§ Lords Amendment No. 46: In page 15, line 28, after "of" insert "Part I of".
§ The Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Robert Carr)
I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Robert Grant-Ferris)
With this Amendment it would be convenient to discuss Amendments Nos. 47 and 299 to 304.
§ 8.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Carr
I am sure that it will be for the convenience of the House to debate these Amendments together, because they form a distinct package. Amendments Nos. 46 and 47 are simply paving Amendments to the two substantive Amendments proposed to Schedule 2, which are the meat of this debate, and Amendment No. 299 is also no more than a paving one.
§ Amendments Nos. 300, 302, 303 and 304 go together and form the first substantial change proposed in Schedule 2, while Amendment No. 301 deals with the second important change. In explaining the purpose of Amendments Nos. 300, 302, 303 and 304, it might be helpful if I gave a brief explanation of the written statement provisions of the Con tracts of Employment Act, 1963.1179
§ Section 4(1) of that Act requires employees to be given within 13 weeks of starting work a written statement giving specified particulars of the main terms of their employment. Section 4(8), however, provides that employees who receive written contracts of employment that include those particulars need not, in addition, be given a written statement.
§ Clause 18(2) of the Bill requires that every written statement issued in accordance with Section 4(1) of the Act must in future include a note about the employees' rights under Clause 5, telling him also how to proceed if he has a grievance. These are matters which the House has just been discussing.
§ The aim of paragraph 4 of Schedule 2 was to make corresponding provision in the case of those employees who receive written contracts instead of written statements under the Act. It requires a note, as mentioned in Clause 18(2), to be incorporated in the individual contract of employment; and paragraph 9 anticipated this being treated as a variation of the contract. But it became clear that paragraph 4 as drafted would not adequately meet this situation.
§ A note of the kind mentioned in Clause 18(2), which is to be of an explanatory rather than of a contractual nature, would not easily be incorporated in a contract of employment. Moreover, to do so would mean that large employers who issue written contracts to their employees, instead of merely written statements under the Act, would be faced with a massive administrative exercise in having to draw up and issue every employee with either a complete written statement under the Act or a fresh written contract of employment, simply to include the variation introduced by Clause 18(2), and certainly it was never intended to place a burden of that magnitude on employers who issue their employees with written contracts.
§ This group of Amendments is, therefore, aimed at overcoming these difficulties by maintaining the validity of the existing contracts which employees may have, without the need for this change; that is, if the note as mentioned in Clause 18(2) is given to the employee separately, in addition to his written con- 1180 tract, if he is given reasonable opportunity to read such a note in the course of his employment or if it is made reasonably accessible to him to do so.
§ However, if the additional note is not given or made accessible in this way within one month of the coming into operation of these provisions the employee will be regarded as no longer exempted under Clause 18, and will then have to be issued with a written statement under Section 4(1). In other words, if employers who have this problem act quickly and give their employees these additional notes, they will be saved the trouble of undertaking this massive administrative task.
§ We thought it right to limit this easing to a period of one month because it is important that all employees should be informed properly, formally and fully of their new rights under Clause 18. Thus, the new Part II to Schedule 2 which is contained in Amendment No. 304 reproduces Sections 4(1) to 4(9) of the Contracts of Employment Act, as amended by these provisions. We hope that this group of Amendments will ensure that individual employees will be made aware of the extra rights which they are getting under this part of the Bill, while saving employers a massive administrative effort which we do not believe to be necessary.
§ As far as we know, the Post Office is the principal employer affected and, therefore, helped by this group of Amendments. Post Office employees, other than casual labour, have, since 1st October, 1969, when the Post Office became a corporation, received written contracts of employment and not merely written statements. It is, therefore, mainly the Post Office we have in mind; but this position could arise, for all we know, with other employers.
§ That explains this group of Amendments dealing with the first point, and I believe that these proposals will be widely accepted and welcomed. I gather that they will not prove to be controversial.
§ Mrs. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)
Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves this part of his proposals, may I ask him to be more explicit about his reference to employees having reasonable opportunities to read the contract? Does he envisage the document being placed on notice boards? How will these 1181 particulars be made "reasonably available" to employees? Will he spell it out rather more fully?
§ Mr. Carr
That is a fair question which I should like to answer in detail. I should like to do some research into the meaning of "reasonable" in this context. I apologise for not having done it earlier, and perhaps it will be convenient if, later in this debate, either I or another Minister deals with the matter. I imagine that this is something on which trade unions will wish to comment in the normal course of negotiating and making arrangements with their members employers.
I come to the second major subject, namely that contained in Amendment No. 301. Whereas L hope and believe that the last subject will be considered helpful and non-controversial, I appreciate that this subject is likely to be more controversial. I wish to make it clear, first, that Amendment No. 301 does not change the original and declared intention expressed in paragraph 8 of Schedule 2. I may have got this wrong, but I have the feeling that some people believe that during the passage of the Bill we have deliberately put something in to tighten up, or make more stringent generally, our original intention. I assure the House that that is not so. For better or worse, our intention has been constant from the beginning.
§ Mr. Harold Walker (Doncaster)
I take it that the right hon. Gentleman is saying that there is no substantial difference between paragraph 8 of Schedule 2 as drafted and the Amendment. Will he explain what appears to be a widening of the scope of the application of this provision, because whereas paragraph 8 refers to sub-paragraph (2) of Schedule 2 to the 1963 Act, that reference is omitted from Amendment No. 301. That omission seems to widen the scope of the original provision.
§ Mr. Carr
That may be so, and I admit that we did not translate our intentions adequately when paragraph 8 was drafted. I think I must admit frankly to the hon. Member. We have not widened our intention but I think that our original wording did not adequately translate our intention. This Amendment therefore was brought forward in another place because it became clear to us that paragraph 8 as 1182 it stood, as I have just said, did not carry out what the Amendment does.
Now I will try to explain the position as it stands at the moment, and the purpose of what we propose to do. As the law stands at the moment a man who is entitled to a payment under an employer's sick pay scheme gets that payment, and it is a term in the great majority of these schemes that if he then draws National Insurance sickness benefit or industrial injury benefit the employer is able to offset that benefit against the payment he, the employer, makes. That is a fairly standard provision. However, if that man is sick while he is under notice the employer may not, as the law now stands, offset National Insurance benefit, and the result of this is that the man gets both the guaranteed payment from the employer under the Contracts of Employment Act and National Insurance benefit. Since the introduction of earnings-related benefits this means that a man can in certain cases get nearly twice as much as he would have done if he had not gone sick or nearly twice as much as his normal earnings—to be precise, in many cases about 185 per cent. of his normal earnings—or what he would have got if sick while not under statutory notice.
This is surely an anomaly. It was never the intention either of the Contracts of Employment Act or of the earnings-related benefits scheme that employees under notice should get more money than when working ordinarily—certainly not, as in certain cases, almost twice as much money as when working normally, or if away because of injury or sickness while in ordinary employment. The extra compensation which a man or woman can justifiably be said to deserve, and which this House admits he ought to have on being redundant, is applied through the Redundancy Payments Act. That is a problem for which Parliament has legislated, that the particular problem of compensation required by a man or woman made redundant should be met. It was never intended that on being given notice of redundancy a man or woman should benefit, when under notice, by getting, as I said, up to almost twice normal pay compared with that for his normal employment.
Moreover, not only is this a cleat anomaly but, unfortunately, there is some evidence to suggest that this anomaly may 1183 have been leading to what I can only call substantial abuse in a number of cases in industry. We have been given well-documented cases where the running down or closure of a place of employment has taken place, because, unfortunately, this became necessary, in which in certain circumstances absenteeism, after the giving of notice, had risen dramatically to twice, and sometimes as much as three times, the normal incidence of absenteeism, and this very dramatic increase after the giving of notice—
§ Mrs. Carr
This is, of course, as the House will know, indeed a very difficult subject. I am not making any specific charges. All I am saying is two things to the House. First of all, when we get circumstances where absenteeism rises suddenly to two and sometimes three times the normal incidence in a particular factory or a particular place of employment it is rather strange that this occurs. Let us assume for a moment that there is absolutely no element of abuse in it at all, there is still this anomaly. It was never the intention of either the Contracts of Employment Act or of the earnings-related scheme that the worker under notice should get substantially more than he got before he was under notice and when he was working or when away sick or injured. That was not the intention, because, I repeat, the intention of Parliament to give people under notice of redundancy compensation is expressed in the Redundancy Payments Act and that is how the extra help should be given.
§ 8.15 p.m.
§ Mrs. Orme
There is a parallel I want to draw. Does the right hon. Gentleman recall that hon. Members behind him, particularly the right hon. Member for Kingston - upon - Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter), consistently pressed that it was right for professional people who retired early to be able to sign and draw 1184 unemployment benefit added to the pension which was given them—more earnings than they would get at the time they were professionally engaged—and that the Minister himself defended this practice when he was shadow Minister and was on this side of the House and we on our side were attacking the Labour Government for trying to attempt to reduce it?
§ Mrs. Carr
I do not think that the hon. Member is being quite accurate or quite fair in the distinction. The other case, as, I think, both sides of the House recognised, was a matter of the basic right of entitlement to National Insurance benefits in return for a contribution record. That is an absolute principle, and there is nothing in this Lords Amendment which in any way attacks that right; there is nothing in this Lords Amendment which takes away the right of a worker, whether under notice or not under notice, to receive full National Insurance benefit to which he is entitled either for sickness or injury; there is absolutely nothing in this Lords Amendment which reduces or takes away from that right whatever.
What we are saying is that this is well accepted—it has been accepted by the unions in collective agreements with employers—that if there is a voluntary sick pay scheme, when a worker is away through sickness or injury he receives full pay while absent. What in effect happens is that the employer pays that worker enough money to make up his National Insurance benefit to the level of his normal pay. This is what we are saying should happen also when he is under notice. The anomaly as such at the moment is that when he is under notice, and only under notice, he gets much more—up to as much as twice his normal earnings. This was never the intention of the Contracts of Employment Act, nor was it the intention of the earnings-related scheme. Nor does this Lords Amendment in any way abrogate the right of any person to National Insurance benefit to which he is entitled.
§ Mrs. Heffer
Would the right hon. Gentleman not agree that such a worker is suffering from a double disability? In the first place he is under notice; in the second place he is off sick and he is not in a position to be able to look for employment during that period. Surely this 1185 must weigh with the right hon. Gentleman?
§ Mr. Carr
What I have said to the hon. Gentleman and must repeat again is that anybody under notice is under this disability and that is why we have our Redundancy Payments Act, and it is the Redundancy Payments Act which provides the worker with financial compensation—or whatever word one likes to use—to take note of the unfortunate fact that he has become redundant. The purpose of the Contracts of Employment Act was to ensure a certain statutory minimum period—which, incidentally, will be generously increased under this Bill—in which he should be assured of full normal earnings for the period of notice.
That was what the Contracts of Employment Act set out to give, and this is what we are extending in the Bill, so that when the Bill is on the Statute Book the statutory minimum periods of notice relating to length of service will be much more generous than they are at the moment. Therefore, we have the double position of somebody declared redundant on guarantee pay for an extended period of time made greater by the Bill with full entitlement to his proper National Insurance benefits. It is not right or fair to others that he should by an anomaly get much more than his colleagues who may also be under notice, or than he would have got had he been similarly sick or injured but not under notice. The fact that he is under notice, and what this means to him, is provided for under the redundancy payments scheme.
§ Mr. Neil McBride (Swansea, East)
Is not the right hon. Gentleman devaluing the medical certificate issued by the doctor when he says that absenteeism rises alarmingly when men are under notice? If a man is under notice and becomes ill, should not he have that little extra on humanitarian grounds?
§ Mr. Carr
The little extra is provided. It is certainly needed, and the previous Government, to their credit, in 1965 dealt with this by the redundancy payments scheme. If we are not providing what is right to meet those circumstances, the way to deal with that, if it should ever be necessary, is by revising the redundancy payments scheme and not by allowing the continuation of the completely 1186 unintended anomaly which I have just described.
§ Mr. Kenneth Lewis (Rutland and Stamford)
I have recently heard of a worker employed by a small employer who, in the middle of a period of sickness, was given notice. The employer then refused a redundancy payment on the basis that the employee was not redundant but was no longer fit to do the job. I do not think this would happen with a normal employer, certainly not a large employer, but a small employer can get away with this, and I should be interested to know what is the answer.
§ Mr. Carr
One would need to know the exact details of the case but, as my hon. Friend undoubtedly knows, the man's entitlement to a redundancy payment under the Redundancy Payments Act would have to be tested by an industrial tribunal, but I do not believe that that is relevant to the point we are discussing now. If for any reason our redundancy payments scheme is not providing as it should for cases of this kind, the way to cope with it is systematically and comprehensively to change the redundancy payments arrangements, and not to do it by allowing it to happen by chance in an arbitrary and non-comprehensive manner through an unintended anomaly. That is the basis for the Amendment. There is no doubt that the present situation has created problems and is not working either fairly or effectively at the moment. Moreover, the problem could be aggravated as a result of the Bill extending the periods of statutory notice during which guarantee payment has to be made.
As I said a few moments ago, it should not be forgotten that the Amendment arises in the context of a general extension of statutory notice, which was provided by the Contracts of Employment Act and which we are now amending in a generous way to guarantee people minimum periods of notice, which should lengthen the period of service during which they are assured of their normal earnings. That is what the Contracts of Employment Act was intended to do and what the Amendment will do in a more generous manner than ever before.
The position of workers who are sick while not under notice is not changed in any way. I think that is clear, but to 1187 avoid any misunderstanding, I wanted to state it categorically. The only people who will be worse off as a result of the Amendment are the few who, because of the anomaly in the present law which I have described, and in a chance and arbitrary manner, have a substantial financial benefit as a result of absence from work when under statutory notice. I do not believe this could be fair, and I am sure it was not the intention. If we are not providing properly for the problems of redudancy, the way to do it is not by the continuance of a chance, arbitrary anomaly of this kind. That is why I believe we were right to bring in this Amendment in another place, and I commend it to the House.
§ Mr Harold Walker
I rise briefly on one small point in the first half of the right hon. Gentleman's speech. I want to contrast the reality which he has found as a Minister with the flag-waving rhetoric of his hon. Friends—I exonerate him, but not his hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Dudley Smith)—who, before the Bill was introduced, made speeches throughout the country in which they guaranteed that every worker would be given a full statement of his terms and conditions of employment.
§ Mr. Dudley Smith indicated dissent—
§ Mrs. Walker
The hon. Gentleman shakes his head. If I do him an injustice, I readily apologise, but I recall that a number of his hon. Friends who take an interest in this subject made one of the great selling points of "Fair Deal at Work" that every worker would be provided with a full statement of his terms and conditions of employment. I am not criticising the right hon. Gentleman for not doing this in the Bill, but I am saying that the reality he has experienced now he should have urged upon his hon. Friends before they went round the country making those speeches which were based either on illusion or on an absence of understanding of the difficulties which confront any employer who tries to do this. My right hon. Friend and I 18 months ago, with our Bill in mind, were anxious to do this but found ourselves up against precisely the same difficulty.
1188 I do not want to pursue that point now, but to concentrate my remarks on the contemptible change that is wrought in the Contracts of Employment Act by Amendment No. 301. I remind the right hon. Gentleman that no mention of this proposal was made in "Fair Deal at Work". There was no mention of it in the Report of the Royal Commission, on which allegedly the Bill is based.
§ Mr. R. Carr indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Walker
I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman shakes his head, because his right hon. and learned Friend spent an afternoon addressing a distinguished company and telling them that the Bill was based on the Royal Commission.
§ Mr. Carr rose——
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Walker
I will give way in a moment. I think we have put the boot in on that one, so that the whole of our proceedings should not be discredited by that piece of nonsense. There was no mention of this in my right hon. Friend's Bill. Surely we would have had this drawn to our attention when we were drafting our Bill, but I have no recollection of this problem during our period of office. Nor was this in the Consultative Document. This was sprung on us surreptitiously in another place.
§ Mr. Carr
The hon. Gentleman is usually a very fair debater, and I am sure that he will accept that all we have ever claimed is that we agree with the analysis of the Donovan Commission, and that many of the proposals in our Bill are the same as those in the Donovan Commission Report or closely allied with them. That is the extent of the claim we have made.
§ Mr. Walker
One would have to scour the Bill and the Royal Commission Report very hard to find any analogies of substance. This is something on which the right hon. Gentleman has now reached the confessional. He explicitly denies what was said by his right hon. and learned Friend before the Bill was presented to the House. If he does not agree, I can get from the Library a copy of his right hon. and learned Friend's speech and the Press reports thereon, in which he claimed that the Bill was based on Royal Commission recommendations.
1189 The right hon. Gentleman says that this proposal was never contemplated or intended when the Contracts of Employment Act was passed, and indeed when the Redundancy Payments Act was put through. I remember quite clearly the proceedings on the Redundancy Payments Act, and it is wrong to suggest that had there been an awareness of this matter it would have then been taken into account. I do not know whether that is what the right hon. Gentleman is suggesting. My recollection is that it was not introduced with the intenion of dealing with the situation which is envisaged in these provisions since such a situation is separate and distinct. Redundancy payments and entitlements cannot be linked to a worker's sickness during periods of notice.
If I may deal with Amendment No. 301, it is reprehensible that the Bill, which has earned the reputation of being one of the most odious pieces of legislation to be passed through Parliament, should be used as a vehicle to attack the terms and conditions of employment of millions of workers. Workers will be exposed to such an attack when they are suffering from one of the most grievous pieces of misfortune which can befall a worker, namely, the loss of his job.
It may be true that the loss of a job today is different from such a disaster in the 1930s. It is not such an appalling hardship because it is cushioned by redundancy payments, wage-related earnings benefits and the generally high level of social security benefits. However, the loss of a man's livelihood is still one of the most serious misfortunes that can befall a man in the whole of his working life. This puts hardship not only on the individual, but on his family. Therefore, to use this Bill as a vehicle to attack a worker in this situation is not only mean and despicable, but is a prostitution of the proceedings of Parliament.
§ Mr. Carr
The hon. Gentleman should recognise that the Bill substantially increases the minimum statutory guarantee period in relation to pay which a man or woman should be able to have under the terrible circumstances which he has been describing. There can be no doubt that this Bill will greatly improve the lot of people.
§ Mr. Walker
The Bill has been exposed throughout the proceedings in this House as a shabby, nasty, vicious attack on workers' rights and on freely negotiated terms and conditions of employment. This is yet another attack and I intend to expose it as such.
The right hon. Gentleman made a comparison with the original provisions as drafted in regard to paragraph 8 of Schedule 2. I hope that he did not intend to imply that we have accepted, even tacitly, the provisions of paragraph 8. We had intended to protest vigorously at the provisions of paragraph 8 in Schedule 2, and it was only the steam-rollering tactics of the Government in the form of their Guillotine which prevented us from so doing. Thus is democracy trampled underfoot by the guardians of Parliament who sit on the Government Front Bench. Had it not been for the wisdom and understanding of Mr. Speaker, who permitted the linking of this Amendment with earlier Amendments, the odds are that we would never have debated this matter at all in this House.
I said that we objected to the provision as originally drafted in the Bill. I pointed out in an intervention that, according to the way we read it—the right hon. Gentleman's words seemed to confirm this—the Amendment extends the scope of what is embodied in paragraph 8 as originally drafted. The Amendment heaps injury upon injury. The right hon. Gentleman put in general terms what he saw as the effect of the Amendment.
My noble Friend, Lord Hoy, in another place spelt out the effects of the Amendment in some detail. I am anxious not to waste time, but I think that it will be for the benefit of the House if we consider how the provision will apply in a typical example. I take that used by my noble Friend, Lord Hoy. My noble Friend considered the position of a man who is earning on average £25 a week and whose employer provides the kind of supplement to social security benefit to which the right hon. Gentleman has referred. Under the law as it stands, if that individual fell sick during a period of notice he would be entitled to £40: under the Contracts of Employment Act he would be guaranteed during the period of notice his normal average weekly earnings of £25 and he would receive on top of that—let us take a man 1191 with three children—£15 a week, bringing him up to £40 a week.
In the ordinary way, if the man were not under notice, the employer would be required to bring up the £15 to £25 during sickness. However, when the man is under notice he is guaranteed the £25, so that, with the £25 "sickness benefit", would make £50. The employer is entitled, under the Contracts of Employment Act, to offset the £10 he would normally have added to the State benefit, thus reducing the £50 to £40. That is the present position.
Under the provisions as drafted in Amendment No. 301, the employer would be entitled to set off against the £25 guaranteed minimum wage the whole of the £25—not merely the £10 that the employer would have added to the supplement, but also the £15 that the man would receive from the State; so at a stroke he has reduced the man's £50 to £25.
The right hon. Gentleman said that the intention was to eliminate the anomaly whereby one man, because he was in such a scheme, might receive more than his fellow worker who was not in a scheme, thus establishing equity between the two. Having shown how in the hypothetical case I have taken the man's earnings that week would be reduced from £50 to £25, we axe now entitled to look at the position of his fellow worker, with whom parity is being established and who works in an establishment where the employer does not provide a supplement to the State sickness benefit. If such a person fell sick during his period of notice, he would be entitled under the provisions of the Contracts of Employment Act to £25 plus the £15 State benefit, making £40 in all. Before the introduction of this Amendment, when a man with average earnings of £25 was sick during a period of notice, he received £15 in State benefit. In other words, £40 on the one hand, and £40 on the other. We now see a curious method of putting them on the same level. The Government propose to chop the first man to £25, leaving the other at £40.
It is the kind of language used by the right hon. Gentleman which causes us anxiety. According to the logic of his case, the Government will now draw attention to the new anomaly which has been created, and, presumably, seek to 1192 establish parity between person A and person B by chopping person B to £25. Is that to be the next stage?
This change was introduced not in this House but in the other place. It was done almost surreptitiously at 12.30 a.m. when their Lordships were led to understand that it was introduced at the request of the employers. We are entitled to ask who they are and what consultation took place with the trade unions. However, we need have no doubt at all. Major employers employing scores of thousands of work people stand to receive a massive pay-off. They are the same employers who invested heavily in the return of a Tory Government last June. They are getting their pay-off.
It is important to note that it is only the employers who are the beneficiaries of this proposal. There is no saving to State funds. The State's liability to pay sickness benefit is undiminished. It is the terms and conditions of employment, freely negotiated, which will be upset by this change.
The sickness schemes operated by employers are schemes which have been negotiated through the machinery of collective bargaining. If there were a need to introduce this change, if there were the abuses and anomalies to which the right hon. Gentleman has referred, why did not the employers do the job themselves and renegotiate their schemes? Surely it was open to them to do so? They could have sat round a table with their workers' representatives with whom originally they negotiated their schemes and told them that different State benefits required a different approach and that their schemes should be renegotiated. Instead, the right hon. Gentleman is doing their dirty work. Perhaps they are not sufficiently brass-faced but believe that the right hon. Gentleman is.
Whatever verbal allegiance the Government have expressed to the principles of free collective bargaining, and for all their words about the sanctity of contract, it is clear that this proposal is a hollow sham. Not only are the Government disrupting freely negotiated contracts; arbitrarily, they have worsened the terms and conditions of many workers at a stroke.
We have heard a great deal about abuse. If there is abuse, it is open to employers to renegotiate with the parties 1193 with whom originally they agreed the scheme which is said to be being abused. I shall not attempt to disprove what the Government say, but I challenge the Government to prove it. So far, we have had no proof. We hear allegations of abuses of social security benefit, but we have precious little proof.
In any event, if there are some abuses, why should the innocent suffer? Many people genuinely fall sick during periods of notice. The Government ask why a sick man should qualify for more pay during a period of notice than when he is normally at work. My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) dealt with that. The man is suffering a double injury. Apart from the loss of his livelihood, he is suffering from sickness and, in addition to any suffering, discomfort or inconvenience that it causes, it impairs his ability to seek new work. This is a problem which the Redundancy Payments Act was never intended to meet. What is more, we ought to bear in mind that, usually, payment of sickness benefit is inseparable from the production of a medical certificate. Are the Government seriously calling into question the integrity of the general practitioners who issue the medical certificates?
The right hon. Gentleman referred to absenteeism. I understand from the report in the other place that it was specifically absenteeism in the coal mining industry which had been brought to the attention of their Lordships. I wonder what knowledge of the coal mining industry resides with those who sympathise with such arguments. On this point about people receiving a double benefit and enhancing their income by being absent from work, with respect to some of my hon. Friends, we all know those who are absent from this House so often doubling, trebling and multiplying their incomes by their absence. We do not hear about that. Apparently that is in order.
I return to the position in the coal mining industry. My constituency is in the heart of the South Yorkshire coal mining industry. I have many miners among my constituents. Every coal mining Member can confirm that there are thousands of miners in this country who daily struggle to work when they 1194 should be in their beds. They cough and spit all the way to the pithead. Many of them should not be at work, but they cannot afford to stay away. Therefore, who can blame them if, the chopper having fallen, having been told that they are no longer wanted at the pithead, they decide to stay at home? Indeed, they ought not to be at home. As a matter of social responsibility, we should provide and send them to places to be cured of the ailments which they have contracted in this terrible industry.
It was said in the other place that such absences created difficulty for employers to readjust work schedules, and so on. There may be something in that. I have had my share of industrial management so I can appreciate the problems which arise, but that is hardly convincing as a justification of the step which is now proposed. After all, we are talking about people who have been told that their services are no longer required. Having been told that, their absence from work is then condemned because they are disrupting production.
You cannot have it both ways. I beg your pardon, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I should not dream of suggesting that you cannot have it both ways. The employers cannot have it both ways. They cannot say, "Mr. Jones, you are redundant to requirements. We do not need you. You are surplus to requirements. But do not stop off next week because we need you to maintain production." It is an insult. It seems an extraordinary equation to put on a par the loss of a man's job and the marginal effect—it cannot be more—of continuing the arrangements which the Government are wiping out.
It is also striking that the employer is given no alternative. The Bill does not give us the permissive "may" that we so often argue about. It is the mandatory "shall". The employer shall not exercise discretion, but shall set off the social security benefit against whatever payment a man might draw under the Contracts of Employment Act.
I should like to put a specific question to the right hon. Gentleman. What will be the position if a redundant worker, who might otherwise have benefited from the existence of such a scheme, decides at that moment to contract out of the scheme 1195 unilaterally? The payment of the employer's supplement is normally dependent upon the employee who is off sick producing some documentary evidence about the amount of State benefit which he has received. I think that he gives that information on the form BS. 12 which he has to send in to his employer. It is only when he sends that information that the employer knows how much has been drawn and, in this situation, how much has to be offset against the amount of pay to which the man would otherwise be entitled under the provisions of the Contracts of Employment Act. Suppose he decides that the post will be late, or that he accidentally drops it into the fire or puts it to some other purpose and, therefore, does not send it. As I see it, it would be extremely difficult for the employer—indeed, an employee would have recourse to law—if he did not meet his obligations to the full under the Contracts of Employment Act. It would then be a matter for the employer subsequently to have to pursue repayment from the individual empoyee. If I am wrong, I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will correct me.
This is a matter of profound importance to the thousands of workers who will be affected, more particularly to the 740 workers in my constituency at Don-caster who are threatened with redundancy—indeed, they have been told that they are surplus to requirements—by their employer, I.C.I., which provides such a scheme. If I can offer them any useful advice to make sure that in the weeks ahead they get what they would have got had their redundancy occurred during the last few weeks, I shall be only too ready to do so. I hope that the Secretary of State will explain this.
The right hon. Gentleman claims that the Amendment will remove an anomaly. I hoped to show that far from removing an anomaly, it merely creates another and wider anomaly. In any event, for the right hon. Gentleman to try to remove an anomaly such as this by an injustice is reprehensible. I hope it is something that not only my hon. Friends but some of his hon. Friends will not accept.
Having embarked on this line and having breached what seems to us to be a principle, will the right hon. Gentleman guarantee that he will not, as one 1196 of my hon. Friends suggested in an intervention, take it further? We hope that he will not. We hope that this will not be the start of a sweeping attack, not on double benefits, which are already prohibited by legislation, but on an individual who is in receipt of State benefit receiving a supplement from any other source. If it is such an attack, I beg the Government to think again. If they do not indicate readiness to think again, we shall oppose them in the Lobby, and I hope that one or two of the Minister's conscience-stricken hon. Friends will join us.
§ Mr. Tom King
The discussion has focussed largely on Lords Amendment No. 301, on which I wish to concentrate. I must confess to some surprise that we are discussing this Amendment. It seems somewhat foreign to the rest of the Bill. While not discussing the merits at this stage, we seem to have moved on to rather different ground.
My right hon. Friend made various points very fairly in his original presentation. The hon. Member for Doncaster (Mr. Harold Walker) has expressed concern, although I thought that a number of his charges were grossly excessive and detracted very much from the merits of what otherwise could have been a cogently argued case.
The suggestion that the Bill is an employers' pay-off cannot be justified on the facts. If the hon. Member had heard some of the comments which have been made to me about the problems that longer-term notice will raise for employers, and the problems of longer terms of notice affecting a relatively far wider number of people than merely those who are sick while under notice—
§ Mr. Harold Walker
I thank the hon. Member for allowing me to correct him. It was this Amendment to which I referred as the pay-off to the employer, and not the Bill. I recognise, as does the hon. Member, that it will create enormous problems for employers.
§ Mr. King
I recognise that the hon. Member always seeks to be fair and I knew that he would not want to make a charge like that unless he balanced the pros and cons.
My right hon. Friend has always recognised that the Bill is a matter of 1197 balancing certain interests and issues and trying to effect a fair balance for the parties concerned. Therefore, the charge that this is a pay-off for employers must be immediately contradicted, because it simply cannot be justified on the facts.
§ Mr. Heffer
It is important to get this clearly on the record. The Prime Minister is reported as saying the other night, in the 1922 Committee, that it was not understood by his colleagues—meaning hon. Members opposite—how the balance would be tipped in favour of employers in industrial negotiations.
§ Mr. King
I hesitate to correct the hon. Member, because I have remarked recently about reports of private committees. What he says is not an accurate quotation. I suggest that his source must be corrected in this case, although in other cases I admit that we have had remarkably accurate quotations from private committee. The hon. Member's quotation is a distortion of what my right hon. Friend said.
§ Mr. King
The second point referred to by the hon. Member for Doncaster, which I thought far from fair, was his suggestion that there was something mandatory about the Amendment, in that it prevented any negotiation with employers for different terms. I know the hon. Member's great experience in these matters, and I was surprised that he should suggest that there was some compulsion on employers against doing anything better. That suggestion was totally valueless.
The hon. Member further laid great emphasis on the word "shall", as meaning that the employer had no alternative. There is nothing to prevent individual employers, by negotiations of the kind that hon. Members opposite recognise, making certain arrangements between a union and a company.
It seemed to me that the debate moved on to rather confused ground. The hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. McBride) touched on a valid point when he referred to doctors. The hon. Member for Sal-ford, West (Mr. Orme) suggested that it was an insinuation against doctors.
§ Mr. King
That is exactly the point. The hon. Member suggested that there was an attack on doctors. All those who know about these matters will realise that this is an extremely difficult problem for doctors. The situation is almost impossible for them. They are faced with the prospect of making a very difficult decision and in their situation it is understandable that we should arrive at the sort of results that my right hon. Friend has suggested that the figures show.
The hon. Member for Doncaster affirmed the point that there is something psychosomatic about receiving notice. It can have different effects on different people and it could well contribute to grounds for the issue of a doctor's certificate.
I am not clear what sized animal we have in our sights in the Amendment. Many of us would like some more information about the kind of monster that we are tackling, and would like to know whether it represents a major problem at this stage. I appreciate that the point made about the Redundancy Payments Act is valid and should be taken into account. I realise that we must deal with these anomalies. Although individually they seem small they contribute to a very unsatisfactory situation if they are allowed to continue.
Nevertheless, I am concerned about the situation of the people with whom we are dealing tonight, albeit that it is difficult to establish the validity of all their claims. I should like some more details as to how major a class this is. At the same time, one must recognise—this I support, and I appreciate the real problem which it will pose for many employers—that in this Bill we are taking far wider steps, steps not adequately acknowledged by the Opposition, to do more for those under notice by this important provision regarding extended periods.
§ Mr. Frederick Lee (Newton)
The main problem here is that the Government are not dealing with payments made under a Government scheme. These are private payments, payments as between 1199 employer and employee, and, as I understand it, the way the Government are going about it amounts to nothing less than a subsidy to the private employer. We are looking not so much at State benefits as at benefits derived from a private scheme which is an arrangement between an employer and his employee.
These schemes vary widely. Some of them are of a contributory basis and, as such, they amount to insurance which an employee takes out. When a person has, during his employment, insured himself against sickness, how dare any Government now intervene and say that he has no right to draw, or cannot be permitted to draw, benefits from a scheme to which he has contributed? Yet, as I see it, that is exactly what the Government are doing.
We all know that a small minority of people may well indulge in certain abuses, but it is too easy for people to whip up hysteria about that on the basis that the taxpayer has to pay for it. There is no suggestion of that here. In very many cases, a person who has contributed towards something is demanding benefits when he needs them.
We are invited to take into account the person who is on notice. What is the maximum period for which notice would run? I do not know. This should be made abundantly clear. I have had certain responsibilities in these matters, and I know very well that one of the problems which one comes up against is that it would probably cost more to stop an anomaly-than one would gain from stopping it. What kind of machinery would be necessary in order to stop what kind of payment? I shall take a lot of convincing that the anomaly of the man on notice is very widespread. I agree with what was said by the hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. Tom King) on this point; I should like far more information about the equation. For instance, how much would it take to prevent anomalies of this sort, as compared with what would be the benefit accruing from so doing?
We are running into something here which I defy any Government to be able to see through. For example, are we talking about a person on a payment-by-results scheme? We hear talk of employers making up the difference between the insurance and what the man 1200 generally earns. But there is a huge range of differences. Is the person concerned on a flat basic rate, or is he on a payment by results scheme? I could cite the cases of hundreds of thousands of people whose take-home pay varies by as much as £10 a week. To what point does the typical employer make up the absentee's pay? Generally speaking, it is up to his basic rate.
To say, as the right hon. Gentleman did, that people in that category would be taking home 85 per cent. more than if they were working is nonsense. I know a little about being off work sick and receiving basic pay. I can think of a number of industries where low basics are accepted only because there is adequate opportunity to make pretty big bonus earnings. In that sense, therefore, no employer is compensating a worker who is absent ill to the extent of the man's take-home pay if he were not ill. It is wrong to argue that 80 per cent. more can be taken home.
I believe that more than half the working population are on payment-by-results schemes. The miners have been mentioned, and many of them are on such schemes. I defy any Minister or organisation to make a computation which could result in their being able to tell us the percentage in excess of his take-home pay that the employee now on notice would be taking home.
It seems to me that the Amendment was a last-minute effort. Probably there was an inducement by some employers to get the Government to stick this kind of thing in. The Bill itself is anomalous; it is in very bad odour to begin with. Therefore, the argument may have been, "It cannot stink much more if we stick some of this in. We may as well get the thing through in this way," I object to using this kind of legislation, primarily because it is purely a subsidy to employers anyway.
§ Mrs. Lee
I do not disagree. Perhaps I was being more polite than my hon. Friend. I was saying that the Amendment was stuck in at the last minute in another place because of an approach to the 1201 Government by certain types of employers. This kind of legislation, bad as it is, should not be used to affect benefit arrangements between employer and employee.
The Tory Party has always argued that we should rely more on private schemes instead of widening the scope of the National Insurance schemes, as we aimed to do. We begin to see now why hon. Members opposite say that. The unholy alliance between employers and the Tory Party is becoming more and more obvious. If working people are to be forced to depend upon private schemes, which can then be manipulated in this way by a Tory Government, I am certain that we were absolutely right to try to take it out of the realm of private employers to influence the position of working people, especially at a time when a man is on notice and when, with 800,000-odd people out of work, heaven only knows when he will obtain further employment anyway. To introduce such an Amendment at a time when the Government are responsible for the horribly high rate of employment is too fantastic for words, and we shall oppose it.
§ Mr. Kenneth Lewis
I have seldom heard more excited exaggeration on anything than I heard from the hon. Member for Doncaster (Mr. Harold Walker). I thought that he was trying to make a case against the Government which he knew to be very thin. Not even the Opposition can afford to get into the position of supporting an anomaly, which gives advantage to a few people over many other employees and leads the others to say, "Seeing this going on, we had better get on the bandwagon as well." When there is an anomaly of this kind, the Government have a right to deal with it. Perhaps it would have been better to have done so in another Bill, but this Bill is as suitable a vehicle as any.
I do not believe that an employer should sack anyone who is sick. At least, it would have to be exceptional. If someone is off sick for a very long time, then the employer must think in terms that he cannot really keep the man on for an extended length of time. But in normal circumstances, when a man is sick he should not be dismissed. It does sometimes happen, however, which is why I raised with my right hon. Friend the 1202 question of redundancy payments. I had heard that there was sometimes cases where a man was dismissed but did not get redundancy payment. In such cases, the employer does not usually have a sickness scheme.
I am all in favour of employers extending their own sickness schemes and of unions negotiating with them for such schemes. If one can put forward sickness schemes which do not contain anomalies, one is more likely to get the employers to negotiate them, but if one allows anomalies to persist that are to their disadvantage, they will think twice before they introduce sickness schemes or expand the scope.
§ Mr. Harold Walker
If it is the case that there are abuses, or, because of the passage of time and changes of circumstance and condition, the original conception of a scheme becomes irrelevant or outdated, surely it is open in the first instance to the parties who negotiated it and accepted it as part of the terms and conditions of employment, to renegotiate. We have had no evidence from the Government that any of the employers seeking this change have sought to renegotiate. It is part of my case that they have asked the Government to impose it instead of resorting to the machinery of free collective bargains, which has been so lauded on both sides of the House.
§ Mr. Lewis
It is difficult to answer that but my reply would be that employers and unions together may have sensed that there is some form of abuse of a scheme but that the employers may have taken the view that it would be very difficult to get the unions at official level to accept that there was an abuse.
§ Mr. R. Carr
The hon. Member for Doncaster (Mr. Harold Walker) is wrong in thinking that collective bargaining can come into this at all. The employer must do what he is now doing. He cannot alter it by collective bargaining.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Robert Grant-Ferris)
Order. It is best not to have an intervention upon an intervention.
§ Mr. Lewis
We will leave that as it is, since my right hon. Friend says that it is not negotiable.
1203 There are people who are under notice who are perfectly fit and well, so they are not involved. Others who are sick are not under notice. People who are sick and not under notice are not affected. Clearly, they do not come within this regulation. The only people affected are those who are sick and are under notice and most of those—this is what clearly concerns the employers, I would guess—are men who have gone sick after they have been given notice. It is idle to pretend that this cannot and does not happen. It must clearly be disruptive if a group of people who are under notice—and extended notice is rightly becoming general in industry—suddenly decide to go sick, having discovered that they are so much better off if they do, for instead of being without them a month from today, the employer would be without them tomorrow. Hon. Members opposite say that if they can get advantage from so doing, there is no reason for them not to do so, but if the practice became extensive the disadvantage would be to the bulk of the workers and the advantage entirely to the minority.
In the long run, it is to the advantage of employers to provide their own good sickness benefits. Hon Members say that these should be negotiated with the trade unions, that it would make negotiations to improve sickness schemes so much more difficult. It is an anomaly which they exaggerate, because it applies to a few people who have been fly enough to sense that they can get advantage from the arrangement.
It is said that we are casting aspersions on doctors by suggesting that their certificates are not always valid. But the situation in the National Health Service is such that if someone says that he is sick, at least in the short term, the doctor, busy as he is, will give him a certificate. That is proven by the fact that where there is a factory doctor, it is much more difficult to get a certificate than in factories which do not have their own medical service, and very few factories have their own service.
Opposition Members are exaggerating the difficulty. Furthermore, they are encouraging those who would take advantage of a loophole and in general they are doing a disservice to workers 1204 who want to do what is right and not to get twice what they should have. Hon. Members want a better sickness benefit and they should be asking for an improvement in sickness benefits and not supporting the continuation of an anomaly which the Government are justified in tackling.
§ Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)
The hon. Member for Rutland and Stamford (Mr. Kenneth Lewis) spoke of abuses and the way in which someone can see his doctor, say that he has a pain in his back, is 64 years and eleven months old, and be willy nilly given a medical certificate. It is not like that and it never has been. The procedure has been significantly tightened up in the last ten years and there are several ways in which to demon-state that. Hon. Members may try it out themselves for a start. A doctor, if he believes a man is swinging the lead—and this was referred to in another place—may not wish to give a certificate and can insert in a box at the bottom of the certificate "R.M.O." What he is saying to the insurance officer is, "Do not pay this man any money; I want him sent to the regional medical officer."
I can assure the hon. Gentleman that on many occasions doctors in my area, and in other parts of the country, do that. It does not end there. There are such things as sick visitors, often people with no medical experience, coming from the Ministry of Social Security visiting patients. Lord Robens referred to some of these when he made his representations to the Ministry.
Nor does it end there, because when the sick visitor has made a decision one way or another the insurance officer has the opportunity of deciding whether to allow the claim to go forward. So there is the regional medical officer, the sick visitor and the doctor with the opportunity in the first place to refuse the certificate or secondly to give one but to refer him to the regional medical officer. These are the hurdles over which a man must jump to get this benefit. Let us get that out of the way.
§ Mr. Kenneth Lewis
The hon. Member knows perfectly well that in most cases the doctor does not reach the R.M.O. stage until the person has been sick for a week or two and he wants him to so 1205 back to work. If the man refuses and the doctor thinks that he ought to return, that is when the stage is reached.
§ Mr. Skinner
I dealt with these cases for 12 to 15 years before I came here and I can assure the hon. Gentleman that if a doctor decides to refer a man to the regional medical officer that is what happens once he has inserted "R.M.O.". It does not depend on that. There are many other ways in which he can act. There are random samples taken by the regional medical officer, quite irrespective of whether a man has been off work at any time during his working career. A man can be sent to the regional medical officer despite the fact that for 30 years previously he has never been off work, sick or injured. The hon. Gentleman ought to study the regulations before he comes here talking such tommy-rot.
I want to refer to a remark made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Newton (Mr. Frederick Lee) who said that this provision had been inserted at the last moment. I do not agree. I think that the Government have been waiting to insert this somewhere. I take the view that it would have gone into the original Bill had it not been for the fact that members of the Tory Party had to sell it to the country—had to speak on platforms selling the Bill. They did not succeed to a great extent, but they could not afford to have this part in the Bill at the outset.
The reason why I say this is that when the Contracts of Employment Act, 1963 was introduced it was an election gimmick. We were approaching an election and the then Government under Harold Macmillan were blown off course. The Contracts of Employment Act was built up with a big ballyhoo and given to the workers as a sop after four years of savage attacks. That is why the Act was introduced and that is why no reference was made to the man who had to be off sick or injured during his period of notice. That is why after the first 12, 13, 14 months the Government are taking this opportunity to put the record straight. This points to the fact that we are in a post-election period instead of a pre-election period.
I have said enough to show that this is not an afterthought. It is a deliberate act of policy. This provision would have 1206 been inserted in the Social Security Bill but for the fact that the Government knew that they could introduce it at a later stage. So they brought it in shortly after midnight in the House of Lords when few peers were about and when the only exchange that took place on the subject was between Lord Drumalbyn—that is an unusual title, if ever I heard one [Laughter.]—and Jack Diamond—[HON. MEMBERS: "Order."] I apologise, I should say Lord Diamond, who inquired about the cost.
I did not have the honour to be an hon. Member when Jack Diamond, as he then was, was in this place, but I am told that he was very keen on inquiring into the cost of everything. That was his preoccupation when he was here. He is doing the same in the House of Lords.
Lord Hoy attempted to put the record straight, but little was said until, fortunately, the matter came back here. Earl Jellicoe—I prefer to call him "Earl" rather than anything else—said in the other place that this proposal had not come forward previously because of representations from the National Coal Board.
§ Mr. Skinner
I agree with my hon. Friend. The Minister made no reference to the N.C.B., which at that time was headed by Lord Robens, who was negotiating for himself two pay packets worth £200 a week each. Representations were submitted to the Ministry and Earl Jellicoe made it clear that it is as a direct result of those representations that this Amendment must be made.
I speak as an ex-miner, not only for myself and those I represent but for a more militant hon. Member who is not in his place but who has played a great part in dealing with this Bill, both here and in another place. I refer, of course, to my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon), who is suffering from glandular fever. He is a far more militant ex-miners' representative than I am and he has asked me to make these representations on his behalf, mainly because of the furore that this proposal has caused in the mining industry; and hon. Members will be aware 1207 that my hon. Friend represents many thousands of miners.
Earl Jellicoe referred to absenteeism being at the rate of 50 per cent., particularly during periods of notice. I have done some arithmetic, and my arithmetic is about as good as my knowledge of most other subjects. Be that as it may, if one takes the figure of 40,000 miners who retired or were made redundant last year, and estimates that 50 per cent. of them were taking part in this exercise, then, being conservative and allowing not £80 but £90 in each case—the sum which they could draw, according to Earl Jellicoe—we are talking in terms of £1 million. In other words, it is being said that of 300,000 miners, not 40,000—let us, to be conservative, halve the figure—but 20,000 are taking £1 million out of these funds.
Whether or not Lawrence Daly reads the OFFICIAL REPORT of my remarks, they will be drawn to his attention. Next time he is discussing finance with Mr. Ezra, I urge him to ask whether it is all right for the miners to be getting an extra £1 million from the Exchequer? Some might think that if they are not able to get it by one means they should be entitled to get it by another. I have no doubt that Mr. Daly, Secretary of the N.U.M., will be confronting Mr. Ezra over this matter.
This is more serious than some of my hon. and right hon. Friends would suggest. It is very serious indeed, because the very first victims of this Bill, which, my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, West (Mr. Orme) tells me, will get the Royal Assent on Wednesday night—and this man is wise beyond all belief about this—will be the very people whom we discussed at great length in this House this afternoon between 3.30 and 6.30—the men on the Clyde. Those are the people who will get hammered because of the Bill—and it is rather ironical, perhaps more than ironical, that Lord Robens had a hand in that as well.
We cannot expect hon. Members opposite to support us in the Lobby on this issue because this Bill is part of the Tory class strategy enunciated ever since the Tory Party resumed office on 18th June last year, but I want to refer to some 1208 comments made when what was then the Contracts of Employment Bill of 1963 was going through the House. Having listened to the Secretary of State today about this matter being an anomaly and discovered at the last minute, it is rather remarkable to find that, when that Bill was being debated in Committee, this matter was discovered then by the then Member for Aylesbury—a Tory of course—and he moves Amendments about it and he was replied to by the then Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour, none other than the present Leader of the House, who replied to his hon. Friend:These Amendments would remove the present safeguards in paragraphs 2 and 3 of Schedule 2 for the employee absent from work during notice because of sickness and leave, and would put nothing in their place."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee D, 14th March, 1963; c. 196.]In 1963, prior to a General Election, these were safeguards. In 1971, 12 months after a Tory General Election victory, they have become regarded as an abuse. Day after day we read in the newspapers of hon. Members opposite attacking the integrity of my hon. and right hon. Friends, and yet we have this illustration of the present Government, who once said that employees must get their sickness pay and minimum notice and guaranteed payments, but now say that all that should be abolished.
§ Mr. Loughlin
I cannot possibly hope to emulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) and his speech, but I hope to pose one or two questions which I think ought to be posed, very plainly and very simply to the right hon. Gentleman.
We have listened to two hon. Gentlemen opposite, one the hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. Tom King), who has made his speech and gone, and the other the hon. Member for Rutland and Stamford (Mr. Kenneth Lewis) who, by coincidence, has made his speech and gone, and I am rather sorry that they have gone. Does the right hon. Gentleman wish to intervene?
§ Mr. R. Carr
If the hon. Gentleman wishes. I was just thinking, of all hon. Members who have sat fairly steadily throughout our debates on this Bill, I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman ought not to have made criticism of 1209 my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. Tom King).
§ Mr. Loughlin
I am glad to see that the right hon. Gentleman is defending his hon. Friend. The hon. Member for Bridgwater said that he could not understand why this issue was included in the Bill as it is completely foreign to the rest of the Bill. I, too, wonder why it is in. Sickness and industrial injury benefits have nothing to do with the Industrial Relations Bill. I am led to suspect that there has been some behind-the-scenes manoeuvring, and that this provision is apparently an afterthought. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will tell us why and when it was thought desirable to introduce the provision.
It was suggested that there had been abuse, but the hon. Member for Rutland and Stamford, in defending the Government, far from talking about abuse, argued that the total number of people who would be affected by the provision was very small and that we were exaggerating the position. If the number is so small, why is the argument based upon abuse, and why must we bother about it at all?
Abuse of sickness benefits has been talked about for many years. When I was in the Department of Health and Social Security it was a cardinal principle that the patient/doctor relationship was sacrosanct. Any attack on a doctor alleging that he was enabling people to abuse the benefits by issuing a certificate when he should not have done was always refuted. The right hon. Gentleman should have a word with his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services. If his right hon. Friend is taking the line that medical practitioners in the health service are so incompetent, corrupt and frightened of their patients that they are issuing certificates which allow people to secure money on false pretences, that is a very serious charge. If a Minister of the Crown makes by implication a charge of that kind he should be prepared to substantiate it with the full facts.
Paragraph 3A(2) of Amendment No. 301 states:If during any part of the period of notice the employee is incapable of work because of sickness or injury, and—1210 It may be argued that there may be abuse—I would not argue it myself—if a person who receives a notice goes to a doctor saying that he does not feel so good. But if the man is suffering from an industrial injury and it is argued that there is abuse, then it can be said that the man is abusing the situation.
To establish an industrial injury for an increase in industrial injuries benefit there must be a water-tight case. A man cannot establish a claim for industrial injuries unless there is clear evidence from the man involved, corroborated by his employer. If the case is not corroborated, the injury benefit is not allowed. Arguments which by a stretch of the imagination can be applied to sickness cannot be applied to an industrial injury case. Since such claims must be corroborated by an employer, there can be no question of abuse.
I should like the hon. Gentleman to reply to this question. A number of first-line supervisory personnel are likely to become redundant, in the same way as are chief executives in these days because this is happening throughout the whole spectrum of industry. Many of these supervisory personnel are engaged on what loosely are known as staff conditions. One of those staff conditions is that they get paid "work or play". I accept what the Secretary of State says that this is not mandatory and that there can still be negotiations on improvements. One tragedy of this situation will be that a number of employers will take advantage of these provisions and will take the maximum rather than the minimum.
Will the hon. Gentleman say whether employees engaged on nebulous staff conditions such as the "work or play" conditions I have described, will continue to be paid after this provision has been enacted? I am inclined to feel that this is something of a fiddle. It is a backdoor method of dealing with the situation.
The Government would be wise to think again about this. Neither they nor industrialists will find it easy to get cooperation from workpeople in the present industrial climate. Right hon. and hon. Members opposite cannot get it into their thick skulls that workpeople cannot be expected to increase productivity when all they are doing is working themselves and their mates out of jobs. The figure 1211 of 800,000 unemployed will be increased this month, because a substantial number of the 150,000 youngsters who left school recently will not get a job for many months. In such a situation, it is the height of impudence for the Government to attempt to use such a back-door method of cutting benefits.
§ 9.45 p.m.
§ Mr. David Stoddart (Swindon)
The more I have listened to and watched these debates the more convinced I have become that the bland countenance of the Secretary of State masks a vicious and class-biassed mind. The Amendment reveals it more than anything else and I am glad that the Amendment was exposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Don-caster (Mr. Harold Walker).
Like others, I cannot understand why this provision is introduced into this Bill. As the hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. Tom King) said, if it is to be introduced at all it should be part of another Bill. I cannot understand the haste in introducing it unless, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) suggested, the Minister is under such great pressure from big business, whether in the form of nationalised industries or other big business, that he has become a mere lapdog.
Employers who have introduced sickness benefit schemes are being offered a reward for their previous benevolence. This may well be what the Minister has in mind. In truth, there is little benevolence on the part of most employers. These fringe benefits, as they are called, have been fought for by working people over a long period and many working people have sacrificed earnings to get this benefit and other fringe benefits. Because of this provision, they may well be penalised twice—first, through having accepted a lower wage for better fringe benefits and, now, if they are sick while under notice, because they will lose part of the money they would otherwise have had.
In view of all this, I hope that hon. Members opposite will ignore all the claptrap which has been talked about doctors' certificates. With a few notable exceptions who prefer playing golf to looking after their patients, members of the medical profession are very conscientious. They do not give medical certificates at the drop of a hat. Most of them will not countenance the lead swinger.
1212 I hope sincerely that hon. Members in all parts of the House will reject the Amendment.
§ Mr. Orme
Some very important points have been made in this debate. A number of my hon. Friends have asked what this provision is doing in the Industrial Relations Bill, since it has nothing to do with the general lay-out of the Bill and deals with social security benefits relating to sickness and industrial injury. As one of the seven Opposition Members who served on the Committee which considered the Social Security Bill, I know why this provision was not in that Bill. There were enough benefits withdrawn from industrial workers in the Bill without the addition of this provision.
Following the withdrawal of the three waiting days for unemployment, sickness and industrial injury benefits, we now find that what is happening to industrial workers is topped by a Minister who says in this Bill that a worker who goes sick while he is under notice is getting a fantastic amount of money over and above his legal entitlement and that it must be stopped.
Earlier, the right hon. Gentleman spoke about redundancy and benefits. Then he alluded to doctors. He did not specifically refer to doctors until he was challenged. He started to talk about absenteeism, and said that there was a large increase. It was then that it was pointed out to him that he was discussing workers who were in receipt of medical certificates and, therefore, that he was directly accusing doctors of malpractice since it followed that they were issuing certificates for benefits.
The right hon. Gentleman persists in saying that this is normal and natural. However, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) pointed out, one does not necessarily come by a medical certificate easily. It has been my experience in industry that doctors show a good deal of resistance. They are not prepared to give certificates. In a collective sense, doctors tend to be extremely conservative. They are not given to generosity. Many doctors examine patients who insist that they are entitled to benefit and refer them to the regional medical officer. If a doctor puts that on a certificate his patient has to see the regional medical officer. If that 1213 happens, the patient has no redress. He cannot go back to his general practitioner.
We are entitled to know a little more about the basis of the right hon. Gentleman's case. He referred to a figure of 185 per cent. That means 85 per cent. in excess of a person's entitlement. We should be told on what figures the 185 per cent. is based. We are entitled to know how much abuse there has been over the last 12 months. How many thousands, hundreds of thousands or millions of pounds are involved? If the right hon. Gentleman is not prepared to give us those figures, then his case is based on supposition and on the case that the employers have made that they want something done about it.
Further, we are entitled to know the employers who have made representations. We know that the National Coal Board is one of them. We feel that we are entitled to know what the employers' case is based on. Where do they see the abuse?
I asked about professional people who, on retirement, drew unemployment benefit for perhaps two years. We had the classic case of the noble Lord Montgomery, and others, who claimed the benefit. We also had the case, often pleaded in this House by the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter), of the retired bank manager and of many other people who, over a period of two years, legally applied for and obtained unemployment benefit. We were told that it was a statutory right.
Many sickness schemes have been negotiated on the basis of joint contributions by employer and employee. My hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster (Mr. Harold Walker) said that, in effect, it means a financial bonanza for the employer, leaving the employee purely on State benefit. It is no use the Conservative Party always saying that it is a pity that the trade unions do not negotiate more and better fringe benefits; that they ought to be using their energies to get better sickness pay, better redundancy pay, better holiday pay, and other such factors. As soon as these benefits are negotiated, right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite attack them by a reduction in the State benefits which run alongside them.
1214 We are talking about workers who have been made redundant and who, during their redundancy term, go sick. It is a narrow point. They are entitled to four weeks' redundancy pay, although this is to be increased. So the Minister goes round the country and, in glowing terms, states: "We have increased the amount of redundancy notice; therefore, a worker is entitled to and will get this, that, and the other". But he does not say that he will reduce that by any benefit that a worker may have been lucky enough to have negotiated with his employer.
Many of the people who are made redundant and are genuinely sick face a most difficult time in their lives. Many of them are older people. Yet they are to be chased for a matter of a few pounds. We hear of the golden handshake and the thousands of pounds that certain people get from industry. They get it as a redundancy payment. Good luck to them if they can get it. My hon. Friends and I will not see a situation in which people can get that type of golden handshake, but thousands of industrial workers are penalised because they might get £1 or £2 when they are sick at the same time as they are redundant.
§ 10.0 p.m.
§ Mrs. Skinner
My hon. Friend has referred to golden handshakes. I mentioned in my speech that at the very time when Lord Robens was making representations to the Department about the alleged abuse by the miner aged 64 years and 11 months who had served for 50 years in the industry, he was negotiating two pay packets for himself of £200 a week each. The point needs to be made that at the same time he was getting a golden handshake into the bargain.
§ Mr. Orme
My hon. Friend has put Lord Robens in perspective and has finally rounded it off.
A worker does not start to receive wage-related benefit until he has been off work through sickness or unemployment for 12 days. Will the first fortnight not take effect, or will it take effect only when the wage-related benefit starts? We are entitled to be told.
We have pulled out from under the stone another of the diabolical measures which the Government are writing into the Bill. We were told earlier that all 1215 this was dealt with in the Schedule, but because of the guillotine we have never debated the Schedule. When the Bill went to the other place, this proposal was spelled out in full. It comes back to us as Lords Amendment No. 301. If, by negotiation with the Chair, we had not coupled that Amendment to Lords Amendment No. 46, it would not have been discussed now. Thousands of industrial workers would have been affected by this measure and it might have never been discussed in the House of Commons. It is a disgrace, and I hope that my hon. Friends will divide on Lords Amendment No. 46 to show their complete opposition to Lords Amendment No. 301, which obviously we shall not reach to be able to vote on it.
§ Mrs. Heffer
The debate has rightly concentrated on Lords Amendment No. 301. Before I comment on some of the issues raised by that Amendment, I should like to ask the Secretary of State to make certain that during his reply we are given more details of what will be the reasonable opportunities for workers as regards the notes that will be made available to them concerning the Contracts of Employment Act.
We need to have this spelled out because it is important to the worker to know how those reasonable opportunities will be granted—whether something will be displayed on the notice board or whether he must apply to his foreman or go to the local office or whatever it may be. It is of the utmost importance that workers should know this. We need to have it spelled out in detail.
The Government need to answer clearly the points which have been made during the debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster (Mr. Harold Walker) made an absolutely first-class speech—a speech that requires an answer. He raised many issues in respect of which the House and the country will want to know the Government's view in some detail.
The hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. Tom King) was right in saying that a foreign element has been injected into the Bill. The provisions in this part of the Bill should never have been inserted. They might have been introduced in a social security Bill, although we would 1216 have preferred that they were never introduced at all. Certainly this Bill is not the one in which to introduce them. These provisions are totally irrelevant to the Bill. But they are not irrelevant to Tory Party philosophy and thinking.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) was right in saying that this is part of the Tory class strategy. Hon. Members opposite may shake their heads, but I can tell them that the Government have done similar things in the past few months. In social security they have brought in a Bill abolishing the three waiting days, which means that millions of workers will be adversely affected. They have brought in a provision that workers on short time will not receive unemployment benefit for the first six days that they are on short time. [Interruption.] Apparently hon. Members opposite are not aware of what their Government are doing. The Government have reduced the benefits not to strikers but to the wives and families of strikers, and to workers thrown out of work as a result of strikes.
§ This Amendment is in line with the whole of Tory philosophy and thinking about workers and social security. It is right that my hon. Friend should refer to this as a despicable, vicious and mean Measure.
§ We have been told that all sorts of abuses have been practised. The hon. Member for Rutland and Stamford (Mr. Kenneth Lewis) was a little schizophrenic about it. He said that there were all sorts of abuses and that it was a growing problem, but a few seconds later he said that not many people were involved. It may be a case of tossing a penny to see what happens, but he cannot have it both ways. Either there is a great abuse, or not many people are involved.
§ The right hon. Gentleman referred to it as "a problem", but he gave no facts. He did not even go as far as his hon. Friends went in the other place. They, at least, argued that there was some abuse and put forward some points, but the right hon. Gentleman merely said, in passing, "There is abuse." He should let us know what abuse there is. He should let us have some figures. He should tell us how much money is involved, and what industries are involved. He should tell us how many workers have been involved.1217
§ My hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover answered the point made in respect of the mining industry. The mining industry has been referred to, and I should like to know what other industries are involved. It conjures up a vision of workers, immediately they are told they are redundant, dashing round to the nearest doctor and saying that they are ill in order to get this extra bit of money. Do hon. Members opposite really think that that is how workers act? They know that it is not true.
§ My hon. Friend the Member for Salford, West (Mr. Orme) asked the question which is inevitably raised by the Government's attitude: who are the doctors who give certificates in these circumstances? Apparently, when the worker rushes to the doctor's door, he is welcomed with open arms and immediately given a certificate. I do not know any such doctors. I see the hon. Member for Rutland and Stamford raises his eyebrows at that. If he knows that there are such doctors, it is his responsibility to do something about it. It should be dealt with in that way, with the doctor concerned.
§ I have a doctor friend in Liverpool, a member of my party, who has told me that when the occasional worker has come to him trying to swing the lead, he has never given him a certificate. I am sure that that is the position of most doctors in this country, and anyone who suggests otherwise does not understand the profession. [An HON. MEMBER: "It is a slander on the medical profession."] Yes, and although hon. Members opposite make that slander on the profession, they say at other times that we should give doctors the highest possible pay, and then, when we do not do that in certain circumstances, they complain. One cannot have it both ways.
§ Mrs. Tom King
That was a very unfair crack which came from one of the hon. Gentleman's hon. Friends, who. incidentally, was not here earlier. We have already dealt with that point, and it has been admitted by both sides, I think, that there is in no sense a slander on the medical profession here. It is merely a recognition of the difficult situation in which doctors are put in this sort of case.
§ Mrs. Heffer
If it is not a slander on the medical profession, I do not know what is it. But it is up to hon. 1218 Members opposite, not us, to argue about that with the medical profession. [AN HON. MEMBER: "The doctors are accused of incompetence."] Are they saying that doctors are incompetent?
§ Mrs. Tom King
That is not true, either, and the hon. Gentleman who said that was not here earlier.
§ Mrs. Heffer
It is not up to us to answer that charge against the doctors. Hon. Members opposite must answer it, because it is they who have raised the question.
What about the amounts involved? We have not been given the numbers, but we have been told that there are some workers who, in certain circumstances, when they are declared redundant and they are to receive their guaranteed payments under the Act, go off sick so that they can have additional money. One would imagine that we were talking of thousands of £s. In fact, even if there were this terrible abuse, it amounts to only £10 or £15.
We are not talking about vast sums of money, but we are talking about workers who are suffering a double disability. On the one hand, they have been told by their employers that they are now redundant; they are on statutory notice, and they go sick so that they are not in a position to seek other employment during that period. They have that double disability. Up to now, we have ensured proper treatment for such workers. When the Bill was first introduced, this question was raised by the hon. Member for Aylesbury at that time, and the reply was given from his own Front Bench. It was a safeguard for the worker.
It is not a safeguard to the worker now. It is apparently an abuse under those circumstances, but it was not an abuse then. Why is it an abuse now? The reason is that it is in line with the Government's policy of attacking the industrial worker at every possible level, whether under the Bill or the legislation on social security benefits, as part of their class attitude and philosophy.
Hon. Members opposite do not like this sort of argument; they do not like an argument which is realistic and true. They like to mask their statements behind an apparent benevolence that is not real. 1219 When they are unmasked, as they are now and have been so often, they become very angry. We must also have an answer to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, West about wage-related benefits not being paid until after 12 days.
It has been made absolutely clear that the people who benefit are the employers and that one employer, a State employer, made representations to the Government. What other employers have made representations to them? When were the trade unions brought into discussions on the question? We know that the T.U.C. has rejected out of hand the proposals on the three waiting days and the short-term benefits, and they have been imposed on the trade union movement despite the T.U.C. 's opposition.
In his first-class speech, my hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster was right to say that when a worker loses his job it is a terrible blow to him and his family. It creates a great deal of distress in the family and is not to be accepted lightly, particularly when there are over 800,000 unemployed and there are growing numbers of unemployed in certain parts of the country, like Scotland. It is a devastating blow when a worker receives his notice from his employer, yet at that very moment there is to be a further imposition on him if he should become sick or suffer an industrial injury—it is a question of industrial injury as well as sickness. What happens, for example, if the worker receives a lump sum as a result of his industrial injury? Will that be taken out of his benefit?
Whenever the working people of this country make an advance, whenever they begin to live decently, whenever a Labour Government, or even a Conservative Government, introduce legislation which puts the worker in a rather better position and gives him greater security, the worker feels that much more secure. But the Government are taking that security away from him. They have decided that the workers have too much. The balance as the Prime Minister told the 1922 Committee—if the report were not accurate, he had better write to the Daily Telegraph about it—has been tipped against the trade unions in the interests of the em- 1220 ployers. We are not prepared to go along with that and intend to vote against the Amendment.
§ Mr. R. Carr
By leave of the House, perhaps it would be helpful if I tried to reply to some of the points which have been made.
The hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) asked about the first group of Amendments dealing with the availability of the statement of change, about what is "reasonably accessible", and so forth. We intend that exactly the same conditions shall apply there as apply already when there are any changes, and as are set out in the well-known leaflet explaining the Contracts of Employment Act for the guidance of employers and employees. So far as we know, that has met the needs of and has satisfied the trade unions and others in the past, and we therefore see no reason why it should not do so in the future. I hope the hon. Gentleman will excuse me from reading out a great many paragraphs from the leaflet, but I assure him that that is what we are going to do with this new provision. It has been found satisfactory by trade unions and employees hitherto and I am sure that it will be satisfactory in future.
§ Amendment No. 301 has given rise to the major controversy in the debate. I have been asked why this provision should be in the Bill at all. I have been accused of introducing it surreptitiously in the early hours of the morning in another place. Tied in with this is the question of what views have been expressed by the trade unions about it.
The provision was not introduced surreptitiously in another place. The original paragraph 8 of Schedule 2, under the heading
Sickness or injury during period of notice
§ was in the original print of the Bill last December. We have made the Amendment not because our intention was changed or hidden but because it became clear that the original paragraph 8 did not achieve the intention. There was nothing surreptitious about it. It was not introduced in the middle of the night in another place. The proposal was already in the Bill. No representations were received from the unions about it after the first print of the Bill.1221
§ Mr. Frederick Lee
But if the paragraph did not achieve what the Government intended, why should the unions have supposed that this was the Government's intention?
§ Mr. Carr
There is no doubt that the intention was clear. I do not believe that the unions had a look at the intention and said, "Ha, ha. We can see that the Government have not been clever enough and are not going to achieve their intention, so we shall say nothing about it." It is conceivable but it is unlike the trade unions or any other bodies in the country which normally make representations to the Government about legislation. The proposal was clear in the Bill as drafted.
Why are we doing this in the Industrial Relations Bill? That is a fundamental question. We are doing it here for a reason small in terms of space but important in terms of events—we are amending the Contracts of Employment Act in order to make its provisions more generous to employees and workers in their terms and conditions of employment. We have not just brought in this "little thing" as a side issue. It is part and parcel of the change which we are making and it fits perfectly naturally into the Bill.
Why should the change be made? Why is what was right in 1963 not right in 1971? The reason is that conditions have changed enormously. In 1963, when the Contracts of Employment Act was introduced, national insurance sickness benefits were flat-rate benefits at about £2 a week and employers' sick pay schemes, where they existed, did not commonly provide for the offset of sickness benefit received from the National Insurance Fund, and in general they provided flat-rate sickness pay.
The situation has been changed by the scale of benefits and the fact that they are earnings related. The scale of the problem is now entirely different and it does not at all follow that what was right in 1963 is right in 1971.
Many hon. Members have spoken as though we were doing something to the national insurance benefits entitlements. We are doing nothing of the kind. What we are doing is amending the Contracts of Employment Act.
§ Mr. Carr
That is not the case at all. The object of sickness pay schemes as voluntarily introduced by employers on their own initiative, or as a result of collective bargaining with their unions, is to ensure to workers their full normal earnings while they are away from work through sickness or injury. It is to make up full pay while they are away from work. We want to encourage not only employers who do that already, but employers who do not, to do so in future.
It is not much encouragement to employers who do this already, or employers who may and, we hope, will do so in future to say that when their workers happen to be sick or injured in these very special circumstances they should have to do much more than make up their full pay. It is surely reasonable that an employer agrees to make up to full pay. That is what he entered into and that, by the provisions in the 1963 Act, when conditions were entirely different, is what he ought to do. We think that it is wrong that the anomaly should exist in these cases.
§ Mr. Carr
I was about to mention that. The Notes for Guidance on the contracts of Employment Act deal with this. Provision is made for people on piece work, for example. Speaking from memory, I think that it is the average of the previous four weeks' earnings. Where it is flat-rate pay in no way related to a production bonus, the flat rate is paid. When it is pay based largely on piece work of one kind or another, the guaranteed pay under the Contracts of Employment Act is, I think, the average of the previous four weeks' earnings.
§ 10.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Skinner
Most of the people affected by this Amendment are those who have been in, say, the coal mining industry for 64 years 11 months and who, because closure has been pending for some time, 1223 have been on a low rate of pay for a long time. The same thing applies most probably to the U.C.S. workers. Their rates of pay when the contracts of employment provision takes effect will be much less at that time than they have been over the last two or three years. That is the answer.
§ Mr. Carr
If there is something in what the hon. Gentleman says, it affects the whole situation, injury or not. All we are saying is that it does not seem right to us that because a man or woman falls sick at one time under one particular set of circumstances he or she should get what may be up to 185 per cent. of the normal pay which fellow workers get who do not fall sick. This does not normally happen and we do not believe that it is an anomaly which can be justified here. That is all that there is to it.
§ The question of abuse has been raised—whether this is an attack on the competence of doctors and so forth. This is a piece of chop logic. We all know the difficulties which doctors must face with large numbers of claims for certificates. We all know that on a first application doctors must give the benefit of the doubt to the applicant and we would wish them to do so. We would not wish to encourage doctors to do otherwise. We hear so often about this "pain in the back", and so on. How does a doctor measure pain in the back? It may be nothing and it may be acute. The doctor cannot tell. What is more, a pain of that kind might arise from some minor cause from which no harm would result from going on with normal work, or it could arise from a very serious cause. No doctor, faced with a claim of that sort, can just turn a man down and he certainly would not begin to query the case until there was some evidence which gave him positive reason to think that a man might be malingering.
§ I was asked what evidence we had about possible abuse or suggestions of abuse. As is well known, some evidence came from the National Coal Board. I could not help thinking, when I listened to some speeches from hon. Members opposite, that they found this a nice peg on which to hang an attack on the Board in general and Lord Robens in particular, who has not been their favourite man for a long time now.1224
§ Mr. Carr
That, as some of my hon. Friends have suggested, is a mutual state of affairs. When hon. Members make this sort of attack on the Board they ought to remember the record of the Board in handling deployment and the difficult matter of pit closures—which some hon. Members never believed in but which successive Governments, including the Government formed by the Labour Party, believed were helpful and necessary. Before attacks of this kind are made on Lord Robens and his colleagues some account should be taken of their record and the way in which they tackled this difficult redevelopment problem.
That is not the only source of evidence. We have had representations from individual companies and from the C.B.I. It is also true to say that we have had some detailed evidence from the N.C.B., and I will mention some of it.
A survey was made of the closure of II collieries in the South Durham area. It showed that during the statutory notice period, absenteeism rose considerably. In four of the 11 cases, the rate of absenteeism rose by 50 per cent. or more above the previous level and in the other seven cases, the rate rose to between 30 per cent. and 40 per cent. of the labour force, which was far more than had been the rate right up to the moment of the redundancy notices being issued. They were absent—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Robert Grant-Ferris)
Order. The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) knows that he must not keep making sedentary interventions. The Minister has shown his readiness to give way. The hon. Member must observe the rules of the House.
§ Mr. Skinner
Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether the survey from which he is quoting was in respect of voluntary or involuntary absenteeism? If not, he cannot prove his case.
§ Mr. Carr
I am simply saying that sickness pay cases—cases supported by 1225 doctors' certificates—rose dramatically immediately after the notice period came into effect. The question whether some men may be getting more than some of the more conscientious ones is a point that must obviously be considered, but it is not the main point. The fact remains that when a large undertaking such as the N.C.B., faced with the very difficult and unpleasant task of having to close down a pit or factory, tries to do so with full consideration, with full notice, and with humanity, that task is made much more difficulty if there are abnormally high rates of absenteeism and sickness. The humane carrying out of a rundown operation is made more difficult to administer efficiently in that event, and I believe that the generosity of the N.C.B. and its humanity—
§ Mr. Carr
The hon. Member for Bolsover asks whether it is generous to sack people. Of course it is not, but if an industry is being run down, whatever the reasons—and the Labour Government recognised that it was unavoidable; that mines had to be closed and that the scale of operations had to be reduced in terms of the number of pits—then, while sacking people cannot be regarded as an act of generosity, it should be done as well, as gradually, as humanely and as efficiently as possible, not just for the national economy but for the welfare of the people in the industry.
§ Mr. Harold Walker
The right hon. Gentleman has several times referred to people being away on doctors' certificates in terms of absenteeism. He will recall that in my remarks I acknowledged that abuse might exist and pointed out that in the coal mining industry more than in any other there may be, because of the hazards of working in the mines, thousands of men dragging themselves to work rather than putting their jobs at risk. However, these men, who should ordinarily be at home and probably in bed, feel, when redundancy notices are 1226 issued, that they might as well give in and accept their illnesses rather than drag themselves to work.
§ Mr. Carr
I apologise if I am using "absenteeism" wrongly. The whole debate is taking place in the context of the offsets of sickness and injury benefits, and I am talking in that context. The hon. Member must remember that all we are proposing by this Amendment is that these people shall continue to go on drawing their full pay. At the moment some of them are drawing very much more than their full pay, and this is an anomaly which is not calculated to encourage the development of good voluntary sick pay schemes in industry. It is not what these employers contracted with the trade unions to do when they made these agreements.
The employers were saying—and surely we should honour them for this and encourage them to do so—that they would enter into a scheme whereby they would make payments to their employees to bring their pay during sickness or injury up to full pay. They did not contemplate payments to bring the weekly income of their employees up to much more than full pay. That never was their intention, and I do not believe that any hon. Member ever thought it was. This anomaly has been discovered, we believe it is right to remove it, and that is the end-all and be-all of it.
§ Mr. Heffer
My right hon. Friend the Member for Newton (Mr. Frederick Lee) pointed out that many workers earn well above the basic rate, but pay was usually made up to the basic rate. Will the right hon. Gentleman reply to that point?
§ Mr. Carr
I think the hon. Member is misunderstanding me. I know it is complicated, but we are saying that in the normal sick pay scheme the employer undertakes to make up the pay to an agreed amount, which no doubt varies from company to company and according to the nature of the scheme and agreement. Under the Contracts of Employment Act the employer has a statutory duty to guarantee during a minimum period up up to levels defined in the Act which, when they are not factory rates, are levels based on average earnings over a previous period. We are 1227 not in any way trying to relieve the employer of his statutory duty to pay a man or woman under notice for the minimum period laid down the amount necessary, but we are saying that he should not be asked to pay more than is required to bring the employee's earnings up to the level which the Contracts of Employment Act lays down under normal circumstances if a man is not ill or injured. I do not believe that that is a Draconian or cruel thing to do.
§ Mr. E. Fernyhough (Jarrow)
Is the right hon. Gentleman saying that he believes it right that the employer should make up a man's wages when he is sick but should not pay more? Does he not appreciate that his colleague the Secretary of State for Social Services has imposed a burden on employers in that there is now to be no payment for the three waiting days? If a man is to have his full wages during sickness the employer will have to pay for the three waiting days benefit which the Government have now withdrawn.
§ Mr. Carr
I assure the right hon. Gentleman that there is nothing in this Amendment which will relieve the employer of any duty, obligation or undertaking of that kind. All we are relieving him of is the duty to make payments if the total payment is above the man's normal earnings. Unless or until the employee is away sick the employer is under no duty so to do, but it is absolutely right to protect the man's full earnings, and it was never intended that more than that should be done.
I was asked a few specific questions. The hon. Member for Doncastar said that, despite the use of the word "shall", there was nothing in the Amendment to prevent an employer of his own free will on his own initiative or by agreement with the unions doing more than is laid down. There is nothing to prevent him. We have no intention to extend the scheme, as the hon. Member put it. One reason is that it would force workers to give information to their employers on how much they received in social insurance benefits in conditions in which they had not previously agreed to to do. We believe that that would be wrong.
In the arrangement under the voluntary sick pay scheme they have, in the terms 1228 of agreement, agreed to do just that; but in other cases they have not, and it would be wrong to make them do so. We see no purpose in benefiting the employer who has not been making voluntary payments under a sick pay scheme to his workers in the normal way.
The hon. Member also asked what would happen to a worker who decided to contract out of the sick pay scheme on receiving notice of redundancy. If a worker under notice wanted to contract out of the employer's sick pay scheme, he would be seeking to vary the terms of his contract. If the employer did not agree to such a variation, the employee could seek to relieve himself of his condition by terminating his contract. But if he did, it would not be dismissal, but he would be sacking himself and the guarantee under Schedule 2 of the Contracts of Employment Act would not arise. Therefore, I do not think there is anything in that or that there is any cause to fear.
The right hon. Member for Newton asked what would happen if the employer's scheme were contributory. The answer is that this Amendment refers only to moneys paid by the employer. I am advised that any genuine insurance scheme to which the employee and employer had jointly contracted would not fall to be dealt with under the Amendment.
I accept that some of the matters which have been raised in this debate are genuine points, but I ask the House to accept the situation and to realise that this is being done in the context of the Contracts of Employment Act and substantially improves the security of employees and the help given to them when, alas, they are faced with the problem of redundancy. At present, an employee has no statutory right to minimum notice until he has been in a job for 26 weeks. That has been cut down to 13 weeks. When we get to longer-service employees, the Amendments extend the minimum time for people who have been in a job for between 10 and 25 years from four weeks' notice to six weeks' notice. For those who have been in a job for 15 years and upwards, the statutory notice will go up from four to eight weeks.
§ Question put, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendments:—1230
§ The House divided: Ayes 269, Noes 234.1233
|Division No. 452.]||AYES||10. 49 p.m.|
|Adley, Robert||Fisher, Nigel (Surbiton)||McLaren, Martin|
|Alison, Michael (Barkston Ash)||Fookes, Miss Janet||Maclean, Sir Fitzroy|
|Allason, James (Hemel Hempstead)||Foster, Sir John||McMaster, Stanley|
|Archer, Jeffrey (Louth)||Fowler, Norman||Macmillan, Maurice (Farnham)|
|Atkins, Humphrey||Fox, Marcus||McNair-Wilson, Michael|
|Awdry, Daniel||Fraser, Rt.Hn.Hugh (St'fford & Stone)||McNair-Wilson, Patrick (NewForest)|
|Baker, Kenneth (St. Marylebone)||Fry, Peter||Maddan, Martin|
|Baker, W. H. K. (Banff)||Calbraith, Hn. T. G.||Madel, David|
|Balniel, Lord||Gardner, Edward||Maginnis, John E.|
|Barber, Rt Hn. Anthony||Gibson-Watt, David||Marten, Neil|
|Batsford, Brian||Gilmour, Ian (Norfolk, C.)||Mather, Carol|
|Beamish, Col. Sir Tufton||Gilmour, Sir John (Fife, E.)||Maude, Angus|
|Bell, Ronald||Glyn, Dr. Alan||Mawby, Ray|
|Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torquay)||Godber, Rt. Hn. J. B.||Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J.|
|Benyon, W.||Goodhart, Philip||Meyer, Sir Anthony|
|Berry, Hn. Anthony||Goodhew, Victor||Mills, Peter (Torrington)|
|Biffen, John||Gorst, John||Mitchell, Lt.Col.C. (Aberdeenshire, W)|
|Biggs-Oavison, John||Gower, Raymond||Mitchell, David (Basingstoke)|
|Blaker, Peter||Grant, Anthony (Harrow, C.)||Moate, Roger|
|Boardman, Tom (Leicester, S.W.)||Gray, Hamish||Molyneaux, James|
|Body, Richard||Green, Alan||Money, Ernle|
|Boscawen, Robert||Grylls, Michael||Monks, Mrs. Connie|
|Bossom, Sir Clive||Gummer, Selwyn||Monro, Hector|
|Bowden, Andrew||Gurden, Harold||Montgomery, Fergus|
|Boyd-Corpenter, Rt. Hn. John||Hall, Miss Joan (Keighley)||More, Jasper|
|Braine, Bernard||Hall, John (Wycombe)||Morgan-Giles, Rear-Adm.|
|Hall-Davis, A. G. F.|
|Bray, Ronald||Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)||Morrison, Charles (Devizes)|
|Brewis, John||Hannam, John (Exeter)||Mudd, David|
|Brinton, Sir Tatton||Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye)||Murton, Oscar|
|Brocklebank-Fowler, Christopher||Haselhurst, Alan||Neave, Airey|
|Bruce-Gardyne, J.||Hastings, Stephen||Noble, Rt. Hn. Michael|
|Bryan, Paul||Havers, Michael||Normanton, Tom|
|Buchanan-Smith, Alick (Angus, N&M)||Hawkins, Paul||Nott, John|
|Buck, Antony||Hayhoe, Barney||Onslow, Cranley|
|Bullus, Sir Eric||Hicks, Robert||Oppenheim, Mrs. Sally|
|Burden, F. A.||Higgins, Terence L.||Orr, Capt. L. P. S.|
|Butler, Adam (Bosworth)||Hiley, Joseph||Owen, Idris (Stockport, N.)|
|Carlisle, Mark||Hill, John E. B. (Norfolk, S.)||Page, Graham (Crosby)|
|Carr, Rt. Hn. Robert||Hill, James (Southampton, Test)||Paisley, Rev. Ian|
|Channon, Paul||Holt, Miss Mary||Parkinson, Cecil (Enfield, W.)|
|Chapman, Sydney||Hooson, Emlyn||Peel, John|
|Chataway, Rt. Hn. Christopher||Hordern, Peter||Percival, Ian|
|Chichester-Clark, R.||Hornby, Richard||Pink, R. Bonner|
|Churchill, W. S.||Hornsby-Smith, Rt.Hn.Dame Patricia||Pounder, Rafton|
|Clark, William (Surrey, E.)||Howe, Hn. Sir Geoffrey (Reigate)||Powell, Rt. Hn. J. Enoch|
|Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)||Howell, David (Guildford)||Price, David (Eastleigh)|
|Clegg, Walter||Howell, Ralph (Norfolk, N.)||Prior, Rt. Hn. J. M. L.|
|Cockeram, Eric||Hunt, John||Proudfoot, Wilfred|
|Cooke, Robert||Hutchison, Michael Clark||Pym, Rt. Hn. Francis|
|Coombs, Derek||Iremonger, T. L.||Quennell, Miss J. M.|
|Corfield, Rt. Hn. Frederick||James, David||Raison, Timothy|
|Cormack, Patrick||Jesse), Toby||Rawlinson, Rt. Hn. Sir Peter|
|Costain, A. P.||Johnson Smith, G. (E. Grinstead)||Redmond, Robert|
|Critchley, Julian||Jopling, Michael||Reed, Laurance (Bolton, E.)|
|Crouch, David||Kershaw, Anthony||Rees, Peter (Dover)|
|Curran, Charles||Kilfedder, James||Rees-Davies, W. R.|
|Davies, Rt. Hn. John (Knutsford)||Kimball, Marcus||Renton, Rt. Hn. Sir David|
|d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry||King, Evelyn (Dorset, S.)||Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon|
|d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Maj.-Gen.James||Kinsey, J. R.||Ridley, Hn. Nicholas|
|Dean, Paul||Kirk, Peter||Ridsdale, Julian|
|Deedes, Rt. Hn. W. F.||Kitson, Timothy||Roberts, Wyn (Conway)|
|Dodds-Parker, Douglas||Knox, David||Rodgers, Sir John (Sevenoaks)|
|Drayson, C. B.|
|du Cann, Rt. Hn. Edward||Lambton, Antony||Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)|
|Dykes, Hugh||Lane, David||Rost, Peter|
|Eden, Sir John||Langford-Holt, Sir John||Russell, Sir Ronald|
|Edwards, Nicholas (Pembroke)||Legge-Bourke, Sir Harry||St. John-Stevas, Norman|
|Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton)||Le Marchant, Spencer||Scott, Nicholas|
|Elliott, R. W. (N'c'tle-upon-Tyne, N.)||Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)||Scott-Hopkins, James|
|Emery, Peter||Lloyd, Ian (P'tsm'th, Langstone)||Sharples, Richard|
|Eyre, Reginald||Longden, Gilbert||Shaw, Michael (Sc'b'gh & Whitby)|
|Farr, John||Loveridge, John||Shelton, William (Clapham)|
|Fell, Anthony||Luce, R. N.||Simeons, Charles|
|Fenner, Mrs. Peggy||McAdden, Sir Stephen||Sinclair, Sir George|
|Fidler, Michael||MacArthur, Ian||Skeet, T. H. H.|
|Finsberg, Geoffrey (Hampstead)||McCrindle, R. A.||Smith, Dudley (W'wick & L'mington)|
|Soref, Harold||Thomas, John Stradling (Monmouth)||Ward, Dame Irene|
|Spence, John||Tilney, John||Weatherill, Bernard|
|Sproat, lain||Trafford, Dr. Anthony||Wells, John (Maidstone)|
|Stanbrook, Ivor||Trew, Peter||White, Roger (Gravesend)|
|Stewart-Smith, Geoffrey (Belper)||Tugendhat, Christopher||Whitelaw, Rt. Hn. William|
|Stodart, Anthony (Edinburgh, W.)||Turton, Rt. Hn. Sir Robin||Wiggin, Jerry|
|Stoddart-Scott, Col. Sir M.||van Straubenzee, w. R.||Wilkinson, John|
|Stokes, John||Vaughan, Dr. Gerard||Wood, Rt. Hn. Richard|
|Stuttaford, Dr. Tom||Vickers, Dame Joan||Woodnutt, Mark|
|Sutcliffe, John||Waddington, David||Worsley, Marcus|
|Tapsell, Peter||Walder, David (Clitheroe)||Wylie, Rt. Hn. N. R.|
|Taylor, Edward M.(G'gow, Cathcart)||Walker, Rt. Hn. Peter (Worcester)|
|Taylor, Frank (Moss Side)||Walker-Smith, Rt. Hn. Sir Derek||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Taylor, Robert (Croydon, N.W.)||Wall, Patrick||Mr. Keith Speed and|
|Tebbit, Norman||Walters, Dennis||Mr. Tim Fortescue.|
|Temple, John M.|
|Albu, Austen||English, Michael||Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)|
|Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.)||Evans, Fred||Lipton, Marcus|
|Archer, Peter (Rowley Regis)||Faulds, Andrew||Loughlin, Charles|
|Armstrong, Ernest||Fernyhough, Rt. Hn. E.||Lyon, Alexander W. (York)|
|Ashton, Joe||Fisher, Mrs. Doris (B'ham, Ladywood)||Lyons, Edward (Bradford, E.)|
|Atkinson, Norman||Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)||Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson|
|Bagier, Gordon A. T.||Foley, Maurice||McBride, Neil|
|Barnes, Michael||Foot, Michael||McCartney, Hugh|
|Barnett, Guy (Greenwich)||Ford, Ben||McGuire, Michael|
|Barnett, Joel||Forrester, John||Mackenzie, Gregor|
|Beaney, Alan||Fraser, John (Norwood)||Mackie, John|
|Benn, Rt. Hn. Anthony Wedgwood||Freeson, Reginald||Maclennan, Robert|
|Bennet, James (Glasgow, Bridgeton)||Galpern, Sir Myer||McMillan, Tom (Glasgow, C.)|
|Bidwell, Sydney||Garrett, W. E.||McNamara, J. Kevin|
|Bishop, E. S.||Gilbert, Dr. John||Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield, E.)|
|Blenkinsop, Arthur||Ginsburg, David||Marks, Kenneth|
|Boardman, H. (Leigh)||Gordon Walker, Rt. Hn. P. C.||Marquand, David|
|Booth, Albert||Gourlay, Harry||Marsden, F.|
|Bottomley, Rt. Hn. Arthur||Grant, George (Morpeth)||Marshall, Dr. Edmund|
|Boyden, James (Bishop Auckland)||Grant, John D. (Islington, E.)||Mason, Rt. Hn. Roy|
|Bradley, Tom||Griffiths, Eddie (Brightside)||Meacher, Michael|
|Hamilton, James (Bothwell)|
|Brown, Bob (N'c'tle-upon-Tyne, W.)||Hamilton, William (Fife, W.)||Mellish, Rt. Hn. Robert|
|Brown, Hugh D. (G'gow, Provan)||Hannan, William (G'gow, Maryhill)||Mendelson, John|
|Brown, Ronald (Shoreditch & F'bury)||Hardy, Peter||Millan, Bruce|
|Buchan, Norman||Harper, Joseph||Miller, Dr. M. S.|
|Buchanan, Richard (G'gow, Sp'burn)||Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)||Milne, Edward (Blyth)|
|Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green)||Hart, Rt. Hn. Judith||Mitchell, R. C. (S'hampton, Itchen)|
|Callaghan, Rt. Hn. James||Healey, Rt. Hn. Denis||Molloy, William|
|Campbell, I. (Dunbartonshire, W.)||Heifer, Eric S.||Morgan, Elystan (Cardiganshire)|
|Cant, R. B.||Horam, John||Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)|
|Carmichael, Neil||Houghton, Rt. Hn. Douglas||Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)|
|Castle, Rt. Hn. Barbara||Howell, Denis (Small Heath)||Morris, Rt. Hn. John (Aberavon)|
|Clark, David (Colne Valley)||Huckfield, Leslie||Moyle, Roland|
|Cocks, Michael (Bristol, S.)||Hughes, Rt. Hn. Cledwyn (Anglesey)||Mulley, Rt. Hn. Frederick|
|Coleman, Donald||Hughes, Mark (Durham)||Murray, Ronald King|
|Conlan, Bernard||Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen, N.)||Ogden, Eric|
|Corbet, Mrs. Freda||Hughes, Roy (Newport)||O'Halloran, Michael|
|Cox, Thomas (Wandsworth, C.)||Hunter, Adam||O'Malley, Brian|
|Crawshaw, Richard||lrvine, Rt.Hn.SirArthur (Edge Hill)||Oram, Bert|
|Crosland, Rt. Hn. Anthony||Janner, Greville||Orme, Stanley|
|Crossman, Rt. Hn. Richard||Jay, Rt. Hn. Douglas||Oswald, Thomas|
|Cunningham, G. (Islington, S.W.)||Jeger, Mrs.Lena (H'b'n&St.P'cras, S.)||Owen, Dr. David (Plymouth, Sutton)|
|Dalyell, Tam||Jenkins, Hugh (Putney)||Padley, Walter|
|Davidson, Arthur||Jenkins, Rt. Hn. Roy (Stechford)||Paget, R. T.|
|Davies, Denzil (Llanelly)||John, Brynmor||Palmer, Arthur|
|Davies, G. Elfed (Rhondda, E.)||Johnson, Carol (Lewisham, S.)||Pardoe, John|
|Davies, Ifor (Gower)||Johnson, James (K'ston-on-Hull, W.)||Parry, Robert (Liverpool, Exchange)|
|Davis, Clinton (Hackney, C.)||Johnson, Walter (Derby, S.)||Peart, Rt. Hn. Fred|
|Davis, Terry (Bromsgrove)||Jones, Barry (Flint, E.)||Pendry, Tom|
|de Freitas, Rt. Hn. Sir Geoffrey||Jones, Dan (Burnley)||Pentland, Norman|
|Delargy, H. J.||Jones, Rt.Hn.Sir Elwyn (W.Ham, S.)||Perry, Ernest G.|
|Dell, Rt. Hn. Edmund||Jones, Gwynoro (Carmarthen)||Prentice, Rt. Hn. Reg.|
|Dempsey, James||Jones, T. Alec (Rhondda, W.)|
|Doig, Peter||Kaufman, Gerald||Prescott, John|
|Douglas, Dick (Stirlingshire, E.)||Kelley, Richard||Price, J. T. (Westhoughton)|
|Douglas-Mann, Bruce||Kinnock, Neil||Probert, Arthur|
|Driberg, Tom||Lambie, David||Reed, D. (Sedgefield)|
|Duffy, A. E. P.||Latham, Arthur||Rees, Merlyn (Leeds, S.)|
|Dunnett, Jack||Lawson, George||Rhodes, Geoffrey|
|Eadie, Alex||Leadbitter, Ted||Richard, Ivor|
|Edelman, Maurice||Lee, Rt. Hn. Frederick||Roberts, Albert (Normanton)|
|Edwards, Robert (Bilston)||Leonard, Dick||Roberts, Rt.Hn.Goronwy (Caernarvon)|
|Edwards, William (Merioneth)||Lever, Rt. Hn. Harold||Robertson, John (Paisley)|
|Ellis, Tom||Lewis, Arthur (W. Ham N.)||Rodgers, William (Stockton-on-Tees)|
|Roper, John||Strang, Gavin||Watkins, David|
|Rose, Paul B.||Summerskill, Hn. Dr. Shirley||Weitzman, David|
|Sandelson, Neville||Taverns, Dick||Wells, William (Walsall, N.)|
|Sheldon, Robert (Ashton-under-Lyne)||Thomas, Rt.Hn.George (Cardiff, W.)||Whitehead, Phillip|
|Shore, Rt. Hon. Peter (Stepney)||Thomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery)||Willey, Rt. Hn. Frederick|
|Short, Mrs. Renée (W'hampton, N.E.)||Thomson, Rt. Hn. G. (Dundee, E.)||Williams, Alan (Swansea, W.)|
|Silverman, Julius||Tinn, James||Williams, Mrs. Shirley (Hitchin)|
|Skinner, Dennis||Tomney, Frank||Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)|
|Small, William||Torney, Tom||Wilson, Rt. Hn. Harold (Huyton)|
|Smith, John (Lanarkshire, N.)||Tuck, Raphael||Wilson, William (Coventry, S.)|
|Spearing, Nigel||Urwin, T. W.||Woof, Robert|
|Spriggs, Leslie||Varley, Eric G.|
|Stallard, A. w.||Wainwright, Edwin|
|Stewart, Rt. Hn. Michael (Fulham)||Walker, Harold (Doncaster)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Stoddart, David (Swindon)||Wallace, George||Mr. John Golding and|
|Storehouse, Rt. Hn. John||Mr. William Hamling.|
§ Subsequent Lords Amendment agreed to.