HC Deb 05 August 1975 vol 897 cc329-32
Mr. Gwilym Roberts

I beg to move Amendment No. 127, in page 40, line 40, leave out paragraph (b).

Clauses 49, 50 and 51 are particularly welcome, as they enshrine in the Bill the worker's right to time off for trade union activity and for various forms of public service. But subsection (4)(b) of Clause 51 takes away some of those rights. It says that one of the matters to be taken into consideration in permitting time off is how much time off has the employee already been permitted under this section or sections 49 and 50 above". What concerns me is that Clauses 49 and 50 are those which directly refer to trade union activities. Therefore, the worker who is actively involved in trade union matters as well as other forms of public service is penalised for being involved in them. There seems to be a totting-up system, so that the employer takes into account time off that the employee has had for trade union work in deciding whether he should be allowed time off for certain forms of public service. That is unfair.

I do not see why any account must be taken of time off for trade union activity. Although it is not mentioned in the Bill, some people could take time off to be at the golf club or the Rotary Club, or for similar activities. That could be taken into account when their time off for public service was being considered.

The provision particularly penalises people on the Labour side of the political fence. Members of local authorities and people carrying out other public work who are also active trade unionists are almost inevitably members of the Labour Party. Conservatives or Liberals are often not even members of a trade union, never mind active participants in one.

I ask my hon. Friend either to accept my amendment or to look very closely, perhaps in another place, at this whole problem to see whether this paragraph is in any way necessary, because it does not seem to me that it makes any contribution whatsoever to the Bill.

Mr. Booth

My hon. Friend the Member for Cannock (Mr. Roberts), in pressing this amendment very strongly, cuts me to the quick. He talks of paragraph (b) of subsection (4) hurting members of the Labour Party and trade unionists—the very people with whom I have most in common in creating the right for time off. I understand fully the spirit in which he moves it, and I should very much like, ideally, to create this right to time off for public duties, without regard to any other rights contained in the Bill. But in practice I put it to my hon. Friend that it is not quite a possible situation to achieve, particularly since we are giving the right universally to employees.

We must have some regard to the situation at the work place and to the way in which the right can be ultimately enforced; therefore we must have the three considerations which are embodied in subsection (4).

One can imagine the situation that might arise in a small work place or workshop with half a dozen workers. Three of them might serve on some form of public authority. One might need a couple of days off a week because he serves on the county council. Another may happen to be a member of the executive of his union. Another may come along who has had previous duties and ask for additional time off to carry out some public duties. At some stage the employer is bound to say that this is not reasonable in the light of all the considerations he has to face, the circumstances of his business, and the amount of time off he is giving to others.

If the matter cannot be agreed it has to be taken to a tribunal for determination, and the tribunal has to strike a balance of considerations as well.

I put it to my hon. Friend that paragraph (b) is considerably counterbalanced by paragraph (a) of the subsection, which has regard to the total amount of time needed to perform a public duty, and requires this to be properly taken into account. If a person is elected to or holds a public office, the tribunal has to take that fully into account and cannot reasonably award him less time than is necessary to carry out that public duty.

In the practical situation it is necessary to be able to have these matters resolved ultimately by the tribunal, and I urge my hon. Friend to consider withdrawing his amendment and to look at subsection (4) in terms of not only paragraph (b) but paragraph (a), and paragraph (c) as well.

I suggest to my hon. Friend that we might give this a fair wind, test it, and see in practice over the next year or two how many people are able, as a result of what is embodied in the Bill, to exercise rights to time off as trade union officials, as members of local authorities, or in carry- ing out other public duties listed in subsection (2).

If we find that it achieves our aim and enables more people to participate in these activities, we shall all be satisfied. If it does not, I have no doubt that my hon. Friend will be raising in the House the need to change these provisions. I suggest to him that they should be given a fair test, because they are related to the practical problem of extending an important right which both he and I would wish to see exercised.

Mr. Gwilym Roberts

I am grateful for my hon. Friend's words, particularly the emphasis he laid on paragraph (a), concerning the right to time off in order to carry out fully a public duty. I have noted the assurance that he gave that the system will be thoroughly tested in practice, and that we shall be able to look at the matter again in the light of that experience.

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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