, right that the Bill should not contain this power.

All sorts of other bodies have now been brought into the ambit of the Bill due to the acceptance of the first group of Amendments. I will categorise them by referring again to the Danish Y.W.C.A. It would be asking much to legislate for the qualifications which the persons in the Danish Y.W.C.A. should possess so as to carry out the efficient placing in this country of au pair girls from Denmark.

Mr. Lubbock

They could have a knowledge of Danish.

Mr. Ridley

That is a strong point, and one which had occurred to me, but it seems that they would be likely to have that knowledge if they were the Danish Y.W.C.A.

When one considers the great range of people covered by the Bill, from the Danish Y.W.C.A. to management consultants, and indeed those who train photographic and fashion models, one realises that it is so wide that even if the Parliamentary Secretary were to try to draft regulations he would find it extremely difficult to decide what to prescribe for this vast array of different people. I welcome the Amendment, and I hope that the House will accept it.

Mr. Hugh Jenkins

The hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) has said most of what it is necessary for me to say, and I am glad on this occasion we find ourselves with coincident minds. It is hard to please everybody, but I shall continue to persevere.

Dealing with the point made by the hon. Member for Tavistock (Mr. Michael Heseltine), it is true that the Federation represented that it would like the Minister to retain the power to prescribe qualifications, but one can see that if that power had been retained it would have been subjected to very severe criticism from some hon. Gentlemen opposite, and I think quite rightly. We therefore felt it right to delete this provision, but I would not wish it to be thought that in doing so we are in any way wishing to detract from the right, and indeed the duty, of a federation to create its own standards.

I am sure that I speak for my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary when I say that I do not think it is right for him to lay down qualifications, because it would be difficult for him to do so. Every step which is taken to increase the standing of employment agencies will be widely welcomed.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendments made: No. 12, in page 2, line 24, leave out paragraph (b).

No. 14, in line 31, leave out 'or authorisation'.

No. 16, in line, 35, leave out 'or authorisation'.—[Mr. Hugh Jenkins.]

Mr. Michael Heseltine

I beg to move Amendment No. 17, in page 2, line 37, to leave out paragraph (b).

The purpose of the Amendment is to delete the paragraph which makes it a justification for turning down an application for a licence that the premises at which the agency is carried on are unsuitable. I notice that the hon. Member for Putney has tabled an Amendment to delete a similar condition in a later part of the Bill, and I ask him to do that here.

Superficially, I think one can feel that there is a case for controlling premises if one is to control anything. It is only when one looks into the practical application of the Clause that one has the gravest doubts about whether it is necessary. During the 40 years that the London County Council has administered this sort of control over employment agencies within its jurisdiction, no application has been turned down because the premises have been considered unsuitable.

If that has been the position for 40 years in the one area of the country where the employment agency business is substantial, as opposed to the isolated business in the provinces, there is a case for asking whether there is any justification for this provision. The inspection of premises is the most time-consuming and expensive form of administration envisaged under the Bill, and we would therefore do well to ask whether there is any justification for it.

The first reason why we say that this provision is not necessary is because there is an effective Statute, the Offices, Shops and Railway Premises Act of 1963, which lays down standards for offices and premises of this kind. We therefore have to be convinced that there is some reason for widening the effects of that Act. There seems no reason why employment agencies should be singled out for special treatment. If there is a law regulating the conditions of work—and there was a good case for the Act which the Government of my party passed—let us by all means have a blanket law which applies to all conditions of work in all places where people are employed.

I want to be satisfied that there is some justification for singling out this profession for a different set of restrictions. One argument which will be advanced is that the 1963 Act does not apply to partnerships, and to sole traders. This may be a reason for reconsidering the Act, but it is not a case for singling out this industry. If there is a case for altering the Act, let us do so, but that has nothing to do with saying that employment agents should be subjected to special conditions, particularly when those conditions will be wildly expensive to administer.

It is the practical application of the Bill which must concern us all, and everybody knows that the ability of the staff and employees of these agencies to demand certain standards of environment in which to work is such that there is no point in somebody setting up an employment agency business with standards which are not acceptable to his staff. If he does so he will not get anybody to work for him. It is the test of the market which governs things, and I want to be satisfied that this test is not sufficiently strong to make it unnecessary to have this provision in the Bill. I believe that the staff will arbitrate to ensure that they get the standard of environment to which they are entitled.

The essence of employment agency work is that the majority of one's clients are employers, and they want to be satisfied that the person running the business is someone whom they can trust, and feel confident that he will recommend the right kind of staff. This being so, no one will set himself up in some hole-in-the-wall premises and expect employers to visit him there. The idea is preposterous, and it is because of this that there is no reason for this restriction. The administration of this kind of business has always been carried out by means of byelaws. The only result of this proposed restriction will be to put a substantial amount of extra cost on the administration to be set up by the Ministry of Labour.

1.0 p.m.

There is, however, another reason. The sort of problem which in practice will arise which is perhaps not apparent to those who introduced the Bill is this. We live in an age in which the methods of administering any form of service activity are changing dramatically and quickly. There is, or certainly should be, an immense premium on the man who can find a way of establishing some new form, for example, of processing employees within the records of his organisation and within the method of storing information about them in a way which might be revolutionary to the mind of the men likely to carry out the inspection on behalf of the Ministry of Labour.

The inspector will have to report on whether the premises are suitable. By the Bill, we are giving the inspector the power to arbitrate on whether technological innovations which might come and which are coming in the employment agency business should be housed in certain environmental conditions. I refuse to believe that the sort of man who will be an inspector answerable to the Ministry of Labour will be of the calibre necessary to make an assessment of that sort. If he is of such a calibre, he will be wasting his time inspecting the vast majority of ordinary, run-of-the-mill employment agencies.

There is an immense range of employment agents, from the management consultants to those supplying the lowliest form of office staff. Because of this immense range, we are frightened of the danger of generalising in the way which the Bill seeks to do. We are apprehensive that people, simply by the very nature of the job which they are called upon to do, will not be fitted to make judgments of the sort which they will be required to make, and therefore think that it would be better to leave this provision out of the Bill.

I should like to ask a general question about the Clause. It refers to premises which are "unsuitable". I wish to know what that means. What are unsuitable premises? On first reading, this sounds perfectly reasonable. Of course, one should not employ staff in unsuitable premises. If we were having a conversation during lunch, nobody would question what was meant by the word. But we are enacting legislation. We must be precise in what we do. We must look at every word in the Bill and consider what might happen in practice. If we are to give power to the inspectors of the Ministry of Labour to decide what premises are unsuitable and what premises are suitable, then we want to know in advance what constitutes unsuitability. Secondly, we want to know why the Offices, Shops and Railway Premises Act does not cover unsuitability.

I should be grateful if the hon. Member for Putney would answer these questions.

Mr. Fletcher-Cooke

What does "unsuitable" mean? Obviously it does not mean premises which are unhealthy or a danger to public health, or which are cramped or any of the things which are taken care of by other legislation. It must refer to an additional element of unsuitability in this business.

I look at the matter from the point of view of the applicant who wishes to make his premises as suitable as possible and, before applying for a licence, wants to know what he has to do to make them suitable. We can test the matter best by inquiring of the sponsor of the Bill or perhaps of the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour what particulars will be given when an application is refused on grounds of unsuitability, when the dreaded reply comes from the Ministry of Labour, "Your application is refused because your premises are unsuitable". Will refusal be simply limited to the statement, "Your premises are unsuitable"? If so, how will the appeal machinery work? How will an appellant know how to present his appeal when he does not know the case which he has to answer?

Not only should we have an indication of what constitutes unsuitability, but a definition should be written in the Bill, because magistrates will have to decide what constitutes unsuitability in an employment agency, and they are given absolutely no guidance whatsoever. No indication is given to the magistrates or, subsequently, the Court of Appeal of what constitutes unsuitability other than what constitutes the unsuitability of office premises generally—that is, not enough room for typists to hang their hats and umbrellas, not sufficient lavatories and the usual things which are taken care of by the Offices, Shops and Railway Premises Act or by the byelaws and public hygiene Acts.

What does an applicant have to do to satisfy this extra requirement? What must the magistrates decide if there is an appeal against refusal? Will the refusal be couched in sufficiently particular terms so that there is something against which one can appeal, or will it merely be said, "Your application is refused. See Section 2(3,b) of the Act"? If so, it will be hopeless to appeal. One will not be able to get the appeal on its feet.

Notice taken that 40 Members were not present;

House counted, and, 40 Members being present

1.9 p.m.

Sir S. McAdden

I assure you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that it was not for the purpose of acquiring a larger audience to listen to my remarks that I drew attention to the fact that there were fewer than 40 Members present. It is, however, good to know that there is some interest in the Bill, although it is a fleeting interest, as one can see from the rapid departure from the Chamber of whose who hurried in at your summons.

I support what has been said. I believe that this provision should be deleted for the reason which I advanced on a previous Amendment in your absence, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

I am strongly opposed to the extension of the sphere of Ministerial discretion so that a Minister can exercise it in whatever way he happens to think fit at the time. As I mentioned on an earlier Amendment, matters of Ministerial discretion are outside the bounds of investigation by the Parliamentary Commissioner, created by this House for the purpose of investigating things which are reckoned to be disadvantageous to the individual citizen.

Mr. Lubbock

I thought that the hon. Gentleman said that the Parliamentary Commissioner could not investigate matters subject to Ministerial discretion. But he can do so under Section 5(4) of the Parliamentary Commissioner Act.

Sir S. McAdden

Nevertheless, the object of investigation is rather more limited than would otherwise be the case. Because I object to the extension of Ministerial discretion I object to the inclusion of this Clause.

I support my hon. Friends who have referred to the looseness of the phrase "the premises are unsuitable". There may be no precise way of defining how they are unsuitable. As has been said, hygiene and lighting matters are covered by existing legislation. It is a little harsh if the Minister is to have complete power, without giving any reason, to say that premises are unsuitable. After all, many of the new Members of Parliament hold that this place is unsuitable, whereas many of us with a little more experience think that it is a suitable place for carrying on Parliamentary discussion. But it may be that one of these young bloods, if I may so call them, will become a Minister of the Crown and have all sorts of revolutionary ideas about what are suitable and unsuitable premises. It is because of the impreciseness of the Clause that and become some of the matters in it are covered by existing legislation that I hope that my hon. Friends will press for the deletion of the Clause from the Bill.

Sir H. Legge-Bourke

I should like the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins) to tell us how many inspectors he thinks there will have to be to carry out within a reasonable time the investigations necessitated by any applications for licences. The figure that I understand is most likely to be accurate for the number of agencies throughout the country is about 3,000. If all these premises are to be inspected, the sheer physical task will be considerable. I do not know how many inspections per year are visualised. Assuming that there will be 15 inspectors, will they carry out about 200 each year? I do not know.

As I understand, once a licence is applied for it entitles the person to carry on either until he appeals within 21 days or until his application has been properly disposed of. If the number of agencies in the country is anything like what I visualise and if we are to have a small number of inspectors, and bearing in mind all the other things that the inspectors have to look into, I foresee a situa- tion arising in which a number of applications has yet to be dealt with.

There may be some premises of very inferior standard compared with those occupied by others to whom licences have already been granted, and we may run into the possibility for a period, perhaps running into years, that those who have the standard of premises to meet the requirements of the Ministry, having achieved it at very considerable expense, being competed against by those operating from very inferior premises whose cases have not yet been dealt with.

I should like the hon. Member for Putney to indicate how many inspectors he visualises, whether the ones inspecting premises will be the same as those who will be going into all the other matters, and what time scale he visualises before the present agencies will all be dealt with. In his replies to points so far, he has attempted to rely entirely on his good faith. None of us has any reason to expect that he is exercising anything but good faith, but we are being asked to have a great deal of trust. We are entitled to know, for the purposes of cost if nothing else, how many inspectors there will be and what time it is expected will elapse before all the likely applications are dealt with.

1.15 p.m.

It is true that premises are important, but I think that it has to be recognised that there are third parties to these exercises. There are those who are employing the agency, especially in the case of management and persons with high qualifications coming into industry. There is the employing firm asking the employment office for advice. There is the agency itself. On top of all that, there is the person who is being vetted by the agency.

Could not the assumption reasonably be made that certainly in the case of a great many of the categories it is unlikely that anybody will be able to continue in business for very long if he is occupying deplorable premises? Neither management staff seeking remunerative posts nor the firms with which they are seeking the posts are likely to continue for very long employing such agencies. Are we not attempting here to be excessively cossetting in legislation? I should have thought that with the higher grade of agency the occasions when there will be trouble over accommodation will be very rare.

Consequently, I hope that the hon. Member for Putney will be a little more discriminating about the types of agency that will be caught by the Bill or the degree to which they will be caught. I wonder whether he could adopt a rather more generous attitude about this. If he wishes to have a completely uniform procedure for everybody, perhaps he could tell the House why he thinks that, and then the House would probably be a little more ready to assume that he is not overlooking some rather important points. So far, he has attempted to brush off the points put to him, saying that they were dealt with in Committee, but when we look at what he said in Committee we find that he said no more than he has said now. I hope that he will tell us a little more about what he has in mind.

Mr. Hugh Jenkins

Up to the moment all that I have been doing for the most part is moving Amendments to meet points raised in Committee by hon. Members opposite. Even that has taken a little time. I hope that I shall be able to meet the point of view of hon. Members opposite on this, but, unfortunately, I cannot accept the Amendment. I shall try to explain why in such a manner as will enable hon. Members opposite not to press the matter. I shall do my best; whether I shall succeed or not, I do not know.

There is a real problem here. It is not just a question of the Ministry trying to maintain powers just for the sake of maintaining powers. I was rather persuaded—I hope that anyone listening to this will not take it amiss—that there was an element of that occurring at one stage of our proceedings. Indeed, as the hon. Member for Tavistock (Mr. Michael Heseltine), I think it was, pointed out, there is in my name a later Amendment which seeks to remove the Minister's powers to make regulations concerning premises. This was something, it was argued cogently in Committee by hon. Members opposite, that was going rather beyond what was necessary.

If the House accepts the Amendment which I shall be moving later the Minister will have no powers to regulate premises as a matter of course, but the removal of that power makes it more than ever essential that the Minister should retain power to refuse an application for a licence if the premises are unsuitable.

I will try to show why this is so. As the hon. Member for Tavistock pointed out, this power has been held by the London County Council for a very long time without any grave disadvantages to the inspectors of the L.C.C. who have supervised this matter. I hope that, in London at any rate, if they wish to make the transfer, it will be the same men who will operate under the Ministry. Therefore, I hope that there will be some continuity of practice and custom in this matter. The Ministry has shown itself ready to learn from the excellent practice which has been adopted by the L.C.C. and its successors for so long in this matter, and I see no reason to suppose that the Ministry will not carry out its function in this matter in the same sort of way as it does in others.

Mr. Lubbock

Did not those L.C.C. regulations precede the passing of the Offices, Shops and Railway Premises Act? Would those regulations have been necessary if that Act had been on the Statute Book when the L.C.C. began to exercise control?

Mr. Jenkins

I was about to come to that point.

It could be argued, as hon. Members have said, that this provision is no longer necessary because of that Act, and it is true, of course, that the L.C.C. regulations did antedate it, but the Act applies only to office premises on which staff are employed for 21 hours a week, and it can have no application, therefore, to a one-man agency, or to an agency run by a partnership. Therefore, the Minister feels—and I think that he is right in this—that he needs this sort of power, because, as hon. Members have pointed out, the Bill will apply to all sorts and kinds of agencies.

What hon. Members opposite have said about this is absolutely true, that there will be the sort of agency which is operated at a high level of efficiency, and has a high standard, and people at that level will not patronise that sort of agency unless it does operate in such a manner. There have, however, been some rather odd things taking place as a result of the fact that the L.C.C.'s powers have operated only within the area of the L.C.C., now the area of the G.L.C.

As we know, people have an address outside of the L.C.C. or G.L.C. area and do business in pubs in the West End. The Minister needs to be sure in future, since the Bill will cover the whole country, that that sort of thing is not allowed to go on. Unless there is power to see what the premises are we could have a situation in which a person could operate from his own private house, which could be anywhere in the country, and possibly have even an accommodation address, and go into this kind of business —in the entertainment world, for instance —and do the sort of business which can verge on the unsavoury. He could operate from any sort of premises, or even none at all; he could operate from a public house, and so on.

For these reasons this is not a power which the Minister can afford not to try to keep. I think that we have gone a long way to meet the point which hon. Members have made.

Mr. Michael Heseltine

Can the hon. Gentleman explain to me why a man who has the most luxurious premises outside of London, premises equipped with every sort of comfort for the one secretary he keeps there, cannot still carry on in London a type of business of the most unsavoury character?

Mr. Jenkins

That could be done, but this provision is a safeguard. I think so—if a person is of sufficient standing to have premises which are obviously office premises. The hon. Member shakes his head, but this deals with the point raised by the hon. and learned Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke). Those would be suitable premises, premises which would be suitable for the type of agency to be operated.

The fact that the L.C.C. operated this power over so long a period and without any serious trouble suggests that this is a safeguard and that we shall not run into the sort of difficulty the hon. Member for Tavistock suggests. I think that is one reason why, as the hon. Member for Tavistock said, there have been no refusals of a licence under this heading.

I was myself for over six years a member of the Public Control Committee which operated the L.C.C. licensing powers in this respect. Applicants would be asked to put their premises in order, or they would be told that to operate from a private house was regarded as unsuitable, and they would be told to put the situation in order, or to acquire proper premises, so that a licence could subsequently be granted.

For all these reasons—

Mr. David Mitchell (Basingstoke)

Before the hon. Member concludes this part of his speech, may I say that I was not very happy about the reply he gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Tavistock (Mr. Michael Heseltine). I was trying at that moment to catch the hon. Member's eye, to ask the same question which had occurred to me. I have some knowledge of an agency of this sort. It had offices close to my own in London, and was approved by the L.C.C., and then the volume of business was not sufficient to warrant operating from fairly expensive business premises, and the business was moved out of the L.C.C. area so that the proprietor could conduct the business from his own private house. There was nothing wrong with that at all.

Were any licensing system to operate in the way the hon. Member has suggested, it could not be reasonably held, because the business is being carried on apart from an ordinary office block, because it is being carried on from a man's own home, that it must necessarily be an improper or an unsavoury sort of business. Nothing which the hon. Member has said has suggested that it would be. If that is so, this does not make—

Hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Eric Fletcher)

There must be some limit to the length of an intervention in someone else's speech.

Mr. Mitchell

I accept your guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The point I am trying to make is that what the hon. Member has said does not prevent a man from doing the sort of business that is supposed to be eliminated by his Bill.

Mr. Jenkins

I have the point which the hon. Member was making. I note what he says. He is quite right that there could be a business which a person might operate quite properly and suitably from his own private house. All that the Minister has here is power to decide whether or not it is suitable. Knowing as we do of various types of agencies and various sorts of businesses which try to operate in this sphere, it is very necessary that the Minister should have some control.

Of course, he has it only at the point of application. We have removed from him the power to issue regulations—the hon. Member for Tavistock shakes his head, but he knows this to be so. We have removed from the Minister the power to make regulations concerning premises. All he has is power to prescribe at the point of application that the premises are suitable, and I hope that in all the circumstances hon. Members will take the view that this is not a matter which should be pressed further.

Mr. Heseltine

Would the hon. Member confirm that on the renewal of a licence the Minister is not empowered under the second part of Clause 2 to ask for further details about the pemises?

Mr. Jenkins

No. I think that he would have that power. The Minister does have power on renewal of a licence. There is nothing in the Bill which deprives him of that power. It is not a power which I think the Minister would wish to use unreasonably or improperly.

Mr. Heseltine

Would the hon. Member not then confirm that what he has been saying about the powers only being used on application—the argument which he was using to justify this retention—is, in fact, not the case?

Mr. Hugh Jenkins

I would not agree with that. I was saying that the Minister has lost the power to make regulations which would lay down, over a period, a continuing basis of regulation. All that hapens here is that, at the moment of application for the licence, whether it be an initial or a subsequent application, he has power to consider whether the premises are suitable.

1.30 p.m.

Mr. John Page

This is just another example of how unsuitable it is for a simple Private Member's Bill to be changed into a very complicated Government Measure—

Mr. Hugh Jenkins

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. What the hon. Gentleman has just said has nothing to do with the Amendment which is before the House, if I may say so with respect.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I imagined that it was a preface to some other remark, but it must not be elaborated.

Mr. Page

My remark applied particularly to the very Amendment which we are considering now.

I was hoping that, at this stage, we should have had an intervention from the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour, who has maintained an enigmatic silence throughout the morning. The right hon. Gentleman the Minister without Portfolio, who was sitting at a listening post on the Government Front Bench, seems to have noticed that I was looking at him rather sharply, because he decided to leave the Chamber just before I rose to speak.

This is an important Amendment affecting the businesses of three or four thousand organisations in the country employing 30,000 to 50,000 people. As so frequently happened upstairs, we believe that the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins), speaking as a private Member, is unable to give the House the assurances and the information which it needs if it is to make up its mind.

My hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke) asked for an estimate of the number of inspectors who would be needed to carry out inspections to see whether premises were suitable or unsuitable. Nothing could be more cogent or appropriate than for such a question to be asked at this stage, but the hon. Member for Putney is not in a position to give us the answer. It is impossible to give sensible consideration to this Amendment without that kind of information.

Then my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke), speaking with a wealth of legal experience, asked, if an application was refused on the grounds that premises were unsuitable, what particulars would be given to the applicant about why they were unsuitable and how the premises could be put right.

Mr. Lubbock

In reply to my intervention, the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins) said that the Offices, Shops and Railway Premises Act might not apply to some of the premises dealt with by this subsection when the persons running the businesses were partners and not employees. If the hon. Gentleman was prepared to give an assurance that this Clause would be used only if the Offices, Shops and Railway Premises Act applied to those premises, would that not meet the case?

Mr. Page

That is an interesting intervention, and again I only wish that there was a Government spokesman present to reply to it. The hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) is quite right. The Offices, Shops and Railway Premises Act lays down certain provisions, and people know that, if they satisfy those provisions, they are acting within the law and that, if their premises do not satisfy the provisions, they must be put right.

Here we are rolling out another carpet on the floor of the Minister's office in St. James's Square, giving him, through his inspectors, complete carte blanche about what may be deemed suitable or unsuitable. The hon. Member for Putney has not attempted to give any indication of what is suitable and what is unsuitable. He seems to say that it may be suitable for a person to run a business from a bedroom, and it may still be considered insufficient if he has larger offices. We do not know—[Interruption.]

Without wishing to be unduly repetitive, Mr. Deputy Speaker, we are glad to see the Parliamentary Secretary back in his place. We appreciate that he has been with us all the morning and that sustenance is necessary occasionally. However, we felt that this was an occasion where we should ask for the advice of the Ministry. We need to know what are the grounds on which premises are to be deemed unsuitable. My hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Ely asked, further, if these premises are to be inspected for suitability, how many inspectors would there be doing the job. It would also be interesting to know what facilities and training the inspectors will be given.

I, too, wanted to draw the attention of the House to the very important point which has been made by my hon. Friend the Member for Tavistock (Mr. Michael Haseltine). He suggested that what is considered suitable today may be found unsuitable tomorrow. The corollary is equally the case, and what might be considered unsuitable today might be considered quite suitable at some time in the future.

The Parliamentary Secretary, like his right hon. and hon. Friends, must have a great many worries turning over in his mind after the news which came last night. However, I hope that he will be able to indicate the direction which the St. James's Square bulldozer will be taking in deciding the suitability or unsuitability of premises. We hope that he will be able to give us some guidance from the experience of his Ministry about the way in which the provision which we are discussing will be administered in practice.

Mr. Lubbock

I apologise for detaining the House a little longer, but I thought that the Parliamentary Secretary might wish to have a few moments in which to collect his thoughts before giving a considered reply to the debate.

Having listened to this discussion, I wish that I had been on the Standing Committee which considered the Bill. We are arguing about something which need not divide the two sides of the House. What we want is some clarification which, in this case, would come more suitably from the Parliamentary Secretary, since it is his Ministry which will have to apply the powers conferred by paragraph (b).

I should have thought that the answer to questions about renewals of applications was quite clear. Under subsection (8) licences will normally last for a year, and it would seem obvious that when the initial licence expires the Minister could, if he chose, apply completely different conditions to the premises concerned or in respect of any of the matters mentioned in subsection (3).

I suggest that this matter can be resolved by adopting the suggestion I made in my earlier intervention. Since the L.C.C. Regulations came into force the Offices, Shops and Railway Premises Act has been put on to the Statute Book and I would have thought that that has created a completely different situation. The fact that persons operating an employment agency are not employers and are therefore outside the scope of that Act is neither here nor there all that we need to do is to substitute different words in subsection (3,a) making the provisions of the Offices, Shops and Railway Premises Act apply to premises which are used for carrying on the business of an employment agency.

I cannot see any difficulty about this. If the hon. Member can assure us that when the Bill goes to another place words will be substituted in place of subsection (3,b) I shall be quite satisfied and would be willing to allow the discussion to proceed to the next subsection.

I am sure that that would meet the wishes of hon. Members on this side of the House, from the kind reception that they have given to my remarks. We could cut the discussion short if the Parliamentary Secretary would give us an undertaking that this is the way in which the Bill will be interpreted and that he will make arrangements to insert more precise wording in another place.

1.45 p.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour (Mr. E. Ferny-hough)

I assure the hon. Member that whatever joy he has received from the headlines in this morning's newspapers I did not lose any sleep last night—and I shall not lose any tonight, nor will many of my hon. Friends.

The first thing that must be accepted is that the Minister is merely seeking the same powers that the London County Council (General Powers) Act, 1921, gave to local authorities—no more and no less.

Secondly, we must envisage the way in which new employment agencies will start. They are not usually large undertakings. They are usually started by a small man who thinks he has the capacity and initiative for the job. He takes an office, and because he is self-employed he is not covered by the terms of the (Aces, Shops and Railway Premises Act. After he has been in business for some time he decides that the business has developed sufficiently for him to employ a part-time typist for less than 21 hours a week. The Act would still not apply.

It is largely because we must ensure that the standards now being observed in respect of offices which come within the legislation passed in 1963 are observed in respect of employment agencies that we require these powers. I am satisfied that hon. Members opposite know in their minds that the Minister would be guided at all times by that legislation. He will not have any powers unless we include this provision in the Bill. That is the explanation of the situation.

Mr. Michael Heseltine

We welcome the hon. Member's appearance and thank him for his comments. We particularly note his remarks about the number of his hon. Friends who will not lose any sleep tonight because of last night's result. I am sure that he will not, and that many of his hon. Friends will not—but what distinguishes him and some of his hon. Friends from other hon. Members opposite is the size of their majorities. Most hon. Members opposite do not enjoy such large majorities as that which the hon. Member has.

I was disappointed by the Minister's reply. He said that there was no doubt in his mind that it was largely in order to make sure that the provisions of the Offices, Shops and Railway Premises Act were applied to employment agencies that this Clause is in the Bill. The word "largely" is the sort of word that we have been discussing continuously in Committee and today—precisely the sort of word with which the Bill is riddled, and which has made us so anxious. We are trying to eliminate words like "largely", "unsuitable", and "reasonable", which superficially have an attraction but which, when analysed, are dangerous to have in an Act of Parliament, because we immediately ask ourselves about the matters that are not covered by such words.

Why cannot the Minister say, in words which we understand, what the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) has asked him to say? Why will he not give an undertaking that in another place words will be introduced to ensure that the Bill will conform with the provisions of the Offices, Shops and Railway Premises Act? If that were done we would all know what we were talking about, and the opposition would end.

Mr. Fernyhough

The hon. Member ought to realise that that would mean the amendment of another Act, and more delay.

Mr. Heseltine

I do not feel that an improvement of the kind which is apparently accepted by the hon. Member should be refused because it would delay action. We have existed for many years without such a Bill as this. The employment agency business is being carried on satisfactorily. Nobody will go out of business or come into the business simply because this Measure does not go through. Hon. Members opposite shake their heads, as if there was some reason that we should know about why the Measure should go through quickly. Time and again we have asked for specific details, but we have not been given them.

Sir H. Legge-Bourke

Why should we not have an Amendment which would make the provisions of the Offices, Shops and Railway Premises Act apply?

Mr. Heseltine

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke). I hope that we may have an assurance that an Amendment to that effect will be introduced.

Mr. Fernyhough

I would gladly give the hon. Member that assurance if he would give me an assurance that we shall get the Bill this afternoon.

Mr. Heseltine

I suspect that what I am being asked to do is to trade in one bad example of legislation for a whole range of bad examples which will follow this afternoon. We refuse to trade in one bad anomaly for a whole stack which we shall be discussing this afternoon.

I revert to the problems with which hon. Members on this side of the House are faced. We are asking for information. My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Mr. John Page) has explained the difficulty in respect of a Private Members' Bill which requires replies to be made by a Minister before we can understand how it works. My hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Ely asked three specific questions—all of them important ones. No answer has been given. How are hon. Members on this side of the House supposed to act? We require information, which can be provided only by the Minister, but we have not been given it. Until these questions are answered, we cannot be expected not to support the Amendment.

Will the inspectors inspect premises as well as other things? A different skill is probably required for the inspection of premises and analysis of the functions of an agency. How long will this exercise take, with the consideration of all the applications? Only the Ministry can answer these questions. How many inspectors will there be? We must know so that we can be sure that it will be done in the time that the Ministry thinks. While we are given assurances with the best of intentions we know how Government Departments work and we want to be sure that the Ministry is not merely relying on what the hon. Member for Putney has told them.

We have been told of luxurious offices outside the old L.C.C. area and of people coming into the centre of London to do their business in pubs. I know that the hon. Gentleman does not want to hear these arguments repeated, but the livelihood of many people is affected and we will not give up until we are satisfied. We do not know whether there is evidence of any of these unsavoury activities in public houses. It would be different if the hon. Member said that he had evidence but did not want to damage reputations, but there is not a shred.

However, suppose there were evidence of people carrying on these activities—

Mr. Lubbock

Would the hon. Gentleman not concede that it is possible to carry on legitimate business in a public house?

Mr. Heseltine

Precisely. Even if the offices of these people are outside the L.C.C. area, with a secretary employed for 21 hours a week, and the principal, who is sole trader, goes to public houses in central London to do business, why do we have to assume that this is undesirable? I have never been involved in the theatrical agency business, but if I employed such an agent, I would want him to go where he would be most likely to find the men who would give me work. I suspect that markets exist in various London public houses.

In agricultural constituencies, a great deal of business is done after markets in public houses and this is an accepted commercial activity—

Mr. Fletcher-Cooke

Even assuming that it is wrong and improper—I grant the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins) that it may be—surely it would be caught under subsection (c), under which it could be said that the agency had improperly conducted its business, or under subsection (a), that it was unsuitable to hold a licence because the agent was doing something wrong in pubs. This seems to have nothing to do with premises.

Mr. Heseltine

My hon. and learned Friend is absolutely right. There is a range of legislation to stop people indulging in undesirable and illegal activities. Unless we can be convinced that employment agencies are indulging in a specific activity which is peculiar to them, we should be content with the law of the land and not single them out for unnecessary treatment. This sort of problem goes right through the Bill. Time and again we have been asked to single these people out for prejudicial treatment applying only to them.

2.0 p.m.

Mr. John Page

I beg to move Amendment No. 18, in page 2, line 39, to leave out paragraph (c).

We are not satisfied that there is a case. We have asked what the phrase "suitable premises" means. This is vital. If the standards of the Offices, Shops and Railway Premises Act are to be applied only in the majority of cases, for those cases to which it does not apply we want to know what "suitable" means. We have not been told, and until we are, we are right to be restive and anxious on behalf of the people affected.

As we have asked a number of important questions, as this is a vital part of the trade's cost structure and as standards are to be imposed on offices and facilities which are unnecessary for the trade, costs will be unnecessarily pushed up and burdens unnecessarily imposed. We do not say that we know all the answers, but we have asked many questions which hon. Members opposite have made no attempt to answer. Until those answers come, I have no compunction in recommending my hon. Friends to vote against the subsection.

Question put, That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Bill:—

The House divided: Ayes 55, Noes 24.

Division No. 328.] AYES [1.56 p.m.
Atkinson, Norman (Tottenham) Jenkins, Hugh (Putney) Reynolds, G. W.
Barnes, Michael Johnson, Carol (Lewisham, S.) Richard, Ivor
Beaney, Alan Kerr, Dr. David (W'worth, Central) Roberts, Cwitym (Bedfordshire, S.)
Bidwell, Sydney Lestor, Miss Joan Robinson, Rt. Hn. Kcnneth (St.P'c'as)
Boston, Terence Luard, Evan Robinson, W. o. J. (Walth'stow, E.)
Boyden, James McBride, Neil Roebuck, Roy
Callaghan, Rt. Hn. James MacDertnot, Niall Shaw, Arnold (Ilford, S.)
Dalyell, Tam McKay, Mrs. Margaret Shore, Peter (Stepney)
Davies, Harold (Leek) Mackie, John Swingler, Stephen
Davies, Robert (Cambridge) MacMillan, Malcolm (Western Isles) Weitzman, David
Dickens, James Maxwell, Robert Wellbeloved, James
Dunwoody, Mrs. Gwyneth (Exeter) Mellish, Robert Whitaker, Ben
English, Michael Molloy, William Whitlock, William
Ensor, David Moyre, Roland Williams, Alan Lee (Hornchurch)
Femyhough, E. Murray, Albert Williams, Mrs. Shirey (Hitchin)
Floud, Bernard O'Malley, Brian Winnick, David
Gregory, Arnold Orbach, Maurice
Griffiths, Rt. Hn. James (Llanelly) Rankin, John TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Hamilton, William (Fife, W.) Rees, Merlyn Mr. John Ellis and Mr. Ernest Perry.
Huckfield, L.
Bell, Ronald Langford-Holt, Sir John Sinclair, Sir George
Bellenger, Rt. Hn. F. J. Legge-Bourke, Sir Harry Smith, John
Cunningham, Sir Knox Lubbock, Eric Summers, Sir Spencer
Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton) McAdden, Sir Stephen Vaughan-Morgan, Rt. Hn. Sir John
Errington, Sir Eric Mackenzie, Alasdair(Ross & Crom'ty) Webster, David
Eyre, Reginald Mitchell, David (Basingstoke)
Fletcher-Cooke, Charles More, Jasper TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Hunt, John Onslow, Cranley Mr. John Page and Mr. Michael
Jenkin, Patrick (Woodford) Ridley, Hn. Nicholas Heseltine.
Johnston, Russell (Inverness) Russell, Sir Ronald

May I, for clarity, read the Clause as it stands? It reads: An application for a licence…in respect of an agency may be refused on any of the following grounds, that is to say— (c) that the agency has been improperly conducted;

Here again, we are dealing with a vague, blanket, subjective statement—that an agency has been improperly conducted. There is no definition of the proper conduct of an agency. Does it refer to the proper conduct of the individuals running the agency or of the employees employed by the agency? If the typewriter or telephone of the agency were were not working properly, would that mean that the agency was improperly conducted? There is no gauge of what the conduct should be.

Does it apply to the techniques which they use—for example, that individuals are not properly interviewed? I say this in all seriousness to the hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. O'Malley), who seems to think it a joke. It is not a joke. He is dealing with the livelihood of a large number of people, and he ought to take it seriously. That is why we are here today. There is great doubt in the minds of many agents about the meaning of this phrase "improperly conducted".

The hon. Member shook his head when I referred to a failure to interview properly, but I should have thought that if an agency did not provide a proper means of interviewing, it would be improperly conducted. In the original Bill we hoped to tighten the services given to applicants, to employees and to employers.

If there were not sufficient selection or selectivity of applicants for jobs, would that be improperly conducted? If an employer were sent a number of applicants whom he felt had not been properly cleared and who had not the abilities for which he was asking, would that mean that the agency was improperly conducted? It seems to me that both of those are likely reasons for considering an agency not to be properly conducted. If that were the case, surely there would be complaints from those who used the agencies, and employers and employees would steer clear of such agencies.

Another aspect which apparently is implied is that by "improperly conducted" is meant some kind of immortality. Would the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins) let us know whether the phrase refers to the morality of those who are conducting an employment agency? Would an agency be considered to be improperly conducted if the man running it was a drunkard?

This question must enter the mind of anybody objectively studying this provision. Many successful men in business and politics have been habitually drunk, but they have not been refused a licence, if one can use that expression in this respect. If a man who run an employment agency has six Martinis before lunch, spends the rest of the afternoon asleep at his desk and then wakes up and interviews somebody while smelling of drink, would he be considered to be improperly conducting his agency?

The mirth being caused by my remarks indicates that I am barking up the wrong tree. Perhaps the words used in the subsection are designed to prevent an agency from being conducted for immoral purposes. If so, why not say so? Why have a vague statement which must cause concern to employment agents? And if that is the purpose of the Clause, is there not other legislation available to prevent this from happening? The hon. Member for Putney must make it clear whether the Clause is intended to cover premises being used for immoral purposes; for example, for call girls or—and there is, I understand, no evidence that models can be considered in this context—for models who have extra-mural activities?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I understand that the subsection does not relate to the objects for which an agency is being conducted, but to the method by which it is being conducted.

Mr. Page

I wish that I had time to give a little thought to that oracular remark, Mr. Speaker. Suffice to say that these questions must be answered by the hon. Member for Putney so that all concerned may know where they stand.

If the provision is designed to prevent a business or agency from being conducted for immoral purposes, who is to assess the purpose for which it is being used and how is this information to be obtained? Is the Minister likely to apply to the police for information and is the hon. Member for Putney aware that other legislation exists to meet this point?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The hon. Gentleman cannot pursue this line of argument. There is nothing in the subsection which deals with the objects of an agency.

Mr. Page

Perhaps I should have worded my question differently, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Many doubts exist about the meaning of the subsection and I hope that the hon. Member for Putney will give a clear indication of what is proposed.

Captain W. Elliot

Your Ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that we cannot discuss the objects of an agency creates some difficulty. I should have thought that it might be considered improper if the objects were of a certain type, and it may be that the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins) had such objects in mind when he framed the subsection.

2.15 p.m.

Mr. Ridley

On a point of order. I hesitate to question your Ruling Mr. Deputy Speaker, but is it not a fact that the words An application … may be refused on … the following grounds … that the agency has been improperly conducted". could mean that the objects of the agency were ostensibly to run a normal business, whereas something was going on behind the scenes or in some other part of the premises which was improper? That would appear to relate to the objects of an agency and we are in some difficulty because we do not know exactly what is meant by the subsection.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

It is clear to me that the subsection does not permit a debate on the question whether an agency has been established for an improper purpose. There is nothing in the subsection about that. The only relevance of the subsection is whether a particular agency has been improperly conducted and, as we are on Report, the debate must be confined to that.

Captain Elliot

I bow to your Ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and can only hope that the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins) will clarify the position. I have considerable sympathy with any attempt to see that an agency or business is properly conducted. In correspondence I have received from the Employment Agents' Federation it is stated that the Federation would welcome the introduction of sensible legislation on a number of matters. Any federation wishes to protect its members and their reputation. This Federation would obviously be pleased if the law cracked down on disreputable agencies. However, the subsection gives enormous powers to the authority and these powers should be more closely defined.

Subsection (3,c) is concerned with agencies which are improperly conducted. Is that subsection connected with the earlier parts of the Clause, since, taken together, it would seem that the hon. Member for Putney is taking a sledge hammer to crack down on the few agencies which may not be behaving properly and, in the process, is giving the authority enormous powers of control. That seems to go much wider than other aspects of control over other businesses.

This is a serious matter. As I have said, I was not on the Committee and profess to no expert knowledge, but it is very important that the greatest care be exercised before giving to the Minister so much greater a power over one particular class of business.

Mr. Hugh Jenkins

We must ask ourselves why, this Bill having had its Second Reading without this point being questioned at all, and having gone through nine sittings of the Committee, where it underwent the most rigorous examination, we should now, for the first time, have a proposal that the Minister should not have the power to refuse a licence if the agency has been improperly conducted. What do hon. Members opposite want? Do they want agencies to be permitted to be improperly conducted? If they do, why do they not say so?

Or is there something more sinister behind the last two speeches? Are hon. Members trying to talk the Bill out, or trying—as the hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) has said he personally wants to do—to kill the Bill? The House is entitled to know—

Mr. Ridley

When did I say that I would kill the Bill? I would be grateful if the hon. Member would refer me to the column in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

Mr. Jenkins

The hon. Member will not find it in the OFFICIAL REPORT, but he knows quite well that he has made it clear on more than one occasion that he will seek as far as possible to prevent the Bill becoming law.

I want hon. Members opposite to reconsider their position. This legislation is supported by both sides, it will fulfill a very useful function and it is welcomed by employers and employees. It is also legislation—

Mr. Ridley


Mr. Jenkins

No, I will not give way.

Mr. Ridley

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You have quite rightly kept my hon. Friends to the narrow point of whether this Amendment, relating to the agency that has been improperly conducted, allows us to discuss the objects of the conducting of the agency or something slightly narrower than that. I hope that you will not now allow the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins) to dilate at length on the motives of my hon. Friends and our general attitude to the Bill. He seems to be taking unto himself a Second Reading attitude.

Mr. Fernyhough

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. John Page), in moving the Amendment, talked about typewriters, and all sorts of inconsequential things that had nothing to do with the Clause. He was permitted to go on. I am sure that nothing my hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins) has said so far is further removed from the Clause than what was said by the hon. Member for Harrow, West.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The same rules of relevance apply to all hon. Members, whether they are in charge of a Bill or opposing it. I may have been at fault in allowing the hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. John Page) to proceed too far. I think that from now on we had all better confine ouselves to the rather limited terms of the Amendment.

Mr. Jenkins

I accept your Ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker. If I have gone beyond the very narrow limits of Report stage I will try from now on not to do so again. I hope that hon. Members opposite will equally accept your Ruling.

The Amendment seeks to remove the Minister's powers to refuse a licence if the agency has been improperly conducted. Should it be carried, the control of employment agencies would become less than is now exercised in London. The London County Council had control over agencies from 1921, and the inner London boroughs inherited powers of the L.C.C., including the power of refusal, or revocation, of a licence to an agency which was or is being improperly conducted. It would not be right for the Minister to have less power.

It is important to retain this provision in view of a later Amendment standing in my name to delete a specific power in Clause 5 to make regulations for the prevention of immorality. Hon. Members opposite suggested that that change should be made, but I shall not say that they are for that reason seeking to propose that immorality should be encouraged and permitted. Indeed, I have accepted the view that the Minister's present power in this Clause to prevent an agency being improperly conducted sufficiently embraces that point.

What constitutes improper conduct on the part of an agency? To be a front for illegal activities could be improper conduct. To take money from clients without providing them with offers of employment, or, alternatively, to take money from employers without providing them with workers could be improper conduct. To submit workers and then to entice them from that employer and persuade them to work for another employer, could be improper conduct. All that is obviously improper conduct.

It would be quite wrong to suppose that this conduct does not occur. Hon. Members will have seen an article in the Sunday Times earlier in the year describing the activities of a very large agency—it prefers to call itself a personal representative organisation—which came to this country from America. It is called National Executive Search Inc. It charges very large fees for operating in the very highest levels of employment. Both employees and employers have been bilked by that agency. The Sunday Times said precisely that on 1st January, 1967, and no action has been taken.

When this agency first came to this country it set up in the Royal Garden Hotel—very fine premises—and moved later to rather unprepossessing premises in Queen Anne's Gate. Finally, it moved out of the G.L.C. area because, as it told the Sunday Times, We were told … that it would be to our advantage to move our headquarters outside the jurisdiction of the G.L.C. That shows precisely the need for legislation, because the object of the Bill is to create nationally the sort of reasonable control over the activities of employment agencies which is to the advantage of employers and employees.

If I may say so, I hope that the House will not persist in endeavouring to reduce the Minister's powers below those at present exercised by the G.L.C., because only with those powers can the Minister do the job that is needed to be done to protect employers and employees, and most of the reputable agencies themselves, from the activities of the less reputable people such as those referred to in that quotation.

Captain W. Elliot

I quite agree that the reputable agencies need to be protected, but has the hon. Gentleman asked the Federation itself whether it should have control of this type, as many other professional bodies have for the protection of their members?

Mr. Jenkins

I have had long consultations with the federation. I have not been able to agree with it on all points, but I have been able to agree on some.

Mr. Ridley

The hon. Gentleman's argument requires a little probing. He claims that the Amendment would weaken the Minister's power to prevent those agencies from getting licences who should not have them. Before dealing with that point, however, I should like to deal with another aspect.

The paragraph reads: … that the agency has been improperly conducted … This presumably applies to a new applicant for a licence, so that it is nonsense to provide that a licence can be refused an applicant because the agency has been improperly conducted if the applicant has not had an agency before. I suggest to the Parliamentary Secretary that, in this instance, the drafting is seriously at fault.

Quite clearly, the grounds upon which the Minister may wish not to grant a licence because the agency has not been properly conducted can apply only either to existing agencies which ask for a licence in the first instance or to people asking to have their licences renewed at a later stage. Paragraph (c) should not apply to those applying in future. There is a difficulty there which the hon. Member would do well to clear up.

2.30 p.m.

As to the merits of the matter, the question whether the agency has been improperly conducted is by no means the only ground upon which the Minister can refuse a licence. Paragraphs (a) (b) and (d) are three rather limited extra grounds. The main grounds which the Minister has are in (e) and (f). Paragraph (f) goes as wide as to say that if anything in the Act has been contravened that is a ground upon which the Minister would be justified in refusing a licence. If any condition in paragraph (e) has not been upheld there is another ground for a licence to be refused. If we add to that the whole range of the criminal and common law, the grounds upon which agents who are improperly practising their business can be disallowed are so enormous that I doubt very much whether this particular ground is at all needed.

In support of his contention, the hon. Member for Putney said that people should be prevented from holding licences if in the past they had taken money from clients and refused either to offer them staff or jobs, whichever way round it was. Surely that is a fraud and could be treated under the common law as fraud? There is therefore no need to add that farther ground in the Bill. If agents do things like that the best remedy is to go to another agent. If they have lost their money by employing an agency it does not help them if that agency is not given a licence. That does not close down the agency, but gives the Minister power to refuse a licence.

Mr. Fernyhough

It would be such improper conduct that the agency would not get its licence renewed.

Mr. Ridley

Nevertheless, the agency could stay open for the remaining period of its current licence. Other ways could be found to deal with offence of this sort by means of the criminal law. It seems unnatural to bring in this new ground of being improperly conducted.

The whole vagueness of this phrase has been amply described by my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Mr. John Page). He asked many questions about what it could mean, particularly about the immoral connotations of agents who are inherently rather alcoholic or under the influence of drugs and matters of that sort. The hon. Member for Putney appeared almost to confirm that these matters were in his mind, but I think that they should not be dealt with in this way. If people are doing immoral acts they should be punished according to the law. To remove a licence is a very serious penalty and may be a very much more serious penalty than he might incur in the normal course under the law.

My hon. Friend was quite right to ask those questions. I do not think that the hon. Member for Putney has given answers which make clearer to any agency the conditions on which it may or may not be granted a licence. The agency is not helped at all, but, in the interests of progress I suggest that we should urge the hon. Member to reconsider this matter and perhaps amend it in another place. We should not detain the House by dividing on this issue.

Mr. John Page

My words were rather tartly responded to by the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins) when I asked him to define "improper conduct". He gave three examples. The first was that an employment agency might be used by an illegal organisation. Surely that could be got at by ordinary police methods? The second example was that of money being taken from employers and employees. Clause 8, which, in general we all support, gives safeguards for money deposited with agents, so this ground of improper conduct does not apply here. Then there was the business of enticing away staff which is a new aspect.

If enticing away staff is to be considered improper conduct, which it might well be, there should be some indication given to employment agencies of what the position is. If an employment agency is looking for an individual for a certain applying company and tries to get into touch with someone already employed by a competitor of that company, is it enticing away staff?

Mr. Hugh Jenkins

Of course, that would not be improper conduct, but it would be improper conduct for an agency to supply workers to an employer and, having supplied them on an ostensibly permanent employment basis, a few weeks later to make a fresh contract with the worker with a view to getting them to move to another employer and so to get a fresh lot of commission.

Mr. Page

The implication is that it would be extraordinarily helpful to the employment agency to know that this is something of which the mover does not approve. I am sure that no hon. Member would dissent from that. This is the kind of definition of improper conduct we asked for, but it has not taken us very far. The hon. Member said earlier that the Bill had the support of hon. Members on both sides of the House, but the Bill to which the House gave a Second Reading had less support. I understand—

Mr. Speaker

Order. We are not on the Third Reading yet.

Mr. Page

It was only because this matter had been raised that I thought I might have the opportunity of rebutting it, but I do not wish to labour the point any longer. We have had a useful probe of the meaning of improper conduct which, I think, will be helpful. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Ridley

I beg to move Amendment No. 19, in page 2, line 40, to leave out paragraph (d).

This Amendment is of great importance and has perhaps even wider ramifications than the Bill which is before us. It will be my intention, however, to restrict myself very much to the Bill and I hope that nothing I say will go too wide. We had a preliminary discussion on this matter in Committee, but the answers given by the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins) and the then Parliamentary Secretary were so unsatisfactory that my hon. Friends and I felt that the matter should be probed at this stage by an Amendment. We have therefore put forward this Amendment to cut out the ground for refusing a licence when discrimination on grounds of colour, race, ethnic or national origins is used in an employment agency.

Since then we have had the benefit of the P.E.P. Report, which confirms what most hon. Members have always suspected, namely, that there is a large amount of racial discrimination in employment. This has highlighted the need to think very carefully about what action we should take. I am sure that at another stage the House will wish to debate this question, and perhaps there will be legislation to deal with racial discrimination in employment. I entirely reject any form of discrimination in any place or in any part of our society or its economic structure. Nothing I say will be in condonation of discrimination.

We now have the evidence. The ground upon which the former Parliamentary Secretary defended the inclusion of this subsection was that the public employment exchanges were given instructions that they must not practise discrimination in anything which they do. The hon. Lady the Member for Hitchin (Mrs. Shirley Williams) read out the letter which is sent out by employment agencies, saying this: Discrimination against people solely on the ground of race, colour or belief, is contrary to the policy of this Ministry and my Headquarters have therefore asked me to tell you that no action can be taken to fill your vacancies so long as you insist on your discrimination."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee C, 9th November, 1966; c. 128.] That letter is sent to any employer who specifies that workers must be of a particular race, colour or creed.

The hon. Lady argued that from that it was perfectly reasonable to expect private employment agencies to send a letter in the same terms, or to reply in the same terms on the telephone, to any employer who put discriminatory conditions upon his requirement for labour.

The P.E.P. Report shows what a large amount of discrimination there is. One answer on page 57 shows that an employment agency reported to the investigators that out of 700 or 800 companies with whom he dealt there were only a dozen which did not put racial discrimination into their requests. Another one said this: Only a minority of coloured people have a starting chance because of qualifications. Those who are qualified are regarded as unacceptable by the majority of employers. It is only in a minority of cases that there is no discrimination. Therefore, what in effect we are asking employment agents to do is to turn down the vast majority of their business. If there are only a dozen out of 700 or 800 companies from whom an employment agent can accept instructions, it will clearly make it impossible for the agent to carry on his business.

I believe that this is an extremely difficult position to put the agent in. After all, it is the employer who is practising the discrimination. To make the agent the only person who is liable at law for some proceedings is one of the most invidious proposals which has come to my notice in many years in the House.

We must probably have a legislative framework for discrimination in employment. I should not be in order in discussing what form the legislation would take. It must clearly involve both employers and employees, because in many cases it is the employees themselves who discriminate by threatening strikes or troubles of that sort if coloured workers are employed alongside them. Included in this must be the employment agent. It must be legislation of a general character and not legislation which singles out the middle person in the chain and prescribes penalties for him.

2.45 p.m.

Clearly we should be loth to make discrimination as such a criminal offence. I very much hope we shall not apply the criminal law to offences of this sort. The legislation may well prescribe forms of conciliation and whole ranges of techniques for dealing with discrimination. However, it will be a big step for the House to take to provide an ultimate criminal sanction.

The extraordinary position is that the likely penalty, even after this legislation has been enacted, for the employer who practises discrimination will be that he will be conciliated; he might be exposed to some public disapproval; there might be publicity and many such unpleasant things. The employee will be virtually undisciplinable because of the large numbers and the difficulty, which is appreciated by all hon. Members, of passing legislation affecting hundreds of thousands of people who may feel strongly that they are in the right and that they can thereby defy the law.

However, an employment agent will be liable to lose his licence. Therefore, we are inventing a penalty for the agent, which is far more severe than anything that could be invented either for the employers or for employees.

Mr. Lubbock

An employee might be deprived of his union membership. It would be well for trade unions to consider taking such action in cases where discrimination by employees is proved.

Mr. Ridley

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. I do not want to anticipate what legislation there will be. It is almost inconceivable that a penalty as severe as loss of licence can be invented for either employer or employee. A comparable penalty would mean, in effect, that an employer who continued to practise discrimination would be told that he could not continue to employ and his whole business would be taken from him. An employee working in a shipyard as a skilled welder would have his job taken from him and he would not be allowed to practise the one job he knew how to do. This is the penalty contained in the Bill for practising discrimination, that the licence of the agent can be removed. In this instance "licence" means "livelihood".

I think that I have said enough to explain to the House the very real and deep-seated difficulty about this ground for refusal of a licence. The solution of the problem of racial discrimination must be global. It cannot be tackled by putting the agent in the position where he must discipline the employer who discriminates.

The analogy drawn by the hon. Lady the Member for Hitchin with the employment exchange was totally false, because the employment exchange does not have to earn its living. It can turn down cases of discrimination without the slightest difficulty, whereas an employment agency who is dependent for employment upon the market is in no position to discipline its clients.

Indeed, I think the suggestion that one should be responsible for disciplining one's clients, and for their morals, is something which, on reflection, I am sure the House will feel is not a very good one. I therefore beg the hon. Gentleman to take seriously the argument which I put, to await the general legislation which will no doubt come, to allow the House to ponder the very important findings in the P.E.P. Report in order to decide what is a good solution to this problem, and then perhaps to legislate for all concerned.

It is, I think, noticeable that the other part of this Report deals with discrimina- tion in housing, but nobody, so far as I know, has suggested that there should immediately be penal legislation to deal with house agents if they practise discrimination in the letting or leasing of houses.

I entirely understand the hon. Gentleman's motives in including this provision in the Bill. I think that they are admirable motives, because, like me, he feels strongly about discrimination, but, as I think he will admit, it is not wise to include this paragraph, for the reasons which I have tried to give.

The Parliamentary Secretary and I tried to debate this question at a conference in London not very long ago. I am sure the hon. Gentleman will agree that it is one of the most difficult and intractable problems which we face. It is vitally important that we cure it, but I beg the House not to include in this sort in legislation a solution to deal with a problem which is much more widespread and difficult to deal with than a superficial approach allows.

Mr. Lubbock

I agree with the hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) that it would be foolish to pretend that discrimination can be removed by legislation, and that we could, in a particular Measure, deal with all the aspects of discrimination which occur in employment, but—and here I must take a contrary view to that expressed by the hon. Gentleman—I think that one has to start somewhere.

Discrimination is a vicious circle. The employment agencies about which we are talking say, "We do not want discrimination. It is the employer who is discriminating all the time. We have to make a livelihood, and, therefore, we offer only white workers to people whom we know are not prepared to take coloured workers on to their staff". One then goes to the employers, who say, "We have no racial prejudice. We would be only too delighted to have Nigerians or Pakistanis, but our employees will not allow us to do this. If we were to take on such people we would be in difficulties with them".

I put it to the hon. Gentleman that one has to make a start somewhere to cut this vicious circle, and this is the decision which I think the House must take today. Obviously, if one removes discrimination in employment agencies it will not suddenly remove it in the whole field of employment. Employers will still seek to have only white people on their staff if they are that way disposed, but we can come to that later, in the light of the Report of the Chairman of the Race Relations Board, and the P.E.P. study to which reference has been made.

Paragraph 48 of the Report of the Race Relations Board says: Of the 309 complaints received, only 85 were within the scope of Section 1 of the Act; of the remainder, 97 relate to employment, 37 to housing and 12 to financial facilities. Therefore judging from the correspondence received by the Board, employment is overwhelmingly the most important area of discrimination.

I agree with what the hon. Gentleman said about housing, and I hope that we shall deal with that as well, but it so happens that this Bill is before the House today, and we have an opportunity of dealing with one sector of discrimination; and it also so happens, from the figures which I have quoted, that discrimination in employment accounts for nearly one-third of the total.

The hon. Gentleman may have seen the recent television programme about coloured school leavers. It dealt with young people who had grown up entirely in this country, whose parents came from the West Indies or some other Commonwealth country just after the war. These young people, aged 15 and 16, are now leaving school and going into employment. All those who were interviewed had good qualifications. They had G.C.E. O levels, secretarial capabilities and so on, and yet they were unable to obtain work of the kind for which their qualifications fitted them. Only this week there has been an even more striking example of the man in Manchester who speaks five foreign languages—and I think that he has a university degree as well—who has taken a job with the corporation as a street cleaner.

We knew that this sort of thing went on even before the P.E.P. Report appeared. Immigrants, and the children of immigrants who are as British as anybody in this House, are not obtaining the kind of work to which their qualifications entitle them. I do not say that this is the fault of the employment agents. Indeed, I think that if one looks at the P.E.P. Report one sees that they do not come out too badly at all. The Report says that there was a general admission that they were frequently in a position in which they were seen to seem to discriminate.

It was not really a question of active discrimination by the employment agencies or by their staffs. It was just that they were put in a position where the immigrant thought that discrimination was being exercised against him. In many cases this was because the agent had a legitimate desire to protect the coloured person from embarrassment by going for an interview with a firm where he knew the applicant would be unsuccessful. There was, thus in the policy of some of the employment agents who were interviewed, an element of seeking to protect the coloured person.

When I read that Report, the thought crossed my mind that perhaps some of the agencies would find it of benefit if they had coloured persons on their staff. If a coloured person were interviewed by one of his own race, obviously he would not think that that person started with a prejudice; and if it subsequently emerged that it was impossible to find him suitable employment he would know that it was not the fault of the agency, but of somebody beyond it who was exercising discrimination. I put this suggestion to the employment agencies who happen to read this debate, and who find that this is a serious problem.

The hon. Gentleman quoted the reply of one employment agency that out of 700 or 800 companies with whom it dealt, only about 1 per cent. were prepared to accept coloured people at all. This was the worst. A reply was received from an employment agent who said that the situation was not nearly as bad as that but that those who were qualified were regarded as unacceptable by the majority of employers.

Therefore, experience varies from one part of the country to another, and indeed from one employment agent to another, but it appears to be most serious in London, where the number of coloured applicants was much greater than in the other districts surveyed by the P.E.P. There seemed to be a difference between citizens of various Commonwealth countries, between West Indians and Pakistanis and Indians, some being more acceptable to employers than others. The Report will be an extremely valuable basis not only for the legislation we are discussing today but throughout employment and housing. It fully supports the inclusion of this paragraph in the Bill.

I hope that we shall take the first step today in eliminating discrimination entirely in this country. I have always believed that further legislation would prove necessary in the light of experience. I realise that discrimination is a matter not only for legislation but for education as well and is the responsibility of many other Ministers apart from the Minister of Labour. But we have an opportunity to take the first step along the road which would be fully supported by hon. Members on both sides. I hope that the Opposition will see fit to withdraw the Amendment.

3.0 p.m.

Captain W. Elliot

I wish to ask the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins) one question.

Subsection (3,d) provides that an application for a licence may be refused if discrimination has been "improperly practised". I am not clear what is meant by "improperly". I understood from an earlier discussion that the Bill covers all sorts of agencies and associations. The particular ones which I have in mind are service associations formed from certain categories of people which, among other things, find work for their members. Normally, those associations are made up of people of one race, to put it bluntly. Presumably it would not be considered that they were behaving improperly if they merely looked after the interests of their own members.

Mr. Michael Heseltine

It is very important that we should understand what we are debating. We are not debating employment. We are debating employment agents. That is a significant and important point which we should continuously bear in mind.

The fact is that race difficulties exist. Reference has been made to the P.E.P. Report which confirms what the overwhelming majority of people already knew. I do not think that anyone in the House is surprised by what is in the Report. It merely gives documentary evidence to which we can refer. In Committee, everyone was frank in admitting that race discrimination exists and is totally regrettable. I reinforce what my hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) said. I should be proud to introduce a Bill making race discrimination illegal in employment and housing. I should want to stand up and be counted on this issue.

But, as I say, we are not debating that issue. We are debating not employment but employment agencies and their relationship to employers and employees. I do not believe that the Bill will have the effect which it has been said it will have. As I pointed out, I am a director of an employment agency. I employ a fairly high proportion of coloured staff on that agency. I should like to illustrate one of the difficulties which may not be clear.

Let us consider two extreme cases and, for the sake of convenience, divide employment agents into two categories. Take, first, those who practise discrimination and try to shunt off responsibility by sending coloured people away because they know that the employers for whom they act will not employ them and do not wish to do anything which might be socially undesirable. They are the people whom the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins) would wish to control by the Bill. He would make them change their way of behaving. They would send to employers people who they knew were not likely to get, and, indeed, almost certainly would not get, the job. Perhaps he is convinced that it is better that the prospective coloured employee should be told "No" at the factory gate or at the office door rather than in the employment agent's office. We could have an interesting discussion on that. I think it is evil whichever way we look at it, but probably less evil in the employment agency's office. But I shall not concentrate on that aspect. I want to talk about the other sort of employment agent, the one desperately trying to do something about this problem.

From my experience in my concern and in others of which I know the proprietors, there is a determined effort to solve the problem. In my case, the managing director takes on the staff coloured people with qualifications better than are required for the job that they are taken on to do. He does this because he then has time to look around and find them jobs justified by their qualifications. This is discrimination—there is no other way to describe it—but it is not improper discrimination. The managing director is devoting a much higher proportion of his executive time than can be justified on any cost effectiveness basis to try to find jobs for which these highly qualified coloured people have the qualifications. I would do nothing to discouraging him in that operation. That is at the management selection level.

The same thing is happening at the secretarial level. A large number of our citizens are deeply disturbed by racial discrimination, and, being ordinary decent people employed in a secretarial agency, they interview coloured people feeling, putting it at its worst, sorry for the ones to whom they have to say, "Sorry, there is no job for you." In many cases the decent people take more trouble with the coloured people and strike up happy personal relationships with them, becoming interested in their cases and spending more time with them—and because it is harder to find jobs for them, they have to spend more time with them. This personal relationship often leads to the reward of finding these people jobs.

That is what good agencies are doing. I do not say that all employment agencies are doing this. But the risk of doing this sort of thing—it is highly desirable—is that one will disappoint the coloured person because one takes that much extra trouble with him. Because one takes him into one's confidence and because one has him working in the organisation he knows what is happening and what pressures are put on employment agencies from employers and employees outside. He sees what the agency is up against.

I put it not in terms of Parliament, where we are considering the way things ought to work, but in the way they would work if hon. Members proposing the Clause were running an employment agency. Would they continue to take the risk of letting coloured people behind the curtain, knowing that they will hear conversations which are not in any way to be applauded and which are totally regrettable but which one cannot eliminate? Would they continue to take the risk, as a good employment agency of taking coloured people into their organisation if they knew that that could prejudice their livelihood? I believe that some employment agencies will continue to take that risk. My organisation will continue to do so. But it is a risk. Therefore, we are being asked to shoulder the conscience of the nation whereas this House should take the decision. It should be a matter of national legislation. It should not be put on the back of the socially conscious employment agent who wants to do a decent job. But the Clause will put it there. It is dangerous.

Everybody has said—the P.E.P. pamphlet reinforces it—that racial prejudice is here in a big way. That is totally to be regretted and deplored. But what will the Clause do? It will stop the employment agency having anything to do with discrimination. What will be the effect of that? When coloured people apply for a job the employment agent will say, "I cannot in any way distinguish between colour or race. I have a job for which you have the right qualifications. So I will send you to it." The result will be that there will be a continuing stream of prospective employees to jobs which are not in any way open to them.

Mr. Lubbock

The P.E.P. Report says that many employment agencies which take coloured people on their books ring up employers first to make sure that the coloured people will not be rebuffed in this way when they go to the interview.

Mr. Heseltine

I am very encouraged to hear that. That is precisely the sort of thing we would encourage, but it is my desire to ensure that there should not be an adverse decision as a result of that telephone call, because I would suspect—and I should like the guidance of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Putney on this point—that if the employment agent rang up a client and said "The man I am sending round to you is coloured" and the client said, "Is he a coloured person? We will not have him," and the agent said, "I will not send him round to you" that would be improper discrimination, because the only ground upon which the agent did not allow the man to go for the job would have been that of his colour.

It is totally to be regretted. One cannot go on saying that too loudly or too clearly. But it is not the responsibility of the employment agent. He has done everything in his power to get the man a job, yet under Clause 2 his livelihood depends upon the understanding of that coloured person of the employment agent's situation, because, despite all the efforts the coloured person has seen the agent make on his behalf, he is entitled to go along to complain against him.

If I were running the organisation for the emancipation of coloured people in this country the possibility would not escape my attention that I might use the Bill and the hardship which it could cause to employment agents to seek further legislation in the interests of coloured people. One cannot pretend that politicians, coloured politicians in this country, would not see the possibility of so putting pressure on employment agents as to draw public attention to those agents, who could thus be put in jeopardy, and they might even jeopardise the cause they were seeking to publicise in that way by drawing attention to the plight of coloured people, with whom, in their plight, all of us have sympathy.

But it is not the employment agents who have led to the discrimination against the coloured people. If there is a problem here, and everybody knows there is a grisly problem here, let the House of Commons deal with that problem, but not by so discriminating against the employment agents as to put on them the conscience of us all. I do not think that is fair or right.

Let us widen the matter by asking ourselves whether the Ministry of Labour is so lilywhite in this situation as it is painted to be, because if it were there would be no problem, because all an employment agent would have to do when dealing with coloured people applying to him for jobs would be to say, if he could not place them himself, "Do not worry. I have no jobs, but just go round the corner to the Ministry of Labour, because they do not practise discrimination." It may be supposed that the Ministry can be above discrimination, but it cannot. While the Ministry sends out those grandiose directives which we all like to see the Ministry knows that it is a question in practice of interpretation in the Ministry's employment agencies, and the persons responsible for interviewing people there find precisely the same prejudices exist in precisely the same way we are talking about, and they are faced with exactly the same problem. Under this Bill private employment agents could, for practising discrimination which we all know exists, lose their licences, but the Ministry, whose officials must practise precisely the same discrimination, is in no way involved in the situation, and that, I believe, is to be regretted.

Finally, I would put the situation on a totally mercenary basis, because I believe that there may he hon. Members opposite, as I know there are on this side, who will understand that there are large numbers of people in the employment agency business who are deeply conscious of the problems which exist, and if there is a need for this paragraph in Clause 2 we should ask ourselves why this need exists. What is the purpose of an employment agent? He is an agent for finding jobs for people, and gets fees from employers, and his remuneration is based totally and completely on his success in finding jobs for people, and people for jobs.

What conceivable interest can an employment agent have in not finding jobs for coloured people? There is not a two-tier rate structure. He does not get less if he finds a job for a coloured person. He gets the same. He has every incentive to find jobs for coloured people, so why assume that he will not do it? The reason is quite clear, and we all know it. It is because the prospective employer will not let him, and the reason why he will not let him is because his own employees will not let their employer let him. In other words, it is a matter which concerns every citizen. It is not the problem of the employment agencies or the people who run them. It is one to be found in the hearts and minds of every citizen. Tackle it there. Do not tackle it in this way.

3.15 p.m.

Mr. Hugh Jenkins

This has been a useful debate on a serious subject, and each hon. Member who has contributed has had something useful and informative to say. I shall endeavour to reply in the same spirit.

The object of the Amendment is to delete the provision that a licence may be refused where discrimination on the ground of colour, race, or ethnic or national origin has been improperly practised in the conduct of the agency, and I emphasise the words "improper" and "in the conduct of the agency". If one gives full weight to those words, the Clause may be seen in a different light.

The provision was discussed in Standing Committee, and I make no complaint that the Amendment has been put down. If I remember, hon. Members indicated the possibility that this might be done and, as I have said, the debate has been a useful one.

We are at the stage now when increasing numbers of young coloured persons, many of them educated here, are coming on to the labour market, and it is vitally important to give them a square deal. It is known that some employment agencies make little or no attempt to find them work, and I emphasise the word "some" because that is not so in every case.

The Report of the Race Relations Board is an all-embracing one from which it is possible to form quite different impressions, but I hope that in what I say I shall give a fair summary of it. According to it, the agencies claim that the majority of employers will not accept coloured workers as office workers. That is a serious charge, and it is generally accepted that that is what the Report says. However, there is evidence from the same source which throws some doubt on that statement, which is why I say that one can form two ideas of the Report.

In the course of gathering together information, 25 large national organisations which were seen by interviewers all had coloured staff in their employment. Of 150 employers in the six local areas covered by the survey, 73 had coloured office workers and many others said that they had no objection in principle but had never had a suitable coloured applicant.

That confirms the experience of the Ministry of Labour and its youth employment officers, which is that it is becoming easier than it was a few years ago to place suitable coloured persons in office employment, though it is likely still to take more time and more trouble than placing a similarly qualified white person.

It has been argued that this or some similar provision would be better included in general legislation on racial discrimination in employment than in this Bill. However, no such legislation has yet been introduced or even promised. A number of Questions are to be asked in the House in the near future, but I hope that, on thinking it over, hon. Members will consider that there would be no harm and much gain if this Bill made a start, as the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) suggested.

It was explained in Standing Committee that it applies only to improper discrimination, so that I can give the assurance which was asked for by the hon. Member for Carshalton (Captain W. Elliot) that there would be nothing improper in the type of discrimination to which he referred. It would not preclude the existence of agencies catering only for a special national group—for example, Swiss girls coming to England to do domestic work—or for special employment requirements, such as the provision of persons of oriental appearance for oriental parts in the theatre. That would be proper discrimination. That is why the word "improper" was included in the Clause.

The Clause applies only to the conduct of the agency. That cannot be emphasised too often. An agency is not liable to lose its licence, or to come under criticism, or in any way to be regarded as failing in its duty, if discrimination is exercised against a coloured applicant not by the agency but by the employers whom it serves. It is my hope—and I am sure that it is a hope which is widely shared among other hon. Members—that legislation to deal with the wider problems will follow, and that, on consideration, the House will not think it right to hold up this Clause.

Mr. Nicholas Scott (Paddington, South)

I hope that this legislation will be introduced. Presumably, as with the other race relations legislation, the basis of it will be conciliation. That is completely absent from the Clause, and that is what worries me about this part of the Bill.

Mr. Jenkins

I do not agree. It would have to be shown that the agency was improperly practising discrimination before the Minister would have power to take action against it—and the Minister would not wish to go out of his way to look for such discrimination.

For all those reasons, and with the assurances that I have given, I hope that the hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) will feel able to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment, which has, nevertheless, provided an interesting and useful debate.

Mr. Ridley

I agree with the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins) about one thing, namely, that this has been a useful and important debate. But in his argument he did not address himself to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Tavistock (Mr. Michael Heseltine) with such force. My hon. Friend suggested that we must not start with one group of people when the discrimination is in the minds of men in every trade and profession throughout the land.

Mr. Fernyhough

I am sure that the hon. Member wants to be fair. We are not starting; we are merely extending something which has already been done. There is already an Act on the Statute Book. It does not go as far as many would wish, but it deals with the actions of certain citizens. We are not creating a revolutionary situation. This legislation is in addition or supplemental to legislation already passed. I hope that it will be the forerunner to further legislation which will help to solve the race relations problem.

Mr. Ridley

I was coming to that point. That is the crux of the situation. The hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) said that we have to start somewhere. He was wrong to the extent that we have started in places of public resort, public transport and public entertainment. To start somewhere is right, but to start only with some people is wrong. That is the burden of the case.

If we now extended the outlawing of discrimination, to other employment, housing and anywhere else that it can be easily applied, the hon. Gentleman would probably have the support of every hon. Member, but the present proposal would put upon the employment agent the burden of doing what should be done by the whole law. The hon. Member for Orpington said that it is not the agent's fault in most cases and my hon. Friend the Member for Tavistock gave examples of how agents have tried to help not only coloured workers, but employers who resist employing them. The P.E.P. Report has been quoted to show how agents have gone to the trouble of contacting employers to see whether they would employ coloured workers before sending them there. The onus is being put on the agent for a sin com- mitted by employers or employees and the hon. Gentleman did not deal with this.

Nor has anyone touched on the real point which I put, that the penalty for the employment agent is removal of his licence, which means of his livelihood, which all would agree is a severe penalty for anyone. Under the present law the penalties are nil. The only one is for contempt of court. Under the extension of the law, which we are all canvassing and discussing, the penalty will still be no stronger. Thus, we are placing upon one profession the burden of doing what we would like done by the law, with extremely heavy sanctions. We should not do this.

The point about the vulnerability of agents to complaints must be taken seriously. On page 56 of the Report we read: There was, however, a general admission that they were frequently in a position where they were seen to seem to discriminate. At whatever stage the agent says "No" to a coloured worker for whom he knows he cannot get a job because the employer will discriminate, he is vulnerable to that worker's complaint. If he is discriminating, the complaint is right, but this must be dealt with in the legislation. If the agent has a right of complaint against the employer who is discriminating, the matter becomes fair again. This is why I believe that the House would be right to go warily. The hon. Member said that it would be an offence for the employment agent to refuse to look for workers for an employer who openly discriminated. The hon. Lady the Member for Hitch in (Mrs. Shirley Williams) made this her main point in Committee for supporting this provision. She said that, as the employment exchanges have to refuse to treat with an employer who openly discriminates, so should the employment agents. Yet the hon. Member for Putney this afternoon denied that. He said that, if it is clear that an employer is discriminating, the agent cannot be blamed and that is not how it was meant to apply. Now our confusion is worse confounded. When the Bill became law it would have to be very clearly known by the employment agent whether he was in the wrong if he refused to supply workers to a discriminating employer, and whether that would make him liable to lose his licence.

3.30 p.m.

Mr. Hugh Jenkins

I understand from my hon. Friend and from the Department that so far there has been no case in which it has been necessary to remove the services of the Department from an employer. Until now, when the Department has gone to an employer who is practising discrimination, the persuasion has been sufficient to persuade the employer that discrimination should not be exercised. One hopes that the private employment agencies would be equally successful. There therefore does not seem to be the difference between my hon. Friend and myself which the hon. Member sees.

Mr. Ridley

With respect, that is not good enough. The hon. Member says that he hopes that it will not happen. His statement that there is no known case of an employer continuing to discriminate after he has been approached by the Ministry of Labour employment exchange does not hold water when one has read the P.E.P. Report, which suggests that discrimination is extremely widespread and that probably more than 50 per cent. of employers are practising discrimination. How can the hon. Member save that the exchanges have not had one employer who is still discriminating when last week P.E.P. told us that the evil was so widespread?

Mr. Fernyhough

There are many employers who still discriminate. Once that discrimination is brought to the notice of the Ministry of Labour, the local employment exchange manager goes round to see the firm. If his approach does not produce results, the regional officer goes round to the firm. If the regional officer fails, then the matter comes down to, or up to, Ministerial level—whichever way one cares to describe it—for a decision to be made. In only one case after that protracted series of representations and conciliation efforts have we failed. Where such a case is brought to the notice of the Ministry, much effort is made to remove the prejudice, and, by and large, much success is achieved.

Mr. Ridley

I am delighted to hear it. That is the best way in which progress can be made. But the hon. Member cannot tell the House that, after the conciliation efforts of his Ministry, he knows of only one case in which discrimination continues when the same week has produced this massive P.E.P. document full of evidence to the contrary. One of them must be wrong. I am not an expert on the subject, but, clearly, there is a clash of opinion.

There is no doubt in my mind that the P.E.P. Report is right. It bears out what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Tavistock—that when faced with this problem on the ground, a compromise has to be reached between the employment exchange and the employer. Maybe they fudge it up in some way to look all right, but discrimination goes on, because there is no other way of ending it when the employment exchange is not prepared to treat with such employers, but the employers are resisting the approach of the exchange.

That brings me to the question about conciliation. My hon. Friend the Member for Paddington, South (Mr. Scott) filled in the gaps left in the speeches of other hon. Members by drawing our attention to the importance of conciliation. This is by far the most effective way of curing this evil. I am not happy with the Clause because it makes a serious offence punishable by loss of livelihood or licence for one group of people in the chain between employer, agent and employee. It is too unfair a situation for employment agents to be asked to operate with the law as it has been defined to us, and without any provision for conciliation.

I have no intention of dividing the House on what is too delicate and personal a matter on which to go into the Division Lobbies. I urge the hon. Gentlemen opposite to ponder on what has been said by my hon. Friends and not to take our remarks as wishing to prolong discrimination but as a serious criticism for introducing it in this Measure in this way, rather than introducing a special Bill to deal with the whole question of employment discrimination, as proposed in the P.E.P. Report.

Mr. Fernyhough

I would like the hon. Gentleman to understand that the one case to which I referred arose because of the attitude of the firm. Because of the unreasonableness and obstinacy of the firm, the Ministry reached the stage when we had to say, "We will not submit any further labour to your firm".

Mr. Ridley

I am grateful for that explanation. I am surprised that so few cases of that type have arisen. Perhaps it might have been better had there been more, for the Ministry might have found it an easier problem with which to deal. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave withdrawn.

Amendments made: No. 20, in page 3, line 1, leave out 'or authorisation'.

No. 21, in line 7, leave out 'or authorisation'.—[Mr. Hugh Jenkins.]

Mr. John Page

I beg to move, Amendment No. 22, in page 3, line 9, to leave out paragraph (a).

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Would it be convenient to discuss, at the same time, the following Amendments: No. 23, in line 9, leave out from '(a)' to 'requiring' in line 10.

No. 24, in line 10, leave out 'such', and No. 66, in Clause 5, page 6, line 16, leave out paragraph (f).

Mr. Page

That is convenient, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

This series of Amendments provides us with the first opportunity we have had to discuss the whole problem of the fixing of fees which may be charged by employment agencies to their employer and employee clients.

My hon. Friend and I are opposed to the whole basis of fee fixing. We oppose it, first, because we believe that it will reduce competition and will, therefore, act detrimentally in the interests of both employer and employee clients; secondly, because we do not believe that it is necessary for this power to fix charges and fees to be in the hands of the Minister —indeed, we think it neither necessary nor wanted; and, thirdly, because we believe that it will not be practicable

We believe that it will reduce competition and, as hon. Members know, there is considerable competition in the whole of the employment agency business, with differing charges and terms being offered to employer and employee clients. We must realise that with, perhaps, the sole exception of the theatrical world, nearly all fees are paid by employers alone.

There is competition in these scales of charges at present, and we have had a fairly recent example in New York of what happens when competition ceases. Until fairly recently a free market in fees existed in that great city, but fee fixing by the local authority became the rule and competition in fees has almost entirely disappeared. About 800 employment agencies work there now, and with very few exceptions they have all put up their fees to the maximum allowed. Thus by fee fixing, we remove the opportunity for employers to choose whether they will go to a high fee-charging or a low fee-charging agency.

Some who choose the higher fee-charging agency obviously do so because they believe it to be in the best interests of their company, because they get better service. As to whether control of fees is necessary, a survey was carried out by the C.B.I. at the request of the Ministry of Labour only a few months ago and it was found that employers had made no requests that the fees charged to them by agencies should be controlled.

The next question is whether it is practicable for the Ministry of Labour to take upon itself the fixing of fees charged by different agencies. It is essential to the argument for hon. Members to know the different categories of employment agency which now practise. These are probably known to those hon. Members who were on the Committee, but perhaps others, who were not, will be surprised at the range. It demonstrates the spectrum with which the Ministry would have to deal.

In the first group we have theatrical agencies and contractors, model agencies, office staff agencies, management selection and executive staff agencies, hotel and catering staff agencies, domestic staff and au pair agencies. Another group deals with scholastic staff, architectural staff, accountancy staff, draughtsmen and drawing office staff and general engineering staff. There are other specialist agencies dealing with sales staff, advertising staff, estate agency staff, clothing and fashion trade staff, hairdressing staff, drivers and chauffeurs, computer staff, mechanised accountancy staff, and lastly, and rather strangely, some butchers—

Mr. Hugh Jenkins

I am sure that it is necessary for the hon. Member to deploy his argument in some detail—he is dealing with three Amendments—but could I remind him that time is getting on? It has recently been calculated that the cost of getting a Bill through the House is between £10,000 and £20,000. As we have therefore spent about £12,000 so far on the Bill, will the hon. Gentleman make sure, by getting the Bill completed, that we do not waste money?

3.45 p.m.

Mr. Page

I quite understand the hon. Gentleman's interest in the Bill, considering the work that he has put into it. It is not now, and never has been, the intention of my hon. Friends or myself to try to slow down the passage of the Bill. All we have tried to do is to make it a better Bill, the type of Bill which was originally envisaged. I reject any charge the hon. Member may make that I am going slow at this important stage.

Those are the groups and categories of agencies with whom we are dealing. Within those groups and categories there is a total of about 3,000 agencies, different firms giving different types of service and charging different types of fees. So far, we have had from the hon. Member for Putney and the predecessor of the Parliamentary Secretary no detailed information as to how the Ministry set about regulating and controlling the fees which will be charged by the different agencies.

We have consistently criticised the Bill because it gives blanket powers to the Minister, but we have never had any details to show the estimated cost and method of assessing the fees.

Mr. Fernyhough

It may be that my memory is at fault, but I think the hon. Member asked me a Question on this matter in the last fortnight. If not, one of his hon. Friends asked the Question and I gave as much information as was available to us at the time.

Mr. Page

The hon. Gentleman gave the cost of administering the whole of this scheme, but I am referring to the cost of assessing these fees. The amount which the hon. Gentleman gave was a global figure of £35,000 for the total cost of administration, plus £13,000 for Departmental work, but I cast doubt on this, considering the amount of work and supervision which the Department would have to undertake if it carried out the terms of the Bill.

I do not wish to seem uncharitable, but the hon. Gentleman may remember that the estimate of the cost of the Redundancy Payments Act

Mr. Speaker

Order. We are on an Amendment. The hon. Member must talk about it.

Mr. Page

I shall return to it, but I was led astray by the Parliamentary Secretary, Mr. Speaker.

Let us take some examples which at present exist of different scales of charges which are made by different types of agency. Within possibly a mile of this place we could find domestic agencies charging anything from three guineas to 15 guineas for the placing of the same category of person. We shall find agencies providing office staff which vary the charge from 2 per cent. to 10 per cent. We shall find in the catering business variations of charges for placing a similar person of between five guineas and 25 guineas. We shall find management selection companies which offer a variation of fees from 10 per cent. to 25 per cent. of the annual salary of the person they may place.

The fees that these firms charge are based on the fact that they are required by the firms applying to them to give the service to their clients which the clients want. It is incredible to believe that it would be possible for the Ministry to fix the different scales charged by different agencies to the extent that the Bill would enable the Minister to do. A domestic agency in Bolton might charge one fee for placing one kind of employee and a different fee for placing another kind. How will these fees be fixed? It is the admixture of different fees and different bases which gives employees and employer clients a competitive market to which they can go to get the best staff for their firms or the best posts for themselves.

As the Bill stands, the fees charged for temporary staff are also to be controlled by the Minister. I believe that the promoter of the Bill strongly believes that fees charged for the provision of temporary office staff and other temporary staff should also be fixed. This question was not fully examined in Committee, but it must be considered again by the hon. Gentleman. An agency may retain an employee on its books and pay that person's salary to act for it as temporary staff. When the agency is rung up, this temporary typist or secretary will go out for a matter of hours or days to work for a client. Even if it were considered reasonable for fees to be fixed for the ordinary work of employment agencies, it is unreasonable for fees to be fixed for temporary staff.

We should be interested to hear from the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins) how the charges for temporary staff are to be assessed. If the price which an employer may ask for the services of a fully-paid employee of his when that employee goes out to work for a client is to be fixed, this is a new field, because it is tantamount to saying that the Ministry would be able to fix what charge could be made to a client for the work of a plumber employed by a building firm.

Finally, there is something which is considered to be very sinister indeed by people in the employment agency world. If the Minister has powers to fix the maximum fees which may be charged to any employer or employee client, it would be possible—I am not saying that it is now—if the Minister wished, to fix the ceiling so low that it would be impossible for the private enterprise employment agency to continue to exist. Though I am not saying that this is the intention of the Ministry at the moment, and though I am hesitant about being certain about the intentions of the hon. Member for Putney, it is nevertheless worrying for an organisation to know that the Government can at any time run it out of business without any further measures, by setting the prices that the organisation can charge at uneconomically low levels.

Mr. Hugh Jenkins

There has never been any suggestion that anything of the sort should be done. Would not the hon. Gentleman accept that in talking at this great length on a subject which has been debated during nine sittings of the Committee, he is showing great concern for the employment agents, but little or none for the users of them?

Mr. Page

The hon. Gentleman is misguided, because the whole Bill is a blunt instrument—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman must not be tempted out of order. He must speak about the Amendment.

Mr. Page

You are right, Mr. Speaker. I was tempted, and having given way, I must be careful not to do so again.

We think that even today we have had very little showing for the interests of the employer, the employee, or the agent. The Bill as it stands will reduce competition, and I believe that competition is the best way to get service for all those who use an organisation.

It is with those final sad words that I feel I should sit down, but I hope that at the appropriate moment my hon. Friends will come with me to vote against this obnoxious part of the Bill.

Sir H. Legge-Bourke

As I have already had occasion to say to the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins) he is asking us to take a lot on his own good faith without full explanation, and this is the first opportunity that I have had of saying anything about this Clause.

One of the capacities in which I do so is that a concern with which I am involved has employed one of these agencies, and therefore I suppose I now come into the category which the hon. Gentleman said ought to be allowed to voice its opinions, namely, somebody who uses one of these agencies.

Nothing in the Bill frightens me more than the prospect of there one day being a state of affairs in which there is no competition whatsoever in their field. What we ought to be seeking is the highest standard of excellence that we can achieve in management consultancy, and so on. I am convinced that if competition is removed that excellence will deteriorate rather than improve.

I know that we have not had a statement, either in Committee, or anywhere else, to the effect that competition will be removed altogether, but, nevertheless, powers are being given for it eventually to be removed should the Government of the day suddenly decide to adopt some of the thinking of the I.L.O. on this matter. I know that the hon. Member for Putney has protested that he is not intending to do this, but I am saying that the Bill will give power to a future Government to act in that way, and if this were to happen—and, after all, the Parliamentary Secretary's predecessor said upstairs that already the European Economic Community had adopted some of these recommendations—

Mr. Speaker

Order. We are debating the power to regulate fees.

Sir H. Legge-Bourke

I know, Mr. Speaker, and it is precisely because certain European countries have taken power to do this, and if we go into the European country we might have to do the same, that I am trying to voice my anxiety about the matter.

It being Four o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.

Debate to be resumed upon Friday, 16th June.