HC Deb 29 July 1975 vol 896 cc1688-92

'() The Secretary of State may by order direct that—

  1. (a) any provision of any Act, whether passed before this Act or later, which relates to prices, to charges or to remuneration or other terms or conditions of employment; or
  2. (b) any provision having effect under any Act within paragraph (a) above,
shall, while this Act is in force, have effect subject to such exceptions, modifications or adaptations as may be specified in the order.

(2) An order under this section shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament'.—[Mr. Percival.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Ian Percival (Southport)

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this we shall also discuss new Clause 15— Modification of other Acts: '() For the avoidance of doubt it is hereby declared that if and when the Employment Protection Bill becomes an Act the Secretary of State may by order made under section (Power to modify Acts about prices &c.) of this Act provide that—

  1. (a) any provision of that Act which relates to prices to charges or to remuneration or other terms of conditions of employment or
  2. (b) any provision having effect under that Act relating to those matters,
shall so long as this Act is in force have effect subject to such exceptions.'

Mr. Percival

Never can a Minister in charge of a Bill have been given so many opportunities to explain his Bill or so many opportunities to improve it as have been given to the Secretary of State for Employment by the Opposition. It is a pity that he has not been more generous in his responses to our amendments and new clauses. Nevertheless, on this new clause we offer him yet another opportunity to do both.

In Committee the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) and other hon. Gentlemen raised questions about increases resulting from the operation of fair wages resolutions and from Section 8 of the Terms and Conditions of Employment Act 1959. In reply, the Secretary of State referred to similar enactments, such as the Road Haulage Wages Act 1938. Reference was made to Schedule 11 of the Employment protection Bill. The right hon. Gentleman responded by making a sweeping allegation that there was no problem all such increases would be outside the limits of what was proposed in the Bill. I refer hon. Members to column 864 of the Official Report of the first day of our debates, 24th July. I shall not take time by quoting anything that was said then.

However, the matter is not as simple as that. The increases which are the subject of the point raised by the hon. Member for Perry Barr and the other increases which were brought into the discussion are outside the limits imposed by the Bill.

The White Paper refers to increases which are not to be taken into account in working out the increase of£6. Such increases are those due under incremental and wage for age structures. The equal pay legislation is referred to specifically. Therefore, it is clear to anybody that those increases do not count towards the£6.

By the same reckoning, other increases which are not specifically mentioned will be deemed to be within the£6 limit. Those increases are clearly outside the limit set by the Bill.

For example, an award under Section 8 of the Terms and Conditions of Employment Act 1959, which took the increase above the£6 limit, would to that extent be outside the limit specified. There would not be any question for the Secretary of State to determine, because it would be clear.

What is the effect of that? I remind the House that an award under Section 8 of the Terms and Conditions of Employment Act takes effect as an implied term of a contract of employment from the date on which the award is to run. If the award were backdated to a date before the commencement of this legislation, it would be enforceable because of the provisions of Clause 1. If, on the other hand, the award were not backdated to a date before the commencement of this legislation, it would be caught and would be enforceable. I cannot believe that even the Secretary of State in this instance would wish to produce so crazy a result as that.

A similar consequence would follow after the Employment Protection Bill has become law if Schedule 11, which takes over from Section 8 of the Terms and Conditions of Employment Act, passes into law in the form in which it stands in the Bill.

Similar considerations apply to the Road Haulage Wages Act, because the remuneration payable under a contract is deemed to be a statutory remuneration fixed by that Act. Therefore, it becomes part of the contract. We have seen how all that works in Clause 1. It could produce crazy results.

How will this operate under Clause 3 in respect of the disallowance referred to in the White Paper? Will an increase awarded under Section 8 of the Terms and Conditions of Employment Act, which becomes part of the contractual remuneration, be the subject of such sanctions and be disallowed?

I hope that those few examples will suffice to demonstrate to the Secretary of State that this matter is not as simple as he seems to think or has suggested to the House so far. The right hon. Gentleman needs this new clause. It is modelled on Section 8 of the Counter-Inflation Act 1973. In the first six months following the passage of that Act six orders were made under these provisions demonstrating the necessity for them.

I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not be stubborn in this instance, but will accept this helping hand—goodness knows he could do with a few—and accept the new clause.

Mr. Foot

If anybody could persuade me to accept a new clause that might assist the Bill, it would be the hon. and learned Member for Southport (Mr. Percival). I have listened to him on many occasions when he has persuaded me. It must be because of the deficiency of his case rather than his lack of persuasion that I am unable to accept what he proposes tonight. Perhaps I may explain, moderately, my reasons. I apologise for using that horrible word "moderate". It has been slung around the Chamber for some hours and, for some unaccountable reason, I just picked it up.

New Clause 15 is concerned with the possibility of conflict between what we are proposing in this Bill and what is proposed under the Employment Protection Bill. I have referred to this matter on previous occasions and I do not believe that difficulties need arise. The Government can use a commencement order under the Employment Protection Bill if there is some difficulty of any clause coming into conflict with the pay policy. That is one of the reasons why I replied to that question when it was put to me at Question Time yesterday.

New Clause 14 is modelled on the Counter-Inflation Act, 1973. We do not believe it is necessary to take all these powers. We think it will be perfectly possible to operate the policy without giving to the Secretary of State the wide powers proposed by the hon. and learned Gentleman.

The employers and independent representatives on wages councils are most unlikely to agree to wages which conflict with the policy. We think the people on the wages councils will take the policy into account and that many of them taking part in council discussions will be strong supporters of the policy. If they were not to do so, it would mean that all employers would be liable to the Price Code sanctions if they paid the increase. This is so unlikely to happen in practice that it is not considered worth while to make the provisions. It seems to be a wide-ranging power to modify other legislation that the hon. and learned Gentleman wishes to give me and, eager as I am not to take on any powers beyond those necessary to deal with the situation, it is superfluous to have these powers foisted on me. I hope that in view of that modest expression, the hon. and learned Gentleman will withdraw his new clause so that we may proceed to other parts of the Bill.

Mr. Percival

I am sorry about that. The right hon. Gentleman could have accepted the new clause to the advantage of himself and everybody else. I hope he will not need to use these powers, but the point of the new clause is that they would be there if needed. They would be needed if statutory provisions were to come into conflict with one another. It seemed plain common sense to give the Secretary of State the power to put that right without having to go through the legislative process in the House. I think that he is wrong to be so obstinate, but nothing would be served by taking any more of the time of the House on this matter.

Question put and negatived.

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