§ 18. Mr. McCrindle
asked the Secretary of State for Employment how many representations he has received on the Employment Protection Bill since its publication.
§ Mr. Foot
About 45 individuals and organisations have sent in comments since 1231 the Bill was published, the great majority of which have come from employers and employers' organisations. They suggested that the Bill was generally biased against employers, and expressed concern about the additional cost of the proposals—particularly those concerned with guarantee payments and maternity. They also suggested that the provisions on recognised terms and conditions were likely to have inflationary effects.
§ Mr. Lane
Will the Secretary of State accept that many companies in my constituency are appalled by the implications of the legislation? How can he reconcile his burdensome Bill with the remarks by his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster yesterday about the need for a healthy private sector?
§ Mr. Foot
If companies feel as the hon. Gentleman suggests, they are quite unnecessarily alarmed. Of course employers have some questions and doubts about the Bill, which they have put to us, but we have had discussions with many organisations, most of which understood the Bill better after the discussions than they did before. That may not be saying a great deal, but that has been the situation. At any rate, I hope that that has been our purpose. I believe that as the Bill goes through the House in the next few weeks more and more people will realise that the legislation as a whole makes a greater contribution to better industrial relations, and that employers, as well as everybody else, will have to make their contribution.
§ Mr. McCrindle
Although I do not doubt that provision of payment where no work is available and freedom from dismissal as a result of pregnancy are desirable matters in themselves, should they not more properly be provided through the social services? Is this the right time to impose additional burdens of expenditure on employers when they are already suffering badly in the present industrial situation?
§ Mr. Foot
All these questions will be fully debated when the Bill comes before the House very soon. It has already been presented, and discussions will take place very soon. That will be the best time at which to discuss these matters. What the Bill is seeking to do on the guaranteed week is to attempt to apply to 1232 manual workers a provision which non-manual workers have enjoyed for generations, without anybody regarding it as remarkable. Conservative Members should be more generous on this subject. They should realise that what we are trying to do in that part of the Bill and in respect of maternity benefits is to catch up with the proper practice that has been followed in many firms, and certainly in many other parts of the world, for a lone time.
§ Mr. Clemitson
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the £100 million cost, quoted as the figure which the Bill would represent as an extra cost to employers, represents a one-half millionth part of the total wage and salary bill?
§ Mr. Foot
My hon. Friend, in quoting that figure, has put the matter in proper proportion. All the Bill is doing is to make a small beginning in regard to a guaranteed wage. We say that in present economic circumstances we cannot bring in the provision on a larger scale, but once the principle is established it can be carried further at a much later stage.
§ Mr. Hayhoe
Does the Secretary of State appreciate that the description of the Bill given by one of the most distinguished of labour commentators—namely, that it represents a bonanza for the unions—is an example of giving the TUC what it wants under the social contract and getting nothing in return?
§ Mr. Foot
That is quite all right—so long as the hon. Gentleman is not referring to Mr. Woodrow Wyatt in such a way. That is at any rate an advance. I was glad to hear the universal derision with which that name was greeted. Certainly Mr. John Elliot is a most eminent labour correspondent—not "Labour" in the political sense, but one of the best labour commentators. He produced an extremely intelligent and balanced article on the working of the Bill. I did not agree with every conclusion, and I do not believe that Mr. John Elliot wrote the headline. Headlines are often written by people who are not acquainted with the facts.