HC Deb 09 July 1968 vol 768 cc412-7
Mr. Winnick

I beg to move, Amendment No. 78, in page 9, line 24, to leave out 'the Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this Amendment we can also discuss the following Amendments: No. 80, in page 9, line 45, leave out 'to the Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity'.

No. 96, in page 20, line 28 leave out from 'authorisation' to end of line 31.

No. 97, in line 32, leave out paragraph 2 and insert— 2. Where any such complaint is made it shall at first instance be referred to the Race Relations Board, and the Board shall decide if the complaint should be sent to a body of persons suitable to consider that complaint. No. 100, in page 21, line 10, leave out paragraph 4 and insert— 4. A body of persons to whom a complaint is referred under this Schedule shall, on the expiration of the period of four weeks from the reference of the complaint to them or on completion of their investigation, whichever occurs first, report to the Race Relations Board on their findings and whether they have been able: to secure a settlement and assurance. No. 101, in line 19, leave out paragraph 5 and insert— 5. The Board shall decide if the agreement is satisfactory where such an agreement has been reached with a complaint and if they are not satisfied to investigate themselves. Where no settlement has been reached by a body of persons outside the Board the Board will then decide whether to investigate the matter. No. 102, in line 28, leave out paragraphs 6 to 16.

Mr. Winnick

What I am trying to do by the Amendment is to make sure that employment complaints are treated in the same way as housing and credit complaints; in other words, I should like complaints to go direct to the Race Relations Board. I cannot see any justification at all for the Department of Employment and Productivity being involved. Indeed, if anything, one would imagine that the Department has enough problems on its plate at the present without being involved with complaints about racial or colour discrimination.

Some people have argued, I do not know with what justification, that the Government have included the involvement of the Department as a sort of sop to the C.B.I. and the T.U.C. I would make the point, which has been made earlier today, that the T.U.C. and the C.B.I. have not been very keen, certainly not been very enthusiastic, about the Measure we are debating. They have been urging that voluntary machinery should be used in industry, and that there is no need for what we are now discussing. Therefore, perhaps the Government fell it only right and proper that the Department of Employment and Pro- ductivity, the former Ministry of Labour, should be involved at some stage. I believe this to be totally unnecessary.

What I would urge is that complaints should be sent to the Race Relations Board which would then decide if there is appropriate voluntary machinery to be used in a given industry. The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg) seems to be heckling me from a sitting position. No doubt he can make his own views clear later on.

Mr. Hogg

I was taking no part in the hon. Gentleman's speech. I was giving instruction and advice and comfort to my hon. Friends.

1.15 a.m.

Mr. Winnick

I should be the last person to intervene in the internal affairs of the Conservative Party.

If complaints about employment went to the Board it would decide if there was a voluntary machinery in the industry. If such machinery exists there is no reason why the Board will not use it. Why use the Department of Employment and Productivity rather like a letter box?

It seems to me that we are doing so because the Government want to give a sop to the C.B.I. and the T.U.C. There is no difficulty over housing and credit facilities; complaints will go direct to the Board. I urge the Government to reconsider their decision over employment, and to keep out the Department of Employment and Productivity, which has enough problems. Complaints should go to the Race Relations Board in the first place.

Mr. Callaghan

The Amendments were considered in Committee, and the Committee resisted them. I have seen no reason and heard no new argument to make me change my mind about them at this stage.

I do not think that it would be right to give the Race Relations Board power to overturn settlements accepted by both parties to a complaint, as the Amendments would do. On that ground alone I resist them.

Moreover, it is a basic feature of the Bill that it gives industry a chance to settle employment complaints by its own efforts where it has suitable machinery. If this system is to operate there must be some authority with the task of deciding whether, in relation to any particular complaint, suitable industrial machinery exists. It would be frivolous to give that sort of decision to the Board. It is clearly the responsibility of the Department of Employment and Productivity, the old Ministry of Labour, to decide whether suitable machinery exists. It has long-standing knowledge of industrial relations, procedures and close links with industrial machinery at all levels, closer than anybody else has. No serious critic or observer of the Bill could suggest that there is any authority better fitted to make these decisions.

With regret, I cannot accept my hon. Friend's Amendment.

Sir S. Summers

The Government are making a profound mistake in seeking to keep in the Department of Employment and Productivity. The Amendment is entirely right. For one thing, to introduce this additional wheel to the coach will only make it easier for delays to occur.

Even more important, the Bill's whole success, notably in employment, depends on the skill of the conciliation machinery and the confidence placed in it. That confidence will depend very largely on the extent to which the public, particularly complainants, regard the Race Relations Board as independent of the Government of the day. That is particularly so should there be complaints about employment in the public service or the nationalised industries. If the complainant in such circumstances doubts the independence of the conciliation machinery because the Department of Employment and Productivity is involved in its whole administration a very serious defect will arise, and lack of confidence will follow.

To the best of my information, those concerned with the conciliation machinery very much regret the Government's attitude in this matter. Experience will show that a mistake has been made if the Government stick to this. I hope that we shall make a change here in the not too distant future when we have a chance to make changes. I am sure that in the long run this additional responsibility placed on the Department cannot do anybody any good. In column 664 of the OFFICIAL REPORT of our Committee proceedings on 20th June the Minister's view was set out quite clearly that the Department did not want to be involved. If they are going to be nothing but a postbox it can do nobody any good and can only lead to delay.

Mr. Callaghan

I do not wish to repeat my argument, except to say that the hon. Gentleman cannot have heard me clearly. There must be someone to determine whether the appropriate machinery exists—

Mr. John Lee

The Race Relations Board.

Mr. Callaghan

My hon. Friend interjects "the Race Relations Board", but I can think of few things that would lead to greater lack of confidence than that it should be put into the hands of those who are without experience in these matters. It should be the Department of Employment and Productivity—the old Ministry of Labour—which has got the experience to decide whether this machinery exists.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

I am quite sure the Home Secretary is right in this matter, but I hope he can urge on his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity that if the Department is going to deal with these matters it should do so reasonably expeditiously.

Since there are many other labours on the shoulders of the Secretary of State at the moment, I hope he will say to her that it is important she should deal with complaints of this kind more rapidly than she is able to deal with letters from hon. Members, which certainly takes a very long time.

Mr. Kenneth Lewis

There are a good many of us who have considerable reservations about the Department of Employment and Productivity being involved in this field. I found it extremely interesting —and I tried to intervene when we were discussing the previous Amendment—that when the Under-Secretary for the Department spoke about the Race Relations Board and its responsibility in regard to complaints, he never once mentioned his own responsibility and the Departmental activities that would flow from this Bill once it was passed by the House. Yet many of the complaints will undoubtedly come to his Ministry before ever they reach the Board, and one would hope that in so far as they go to the Department they will stop there and will not go on to the Board.

What some of us find puzzling about this is that assuming there were difficulties of employment in this field, and that there was no Bill of this kind, then clearly the matter would be discussed in the usual way as between the trade unions and the employers, or as between an individual trade unionist and his trade union, and would eventually go through the normal processes and might eventually be settled on a national or at a local level through the good offices of the Department of Employment and Productivity. This would happen in any case, and what we cannot understand is why they should be involved in this Bill. It seems to us necessary to bring in the Race Relations Board only at the end of the day, and if this is so, then the processes involving the old Ministry of Labour conciliation machinery would happen in any case, and it is quite unnecessary to write them into this Bill.

Amendment negatived.

Amendment made: In page 9, line 30, leave out from second 'of' to 'the' in line 31 and insert 'aiding, inducing or inciting'.—[Mr. Callaghan.]

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