HC Deb 24 July 1975 vol 896 cc1250-6

4.15 p.m.

Mr. Max Madden (Sowerby)

I beg to move Amendment No. 56, in page 4, line 34, leave out 'whether in money or otherwise' and insert 'in money'.

As a second evening begins to creep in on the Bill I understand that we are still about six hours from achieving a post-war parliamentary record in marathon debates. I hasten to reassure the Committee that I have no desire to prolong this parliamentary lunacy to achieve a new record, but even at this late hour we should spend a little time considering the clause.

It is appropriate that at the end of the Committee stage, as throughout, we should be considering interpretation. This has been extremely difficult in many cases, not least Clause 7. Here we are concerned with interpretation of remuneration in relation to any person including any benefit, facility or advantage, whether in money or otherwise. I appreciate that the clause was probably intended to safeguard against abuses like the provision of lavish perks which are all too common in modern industry and commerce. However, it may also deprive many workers of benefits which are common practice in industry. The clause has given rise to anxiety and uncertainty among workers and managements as to the propriety of these benefits being continued. I am thinking of workers who enjoy luncheon vouchers, concessionary travel, subsidised canteens, protective clothing and discount trading facilities. Will these be precluded from the clause? Perhaps the Minister could give detailed advice and guidance on this matter, which has caused considerable concern.

Although it may appear to be a minor matter compared with the important substance we considered earlier, I am sure it is a matter of genuine concern to many workers who regard these benefits as a normal part of their employment and are anxious to know whether they are to be taken into account in the £6 limitation.

Mr. Mikardo

In the nearly 24 hours since the Committee began its consideration of this Bill, I have made quite a number of speeches. You will be relieved to hear, Mr. Murton, that this is the last. I would like to begin by saying something which will command the assent of all hon. Members. I thank you and your colleagues who have occupied the Chair in this long and intricate sitting for your unfailing help and guidance to all hon. Members. We have had the night shift, and this morning the day shift came on. Some hon. Members worked straight through both shifts without overtime premiums of £6 a week or any other figure. Among these have been you and your colleagues.

My hon. Friend the Member for Sower-by (Mr. Madden) has just referred to a number of very genuine cases. We are not talking about the exaggerated perks, ranging from the company Mercedes and the company house to holidays in the company castle. My hon. Friend has listed a number of benefits which are extremely useful ways of helping companies to recruit and retain staff. They are perfectly decent and proper. What worries me about that? We were discussing the work load which will fall on my right hon. Friend under the terms of Clause 1 (5), by which he will have all sorts of marginal cases referred to him for determination. He will get lots of them, including those referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby.

Let we give two examples. In my last constituency there was an area called the Isle of Dogs, that was almost inaccessible by public transport. A number of employers there had difficulty in getting labour and would not have done so if they had had to rely on their workers coming by public transport. This was particularly so with women.

One or two of these employers hired predominantly women, and therefore they provided firms' buses and collected the ladies over a considerable area and brought them to work. If a lady were collected from Leytonstone and brought to the Isle of Dogs she would be saved a lot of fare money. Perhaps the employers did it out of the kindness of their hearts, but more likely they knew they would not get workers if they did not provide such a service. Suppose that a new firm moved into the Isle of Dogs and felt compelled to provide such a service for the employees, would it be included in the £6 limit?

I said more than 20 hours ago in this Committee that one could often best illustrate an argument by quoting an exaggerated example. There was a small company which employed a number of ladies in an office which was terribly stuffy. The employer said one day that he was going to give them a rise and they said that they would sooner have an air conditioning plant to improve the conditions. I understand that he is providing it. Does that air conditioning plant count towards a pay rise? Would the employer take the capital cost of the plant, amortise it, divide it up by the number of women in the room and say that it was worth, say, 83p a week for each woman?

All sorts of complications will arise as a result of this clause because the provisions are too blanketing. My right hon. Friend would not tolerate a Bill which contained no provision for remuneration in forms other than money, and he would be right to take that view, because there would be growing abuse.

Mr. Barney Hayhoe (Brentford and Isleworth)

It would be wise for further scrutiny to be given to this clause, which suffers from the same lack of precision as do many other parts of the Bill. The fuzziness of this clause could lead to difficulties later, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will address his mind to the point covered by Amendment No. 55, which sought to exclude certain benefits.

My main purpose in rising is first to endorse what was said by the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Mikardo) about you Mr. Murton, and your colleagues who have occupied the Chair. My right hon. and hon. Friends would all wish to join with the hon. Member.

They would wish to pay tribute, too, to the Secretary of State for Employment who, more than any other occupant of the Government Front Bench, has both participated in the debates—perhaps he might have said more that we could have agreed with—and has been present listening to speeches and comments even on those parts of the Bill which with he was not directly concerned.

As someone who has sometimes been bitterly critical of the right hon. Gentleman, I pay a tribute to him. I know that I do so on behalf of all of my right hon. and hon. Friends who, perhaps wisely, are not here now. I know that they would wish to join in that tribute to the Secretary of State.

I also pay a tribute to the staff of the House. We have been well served by the people who do not come into this Chamber, or perhaps only occasionally, to hand us things. We have been well served, too, by those who have looked after us in the bars and in other places. I hope that ways will be found of conveying the thanks of hon. Members to all who have made this rather long session not quite so uncomfortable as it could have been.

Mr. Foot

I join in what has been so graciously said by my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Mikardo)—and whatever other part of the East End my hon. Friend represents. His title gets even larger than his majority at each General Election. I join with him in saying that we would like to convey to you, Mr. Murton, and those who have occupied the Chair our thanks for the way in which business has been conducted.

I do not know at how many all-night sittings I have been present but I think that this must have been one of the most good-tempered of all that I can recall. This is particularly impressive bearing in mind the nature of the Bill and the fact that feelings ran very high, particularly on the Labour side of the Committee. It was a credit to the House of Commons that the discussions should have been so conducted. I say that especially because sometimes ignorant comments are made outside the House to the effect that all-night sittings have no value and no purpose. All-night sittings have one purpose—they make Ministers attend and listen at length to what is said to them. I dare say that that is salutary, even if they do not appreciate it at the time.

I would also, through you, Mr. Murton, like to thank all those in the House who have served us so well during this sitting, which I gather is the second longest sitting since the war—and if I continue speaking for as long as I have done on other occasions, it will probably beat the record. We would like to thank all of those who have assisted us, in the kitchens, in the Tea Room and all members of the staff who have provided facilities for Members.

Let me now turn to the amendment. I could not accept it in the form my hon. Friends have proposed it because it would have an effect which I know they would not want to achieve. By altering and widening the definition of "remuneration" the amendment would greatly weaken the precision of the £6 formula. It would considerably alter the clause in the TUC annex which refers to non-wage benefits. These would be greatly enlarged if the definition were altered in a way which many of us would not want. It would enable people to get perks and other facilities in a way not available to others. There would be a large loophole if the definition of "remuneration" were to be altered.

If I had a suspicious mind I would have thought that my hon. Friends had tabled the amendment, if not to drive a coach and horses through the Bill, at least with the object of driving a coach through it. I fully appreciate that my hon. Friends have not sought to move the amendment with the aim of injuring the Bill in that sense, despite their strong opposition to it which they have expressed throughout the sitting. They have brought to the attention of the Committee genuine cases which might arise as a result of the provision of the facilities arrangements and fringe benefits that they have cited.

I cannot give my hon. Friends an answer now. We do not wish to widen the definition in any way that could lead to fresh loopholes. In formal terms we would have to stick to the definitions which are already provided. However, I undertake to look at the matter in the light of what was said by my hon Friends. I shall see whether there is any way in which we can make a statement on Report to help meet the situation, although it is not easy to see how we can do so without incurring the danger which I have already described and which we wish to avoid. That would make nonsense of the aims we seek to achieve with the Bill. However, short of that I shall look at the situation and see whether it is possible to make not an alteration in the Bill—I do not think that would be the way the aim could be secured—but a statement to assist in meeting the difficulty described.

I should like to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow especially for what he said throughout the night. We have had some strong differences of opinion on this measure. We have had few differences of opinion throughout most of our political lives on these matters. I look forward to a future all-night sitting when there will be no divergencies in the opinion which we express to the House.

I should also like to thank those serving the House, including the reporters. I refer not only to the Fleet Street reporters. I do not know whether Fleet Street was in full attendance throughout the whole of our proceedings or whether its lengthy reports will be published at deserved length in the newspapers. I refer especially to the Official Reporters, who have an especially hard task to perform for the House.

We occasionally encounter difficulties in providing the House with the facilities necessary for maintaining the parliamentary papers. I know that criticisms are made when those papers are not available. It is a miracle of publishing that the papers are provided on the scale required. They are provided as a result of the high skills of those engaged in the processes involved. When those papers arrive regularly it is all the more important that we should pay tribute to those who produce them.

Mr. Graham Page

I left the Chamber a short while ago to allow the Scots to get on with things. I returned to the Chamber to hear the Minister expressing his gratitude to those who made it possible for us to sit all night. I join in that expression of gratitude on behalf of my hon. Friends on the back benches.

I have sat through many all-night sittings. I have never known a Secretary of State attend so fully throughout a sitting as did the right hon. Gentleman. I thank him on behalf of the Opposition. Although the Opposition disagree wholeheartedly with the Bill, we nevertheless thank him sincerely for the attention he paid to all that we said throughout the night. I have never known a Secretary of State to be so patient and attentive.

Mr. Madden

In view of the reply from the Minister, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 7 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 8 and 9 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Bill reported, with an amendment; as amended, to be considered on Monday next and to be printed. [Bill 221.]

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