HC Deb 23 July 1986 vol 102 cc474-83

Lords amendment: No. 3, in page 4, line 3, leave out "respect of" and insert "connection with"

Mr. Trippier

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this it will be convenient to take the following Lords amendments: No. 4, in page 4, line 7, leave out from "involving" to "of" in line 8 and insert (whether on a regular basis or not) (a) the carrying out by the worker No. 5, in page 4, line 11, at end insert , or (b) the collection by the worker of amounts payable in connection with retail transactions carried out by other persons directly with members of the public or with fellow workers or other individuals in their personal capacities: A manuscript amendment to the proposed Lords amendment No. 5, at end add or (c) the collection by the worker of amounts payable in connection with any aspect of the worker's employment. No. 6, in page 4, line 34, after "is" insert "or may be"

11.30 pm
Mr. Trippier

The first three amendments were tabled to make it clear beyond doubt that a certain category of worker that I will describe is covered by the protection of clauses 2 and 3. They involve no change of policy. On further consideration of the provisions, we have come to the view that the definition of retail employment does not make it absolutely clear that workers involved in the collection or receipt of money in connection with retail transactions but not in the retail transaction itself—that is, they are not involved in the sale or supply of goods or the supply of services, although they collect money in respect of such transactions by other people — are covered by the provisions of clauses 2 and 3, if a cash shortage occurs. This category would include cashiers who simply collect money and take no part in any service or sales activity.

I am sure all hon. Members would agree that it is desirable that these workers should be protected by the provisions of clauses 2 and 3 if they face a deduction from wages or are asked to make payments on account of a shortage in the cash they have collected in connection with retail transactions conducted by other people. The amendments are designed to make certain that these workers are so protected and I ask the House to accept them.

Turning to the fourth amendment, subsections (4) and (5) of clause 2 dealt with the situation where all or a part of the wages of a worker depend on the absence or extent of any cash shortage or stock deficiency. The aim of the subsections is to ensure that, if an employer pays a bonus related to the absence or size of a cash shortage or stock deficiency, any failure to pay the bonus is to be treated as a deduction from wages related to cash shortages or stock deficiencies and is covered by the protection of clause 2. This in effect means that the unpaid bonus must not exceed 10 per cent. of gross wages—that is, basic wages plus bonus.

These provisions are designed to protect the worker in instances where employers might attempt to avoid the requirements of part I by the introduction of special bonus arrangements. However, after further consideration we believe that subsection (4)(a) as drafted might have left a small gap in the intended protection. It is the intention that the protection should cover agreements which provide for a bonus, conditional on the absence of a cash shortage or stock deficiency, where the amount of bonus is clearly spelt out according to an arithmetical formula — so much shortage, so much bonus forgone. But it is also intended to cover agreements where payment of a bonus is discretionary or conditional on a number of different factors, one of which is the absence of cash shortages or stock deficiencies. It is uncertain whether the original wording covers the second category of agreements. The amendment agreed in the Lords is designed to make the position absolutely clear and to ensure that the protection of clause 2 applies to both types of bonus agreement.

I know that hon. Members will agree that an amendment designed to ensure that the protections in the Bill cannot be avoided is to be welcomed, and I commend it to the House. All four of these amendments are designed to ensure that workers are properly protected by part I of the Bill, and I hope the House will accept them.

I must ask the House to resist the Opposition's manuscript amendment. Again I shall explain the objective of the special controls in clauses 2 and 3 of the Bill. The clauses establish controls over deductions or payments on account of cash shortages or stock deficiencies from the wages of workers in retail employment. These are limited to 10 per cent. of any payment of wages to ensure that such workers are not left with little wage, due to deductions to cover shortages in the till, or stock losses. Retail employment is defined as employment involving the carrying out of a retail transaction, which is defined in clause 2.

The amendment made in the Lords extends the definition of retail employment to include those collecting money in respect of retail transactions carried out by others. However, the Opposition amendment further extends the definition of retail employment to cover work involving the collection by the worker of amounts payable in connection with any aspect of his employment. This takes the definition of retail employment right outside the area of retailing as the ordinary man or woman understands it, to cover all activities involving the collection of money in the course of employment. Conceivably, even the collection of money for an office party would be defined as retail employment.

Ms. Clare Short

That is not part of the job.

Mr. Trippier

The hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short) says it is not part of the job, but it is tied in with the employment of the people employed in the firm.

For that reason, the amendment runs against the basic principles of clauses 2 and 3 as argued throughout the passage of the Bill. Those principles are, first, that the 10 per cent. limit is a special protection to meet a particular need and is specific to those involved in the area of retail employment as that term is normally understood. Secondly, it is in the specific area of retail employment involving transactions with the public that there has been public concern about excessive deductions because of cash shortages or stock deficiencies. Thirdly, it has never been an objective of the Bill to limit contractual deductions from wages in respect of the disappearance of the employer's property or cash where the worker is not involved in retail transactions with the public or where he works in an industry that does not have such transactions. I ask the House to reject the amendment.

Mr. Mikardo

Throughout the proceedings in the Standing Committee, the Minister had great difficulty in finding illustrations of cases to support his arguments. When he did find examples, in nearly every case under pressure they proved false and he had to abandon them. He has given as an example that cash collected by somebody for an office party falls within the definition of the manuscript amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short). [Interruption.] As she has just said in a barely audible aside, that is rubbish.

The Minister said that a collection for an office party was connected with the job, but I do not know, and I ask him whether he knows, of anybody with a contract of employment in which the job description specifies that it is a part of his job, if he is engaged in retailing or in any form of employment in which he handles his employer's cash, to collect cash for office parties. That is fantastic, imaginary, fairy-tale nonsense. If that is the only ground the Minister can put forward—and it was the only one that he did put forward—for resisting this amendment, it is a pretty poor performance.

Mr. Richard Wainwright (Colne Valley)

The performance of the Minister makes it clear that it is not only the Opposition parties who are suffering from the undue haste of the Government but also the Minister himself, because he has manifestly lacked time for preparation. He was wide of the mark when he said rather pompously that the manuscript amendment further extended the definition of retail employment quite outside retailing. That is not so, because the clause deals only with matters in connection with retail employment.

I support the manuscript amendment, although not with all the arguments on which I pride myself I might have thought up if the Government had given me time to prepare. This unseemly haste has crippled them as well as the Opposition parties. One of the worst features of part I of the Bill is that it sweeps away from those outside the narrow definition of retail employment the requirement of fairness and reasonableness that was in the Truck Acts.

In many ways the Government are going back 100 years —we all know that from their general economic policy — but it is going a bit too far to go back nearly a century by reversing what the old Truck Acts, God bless them in their antiquity, provided. Under the Truck Acts, a deduction from any worker's wages, whether he was in retail or not, had to be fair and reasonable. I need only direct hon. Members' attention to the magnificent speech of Lord Denning in another place on this matter to show how perverse the Government have been.

I agree that the manuscript amendment is not an ideal way of helping to remedy the defect—it is not—but the Government have left us no choice. In another place, and with no argument on their side, they rejected the idea of a non-statutory code of practice to be circulated to all employers. I thought that that was the very minimum that a civilised Government would allow. Yet, in spite of eloquent speeches in favour of a code of practice, they refused to have it.

Therefore, we are reduced to this second-best device in the manuscript amendment, which would have the valuable effect of extending to at any rate a few more workers protection against limitless arbitrary deductions. It would still leave a regrettably large number of workers subject to arbitrary deductions without even the basic requirement that they must be fair and reasonable. That is a bad position. It has been aggravated by the haste in which all this has been brought forward this evening, but it is better to support the amendment than to leave the matter to fester. I recommend my hon. Friends to do so.

Mr. Eastham

In Committee and again tonight the Minister appears to have been riddled with guilt. In his heart he recognises that this is a rotten Bill. He has trotted out again tonight, as he did on numerous occasions in Committee, statements about the right to go to tribunals. However, he will recall that when we challenged him on that point he said that he hoped that people would not go to tribunals too often because they might clog up the works. That was a confession that he really did not believe in using the tribunal procedure. But tonight he came to the Dispatch Box and said that there is nothing to prevent people from exercising their right to go to tribunals and he then trotted out the usual line that this measure is designed to protect the workers. He has said that several times.

The Bill is riddled with examples of workers' protections being taken away. If the Bill is enacted there will be no protection for anyone below the age of 21. Yet the Minister will try to make it sound good. It is mealy-mouthed to say that this measure is included to protect and improve the legislation. We know that the Bill is riddled with examples of where workers are not protected.

The Minister has been programmed, Civil servants present him with documents and he stands at the Dispatch Box and reads them out. I do not believe that he has any conviction about why he is requesting the House to approve the Bill.

Tonight the Minister gave us a classic example of that when he talked about office parties. Anybody would think that people in their places of work go to parties about 50 times a year. Usually, they are lucky to go to office parties once a year to celebrate Christmas. We are not talking about parties once a week, for 50 weeks every year. Yet that is the inept and weak argument that the Minister puts forward to justify his case. The manuscript amendment offers reasonable protection, and I hope that the House will support it.

11.45 pm
Ms. Clare Short

The purpose of the manuscript amendment is to extend the 10 per cent. protection. At present that protection is given by the Government only to those workers in the retail sector who suffer cash shortages or stock dificiencies. Only then is there a limit on the deductions that workers can be subjected to for disciplinary reasons. Like the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Wainwright), who spoke for the Liberal party, we believe that the provisions in this Bill and the sweeping away of the Truck Acts will lead to a massive increase in the use of deductions for disciplinary purposes. Workers can in future expect large sums to be taken out of their pay packets because their employers have decided that they have behaved improperly.

In Committee, the Minister gave examples of the sort of things that might lead employers to impose deductions. He spoke about lateness, absenteeism and perhaps a failure to comply with the health and safety regulations. Someone who had missed time at work through ill health might have money taken from his pay packet as well, because the employer might believe it to be absenteeism. The belief that failure to comply with health and safety regulations should lead to deductions is quite frightening, because we all know that good health and safety practices depend on a good spirit of co-operation and will not be helped by punitive sanctions.

We argued at length in Committee that the old provisions of the Truck Acts, which required that any deductions should be fair and reasonable, should be reinserted in the Bill. But that was rejected by the Government. We then argued that at the very least the 10 per cent. limitation should be applied to all workers in all circumstances — that it should not be possible for employers to deduct more than 10 per cent. from anyone's wages in any one week—but the Government rejected that, too.

Through the manuscript amendment, we seek to apply the 10 per cent. protection to all workers who are required to handle money as part of their job. What could be more reasonable than that? The Minister is wrong to say that that would apply to collections for office parties. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bow and Poplar (Mr. Mikardo) clearly stated, no one has a job description that includes the organisation of office parties. The manuscript amendment makes it clear that this protection would apply also to workers who were required to handle money in the course of their work.

Under the Bill, if workers are required to handle money, they may well be subjected to deductions. They should be protected by the 10 per cent. provision. If the Government had any grace, they would accept the amendment. But no, the Minister dismisses it without putting up any reasonable argument. We welcome amendments Nos. 3, 4 and 5. Throughout the passage of the Bill we have fought for, and won, marginal improvements in the protection of workers even though we reject the Bill and find it deeply offensive.

The other amendments slightly extend the protection of the 10 per cent. limit to those who handle cash in connection with retailing but who might not be defined as being engaged in retailing. I think that the Minister gave the example of someone who had collected the cash after goods had been bought from someone else who may not have been protected by the Bill as drafted. That person would now he protected. That is a small improvement that will affect a relatively small group of workers, but we welcome it.

We also welcome amendment No. 6, which ensures that the 10 per cent. protection applies to workers on a bonus scheme that makes their wages dependent on perhaps an absence of cash shortages or stock deficiencies. The wage that the 10 per cent. is calcultated on would include, not exclude, the bonus, which would make a loophole in the Bill that would allow employers to make even larger deductions. Not being confrontationist and unreasonable like the Minister, we welcome his amendments. It is a pity that he is not willing to accept the substantive amendment.

Mr. Trippier

I was grateful to the hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. Eastham) when he said that I was trying to make the measure sound good. I was trying to make my argument sound good, and I think that the news was good in my initial address to the House. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short) has admitted that the Opposition welcome the fact that the Government have moved on several issues. I found it confusing when the hon. Member for Blackley said that I lacked conviction. He cannot have it both ways. He cannot be heard to say that I was trying to make my remarks sound good and follow that by saying that I lack coviction.

Ms. Clare Short

My hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. Eastham) was trying to be nice to the Minister.

Mr. Trippier

That is characteristic of the hon. Gentleman. It was uncharacteristic of the hon. Member for Bow and Poplar (Mr. Mikardo), however, to be unfair to me. The hon. Gentleman is quite an expert on giving certain examples—for instance, "What does the Minister think would happen if this, that and the other were to apply in a small business?" I tried to give some examples of my own. If the hon. Gentleman reads the Hansard reports of our proceedings in Committee, he will find that we fairly balanced out the examples that we presented. I shall give the hon. Gentleman a few more examples shortly. I shall think of as many as I can while I am on my feet. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will forgive me if on this occasion I do not promise to write to him with a series of examples.

I gave the example of a collection for an office party because the amendment is s incredibly wide in its definition. It reads: the collection by the worker of amounts payable in connection with". That embraces any aspect of a worker's employment. I gave an example— the hon. Member for Bow and Poplar plays this game, too—which was extreme, but there are others.

Mr. John Evans (St. Helens, North)

The example of a collection for an office party was absurd.

Mr. Trippier

If that was absurd, what about this one? Let us suppose that an employee collects the wages from the bank—

Mr. Peter Thurnham (Bolton, North-East)

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Trippier

I must complete my example.

Let us suppose that an employee collects the wages from the bank for distribution by the employer. What about the collection of trade union dues?

Mr. Eastham

I am obliged to the Minister for giving us the example of an employee going to a bank to collect the wages. I thought that security firms were used to undertake such dangerous and precarious tasks. What is happening these days? Are employees expected to collect a few thousand quid for their employers and to be at risk if the money is lost? Is that what he is saying?

Mr. Trippier

I am amazed that the hon. Gentleman has advanced that argument. One of the reasons for repealing the Truck Acts was to try to pay employees in a cashless form. I think that I have given a good example. The hon. Member for Colne Valley has directed attention to "any" in the context of anything that could be linked with employment. Surely the example that I gave to the hon. Member for Bow and Poplar initially was very fair.

Ms. Clare Short

If someone is sent to the bank to collect the wages and some of the money disappears, is the Minister suggesting that that person will be dealt with by means of a deduction from his wages rather than by calling, in the police? I think that is another absurd example.

Mr. Trippier

I am not responsible for tabling the amendment that we are now considering. I honestly think that Opposition Members should have considered more carefully what they are tabling. The hon. Lady seems to suggest that it is a good thing—

Mr. Evans

The Minister's stupid examples prove that he cannot even grasp the purpose of the amendment.

Mr. Trippier

With respect to the hon. Gentleman, on such matters he is not quite the expert; he has not been as involved in the legislation as some of his hon. Friends. I welcome his interventions on most occasions, but on this occasion, as the intervention was from a sedentary position, perhaps he will allow me to refer to another example, although that is hazardous, because, after every example I now give, someone will leap up and try to question it. The point that I am trying to make is that there are so many different examples that one could give because the amendment is so wide.

Mr. Thurnham

As we are thinking of examples, may I remind my hon. Friend of an example that we discussed in Committee of a company that was controlled by the previous Labour Government, Sealand Petroleum Ltd., which had the largest policy of deductions of any of the firms that we considered? It deducted 25 per cent. of pay.

Mr. Trippier

I thank my hon. Friend for raising that point. When the hon. Member for Blackley made his speech, he said that I was trying to make the measure sound good, and so on. He referred several times to the word "protection". I have used it in my speeches many times in Committee. But the law as it presently stands, before the Bill becomes an Act of parliament, allows deductions to be made at the rate of 100 per cent. We are building in protection for people who are particularly involved in the retail sector by limiting the deductions to 10 per cent. on a pay day.

Ms. Clare Short

Why not apply the protection to more workers?

Mr. Trippier

The reason is obvious. We went through the consultation process — I referred to that on many occasions in Committee—and there was no demand for the protection to be more widespread. It is in retail employment that those problems have arisen in the past.

Mr. Eastham

In view of the fact that the Minister is choosing to go back on the old ground of our inquiry in Committee, may I remind him that we pointed out on numerous occasions that we objected most strongly that the employer could make an arbitrary decision to make deductions from pay? We said that he should go through the process of law and prove his entitlement. Under this proposal he will not need to have any other legal right than the Bill.

Mr. Trippier

We are in danger of rehearsing many arguments that we discussed in Committee. The truth is that the Opposition would accept—I am sure that the hon. Gentleman, in his heart of hearts does accept—that we are building in added protection for the worker with this part of the Bill. The hon. Gentleman was kind enough to admit that in Committee.

On this group of amendments, and specifically on the Opposition amendment, the hon. Member for Ladywood suggests that, as a result of the Bill becoming law, masses of money will be taken out of employees' wage packets.

Ms. Clare Short

And deductions will increase.

Mr. Trippier

Frankly, I have never heard so much nonsense. I believe that the reverse will be the case.

Ms Clare Short

That is speculation.

Mr. Trippier

It is speculation and hypothesis at this stage, but we would not introduce a piece of legislation such as this if we thought that that would happen. It is clear to any observer that this part of the Bill gives the worker more protection than he enjoys at the moment.

I ask the House to reject the Opposition amendment.

Mr. Mikardo

As the Minister appeared to have the leave of the House to speak for a second time without asking for it, may I assume that I have similar leave and put a point—[HoN. MEMBERS: "No."] Why is not sauce for the goose sauce for the gander?

We have had another example of the Minister flapping around without direction—a bit like a pterodactyl that has strayed into the wrong geological age—as soon as he strays from the bits of paper that his advisers give him. We saw an example of that a moment ago with the Minister's nonsense about people going to collect money from banks. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short) was right to make her intervention. Does the Minister really mean that if someone goes to collect money from the bank for an employer, gets mugged on the way back and the money is taken away, the employer can deduct that money from the employee at the rate of 10 per cent. every week?

12 midnight.

We are not dealing in theories. Unhappily, we know that many people have been mugged after collecting money from the bank. We are almost at the stage when it is dangerous to be a bank robber, because a bank robber is liable to be mugged on his way to the escape car after robbing a bank. The Minister is saying that an employee who may unwillingly and reluctantly go to collect money and who gets mugged will have the money deducted from his wages. How can the Minister call that a good example? Ye gods and little fishes!

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I will put the Question on Lords amendments Nos. 3 and 4 and then on the manuscript amendment. That should help the House to understand how this will be done.

Question put and agreed to.

Subsequent Lords amendment agreed to.

Lords amendment: No. 5, in page 4, line 11, at end insert ", or (b) the collection by the worker of amounts payable in connection with retail transactions carried out by other persons directly with members of the public or with fellow workers or other individuals in the personal capacities;

Read a Second time.

Manuscript amendment proposed to the Lords amendment: in line 6, at end add— or (c) the collection by the worker of amounts payable in connection with any aspect of the worker's employment."—[Mr. Nellist.]

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 40, Noes 111.

Division No. 279] [12.04 am
Ashdown, Paddy Livsey, Richard
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Lloyd, Tony (Stratford)
Bermingham, Gerald McKay, Allen (Penistone)
Boyes, Roland Maclennan, Robert
Brown, Gordon (D'f'mline E) McWilliam, John
Caborn, Richard Michie, William
Clay, Robert O'Neill, Martin
Clwyd, Mrs Ann Owen, Rt Hon Dr David
Cunliffe, Lawrence Parry, Robert
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (L'lli) Patchett, Terry
Davies, Ronald (Caerphilly) Pendry, Tom
Dixon, Donald Pike, Peter
Eastham, Ken Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)
Evans, John (St. Helens N) Randall, Stuart
Fisher, Mark Short, Ms Clare (Ladywood)
Godman, Dr Norman Skinner, Dennis
Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth) Smith, Rt Hon J. (M'ds E)
Home Robertson, John Wainwright, R.
Hughes, Simon (Southwark)
John, Brynmor Tellers for the Ayes:
Kirkwood, Archy Mr. David Nellist and
Leighton, Ronald Mr. Ian Mikardo.
Amess, David Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Ashby, David Jones, Robert (Herts W)
Atkins, Rt Hon Sir H. Jopling, Rt Hon Michael
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N) Key, Robert
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony King, Roger (B'ham N'field)
Benyon, William Lang, Ian
Bevan, David Gilroy Lawrence, Ivan
Biffen, Rt Hon John Lee, John (Pendle)
Boscawen, Hon Robert Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)
Bottomley, Mrs Virginia Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich) Lester, Jim
Bright, Graham Lightbown, David
Budgen, Nick Lilley, Peter
Burt, Alistair Lord, Michael
Butterfill, John Lyell, Nicholas
Carlisle, John (Luton N) MacKay, John (Argyll & Bute)
Carttiss, Michael McLoughlin, Patrick
Cash, William Malone, Gerald
Chapman, Sydney Marland, Paul
Chope, Christopher Mates, Michael
Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe) Mather, Carol
Coombs, Simon Maude, Hon Francis
Cope, John Mayhew, Sir Patrick
Corrie, John Merchant, Piers
Crouch, David Miller, Hal (B'grove)
Currie, Mrs Edwina Mitchell, David (Hants NW)
Evennett, David Moate, Roger
Farr, Sir John Moynihan, Hon C.
Favell, Anthony Neale, Gerrard
Fookes, Miss Janet Neubert, Michael
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling) Nicholls, Patrick
Forth, Eric Norris, Steven
Fox, Sir Marcus Onslow, Cranley
Freeman, Roger Osborn, Sir John
Gale, Roger Page, Richard (Herts SW)
Galley, Roy Patten, Christopher (Bath)
Garel-Jones, Tristan Portillo, Michael
Goodlad, Alastair Powley, John
Gregory, Conal Roe, Mrs Marion
Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N) Sainsbury, Hon Timothy
Ground, Patrick Shersby, Michael
Gummer, Rt Hon John S Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton) Stern, Michael
Hargreaves, Kenneth Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood)
Harris, David Thompson, Donald (Calder V)
Haselhurst, Alan Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N)
Hawkins, Sir Paul (N'folk SW) Thurnham, Peter
Hayes, J. Trippier, David
Hayward, Robert Wakeham, Rt Hon John
Heddle, John Watts, John
Hickmet, Richard Wells, Bowen (Hertford)
Hind, Kenneth Wheeler, John
Hirst, Michael Wood, Timothy
Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)
Howarth, Alan (Stratf'd-on-A) Tellers for the Noes:
Howarth, Gerald (Cannock) Mr. Tony Durant and
Jenkin, Rt Hon Patrick Mr. Peter Lloyd.
Jessel, Toby

Question accordingly negatived.

Lords amendment No. 5 agreed to.

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